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I wrote something earlier this week for our local school district audience highlighting the some of the community service I was seeing with our students. I will republish it here as although it is about our students in West Vancouver, it is really part of the story about the modern student. The modern student values academics but is really defined by being a passionate citizen.

For this column, I met with two grade 2 boys who planned and executed a book sale to raise money for cancer research. I also spoke with a group of grade 7 students who had found the amazing power of anonymous giving. Of course, these are just two of the dozens of similar stories across our district, and I know being played out across schools everywhere.

While we can get fixated on a particular test result or academic metric, it is great to step back and see the amazing ways are schools are honing the citizenship of our learners. And be reminded our kids are pretty awesome! Here is the full text of my article this week:

Everywhere you turn at this time of year, people are engaged in giving and charitable works. In our schools over the course of the school year, students and staff also engage in projects, small and large, that contribute to local and international charitable efforts. Many of these projects are focussed around the holiday season or other special occasions, but a number of initiatives also take place year-round.

While we often think of these efforts in terms of the benefits that flow to recipients, a growing body of scientific evidence demonstrates that acts of philanthropy strongly benefit the giver as well. To mark the season of giving, I’d like to highlight a few examples of this work around the district in this month’s column, and reflect on a few of the lessons that students have mentioned to me.

Caulfeild Elementary

On December 4th, Caulfeild embarked on a whole school inquiry, beginning with the question Through Empathy, can we better meet the needs of those in society? A representative from the Harvest Project visited the school’s assembly, held that morning, and students were shown a short video to provoke classroom discussions. The purpose of the inquiry is to move beyond “giving” and “awareness” to incorporate a meaningful understanding that not everyone’s basic needs are being met, and develop ways to support those needs.

École Pauline Johnson

In addition to a special effort on behalf of Cops for Cancer earlier this year, the school is very proud of two boys in Grade 2, Daniel and Robert, who collaboratively planned, launched and led a book sale this month to raise money to donate to cancer research. The boys raised $583.15 from the sale, and when I met with them to congratulate them on their success, they told me about how their initiative has sparked others in their class to also engage in community-minded projects. Daniel and Robert said that they were surprised with how helpful everyone was through the process, but also learned just how difficult the planning can be for such a large initiative.

 

Eagle Harbour Montessori

Each year, the school studies a continent as part of a year-round project. In September, each student in the upper elementary class researches a charity and presents their findings to the class. The class then votes to determine which charity the school will focus on for the year. To support the chosen cause or causes, students hold and organize their own fundraisers. Last year, as the school was studying South America, students raised funds for Free Kicks and the Galapagos Islands Trust. This year, with a focus on Antarctica and Australasia, students chose to support the Global Penguin Conservation and the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

Irwin Park Elementary

Students at Irwin Park have been filling shoeboxes full of essential items for the Union Gospel Mission, part of its Day of Care in association with Me to We. This initiative also includes a pajama day and buddy activities to support younger students. Parents at the school have organized Santa’s Workshop, where families donate items and then students shop for their families to support the Grade 7 legacy fundraiser. Finally, the school hosted a loonie drive to support the purchase of a tree at the Dundarave Festival of Lights. All funds raised support the Lookout Society’s North Shore shelter.

Ridgeview Elementary

At Ridgeview Elementary school, the Grade 7 We Team, along with teacher sponsors Cari Wilson and Russ Paterson, spearheaded a food drive called the We Scare Hunger Campaign. All items collected were delivered to their sister school, Grandview Elementary, and some of the students even stocked the pantry at Grandview. This year, the group collected so much that they had to enlist the help of the district’s facilities crew to deliver the collected items. In addition a Grade 4 class at the school, together with teacher sponsor Amy Meldrum, launched its second annual sock drive, collecting more than 822 pairs of socks. The initiative benefitted babies and young children through BabyGoRound and all other socks went to the North Shore’s Lookout Shelter.

West Bay Elementary

One Grade 6 class at West Bay Elementary school maintains contact with a group of school children in Africa, sending letters back and forth. A Grade 7 student spearheaded a shoebox clothing drive for women’s shelters in Vancouver; he made announcements and collected clothing and toiletries from each division, packed the items in shoeboxes and individually wrapped them. The Grade 7 students at the school have all been involved in the We Scare Hunger campaign, collecting canned goods to benefit food banks. The four Grade 6 and 7 classes provide dessert for the Oppenheimer Christmas Dinner – between the two classes, they bake about 500 dozen cookies, which are donated to the residents of the Downtown Eastside. Parents get in on the giving action too, by putting together hampers for families in need.

I had the chance to speak with Grade 7 students at West Bay about the “Joy Virus” they spread at Park Royal. The students in Mr. Darling’s class decided to pass on the “Secret Santa” this year and instead bring cheer to complete strangers at Park Royal. It was interesting to hear the reactions of students. They found great joy and fulfillment for doing good for others, without a typical reward attached. A number of them spoke about how they have also done recent random acts of kindness, not because they would get credit, but because they knew it would create joy for others, which in-turn warmed their hearts. It was a wonderful lesson in the power of giving.

The descriptions above are just a few examples of the organized giving efforts in place at West Vancouver Schools. Many other charitable actions are taken by students in our other schools, and secondary students are also very involved, particularly as members of the many clubs that thrive on our high school campuses.

Finally, our own staff gets in on the action every year, by supporting local charities with funds raised during the district-wide Holiday Party celebration. Staff members at our schools and sites donate items to themed baskets, and a draw is held to give away the amazing and beautifully presented donations. This year, funds will be donated to Out in Schools, a program that works with the education and non-profit community organizations to reduce isolation, foster belonging and increase the safety of learning environments for all youth. A second donation from the fundraiser will go to the Street2Peak project, an organization that works with some of our region’s most vulnerable at-risk youth, using physical fitness, outdoor pursuits and marathon training to turn lives around.

I am very proud of the work being done by the West Vancouver Schools community to support those in need, whether locally or around the world. We each have a special gift, and I know that our community is a generous one.

Thanks to West Vancouver Schools Communications Manager Bev Pausche for assistance with this post.

Books That Stick

As we come up on the holiday break, it is a time that we often give and receive books, and look for some reading material to get us going again for the second half of the school year.  This post is inspired by the June 2017 edition of School Administrator Magazine.

The magazine had a great article on Books that Resonate – asking district leaders to reflect on one book that has carried a profound and lasting impact.  It was introduced by editor Jay Goldman, “The printed word still matters.  In fact, a good book can carry meaning for an educator across a lifetime.  A good book conveys resonating value at potent decades later as on first reading.”

And while I always enjoy reading the newest books with the latest thinking, there is often great wisdom in some books that were not published in the last 12 months.

So, as we look for books to get us going for 2018, I have three to share that have had a great impact on me.   Here are their stories:

Professional Learning Communities at Work

It was in the late 1990’s that I saw Richard DuFour speak.  I can remember his talk still today.  I was an early career teacher focused on what I needed to do in the classroom, and DuFour opened my world to the work we needed to do collectively in the school.  DuFour got me less focused on what I was teaching, and more focused on what students were learning.  After a group of us heard DuFour speak, we took on his book as a study group book at the school.  We began to talk about creating a culture of collaboration.  It seems for schools, particularly for high schools, where we had a tendency to close our doors and focus only on our classroom and our practice, DuFour’s thinking opened us to a different way.  Still today, the book holds up.  While some of the terminology has changed, the goal of working together for student success with a focus on student data, is one alive in all of our schools.  My sticky-tabbed copy Professional Learning Communities at Work is a book twenty years later I still reference.

The Big Picture: Education Is Everyone’s Business

Denis Littky’s book showed me that there are other ways to organize a high school.  I read this book just as I assumed my first vice-principal assignment, and again we used it for a study group book at the school where I was working.  Littky focused on real world education for his students at “The Met” school in Providence, Rhode Island.  This is still the first book I would recommend to people who want to think about doing high school differently.  Students have an internship, and a mentor and parents are closely connected to the learning.  Littky made me think that we didn’t need to organize school into separate subjects every hour, and that learning could not just be what the adults wanted the students to learn, but also what the students wanted to learn themselves.

The World is Flat

So DuFour got me to think differently about how we need to work together in schools, and Littky got me thinking about how we organize schools, it was Thomas Friedman who let me know the world was changing around our schools.    It was hard not to think about Bangalore, India after reading Friedman’s book.  If when I ordered at McDonald’s drive-thru I might be speaking to someone in India, or if the reviews of my x-rays could be done by a doctor in south Asia, what would that mean for schools?  Until The World Is Flat I tended to believe that changes were happening around schools, but after reading it, I came to believe that schools needed to change to stay relevant.  I know the Friedman book has faced some thoughtful criticism, but I still find it a helpful introduction to what global changes are doing this century and a great book to open the questions around knowing all of this, how must we change.

The Christmas break is a good-time to sit back with a good book.  My next two books for the break on my shelf are What Elephants and Epidemics Can Teach Us About Innovation by Frans Johansson and Wooden on Leadership by John Wooden.  While neither is specifically about education, I am sure there will be ideas that will apply to our field.

I have mine lined up, what is on your reading list?

It is always worth checking in on what others around me in West Vancouver Schools have been writing about.  I always find  it interesting to look at the topics people have the passion to blog about.

Laura Magrath from Bowen Island recently wrote about the River of Change:

Change can come quickly and unexpectedly, like the rising waters of the creek beside me, and the feeling of change can be an overwhelming roar that fills your being, like the deafening waterfalls in my local forest. Change can cause the solid ground we perceive to stand on to shake and perhaps give way, like the banks of the creek giving way to the surge of water, and we often resist change with all our might, despite the inevitable outcome, like the drops of water clinging to the foliage.

Craig Cantile’s recent post is about toilet paper (well, sort of) and he reflected on using the power of questions not just at work, but also at home with his wife and son:

He had me at “I wonder”. That is the best type of question. The curious nature in all of us is something fostered by my son’s teacher, our school and life in our house.

Judy Duncan at West Bay looked at the work they are doing in coding, portfolios and outdoor learning.  In writing about portfolios she said:

Each student now has a digital portfolio to house work samples and reflections related to each of the six units of inquiry. These online portfolios housed on FreshGrade replace the large binders that contained paper copies of student work. With this digital platform, videos, photos, and samples of work can be posted and shared with families on an ongoing basis.

Hollyburn’s Nathan Blackburn shared some thoughts on his time so far at the school, and just what “personal best” means:

“Personal Best” might be a hard quality to define, but it also may be the most important piece of the Hollyburn Code of Conduct. When we are each working to be our personal best, we are creating a community of caring, engaged learners. Still, students may wonder how we show our personal best. Luckily, the teachers have a variety of ways to help students recognize their personal best, and to see it in others as well.

At Ridgeview, Principal Val Brady covered communicating student learning, a topic that continues to be one that generates a lot of discussion:

While we encourage families to access and engage in all aspects of student learning provided by the school, by far, the most important determinant of student success at school is student voice. Nurture your child’s communication competency by asking questions about their learning. Have your child give specific examples or evidence of their learning. Connect student work with learning intentions. Engaging in the essential components of CSL and nurturing learning conversations with your child are key to school success.

And the blogging is not limited to out school leaders.  One of the regular bloggers is Cari Wilson who leads much of the digital innovation work in West Vancouver.  She has a weekly blog that shares tips for her colleagues in West Vancouver and beyond.  She recently wrote about the power of computational thinking:

However, in any discussion about coding, I think it is important to start off by discussing Computational Thinking. Computational Thinking is the basis for all coding. More importantly, it provides a great base for problem solving in any arena of life, from getting dressed for the snow to building a gingerbread house to completing a school project.

At its heart, Computational Thinking involves breaking a problem down into its parts, deciding which parts are important and which aren’t, looking for patterns that can help solve the problem and then creating a series of steps to solve the problem. These steps are called Decomposition, Abstraction, Pattern Recognition and Creating an Algorithm.

Yes, we have fewer regular staff bloggers than 3 or 4 years ago.  That said, those who are choosing the reflect publicly continue to make a great contribution to our collective learning.  My thanks to Laura, Craig, Judy, Nathan, Val, Cari and the others who continue to share their learning with us.

Last week I was listening to a local university professor answer a question about some common characteristics about unsuccessful students at university.  It was an interesting provocation.  We often list off qualities of those students who are most successful in making the transition from high school to university.  The list usually includes characteristics like grit, determination, flexibility, time management and communication skills.  The answer to the question about the unsuccessful student was interesting – what this professor observed was that if the first day of university was the student’s first day on campus, he or she was likely going to be behind.  This speaks to the power of transitions.

Transitions is something we think a lot about in the K-12 system.  We have several that consume our focus.  There is that first transition from pre-school to kindergarten.  One often hears the term “k readiness” used to describe the ability of these 4 or 5 years old to make the transition to the increased structure of formal schooling.  And there are many other transitions along the way, most notably as students move from elementary to high school.  It seems that the move from buildings is more than just a physical move for students.  In districts that start high school in grade 8, I often hear about that age being the most challenging, while in places that start high school in grade 9, those communities see that grade as the greatest challenge.  It is clearly more than being about a certain age, and also about the change in buildings, routines, teachers and courses that is the key challenge for young people.  And finally the transition from high school to post-secondary and the world of work is one that requires a lot of attention.

Traditionally, we have spent great energies focused on the curriculum transition between these different levels.  We want to make sure that when students enter grade 8 social studies, they have been well prepared by grade 7 social studies.  This is most often true in academic areas.  And this kind of preparation is important.

More though, we are seeing transitioning more holistically.  We are offering courses outside the regular timetable to grade 6 and 7 students that they can take with a high school teacher at the local high school – a way of pursing a passion and also beginning to grow a familiarity with their next school.  More than ever, we have elementary students playing sports, participating in music events and engaging in other events at local high schools to help build relationships.  Without being so direct, we have been doing in our system what the local university professor spoke about.  We are trying to find ways that the first day of high school is not the first day in the building for our high school students.

I was struck last week by an amazing presentation from Chartwell Elementary and Sentinel Secondary at the BC School Superintendents Conference.  These are two of our schools that share a field and clearly much more.

Chartwell Elementary and Sentinel Secondary shared the work they are doing around capstone projects, in which students pursue independent research on a question or problem of their choice, engage in scholarly debates in the relevant disciplines, and with the guidance of a teacher, work towards a deep understanding of the topic. Sentinel Secondary school has embraced the Advanced-Placement (AP) Capstone project as part of their robust AP program, and they have shared their knowledge with Chartwell Elementary school. Having seen this in action at Sentinel, Chartwell has built a capstone program of their own for grade 6 and 7 students. Students are getting the chance to experience the type of learning they will be able to choose later in their school careers. It is inspiring to see both the younger and older students so passionate about their research areas.  And what a great way for students to have a common language across grades and schools.

I was so impressed by UBC President Santa Ono who spoke at TEDx West Vancouver ED earlier this fall (click on the link – it is a must watch video!) and shared his commitment around tackling the mental health crisis that crosses over from high school into post-secondary. This was a good reminder of the stresses that cross our systems, and how we need to work together to make sure students are not just ready for the academics of the next stage, but are supported with a far more global view of transitions.

I worry about conversations of readiness.  I hate the idea that the purpose of “Grade X” is to get students ready for “Grade Y”.  The purpose of grade 4 is not to get students ready for grade 5, the purpose of grade 4, IS grade 4.  That said, we need to continue to find ways to assist in the various transitions that students engage in throughout their school careers.

Just what does a superintendent do?

It is a question that I have tried to tackle a number of times in this blog over the last several years.  The job is a bit what you make of it – as the finest colleagues I know often spend their time very differently.  What is true, like so many other professions, it is changing as the world around us rapidly changes.

I recently read the book,  BrandED: Tell Your Story, Build Relationships and Empower Learning from Trish Rubin and Eric Sheninger.  While their notion of “branding” in education brings me some discomfort, they make a powerful case for leaders being the chief storytellers.  It is something I have written about before, that particularly in a world without as many newspapers and other traditional media, those in schools and districts need to more clearly and publicly tell our stories.

Their book talks about not just telling stories, but creating them.  It also pulls research from a range of thinkers outside of education and helps us see what is possible applying the work inside our system.

And just after reading this book, I watched a story about former President Bill Clinton’s speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.  The speech which earned him the title “Explainer in Chief” for his detailed explanation, in ways that were accessible to a wide audience, of policy directions – with clear easy to understand arguments.  It reminded me of the important role superintendents need to play when it comes to education direction and policy.  We bring the detail to the broader direction that our political leaders set.

I think when we are at our best, superintendents do what Rubin and Sheninger outline, and tell our stories, but we also have they key role of making policy directions understandable to politicians, staff and parents.  As the key conduit between government and the system, the superintendent has to be the pipeline helping the two sides connect and build consensus.

Young Zhao says, “Define yourself before being defined.”  We need to tell our stories, embrace the new tools and possibilities and still have the details so we can perform the roles of storyteller and explainer-in-chief when it comes to learning.

 

A Sporty TED

 

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.

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.