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Posts Tagged ‘TEDxWestVancouverED’

I had the honour of giving a talk at TEDx WestVancouverED this past Saturday.  What made it even more enjoyable is that I did it with my oldest daughter Liz.  There is likely another post coming about the event and the process once the video is posted, but I wanted to share  the script for our talk along with the slides.  Liz and I both feel strongly about this topic, and think it is a good conversation starter.

As a little background, here is Liz’s bio from the program:

Liz Kennedy is a high school student at McMath Secondary School in Richmond.  She balances her academics with participation in various leadership activities and sports including five school sports:  cross country, volleyball, basketball, track and swimming.   Liz is a committed student, experienced vegetarian and patient older sister to her three younger siblings.

Below are the slides (if you receive this post via email you may need to open the post on the website to see the slides) and our script which each of our parts labeled:

Liz
From a young age I have always played a lot of sports.  From cheer, to swimming, to baseball to basketball, sports have always been and still are a big part of my life. My parents put me in numerous sports starting at a very young age and they continue to be a part of everyday life for my siblings and I.
And when you have 3 siblings, your parents often see if they can have more than one child on the same team, which has meant my brother who is only one year younger than me and I have often played together on the same teams.  This is strange for some people – but I am not quite sure why.  When I run track or swim I always train with boys and girls – so why should baseball or basketball any different.
All kids care about is if you can play.  If you’re good, willing to be competitive and a hard worker boys will play against you just like any other guy. In my over ten years of playing sports, I have never felt boys didn’t want me to play with them because of my gender.

Chris

As long as she has been playing my wife and I have been driving, coaching and cheering from the side.  I know the crazy sports parents talk is for a different time.  We have always wanted our kids to be exposed to a lot of sports.  We grew up in busy homes of arts, culture and athletics and we have wanted the same for our kids.  And while kids don’t seem to care about gender, parents are full of opinions.

Parents seem to get all caught up in gender.  I grew up in a house of boys, so I never really thought about gender and sports.  When I look back, I don’t think I ever played with girls on my soccer, baseball, or hockey teams.  That of course does not make it right then or now.  It is one of the last areas where it seems many feel that the genders should be separated, somehow to protect both genders from a young age.  But I wonder to protect them from what?  And at what expense?

As Liz said,  her playing boys sports was often out of convenience.  With her brother one year younger and sports often spanned two years – so we could have 2 kids at the same place at the same time if they played together.  The responses I received were often surprising.  First, there were those that thought it was a great statement of courage – I never really understood that – it was just kids playing sports.   More concerning,  I have been told a lot of crazy reasons why people are uncomfortable to have girls like Liz playing with their sons.  From worries about “injuries” like she is breakable, to acting as though they are not thinking it themselves but worried about “other” parents, to wanting to argue that this is actually discrimination against boys.  And to be honest, several far worse, that may get dismissed by some as “locker room talk” that I won’t repeat.  And it is not just dads, it is moms as well.  Parents seem to carry their antiquated views from their youth to parenthood.

Liz

Just this past spring a team an all girls team from Spain with players around 13 years old won a 14 team league that featured all boys teams. Even though parents were worried that their little girls might get hurt by the boys, the girls convinced them otherwise. The girls knew that the only way they were going to get better was by playing against the best, which sadly in Spain where girls grass-roots programs receive almost no funding, meant playing in a “boys” league.  Coaches of the other teams questioned the decision as did the referees and the boys parents. The only people who didn’t care? The boys they were playing against. They got good games against a really good team. Everyone was getting better and most importantly everyone was having fun. Contrary to what we see often see girls and boys can have fun playing sports with and against each other.

 And yes, of course we still need girls only sports, because we have particular issues still with girls getting and staying active and sometimes single gender opportunities can make them feel safe. That’s why we should have co-ed and girls only. While parents might not believe it, but girls can be and are just as competitive as boys their age, and often at young ages bigger and stronger. While there may be the odd sport exception, I am not sure why we need any “boys” sports.
When making teams or putting together groups there are so many other ways to organize young people in sports. At young ages girls can be bigger than the boys. So size is definitely one better way to organize teams. You can also easily organize teams by skill so that all kids regardless of gender are appropriately challenged. What about age? what school they go to? and who their friends are? Why do we always jump to sorting by gender when there are so many other options we could explore? In sports like swimming and track, there are ways we can add more mixed gender relays and such that promote gender integration by having girls and boys competing on the same team.
Chris
Our views on gender have evolved quickly.  Since many of us were in school there are dramatic shifts away from stereotypes of boys as the doctors and girls as the nurses, and the men being the ones who work outside the home and women being the ones who are the keepers of the home.  And in the last decade thinking around homosexuality and more recently transgendered persons has rightfully changed thinking from marriage to bathrooms.  Yet, we do still hold to some traditions.
And the argument isn’t that we should not ever consider gender when it comes to sports.  Things do change around puberty, but in most sports there are few reason why kids up until about 12 years of age can’t play together.  It is not to say there are no gender differences but do they really require us to separate them in physical activities. So maybe we are not making the high school basketball team co-ed that doesn’t mean there are not a number of changes we can make.  And in the end sports, in particular youth sports, are about fun and being social, and don’t we want this to be done in an inclusive environment as possible.
We want sports to build strong, confident youth.  We want young boys and girls to recognize that boys and girls are different but rather than girls being “courageous” for playing with boys we have to find ways for this to be the norm.  As Liz said, there is a need for girls sports alongside co-ed sports, we need structures that get more young people active.  Too often girls sports are perceived as “less” than boys sports.  Removing gender tags can assist in tackling some of the sexism that is rampant in sports from young ages through to professionals.  The kids seem to have figured this out, but the adults are slow to change.  Messages young people see send strong statements, some that last a lifetime – and what a powerful message it is that from our very youngest ages, we all can share the same field, court or rink.
Liz 
I am happy to Play Like a Girl. And I will do it proudly, yes, what was seen as insult when my mom was growing up is now often a compliment. It is proof that our world is changing for the better. Youth sports can help speed up the changing. When I am told I throw like a girl, or run like a girl, or play like a girl – I say thank you.
Instead of BOYS soccer, BOYS Baseball, and BOYS hockey – what is there was just soccer, baseball and hockey. Since when does the gender define the sport? This could have a huge impact beyond just these sports.
Moms and Dads running leagues listen to your sons, they don’t care that I am a girl, like me your sons just want to play the sport they love.  Everyone just wants to get better and have a lot of fun. So let’s get on with it.

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top3

Welcome to my final blog post of 2016 and my annual tradition of my Top 3 Lists for the year.

Previous Top 3 lists for  2015 (here) 2014 (here) 2013 (here) 2012 (here), 2011 (here) and 2010 (here).

As I see many on social media desperately wishing for 2016 to just end – here is a chance to look back at some non-Brexit, non-Trump, non-celebrity death moments from the past year.

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

1. Some Hip Advice

2. I Used to Blame Parents

3. I am Now More Open-Minded About Football

Top 3 Places I Learned Stuff:

  1. Books, Blogs and Magazines – I list of few of the most influential books I read later, and I continue to be a regular reader of various blogs – some like Will Richardson I have been learning from for more than a decade.  I also continue to subscribe to a variety of magazines (in paper) with the AASA School Administrator being a must read every month.
  2. Ignite Events –  I think I went to five Ignite events in 2016.  I really like the format – a variety of 5 minute talks with time for conversation built-in between the sessions.
  3. C21 Superintendent’s Academy – I am part of a national Superintendent group that has regular conference calls and meets face-to-face a couple of times a year.  The formal sessions are great but it is the relationships that I have been able to build with others in the same role as me which have been particularly useful.

Top 3 Education Books I Read That Influenced My Thinking:

  1.  Originals:  How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant (always like some non-education books)
  2. The Collapse of Parenting by Leonard Sax (good book from a former parent education speaker in West Vancouver)
  3. Embracing a Culture of Joy by Dean Shareski (non just on the list because I got a free copy!)

Top 3 Speakers We Had In West Vancouver That Pushed Us Along:

  1. George Couros– George has made these lists of mine numerous times – last year his book was one of the year’s top influencers.  This past spring he did a session for teachers and administrators.  George nicely pulls together many of the “new” ideas in education into a coherent package.
  2. Dean Shareski / Natalie Panek – Dean is another regular on these lists, and a regular in West Vancouver and on Opening Day he joined rocket-scientist Natalie Panek for messages of joy and possibility
  3. Ron Canuel – Ron was the jolt we needed in December.  He spoke about the myths in education and reminded us that the path we are on, while often challenging is the right one for students.

Top 3 Speakers I Saw And Remembered Their Messages Days or Weeks Later:

  1. Angus Reid– My blog post on Angus’ talk is listed above and one of my most read of the year.  I love a talk that deeply challenges your beliefs – Angus did that and in less than twenty minutes he changes how I see high school football.
  2. Pasi Sahlberg – I know many have seen Pasi before but when I saw him speak in December it was the first time for me.  His message about international rankings and strategies for system improvement were ones that really resonated with me.
  3. Governor General David Johnston– His Excellency spoke in West Vancouver in March – with a simple message on the power of being a smart and caring nation.

Top 3 Concerts I saw this Past Year (by artists in their 70’s):

  1. Paul McCartney – I had never seen Paul McCartney live before and it was an amazing show.  You feel like you are on an almost 50 year historical tour as he selects various hits from his different incarnations.
  2. Paul Simon – My favourite artist of all-time.  It was not my favourite show of his at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre this past May, but knowing it might be his final tour did make it special.
  3. Dolly Parton – I was not really expecting to like this show – but I loved it!  She is an amazing storyteller and performer.
  4.  I know it is a “Top 3” List but I needed to also include James Taylor who was so engaging.

Top 3 TEDx WestVancouverED 2016 Videos That Feel Different Than “Regular” TEDx Videos:

  1.  It Became Clear in 54 Words by Tracy Cramer

 

2.  When Beauty Leads to Empathy by Dean and Martha Shareski

 

3.   What is Your Why? by Jody MacDonald

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Top 3 Student Events I Saw That Really Stuck With Me:

  1.  Elementary School Track Meet – It is the Super Bowl of Elementary Schools (well along with the Christmas Concert).  I love how excited our students and staff are and how many parents come out to support their children.
  2. Remembrance Day Assemblies – I know every school district does Remembrance Day Ceremonies but we do them in a really powerful and amazing way.  I was really struck by the one at Gleneagles Elementary in particular this past November.
  3. Honour Choir Christmas Concert – I was blown away by the talent we have in our schools.  Our Honour Choirs with students from across the District put on a professional show.

Top 3 Signs That Have Nothing To Do With Technology  That Show Schools (and our world) are REALLY Changing:

  1. SOGI announcementt – In early September the BC Government made a major commitment around Sexual Identity and Gender Identity and there was a collective “of course, we are already way ahead of this” from almost all in the school system
  2. Truth and Reconciliation Recommendations (announced in 2015) are becoming embedded in our work in schools
  3. Waste Disposal and Recycling – It may seem trivial, but I have recently traveled in the United States where EVERYTHING still goes in the garbage and I walk into school here and we have almost no garbage at some sites – proof that despite some protest and much skepticism behaviours can change

Top 3 Overused Education Phrases That Got Used Too Much This Past Year:

  1.  Growth Mindset
  2.  Rigor
  3.  Transformational Leadership

Top 3 Things I Stopped Doing This Year:

  1. Watching News – following the US election I have stopped watching news and focused on reading news – I am happier for it.
  2. Eating Meat – I haven’t eaten beef in about 20 years, but now turkey, chicken and other meats are on the list
  3. Following Politicians on Twitter – again this was partly brought on by the US Election, but I have either unfollowed or muted all provincial, national and international political figures – and my social media experience has improved.

Top 3 Little Things I Do That Bring Me Joy:

  1. Principal-for-a-day – Elementary schools bring by a “Principal for a Day” once during the year – it is 20 minutes of pure joy chatting with them about their school and their experiences
  2. Walking – I have a few people who love walking meetings and I am convinced these walks make me more productive
  3.  Betting Booster Juices – I know some people I work with think I have a gambling problem.  I will bet a Booster Juice on almost anything.  As I see it – it is win-win.  Either way I am getting a Booster Juice.

As always, I really appreciate everyone who takes the time to read and engage with me through the blog.   I have tried to take myself a little less seriously in this space and really enjoy the relationships that are built and extended digitally.  All the best for a wonderful 2017!

Chris

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football

Sports are a huge part of my family life. My wife owns a sports business for young people, my kids are very involved in numerous sports and I try to find time to coach and volunteer whenever I can.

And we participate in a lot of sports – soccer, basketball, volleyball, swimming, cheer, cross country, track and many more.  We have never been a football family.  Like others, anxiety over safety issues in football have raised concerns for me.  And when I learned that former BC Lion Angus Reid was going to be speaking about high school football at TEDxWestVancouverEd I was preparing to not agree with him.  A former football star touting the importance of high school football at a time when the sport is facing trouble with participation; I was ready to be reminded that schools need to be like they used to be, when football was king.

TED Conferences can be overwhelming.  One speaker after another, mostly confirming your view of the world.  Many of the talks, no matter how powerful or passionate, can run together.  Well, we are a couple of months after the event now, and one talk has really stuck with me – it is Angus Reid’s Why We Need High School Football.

It is hard to change one’s thinking in 12 minutes – but Angus Reid made me see high school football differently.  His set-up was important.  He was clearly focused on high school football, differentiating it from community and professional football.  He also dealt with the concussion and safety issue in a very upfront way – taking the approach if high school football is important enough we ca figure out the safety issues.

There were a number of strong points Angus made.  His emphasis on the structure that football can give young people is important.  In a world of uncertainty, football is very routine – one game a week, usually on Fridays, and a series of after-school practices each day with a specific purpose as they build up to the game.  As I wrote in my most recent post, people are often seeking routine in an ever-changing world.

Then there is the entire issue of participation.  Reid notes that there are 88 chances in a game to get kids to play.  So you can find a way to get everyone in the game on a team of 40 or on a team of 80.  Football is a sport that is open to everyone – different positions require different shapes and sizes and very different skills.  The issue of participation in school sports is one I have been thinking a lot about recently.  Maybe because my kids are now at the young high school age, I am seeing kids (and their parents) crushed as they are cut from basketball and volleyball teams.  As much as I love both of those sports – they are ones where sometimes only 12 of 60 or 70 interested kids “make” the team.  We need more sports like football, and rugby, ultimate, cross-country track, among others that find a way to include most if not all of their interested kids.  This point has been further emphasized this past week with the announcement that young people in Canada are some of the least active in the world.

Finally Reid makes the case for the empowerment that can come from football.  Reid mentioned Nolan Bellerose, who was the subject of a wonderful recent story from Howard Tsumura at the Province Newspaper.  It is true that sports can be a vehicle for so much more.  It is true that we see these possibilities through many school sports, and similarly through music, art, robotics and a range of other co-curricular and extra-curricular programs it is true that football can often tap into a population of our young men who often struggle to connect in our schools.

So, Angus Reid, you changed my thinking.  I will look at high school football differently from now on.

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Top 3Welcome to my final blog post of 2015 and my annual tradition of my Top 3 Lists for the year.

Previous Top 3 lists for  2014 (here) 2013 (here) 2012 (here), 2011 (here) and 2010 (here).

Hopefully there is a link or a video that connects with you and starts a discussion.  I am finding I am having fewer interesting discussion online – hopefully something here might help.

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

1. The Learning Commons Mindset

2. How Was School Today?

3. Will School Sports Disappear?

Top 3 Learning opportunities  I went to:

  1. CONNECT 2015 – I am usually not a fan of large conference events, but this one has a good mix of sessions are great opportunities to network across the country.  I see they have Chris Hatfield as a keynote for 2016.
  2. IGNITE West Vancouver – Sean Nosek hosted our first Ignite session in West Vancouver.  It was a great way to learn with colleagues in a relaxed environment.  Who knew pro-d at the bar could have so much value.
  3. C21 Superintendent’s Academy – A group of about 25 superintendents from across the country have monthly conference calls meet in-person a couple of times a year.  We helped put together the Shifting Minds (pdf) paper earlier in the year.

Top 3 Education Books I Read That Influenced My Thinking:

  1.  Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros
  2. Beyond Measure by Vicki Abeles (and the movie is also excellent!)
  3. Creative Schools by Ken Robinson

Top 3 Speakers I Saw And Remembered Their Messages Days or Weeks Later:

  1. Yong Zhao – I saw him speak several times in 2015, and even if I heard some of the same jokes a few times – he said something that stuck with me each time.
  2. Wab  Kinew – I got to see Wab in the spring, and I am really looking forward to having him as our opening day speaker in West Vancouver this coming August.
  3. Will Richardson – Will’s TEDx Video (see my next list below) proved again that he is one of the best out there at making the urgent case for change in our education system.

Top 3 TEDx WestVancouverED 2015 Videos:

  1.  Collaboration . . . It’s Starts with Competition by Allison McNeil

 

2.  The Future of Education is Ready by Lane Merrifield

 

3.   The Surprising Truth About Learning in School by Will Richardson

 

Top 3 Technology Influences I Saw in Schools This Year:

  1.  FreshGrade – It is a monster in British Columbia and likely it will be across Canada soon.
  2. Google Classroom – If you don’t think people in your district use it – you are wrong.  They are just not telling you.
  3. Coding – Each year it gains momentum and Hour of Code is part of most schools now.

Top 3 Signs That Have Nothing To Do With Technology (mostly) That Show Schools are REALLY Changing:

  1. new curriculum in British Columbia with a focus on big ideas
  2. all the value being placed on core competencies for students
  3. the changes in student reporting

Top 3 Pop Culture Phrases That Get Used Too Much in Education:

  1.  This ain’t my first rodeo
  2.  Go down the rabbit hole
  3. Anything 2.0 or 3.0 or 4.0 or . . . .

Thanks everyone for continuing to read and engage with me through my blog.  It continues to be a great place to work through ideas and connect to some of the most passionate people I know.  I have struggled to get a tweet from Dean Shareski out of my mind – he said something like, blogging is like jazz – it is not for everyone but will have a loyal following.  I did think that blogging was going to be for everyone but I was wrong.  There seem to be fewer people in education writing today than even a year ago.  I am not sure why.  That is probably a good blog post for the new year 🙂

Happy New Year – I look forward to learning together in 2016!

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top3

Welcome to my final blog post of 2014, and what has become an annual tradition — My “Top 3″ lists for the year. Previous Top 3 lists for 2013 (here) 2012 (here), 2011 (here) and 2010 (here). Hopefully, you will find a link or video or some other information you may not have seen over the past 12 months. The “Top 3” is more about starting discussions and sharing than ranking and sorting.

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

1.  Teacher

2.  Trying to Understand the Fencing Phenomenon

3.  Taking Back Halloween

Top 3 “Culture of Yes” Blog Posts I have started and really want to finish:

1.  How and Why High School Sports are Dying

2.  What Schools Can Learn from the Transformation in Public Libraries

3.  Early Academic Specialization

Top 3 regularly used Edu words that show you are from BC:

1.  “networks” like the Network of Inquiry and Innovation

2.  “competencies” like the Core Competencies that are part of the draft curriculum

3.  “principles” like the First Peoples Principles of Learning

Top 3 TEDx Videos from WestVancouverED (that you may not have seen):

1.  Getting Beyond “No” – Judy Halbert

2.  The Creative Destruction of Education – Punit Dhillon

3.  The Power of ummmm . . .  – Kath Murdoch

Top 3 Education Stories people will be talking about in BC in 2015:

1.  Communicating Student Learning, — or what most people call report cards, will continue to be a growing topic with more BC districts looking for alternatives, particularly at the pre-Grade 8 level

2.  The Graduation Program DRAFT curriculum was posted for K-9 and despite being very different from past models, was met with general support. There will likely be far more debate on this as the focus shifts to Grades 10 to 12, and the traditional schooling model of senior grades is challenged.

3.  Aboriginal Education — What separates the changes in education in BC from most other jurisdictions in the world is that BC is embracing Aboriginal principles in its changes. The First Peoples Principles of Learning (PDF) are reflected in so much of the current BC work.

Top 3 BC Superintendent Bloggers I didn’t tell you about last year:

1.  Monica Pamer – Superintendent of Schools, Richmond

2.  Kevin Kaardal – Superintendent of Schools, Burnaby

3.  Mark Thiessen – Superintendent of Schools, Cariboo Chilcotin

Top 3 Thinkers from outside British Columbia who are currently influencing work in BC:

1.  Yong Zhao (you will likely hear much more about him in 2015)

2.  Dean Shareski (you won’t see him as a keynote at a big conference, but he is connected to the powerful digital network in BC)

3.  Stuart Shanker (Mr. Self-Reg himself)

Top 3 Videos that have a link between school, sports and overcoming adversity:

1.E360 – Catching Kayla, is one of the most powerful stories I have ever seen

2.  High School Basketball Player Passes Ball  (okay, so it is from 2013, but I didn’t see it until this year)

3.  One handed player gets a shot at college basketball

Top 3 Things I am going to stop doing because they seem hypocritical:

1.  Sitting in on a session of 500 people for professional development, and listening to someone speak about the need for personalization

2.  Accepting comments that suggest there is some debate whether technology is part of the future for modern learners

3.   Giving my kids ‘high-fives’ when they get a happy-face sticker on their worksheets (okay, that doesn’t really happen now)

Top 3 Non-education people I started following on Twitter:

1.  Stephen Colbert

2.  Chris Rock

3.  Tweet of God

Top 3 BCers I started following on Twitter:

1.  Paul Bae /You Suck Sir  — if you follow him on Twitter, do yourself a favour and subscribe to his blog!

2.  Keith Baldrey —  he gets Twitter and the mix of professional / personal and serious / funny

3.  Roberto Luongo — I know he is not really from BC anymore, but he is one of the few athletes I follow

Top 3 Things I learned from my blog this year:

1.  The digital community is an incredibly caring community that will rally around people they barely know

2.  Commenting is down but reading is up

3.  I’m getting more comfortable and more at ease with being more personal

Thanks to everyone who continue with me on this journey and the many new people who have engaged with me this year. I continue to love the opportunity blogging gives me to work out ideas, challenge ideas and serve as a living portfolio. I look forward to another great year together in 2015.

Chris Kennedy

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smart

Earlier this fall I shared a post Does Smart Still Matter? That was the script I had built for a TEDx Talk answering the question “What is Smart?”  It was slightly different from the previous TEDx talks I had given as I was limited to five minutes and given the topic. There were four of us speaking at the TEDx WestVancouverED event who were given the same task.  Here is my final video:

 

 

And here are links to the others who each “smartly” took on the same challenge:

 Personal Development Consultant Erica Nasby

Librarian Shannon Ozirny

Actor Josh Blacker

But, I want to share the story of how my talk came to be.  My love of writing is something I always shared with my Dad. He was a high school English teacher for more than 30 years with almost all of those at Killarney Secondary in Vancouver.  I did share a little bit about my Dad in an earlier post this year – Teacher. For my entire life he had been my editor-in-chief. He would always work with me through my high school and university essays. When I took a part-time assignment at the Richmond News, as a weekly columnist, my editor-in-chief came with me. He would regularly challenge me to take a clear stance, to not be vague and encouraged rich, concrete language. He was a lover of language and we would often debate the use of individual words in an 800-word column.

It became clear this past spring that my Dad’s latest health challenge, a battle with cancer, was not going to be one he would win, and about the same time that Craig Cantlie asked if I would tackle the “What is Smart?” question at the September TEDx WestVancouverED event.

So, like I had done hundreds of times before, I took the question to my Dad.  I actually wasn’t sure if I should. He was having many ups and downs health wise and having more trouble concentrating. He didn’t seem to be that interested when I first prodded him with the question. So I left it.  When I returned the next day, my Mom said my Dad had been up much of the night working on my question. So, it was out off to the back porch to sit with my Dad. I had a piece of paper and a pencil to scribble notes. Everytime I saw him, I would have that paper and pencil, waiting for those moments when the conversation would turn to ‘smart’.

This time became one of our final great conversations. My Dad was becoming weaker. But, whenever he had the energy, we would come back to talking about ‘smart’.  Pretty much every good line in my presentation was my Dad’s.  He said, “Smart is a deceptive idea if you are trying to advance a conversation” and “It gets in the way of advancing conversations.”

He was struggling with his voice and had trouble concentrating for long periods of time, but ‘smart’ was an ongoing dialogue. “It is greasy” he said, “it is a really slippery word.” At the kitchen table I remember he said, “It is a swear word – like McDonald’s.”  Growing up in our house we had a series of less conventional words that were off-limits including many of the large corporate, fast-food restaurant chains.

Our final discussion of the word focussed on how we often just throw around words because we like how they sound, without any common idea what they mean — like love, patriotism and smart.

It was quite a final project for us. I have never had to deal with someone so close to me dying. When I started talking to my Dad in June about ‘smart’ I liked the idea it was for an event in September, it gave us something to look forward to together — not too far in advance that it didn’t seem real, but something we could plan for.

My Dad died on August 3rd, but it was pretty special that we did have this final project. My September 27th ‘smart’ talk was not one of my best. I was upset that I didn’t do a better job of delivering the words my Dad had so carefully helped to sculpt with me. It was, however, very special to have that moment speaking and to be able to go back and watch the talk — the final essay of all the hundreds we had worked on together.

Thanks, Dad.

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What is Smart  A TEDx West VanccouverED presentation.

I have been tasked with answering this question, “What is Smart?” for my short TEDxWestVancouverED talk today.  The essay that is a basis for the talk is a final collaboration I wrote with my dad this past July.  The slides are at the bottom and I am sure the video will be up in a couple of weeks.  

‘Smart’ just isn’t what it used to be.  It is actually becoming passé.

In a world of knowledge scarcity, being smart was very important. Those who were smart were the people with knowledge. Others would seek out those who were smart. Smartness was in the hands of the few.  This is not just the world of centuries ago, but this was the world I grew up in.

We know who the smart people were:

  • Political leaders
  • Professors
  • Doctors, Lawyers and Teachers
  • And Jeopardy Champions – I am sure “Who is Ken Jennings” is the answer many would have given when asked about someone who was smart

Largely, these were the people who were the keeper of the facts, the smart ones with the information who would share it with others.

In school, it was those who could recall the facts, and particularly those who could recall them quickly.  If you could memorize your multiplication tables you were quickly labelled as “smart”.  Smart was a product of a system based on sorting – some kids were smart, and the other kids were . . . well, we didn’t really call them anything aloud, but the implication was that they were less than smart. And in the traditional school smart hierarchy – the matching of provinces and capital cities along with the ability to memorize weekly spelling words was the apex of smartness.

Of course, the last 20 years have moved us away from a world of knowledge scarcity to knowledge abundance; now, all manner of information is available to everyone. For better or worse, we no longer look to our political and intellectual leaders for their all-knowing guidance, we quickly check what they have said with what we read on Wikipedia, Web Doctor MD or other online information available to us.

And even our leader of smarts, Ken Jennings, was outsmarted by a computer. . . . Damn you Watson!

Really, the value of smart is not only about the move from a world of knowledge being scarce to it being abundant . . . . we are devaluing the word ourselves.  We have:

  • Smart phones
  • Smart cars
  • Smart Meters
  • And even a Smart Planet.

The word “smart” was reserved for the few, for the special, and now we attach it to the objects in our pockets.  When we say someone is smart it ends a conversation, it doesn’t start one.  The word has become greasy.  Smart has become fast food.

We are actually at a turning point in the history of smart. We either need to abandon the word for newer, more apt descriptions of the qualities and traits we value, or come to a new understanding of the word that is reflective of what we now value as smart.

And, in our schools, especially if we listen to Psychology Professor Carol Dweck, we need to get away from so often using the word, to rather encourage effort, continual improvement and a growth mindset and abandon ranking and sorting.

So, there is a good question – what is smart?  But there is also another good question, Is being smart relevant and does it still matter?

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