Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Category


I Used to Blame Parents But Now I Have Kids is the title of the recent Ignite talk I gave as part of the Ignite Your Passions event held in conjunction with a Canadian Education Association conference. Unlike previous talks, we were restricted by format this time – all using the “I used to ____________ But Now I __________ ” format. At the bottom of this post I have included the slides I used.

Here is some of my thinking.  It is best to read with a bit of the tongue-in-cheek tone intended with the understanding it was a talk I gave in a bar (always one of the interesting parts of doing an Ignite talk):

I would often hear early in my career from my more seasoned colleagues, “if you don’t have kids you don’t understand.”  I would always think that I was different.  I was closer in age to my students than their parents, I was connected to the students and I figured I probably understood them better than their parents.  I had no idea what I didn’t know and I lived largely in a black and white world.

Then, I had kids, and it really changed my thinking.  I remember thinking pre-kids, “Really, you can’t find 15 minutes a night to read with your children?”  I would wonder who these parents were, were they really that bad or did they just not care.  Well I learned that it sounds easy, but sometimes finding 15 minutes at home is impossible and if you do find 15 minutes to spend as a family, maybe reading should not always be the first priority.

I was also one of those teachers who was outraged when parents took their kids out of school for a day to go on a family trip.  Did they not respect what we did in school?  Did they not understand what we did was important?  Well, I have now been one of those parents.  My vacation-time does not always align with the vacation time where my kids go to school.  And yes, I have taken my kids, while not frequently, out of school so we could do something as a family.  It was not an indictment of what the school was doing, I just know that sometimes there are experiences you want to have as a family that are almost impossible to limit to times when all the holiday stars align for all members of the family.

Having kids also made me better recognize the hope, pride, joy and dreams that parents have in their kids.  All parents I know hope their kids will be a little smarter, kinder, more athletic and all-around slightly better person than they are.  I know that is something I want for my kids.  As the quote goes, parents are sending us the best kids they have.  Parents are not adversaries (at times I thought that early in my career), they are allies.  They are looking for insight advice and dialogue.

I get the amazing balancing act that is family – with home, school and everything else in life.  And if having children has solidified my views on any one topic in education it is my negative views on homework, particularly in the early grades.  There are few things worse than being a parent trying to help coordinate a group project with your son or daughter that will soak up the entire weekend.  And don’t get me started on homework over holiday breaks.

All of my black and white views from my early 20’s are really now very grey.

This is not a rant that if you don’t have kids you can’t be a good teacher.  Some of the most spectacular teachers I know don’t have children.  What is true is that for me, many people, events and experiences have transformed my practice, none more than having kids.

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We had a theatre full of parents from our school district last week and my message to them was clear:  I need your help in line at Safeway and on the sidelines of the soccer fields.

The Safeway and soccer fields message is one I have delivered before.  Parents in our community have been outstanding advocates for our local public education system. We can create shiny brochures or interactive websites, but parents want the straight goods from other parents, whether they run into them at the grocery store or at their kids’ practice.  I credit positive word-of-mouth for being a key reason for our increase in enrollment over the last decade.  The conversations I was asking parents to assist with this time are different.  I need their help with revised curriculum that is being rolled out across British Columbia – first in K-9 and then grades 10-12.  As I wrote in my last post,  there is tremendous positive energy among educators as they work together embracing the new curriculum, and often new approaches, to meet the needs of students.

Positive momentum among educators is great, but I was reminded by Ron Canuel, Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Education Association that this is not enough.  In a presentation he gave recently, he spoke about changes that were made in Quebec with curriculum a number of years ago.  In many ways the shifts resembled those we are making in B.C.  He said that the community was never properly brought along on the journey, and the changes were temporary, not permanent, and a more traditional curriculum returned.

So far British Columbia seems to be making the right moves.  The curriculum has been co-constructed by educators from across the province, and I have sat in many sessions with post-secondary institutions, the business community and others as the shifts in B.C. curriculum were dissected and where those in the room helped inform the discussion and the changes.

But back to Safeway and the soccer fields.  The task I gave our parents is to share some key messages around the curriculum and be myth busters in the community.

Some the messages include:

  • we are working from a position of strength – we have one of the highest performing systems in the world
  • foundation skills in literacy and numeracy are still vital and they are not going away with the changes
  • incorporating Aboriginal perspectives, applying real-life situations to learning, focusing on big ideas and developing core competencies are not new ideas but they are better reflected now in our curriculum
  • as curriculum shifts, so will assessment and reporting and the K-12 system is working with the post-secondary system and others to ensure there is alignment

The session we held last week with parents was inspiring.  Our Director of Instruction Lynne Tomlinson spoke about “B.C.’s Curriculum from 30,000 feet” and then 4 teams of school administrators shared different aspects of the work.  While the rich discussion was an obvious highlight, I have included the presentations below – please feel free to use them and share them (if you receive this post via email  you may need to open the website to see the presentations).

Curriculum Refresh from 30,000 Feet – Lynne Tomlinson, Director of Instruction

Foundation Skills – What are we Still Doing? – Chantal Trudeau and Kim Grimwood

Big Ideas / Central Ideas – Jeannette Laursoo and Tara Zielinski

Core Competencies – Scott Slater and Cathie Ratz

Aboriginal Learning – Steve Rauh and Scott Wallace

Coming off of a couple of days of planning with our teachers, and our session with parents, my belief has been reaffirmed that this is a very exciting time for learning in our province.

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I recently gave a talk entitled, “What Stuart Leaves” which focused on how districts can maintain the momentum after Stuart Shanker has ignited interest and curiosity in self-regulation.

Over the last five years I have regularly written about Stuart, and his influence on our work with self-regulation.  This post from 2010, is my most read post ever.   It has been wonderful to see the growth of self-regulation in our district – like the stories told from our schools in this post from 2013.

We have an amazing group of teachers and administrators taking the lead with our work in self-regulation.  Over the last five years, it has become key to how we think about learning.  Self-regulation, along with inquiry and digital access have been ongoing themes and over-arching pillars in our work across the district.

My recent keynote presentation shared some of our experiences in West Vancouver at the Canadian Self-Regulation Initiative Roundtable (if you are reading this via email you may need to open in a browser to view slides):

So what are the key learnings we have had over the last five years in West Vancouver:

  • Self-regulation is about the culture we want and the way we want to think about kids and learning
  • Self-regulation has entry points for students and teachers at any grade across subject areas
  • Being inspired is a good first step and there are some very powerful outside voices who can provoke a community
  • There is great power in the research and the science that supports the work that is happening in schools
  • Building a strong district team is important – it needs to be part of some people’s portfolio
  • Self-Regulation is a “big tent” and there are numerous initiatives, programs and practices that connect to our work from MindUP to Zones of Regulation to secondary mental health literacy
  • It is important to continually tell our stories over and over – to staff, parents and beyond our district
  • Self-regulation should be a focus across the organization from assessment and reporting to facilities planning
  • Self-regulation connects many of our staff with the reasons they got into the profession and their passion for making a difference for every child

The greatest shift in our schools over the last five years hasn’t been the increase in the use of technology, or the move to inquiry based learning.  While both have been important, it is through the self-regulation lens that we have had and continue to have the conversations about creating the optimal learning conditions for every child.  We have learned and continue to learn from the science, and our classes look and feel different.

To stay connected to Stuart Shanker’s current work, check out the MEHRIT Centre website and follow Stuart and his team on a variety of social media channels (all links are on the website).  Stuart’s recent blog post here about the myths of self-regulation is a great read.

Stuart was very clear when he spoke with all staff in our district 4 years ago, “There is no such thing as bad, stupid or lazy kids.”  So simple, so clear and something that guides our work.

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“Teachers are required to use some of the worst software I have ever seen.”

This quote from Lane Merrifield, co-founder of Fresh Grade, in his recent talk at TEDxWestVancouverED, sure resonated with many teachers and administrators in the room.  Given the user experience in our province around some of the required software systems over the last twenty years, I know why people think this.

When I first heard people talking about FreshGrade – it was through my cynical experience of other recent technology software that I entered the conversation.  Really – we need another e-portfolio system?  Don’t we already use several in the district.  But this is different, I was told – it just works.

Over the last year we have had a growing number of teachers use FreshGrade in their classes.  Unlike previous initiatives where we provided the tool to everyone, it has been very organic.  And it has that word of mouth excitement one rarely gets in the world of education technology.   All of us who have seen the power of digital access in a classroom have got our hopes up only to have a far too often OPUD (over promise, under deliver) from our digital tools.

This feels different.

I have seen the power of FreshGrade with my younger son, who attends school in another local school district.  This is my ninth year as a parent in the school system, with four kids from grades 1 – 8.  I have seen more of my younger son’s thinking, learning and engagement in a month through the FreshGrade app than collectively with all the other teachers over all the years.  And this is not an indictment of the other classes – there were photo sites, blogs, emails, newsletters and a host of other tools, but the way  this experience truly engages me in the communication of student learning is different.

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It is not just me noticing what is going on.  Michelle Hiebert from Abbotsford blogged about what she was seeing with FreshGrade last spring, Ian Landy (the Cal Ripken of BC edu-bloggers for his daily posts) has regularly written about his experiences as a Principal with it in Sorrento, and Tracy Sherlock even covered it in the Vancouver Sun.

I would say this is the only time I have seen a piece of software grow like this in its use with teachers, but that would not be fair.  Right now we are seeing similar growth in the use of a variety of Google Classroom tools.  And again the comments I continue to hear are that the tools do what we want them to and they make sense for teachers and schools.  Maybe we are getting to a new place with software in education – as we become less reliant on trying to make tools created for something else work for education, and embracing tools designed for learning.

I look back about a dozen years to when the portfolio came and went in British Columbia as part of the grad program – and it was too bad.  Part of the vision of the 2004 Graduation Program was having every graduating student present a portfolio to school and community members.  There are many reasons why it failed, from poor resourcing to a design that made it really just a collection of boxes to check off.  More than anything, I think it failed because the technology was not ready for the vision.

I regularly challenge people who suggest that many teachers are anti-technology and just don’t want to enter the modern world.  The teachers I know and work with want to use technology that allows them to do things not possible without the technology and make learning more relevant and engaging.

Looking at the growth of FreshGrade in our district is showing that to be true.

Thanks to grade 4 teacher Ms. Bourne for using FreshGrade with her class – I am sure I am not the only parent who really appreciates your efforts.  I see FreshGrade has also noticed and profiled her this week.  

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I am typically not a fan of organizations using the “Report Card” device as a way to draw attention to their reports. Usually, I see organizations produce a report lamenting the work in a specific areas, looking to generate headlines like, “Organization X Gives Y Failing Grade.”

The recent ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth  does do some of that, but is far more nuanced.  While yes, it does give a D- to overall physical activity, there are good grades for a number of areas including youth participation in sports, support of parents, government and non-government investment and the role of schools.  The report lauds the physical education curriculum in each province, with special mention of Manitoba.

The most powerful part of the report was the focus on getting kids outside and letting them play.  Quoting the report:

We may be so focused on trying to intervene in our children’s lifestyles to make sure they’re healthy, safe and happy, that we are having the opposite effect . . .  We overprotect kids to keep them safe, but keeping them close and keeping them indoors may set them up to be less resilient and more likely to develop chronic diseases in the long run.

The report relies on a variety of studies that have a number of conclusions that, while not surprising, run counter to many current practices including:

  • pre-schoolers spend twice as much time being active when play is outdoors
  • students take 35% more steps when physical education class is held outdoors
  • Canadian kids who play outside after school get 20 more minutes of heart-pumping activity per day than those who don’t

One conclusion that I found particularly striking is that children and youth are less likely to engage in higher levels of physical activity if a parent or supervising adult is present.

With my Superintendent view, some of the takeaways for me include:

  • We are on the right track in our district (and others in BC) with outdoor learning programs – and we need to continue to encourage their growth
  • The growth of urban agriculture courses and school gardens is an important trend – outdoor learning does not just have to be about physical activity
  • We need to be careful that safety and liability concerns don’t unnecessarily block wonderful outdoor learning opportunities
  • We need to be sure that recess and other outdoor learning opportunities are valued and we need to remind parents that kids should get outside even when it is cold or rainy
  • There is going to be increased emphasis on natural elements in playgrounds moving forward
  • The urgency around physical literacy is inclusive of doing a better job with structured opportunities and also ensuring kids have unstructured free play opportunities

The report takes the bold position, “Access to active play in nature and outdoors – with its risks – is essential for healthy child development.  We recommend increasing children’s opportunities for self-directed play outdoors in all settings – at home, at school, in child care, the community and nature.”

My hesitation in reading the report is that some will suggest that we just have to go back to the “way it used to be when we were young”.  I am always concerned with this view.  The world today is different for kids than the one their parents grew up in – it is not as simple as turning back the clock; we also often have a habit of romanticizing our youth.  The answer around getting kids active is not telling people we just need to go back to how things used to be it is about building something new rooted in our current reality.

The entire report is worth reading, and there are some great resources to share with teachers, parents and others in the community (e.g. this Infographic and this tip sheet) .  Reading the report, and reviewing the data there is a strong case for broadening our current thinking about how we encourage  young people to be active.

And as we embark on summer it is a good reminder that we need to model the way with our kids and get outside!

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How Was School Today?



What did you do at school today?


All parents have had these conversations.  Apparently students all over the world are doing nothing at school, but not to worry,  it is fine.  It is the challenge of asking questions that specific, but are still open-ended so to avoid one word answers.  We all easily fall into the trap, with our kids, our co-workers and our friends of asking “how are you doing?” and knowing the only really acceptable answer is “fine”.

In our home we are continually trying to make a conscious effort for some different conversation starters.

There are a couple of lists that I have found and used that I think are useful (I don’t love all the questions – but they get your mind working about different ways to have the after school, or dinner conversation). Maxabella Loves shared these 10 kid conversation starters on her blog:

1.  What was the funniest thing you heard all day?
2.  What was your favourite thing that happened today?
3.  Did your teacher get cross today? What happened?
4.  What subject was the most interesting today?
5.  Was anyone away today? Did that make the day different?
6.  What was something new you read today?
7.  What happened today that you wish hadn’t happened?
8.  What did you enjoy most for lunch today?
9.  What are you learning about in science?
10.  Did anyone do something nice for you today? Did you do something nice back?

Last fall I also saw this list that Liz Evans posted on Huffington Post:

  1.  What was the best thing that happened at school today? (What was the worst thing that happened at school today?)
  2.  Tell me something that made you laugh today.
  3.  If you could choose, who would you like to sit by in class? (Who would you NOT want to sit by in class? Why?)
  4. Where is the coolest place at the school?
  5. Tell me a weird word that you heard today. (Or something weird that someone said.)
  6. If I called your teacher tonight, what would she tell me about you?
  7. How did you help somebody today?
  8. How did somebody help you today?
  9. Tell me one thing that you learned today.
  10. When were you the happiest today?
  11. When were you bored today?
  12. If an alien spaceship came to your class and beamed someone up, who would you want them to take?
  13. Who would you like to play with at recess that you’ve never played with before?
  14. Tell me something good that happened today.
  15. What word did your teacher say most today?
  16. What do you think you should do/learn more of at school?
  17. What do you think you should do/learn less of at school?
  18. Who in your class do you think you could be nicer to?
  19. Where do you play the most at recess?
  20. Who is the funniest person in your class? Why is he/she so funny?
  21. What was your favorite part of lunch?
  22. If you got to be the teacher tomorrow, what would you do?
  23. Is there anyone in your class who needs a time-out?
  24. f you could switch seats with anyone in the class, who would you trade with? Why?
  25. Tell me about three different times you used your pencil today at school.

In our house right now there are two questions that we talk about most often around the dinner table, or the breakfast table, or the car driving to practice, or whenever we have those moments to get caught up with each others’ lives (we borrowed them from a radio talk show):

Tell me something I don’t know?

What have we learned today?

We like both of these questions as we all answer them – kids and adults – and they are great with extended family or friends over.

It is always a challenge to try to stay engaged with our kids.  As we often say about teaching, asking the right questions is so important, and actually very difficult.  It is an ongoing struggle to not live in a world of “fine”, “good” and “nothing.”

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In my conversations around education, I often hear “Teachers think X”, or “All parents want us to do X”, or “No student will be happy about X”.  I very often follow-up with a question to determine the sample size of this observation. More often than not it is a sample size of one. The individual teacher, parent, student (and other), are extrapolating their own views to be representative of their group and who MUST think like them.

I share this caveat as background, as I fully admit that my observations in this post are based on a sample size of one — me.

I am also asked for parenting advice. I get it. I have a job where we work with young people everyday and I have four kids of my own. So, if I could give parents or potential parents one piece of advice, it would be have your children early in the year, and the closer to January the better.

January birth dates are fresh in mind as two of our four children have just celebrated their January births — our younger son on January 11 and our older daughter on January 1. In particular, I often think of our older daughter and the good fortune of her birth. She was born in the early morning hours of January 1, 2001, following a long labour for my wife that began midday on December 31. I am convinced that had she been born just a few hours earlier, she would not have had quite the same range of opportunities she has and has had.

While we are trying to break it down, the last day of the calendar year is still largely defining in our school system. A few hours difference can mean being a grade apart. We have two children born in January and two children born in June and in July. I think all have had the advantage of being born in the first six-and-one-half months of the year. While I do believe it becomes increasingly less important as they become older, the extra time they have had in the younger grades is definitely an advantage and spurred on by confidence.

Our house is also a big sports home with all of our kids playing multiple sports in all seasons. And, again, in almost every sport January 1 is the date that separates some kids from other kids. I am convinced my January-born children would have had very different sports experiences if they were born in December. While over time it does even out, the advantage of the early birthdate can lead to a child being a little taller, a little more coordinated and mature, and can also lead to extra attention for sports opportunities than for a child born 10 months later.

This thinking around sports is nothing new. It is something Malcolm Gladwell wrote about in his 2008 book, Outliers — that there is a link in professional sports between those born early in the year and those who made it to the professional level in sports. It should be noted that there has been push back to his argument since its publication.

So, if you are reading this and have a child with a late birthday, what should you do? I know what my parents did for me (a late-October birth). They didn’t tolerate suggestions from early primary teachers that I was “just a bit slow” and by about Grade 5, the birthday effect had all but disappeared. Another piece of advice — as hard as it can be, move away from comparing your child to others because we all develop differently.

More importantly — and I think this is a topic that should be resident in our consciousness — we should actually think less about age be it school, or sports and more about the stages of development and how these can be supported.

As I have shared my “sample size of one” I am curious if others have had similar or contrary experiences?


And one final note – a special thanks to my colleague Deb Podurgiel who has read each of my posts for the last five years before I hit publish in an effort to help save me from myself.  She is leaving the school district to new adventures and the chances of me using their when I should use there are about to go up.

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