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Archive for the ‘Change’ Category

 

Wednesday, March 11, 1998.

It is twenty-five years ago this week, but I remember so many of the details of that day, it could have easily been last week.

Let me set this up a bit.  I was a second-year teacher at McRoberts Secondary School in Richmond, BC.  The school had previously been a junior high school and had its first graduating class in 1997.  I was also the Varsity Boys Basketball Coach.  I was in my 11th year of coaching and my 3rd at the Varsity level.  The 1997-98 season was supposed to be a rebuilding year.  We had one grade 12 in the regular rotation, complimented by an athletic group of grade 11s.  

Even local games had media coverage during the boycott. Here being interviews by John Shorthouse from Sports Page.

And it had been a crazy year for high school basketball.  Allegations of player recruiting filled the pages of the local newspaper sports sections.  It was the year of the boycott, as dozens of teams refused to play teams that were alleged to be fudging the player eligibility rules.  I was 24-years-old and with a blend of confidence, righteousness and naivety, I felt I was a part of a Star Wars like battle trying to blow-up the Death Star.  I remember being told that the “stain of the boycott” would ruin my teaching career – that ended up being a bad take.

And then, all of a sudden, the McRoberts Strikers basketball team was playing well.  Our team’s grade 12 forward Jason Rempel, while often oversized was a strong defender and a solid post player.  And we had an improving group of grade 11s – Graeme Poole, Nick Maitland, Cyrille Bang, David Foreman and Greg Lee that were a formidable group.  We were not ranked in the top 20 once the entire season, but we were definitely getting our wins. In early January, we got a 111-104 win over local rival, the Paul Eberhardt coached McNair Marlins, and a tight 3-point win over Jon Acob’s Burnett Breakers in mid-February got us the #2 Richmond seed for the Lower Mainland Championships.

Of course, qualifying for provincials was still a long shot.  They were nine high schools now in Richmond but only Richmond, McNair and Steveston had ever qualified for the BC version of March Madness.  But things started to fall into place.  Our defense had really picked up.  I was called a “junk dealer” for our style.  One of my coaching mentors, and McRoberts vice-principal of the day, Kent Chappell, had helped put in a series of zone structures he used to win the BCs while coaching the Steveston Packers in 1984, and I had added my mix of box-and-one, triangle-and-two, match-up-zones and other non-typical formations I had picked up by trying to read every book at the local library on basketball coaching.

So, after another tight win over Burnett and a wildcard win over Killarney on Sunday, March 1st, we had done the improbable and qualified for the provincial championships.  In rereading some of my quotes in the newspaper back then, I see I have truly made a life of being a sandbagger.  I told Bob Mackin at the Richmond News following our March 1st win, “We have no superstars on this team just some good players.  We’re not very big, don’t press well and are not real fast.  We get lucky and seem to do everything just a bit better than our opponents to win.”

So, that was the Cinderella story – the McRoberts Strikers, a school only in its second year with a grade 12 graduating class, never having been ranked all season in the top 20 by the basketball pundits, advanced to the BC Championships.

But then there was more.

In the BCs of that time, 12 teams made it to the full-draw and 8 teams played an extra game on the Tuesday to qualify for the main tournament.  So, maybe we could get one more win on this Tuesday draw (For those local basketball fans – you will remember if you didn’t win on Tuesday you played out the tournament at Grizzlies Practice Facility in Richmond.).  We played the Prince George Polars.  It was a squeaker – a one-point game in the 4th quarter.  Four clutch free-throws from Graeme Poole clinched it for us and a 55-43 win.  People don’t pay a lot of attention to who wins the Tuesday games – these are just the teams that will get blown out by the real contenders on the Wednesday.

So, here we are.  We are back to Wednesday, March 11, 1998.

We had a small, but passionate group of fans. Debates still rage whether they misspelled my name by accident, or one of the N’s got cold feet.

We had drawn the Abbotsford Panthers in this round of sixteen game.  Abbotsford was the Fraser Valley Champions and their point-guard Wayne Jones was one of the elite players in the province.  And Abbotsford had a rich basketball history – one of the top programs in the province for decades.  And on this Wednesday morning in March they brought the school with them from Abbotsford to Vancouver and this 10:15 AM match-up at the Agrodome.  Literally, Abbotsford vice-principal Jinder Sarowa organized buses to transport the entire school.  They had hundreds of loud fans with drums and horns.  We had our boys’ families tightly packed together in the seats near our bench.  We also had our school’s new cheer team on the baseline coached by first-year teacher Stephanie Laesecke (25 years later – we now have 23 years of marriage and 4 kids together).

Nobody was giving us a shot.  Steve Ewen’s daily predictions in the Vancouver Province were almost never wrong, and he had picked Abbotsford.  And the game started out as Ewen, the hundreds of Abbotsford students, and most everyone thought it would.  When we called a timeout 3 minutes into the game, the score was 9-0 Abbotsford.  Barking instructions to the boys, I could hear the Abbotsford fans in unison chanting “Start the bus” a reference to the game already being over just as it was really starting.

The moment at the end of the Abbotsford game. You can see the final score still on the clock.

And our next two possessions changed everything.  Poole came down the next two times and hit 3-point shots.  And then we were rolling.  We went on a 22-3 run the rest of the quarter to take an 10-point lead and we never looked back.  Poole finished with 11 points, Greg Lee had 20 and Jason Rempel had 21, and we had won 75-54.  And what do I remember about late in the game?  The now restless Abbotsford fans pegged a couple of us in the back with pennies.  I remember picking one up and putting it in my pocket – I assumed it must be lucky!

Early 2nd quarter action from the semi-final game vs. Richmond.  Tied at 17 at this point.

The next night was another big upset.  We knocked off the Okanagan Champions, Clarence Fulton Maroons, 70-64.   This win set up a semi-final match-up with the Richmond Colts – one of the most dominant high school basketball teams in the history of the tournament.  Our luck ran out that night.  In the prelude to the game, I was quoted in the Vancouver Province, “They’ve got eight or nine players better than our best player. It’s like a pro team playing a college team.  You kind of know  what could happen, but everybody wants to see what happens anyway.  Everybody knows that we should lose by 30 or 40 but this place will be full because of the curiosity of “what if?”  The Agrodome was sold out, and we were close for a half that night.  But we did lose by 30.

Interview with Karin Larsen of CBC.

The Hoosiers-like story was over for McRoberts.  I didn’t realize it then, but that run, and really that win over Abbotsford changed my life.

All the sudden, I was not just some young coach, but people treated me as some sort of coaching wiz-kid.  When you win, you get opportunities.  I had the chance to coach provincial teams, and work with some of the best coaches in the country. Because of our 1998 success, our school got invited to The Reebok Invitational Tournament in Toronto the following year, getting to play on national tv on Sportsnet.   And I got coaching awards – like the next year the Ken Wright Award for Coaching.  And I still think, if we lost to Abbotsford that Wednesday morning, none of this would have happened.   

And accolades can often lead to other accolades, and newspaper and magazines did very flattering stories of my coaching and teaching.  Three years later, I know in part from the media attention, I got hired in Coquitlam as a school vice-principal.  Principalships and a superintendency followed.

And the next year at the BC Championship, Ken Winslade, the quiet behind the scenes leader of the BC High School Boys Basketball Association, came up to me and asked me to consider joining the executive.  I was the first of a new generation to join.  This connection would lead to the last twenty-five years of volunteering and sports administration that allowed me be President of the BC High School Boys Basketball Association for 3 years, negotiate tv contracts and sponsorship deals, and has led to the most impactful volunteer work I still do today supporting the girls and boys high school basketball championships in any ways I can.

And I still think, when we were down 9-0, if Graeme Poole didn’t hit those 2 straight 3-point baskets, my life would likely be different.  It is true that coaches can get too much blame for losses and too much credit for wins.  It is crazy to think how important some 16-year-olds making baskets have been on my life.

It is funny the moments that define us.  I know, we make our own luck.  But there does seem to be a lot of luck in how things work out in life.

For a longtime, I downplayed my involvement in athletics.  I was sensitive to the “dumb jock” wrap many coaches get.   I now fully embrace my love of sports and celebrate the experiences I have had and the many friends I have made.  It is year 36 for me this year coaching basketball.  And I am still chasing that elusive BC Championship or the “blue banner” (a reference to the banner schools get in BC for winning a championship in any sport that is hung in the school gym).  

I owe so much to the young people I have worked with.  My leadership skills I use in all parts of my life, are the ones that I hone through coaching sports.  From soccer, to track, to volleyball and mostly through basketball, I have tested and refined my talents around motivation, building a vision, and leading.

Being interviewed by Province Reporter Steve Ewen at the 1998 Championships.

Rereading the newspaper clippings from a quarter century ago, I am reminded of just how the people I have met through basketball are many of the most important if my life.  Province Sports Reporter Steve Ewen became one of my good friends and we still play slo-pitch softball together.  McNair Coach, Paul Eberhardt now works with me in West Vancouver and runs our sports academy programs.  Burnett Coach, Jon Acob has coached both my sons in high school basketball and we regularly team-up now as co-coaches (and one Jon’s players on that 1998 team Mike Stoneburgh is another great coach today).  Ken Winslade from the Boys Basketball Association is still a mentor, and I now volunteer alongside his son Jason in running the girls and boys championships.  And so many more.

I am sure if we didn’t beat Abbotsford 25-years-ago, my life would still be awesome but I am pretty sure it would be different.  That day was defining.

I found the letter I wrote to the players at the end of the 1998 season.  In part, I said:

Every November begins with optimism as one looks at the season ahead, but  no one, myself included, could have forecast the surprising and exhilarating climax our season would have in March.  In a year in which politics rather than basketball was the hot topic in high school hoops, our team emerged at the end of the year epitomizing all that is good about high school sports:  hard work, class, integrity and sportsmanship.

I am proud to have shared one of the most memorable experiences of my life with you boys this year.  Not any particular win, but the journey we went on is what was special.  The B.C. Championships were a reward for a job well done.  I think you al know that you were better basketball players, and probably better people this year than you were last year.  Next year, we will strive to be better again.  It is not the winning which is important but our journey.

All these years later, I hold to every word in this.

To all those who are playing or coaching in the BC Championships this week – enjoy every minute of it.  And may you too have moments that will change your lives.

At the end of our final game of the 1998 BC High School Provincial Championships.

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So, you want to be a high functioning school district?

Don’t we all.

As I look around at districts I admire for their consistent strong leadership I almost always find a district where the team of the Board Chair, Superintendent and Secretary Treasurer have an excellent working relationship.  While I see this in my life every day, it is also backed up by the literature.  In particular, there is a lot of research linking the success of school districts to the superintendent and board relationship. As Elizabeth Zagata references:

Superintendents and school boards play a pivotal role in the success of any school district. Research shows that districts with effective governance and a positive relationship between the school board and the superintendent consistently have better student outcomes. Indeed, the dynamic of that relationship can either hinder or help a district achieve its mission.

While not as often referenced in the literature, and while the superintendent is the sole employee of the Board, I would include the essential nature of the relationship with the secretary-treasurer (the CFO in a school district) to this conversation expanding it from a two-way to a three-way partnership.  It is the Board Chair who leads a Board in setting a strategic plan.  Then, it is a superintendent who leads a staff in bringing this plan to life and a secretary-treasurer who ensures resources are aligned to make it all happen.

My context is very unique.  I was appointed superintendent in the fall of 2009 and our current secretary-treasurer moved into that position in 2011.  And our current Board Chair joined the Board also in 2011, and assumed the Chair position in 2014.  We are in our ninth years together in these roles.  This continuity is very helpful.  Now, I am sure if we didn’t communicate well with each other, have a clear common vision or engaged in ongoing power struggles, the time together would be of little importance, but fortunately we haven’t had these challenges.

So, what are some of the things I think we do well?

We have clearly defined roles.  We don’t shy away from the conversations about responsibility but we are rarely stepping over each other.  For us, it starts with policy.  The Carver Model of board governance we have held for my time in the district keeps us honest in ensuring everyone is clear in their responsibility.

We have a shared vision.  In some districts, the secretary-treasurer is not a part of the education conversations; not in our district.  She is invested in the educational vision.  And it all starts with our Board’s Strategic Plan that we review and set (or update) during the first several months of the term.  The Board sets the high level direction and the superintendent builds strategies and structures to meet these goals.

There are no surprises.  We talk regularly.  In many cases, it is the superintendent with the board chair and the superintendent with the secretary-treasurer, and there is always efforts made so each of us shares all the information we have with each other.  We never walk into a meeting and are surprised with information any of the rest of us have or share.

We support each other.  It is crazy what I have seen in other districts.  In some places, the board chair sees their job to challenge the superintendent and secretary-treasurer, often in public rather than work with them.  And some superintendents withhold information from board chairs, and use it as power in their relationship.  And secretary-treasurers see their work as the “Culture of No” in slowing or stopping the educational goals of the Board and superintendent.  It is not hard, know what each other are tasked with and help each other be successful.

A simple question guides us.  Our Board Chair will often say, “Is this good for students?” and this drives our work.  When the answer is yes, this moves me to operationalize it and our secretary-treasurer to determine the financial implications.

I am lucky.  I have worked with four excellent board chairs and two strong secretary-treasurers.  And for the last 9 years, having the three of us in these same positions has been good for our school district community.  Continuity helps build trust, and trust helps make things happen.

The most important thing a board does is hire the right superintendent, and the most important thing a superintendent does is hire the right secretary-treasurer.  And the most important thing the three of them do is build a powerful team.

I have written previously on board governance and they may be useful prompts for others:

Board Governance – Small Things Can Make a Big Difference

How the Board and Superintendent Support Each Other

Doing Small Things to Improve Board Governance

The Impact of Boards on How Superintendents Spend Their Time

 

 

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A framework I like to use from time to time is “I used to think X but now I think Y.”  We are all learners in the system, and as the world changes around us, we need to change our thinking as well.

This past week I had the chance to be part of a panel to talk about “Young people as allies in educational transformation.”  and really the broader topics of student leadership, engagement and sense of belonging.

When I came to West Vancouver Schools 16 years ago, I brought my passion for student leadership with me.  We were quick to implement a district student leadership program, a district student council and actively promote the growth of student leadership programs in our elementary and secondary schools.  We brought in high profile keynote speakers like Craig Kielburger to work with our students and we worked to connect our student leaders to others across the region; having students attend provincial and national student leadership conferences. For me this was the essential student voice that was missing in our schools.

And I don’t believe any less in this work now.

But . . .

I used to think student leadership meant we had done our job in engaging students in educational transformation, but now I think ensuring we listen to the voices of all students and giving them voice in their learning needs to be the driver in educational transformation.

I am more interested now in elevating the voices of everyone, particularly our Indigenous learners, racialized students, students with disabilities, students from our LGBTQ+ community, International students, new immigrant learners and others who are often marginalized in our system and ensuring they have voice in their education transformation.  These students are often not part of student council, not selected for leadership conferences, and don’t put their hand up for special leadership programs.

And what we find is that when we listen to students for whom the system has not always worked and look to make changes on their advice, these changes benefit all learners, even the high flyers who are already successful.

At a recent professional day in West Vancouver we had a student panel that was reflective of the range of students in our system.  Students facilitated the discussion and they spoke about what worked in the system for them, and what they needed to feel a sense of belonging. What they said, probably would not surprise many.  Students said they wanted adults who cared about them, and asked them how they were doing and took an interest in their lives.  They said they wanted a greater focus on sexual health, Indigenous learning, mental health and hands-on learning in their school programs. And they said we were on the right path, we just needed to do more, faster.

One of the interesting impacts of COVID is that students expect a greater say in their own learning, and more is on the table.  Now that students have experienced in-person, virtual and hybrid learning, and they have often had timetables that offer 2, 4 or 8 courses at at time, they have opinions about what works for them and they want their voices to influence the structures going forward.  Pre-COVID, it was as-if the structures of schooling were actually fixed now students know different.  The system is far more flexible than we let on to them.

And in British Columbia there are so many other ways right now to ensure all students have voice in their learning.  Whether it is our Indigenous learners through Equity in Action, students involvement in the Framework for Student Learning, or the multiple ways students can be involved in their own learning through the new reporting order that emphasizes the role of student self-assessment, student voice has never been more important.

Of course this is not without its challenges.  At this recent panel presentation, one of my superintendent colleague rightly raised the point that many adults don’t think students should have a voice in their learning – whether they believe that the system should be dictated by adults, students don’t know enough to have informed views or this just upsets current norms – there are many nervous about giving students more control, because it might mean adults have less control.

Circling back to where I started, I have always been a huge supporter of student councils, district leadership programs, and other ways to bring student voices to the table in education.  I now think this is not enough.  Very often these voices are the ones we want to hear, because they are already successful and will tell us we should just keep doing what we are doing.  We are often amplifying the already loud voices.  We need to find ways to ensure all voices, particularly those that have been historically marginalized in our schools are heard.  And yes, we want students to be our allies in educational transformation, but we should also be looking to be their allies.

There has been no more exciting time in education in my career and there are amazing possibilities for our learners ahead of us – let’s make sure they all have a voice in helping us design a system that works for each and every learner.

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I think I am sounding like the old guy telling you I have seen this all before.

Last week, I wrote about Chat GPT, which is getting a lot of interest in education.  I ended that post saying, “What a great opportunity to not make the mistakes of the past and see technology as a threat, but rather an opportunity for us to rethink how it could add value to our work.”

To go back a few years, I was there for the great calculator debates.  I had classes that banned the use of calculators, or restricted the use of calculators, or allowed calculators for certain parts of classes or exams but not others.  

And with the growth of technologies this century the immediate impulse to ban technologies has been a common one from school jurisdictions.  Hardware like laptops and cell phones have been banned in some areas.  And while there are examples of a small number of schools banning wi-fi or the internet completely, there are a number of examples  of websites like YouTube being blocked in schools.  As new technologies are introduced, for many, the impulse is to do whatever possible to preserve the status quo.  As if, we only have to wait out this “iPad trend” and they will disappear, and we will not have to rethink how we engage with the new technologies in a thoughtful way.

This isn’t to say there should never be any limitations on technology in the classroom.  There are great reasons why you might want to not have any technology in a particular class or on a particular day, but it is the immediate reaction to ban a tool instead of understanding it, that is troubling.  For a profession built on growth and creating new understandings, as the world changes around us, we should always be seeing how these changes could be leveraged in our schools to ensure our classrooms are relevant, connected, and engaging.

So, here we are with ChatGPT.  

Quickly, for some the discussions shifted from the emerging power of AI to the need to ban it in schools.  One of the first places that came out loudly was New York Public Schools.  As Maya Yang writes in the Guardian

According to the city’s education department, the tool will be forbidden across all devices and networks in New York’s public schools. Jenna Lyle, a department spokesperson, said the decision stems from “concerns about negative impacts on student learning, and concerns regarding the safety and accuracy of contents”.

Now, not to sound cynical, but if we started banning everything where there was a concern over the “accuracy of contents” that might be a bit of an overwhelming proposition.  

Rather than trying make technology a forbidden fruit in our schools, we should teach about it.  If young people don’t learn about technology at school – where will they learn?  Some will learn at home.  Most will learn from their friends or explore on their own.  Schools have and should continue to step into this space of guiding students with technology use that is age and developmentally appropriate.  Just this week, former BC School Superintendent, Geoff Johnson, made an excellent argument (HERE) for increasing media literacy in schools.

I get the natural reaction to ban things we don’t completely understand.  We should be careful and thoughtful with technology.  And if you think ChatGPT is the last time we are going to have this conversation you are very naïve.  There will be another gizmo next year, and one the year after that.  

Let’s continue to model for our students the excellent conversations we can have about technology and look for ways that the exciting shifts around us can improve the quality of the experience for everyone in our schools.

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I will need you to read through to the end today . . .

Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to transform a wide range of industries and professions, but could it replace school superintendents? While it is possible that AI could be used to assist school superintendents in their work, it is unlikely that AI could fully replace a human school superintendent.

School superintendents are responsible for overseeing the educational operations of a school district, which involves many tasks that require human judgment, decision-making, and interpersonal skills. Superintendents must be able to lead and motivate teams of educators, work with community stakeholders, and make difficult decisions that impact the success of students. These tasks require qualities that are unique to humans, such as empathy, emotional intelligence, and the ability to navigate complex social situations. AI systems do not currently possess these qualities, and it is unlikely that they will be able to replicate them in the near future.

However, that doesn’t mean that AI has no role to play in the work of school superintendents. AI could potentially be used to help superintendents with certain tasks that are time-consuming or routine, such as analyzing data and generating reports. For example, an AI system could be trained to analyze our student achievement data and identify trends or areas of improvement. This could allow superintendents to focus on more high-level tasks, such as developing strategies to improve student achievement or building relationships with community partners.

AI could also be used to improve communication between superintendents and other members of the school district. For example, an AI-powered chatbot could be used to answer frequently asked questions from parents or teachers, freeing up the superintendent’s time to focus on more pressing issues.

So, while AI is not likely to fully replace school superintendents,  it could be a valuable tool to assist superintendents in their work. By automating certain tasks and improving communication, AI could help superintendents to be more effective and efficient in their roles. However, it is important to remember that AI is not a substitute for human judgment and leadership, and it will be up to superintendents to determine how best to use these tools in their work.

So, I didn’t really write this.

Well, maybe I did sort of. 

It is getting murky. 

After working through a series of questions and answers with ChatGPT, this is the response I got to my ask, “Write a blog post of 350 words on whether AI could replace school superintendents and how AI could help school superintendents.”  I then made some edits to make it sound more in my voice.  Oh, it is original.  Put it through any plagiarism checker – it will pass.  And I did a few different versions with asking for a different tone if this is too formal for you.  So, let’s back up.

This is a quickly moving landscape -and I am very much a novice.  Let me do a quick summary.  ChatGPT is all the buzz right now.  As Bernard Marr in Forbes describes it: “ChatGPT enables users to ask questions or tell a story, and the bot will respond with relevant, natural-sounding answers and topics. The interface is designed to simulate a human conversation, creating natural engagement with the bot.”  

I remember when I first used a search engine – it was not Google, probably AOL or AltaVista, or something of that era.  It was clear things were about to really change.  This AI gives that same vibe.  My example is really basic that I shared today.  But what happens when AI reads all my blogs and then I ask it to write one on a topic in my style – that will be coming soon.  And of course the implications for education, like so many professions are huge.  We have seen good articles already on how this could be used for lesson plans and in other ways in education.  And there are debates on whether it is killing or not killing the English essay.  But this is really just the infancy of what will be possible.

I have lamented that in recent years that technology shifts have not given me the same excitement as those earlier this century in the web 2.0 era.  Well, this feels different.

What do you think?  Have you tried it?  What might be possible for its use in education?

As I wrote in a post last year, we might think with kids with laptops and mastering Zoom we are now fully digital – but Technology is Not Done!

What a great opportunity to not make the mistakes of the past and see technology as a threat, but rather an opportunity for us to rethink how it could add value to our work.

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My One Word for 2023 – COACHED

A different kind of word for me this year.  Coached is not a word that I see others often use as their word for the year ahead.  It has a number of angles for me.  For the first time in my career I am taking on a sustained coaching program for the year that will hopefully make me a better, more intentional leader.   Coached also speaks to my goal of providing better feedback to staff to help them improve.  And finally, coached hits on one of my great joys – spending my summer training young AAU basketball athletes.

This is the 8th year of my “One Word” Tradition. In 2016, I wrote about Hungry and then in 2017, my first post of the year I dedicated to Hope. I feel both words were ones that were good ones for the times I wrote them. In 2018, I shared  what I described as my desperate need in my work for Relevance, and then in 2019, it was Delight – a new twist on the power and importance of joy. Then, in 2020, my word was Hustle, which was actually a good fit for what was needed as COVID upended our lives. As we start to emerge from COVID in 2021, I committed to Optimism. For the past year, my word has been Focus.  As I re-read my post from last year, I am a little disappointed that I did get distracted during the year.  It was the right word, but I didn’t live up to it enough and was not clear enough about what I wanted to focus on.

A few years ago, I never thought I would commit to professional coaching.  I don’t know why.  Almost all the progress I have made in my life has come from working with teachers, mentors and coaches.  When I wanted to learn to swim a few years ago, it was obvious I would need a coach.  But I want to be a better leader.  So, I need a coach.  I will not list the program (maybe a later post depending how this experience goes) but I have committed to a daily coaching program as a part of a large network of leaders across a range of sectors for 2023.  I want to be a better, more purposeful leader. I don’t need to go to conferences, I need support tailored to me.  Having been in the same position for a dozen years, it could be easy to get complacent.  I want to get coached, so staleness does not happen.

Of course, I don’t just want to be coached, I want to be a better coach.  I admire a number of my colleagues who are very good at giving specific feedback to help other team members improve.  And the number one request I get from staff during growth plan meetings is for clear, honest feedback on how they can be better.  I want to be better at giving this kind of feedback.  So, being part of being coached, is also my commitment to be a better coach.

And finally, it is not just professional.  I love to spend my time away from work coaching sports – particularly basketball.  And I am excited for a big summer with our VK Basketball group traveling North America, coaching young players and helping them achieve their goals.  And for them to get better, I need to keep getting better.  It is time to push my coaching.

So, a different kind of word, and a series of different kinds of goals.  It is time to coach and be coached and be better in 2023 than I was in 2022.

Just writing this is getting me excited for the year ahead!

What word is guiding your 2023?

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It is lucky 13 for the annual year-end post at the Culture of Yes.  For those new to this tradition, it is part Siskel & Ebert, and part Family Christmas Letter. Thanks for continuing along on this journey with me – now for well over 400 posts and over 350,000 words.  Hopefully, whether inside or outside the education system, you are enjoying some relaxed holiday time.

To get caught up, here are the previous years Top 3 lists:  2021 (here) 2020 (here) 2019 (here) 2018 (here) 2017 (here) 2016 (here) 2015 (here) 2014 (here) 2013 (here) 2012 (here), 2011 (here) and 2010 (here).

Now, on with this year’s results:

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

  1.  New Nicknames Will Make Schools Cool Again
  2.  NFTs and Schools – Could There be a Connection?
  3.  26 Years, 26 Teachers, 26 Lessons

Once again my April 1st post was my most read post of the year.  I am glad to know so many people come to this site for my comedy.  I wrote a lot about COVID lessons this year and how the system was emerging different, and also looking at which parts of the system were snapping back to a pre-COVID state.   What a difference a few months makes about NFTs – they were all the rage in the spring, but the crypto world has seen a real downturn in recent months.  I saw this week that a number of celebrities have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in value for their Bored Apes purchases.  Nice to see my 26 Years post get so many clicks, as it was one of my favourite ones to write.  I had it in draft for over a year as I knew I wanted to write something about some of my education influences but just wasn’t sure what – and then the post came together at the end of the school year.  And what was my least read new post this year?  It was Metrics, Badges and Prizes – Motivation Lessons from Fitness.

<em>Irwin Park Snapchatting Sharks were one of the new nicknames introduced on April 1st!</em>

Irwin Park Snapchatting Sharks

Top 3 Shifts in BC Education in 2022:

  1. Mandatory Indigenous-focused course in grades 10-12
  2. Shifts in secondary reporting
  3.  The reallocation of time

We saw the biggest shift in BC curriculum in recent years with all students in grades 10-12 now being required to take an Indigenous-focussed course.  There are always implementation challenges when something in changed or added to the school system machine, but this change has really exceeded expectations.  I have been so impressed with how well educators and students have embraced this.   In our district we are seeing students in grade 10 and 11 this year take their Language Arts (English) credit through the Indigenous focus.  Students and teachers are being exposed to literature and thinking they have not worked with in the past.  Full credit to the teachers who are taking this on and finding ways to connection to local Indigenous experts.  I have written before about secondary reporting, as it has shifted in recent years.  For many, the most obvious change will be seen beginning in the fall of 2023, when the grade 8 and 9 report card adopts proficiency scales and performance indicators – a shift schools have been preparing for over the last couple of years.  And finally, time continues to be something, particularly in high school that is being looked at post-COVID.  Almost all high schools have adopted some flexible learning time where students have control over what and where they learn.  The era of being completely blocked in for all your time all week is over in most jurisdictions.  Now come the refining of this so it is meaningful for all learners.   Another topic that was big in 2022 and will be big in 2023.  

Top 3 Education Topics We Should Talk More about in 2023:

  1. New technologies
  2. The science of reading
  3.  Hybrid learning models

I wrote a post this year Technology is Not Done and I really think many in education have taken their eyes off of the potential transformative nature of upcoming technologies in the last couple of years.  From gamification, to virtual reality to AI and so many other digital topics, there is so much that is now and will be soon impacting our schools.  Yes, we have laptops in the hands of most students, and we can navigate Zoom, that is not enough.  The science of reading is really symbolic of a larger issue I see, which is applying what we know to our practices around core skills.  The literacy and numeracy thrusts of earlier this century should not be lost.  And then, hybrid learning.  We have all this experience of hybrid learning from COVID, so now what?  

Top 3 Individuals Influencing the work in our district (that have never been mentioned in a year-end list before):

  1. Dr. Hayley Watson
  2. Ian Chisholm
  3.  Erin Crawford and Amber Pascual

Dr. Watson, and her Open Parachute Program, is an example of one of the new ways that teachers are students are engaging with mental health curriculum.   Ian Chisholm is from the Roy Group and has been working with all of our administrators this past year as we build our leadership skills. And Erin and Amber are not new to West Vancouver, but unique in Canada.  Their work in our district with physical literacy is some of the finest in Canada.  Their work with all our staff has made a huge impact on student learning.  

Dr. Watson speaking to West Van staff on Opening Day

Top 3 buzzwords / phrases in education I am ready to retire:

  1. learning loss
  2. unpack
  3. kiddos

OK, I know this is a bit of a silly one, but this category has appeared several times over the last 12 years.  It is fun to see words and phrases that made it in previous years.  I didn’t take the easy COVID ones like pivot or new normal.  I will try to use the three in a sentence – At our staff meeting next week, we are going to unpack the learning loss that our kiddos have experienced during COVID. Oh, and if we could do this with rigor and fidelity while working with our elbow partners that would be even better. 

Top 3 Education Topics from 2022 that need long-term fixes:

  1. Staff shortages
  2. Mental Health and Well Being (Student, Staff and Parents)
  3.  Connections to post secondary

These are not West Vancouver or British Columbia issues, they are global issues.  There are staff shortages everywhere, and they seem destined to get worse.  Some jurisdictions are considering what the future might be like without staff that are fully credentialed.  One positive coming out of COVID was the increased attention to well being and mental health.  It actually related to the first topic, as one of the keys to dealing with staff shortages is finding ways to support the well being of staff.  And finally, the time does seem right to make better connections between K-12 and post-secondary.  There has been a decline in post secondary admissions in recent years, and the timing seems right to rethink how we connect the two systems.  

Top 3 Issues that I see in US media that I am keeping an eye on (and worried about):

  1. Book bans
  2. Limits on classroom discussions
  3.  ‘Parents Rights’ push

I know there are some, largely isolated for now, examples of these topics in Canada, but we see them regularly in our news feeds with the constant volume of US media.  The book banners are back, taking on many of the classics again.  There are many lists that circulate, including this one from CBS News of the 50 most banned books in the United States.  Also in the news a lot is discussion over what topics teachers can and can’t talk about.  Here is an article from earlier this year indicating 1/4 of all teachers were in positions where they were being asked to limit discussions on certain topics.  Finally, the parents rights push is one that gives parents greater control over what their children are taught.  It is actually related to the other two issues, as all three are coming out of a conservative legislators in the United States.  I am always hesitant to write about what is happening in the US, as I find some people are already believing we are in the same position.  We have very different systems, but it is regularly on our televisions and in our social media feeds so it is worth following.

Top 3 podcasts I listen to every episode:

  1.  No Stupid Questions
  2.  People I Mostly Admire
  3.  The Reinvention Project with Jim Rome

I have become a major podcast listener in recent years.   I am into some very regular routines with them – and save certain ones for certain days when I am running or driving.  The first two are both part of the Freakonomics family tree of podcasts.  No Stupid Questions is a really easy listen and I like that People I Mostly Admire has on guests I don’t typically know, and Steve Levitt asks often difficult questions.  I have listened to Jim Rome’s sports talk show for more than two decades.  His Reinvention Podcast is geared to men of my age looking to take on new challenges.   Other regular podcasts for me include Hidden Brain, Freakonomics Radio, This American Life and Re: Thinking with Adam Grant.

Top 3 artists for me according to Spotify this year:

  1.  Paul Simon
  2.  The Beatles
  3.  James Taylor

My musical tastes are very predictable.  If Paul Simon ever is not the top of the list, that will be the story.  I am proof that the music you listen to growing up with your parents can become the soundtrack for your life.

Top 3 movies I saw this year:

  1.  Top Gun:  Maverick
  2.  Black Panther:  Wakanda Forever
  3.  Glass Onion:  A Knives Out Mystery

Three sequels on my list this year – and a very eclectic mix of films.  I haven’t seen the first Top Gun movie (probably one of the few people to grow up in the 80s to miss it) and didn’t have high expectations for this one.  But I loved it.  Good story and great action – one of my favourite action movies ever.  And Black Panther was also a surprise for me.  Another great action movie with a great story.  I have slowly become a Marvel fan.  And Glass Onion is the last new movie I watched this year.  Less of a surprise since I really liked the first Knives Out Movie, but a rare film that everyone in our family enjoyed.

Top 3 concerts I saw this year:

  1.  The Chicks at The Gorge
  2.  The Eagles at Rogers Arena
  3. Shawn Mendes at Rogers Arena

I was back to seeing concerts this year.  Not as many as pre-COVID but it was great to see live music.  It was my first time to the Gorge and we went as a family to see The Chicks.  After Paul Simon, it is the artist I have seen more than any other – great concert in an amazing venue.  It was my first time seeing the Eagles, and thanks to my colleague and fellow-concert goer Sean Nosek for giving me the push to get us to go.  And Shawn Mendes is not someone I have on my playlist but a great performer is a great performer and he put on an amazing show.  It was sad to hear just shortly after his show in Vancouver he stopped his tour for health reasons.  

Top daily 3 streaks I still have going:

  1. 10,000 Steps
  2. Running 5 km a day
  3. Photo posting to Instagram

Friends know I love my streaks.  And at times, they probably can border on the unhealthy.  The three that I have going that I am consumed with every day are my steps, running and photo streak.  The best (and worst) of these ones is that they are every single day.  At the end of this year, I will have gone 9 straight years of taking at least 10,000 steps each day (according to FitBit). My running streak is a little shorter.  I just passed 700 days of running at least 5 km outdoors each day.  I usually get this done around 5 AM, but some weird circumstances this past year had me staying up until midnight to do the next day’s run and other similar and quite ridiculous plans.  And while I am not much for social media anymore, I have just past 2,550 days (7 years) of posting a photo to Instagram.  I am so glad I started this.  It is such a great way to track our kids growing up.  It started when our oldest was part-way through grade 8 and she is now at the midpoint of third year university.   

Final Thoughts

The Culture of Yes had a bit of a Renaissance during the pandemic.  I had a readership that was reminiscent of 2011 or 2012.  While the numbers slid this year, my passion for this space remains strong.  When someone tells me about a post I wrote a decade ago and how it influenced their thinking it brings great joy.  

Blogs are this wonderful mix of permanence, and impermanence.  It is easy to share you thinking with the world, but also easy to revise and improve it.  

I think as we continue to wrestle with the future of education and the lessons of COVID, we need more voices both formal and informal to fuel discussions.  It is less important if you agree with what I think, than if you take the time to reflect on the topic and add to the discussion.

To all my friends and colleagues in West Vancouver and beyond still reading  hopefully you are having a good break.  

All the best for a great 2023.

My Home Squad!

My work squad!

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The Myth of Mandatory

I know, mandatory is a funny word to dislike so strongly.

I see way too many emails from adults to young people with the word mandatory.  I should actually start by describing the 3 levels of mandatory I am talking about:

Level 1 – mandatory

Level 2- MANDATORY

Level 3 – MANDATORY

You may be familiar with this strategy of using different combinations of capitalization, italics, bold, and sometimes underline to convey the degree of mandatory-ness.

So, I do get it.  The writer of the email wants to ensure that the young person completes the thing or attends the thing that is the subject of the message.  But mandatory is about absolutes, and we should use them sparingly.

And do we really mean mandatory?  If you have COVID is the deadline still mandatory?  If your parent is sick in the hospital is it still mandatory?  If it is your grandmother’s 100th birthday, is it mandatory?  Because if we use mandatory, it is mandatory, isn’t it?

You see I have spent many years in the adult world, and there are a lot of things in my life which are important and I should prioritize, but very few things in my life that are really mandatory.

For many,  young people should be allowed to make choices, as long as they choose what we want them to choose.

Now if you are coaching a team, or rehearsing a play or preparing for an exam, you want the young people to attend your thing.  You want them to prioritize your thing over other things.

But, as I often see, everything is mandatory, how is that fair?  We say we want young people to do lots of activities, and have lots of experiences but we penalize them when they don’t always prioritize what we want them to prioritize.

Now, as kids get older and can specialize more, there will absolutely be consequences if something is not a priority.  If you are the lead in the musical but only prioritize half the rehearsals you will probably be replaced.  And if you only prioritize half the study sessions for the AP Exam, you should not be surprised if you score a 2.

I coach in a high level club basketball program where teenagers choose to participate and much of their fees are covered by sponsors.  As student get older they need to prioritize this if they want to participate.  There are lots of options for them to participate with basketball so asking them to prioritize is fair.

I think we can get to a similar place without the M word.  We should have real conversations with young people about priorities.  We should talk about trade-offs, and be open to allowing young people to not always prioritize our thing.

So if you see yourself using mandatory in your email to young people – stop it.  Find another way to convey importance but allow young people choice, agency and ownership.

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This week I attended an interesting session on ethical decision making. The session by former Surrey School Superintendent Mike McKay picked up on the work of Rushworth Kidder and his focus on mapping ethical dilemmas.  Kidder’s work was heavily referenced in the early 2000’s, and is still very relevant today.

For me, one of the impacts of these sessions where you wrestle with case studies that have a right vs. right approach is that you think back on decisions you have made that you might make differently now.  We all have them. Sure you made the right decision, but was there more than one right decision you could have made?   Decisions are products of the time, the values of the school we were in, the standards of the district, the level of experience we had, and a general view of the world. 

I have written before about Stuff I Was Wrong About, but this is different.  This is not about hunches I had that proved not to go the way I thought they would, these are decisions I made that I would now process through my current ethical framework and likely come up with a different decision.  

Kidder wrote about:

5 core values:  compassion, fairness, honesty, responsibility and respect

4 ethical lenses:  Justice/Mercy, Short or Long Term, Individual/Community and Truth or Loyalty

3 decision making principles: Greatest Good/Greatest Number (ends-based), Precedent (rules based) and Do Unto Others

Here are three I have, as a teacher, a coach and an administrator, that I still think about today – and as Cher says, “If I Could Turn Back Time”

As a Teacher –  A couple stand out around assessment and evaluation.  First, I would post marks on the wall.  They were not with names, but students numbers, but everyone still likely knew who was who.  And this did nothing for those who were struggling, if anything it probably discouraged them. I was thinking this would help improve responsibility.  Similarly, I remember failing students with 45% in a course without taking the extra time to see if I could support them to get to a passing grade.  I wanted to have standards, but did so at the expense of compassion.  I thought this was being fair at the time.  I would definitely think different now through both situations.

As a Coach –  Early on in my coaching career, I would cut teams down to a number that would allow me to maximize playing the best players.  And then, I would still be unbalanced in how I allocated playing time, even at younger high school levels.  If I went back, I would take more kids on teams, and play the less skilled players more – even if it meant losing a few more games along the way.  I often say, “Winning is fun,” but when you travel an hour for an exhibition game early in the season – everyone should play.

As an Administrator – I think about a couple of these the most.  Almost all schools I worked in used grad (or the threat of taking away grad) as a way to help maintain behaviour of grade 12 students.  As in “if you do X you won’t be allowed to attend grad.”  And I get it, still.  Grade 12s can be a pain in the last few months of their graduation year, with credits earned, future plans secured and a need to celebrate their accomplishments.  That said, I really regret taking away grad from students.  Grad is one of those life events that deserves to be celebrated.  You look back at grad photos decades later, you tell the stories of your grad to your children and grandchildren.  And, kids do dumb things and there should be ways to deal with the behaviour that allows students to make amends.

In a post I wrote in 2016 on parenting (I Used to Blame Parents) I wrote, “All of my black and white views from my early 20’s are really now very grey.”  As I think through these right vs. right dilemmas, and a series of other scenarios I worked through with colleagues, as I know more and have seen more, I am far less absolute in my thinking.

I am sure we all have some decisions we wish we could go back and see through different eyes.  I am continually reminded of a piece of advice I got from a former principal colleague, he said when challenged by a frustrated teacher, and asked how many chances he was going to give, he said “always one more.”

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Regular readers will know that libraries and librarians, both in the school and community are a semi-regular topic here. I am quite fascinated by the transformation I have seen in my lifetime in the spaces and the work. More than a decade ago I wrote My Take on Librarians, a post that still largely holds up today.

I had the chance to speak to teacher-librarians from across the country recently (here is slide deck), and shared, what I see, as having been a remarkable reinvention over the last 40 years.  I really think if in 1982, you explained to people the way information access would be transformed over the next 40 years, many would have thought libraries in schools and the community would disappear.  Like Blockbuster Video, they would have served a useful purpose for a period in time and people would have moved on.  But actually, the opposite has happened.  Libraries have become more central to the work in schools and the community.  They have defined themselves not by the books they move in and out, but by their role as a gathering place. As David Lankes argues, “Bad libraries build collections, good libraries build services, great libraries build communities.”

And we know the stereotypes of teacher-librarians in popular media – conservative and traditional (probably almost as bad as the stereotypes about school superintendents). I now stand in the room with teacher-librarians and their reinvention is so deep, they talk about “library-learning commons” with ease.  Virtually nobody called what I knew to be the library, “the library”, I felt so dated with some of my references.

From what I have seen from our schools and district and from the other schools and districts I have worked in, the powerful reinvention has had many drivers, but for me the key ones have been:

  • Space
  • Technology
  • Equity, Diversity, Inclusivity and Reconciliation

These have been the areas that have ensured library-learning commons, and the people who lead these spaces, are more relevant than ever.  And the three areas are all connected, with one following the next and building on it.

With space, many will remember the push early this century to make schools more like Starbucks.   This is a bit simplistic, but the idea is that schools should be places that are comfortable, where kids want to hang-out, and informal learning spaces are embraced to compliment the more formal ones.  Libraries helped lead this.  Dated books were often removed, and couches replaced tall shelving.  The spaces were opened up.  More than ever they were places that students wanted to gather.

Then came the technology.  Libraries still embraced the physical space, but they also often supplemented this with digital spaces.  Blockbuster Video doubled-down on being the video people and Netflix crushed them.  Libraries embraced being the connection places for information for everyone and the repository for all to access.  

And now, I see library-learning commons being the hub of what has become our crucial work at this time around equity, diversity, inclusivity, and Reconciliation.  No place connects to all classrooms like library-learning commons, no people connect to more people like teacher-librarians.  There is discomfort with some of this work.  More than anything people don’t want to make a mistake, and having expertise in teacher-librarians (and community librarians) helps to move this work quickly and thoughtfully.

So, here we are.  Companies like Blockbuster Video, Polaroid, Tower Records and Kodak have all gone.  Caught up in our shifting world.  And yet the school and community library stand more important than ever.

And so what is next?  If I was giving advice I would tell libraries to keep looking ahead – tell the stories of the next 20 years.  They should never forget their core purpose of literacy – but continually define this broadly. And they should be the gathering place for people and ideas.  As so much of our world seems to have siloed, we need these common spaces to connect school and community.

 

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