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Archive for the ‘Book Club’ Category

OK, I picked the blog title largely to share one of my favourite Seinfeld clips:

The title has a little more meaning than that.  In recent weeks, I have had a number of people share this quote with me that has gone viral on social media:

This quote really has me thinking.  I am not sure.  I get this is the popular opinion.  We are quick to want to pile-on that parents today have lowered their expectations and increased the enabling of their children.   These kinds of issues are not simple.  Yes, adults have changed, but so has the world around us.  We need to be careful not to romanticize the return to a past that had its share of challenges and deficiencies.

There is no shortage of parenting books out there with advice for how adults should act with their children.  Last week we had Dr. Shimi Kang speak in our community.  Her book, The Dolphin Parent, is a National Bestseller.  She notes that there are numerous new pressures on parents of the twenty-first century, suggesting issues like tougher school admissions, globalization and in-turn greater competition, the boom in technology and economic uncertainty are causing parents to act differently.  She says, “These uncertainties are unsettling; they unmoor us and make us question some of the basic truths we have lived by.  Even the best-intentioned parents among us are confused and frightened.”

So perhaps it is out of this fear that parents have, which emerges what Martin sees in the changing parents.

The best book I have read on the topic is How to Raise and Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims.  She spent a decade as the Dean of Freshman at Stanford.

She sets the context which she sees in parents today:

Too many of us do some combination of overdirecting, over-protecting, or over-involving ourselves in our kids’ lives.  We treat our kids like rare and precious botanical specimens and provide a deliberate, measured amount of care and feeding while running interference on all that might toughen and weather them.  But humans need some degree of weathering in order to survive the larger challenges life will throw our way.  Without experiences the rougher spots of life, our kids become exquisite, like orchids, yet are incapable, sometimes terribly incapable, of thriving in the real world on their own.  Why did parenting change from preparing our kids for life to protecting them from life, which means they’re not prepared to live life on their own?

It is this context that Martin’s quote seems to be speaking to.

Lythcott-Haims outlines numerous steps, small and large, parents can do to change things and allow children to chart their own path.  She says:

As parents our dream was to have a child, but we can’t forget that our children have the right to dream for themselves. There is much more to each precious, unique child than we can possibly know, and that unique person – that self is for each young person to discover.  We want so badly to help them by shepherding them from milestone to millstone and by shielding them from failure and pain.  But over helping causes harm.  It can leave young adults without strengths of skill, will, and character that are needed to know themselves and to craft a life.

The more I read about the changing world with greater unpredictability and uncertainty I definitely appreciate urges to want to do more for our children, and not less.  Especially when I am sure our neighbours are definitely doing more for their children – at least it sure looks that way on social media.

As a parent in these times I have empathy for the adults that Martin calls out.  And I don’t think it is simple.  But Kang and her reasoned approach to parenting and Lythcott-Haims and her view that we need to give our children’s lives back to them are important messages.  They are ones we all likely know and agree with but ones we need to keep repeating.

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remix

Growing up, I rarely bought albums from individual artists. Why buy albums from Shaggy, Seal and Weezer when I could get one album with “Boombastic”, “Kiss from a Rose” and “Buddy Holly” along with 14 other great hits in one collection?  I loved that some musical experts would take the best hits from a number of artists and package them together.  Before we had iTunes we had compilation albums.

I was talking with a colleague about George Couros’ new book The Innovator’s Mindset and she said, “He doesn’t really say anything new, he just pulls together what everyone is saying.”  YES.  Exactly.  And that is why I like it so much.  I could find much of what is in Couros’ book the on web – embedded in websites and blogs across the internet.  But he did the hard work for me and pulled together a collection of some of the very best thinking across the continent and clarifies for those of us who think we are already doing the next thing, that there are many others on related journeys.

The book serves as reassurance and also a pep talk for those of us on the innovation journey. Above all, the book models the power of network.  While we can get hung up in the tools – be it Facebook, Twitter, blogs – there is no doubt this book and this narrative don’t happen without Couros’ ability to build and sustain a powerful learning network.  I read and interacted with this book differently than any other paper book I have owned.  I followed the conversation on Twitter, saw the reaction on Facebook and clicked to learn more on Couros’ blog about the key themes of the book.

The book that was the model of networking gave me new people to follow in my network.  It was a networked book about networking in education (knowing George a little I am sure he would appreciate that it was like a coffee table book about coffee tables).   The questions at the end of each chapter like “How might you create an environment that fosters risk-taking?”  are great discussion starters.

So like my Now! cassette tape (which I still have), Couros has done a great job of pulling together thinking from very different contexts into a common narrative and forcefully making the case that we need to continue to challenge the status quo – and know as we are doing it there are many others doing the same.

Couros’ book is a great summer read and also would be a solid choice for a school book club.  Two other books I have just ordered for summer reading based on recommendations from colleagues are The Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, and The Silo Effect by Gillian Tett.  I think it is always good to read both inside and outside of education.  Curious to know what are on others summer reading lists.

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measure-sales-results

West Vancouver is hosting a screening of the new movie Beyond Measure.   Along with the new book of the same name by Vicki Abeles, they make the case of the collective power of communities to work together for a better school system.  The trailer for the movie nicely sets the tone:

As I was with the previous effort by this film’s director, Race to Nowhere – I am left with mixed feelings.  I am reassured that our work in Canada, and particularly British Columbia is on the right track.  From our shifts in teaching and learning in part fueled by the rethinking of our curriculum, to our move, albeit slower than some would like, to a post-standardized world of assessment where letter grades and system-wide tests are less important and ongoing feedback is more important – there is a lot happening around me that would be success stories in Beyond Measure.  And while I see elements of familiarity between the common Canadian student experience and the common American student experience – while broadly over-generalizing, there are tremendous differences, and we seem to be moving further apart – with the Canadian system, far more in-tune with the themes of Race to Nowhere and Beyond Measure.

Of course there is always more to do.  Beyond Measure reminds us that as we make up ground in one place,  to truly move forward there are many pieces that have to move together.  We are moving on testing, and images of a “zombie apocalypse” that Abeles shares in her book are not our reality, but we are not there yet – a work in progress.  Other topics that Abeles raises from the volume of homework to college admissions are ones we continue to wrestle with.  I was speaking with new teachers last week and was asked about homework “policy” in our district.  We don’t have a central policy, but schools have guidelines, and I can say with certainty there is less homework now being given than a decade ago, the work is far more purposeful – but external pressure, often from parents remembering their school experience fights efforts to move beyond homework.  The guidelines shared in Beyond Measure are strong aspirational goals – homework should advance a spirit of learning, homework should be student directed, homework should honour a balanced schedule.

Particularly heartening is that rather than just list problems, the book is really a call to action – what parents, educators and communities can do together.  I feel some of this “action” right now in BC as we work together to move our system forward.  If others are interested, the book is available here.

The screening of the film is Tuesday, October 27, 2015.  Here is ticket information.  If you can’t attend, encourage your community to bring the film to your local school or theatre and let’s keep this conversation going!

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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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fish

I often speak and write about how the principalship and the superintendency need to look different in the era of social media. And, while it can be difficult to distill  ideas to a few key points, a recent post from Brian Verhoeven does a great job of summarizing what that leadership looks like, and while the post was not specific about schools or school systems, I think the messages are right on for our system.

Verhoeven’s post summarizes a discussion by authors Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant of Humanize:  How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World.  The messages and the five key points about what makes a good organizational leader are very straightforward (my own thoughts are added below each point):

1.  They provide clear direction.

This list rings true for our education system.  Districts should set direction for schools, schools set direction for classes, and then leaders should step back and not micro-manage.  This action allows staff autonomy to find their own solutions, with superintendents and principals providing clarity of direction, and not necessarily all the answers.

2.  They use positive language when things change. They embrace change.

Principals and superintendents are often regarded and turned to in times of change, whether the changes are from government, in demographics, or in our understanding of teaching and learning, we always need to be out front and curious, with change not for the sake of change, but for different and better.

3.  They are transparent and share information freely.

The era of control is over, or almost over.  In the era of the instant, spending time thinking about “managing the message” has passed.  There is an expectation of timeliness and that we remove the secretive nature of the work.  Information is just that; the job of leaders it to make sense and direction of that information.

4.  They reinforce the value of experimentation—even failure.

The quote I often use, borrowed from a former colleague in Coquitlam, is that “you don’t have to be sick to get better.”  For us, in the West Vancouver school district, it is the notion and practice of a ‘culture of yes’, of thoughtful experimentation, and risk-taking, knowing we do not move forward unless we leave our comfort zone.  The best school and district leaders are supportive of staff and students taking the risk, quick to give praise when it works out, but just as quick to shelter those taking risks from criticism when it doesn’t.

5.  They talk aloud sharing their rationale and understanding with the team. They leverage the expertise of others to help them solve the tough problems.

Although the final decision is often made by one, along the way there are huge opportunities to leverage the brainpower of the room (whether that be a physical or digital room) to help ensure the best decisions are made. And, with such powerful and accessible networks, we would be remiss not to take advantage of this opportunity to make the best possible decisions.

A very straightforward, five-point list. Yes, but a very effective way of showing what we need today in educational leadership.

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wilson

One of the great treats at Christmas time is holiday reading.  Added to this, I am very fortunate so many of my friends and family know that books are the ideal gift for me,  and you can expect that over the next few months I will likely punctuate some of my more regular posts with perspectives from some of my most recent holiday readings.

The first of these is W. Brett Wilson’s Redefining Success – Still Making Mistakes. For someone who is usually immersed in books by and/or for educators, it is great to do some reading outside of my comfort zone. Prior to his book, my knowledge of Wilson was his three years as a panelist on Dragon’s Den — a show that I regularly PVR.  I have always appreciated his humanity and compassion (particularly in comparison to others on the show), but I knew very little about the complex process of philanthropy, and even less about investment banking — two areas that have dominated much of Wilson’s life (and  book).

Wilson’s story lines up with some told by prominent Americans,  including Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, who are all committed to giving away much of their money during their life rather than leaving it as a legacy.  Wilson writes, “If you think you’re going to do your children a favour by leaving them a big inheritance, think again. Inter-generational wealth transfer is one of the most serious issues of our time.”

Wilson also reveals that philanthropy in business is a very strategic exercise, from finding the right projects, the right partners and the right opportunities to benefit important causes, to engaging the community and highlighting/profiling the company.

Beyond all of this, is a very powerful, personal story of refocusing life around family and friends, as well as his view on what we need in education — which obviously stood out with me.

Wilson argues for the importance of “teaching marketing, entrepreneurship and philanthropy beginning in elementary schools and continuing into all higher learning, either academic or in the trades.”  Given the excitement and engagement with Me to We, and similar movements often done as an “add-on” to curriculum, he makes a persuasive argument that these areas should actually be part of  core schooling – a course, he suggests, in changing the world.  Wilson says that the ways in which anyone can make an impact on, or in, the world comes down to offering their time, money or leadership. He states:

We as a society need to think more clearly about what each student needs to have at the end of the journey.  Every student needs a bundle of knowledge, skills and experiences.  The first group  of students who graduate with my three subjects – marketing, entrepreneurship and philanthropy – as part of their core curriculum will be a dramatically different caliber of student.  But until everyone speaks the same vernacular we’re not going to change the quality of student we produce. Until it has become core curriculum, it’s just another elective, and the impact will be negligible.

These core subjects will develop students’ leadership skills. And if we’re going to drive innovation and productivity, it’s as important to fill the bus with leaders as it have leaders driving the bus.  As University of Calgary President Elizabeth Cannon eloquently stated during our discussion on the subject, “We need to develop our students as whole people, being able to work across disciplines and across sectors.  That’s how we are going to make great citizens.”

While the language may not be the same, Wilson’s list reminds me of a talk by UBC’s former President and Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Martha Piper, where she also highlighted global citizenship and community service learning, among other key areas (Dr. Martha Piper And the Way Forward blog post here).

My challenge to Wilson would be one I offer to others suggesting what we need to add to schooling, is to also make the argument about what needs to come out of schooling. One of our greater challenges in an era full of wonderful ideas about what additions to make to schooling, is in an era when many are suggesting creating more “white space” and flexibility in schooling, at a time we are also considering limiting the hours of schooling.

So, I read the book to find out about the ‘truth’ behind the Dragon’s Den deals, and although interesting, it was the human story of lifelong learning that stood out for me, as well as a wonderful book for those interested in leadership.

Thanks to Pieter Dorsman, a parent in our community committed to making education better for everyone, for the gift of the book —  a great way to grow ideas.

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front-cover

Len Corben is very well-known on the North Shore for his writing and commitment to athletics; a commitment that includes 31 years as the coordinator for North Shore Secondary School athletics, and as an accomplished writer with his Instant Replay stories that regularly appear in the North Shore Outlook.  Having previously enjoyed his first book, an anthology of his newspaper features, it was great to catch up with Len and also read his latest book based on hours of research and interviews with Ernie Kershaw: The Pitching Professor:  The Life & Times of Ernie Kershaw.

The book was of particular interest to me as Ernie Kershaw began his teaching career at West Vancouver Secondary School at about the time my grandfather, Charles Kennedy, was teaching at the school in the late 1930s. And, personally, as a history teacher and huge baseball fan (Field of Dreams is in my all-time top three movies), it’s difficult to imagine anything more appealing than a slice of local history with a backdrop of education filled with baseball stories.

The story starts with Ernie Kershaw’s birth on October 6, 1909, and as he describes it in the book, “My birth was premature at seven months and I started my career at two-and-a-half to three pounds in a shoe box in the warming oven of our Gurney-Oxford kitchen range, being for some time fed partly with honey and water via an eye dropper.”   With Spanish influenza and typhoid fever also part of his childhood experiences, Kershaw went on to play semi-professional baseball for the Vancouver Capilanos from 1939-41 and again in 1946 after serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force in World War II.

Kershaw was playing baseball at the same time as many of history’s most storied individuals, and the book links to Babe Ruth and others, while also telling the stories of the grassroots stars in Vancouver, in the era before Larry Walker and Justin Morneau.  Of course, Kershaw’s “big curveball and humming fastball” are also highlighted from his 4-0 five-hitter in his pro debut against the Yakima Pippins at Athletic Park on Hemlock Street, to a post-war performance described by Province columnist, Ken McConnell: ” Kershaw came back from the war fat and sassy.  He has a sweeping curveball that even [umpire] Amby Moran seemed to have difficulty following and his fast one sings as it burst across the plate.”

It was not an era of “just” being a baseball player — Kershaw was also a teacher.

Kershaw says of his teaching experience “In September 1936, I found myself back in the classroom” where he taught until 1941 and then again after the war from 1945-1973.   The book overlays Kershaw’s stories of West Vancouver with stories of many other well-known figures in West Vancouver including Dick Wright, Bill Nicol and Brian Upson.  All well-known names who come to life in Kershaw’s stories and through Corben’s words.  The stories also tell of a teacher making sense out of algebra for more than three decades of West Vancouver students – so proud of their accomplishments – he shares a real pay-it-forward legacy.

Notable for his teaching and his baseball, Kershaw also acknowledges he is notable for his longevity (the story is subtitled – One of Professional Baseball’s Oldest Living Former Players):

My first 50 years were quite unusual and interesting because of the variety of my interests and activities in a period which included a major epidemic, two great wars, several booms and depressions and the rise and collapse of many regimes and nations.  By sheer chance, I found myself at some critical places at historically important times.  As a result, I met many famous and talented people in various fields and from many countries.

Almost a Forrest Gump style story.

Ernie Kershaw died on February 13, 2012 at the age of 102.  In a story in the book, relayed by his son Ian, “When it was close to Dad’s time,” Ian recounted, “I said to him ‘Dad, I guess this is the bottom of the ninth for you.’  He replied, ‘It’s more like the bottom of the 12th.'”

Corben’s book and Kershaw’s story are a wonderful window into our recent history — a story about baseball and a whole lot more for those interested in sport, history, education and community — a really wonderful read.

To order a copy of the book or for more information, contact Len Corben.

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