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Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Last week I was listening to a local university professor answer a question about some common characteristics about unsuccessful students at university.  It was an interesting provocation.  We often list off qualities of those students who are most successful in making the transition from high school to university.  The list usually includes characteristics like grit, determination, flexibility, time management and communication skills.  The answer to the question about the unsuccessful student was interesting – what this professor observed was that if the first day of university was the student’s first day on campus, he or she was likely going to be behind.  This speaks to the power of transitions.

Transitions is something we think a lot about in the K-12 system.  We have several that consume our focus.  There is that first transition from pre-school to kindergarten.  One often hears the term “k readiness” used to describe the ability of these 4 or 5 years old to make the transition to the increased structure of formal schooling.  And there are many other transitions along the way, most notably as students move from elementary to high school.  It seems that the move from buildings is more than just a physical move for students.  In districts that start high school in grade 8, I often hear about that age being the most challenging, while in places that start high school in grade 9, those communities see that grade as the greatest challenge.  It is clearly more than being about a certain age, and also about the change in buildings, routines, teachers and courses that is the key challenge for young people.  And finally the transition from high school to post-secondary and the world of work is one that requires a lot of attention.

Traditionally, we have spent great energies focused on the curriculum transition between these different levels.  We want to make sure that when students enter grade 8 social studies, they have been well prepared by grade 7 social studies.  This is most often true in academic areas.  And this kind of preparation is important.

More though, we are seeing transitioning more holistically.  We are offering courses outside the regular timetable to grade 6 and 7 students that they can take with a high school teacher at the local high school – a way of pursing a passion and also beginning to grow a familiarity with their next school.  More than ever, we have elementary students playing sports, participating in music events and engaging in other events at local high schools to help build relationships.  Without being so direct, we have been doing in our system what the local university professor spoke about.  We are trying to find ways that the first day of high school is not the first day in the building for our high school students.

I was struck last week by an amazing presentation from Chartwell Elementary and Sentinel Secondary at the BC School Superintendents Conference.  These are two of our schools that share a field and clearly much more.

Chartwell Elementary and Sentinel Secondary shared the work they are doing around capstone projects, in which students pursue independent research on a question or problem of their choice, engage in scholarly debates in the relevant disciplines, and with the guidance of a teacher, work towards a deep understanding of the topic. Sentinel Secondary school has embraced the Advanced-Placement (AP) Capstone project as part of their robust AP program, and they have shared their knowledge with Chartwell Elementary school. Having seen this in action at Sentinel, Chartwell has built a capstone program of their own for grade 6 and 7 students. Students are getting the chance to experience the type of learning they will be able to choose later in their school careers. It is inspiring to see both the younger and older students so passionate about their research areas.  And what a great way for students to have a common language across grades and schools.

I was so impressed by UBC President Santa Ono who spoke at TEDx West Vancouver ED earlier this fall (click on the link – it is a must watch video!) and shared his commitment around tackling the mental health crisis that crosses over from high school into post-secondary. This was a good reminder of the stresses that cross our systems, and how we need to work together to make sure students are not just ready for the academics of the next stage, but are supported with a far more global view of transitions.

I worry about conversations of readiness.  I hate the idea that the purpose of “Grade X” is to get students ready for “Grade Y”.  The purpose of grade 4 is not to get students ready for grade 5, the purpose of grade 4, IS grade 4.  That said, we need to continue to find ways to assist in the various transitions that students engage in throughout their school careers.

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

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

Water

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dress Codes

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

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

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

Computer Filters

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions

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

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

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Apparently reports of the demise of the volunteer coach have been greatly exaggerated.

The world of youth sports has definitely changed over the last 20 years, and is still in the midst of tremendous change.  I have previously written (here) on how challenges of safety, cost, and the balancing with academics are all providing challenges for our traditional view of school sports.  So, as we prepare to celebrate our coaches in our school district with an annual celebration and thank-you for their time – I have been struck by how many volunteer coaches we have in our district.

In our district of just over 7,000 students we have over 300 volunteer sports coaches.  For colleagues outside of Canada reading this post it is worth noting that public schools do not pay coaches in Canada.  Coaches are all volunteers.  And given all the gas money, post game team slurpee purchases amongst other costs, volunteer coaching costs people money in schools.  And while schools often recognize coaches with Starbucks Cards and school logoed golf shirts, and districts like ours host year-end barbecues, it is really just a token recognition for all the time put into coaching.

At one point school sports coaches were almost exclusively staff members.  And teachers, administrators and support staff are still a huge part of the coaching contingent.  They are joined by parents and other community members.  One particularly noticeable group is former parents, who continue to volunteer well after their children have graduated.  Also students play an increasing role in coaching.  Very often elementary teams get help from high school volunteers, and in high schools senior students support the grade 8 programs.

Connections to the school through athletics are still very important.  They can be crucial for students to build a sense of connection to school and help define a peer group.  Of course, almost universally, the coaches speak about the two-way street of benefits provided by coaching.  Staff coaches talk about how the connections they build outside the classroom enhance their abilities to connect to students in the classroom, and community coaches appreciate the opportunity to help within the positive school environment and share their passions with young people.  I will regularly talk with retired colleagues who tell stories of teams, games and trips as the most wonderful memories of their careers.

And to be clear, there are staff, students, parents and community members volunteering in a huge range of areas in our schools to create opportunities for students, a similar post could likely be written about fine arts, but in an era when many factors are pulling us away from school-centric athletics it is worth noting and celebrating how many people are still contributing.

For another day, there is a post to be written about how we better support and recognize all of our volunteers in school (staff and community).  But this is more about celebrating.  In a world when we often think volunteerism is slipping, and that fewer  people are giving of their time, and the politics of schools over the last twenty years have made people less ready to give of their free time – we have a great story to tell.  We have hundreds of mentors working with thousands of students – building connections and memories.

The volunteer coach is one of the rich traditions of our school sports system.  And one we must never take for granted.

To all those in West Vancouver and beyond who have given time to coach this year – thank you.

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football

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Doing Good Locally

free-kicks-sign

The world of charity giving and service learning is ever-changing in schools. In the schools and districts I have worked in, the pendulum has swung back and forth between localized, very school-centric initiatives and global initiatives as part of a massive network of young people around the world.

My first memories of giving in schools is tied to UNICEF boxes at Halloween. The program, which was discontinued in Canada a decade ago, had children collect coins along with candy when they went out for Halloween.  In today’s schools it is hard to find young people not familiar with WE Day, We Charity (formerly Free the Children) and their related entities.  It has been an incredible model to watch grow.  It has combined star power, amazing energy and a huge infrastructure and organization, to help engage young people in service learning and charity.

While my first memories are of the orange UNICEF boxes, and the WE opportunities are dominant in many schools, there have forever been and continue to be amazing smaller organizations doing thoughtful work, that are worth celebrating.  I want to tell you about one of them – Freekicks.

It is a professional development day in West Vancouver and the local soccer fields are humming.  When I get there the rain is coming down pretty good, but nobody really notices.  The fields are full of elementary aged boys and girls playing soccer.  The players have been assigned to represent a variety of nations for the day – from Canada to Cameroon.

spirit-of-togetherness-tournament playing

The teams are made up from a cross-section of students from schools – the tournament features students from across West Vancouver, as well as from a number of inner-city schools in Vancouver.  Of course, you would never know as all the students are wearing the same new uniforms.  In talking with founder Adam Aziz and other organizers, I learn some of the students who came today had never been over the Lions Gate Bridge.  Soccer is a vehicle to connect students – it is the “Spirit of Togetherness” that is being celebrated.  There is no class system here, everyone has the same uniforms, the same pancake breakfast, the same lunches and the group is united around sport.  Local businesses have come together to support the event, high school students were volunteering as coaches and officials, and already plans are in the works to make it bigger next year.  What a great way to use the common language of soccer to bring young people together as teammates who may not normally ever connect – and realize just how much they have in common.

This wasn’t my first experience with Freekicks.  I  learned of them a couple years ago when our then-principal, Scott Wallace, invited me to visit Gleneagles Elementary School.  And what I saw was pretty amazing:

Two inspired soccer players Lucas & Trevor Robertson started their own Freekicks Academy in their local community. They were inspired by what Freekicks had achieved and wanted to be a part of the team. Their vision is to help other kids play soccer.  The boys started in the backyard of their home, they set-up drills, exercises and created activities and sessions for the local players in their neighborhood. They have raised over $850 to date through raffles and donations to support children around the world. (Source)

We need organizations like UNICEF, the United Way, WE, and others who tackle changes on a large scale across our communities and around the world.  And we also need to celebrate all of the organizations like Freekicks and the power that one person, or a group of people with a big idea can make a positive dent in our world.

We need to foster these opportunities – built often around individual passions and a commitment to make change.  As Freekicks shows, and as we see all the time, Margaret Mead is continually proven correct, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

spirtoftogetherness

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Uber

I often wonder – is it out there?

Is there some disruption that I just haven’t noticed?

Are we really just tinkering around the edges?

Is my friend Yong Zhao right – have we just maximized the old system and not really considered how we move to the new system?

I have 186 posts tagged “change” (actually 187 after this one) with them speaking to the small and large transformations happening around us in education. In recent posts I have looked at topics including the changing role of technology, new curriculum in British Columbia that is focused on big ideas and core competencies, and reporting changes that attempt to give better and more timely feedback to students and parents.

As I write these posts, I find myself reading more about the changes happening around us outside of education.  I try to get my head around the future of transportation in an era of autonomous cars, the future of medicine when the services of a doctor and hospital can largely be carried out at home through digital medicine,  and the state of our world if 100 becomes the new 60.

And while some of these changes are still hard to bring to focus, we have so many examples of shifts in industry all around us.  There are many long lists available showing all of these changes.  I know when I buy a book I go to Amazon not my local retailer.  When I want to look for used items for sale I search Craigslist not the Classifieds.  In Denver a few weeks ago, I never thought of getting a taxi, and Uber was my go-to.  Our television conversations are less and less about cable and more and more about Netflix.  And just a couple of months ago a friend showed me airbnb (I am a little behind) and I can’t see why I would go back to looking for travel accommodations in the old ways anymore.

And that brings me back to education.  If you have followed my posts, or heard me speak, I often make the point that in this rapid change happening around teaching, learning and schools, there is some satisfaction and relief that schools are not looking largely different.  We find it reassuring.  Schools also perform a crucial role as a community gathering place and the skills are really more about how we live and get along with each other as they are about some finite academic outputs.

That said, I wonder if I am missing something.  Or maybe rationalizing.  I imagine those in other disrupted fields also thought it couldn’t happen to them.  I did think that the Khan Academy might be the disruption to our K-12 system.  The Khan Academy has many of the features associated with other disruptions – being free, digital and widely available.  I think the Khan Academy is interesting and important, but it is not our Uber.

I am left wondering, are we the exception to the rule? Is there enough in the value of education the way it is largely done now to allow it to continue to survive and thrive or am I missing something.

This kind of thinking can make your head hurt.  It is time to go back to thinking about school timetables, textbooks and the kind of desks we want for our classes.  It is far less scary.

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sleep

There has been no shortage of coverage in the media around the lack of sleep that young people get.  And while it is not a new issue, it does seem to be an increasingly worrisome trend.  An image shared on the  Facebook page from Wilson Elementary School in Kenosha, Wisconsin this past fall went viral and was shared thousands of times:

sleep-for-kids-CHART

While the information aligns with widely recommended guidelines for sleep it does surface some of the challenges of actually meeting these guidelines, from parents often working into the evening, out-of-school activities and homework sticking to these numbers is really challenging.

I was reminded of the sleep dilemma this past week listening to North Shore Medical Health Officer Mark Lysyshyn.   In his presentation What You Need to Know About the Health of Students, so much of it kept coming back to sleep.  Issues like physical activity, mental health and safety are all important, but the lack of sleep was pronounced.  Two particular slides from the 2013 BC Adolescent Health Survey emphasized the challenge.

In the survey of  local 13-18 year olds almost 20% of them were getting 6 hours of sleep or less:

Getting enough sleep

 

And to answer the question of so what?  There was a direct link between those reporting low hours of sleep and mental health challenges:

Mental Health and Sleep

It was interesting the discussion that followed with parents.  The community data also indicated the need for students to be getting exercise and participating in sports and many discussed how it was this participation in organized sports that often cut into sleep time – really a no-win situation.  We want our kids to be active and to get 8 or 9 hours of sleep – but soccer practices can go to 9:00 at night and school often starts by just after 8:00 in the morning.  Of course there is also persuasive data that indicates later start-times for school would be helpful but very few jurisdictions have built this into the systems.  Clearly we have structures in our lives that make it hard to adhere to the recommendations.

Media have been regular reporters of this – including this comprehensive story from Global News this fall.

There are many lists circulating the internet on tips for young people and sleep like this one from Canadian Pediatricians:

Have a relaxing bedtime routine. Have a light snack (such as a glass of milk) before bed. Try to go to bed at about the same time every night. Keep your room cool, dark and quiet but open the curtains or turn on the lights as soon as you get up in the morning.

Always fall asleep in your bed. Use your bed for sleeping only. Avoid doing homework, using a computer or watching TV  while in your bed. Try to be in your bed with the lights out for at least 8 hours every night.

Napping during the day can make it difficult to fall asleep. If you want to nap, keep it short (less than 30 min). Definitely don’t nap after dinner.

Get exercise every day, but avoid very hard exercise in the evening.

Avoid caffeine (coffee, tea and sodas) after mid-afternoon. Don’t use any products to help you sleep such as alcohol, herbal products or over-the-counter sleep aids.

Limit screen time before bed. Using electronic media and being exposed to the screen’s light before trying to sleep can make it harder to fall asleep.

On weekends, no matter how late you go to bed, try to get up within 2 hours to 4 hours of your usual wake time. This is especially important if you have trouble falling asleep on Sunday nights.

Make sure you are not trying to do too much. Do you still have some time for fun and to get enough sleep? If you are having trouble sleeping because you have too much on your mind, try keeping a diary or to-do lists. If you write things down before sleep, you may feel less worried or stressed.

There seems to be more and more research around the power of sleep.  From athletic performance to academic performance and letter grades in school.  It is one of those issues that seems so simple, but just isn’t.  I know in looking through the list of tips for helping young people get a good sleep – I am often missing the mark as a parent.

It is important to be continually reminded that poor sleep for young people leads to more than just being tired the next day.  Overall physical and mental health are very much connected to sleep.  Good reminders for parents and educators.  I am reminded by a quote I have often heard from my friend and former Surrey Schools Superintendent Mike McKay:  “When will what we know change what we do?”

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