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. 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 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

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!