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Posts Tagged ‘Riverside’

Fun times hiking the Grouse Grind with Rockridge Principal Judy Duncan and more than 100 Grade 9’s earlier this fall.

If you are an administrator you have probably been asked some version of “you must really miss teaching and the kids in the classroom?”  It is often said in a way to make you feel guilty somehow, that taking a job as a principal or vice-principal, although may have more responsibility and a greater scope to your work, the insinuation is that you have lost the best part of education.

The official correct answer for “Do you miss the teaching?” is “yes”.  You are supposed to say that working with kids in the classroom is the best and I miss it every day.  Even though it is an unfair question, you are still supposed to answer it in the affirmative.

Well, when I get asked this guilt-inducing question – I say no.  No, I don’t miss teaching.  Teaching is awesome.  Most of my best friends are teachers, my parents were teachers, most of the smartest people I know are teachers.  And I loved it!

I am surrounded by teachers and I still love teaching in a K-12 classroom when I get the chance to do it.  But I don’t miss it.  Just because we love something doesn’t mean we need to do it forever, nor does it mean we miss it when we do something else.  And I don’t define teaching as something strictly with a finite group of students in the classroom over a 10 month period of time.

I have been thinking about why I loved teaching.  It comes down to purpose and satisfaction.

I actually get amazing purpose and satisfaction as an administrator.  Both at the school and district level there are significant chances to make a difference and have a great sense of accomplishment.  It is different, the feedback is far more immediate as a classroom teacher – you know right away from the students how you are doing and the difference you are making.  This satisfaction is not as easy to see, but just as powerful in other roles in the system whether you are working with one student, a group of students, teachers, parents or others in the community.

In many industries as you are successful you move up a ladder – that is far less true in education.  Education is one of those funny jobs around the notion of promotion.  It is not really true that becoming an administrator after being a teacher is a promotion.  They are two different jobs and while some people are good at both, I have seen great teachers become mediocre administrators and teachers who were just OK in the classroom become excellent school and district administrators.

And the suggestion that you are removed from young people once you become an administrator is just not true, at least not if you don’t want it to be true.  I have been in about 30 classrooms so far this fall – working with teachers, learning with and from students, and ensuring I know how the decisions I make are influencing teachers and students.  You can be the administrator who is removed from kids, I guess.  But that would be your choice – we all make choices on how we spend our time in our work.

I love my current job, but I often tell people my absolute favourite job in the system was high school principal.  Being in a school of 1400 students, with over 120 adults coming together everyday – exhausting, exhilarating, challenging and on most days a lot of fun.  And never once did I think I had given up “kids” for a job.  This feeling continues to this day in my current role.

As we finish-up celebrating National Principals’ Month (October), here is to all the great school and district leaders who are working with and for students everyday. I am lucky to work with so many awesome ones in West Vancouver!

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Photo Credit – Keith Rispin

As computers were finding their way into every teacher’s hands, and more classes were moving to some sort of Bring-Your-Own-Device model, I was arguing the biggest shift had nothing to do with the computers.  And as I look back over the shifts that computers brought, I am seeing it happen again as we embrace refreshed curriculum in British Columbia – and the biggest shifts are not about the curriculum.

When I was Principal at Riverside Secondary in Port Coquitlam just over a decade ago, our school like many others, was working to put laptops in the hands of all the teachers in the school.  This shift had an amazingly powerful influence on teaching and learning.  As each year more teachers took advantage of the laptops available to them, they began to thoughtfully examine their practice, carefully considering the opportunities now available that were not available without the technology.  Talking about how we teach is not easy, it is very personal and our profession is often quite isolating.  Talking about technology is much easier.  There is no harm in admitting you don’t know how your gizmo works.  And what we saw at Riverside was that as we had conversations about our gizmos we quickly moved to conversations about our practice.  The technology opened the door for conversations that we often avoid.

I shared my bias in a post last fall, that when faced with six education system transformation drivers, Shifting Curriculum, Shifting Pedagogies, Shifting Learning Environments, Shifting Assessment, Shifting Governance, Shifting Citizen and Stakeholder Engagement, my bias is that the primary focus should be on pedagogies.

I saw a decade ago, that shifting technologies were opening up the driving conversation of shifting pedagogies.  Fast forward a decade and now a very similar phenomena is happening with refreshed curriculum in British Columbia.  The Ministry of Education in British Columbia describes the shift, “British Columbia’s curriculum is being redesigned to respond to the demanding world our students are entering.  Transformation in curriculum will help teachers create learning environments that are both engaging and personalized for students. At the heart of British Columbia’s redesigned curriculum are core competencies, essential learning and literacy and numeracy foundations.”

Teachers, administrators and school districts have been allocated dedicated time to work with the new curriculum that is in draft this year for K-9 and will be fully implemented next year.  The 10-12 curriculum follows one year later.  And it has been so interesting to listen to feedback as teachers work together on the curriculum.  As I visited those working on the curriculum and debriefed with others afterwards, nobody was talking about the content.  People made comments like, “I didn’t realize how much similarity there is between our elective areas”, “We made plans to do some joint units next year” and “It is great we all now have the same understanding of core competencies.”  The curriculum has given people a reason, an opportunity and a purpose for looking at their practice.  Again like with the computer, the power is not in the curriculum, but in the conversations and shifts in what we do in the classroom.

There are some amazing new  connections being built through the curriculum implementation process.  I talked to people who have worked in the same school with colleagues for years, but now feel they have a reason to work together.  The power of the curriculum is not in what is written and posted on the website.  The power is in how it comes to life in classrooms.

So far, so good.

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They Will Grow Up

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I share this as a reminder that all kids grow-up, even those who have driven us a little crazy in their teenage years.

We don’t often receive a lot of feedback from students, particularly those who were not overly successful in school.  So, that makes notes like this one (received last week) all the better.  This is from a former student at a school at which I was the principal about 10 years ago.  I share this with his permission:

Mr Kennedy,

I want to start off by thanking you for never putting up with my garbage in high school, and putting me in my place when I needed it. In spring of 2003, I came back to Vancouver for a visit and to re-enrol at Riverside in anticipation my family would be moving back to BC from Alberta. I was being a loud mouth as usual, and you came by and said “if it was up to me I wouldn’t have you back at my school.” Those words caught me off guard, until that point in my life I never thought the things I did affected anyone, and that was when a change began in my life. I was still a pain in the ass throughout high school, and I am positive that no one thought I would make much out of my life.

After graduation, I had a daughter at the age of 20, I was following the plan people assumed I would. In 2007, those words you spoke, along with a few from [another teacher], motivated me to prove everyone wrong. Although my idea of success was extremely skewed, I attained my goal that year of making $100,000, and was driven to exceed that goal the next year. By mid 2008, I had a talk with a mom who questioned my motives, and after a deep conversation, she helped focus my goals, and told me the best way to prove to someone was to change the world, and leave a legacy.

In 2009 I changed my focus, I switched industries and got into finance, quickly becoming one of the youngest Managers at TD Canada Trust. I began travelling the world every year for 2 months organizing charity events, and building orphanages and even starting a volunteer agency in Kenya. Kenya was my first trip, and before I left I received news confirming that my daughter was not biologically mine. Not of our anger, but out of determination to prove that I was not affected by the genes of my daughter, I built Madison House orphanage in Kenya. Since then I have travelled to over 40 countries, and helped raise nearly $200,000 for orphans in over 20 of those countries.

I am writing you because I want to thank you. Those words still ring in my head when I feel like I need to accomplish a task and have little or no motivation. Last June I made the decision to attend post-secondary school to get a degree, and eventually into law school. I was granted acceptance into BCIT’s full-time program and currently sit in the top 3% of the business department. I have a 90% average across all 7 full-time classes, and on Friday i was contacted by the University of Geneva in Switzerland in regards to my application.

I want you to know none of this would have been possible without you. I was a young punk, who cared about no one else but himself, but as time went on, I learned that I was never actually an extrovert as people assumed. I have always been an introvert with tendency of an extrovert to deal with my self-consciousness.

Regardless of our past disagreements, I want you to know, that you helped shape my future, my decision-making process, my outlook, and my ability to step back and make choices in my life. So one more time thank you Mr. Kennedy, and I can only pray you continue to move, shape, and teach kids like you have done with me.

Warmest Regards,

There is a lot in there and good reminders for me as a parent and educator.  Sometimes, even in a ‘culture of yes’, a strong “No” is an important message.

And, as Stuart Shanker regularly reminds us — there is no such thing as bad kids.

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Despite the speed at which our system and profession is changing, some aspects haven’t changed at all. I do think there have been major shifts over the last several years in West Vancouver, particularly with the proliferation of digital access and commitment to inquiry, among other factors.

Listening to Will Richardson at Computer Using Educators of British Columbia(CUEBC) during the last couple of weeks had me thinking and revisiting some of my early blog posts. Will has been someone I have been learning from for more than a decade. Before the Culture of Yes, I was blogging as a school principal in Coquitlam and also teaching AP European History. One of the early pieces I wrote (early fall 2006) was Teaching History in a Time of Change and reprinted below:

Teaching History in a Time of Change by title alone implies that there may be a time of stability around the corner. There isn’t.  And it is not the change that is frightening, challenging, and exhilarating – it is the speed with which this change is occurring that is frightening, challenging, exhilarating, and, more importantly, remaking our profession.  The advancements in technology and the exponential speed at which they are happening may make our current times the most dramatic for teaching and learning history since the invention of the printing press.

There are some givens that go along with the change:  within the next few years every one of our students will arrive with a laptop or similar gizmo, all information will be on the internet, and all of our students will be connected everywhere, all the time, to the entire world. These changes are not up for debate – they are already becoming a reality in some jurisdictions. The only thing that can be debated now is how quickly they will happen and just how they will redefine the teaching of history everywhere.

I know it is risky to say this too loudly, but in short, these changes mean that teaching history the old way, whatever that has been or still is for each of us, is dead.  Everyone can now get all the facts, whenever they need them, from wherever the source of information resides.

Within just hours after the shooting last month at Dawson College in Montreal, hundreds of Wikipedians were creating the story of the event as it occurred. From first hand accounts to summaries of news stories – in the hours and days following the shooting the entry at wikipedia.org was updated thousands of times. History is being reported, clarified, analyzed, summarized, interpreted and reinterpreted in real time. In addition to the upheaval of traditional timelines for these activities, the hierarchies of historians are gone and everyone can now be an expert or, at the least, a verifiable eyewitness and commentator to events as they occur.

Canadian Idol crowned its latest winner last month. In the voting, close to four million Canadians, mostly younger technologically literate Canadians, mostly using cell phones, mostly using text messaging, voted for their favourite candidate in the final two show-down that crowned Eva Avila the winner.

Wikipedia and Canadian Idol are not isolated – they are products of the new ways in which young people interact.  The new technology tools are making learning more personal – you can read first-hand blogs from around the world. The tools are also making learning more communal – young people are active contributors in the online world, finding their voice through participation in often very complex online and digital communities.  Today’s students live in a world of convergence and collective intelligence, living in a participatory culture in which learning is no longer an individualistic endeavor.

During the recent conflict in the Middle East, young men and women from Israel and Palestine were trying to understand what was really happening in their countries.  Instead of turning to traditional news sources, they turned to one another for firsthand perspectives (link no longer active).  Who should we be teaching students to believe, the bloggers or the news establishment?  More importantly, how do we ensure students take a critical and analytical view to all sources?

So not only are the tools changing, but the students we are teaching are changing too.  As Marc Prensky so nicely describes, our students are the digital natives and we are the digital immigrants. There was great comfort when we controlled the information. Now the students are better with the tools used to access the information than we are.  The traditional teaching / learning continuum is gone and it is time for the new teaching to begin.  The challenge for all of us is to take the tools that our students are using and find ways to use them in our daily teaching.

What are 10 things we can all go back to our classes Monday and do to start meeting the challenge?

  • have students share information through social bookmarking such as del.icio.us
  • create instant messenger class lists on MSN or a similar chat service
  • have students build a wiki (collaborative website) for your class / school
  • assign students to post an assignment to the web so they don’t just get feedback from their teacher but their peers and even complete strangers
  • download Skype (a service that allows your computer to act as a phone) – have a conversation with a student across the country for free
  • read a blog created by a student in another community
  • begin to podcast lectures (audio recording files posted to the internet) or listen to others who have already done so
  • stop banning websites and start educating students on how to use them
  • put everything on the Internet – and share it with as many people as possible
  • ask the digital natives to help the digital immigrants

Embracing the new tools is not about technology, it is about reality, our students’ reality. So, what are the key challenges for History teachers in this time of rapid change?

  • continue to embrace high standards, while vehemently rejecting standardization – tests are less important than ever
  • recognize that the role of the teacher is being redesigned – no longer are we the ones with the answers at the front of the room
  • drop our protectionist tendencies as we continue to work to meet students where they are instead of asking them to come to us

In this time of rapid change teachers are more important than ever, but only if we change at the same speed as the world in which our students are living.  We have a duty to teach students the power of the new tools and how to use them – we need to lead them into the world of learning History 2.0.

Rereading this post, I laugh at some of the tools mentioned – so many have come and gone. Of course, it is not about the tools.  The conclusions and the key challenges I have identified, do largely still remain.  It was also so exciting to recently learn about the amazing work happening in our classrooms in West Vancouver and across the country, and recognized through the 2014 Government of Canada History Awards.  For the same reasons I found it so exciting to be a teacher and a learner in 2006, I find it even more so true today.

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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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For the last 34 years I have been connected to public education in British Columbia.  The first 23 in Richmond included 13 as a student, five in university as a volunteer coach and five as a teacher. After Richmond, I spent six years in Coquitlam as a vice-principal and principal, and the last five years have been in West Vancouver, as assistant superintendent and now superintendent.   Over these years, I have met many amazingly gifted educators.  This past fall, I wrote about Mrs. Caffrey (here), who was one of the many great influences in my life.  And, this week, three of the finest and personally influential people I know in the profession are moving into retirement and new opportunities.

Retirement in teaching is different, I suspect, than many other professions. Schools have such a rhythm — it starts fresh with September, bustles through December, and finishes with an even mix of anxiety and anticipation in June –finishing up work from the year, celebrating accomplishments and then about moving on, often to new grades and different schools.  There is a build-up to the final week of school, and for our district it will culminate today and tomorrow with final events for students and staff.  For my friends and mentors – Don Taylor, Ron Haselhan, and Warren Hicks, this June is also about moving on to new opportunities. While we will look to school next fall, they will look out to new opportunities outside of public education.

Don Taylor was my Grade 7 teacher in 1985-86, at Daniel Woodward Elementary School in Richmond. From Kindergarten, students looked forward to being in Mr. Taylor’s class.  He was a teacher and vice-principal, but he also personified the school.  It was a school full of opportunities.  There were more sports than anywhere else, including school teams for cross-country, soccer, volleyball, basketball and track.  There was also a school newspaper, an annual, a radio show on CISL 650, huge school productions, and so many more opportunities that seemed so much greater than in other schools.  And, while Mr. Taylor did not do it all, he was the driving force behind many of them.  That grade 7 year, we had 38 students in class (maybe the good ol’ days weren’t always that good), and in addition to enrolling the class, and doing his duties as vice-principal, Mr. Taylor was engaging in activities with students before school, at lunch and after school, almost every day.  It is a small wonder that after his 19 years at Daniel Woodward they named the gym after him.  Mr. Taylor was cool. He took an interest in all of us, was always full of energy, and recognized that there is great power in connections inside and outside the classroom.  After my elementary days, I did return to Woodward to coach alongside him. He was also generous as a mentor, assisting me later on with my career path and application to education at UBC and to the Richmond School District, where I began my teaching career.  We have reconnected over the last two years, and he still has the energy and passion that I encountered when I first met him in 1978. Since then, he has made a postive impact on the lives of thousands of young people in my hometown of Richmond.  A very impressive 35 years.

Ron Haselhan was a department head and lead teacher at Riverside Secondary in Port Coquitlam, when I arrived at the school in 2001 and during my time as vice-principal and principal of  that school.  Ron was a quiet leader. He was part of the team that opened Riverside Secondary in 1996, an opening that had its challenges as multiple staffs came together to build the school. Ron, saw the good and possibility in everyone, and was someone who brought people together.  It was Ron who would bring his motor home and park it out in front of the school during a teachers’ strike, turning it into a home base for hot chocolate in the morning and hot dogs at lunch.  It was also Ron who would always look at the teaching profession with a critical eye; could he teach different, or better, and he was a leader on assessment well before it became vogue.  He was also the kind of person who would never miss a school dance, would open the school on weekends for students and sponsor all-night charity fundraisers.  During my time at Riverside, Ron shifted part of his role to teacher-librarian, bringing leadership in digital technology and the ability to work side-by-side with his colleagues. With over a 100 staff, Ron had credibility with all of them.  Ron was that type of leader.  He never wanted the credit, and shied away from attention, but in his more than 30 years in Coquitlam, he influenced students, schools and the profession.

Warren Hicks, and I have worked side-by-side for the last five years in West Vancouver on the District Leadership Team.  Warren is a great example of a serious thinker, who knows not to take himself too seriously.  He is also the most popular Human Resources Director I have ever met.  Everyone in West Vancouver knows and loves Warren.  He grew up on the North Shore and spent his 34 years in education in North Vancouver and West Vancouver, teaching, principaling and leading in the district office. In recent years, Warren has done amazing work with the Squamish Nation, increasing opportunities for our Aboriginal students, and awareness of Aboriginal education for all of our students.  For me, in coming to a new district and taking on new roles, Warren has been a trusted confidante.  He has challenged me, guided me and supported me, and was at his best during the most difficult situations.  In every conversation we have had over the last five years, Warren has been unwavering and undaunted in his view that every decision we make must be done through the lens of what is in the best interest for students.  Warren would cut through the noise, was willing to fight the good fight, and to make sure he left West Vancouver a better place.

My many thanks to Don, Ron and Warren, for all you have done for me and the students of BC.  Your more than 100 years of combined service for young people has been key, and so worth it.  We need to be sure that the next generation of Dons, Rons and Warrens choose public education in BC.  Our profession is not ever about a special program, or secret strategy — our strength is our people.

There has been occasion this year that it hasn’t always seemed like the best time to be in public education in our province, but I am continually reminded about the fine people giving their professional lives to improve life chances and opportunities for our next generation.  All the best to all of our retirees and a safe and restful summer to all.

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I love year-in-review lists, so I’ve come up with one of my own — the “Top 3” in a variety of categories.   A great way to spur on discussion and debate.   I look forward to your own additions.

Top 3 “Culture of Yes” Blog Posts – these posts have generated the most traffic this year:

1.  Printing is not Meant to be Convenient

2.  A Recipient in the Sharing Revolution (thanks to Dean Shareski for sharing this post)

3.  TedxUBC (Post 1 and Post 2)

Top 3 Jurisdictions I Want to Learn More About:

1.  Revelstoke — latest graduation rate is a provincial best 98%

2.  Ontario — their recent PISA results in reading is something from which we can learn

3.  Finland — in almost every measure, they continue to lead the way in education

Top 3 B.C. Principals Influencing My Thinking and Work in our District:

1.  Cale Birk — his post on collaborative time was particularly helpful

2.  Gino Bondi — he is pushing the change agenda and thinks differently about high schools

3.  Chris Wejr — a great champion of thinking differently about assessment

Top 3 Professional Development Events I Have Attended:

1.  TEDxUBC

2.  BCSSA Fall Conference

3.  Twitter (pretty much on a daily basis – and it doesn’t cost a cent)

Top 3 Social Media Tools I’ve Used More of in 2010 Than Before:

1.  Twitter — it is changing the game with professional development

2.  Slideshare — wish more teachers would use it to share PowerPoints

3.  YouTube — it was only a couple of years ago this tool was blocked in schools

Top 3 Used (and often overused) Terms in Education for the Year:

1.  personalized learning

2.  backchannel

3.  21st century learner

Top 3 Used (and often overused) Quotes in Education for the Year:

1.  “It is not about the technology”  (guilty of this one)

2.  “The 21st century is more than 10% over”

3.  “Creativity, now, is as important in education as literacy” (or other Sir Ken like quote)

Top 3 Canadian Educational Reform “Blueprints” Worth Reading:

1. British Columbia – A Vision for 21st Century Education (pdf)

2.  Alberta – Inspiring Education

3.  New Brunswick – Creating a 21st Century Learning Model of Public Education (pdf)

Top 3 Education-related Videos from B.C. (that I bet you haven’t seen)

1. Digital Immersion Class Video – from Riverside Secondary in Port Coquitlam

2.  Barry McDonald – Boy Smarts from TEDxUBC (Barry is a Langley teacher)

3.  The North Delta Secondary Focus Group Initiative

Top 3 Education-related Videos from Outside B.C. (not featuring Sir Ken)

1.  RSA Animate – Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us

2.  Project-Based Learning Explained

3.  Alfie Kohn vs Dwight Schrute (thanks to Larry Ferlazzo for pointing me to this one)


The best thing I did professionally this year was start this blog.  Thanks to all of you who engage with me here on a regular basis.  I look forward to more discussions to come — there will never be a shortage of topics.

Happy Holidays!

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