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Posts Tagged ‘Opening Day’

Celebrating Normal?

normalAs people are returning from summer and attention is beginning to focus on the upcoming school year there seems to be enthusiasm over the normal year that is ahead. I have been hearing it from staff and parents.  People say, “you must be glad to finally have a normal year” or “finally it will be a normal start-up”.

I know what people mean.  Given the labour dispute that carried on into last fall, and the seeming treadmill of the last five years which has seen us in a cycle of potential job action, job action, post job action – repeat – it is nice this is not sucking up all the oxygen in BC education again this year.  But normal is an interesting word.  The more I hear it, the less I like it.

For me normal feels boring.  Normal is about average.  And our schools are about the exceptional.  More than ever we want to support our students and teachers to be anything but normal.  We want to tap into the passions of our artists, athletes, entrepreneurs, scientists and engineers in our classrooms.

I am reminded of this scene from the movie Soul Surfer:

So let’s have a year where we have conversations about curriculum for our modern world and assessment that makes a difference for learning.  Let’s have a year where we focus on excellence and equity. Let’s have a year where we teach and learn about residential schools, gender identity and our natural world.

Let’s embrace all the young people that will enter our classes the Tuesday after Labour Day –  who each have their own story and their own struggles and challenges.  And as they try to fit in, we need to remind them that normal is overrated.

And as the adults that have amazing opportunity to work with students, let’s commit to being better versions of ourselves this year.

But when we look to this year – let’s not let it be normal.

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Learners First Like many other school and district leadership teams we marked our “official” beginning last week.  For more than a decade this second last week of summer has been my  start to the new school year.  There are many ways to structure this time.  We have been very clear in West Vancouver that we focus ourselves as learners first.

A recent post from Dennis Sparks resonated with me:

In learning-oriented school cultures, everyone is viewed as both a teacher and a learner. In such cultures, hierarchic distinctions between student, teacher, and administrator are minimized as the school community focuses on the continuous improvement of teaching, learning, and relationships. In that sense, the study of teaching is also the study of learning and of leadership.

It is easy to focus on the business of our work – there is a lot of business that needs to be covered.  Topics like:  staffing, collective bargaining, student enrolment, September paperwork and accounting practices can consume all of our time.  We have made it clear that we will always focus on being learners first. So, just what does that look like?

Our school and district leaders spent last Thursday on Bowen Island (Bowen Island is part of the West Vancouver School District).  Three administrators Scott Slater, Craig Cantlie and Matt Trask took the lead in guiding our learning. The first part of the day allowed us to explore Bowen Island.  We got a taste of what students in Bowen Island’s Outside45 program get to experience – learning beyond the classroom.  A solid reminder of the power of place-based experiences. Bowen1 The second part of the day saw us experiencing Sugata Mitra’s Self-Organized Learning Environment (SOLE) model – looking at power – what it is and who has it.  We worked out way through the SOLE Toolkit in groups. The SOLE model was new to me – and is a really simple model of investigation that works for schools and also could be done by kids and families at home. Bowen2 Bowen3

We left with a great reminder of the power of place based learning and a reminder of the nature that surrounds us in our district and also with a simple student-led inquiry model that we can share with others. And importantly – we connected as learners first.

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lightbulb

I have never met Karl Fisch, but we do seem to know some of the same people. I see him connect online with folks like Alec and George Couros and Dean Shareski. Karl, is the Director of Technology at Arapahoe High School in Colorado, and seven years ago he helped give me my “Aha” moment.

Around August, I find myself searching and sometimes stressing for my opening day presentation to staff — looking for the right words, the right video to set a tone for the year and give the right message.  And this habit really all started several years ago when I was entering what would be my final year as a Principal of Riverside Secondary School in Port Coquitlam.  Alan November had been to Coquitlam the year previous and inspired many of us, and Thomas Friedman’s 2005 book The World is Flat was still fresh in my mind.  I wanted to share a message about the changing world and how it was changing teaching and learning and the world for our kids.  I was stumbling around the web through some blogs I was following at the time, and came across a post from Will Richardson on Public Attitudes Towards the Public Schools that pushed me to a post from Karl Fisch (who, I had never heard of) called Did You Know? which was the sharing of his opening day presentation for his school.

Here is his presentation:

Although I had never met Karl I took him at his word in his post,

I haven’t taken the time yet to figure out the different levels of creative commons licensing, but let’s just assign the most permissive one. As far as I’m concerned, as many people as possible should be thinking about and discussing these ideas. You all have permission to use, modify, reuse, etc. anything you’d like. (Although if you find good stuff to add to or replace what’s in there, I’d love it if you’d send it my way so that I can add it to mine.) Since I basically stole (ummm, “remixed”) all of the ideas from other folks I really don’t see what claim I have to all this. As far as giving me “credit,” you’re welcome to – I assume that will help pay for my daughter’s college tuition somehow, right? 🙂

After watching the video that August afternoon, I went home and began to personalize the slides for my school.  Less than a week later I was showing my version of the video to our staff, then to our parents and then to all the students in our school:

I did show different versions of the presentation many times over that year, and I was not alone.  “Remixes” have been created of the Did You Know? video; presentations on YouTube had viewership in the millions.  It was an education video gone viral, and It became the go-to change video at conferences until Sir Ken came along.  Up until then, I thought it was only videos of cats that spread so quickly.

That experience was my “Aha” moment.  I learned about the power of a network and also learned that it is not only the smart people you know, but the smart people they know that can help you.  I also learned about the new power we all have to influence conversation.  Previous to this experience in networking, there would have been no way I would have ever seen a PowerPoint created for an opening day presentation in a high school in Colorado.  Now, just days after it was presented, I was remixing it and sharing it with my staff, and hundreds of others were sharing it around the world.  I was also reminded of the generosity of our profession — we are all sharing and learning together with a common purpose around student learning.

As I start my seventh September in West Vancouver, I am again crafting my message for our opening day — and, it is one of passion.  The passion we want our kids to have for learning; the passion we want to have as teachers and learners ourselves.   And, like my experience in August 2006, I will take the best of what others are thinking, saying and doing in education, remix it with my own ideas to make it make sense for the community we work in.

Thanks Karl.  We’ve never met, but you have changed how I think and work.

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Groundhog Day

The 1993 Harold Ramis film Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray, is a guilty pleasure of mine.  I have probably seen it a half-dozen times.  The movie features Murray as a self-centered meteorologist in a perpetual time-loop reliving February 2nd and the coverage of Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.  Murray tries various ways to break the loop, but regardless of whatever he tries, he finds himself waking up on to the radio alarm flashing the date of February 2nd and playing I Got You Babe by Sonny & Cher.

Over the course of the movie, as Murray lives the day over and  learns more about how the day unfolds, he takes better advantage of this knowledge to improve himself and help as many people as possible around the town.  The movie’s ‘feel good’ ending sees the loop broken when he awakes on February 3rd having won the heart of leading lady, Andie MacDowell.

So, just what does this have to do with education?

Sometimes I feel a bit like we are stuck in the Groundhog Day loop. The scene plays out something like this: we wake up the Tuesday morning after Labour Day with I Got You Babe playing in the background, and travel through the excitement of September, the gray and toil of November, the budget angst of March and the celebration and excitement of June only to go to sleep on June 30th, waking up on the Tuesday after Labour Day to do it all over again. And we treat our work a bit like Murray treats the day — we try to do last year over, hopefully a little better, hopefully a little smarter for the experience.  We try to see the problems before they happen and to be better at our craft.

The challenge, unlike in the movie where all the characters are the same and it is only Murray that is different, is that our world and our students’ world are rapidly changing. So, simply repeating last year a little better is not good enough.  And, as easy as it seems to try to do last year over again, and next year just slightly better, this simply does not recognize the dramatic shifts that are occurring in our world.  Not only do we have to do last year over better (a focus on improvement), we also have to try to do it differently to meet the changing needs of our students (a focus on innovation).  I am reminded of something I have heard at several professional learning events — we want to teach for 25 years, not for one year, repeated 25 times.

As we put the final wraps on another school year, I am beginning to think about how next year will be both better and different, and I Got You Babe will not be the first song I hear as I head back to school in September.

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