I am often told that in the type of job I hold, it is better to say nothing. I am told it is a no-win situation, if you communicate, no matter how positive the message there will be some who take issue to what you say, how you say it, or twist your words and use them against you. And I have experienced all of that.
I do think it is our job to be out there. And while the most important messages that parents receive from the system are from their child’s teacher, and the next most important are usually from the school’s principal, it is also important for superintendents to communicate directly to families.
In the digital world, this message can take many forms and often needs to come in multiple forms to reach people. I know this blog is just one way to connect to our community.
This past week, I sent out the following back-to-school email to all the parents in our school district:
Our schools were open last week, preparing classes, planning activities and taking some time to reflect on the past and the future of education. We enjoyed welcoming all our new and returning families today, and hope that you’ve had an enjoyable summer break.
Over the summer, I heard many remark on how good it will be to get back to a ‘normal’ school year. And while I understand where that’s coming from, in light of the challenges we faced a year ago, this year in West Vancouver Schools, I’m asking our teachers, students and parents to challenge the validity of normal. As I wrote about in my blog, The Culture of Yes, normal is about average, and as many who work, learn and teach in our district already know, West Vancouver Schools is an exceptional place.
On Thursday last week, as we do every year, we launched the new school year by inviting all staff to attend an Opening Day morning event, followed by an afternoon of professional development. We were so privileged this year to hear from one of the world’s foremost experts in education, Dr. Yong Zhao. His ideas are inspiring, especially in light of the move towards the new curriculum.
Dr. Zhao spoke passionately about the evidence that shows all schools need to move away from educating for the average, to educating the individual. Rather than fixing ‘deficits’, we need to help children become great, achieve their autonomy and enhance their potential.
Fortunately, this work has been underway for some time in the district, with our work on project-based learning, inquiry, self-regulation and digital literacy. The curriculum doesn’t teach – teachers do that. A litany of specific education outcomes does not guarantee success, student motivation, passion and talent contribute to that outcome.
We are, I am proud to say, making sure that our students not only understand the facts – which are widely available in the digital age – but also understand how to interpret them and use them creatively to solve the right problems.
We are teaching kids to take on a world that is far different than it is today. It is critical to instill the creativity, confidence, compassion and resilience that young people need to embrace those changes.
Along with the Board of Trustees and my colleagues at West Vancouver Schools, we wish you a successful and pleasant year ahead!
I never know how many people read these emails that I send out, but I know from those who respond that there is definitely some engagement. I always get some very kind responses, appreciative of the information and always some that take issue with the topic – that is what happens when you put yourself out there. Whether the concern is about the role of technology in schools and more broadly in society or whether personal experiences in schools are reflective of what I am saying – the engagement is encouraging.
This past time I was struck by two particular responses – one from a mother in Italy who wrote:
My son started just yesterday his school year and is absolutely thrilled about West Vancouver school, new friends and the programs that can be accessed. I look forward to hearing about you and any news you will forward to me
and from a father from Germany who wrote in part:
I am very proud that my son is taking part in this terms school program to learn, how different countries estimate the importance of educational background in complete different ways. In Germany we have nowadays a huge discussion about inclusion on the one hand and reduction of school years. What we do not have, and it hurts me to say it this clear, is a discussion about elite in the most positive meaning of the word, about investment in the most precious „resource“ we have — our children and their education.
What a great reminder that we are really communicating for a global audience. I sometimes get stuck in my thinking that my messages are going out to the people within a few mile radius, in my mind who have always been here, and with whom I already have a largely shared experience. Of course this is not true.
In our schools which have students from around the world, coming from a range of systems and experiences, messaging with them is not only a nice thing, but the right thing. The revised curriculum conversation in British Columbia may be covered on our local 6:00 news, but we need to reach all of our families and engage them in our conversation. And whether one lives around the block or on the other side of the world, continually coming back to messages of what we are doing and where we are going are crucial.
Some good first week reminders for me.
I do think with the power of the tools we have, we need to take up the opportunity to communicate more than just when we are thinking about closing schools because of snow.