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Archive for the ‘Change’ Category

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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As the calendar has moved to October, I want to look at three “back to school” stories that have stuck with me this fall. With a new school year comes a flurry of school-related stories in the media.  I always imagine newsrooms across the continent plowing through school websites, newsletters, and getting tips from parents and staff in the community for their September stories.  There is no time during the year that education seems to get more attention as when summer ends, and kids go back to school.  And the best stories that reporters find are often ones that point to a generational shift – that remind the community that schools are not what they used to be.  These are the kind of stories that often elicit letters to the editor and can carry multiple segments on talk-radio.

I often roll-my-eyes at some of the school stories that are actually news in September, but three stood out for me this year – stories about water, dress codes and computer filters (how is that for an eclectic mix?).  And if in the business of September you didn’t see them, they are worth your attention.  So here we go:

Water

The first story, comes from Alexander Elementary School in Duncan, BC.  To quote the CBC story:

A Vancouver Island elementary school is attempting to do away with the lunchtime juice box, encouraging staff and students to go water-only during school hours.

Since classes began this week, Alexander Elementary in Duncan has been conducting an experiment to see if pop, juice and other sugary drinks could be eliminated.

This story garnered some attention by a number of other local and national news outlets.  It did seem to be largely well-received.  The only negative comment I picked up in various media reports was this one from the Cowichan Valley Citizen:

So glad I’m not a student anymore. Won’t allow any choices at all in school anymore yet we can’t figure out why people are unprepared for the real world. The over control of students is becoming quite the systemic issue lately,” Alex Deakins wrote.

For me it seems like such a smart idea.  The school PAC in this case provided water bottles to all the students and just like our work around other areas of physical and mental health in recent years, it seems like a great grass-roots initiative.  And maybe I have a particular affinity to the initiative as for the first time in my life I am trying to bring a water bottle with me everyday to work, and stay away from the Diet Pepsi.

Dress Codes

Stories about dress codes always make great news.  It was Victoria in the news this fall with reports that it was “eliminating” all dress codes except in cases related to the BC Human Rights Code:

Our school is committed to creating a learning community that values diversity and is free of all forms of discrimination. In line with the B.C. Human Rights Code which prohibits discrimination on the basis of an individual’s race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religion, marital status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression and age, (insert school name) promotes a climate of understanding and mutual respect where all are equal in dignity and rights. Actions through verbal and non-verbal communication (including clothing) must demonstrate support for the B.C. Human Rights Code.

I see from the various news stories, this issue has stirred debate and plans for the change have been delayed. As we have been thinking so much more thoughtfully around gender in recent years, from curriculum to washrooms, this is definitely a timely topic.  I am a bit of two-minds.  One, all the energy and emotion that is being spent on this topic is a distraction from discussions about learning, and dress codes are not something that are talked about much in schools anyway, it has been largely a dated idea for decades.  The other being, I side with those who argue that our traditional thinking around dress codes has absolutely had gender bias against young women, and sent some very poor messages to kids.  The idea, which I think was true a generation ago, that girls should dress a certain way as to not distract the boys is a dinosaur from another era.   If you are struggling for dinner party conversation, I suspect asking if your local school should have a dress code will get things stirred up.

Computer Filters

Also this fall it was Hamilton, Ontario that was a hot-bed for debate on internet filtering for students.  As the story reads, students in grade 9 were given Chromebooks and it had parents upset that outside of school they would have complete access to the internet.  To quote the story:

When Tabitha Boronka, 13, started high school this week, the public school board handed the Grade 9 student a $330 laptop she can use to explore everything, anywhere.

Her mother Irina Boronka is displeased. “They can’t just give out unfiltered internet to 13-year-old kids that they can access at any time,” she said.

“Every parent should be concerned about stuff like pornography, gambling, meeting people there, being exploited, all kinds of inappropriate things that I think they should not have any access to at all.”

When I feel like we are finished having these conversations they come back again.  I am not opposed to having filters on the internet.  And I agree that for kids (or heck probably adults too) surfing pornography and gambling sites is not desirable.  We should not use filters as a replacement for teaching and parenting.  If you don’t want your child to be on Netflix, don’t give them your password.  If you don’t want your child texting you from school, stop texting them back.  And if you want your child to be thoughtful about what they do on the internet, talk to him/her about it.  It is hard work but blocking the internet is just false security.  When I see a story about a school district “blocking” sites from Youtube to Snapchat, I know the next day I will probably see a story about students getting around the very expensive security system that was put in place.

And while it is worthwhile to be reminded of the dangers that “lurk” on the internet, let’s be sure to help young people realize the amazing possibilities that come with digital world as well.

Conclusions

So, those are three stories that stuck for me this fall.  I leave the month thinking we should continue to have kids drink more water, we should modernize our thinking on dress codes and we should not turn the difficult job of teaching and parenting over to software that blocks the internet.

Anything in education stand out for you this month in the news?

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I had the honour of giving a talk at TEDx WestVancouverED this past Saturday.  What made it even more enjoyable is that I did it with my oldest daughter Liz.  There is likely another post coming about the event and the process once the video is posted, but I wanted to share  the script for our talk along with the slides.  Liz and I both feel strongly about this topic, and think it is a good conversation starter.

As a little background, here is Liz’s bio from the program:

Liz Kennedy is a high school student at McMath Secondary School in Richmond.  She balances her academics with participation in various leadership activities and sports including five school sports:  cross country, volleyball, basketball, track and swimming.   Liz is a committed student, experienced vegetarian and patient older sister to her three younger siblings.

Below are the slides (if you receive this post via email you may need to open the post on the website to see the slides) and our script which each of our parts labeled:

Liz
From a young age I have always played a lot of sports.  From cheer, to swimming, to baseball to basketball, sports have always been and still are a big part of my life. My parents put me in numerous sports starting at a very young age and they continue to be a part of everyday life for my siblings and I.
And when you have 3 siblings, your parents often see if they can have more than one child on the same team, which has meant my brother who is only one year younger than me and I have often played together on the same teams.  This is strange for some people – but I am not quite sure why.  When I run track or swim I always train with boys and girls – so why should baseball or basketball any different.
All kids care about is if you can play.  If you’re good, willing to be competitive and a hard worker boys will play against you just like any other guy. In my over ten years of playing sports, I have never felt boys didn’t want me to play with them because of my gender.

Chris

As long as she has been playing my wife and I have been driving, coaching and cheering from the side.  I know the crazy sports parents talk is for a different time.  We have always wanted our kids to be exposed to a lot of sports.  We grew up in busy homes of arts, culture and athletics and we have wanted the same for our kids.  And while kids don’t seem to care about gender, parents are full of opinions.

Parents seem to get all caught up in gender.  I grew up in a house of boys, so I never really thought about gender and sports.  When I look back, I don’t think I ever played with girls on my soccer, baseball, or hockey teams.  That of course does not make it right then or now.  It is one of the last areas where it seems many feel that the genders should be separated, somehow to protect both genders from a young age.  But I wonder to protect them from what?  And at what expense?

As Liz said,  her playing boys sports was often out of convenience.  With her brother one year younger and sports often spanned two years – so we could have 2 kids at the same place at the same time if they played together.  The responses I received were often surprising.  First, there were those that thought it was a great statement of courage – I never really understood that – it was just kids playing sports.   More concerning,  I have been told a lot of crazy reasons why people are uncomfortable to have girls like Liz playing with their sons.  From worries about “injuries” like she is breakable, to acting as though they are not thinking it themselves but worried about “other” parents, to wanting to argue that this is actually discrimination against boys.  And to be honest, several far worse, that may get dismissed by some as “locker room talk” that I won’t repeat.  And it is not just dads, it is moms as well.  Parents seem to carry their antiquated views from their youth to parenthood.

Liz

Just this past spring a team an all girls team from Spain with players around 13 years old won a 14 team league that featured all boys teams. Even though parents were worried that their little girls might get hurt by the boys, the girls convinced them otherwise. The girls knew that the only way they were going to get better was by playing against the best, which sadly in Spain where girls grass-roots programs receive almost no funding, meant playing in a “boys” league.  Coaches of the other teams questioned the decision as did the referees and the boys parents. The only people who didn’t care? The boys they were playing against. They got good games against a really good team. Everyone was getting better and most importantly everyone was having fun. Contrary to what we see often see girls and boys can have fun playing sports with and against each other.

 And yes, of course we still need girls only sports, because we have particular issues still with girls getting and staying active and sometimes single gender opportunities can make them feel safe. That’s why we should have co-ed and girls only. While parents might not believe it, but girls can be and are just as competitive as boys their age, and often at young ages bigger and stronger. While there may be the odd sport exception, I am not sure why we need any “boys” sports.
When making teams or putting together groups there are so many other ways to organize young people in sports. At young ages girls can be bigger than the boys. So size is definitely one better way to organize teams. You can also easily organize teams by skill so that all kids regardless of gender are appropriately challenged. What about age? what school they go to? and who their friends are? Why do we always jump to sorting by gender when there are so many other options we could explore? In sports like swimming and track, there are ways we can add more mixed gender relays and such that promote gender integration by having girls and boys competing on the same team.
Chris
Our views on gender have evolved quickly.  Since many of us were in school there are dramatic shifts away from stereotypes of boys as the doctors and girls as the nurses, and the men being the ones who work outside the home and women being the ones who are the keepers of the home.  And in the last decade thinking around homosexuality and more recently transgendered persons has rightfully changed thinking from marriage to bathrooms.  Yet, we do still hold to some traditions.
And the argument isn’t that we should not ever consider gender when it comes to sports.  Things do change around puberty, but in most sports there are few reason why kids up until about 12 years of age can’t play together.  It is not to say there are no gender differences but do they really require us to separate them in physical activities. So maybe we are not making the high school basketball team co-ed that doesn’t mean there are not a number of changes we can make.  And in the end sports, in particular youth sports, are about fun and being social, and don’t we want this to be done in an inclusive environment as possible.
We want sports to build strong, confident youth.  We want young boys and girls to recognize that boys and girls are different but rather than girls being “courageous” for playing with boys we have to find ways for this to be the norm.  As Liz said, there is a need for girls sports alongside co-ed sports, we need structures that get more young people active.  Too often girls sports are perceived as “less” than boys sports.  Removing gender tags can assist in tackling some of the sexism that is rampant in sports from young ages through to professionals.  The kids seem to have figured this out, but the adults are slow to change.  Messages young people see send strong statements, some that last a lifetime – and what a powerful message it is that from our very youngest ages, we all can share the same field, court or rink.
Liz 
I am happy to Play Like a Girl. And I will do it proudly, yes, what was seen as insult when my mom was growing up is now often a compliment. It is proof that our world is changing for the better. Youth sports can help speed up the changing. When I am told I throw like a girl, or run like a girl, or play like a girl – I say thank you.
Instead of BOYS soccer, BOYS Baseball, and BOYS hockey – what is there was just soccer, baseball and hockey. Since when does the gender define the sport? This could have a huge impact beyond just these sports.
Moms and Dads running leagues listen to your sons, they don’t care that I am a girl, like me your sons just want to play the sport they love.  Everyone just wants to get better and have a lot of fun. So let’s get on with it.

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A lot is made about whether one can truly have “friends” on the Internet. It was probably Facebook that really got us talking when instead of using “connection” or some other less intimate word they used “Friend” as the type of connections we made as we connected with someone on the Internet through their site.

I have only known education with the Internet.  My first email address came with my first teaching job twenty-one years ago, and my first Internet access (AOL) was at home that first fall of teaching.  I have been thinking about friendship in the Internet era this week with the sudden passing of one of my Internet friends, Kevin Mowat.

Kevin was a Library Learning Consultant with the Winnipeg School Division.  We got to know each other through Twitter.  We shared a passion for school libraries and the key roles teacher-librarians play in leading learning.  I wrote something on my blog in 2011 that he saw, and we connected from there.  Kevin saw the good in the digital world for teachers – he would share resources and more importantly cheer people on – whether it was a colleague in Winnipeg or a Superintendent in West Vancouver.  When I wondered if people actually read my blog, Kevin would make a comment, or email a link to colleagues.

Kevin invited me and a colleague of mine Gary Kern to work with staff in Winnipeg in the fall of 2013.  What stands out four years later is the thoughtful way he treated us.  Gary and I would joke, can he really be this nice a person – nobody is this nice – but he was.  Some people can be nice online but they are often someone different when you meet them – Kevin online was Kevin in person.  It was a wonderful visit and Kevin’s colleagues clearly fed off his positive leadership.

As is the power of digital connections, after spending time together in 2013, we stayed even more connected over the last four years.  This past weekend wishing each other the best on Facebook as school started-up again.  I often thought Kevin was a great example of how friendship is changing in the digital world.

Another of our Internet friends, George Couros wrote a very nice tribute to Kevin earlier this week:

I got an alert on Twitter last night that Kevin was trending in Winnipeg.  The tweets were amazing – I wondered if it was just me that felt the way I did about Kevin – it wasn’t.  It is worth doing a Twitter search for Kevin – it will make you smile, and maybe cry.  So many of the comments kept using the words kind, generous, passionate, caring.

I spent just a few days with Kevin in-person, but he was a wonderful friend.  He is proof of the power and possibility of the Internet.  When we see others use the technology so poorly, he reminded us that technology can bring us together, build community and support each other.

My best to Kevin’s family and colleagues.  It is terribly sad.  The entire education community has lost one of its leaders.

Chris

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I had the wonderful opportunity to share the stage early in the summer with Yong Zhao at the Canadian School Board Association Congress.  Yong was quick to take issue with my friendly views on the PISA results.  Last fall I wrote about the most recent results that saw Canadian students, and in particular BC students excel.

Yong argued, in part, that by focusing on improving PISA results schools and school jurisdictions work to get better at a dated system, one built around standard tests in areas like math, reading and writing.

I have been thinking about the larger idea that focusing on getting better may be an impediment to real change.  I am feeling the tension with our work right now in British Columbia.  Yes, we want to get better – we want more students reading at grade level, more learners with basic numeracy skills and a higher percentage of students graduating.  But we also want to get different – we want to embrace core competencies, give attention to emerging areas like coding and robotics, and have more students prepared to be citizens for an ever-changing world.

In West Vancouver we see the revised curriculum as an invitation to do things differently.  The curriculum and assessment encourages us to work across various content areas, have students produce real work for the real world, and give students ongoing feedback so students have greater ownership of their own learning.

I have been persuaded that there are some areas that lend themselves very well to an agenda of improvement.  I see the precision with which we often teach reading in the younger ages as one in particular.  If, though, we focus on trying to get 2% better at everything every year, and make incremental improvement towards our goal, we will find, even if we meet our targets, we have students prepared for a world of the past.  And likely we will hit plateaus where doubling-down on more of the same will not improve results.  Rather, we need to keep our eyes focused on innovation and transformation, looking at how we can work differently to keep-up with the changes around us.

And here is the big a-ha I would like to share – as we have been committed to doing things differently, and as we have used the curriculum changes as a reason to think differently about how we organize learning, and as we have embraced a range of changes around the large theme of transformation our students actually do at least as well, if not better, on traditional tests and measures.  As we have embraced inquiry, new technologies and self-regulation, test scores have gone up.     You don’t have to narrow your thinking to just try to get better, when you look at being different, the results will come along!

Here is to a year of continuing to be better but getting better while we are committed to looking to do things differently.

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