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Archive for the ‘Change’ Category

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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Welcome to my final blog post of 2018.  While perhaps not as iconic as the various year-end lists we read at this time of year, this is my 9th annual “Top 3” List. (My favourite list was always the Siskel and Ebert Top 10 Movie Lists. I am dating myself but their year-end show on Sneak Previews on PBS was the best!)

Previous Top 3 lists for:  2017 (here) 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 and my topics do change from year to year:

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

  1.  Soak City Elementary Announced
  2. The Problem With Basketball
  3. They Will Keep Coming Until They Don’t

Not sure how I should take it that I write dozens of posts on education, and my most popular one is an April Fools post and my second my popular one is on basketball.  Maybe I should stick to comedy and sports.

Top 3 Places I saw Paul Simon perform:

  1. Queens, New York –  outdoors for his final concert on his Farewell Tour
  2. Las Vegas, Nevada – a great weekend getaway (thought the enthusiasm of the crowd at the concert was a bit disappointing)
  3.  Portland, Oregon –  best memory was him forgetting a line and penalizing himself by playing 59th Street Bridge (he hates the song but the crowd loved it)

Top 3 Things I got to do when I wasn’t at work:

  1. Visit New York City – It was only for 3 days, but it was my first time.  In addition to Paul (above) we got to Hamilton and a Yankees game.
  2. BC Summer Games – I got to go with my younger son and his teammates to Cowichan for the Games.  It is like a mini-Olympics.  And if nothing else, three nights sleeping on a school classroom floor is something you will remember.
  3.  Chicago -80 basketball courts and about 800 teams competing in the Convention Centre at the NIKE Tournament of Champions.  An absolutely incredible event.

Top 3 Things I got to do when I was at work:

  1. Visit classrooms –  The past few months have been amazing for me. I have been in well over 50 classrooms and not just for the 2 minute walk-through but generally for some real sustained visits, often up to an hour. I wrote earlier about this HERE.  It has given me great insight into the learning in our classes, the changing nature of how our teachers are approaching their classes and the visits have offered a reminder of just how much has changed in recent years – the classroom looks very different from a decade ago.
  2. Launch new programs –  I love how our district is always on the cutting edge with developing programs to meet the changing needs of the world, and the passions of our students. A few new opportunities for students this year included an AP Environmental Science Program that takes place in an actual science research facility, a Computer Animation Program that partners with the faculty from Capilano University and gives students a first glance at post-secondary in this area and a Table Tennis Academy which I saw first hand last month and was so incredibly impressed by the quality of instruction and the inclusivity of the program.
  3.  Add great people to the team –  The people are key to any organization.  So much credit for the success of West Vancouver Schools needs to go to our Human Resources staff and school administrators for their excellent attraction and hiring of such outstanding teachers and support staff.  I am fortunate to be in on the hiring of many of our management staff.  I love it when we can add people to our team that make our group stronger, more diverse and I am surrounded by people who I know make me and our team better.  We were able to do this again this past year, adding Trevor Kolkea a super talented principal from Coquitlam to our team, and recently luring Ian Kennedy back to West Vancouver.  He will start as Director of Instruction in March.  Having Alex Campbell and Jamie Ross as key members of our team and all the expertise they bring to our district was also a great opportunity for us.

Top 3 Somewhat Odd Ongoing Streaks I am proud of:

  1. 5 years  of at least 10,000 steps a day according to my FitBit
  2.  300 days as a full vegetarian (the previous 18 months my meat intake was limited to fish)
  3.  9 years of at least 20 blog posts a year on Culture of Yes

Top 3 Quick Takes I have about students based on all of the visits:

  1. They don’t care about SOGI as “an issue”.  While a small vocal group made a lot of news during the School Board elections this fall, it is something students don’t care about.  They are so passed this an issue – the adults could learn something from the kids here.
  2.   Cell phone use has not gone crazy.  I keep hearing stories in the media about how students are on their cell phones all the time.  I have spent hundreds of hours in classrooms this fall and can say it is not true.  Each of our high schools has some sensible guidelines and routines around their use, and I saw students engaged in their lessons.  It is the parents at school games, concerts and elsewhere who seem to have the much stronger addictions.
  3.   They are excited but cautious about “changes” in education.  We have engaged students around the new Career Education programs and they are genuinely excited that the system will be better built around their needs and their voices have been included in the design.  That said, they see themselves as having “figured out” the current system, so they are nervous about changes to the system and how they might negatively affect them and their post-secondary goals.

Top 3 Celebrity Stories about people I work with:

  1. Martina Seo – A dynamic Foods Teachers from West Vancouver Secondary was a breakout star on the most recent season of Amazing Race Canada.  For all of us who know Martina we would agree she is perfect for reality television.
  2. Sean Nosek –  The guy in the office next to me published an absolutely amazing book this past year on Vancouver street artist Ken Foster.  It is the “coolest coffee table book ever”.
  3.  Bryn Hammett –  I found out still story by luck.  I was visiting Bryn’s Math 9/10 class (photo above) and he was doing a problem based on his recent trail race.  He finished only 8 places behind Daniel and Henrik Sedin in the 25 km race in Whistler.  Super impressive!

Top 3 TED Talks that I liked which my colleague Julia shared with me (love how she shares good stuff):

  1.  Confessions of a recovering micromanager

2.   Why You Should Treat the Tech You Use at work Like a Colleague

3.  Why Being Respectful to Your Coworkers is good for business

Top 3 People I think really make the case for the transformation in B.C.’s education system:

  1. David Burns –  I heard David  (photo to the right below) speak three times in 2018 on how his institution (KPU) is working with the K-12 transformation and making changes themselves.  It is all the more powerful when post-secondary schools are supporting the shifts K-12.  And for West Vancouver readers – he is speaking at our PD Day in January!
  2. Kris MagnussonKris, like David, has extra weight to his words since he is the Dean of Education at SFU.  His longtime efforts around career education have really come to life in the grad program changes.
  3.  Jan Unwin – Jan is the undisputed champion of the K-12 transformation in British Columbia.  This is a title she inherited from Rod Allen, and over the last five years has been unwavering in her passion and commitment to helping be sure the ideas became reality.

Top 3 Courses / Programs I would take in West Vancouver Schools if I was a student:

  1. Environmental Sciences Academy – Doing real science with real scientists and it is held at at the Centre for Aquaculture and Environmental Research (CAER) and under the leadership of Tom Harding – so much good going for it!
  2. FAST (First Aid Swim Training) – All of the programs that students take to become a lifeguard are built into an every afternoon program in West Vancouver offered by Rockridge teacher Dave Dickinson.  You get school credentialing and probably more importantly all the outside credentials as well.
  3.  YELL (Young Entrepreneurship and Leadership Launchpad) – This is another great example of doing real world work.  I have written about the program several times (like HERE) in the past, and the Jo-Anne McKee taught program continues to draw great speakers and mentors.  I had the pleasure of sitting in this fall with Anthony Beyrouti speaking to the students about going from being a local North Shore high school student to running one of the fastest growing businesses in BC in a few short years.

Top 3 Ways I am going to push myself professionally in 2019:

  1. Start my doctorate –  Classes start in January.  This will be my first time really being a student since I finished my Master`s Degree in 1999.  I am doing it with a few current and former colleagues which will make it all the better.
  2. More real visits –  The class visits over the last few months, whether to observe, participate or teach have been so rewarding.  I am looking to doing more in the new year.
  3. Focus on assessment –  Somewhere between all the discussions about curriculum and reporting we have lost some of the attention on assessment.  With curriculum fully in-place and reporting templates and structures confirmed, there will be more time to talk about the really important topic of assessment in the coming year.

Top 3 Things People Will be Talking About in B.C’s education system next year:

  1. University Admissions –  This has been a hot topic this past year, and will continue into 2019.  With the changes to K-12, how will post-secondary school change their admissions requirements.  And it is not just in response to K-12, many institutions are talking about their beliefs that they need to find better ways to select students who have the best chance to be successful.
  2. What Needs to Change Next – I can`t go to a meeting without someone talking about another aspect of schooling that needs to change, now that other changes have been made.  From exams, to reporting to calendars, there are numerous comments that for change X to be fully realized, Y and Z need to change as well.
  3.  Bargaining –  On the political side, teacher bargaining will likely occupy a fair bit of the mainstream education news for 2019.

As always, I really appreciate everyone who takes the time to read and engage with me through the blog.   I love having a portfolio of my thinking – it often reminds me how much my thinking has changed over time and the process (and stress) of writing and publishing still brings me great joy.  All the best for a wonderful 2019!

Chris

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The classroom. We can all picture it. The desks, the boards at the front, the cupboard at the back. Asked to draw a classroom almost all of us would have a similar sketch.

As I have visited numerous classes not held in traditional classrooms this fall I have been struck how different they feel.  Just the act of moving a class away from a traditional classroom creates such a different feeling.  And the act of learning away from school is very powerful.  And there can be many factors at play, but in each of the more than 15 classes I have visited not in rooms in schools, I have found all the students to be universally engaged in their experiences.

I have been struck by how students rise to the level of their location.  In visiting the Environmental Science students who meet at the Centre for Aquaculture & Environmental Research (Federal Government site) the students climb to the level of the real scientists. The students are doing real work, alongside professionals doing real work.  Often schools can feel quite simulated, with the efforts to emulate real world work, but the location helps the work and the students rise up to think and work differently.

I am also struck by the various sports and arts academy programs how a more focused environment can be so helpful.  Whether it was field hockey on the turf, baseball in the batting cages, or dance and ballet in the community studio there is just a different feeling when you are in the community.  It feels more natural.  Students seem more focused.

We often talk about the power of field trips, work experience and other constructs we have to get students out beyond the traditional classrooms, to rub shoulders with professionals in their area of study and gain “real world” experiences.  And when you speak with graduates, it is very often these opportunities they remember.

Of course it is not possible for all schooling to take place outside of traditional classes but giving more students more of these kind of experiences is a really positive move.  All of the sudden we no longer solely equate learning with classrooms.  Learning is more about experiences with teachers and fellow students in a variety of settings.

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