Pink Shirt Spirit

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Today people are wearing Pink in schools and businesses across Canada as a reminder that we need to practice kindness in our interactions, not just today but on a regular basis. An article in the Globe and Mail summarized the beginnings of this movement which first started in 2007 when a young grade 9 boy was

bullied for wearing a pink polo shirt to school, David Shepherd and Travis Price decided to take a stand. They bought dozens of pink tank tops at a thrift store and announced they would give them out to students the next day. With the word out, many students took it upon themselves to show up for school in pink rather than wait for one of the tops.

As educators we see the effect of this behaviour on a regular basis. While we try to educate our students on the impact of bullying can have, we continue to see ongoing negative interactions particularly in the “Online World” and through the use of Social Media sites.

In the spirit of what Pink Shirt Day stands for, we must also address the role of technology, our online interactions, and guiding youth to be great digital citizens. How do Parents and Educators help our children to make better decisions in their online interactions? NETWORKED YOUTH: What Every Parent Needs to Know About Online Behaviour will be available in March May 2016. Below is a brief summary of the book.

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“ Today’s children are often described as digital natives. Most do not know a world without smartphones, tablets and Internet access as common household items. They are growing up in a world where everyone is connected and information about every possible subject is instantly at hand. With countless stories about the dangers of too much screen time, sexting and, of course, cyberbullying, many parents struggle finding a balance between their concerns over the downsides of this connected world and allowing their children to develop independence.

Networked Youth: What Every Parent Needs to Know About Online Behaviour and Raising Digital Leaders provides a roadmap for parents raising children in a technology rich world. Today’s parents weren’t taught how to use the internet, they have learned and continue to learn the skills needed to navigate a world in which people are connected 24 hours a day. Too often, youth publish and post without considering who might see their content and how it impacts them immediately and in the future. By using examples and offering exercises to work through, this book empowers parents and educators to guide children in maintaining positive online behaviour.”

More information will be available shortly on the exact release date. If you are working with a group and you would like to pre-order a bulk order (10 or more) please contact me directly.

In the meantime, keep kindness on your mind on a regular basis. #pinkshirtday #acceptance #kindness

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Relationships and Data

Relationships and data are two topics that are often at the heart of conversations around successful educational reform. Can these two be separated? Can you accurately gauge success with only one of these two elements?

Several years ago I attended my first educational conference focused on leadership. The facilitator of a large group session was a well-known and respected educator whose research was data driven and focused on measuring results. As a wide-eyed young teacher I asked, in front of the entire group, Why do we need data? I know my students well, their engagement in lessons tells me how much they are getting from me on a daily basis. He looked at me with a stunned look in his eyes and responded, “we were happy when we thought the world was flat too, how did that work out?” Imagine the awkward silence that followed amidst the 200 or so educational leaders in the room.

I have learned and now speak to the importance of establishing data out of practice to help us understand what is, and what isn’t working for learning. But central to all of this, and before any data is worthwhile, I maintain that relationships are key. This is why I have shared with staff Rita Pierson’s TedTalk Every Child Needs a Champion in which she says, “kids don’t learn from people they don’t like”.

Fast-forward to this past week. While working half-way around the world in Seoul, Korea, my phone rang. When I said hello, the voice on the other end was a student I taught nearly 10 years ago. After briefly catching up, we made plans to have dinner. Catching up over Korean BBQ we shared the twists and turns our lives had taken and it was like I had seen him far more recently.

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For me, catching up with this student was great for many reasons. While I have come to appreciate the importance of data as it relates to student learning, nothing replaces time spent with students. The fact that a former student not only wanted to say hello, but spend time sharing his stories with me and listening to mine. This reinforced that relationships are the key. It is a privilidge to connect with kids everyday. Meeting this student after so many years reinforced that everyday I have the opportunity to make a difference in students’ lives and when I choose to do so, that is how I can create a life-long impact. I’m certainly not holding my breath for an excel file of data to call and invite me to dinner.

The Important Stuff

Whenever a school year comes to a close I like to look back at the things our community did to grow, and equally important, to reflect on the places I wanted us to get to but we didn’t. No matter what either of these reflections bring, I’ve noticed that relationships with others help to frame the impact around what did or did not happen. Without a strong focus on relationships, the learning and growth around whatever it was that we accomplished; new initiatives, new technologies etc., are less meaningful.

Thinking about these issues is normal when making transitions. Typically it’s when there’s a change and in my case, it’s to a new district. It’s easy to think back on the wins and gains, but takes so much more energy to dissect the areas that we didn’t quite get to and why. Leaving, I’ll wonder about what I’m leaving behind; will the steps forward our community took continue or take an entirely new direction?

What isn’t in question are the relationships. Education, like many fields, finds people spending hours together, often more time with your colleagues than your family – they don’t call it a ‘work family’ for nothing! The fun, productive, and sometimes most challenging relationships are the ones that seem to stay with us in transitions. It can be the simplest of things that keeps people connected. The truly important part is to stay connected – relationships are what matter most in our work. Not only because we want the other “productive” stuff to move forward, but because they help to frame the important stuff – the sense of community, the sense of accomplishment, the feeling and knowledge that we can make a difference.

I can’t control whether initiatives I worked on will move forward or come to a grinding halt. And really, I’m not sure that matters. By far one of the best parts of my job is connecting with others! What I can do is to stay connected to those I’ve worked with and continue to grow from their input and the conversations that will come.

Reflections of ConnectEd Canada: Share

Just getting back from a weekend at the Calgary Science School for the 2nd edition of ConnectEd Canada. While I have participated in a few EdCamps and organized some local ones as well, my head is swimming as this was one of the top conference style learning experiences I’ve  ever participated in. Educator collaboration has always impressed me, but this weekend it was unconditional collegiality that blew me away as educators from across the country shared, debated and collaborated on how to move education in Canada forward.  This weekend was the Stanley Cup of EdCamps.

My challenge now that I’m home and excited to bring a lot of what I learned back to my district, is to filter where and what to embrace first. Change doesn’t often happen overnight and it’s difficult to know where to start; how to bridge the gap between all that was discussed and debated, get buy-in from my colleagues locally and then to actually implement and move forward with some of those ideas. For today, I want to focus on the host location and the amazing learning environment that has been created at the CSS.

To host this event, the Calgary Science School graciously opened their doors to 300 educators from across the country. There are several things that make this gesture so impressive. The first is that Friday was not a Professional Day. On this regular school day, student leaders toured us around, teachers opened their doors to us, and students remained focused on their learning – all conducting business as if we weren’t even there.

CSS is built on an inquiry based premise. Learners develop big questions with their classmates and teachers, and then explore the answers. One example of this exploration is shown here:

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This question was used as part of a Science unit and the students explored the nearby Weaselhead park to find the answers to their Big Question. The school does not just focus on Sciences despite the name.  A similar approach is taken in Humanities and Math as well. Teachers promote a collaborative approach to problem solving – a simple yet effective way to have everyone engaged in the activity.

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The second piece that stood out for me was the open concept of the school. The times I have seen something different happening have always involved a physical structure that was designed for that type of learning. In this case the CSS is housed in a Traditional public school. Nothing fancy or high tech about the actual physical structure. What is open…are the doors. Every teacher had the door to the room open and I was told that this is always the case. Teachers view themselves as Learners and they share their stories with one another. There is an open invitation to see what is happening in other rooms. The Administration supports this model  – even the Superintendent and the Principal share an office!

What I also found impressive was that the CSS has worked toward cultivating a culture of risk taking. Whether it is teachers trying something new, students working their way towards an answer or the parents registering their children in a very different environment than the school they went to, this school community embraces risk taking. One teacher shared his story explaining that he was told by his Principal – ‘the more mistakes you make, the more we will be there to support you’. This supportive environment thrives because the cornerstone of the building is relationships.

I have only glanced over some of the major tenets that make this school the huge success that drew 300 educators from across the country to see it. When I came home tonight there was a Twitter Chat and the topic was Inquiry in BC schools. Reforming our schools to this style of learning is gaining momentum.

What I learned from my visit is that we don’t need to wait for others to allow us to make these changes. I’d encourage any teacher to begin experimenting because this change lies within the people in our communities. Sharing both our successes and challenges with others helps reflection and learning. If we want to learn and get better, we need to try new things, take risks and trust that those around will support the efforts to make the learning in our schools more effective.

I was so inspired by what I saw that I am still processing everything – this post can’t do it justice. But I am also hopeful that sharing these stories will help move our thinking forward.

Having Great Days!

Friday morning making a cup of coffee, the blinds were opened to another wet and grey Vancouver day.  I was tired. There were a lot of meetings scheduled and it was the end of a long week at a time when stress in schools is high. For staff, it’s the feeling of pressure to cover the material they want their students to explore, coupled with the uncertainty surrounding budgets and planning for next year. For students, they are well into their final term of the school year – for many kids the stress is from the uncertainty of leaving the K-12 system which can drive some to make interesting choices; ones they may not normally make. For me, my fatigue was also compounded by my teething 6 month old daughter and her restless nights.

Before heading out the door I caught one more smile from my little girl and it brightened what had felt like was going to be a dreary day ahead. Going through the mental checklist of things I needed to do, it occurred to me that I had until the time I arrived to put my best, most positive self forward and I questioned why? Others would understand if I responded to their inquiries/pleasantries with “I’m okay”. People can’t be “great” every time you ask them can they? By not responding honestly, or by “forcing” myself into a good mood, am I being fake and presenting as someone I’m not? The more I thought about why it’s important to be a positive person, the more I was reminded that this is part of my role as a leader. If I can’t find the great in every day in our building, how can I expect others to? As leaders, we’re expected to lead by example where possible and a positive attitude is an important part of the culture we want in our schools.

Many years ago working for a resident hockey school we would get to the 9th week of the summer and remind ourselves that although we had been there for 8 previous weeks, it was the first week for the kids. This sentiment has not escaped me as I see the ebb and flow of a school year. There are times when stress rises, behaviours spike and the understandable response would be “Is it Friday yet?”. As I drove to work Friday I was reminded that this is not who I am nor who I want to be. Adults and students alike deserve a happy workplace with a positive culture.  As leaders, if we don’t recognize what a great day it is to be at school – we can’t expect others to and really, every day should be the best day to be there.

IMG_1146When I got to school and that first question came to me – it was easy to answer – I was great! And then at the end of the day, when I arrived home, after I had unpacked my day, got through the meetings and laughed at a few of the situations that required my intervention I walked into the house. I was greeted by my wife and our daughter, cranky as that first tooth is cutting and she was still smiling. I didn’t need to fake anything – it was a great day.

Branching Out

Updated April 1, 2013 @ 6:58pm

I hope you had a fantastic April Fool’s Day.

Yesterday my editor, who is my biggest supporter and probably my harshest critic (trust me you should see the number of posts sitting in the Draft box) – my wife Angela- asked my why I keep a Blog. I’ve written many times about how the process pushes me to reflect on my practice and my thinking – so she suggested I branch out on the posts and try to reach a broader audience.

Taking this into account after listening to the “other” JT’s latest release “The 20/20 Experience” I have been inspired to take this challenge up. Rather than weekly posts, I will release weekly singles. Here is a sample of what you might hear. “Branching Out

Tell your friends – I hope to reach more people with this new approach to reflections.

 

Creativity Experience

Vanity would have me believe that I’m a creative person who looks for creative solutions when problems or challenges arise. Recently I had an experience that challenged my thinking about this.

This past fall a reminder came to my inbox with a link to the application package for the Apple Distinguished Educator Class of 2013. Seeing the email, I recalled my excitement and interest in this program when I had first encountered it. Reading through the application I quickly completed the initial information confirming my interest in the program. Then it got tough; the most difficult piece of the application involved 4 questions:

  • How have you as an educator transformed your learning environment?
  • Illustrate how Apple technologies have helped in this transformation.
  • What successes have you seen with your learners?
  • How do you share these successes to influence the broader education community?

The requirement was to address these points in written form and then transform those answers into a 2 minute video. Now the thinking really began. Those questions felt like a job interview, and in a way they were. How would I succinctly and creatively answer these key directives? Would my work stand out from others who applied? Fortunately some close friends with experience in both the film and photography business were able to provide some excellent guidance and advice. First steps were to write a “script” and then film my scenes. First take was over 3 minutes and I discovered that I am NOT comfortable in front of the camera! 7 takes and an couple hours later, we felt like there was enough “footage” to put something together.  I’ve made a few videos, but certainly not to this level of detail and constraints that resulted in a lot of cutting and editing. Feeling like I had to make every word and idea stand out, I had to really learn how to edit and be creative with the micro details.

Do we begin to lose our creative side as we age? Or is it that daily tasks, routines, and habits bury our creativity to some extent, making us feel rusty when we need to really challenge ourselves here?  This project had no limits or specifications other than a 2 minute time limit and the broad challenge of making my written story “come to life”. By far the most challenging aspect of this project that stood out to me was the creative component. My initial instinct was to summarize some of my work. But after doing that, I realized that it wasn’t enough to really stand out in a forum that I feel quite passionately about; the advancement of education through technology. At first I had a lot of ideas that I needed to synthesize. Then the difficulty was narrowing in on a way to succinctly bring these ideas forward. As I worked through the process I realized that even though I like to believe that I am creative, that when pushed to do so I am somewhat out of my comfort zone. That maybe I’m not a “creative” person after all.

I’m very pleased with the final version of my submission. I think particularly so because this was by far one of the more challenging projects I’ve tackled for sometime.This experience challenged me to push ahead and try to get across some of the thoughts that I get when I second guess myself and don’t follow through with ideas that others might view as “outside the box”.

The Final version can be seen here:

A few weeks ago I received an email welcoming me to the Apple Distinguished Educator Class of 2013. I am humbled to be included in a group of innovative and diverse Educators and I am definitely looking forward to the connections and collaboration of this year’s institute. I have no doubt that I’ll be surrounded by innovative thinking and leadership. And although I had doubted my own creativity in the midst of this project, I’m feeling pretty pumped about using this skill with who I feel is one of the more creative companies on the planet today. Now that’s a reward for working through a challenge!