What I Notice…

IMG_7571The best part of the work I do in schools is visiting classrooms and participating in the learning taking place. I have previously written about my passion and belief about the kind of work students in schools should be engaged in. You can read more about this HERE, HERE, and HERE.

Something that has become evident to me is that students are just like adults: they thrive when doing work that is interesting and meaningful. As adults, we value our time and consider it precious. We don’t tolerate requests to do tasks that are irrelevant to us. We demand to know WHY we are doing what we are doing. BUT…

Do we treat students’ time the same way?

Do we ensure that students see the relevance of the work we ask them to do?

Is the work we ask students to do in fact relevant?

How do we react to students who express (in various ways) that the work they do in class is not personally meaningful?

Do we pay attention to these reactions and what do they mean?

When I speak to others about school, I always say that if I ever went back to classroom teaching, I would be far more effective than I ever was before I became an administrator. Why? Years of visiting classrooms and witnessing what does (and doesn’t) work has given me valuable perspective. Where I used to focus on the teaching, I now focus on the learning. Teachers jokingly  say that they get nervous when I visit their class. Of course, that is never my intention. I visit to experience the learning from a student perspective. I ask questions:

What are you learning?

Why are you doing this?

How will you know you’re done and that you’ve learned what you were supposed to learn?

Most of the time, students respond by explaining what they are DOING, rather than what they are LEARNING. Students always find it challenging to  articulate WHY they are learning something. Most of the time, there is value and a good rationale for the work teachers ask students to do. The missing link is that we often don’t share this information with students. What we are talking about is “Learning Intentions“: sharing with students WHAT we expect them to learn and WHY. Learning intentions are most effective when they are clear, visible , and in language students can understand.

This past week during class visits, I noticed students in several classes engaged in hands-on, meaningful, and interesting learning experiences.

My first learning story comes from a grade 5/6 class that participated in a hands-on activity whereby they learned to frame a wall – a REAL wall, with lumber, nails, screws, and carpentry tools. This activity was part of a larger project in which students design an actual home. The why of this work is obvious:  our students will one day be homeowners, they will be required to design and build, they will measure constantly throughout their life…

Before constructing their walls with power drills and hammers, the Learning Intention for this activity was made explicit for students:  they were doing this work because eventually, they will have to use tools to perform tasks in their own home. If we are skilled in taking care of small tasks on our own, we can be independent and not rely on others all the time. We also shared that there will be a huge demand for skilled trades people in the future and for students to consider trades the next time someone asks, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” The following images show students excited, engaged, proud, and fully understanding not only the WHAT of learning, by the WHY.

My second learning story comes from a Grade 3 class I visited. When I arrived, I was intrigued by what I saw: black tarp on a table, and four eggs standing lengthwise in bottle caps. This I had to stay for! Students were going to test the strength of these eggs by slowly stacking heavy textbooks on top of them.  All of this was part of a structures unit where students were learning how structures could be built to maximize their strength. As each textbook was placed on the egg, suspense grew. 25, 26, 27, 28 textbooks. Then the 29th textbook was placed on the stack and there was a slight movement. A moment later, the eggs began to crack and the stack toppled:

IMG_8120The students in this class were riveted, and so was I. Because we decided to record the event in slow motion, we had the opportunity to view the eggs cracking over and over again. Eventually, students identified the egg that cracked first, second, third, and last. They noticed that they cracked in sequence and in a clockwise direction.  The “wheels were turning” and the questions started.  What if we did this demonstration again? Would the eggs crack in a similar way? This is evidence that learning isn’t always about coming up with answers, but rather promoting curiosity and igniting passion!

1356452B-7D39-4CA0-A827-9A872EE9BE1E-2562-000002FAD15746F5My third learning story is about how we do our morning announcements. Students have ownership over this activity and take it very seriously. Very often, students arrive early to school to prepare, even though we don’t do announcements until 10:15 a.m. When it is time to do announcements, students arrive on time and prepared.  I think a large part of this ownership comes from the fact that not only do the 650+ students and staff hear what is said, but that the announcements are recorded, tweeted, and published on our school website and blog in real-time. In other words, their audience is the world. Listen to our morning announcements HERE. Students know they are doing real work!

IMG_0321My final learning story comes from Kindergarten. I love to visit Kindergarten classrooms because of how creative, carefree, and risk-taking our youngest learners are. I can witness students experimenting with language and developing an understand that language can be powerful and used to communicate their thoughts and feelings. During a recent visit, I received a detailed drawing so I asked the student to tell me about it. I had my iPad with me so I asked if the student wanted to send his story to someone. He said “Yes” and that he wanted the story to be sent to his teacher, our music teacher, and our teacher-librarian. Using the ShowMe app, I recorded the story. Hear Keaton’s story here. Once others knew they could record their stories and send it to others to hear, I soon had a line of students ready with pictures in hand. Again, I think this goes back to the inherit need students have to do work that is meaningful. The audience in this example made the learning meaningful!  Listen to a few other stories HERE and HERE.

All of these stories took place in the last week and all have a common thread: students actively engaged in interesting, hands-on, and meaningful learning experiences. As educators, it isn’t always possible to prepare “home-run” lessons that wow students. What is important is to ask good questions during planning:

Would I want to do this task?

Why are students learning this and how will I let them know?

How will I engage students? 

What do the learning stories in your school reveal about what people believe about the work we expect students to engage in?

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

Change Is Not a Dirty Word

My IGNITE presentation at Surrey School’s “Engaging the Digital Learner” series, April 9, 2014.

Tonight I’ll be talking about WHY change isn’t a dirty word, the CHALLENGES to change, and some EXAMPLES of change at my own school. Mostly, I’d like YOU to consider the role you all play in being change agents in YOUR school.
Tonight I’ll be talking about WHY change isn’t a dirty word, the CHALLENGES to change, and some EXAMPLES of change at my own school. Mostly, I’d like YOU to consider the role you all play in being change agents in YOUR school.
I’m INSPIRED by change! Much of this INSPIRATION comes from my Dad. This is a picture of him in Naples in 1960 on his way to Canada. He came by HIMSELF, with NOTHING, and not a word of English. When I am afraid of risk, I think of him!
I’m INSPIRED by change! Much of this INSPIRATION comes from my Dad.
This is a picture of him in Naples in 1960 on his way to Canada. He came by HIMSELF, with NOTHING, and not a word of English.
When I am afraid of risk, I think of him!
My parents continue to INSPIRE me everyday. Here they are SKYPING with their friends. Their connection to family and friends remains strong, and THAT’S why they have changed, adapted, taken risks.
My parents continue to INSPIRE me everyday. Here they are SKYPING with their friends. Their connection to family and friends remains strong, and THAT’S why they have changed, adapted, taken risks.
I believe in the power of change and that kids are depending on our EVOLUTION to stay relevant. Signs are everywhere that we need to change. When the Twitter hashtag “THINGS I HATE ABOUT SCHOOL” trends, what are kids really trying to tell us?
I believe in the power of change and that kids are depending on our EVOLUTION to stay relevant. Signs are everywhere that we need to change. When the Twitter hashtag “THINGS I HATE ABOUT SCHOOL” trends, what are kids really trying to tell us?
If we resist change in favour of the STATUS QUO, we need to ask if we are OK with only about HALF of our learners actually being engaged in school?  The better QUESTION to ask is:  Why is CHANGE HARD for some?
If we resist change in favour of the STATUS QUO, we need to ask if we are OK with only about HALF of our learners actually being engaged in school? The better QUESTION to ask is: Why is CHANGE HARD for some?
I think that MINDSETS have much to do with it. For those with FIXED MINDSETS, change and risk create the possibility for failure and failure reflects on intellect and ability. A FIXED MINDSET does not allow people the luxury of becoming. They already have TO BE!
I think that MINDSETS have much to do with it. For those with FIXED MINDSETS, change and risk create the possibility for failure and failure reflects on intellect and ability. A FIXED MINDSET does not allow people the luxury of becoming. They already have TO BE!
As Reddit’s co-founder poetically stated, “SUCKING IS THE FIRST STEP TO  BEING SORTA GOOD AT SOMETHING.” Those with a GROWTH MINDSET believe in progression and that taking risks and making mistakes aren’t signs of weakness, but part of learning and continually getting better.
As Reddit’s co-founder poetically stated,
“SUCKING IS THE FIRST STEP TO
BEING SORTA GOOD AT SOMETHING.”
Those with a GROWTH MINDSET believe in progression and that taking risks and making mistakes aren’t signs of weakness, but part of learning and continually getting better.
Another challenge to change is SAFETY…a basic human need. Change pushes us outside our comfort zone. That’s why relationships, teams, and the support of our colleagues and administrators are crucial.
Another challenge to change is SAFETY…a basic human need. Change pushes us outside our comfort zone. That’s why relationships, teams, and the support of our colleagues and administrators are crucial.
And if you are dipping your toe into the water, getting help from someone like this – “Mr. Awesome” - can be the most intimidating thing. What I think people want to hear is: just take the first step and I’ll take it with you!
And if you are dipping your toe into the water, getting help from someone like this – “Mr. Awesome” – can be the most intimidating thing. What I think people want to hear is: just take the first step and I’ll take it with you!
Here is a picture of a group of teachers from Vanier learning about FreshGrade. Laura is the one with the purple iPad - she’s a first year teacher and she was facilitating this session. She helped her colleagues feel safe in facing change.
Here is a picture of a group of teachers from Vanier learning about FreshGrade. Laura is the one with the purple iPad – she’s a first year teacher and she was facilitating this session. She helped her colleagues feel safe in facing change.
I think the final challenge to change is making the PURPOSE for change CLEAR. I love this QUOTE: “He who has a WHY to live for can bear almost any HOW.” I believe, people will go to great lengths and embrace change when they have a strong sense of purpose.
I think the final challenge to change is making the PURPOSE for change CLEAR. I love this QUOTE:
“He who has a WHY to live for
can bear almost any HOW.”
I believe, people will go to great lengths and embrace change when they have a strong sense of purpose.
This is what desks looked like at our school. The deeper the holes drilled into desks the deeper the level of disengagement. What were kids telling us? I’d like to talk about 3 changes I’ve seen since many of our teachers began to connect with each other and the world.
This is what desks looked like at our school. The deeper the holes drilled into desks the deeper the level of disengagement. What were kids telling us?
I’d like to talk about 3 changes I’ve seen since many of our teachers began to connect with each other and the world.
We have started to focus on CREATION over CONSUMPTION And teachers are SAYING YES TO STUDENT INTERESTS and allowing them to do work that is personally meaningful. Here are some examples you can try at YOUR school:
We have started to focus on CREATION over CONSUMPTION
And teachers are SAYING YES TO STUDENT INTERESTS and allowing them to do work that is personally meaningful.
Here are some examples you can try at YOUR school:
•WIKISEAT -Yes, students used power tools and created their own furniture.   • INNOVATION WEEK-Yes, students spent a whole week learning about whatever they were interested in.   •And YES, we are KIVA NINJAS too! – 53 loans worth over $1300 so far!
• WIKISEAT -Yes, students used power tools and created their own furniture.
• INNOVATION WEEK-Yes, students spent a whole week learning about whatever they were interested in.
• And YES, we are KIVA NINJAS too! – 53 loans worth over $1300 so far!
Our LEARNING COMMONS is supported by a gifted Teacher-Librarian, and it's a place where teachers collaborate, and students create and connect with the world. Genius Hour says YES to student interests. A student told us “You don’t want to learn your teacher’s passion, you want to learn your passion.”
Our LEARNING COMMONS is supported by a gifted Teacher-Librarian, and it’s a place where teachers collaborate, and students create and connect with the world. Genius Hour says YES to student interests. A student told us “You don’t want to learn your teacher’s passion, you want to learn your passion.”
Students participate in INQUIRY. Students dig into deep questions that interest them. These boys actually got lost in learning while, believe it or not, everyone else was lined up to go to P.E.
Students participate in INQUIRY. Students dig into deep questions that interest them. These boys actually got lost in learning while, believe it or not, everyone else was lined up to go to P.E.
Communicating Student Learning. We asked:  •Isn’t ongoing descriptive feedback more valuable to student learning than letter grades?  • Can we do a better job of communicating learning with students and parents?   YES WE CAN!
Communicating Student Learning. We asked:
• Isn’t ongoing descriptive feedback more valuable to student learning than letter grades?
• Can we do a better job of communicating learning with students and parents?
YES WE CAN!

Be like the terrified girl in this video who goes through a carwash for the first time. With her cozy blanket and reassuring words from her parents, she makes it through and says “Car Wash…All done!”

Imagine if we changed what we did in schools and that changed the student narrative. Instead of THINGS I HATE ABOUT SCHOOL trending, students would tweet that they LOVE to create, do work that matters, and follow their passions. Imagine!
Imagine if we changed what we did in schools and that changed the student narrative.
Instead of THINGS I HATE ABOUT SCHOOL trending, students would tweet that they LOVE to create, do work that matters, and follow their passions.
Imagine!
Do it! Take the risk! Be the change and most importantly, take your students and those you work and learn with everyday along for the ride! Our KIDS depend on it!   Thank you!
Do it!
Take the risk!
Be the change and most importantly, take your students and those you work and learn with everyday along for the ride!
Our KIDS depend on it! Thank you!

Slide23Slide22

What Makes A School “Great”?

“And then parents, you’d walk into the front office and the people
don’t even look up at them, let alone see them as who we’re serving.”

Steve Barr, Green Dot Charter School Network

Source: Fraser Institute
Source: Fraser Institute
This past week, I had an interesting chat with a parent. Her family had just moved into the area and she wanted an opportunity to speak with me about the school and to have a look around. She also said something that really interested me. She shared that according to the Fraser Institute, our’s was a “good” school and was trending in a positive direction. While I am obviously pleased that public perception of our school is good and that this parent was doing the leg work to gather information about our school,  I am disappointed that the Fraser Institute’s Report Card on British Columbia’s Elementary Schools is one of the few tools parents have to determine the quality of a school. Even more, when parents realize that the Fraser Institute’s Report is based almost completely on a standardized text taken once per year by Grade 4 and 7 students, they realize that this is one very narrow measure of school quality.

Formula used to determine overall school rating. Source: Fraser Institute
Formula used to determine overall school rating. Source: Fraser Institute

But, schools are like organisms and are therefore complex in nature. Schools are alive and dynamic and can’t be reduced to a mathematical formula or a letter grade, as some jurisdictions are now doing. In the video below, Steve Barr of the Green Dot Charter School Network talks about his view of what makes a great school. Qualities he includes are:

  • Quality teachers
  • A welcoming environment
  • Students are treated with care and respect
  • Teachers are empowered
  • High expectations exist for all
  • There is a sense of family
  • Quality resources are available for teachers and students
  • Parents are viewed as partners
  • Schools are accountable to parents
  • There is a belief that all kids are worth it and that they can all learn

So much of what Barr talks about is relationship-based. Relationships are central to the work we do in schools. Students not only need see the value in the work they do at school, they need to feel a sense of care, inclusion, and safety. This is essential work that forms the foundation of quality learning.  Teachers also need to be able to engage learners. With all the competition that exists (peers, television, social media), this is no easy task. But from my experience, kids are like adults and therefore thrive on doing work that is interesting and meaningful. I am proud of the many examples of such efforts from staff at our school:  Innovation Week, technology integration, the WikiSeat project,  30-Hour Famine, Genius Hour, KIVA, and promoting creativity. I am further buoyed when I see that our efforts are not isolated, but are evident throughout Surrey Schools and beyond.

So, what would you add to this list of qualities that makes  a great school?

Do you think your school is great?  How do you know?

Innovation Week – Unchartered Territory

IMG_3899

gvInnovationWeekTo me, being innovative doesn’t just mean making things different, but making things better! Given this,  I think our first Innovation Week at Georges Vanier Elementary would meet the criteria for being innovative. Our Innovation Week took place from December 9 – 13, 2013, and was inspired first by witnessing Genius Hour in many classrooms in our school, then by hearing about Jesse McLean‘s experience with his own Innovation Week at Greystone Centennial Middle School in Parkland School Division in Spruce Grove, Alberta. What prompted us further was hearing about Innovation Week over at Fraser Heights Secondary in Surrey.

Discussions started with staff members who embraced the idea, then we began to advertise to students. I have to say that as much as we tried to explain what Innovation Week was (though not really being too sure ourselves), I’m not certain students actually understood what they were signing up for or what they were missing. Some took their application, filled it out as best as they could, while others opted out and decided to wait and see what Innovation Week would look like.

We had a total of 75 students from Grade 3-7 participate. I was neither surprised or disappointed by that number as I didn’t really know how the event would evolve. What I do know is that since there were not enough students participating to collapse other classes to thereby free up teachers, I was alone with the group much of the time. Special thanks for our EA staff who came in to assist and to the many teachers who stopped in to look and ask questions, all on their free time. I even had a teacher who retired last year, Liane Jagger, come and assist for three days. What a great help!

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Innovation Week projects included:

  • Developing an app.
  • Website development.
  • Remote control car modification.
  • Creating a document camera.
  • Building a Minecraft server.
  • A jewelry holder.
  • Christmas crafts.
  • A new and improved chair.
  • A rolling storage container with built-in iPod charger.
  • Modifying a Snickers Bar.
  • A new breakfast cereal.
  • (Just to name a few).

So how was learning improved? Over the course of the week, students:

  • Were engaged in personally relevant learning.
  • Adjusted their initial plans based on the challenges they were having.
  • Became increasingly independent.
  • Confirmed that they made good choices regarding learning partners or realized that the choices they made regarding partners did not help them in their learning.
  • Reflected on the competencies they were developing and demonstrating.
  • Were inspired daily by videos about creativity and innovation. One favourite was Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From below.
  • Were on-task and continued to work without direct adult supervision.
  • Developed ideas for future Innovation Week Events.
  • Were extremely proud on of their learning on presentation day, sharing their projects with peers, teachers, and parents.

Most impressive to me was the curiosity of students who chose not to participate in our initial Innovation Week. These students were often out in the hallway, peering inquisitively at the work begin done inside the gym, asking to come in and see what was happening. But most rewarding to me was the response I received when I asked the group involved in Innovation Week, “Would you participate again?” They emphatically said, “YES!”

As an aside, other innovative ideas that were popping up around the school while Innovation Week took place in the gym.  In Ashley Henderson and Matt White’s classes, students participated in Learn a New Skill week and, like the students participating in Innovation Week, were initially taken aback when given the opportunity to make their own decisions about their learning, but later embraced the freedom of the experience. Skills students decided to focus on included:  juggling, learning card, magic and coin tricks, stop motion animation, duct tape purses, and optical illusions. While in Francoise Rempel and Hugh McDonald‘s classes, students spent time everyday working to create Rube-Goldberg Machines.  I had the chance to visit on the last day and were students ever challenged and engaged!

2013 ended in a very positive way at our school and I look forward to working with our wonderful staff  and community to further explore ways to innovate in order to further engage our learners and bring genuine enthusiasm to the work they do.

What innovative ideas are swirling around in your head?  Are you ready to share them and put them into action?

When Building The Team Is Not Enough

“Coming together is a beginning.
Keeping together is progress.
Working together is success.”

-Henry Ford

Photo: A. Vendramin
Photo: A. Vendramin

Almost eight years into my school administration journey, I continue to understand that the more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know. This realization was no more profound than one day in early May 2013, while I listened to a keynote address by Elise Foster, co-author with Liz Wiseman and Lois Allen, of a wonderful book called The Multiplier Effect. To summarize, Elise’s keynote was about ways in which leaders can bring the best (and most) out of those around them. She also shared that sometimes, leaders can intentionally or accidentally do the opposite and shut down the genius in their organizations in various ways, including:

  • Ruling by fear.
  • Not having trust in those they work with.
  • Needing to feel they have all the answers.
  • Making rapid or unilateral decisions.
  • Micromanaging.

She called such leaders, Diminishers. As I listened, I realized that in taking pride in my own work ethic and feeling the need to lead and be involved in every initiative, I was being an accidental diminisher and in doing so was communicating something very clearly to those around me: to get things done, I had to get them done myself.  While my admin partners and I have been working extremely hard for many years to build the hardest working, talented, and caring team possible (which for the record I think we have done at Georges Vanier Elementary), my over-involvement, though well-intentioned, has held back these skilled people.   I’m embarrassed to say this because this isn’t really how I feel. I DO have confidence in the team I work with: confidence to plan and carry out initiatives and confidence to make morally sound decisions. My actions however, were contradicting my beliefs!

As Wiseman, Allen, and Foster state:

“Becoming a Multiplier often starts with becoming less of a Diminisher. And this often means doing less: less talking, less responding, less convincing, and less rescuing of others who need to struggle and learn for themselves. By doing less, we can become more of a Multiplier.”

So what’s changed?

Most importantly, since hearing Elise’s keynote, I have been conscious and intentional about not only identifying genius at our school, but utilizing it. Mostly, this has looked like me “tapping the shoulder” of the right people to lead initiatives and playing more of a support role. But transformation does not occur in isolation.  Trust, fostered through strong relationships, must exist. A culture of innovation and risk-taking must also be present. I believe that people are willing to take on challenges and operate outside their comfort zone when they feel that taking risks is celebrated and encouraged, and that their experimentation will be supported.

The changes I have seen since this personal shift in thinking has been dramatic! I am so impressed by the initiative and leadership so many staff members have shown, from coaching to committee work to organizing school events. And all of this because I finally realized that building the team is not enough – you need to not only get out of the way and let great people do great work, but trust the team you have put together.

Effective leaders bring the best out of their team by working in the background, continuing to uncover and utilize people’s native genius, asking provocative questions, laying down challenges, building community, and providing ongoing support and guidance.

Glad I finally came to realize this!

#betterlatethannever

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

img314_2
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!