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Posts Tagged ‘West Vancouver’

Now how is that for a title?

As a political junkie, it was just a matter of time before I found a way to weave a blog post together linking US Presidential politics to our work (or more specifically, my work).  Recently, a particular column about President Obama spoke to me; it was Michael Takiff’s “Why Doesn’t Obama Like to Schmooze?

This piece, contrasts the current president’s nights at home with his family, and former President Clinton’s, which were often spent meeting with lawmakers and engaging in the “work” of being president, connecting continuously and relentlessly.  In fairness to Clinton, the article also points to his efforts in living a balanced life at home with his daughter.  But, Takiff says about Obama:

While he is America’s only president, he is also his daughters’ only father; his duty to them demands that he take time out from his duty to his country. And so he makes sure that at 6:30 each evening he’s seated at the family dinner table. After the meal, he helps his daughters with their homework.

So, why I am I writing about this?  It struck a chord, because I am questioning if parenting is generation-oriented; has parenthood become different from previous generations, and I am also wonder about the role technology is playing, well actually, more how it can play in changing the “rules” of our work.

Now, on becoming a parent, over a decade ago, when the opportunity of a new job came up, before salary, before potential prospects, before anything, in fact, the first question I asked (and still ask) is, “What do the evening commitments look like?”  For, like Obama, I am not interested in being an absentee parent. I’m not suggesting anyone does,or that previous generations did — I do think the game has changed. For me, I am happy doing “the work” online late into the night, and picking it up early the next day. BUT, I want to make a window of time, on a semi-regular basis — somewhere between six and nine at night, when I engage with my kids.

There is no longer a prize for being the first car in the parking lot in the morning, or the last car to leave at night.  For many, that was (for some, it still is) the sign of ‘hard’ work.  However, where work happens is changing.  No question, there are parts of my job that require being “present” and having face time.  There are other parts that simply need to get done, and they can be done in the office, at home, at 6:00 p.m. or the next morning.

On being superintendent — having been appointed to this position three years ago, and now just completing my second full year in the role, I do find the position is a bit what one makes of it, and there are so many ways to “do it right”. I have seen others in the role who are masters of the community, attending events at arts clubs, chambers of commerce, community centres and many other community events. And, this is important work, because it raises the profile and interests of a school district. One still needs to pick and choose how they will spend their time.

My focus is really getting the learning right in classrooms, so classrooms over community has sometimes been the priority. And, to be honest, I have had no problem with working hard, I do want to be sure that my own family sees me some evenings. Yes, I nod my head knowingly at  presentations to parents where we discuss the importance of family dinners and other similar connections, knowing full well, that at that moment, I’m doing the very opposite this.  I have had to make choices to forgo evening opportunities, and redefining the role of superintendent, aligned with those values.  I also do realize what I attend speaks to what I say is important – so these decisions are always taken carefully.

Now, if the President of the United States has figured out a way to be home most nights by 6:30 for dinner, surely I (and those who work with me, and have jobs like mine) can find new ways to be home for dinner a couple of  nights a week (I am reminded of a previous story blogged about in YOUR CHOICE).  That said, to the credit of those I am working with in West Vancouver, from staff to Trustees, we are experimenting with more online meetings, and looking at doing more of the face-to-face meetings during daytime hours. Our  District Leadership Team of six, all have children in the K-12 system right now, so this issue is very relevent for all of us.

So, if  the President of the United States can have dinner with his family “most nights”,  that’s certainly good enough for me to aspire to!

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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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My most widely read post ever has been Dr. Stuart Shanker and Self-Regulation, which is a summary of Dr. Stuart Shanker’s presentation at the November 2010, BCSSA Fall Conference.  It was around this time Shanker started to become known in the BC educational community, because of his work in Ontario and from a few presentations he had made on self-regulation in British Columbia.  Since then, he has become an extremely influential figure in early learning, as well as on how we look at students with unique needs, and at student support service models throughout our province. And, last month, he shared centre stage with the Honourable George Abbott, Minister of Education, as they discussed ‘the way forward’ in education to board chairs, superintendents, secretary-treasurers and principals.

So, what is the message he is sharing?

Shanker has presented the marshmallow test video on several occasions to provoke a room.  And, just as the Did You Know videos became synonymous with the changing world of education and Sir Ken Robinson’s RSA Animate video, so directly linked to educational change, it is rare for someone to present now on self-regulation without showing or at least referencing this video:

Shanker argues that approximately 70 per cent of kids cannot wait to eat the marshmallow, and that longitudinal studies done on the kids who do wait show they do perform better in life, have better entrance scores to university, better relationship success, and higher standings on a number of other factors (Shanker does acknowledge there has been some debate about this test and what it represents — but maintains that recent data has supported the original findings).

Using the marshmallow test as a backdrop, Shanker argues there is research to show that we can actually improve a child’s ability to self-regulate — that is, to manage stress (environmental, physiological, emotional, cognitive, and social) and this ability is particularly important for students with special needs, because these students have too many stresses to control themselves and not enough energy to self-regulate.

In the classroom, Shanker says we need to support children so they are not overstimulated or overstressed.  This involves giving students the ability to learn self-regulatory skills so that they can self-regulate when stressed, and this can also include adapting to their learning environment with more opportunities for physical activity (see Spark for more information on this).

Shanker is not afraid to be bold. Here is a collection of other semi-related ideas he has shared at the recent event with the Minister:

  • Diagnoses get in the way of student progress.  It is better to identify a child’s strengths and work to mitigate the child’s deficits by focussing on strengths
  • Parent education does not work — we need models where parents actually engage (StrongStart was shared as a positive example)
  • Since interventions for FASD, ADHS, ASD etc. are similar; don’t focus on the diagnosis; rather, focus on the menu of interventions appropriate to the child

He ended with something I have heard him say many times before . . . . there is “no such thing as a bad, stupid or lazy kid.” These are powerful words with a powerful message.

Over the last 18 months, Shanker’s work has become hugely influential in West Vancouver and around British Columbia. There are three key areas of energy  that I often speak on currently happening in West Vancouver:  digital literacy, inquiry and self-regulation, although, I did not know what self-regulation was just two years ago.

Shanker’s work is exciting, and it offers a new lens on the struggle children have growing up.  We are looking forward at thoughtful research on the success of self-regulation initiatives to better meet the needs of  our most needy learners, as well as the needs of all learners.

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I am trying to become a better storyteller.  While some may still believe our way to a new educational model will come through government policies and proclamations, the more likely successful route is through the development and sharing of educational models for a possible future. The models we develop and share can, and will, serve as guides as we move away from the current educational reality.  And, there is an appetite for evolution and transformation — almost everyone I speak with, be it student, parent, teacher or administrator, is excited about what is possible — call it 21st century learning, personalized learning, or just “learning”.

The power, then,  is in the thousands of edu-bloggers sharing their stories; the stories that lay the ground work for others to seek their paths to the future. There isn’t just ‘one way’ to the possible future with education and schooling, and it is also the reason why we need so many voices, (at times, seemingly at odds with one another) to offer a range of paths toward what is possible. The next education system will not come in a binder, it will come from teachers, schools and districts embracing new opportunities to grow and create more ‘new’ stories in our schools than there are ‘old’ stories.  As mentioned in my previous post, the system will become increasingly flexible at every level, and the role of education leaders will be to knit these stories and network together.

I have previously cited Dean Shareski (here) and what he describes as narrative champions.  In finding ways to become a narrative champion, Dean writes about subscribing. In West Vancouver, I see this happening as more people subscribe to the Principals’ Blogs (receiving alerts as new posts are published). He describes the retelling of stories, and something I try to do on a semi-regular basis through blogging, and as we also do through the district website and other venues.  Finally, he lists the recording of stories — and this is something we need to become better at — finding ways for those who do not have a public voice to share their learning, teaching and their messages more widely. I have also found Steven Johnson’s book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation to be very influential reading with the notion that radical innovation is very accessible for those who are able to cultivate it by stitching together the ideas of many.

Here is a short animated summary of the book:

In my bid to become a better storyteller, I will be adding three more stories that will continue to weave the West Vancouver story and build paths to the future. The three different, but equally strong, presentations at the April 10th West Vancouver Board of Education meeting included Zoltan Virag sharing what he is doing with iPads in Music (click on the link to find some fabulous iPad music resources) at Irwin Park Elementary School. Then, Jody Billingsley shared (his blog post here) his presentation on the ripples of influence of Lions Bay Community School, in the school, community, and in the world, with the final story of the evening from Liz Hill, Ryan Loewen and Amelia Poitras who shared some exciting findings from their first year of using Fast ForWord at Westcot Elementary.

Some of the most important skills of the digital age, are time-tested, but the power in telling stories has not only stood the test of time, it is more important in this age than ever.

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Each school and school district has their amazing stories about the people who are there, and it is particularly wonderful when those on the outside shine a light on excellence in the system.  While there are many candidates who are deserving of an award, I would like to share the powerful and individual stories of three award winners from our school district; their stories are powerful, but the stories also transcend the winners, and speak to the wonders we see each day in our schools.

Arlene Anderson is a recent winner of the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence.

I have written a post about Arlene before (here), in describing our technology innovators in classrooms across West Vancouver.  The press release around her Award for Teaching Excellence well describes her as the ”techno-wiz teacher–librarian [who] inspires students and…reinvents [the] school library. If the school is an atom, the library is its nucleus where energy and enthusiasm fuel ideas.”

Arlene is always learning; she has made efforts to be familiar with, and lead, the use of noodle bib to help students create annotated bibliographies, wikis and voice threads. She has led staff in the development of scope and sequence for technology, and in understanding the importance of crediting the correct source, finding the original source of information, as well as understanding how to determine if the source is accurate or not.

She is also a side-by-side teacher with her colleagues, as in working with a science teacher to teach students how to create a wiki, find correct information on the Internet and check sources. In this project, there were five classes: the first group of students wrote out their research on a wiki, the next group checked the sources/accuracy then added information, the third group also checked and added…etc., and when all five classes had spent time working on these wikis, they had created a powerful document on body systems. Each class had a group of students working on each topic.

Arlene models the way for teacher librarians, at the heart of our schools, embracing technology to support students and their learning.

Diane Nelson  has been awarded one of Canada’s Outstanding Principals, as recognized by the Learning Partnership.

Diane is the founder of the West Vancouver School District’s Premier Sport Academies, which include hockey, soccer, tennis, baseball and golf.  Diane is a dedicated, well-respected advocate for today’s youth. Along with her 28 years of experience in education as a teacher and administrator, Diane has obtained her Bachelor of Education, Diploma in Counselling Psychology, and Master’s degree in Educational Administration, all from the University of British Columbia.

In my letter of support for Diane, I wrote:  “In my role as superintendent I receive many accolades for the success of our academy programs. I am often asked what others can do to build these programs. The answer is, they need to clone Diane . . . . Diane’s vision, passion, perseverance, work ethic, and ability to connect to kids, parents and the community are why her programs have been so successful, and why we hear from dozens of families every year that she has changed lives . . . she is leading change in public education.”

I love how Diane has taken her passion for teaching and learning and combined it with her passion for sports.  From an idea, she has built one of the most innovative learning experiences in the province; students and parents regularly rave about how their experiences with Diane have been some of their most powerful schooling experiences.  The letter of support from Hockey Academy parent, Denise Cotton, is further testimony to Diane’s teaching excellence:  “The Premier Hockey Academy developed by Diane has been a life-transforming experience” for her son, who now plays in the Western Hockey League. “Diane Nelson has most definitely made a unique contribution to education in Canada. She is a visionary, developing sports academies that are a perfect blend of academic excellence, personal growth and athletic development. It is no wonder that she has waitlists annually for enrollment in her academies.”

Caulfeild Elementary School received Honourable Mention, for the Ken Spencer Award that focuses on innovation in K-12 education. Caulfeild was selected from well over 100 applications for this recognition.

Caulfeild has been on an intense journey over a very short time. Facing challenges of declining enrollment, and ongoing conversations about its school signature, iDEC was born — a commitment from students, staff and parents to create a school-wide innovative learning experience marrying the best of what we know about good teaching and learning, the student-centric approach of inquiry-based learning, and embracing the technology of the world of today.   iDEC provides a digital environment that supports any technological device and platform.  From Kindergarten to Grade 3, teachers are embedding student ownership into their digital learning, everyday, with the help of Smartboards and iPads. By Grade 4, students will be able to bring their own electronic device into the classroom, and student webpages will serve as a central area for their learning and participation, where they solve problems, are creative, and participate positively in the school community.  With thanks to Principal Brad Lund, the entire staff, and the support of our parent community, Caulfeild Elementary is generating interest around the country for its innovative programming.  When people first engage in the program, what they leave with is an understanding of what “‘power of the people’ can mean — and people are the key to this educational transformation.

I see excellence in the school system everyday.  The stories of Arlene Anderson, Diane Nelson and Caulfeild Elementary School are repeated across the district everyday. Public education in West Vancouver, and across the province is blessed with amazing people committed to doing great things for kids everyday.

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Trying  to do something new or different can be a real challenge sometimes.  Last week I had the opportunity to teach a class to students at Gleneagles Elementary School and West Bay Elementary School, and to share my story about how I started blogging. I also had the opportunity to learn about their work and their own digital writing.  The work at Gleneagles is part of a teacher inquiry project that focussed on the following question:

Will students include more meaningful detail and perspective in their weBlogs by focusing on social issues as their ‘purpose for writing’ and will continuous feedback, in the form of threads, lead to deeper understanding of a given issue?

The classroom was both face-to-face and virtual, and teaching students I couldn’t see was new and challenging.  Teachers are accustomed to reading a student’s body language, and receiving cues from the class.  Half of the students were in front of me at Gleneagles, but the other half were viewing the class on-screen at West Bay via Lync, and it was a one-way video.  The students could ask questions, but I didn’t feel the same connection as when they are in front of me, in a room, or at least when I can see them on video.

Of course, the whole topic was quite new for the students as well.  We all agreed that even two years ago, there would have been no way we would be having a conversation about digital writing and blogs; what it meant to have a personal brand, and what kind of topics we would write about if we were going to share our ideas with classmates, or the world.  Out of the presentation came a number of excellent questions:

  • Why do you blog versus using an alternative platform to share your message/knowledge?
  • Where do you get your ideas/inspiration for your many blogs?
  • How do you create an effective blog?
  • Where/how do you find the time to blog so frequently?
  • When you started blogging, were you inspired by anyone/anything in particular?  Do they continue to influence your thinking?  If so, by what/whom?
  • Do you follow other bloggers and use their techniques/messages as a model for your own?
  • How do you decide on the graphics, pictures, and links you embed when there seems to be so many to choose from?
  • How often do you post?  Why?
  • Do you believe the good connection with your readers is because of your transparency as a writer?

It is a different way to think about writing, and I often say that I think in blog posts.  When I sit in a meeting, I write my notes around themes that may later become posts; I can think of the visuals that might go with the words, and this is so different from only a few years ago.  I have started dozens of posts, which may or may not become a blog at some point, but they have helped me organize my thinking.  While I write about one post a week, I think about hundreds. It was great to hear students discussing the stories they would like to tell, because we all have stories; we all have our own powerful narratives to share.

Toward the end of the session, one of the excellent discussions was about commenting. I offered that when I comment on other blogs I try to expand on an idea raised by the writer, perhaps give a different point-of-view, or add additional information the writer, or other readers, may find interesting or valuable.  I am hopeful some of the students who participated in our session last week will do just that with this post — extend and reach out with all of your learning.  So, what did you find interesting/valuable? What are you going to do next?  What questions do you still have?

Thanks again to the students of Gleneagles and West Bay for your engagement.

Thanks also to Colleen Denman for session photos, and all of the teachers and administrators who were involved in organizing and setting up the session.

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The beginning of February is generally seen as the midway point of the school year; it also marks the midway point of our first year in the West Vancouver School District, where our school and district leaders have turned to blogging to connect with their school communities.  At a recent principals’ meeting we took a look at some pretty amazing statistics, including about 250,000 page views on their blogs since September, emphasizing how powerful a tool this can be in connecting with a local and global audience.

And just what have some of  our educator leaders been writing about lately?

Director of Instruction, Lynne Tomlinson, recently wrote about Inquirydom in describing some of the challenges as we embrace inquiry and innovation:

There is a danger in overusing educational jargon and too often, good ideas and purposeful, relevant pedagogy are watered down to a shrink-wrapped version of their former selves.  As educators, we are well aware of the “pendulum swing” of learning models over time and it is important to think critically about the reasons why we may want to embrace any changes to our programs, large or small.

Kalen Marquis, teacher-librarian at Bowen Island Community School guest-blogged for Principal Jennifer Pardee and described the value of digital dialogues:

Used purposefully, Digital Dialogues may enhance the development of important skills and provide timely access to useful information and time-tested knowledge. Used wisely, they may facilitate ongoing inquiry and gradually develop the broadest awareness, deepest understanding, and most inspirational and transcendent wisdom.

Chantal Trudeau, Principal at Ecole Cedardale, wrote about the careful work that often happens at elementary school level to integrate curriculum, particularly when it comes to combined classes:

Teachers do not ‘cover’ a curriculum, they teach students. Teachers plan their instructional program meticulously to ensure that the Prescribed Learning Outcomes (PLO) from the Ministry of Education are taught to their students at their level of ability. . . . In the elementary years in particular, learning and instruction often take place in an integrated fashion and do not always stay within the boundaries of a particular subject area.

Darren Elves, IB Coordinator at Cypress Park Primary School, looked at how we teach learners to ask good questions, and the important value it plays:

At a time when our government is looking at better defining the parameters of 21st century learning and teaching, it is my belief that the students’ abilities to explore the key concepts by acquiring and practicing a range of questioning skills will further enable them ‘to be active participants in a lifelong journey of learning’.

Scott Wallace, Principal at Gleneagles Elementary, recently described play and its importance in school.  Reflecting on a recent workshop staff participated in, he shared five key concepts of the Play is the Way program:

  • Treat others as you would like them to treat you
  • Be brave — participate to progress
  • Pursue your personal best no matter who you work with
  • Have reasons for the things you say and do
  • It takes great strength to be sensible
Val Brady, Principal at Hollyburn Elementary, blogged about a topic that regularly comes up with parents — anxiety and how we can help.  Her post was informative, full of resources, and reassuring as a normal behaviour:
Anxiety is a normal emotional state that we all experience at various times in our lives. Anxiety serves as a means of protection and can often enhance our performance in stressful situations.  It is closely related to fear, which is another normal and necessary emotion that everyone experiences.
Rockridge Acting-Principal, John Crowley, linked the recent announcement on UBC shifting to a broad-based admission system to the important role of “The Other Part of  School Life.”:
I encourage you all to challenge your child to be involved outside of the classroom, to develop the perseverance and leadership skills that come from working with other students, and work on that essential skill called “finding balance”.
And Sentinel Secondary Principal, Jeannette Laursoo, highlighted the amazing experience a number of Sentinel students had at the recent Model UN Conference in New York:
At the conference, Sentinel students became members of a crisis committee and represented the viewpoint of their assigned country when faced with a pressing issue or event.   They discussed, debated, and solved the issue.  For example, Aeron Westeinde, was on the Modern Day Haiti Committee, which was responsible for rebuilding Haiti from the ground up.  They developed programs to improve security, education, agriculture and irrigation within the country.

These are just a few snapshots of what is being written, and how staff are being more transparent with their own learning, and the learning in their schools. Some themes emerge, ones we see elsewhere including the role of early learning and self-regulation, the power of digital learning and the interest in inquiry-based study.  What is also clear in so many of the posts, is the powerful experiences students are having — personalized learning is alive and well in West Vancouver.

The blogs are a great celebration of community — curious students, engaged and passionate teachers, thoughtful and visionary school and district leaders.

For a complete list of the West Vancouver School District blogs, please see (here).

Thanks to all who have engaged with us this year.  We appreciate being able to share, and to continue to share, our learning with our local and global communities.

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While conversations are ongoing in BC and around the world focused on  innovation that are linked to larger system goals including a  greater focus on personalized learning and giving kids greater ownership of their learning, these are not new objectives. Some practices worth highlighting are not only 21st century, or 20th century learning, in fact, some date back to the 19th century, and are an excellent fit for our current educational directions. At least, this is true of Montessori.

Maria Montessori, who lived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, developed teaching methods which are often described as part of the “21st century learning” phenomena.  When I spend time in our Montessori School, Eagle Harbour Montessori (currently expanding from a K-3 to a K-5 school), I am always in awe of the self-regulation and keen focus these students have.  When I walk into the room, students continue to work and there is a sense of calm and alert focus. Students are owning their learning, the conversations with primary students are very articulate; they talk about what they are doing, why they are doing it, and what they need to learn next.

What I have seen at Eagle Harbour is also supported in the recent book from Shannon Helfrich, Montessori Learning in the 21st Century:  A Guide for Parents and Teachers which links Montessori teachings with the latest neuroscientific findings.

So just what does Montessori look like in our setting:

Principles Include (from the Eagle Harbour Montessori Program 2012):

  • Fosters competent, adaptive, independent and responsible citizens who are lifelong learners
  • Emphasizes respect, grace and courtesy for self, others and the environment
  • Allows students to experiment with their learning in a safe and prepared setting
  • Gives students responsibility for their own learning; allowing for freedom of choice and personal interests within a structure. Students are given the opportunity for movement in the classroom
  • Encourages teachers to observe and “guide” students in their learning
  • Allows for multi-age groupings; students teach and learn from each other
  • Encourages students toward intrinsic motivation minimizing reward and punishment
  • Emphasizes community and builds learning communities
  • Implements the three-period lesson (instruction, practice, presentation)
  • Encourages the use of self-correcting materials and practices
  • Opportunities for leadership are encouraged, as well as participation in organization of events and practical life at the school
  • Educates and connects students through an integrated approach to teaching and learning
  • Promotes order and ritual as part of the structure in the prepared environment
  • Promotes inquisitive learners in a cooperative environment
  • Practices concrete, real-world problem solving leading to abstract reasoning
  • Encourages “the inner language of silence” providing time for reflection
  • Emphasizes communication and story-telling
  • Gives students ownership of the facilities and responsibility for their care
  • Emphasizes humanities connection to the land and larger environment
  • Demonstrates an optimistic, proactive world view, and instills in students a belief in the importance of contributing to humanity

This list could easily be taken from any current document on system transformation, whether it be the BC Education Plan, or a similar document that is being produced in so many jurisdictions right now.

There is much to think about, and many options to consider in this current, evolving education system — 21st century learning, personalized learning, or call it something else — and it also includes greater recognition of education systems not necessarily new, but ones that meet the needs of increased personalization.

As I am about to publish this post, I see Val Stevenson, our vice-principal at Eagle Harbour Montessori School, has written an excellent post on a very similar theme about her school.  Her look at Montessori as an example of the new culture of learning is well worth the read (here).

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The Globe & Mail recently ran a series (one example here) on teachers across Canada who are leading the charge with innovative teaching infused with technology.  As part of the story, parents, teachers, administrators and others were encouraged to submit their stories about how and in what ways teachers were doing this. I can’t be sure of just how many West Vancouver teachers were nominated, but four applications were shared with me, as well as submitted to the paper, and I want to share their stories because they are such key learning leaders in our district:

Cari Wilson, Teacher at Ridgeview Elementary School and Digital Literacy Resource Teacher for West Vancouver School District.

Cari has been leveraging technology with her students for the past decade, finding ways to make content engaging and empowering students to own their own learning through various web applications.  In her current role, Cari has spent time in every Grade 4 – 7 classroom teaching the power of “creating a learning network.” Learning networks are made possible through technology previously unimaginable; students can connect with other students, teachers, and digital content to help improve their learning understanding and opportunities. Cari’s tireless and enthusiastic approach has provided a glimpse for our whole district about what is possible when we tap into the “collective wisdom” of our learning network. It is work that is shifting our understanding of teaching and learning, and what can truly be possible with innovative practice and digital access.

Martin Andrews, Teacher at Caulfeild Elementary School

Martin has taught at Caulfeild Elementary School for the past 20 years, and currently teaches a Grade 6/7 class. Martin has always been a leader in the use of technology in the classroom, so it was natural for him to jump at the chance to become involved with a new program called iDEC (Inquiry-Based Digitally Enhanced Community). In his role as a lead teacher, Martin helped create an environment which employs Smartboards at the Kindergarten/Grade 1 level, iPads at the Grade 2/3 level and student-owned laptops at the Grade 4 – 7 level. Each classroom was fitted with a wall-mounted, short throw wireless projector and teachers were provided with technology appropriate to their level.  Martin works tirelessly to train teachers, encourage students, and assure parents that what we are doing is making a dramatic and positive difference in student engagement and achievement.  The program uses the Understanding by Design model to deliver curriculum enhanced by the latest digital tools, and also teaches the soft skills necessary for a well-rounded 21st Century Learner.  We call these skills our S.U.C.C.E.E.D. Skills (Self-regulation, Understanding, Creative and Critical thinking, Cooperation and Collaboration, Empathy, Enthusiasm and Determination). Martin helps his students use the technology as an ethical tool to communicate.  They also represent their learning with various types of technology under his tutelage. The iDEC program would still be a dream without Martin’s leadership.

Arlene Anderson, Teacher-Librarian at Rockridge Secondary School

Arlene Anderson is the teacher librarian at Rockridge Secondary School and the recent recipient of the 2010-11 Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence. The press release around her award describes her well, as the “techno-wiz teacher–librarian [who] inspires students and…reinvents [the] school library. If the school is an atom, the library is its nucleus where energy and enthusiasm fuel ideas.”

Arlene is always learning; she has made efforts to be familiar with and lead the use of noodle bib to help students create annotated bibliographies, wikis and voice threads. She has led staff in the development of scope and sequence for technology, and in understanding the importance of crediting the correct source, finding the original source of information, as well as understanding how to determine if the source is accurate or not.

She is also a side-by-side teacher with her colleagues, as in working with a science teacher to teach students how to create a wiki, find correct information on the Internet and check sources. In this project there were five classes: the first group of students wrote out their research on the wiki, the next group checked the sources/accuracy then added information, the third group also checked and added…etc., and when all five classes had spent time working on these wikis, they had created a powerful document on body systems. Each class had a group of students working on each topic.

Arlene models the way for teacher librarians, at the heart of our schools, embracing technology to support students and their learning.

Christine Winger, James Topp, Mike Richardson, Alex Kozak, Stew Baker and Keith Rispin, Teachers at West Vancouver Secondary School

Six teachers from West Vancouver Secondary School  have undertaken an exploration into how technology can improve both instruction and learning. Specifically, these teachers have agreed to spearhead a 1:1 iPad initiative with a cohort of 28, Grade 10 students working in the subject applications for Mathematics, English, Physical Education, Social Studies, Planning, and Science.

The teachers are exploring applications for the iPad in an attempt to find meaningful ways to collaborate, present content, reduce paper and communicate efficiently with students. Students use their iPad to explore, from a learning perspective, which elements allow for deeper and broader understanding, as well as creating a platform for personalization of learning. To date, many aspects of the initiative have been positive. As with any initiative, there have been minor stumbling blocks as all participants strive to find that balance between efficiency and expediency.

What is so impressive about this group of teachers, and students, is their ongoing willingness to take a risk, try something new, and go back to the drawing board when all else fails.

These are four wonderful examples from four different schools about how teachers are leading the way to improve student learning and engage young people with technology.  Of course, a challenge of highlighting some of these achievements is recognizing there are similar stories in all our schools. We are exceptionally fortunate to have an amazing group of teaching professionals taking the best of what they know about pedagogy and marrying it with the tools of today for tomorrow.

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Two metaphors I often hear our Director of Instruction, Gary Kern, evoke while discussing our work with technology are the faucet and the pool.  They are ones I find myself repeating more, as we explain the work we are doing with digital literacy.

In a typical district, school or class, the adults control the supply of technology that students use to support their learning.  While the district may have invested millions to support all students with digital literacy, in some classes the technology faucet is turned off; in others it is a slow drip, while others have it open wide.  We are trying to allow all students some steady flow of technology to support their learning — regardless of a particular school or class.  And, while some will enhance the experience, all students will have basic access.

In K-3, all students in West Vancouver have access to Dreambox (I have written about this program before here).  In some classes it is part of the school day, but all students can access it from home, and all parents can access the analytics to see the areas where they can support their children.  In Grades 4-12, we are just beginning to explore what is possible with student dashboards. Gary Kern, recently wrote about them here.  All students have email, instant messaging, storage, and a series of other tools which allow them to collaborate in a safe environment.  All students can actually instant message the superintendent (and four have so far).  We are not turning the technology faucet on full, but we are creating a steady stream for all students.  Students can explore how they can ethically use digital tools to support their learning.

It is difficult to teach kids to swim without getting them into the pool.  And, this is also true of being good digital citizens — we can’t teach digital citizenship without giving students a safe digital space to experiment, learn and grow in. Again, the student dashboards are part of the latest effort to teach our students to swim in the digital world.  And better yet, we know that when we get into the water with  the kids, it is even easier. We also know we need to continue to support administrators, teachers and parents in the digital world to be more comfortable swimming in the water with their kids.  While some take the approach that the technology pool, although very inviting, is closed with large, raised fences around it — we are taking a different approach.  We want to be able to say that all our kids know how to swim safely.

Turning on the faucet for all children and jumping in the water with them does challenge the status quo.  Giving all students access to some technology and expecting all students will have some ability to navigate in a digital environment is not the norm.  If we believe what Coquitlam administrator, David Truss recently wrote, that education is going to be increasingly open and distributed, we need to support students for this world.

There are times when I wish this fall looked more like last fall — it would make life easier but, of course, it would not be the right thing to do.  It will continue to be exciting to see what happens as we open the faucet and jump in the pool with our students.

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