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Archive for the ‘Change’ Category

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As I read the media reports of the 2015 PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results I could almost feel the media’s disappointment.  Of the 72 countries and jurisdictions around the world participating, students in British Columbia were the highest performing in reading, 2nd highest in science and 6th in math.  The results are outstanding.  And this is no small test – over 500,000 15-year-old students participated around the world including more than 20,000 in Canada.  Of course, good news just doesn’t make “news” like bad news.  There are far more people who seem to enjoy a “Students Struggle with Reading” headline, rather than a “Local Students Top Readers in the World” headline. (See full Canadian results here).

I dedicate dozens of posts each year on this blog to talking about the need to do things differently.  And results like those from PISA do not change the need or urgency.  They do remind us in British Columbia (and all across Canada) we are improving from a place of strength.  We have an exemplary education system that is not satisfied with the status quo and we want to be sure that as the world continues to change, our curriculum, assessment and programs continue to adapt to ensure our relevance.

I have written about PISA two times before (when both the 2009 and 2012 results were released – and I still hold to these commentaries).  Beyond the high-level numbers the power of PISA is that there is a lot of data that helps tell a more complete story.  I find the most useful information are deeper in the report below the silly “who won” conversation.  From first look, one sees that there is a very small gender gap in science in Canada, for example, and overall the level of equity (the difference between the highest and lowest scores) is better (more equitable) in Canada than elsewhere.  As I said in my comments three years ago, when asked about PISA – “It is what it is”.  It is one part of the education story, but when governments invest billions of dollars into education, it is a powerful tool to help see we are doing some things right.

I am also left thinking about Finland today.  Like many others, I have visited Finland to learn about what they have done to develop such a strong education system.  And just what first attracted me to Finland?  Well, it was their PISA scores.  The same PISA scores that today indicate the world has a lot to learn from Canada and British Columbia. The same PISA scores that remind me that we can learn a lot in British Columbia from colleagues in Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and truly across the country.  The same PISA scores that remind me as Superintendent in West Vancouver, there is a lot we can learn from Surrey, Victoria and Bulkley Valley.

Of course we have many areas in British Columbia we can improve – it is forever the nature of education.  We need to continue to work to improve our Aboriginal graduation rates, and support all learners in our classrooms.  There is a danger that a report like this can suggest we tick the education box in our society and stop investing – we need to do the opposite and continue to invest in public education in British Columbia so we grow from this position of strength.  And yes, PISA is just one measure – we know there are so many factors beyond tests like these that we need to track to ensure our students are strong academic performers and capable citizens (and yes, there are many thoughtful critics of PISA).

But let’s leave the other conversations for another day – today is a day to recognize the system we have – and it is damn good!  All of us who have children in BC’s schools, and all of us who work in BC schools should be very proud.

OK, that is more self-congratulating than most of us Canadians are used to – let’s get back to work!

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football

Sports are a huge part of my family life. My wife owns a sports business for young people, my kids are very involved in numerous sports and I try to find time to coach and volunteer whenever I can.

And we participate in a lot of sports – soccer, basketball, volleyball, swimming, cheer, cross country, track and many more.  We have never been a football family.  Like others, anxiety over safety issues in football have raised concerns for me.  And when I learned that former BC Lion Angus Reid was going to be speaking about high school football at TEDxWestVancouverEd I was preparing to not agree with him.  A former football star touting the importance of high school football at a time when the sport is facing trouble with participation; I was ready to be reminded that schools need to be like they used to be, when football was king.

TED Conferences can be overwhelming.  One speaker after another, mostly confirming your view of the world.  Many of the talks, no matter how powerful or passionate, can run together.  Well, we are a couple of months after the event now, and one talk has really stuck with me – it is Angus Reid’s Why We Need High School Football.

It is hard to change one’s thinking in 12 minutes – but Angus Reid made me see high school football differently.  His set-up was important.  He was clearly focused on high school football, differentiating it from community and professional football.  He also dealt with the concussion and safety issue in a very upfront way – taking the approach if high school football is important enough we ca figure out the safety issues.

There were a number of strong points Angus made.  His emphasis on the structure that football can give young people is important.  In a world of uncertainty, football is very routine – one game a week, usually on Fridays, and a series of after-school practices each day with a specific purpose as they build up to the game.  As I wrote in my most recent post, people are often seeking routine in an ever-changing world.

Then there is the entire issue of participation.  Reid notes that there are 88 chances in a game to get kids to play.  So you can find a way to get everyone in the game on a team of 40 or on a team of 80.  Football is a sport that is open to everyone – different positions require different shapes and sizes and very different skills.  The issue of participation in school sports is one I have been thinking a lot about recently.  Maybe because my kids are now at the young high school age, I am seeing kids (and their parents) crushed as they are cut from basketball and volleyball teams.  As much as I love both of those sports – they are ones where sometimes only 12 of 60 or 70 interested kids “make” the team.  We need more sports like football, and rugby, ultimate, cross-country track, among others that find a way to include most if not all of their interested kids.  This point has been further emphasized this past week with the announcement that young people in Canada are some of the least active in the world.

Finally Reid makes the case for the empowerment that can come from football.  Reid mentioned Nolan Bellerose, who was the subject of a wonderful recent story from Howard Tsumura at the Province Newspaper.  It is true that sports can be a vehicle for so much more.  It is true that we see these possibilities through many school sports, and similarly through music, art, robotics and a range of other co-curricular and extra-curricular programs it is true that football can often tap into a population of our young men who often struggle to connect in our schools.

So, Angus Reid, you changed my thinking.  I will look at high school football differently from now on.

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photo_boosterjuice_smoothiewithfruit1

My friends know I am not much for fancy restaurants. I know what I like.

I love chain restaurants.  Knowing what I am going to order when I walk in, appreciating, for the most part, how the food will taste and how it will be presented, is very reassuring.

I have it all planned out:

Milestones – California Salad, no goat cheese with salmon

White Spot – Veggie Burger with Yam Fries

Tim Hortons – Grilled cheese sandwich with Medium Ice Capp (shot of hazelnut)

Subway – 12 Inch Veggie on Flatbread – no olives or cucumbers with honey mustard

Booster Juice -Ripped Berry

I could go on.

So just what does my somewhat curious eating habits have to do an education blog?

I find the world to be quite chaotic.  We live in constant change and the speed of the change seems to be ever-increasing.  I often write about how exciting it is to be teaching and learning now.  Teaching in schools today is very different from just 10 years ago.  I spend my days talking about inquiry, coding, self-regulation and other terms I didn’t ever use just a few years ago.  We are preparing our students for an ever-changing world, and one where most will have many more jobs than the generation before them – some that do not exist today.

It is in this world of changing politics, economics and technology that I have comfort in the fact that at least I can have certainty when I go out for a meal.  So maybe Blockbuster Video no longer exists, and I cannot take my film in for developing but at least when I go to Starbucks, pretty much anywhere in the world, and order my Caramel Frappuccino Light – it will taste the same – the same in Denver or Helsinki and the same today as 10 years ago.

While I have looked for certainty in an uncertain world through some somewhat odd restaurant choices, I find many people looking for reassurance in an ever-changing world through schooling.

Let me explain  . . .

Many of us romanticize our school experiences.  The details have faded over time, but we remember schooling as a largely positive experience and we credit who we are today in part to our experiences in schools.  So, as we become parents in this world that looks so different from when we were students there is something reassuring about schooling looking largely the same.  If only our children can have the same experiences that we had in school, they will be OK – like us.  Parents like that learning is generally organized the same as it was 30 years ago.  Students go to their classes daily from September to June from 9 AM – 3 PM attending subjects that rotate every hour from Math to PE to Art.  And this is reassuring.  As our communities change at least schools stay the same.

We need to continue to challenge this.  While it is odd and quirky that I find assurances through my choice of restaurants, it is far more dangerous for our children if we do not continue to challenge the notions of learning and schooling.  We need to continue to think about how we organize subjects, we need to continue to give students greater control over what, when, and how they learn and we need to embrace the possibilities of modern learning and new technologies in our schools.

I get how it would be far easier to slow down the pace of change in our schools and allow our students to complete the same worksheets we did in school, read the same Shakespeare plays and do the same science experiments.  There is definitely something appealing about trying to return to a simpler time.

I find it a daily challenge as I watch my children learn differently than I learned in school – I worry they are missing out. In an uncertain world, we need schools to ensure they stay relevant and engaging and embrace this uncertainty.

I will be at the Food Court if you want to discuss this further.

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mission-accomplished

So just what does a 2003 George Bush speech have to do with the state of technology in BC?  I think we could make the argument that it is “Mission Accomplished” when it comes to going digital in British Columbia schools.  There has been some amazing work done over the last 10 years.

At the recent Computer Using Educators of British Columbia (CUEBC) Conference I described the shifts I have seen in the last decade.

  • In our schools we largely now have reliable internet connectivity.  Changes to the province-wide system and investments made in communities mean that most schools in most communities have stable and reliable connectivity.
  • Most schools in most districts have found ways to get devices into the hands of teachers.  While it is not perfect, many districts have programs that see teachers getting laptops (or at least dedicated desktops) as part of their work.  This was rare a decade ago.
  • Bring-Your-Own-Device plans for students have moved from “pilot programs” to being quite the norm in many schools.  With considerations of equity, schools have found ways to ensure all students have digital access through lending programs, helping with financing for families and creative partnerships with the community.
  • We have stopped banning phones or disallowing other internet devices at school.  A decade ago, phones would often be collected in a principal’s desk.  They are now seen as a tool for learning – though generally not as good a tool as a slate or laptop computer.
  • Social Media is built-in as part of school and district communication strategies.  And generally, we are seeing students behave far more ethically in these spaces than a decade ago.
  • We have got passed the idea that we need to chase around “blocking” sites like YouTube and focused on education.
  • Wi-Fi is almost expected throughout a school system.  If I go into a school without wi-fi I am very surprised.  Again what a difference a few years makes.

And I am reminded that these statements are more true in some places than others.  I get that.  With challenging budgets and unique community factors these ideas may not be as absolute in some places as others.  What is true is that the philosophical battles have been decided.  Students and teachers having access to devices, with reliable connectivity to the internet is a good thing and something we want for everyone – and this was not an easy place to land.  Many of us spent hours in discussions about the “need” for technology in schools, or a range of related topics.

But back to George and the photo.

It would be easy to put together a talk and roll-out a mission accomplished banner in British Columbia when it comes to technology.  Like George and others saw, the real challenges were to come after the banner ceremony.  We have a tremendous opportunity now in British Columbia.  We have had the hard conversations and debates around technology.  We have made huge strides with the “stuff” in the last ten years.  We arrive at today with classrooms that look different at the same time as we are working through revised curriculum.  What an opportunity that we have a set of digital tools at our disposal just as we are reflecting on the what and how of our teaching.

West Van teacher Keith Rispin asked a really good question in his blog recently: Is it my imagination or have things started to stagnate in the world of Educational Technology? I think we have made tremendous strides with technology but the best work is ahead of us and the time is now.  I have seen far too many people give each other high-5’s because they got SmartBoards in all their classrooms.  We need to be better than that.

In the talk at CUEBC I also argued that people didn’t really want the “stuff” but they wanted the fulfillment of the promise of relevent, engaging and connected learning.  A great barrier of the early part of this century has been we didn’t have the stuff and the stuff we had didn’t really do what we wanted.

While not perfect, we are moving past that.  These are exciting times – let’s not roll-out the Mission Accomplished banner, but rather focus on taking advantage of the current opportunities.

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super-model

This post is a copy of a column that is published in the most recent edition (available here) of Education Discovered Magazine.

A short decade ago, schools were banning YouTube videos and forbidding students from bringing cellphones to class. Teachers were primarily viewed as content providers. Students were tested on how well they knew their facts.

Today there are movements under way to remove standardized testing. Schools are embracing bring-your-own-device policies. The Internet is a standard classroom tool and teachers are focused more on teaching kids how to learn, not what.

Change is happening right under our noses. We’re in the midst of it every day as we move to modernize the Canadian education system, improve our classrooms, and nurture the next generation of learners. But are we actually transforming education? Will we witness a disruptive moment similar to Uber in the taxi industry or Netflix in the movie rental business?

I’m not so sure. I’m not even sure we should be chasing it.

There’s something comforting about the notion of schools as community gathering places where we meet face-to-face and make strong personal connections that have always been deeply rooted in education. Schools, by their very nature, will always need to balance tradition and new ways of thinking. Our transformation has to be slower because we have to be sure we’re bringing everybody along with us: administrators, teachers, students and parents alike.

One way to facilitate change is to model the system we are trying to create. I blog because I know it’s hard to do. It’s difficult to find time and you need to be brave enough to leave your innermost thoughts out there for scrutiny.

Students face the same challenges when we ask them to create digital portfolios; teachers when we expect them to develop class websites or start sending tweets. It’s easier to say we need to change things in the classroom if we’re also making changes ourselves.

Ask yourself if your school board is modelling the same modern experience you wish to see portrayed in your schools. Is the business office side collaborating with the education side? Have you introduced technology like Skype to conduct meetings? Are you still working in silos?

At West Vancouver Schools, we make a point of integrating business and education. When we hold a learning showcase, our Human Resources Director, Facilities Director and Secretary Treasurer are just as engaged as our Directors of Instruction, and they believe they should be. Our office spaces have shifted to an open concept model with furniture that facilitates sharing.

Sometimes there’s this belief out there that educators are not onside with change. I would argue it’s the exact opposite: teachers get into teaching to excite kids about learning and help them connect that learning to life outside the school building. What better time to be doing that than right here, right now?

Our culture of learning in Canada is constantly shifting. Continue to support teachers, encourage them to follow their passions and step outside of their comfort zones. Most importantly, foster change by being willing to change yourself.

 

 

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Dean Shareski posed an interesting challenge last week. Through his blog post on his own watershed moments of learning, he asked those in his network to do the same.

At first, this seemed like a really simple task – like naming your favourite movie (Shawshank Redemption) or the best concert you have seen (Simon and Garfunkel) or your go-to beverage at Booster Juice (Ripped Berry). I read his post a couple times, and tried to quickly come up with a response, but it was not so easy.  Watershed is such an interesting and challenging idea.  While Dean gave us the permission to alter the categories, I will try to use the same ones he used:  PD Event or Conference, speaker or presentation, book, tool, and person.

PD / Conference

I am fortunate, especially in my current role, I get to attend many pretty interesting events.  In recent years I have moved away from attending the large conferences, particularly those built around keynote speakers presenting to hundreds of conference delegates.  More recently various formats from TEDx, to EdCamp to Ignite have more held my interest.  I have also tried to participate in more experiences that are about doing things than being told things.  That said, it was a large conference that stands out as a watershed moment for me. For me it was the November Learning Conference in the summer of 2005.  The event helped me understand the digital work was not about giving people computers, it was about ownership of learning.  I heard from speakers who I would later regularly read and reference like Alan November and Will Richardson.  And as is often the case, it was the conversations with those I attended the event with, that helped make it particularly powerful.  I was there with Coquitlam Assistant Superintendents Maureen Dockendorf and Julie Pearce, along with Director of Technology Brian Kuhn and Coquitlam Teachers Association President Kathleen Thomson.  I left the event inspired about what was happening in the larger education community and excited that we were and could continue to be doing it in our own community.

Presentation

I know the typical answer would be a presentation that I saw live.  For me it is Karl Fisch’s presentation, Did You Know?  I have written about this before describing it as My Aha Moment.  The presentation was powerful, but it really changed how I thought about presentations in a networked world.  As I previously wrote:

That experience was my “Aha” moment.  I learned about the power of a network and also learned that it is not only the smart people you know, but the smart people they know that can help you.  I also learned about the new power we all have to influence conversation.  Previous to this experience in networking, there would have been no way I would have ever seen a PowerPoint created for an opening day presentation in a high school in Colorado.  Now, just days after it was presented, I was remixing it and sharing it with my staff, and hundreds of others were sharing it around the world.  I was also reminded of the generosity of our profession — we are all sharing and learning together with a common purpose around student learning.

It is interesting to look back on this, now 10 years later, and see how far we have come (or not).

Book

The World is Flat from Thomas Friedman gave me the larger context I was looking for concerning the changes we were and are talking about in education.  The history teacher in me really loved the book and it was one we used as a study group book with staff.  There was an urgency that the books created, doing nothing different was simply not an option.  The runner-up would be Dennis Littky’s  The Big Picture which was a great read on rethinking high school (and showing it can be done).

Tool

I waffled on this one a bit.  It definitely could be the blog.  My blog has given me a global network to share ideas.  It also could have been Twitter.  I was in the community during the early “let me tell you what I had for lunch” stage, continued through the deep engagement era, and am now still participating in the “can’t it be like it used to be” times.  And it could have been Delicious – my first step into the social web through sharing bookmarks.   In the end I am landing on a gizmo and that gizmo is my iPhone.  It has truly changed how I can work.  With some credit to some earlier smartphones I had, it was the iPhone that really unchained me from my desk.  There is very little I need to do that I can’t do during a day from my phone, making it possible for me to define work differently.  Work is no longer about a place.  And yes, simply a computer a computer does some of this, but the convenience of all of this in your pocket really changes things, at least it has for me.

Person

What a challenging question.  When I use the term watershed moments, it is not really the same as other terms I use for people like mentors, trusted colleagues or inspirations.  I have written at various points about family members, former teachers, and colleagues that have been profoundly influential on me.  When I think of people and watershed moments of learning, I think of people who take me from “I used to think X” and “Now I think Y”. So for me it is my former Coquitlam and West Vancouver colleague Gary Kern.  Gary has always pushed me in my thinking to a place of discomfort.  And that is a good thing.  In Coquitlam, he helped me solidify my views around the work we were trying to do at Riverside Secondary and in West Vancouver he was the architect of many of the structures we continue to benefit from today, ones that were well ahead of the pack – from giving students their own digital spaces, to providing staff with a choice of devices to systematizing bring your own device structures in our schools.  He was always the one sharing the article about “where to next” as soon as we thought “we are good”.

In looking at my answers it is interesting that many of the events that quickly surfaced as watershed moments for me, came fairly close together for me.  They were largely during my school administration time in Coquitlam – in the window between 2001-2007. I wonder if there was something unique about that time with the explosion of digital changes, or maybe I was at a point in my career I was ready to move beyond doubling-down on what used to be and ready to look to what could be.  Perhaps I just need distance to best identify these moments and my list ten years from now would include events and people from my time in West Vancouver.

I look forward to others keeping this conversation going in the comments or in their own blog posts and sharing their watershed moments of learning.

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canada-entertainment

It was a uniquely Canadian event.  More than one-third of our country gathered in front of screens across Canada on Saturday, August 20th to watch The Tragically Hip perform their final concert in Kingston, Ontario.  In mid-July I joined a hockey arena full of fans for an event, as they began their tour across Canada, that was far more than just a band playing a concert.  For my non-Canadian readers, it is hard to fully give context to the tour and the culminating concert, here is one of many tweets from the final night that attempted to share some perspective:

Hip tweet

 

Of course dozens of newspaper columnists, bloggers and others have tried to give some context to what has happened this summer.  Whether it is drawing connections to Terry Fox, or the power of our uniquely Canadian identity, much has been said.

I tend to see events like this differently, through my education window.  So, in the afterglow of the summer the Tragically Hip engaged the country, just what are my takeaways, lessons and reminders for our schools and learning.  Some good ones, I think, as we start a new year.

We love to gather as a community.  While the final concert was broadcast on television, radio and across the internet, people tended to gather together to watch it rather than on their own.  Whether it was at community centres, parks, or neighbourhood parties, people wanted to have the shared experience of watching the concert together.  Just as while learning can more and more be something done online and alone, the great power of school is that they are gathering places in our community.

Canadian History is Cool and Worth Learning.  As a Social Studies teacher, of course I am a little biased.  I have always thought this.  I often find that students struggle to see Canadian history with the same “cool” factor as US or European history.  And those of us who have taught Canadian history may be somewhat to blame.  The Tragically Hip regularly sing about Canada and its history with songs like Nautical Disaster (war) to Wheat Kings (crime and punishment) to Fireworks (hockey and the Cold War).  Fans probably did not realize they were getting regular history lessons.  You can find the stories behind all the Hip songs on  A Museum After Dark:  The Myth and Mystery of the Tragically Hip.

We have an obligation to be sure our children learn the history of First Nations people in Canada we didn’t learn in school.  Lead singer Gord Downie spoke directly to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the final concert saying:

We’re in good hands, folks, real good hands. He cares about the people way up North, that we were trained our entire lives to ignore, trained our entire lives to hear not a word of what’s going on up there. And what’s going on up there ain’t good. It’s maybe worse than it’s ever been, so it’s not on the improve. (But) we’re going to get it fixed and we got the guy to do it, to start, to help.

This work we take exceptionally seriously in our schools.  Even within the last five years there have been massive changes to the way we work with local First Nations and how we teach history in schools.  Many of us are invested in the work that has come from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and continuing to move this forward.  So Downie’s challenge to the Prime Minister is the same challenge that we are taking on in schools.

Music connects people.  There is an amazing power of music to bring people together.  It was interesting to see the concert on right in the middle of the final weekend of the Summer Olympics.  If there are two things that connect people together across geography, culture and language like no other, I think they are music and athletics. This video from the CBC nicely ties together the Olympics and the Tragically Hip.  And again, it is just a nice reminder for us in schools that yes reading, writing, math and a host of other academic pursuits matter, but so does music.  Music brings communities together and we need music in schools to help connect us.

No dress rehearsal.  There are a lot of lyrics one can take from the Tragically Hip to reinforce life lessons.  The final song they played at their Kingston concert was Ahead by a Century.  And to borrow from the song “No dress rehearsal, this is our life”.   Of course given Downie’s medical diagnosis, it was particularly powerful.  And again for schools a reminder that grade 1 is not a preparation for grade 2, and grade 7 is not a preparation for high school, nor is high school a preparation for university.  Grade 1 is grade 1.  We need not live in a continual state of dress rehearsal.

Uniquely Canadian.   In our house the final concert opened up a great conversation about the CBC.  Why do we have it?  Why didn’t they play any commercials?  Who owns it?  Does the United States have something like the CBC?  It was a reminder of some uniquely Canadian institutions that we need to explain, and understand if we want them to be preserved.  And of course that was just one example.  The online response from inside and outside Canada was that the “event” was something that would unlikely happen elsewhere – which opens up a series of good questions about what is unique about Canada and being Canadian.

I am far from an expert on the Tragically Hip.  Including the show in Vancouver, I have now seen them perform live once.  I did love to be part of something bigger than me.  It is something I think we all thirst for – and something we try to do in schools each day, for us and for our students.  The Hip and their tour across Canada helped remind me of some of the core principles of what we are trying to do in school.

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