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 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, 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.