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Possibilities

I think I have always had this nervous excitement of back to school at the end of August. From entering kindergarten in 1978, and every year since to today, there is an energy as I wind down summer and turn my attention to school. It is a time of possibilities. I have written before about the notion of the day after Labour Day being the real New Year’s Day for most of us.  

People can’t get me down at this time of year.  

I find more than ever, the noise around us can be built on gloom and cynicism.  And so many people seem to revel in this negativity.  Far too many people looking to point out the worst in people and far too few people amplifying the best in people.  And if we are not careful those of education can get caught in this.

We are the possibility profession.

I remind myself that parents are sending us their very best children.  And these parents are full of hope and possibility for their kids.  For some it might be a fresh start, for others it will be about taking on new things and for others it will be launching them on a journey to new adventures beyond our schools.  

The start of the school year is the best!  There is comfort in the ritual that has largely remained unchanged for generations, but also feels fresh and new, unlike any experience before.  Hundreds of students descend on each of our schools and build communities together.

We have an ambitious agenda for the year ahead – one with big ideas around early learning and childcare, walking side by side with our Indigenous partners, a commitment to a broad view of equity and excellence, a hard look at assessment and reporting, a focus on the well being of our students and staff, and a need to ensure the innovation that has defined our district continues.  But first, before any of this, is the connections we make with each other.  The connections we make with the young people who arrive at our schools next week.  The thousands of students entrusted to us.   

I keep coming back to the possibilities.  It is what makes it hard for me to sleep at night.  We can help these young people do great things.

Wishing all my colleagues here in West Vancouver and beyond a great school year!

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I have been thinking about those educators who have influenced me.  And I started making a list. I didn’t want to just do my “favourite” teachers or colleagues but wanted to take a mix of some of the very best I have ever had as a teacher, or worked with, and try to articulate a simple lesson from them that I have tried to apply to my work.

I had about 70 people on my list, but decided to limit this post  to 26 teachers as I finish my 26th year in education.  And then focus on 26 simple lessons from the people I knew as an elementary and high school student, and it my professional stops in Richmond, Coquitlam and West Vancouver.

Here are some ideas I try to take and apply:

Rod Allen – If there is one person most responsible for the progressive curriculum and assessment in British Columbia it is Rod.  I got to know Rod when he worked at the Ministry of Education and learned from him as he would balance the demands of government and the goals of education.  Lesson – No matter the audience, hold to what you believe and people will respect you.

Carol Bourne – Carol was my grade 8 and 10 English teacher.  She got me to read fiction which was not something I had really done before and she had high expectations.  Lesson – A wry sense of humour can go a long way in a high school English classroom.

Pat Brown – Pat was my Socials 11, Western Civilization 12, and Literature 12 teacher.  He built relationships with his students that went beyond the classroom.  I remember sushi dinners and movie nights as a class.   Lesson – You can be completely prepared for a government final exam without ever practicing a government final exam.

Ann Caffrey – I have written before about Mrs. Caffrey (here).  She is a reminder of what a difference a teacher can have on a student’s trajectory.  Lesson – Using a grade 2 boy’s first AND middle name will really get their attention.

Alex Campbell – When Alex became the principal of my junior high in grade 10, it was a completely different school in 3 months.  He and the vice-principals changed the culture and tone almost immediately.  I would always remember this lesson of the impact of leadership. And how blessed I was that Alex came to work with me in West Vancouver for 3 years as Director of Instruction and Assistant Superintendent. Lesson – Principals have a huge impact on school culture.

George Couros – George is a bit of an edu-celebrity.  I like to think I knew him before he was such a star.  George’s first book The Innovators Mindset did a great job of taking all the little changes that we see happening in education and weave them together as part of a big change narrative.  His regular blogging is admirable and he is one of those people I will always read.  Lesson – Education needs storytellers.

Judy Duncan – Judy retired a year ago as the Principal at Rockridge Secondary.  Like at West Bay Elementary and many other stops before, she was loved.  She had that “it” that is hard to explain – a mix of grace, humour and relentlessness.  Lesson – Everyone wants to be part of a winning team.

Paul Eberhardt – I first met Paul about 30 years ago.  At the time Paul was already a well established basketball coach.  We ran programs at neighbouring schools.  He could have tried to recruit all our players to make his team better, but he took the view with me and others that if we all grow strong programs it is good for all of us.  And he was right! Lesson – A model of abundance is better than one of scarcity.

Dave Eberwein – The first person I hired as Superintendent was Dave.  He started as Assistant Superintendent on the same day I started as Superintendent.  Dave and I would challenge each other’s thinking, and we would always land in a better spot.  Having team members with complimentary skills is so important – a real reason why Dave and I worked so well together.  Now Superintendent in Saanich, Dave has a great blog worth following.  Lesson – When hard things are the right things to do you need to do them.

Michael Grice – Michael was appointed vice-principal at Riverside the day I was appointed principal.  He was a master of the timetable, and always took on hard tasks that were the right thing to do.  With his background as a music teacher, and his daily bow-ties, in some ways we couldn’t have been more different – but we just clicked.  Lesson: Sometimes the stars in the school don’t need to be in the limelight.  

Fred Harwood – Fred taught math at McRoberts during my time at the school as a teacher.  He was already well established.  The gesture I will always remember was that he traded courses with me in my first year, to give me a lower level math course to teach – giving me one less prep and him one more.  Few people would have done that.  Lesson:  Teachers are always learners.

Geoff Jopson – Geoff was superintendent just prior to me in West Vancouver.  We actually worked together for 14 months where it was known I would be assuming the role.  Since then, Geoff has continued to be involved in the community and a huge supporter of public education.  Lesson:  Always be advocating for a strong public education system.

Gary Kern – I first worked with Gary in Coquitlam when we were both administrators and then later in West Vancouver on the district leadership team.  Gary moved from public system, to private sector, back to public education and then to independent schools.   Most of us in education are averse to moving around, but it has given Gary such a more broad perspective on issues.  Lesson:  Career movement in education is healthy.

George Nakanishi – George was my grade 5 teacher at Woodward Elementary School.  And the teacher who introduced me to basketball.  His class was also a lot of fun.  Still today, I remember specifics of assignments we did in his class.  I loved getting to design my own island.  Lesson:  Let students bring their passions into their learning and give them choice.

Trish Nicholson – Trish is one of the best coaches I have known.  She has been recognized for her basketball and volleyball coaching and also been to multiple world championships and Paralympic games as a coach.  She is also always finding ways to get better as a coach.   Lesson:  Prepare for working with grade 8’s like you do when you work with Olympians.  

Mary O’Neill – Mary is another vice-principal I worked with at Riverside Secondary and she was later a principal at Charles Best. She put more hours into the work than anyone I have ever known.  I couldn’t believe how she had so much energy.  We were a good team, as she invested in situations that I didn’t have the patience for.    Lesson:  Kids need adults on their side.  

Doug Player – Doug was the long-time superintendent in West Vancouver, but I first met him as a student of his in the San Diego State University Master’s Program.  Doug always brought a different perspective to an issue than what was the common refrain.  Lesson:  Even high performing jurisdictions need to be looking for what is next.  

Rob Pope – Rob was an English teacher at Riverside Secondary, and teacher lead of the school newspaper The Eddy.  He also enjoyed the music of the 1960s which went a long way with me.   Lesson:  We need to give students voice, even if we don’t always agree with that they say.

Stuart Shanker – Stuart is one of Canada’s leading voices around self-regulation.  We have had the pleasure of having him in West Vancouver several times to work with our staff and parents.  My first post about Stuart from 2010 is one of the most read ever on my blog.  Lesson:  There is no such thing as bad kids.  

Dean Shareski – Dean has always been on the leading edge of technology in schools.  But what stands out is his commitment to humanize the work and be serious without being too serious.  Lesson:  More Joy.  

Doug Sheppard – Doug gave me “Satisfactory” in my teacher evaluation in 1996 (so now you know who to blame!).  I followed him to Coquitlam and now he is the Superintendent of Schools in Delta.  My clearest memories of Doug are as a phenomenal teacher that so many of us aspired to be.   Lesson:  A final exam does not need to be a traditional test.

Sue Simpson – Sue was the counselling department head at Riverside Secondary when I was there as  vice-principal and later principal. She was a keeper of the school’s history and kept many of us inline.   Lesson:  In the best schools the administrators and counsellors work as a tight team.  

Gail Sumanik – Gail was the first principal I worked with as a teacher at McRoberts.  She was a wonderfully caring principal and a great mentor.  From Barrie Bennett to Rick DuFour, she introduced me to learning outside my classroom.   Lesson:  Adult study groups build community.  

Don Taylor – Don was my grade 7 teacher and we then later we coached elementary basketball together. He spent much of his career as an elementary school principal keeping school fun.  He was awesome at hosting events – as a teacher and in the years since.  Lesson:  Keeping schools and communities connected is vitally important.

Ken Whitehead – Ken was my grade 6 teacher.  The truth is what I remember most was that he was an Olympic soccer player and loved Bruce Springsteen.  Well, that and he made learning fun.  It seems like such a small thing, but he got me to see a speech language pathologist for a lisp and I am forever grateful.  Lesson:  Look to make a difference for each child.  

Yong ZhaoYong is a leading voice education across North America.  I have had the chance to work with him on various occasions over the last decade including having him as my doctoral advisor at the University of Kansas.   Lesson:  We need to take more chances in education and challenge the current model.

Happy Summer everyone!  Congratulations to all those involved in education – staff, students and parents for all that we have accomplished this year.

The Culture of Yes will slow down over the summer – maybe one or two posts but will be back strong in the fall as launch the 2022-23 school year.

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How is that for a title?  It feels a bit like my effort at click bait.

Promotions are very different in education than many sectors.  It is strange when I hear people say that someone got “promoted from teacher to vice-principal”.  Teaching and administration in education are such different jobs, it is not as though you are the best teacher and then become the vice-principal.  When speaking to perspective vice-principals I talk about the multiple paths for leadership in education.  For some, it is the route of school administration, for some it is growing and expanding influence as a classroom teacher, and for others it is moving into the realm of union professional development or staff rep and advancing in the union leadership.  And all are amazingly important and influential – and at times people crossover between them.  

Over my 25 years I have had a chance to see a lot of excellent school principals, and a lot of great teachers’ union presidents (and staff reps) and they share many qualities.  Some of the best union reps I have seen have later become great administrators.  And in education, leadership is leadership – so here are some qualities that I have seen true for both groups:

They are good teachers – If I could only know one thing about someone before they were to become a principal or a union president, I would want to know what kind of teacher they are in the classroom.  Now, not all good (or great) teachers excel as union leaders or school leaders, but if they have just been mediocre in the classroom, and haven’t lived the great power of being a difference maker for young people I don’t want them leading the profession.

They listen well –  We all know those people in our lives who will let you speak, but they are not really listening, they are just waiting for their turn to talk.  Leaders in education truly listen.  And they need to do a lot of it.  People turn to their union leaders and their principals most often when they have a challenge.  And they usually don’t just want you to fix whatever is wrong, but to listen to what is going on.

They change – Our profession is forever changing and the leaders heading it must change too.  Some of the skills that made a teacher great 25 years ago, are no longer relevant.   We see changes in society, and we particularly see the influence of technology on our work and our students.  And we see issues emerge.  Nobody asked educational leaders about diversity or reconciliation even a decade ago, but this is now part of our daily work.  And modeling this change and growth sets the tone for those who we work with.

They have a presence but it is not just about them – When it comes to principals, I can usually tell 2 minutes into an interview if they have the presence needed to be an educational leader.  Like union leaders, they don’t need to fill the room with this personality, but they do need to be able to capture the room with their words, their manner and approach and their vision.  And look for those using “we” instead of “I” statements, it is usually a sign of what drives them.

They work a lot invisible hours – The impetus for this post was really a text I got from our teachers’ union president – it was just after 9:00 PM last Wednesday – his closing line was “I’m available 24/7.”  We were looking to support someone who was needing some assistance.  It is not the type of thing that will go on a resume, or really that anyone will ever know – but he, like the other good ones, know it is not a clock-in and clock-out job.  The same is true of the best principals.  The best ones I know often work long hours, but act like they always have nothing but time. It is the magic of leadership – like the image of the duck calm on the water but swimming furiously below the surface.  

They are always open to a deal – You don’t need to compromise values and principles to be open to deals.  You have to be flexible.  Principals cannot get dug-in on a position that they don’t allow themselves to move.   And not everything is “the hill” on which to take a stand.  Sometimes a deal in either role, gives someone else a win which might seem like giving in to the naïve, but it actually shows strength and sets you up better for next time.

They separate issues and people – We need to be able to talk about ideas, debate directions and let us think either of these things lead to us putting people into boxes as “good people” or “bad people”.  In education we have different roles, and there is a need for a healthy tension – a healthy tension between union leaders and management, between principals and staff, parents or students.  We don’t need to see the world the same way, but when we disagree – it doesn’t mean the others are bad people. It seems like politics, especially in the United States, struggles with this idea.  We still largely have it intact but I admit that COVID has strained it at times.

They want to leave things better for the next person – How do you know if a principal was successful?  Check-in on their school 10 years after they leave.  I have seen principals be “a hero” with staff for how they spent money or supported initiatives, but then leave the school in financial ruins with dozens of “special deals” for favoured staff that could only be undone after a litany of hard feelings.  While the good ones in leadership are always thinking about their time as being on a continuum, whether in the union office or the principal office.   They want to do the best for students, staff and parents during their time, but they also want to be sure it is well set up for the next person who comes in.  One piece of advice I give to those new in these jobs is to start the job thinking about how you will leave it when you are done – whether in one or ten years.

We need good leaders in all aspects of the school system.  School communities, I argue, get the principals and union leaders they deserve.  If there is a culture of learning in place, where people work together and keep students at the centre of decisions these are the people who aspire to leadership.  I count myself lucky to work in a place like that right now.

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My One Word for 2022 – FOCUS

There is a lot of uncertainty as we look to the year ahead.  It feels very easy to get distracted, chasing down rabbit holes, and losing direction.  As always, there is always “stuff” to keep you busy.  My life has been full of “stuff” this week as we get ready for a delayed start to school.  An idea that has always stuck with me is – if you say you are about everything, you are really about nothing.   And sometimes, I need some help.  It is easier to run from one thing to another and not go to deep on anything.  It is harder to have sustained goals that take a while to accomplish.  But these tend to be the most fulfilling. So, this year is about Focus.  

This is the 7th year of my “One Word” Tradition. In 2016, I wrote about Hungry and then in 2017, my first post of the year was dedicated to Hope. I feel both words were ones that were good ones for the times they were written. In 2018, I wrote about what I described as my desperate need in my work for Relevance, and then in 2019, it was Delight – a new twist on the power and importance of joy. Then in 2020, my word was Hustle, which was actually a good fit for what was needed as COVID upended our lives.  And this past year, my word was Optimism.  And as I re-read my post from this time last year, so much of what I hoped for came true – from vaccinations that opened up life for many, my completion of my doctorate, the return of sports, and some amazing experiences in classrooms.

One challenge for me is that my word is focus, but I am not yet sure what I want to focus on.  I have a list of “to-do’s” but it feels more like a check sheet than a few goals that I want to sustain throughout the year.   I am trying to avoid much of what Cal Newport from Georgetown University calls shallow work, work that is non-cognitively intensive tasks that are low-value and easy to replicate, like responding to emails, scanning websites, and using social media.   

While I am not yet sure what exactly I will focus on, I commit to adopting habits that make focus easier.   Any internet search comes up with similar lists, and includes many I do, but all ones that are worth committing to or recommitting to at the beginning of the year.  So here are some things that I want to do in 2022 to be focused on focus:

  • get daily exercise
  • minimize multitasking
  • spend long chunks of sustained work time off my phone and internet
  • practice mindfulness
  • have a clear to-do list with short-term and long-term goals
  • prioritize tasks

I want 2022 to be about doing some big things, both personally and professionally.  I know I want to write more, do more schooling, and do more public speaking.  I want our school district to be bold around learning opportunities for students. I want to be a better athlete and basketball coach, and I want to push and challenge myself and those around me.  

All of this will be about focus.  As I write this, I am excited about the year ahead.

What word is guiding your 2022?

 

 

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A Smile to Start the Year

 

Here we go!  If it is the day after Labour Day, we are going back to school. There is a lot of serious work to do, and we are still dealing with a pandemic.  But here is a video I shared with staff as we try to readjust to yet another set of routines.

 

 

I know.  Stick to school and leave comedy to the professionals.   If you want even more, here is a previous video (actually filmed a couple years ago pre-COVID) about how sad I was with everyone gone in the summer (it doubles now as a pretty good COVID reality video).

 

 

To all the students, staff and parents going back to school today – take time for some joy and have a great year!

 

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It sort of feels like June.

When you are in schools for a while, different parts of the year have a unique “feel”. And while it is not quite the way it used to be, there are some of the June “feels” right now. You feel the energy of track meets and graduation and more classes learning outside.  You also feel the exhaustion that is typical in any June but more prevalent for sure this year.  

It does feel like we are ending a 15-month school year.  The year started at spring break of 2020.  You remember spring break of 2020?  We all sort-of, kind-of, maybe knew that we might not be coming back to fully in-person learning after the 2-week break.  And it was far from a 2-week break, as vacations were cancelled teachers and administrators began to get their head around what school without the buildings of school was going to be.  And from that point in March of 2020 to now, in June of 2021, it has all been a blur.  I know there was a summer break in there, but it was not a break like it is in a typical year, as time was spent preparing, and then re-preparing with new health guidance for September of 2021.  But here we are, with a real sense of accomplishment, the 15-month school year is now coming to an end.  Of course, COVID-19 is still on our minds, but when we look to the Fall we are having conversations about “near normal” times based on the latest guidance from health authorities.

So, a few observations.

  1.  The people in our system are special.  I would often hear of how slow education was to adapt, and then over the last 15-months, we have run linear courses, fully remote courses, hybrid courses, blended courses, quarter in-person courses, and now planning for semestered courses for the fall. And we have been diligent with health protocols throughout the system.   I know almost all professions have had to adapt over the last 15 months.  But in many jobs, you can move your computer from the office to your home and your job is fairly similar.  When you switch between all these different delivery models in education, it is not just the delivery model that changes, but everything about the course changes.  How you teach and assess in a hybrid course vs. a quarter in-person course is completely different so it leads to an ongoing process of reinvention.  
  2. There is a lot of trust in education.  In our district about 95% of families returned for in-person learning last fall, and over the year that has increased to almost all families now in attendance.  If we remember back to last August, there was a lot of fear and anxiety all around us.  There was also a lot of trust in key health officials in British Columbia and in schools to be safe places for students and staff.  And things were not perfect, but we were able to keep schools open for in-person learning all year. I have had my faith restored that  there is a lot of public trust in traditional institutions like health and education.  This does not mean we are not questioned (and we should be – this is healthy), but when there is conflicting information in the community, people turn their trust to schools.  We can never take this for granted and it makes me proud to be in the system.    
  3. I am most sorry for our grade 12 students.  A lot of people have been impacted by COVID.  No group more than the graduates of 2021.  I remember 12 months ago, when we lamented the challenges of the grad class of 2020.  They had the last 3 months of their school career turned upside-down. The class of 2021, had the last 15 months in a constant state of “I’m sorry, we wont be able to have ____ this year.”  And the blanks were endless, they were sports teams, clubs, humanitarian trips, fashion shows, boat cruises, awards nights, music concerts and of course in-person graduations.  Especially over the last few weeks, as some of the health restrictions have been eased, it has been wonderful to watch the community come together to celebrate this year’s grads.  They are a particularly special group.  In general, we need to give young people a lot of credit, they have sacrificed so many experiences that cannot just be delayed but are forever lost.  

I have written a lot on COVID related themes this year (COVID and High School as a Commodity, Is it Time for School Sports to Return?, Video is Changing Us, Superintendent Blogging in a Pandemic and Beyond, 7 COVID Edu Trends That Will Stick, What We Have Missed, Is This Essential? and Resetting Blended Learning).  And I am sure there will be more to write about in the fall.  For now, I want to thank all those in our system for the 15-month school year.  To those I work with who would join me for early morning calls on a Saturday when we had a COVID exposure that needed to be communicated, to those who kept our schools clean, to those who supported our most vulnerable learners, thank you.  We have all earned a summer vacation.  I close the year with this weird mix of pride and exhaustion.  Thanks to all of you reading this for continuing to offer thoughtful commentary and engagement.  

This is not actually the last post for me for the year, I have a entire series of posts planned for the summer, but more on that next week.  For now, I want to thank you for your positive contributions to this most challenging time.  

I am tired.  But I am constantly reminded that I picked the best profession because of the people I get to work with everyday.  

Happy Summer!

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I often have said that every class in the future would be a blended class. What I didn’t expect was for this to happen over night.  I use this space to celebrate many of the amazing things that are happening in classrooms, schools and education on a regular basis.  It is also worth writing about the things that don’t quite hit the mark as this is part of learning as well.  And blended learning, at least in our high schools this year, was only just fine, and there are some important lessons going forward.

First it is important to give the context for our COVID induced blended learning in West Vancouver.  Our schools have had in-person learning for the entire year.  Health rules placed limits on the size of cohorts in schools, so given the diverse electives that many of our grades 10-12 students take, this often meant that they took one fully in-person course each quarter and one blended course where they attended every other day.  Most grade 10-12 students in BC took some blended courses this year, particularly in larger high schools to meet the established cohort rules. Ultimately this year’s COVID blended learning experience was necessary to support student choice and programming.

I should also note that I am using blended learning and I realize it is not synonymous with hybrid learning but we have been using them as analogous this year.  For those outside the school system you probably see this as more edu-speak, and you are right, but blended learning and hybrid learning are actually different.  One of the challenges has been in different classes in the same school some have been running what would be typically blended learning classes and others hybrid classes but acting as if they were the same.  There are some varied definitions on both terms – HERE is one that was helpful for me.  

So, with that as a background, we finish this year with many saying that “blended (hybrid) learning was not as effective as we would have liked.”  And we have data that actually backs up some of the concerns.  

We asked our students and staff: 

Question: If you have taught/taken a hybrid course in Quarter One or Quarter Two (mix of face-to-face and remote learning), what effect has the hybrid structure had on students’ Knowledge and Understanding and Marks and Achievement?

Marks and Achievement

Knowledge and Understanding

In these graphs – the grey is negative, the blue is positive, the orange is no difference and yellow is no response.  We asked similar questions of in-person learning and the results were reversed.  So, where does this leave us?  Was I wrong in what I have been saying that all classes should be blended classes?  I don’t think so.

There was a specific required structure to the blended classes we offered that was required by the Health rules – half students were in class and half weren’t on any given day to reduce density and allow for physical distancing.  Teachers were assigned to blended classes again as necessary given the health rules.  From my conversations, the three big takeaways are:

  1. Blended learning works better for some students than others (heck so does face-to-face) and when they can self-select into courses.  We saw from the data that we did have a quarter of students that saw blended learning as a net positive.
  2. Blended learning works better for some teachers than others.  Some teachers are passionate about notions of flipped classrooms and extending in-class learning digitally and even balancing face-to-face and virtual participation at the same time.  Like with students, having teachers self-select into blended learning makes it better.
  3. Blended learning works more easily in some content areas than others.  Again back to our health rules, it was random this year which classes ended up being blended so we could not go through the thoughtful process of deciding that maybe PE 10 should be face-to-face but Social Studies 11 might work well as a blended course.

These findings are backed up by what was found across Metro Vancouver. Earlier this spring Dean Shareski published a white paper – Pandemic Shifts – that was the culmination of hundreds of local educators sharing their experiences during COVID around scheduling, assessment, blended learning and wellness.  The section on blended learning offers some excellent advice going forward.  

I think blended learning is a huge part of the future of learning.  We have some rehabilitation to do so blended learning is not saddled as only being the type of experiences we offered during a pandemic.  The way we were forced to offer it this year, didn’t match the promise and opportunities that blended learning can offer.  We are emerging from the pandemic with a far more flexible high school system for students, and we need to find the right ways to make blended learning a key part.  

 

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Galaxy High Program

You may have heard of students spending a semester in Europe or Asia.  Or maybe even about the school where you can learn on a boat for a year with the Class Afloat Program.  Well, West Vancouver Schools always wants to stay out front, and that is why today we are announcing the Galaxy High Program – where you spend a full-term learning in outer space.

Background

Space-Based Learning is an emerging field for study.  We have seen the real growth in place based learning, and outdoor learning in recent years, so it seemed natural that if we are looking to the earth for learning, we should also be looking into space.  And what might have seemed far fetched in recent years has become a reality recently.  The SpaceX Project from Elon Musk which includes his recently announced all-civilian mission, has opened the doors for students.   

The name and much of the curricular inspiration for our program comes from the 1986 television show Galaxy High – which emphasized many of the lessons that we are hoping for our students. Students will be stationed at the Galaxy High Space Station and from there travel as necessary to the moon for recreation and other programs.     

Supporting Courses 

While students in this program spend one term (3 months) in space it is a year-long program as they prepare for their trip.  In the first term, students will study space in popular media taking courses like Star Wars vs. Star Trek – Which Side Are You On? In the second term, students will focus on the specific preparations for their time in space.  Courses will include meal prep (learning how to use liquid salt and pepper for starters!), going to the bathroom in space and living in zero gravity.    

Program Description

On April 1, 2022 students will blast off from Loof Lipra Air Force Base just north of Vancouver.   Once landing at Galaxy High Space Station students will participate in many of the same courses they would normally take here at their local high school, and will earn credits for traditional courses.  Not even in space can you escape the high school lecture.  Given that they are in space they will take advantage of their surroundings.  Just like with how students connect with the earth here, over time, more time will be spent outside the space station and students will travel in the area around the station.    

Guest astronauts

We are excited to announce that just like on Earth our students will have access to wonderful experiences which includes several amazing guest speakers that will join us at Galaxy High.  Nancy Cartwright (an original cast member of the GH tv show and the long time voice of Bart Simpson), Lance Bass (formerly from the boy band N Sync who will also double as our music and dance teacher) and West Vancouver Schools own Principal Steve Rauh – many often say that Mr. Rauh is “out of this world”.  This is an all start lineup!

Admissions

We know the twelve spots in this program will go quickly, so we want to create a fair and equitable way to allow entrance. We are partnering with Rockets Candy for a Willy Wonka style promotion where 12 program admission certificates will be available in cases of Rockets Candy.   These will be distributed across Canada over the next 3 months and each has tracking devices so we can immediately celebrate those who find the certificates and become official students.  And like with the famous Willy Wonka story, even those who are not selected get a delicious consolation prize – Rockets Candy – a longtime birthday party loot bag / Halloween staple in Canada.  

Of course now seems like the absolute right time to launch (see what I did there) the program, given that there have been zero reported cases of COVID-19 in space – and anyways you wear a full mask in space so you are well protected.    

Today’s announcement is the latest in the long line of innovative actions from our school district.  Here is the list of those from recent years:

In 2012 I launched my FLOG.

In 2013 I made the announcement of Quadrennial Round Schooling.

In 2014 we formalized our System of Student Power Rankings.

In 2015 we created our Rock, Paper, Scissors Academy.

In 2016 we introduced the Drone Homework Delivery System.

In 2017 we introduced the Donald J. Trump Elementary School of Winning.

In 2018 we announced the construction of Soak City Elementary.

In 2019 we went back to the 80’s with the launch of the Belvedere Learning Academy.

In 2020 we embraced the latest in learning styles with our PBL (Pajama-Based Learning) Program.  

We know these are challenging times, but innovations just can’t stop. Happy April 1st.

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A couple weeks ago I wrote about 7 COVID Edu Trends That Will Stick following the pandemic.  Of course as much as there are things we have learned and experienced that we want to maintain, there are other experiences that have really been missed in schools for the last twelve months.  We know that concerns over well being are very real and there are aspects of schooling that while maybe not directly tied to reading, writing or math, that are crucial.   While definitely not an exhaustive list, here are 5 things that have been missed this past year and we need to return:

Travel – I know travel comes up for many people in all parts of their lives, but it is a big part of school and not just those big spring break trips that groups of students might take to Europe.  Travel is about secondary PE classes going to the local fitness facility to work out, it is about elementary students going to Science World or the Aquarium and it is about school teams or performance groups getting to go to other places to play and perform.  And for adults it is about going to meetings and conferences and connecting in-person with colleagues.  We don’t realize how much travel is in education until it is gone.  Travel enriches the school experience for everyone.

Performance – Practice is great but performance is also a big part of school.  While in some areas performance can continue – if you are learning math you can “perform” on a test.  And yes, there are virtual performances for various disciplines in the arts.  But there are no musicals, public dance recitals or school rock concerts.  In sports all competition between schools has been wiped out.  While training still continues, this practice usually leads to competition in games, tournaments and meets.  And it is not just sports and arts, it is also robotics, science fairs, debating events and many other places that competing and performance are part of the learning process.  All of this has been on hold.  Training is great, but training that builds towards performance and all of the lessons that come from it are really powerful.  We need to get back to public showcases.  

Shared Meals – Whether it is kids or adults, food is a big part of school.  Lunch times with friends are often some of the best memories for students as they build social skills, make friends and foster community.  And for adults, food often bring us together.  We debate ideas over pizza or learn from a great speaker while eating sushi together.  And in our community food brings people to the school.  Feast events or similar opportunities are reasons for people to come together.   The power of “breaking bread” is real and is something that is used so often in schools (though I admit that I am eating a little healthier without the food events).  

Being Off – It can feel like with video conferencing we are always on.  Whether you are an adult or child in the system, we all need some times to be off – to be with our own thoughts.  In the world of Zoom, Google Meets and Teams this feels often less easy.  Having our cameras on makes us feel like we are always watching and being watched.   Being on all the time is its own version of exhausting.  It will be nice to have the option of sitting quietly in the back of the room again in the post-COVID world.

Unplannedness – I wrote a post last spring about the loss of chit-chat.  The argument is that one of the best things about school is the silly side conversations about tv shows, or personal interests.  And while we can create some of this online it is not the same.  During the pandemic our rules in school need to be very strict – it is hard to deviate from the script.  These deviations, often called “teachable moments,” are some of the best parts of school.   This unplannedness (I am not sure this is actually a word) is so lacking.  Over this last year every movement during the day has clear purpose and structure.  And while I agree with those who say in this world we can “get through the work much faster” the real work of education is much bigger than the outcomes for any course.

There is definitely a lot to take with us from the COVID-19 education world and continue with going forward but I am also hopeful that we see a return to some elements we have really missed this past year.  

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As we continue to educate in the midst of a pandemic should we prioritize student well being and their mental health or the curriculum and traditional course work?

These are the kinds of questions in education that I find extremely frustrating because of course the choice is not really one or the other.   

It was reassuring listening to Linda Darling-Hammond speak last week at the annual AASA National Conference on Education.  She spoke about how the focused commitment to social emotional learning will lead to other improved education outcomes, and as we support the well being of our students, this is actually also part of the academic agenda.   These important elements of our system are not siloed off, they are interconnected.

It was the second time at the conference I heard a strong argument around the rejection of false choices.  In remarks at the start of the conference, AASA President Kristi Wilson spoke about a new school being built in her home district in Arizona that has a joint focus on STEM and the humanities.  She spoke about rejecting the notion that if you were committed to future technologies including coding and computers you did so at the expense of history or critical thinking.

The challenge of false choices is something I see all the time with education.  Just jump onto edu-Twitter and there will be many experts telling you that in education you have to choose between X or Y.  It is really reflective of the larger challenge we seem to be facing in our world where so much of what we do has become polarized.  If you believe in a strong arts program, you can’t be committed to high academic achievement.  If you think having students digitally connected you are somehow opposed to getting students outside and engaging more closely with our planet.  It is really hurting our system – we want to simplify discussions.  If the new principal is a former basketball coach they must not value the arts.  Or if they taught senior math and science they will not support the humanities.  

It is not a choice for education to be about preparing students for a world of work or life as a contributing citizen.   It has always been both and so much more.  Those who perpetuate false choices from inside and outside our system do so with the goal of dividing education advocates.  Our system has always had multiple goals and social, emotional and academic development do not come at the expense of each other.

We need not have “Pepsi or Coke” debates in education and we should be wary of those who want to perpetuate false choices in our system.  

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