Friday, December 30, 2011

80,000 reasons for YouTube at school

Three years ago our school (special shout out to @pholowka1) created a YouTube Channel to capture the many school videos created by our Student Council and Audio Visual Class.

Recently I was reminded of the power of this channel  when I encountered an alumni who told me she had just finished watching the annual talent show on our YouTube channel.

This prompted me to once again review the statistics of our channel in detail.  The numbers are telling.  Over the years we have posted 184 videos including school assemblies, school play promo videos, annual school promo "Celtic Life" videos or other current event related news.

In total, our YouTube channel is approaching 80,000 views to date! Our students, parents, relatives, alumni and friends are going to the site and watching.  We are staying in touch.  Our school community is finding this medium engaging, entertaining and informative.

Our YouTube channel enables us to:
  • Animate and enliven school life for our parents and extended community (if a picture is worth a thousand words -what is a video worth?)
  • Market our school in an authentic and engaging manner
  • Gives our students yet another avenue to showcase their talents
  • Connect with parents who cannot always attend school events 
  • Keep long-lasting connections with our alumni and friends
Moving forward I envision us using our YouTube channel in other innovative and informative ways.

For those schools (and school systems) still blocking YouTube at school - I have 80,000 reasons to make you reconsider.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Build, Nourish and Showcase

Our annual talent show is a great showcase of student talent and community celebration.  There are no "winners" or "losers".  We don't give out medals or ribbons.  We don't rate the acts.  Students share their passion-driven learning in front of a caring and supportive community.

As I sat a watched act after act - frequently moved to tears of inspiration  - I couldn't help but reflect on the role of "school".  Schools need to be a places that build and nourish passion driven learning and simultaneously provide avenues to showcase those newly honed abilities and talents.  Indeed our classrooms need to be places of daily  "talent shows".

I am grateful to our Student Council for, once again, hosting this great event.

All the acts and videos are now posted on our school's YouTube Channel.  I have hi-lighted just a few acts below:

Check out the video editing, story writing and animations skills in these clips

Do you like to sing?  Here are few acts

Shall we dance?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Learning For Life in Our Times - Get on with it!

I have just finished reading 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times by Trilling & Fadel.

The book presents a framework of key skills and competencies for teaching and learning in schools that meet the needs of the 21st century.

Some the Key Skills and Competencies include: 
  • CORE SUBJECTS (English, World languages, Arts, Mathematics, Science,  History, Government and Civics) 
  • CRITICAL THINKING AND PROBLEM SOLVING Reason Effectively Systems Thinking 
  • ICT (Information, Communications and Technology) LITERACY
For a  more detailed description you can see this: P21 Framework 

I  enjoyed reading about the key elements of the framework and particularly enjoyed  the latter half of the book - where the authors emphasize and illustrate real changes happening in schools today.   

In its practical application, 21st Century skills require students to be engaged in Project, Problem, Design or Inquiry Based Learning  - where the teacher is more of a learning coach (not just a content transmitter) and the students are drivers of their own learning - usually by solving complex, real-world problems . 

The authors also comment on such items such as assessments, curriculum, teacher professional development and innovative learning spaces.

One particular area of reform that I see as essential and potentially providing an  "ah ha" moment  for all stakeholders is in the area curriculum reform.  Like I've written before, the authors stress that it is time to get away from a "mile wide and an inch thick" model of curriculum -  established to satisfy a "teach to the test" system.  Instead, the authors advocate for curricula that have a have a" few big ideas that have real world relevance" and have students hone some essential skills (see above)

Overall the authors provide a clear and convincing vision for 21st century learning.

Here a few personal questions and thoughts moving forward:
  • We need to get to our preferred future sooner rather than later.
  • We all know of "pockets of innovation and excellence" in our schools and school systems.   As school leaders we need to find ways to have these "pockets" of best practice envelope our respective school cultures.  This can only be done by authentic and respectful  collaboration and dialogue.   In this regard, social media can exponentially increase a teachers PLN and deal and crippling blow to teacher isolation, apprehension and fear.
  • As individual schools we need to "push the envelope".  Rather than waiting for the system to change, perhaps our actions can shape the system. 
  • As  a secondary school principal,  I see a need to include leaders of post secondary institutions as partners in our efforts to reform and improve our system.    
Let"s get on with it already.....

Monday, December 12, 2011

Are We Dealing With Academic Snobbery?

Recently a colleague shared some insights from a book he was reading - Campus Confidential - 100 startling things you don't know about Canadian universities.   The authors, ex-Deans of Canadian Universities, raise a number of points regarding the role of high schools in preparing students for university. 

One particular issue the book deals with is "grade inflation" in high school.  My colleague shared the following quotes:
"On average, students grades drop by 10 points [when they start university]. Alarmingly, those who come to university with the highest marks suffer the biggest drop.. . . the reason is grade inflation"
And another one here: 
"Universities are not total patsies, and there is a secret they don't like to broadcast.  Registrars, who are responsible for university admissions, know that not all high schools are the same.  Over time, they collect data on the academic experience of graduates from individual schools.  They can then handicap the students from outlier schools. If Nowhere Secondary School consistently gives overly generous grades, applicants from that school will have their grade averages discounted.  An 80 percent student from Nowhere Secondary School might get credit for a 'real' standing of 76%"
This email elicited some interesting responses from some of my colleagues:

From one colleague: 
Having a son who just entered university, let me comment on his experience.   He entered university with a fairly high average.  On his first paper the prof gave him a score in the 70’s.  As pointed out, the result was far below what my son was accustomed to receiving.  After a couple other similar scores the prof told my son that he really appreciated his work.  According to the prof, my son’s writing was well beyond his classmates and more like a post-graduate student’s work.  Yet the marks remained the same.  So I have to ask; was my son’s work at high school inflated or is the prof’s assessment simply academic snobbery?   I trust that our teachers know who the university bound students are and are doing their best to give authentic and accurate assessment to those students.  I think that some of onus is on the university profs to give students accurate assessment feedback and not simply blame high schools for inflating marks.
 From another colleague:
In reality, I guess I knew how “to play school” (i.e. did all of the 50+ odd numbered math questions for  homework; wrote my name on the top left corner of the essays; regurgitate what the teacher wanted on command on tests; coloured within the lines; had perfect attendance; “was a pleasure to have in class”; arrived on time for class; etc…).

Thankfully I learned in subsequent years at university, the creative and critical skills that would support me in my professional life.
Some more thoughts:
They (the authors) also point out that preparing students for university is not the sole aim of high school so in many ways its unfair to expect high schools to cater to the needs of universities.  Its impossible to deny that primary and secondary education has to deal with many issues that universities don't.....However I do agree with the deans that inflated grades aren't a measure of success regardless of the method that is used to determine them.  Instead all they really do is paint a false picture of student performance. Which is why they said that the students with the highest grades suffered the most severe grade drops in university and is (in their opinion) the primary reason why the drop out rate is in university is approaching 20%.
I also have some of my own questions and thoughts:
  • Let's agree that grades are not the best way to measure and quantify learning.  At best they are an imperfect remedy to a complex process (that is the learning process).  As someone tweeted the other day, "in some instances grades corrupt ones view of success".    I do believe that as educators we need acknowledge that we learn from our mistakes.  Learning is a process.  Like I've written before  -  Grading Failure is not an option
  • I can only speak about my own under graduate experience in university.  I am not sure we can (or should)  always look to university professors as models of pedagogy and best assessment practice.   Again, from my perspective, most professors that I encountered in my under graduate work were interested  in their own research and writing – not necessary holistic assessment and good teaching pedagogy.
  • Any time we talk about fixing "grade inflation" we get into conversation about about maintaining "high standards and expectations"  and "Rigour".  I think we need to be clear about what each of these ideals look like in our 21st Century Classroom.
  • I have been immersed in many conversations and read much on how our K-12 system of education must adapt to the needs of our 21st century world.   I am hearing much about the need to personalize learning, to emphasize key skills surrounding literacy, numeracy, critical thinking, ICT, creativity and collaboration - and how technology increasingly enhances the teaching and  learning of these skills.  I am participating in conversations that de-emphasize grading and, instead,  magnify learning.  
  • Are Deans and professors having these types of conversations?  Are changes imminent in post-secondary institutions? If we want to change the "system" then surely our post-secondary instututions need to be apart of this change.
    I would love to hear the answers to some of these questions from those teaching and learning in post-secondary institutions.  Let's keep this conversation going..... 

    Thursday, December 8, 2011

    Calibrating My Compass

    I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving. To reach the port of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it – but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie anchor.
    Oliver Wendell Holmes

    Time for me to "calibrate my compass". What direction am I moving? Hopefully I am not "drifting" or rigidly "anchored" in the past.

    In my thinking about creating a "shared vision",  it is important for me to reflect and seek alignment with my personal vision with that of the "organisation's".

    As a reflective practitioner I have been discerning my own professional vision statement as I move forward as a Catholic school principal.  I like to think of this process as "calibrating my professional compass points":
    I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13
    My actions speak louder than my words.
    I strive to be a person of the Beatitudes,  living with integrity between word and action.
    I find ways to nourish and inform my soul.
    Faith and reason coexist. Love, compassion, forgiveness and empathy always trump intolerance and zealotry  
     Made in God's image, each individual student is unique, talented and "a gift".
    Students are given unique opportunities to develop spiritually, academically, physically, emotionally and creatively.
    Students continue to be a source of inspiration and motivation
    I am figuring things out.  I am a learner. I am dedicated to learning about emerging and proven teaching practices (pedagogy) that honours the "uniqueness and giftedness" of each child.
    Technology is more than just a gimmick or fad and enhances pedagogy.
    Our students need to be empowered and motivated to make a positive difference in our world.
    Our students need to be readers, writers, creators, innovators, critical thinkers, curators of information, and collaborators.
    I trust the students, staff and parents I work with. I model respectful collaboration and collegiality - within my school building and beyond.
    Parents are my partners. I am humbly grateful to them for entrusting their children to my care.
    Living and learning in community is "life giving".  Relationships matter.  I cherish "An Ethos of Us" in schools
    I trust my instincts as a leader. I learn from my mistakes. I embrace vulnerability.
    I don't take myself too seriously. I seek joy, laughter and humour.  After all, "it's only high school
    I seek comfort in this prayer:
    God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
    Courage to change the things I can,
    And wisdom to know the difference. 
    I would really like to see what others are thinking by way of their own professional  vision statements.  Thoughts and comments are always welcome.  Perhaps we can use the #mycompass hashtag to share tweets and thoughts.

    Still figuring it out....

    Monday, December 5, 2011

    Thoughts and Pictures from China

    I was recently in China visiting a few schools. As I reflect back on my trip I am left with a few lasting impressions: 

    • The Chinese people are extremely warm and hospitable. 
    • Students in China (like Canada) are most happy when given the opportunity to be active participants in their learning. 
    • All the Chinese educators I spoke to saw a need to improve their system of education. One official identified fostering creativity among students as a key competency for improvement moving forward.
    • Size matters in China. The large nature of Chinese schools (and classrooms) appear to be a challenge for many educators.
    The more people involved in education I meet,  at home and abroad, the more convinced I become that despite some of our obvious differences,  we share many of the same worries, joys and challenges.

    Much in China is done on a large scale.  Students in China spend at least 10 hours at school.  This is a picture of a high school gym.  The school is home to 6500 students.  

    This high school cafeteria can sit 1500 students at one time.

    Meeting with officials from a local education bureau.  Social/work gatherings like this are very important.

    Cranes fill the landscape in China.  Yes that is smog in the background.....

    Break dancing in Beijing - no, not me

    Wednesday, November 16, 2011

    An Ethos of "Us"

    The other day I our school hosted three volleyball games in our gym.  Each of our girls' volleyball teams (Bantam, Junior and Senior) hosted their respective league championship game.  

    The experience was nothing short of amazing.  With each game, the crowds of cheering students, teachers, parents and alumni packed our gym.   It was standing room only.  The gym was electric with school spirit.  I saw alumni from as far back as 30 years joining in on the cheering.  I saw Gr. 12 students cheering in support of their  Gr. 8 school mates.

    At one point in the evening I was approached by a parent from a visiting school and he asked me "what our secret was" for nurturing this kind of school spirit.

    At the time, I didn't really provide him a good answer.

    I keep reflecting on that incredible evening (an similar ones I have experienced).  Why do the students, parents, teachers and alumni feel so connected to the school and each other? 

    There are a multitude of reasons.  Perhaps the most significant, however, is the fact that students have a deep sense of ownership in the school.   There is an intentional effort, by the adults in the building, to enable and guide students to take ownership of their school, its culture and their learning. 

    The "ownership" I speak of is rooted in few core ideals: Giving our students an authentic voice in their school life and making them co-creators of school culture.  The bottom line is that students want to make a positive difference for their classmates and their school.  The requirement of the adults is that we...well..."get out of their way". 

    There are numerous student driven initiatives at our school that help animate this student  ownership and authentic voice.  Such as :

    • Peer Counselors:  Moderated and trained by our school counselors, these students provide a listening ear to students who need support. These students also assist in the planning and delivery of student workshops such as our “Anti-Violence Workshop”, “Anti-Bullying Workshop”, “Healthy Living Workshop” and “Drug Awareness Workshop” 
    • Peer Tutors  Within our school’s  pyramid of intervention, these peer tutors provide another level of academic support for students 
    •  Peer Ministers  We have a large number of students who want to nurture their own prayer life but also be leaders of prayer – leading small group and school wide prayer services. These students also assist in the planning of grade level retreats.
    • Student Parliament This group meets the day to day needs of students and and is a vehicle for communicating various aspects of student life. They plan and run school assemblies   and other events like our annual talent show
    • Grad U 8’s This is a group of Gr. 12 students who volunteer their time to mentor our Gr. 8 students when they arrive at our school. This year, 60% of our Gr. 12 class volunteered to be a part of this group. When asked why they joined this group one Gr. 12 students told me “it’s important that the Gr. 8’s understand what it means to be St. Pat’s student. We want make sure that the school remains a safe, caring and loving place.” 
    (I would also like to mention Project Outreach (Me to We), the  Hospitality Club and AV Club here) 
      The net result is an amazing "ethos of US" -  where students are empowered, as much as the adults, to co-create their school culture - so that:
      • When we celebrate, we do it together (including filling the gym for a volleyball game). 
      • When we have challenges, we deal with them together. 
      • When tragedy hits, we mourn together. 
      • When someone is hurting, we comfort them together. 
      • When someone makes a mistake, together, we support them. 
      I am very proud of the “ethos of us“ at our school.  –  allowing relationships to foster and learning to flourish in a safe, caring and loving community. 
      Future Conversations
      Interestingly enough, as we embark on revitalizing our education system in BC, much of conversation revolves "personalizing" the learning for our students.  For me, the key to achieving this "personalized learning" is to give students ownership of their learning.  Perhaps the best way of achieving this is by giving students an authentic voice and enabling them to be co-creators of the learning culture in their schools and classes.    

      As always I am always eager to hear what other schools are doing to foster this "ethos of us".  Please share your thoughts.....

      Friday, November 11, 2011

      Together we Remembered

      Wreaths were laid by the Cenotaph  borrowed by Mt. Pleasant Legion 
      On November 10th our the staff and students, under the leadership of our International Club, welcomed Fukushima Seikei High School.  This was the second visit from this particular Japanese school - the other came in November of 2010.
      Japanese students demonstrate "radio exercises"

      Eight months ago, on March 11 2010, the Fukushima area was hit by a devastating 9.0 magnitude earthquake. The quake and the ensuing tsunami left the area devastated with nearly 2000 people losing their lives. Of course, the natural disaster was further aggravated by the subsequent nuclear reactor problems. 

      School VP Ando and I spoke about the effects the earthquake had on her school
      Given our relationship with our friends from Fukushima, news reports from Japan were particularly difficult to watch.  Our thoughts and prayers were with them.  In addition to our prayerful best wishes, our school community raised over $2000 for the relief efforts. 

      On this most recent visit, our school communities came together to once again celebrate cultural diversity and all the richness it provides.

      This was an opportunity have the world "shrink" just a little bit more for our respective communities.

      Given the tragic events of eight months ago, the visit also took on a somewhat deeper meaning.

      While we celebrated a wide array of culturally diverse traditions, we were also reminded of our shared humanity.

      Students from both schools were invited to open their eyes and hearts to the humanity that binds us together as a globe.

      One of the defining moments of the day was the Remembrance Day Peace Assembly.  Students from both schools participated in this wonderful assembly.

      The assembly, highlighted a couple of important values we all share as global citizens: 
      • As fellow human beings in this world it is important that we come to appreciate not only our diversity but also our commonality 
      • That together we should all mourn our fallen soldiers 
      •  That together we all yearn for peace 
       And that

      • Together we need come to together to help our fellow humans in times of crisis 

      On that day I was reminded of the importance of how we, as a school, need to continue to give our students an opportunity appreciate and celebrate cultural diversity and simultaneously embrace our singular humanity. 

      Thursday, November 3, 2011

      BYOD Policy - Personal Electronic Devices at School

      This year our school has adopted the following policy regarding Personal Electronic Devices:

      Personal Electronic Devices (PED’s) have the potential for positive communication and enhanced student learning. Along with these benefits come associated risks and concerns.At St. Patrick Regional Secondary, P.E.D.’s must only be used to enhance safety and as a tool to promote student learning and achievement.  P.E.D.’s are limited to authorized educational uses only.

      Some prohibited uses of PEDs include: academic dishonesty (cheating), interference or disruption of the teaching-learning environment, violations of a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy, compromising personal and/or school safety and any other illegal and/or unethical activities.Failure to comply with this policy may result in the confiscation of the PED and/or disciplinary action. The school assumes no responsibility for the loss, recovery, repair or replacement for any PED brought onto school property.
      When unauthorized for use, PEDs are to be kept out-of-sight, turned off and not used within school premises or during school-sanctioned events.  

      This policy is a start of a much larger initiative linked to our 21st Century Learning Plan .   As move forward with the idea of leveraging the student's own devices to enhance learning, a couple of early observations and ideas emerge:

      • As we embrace mobile technology and social media we need to all be intentional in our approach to teaching and modelling digital citizenship.
      • We are discussing the idea of a adding a mobile device (specs to be determined) to our list of recommend school supplies for students.  Of course this leads to issues of access.  How do we fill the gap for those students that cannot afford a mobile device? 
      • We need to be clear on the role technology plays in the teaching/learning process.
      All thoughts and insights are welcome!  

      Tuesday, November 1, 2011

      The Vision Thing

      I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving. To reach the port of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it – but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie anchor.
      Oliver Wendell Holmes
      Why do we do what we do?
      This is a question I keep asking myself as principal (and teacher). The answer, I believe, is rooted in our stated vision (and mission and values). It provides the road map for our school structures, policies, and how we engage in teaching and learning with our students.
      A Definition
      An organizational/school vision is based on possibilities - a desire for a preferred future. In the Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge writes,” A vision is a view of a desired future which is grounded in the past and present and is widely shared and accepted.” (Senge, 1990).
      While many practitioners and researchers bestow the belief that, for leaders or organizations to be effective they must possess a shared and accepted vision, there are some who look at the “vision thing” (as quoted by President George H. W. Bush) with great skepticism and ridicule.
      One reason for this is that many see vision statements as “pie in the sky” or cliche statements that have no personal meaning or understanding (usually formulated at a weekend retreat).  For many schools,  these documents become dust collectors - pulled out for the school inspections or accreditation. 
      Perhaps we must be careful not to reduce strategic planning and visioning to a one-time fix-all solution to organizational/school challenges. I would argue that “visions” and strategic plans are evolutionary in nature and thus take time. Like Michael Fullan has suggested, 
      ...visions must not be formulated prematurely or they run the risk of becoming meaningless.  Visions die prematurely when they are mere paper products produced by leadership teams, when they are static or even wrong, and when they attempt to impose a false consensus suppressing rather than enabling personal visions to flourish” (Fullan). 
      Indeed the most effective organisational visions align personal visions with those of the organization/school. As Peter Senge writes:
      Today, vision is a familiar concept in corporate leadership. But when you look carefully you find that most visions are one person’s (or one group’s) vision imposed on an organisation. Such visions, at best, command compliance – not commitment.
      Towards a shared vision
      The idea of a "shared vision" has always been a powerful one.  As Peter Senge writes, 
      A shared vision is a vision that many people are truly committed to, because it reflects their own personal vision (Senge, 1990).
      The Role of Principal and Teacher
      It is my belief that, regardless of who creates the vision, the principal has a critical role of initiator, promoter, and guardian. 
      The role of teachers is equally important.  Teachers ultimately "translate abstract ideas into practical classroom application, and they can do this better when they are actively involved in developing the vision” (Lashway).
      Animating our Vision
      This year we have embarked on the process of animating our school’s vision by asking all staff to reflect on aspects of our vision (mission and values as well)  and how those values translate in to our everyday practices and assumptions.

      This process becomes increasingly important as our school (and school system) chooses to  respond and adapt to the Ministry of Education’s proposed new “personalized learning” initiative. 

      Monday, October 24, 2011

      You made all the difference

      Yesterday marked the 1 year anniversary of me joining Twitter and in a few weeks  it will be the 1 year anniversary of me "going live" with my blog..

      What a year it's been. I have connected with some remarkable educators, parents and students.  
      My learning has been stretched to new levels.

      While I can write, at length, about the incredible impact that social media  has had on my own professional learning - I want to dedicate this post to a group of people who took the time to welcome and encourage me as a new user.


      David Wees @davidwees - for pointing out hash-tags like #bced and #cpchat

      Patrick Larkin @bhsprincipal - just for saying "hi and welcome", and for  "publishing" an early blog posts on the #cpchat daily (that was an exciting moment)

      Peter Vogel @PeterVogel - former teacher of mine who introduced to me Twitter months before I actually signed up and for giving me some pointers on settings, etc.

      Cale Birk @birklearns - for, early on, "mentioning" me in one of his blog posts.

      Chris Wejr @MrWejr - for reaching out, connecting, mentioning and  being one of the first to "RT" one of my tweets

      Chris Kennedy @chrkennedy - for being one of the early followers and commentators on my blog.

      Justine Tarte @justintarte - for being an early "affirming voice" and sharing my posts with others

      Darcy Mullin @darcymullin - for always asking great questions on my blog

      Today, more than ever, I am excited and eager to to continue nurturing all of my professional learning relationships whether through social media or face to face.

      I am particularly grateful to these handful of "colleagues" who took the time to welcome me, guide me and connect with me when I was a "social media" newbie - it made all the difference!

      My experience with these individuals is a reminder to always reach out to those in my community -  both on-line and face to face.  After all you never know when the "little things" can make all the difference.

      Friday, October 21, 2011

      “Relax - it’s only high school” – dealing with mental health in schools

      This post was inspired by the sad story  of Canuck hockey player Rick Rypien and his unfortunate death after a long struggle with depression. 

      Our students are too busy! When I consider the number of hours some of our students "work"  in an average week (academic expectations, extra-curricular activities, service hours, volunteer hours, job, and other societal pressures, etc.) I start to worry about the health and well-being of this generation. 

      Simultaneous to this increased pressure on students (I do think there is a direct correlation) , I have also seen a noticeable increase in the number of students who are “shutting down” due to stress and anxiety related illnesses – students who are no longer willing or capable of dealing with the day to day expectations of student life.

      Over the last 5 years, as a school, we have had to allocate more and more resources towards the  mental health of our students.

      This is a sad but necessary reality.

      As a parent of young children myself, it scares me.

      While I don’t have all the answers I think we can do a couple of things as teachers and schools:

      • As teachers we need to model healthy and balanced lives. My job can consume me. The demands on my time can be overwhelming. I owe it to my family and friends to be present to them. I owe it to myself to dedicate personal time to feed my soul and keep my body healthy. Oh, one more thing – it’s OK to say “No” sometimes. 

      • Provide students multiple avenues to share their worries. Students need adults that they trust to share their worries, fears and frustrations. I’m proud of the counseling services we provide our students. At our school, we also provide Peer Counselors to our students. These student counselors are trained (this is a critically important piece) to provide a listening and empathetic ear. 

      • Naming and teaching the issues – we can’t ignore “the elephants in the room”. We owe it to our students to teach them about how to live healthy lives. There are a growing number of resources that schools can access when teaching about mental health. At our school, we access support from our extended community - parents, health care providers and students to support our student’s needs – offering special workshops and teaching specific mental health related lessons.   For example, this year we added a time management component to our course selection process for students - bring this topic to the forefront of everyone's attention. 

      • Let’s find ways to take some pressure off our students. After all is said and done – perhaps the best advice comes from a teacher I respect tremendously when he shared the following thoughts some time ago: 

      “We all need to relax. After all, it’s only high school.”

      Saturday, October 15, 2011

      My Calendar

      Some time ago, my father in-law shared with me the following experience:

      The story starts with him stumbling upon a box of his old "yearly day planners” - going back some 40 years. The planners were an archive of his entire working career.

      Having some time, he decided to go through these planners and take a “walk down memory lane”. He poured through the planners. He relived the “daily grind” - busy days and countless meetings with scores of people.

      He went through roughly 20 years’ worth of planners before he stopped. The process was upsetting him.

      To paraphrase him: 

      “As a working person I was very busy. I worked long days. The stress levels were, at times, unbearable. My work felt so important, at the time….”

      Then the other shoe fell….

      “Going through these day planners, all these years later, I realized that I didn’t remember virtually any of the meetings or events listed in those books….. Except for those related to my children (births, birthdays, & other special events)

      His experience has left a lasting impression with me.

      It forced me to think about the balance I have (or don’t have) between my own family life and my professional “working life”.

      How am I filling my calendar? Are the people I’m meeting with, interactions I’m having and relationships I’m making, going to be memorable?

      What will I remember when I look back at my “archived digital calendar”?

      I hope that when I look back in the rear-view mirror, I can say that I was a caring and loving father and husband first and foremost.

      I want my professional career to be defined as “not only doing things right but also doing the right things” for the students in my care.

      I want to look back and remember scores of meaningful relationships with colleagues and students.

      Monday, October 10, 2011

      Standards and Expectations

      I recently read a collection of essays entitled Students' Voice: What Makes a Great Teacher (published by the AP College Board).  In the essays, the students' describe their greatest teachers as having qualities such as:  a contagious passion for learning, caring deeply for their students,  finding various ways to make the learning relevant to students and "never quitting" on students.

      One of the essays attempts to address the  issue of having "high expectations" of students.  Here is an excerpt from a student testimonial:
      Mr. Seltzer expected us to produce quality work every day. He graded our work harshly, checking grammar and punctuation and making sure our writing was clear and direct. Low grades were common. When I saw my low grades at the start of the year— in the 70s, when I was used to 90s — I realized that I could easily fail the class. By the end of the year, I had an 80 average. Though this was lower than I was used to, it meant more to me than a 90 from another teacher. An 80 from Mr. Seltzer was a real accomplishment.
      In my opinion, this quote dangerously blurs the notion of  having high expectations of our students' work and setting high grading standards for our students.

      It appears that Mr. Seltzer has high expectations of his students.  He wants his students to produce high quality work.  I believe that all effective teacher share this attribute.   Generally speaking, teachers who set high expectations of their students and provide them with  the necessary supports to achieve those expectations are highly successful - students rarely disappoint.

      The situation, as described in the quote, becomes a little scary when the teacher appears to set his own grading  standards.  For me, this type of scenario is problematic for the following reasons:
      • The apparent large "gap" in practice from one classroom to another is symptomatic of teacher isolation and silos of best practice or "malpractice".
      • This type of inconsistent grading practice within a school ultimately creates confusion among students and parents and can be the source of unhealthy stereotyping.
      • Quality teaching and learning should not be left to chance in a school.  Students enrolled in the same in course, taught by multiple teachers, should expect have to a measure of consistency in grading, assessment and pedagogy.
      So how can we mitigate against these inconsistent "high" grading standards?  Here are some solutions that I propose:

      Outcomes Based Grading - linking grades to specific learning outcomes in a deliberate and concrete way.  I recommend reading this great article from ASCD on standards based grading.  In my opinion this is the best way to authentically capture student grades that are consistent and reliable.  The students in Mr. Seltzer's class deserve to be graded according to the mandated learning outcomes -consistently applied within a school and/or department.
      (A disclaimer: Attaching letter grades and percentages is not the best of way to measure and inspire learning.  Nonetheless our current education "system" requires us to do so.)

      School Wide Grading Protocols
      Having clear and common expectations when grading students is something we have implemented at our school.  You may want to see our school's grading policy here

      Collaborative Grading
      Teachers coming together to examine, review and grade student work promotes collaboration, common standards, and consistency.

      As teacher practitioners,  our students and school communities are are best served if we are clear on the difference between having high expectations of our students and clear and consistent standards when grading our students.

      Still figuring it out.....

      Wednesday, October 5, 2011


      As a principal, I’m on a journey. I am eager to learn how our school can continue to meet the academic, social, emotional, physical and spiritual needs of all our "21st century students".  

      Let me openly declare that   I am not an expert in “21st Century Learning” (I am excited about this topic and I recently ordered the book 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times by Bernie Trilling).

      As we engage in conversations around topics like personalized learning, 21st Century skills, learning for all,  etc – I am, at times, confronted with the concept of “academic rigour” as not being inclusive or supportive of the aforementioned.

      I have heard comments and questions like:

      “Can we personalize learning and still maintain academic rigor?”

      “It seems that academic rigor no longer exists - no more Provincial Exams, assessment polices that “ban zero’s, etc.) 

      These are questions and comments that need to be addressed. I certainly invite the dialogue. However before we go further, we need to have a firm handle of what we mean when we use the term “academic rigor”.

      Given my own lack clarity around the idea of  “rigor” I decided to do some reading and reflecting  on the topic. 
      Here is what has out stood for me: 

      Rigour is not synonymous with More:

      • content 
      • worksheets 
      • homework 
      • lectures 
      • tests
      • high stakes exams 
      • learning outcomes 
      Rigour is not synonymous with Faster:
      • Pacing 
      • Lectures/Talking 
      • Covering of curriculum
      Rigour is not synonymous with Uniform
      • Instruction 
      • Delivery 
      • Assessment 
      • Classes (Honours Classes, AP Classes, etc.) 
      I have come across a number of good working definitions of rigour for the 21st Century, including:
      “Rigor is the goal of helping students develop the capacity to understand content that is complex, ambiguous, provocative, and personally or emotionally challenging.”
      Teaching What Matters Most: Standards and Strategies for Raising Student Achievement 
      R. W. Strong, Harvey F. Silver and Matthew J. Perini, 
      ASCD, 2001. 
      “…in a rigorous school, students not only learn, do, and reflect, they also master such twenty-first-century skills as critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, collaboration, project management, and written and oral communication”

      At this time, for me, rigour is about challenging and supporting students to be “deep thinking” (i.e. critical thinkers) and reflective learners in an environment that is passion driven, motivating, collaborative, accountable and maintains a climate of high expectations for individual learners.

      It might be more constructive, when we talk about “rigor” in school, to consider that we are not talking about More, Faster, and Uniform

      Still figuring it out...

      Monday, October 3, 2011

      The Best Part of My Day

      Today was an office day. Reports, phone calls, emails, meetings. Except during lunch. During lunch I saw a student eating lunch all alone. I sat on on hall floor next to him.

      He ate his sandwich, I ate mine.

      He was having a good day. Me too.

      He told me he went fishing this past weekend. He caught a couple of bottom fish and a crab. He told me how excited he was to have a crab dinner tonight!

      I asked how his year was going so far. He told me it was good. He liked the fact that he was meeting new friends and that he could now "work out" at school.

      We talked for about 10 minutes. 

      It was the best part of my day

      Sunday, September 25, 2011

      Lost Generation?

      Last week I read two great posts from Cale Birk (@birklearns) and Chris Wejr (@mrwejr) debunking the myth that  the youth of this generation  are lazy, disengaged, apathetic and lethargic.  If  you haven't read the posts I encourage you to read them here and  here.

      These two posts reminded me of a  2 minute video called Lost Generation.  Take 2 minutes and watch it below:

      Nuff said....

      Friday, September 23, 2011

      Skating into the Puck: A Leadership Competency

      I have been known to use the "skating into the puck" metaphor to explain a particular leadership competency in my role as principal. The more I reflect upon it, the more significant and profound it becomes. 

      And so, as another hockey season is about to begin (Go Canucks Go!), I thought I would reflect and unpack its significance for me: 

      Tough situations
      In hockey, “skating into the puck” usually signifies going to the “tough” part of ice (after all , no one is going to easily “give up the puck”). In my role as principal, this may involve having a difficult conversation or making a difficult decision (usually the conversation that others don’t want to have, decisions others don’t want to make or taking actions others might shy away from).

      Knowing when to skate into the puck
      In hockey, engaging with someone without the puck is an interference penalty. Likewise in my job, I can’t “skate into the puck” in all situations. At times, various stakeholders come to me demanding that I intervene in a given situation. Depending on circumstance and/or participant, it may not be prudent or proper to get involved. Sometimes professional ethics and/or protocols demand that someone else “skate into the puck”.

      Respecting the individual
      Skating into the puck does not mean “taking a roughing penalty”. My interactions need to be respectful and empathetic in nature and based on the true spirit of collegiality. Communication rooted in honesty is a non-negotiable. 
      While we may not always agree, we must always respectfully disagree.

      It’s not personal
      If you’re a skater in hockey, your job is to possess the puck. There are times when my job demands that I "skate into the puck".  It’s not personal, it’s my job.

      To be honest, "skating into the puck" can be very draining and difficult .  At times I'd rather avoid it and take a "floater" instead.  

      Nonetheless, as another school year begins, I know that for me to be most effective, I must "skate into the puck". 

      Do you have your own favorite “leadership” metaphor? I would love to hear about it...

      Friday, September 16, 2011

      Our "21st Century Learning" Vision

      I was recently asked by my superintendent of schools to share our school’s vision for “21st Century Learning”. While I am not going to share the entire scope of the presentation, I thought I would share the main ideas of our plan

      The plan has four main components:

      Access & Consistency
      Our school currently has over 120 networked computer stations (550 staff & students) with a common interface. We want our students and staff to have a consistent user experience regardless of the station they are working at.

      We have also made the decision to offer Wi-Fi to all our staff and students. Over the past two years we have focused our efforts in making the Wi Fi network stable and accessible. Through the expertise of our IT teacher (yes, one person) we now have the bandwidth necessary to offer Wi-Fi to all the personal electronic devices that both staff and students bring to school. (Currently it is set to handle up to 1000 IP addresses/devices but can be scaled to handle more).

      From the school’s perspective, investing in this infrastructure is a strategic and cost effective decision that has tremendous implications for teaching and learning at our school. It is also worth noting that we have invested in upstream filters (at the source) for the school - blocking sites that involve illegal activity but allowing the rest (sites like Facebook, YouTube are NOT blocked). 

      In my opinion, one of the main components of "21st Century Learning" is redefining how we communicate and collaborate as learners. Some of the initiatives that we have undertaken include: launching a new website that takes full advantage of social media, including: Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and our own YouTube Channel. We have also created the capacity for students and parents to download our school calendar onto their own smart phones.

      In addition we have launched school wide, "life time" email for every student enrolled at our school, allowing for enhanced communication between teachers and students. It also allows us to stay in touch with our esteemed alumni!

      We are also in the process of launching a "cloud based" file sharing network for teachers and students, again allowing for easier communications and collaboration. (Some future initiatives involve “voice to email” service for our staff and enhancing other cloud based technologies.)

      Teaching & Learning
      I recently came across a tweet from Josh Stumpenhorst @stumpteacher in which he wrote: "Technology without good teaching is like putting on cologne without taking a shower. Get rid of the stink first."

      21st Century Learning is not just about throwing technology in the classroom. It's about being intentional about teaching and learning the skills and competencies necessary to make our students successful in this millenium. Technology is, however, a necessary vehicle to access 21st Century Learning and its related skills.

      Given this reality, we need to continue to develop our technological capacity but also be very intentional about teaching and modeling the skills associated with 21st Century Learning. Some of our current initiatives include:
      • Creating more time for teachers to enhance their own professional learning (see Building Experts post) 
      • Being extremely deliberate about teaching and modeling Digital Citizenship to all students in the school 
      • Teaching key 21st Century skills. An early priority we have identified is literacy and all its related competencies (Reading, Writing, Information Literacy, etc.). With this in mind, we have started a literacy initiative at our school 
       This is our plan, as it stands today. It will evolve. The route may change. There will be bumps along the way. We are committed to the plan and all its related challenges and risks.

       I certainly welcome any feedback and suggestions.