Friday, 1 July 2016

Best Laid Plans

Reflecting on another school year that has passed and planning for the next one to come.

I am proud of some initiatives this year that came to fruition. In a general sense, the Elective areas created more opportunities for kids to "find their muse". The recording studio, a vegetable garden and more trades opportunities let students explore and go deeper into areas they may pursue as a career.

The Core classes are working on their instruction and assessment practices to better engage the students and looking for authentic ways to show learning.

Next year, the plan is to look at marrying the two ideas with a "Trails" umbrella of courses where kids can take Geography, Communications and Science/Math courses as they prepare for and then build a climbing trail in partnership with the local government.

This is progress.


The key message in this image is "enjoy the journey". Reading about the above plans, many educators will immediately pick holes. What about... differentiation, personalization, inquiry, wrap around, PBL, backwards design, flipped classroom, AFL, running records, benchmarks, multiple intelligences, portfolios, etc.

There are many philosophies and strategies in education. If you wait until you have covered all of them in your decisions nothing will happen.

We work with kids... the best laid plans will need to vary anyway as the kids tell us with their feet how the initiatives need to evolve. Jump in and enjoy the journey.

Thursday, 25 December 2014


Why do we do things the way we do? (Ziggy Stardust asked that question more than 40 years ago)

I read an interesting book on "happiness", one of the points of which was that when you buy something or are given something you will feel a certain amount of happiness. If you buy two or more things and receive them at the same time you do not experience nearly the same amount of happiness from those items as you would if they were spread out over a period of time.

Do we maximize happiness in our practice? Normally, give people multiple gifts (birthdays, Christmas..) on special occasions. Likewise, when it is renovation time or time to move people buy multiple things for our house all at once. It is not maximizing happiness but it is very hard to change our practice.

This is one area where I feel education has come a long way. While there are a few hold over practices, in the vast majority of instances we question our practices and look at the feedback (not necessarily formal) that the kids give us and we adjust. Research is no longer a four letter word as we look to best practices from afar and from our colleagues to improve what we do.

Contrary to the simplistic and untrue sound byte that some use ("education hasn't changed since the Industrial Revolution") maybe we could use the education system as a model for thinking about changing our own practices.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Power of Hobbies

"Hobbies are one of the most potent methods for launching something of meaning and lasting value."

I saw this anonymous quote and it struck a chord with me. There has been a great deal of interest recently from staff coming up with new course offerings for next year. I find these conversations very interesting and exciting as ideas are bounced around regarding the content and logistics about how the new classes can happen. What this means is that we need to find areas of interest that appeal to both the teacher and the students, for when that happens you get fantastic buy in and interest.

This made me wonder, what things appeal to us, regardless of age? The following observations are not scientifically reliable as they are based on thinking about my parents, myself and my kids and where our interests overlap.

1. Building something - not all the time, but there is a certain satisfaction with building, creating, cooking, fixing, painting... making something tangible. Not all the time, but certainly for part of the time.

2. Movement - hiking, walking, running, exercising with a challenge or goal. The challenge can be faster or slower and getting started can seem like an effort, but once you get going it is rewarding.

3. Pop music - we can deny it, but a pop song is catchy and stays in your head. The tried and true I-IV-V chord progression with a nice melody appealed to us years ago and still does. (Note that this does not hold true for classical, jazz, hard rock, rap or other specific genres. We may have some specific artists or songs that  we like but that becomes very personal and others often will not share your enthusiasm no matter how hard you force it upon them). 

4. Accessing Information - the content of what we like is different, but the process of finding it is appealing regardless of age. 

5. Health -  there is a fascination with learning about what constitutes a healthy lifestyle and diet. Now whether we implement and actually live healthy is another question.

Do you agree with this list? What would you add or take away?

Sunday, 27 January 2013

A little humility goes a long way

It is always interesting to watch the inevitable wave from anonymity to popularity to target of criticism when a person or organisation achieves notoriety.

Pick almost any singer or band who has had a hit song, then began performing in stadiums and now play bars on the small town circuit (e.g. I noticed a sign a few years ago that Platinum Blonde was playing the now torn down Galaxy Night Club in Duncan, Trooper has been doing this for the past twenty years, where are Alannah Myles, Corey Hart and Glass Tiger today? Justin Bieber might want to save the money he's making now...). Roberto Luongo is statistically in the top three active goalies in the NHL yet the fans want him traded. It is likely that everyone was cheating when Lance Armstrong was winning bike races yet he is the face of disgrace. The Atkins diet is the solution, until researchers find it is not.

What about education? Possibly the worst thing that can happen to a public school is to be singled out for greatness by an outfit like the Fraser Institute in their school rankings. The scrutiny and criticism would begin within days, much like it does for the elite private schools who choose their clientele and teach to the test to ensure a good rating (I suppose I should feel bad about picking at the aforementioned private schools for coming out on top... but I don't). Likewise for individual educators who are singled out for awards or praise. It can be very difficult for someone to navigate the waters within their schools or districts after winning special recognition.

More people will get on board with ideas and initiatives if they are being done to improve the experience of the kids. As soon as one person or school is singled out for greatness, the other people or schools will shy away thereby lessening the impact of the action. A group collaborating is always more powerful than an individual.

A little humility can go a long way. Lets be the Tragically Hip's, Sami Salos, Daniel Nestors, Bruce Cockburns or the balanced healthy eaters in our work. The memorable, solid performer that has done great work over  the long haul as opposed to going off like a roman candle for a short ride.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Blow it up... or crumble it down?

imgres.jpgDr. John Abbott spoke to the combined staffs of Quamichan, Mt. Prevost middles and Cowichan Secondary in lieu of our monthly staff meetings last week. As expected, the feedback was mixed with some people liking his approach, others not as much. That said, his talk on "Personalized Learning" was a success in my mind based on the number of conversations I had with different people coming from different angles in the days that followed. This got me thinking, are the barriers to making some significant changes breaking down?

Firstly is the willingness of teachers to look at curriculum differently. This process has been evolving slowly for many years, contrary to those who say we are in the same schools from 1950's. While the buildings may look similar on the outside, the pedagogy, programs and expectations on the inside are much, much different. Kids are given opportunity to work at different rates and skill levels as structures like the IEP (Individual Education Plan) have become a regular part of practice.

The expectations of parents is the next important step. The default position of most parents is to want school to look like it was for them, especially when their experience with school was a positive one. This is where the tension between experimenting with the system to make potential improvements can conflict with the parents' view of "thats great, but I don't want chances taken with my kid's education". So how does the system take chances without damaging individuals along the way?

The answer is not to "blow up the system" but to give the freedoms to make changes a bit at a time. If we are leaving Math and Science stable, could we combine English and Socials as an experiment? The integrated curriculum could free up time to go deeper into concepts while building skills, and if it works we continue if it doesn't then we rework the concept. If we had done that with the whole program, any problems would lead for calls to abandon all of the changes. 

Could we look at delivering electives in a package format where the kids naturally rotate between disciplines as opposed to a rigid 8 to 10 week time period? The package could be Stage Craft where 80-90 students are assigned to three teachers who will split them up into Drama, Wood Work and Art to create a big production with acting, set design, back drop and lighting. The school Yearbook could again be structured the same as kids move between Computer Studies, Photography, Creative Writing and Art. Music, Video and Technology can be worked into kids learning to play instruments, produce recordings and create music videos that could be posted. Does Marketing fit into any of these projects?

In this case, the "boiled frog" analogy can be a positive one. Regular, graduated changes can lead us to one day waking up to the realization that the system around us has fundamentally and permanently changed for the better. 

Sunday, 3 June 2012

The good old days... and AFL

June... I quite enjoy retirement dinners, even though the speeches are often a bit long and there tends to be an over emphasis on the past. Its a bit like my father says, "The good old days: they weren't that good and you're not that old".

That said, it is great to celebrate someone's career, where they have come from, what they have done and the thoughts they leave us with. It is also a happy time; I have yet to hear a speech where the person is really sad about retiring!


In one of the speeches the host speaker took extra time to thoroughly describe all of the endeavours from the retiree's career, especially the past twenty five years. Later in the evening, after all of the formal speeches were completed, I was mingling with two respected colleagues, both of whom have thirty plus years of experience themselves.

Person A "Sure sounds a lot like what we are calling AFL"
Person B "True... but now it is better defined"

That struck me as an important distinction. Better defined means instructional improvement is intentional and conscious. This allows it to be more accessible which means it is more widespread. Widespread action is also called a "movement" which is what we have been looking for in education as we try to make changes for the better.

imgres.jpgThe groundwork for what makes good teaching is not new. Relationships with students, fellow teachers, principals and parents are still critical as they always have been. Having standards and pushing students to be successful will always be part of the equation. Add on the ability to strategically improve instructional practice collaboratively across a staff or district and we see a better system for our kids.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Too much of a good thing? I think that I have changed my mind

For those of you in schools… have you ever felt that you were doing too many initiatives and that it had gotten away on you? You worry that in sending kids off to conferences, bringing in guest speakers and pulling students out of class for events the regular school subjects are thrown out of whack and too much curriculum is missed.

Last week I had those creeping feelings. April was tremendously busy, especially when it followed many, many events that have been ongoing throughout the year. Several of those events specifically targeted our First Nations students in grade 8 and 9.  There was an Elders’ Poetry Project, a Crossing the Cultural Divide Projects, Girls Support Groups, Boys Support Groups, HIV Awareness in Aboriginal Youth sessions, the Friendship Centre Conference, a Tribes Health presentation on the effects of energy drinks, First Nations Dance group, Aboriginal Film Festival, a visit from the Chief, Canoe Races, Aboriginal Heritage Day… all great things, but it did cause wonder if they were taking away from our core function in education?

Then came the Labour Relations Board ruling that report cards must be issued on May 1st and that those report cards will give an indication of progress to date (if anyone reads this post 5-10 years from now… it is currently 2012 and we are embroiled in one of the most acrimonious contract disputes between the BCTF and BC Government in recent memory so there has not been any reporting so far this year).

As I sign report cards, my normal practice is to keep a list of students that I need to have “achievement chats” with because their marks are not satisfactory. This is somewhat subjective, but I am consistent with myself, and over the years I generally look for students with more that one “I” in courses and poor overall grades. I was pleasantly surprised to find my list was shorter than I expected. In fact it was noticeably shorter than last year.

I think that I think this is an indication of success and I think that I think it might have something to do with all of the initiatives!

It may be like Pro-D for staff. When you have a one-off session, it is often motivating but does not stick long term. The events for our Aboriginal students were different topics, but there is a common theme and that is something along the lines of “respect others, respect your community and respect yourself”. I am thinking that the net effect of multiple sessions with many of the same students attending them has been to build confidence and motivation in our First Nations students… I think.

What is our core function from grades 7 to 9? Maybe it is indeed to build confidence and motivation in places where it is lacking so those students transition to high school and pursue their studies. For students who already possess those attributes, probably missing classes is less desirable.

What is our purpose in education? It is certainly “learning”, but perhaps a truer definition is indeed “to improve the life chances for our students”. How do we accomplish this? This is the beauty and frustration of education… it allows us to think about what we are experiencing, although we are never entirely sure about what we think.