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Archive for June, 2020

This has definitely been a different kind of year.  Here is a video of my message to the grads of 2020 with the script below.  Congratulations again to all our graduates!

It is my pleasure to bring congratulatory greetings to our graduating class of 2020. 

If I were giving this speech in February, I would have expected great cheers for being the Superintendent who gave you 2 snow days in your grade 12 year!  Of course, there can be too much of a good thing, and I am sorry that the final three months of this thirteen-year journey were not in school with your friends and your teachers.

I know Mr. Rauh, Mr. Anderson, Ms. Tanfara, and the staff at West Vancouver wish the same.  I am glad we are all virtually here together to share this occasion.

Like everyone else in our province, under the guidance of Dr. Henry, you have totally nailed this social distancing thing and here we are to celebrate the full 13 years of experiences.

You are graduating at an anxious time in our world, but also at a very exciting time.  You can feel the social change that is sweeping British Columbia, Canada, and the World, and it is being led by the young.

I have seen this in the last few years as you led the changes around sexual orientation and gender identity – you told us it was ridiculous that adults were debating about bathrooms, you told us you wanted to learn more about Indigenous history particularly the Squamish Nation, and then this past fall you joined millions of students across the world to make the case for prioritizing the health of our planet, and just in the last few weeks, many of you have reached out to me directly and told me that Black Lives Matter and we all need to do a better job of anti-racism education.  I hear you.  We all hear you.  And I am excited to be part of a world which you, the graduates of 2020 will help shape and lead.  You will be the ones to protect our planet and change our world. 

In this grad class we have graduates about to embark on post-secondary careers across Canada, North America, and the world. 

No pressure – but West Vancouver graduates are difference makers.  Whether it is in government, the social sector or with our highest performing companies, one rarely has to look far to find West Vancouver grads.  And me, your teachers, and really all of all us are counting on you – to be unwaveringly committed to a strong public education system – the system that has served us all well and is the answer to the question about how we build a better world.

I know students that you and your parents have options – so thank you for your faith, trust and commitment to public education in West Vancouver.

While many often talk about how slowly education shifts, and how your schooling largely resembles that of your parents – you are leaving a very different system than you entered.  You leave a school and a school system that is digitally rich, that is focused on allowing you to follow your passions, a school system that embraces problem solving and student ownership. 

At its core, our schools, your experiences, have been rooted in the connections you have made with fellow students and teachers.  We are blessed to have an amazing teaching force.  Of course, they have outstanding training and always looking to improve their teaching – I am sure very few had ever had a Google Hangout before April.  Our teachers see teaching as a way of life – far more than a job.  You know that from the teams they coach, to the productions they plan to the extra help they give you with homework or helping you navigate life.

And it is their relationships with you and your relationships with each other than are defining of the high school experience.  It is these that will endure and be the stories you tell years from now – about people and events.  The content of courses will fade but how you felt will stay with you.

While personalization and specialization have their place, we have tried to offer a well-rounded education – so do not let this go.  Yes English, socials, science and math matter.  But just as much do drama, music, art, and athletics.  Aristotle was right when he said, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”

I know we have graduates who will forever talk about their food class with Ms. Seo, their IB discussions with Mr. Capier, or playing volleyball for Mrs. Finch.  Hold these memories tightly.

It is a unique bond you have.  The grads of the COVID year. 

Decades from now, you will tell stories unlike those of any graduates before or likely after.  Embrace this.  Graduating is a big achievement under any circumstances but that is particularly true this year.

It is an amazing honour I have to be Superintendent of this school district – a jurisdiction like no other in our country. My thanks to your parents for their support, to your teachers for their dedication and to you for enriching our school and community.

All the best for a wonderful graduation.

Go and chart our path forward.

Stay safe.

Thank You. 

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I have used this space a number of times over the last decade to think out loud about youth sports.  And I can reaffirm my bias upfront that sports in our schools and our community and the values they largely promote are important, and perhaps more significant than ever.

And now I see the opportunity, that the shutdown of the last three months could be the catalyst of something different to emerge.  Especially as the pandemic has reshaped the economy, ideas around travel and issues of safety – there are barriers and opportunities for sports in all of these.

There is a definite hope for sports to re-emerge soon.  In British Columbia Via Sport released it Return to Sport guidelines this past week.   In our rush to return to normal, there is an opportunity to consider if normal is really what we want.  Of course this is a conversation happening across society as items that have been closed begin to re-open.

So how might school and community youth sports come back different (and yes many of these are related)?

Cheaper

Youth sports have too often become games for the rich in recent years.  The professionalization of childhood sports has left many behind. So many families will emerge from the pandemic with less money to spend on activities for their kids.  There is an opportunity for cheaper options to emerge and be successful.  Linked to other changes like less travel and more volunteerism, and a refocus on play, growth and development and a lessening of competition, sports could be cheaper.  And likely sports requiring less equipment costs, and without heavy facility rentals (which may be more expensive because of additional cleaning costs) will be more popular.   I think sports like ultimate, track and field, soccer and baseball all might fall into this category.

More Local

We are all getting used to traveling less.  And until there is a COVID vaccine, it definitely seems like some travel restrictions will be in place.  In recent years we have become obsessed with traveling long distances for competition.  It does not seem like 4 or 5 kids from different families will be sharing hotel room anytime soon.   Rather than the top players being siphoned off to play on teams in other communities, structures could be built for intra-club and other localized competitions and these would have value and be important.  Leagues would be refocused on individual communities and playing through this would be culminating events rather than larger events with travel.

New Role for Parents

One of the first things I hear from coaches about the pandemic is that if parents are not allowed to watch – that might be a good thing.  Too often youth sports have not been about young people competing with other young people, but about parents competing with other parents through their kids.  If in the short-term youth sports become drop-off activities, parents could either 1) commit to be volunteers and assist with the program or 2) treat this as found time – workout, read a book, enjoy their own pursuits.  The lack of parents in attendance could really refocus youth sports.  We just might have more teenagers willing to be officials knowing there wouldn’t be anyone there to yell at them.

Less Game Focused

Even though we know better, far too many teams have more games than practices.  This will change as we have smaller, more localized leagues.  As we start back up with sports the focus will be on practices and no competition.  This will likely be a reset for many sports.  The practice to game ratio will be adjusted so there are far more practices to competition dates.   It will still be competitive but it will be done within an individual club set-up.

Volunteer Driven

When sports become local, we will hopefully see the return of the volunteer coach.  The volunteer coach has gone missing in recent years.  The professionalization of youth sports has happened alongside the reduction of volunteer coaches.  It is a bit of a chicken and egg scenario.  As youth coaches became paid coaches, the volunteer coaches began to disappear.  Of course, it could be argued that the volunteer coach disappeared so we moved to a paid coach model.  In cheaper, more local models hopefully the volunteer coach returns – the parent or other community member who is supported by local sports organizations to improve his / her skills and gives back through coaching.

Different Sports and Modified Sports

Some messages we keep hearing are more outdoor activities, smaller groups and less physical contact.  As Dr. Bonnie Henry has said “fewer faces, big spaces.” I am not sure what the complete list of sports are that will thrive but it is definitely different from many of the ones we have grown up with.  Might we see more beach volleyball and 3×3 basketball (which are both outdoor sports) than their more well known traditional indoor counterparts?  We may see sports with different rules that reduce physical contact.  It seems as though some of the more high profile sports will be slow to return as they are based on contact and often happen inside.

Sports meeting the interest of all youth

The time off has hopefully allowed us to reflect on purpose.  How can we make sports more inclusive of all youth?  It is a small example, but out of necessity we held a virtual track and field meet last week in West Vancouver Schools.  Every student could do all five events and be part of it – dozens of them (and their parents) shared these stories on social media.  Nobody got cut or not selected, everyone participated, there was something to celebrate for each student and it promoted health and fitness.  We need more of this.  We have an opportunity to look at school and community sports and ask questions about purpose and ensure that we really are serving our communities.

Conclusions

It would be a missed opportunity if we just raced to return youth sports to as they were before the pandemic.  And anywhere I wrote youth sports – you could really replace it with school sports.  Many of the same issues and opportunities exist.  We know sports are powerful for young people and so important at developing life skills but we also know our system we had was fine but not great.

There is a chance now to do better.

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I want to pick up on the idea of school on a dial that I introduced in my last blog post – The End of Snow Days?

School for a long time has been something you turn on or off.  School is turned off on the weekends, during Christmas, Spring Break and the summer.  And it is turned on from 9-3 Monday to Friday from September to June.  It is a switch.  The day after Labour Day we turn the switch on and across British Columbia hundreds of thousands of students arrive in buildings joined by tens of thousands of teachers and other staff.

Unlike most jurisdictions in the world, British Columbia did not turn off the switch for in-person schooling when the pandemic hit in the middle of March.  We changed this switch to a dial and introduced five different settings on this dial.  Here is one recent image describing the five stages:

Since spring break, and up until this week we had been in Stage 4.  There were a limited number of students attending school – these were largely the children of Essential Service Workers and vulnerable and special needs students.  The vast majority of students were learning remotely.  This week, we moved to Stage 3 and saw thousands of student returning to schools part-time and on a voluntary basis.

Of course, with it already being June, many are turning their attention to September.  We all would hope to be at Stage 1 – and stay in Stage 1 – but we also need to plan for other eventualities.   So, back to this notion of school as a dial and not a switch.  If we think of it as a dial, if there is a second-wave of Covid-19, we can dial-down the in-person instruction, and if BC continues to plank the curve, we can dial-up the in-person instruction.  The challenge for a school system is how do you design learning and schooling that lets you move between the various stages on a dial and not get caught thinking of it as a switch (models are for another post).

This also raises a larger question about the future of education and the idea of in-person instruction being on a dial. Right now, the dial is being controlled by the virus.  The virus threat is lower in BC, so the dial for in-person instruction goes up.  And this will be the pattern in the short term.

But I have heard from both staff and students that they have found more success with partial remote learning than they were finding in the traditional classroom, particularly at high school.  So post-virus, how might we let students control their own dial? Or staff?  How could we design structures that allowed some students and staff to attend in-person everyday, some only a few days a week, and maybe others vary rarely?  It makes my head hurt – but it is a conversation worth having. 

I think of Alan November’s question that has long inspired me when he speaks of the classroom, “Who owns the learning?”, the teacher or the student,  in the post virus world, I think as we look at structures, we may want to ask, “Who owns the dial?”

More to come . . .

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