Posts Tagged ‘Tara Zielinski’


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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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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Photo Credit - Tara Zielinski
Photo Credit – Tara Zielinski

Really?  Twitter with Kindergarten students?  That was my first reaction.  While I think Twitter is a great way to connect and share ideas, I didn’t really see it as a tool for our youngest learners.

So, I have learned something.

I first learned about the project via Twitter (of course) last Friday. From the Hollyburn Elementary School Twitter account came:

First Tweet

This tweet is a great example of why all superintendents need to be on Twitter.  It is such a great way to see a sampling of the work going on in the district.  It is such a wonderful way to ‘drop in’ on the learning in various classrooms and schools across the district.  It was this tweet that led me to be in the class three days later — a great way to take advantage of our connected world.

So, back to my reservations.  When I first heard a kindergarten class was tweeting, my mind jumped to all that could go wrong instead of all that could go right. In a controlled environment, guided by the teacher, these young students are learning about digital literacy. Their parents, many who are also new to social media, engage with them in the class and the students can connect to the world!

When I visited the class earlier this week, I learned of parents that were now following the class, and a great home  / school connection.  It was wonderful to learn with the K students about their Happiness Project and how they were sharing it through Twitter with the world.  On day two of the project, the lessons were already very impressive.

why what

So, what do K students tweet about? They are tweeting because they are happy; to spread happiness around the world and to communicate and connect with people outside their classroom.  And, they have adopted a simple rule when deciding to tweet, one everyone can learn from: “if it is helpful, tweet it; if it is hurtful, don’t tweet it.”

The students were completely engaged in their Happiness Project, and the use of Twitter was part of the hook and a great introduction to social media.  If we want students to engage ethically with social tools, we need to teach and model and that is just what I saw happening in the classroom.

Makes Happy


I look forward to virtually following the Hollyburn Happiness Project and the many other classes and schools sharing their learning beyond the classroom walls through Twitter with a range of other social tools.

The Hollyburn story is another fine example of a teacher taking a risk and being a learner herself!

It is always great to see what is happening in our classrooms.

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562px-Lighthouse_Lighthouse_Park (1)

I want to check back in and share some of the work going on in West Vancouver.  I last blogged about Some West Van Stories in November.

Director of Instruction Lynne Tomlinson got a boost for her most recent post on our district arts showcase – The Lighthouse Festival – when Sir Ken Robinson shared the post with his 167,000 Twitter followers.  Lynne highlighted the diversity within the arts at our schools:

The festival is indicative of the many programs offered in our district.  The variety of the performances provides a rich schedule of entertaining events as each teacher’s program is unique and highlights different aspects of performing arts.  We have enjoyed performances including: spoken word, theatre, choir, soloist, band, pop musical, flash mob and varied dance.

And she concluded, “This is public education at its finest.” – So true! It is great to expose the larger community to the great work in our schools, and give our students the opportunity to share their work with the “real world”.

Fellow Director of Instruction, Gary Kern, recently shared some of the initial feedback around our 1:1 Action Research.  There has been the good, the challenging and also the surprising.  Included on the surprising list from teachers:

  • It surprises me that people feel that students having 1:1 access to technological devices at any time at school is anything but to be expected. Many have their own iPads, or iPods in their backpacks. At home, although they often must share devices with other family members, all of my students have access to technology almost anytime.
  • How fast it is to find information (instant) when we are discussing things in-class
  • How much having google images supports our ability to “see” what we are learning
  • How many options exist/how many things we can DO with technology to show what we know or find things out
  • For educators too, tech opens up endless teaching and learning opportunities that far-outweigh the frustration of slow Internet, missing chargers, and access denied messages!
  • I was surprised when a teacher said, how can the students take notes from my lesson if they are ‘playing’ with their devices.  I figure the students take snaps and vids when they need to. A paradigm shift needs to be made here.
  • It surprises me that children think that computers are smarter than they are. When they figure out that they are in fact in the driver’s seat of these powerful tools and that the sky is the limit, they begin to see and think over the rainbow!

Sticking with technology, Caulfeild parent Andrea Benton wrote a guest post on Principal Brad Lund’s blog sharing her thinking as to why she supports and encourages the use of technology in their school.  Her post inserts itself into the discussion of what is the right balance in elementary school.  She argues:

Some people believe that technology shouldn’t be in schools. For me, this is short-sighted.  Schools shouldn’t be teaching for today but should be educating students for the jobs of tomorrow. This includes project management, critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork and collaboration. Technology is here to stay and it is only getting more complicated.

Hollyburn Principal Val Brady recently used her blog to nicely outline the WHYs and the WHATs to writing in elementary school.  Her useful post looked at the purpose of writing and what has been changing:

The philosophical underpinnings of teaching writing have shifted over the years. Developing student skills in writing is still important, but engaging students in writing for real purposes leads to joy in writing and at the same time develops communication skills that will serve students a lifetime.  Whether students put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, engaging in writing for real purposes gives voice and structure and develops thinking ability.

For West Bay Vice-Principal Tara Zielinski, a lot of focus in her class has been on Exhibition – the final stage of the PYP experience for grade 7’s:

In one sense, it’s a rite of passage.  However, after having both participated in and led Exhibition for five years now, I know it is so much more.  There have been and will be moments when our students feel like I did on the zip-line platform – fearful, intimidated, and adverse to things they have not yet faced.  Writing a Central Idea and Lines of Inquiry over and over demands resiliency.  Collaboration requires reflection and metacognition. Interviewing experts takes organization and calls for effective questioning skills.  However, each year it is one of the most rewarding components of my job to observe and support our learners as they integrate the essential elements of the PYP and more than six weeks of intense erudition into a final presentation.

At Pauline Johnson, they have just been through the student-led conferences, and Principal-designate Chantal Trudeau shared her thinking around their power:

The student-led conference is a wonderful opportunity for the students themselves to take ownership of their learning and to show their parents and guests what they have learned over the course of a term. Students invariably feel pride in what they have accomplished. They feel independent, confident and important as they read their favorite stories, lead their parents in the calendar routine, show science experiments or Social Studies projects.  Research shows that student-led conferences is a method that better helps students improve their learning, improve parent engagement, and get higher learning results for our students

Ridgeview grade 7 teacher Cari Wilson shared the story of her students inspirational meeting with Molly Burke:

One of the big privileges that comes with being in Grade 7 is the ability to join your school’s “Me to We” group. Last week many students in School District 45 joined thousands and thousands of other students in Me to We’s “I am Silent” day. It is a day of silent protest and solidarity, designed to bring awareness to the plight of the millions of children worldwide who are not listened to. The children who have no voice.

This year, on the day before “I am Silent” day, 5 lucky Grade 6 and 7 Ridgeview students got a chance to meet Molly Burke, a remarkable young Canadian who although blind has found her voice and is using it to inspire young people.

And finally,  also with a large serving of inspiration, West Vancouver Secondary Principal Steve Rauh had his blog taken over by John Galvani a grade 12 student in a wheel chair:

I am John Galvani, I am 17 and I am in a wheelchair. For my Global Education class I organized for wheelchairs to come to my school. I wanted to spread awareness and education about what my life is like in a wheelchair by giving my class the experience of being in a wheelchair for the day.

I contacted BC Wheelchair Basketball Association and arranged for them to deliver 10 wheelchairs on April 10. Ten students volunteered to be in a wheelchair.  They went to their classes, recess, lunch and some even went to P.E.!

We should do this for all grades so that they can see and feel the challenges that people in wheelchairs go through everyday.

Lately I have been seeing a lot of what I do as being the amplifier of good ideas – whether that is done face-to-face or in the digital world, my job is to tell our good stories and connect and network them to others.    And, there are lots of good ideas to share!

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