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Archive for the ‘Change’ Category

There is an absolute rhythm to a school-year. It was more pronounced for me when I was in a school, but I still see it here in the Board Office. There is the excitement of September as students and staff come back fresh off of vacation. There is the reality of late October as interim reports hit in high school. In December – it is a double hit: Christmas Concerts and first-term reports. Then in the new year you can feel this build up towards spring break and then we return in April and the weather (is usually) better, we begin to look for ways to pull the year’s learning together, celebrate achievements and keep and eye on next year.

Of course, during all 10 months (and really all 12 months) we are always asking people to think differently, to push innovation and look for new and better ways of supporting our learners.  I have been wondering if there are specific times of year that people are more curious, more open and more engaged in these conversations.

With only anecdotal data, here are the four key times I find that people want to talk about innovation:

October – By October, the school year has started, and classes are settled.  In high school, it is in October that teachers and departments already need to look ahead to what they might want to offer the following year and begin the approval process.  We are comfortable in what we are doing in October but not to the heaviness of November.

Mid-February – I find January to Spring Break to be the sweet spot for moving ideas forward in schools.  I think students are the most focused during this term.  There seem to be fewer distractions than the first and third term for everyone.  If I was to differentiate this period to the other ones, I see this one as the time when people try new things with their practice.  The other times people are often looking ahead to what they might do next term or next year – in this window of time, people are implementing new ideas – taking what they learned from conferences, workshops or colleagues and trying it in their class.  I would love to see if my hypothesis is true that the most “new stuff” in classes happens in the middle of February.

May –  May feels a bit like October when it comes to innovation.  People are looking at next year but they are not into the field trip / track meet / graduation ceremonies of June.  It seems to definitely be the time when people have one eye on this year and one on next year.  It is the season of teacher postings, administrative changes and also a time when people look at what they might want to do differently.

Last Week of June / First Week of July – I get more emails about new ideas at this time of year than at any other point.  I often say that everyone has some “thinking time” at this point in the year.  School – regardless of your role – is all-consuming so it is finally once report cards are in and classes are being dismissed and before “summer holidays” really kick-in that people have some time to think about what they might want to do differently or put together and email about a proposal they have been ruminating on for a while .

I am sure all jobs have a rhythm.  I do find the seasons in school to be very pronounced.  I see a lot of if it X month, you can be sure that Y will happen.  As we look to move our schools and our system, we need to be conscious of this and look for the windows when people are ready to talk about doing things differently.  I am curious if what I see with the times of year are consistent with others.

 

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OK, I picked the blog title largely to share one of my favourite Seinfeld clips:

The title has a little more meaning than that.  In recent weeks, I have had a number of people share this quote with me that has gone viral on social media:

This quote really has me thinking.  I am not sure.  I get this is the popular opinion.  We are quick to want to pile-on that parents today have lowered their expectations and increased the enabling of their children.   These kinds of issues are not simple.  Yes, adults have changed, but so has the world around us.  We need to be careful not to romanticize the return to a past that had its share of challenges and deficiencies.

There is no shortage of parenting books out there with advice for how adults should act with their children.  Last week we had Dr. Shimi Kang speak in our community.  Her book, The Dolphin Parent, is a National Bestseller.  She notes that there are numerous new pressures on parents of the twenty-first century, suggesting issues like tougher school admissions, globalization and in-turn greater competition, the boom in technology and economic uncertainty are causing parents to act differently.  She says, “These uncertainties are unsettling; they unmoor us and make us question some of the basic truths we have lived by.  Even the best-intentioned parents among us are confused and frightened.”

So perhaps it is out of this fear that parents have, which emerges what Martin sees in the changing parents.

The best book I have read on the topic is How to Raise and Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims.  She spent a decade as the Dean of Freshman at Stanford.

She sets the context which she sees in parents today:

Too many of us do some combination of overdirecting, over-protecting, or over-involving ourselves in our kids’ lives.  We treat our kids like rare and precious botanical specimens and provide a deliberate, measured amount of care and feeding while running interference on all that might toughen and weather them.  But humans need some degree of weathering in order to survive the larger challenges life will throw our way.  Without experiences the rougher spots of life, our kids become exquisite, like orchids, yet are incapable, sometimes terribly incapable, of thriving in the real world on their own.  Why did parenting change from preparing our kids for life to protecting them from life, which means they’re not prepared to live life on their own?

It is this context that Martin’s quote seems to be speaking to.

Lythcott-Haims outlines numerous steps, small and large, parents can do to change things and allow children to chart their own path.  She says:

As parents our dream was to have a child, but we can’t forget that our children have the right to dream for themselves. There is much more to each precious, unique child than we can possibly know, and that unique person – that self is for each young person to discover.  We want so badly to help them by shepherding them from milestone to millstone and by shielding them from failure and pain.  But over helping causes harm.  It can leave young adults without strengths of skill, will, and character that are needed to know themselves and to craft a life.

The more I read about the changing world with greater unpredictability and uncertainty I definitely appreciate urges to want to do more for our children, and not less.  Especially when I am sure our neighbours are definitely doing more for their children – at least it sure looks that way on social media.

As a parent in these times I have empathy for the adults that Martin calls out.  And I don’t think it is simple.  But Kang and her reasoned approach to parenting and Lythcott-Haims and her view that we need to give our children’s lives back to them are important messages.  They are ones we all likely know and agree with but ones we need to keep repeating.

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The Hat Rule

I loved the hat rule.

As a teacher it was a great rule – it was so easy to tell which students were not in compliance – “Hey, take off your hat!” What was also great about it was that if a student continued to be non-compliant, I didn’t really have to deal with it.  I would just forward the issue on to the vice-principal of the school for them to deal with. What a great system!

Of course there were debates at staff meetings about whether hoodies were hats, what about toques in winter, or if students were outside but participating in a course if the hat rule still applied. Really, it seemed like everyone on staff liked the hat rule.

Once I became a vice-principal I started to like the hat rule less.  All of the sudden all these teachers were referring names of students to me they saw wearing hats.  Other staff members were getting in confrontations with students over hats.  And the initial reaction I was having with students was not “Good Morning” but “Take off your hat”.

This is not a post about appropriate dress nor am I trying to elicit responses about how much better it would be if students respected authority like we romanticize they used to do.  It is not really about hats at all.

We love things that are simple to think about.  I was recently giving a talk about technology and about how messy it is.  Giving students the same technology is not the answer, nor is there any real prescription about how much technology they should be using or the kinds of tools they should be using.  It is messy.

And this messiness can create anxiety for all of us.  We like things that are simple to think about.

And technology, like many things in education is not simple.  There are no easy right and wrong answers.  There are multiple approaches that can be effective.  The same can be said for literacy instruction, supporting aboriginal students or building a vibrant arts program.

I loved the hat rule because it was simple.  It was easy to tell which students were in compliance.  If I walked through the halls and no students were wearing hats, I could have a sense of accomplishment that I was making a difference.

It is not as easy to walk through the halls of a school and know if all students are learning or being successful.

In retrospect, we spent a lot of time talking about hats at staff meetings – I wonder what it would have been like if we spent the time dedicated to “no kids will wear hats” instead dedicated to talking about “all kids will be successful”.

We would love simple answers in education and unfortunately we selected an occupation that is full of messy, tricky and nuanced challenges.

As I said, I am not trying to pick on those of you who love a hat-free building.  Having some simple rules of manners and civility can be good for students and staff.   It is important though to think about if we are talking about issues because they are the easy ones rather than the important ones.

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I know many of you have been following the process over the last several months as we name our new school opening this fall. We are always told to engage the community, so we did when it came to naming the school at the corner of Lipra Avenue and Loof Lane.  And today we are excited to see that we have come to the conclusion of this process.

Background

We began this process last fall.  While many school districts name schools after local individuals of historical significance or a name that reflects the local geography we wanted to give our new school a current and relevant name – the kind that truly spoke to the community. With all the talk about school relevance we thought we should start with the name.  We were excited to see how San Diego was choosing its name for its new MLS franchise by asking the internet (click on the link – it is a good read) – and we decided to do the same thing.  As we have embraced technology we have learned when you ask the internet a question, it always give you the best answer.  Initially we had over 100 submissions and then moved to the final 4 for the decision.  The Internet is always right.

Finalists

Based on the votes, the final 4 were:

Pamela Anderson Ethical Treatment of Animals Elementary – We assume that the community’s commitment to social initiatives led to this choice. There was also a lot of interest in a young lifeguarding specialty academy which seemed a good fit for this school.  It appeared to be an early favourite with Ms. Anderson’s roots in British Columbia, but concerns were raised around potential risque nicknames and logos attached to this school which did seem to cost it some support.

Mr. Dressup Traditional Values Elementary – This had a lot of sentimental support from parents that grew up with the show.  The vision of the school was that each day the entire school would watch the antics of Casey and Finnegan to start their day and that would set the tone for the rest of the day.  Like how some schools watch a news broadcast, the 4,000 iconic Dressup episodes featuring Ernie Coombes would be shown in sequence, so a ten year cycle of shows.

Justin Bieber Elementary School of Music– A school with a music focus made a lot of sense, so it was not surprising to see this as one of the finalists.  The supporters had already labeled the school’s teams the Bieber Beliebers.  Again the strong Canadian roots to this name were seen as a real positive.

Donald J. Trump Elementary School of Winning – This was the most surprising of the finalists.  The school’s vision was to be focused on winning, so much winning that those attending the school would be tired of winning so much.  While many had thought that a school named for a politician would more logically choose a Canadian like Justin Trudeau or Stephen Harper Elementary, Trump Elementary seemed to be riding the wave of public attention.  Some clearly felt the Trump name would be like having an IB designation – everyone would know what it meant.

Vote Results

Our New School

We are excited to be opening up Donald J. Trump Elementary School of Winning this fall.  In the end Trump Elementary received 46.1% of the vote – which is truly a massive majority of the votes.  If you get 46.1% of the vote, it is hard to say you didn’t get anything but an incredible majority in an election.  Through this process, we also learned a lot about our community.  In reviewing the list of those who voted, we learned that the majority of the Trump Elementary votes came from our Russian community.  We actually didn’t know we had a Russian community before this.

So now the iconic Trump brand, will now be on our elementary school.  With the excellent reputation of Trump University, clearly Trump has already made its name in education.   Beyond its focus on winning, it makes sense to also focus on literacy.  We can envision Mr. Trump’s recent quote about what he was reading to be the kind of quote that would inspire our students:

Well, you know, I love to read. Actually, I’m looking at a book, I’m reading a book, I’m trying to get started. Every time I do about a half a page, I get a phone call that there’s some emergency, this or that. But we’re going to see the home of Andrew Jackson today in Tennessee and I’m reading a book on Andrew Jackson. I love to read. I don’t get to read very much, Tucker, because I’m working very hard on lots of different things, including getting costs down. The costs of our country are out of control. But we have a lot of great things happening, we have a lot of tremendous things happening.Donald Trump to Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, March 15, 2017

And we know it will be a bigly popular school, the kind of school that needs a selection process – we anticipate some extreme vetting in how we choose our students.

Going Forward

We are not naive.  We know that a decision like this today, of all days, may surprise some in the community.  We know, the people are always right.  And this does carry-on our annual tradition of using this day to make bold decisions!

In 2012 I launched my FLOG.

In 2013 I made the announcement of Quadrennial Round Schooling.

In 2014 we formalized our System of Student Power Rankings.

In 2015 we created our Rock, Paper, Scissors Academy.

In 2016 we introduced the Drone Homework Delivery System.

And today we announce our plans to open up Donald J. Trump Elementary School of Winning.

Hopefully you are enjoying today as much as me!

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Speaking recently in Edmonton, to Superintendents from across Alberta, I shared a slide from Pasi Sahlberg that he used this past December at the Learning Forward Conference in Vancouver:

This slide tells an incredibly powerful and important story – it speaks to our values in education in British Columbia and Canada, and to our aspirations for students.

I have written a number of times in the past about PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results, most recently this past December – It is OK to Be Happy About PISA.   And I always do so with the “it is only one test” caveat, but that said, it is still a widely regarded international benchmark on some key education outcomes.

So, just why is this one slide so important?  It takes the 2015 results and plots jurisdiction based on their achievement in math, reading and science along the Y-axis and based on equity (the weakness of the relationship between family background and achievement) along the X-axis.  So those jurisdictions in the top right of the graph are those with the highest levels of excellence and equity.

The jurisdictions in this sweet-spot that Sahlberg referred to as the “Highway to Heaven”  include a cluster of Canadian provinces – BC, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec as well as Canada as a whole, along with just a couple other nations.  (Note:  Since education is under provincial not federal jurisdiction in Canada, individual provinces show up separately for PISA).

Strong equity and high quality – this is the story of our schools.  And this speaks directly to our values in our education system. Of course this does not negate the work we need to do – there are a lot of areas to focus, including the success of our Aboriginal learners.  In West Vancouver, we often look at how large the differences are between schools on any given measure – and see the lack of differences as just as much a mark of success as the high achievement.  We want these ideals to run in tandem.

So, if I could just share one slide about “how we are doing” and “who do we want to continue to be” going forward, it would be this one.

And finally, coming back to a notion I have shared before, and shared with our colleagues from Alberta, instead of always looking around the world, we should be looking across the country – the Canadian education story is a good story and one we should tell, and work together to strengthen.

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joyIn my 2006 interview for Assistant Superintendent of West Vancouver Schools I was asked to select two of the district’s values that stood out for me and talk about why they were important to me and my work. I had scanned the list as part of my preparation – it was a fairly typical list of school values: community, excellence, innovation, accountability. The last value stood out and it was one that I spoke about – it was joy. I thought that was such a funny word to be a value in a school system, but I liked it.  It is a word that speaks to the contentment we want in our work.

I was reminded of this story in reading Dean Shareski’s new book, Embracing a Culture of Joy.  I listed this late 2016 published book as one of my “Top 3” reads for last year.  It envisions a wonderful state:

Joy isn’t about being happy all the time.  It isn’t a fleeting emotion that comes and goes depending on changing circumstances.  It is about contentment and satisfaction and expressing those feelings.  Sometimes the expression is visible, and sometimes it’s not.  But joy requires an awareness that things are right.  While it’s a deeply personal state, it’s also something that, when given the opportunity, will spread.  Creating a culture of joy applies to both the environment and the learning itself.  As it relates to learning, it’s the outward manifestation of success, achievement, and being.  It’s learning for the sake of learning, not because of grade or compliance.

Shareski makes the strong case that community and gratitude are powerful notions in our schools and gives ways that schools can infuse themselves with joy.  He rightly argues that none of us pursued our passion for teaching and education because we were driven by rigor and student achievement.  We all know of those moments in our life when we were in the flow with learning, they are the ones that stick out days, weeks and months later.  A little bit of joy can go a long way to ensuring more of these moments.

Shareski shared one of my joy examples in his book:

Each year during the week before Christmas, our entire Executive Team loads up our sleigh and visits every classroom delivering a cookie to each staff member in the district.  One year we were Santa and his elves, another year we wore our tacky Christmas sweaters and this year we wore our Christmas pajamas.

It is great and people are expecting us now and wondering when we will come and what we will wear – it helps build community.  One teacher said to me “It is the second last day before Christmas break, I was worried you guys weren’t coming this year.”  Another teacher said, “Now I have something to dream about tonight – our leaders in their pajamas”

Here was our photo from this past December:

Cookie Tour 2016

I know some people see this and think, must be nice to have that kind of time.  These are the choices we make every day with how we spend our time.  We all know how to “look busy”.  We walk really fast with our head down, carrying a file folder like we are transporting dangerous cargo.   I always think the best leaders don’t look busy, and have time for joy.  I loved to see photos and stories of former President Barrack Obama joking with kids, or playing basketball.  I figured if he had time for joy, it was hard for the rest of us to have any good excuses.

I often think one of the nicest things anyone ever wrote in a reference letter for me – it was my first principal in a letter she wrote recommending me for a vice-principal position – she wrote, “he is a very serious thinker, who knows not to always take himself too seriously.”  I use this notion as a regular reminder.

Just this week, there is a video making the rounds on the internet of a North Carolina teacher who shares a unique handshake with every student (it is a must watch!):

It is this kind of joy, the kind that Shareski writes about, that this teacher from North Carolina exudes, and we see in classes, and serves as many of the greatest memories of our school experience that must be as much a part of the modern school as so many of the other objectives we often obsess over.

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hope

Last January I embraced the word hungry.

I like to think I lived that word in 2016 at the crossroads of competing and curiosity. Without a doubt, my relentless competitiveness was always only just below the surface (and even sometimes above the surface).

So what about 2017?

There is a lot of negative energy coming out of 2016. Like many I am left shaking my head. Throughout my life I have always thought that progress was always a forward moving event – so progress for human rights around the world, for example, was something that was always improving. And those who looked to limit rights or push against those rights – whether they are based on gender, race or sexual orientation were on the wrong side of history.  So, coming out of a year that produced a lot of fear and disappointment I look to a word that will guide me and speak to possibility.

While not my favourite of the Star Wars series, like many, I saw Rogue One, over the recent holiday break. And the final word spoken by Carrie Fisher takes on a greater meaning after her death. Her word that concluded the film – hope.

Those of us in education are in the hope business.  Education is about possibility, it is about creating opportunity and it is all about hope.  Education is about the hope of parents that their children will become good citizens, the hope of students that they can work to be better versions of themselves and the hope of all the adults in schools that we can find better ways of connecting with the students we work with every day.  The more I think about hope, the more closely I link it to the creativity and curiosity we are so wanting to better instill in our students and our system.

And on more concrete terms – let’s have hope that the politics that lead up to and then follow the upcoming provincial election build hope and opportunities for public education.  Our hope for a better world is tightly linked to a strong education system locally and globally.

And then returning back to Star Wars, let’s hope that Episode 8 that comes out in December is everything good we got from Episode 7 but even more.

To quote Leia from The Force Awakens, “Hope is not lost today… it is found.”

What word is guiding you for 2017?

 

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