Monday, December 26, 2016

Patience: A Christmas Messsge

The following is what I shared with my school community this Christmas season:


Waiting is a period of learning. The longer we wait the more we hear about him for whom we are waiting.” 
- Henri Nouwen

Advent is a time of patience and waiting. We are reminded that in waiting for Christ’s birth we are blessed with many unanticipated gifts - most importantly getting to know Him better.
As a parent, teaching my children about the importance of patience and waiting can be challenging.
For example, here is a typical exchange at home in the build up to Christmas:

Kids: “Dad, can I open the gifts from under the Christmas tree?”
Dad:  “But it's only December 5th! You need to be patient.”
Kids: “How about just one? Please…...”
Dad: “You know that patience is a virtue!”
(And the debate goes on from there)

We are living in times when immediate results get the most and loudest attention and instant gratification is the norm. Ironically, despite this growing sense of impatience, we know that the practice of patience offers us important spiritual and cognitive benefits.

Here at school, waiting and being patient is an important aspect of the learning process. Many of us might get frustrated when we encounter a problem, concept, or skill that we cannot understand or demonstrate immediately and might choose to give up or (worse yet) sabotage our own efforts for fear of failure.

Interestingly, patience in the learning process often requires us to be very “active” in our patience by requiring us to persist and to embrace the value of perseverance, even when the waiting is longer than we'd like.

In the first four months of school I’ve seen our teachers reinforce many of the virtues of “active” patience with our students and their learning - whether in the classroom, on the field, in the gym, or on retreat. I have also seen the benefits of this “active” patience in our efforts around continuous school improvement and campus redesign efforts.

As we look to embrace more patience in our lives, especially during this Advent Season, on behalf of the faculty and staff of Vancouver College, I extend to each of you a restful and blessed holiday, a very Merry Christmas with wishes of hope, health and happiness for the New Year.

Monday, November 21, 2016

When Pedagogy & School Design Intersect

I have written before about our Vision for Learning & subsequent Dashboard of Learning and how these processes were (and are) a vital aspect of our plans for building new spaces on our campus.

Now, some two years later, we are on the verge of beginning the first phase of construction. This short two minute “fly through” video captures, to scale, the spaces we are planning to build. What is also very important is that the Learning Priorities identified by our faculty, parents and students are already being implemented so that when the new spaces are completed, our pedagogy will be able to optimize the newly imagined, designed and constructed learning spaces.  One might say that these spaces have been imagined and created at the intersection of pedagogy and design.

As you watch this video keep in mind some some of our Learning Priorities such as: Learning that is mission driven, connected, visible, formal and informal, informed and empowered. You will notice new spaces that we currently do not have such Learning Neighbourhoods, informal common learning spaces, small multi-purpose breakout rooms and a large learning commons.

Still Figuring It Out......

Saturday, October 29, 2016

I Used to be Present to People But Now I Check Email

I was recently invited to give an Ignite talk as part of the Ignite Your Passions event held in conjunction with a Canadian Education Association conference. As presenters we were as asked use the theme of  “I used to ____________ But Now I __________ ”. 

I chose: I Used to Be Present to People But Now I Check Email

My presentation itself, part serious and part facetious, was a brief synopsis of my "hot and cold"/"off and on" relationship with email.

Personally, email hit mainstream as I was beginning my career in the mid 1990's and came with some exciting promises - it was going to save time, remove barriers to collaboration, streamline communications and improve work flow!

To some degree email has accomplished some of this. Today email can be a good "gateway tool" to access, sort and share information.

But there are some problems.....

The biggest issue with email is that it is being used as a  "one size fits all" communications tool.  Metaphorically speaking, email is seen as the "Swiss Army knife" of communications when, in fact, it should be seen as one part of the communications "knife".

Information Smog and the flooded inbox
We are living and working in an era of information smog and our flooded email inbox - often perpetuated by the misuse of email functions such as "Carbon Copy and Reply All" - is compounding the problem.

Has anyone ever tried to schedule a meeting using reply all?  Organizing a meeting with  four or five people with everyone replying all can easily generate 15 to 25 emails!

Too much emotion
Another concern is that email be can lead to harmful miscommunication and misrepresentation (cue the ALL CAPS message here). From my understanding, email was never intended to communicate sensitive and/or emotion filled messages.

More screen time and less people time
Another, more philosophical concern, is whether email has allowed for an unrealistic sense of time.  Put more simple, are we overly available?

I would suggest that the daily and even hourly expectation to clear our in boxes is drawing us more to our desks and screens and, by extension, contributed to what Charles Hummel coined, the  tyranny of the urgent.  The implications of this, from a leadership perspective are serious.  I worry, for example, that in our need to manage the day to day clearing our of inbox we are seeing an erosion of slow and thoughtful strategic thinking and diversions from what is core to who we are and what we do as educators.  On a personal level, my need to clear my inbox is taking me away from being present to those that matter most to me!

Today, before I send or respond to an email, I ask myself if there is a better way? Should I, for example, use a different tool or pick up the phone or have a face to face meeting over a cup of coffee?

Below is a copy of the slide deck I used for the presentation.

Still figuring it out....

Thursday, February 18, 2016

How Can We Re-Imagine School? An EdTalk

Recently I had the privilege of being an "EdTalk" speaker at the 2016 FISA Convention.  Below is the video of my 8 minute talk in which I attempt to answer:

"How can we best reimagine school for our students?"

Below are the slides from the presentation.

Still figuring it out....

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Leadership as Incubation

I believe that a learning disposition drives improvement and innovation.

A few years ago I may have said that "things" drive improvement.  You know....things like curriculum, the Internet, tablets, computers, reading programs, discipline programs.....

Now don't get me wrong, many of these "things" have brought great improvements and efficiency to the educational landscape. 

But programs are fleeting. Curriculum changes. And while technology is changing our lives and transforming the educational and learning landscape, it's effective adoption and implementation is, at its core, an iterative process. 

And while there is a place for leadership to introduce "things", real improvement, lasting transformation and innovation is about creating systems and conditions that promote continuous learning and improvement -for all learners.

I have come to realize that I am most effective when I promote the creation of systems and conditions that promote individual and collective improvement (& not necessarily programs).

This year we are embarking on a process of continuous school improvement that is less about initiating programs and more about creating the systems and conditions for the teachers to assess the needs of the students they serve and act accordingly (which can include introducing new programs, resources, etc). 

In a sense we are embarking on a process of creating a "learning incubator".

In the business world, an incubator is a place:
designed to accelerate growth and success..... through an array of (business) support resources and services that could include physical space, capital, coaching, common services, and networking connections .

We are striving to create the conditions and systems where the working professionals are given time, supports, resources and opportunities to reflect, act and network in order to provide for the further success of our students.  

Here are a few ways we are creating an incubator for learning:

A Visible and Connected Continuous School Improvement Plan

Pencil connecting the dots
Connecting the dots of learning...
Flowing from a comprehensive visioning process, we have now implemented a more formalized process whereby by faculty (and department teams) reflect and document their learning.  Learning goals and action plans are made visible by all in the school via our newly created "Dashboard" of  learning.  This Dashboard is publicly shared and posted for all in our community see in order that we make our learning visible, connected and networked.  We want people to "connect the dots" of learning.

Time for Learning
For the second year we are continuing with our school Learning Teams.  This year, we have added a learning innovation grant that teachers can access to further support their learning.  

Physical Space
We are currently in the process planning for renewed facilities for our students, faculty, and staff.  Some of the key design principles being implemented include: learning neighborhoods, learning commons, transparency and flexibility.

By creating some of these "conditions for incubation" we are already starting to see some new teacher driven initiatives.  For example:
  • Teachers are implementing online digital portfolios for students (e.g.  Freshgrade, Google Drive, etc.) 
  • New courses/programs have been created including a "Make It" class, a culinary class, technical theatre class, robotics club and the imminent launch of Google Apps for Education for students. 
  • The increasing dismantling of curricular silos and replaced by cross-curricular and cross grade connections. 
At the end of the day- this process is about creating a climate of continuous learning that empowers teachers so that they can, in turn, empower student learning. 

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

Monday, September 21, 2015

The (Sometimes) Reluctant Principal

I have the best job in the world. Being around talented, passionate, inquisitive, creative, compassionate and fun people is inspiring.

Sometimes, however, I'd rather not be "the boss".  At times I'd rather not have the "buck" stop with me. Sometimes I'd rather not have the spotlight. Sometimes I'd rather not "skate into the puck". There are times that I'd rather not have to make difficult decisions. Many of these leadership competencies and responsibilities can be physically and emotionally draining- and sometimes take a personal toll.

There are times when I'd rather not be that person. There have been moments where I have felt like a reluctant leader.

However, these moments of reluctance are overwhelmingly overshadowed by a powerful internal force.  It's a force that comes for an internal restlessness to do what is right for those I serve.

It's a force that comes from a passion and a strong desire to do what is right for students. It is this restless passion that keeps me on this path despite my moments of reluctance. 

Some will read this and wonder...."isn't leadership about confidence and assertiveness?" Yes, I would argue that these are required leadership traits. Nonetheless my reluctance enables me to be more confident and assertive.

More than assertiveness and confidence, my reluctance fosters certain other dispositions and traits.

For example, being a reluctant leader allows me to be vulnerable. I am comfortable asking for help, admitting to my mistakes and letting people know that I don't have the answers.

My reluctance allows me to more reflective and less reflexive.

Being a reluctant leader allows for a natural inclination to include others in decisions - allowing for more collaboration and collegiality. 

My reluctance allows me to trust others. 

Being a reluctant leader forces me to be plugged in to my "why" - always reflecting on my own internal values and compass points.

My reluctance allows me to be a restless learner - always thirsting for opportunities to network, collaborate and learn from others. I'm always trying to figure things out - always wondering if there is a better way....

My moments of reluctance allow me to be humble and rooted in the those that I serve.

I feel blessed to have moments of reluctance because ultimately they make me a better person and a better leader. 

All of this ultimately leads to a fundamental question: What motivates you to lead?  The answer will ultimately define you as a leader. 

As usual, I am still figuring things out and would welcome any feedback...

Friday, July 10, 2015

From Future Possibilties to Priorities: Inspiring a Vision for Learning

This past school year marks the first for me as principal at my school.  One of the exciting opportunities that stand before us as a community is the renewal a large portion of our campus with newer, safer and more modern facilities.  

With the exciting prospect of building newer walls and spaces, comes a much more profoundly important prospect of examining and renewing the teaching and learning culture at the school.  

Typically, the idea of building walls gets people's attention.  Given that we have peoples', attention, this year we decided to ask one basic and fundamental question:  "What should teaching and learning look like at the school in its next century?"

We spent the the first five months of the year engaging faculty, staff, parents and students in answering this important question.

The process involved surveying and holding small and large group meetings with all stakeholders. Of particular interest was the process for engaging the faculty of the school in asking them important questions about teaching (pedagogy) and learning.  

The questions were clustered in three broad categories: Delivery, Curriculum & Assessment, and Facilities.  Teachers were asked to reflect on their practice and rate where they see themselves currently and where they might want to be in the future.  For each pedagogical practice, teachers were give a 5 point scale from "traditional to transformed".

For example, in the category of "Delivery" there was a question regarding "delivery modes". Teachers were given descriptors from 1 (traditional) to 5 (transformed) for this question.  At the more traditional end of the scale, delivery was described as predominantly teacher direct instruction with little student participation while at the transformed end of the scale you saw more project based, discussion based instruction with direct instruction only when needed (see below for a the sample questions and criteria.

The results were then collected and plotted on a spider graph. The intent was to see where staff saw there practice today and where they saw their practice in the future. The graphics below are a sample of a summary of results from a few different department groupings.  You will notice that red line indicates where faculty see their practice today and the blue line indicates their future goal.

The results of this process have proven to be extremely informative. On the whole most faculty members want to move their practice to a more "transformed" place (in a thoughtful and student centred manner).

As principal, the burning question for me is: how do we help staff bridge the gap between where they are now and where they want to go?

Over the next 12 months we will embark on a process of continuous school improvement. The intent is create a system where faculty and staff can come together in a strategic way to support each other in their desired future goals.  

An important take away in this continuous improvement plan is NOT to create goals for teachers.  Instead, we will create school wide priorities based on the feedback we received. 

Our priorities will be evidence based, inspiring, future orientated, challenging and inspiring action statements that will give direction to the entire school.  From these priorities, departments, sections and teachers will be asked to create goals that make sense for them in their practice and context.  

This process is not about micromanaging action.  

It is about taking the collective future possibilities and transforming them into strategic priorities.  

It is about inspiring and cultivating action that will best serve the learning needs of our students. 

It should be noted that to support teachers and their goals, we will continue with our Learning Teams initiative (I suspect these teams will become even more focussed and purposeful!).

This process has underscored a few important points for me, namely: 

  • It is a constant truth that teachers care deeply about their students and their learning needs.  
  • If you create a space that allows teachers to reflect and exercise their intelligence, they will, in the main, use it thoughtfully and effectively
  • When it comes to inspiring change, process is as important as product.

Still figuring it out.....