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My One Word (2017)

hope

Last January I embraced the word hungry.

I like to think I lived that word in 2016 at the crossroads of competing and curiosity. Without a doubt, my relentless competitiveness was always only just below the surface (and even sometimes above the surface).

So what about 2017?

There is a lot of negative energy coming out of 2016. Like many I am left shaking my head. Throughout my life I have always thought that progress was always a forward moving event – so progress for human rights around the world, for example, was something that was always improving. And those who looked to limit rights or push against those rights – whether they are based on gender, race or sexual orientation were on the wrong side of history.  So, coming out of a year that produced a lot of fear and disappointment I look to a word that will guide me and speak to possibility.

While not my favourite of the Star Wars series, like many, I saw Rogue One, over the recent holiday break. And the final word spoken by Carrie Fisher takes on a greater meaning after her death. Her word that concluded the film – hope.

Those of us in education are in the hope business.  Education is about possibility, it is about creating opportunity and it is all about hope.  Education is about the hope of parents that their children will become good citizens, the hope of students that they can work to be better versions of themselves and the hope of all the adults in schools that we can find better ways of connecting with the students we work with every day.  The more I think about hope, the more closely I link it to the creativity and curiosity we are so wanting to better instill in our students and our system.

And on more concrete terms – let’s have hope that the politics that lead up to and then follow the upcoming provincial election build hope and opportunities for public education.  Our hope for a better world is tightly linked to a strong education system locally and globally.

And then returning back to Star Wars, let’s hope that Episode 8 that comes out in December is everything good we got from Episode 7 but even more.

To quote Leia from The Force Awakens, “Hope is not lost today… it is found.”

What word is guiding you for 2017?

 

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

1439506332-250w_logo_ocse_pisa

As I read the media reports of the 2015 PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results I could almost feel the media’s disappointment.  Of the 72 countries and jurisdictions around the world participating, students in British Columbia were the highest performing in reading, 2nd highest in science and 6th in math.  The results are outstanding.  And this is no small test – over 500,000 15-year-old students participated around the world including more than 20,000 in Canada.  Of course, good news just doesn’t make “news” like bad news.  There are far more people who seem to enjoy a “Students Struggle with Reading” headline, rather than a “Local Students Top Readers in the World” headline. (See full Canadian results here).

I dedicate dozens of posts each year on this blog to talking about the need to do things differently.  And results like those from PISA do not change the need or urgency.  They do remind us in British Columbia (and all across Canada) we are improving from a place of strength.  We have an exemplary education system that is not satisfied with the status quo and we want to be sure that as the world continues to change, our curriculum, assessment and programs continue to adapt to ensure our relevance.

I have written about PISA two times before (when both the 2009 and 2012 results were released – and I still hold to these commentaries).  Beyond the high-level numbers the power of PISA is that there is a lot of data that helps tell a more complete story.  I find the most useful information are deeper in the report below the silly “who won” conversation.  From first look, one sees that there is a very small gender gap in science in Canada, for example, and overall the level of equity (the difference between the highest and lowest scores) is better (more equitable) in Canada than elsewhere.  As I said in my comments three years ago, when asked about PISA – “It is what it is”.  It is one part of the education story, but when governments invest billions of dollars into education, it is a powerful tool to help see we are doing some things right.

I am also left thinking about Finland today.  Like many others, I have visited Finland to learn about what they have done to develop such a strong education system.  And just what first attracted me to Finland?  Well, it was their PISA scores.  The same PISA scores that today indicate the world has a lot to learn from Canada and British Columbia. The same PISA scores that remind me that we can learn a lot in British Columbia from colleagues in Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and truly across the country.  The same PISA scores that remind me as Superintendent in West Vancouver, there is a lot we can learn from Surrey, Victoria and Bulkley Valley.

Of course we have many areas in British Columbia we can improve – it is forever the nature of education.  We need to continue to work to improve our Aboriginal graduation rates, and support all learners in our classrooms.  There is a danger that a report like this can suggest we tick the education box in our society and stop investing – we need to do the opposite and continue to invest in public education in British Columbia so we grow from this position of strength.  And yes, PISA is just one measure – we know there are so many factors beyond tests like these that we need to track to ensure our students are strong academic performers and capable citizens (and yes, there are many thoughtful critics of PISA).

But let’s leave the other conversations for another day – today is a day to recognize the system we have – and it is damn good!  All of us who have children in BC’s schools, and all of us who work in BC schools should be very proud.

OK, that is more self-congratulating than most of us Canadians are used to – let’s get back to work!

football

Sports are a huge part of my family life. My wife owns a sports business for young people, my kids are very involved in numerous sports and I try to find time to coach and volunteer whenever I can.

And we participate in a lot of sports – soccer, basketball, volleyball, swimming, cheer, cross country, track and many more.  We have never been a football family.  Like others, anxiety over safety issues in football have raised concerns for me.  And when I learned that former BC Lion Angus Reid was going to be speaking about high school football at TEDxWestVancouverEd I was preparing to not agree with him.  A former football star touting the importance of high school football at a time when the sport is facing trouble with participation; I was ready to be reminded that schools need to be like they used to be, when football was king.

TED Conferences can be overwhelming.  One speaker after another, mostly confirming your view of the world.  Many of the talks, no matter how powerful or passionate, can run together.  Well, we are a couple of months after the event now, and one talk has really stuck with me – it is Angus Reid’s Why We Need High School Football.

It is hard to change one’s thinking in 12 minutes – but Angus Reid made me see high school football differently.  His set-up was important.  He was clearly focused on high school football, differentiating it from community and professional football.  He also dealt with the concussion and safety issue in a very upfront way – taking the approach if high school football is important enough we ca figure out the safety issues.

There were a number of strong points Angus made.  His emphasis on the structure that football can give young people is important.  In a world of uncertainty, football is very routine – one game a week, usually on Fridays, and a series of after-school practices each day with a specific purpose as they build up to the game.  As I wrote in my most recent post, people are often seeking routine in an ever-changing world.

Then there is the entire issue of participation.  Reid notes that there are 88 chances in a game to get kids to play.  So you can find a way to get everyone in the game on a team of 40 or on a team of 80.  Football is a sport that is open to everyone – different positions require different shapes and sizes and very different skills.  The issue of participation in school sports is one I have been thinking a lot about recently.  Maybe because my kids are now at the young high school age, I am seeing kids (and their parents) crushed as they are cut from basketball and volleyball teams.  As much as I love both of those sports – they are ones where sometimes only 12 of 60 or 70 interested kids “make” the team.  We need more sports like football, and rugby, ultimate, cross-country track, among others that find a way to include most if not all of their interested kids.  This point has been further emphasized this past week with the announcement that young people in Canada are some of the least active in the world.

Finally Reid makes the case for the empowerment that can come from football.  Reid mentioned Nolan Bellerose, who was the subject of a wonderful recent story from Howard Tsumura at the Province Newspaper.  It is true that sports can be a vehicle for so much more.  It is true that we see these possibilities through many school sports, and similarly through music, art, robotics and a range of other co-curricular and extra-curricular programs it is true that football can often tap into a population of our young men who often struggle to connect in our schools.

So, Angus Reid, you changed my thinking.  I will look at high school football differently from now on.

photo_boosterjuice_smoothiewithfruit1

My friends know I am not much for fancy restaurants. I know what I like.

I love chain restaurants.  Knowing what I am going to order when I walk in, appreciating, for the most part, how the food will taste and how it will be presented, is very reassuring.

I have it all planned out:

Milestones – California Salad, no goat cheese with salmon

White Spot – Veggie Burger with Yam Fries

Tim Hortons – Grilled cheese sandwich with Medium Ice Capp (shot of hazelnut)

Subway – 12 Inch Veggie on Flatbread – no olives or cucumbers with honey mustard

Booster Juice -Ripped Berry

I could go on.

So just what does my somewhat curious eating habits have to do an education blog?

I find the world to be quite chaotic.  We live in constant change and the speed of the change seems to be ever-increasing.  I often write about how exciting it is to be teaching and learning now.  Teaching in schools today is very different from just 10 years ago.  I spend my days talking about inquiry, coding, self-regulation and other terms I didn’t ever use just a few years ago.  We are preparing our students for an ever-changing world, and one where most will have many more jobs than the generation before them – some that do not exist today.

It is in this world of changing politics, economics and technology that I have comfort in the fact that at least I can have certainty when I go out for a meal.  So maybe Blockbuster Video no longer exists, and I cannot take my film in for developing but at least when I go to Starbucks, pretty much anywhere in the world, and order my Caramel Frappuccino Light – it will taste the same – the same in Denver or Helsinki and the same today as 10 years ago.

While I have looked for certainty in an uncertain world through some somewhat odd restaurant choices, I find many people looking for reassurance in an ever-changing world through schooling.

Let me explain  . . .

Many of us romanticize our school experiences.  The details have faded over time, but we remember schooling as a largely positive experience and we credit who we are today in part to our experiences in schools.  So, as we become parents in this world that looks so different from when we were students there is something reassuring about schooling looking largely the same.  If only our children can have the same experiences that we had in school, they will be OK – like us.  Parents like that learning is generally organized the same as it was 30 years ago.  Students go to their classes daily from September to June from 9 AM – 3 PM attending subjects that rotate every hour from Math to PE to Art.  And this is reassuring.  As our communities change at least schools stay the same.

We need to continue to challenge this.  While it is odd and quirky that I find assurances through my choice of restaurants, it is far more dangerous for our children if we do not continue to challenge the notions of learning and schooling.  We need to continue to think about how we organize subjects, we need to continue to give students greater control over what, when, and how they learn and we need to embrace the possibilities of modern learning and new technologies in our schools.

I get how it would be far easier to slow down the pace of change in our schools and allow our students to complete the same worksheets we did in school, read the same Shakespeare plays and do the same science experiments.  There is definitely something appealing about trying to return to a simpler time.

I find it a daily challenge as I watch my children learn differently than I learned in school – I worry they are missing out. In an uncertain world, we need schools to ensure they stay relevant and engaging and embrace this uncertainty.

I will be at the Food Court if you want to discuss this further.

invitationsI was struck seeing this quote recently.

It is so true.  But sometimes it sure does not feel true in our business.

This challenge is one I see with my school and district administrator colleagues.  Administrators are invited to an incredible number of events.  It is easy to be a school principal and be out each night, and at least one day on the weekend at school and community events.  And all the events are good and worthwhile events, but given all the professional demands, and the importance of balancing these with a life outside of work, it is a challenge.

I know, particularly when I was new into roles, as vice-principal, principal, district staff or superintendent I would often treat invitations as subpoenas.  If someone took the time to invite me to attend an event, I had to figure out how to make it work.  If I was asked to speak out-of-province, I would fly on a red-eye flight and fly back immediately to be home for an evening event the next day.  I have also sat at a meeting, or a dinner and wondered, why am I here?  Is my presence adding to the event or am I getting something of value personally or professionally for our organization by attending.  It is hard to swallow the response – it is just one of those things it is important to show-your-face at.

Figuring out which invitations to accept is one of the tricky jobs of a school or district administrator.  One piece of advice I would give to new people to their roles, is to think about your priorities and drivers when it comes to attending events.  Do you prioritize school events in your district? What about community events?  Or professional development events?  I too often have said yes to events well into the future, because a particular date was free on my calendar, only for that date to get closer and me to be wishing I had not agreed to attend.

I know one strategy I have is keeping track of which schools I have visited for special events.  So if I go to some schools for Remembrance Day Ceremonies, I will try to visit other ones for Christmas Concerts.  And as an executive team, we try to always talk about which events we will attend.  It is often not necessary for all of us to be at the same events.  I also do try to prioritize my own professional growth  – with a few opportunities that I block into the calendar and work other events around them.  It is hard, and I sometimes regret committing to conferences as the time approaches, but it is important for all of us in the system to be taking time to focus on our growth.

And with the numerous community events, I try to place priority on those organizations we work most closely with in the School District, asking the question, Does me attending this event add value to our district?  It is interesting – roles like school principal or superintendent are a bit what you make of them.  You can do the jobs very differently and be successful, and community expectations around accepting invitations can vary widely.

It is exceptionally hard when you get an email that says, “we would be honoured if you could find time to attend our event”, and then say no.  Initially you want to attend absolutely EVERYTHING.  It is easier now, having worked in the community for almost 11 years, and entering my seventh year as Superintendent, but the push and pull between thinking of an invitation as just that and not as a subpoena is still a challenge that I do think about almost every day.

I have written before that I think how superintendents (or principals) spend their time is key.  It sends a message of what they value and what they think is important.  Something to consider the next time you get an invitation.

Mission Accomplished?

mission-accomplished

So just what does a 2003 George Bush speech have to do with the state of technology in BC?  I think we could make the argument that it is “Mission Accomplished” when it comes to going digital in British Columbia schools.  There has been some amazing work done over the last 10 years.

At the recent Computer Using Educators of British Columbia (CUEBC) Conference I described the shifts I have seen in the last decade.

  • In our schools we largely now have reliable internet connectivity.  Changes to the province-wide system and investments made in communities mean that most schools in most communities have stable and reliable connectivity.
  • Most schools in most districts have found ways to get devices into the hands of teachers.  While it is not perfect, many districts have programs that see teachers getting laptops (or at least dedicated desktops) as part of their work.  This was rare a decade ago.
  • Bring-Your-Own-Device plans for students have moved from “pilot programs” to being quite the norm in many schools.  With considerations of equity, schools have found ways to ensure all students have digital access through lending programs, helping with financing for families and creative partnerships with the community.
  • We have stopped banning phones or disallowing other internet devices at school.  A decade ago, phones would often be collected in a principal’s desk.  They are now seen as a tool for learning – though generally not as good a tool as a slate or laptop computer.
  • Social Media is built-in as part of school and district communication strategies.  And generally, we are seeing students behave far more ethically in these spaces than a decade ago.
  • We have got passed the idea that we need to chase around “blocking” sites like YouTube and focused on education.
  • Wi-Fi is almost expected throughout a school system.  If I go into a school without wi-fi I am very surprised.  Again what a difference a few years makes.

And I am reminded that these statements are more true in some places than others.  I get that.  With challenging budgets and unique community factors these ideas may not be as absolute in some places as others.  What is true is that the philosophical battles have been decided.  Students and teachers having access to devices, with reliable connectivity to the internet is a good thing and something we want for everyone – and this was not an easy place to land.  Many of us spent hours in discussions about the “need” for technology in schools, or a range of related topics.

But back to George and the photo.

It would be easy to put together a talk and roll-out a mission accomplished banner in British Columbia when it comes to technology.  Like George and others saw, the real challenges were to come after the banner ceremony.  We have a tremendous opportunity now in British Columbia.  We have had the hard conversations and debates around technology.  We have made huge strides with the “stuff” in the last ten years.  We arrive at today with classrooms that look different at the same time as we are working through revised curriculum.  What an opportunity that we have a set of digital tools at our disposal just as we are reflecting on the what and how of our teaching.

West Van teacher Keith Rispin asked a really good question in his blog recently: Is it my imagination or have things started to stagnate in the world of Educational Technology? I think we have made tremendous strides with technology but the best work is ahead of us and the time is now.  I have seen far too many people give each other high-5’s because they got SmartBoards in all their classrooms.  We need to be better than that.

In the talk at CUEBC I also argued that people didn’t really want the “stuff” but they wanted the fulfillment of the promise of relevent, engaging and connected learning.  A great barrier of the early part of this century has been we didn’t have the stuff and the stuff we had didn’t really do what we wanted.

While not perfect, we are moving past that.  These are exciting times – let’s not roll-out the Mission Accomplished banner, but rather focus on taking advantage of the current opportunities.