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Archive for September, 2020

We have an Opening Day tradition in West Vancouver.  The first day back with staff we come together for a series of annual rituals and a keynote address from a speaker who helps set the tone for the year ahead.  Over my time we have had speakers from Sir Ken Robinson, to Natalie Panek, to Yong Zhao to Jennifer James.  This year we were fortunate to have speaker and actor Anthony McLean join us. And while typically we gather at the Kay Meek Theatre, this year, it was a virtual event – as all staff connected with Anthony and he set the tone for our year ahead.

With the international efforts around Black Lives Matter and calls for increased anti-racism education in schools, Anthony’s message resonated even more strongly than it might have when he was initially booked almost a year ago.  With all of the speakers we have had, it is easy to just be captured by their eloquence and joy, but I try to find a few key messages to take away as well.  Here are three keys that I took away from Anthony’s talk:

  1.  The Authors We Read – Anthony recalled how in school he read zero books from Indigenous, Asian or Black authors.  He made the argument that adding to the diversity of our libraries and learning resources was an easy entry point for us.  Rather than thinking we need to be an expert voice on a topic we might be nervous to lead because we are still learning ourselves we can amplify other voices.  I think back to my own school experience, and even through an English degree in university there was very little diversity in the authors that I read.  It is an easy opportunity to change-up some of the stories we share in classes and books we make available in our libraries.
  2. Separate the person from the behaviour – Anthony told a story about Mr. Rutherford (you can see a short version of the story HERE).  Anthony shared that he was not always the best behaved student.  What stood out for him was how in grade 10 his principal Mr. Rutherford separated his actions from who he was as a person.  This is a great lesson reminder for all of us.  We can be disappointed in behaviours or disagree with someone without them being a bad person.  Like Stuart Shanker told us several years ago in a different Opening Day talk, there is no such thing as bad kids.
  3. Community, Community, Community – When asked what he would focus on this fall with students heading back to school, including some who may not have been to school in up to six months – he said his focus would be on three things – community, community, community.  It is easy to get caught up in the notion that students have missed school and are behind so we need to double-down on the academics.  What our students say is that they have missed  the connections of schools.  And you can’t really get to Math and English if you have not first built trust and community.  Anthony was clear we should lead with curiosity and default to compassion. For us in West Vancouver, all staff have spent time learning about trauma informed practices before students returned to classes.

There was a fourth one that stood out for me, although perhaps not as global and lofty as the others.  Anthony did say, “sometimes pretending you are interested in what your spouse is saying, might save your marriage.” Probably some good advice there!

How we get better at anti-racism education is not simple.  What is useful about Anthony’s message is that he just encourages us all to enter the conversation.   Saying nothing is the wrong thing because when you say nothing you are actually saying something.  Locally I know there are a number of other helpful educators.  I appreciated the blog post by Abbotsford Superintendent Dr. Kevin Godden this past June (HERE) on the topic.  We spent one of our professional days focused on the topic of anti-racism, and we definitely have work to do.  Like with other issues of social justice, including the climate crisis, our students are clear they want us to do more.

Thanks to Anthony for helping us all enter the conversation and provoking us.  Like with many Opening Day speakers of the past I assume his messages will give energy to much of our work this year and beyond.

As a follow-up, over the last couple days Anthony posted an exceptionally powerful video on Instagram (HERE)  where he says, “I was wrong” about  some of his views on race.  The five minute video is powerful in the message around race but also so useful for all of us to be reminded that we can read more, learn more and think differently.  And there is real power when we can say we used to think X, but we were wrong and now we think Y.

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Happy September!

There is a lot going on this fall in schools and I have no shortage of ideas to explore related to COVID and schooling, but as we head back to school I wanted to use my post this week to share my own learning plan as I also head back to school via Zoom at the University of Kansas. Hopefully later this fall I will complete my comprehensive exam and move to doctoral candidacy (regular visitors to my blog will see I have updated various tabs on my homepage with current content in preparation for my portfolio presentation).

The question that I am pursuing for my dissertation is really a simple one, just what occupies the time of British Columbia public school superintendents? It is a question that has interested me for a long time. I am entering my second decade as superintendent. And while I have a growth plan, receive regular feedback from the Board of Education, and have a job description that is covered by Board policy, the job does seem to be a bit what one makes of it. I followed two very successful longtime superintendents in West Vancouver, and all three of us have done the job very differently. In speaking with colleagues around British Columbia, it appears there are multiple ways to do the job well. I often hear stories of others describing the job, and while some parts sound familiar, others are inconsistent with how I spend my time. There must be some commonality and I am interested in just what is consistent among the 60 of us who hold this position in our province.  From spending time with our Board, to time in schools, to work in the community – just what is common?

And I think there is a wider interest in understanding what BC School Superintendents do. As my research has confirmed, we have one of the highest performing jurisdictions in the world and district leadership plays an important role in school success. And in our context, superintendents are hired by individuals boards who do so with complete autonomy. Understanding the similarities and differences in the work, helps to add to the story of learning success in British Columbia.  

And I like to think many others will be interested in this study. I am sure that I am not the only one of us in BC who wonders how their work compares to the work of their colleagues. Unpacking the impact of the superintendent’s gender, experience, and district size on the way he or she spends time will also be interesting. And it is a position with a high level of turnover (although not as much as many US areas), so for Boards who are responsible for hiring and educators who may aspire to the position better being able to articulate the daily activities of the superintendent will be useful.

I am basing my study on a 2011 study that asked a similar question in Virginia.  I will be surveying my 59 BC colleagues and following up with interviews.  Hopefully they will see the value and be able to carve out the time to assist.  I do think the information will be valuable for all of us.

I often get asked my I would go back to school.  There is no requirement for superintendents in BC to have a doctorate.  Hopefully you don’t think less of me if I tell you one of the reasons is so that I can be part of a re-creation of this iconic movie scene.  Have a great year everyone!

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