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Archive for the ‘Change’ Category

We all know the story of Goldilocks sneaking into the house of the 3 bears – and first trying the big bowl of porridge and finding it too hot.  And then the medium sized bowl of porridge and finding it too cold.  Finally, eating up the small bowl of porridge that was just right.  In some ways, as we carve out new territory with remote learning, we have been dishing out the bears porridge and our students have been Goldilocks.

We have done our best for remote learning to not be “too hot” or “too cold” but rather “just right”.

While there is some universal understanding of whether porridge is too hot or too cold, when in comes to remote learning there is more variance. A couple weeks in, we seem to agree that virtual lessons all day, where we try to recreate school by taking the block schedule and putting it online is too hot. Some jurisdictions are trying this, but having students in front of screens on one-way lectures for 5 hours a day is not what most people are looking for. At the too cold end of the spectrum, stories of leaving kids with minimal contact leaves them without community and connections.  (Worth noting I have personally had both requests that we provide 5-6 hours a day of streaming online one-way classes and alternatively that we not contact a family until we return to in-person learning).

The challenge is that between these extremes, where we search for the “just right” it is not the same for everyone.  There are so many variables for families.  For some there is rich technology and parents at home able to assist.  In other homes, just the opposite is true.  And we have been clear to say that marks will not fall for students who commit to their learning during this time, but old habits of being driven by marks are still very present for many families.  And the ramp-up in new skills for staff is also varied.  It is amazing the new technology skills our staff have learned in just a couple of weeks.

So as we continue forward the search for just right is ongoing.  We are regularly asking our students and parents if we are hitting the mark and differentiating where we can.  We want students to be turning off their phone notifications, setting their own deadlines for work and spending chunks of time uninterrupted on their work – these are good life skills.  We also want families to remember that learning is not just about stuff from books.  We want our students to be physically active, and pursuing their passions, and looking at the various extension options we are offering through our district website.

Students are not falling behind.  It is a global pandemic – we are all in this together.  And when we return to more normal times it is our job to meet students where they are and help move them forward.

In the meantime, we will keep trying to get the porridge the right temperature for you.  

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The Chit Chat

I really miss the chit chat.

It is the part that is often hard to describe. It is a bit like how Seinfeld is a show about nothing, but of course it really isn’t.  When I hear stories that teaching can be much “quicker” now online because it is more focused, these people are missing the point.  Teaching and schooling have never been just about the content.  K-12 is not just about learning a bunch of stuff.

The chit chat is the part where you talk to students about their favourite tv shows, or the soccer game they played last night, or the songs that are currently most downloaded.  Great teachers use the chit chat to build rapport as a strategy towards engaging in learning.   The chit chat is all the little things that great teachers do to connect to students so when it gets to the content the students feel safe, connected and ready to engage.  The chit chat builds confidence, and connections and makes children know they are special.

I know there are many ways schools are trying to re-create this community.  I love what I am seeing in our schools.  We have virtual clubs, jokes of the day, and online talent competitions.  It is great, but when we return to in-person schooling it is not the learning that I am looking forward to the most.

I am really looking forward to the chit chat.

 

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My One Word (2020)

The best and worst of being in the world of education is that you are never done.  Teaching in the classroom I felt only as competent as the success of my most recent lesson, as a principal each issue felt like a new referendum of my abilities, and in the district office, I often have said the job does not give me the chance to celebrate, we are always onto what is next.  And all of this is part of what makes education wonderful.

So, that leads into my word for this year – hustle.

This is the 5th year of my “One Word” Tradition.  In 2016 I wrote about Hungry and then in 2017 my first post of the year was dedicated to Hope.  I feel both words were ones that were good ones for the times they were written.  In 2018 I wrote about what I described as my desperate need in my work for Relevance, and then last year it was Delight – a new twist on the power and importance of joy.

So why hustle? I like the word because it is not about ability.  Anyone can hustle.  It is one of those traits that is often hard to describe, but easy to see and recognize.  When I think of people who hustle, I can quickly think of 3 or 4 people in my life who live it everyday.

I am reminded of the quote that is often mis-attributed to Abraham Lincoln, “Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.”  As different as everyday is in the work of education, a little hustle goes a long way.  And I can find it is always easy to find reasons to be complacent.  Sure someone can say our students are doing great, the system is strong, and we can just do next year like last year and we will be fine.  Or you can hustle.  I often use this blog to test areas from robotics, to e-sports, to physical literacy and flex time.  We always have to be hustling – trying to figure out if there is a better way to do the work we do, and to keep looking at what might be the next few things we should be doing.

In our schools I think our students appreciate the hustle and it is positive modeling for them.  A little hustle goes a long way.  Most of my favourite students have been those who hustled.  What is also nice about the word is while it fits really nicely with my professional work, is also easily applies to those other top life priorities that we are all always trying to keep going.  The hustle creates energy and brings joy.  Last year was great, but I don’t want to do it all over again the same.

So here is to you a year of always hustling at work, with my own school studies, in my volunteer life and everywhere else. And hopefully being a good model for those hustling around me.

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Photo by Mike Wakefield, North Shore News

I feel as a society we are tackling the current challenges around physical activity and the need to be more active a bit like we did with the “just say no” drug education in the 1980’s. If we only told people that they were more likely to suffer a variety of health conditions and potentially die at an early age, they would wake up and change their ways. If only we produced more reports on health that said we were failing, we would stop failing. It is from this backdrop that I am so excited about what we are doing with physical literacy in our schools.

We know health guidelines say that kids should get at least 60 minutes of exercise a day, and we also know that few are doing it.  And there is no shortage of blame to go around.  Of course schools get some of it for how we structure our days, and then there is the overly protective pressures in society that leads to kids often not going outside.  And of course there is technology.  Any discussion around kids and activity often turns back to those damn phones!  All that being said, I think we were all shocked in West Vancouver when of the 1580 elementary aged students we tested a couple years ago on their abilities to run, hop, throw, kick a ball and walk backwards heel-to-toe, only 13 could competently perform all five tasks.

I appreciate that if we were talking about reading or math these kind of statistics would be reason to declare an emergency.  And we do think this work is as important as other foundation skills.  Instead of bemoaning the state of kids today – we got on with teaching them.  In just one year we were up to 65% of students being able to complete all the tasks.  The grade 2 students who never learn to kick a ball, become the high school students who don’t participate in soccer intramurals, the primary students who never learn to throw a ball are the ones who fake an illness to get out of softball in PE class, and those who don’t learn to properly run or hop, limit the athletic social events they will ever want to participate in.  But wow, what a difference we are seeing.  From agility ladders in hallways, to outdoor circuits to purposeful teaching of physical literacy skills – we have a team of teachers changing the culture.   And it is more than just getting kids to run around.  That is important, but we also need to teach kids the core skills of physical literacy.  It is great to have silent reading so all kids get time to read, but we also need to teach reading skills – the same theory holds for physical literacy.  And don’t be fooled into believing physical literacy can only happen in a gym.  The game changer is seeing people embed it in their work right in classrooms.

K Class Circuit at Ridgeview Elementary

We want students to develop physical literacy skills for their lives. If not at school, some kids will never have places to develop these skills.

And so interesting to read a Canadian study (HERE) published just last month that finds that there is a link between resilience and physical literacy among children, encouraging the importance of physical literacy development in schools.

I have always been struck by the simple idea – when will what we know change what we do.  We know physical literacy matters for youth.  For their physical health, their mental well-being, the academic success and their enjoyment in life.  And we are seeing some simple strategies are making big impactful changes across the district.  It is exciting to work in a district that is changing thinking and practice with physical literacy.

I am so lucky to work with a team including Diane Nelson, Erin Crawford, Amber Pascual, supported by Drew Mitchell and professional and researchers across Canada – all working together in West Vancouver to make this happen.  And teachers who are embracing the work.  When I get asked about what is new in West Vancouver, I tell people you need to see what we are doing with physical literacy.

 

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With change comes opportunity.

As British Columbia has engaged in a learning transformation over the last decade I have felt the continual tension.   We can either try to do the new thing just like we did the old thing, or see the new thing as an opportunity to think differently.

I have heard some say that inquiry is “what we have always done in our classes” while others have dramatically shifted their classes to increase student choice, voice, and agency under the guise of inquiry.

With curriculum, some argue that it is not really new, it is just the same curriculum organized differently.  Others suggest that the focus around big ideas is a dramatic move away from a focus on volumes of content to one of skills and competencies.

The same conversation has happened in so many areas – is the technology changing the classroom, or is it really just a new “version of pen and paper” as I have heard in some classes.  Is self-regulation about students having greater ownership over their ability to regulate and be in a zone for learning, or is it just new language around getting kids to behave in class?

The revised careers curriculum which sees us move away from Planning 10 and Grad Transitions to Career Life Education and Career Life Connections is another one of these tension points.  And again the same comments have been made.  I have heard they are really just the same courses with new names and that nothing needs to change.

Well, we disagree.

We see this change in Career Education not as a chance to make the new courses fit with what we have always done, but to do things differently.  And this change in Career Education is an opportunity to look differently at time in our schools, and how we use it, and listen to our students.  Beginning in the Fall all of our secondary schools will have new bell schedules that provide students with a 32 minute block of flexible instructional time (FIT) each day.  This will give students time to address the new Career Education competencies and content.  But it will also do more than that.  It will give students something they have continually asked for whenever we survey them – some flexible time as part of their formal school day where they have choice and voice – to complete assignments, collaborate with peers and receive extra help in a particular area.

Our system is very much built on a factory model.  Of course, no one really believes that all students need 120 hours to “learn” any particular course, some need far less and others need far more.  This change begins to recognize these differences.  Some students will need to spend time in math, while others will choose to spend their time in art or working on careers.

We regularly hear from our students (and their parents) of the increased stresses and pressures on today’s learners.  As we have listened to students, parents and staff this year – one comment I heard numerous times really struck me, “Students just need time to breathe.” Again, this is just a small change, but hopefully it will help – and also help the mental well-being of their teachers who can give directed support during the school days, perhaps freeing up some of their lunchtimes and after schools often dedicated to helping students.

FIT is not revolutionary.  Dozens of high schools in the Vancouver area have found ways to build regular flexible time into their schedule.  It is new for us.  And while I know some want us to completely revolutionize the learning structures of school, we continue to look for ways to make real changes that give students greater agency over their own learning.

We could have just tried to do the new things in old ways, but we are seizing the opportunity to do things differently.  As someone who believes in students and their teachers, I am excited for the Fall.

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Why esports?

Do many kids play too many video games? Yes.

Do some of the games kids play lack the values I would like to see portrayed? Definitely

Do I want our schools to get in the esports game? Absolutely

Conversations around esports is a wonderful generational clash.  Those of us who grew up with Atari, ColecoVision and the original Nintendo often cannot fathom the idea that there is any redeeming value in the video games that today’s kids are playing.  From what we see in the media the innocence of Pac-Man has been replaced by a stream of violent first-person shooter games.

Well, we hosted our first esports tournament last month with teams from all of our high schools and it was awesome!

I loved what I saw for a host of reasons, many of the same reasons I love what I see with students participating in the arts, athletics and clubs in school.  Students were taking on a role as part of a team towards a collective goal.  They were problem solving and competing.

Esports are definitely a global phenomena.  They are projected to do more than a billion dollars in business this year.  In a recent poll in the United States young people in similar numbers identified themselves as fans of esports as they were of football.  Closer to home the Vancouver Titans have marked our entry locally into the professional esports circuit and professional facilities are being built to host players and fans.  And it is not just for professionals, as colleges are beginning to run varsity esports teams and offer college scholarships.

Of course, just because something is popular doesn’t mean we should do it in our K-12 system.  What I have seen with esports in our schools, and elsewhere make me think they are a good fit our schools.  Some of the “why” for me includes:

  • Esports engage students as part of the school.  Students wear school uniforms, and have a sense of pride and identity.  Students connected to schools is a factor in success.
  • Esports are about team.  There is tremendous coordination and communications among participants as they work towards their goals.  These are some of the real world skills we continually say we want more of in  schools.
  • When we play esports in school it makes it easier to open up conversations about the type of games students play, the length of time they spend playing and hopefully influence their gaming with our school system values.
  • A key aspect of schooling is relevance.  When we see scholarships being awarded, universities being engaged, professional leagues being established and careers being built not only in playing but in other STEM related fields related to esports, we should look for an entry point.

I think some of the push-back has to do with the word “sport” in the name – as though a proponent of esports is saying that we shouldn’t be physically active – as if it is a choice between the two.  Esports are not intended to replace soccer or basketball.  Nor do I really think they should be in the Olympics.  (Of course there is another really good post here about what exactly is an athlete – I remember the questions in 1995 when Indy 500 Champion Jacques Villeneuve won the Lou Marsh Trophy for Top Canadian Athlete and Larry Walker said “I got beat by a machine”).  But like with competitive robotics, or entrepreneurial showcases, debate competitions or trivia tournaments they are a way to connects students and their school.  And a little bit of competition is sometimes a good thing!

Maybe esports are a fad?  Of course 200 million people watched the 2018 League of Legends World Championships, about twice as many as watched the Super Bowl, so it is showing some early staying power.  Esports remind us we should go where the kids are.  They offer an opportunity to turn what can be an isolating event into a social experience that contributes to the overall culture in the school.

Students take great pride in contributing to their schools and schools continually find new ways to make this happen.  Esports is just one of the latest ones – and one that looks like it might have some long term staying power.

 

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For much of my life I have heard of the pending demise of movie theatres.  First, it was the video tape, then DVDs and more recently it has been the explosion of online viewing options.  So, who would go to the movie theater and pay $15 to watch a movie when they can watch one online anywhere they want.  Well as we have learned, the answer is a lot of people.  I am apparently one of the few people who has not seen Avengers:  End Game.  As of writing this, it has made over $2 billion in theatres!  Not bad considering theatres were supposed to be relics of the past by now.

I think of the changes they have made in connection to the changes made in schools.  I actually think we have some things in common.  Throughout my teaching career, I have often heard from prophets of the future say that schools are going to go the way of the dinosaur – for many of the same reasons I have heard for movie theatres.  In short, technology would make schools as we know them out-of-date.

So just how have schools and movie theatres evolved in the last few decades to be as relevant and important now as ever.

They are more than just about the content. Go to the movies, and the movie is just part of the experience.  Movie theatres are full amusement complexes with food courts, arcades and a range of other activities.  And schools and classes are more than just the course material.  If schools were just teachers reading material and students copying material – this could be easily replaced, but they are engaging places where students connect with information.  The course material is actually just a small part of what makes up school.  So while you can replace the delivery method of school material – that does not replace school.

They both create experiences you cannot create at home through a screen. I grew up going to movie theatres that had small screens, not-so comfortable seats and your snack choice of 1. popcorn or 2. popcorn with butter .  Go now, and you have seats that recline, 4D films, and theatres that are like your living room on steroids.  Again, they built an experience that would not be possible anywhere else.  And in schools, classes are inquiry focused and more personalized.  We have moved away from the factory model that could easily be sent through computer wires to something that is far more connected.   In the past, schools would sometimes operate in ways that could easily be automated, but no longer is that ever the case.

There is something about gathering together in the community.  With both movies and learning, we sometimes underestimate the power of the shared experience.  There is something about going with your friends to see a movie together – in an increasingly disconnected world, this is a common intersection.  And similarly schools provide that community gathering place.  While in many parts of our life we connect digitally, schools allow us to learn together and have shared experiences.  And while the experiences are different than a generation ago – the importance of the shared experience is still as critical as it is today.

The comparison of the transformation of movie theatres and schools is not a perfect one.  It is interesting to see how they have both managed to stay incredibly relevant.  And while we can watch movies in so many ways now, or access learning anywhere or anytime, the institutions are still strong.

So no Avengers for me, but I will definitely be in line on December 19th for Star Wars!

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