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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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top3

Welcome to my final blog post of 2016 and my annual tradition of my Top 3 Lists for the year.

Previous Top 3 lists for  2015 (here) 2014 (here) 2013 (here) 2012 (here), 2011 (here) and 2010 (here).

As I see many on social media desperately wishing for 2016 to just end – here is a chance to look back at some non-Brexit, non-Trump, non-celebrity death moments from the past year.

Top 3 “Culture of Yes” Blog Posts which have generated the most traffic this year:

1. Some Hip Advice

2. I Used to Blame Parents

3. I am Now More Open-Minded About Football

Top 3 Places I Learned Stuff:

  1. Books, Blogs and Magazines – I list of few of the most influential books I read later, and I continue to be a regular reader of various blogs – some like Will Richardson I have been learning from for more than a decade.  I also continue to subscribe to a variety of magazines (in paper) with the AASA School Administrator being a must read every month.
  2. Ignite Events –  I think I went to five Ignite events in 2016.  I really like the format – a variety of 5 minute talks with time for conversation built-in between the sessions.
  3. C21 Superintendent’s Academy – I am part of a national Superintendent group that has regular conference calls and meets face-to-face a couple of times a year.  The formal sessions are great but it is the relationships that I have been able to build with others in the same role as me which have been particularly useful.

Top 3 Education Books I Read That Influenced My Thinking:

  1.  Originals:  How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant (always like some non-education books)
  2. The Collapse of Parenting by Leonard Sax (good book from a former parent education speaker in West Vancouver)
  3. Embracing a Culture of Joy by Dean Shareski (non just on the list because I got a free copy!)

Top 3 Speakers We Had In West Vancouver That Pushed Us Along:

  1. George Couros– George has made these lists of mine numerous times – last year his book was one of the year’s top influencers.  This past spring he did a session for teachers and administrators.  George nicely pulls together many of the “new” ideas in education into a coherent package.
  2. Dean Shareski / Natalie Panek – Dean is another regular on these lists, and a regular in West Vancouver and on Opening Day he joined rocket-scientist Natalie Panek for messages of joy and possibility
  3. Ron Canuel – Ron was the jolt we needed in December.  He spoke about the myths in education and reminded us that the path we are on, while often challenging is the right one for students.

Top 3 Speakers I Saw And Remembered Their Messages Days or Weeks Later:

  1. Angus Reid– My blog post on Angus’ talk is listed above and one of my most read of the year.  I love a talk that deeply challenges your beliefs – Angus did that and in less than twenty minutes he changes how I see high school football.
  2. Pasi Sahlberg – I know many have seen Pasi before but when I saw him speak in December it was the first time for me.  His message about international rankings and strategies for system improvement were ones that really resonated with me.
  3. Governor General David Johnston– His Excellency spoke in West Vancouver in March – with a simple message on the power of being a smart and caring nation.

Top 3 Concerts I saw this Past Year (by artists in their 70’s):

  1. Paul McCartney – I had never seen Paul McCartney live before and it was an amazing show.  You feel like you are on an almost 50 year historical tour as he selects various hits from his different incarnations.
  2. Paul Simon – My favourite artist of all-time.  It was not my favourite show of his at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre this past May, but knowing it might be his final tour did make it special.
  3. Dolly Parton – I was not really expecting to like this show – but I loved it!  She is an amazing storyteller and performer.
  4.  I know it is a “Top 3” List but I needed to also include James Taylor who was so engaging.

Top 3 TEDx WestVancouverED 2016 Videos That Feel Different Than “Regular” TEDx Videos:

  1.  It Became Clear in 54 Words by Tracy Cramer

 

2.  When Beauty Leads to Empathy by Dean and Martha Shareski

 

3.   What is Your Why? by Jody MacDonald

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Top 3 Student Events I Saw That Really Stuck With Me:

  1.  Elementary School Track Meet – It is the Super Bowl of Elementary Schools (well along with the Christmas Concert).  I love how excited our students and staff are and how many parents come out to support their children.
  2. Remembrance Day Assemblies – I know every school district does Remembrance Day Ceremonies but we do them in a really powerful and amazing way.  I was really struck by the one at Gleneagles Elementary in particular this past November.
  3. Honour Choir Christmas Concert – I was blown away by the talent we have in our schools.  Our Honour Choirs with students from across the District put on a professional show.

Top 3 Signs That Have Nothing To Do With Technology  That Show Schools (and our world) are REALLY Changing:

  1. SOGI announcementt – In early September the BC Government made a major commitment around Sexual Identity and Gender Identity and there was a collective “of course, we are already way ahead of this” from almost all in the school system
  2. Truth and Reconciliation Recommendations (announced in 2015) are becoming embedded in our work in schools
  3. Waste Disposal and Recycling – It may seem trivial, but I have recently traveled in the United States where EVERYTHING still goes in the garbage and I walk into school here and we have almost no garbage at some sites – proof that despite some protest and much skepticism behaviours can change

Top 3 Overused Education Phrases That Got Used Too Much This Past Year:

  1.  Growth Mindset
  2.  Rigor
  3.  Transformational Leadership

Top 3 Things I Stopped Doing This Year:

  1. Watching News – following the US election I have stopped watching news and focused on reading news – I am happier for it.
  2. Eating Meat – I haven’t eaten beef in about 20 years, but now turkey, chicken and other meats are on the list
  3. Following Politicians on Twitter – again this was partly brought on by the US Election, but I have either unfollowed or muted all provincial, national and international political figures – and my social media experience has improved.

Top 3 Little Things I Do That Bring Me Joy:

  1. Principal-for-a-day – Elementary schools bring by a “Principal for a Day” once during the year – it is 20 minutes of pure joy chatting with them about their school and their experiences
  2. Walking – I have a few people who love walking meetings and I am convinced these walks make me more productive
  3.  Betting Booster Juices – I know some people I work with think I have a gambling problem.  I will bet a Booster Juice on almost anything.  As I see it – it is win-win.  Either way I am getting a Booster Juice.

As always, I really appreciate everyone who takes the time to read and engage with me through the blog.   I have tried to take myself a little less seriously in this space and really enjoy the relationships that are built and extended digitally.  All the best for a wonderful 2017!

Chris

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invitationsI was struck seeing this quote recently.

It is so true.  But sometimes it sure does not feel true in our business.

This challenge is one I see with my school and district administrator colleagues.  Administrators are invited to an incredible number of events.  It is easy to be a school principal and be out each night, and at least one day on the weekend at school and community events.  And all the events are good and worthwhile events, but given all the professional demands, and the importance of balancing these with a life outside of work, it is a challenge.

I know, particularly when I was new into roles, as vice-principal, principal, district staff or superintendent I would often treat invitations as subpoenas.  If someone took the time to invite me to attend an event, I had to figure out how to make it work.  If I was asked to speak out-of-province, I would fly on a red-eye flight and fly back immediately to be home for an evening event the next day.  I have also sat at a meeting, or a dinner and wondered, why am I here?  Is my presence adding to the event or am I getting something of value personally or professionally for our organization by attending.  It is hard to swallow the response – it is just one of those things it is important to show-your-face at.

Figuring out which invitations to accept is one of the tricky jobs of a school or district administrator.  One piece of advice I would give to new people to their roles, is to think about your priorities and drivers when it comes to attending events.  Do you prioritize school events in your district? What about community events?  Or professional development events?  I too often have said yes to events well into the future, because a particular date was free on my calendar, only for that date to get closer and me to be wishing I had not agreed to attend.

I know one strategy I have is keeping track of which schools I have visited for special events.  So if I go to some schools for Remembrance Day Ceremonies, I will try to visit other ones for Christmas Concerts.  And as an executive team, we try to always talk about which events we will attend.  It is often not necessary for all of us to be at the same events.  I also do try to prioritize my own professional growth  – with a few opportunities that I block into the calendar and work other events around them.  It is hard, and I sometimes regret committing to conferences as the time approaches, but it is important for all of us in the system to be taking time to focus on our growth.

And with the numerous community events, I try to place priority on those organizations we work most closely with in the School District, asking the question, Does me attending this event add value to our district?  It is interesting – roles like school principal or superintendent are a bit what you make of them.  You can do the jobs very differently and be successful, and community expectations around accepting invitations can vary widely.

It is exceptionally hard when you get an email that says, “we would be honoured if you could find time to attend our event”, and then say no.  Initially you want to attend absolutely EVERYTHING.  It is easier now, having worked in the community for almost 11 years, and entering my seventh year as Superintendent, but the push and pull between thinking of an invitation as just that and not as a subpoena is still a challenge that I do think about almost every day.

I have written before that I think how superintendents (or principals) spend their time is key.  It sends a message of what they value and what they think is important.  Something to consider the next time you get an invitation.

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what-is-a-watershed-and-its-health-benefits-3

Dean Shareski posed an interesting challenge last week. Through his blog post on his own watershed moments of learning, he asked those in his network to do the same.

At first, this seemed like a really simple task – like naming your favourite movie (Shawshank Redemption) or the best concert you have seen (Simon and Garfunkel) or your go-to beverage at Booster Juice (Ripped Berry). I read his post a couple times, and tried to quickly come up with a response, but it was not so easy.  Watershed is such an interesting and challenging idea.  While Dean gave us the permission to alter the categories, I will try to use the same ones he used:  PD Event or Conference, speaker or presentation, book, tool, and person.

PD / Conference

I am fortunate, especially in my current role, I get to attend many pretty interesting events.  In recent years I have moved away from attending the large conferences, particularly those built around keynote speakers presenting to hundreds of conference delegates.  More recently various formats from TEDx, to EdCamp to Ignite have more held my interest.  I have also tried to participate in more experiences that are about doing things than being told things.  That said, it was a large conference that stands out as a watershed moment for me. For me it was the November Learning Conference in the summer of 2005.  The event helped me understand the digital work was not about giving people computers, it was about ownership of learning.  I heard from speakers who I would later regularly read and reference like Alan November and Will Richardson.  And as is often the case, it was the conversations with those I attended the event with, that helped make it particularly powerful.  I was there with Coquitlam Assistant Superintendents Maureen Dockendorf and Julie Pearce, along with Director of Technology Brian Kuhn and Coquitlam Teachers Association President Kathleen Thomson.  I left the event inspired about what was happening in the larger education community and excited that we were and could continue to be doing it in our own community.

Presentation

I know the typical answer would be a presentation that I saw live.  For me it is Karl Fisch’s presentation, Did You Know?  I have written about this before describing it as My Aha Moment.  The presentation was powerful, but it really changed how I thought about presentations in a networked world.  As I previously wrote:

That experience was my “Aha” moment.  I learned about the power of a network and also learned that it is not only the smart people you know, but the smart people they know that can help you.  I also learned about the new power we all have to influence conversation.  Previous to this experience in networking, there would have been no way I would have ever seen a PowerPoint created for an opening day presentation in a high school in Colorado.  Now, just days after it was presented, I was remixing it and sharing it with my staff, and hundreds of others were sharing it around the world.  I was also reminded of the generosity of our profession — we are all sharing and learning together with a common purpose around student learning.

It is interesting to look back on this, now 10 years later, and see how far we have come (or not).

Book

The World is Flat from Thomas Friedman gave me the larger context I was looking for concerning the changes we were and are talking about in education.  The history teacher in me really loved the book and it was one we used as a study group book with staff.  There was an urgency that the books created, doing nothing different was simply not an option.  The runner-up would be Dennis Littky’s  The Big Picture which was a great read on rethinking high school (and showing it can be done).

Tool

I waffled on this one a bit.  It definitely could be the blog.  My blog has given me a global network to share ideas.  It also could have been Twitter.  I was in the community during the early “let me tell you what I had for lunch” stage, continued through the deep engagement era, and am now still participating in the “can’t it be like it used to be” times.  And it could have been Delicious – my first step into the social web through sharing bookmarks.   In the end I am landing on a gizmo and that gizmo is my iPhone.  It has truly changed how I can work.  With some credit to some earlier smartphones I had, it was the iPhone that really unchained me from my desk.  There is very little I need to do that I can’t do during a day from my phone, making it possible for me to define work differently.  Work is no longer about a place.  And yes, simply a computer a computer does some of this, but the convenience of all of this in your pocket really changes things, at least it has for me.

Person

What a challenging question.  When I use the term watershed moments, it is not really the same as other terms I use for people like mentors, trusted colleagues or inspirations.  I have written at various points about family members, former teachers, and colleagues that have been profoundly influential on me.  When I think of people and watershed moments of learning, I think of people who take me from “I used to think X” and “Now I think Y”. So for me it is my former Coquitlam and West Vancouver colleague Gary Kern.  Gary has always pushed me in my thinking to a place of discomfort.  And that is a good thing.  In Coquitlam, he helped me solidify my views around the work we were trying to do at Riverside Secondary and in West Vancouver he was the architect of many of the structures we continue to benefit from today, ones that were well ahead of the pack – from giving students their own digital spaces, to providing staff with a choice of devices to systematizing bring your own device structures in our schools.  He was always the one sharing the article about “where to next” as soon as we thought “we are good”.

In looking at my answers it is interesting that many of the events that quickly surfaced as watershed moments for me, came fairly close together for me.  They were largely during my school administration time in Coquitlam – in the window between 2001-2007. I wonder if there was something unique about that time with the explosion of digital changes, or maybe I was at a point in my career I was ready to move beyond doubling-down on what used to be and ready to look to what could be.  Perhaps I just need distance to best identify these moments and my list ten years from now would include events and people from my time in West Vancouver.

I look forward to others keeping this conversation going in the comments or in their own blog posts and sharing their watershed moments of learning.

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canada-entertainment

It was a uniquely Canadian event.  More than one-third of our country gathered in front of screens across Canada on Saturday, August 20th to watch The Tragically Hip perform their final concert in Kingston, Ontario.  In mid-July I joined a hockey arena full of fans for an event, as they began their tour across Canada, that was far more than just a band playing a concert.  For my non-Canadian readers, it is hard to fully give context to the tour and the culminating concert, here is one of many tweets from the final night that attempted to share some perspective:

Hip tweet

 

Of course dozens of newspaper columnists, bloggers and others have tried to give some context to what has happened this summer.  Whether it is drawing connections to Terry Fox, or the power of our uniquely Canadian identity, much has been said.

I tend to see events like this differently, through my education window.  So, in the afterglow of the summer the Tragically Hip engaged the country, just what are my takeaways, lessons and reminders for our schools and learning.  Some good ones, I think, as we start a new year.

We love to gather as a community.  While the final concert was broadcast on television, radio and across the internet, people tended to gather together to watch it rather than on their own.  Whether it was at community centres, parks, or neighbourhood parties, people wanted to have the shared experience of watching the concert together.  Just as while learning can more and more be something done online and alone, the great power of school is that they are gathering places in our community.

Canadian History is Cool and Worth Learning.  As a Social Studies teacher, of course I am a little biased.  I have always thought this.  I often find that students struggle to see Canadian history with the same “cool” factor as US or European history.  And those of us who have taught Canadian history may be somewhat to blame.  The Tragically Hip regularly sing about Canada and its history with songs like Nautical Disaster (war) to Wheat Kings (crime and punishment) to Fireworks (hockey and the Cold War).  Fans probably did not realize they were getting regular history lessons.  You can find the stories behind all the Hip songs on  A Museum After Dark:  The Myth and Mystery of the Tragically Hip.

We have an obligation to be sure our children learn the history of First Nations people in Canada we didn’t learn in school.  Lead singer Gord Downie spoke directly to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the final concert saying:

We’re in good hands, folks, real good hands. He cares about the people way up North, that we were trained our entire lives to ignore, trained our entire lives to hear not a word of what’s going on up there. And what’s going on up there ain’t good. It’s maybe worse than it’s ever been, so it’s not on the improve. (But) we’re going to get it fixed and we got the guy to do it, to start, to help.

This work we take exceptionally seriously in our schools.  Even within the last five years there have been massive changes to the way we work with local First Nations and how we teach history in schools.  Many of us are invested in the work that has come from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and continuing to move this forward.  So Downie’s challenge to the Prime Minister is the same challenge that we are taking on in schools.

Music connects people.  There is an amazing power of music to bring people together.  It was interesting to see the concert on right in the middle of the final weekend of the Summer Olympics.  If there are two things that connect people together across geography, culture and language like no other, I think they are music and athletics. This video from the CBC nicely ties together the Olympics and the Tragically Hip.  And again, it is just a nice reminder for us in schools that yes reading, writing, math and a host of other academic pursuits matter, but so does music.  Music brings communities together and we need music in schools to help connect us.

No dress rehearsal.  There are a lot of lyrics one can take from the Tragically Hip to reinforce life lessons.  The final song they played at their Kingston concert was Ahead by a Century.  And to borrow from the song “No dress rehearsal, this is our life”.   Of course given Downie’s medical diagnosis, it was particularly powerful.  And again for schools a reminder that grade 1 is not a preparation for grade 2, and grade 7 is not a preparation for high school, nor is high school a preparation for university.  Grade 1 is grade 1.  We need not live in a continual state of dress rehearsal.

Uniquely Canadian.   In our house the final concert opened up a great conversation about the CBC.  Why do we have it?  Why didn’t they play any commercials?  Who owns it?  Does the United States have something like the CBC?  It was a reminder of some uniquely Canadian institutions that we need to explain, and understand if we want them to be preserved.  And of course that was just one example.  The online response from inside and outside Canada was that the “event” was something that would unlikely happen elsewhere – which opens up a series of good questions about what is unique about Canada and being Canadian.

I am far from an expert on the Tragically Hip.  Including the show in Vancouver, I have now seen them perform live once.  I did love to be part of something bigger than me.  It is something I think we all thirst for – and something we try to do in schools each day, for us and for our students.  The Hip and their tour across Canada helped remind me of some of the core principles of what we are trying to do in school.

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leader

I attend a lot of Superintendent events where there are discussions on the digital transitions of districts.  These discussions  are often about how “we” need to change, and far too often these conversations are being held in very traditional ways.  One is left often believing that the changes are about other people and not really about those leading the system.

This past week I was meeting with colleagues from across the continent and leading a conversation around digital leadership for superintendents. What was impressive is that in some very simple ways, Superintendents are finding ways to lead digitally.  I do think the questions about whether digital leaders have to lead digitally is really rhetorical.  We are part of a learning system, we need to be learners ourselves.

So, what are some easy entry points for Superintendents?

Model

There are so many ways to model the power of the digital tools.  There are big steps like investing in a regular blog, medium-sized steps like starting social media accounts and small steps like collaboratively building a meeting agenda in a shared document.  I was interested to hear from one superintendent that co-constructs her Board agenda through a collaborative Google doc.

Engage

More and more district leaders are finding voice and connections through social media.  While some still use these platforms as a one way communication channel and worry about the push-back from constituents others are finding the power of building connections and relationships in social media and that the interactions are not a waste of time but really an investment.

Explore

I loved to hear of the variety of tools that Superintendents use to make their work easier, more engaging and connect with students, staff and community. To highlight just two, one Superintendent spoke of his work with VoiceBo – an app that acts as a voice recorder.  When visiting various classrooms he will often times use the app with the students where he records and shares their voices.   As he said, “what students don’t want to share and have the superintendent record what they are doing.”  Another tool that was new to me was Slack – a tool that a number of school districts are doing to better connect and cut down on the email clutter.

Attend

As I have written before, where leaders spend their time matters.

I have argued that digital literacy is really just becoming literacy.  It is implied that digital is just part of the large expected meaning of literacy.  The same line of thinking needs to hold true for digital leadership.  For those who hold leadership positions in education, really being a digital leader is just being a leader.  We need to be continuing to upgrade our skills and be pushed to use the tools and engage with the mindset we expect of our students and teachers.

This really takes two parts – superintendents need to be in classes where teachers are pushing new ways to engage digitally and they also need to attend professional events that allow them to learn from and with colleagues on the paths other schools and districts are taking on the digital journey.

I have been very hard on traditional conferences in my blog posts.  There are some major events I refuse to attend now since they continue to perpetuate learning about the new things in the same old ways.  What was great about the Superintendent Digital Transition Symposium was that is modeled many of the new ways we are trying to engage.  There were some traditional lecture presentations, but there were also student discussions, gallery walks, hands-on activities, chances to engage digitally and choice in how, where and with who we learned.  If we are going to come together face-to-face there needs to be value added over traditional conferences.  This event is one of the few that I have attended that has started to realize this.

Conclusions

I am reminded when I connect with other districts, that if I am looking for a district leading the way thinking about digital engagement there is almost always a Superintendent trying to figure it out for herself how she can lead digitally.  I am also reminded that slowly the word digital is disappearing in front of the word leadership – in the very new future it will just be leadership and digital will just be one of the expectations when we use the word leader.

 

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best

I have given several Ignite Presentations. I really like the format – one is forced to be clear, direct and succinct in the presentation. I also enjoy that it gives one the chance to be provocative with the intention to stimulate discussion.

My most recent one I gave this at C21 Canada’s national session with Superintendents was entitled, “They Used to Be Our Best Teachers”.

This was a chance (some provocatively) to reflect on the work of the last decade.  It is actually quite amazing how much has changed.  Our classrooms do look very different from only ten years ago.  It has been an interesting journey.  The case for change in our community has been made in a system that is regarded as one of the very finest in the world.  We had to challenge the “why change” argument.  And while we saw the changes in professions from journalism to health care and demise of businesses like Blockbuster Video and Kodak – it was really about embracing the notion that you don’t have to be sick to get better.

And we have learned a lot.  In retrospect, we should have focused more of our conversation of the last decade around the simple question – is it good for kids?  Too often, especially early on, we got in black and white debates like – should we use inquiry?  do we need computers in the classroom?  Of course these really were not the right questions.  And many of us also felt a sense of loss as teaching changed.  I loved being the content expert at the front of the room, and when people said I should be the “guide at the side” I felt a loss.  And I know others did as well and sometimes this loss presented itself as opposition.

And more recently, we have got help in the transformation.  New curriculum in British Columbia has made us all look at our practice in the classroom, changes in International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement Programs have signaled the spread of the changes, and all partner groups in BC have found common ground in their efforts around curriculum, assessment and related matters.

What is so exciting now is that we are often celebrating teachers who were our best teachers “the old way” and now are our finest “the new way” – of course in the end teaching is such a human undertaking.  And while notions of change and transformation are not static, and the movement has been far more messy and less linear than I might have thought, and there is always the possibility that a system snaps-back, it is exciting to see how far we have come.

The real conclusion of this Ignite Talk is not what we need to do, but a celebration of what we have done and the directions we are going.

I know sharing a presentation without the audio and video often loses its context, but here is a copy of the slides (if you are viewing this via email you may need to open your browser to see the slides):

One of the great takeaways from the event was the consistent threads that ran through the presentations from Superintendents across Canada.  While we all in very different contexts, the system goals we are trying to accomplish are far more similar than they are different.  And while education falls under provincial jurisdiction, there sure seems to be some great opportunities for national conversations about the future of learning and schooling.

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