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Archive for the ‘SD45’ Category

We all know the story of Goldilocks sneaking into the house of the 3 bears – and first trying the big bowl of porridge and finding it too hot.  And then the medium sized bowl of porridge and finding it too cold.  Finally, eating up the small bowl of porridge that was just right.  In some ways, as we carve out new territory with remote learning, we have been dishing out the bears porridge and our students have been Goldilocks.

We have done our best for remote learning to not be “too hot” or “too cold” but rather “just right”.

While there is some universal understanding of whether porridge is too hot or too cold, when in comes to remote learning there is more variance. A couple weeks in, we seem to agree that virtual lessons all day, where we try to recreate school by taking the block schedule and putting it online is too hot. Some jurisdictions are trying this, but having students in front of screens on one-way lectures for 5 hours a day is not what most people are looking for. At the too cold end of the spectrum, stories of leaving kids with minimal contact leaves them without community and connections.  (Worth noting I have personally had both requests that we provide 5-6 hours a day of streaming online one-way classes and alternatively that we not contact a family until we return to in-person learning).

The challenge is that between these extremes, where we search for the “just right” it is not the same for everyone.  There are so many variables for families.  For some there is rich technology and parents at home able to assist.  In other homes, just the opposite is true.  And we have been clear to say that marks will not fall for students who commit to their learning during this time, but old habits of being driven by marks are still very present for many families.  And the ramp-up in new skills for staff is also varied.  It is amazing the new technology skills our staff have learned in just a couple of weeks.

So as we continue forward the search for just right is ongoing.  We are regularly asking our students and parents if we are hitting the mark and differentiating where we can.  We want students to be turning off their phone notifications, setting their own deadlines for work and spending chunks of time uninterrupted on their work – these are good life skills.  We also want families to remember that learning is not just about stuff from books.  We want our students to be physically active, and pursuing their passions, and looking at the various extension options we are offering through our district website.

Students are not falling behind.  It is a global pandemic – we are all in this together.  And when we return to more normal times it is our job to meet students where they are and help move them forward.

In the meantime, we will keep trying to get the porridge the right temperature for you.  

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The Chit Chat

I really miss the chit chat.

It is the part that is often hard to describe. It is a bit like how Seinfeld is a show about nothing, but of course it really isn’t.  When I hear stories that teaching can be much “quicker” now online because it is more focused, these people are missing the point.  Teaching and schooling have never been just about the content.  K-12 is not just about learning a bunch of stuff.

The chit chat is the part where you talk to students about their favourite tv shows, or the soccer game they played last night, or the songs that are currently most downloaded.  Great teachers use the chit chat to build rapport as a strategy towards engaging in learning.   The chit chat is all the little things that great teachers do to connect to students so when it gets to the content the students feel safe, connected and ready to engage.  The chit chat builds confidence, and connections and makes children know they are special.

I know there are many ways schools are trying to re-create this community.  I love what I am seeing in our schools.  We have virtual clubs, jokes of the day, and online talent competitions.  It is great, but when we return to in-person schooling it is not the learning that I am looking forward to the most.

I am really looking forward to the chit chat.

 

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You can’t open up Facebook or Instagram right now without locals posting their memories of the 2010 Olympic Games.

I was particularly lucky working in West Vancouver during the 2010 Games. Prior to my arrival in 2006 the Board had already decided it would adjust their vacation times and close for the Games.  And West Vancouver Schools fully embraced the Games.  There was a core group of passionate teachers who were committed to ensuring all our students had experiences connected to the Games.  They worked with the Canadian Olympic Committee on lesson plans, reached out to the Vancouver Olympic Committee and others for support and ensured our students visited venues, tried various sports, created Olympic pins, performed at Olympic events and otherwise were hooked into the Games. I wrote previously (HERE) about the education legacy of the Games on their one year anniversary in 2011 – and my takeaways still stand today.

As amazing as this all was, for me, this period around the Games was professionally transformative.  I knew it was special, but now ten years later, my experiences around the Games were defining to my thinking about learning and the future of schooling.  All the ideas that were buzzing around in 2010 – personalized learning, a changing role for teachers, the possibilities of technology – we had the chance to implement with our Students Live! Games Program.   Here are some comments I made about the experience at the time:

The Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games were an amazing experience in our city, province and country.

With the Games coming to our city, many in education worried the Games would come through our city and it would be a missed opportunity to engage our students. Along with my colleagues, Audrey Hobbs-Johnston and Gary Kern, and with the support of Christina Adams and the Vancouver Olympic Committee, we created Students Live!

Students Live! was the opportunity for 25 students to be student reporters for the Olympics and Paralympics. Describing the program as a student reporter program does not do justice to what it really was for the students, and for the adults it was an absolutely transformational experience. It was starting with a blank slate and creating from that.

So, it was an absolutely amazing experience. The students attended events on an almost daily basis, participated side-by-side with international journalists, and experienced the Games in a way that was the envy of all their friends. And this was all great.

What we learned were lessons that transcended a sporting event, or a moment in time. It started with a competition to select the students. This is not surprising, but as students opted in, there was much greater buy-in. We know when we have an application on a course, the numbers interested usually increases. Students were asked to write a blog post, create a photo journal, or otherwise use web 2.0 to show how and why they would be good reporters for the Olympics.

For most of the close to 80 applicants – this was a new experience. While we often talk about how well-versed students are in technology, in this activity, which targeted those with the greatest technology skills – the act of writing a blog, or otherwise creating digital content for a public audience – was largely new.

What we saw in selecting students, and throughout the entire process, was that good writing and strong communication skills still matter. The tools have changed, but the best writers who captured the biggest audiences, and quickly built huge followings, were those who could communicate, while the weaker writers – no matter how adept they were with the technology struggled. Much is made of technology, and how our text messaging generation sees writing as less important – I actually have never been part of something where it was so evident how important good writing is.

The first day we met with the students we focused on the social media we would use and how we would engage the community with it. A quick survey of the room showed every student had Facebook, with little evidence of any other tool; some had YouTube and Twitter, but not much else. It also became clear that while the students were quite good with technology, they had absolutely no idea how they could leverage technology to build an audience.

While students had friends and connections, they didn’t have a clue on how to turn these friends into an audience, and then how to grow their audience into influence – they had never contemplated using the tools in this way. This is key – while the students may have been native to technology, many had no idea on how to really use it to build community. Of course, we created what was then called a “Fan Page” – so, this was mid-day on a school day and we challenged them to get 1000 followers.

They were able to do this within hours – all during a school day – you want to believe students are not really on Facebook during the school day.

What the students learned, was how they could get Facebook to work for them – when combined with Twitter and their blog, they had a megaphone to their network.

About face-to-face meetings – we could never have done what we did virtually, if we had not first built community face-to-face. I am more convinced now than ever, online is absolutely best among people who have the context of face-to-face relationships.

So once we started – what happened:

First, it was like an “Ah-ha” moment – mobile technology was a game changer. Those with smartphones had a huge advantage. They could take photos, post to Twitter and Facebook, and just simply connect in real time. The less ability students had to perform all of these functions in the moment, the more they were challenged. And yes, it was reporting, so real time was really key to the project, but what we saw was more than that. Amazingly evident was just how key it was to be able to publish live. Students who had to wait to find wireless internet access fell behind. The other key was video.

The best writers stood out, and photos were great – but those blogs building community all included video. What a great lesson for the classroom and the need to build video into our work.

It was also clear students loved to look at each other’s work – not in the “mine is better than yours” way – but “yours can help make mine better”. It was amazingly non-competitive, but students commented afterwards the biggest impact on improving the quality of their work, was their ability to see other students – other models of what could be done. Everyone commented their work improved because 1) it was public and 2) they could read and learn from each other.

The students also loved publishing for a public audience – they had never really contemplated viewers before. What they knew was about was writing for a teacher – now they were writing for an audience, and the better they wrote, and the more interesting their topic, the larger the audience. There were students who had up to 100 comments on a blog post. They combined excellent writing, with leveraging their network, and with a savvy use of social media. In our debrief, students said it was actually frustrating going back to school because they had seen what was possible with real-world learning, publishing for a public audience, building community and they had to return to what school has always been – it felt less relevant than ever.

While it is true the Olympic Games were a unique experience, and it will be difficult to duplicate the experience with less exciting events, the lessons transcend the Games – mobile technology can change learning, good writing still matters, using social media needs to be taught and should not be assumed, networks are essential, and once students get the taste of the real world, it is addictive and they will want to go forward, not back.

The entire experience was also profound for the adults involved. For all of us, the experience felt more like what we have often thought of as a team, and less as a class. Maybe it was because we didn’t have rows of desks, and because we asked more questions than giving answers, or because when the students were stuck we asked one of them to be the project leader and to get a team to solve the problem. It absolutely felt like learning, and it felt like everything we hoped school could and should be – but often it didn’t feel like class – it felt like we were in the flow.

It reinforced students will build their own networks. Sure, we guide them, support them and stand beside them – but they can build their own networks. They can get 1000 members in a Facebook Group and then figure out how to turn these members into a network, and they can ask “the real world” to assist them, instead of just playing in a simulated world in schools.

I was exhausted! Just because I was not at the front-of-the-room teaching did not mean that it was easy; teaching is still hard. Sometimes as a large group, sometimes as a small group, sometimes one-on-one, all hours of the day and night – we were learning and working together. It was a fundamental change of the role of teacher and student. We were their supports, their adult mentors – but didn’t have the answers. The students found teachers in this project, not blocked out as in a schedule, were more important and necessary.
Adults are amazing. There is a world full of adults who want to help students in all professions, just waiting to be asked.

In reflecting on this, I was reminded of the recent TED Talks by Sugata Mitra, who spoke of the network of grannies waiting to assist. Right now, we have only really engaged a small number of students through work experience in this real-world mentorship, but have found in this project every adult asked was willing to help. Yes, it was the Olympics – but there is an untapped resource waiting for us to engage them.

Finally – the adults were reminded that we need to trust the process. We always want to jump in and solve problems – we are good at that. Sometimes you need to let students work through situations, skin their knee and be there beside them to offer support.

Working with the other teachers and the 25 students was the greatest teaching experience of my life. I saw what I wanted for my kids, and for all kids – real-world learning that takes advantage of the latest in technology – but is not about the technology at all.

In the end, what the students liked the most was they had the permission to play. Actually, this is also what the adults liked to – we would often ask, “Can we do this?” – like we have been trained to always find a way and a reason not to try, not to experiment. We all also loved the freedom, choice and responsibility. While students and adults spent much of our time in the virtual world during the project, these bonds have flowed over into the face-to-face world – and we are all still connected.

Ten years later there are still connections with those who participated.  Now in their mid-twenties it is so interesting to see how many of the students used the skills that they learned during the Games in future schooling and careers.  And for me, I was reminded that this is not just all theoretical about learning and schooling.  It can be different.  Ten years later the lessons of the experience still hold.

Here is a TEDx Talk I gave after the Games that shares some more details on the experience:

 

You never really know what will be the defining moments of your career.  Ten years later, I know my participation in the education programs of the 2010 Winter Olympics was one of those experiences for me.

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It usually starts off the day before with someone sending me a Direct Message on Twitter asking if I have seen the forecast. Any snowflake in the 7-day forecast will often warrant a message.  And then it picks up.  I get screenshots from weather apps on a regular basis. There are emails, lots of emails – mostly about the poor conditions that are anticipated on the roads.  By this point people are often commenting on what a big jerk I am for not closing schools yet.   And then usually by sometime in the evening I get forwarded a link from a petition site with students (and others) looking for a snow day.  HERE is an example of one posted last year that was just continued this year with now close to 4000 signing on.   And I try to take some time to have fun with it.  While I don’t have any snow day parody songs, I do try to post the odd funny gif and bring some joy to the situation.

Of course, the truth of it is that making snow day decisions sucks.  You can be sure that half the people think you make the wrong decision.  I get lots of emails about how decisions get made – and it is a bit of art and science.  The goal is to keep schools open whenever possible.  Snow days are a huge inconvenience, and often force parents to take unplanned time off of work, and have huge ripple effects beyond just our schools.  That said, we have to be sure it is safe for our staff, who often travel from long distances to get to work, and safe for our students and families who need to walk or drive to school to be able to attend.

Now back to snow days and social media.  I wonder if it is just the culture of social media use today, but the comments to schools and districts were often just plain nasty this year.  While I experienced a little of it, others I know got a lot more.  The Abbotsford School District has an awesome Twitter account, and their reaction led them to post the following:


I worry that we think a mob mentality is really the right approach.  And I think as Abbotsford pointed out, we easily forget there are real people behind these decisions.  I have never met anyone involved with a school district who wants to put staff or students in unsafe situations, nor have I found anyone wanting to give out snow days like prizes to be won.  Too often I think that if we just get enough people to show enough outrage the loudest voices will win.  As Abbotsford nicely said – Be kind with your words.

So before you think it is all lost, one final social media story related to the snowfall.  I shared on Twitter parts of an email conversation I had with a student last week – and it went viral.  After our snow day on Wednesday, here is part of the message I got:

Well, unfortunately, Thursday was not a snow day, so I checked in with the student to see how the chemistry test went, and here is his response:

This is the social media world I want to live in.  Where we can have some fun, and be respectful.  Others seemed to like the story as well, as outlets from the NS News, to CTV to Vancouver is Awesome all picked up the story.

So what are the lessons:

  • Superintendents are always wrong about snow days (for some people)
  • We can do better on social media and remember there are people behind the avatars and be a little more kind
  • Enjoy your snow days when you get them, but always find some time to study for your chemistry test

Oh, and I am pretty sure that thing about wearing your pajamas backwards and inside-out doesn’t really work.

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Welcome to the 10th “Top 3” List.  When I started blogging, one of the things I started with was this year-end list.  Everyone loves a year end list!  And this was intended to be a little different.  The categories change every year, some are education related, some are just silly.  To those who have been here from the beginning, or those who have joined along the way – thanks for being part of this digital community.  We do some serious work but do try to not take ourselves too seriously.

Previous Top 3 lists for:  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. It is Time to Ban Cell Phones in Schools?
  2. What do Superintendents do in the Summer?
  3. Reflecting on Competition

My post on cell phones really generated a lot of interest.  My thanks to the AASA who asked me to update the post for their School Administrator Magazine (HERE).  I often get asked how I come up with topics.  I am lucky that I have a lot of people around me that make suggestions.  The cell phone post was a result of me making a joke on Twitter around cell phones in schools, and then realizing sometimes there is a fair bit of truth when you try to make a joke.

Top 3 New Things I got to see when I was at work:

  1. Physical Literacy –  This work is the real deal.  I wrote my most recent post (HERE) on what I am seeing in our classrooms.  This is not just doing PE better.  Nor is it just getting kids to run around.  This is far more accessible that PE in a gym and far more purposeful than just being active.  And the work is having a huge impact in our district.
  2. FIT – Flexible Instructional Time.   The revised curriculum created new opportunities.  It started with thinking about careers differently.  And led to 32 minutes each day in each of our high schools.  This time gives 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.  HERE is a post I wrote on this earlier this year.  Even in just a few months, this has really helped shift culture in our high schools.
  3.  New People in New Places –  Good teams don’t rebuild they reload.  That is how I feel about our leadership team in our district.  And while I am now in my 10th year in my position, we have had the chance to continue to elevate and recruit some amazing people to our leadership team.  This year saw new Directors of Instruction with Ian Kennedy and Sandra-Lynn Shortall both starting in their jobs.  We also had a number of new school principals and vice-principals.  Yes, we lost some great people, but new people bring new ideas and new energy and that helps keep our organization fresh. Since I am not going anywhere I like that I can continually be surrounded by people from various places who want to push us forward.

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

  1. KFC in Kentucky – Yes, I am still a vegetarian.  But getting to sit at a table with a life-sized replica of the Colonel at the Louisville Airport was kind of cool.
  2. Running in San Antonio – Our family runs (well actually races) every New Year’s Day.  This past year we were in San Antonio over the break.
  3.  Star Wars Ride-I know it kind of got mixed reviews, but the immersive experience of being in the Star Wars world at Disneyland was a lot of fun.

 

 

Top 3 Culture Building Traditions we have in West Vancouver Schools:

  1.  Opening Day – We are lucky in a district with about 7500 students and about 1000 staff we can come together for special events.  On the Thursday before Labour Day we have a district professional development day where we spend time for the first couple hours celebrating our district and being inspired for the year ahead.  Speakers in the past have included Stephen Lewis, Sir Ken Robinson, Natalie Panek and Jennifer James.  We try to link to a theme for the year – this past year it was physical literacy.  In August of 2020 it will be diversity and inclusion.
  2. Christmas Party – I know the office Christmas Party is largely a relic. We have this fun tradition of a district-wide party in early December where we celebrate the season, raise money for a local charity and raffle off holiday baskets to staff.  It is always a great way to get into the spirit of the season and a nice tradition that brings people together from across the district.
  3. Retirement Party – You can retire, but you never really leave the family.  While everyone hosts events for their retirees each year, the West Vancouver one always invites back former staff to join.  Some staff who have been retired for decades would never miss the annual event.  It is these types of connections that help newer and younger staff see the lifelong bonds that can come from teaching and community.

 

Top 3 Concerts I got to see:

  1. Paul Simon – while I got to see him retire from touring in the fall of 2018, it was a real treat to see him do a couple shows in California for environmental charities this summer, including his headliner act at Outside Lands Music Festival.  Hoping he might re-appear again somewhere this summer.
  2. Cher – I have never been a huge Cher fan, but her concert was incredible.  You got all the hits, and the costumes, and the over-the-top sets and a couple very cool duets with Sunny.
  3.   Judy Collins –  Judy is 80.  And she is still amazing.  Send in the Clowns, Both Sides Now and Amazing Grace. Wow.

I am a big live music fan.   I did also get to see “cooler” artists like Childish Gambino, Kasey Musgraves, Carrie Underwood and others but it is the storytellers and performers I grew up with while listening to the records with my parents that are still the best to see in concert.  Music has a way of taking you back to the first time you heard the songs being played.

Top 3 Somewhat Odd Lessons I have for any new superintendent:

  1.  If you asking people to give their time to come to workshop – no sandwiches.  Everyone loves pizza or sushi.
  2.  Never let yourself win any competition.  I know we are competitive people but nobody wants the superintendent to win the Halloween costume contest.
  3. Always have a $5 bill in your pocket when you visit schools.  There will often be a bake sale or something similar, and you have to make a purchase.  And you can’t ask for change.  Take this advice from someone who has bought several $20 brownies, rice krispie squares and chocolate chip cookies over his time.

Top 3 Quick Takes I have based on my school visits:

  1. Technology is really becoming invisible in classrooms.  This has been a change in the works for a number of years, but when I am in school I don’t really notice it.  It is there – there are students on laptops and other tools in use, but it is never the lead of the story in classrooms.  Listening to students they are not using “virtual” or “digital” ahead of classroom, portfolio or folder – a sign that it is just become normal.
  2.   Indigenous learning is expected across all grades and curriculum.  The curiosity of students and parents to better understand our land and our history is incredible.   We are lucky to have some wonderful leaders in our district and great partners in the Squamish Nation who are bringing this work alive in our schools.
  3.   Students want flexibility – sort of.  There is an ongoing tension between students desire for more flexibility in how they learn and when they learn, and the comfort they have from traditional structures.  We see this with the FIT time at high schools.  This is just a very modest change, and most have really embraced it.  Why FIT has been particularly successful is that the adults have been so committed to the change.

Top 3 TED Talks that I Have Told You to Watch Before and I am Doing it Again:

  1.  The difference between winning and succeeding

2.   3 Ways to Spark Learning

3.  Every Kid Needs a Champion

Top 3 Trends Our Students Are Part of that We Need to Pay Attention to:

How is this for an eclectic mix – from the  environment, to video games, to mental health . . .

  1. The Climate Crisis –  While16-year-old  Greta  Thunburg  became  the  symbol of the movement around the world, it is one that has legs in every community.  Students are asking hard questions and this is only going to increase.
  2. E-Sports – I wrote about e-sports earlier this year (HERE).  It is easy for adults to dismiss what is going on, but the stats are staggering and something we all should get us all to pay attention.
  3.  Well being – Students are becoming more comfortable talking about their mental health, and describing what they need to be supported.  And the adults are getting better with discussing their well being.  From the courses we offer to when we offer them, to the flexibility for students – in our commitment to well being, many of our structures will be up for debate.

Top 3 Ways I pushed myself in 2019 (these were all my goals in last year’s Top 3):

  1. Start my doctorate –  12 months ago I was just getting going.  Now I am half way through my course work and I am beginning to work on my major exploration:  How do BC School Superintendents Spend Their Time?
  2. More real visits –  It can be hard to make time for real visits.  These are what really help you understand what is going on in classrooms.  I enjoyed being in the water with our FAST students (lifeguards in training) this fall, and checking out our drama students at Sentinel and being part of several physical literacy lessons across our elementary and high schools. These visits give me great perspective on what is working in our classrooms.
  3. Focus on assessment –  We are having this great conversation around assessment right now – from students, to staff to parents.  Somewhere is all the excitement around report cards and letter grades over the last few years, this conversation moved to the background – it is now in the foreground again.  It is actually much harder than a conversation around letter grades – it is far more grey.  But it is a great focus for us to have.

Top 3 Things I am Going to do Less of Next Year:

  1. Social Media –  My interest in definitely decreasing all the time.  I check-in to my Facebook account once or twice a week.  I have shrunk my Instagram community and still use Twitter for work, but not nearly as much as I used to.  And I don’t think I am ready for a Tik Tok account.
  2. Coaching Youth Sports –  When I am not working, I spend most of my time volunteering in the gym with kids.  The modern sports parents are wearing me out.  Their intent focus on their own child and their visions of stardom and lack of appreciation for volunteers is sad.  Working with kids on teams still brings me great joy – but I am going to definitely be more choosy.
  3. Inviting People to Meetings –  I get it, when I invite you to a meeting, you feel obligated to attend.  I will do better about not having meetings for meetings sake.  I already have a reputation for short meetings and celebrating meetings that end early, now I need to get better at finding other ways that meetings to move work forward.

Top 3 Things I want Santa to bring for our school district:

  1. West Van Place for Sport –  We have been trying to build an artificial turf field and track in West Vancouver for close to a decade, but it took a huge step forward this year.  We can actually see the finish line.  It is truly a community effort with the School District, Municipality, Community Foundation all making sizable contributions.  And through a matching funds program from the Municipality they have been joined by many local business partners including Onni and Park Royal.  We are getting this done in 2020! Click HERE to learn more . . . we are still looking for someone who wants to make a donation to have their name on the marquee.
  2. A new Sentinel– I think a new Sentinel Secondary School has been on the wish list longer than the track.  Sentinel is a great school ready for an upgrade.  It is always challenging to know how much to invest in a school knowing it might be replaced in a few years.  We can always hope Santa has a Sentinel project in his bag of goodies!
  3.  A Provincial Teachers Contract –  The support staff have settled both locally and provincially this past year.  And our teachers have settled their issues that are bargained locally this year as well.  Hopefully early in 2020, a provincial teachers settlement will be reached and we can continue to focus on students and learning without the distraction of labour challenges.

Thanks for making it right to the end.  All the best for a wonderful 2020!

Chris

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Doesn’t everyone in education just go on vacation June 30th and then show up the Tuesday after Labour Day?

Not really. We know it is not true for basically anyone in the education system. And it is definitely not true for superintendents. If there was ever an off-season for school districts in the summer, with the growing popularity of summer learning, we are really a year-round enterprises now.  Almost 20% of our students take offerings in the summer.  In addition, there is the weird acts of both closing up one school year and simultaneously opening another – everything from staffing to finances to facility improvements.

But the speed is different.  There are fewer evening commitments and chances for down time and holidays. For me it means I get to read some books that at some point I have been given as must-reads.  This summer for me that included:

When – The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Planning by Daniel Pink

Nine Lies About Work by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall

Darkness to Light by Lamar Odom

Innovate Inside the Box by George Couros and Katie Novak (actually just finishing this one)

I have written before a bit (here) of my experience of going back to school, and that continued this summer.  I know many of my educator friends who use part of their summer to take courses.  And as hard as I found taking classes in the winter, it was actually easier than in the summer.  The lack of structure in the summer and typical routines made organizing time and assignments more challenging.  I will have more to write about the experience.  At the end of summer, I am now 1/3 of the way through my course work at the University of Kansas towards my doctorate.

And summer is not all working, reading and taking courses.  I had the pleasure of traveling along with a group of teenagers to several basketball tournaments across the United States.  And I found they had great respect for my important position as a school superintendent – nothing better describes this than these photos from a plane trip we were on from Chicago to Louisville.

And . . . .then I mostly waited for you all to come back.  It was lonely some days at the Board Office.  I know you might not believe me, so here is a little video (a preview of Opening Day for my West Vancouver friends) of how I spent my summer waiting for everyone to come back this week:

I launch into next week with our staff and the following week with our students excited and ready for a great year ahead.  I am excited about our new look for career education, the ongoing commitment to physical literacy and just the buzz that comes from the start of a school year.  Hopefully your summer has got you ready for your best year too!

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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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