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Archive for the ‘SD45’ Category

I have been asking students, teachers, administrators, parents and others lately – When you have just a couple of sentences to say something about your school or your district – what do you tell people?

Almost all the younger students I spoke with mentioned their teacher. From being “nice” to “funny” to “caring”, elementary students said that when others ask them about their school they talk about how much they like their teacher.  They also spoke about how fun school was and often referenced field trips, sports or other activities out of the norm.  One young woman shared how she loved when her teacher told stories, like a recent one of the missing “O”.  The story was built around learning about contractions and how “do not” becomes “don’t” – she recited the full story to me.

For older students, many often referenced teachers, but also were more likely to talk about what courses or programs they like.  They also spoke about how their high school program was preparing themselves for university.  I heard from students who said that by taking AP courses, they were more ready for post-secondary.  The high school students also often spoke about culture and climate and how school made them feel.  It was interesting as while some of the comments around care and concern are ones I would think could be heard at almost any school in the country, they felt it was unique in their individual schools.

Adults – whether staff or parents – used words like innovation, leadership and culture (not terms that came up with the students).  Adults also often commented about the size of the district.  West Vancouver, while a large district when one looks provincially, is small by Metro Vancouver standards – and that was a selling point for adults.  Comments like, “we are a small district so we have close relationships” came up.  Another said, “The fact that we are small is a positive.  It’s personal.”  There was also a sense that the smallness allowed for nimbleness.  There were also a number of comments about culture.  I am always interested in these, in trying to pinpoint exactly how culture shows itself.  Culture was often linked to support, innovation, risk-taking and opportunities.

It is the time of year when families are making choices for school for next year.  And I think it is important to always know what our elevator pitch for our schools and our district is.  I love how words like community, opportunity and innovation came through so often.  Of course now I am curious to know if this is what we are about, and these qualities in some way are unique to what we are doing in West Vancouver – exactly what is it we are doing that perhaps others aren’t that is leading to this work.

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I often write about the need for student programs to stay relevant. In my last post I was referencing some of the new program offerings for the fall in our schools. There has always been an added layer of urgency around this in West Vancouver with several highly respected Independent Schools in our community. We know many of our local families could afford to send their children to these schools, but they choose public education. And of course they choose public education for a myriad of reasons, but we know that high quality teaching and learning is right at the top of the list.

So, while we often speak about the student recruitment challenges in our schools, this last year we have turned our attention to staff recruitment (in all jobs from educational assistants, to teachers to administrators) in ways we never have before. The change from surplus to shortage of teachers provincially has definitely changed our thinking.  We used to get up to 100 or more applicants on openings and now we just get a handful.  Of course the biggest shift in British Columbia was a Supreme Court ruling that led to the reinstatement of class size and composition language and was the driver behind almost an instant need for thousands of teachers across the province.  Beyond this, are the more local effects and for us housing affordability and commute times are ones that often are mentioned.  And also at the same time a changing workforce, with more staff turning down full-time employment and opting for lifestyle over income.

Just as it is sometimes taken for granted that students will always just keep coming to our schools, so it is for staff.  With attracting students I saw some districts take the approach that they just needed to keep doing more of the same to ensure students attended local schools.  We have taken a different approach, we have more choice programs, we have embraced a digital culture with learning and focused on new ways to organize and assess learning.  Turning to staff, I think it also foolish to try to do just more of the same with recruiting and think we will get different results. I think the modern teacher has some different motivations and life outlook than even new teachers a decade ago.  I am amazed, for example, by how many teachers only want part-time work as they want to have a business on the side or want to flexibility to travel or do other things.

While there is still work to be done around harmonization, most comparable positions offer fairly similar salaries and benefits across the province.  As this can maybe work in some sectors – we can’t just pay people more to recruit them from other districts.  And salaries and benefits are not what I am hearing as the driving decisions around where people work.  It is more about culture and flexibility.  With the challenge of housing affordability and traffic congestion, we need to offer something, that will make people who have longer commutes (they need to drive through other districts) come and work for us.

This is a newer challenge for us, and not one that gets tightly solved in one blog post.

So for now there are some things we are doing:

  • we are helping cover the costs of schooling so existing staff can pursue advanced degrees in areas of need
  • we are exploring employee-specific childcare options – something we hear as a driver behind decisions
  • we are advocating for more local housing options and transportation improvements (truly longer term thinking)
  • we are asking our newer teachers what will keep them here (we too often rely on dated stories about why people choose to work in one place over another)

Many of our most talented staff (in a variety of roles) spend up to an hour commuting to work each day. And when I ask them about it they speak about the culture of schools, the flexibility and support for them professionally and the chance to work in a high performing, talent rich environment.  Ensuring all staff feel this will be an ongoing challenge for us as leaders.

I have spent the last decade here almost daily thinking about the programs and opportunities we needed to ensure our schools were the places that parents would choose for their children.  I now have those same thoughts, when I think about our staff.  In order to continue to be a destination for students, we need to continue to attract and retain amazing administrators, teachers and support staff.

I am always curious about other ideas people have on this or strategies people have seen be successful.

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I wrote something earlier this week for our local school district audience highlighting the some of the community service I was seeing with our students. I will republish it here as although it is about our students in West Vancouver, it is really part of the story about the modern student. The modern student values academics but is really defined by being a passionate citizen.

For this column, I met with two grade 2 boys who planned and executed a book sale to raise money for cancer research. I also spoke with a group of grade 7 students who had found the amazing power of anonymous giving. Of course, these are just two of the dozens of similar stories across our district, and I know being played out across schools everywhere.

While we can get fixated on a particular test result or academic metric, it is great to step back and see the amazing ways are schools are honing the citizenship of our learners. And be reminded our kids are pretty awesome! Here is the full text of my article this week:

Everywhere you turn at this time of year, people are engaged in giving and charitable works. In our schools over the course of the school year, students and staff also engage in projects, small and large, that contribute to local and international charitable efforts. Many of these projects are focussed around the holiday season or other special occasions, but a number of initiatives also take place year-round.

While we often think of these efforts in terms of the benefits that flow to recipients, a growing body of scientific evidence demonstrates that acts of philanthropy strongly benefit the giver as well. To mark the season of giving, I’d like to highlight a few examples of this work around the district in this month’s column, and reflect on a few of the lessons that students have mentioned to me.

Caulfeild Elementary

On December 4th, Caulfeild embarked on a whole school inquiry, beginning with the question Through Empathy, can we better meet the needs of those in society? A representative from the Harvest Project visited the school’s assembly, held that morning, and students were shown a short video to provoke classroom discussions. The purpose of the inquiry is to move beyond “giving” and “awareness” to incorporate a meaningful understanding that not everyone’s basic needs are being met, and develop ways to support those needs.

École Pauline Johnson

In addition to a special effort on behalf of Cops for Cancer earlier this year, the school is very proud of two boys in Grade 2, Daniel and Robert, who collaboratively planned, launched and led a book sale this month to raise money to donate to cancer research. The boys raised $583.15 from the sale, and when I met with them to congratulate them on their success, they told me about how their initiative has sparked others in their class to also engage in community-minded projects. Daniel and Robert said that they were surprised with how helpful everyone was through the process, but also learned just how difficult the planning can be for such a large initiative.

 

Eagle Harbour Montessori

Each year, the school studies a continent as part of a year-round project. In September, each student in the upper elementary class researches a charity and presents their findings to the class. The class then votes to determine which charity the school will focus on for the year. To support the chosen cause or causes, students hold and organize their own fundraisers. Last year, as the school was studying South America, students raised funds for Free Kicks and the Galapagos Islands Trust. This year, with a focus on Antarctica and Australasia, students chose to support the Global Penguin Conservation and the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

Irwin Park Elementary

Students at Irwin Park have been filling shoeboxes full of essential items for the Union Gospel Mission, part of its Day of Care in association with Me to We. This initiative also includes a pajama day and buddy activities to support younger students. Parents at the school have organized Santa’s Workshop, where families donate items and then students shop for their families to support the Grade 7 legacy fundraiser. Finally, the school hosted a loonie drive to support the purchase of a tree at the Dundarave Festival of Lights. All funds raised support the Lookout Society’s North Shore shelter.

Ridgeview Elementary

At Ridgeview Elementary school, the Grade 7 We Team, along with teacher sponsors Cari Wilson and Russ Paterson, spearheaded a food drive called the We Scare Hunger Campaign. All items collected were delivered to their sister school, Grandview Elementary, and some of the students even stocked the pantry at Grandview. This year, the group collected so much that they had to enlist the help of the district’s facilities crew to deliver the collected items. In addition a Grade 4 class at the school, together with teacher sponsor Amy Meldrum, launched its second annual sock drive, collecting more than 822 pairs of socks. The initiative benefitted babies and young children through BabyGoRound and all other socks went to the North Shore’s Lookout Shelter.

West Bay Elementary

One Grade 6 class at West Bay Elementary school maintains contact with a group of school children in Africa, sending letters back and forth. A Grade 7 student spearheaded a shoebox clothing drive for women’s shelters in Vancouver; he made announcements and collected clothing and toiletries from each division, packed the items in shoeboxes and individually wrapped them. The Grade 7 students at the school have all been involved in the We Scare Hunger campaign, collecting canned goods to benefit food banks. The four Grade 6 and 7 classes provide dessert for the Oppenheimer Christmas Dinner – between the two classes, they bake about 500 dozen cookies, which are donated to the residents of the Downtown Eastside. Parents get in on the giving action too, by putting together hampers for families in need.

I had the chance to speak with Grade 7 students at West Bay about the “Joy Virus” they spread at Park Royal. The students in Mr. Darling’s class decided to pass on the “Secret Santa” this year and instead bring cheer to complete strangers at Park Royal. It was interesting to hear the reactions of students. They found great joy and fulfillment for doing good for others, without a typical reward attached. A number of them spoke about how they have also done recent random acts of kindness, not because they would get credit, but because they knew it would create joy for others, which in-turn warmed their hearts. It was a wonderful lesson in the power of giving.

The descriptions above are just a few examples of the organized giving efforts in place at West Vancouver Schools. Many other charitable actions are taken by students in our other schools, and secondary students are also very involved, particularly as members of the many clubs that thrive on our high school campuses.

Finally, our own staff gets in on the action every year, by supporting local charities with funds raised during the district-wide Holiday Party celebration. Staff members at our schools and sites donate items to themed baskets, and a draw is held to give away the amazing and beautifully presented donations. This year, funds will be donated to Out in Schools, a program that works with the education and non-profit community organizations to reduce isolation, foster belonging and increase the safety of learning environments for all youth. A second donation from the fundraiser will go to the Street2Peak project, an organization that works with some of our region’s most vulnerable at-risk youth, using physical fitness, outdoor pursuits and marathon training to turn lives around.

I am very proud of the work being done by the West Vancouver Schools community to support those in need, whether locally or around the world. We each have a special gift, and I know that our community is a generous one.

Thanks to West Vancouver Schools Communications Manager Bev Pausche for assistance with this post.

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It is always worth checking in on what others around me in West Vancouver Schools have been writing about.  I always find  it interesting to look at the topics people have the passion to blog about.

Laura Magrath from Bowen Island recently wrote about the River of Change:

Change can come quickly and unexpectedly, like the rising waters of the creek beside me, and the feeling of change can be an overwhelming roar that fills your being, like the deafening waterfalls in my local forest. Change can cause the solid ground we perceive to stand on to shake and perhaps give way, like the banks of the creek giving way to the surge of water, and we often resist change with all our might, despite the inevitable outcome, like the drops of water clinging to the foliage.

Craig Cantile’s recent post is about toilet paper (well, sort of) and he reflected on using the power of questions not just at work, but also at home with his wife and son:

He had me at “I wonder”. That is the best type of question. The curious nature in all of us is something fostered by my son’s teacher, our school and life in our house.

Judy Duncan at West Bay looked at the work they are doing in coding, portfolios and outdoor learning.  In writing about portfolios she said:

Each student now has a digital portfolio to house work samples and reflections related to each of the six units of inquiry. These online portfolios housed on FreshGrade replace the large binders that contained paper copies of student work. With this digital platform, videos, photos, and samples of work can be posted and shared with families on an ongoing basis.

Hollyburn’s Nathan Blackburn shared some thoughts on his time so far at the school, and just what “personal best” means:

“Personal Best” might be a hard quality to define, but it also may be the most important piece of the Hollyburn Code of Conduct. When we are each working to be our personal best, we are creating a community of caring, engaged learners. Still, students may wonder how we show our personal best. Luckily, the teachers have a variety of ways to help students recognize their personal best, and to see it in others as well.

At Ridgeview, Principal Val Brady covered communicating student learning, a topic that continues to be one that generates a lot of discussion:

While we encourage families to access and engage in all aspects of student learning provided by the school, by far, the most important determinant of student success at school is student voice. Nurture your child’s communication competency by asking questions about their learning. Have your child give specific examples or evidence of their learning. Connect student work with learning intentions. Engaging in the essential components of CSL and nurturing learning conversations with your child are key to school success.

And the blogging is not limited to out school leaders.  One of the regular bloggers is Cari Wilson who leads much of the digital innovation work in West Vancouver.  She has a weekly blog that shares tips for her colleagues in West Vancouver and beyond.  She recently wrote about the power of computational thinking:

However, in any discussion about coding, I think it is important to start off by discussing Computational Thinking. Computational Thinking is the basis for all coding. More importantly, it provides a great base for problem solving in any arena of life, from getting dressed for the snow to building a gingerbread house to completing a school project.

At its heart, Computational Thinking involves breaking a problem down into its parts, deciding which parts are important and which aren’t, looking for patterns that can help solve the problem and then creating a series of steps to solve the problem. These steps are called Decomposition, Abstraction, Pattern Recognition and Creating an Algorithm.

Yes, we have fewer regular staff bloggers than 3 or 4 years ago.  That said, those who are choosing the reflect publicly continue to make a great contribution to our collective learning.  My thanks to Laura, Craig, Judy, Nathan, Val, Cari and the others who continue to share their learning with us.

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Last week I was listening to a local university professor answer a question about some common characteristics about unsuccessful students at university.  It was an interesting provocation.  We often list off qualities of those students who are most successful in making the transition from high school to university.  The list usually includes characteristics like grit, determination, flexibility, time management and communication skills.  The answer to the question about the unsuccessful student was interesting – what this professor observed was that if the first day of university was the student’s first day on campus, he or she was likely going to be behind.  This speaks to the power of transitions.

Transitions is something we think a lot about in the K-12 system.  We have several that consume our focus.  There is that first transition from pre-school to kindergarten.  One often hears the term “k readiness” used to describe the ability of these 4 or 5 years old to make the transition to the increased structure of formal schooling.  And there are many other transitions along the way, most notably as students move from elementary to high school.  It seems that the move from buildings is more than just a physical move for students.  In districts that start high school in grade 8, I often hear about that age being the most challenging, while in places that start high school in grade 9, those communities see that grade as the greatest challenge.  It is clearly more than being about a certain age, and also about the change in buildings, routines, teachers and courses that is the key challenge for young people.  And finally the transition from high school to post-secondary and the world of work is one that requires a lot of attention.

Traditionally, we have spent great energies focused on the curriculum transition between these different levels.  We want to make sure that when students enter grade 8 social studies, they have been well prepared by grade 7 social studies.  This is most often true in academic areas.  And this kind of preparation is important.

More though, we are seeing transitioning more holistically.  We are offering courses outside the regular timetable to grade 6 and 7 students that they can take with a high school teacher at the local high school – a way of pursing a passion and also beginning to grow a familiarity with their next school.  More than ever, we have elementary students playing sports, participating in music events and engaging in other events at local high schools to help build relationships.  Without being so direct, we have been doing in our system what the local university professor spoke about.  We are trying to find ways that the first day of high school is not the first day in the building for our high school students.

I was struck last week by an amazing presentation from Chartwell Elementary and Sentinel Secondary at the BC School Superintendents Conference.  These are two of our schools that share a field and clearly much more.

Chartwell Elementary and Sentinel Secondary shared the work they are doing around capstone projects, in which students pursue independent research on a question or problem of their choice, engage in scholarly debates in the relevant disciplines, and with the guidance of a teacher, work towards a deep understanding of the topic. Sentinel Secondary school has embraced the Advanced-Placement (AP) Capstone project as part of their robust AP program, and they have shared their knowledge with Chartwell Elementary school. Having seen this in action at Sentinel, Chartwell has built a capstone program of their own for grade 6 and 7 students. Students are getting the chance to experience the type of learning they will be able to choose later in their school careers. It is inspiring to see both the younger and older students so passionate about their research areas.  And what a great way for students to have a common language across grades and schools.

I was so impressed by UBC President Santa Ono who spoke at TEDx West Vancouver ED earlier this fall (click on the link – it is a must watch video!) and shared his commitment around tackling the mental health crisis that crosses over from high school into post-secondary. This was a good reminder of the stresses that cross our systems, and how we need to work together to make sure students are not just ready for the academics of the next stage, but are supported with a far more global view of transitions.

I worry about conversations of readiness.  I hate the idea that the purpose of “Grade X” is to get students ready for “Grade Y”.  The purpose of grade 4 is not to get students ready for grade 5, the purpose of grade 4, IS grade 4.  That said, we need to continue to find ways to assist in the various transitions that students engage in throughout their school careers.

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I had the wonderful opportunity to share the stage early in the summer with Yong Zhao at the Canadian School Board Association Congress.  Yong was quick to take issue with my friendly views on the PISA results.  Last fall I wrote about the most recent results that saw Canadian students, and in particular BC students excel.

Yong argued, in part, that by focusing on improving PISA results schools and school jurisdictions work to get better at a dated system, one built around standard tests in areas like math, reading and writing.

I have been thinking about the larger idea that focusing on getting better may be an impediment to real change.  I am feeling the tension with our work right now in British Columbia.  Yes, we want to get better – we want more students reading at grade level, more learners with basic numeracy skills and a higher percentage of students graduating.  But we also want to get different – we want to embrace core competencies, give attention to emerging areas like coding and robotics, and have more students prepared to be citizens for an ever-changing world.

In West Vancouver we see the revised curriculum as an invitation to do things differently.  The curriculum and assessment encourages us to work across various content areas, have students produce real work for the real world, and give students ongoing feedback so students have greater ownership of their own learning.

I have been persuaded that there are some areas that lend themselves very well to an agenda of improvement.  I see the precision with which we often teach reading in the younger ages as one in particular.  If, though, we focus on trying to get 2% better at everything every year, and make incremental improvement towards our goal, we will find, even if we meet our targets, we have students prepared for a world of the past.  And likely we will hit plateaus where doubling-down on more of the same will not improve results.  Rather, we need to keep our eyes focused on innovation and transformation, looking at how we can work differently to keep-up with the changes around us.

And here is the big a-ha I would like to share – as we have been committed to doing things differently, and as we have used the curriculum changes as a reason to think differently about how we organize learning, and as we have embraced a range of changes around the large theme of transformation our students actually do at least as well, if not better, on traditional tests and measures.  As we have embraced inquiry, new technologies and self-regulation, test scores have gone up.     You don’t have to narrow your thinking to just try to get better, when you look at being different, the results will come along!

Here is to a year of continuing to be better but getting better while we are committed to looking to do things differently.

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When you do a lot of speaking and writing, at some point your own words will come back to bite you.

I have often used a sports coach analogy when speaking about the superintendency.  The argument being that like sports coaches, no matter how good they are, superintendents very often have a shelf life.  And at some point change is necessary and it is far easier to change the coach than the players.  It is an argument that is often made more generally around school administrators as well – that there is a term – somewhere about 5 years which is the right length of service for any school.

It is always interesting to see data around the superintendency out of the United States where in many urban districts the position can turn over every few years.  While I do not have Canadian data, I suspect the tenure of the average superintendents is much longer.   We seem to have less of the “sports coach” mentality north of the border. Perhaps disappointing those on both sides of the argument, the research out of the Brown Center on Educational Policy  suggests neither long-term superintendency nor the hiring of a new superintendent have a link to improved student achievement.

I am writing this post as we are bringing the 2016-17 school-year to an end.  This marks my 10th year in West Vancouver, here in the position of Superintendent that I was appointed to more than seven-and-a-half years ago, and have held for six-and-a-half years.  Along the way I have become the longest-serving Superintendent in Metro Vancouver and one of the longest-serving in the province.

And I have changed my tune.  I am far less absolute about the sports coach analogy.  Maybe this is a case of you don’t know what you don’t know.  I do find a need to ensure we are continuing to have a culture that embraces fresh ideas but there are other ways to do that than just changing the Principal or Superintendent.  I know for us some things that have helped keep ideas current and the challenging of the status quo constant have included:  hiring of a mix of internal and external candidates for leadership position,  using outside experts to provoke our thinking in our district, continuing to visit schools and districts with unique programs and ideas, and staying very focused on the overarching goals of the Board’s Strategic Plan and our own objectives within this larger context.

There is a definite danger in complacency that we need to continually challenge over time.  When a new principal arrives at a school or a new Superintendent in a district, there is a burst of energy.  Whether the predecessor was highly regarded or the community was glad to see a change, the change brings curiosity, which in turn often leads to engagement and excitement.  Of course change is not the only way to bring about this energy.  I often hear from staff at the school and district levels that they can “wait out” any leader as they just come and go.  When the culture of leadership changes, so does this attitude.  I think of several schools of ours where principals have been in the school for five or more years – no longer is there talk about “outlasting” them – some of the cynicism is gone and people are getting down to work together.

In the beginning one of my greatest positives I offered was that I was from outside and came with ideas about different ways of doing things.  Now, 10 years in, I bring the assurances that come from people knowing who I am, what I believe and how I think we can move forward together.  It is also incredibly rewarding to not only start initiatives, but to see them through.  Longevity helps ensure we are committed to short-term and long-term results.

I am a little nervous in writing this, that some will read it that I am about to leave or perhaps I will never leave.  I have no plans either way, but my thinking has evolved.  I have come to realize there are more ways to ensure a district stays fresh than reshuffling the leadership deck chairs.

Finally, on the topic of year-end, here is  a video celebrating the 2016-17 school year in West Vancouver:

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