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This post is a duplicate of the column in the October 2022 AASA School Administrator Magazine (link to magazine) and is based on a previous blog post published this past June.  

I MAY BE the most stereotypical teacher ever. My parents were teachers. Their parents were teachers. I met my wife at work, where we both were teachers.

I was born in Canada. My parents were born in Canada as well. I am superintendent in the school district my grandfather taught in during the 1930s and ’40s.

My back story is that despite some early learning challenges, I was a good student and performed well in school. After zooming through university studies as a geography and history major, I was back at my former junior high school as a teacher at age 22.

Now 26 years later and 12 years into my superintendency, education is the only career I have known.

Wider Backgrounds

I think I was (and still am) a pretty good teacher. But I also know we need to continue to do better to attract teachers to the profession who have a different story than I do. For too long, too many teachers’ stories were similar to mine. The teaching profession was largely made up of people who were successful at school, typically spoke English as their first language, were from long-established families in our country and often went straight into teaching as a career without other real work experiences.

We are trying to do better in our school district. Just as we have diversity among our learners, we need diversity in the adults who work with them. Having teachers who come to teaching after careers in construction or accounting or professional sports gives new perspectives to students and reminds them that for most, their work life will be made up of many different jobs.

Having teachers who struggled in school gives added voice to those in our classes who are struggling now. School does not come easy for everyone, and adolescence is hard, so having teachers with non-linear life experiences helps.

We also want our teaching force, just like our student population, to be culturally diverse, speaking different languages at home and demonstrating that our schools are reflective of our communities. We need to do better to recruit populations that have been traditionally underrepresented in the teaching profession.

With 75 percent or more of our teachers being female, we need to find ways to ensure men see the profession as valuable.

An Odd Notion

I know this is not really controversial, but it is hard. Changing the makeup of the adults who work in our schools is not only about who we hire, but also about who chooses to apply and who is encouraged to go into teaching. And it goes all the way back to what we show young students about the profession, that representation matters.

As we have recently started another school year and look ahead, this is a topic I think a lot about. It is a weird notion, but we need to do better to hire and retain staff who are not much like me.

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This blog post also appears in the Fall Newsletter for the Canadian Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association 

As we return to school this fall, we are applying the many lessons learned from the last three years.  There is a worry that we will simply snap back to pre-COVID times without implementing what we have learned throughout the pandemic.  In our district, we are holding onto many of our COVID adjustments, from keeping some meetings online, to building in flexible time for students and staff schedules, to focusing more on well-being.

This same reflection should be happening in all our jurisdictions as we look at school sports. 

It also just seems like the right time to reassess what we did pre-COVID, by asking ourselves questions like: are we offering the right sports to meet the current needs of our students?  Are our leagues achieving what we want? Are we happy with the mix of practice and competition, and are we satisfied with the level of competition with our school sports?  Over the last three years, almost every sport was impacted for at least two of those years, and instead of racing back to ‘the way things were’, it seems like the ideal time to be revising and evolving our vision for school sports.

As COVID eliminated school sports to varying degrees, we were reminded of just how important these activities were for social connectedness, and how for young people, and their coaches and families, school sports are crucial to social, emotional, and physical well-being. I would regularly hear from parents that school sports are the glue that connects their children to school. The importance of school sports is not just a gut-feel that many of us have, a 2021 University of Wisconsin study, found that athletes who were able to continue to play sports during the pandemic were less likely to report anxiety and depression symptoms than those who didn’t have the opportunity to participate.

Beyond reinforcing the value and importance of school sports, these are some opportunities, lessons, and takeaways:

  • Livestreaming sporting events in schools for health and safety reasons, while not new, engaged more students and families, and efforts should be made to continue once health and safety rules are relaxed.
  • In 2020-21, when most jurisdictions did not allow inter-school competition, many sports saw increased participation for what amounted to yearlong practicing. These are students we should be looking to keep engaged in school sports now that we are returning to traditional league structures.
  • There was a reset on competition. School sports doubled-down on their values of being about student growth, development and wellbeing, and further distanced themselves from the for-profit, win-at-all-costs programming we see from some community sports vendors.  Building on the reset of competition, we also witnessed increased levels of participation, more students involved in each sport, no cuts, and a reemphasis on well-being and school community.
  • As the rigid edges of hyper-competitive athletics were softened during COVID, we noticed and observed a more inclusive and accepting school athletic community.
  • As we build our school sports back to pre COVID levels, students and families are showing a greater appreciation for the opportunity to play and for their coaches, that make school sports possible.
  • Teachers and other volunteers found more sustainable routines during COVID.  I often heard coaches say they found balance.  As we work to reengage these key people, we might need to adjust the expectations in order to encourage them back.

What lessons about school sports did you learn during COVID, and how are you applying these lessons to meet the needs of our students, families and schools?

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One of the best parts of my job is that I regularly hear from parents about the amazing difference individual teachers have made for their children. And all of us likely have stories about teachers that have had a significant impact in our lives. I know if it wasn’t for teachers like Mrs. Caffrey (I wrote about her HERE a few years ago) my life would be very different.

As we celebrate World Teachers’ Day today, it is a chance to reflect on the state of the profession.

Each community has its own unique circumstances.

Let me start by bragging.

West Vancouver Schools are regarded as some of the top schools in the country, known for our innovative programming, and the teachers are seen as the top in their field. Whether it is on standards assessments, or with graduation rates, or on levels of satisfaction with the school experiences, our students’ results are exceptionally impressive.

And I am in awe of how our students, supported by their teachers, are leading in areas from the climate crisis, to SOGI, to Truth and Reconciliation. Our schools are proof that citizenship and academic success are connected.

And I look at the programs that our teachers are leading its clear we are on top of ensuring relevance in all we do. From innovative business and entrepreneurship programs to a range of work experience options exposing students to new careers to the hundreds of students engaged in robotics, our staff are regularly modernizing the school experience.

But . . .

In West Vancouver, the challenge of housing affordability makes it almost impossible for teachers to live in the community. Less than 10% of our staff actually live here. So, now as competition for staff increases, and teachers can work closer to home, more than ever we need to ensure we offer a professional, rewarding, and enriching experience for staff. These teachers travel through one or more jurisdictions in which they could get a job to work with us in West Vancouver.

The reality is that if teachers choose to work closer to home, it will be challenging to replace them with someone of the same quality. This is the state of our job market.

We are doing everything we can to continue to recruit and retain the very best. It is all about culture, and we do everything we can to build and create amazing places for teachers to work, learn and grow.

Just as we have become much more focused on our students’ mental health, the same is true for our staff. And I am trying to support teachers in creating boundaries on their work, so they don’t have situations where they receive an email from a student or parent at 10 PM and a reply is expected that same night. And we are trying offer as much professional support so our teachers can remain at the front of the teaching profession.

And how can the community help?

Treat teachers well. It can sound simple, or even trite, but it matters. While none of us are perfect, and can make mistakes, all teachers I have had the chance to work with are incredibly professional. Working through scenarios, I am in awe of how teachers balance the needs of individual learners, with also what is best for the community of learners in the classroom.

When I ask teachers why they stay, they almost all speak to the great satisfaction they get from the work, and regularly highlight the support they receive from colleagues, their administrators and parents.

However, I am hearing from our schools and seeing more news stories around parents confronting teachers and staff in schools. We seem to be moving too quickly to a place of outrage, and rapidly bypassing that essential step of seeking first to understand.

I know, this is not about teaching, it has been even more pronounced in health care, and horrible treatment many doctors and other health professionals have received over the last few years. The diminishing trust for our public institutions is disappointing and alarming. I also think some of the media from the United States covering school board meetings and other events has normalized behaviour that should not be seen as OK.

And before this behaviour seeps more into our system, I think we should have this conversation.

We can do better.

Teaching is a human enterprise. It is wildly frustrating because it is impossible to bottle and replicate what makes a “great teacher.” Its strength is also its humanness. Teachers build communities, that help our students navigate the experiences they have and will have in the larger world.

I often get asked if I could do it over would I go into teaching, or would I recommend others to pursue teaching. ABSOLUTELY! It is hard, complicated work. And it is also rich, rewarding, and powerful work. We need our absolute best to see teaching as a professional option for them.

I encourage you to share stories with your children of the teachers that made a difference for you, and what it was about them that made such an impact.

And by no means do I want to shirk our responsibilities. Please continue to hold us to account. But if we want our very best to join the teaching profession and perhaps most importantly, remain in the profession, we need to treat them professionally.

I feel blessed to work in a community that values education so strongly. I am confident students are receiving this country’s best education preparing them as active citizens and supporting life beyond our schools in our communities, universities, trades programs and the work world.

To all the wonderful teachers in the various roles across West Vancouver, and those beyond, Happy World Teachers Day!

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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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