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With change comes opportunity.

As British Columbia has engaged in a learning transformation over the last decade I have felt the continual tension.   We can either try to do the new thing just like we did the old thing, or see the new thing as an opportunity to think differently.

I have heard some say that inquiry is “what we have always done in our classes” while others have dramatically shifted their classes to increase student choice, voice, and agency under the guise of inquiry.

With curriculum, some argue that it is not really new, it is just the same curriculum organized differently.  Others suggest that the focus around big ideas is a dramatic move away from a focus on volumes of content to one of skills and competencies.

The same conversation has happened in so many areas – is the technology changing the classroom, or is it really just a new “version of pen and paper” as I have heard in some classes.  Is self-regulation about students having greater ownership over their ability to regulate and be in a zone for learning, or is it just new language around getting kids to behave in class?

The revised careers curriculum which sees us move away from Planning 10 and Grad Transitions to Career Life Education and Career Life Connections is another one of these tension points.  And again the same comments have been made.  I have heard they are really just the same courses with new names and that nothing needs to change.

Well, we disagree.

We see this change in Career Education not as a chance to make the new courses fit with what we have always done, but to do things differently.  And this change in Career Education is an opportunity to look differently at time in our schools, and how we use it, and listen to our students.  Beginning in the Fall all of our secondary schools will have new bell schedules that provide students with a 32 minute block of flexible instructional time (FIT) each day.  This will give students time to address the new Career Education competencies and content.  But it will also do more than that.  It will give students something they have continually asked for whenever we survey them – some flexible time as part of their formal school day where they have choice and voice – to complete assignments, collaborate with peers and receive extra help in a particular area.

Our system is very much built on a factory model.  Of course, no one really believes that all students need 120 hours to “learn” any particular course, some need far less and others need far more.  This change begins to recognize these differences.  Some students will need to spend time in math, while others will choose to spend their time in art or working on careers.

We regularly hear from our students (and their parents) of the increased stresses and pressures on today’s learners.  As we have listened to students, parents and staff this year – one comment I heard numerous times really struck me, “Students just need time to breathe.” Again, this is just a small change, but hopefully it will help – and also help the mental well-being of their teachers who can give directed support during the school days, perhaps freeing up some of their lunchtimes and after schools often dedicated to helping students.

FIT is not revolutionary.  Dozens of high schools in the Vancouver area have found ways to build regular flexible time into their schedule.  It is new for us.  And while I know some want us to completely revolutionize the learning structures of school, we continue to look for ways to make real changes that give students greater agency over their own learning.

We could have just tried to do the new things in old ways, but we are seizing the opportunity to do things differently.  As someone who believes in students and their teachers, I am excited for the Fall.

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Why esports?

Do many kids play too many video games? Yes.

Do some of the games kids play lack the values I would like to see portrayed? Definitely

Do I want our schools to get in the esports game? Absolutely

Conversations around esports is a wonderful generational clash.  Those of us who grew up with Atari, ColecoVision and the original Nintendo often cannot fathom the idea that there is any redeeming value in the video games that today’s kids are playing.  From what we see in the media the innocence of Pac-Man has been replaced by a stream of violent first-person shooter games.

Well, we hosted our first esports tournament last month with teams from all of our high schools and it was awesome!

I loved what I saw for a host of reasons, many of the same reasons I love what I see with students participating in the arts, athletics and clubs in school.  Students were taking on a role as part of a team towards a collective goal.  They were problem solving and competing.

Esports are definitely a global phenomena.  They are projected to do more than a billion dollars in business this year.  In a recent poll in the United States young people in similar numbers identified themselves as fans of esports as they were of football.  Closer to home the Vancouver Titans have marked our entry locally into the professional esports circuit and professional facilities are being built to host players and fans.  And it is not just for professionals, as colleges are beginning to run varsity esports teams and offer college scholarships.

Of course, just because something is popular doesn’t mean we should do it in our K-12 system.  What I have seen with esports in our schools, and elsewhere make me think they are a good fit our schools.  Some of the “why” for me includes:

  • Esports engage students as part of the school.  Students wear school uniforms, and have a sense of pride and identity.  Students connected to schools is a factor in success.
  • Esports are about team.  There is tremendous coordination and communications among participants as they work towards their goals.  These are some of the real world skills we continually say we want more of in  schools.
  • When we play esports in school it makes it easier to open up conversations about the type of games students play, the length of time they spend playing and hopefully influence their gaming with our school system values.
  • A key aspect of schooling is relevance.  When we see scholarships being awarded, universities being engaged, professional leagues being established and careers being built not only in playing but in other STEM related fields related to esports, we should look for an entry point.

I think some of the push-back has to do with the word “sport” in the name – as though a proponent of esports is saying that we shouldn’t be physically active – as if it is a choice between the two.  Esports are not intended to replace soccer or basketball.  Nor do I really think they should be in the Olympics.  (Of course there is another really good post here about what exactly is an athlete – I remember the questions in 1995 when Indy 500 Champion Jacques Villeneuve won the Lou Marsh Trophy for Top Canadian Athlete and Larry Walker said “I got beat by a machine”).  But like with competitive robotics, or entrepreneurial showcases, debate competitions or trivia tournaments they are a way to connects students and their school.  And a little bit of competition is sometimes a good thing!

Maybe esports are a fad?  Of course 200 million people watched the 2018 League of Legends World Championships, about twice as many as watched the Super Bowl, so it is showing some early staying power.  Esports remind us we should go where the kids are.  They offer an opportunity to turn what can be an isolating event into a social experience that contributes to the overall culture in the school.

Students take great pride in contributing to their schools and schools continually find new ways to make this happen.  Esports is just one of the latest ones – and one that looks like it might have some long term staying power.

 

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West Vancouver continues to take pride in offering the most innovative programming in the country to meet today’s learning and preparing them for the future. We are pleased to announce the launch of the Belvedere Learning Academy. This unique program for grades 4-9 students is a complete re-think on the modern school experience.  While much has been made about the competing ideologies in recent years of Back to Basics vs. 21st Century Learning, we are changing the debate with our new program.   We are bringing back the era of Garbage Pail Kids Stickers, boys playing shirts and skins in PE and leveled readers for all.

If you look around at leaders across North America one thing that is true is that an increasingly high percentage of them went to school during the 1980s.  This period of time, is in many ways the intellectual and cultural high point of the last 100 years.  We think today’s learners don’t need seats in rows and pencil and paper based learning of the Back to Basics 1950s nor the modern learning with all the fandangled technology of the 21st century – they need, what many of us had – an immersive 1980’s experience.  And everything at the Belvedere Learning Academy will be 1980s.  As the kids say, it is going to be gnarly!

Why Belvedere?

We start with the name.  The Belvedere Learning Academy (BLA for short) is named for Mr. Belvedere, one of the many 1980s situation comedies that reflected life in North America.  Mr. Belvedere was a posh British butler who moved in with the Owens family in Pittsburgh to assist the family on a weekly basis in solving their problems.   Students today don’t understand that this is how problems in the 1980s were often solved – by your British butler.  The photo of Mr. Belvedere at the front of the school will be a constant reminder of our purpose.  We could have named the program for one of the more popular 1980s shows – the Family Ties Learning Centre or the Facts of Life Institute, but we think the BLA is more appropriate – Mr. Belvedere was never that popular, but it hung around and was OK, the kind of show you would watch if your only other choices were Cagney & Lacey or a repeat of Riptide – that is the kind of program we want to create.

School Uniforms

Unlike the Back to Basics schools which have strict uniform requirements, the BLA will have a philosophy.  We think all students need to dress for the time.  It is the expectation of big hair for the students, both boys and girls.  Key clothing students should buy before enrolling include:  Reebok pump high tops, spandex, leg warmers, high wasted acid wash jeans, cut-off sweatshirts and lots of neon.  The dress code will extend to the staff.  You will be able to identify all male staff at the BLA as they will be wearing Miami Vice suits each day and the females will be wearing Dynasty-like shoulder pads, even their tshirts will have them, just like in the 80’s.

Technology

Yes, we will use technology.  We will use 1980s technology.  The Academy will be equipped with 8 Apple 2e machines in the library.  This will allow students to regularly play Lemonade Stand and Oregon Trail.  Not wanting to lose sight of the current trend of computer coding we will also expose all students to Apple Logo programming – the triangular turtle is back!  And yes, we will be a one-to-one device school – all students will be expected to have a Little Professor and bring it with them daily to school. For our secondary students we encourage the very stylish Casio watch calculator which we hope doesn’t slip off while we practice our Rubik Cube drills.

Curriculum

Most lessons will involve students copying information off of the overhead projector, and then sharing it back with the teacher through some zany-joke filled worksheet and end of unit scantron tests.  Since the school will have 2 video players and 25″ televisions on rolling carts that play both VHS and BETA we will also include a number of key programs in the curriculum.  For example, for science we will use episodes of That’s Incredible (but please as Cathy Lee Crosby reminds us – Don’t try this at home) and in our unit on communities in Social Studies we will use Real People episodes.  Having Sarah Purcell and Byron Allen coming through the screen – they will be like extra teachers in the room.

In PE there will be a lot of parachutes and cosom hockey.  As a treat, the gymnastics equipment will come for 5 weeks during which time students can climb ropes to the ceiling, vault like Mary-Lou Retton and perfect their Bart Conner rings routine (acing their iron cross will only help the students with their flexed arm hang test).  And yes, the fitness badges are back – so practice your shuttle run.  Not to lose sight of current efforts around cross cultural understanding, in PE during the professional wrestling unit and when for example, we are instructing on the Camel Clutch, this will be an opportunity to delve into the background for the Iron Sheik and his feud with Hulk Hogan and the good vs. evil struggles that exist around the world.  We are particularly excited about this unit as it will be an opportunity to take our uniforms to the next level – totally tubular!

Evaluation

Two words will define our model – speed and awards.  How fast can you complete an assignment?  There is a math sample just below for you to practice.  And awards – there will be stickers, lots of stickers!  We will also post all the grades so the weaker students better understand they are weaker, thus wanting to improve.  Now before you enroll, time yourself on this worksheet:

 

Hot Lunch Program

The modern hot lunch program, we all can agree, is out of control.  Students at BLA will be asked to bring their lunch box daily, along with their Super Socco drink.  As a reminder these lunch boxes will help define their class status, so please stick to Superman, My Little Pony, Evil Knievel, Knight Rider or other socially acceptable ones.  On the last Friday of each month will be Hot Dog Day.  This will be a huge production at the school.  Parents will be expected to come in to boil wieners in the kitchen attached to the gym.  The menu will be simple:  hot dogs for everyone, then you select plain or chocolate milk and glazed or jelly donuts.  That’s it.  To borrow a quote from our current politics, we are going to make hot dog day great again!

 

Recess

We do expect students to get outside at recess, maybe shoot some hockey cards or play with their He-Man and She-Ra figures.  They will not be allowed to have their Sony Walkmans on the field, and are asked to keep them in the cloakroom.  Also a reminder that students are not to have their sticker collections out – save trading your scratch-and-sniff stickers for after school.

Final Sales Pitch

We all know that everything was better in the 1980s.  So, stop just telling your kids about it and send them to the BLA so they can live it and become as successful as you!

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.

We look forward to bringing you all back to the 80s and I hope you are enjoying today as much as me!

 

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Welcome to my final blog post of 2018.  While perhaps not as iconic as the various year-end lists we read at this time of year, this is my 9th annual “Top 3” List. (My favourite list was always the Siskel and Ebert Top 10 Movie Lists. I am dating myself but their year-end show on Sneak Previews on PBS was the best!)

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

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

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

  1.  Soak City Elementary Announced
  2. The Problem With Basketball
  3. They Will Keep Coming Until They Don’t

Not sure how I should take it that I write dozens of posts on education, and my most popular one is an April Fools post and my second my popular one is on basketball.  Maybe I should stick to comedy and sports.

Top 3 Places I saw Paul Simon perform:

  1. Queens, New York –  outdoors for his final concert on his Farewell Tour
  2. Las Vegas, Nevada – a great weekend getaway (thought the enthusiasm of the crowd at the concert was a bit disappointing)
  3.  Portland, Oregon –  best memory was him forgetting a line and penalizing himself by playing 59th Street Bridge (he hates the song but the crowd loved it)

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

  1. Visit New York City – It was only for 3 days, but it was my first time.  In addition to Paul (above) we got to Hamilton and a Yankees game.
  2. BC Summer Games – I got to go with my younger son and his teammates to Cowichan for the Games.  It is like a mini-Olympics.  And if nothing else, three nights sleeping on a school classroom floor is something you will remember.
  3.  Chicago -80 basketball courts and about 800 teams competing in the Convention Centre at the NIKE Tournament of Champions.  An absolutely incredible event.

Top 3 Things I got to do when I was at work:

  1. Visit classrooms –  The past few months have been amazing for me. I have been in well over 50 classrooms and not just for the 2 minute walk-through but generally for some real sustained visits, often up to an hour. I wrote earlier about this HERE.  It has given me great insight into the learning in our classes, the changing nature of how our teachers are approaching their classes and the visits have offered a reminder of just how much has changed in recent years – the classroom looks very different from a decade ago.
  2. Launch new programs –  I love how our district is always on the cutting edge with developing programs to meet the changing needs of the world, and the passions of our students. A few new opportunities for students this year included an AP Environmental Science Program that takes place in an actual science research facility, a Computer Animation Program that partners with the faculty from Capilano University and gives students a first glance at post-secondary in this area and a Table Tennis Academy which I saw first hand last month and was so incredibly impressed by the quality of instruction and the inclusivity of the program.
  3.  Add great people to the team –  The people are key to any organization.  So much credit for the success of West Vancouver Schools needs to go to our Human Resources staff and school administrators for their excellent attraction and hiring of such outstanding teachers and support staff.  I am fortunate to be in on the hiring of many of our management staff.  I love it when we can add people to our team that make our group stronger, more diverse and I am surrounded by people who I know make me and our team better.  We were able to do this again this past year, adding Trevor Kolkea a super talented principal from Coquitlam to our team, and recently luring Ian Kennedy back to West Vancouver.  He will start as Director of Instruction in March.  Having Alex Campbell and Jamie Ross as key members of our team and all the expertise they bring to our district was also a great opportunity for us.

Top 3 Somewhat Odd Ongoing Streaks I am proud of:

  1. 5 years  of at least 10,000 steps a day according to my FitBit
  2.  300 days as a full vegetarian (the previous 18 months my meat intake was limited to fish)
  3.  9 years of at least 20 blog posts a year on Culture of Yes

Top 3 Quick Takes I have about students based on all of the visits:

  1. They don’t care about SOGI as “an issue”.  While a small vocal group made a lot of news during the School Board elections this fall, it is something students don’t care about.  They are so passed this an issue – the adults could learn something from the kids here.
  2.   Cell phone use has not gone crazy.  I keep hearing stories in the media about how students are on their cell phones all the time.  I have spent hundreds of hours in classrooms this fall and can say it is not true.  Each of our high schools has some sensible guidelines and routines around their use, and I saw students engaged in their lessons.  It is the parents at school games, concerts and elsewhere who seem to have the much stronger addictions.
  3.   They are excited but cautious about “changes” in education.  We have engaged students around the new Career Education programs and they are genuinely excited that the system will be better built around their needs and their voices have been included in the design.  That said, they see themselves as having “figured out” the current system, so they are nervous about changes to the system and how they might negatively affect them and their post-secondary goals.

Top 3 Celebrity Stories about people I work with:

  1. Martina Seo – A dynamic Foods Teachers from West Vancouver Secondary was a breakout star on the most recent season of Amazing Race Canada.  For all of us who know Martina we would agree she is perfect for reality television.
  2. Sean Nosek –  The guy in the office next to me published an absolutely amazing book this past year on Vancouver street artist Ken Foster.  It is the “coolest coffee table book ever”.
  3.  Bryn Hammett –  I found out still story by luck.  I was visiting Bryn’s Math 9/10 class (photo above) and he was doing a problem based on his recent trail race.  He finished only 8 places behind Daniel and Henrik Sedin in the 25 km race in Whistler.  Super impressive!

Top 3 TED Talks that I liked which my colleague Julia shared with me (love how she shares good stuff):

  1.  Confessions of a recovering micromanager

2.   Why You Should Treat the Tech You Use at work Like a Colleague

3.  Why Being Respectful to Your Coworkers is good for business

Top 3 People I think really make the case for the transformation in B.C.’s education system:

  1. David Burns –  I heard David  (photo to the right below) speak three times in 2018 on how his institution (KPU) is working with the K-12 transformation and making changes themselves.  It is all the more powerful when post-secondary schools are supporting the shifts K-12.  And for West Vancouver readers – he is speaking at our PD Day in January!
  2. Kris MagnussonKris, like David, has extra weight to his words since he is the Dean of Education at SFU.  His longtime efforts around career education have really come to life in the grad program changes.
  3.  Jan Unwin – Jan is the undisputed champion of the K-12 transformation in British Columbia.  This is a title she inherited from Rod Allen, and over the last five years has been unwavering in her passion and commitment to helping be sure the ideas became reality.

Top 3 Courses / Programs I would take in West Vancouver Schools if I was a student:

  1. Environmental Sciences Academy – Doing real science with real scientists and it is held at at the Centre for Aquaculture and Environmental Research (CAER) and under the leadership of Tom Harding – so much good going for it!
  2. FAST (First Aid Swim Training) – All of the programs that students take to become a lifeguard are built into an every afternoon program in West Vancouver offered by Rockridge teacher Dave Dickinson.  You get school credentialing and probably more importantly all the outside credentials as well.
  3.  YELL (Young Entrepreneurship and Leadership Launchpad) – This is another great example of doing real world work.  I have written about the program several times (like HERE) in the past, and the Jo-Anne McKee taught program continues to draw great speakers and mentors.  I had the pleasure of sitting in this fall with Anthony Beyrouti speaking to the students about going from being a local North Shore high school student to running one of the fastest growing businesses in BC in a few short years.

Top 3 Ways I am going to push myself professionally in 2019:

  1. Start my doctorate –  Classes start in January.  This will be my first time really being a student since I finished my Master`s Degree in 1999.  I am doing it with a few current and former colleagues which will make it all the better.
  2. More real visits –  The class visits over the last few months, whether to observe, participate or teach have been so rewarding.  I am looking to doing more in the new year.
  3. Focus on assessment –  Somewhere between all the discussions about curriculum and reporting we have lost some of the attention on assessment.  With curriculum fully in-place and reporting templates and structures confirmed, there will be more time to talk about the really important topic of assessment in the coming year.

Top 3 Things People Will be Talking About in B.C’s education system next year:

  1. University Admissions –  This has been a hot topic this past year, and will continue into 2019.  With the changes to K-12, how will post-secondary school change their admissions requirements.  And it is not just in response to K-12, many institutions are talking about their beliefs that they need to find better ways to select students who have the best chance to be successful.
  2. What Needs to Change Next – I can`t go to a meeting without someone talking about another aspect of schooling that needs to change, now that other changes have been made.  From exams, to reporting to calendars, there are numerous comments that for change X to be fully realized, Y and Z need to change as well.
  3.  Bargaining –  On the political side, teacher bargaining will likely occupy a fair bit of the mainstream education news for 2019.

As always, I really appreciate everyone who takes the time to read and engage with me through the blog.   I love having a portfolio of my thinking – it often reminds me how much my thinking has changed over time and the process (and stress) of writing and publishing still brings me great joy.  All the best for a wonderful 2019!

Chris

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Fun times hiking the Grouse Grind with Rockridge Principal Judy Duncan and more than 100 Grade 9’s earlier this fall.

If you are an administrator you have probably been asked some version of “you must really miss teaching and the kids in the classroom?”  It is often said in a way to make you feel guilty somehow, that taking a job as a principal or vice-principal, although may have more responsibility and a greater scope to your work, the insinuation is that you have lost the best part of education.

The official correct answer for “Do you miss the teaching?” is “yes”.  You are supposed to say that working with kids in the classroom is the best and I miss it every day.  Even though it is an unfair question, you are still supposed to answer it in the affirmative.

Well, when I get asked this guilt-inducing question – I say no.  No, I don’t miss teaching.  Teaching is awesome.  Most of my best friends are teachers, my parents were teachers, most of the smartest people I know are teachers.  And I loved it!

I am surrounded by teachers and I still love teaching in a K-12 classroom when I get the chance to do it.  But I don’t miss it.  Just because we love something doesn’t mean we need to do it forever, nor does it mean we miss it when we do something else.  And I don’t define teaching as something strictly with a finite group of students in the classroom over a 10 month period of time.

I have been thinking about why I loved teaching.  It comes down to purpose and satisfaction.

I actually get amazing purpose and satisfaction as an administrator.  Both at the school and district level there are significant chances to make a difference and have a great sense of accomplishment.  It is different, the feedback is far more immediate as a classroom teacher – you know right away from the students how you are doing and the difference you are making.  This satisfaction is not as easy to see, but just as powerful in other roles in the system whether you are working with one student, a group of students, teachers, parents or others in the community.

In many industries as you are successful you move up a ladder – that is far less true in education.  Education is one of those funny jobs around the notion of promotion.  It is not really true that becoming an administrator after being a teacher is a promotion.  They are two different jobs and while some people are good at both, I have seen great teachers become mediocre administrators and teachers who were just OK in the classroom become excellent school and district administrators.

And the suggestion that you are removed from young people once you become an administrator is just not true, at least not if you don’t want it to be true.  I have been in about 30 classrooms so far this fall – working with teachers, learning with and from students, and ensuring I know how the decisions I make are influencing teachers and students.  You can be the administrator who is removed from kids, I guess.  But that would be your choice – we all make choices on how we spend our time in our work.

I love my current job, but I often tell people my absolute favourite job in the system was high school principal.  Being in a school of 1400 students, with over 120 adults coming together everyday – exhausting, exhilarating, challenging and on most days a lot of fun.  And never once did I think I had given up “kids” for a job.  This feeling continues to this day in my current role.

As we finish-up celebrating National Principals’ Month (October), here is to all the great school and district leaders who are working with and for students everyday. I am lucky to work with so many awesome ones in West Vancouver!

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I do spend a lot of time in classrooms.  What I have noticed in recent years, it is often the same classrooms in the same schools.  And often it is just a really quick walk through as part of a tour.  I wanted to do something different this fall.  So here is part the email I sent to every teacher in our district:

I am hoping to be more purposeful with getting into classrooms this fall.  I know to make the best decisions for our district, and to be the best advocate for our students and staff, I should better understand the modern classroom – I have been in district office in West Vancouver for 12 years, and it is easy to lose touch with the changes in classrooms.  Thus, I am hoping some of you will invite me into your classes.  I find I visit many of the same classes over and over, and I am hoping this request will get me into a number of different classrooms.

I would love to come to your class – whether it is to observe something you are teaching and students are learning, act as a resource, co-teach, or otherwise engage with you and your students. It could be for 10 minutes or a full lesson.  Email me directly your thoughts and we can look to set something up.

Of course, I am not sure if 2, 20 or 200 of you will take me up on this offer – but hopefully I will get back to you quickly, even if we cannot set it up until later in the fall.

I know we have amazing things happening in our classrooms and I want to better understand these connections we are making with our learners.

The uptake has been awesome.  I have dozens of classes set over the next several months – performing various roles from observer, to field trip chaperone, to co-teacher, to subject expert, to lead teacher.  Already I have been in about ten classrooms – covering almost all the grades across a number of schools.  Here are a few of my quick takes of things that have stood out as I have spent time with these classes:

Learning is happening outdoors.  Two of the experiences I have been part of have been completely outdoors (and both times in the rain).  No longer is outdoor learning reserved for just PE – in the classes I was part of, students were doing science, math and social studies outside.

Students (at least at elementary)are regularly given breaks to get some exercise.  It might be jumping jacks or doing a lap of the school in-between lessons.  There is a real appreciation that students can only spend so long sitting in one spot.

Cell phones are not distracting.  I know this goes against the conventional wisdom out there.  In the various high school classes I have been in so far, I have not really noticed them.  It may be because of the expectations created in the classes or schools, or because of the high level of engagement in the lesson but I have not seen students on their mobile devices.

Google Classroom just is. I am so impressed with how seamlessly teachers move from their digital spaces to the face-to-face.  And students (at least those in upper intermediate and high school) have all had devices and they are managing their various class spaces.  In three different classes I have seen students co-creating online with shared documents in class.

There is a great sense of independence and guidance.  I have seen a number of classes where teachers have set the learning goals and then students are working at their own pace.  It is true differentiation in class with students at different places and working at different speeds and the teacher acting as a resource when needed.

Students are wrestling with big issues.  Whether it is power and authority as it relates to the History of Residential Schools for intermediate students or math students collectively tackling real world problems, students are getting time to unpack big, hard questions and work through them with other students.

Grade 9 is still grade 9.  I have been with three different groups of grade 9 students so far.  And there have been some awesome things in each of the classes.  There have also been examples of students pretending to work when the teacher comes over, boys responding to a teacher prompt with a joke in an attempt to impress their friends, and a variety of other 14-year-old behaviour.  It is good to know that some things don’t really change.

Self-regulation strategies are everywhere.  I am always interested in what, if anything, is on the walls in classrooms.  In every elementary classroom so far there have been some sort of cues around self-regulation – whether it is reminders of breathing exercises or the zones of regulation, there are visual reminders for students about how to get in the zone for learning.

These are early days, and a side benefit of these visits is probably a lot of blog posts topics to keep me busy this year.  I am so impressed with the confidence of our students and the passion of our teachers.  It is very reaffirming.

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Shocking, but sometimes I am wrong.

Part of the job of the Superintendent, as I have described it, is to be looking around the corner at what is coming next. And I like to think I am often on-point with this crystal-ball gazing, but in case you might not know – sometimes my predictions have not hit the mark. As we start the new school year, let me share six examples of my mistakes:

1) Fencing – I got the idea to write this current post while writing a reference letter for Igor Gantsevich the head of our fencing academy.  I remember when Igor met me five years ago, and said he was going to build a fencing academy.  I was polite, but I was thinking “he is crazy”.  Maybe baseball, soccer, or hockey – but fencing?  Well five years later we have 31 students in our fencing academy and fencing is integrated into schools across the district.  The lesson here was to always invest in quality people.  We gave fencing a try because of Igor – he was a high character person with a great passion and drive.  Almost nobody could have done what he has done – and proved me very wrong. (HERE is a more complete post I wrote in 2014 on The Fencing Phenomenon.)

2)  Blogs – I have covered this one a bit before.  This is year 9 for the Culture of Yes, and I thought when I started, I love writing, and sharing and engaging with a public audience, so everyone else will as well.  Well, sort of.  We do have a lot of staff and students who keep a regular blog, but they have not become the “home base” as I might have thought they would for everyone in our district.  The lesson here was to be careful about absolutes – blogs can be a great way to connect with a larger audience, but they are not the only way, and not the way that make some people comfortable. (HERE is a piece from 2016 where I began to recognize that Maybe I Was Wrong About Blogging).

3)  Portfolios – When the 2004 graduation program was implemented, it included a portfolio requirement for all students.  Despite the initial excitement (I was part of that), within a couple of years, the portfolio requirement was removed.  I still think portfolios were a great idea (and are a great idea), but in 2004 I underestimated two key facts – the technology was not robust enough in schools to allow viable e-portfolio options and people were left to traditional binders which was cumbersome, and too little thought was really given to how best to integrate portfolios into the traditional high school program.  It was felt to be an add-on for students and staff.  Fifteen years later, and I think we are getting in right with elementary e-portfolio solutions like Fresh Grade – and the secondary efforts around Capstone projects. (HERE is a 2015 post on Bringing It All Together).

4)  Letter Grades –  I am more conservative on this issue than many people around me.  When we began to remove letter grades in grades 4-7 I expected a huge push-back.  It has not materialized.  Really, no letter grades has just become the norm.  My mistake here was underestimating the sophistication of our parents, and the trust they place in our teachers and schools.  Parents want timely, relevant feedback from the teacher and ways to support their child at home, and they trust schools are using the best research in making their decisions. (HERE in 2015 I described this conversation as A Healthy Tension).

5) – Discretionary Days –  I heard the push for discretionary days in the last couple rounds of contract negotiations.  I kept wondering where this was coming from.  While there is almost no flexibility in timing, those of us in education, have time at Christmas, Spring Break and in the Summer, which is a luxury many professions do not enjoy.  I thought the option of taking unpaid days throughout the school year is something nobody would take.  I was very wrong.  Apparently a lot of people will take days to attend a wedding, go on a trip with family or otherwise take time at a non-prescribed time of year.  I think I really underestimated the changing nature of our workforce – flexibility is something that is increasingly important – even if it means a bit less money.  As so many other professions are becoming more flexible, that is rarely possible in education, but administrators, teachers, and support staff share a mindset with those outside our profession that flexibility is a key driver for their work.

6)  Price of Computers –  I think it was 2002 when I was saying, within a couple of years you will be able to buy a computer for the price of a calculator.  Well, computer prices have definitely come down, but not to the point I would have hoped.  Most families are still spending at least $300-$400 for a computer that they use at school, and some are spending much more.  I think my error here was getting caught up in the hype around the One Laptop Per Child initiative and saw this as the start of a trend that never really took hold.  I do continue to believe that for students from about grade 4 up we need to find ways to get them regular access to a device whenever they need it, but unfortunately it is a more expensive proposition than I would have hoped.

We can’t always be right.  As I look at these six, it is interesting to see the biases I had as I looked at each of these ideas.

So, here is to another year of trying to look around the corner at what is coming next, and maybe being wrong once in a while, but like the students we work with – hopefully I will keep learning from successes and failures.

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