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Archive for the ‘Change’ Category

Try

Try is a great word.

It is also a vulnerable word.  And vulnerability can be a scary thing as a teacher.

I have been in three classes over the last couple weeks where teachers talked about something they were trying.  Each time, the word really stood out.

In one class the teacher said she was “trying something new with how I organize students in groups.”  In another the teacher said he was “going to try using Google Docs to have students share their work.”  In a third the teacher said she was “trying to include more Indigenous ideas in her math class.”

Try implies uncertainty.  All three of these teachers were unsure how it would go, it was a bit of an experiment, it was their own inquiry just like their students were doing.  The teachers, in all their vulnerability were modeling lifelong learning.  They were trying things, some would work, others won’t, and they will refine and try again.  You can call it a design cycle or an inquiry model but I think of it as culture.  This is exactly the culture that I want us to continue to have.

I want us to have a culture of trying stuff.  We want our students to be fearless learners, so to for the adults that work with them.

Try.

It is such a great word.

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For me it was Alan November.

When I look at which speaker I saw who finally got through to me and made me think differently about teaching and learning, it would be Alan November. It was 2004, and the web 2.0 world was coming alive.

I have seen hundreds of speakers who suggested I needed to think differently but for some reason on that fall day at the Terry Fox Theatre in Port Coquitlam, Alan November got me thinking in new ways and I never looked back.

I have written on some similar shifts I have made – like My Aha Moment when I took what I heard from Alan November and brought it into my practice and My Own Watershed Moments when I reflected on influential conferences, people and presentations on my thinking.

The short version of what I remember from the November talk of 14 years ago, is that we need to have students own their own learning (He would ask, “Who owns the learning?”), and some of the new technology tools can help do this in ways we had only dreamed about before.  Of course, he also had some great hooks, I am sure I am not the only one who remembers him showing Dog Island, The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus among other sites around information literacy.

So, why on that particular day, did that talk change my thinking?  I think it is because:

  1.  I was already thinking about things differently but needed someone to help me pull the ideas together
  2. I felt confident in my job, and ready to move beyond “just getting by” to be open to new ideas
  3. There was a culture in the District I worked that was open to new ideas
  4.  I could see how the conversation in education fit into a larger shift in the world beyond school
  5. Some speakers just hook you in.

Several of us looked back on this event and referred to it as the “November Awakening” in Coquitlam.   This was the right event at the right time.   Of course, we never change our thinking based on a 2-hour-talk, but sometimes we can look back on certain sessions that really helped pull our thinking together.

So, who was it for you?  If you had to identify one speaker you heard who changed how you think about your practice who would it be?  What was it about that speaker on that day that led to a change of thinking?

 

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My One Word (2018)

 

This is the 3rd year of my “One Word” Tradition.  In 2016 I wrote about Hungry and 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.

So what about 2018?

This year my word is Relevance.  It is interesting to see the social media posts as others post words for the year.  I see words like love, gratitude, empathy and others.  And when I test them out for me – they do not work.   My digital colleague, Dean Shareski suggested my word should be “Lucky” and he actually had a good point.  But, I landed on relevance.

I am desperate to be relevant.  It is part of why I blog.  Blogging forces me to make my thinking public.  It is easy to shy-away from the big conversations, but I want to be in the middle of them.  I want to continue to think about education in ways that helps shape the narrative about our future.  I do not fear disagreement, but I do worry that I get to a point where my thoughts and ideas are just ignored.  That would be way worse.  I want to be part of the dialogue.  And relevance is largely up to me in this regard.  I need to continue to read, question, explore and get out and see what others are doing.  I work in a very high performing school district, which has a great reputation for innovation.  But we always need to be looking beyond where we are.  Our job is to be looking around the corner, to help people see what is next.

It is not just my own need to stay relevant to the educational world, and ensure our district stays relevant.  Relevance speaks to what we need to have happening every day with students in our schools.  From the “what” we teach to the “how” we teach it, we need to ensure we do it in ways to meet the needs of the modern student.  Just before Christmas our Board approved new programs that will create specialty programs for high school students in areas including:  table tennis, environmental sciences, engineering, computer animation and volleyball.  These add to the choice program opportunities that include options from robotics, to rugby to honour choir classes at night and basketball academy classes on the weekend.  Everything we hear about public education being the key to a democratic society is very true.  And it is true that public education is about the ongoing growth of our communities.  And it will stay that way if our system continues to be relevant for our students in this changing world.

So, as someone finishing their 11th year in this district, and 8th year as Superintendent, I know relevance could be a blind spot for me.  It is easy to do this year just like last year.  I know that in the long run, that will not work.  So here is to a 2018 of doing things everyday that add to the conversation, push the work forward and keep me, my thinking, our district, our students’ experiences and public education relevant.

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Welcome to my final blog post of 2017 and my annual tradition of my Top 3 Lists for the year.

Previous Top 3 lists for  2016 (here) 2015 (here) 2014 (here) 2013 (here) 2012 (here), 2011 (here) and 2010 (here).

As per usual, I will try to take up topics you probably don’t see covered by other year-end “Best of” lists:

Top 3 “Culture of Yes” Blog Posts which have generated the most traffic this year:

  1.  The Hat Rule
  2.  It’s Not You, It’s Me
  3.  So What About Badges?

Top 3 New Technologies I See in Schools That Are Exciting:

  1. Virtual Reality – We have our first students going on “field trips” around the world through Google Expeditions
  2. 3D Printing (the next wave) – We have moved beyond printing toys and other novelties and using the technology to create and solve problems.
  3.  Robots – I have written about them before, but continue to be more convinced that robotics is a great experience for students to have

Top 3 Modern World Realities That Are Crappy for Schools:

  1. The decline of community newspapers – they not only hold school systems accountable, they tell our stories (I have shared some frustrations HERE before)
  2.  Parents at Christmas Concerts – there are so many people standing at the front with their phones, cameras and often iPads there are few opportunities for those who just want to watch the show to actually see it
  3.   Sports Specialization – School sports are still in an uncertain spot and I can’t figure out exactly what their future will be but the stories of kids not playing a particular school sport because it goes against the wishes of a community sports coach continue to be pervasive

Top 3 Technologies I Use Way Less Now Than 12 Months Ago:

  1. Facebook – I probably scan it about once a week and if I didn’t have an account I probably would not get one
  2. Snapchat – I tried, I am too old
  3.  News Apps – I get most of my news between Twitter and old-fashioned newspapers

 

Top 3 Ways Technology Still Runs My Life:

  1. Fitbit – 10,000 steps a day.  I have a streak that dates back to 2014 going.  I can’t sleep until I see the green circles.
  2. Instagram – post a photo everyday has been going on for 2 years.  I have become a much better photographer.
  3. Culture of Yes Blog – I wrote a bit more this year than last year (between 2-3 times a month) but I can feel the pressure when it has been 10 days and I am not sure what my next post will be about.

Top 3 TEDx WestVancouverED Talks that I Still Think About From This Year:

1. Cities Belong to People – Paul Fast

2. Making the Jump – Gavin McClurg

3. We Are All Different – and THAT’s AWESEOME – Cole Blakeway

Top 3 Cool Things I Got to Do This Year When I Wasn’t At Work:

  1.  The Dodgers in LA
  2.   Front Row for Paul Simon in Montana
  3.  Doing a TEDx Talk with my daughter

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Top 3 Cool Things I Got to Do This Year When I Was at Work:

  1. Attend all the school grads – I love graduation events.  It is such a great moment for students and their families
  2. See a Whole Bunch of New Programs Start – From growing robotics, to new academies in environmental sciences, table tennis, and computer animation I love how we never stand still
  3. Hire, hire and hire some more – For the first year in a long-time we were adding teacher and administrators.  This new energy is so great for our organization and the chance to help people launch their career is very exciting

Top 3 Things I think We Will Be Talking About This Year in Education:

  1. Exams – I think we may see testing rebound in BC in 2018, with some feeling the pendulum as swung too far one way
  2. Reporting – I could probably put this on every year.  Questions of the modern report card are definitely unanswered.  Is the 3 times a year report card dead?  Will we finally go all online?  A lot to be worked out
  3. Changing University Entrance Requirements – University of British Columbia (UBC) has got out there with a more broad-based approach and others are going to follow.  The “system” for getting in to post-secondary in changing, which will have huge ripples in K-12.

As always, I really appreciate everyone who takes the time to read and engage with me through the blog.   I find that this blog continues to be a little less formal each year.  The process still brings me great joy.  All the best for a wonderful 2018!

Chris

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Last week I was listening to a local university professor answer a question about some common characteristics about unsuccessful students at university.  It was an interesting provocation.  We often list off qualities of those students who are most successful in making the transition from high school to university.  The list usually includes characteristics like grit, determination, flexibility, time management and communication skills.  The answer to the question about the unsuccessful student was interesting – what this professor observed was that if the first day of university was the student’s first day on campus, he or she was likely going to be behind.  This speaks to the power of transitions.

Transitions is something we think a lot about in the K-12 system.  We have several that consume our focus.  There is that first transition from pre-school to kindergarten.  One often hears the term “k readiness” used to describe the ability of these 4 or 5 years old to make the transition to the increased structure of formal schooling.  And there are many other transitions along the way, most notably as students move from elementary to high school.  It seems that the move from buildings is more than just a physical move for students.  In districts that start high school in grade 8, I often hear about that age being the most challenging, while in places that start high school in grade 9, those communities see that grade as the greatest challenge.  It is clearly more than being about a certain age, and also about the change in buildings, routines, teachers and courses that is the key challenge for young people.  And finally the transition from high school to post-secondary and the world of work is one that requires a lot of attention.

Traditionally, we have spent great energies focused on the curriculum transition between these different levels.  We want to make sure that when students enter grade 8 social studies, they have been well prepared by grade 7 social studies.  This is most often true in academic areas.  And this kind of preparation is important.

More though, we are seeing transitioning more holistically.  We are offering courses outside the regular timetable to grade 6 and 7 students that they can take with a high school teacher at the local high school – a way of pursing a passion and also beginning to grow a familiarity with their next school.  More than ever, we have elementary students playing sports, participating in music events and engaging in other events at local high schools to help build relationships.  Without being so direct, we have been doing in our system what the local university professor spoke about.  We are trying to find ways that the first day of high school is not the first day in the building for our high school students.

I was struck last week by an amazing presentation from Chartwell Elementary and Sentinel Secondary at the BC School Superintendents Conference.  These are two of our schools that share a field and clearly much more.

Chartwell Elementary and Sentinel Secondary shared the work they are doing around capstone projects, in which students pursue independent research on a question or problem of their choice, engage in scholarly debates in the relevant disciplines, and with the guidance of a teacher, work towards a deep understanding of the topic. Sentinel Secondary school has embraced the Advanced-Placement (AP) Capstone project as part of their robust AP program, and they have shared their knowledge with Chartwell Elementary school. Having seen this in action at Sentinel, Chartwell has built a capstone program of their own for grade 6 and 7 students. Students are getting the chance to experience the type of learning they will be able to choose later in their school careers. It is inspiring to see both the younger and older students so passionate about their research areas.  And what a great way for students to have a common language across grades and schools.

I was so impressed by UBC President Santa Ono who spoke at TEDx West Vancouver ED earlier this fall (click on the link – it is a must watch video!) and shared his commitment around tackling the mental health crisis that crosses over from high school into post-secondary. This was a good reminder of the stresses that cross our systems, and how we need to work together to make sure students are not just ready for the academics of the next stage, but are supported with a far more global view of transitions.

I worry about conversations of readiness.  I hate the idea that the purpose of “Grade X” is to get students ready for “Grade Y”.  The purpose of grade 4 is not to get students ready for grade 5, the purpose of grade 4, IS grade 4.  That said, we need to continue to find ways to assist in the various transitions that students engage in throughout their school careers.

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Just what does a superintendent do?

It is a question that I have tried to tackle a number of times in this blog over the last several years.  The job is a bit what you make of it – as the finest colleagues I know often spend their time very differently.  What is true, like so many other professions, it is changing as the world around us rapidly changes.

I recently read the book,  BrandED: Tell Your Story, Build Relationships and Empower Learning from Trish Rubin and Eric Sheninger.  While their notion of “branding” in education brings me some discomfort, they make a powerful case for leaders being the chief storytellers.  It is something I have written about before, that particularly in a world without as many newspapers and other traditional media, those in schools and districts need to more clearly and publicly tell our stories.

Their book talks about not just telling stories, but creating them.  It also pulls research from a range of thinkers outside of education and helps us see what is possible applying the work inside our system.

And just after reading this book, I watched a story about former President Bill Clinton’s speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.  The speech which earned him the title “Explainer in Chief” for his detailed explanation, in ways that were accessible to a wide audience, of policy directions – with clear easy to understand arguments.  It reminded me of the important role superintendents need to play when it comes to education direction and policy.  We bring the detail to the broader direction that our political leaders set.

I think when we are at our best, superintendents do what Rubin and Sheninger outline, and tell our stories, but we also have they key role of making policy directions understandable to politicians, staff and parents.  As the key conduit between government and the system, the superintendent has to be the pipeline helping the two sides connect and build consensus.

Young Zhao says, “Define yourself before being defined.”  We need to tell our stories, embrace the new tools and possibilities and still have the details so we can perform the roles of storyteller and explainer-in-chief when it comes to learning.

 

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Photo Credit: Mauricio Chandia

I wrote last month about Breaking the Gender Divide – Imagining a New Way to Organize Youth Sports where I shared the script for the recent TEDx presentation I gave with my daughter Liz.  In the spirit of TED, it is intended to be a discussion starter.  Issues of gender and sports are ones that should be given more attention.  I have had the honour of some previous TEDx Talks, but this was particularly special getting to share the stage with my oldest daughter and pursue a topic that is interesting to both of us.

The videos have just been posted, and I want to again thank Craig Cantlie and entire TEDxWestVancouverED team (there are so many great Talks on the website).  They host a first class event, and the videos from past events have, in many cases, been viewed tens of thousands of times – which is a wonderful legacy for these events.

Here is our talk:

If you are interested in other sports related TED Talks, TED has compiled a list of 31 of the most provocative.  My all-time favourite TED talk, on any topic, by John Wooden speaking about The difference between winning and succeeding, is among the recommendations.

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