Sunday, November 30, 2014

Kids These Days...

I recently came across an article entitled: Teaching Generation Me.

The article, written for faculty members in medical schools, describes today's students as "Generation Me" and gives some practical advice for teaching today's cohort of medical students.  The article's abstract sums up the research results and the author's inference's this way:

Today’s students (Generation Me) score higher on assertiveness, self-liking, narcissistic traits, high expectations, and some measures of stress, anxiety and poor mental health, and lower on self-reliance. Most of these changes are linear; thus the year in which someone was born is more relevant than a broad generational label. Moreover, these findings represent average changes and exceptions certainly occur. 
These characteristics suggest that Generation Me would benefit from a more structured but also more interactive learning experience, and that the overconfidence of this group may need to be tempered. Faculty and staff should give very specific instructions and frequent feedback, and should explain the relevance of the material. Rules should be strictly followed to prevent entitled students from unfairly working the system. Generation Me students have high IQs, but little desire to read long texts. Instruction may need to be delivered in shorter segments and perhaps incorporate more material delivered in media such as videos and an interactive format. Given their heightened desire for leisure, today’s students may grow into professionals who demand lighter work schedules, thereby creating conflict within the profession.
In short, the author asserts that today's youth know what they want, are self centered, smart, place high expectations on themselves, have inflated egos, don't want to work as hard and, in return, are increasingly stressed out and rely on others (primary their parents) to help them out.

The article is an interesting read and makes some provocative assertions. For example, the author claims that students are more entitled and want higher grades for less output. As proof that students today are more entitled, she states:

Those in high school in the 2000s, who will be the medical students of the 2010s, feel entitled for another reason: they were given better grades for doing less work. A total of 20% fewer high school students did 15 or more hours of homework per week in 2006 than in 1976, and more did no homework at all. Yet the number of A-grade students has nearly doubled over the same period: whereas only 18% of students said they earned an A or A-average in 1976, 33% said they were A students in 2006, representing a whopping 83% increase in self-reported A-grade students. Generation Me has come to expect an easy ride, courtesy of their high school education.
I could spend the entire post reacting to this statement. Suffice to say, that pinning the "grade inflation" issue on hours of homework completed is a "red herring". The grade inflation issue has little to do with the number of minutes a learner spends doing homework and everything to with the assessment and evaluation practices of teachers. In fact, I would argue that the practice of linking effort to grades is one of the causes of grade inflation! Spending more time on work should not inform a student's grade, but rather, a student's demonstrated understanding,  relative the learning outcomes, is what should be graded. 

The article also gives some advice to professors and instructors.  The advice is actually good advice.  But here I would argue the advice has little to do with the year the learner was born, and more to do with....well, good teaching.

Making learning relevant, providing specific feedback and not droning for a 60 or 90 minute lecture are as important today as they were 50 years ago.  

The article, although interesting and somewhat insightful, triggers some discomfort for me.  I have always been uneasy with the labeling of groups of students.

I have been part of conversations where adults are quick to label a certain grade level of kids in a school.

"This group of kids is (fill in the blank - smart, leaders, challenging, etc.)"  

We need to be careful not to label or stereotype groups of students.  The danger, as I see it, is that our stereotypes have the potential to negatively impact that critical relationships between teachers and learners.  It is this relationship, rooted in trust, expertise, and high expectations, that allows teachers to meet the individual needs of students.

Are today's student's more "entitled? Are parents more involved in their children's lives for longer?  Are students expecting more for less? Are they more stressed? (I think they are: Relax: It's only high school)  


But before we label this generation, I think we need to ask ourselves "why"?  What is driving this behaviours?  What role do we -  the educators and creators of the current academic systems -  have in encouraging the very behaviours we are seeing (and complaining about) in our current students?

It was Peter Senge who wrote: "Today's problems are a consequence of yesterday's solutions"

Students today are living and learning in a  different world than their parents and teachers grew up in. It's true that our teaching and learning needs to constantly evolve to deal with today's realities. 

I would also argue that there are some pedagogical constants that we can still hold on to - not because students were were born in a certain decade but because they are good for kids.

I also know that I continue to work with this generation of students because their passion, intelligence, commitment and sense of service to others continues to inspire me.

I think this video clip entitled "Lost Generation" illustrates this nicely:

Kids these days.....what an inspiration!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Learning Teams Launched

Each school year presents new and exciting opportunities for learning and growth - certainly for students - but equally important for faculty and staff. To that end, this year we have launched the Vancouver College Learning Teams.

This is an opportunity for the adults at the school to come together on a regular basis to “exercise their intelligence” in the service of the students.

Already, teams have come together to explore topics such as:
  • Learning Empowered by Technology using specific apps (e.g. Notability, Google Apps, Board Maker) 
  • Differentiated Instruction & Technology
  • Technology & Science in the Kindergarten Classroom
  • Faith Formation across the curriculum
  • Problem Based Learning
  • School Advisory Program 
  • Assessment for Learning
  • Olweus anti-bullying program
  • Growth Mindset book study
  • Teaching Games
  • “Make to Learn”
In an effort to maximize the potential for these teams to have complete success we put in place a few parameters and "environmental" considerations, namely:

1. We created time in the day for teachers to meet. Every Wednesday afternoon is dedicated to teacher collaboration. These Learning Teams will operate during this time.

2. We asked staff to come up with Collaboration Commitments. These are the commitments team members make to each other before, during and after collaboration time.

3. We are asking teams to report out on their learning during full staff meetings - thus allowing for a cross pollination of ideas across the entire campus. This also shifts the focus of staff meetings from "information sharing" to a "learning and sharing"

4. We created a collaboration schedule that removed the Elementary School, Middle School, Senior School silos - thus allowing teachers from across the K-12 spectrum to join common teams. As a K-12 campus, it will be exceedingly important that we continue to overcome the tendency to silo and instead take full advantage of the  K-12 learning spectrum. 

5.Each teams will be provided resources, upon request, to deepen their learning experience.

Already, teachers are acting on their learning team initiatives. For example, some teachers are asking for increased student use of technology in classroom (from specific apps to increased access to devices). Other teachers are starting to incorporate Growth Mindset teaching in their classes and still others are reexamining their assessment and grading practices.

All of this is part of a continuing plan to make teaching and learning more engaging, enriching and empowered for our students and teachers.

My early sense is that these learning teams will be a great source of innovation and improvement for our learning community.

Still Figuring It Out.....

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.....

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.

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 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?


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......

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Chance Encounter with Eric & Loneliness

The door is open at the Door Is Open
A few weeks ago I attended a two day retreat at the Door Is Open:
a drop in centre located at 373 East Cordova Street, in the heart of East Vancouver. The Centre supports the needs of hundreds of less fortunate people in the downtown east side. Many of our guests have compounding difficulties such as drug and alcohol addiction, physical and mental handicaps as well as maturing life stages and many other impairments.
The two days were designed to provide spiritual reflection and education while working in the service of those less fortunate. It also provided an opportunity to witness some of the realities of day to day life in Vancouver's Downtown East-side - Canada's poorest jurisdiction.

While I participated in preparing and serving food, walked the neighborhood and listened to various people talk about their day to day realities - it was my experience with a lunch guest named Eric that continues to leave a lasting impact.

It was during the first day - while welcoming some of the guests for lunch that I happened to meet and strike up a conversation with Eric.  Eric was a clean cut "normal" looking guy. I asked Eric if I could sit beside him. He agreed. And we talked.

I learned a lot about Eric in the 30 minutes we spent together.

I learned that Eric attended a Catholic elementary school until certain circumstances, outside of his control, forced him out of his home and to live with his grandma. He spoke fondly of his grandma. While she has long since passed away, Eric still misses his grandma.

We spoke about his high school experience. He explained how he never really had any good friends and "kept to himself". He regrets this.  He talked about feeling alone from an early age.

I asked Eric how life was treating him at the moment.

Eric explained how he recently finished course work and training related to the food industry. He likes to work with people and food.

He explained that for the past year, his housing has been stable. He is worried about the coming months and the uncertainty that is looming.

In a moment of vulnerability, Eric explained that he has goals but they tend to get derailed by this reoccurring cycle of sabotage (my word).  In frustration, he explained how he knows what he needs to do but, for a variety of reasons, he can't get there sometimes. He spoke at some length about how he frequently talks himself out of completing his goals.

Eric told me that he doesn't blame "the system" for his situation.

Eric admitted that he is lonely. Eric has been lonely for most of his life. Eric told me that he : "feels like an alien in my own city"

As he finished lunch, I told Eric that I would be back the next day and that we could chat again if he liked.

We said our "goodbyes"- hoping I could talk to Eric again the next day.

Eric returned the next day. I saw him and sat beside him.  I told him it was great to so see him again.

He told me that my conversation with him the previous day was the best thing that happened to him in a long time.  His honest compliment came as a surprise to me.

He explained how good he felt about recently receiving his "food safe certificate".

Eric explained that his goal for that day was finding a way to register for his "serving it right" certificate. He had two problems - he did't have access to the internet to register for the course and he didn't have the $40 for the course fee.

We brainstormed different ideas to solve his two problems. Ultimately he solved one problem- he could walk a few miles to register in person. His lack of money for the registration fee was another issue.

Eric told me that one of his favorite pastimes was writing poetry. I asked him if he has ever shared his poetry with others. Despite his openness to the idea, he didn't really know how or with whom to share it.

I talked to Eric about how, one day perhaps, he could share his poetry via a blog. I told him how it was free and a great way to share his passion with others. As I was talking I remembered that he didn't have regular access to the internet or a device- what an idiot I am....

We talked more about random stuff.

Lunch was over.

I didn't know what to do next. A simple "goodbye" didn't seem like enough.

I told Eric how privileged I was to have met him. I told him I didn't know if I would ever see him again but hoped that I did.

I wanted to offer Eric a few dollars to help him with his day. Maybe even to pay for his course. I wasn't sure how he would receive it. Would he be offended? Was I offering to make myself feel better? Would he see this as a platitude? Was it a platitude?  Was I disrespecting him? Would the money be used appropriately?

I decided to ask him. "Eric can I offer you a little money to help you with your day?" He immediately resisted. I told him he could use the money to pay for his "serving it right course". He paused. He let me put the money in his hand.
I walked Eric to the door and watched him as he hit the streets of the downtown east side. As I watched, I felt a little embarrassed and inadequate.
I felt inadequate because the best I could offer Eric, as he walked away, was money. What he really needed was more of my time.

My two days in the downtown east side of Vancouver taught me one valuable lesson. Despite all the poverty, health and addiction problems that exist in that part of my city- there is one more rampant epidemic that is ravaging the lives so many........loneliness.

Eric brought me face to face with the tragic impact of perpetual loneliness.

I think I owe it to Eric and all those suffering from loneliness, to do all that I can in my role as a Catholic educator and parent to prevent and ease the pain of loneliness.

Dear Eric:
I am sorry for your loneliness. I am embarrassed that I didn't offer you anything more to take away your loneliness.

I will return to the Door Is Open in the hope of meet up with you again... 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Some Leadership Attitude(s)

I have a style issue.  No, I'm not walking around wearing my 1980's acid washed jeans or rugby pants...(oh the good old days...)

The "style" issue I am referring to has to do with leadership.

To be blunt - I don't think I have a leadership style.  

Instead, what I have come to see are some personal attitudes that have sustained me throughout my time in school administration.

Upon reflection, here are a few of the attitudes that have helped me along the way:

I trust therefore I lead. 
Trust has been the currency that has allowed me to be effective as an administrator.  The more trust I give away - the more I seem to get in return.  More than simply waiting to trust, I have often sought out opportunities to trust - whether it be with colleagues or students.  The results?  I have been blessed in my career to work with people who have responded to my trust with support, integrity and an inspiring ethic of care. Coincidentally, as parent I am realizing that one of the important gifts I can give my children is my trust!

Ripple Effect of Respect
In the context of school leadership, I realize that how I behave is more important than what I say.  Modelling respectful interactions, a calm demeanor, and genuine ethic of care have been, and will continue to be a "non-negotiable".   The idea is to send a ripple effect of respect throughout the school community.

I'm am...sorry, unsure, wrong, scared, concerned
Being vulnerable and naming my own feelings has been a game changer.  For example, if we say that we learn from our mistakes, we must also own our mistakes in a real and transparent way.

"Walk a mile in their shoes"
As teacher, to be most effective, I need to be deeply empathetic to individual students.  As an administrator, I feel like I need to maintain this attitude towards students AND teachers.   For example, I need to be mindful that I don't keep on "adding" to teachers "must do" without considering what needs to be taken away.  One simple and important way to do this, is to "walk a mile in their shoes".  Being an "Embedded Principal" has been helpful in this regard.

"You" before the "it"
This is closely related to the attitude above.  This is about putting people before policies or systems.  I have learned that I need to be present to the person I am interacting with.  I need to see and respect the person before I see the policy.  In the end, the person may disagree with my decision, but they will  youalways know that they are respected and will fully understand the "why" behind the decision.

Restless Learner
It is probably not a healthy thing, but I am one of those people who feels a perpetual sense of anxiousness about "missing" learning opportunities that will make me, students or teachers better.  I feel a certain restlessness when it comes to learning, schools and education.  Interestingly enough, John Hattie's research  compares the impact that instructional leadership and transformational leadership has on student learning. Surprisingly (or not), Hattie's research tips the scales towards the idea of instructional leadership.  My experience not only confirms this, but also tells me that I have a better chance of becoming a transformational leader if I am a restless learner in my community. 

"Just Let Go" 
This is all about me letting go.  Give up control and gain  personal engagement and ownership .  Of course this is the antithesis of micromanaging - which invariably leads to apathy,  boredom and risk aversion.  Said another way - I have found that I need to trust, let go and empower others to do what they need to do.

This attitude reminds me of a scene in the movie Finding Nemo when Marlin is clinging on to Dory, inside the mouth of a whale - about to be swallowed.  Dory is demanding to be "let go".  Marlin yells: "but how do you know that something bad isn't going to happen?"  To which Dory replies "I DON'T"

"It's not about me"
Some may call this -  being rooted in the "why".  It's not "my" school or "my" school system.  I need to remind myself that my job is to bring the community to an agreed upon destination - rooted in values, mission and vision. This is where I constantly remind myself to check my personal agenda, desires and ego at the door.

It's not my issue
The job demands that I make decisions using my best judgement.  Certain issues demand that I skate into the puck.  I've also come to understand that some of my best decisions are the ones I don't make.  Not all issues are my issues.  Knowing the difference has been critical to my leadership.  Despite my sincerest desire to intervene in any and all situations that arise in a school, sometimes I need to step back and let others step up.

"It's only school"
This may sound like I am trivializing or demeaning my work - but that is not my intent.   I love and am passionate about my job.

Sometimes, however, we do take ourselves too seriously.  For example when dealing with students we need to remember that they are- well - kids.  They are growing up.  They're supposed to make mistakes.  All they really want is to be accepted for who they are, to find personal fulfillment, to be trusted and to have some fun and excitement while figuring it out.

When we consistently take ourselves too seriously we lose perspective of who we are actually serving - which ultimately leads to decisions, policies and systems that don't respect kids for who they are and where they are at any given moment.

I'm still figuring it out and invite you to share your thoughts and reactions.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Go Study! Strategies with Impact

As an administrator, teacher and parent I have caught myself preaching about the need to study.

Certainly my own children have heard me talk about the importance of preparation, being organized and work habits.

But I must confess that while preaching about the importance of studying and preparation, I probably could be a little more specific about what effective study strategies look like.

For this I turn to John Hattie - who has compiled  a list of meta cognitive study strategies that, the research shows, are most effective in preparing students.

Here are the TOP 5 study strategies (Visible Learning, John Hattie):

1. Organizing and Transforming
This is about being organized in your thinking and making it your own.   It includes such things as making an outline before you compose or mapping your thinking.

2. Self Consequences
Students need to get to a place where they prioritize what is important - preferably on their own. In my house it might look and sound like this: "I know you want play on your rainbow loom, but is there any business you need to take care of first?" This reminds me of the now famous Stanford University Marshmallow Experiment on delayed gratification where:
the researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards tended to have better life outcomes, as measured by test scores and educational attainment.....However, recent work calls into question whether self-control, as opposed to strategic reasoning, determines children's behavior
3. Self Evaluation
Creating opportunities for students to do structured self evaluations of their own work.  Peer reviews of work are also effective in this regard.

4. Self-Instruction
Verbalizing the steps and thinking involved in a task.  In other words - "talking it through"

5. Help Seeking
Find a study partner and talk it out it with each other.  Don't be afraid to ask for help.  Ask important important questions.  Receive quality feedback.

Here are the three LEAST effective study strategies (Visible Learning, Hattie):

1. Environmental Restructuring
 Selecting or arranging the physical setting to making learning easier.  This one surprises me given that I have given this bit of advice before.  I suppose this one needs to be taken in context.  If you only provide the space without the effective strategies (see above) results are limited.

2. Time Management
Scheduling daily study and homework time.  Again, one that I have recommended in the past!  Nonetheless, scheduling time without purpose is ineffective.  Reminds me of a few meetings I have attended or even facilitated!

3. Imagery
Creating or recalling vivid mental images to assist learning.

An observation
As I think about the "least effective" study strategies listed above, I can't help but wonder if they tend to prepare students for a certain type of demonstration of learning - i.e. memorizing for the test and/or recalling of information.

On the other hand, the top 5 strategies, from what I can see, lend themselves to preparing students for learning that is multifaceted - from recalling of information to project based, inquiry driven learning.

As usual, I'm still figuring it out....

Friday, February 7, 2014

When SMART Goals become Dumb

Our schools have embraced SMART Goals (Conzemius and O’Neal, 2002) as a vehicle for allowing focused conversations around school growth in the area of curriculum, instruction and learning.

SMART Goals as a definition (and an acronym) are:
Specific: focus on specific learning needs of students
Measurable: can progress be monitored and adjustments can me be made along the way
Attainable: Goals are realistic and team members are given time and resources
Results Orientated: outcomes are observable specific
Time Bound: all done within a time frame
With this in mind I would like to throw out some personal questions and concerns about SMART Goals as I have come to see them in action.

To be clear, I'm not against goal setting.  After all, if everything is a priority then nothing is a priority.

Having strategic goals, based on evidenced need, that can be monitored, is important for any school and teacher.

However, when it comes to SMART Goals in schools, I wonder if we, at times, miss the mark.

Process over results

Recently I watched a video entitled "What Drives Winning?"  The speaker, Brett Ledbetter, shares his insights on what some of the most successful coaches in college and professional basketball say about winning and goal setting.

The most telling message from all these successful and respected coaches is that they don't set goals based on results - instead they focus on "process and character".

For example, Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics is quoted as saying:
I don't even talk about goals.  As a team we never talk about it.  The only thing we talk about is process.
You can watch the video here - it is worth your 6 minutes:

Most of the SMART goals that I have encountered usually reference student achievement results based on some sort of standardized test.  One of my discomforts is that an over reliance on test results can drive pedagogy - usually at the expense of empowered, personalized learning for students.  Teach to the test anyone?

To be clear - I am not against standards nor am I against students demonstrating success in their learning through standards. As a society we need to be sure that student learning and understanding is measured against accepted and agreed upon standards.

However shouldn't the fact that we want students to learn and improve be the default position for every educator in the world?  Do we need SMART Goals to remind us that we want students to improve?

I would surmise that the basketball coaches interviewed in the video take "winning" as the default.  Coaches and players want to win.  That is a given.

Teachers want to students to learn and be successful in their learning.  Students are naturally born to learn and want to be successful in their learning.  That is a given.

What isn't a given is the process of empowering students (and teachers) in their learning.  Perhaps SMART Goals should seek to strike a better balance between pedagogy and student results.

Am I making sense?

School Wide Fake

As a high school principal I have always felt that it would be extremely difficult to have one or two school wide SMART Goals that would be valued and meaningful for an entire school community.

Instead, we developed school wide priorities, based on legitimate evidence - that specific departments and teachers could plug into - in a way that was most meaningful for them and their students.

Take for example......Literacy.  I would suspect that most schools, at one point or another, have had some sort of literacy related goal.

Rather than have one very specific SMART goal for our school, we named Literacy, across all curricular areas as an important priority.

As an offshoot of that school wide priority, different departments and teachers were empowered to make some important decisions as to how that literacy goal could have the most impact for individual students.

Science teachers, as an example, spent a lot of time working with students on how to unpack vocabulary rich scientific text.  Some Humanities teachers discovered that they needed to spend  time assisting students with the skill of summarizing text.

Over time we identified similar priorities related to Digital Citizenship, Assessment and Grading Practices and Technology Integration (to name a few).

It was important that our school wide priorities allowed for teachers to be nimble and respond to the learning needs of each student in any given class or course.

We measure that which is easy

Sometimes I worry that an over-reliance and simplistic view of measurement causes us to measure that which is easy.

In a previous post I ask: What are we measuring in education?

Like Dean Shareski writes in this post: "I'm not anti-measurement.  I'm anti-simple"

As usual, I'm figuring things out.  Any feedback is welcome....

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Pedagogy of the Soul, New Curriculum & Catholic Schools

Given my context here in British Columbia and the imminent changes to curriculum, I have been thinking about how these changes align (or not) with the stated mission, vision and values of our Catholic Schools. 

Not surprisingly, the Catholic Church has much to say about education at all levels.  

For example, Catholic Schools around the world talk about educating the "whole child". 

In 1965,  Pope Paul VI wrote his Declaration on Christian Education (Gravissimum Educationis) where he states
.... children and young people must be helped, with the aid of the latest advances in psychology and the arts and science of teaching, to develop harmoniously their physical, moral and intellectual endowments so that they may gradually acquire a mature sense of responsibility in striving endlessly to form their own lives properly and in pursuing true freedom as they surmount the vicissitudes of life with courage and constancy. ......Moreover they (students) should be so trained to take their part in social life that properly instructed in the necessary and opportune skills they can become actively involved in various community organizations, open to discourse with others and willing to do their best to promote the common good.
The Holy Father goes on to write:
Among all educational instruments the school has a special importance.(19) It is designed not only to develop with special care the intellectual faculties but also to form the ability to judge rightly, to hand on the cultural legacy of previous generations, to foster a sense of values, to prepare for professional life. Between pupils of different talents and backgrounds it promotes friendly relations and fosters a spirit of mutual understanding; and it establishes as it were a center whose work and progress must be shared together by families, teachers, associations of various types that foster cultural, civic, and religious life, as well as by civil society and the entire human community.
Archbishop of Vancouver, Michael Miller, when writing  on this topic states:
The enduring foundation on which the Church builds her educational philosophy is the conviction that it is a process which forms the whole child, especially with his or her eyes fixed on the vision of God. The specific purpose of a Catholic education is the formation of boys and girls who will be good citizens of this world, enriching society with the leaven of the Gospel, but who will also be citizens of the world to come. Catholic schools have a straightforward goal: to foster the growth of good Catholic human beings who love God and neighbor and thus fulfill their destiny of becoming saints.

However, as I reflect on the above quotes and a host of articles related to this topic, a couple of thoughts stand out for me.

Curriculum & Pedagogy
Firstly, as members of the Catholic School community it is important to keep these thoughts in mind as we move forward with new curricula in British Columbia.  From my perspective, the new curriculum should be seen as an opportunity to review and reflect on our values as schools and  renew our effort to educate the whole child within the context and culture our times.

To this point, I would argue that we as Catholic educators must take the time to reflect on own pedagogy as is relates to educating the whole child.   

For example:
  • Are we, like Pope Paul references, aiding  our students by "adopting the latest advances in psychology and the arts and science of teaching?"  
  • How do we define "success" in our schools?  
  • How are we engaging students in their learning?
  • What role does technology play in pedagogy?
  • What is the role of the teacher in today's information saturated world?
  • Are we having discussions at the exact point where faith and reason intersect? 
  • How are we teaching our students to faith filled, critical thinking men and women of goodness and service? 
  • How has our educational program "adopted to the latest advances....?"
In short, if we see the new curriculum as an opportunity to renew our values in educating the whole child, we must, with equal fervor, be committed to reflecting on our own pedagogy as we look to meet the needs of all our students - as they are today.

School & Community
As we look to advances in information technology and the increasingly ubiquitous manner in which  information can be accessed, curated and published - many in education are questioning the need for the "institution of school" as a place of learning.  We can look to the proliferation of on-line/virtual schools and the recent growth of MOOC's at the post secondary level .   I have noticed more and more jurisdictions seriously  looking at "Blended Learning"  environments as alternatives to "traditional" "brick and mortar" schooling.

Again, as Catholic schools we need to pay attention and reflect on the these potential pressure points in our understanding of "school community".  Archbishop Miller succinctly summarizes the Church's teaching on this issue when he writes:
(The Church's) emphasis on the community aspect of the Catholic school, a dimension rooted both in the social nature of the human person and the reality the Church as "the home and the school of communion."...That the Catholic school is an educational community "is one of the most enriching developments for the contemporary school." 
...a Catholic school is thought of in the transition from the school as an institution to the school as a community...... the community dimension is primarily a theological concept rather than a sociological category....Vatican statements emphasize that the school is a community of persons and, even more to the point, "a genuine community of faith."
He goes on to summarize that the Church requires Catholic schools to develop community specifically related to "the teamwork or collaboration among all those involved; the interaction of students with teachers and the school's physical environment."
In the article Pedagogy of the Golden Dome, the author, Matt Emerson, attempts to address the issue of school community in the Catholic school context and ultimately asks whether, e-based, virtual post secondary learning environments are equal alternatives to classic school environments.  

The author argues that the alternatives should not be treated as equal and writes: 
I don't believe they should be, and the reason begins with a truth nicely captured in Gaudium et Spes: "For by their innermost nature men and women are social beings; and if they do not enter into relationships with others they can neither live nor develop their gifts" (para. 12). This social nature should, and will, continue to draw people back to campuses, back into community. There is no substitute for an immediate give-and-take, for the chance to see blank faces and quizzical looks and the enthusiasms of an "aha" moment. A non-virtual classroom allows immediate feedback and possibilities for activities and discussions that aren't available through satellites and screens. 
The author goes on to describe his own experience studying law at the University of Notre Dame:
Moreover, as humans, and especially as Catholics, we know the importance of physical space. Where we learn can be just as important as what we learn; even more, the former can influence the latter. I could have studied law online or in a plain urban area, but I would have missed out on something that became essential to me as a lawyer and educator, and most fundamentally as a person seeking truth. Studying law on the gorgeous inspiring grounds of Notre Dame shaped my heart and soul. When I walked across South Quad, past Mary and the Golden Dome, I sensed the ultimate horizon of my learning, that I was participating in something much more significant than ensuring a nice career. When I walked out of the law school and heard the bells from the Basilica of the Sacred Heart tolling for a funeral, I felt the urgency of human frailty and the gift of every breath. When I walked by the bust of St. Thomas More and into the regal space of the law library, I never failed to register what More's example had to mean for me. Soul transcends career. Faith trumps security. 
On a personal level I can attest to the power of connecting to a virtual Professional Learning Network.  However it has been when I have met those people face to face that the relationships have become more meaningful and my learning more challenged.

A few questions and thoughts for Catholic schools to consider:
  • Moving forward, our schools will need to come to terms with such ideas as "blended learning" and how such ideas can co-exist with the idea of "faith community". 
  • How do can we create real collaborative structures in our schools for both teachers and students to engage in their learning? 
  • Does our understanding of "community" need to change given the growth in collaborative and social technologies?
  • What does it mean to "come together in faith"?
  • What impact does our call to sacramental life shape our understanding of community? 
Pedagogy of the Soul
Which gets me to my final point. I have come to see that what defines us, as Catholic schools, in our quest to "educate the whole child" is our ability engage and nurturing the souls of our staff and students.

I will call this the "pedagogy of the soul" and it exists when:
  • Staff and students know and understand that they are loved unconditionally by God and are rooted in this love- without exception.
  • Staff and students are socially engaged in the world - to be advocates for those less fortunate
  • Staff and students engage with matters of faith - first with their hearts followed closely with their minds. 
  • We invite healthy and respectful questioning  - being vulnerable and rooted in love and where the principles of the Catholic Intellectual tradition permeate the conversation.
  • We measure our successes  as schools beyond utilitarian ends.
  • Staff and students are full of joy and happiness knowing that they are rooted in Jesus and his teachings.  Like Aristotle states: "Happiness is the setting of the soul into its most appropriate spot"
I welcome any other thoughts.  As usual, I am still figuring it out............