Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Resolving Towards A Happier New Year

Another New Year is upon us. Traditionally New Year's is a time for making resolutions and setting goals for change or personal improvement. Effective resolutions need to be more than just an intention or promise to do something. To achieve success a resolution needs to be approached with tenacity and purpose, and seen through to a satisfactory end.  For most of us, resolutions are formed and backed with the best of intentions.  They begin with at least some level of effort and determination, and are designed to resolve some sort of challenge.

Albrecht Powell offers a pretty common list in his take on the Top 10 New Years Resolutions. His list includes things like spending more time with family, losing weight, getting more fit or healthier and helping others - all fairly positive and noble goals, but all easily made, and sadly, just as easy to abandon.

Its fine to make broad based resolutions for the coming year, but if real progress is to be made, success or failure will stem from the attention to the details! Education is like this too - often so full of good intentions. Both learners and educators want to do the best they can, but just wishing for improvements won't make it so. The proof of the pudding, as the saying goes, will be in the eating!  Raw willpower, while necessary to get started, is often insufficient to see things through to a full measure of success.

Psychologist Jennifer Harstein offers some ways to put more resolve into resolutions. Her advice includes setting realistic goals, planning ahead, having fall back plan B's, and, most importantly, celebrating incremental successes along the way of achieving the greater goal. Forbes Magazine offers similar advice, though contributor Nancy Anderson adds such tips as limiting oneself to a single goal, ensuring that one writes it down, tells others about it and records progress or setbacks in writing regularly. Accountability, commitment, measurement and rewards or regrouping offer a greater chance that one's resolve won't falter.

 Careful planning and consistent effort combined with regular accountability checks will achieve better results than mere good intentions.  Whatever your New Year's resolutions may be, I hope you muster the resolve and resources to see them through. By doing so we'll all be taking positive steps towards making 2014 a truly Happy New Year!

Friday, 20 December 2013

Christmas Presence

And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!
"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store."
"Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!"
                      from "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" 

With the holiday break nearly upon us, the anticipation of present Christmas morning is building. Or perhaps, with work commitments complete, there's still some last minute shopping to be completed in search of that perfect present for someone else.  Regardless of whether its figuring out what's in some enticing package under the tree, or just more musing about what to get someone else, I sure we'd all love to find the best present ever.

One way to go is to simply present a better outlook to the world. Dr. Leslie Becker- Phelps of Psychology Today summarizes this approach nicely. Concentrating on the four domains of better organizing personal and professional commitments, taking care of one's health, accepting present personal limitations and setting realistic goals for the future can help make a person more present-able, and subsequently more of a gift to be around.

Another option is to choose experiences over things. Psychological studies prove that experiences give people greater and more lasting happiness than possessions. A recent CNN report demonstrated that experiences create a greater sense of connectedness with others, while the impact of things, though initially well received, diminished over time. Like a fine wine, the memory of doing something improved with the passing of time, whereas material goods could be compared to other things and began to loose their luster.

There is also the idea that time is the greatest gift people can give or receive, and using it wisely is the best way to reward ourselves.  Free lance writer Mari Hernandez-Tuten in a recent blog post indicates that spending time with others, especially children, makes your presence the presents. Just paying attention can create a connection that can have a lasting impact.

During the holiday break, with time away from work, everyone should make a point to give themselves some time to connect with others, and to reflect on how they might improve things for themselves and others. I know I'll be taking a break from Education Matters. The next post here won't be until just before New Year's.  May this holiday season bring you all you hope for and the New Year bring you much joy and laughter!  

"Welcome Christmas. Bring your cheer,
Cheer to all, both far and near."

   Dr. Suess

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Drama Education - Acting in Students Best Interests -

Its been a dramatic week. A statement can sometimes send shivers down a superintendent's spine. As a former English/Drama teacher I'm saddened by how the term "drama" has been co-opted as a euphemism for undesirable activity. In reality, drama is an exciting curricular area designed to give students opportunities to build confidence, expand their creativity and learn how to respect and support the work of themselves and others. This week in our district our secondary school mounts its production of "The Wizard of Oz" and Duncan Cran Elementary concluded a week long artist residency  introducing their students to drama and performance arts.

Our district has a long tradition in musical theatre. North Peace Secondary and Dr Kearney Middle school have been putting on productions for nearly 20 years. The programs are vibrant, energetic and popular.  Originating in the inspiration of two special educators, these programs have carried on through multiple generations of staff and students because they resonate with students and their need for creative expression. At the younger grades, elementary schools regularly bring in Artists in the classroom through Art Starts BC. ArtStarts' Artists in the Classroom program brings schools across BC together with professional artists for artist residencies. Whether its an educator looking to enhance student education by bringing an artist into their classroom, or a visual, media, literary or performing artist  interested in working with students on a hands-on arts activity or artist residency, ArtStarts helps bring projects to life.

Duncan Cran Elementary recently hosted such a residency, bringing in a professional actor who spent seven  days workshopping with every class from k through 6, ensuring that every student had opportunities to find their inner actor, and perform in a safe environment. The week culminated in an evening showcase where every student got to perform on stage. While not actually a polished play, the performance allowed students to display their acquired knowledge and play on stage.

The benefits of drama education are tremendous, if not always obvious.  The Drama Education Network lists more than a dozen reasons to promote drama is school. Self confidence, empathy, imagination, cooperation, collaboration are all near the top of the list. Drama is all about respect for self and others.  Its interesting to note that the one thing most people fear the most is public speaking. (One recent survey listed it higher than dying!)  Drama is all about how to present oneself, or one's character, to others with courage and confidence. Watching our district youth perform this week, its easy to see that in being prepared to "break a leg", they are already well on their way to a more confident future.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Voice and Choice: Encouraging Student Engagement

When students are truly invested and engaged with their work they can produce some amazing and creative results. As superintendent, I do not get to work with students as much as I would like. As a former English teacher, I've remained connected with front line teachers in both our local secondary school and the district's gifted program, and frequently I get invited in as a guest instructor. The changes I've seen in English instruction are exciting! Increasingly students are being granted opportunities to engage with the curriculum in ways that allow them to express their own voice and choices, and that bring new creativity and life to long established curriculum.

Recently, I was invited to a Lit 12 class studying "Paradise Lost".  Teaching Milton's sweeping 50,000 word epic poem can be a daunting challenge. Engaging with it from a teen aged perspective can be even more so. However, through the use of choice and voice project suggestions, members of the class were able to demonstrate their understanding and appreciation of the work's form and content through such diverse means as graphically illustrating the cohorts of angels, producing a "Paradise Twittered" feed, a Youtubed video claymation version or creating travel brochures for the poems key settings. The projects maintained high degrees of academic rigor but also allowed the students to display their strengths, use multiple intelligences and simply have a little fun while delving deeply into a prescribed work.

Offering voice and choice turns students in "expert learners". At their website personalizelearning.com UDL expert Kathleen McClaskey and creative learning strategist Barbara Bray offer an excellent overview of the who is an expert learner and suggest that "the more educators give students choice, control and collaborative opportunities, the more motivation and engagement are likely to rise."  The expert learner becomes someone who sees education as something they do for themselves rather than something that is done for or to them.  The Universal Design for Learning or UDL perspective for expert learners is for them to be: "resourceful and knowledgeable, strategic and goal oriented, and purposeful and motivated" (For more on UDL see CAST's website at cast.org/udl/)

Referenced in the BC Edplan, UDL is gaining increasing exposure and support within our district. Promoted, modelled and supported by our District Learning Services team, UDL works for all grade levels. Giving greater voice and choice and be particularly valuable for senior grades where student motivation to develop interests in complex curriculum may have begun to fade. Getting students to engage and have fun with their learning just makes sense. Giving students greater voice and choice in their learning can only enhance efforts to ensure that they all become expert learners.
"The more educators give students choice, control, challenge, and collaborative opportunities, the more motivation and engagement are likely to rise. - See more at: http://www.personalizelearning.com/2012/10/the-expert-learner-with-voice-and-choice.html#sthash.tSCjavj6.dpuf
"The more educators give students choice, control, challenge, and collaborative opportunities, the more motivation and engagement are likely to rise. - See more at: http://www.personalizelearning.com/2012/10/the-expert-learner-with-voice-and-choice.html#sthash.tSCjavj6.dpuf
"The more educators give students choice, control, challenge, and collaborative opportunities, the more motivation and engagement are likely to rise. - See more at: http://www.personalizelearning.com/2012/10/the-expert-learner-with-voice-and-choice.html#sthash.tSCjavj6.dpuf

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Communicating Clearly

Most folks will agree that good communication is critical to the success of any collaborative effort. It should be no surprise that improved communication between home and school is a top priority for the ministry of education, schools and parents. With everyone in support of the idea, one would think it would be easy to achieve. However, while everyone can agree that improving home school communication is important, actually doing it continues to be a challenge.

Towards Better Communications is a report by MLA Jane Thornthwaite, attached to the BC Ed plan. The 18 page report identifies culture and practice as the two key areas critical to enhancing communication between home and school. It suggests that parents want to be more directly involved in decisions around their child's education but often just don't know how best go about establishing an effective working relationship. The challenge can be even greater for immigrant families. Cultural issues can also refer to how open and receptive a school is to parental involvement. Practice issues deal more with what and how a school school communicates with its parent community.

The website Edutopia recently also ran a blog about What Parents Want In School Communication. After polling over 40,000 parents Edutopia identified topics that parents most want to know about from schools as:
  • Updates on their child's progress or insight on how they improve
  • Timely notice when performance is slipping
  • Information on what their child is expected to learn during this year
  • Homework and grading policies
  • Curriculum descriptions and information on instructional programs
  • A calendar of events and meetings
  • Information on student safety (and quality of teaching, at the elementary level) and
  • Educational program changes and updates (elementary level)/curriculum updates and changes in instructional programs (secondary level).
The means by which parents prefer to communicate with schools are listed as:
  • E-mail from the district/school
  • Online parent portal
  • District/school e-newsletters
  • District/school website
  • Telephone/voice messaging system
At our monthly SUP-PAC meeting I shared some of this information with local PAC presidents. While they agreed with many of these ideas, they also added the quality of consistency to the list. PAC reps were able to point to many excellent practices conducted by individual teachers and schools but lamented the lack of consistent and persistent practice across the entire system, instead categorizing our district communications as hit and miss; excellent at times and non existent at others.

Improving communication is almost always cited as an organizational goal. Where it comes to communications between home and school enhanced communication almost always equates to improved performance, greater engagement and feelings of mutual understanding. While it seems we all eagerly want for such communication to occur, it remains an ongoing challenge to ensure that it does. Awareness of the issue is a start, but successful and consistent follow through will be the real achievement as we work to ensure that what really matters is clear and supported by all.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Taking the Time: Listening, Caring and Collaborating Our Way Forward

Life often has a funny way of communicating. Its often fascinated me as to how unrelated events seem to combine in just the right way to send a message. Last week, like most weeks, was a blur of activity with many issues to be dealt with; all of them urgent, and all of them requiring information to be directed to the appropriate recipients. On top of the emergent issues, the pressing long term challenges and the daily operational demands there were travel schedules and meetings in other cities to attend. A bit overwhelmed, I wondered if I could stay ahead of the curve or it was just going to run me down.

The American humorist Will Rogers once said "When you find yourself at the bottom of a hole its best to stop digging". Being still can help clear one's mind. It also allows one to hear the messaging going on around them. Last week, I attended the BC School Superintendent's Association Fall Conference. Its theme: "Transforming, Reforming, and Innovating: Leading and Learning Together. Once I got over feeling I was way too busy to be there, I was struck by two recurring messages that all  the presentations seemed to be sending straight to me.  Real communication has more to to with listening than with telling, and relationships based on care and cooperation trump those based on authority every time.

"Nature has given us two ears but only one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak" is a quote attributed to many sources but regardless of who we hear it from, its wisdom is indisputable. I attended a workshop hosted by alternate students from Chilliwack who were discussing things that helped and hindered their connectedness to school. The title of the their workshop was "Nothing About Us Without Us" and their point was it was senseless to try and deal with student engagement issues without talking to the students themselves. One student pointed out that asking staff why students drop out was like asking the chef why his diners didn't like the food. Another pointed out that just repeating a message over and over, or slower and louder, didn't make it any more understandable for those who didn't understand it the first time. "Its like yelling in the face of a deaf person" the student related, "Frustrating for the person yelling and insulting to the person being yelled at".  In our efforts to get the message out efficiently and effectively, we sometimes miss the obvious opportunities for dialogue. And in not listening, the chance of generating a lose lose experience is virtually guaranteed.

The other message was that without relationship there can be no honest communication. Persons in authority have the power to deliver the message, but unless they are genuinely connected to those they work with, the message may be moot. Listening and considering the input of those affected by decisions is critical to to ensuring meaningful collaboration and cooperation.  Cooperation cannot be coerced. While people can and often do rise to the occasion in times of crises, the future of cooperative learning arises out of a feeling of being in something together, not from a sense of being told they must. The implementation of the BC Ed Plan is a case in point. Full of impressive and exciting opportunities for change and innovation, the plan must be implemented in a spirit of collaboration and cooperation or it will face tremendous suspicion and objections. Where a community genuinely cares about and for all its members, and really has each others best interests at heart, coming together and developing a sense of trust is easier to achieve. Simply telling people that they must often instigates resentment. resistance, passivity or inertia.

Returning to my district this week, the challenges I left behind are still there. In fact, I have no doubt some have multiplied and invited a few more to join the pile. However, reminded and inspired by the messages of the past few days, I'll be be listening more, caring lots and seeking out dialogue with those most affected, before I pick up my shovel and start digging again. By doing so there's a better chance I won't find my self alone at the bottom of a hole, but rather working side by side with others to develop new solutions that work for all.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Science Fair: Making Learning Rewarding!

This week our district Science Fair committee held a remarkable event. This combination of dedicated parents, teachers, staff and parents, along with many returning student participants held a launch party for this year's Science Fair. The committee oversees the district's largest academic extra curricular event this side of grad. And if your recollection of science fairs is cardboard back boards fronted with papier mache volcanoes spewing baking soda and vinegar, its time to look again. Science Fairs have done more than keep up with the times. Today's science fair is 21st Century Learning at its best.

The new BC Ed plan talks about moving education to a place where every student enjoys personalized learning,  powered by technology with flexibility and choice, quality teaching displaying high standards of learning. Science Fair is truly already there. Aside from allowing students to follow their curiosity into a project of their own choosing, science fair imparts a process of learning and presentation that serves students well beyond their projects. It connects them with teachers so committed that, even in an age where extra curriculars have sometimes become a political issue, they remain passionately involved, giving freely of their time both in, and out, of school hours. It can also connect students to mentors with experience and knowledge about their projects. The mentoring relationship can become a two way benefit. Over time Students may use their connections to help secure part time or future employment. Mentoring businesses see the connections as a potential path to attracting valuable, knowledgeable, hard working, skilled future employees.

Looking at the rigor students bring to their projects, there is no doubt the work is being done to a high standard. As for employing technology, in science that's a given. Students seek out and use, what ever tech they need to form their hypotheses, carryout their research and experiments, record and present their data, and determine where their efforts can take them next.

It is said that knowledge is its own reward. That may be true, but Science fair can also bring participants prizes as well. After all, fairs are judged events. Starting even in the younger divisions, projects earn their creators recognition not only in the form of feedback from knowledgeable judges, but also medals and certificates. Cash prizes are also available, and, as the students progress to older divisions, scholarships and opportunities for travel to national and international competitions are available for those who earn them. Our district has a long and proud tradition of not only sending students to such events, but of having them win major honors up to and including university scholarships worth thousands of dollars.

When your child asks about going into this year's science fair, its definitely worth following up. Chances are there's a teacher at your school involved with the Science Fair committee. If you're not sure a call to the district office can quickly connect you to someone only too happy to help, or check out the Science Fair web page at nbcrsf.wordpress.com. The district science fair occurs in the spring, but its never too early to get started! Combining learning with fun and possibly further rewards - sounds like a winning combination worth looking into doesn't it? Looking into things further is what science and 21st century learning are really all about!

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Lest We Forget

Section 5 of BC School Regulation 265/89 clearly lays out the powers and duties of principals. Article 10 of this section states the following:
          "The principal of a school, must:
           (a) subject to the approval of the board, establish a program of school assemblies
             to be conducted at appropriate times during the school year,
           (b) ensure that assemblies are held at least 3 times in a school year, including the
            school day immediately preceding Remembrance Day

 That principals have a duty to hold assemblies through out the year is not remarkable; one would expect that. What is of note is that of all the holidays that fall within the school calendar only Remembrance Day merits particular reference. 

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month has been dedicated as a time of remembrance since November 1919, when it was first so named by England's King George V to honour members of the Allied armed forces who fell in World War I. In Canada Remembrance Day was formally established as a federal statutory holiday in 1931 as a date of " remembrance for the men and women who have served, and continue to serve our country during times of war, conflict and peace".  The Department of Veterans Affairs runs the "Canada Remembers" program in order to better assist new and young Canadians, who have thankfully not known the horrors of war to "come to understand and appreciate what those who have served Canada in times of war, armed conflict and peace stand for and what they have sacrificed for their country."

This week staff and students from across SD 60 performed their own acts of remembrance, wearing poppies, reading works such as John McCrae's "In Flanders Fields, and participating in assemblies. On Monday schools will be closed, and while a long weekend at the outset of winter may be a welcome break, it is still important to pause and remember why the holiday occurs, and to recognize the tremendous sacrifice others made and make for us to enjoy what we have.

The Ode of Remembrance from "For the Fallen " by Robert Lawrence BInyon  

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Are We Really What We Eat?

One of our principals recently commented that the two days she dreads most in the year are Halloween, and the morning after. The excitement that ramps up through the day as costumed children prepare for their nocturnal candy collection is only matched by the sugar induced frenzied behaviour that follows.  A CBC news report  indicated that by visiting only 15 houses the average trick or treater could take in over 60 candy bars with a calorie count of nearly 5000! Thats the equivalent of 3 cups of sugar and over a cup and a half of fat - something for the adults to keep in mind as well when we're helping ourselves to "just a few" of the small treats.

Its a common belief that too much chocolate can cause a sugar high that adversely affects student behaviour. Oddly enough scientific research does not support this theory. Studies done with preschoolers indicated that binging on chocolate did very little to induce hyperactive behaviour. Neuroscience For Kids, a blog maintained by the University of Washington, has a very comprehensive entry describing the pros and cons of chocolate consumption. It also suggests chocolate doesn't adversely impact behaviour, but does mention that its not the healthiest of snack choices.

 There is, however, lots of evidence that what, and how, children eat impacts how they behave. Over the past few decades processed foods have become increasingly common. Many of these foods contain a multitude of chemicals including preservatives and food colourings that have been linked to ADHD and other changes in behaviour in children. Heavily processed foods, though convenient, have also been linked to increases in food sensitivities and allergic reactions.

According to MotherInc.com, an Australian magazine for mothers of school age kids, another huge trigger for behaviour is meal skipping. Cereal companies have been telling us for years that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Turns out they are right! A hungry or malnourished brain is not equipped for learning. Ironically, hungry people often turn to sugary treats for a quick hit of energy, resulting in the type of eating habits that lead to weight gain and the type of behaviours that have given such treats their bad reputations. Its not necessarily the chocolate thats to blame, but the overall combination of bad nutritional habits, highly processed foods and over active lifestyles that add up to a behavioural nightmare, not just after Halloween but anytime of the year.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Winter Weather or Not: Dressing for Winter

The first snow of the winter fell Saturday. While many of us are hoping that warmer weather will return and extend to at least Halloween, the cold hard fact is that winter is coming. Staff and students will need to make the necessary adjustments and dress for the cold. Those of us who remain active outside all year round know the adage "There's no bad weather, just bad clothing".  In winter, dressing for success means making good clothing choices, dressing in layers and being prepared.

Active Kids Club recommends keeping activity levels in mind when dressing for winter. This choice is especially important when one considers that school children may have multiple environments to deal with. Waiting for the bus is an entirely different climate zone from riding in an enclosed space with dozens of other students for an extended period of time. Then, depending on the age of the student, they may re-enter the cold for a period of playground activity prior to settling in for a days learning.

Layers are the key. Think three - inner - middle and outer. The inner layer needs to keep students warm but be able to breathe and wick moisture away from the skin. Cotton is a poor choice as once it gets wet, it stays wet, and there are few things less comfortable than sitting in wet clothes for much of the day. The middle layer should be warm and insulating and suitable for a variety of activities. The outer layer needs to be wind proof and water resistant, easy to remove and able breathe to allow for the escape of sweat and water vapour.

Heads and hands require particular attention. According to Ehow.com a toque is more than just a Canadian fashion statement, it can help regulate body temperature. Ear flaps can be particularly helpful. Mittens work best for keeping fingers warm, but even a cheap pair of stretchy gloves can protect small hands from icy conditions.

Its still early in the season, so the debate over snowsuits or splash pants can probably wait but its never too early to invest in a good pair of boots. What a student might give up in cool is definitely more than made up for by having warm feet. Last year winter set in early and hung on late. While the white stuff may be coming later this year, being prepared for the weather is always a good idea.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Daffodils in October

Last week the local coordinator for the Canadian Cancer Society's Daffodil campaign wrote to SD 60 with an appeal for help. Normally, the Daffodil campaign takes place in April, so getting a letter asking for help in October is, at the very least, being extremely proactive. In the past. the BC Cancer Society has taken bunches of freshly cut daffodils to seniors residing at the care home. This practice has been brought to a close, as our new hospital has a strict no scent policy in order to avoid allergic reactions. Freshly cut flowers, while lovely to look at, definitely give off scent.  The society's request was that perhaps some of the district's primary students could create paper flowers to be given to seniors in place of the fresh flowers.

I'm happy to report that once this request was passed on to schools it quickly became a case of 'Challenge Accepted!"  So far three schools have taken on the task, and I'm confident I'll be hearing from others this week.  Despite the six month time gap between when the flowers will be needed, staff and students have eagerly recognized the opportunity for inter-generational interaction. Inter-generational programs are well known for having many benefits for both younger and older generations that participate. Education.com lists some of these benefits as ending age segregation of amongst generations and allowing youth opportunities for service learning. For years our district's achievement contract has included the goal of improving social responsibility in our community's members and inter-generational activities are one of the ways we work towards achieving that goal. 

Its perhaps fitting that October is the time when real daffodils need to be planted so that they will be abundant in the spring. Growing socially responsible students is a bit like tending a garden too. We've often said that we want to help our students grow to become persons who are both amongst the best in, AND FOR the world. The willingness of SD 60 staff and students to take on the daffodil challenge demonstrates that we are well on the way down that path.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Triple Threat Program Scores For Literacy

It is said that good things happen in threes. Horse racing has its "Triple Crown" - a champion who can win the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. Baseball's triple crown is a player who tops the league in homeruns, batting average and RBI. In fact, a triple threat is a person or program that has special skills in three areas. This week our district had its own version of a "triple threat" when our literacy coaches brought author Sigmund Brouwer and Stanley Cup champion Bryan Trottier to schools to entertain students and promote reading and literacy for students.

Sigmund Brouwer is a renowned author with well over 3 million books in print. His eclectic collection of work includes the Accidental Detective Series, Dr Drabble Genius Inventor, Robot Wars,  and the Lightning on Ice series. For more information (and some free samples) of Sigmund's works check out his website - http://www.myrockandrollbooks.com/.  Brouwer is a fun guy, but he's serious about getting kids to read. In addition to books on his own, he has also enlisted the support of well known sports figures like NHL Hall of Famer Bryan Trottier to spread the word. Perhaps best known for his days as a New York Islander, Trottier's seven Stanley Cup wins and NHL pedigree give him instant credibility with hockey fans. His engaging personality wins over the rest.  Trottier brings the message that good reading skills are the foundation for students to build and reach their own dream as they strive to hoist their own personal Stanley Cups, and build their own personal legacies. Combined with Brouwer the two men team up for a powerfully engaging presentation that combines music, humor, hockey and energy to build a positive buzz about reading.

Brouwer and Trottier would not have made it to our district but for the dedicated efforts of our district literacy team. The idea for the tour sprang out of a chance encounter between district literacy coach Shawna Hartman and Trottier when he was in Fort St John making an appearance at a local Oilmans Association Hockey tournament. Not one to let a good idea slip away, Shawna mobilized local sponsors, colleagues and school district executive staff in support of a literacy tour. The result was this week's event where Brouwer and Trottier visited more than half a dozen schools with students from kindergarten through grade 12, both in town and rural settings, covering hundreds of kilometers and reaching over a thousand students. Like any event of this magnitude there were some bumps to be worked out, but the district literacy team were tireless in their efforts, and pulled the event off so well, that when they talk plans for a return visit, we're all certain it will happen.

A great author, a hockey legend and a dedicated literacy coach - a finer example of a true triple threat would be hard to find. Thanks to their efforts, literacy, and our students, scored big time this week. Districts looking to book their own Rock and Roll Literacy tours  can check out the link and go for their own three star performance.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Positive Steps

We've all heard the stories. When our parents were young they had to walk miles to school, uphill both ways, and usually through three feet of snow.  So when did it all stop? Today's students walk less than ever before. Stop by any school before or just after school and you will see streets choked with cars waiting to deliver or pick up students.  When parents are asked why they don't let their students walk or ride to school two answers prevail - convenience and safety.  

Fearful that their children may get accosted by bullies, strangers criminals, animals, rain, cold, snow, allergies or a variety of other perils, many parents will simply not let their children go to school without adult supervision. Not willing, or unable, to take the time to walk with their children, many parents pop them into the car and drive them a few blocks before they head off to their daily routines. Ironically, the greatest danger for students who are allowed to walk to school is often the other parents driving their kids.

Also ironic is the fact that in trying to keep their children safe, parents who drive their kids to school are actually contributing to their overall unhealthiness. Active Health Kids Canada (AHKC) reported that less than 7% of school age children get the minimum amount of daily exercise recommended by the Canadian Physical Activity guidelines. Getting kids to walk to school would go a long way towards correcting this situation.

Civic authorities can help by providing schools and neighbourhoods with appropriate bike and pedestrian infrastructure but mostly the solutions here rest with parents. Educating children about pedestrian safety, working with other parents to provide safe supervision or just stopping a few blocks short of the school in order to encourage active walking, can all be solutions. Not driving students everywhere could also have an added benefit of developing students who lack the expectation that they should be driven everywhere. Parents would be saving themselves the headaches of being expected to serve as their child's on call chauffeur.

Keeping students safe is a worthy goal. Driving them everywhere is not the answer. Finding ways to get students to school under their own power is better for the students,  the environment and the community. This October see if you can't help your students create some memories so that when they are older, they can tell their own students how they too had to brave those long walks to school.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Comprehensive School Health Northern Style

This week representatives from Northern Health sat down with with SD 60 executive staff to discuss ways of improving an already solid working relationship to promote better comprehensive school health. Comprehensive School Health, or CSH, is an internationally recognized framework for supporting improvements in students' educational outcomes while addressing school health in a planned, integrated and holistic way. The CSH framework helps educators, health practitioners, school staff, students and others to work together to create an environment that makes schools the best place possible to learn, work and play. It is important to recognize that CSH does not require more work; it is just a way of working that becomes everyday practice.

CSH is built upon four key pillars. These pillars are the physical and social environment, teaching and learning, partnerships and services and healthy school policies.  Put a different way CSH works to establish patterns of healthy living,  healthy eating, healthy relationships and healthy practices.  There are benefits to improved comprehensive school health for staff, students, parents and communities. The website of Healthy Schools BC is a one-stop" access point for all healthy schools information in BC. 

The Directorate of Agencies for School Health (DASH - BC) is the umbrella organization that brings together all the partners dedicated to promoting, supporting and facilitating the creation of healthy schools in BC. The key premise of a healthy school is that healthier students learn better and that better educated students are healthier. Healthy schools, also known as health-promoting schools, work with partners from the health and education sectors, and with those from the boarder community, to help students to develop healthy habits that will last a lifetime.

Northern Health and SD 60 have a long history of working well with each other. It remains to be seen what improvements we can make in furthering the goals of comprehensive school health through closer and more formalized relations. Sitting down this week was a good start. Getting to know each other better and publicizing our common goals can only help in the effort to make improved school health a reality for all.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Running For Fun and Other Benefits

Satchel Paige stated in his Six Rules for A Happy Life, "Don't look back, something might be gaining on you!"  Satchel ranks as one of history's greatest pitchers, but his words rang true for me this week as I served as the pace rabbit for our district's first elementary cross country meet of the season.  With over one hundred young runners lining the start lines for both races I was never so glad to be on my bicycle. Even then, the front runners made me work hard to stay ahead of them.

Traditionally cross country running can be a hard sell for elementary athletes. While I've been involved as a runner since my own elementary days, running has got a bit of a bad rap over the years as an activity described as long and hard and not much fun. The truth is most kids love to run! The negative view of running is more commonly held by adults whose running days are long behind them. Starting up after years of inactivity can be hard and unpleasant, and many adults project their own feelings about running onto children. If its hard for them, surely it can't be good for little people.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  Authorities such as Runners World  and Spark Peoples Nancy Howard  outline multiple reasons why children should be encouraged to run. Our bodies were made to run, and these days, with video games, social media and other sedentary activities competing for students' time, cross country running is a good defense against child obesity.  Participaction Canada warns that the current generation of children are in danger of being "heavier, fatter, rounder and weaker than they were a generation ago."

Being physically active has many benefits. It not only contributes to better over all health but can also lead to improved performance in the classroom.  The American Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, in its June edition highlighted the connection between children´s fitness and better grades. Investigators found that children who were fit had the best academic achievement, scored the highest on tests and received top grades; these scores were regardless of gender or if the students had gone through puberty. The stereotype of the weak nerdy bookworm is a fallacy. As well, fit children have a better chance of growing into fit adults.

Helping to generate smarter and healthier students, cross country running is  a sport that is available to everyone. Opportunities exist to run both on a team or as an individual. Equipment is limited to proper clothes and a good pair of shoes, access is wide open and practice opportunities are unlimited. Kids can run as much, and as long, as they are having fun. Good coaching is beneficial, but running really is an activity where adult supervision is optional. Unlike other organized sports, running can be an anytime anywhere equal opportunity sport. Our district has four more cross country events scheduled this fall. I may not be able to attend them all, but here's hoping they all attract hundreds of student runners.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Dealing With Wrongness!

The first weeks of school have passed and hard realities are setting in. After the initial rush of excitement, many staff, students and parents have had to deal with varying levels of frustration and challenge.  Whether its the uncertainty of the current labor climate, dealing with the disappointment of not getting the perfect school,  teacher, class or timetable or just the frustration of trying to get everything done with limited resources, many of us have had to deal with things going wrong this week.  As the Rolling Stones once sang "You Can't Always Get What You Want!  Its how we deal with the challenge that determines what happens next.

Recently I discovered the ideas of "wrongologist" Kathryn Schulz. Aside from being amazed by the fact that there is a vocation dedicated to the study of what happens when things go wrong, Schulz's explanation of how people react when things don't go their way, really resonates with me. Basically Schulz condenses our response to people who won't agree with us as a progression of ignorant, stupid or evil.

If someone doesn't agree with us, we figure it must be because they don't have all the facts. If they had all the facts, they surely wouldn't disagree with us.  It follows they must be ignorant! However, there are situations where others do have all the facts, and they still won't give us what we want. That's when we decide they must be stupid. If they were mentally competent, they'd agree with us, wouldn't they? Finally, if the other person has all the facts,  is mentally competent, but still won't agree with us, we demonize them and begin to think of them as evil. Obviously they are deliberately choosing not to do what we think should be done, causing our frustration levels to boil over.

Getting angry and frustrated  is easy. Pile on more challenges, and anger can give way to feelings of rage, helplessness or hopelessness. Fortunately people are able to adapt and rebound in the face of adversity. The ability to withstand stress and pressure is our level of resilience.  According to the PBS program, This Emotional Life people can improve their capacity for resilience at any time of life.  The program's webpage states:

   "Being resilient doesn’t mean going through life without experiencing stress and pain. People feel grief, sadness, and a range of other emotions after adversity and loss. The road to resilience lies in working through the emotions and effects of stress and painful events.

Resilience is also not something that you’re either born with or not. Resilience develops as people grow up and gain better thinking and self-management skills and more knowledge. Resilience also comes from supportive relationships with parents, peers and others, as well as cultural beliefs and traditions that help people cope with the inevitable bumps in life.  Resilience is found in a variety of behaviors, thoughts, and actions that can be learned and developed across the life span."

Factors that  can contribute to resilience include positive relationships with family and friends, apositive view of yourself and confidence in your strengths and abilities, a willingness to seek other help and resources and seeing yourself as an active participant rather than as a victim in the process.
Resilience can stem from coping with stress in healthy ways and avoiding harmful coping strategies, such as substance abuse.  Finally helping others and seeking positive meaning in your life despite difficult or traumatic events can help when it all seems to be going wrong.  Dealing with adversity is a challenge we all face.  When faced with situations that don't go as we'd hoped, we can choose to get mad or wallow in a sense of wrongness - or we can choose resilience, adapt and work at finding constructive solutions.  Like the Stones song says "You can't always get what you want - But if you try sometimes well you might find You get what you need"

Monday, 2 September 2013

Getting Past the Jitters

A new school year begins Tuesday, and while many staff, students and parents eagerly look forward to opening day, there are others for whom the end of the summer may not be such a happy time. Whether heading back to familiar surroundings, starting out for the first time at a new school, or simply reacting to the change in season and circumstances,  its certain that the first day of school creates some anxiety.  How one deals with first day jitters helps set the tone for the rest of the year. Regardless of whether one is a parent, student or staff member,  successfully getting past that first day is very important.

For parents the reaction to back to school can depend on many factors. Parents new to the whole school process tend to be more anxious than veterans. Ad campaigns like Staples "They're Going Back" try to suggest that many parents experience a sense of relief and liberation in sending their children off to school. In reality many of them share their chidren's anxieties. I know my wife never once saw September as the "most wonderful time of the year". The transition from a summer full of family adventures with our three children, to routines doing homework and early nights was seldom easy or fun. TLC's Education website offers parents "5 Coping Mechanisms Parents can Share With Their Children".  These include modelling a positive attitude towards school, keeping the lines of communication open, and making a few preparations before the big day. Perhaps their best advice is to be solution oriented and to avoid the sort of sweeping statements like "this is going to be a big year for you!" or "Don't worry - it will all be fine" that may add to the pressure students could be feeling. Instead, congratulate them on being courageous and determined and encourage them to be themselves and do their best.

And if parents and students are anxious, one can just imagine the way staff feel. In preparing for a new school year, staff strive to create a positive caring learning environment where everyone feels safe and can do their best work.  Sites like Yahoo.com's Voices provide teachers with lots of practical first day tips like getting to know all the students names as quickly as possible. Provincially, both the BCTF and the BC Ed Plan offer advice to educators about how to best prepare for engaging student learners. Locally, its been my experience that our school staffs are tight knit groups, more than willing to collaborate, help each other out and support one another in making their schools and classrooms great places for students to learn and grow.

Every school year brings its share of challenges.  Feeling anxious about change is natural.  Being pro-active, prepared and positive  can go a long way towards dealing with any opening day jitters. While heading back to school may never be a cause for celebration, it doesn't have to be a major source of anxiety either. I'm looking forward to the coming year. No doubt it will have more than its fair share of anxious moments, but I'm confident that staff, students and families will find ways to  deal with them. Here's hoping everyone gets past those first day jitters and has a great 2013/14 school year.

Monday, 26 August 2013

About that Time

With the summer winding down, its time to start thinking about education matters once again. Staff have already begun prepping for the arrival of students next week.  Despite the popular myth that many people dread the return to classes and the re-introduction of fall routines, there is also a real sense of anticipation. and even some excitement building for the first day of school.  Regardless of whether thoughts of back to school excite kids, or give them the jitters, there are many things parents can do to help get them ready.

"The beginning of the school year is like the beginning of a new adventure in the world of learning,” explains Cynthia Prasow, director of Undergraduate Student Experience in the Faculty of Education at the University of Calgary.  In an article entitled Back to School, Back to Reality!  Prasow points out that going to school is  “a chance to meet new friends, connect with old acquaintances and step into the school that has been polished, cleaned and ready to welcome everyone back. There’s always a sense of excitement and anticipation of that first day.  And it doesn’t have to be traumatic. It’s all in how the parents handle it.”

Prasow offers some simple, practical suggestions on what parents can do to regulate student schedules and routines, and to help them think positively about going back to school:
  • Begin by leading positive conversations about going back to school. A positive outlook is everything in setting the tone for a positive beginning
  • Encourage independence, particularly in younger children, to minimize separation anxiety
  • Drive by the school, especially if it’s a new one.
  • Pick up some new books that will actively engage your child.
  • Talk about lunch. Talking about favorite foods and making sure some of them are on hand, particularly for the first few days can take the worry out of lunch breaks
  • Discuss routines at school, when school starts and ends, and rules regarding behavior;
  • Have a discussion about what to wear, and make sure those items are ready for the first day;
  • Check the school website for a list of supplies. If not posted, parents can still make an adventure of shopping for required items, such as pens and pencils and crayons, a notebook or two, a new bookbag, or lunch kit.
  • Establish the back-to-school routine a few days before school begins. This includes sleeping schedules and nighttime and morning routines.
Its also interesting to see that many retailers tap into the excitement of the new school year.  The Wall Street Journal reports a survey by US clothing company Lands End suggested that shopping for school supplies and clothing was students' favorite part about getting ready for the first day of school. Topping the list of supplies are backpacks with 92 percent of parents reporting it as the number one item to have for the first day of school.

Whatever excites students about going to school this fall, the real challenge will be to keep them enthused and engaged with their learning.  September may mark the end of summer, but in a very real sense it marks the beginning of another year of looking into education matters.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Change and Challenge

Today is the date by which BC school districts submit achievement contracts to the Minister of Education. The  School Act requires each BC Board of Education to prepare and submit to the Minister of Education an Achievement Contract with respect to student performance and plans for improving achievement. District Achievement Contracts are a public commitment made by a Board of Education to improve success for each student in the District. 

The contracts seek to ensure that districts are engaged in continuous improvement. Each contract is a three-year plan, updated annually, forming the basis for the annual Superintendent’s Report on Achievement to the Board of Education. Achievement Contracts outline a district’s goals for the improvement of student success, describe strategic actions, and identify how the district monitors progress and makes adjustments to improve results. In a sense the AC is our report card telling us how we we've done, indicating where we need to go next and indicating how we intend to track our progress.

This year the AC has particular significance for me. As part of the district management team for several years, I've had a part in preparing many Achievement Contracts, but this is the first one I've submitted as Superintendent. Like all districts, Peace River North has accomplishments of which it is duly proud and some areas where we have to do better. The purpose of the plan is to track progress against our twin goals of improving student achievement through greater learner engagement and of developing students with strong senses of social responsibility. Celebrating successes is easy. The bigger question is what to do when results are not what we want. How to deal with adversity is the real challenge.

Different models offer some insights. Innovisionglobal.com suggests "Three Simple Steps to Dealing with Adversity". Identifying worry, paralysis by analysis and procrastination as progress killers, author Harry Shade puts forward the alternate strategies of evaluate, illuminate and execute as better ways to go. Examine the results, seek creative solutions and then act. Miravia Directors Bruce Wellman and Laura Lipton speak to learning focused educators working with data driven dialogue as part of their improvement model. Part of their model includes an examination of data in a "What, So What? Now What" context so that organizations can see clearly where they are, get a sense of what and why data is important and make decisions about what to do next.

Regardless what model we use, reacting to and dealing with adversity in a timely and effective manner is essential. Our Achievement Contract clearly identifies some challenges for SD 60 to address. We want to improve graduation and achievement rates in key subject areas such as English and Math. We need to continue to find innovative and creative ways to fully engage students and to assist them to reach their potential in ways that are both socially responsible and personally fulfilling. Above all,l we need to instill confidence in our community that its children are getting a quality education and that it is being well served in all education matters.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Wrapping Up Another Year

June 21st might mark the summer solstice but for me the first day of summer has always been the last day of school. First as a student, later as teacher and ultimately as an administrator, the last day of school always offered that clear boundary between work and the freedom of summer holidays. Ironically, now that I work at the district office that clear line has been blurred but excitement and energy of the season are still there.

Another clear herald of summer are graduation, promotion and retirement ceremonies. These events all mark the granting of new status to those who have earned it by putting in the time and meeting the necessary requirements. Whether from kindergarten, from one grade to another, from high school or into retirement, every transition marks degrees of achievement and accomplishment. Some events may be more significant, marking either the first time or last time someone moves on to another level, but all of them are important.

As an administrator I'm often asked to speak at various recognition ceremonies. The task is harder than it seems. A speaker needs to be inspiring and interesting, but also brief and conscious of the fact that the day is really for celebrating the accomplishments of others. I appreciated the advice I received from one class president given the task of inviting me to speak. "Take all the time you need - say three minutes? A little more if you can be funny"

A Google search of inspirational messages uncovers many different takes on the  transition ceremony speech. They range in tone from reflective to light-hearted and humorous, to deeply thoughtful and serious. One can quote such diverse authorities as Einstein, Shakespeare, Dr Suess, Bill Gates: even Winnie the Pooh! In my opinion, the best quotes are those that recognize a transition not just as an end but also as a gateway to new opportunities.

So, keeping in mind the advice to be brief,  my message for the various classes of 2013, regardless of age or program, is be justly proud of your accomplishments, to thank and be grateful for those who helped along the way, and to do your best to find something exciting and meaningful in what comes next. Recognize that there may be many different opportunities ahead and make the most of the ones that do come your way. Most of all make a difference for yourself and others, and be kind. Everyone appreciates a little kindness.

Another sign of summer is that I'll be scaling back my posts. As this year comes to a close, here's hoping that everyone gets some time over the summer to rest, recharge and recreate in whatever manner they enjoy most! September will arrive soon enough, and then it will be time to get back to Education Matters!

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Celebrating Father's Day

Sunday is Father's Day. For many of us it will be a day to thank our dads for the impact they've had and are having, in our lives. Looking through our family album this week I found a few pictures of my son, my father and me all together. Three generations, two sets of fathers and sons and one person, who is both a father and a son at the same time.

Growing up, my father was frequently unable to attend my school functions, but he was always a supportive, if sometimes intimidating, presence at home, where he emphasized the importance of doing my best at everything I tried.  I wondered about why he seemed to be missing from many of my various school milestone pictures before it dawned on me that he was the one behind the camera taking the pictures. Its a pretty good metaphor for a lot of dads - men who do their best to support their children who may not always be directly in the picture but are always important in bringing what matters into focus.

CIVITAS, an organization dedicated to helping bring out the best in students who find themselves behind at school, emphasizes the important roles fathers can play in the lives of students. CIVITAS suggests that one reason that fathers have such an influential role at is because they tend to challenge children to try new experiences and to become more independent. Challenged children have more opportunity to develop problem-solving skills. In one study, children whose fathers expected them to handle responsibilities scored higher in tests of thinking skills. Accomplishing tasks is so important, and fathers' involvement is so crucial, that fathers may have a larger influence on their children's self-esteem at during the elementary years than do mothers.

CIVITAS further suggests that by encouraging children to take on new challenges, fathers help them not only to learn new skills, but also to take responsibility for their own actions. Fathers with strong commitments to their family provide a model of responsible behaviour for their children.  Such children have an internal sense of control, and are more likely to believe that their successes and failures are due to their own efforts rather than due to external factors. These children tend to take more responsibility for their actions and rarely blame others for their mistakes.

Education.com further supports the importance of fathers pointing out that "when fathers are involved their children learn more, perform better in school and exhibit healthier behavior. Even when fathers do not share a home with their children, their active involvement can have a lasting and positive impact"

My own children have lots of school days photos that include their dad, but as a teacher and administrator at their school I had an almost unfair advantage of daily opportunity. Father's Day may be observed but once a year but the potential for fathers to play a valuable role in the education of their children exists all year round.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

"Tracking" Determination

I spent Friday serving as the starter at this year's Elementary District Track Meet.  Armed with a VERY loud starters pistol, I spent 6 hours asking runners to take their marks and set before sending them off with a resounding bang. Weather and incomplete track renovations again conspired to move our normally outdoor event inside to the Pomeroy Sports Centre (PSC).  The PSC, is a winter sports complex consisting of a speed skating oval, two hockey rinks and an inside walking track.  Thanks to the cooperation of city staff, and the tireless efforts of the elementary sports committee, and a few key administrators and volunteers, this huge event, involving over 400 students and consisting of literally hundreds of running, throwing and jumping events, came off without a hitch, on time and with lots of excitement and drama for everyone.

As the starter, I get a close up view of all the action at the track. Track roots run deep in my family. I've been a runner,  coach or official in the sport ever since being introduced to distance running by Mr. Hardisty, my grade 7 teacher, back in 1972! All three of my own children participated in the SD 60 Elementary meet. That they continue to be active adults enjoying running as a lifelong fitness activity is due in no small way to the opportunities they enjoyed as student athletes. Participaction Canada encourages all Canadians to "Get out and Get moving" and events such as our district meet, help our students develop healthy life styles.

In any sporting competition there are always winners. By the end of the meet it was easy to spot the students who had done well, with all their ribbons proudly pinned to their shirts. Even more impressive for me however, was the determination and courage shown by the runners who finished further back in the fields. Like anyone, I enjoy a tightly contested race, and the thrill of victory,  but what I truly respect is the unflagging efforts of those who are destined to finish near the back of the pack.

I once had a coach who taught that a race wasn't official till the last runner crossed, so every runner had a responsibility to do their best, right to the very end. As a runner, I've had my share of success but I've also been last a few times too, so I know what it takes to keep going long after the leaders are done. Track is great that way; most spectators appreciate an honest effort and will applaud the efforts of every runner whether they are first, or last.  And finishing has its own rewards - determination is a valuable life skill that builds and displays character. People who run know just getting out there is a victory, and finishing means we are still ahead of all the people who never started.

So hats off to everyone who made this year's track meet a success. Athletes, volunteers, organizers and spectators; everyone who participated comes away a winner!

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Getting A PHD in High School - Project Heavy Duty

Friday I attended a work site lunch where 18 secondary students celebrated the completion of their PHD's. No doctorates were awarded, but all of the students had mastered operations of some large pieces of machinery. In SD60 PHD stands for Project Heavy Duty - a program now in its 11th year, where selected Grade 11 and 12 students are given the opportunity to learn about, and operate many kinds of heavy equipment. Under the close supervision of qualified operators, students receive hands-on training with such equipment as crawler/dozers, excavators, graders, rock trucks and a variety of logging equipment on a job site.

Over the years many local contractors, businesses and other agencies have been generous in supplying equipment and operators, facilities, fuel, food, first aid, security, communications equipment and other services required for the project. Project supporters include diverse businesses including a local paper, a financial institution, several contractors, oil companies and other community partners . (Follow this link to see a complete listing of our PHD partners.)  The project is scheduled for a full week, usually in May. Students selected for the project do not attend regular classes during that time.  

Safety is a top concern to everyone involved. Students receive training in first aid and site safety. As well, they must attend presentations from Worksafe BC before entering the work site. All Worksafe guidelines for standard work sites are followed on site, and students receive one on one safety instruction from qualified operators before operating any piece of equipment. At all times student operators are overseen by qualified operators, and site supervisors are assigned to each area of the project. Absolutely no horseplay is tolerated at any time. This is a working project with real life equipment, rules and expectations.

Students who take part in this project benefit in many ways. Their hands-on experience with heavy equipment gives them skills for possible future employment, exposure to different career choices, opportunities to meet and impress local business people and potential employers and experience on real life job site. The students learn valuable skills relating to safety at the workplace as well as  job application skills like how to write applications, fill in resumes, and behave at interviews. Hands on learning beyond the classroom has a proven track record of success. As noted at Benefit of.net hands on learning is more enjoyable, enhances retention and creativity, and develops critical thinking skills and a greater sense of accomplishment in participants.

A project of this nature needs special people at the controls. District Principal Richard Koop has been with the program since its inception. Previously a school based administrator, Richard has been able to combine his lifelong passion for construction and industrial training with his considerable talents as an teacher and administrator. Project Heavy Duty and the district's successful Residential Construction Program are his key responsibilities. Selecting the students and guiding these programs, Richard has been instrumental in providing hundreds of students alternate paths to educational success. Working with Richard is Donny Goodbun. Now at an age where others might consider retiring, Donny steps up every year. His dedicated efforts and vast experience are appreciated by everyone. PHD has become a family project for the Goodbuns, Sons Trent and Tyrell are two of the operators that work with students.

Project Heavy Duty is a great example of how our district works to make learning relevant and important for everyone. From the organizers to the sponsors to the students to our community partners PHD is one project where everyone comes away enriched.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Speaking Out For Learning

This week I got to be a judge at our district's elementary public speaking contest. 26 brave elementary students from 9 different schools took to the stage and gave speeches on topics important to them. Subject material ran the gamut from traditional topics like the love of hockey through to unique topics such as  Siderodromophobia - the fear of trains. What did not vary was the skill and confidence of the speakers. One by one each student stood before the microphone, made eye contact with the audience, and gave their speech.

Glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking, is remarkably common. In fact, some experts estimate that as many as 75% people experience some level of anxiety regarding public speaking.  Some even suggest the fear of public speaking outranks the fear of dying. The ability to speak out clearly and articulately is a very valuable 21st century skill. Forbes.com lists five reasons why overcoming a fear of public speaking can work to a person's advantage. Leadership, confidence, gaining trust, and out performing more timid competitors are all listed, but my favorite is the last reason cited - "Achieve Something Great!"  One only had to see the smiles on the faces of the students as they completed their speeches and acknowledged the applause of the audience to know that they all felt that sense of achievement.

Its the nature of competitions that only a few can win, though many compete. It was mentioned at this year's contest that our Speech Competition has been going on for  34 years. I've been one of the judges for the past seven, and a parent of competitors for years before that, but this year's contingent of speakers was one of the best I've ever heard. Choosing a winner was almost impossible, with only the narrowest of margins separating the top speakers from the rest of the pack. In the end our judging panel declared a tie between two speakers; one girl and one boy. 

The girl's speech was about the excitement and anxieties of making the transition to middle school. The boy spoke about all the things in the world that are awesome. One speech was well crafted, earnest and heartfelt. The other, equally well designed, was lighter, more amusing and made the audience smile. Both speakers engaged their audience and had people nodding in agreement, empathy and the memories of their own experiences. The fact that both came from the same school made their shared victory even sweeter, and their excitement and happiness over the win was fun to see. Being able to overcome their anxieties had been exciting and securing the win for both themselves and their school - well that was awesome!  

It might be cliche to say but really, everyone who attended this year's competition was a winner. While a few students went home with medals or trophies, everyone benefits from the development of a cohort of courageous and competent students who able to confidently speak their minds.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Supporting Superior Student Talent!

This was a pretty exciting week for many SD 60 students. The Peace River Zone Drama Festival saw amazing performances from a number of North Peace Secondary students. The winning entry was written, directed and acted by NPSS students. A second of of the three entries featured a script adapted from an original screenplay by one of our grade 11 students, and also featured award winning acting talent of current NPSS students in its cast. Its director also was a graduate of this district's drama programs. The remaining play included yet another recent NPSS drama alumni. Not to be outdone the current drama class contributed a presentation to the festival as well.

Meanwhile in Lethbridge, five SD 60 students ranging in age between grades 7 and 11 competed and were honoured with medals, cash awards and scholarships at the Canada Wide Science Fair.  Closer to home the students of Duncan Cran Elementary School were recognized nationally as the top school in all of Canada in Canadian Geographic's Classroom Energy Diet contest for the second year in a row. All in all our students had a pretty good week.

SD 60 takes pride in assisting students to reach their potential in whatever path they choose. This week's accomplishments clearly demonstrate our district goals of literacy, numeracy and social responsibility are taking hold,and that our students can compete, and excel, against any in the country. At the drama festival a spokesperson voiced admiration and some amazement at the talent displayed by our teen aged students. While the the admiration was certainly earned, I don't think anyone should be surprised that our students are amazing and talented.  SD 60 students have demonstrated for years that they are more than capable as any found anywhere else.

Its easy to chalk up student accomplishments to individual talent or to family support. There is no doubt such forces do play a tremendous role in supporting talented children, but the role of SD 60 educators cannot be discounted when one examines  how these students got to where they are today. In his book Talented Teenagers: The Roots of Success and Failure researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihaly points out the importance of exceptional teachers in the lives of talented teens, how genuine and enthusiastic educators can help spur talented students on to remarkable accomplishments.

Living in the north its sometimes easy to think that we have to settle for less than what other regions have to offer. Measures like the Fraser Institute reports are quick to point out the shortcomings of school districts beyond the reaches of the lower mainland. Accomplishments like those posted by SD 60 students last week illustrate just how false those suggestions can be. We really do have great students supported by an excellent school system. Our district motto is "Together we Learn" and it rings especially true every time we celebrate the accomplishments of our students and the adults who inspire and support them.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013


This week the district announced several changes to our leadership team  As the new superintendent I've heard a lot recently about the need to ensure that leadership changes are completed well in advance of the coming year so the new people can get a good understanding of what they've inherited and get a good start on where they might like to go. Being part of the change process myself, I've certainly got a sense of why and how people are sometimes frustrated by the pace of change.

In a perfect world all leadership changes take place smoothly and on a timeline that allows for seamless transition. People have the opportunity to say goodbye and cleanly wrap up the projects and initiatives they've worked on. Arrival in a new position comes with ample lead time and a clear mandate of what and how needed changes are to be implemented. In the real world however, things are rarely that simple. Change requires time and consideration. Context and other factors needs to be examined. A change in one place is rarely self contained and frequently sends shock waves of cascading effect throughout the organization. Inevitably some people are pleased and others disappointed in whatever choices are made.
 Another view of change can be found at What I've Learned About Change, a great blog post by Justin Tarte, forwarded to me by one of district administrators. Justin lists 8 very valid thoughts for change agents including that change is rarely easy and that "You will need to put on your big boy or big girl pants. You will need to wear an extra set of armor both on the front and the back, and you will need to keep your emotions and personal feelings in check. Change can be fun, exciting, and beneficial to the entire organization, but it's definitely not easy, and almost always becomes personal".

Everyone has an opinion on change. In her novel "Frankenstein" Mary Shelley wrote, “Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.” Charles Kettering wrote "The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has ever brought progress" and the Greek philosopher Heraclitus claimed that "Change is the only constant".  Here's hoping that this week's changes bring only progress and good things and that we all adapt to them the best we can!

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Do You Want the Extra?

A few years back Canadian Lottery Commissions ran ads featuring the tagline "Do want to play the extra?"  Invariably the unhappy customer would say no, only to realize later just how much he had lost out. A similar situation is potentially brewing in our schools. As fewer and fewer educators take on the joys and challenges of extra curricular activities, we run the risk of missing out on valuable opportunities.

Fortunately there are still many fine people taking up the challenge. Recently our district hosted a regional science fair. Over hundreds of student scientists displayed their projects to even greater numbers of appreciative parents, judges and other onlookers. Following closely on the heels of the science fair came the district elementary badminton tournament. Again literally hundreds of students had the opportunity to come together and compete with peers from all across the district.

These events don't just happen by themselves. They are the culmination of hours of dedicated volunteer service from teachers, administrators, parents and other volunteers who are willing to put in time over and above their regular obligations. The members of the Science Fair organizing committee and the coordinators of sporting tournaments aren't getting overtime for their efforts. Often unseen and under appreciated, these people put in the time for the love of the activity and the satisfaction of doing good things for kids. Our badminton tournament ran hours long this year on a Friday afternoon. Rather than cut it short the organizers stayed until the final shot was played. Their efforts, like those of the folks that put in the time for other extra curricular activities are truly appreciated.

The benefits of involvement in extra curricular activities is well documented. The benefits to students are obvious. Websites like kidshealth.org clearly identify how extra curricular involvement can enhance senses of connectedness, competence and caring in students. There are huge benefits for the adults as well. Extra curriculars allow adults to connect with students in a different setting than the classroom. They allow both students and educators to see each other as people in ways that can enhance and benefit learning relationships elsewhere. For one teacher's list of reasons for being involved in extra curriculars check out Chase march's .blogspot.ca.

Its sad that in recent times extra curriculars have become a political hot button topic, with withdrawal of participation being used as a lever in labour actions. Choosing the extra really does have so many benefits. Here's hoping that the folks who are willing to put in the extra continue to do so for many years to come!