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My “Top 3” List for 2021

Here we go with the 12th annual list.  My homage to growing up in the era of Siskel and Ebert having the “must watch” show at the end of the year as they revealed their best and worst of the year.  I am publishing this at a time where anxiety levels are higher than at any point this year.  Hopefully you can enjoy a little reprieve from the doom scrolling on social media.

Previous Top 3 lists for:  2020 (here) 2019 (here) 2018 (here) 2017 (here) 2016 (here) 2015 (here) 2014 (here) 2013 (here) 2012 (here), 2011 (here) and 2010 (here).

 

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

  1. 7 COVID Edu Trends That Will Stick
  2. Keep Being Passionate After This is Over
  3. The 15 Month School Year

For the first time ever, my April 1st blog (Galaxy High) finished out of the medals this year in 4th place for clicks.  I will choose to take this as a compliment to my other posts.  I have got a bit of a complex that more people read my April Fools’ post than any other – perhaps thinking I should stick to comedy.  It was COVID thinking that dominated my writing and those that resonated most with others.  Given where we are finishing the year, I am sure it will feature prominently in my writing for next year.  I am working on one for early in the year focused on elementary schools, as most of my writing around COVID has been high school focused.  

Top 3 Shifts in the fall as reported by our school and district leaders:

  1. Return of school sports and fine arts performances
  2. Being able to have buddy classes without cohort rules
  3. Keeping some of the timetable changes in high schools

There was a great energy in our schools from September through December.  I know as I write this at the end of December things are definitely uncertain for January.  It was great to have school sports and fine arts back performing.  We knew we missed these activities, but having them return fully, showed the impact they have for kids and schools.  Same is true of the dropping of the cohorts so multi-grade groups could connect again.  Especially in our elementary schools these are such a key part of learning experiences.  And in our high schools, students have continued to embrace new models of flexible time that were present before COVID but fully embraced in the last two years.

Top 3 Topics in BC Education (non-COVID related) that will get attention in 2022:

  1. Changes to online learning
  2. Shifts in early learning and childcare as it moves to Education
  3. Finalization of reporting order for K-12

Stepping away from COVID there are a number of major education policy issues that deserve attention in 2022.  We are seeing the first major revamping of online learning in BC in about 20 years.  The plan will see that there are fewer providers able to offer courses to students outside their district, while everyone is able to offer to students inside their district.  With early learning, there is a move gathering speed that will see all of pre-school aged operations move to be part of the K-12 system.  School districts offering their own before and after school programming is already beginning to happen and we will see new relationships between school districts and their traditional providers.  Government has plans for low-cost options for families that will be closely linked to the education system.  And with reporting, BC has been in a state of limbo for the last several years with some very interesting pilot projects in districts.  In what will be different for families, we are likely seeing the end of letter grades at K-9 (many places have done this already) while still holding onto many of the regular periodical reporting that takes place during a year.  

Top 3 Canadian thought papers on the impact of COVID on schools:

  1. Pandemic Shifts – Considerations for British Columbia Secondary Schools  (Shareski)
  2. School Beyond COVID-19 – Accelerating the Changes that Matter for K-12 Learners in Canada (C21)
  3. District Approaches to Learning in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic (UBC and BCSSA)

OK, a touch self-serving with this one as I had some level of involvement with all three papers.  I think all three capture important lessons of the last 18 months.  Pandemic Shifts focuses on the secondary school experience in the lower mainland, while the paper on District Approaches to Learning is elementary focused.  School Beyond COVID-19 takes a systemic look at issues with a Canadian view.   All three tell different parts of the story and are very useful for future planning.

Top 3 Areas I learned the most about professionally this year:

  1. Equity, Diversity and Inclusivity
  2. Secondary Timetables
  3. Next Wave of Technology

I look at this list, and I am thinking it will be similar again next year.  For equity, diversity and inclusivity it is an incredibly broad topic and while much of the work is around Truth and Reconciliation, with my own learning I am trying to tackle other aspects of the issue as well.  I thought as a secondary vice-principal I knew all there was to know about timetables.  But the last year has shown me there is always another way.  I am in  awe of my colleague Ian Kennedy who is the master designer when it comes to different timetables.  I am still in the camp of “people like whatever timetable they are used to and the actual timetable has little impact on student achievement” but I think the creativity out there has been awesome.  And finally, while we have been focused on Zoom and other streaming connections the last couple of years, there continues to be major disruptions arriving with technology.  From the continued growth of robotics and related areas in schools, to the quickly appearing virtual reality and augmented reality, if you are not trying to stay ahead, you are falling behind.   

Top 3 Individuals Influencing the work in our district (that have never been mentioned in a year-end list before):

  1. Alden Habacon
  2. Chris (Syeta’xtn) Lewis
  3. Cari Wilson

Our district has found a great partner in Alden Habacon as he leads our inclusivity and diversity work.  We has a great way of focusing us on our students.  Chris Lewis has recently stepped down from the Squamish Nation Council and has been an amazing guide for our school district.   One of the many generous leaders in the Squamish Nation we get to work with, Lewis has helped educate our staff and students on the history of our area and insight into the workings of the Squamish Nation.  I am wary about highlighting one colleague, when I work with so many great educators, but Cari Wilson is one of those teachers who makes a massive difference for so many in our district.  From her weekly blog (click on her name above to check it out) to her work with teachers around technology, to her advocacy for young women in STEM and robotics, she has a massive impact in our district.

Top 3 Interesting Findings in my dissertation on superintendents and time:

  1. Female superintendents spend more time with their Board and on educational leadership than male superintendents
  2. Superintendents spend the most time in the “Community Relations” activities
  3. 59% of superintendents are in their first 5 years in the job

I wrote a lot about my doctorate this year – an entire series of eight posts (here is the first one on gender and the superintendency) over the summer.  It was such an enjoyable project as having done this job for more than a decade, I finally had some local data to compare my experience to that of my colleagues.   While not surprising that superintendents spend so much time on community relations, nor really that surprising that so many in the role are new, I was probably most struck by the very different experiences of male and female superintendents in British Columbia.  

Top 3 Personal Accomplishments for the year:

  1.  Now a doctor
  2. Ran an ultra marathon
  3. Finished the year healthier than I have been in a decade

I finished my doctorate in June.  I actually shared my experience (HERE) of the process.  And it is not true that the only reason I did it was so that I could recreate this great scene from Spies Like Us:

Later in the year I had the chance to run an ultra marathon – a first for me.  I combined running the race with visiting my two oldest kids in Nova Scotia at their university.   I guess in 2022 I will look for an even longer race.  And really what I am most pleased with is that I am ending this year at the healthiest I have been in probably a decade.  Entering COVID I had a series of health challenges, but  the last two years have been good to my physical wellbeing and I feel like I am inching towards 50 in some of the best shape of my life.

Top 3 streaks I have going:

  1. Steps
  2. Running
  3. Photo posting to social media

I love a good streak.  While most are healthy, I did once have quite a consecutive day streak for having a Dairy Queen Blizzard.   At the end of 2021, my consecutive days streak for getting at least 10,000 steps will be at 8 years – every day from January 1, 2014 to today.  At times, travel, weather and health have all proved to be a challenge, but I have managed to keep the continuous days streak going.  As I got more into health this year I started a running streak on January 16 of running at least 5 km every single day.  I know this is not the smartest training strategy but I am now at 344 days.  I don’t think I will keep this one going much longer.   My final streak to highlight is also a long one – as of December 31 of this year I will have posted at least one photo to Instagram for 2,556 straight days.  While I don’t make many of the photos public anymore, scrolling through the last seven years of life in pictures brings me great joy.  

Top 3 edu-podcasts that are worth checking out:

  1. Free Range Humans – Rod Allen and Jal Mehta
  2.  The Innovator’s Mindset – George Couros
  3. Mindshare Learning – Robert Martellacci

Free Range Humans has a BC influence with Rod Allen. I am sure there are others out there, but this is a great podcast to get one thinking about educational transformation.  With George Couros you get the smart ideas of his books combined with George’s great sense of humour.  And Robert Martellacci who has several podcasts series posted in different places combines the best of Canadian context with global leaders in education. 

Top 3 non-Edu podcasts that I subscribe to:

  1. This American Life
  2. The Reinvention Project
  3.  No Stupid Questions

Nothing really creative on this list – I listen to ones that are widely popular.  I have a routine – each day’s morning run has a Podcast.  If it is 5 AM on Monday is time for This American Life.  The Reinvention Project from Jim Rome was new this year and he still have some sports related guests, but also many others in different areas.   And No Stupid Questions is just fun.  Two really smart people taking on an interesting question.  Other shows in my regular rotation include Hidden Brain, A Slight Change of Plans, Charges with Rex Chapman, People I Mostly Admire and Politics War Room.   

Top 3 elements of nostalgia in my life this past year:

  1. Celebrating 35 years of the Grade 7 Class of 1986
  2. Ghostbusters Afterlife
  3. Kennedy Centre Honors 

What a fun zoom call we had at the end of May as close to 20 members of the grade 7 class of Daniel Woodward Elementary School, along with our grade 7 teachers Don Taylor and Ken Whitehead got together to reminisce and get caught-up.  I was far more interested in connecting to this group than I would have been with my high school grad group (it was 30 years since that milestone) and it was great seeing where people were at in their lives.   It was so fun – I met up with Don (grade 7 teacher), Ken (grade 6 teacher) and George Nakanishi (grade 5 teacher) later in the year for drinks.

Now I was not expecting to like the new Ghostbusters movie.  I was actually never a huge fan of the original movies.  But it was the perfect mix of interesting new characters with the original characters.  With retro connections, I am also a big fan of Cobra Kai and the Saved by the Bell reboot.  

And for something late in the year, proof that I am becoming my parents is no more obvious than my love of Kennedy Centre Honours.  From David Letterman hosting, to Canadians Joni Mitchell and Lorne Michaels being among those being honoured to the great Paul Simon performing ( LINK to video on Facebook) – the entire show was awesome.  It was a holiday tradition in my house growing up, and it still is today.  

Top 3 holiday traditions in our house:

  1. The Stanley Park Train
  2. VanDusen Gardens
  3. The List

From my days at Principal at Rochester Elementary School we started going to the Stanley Park Train along with colleagues who also had pre-school aged children.   18 years later – it is still a thing.  And VanDusen Gardens is always in the week before Christmas with my mom.  And then the List.  On New Year’s Eve we hand out the recipe cards to write down goals for the coming year.  We all share them as family and then post them to be reminded of them during the year.

Final Thoughts

It was a year of anniversaries for me in education, already noting that I celebrated 35 years since my grade 7 year, and 30 years since high school graduation, 25 years as a teacher and I am just completing 15 years in West Vancouver.   I still love the work.  The unknown everyday is exciting.   There is always a plan, but things never go exactly the way that might be expected.  I am so lucky to be surrounded by colleagues who push and and challenge my thinking and a group with complimentary skill sets.   Of course, I was hoping this would be more celebratory at the end of 2021, but COVID has had a different plan.

As always I really appreciate the connections we make over the year on this blog, via social media and even in person when we are allowed.  It has been exciting to see some amazing lessons of the pandemic in our schools and with our learning continue, and I am sure some things we saw this fall will never “snap back” to pre-COVID times.

To all my friends and colleagues in West Vancouver and beyond still reading as I am well over my 2000 word goal – hopefully you are having a good break.  

All the best for a great 2022.

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Today I keynoted the CUEBC (Computer Educators of British Columbia) Conference with my mouthful of a title, “Isn’t This Kind of What We Wanted – The Good, Not So Good and Hopefully Awesome of Technology in Schools in the Time of COVID.”

At the bottom of the post is the video of the talk. Rather than restating the entire talk, let me highlight some of the big ideas that I wanted to share.

In the spring we were scrambling; it was emergency learning. It was very revealing which schools and districts had invested in technology and had coherence in their work built over the last decade. We learned who was faking it in the new world and who was truly invested. Those who were thoughtfully invested and had strong infrastructure, common platforms and a baseline of use across schools and the district outpaced the others.

What is exciting about the fall is that everyone has upped their game. And I don’t think it really matters if you are a Microsoft, Google or Teams District – what matters is that you have selected a robust set of tools and are using them well. Also in the spring we saw a lot of just trying to get digital content out to students, now we are seeing far better use of technology in ways that does not just replicate traditional school experiences, but creates experiences that would actually not be possible without the technology.  In the spring we were being driven by technology and now we are being driven by learning and using technology.

It does feel like we have a tremendous opportunity.  Students, staff and parents want to use this time as an opportunity to create new structures for learning –  new ways to engage students in relevant and connected learning opportunities.  As I wrote in my last post, we want to do this without losing the collective good of education – we cannot just turn schools into credit factories.  And we need to be conscious of equity.  As exciting as these times are, we need everyone to benefit.  It was interesting in the spring in British Columbia, we found ways to get devices into the hands of almost all students who needed them, and get wi-fi into homes that didn’t have it.  We need to hold this to be a fundamental obligation that all students have access to the tools so that all students benefit from the power of digital learning.  And this is not an impossible goal – we need to keep focused on this.  As I argue in my presentation, if we can ensure all houses have garbage pick-up we surely can ensure all houses have wi-fi access.  

Borrowing ideas from the OECD and others, I think the next 12-24 months create numerous opportunities including:

  • harnessing innovation
  • re-imagining accountability
  • remembering the power of the physical world
  • supporting the most vulnerable
  • reinforcing capacity
  • building system self reliance
  • preparing digital resources

More than ever, leaders need to celebrate risk-taking.  There are fewer rules in the pandemic, and we don’t need just one model, we need multiple models as we move forward.  

I think this is a once in a career opportunity for us in education.  Of course we wouldn’t have planned for the opportunity to come in a pandemic that can be absolutely exhausting – but here we are – and we can’t let this chance go to waste.

If you have some time, please take a look at the video and join the conversation. Or view the slides HERE.  Discussion and debate is good – it will move us forward.  

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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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At first I was just going to skip over writing a post on memes, it seems so trivial, but the more I have read and learned, the more I realized how important it is to shine a light on the not so frivolous parts of this topic.

This past week I have been struck by the story out of Vancouver and the spreading of offensive “memes” by students. And while this was in Vancouver, and was at an independent school, I think we all know these kinds of activities transcend schools and geographic borders. Media or other commentators who are trying to restrict this conversation to being one about “boys” or “private schools” or “bad parenting” are not following along with what is going on these days on the internet.

This is not my typical blog post, it is more of a call to action in our community and more broadly.  I do think this is all of our business.  We need to do more to collectively focus on ensuring our digital spaces and engagement reflect the same values as our physical spaces – ones rooted in care for each other. And that all of us (students, teachers, parents, community) continually ask ourselves if what we are posting online is truthful, is kind and adds value.

Over the past decade during my time as Superintendent I have taken great pride in our work as digital leaders in education. I see us creating opportunities for learning that are aligned with the world in which our kids live in. It has been incredibly exciting to see the transformation in our classrooms. For example, hundreds of students are engaged in coding and robotics, areas which barely existed five years ago.  I see the relevance to our students learning every day.   It is this leadership that leads me to want to flag this issue.

As an American colleague of mine, Bob Ryan, recently noted in a message to parents, sharing digital content on phones and social media is not a new behavior. But there is an increasingly prominent “meme culture” where posting, liking and saving funny, tasteless or offensive content has become part of regular social life. Unfortunately, too many people can have a difficult time separating what is funny from what is inappropriate, or even horribly offensive. Probably all of us who engage in Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or Instagram have seen these kinds of examples. The impact that this sharing can have is often lost on people.

This is not brand new,  it was the spring of 2017 when the story broke  Harvard rescinding admission letters for 10 students because of offensive memes they shared in a private Facebook group. This story, which gained attention across North America, saw high school seniors posting increasingly vile content in an attempt to be quicker, more clever and edgier than each other and earn more social clout.

Last month the NPR podcast The Hidden Brain  (also pointed to me by Bob Ryan) took an extensive look into the Harvard story and  interviewed one of the students involved. The hour-long episode is well worth your time and provides valuable insights into the digital behaviours of teenagers and the complicated social waters they are trying to navigate. At the end of the episode, the host Shankfar Vedantam summarized the situation:

Nearly everything that everyone says on social media goes unnoticed. And everyone can see you’re getting no traction. This can drive some of us to come up with the edgiest, funniest, hottest takes. Likes and retweets and fire emojis become currency, signaling our worth to those around us. Sometimes the things we post work, and we become stars. Other times, we fall flat or, worse, my joke sets off your rage. When this happens, it’s no use saying there is even more terrible stuff online. There is only a price to pay. The things we post take on a life of their own, and they can be as permanent as a scar.

I have written recently on this blog a couple posts which also speak to my concerns first on the use of cell phones by parents in schools and then more recently on the important differences between technology and social media.  I encourage parents to have discussions with your children about the apps they use, the photos they have and the content they share. I encourage our staff to continue to find powerful ways to teach using technology and model the power of digital tools. And I encourage students to pause before you share.

Daniel Panneton wrote earlier this year in the Globe & Mail:

Even though memes may appear to be the height of triviality, that’s exactly what makes them such serious vectors for dangerous worldviews. Because they’re often composed of inside jokes and hidden references, the ability to read their subtext is now a form of cultural knowledge itself. Meme literacy, which would have been an improbable phrase just a few years ago, has become an essential skill that must be expected of educators, historians, journalists, politicians and law enforcement.

We are just a small part of a larger conversation that needs to be had about how we treat each other in the digital world. We have seen the best and worst of this in our recently concluded Federal election and in the daily news in our country and others. But just because it is a larger conversation doesn’t mean we should ignore it.  And we have an absolute responsibility in schools to insert ourselves into these conversations.  These are all our kids.

For local readers, know that I have had recent conversations with our District Parent Advisory Council about how we can find learning opportunities for parents around students and their digital activities.  This is not just a school issue, but how we treat each other is an everyone issue.

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I share the seemingly global angst with social media. These spaces whether Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat are not what many would have hoped they would be even a few years ago.  And yes, while schools engage in these spaces, they are not core to the learning experiences of our students.  But when I hear that technology is a real problem in our schools and then critics go on to list the problems of social media, they are not being fair to the more broader application of modern learning tools that has come with technological change in the last decade.  We have ongoing work to do with social media and how we treat each other online, but we can say this and still champion the amazing ways technology is being used in our classrooms.

In schools this fall, I have been so impressed with how seamlessly modern tools are used in classrooms.  Whether it is students on their laptops in their Google suite of tools, doing science via Discovery Techbook,  3D printing, VR (virtual reality) goggles or a host of other tools their use to enhance learning and engage students is impressive.  Then there are entire areas, like robotics that simply don’t exist without modern tools.  I often note how less noticeable our digital use is in classrooms.  Technology use is not an event that happens in a specific place, whether in a grade 4 class or a grade 12 class, students often bounce back and forth between technologies, traditional pen and paper and collaborative work – often in unison.   I think for some students they may use technology less now than five years ago, but it is far more purposeful when the do.  No elementary classes are staring at screens in computer labs several times a week.

It has become popular to pile-on technology as a real problem.  We need to be more specific.  Social media, and its use by kids and adults, raises a lot of questions.  We had a recent threat incident in our community that spread via social media from kids and parents in minutes.  And even after the issue was dealt with, the social media continued to echo with hurtful comments and lies.  And yes, schools have ownership over some of this.  We are places where students can learn good habits and have behaviours reinforced, and the community also have great responsibility when it comes to this.  Ten years ago I would say since parents are not on social media they looked to their friends as guides.  Well, now parents are on social media and they need to be good models for their children on how to use these powerful tools.

We have to be smart enough to separate the amazing advances in our classrooms that would not be possible without technology, while still realizing all of us of all ages, are going to have to come to grips with how we treat each other and respond to events in our digital social spaces.

 

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Photo Credit: Mauricio Chandia

I wrote last month about Breaking the Gender Divide – Imagining a New Way to Organize Youth Sports where I shared the script for the recent TEDx presentation I gave with my daughter Liz.  In the spirit of TED, it is intended to be a discussion starter.  Issues of gender and sports are ones that should be given more attention.  I have had the honour of some previous TEDx Talks, but this was particularly special getting to share the stage with my oldest daughter and pursue a topic that is interesting to both of us.

The videos have just been posted, and I want to again thank Craig Cantlie and entire TEDxWestVancouverED team (there are so many great Talks on the website).  They host a first class event, and the videos from past events have, in many cases, been viewed tens of thousands of times – which is a wonderful legacy for these events.

Here is our talk:

If you are interested in other sports related TED Talks, TED has compiled a list of 31 of the most provocative.  My all-time favourite TED talk, on any topic, by John Wooden speaking about The difference between winning and succeeding, is among the recommendations.

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How do we effectively help students harness the benefits of our digital world, while easing the negative effects of technology and making sure that children are equipped with important foundational skills like reading, writing and math? This question is often top of mind for those concerned about the impact of technology on students, particularly in our district, where we continue to lead on the adoption of digital tools for the classroom.

There are two prominent issues around technology that I hear concerns about, and we have also seen these same issues play out in the news on a regular basis. One is related to the content to which young people are potentially exposed, and the other has to do with too much screen time. I’ll take these two in order to address some aspects of both.

Internet Content

Many people believe that we can and should filter out the worst of the internet, and certainly, the provincial government and district technology teams spend time ensuring that accessible sites within our network are safe and educational. But in the real world, always-on access is a very real issue, and students participate in the digital conversation beyond our walls. Just as you wouldn’t send a child to walk to school without instructions and some certainty that they understand and can handle the risks, students need to harness the skills that allow them to use technology responsibly, safely and ethically.

Neither teaching nor parenting is an easy job, and most everyone would agree that it would be irresponsible to leave the role of responsible technology use up to a software package. In a similar vein, blanket internet blocks do not work, partly because students are very adept at getting around such restrictions and then sharing that information with their peers. In an era of fake news and alternate facts, the best defense is to guide and lead the conversation on digital citizenship, so that students can safely and successfully navigate the digital landscape at all times.

This is not a ‘one and we’re done situation’. Our teacher-librarians from every school, already this year, have had a special session on digital citizenship, since these specialized teachers play a key role in literacy and research. We use a common language and have a consistent approach around the district. Responsible Use is addressed. Using sources like Media Smarts our schools teach kids:

• how to recognize false content on-line
• how to make privacy decisions on-line
• about cyberbullying
• about excessive internet use

In West Vancouver, students learn how to find and validate sources and use the vast promise of technology to design, produce, collaborate and demonstrate their learning. This is a vital skill, and parents and educators who share concerns about student well-being and success should embrace the promise and the challenges that technology in education brings. Fear of the unknown is certainly a factor in some quarters, but for those unfamiliar with technology, or the policies and best practices in place, there are resources that can help.

Time Spent on Devices

There is no doubt that everyone is spending more time on their devices, and if it’s purely about consuming rather than creating, that can become a problem. Like I am sure many of you, I am concerned about the mindless consumption of so many (kids and adults) in our world. But the solution is to invest more time in areas like intelligent consumption, rather than resort to punitive measures.

At school, before we implemented bring your own device across all of our schools, we spent considerable time developing the skills of our staff, with a heavy focus on our role as ‘digital citizenship leaders’ – teaching the basics of online ethics, intelligent consumption, intellectual property, online safety and ‘netiquette’. Doing this well means less time spent policing the use of devices and more time getting the most out of what technology can help us do. As opposed to mere passive consumption and entertainment, we ask students to create, produce artifacts, collaborate and demonstrate their learning. They will be doing even more of this as we continue to implement the Applied Design Skills and Technologies curriculum at higher grades.

The International Society for Technology in Education (ITSE) is an excellent resource on technology in schools, and is referenced frequently in our district. The “standards for students” are very helpful, as the document establishes several principles, one of which includes the need to teach good digital citizenship. Schools, in partnership with parents, are doing precisely this work. The aim is to have students “recognize the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world, and act and model in ways that are safe, legal and ethical”.

Schools often require that students unplug and/or close their cases. One example of this in action is what West Bay Elementary School has done by creating “phone lockers” so that students can use them when they will be used for learning, and store them safely at other times. At the same time, we value the importance of face-to-face time and focus heavily on other areas of literacy and basic foundational skills – like math lessons in the forest, reading stories to younger students and encouraging the use of our public libraries.

As to what parents choose to do when children are not in our classrooms, our district innovation support leader, Cari Wilson, mentions a number of great resources, along with several age appropriate tips for leading digital literacy in her recent blog post.

Once students go to secondary school, I believe they need to have greater ownership over these decisions. This can be hard, for us in schools, and for parents at home. On the home front, I think it is crucial that parents act as good models for the use of technology.

With four school aged-children myself, these are conversations that are not just part of my work life, but also my home life. For us, we have a series of rules at home, and they apply to both adults and children:

• no cell phones in the bedrooms so we don’t get distracted at night
• we uninstall some Apps during vacation or other times to limit distractions
• we talk about which Apps we will put on our devices – and which ones we won’t
• we don’t talk about getting phones until at least in high school

Excessive consumption is a tough pattern to break, once it’s set in. But it is up to each of us to model and guide the young people in our care, and we urge every parent to take an active leadership role.

Conclusions

I am amazed at the work students are creating, that we could not have even imagined a few years ago. I see students building and programming robots, creating videos they share with the world, and digitally connecting across the district and around the globe. I also think there will be far more technology in our schools (and our lives) in 10 years than there is today. We have a responsibility to see that as technologies shift, we find ways to use it, and not be used by it.

Thanks to West Vancouver Communications Director Bev Pausche who assisted with this post.  A similar version of this post was also published on our District website.

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school_boyI feel a little late to this conversation.

The idea of using digital badging is not new.  For the last several years I have seen blog posts on the topic, and at online learning conferences seen speakers talk to the possibilities of using badging in education.  It is a conversation that I have not given a lot of attention.  It seemed to be one driven by digitally passionate teachers in select schools, and did not seem to be growing.  It also seemed one more focused at post-secondary than in K-12.  And from a cursory look, I thought we might really be talking about digital ribbons and trophies – and I didn’t think we needed those.

As a background, Erin Fields describes these next generation of Girl Guides or Boy Scout badges in the world of education as:

Badges are a digital representation of a skill, behaviour, knowledge, ability or participation in an experience. What makes this digital symbol unique is the attached metadata. The metadata of a badge is “baked-in”. The “baking-in” process allows issuers to provide information about why the badge was earned that is then attached to the badge image. This information, or metadata, attached to the badge will include the criteria for earning the badge, the issuing organization, and evidence of earning.

I found it interesting that Digital Badging made the front cover of last month’s School Administrator Magazine – a magazine targeted at Superintendents and other district leaders across North America.  The cover story was written by Sheryl Grant, the director of alternative credentials and badge research at HASTAC at Duke University.    She argued:

Kids today build their reputations in a much different world.  They move seamlessly between offline and online networks, some with dozens of virtual peers who share similar interests, often spending hours together as they learn and share new skills.  They create websites, produce movies and play video games where they earn badges and have followers and friends they may never meet face-to-face.

In the same issue of School Administrator, Amanda Rose Fuller from Aurora Public Schools in Colorado wrote about badges as micro-credentialing and as a way to expand access to post-secondary workforce readiness credentials to all students.  She said:

The digital badging program has supported many students throughout their academic journey by providing credentials to open doors.  As students develop 21-century skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, invention, information literacy and self-direction inside and outside the classroom, they have the capacity to earn evidence-based credentials.

It is with some of this recent reading that timing was interesting, as this past Friday I was asked to be a speaker and “Instigator” at the BC Open Badges Forum – which featured a cross section of people ranging from curious to passionate in the use of badges throughout education and outside of education in “the real world.”  The notes from the day (HERE) and the conversation at #BadgeBC on Twitter are both useful to see the thinking of the group.

As I often have written, it is an exciting time in K-12 education in BC, and one of change.  We have revised curriculum from K-12 which focuses on big ideas and is less about minutia that dominated curriculum in the past, there is a commitment to core competencies throughout the system, including having students self-reflect, there are districts looking at new ways of communicating student learning to students and parents, and notions like capstone projects or passion projects are becoming more the norm in both elementary and secondary schools.  There is also a genuine commitment from those inside the K-12 system to find better ways of recognizing the amazing learning that students do outside of school, but is part of the package of their learning.

It is in this context that I wonder about the place of open badging and the opportunities going forward.  I don’t think a collection of badges is going to replace a traditional report card or transcript, but I do think there are possibilities that if our learning partners like the library, community centres, museums, sports clubs and others looked at badging as a way to share what students have done, we could find a way to recognize it inside our system.  I know our very forward thinking public library, the West Vancouver Memorial Library, is already beginning to think about this.  We want students to have portfolios that are rich in information from their school experience but also their larger learning experience, and maybe badges have a role to play.

We have long found ways to give “credit” for students who reach a certain level of Piano, or make a Provincial Soccer Team, or earn a trades credential – but there are so many other areas that are part of learning but marginalized as part of a student’s learning record.

Two months ago, if asked I would have said digital badging in K-12 felt like a bit of a fad, and maybe something for a very small small group of teachers and students.  My thinking is shifting.  If those working with youth can begin to create micro-credentialing in the digital world, and do so in an open-source way that allowed others to do the same, I think we could begin to find meaningful ways of including it in our work.

I am curious to hear the experiences of others in the badging world.

instagagor-badge

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5-reasons-why-blogging-is-so-important-to-your-website

It was about six years ago they started.

And here we are, as we are approaching the mid-point of the 2016-17 school year, and so many of our school leaders continue to share their thinking through their blogs.  While the internet is littered with well-intentioned and abandoned blogs from educators, and education blogging may have lost some of its excitement from just a few years ago, so many in West Vancouver are using their blog to tell stories to their community about their school, tackle big issues in education, and let people know a little bit more about themselves.

Here is just a sampling of what is being shared in West Vancouver:

One of the district’s most regular bloggers, West Bay Elementary Principal Judy Duncan took on the #oneword challenge in her latest post and her focus on voice:

One of our intangible objectives is for students to appreciate and to become accustomed to having and exercising their voice.  As adults that will benefit them individually and, in turn, all of us collectively. This should move us to ensure that whether through sport, music, language, drama or art, every child and every person has a voice in 2017.

In his latest post, Caulfeild Elementary Principal Craig Cantlie shares some of his thinking with parents as they make the often stressful “what school should my child attend” decision at this time of year:

Does the learning at Caulfeild Elementary (iDEC) look like it did when you were growing up? Probably not, but neither does the world. Our students learn the foundational skills of literacy and numeracy, but more importantly the relevant and purposeful use of those foundational skills. Taking those skills and connecting them with the conceptual understandings behind our science and social studies work makes for powerful learning across the grades. Our students are creators, collaborators, communicators and critical thinkers – all of which will serve them well, whatever their future holds.

Scott Slater, Principal at Bowen Island Community School tackled communicating student learning with his recent post, a topic that is one that is being widely discussed among students, staff and parents and Scott asked the important question about whether the changes are just different or if what is being done is actually new.  He looked at a number of areas including core competencies:

The reports continue to include information on a child’s social and emotional development. In the opening comments, in Core Competencies (for intermediate reports), and in other fields, teachers share information on the child’s social and emotional development. Schools share the role with parents of supporting a child’s well-being and development of personal and social skills. In the opening comments, teachers also refer to an aspect of our school goal of students developing their learning character so parents will find comments related to a child’s development of Responsibility, Openness, Ambition and Resilience (ROAR)

Communicating student learning was also on the mind of Chartwell Principal Chantal Trudeau and she focused on the importance of the student reflection:

One of the most important changes this year is the addition of the student reflection piece. Teachers have a few different options to include their students’ reflections into the report card. At the primary level, it can look like a “happy face” worksheet or a few sentences in the student reflection box on the report card itself. At the intermediate level, many students have written a reflection letter which is an insert added to the report card. I have enjoyed reading the students’ self-reflections whilst reviewing all the report cards going home today. I am very impressed by their meta-cognitive ability, thinking about their thinking and learning. Knowing yourself as a learner is a great thing, at any age. It is wonderful to see that our students know how they are doing, and what they need to do to improve and why.

Also looking at communicating student learning is Cedardale Head-Teacher Jessica Hall.  Her post collected feedback from students on the new reports:

The range of experience with new reporting practices amongst my students is broad and in trying to bring about some collective understanding, I sparked up a conversation about the “new” report cards. I wanted to know how students have perceived this change of not having letter grades listed on their report cards. Grade 6 students immediately expressed a sense of relief over not being labeled with a single grade. In a conversation with one Grade 6 student, he explained that the language in the new Communicating Student Learning Document was more descriptive than a letter grade. He stated that in general, the word “developing” has a less negative connotation and that he liked how the Core Competencies provide explicit examples on how to improve learning skills. A Grade 5 student articulated the first moment she understood that ‘communicating ideas’ is a learning skill. She explained that the Core Competencies have helped her identify and value her personal learning style as the “presenter” and that she prefers working in groups, where she has the opportunity to “share her ideas in classroom discussions”.

Hollyburn Principal Kim Grimwood focused her most recent post on executive functioning and ways that parents can support these skills.  She reminded us of the important of the eight executive functioning skills (and then what they had to do with making waffles):

Impulse control: helps us to stop and think before acting.

Flexibility: allows us to adjust to the unexpected.

Emotional Control: helps us to keep our emotions in check.

Initiation: allows us to take action and get started.

Working Memory: the ability to hold information in mind to complete a task.

Planning and prioritizing: helps us decide on a goal and make a plan to reach it.

Self-Monitoring: allows us to evaluate how we are doing.

Organization: helps us to keep track of things both physically and mentally.

Rockridge Principal Jeannette Laursoo used a recent post to update the community on the various ways students have been contributing:

Rockridge’s students have been busy contributing to both the local and global communities. To highlight just a few of the initiatives, the Blush Club collected warm clothes and blankets for those less fortunate,  the Umoyo Club fundraised by selling cookies to benefit Nyaka Orphanage in Uganda, and our community made a difference in the lives of teens by donating backpacks filled with essential items to Convenant House.  We thank everyone for their generosity and support.

And a final sample of the recent posts comes from West Van Secondary Principal Steve Rauh who paid tribute to retiring teacher Bruce Holmes, and included a number of comments from students in his post:

“A student once came in crying; Mr. Holmes took the time to cheer them up and help them.” – Madison Duffy

“I have been in Holmes’ class since grade 8. Not only has he taught me woodwork, but he has also taught me a lot about life.” – Gabriella Langer

“He likes to take you out of your comfort zone.” – Ashley Kempton

“We really like his sense of humour; he loves to gossip and threaten to give wet willies.” – Nicole Torresan & Alexa Harrison

“I appreciate how he never turns down any student ideas no matter how absurd or impossible they sound. He will always stick with you to help you see your ideas come to real life.” – Jesse Diaz

In re-reading these posts, and others from across the district I am reminded there is no one model for blogging.  I find that the range of topics, and approaches is reflective of the various leaders in our schools.  Selfishly for me these blogs are a great way to stay connected to the thinking and work in our schools.  And I know, especially in an era of fewer print publications (an issue I have lamented in the past) these posts are a great window into the work of public education.

Whether you are a current student or parent, or a perspective one, or someone interested, curious or passionate about education, we have so many great leaders publicly sharing their thinking and acting as great models for students in the modern world.

HERE is a link to all the West Vancouver Schools websites that host the school blogs.

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top3

Welcome to my final blog post of 2016 and my annual tradition of my Top 3 Lists for the year.

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

As I see many on social media desperately wishing for 2016 to just end – here is a chance to look back at some non-Brexit, non-Trump, non-celebrity death moments from the past year.

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

1. Some Hip Advice

2. I Used to Blame Parents

3. I am Now More Open-Minded About Football

Top 3 Places I Learned Stuff:

  1. Books, Blogs and Magazines – I list of few of the most influential books I read later, and I continue to be a regular reader of various blogs – some like Will Richardson I have been learning from for more than a decade.  I also continue to subscribe to a variety of magazines (in paper) with the AASA School Administrator being a must read every month.
  2. Ignite Events –  I think I went to five Ignite events in 2016.  I really like the format – a variety of 5 minute talks with time for conversation built-in between the sessions.
  3. C21 Superintendent’s Academy – I am part of a national Superintendent group that has regular conference calls and meets face-to-face a couple of times a year.  The formal sessions are great but it is the relationships that I have been able to build with others in the same role as me which have been particularly useful.

Top 3 Education Books I Read That Influenced My Thinking:

  1.  Originals:  How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant (always like some non-education books)
  2. The Collapse of Parenting by Leonard Sax (good book from a former parent education speaker in West Vancouver)
  3. Embracing a Culture of Joy by Dean Shareski (non just on the list because I got a free copy!)

Top 3 Speakers We Had In West Vancouver That Pushed Us Along:

  1. George Couros– George has made these lists of mine numerous times – last year his book was one of the year’s top influencers.  This past spring he did a session for teachers and administrators.  George nicely pulls together many of the “new” ideas in education into a coherent package.
  2. Dean Shareski / Natalie Panek – Dean is another regular on these lists, and a regular in West Vancouver and on Opening Day he joined rocket-scientist Natalie Panek for messages of joy and possibility
  3. Ron Canuel – Ron was the jolt we needed in December.  He spoke about the myths in education and reminded us that the path we are on, while often challenging is the right one for students.

Top 3 Speakers I Saw And Remembered Their Messages Days or Weeks Later:

  1. Angus Reid– My blog post on Angus’ talk is listed above and one of my most read of the year.  I love a talk that deeply challenges your beliefs – Angus did that and in less than twenty minutes he changes how I see high school football.
  2. Pasi Sahlberg – I know many have seen Pasi before but when I saw him speak in December it was the first time for me.  His message about international rankings and strategies for system improvement were ones that really resonated with me.
  3. Governor General David Johnston– His Excellency spoke in West Vancouver in March – with a simple message on the power of being a smart and caring nation.

Top 3 Concerts I saw this Past Year (by artists in their 70’s):

  1. Paul McCartney – I had never seen Paul McCartney live before and it was an amazing show.  You feel like you are on an almost 50 year historical tour as he selects various hits from his different incarnations.
  2. Paul Simon – My favourite artist of all-time.  It was not my favourite show of his at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre this past May, but knowing it might be his final tour did make it special.
  3. Dolly Parton – I was not really expecting to like this show – but I loved it!  She is an amazing storyteller and performer.
  4.  I know it is a “Top 3” List but I needed to also include James Taylor who was so engaging.

Top 3 TEDx WestVancouverED 2016 Videos That Feel Different Than “Regular” TEDx Videos:

  1.  It Became Clear in 54 Words by Tracy Cramer

 

2.  When Beauty Leads to Empathy by Dean and Martha Shareski

 

3.   What is Your Why? by Jody MacDonald

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Top 3 Student Events I Saw That Really Stuck With Me:

  1.  Elementary School Track Meet – It is the Super Bowl of Elementary Schools (well along with the Christmas Concert).  I love how excited our students and staff are and how many parents come out to support their children.
  2. Remembrance Day Assemblies – I know every school district does Remembrance Day Ceremonies but we do them in a really powerful and amazing way.  I was really struck by the one at Gleneagles Elementary in particular this past November.
  3. Honour Choir Christmas Concert – I was blown away by the talent we have in our schools.  Our Honour Choirs with students from across the District put on a professional show.

Top 3 Signs That Have Nothing To Do With Technology  That Show Schools (and our world) are REALLY Changing:

  1. SOGI announcementt – In early September the BC Government made a major commitment around Sexual Identity and Gender Identity and there was a collective “of course, we are already way ahead of this” from almost all in the school system
  2. Truth and Reconciliation Recommendations (announced in 2015) are becoming embedded in our work in schools
  3. Waste Disposal and Recycling – It may seem trivial, but I have recently traveled in the United States where EVERYTHING still goes in the garbage and I walk into school here and we have almost no garbage at some sites – proof that despite some protest and much skepticism behaviours can change

Top 3 Overused Education Phrases That Got Used Too Much This Past Year:

  1.  Growth Mindset
  2.  Rigor
  3.  Transformational Leadership

Top 3 Things I Stopped Doing This Year:

  1. Watching News – following the US election I have stopped watching news and focused on reading news – I am happier for it.
  2. Eating Meat – I haven’t eaten beef in about 20 years, but now turkey, chicken and other meats are on the list
  3. Following Politicians on Twitter – again this was partly brought on by the US Election, but I have either unfollowed or muted all provincial, national and international political figures – and my social media experience has improved.

Top 3 Little Things I Do That Bring Me Joy:

  1. Principal-for-a-day – Elementary schools bring by a “Principal for a Day” once during the year – it is 20 minutes of pure joy chatting with them about their school and their experiences
  2. Walking – I have a few people who love walking meetings and I am convinced these walks make me more productive
  3.  Betting Booster Juices – I know some people I work with think I have a gambling problem.  I will bet a Booster Juice on almost anything.  As I see it – it is win-win.  Either way I am getting a Booster Juice.

As always, I really appreciate everyone who takes the time to read and engage with me through the blog.   I have tried to take myself a little less seriously in this space and really enjoy the relationships that are built and extended digitally.  All the best for a wonderful 2017!

Chris

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