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.