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Archive for the ‘Change’ Category

My One Word (2020)

The best and worst of being in the world of education is that you are never done.  Teaching in the classroom I felt only as competent as the success of my most recent lesson, as a principal each issue felt like a new referendum of my abilities, and in the district office, I often have said the job does not give me the chance to celebrate, we are always onto what is next.  And all of this is part of what makes education wonderful.

So, that leads into my word for this year – hustle.

This is the 5th 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 last year it was Delight – a new twist on the power and importance of joy.

So why hustle? I like the word because it is not about ability.  Anyone can hustle.  It is one of those traits that is often hard to describe, but easy to see and recognize.  When I think of people who hustle, I can quickly think of 3 or 4 people in my life who live it everyday.

I am reminded of the quote that is often mis-attributed to Abraham Lincoln, “Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.”  As different as everyday is in the work of education, a little hustle goes a long way.  And I can find it is always easy to find reasons to be complacent.  Sure someone can say our students are doing great, the system is strong, and we can just do next year like last year and we will be fine.  Or you can hustle.  I often use this blog to test areas from robotics, to e-sports, to physical literacy and flex time.  We always have to be hustling – trying to figure out if there is a better way to do the work we do, and to keep looking at what might be the next few things we should be doing.

In our schools I think our students appreciate the hustle and it is positive modeling for them.  A little hustle goes a long way.  Most of my favourite students have been those who hustled.  What is also nice about the word is while it fits really nicely with my professional work, is also easily applies to those other top life priorities that we are all always trying to keep going.  The hustle creates energy and brings joy.  Last year was great, but I don’t want to do it all over again the same.

So here is to you a year of always hustling at work, with my own school studies, in my volunteer life and everywhere else. And hopefully being a good model for those hustling around me.

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Photo by Mike Wakefield, North Shore News

I feel as a society we are tackling the current challenges around physical activity and the need to be more active a bit like we did with the “just say no” drug education in the 1980’s. If we only told people that they were more likely to suffer a variety of health conditions and potentially die at an early age, they would wake up and change their ways. If only we produced more reports on health that said we were failing, we would stop failing. It is from this backdrop that I am so excited about what we are doing with physical literacy in our schools.

We know health guidelines say that kids should get at least 60 minutes of exercise a day, and we also know that few are doing it.  And there is no shortage of blame to go around.  Of course schools get some of it for how we structure our days, and then there is the overly protective pressures in society that leads to kids often not going outside.  And of course there is technology.  Any discussion around kids and activity often turns back to those damn phones!  All that being said, I think we were all shocked in West Vancouver when of the 1580 elementary aged students we tested a couple years ago on their abilities to run, hop, throw, kick a ball and walk backwards heel-to-toe, only 13 could competently perform all five tasks.

I appreciate that if we were talking about reading or math these kind of statistics would be reason to declare an emergency.  And we do think this work is as important as other foundation skills.  Instead of bemoaning the state of kids today – we got on with teaching them.  In just one year we were up to 65% of students being able to complete all the tasks.  The grade 2 students who never learn to kick a ball, become the high school students who don’t participate in soccer intramurals, the primary students who never learn to throw a ball are the ones who fake an illness to get out of softball in PE class, and those who don’t learn to properly run or hop, limit the athletic social events they will ever want to participate in.  But wow, what a difference we are seeing.  From agility ladders in hallways, to outdoor circuits to purposeful teaching of physical literacy skills – we have a team of teachers changing the culture.   And it is more than just getting kids to run around.  That is important, but we also need to teach kids the core skills of physical literacy.  It is great to have silent reading so all kids get time to read, but we also need to teach reading skills – the same theory holds for physical literacy.  And don’t be fooled into believing physical literacy can only happen in a gym.  The game changer is seeing people embed it in their work right in classrooms.

K Class Circuit at Ridgeview Elementary

We want students to develop physical literacy skills for their lives. If not at school, some kids will never have places to develop these skills.

And so interesting to read a Canadian study (HERE) published just last month that finds that there is a link between resilience and physical literacy among children, encouraging the importance of physical literacy development in schools.

I have always been struck by the simple idea – when will what we know change what we do.  We know physical literacy matters for youth.  For their physical health, their mental well-being, the academic success and their enjoyment in life.  And we are seeing some simple strategies are making big impactful changes across the district.  It is exciting to work in a district that is changing thinking and practice with physical literacy.

I am so lucky to work with a team including Diane Nelson, Erin Crawford, Amber Pascual, supported by Drew Mitchell and professional and researchers across Canada – all working together in West Vancouver to make this happen.  And teachers who are embracing the work.  When I get asked about what is new in West Vancouver, I tell people you need to see what we are doing with physical literacy.

 

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With change comes opportunity.

As British Columbia has engaged in a learning transformation over the last decade I have felt the continual tension.   We can either try to do the new thing just like we did the old thing, or see the new thing as an opportunity to think differently.

I have heard some say that inquiry is “what we have always done in our classes” while others have dramatically shifted their classes to increase student choice, voice, and agency under the guise of inquiry.

With curriculum, some argue that it is not really new, it is just the same curriculum organized differently.  Others suggest that the focus around big ideas is a dramatic move away from a focus on volumes of content to one of skills and competencies.

The same conversation has happened in so many areas – is the technology changing the classroom, or is it really just a new “version of pen and paper” as I have heard in some classes.  Is self-regulation about students having greater ownership over their ability to regulate and be in a zone for learning, or is it just new language around getting kids to behave in class?

The revised careers curriculum which sees us move away from Planning 10 and Grad Transitions to Career Life Education and Career Life Connections is another one of these tension points.  And again the same comments have been made.  I have heard they are really just the same courses with new names and that nothing needs to change.

Well, we disagree.

We see this change in Career Education not as a chance to make the new courses fit with what we have always done, but to do things differently.  And this change in Career Education is an opportunity to look differently at time in our schools, and how we use it, and listen to our students.  Beginning in the Fall all of our secondary schools will have new bell schedules that provide students with a 32 minute block of flexible instructional time (FIT) each day.  This will give students time to address the new Career Education competencies and content.  But it will also do more than that.  It will give students something they have continually asked for whenever we survey them – some flexible time as part of their formal school day where they have choice and voice – to complete assignments, collaborate with peers and receive extra help in a particular area.

Our system is very much built on a factory model.  Of course, no one really believes that all students need 120 hours to “learn” any particular course, some need far less and others need far more.  This change begins to recognize these differences.  Some students will need to spend time in math, while others will choose to spend their time in art or working on careers.

We regularly hear from our students (and their parents) of the increased stresses and pressures on today’s learners.  As we have listened to students, parents and staff this year – one comment I heard numerous times really struck me, “Students just need time to breathe.” Again, this is just a small change, but hopefully it will help – and also help the mental well-being of their teachers who can give directed support during the school days, perhaps freeing up some of their lunchtimes and after schools often dedicated to helping students.

FIT is not revolutionary.  Dozens of high schools in the Vancouver area have found ways to build regular flexible time into their schedule.  It is new for us.  And while I know some want us to completely revolutionize the learning structures of school, we continue to look for ways to make real changes that give students greater agency over their own learning.

We could have just tried to do the new things in old ways, but we are seizing the opportunity to do things differently.  As someone who believes in students and their teachers, I am excited for the Fall.

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Why esports?

Do many kids play too many video games? Yes.

Do some of the games kids play lack the values I would like to see portrayed? Definitely

Do I want our schools to get in the esports game? Absolutely

Conversations around esports is a wonderful generational clash.  Those of us who grew up with Atari, ColecoVision and the original Nintendo often cannot fathom the idea that there is any redeeming value in the video games that today’s kids are playing.  From what we see in the media the innocence of Pac-Man has been replaced by a stream of violent first-person shooter games.

Well, we hosted our first esports tournament last month with teams from all of our high schools and it was awesome!

I loved what I saw for a host of reasons, many of the same reasons I love what I see with students participating in the arts, athletics and clubs in school.  Students were taking on a role as part of a team towards a collective goal.  They were problem solving and competing.

Esports are definitely a global phenomena.  They are projected to do more than a billion dollars in business this year.  In a recent poll in the United States young people in similar numbers identified themselves as fans of esports as they were of football.  Closer to home the Vancouver Titans have marked our entry locally into the professional esports circuit and professional facilities are being built to host players and fans.  And it is not just for professionals, as colleges are beginning to run varsity esports teams and offer college scholarships.

Of course, just because something is popular doesn’t mean we should do it in our K-12 system.  What I have seen with esports in our schools, and elsewhere make me think they are a good fit our schools.  Some of the “why” for me includes:

  • Esports engage students as part of the school.  Students wear school uniforms, and have a sense of pride and identity.  Students connected to schools is a factor in success.
  • Esports are about team.  There is tremendous coordination and communications among participants as they work towards their goals.  These are some of the real world skills we continually say we want more of in  schools.
  • When we play esports in school it makes it easier to open up conversations about the type of games students play, the length of time they spend playing and hopefully influence their gaming with our school system values.
  • A key aspect of schooling is relevance.  When we see scholarships being awarded, universities being engaged, professional leagues being established and careers being built not only in playing but in other STEM related fields related to esports, we should look for an entry point.

I think some of the push-back has to do with the word “sport” in the name – as though a proponent of esports is saying that we shouldn’t be physically active – as if it is a choice between the two.  Esports are not intended to replace soccer or basketball.  Nor do I really think they should be in the Olympics.  (Of course there is another really good post here about what exactly is an athlete – I remember the questions in 1995 when Indy 500 Champion Jacques Villeneuve won the Lou Marsh Trophy for Top Canadian Athlete and Larry Walker said “I got beat by a machine”).  But like with competitive robotics, or entrepreneurial showcases, debate competitions or trivia tournaments they are a way to connects students and their school.  And a little bit of competition is sometimes a good thing!

Maybe esports are a fad?  Of course 200 million people watched the 2018 League of Legends World Championships, about twice as many as watched the Super Bowl, so it is showing some early staying power.  Esports remind us we should go where the kids are.  They offer an opportunity to turn what can be an isolating event into a social experience that contributes to the overall culture in the school.

Students take great pride in contributing to their schools and schools continually find new ways to make this happen.  Esports is just one of the latest ones – and one that looks like it might have some long term staying power.

 

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For much of my life I have heard of the pending demise of movie theatres.  First, it was the video tape, then DVDs and more recently it has been the explosion of online viewing options.  So, who would go to the movie theater and pay $15 to watch a movie when they can watch one online anywhere they want.  Well as we have learned, the answer is a lot of people.  I am apparently one of the few people who has not seen Avengers:  End Game.  As of writing this, it has made over $2 billion in theatres!  Not bad considering theatres were supposed to be relics of the past by now.

I think of the changes they have made in connection to the changes made in schools.  I actually think we have some things in common.  Throughout my teaching career, I have often heard from prophets of the future say that schools are going to go the way of the dinosaur – for many of the same reasons I have heard for movie theatres.  In short, technology would make schools as we know them out-of-date.

So just how have schools and movie theatres evolved in the last few decades to be as relevant and important now as ever.

They are more than just about the content. Go to the movies, and the movie is just part of the experience.  Movie theatres are full amusement complexes with food courts, arcades and a range of other activities.  And schools and classes are more than just the course material.  If schools were just teachers reading material and students copying material – this could be easily replaced, but they are engaging places where students connect with information.  The course material is actually just a small part of what makes up school.  So while you can replace the delivery method of school material – that does not replace school.

They both create experiences you cannot create at home through a screen. I grew up going to movie theatres that had small screens, not-so comfortable seats and your snack choice of 1. popcorn or 2. popcorn with butter .  Go now, and you have seats that recline, 4D films, and theatres that are like your living room on steroids.  Again, they built an experience that would not be possible anywhere else.  And in schools, classes are inquiry focused and more personalized.  We have moved away from the factory model that could easily be sent through computer wires to something that is far more connected.   In the past, schools would sometimes operate in ways that could easily be automated, but no longer is that ever the case.

There is something about gathering together in the community.  With both movies and learning, we sometimes underestimate the power of the shared experience.  There is something about going with your friends to see a movie together – in an increasingly disconnected world, this is a common intersection.  And similarly schools provide that community gathering place.  While in many parts of our life we connect digitally, schools allow us to learn together and have shared experiences.  And while the experiences are different than a generation ago – the importance of the shared experience is still as critical as it is today.

The comparison of the transformation of movie theatres and schools is not a perfect one.  It is interesting to see how they have both managed to stay incredibly relevant.  And while we can watch movies in so many ways now, or access learning anywhere or anytime, the institutions are still strong.

So no Avengers for me, but I will definitely be in line on December 19th for Star Wars!

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The much discussed US college cheating scam “Operation Varsity Blues” that has seen 50 people charged with various crimes has really stuck with me, as well it seems with people across North America. Of course the story has a movie-like crazy scheme storyline filled with celebrities and other powerful families.  It is the kind of story we love – it makes for great television.

For me, hearing the story I kept thinking, really this is a thing? I admit to being one of the more naive and trusting people but I struggle to believe these kind of activities really take place in our world. The media have been full of “hot takes” on the issue, but I want to look at a different slice of the story.  I have been thinking a lot about what the cheaters did in relation to the notions of abundance and scarcity in education.

I continue to hear comments that degrees are less important than they used to be.  In the modern world, we have moved from a time of scarcity to abundance in education.  While it definitely has some implications for K-12, the notion is most often used when we look at post-secondary.  In the past, with a limited number of spaces in post-secondary we were in an information-scarce time with acceptance to university/college being the way to access the information.  If you didn’t get to college or into the class, you couldn’t access the material or acquire the knowledge.  Now, in the age of abundance, we have a tsunami of new technologies creating access to any content you want.  You want to access the best lectures from the finest institutions in the world, you can likely do this all for free.  The cheerleaders of this change see this as opening up education to millions of people left around the world left out in the past.  And there are numerous stories of people picking up content online and this leading to dramatic changes in their life opportunities. Perhaps the era of credentialing being the key driver for so many professions in our world is ending?

Then last week in a lecture I attended there was a discussion about the dramatic differences that exist today, and increasingly so, of the different salaries and unemployment rates for those who have high school, college or professional degrees.  The data shows that more than ever (at least in the United States) the more education you have, the more money you will make, on average, and the less likely you will find yourself unemployed.  I am struck by these seemingly competing messages – in the modern world you don’t need the piece of paper anymore for the degree and in the era of abundance you can have access to all the content online and gain the skills that others pay thousands of dollars to receive BUT at the same time, the piece of paper may be more valuable than ever as an indicator of how successful you will be professionally.

So how does this relate to the cheating scam?  I am struck that so many seemingly very smart and successful people would spend so much money and put themselves and their families at risk to try to “hack” the old system and find their way to the top in the scarcity model.  If it is true, that it matters less where one goes to school, and the degrees that one has and matters more what one knows, the competencies they exhibit and how they apply their knowledge (and this doesn’t have to be through school) – then these 30+ families sure risked a lot for something that really doesn’t matter as much anymore.

And I realize it is far more complicated than this.  I am sure there are numerous status-related motivations why some of these people did what they did and it was not just about them deciding trying to criminally bypass the old model.  Perhaps for them education scarcity was a better bet than embracing a modern notion of educational abundance for their children.

I am a little less naive than I was a week ago about people but still have no clearer idea on what the future of learning and credentialing beyond grade 12 will look like going forward.  Will elite universities continue to be places that people will apparently be willing to lie, cheat and steal to attend or will the era of abundance mean that we no longer value the elite university credentials the same way we have for many generations?

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My One Word (2019)

This is the 4th 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 looking at 2017, it was a year of hope with shifts in education and a new provincial government.  When it came to the world of teaching and learning, it was hope realized.  Last year I wrote about what I described as my desperate need in my work for Relevance.

So what about 2019?

This year my word is Delight.  I have actually tested a few different words.  I wrote partial blog posts on Optimism and Enjoy.  Then a teacher colleague of mine Spencer Capier shared a Jessica Lahey article, Teaching, Just Like Performing Magic.   The article which shared Teller‘s (of famed Penn and Teller) view on education really resonated with me around my hopes for this year.

I loved the argument from Teller talking about his early teaching days:

 “I’m 5’8” and was about 160 pounds those days, so I was not the kind of person who could walk into a room of rowdy kids and [they] would just pay attention to me. What I have, however, is delight. I get excited about things. That is at the root of what you want out of a teacher; a delight in what the subject is, in the operation. That’s what affects students.”

Delight.  What a great word.  Kind of a new twist on the ideas of my friend and colleague Dean Shareski and his commitment to joy.

This is what I want for myself this year.  I want to continue to get excited about things.  It does come back to the Culture of Yes notion, the idea that we default to yes.  And this is really about getting excited about what others are excited about, and then getting others excited about what you are excited about.  And delight is such a great word.  Not one we use too often. For me to be full of delight, it is about showing up, bringing energy and being constantly curious.  I know in the adult world, whether at work or home we often think we should hide our glee.  Like it is kind of childish.  I know that is how I felt as a beginning teacher, new principal and rookie superintendent.  But our outward excitement is actually so often important.

I think of my super-talented colleague Diane Nelson who runs our academies.  She is always excited.  Her excitement is almost exhausting for those of us who work with her.  She does amazing things, and builds incredible programs.  And when we think she is finally done, she creates another.  It is this glee, excitement and delight I want to show more of in all aspects of my life this year.

I love this further idea from Teller expressed in the article:

Teller argued, the teacher has a duty to engage, to create romance that can transform apathy into interest, and, if a teacher does her job well, a sort of transference of enthusiasm from teacher to student takes place. The best teachers, Teller contended, find a way to teach content while keeping students interested. “If you don’t have both astonishment and content, you have either a technical exercise or you have a lecture.”

And just as Teller speaks of doing this at the classroom level, nothing changes when we think of the work we do at the district level.  As we continue to teach and learn – some astonishment and content pulled together can go a long way!

So in personal life and my professional – I am looking for a year of delight.  If you see me, keep me honest with it!

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