Creating School Community in Time of COVID-19

Black Shirt Day

There has been a concerted effort in Canada to keep school open from Kindergarten to Grade 12 largely to address social-emotional needs for stability and predictability for students in their world. Other natural disasters have kept students from school with surprisingly little impact on their academic achievement. “When Hurricanes Katrina and Rita decimated Louisiana in 2005, student achievement did not plummet” (1). “Researchers who followed elementary students displaced from schooling after the Enschede fireworks disaster in the Netherlands in 2000 reported that short-term achievement increased” (2). What has remained constant is the need for responsive parents stepping in to establish a caring context and a sense of normalcy.

Classroom teachers have welcomed students back to school during the pandemic and gone about integrating rigorous handwashing procedures, staying in cohorts, sanitizing equipment, creating a safe and secure classroom environment, and assigning weekly outdoor play zones.  Kids were delighted to return to school full time in September and are going about the business of learning.  I have dealt with fewer office referrals for poor choices than ever before in my career as a vice-principal, or principal.  Students have a common language around self-regulation and restorative practices which necessitate empathy.  Teachers have developed a strong sense of personal efficacy in their ability to keep their students safe and learning in their classrooms.

Creating community across groups presents a greater challenge.  Building community on staff usually involves eating lunch together, discussions at Staff Meetings, participation in professional development and chatting while waiting for the photocopier or signing in at the office each morning.  The landscape for creating and solidifying relationships has shifted significantly.  This has made the development of collective efficacy a big challenge.  Yet, Hattie’s finding that collective efficacy yields an impact size on student learning of 1.39 (3) makes it a goal worth aspiring to. 

Teachers experienced the first pivot to the virtual world when all classroom instruction went online after Spring Break in 2020.  Our connection point was the TEAMS Meeting.  There were varying degrees of understanding and use of this Office 365 Platform.  The platform had been set up by the previous principal.  Thanks, Mr. Peeters.  I had attended training with a team of teachers and set up the channels like chapters of a book, for ease of access.  There was a steep learning curve on how to host a meeting and required Microsoft changes to make this process more transparent, like it’s ZOOM competition.  However due to the integration of options to set up instruction for students online and create portfolios of work, the district decided that the Office 365 platform was closest to hitting the target of meeting our needs in the Vancouver School Board.

The weakness of early meetings was on me.  I had already mastered creating a PowerPoint to engage staff in discussion during staff meetings with stopping points for discussion.  When I created the PowerPoint slides to share on a screen with my staff, I lost the ability to keep my finger on the pulse of the room.    My years of training as a facilitator fell by the wayside, as I invited people to a meeting, talked through the PowerPoint presentation, then asked for questions, comments, and input to icons with video off and muted microphones.  Minimal response.  No interaction between staff.  No community building.  Really bad meetings. 

As my background knowledge has increased, the meetings have gotten better.  Information items on shared on the appropriate channel of The LivingstoneStaff TEAM.  At staff request, a weekly SWAAG (Staff Week At A Glance) was published on the weekend.  I started to plan staff meetings with greater opportunity for staff to talk to each other.  I put people into break out rooms during TEAMS meetings with a question for discussion.  I facilitated a course for administrators through the British Columbia Principals Vice Principals Association in early July 2020 via ZOOM.  We were magically put into rooms with our group of 6 people first thing in the morning, at the end of the day, and for discussion throughout the day.  By the end of the four-day course, we had established a sense of rapport and we easily engaged in discussion.  Retirements, shifts to other jobs in the district and leaves have resulted in a significant number of new staff.  I have been assigning staff to random groups to help them get to know each other.  It has also provided more focused discussion around school goals. 

I have also now learned to visit each room during breakout sessions.  I’m going to date myself now – I feel exactly like Jeannie, from the 70’s sit com, I Dream of Jeannie.  I have an impulse to cross my arms and nod my head while I appear in a room.  I was concerned that I would stifle conversation, but that doesn’t seem to be the case when I miraculously appear in the room.  I have felt in some sessions that participants assume performance mode when a facilitator enters the break-out room.  However, the conversation has fluidly carried on.  I believe it is because we have already established a rapport.  I also don’t stay long in each group.

The International Literacy Association has offered professional development online and there are a number of excellent sessions focused on asynchronous and synchronous learning.  They suggest that the break-out session should have a time limit of about 10 minutes with a specific response task.  I have tried the reporting back to the group from each group but I have not had favourable feedback about this process.  This week, I provided an Office 364 form to complete with feedback about future directions and requests for additional support.  Looking forward, I intend to make better use of tools such as Padlet.   I’m looking for other suggestions if you have any. 

Student community is usually developed through shared activities that bring students together for a common activity, crossing paths on the playground, and work with buddy classes.   The only face to face community building is during outdoor play where each cohort is assigned a time and a play zone.  Two recess times and two lunch times.  Again, the landscape for creating and solidifying relationships has shifted significantly.

My first effort to build student community online in March was met with marginal success.  I would video-tweet out a message to students from various places to connect with students via the Twitter feed on the school website.  I was given good marks for risk taking, but I was fairly wooden and never happy with the end product. 

In September, I requested that an All-Students TEAM be set up for communication with the entire student body and staff.  There is a channel for online performances and the capability for me to do online school assemblies.  Again, I have been given high marks for risk taking as the students have witnessed my learning curve.  I have done a particularly nice job of modeling resilience in the face of failure.  I am fortunate to have a BFF from high school who is a digital media specialist.  I’ve learned to follow his direction and to understand what I did wrong when I opt for a short cut.  Thanks, Armando!    

As a school principal, I cross all cohorts and wear a mask when I am outside of my office.  After a school wide assembly in fall, a number of primary students mentioned that they really liked seeing my whole face.  Apparently, my eyes tell that I’m smiling but it’s nice when my mouth does some of the work.  I decided that I needed to engage with the students in a way other than being out on the playground in mornings, after school, and at breaks. 

My new tech challenge was inspired by Sol Kay, a parent in my school community when I was principal at University Hill Elementary School.  She invited me to participate in a documentary she was doing on mindfulness and posted as part of her series on Instagram – InnerLight Journey by Sol.  Along with scaffolding from Sol, Steve Dotto @DottoTech, and the iMovie Made Easy course by Shelly Saves the Day on YouTube @shellysavesthe, I stuck my toe into the water.

In my capacity as president of the British Columbia Literacy Council of the International Literacy Association, I have been working on a project with our provincial council.  We have put out an invite for people to participate in creating an annotated bibliography of books to share with students to support social emotional learning by representing the diverse cultures within our B.C. schools, as well as providing stories or resilience, and social justice.  Our goal is not to create a strictly didactic list but recommend high quality literature which share authentic voices and stories to nurture empathy and understanding.  Special thanks to Mr. Muress, our librarian at Livingstone, for the many selections he has added to the list. 

I wanted to create a YouTube channel with me reading these highly recommended books to support the development of shared understandings at our school.  I chose to read picture books that were accessible to primary students to read, but also provided models for the writing of students in the intermediate grades.  With Armando on speed dial, my product is getting better.  I wasn’t certain it was reaching my intended audience or worth the time and effort I was putting into the project.  Then last week, I was teaching in a Grade 6/7 class when we were short a guest teacher.  One of the students in the class told me that his brother listens to me read every night when he is going to sleep.  The highlight of the month for me.  I’m inspired to carry on and improve.  The power of positive reinforcement. 

I have since learned that I need better sound for it to be projected to the class.  I now have the appropriate adapter and a microphone to improve the sound.  Armando has provided more scaffolding for me to master green screen.  Ms. Lirenman and her class are providing Keynote support.  Speakers who are part of the International Literacy Association speakers via ILA Next have also provided a number of follow-up ideas to develop reading and writing skills.

Shirt days have also been a positive way of facilitating group activity and stimulating conversation, largely about social justice issues that are so closely tied to social studies curriculum, and social emotional learning.  Terry Fox shirts came out en mass for the annual Terry Fox Run.  Our favourite Canadian hero had lots to teach us, even if we participated at different times of the day in cohorts.  On Orange Shirt day, students learned about residential schools, and the learning shared with us by our Indigenous people.  Black Shirt Day refocused our attention on the purpose and meaning of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and Freedoms.  February 24th, Anti-Bullying Day is on the horizon.  Teachers, SSA’s, the supervision aids, the custodians, the Office Assistants, the Spare Time Coordinator, our Director of Instruction, and I will all be wearing the CKNW shirts with “Lift Each Other Up” for Pink Shirt Day and throughout the rest of the year.  Proceeds support local anti-bullying programs that teach empathy, compassion, and kindness.  We want kids to understand our shared role in supporting each other across cohorts and our collective responsibility.

Ms. Ferreira, our Kindergarten teacher, kicked off the first Wild Hair theme day.  It was followed up with Hockey Jersey day to celebrate the return of hockey to break the monotony of Netflix.  Mr. Bring, our Grade 7 teacher, is working with student leadership on other ways we can create school spirit. 

Student voice in our online school assemblies has been a great way to focus student attention.  Our Division 13 Kindergarten students and our Division 1 Grade 7’s have both done a great job at the Indigenous acknowledgment at the beginning of assemblies.  We have now scheduled regular, monthly assemblies, and plan to incorporate more student voice. 

We continue to look for ways to include parents more in our online school community.  PAC Meetings have all been online since March.  Access to the school has been limited.  Parents do have online access to the All-Students TEAM through their child.  This was most widely accessed during the Winter Show N’Share.  Some parents continue to enjoy the regular tweets about school activities and resources that are available to parents.  I am also trying to write more blog posts to provide parents with specifics around instruction and reporting.  My recent post, Reporting Student Achievement in British Columbia, provides parents with an overview of recent changes in reporting in British Columbia and what they can expect in the formal written reports being issued in January.  I’m looking for more ideas, if you have suggestions. 

Footnotes:

1 and 2 – “Lessons From Pandemic Teaching For Content Area Learning” in The Reading Teacher, November/December 2020, Volume 74, Number 3, page 341.

3 – Hattie, J. & Smith, R., (2021).  10 Mindframes for Leaders.  The Visible Learning Approach to School Success.  Corwin.  Thousand Oaks. 

BC Literacy Council in Action

After many years of inactivity, the British Columbia Literacy Council of the International Literacy Association was reinvigorated with new energy and revitalization last fall. We took off running. The executive council organized and facilitated three successful events and had a lot of fun doing it. You can read more about it on our website readingbc.ca. We also actively participated in social media @BCLiteracyCoun1. Then … COVID-19. It took the wind out of our sails during spring and summer, but we are back.

Graphic Novel Panel Discussion

The BCLCILA hosted it’s AGM this past week. Thanks to the interested members that attended the AGM and congratulations to our 2020-2021 Executive:

Past President – Mike Bowden

  • Also, a newly named director of the British Columbia Superintendent’s Association (BCSSA)
  • Recently published his 4th book – distributed by Strong Nations Publisher
  • Indigenous Leader and District Principal in Kamloops

President – Carrie Froese

  • Lifelong literacy and social justice advocate
  • Principal of David Livingstone Elementary in Vancouver
  • Blogger – Inquire2Empower;  Tweeter @CarrieFroese @BCLiteracyCoun1

Vice President – Linda Klassen

  • Principal of Coghlan Fundamental Elementary School in Langley
  • Champion of the arts and Indigenous ways of knowing

Treasurer – Garth Brooks

  • Lifelong International Literacy Association member and executive member Canadian National Special Interest Group of the ILA
  • Past National Coordinator of Project Love Letter Writing Project

Membership Secretary – Kelly Patrick

  • Librarian at Point Grey Secondary School in Vancouver
  • Author of The Kelman Sisters’ Cookbook

Secretary – Kathryn Self Ransdell

  • Orton Gillingham trained tutor and active PAC member of General Gordon Elementary in Vancouver

Our Provincial Coordinator – Karen Addie

  • Literacy Consultant with PhD in Educational Leadership, Policy, and Technology
  • Experienced teacher in public and private system, Vice principal in the public education system 

We are ready to pivot and explore other ways to involve and support literacy advocates in British Columbia in a COVID-19 world.  I have found Twitter to be an excellent source of professional development.  It has also been a way to develop relationships with people who have common interests.  One of my teachers at David Livingstone Elementary School, Karen Lirenman, wrote her book, Innovate with iPad – Lessons to Transform Learning, with a colleague, Karen Wideen, who she met and collaborated with online.  I recommend you follow @BCLiteracyCoun1 and executive members who are active on Twitter @CarrieFroese @k_addie @KlassenLinda @TheDuke_247 @tlslovebooks  Our ILA Provincial Coordinator, Karen Addie, is also exploring ways for us to engage and collaborate in virtual spaces.  We are planning to do some Twitter Chats this year to invite participation in the creation of our British Columbia Literacy Association Annotated Booklist 2020-2021 to support social emotional learning in schools.  This will be publicized through twitter so be sure to follow. 

The COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter Movement has focused attention on social emotional learning like never before.  We would be negligent as educators if we failed to acknowledge the need to carefully consider and implement supports for our students.  Our ultimate goal is to empower our learners with a sense that they are cared for and valued as a springboard for engaging in their learning journey.  As a bunch of book lovers in the British Columbia Literacy Council, we of course came to the conclusion that books are a perfect way to provide supports for our students at school and a home. 

There are many booklists that have been collated for a variety of purposes.  Our goal is to create a booklist that addressed the following:

  1.  Anecdotal Reference by educators to specify the appropriate audience and possible uses of the text in terms of social emotional learning and BC core competencies. 
  • Representation – In order to feel valued and included in our school communities, our students need to see themselves as part of the community.  This includes students who identify, live or learn in ways outside on the dominant group in the school community.  This also includes our Indigenous, Black, and people of colour. 
  • Stress and Coping – Books that help students to understand stress in our lives and possible coping strategies.
  • Working for Social Justice – Books to help students explore what makes us human, our basic rights, freedoms, and our responsibilities as anti-racists in our school, our community, and our world. 

This is a large task and will require that we engage not only our current membership but also capture the imagination of other literacy educators and parents in British Columbia.  We are inviting mass participation online.  Participants are asked to become International Literacy Association members.  All people who join the International Literacy Association in British Columbia are automatically members of the British Columbia Literacy Council of the International Literacy Association.  There are numerous membership options, and a hardcopy or online newspaper is included.  There is also the opportunity to add popular International Literacy Association publications, such as The Reading Teacher and Reading Research Quarterly to your membership.

BCLCILA members who contribute to the British Columbia Literacy Association Annotated Booklist 2020-2021 will receive one of the titles from our booklist to use with children.  Widespread participation in this project is encouraged.  You are invited to submit as many entries as you wish.  Please complete one form per book.  Please note one book will be sent to each BCLCILA member participating in this project to celebrate our collaborative online project.  All submissions must be made via THIS LINK.  The information submissions can be displayed in an excel spreadsheet and organized for publication. 

In March, my big risk-taking venture was connecting with my Livingstone students via Video Tweets.  I have upped my game and I’m reading an SEL books weekly  – Ms. Froese Reads on my own YouTube Channel.  It’s still a big risk but I’ve come a long way from my initial Video Tweets.  This is being published on my school wide Office 365  TEAM and tweeted on the school twitter account and @BCLiteracyCounc1   You are welcome to use it with your students.    I’m feeling very grateful to have a team of people still engaged in doing the work of supporting our teachers and students.  We hope you’ll enjoy us in this positive and proactive engagement.  We’re always open to new ideas.  We hope to hear from you.

Why Blog?

Although I have not always thought of myself as a writer, I have always been one.  I have Holly Hobby diaries recording the events of my life – who I liked, where I had ridden my bike, what Nanny Keenan had cooked for Sunday dinner, what my older sister and cousin said, and who had made me mad.  My Hobbit journal details all of the food I ate, provides detailed descriptions of places, people and events as I traveled through Europe after graduating from high school.  There are many diaries and variations through-out  the years. I wrote letters to my best friends about my siblings, the chores I had to do, and how sick of watching Days of Our Lives EVERYDAY with my step-mother during bright and sunny California days.  I detailed my life for my Mom when I was away and wrote of my aspirations.

 

I understood the power of the written word at an early age.  I have letters and cards with words of love and affirmation.  My father used to write me letters from the hotel he was staying at when he was presenting at Neurosurgery conferences.  I would formulate future travel plans based on the postcards I liked best.  I have letters dripping with anger and mean-spirited intent – the dark underbelly of the acrimonious divorce of my parents.

 

As I got older, writing became a vehicle to explore my feelings and my thoughts.  In many cases, it became a coping strategy.  In the midst of family conflict, I would go sit on Ventura Beach or in The Sierras and write until long after the sun had disappeared.  I would also sit at a log on Jericho Beach or Spanish Banks and detail the gloriousness of life.  It continued to be a mechanism to facilitate coping as a wife, a mother, and a daughter watching the denouement of my parents lives.

 

An opportunity to teach practising Chinese teachers at The Fuyang Bureau of Education came up right after my Mom died.  I gave my family a gift and went off to China to document life.  I had no interest in exploring my very raw emotion.  I started my first travel blog.  I got two pieces of feedback immediately.  One came from my step-mother noting how embarrassed I must be having spelt the word “massage” wrong – an “e” rather “a” and I learned about the downside of autocorrect. The other feedback came from my good friend, Jan Wells.  She commented that she loved reading about my adventures in China, and she loved my style and skill at writing.  In fact, she kept it on her desk top and read it with the newspaper every morning.

 

As with children, a little encouragement goes a long way.  I became a diehard blogger.  Travel blogs.  Food blogs.  Blog posts instead of newsletters for parents in my schools.  And then I roomed with Rosa Fazio @Collabtime at the Vancouver Elementary Principal / Vice Principal Association Conference co-sponsored with the VSB.  Rosa introduced me to the Twittersphere.  This was my advent into connecting with like-minded professionals online.  The retweet grew into participation in TwitterChats and then developing online relationships.  Then reading articles from the people I connected with online, replaced subscriptions to professional journals.  Recommendations for professional books to read came from my online professional learning committee.  Like-minded educators in the Lower Mainland would come together at Edvents and other face to face meetings of the mind.  The desire to chew on the ideas, formulate an understanding and engage others in the conversation emerged.  I wanted a Book Club online.  This was my advent in to the professional blog.  It precipitated a different type of writing that incorporated aspects of writing for my thesis and other university course along with all of the other writing I had been doing over the course of my life .

 

Writing a professional blog may have similarities with Book Club, but there are no like-minded friends to finish the sentence for you.  You have to write down your ideas with enough context for the reader to understand your thought processes.  It requires a grasp of your topic and that you’ve had enough reflection time to fully formulate your ideas.   You need to develop the skills to consider who your audience is, and strategies of how to engage them.   Blogging also forces you to rely less on spell-check and to develop your editorial skills.  Or just come to terms with being less than perfect!

 

Many of my colleagues tell me they don’t have time to blog.  To quote Adrienne Maree Brown: “There’s always time for the right work.” Certainly not all people are writers or readers or talkers.  I am all three so for me it is the right work. Blogging allows me to reflect of what I reading, living, thinking and talking about.  It pushes the card on considering things from a different angle.  Best case scenario, someone responds with a comment, a question, or a conversation.  We all do what works for us!  Blogging makes me better.

Back to School

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It is that time of year where I am filled with conflicted emotions.  I desperately want to eke out every possible enjoyment of summer.  The lazy days of summer start to pick up the pace.  I desperately want to maximize reading of fiction, organizing, writing, socializing, exercise and random opportunities into the last days of freedom from responsibility.  The last bit of time before the days spin by and I drop into bed exhausted.  Too tired to read.  Too tired to pick up after myself.  Too tired to want to do anything other than flop down in front of reruns of Modern Family.

And yet, there is also the excitement of a new school year.  The smell of new books.  The seduction of brand-new highlighters and pens, colourful file folders and novel post-it notes.  The promise of a new year with complete organization and balance in life.  People to meet.  Conversations that make a difference.  The excitement of a new year of possibilities.

The good-bye speech from one of my teachers at my previous school, included the story of the teacher calling me to deal with four boys that were wreaking havoc in his class one afternoon.  He came to my office to find them drinking tea and talking about their feelings.  There is always a story and I do love to unearth them!  Facilitating the first steps to calm-down strategies and then moving on to problem solving makes a big difference in student perceptions of conflict and their ability to navigate it.  It’s also the essential piece required for empathy and for relationships to be repaired.  I look forward to facilitating those lessons that have the potential to make long term differences in lives and a kinder and more peaceful world.

I also love the opportunity to collaborate about learning opportunities with colleagues, students, parents, and community partners.  I have been fortunate to work with many strong administrators in my capacity as both a teacher, administrator, and as a parent.  These individuals believed in a flattened hierarchy and they believe in empowering others to assume leadership positions.  I look forward to helping teachers, parents and community partners to achieve ends that benefit them personally while also supporting the school community.

The Vancouver School district has defined a vision of creating a collaborative learning community through a lens of excellence and equity.  As a social justice advocate, equity of opportunity for all students in foundational in my educational philosophy.  As a principal in a new school, I am reflecting on what I need to learn from my new school community.  I will be investing in trying to learn about a new school culture.  I’m looking forward to the opportunity to the activities and conversations that can lead to a common understanding of our culture and define directions to consolidate and celebrate our strengths and the capacity for future growth.

Over the past year, our dynamic superintendent, Suzanne Hoffman, has used the metaphor of the iceberg to facilitate conversations between administrators about the culture in the Vancouver School Board, one of the largest and most complex of the 60 districts in the province.  It has provided a meaningful way to facilitate discussion about culture,  both the visible parts of the culture that are easily observable, but also the larger mass that exists beneath the surface and is more difficult to discern.

I spent most of my career as a teacher in Coquitlam.  When I started to work as an administrator in Vancouver a decade ago, I discovered the challenge of trying to identify and understand the less obvious aspects of culture.   I attended VSB schools from Kindergarten to Grade 12.  I lived in Vancouver until I got married and moved to the suburbs.  I believed I knew Vancouver culture.  And I did know the obvious, exposed areas of the iceberg.  But I had no insight into the less obvious aspects of the culture.

Visiting David Livingstone Elementary and initial conversations have given me some insight into the culture and vibrancy of opportunity at the school.  I look forward to the conversations with the people in the school community to help me develop a deeper understanding to guide my work.  And this part is the most enticing part of back of school.

The Indigenous Voice

I grew up living, learning and playing in Vancouver, British Columbia, on the ancestral and unceded lands of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations.  I saw Indigenous people but I did not hear their voices.  In school we learned about a culture that was part of our past.  Not our present. Definitely not our future.  Yesterday on National Indigenous Peoples Day, the first day of summer on June 21, 2019, that had changed.  And to quote an expert on joy, Chief Dan George, ”And my heart soars”.

Raising of Indigenous poles at the VSB – proud moment in our quest for human rights in Canada

In the Summer 2019 edition of the Montecristo magazine, Robert Davidson talks about when he erected a totem in Masset in 1969.  It was the first one that had been raised since the 1880’s.  “…it opened the door for the elders to pass the incredible knowledge that was muted…Before the totem pole was raised we had no idea of their knowledge.  I had no idea that art was so important.”  I think Vancouver educators are hopeful that the poles raised at the VSB this week to advance reconciliation with Indigenous people and celebrated on National Indigenous Peoples Day with 1000 plus people to bear witness to the event, will be part of many positive and productive learning conversations.  I am deeply grateful that Akemi Eddy took her Grade 1 students to see the carvers in process and brought back wood shavings. Angie Goetz was able to support students in transforming the shavings into their own beautiful art.  Akemi also took three of our students with Indigenous heritage down to the VSB ceremony with our ever-supportive PAC parent, Kathleen Leung- Delorme.  These students were able to bear witness to the smudge at the beginning of the day in the presence of Judy Wilson-Raybould and Joyce Perrault.

I was fortunate to meet Joyce Perrault when I was the vice-principal at Norma Rose Point K-8 school in Vancouver.  It was one of the many schools that she was working as an Indigenous Education Enhancement Worker.  Not only was she able to establish a strong rapport with students in the relatively short weekly assignment at the school, but she was a sweet and gentle soul with a plethora of ideas to empower Indigenous students in finding their own voices, and to support non-Indigenous students in applying Indigenous teachings to explore their own pathways.  The hallway displays were inspired, interactive and collaborative ventures created with the Indigenous students she was working with.  She had put together a flipbook of the Medicine Wheel Teachings from her Anishinaabe/ Ojibwe heritage that she had implemented with students over the years.  She was looking for a publisher.  I had no doubt it would be published.  She thought the publisher would use her text and drawings.  I thought that the publisher would use the text and assign an artist to market it as a hardcopy version that could be used in libraries and on coffee tables, as well as a soft cover for use by individual kids.

The publisher smart enough to pick up the book was Peppermint Toast Publishing.  It is a small publisher in New Westminster that publishes one book per year.  They made a wise choice.  Joyce Perrault’s first book, All Creation Represented:  A Child’s Guide to the Medicine Wheel, was published in 2017 with Terra Mar’s amazing illustrations.  The Vancouver School Board alone has purchased 250 copies.  Her second publication is in process to support educators in teaching Indigenous ways of knowing through Medicine Wheel teachings.

This year, as principal of University Hill Elementary School, I did not have the number of Indigenous students, to warrant the assignment of an Indigenous Education Enhancement worker. However in Vancouver, it is mandatory for all public schools to have an Indigenous goal to support the quest to decolonize education. At University Hill Elementary, our Indigenous goal is: To increase knowledge, acceptance, empathy, awareness and appreciation of Indigenous histories, traditions, cultures and contributions among all students in an authentic way.

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Learning to Powwow dance with Shyama Priya

Our teachers took on this goal with enthusiasm.  When I arrived at the school, Melody Ludski, had already taken the lead in having a spindal whorl commissioned by Musqueam carver, Richard Campbell.  He came to unveil his amazing carving with his daughter shortly after the Truth and Reconciliation walk in 2017.  I was talking about how impressed I had been with the fluency of the young woman speaking Musqueam on the stage at the end of the Truth and Reconciliation Walk, only to discover that she was Richard Campbell’s daughter.  And she was standing in front of me.  Bonus! We had amazing teaching that day and our students were able to hear the welcome in the Musqueam language from Richard’s daughter, Vanessa Campbell .  Richard Campbell also shared the process of his carving, from the inspiration in the selection of wood to the finished product.  He also shared that he was a survivor of the residential school system.  Students, educators and parents in the audience witnessed first-hand the pain of the experience and the incredible support in the father-daughter relationship.

Many of our teachers have been engaged in personal, professional development around Indigenous teachings via VSB supported inquiry studies, school based professional development, book clubs and university coursework.  Our students have been the winners.  Delta authored materials published by Strong Nation Publishing have been implemented by primary teachers to teach core competencies. Ideas have been implemented from Jennifer Katz book, Ensouling Our Schools – A Universally designed framework for mental health, well-being, and reconciliation.

Staff got together to plan an outdoor learning space once the portables were removed from our site.  A large circle of twelve large rocks that were big enough to seat 30 students were installed to facilitate outdoor learning.  Some teachers wanted twelve rocks to teach time.  Many agreed one needed to be placed to indicate true north and all of the compass directions.  Some of us were excited with the possibilities for use as a talking / listening circle, as practiced in many of our classrooms, as well as integration of other Indigenous teachings.  The Musqueam have gifted the VSB with the word, Nə́ caʔmat ct, which means “We Are One”, as part of our move towards reconciliation.  I personally love thinking about it that way and calling it that as a way of honouring that our school is on Musqueam ancestral lands and demonstrating our openness to learning.

The intermediate curriculum benfited with the success of The Human Rights Internet Grant (www.hri.ca) for $1900.00 to implement new curriculum with Grade 4/5 students with a human rights lens on our Indigenous people.  Students learned about the United Nations Declaration of Rights and Freedoms which was adopted by Canada in 1959 and the implications of these rights for our Indigenous people.   It allowed us to show honour and respect by inviting Indigenous speakers to share Indigenous teachings with our students.  Intermediate students had inspirational drumming and storytelling sessions with Alec Dan and teachings about indigenous plants by Martin Sparrow in the Pacific Spirit Park.  This Human Rights Internet Grant also enabled UHill Elementary students to share their outdoor learning with students from Norma Rose Point during the Wild About Vancouver Celebration in April.  It also allowed us to invite Indigenous speakers to share their teachings with the entire school including: Debra Sparrow to talk about the replica of one of the MOA (Museum of Anthropology) weavings by her and her sister Robyn Sparrow that we recently purchased and display in our foyer; Shyama Priya to share her Powwow dancing, including participatory opportunities for our students; Martin Sparrow doing the Indigenous Acknowledgement and sharing his teachings at the 2nd Annual University Hill Elementary Multi-cultural Fair; Martin Sparrow sharing bannock and salmon pate at our Earth Day BBQ.  Joyce Perrault was also willing and able to request some of her teaching time allotment to come and share her book with our Grade 3 students and her process of writing it with our aspiring UHill Elementary authors.

Joyce Perrault in conversation with Vincente Regis about Indigenous teachings.

Vincente Regis, a new PAC member, came forward with an idea for a school community Arts Festival at a PAC Meeting this Spring.  He spoke passionately about the Arts Festivals he had implemented in Brazil as an educator.  With enthusiastic support from PAC, we  started meeting shortly after the PAC meeting to begin the planning for the first UHill Elementary Arts Festival.  He very much wanted it to unfold before the end of the school year while momentum was high.  When we decided on the date when we weren’t building the playground, and when I could access staging and tables for the event, Vincente immediately understood the significance of the Arts Festival taking place on Indigenous Peoples Day and the opportunity to honour the Indigenous voice and the contribution to Indigenous people in all aspects of the arts.  He promptly began planning to incorporate an Indigenous song from Brazil with our students.  I went to work to find an Indigenous artist willing and available to open with the Indigenous acknowledgement and put a spotlight on the Indigenous contribution in the arts.

The British Columbia Literacy Council of the International Literacy Association (BCLCILA) is currently going through a period of revitalization and relocation to Vancouver, British Columbia.  Due to the BCLCILA  / International Literacy Association membership of two UHill Elementary staff members and the support of BCLCILA, we were able to invite Joyce Perrault to not only facilitate an after-school session with educators in May, but also participate in the school community event on Indigenous Peoples Day, June 21, 2019 from 3:30 – 6:30 pm.  She graciously accepted even though her morning started with her participation in the VSB ceremony to honour the raising of the 13-metre pole carved by James Harry of the Squamish Nation, and his father Xwalack-tun, a master carver with 50 years’ experience, as well as the male and female welcome poles by Musqueam carvers, William Dan and his family and his siblings Chrystal and Chris Sparrow.  Big day!

Laura Tait, respected Indigenous educator, and current Assistant Superintendent at Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools (SD 68) has been cited to have said “If you want to know about Indigenous culture, make an Indigenous friend.”  That has been the basis of trying to provide opportunities for developing community with our Indigenous neighbours.  I have now participated with Joyce as she has engaged in learning conversations with students, educators, and parents.  Her pride in her Ojibwe / Metis heritage has remained constant.  Her voice has grown along with the number of people wanting to hear her story …”And my heart soars.” And more importantly, so does hers.  Our path to reconciliation needs to include more of these spaces for the development of Indigenous voice and friendships.

What is Powerful Professional Development?

I have a passion for learning.  I was a curious kid.  A risk taker. A reader.  As a beginning teacher, my learning was fueled by the plethora of professional development opportunities to learn that were available in the system, including district and school based professional development.  The British Columbia Teachers Federation (BCTF) provides a structure and funding for vibrant, Professional Specialist Associations to organize groups of like-minded teachers into Local Specialist Associations.  I jumped in feet first and became actively involved as participant and executive member of The Primary Teachers’ Association.  My first principal invited me to attend my first meeting of The International Reading Association (now the International Literacy Association).  I would go on to become the president of the local chapter, The B.C.Literacy Council, and then provincial coordinator.  Human Rights Education.  Special Education.  English Language Learning.  Outdoor Learning.  I had a wide range of interests and the encouragement from colleagues and administration.

There is no shortage of professional development opportunities for curious educators.  In fact, the big question, is how do we take the front-end loading and personal passions and incorporate the ideas into educational practices that support our students in their learning?  The focus on “Make and Take” or “ideas to try tomorrow”, were often novel but not necessarily transformative in my practice.

I was fortunate to cross paths with Maureen Dockendorf.   After 5 years of teaching in Abbotsford,  I began teaching in Coquitlam.  I promptly signed up to participate in a Teacher Inquiry group led by Maureen Dockendorf.  We defined areas of interest.  Clarified our question.  Came up with a plan to work with our students and colleagues to find possibilities and sometimes, answers.   Reported out on the learning to keep us accountable for doing the work and integrating other sources or learning.  The added bonus was it was fun.  It involved collaborating with colleagues.  It caused us to carefully considering the questions and responses of our students.  It led to reflection of who we were as educators in the class and how we were meeting the needs of our students.  It allowed us to go deeper in our learning.

The work of Linda Kaser and Judy Halbert has been instrumental in the inquiry process becoming an influential force in the learning of educators and students in British Columbia.  The Spiral of Inquiry they developed has been instrumental in shifting the way we think about learning.

  • What am I learning and why is it important?
  • How is my learning going?
  • What am I going to do next?

Professional development expectations have shifted.  The merits of a powerful speaker conveying ideas based on solid research and practices continues to be inspirational.  The New and Aspiring Leaders Program designed by the Harvard Graduate School of Education is masterful at bringing together inspirational speakers and facilitating with educators from all over the world.  Collaborative structures were built into the program to facilitate the sharing of ideas with educational leaders from all over the world.  Educators were astounded by the implementation of Universal Design in education for all students in Canada.

A number of strategies have become common place to facilitate conversation about the ideas.  Think Pair Share, sitting in table groups, focus questions, and mixer activities have become common strategies to encourage even diverse audiences to talk about the ideas being presented by the speaker.

Social media has become a tool to present, learn and engage with colleagues about ideas online.  I have seen this as a way to get people in the same room to engage with each other and the speaker.  Twitter has become my newspaper and educational magazine.  On a daily basis I will read articles, blogs and magazine stories that are recommended by the people I follow.

I also participate in twitter chats, some regularly scheduled like @BCedchat on Sunday nights at 7 pm PST, other slow chats over the course of a month, like @perfinker.  I share out things I’m excited about and sometimes plan to meet face to face with online , like annual Edvents facilitated by @Edvent247

I have been asked how I have the “extra” time to blog.  For me, writing is my effort to make sense of the ideas percolating in my mind.  Having worked as a faculty associate at Simon Fraser University, I developed a strong appreciation of sitting with ideas over a period of time before making a judgement.  It was not learning that came easily to me.  One of my colleagues in Coquitlam nicknamed me the Tasmanian Devil back in my SD#43 days.  Reflection takes time.  If I can reflect before formulating and articulating an idea in writing, then I am in a much better place to engage in a discussion.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to participate in the inaugural year of Short Course II offered by the British Columbia Principal Vice Principal Association.  The design of Short Course II  for experienced principals and vice principals incorporated the three elements I believe are required to exist in an infinite loop for professional development to be powerful enough to implement personal and systemic change.  The elements continue on throughout a lifetime, although not necessarily in the same order.

  1. Inspiring big ideas to consider
  2. Opportunities for meaningful collaboration with peers to occur
  3. Time to reflect on the ideas

Leading, learning and innovation was the focus of the four day summit offered by BCPVPA at the University of British Columbia – Okanagan campus in Kelowna, B.C.  The input was inspirational on so many levels.

  1. The Indigenous people in the area, welcomed us to the land and shared their teachings.
  2. David Istance not only presented but engaged with each of the groups. As many of you will already know, he was one of the authors of the OECD 7 Principles of Education that have been the catalyst of educational change around the globe.
  3. British born, Amelia Pederson, presented the doctoral work she is doing at Harvard and actively engaged with the group, table groups and individuals throughout the week.
  4. David Weiss, President and CEO of Weiss International, gave us his perspective from working with organizational consultants who lead innovative consulting and training projects.
  5. Innovative business owners in Kelowna welcomed our BCPVPA groups into their companies and engaged in conversations about their inspiration, their process of developing their innovative idea, the skill set required of their employees and their goals moving forward.

Opportunities were structured for collaboration with colleagues throughout the province over the course of the four day program and throughout the year.

  1. A facilitator was assigned to each group and welcomed us into our table group and posed discussion questions and processes to keep us on track.
  2. We sat in the same daily table group and had the opportunity to get to know each other and engage with the ideas and questions together.
  3. We also had the opportunity to meet with other people with similar interests to develop our own inquiries to focus our work throughout the year. I was able to connect both professionally and personally with colleagues from Delta and Richmond to tease out my ideas.
  4. Informal opportunities to collaborate were part of the program, such as the wine and cheese at a local winery and the Open Deck time on the roof of FreshGrade.
  5. Online opportunities were provided to meet with our table groups over the course of the year.

By the time I had finished Short Course II, I had defined the first of my professional growth goals.  This is a management requirement for principals and vice principals in the Vancouver School Board in in British Columbia.  However for me defining an inquiry goal has always been part of grounding me in my practice.  Doing it prior to the start of the next school year allowed me to reflect on the previous year, consider new learning and thoughtfully plan my year so I could act deliberately rather than reactively.  During Short Course II, we agreed to meet with other SCII participants and participate online with our table groups.  It being the inaugural year, the anticipated challenges with technology presented themselves.  However it provides a pathway forward to continue to engage with colleagues over time.  The more we got to know each other, the better the conversation.  The inspiration, the collaboration and grappling with the ideas over time, provided an amazing model for powerful professional development.

Reggio Inspiring Classrooms in British Columbia

I am part of a group of educators in the Vancouver School Board, considering various inquiries about aspects of Reggio Emilia inspired practice.  We came together with other like-minded educators in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia to participate in a school visit to Opal School in Portland, Oregon during our Spring 2018 vacation.  Ninety British Columbia teachers converged on the Portland Museum where this model of Reggio inspired educational practice is housed.  We had three days of intensive presentation, observation, engagement, reflection and discussion.  In trying to make sense of the myriad of perceptions and information, I sought out books.  Fortunately, Portland is also home to my new favourite place – Powell Books.  This bookstore of all bookstores, takes up an entire city block, has new and used titles and is staffed with knowledgeable readers.  I found what I needed for the learning to continue.

Reggio Emelia Classrooms started in Northern Italy just after World War II in an effort by educators, parents and the municipal government to “produce a reintegrated child, capable of constructing his or her own powers of thinking through the synthesis of all the expressive, communicative and expressive languages.” (C. Edwards, L. Gandina, G.E. Foreman, eds. 1993, p.305).   Essentially people came together in the belief that providing rich experiences grounded in basic human rights for children from 0-6 years old was the best strategy to prevent another emergence of fascism.  Building connections and respectful relationships between child, parent, teacher and the community was a foundational premise.  Although it is widely accepted that it is not possible to transport educational ideas intact from one culture to a totally different context, there are ways to implement certain principles and ideas inspired by the Reggio experience.

Loris Malaguzzi, the father of the Reggio Emilia philosophy of education,  developed a metaphor that is very instructive in understanding the Reggio approach.  His premise is that the relationship between the teacher and the student is much like throwing a ball, or as Vygotsky framed it, providing “scaffolds” to support young learners.  The teacher must be able to listen and catch the ball thrown by the child, then toss it back in a way to extend the learning and maintain the motivation of the child to continue the game, aka for the child to continue to ask and answer the questions he or she cares about.

An exhibit toured the United States in 1987 called “The Hundred Languages of Children”  that provided the context and the educational process of the Reggio Emilia schools with a display and explanation of photographs, samples of children’s paintings, drawings, collage, constructive structures and explanatory scripts and panels.  In 1996, editors Carolyn Edwards, Lella Gandini, and George Forman brought together a collection of essays and perspectives by influential thinkers and educators in what has become “a bible” of Reggio Emilia thought in a must-read book called The Hundred Languages of Children:  The Reggio Emilia Approach to Early Childhood Education.   The “hundred languages of children” refers to the multiple ways that young children grapple with their questions and create meaning, including drawing with various media (crayons, coloured pencils, pastels, charcoals, sticks…) on various surfaces (paper, glass, sand…), painting, plasticine, clay, murals, photographs, plays, skits, water, mud, wood, mirrors, light table and … , as well as with oral language.  As Malaguzzi emphasizes “(t)he wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experiences” (p. 73).   Malaguzzi likened setting up the atelier, or space, for stimulating and meaningful centres of activity, to the setting up of ‘market stalls” where customers look for the wares that interest them, make selections and use them for their own purposes.  With familiarity exploring the materials, comes the possibility of them being used as a tool for communication.

In Reggio Emilia schools, students are encouraged to ask questions and set up investigations or projects to find answers.  “(T)he actual theme or content of the project is not as important as the process of children thinking, feeling, working, and progressing together with others.” (p 194)  However there are some general guidelines and principles in Reggio project work (p.210)

  1. Groups of 5 or less activate the most intense learning and exchange of ideas
  2.  Establish and maintain reciprocity / a sense of “WE”
  3. Graphic and verbal exploration
  4. Teachers work collaboratively to develop the project questions, comments and interests of the children involved
  5. Ample time for students to come up with their own questions and their own solutions
  6. Bring the knowledge and experience of the small group back to the other children and adults in the school.

The educators at Reggio Emilia schools invest heavily in documenting student work.  This documentation may include recordings, observations, transcriptions of children’s dialogue and photographs of key moments.  One of the purposes is to reflect back the learning process back to young children to help develop their meta-cognitive thinking.  In addition, the “systematic documentation allows each teacher to become the producer of research, that is someone who generates new ideas about curriculum and learning, rather than being merely a “consumer of certainty and tradition.” (p. 157)  Regular meeting and discussions happen between teachers to assist in selecting documentation for display to parents, program planning and problem solving.   Intellectual conflict is valued and understood as the engine of all growth in Reggio for both teachers and students.  “Children’s work (drawings, verbal transcripts, symbol making) is incorporated into the classrooms and school hallways by means of large and dramatic displays, and reflects the serious attention adults pay to children’s ideas and activities.” (Lillian Katz, 1990, p.217)

Reggio Inspired Opal School is both a private pre-school with two classrooms and publicly funded Kindergarten to Grade 5 Charter School with four classrooms.  It represents an “ecosystem” or a Reggio inspired approach to learning based on the core belief that each child is capable, competent, creative, and filled with skills we need in the world.  There was a very respectful way in which adults talked and interacted with students.  They took the time to slow down the interaction with the purpose of trying to understand the child’s perspective and helping the child to ask the questions and come up with a plan to understand.

The school has a long wait list and entrance is determined by a lottery.  It is extremely well funded and provides students with a wide range of materials to express their learning and many large professionally prepared samples of documentation.  We were invited to be observers or listeners in the “ecosystem” and to look for examples of playful inquiry in the four  K- Grade 5 classrooms, as well as adopt a willingness to be transformed.  Popsicle sticks at the door controlled the number of observers in the room to keep disruption of the learning environment to a minimum.

The day started with a Morning Meeting time.  Project work was introduced with a provocation, a stimulating event, question or activity to motivate students to consider the topic.  Explore time or project work provided the opportunities for collaboration.  Students generally worked in small groups exploring a topic while one of the two teachers was transcribing discourse on a laptop computer.  There is no library, cafeteria or gym in the museum so the classrooms, playground and museum grounds need to fulfill these purposes.

All of the activity in the school has a learning intention to guide attention.  “Intention setting keeps educators from getting too far ahead or falling behind the students” according to Opal School staff (March 2018).  Learning in not theme based.  The emphasis is on learning to learn, developing empathy and agency rather than learning content about the topic.  It is a particularly strong model for developing project based learning with a proclivity to action.  Students are encouraged to explore big questions that will motivate learning over time.  Topics included:

  • Impact of plastic water bottles on the environment
  • Refugee Crisis
  • Culture of Hate
  • March Against Guns in Schools
  • Contributing to the Vietnam exhibit in the Museum about Tet

Reggio Emilia Inspiration for Schools in British Columbia: 

Although Reggio programs were designed for children from birth to 6 years, many of the principles holds true for older school aged students to be nurtured in the same supportive context by educators, parents and community partners.  Many educators have embraced many of the principles and philosophies of Reggio Emilia Schools and they can be found in the New Curriculum in British Columbia.  Yet, there are other aspects to consider as well.

  1. Student Centered Learning:  I love the quote by Loris Malaguzzi, founder of the program in Reggio Emilia: ” We wanted to recognize the right of each child to be a protagonist and the need to sustain each child’s spontaneous curiosity at a high level”. (p. 45)   Viewing the child as competent and capable of learning is a large step away from the notion of the child as a “tabula rasa” or empty vessel.
  2. Inquiry:  We can develop schools that encourage students to ask complex questions, plan investigations, and believe in themselves as capable and competent learners, even when faced with cognitive dis-equalibrium.
  3. Acknowledging the Role of Conflict:  Reggio philosophy acknowledges the role of conflict in coming up with the best solutions.  Students are encouraged to disagree, debate and problem solve independently.  Teacher discussion is much the same with problem solving involving listening to all of the viewpoints presented.  Deference to authority has not had any place in Reggio philosophy due to the WWII experience.   I believe students and educators would benefit from more rigorous debate, lively exchange of ideas and problem solving opportunities.  Decisions should be based on clear thinking not alliances.
  4. Learning Intentions:  As we are dealing with school aged children, there is a curriculum that we as educators are responsible for covering with our students.  Using provocations to engage students in a topic and teaching students to set a learning intention has benefits to both motivation to learn, making connections and considering a direction to pursue.
  5. Multiple ways to explore questions and communicate learning:  In many ways our curriculum in British Columbia is doing just that.  Inquiry is encouraged but the variety of ways to communicate not yet fully understood.  An atelier (studio / lab) for exploration may not be a reality in schools in British Columbia, but the exposure and ability to explore questions using a variety of media is possible.  In many of our schools, the accessibility of parks, beaches, forests and farm land provide access to materials not often readily available in urban settings.  That being said, the funding to allow exploration of a wide range of artistic expressions would open up amazing possibilities.
  6. Communicating Student Learning:    I believe the new ways of reporting to parents is continuing to be a positive development in nurturing relationship with students, parents, educators and community partners.  Reporting from teachers continues to be important but one avenue of communicating student learning to parents.  Mandatory student led conferences indicate the importance of student voice in learning.    Parents are also frequently invited into informal events which allow them to gain greater insight into the learning process of their child.  Large displays which documents student learning in diverse ways and sharing project outcomes and actions also brings a better understanding of the role of play and inquiry in the learning process.
  7. Documentation to develop Meta-cognitive Skills:  Teachers currently use a variety of means to document student learning.  However the documentation is frequently used for assessment purposes.  There would be real benefit in putting a greater emphasis on using documentation as a tool to help students develop their metacognitive thinking skills.
  8. Professional Development:  As John Dewey put it, educators are called to adopt a stance of “learning to learn”.  Educators are involved in daily conducting of systematic research on daily classroom work for professional development, curriculum planning and teacher development.  The obvious benefits of this process make it very worthwhile to facilitate common prep times in schools to allow teachers to meet for these purposes.
  9. Designing schools to facilitate collaboration:  In Italy, there is high value placed on art and aesthetics.  Historically, designing public spaces includes not only the aesthetic but the priority of facilitating social interaction.  Our schools need to be designed or transformed into spaces and places to invite collaboration and indicate that we put high value on the education of our students.
  10. Creating Mutually Beneficial Community Partnerships:  Creating the Opal School in the Portland Museum opens up a range of options to consider.  Young Opal students were able to contribute to the curated Museum display teaching about the Tet celebration in Vietnam.  What a powerful way to demonstrate the power of the inquiry project to the students, parents, community partners and the public.  No wonder there is such a long waiting list to attend.

Reconciling Assessment & Reporting Practices with the New Curriculum in British Columbia

The implementation of the New Curriculum in British Columbia has garnered a lot of attention throughout the world.  Our population is made up of Canadians, immigrants and refugees from many different places, with many different schooling traditions.  In my little school of only 328 students, we have 34 home languages.  Yet what we are doing to prepare our students for the demands of the 21st Century is bringing good results.

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Students are encouraged to ask the key questions laid out so effectively by Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser in The Spirals of Inquiry.

  • Where am I now in my learning?
  • Where am I going next?
  • What do I need to get there?

Suzanne Hoffman, Superintendent, Learning Transformation, Ministry of Education emphasizes the significance of “unveiling the hidden curriculum” by deliberately teaching and assessing core competencies.  Deliberate instruction and reflection of  communication, thinking and personal / social responsibility skills have the power to transform lives of our students (SAHoffman, Nov. 15, 2017).  Mandatory self assessment demonstrates that core competencies are important enough to be measured and help students to learn about themselves as learners, to develop the skills required for collaboration and to supports the creation meaningful goals.

Aside from the students themselves, teachers have the most significant impact on the students in their classrooms.   Teachers in British Columbia have a high level of professionalism.  They  are well educated and have regular access to professional development and opportunities for collaboration.  As John A.C. Hattie aptly states in Visible Learning for Teachers:  Maximizing Impact on Learning ” (2013)  “…those teachers who are students of their own impact, are the teachers who are the most influential in raising students’ achievement.”    By making learning intentions explicit, teachers help their students to learn intended learning outcomes, as well as the strategies of how to learn.   The development of scoring rubrics with students or  a review of criteria prior to assignments or marking, helps students to understand expectations and plan their time.  The challenge for teachers is to determine those strategies and practices that will enable students to ask complex questions, problem solve, work collaboratively and persevere to find answers and discover future possibilities.

In the new curriculum students are given far more responsibility for their own learning.  One rationale is to improve student engagement in school.  Another is to create students who will be able to respond to the demands of the 21st century.  My son works as a designer in Lululemon’s “Whitespace” with engineers, scientists and technologists.  Beyond the frosted glass and carded access, he is researching how clothes impact physical performance and the mental and emotional perception of athletic ability.  The goal is to respond to trends, create markets and tailor sports clothing for 4-10 years down the road.  To our amazement as his parents, the childhood fascination with lego, trials riding, downhill riding, skiing, snowboarding and the construction of death defying jumps were the things that provided some of the rudimentary learning required for the job.  We can’t predict all of the jobs in the future, but the new curriculum sets out to enable students to ask and respond to tough questions and learn through engagement in the things they find fascinating.    Students are now responsible for assuming responsibility for their learning, engaging with peers to learn cooperatively and participating in evaluating their progress.

In the not so distant past, teachers aspired to be a fountain of knowledge and rushed in to speed up the process of answering questions or finishing explanations expeditiously.  Jon Saphier,  recently featured in a Webinar sponsored by Corwin (Nov. 13, 2017), suggested three ways to make learning visible and deeper:  Turn and talk.  Explain. Restate.  In the new Curriculum, we want students to take the time to think about difficult problems, to be comfortable being stuck, to engage in dialogue, to ask peers to explain their thinking, and to persevere until they discover their answers.

 

The shift from summative to formative assessment is necessary to assist students in this new role.  In order for our students to take more responsibility for their learning, they require ongoing feedback embedded in their daily instruction.  The focus is not on one letter grade but movement along a continuum to demonstrate growth in student learning.  The initial response was the development of paper based portfolios that allowed students to self select items to demonstrate learning outcomes.  The accessibility of technology has added several other layers and possibilities with the addition of pictures, videos and attachments with comment.

The Surrey School District has been using FreshGrade for the past four years to facilitate the collection of online portfolios to provide what Sir Ken Robinson calls “a continuous glimpse into each child’s progress that parents and students can share”.  It is one of the possible online applications that BC teachers like for the ease of use by young children and the inclusion of BC Performance standards.  The VSB is currently exploring how Office365 can be used in conjunction with various applications to fascilitate learning, store and showcase student work from entry in Kindergarten to graduation in Grade 12.  All school districts in British Columbia are developing reporting directives for implementation in September 2018 that will mesh with the new curriculum.

 

 

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Reporting has always included the aspect of what students are able to do, the areas that require future attention and the ways of supporting students.  The opportunities introduced by implementation of the new curriculum in British Columbia are the source of many conversations with colleagues, students and parents about how our system in British Columbia can become even better.  Let the learning continue…

Formal assessments continue to play a role in providing feedback about students and  Provincial assessments , National and International assessments provide a snapshot of student performance in key areas and, over time, can help to monitor key outcomes of B.C.’s education system.

From the Ministry of Education Website:

B.C. students participate in three types of large-scale assessment:

  • Classroom Assessment is an integral part of the instructional process and can serve as meaningful sources of information about student learning.
  • Provincial Assessments:
  • National and international assessments measure reading, math and science skills of B.C. students. Various age ranges participate and student achievement levels are compared with other provinces or countries.

Fascination with the Brain

Walking along Jericho Beach as a little girl, this piece of wood screamed “brain” to me.  This was long before the fascination with the brain had extended beyond neuroscientists and doctors, to psychologists, to educators, to anyone aging and fearing cognitive decline.  The brain held secrets that were not readily apparent to the naked eye.  It was the also the basis of the best bonding with my neurosurgeon father.

Dr. Peter Dyck is not a man who relished talk of feelings, hopes, dreams, aspirations or divergent opinions.  However he has always been an example of the consummate learner.  He survived war times in Germany.  When he was 12 years old, he was sponsored to come to Canada with his mother and siblings by his uncle in Alberta.  He learned English and excelled in school.  He ended up working on his step-fathers farm in Abbotsford while attending school.  When a cow would die, he did not shed a tear.  He would dissect it behind the barn.   My aunt boiled many a chicken bones so he could reassemble them.  When I would go on rounds with him during summer visits to Los Angeles, the nurses would run when they heard his footsteps.  He was demanding of staff and took patient care very seriously.  Dad became fascinated with the possibility of destroying, rather than removing a brain tumour by using a local anaesthetic and a three dimensional C/T scanner to avoid the trauma of opening the skull.  Radioactive material in a small tube was targeted through a tiny hole in the skull into the centre of the brain tumour.  The concentration used would result in the radioactivity reaching only the tumour cells.  A team was formed including him as the neurosurgeon, Armand Bouzaglou, the radiation oncologist and Livia Bohman, the radiologist, to travel to Germany in 1981 to study the technique for stereotactic isotope implantation with Professor Fritz Mundinger at the University of Freiburg.   This technique was brought back to the USA and his first book about it’s success in avoiding the trauma of a full craniotomy was dedicated to the patients whose hope against overwhelming odds brought about this endeavour.

Not even neuroscientists agree on the inner workings of the brain.  However asking a question and our attitude seem to be the key components informing our brain and resulting in amazing accomplishments and sometimes survival.  Viktor Frankl’s answer to his question, “Why do I need to survive?” allowed him to walk out of Auschwitz and go on to develop his theory of logotherapy, write his influential book, Man’s Search for Meaning, and help many people find a way to cope with the challenges in their lives.   Norman Doidge details many examples of therapies that have allowed the brain to heal in ways that are still outside of mainstream medical practice in The Brain’s Way of Healing:  Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of  Neuroplasticity .  John J. Ratey, MD, in his book SPARK – The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, provides a compelling argument as to why exercise is integral to our ability to cope with stress, learn, as well as maintain good mental and physical health.  The brain is central in all facets of our lives yet understanding how it works is still somewhat elusive.

Educators, such as Eric Jensen started to focus educators’s attention on Teaching with the Brain in Mind  in the 90’s.  Educators are now seriously considering the implications of what neuroplasticity means in the classroom.  Previously held conceptions about the limits of some learners no longer apply, and standardized testing has become one indicator of specific learning strengths and weaknesses, but not an accurate measure of future success.    Perhaps the greatest outcome has been talking to children about how their brain works and how they learn best.   This puts the responsibility and joy learning with the child and allows them to move beyond just looking for a good mark on an assignment.  Giving children the capacity to talk about the connections they are making in their learning and providing numerous opportunities to share their ideas and discoveries, opens up the possibilities to ask new questions and see their peers, teachers and parents as partners in a collaborative process.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Complexity Theory: Collaboration in Schools

I listened to a great TedTalk today (Zurich, Switzerland 2013) by Nicholas Perony called ” Puppies! Now that I’ve got your attention, complexity theory.”  Perony studies animals to understand how they maintain individualized stable social relationships over long periods of time.  Complex social systems in the animal kingdom are identified and broken down into interacting parts based on simple rules with emergent properties.  He grabs our attention with the picture of puppies pinwheeling around a bowl with the sole purpose of accessing the milk.  The dance is deconstructed to identify the one rule – get the milk.  Bats demonstrate simple association rules that result in complex social structures.  Meerkats teach us about the basis for their complex social hierarchy.  Animals show extraordinary complexity that allows them to adapt and respond.  Simplicity becomes complexity that ultimately emerges as resiliency.

Perony acknowledges that the more complex the machine, the more likely something unexpected will go wrong.  What could be more complex than a school community?  Particularly a school community at the end of the school year.   In days gone by or in strict hierarchical systems, perhaps decision making was easier because one person determined the direction.  Ultimately the stress came from the fact that the decisions didn’t reflect the needs of the diverse elements of the school community.

Perony identifies collaboration as an example of a complex system.   We aspire to a democratic process that best reflects the voices at the table and the needs in the school community.  The first time I participated in an Aboriginal Talking Circle, I was itching with impatience as everyone took the time they needed to express their thoughts.  What I have learned over the years is that I just need to be more patient.  Giving people the opportunity to voice their thoughts and provide the opportunity to participate in the decision making process allows us to all walk together on a common path.  With the end of the school year comes celebrations, reporting, ceremonies, transitions, staffing for the next year and planning for September.  All demand time that is in too short supply and requires collaboration.   If we try to break down collaboration to simple rules, does it increase our resiliency?  I can identify two simple rules that I believe facilitate the longevity of positive collaborative relationships.  1.  Respectfully listen to other people’s ideas.  2.  Be willing to change your mind based on what you’ve heard.

What would are your simple rules be to maintain longevity of positive collaborative relationships?  How do you go about defining them in your decision making structures?