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Archive for January, 2022

I have written a lot about high schools in the times of COVID.  There is tremendous energy locally and beyond to hold some of the new structures from the last eighteen months, as we have found some new models that connected with students in powerful ways.  But what about elementary schools?   There have been far fewer conversations about the lessons of COVID coming out of schools for our younger learners.  

I am left with the general impression that COVID has been an accelerant for changes in high schools, in elementary schools, the dominant feeling is that we want to return largely to how things were before the pandemic.

This really should come as no surprise.  Pre-pandemic there was general satisfaction with elementary school education.  Most jurisdictions had made great strides to adopt a play-based approach in K-3, there were efforts to better connect with pre-schools and pre-K education providers, and assessment and evaluation had evolved.  Most elementary schools, at least in British Columbia had moved away from letter grades, and real conversations on the necessity of homework have been happening.  Now, not to make this picture too Pollyanna, there are always opportunities for change and growth, and shifts are not universal, but the calls that we see in high school for more flexibility, greater access to online learning, more relevance in courses, and changes to assessment practices have just not been as loud in elementary schools.  One exception to this overly broad summary would be the move to more outdoor learning which has happened at K-7 seems destined to stick.

Of course, this is all kind of a gut feel.  That is why it is interesting to see some of the research coming out in British Columbia on experiences during the pandemic.   I have written before about work that Dean Shareski pulled together with secondary school administrators from across Metro Vancouver – Pandemic Shifts – Considerations for British Columbia Secondary Schools and a more system approached paper from a national perspective – School Beyond COVID-19 – Accelerating the Changes that Matter for K-12 Learners in Canada.  A third piece of research that came out in December comes from a partnership between the University of British Columbia and the BC School Superintendents Association – District Approaches to Learning in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic.  It is this third piece of research that I want to focus on.  

While most of what I have seen written on pandemic experiences looks at school systems or focuses specifically on high school learners, the UBC / BCSSA project focused primarily on the elementary grades in the 2020-21 school year.  To give the context of BC during this time, the majority of students were learning in-class, with students engaged in blended and online learning as well as transitional learning (students who were moving back to full-time class instruction but not immediately at the start of the year).  This research looks specifically at this transitional program experiences.

So, what were the relative strengths across districts?

  • Leveraging already existing structures and platforms (Microsoft Teams, Canvas)
  • Transitional learning provided a sense of safety for families amidst the pandemic (flexibility of choosing when to return to school)
  • Ability to adapt to the demand of the pandemic (exceptional admin leadership, and responsive and supportive orientation of all staff)
  • Support for vulnerable groups of learners (programs to ensure access with technology and food security, unique supports for students with diverse learning needs)
  • Professional development (increased opportunities for collaboration)

And what were the relative challenges across districts?

  • Parental Support (multiple students per household, daycare, software literacy)
  • Student (lack of peer and teacher connections, online engagement, mental health concerns)
  • Teachers (new teaching modalities, varying levels of acceptance, increased workload)
  • Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (increased demand for food services, online challenges for ELL learners, limited supports to vulnerable learners, more challenging for low-SES students and families)

In checking with those who led the transitional learning option in our district, they highlighted the amazing flexibility of the staff and willingness to to take on new and somewhat foreign roles.

What strikes me about the research on the elementary experience is that there is not the same sense of building on leveraging the learning of the pandemic for a changed system going forward.  The stronger feeling is trying to return to pre-pandemic.  It is an interesting contrast and speaks to differences about flexibility, choice, technology use among other topics between younger and older learners.  While the pandemic was a test-run for some ideas that may guide the future of our high schools, in our elementary schools it was truly emergency remote and transitional learning, and the more widely held goal is to return to a pre-pandemic system with fewer changes than most hope for in our high schools.

Of course, I am sure some of you might see it differently.  

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I loved this quote above that I saw recently from Adam Grant.  It nicely summarizes what I love about this space.  I look back at posts I have written over the last twelve years and see how my thinking has evolved.  I was recently talking with my friend George Couros and we joked that we are two of the last bloggers out there.  While more people would read my posts a decade ago than do today, I never was really doing this for you – like Grant argues, I don’t blog for an audience, I blog for me.  I notice that the more regularly I write, the better it becomes.

I have written about the act of blogging a number of times over the years.  My list of reasons I had for starting this blog still hold today:

  • try to be transparent with my learning and leadership
  • model the “new way” many claim is the way students will learn — engaging with the world, and using digital tools to connect in ways we couldn’t connect without them
  • offer a different voice on educational issues from those in the mainstream media
  • work out ideas; get feedback, and push my own thinking

I would not be the person I am if I didn’t have this space to work through ideas.  And I have connected to many amazing people through this blog.

I still run across people who say they want to blog but they don’t have time.  They do have the time – it is just not a priority.  I have tried to make the case for more bloggers a number of times before.  I think for superintendents, it can really help to humanize the roll and make the position more accessible.  Here is a column from last year on Superintendents Blogging in the Pandemic and Beyond and one from 2018 Superintendent Blogging Should be a Fixture.  Of course, I think blogs are great for everyone – students, teachers, principals – anyone trying to work through ideas and create digital filing cabinet.

Here is some advice I gave to new and aspiring bloggers on blog post #150 that still holds true at #400:

  • be clear about what you will and won’t write about — it is easier if you know from the onset the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ behind your blog
  • it is a bit cliché, but write for yourself, not for what others may want; let the blog be a personal journal in a public space
  • do not be too ambitious with your writing — make plans to write once a week, or once a month and stick with it
  • use social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) to amplify your message
  • be thoughtful of the relationship between your professional role (teacher, administrator etc.) and your blog
  • think in blog posts — when you are at a conference, reading a book, or attending a meeting, begin to organize your thoughts and take notes like you are writing a story
  • the more voice you can have in your blog the more engaging it is for readers
  • be a storyteller — our schools are full of amazing stories waiting to be told

When I started blogging, I never really thought about how it would end.  And I don’t think I fully knew that it was actually hard to write regularly.  Anyone who tells you blogging is easy – is lying! But most important things are not easy.

And now 400 posts in, as long as there are new things to think about, and ideas to share and debate, I hopefully will be around for another 400 posts.

Thanks to all of you who continue to join me and connect with me in this space.

 

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My One Word for 2022 – FOCUS

There is a lot of uncertainty as we look to the year ahead.  It feels very easy to get distracted, chasing down rabbit holes, and losing direction.  As always, there is always “stuff” to keep you busy.  My life has been full of “stuff” this week as we get ready for a delayed start to school.  An idea that has always stuck with me is – if you say you are about everything, you are really about nothing.   And sometimes, I need some help.  It is easier to run from one thing to another and not go to deep on anything.  It is harder to have sustained goals that take a while to accomplish.  But these tend to be the most fulfilling. So, this year is about Focus.  

This is the 7th year of my “One Word” Tradition. In 2016, I wrote about Hungry and then in 2017, my first post of the year was dedicated to Hope. I feel both words were ones that were good ones for the times they were written. In 2018, I wrote about what I described as my desperate need in my work for Relevance, and then in 2019, it was Delight – a new twist on the power and importance of joy. Then in 2020, my word was Hustle, which was actually a good fit for what was needed as COVID upended our lives.  And this past year, my word was Optimism.  And as I re-read my post from this time last year, so much of what I hoped for came true – from vaccinations that opened up life for many, my completion of my doctorate, the return of sports, and some amazing experiences in classrooms.

One challenge for me is that my word is focus, but I am not yet sure what I want to focus on.  I have a list of “to-do’s” but it feels more like a check sheet than a few goals that I want to sustain throughout the year.   I am trying to avoid much of what Cal Newport from Georgetown University calls shallow work, work that is non-cognitively intensive tasks that are low-value and easy to replicate, like responding to emails, scanning websites, and using social media.   

While I am not yet sure what exactly I will focus on, I commit to adopting habits that make focus easier.   Any internet search comes up with similar lists, and includes many I do, but all ones that are worth committing to or recommitting to at the beginning of the year.  So here are some things that I want to do in 2022 to be focused on focus:

  • get daily exercise
  • minimize multitasking
  • spend long chunks of sustained work time off my phone and internet
  • practice mindfulness
  • have a clear to-do list with short-term and long-term goals
  • prioritize tasks

I want 2022 to be about doing some big things, both personally and professionally.  I know I want to write more, do more schooling, and do more public speaking.  I want our school district to be bold around learning opportunities for students. I want to be a better athlete and basketball coach, and I want to push and challenge myself and those around me.  

All of this will be about focus.  As I write this, I am excited about the year ahead.

What word is guiding your 2022?

 

 

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