Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Change’ Category

This is the third in a series of posts that will share some of my findings from my recent doctoral dissertation – How BC School Superintendents Spend Their Time.

Before doing this research, I definitely had some pretty clear ideas on the experience levels of the 60 BC school superintendents.  I had assumed most superintendents had at least five years in their current job, and had between 10-15 years of experience in their districts.  I was very wrong on both counts.

Fifty-nine percent of BC superintendents are in their first five years in their current job. This high percentage is stunning. While there may have been a particularly high turnover in recent years, having such a high percentage of superintendents new to their job offers a huge challenge and opportunity in support for these leaders.  The narrative I often have heard is that rapid superintendent turnover is an American phenomenon and Canadians superintendents tend to spend far longer in their positions.  The data does not support this.

While the study did not look at the reasons for such a high rate of change in the last five years, given the level of experience of superintendents when most assume the position, it is likely that many superintendents retire out of the job in under five years. Those who support superintendents, including universities, boards, and their own association, must recognize the high level of newness in the group and the need for ongoing support and mentoring.

I assumed that many superintendents had experiences similar to mine, which would have seen them move into the district in a board role and advance to the superintendency, thus often having between six and 15 years of experience in their current district. The data shows that almost three-quarters of BC superintendents fall into two categories—they are either in their first five years in the district, which likely means they moved into the district to become superintendent or have more than 16 years of experience which likely means they grew up through the system in their district from teacher to school administrator to district administrator and superintendent.

There are likely very different kinds of supports required for superintendents who are newcomers to a school district compared to educators who have spent their career in a district and move into the position.  For those new to a district, there is an entire culture to learn on top of a new job, while those who advance in the same district have the experience of redefining themselves in a new role as a key challenge.  This career trajectory for superintendents is important for the Superintendents’ Association and Ministry of Education to understand as they support their leaders.

The level of experience of BC superintendents was largely unsurprising. Most superintendents have worked from 16–35 years in the system. It is interesting to see that nine of the leaders have worked for more than 35 years. Educators reach their full pension at 35 years in BC, so it is often discussed that there is little financial incentive for them to continue working beyond this point.

One regret in this part of the research was not asking for superintendents’ ages, whether they thought this job would be their final job, and how many years they planned to work until they retired. All of this data would be useful for further study to understand the position better. Given the data around experience, one could assume that almost 75% of superintendents definitely plan to retire in the next decade, but it would be useful to have this information more specifically.

While there were striking numbers of new superintendents, their experience with how they spent their time was not much different from their more experienced colleagues. In looking at 33 management and leadership tasks, the level of involvement of superintendents in their first five years was largely the same as those who were more experienced.  Whether it is human resources, facilities or student services, the differences between the level of direct involvement from superintendents in their first five years and those more experienced was minimal.

It was noteworthy in looking at the time new superintendents reported spending each week on educational leadership that four of the five who indicated they spent more than 21 hours a week were in their first five years, and 10 of 14 who spent at least 16 hours a week were in their first five years. This data may indicate a shift in the type of people being hired into the superintendency that are more focused on making time each week for educational leadership related activities, or it may indicate that superintendents early in their tenure invest more time in educational leadership activities.

Of all the data in the survey, learning that so many of the BC superintendents are in their first five years is something that really stands out.  There are real needs to support a group of superintendents who are often new to districts and where over half of those in positions are new to them in the last five years. Superintendent recruitment and retention is an ongoing issue. It is also worthy of further study to learn more about the commitment of less experienced superintendents to educational leadership activities and whether this potential trend indicates any changes in the focus of educators being hired into the position.

Want to read more?  My full dissertation is available under the research tab.  Next week I will look at the struggle superintendents have between being a community leader and an educational leader.

Read Full Post »

This is the second in a series of posts that will share some of my findings from my recent doctoral dissertation – How BC School Superintendents Spend Their Time.

It won’t surprise anyone that the size of a school district impacts the work of the superintendent.  It is true in likely almost any organization, the smaller the organization the more hands-on the boss is in the daily work.   

While BC has 60 school districts, they have a tremendous range in student populations. Two districts, Surrey and Vancouver, combine for a greater student population than the combined population of more than 50% of the other 58 school districts in British Columbia.  The 60 districts range in populations from a few hundred students to more than 70,000 students.  As an example of the diversity, the Stikine School District (School District 87) has fewer than 300 students in an area of over 80,000 square kilometers—twice the size of Switzerland.

It seems that providing all 60 superintendents with the same support when their populations are so different is a poor idea. Superintendents in the smaller districts regularly commented in the study that they had to take on a greater number of roles, as there are just not enough staff to take the different responsibilities. Often, superintendents of the smallest school districts described a job that seemed completely different from those of the larger school districts.  In many ways, it seemed as those the superintendents in the study were reporting on two different jobs – those done by superintendents in the largely urban, higher student population school districts and those done by superintendents in the largely rural, lower student population school districts.

In looking at 33 management and leadership tasks, my study confirmed what other researchers had found before, the unsurprising finding that those in smaller student population districts are more directly involved in the daily operations than their large student population colleagues. In mapping the data though, it was not as simple as plotting all 60 districts by population and you would see the shift in levels of direct responsibility continuously decline from the smallest to the largest district.  

Superintendents with student populations below 6,000 and particularly below 2,000 students had higher levels of direct involvement in tasks, but above 6,000 students, there was not very much difference. Superintendents of districts with between 6,000 and 10,000 students reported a lower level of direct responsibility than each of the three higher population categories.

Superintendents in districts of 2000 students or fewer averaged 2.77 on their level of involvement on the 33 management and leadership tasks (this is based on a 4 point scale, where a 4 would indicate primary responsibility for all tasks). The next highest were the districts of up to 6,000 students, at 2.48. All of the remaining superintendents in the other four population categories averaged between 2.23 and 2.38. It appears there is a threshold at which superintendents’ direct involvement drops, and then it levels off.

A superintendent of a district with a population of about 8,000 students would likely have the same level of direct involvement in activities as a superintendent of 18,000 or 28,000 students. It seems that at a threshold of about 6,000 students, a district is large enough that it has senior-level staff that can be delegated some of the specific tasks that take place in the board office. The remaining tasks stay with the superintendents as a primary responsibility even in the largest school districts.

Superintendents from smaller districts were far more likely to spend additional hours each week on educational leadership than those from larger districts.  Educational leadership includes tasks like spending time with teachers and administrators focused on learning initiatives, being in classrooms, and supporting the district efforts around curriculum and assessment.  Thirteen of the 14 superintendents who spent at least 16 hours a week on educational leadership related activities were from districts with student populations of no more than 6,000 students. Conversely, three of the six superintendents from the largest districts of more than 22,000 students indicated they spent more than 21 hours a week on average with their Board.

Moreover, superintendents from smaller districts had more time for educational leadership activities than those from larger districts, who often spend a lot of their hours with their board and on governance issues. In the districts of up to 6000 students, 25 of the 31 superintendents reported they spent more than 10 hours a week on educational leadership activities, while only seven of the remaining 28 superintendents in districts with more than 6000 students reported they spent more than 10 hours a week on educational leadership activities.

So, if you want to be a superintendent and spend time on educational leadership, one of the conclusions you could make is that you want to be a superintendent of a school district of with a population of no more than about 6,000 students.  Of course, if you want to be immersed in board governance, one of the large districts may be the right spot for you.   

Want to read more?  My full dissertation is available under the research tab.  Next week I will look at the level of experience with BC School Superintendents.  

Read Full Post »

This is the first in a series of posts that will share some of my findings from my recent doctoral dissertation – How BC School Superintendents Spend Their Time.

For my study, I surveyed all BC school superintendents, collecting demographic data and information on how they spent their time.  Following the data, I wrote more on gender that I had anticipated I would.  The data showed a real gap in the gender of superintendents, and also a difference in the work that male and female superintendents do in the job.

A critical factor in understanding the work of superintendents is who they are and what experience they bring to the job. And while women occupy a higher share of superintendent positions in BC than in the United States, there is still a dramatic difference between the percentage of female superintendents in British Columbia relative to teachers and principals and vice-principals.

In BC, 64% of school superintendents are men, which is lower than the 76% in the United States but far higher than the percentage of male teachers (25%)  and school administrators (40%). While both teachers and administrators are continuing to become more female-dominated professions, the gender mix of the superintendency has stayed quite consistent for at least a decade. Researching for a blog post in 2011, I found that 67% of superintendents were male, so this gender divide is basically unchanged in a decade.  Of the 60 school districts in BC, 21 had female superintendents in the spring of 2021. 

Female superintendents lead some of the smallest districts in BC, 15 of the 21 women head-up districts of 6000 students or fewer. They also lead some of the very largest, as three of the six districts with more than 22,000 students are led by women. However, mid-size school districts seem to lack female leaders, as only three of the 21 districts in size from 6001 – 22,000 students have female superintendents.

In looking at the work of female superintendents, four of the five superintendents in the province that reported spending at least 21 hours a week on educational leadership related issues were women. In American literature on school and district leaders, female leaders were far more likely to have a background in teaching or curriculum. This background may help explain the time female superintendents spend on the topic.

Considering time with their Board, five of the seven BC superintendents that spent at least 21 hours a week on governance were also female. It would be worth further exploration to consider why female superintendents were more likely to spend higher numbers of hours both on curriculum and on governance related issues than their Board.

For the research, all BC school superintendents were surveyed for their level of involvement in 33 management and leadership tasks – everything from purchasing and busing to facilities decisions to interactions with governments.  Superintendents scored their direct involvement on a four point scale.

Female superintendents were slightly more likely to be involved in the 33 leadership and management tasks than male superintendents, with an average score of 2.59 versus 2.45 for males (on a 4-point scale in which a 4.0 would mean they had primary responsibility in all areas). However, with female superintendents occupying the position in many of the province’s smallest districts, the district population could also be the driver, not gender, for their higher level of involvement. It is true that, on average in BC, female superintendents have more direct involvement in leadership and management tasks and are more likely than their male counterparts to spend 21 hours a week or more with their board and on educational leadership activities.

There are real opportunities to understand better how more women can move into the superintendency. Tom Glass, writing for the AASA in 2000 on the US experience, argued, “The two most widely cited reasons for the paucity of women in the superintendency are that women are discouraged from preparing for the superintendency and school boards will not hire them”. It would be useful to understand if American experiences for females aspiring to the superintendency are similar in British Columbia. Further exploration would also be needed to understand the findings that such a high number of female superintendents are the heavy time spenders with boards and on educational leadership.

If our teaching staff and principal and vice-principal pools are becoming increasingly female, it is important for organizations like the those who support superintendents and the Ministry of Education to look at how they can ensure females are supported into the superintendency.  And I was left with other questions, like why are women superintendents in the smallest and largest districts but not in the mid-sized districts?  Why do female superintendents spend more time in a week both with their boards and on curriculum and instruction than their male counterparts?  While not data collected in my study, is there ethnic and racial diversity in the female superintendent pool (for that matter the superintendency in general) in BC?  If the pool of candidates (teachers and administrators) is increasingly female will this change the make-up of the superintendency?

There is a lot of useful American literature looking at gender and the superintendency.  My research has nothing truly profound to say to answer the question why there are not more female superintendents or what we should do about it (that was not within the scope of the research).  It does seem clear that the public dialogue about gender and the superintendency in the United States is one that we should also be having in British Columbia and Canada.

Want to read more?  My full dissertation is available under the research tab.  Next week I will look at the impact of student populations on the work of the superintendent.  

Read Full Post »

I often have said that every class in the future would be a blended class. What I didn’t expect was for this to happen over night.  I use this space to celebrate many of the amazing things that are happening in classrooms, schools and education on a regular basis.  It is also worth writing about the things that don’t quite hit the mark as this is part of learning as well.  And blended learning, at least in our high schools this year, was only just fine, and there are some important lessons going forward.

First it is important to give the context for our COVID induced blended learning in West Vancouver.  Our schools have had in-person learning for the entire year.  Health rules placed limits on the size of cohorts in schools, so given the diverse electives that many of our grades 10-12 students take, this often meant that they took one fully in-person course each quarter and one blended course where they attended every other day.  Most grade 10-12 students in BC took some blended courses this year, particularly in larger high schools to meet the established cohort rules. Ultimately this year’s COVID blended learning experience was necessary to support student choice and programming.

I should also note that I am using blended learning and I realize it is not synonymous with hybrid learning but we have been using them as analogous this year.  For those outside the school system you probably see this as more edu-speak, and you are right, but blended learning and hybrid learning are actually different.  One of the challenges has been in different classes in the same school some have been running what would be typically blended learning classes and others hybrid classes but acting as if they were the same.  There are some varied definitions on both terms – HERE is one that was helpful for me.  

So, with that as a background, we finish this year with many saying that “blended (hybrid) learning was not as effective as we would have liked.”  And we have data that actually backs up some of the concerns.  

We asked our students and staff: 

Question: If you have taught/taken a hybrid course in Quarter One or Quarter Two (mix of face-to-face and remote learning), what effect has the hybrid structure had on students’ Knowledge and Understanding and Marks and Achievement?

Marks and Achievement

Knowledge and Understanding

In these graphs – the grey is negative, the blue is positive, the orange is no difference and yellow is no response.  We asked similar questions of in-person learning and the results were reversed.  So, where does this leave us?  Was I wrong in what I have been saying that all classes should be blended classes?  I don’t think so.

There was a specific required structure to the blended classes we offered that was required by the Health rules – half students were in class and half weren’t on any given day to reduce density and allow for physical distancing.  Teachers were assigned to blended classes again as necessary given the health rules.  From my conversations, the three big takeaways are:

  1. Blended learning works better for some students than others (heck so does face-to-face) and when they can self-select into courses.  We saw from the data that we did have a quarter of students that saw blended learning as a net positive.
  2. Blended learning works better for some teachers than others.  Some teachers are passionate about notions of flipped classrooms and extending in-class learning digitally and even balancing face-to-face and virtual participation at the same time.  Like with students, having teachers self-select into blended learning makes it better.
  3. Blended learning works more easily in some content areas than others.  Again back to our health rules, it was random this year which classes ended up being blended so we could not go through the thoughtful process of deciding that maybe PE 10 should be face-to-face but Social Studies 11 might work well as a blended course.

These findings are backed up by what was found across Metro Vancouver. Earlier this spring Dean Shareski published a white paper – Pandemic Shifts – that was the culmination of hundreds of local educators sharing their experiences during COVID around scheduling, assessment, blended learning and wellness.  The section on blended learning offers some excellent advice going forward.  

I think blended learning is a huge part of the future of learning.  We have some rehabilitation to do so blended learning is not saddled as only being the type of experiences we offered during a pandemic.  The way we were forced to offer it this year, didn’t match the promise and opportunities that blended learning can offer.  We are emerging from the pandemic with a far more flexible high school system for students, and we need to find the right ways to make blended learning a key part.  

 

Read Full Post »

When it comes to schooling everything is essential.  At least that is what we are made to believe.  While I often hear about what should be added to schools, I never hear any arguments about what should be removed to make space for new content.   One of the most prolific of these debate is handwriting – which I waded into a decade ago (and won’t again here).  One lesson from the handwriting debate is as much as we want schools to be doing more and different things, we are pained to think that our kids could miss out by not having everything required in school that we had mandated for us.  We generally seem to wish our kids to have all the same experiences we had, just more and better.

COVID has really forced us to have these conversation around what is essential, in ways that we were unable or unwilling to do outside of a pandemic.   No longer could we keep doing things because we had always done it, or everyone else was doing it in their classes.   We have had to truly adopt the Marcus Aurelius quote, “Ask yourself at every moment, is this necessary.”

I have written before about the particular impact of COVID on high schools.  HERE is a recent post on COVID edu-trends that will stick and HERE is a link to a recent white paper that Dean Shareski produced working with over 200 educators from our region examining scheduling, blended learning, assessment and wellness in our secondary schools in COVID and beyond.  

More than anything else, COVID has really made us rethink the use of time in schools.  In the pre-COVID era, we had neatly organized blocks, all of the same length, with each course the same number of blocks over the year.  Some teachers had this planned down to the minute.  While jurisdictions across North America have faced different realities, the last year has seen shifts from “regular” blocks, to virtual, to hybrid to new models.  In our district, there is now more flexible time for students, and blocks are of different lengths on different days.  The traditional block model has been disrupted.  And while we can’t ignore that these efforts are occurring in a pandemic – the new models are working for many students.  

This year has been both utterly exhausting and invigorating for many colleagues.  They have had to reinvent their courses from the ground-up.  And in doing so they have cut out a bunch of stuff that now no longer is as necessary as it seemed, but they have also been able to give renewed energy to other materials – content and competencies that are truly essential and ones which bring out the passion of the students and teachers.

Asking ourselves, Is this essential?  is always a good question to ask.  But of course, we often don’t – not just in schools, but in many parts of our lives and society.  COVID is making us take a hard look at content and competencies and the results are showing that we are building back a schooling system that is different than the one we had just a couple of years ago.  

Read Full Post »

A couple weeks ago I wrote about 7 COVID Edu Trends That Will Stick following the pandemic.  Of course as much as there are things we have learned and experienced that we want to maintain, there are other experiences that have really been missed in schools for the last twelve months.  We know that concerns over well being are very real and there are aspects of schooling that while maybe not directly tied to reading, writing or math, that are crucial.   While definitely not an exhaustive list, here are 5 things that have been missed this past year and we need to return:

Travel – I know travel comes up for many people in all parts of their lives, but it is a big part of school and not just those big spring break trips that groups of students might take to Europe.  Travel is about secondary PE classes going to the local fitness facility to work out, it is about elementary students going to Science World or the Aquarium and it is about school teams or performance groups getting to go to other places to play and perform.  And for adults it is about going to meetings and conferences and connecting in-person with colleagues.  We don’t realize how much travel is in education until it is gone.  Travel enriches the school experience for everyone.

Performance – Practice is great but performance is also a big part of school.  While in some areas performance can continue – if you are learning math you can “perform” on a test.  And yes, there are virtual performances for various disciplines in the arts.  But there are no musicals, public dance recitals or school rock concerts.  In sports all competition between schools has been wiped out.  While training still continues, this practice usually leads to competition in games, tournaments and meets.  And it is not just sports and arts, it is also robotics, science fairs, debating events and many other places that competing and performance are part of the learning process.  All of this has been on hold.  Training is great, but training that builds towards performance and all of the lessons that come from it are really powerful.  We need to get back to public showcases.  

Shared Meals – Whether it is kids or adults, food is a big part of school.  Lunch times with friends are often some of the best memories for students as they build social skills, make friends and foster community.  And for adults, food often bring us together.  We debate ideas over pizza or learn from a great speaker while eating sushi together.  And in our community food brings people to the school.  Feast events or similar opportunities are reasons for people to come together.   The power of “breaking bread” is real and is something that is used so often in schools (though I admit that I am eating a little healthier without the food events).  

Being Off – It can feel like with video conferencing we are always on.  Whether you are an adult or child in the system, we all need some times to be off – to be with our own thoughts.  In the world of Zoom, Google Meets and Teams this feels often less easy.  Having our cameras on makes us feel like we are always watching and being watched.   Being on all the time is its own version of exhausting.  It will be nice to have the option of sitting quietly in the back of the room again in the post-COVID world.

Unplannedness – I wrote a post last spring about the loss of chit-chat.  The argument is that one of the best things about school is the silly side conversations about tv shows, or personal interests.  And while we can create some of this online it is not the same.  During the pandemic our rules in school need to be very strict – it is hard to deviate from the script.  These deviations, often called “teachable moments,” are some of the best parts of school.   This unplannedness (I am not sure this is actually a word) is so lacking.  Over this last year every movement during the day has clear purpose and structure.  And while I agree with those who say in this world we can “get through the work much faster” the real work of education is much bigger than the outcomes for any course.

There is definitely a lot to take with us from the COVID-19 education world and continue with going forward but I am also hopeful that we see a return to some elements we have really missed this past year.  

Read Full Post »

As we continue to educate in the midst of a pandemic should we prioritize student well being and their mental health or the curriculum and traditional course work?

These are the kinds of questions in education that I find extremely frustrating because of course the choice is not really one or the other.   

It was reassuring listening to Linda Darling-Hammond speak last week at the annual AASA National Conference on Education.  She spoke about how the focused commitment to social emotional learning will lead to other improved education outcomes, and as we support the well being of our students, this is actually also part of the academic agenda.   These important elements of our system are not siloed off, they are interconnected.

It was the second time at the conference I heard a strong argument around the rejection of false choices.  In remarks at the start of the conference, AASA President Kristi Wilson spoke about a new school being built in her home district in Arizona that has a joint focus on STEM and the humanities.  She spoke about rejecting the notion that if you were committed to future technologies including coding and computers you did so at the expense of history or critical thinking.

The challenge of false choices is something I see all the time with education.  Just jump onto edu-Twitter and there will be many experts telling you that in education you have to choose between X or Y.  It is really reflective of the larger challenge we seem to be facing in our world where so much of what we do has become polarized.  If you believe in a strong arts program, you can’t be committed to high academic achievement.  If you think having students digitally connected you are somehow opposed to getting students outside and engaging more closely with our planet.  It is really hurting our system – we want to simplify discussions.  If the new principal is a former basketball coach they must not value the arts.  Or if they taught senior math and science they will not support the humanities.  

It is not a choice for education to be about preparing students for a world of work or life as a contributing citizen.   It has always been both and so much more.  Those who perpetuate false choices from inside and outside our system do so with the goal of dividing education advocates.  Our system has always had multiple goals and social, emotional and academic development do not come at the expense of each other.

We need not have “Pepsi or Coke” debates in education and we should be wary of those who want to perpetuate false choices in our system.  

Read Full Post »

In education we often live with one foot in the present and the other in the future.  And this has been more true during the COVID-19 pandemic.  We are both making changes on the go as we match learning systems to different stages of the pandemic, while also looking for lessons learned during this time as we prepare for a post-pandemic education system.  There are many ideas to take from the last 12 months that will likely impact our systems for a generation, here are 7 that I  have seen:


A Nationalized Conversation –  Canada is one of the few countries without a major role for the Federal government in education.  That said, there has been more connections than ever across this country as provinces have taken similar health approaches in schools, and Canadian educators have looked to connect digitally.  With the Federal Government investing one billion dollars in national education it has helped emphasize the connections.  The networking seems destined to continue, and even though education falls to provincial governments and local jurisdiction, from Indigenous Education, to technology access to literacy there are many important national connection points that need to continue. 

Expectations Around Video and Social Media –  Advocacy for the use of video and social media in schools and districts is not new, but nothing like a pandemic to make it obvious that non-traditional tools are needed.  Now, not that they are the only tools, but whether is is sharing information nights with school communities, or holiday concerts or assemblies, video is just expected.   We see this trend with leadership as well.  I have argued for a while that leaders need to be in the digital game, and that is more true than ever.   I appreciate what my BC colleague Jordan Tinney has been able to do, making a massive district feel like a small community through the use of digital tools and regular engagement.  

High schools will forever be different – I often hear, “the quarter system is not new, this is not that innovative.”  And this is true (quarter system is students taking only 2 courses at a time) – examples of the system in BC date back decades.  The best of what I have seen with secondary schools is not the particular block structure but what has come about because of the scheduling.  What we have seen includes:  courses have become less about time in a seat,  real conversations about what is essential have been prioritized, greater flexible time for students to make choices over their learning, and a value placed on teacher student relationship in high school with fewer teacher contacts for each learner.  Now, many of these could have been done without the quarter system, but the combination of factors of fewer classes, safety rules that limit students in some classes, and a widespread curiosity for new models has led to some exciting work.

Health and Education are Permanent Partners –  Health and Education have always worked closely together.  But this year is completely different.  We are in daily contact – and not just at a superficial level, we have got to know each others’ work.  So, going forward these relationships built through COVID will carry over.  On everything from vaping to physical literacy to mental health to just broadly building a stronger community we will be more explicit partners. 

Digitization is Here  – We have been saying for more than a decade that we were moving digital on the education side with textbooks and other learning resources and on the administrative side with forms and processes.  And then, after saying it, we have often not fully invested in the tools, choosing to live with one foot in the past paper world and one foot dipping its toes in the digital world.   We have had no choice but to go digital in many places over the last 12 months, and again this does not show any signs of going back. There is finally far greater alignment between how we say we want education and what it looks like.

Equity, Equity, Equity  – The pandemic has on one hand brought the challenges of equity in many forms to the forefront and also showed things we have said were almost impossible, are possible.  You have seen me argue before in this blog, “if we can figure out how to have garbage picked up at every house we surely can figure out how to get these same houses wifi” and like with garbage pick-up it should just be expected.  On the concerning side, we saw vast differences in the access to tools like technology and also in the access to opportunities during the pandemic.  We also, though, figured out how to get digital devices into the hands of almost all students – something we deemed impossible until recently.  Post pandemic we need to keep this focus.  The pandemic has put a spotlight on where we need to do better – from equity of technology, to equity of experiences.

Learning is often an outdoor activity –  Again, we are finally doing what we have said for a long time is the right thing. Particularly in our younger grades our students are spending time outside connecting to nature and having authentic real world experiences.  Our medical officials have encouraged our students to spend more time outside.  Many educational experts have already been arguing the powerful pedagogy of this, for many years.  Now rather than just building playgrounds on school grounds, we are looking to create outdoor learning spaces.  From school gardens, to urban agriculture, the future of schooling needs to be more time outside.  And how exciting – that school could be both more digital and more connected to the earth.  While some would view these ideas is incompatible, but really can be complimentary.  

Our greatest challenge of the next 12-24 months is to ensure that pieces of all 7 of these ideas are not lost and are part of our system going forward. There will be a lot of noise to “go back to normal.” When we meet with system and school leaders – nobody wants that – we had a good system, that has been taxed by a pandemic but there is learning that can make us even a better system as we look to the fall of 2021 and beyond.  

It is a stressful and exhausting time to be an educator, but it is also an exciting time as we look for ways to have our lived experience match the system we have been envisioning for much of this century.  

Read Full Post »

This post is a duplicate of the article in the  AASA – February 2021 School Administrator Magazine.  

The issue (here) is dedicated to the shift to remote schooling.

It was mid-March, and suddenly everything around us was closing. Our school district had entered spring break with a foreboding sense we might not come back in two weeks, but it was still a little surreal. 

Suddenly everything was moving quickly – national borders were closing, toilet paper was flying off the store shelves and general panic was setting in. People kept asking, what about schools? I knew I needed to say something. I thought writing about curriculum reform or budget planning seemed poorly timed and I didn’t have any certainty to bring to the fate of schools after spring break.

So, instead, I wrote a blog post about my cancelled Hawaiian vacation. I shared a more personal story about how we were trying to take a rare family vacation in our oldest daughter’s 12th-grade year before she left for college. In the end, we tried to salvage some sense of festiveness as we enjoyed pineapple and macadamia nuts on our rainy back patio.  

 

Human Touch

Thousands of people read the post and dozens commented and then shared their stories, empathized with our family’s challenges, and otherwise just connected. It was a reminder that people do not just read our blogs to learn about education. At its core our blogs are about connection. And in times of uncertainty, district superintendents are among those people in our communities look toward for guidance, advice and reassurance.    

 In the hundreds of posts I have written, two of the most common responses I get from colleagues are “how do you find the time?” and “that seems like a lot of work.” And even as you have read dozens of articles over the last decade in School Administrator magazine and elsewhere, the number of superintendent bloggers is relatively low.

As we look to a post-pandemic world that will differ from our world before, it finally might be the right time to start.  

 

Time to Proceed

Let me suggest five reasons why now is the time for a superintendent to be blogging.  

  • People are looking to connect on a human level. Our families are “Zoomed” out. Many of our students and families have spent large parts of their lives over the past 10 months in their homes and with limited contacts. Our blogging as school district leaders can humanize us and our work. We are facing the same challenges as our families and doing our best to make decisions that are unprecedented. 

 

  • Old communication channels have disappeared. Before last March, I could speak to parents at a school or to the Rotary Club or various other venues. Large gatherings do not exist right now, and they may never come back in the same way. We need to have our channels of communication to connect directly with our community.

 

  • Our school system is changing fast. Regardless of your delivery model this fall and winter, we have made changes in weeks or months that would normally take years. Constant communication with our parents is crucial to understand the what, the why and the how of all the different ways learning is continuing.

 

  • We can offer certainty in a world of uncertainty. With so much confusion and change in our world, superintendents are looked to by the community to be honest brokers of information. We can use our social capital to keep our community onside with how school changes fit into larger global changes.

 

  • Our kids need models, so why not us? I am pretty sure all students across North America are writing more online than they were one year ago. This is probably not going to change anytime soon. If we say we want our children to be learning to engage in this world, we can help model the way.

 

Digital Presence

When I started blogging 10 years ago, it was a bit of a novelty. Now as we start 2021, the urgency seems greater. The world is changing, and the tools we use are changing. What a great time for us to lead the way in this digital space.

Read Full Post »

“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

I had the great honour of being on Howard Tsumura’s podcast last week (link HERE).  We spoke about blogging, basketball and the future of schooling among other topics.  Howard has been a real mentor for me in the world of writing, as he is an amazing storyteller.  I didn’t get to say it on the podcast, but reporters like him, Steve Ewen, Don Fennell, and Mark Booth have all been inspirations for me with the Culture of Yes because they tell wonderful stories. I have often tried to use this blog to tell more stories like those I read them sharing.

Now, I don’t want to just turn this entry into a blog post that laments the loss of so much local news through our traditional sources. I do think it is a big deal, and community based public education is not well served by Facebook Groups replacing community newspapers.  I have written before (HERE) about the loss of community circulations, but rather today I am thinking about the importance these local papers are to our high school athletics. 

When I talk to people from other parts of Canada, one of the great differentiators we have had is that our media has treated high school athletics as important and relevant.  I remember coaching in local high school gyms in the mid-1990’s and seeing Trevor Henderson, Barry MacDonald and Don Taylor walk in to do a story for Sports Page. And this was no surprise – they and others would often be at fields and gyms telling the stories of high school athletes. School sports, like the Canucks, Whitecaps and Lions was part of our British Columbia sports DNA.  I know many people who only had a Vancouver Province subscription to read The School Zone on Thursdays with Howard Tsumura or Steve Ewen. Both Vancouver daily newspapers had full-time high school / university sports reporters at the time. 

Now because of the foresight of the Langley Event Centre and a collection of partners, we still have the treasure that is Howard Tsumura doing stories for Varsity Letters.  And others like BC Sports Hub trying to fill the high school sports storytelling void.  And Steve Ewen still makes sure that school sports gets into the Vancouver Sun and Province, but his beat is now basically everything so it can’t get the same attention.  And it all makes me sad for stories we will never hear. 

We will always get Canucks scores but what about the stories like Andy Prest who writes for the North Shore News and his remembrance of Quinn Keast, or Ben Lypka in Abbotsford who was writing about Chase Claypool when he was winning provincial football titles and playing senior boys basketball – well before being a breakout star with the Pittsburgh Steelers,  or Marty Hastings in Kamloops who covers sports in their local community so well, or Mark Booth who has been writing for decades about school sports in Delta and Richmond or Don Fennell who I first begun talking to about high school sports in Richmond in the 1980’s and now writes as Editor at the Richmond Sentinel (I encourage you to explore any of these links – they are all great stories told by masterful writers). 

Stories like this one from Howard Tsumura on Bradley Braich on sports and mental health are powerful and they make a difference when other young people can read stories like this.  It helps students to know they are not alone.  And so important that stories like Karin Khuong’s get told – the way Steve Ewen did multiple times, including this past October

Now, I know we are all still challenged by COVID, but I am absolutely convinced school sports will come roaring back in a post-pandemic world.  As I have written before, athletics may (and I think should), look different, but school sports are tightly linked to our definition of schooling. 

What I have noticed during the pandemic is that as much as I miss school sports, I really miss the stories of school sports.  I realize that reading and watching the stories of athletes, coaches and teams is one of my favourite parts of the game.  The human interest aspects are as or more interesting to me than the scores of the games.

And it is this coverage which has been waning in recent years prior to the pandemic.  Replacing a full-page story in a local community newspaper on a young athlete with a highlight reel on Instagram is not the same thing.  And in recent years this has really been lost.  I worry that with no high school sports this year, another unintended consequence is that when they come back, there will be even fewer storytellers.  I get it, reporters move on, newspapers and other traditional media are struggling.

Talking to Howard Tsumura definitely made me nostalgic.  I love reading about the grade 9 track star from Burnaby, or the high school rugby coach from Victoria who is fighting cancer or the graduating volleyball player who is also an amazing musician.  These kinds of stories define the power, beauty and community of school sports.

Thank you to all of you who have and continue to tell our stories of school sports.

I started with that overused quote about a tree falling in the forest, as I keep thinking about it when I reflect on high school sports.  If there is nobody around to tell the great stories – how will we know about all of our students amazing accomplishments?  And that will be a tremendous loss.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »