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Posts Tagged ‘Cathie Ratz’

words

As the 2015-16 school year comes to a close I want to share the comments of my colleagues in West Vancouver who have been addressing their students moving on – both from elementary to high school and from high school to the post K-12 world.  You can feel the power of the relationships coming through . . .

Principal Judy Duncan at West Bay shared with her grade 7’s just how important elementary school has been for them and what challenges are ahead:

As you embark on the next leg of your learning journey, continue to do your PB (Personal Best). Continue to strive for excellence. Continue to follow your passion and seek that which makes you happy. Join clubs and teams at high school and make new friends, while holding onto the friendships you have developed at West Bay. Get involved in school life. Continue to develop communication skills, collaboration skills and that ever so important emotional resiliency.

Bowen Island Community School Principal Scott Slater reflected on his own grade 7 farewell experience at Caulfeild Elementary School and also about the important roles that both skill set and mindset play:

Your education is partly about skill set – writing skills, reading skills, being able to make use of numbers to solve problems. Your education is also about mindset – how you approach change, how you think about new situations, meeting new people and how you greet opportunity.

At Hollyburn, Principal Tara Zielinski also picked up on the importance of mindset:

You are Thinkers.  You are metacognitive and can explore various ways of knowing and understanding.  You have a ‘growth mind-set’ and acknowledge that making mistakes is sometimes the way we learn and grow.  You make connections between various subject areas and appreciate that our world is forever changing – for the better.  You have ideas to continue to support these positive changes.

The message from Chantal Trudeau Principal at Pauline Johnson, her final address at the school, as she transitions to principal at Chartwell, was focused on integrity:

At the core of a successful educational experience is the virtue of integrity. Make the right choices for yourselves. Knowing your needs as a learner is key to your success in high school and university. Surrounding yourselves with supportive friends is also crucial since it’s much easier to face new challenges when you have a strong network of support, which include your parents and close friends. If you make integrity your core value, you will be able to stay focused on your goals.

Cathie Ratz at Westcot Elementary passed along some advice to parents of soon-to-be high schoolers she once received:

Some of the best advice I ever received as a mother of three beautiful and socially motivated daughters was from a colleague and mother of four.  She told me to never miss an opportunity to tell my girls how much I loved them and also never feel the need to be quick with an answer to their social requests.  “ Let me think about it”  has saved us many a battle and given my girls time to make up their own mind as social plans developed and more often than not changed.

Jeannette Laursoo, Principal of Rockridge Secondary bridged the elementary and secondary school worlds, sharing with the grads comments she found on their grade 7 report cards and how five years later the same attributes hold.

You “continue to be an active participant during group discussions by listening to the opinions of others and contributing your own thoughtful ideas.”

 

You “enjoy challenges and are eager to learn”

 

You have “taken responsibility for yourself as a learner.”

 

You “treat all members of your classroom in a kind, caring, and respectful manner.  You have a strong sense of what is fair and deal with issues in a way that meets the needs of all involved.”

 

You “continued to tap into your creativity both technologically and imaginatively.”

 

You have “demonstrated a willingness to try new things and are comfortable taking risks in your learning.”

 

You have “continued to be a confident leader in the classroom and in the school.”

At West Vancouver Secondary, Steve Rauh focused with the graduating class on their solid relationships:

One of the things that I commonly share about West Vancouver Secondary School is that the students have an incredible amount of pride and respect for themselves, their school, their community, and their world. I expect that you will carry these attributes with you wherever you go.

I trust that you leave here with a series of strong and powerful relationships with both the students in your classes and the adults in the building. Hopefully you have known and felt how we have cared for you and that we have always had your best interests at heart above all else.

Our Secretary-Treasurer Julia Leiterman had the opportunity to address the graduates of Rockridge representing the district, and also as a parent of a graduate:

So if I asked any parent in this room what their greatest hope for you is, I wouldn’t come back with a laundry list of careers.  I can guarantee that the #1 hope we all share is that you are happy.  That’s it – we just want you to have a happy life.  This is not an end goal, it’s how we hope you will live every day.  My sister shared a pretty simple recipe for happiness that works for me, and it only needs 3 ingredients:

  1. Someone to Love
  2. Something to Do
  3. Something to Hope For

So someone to love – don’t be afraid to open your heart.  Honest, loving relationships lived with integrity will bring you great joy.

Something to do – get busy, get working.  Work is not a dirty word; it is the key to finding purpose in your life.  It doesn’t matter what work you do, just throw your heart into it.

Something to hope for – never stop learning, and exploring.  Never stop dreaming.

 

For me, in addressing graduates at our high schools I stressed the important role that graduates play as advocates for public education:

And we, me and everyone else in this room will count on you – to be unwaveringly committed to a strong public education system – the system that has served us well in this room and is the answer to the question about how we build a better world.  At a time when so many in our world are looking inward and dividing people, you need to remind people that it is education that brings us together in a world of fewer walls and stronger citizenship.

We have amazing academic achievements in our community.  It is interesting to see what our leaders are most proud of – it is not the marks they have earned but the people they have become.  I am blessed to continue to serve as Superintendent in West Vancouver. We have something pretty good going here.

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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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Sentinel

It is always nice to connect in with the many other bloggers in West Vancouver Schools. Over the last five years I have continually found the themes that emerge from what others are writing to be very instructive about where we are going as a school district.

Here is a collection of some of what my colleagues have been writing about recently.

Like many in our district, our Bowen Island Community School Vice-Principal Laura Magrath has been thinking and writing about the changes in curriculum.  A recent post of hers focused on the increased emphasis on competencies:

The Core Competencies in the new BC curriculum provide a framework to use – adults and children alike – to build our confidence in key areas that apply to each and every task we face in life: Communication Skills, Thinking Skills, and Personal and Social Skills. If we use this framework, we can make any opportunity – and the choices within this opportunity – more meaningful and relevant. We can focus on “what are the best skills for this task?” rather than an unknown and ever elusive “being our best selves.”

A focus on competencies can ground us and help us determine the importance of and value in our decisions. But we can’t focus on all aspects of the competencies all of the time. Choosing a competency and clearly articulating the area we are focusing on ahead of the task can provide a sense of confidence prior to beginning, and a specific area to reflect upon and to document our progress.

Cypress Park’s Vice-Principal Kim Grimwood recently wrote about the subject area that gets discussed and debated more than any other – math.  Of course it is not a black and white issue as she pointed out in her Balancing Act post:

A recent blog about math educator Dan Meyer states that “so much of teaching math through a computational lens asks students to find the right equation and plug-in numbers. It doesn’t ask them to be big thinkers; but it’s precisely the experience of grappling with a problem that sparks curiosity, motivates students and develops the patient problem-solving that is so lacking in much of the population.”

Along with our students’ ability to think big, we also need to make sure that we are providing them with strong procedural skills. In education, we often see large pendulum swings between what seem like opposing ideas and theories.  However, in the case of mathematics what research is telling us is that we need a balanced approach between conceptual big ideas and procedural knowledge. Students are most successful when procedural and conceptual approaches are combined.

We want our students to be creative, big thinkers, and this means giving them the foundational skills to approach these problems.

All teachers and administrators have growth plans in our school district.  Craig Cantlie, principal at Caulfeild recently shared his question and thinking on his blog:

How can we redesign schools to better meet students where they are as learners across all disciplines? 

I don’t have the answer; but I’m curious to find out. I know that some schools around the world report out curricular outcomes on a formalized K-12 continuum. That’s interesting to me. At our school we have a host of clubs that are driven by student interest – what if these were during class time? We are investigating how to connect literacy and numeracy more with the maker movement. We possess the digital experience to now leverage the use of technology in student learning to a greater degree and our teachers have begun moving away from textbooks and more to Khan Academy and Discovery Education in math and inquiry to allow greater personalization. We are connecting our HOPE (Me to We) Committee members with the local high school students and outside agencies such as Startup Skool and Women Leading Change to provide relevant and meaningful learning opportunities. We are exploring opportunities to change our learning environments to be less designated classrooms, and more flexible and purposeful learning spaces. In this space the teacher role could change from “sage on the stage” or “guide on the side” to be more an “activator” of learning. A role of asking more questions that provoke debate, exploration and further drive curiosity and learning. This is interesting to me.

Ridgeview Principal Valerie Brady recently wrote about the importance of preparing students for all parts of life and giving students more than just academic tools:

Our job as educators is to prepare students for success in school and in the real world beyond school.  Teaching students to read and write is only the beginning.  A focus on success in life means that,  beyond teaching the three Rs we must also teach character, emotional intelligence, responsibility and an appreciation of the complexity of human diversity.  We must also teach the virtues of grit – tenacity, perseverance, and the ability to never give up.

While grit is a hot topic in education as of late, Ridgeview staff look to the research to expand our understanding of how grit is defined in the research and how to nurture grittiness in our young students.

While it is very important that students enjoy learning and want to come to school, the teaching of grit means that students will experience, and perhaps embrace some frustration and discomfort.  To prepare students for the real world, we must teach them how to respond to frustration and failure.  This is often a sticking point in education…while it is necessary for students to experience frustration and even failure as they move through their schooling years…. finding a balance between allowing children to experience frustration and rescuing them from this experience is necessary to developing grit.

Westcot Principal Cathie Ratz shared her thinking on kids playing with Pokemon cards . . . and it probably surprises some that a Principal would encourage and embrace these kind of passions:

Our students don’t just getting excited about anything.   Tapping the interest and passion of our students,   creative teachers leverage the interests.  Over the years I have seen Egyptian God trading cards, Flat Stanley travel around the world and the creation of new worlds to ‘teach’ mapping and government studies. I recently read about a teacher Joel Levin on twitter @MinecraftTeachr  who has embarked on a Minecraft journey  that is truly inspiring.

So, unless Minecraft, Transformers, Battle Bots, Littlest Pet Shop and whatever else begins to trend among our students seriously begins to interfere with  their healthy functioning  I want to take a little time to obsess along with them, just a little, and share in the interest and maybe leverage it all a little.

Happy playing!

West Bay Elementary School has been a leader in our district’s self-regulation work.  A recent post from Principal Judy Duncan reflected on her current thinking in comparison to her own school experience:

Three words come to mind when I think of my own experiences in school — conformity, uniformity and rules.  We sat in rows, were quiet for the most part, worked independently at our desks, memorized material, and weren’t allowed to wear jeans or hats. We were all treated much the same, all followed a long list of well-intentioned rules, and were given little choice as to how to demonstrate our understanding.
Today at West Bay and all the schools in our district, individuality, self-expression and different learning styles are embraced and celebrated. Educators are viewing student behaviour through a self-regulation lens and students are the beneficiaries. They feel empowered to make decisions for themselves as to what tools and strategies they need to ensure they experience success in school and in life. Students have greater choice, feel their needs are understood and respected, and are confident to be themselves — and they are appreciative. We are not finding gum stuck under desks and there is no argument from students when asked to remove hats on certain occasions. As my colleague Kim Grimwood, Vice-Principal of Cypress Park notes, “Students are learning how to be responsible with the choices they are afforded.”
 It is also the secondary school Principals blogging, including Rockridge Principal Jeannette Laursoo who recently used her blog to pass along the advice from a recent PAC Meeting speaker – Brett Stroh – who spoke on gaming:
One of the things that Brett said was just because one’s child is spending a lot of time playing games, doesn’t necessarily mean that one needs to be overly concerned.  “Just because they are playing a game on a Saturday for 5-6 hours doesn’t mean that there is necessarily an issue, and it’s time to hit the panic button.  One needs to also consider how the child is doing with school, family, friends and sports.  In other words, how is the rest of the world going for them (apart from the regular ‘drama’)?  Is gaming having a negative impact on or causing conflict in these areas of the child’s life?  Is the child spending a significant amount of time obtaining or thinking about the game, or recovering from its effects?
There are many ways we are trying to tell our stories in West Vancouver.  One of the ways our school principals and vice-principals often use is through their blogs.  It is an incredibly exciting time in education, and many of the ideas and practices are quite different from even a generation ago in our classrooms.  Whether it is face-to-face or digitally, we will continue to reach out and connect – starting conversations in our schools and communities.
It is great to be a member of the West Vancouver Schools digital community – our collective thinking and sharing makes all of us better.

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story-4

As regular readers know, I blog in West Vancouver as part of a rich community of teachers and administrators who are regularly sharing insights into their school, their profession and their work.  The blogs, from teachers and administrators, give a wonderful window into school life.  They are as diverse and varied as the topics which we spend our time on each day in schools.  Here is a recent sampling of what those around me have been writing.

Steve Rauh, the Principal of West Van Secondary blogged about our district-wide keynote presentation from Paralympic Champion Josh Dueck:

From his opening slide with the formula Passion + Perseverance = Possibility, Josh shared with us his personal pendulum story of hope, loss, love, despair, love, and hope again. I cannot remember hearing or seeing a more inspirational story or person who brought themes of recklessness, intuition, passion, ego, regret, humiliation, persistence, determination, and possibility.

For West Bay Principal, Judy Duncan, her latest post is all about looking ahead to the remainder of the school year and key topics at her school including their new learning commons, fresh ideas around communicating student learning,  IB self-study, self-regulation and a focus on the communication competency:

Teachers work passionately to facilitate rich learning opportunities for students and we work together with determination and enthusiasm to affect positive change within the school.  I am optimistic 2015 is going to be another wonderful year, full of noisy learning, quiet contemplation, continued collaboration and an abundance of creative thinking. High five for our Top 5, but let’s keep moving!

At Irwin Park Elementary, the students have also been setting goals for the remainder of the year – that are posted around the school.  Principal Cathie Ratz reflects on what she sees:

  They tell a story of Irwin Park students wanting to be better listeners, better self regulators, better readers, writers, eaters, swimmers, skiers, brothers…  The goals are realistic.  In most cases students identified a plan to meet their goals and in some cases personal supports to help them stick to their plans.  I wonder about self esteem and self control as predictors of success. Need there be an esteem vs control debate?  Does feeling good lead to a complacency that may interfere with the discipline needed to achieve success? Worthy debate?

It is always a hard decision for parents to decide what to do when their child isn’t feeling 100%  Two of West Vancouver’s most experienced Kindergarten teachers Christy Campbell and Andrea Daudlin, the writers of The Self-Regulated Teacher share their words of experience:

Sometimes a sick child may still wish to come to school. But in the classroom we are very close to each other in proximity. The children are playing at Centre Time quite close together. They sit close together while eating at the tables. They still hold each others’ hands. Because our supplies are shared, including crayons, scissors, gluesticks and pencils, a sick child at school increases the risk of spreading infection to the rest of the children in the class.

Your child will enjoy their school experiences much more when they return to school rested and healthy!

At Hollyburn Elementary, Principal Tara Zielinski has tackled a topic that is always on the front burner with teachers and parents – testing!  Her latest post looks at the use of data in schools.  For her, the key is how the information will be used:

Should we test?  Absolutely.  However, we must be focused and intentional in what and why we are testing.  More importantly, we must be prepared to use the outcomes to enhance our students’ skills and be flexible and reflective as we navigate the strategies employed to respond to our students’ specific and individual needs.

Bowen Island Community School Head Teacher Laura Magrath used her blog to share her reflections on the challenge of learning to reflect.  Reflection is a key piece of the new curriculum proposed in BC, and Laura points out it should be included in all classes:

Reflection needs to happen multiple times throughout the learning process. Reflection while we are actively learning provides us with feedback that can alter our learning journey. For example, when shooting a basketball, I get immediate feedback that can be utilized. Not enough arc, I hit the rim. Next shot I think of the arc and overcompensate. I get immediate feedback again as I hit too high on the backboard. I try again and get the feedback of: Swish! Nothing but net. This kind of reflection-feedback loop should occur in our all of our classes.

Laura’s Bowen Island colleague, Scott Slater, who in his first month as Principal of the school, sees his school as a moving school, differentiating from the school as potentially a wandering school:

It is best, however, for schools not to wander.  Implementing change in a school requires a significant amount of time, energy and inertia, and if not done well or without follow-through, innovation too often feels like adding to practice rather than evolving practice, of increasing workload without increasing student achievement.  A wandering school means that broad changes may be made, but likely not deep ones.

Ridgeview Principal, Val Brady, tackles the issue of evaluation, assessment and reporting with her latest post.  There are shifts taking place with how teachers and schools communicate with parents on student learning at the same time we there is a shift happening with curriculum.  So, in some ways report cards are still the report cards we all remember from school ourselves, but increasingly there is a a focus on areas of competency:

Report Cards are intended to provide clear, meaningful comments from your child’s teacher and highlight strengths and areas for improvement.  Beyond commenting on basic skills, progress reports will highlight student progress and development in key competencies areas, Inquiry Learning and student self-awareness as represented in the Ridgeview Learner Profiles

Cypress Park Vice-Principal, Kim Grimwood, has taken on a more personal topic with her latest post – a topic many parents spend a lot of time considering – video games.  For her video games are not simply either good or bad:

I think we need to take a more balanced approach.  One day, when I think my children are ready, I will probably purchase some sort of video game system for our family.  I will do this for many reasons. Firstly, I’m sure my children will have fun and enjoy passing time by playing video games. Secondly, I believe that many games can build important cognitive skills and develop my children’s understanding of technology.  Thirdly, I’m not above wanting my children to not feel ostracized for not having what their peers have (within reason of course).

Of course, this is just a small sample. You can check out all of our bloggers  by visiting our school sites here.

There are so many wonderful ideas being shared.  Hopefully this sampling will give you one or more “must reads” to add to your regular list of those you follow and learn with.

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lighthouse

Checking in on the blogs across the district is a useful way of getting a sense of the topics that are being highlighted this fall.  I have written several times about the power our schools are finding using the blogs to connect to the community.  At some schools they serve as a news update, at others they tackle issues.  Our metrics indicate they are very well read.

Here is just a sampling of the topics and issues that are being discussed this fall:

Bowen Island Vice-Principal and Program Builder for the outside45 program Scott Slater recently looked a the challenge and opportunities of going deep on a particular topic and the value of extended field experiences – all particularly relevant with the recent release of new draft curriculum in B.C.

Is it worth it?

We assess the value of things constantly.  Is it worth the cost?  Is it worth the time?

For teachers, the latter question, “Is it worth the time?” is an ongoing concern.

Teachers look for a balance between spending enough time on topics so that students can thoughtfully and thoroughly understand concepts, and retain this understanding for the long-term, with obligations to teach many learning outcomes deemed important by the BC Ministry of Education.

Students are also asking the question is it worth it?  Is it worth my attention?  Is it worth my effort?  If a teacher spends too much time on a concept, student interest might decrease; if they do not spend enough time, retention may not occur.

A regular topic on this blog has been the work in our schools with self-regulation. Irwin Park Principal Cathie Ratz recently did an excellent job of outlining the work and the changes, in this area at her school, now in its third year of focusing on self-regulation:

So what is different?

We have been looking at our classrooms and students through a different lens. We have become aware of the need to include regular breaks for our students. We are examining what and when students eat and drink.  Transition times, going from one lesson to the next or moving from one room to another, are used as opportunities to get some sensory work or refocusing done. Staff is also working hard to reframe how they see behaviours. These understandings are then used to help students identify early signs that they need to choose a strategy to help them self-regulate. This comes naturally for some, but for others it is a skill that needs to be taught and practiced. It has been great to learn as a team and use the new information to make a difference in how we teach and how students learn. Staff is explicitly talking about and teaching to everyday opportunities and challenges. Self regulation is embedded into our daily work. Our teachers are having rich conversations and asking thought-provoking questions. What can we do to help students flourish? What stressors and triggers are within our classrooms that impact student learning? What strategies might be effective in dealing with these stressors? What tools and resources are available?

In her post, Zombies in Front of Screens?  Not Even Close!, West Bay Vice-Principal Brooke Moore tackled another theme that permeates the district – the thoughtful inclusion of digital tools in our classrooms:

Authentic audiences spark a sense of meaningful work and pride in their learning that simply isn’t there if students are asked to present their learning on a poster that gets hung in the school hallway. (Of course, for younger students, the hallway audience can be just as exciting as they are eager to share their work with parents and friends.) Teaching students how to engage safely in conversations beyond our walls is of absolute importance and allows for authentic “teachable moments” about cyber safety as an extension of their learning work through technology.

This shift towards students bringing a laptop to school as part of their school supplies is provoking some thoughtful conversations and it all comes down to both parents and teachers wanting the best for students. That’s a pretty great conversation to be having.

For Pauline Johnson Vice-Principal this fall has been a bit of deja vu – as a former French Immersion student now back teaching in a French Immersion school.   He is finding himself reflecting on his previous student experiences as he returns to teaching Immersion:

I also remember how as students we were constantly encouraged to speak French beyond regular classroom interactions; in the hallway, the gym and on the playground.  As a teacher, I find myself in that same position, pretending not to understand when a student asks me a question in English until they ask me in French.  If only my former teachers could see me now?  Strangely enough some of my past teachers have been able to see me now, former PJ teacher M. Yin and the mother of Mlle. Macdonald were both teachers while I was at Cleveland Elementary and Handsworth Secondary.

Director of Instruction Gary Kern’s work has been highlighted in the blog a lot recently – he deserves much of the credit for the leadership behind digital devices for teachers and creating flexible ways for classes to experiment with Bring-Your-Own-Device Programs.   His latest post looks at the power of active engaged learning:

As we want students to experience learning that is more actively engaged and applied, we need to design learning experiences differently. Students need to be curious and inquisitive (inquiry) and they need the tools to explore divergent ideas and to dig deeper into areas that will be unique and personal (digital access). Inquiry and digital access can help us move our students learning become more active and applied.

Our other Director of Instruction, Lynne Tomlinson has been leading our district’s work with the Squamish Nation.  She recently reflected on Reconciliation Week:

West Vancouver School District sits on the Squamish Nation traditional territory.  It is our responsibility to teach our students about the history of this place and its people, including the Residential Schools and their impact on many of our Squamish community members.  With the help of our Squamish colleagues, including Rick Harry (Xwalcktun), Bob Baker (Sa7plek Lanakila), Faye Halls (Yeltsilewet), Wes Nahanee (Chiaxen), as well as Deborah Jacobs (Snítelwet), Head of Education for the Squamish Nation, we are working to improve our curriculum and program implementation with an authentic focus on the indigenous principles of learning.

With a large population of non-aboriginal students in West Vancouver, it is important to improve their knowledge of local culture and history. Aboriginal Education needs to become a part of the regular curriculum so that it is more embedded in daily work.  This year, we will continue with our goal to increase our students’ understanding of First Nations’ issues seen through the Aboriginal lens.

Namwayut.

These are just a sampling of the stories that our staff are telling for their school communities and the world.  And while they offer insight into their individual schools – they speak to so many of the larger themes of the district:  self-regulation, inquiry, digital access.  They also cover other emerging areas of growth including our relationships with the Squamish Nation and the power of outdoor learning.

It continues to be an honour to be part of a community that takes the risk to share and reflect in the public space.  Blogging is not an easy task, but the stories help grow our community.

The entire West Vancouver social media community can be tracked here – all in one place.

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Blogging continues to evolve in West Vancouver.  At some schools, principal blogs have become school blogs (you can check them out here). The modelling from principals and vice-principals has led to other staff starting their own digital writing space, and they offer a great sample of the conversations currently taking place throughout the West Vancouver School District.  Here is just a sample of what people are talking about:

Lynne Tomlinson, Director of Instruction, recently wrote about moving Conversations to Clarity in her work:

We have seen so many variations of teaching and learning over the past year, some patterns were beginning to emerge.  We came up with a framework that incorporates the core phases of learning that we have seen in our classrooms within an evolution towards “making it real”.  Learning has to be important if we are to engage our students.

Self regulation underlies all learning, as does social emotional learning.  Indigenous principles of learning must always be embedded in our practice.  These are the foundations of learning that have been of much greater focus in our classrooms.  From there, inquiry and access will encourage student engagement.  Tuning protocols for formative assessment and instructional strategies insure rigor.  Finally, student presentations of their work and real world tasks provide the relevance in learning.

Darren Elves, teacher and PYP IB Coordinator at Cypress Park Primary School, investigated The Student Perspective on Questioning, which is also a link to his own current studies:

In attempting to find a viable and relevant topic to look at as a focus for my Master’s work (M.Ed in Educational Leadership at Vancouver Island University), it didn’t take long for me to pinpoint the notion of student questioning.  Having the good fortune of working in a school environment that embraces a very clear stance on inquiry as best practice, we are always looking, as a staff, for ways to improve upon our learning and teaching here at Cypress Park Primary.

Cathie Ratz, Principal at Irwin Park Elementary, profiled their school’s work with MindUP — a program that continues to gain momentum throughout the district as part of the larger self-regulation strategy.  She describes it as:

. . . . a family of social, emotional, and attentional self-regulatory strategies and skills developed to cultivate well-being and emotional balance. Based on the notion that intellect does not exist in isolation from emotions,  connections to others or the rest of their bodies, the MindUP™  program is designed to address these components of learning for all students.

Lions Bay Vice-Principal, Jody Billingsley, also picked up on the social-emotional theme in his most recent post – Social Emotional Learning – Why Do It?:

It seems perfectly clear that we need to emphasize pro-social behaviours, character education and social emotional learning to help create caring successful citizens that will have educated minds and hearts.   This cannot be a sole school issue alone; we need the support of the community and families to help mold our future minds.

. . . If we work as a collaborative team to help foster this at home, in schools, online and in public, perhaps we can avoid people being bullied to the point of no longer having the ability to cope with their situation.  We need to ensure that we are not creating brilliant scientists who are evil, but brilliant citizens who think of others and how their actions impact the world.

Janet Hicks, teacher and PYP IB Coordinator at West Bay, linked the international-mindedness that is part of the IB Profile to the work that comes out of “Me to We”. Janet writes of how the energy from that day will transform into action at the school:

So, now as I go back to my Internationally Minded team I feel proud of what they CAN do for our world.  I know that they are filled with so much passion and will take these messages they have learned from We Day and apply it to their lives.  It is going to be exciting to watch these future world leaders go from “me to we”.

Michelle Labounty, Principal at Ridgeview Elementary, also picked up on the words of Marc and Craig Kielburger (Founders of Me to We) sharing their “Toast to First World Problems“:

None of us can help the situation we’re born into. We shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed because we have spacious homes, microwave dinners and GPS boxes that talk to us and help us get where we need to go. The guilt kicks in when we lose perspective on the little problems that arise amidst the privileges.
That’s the point of memes like the First World Problems Anthem — perspective. They’re not your mom shaking a reproachful finger and scolding, “Eat your broccoli! There are starving children in Africa, you know!” But rather gentle nudges to say, “Your computer blue-screened again? So what. Take a deep breath, it’s no biggie.”
Ridgeview Elementary Vice-Principal, Craig Cantlie, blogged to update us all on his experience of a lifetime –  Connecting with my Climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro, a journey that has inspired many across the district:

I am very fortunate to work in a school district that is open to allowing its educators to pursue life experiences and has the foresight to recognize the positive effect it would have on students.

As for my school, overwhelmingly, the Ridgeview family was the greatest supporter of my climb. Staff, students and families enthusiastically contributed to all of the fundraising initiatives from the Flags of Hope to our coin drive. For a Vice-Principal who has only been at the school for one year, I was greatly touched by the generosity of our school community.

It has been a wonderful five months raising donations for BC Children’s Hospital, sharing my story and preparing for the climb of a lifetime. I will never forget the experience or the people who helped me to make it happen.

West Vancouver Secondary Teacher, Keith Rispin, also recently had a  wonderful experience attending the iPad Summit in Boston, and then sharing his learning with the rest of us.  His observations included:

One little but significant piece of the puzzle, without which all is for not. There was surprisingly little if any discussion on the role of student in this little learning revolution. We talked about how teachers have to change, education systems have to change, teaching practice has to change, the physical aspects of school have to change but NOTHING about how the student will have to change. Sure we talked about what kids should be able to do when they walk out the door but we did not discuss how the learner has to change their practice but there is no need to worry…

I think I stumbled upon a little hint as to how learners will have to change as we move ahead. It lies in the single most important thing I took away from this conference. People need to become “free agent learners” It does not matter if you are student or teacher. Those who will excel in the Twenty-First Century Learning environment, will take on the responsibility for their own learning. The days of being a passive recipient of the information that comes your way is over. Those who don’t, will be left in the dust.

Finally, West Vancouver Secondary Principal, Steve Rauh, was one of several to reflect on the power of Remembrance Day:

West Vancouver Secondary School has a tradition of honour and respect. Each year, we attach a poppy on the Graduation Composites that line our hallways to the photos of our young graduates who died in conflict. This is a very solemn visual.

It is incredible to realize that in some years nearly 10 per cent of the graduating class passed away in this manner. By today’s standard that equates to approximately 38-40 students from each and any of the classes from 2002 to 2012.

It is a pretty amazing and diverse collection of ideas being shared across the district, many stories that would not see such wide audiences without the power of the technology; all stories rooted in the power of face-to-face connections.  I am working in a community of storytellers, and it is wonderful to be part of such a thoughtful community.

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Last week, I had the pleasure of participating in the TD National Reading Summit III – A Reading Canada:  Building a Plan.  The goal of the National Reading Campaign was to bring together a coalition of readers, parents, writers, publishers, bookstore owners and teachers to create a reading strategy for Canada.

My participation in the event was as panel participant in Young Readers: Strategies for Our Future.  The panel, hosted by Simi Sara, also included Maureen Dockendorf from Coquitlam and Lyne Laganiere from Quebec.  While not my area of expertise, it does hold great interest for me personally (as the father of four young children), and professionally — believing a reading culture, fostered from a young age, is crucial for our society.

So, when it comes to young people and reading, panel participants agreed the state of reading is not as dire as some statistics show (Here is a link to Ontario data which shows a dramatic decrease in young people reporting they like to read), because what we are all seeing is reading for pleasure is, at least, holding if not growing for young people.

A collection of other observations we made:

  • The Harry Potter effect — multi-generations in a household reading the same books at the same time, as books for youth, have often become books for all.   Recently this has been seen with The Hunger Games with kids, parents and grandparents reading the same books.
  • Books that were banned in schools, even a decade ago, are now being used to engage boys in reading — from comic books to graphic novels, to magazines and blogs.  This is all part of a larger theme, that of choice in what kids can read, either in school or at home.
  • Many of the strategies that work with adults to encourage reading, also work with kids — book clubs are on the rise in schools, libraries and the community.
  • Technology is absolutely changing reading, but exactly ‘how’ is not so clear.  One powerful way is how it allows young people to build community around books — just as movies based on books build community.
  • Social media can create networks for young people to connect about their reading. Vancouver teacher librarian, Moira Ekdahl, shared  a wonderful example of how Hazel, a John Oliver student, used technology to build community around her readings.
  • One concern is that with all of our well-intentioned literacy efforts, we are losing some of the joy of reading in our over-analysis and scientific dissecting of works.
  • Another challenge is ensuring we continue to promote Canadian content (and in particular, Aboriginal stories) to our students as they continue to read and become  interested in mass-marketed books like The Hunger Games, and Twilight series.
  • We do need to keep our “eye on the prize” and while there are some boundaries over what we want our kids to read (for example, at the event, the case was made around work that promotes sexual stereotypes) having our students read newspapers, magazines, or even Captain Underpants, opens the door to reading.
  • It is really important to not lament what has been (or perceived to have been) lost over past decades — this is a dangerous cycle — it is more important to look for what is needed and what is possible moving forward.
  • If we want a culture of reading in Canada which includes our young people, we likely don’t need more of what we used to have, but need to build a culture for our changing, and increasingly digital world.
I don’t often take time to separate my thinking around literacy from that of reading.  Having done the thinking around reading, I realize as much as I know how important it is that our students are literate, it is having our kids read which brings great joy.

To close, I want to thank three amazing educators in West Vancouver who have helped me prepare on this topic, are great influencers of my thinking, and are leading the way:  Cathie Ratz, Principal at Irwin Park Elementary School, Jody Billingsley, Vice-Principal at Lions Bay Community School, and Sandra-Lynn Shortall, District-Principal for Early Learning.

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