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Archive for the ‘Professional Development’ Category

The Culture of Yes turns 10 this month. 364 posts later, and here we are.

Starting this blog seemed like a natural fit.   In an earlier time I had been a newspaper columnist so was pretty familiar with organizing thoughts into 550 words at a time.   And in 2010 I was just officially starting as Superintendent so I was looking to differentiate myself and find a way to have a voice in a way that was authentic and made sense for me.  At the time I had a blogroll that was inspiring.  I would read Dean Shareski, or Will Richardson, or David Warlick and be excited.  The world of web 2.0 was booming and each post I read was opening me up to new ideas and a new world I was trying to understand.

The world of education blogs has really felt like it has had a boom and bust era.  My 2010 entry was just before the boom.  We had a community in BC of edu-bloggers including Chris Wejr, Elisa Carlson, Cale Birks, Dave Truss, Brian Kuhn and others.  It was just as the way we get education news was shifting.  Blogs were opening up classrooms, schools and districts to the community.  It was interesting to see what was being written in local blogs driving conversations in school and in the media.  What I saw in a blog post Monday, I would read in a Janet Steffenhagen story on Thursday in the Vancouver Sun.  The modern network was truly coming alive.  I also loved how blogging came alive in our schools.  We still have a number of staff blogging – including Cari Wilson who is still so great at posting every week!

And yet within 4 or 5 years the internet was littered with well intentioned but discarded educational blogs.   It is not as bad as it sounds.  Like with any trend or fad you get this huge growth, and then some people decided it wasn’t for them, and moved on.  We began to consume more through social media – twitter posts were far easier than 500 word blog posts. And as I wrote, the comments really slowed down (ironically that post about the lack of commenting has 86 comments). And the comments that came were not on the post but on Facebook or Twitter.  The conversation actually happened in multiple places which was not really a good thing – I would often think of a conversation of a post on Twitter, that these people should meet the people talking about it on Facebook, they would really learn from each other.  That said, my thanks to the close to 4,000 comments that have been shared directly on the site – they have challenged me, taught me and encouraged me.  I looked back at my first post – thanks to Brian Kuhn for being the first person to leave a comment.

In my first post I wrote:

It is an exciting time in education.  I feel like we are in the middle of a dramatic shift in what “school” looks like.  We will look back on this time as a pivotal point of change.  I look forward to sharing ideas, and connecting with those inside and outside our system as we work our way through it. 

And it was an exciting time, and is an exciting time in education.  This blog has really been career defining for me.  I love to look back at what I used to think and write about, how I believe some things more strongly now than when I wrote them and on other topics my views have changed – that is what is great about learning in public – I can share this.  And if nobody else even reads it, the act of writing down ideas and taking a position has been exceptionally powerful for me.

When I was asked to describe my blog goal, I have said, I know I am not the New York Times or Wall Street Journal of education blogs.  I am more USA Today.  And while we need the more formal writers, we also need those who are trying to be accessible to those not in education.   I have tried to be a serious thinker who doesn’t take himself too seriously.

Today, I love following other superintendent bloggers.  In BC I read everything that Dave Eberwein, Kevin Godden and Jordan Tinney write.  I just wish more of my colleagues would blog.  As my regular readers know, my doctoral research is around the role of the superintendency and I am fascinated by the role and the work.   I also really appreciate how supportive Jay Goldman and the AASA (School Superintendent’s Association) has been to regularly highlight superintendent blogs in their magazine and to take several of my pieces and work with me to convert them into magazine columns and articles. 

As to my posts – if I want to chase clicks, I find if I write about parenting and sports those fuel interest.  I really enjoy writing about both topics so it is fun to stir debate around them.  They are actually the easier posts to write.    My most-read post to date comes from November of 2010 on Stuart Shanker and Self-Regulation.  I have written about Stuart’s work a number of times, and it is an example of thinking that has really changed my view of education in the last decade.  More personally, my post Teacher during the 2014 teacher’s strike about my dad really sticks with me.  

And yes, every-time I still hit publish I feel anxiety.  I think my high school English teacher is out they’re noticing grammar errors (that was intentional).  And I worry (it has only happened a handful of times) someone will splice a  part of my text and re-post it social media to try to embarrass me or make a political point.  But my blog has changed me.   It has opened doors for me for work, it has introduced me to many new people and given me a platform to share.  Most importantly, it has given me voice and confidence.   I am still a proponent of having everyone write for the world, as we all have stories to tell and we want our children to feel this comfort from a young age.

So, to all who have read and engaged with me over the last 10 years – thank you.   Hopefully I have helped assure you that superintendents are actually human being and not just “those guys” in the board office.  I love our community and my head is full of ideas I want to write and think through with you in this space in the months and years ahead.

I look forward to the next 10!

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We have an Opening Day tradition in West Vancouver.  The first day back with staff we come together for a series of annual rituals and a keynote address from a speaker who helps set the tone for the year ahead.  Over my time we have had speakers from Sir Ken Robinson, to Natalie Panek, to Yong Zhao to Jennifer James.  This year we were fortunate to have speaker and actor Anthony McLean join us. And while typically we gather at the Kay Meek Theatre, this year, it was a virtual event – as all staff connected with Anthony and he set the tone for our year ahead.

With the international efforts around Black Lives Matter and calls for increased anti-racism education in schools, Anthony’s message resonated even more strongly than it might have when he was initially booked almost a year ago.  With all of the speakers we have had, it is easy to just be captured by their eloquence and joy, but I try to find a few key messages to take away as well.  Here are three keys that I took away from Anthony’s talk:

  1.  The Authors We Read – Anthony recalled how in school he read zero books from Indigenous, Asian or Black authors.  He made the argument that adding to the diversity of our libraries and learning resources was an easy entry point for us.  Rather than thinking we need to be an expert voice on a topic we might be nervous to lead because we are still learning ourselves we can amplify other voices.  I think back to my own school experience, and even through an English degree in university there was very little diversity in the authors that I read.  It is an easy opportunity to change-up some of the stories we share in classes and books we make available in our libraries.
  2. Separate the person from the behaviour – Anthony told a story about Mr. Rutherford (you can see a short version of the story HERE).  Anthony shared that he was not always the best behaved student.  What stood out for him was how in grade 10 his principal Mr. Rutherford separated his actions from who he was as a person.  This is a great lesson reminder for all of us.  We can be disappointed in behaviours or disagree with someone without them being a bad person.  Like Stuart Shanker told us several years ago in a different Opening Day talk, there is no such thing as bad kids.
  3. Community, Community, Community – When asked what he would focus on this fall with students heading back to school, including some who may not have been to school in up to six months – he said his focus would be on three things – community, community, community.  It is easy to get caught up in the notion that students have missed school and are behind so we need to double-down on the academics.  What our students say is that they have missed  the connections of schools.  And you can’t really get to Math and English if you have not first built trust and community.  Anthony was clear we should lead with curiosity and default to compassion. For us in West Vancouver, all staff have spent time learning about trauma informed practices before students returned to classes.

There was a fourth one that stood out for me, although perhaps not as global and lofty as the others.  Anthony did say, “sometimes pretending you are interested in what your spouse is saying, might save your marriage.” Probably some good advice there!

How we get better at anti-racism education is not simple.  What is useful about Anthony’s message is that he just encourages us all to enter the conversation.   Saying nothing is the wrong thing because when you say nothing you are actually saying something.  Locally I know there are a number of other helpful educators.  I appreciated the blog post by Abbotsford Superintendent Dr. Kevin Godden this past June (HERE) on the topic.  We spent one of our professional days focused on the topic of anti-racism, and we definitely have work to do.  Like with other issues of social justice, including the climate crisis, our students are clear they want us to do more.

Thanks to Anthony for helping us all enter the conversation and provoking us.  Like with many Opening Day speakers of the past I assume his messages will give energy to much of our work this year and beyond.

As a follow-up, over the last couple days Anthony posted an exceptionally powerful video on Instagram (HERE)  where he says, “I was wrong” about  some of his views on race.  The five minute video is powerful in the message around race but also so useful for all of us to be reminded that we can read more, learn more and think differently.  And there is real power when we can say we used to think X, but we were wrong and now we think Y.

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Happy September!

There is a lot going on this fall in schools and I have no shortage of ideas to explore related to COVID and schooling, but as we head back to school I wanted to use my post this week to share my own learning plan as I also head back to school via Zoom at the University of Kansas. Hopefully later this fall I will complete my comprehensive exam and move to doctoral candidacy (regular visitors to my blog will see I have updated various tabs on my homepage with current content in preparation for my portfolio presentation).

The question that I am pursuing for my dissertation is really a simple one, just what occupies the time of British Columbia public school superintendents? It is a question that has interested me for a long time. I am entering my second decade as superintendent. And while I have a growth plan, receive regular feedback from the Board of Education, and have a job description that is covered by Board policy, the job does seem to be a bit what one makes of it. I followed two very successful longtime superintendents in West Vancouver, and all three of us have done the job very differently. In speaking with colleagues around British Columbia, it appears there are multiple ways to do the job well. I often hear stories of others describing the job, and while some parts sound familiar, others are inconsistent with how I spend my time. There must be some commonality and I am interested in just what is consistent among the 60 of us who hold this position in our province.  From spending time with our Board, to time in schools, to work in the community – just what is common?

And I think there is a wider interest in understanding what BC School Superintendents do. As my research has confirmed, we have one of the highest performing jurisdictions in the world and district leadership plays an important role in school success. And in our context, superintendents are hired by individuals boards who do so with complete autonomy. Understanding the similarities and differences in the work, helps to add to the story of learning success in British Columbia.  

And I like to think many others will be interested in this study. I am sure that I am not the only one of us in BC who wonders how their work compares to the work of their colleagues. Unpacking the impact of the superintendent’s gender, experience, and district size on the way he or she spends time will also be interesting. And it is a position with a high level of turnover (although not as much as many US areas), so for Boards who are responsible for hiring and educators who may aspire to the position better being able to articulate the daily activities of the superintendent will be useful.

I am basing my study on a 2011 study that asked a similar question in Virginia.  I will be surveying my 59 BC colleagues and following up with interviews.  Hopefully they will see the value and be able to carve out the time to assist.  I do think the information will be valuable for all of us.

I often get asked my I would go back to school.  There is no requirement for superintendents in BC to have a doctorate.  Hopefully you don’t think less of me if I tell you one of the reasons is so that I can be part of a re-creation of this iconic movie scene.  Have a great year everyone!

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Welcome to the 10th “Top 3” List.  When I started blogging, one of the things I started with was this year-end list.  Everyone loves a year end list!  And this was intended to be a little different.  The categories change every year, some are education related, some are just silly.  To those who have been here from the beginning, or those who have joined along the way – thanks for being part of this digital community.  We do some serious work but do try to not take ourselves too seriously.

Previous Top 3 lists for:  2018 (here) 2017 (here) 2016 (here) 2015 (here) 2014 (here) 2013 (here) 2012 (here), 2011 (here) and 2010 (here).

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

  1. It is Time to Ban Cell Phones in Schools?
  2. What do Superintendents do in the Summer?
  3. Reflecting on Competition

My post on cell phones really generated a lot of interest.  My thanks to the AASA who asked me to update the post for their School Administrator Magazine (HERE).  I often get asked how I come up with topics.  I am lucky that I have a lot of people around me that make suggestions.  The cell phone post was a result of me making a joke on Twitter around cell phones in schools, and then realizing sometimes there is a fair bit of truth when you try to make a joke.

Top 3 New Things I got to see when I was at work:

  1. Physical Literacy –  This work is the real deal.  I wrote my most recent post (HERE) on what I am seeing in our classrooms.  This is not just doing PE better.  Nor is it just getting kids to run around.  This is far more accessible that PE in a gym and far more purposeful than just being active.  And the work is having a huge impact in our district.
  2. FIT – Flexible Instructional Time.   The revised curriculum created new opportunities.  It started with thinking about careers differently.  And led to 32 minutes each day in each of our high schools.  This time gives students something they have continually asked for whenever we survey them – some flexible time as part of their formal school day where they have choice and voice – to complete assignments, collaborate with peers and receive extra help in a particular area.  HERE is a post I wrote on this earlier this year.  Even in just a few months, this has really helped shift culture in our high schools.
  3.  New People in New Places –  Good teams don’t rebuild they reload.  That is how I feel about our leadership team in our district.  And while I am now in my 10th year in my position, we have had the chance to continue to elevate and recruit some amazing people to our leadership team.  This year saw new Directors of Instruction with Ian Kennedy and Sandra-Lynn Shortall both starting in their jobs.  We also had a number of new school principals and vice-principals.  Yes, we lost some great people, but new people bring new ideas and new energy and that helps keep our organization fresh. Since I am not going anywhere I like that I can continually be surrounded by people from various places who want to push us forward.

Top 3 Things I got to go do when I wasn’t at work:

  1. KFC in Kentucky – Yes, I am still a vegetarian.  But getting to sit at a table with a life-sized replica of the Colonel at the Louisville Airport was kind of cool.
  2. Running in San Antonio – Our family runs (well actually races) every New Year’s Day.  This past year we were in San Antonio over the break.
  3.  Star Wars Ride-I know it kind of got mixed reviews, but the immersive experience of being in the Star Wars world at Disneyland was a lot of fun.

 

 

Top 3 Culture Building Traditions we have in West Vancouver Schools:

  1.  Opening Day – We are lucky in a district with about 7500 students and about 1000 staff we can come together for special events.  On the Thursday before Labour Day we have a district professional development day where we spend time for the first couple hours celebrating our district and being inspired for the year ahead.  Speakers in the past have included Stephen Lewis, Sir Ken Robinson, Natalie Panek and Jennifer James.  We try to link to a theme for the year – this past year it was physical literacy.  In August of 2020 it will be diversity and inclusion.
  2. Christmas Party – I know the office Christmas Party is largely a relic. We have this fun tradition of a district-wide party in early December where we celebrate the season, raise money for a local charity and raffle off holiday baskets to staff.  It is always a great way to get into the spirit of the season and a nice tradition that brings people together from across the district.
  3. Retirement Party – You can retire, but you never really leave the family.  While everyone hosts events for their retirees each year, the West Vancouver one always invites back former staff to join.  Some staff who have been retired for decades would never miss the annual event.  It is these types of connections that help newer and younger staff see the lifelong bonds that can come from teaching and community.

 

Top 3 Concerts I got to see:

  1. Paul Simon – while I got to see him retire from touring in the fall of 2018, it was a real treat to see him do a couple shows in California for environmental charities this summer, including his headliner act at Outside Lands Music Festival.  Hoping he might re-appear again somewhere this summer.
  2. Cher – I have never been a huge Cher fan, but her concert was incredible.  You got all the hits, and the costumes, and the over-the-top sets and a couple very cool duets with Sunny.
  3.   Judy Collins –  Judy is 80.  And she is still amazing.  Send in the Clowns, Both Sides Now and Amazing Grace. Wow.

I am a big live music fan.   I did also get to see “cooler” artists like Childish Gambino, Kasey Musgraves, Carrie Underwood and others but it is the storytellers and performers I grew up with while listening to the records with my parents that are still the best to see in concert.  Music has a way of taking you back to the first time you heard the songs being played.

Top 3 Somewhat Odd Lessons I have for any new superintendent:

  1.  If you asking people to give their time to come to workshop – no sandwiches.  Everyone loves pizza or sushi.
  2.  Never let yourself win any competition.  I know we are competitive people but nobody wants the superintendent to win the Halloween costume contest.
  3. Always have a $5 bill in your pocket when you visit schools.  There will often be a bake sale or something similar, and you have to make a purchase.  And you can’t ask for change.  Take this advice from someone who has bought several $20 brownies, rice krispie squares and chocolate chip cookies over his time.

Top 3 Quick Takes I have based on my school visits:

  1. Technology is really becoming invisible in classrooms.  This has been a change in the works for a number of years, but when I am in school I don’t really notice it.  It is there – there are students on laptops and other tools in use, but it is never the lead of the story in classrooms.  Listening to students they are not using “virtual” or “digital” ahead of classroom, portfolio or folder – a sign that it is just become normal.
  2.   Indigenous learning is expected across all grades and curriculum.  The curiosity of students and parents to better understand our land and our history is incredible.   We are lucky to have some wonderful leaders in our district and great partners in the Squamish Nation who are bringing this work alive in our schools.
  3.   Students want flexibility – sort of.  There is an ongoing tension between students desire for more flexibility in how they learn and when they learn, and the comfort they have from traditional structures.  We see this with the FIT time at high schools.  This is just a very modest change, and most have really embraced it.  Why FIT has been particularly successful is that the adults have been so committed to the change.

Top 3 TED Talks that I Have Told You to Watch Before and I am Doing it Again:

  1.  The difference between winning and succeeding

2.   3 Ways to Spark Learning

3.  Every Kid Needs a Champion

Top 3 Trends Our Students Are Part of that We Need to Pay Attention to:

How is this for an eclectic mix – from the  environment, to video games, to mental health . . .

  1. The Climate Crisis –  While16-year-old  Greta  Thunburg  became  the  symbol of the movement around the world, it is one that has legs in every community.  Students are asking hard questions and this is only going to increase.
  2. E-Sports – I wrote about e-sports earlier this year (HERE).  It is easy for adults to dismiss what is going on, but the stats are staggering and something we all should get us all to pay attention.
  3.  Well being – Students are becoming more comfortable talking about their mental health, and describing what they need to be supported.  And the adults are getting better with discussing their well being.  From the courses we offer to when we offer them, to the flexibility for students – in our commitment to well being, many of our structures will be up for debate.

Top 3 Ways I pushed myself in 2019 (these were all my goals in last year’s Top 3):

  1. Start my doctorate –  12 months ago I was just getting going.  Now I am half way through my course work and I am beginning to work on my major exploration:  How do BC School Superintendents Spend Their Time?
  2. More real visits –  It can be hard to make time for real visits.  These are what really help you understand what is going on in classrooms.  I enjoyed being in the water with our FAST students (lifeguards in training) this fall, and checking out our drama students at Sentinel and being part of several physical literacy lessons across our elementary and high schools. These visits give me great perspective on what is working in our classrooms.
  3. Focus on assessment –  We are having this great conversation around assessment right now – from students, to staff to parents.  Somewhere is all the excitement around report cards and letter grades over the last few years, this conversation moved to the background – it is now in the foreground again.  It is actually much harder than a conversation around letter grades – it is far more grey.  But it is a great focus for us to have.

Top 3 Things I am Going to do Less of Next Year:

  1. Social Media –  My interest in definitely decreasing all the time.  I check-in to my Facebook account once or twice a week.  I have shrunk my Instagram community and still use Twitter for work, but not nearly as much as I used to.  And I don’t think I am ready for a Tik Tok account.
  2. Coaching Youth Sports –  When I am not working, I spend most of my time volunteering in the gym with kids.  The modern sports parents are wearing me out.  Their intent focus on their own child and their visions of stardom and lack of appreciation for volunteers is sad.  Working with kids on teams still brings me great joy – but I am going to definitely be more choosy.
  3. Inviting People to Meetings –  I get it, when I invite you to a meeting, you feel obligated to attend.  I will do better about not having meetings for meetings sake.  I already have a reputation for short meetings and celebrating meetings that end early, now I need to get better at finding other ways that meetings to move work forward.

Top 3 Things I want Santa to bring for our school district:

  1. West Van Place for Sport –  We have been trying to build an artificial turf field and track in West Vancouver for close to a decade, but it took a huge step forward this year.  We can actually see the finish line.  It is truly a community effort with the School District, Municipality, Community Foundation all making sizable contributions.  And through a matching funds program from the Municipality they have been joined by many local business partners including Onni and Park Royal.  We are getting this done in 2020! Click HERE to learn more . . . we are still looking for someone who wants to make a donation to have their name on the marquee.
  2. A new Sentinel– I think a new Sentinel Secondary School has been on the wish list longer than the track.  Sentinel is a great school ready for an upgrade.  It is always challenging to know how much to invest in a school knowing it might be replaced in a few years.  We can always hope Santa has a Sentinel project in his bag of goodies!
  3.  A Provincial Teachers Contract –  The support staff have settled both locally and provincially this past year.  And our teachers have settled their issues that are bargained locally this year as well.  Hopefully early in 2020, a provincial teachers settlement will be reached and we can continue to focus on students and learning without the distraction of labour challenges.

Thanks for making it right to the end.  All the best for a wonderful 2020!

Chris

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This post is a copy of a column in this month’s AASA School Administrator Magazine

WAY BACK IN 2012, it seemed like almost everyone had a blog. At the time, it appeared a blog (or weblog as it was first known) was a requirement to be relevant in the ever-changing digital world. If I had looked then into my crystal ball, I would have said all school staff and students in 2018 would have blogs. These would be spaces of reflection and used as portfolios for one’s body of work.

I would have predicted we would be increasingly wired to comment on each other’s work and gaining skills in giving public, constructive feedback and commentary.

While blogging isn’t dead, its fate in the schools of 2018 is not what I envisioned. A lot of people have tried blogging, and while some continue, the internet is littered with abandoned blogsites in education. Yet, in this ever-changing landscape, I notice the number of superintendents blogging seems to be challenging this trend and more are taking up a blog all the time.

Beyond Blogging

During the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, I worked with a group of student reporters covering the sports action through their blogs. Witnessing these student bloggers was defining for me. I saw them producing content for the real world, getting immediate feedback. I watched the quality of their writing improve as they felt the pressure of writing for a public audience. Following this, our school district began a process that led to every student having a blog. But over the past eight years, some things have changed.

We have moved to collaborative spaces like Google Docs that allow multiple participants outside the blog format. Instead of seeing blogs as “home base” for content, we use platforms such as Instagram, SnapChat and YouTube to house our photos and videos.

Once everyone started writing, people began to comment less and less on other people’s writing.

The theory was that adults would model how to comment on blogs and kids would observe and follow. Unfortunately, adults have not always been worthy role models. One need only consider the number of news sites that have shut off comment sections because of the immature and often hateful remarks.

Further, in K-12 education, another initiative is always on the doorstep, making it difficult to sustain momentum. Whether it is place-based learning, outdoor education or robotics, all compete for valuable learning time and they may crowd the space.

Sharing Voices

So if true, why is it I find my blog more valuable than ever? I think our unique role makes the blog format particularly powerful to share our voices for three reasons.

The superintendent’s message often is filtered through media, unions and other groups in a community so the blog gives direct access to everyone without interpretation.

The superintendent can be seen as more “real” rather than the elusive boss in the school board office. This role is often times seen as distant from the classrooms and schools, and blogs allow them to be relevant and connected. Blogging allows the superintendent to be an influencer whether at the school water cooler or out in the community.

Superintendents believe strongly in modeling. If we want students and staff to have the courage to share their ideas publicly and be modern learners, we need to showcase this behavior.

A Connecting Factor

The superintendent position can be a lonely job. I find the digital community of superintendents to be a powerful force for staying connected to colleagues. From Canadian colleagues like Kevin Godden from Abbotsford, British Columbia, or Chris Smeaton from Lethbridge, Alberta, to Randy Ziegenfuss from Allentown, Pa., or Pam Moran from Charlottesville, Va., I regularly check in on dozens of blogs that help create a sense of community. (Check out these blogs and others on the AASA Member Blogs page.)

I love blogging. It gives me a voice. It is a place for me to work through ideas. It is a portfolio. It is my home base. And while I no longer say everyone needs to have one, it remains a wonderful space for education leaders to model new ways of leading.

This post is updated from an April 2016 post – Maybe I Was Wrong About Blogging 

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Interest in the education system in British Columbia and Canada generally seems to be at an all time high. Likely, in part driven by high PISA (International testing) results, edu-tourism is flourishing and the world is very curious about what is going on in Canada.  This week I am giving a talk to an audience of largely American Superintendents, which has forced me to try to crystallize exactly what it is in our part of the world that is so interesting.

When we look at structures, our Canadian system has a lot in common with our US counterparts.  We have locally elected Boards of Education throughout most of the country, we have local accountability, a mix of involvement of different levels of government, generally high community engagement in education and strong teacher associations.  We lack the Federal involvement in education present in the United States and seemingly most places in the world, and generally don’t have the ability to raise any funding locally for the school system.   Throughout North America you can find quite a bit in common with how we organize education.

Our system seems to strive for this highly sought after combination of strong equity and high quality.  We seem to have dismissed the idea that one needs to either have one or the other and instead we have committed ourselves to both.  And we also seem to have this unwavering belief that no matter how “good” our system is, we need to continue to change, grow and get better.  There is a sense that we can always improve.   Trying to tightly describe the BC or Canadian uniqueness is a challenge, but I see these as some of the areas that stand out:

We Are Doing What We Always Say We Should Do

The entire BC curriculum has been redesigned.  The prescriptive nature of the curriculum has been reduced with a greater focus on big ideas and the allowance of flexibility and choice in learning for teachers and students.  Interdisciplinary learning has been embraced allowing the teacher a greater opportunity to be creative and innovative in the design of their learning experiences.  Core competencies are the foundation of the curriculum with a focus on communication, thinking and personal and social competency.  Now these areas that we have always said are important, but often in the background have been pushed to the foreground.  And finally, the curriculum has been Indiginized and a focus on the First Peoples Principles of Learning has been emphasized throughout the province.

A former Superintendent colleague of mine, Mike McKay, would often say, “Will What We Know Change What We Do?” – with our system we are trying to make the answer now.

Curriculum

The shift in curriculum is as much about the how as the what.  The move to big ideas, has seen a move to more inquiry based learning.  The curriculum is seen as relevent and ever-changing.  Rather than being static as it has been in the past, it is seen now as nimble, being able to shift as the world shifts.

Assessment

BC does not have high stakes assessment.  Students in British Columbia write Foundation Skills Assessments in grades 4 and 7 in reading, writing and numeracy and then a literacy and numeracy assessment in grades 10-12.  These results are shared with students and families and inform practice but they do not appear on report cards, nor are they part of any school marks.  Teacher judgement is highly valued and they along with schools and districts design a range of assessments (more than just traditional tests) to support students. Increasingly passion projects, portfolios and capstone assignments are a large part of a student’s program

We Have Learned From Others

When I look at our system in BC now, I would describe it as a “mash-up” of what we are seeing around the world.   One can see elements of Finland, Singapore and New Zealand in our system.  International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement have also clearly been influential.  Teachers have looked locally – to schools in their district and our province, to Alberta and Ontario, to High Tech High in San Diego, and many other places and they have all influenced what we do.  BC has always prided itself on being a highly networked province and this extends around the globe, and our system reflects this.  We have taken good ideas and made them ours for our context

No Franchises

BC has this delicate balance of having a lot common with others but not sameness.  Schools and districts share some tenants but are not trying “scale” work to all be the same.  It is this idea of networks.  We are trying to connect and build networks, focusing on diffusion, not replication.

It is hard to pull the BC or Canadian story together.  I don’t think anyone can listen to someone speak about our system or visit our schools and say, we should be like them.  Just as we haven’t done that as we looked to evolve our system.  We are immensely proud of our school system, and it is wonderful to be somewhere that recognizes the world is rapidly changing, so as proud as we are of our past and present, our future needs to change to ensure we continue to have this pride.

Below are the slides I am using for this presentation this week.  It is a work in progress, so any thoughts to help make these ideas more clear are always appreciated (if you are viewing this via email you may need to go to the website to see the slides).

 

 

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Welcome to my final blog post of 2017 and my annual tradition of my Top 3 Lists for the year.

Previous Top 3 lists for  2016 (here) 2015 (here) 2014 (here) 2013 (here) 2012 (here), 2011 (here) and 2010 (here).

As per usual, I will try to take up topics you probably don’t see covered by other year-end “Best of” lists:

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

  1.  The Hat Rule
  2.  It’s Not You, It’s Me
  3.  So What About Badges?

Top 3 New Technologies I See in Schools That Are Exciting:

  1. Virtual Reality – We have our first students going on “field trips” around the world through Google Expeditions
  2. 3D Printing (the next wave) – We have moved beyond printing toys and other novelties and using the technology to create and solve problems.
  3.  Robots – I have written about them before, but continue to be more convinced that robotics is a great experience for students to have

Top 3 Modern World Realities That Are Crappy for Schools:

  1. The decline of community newspapers – they not only hold school systems accountable, they tell our stories (I have shared some frustrations HERE before)
  2.  Parents at Christmas Concerts – there are so many people standing at the front with their phones, cameras and often iPads there are few opportunities for those who just want to watch the show to actually see it
  3.   Sports Specialization – School sports are still in an uncertain spot and I can’t figure out exactly what their future will be but the stories of kids not playing a particular school sport because it goes against the wishes of a community sports coach continue to be pervasive

Top 3 Technologies I Use Way Less Now Than 12 Months Ago:

  1. Facebook – I probably scan it about once a week and if I didn’t have an account I probably would not get one
  2. Snapchat – I tried, I am too old
  3.  News Apps – I get most of my news between Twitter and old-fashioned newspapers

 

Top 3 Ways Technology Still Runs My Life:

  1. Fitbit – 10,000 steps a day.  I have a streak that dates back to 2014 going.  I can’t sleep until I see the green circles.
  2. Instagram – post a photo everyday has been going on for 2 years.  I have become a much better photographer.
  3. Culture of Yes Blog – I wrote a bit more this year than last year (between 2-3 times a month) but I can feel the pressure when it has been 10 days and I am not sure what my next post will be about.

Top 3 TEDx WestVancouverED Talks that I Still Think About From This Year:

1. Cities Belong to People – Paul Fast

2. Making the Jump – Gavin McClurg

3. We Are All Different – and THAT’s AWESEOME – Cole Blakeway

Top 3 Cool Things I Got to Do This Year When I Wasn’t At Work:

  1.  The Dodgers in LA
  2.   Front Row for Paul Simon in Montana
  3.  Doing a TEDx Talk with my daughter

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Top 3 Cool Things I Got to Do This Year When I Was at Work:

  1. Attend all the school grads – I love graduation events.  It is such a great moment for students and their families
  2. See a Whole Bunch of New Programs Start – From growing robotics, to new academies in environmental sciences, table tennis, and computer animation I love how we never stand still
  3. Hire, hire and hire some more – For the first year in a long-time we were adding teacher and administrators.  This new energy is so great for our organization and the chance to help people launch their career is very exciting

Top 3 Things I think We Will Be Talking About This Year in Education:

  1. Exams – I think we may see testing rebound in BC in 2018, with some feeling the pendulum as swung too far one way
  2. Reporting – I could probably put this on every year.  Questions of the modern report card are definitely unanswered.  Is the 3 times a year report card dead?  Will we finally go all online?  A lot to be worked out
  3. Changing University Entrance Requirements – University of British Columbia (UBC) has got out there with a more broad-based approach and others are going to follow.  The “system” for getting in to post-secondary in changing, which will have huge ripples in K-12.

As always, I really appreciate everyone who takes the time to read and engage with me through the blog.   I find that this blog continues to be a little less formal each year.  The process still brings me great joy.  All the best for a wonderful 2018!

Chris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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