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.

Monday, April 23, 2012

What a Day of Learning!

Last Friday our staff engaged in the Sharing Our Learning Day   - a staff driven and owned pro-d day. The day was full engagement and relevance to our specific needs as a school community.

Below is summary of the topics discussed and shared as well as some of the feedback given by the staff.

Student Engagement Team
There is a widespread sense that traditional student motivation techniques are becoming less and less effective. In this session we will examine some current work on student engagement and discuss some research-based strategies for increasing it in the classroom.

We also surveyed a representative sample of our students about their own engagement. Curious about the results? Come and see! This session will include a short presentation, discussion and doughnuts.

Literacy Team
This team has been meeting for two years now. The team is comprised of teachers from each department in the school. Their goal was to determine the literacy skills of our current grade 8 students and work to implement various interventions. Later in the school year, the team will conduct a another assessment to measure any improvement in the students. The team shared the resulst and the various interventions they used in class. They recommended that each Department team adopt a literacy based SMART Goal in the 2012-2013 school year. They also shared specific teaching tools to assist teachers in teaching specific literacy related skills across curricular areas

Technology Team (Web Site Creation)
We hope our presentation will be practical and useful for anyone interested or just curious about making their own class website. We will be sharing our experiences with creating our own class websites using Google docs and We hope to convince all that will listen of the value in creating your own website. Check out the Prezi here

Technology Team (Document Publication/Sharing, School Email Capabilities, and Online Team/Club Management)
This will be a quick overview of some of the existing technologies available to the staff and students in the school.
Teachers will learn how to make documents accessible to students almost immediately (e.g. a worksheet that absent students can access from home the same day it is given in school).
Teachers will learn how to make the most of the existing student email service. (
An online team/club management service (TeamSnap) will be demonstrated.

Personalized Learning Team
Personalized learning for each student in British Columbia means a shift from a set of broad, uniform learning outcomes and courses, to learning that is increasingly student-initiated and self directed.
It is learning that is co-planned with students, parents, and teachers. What might this look like for us?
We will present the ministry document on personalized learning and discuss the ways in which we might put it into practise at St. Pat’s.

Problem Based Learning
My Pro-D presentation will involve everyone learning about the Problem Based Learning model I've used in the same format I taught my Physics class with. We'll apply techniques of Problem Based Learning and Social Learning theory to learn how to apply these theories in ways that get students active and involved.

AFL Team
This year the AFL community has been exploring Assessment OF Learning from the p.o.v. of AFL. For example, aligning AFL (formation) with AOL (evaluation) within the current constraints of report cards, grades, etc… Is there a difference between Learning and Grading?

Teachers will be provided with a listing (sampling) of multimedia resources that have informed our dialogue (e.g. Rick Wormeli, Dylan Wiliam, Douglas Reeves, Joe Bower, etc…).

The Feedback
Here is a sampling of the one word responses from various teachers who were in attendance:
informative (4)
productive (2)
awesome (3)

Final Thoughts
I consider myself fortunate to work with such a dedicated and hardworking group of teaching professionals. The process of Building Experts confirmed that if given the right conditions (time, focused energy, autonomy, purpose and trusting relationships) pro-d from "within" can cause the shifts in learning that are enduring, sustainable and relevant to the needs of each school.

As we plan ahead for the 2012/2013 school year, I am excited to build up the success of this year and to hosting "Sharing Our Learning Part 2"

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

We Need Community

I have attended two funerals in the past three days.

Several members  of our school community (students and teachers) have had to deal with the death of a parent.

Whether sudden or anticipated, the loss of a parent can be excruciatingly painful.  Seeing a young person coming to terms with  life without a mother or father is heartbreaking.

In the quiet moments of prayer, over the past week, I have found myself thinking about community.

In community we find hope.  As a Catholic school, community, rooted in faith, becomes a life line.

Our sense of community is shaped by authentic and real relationships.

We expect our community to be a safe haven - to accept us as we are.

We demand our community to accept us in our brokenness and in our wholeness

We want our community to share in our joys.

We  come together in community to celebrate our achievements.

This week I have been reminded of the importance and power of the support found in community during times of great loss and sorrow.

We need community.