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I think I am sounding like the old guy telling you I have seen this all before.

Last week, I wrote about Chat GPT, which is getting a lot of interest in education.  I ended that post saying, “What a great opportunity to not make the mistakes of the past and see technology as a threat, but rather an opportunity for us to rethink how it could add value to our work.”

To go back a few years, I was there for the great calculator debates.  I had classes that banned the use of calculators, or restricted the use of calculators, or allowed calculators for certain parts of classes or exams but not others.  

And with the growth of technologies this century the immediate impulse to ban technologies has been a common one from school jurisdictions.  Hardware like laptops and cell phones have been banned in some areas.  And while there are examples of a small number of schools banning wi-fi or the internet completely, there are a number of examples  of websites like YouTube being blocked in schools.  As new technologies are introduced, for many, the impulse is to do whatever possible to preserve the status quo.  As if, we only have to wait out this “iPad trend” and they will disappear, and we will not have to rethink how we engage with the new technologies in a thoughtful way.

This isn’t to say there should never be any limitations on technology in the classroom.  There are great reasons why you might want to not have any technology in a particular class or on a particular day, but it is the immediate reaction to ban a tool instead of understanding it, that is troubling.  For a profession built on growth and creating new understandings, as the world changes around us, we should always be seeing how these changes could be leveraged in our schools to ensure our classrooms are relevant, connected, and engaging.

So, here we are with ChatGPT.  

Quickly, for some the discussions shifted from the emerging power of AI to the need to ban it in schools.  One of the first places that came out loudly was New York Public Schools.  As Maya Yang writes in the Guardian

According to the city’s education department, the tool will be forbidden across all devices and networks in New York’s public schools. Jenna Lyle, a department spokesperson, said the decision stems from “concerns about negative impacts on student learning, and concerns regarding the safety and accuracy of contents”.

Now, not to sound cynical, but if we started banning everything where there was a concern over the “accuracy of contents” that might be a bit of an overwhelming proposition.  

Rather than trying make technology a forbidden fruit in our schools, we should teach about it.  If young people don’t learn about technology at school – where will they learn?  Some will learn at home.  Most will learn from their friends or explore on their own.  Schools have and should continue to step into this space of guiding students with technology use that is age and developmentally appropriate.  Just this week, former BC School Superintendent, Geoff Johnson, made an excellent argument (HERE) for increasing media literacy in schools.

I get the natural reaction to ban things we don’t completely understand.  We should be careful and thoughtful with technology.  And if you think ChatGPT is the last time we are going to have this conversation you are very naïve.  There will be another gizmo next year, and one the year after that.  

Let’s continue to model for our students the excellent conversations we can have about technology and look for ways that the exciting shifts around us can improve the quality of the experience for everyone in our schools.

I will need you to read through to the end today . . .

Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to transform a wide range of industries and professions, but could it replace school superintendents? While it is possible that AI could be used to assist school superintendents in their work, it is unlikely that AI could fully replace a human school superintendent.

School superintendents are responsible for overseeing the educational operations of a school district, which involves many tasks that require human judgment, decision-making, and interpersonal skills. Superintendents must be able to lead and motivate teams of educators, work with community stakeholders, and make difficult decisions that impact the success of students. These tasks require qualities that are unique to humans, such as empathy, emotional intelligence, and the ability to navigate complex social situations. AI systems do not currently possess these qualities, and it is unlikely that they will be able to replicate them in the near future.

However, that doesn’t mean that AI has no role to play in the work of school superintendents. AI could potentially be used to help superintendents with certain tasks that are time-consuming or routine, such as analyzing data and generating reports. For example, an AI system could be trained to analyze our student achievement data and identify trends or areas of improvement. This could allow superintendents to focus on more high-level tasks, such as developing strategies to improve student achievement or building relationships with community partners.

AI could also be used to improve communication between superintendents and other members of the school district. For example, an AI-powered chatbot could be used to answer frequently asked questions from parents or teachers, freeing up the superintendent’s time to focus on more pressing issues.

So, while AI is not likely to fully replace school superintendents,  it could be a valuable tool to assist superintendents in their work. By automating certain tasks and improving communication, AI could help superintendents to be more effective and efficient in their roles. However, it is important to remember that AI is not a substitute for human judgment and leadership, and it will be up to superintendents to determine how best to use these tools in their work.

So, I didn’t really write this.

Well, maybe I did sort of. 

It is getting murky. 

After working through a series of questions and answers with ChatGPT, this is the response I got to my ask, “Write a blog post of 350 words on whether AI could replace school superintendents and how AI could help school superintendents.”  I then made some edits to make it sound more in my voice.  Oh, it is original.  Put it through any plagiarism checker – it will pass.  And I did a few different versions with asking for a different tone if this is too formal for you.  So, let’s back up.

This is a quickly moving landscape -and I am very much a novice.  Let me do a quick summary.  ChatGPT is all the buzz right now.  As Bernard Marr in Forbes describes it: “ChatGPT enables users to ask questions or tell a story, and the bot will respond with relevant, natural-sounding answers and topics. The interface is designed to simulate a human conversation, creating natural engagement with the bot.”  

I remember when I first used a search engine – it was not Google, probably AOL or AltaVista, or something of that era.  It was clear things were about to really change.  This AI gives that same vibe.  My example is really basic that I shared today.  But what happens when AI reads all my blogs and then I ask it to write one on a topic in my style – that will be coming soon.  And of course the implications for education, like so many professions are huge.  We have seen good articles already on how this could be used for lesson plans and in other ways in education.  And there are debates on whether it is killing or not killing the English essay.  But this is really just the infancy of what will be possible.

I have lamented that in recent years that technology shifts have not given me the same excitement as those earlier this century in the web 2.0 era.  Well, this feels different.

What do you think?  Have you tried it?  What might be possible for its use in education?

As I wrote in a post last year, we might think with kids with laptops and mastering Zoom we are now fully digital – but Technology is Not Done!

What a great opportunity to not make the mistakes of the past and see technology as a threat, but rather an opportunity for us to rethink how it could add value to our work.

A different kind of word for me this year.  Coached is not a word that I see others often use as their word for the year ahead.  It has a number of angles for me.  For the first time in my career I am taking on a sustained coaching program for the year that will hopefully make me a better, more intentional leader.   Coached also speaks to my goal of providing better feedback to staff to help them improve.  And finally, coached hits on one of my great joys – spending my summer training young AAU basketball athletes.

This is the 8th year of my “One Word” Tradition. In 2016, I wrote about Hungry and then in 2017, my first post of the year I dedicated to Hope. I feel both words were ones that were good ones for the times I wrote them. In 2018, I shared  what I described as my desperate need in my work for Relevance, and then in 2019, it was Delight – a new twist on the power and importance of joy. Then, in 2020, my word was Hustle, which was actually a good fit for what was needed as COVID upended our lives. As we start to emerge from COVID in 2021, I committed to Optimism. For the past year, my word has been Focus.  As I re-read my post from last year, I am a little disappointed that I did get distracted during the year.  It was the right word, but I didn’t live up to it enough and was not clear enough about what I wanted to focus on.

A few years ago, I never thought I would commit to professional coaching.  I don’t know why.  Almost all the progress I have made in my life has come from working with teachers, mentors and coaches.  When I wanted to learn to swim a few years ago, it was obvious I would need a coach.  But I want to be a better leader.  So, I need a coach.  I will not list the program (maybe a later post depending how this experience goes) but I have committed to a daily coaching program as a part of a large network of leaders across a range of sectors for 2023.  I want to be a better, more purposeful leader. I don’t need to go to conferences, I need support tailored to me.  Having been in the same position for a dozen years, it could be easy to get complacent.  I want to get coached, so staleness does not happen.

Of course, I don’t just want to be coached, I want to be a better coach.  I admire a number of my colleagues who are very good at giving specific feedback to help other team members improve.  And the number one request I get from staff during growth plan meetings is for clear, honest feedback on how they can be better.  I want to be better at giving this kind of feedback.  So, being part of being coached, is also my commitment to be a better coach.

And finally, it is not just professional.  I love to spend my time away from work coaching sports – particularly basketball.  And I am excited for a big summer with our VK Basketball group traveling North America, coaching young players and helping them achieve their goals.  And for them to get better, I need to keep getting better.  It is time to push my coaching.

So, a different kind of word, and a series of different kinds of goals.  It is time to coach and be coached and be better in 2023 than I was in 2022.

Just writing this is getting me excited for the year ahead!

What word is guiding your 2023?

It is lucky 13 for the annual year-end post at the Culture of Yes.  For those new to this tradition, it is part Siskel & Ebert, and part Family Christmas Letter. Thanks for continuing along on this journey with me – now for well over 400 posts and over 350,000 words.  Hopefully, whether inside or outside the education system, you are enjoying some relaxed holiday time.

To get caught up, here are the previous years Top 3 lists:  2021 (here) 2020 (here) 2019 (here) 2018 (here) 2017 (here) 2016 (here) 2015 (here) 2014 (here) 2013 (here) 2012 (here), 2011 (here) and 2010 (here).

Now, on with this year’s results:

Top 3 “Culture of Yes” Blog Posts which have generated the most traffic this year:

  1.  New Nicknames Will Make Schools Cool Again
  2.  NFTs and Schools – Could There be a Connection?
  3.  26 Years, 26 Teachers, 26 Lessons

Once again my April 1st post was my most read post of the year.  I am glad to know so many people come to this site for my comedy.  I wrote a lot about COVID lessons this year and how the system was emerging different, and also looking at which parts of the system were snapping back to a pre-COVID state.   What a difference a few months makes about NFTs – they were all the rage in the spring, but the crypto world has seen a real downturn in recent months.  I saw this week that a number of celebrities have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in value for their Bored Apes purchases.  Nice to see my 26 Years post get so many clicks, as it was one of my favourite ones to write.  I had it in draft for over a year as I knew I wanted to write something about some of my education influences but just wasn’t sure what – and then the post came together at the end of the school year.  And what was my least read new post this year?  It was Metrics, Badges and Prizes – Motivation Lessons from Fitness.

<em>Irwin Park Snapchatting Sharks were one of the new nicknames introduced on April 1st!</em>

Irwin Park Snapchatting Sharks

Top 3 Shifts in BC Education in 2022:

  1. Mandatory Indigenous-focused course in grades 10-12
  2. Shifts in secondary reporting
  3.  The reallocation of time

We saw the biggest shift in BC curriculum in recent years with all students in grades 10-12 now being required to take an Indigenous-focussed course.  There are always implementation challenges when something in changed or added to the school system machine, but this change has really exceeded expectations.  I have been so impressed with how well educators and students have embraced this.   In our district we are seeing students in grade 10 and 11 this year take their Language Arts (English) credit through the Indigenous focus.  Students and teachers are being exposed to literature and thinking they have not worked with in the past.  Full credit to the teachers who are taking this on and finding ways to connection to local Indigenous experts.  I have written before about secondary reporting, as it has shifted in recent years.  For many, the most obvious change will be seen beginning in the fall of 2023, when the grade 8 and 9 report card adopts proficiency scales and performance indicators – a shift schools have been preparing for over the last couple of years.  And finally, time continues to be something, particularly in high school that is being looked at post-COVID.  Almost all high schools have adopted some flexible learning time where students have control over what and where they learn.  The era of being completely blocked in for all your time all week is over in most jurisdictions.  Now come the refining of this so it is meaningful for all learners.   Another topic that was big in 2022 and will be big in 2023.  

Top 3 Education Topics We Should Talk More about in 2023:

  1. New technologies
  2. The science of reading
  3.  Hybrid learning models

I wrote a post this year Technology is Not Done and I really think many in education have taken their eyes off of the potential transformative nature of upcoming technologies in the last couple of years.  From gamification, to virtual reality to AI and so many other digital topics, there is so much that is now and will be soon impacting our schools.  Yes, we have laptops in the hands of most students, and we can navigate Zoom, that is not enough.  The science of reading is really symbolic of a larger issue I see, which is applying what we know to our practices around core skills.  The literacy and numeracy thrusts of earlier this century should not be lost.  And then, hybrid learning.  We have all this experience of hybrid learning from COVID, so now what?  

Top 3 Individuals Influencing the work in our district (that have never been mentioned in a year-end list before):

  1. Dr. Hayley Watson
  2. Ian Chisholm
  3.  Erin Crawford and Amber Pascual

Dr. Watson, and her Open Parachute Program, is an example of one of the new ways that teachers are students are engaging with mental health curriculum.   Ian Chisholm is from the Roy Group and has been working with all of our administrators this past year as we build our leadership skills. And Erin and Amber are not new to West Vancouver, but unique in Canada.  Their work in our district with physical literacy is some of the finest in Canada.  Their work with all our staff has made a huge impact on student learning.  

Dr. Watson speaking to West Van staff on Opening Day

Top 3 buzzwords / phrases in education I am ready to retire:

  1. learning loss
  2. unpack
  3. kiddos

OK, I know this is a bit of a silly one, but this category has appeared several times over the last 12 years.  It is fun to see words and phrases that made it in previous years.  I didn’t take the easy COVID ones like pivot or new normal.  I will try to use the three in a sentence – At our staff meeting next week, we are going to unpack the learning loss that our kiddos have experienced during COVID. Oh, and if we could do this with rigor and fidelity while working with our elbow partners that would be even better. 

Top 3 Education Topics from 2022 that need long-term fixes:

  1. Staff shortages
  2. Mental Health and Well Being (Student, Staff and Parents)
  3.  Connections to post secondary

These are not West Vancouver or British Columbia issues, they are global issues.  There are staff shortages everywhere, and they seem destined to get worse.  Some jurisdictions are considering what the future might be like without staff that are fully credentialed.  One positive coming out of COVID was the increased attention to well being and mental health.  It actually related to the first topic, as one of the keys to dealing with staff shortages is finding ways to support the well being of staff.  And finally, the time does seem right to make better connections between K-12 and post-secondary.  There has been a decline in post secondary admissions in recent years, and the timing seems right to rethink how we connect the two systems.  

Top 3 Issues that I see in US media that I am keeping an eye on (and worried about):

  1. Book bans
  2. Limits on classroom discussions
  3.  ‘Parents Rights’ push

I know there are some, largely isolated for now, examples of these topics in Canada, but we see them regularly in our news feeds with the constant volume of US media.  The book banners are back, taking on many of the classics again.  There are many lists that circulate, including this one from CBS News of the 50 most banned books in the United States.  Also in the news a lot is discussion over what topics teachers can and can’t talk about.  Here is an article from earlier this year indicating 1/4 of all teachers were in positions where they were being asked to limit discussions on certain topics.  Finally, the parents rights push is one that gives parents greater control over what their children are taught.  It is actually related to the other two issues, as all three are coming out of a conservative legislators in the United States.  I am always hesitant to write about what is happening in the US, as I find some people are already believing we are in the same position.  We have very different systems, but it is regularly on our televisions and in our social media feeds so it is worth following.

Top 3 podcasts I listen to every episode:

  1.  No Stupid Questions
  2.  People I Mostly Admire
  3.  The Reinvention Project with Jim Rome

I have become a major podcast listener in recent years.   I am into some very regular routines with them – and save certain ones for certain days when I am running or driving.  The first two are both part of the Freakonomics family tree of podcasts.  No Stupid Questions is a really easy listen and I like that People I Mostly Admire has on guests I don’t typically know, and Steve Levitt asks often difficult questions.  I have listened to Jim Rome’s sports talk show for more than two decades.  His Reinvention Podcast is geared to men of my age looking to take on new challenges.   Other regular podcasts for me include Hidden Brain, Freakonomics Radio, This American Life and Re: Thinking with Adam Grant.

Top 3 artists for me according to Spotify this year:

  1.  Paul Simon
  2.  The Beatles
  3.  James Taylor

My musical tastes are very predictable.  If Paul Simon ever is not the top of the list, that will be the story.  I am proof that the music you listen to growing up with your parents can become the soundtrack for your life.

Top 3 movies I saw this year:

  1.  Top Gun:  Maverick
  2.  Black Panther:  Wakanda Forever
  3.  Glass Onion:  A Knives Out Mystery

Three sequels on my list this year – and a very eclectic mix of films.  I haven’t seen the first Top Gun movie (probably one of the few people to grow up in the 80s to miss it) and didn’t have high expectations for this one.  But I loved it.  Good story and great action – one of my favourite action movies ever.  And Black Panther was also a surprise for me.  Another great action movie with a great story.  I have slowly become a Marvel fan.  And Glass Onion is the last new movie I watched this year.  Less of a surprise since I really liked the first Knives Out Movie, but a rare film that everyone in our family enjoyed.

Top 3 concerts I saw this year:

  1.  The Chicks at The Gorge
  2.  The Eagles at Rogers Arena
  3. Shawn Mendes at Rogers Arena

I was back to seeing concerts this year.  Not as many as pre-COVID but it was great to see live music.  It was my first time to the Gorge and we went as a family to see The Chicks.  After Paul Simon, it is the artist I have seen more than any other – great concert in an amazing venue.  It was my first time seeing the Eagles, and thanks to my colleague and fellow-concert goer Sean Nosek for giving me the push to get us to go.  And Shawn Mendes is not someone I have on my playlist but a great performer is a great performer and he put on an amazing show.  It was sad to hear just shortly after his show in Vancouver he stopped his tour for health reasons.  

Top daily 3 streaks I still have going:

  1. 10,000 Steps
  2. Running 5 km a day
  3. Photo posting to Instagram

Friends know I love my streaks.  And at times, they probably can border on the unhealthy.  The three that I have going that I am consumed with every day are my steps, running and photo streak.  The best (and worst) of these ones is that they are every single day.  At the end of this year, I will have gone 9 straight years of taking at least 10,000 steps each day (according to FitBit). My running streak is a little shorter.  I just passed 700 days of running at least 5 km outdoors each day.  I usually get this done around 5 AM, but some weird circumstances this past year had me staying up until midnight to do the next day’s run and other similar and quite ridiculous plans.  And while I am not much for social media anymore, I have just past 2,550 days (7 years) of posting a photo to Instagram.  I am so glad I started this.  It is such a great way to track our kids growing up.  It started when our oldest was part-way through grade 8 and she is now at the midpoint of third year university.   

Final Thoughts

The Culture of Yes had a bit of a Renaissance during the pandemic.  I had a readership that was reminiscent of 2011 or 2012.  While the numbers slid this year, my passion for this space remains strong.  When someone tells me about a post I wrote a decade ago and how it influenced their thinking it brings great joy.  

Blogs are this wonderful mix of permanence, and impermanence.  It is easy to share you thinking with the world, but also easy to revise and improve it.  

I think as we continue to wrestle with the future of education and the lessons of COVID, we need more voices both formal and informal to fuel discussions.  It is less important if you agree with what I think, than if you take the time to reflect on the topic and add to the discussion.

To all my friends and colleagues in West Vancouver and beyond still reading  hopefully you are having a good break.  

All the best for a great 2023.

My Home Squad!

My work squad!

The Myth of Mandatory

I know, mandatory is a funny word to dislike so strongly.

I see way too many emails from adults to young people with the word mandatory.  I should actually start by describing the 3 levels of mandatory I am talking about:

Level 1 – mandatory

Level 2- MANDATORY

Level 3 – MANDATORY

You may be familiar with this strategy of using different combinations of capitalization, italics, bold, and sometimes underline to convey the degree of mandatory-ness.

So, I do get it.  The writer of the email wants to ensure that the young person completes the thing or attends the thing that is the subject of the message.  But mandatory is about absolutes, and we should use them sparingly.

And do we really mean mandatory?  If you have COVID is the deadline still mandatory?  If your parent is sick in the hospital is it still mandatory?  If it is your grandmother’s 100th birthday, is it mandatory?  Because if we use mandatory, it is mandatory, isn’t it?

You see I have spent many years in the adult world, and there are a lot of things in my life which are important and I should prioritize, but very few things in my life that are really mandatory.

For many,  young people should be allowed to make choices, as long as they choose what we want them to choose.

Now if you are coaching a team, or rehearsing a play or preparing for an exam, you want the young people to attend your thing.  You want them to prioritize your thing over other things.

But, as I often see, everything is mandatory, how is that fair?  We say we want young people to do lots of activities, and have lots of experiences but we penalize them when they don’t always prioritize what we want them to prioritize.

Now, as kids get older and can specialize more, there will absolutely be consequences if something is not a priority.  If you are the lead in the musical but only prioritize half the rehearsals you will probably be replaced.  And if you only prioritize half the study sessions for the AP Exam, you should not be surprised if you score a 2.

I coach in a high level club basketball program where teenagers choose to participate and much of their fees are covered by sponsors.  As student get older they need to prioritize this if they want to participate.  There are lots of options for them to participate with basketball so asking them to prioritize is fair.

I think we can get to a similar place without the M word.  We should have real conversations with young people about priorities.  We should talk about trade-offs, and be open to allowing young people to not always prioritize our thing.

So if you see yourself using mandatory in your email to young people – stop it.  Find another way to convey importance but allow young people choice, agency and ownership.

This week I attended an interesting session on ethical decision making. The session by former Surrey School Superintendent Mike McKay picked up on the work of Rushworth Kidder and his focus on mapping ethical dilemmas.  Kidder’s work was heavily referenced in the early 2000’s, and is still very relevant today.

For me, one of the impacts of these sessions where you wrestle with case studies that have a right vs. right approach is that you think back on decisions you have made that you might make differently now.  We all have them. Sure you made the right decision, but was there more than one right decision you could have made?   Decisions are products of the time, the values of the school we were in, the standards of the district, the level of experience we had, and a general view of the world. 

I have written before about Stuff I Was Wrong About, but this is different.  This is not about hunches I had that proved not to go the way I thought they would, these are decisions I made that I would now process through my current ethical framework and likely come up with a different decision.  

Kidder wrote about:

5 core values:  compassion, fairness, honesty, responsibility and respect

4 ethical lenses:  Justice/Mercy, Short or Long Term, Individual/Community and Truth or Loyalty

3 decision making principles: Greatest Good/Greatest Number (ends-based), Precedent (rules based) and Do Unto Others

Here are three I have, as a teacher, a coach and an administrator, that I still think about today – and as Cher says, “If I Could Turn Back Time”

As a Teacher –  A couple stand out around assessment and evaluation.  First, I would post marks on the wall.  They were not with names, but students numbers, but everyone still likely knew who was who.  And this did nothing for those who were struggling, if anything it probably discouraged them. I was thinking this would help improve responsibility.  Similarly, I remember failing students with 45% in a course without taking the extra time to see if I could support them to get to a passing grade.  I wanted to have standards, but did so at the expense of compassion.  I thought this was being fair at the time.  I would definitely think different now through both situations.

As a Coach –  Early on in my coaching career, I would cut teams down to a number that would allow me to maximize playing the best players.  And then, I would still be unbalanced in how I allocated playing time, even at younger high school levels.  If I went back, I would take more kids on teams, and play the less skilled players more – even if it meant losing a few more games along the way.  I often say, “Winning is fun,” but when you travel an hour for an exhibition game early in the season – everyone should play.

As an Administrator – I think about a couple of these the most.  Almost all schools I worked in used grad (or the threat of taking away grad) as a way to help maintain behaviour of grade 12 students.  As in “if you do X you won’t be allowed to attend grad.”  And I get it, still.  Grade 12s can be a pain in the last few months of their graduation year, with credits earned, future plans secured and a need to celebrate their accomplishments.  That said, I really regret taking away grad from students.  Grad is one of those life events that deserves to be celebrated.  You look back at grad photos decades later, you tell the stories of your grad to your children and grandchildren.  And, kids do dumb things and there should be ways to deal with the behaviour that allows students to make amends.

In a post I wrote in 2016 on parenting (I Used to Blame Parents) I wrote, “All of my black and white views from my early 20’s are really now very grey.”  As I think through these right vs. right dilemmas, and a series of other scenarios I worked through with colleagues, as I know more and have seen more, I am far less absolute in my thinking.

I am sure we all have some decisions we wish we could go back and see through different eyes.  I am continually reminded of a piece of advice I got from a former principal colleague, he said when challenged by a frustrated teacher, and asked how many chances he was going to give, he said “always one more.”

Library Reinvention

Regular readers will know that libraries and librarians, both in the school and community are a semi-regular topic here. I am quite fascinated by the transformation I have seen in my lifetime in the spaces and the work. More than a decade ago I wrote My Take on Librarians, a post that still largely holds up today.

I had the chance to speak to teacher-librarians from across the country recently (here is slide deck), and shared, what I see, as having been a remarkable reinvention over the last 40 years.  I really think if in 1982, you explained to people the way information access would be transformed over the next 40 years, many would have thought libraries in schools and the community would disappear.  Like Blockbuster Video, they would have served a useful purpose for a period in time and people would have moved on.  But actually, the opposite has happened.  Libraries have become more central to the work in schools and the community.  They have defined themselves not by the books they move in and out, but by their role as a gathering place. As David Lankes argues, “Bad libraries build collections, good libraries build services, great libraries build communities.”

And we know the stereotypes of teacher-librarians in popular media – conservative and traditional (probably almost as bad as the stereotypes about school superintendents). I now stand in the room with teacher-librarians and their reinvention is so deep, they talk about “library-learning commons” with ease.  Virtually nobody called what I knew to be the library, “the library”, I felt so dated with some of my references.

From what I have seen from our schools and district and from the other schools and districts I have worked in, the powerful reinvention has had many drivers, but for me the key ones have been:

  • Space
  • Technology
  • Equity, Diversity, Inclusivity and Reconciliation

These have been the areas that have ensured library-learning commons, and the people who lead these spaces, are more relevant than ever.  And the three areas are all connected, with one following the next and building on it.

With space, many will remember the push early this century to make schools more like Starbucks.   This is a bit simplistic, but the idea is that schools should be places that are comfortable, where kids want to hang-out, and informal learning spaces are embraced to compliment the more formal ones.  Libraries helped lead this.  Dated books were often removed, and couches replaced tall shelving.  The spaces were opened up.  More than ever they were places that students wanted to gather.

Then came the technology.  Libraries still embraced the physical space, but they also often supplemented this with digital spaces.  Blockbuster Video doubled-down on being the video people and Netflix crushed them.  Libraries embraced being the connection places for information for everyone and the repository for all to access.  

And now, I see library-learning commons being the hub of what has become our crucial work at this time around equity, diversity, inclusivity, and Reconciliation.  No place connects to all classrooms like library-learning commons, no people connect to more people like teacher-librarians.  There is discomfort with some of this work.  More than anything people don’t want to make a mistake, and having expertise in teacher-librarians (and community librarians) helps to move this work quickly and thoughtfully.

So, here we are.  Companies like Blockbuster Video, Polaroid, Tower Records and Kodak have all gone.  Caught up in our shifting world.  And yet the school and community library stand more important than ever.

And so what is next?  If I was giving advice I would tell libraries to keep looking ahead – tell the stories of the next 20 years.  They should never forget their core purpose of literacy – but continually define this broadly. And they should be the gathering place for people and ideas.  As so much of our world seems to have siloed, we need these common spaces to connect school and community.

 

This post is a duplicate of the column in the October 2022 AASA School Administrator Magazine (link to magazine) and is based on a previous blog post published this past June.  

I MAY BE the most stereotypical teacher ever. My parents were teachers. Their parents were teachers. I met my wife at work, where we both were teachers.

I was born in Canada. My parents were born in Canada as well. I am superintendent in the school district my grandfather taught in during the 1930s and ’40s.

My back story is that despite some early learning challenges, I was a good student and performed well in school. After zooming through university studies as a geography and history major, I was back at my former junior high school as a teacher at age 22.

Now 26 years later and 12 years into my superintendency, education is the only career I have known.

Wider Backgrounds

I think I was (and still am) a pretty good teacher. But I also know we need to continue to do better to attract teachers to the profession who have a different story than I do. For too long, too many teachers’ stories were similar to mine. The teaching profession was largely made up of people who were successful at school, typically spoke English as their first language, were from long-established families in our country and often went straight into teaching as a career without other real work experiences.

We are trying to do better in our school district. Just as we have diversity among our learners, we need diversity in the adults who work with them. Having teachers who come to teaching after careers in construction or accounting or professional sports gives new perspectives to students and reminds them that for most, their work life will be made up of many different jobs.

Having teachers who struggled in school gives added voice to those in our classes who are struggling now. School does not come easy for everyone, and adolescence is hard, so having teachers with non-linear life experiences helps.

We also want our teaching force, just like our student population, to be culturally diverse, speaking different languages at home and demonstrating that our schools are reflective of our communities. We need to do better to recruit populations that have been traditionally underrepresented in the teaching profession.

With 75 percent or more of our teachers being female, we need to find ways to ensure men see the profession as valuable.

An Odd Notion

I know this is not really controversial, but it is hard. Changing the makeup of the adults who work in our schools is not only about who we hire, but also about who chooses to apply and who is encouraged to go into teaching. And it goes all the way back to what we show young students about the profession, that representation matters.

As we have recently started another school year and look ahead, this is a topic I think a lot about. It is a weird notion, but we need to do better to hire and retain staff who are not much like me.

This blog post also appears in the Fall Newsletter for the Canadian Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association 

As we return to school this fall, we are applying the many lessons learned from the last three years.  There is a worry that we will simply snap back to pre-COVID times without implementing what we have learned throughout the pandemic.  In our district, we are holding onto many of our COVID adjustments, from keeping some meetings online, to building in flexible time for students and staff schedules, to focusing more on well-being.

This same reflection should be happening in all our jurisdictions as we look at school sports. 

It also just seems like the right time to reassess what we did pre-COVID, by asking ourselves questions like: are we offering the right sports to meet the current needs of our students?  Are our leagues achieving what we want? Are we happy with the mix of practice and competition, and are we satisfied with the level of competition with our school sports?  Over the last three years, almost every sport was impacted for at least two of those years, and instead of racing back to ‘the way things were’, it seems like the ideal time to be revising and evolving our vision for school sports.

As COVID eliminated school sports to varying degrees, we were reminded of just how important these activities were for social connectedness, and how for young people, and their coaches and families, school sports are crucial to social, emotional, and physical well-being. I would regularly hear from parents that school sports are the glue that connects their children to school. The importance of school sports is not just a gut-feel that many of us have, a 2021 University of Wisconsin study, found that athletes who were able to continue to play sports during the pandemic were less likely to report anxiety and depression symptoms than those who didn’t have the opportunity to participate.

Beyond reinforcing the value and importance of school sports, these are some opportunities, lessons, and takeaways:

  • Livestreaming sporting events in schools for health and safety reasons, while not new, engaged more students and families, and efforts should be made to continue once health and safety rules are relaxed.
  • In 2020-21, when most jurisdictions did not allow inter-school competition, many sports saw increased participation for what amounted to yearlong practicing. These are students we should be looking to keep engaged in school sports now that we are returning to traditional league structures.
  • There was a reset on competition. School sports doubled-down on their values of being about student growth, development and wellbeing, and further distanced themselves from the for-profit, win-at-all-costs programming we see from some community sports vendors.  Building on the reset of competition, we also witnessed increased levels of participation, more students involved in each sport, no cuts, and a reemphasis on well-being and school community.
  • As the rigid edges of hyper-competitive athletics were softened during COVID, we noticed and observed a more inclusive and accepting school athletic community.
  • As we build our school sports back to pre COVID levels, students and families are showing a greater appreciation for the opportunity to play and for their coaches, that make school sports possible.
  • Teachers and other volunteers found more sustainable routines during COVID.  I often heard coaches say they found balance.  As we work to reengage these key people, we might need to adjust the expectations in order to encourage them back.

What lessons about school sports did you learn during COVID, and how are you applying these lessons to meet the needs of our students, families and schools?

Teachers

One of the best parts of my job is that I regularly hear from parents about the amazing difference individual teachers have made for their children. And all of us likely have stories about teachers that have had a significant impact in our lives. I know if it wasn’t for teachers like Mrs. Caffrey (I wrote about her HERE a few years ago) my life would be very different.

As we celebrate World Teachers’ Day today, it is a chance to reflect on the state of the profession.

Each community has its own unique circumstances.

Let me start by bragging.

West Vancouver Schools are regarded as some of the top schools in the country, known for our innovative programming, and the teachers are seen as the top in their field. Whether it is on standards assessments, or with graduation rates, or on levels of satisfaction with the school experiences, our students’ results are exceptionally impressive.

And I am in awe of how our students, supported by their teachers, are leading in areas from the climate crisis, to SOGI, to Truth and Reconciliation. Our schools are proof that citizenship and academic success are connected.

And I look at the programs that our teachers are leading its clear we are on top of ensuring relevance in all we do. From innovative business and entrepreneurship programs to a range of work experience options exposing students to new careers to the hundreds of students engaged in robotics, our staff are regularly modernizing the school experience.

But . . .

In West Vancouver, the challenge of housing affordability makes it almost impossible for teachers to live in the community. Less than 10% of our staff actually live here. So, now as competition for staff increases, and teachers can work closer to home, more than ever we need to ensure we offer a professional, rewarding, and enriching experience for staff. These teachers travel through one or more jurisdictions in which they could get a job to work with us in West Vancouver.

The reality is that if teachers choose to work closer to home, it will be challenging to replace them with someone of the same quality. This is the state of our job market.

We are doing everything we can to continue to recruit and retain the very best. It is all about culture, and we do everything we can to build and create amazing places for teachers to work, learn and grow.

Just as we have become much more focused on our students’ mental health, the same is true for our staff. And I am trying to support teachers in creating boundaries on their work, so they don’t have situations where they receive an email from a student or parent at 10 PM and a reply is expected that same night. And we are trying offer as much professional support so our teachers can remain at the front of the teaching profession.

And how can the community help?

Treat teachers well. It can sound simple, or even trite, but it matters. While none of us are perfect, and can make mistakes, all teachers I have had the chance to work with are incredibly professional. Working through scenarios, I am in awe of how teachers balance the needs of individual learners, with also what is best for the community of learners in the classroom.

When I ask teachers why they stay, they almost all speak to the great satisfaction they get from the work, and regularly highlight the support they receive from colleagues, their administrators and parents.

However, I am hearing from our schools and seeing more news stories around parents confronting teachers and staff in schools. We seem to be moving too quickly to a place of outrage, and rapidly bypassing that essential step of seeking first to understand.

I know, this is not about teaching, it has been even more pronounced in health care, and horrible treatment many doctors and other health professionals have received over the last few years. The diminishing trust for our public institutions is disappointing and alarming. I also think some of the media from the United States covering school board meetings and other events has normalized behaviour that should not be seen as OK.

And before this behaviour seeps more into our system, I think we should have this conversation.

We can do better.

Teaching is a human enterprise. It is wildly frustrating because it is impossible to bottle and replicate what makes a “great teacher.” Its strength is also its humanness. Teachers build communities, that help our students navigate the experiences they have and will have in the larger world.

I often get asked if I could do it over would I go into teaching, or would I recommend others to pursue teaching. ABSOLUTELY! It is hard, complicated work. And it is also rich, rewarding, and powerful work. We need our absolute best to see teaching as a professional option for them.

I encourage you to share stories with your children of the teachers that made a difference for you, and what it was about them that made such an impact.

And by no means do I want to shirk our responsibilities. Please continue to hold us to account. But if we want our very best to join the teaching profession and perhaps most importantly, remain in the profession, we need to treat them professionally.

I feel blessed to work in a community that values education so strongly. I am confident students are receiving this country’s best education preparing them as active citizens and supporting life beyond our schools in our communities, universities, trades programs and the work world.

To all the wonderful teachers in the various roles across West Vancouver, and those beyond, Happy World Teachers Day!