Sunday, September 21, 2014

"We Go As You Go"

"We go as You go".......

This was one of my back to school messages specifically directed to our Gr. 12 students. 

As an educator and principal, I have come to appreciate the important role that the senior students have in the overall tone, culture and climate of a school.

This year, as I transition into a new school, this belief has, once again, come into sharp focus for me.

To deepen my own understanding of the school, its culture and climate, I have decided  to meet with each Gr. 12 student over lunch (and yes, lunch is on me) in small groups.  

During these lunch meetings I have been asking the boys to introduce themselves, share something of interest about themselves, share what they like best about the school and to also share any points of advice for me as principal of their school.

My rationale for meeting the Gr. 12's is multifold.

1.  I want to know students for who they are. What interests them? What drives them? What are their passions? What concerns them? What are they saying about their learning?

2.  Like I've said before, I believe that trust in relationships is the currency of leadership. Students need to trust me and I need to trust them. More to the point, student leadership needs to be part of the fabric of a school's ethos and culture. It is important for me to empower positive student leadership. By giving the students a real voice I hope to initiate,in them, a real sense of ownership of their school.

3.  For the school to continue to grow and improve we need open and honest insight into its strenghts and opportunities. There is no better way to gather this insight than to ask the students who have been experiencing learning in the community for years. 

4.  Finally, sitting down with each student, buying them lunch and listening to each of them is a visible and tangible sign of my focus and committment towards students and their voice. 

Spending the last few weeks listening to the students has provided me moments of deep insight and overwhelming admiration for these fine young men. If it's true that "We go as You go", it is going to be an outstanding year ahead! 

Still figuring it out...




Thursday, August 14, 2014

Moments of Vulnerability in (New) Leadership & Learning

The start of a new school year approaches.  This year, like last, I once again start a new job (this is not how I scripted things).  I suppose there are times in your life where you have go for it.  To follow your heart and "let go and let God".

Next week I start a new learning and leadership journey as Principal of Vancouver College - a K-12 all boys Catholic School in Vancouver.

To say that I am excited is an understatement. To be surrounded by nearly 1200 students, over 100 teachers and staff and countless parents  - all learning and growing together as a community of faith is inspiring and well, a little intimidating.

As I embark on this new role, I have, over the course of the summer, in quiet moments of vulnerable reflection, found myself asking:
  • Will they respond to my leadership?  What if they don't?
  • Expectations seem high.  Do they know that I don't have all the answers?
  • Do they realize that I see myself as equal part learner and leader?
  • Many see me as "a technology guy".  How will they respond when they see me as a "learning guy"? 
My experience tells that I am entering a warm, caring and high functioning faith and learning community - but still moments of doubt creep in.

I like to think that my own vulnerability and self doubt keeps me sharp and focused.  It simultaneously keeps me grounded and focused on what's important  - namely doing what's right for the students entrusted to my (our) care.

And speaking of students.... as I reflect on my own moments of doubt I also wonder about the many students who enter our schools and classrooms with their own doubts.  We must always be vigilant of their doubts - both those spoken and those kept in the silence of their hearts.  As educators, it is those moments when we turn self doubt into unimaginable successes that we earn our greatest  reward.

As usual, I am figuring it all out.....

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

We Are Pilgrims.... Graduation address 2014

On June 7th I had the privilege of delivering the graduation address to the St. Patrick Regional Secondary Graduating Class of 2014.

I have attached the script of my address below.  You can also see the speech starting at the 1(hour):05 (minute) mark of the video below.

I once again want to congratulate the class of 2014 and thank them for the privilege of speaking to them.


I suppose I could give you the 20 second version of every graduation speech told thousands of times over.  It would go something like this:
  • Work hard
  • Don’t quit
  • Be a life long learner
  • Follow your dreams
  • Follow your passions
  • Treat each other and the world with respect
  • There will be ups and downs in life
  • Pray & Love Jesus
But I would like to take this opportunity to ask you to consider something slightly different this morning.

What I want to share with you is a message I would share with my own children - a different type of message….pilgrimage or pilgrim.

What does it mean to be pilgrim?

According to Wikipedia a pilgrim is “a traveler (literally one who has come from afar) who is on a journey to a holy place.”

When I think of the idea of pilgrim I think of my grandfather -who in 1951 travelled from a small village in southern Italy. He brought with him 1 wooden suitcase and left behind his wife and children.

He spent the first year in Canada living in a “shack” working for the Canadian Pacific Railway.

He was a pilgrim.

Eventually he was able to bring his wife and 6 children over to Canada.

He provided for his children but more importantly raised his them to be good human beings and parents themselves.

You can see my grandfather as a pilgrim in his story of immigration - looking for a brighter future for himself and his family. I had the pleasure of growing up with his influence. In a sense he taught be how to be a pilgrim

A while his story is of a different circumstances and different times – You, like me, - like of all us gathered here – we are all pilgrims - on journey to a holy place - we call heaven

You the students have spent the last 5 years or of your pilgrimage at St. Pat's

And now you are about to continue on a different phase of your pilgrimage - life beyond St. Pat’s

The image of traveling and moving is a good one during graduation – after all graduation is a right of passage….

But there is a danger with the image of pilgrim or traveler – primarily that there is tendency to forget at it is in the moving that we do the living - not in the arriving

So here are some advice to keep you (and me) focused “on the moving” and not the arriving as you (and me) continue on your pilgrimage - away from St. Pat’s:

Advice #1: Work alone will not define your life
People will tell you – (and you've heard me say it) – that you need to work hard.

The notion of working hard is part of the fabric of St. Patrick.

When the original high school building was completed in the 1930’s the add in the BC Catholic declared “come and see the school built by the pennies of the working class

Working hard is a noble and necessary thing in life - it will allow you build a home, a career, and be a good provider.

But work alone cannot define your life nor the relationships you establish.

Just like at St. Pat’s - while those buildings were built with hard work and sacrifice - what continues to define this school - your school - are the deep and profound relationships between the people who work and study together

In other words:

Working hard will get you somewhere in your career but it will not guarantee happiness with those that you love the most.

Advice #2: It's what you do with what you know
In the age of the Internet, terabytes and gigabytes, social media, cloud computing, crowd sourcing and open leaning - your pilgrimage will be rich with information. Never before has a generation grown up with such information abundance

From where I stand, these abundant times demand, more than ever, that you become shrewd and skillful learners in how you access, process and make meaning with information you encounter your pilgrimage.

And because all of you will be surrounded by this ubiquitous information, what you know will not be as important as what you do with what you know!

Advice #3: Look out and look in
Many will tell you (and you’ve heard me say this): Follow your Dreams , set goals to get there. Goals and dreams are good and necessary. They motivate and keep us focused.

As you graduate from high school many will tell you that world is full of opportunities for you to embrace and make your own. I've come to learn that as much as we see the world as a windows of opportunity to explore – we must also -in at least equal parts - hold up a mirror to explore and reflect on our own life and actions - For it is the journey inward that provides the fuel for the journey outward.

Don’t get me wrong - As a pilgrim it is good and prudent to look outward and see where you want to go.

But as you go out and explore and new places and exciting opportunities, don’t just take selflies of you in the world.

You must also - periodically, regularly and with intention - take the time to take a selfie of your soul

You need to look out and look in.

And so, I leave you with a few questions to help you pray and contemplate on your journey inward. They are not my words. They come from Jesus. Who asked his own apostles this basic question: "Who do you say that I am? I also leave you with these questions:

Who are you that loves? You are you that has faith? Who are you that has doubts?

Advice #4: Go slow to live in love
We live in exponential times. The rate of change has never been faster.

In our desire to keep up there may be a tendency for many of us to feel inadequate and restless - know that true peace and satisfaction comes in the form of loving, being loved and serving others.

Unfortunately when we are in a hurry it is difficult to love and serve others.
To prove my point I share with you the results of the now famous “The Good Samaritan Studies”

The study goes something like this:

A group a young seminarians who had just finished studying the parable of the Good Samaritan - had to individually deliver a presentation on the parable to a theater full people.

The seminarians, once ready to present, had to move from one building to another. The researchers strategically placed a “person in need of assistance” in the direct path of the seminarian. They wanted to see if the seminarian – on route to deliver a lecture on the Good Samaritan - would stop and assist the person in need.
It should also be noted that that the researchers also built “hurriness scenarios” into the study for each seminarian – creating more or less urgency for each seminarian to get to the presentation room

So what did they find?

Ultimately it depends on how much of a hurry the seminarian is in!

A person in a hurry is less likely to help people, even if he is going to speak on the parable of the Good Samaritan. (Some literally stepped over the victim on their way to the next building!).

I learn this lesson daily from the tender moments I share with my own children. Who want nothing more from me than to play, cuddle or just to be present to them.

Go slow and embrace love and service - with each other, with your friends and those you encounter on your pilgrimage. 

Advice #5: Matters of fatih
I will share with you a simple prayer I frequently share with my own children before they go to bed

“God loves you NO MATTER what you do or don’t do. He loves you no matter of the mistakes you make or don't make."

God’s love is not contingent on anything

You have received the gift of faith.

 I have learned that faith is inspired and nourished in your heart before your head.

Look for Jesus in the your heart but more importantly in the heart of others - in ordinary acts of love and kindness –

I learned this lesson here at St. Pats among you - the students – through your kind words and your kind deeds – as small as opening doors for each other or reaching out to those in need beyond our school and even beyond our country.

Of course, with faith may come moments of doubt and fear.  Embrace the fear and doubt and don’t turn away from your faith because of it.

Mother Teresa teaches me much about this fear and doubt

I her book of published letters - listen to what she writes about her own moments of doubt – in what she calls her “darkness”:

“In my heart there is no faith—no love—no trust—there is so much pain—the pain of longing, the pain of not being wanted. I want God with all the powers of my soul—and yet there between us—there is terrible separation."

Yet, despite it all she keeps on praying an loving:
“In spite of it all—I am His little one—I love Him....”
Mother Teresa comes out of this period of fear and doubt.

Throughout your pilgrimage continue to nourish and grow in your personal relationship with Jesus – for in the end He will not abandon you.

Advice #6: Be persistent in the hope of one humanity
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of listening to a remarkable Canadian – the Honourable Senator Romeo Dallare – former UN Peacekeeping Commander in Rwanda during the genocide in 1994. While in Rwanda nearly 400,000 people were slaughtered in a brutal civil war.

General Dallare was surrounded by death.  In fact stated that:  “He saw and smelt death”

He had every reason to lose hope in humanity.

He saw how evil can take root in humanity.

He saw how humanity can turn its back on the most vulnerable.

And yet he never lost hope.

He was persistent in hope

While listening to him - he retold the story of a 7 year old starving Rwanda boy that he encountered in a house.

In the home with the boy, were the remains of his slaughtered parents.

Surrounded by this horror, General Dallare picked up the boy and looked into his eyes and at that moment he saw – reflecting right back at him were the eyes of his own son – who was growing up in Canada

At that instant General Dallare came to this one important realization:
None of us is more human than another
Money, stature, position, title, citizenship or gender does not make us more human than another

And therefore - it is quite simple:

Treat everyone that you encounter on your pilgrimage with dignity and respect.

Advice #7: Be a good friend that is rooted in humility and vulnerability
Finally I share with you one last bit of advice for your pilgrimage

Surround yourself with good friends – friends who are rooted in humility and vulnerability

To help us understand friendship that is rooted humility and vulnerability –I again turn to Jesus.

All of you will recall the Gospel miracle of Jesus curing the paralytic/disabled man in the town of Capernaum

Jesus was preaching in a home.  Massive crowds had gathered in and around the home. One can imagine a huge line up of people trying to get in through the front door!

And then enters the disabled man. But how did he enter?

He was being carried on a stretcher by 4 friends.

The friends, being self-less and resourceful realize that they couldn't bring their friend through the front door. 

So what did they do?

They thought “outside the box”.

They went around the back of the house,  made their way to the roof and then proceeded to make a hole in the roof and lowered their friend down to Jesus through the roof.

And it is what Jesus says that makes this miracle story most powerful:  As he looks up and sees the friends peering through the hole in the roof he says:  "because of “their faith” (the friends) I will heal you."

It was because of the faith displayed by the friends that Jesus heals the paralyzed man.

Which gets me back to my theme of pilgrim:

On your pilgrimage you will stumble and fall and you will most likely see friends and loved ones stumble and fall – either physically, emotionally, professionally, academically or spiritually

Indeed - “falling or stumbling” is a part of life. The world will tell you that you must find the strength to “get up” when you fall. This is true. You must be tenacious in your resolve to get up when you stumble

But the act of “getting up” does not need to be an individual act of resolve - instead “getting up” can be a community act of service – rooted in humility and vulnerability

So when you see others stumble and fall – be a good friend - and carry their stretcher - for it’s in the act of carrying others that we allow ourselves to be humble.

But equally important – when you fall – and you will undoubtedly fall – you must in a profound act of vulnerability – let others carry you on your stretcher.

And so to you, the class of 2014 I say - you are ready for the pilgrimage ahead.

This school and your family, your community, your faith and your Church has prepared you.

You have inspired parents, your teachers, your family and friends for so many years. Now the world is ready to be inspired and filled with hope by your presence.

I, for one, have been blessed to have been inspired and blessed with your presence in my life.

To you I say:

God Bless You and remember that God loves you unconditionally as you continue on your pilgrimage to the Holy Place

Friday, May 30, 2014

Starting with Relationships, Focusing on Learning

Yet another new beginning....

For those that have not heard - next school year brings a new and exciting job opportunity - this time as Principal of Vancouver College - a K-12 Catholic school in Vancouver.

Of course with a new beginning come thoughts of transition.  Lots of thoughts - coming at me at all hours of the day and night!  Needless to say, these past few months have been full of joy and self-reflection.

There have been no shortage of colleagues, family and friends who have expressed their congratulations and best wishes.  There have also been no shortage of questions, such as:

What is your plan?
What are you going to implement?

or the famous.....

What is your plan for technology at the school?

My response to each of these questions has been fairly consistent - my first order of business is to immerse myself in the community and establishing trust in relationships while maintaining a focus on learning.

Like I've said before - I believe that trust is the currency of leadership.  To earn and distribute trust I must immerse myself in relationships.

Of course what I'm actually saying is that I need to immerse myself in the culture of the school  - to become fully absorbed in its mission, vision and values.  I need to experience how the mission and values intersect with the underlying assumptions and actions of students, parents and teachers.

I need to hear, see and experience what students, parents and teachers are proud of.  I need to see and witness the successes of students and staff.  I need to bear witness to challenges and triumphs.

And throughout it all - maintain a focus on learning  -  my own learning but of course student, teacher and parent learning.

And so, the relationship building process begins in earnest.

I have already had to the pleasure meeting with a few teachers, parents, board members, trustees and students in casual and social settings.

In the near future I will formally meet each staff member (close to 80 people) for a short 15 minute conversation.

In preparation for these conversations I have distributed a short survey (using Google Drive) for each staff member to reflect upon and respond to.   Here are the questions:
  1. What do you like best about teaching/working at the school?
  2. What "learning" are you currently engaged in? Think about teaching and working in service of our students.   What do you want to learn more about?  What excites you?  What are you passionate about?
  3. How would you describe "learning" for teachers and staff at the school?  Secondary questions to think about: How is the school supporting your learning?  Is the learning relevant to your needs? Describe collaboration among staff members? 
  4. How would you describe "learning" for students at the school?  Some secondary questions: Think about the students you work with.  When it comes to "learning" -  what's working?  What may not be working?   Predict how your students might respond to this question.  How are students making their learning visible to you, each other and the community? 
As next year progresses, I look forward to asking students and parents a variation of these same questions.

Needless to say, I am very excited to be joining such a dynamic, passionate, and faith filled community.  I am equally exciting to be working with teachers, staff  and parents in humble service of the students we serve.

Said another way - I am looking forward to "figuring it out" in a vibrant Catholic school community.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The "This Too Shall Pass"...Stall in Education Reform"



I recently attended  a Canadian Education Association regional workshop (facilitated by Stephen Hurley and Ron Canuel) at the University of British Columbia.  It was a gathering of passionate and talented people tasked with answering one question:

What's standing in the way of change in education?

This was one of a series of events, held across Canada, to study and explore answers to the aforementioned question (for more information on this exciting research click here).

The day began by exploring some of the barriers to change in education.  Participants shared many insights and ideas - identifying barriers such as:  funding models, policy decisions (school, organizational and government) , institutional memory (by all stakeholders), societal expectations, assessment models (and many more).

As we shared the many barriers to change I couldn't help but think about the long history of (failed?) education reform in Canada and British Columbia.

On a personal level, I can think of the many conversations I've had regarding BC's latest education transformation initiative (The BC Education Plan, Curriculum Transformation) and the inevitable "conversation stopping" sentiment:

This too shall pass.

The proverbial “we tried that back in..(insert year)" can be a little demoralizing when in comes to school improvement and change in education.

And yet these sentiments do cause me to pause and think about some "recent" failed reform initiatives here in BC.  For example:
  • In 1987 the government of BC commissioned Barry Sullivan to review the BC education system and make recommendations for improvement.  The Commission came down with sweeping recommendations for BC's education system including such things as: cross curricular integration of content, a shift in focus from content to "learning to learn", child centered instruction, multi-age grouping of students, emphasis on school within community, more authentic performance based assessment of students and anecdotal reporting of student learning.  I came across this pdf version of the report here: It is both a fascinating and sobering read. 
  • Open Classrooms.  Talk to a teacher who was around in the late 1970’s early 1980’s. They will tell you this was a good idea gone bad. The walls went up shortly after they were taken down.
  • School Portfolio’s. In 2005 the government initiated a mandatory graduation portfolio for every student in British Columbia.  By 2007 the program was scrapped. More fodder for the "been there done that" camp.
These examples can teach us a tremendous amount about reform and change in education. Bottom line – it is not easy.

And yet I am hopeful that we can we learn from the past.  This is why I am excited to hear about the work that the CEA is undertaking in understanding the barriers in education reform and change.

Despite any "mistakes" made in the education reform past,  I will suggest that there may be different forces at play today that are providing a different type of momentum to the school reform movement:

This election of Pope Benedict (2005) vs Pope Francis (2013)
Mobile, Web-Based, Social Technology
The proliferation of mobile, web based, social technology is giving us access to an abundance of diverse information and people. Accessing the information is not solely dependent on "school" or the educators that work in them.


Neuroscience
There is a growing amount of brain research that is dispelling myths about how the human brain learns best. This article does a nice job summarizing some of the recent research: Neuroscience: Brain Based Learning Myth Busting

Shrinking, Shifting, Connected World
Many have written about how world has changed -economically, strategically and socially.  In a compelling and informative TED talk, Paddy Ashdown talks about the Global Power Shift. One of his more compelling arguments is that:
In the modern age where everything is connected to everything, the most important thing you can do....is what you can do with others.  
Ashdown emphatically states that the paradigm structure of our time is the network.  If we buy Ashdown's argument, then as educators we need to ask ourselves how equipped our students are to navigate this shifting world.

Some enduring constants....
Yet, despite these momentum generating forces, I would argue that there are some enduring constants in education and school that will continue to positively serve our students.

Namely that teachers, working in relationships (with students and colleagues) matter immensely and that learning is personal (individual) and social and it needs to be shared and made visible.

So moving forward I have a few questions for reflection:
  • What will be the compelling reason for school as a place, moving forward?
  • Will, what many see as “extra” in schools, actually become the compelling "core" of what will make school relevant?
  • Will we look back twenty years from now and see this time as yet another failed attempt at change in education?
I am still figuring it out.  Your thoughts and comments are welcome......

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Earthquakes, Technology & School Safety


An engineer sets up the shake table at the UBC facility 

Yesterday (April 23, 2014) a 6.6 magnitude earthquake hit the west coast of Vancouver Island here in British Columbia.

As chance would have it, the previous day I had the opportunity to visit, along with a number of administrators and teachers from the Catholic Independent Schools of Vancouver Archdiocese, the UBC Earthquake Research Facility to begin the implementation and training process for the installation of an earthquake early warning system for the 49 Catholic schools located the greater Vancouver area.

News of the Vancouver area Catholic schools early warning system has been previously written about by various media outlets.

The following diagram helps explain how the Earthquake Early Warning system works:

iOS 5 Beta Pre Earthquake Warning Feature in iPhones | Tsunami Japan Softbank Mobile Ntt Docomo Notification System Multiple Users Mobile Carriers Mass Communication Magnitude Earthquake Kddi Japanese Users iPhone Ios Feature Phones Epicenter Eew Earthquake Warning Earth Japan Communication System Blackouts Alert Notification 3g Handsets


In short, the technology being used, detects P-waves (prior to the earth shaking) and leverages a connected communication network to notify all our schools immediately.

Learning about P-Waves from Dr. Ventura
If a P-wave, triggered by an earthquake, is detected in any one of our schools (we have 49 schools from Powell River to Chilliwack - 300 km apart) the networked technology will trigger an alarm in all our schools simultaneously.

This alarm will give teachers and students precious time to duck, cover and hold before the shaking actually begins.

There are also plans to develop a smart phone app that will be synced to the system - giving individuals earthquake notification directly to their phones.

The roll out of this warning system has already begun and is scheduled to be functional some time this fall.  As we prepare for its implementation I am left with a couple of thoughts:

  1. I am grateful for individuals who leverage technology to make a positive difference in our lives
  2. Mobile, networked technology can unite a system.
  3. I am hopefully that the work being done by our schools can lead to greater cooperation with other schools (public and independent) to help all students and teachers - like I've said before - they are ALL our children
  4. I can see how one broad early warning system across British Colombia can benefit all of us. 

Still figuring it out......







Friday, April 11, 2014

From Teacher to Learner

As we march ahead in education, navigating a changing landscape - imposed by a variety of forces (e.g mobile, web based and social technology, economic shifts, globalization, etc) - I am sometimes asked for my opinion on what will make (or has made) the biggest impact on our ability to re-image (or re-imagine) education and school.

My answer has been somewhat consistent:

A teacher's disposition as learner first, is the greatest factor in our ability to re-image school.

Which got me thinking about the power of words.  What if the word "teacher" was replaced by the word "learner"?

I believe that words are powerful:
“A picture can tell a thousand words, but a few words can change it’s story.” Sebastyne Young
This video, on the power of words, magnifies this message beautifully : So, what if we replaced the word "teacher" with "learner" in all its contexts?  Would it assist teachers in coping with some the changes occurring in education? Would it impact learning in schools and classrooms? Would it impact pedagogy? What impact would this have on students?

In an effort to have a little fun, here are a few common expression with the word "teacher" and an amended version with the word "learner":

Common expression with the word "Teacher"

  1. Teacher
  2. I teach.
  3. I am a teacher.
  4. I teach students
  5. Those who can, do.  Those who can't teach.
  6. I don't teach curriculum. I teach students.
  7. I am a (insert grade level or curricular area) teacher.

Amended version - replacing "Teacher" with "Learner"

  1. Learner
  2. I activate learning for my students.
  3. I am an agent of learning for my students.  Ultimately I want them to be free agents with their learning
  4. I am a learner who learns with and about my students...
  5. Those who can, do.  Those who can't learn.
  6. I learn about how students learn.  I am an activator of learning for my students.
  7. As a passionate learner of (insert curricular/content area) myself, I activate learning for my students in...(insert curricular/content area)


Is this a small, silly or superficial thing?

Maybe.

However, I would contend that, when we see ourselves as learners first we can more easily  live and embody a growth mindset for our students.  When we see ourselves as learners first, we don't see change as a threat but rather as a way of being.  When we see ourselves as learners first, we are passionate about learning and want to share that passion with our students and colleagues.

By being learners first,we can more readily allow our students to be free agents with their learning - something our children and students will require throughout their life.

Still figuring it out......