Monday, 10 November 2014

Not Just Horsing Around: Finding New Electives in Hudsons Hope

Finding new and engaging electives can be a challenge for small secondary schools. Working with your communities strengths and interests can help find options. The K - 12 school at Hudsons Hope has a very small secondary population - less than 30 students in grades 10 - 12 . As a consequence the range of elective options can be severely limited and may not appeal to everyone. Principal Derrek Beam, in coordination with teacher Liza Rhymer, and with the assistance and cooperation of many community members, have found a creative and innovative solution to this challenge through the development and implementation of an Equine Studies curriculum.

Equine Studies 10 - 12 is a four credit Board Authority Authorized  course adapted from an Alberta Green Cert program. Units of study include identifying horse breeds and behavior, how to care for and handle horses and practical hands on experience working with and around these marvelous animals. Getting student and community buy in has been no problem. Nine students are enrolled and the community has been incredibly generous with donations or loans of animals, facilities and expertise. I recently attended a "hands on" session and it was great to see the smiles on everyone's faces from the students to the two certified teachers in the arena, to all the community members who had either brought horses or were just there to lend support.

That the community has an indoor riding facility available just minutes from the school is certainly a plus, but after watching the teachers and students interact with the horses, I have a feeling that where the class is held is secondary to what the class is imparting to everyone involved. One community volunteer commented that it was wonderful to see so many folks utilizing the facility, that the parking lot hadn't seen so much activity in a long time. The level of experience amongst the students ranges from already comfortable in the saddle to raw beginner, but it was quite apparent that both the horses and their riders were appreciative of the exercise.  One student commented that it would be great if all her classes could be taught this way, and the teachers involved  readily admitted that working with kids and horses was a fantastic learning and teaching experience for all.

Equine Studies is an example of innovative practice meeting district and provincial goals for making learning practical, personal and hands on.  Plans are already underway to see if the program can be offered in other schools and centers. Connecting students with animals has certainly met the district's goal of ensuring students are more engaged in their studies, and is just another way that SD 60 is working to make sure that education matters. 

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Contributions Big And Small

Its no accident that SD 60's number one goal is social responsibility. We want all our students to develop into good citizens, willing to contribute and give back to their community to help build a better future for all. Its great when community partners model that same spirit by making contributions to the district that work for the benefit of our students. Such contributions come in all sizes, and all are welcomed.

For example, Moose FM has for the past two years contributed towards the establishment of a scholarship to support students hoping to follow a career in music or the performing arts. Our local country radio station 100.1 Moose FM is a keen supporter of local music and as such has also been a supporter of the district band program. Their example is just one of the many different ways that local businesses contribute to enhancing programs at our community schools.

On a slightly larger scale, the district was recently pleased to accept a donation of over $74,000 earmarked for refreshing the district's shop equipment from Project Shop Class, an initiative of the Construction  Foundation of British Columbia. Generously supported by corporate partners such as Shell Canada, Project Shop Class is an effort to help enhance the training experience offered in middle and secondary school shop classes. The funds will be used to purchase new equipment for shops across the district, benefiting hundreds of students. The assistance is timely, and right in line with the provincial government's Skills for Jobs Blueprint that recently saw the job fair program Find Your Fit come to Fort St John.

Our district motto is "Together We Learn". Whether its a local business making a contribution to promote programs in music and performing arts, or large corporate partners helping to bring upgrades to shop programs that will promote careers in the trades, its important that we all work together in enhancing learning opportunities for students. Making positive contributions to our communities models social responsibility, demonstrates good corporate citizenship and helps our students gain skills they can use to succeed in life.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Its Great To Be Back

School has been back in session for about a month now, and I have to say - its great to be back. With new agreements in place, everyone can get back to education matters. Start up may have come later than many had hoped for, but when it came, everyone returned with the energy and enthusiasm our district is known for.  

I had the good fortune to participate in the welcome back pancake breakfast at CM Finch, and it was wonderful to see the genuine care rekindling positive relationships between the school and its community. The food prep team at Finch whipped up a steady flow of pancakes, helping to start off many people's year with smiles and full tummies. Similar events took place at many other district schools as well, demonstrating an eagerness from all, to get off to a great start.

Also welcome was the return of district extra curricular sports. The fall school soccer season has never been a long one, and getting off to a late start might have deterred some from playing any soccer at this year. Instead, staff, students and administrators swung into action and staged a successful tournament that served as a great kickoff to the elementary sports year. Cross country running has also returned. A little too slow to keep up as a runner these days, I've been able to help out the cross country events serving as the bike riding " rabbit",  leading runners around the course, and the  slowing cruising "drag-in" circling after the last runners, ensuring the course is clear and that the last runners have finished. Both the speed of the front runners and the determination of those who finish further back have been inspiring!

Its not just on the playing fields that things are getting back to normal. All across the district staff and students have returned to classrooms eager to participate in learning. Having just returned off the Thanksgiving break, I think we are all thankful to be back doing good work together. With so much happening across the district it has been difficult to find the time to write about them. Getting back to Education Matters feels good, and I look forward to again providing regular posts and updates. 

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Project Heavy Duty Revisited

This week Project Heavy Duty celebrated its 12th year of giving selected secondary students the opportunity to learn about, and actually operate, many kinds of heavy equipment. Under the close supervision of qualified instructors and operators, students received five days of hands-on training with such equipment as crawler/dozers, excavators, graders, rock trucks and a variety of logging equipment as they performed industry standard jobs on a real work site.

Over the years many local contractors, businesses and other agencies have been generous in supplying equipment, operators, facilities, fuel, food, first aid, security, communications equipment and the 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 in May. Students selected for the project do not attend regular classes, but report for field work during that time.  

Safety is a top concern for 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 working 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 to experience a 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 continues to step up every year. His dedicated efforts and vast experience are appreciated by everyone. Heavy Duty has become a family project for the Goodbuns, as  sons Trent and Tyrell, former SD60 students, are now two of the operators working with our current students.

Project Heavy Duty is a great example of how SD 60 works to make learning relevant and important for everyone. Its curious that the benefits and learning outcomes from projects such as this one don't get the same level of recognition in school ranking processes as other more formal assessments or government exams. Certainly the students recognize the benefits. Many of them cite the week as some of the best learning they've ever had. From the organizers, to the sponsors, to the students, to our community partners, Project Heavy Duty is an opportunity where everyone comes away enriched.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Bike To Work Week - Time to Get Re - cycling!

May 26 - June 1st is Bike to Work Week in BC. As outlined at  their website Bike to WorkWeek is organized by Canada Bikes in partnership with independent cycling leaders, organizations and government representatives, and begins on Monday, May 26th in different locations across the country. Bike to Work Week is about bringing together cyclists, cycling organizations and members of all three levels of government to highlight the importance of cycling development in Canada as a healthy, environmentally and economically friendly form of physical activity and transportation. And once you've started with a first day, it gets easier to bike the rest of the week!

Biking to work can a bit tricky in the North Peace. Given our extended winters, the propensity for works crew to throw lots of gravel down to battle ice and the number of large trucks that share our roads, riding any kind of cycle can be an adventure. Personally I prefer two wheels to four at this time of year, and ride my Honda scooter to work on a regular basis. Turning in my motorized transport for pedals requires planning and some determination. I would need to categorize my pedal bike more of a try - cycle, seeing as when I'm biking I've got two tires beneath me, and a spare one that seems to have developed around my middle.

Certainly cycling is worth the effort. The website Bike Radar lists 30 reasons for taking up cycling. They range from the obvious environmental  benefit to improved physical fitness and wellness, through to less obvious factors such as the ways cycling can boost creativity, actually decrease one's exposure to pollution and improve one's mood.  On the other side of the coin those opposed to cycling to work list time constraints, weather, a need to go elsewhere before or after work or school,  parking availability; parking costs, safety from traffic and crime, and the terrain they have to traverse as major obstacles to regular cycling.

One of the biggest obstacles to riding to work may be that many of us are just  plain out of practice. Bike to Work Week provides some incentive and the opportunity to put aside the negatives, and get back on two wheels. So long as you do it safely, wear a helmet and and stay aware of your surroundings, biking to work this week might be a refreshing and invigorating change.  Energizing one's mind, helping the environment and getting some much needed exercise can help everyone bring a sharper focus to education matters.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Learning and Commitment - A Winning Combination

This month SD 60 students showed, yet again, that they are amongst the best in all of Canada when it comes to demonstrating commitment to learning. Whether in the areas of careers, specialized science projects, or energy education and awareness, our students have consistently proven that they are some of the best anywhere.

On May 7th representatives of local business and industry, district staff, teachers, students and families gathered in the North Peace Secondary School cafeteria to celebrate the annual Sponsor and SSA Scholarship recognition banquet. Over 100 persons attended to celebrate as thousands of dollars in scholarship funds were distributed to deserving winners. To be eligible for SSA Scholarships, ITA registered youth apprentices must graduate with a Grade 12 Dogwood Diploma or Adult Dogwood Diploma, successfully complete SSA 11A, SSA 11B, SSA 12A and SSA 12B, maintain a C+ average or better on  all their Grade 12 numbered courses, and report a minimum of 900 hours to the ITA within six months of secondary school graduation.  Students were honored for their work in such diverse trades as construction, hair dressing, and electrical.  

The Spectra Energy Endowment Fund provides scholarships and bursaries to recognize the accomplishments and provide financial help to northeast BC students participating in a Northern Opportunities dual credit program and/or apprenticeship. Approximately $43,000 – $45,000 is available annually to be distributed through the Northern Opportunities Student Awards Program. While much of the rest of the province is just becoming aware of the potential of careers education, SD 60 has been excelling at it for years,

May 15th saw five of our district's students participating in the Canada Wide Science Fair held in Windsor, Ontario after qualifying for nationals at regionals. Few districts can match the achievement of sending five students ranging in age from grade seven through 12 to nationals. That four of the five brought home medals for their effort, including one gold is a tribute both to the efforts of the students and of their teachers and families for supporting them. SD 60 has a tradition of sending strong performers to Canada Wide and even International Science Fair, and with the support we have from the dedicated members of the district science fair committee, it seems that tradition will continue.

Its a great accomplishment when individual students achieve success. Its even better when a whole school collaborates to win a national contest together - not just once, but three years in a row! On May 16 Canadian Geographic announced that Duncan Cran had won its Classroom Energy Diet contest for the third straight year out performing over a thousand other schools from all across Canada. The Classroom Energy Diet Challenge is a competition among Canadian classes from kindergarten to Grade 12 that aims to increase energy awareness among youth and educators. To successfully defend their title for the second straight year Duncan Cran was able to muster 100% participation from all students and classes.

Having students recognized either individually or as part of a greater team effort is a source of tremendous pride both for them and their families and for the district as we work to ensure our students are provided with the best education possible. While some agencies might point out the challenges that come with growing up in a small northern community, we would rather celebrate the accomplishments of our schools and students and recognize just how well our students stack up when compared with others. SD 60 has long said that we want our students to be amongst the best in, and for, the world. Results like the ones described above show we are continuing to make good on that promise.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Banding Together - The Benefits Of Music Education

This week the district band program hosted its spring concert. A packed house at the North Peace Cultural Center listened as each of the district's four band goups; beginner, grade 7, Junior Concert Band and Senior Concert Band played a medley of well crafted and enjoyable selections. At one point in the program the junior band were joined by members of the community Northwinds band group with the result producing some of the most impressive music of the evening.

That the numbers of students taking band remains strong is a tribute to the energy and dedication shown by the program's four teacher conductors. They are a diverse group ranging in experience from program coordinator Sandra Gunn, who has been with the program for well over a decade, to Mr. Price who is well established at NPSS, to Mr. and Mrs. Brooks, who are relatively new in the district. All of them bring a sincere passion for music education to their efforts, and their dedication is clearly reflected in the fond regard that many students express about their band experiences.  Not only are student numbers strong, but the quality of performance is also high, with this year's Concert Band being recommended on the strength of their festival performances, to participate in Musicfest Canada, a national graded music competition held in the lower mainland later this month.

Too often band and fine arts programs find themselves on the chopping block when districts look at budget cuts. SD 60 has been, and will remain, committed to supporting the arts. There are many benefits to music education. Visit the Victoria Conservatory of Music's website and you will find a dozen great reason for supporting band and similar programs. As the conservatory points out, band encourages creativity but also demonstrates the value of craftmanship. It emphasizes the benefits of practice and diligence and teaches children to face their fears and take some risks. Playing before an audience, or just for personal enjoyment can help students find their own means of self expression, build self esteem and enhance their sense of personal efficacy. 

Creativity, teamwork and finding one's place in the world are all valuable 21st Century skills. Aside from other benefits, this week's concert demonstrated that being in band can be just plain fun. The smiles I saw on the faces of parents, teachers and students proves the district's band program  is clearly hitting all the right notes and proves that learning can be both fun and entertaining for those who take the time to play and listen. 

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Putting Your Trust In Trustees

Last week I had an opportunity to attend the annual general meeting of the BC School Trustees Association (BCSTA) in the company of five of our district's trustees. One of the hi-lites of the meeting was watching Trustee Ida Campbell, of the District of Taylor, be honored for her 21 years of service as a trustee. That's seven terms of office! Trustee and board chair Jaret Thompson was recognized at the same ceremony for completing 6 years as a trustee. SD 60 is fortunate to have such dedicated and long serving trustees. For her long service Trustee Campbell was made a lifetime member of the BCSTA. Trustee Heather Hannaford was similarly honored a few years ago and continues to sit on the board. Trustee Linda Stringer has also served multiple terms on the board

School Board trustees are elected officials. Long service is indicative of both a willingness to serve and of an ability to earn the public's trust.  What do trustees do? The BCSTA website describes the role of trustees as follows:

"Trustees engage their communities in building and maintaining a school system that reflects local priorities, values and expectations. School trustees listen to their communities; guide the work of their school district; and set plans, policies and the annual budget. Reflecting the strength of local representation, boards report back to their communities on how students are doing: boards are directly accountable to the people they serve.

British Columbia is a large province with many communities, each having different priorities, needs and unique educational requirements. British Columbians elect their 60 boards of education to improve student achievement according to the diverse needs of these communities. As locally elected representatives, the trustees on these boards best understand their respective communities’ particular strengths, challenges and demands."

As Superintendent I get to work closely with trustees. In addition to their governance role they both challenge and encourage all district employees to provide a quality education experience to all students. As fortunate as this district is to have dedicated and long serving trustees, all good things do eventually come to an end. This fall will bring new elections and possibly significant changes to the make up of the board.  Some trustees may be moving on to new challenges, and its the nature of elected offices that contested seats can always see change via the ballot box. Rather than see elections as a challenge, our sitting trustees encourage and welcome other interested citizens to get involved with governance. While continuity of service and board stability have their advantages, renewal and continued civic involvement are the lifeblood of elected institutions. Anyone interested in learning more about the role and duties of trustees is encouraged to attend a school board meeting, contact a sitting trustee or check out the BCSTA website. Who knows - it may be the first step to a new and lasting involvement in education matters!

Monday, 21 April 2014

P's and Q's about Job Action

Most parents are aware that negotiations between the BC Teacher's Federation and the provincial government are not progressing quickly.  Last Thursday, the Teacher's Federation served 72 hour strike notice and announced that Phase 1 of their job action will begin on Wednesday, April 23rd. This phase of job action should have limited impact on students. Schools will remain open and teachers will continue to be available for instruction. What teachers won't be doing is attending meetings with administrators, or participating in regular playground supervision beyond levels mandated by an Essential Services Order.

For schools located in and close to Fort St John, this means administrators and district exempt staff will be supervising schools and playgrounds at breaks. Parents can assist administration by ensuring that they minimize the amount of time students spend at schools before and after the hours of instruction. Your assistance in having students arrive just prior to the commencement of classes and leave promptly after dismissal, is greatly appreciated. Rural schools and those located further from town will continue to be safely supervised with teachers assisting as per the terms of an Essential Service Order.

Negotiations between teachers and the province have a long and rocky history. Like all disputes this one too will be settled eventually. Your patience and proactive approach to the circumstances will help determine how well we all weather this challenging time. Job action is designed to increase pressure at the bargaining table. No doubt, as administrators pick up other duties deemed to be struck work, there will be an impact on the system. Some activities may need to be postponed, rescheduled or put off to another time. The ability to maintain a positive outlook may be increasingly challenged, but patience is always be appreciated. Any major announcements, changes or developments will be made known through local media, the district website and other forms of social media.

Regardless of where they stand in the current dispute, all SD 60 staff remain committed to providing our communities with the best education possible. Hopefully a fair and lasting settlement will be found soon, and we will all be able to concentrate on learning and education matters.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Spring into Wellness - April Campaigns

April is here, and is finally delivering the warmer temperatures needed to cause the gurgling run off that really marks the start of a northern spring.  Spring's return also brings with it a couple  important health and wellness initiatives.

 April 7th is World Health Day. This year's theme deals with vector carried diseases. Math and physics students might be familiar with vectors as a way of determining the position of a point in space, but in health terms, a vector is an organism, usually a biting insect or tick, that spreads disease. The campaign is timely as spring thaws inevitably bring the standing water that breeds another harbinger of spring - mosquitoes! In Canada we are fortunate that insect bites are usually no more than an irritating and sometimes painful nuisance, but for more than 40% of the world's population, an insect bite can lead to more serious diseases such as malaria, dengue fever or yellow fever. Closer to home, ticks can cause Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Fortunately, as we all get outside more and more, precautions can be taken to limit contact with biting pests. Appropriate clothing, judicious use of repellents, and careful, prompt and appropriate medical attention to bites that do occur, can help us all enjoy getting outside.

April also brings the Canadian Cancer Society's Daffodil Campaign. Current statistics show the number of new cancer cases rising steadily as our population grows and ages.  Almost half of Canadians are expected to be affected by cancer in their lifetimes, and the disease remains a leading cause of death in Canada. Last year, an estimated 187,000 new cases were diagnosed and 75,500 Canadians died. SD 60 students at several schools have volunteered to assist with this year's campaign, by contributing paper daffodils for the society to distribute in locations where actual daffodils are not permitted. Community members can donate to the Society in many different ways including buying and wearing daffodil pins, donating online or when a Society canvasser comes to your door, participating in a Relay For Life event or by sponsoring a Relay participant.

Donations during Daffodil Month help fund cancer research, to provide information and deliver programs and services to prevent cancer, to support people living with cancer and their families and caregivers, and to advocate on behalf of Canadians on important health and cancer issues.
Persons interested in learning more about this campaign can go to

SD 60 is committed to supporting and promoting social responsibility. As our long northern winter gives way to spring, giving consideration to campaigns that ensure we all enjoy the new season in good health is both socially responsible and something we can feel good about. Whether its learning about health initiatives from around the world, across the country or within our own community, good health matters to everyone.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Why Breaking's Not Bad!

Its Spring Break, and for the next two weeks, our schools are closed. Living in a northern district we can't really count on the weather being particularly "spring like" in mid to late March, but the benefits of down time and slowing the pace far outweigh any negativity or grumbling generated by not knowing whether gumboots, snow pants or sunscreen will be required on any given day.  I've never been a calendar watcher, or one who anxiously counts down the days to the next holiday break, but I do believe in a healthy work life balance, and the benefits of slowing down and having a good break from work are undeniable.

The Australian website Health.ninemsn provides a good  summary of the benefits of a good holiday. Regaining fitness, perspective and health rank high on their list. Getting more rest, reconnecting with friends and family, and just generally slowing down make us all just a little nicer to be around. Many of my colleagues are taking advantage of the extended holiday to travel to destination holidays or to see family who live far away. While holiday travel comes with its own set of stresses, having enough time to make, and enjoy, the trip is a definite plus.

The benefits of slowing down need not be restricted to just certain times of the year.  The Positivity Blog outlines benefits of working some slow into daily routines. Weight loss and stress reduction are two such benefits, as reducing the hectic pace at which we work, and taking the time to eat slowly are steps in the right direction. For those who would argue they don't have the time, experts point out that slowing down and taking time to do a job well actually improves productivity, creativity and job satisfaction.

Being efficient and effective and doing more with less have become such ever present demands in daily life that some people actually feel guilty about taking time off.  Its ironic to note that the answer to improving productivity, creativity and worker satisfaction may not actually lie in working longer and harder, but in slowing down and enjoying our breaks. Here's hoping this Spring Break, regardless of where and how you spend it, is a good one!

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

In Search of Enlightenment

This week I'm pleased to run an item by guest blogger teacher, Elaine McEachern. Elaine works at Ecole Central Elementary as a Learning Assistance teacher. Recently she has helped spearhead an exciting hands on learning opportunity for the district's Gifted program. Here's her story:
The stakeholders in 21st Century Learning are Community, Family and Schools.  Perhaps you were part of the Today & Tomorrow conversations in 2008, where participants from those 3 groups discussed education for Today and Tomorrow.  

One of the key themes from those conversations was that education should be meaningful, engaging and not necessarily constrained by the "traditional classroom."  A variation on that theme is "Problem Based Learning;" a student-centered pedagogy in which students learn about a subject through the experience of problem solving.

Fast forward to 2012. Dr. Joyce McBeth, a Fort St. John girl, now working for Canadian Light Source (CLS).  (What is CLS? Mentally picture Sheldon & "The  Big Bang Theory.  CLS is a research facility with an artificial light source called a particle accelerator.)  Joyce was raised on a farm next to the Newalta Storage Tank Facility; her mother was a teacher.  Like the rest of us in the Energetic City, the dynamic interconnectedness between education, the oil/gas community and family was at play.  

Joyce and I played in the dirt together as kids.  When she joined CLS, she discovered that they have an educational outreach program called, "Students on the Beamline (SotB)." Upon discovering this, she immediately called me and asked me to connect her with FSJ students.  Now I'm a non-enrolling teacher these days, but I figure, where there's a will, there's a way.

Enter Joe Umanetz and his cohort of gifted students.  I approached him and asked if he'd be interested in taking a small herd of students to CLS to research with Canada's finest.  Naturally, he was interested, as were his students.

Fast forward again to this winter.  Joe and I went to CLS & got our Beamline Users training.  (For the record, hanging around a bunch of nuclear physicists and PhD researchers is humbling.)  CLS told us, "If you want to do a SotB project, then the research question and all aspects of the research must be 100% owned by the students.  Teachers may be guides on the side, connecting students to resources, but they may not influence, collect samples or otherwise partake in the actual research."

We came back to Fort St John and told the kids the news.  They came up with this very real life research problem regarding frac water:

"We will be working with Encana energy and Canadian Light Source to investigate frac water.  The proposed frac project is an experiment to study changes in the composition of produced frac water after it has been “recycled.” Using samples and expertise from Encana sites around Fort St. John, we will [examine] pre-frac water and samples of frac water that has been used in successive frac operations.  
"Fracking is a very important topic in our society and the positives and negatives are highly debated.  We feel that [researching] this area of the oil and gas industry is important."

And so we began the dance between our fabulous sponsors: Encana, Progress Energy, Canbriam, Probe Corrosion Services, Canadian Light Source and School District 60.  We went to Encana and toured a frac site.  We booked Progress to come and speak with us.  We talked about the nature of our Beautiful BC and our Resource Based Energetic City.  We tried to find objective information on fracking. We tapped our social networks: Husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, friends; to learn more about fracking.

I quietly ponder our SD60 emblem - a drop of water containing an oil derrick atop a wheat field in front of beautiful forests. 

I contemplate these students, raised by families, taught by teachers, embraced by community and encouraged by all to be the best in and for the world.  

These students are trusted not to form opinions, but to search for truth and to re-imagine what is.

And I smile. If ever there was a community perfectly suited to this endeavour, it's these students and this community.  

Stay tuned as they look at the practices of today and contemplate the practices of tomorrow.  

Saturday, 8 March 2014

21st Century Learners - What Do They Want? What Do They Need?

This week I received a couple of student requests to speak on what I saw as important learning outcomes for 21st century students. The first request came via email from a very agitated grade 10 student who was not happy about how her year was progressing. The other came via our district's Student Voice group, who politely asked if I might attend one of their forums as a guest speaker. While the motivation for each contact was different, both requests dealt with the same topic - what did I see as the most important things students should be learning and getting from their education?

 The question intrigued me. Educators are quick to concentrate on achievement measures like exam scores and pass rates, but what these students are really talking about are personal competencies. "We're just not buying what your selling" the first student told me.  I turned the question back on her, asking "what is it that you're after then?"  I've since asked a number of other students the same question. The responses are informative and telling. Nobody comes back requesting more of a specific curricular subject. Instead, students want to learn about things that they feel they truly need, or that will help them succeed in life.

Such skills include basic and personal management, such as the ability to schedule and budget time and resources, and the ability to organize, manage and complete household tasks such as cooking, cleaning and laundry. Money management skills, including recognizing the need to earn, save, budget and appropriately redistribute wealth far outweigh requests for more math courses. Students want to learn how to set and attain goals,  and how to work towards them. Though not mentioned as often, perhaps because of the optimism of youth, how to constructively and resiliently deal with set backs would seem to to be equally important, but that might just be the old school teacher in me pitching in.

Dr Tony Wagner, of Harvard University's Change Leadership Group suggests seven skills that students need for their future.  Wagner's list includes critical thinking, collaboration, adaptability, creativity, initiative, the ability to access and use information and good communication skills. Its not too much of a stretch to see what students say they want fits inside what experts say they need. The challenge for educators is to find ways to engage students AND get them to work as active partners in their learning. We need to determine if "what we are selling" is still the right stuff, and when it is, how to package it in a manner so compelling that students will see it as something they want, need and are willing to work hard to attain. Students want to learn and teachers love to teach - matching these desires around meaningful learning outcomes will always demonstrate that education matters.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Texting in a Dangerous time - The Value of Digital Citizenship

Recent headlines suggest that sexting - the practice of young people sending pictures of themselves or others in sexual or compromised positions - is on the rise. Media reports from Victoria, Kamloops and even Fort St John suggest the problem is a growing and spreading quickly. Its not really news that young people sometimes make mistakes. Learning to make good decisions and dealing with the consequences of poor ones has always been part of growing up, and its the very rare adult who doesn't shudder at the memory of something dumb they did when they were young. However, today, with advances in smart phone and social media technology, mistakes can be both recorded and distributed with a speed and permanence that leaves very little room for recovery, and considerable opportunity for a lifetime of pain and regret.

It has never been more important for parents and adults to teach and demonstrate good citizenship, digital or otherwise. Spiderman's axiom "with great power comes great responsibility" certainly applies to the use of technology. The problem is, technology has become so available and user friendly that it just doesn't seem that remarkably powerful or controversial any more. Taking pictures, posting them to the web, and sharing information with friends comes naturally to today's teens. What doesn't come so easily is consideration of the consequences some posts may have down the road.

Teaching impulse control to children will always be a challenge. In a recent article in Psychology Today Dr. Jeffry Bernstein offers strategies such as encouraging children and teens to think, "How I will feel afterward (after receiving the consequences of my actions)?" He also urges parents to teach teens that what feels good to do in the moment, might not be good for a person or others later on. Thinking about how one's actions impact others and growing a greater sense of empathy take on new importance when a few ill considered keystrokes can permanently ruin a reputation or land someone before the courts.

Teaching digital citizenship is even more urgent. Dr. Mike Ribble of presents 9 themes for adults to consider and discuss ranging from defining digital citizenship through to an examination of key sections of digital law. Ribble's framework is designed to make the subject less overwhelming and more accessible for parents, teachers and students. There is a tendency, even amongst people who access technology every day, to believe that the topic is too big, changing too quickly or simply too complex for anyone, let alone children, to really understand. However, what one doesn't know can hurt them, as young people all across the province have been finding out.

Social responsibility in the 21st century includes the responsibility to understand and use technology carefully, and with consideration for others. Teaching and modelling strategies of impulse control and appropriate use of social media is a responsibility we all share. Helping young people grow into informed and considerate adults has long been a goal of education. Doing so in an increasingly digital world may be daunting but its a challenge we need to take on.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

The Power of Penguins 5.0

This week I'm updating and repeating a post I've run before about the power of penguins!

As superintendent, I don't get to visit classrooms as often as I'd like.  However, about this time every year I start getting requests to come visit classes. The secret behind my seasonal popularity is penguins! For several years my wife and I have journeyed deep into the southern hemisphere to see penguins in their native habitat; first to the Antarctic south of Argentina, then to the sub-antarctic islands of New Zealand and finally to the windswept Falkland Islands.  Each tour made certain participants took only pictures and left very few footprints. As a result, I now have well over 2000 pictures of nine different species of penguins.

The popularity of penguins is universal. The penguin unit is already a favourite with Kindergarten and primary classes. There's just something about the stubby little flightless birds that makes folks smile. Whether its their sharp black and white attire, their awkward walk, their apparently fearless and curious natures, or their fluid grace in the water, nearly everyone holds penguins in high regard. Penguin resources abound. Teachers Corner and Penguin Science are just two of many amazing and rich web resources available.

Popular culture embraces penguins too. Movies like "Happy Feet", and documentaries like "March of the Penguins" or the BBC's Lonely Planet, are great box office hits. As far back as Disney's "Mary Poppins" or as recently as the "Penguins of Madagascar" animated penguins continue to amuse. The venerable "Mr. Popper's Penguins" (now a live action motion picture), first published in 1938, is still being read by and to students.

When district teachers heard I was a live "penguin person",  requests started coming. My teaching experience is mostly in secondary English, so facing groups of up to 40 primary students can be a bit unnerving. What if I bored them? What if my pictures didn't interest them? Its a bit of a risk as Superintendent to put yourself out there and then be a flop! 

The good news - my presentations go very well. I continue to get requests. And the kids are great. I've refined my lessons based on the feedback the students (and their teachers) give me. Sometimes rather than just show pictures and talk,  we learn to walk like penguins. We've made and enjoyed penguin cookies and we explored "action research" on such probing questions as "do penguins have knees?" and "could polar bears and penguins ever meet?" Students do penguin art and consider penguin adaptations to snow, ice and water. My vocalization of the call of the Magellenic penguin is apparently quite entertaining! (you can listen to the real thing at Most of all, we have fun while learning. When I go back to schools after speaking on penguins students may not always remember my name, or that I'm the superintendent, but they do remember "the penguin man" and they are excited to tell me new things they've learned. Their teachers do a great job exciting them about penguins both before, and after my visits.

So I say, "more power to the penguins!". Any animal that can get me out of the office and sharing with students must have special powers. I'm already looking forward to going south again so I'll have new information to share in the future. (Students and classes interested in adopting a penguin should check out the site at this Adopt a penguin! link). Normally, I find business attire a bit restrictive but now, I look forward donning my black and white "penguin suit". I just wish I wasn't quite so well shaped to play the part!.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Making A Positive Difference - A Teacher's Legacy Revisited

Over the past few months our community has sadly said goodbye and observed the passing of several teachers. Such events are often bitter sweet, marked with sadness for the loss of community members sometimes taken too soon, but also with fond memories of who the person was, the lives they touched, and the tremendous contributions they made in the service of others.  For those who work with young people, leaving a legacy is inevitable, and as evidenced at recent memorial services, many make a tremendous positive difference. Having written on this theme before, I think its timely to revisit this topic in recognition of the educators who recently left us.

Henry Adams, an American historian and academic once stated that "A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops."  Because of this fact,  the best teachers consistently bring  enthusiasm and passion for learning to the classroom. Students respond to, and feed off the energy and attitude of the adults they encounter. This response becomes even more important as students reach the upper grades.   

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi  in his book Talented Teenagers: The Roots of Success and Failure notes: "children are often singularly uninspired by the lives of most of the adults they know. They quickly note adults who are not interested in their jobs. They spend long hours in drudgery for the sake of earning a living, and wait for their weekend free time, which is in turn filled with activities that are passive, uninteresting and fleeting. The majority of teens worry about this situation... and wonder how they can avoid a similar fate"

 Csikszentmihalyi further suggests that it is little wonder that students are captivated by examples of star athletes and entertainers who seem to enjoy what they are doing and achieve fame and fortune along the way. What is more surprising is the ability of many teachers to find a permanent place in students' memories.
What intrigues students about these teachers is their enthusiasm for subjects that seemed boring and purposeless in other classes. Memorable teachers challenge students to expect more than just recognition or a paycheck from the work they choose". 

 Students remember best those teachers who model commitment and enthusiasm, who seem to genuinely care for and about students, and who genuinely like what they do and who they work with.  These teachers leave a real legacy as role models colleagues and friends. While the odds of most children to grow up to be rockstar celebrities are very slim, the existence and influence of great teachers is proof that everyone can grow up to be an interesting and vital adult!

Child pyschologist and educator Haim Ginott  wrote “I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in my classroom. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.”  

How we treat students inevitably shapes the people they become. That's the real legacy of an educator. It's an awesome responsibility and tremendous opportunity. As clearly evidenced in the lives of of those who recently passed on before us, these educators took their responsibilities seriously and we owe it to them, our students and ourselves to draw inspiration from examples of fine lives, well lived, to make the most the opportunities still before us. Doing so both honours them and helps us to make a positive difference.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Whatever the Weather, We're in This Together

We've had a week of wild weather. The deep freeze of winter was interrupted by chinook winds that knocked out power to thousands of homes and either polished road surfaces to slick glassy ice or softened them to the point of developing foot deep car swallowing ruts. The results for schools were that some were closed and others were hard to get to. Adult responses to the week varied.

Most people took the school closures in stride. No power = no school was an easy concept to grasp, even in the instance where a school had no power but much of its neighborhood catchment was powered up. Ground conditions were a different story. Several complaints arrived expressing concern, frustration and anger about icy roads, buses, playgrounds and parking situations around schools. Many of the complaints included the suggestion that providing more space would solve the issue.

These situations underscore a few inconvenient northern truths. Life here includes challenge. The weather is what it is, and we who live here generally adapt, deal and roll with it. We almost accept it as a badge of honor. Our northern resilience and coping attitude is a point of pride. We also live in a time of tremendous technology and convenience, and when circumstances interfere with expectations we want action and results. When roads aren't cleared, when parking is an issue, or playgrounds are slippery, dissatisfaction and frustration quickly follow.

The fact is, nothing can be done to control the weather. When its bad, municipal and school board resources are stretched to react promptly. Whether such efforts are adequate will always be a topic of hot debate. As for traffic around schools, the inconvenient truth is that the buildings were designed to facilitate people, not vehicles, and the time, money, space and manpower needed to clear or expand parking lots is simply not available. For this problem the solution lies in less, not more, for if we can't accommodate the traffic we have, then maybe, just maybe, the solution lies in creating less and/or redirecting traffic to other safer paths. 

Letting students walk, even a few blocks, to their schools seems to be a huge challenge for many families.  Issues of safety, weather, and convenience always arise.  Family routines may be well established and deep rooted. However, if we bring the same resilience and innovation to this issue that we seem to bring to coping with the weather, solutions can be found. Establishing safe drop off zones, erecting clear signage and identifying and enforcing car free bus and walk zones will help ease the congestion and safety issues near entrance ways. Duty schedules can be examined and parent groups mobilized to ensure adequate adult supervision is present. The city does its part in working hard to clear sidewalks around most schools. Everyone would love to be dropped right at the front door, but the benefits of even a few extra steps in terms of lessening traffic congestion, increasing student safety and fitness and role modelling good life habits in terms of fitness and courtesy are tremendous.

There's a northern saying that there's no such thing as too cold, just under dressed. Sending students out in the cold might seem harsh, and no one is advocating that we put children at risk of frostbite or injury, but being prepared with proper seasonal clothing just makes sense, regardless of where or how one is travelling. Getting students to and from school safely is a priority for this district in any season. Hopefully working together we can find solutions that work for everyone.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Under the Weather

One of the unpleasant challenges faced by schools every winter is coping with cold and flu season. Anytime large groups of people are brought together in close proximity for extended periods of time there is a risk that some members of the group will get sick and pass on their illnesses to others. It has always been important for staff and students to take precautions to keep themselves healthy and to defend against infections. With the flu back in the headlines, taking precautions is more important than ever.

The American based Centers for Disease Control (CDC)  offers excellent information and resources for persons looking to protect themselves from colds and flu. Key pieces of advice at their site include:
  • Stay home when you are sick. If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. You will help prevent others from catching your illness. Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.  Throw the tissue away after use and wash your hands. If a tissue is not available, cover your mouth and nose with your sleeve, not your hand.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces or objects. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill.

The decision to stay home seems to be the hardest call to make. Missing work, school or other activities is never convenient, and sick days always seem to come at the absolute worst times. The website offers an excellent checklist of conditions that if present, should lead to someone staying home. These include: diarrhea, vomiting, wet coughs producing mucous or phlegm, thick yellow nasal discharge and significant fever lasting more than 24 hours. Other conditions that may require someone to stay at home include the flu, ringworm, impetigo, pinkeye, head lice or ringworm. Some of these are more unpleasant than others, but all of them require prompt attention in order to effect a quick return to health and to prevent spreading the condition.

No one likes to be sick, but working through an illness can make a person tough to be around. While missing a day may seem difficult or inconvenient, a well placed day away could be just the ticket to a speedy recovery. It may be easier to say than do, but it remains important to take the appropriate measures and to take the longer view when dealing with one's health. So, whether working at staying healthy or at getting well, be sure to be kind to yourself this season.