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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.

As the calendar has moved to October, I want to look at three “back to school” stories that have stuck with me this fall. With a new school year comes a flurry of school-related stories in the media.  I always imagine newsrooms across the continent plowing through school websites, newsletters, and getting tips from parents and staff in the community for their September stories.  There is no time during the year that education seems to get more attention as when summer ends, and kids go back to school.  And the best stories that reporters find are often ones that point to a generational shift – that remind the community that schools are not what they used to be.  These are the kind of stories that often elicit letters to the editor and can carry multiple segments on talk-radio.

I often roll-my-eyes at some of the school stories that are actually news in September, but three stood out for me this year – stories about water, dress codes and computer filters (how is that for an eclectic mix?).  And if in the business of September you didn’t see them, they are worth your attention.  So here we go:

Water

The first story, comes from Alexander Elementary School in Duncan, BC.  To quote the CBC story:

A Vancouver Island elementary school is attempting to do away with the lunchtime juice box, encouraging staff and students to go water-only during school hours.

Since classes began this week, Alexander Elementary in Duncan has been conducting an experiment to see if pop, juice and other sugary drinks could be eliminated.

This story garnered some attention by a number of other local and national news outlets.  It did seem to be largely well-received.  The only negative comment I picked up in various media reports was this one from the Cowichan Valley Citizen:

So glad I’m not a student anymore. Won’t allow any choices at all in school anymore yet we can’t figure out why people are unprepared for the real world. The over control of students is becoming quite the systemic issue lately,” Alex Deakins wrote.

For me it seems like such a smart idea.  The school PAC in this case provided water bottles to all the students and just like our work around other areas of physical and mental health in recent years, it seems like a great grass-roots initiative.  And maybe I have a particular affinity to the initiative as for the first time in my life I am trying to bring a water bottle with me everyday to work, and stay away from the Diet Pepsi.

Dress Codes

Stories about dress codes always make great news.  It was Victoria in the news this fall with reports that it was “eliminating” all dress codes except in cases related to the BC Human Rights Code:

Our school is committed to creating a learning community that values diversity and is free of all forms of discrimination. In line with the B.C. Human Rights Code which prohibits discrimination on the basis of an individual’s race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religion, marital status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression and age, (insert school name) promotes a climate of understanding and mutual respect where all are equal in dignity and rights. Actions through verbal and non-verbal communication (including clothing) must demonstrate support for the B.C. Human Rights Code.

I see from the various news stories, this issue has stirred debate and plans for the change have been delayed. As we have been thinking so much more thoughtfully around gender in recent years, from curriculum to washrooms, this is definitely a timely topic.  I am a bit of two-minds.  One, all the energy and emotion that is being spent on this topic is a distraction from discussions about learning, and dress codes are not something that are talked about much in schools anyway, it has been largely a dated idea for decades.  The other being, I side with those who argue that our traditional thinking around dress codes has absolutely had gender bias against young women, and sent some very poor messages to kids.  The idea, which I think was true a generation ago, that girls should dress a certain way as to not distract the boys is a dinosaur from another era.   If you are struggling for dinner party conversation, I suspect asking if your local school should have a dress code will get things stirred up.

Computer Filters

Also this fall it was Hamilton, Ontario that was a hot-bed for debate on internet filtering for students.  As the story reads, students in grade 9 were given Chromebooks and it had parents upset that outside of school they would have complete access to the internet.  To quote the story:

When Tabitha Boronka, 13, started high school this week, the public school board handed the Grade 9 student a $330 laptop she can use to explore everything, anywhere.

Her mother Irina Boronka is displeased. “They can’t just give out unfiltered internet to 13-year-old kids that they can access at any time,” she said.

“Every parent should be concerned about stuff like pornography, gambling, meeting people there, being exploited, all kinds of inappropriate things that I think they should not have any access to at all.”

When I feel like we are finished having these conversations they come back again.  I am not opposed to having filters on the internet.  And I agree that for kids (or heck probably adults too) surfing pornography and gambling sites is not desirable.  We should not use filters as a replacement for teaching and parenting.  If you don’t want your child to be on Netflix, don’t give them your password.  If you don’t want your child texting you from school, stop texting them back.  And if you want your child to be thoughtful about what they do on the internet, talk to him/her about it.  It is hard work but blocking the internet is just false security.  When I see a story about a school district “blocking” sites from Youtube to Snapchat, I know the next day I will probably see a story about students getting around the very expensive security system that was put in place.

And while it is worthwhile to be reminded of the dangers that “lurk” on the internet, let’s be sure to help young people realize the amazing possibilities that come with digital world as well.

Conclusions

So, those are three stories that stuck for me this fall.  I leave the month thinking we should continue to have kids drink more water, we should modernize our thinking on dress codes and we should not turn the difficult job of teaching and parenting over to software that blocks the internet.

Anything in education stand out for you this month in the news?

I had the honour of giving a talk at TEDx WestVancouverED this past Saturday.  What made it even more enjoyable is that I did it with my oldest daughter Liz.  There is likely another post coming about the event and the process once the video is posted, but I wanted to share  the script for our talk along with the slides.  Liz and I both feel strongly about this topic, and think it is a good conversation starter.

As a little background, here is Liz’s bio from the program:

Liz Kennedy is a high school student at McMath Secondary School in Richmond.  She balances her academics with participation in various leadership activities and sports including five school sports:  cross country, volleyball, basketball, track and swimming.   Liz is a committed student, experienced vegetarian and patient older sister to her three younger siblings.

Below are the slides (if you receive this post via email you may need to open the post on the website to see the slides) and our script which each of our parts labeled:

Liz
From a young age I have always played a lot of sports.  From cheer, to swimming, to baseball to basketball, sports have always been and still are a big part of my life. My parents put me in numerous sports starting at a very young age and they continue to be a part of everyday life for my siblings and I.
And when you have 3 siblings, your parents often see if they can have more than one child on the same team, which has meant my brother who is only one year younger than me and I have often played together on the same teams.  This is strange for some people – but I am not quite sure why.  When I run track or swim I always train with boys and girls – so why should baseball or basketball any different.
All kids care about is if you can play.  If you’re good, willing to be competitive and a hard worker boys will play against you just like any other guy. In my over ten years of playing sports, I have never felt boys didn’t want me to play with them because of my gender.

Chris

As long as she has been playing my wife and I have been driving, coaching and cheering from the side.  I know the crazy sports parents talk is for a different time.  We have always wanted our kids to be exposed to a lot of sports.  We grew up in busy homes of arts, culture and athletics and we have wanted the same for our kids.  And while kids don’t seem to care about gender, parents are full of opinions.

Parents seem to get all caught up in gender.  I grew up in a house of boys, so I never really thought about gender and sports.  When I look back, I don’t think I ever played with girls on my soccer, baseball, or hockey teams.  That of course does not make it right then or now.  It is one of the last areas where it seems many feel that the genders should be separated, somehow to protect both genders from a young age.  But I wonder to protect them from what?  And at what expense?

As Liz said,  her playing boys sports was often out of convenience.  With her brother one year younger and sports often spanned two years – so we could have 2 kids at the same place at the same time if they played together.  The responses I received were often surprising.  First, there were those that thought it was a great statement of courage – I never really understood that – it was just kids playing sports.   More concerning,  I have been told a lot of crazy reasons why people are uncomfortable to have girls like Liz playing with their sons.  From worries about “injuries” like she is breakable, to acting as though they are not thinking it themselves but worried about “other” parents, to wanting to argue that this is actually discrimination against boys.  And to be honest, several far worse, that may get dismissed by some as “locker room talk” that I won’t repeat.  And it is not just dads, it is moms as well.  Parents seem to carry their antiquated views from their youth to parenthood.

Liz

Just this past spring a team an all girls team from Spain with players around 13 years old won a 14 team league that featured all boys teams. Even though parents were worried that their little girls might get hurt by the boys, the girls convinced them otherwise. The girls knew that the only way they were going to get better was by playing against the best, which sadly in Spain where girls grass-roots programs receive almost no funding, meant playing in a “boys” league.  Coaches of the other teams questioned the decision as did the referees and the boys parents. The only people who didn’t care? The boys they were playing against. They got good games against a really good team. Everyone was getting better and most importantly everyone was having fun. Contrary to what we see often see girls and boys can have fun playing sports with and against each other.

 And yes, of course we still need girls only sports, because we have particular issues still with girls getting and staying active and sometimes single gender opportunities can make them feel safe. That’s why we should have co-ed and girls only. While parents might not believe it, but girls can be and are just as competitive as boys their age, and often at young ages bigger and stronger. While there may be the odd sport exception, I am not sure why we need any “boys” sports.
When making teams or putting together groups there are so many other ways to organize young people in sports. At young ages girls can be bigger than the boys. So size is definitely one better way to organize teams. You can also easily organize teams by skill so that all kids regardless of gender are appropriately challenged. What about age? what school they go to? and who their friends are? Why do we always jump to sorting by gender when there are so many other options we could explore? In sports like swimming and track, there are ways we can add more mixed gender relays and such that promote gender integration by having girls and boys competing on the same team.
Chris
Our views on gender have evolved quickly.  Since many of us were in school there are dramatic shifts away from stereotypes of boys as the doctors and girls as the nurses, and the men being the ones who work outside the home and women being the ones who are the keepers of the home.  And in the last decade thinking around homosexuality and more recently transgendered persons has rightfully changed thinking from marriage to bathrooms.  Yet, we do still hold to some traditions.
And the argument isn’t that we should not ever consider gender when it comes to sports.  Things do change around puberty, but in most sports there are few reason why kids up until about 12 years of age can’t play together.  It is not to say there are no gender differences but do they really require us to separate them in physical activities. So maybe we are not making the high school basketball team co-ed that doesn’t mean there are not a number of changes we can make.  And in the end sports, in particular youth sports, are about fun and being social, and don’t we want this to be done in an inclusive environment as possible.
We want sports to build strong, confident youth.  We want young boys and girls to recognize that boys and girls are different but rather than girls being “courageous” for playing with boys we have to find ways for this to be the norm.  As Liz said, there is a need for girls sports alongside co-ed sports, we need structures that get more young people active.  Too often girls sports are perceived as “less” than boys sports.  Removing gender tags can assist in tackling some of the sexism that is rampant in sports from young ages through to professionals.  The kids seem to have figured this out, but the adults are slow to change.  Messages young people see send strong statements, some that last a lifetime – and what a powerful message it is that from our very youngest ages, we all can share the same field, court or rink.
Liz 
I am happy to Play Like a Girl. And I will do it proudly, yes, what was seen as insult when my mom was growing up is now often a compliment. It is proof that our world is changing for the better. Youth sports can help speed up the changing. When I am told I throw like a girl, or run like a girl, or play like a girl – I say thank you.
Instead of BOYS soccer, BOYS Baseball, and BOYS hockey – what is there was just soccer, baseball and hockey. Since when does the gender define the sport? This could have a huge impact beyond just these sports.
Moms and Dads running leagues listen to your sons, they don’t care that I am a girl, like me your sons just want to play the sport they love.  Everyone just wants to get better and have a lot of fun. So let’s get on with it.

A lot is made about whether one can truly have “friends” on the Internet. It was probably Facebook that really got us talking when instead of using “connection” or some other less intimate word they used “Friend” as the type of connections we made as we connected with someone on the Internet through their site.

I have only known education with the Internet.  My first email address came with my first teaching job twenty-one years ago, and my first Internet access (AOL) was at home that first fall of teaching.  I have been thinking about friendship in the Internet era this week with the sudden passing of one of my Internet friends, Kevin Mowat.

Kevin was a Library Learning Consultant with the Winnipeg School Division.  We got to know each other through Twitter.  We shared a passion for school libraries and the key roles teacher-librarians play in leading learning.  I wrote something on my blog in 2011 that he saw, and we connected from there.  Kevin saw the good in the digital world for teachers – he would share resources and more importantly cheer people on – whether it was a colleague in Winnipeg or a Superintendent in West Vancouver.  When I wondered if people actually read my blog, Kevin would make a comment, or email a link to colleagues.

Kevin invited me and a colleague of mine Gary Kern to work with staff in Winnipeg in the fall of 2013.  What stands out four years later is the thoughtful way he treated us.  Gary and I would joke, can he really be this nice a person – nobody is this nice – but he was.  Some people can be nice online but they are often someone different when you meet them – Kevin online was Kevin in person.  It was a wonderful visit and Kevin’s colleagues clearly fed off his positive leadership.

As is the power of digital connections, after spending time together in 2013, we stayed even more connected over the last four years.  This past weekend wishing each other the best on Facebook as school started-up again.  I often thought Kevin was a great example of how friendship is changing in the digital world.

Another of our Internet friends, George Couros wrote a very nice tribute to Kevin earlier this week:

I got an alert on Twitter last night that Kevin was trending in Winnipeg.  The tweets were amazing – I wondered if it was just me that felt the way I did about Kevin – it wasn’t.  It is worth doing a Twitter search for Kevin – it will make you smile, and maybe cry.  So many of the comments kept using the words kind, generous, passionate, caring.

I spent just a few days with Kevin in-person, but he was a wonderful friend.  He is proof of the power and possibility of the Internet.  When we see others use the technology so poorly, he reminded us that technology can bring us together, build community and support each other.

My best to Kevin’s family and colleagues.  It is terribly sad.  The entire education community has lost one of its leaders.

Chris

I had the wonderful opportunity to share the stage early in the summer with Yong Zhao at the Canadian School Board Association Congress.  Yong was quick to take issue with my friendly views on the PISA results.  Last fall I wrote about the most recent results that saw Canadian students, and in particular BC students excel.

Yong argued, in part, that by focusing on improving PISA results schools and school jurisdictions work to get better at a dated system, one built around standard tests in areas like math, reading and writing.

I have been thinking about the larger idea that focusing on getting better may be an impediment to real change.  I am feeling the tension with our work right now in British Columbia.  Yes, we want to get better – we want more students reading at grade level, more learners with basic numeracy skills and a higher percentage of students graduating.  But we also want to get different – we want to embrace core competencies, give attention to emerging areas like coding and robotics, and have more students prepared to be citizens for an ever-changing world.

In West Vancouver we see the revised curriculum as an invitation to do things differently.  The curriculum and assessment encourages us to work across various content areas, have students produce real work for the real world, and give students ongoing feedback so students have greater ownership of their own learning.

I have been persuaded that there are some areas that lend themselves very well to an agenda of improvement.  I see the precision with which we often teach reading in the younger ages as one in particular.  If, though, we focus on trying to get 2% better at everything every year, and make incremental improvement towards our goal, we will find, even if we meet our targets, we have students prepared for a world of the past.  And likely we will hit plateaus where doubling-down on more of the same will not improve results.  Rather, we need to keep our eyes focused on innovation and transformation, looking at how we can work differently to keep-up with the changes around us.

And here is the big a-ha I would like to share – as we have been committed to doing things differently, and as we have used the curriculum changes as a reason to think differently about how we organize learning, and as we have embraced a range of changes around the large theme of transformation our students actually do at least as well, if not better, on traditional tests and measures.  As we have embraced inquiry, new technologies and self-regulation, test scores have gone up.     You don’t have to narrow your thinking to just try to get better, when you look at being different, the results will come along!

Here is to a year of continuing to be better but getting better while we are committed to looking to do things differently.

When you do a lot of speaking and writing, at some point your own words will come back to bite you.

I have often used a sports coach analogy when speaking about the superintendency.  The argument being that like sports coaches, no matter how good they are, superintendents very often have a shelf life.  And at some point change is necessary and it is far easier to change the coach than the players.  It is an argument that is often made more generally around school administrators as well – that there is a term – somewhere about 5 years which is the right length of service for any school.

It is always interesting to see data around the superintendency out of the United States where in many urban districts the position can turn over every few years.  While I do not have Canadian data, I suspect the tenure of the average superintendents is much longer.   We seem to have less of the “sports coach” mentality north of the border. Perhaps disappointing those on both sides of the argument, the research out of the Brown Center on Educational Policy  suggests neither long-term superintendency nor the hiring of a new superintendent have a link to improved student achievement.

I am writing this post as we are bringing the 2016-17 school-year to an end.  This marks my 10th year in West Vancouver, here in the position of Superintendent that I was appointed to more than seven-and-a-half years ago, and have held for six-and-a-half years.  Along the way I have become the longest-serving Superintendent in Metro Vancouver and one of the longest-serving in the province.

And I have changed my tune.  I am far less absolute about the sports coach analogy.  Maybe this is a case of you don’t know what you don’t know.  I do find a need to ensure we are continuing to have a culture that embraces fresh ideas but there are other ways to do that than just changing the Principal or Superintendent.  I know for us some things that have helped keep ideas current and the challenging of the status quo constant have included:  hiring of a mix of internal and external candidates for leadership position,  using outside experts to provoke our thinking in our district, continuing to visit schools and districts with unique programs and ideas, and staying very focused on the overarching goals of the Board’s Strategic Plan and our own objectives within this larger context.

There is a definite danger in complacency that we need to continually challenge over time.  When a new principal arrives at a school or a new Superintendent in a district, there is a burst of energy.  Whether the predecessor was highly regarded or the community was glad to see a change, the change brings curiosity, which in turn often leads to engagement and excitement.  Of course change is not the only way to bring about this energy.  I often hear from staff at the school and district levels that they can “wait out” any leader as they just come and go.  When the culture of leadership changes, so does this attitude.  I think of several schools of ours where principals have been in the school for five or more years – no longer is there talk about “outlasting” them – some of the cynicism is gone and people are getting down to work together.

In the beginning one of my greatest positives I offered was that I was from outside and came with ideas about different ways of doing things.  Now, 10 years in, I bring the assurances that come from people knowing who I am, what I believe and how I think we can move forward together.  It is also incredibly rewarding to not only start initiatives, but to see them through.  Longevity helps ensure we are committed to short-term and long-term results.

I am a little nervous in writing this, that some will read it that I am about to leave or perhaps I will never leave.  I have no plans either way, but my thinking has evolved.  I have come to realize there are more ways to ensure a district stays fresh than reshuffling the leadership deck chairs.

Finally, on the topic of year-end, here is  a video celebrating the 2016-17 school year in West Vancouver: