Friday, December 28, 2012

Nonna....Rest in Peace


With some of her children



I usually keep this space reserved for professional reflection, learning and input. This post is about something more personal.

About a month ago, while I was on an airplane heading overseas, my grandmother, my nonna....passed away.

The message from home left a deep feeling of helplessness. I would miss being with the family during this difficult time. I would miss the funeral.

With some of her grandchildren
Since that time I have felt a bit restless about not being "present" for her funeral. This is the eulogy I never had a chance to give.

This is dedicated to Nonna Carmela

Nonna emigrated to Canada over 60 years ago. She was a faithful and devoted wife to her husband. She was a caring and nurturing mother to her children. As a mother in a young immigrant family she knew that her role was to care for the needs of the household - her incredible success is evident by how she and my grandfather (nonno) raised and nurtured their own children to be responsible nurturing parents themselves.

When I look further at the faces of all the grand children and great grand children, I see Nonna's legacy of love and nurturing imprinted on their hearts as well.
With some of her great grandchildren

Nonna loved all her grand children. For many of them she became a second mother - the primary caregiver and babysitter to so many. Whether it was changing diapers, preparing food, delivering forgotten lunches to school, reprimanding or wiping away tears - she was like a mother.

Who could forgot the traditional Sunday dinners at Nonna's house. With the finest tomato sauce and THE finest hand made pasta in the world. No joke - the best.

As a role model for my own daughters and the other grandchildren and great grandchildren, Nonna will be remembered for her commitment to love of family, her nurturing presence, her sense of self respect, her commitment to friends, her sense of humour and life giving perspective on life.  

Nonna did everything fast. Her quick lips would have made her a fine auctioneer - if you could understand a word she was saying.  This "need for speed" caused her to break more plates and dishes than if she was at a Greek party. You knew nonna was cooking in the kitchen by noise of slamming cupboards and falling dishes.

But here is the salient point - no matter how many spills or goof ups she made - she always did it with a smile on her face! Nonna's ability to laugh at herself made us love her even more. She had an innate and instinctual understanding that in life we are not to sweat and stress over the small stuff.

This is one of Nonna's main lessons for me.

Nonna leaves behind a tremendous legacy - one coated in love and nurturing and profound understanding that in life we need to laugh at ourselves

All of us will miss her. She has now taken her rightful place in heaven with her husband and daughter and all those that have gone before her.

Nonna, thank you for everything you did for me. I  miss you and love you.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Technology Embedded Pedagogy



I get a little frustrated when I  hear comments that continually relegate the use of technology in education as something supplemental to teaching learning.  I suppose videos like the one above don't help this situation - although the idea of "Learning empowered by technology" makes me feel better.

Nonetheless, I wonder when we will stop seeing "technology" as an "add on" to sound teaching pedagogy.

If we agree that we live in a technology and information rich time, then schools, as places of learning and teachers as agents of learning, need to shift their respective culture and mindset surrounding technology.

The "how" of teaching needs to be embedded, when required and necessary, with technology (it is appropriate and necessary to NOT use technology at times)

My twitter stream is full of #edtech tools and suggestions.  But without the necessary pedagogical immersion, we will continue to relegate technology to the equivalent of the annual field trip.

A few weeks ago I came across a tweet by Bill Ferriter @plugusin where wrote
Crappy #edtech choices= schools start by asking, "What do we want to BUY?" instead of, "What do we want kids to DO?"
Brilliant!  Starting with what students are "doing" with technology is rooted in pedagogy.

So how do we get to a place where technology is embedded within the pedagogical repertoire of teachers?

Here are some things that have worked and things that have failed for us:

What's worked
  • Making the case for a technology embedded pedagogy, supporting teachers with time and resources to learn while at the same time respecting a teachers right to minimal intrusion when it comes professional learning.
What's NOT worked
  • Making the case for a technology embedded class and prescribing how to do it and not providing the necessary supports for teachers to learn  
What's worked
  • When teachers think about how technology can assist with specific teaching strategies such as: Identifying similarities and differences, Summarizing, note taking and creating, Homework and practice, Cooperative learning, Setting objectives and providing feedback, Generating and testing hypotheses, Cues, questions, and advance organizers.  
What's NOT worked
  • Using technology only to present material lecture style 
Whats Worked
  • Explaining and demonstrating the pedagogical rationale for technology with vivid examples of success.
What's NOT worked
  • Showing specific tech tools without the explaining its purpose or rationale
What's Worked
  • Being patient and not forcing it down peoples throats.
What's NOT Worked
  • Buying the same technology for everyone at the same time
What's Worked
  • Creating the conditions for a technology appetite among teachers and having teachers "knock down my door" with personalized technology requests.
What's NOT Worked
  • Buying the same tool or gadget without the proper buy-in - only to have those gadgets either underutilized or not used at all.
What's Worked
  • Giving teachers time and resources to learn among themselves for themselves.  Creating a climate of "expertise and experimentation" on staff.
What's NOT worked
  • One day, one size fits all workshops
What's Worked
  • Being OK when things go wrong
What's NOT worked
  • Over reacting when things don't go right
As we continue to find ways to make learning more relevant and engaging for our students, I hope that we will move away for seeing technology as a mere tool or add on - but an embedded pedagogical reality.







Thursday, November 22, 2012

Where Relationships & Expectations Intersect

In my role as Principal, I have the distinct privilege of overseeing the supervision of  instruction of  teachers.  With that privilege comes the awesome responsibility of teacher evaluation (formative and summative).  I am not sure exactly how many summative evaluations I have conducted, but I think I am getting close to 100.

This post is not about the merits or pitfalls of any one approach to teacher evaluation (although I do have some thoughts on this)

Nonetheless, when reflect and think about some of the most transformational and effective teachers that I have had the pleasure of working with, there are some obvious trends that emerge.

The Research
The research is exhaustive on what constitutes "effective" teachers, with various researchers listing a host of correlates for effective teaching.

Marzano (2003) identifies three main correlates: Instructional Strategies, Classroom Management and Classroom Curricular Design.

Stronge (2002) list such qualities as classroom management, instruction plans, implementing instructions and monitoring student progress.

For each of these qualities the researchers have identified a myriad of research based teaching practices.

While not trying to be dismissive or overly simplistic in my interpretation of the research- my "field work" as a principal has crystallized a couple of trends when it comes to transformational teaching.

My main hypothesis is that transformational teaching does not begin or end with a teacher's adoption any particular pedagogical approach (e.g technology integration).  Instead, I have found that transformational teachers operate at the place where positive relationship intersect with having high expectations of students.

Let me explain each idea further

Positive Relationships
  • These teachers focus on teaching students, not the curriculum.
  • These teachers notice, recognize and listen to students as real people, each with their own learning needs, challenges, gifts and blessings.  This mindset allows teaches to differentiate instruction and assessment to best meet the needs to students.
  • These teachers are prepared to have challenging conservation with students and parents in an affirming and constructive way.   
  • These teachers anchor their assessment AND evaluation of students in descriptive and depth of feedback
  • These teachers have a unique ability to be vulnerable to their students as a teacher and co-learner.
  • These teachers never violate personal and professional boundaries with students.  
High Expectations

I've written about this topic before here
  • These teachers are confidence builders while simultaneously stretching and challenging  ALL students to reach for successes beyond the students' wildest dreams.  
  •  The "sink or swim" mindset does NOT exist for these teachers.  These teachers set the bar high and create a unique and appropriate road map for each student to reach that target. 
  • These teachers are boiling over with enthusiasm about their course and learning in general.  This enthusiasm becomes contagious with students  
  • These teachers understand that genuine learning is rooted in a teachers ability to empower each student take control drive their own learning.

As always,  I am interested in hearing from other practitioners and their opinion on my stated hypothesis.

Still figuring it out....


Saturday, November 3, 2012

BYOD: What We're Learning

Regular readers of this blog will know that our school has embraced BYOD approach to technology at school

Although we have had a soft launch to this policy for the previous two years, this year marks the first year of our full implementation.

Two months into the school year I thought it would be helpful to report out on some observations, challenges and successes.

The Numbers
We have seen an exponential growth of devices here at school.  To be clear, many of these devices were probably already here but our policy is now bringing those devices out, in public, where they can be successfully used by students.  We are currently peaking at 1200 devices on our WiFi network.  With a school population (staff and students) of 550, that averages to about 2 devices per person.

Sharing the Technology
A teacher's tech problem/issue doesn't have to stall the lesson.  With both teacher and students having access to devices, a technology dependent class has a less likelihood of stalling if the teacher's device crashes.  No more awkward "talk among yourselves" as the teachers scrambles.  We can now share devices.

Stability Required
With more users relying on our WiFi and wired network,  the need for a stable and consistent infrastructural has become more pronounced.  Minor interruptions to our WiFi network (our system has been very reliable)  today causes a loud chorus of "is the WiFi down?" from both staff and students.

Need to Support
Creating, supporting and sustaining a technology rich environment requires technical support.  Nothing is quite as frustrating and undermining than having a less than consistent hardware and software.  Nonetheless, from time to time stuff breaks down.  Because of the increasing reliance on our technology infrastructure (WiFi, desktops, projectors, etc) , the timely repair of these issues is critical. Over the years we have increased the time allocated to our I.T teacher to provide the necessary supports to enable a learning culture supported by technology.

Any outlet will do
Honesty & Integrity
Academic Integrity is a priority.  This has always been a priority for any school.  Cheating is an issue that needs to be dealt with when it arises.  In our experience, technology has not created more cheating but rather new realities and challenges.  We have had to do some teaching around integrity and create systems to mitigate the likelihood of cheating with personal devices.   The bigger issue around cheating revolves around the "why" of cheating.  Solve the "why" and solve the cheating.

Where's the outlet?
We are seeing more student devices plugged into outlets around the school.  Moving forward we probably need to adopt smart solutions to this.

From under the desk to the desk top
As student devices become more mainstream at school, it has brought on-line interactions more mainstream and to the attention of responsible adults.  The devices have gone from under the desk to the desk top.  This has allowed us to deal with issues of digital citizenship more frequently.

What is my role?
More and more teachers are realizing that they no longer have the sole responsibility of delivering content to students.  It is my observation that this reality has caused more and more teachers to reflect deeply on what their fundamental role is.  An interesting response to this reality (I don't think it is a coincidence) is that a large number of teachers are looking at Problem Based Learning as part of their professional learning plan.
QR Code in English

Apps that leverage personal devices
I am noticing that teachers are accessing and using more applications that cater to the effective use of personal devices.  I am happy to report that we are seeing more than just teachers using PowerPoint.   For example, we have seen a rise of QR codes throughout the school.

The need to unplug
We need to unplug.  As our use of technology at school evolves, we are becoming increasingly mindful of modelling the need to unplug at times.  Being present in relationship and being present in authentic community is a value we need to uphold and maintain.  This is essential to who we are as a Christian Catholic school community.

I'm sure we will learn much more as we continue to empower our teachers and students to use technology to enrich learning.

I am particularly interested in hearing from other schools that have adopted a BYOD approach to technology.  Any insights and ideas are always welcome!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Re-Visioning a School Library


For nearly twenty years our school has had the "Media Resource Centre" (MRC) as our school library.  The space is physically located at the centre of the school building and houses a mainly fiction collection of books and nearly 30 computers.  Out of necessity, the school made the decision to use computers, the internet and on-line data bases as the main source for students to access non-fiction resources (we do have a limited non-fiction collection).

In conjunction with this, the MRC has a vast collection of high interest fiction books for students - evidenced of by the fact that nearly 300 books are checked out weekly (not bad for a school population of 500).

Our Media Resource Centre also doubles as a working space for learning assistance for students, an audio visual/video editing studio, independent study and class research.  The MRC continues to be a hub of activity from 8 am to 4 pm daily.

This place of learning (and the people that have worked within it) has served the school extremely well over the years.

Nonetheless, the time has come for a "re-visioning" of our MRC.

This year we have embarked on the process of updating our Media Resource Centre to better meet the needs of our students and teachers as they full immerse in the data rich world we live in.

The first step was the hiring a new Media Resource Teacher/librarian/technology coordinator - call it our version of a "Techbrarian"

This teacher has already embarked on some interesting shifts in practice to support students and teachers and transform the space to be even more functional.

Here is listing of some the initiatives that have begun or will be beginning soon:

Co-teaching for research skills and using technology
The Media Resource Teacher has already begun working with individual classes to review, discuss and complete activities about online research techniques – tailored to projects within specific subjects.

Some of the topics covered this far include:
  • Identifying credible sites (common domains, truncating back, searching links, author’s background)
  • Plagiarism, proper citing, how and how much to paraphrase, crediting other types of creative works such as music and images
  • Creating a wiki for class learning, student groups contribute to each subsection of a given topic to create an evolving document that they can learn from to prepare for a class
This teacher is also assisting teachers - via our Building Experts Professional Learning Teams  - as a springboard for technology integration.  She will be hosting a workshop for teachers dealing with such things as website creation, wikis, voice threads, etc.

The construction of a new MRC website that will include:
  • Making our library management software capable of  web based search; students will be able to search our collection of books from anywhere they have internet access
  • Will have a link to our library’s group on "goodreads" for book recommendations by students and teachers
  • Will include pages for research projects for other classes with info, instructions, tools, links, etc.
  • A Interactive Research Guide with embedded links to various tools for completing any written work requiring citing or research (thanks to the good work of our Social Studies Department for laying the foundation of this work)
Digital citizenship and digital literacy
The creation of a comprehensive and streamlined (scope and sequence)  digital citizenship and digital literacy curriculum for grades 8 to 12.

This process will meet the needs of the students, take into account what’s already being done and most importantly integrate the curriculum into the existing system to cover the gaps

Renovation of the Space
This past summer we updated all 30 networked computers in the MRC.  These devices are now the fastest and most up to date machines in our building - capable of handling basic internet searching to complex video editing.

Moving forward we are looking at creating an even more comfortable and collaborative space for students and teachers to work and learn together.

As we continue to roll out our school's vision for "21st Century Learning" the Media Resource Centre will play an exceedingly important role. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

What Are we Measuring in Education?


 Example of a data room

I recently came across the practice having a "data room" in schools.   

These rooms provide teachers and administrators quantitative information (in graphic form) to facilitate "informed" decisions.

I have to admit, the site of the "data room" gave me that "something doesn't feel right" sensation in my stomach.

How has it come to be that, for some, data rooms in school are seen as exemplars in education?

If it's true that we measure what we value - it might be time to examine our values.

Let me be clear - I am not advocating that we make uninformed decisions.  We need good information to make the best decisions for our students.

My concern is that we (teaching professionals, politicians and other stakeholders)  are moving towards considering only certain types of data - usually those that are easy to measure - when we consider the quality of our schools, school systems and the teachers that teach within them.

The real danger is that this "easy to measure data" is driving the type questions we are asking about our schools and the subsequent change initiatives that flow from such questions. 

For example, the dependence on qualitative data usually leads to questions regarding graduation rates, standardized test results, retention rates, attendance rates etc.

While these data sets should not be dismissed - they do not tell the full story of any school system or school and their labeling as a "success or failure".

We should NOT measure only that which is easy to measure.

Perhaps we should also start taking into account  such things as:

  • students' sense of curiosity and wonder
  • students' motivation, engagement and passion  
  • students' sense of joy, happiness and safety 
  • collaboration in schools 
  • students sense of self efficacy

The Role of Leadership
This is where school leadership plays a critical role.  Today, more than ever, school leaders need to be guardians of their school's complete narrative - beyond that which can he displayed in a data room.

What can't be measured and shared quantitatively can be measured and shared qualitatively through meaningful narratives.

School leaders need to use all the tools available to them (including social media) to share that which isn't easily measured but has enduring value nonetheless.

Today's school leaders need to find a balance between measuring and  reporting on both the quantitative and qualitative data that abounds in schools   This is our moral imperative.

Monday, October 1, 2012

"Call Me" - The Power of a PLN


A number of weeks ago I participated in a twitter chat on Simon Sinek's book Start With Why .  We used the #startwithwhy hashtag.

The chat began like other Twitter chats I've participated in - a few questions, a flood of responses, and the subsequent sense of being totally overwhelmed (I have yet to master the art of Twitter chats!)

And then I noticed an odd tweet.....

It was a tweet from Simon Sinek himself.

Sinek was offering those that were interested, to call him directly on a conference call to answer some of our questions.

I have to admit, at first I didn't know what to make of the offer.  Was this some form of spam?  Was it a hoax?  Can this social media thing REALLY be trusted?

I ignored the tweet.

Two minutes later another tweet from Sinek.  It went something like: "I will only stay on the line for another minute if anyone is interested in connecting....."

Could it really be the author himself?

What did I have to lose?

I decided to call.

As it turned out, it was Simon Sinek.  Me and few other spoke for about 45 minutes about his book.  I expressed some of my "challenges" with determining a "why" in education - i.e. multiple stakeholders with  potentially differing agendas.  I wrote a post about it here.

Sinek added depth and clarification that only he, the author, could provide.

It was an incredible evening of conversation and discovery and has lead to to ongoing discussion and reflection with other colleagues

Many people talk about the power of connected and networked learning  in time of "abundance"  - this experience has done nothing but affirm this new reality and its omnipotence.

Thank you Simon Sinek.  Thank you for making yourself available and contributing to our network (even though it was so late in the evening in New York)

Thank you to my own learning network - for pushing and challenging me..

Thank you social media for providing the vehicle for such powerful connections.


Friday, September 14, 2012

Students as Sculptors of Culture & Climate

Ever notice when you walk into a school there is a distinct "feel" to the place? More than physical space, each school emits a certain "feel". 

Schools have unique and differing "vibes".

When we usually mention a school's "tone" or "feel", we are usually referring to its climate.

A school's climate "denotes the ethos, or spirit".  As Gruenert, 2008 writes, "school climate is thought to represent the attitude of a school".    

Researchers have attempted to distinguish between a school's climate and culture. If the climate is the "attitudes and feeling of school" the culture might be seen as the "personality" of a school.
An organization’s culture dictates its collective personality. .....(I)f culture is the personality of the organization, then climate represents that organization’s attitude. It is much easier to change an organization’s attitude (climate) than it is to change its personality (culture). Gruenert, 2008
Other researchers write that a school's culture:
....is a system of shared values (what is important) and beliefs (how things work) that interact with a company’s people, organizational structure and control systems to produce behavioral norms.” (Leontiou, 1987)
Yet another writes,
culture is the underground stream of norms, values, beliefs, traditions and rituals that has built up over time as people work together, solve problems and confront challenges. (Deal, 1993)
Most experts in the field would agree that school culture comprises the values, shared beliefs, assumptions, behavioral norms, and expectations of a school.

Students as Sculptors of Climate and Culture

When researchers and practitioners talk about about shaping culture or climate, they usually talk about the adults in the building  - their decisions, teaching pedagogy,  interactions with students, colleagues, parents and community members.

What is not mentioned enough - in the context of shaping and sculpting school culture - are students. 

 In this context, students are typically reduced to passive recipients and "responders" of these outside forces.

I would suggest that students need to be empowered to be co-creators of school culture and climate.

Here are a few ways that adults in school can facilitate students as culture and climate creators:

1. Be clear and get out of the way.  Students don't need to be controlled. They need to be given clear, fair  and consistent expectations. Once expectations are in place, get out of their way and give up control.

2.  Be prepared to support students when they slip up.  They will.  Be patient.  Revisit your expectations frequently.  

3. Give Them An Inch and They'll Take a Mile.  Students want to make a positive difference.  They want to be trusted.  They want to be leaders.  Find ways to give them that "inch"  - you'll always be surprised where they take it!

4.  Rigidity creates compliance not leadership. Sometimes adults in schools become obsessed with rules and systems.  Schools that that place systems and rules ahead of relationships feel "cold" and breed compliance - not leadership.

5. Give them a job that has enduring value.  Students want meaningful responsibility. As much as they enjoy doing jobs like "cleaning" or "handing out" - students yearn to want to make a trans-formative difference in the lives of others.  (e.g. Mentorship Programs, Peer Programs, Social Justice Programs, Student Affairs, Parliament, etc) 

6. Ask students for their input.  Whether a classroom teacher, administrator, central office staff, parent - if you want to find out how things are really going in your school - ask the students. No judgement, no interruptions, no consequences.  Just ask and they'll tell you the brutal truth.   

School's that have both adults and students  as climate and culture "sculptors" have a greater likelihood of having an authentic community - driven by shared purpose and passion and collectively supported by all..




Monday, September 3, 2012

The Coffee Shop School


This past summer I've been blessed to have the opportunity to travel extensively.

Throughout my travels I enjoyed searching out the perfect cup of coffee at the perfect coffee shop.  My travels brought me to small neighborhood coffee shops  and "big chain" coffee shops.

Today, as I  sit and compare the two types of shops, the differences are profound.

Generally speaking, the big chain coffee shop looked new and modern but often felt "cold".  I got the sense that these shops were driven by profit and finding economies of scale and savings at every corner. 
Service and relationships were not necessarily the first priority.

Coffee at famous Nicola Cafe (Lisbon)
Most of he neighborhood coffee shops I visited, on the other hand were built on  service and relationship.  These shops usually had character.  No two shop looked the same.   As a visitor, I noticed that the employees knew the  name of every local that walked in.  Visitors were welcomed and made to feel that they belonged.   They did more than take  orders.  They were patient with indecision at the counter.  They even offered suggestions.  They spent time with people, providing any and all advice.  They were patient with  questions.   While they needed to be competitive in price, they were not driven by economies of scale.

Sitting in these coffee shops, I thought about how schools and the teachers and staff within them need to be like the neighborhood coffee shop.

Here a list of some traits of a "coffee shop school":

  • The "coffee shop" school needs to be a place of warmth and comfort.  It needs to exude character and uniqueness.  It should be a place to hang out.  A place of both silence and conversation.


  • The coffee shop school needs to be a place rooted in  relationships.  The adults in these schools  shouldn't  impatiently take orders or just provide the basics (e.g.  good pedagogy, wifi, tables, chairs, desks,  textbooks, worksheet, website, etc.).  We need to patient with "indecision", mistakes and questions.    We need to  get to know each and every student and their needs, dreams and aspirations.  

  • Leaders in the coffee shop school need to make decisions that enable relationship building.  Scheduling, timetabling and  budgeting are but a few tangible examples where leadership can make a huge difference if decisions are informed by a "students first" mindset.  

  • Like the neighborhood coffee shop that is not driven by economies of scale and profits, schools shouldn't be driven by test results.   It is particularly devastating when we measure the effectiveness of our schools based on these tests.We shouldn't rate schools against each other. 

  • We should ask our students what they think about their school.  Ask them if school excites them.  Ask them if they feel that teachers care about them.  Ask them if they feel safe at school.    Ask students if they want to hang out at school?  

This is at the core of the coffee shop school. 

The coffee shop school is place of connections and relationships.  Where individual needs are met and dreams are realized.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

BYOD For Teachers

The use of technology to access, store and create information has become an essential part of teaching and learning.

Regular readers of this blog know that our school has already embraced a BYOD policy for students.  You can read related information here and here

In recent years we have observed that more and more teachers are using their own device for both work and personal use. As our lives become more digitally immersed this will be the norm.   The divide between a specific "work device" and "personal device" will become increasingly blurred and redundant 

To address this growing reality, this year, the school will give teachers access to a technology grant towards the cost of a computing device. The grant will cover 50% of the cost of computer (up to a certain limit) Teachers will be eligible to receive a subsidy once every 4 years. 

The grant  must indicate how the device will be used as a teaching and learning tool and be linked to the teacher’s annual professional growth plan.  Teachers must indicate how they plan to implement the use of technology in their class and how their device will assist them in that endeavor. (we have suggested that teachers consider a “digital” Bloom’s Taxonomy to assist them in developing a plan).

Some Considerations  
  • As a school with limited resources, this approach lightens device management and maintenance.  Teachers are responsible for maintaining and managing their own devices.
  • Teachers must continue to be vigilant about the ethical uses of devices at school and with students - always maintaining proper and ethical boundaries when working as a education professional. 
  • Teachers know what device is works best for them and their teaching.  They need to get comfortable with its use and application.  This will hopefully translate into a more seamless and effective use with  students.
In end this "personalized" approach to technology acquisition for teachers, will hopefully increase the likelihood of sustainable technology integration in teaching and learning.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Start With Why: A Review

I enjoyed Simon Sinek's book "Start With Why"

The main point of Sinek's book is that organizations that endure and find lasting relevance are those that have clarity in  their "Why" as an organisation.  More specifically, these organisations have clarity in their cause or have some sort of enduring belief or purpose.  You might consider the "why" the organizational vision.

I've written a little about organization vision  here

Throughout the book, Sinek gives some leadership advice that has relevance in education..  Some of my favorites include:
  • Organizations can look to manipulate its customers, which might  lead to an increase in sales but does not lead to customer loyalty.  Similarly, as leaders in schools, we need to be reminded of the limited effects of extrinsic motivations on learning.
  • Sinek makes the point that "products give life to their cause".  I like this statement.  I also believe that in schools, students give life to our cause.
  • "People don't by What you do, they buy Why you do it."   Sinek repeats this statement several times in the book.  This resonated with me in a sense that as teachers, we get more engagement from our students if we provide a clear and relevant "why" to whatever it is we are teaching.  
  • Sinek rightly makes the argument that we need align our "Why" with our "What".  In other words we need to "walk our talk"
  • I particularly liked Sinek's view of the role of trust in leadership.  Sinek writes that trust is more than a checklist.  Effective leaders prove trust in difficult times, take care of employees/staff first, causing a trickle down effect of caring relationship.  I personally think this notion is critically important in education.

Sinek also makes the strong point that leaders need to be good communicators of "WHY".  They need to inspire and attract followers.  A good leader/communicator is able to put "gut feelings" into clear and inspired language.  Sinek essentially argues that leaders need to be good orators, using vibrant language.  Buzz words won't cut it.  He uses Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement as one example of a tremendous communicator.

Some Push Back: Limited View of Leadership?
I agree with Sinek's thesis that good leaders and organizations have an enduring clarity of "Why" they are doing what they are doing. What left me feeling a little uneasy was Sinek's depiction of the prototypical effective leader.

It felt as though Sinek was favouring a certain "personality cult" of leadership.  The main examples he cited of of effective leadership were rooted on a founders ability to inspire and communicate their "why".  There is no questions that Steve Jobs or Martin Luther King were extremely effective leaders.  These are exemplars of one end of the leadership spectrum.  What about those leaders who aren't the best orators but still inspire action and movements? Those who speak through action rather than word?

What about shared leadership or vision?
Sinek does not really spend any time talking about how effective "why's" are developed.  Short of the personal "why" of the a founder - he does not offer any other examples of how effective "why's" can be created and sustained.  I'm thinking about public sector organizations with multiple stakeholders where the public good is at stake (health care, education, etc).

This is a book worth reading giving greater depth to Sinek's TED Talk.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Tour that Changed the World

Well maybe not the whole world.....  But for 22 days this past July a group of 64 students and 10 adults went on a magical choir tour of Portugal.

My wife and I were privileged enough to be pilgrims on this musical, cultural, historical and spiritual journey for 12 of those days.

The beauty of Portugal's coastline, rich culture and history was only matched by the beauty and transformational music of the the choir. 

After each performance - both the planned ones and the "flash mob" moments - the choir was able to transform the lives of a few random  and previously unknown people.  Ultimately, we may never know the effects that the music had on their lives, but I think the music of the choir has made the world a better place.


I am  reminded of the lady who owned the restaurant where we had a our traditional Fado dinner.  After dinner the choir sang in appreciation for the wonderful supper.  Following the song, the lady broke down in tears, telling our director how she has never felt so moved.

....or the Fado performer who told me that when the choir sang he "heard  the Holy Spirit speak to him"

.....or the young women who, while stumbling upon the choir  in Fatima, caught my attention as she just sat almost in a trance like state, mouth half open and tears flowing from her eyes.

As we toured I was reminded of Margret Mead's famous quote:

"Never underestimate what a group of small and dedicated group of people can do to change the world"

From event to event, as the choir broke out into song, I found myself turning my back on the choir and looking out at those who were transfixed by their music.  With each performance  I was moved and inspired by how the choir's gift of music  impacted so many people in different ways.

There were many high lights of the this trip.  Perhaps the most moving was the evening the choir sang in the home town where our choir director's mother was laid to rest nearly 30 years ago (she passed away a very young mom).

That night,  many of the town's residents came to see the choir "from Vancouver", directed by the son of one of their "beloved" - who died far too young. 

There was a serene,  "homecoming" feel to the evening.  The son who lost a mother far to soon, came to share the trans formative work he is doing through music.

The defining moment of the evening occurred when the choir sang "It take a whole village to raise a child"


As the students sang those very powerful words, I felt the love a small Portuguese village, proud relatives,and a fallen mother flow through a teacher and son and permeate our students.

As the song ended, the near 800 townspeople stood in unison with not a dry eye in the church.

I realized then that lives have been changed. 

Just like the famous butterfly effect asks:

"Can a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon cause a tsunami in Japan?"

Similarly I ask  myself:

Can a small group of students singing throughout Portugal  make the world a better place?

For hundreds (and maybe thousands) that heard the choir sing, I am convinced the world is a better place today than before they heard them.

We may never know what this transformation will look like or the when it will take hold but perhaps that is not for us to know......we just have to trust.  

I just felt fortunate to be there.


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Each a Unique Story

This time of year comes with mixed emotions. We all look forward, with anticipation, to a well-deserved summer holiday. But summer, for me, also brings a touch of sentimentality.

I think about the hard work put forth by students and staff in order to get students to this juncture in lives. I think about the many successes our students have achieved - both inside and outside the classroom. Of course, I think about the many joyful and happy times we have shared as a school community.

However, I also think about the many difficult and sad times many in our community have experienced this school year.
All of these emotions are encapsulated in this year’s graduating class.

On the one hand, I am excited for the Gr. 12 students who are about to leave our school and who are prepared to fully extend their wings and make a positive difference in the world. On the other hand, I am a little sad to say "good bye" to the so many awesome young people who we have seen mature and grow into inspiring young adults.

At our annual Graduation Dinner & Dance, I have the distinct pleasure of introducing each member of the class as they enter the ballroom. As I introduced each student, I had a rush of memories. With each student came a different story.  I realized that for this class, like the others before them, each person comes to end of high school with an individual story and coinciding journey.

For some the journey is relatively smooth. For others the journey has been extremely bumpy – from turmoil, loss, disappointment and sadness to great joy, laughter and success.

Regardless of the type of journey, as the adults in the school we are privileged to have some insight into each student’s respective journey. To be invited along - so to speak.

This is our greatest responsibility as as a school – to journey together in relationship - as a faith community, in the pursuit of knowledge.

I'm left with a few lingering thoughts & questions:

1. We need to mindful to continue honoring the uniqueness of each individual journey. It really is about taking the time to make true connections.
2. People trump systems. Always.
3. It starts with the adults in the building. They form the "support network" that students depend on.


Saturday, June 30, 2012

Innovation, Ego, Autonomy & Irrelevance

"So what innovative initiatives is your school undertaking?"

I was recently asked the above question by a fellow educator.

This caused me to pause.  I rambled a few things off.  But to be honest, the questions threw me off.

It made me uneasy.  What follows are some thoughts, ramblings and questions regarding innovation, autonomy and leadership ego.

What is driving the innovation?

Are we searching for "innovation" for innovation's sake?

I often wonder about school wide "innovations".  What is driving the innovation? What are the precursors to implementation?  Who do the innovations benefit the most?

Why are we doing what we are doing?

Are we driven by a greater purpose?  Our mission?  Our vision?

It is really about innovation?  Is it rooted in student learning?

Is the innovation about creating engaging learning experiences for students?

Is the innovation about creating learning conditions that are motivating for students?

Is innovation about creating an environment where every student feels connected and safe?

I'm aware that, when it comes to being the "leader" at my school, it is about checking by ego at the door.

What is best, easy, comfortable, familiar or trendy for me,  may not be what is best for the students and school community.

As principal, I need to give up my need to be "relevant" for the sake of being "irrelevant" if it means doing what is best for students.  As Henri Nouwen writes:
"The leaders of the future will be those who dare to claim their irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation..."
I would suggest that innovation driven by personality and ego is toxic and doomed to be unsustainable.

Autonomy & Innovation

I also wonder about the place of autonomy (student & teacher) when it comes to innovation. I agree that motivation is rooted in autonomy. But can there be too much autonomy?

I like  the image of a river flowing.  A river is free to flow and meander.  However, the river is given its shape and direction by its banks.  Without the banks, the river becomes a puddle or lake.


What is the role of leadership in providing the "banks of a river"?  In my opinion, this is a critical aspect of leadership - to provide the delicate balance of enough autonomy within an agreed up "preferred future".


The bottom line is that innovation and autonomy needs to be rooted in what is best for students and their individual success.

Still figuring it out.....any thoughts?

Friday, June 22, 2012

BYOD Leadership Implications

Our school has embraced a Bring Your Own Technology/Device approach to enhancing the use of technology for our students and teachers.

For the past two years we have had a soft or "organic" launch to this policy.  For this coming fall, we officially launch our BYOD initiative.

As we prepare for an anticipated surge in personal devices, there are some important details that needed to be addressed.  I'll call them leadership implications.

Leadership Implications of a BYOD policy

1. Being clear on the "Why"? Is it congruent with our school culture, values and mission?

In our case BYOD makes the most sense. It leverages much of the hardware that many students and families already possess. It gives choice to parents - one of our fundamental values is "parents as the first and primary educators".  Furthermore, our school culture is rich with a sense of trust between teachers and students.

2. Network Infrastructure

We have invested a tremendous amount of energy and resources to establish a stable and robust wifi and wired infrastructure. We can handle over 4,000 wifi devices at one time (we have 550 staff & students) with reasonable speed and efficiency.

3. Unpacking Digital Citizenship


As the use of technology grows and as teachers increasingly require students to use and access digital media so does the need to model and teach digital literacy.  This is not the sole responsibility of a select group of teachers.

For this coming school year we have hired a new teacher/"tech-brarian" that will assist staff (and students) in acquiring the necessary digital literacy skills to be proficient to transfer those to students.

In addition, over the past few years we endeavored to systematically implement a digital citizenship learning plan for our students through specific lessons in certain classes, grade level workshops or school wide assemblies.  We feel it is important not to take an "ad hoc" approach to teaching this very important topic.

We have also been communicating to our parents about how they can support their children becoming digitally responsible citizens.  We have hosted various parent meetings and constantly update our school website for related resources.

4. Communicating Expectations to the Community

It is critically important that we communicate why we think a BYOD approach to technology is important.  We also need to set some clear expectations for students, teachers and parents as how and when devices should be used.

For example at our school, as a general rule, all personal and school owned devices must be used as a tool to enhance student learning and for positive communications.

We communicate the the following guidelines to parents and students:

Electronic devices should be used to promote genuine learning, research and positive communication - not for such things as academic dishonesty (cheating) and/or hurtful and disrespectful communications
Devices should be used at the appropriate time, with the teacher’s permission. Your device should not be a source of distraction or disruption of the teaching-learning environment. When a not required by a teacher, personal electronic devices are to be kept out-of-sight and turned off.
When using a device, be mindful that you are not violating another person’s reasonable expectation of privacy. The taking of pictures, videos without a person’s permission is not permitted.
Take care of your devices. Be mindful of securing them. Put your name of your device. Do not share any passwords etc.


6. Empowering and Supporting Teachers
Any BYOD policy will only be as effective the teachers who model its appropriate use and who can fully utilize the power of technology to engage students in their learning.

Giving time to for teachers to play and learn with technology is important.  We have increased our collaboration time in the hope that they will be empowered to implement technology in their classes.  Many have responded positively.

We also want teachers to bring devices to school that they are comfortable using in their teaching and learning.  Next year we will implement a teacher technology subsidy program, whereby teachers can apply for a subsidy to assist them in the purchase of personal device that will also be used at school.

7. Autonomy, Choice and Commonality

A BYOD policy, at its core, is based on autonomy and choice. As a school we don't prescribe the type or brand of device. We do, however, recommend certain specifications (i.e. wifi, internet browsing, word processing, etc).

There is, however a some need for a "common space" when it comes to the digital learning. For example we have given all students a school based (& lifetime) email address, common username and login interface, common cloud based storage and file sharing.

But herein lies the delicate balance. We also want to value autonomy and choice for teachers and students when comes to their teaching an learning space. When you walk into some of our classes you will see various digital tools used by different teachers and students.

In addition, parents, for a variety of reasons, may choose to not send their child to school with a device.  As a school we have the obligation to provide an alternative.  We already a number of school laptops that can be issued to students as well as large number of networked computers that students can access.

8. Be Patient with the Messy
Will there be bumps and hiccups along the way?  We have already experienced a few.  Just a few a weeks ago a few teachers discovered some potentially concerning comments on a social media site regarding a few members of our community.   Rather than overreact and  "ban", "take away", or "shut down"  - the teacher had a conversation with the student in question about  their "digital footprint" and the impact their comments were having on others.  (This, of course, high lights the importance of having adults in this space who can model and teach appropriate on-line behavior).  The student learned something and the material "removed".

Might  there by upcoming issues with our BYOD policy?  My guess is yes.

We need to continue to be thoughtful, strategic and patient as we continue to grow our BYOD approach to technology at our school.

Feel free to share some other BYOD implementation strategies.  Still figuring it out......

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Stop the Edu BLAH, BLAH, BLAH!

 Edu-Babble.  Edu-Speak.  I'll call it Edu-Blah, Blah, Blah.  A sample of the "blah" goes something like this:
"As teaching practitioners in the 21st century, we need to be pedagogically sound  - embracing practices and values such as assessment for learning, grading for learning, 21st century skills, personalized learning, differentiated instruction, individualized instruction and self regulation............(cue the eyes rolling, yawns, head scratching and/or glazed looks from all the non-educators - and even some educators)" 
We do ourselves, as educators, a huge a disservice when we attempt to use "Edu Blah" to communicate with  our students, parents and greater communities.

We lose them.  

And if we, as educators (and schools), can't communicate our own "story" effectively, we run the risk of creating a communication void or vacuum- leaving it to someone else to potentially distort or misrepresent.   Case in point - the recent "no zero's" story in Edmonton".

 Now before I go any further, I will declare that I can "edu blah, blah" with the best of them.  

Today I come clean.  I would like offer up some "edu blah's" and coinciding plain language definition:

Formative Assessment
Long before any "grade" is assigned to a student, teachers (and other students) give students descriptive feedback regarding their work.  The more detailed the feedback the better. "Good job" doesn't cut it and neither do numbers and/or letter grades.

Summative Assessment
Anything that a student does to demonstrate what they have learned.   It gives a teacher evidence of a student's learning.

Differentiated Instruction
We all learn differently.  Teachers reflect this reality in their teaching.

Rubrics/Criteria/Exemplars
Tools teachers use to assist students in determining what is expected of them.

Personalized Learning
Giving students more control of their learning.  Putting students in the drivers seat.

Rigour
More thinking, problem solving and "doing".  Less memorizing.

Letter Grades
An imperfect way to report student learning.

No Zero Policies
Students that chronically struggle to produce the required evidence of their learning are the most at risk to "slip through the cracks" in school.  Assigning these students a zero does nothing to support them nor teach them the required skills and work habits to be responsible learners. Finding ways to ensure they do the work is the right thing to do.  

Professional Learning Communities 
Teachers need to come together to solve something, produce something or share something related to their teaching.  When they do this, they become better teachers  - benefiting all students

PLN (Personal Learning Network)
See above.

Digital Literacy
Making sure we all know how to appropriately use the internet and the devices that connect to it. 

21st Century Learning
The world is a changing place.  Schools need to reflect this changing reality.

21st Century Skills
Thinking, collaborating, creating, filtering, problem solving and a little bit memorizing too.

BYOD/BYOT
Bring your own device/technology to school.  Students and teachers have it, why not let them use it?

Stakeholders/Educational Partners
All the people involved in educating our students.

I invite all my fellow educators to add to this list.  We need to reclaim our message.  Our communities require this of us.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Saying "YES" to Foster Innovation


When I think about some the exciting, relevant and engaging "learning initiatives" that have occurred at our school over the past several years, I think about the incredibly talented people (teachers, students and parents) who have made them possible.

When it comes to using technology to enhance learning, I think about teachers who see the potential of technology to make learning more engaging for students.

From my perspective, as principal, it's been about creating a safe place for teachers to "play" with technology in the classroom.

It's been about saying "yes" more than "no" to the early adopters within our community.

I still remember the day when one of our teachers - @maricelignacio - came to see me about having her students use their phones in class to access Twitter as a tool for engagement in the English classroom.  Our policy, at the time, banned cell phones in class.  (The fact that we had a robust wifi network to handle this request is thanks to @pholowka1)

I said "yes" to this request.  I understood that with that "yes", I agreed to take on some important responsibilities.  As principal I had to explain my decision and defend the teacher from concerned stakeholders.

As the principal, I feel that if I want to encourage and create  a culture of innovation, I need to create a safe place for teachers.  It requires the creation a safe "playground" for teachers to "play".  It requires giving them time, resources and access to a vibrant learning network.

Mistakes will be made and lessons will be learned.  It is during these challenging times that I need to stand behind my "yes".

My "yes" cannot be conditional.  Supporting teachers, as innovators, even when things don't go as planned, goes a long way towards creating the conditions for innovation in schools.


Monday, May 28, 2012

Slipping Through The Cracks: Does School Size Matter?

As a high school principal, this time of year comes with mixed emotions. On the one hand,  I am excited for the Gr. 12 students to leave our school, for them to fully extend their wings and make a positive difference in the world.  On the other hand, I am a little sad to say "good bye" to the so many awesome young people who we have seen mature and grow into inspiring young adults.

Last week, we hosted our annual Graduation Dinner & Dance.  This is an occasion where the community comes together to celebrate high school graduation.  To start the evening, I have the distinct pleasure of introducing each member of the class as they enter the ballroom.

As I introduced each student, I had a rush of memories.  With each student came a different story.

I realized that for this class, like the others before them, each person comes to end of high school with an individual story and coinciding journey.

For the some the journey is relatively smooth, for others the journey has been extremely bumpy - from turmoil, loss, disappointment and sadness to great joy, laughter and success.

Regardless of the type of journey, I was honoured, as a their principal, to have some insight into each students  respective journey.  To be invited along - so to speak.

I felt equally assured in knowing that the students had other teachers whom they formed even deeper relationships with.

As I reflected on this, I  also wondered if  our relatively small size, (just over 500 students in Grades 8 to 12) as a school, puts us at an advantage in our ability to foster meaningful relationships with our students?  Our smaller size allows us, teachers and administrators, to intervene and respond to all situations (big & small) as they arise.

We often say that "no student falls through the cracks".  This is a good and necessary reality for our community.

For what it's worth - I do think that school size matters.

I'd be interested in hearing from others and their thoughts on this.....does school size matter?



Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Social Media: Shining a Needed Spotlight

When I began my career as an administrator, back in the day when Microsoft MSN ruled the day, virtually all student conflict either started or was exacerbated via social media.

Jaded by these experiences, I perceived social media as sewer-like place for human interaction.  A dark place for mundane, useless and sometimes "crappy", negative and hurtful interactions.

This view of social media continued  even as Facebook became king.

And then something happened on October 23, 2010.  I, myself, decided to take the plunge into that self-described "sewer".  I entered the social media space with Twitter.

Today I am here to officially recant my previous views and beliefs regarding social media .  Since that October day, not only have I embraced social media in a multitude of ways, I have also been supportive of our school fully engaging with social media (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr)

And it's not just me and the school.  More and more teachers have signed on.  They are using social media to connect with, communicate with and engage students (and parents) and their learning.

As a result something remarkable has happened.  A bright light has been shone on that previously unknown and dark "sewer-like" place.


Seemingly, as more adults engage with social media- the more the students realize that they need to pay attention to their own digital tattoo (footprint, legacy, reputation, etc).

Students now can see the modelling of appropriate interactions in the digital world by those whom they respect and look up to in the  face to face world.  Nothing is more effective than when we, as teachers, lead the way with integrity.

As a principal I feel more empowered and more informed to speak to students and parents about all aspects of "digital citizenship".  I can give advice and tips based on first hand experience.

I can also provide a testimonial about how social media, if used appropriately, can be such a powerful and positive force for learning and connecting.  

As teaching professionals we have an obligation to shine a bright light on social media - our students require this from us!






Saturday, May 5, 2012

A 21st Century School Rooted in Community

A few days ago, the Ministry of Education in British Columbia released two videos highlighting a few Catholic Independent Schools in the Lower Mainland.  The first video highlights how some schools are using technology to empower learning.   The other video illustrates how schools are personalizing learning for their diverse group of students.













Since the release of the video I have received many messages about being "the technology school", or the "technology principal".  I understand these labels and, I suppose on the surface, they are true.


And yet these videos (and my messages) are incomplete


The untold story of these videos, as it relates to my school community, is that our success lies in our sense of community, which is rooted in faith. 

Tom Hierck, who school visited our school, recently and wrote the following reflection:  
I was particularly impressed by the commitment to create meaningful relationships and a culture of caring. From my viewpoint that's the biggest reason the school has a 100% graduation rate….
Our school has a special faith-filled spirit that consistently celebrates and embraces community.  This is evident in the joy with which teachers, students and parents share their gifts in the many service opportunities available. 

We personalize and individualize teaching so that all students have the opportunity to meet learning outcomes across the curricula. The school is proud that it has worked hard for over 15 years to achieve 100% graduation. I believe that our graduates are fuelled by the desire to be lifelong learners, to serve creatively and humbly and to promote the power of community in the world.


I am grateful that we had the opportunity to share our story through these videos.  I proud of our students and staff and the hard work they put forth on a daily basis.  I also realize that there were many other schools that could have been highlighted.

The students and teachers of the 21st century version of our school reap the rewards of learning and teaching in community and know to respect that these are the  legacy of a previous century where our illustrious alumni, teachers and religious, fostered those seeds of community that endure so profoundly today. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Bullying: Looking For Answers in All The Wrong Places

It is heartbreaking to witness the pain of someone enduring the effects of bullying.  Making our school safe for all our students is a responsibility I take very seriously.  Learning and growing in community cannot exist in an environment of fear, intimidation, harassment, or loneliness.

Recently I've been reading about how more and more provincial/state governments are passing laws/legislation to "rid schools of bullying".  Ontario has passed such legislation.  In the United States, following the tragic events at Columbine, many states passed zero-tolerance laws dealing with bullying.

As I understand it, the government here in British Columbia is also contemplating such legislation.

This pending reality here in BC has me asking:

Are we looking for answers in all the wrong places? 
From my experience, most/all schools and school districts have clearly written anti-bullying polices.  The criminal code of Canada already has sections included in it that make certain behaviors associated with bullying illegal (e.g. criminal harassment)

In a recent Maclean's Magazine editorial, the authors assert that in th jurisdictions that have passed "tough anti-bullying legislation" things are not getting better.
 "....after 13 years of attention and legislation, everyone seems to agree that it's getting worse.  Something has gone very very wrong."
Many have suggested that this "get tough legislation" experiment has driven the problem further underground with students and has "increased the hostility and escalates the bullying."

When I think about this reality, I am reminded of Peter Senge's quote:
Today's problems are a consequence of yesterday's solutions.
We need to take notice of this evidence.

The solutions require a systemic understanding of the problem.

As much as I don' t think that legislation or policies provide the complete solution, I would also argue that one off "anti-bullying" events can lull us into a false sense of reality.

Any workshop, awareness day, school policies, slogan or legislation need to be a part of something much more systemic - namely an ethos of love, kindness, forgiveness and caring that imbue a school's culture and relationships.  These values need to communicated and lived daily - by every adult and every student, in every class and in every relationship.

When someone in the community experiences hurt, the situation needs to be dealt with immediately.  A conversation, a phone call, a meeting, a suspension (away from school or in-school), restitution, restorative actions - any and all interventions that will restore justice to the situation.

Schools need to have polices and protocols in place.  The real work lies in acting on the polices and protocols.   This requires the adults in school (usually administrators) to "skate into the puck."  It requires courage and fortitude.  Intervening can be difficult and charged with emotion but intervene we must.

Let me also emphatically state that both victim and perpetrator need to be treated with the utmost respect and care.  Bullying is a problem of brokenness.   Our job is restore wholeness.

The evidence is clear  - legislation will not "rid" schools of bullying.