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Archive for January, 2015

1951-52_Old_Forge_High_School_Basketball_Team

This is the first of two posts on the subject of school athletics.  I was planning to start with a series of reasons why today’s students may be the final generation to see sports in school as we know them but instead I am saving that for my next post.  For this first post I want to outline five reasons why school sports may continue well into the future.

School sports have always been a big part of my life, as a student, a teacher and a parent.  Some of my most wonderful friendships are because of connections I made through school athletics.  I do think we are in rapidly changing times, and suggesting that school sports may slowly disappear from our schools is not too far-fetched (As a bit of a preview I think issues like cost, safety, available coaches, onerous regulations and increased competition are all challenging school sports).  That said, I find a number of compelling reasons that may mean the obstacles will be just that obstacles, and school sports will continue well into the future.

Here are five reasons that can lead me to believe those of you watching your children play school sports, will get to repeat the rite of passage with your grandchildren.

Firstly, nostalgia is big in schools.  One of the qualities that people like about schools is they generally look the same for children as they did for their parents.  Adults often romanticize their school sports experiences – from cheering on the football team, to scoring the winning goal in the soccer game. School rituals are often slow to change thus one could argue school sports are not going anywhere.  There will be too much of a push to keep them.  And while one can point to some jurisdictions around the world that don’t have them, they never have.  School sports are such a part of the fabric of our schools.

Somewhat related, is that high school sports receive much more media coverage that community sports.  When the media chooses to shine a light on school sports the public watches and listens which then influences the decisions young people make around sports.  We are especially fortunate in British Columbia with Howard Tsumura at the Province Newspaper.  No other major daily paper in the country gives the attention to high school sports as the Vancouver Province and Howard’s work, like his recent piece on why he loves high school basketball, helps ensure school sports are in the public eye.  From our major daily newspapers, to television to local community papers there is far more coverage for teenagers playing school sports than those playing community sports.  And this, in turn, helps to continue to support high school sports programs.

While there are many others in the community offering sporting opportunities, school districts in British Columbia, and across North America, own most of the gymnasiums.  So when it comes to sports like volleyball, basketball, badminton and wrestling, it makes sense for schools to offer them since they have the facilities.  For outside providers to offer these sports they have to pay gym rentals which can be often cost prohibitive.  In other countries gymnasiums are like hockey rinks in Canada, and community facilities.  As long as schools own the places where sports take place they will continue to be primary providers of the sports.

Another real potential for school sports is that, like with so much else in our schools, sports programs will evolve and new models will be created.  I am particularly vested in this as we are trying just that in West Vancouver.  For us, we have taken one of the primary school sports, basketball, and wrapped some programming around it (HERE) that help support athletes, develop coaches and keep students at their home school.  For better or worse, sports have changed where almost all sports offer year-round options and training begins at much younger ages.  School sports and community sports need to form new partnerships so that students are not left to select between playing sports at school and the community. There also needs to be different entry points – so you can have a team that has a range of commitment levels but all those involved have access to training and support to meet their levels of interest.  Our thinking around new models, is that rather than have all students attend one school with a particular sports passion, how do we support them at multiple schools, so they can continue to compete for their home schools and we can reinforce the value of inter-school competition.

Another possibility to ensure the long-term viability of school sports is some sort of new hybrid model of recreation and competition.  There is clearly a global push to have all our students be more active.  Our traditional sports have often been about selecting some students to participate in a model where a small percentage of the student body actually participate.  There are exceptions like football and rugby that have larger numbers, but it is generally true that school teams are quite small given the overall population of many schools.  One possibility is that a new group of sports emerge / reemerge that have larger teams and are more recreation based.  We have seen this with the growth of Ultimate in schools. Another possibility is that increased resources shift from inter-school teams to in-house intramural programs

There are major shifts happening in schooling.  And so many shifts with the nature of teaching and learning.  It is interesting that so far most of the discussion around school sports seem to be about trying to return them to some glory days of the past.  In the next post I will outline some real challenges that seem to be facing school sports moving forward.

There are many who would argue that they just couldn’t imagine schools without sports as we know them. But that is not really the purpose of this post – it is not about whether they are important, it is about the drives and blockers to their long term success.

As I talk to athletes and coaches and read stories in the newspaper, in many ways school sports are continuing to make a difference like they always have before.  And, of course, they have a lot going for them to assume this will continue into the future.

 

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story-4

As regular readers know, I blog in West Vancouver as part of a rich community of teachers and administrators who are regularly sharing insights into their school, their profession and their work.  The blogs, from teachers and administrators, give a wonderful window into school life.  They are as diverse and varied as the topics which we spend our time on each day in schools.  Here is a recent sampling of what those around me have been writing.

Steve Rauh, the Principal of West Van Secondary blogged about our district-wide keynote presentation from Paralympic Champion Josh Dueck:

From his opening slide with the formula Passion + Perseverance = Possibility, Josh shared with us his personal pendulum story of hope, loss, love, despair, love, and hope again. I cannot remember hearing or seeing a more inspirational story or person who brought themes of recklessness, intuition, passion, ego, regret, humiliation, persistence, determination, and possibility.

For West Bay Principal, Judy Duncan, her latest post is all about looking ahead to the remainder of the school year and key topics at her school including their new learning commons, fresh ideas around communicating student learning,  IB self-study, self-regulation and a focus on the communication competency:

Teachers work passionately to facilitate rich learning opportunities for students and we work together with determination and enthusiasm to affect positive change within the school.  I am optimistic 2015 is going to be another wonderful year, full of noisy learning, quiet contemplation, continued collaboration and an abundance of creative thinking. High five for our Top 5, but let’s keep moving!

At Irwin Park Elementary, the students have also been setting goals for the remainder of the year – that are posted around the school.  Principal Cathie Ratz reflects on what she sees:

  They tell a story of Irwin Park students wanting to be better listeners, better self regulators, better readers, writers, eaters, swimmers, skiers, brothers…  The goals are realistic.  In most cases students identified a plan to meet their goals and in some cases personal supports to help them stick to their plans.  I wonder about self esteem and self control as predictors of success. Need there be an esteem vs control debate?  Does feeling good lead to a complacency that may interfere with the discipline needed to achieve success? Worthy debate?

It is always a hard decision for parents to decide what to do when their child isn’t feeling 100%  Two of West Vancouver’s most experienced Kindergarten teachers Christy Campbell and Andrea Daudlin, the writers of The Self-Regulated Teacher share their words of experience:

Sometimes a sick child may still wish to come to school. But in the classroom we are very close to each other in proximity. The children are playing at Centre Time quite close together. They sit close together while eating at the tables. They still hold each others’ hands. Because our supplies are shared, including crayons, scissors, gluesticks and pencils, a sick child at school increases the risk of spreading infection to the rest of the children in the class.

Your child will enjoy their school experiences much more when they return to school rested and healthy!

At Hollyburn Elementary, Principal Tara Zielinski has tackled a topic that is always on the front burner with teachers and parents – testing!  Her latest post looks at the use of data in schools.  For her, the key is how the information will be used:

Should we test?  Absolutely.  However, we must be focused and intentional in what and why we are testing.  More importantly, we must be prepared to use the outcomes to enhance our students’ skills and be flexible and reflective as we navigate the strategies employed to respond to our students’ specific and individual needs.

Bowen Island Community School Head Teacher Laura Magrath used her blog to share her reflections on the challenge of learning to reflect.  Reflection is a key piece of the new curriculum proposed in BC, and Laura points out it should be included in all classes:

Reflection needs to happen multiple times throughout the learning process. Reflection while we are actively learning provides us with feedback that can alter our learning journey. For example, when shooting a basketball, I get immediate feedback that can be utilized. Not enough arc, I hit the rim. Next shot I think of the arc and overcompensate. I get immediate feedback again as I hit too high on the backboard. I try again and get the feedback of: Swish! Nothing but net. This kind of reflection-feedback loop should occur in our all of our classes.

Laura’s Bowen Island colleague, Scott Slater, who in his first month as Principal of the school, sees his school as a moving school, differentiating from the school as potentially a wandering school:

It is best, however, for schools not to wander.  Implementing change in a school requires a significant amount of time, energy and inertia, and if not done well or without follow-through, innovation too often feels like adding to practice rather than evolving practice, of increasing workload without increasing student achievement.  A wandering school means that broad changes may be made, but likely not deep ones.

Ridgeview Principal, Val Brady, tackles the issue of evaluation, assessment and reporting with her latest post.  There are shifts taking place with how teachers and schools communicate with parents on student learning at the same time we there is a shift happening with curriculum.  So, in some ways report cards are still the report cards we all remember from school ourselves, but increasingly there is a a focus on areas of competency:

Report Cards are intended to provide clear, meaningful comments from your child’s teacher and highlight strengths and areas for improvement.  Beyond commenting on basic skills, progress reports will highlight student progress and development in key competencies areas, Inquiry Learning and student self-awareness as represented in the Ridgeview Learner Profiles

Cypress Park Vice-Principal, Kim Grimwood, has taken on a more personal topic with her latest post – a topic many parents spend a lot of time considering – video games.  For her video games are not simply either good or bad:

I think we need to take a more balanced approach.  One day, when I think my children are ready, I will probably purchase some sort of video game system for our family.  I will do this for many reasons. Firstly, I’m sure my children will have fun and enjoy passing time by playing video games. Secondly, I believe that many games can build important cognitive skills and develop my children’s understanding of technology.  Thirdly, I’m not above wanting my children to not feel ostracized for not having what their peers have (within reason of course).

Of course, this is just a small sample. You can check out all of our bloggers  by visiting our school sites here.

There are so many wonderful ideas being shared.  Hopefully this sampling will give you one or more “must reads” to add to your regular list of those you follow and learn with.

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birthday

In my conversations around education, I often hear “Teachers think X”, or “All parents want us to do X”, or “No student will be happy about X”.  I very often follow-up with a question to determine the sample size of this observation. More often than not it is a sample size of one. The individual teacher, parent, student (and other), are extrapolating their own views to be representative of their group and who MUST think like them.

I share this caveat as background, as I fully admit that my observations in this post are based on a sample size of one — me.

I am also asked for parenting advice. I get it. I have a job where we work with young people everyday and I have four kids of my own. So, if I could give parents or potential parents one piece of advice, it would be have your children early in the year, and the closer to January the better.

January birth dates are fresh in mind as two of our four children have just celebrated their January births — our younger son on January 11 and our older daughter on January 1. In particular, I often think of our older daughter and the good fortune of her birth. She was born in the early morning hours of January 1, 2001, following a long labour for my wife that began midday on December 31. I am convinced that had she been born just a few hours earlier, she would not have had quite the same range of opportunities she has and has had.

While we are trying to break it down, the last day of the calendar year is still largely defining in our school system. A few hours difference can mean being a grade apart. We have two children born in January and two children born in June and in July. I think all have had the advantage of being born in the first six-and-one-half months of the year. While I do believe it becomes increasingly less important as they become older, the extra time they have had in the younger grades is definitely an advantage and spurred on by confidence.

Our house is also a big sports home with all of our kids playing multiple sports in all seasons. And, again, in almost every sport January 1 is the date that separates some kids from other kids. I am convinced my January-born children would have had very different sports experiences if they were born in December. While over time it does even out, the advantage of the early birthdate can lead to a child being a little taller, a little more coordinated and mature, and can also lead to extra attention for sports opportunities than for a child born 10 months later.

This thinking around sports is nothing new. It is something Malcolm Gladwell wrote about in his 2008 book, Outliers — that there is a link in professional sports between those born early in the year and those who made it to the professional level in sports. It should be noted that there has been push back to his argument since its publication.

So, if you are reading this and have a child with a late birthday, what should you do? I know what my parents did for me (a late-October birth). They didn’t tolerate suggestions from early primary teachers that I was “just a bit slow” and by about Grade 5, the birthday effect had all but disappeared. Another piece of advice — as hard as it can be, move away from comparing your child to others because we all develop differently.

More importantly — and I think this is a topic that should be resident in our consciousness — we should actually think less about age be it school, or sports and more about the stages of development and how these can be supported.

As I have shared my “sample size of one” I am curious if others have had similar or contrary experiences?

 

And one final note – a special thanks to my colleague Deb Podurgiel who has read each of my posts for the last five years before I hit publish in an effort to help save me from myself.  She is leaving the school district to new adventures and the chances of me using their when I should use there are about to go up.

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LessButBetter

I was first exposed to Greg McKeown’s notion of “The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” in reading his article for the Harvard Business Review a couple of years ago.  McKeown argued that too much success can be a catalyst for failure.  He outlined the clarity paradox in four phases:

Phase 1: When we really have clarity of purpose, it leads to success.
Phase 2: When we have success, it leads to more options and opportunities.
Phase 3: When we have increased options and opportunities, it leads to diffused efforts.
Phase 4: Diffused efforts undermine the very clarity that led to our success in the first place.

It is an interesting observation that we need to continue to ask what is essential and to eliminate the rest.  It is a principle, albeit often with limited success, that I have tried to apply to my professional life and to the work of our school district.

Over the holidays, I read McKeown’s expanded argument in his book Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. The book resonated differently with me now than it did then, as I thought about his notion (borrowed from Dieter Rams) of “less but better” in the context of the curricular shifts currently being proposed in British Columbia.

The general discussion around the redesign in British Columbia’s K-12 education is that over time we have created curriculum that has become bloated with outcomes. References are often made to the dozens (in some cases more than 100) discrete outcomes students need to learn in a particular discipline, in a particular grade.  The Draft Curriculum (currently posted for K-9) aligns with the notion of Essentialism that McKeown forwards in his book, “it is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy.”  I hear the worry, if we reduce curricular outcomes for students, are we not asking less of them?  Instead, as McKeown argues with Essentialism, it is about asking what is essential and allowing students to go deeper and flourish rather than simply cover topics.

I like the idea of reframing McKeown’s questions around schools and learning, looking at what is already covered in schools to ask tough questions about whether we should continue:

By applying tougher criteria we can tap into our brain’s sophisticated search engine. If we search for “a good opportunity,” then we will find scores of pages for us to think about and work through. Instead, we can conduct an advanced search and ask three questions: “What am I deeply passionate about?” and “What taps my talent?” and “What meets a significant need in the world?” Naturally there won’t be as many pages to view, but that is the point of the exercise. We aren’t looking for a plethora of good things to do. We are looking for our absolute highest point of contribution.

In some ways, school systems and curriculum may be the victims of their own success — the kind of success that can lead to failure.  Over the last several decades we have crammed more and more “stuff” into schools. As schools have become more successful with this, they have taken more on which has led to diffused efforts.  Perhaps stepping back and looking at what is essential is a very good exercise.

Regardless of whether one finds McKeown’s thesis as one that links to schools and curriculum redesign, his article and book offer a good challenge for us as we look at how we live our lives as successful and/or very succesful people in our world.

Personally, I think our schools and our lives could often use a good dose of less but better.

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