Monday, May 30, 2011

I want them to be just like.....

Surrounded by some of our talented students 
Like all parents, my wife and I want what’s best for our children. There is a propensity, however, to have our children become who we want them to become. Even though we know better, as parents we are sometimes tempted to draw comparisons to other to children. Deep down, however, we know that we must nurture our children's talents and blessings so that they can grow into their true person-hood. 

As a teacher and Principal this temptation to compare has become more pronounced given that I am surrounded by so many wonderfully talented and inspirational young adults.

Each year, graduation and all its associated events, provides a special abundance of inspiration.

For the past five years I have witnessed our graduates persevere through the rigors that school life often present. Together they have overcome the many strains and heartbreaks that come with emerging adulthood.
I have witnessed a kaleidoscope of talent and ability. Academic talent, creativity in the arts and sporting excellence has come together in an awesome display of genius.

I have witnessed our students come together in community to share their faith. Along the way they shared their fears, doubts and vulnerabilities but in the end, came to trust that an all loving God will always be there to buttress them in their time of need.

Hopefully, as they leave our school, they do so with a profound sense of gratitude and love. Recently a student wrote me the following message:
“The school has given me a safe place to grow into who I am, rather than what someone else wanted me to be. I love this place and I will miss it.”
As their Principal I will miss them too.

As our graduates prepare to leave us, their legacy of faith, perseverance, service and leadership will add to the enduring and rich history of our school.

I must confess that as a parent, I still catch myself thinking that “when my kids grow up I want them to be just like........”

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Arts Week - "A safe and warm place to express themselves..."

This year we tried something new at our school - in an effort to celebrate the many talents of our students, particularly in the area of the arts, we hosted our 1st ever Arts Week. Each day of the week brought a different theme: visual arts, dance, video, music,literature and food (Adobo Dogs).  

We also set up a live twitter feed (#celticsarts) whereby students and staff could comment on the events of day and/or week.  The feed provided some wonderful testimonials and outpouring of gratitude (It was also another way to for us to model the proper use of social media  - as usual the students responded exceptionally).  One student tweeted: "if only school was like this all the time". 

Twitter feed #celticsarts.  
 I am proud of our teachers who had the vision and passion to see this project come to life (@gabdonn, @davisrightnow, @maricelignacio - you are amazing), the students who shared their many and diverse talents and the rest of the community who came together to celebrate and enjoy.
It was during a lunch time event that the true value of arts week came to life, when a neighbour walked up to me and said: "I think it is amazing that you are giving your students such a safe and warm place for them express themselves  and share their many talents with each other."  I couldn't agree more....can't wait for next's year's Arts Week!

Here are a few pictures of the week's events:

Our temporary art gallery featuring student art and photos.
Following the performance of our dance squad, the students broke out in in dance in streets!
This was one chalk art entry from a Gr. 8 team of students

More from the gallery

Poetry Slam and Spoken word on the patio at lunch!
100 students singing "it takes a village".  The entire community  came to hush to hear the choir sing

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

“Building Experts” - Reshaping Professional Development

We are thinking of trying something new next year in terms of Professional Development for our staff.  Loosely  modeled on Google's 20% time, we are going to change how teachers engage in their own professional learning. 

 Let me summarize:

 Professional Learning that is learner driven, job embedded and meaningful to the day to day work that teachers do, will have the biggest impact on the intrinsic motivation of teachers and have the best chance of increasing student achievement


  1. Teacher choice is critical. Teachers will choose an area that they see as being important and valuable to what they are doing in their classroom. (e.g. technology integration, personalized learning, student motivation, differentiated instruction, literacy instruction, assessment for learning, planning for instruction, problem based learning, etc.) 
  2. Teachers will be placed in teams of teachers that have chosen a similar topic 
  3. Teams will formally meet monthly (we will increase our  "late start Wednesday’s" to include the 4th Wednesday of each month) 
  4. Facilitation will be decided by the group 
  5. Each team will be provided money  for resources 
  6. Each team (and individuals) will share their discoveries during various Pro D Days throughout the school year. 
  7. Teachers who wish NOT join a team can purse a topic individually. They will be expected to use the allocated time as well as share their learning with the staff. 
The Vision
We honor teachers as professionals. They are capable of choosing a learning topic they find useful and necessary to make them better practitioners. They will be given contracted to time to cultivate this learning in a collaborative setting. Teachers will be motivated and empowered to stretch their learning.

Teams of teachers will become “building experts”. Teams will have autonomy to select resources and format of the collaborative time. Each team will present and sharing their “expertise” (successes, challenges, etc.) with the staff (and parents?) at various times throughout the school year.

Your Feedback Please
We are in the draft/discussion stage of this plan and am continuing to received feedback from some of my staff.  I was also hoping to receive feedback from my extended PLN. 

 Any comments or questions would be greatly appreciated!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

My school community is NOT a boil that needs to be "lanced"!

Last week an editorial column  appeared in a local newspaper that provided a one sided opinion on the place of independent schools in British Columbia.

Let me begin by stating that I support independent, partially funded schools in British Columbia.  My philosophical rationale, like it states on Federation of Independent School’s website, is based on the idea that,
 In a democracy, justice demands that governments do not discriminate on the basis of values, directly or indirectly.  Thus society, having assumed the responsibility of funding education, should fund all schools, regardless of philosophical or religious underpinning.
Funding should be withheld only when schools fail to demonstrate that they are educationally responsible.  The practice of tolerance allows the educational needs of minorities to be served as well as the needs of the majority, without either infringing upon the rights of the other.
 While I am in no position to speak on behalf of all independent schools in BC – nor would I think it is my place to do so - as principal of an independent school community, I was saddened and offended by how the column portrayed students and parents – particularly as it pertains to my school community.

Our Parents

The parents in my school are no different from every other family in British Columbia.  Some are single parent families others are not.  Some are new immigrants to Canada. They have the same joys, struggles, tragedies and worries like everyone else.  Their  decision to send their children to our school does not make them immune from the daily struggles and joys of raising children or the worries of losing their jobs. 

Based on my experience, our parents (as the article suggests) do not “grab some money out of the big jar of hundreds they keep by the front door, next to the key rack for the Porsche” nor are they merely “more middle-class folks, who have to scrimp and save.”

Our parents make, primary for faith based reasons, the choice to enroll their children at our school.   They make significant financial and personal sacrifices, like most parents in the province, to educate their children. 

Our Students

The article implies that independent schools, and the students within them, have an unfair advantage when it comes to the Fraser Institutes ranking of schools.  The main argument being that the students that attend these schools are somehow “different” (because they wear a uniform??) from their public school counterparts.

Really?  Let me tell you about my school: 

I work in a wonderful, faith based, learning community.  All of us (students, parents and staff) work hard to meet the needs of a broad range and spectrum of learners.   We enroll ESL learners (at last count 50% of our parents do not have English as their first language) and students who require special learning needs.  Our learners come from a wide variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds – including new Canadians and First Nations students.  Our mandate is educate the whole child: intellectually, emotionally, spiritually and physically!

For the record, I too, have concerns with Fraser Institutes ranking of schools (like some of my public school counterparts). 

To imply that all independent schools are academically elite and provide homogeneous learning  environments is disingenuous and only serves to devalue and depersonalize the students at my school!

Funding Issues and other nasty metaphors

Another major assertion that the article makes is that independent schools (private schools as the article states) are not really “private” because they actually receive some public funding.  Furthermore the author implies that independent schools have “truck” loads of money because they have been sucking from the “public teat”. 

The author states this situation is like a “boil” that nobody wants “to lance for fear of the horrible stuff that would seep out.”

Really? What horrible stuff?  Might it be that:

·         By law, we are required to have an independent auditor review our finances annually?
·         Our school has, in one form or another, government inspections every two years, to review our finances, school administration, and educational program?
·         Our budget is tight and that tough decisions need to be made annually?
·         Our main school building was built in 1935 and that we have parent volunteers who come on weekends to clean and maintain it so that it continues to be safe, functional and a something our families can be proud of?  (capital expenses are not covered by government) 
·         In a recent survey of our 500 students, virtually every one of our students felt safe at school and enjoyed coming to school?
·         We graduate 100% of our students?
·         Some parents can’t afford to send their children to our school, yet they are supported by their faith community to ensure that this happens?
·         100% of our staff is involved in some sort of extra-curricular activity with students after school?

(I can go on but I won’t)……

At the end of the column, the author suggests we “cut off all those not-so-private schools….then we put all that money we just saved back into the public system. You know, the system starved for cash, with school librarians for 5.5 hours per week and a couple of aging portables for the third-graders?”

According to my basic thinking (I’m not a financial wizard), this financial scenario is somewhat flawed for a few reasons. Firstly, parents who send their children to independent schools still pay taxes that fund public schools. In addition, independent schools do not receive funding for capital expenses.  I am not sure how, by simply adding students to the public school system, this would automatically raise the per pupil government grant figure.     

My preferred future

Ultimately for me, at a time when we are looking to make our education system in BC stronger and responsive to the needs of the 21st century learner, this type of article (and the rhetoric contained within it) only serves to divide our system and make it weaker.

I would hope that in our pluralistic and democratic society, where fundamental freedoms are respected and embraced, we can accept our differences to our mutual benefit.

As I continue to collaborate with colleagues in the public and independent school system, I look forward to coming together, to share our successes and challenges.

In end, I write this not to convince anyone of the philosophical rationale or merits of partially funded independent schools in British Columbia, but instead to set the record straight about my school, the students who work so hard, the parents who support them and staff who mentor them. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Curriculum Reform: The Spark we Need

“I have no time!”

This is one of the most common frustrations I hear from teachers.

This lack of time often impedes innovation and change.  Pedagogical improvements such as project based learning, assessment for learning, technology integration (substitute whatever you like here) are shelved because of a stated lack of time.

To be perfectly honest – I tend to have little patience for the “time” complaint (perhaps this will be a different blog post).

Nonetheless, I do empathize with teachers who feel overwhelmed by the breadth of some of our current curriculum documents - particularly those curriculums that are laden with facts and information.  Many of our current documents are heavily prescriptive – often burdening teachers and students with an overabundance of learning outcomes.

Why are these documents a mile wide and only an inch deep?
Is it necessary, in our information rich age, to have our students remembering information that is at their immediate disposal 24/7? 

I wonder, like other educators I have spoken to, if the current state of curriculum documents is a collective exercise in “covering our back sides” by all educational stakeholders.   
I am also left wondering if our heavily prescriptive curricula stems from fundamental lack of trust in teachers.

Should we be teaching student the skills to access, evaluate, discern and communicate about the information at their disposal?

As we continue to talk about the reforms to our education system in BC, I am hopeful that one of the first and most tangible things we look to reform is curriculum documents. 

(For what it’s worth, I think new curriculum documents should be a 100 meters wide and 100 meters deep with an emphasis on skills.)

This tangible change might provide the momentum and spark for other changes to our system as well!

Of course, I’m still figuring things out and any thoughts and suggestions are welcome!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A tribute to Moms! (…and Dads too!)

I learned a long time ago never to ignore mothers – especially mine.

 It all goes back to my grade Gr. 8 year.  On an unsuspecting afternoon, while walking the hallways of my high school, I notice a vaguely familiar person standing by the school office waving her hands. 
As I got closer, my heart began to sink – it was my mom waving furiously at me! 

My inner voice was frantic:
“Are you kidding me?  What will my friends think?  Why would she do this to me?  What if she wants a hug or worse yet a kiss – the horror! “
I acted instinctively and I did what, I thought, any teenage boy would do – I ignored her and went to class…….
I sat at my typewriter (yes, typing class) and released a huge sigh of relief.
Except the story does not end there….

 A moment later, class was interrupted by a knock at the door – I looked up and noticed the teacher disappearing into the hallway to address the person at the door.
Seconds later I saw my mom charging into the classroom on a mission!

I had nowhere to hide – I was corned……her eyes met mine and I knew something bad was about to happen.   In a very “I’m you mother” walk, she arrived at my desk and proceeded to give me a kiss and a simple but unforgettable message:
 “Don’t you ever ignore your mother again!”
On Friday our school will host a service (Mass) followed by a Tea in honor of all the mothers and grandmothers in our community (fathers and grandfathers are invited too!). 
This has been a longstanding tradition at our school that speaks to a few things about the school’s values, beliefs and practices.  Notably:
  • We are grateful to the parents who entrust their children to our care – it’s good and appropriate to say “thanks” in a tangible ways.
  • Parents are the primary educators of their children.  As educators, we enter into a working relationship with the child and the parents!  This event affirms this relationship.
  • It is great to provide our student’s another way to say "thanks" to their mom’s and/or loved ones that have continue to help and support them along the way.

Of course as an administrator (and son and father) Ive also learned that you can never underestimate the loving and protective nature of a mother toward her child.

With Mother’s Day approaching I’d like to extend, to all the mothers out there, a “Happy Mother’s Day!”

You too mom – I haven’t forgotten!