Layers

“Layers… Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. Onions have layers… 
You get it? We both have layers!”

-Shrek

IMG_7264I’m a lucky person!

I consider myself lucky for many reasons. Among these reasons are my health, the family I am part of, and the work I do in schools that allows me to make a positive difference every day. What more could I ask?

Most people who know me would also say that I am fairly laid back and that not too much bothers me. For the most part, I think that’s true.

I’ve been sitting on this blog topic for some time and it’s only until quite recently that my wonderful admin partner, Kelli Vogstad (@KelliVogstad), encouraged me to express my thoughts. So, here I go.

I sometimes feel misunderstood and it bothers me! There, I said it.

You see, I have been with the same school district for over 20 years and I have come to be quite “typecast” in that time. In case you didn’t know, many consider me to be a “techie”, as in I like to use computers, iPads, sound equipment, and so on. While I can’t argue this, it bothers me to be considered so one-dimensional. Don’t get me wrong, I think if leveraged properly and integrated thoughtfully, technology can most definitely have a positive impact on student learning.

But, here’s where I reveal a layer of myself most people wouldn’t expect…

I also believe that technology is not THE answer. Using technology to simply replicate what we’ve always done in classrooms, is a waste of valuable funding and doesn’t significantly move student learning forward. Technology cannot save bad teaching or poorly designed learning experiences!
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Obviously, issues in education have layers too!

The fact is, my love of technology is just one aspect of who I am. Like Ogres and everyone else in this world, I do have layers. That’s what makes us all special and unique.

As I write this, I wonder if we sometimes overlook the uniqueness of those we work and learn with everyday.  Do we look at people and issues through a narrow lens and generalize? Are we blind to the layers below the surface? What thoughts come to mind when you consider the following statements:

Male vs. Females students?

Primary vs. Intermediate teachers?

Novice vs. Experienced teachers?

Loud vs. Quiet classrooms?

Siblings of a student you’ve had in your class before?

A student’s socioeconomic background?

Appearance?

This list could go on and on. The point is, many of us have become so busy, we often don’t spend the time needed to do important things well. In schools, we feel pressure to “cover curriculum” so we hop from lesson to lesson and unit to unit without digging deep into meaningful learning.  In working with students, do we follow Dr. Gabor Mate’s advice and “collect” students before we direct them?

We can only do this if we are truly committed to teaching kids first… and subjects second!

How do we welcome students each day?

How do we welcome students who arrive late?

How much do we know about each of our students and do we care?

Do we work hard enough to uncover and appreciate the layers in those we work and learn with everyday?

My TOP 10 Video List

To This Day Project – Shane Koyczan

Terry Fox – ESPN

Obvious to you. Amazing to others. Derek Sivers

Leading by Lollipops. “Drew Dudley”

Leave your Legacy. What will your name leave behind?

The Most Astounding Fact

The Encounter Collection

The time you have (In Jellybeans)

Do Schools Kill Creativity? Sir Ken Robinson

Tied for 10th…

See Something, Say Something.

Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action

The Story of Dick and Rick Hoyt

All About Me – My Completed Homework

I was given an assignment to complete by friend and colleague, Tia Henriksen, who in turn was challenged by really cool guy Dean Shareski. Read Tia and Dean’s posts here!

First,  thanks for this homework Tia. I have absolutely nothing else to do tonight 🙂

Second, here are 11 random facts about me:

  1. My parents are both Italian immigrants – and I am VERY proud of them!
  2. I have 4 sisters and no brothers.
  3. I went to art school out of high school.
  4. I once owned a Triumph TR7 – yes…life is about making mistakes.
  5. I met Canadian Prime Minister Jean Cretien and Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk on the same day.
  6. I drove 14,500 kilometres across Canada and back with my family in 2007.
  7. I love dogs.
  8. I never planned to be a teacher. When I was a teacher, I never planned to be an administrator.
  9. I camped overnight at the peak of Golden Ears Mountain last summer with my son, Sam.
  10. When I was in grade 3, my school burned down with me and all my sisters in it.
  11. Some might consider me a picky eater.

Next up, I am to answer the following questions from Tia:

  1. What are your favourite and least favourite colours? My favourite is BLUE and my least favourite is TURQUOISE.
  2. What was your favourite subject / least favourite subject in school? My favourite subject in school was MATH and my least favourite was READING (Sorry – I have to be honest 🙂
  3. Where were you born? Vancouver.
  4. What was your lowest grade in your post-secondary classes? In what class? I got a PASS in some computer programming course that made absolutely NO SENSE to me! I think I got the pass so the teacher could get rid of me!
  5. What is the best characteristic you received from your mom? Compassion and patience.
  6. What is your favourite childhood memory? Summers on our farm and playing soccer on the grass.
  7. How old were you when you learned to swim? I was a young adult…but still not great in the water, though I LOVE to snorkel.
  8. Is Disneyland really the Happiest Place on Earth? I don’t think so. Have you ever seen the faces of the exhausted people leaving Disneyland at closing???
  9. What’s your favourite video you’ve watched recently on social media? Just watched WHAT IS BEING CREATIVE and THE ENCOUNTER COLLECTION on Vimeo. Awesome!!!
  10. If you could plan it, what would your last meal consist of? Anything my mom made…hopefully her lasagna!
  11. What makes you happiest? Being with my family, not rushing around, and even happier if it’s warm and sunny outside!

Now it’s YOUR turn!

Come have some fun and accept this invitation to allow others to get to know you a bit better.  Not sure if all these great people are bloggers, but if they aren’t, maybe we can get them to be:

Francoise Rempel

Jodi Pulvers

Anna Crosland

Sheila Dhaliwal

Brad Issel

Solomon Lee

Victoria Olson

Lynne Porpaczy

Sundeep Chohan

Elsie Bertholm

John Horstead

Don Chila

Questions for You:

1. Favourite place you have visited?

2. Favourite sports team?

3. Five songs on your device/CD in my car…

4. Biggest surprise of your life?

5. What would your best friend say they like MOST about you?

6. Nickname? Current or past.

7. Favourite number?  Why is that number significant?

8. What drives you crazy?

9. Biggest fear?

10. Favourite movie?

11. If you could do anything other than what you are currently doing career-wise, what would it be?

Here’s how it works:

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

Post back here with a link after you write this. Go on, you have homework to do.

Dear Students…I’m Sorry

“Never let the competition define you.
Instead, you have to define yourself based
on a point of view you care deeply about.”

-Tom Chappel

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Me with my four sisters. I’m the one sharply dressed in blue!

Before becoming a Vice-Principal then Principal, I had the honour and pleasure to teach for 12 years. I loved my work in the classroom and was always guided but what I thought was best for students at the time. But, it’s true what they say about time and how it has a way of making you look at things from a different perspective.

We are in an exciting time in Surrey Schools because much of what we have held to be true for so long is now open for discussion and improvement. Of particular interest to me are the changes to B.C.’s Curriculum and the discussion around how we can better communicate student learning to parents.

I believe we need to question everything we currently do around how we inform parents about their child’s progress and how we invite parents to be partners in this process.

For a recent community forum at our school, I prepared a presentation and in it, I used images of my own report card from my Grade 7 year. Doing so awakened many emotions that had been dormant for so many years – emotions that I still work to deal with and overcome today.

IMG_3250I realize now that my teachers viewed me as a pleasant, average, boy. My parents considered me lazy and not as “smart” as my three older sisters, based completely on the letter grades I brought home. You see, those letter grades – those symbols meant to communicate my strengths as a learner – defined me. When you are defined in a certain way for long enough, you begin to define yourself in the same way. And so, because I was always compared to others based on grades and the notion that better grades meant you were smarter and worked harder, I began to doubt myself and my worth.

IMG_3251I struggled with this for years, and realize that still today, some of this same thinking creeps into my consciousness.  When I am asked to present, or be part of a team, or lead an initiative, there are still times I doubt myself. I need to convince myself that I have many strengths and gifts and that I CAN accomplish anything if I work hard enough!

This defining runs deep, even in those that love you. I will never forget the day of my university convocation as I stood with my mom, waiting for a photo to be taken, when she quietly turned to me and with wonderment, looked at me and said, “I never thought it would be you.” That might sound cruel to say, but my mom honestly meant it and I don’t blame her. School defined me for her – that’s all she knew.

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So having gone through this, you’d think that I would be more sensitive as a classroom teacher. Hopefully I was, but I now realize that each time I gave out a C-, C, C+, and even a B for some students, I was essentially defining them, whether I liked it or not. I cringe when I think how many students I had a hand in defining in this negative way.

Often, students who received these grades were the hardest working students in class, but found the work challenging. Some of these students were also immensely gifted in areas we didn’t measure with letter grades, or at all for that matter.

To all my students…I’m sorry.

For those students who said “thank you for the A” when you got your report card, I apologize if I sent the message that you’d made it, you were done, you had reached the top. My message should have been, “where can you go now?” or “how else could you do this?”

And for that student who at the beginning of one year shared that her goal was to win the academic award, I apologize for not spending more time helping you focus on the joys of learning, creativity, and sharing your wonderful ideas with others.

To all my students again…I’m sorry.

This understanding drives me in the work I do today. I work with students each day who have a myriad of hidden strengths and abilities. I am committed to uncovering these treasures and encouraging others I work and learn with to do the same.

I continue to work with my colleagues to explore new and innovative ways of inviting parents to this conversation about their child’s learning, to break down traditional barriers to authentic home-school communication, and to provide them a “window” into the classroom.

Mostly, I am dedicated to ensuring that students have a say in how they define themselves and that I help them to do so in the most holistic, honest, and positive way possible.

What will you do today to uncover the many hidden abilities your students possess?

What will you do with this information?

How will you share this information with parents?

Thankfulness

“Simply existing is a miracle
yet people trudge through life
like it’s going to go on forever.”

-Sir Ken Robinson

Ever since I climbed Golden Ears Mountain with a friend in the mid-1990s, I’ve wanted to do it again and spend the night at the peak. It’s amazing how quickly time passes and goals get put off, but this last week my son Sam and I set off to complete the overnight excursion. There were many obstacles: carrying heavy packs, hot temperatures, running low on water, 4600 feet in elevation…but we did it!

My phone battery died shortly after reaching the summit, but not before I was able to capture these wonderful images:

We were able to witness a stunning sunset and watch the lights of the Lower Mainland of B.C. come to life and glisten. The experience was all I expected and more!

The next day started with a glorious sunrise and a sense of optimism that our goal of completing the hike would soon be complete. The climb down from the peak was as treacherous as the climb up. Shortly after our descent started, my dream quickly became a nightmare. A large stone slab starting sliding down the slope of loose rock I was on. I put my hands out to brace myself and dug in, but I was powerless to stop it. Awful thoughts ran through my head… It all happened so quickly. Disoriented and frightened, I realized my glasses were gone, my right shoe was missing, I had a huge headache, and my hands were bleeding profusely. But…I could still feel! I was lucky.

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Blood on my missing right shoe

It’s surprising how, in times like these, the simplest things can become the only things that matter. The only thing I wanted was my shoe – my shoe so that I could get off this mountain and be with my family. How could I possibly hike the 5 hours down over ice and jagged rock without my shoe? I fortunately had a pair of prescription sunglasses and I eventually found what I so desperately needed. Sam was so brave – I love you Sam! He encouraged me and helped me stop the bleeding. The previous day, I was the one urging him up the mountain when he wanted to quit, and now it was his turn to encourage me.

We made it to Maple Ridge Hospital by 12:30 p.m. where I was cleaned up, stitched up, and x-rayed.

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As I arrived home at 5:30 p.m., I hugged my wife, cried, and was never more thankful to be alive.

Everything in life happens for a reason, but you don’t always get second chances. This experience reminds me of how lucky I am, how much I have in my family and friends, and how I much I love life!

Today is a great day to appreciate all you have. As the late Zach Sobiech reminds us in this inspirational video, You don’t need to find out you’re dying to start living!