Posts Tagged ‘OpeningDay’

We have an Opening Day tradition in West Vancouver.  The first day back with staff we come together for a series of annual rituals and a keynote address from a speaker who helps set the tone for the year ahead.  Over my time we have had speakers from Sir Ken Robinson, to Natalie Panek, to Yong Zhao to Jennifer James.  This year we were fortunate to have speaker and actor Anthony McLean join us. And while typically we gather at the Kay Meek Theatre, this year, it was a virtual event – as all staff connected with Anthony and he set the tone for our year ahead.

With the international efforts around Black Lives Matter and calls for increased anti-racism education in schools, Anthony’s message resonated even more strongly than it might have when he was initially booked almost a year ago.  With all of the speakers we have had, it is easy to just be captured by their eloquence and joy, but I try to find a few key messages to take away as well.  Here are three keys that I took away from Anthony’s talk:

  1.  The Authors We Read – Anthony recalled how in school he read zero books from Indigenous, Asian or Black authors.  He made the argument that adding to the diversity of our libraries and learning resources was an easy entry point for us.  Rather than thinking we need to be an expert voice on a topic we might be nervous to lead because we are still learning ourselves we can amplify other voices.  I think back to my own school experience, and even through an English degree in university there was very little diversity in the authors that I read.  It is an easy opportunity to change-up some of the stories we share in classes and books we make available in our libraries.
  2. Separate the person from the behaviour – Anthony told a story about Mr. Rutherford (you can see a short version of the story HERE).  Anthony shared that he was not always the best behaved student.  What stood out for him was how in grade 10 his principal Mr. Rutherford separated his actions from who he was as a person.  This is a great lesson reminder for all of us.  We can be disappointed in behaviours or disagree with someone without them being a bad person.  Like Stuart Shanker told us several years ago in a different Opening Day talk, there is no such thing as bad kids.
  3. Community, Community, Community – When asked what he would focus on this fall with students heading back to school, including some who may not have been to school in up to six months – he said his focus would be on three things – community, community, community.  It is easy to get caught up in the notion that students have missed school and are behind so we need to double-down on the academics.  What our students say is that they have missed  the connections of schools.  And you can’t really get to Math and English if you have not first built trust and community.  Anthony was clear we should lead with curiosity and default to compassion. For us in West Vancouver, all staff have spent time learning about trauma informed practices before students returned to classes.

There was a fourth one that stood out for me, although perhaps not as global and lofty as the others.  Anthony did say, “sometimes pretending you are interested in what your spouse is saying, might save your marriage.” Probably some good advice there!

How we get better at anti-racism education is not simple.  What is useful about Anthony’s message is that he just encourages us all to enter the conversation.   Saying nothing is the wrong thing because when you say nothing you are actually saying something.  Locally I know there are a number of other helpful educators.  I appreciated the blog post by Abbotsford Superintendent Dr. Kevin Godden this past June (HERE) on the topic.  We spent one of our professional days focused on the topic of anti-racism, and we definitely have work to do.  Like with other issues of social justice, including the climate crisis, our students are clear they want us to do more.

Thanks to Anthony for helping us all enter the conversation and provoking us.  Like with many Opening Day speakers of the past I assume his messages will give energy to much of our work this year and beyond.

As a follow-up, over the last couple days Anthony posted an exceptionally powerful video on Instagram (HERE)  where he says, “I was wrong” about  some of his views on race.  The five minute video is powerful in the message around race but also so useful for all of us to be reminded that we can read more, learn more and think differently.  And there is real power when we can say we used to think X, but we were wrong and now we think Y.

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Doesn’t everyone in education just go on vacation June 30th and then show up the Tuesday after Labour Day?

Not really. We know it is not true for basically anyone in the education system. And it is definitely not true for superintendents. If there was ever an off-season for school districts in the summer, with the growing popularity of summer learning, we are really a year-round enterprises now.  Almost 20% of our students take offerings in the summer.  In addition, there is the weird acts of both closing up one school year and simultaneously opening another – everything from staffing to finances to facility improvements.

But the speed is different.  There are fewer evening commitments and chances for down time and holidays. For me it means I get to read some books that at some point I have been given as must-reads.  This summer for me that included:

When – The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Planning by Daniel Pink

Nine Lies About Work by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall

Darkness to Light by Lamar Odom

Innovate Inside the Box by George Couros and Katie Novak (actually just finishing this one)

I have written before a bit (here) of my experience of going back to school, and that continued this summer.  I know many of my educator friends who use part of their summer to take courses.  And as hard as I found taking classes in the winter, it was actually easier than in the summer.  The lack of structure in the summer and typical routines made organizing time and assignments more challenging.  I will have more to write about the experience.  At the end of summer, I am now 1/3 of the way through my course work at the University of Kansas towards my doctorate.

And summer is not all working, reading and taking courses.  I had the pleasure of traveling along with a group of teenagers to several basketball tournaments across the United States.  And I found they had great respect for my important position as a school superintendent – nothing better describes this than these photos from a plane trip we were on from Chicago to Louisville.

And . . . .then I mostly waited for you all to come back.  It was lonely some days at the Board Office.  I know you might not believe me, so here is a little video (a preview of Opening Day for my West Vancouver friends) of how I spent my summer waiting for everyone to come back this week:

I launch into next week with our staff and the following week with our students excited and ready for a great year ahead.  I am excited about our new look for career education, the ongoing commitment to physical literacy and just the buzz that comes from the start of a school year.  Hopefully your summer has got you ready for your best year too!

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I often speak about the need for face-to-face interactions in our changing education system and  increasingly digital world.  I have also cautioned about the proliferation of fully online courses, (in this district or elsewhere) as being an important move forward. There is great power in digital learning to support, supplement, and sometimes even replace face-to-face learning, but K-12 should remain, primarily, a face-to-face enterprise as we prepare our future generations.

Two weeks ago, I had a great reminder of the power of face-to-face.  For more than 20 years the West Vancouver School District has had a relationship with Mejiro Kenshin Junior and Senior High School in Tokyo, Japan.  This has been a very enriching relationship for all involved.  Each summer, Mejiro sends a large group of students to West Vancouver to study English and engage in cultural experiences, and we have teacher and student exchanges on a regular basis. Also, over time, those most closely involved with the relationship have retired. Each year, there have been fewer people to explain the history and importance of the relationship.  I have heard the stories about the relationship, read briefs and have spoken to a number of teachers and students who have travelled to Mejiro, but I did not truly appreciate this relationship and all of its importance until I had spent some face-to-face time with our friends in Japan.

Along with our Board Chair, Cindy Dekker, we were kindly invited to Mejiro, as their guests, to discuss our relationship, renew our bonds of friendship, and build new partnerships. Being the start of the Japanese school year, I had the opportunity to speak at the school’s Opening Day, and to all the new parents at Mejiro. I spoke of how technology will connect our world all the more.  I also spoke about the power of relationships –- the one true strength as a social tool in reinforcing and deepening the relationships we make in the face-to-face world.

After a whirlwind, three-day trip, I left committed to the continuity and strength of our relationship — and, I wonder if I would have felt the same way if we hadn’t connected in person.  We also made some commitments for the future that will see Mejiro assisting with Japanese instruction in our community, and will have our teachers assisting with English instruction at their institution. I also left with relationships that, when I connect with future emails, will mean something more than just an electronic connection.

So for us, as well as for our kids, it is one thing to explore and learn in the digital space, or understand things in theory, but real world learning and real world relationships will still require face-to-face interactions.

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Happy New Year!

For most, New Year’s Eve is December 31st.  For many in education, it is the first Monday in September, with the much-anticipated New Year’s Day being the Tuesday that will follow, and the first day of school.

Coming from a family of teachers, it always seemed to make more sense that the Tuesday after Labour Day should have been the first day of the year. It was Labour Day weekend when we would reflect on our summer, look ahead to seeing our friends again, and set goals for the coming year.  As August wound down, summer days a little shorter, Labour Day weekend loomed and I can remember the butterflies and nervousness looking forward to the year, and the restless sleeps that still continue to this day as I ‘go back to school’. I cannot recall ever being able to get a good night’s sleep on Labour Day.

The 16-month calendars that are now sold in stores are brilliant — we always replace our wall calendars on September 1st — the last four months are always left blank. The first day of school is a time of fresh starts, grand ambitions, as well as New Year’s resolutions.

Like many others, I have commitments to be better at work, be better at home, and better at balancing them both.

To all students, teachers, parents and everyone connected to our education system — Happy New Year, and have a wonderful school year!

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Today, I am presenting at the Ontario Public Supervisory Officials’ Association Annual Conference (an equivalent group to the BC Superintendents Association) on their theme of Leading and Energizing Learning.

My presentation includes passages from my Opening Day presentation last fall in West Vancouver, the TEDxUBC presentation in October and a talk on personalized learning I gave in November. It is a wonderful opportunity to highlight some of the current, innovative practices in our district.  It is also about revisiting where we have been over the past 12 months, and an opportunity to begin specifically mapping where we need to go in the next 12.  Hopefully, the presentation will pull together a range of themes I and others in our district have been talking about, writing about and working together on over the year.

While I know sharing the slides of a presentation never really does the presentation justice, here is the slidedeck:

Here are the key messages I want to convey:

  • While we have a very strong system which produces excellent results, the status quo is not an option
  • West Vancouver — with its strong history of private schools — creates a unique set of circumstances different from most other areas of the province
  • We talk a lot about technology, but the first step is to develop learning plans and then we can determine how technology will support these plans
  • We have made tremendous strides with supporting teachers, but a lot more needs to be done
  • The biggest change for us over the next 12 months will be giving students greater ownership of their learning
  • We (as leaders) need to model the way

And, as the title of this post states, it IS about the team and not the tools.  We have an exceptional group of teachers and administrators leading the way in West Vancouver, with a supportive and progressive Board of Education, actively engaged parents, and students who are thirsty for relevant and engaging experiences.

It is truly an honour to tell our story.

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It’s the New Year and, with it, a new position.  Having spent the last 14 months as the Superintendent-in-Waiting, I start January as the Superintendent of Schools for the West Vancouver School District.

This past fall, I had the privilege to speak at “Opening Day” — a professional development day for all staff in our district — the week prior to school opening.  At that session, the outgoing Superintendent, Geoff Jopson, shared thoughts on the last decade and I spoke about what is ahead.  As I start ‘for real’ in the role, I want to come back to some of the themes — a collection of beliefs, values and commitments.

On Working in West Vancouver:

It is a great honour for me to serve in this community as a teacher and as the superintendent.   I love that on most days, most people are at least a 9 out of 10.  We love what we do; we love who we do it with, and we love where we do it.  The district and community are large enough to feel part of a greater entity, but small enough to be completely connected.

On Being a Teacher:

It is funny that we often use different words for “Teacher”.  We have teacher leaders, lead teachers, principal teachers, support teachers, helping teachers, mentor teachers, and sometimes we take the word teacher out altogether — and have educational leaders, among a range of other terms.  I am good with “Teacher”.  It is who I am, and it says it all.  The rest is about the different roles we have, but “Teacher” describes who we are.    I don’t think we actually need anything more.  And while teachers sometimes fall victim to profiling in the media, and while our profession is asked to do more and more, it is still the greatest profession in the world — and there are few things better in life than being called a teacher.  What we do makes a dent in our world; it matters, and makes it a slightly better place in which to live.

On My Plan as Superintendent:

And what is it that we do, and will continue to do?   I have often been asked about “what will be your plan as superintendent?”  I know in many places gimmicks are quite fashionable — a particular program or approach that will be the be-all and end-all. We hear this a lot from the United States as they talk about No Child Left Behind . . . if only we all just did Smart Reading, or all had laptops, or used EBS, or played first and then ate lunch, or had a particular bell schedule, then our system would move forward and students would graduate in even greater numbers.  These are all worthy and can be powerful initiatives, but there are no magic bullets.  It is the hard work in the classrooms everyday — the mix of science and art; teachers taking what they know about what works, combining this with their skills, and building relationships with their students — this makes all the difference.  In the end, and more than anything else, it is the relationships that matter.  The relationships we have with each other, and the relationships we build with parents and students.

On A Culture of Yes:

It is the “culture of yes”, we have and will continue to foster — one that embraces new ideas and new ways to look at learning and organize learning; a “culture of yes” that supports innovation and creativity for both learners and teachers, knowing this is how we will continue to evolve.  It is a “culture of yes” that touches on the passions we entered the profession with, and that may have sometimes been lost along the way, but hopefully, found again.

We have an amazing community in West Vancouver — and it is exciting to take on this new role.  As I said at the end of my presentation in August, “Let’s go new places.”

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I want to come back to a topic I spoke of with all staff in the school district on opening day this past September – something I have labelled as West Vancouver’s 2020 Challenge.

While I know Karl Fisch’s Did You Know? slides are now well-dated (four years is an eternity in the digital age) and have been overused in the world of digital technology presentations, I thought a lot about one specific reference in Karl’s presentation; his reference to Great Britain. Here are the slides I used on opening day (the first four from Karl’s original PowerPoint, the second four my own):

We have a wonderful challenge – we are doing really well.  It is something that over the last seven years has been framed around the work of Jim CollinsGood to Great.  The focus has been built around several of Jim’s themes including getting the right people on the bus, then figuring out where to go, and attracting level 5 leaders, who are humble but driven to do what’s best for the school district.

As I take on the role of Superintendent, part of the challenge is to ensure we continue to flourish on the existing metrics of excellence (test scores, graduation rates, etc.) while also building capacity and readiness with the new skills (I hesitate to make a 21st century skills reference) that, by some in B.C., are being defined as the 8 Cs:

  • Critical thinking and problem solving
  • Creativity and innovation
  • Collaboration, teamwork, and leadership
  • Cross-cultural understanding
  • Communications, information and media literacy
  • Computing and ICT literacy
  • Career and learning self-reliance
  • Caring for personal health and planet earth

Our challenge is to create an urgency for change, while simultaneously reinforcing the confidence that comes from a district with a 98% graduation rate, and amazing scores on all internal and external measures.

One could make the case we should be the last community to embrace the personalized learning or 21st century learning agenda, since we have tremendous success on all the current measures.  Our belief is just the opposite.

Our commitment is to be able to continue to flourish on all these levels while preparing our students for the rapidly changing world.  We are finding it is not an either/or proposition.  Students, teachers and schools embracing formative assessment, for example, are seeing greater ownership by students of their learning, and exceptional results on all the traditional success measures.

We need to make sure that in 2020 we are not still talking about how good we were in 2010.  This is a huge challenge – and very exciting.

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Time To Do As I Say

Welcome to my new blog and my effort to find new ways to connect with others who share my passion for teaching, learning and public education.  I am just about to embark on a new position – Superintendent of Schools for the West Vancouver School District, so this seemed a good time to try something new. 

I have spoken and written about the power of a variety of social tools over the last five years and particularly found that Twitter has changed the way I learn.  Hopefully this blog will be similarly as powerful.

As for the title, I had the chance at our Opening Day last week in West Vancouver to speak to all staff about the notion of a “Culture of Yes”.

It is the “culture of yes”, we have and will continue to foster – one that embraces new ideas, and new ways to look at learning and organize learning, a “culture of yes” that supports innovation and creativity for both learners and teachers knowing this is how we will continue to evolve.  A “culture of yes” that touches on the passions we entered the profession with that may have sometimes been lost along the way.

It is an exciting time in education.  I feel like we are in the middle of a dramatic shift in what “school” looks like.  We will look back on this time as a pivotal point of change.  I look forward to sharing ideas, and connecting with those inside and outside our system as we work our way through it.

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