Archive for February, 2013


February 27 marks Pink Shirt Day in British Columbia.   In its sixth year, this event is being recognized as “taking action to stop bullies in our school and around the province”.  While the day here in Vancouver is often linked to local radio station CKNW 980 (through promotions of the day),  Pink Shirt Day’s roots were set in Nova Scotia in 2007, from an incident regarding a Grade 9 boy  who, on the first day of school, wore a pink polo shirt and was harassed because of it and labelled a homosexual. In response, hundreds of classmates showed up in a “sea of pink” to show their support.

With that bit of history, I need to make a confession — I have been slow to be a passionate and vocal supporter of the day.  I am always a little skeptical when a lot of attention and resources are pushed toward a one-day event to recognize an important issue requiring serious thought and reflection. The reason — sometimes the very nature of a high-profile, one-day event can generate many simplistic sounding solutions to some very complicated problems.  I am also wary that the conversations around anti-bullying can focus on all the behaviours we don’t want to see instead of those we want to see and encourage in our youth.

That said, I am a convert.  Over the last few years I have seen Pink Shirt Day become a symbol for work that is happening during the course of the year in schools and in the community.  Yes, it is only a one-day celebration of this work, but the work is not limited to the one day.  In the West Vancouver School District, there are so many great examples of raising awareness and sustained and purposeful action.

Students from Gleneagles Ch’axáý Elementary School were part of a group of 2,000 students across Metro Vancouver, who participated in a flash mob at a  Vancouver Giants game in January to focus attention on the issue of anti-bullying, acceptance and inclusion:

Schools across West Vancouver will also join the “sea of pink” this Wednesday, from École Cedardale Elementary, Hollyburn and Irwin Park Elementary to all three secondary schools. BUT, schools will be doing more than ‘wearing pink’. Rockridge Secondary students are connecting their antibullying efforts around restorative justice, and at École Pauline Johnson, the focus will be on work with and from their Virtues Project. Lions Bay will focus their antibullying efforts on how to do stop antibullying through inquiry, how they express themselves through body language and feelings, as well as how to solve problems peacefully. Chartwell’s Pink Shirt Day is a month-long focus on inclusion.  While all of these efforts are a one-day statement, the learning experience is not just for one day.

So, I will be in my pink shirt this Wednesday, along with my own kids at their school, and many of our staff and students in West Vancouver.  Yes, it is only one day, but the attention of one day will carry over to the next day, and the next.

There are many wonderful collections of resources to support anti-bullying in the classroom.  The BC Ministry of Education’s ERASE Bullying site is an excellent spot to find resources for teachers, parents, and youth.  I have also written two previous posts on the specific topic of anti-homophobia in 2011 and 2012 and both have links to other key resources.

One final video to share is Shane Koyczan’s To This Day Project:

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Two of my most popular posts have been about Dr. Stuart Shanker and his work; each post has received well over 10,000 views.  To recap, the first post in November 2010 is here and the second one here  was written in April 2012.

West Vancouver is part of the first wave of school districts in British Columbia, along with Bulkley Valley, Coquitlam, Greater Victoria, Nanaimo and Surrey, who are working together on a project to implement and monitor the impact of self-regulated instructional models.  One of the greatest contributions to date has been a one-stop shop for resources on Self-Regulation (here).

Dr. Shanker’s work is clearly providing inspiration around the province, and we are seeing that in each of our schools in West Vancouver.  While the work models may look slightly different in each school, the impetus of having students in their zone for learning is district-wide.  A number of recent blog posts by some of our district educational leaders support this influence:

Westcot Principal, Liz Hill describes her school’s work with The Zones of Regulation:

We often make the assumption that children know how to identify their emotions, but akin to teaching reading, writing and math, emotional  literacy is a skill that needs to be taught to our children.  The Zones of Regulation framework teaches the language of emotions.  This helps children understand how one’s state of regulation impacts one’s ability to be calm, alert and ready to learn.  Using this framework, students develop  their own personal toolkit of strategies and learn when, how and why to use  strategies to help them  be “good to go” or “ready to do their best learning.”  These self-regulation tools may include breathing techniques, stretching, exercising, reading or simply getting a drink of water.

West Bay Principal, Judy Duncan, describes her school’s efforts to look through a lens of self-regulation:

Self-regulation spans all five domains (biological, cognitive, emotional, social, pro-social) and is really about the burning and recovering of energy.  As Shanker states, “optimal self-regulation requires a child to match his or her energy levels to meet the demands of a situation in a maximally efficient manner.”  More and more research is linking how well students do in school to their ability to self-regulate.  We are seeing this firsthand at West Bay, thus the excitement to improve our practice.

Our school’s Self-Regulation Team meets regularly to discuss how teachers and students can be supported in the quest to maintain self-regulation in the classroom. The team shares its work at staff meetings and in informal conversations; our teachers are keen on deepening their understanding of self-regulation and are open to trying new strategies to support their students. If you were to wander into our Grade Two classroom, you might see some students wearing noiseless headphones, some using cardboard study carrels (they call these “force fields”), others sitting on wiggle cushions, while others may be perched on stools at the side of the classroom.  These seven-year olds are beginning to figure out what they need to help them learn.  This metacognition piece is key.  As one little girl blurted out the other day, “I need to self-regulate!” Being aware of your own emotions and what you need to achieve a state of calm is very powerful!

Lions Bay Vice-Principal, Jody Billingsley, describes a number of ways they are fostering self-regulation including a series of classroom management techniques:

Classroom management techniques that have the children thinking about their levels of arousal when in a lesson.  We have “check ins” where the student self-assesses as to whether she is calmly focused and alert.  We call this level 4 – directly stemming from Shanker’s stages of arousal.  If they are at the level 3 stage (hypoalert) of arousal, they may be daydreaming, whereas at level 5 students may be over-stimulated and not able to focus (hyperalert).  If we see a child that is not at level 4, we give a friendly reminder to “check in” with themselves, or “give themselves a hug” as a way to think about where they are with being calmly focused and alert.  The idea is to have them see when this is occurring, reinforce behaviour with a verbal or non-verbal cue, and eventually watch how the students do this independently.

Irwin Park Principal, Cathie Ratz, has her school focussed on MindUP™ to help students be calm, alert and ready to learn:

It is a family of social, emotional, and attentional self-regulatory strategies and skills developed to cultivate well-being and emotional balance. Based on the notion that intellect does not exist in isolation from emotions,  connections to others or the rest of their bodies, the MindUP™  program is designed to address these components of learning for all students.

By teaching our students about the brain we make them more aware of their own thoughts and emotions. It can also help them to develop the ability to think about thinking, or metacognition. That awareness would then give them better control over their own mind—directing their attention more appropriate, or calming themselves down—in ways that could improve learning.

These are only four stories, but there are stories like these in every school in West Vancouver.  It is often a lament that schools and those who work in them, are slow to change.  Where, three years ago, there was hardly a person in our district who could describe the power and importance of self-regulation, this research now influences how we teach, organize our classes, and how we think about our buildings in every corner of the district.

Finally, I encourage you to spend some time with the wonderful resources being collected as part of the newly revamped website in support of the  Canadian Self-Regulation Initiative.

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As I write this post, school districts across BC are establishing their calendars for the 2013-14 school year. New legislation, Bill 36, described by government to: “eliminate the Standard School Calendar to enable boards of education and education authorities to offer more creative scheduling options that better meet the needs of their students” is driving these decisions.

Districts and their communities are discussing their local calendar ahead of the March 31st deadline for approving calendars for the upcoming school year. Langley has received a lot of attention, including a year-round option in the list of possibilities for next year. In West Vancouver, we have also completed a consultation process with the calendar steering committee receiving over 2,000 completed surveys from students, parents and staff on three possible calendar options.

There has been much discussion around the setting of the local calendar, particularly around whether we should continue with what is described as an agrarian calendar of September to June, with two months off in the summer, or seek a more balanced calendar with a shorter summer break and longer breaks at other points in the year. I don’t want to take up the issue in this post, but a related issue that has come up during the consultations –the request for standardization — particularly when it comes to the scheduling of calendars including the placement of professional days and school breaks, and the organization of  time / blocks within the day.

I have written a number of times about our move to a post-standardized world in education — different assessments for different students; greater choice and personalization in what students learn and when and where they learn it, and how students demonstrate this learning.

The learning format I envision incorporates students starting their learning early and some starting class late (we know there is research that encourages a late start-time). Some students might take evening courses, others in the summer, and still others taking part of their program online. This is currently the case in some places and may come to pass as the norm, but what our surveys show, and is supported by the conversations I have had with students, staff and parents is a request for more standardization when it comes to the school calendar. All groups recognize that it is easier to customize an education model when calendars are standardized.

So why do staff want calendars standardized?

Professional learning: if professional development days are aligned across and between districts it allows for greater collaboration across schools, and particularly in speciality areas where this can be very important as it allows teachers from different schools to collaborate more easily.  It also allows for the sharing of expert resources – one district may bring in an expert of early learning, and the session would be available to teachers from several districts without teachers being released from their teaching duties, since all had aligned professional days. 

Teaching in multiple schools: if a teacher has a specialty (Japanese for example), a standardized calendar can allow for them to teach their specialty in multiple sites; as an example, teaching mornings in school A and afternoons in school B or alternating days between schools.

Staff are also parents: staff often live outside of a district, with surrounding districts on similar calendars organizing family commitments would be easier

And why do students and parents like standardized calendars?

Convenience: in the era of choice with more students attending multiple schools (I know one family in West Vancouver with students at four different schools), a standard calendar that includes common professional development days, and school breaks, makes life a lot easier

Choice: running a common calendar in schools, in the same or neighbouring districts, allows students to take the majority of courses at their home school and pursue their passion at another site. In West Vancouver, this means students from multiple schools can attend afternoon sports academy programs because schools have the same block rotation. It also allows students from all three high schools to take their “core” courses on one day, and participate in the ACE-IT Carpentry Program at West Vancouver Secondary on the other day. In turn, aligning with surrounding districts, it allows our students to attend Carson Graham in North Vancouver, to participate in their ACE-IT Culinary Program.

Next year, our district schools will have aligned their  professional development days and common breaks. Efforts are also being made to align our breaks with other schools in Metro Vancouver. We will actually have more standardization in our calendars than every before — a funny result of legislation intended to create flexibility.

Eventually, we may have balanced or more alternate calendars. But for now, largely in the name of creating increased choice for students, standardization allows for greater customization and hopefully greater personalization of learning.

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I am often asked “just what is the Culture of Yes?”  Although the ‘culture’ continues to evolve, it is still the belief system as I set out to define in my address on my first day as Superintendent:

It is the “culture of yes”, we have and will continue to foster — one that embraces new ideas and new ways to look at learning and organize learning; a “culture of yes” that supports innovation and creativity for both learners and teachers, knowing this is how we will continue to evolve.  It is a “culture of yes” that touches on the passions we entered the profession with, and that may have sometimes been lost along the way, but hopefully, found again.

It was interesting to see Seth Godin, who I have often referenced, take up a similar theme in his recent post, On Behalf of Yes:

Yes, it’s okay to ship your work.

Yes, you’re capable of making a difference.

Yes, it’s important.

Yes, you can ignore that critic.

Yes, your bravery is worth it.

Yes, we believe in you.

Yes, you can do even better.


Yes is an opportunity and yes is an obligation. The closer we get to people who are confronting the resistance on their way to making a ruckus, the more they let us in, the greater our obligation is to focus on the yes.

There will always be a surplus of people eager to criticize, nitpick or recommend caution. Your job, at least right now, is to reinforce the power of the yes.

Seth’s blog brings to mind a story I recently heard regarding innovation and education in England.  The government proposed to their education system they could apply to have any rules, laws, etc. suspended in the name of innovation (there is currently a similar initiative in BC).  Those who wanted to ‘not comply’ had to make application to the government with the appropriate rationale.  The project’s one major finding was over 80% of applications received were unnecessary. Why? Because the rules that hundreds of educators had applied to have suspended didn’t actually exist.  I think this general challenge is also true in British Columbia — we believe we are more restricted by laws, rules and legislation than we actually are (possibly by rules that don’t exist, as well) thereby justifying the belief that innovation is not possible and we continue to accept the Status Quo.

In education, more than any other profession, we need to continue to promote YES; “yes” for the teacher embracing formative assessment discouraged by the parent who claims this is not how they were assessed in school; “yes” for the school that cannot re-imagine their programs in their current, highly successful system; “yes” for the people to take the risk knowing the road to change is long and challenging.

And, it is certainly nice to know there are others pushing  for YES.

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