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Archive for the ‘SD45’ Category

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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In education we often live with one foot in the present and the other in the future.  And this has been more true during the COVID-19 pandemic.  We are both making changes on the go as we match learning systems to different stages of the pandemic, while also looking for lessons learned during this time as we prepare for a post-pandemic education system.  There are many ideas to take from the last 12 months that will likely impact our systems for a generation, here are 7 that I  have seen:


A Nationalized Conversation –  Canada is one of the few countries without a major role for the Federal government in education.  That said, there has been more connections than ever across this country as provinces have taken similar health approaches in schools, and Canadian educators have looked to connect digitally.  With the Federal Government investing one billion dollars in national education it has helped emphasize the connections.  The networking seems destined to continue, and even though education falls to provincial governments and local jurisdiction, from Indigenous Education, to technology access to literacy there are many important national connection points that need to continue. 

Expectations Around Video and Social Media –  Advocacy for the use of video and social media in schools and districts is not new, but nothing like a pandemic to make it obvious that non-traditional tools are needed.  Now, not that they are the only tools, but whether is is sharing information nights with school communities, or holiday concerts or assemblies, video is just expected.   We see this trend with leadership as well.  I have argued for a while that leaders need to be in the digital game, and that is more true than ever.   I appreciate what my BC colleague Jordan Tinney has been able to do, making a massive district feel like a small community through the use of digital tools and regular engagement.  

High schools will forever be different – I often hear, “the quarter system is not new, this is not that innovative.”  And this is true (quarter system is students taking only 2 courses at a time) – examples of the system in BC date back decades.  The best of what I have seen with secondary schools is not the particular block structure but what has come about because of the scheduling.  What we have seen includes:  courses have become less about time in a seat,  real conversations about what is essential have been prioritized, greater flexible time for students to make choices over their learning, and a value placed on teacher student relationship in high school with fewer teacher contacts for each learner.  Now, many of these could have been done without the quarter system, but the combination of factors of fewer classes, safety rules that limit students in some classes, and a widespread curiosity for new models has led to some exciting work.

Health and Education are Permanent Partners –  Health and Education have always worked closely together.  But this year is completely different.  We are in daily contact – and not just at a superficial level, we have got to know each others’ work.  So, going forward these relationships built through COVID will carry over.  On everything from vaping to physical literacy to mental health to just broadly building a stronger community we will be more explicit partners. 

Digitization is Here  – We have been saying for more than a decade that we were moving digital on the education side with textbooks and other learning resources and on the administrative side with forms and processes.  And then, after saying it, we have often not fully invested in the tools, choosing to live with one foot in the past paper world and one foot dipping its toes in the digital world.   We have had no choice but to go digital in many places over the last 12 months, and again this does not show any signs of going back. There is finally far greater alignment between how we say we want education and what it looks like.

Equity, Equity, Equity  – The pandemic has on one hand brought the challenges of equity in many forms to the forefront and also showed things we have said were almost impossible, are possible.  You have seen me argue before in this blog, “if we can figure out how to have garbage picked up at every house we surely can figure out how to get these same houses wifi” and like with garbage pick-up it should just be expected.  On the concerning side, we saw vast differences in the access to tools like technology and also in the access to opportunities during the pandemic.  We also, though, figured out how to get digital devices into the hands of almost all students – something we deemed impossible until recently.  Post pandemic we need to keep this focus.  The pandemic has put a spotlight on where we need to do better – from equity of technology, to equity of experiences.

Learning is often an outdoor activity –  Again, we are finally doing what we have said for a long time is the right thing. Particularly in our younger grades our students are spending time outside connecting to nature and having authentic real world experiences.  Our medical officials have encouraged our students to spend more time outside.  Many educational experts have already been arguing the powerful pedagogy of this, for many years.  Now rather than just building playgrounds on school grounds, we are looking to create outdoor learning spaces.  From school gardens, to urban agriculture, the future of schooling needs to be more time outside.  And how exciting – that school could be both more digital and more connected to the earth.  While some would view these ideas is incompatible, but really can be complimentary.  

Our greatest challenge of the next 12-24 months is to ensure that pieces of all 7 of these ideas are not lost and are part of our system going forward. There will be a lot of noise to “go back to normal.” When we meet with system and school leaders – nobody wants that – we had a good system, that has been taxed by a pandemic but there is learning that can make us even a better system as we look to the fall of 2021 and beyond.  

It is a stressful and exhausting time to be an educator, but it is also an exciting time as we look for ways to have our lived experience match the system we have been envisioning for much of this century.  

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My “Top 3” List for 2020

The “Top 3” starts its second decade with the 11th annual list. Of course, it will be a little different this year – COVID has changed a number of categories. Then again, the categories already change every year. I appreciate everyone who has checked in here at the blog this year. The pandemic has been good for blog traffic. As per usual, while we do some serious work in education, it is also good to not take ourselves too seriously.

Previous Top 3 lists for: 2019 (here) 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. New Wardrobe Rules Announced for All Staff
  2. The Goldilocks Dilemma
  3. Our Spring Break Hawaiian Vacation

I have learned to not be offended that my April Fools Day post often generates the most traffic of the year.  It does help me believe that if this education thing doesn’t work out I could try comedy.  All three of the highest traffic posts this year were published in the heart of the spring pandemic.  The pandemic has opened up so many topics to explore this year and will for many years as we emerge from it  

Top 3 Adaptations that I saw in our schools:

  1. Move to video
  2. Focus on what is important
  3. Timetables

We have been talking about video in schools for years, but the move has been slow.  All of the sudden, we quickly moved to Teams, Zoom and Google Meet.  It was not perfect but just as we adopted out of necessity in our personal lives, we did so to in our school lives.  With reduced contact time in classes, we saw the need to focus clearly on what was important.   A year ago we couldn’t imagine losing an hour of in-person learning over the year and not “falling behind” but we saw dramatic reductions on in-class time and we were forced to think differently about learning.  And timetables – there are lots of options, but generally I have found people like what they have and are not wanting to change.  Well, everyone had to change.  In BC it meant most high schools spent their summer converting to a version of the quarter-system.  And while the quarter-system in itself is not that interesting, how schools were structuring flexible learning and other options within the system was really exciting.

Top 3 Virtual Education Related Virtual Events:

  1.  Grad 2020
  2. Remembrance Day / December Concerts
  3. Rethinking Secondary Series

We are largely Zoomed out.  And I found many of the professional development experiences to be uninteresting done virtually without the chance to connect with other participants.  That said, there were some really great events.  Grad events seemed to exceed most expectations.  There were many who commented the virtual events were actually better as families could really enjoy them more.  Likewise what schools did around Remembrance Day and December Concerts was outstanding.  And all of the sudden these events were opened up to family and friends who might not normally get to attend.   Finally to highlight one professional event, many of us worked with Dean Shareski on Rethinking Secondary a series of conversations looking at what we might do now and going forward in our high schools.  What is great about Dean’s sessions is that you also learn some zoom strategies you can use in other circumstances later.  

Top 3 Limited Series Podcasts that I listened to:

  1. The Flying Coach
  2. Nice White Parents
  3. The Rabbit Hole

I am a little late to the podcast world.  I have been a “music only” person when out for a walk or run but this year I discovered the podcast.  In addition to some regulars I listen to like This American Life, and my wife’s Lazy Parenting these three limited series were all really good.  As someone who enjoys the art of coaching, it was great to Listen to Pete Carroll and Steve Kerr talk about the art of coaching.   In Nice White Parents, you get the story of the US education system which has many elements that we see in our own system in Canada when well meaning parents look to try to help fix a school.  And finally with The Rabbit Hole, we get a look at how the internet can be manipulating us and the real power and danger of some sites.  

Top 3 shows that I binged:

  1.  The Queen’s Gambit
  2. The Last Dance
  3. Home Before Dark

The Queen’s Gambit lived up to the hype.  I don’t really understand chess, but I loved the show.  The Last Dance benefited in part from timing – it was the only new show and only sports on at the time.  And Home Before Dark is a great series on Apple and I particularly liked that so much of it was filmed in and around where I live – it is always fun to see local landmarks in tv shows. 

Top 3 ideas about education reinforced in The Queen’s Gambit:

  1.  Giftedness is complicated
  2. One caring adult can make a huge difference
  3. Age is only one way of organizing students

A great column by Geoff Johnson got me thinking about The Queen’s Gambit in the context of education.  To simplify a few of the lessons for school, we see from the main character Beth just how complicated being “gifted” can be.  We also see with her, and her relationship with the school’s janitor Mr. Shaibel that having one caring adult can make such a huge difference for a student.  And finally, I was struck by how at ease people were with allowing Beth to train for chess with the local high school chess team.  We rarely allow students to train for anything outside of their age, but age is just one way that we can and should organize students.  

Top 3 pieces of media I am embarrassed to admit I listened to / watched and enjoyed:

  1.  Saved by the Bell (tv reboot)
  2. Bill and Ted Face the Music (move sequel)
  3. Ron Burgundy Podcast (podcast follow-up to movie series)

We all have guilty pleasures.  Mine are usually somehow linked to the 1980’s.  The Saved by the Bell reboot, which I have seen on some tv critics lists of the top shows of the year is smart in ways that original never was.  The new version tackles real issues but does so in a way that recognizes we are all in on the joke of the reboot of the cheesy original.  The third chapter in the Bill and Ted franchise, 29 years since the last one again tackles some serious topics with the campy feel of the first two movies.  Finally, I can’t say Ron Burgundy offers any deep lessons, but if there is such a thing as uncomfortable radio this is it as the Anchorman character runs his own podcast.

Top 3 overused words / phrases in the edu-pandemic world (though probably overused everywhere):

  1.  Pivot
  2. The New Normal
  3. Unprecedented

I am sure I used all three this year.  Sorry I will try to stop next year.  I would appreciate others doing the same.

Top 3 ideas that we will be exploring more in 2021:

  1.  anti-racism
  2. equity
  3. sustainability

Events in the United States and around the world brought the topic of anti-racism to the forefront in our schools.  We can see with the requests from teachers around pro-d and the interest from our parent community, we will definitely be doing more work and going deeper in our work in 2021.  The same is true for equity.  The pandemic has really shown the challenges of equity – like with access to technology that still exist in our system.  And with sustainability, it feels like as the pandemic hit, some of the good work our students were leading was put on pause, but in 2021 I think it will be back strong.

Top 3 COVID shifts in schools that can’t snap back after the pandemic:

  1.  Secondary Timetable
  2. The Move Outside
  3. Digitization  

Like other parts of schooling over the last 9 months, it has been a work in progress.  All teachers and administrators I have been speaking with find parts of the new timetable they don’t want to let go.  I would be shocked if many districts, even if they are able, return in September 2021 to the way they organized high schools in September 2019.  Another shift that has been long coming but accelerated by the pandemic has been outdoor learning.  Local experts like Megan Zeni, are supporting teachers to take the classroom outside.  From gardens to full outdoor learning classrooms, classes are embracing outdoor learning.  And finally, we are really figuring out digitization in the K-12 setting.  For the last 20 years we have been exploring this, but the urgency has finally given us the push we needed.  

Top 3 ways the pandemic changed my work life:

  1.  I was more efficient
  2. I felt less connected
  3. I didn’t feel I knew how we were doing

I have found the pandemic gave me more sustained work time with fewer distractions which made me more efficient with the mundane parts of the job.  Of course with fewer distractions, I also felt less connected.  Zoom didn’t replace the chance to be in classrooms talking with students and teachers.   And I was not quite sure how we were doing.  I heard from more parents and staff than usual – but their views tended to be on the extremes, that this was the best or worst thing to ever happen to education. 

Top 3 ways the pandemic changed my life outside of work:

  1.  I walked and ran a lot more
  2. I ate meals at more regular times
  3. I slept more

It was weird having more control over my time.  One of the advantages of digital is that I didn’t have to be in my office for every meeting, and for example, I could watch the grad ceremonies when it worked best for me, and not have to watch them in real time.  My step count is up, my weight is down, and in 2020 I slept about 35 minutes more a night than in 2019.  We will see if these changes hold in 2021.  

 

Top 3 talks I gave over the last decade that show how my thinking has changed and how it hasn’t:

  1.  Students Live!  (2010 TEDx Talk)

2. What is Smart? (2014 TEDx Talk)

3. Keynote this past October for CUEBC:

Top 3 things I have learned as I approach the end of year 25 in education:

  1.  High School Principal is the best job
  2.  Everyone has stuff going on
  3.  Schools are changing faster than we think

21-year-old me going out into my first classroom as a student-teacher would have thought 25 years was a lifetime.  Now, as I will be finishing year 25 in teaching this year, it seems as though it has all gone so fast.  I love my current job, but I think about how lucky I was to be principal at Riverside Secondary School in Port Coquitlam.  I worked with some of the most amazing people and loved the energy in the building every day.  It was exhausting but so exciting!  I have also learned that all students, staff and parents bring the complexities of their lives with them into schools.  There really is no leaving it all at the door.  Finally, schools are really changing quickly.  The experience of students now is dramatically different than those just a decade ago – we know better so we are doing better.  And yes, the structure of schooling is still quite similar, the experience is quite different.  

As always I really appreciate the connections we make over the year.  I am so impressed with how well our schools have done this fall.  I know there are some out there that seem to be cheering against schools right now, but staff and students have done amazing things.  To all the staff that are still reading, enjoy your break!

All the best for a great 2021.  

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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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