I paused when I considered the annual Terry Fox School Run this year. This surprised me. I have both a personal and professional connection to the run. I am old enough to have the memory of the kid dipping his toe in the Atlantic, starting on his lonely run, then capturing the imagination of a country. I no longer have enough fingers and toes to count the number of community and school runs that I have participated in. Terry Fox defined my identity as a Canadian. Yet, I faltered. My job as a school principal is to ensure safety.
I am a big fan of a party. That is what Terry Fox Runs have become. The crowds flocking to runs do not capitalize on the gut-wrenching sadness of cancer, they ride high on the belief that every person has the capacity to take risks and do great things. They are fun. We do make a difference. The Terry Fox Foundation has raised over $800 million dollars towards cancer research. There is a cure for the type of cancer that Terry had. The Terry Fox Run was my first of many 10 K runs. Someone told me towards the end of the run that I had good form. In every run since, when I’m sure I have to stop, I straighten up and am buoyed up to finish.
I have well developed organizational skills and the desire to engage the whole school community during Annual Terry Fox School Runs. Last year, the music was pumping, the kids were energized, the gigantic Terry Fox flag flying, and families and neighbours flocked to the school to cheer us on. Kids were proud of the distance they ran and the money they were able to fundraise for cancer research. Terry Fox inspired them. COVID-19 caused me to balk. How could this be done following the required COVID-19 guidelines?
I am very grateful to my staff for providing the impetus for the run this year. Matt Carruthers brought it up at a staff meeting and the date was set. He provided the schedule for running in learning groups/ cohorts, and the crew to distribute and collect cones. Staff led the charge in their classrooms with lessons and inspiration about Terry Fox. I set up the online donations site and sent the letter home explaining how the Terry Fox Run would look different at Livingstone Elementary in times of COVID. My heart held more trepidation than enthusiasm.
I started run day with a talk about Terry Fox. My heart fills with pride when I talk about who we have self-selected as a Canadian hero. Who had a more valid reason to feel sorry for himself and to feel really angry? The kid had lost his leg to cancer. Yet, that was not what defined him. He set a goal to raise $1.00 from every Canadian to go towards cancer research. Done by February 1st of 1981. Yet that was not what defined him. He is defined by perseverance. He was not always the best at things that he loved, like basketball. It didn’t stop him from loving the game and trying to improve. He is defined by empathy and sympathy. He experienced the ravages of cancer and its impact on other kids in the hospital with him. He didn’t let adversity immobilize him. He was able to think of how he could make the lives of other people better. He was willing to do something really hard. And in the process, he captured our imaginations and gave us hope. He defined heroism in a very Canadian way.
On the Livingstone run day, the gigantic flag and the cones were in place. Most families respected my request to participate via our Twitter feed @LivingstoneVSB on the school website. The Spare Time Treehouse Preschoolers led off the run on the gravel field first thing in the morning. The final learning group / cohort was still running according to schedule at 2:30 pm. Ms. Janze’s class had inspirational chalk messages of encouragement on the sidewalk. Kids were laughing and having fun. They were setting personal goals of how many laps they would do. As we progressed through the day, the donations to the Livingstone School Run continued to roll in. At last check, we were at $2,814.95. Precious dollars we are able to contribute to cancer research when donations to charities are down due to the global pandemic.
In times of COVID-19, there are many disappointments and challenges to maintaining a positive outlook. Terry Fox is perhaps our very best example in Canada, of how adversity does not have to conquer. The #beliketerry and #tryliketerry capture how it is possible to move beyond sadness and anger to strengthen community and make a positive impact in a world that needs it. And my heart soars 🙂
Spring break is almost over in Vancouver, British Columbia. On Monday, March 30th, for the first time in my life, the doors of the school will not open to welcome students back. The doors of the school will remain locked. Students will not return to in-class schooling as per the direction of BC Health officials. This is completely new terrain for educators, families and students. Fortunately, we had the luxury of Spring Break. No one is falling behind. We had the gift of two weeks to consider how we will approach this challenge. Although educators have been on a regularly scheduled holiday, I know the work ethic of my colleagues. I’m willing to guarantee that more than one educator is already dreaming about kids, thinking about the days ahead, and creating a things to do list. Teachers are dedicated individuals who go into the profession because they want to enrich the lives of children. At this point in the school year, teachers know their students personally and have a good understanding of their individual learning needs. Teachers will be participating in conversations and online meetings on Monday and Tuesday and contacting parents in the coming week. Administrators have been participating in online meetings with district staff and dealing with a barrage of email to prepare to meet the most immediate needs. Our superintendent is communicating online with staff, being interviewed and creating YouTube videos to reassure people that we’ve got this. At home, there are some basic things that families may find helpful to support their child(ren) in learning at home.
The new curriculum in British Columbia has garnered worldwide attention because it has effectively incorporated current research about learning. This involves looking at learning through a different lens than what most adults grew up with. Learning has never been something that happens between the hours of 9 – 3 pm. The redesigned British Columbia curriculum tries to capitalize on the curiosity of a typical 5-year-old entering kindergarten and put the supports and structures in place for that same curiosity to continue to exist in the typical 17-year-old student in secondary school. It capitalizes on the role of student interest, self-regulation, and benchmarks to signal a need to loop back for more repetition and practice, or to move on to the next phase of learning. Learning may be happening for all of the waking hours but “school time” allows for the time for deep thinking and the front-end loading for skill development. It is not intended to be painful, but it is intended to be deliberate. Although not all parents are educators, all parents educate their children in one way or another through-out their lives. Here are some things you can do with your children to facilitate learning at home.
Set up a workspace for school times.
Support kids in setting up a workspace for 9 am to 3 pm. Currently at home I am taking up the entire dining room. Pencils, paper, journal, iPad, plug in. Have your child make a list of things required. They are best at “doing school”. I would encourage one notebook designated for questions. Questions might be for teachers or for future inquiry projects. Let the teacher know if there are things you require when you are contacted.
Set up a daily routine for “school”.
Sit down and create a daily schedule with your child. In my classroom, it was always called The Shape of the Day. Kids will recognize this process as it is done in one form or another in most classrooms. Showering, getting dressed, eating breakfast and brushing teeth happen before the start of the school day. Be sure to build in “recess” and “lunch” breaks. Be on time. You could be teaching your child the structure so they can have a successful home-based business in the future.
9:00 am – Review daily schedule.
Make any necessary changes to incorporate Skype calls to interview Grandma, chats with friends about books they are reading, or interesting programming that fit in with student learning.
9:15 am – Online yoga or physical activity to stretch and exercise.
9:30 am – Literacy Time
Children get better at reading by reading. This may involve taking turns reading with a parent. It could involve listening to a parent read and stopping to discuss issues and interpretations. It could be listening to an audiobook and following up with discussion with peers via messenger or illustrating while listening or writing a journal entry afterwards. It could be writing a personal blog or a story.
10:30 -11:00 am – recess break / Snack preparation by the child and free choice play
Snack preparation is another opportunity for developing literacy and numeracy skills as well as teaching about nutrition and independence. Let your child participate. Opportunity for more physical activity.
11:00 am – Numeracy Activities
The type of activities done during numeracy time may involve some skill and drill practice of basic facts, playing store that involves pricing items, paying for them with real money and making change, budgeting for future trip planning. There are also a number of online options to develop numeracy skills.
12:00 pm – lunch break / lunch preparation by the child and free choice play
Again, children should be involved in the preparation and clean-up of lunch. Go outside for a break while practicing physical distancing of at least 2 metres.
1:00 pm – Project Based Learning
Supporting students in asking questions and developing a plan to find answers is at the heart of Project Based Learning. Hard questions make for interesting projects. My children learned early on that they would not be as likely to get in trouble for making a mess if it was done in the name of “Doing Science”. The question can be as easy as “What kind of bird is that?” Spring in Vancouver guarantees that kids can look out any window or go for a walk and see several species to make close observations with field notes that include dates, times, drawings, notations, comparisons, and questions to pursue.
Generally big questions cross many different disciplines of subjects which should be encouraged. Successful learners in adult life are divergent thinkers. This is to be encouraged. At this point in history, it is not possible to master all of the relevant content because new content is generated at such a high rate. We are teaching kids to think about the application of content to answer new questions.
This time can also include outdoor physical activity, as long as there is attention to physical distancing recommendations of two meters from others. There are also a number of online opportunities to sign up for or follow along on television.
2:45 pm – Make a schedule for the following day and clean up.
In many families, a student workspace may also be a family living space. Clean it up. The learning may continue but school is over.
3:00 pm – Home Time
I encourage you to draw lines around “school time’. My caution is that if ALL time is designated school time, I anticipate you will get considerable pushback from your child(ren). Take the time to play games together and let your children make personal choices. Limiting screen time will undoubtedly be necessary but brainstorming a list of possibilities is helpful.
Teachers will be in contact with families in the coming week to provide more information. Teacher communication with families has taken many forms this year. Some teachers communicate using the online platform My Blueprint or Fresh Grade, while others communicate via a class newsletter and email.
I encourage you to begin with the structure of learning at home on Monday. The content of work times will change over time with teacher input, but the routine of school will create a predictable structure that will be reassuring to students. The goal is to minimize the struggles that often emerge during assigned homework times. If daily school at home is not successful, we have more work to do with our students to enlist their engagement and support.
I can guarantee as educators, we will not have all the answers this week. I can also tell you that I was emailing a question to a colleague on Friday night at 9:05 pm and getting an instant reply. Educators are on high alert and doing their best. They may have pressing issues to deal with immediately and they will have a myriad of concerns that you will not know or understand. Currently I am waking up in the middle of the night thinking about the welfare of the little salmon that are part of the Salmon Enhancement Program at school. For some this is a relatively small concern in a myriad of more pressing matters. For me it matters because my response to my students demonstrates my investment in their questions and concerns. At the end of the day, we are all directly accountable to our kids. Our collective task is for “school at home” to be another way to go about learning in the midst of a significant pivot. It will be an exercise in teaching our kids to be resilient. I hope we will be working together with our kids to meet their needs as learners and as young people experiencing a historical first. We are all writing our own story. Let’s make it one of creative thinking, collaboration, and victories – big and small.
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.
There is no teacher like direct experience to engage the head and heart in the process of learning. Data about students becoming less curious as they move through the school system, is heart-breaking. It begs the question – Why? When my children were preschoolers, the day revolved around playing in the backyard, discovering new backyards of playmates and going to the park. On sunny days they were dressed in clothing to protect sensitive skin and exposed bits were slathered with sunscreen. Other days included sweaters or “muddy buddies” or rubber boots or snowsuits. Bottom line, those preschoolers were going outside for an adventure filled with fresh air and exercise and access to the wonders of the natural world around them. Awe, curiosity, delight and question upon question were the standard of the day.
Richard Louv (2006) raised the alarm about our students who are increasingly demonstrating a “nature deficit disorder” in his book Last Child in the Woods. The nature deficit is something being experienced on a much bigger scale. Baby boomers are perhaps the last generation to be pushed out the door to “Go play outside and be home by dinner”. Accessible hand-held technology, less green space and a heightened sense of fear fed by the media, keeps adults as well as children inside with repercussions for engagement with nature, physical fitness and mental health. Some doctors are writing park prescriptions to assist patients in dealing with depression, high blood pressure and stress. Groups like Wild About Vancouver, have initiatives to encourage people of all ages to get outside and get active. The Japanese started a movement called “Shrin-yoko” or “forest bathing” in the 1980’s to improve physical and mental health. It has taken the world by storm. Regular “forest bathing” opportunities were scheduled in Vancouver’s 400 hectare rainforest, Stanley Park, this summer and many other forested parks with around the world because going outdoors, looking, listening and breathing needs to be taught.
Engaging with nature is a catalyst for curiosity and the learning that comes with it. The first time I saw a “Bear in the Area” sign in our local park when we moved to Coquitlam a suburb of Vancouver, I did the research to find out what I needed to know. I went online, got books to share with my family, and talked to neighbours and friends and even the police officer sitting doing his notes in the parking lot. Sailing, biking, skiing, snowboarding and hiking, all come with required background knowledge and a skill set to keep yourself safe. Every time we try something new, we learn.
The Child and Nature Alliance is astute in pointing out that the best way to get children outside, is to go with them. My husband and I now have adult children. However since their pre-school years, some of our best memories and best laughs are beach, park, biking and ski/snowboard adventures or the times just after, like reading Harry Potter aloud with hot chocolate by a fire. Of course, developing relationship during outdoor activities necessitates putting the phone away and giving your family and friends your undivided attention.
Experience – first hand knowledge – experiential learning, multi-sensory opportunities, unstructured times, emotional connection
“American kids devote more than seven hours daily to staring at screens, replacing reality with virtual alternatives” (Sampson, 2015, p.5). As with the advent of any technology, humans benefit from the advanced development of their prefrontal cortex, and the thinking skills to decide how best to utilize the technology. I am a huge fan of using phones, iPads and computers as tools to access information and communicate learning to a wider audience. When I’m outdoors, I use the camera on my cell phone and my iPad to focus my attention and capture things I find interesting or beautiful or memorable or that I want to explore more later. However just as I was instructed to turn off the television and go play outside as a little girl, parents and educators need to assume responsibility for the amount of screen time they allow for the children in their care to growth and lead healthy lives.
Germany is well-known developing a love of the outdoors. I remember hiking with my family in Schliersee. We were so proud of our stellar progress upwards on our hike, when we rounded the corner and not only had someone been there, but they had installed a bench. Britain is also well known for a population that engages outdoors. The British outdoor kindergarten movement is growing. Italy is known for the Reggio Emilio discovery based school movement. There is widespread recognition that children benefit from learning outdoors in the places they know well. It is outdoors that they can access the materials, solve problems and feed the curiosity that form the basis for important learning. This is the reality of place based learning.
The outdoor classroom does not close because it’s raining. I have recently adopted the slogan I learned from Scott D. Sampson’s book, How To Raise a Wild Child (2015): “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” The rain in Vancouver does present different opportunities for learning. while extending our understanding and appreciation what is is to live in a temperate rainforest. When my daughter was 6 years old, we were travelling in Venice. The rain started to fall and everyone ran for shelter. Our family was quite delighted with the break from the heat and we splashed puddles down the centre of the street. My little Vancouverite looked up at me, smiled and said “Oh, Mommy. It smells like home.” This is what the poet W.D. Auden (1947) must have been referring to when he coined the word “topophilia” which translates to a “love of place” to describe the bonds people form with the places where they live. When you care about the place you live, both your heart and mind are open to the lessons they provide. This necessitates outside experiences.
Mentoring – side by side exploration, mentors listen more than they talk, observe closely, inspire curiosity, “pull” stories from their mentees by asking questions that push the limits of awareness and knowledge
I have been fortunate to be a teacher in British Columbia. Teaching in Abbotsford meant the farm was in close proximity to learn about mammals, and the smell of manure in the air impacted learning about food systems. In Coquitlam, spawning salmon at the end of a playground provided input for learning about life cycles and perseverance. My current school is located in the Pacific Spirit Park. Teachers are able to take students into the forest to discover more about the “wood wide web” and The Hidden Life of Trees, to the beaver dam to learn about our history and science, and down the beach to investigate yet another habitat. My previous school was not surrounded by untouched wilderness, but it was there that we were able to follow the newly released butterflies to discover one of the best butterfly gardens I have ever seen cultivated by a local resident with a green thumb. The best weather forecasters were the students who had learned to go outside and use all of their senses to make observations. Those students had well-developed background knowledge about clouds and could tell you about the best weather APPS. In all of these school contexts, what makes the biggest difference to student learning is the skillful mentoring of educators. The questions they ask, and the student questions they reflect back to the group, helps students to hone their observation skills and risk asking questions about the things that matter to them personally. The innovators who have mirrored nature in their products have spent time outside studying, observing, hypothesizing and experimenting.
3. Understanding — ponder and learn about big understandings before mastery of discrete pieces of factual knowledge
When I was in elementary school, I had a teacher who closed the curtains when anything particularly interesting was happening outside. It could have been a first snowfall, a heavy downpour or the clouds dropping down to make the mountains nearly invisible. Her intention was to eliminate distraction. She was a conscientious teacher who was committed to our learning. It was not an effective strategy for me. All of my attention was directed to what was happening outside and why. My imagination took me far away from the lessons of the day. I would have a story worked out by the time recess and anxiously focused on the grand opening of the curtains.
Scott Sampson talks about using the power of learning from Indigenous culture that is grounded in nature and creation stories told from the perspective of animals, plants and landforms. He uses the term “Going Coyote” to reference using “the trickster coyote of Indigenous lore (creator with magical powers as a transformer, shape shifter, hiding in plain sight) to inspire caring and empathy for nature. “The Coyote Club” at our school is grounded in active outdoor learning experiences that provide a model for respecting self, others and the environment. It is embraced indoors and outdoors on a continuous basis.
By pre-school age, students have developed inquisitive minds and a skill set to find answers. Children don’t need to be taught to ask questions. They need to know that their questions matter. They need to know that engaging in the world around them is what good learners do. We want our children to continue to be inquisitive and identify the possibilities, to make observations, connection and ask new questions when they are outdoors as well as indoors at school. Our challenge as educators is to redefine ways to feed the inquisitiveness of children coming into school while we broaden their opportunities to access information, to work collaboratively and to hone skills to find answers. The outdoors provides not only an opportunity for physical activity but an opportunity for incredible cross curricular learning and mental health. This is a place to observe and ask questions and learn through play. To make connections with book learning. To use technology to document and access new knowledge. It is a place to be in awe and celebrate curiosity.
For ideas to engage children in nature activities, online information and lesson plans, please see:
Artwork by The Douglas Fir Pod (Learning Community)
Norma Rose Point School is a Kindergarten to Grade 8 School that opened 3 years ago on the original site of University Hill Secondary on the University Endowment Lands of the University of British Columbia. The School in located on Musqueam ancestral lands and named after reknowned Musqueam Elder and educational leader, Norma “Rose” Point. Students are organized into nine learning communities of two to five classes of students. Students and staff are encouraged to ask questions, work collaboratively and share their learning with peers.
The articulation of the First People’s Principles by FNESC, the surrounding land, the significance of the signing of the Aboriginal Enhancement Agreement with the Vancouver School Board and the new curriculum in B.C. has opened our minds to learning about and embracing Indigenous ways of knowing. Indigenous cultures demonstrated one of the earliest expressions of democratic structures of governance by problem solving and making decisions in circles that gave equal voice and power to all people in the group. That is what we strive to do at Rose Point School.
Martin Brokenleg has been inspirational in Indigenous, as well as educational spheres. His Circle of Courage was initially framed as a model of positive youth development in the book Reclaiming Youth at Risk, co-authored by Larry Brendtro, Martin Brokenleg, and Steve Van Bockern.
As explained in the link, “The model integrates Native American philosophies of child-rearing, the heritage of early pioneers in education and youth work, and contemporary resilience research. Brokenleg et al. identify belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity as basic growth needs of all children to thrive.” (Brokenleg et al.) It has served as the basis for framing the Code of Conduct at Norma Rose Point Elementary School.
Students are challenged to think of their unique qualities and “voice” they bring to the group, as well as their responsibility to maintain the safety and nurturing aspect of the community. Indigenous symbols that are meaningful in Coast Salish Culture are used to represent the big ideas presented in the Norma Rose Point (aka NRP) Circle of Courage. Belonging is central to the definition of Community and symbolized by bear. Kindness is used to put the focus on generousness of giving of self rather than goods and is symbolized by the whale. Independence is symbolized by the dragonfly and represents our ability to take responsibility for our learning and actions. The beaver represents taking responsibility for attaining goals to maintain health, curiosity and lifelong learning.
I came to Norma Rose Point as Vice Principal in January. Of course this role includes many discussions about the whole gamut of choices made by students. The beauty of the NRP Circle of Courage is it changes the conversation. Students are able to reflect on who they are and the choices they are making and their commitment to the community. Discussion of restorative justice frames the process. The goal is to help students apply the Circle of Courage to their lives in and out of school throughout their lives.
ADDENDUM NOTE: For a powerful description of the First People’s Principles of Learning, check out Laura Tait. Her explanantion with pictures and stories of her family is inspirational.
It all started with a suitcase on Human Rights Day on December 10, 2015. Tecumseh students were first asked to reflect on the Syrian Refugee crisis. Students wrote letters to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressing their desire for Syrian boys and girls to live in a place without war where they could go to school in safety. They wrote heartwarming notes to Syrian refugees so they would know that Canada is a country that values human right and was welcoming to people wanting to start new chapters of their lives.
This project captured the mind and heart of Grade 5/6 teacher Marion Collins, who worked tirelessly to provide learning opportunities for teachers and students throughout the year in the spirit of the redesigned curriculum in British Columbia. With the help of a grant from Promoting a Culture of Peace for Children Society, the suitcase became a symbol of the refugee experience and a work of art welcoming individuals to add their individual voice to the multicultural expression of Canada. With the help of a grant from ReadingBC (the BC council of the International Reading Association), the writing component of the project grew to include stories and photos of the journey to Canada of Tecumseh students, clothing with messages to Syrian refugees to go in the suitcase, reflections of what students would grab if they needed to leave home in a hurry like refugees.
Last week, Science World hosted the Digital Fair of the Vancouver School Board. Grade 5/6 students presented their Graphic Novels inspired by CBC podcasts. Graphic novels featured student created Refugee Superheroes to equip Syrian refugees with the skills to cope with the experience of settling in a new Canadian home. They use captions, time labels, sounds and speech bubble to demonstrate their innovative, creative and unique style. Most of all, they continue on the spirit of welcoming that comes from children who understand the challenges and difficulties that accompany leaving your home to start a new chapter of life in another country.
The Fitbit. Call it a fad. A conversation starter. Big brother. A motivator. Health and Wellness is a well chosen initiative for many school districts in British Columbia. The focus on pro-active measures to support staff is a simple way to decrease absences by increasing the focus on physical health and stress management. It is a well developed program with support services and educational materials to provide staff with the required supports to address the high stress levels, exposure to EVERY virus around for employees of the population of educators and support staff.
I resisted the FITBIT initially. I did not need a device to impact my decision to take the stairs or the elevator. To enjoy a good walk along the beach. To go for a bike ride or hunker done with a pot of tea and a good book. The reality is I don’t need it when I’m relaxed and making deliberate decisions about balance in my life. When I need this handy little device is when time is in short supply and my focus is on my Things To Do list. The Fitbit not only provides the incentive to strive for 10,000 steps a day but also is a reminder to go to the gym and NOT to stuff that amazing cookie or delectable chocolate into my mouth. It has also inspired me to do more take a greater interest in health and wellness of my staff and to read and share more resources. The Fitbit crew on our staff is steadily growing. We compare steps and equate the busyness of the day with the multitude of steps or complete lack of steps. It’s fun.
I like THE MANAGEMENT TIP OF THE DAY: Harvard Business Review. The tip on November 6, 2015 provides a good active idea for very small or very large meetings that require some processing time.
Get the Full Benefits of Walking Meetings
Walking meetings are a growing trend, replacing a traditional sitting meeting in a coffee shop or boardroom with a little exercise. The benefits are plentiful: Research has found that walking leads to increases in creative thinking, and anecdotal evidence suggests that walking meetings spur more productive, honest conversations. Here are some tips to help your next walking meeting go well:
Include an “extracurricular” destination. Passing a point of interest provides more rationale and incentive for the walk.
Don’t add unneeded calories. A meeting that ends with a 400-calorie beverage undermines its health goal.
Stick to small groups. Walking meetings work best with two or three people.
Don’t surprise colleagues or clients with walking meetings. Notify people in advance so they can dress appropriately.
Have fun. Enjoy the fresh air – research has also found that people who use walking meetings report being more satisfied at work.
Adapted from “How to Do Walking Meetings Right,” by Russell Clayton et al.
Professional reading on the topic of professional development largely espouses the view that much of professional development for educators is not worth the time or money. Large-scale conferences or filling the room with a speaker does not serve the attendees in the room. This has not been my experience. I am a whole-hearted enthusiast of professional development in a variety of forms largely because I’ve experienced the direct benefit.
I have actively engaged in “teacher research” or “reflective practice” or “inquiry based practice”, since it was introduced to me under the label of “qualitative research” at Simon Fraser University in pursuit of my MA. I was in my Kindergarten class, creating a body of research with my questions and my students. Maureen Dockendorf popularized this process for wide-spread participation of teachers in Coquitlam. Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser’s work and subsequent book, Spirals of Inquiry (2013), has continued to provide a philosophical frame and structure for educators to find answers to their questions while maintaining a focus on student learning. There is no limit to the power of asking questions, focusing on our classrooms and engaging in a conversation with colleagues about our practice and the implications for student learning.
Implicit in the asking of big questions, is the quest to find the answers. That doesn’t just happen in the microcosm of our classrooms. Some of my recent questions have come out of the work with the Grade 3/4 class I enroll on Monday and Tuesdays and my computer classes with intermediate students. I’m working with a small group of colleagues trying to integrate digital technology into our practice to develop language proficiency and extend thinking skills. Our inquiry group has been supported by Audrey Van Alstyn and the VSB PILOT initiative – Professionals Investigating Learning Opportunities using Technology. We have had access to planning time, regular practical instruction, discussion of pedagogy and the SAMR model with Dr. Reuben Puentedura, the support of literacy mentors in our classrooms and the opportunity to learn from others involved in PILOT via Speed Geeking and The Digital Fair. The learning curve has been steep, and at times daunting, but always exciting. However the learning does not happen in a vacuum. We are constantly drawing on the background knowledge and ideas of specialists in the field.
Much of my thinking has percolated on the ideas from professional reading, professional development and the subsequent conversations in person and via social media. I am energized by professional development and I have been involved in many different forms. I would like to discuss the impact of three professional development opportunities that would meet the criteria for a stand and delivery professional development. Even though interaction is built into the presentations, according to popular research, it would render this style of professional development as obsolete.
The research on the plasticity of the brain opened up interesting conversation with my father, a retired neurosurgeon and fueled a fascination with the implications for education. When faced with the opportunity to attend a Brain Research Conference in New York, I jumped. The power of neuroscientists and educators coming together to define best practice is probably one of the most powerful opportunities at our disposal today. Yes, I was one who lined up to have my purchases signed by the “rock stars” of educational research. And yes, then I proceeded to read the books and look for connections with my practice and applications in my educational context. I have even participated in the follow-up monthly online chats.
I first became involved in The International Reading Association as a beginning teacher in Abbotsford. Level of involvement fluctuated throughout the years, but my role, as a literacy teacher and learner remained constant and the International Reading Association has always been the “go to” place for practical application of educational research. The International Reading (now Literacy) Association Leadership Convention in Tampa, Florida brought together literacy leaders from North America and beyond to share our work with our provincial /state and local literacy councils. I attended in my capacity as the Provincial Coordinator interested in supporting research based literacy teaching. The connections made with colleagues of like mind has provided a bank or ideas and support to continue with my work in literacy learning and leadership.
My involvement in PDK has come out of a love of the cross-pollination that comes from engaging in conversation about educational leadership with people engaged in a variety of education contexts, from a range of school boards and educational institutions. PDK is a professional organization that is founded on the premise of research, generally organizing 3-4 dinner meetings and featuring a speaker or panel to discuss an area of interest to our members. In April (2015), George Couros and Jordan Tinney presented a session: Report Cards and Communicating Student Learning: Leadership & Learning in a Changing World. The room was filled to capacity within the week and the waiting list started to grow. Tinney and Couros engaged participants in a discussion of the possibilities for innovation that exist in the educational context in B.C. to engage and empower students as well as teachers, utilize social media and create digital portfolios to document student learning. They created electricity in the room. Ideas were also processed via twitter (#PDKedchat )during the presentation and allowed people outside the room to participate as well.
In each of these contexts, people of like mind and a growth mindset flocked to sessions to discuss the ideas and make sense of the presentation in light of their own educational context. The conversations would continue long after the actual presentations within professional networks, in blogs and via twitter. The connections with other professional development was be processed, questioned, discussed, embraced, dismissed or implemented in hybrid form.
James Paul Gee presented a talk called: The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students Through Digital Literacy at The Learning and the Brain Conference in New York in May 2014. I was inspired and had a template to build my understanding of what digital literacy needed to look like in my context. At a breakfast meeting in Tampa with Marcie Craig Post, the Executive Director of International Literacy Association, the discussion continued about the need to provide students not only with the scaffolding so they can learn to talk, read and develop thinking skills but the importance of “talk, text, and knowledge (TTK) mentoring” required to use digital tools effectively for literacy development. Tinney and Couros pushed the card with the possibilities for implementation of meaningful assessment and evaluation practices.
When presentations resonate with educators, the conversation continues. Listening to a presentation brings a depth of understanding that doesn’t always come from reading the book, a blog or a twitter post. When people I respect recommend titles of books, I read them or at least aspire to read them! When they ask a question that captures my attention, I think about it. Perhaps I use it to frame my next inquiry project. I have been lucky to have many opportunities to learn new ideas, consolidate old ones and ask questions. I’ve had the good fortune to listen to amazing professionals with breadth of background knowledge and experiences. They stood, they delivered, they engaged the audience and made me think. I left the room with new tools, more questions, a sense of efficacy and the inspiration to act. I strongly believe the appetite for this mode of professional development is not going away anytime soon. It represents one necessary part of my professional development appetite.
Student led conferences with a twist this year. Joanne Carlton, our VSB iMentor was fortunately available to come to the classroom to guide our learning in Division 11. She has a considerable amount of background knowledge in literacy instruction and technology. As luck would have it, Zhi Su, the VSB iMovie expert was also available to come as well. We had planned in advance of their arrival so we could make the best use of their time. The previous week, I has attended a session for teachers and administrators participating the iPad Cart inquiry with my inquiry colleagues. Although I’ve had some experience with iMovie, the facilitators broke down the process so that we were able to take photos and a short videoclip, then add voice and a music track. Very impressive for an after school professional development session. I posted the assignment for students (the list of photos and videoclips for students to collect) on the Showbie APP and explained the purpose with a voice note. Most of the kids are now able to log onto their Showbie account independently. With student led conferences on the horizon, my Grade 3/4 class were excited about sharing the Winter theme books they had created with their photos from the playground, their winter sense poetry, downloaded images and audioclips. However I decided to tap student interest in the iPad technology and allow my Grade 3 and 4 students to use the iPads to demonstrate and talk about their learning this term with their parents. Many parents at the first conferences of the year had expressed they wanted their children to spend less time using technology. I very much wanted them to understand the importance of being deliberate with time spent on screens. Students had each collected:
a photo of himself or herself
a photo with the friends he/she particularly works well with in class
a videoclip of himself/herself doing gymnastics
a videoclip of himself/herself reading a favorite passage from the book he/she was currently reading
a photo of a piece of writing from his/her Thinking Book or Writing Book
a photo of the the province/territory or Aboriginal group he/she is researching
Zhi took the leadership of stepping the students through the process. The first thing he did was show them how to pull up the picture of himself or herself and write their name on it. Students learned to share group photos via airdrop, add music and shorten video-clips. Many of our students attend Chinese School and decided that their Chinese calligraphy had to be part of their iMovie. The more proficient students in the class have been teaching the others Chinese writing to create Lunar New Year cards to deliver to the mostly Asian business owners down Victoria Drive on February 19th. Many students were proud to share their skill with their parents. We had lots of adults in the room helping the students and inquiring about their learning. However the sharing between students was readily apparent. If one student in a working group had music, then it was likely all of them did. Myles LOVED the ability to airdrop and single handedly taught most of the class. Jason, a big ‘”Frozen” fan downloaded an image from the movie as the final frame of his movie with the caption “Bye”. One group of students downloaded applause for their iMovies. The process was not without it’s glitches. However everyone had a movie and one more way to open up the conversation about their learning with his/her parents. Fortunately Henry emerged as our Grade 3 techno-wizard in the process of getting everyone ready for conferences once the mentors were gone. He became the expert on downloading from iMovie to Showbie so we could share the iPads with our other inquiry classes on conference days. Parents were simply amazed at how smart their children are and how much they have learned. As the teacher, the iMovies helped me to learn about my students and determine some of the focus areas for learning. The possibilities are endless and exciting!