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Photo Credit: Mauricio Chandia

I wrote last month about Breaking the Gender Divide – Imagining a New Way to Organize Youth Sports where I shared the script for the recent TEDx presentation I gave with my daughter Liz.  In the spirit of TED, it is intended to be a discussion starter.  Issues of gender and sports are ones that should be given more attention.  I have had the honour of some previous TEDx Talks, but this was particularly special getting to share the stage with my oldest daughter and pursue a topic that is interesting to both of us.

The videos have just been posted, and I want to again thank Craig Cantlie and entire TEDxWestVancouverED team (there are so many great Talks on the website).  They host a first class event, and the videos from past events have, in many cases, been viewed tens of thousands of times – which is a wonderful legacy for these events.

Here is our talk:

If you are interested in other sports related TED Talks, TED has compiled a list of 31 of the most provocative.  My all-time favourite TED talk, on any topic, by John Wooden speaking about The difference between winning and succeeding, is among the recommendations.

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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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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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used-to-blame

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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Parents-on-sideline-at-a-youth-soccer-game

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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when-stuart-leaves-selfregulation-keynote-10-638

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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fresh

“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.

zack fg

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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