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. 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 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.