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There is an absolute rhythm to a school-year. It was more pronounced for me when I was in a school, but I still see it here in the Board Office. There is the excitement of September as students and staff come back fresh off of vacation. There is the reality of late October as interim reports hit in high school. In December – it is a double hit: Christmas Concerts and first-term reports. Then in the new year you can feel this build up towards spring break and then we return in April and the weather (is usually) better, we begin to look for ways to pull the year’s learning together, celebrate achievements and keep and eye on next year.

Of course, during all 10 months (and really all 12 months) we are always asking people to think differently, to push innovation and look for new and better ways of supporting our learners.  I have been wondering if there are specific times of year that people are more curious, more open and more engaged in these conversations.

With only anecdotal data, here are the four key times I find that people want to talk about innovation:

October – By October, the school year has started, and classes are settled.  In high school, it is in October that teachers and departments already need to look ahead to what they might want to offer the following year and begin the approval process.  We are comfortable in what we are doing in October but not to the heaviness of November.

Mid-February – I find January to Spring Break to be the sweet spot for moving ideas forward in schools.  I think students are the most focused during this term.  There seem to be fewer distractions than the first and third term for everyone.  If I was to differentiate this period to the other ones, I see this one as the time when people try new things with their practice.  The other times people are often looking ahead to what they might do next term or next year – in this window of time, people are implementing new ideas – taking what they learned from conferences, workshops or colleagues and trying it in their class.  I would love to see if my hypothesis is true that the most “new stuff” in classes happens in the middle of February.

May –  May feels a bit like October when it comes to innovation.  People are looking at next year but they are not into the field trip / track meet / graduation ceremonies of June.  It seems to definitely be the time when people have one eye on this year and one on next year.  It is the season of teacher postings, administrative changes and also a time when people look at what they might want to do differently.

Last Week of June / First Week of July – I get more emails about new ideas at this time of year than at any other point.  I often say that everyone has some “thinking time” at this point in the year.  School – regardless of your role – is all-consuming so it is finally once report cards are in and classes are being dismissed and before “summer holidays” really kick-in that people have some time to think about what they might want to do differently or put together and email about a proposal they have been ruminating on for a while .

I am sure all jobs have a rhythm.  I do find the seasons in school to be very pronounced.  I see a lot of if it X month, you can be sure that Y will happen.  As we look to move our schools and our system, we need to be conscious of this and look for the windows when people are ready to talk about doing things differently.  I am curious if what I see with the times of year are consistent with others.

 

OK, I picked the blog title largely to share one of my favourite Seinfeld clips:

The title has a little more meaning than that.  In recent weeks, I have had a number of people share this quote with me that has gone viral on social media:

This quote really has me thinking.  I am not sure.  I get this is the popular opinion.  We are quick to want to pile-on that parents today have lowered their expectations and increased the enabling of their children.   These kinds of issues are not simple.  Yes, adults have changed, but so has the world around us.  We need to be careful not to romanticize the return to a past that had its share of challenges and deficiencies.

There is no shortage of parenting books out there with advice for how adults should act with their children.  Last week we had Dr. Shimi Kang speak in our community.  Her book, The Dolphin Parent, is a National Bestseller.  She notes that there are numerous new pressures on parents of the twenty-first century, suggesting issues like tougher school admissions, globalization and in-turn greater competition, the boom in technology and economic uncertainty are causing parents to act differently.  She says, “These uncertainties are unsettling; they unmoor us and make us question some of the basic truths we have lived by.  Even the best-intentioned parents among us are confused and frightened.”

So perhaps it is out of this fear that parents have, which emerges what Martin sees in the changing parents.

The best book I have read on the topic is How to Raise and Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims.  She spent a decade as the Dean of Freshman at Stanford.

She sets the context which she sees in parents today:

Too many of us do some combination of overdirecting, over-protecting, or over-involving ourselves in our kids’ lives.  We treat our kids like rare and precious botanical specimens and provide a deliberate, measured amount of care and feeding while running interference on all that might toughen and weather them.  But humans need some degree of weathering in order to survive the larger challenges life will throw our way.  Without experiences the rougher spots of life, our kids become exquisite, like orchids, yet are incapable, sometimes terribly incapable, of thriving in the real world on their own.  Why did parenting change from preparing our kids for life to protecting them from life, which means they’re not prepared to live life on their own?

It is this context that Martin’s quote seems to be speaking to.

Lythcott-Haims outlines numerous steps, small and large, parents can do to change things and allow children to chart their own path.  She says:

As parents our dream was to have a child, but we can’t forget that our children have the right to dream for themselves. There is much more to each precious, unique child than we can possibly know, and that unique person – that self is for each young person to discover.  We want so badly to help them by shepherding them from milestone to millstone and by shielding them from failure and pain.  But over helping causes harm.  It can leave young adults without strengths of skill, will, and character that are needed to know themselves and to craft a life.

The more I read about the changing world with greater unpredictability and uncertainty I definitely appreciate urges to want to do more for our children, and not less.  Especially when I am sure our neighbours are definitely doing more for their children – at least it sure looks that way on social media.

As a parent in these times I have empathy for the adults that Martin calls out.  And I don’t think it is simple.  But Kang and her reasoned approach to parenting and Lythcott-Haims and her view that we need to give our children’s lives back to them are important messages.  They are ones we all likely know and agree with but ones we need to keep repeating.

The Hat Rule

I loved the hat rule.

As a teacher it was a great rule – it was so easy to tell which students were not in compliance – “Hey, take off your hat!” What was also great about it was that if a student continued to be non-compliant, I didn’t really have to deal with it.  I would just forward the issue on to the vice-principal of the school for them to deal with. What a great system!

Of course there were debates at staff meetings about whether hoodies were hats, what about toques in winter, or if students were outside but participating in a course if the hat rule still applied. Really, it seemed like everyone on staff liked the hat rule.

Once I became a vice-principal I started to like the hat rule less.  All of the sudden all these teachers were referring names of students to me they saw wearing hats.  Other staff members were getting in confrontations with students over hats.  And the initial reaction I was having with students was not “Good Morning” but “Take off your hat”.

This is not a post about appropriate dress nor am I trying to elicit responses about how much better it would be if students respected authority like we romanticize they used to do.  It is not really about hats at all.

We love things that are simple to think about.  I was recently giving a talk about technology and about how messy it is.  Giving students the same technology is not the answer, nor is there any real prescription about how much technology they should be using or the kinds of tools they should be using.  It is messy.

And this messiness can create anxiety for all of us.  We like things that are simple to think about.

And technology, like many things in education is not simple.  There are no easy right and wrong answers.  There are multiple approaches that can be effective.  The same can be said for literacy instruction, supporting aboriginal students or building a vibrant arts program.

I loved the hat rule because it was simple.  It was easy to tell which students were in compliance.  If I walked through the halls and no students were wearing hats, I could have a sense of accomplishment that I was making a difference.

It is not as easy to walk through the halls of a school and know if all students are learning or being successful.

In retrospect, we spent a lot of time talking about hats at staff meetings – I wonder what it would have been like if we spent the time dedicated to “no kids will wear hats” instead dedicated to talking about “all kids will be successful”.

We would love simple answers in education and unfortunately we selected an occupation that is full of messy, tricky and nuanced challenges.

As I said, I am not trying to pick on those of you who love a hat-free building.  Having some simple rules of manners and civility can be good for students and staff.   It is important though to think about if we are talking about issues because they are the easy ones rather than the important ones.

I know many of you have been following the process over the last several months as we name our new school opening this fall. We are always told to engage the community, so we did when it came to naming the school at the corner of Lipra Avenue and Loof Lane.  And today we are excited to see that we have come to the conclusion of this process.

Background

We began this process last fall.  While many school districts name schools after local individuals of historical significance or a name that reflects the local geography we wanted to give our new school a current and relevant name – the kind that truly spoke to the community. With all the talk about school relevance we thought we should start with the name.  We were excited to see how San Diego was choosing its name for its new MLS franchise by asking the internet (click on the link – it is a good read) – and we decided to do the same thing.  As we have embraced technology we have learned when you ask the internet a question, it always give you the best answer.  Initially we had over 100 submissions and then moved to the final 4 for the decision.  The Internet is always right.

Finalists

Based on the votes, the final 4 were:

Pamela Anderson Ethical Treatment of Animals Elementary – We assume that the community’s commitment to social initiatives led to this choice. There was also a lot of interest in a young lifeguarding specialty academy which seemed a good fit for this school.  It appeared to be an early favourite with Ms. Anderson’s roots in British Columbia, but concerns were raised around potential risque nicknames and logos attached to this school which did seem to cost it some support.

Mr. Dressup Traditional Values Elementary – This had a lot of sentimental support from parents that grew up with the show.  The vision of the school was that each day the entire school would watch the antics of Casey and Finnegan to start their day and that would set the tone for the rest of the day.  Like how some schools watch a news broadcast, the 4,000 iconic Dressup episodes featuring Ernie Coombes would be shown in sequence, so a ten year cycle of shows.

Justin Bieber Elementary School of Music– A school with a music focus made a lot of sense, so it was not surprising to see this as one of the finalists.  The supporters had already labeled the school’s teams the Bieber Beliebers.  Again the strong Canadian roots to this name were seen as a real positive.

Donald J. Trump Elementary School of Winning – This was the most surprising of the finalists.  The school’s vision was to be focused on winning, so much winning that those attending the school would be tired of winning so much.  While many had thought that a school named for a politician would more logically choose a Canadian like Justin Trudeau or Stephen Harper Elementary, Trump Elementary seemed to be riding the wave of public attention.  Some clearly felt the Trump name would be like having an IB designation – everyone would know what it meant.

Vote Results

Our New School

We are excited to be opening up Donald J. Trump Elementary School of Winning this fall.  In the end Trump Elementary received 46.1% of the vote – which is truly a massive majority of the votes.  If you get 46.1% of the vote, it is hard to say you didn’t get anything but an incredible majority in an election.  Through this process, we also learned a lot about our community.  In reviewing the list of those who voted, we learned that the majority of the Trump Elementary votes came from our Russian community.  We actually didn’t know we had a Russian community before this.

So now the iconic Trump brand, will now be on our elementary school.  With the excellent reputation of Trump University, clearly Trump has already made its name in education.   Beyond its focus on winning, it makes sense to also focus on literacy.  We can envision Mr. Trump’s recent quote about what he was reading to be the kind of quote that would inspire our students:

Well, you know, I love to read. Actually, I’m looking at a book, I’m reading a book, I’m trying to get started. Every time I do about a half a page, I get a phone call that there’s some emergency, this or that. But we’re going to see the home of Andrew Jackson today in Tennessee and I’m reading a book on Andrew Jackson. I love to read. I don’t get to read very much, Tucker, because I’m working very hard on lots of different things, including getting costs down. The costs of our country are out of control. But we have a lot of great things happening, we have a lot of tremendous things happening.Donald Trump to Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, March 15, 2017

And we know it will be a bigly popular school, the kind of school that needs a selection process – we anticipate some extreme vetting in how we choose our students.

Going Forward

We are not naive.  We know that a decision like this today, of all days, may surprise some in the community.  We know, the people are always right.  And this does carry-on our annual tradition of using this day to make bold decisions!

In 2012 I launched my FLOG.

In 2013 I made the announcement of Quadrennial Round Schooling.

In 2014 we formalized our System of Student Power Rankings.

In 2015 we created our Rock, Paper, Scissors Academy.

In 2016 we introduced the Drone Homework Delivery System.

And today we announce our plans to open up Donald J. Trump Elementary School of Winning.

Hopefully you are enjoying today as much as me!

Speaking recently in Edmonton, to Superintendents from across Alberta, I shared a slide from Pasi Sahlberg that he used this past December at the Learning Forward Conference in Vancouver:

This slide tells an incredibly powerful and important story – it speaks to our values in education in British Columbia and Canada, and to our aspirations for students.

I have written a number of times in the past about PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results, most recently this past December – It is OK to Be Happy About PISA.   And I always do so with the “it is only one test” caveat, but that said, it is still a widely regarded international benchmark on some key education outcomes.

So, just why is this one slide so important?  It takes the 2015 results and plots jurisdiction based on their achievement in math, reading and science along the Y-axis and based on equity (the weakness of the relationship between family background and achievement) along the X-axis.  So those jurisdictions in the top right of the graph are those with the highest levels of excellence and equity.

The jurisdictions in this sweet-spot that Sahlberg referred to as the “Highway to Heaven”  include a cluster of Canadian provinces – BC, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec as well as Canada as a whole, along with just a couple other nations.  (Note:  Since education is under provincial not federal jurisdiction in Canada, individual provinces show up separately for PISA).

Strong equity and high quality – this is the story of our schools.  And this speaks directly to our values in our education system. Of course this does not negate the work we need to do – there are a lot of areas to focus, including the success of our Aboriginal learners.  In West Vancouver, we often look at how large the differences are between schools on any given measure – and see the lack of differences as just as much a mark of success as the high achievement.  We want these ideals to run in tandem.

So, if I could just share one slide about “how we are doing” and “who do we want to continue to be” going forward, it would be this one.

And finally, coming back to a notion I have shared before, and shared with our colleagues from Alberta, instead of always looking around the world, we should be looking across the country – the Canadian education story is a good story and one we should tell, and work together to strengthen.

longshot

It was one of those magical nights.

Last Friday night I joined a sold out crowd at the Kay Meek Theatre (one of two sellouts of close to 500 people each that night) to see the premier of Longshot: The Brian Upson Story.  It was like a community reunion – for one night our community was transported back in time to 1982.

The Brian Upson story is hard to believe.  It feels like a script for a Hollywood movie, the kind that people would read and say, this is not believable enough.  With the premier of the movie, it has been told several times recently.  The short version of the story is that the West Vancouver Highlanders won their only provincial basketball championship in their history in 1982.  They won the final game defeating their league rival Argyle by a single-point, after losing to them three times earlier in the season in-front of a capacity crowd at the Agrodome in Vancouver. And it is far more than just a story of winning a basketball title, as the Highlanders were coached by Brian Upson, who, battling colon cancer had not been expected to live long enough to make it to the championships. He coached the team to the title, and passed away two weeks later.  This does not fairly tell the story – it is worth reading the full story.  In 2012, Len Corben described it as the most memorable sports story in the 100 year history of West Vancouver.  Recently, in anticipation of the film Rosalind Duane did a wonderful feature in the North Shore News and Steve Ewen did a feature that ran in both the Vancouver Sun and Vancouver Province.

This post is not about retelling the Brian Upson Story – others have told it far better than I ever could.

I have seen many student films.  This was different.  I thought I was watching an ESPN 30for30 documentary.  It was a professional film.  I have a vision in my mind what a school project film looks like.  But this blew me away.  Teacher Dave Shannon and his students had taken on an incredibly challenging project and done an amazing job.  And what a great reminder – when students do real work for a real audience they will rise to the occasion.  I realize they didn’t have much choice – they had to do a great job.  They were telling the story of the greatest sporting event in our community’s history.  They had interviewed Upson’s wife and children and the players from the team – they were all going to be in the audience.  And the students delivered.  This is one of those great reminders about school.  We too often don’t do real world work, but when we do it is magical.

And the power of real work was not the only reminder from the movie.  The movie reminded us of the power of high school sports.  All of the players, now 35 years later, spoke to the impact of the team and being part of the experience.  The crowd footage from 1982 was amazing – as 5000 people cheered on the teams in the final – many of them students.  It was something that connected the school.  Schools are more than just taking courses in the same room together, they are communities.

And the film also reminded us of the power of a teacher.  The players spoke about the profound impact Mr. Upson has had on their lives.  He helped make them who they are today.  Teachers and coaches have an enormous impact on young people and the movie serves to remind us of that.  It also reminded us that it is very often those connections outside the class that are most significant – for teachers and students.

Even though everyone in the room knew how the story would end – they cheered along.  When the buzzer sounded and the game ended the crowd in the theatre madly applauded.  We were all transported back thirty-five years.  Thanks to the students of the Rockridge film program.

Friday night was one of those special nights.  It showed the best of community.  And reminded us of the power of teachers, coaches and schools.  Pretty impressive.

Here is the Official Trailer for the movie:

So What About Badges?

school_boyI feel a little late to this conversation.

The idea of using digital badging is not new.  For the last several years I have seen blog posts on the topic, and at online learning conferences seen speakers talk to the possibilities of using badging in education.  It is a conversation that I have not given a lot of attention.  It seemed to be one driven by digitally passionate teachers in select schools, and did not seem to be growing.  It also seemed one more focused at post-secondary than in K-12.  And from a cursory look, I thought we might really be talking about digital ribbons and trophies – and I didn’t think we needed those.

As a background, Erin Fields describes these next generation of Girl Guides or Boy Scout badges in the world of education as:

Badges are a digital representation of a skill, behaviour, knowledge, ability or participation in an experience. What makes this digital symbol unique is the attached metadata. The metadata of a badge is “baked-in”. The “baking-in” process allows issuers to provide information about why the badge was earned that is then attached to the badge image. This information, or metadata, attached to the badge will include the criteria for earning the badge, the issuing organization, and evidence of earning.

I found it interesting that Digital Badging made the front cover of last month’s School Administrator Magazine – a magazine targeted at Superintendents and other district leaders across North America.  The cover story was written by Sheryl Grant, the director of alternative credentials and badge research at HASTAC at Duke University.    She argued:

Kids today build their reputations in a much different world.  They move seamlessly between offline and online networks, some with dozens of virtual peers who share similar interests, often spending hours together as they learn and share new skills.  They create websites, produce movies and play video games where they earn badges and have followers and friends they may never meet face-to-face.

In the same issue of School Administrator, Amanda Rose Fuller from Aurora Public Schools in Colorado wrote about badges as micro-credentialing and as a way to expand access to post-secondary workforce readiness credentials to all students.  She said:

The digital badging program has supported many students throughout their academic journey by providing credentials to open doors.  As students develop 21-century skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, invention, information literacy and self-direction inside and outside the classroom, they have the capacity to earn evidence-based credentials.

It is with some of this recent reading that timing was interesting, as this past Friday I was asked to be a speaker and “Instigator” at the BC Open Badges Forum – which featured a cross section of people ranging from curious to passionate in the use of badges throughout education and outside of education in “the real world.”  The notes from the day (HERE) and the conversation at #BadgeBC on Twitter are both useful to see the thinking of the group.

As I often have written, it is an exciting time in K-12 education in BC, and one of change.  We have revised curriculum from K-12 which focuses on big ideas and is less about minutia that dominated curriculum in the past, there is a commitment to core competencies throughout the system, including having students self-reflect, there are districts looking at new ways of communicating student learning to students and parents, and notions like capstone projects or passion projects are becoming more the norm in both elementary and secondary schools.  There is also a genuine commitment from those inside the K-12 system to find better ways of recognizing the amazing learning that students do outside of school, but is part of the package of their learning.

It is in this context that I wonder about the place of open badging and the opportunities going forward.  I don’t think a collection of badges is going to replace a traditional report card or transcript, but I do think there are possibilities that if our learning partners like the library, community centres, museums, sports clubs and others looked at badging as a way to share what students have done, we could find a way to recognize it inside our system.  I know our very forward thinking public library, the West Vancouver Memorial Library, is already beginning to think about this.  We want students to have portfolios that are rich in information from their school experience but also their larger learning experience, and maybe badges have a role to play.

We have long found ways to give “credit” for students who reach a certain level of Piano, or make a Provincial Soccer Team, or earn a trades credential – but there are so many other areas that are part of learning but marginalized as part of a student’s learning record.

Two months ago, if asked I would have said digital badging in K-12 felt like a bit of a fad, and maybe something for a very small small group of teachers and students.  My thinking is shifting.  If those working with youth can begin to create micro-credentialing in the digital world, and do so in an open-source way that allowed others to do the same, I think we could begin to find meaningful ways of including it in our work.

I am curious to hear the experiences of others in the badging world.

instagagor-badge