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Multi Ethnic People Holding The Word Blogging

If five years ago I looked into my crystal ball, I would have said that in 2016, all staff and students would have blogs.  These would be spaces of reflection and also for portfolios.  I would have said that they would be text based, but increasingly have video content.  I would have said that we would be increasingly wired to comment on each other’s work and have gained skills in giving public, constructive feedback and commentary.

While blogging isn’t dead, its fate in the schools of 2016 is not what I envisioned.  It seems like a lot of people have tried blogging, and while some continue the internet is littered with abandoned education blogs.    I would like to agree with fellow educational blogger Martin Weller that “the future of blogging is blogging.”

I have written several times about my experiences during the 2010 Winter Olympics. During the Games I worked with a group of students who served as student reporters covering the action through their blogs.  It was defining for me in my thinking.  I saw students producing content for the real-world, getting immediate feedback and saw the quality of their writing improve as they felt the pressure of writing for a public audience.

My colleague Gary Kern, who joined me on the Olympic project, was the architect of our work in West Vancouver that saw every student get a blog.  And led by Cari Wilson, we got students, classes and schools blogging across the district.  We had blog challenges, and we had adults highlighting student blogs, and we grew the community.

So here is a (somewhat random) collection of things that has happened in the last five years which has led away from all blogging, both for students and the adults in our district:

  • we have moved to collaborative spaces like Google Docs that allow multiple thinking outside the blog format
  • instead of seeing blogs as “home base” for videos, photos etc. we have seen the growth of Instagram and YouTube and sustained presence of Facebook and Twitter which are often used as blogs – social media engagement is fragmented across various platforms.
  • once everyone started writing, people began to comment less and less on other people’s writing
  • the theory was that adults would model how to comment on blogs and then kids would learn and follow – unfortunately adults have been terrible models . . . one only has to look at the number of news sites that have shut comments off because of the immature and often hateful commentary
  • some of our blogging tools we used were cumbersome and have not adapted as quickly as our other digital tools
  • it is hard to sustain momentum – with ‘Hour of Code’, robotics, FreshGrade, Google Docs, there are a lot of digital tools and initiatives looking for our attention

Dean Shareski tweeted, “Blogs are like rock and roll and jazz. A one time popular genre, now a niche.”  Maybe.  We had the boost from the outside this past week working with George Couros, and at least for now, some of the excitement is back.

I no longer say things like ”Everyone needs to have a blog” but I still would hope that people would see the powerful value of owning a digital space of their own.

I love blogging.  It gives me a voice.  It is a place for me to work through ideas.  It is a portfolio. It is my home base.  The jury is still out if others see it the same.

homework1

We have a reputation for being on the cutting education of technology and education in West Vancouver and we are again today with the launch of our new program to support homework completion.  We know that it can be hard to remember to bring homework home, and heavy textbooks can also hurt the back health of our students – today we are eliminating these problems.

I am pleased to announce that we are first school district in North America to be using the DHDS (Drone Homework Delivery System) in our schools.  We have purchased four drones for each classroom that will be used to deliver homework directly from classroom to homes.  This is a major investment, but one we think will lead to a huge increase in student achievement.

I know this bold decision will raise eyebrows, but since Amazon made the announcement to look toward drone delivery of its parcels, we have been working with many of the same people to see how we could take this technology and apply it to schools.  We are excited to have been selected as the location that will pilot this new technology that will dramatically change the home – school relationship.  Working with partners in Sweden – the Lirpa Sloof Yad Foundation we will be tracking this work and sharing our story with others.

Drone2

So, just how does it work?

We do not yet have one-to-one drones available.  We currently have four drones for every classroom.  At the end of the day students line-up their textbooks and workbooks. The drones will then make multiple deliveries.  In most cases the books will be delivered to the front door of the house, but we also have the technology that if a window can be left open in the house, the homework can be dropped off directly on the student’s desk at home.   The process happens in reverse each morning, as drones return to the homes and pick-up the homework and deliver it to school. With four drones per classroom we will have approximately 2000 drones in the air at any given time.  They are part of an interconnected network and will fly at high speeds in a low air space to not interfere with commercial flights.

Why are we doing this?

There are many reasons why we are doing this.  In recent years, there have been multiple studies questioning the validity of homework.  We think homework needs to become cool again.  And we know whenever you add technology to something that makes it feel modern and hip.  So delivering homework by drone will make homework the new thing to do.

A major health concern is neck and back pain caused by heavy backpacks.  DHDS solves this problem.  No longer will students have to lug heavy backpacks of textbooks to and from school – they will now be there waiting for them when they arrive.

We also know that being a student is hard – there is a lot to remember.  No longer will students have to make excuses for forgotten homework.  And if a student says, “My drone didn’t deliver my homework” we can send the drone to make an immediate pick-up and have the materials brought to class.

Future Applications

We know homework is just the start.  There are many other ways our drones can help make school-life more convenient for students.  Next fall in at least one of our schools, we will pilot the drone lunch delivery program.  Once all homework is delivered, the drones can be used to deliver student lunches.  So, instead of parents having to come to the school and drop off the forgotten sandwich or deliver local takeout for their child, drones can be programmed to do this.

Drone1

Conclusions

We take pride on being the learning leaders not just locally but nationally and internationally.  And with our announcement of the DHDS today we maintain our position at the top.

This is the latest in what has become an annual tradition at this time of year to launch innovative initiatives.

In 2012 I launched my FLOG.

In 2013 I made the announcement of Quadrennial Round Schooling.

In 2014 we formalized our System of Student Power Rankings.

In 2015 we created our Rock, Paper, Scissors Academy.

And today we launch the DHDS – destined to revolutionize the student homework experience.

Hopefully you are enjoying today as much as me!

Photo Credit - Sgt Ronald Duchesne

Photo Credit – Sgt Ronald Duchesne

It was almost five years ago that I wrote a post Smart and Caring. I was taken by our new (at the time) Governor General of Canada, His Excellency, the Right Honourable David Johnston, and his call for a smart and caring nation. I was initially struck by his installation speech:

Anyone who has achieved any degree of success and been placed in a leadership position can point to dozens of teachers, mentors and coaches who have made them better persons along the way. In my case, they number in the hundreds.

During my term, we will find ways to properly recognize our teachers who are responsible for our intellectual development. If there is one trumpet call from my remarks today let it be “Cherish Our Teachers”.

I have always had great admiration for the teachers and educators of this country.

I had the chance to be part of a program with His Excellency last week in West Vancouver, and five years later, his words, his message and his vision for our country are still striking.  At the invitation of the West Vancouver Community Foundation, and other local foundations, His Excellency spoke to a full theatre of community members, and participated in a panel of local citizens that I had the good fortune to facilitate.

Photo credit - Sonya Adloff

Photo credit – Sonya Adloff

He once again spoke about the power of a strong public education system.  He also returned to his theme of “smart and caring”, one he has regularly covered over the last six years and the connection he has made to Canada’s upcoming 150th birthday.  He said:

And perhaps that’s the greatest gift of all you can make to Canada—to create hope. Because hope, as the ethicist Margaret Somerville once put it, is “the oxygen of the human spirit.”

His Excellency told a number of simple, personal stories related to the giving of blood – something he has done since his youth.  He noted that Canada is one of the few countries of the world, where giving blood is a volunteer activity and it speaks to who we are as a people, noting, “like any nation-state, Canada, of course, is only as strong as its people, as its communities”.    He also linked his beliefs around smart and caring to the current Syrian refugee work, quoting Conrad Sauvé of the Canadian Red Cross:

“We’re dealing with people who are fleeing war. Nobody wants to leave their home. They’re leaving because they don’t have a choice, because they’ve lost hope.”

But he added:

“Their hope now is Canada.”

During the panel, thoughtful local citizens shared their views of a smart and caring nation.  A local entrepreneur and CEO of Earth’s Own Food Group, Maheb Nathoo discussed his views of universal truths including the need for gender equity and commitment to sustainability and the environment.  Local high school student Liam Grant talked about the key role young people could play in community building and Shannon Ozirny, Head of Youth Services and the West Vancouver Memorial Library expanded our view of community raising the need for a smart and caring digital community.  Finally, Adina Williams, a member of Squamish Nation, and student at the University of British Columbia, shared how her view of community has changed in recent years and expanded beyond her First Nations reserve, something she hopes for her entire community through the work of reconciliation.

Towards the end of the session I asked His Excellency about what advice he would give a community like ours.  He spoke about the upcoming 150th birthday for Canada.  He said that he was really taken by Calgary’s Mayor Nenshi and his 3 Things for Calgary initiative.  His Excellency thought this idea was something for others to consider and link it to our nation’s birthday celebrations.  Of course I was left thinking that it would be quite powerful to pull together His Excellency’s belief in a strong public education system, and Mayor Nenshi’s “3 things” challenge – wouldn’t it be great if students, staff and community recognized the sesquicentennial by doing 3 things for their schools and for public education?

So, just what messages from His Excellency stick with me?  A strong public education system is crucial for our country.  We are a smart and caring nation.  There are small things we can all do to contribute.

And I was left with a deep sense of pride in my community who showed so well for His Excellency, and for our country which His Excellency and others spoke of in such high regard.

Here is a link to His Excellency’s speech and here a link to event photos taken by Sonya Adloff.  

best

I have given several Ignite Presentations. I really like the format – one is forced to be clear, direct and succinct in the presentation. I also enjoy that it gives one the chance to be provocative with the intention to stimulate discussion.

My most recent one I gave this at C21 Canada’s national session with Superintendents was entitled, “They Used to Be Our Best Teachers”.

This was a chance (some provocatively) to reflect on the work of the last decade.  It is actually quite amazing how much has changed.  Our classrooms do look very different from only ten years ago.  It has been an interesting journey.  The case for change in our community has been made in a system that is regarded as one of the very finest in the world.  We had to challenge the “why change” argument.  And while we saw the changes in professions from journalism to health care and demise of businesses like Blockbuster Video and Kodak – it was really about embracing the notion that you don’t have to be sick to get better.

And we have learned a lot.  In retrospect, we should have focused more of our conversation of the last decade around the simple question – is it good for kids?  Too often, especially early on, we got in black and white debates like – should we use inquiry?  do we need computers in the classroom?  Of course these really were not the right questions.  And many of us also felt a sense of loss as teaching changed.  I loved being the content expert at the front of the room, and when people said I should be the “guide at the side” I felt a loss.  And I know others did as well and sometimes this loss presented itself as opposition.

And more recently, we have got help in the transformation.  New curriculum in British Columbia has made us all look at our practice in the classroom, changes in International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement Programs have signaled the spread of the changes, and all partner groups in BC have found common ground in their efforts around curriculum, assessment and related matters.

What is so exciting now is that we are often celebrating teachers who were our best teachers “the old way” and now are our finest “the new way” – of course in the end teaching is such a human undertaking.  And while notions of change and transformation are not static, and the movement has been far more messy and less linear than I might have thought, and there is always the possibility that a system snaps-back, it is exciting to see how far we have come.

The real conclusion of this Ignite Talk is not what we need to do, but a celebration of what we have done and the directions we are going.

I know sharing a presentation without the audio and video often loses its context, but here is a copy of the slides (if you are viewing this via email you may need to open your browser to see the slides):

One of the great takeaways from the event was the consistent threads that ran through the presentations from Superintendents across Canada.  While we all in very different contexts, the system goals we are trying to accomplish are far more similar than they are different.  And while education falls under provincial jurisdiction, there sure seems to be some great opportunities for national conversations about the future of learning and schooling.

sculptureIt is interesting what stands out in one’s mind years later.

I was thinking this past weekend about a talk I heard Chris Kelly, the then Superintendent of Richmond School District, give at the BCPVPA Short Course about 15 years ago. The BCPVPA Short Course is generally for new administrators. At the time, I was an aspiring vice-principal.

Chris brought to the podium a kinetic chrome figurine like the one above. I remember these as popular at the time, a regular “executive” gift for one to put on their desk.  They were the kind of figurines that you had to carefully balance one part on the other, or it would fall.   Chris said it was one shared with him by a principal in his school district.

He used the sculpture to talk about the balancing act of leadership.  As someone just entering the school vice-principalship at the time, I am reminded of the phrase, you don’t know what you don’t know.  Chris spoke about the great balancing act of school and district leadership – with so many competing interests – the Ministry, the District, parents, teachers, students, and others.  And the amazing diversity of the work, one minute you can be talking about reading strategies with a teacher, the next you are thrown in the midst of a parent squabble related to custody, then you are off to support the music production, and the next you are disciplining students for smoking on school property.  The good leaders are those who are able to keep it all in balance.

That talk and that notion has stuck with me for fifteen years.  I was used to teaching in my classroom, and there were largely defined start and end times to work – classes were built around a bell schedule and my work was largely defined by lessons, units and courses.  The biggest shift I found moving into school administration is that work was rarely “done”.  At some point one has to leave it where it is, and pick it up tomorrow.  I have found this continue in district leadership.

As a teacher, I could often be very concrete with the answer, “So what did you do today?”  As a school, and now district administrator,  I find this more difficult.  It is not that there is not a lot of work, or that one is not making a difference, there is just a lot that is ongoing.  There seems to be a lot more that does not tie-up nicely.  I find there is a continual ongoing nature of the topics, whether they are parent concerns, budget recommendations, curriculum implementation or ongoing working with the Board.

I look at the variety of tasks that our school administrators complete, and look at what my own days looks like – and diverse would be an understatement.  Chris’ notion of balance is still very much alive for me.  I often think positions like the one I currently have are like being a juggler at the circus, working to make sure all the balls stay in the air.

Our best leaders in schools and districts are able to balance all of these priorities without ever looking “busy”.  They always have time for a question, rarely look rushed or flustered, and recognize that each encounter, no matter how significant it is for them, might be pivotal for the person they are interacting with.

I often think of Chris’ chrome balancing figurine.  It feels like the story of my life – an endless balancing act.

 

Five-Little-Things

The post below is a copy of column that has been published this month (February 2016) in the School Administrator Magazine as part of their regular Board Savvy Superintendent feature. You can download a PDF of the article here and visit the AASA website for more details on the magazine.

The column is based on two previous blog posts on board governance from December 2014 on Board Governance and on How the Board and Superintendent Support Each Other.
Doing Small Things To Improve Governance

While much is made of the big things school districts can do to improve the state of board governance, small things make a big difference. When my board chair sits down in my office and pulls out her phone, I grab my computer as I know she is going to her “list” and I have one as well.

This exchange is part of our routine as we meet regularly to get guidance, clarification or action from each other. These meetings are one of the small things we do to maintain strong relationships and stable governance in West Vancouver, B.C. A few other ways follow.

Board work plan/calendar. Our board work plan serves as a checklist. As people move in and out of roles, it provides continuity and keeps us moving in the right direction. By March, we are finalizing the calendar for the following year. From briefing meetings to committee schedules and liaison meetings, the earlier we can establish a calendar, the more respectful we can be around professional and personal schedules across the district.

Clarity around policies (board) and procedures (superintendent). About a decade ago, our board updated the district’s policies and administrative procedures manuals. The board has 18 policies and bylaws that speak to their governance role. The administrative procedures manual, which is the responsibility of the superintendent, has 100-plus measures guiding daily operations. Of course, linkages exist between the two, but this model does help to reaffirm organizational roles.

Clear superintendent evaluation. Our board uses a framework set out by its professional support organization for the evaluation process. With our model of policies and procedures, I have been assigned a high level of responsibility and therefore should be held to a high level of accountability.

In our district, all educators participate in a growth plan model. Administrators work with district staff on their plans and teachers share their plans with principals and colleagues. I meet with our five-member board three times annually to review my growth plan, which has three areas of focus — the first is from the role description that is in policy, another is based on the district’s strategic plan, and the third is personal-professional growth.

Strategic planning.
The strategic planning process is written into policy in West Vancouver. We have just published our strategic plan that will carry the district forward until 2018. The board’s latest four-year plan includes directions around fostering learning excellence, promoting visionary governance, supporting an evolving community and embracing the transitions we are seeing with learning in our schools. Our plan is incredibly valuable as a guide to operations as we receive constant requests from groups inside and outside the district. With this in place, we can see easily which align with our objectives.

A culture of growth and support. We are in the learning business. The more we can model that the better. No matter how strong results might be, opportunities to do better are always top of mind.

The board dedicates time at each of its meetings for school highlights. Each school has an opportunity to make a presentation during the course of the school year. Often schools share new ideas and innovative approaches that are having an impact on learning. Recent reports focused on outdoor learning spaces, libraries being converted to learning commons, and ways to communicate student learning beyond traditional report cards. Support for new ideas and recognition for good work go a long way.

Beyond Routine.  While the board in West Vancouver places the bar high on learning, we always look for new ways to meet the needs of modern learners.

Readers may view this as a commonsense list, it is far more than that. It is the commitment to the plan — and the mutual understanding it creates — that can make the most difference in a high-functioning organization. As we see all the time in a district that is doing well, you will find a board and superintendent in sync and committed to doing whatever it takes to work together for the benefit of students.

Parents-on-sideline-at-a-youth-soccer-game

We had a theatre full of parents from our school district last week and my message to them was clear:  I need your help in line at Safeway and on the sidelines of the soccer fields.

The Safeway and soccer fields message is one I have delivered before.  Parents in our community have been outstanding advocates for our local public education system. We can create shiny brochures or interactive websites, but parents want the straight goods from other parents, whether they run into them at the grocery store or at their kids’ practice.  I credit positive word-of-mouth for being a key reason for our increase in enrollment over the last decade.  The conversations I was asking parents to assist with this time are different.  I need their help with revised curriculum that is being rolled out across British Columbia – first in K-9 and then grades 10-12.  As I wrote in my last post,  there is tremendous positive energy among educators as they work together embracing the new curriculum, and often new approaches, to meet the needs of students.

Positive momentum among educators is great, but I was reminded by Ron Canuel, Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Education Association that this is not enough.  In a presentation he gave recently, he spoke about changes that were made in Quebec with curriculum a number of years ago.  In many ways the shifts resembled those we are making in B.C.  He said that the community was never properly brought along on the journey, and the changes were temporary, not permanent, and a more traditional curriculum returned.

So far British Columbia seems to be making the right moves.  The curriculum has been co-constructed by educators from across the province, and I have sat in many sessions with post-secondary institutions, the business community and others as the shifts in B.C. curriculum were dissected and where those in the room helped inform the discussion and the changes.

But back to Safeway and the soccer fields.  The task I gave our parents is to share some key messages around the curriculum and be myth busters in the community.

Some the messages include:

  • we are working from a position of strength – we have one of the highest performing systems in the world
  • foundation skills in literacy and numeracy are still vital and they are not going away with the changes
  • incorporating Aboriginal perspectives, applying real-life situations to learning, focusing on big ideas and developing core competencies are not new ideas but they are better reflected now in our curriculum
  • as curriculum shifts, so will assessment and reporting and the K-12 system is working with the post-secondary system and others to ensure there is alignment

The session we held last week with parents was inspiring.  Our Director of Instruction Lynne Tomlinson spoke about “B.C.’s Curriculum from 30,000 feet” and then 4 teams of school administrators shared different aspects of the work.  While the rich discussion was an obvious highlight, I have included the presentations below – please feel free to use them and share them (if you receive this post via email  you may need to open the website to see the presentations).

Curriculum Refresh from 30,000 Feet – Lynne Tomlinson, Director of Instruction

Foundation Skills – What are we Still Doing? – Chantal Trudeau and Kim Grimwood

Big Ideas / Central Ideas – Jeannette Laursoo and Tara Zielinski

Core Competencies – Scott Slater and Cathie Ratz

Aboriginal Learning – Steve Rauh and Scott Wallace

Coming off of a couple of days of planning with our teachers, and our session with parents, my belief has been reaffirmed that this is a very exciting time for learning in our province.

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