Reconciling Assessment & Reporting Practices with the New Curriculum in British Columbia

The implementation of the New Curriculum in British Columbia has garnered a lot of attention throughout the world.  Our population is made up of Canadians, immigrants and refugees from many different places, with many different schooling traditions.  In my little school of only 328 students, we have 34 home languages.  Yet what we are doing to prepare our students for the demands of the 21st Century is bringing good results.

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Students are encouraged to ask the key questions laid out so effectively by Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser in The Spirals of Inquiry.

  • Where am I now in my learning?
  • Where am I going next?
  • What do I need to get there?

Suzanne Hoffman, Superintendent, Learning Transformation, Ministry of Education emphasizes the significance of “unveiling the hidden curriculum” by deliberately teaching and assessing core competencies.  Deliberate instruction and reflection of  communication, thinking and personal / social responsibility skills have the power to transform lives of our students (SAHoffman, Nov. 15, 2017).  Mandatory self assessment demonstrates that core competencies are important enough to be measured and help students to learn about themselves as learners, to develop the skills required for collaboration and to supports the creation meaningful goals.

Aside from the students themselves, teachers have the most significant impact on the students in their classrooms.   Teachers in British Columbia have a high level of professionalism.  They  are well educated and have regular access to professional development and opportunities for collaboration.  As John A.C. Hattie aptly states in Visible Learning for Teachers:  Maximizing Impact on Learning ” (2013)  “…those teachers who are students of their own impact, are the teachers who are the most influential in raising students’ achievement.”    By making learning intentions explicit, teachers help their students to learn intended learning outcomes, as well as the strategies of how to learn.   The development of scoring rubrics with students or  a review of criteria prior to assignments or marking, helps students to understand expectations and plan their time.  The challenge for teachers is to determine those strategies and practices that will enable students to ask complex questions, problem solve, work collaboratively and persevere to find answers and discover future possibilities.

In the new curriculum students are given far more responsibility for their own learning.  One rationale is to improve student engagement in school.  Another is to create students who will be able to respond to the demands of the 21st century.  My son works as a designer in Lululemon’s “Whitespace” with engineers, scientists and technologists.  Beyond the frosted glass and carded access, he is researching how clothes impact physical performance and the mental and emotional perception of athletic ability.  The goal is to respond to trends, create markets and tailor sports clothing for 4-10 years down the road.  To our amazement as his parents, the childhood fascination with lego, trials riding, downhill riding, skiing, snowboarding and the construction of death defying jumps were the things that provided some of the rudimentary learning required for the job.  We can’t predict all of the jobs in the future, but the new curriculum sets out to enable students to ask and respond to tough questions and learn through engagement in the things they find fascinating.    Students are now responsible for assuming responsibility for their learning, engaging with peers to learn cooperatively and participating in evaluating their progress.

In the not so distant past, teachers aspired to be a fountain of knowledge and rushed in to speed up the process of answering questions or finishing explanations expeditiously.  Jon Saphier,  recently featured in a Webinar sponsored by Corwin (Nov. 13, 2017), suggested three ways to make learning visible and deeper:  Turn and talk.  Explain. Restate.  In the new Curriculum, we want students to take the time to think about difficult problems, to be comfortable being stuck, to engage in dialogue, to ask peers to explain their thinking, and to persevere until they discover their answers.

 

The shift from summative to formative assessment is necessary to assist students in this new role.  In order for our students to take more responsibility for their learning, they require ongoing feedback embedded in their daily instruction.  The focus is not on one letter grade but movement along a continuum to demonstrate growth in student learning.  The initial response was the development of paper based portfolios that allowed students to self select items to demonstrate learning outcomes.  The accessibility of technology has added several other layers and possibilities with the addition of pictures, videos and attachments with comment.

The Surrey School District has been using FreshGrade for the past four years to facilitate the collection of online portfolios to provide what Sir Ken Robinson calls “a continuous glimpse into each child’s progress that parents and students can share”.  It is one of the possible online applications that BC teachers like for the ease of use by young children and the inclusion of BC Performance standards.  The VSB is currently exploring how Office365 can be used in conjunction with various applications to fascilitate learning, store and showcase student work from entry in Kindergarten to graduation in Grade 12.  All school districts in British Columbia are developing reporting directives for implementation in September 2018 that will mesh with the new curriculum.

 

 

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Reporting has always included the aspect of what students are able to do, the areas that require future attention and the ways of supporting students.  The opportunities introduced by implementation of the new curriculum in British Columbia are the source of many conversations with colleagues, students and parents about how our system in British Columbia can become even better.  Let the learning continue…

Formal assessments continue to play a role in providing feedback about students and  Provincial assessments , National and International assessments provide a snapshot of student performance in key areas and, over time, can help to monitor key outcomes of B.C.’s education system.

From the Ministry of Education Website:

B.C. students participate in three types of large-scale assessment:

  • Classroom Assessment is an integral part of the instructional process and can serve as meaningful sources of information about student learning.
  • Provincial Assessments:
  • National and international assessments measure reading, math and science skills of B.C. students. Various age ranges participate and student achievement levels are compared with other provinces or countries.
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Kids Asking Questions

Inquiry is a natural response of a young child to life.  When my son and daughter were young, I remember the exhaustion of trying to keep them safe in the midst of it.  My son was a bold explorer, scaling rocks to butt heads with young goats in Stanley Park, blazing trails in Mundy Park on his bike and on Grouse Mountain with his snowboard.  My daughter was a fearless follower of her brother’s careful instruction to crawl out of the crib and keep up with her older brother in new adventures everywhere they went.  Clogged drains were explained away as doing Science and our family repertoire of good stories are plentiful and filled with laughter of past and present exploits.  Both kids have emerged into adults who continue to question and explore new pathways to make discoveries.

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My question as a administrator is much the same as when my kids were young.  How can we support children in continuing the habit of asking questions and developing strategies to find the answers to their questions?  I’m not thinking so much of school completion and continuing on to post-secondary, which may be a by-product, but the intrinsic reward that comes with the discovery.  “Eureka!” is always followed by an exclamation point for good reason.  There is an excitement that comes with discovery about something you care about. I want children to maintain the same level of engagement that they enter kindergarten with.  I believe everyone should teach kindergarten at some point, if even for a day.  The questions come hard and fast and “no I won’t answer it for you even if you are pulling on my sweater”.  In kindergarten, the challenge isn’t getting children to ask questions, it is teaching them ways to discover their own their own answers.

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My pathway to discovering the power of inquiry to engage learners was through my own professional development.  Maureen Dockendorf, who has been instrumental in the inclusion of inquiry curriculum in British Columbia, invited me to an inquiry group early on in my career.  Each member in the inquiry group went through the process of defining a question of professional interest, refined it and came up with a plan to discover possibilities.  We were responsible for reporting back to the group so reflection of our learning was an integral part of the process.  The inquiry led me to ask my students about their learning.  It made me a better teacher by creating a high level of engagement and a relationship with students that went beyond interest in their lives to develop relationship and enhance learning.  It helped me to invest in students as learners and helping them to learn strategies to learn throughout their lives.  Yes, lifelong learning has become a buzz word but the essence is developing a population that is interested and invested in their work and their life.

I recently had a group of students in the gym for a Camp Read event.  Yes, reading on floating islands of mats with no shoes on is still exciting.  We chatted about inquiry and I put out a banner for students to record their questions..  These were some of them.

Why is the ocean so full?

Why do people go to school to learn?

What was the first moon landing like?

Why is a slug “nature’s hotdog”?

What are “nature’s french fries”?

Why did the first mushroom decide to grow?

How do plants start?

What was the first food on earth?

Why do birds and bats fly into Ms. Froese’s window that faces north?

Why do dogs chase cats?

Why did the sun start?

How do birds fly?

Why don’t some people respect other people?

Was there outer space before the Big Bang?

How was gravity made?

Why does earth have air but other planets don’t?

Are ghosts real?

How was the first iPad made?

How do we grow?

How come some animals started living like people?

Why are there seasons?

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Finding the answer to each question lends itself to a great opportunity for personal learning.  It is also an opportunity to develop the core competencies and content goals in the New British Columbia Curriculum.  Although the framing and publication of the B.C. curriculum is new, the research and implementation of these practices are not.   Linda Kaser, Judy Halbert and Helen Timperley explain the essence of educational change in British Columbia, Canada with finesse:  “((I)nnovation floats on a sea of inquiry and curiosity is a driver for change.” (2014 CSE – A framework for transforming learning in schools:  Innovation and the spiral of inquiry ).  This is what has enabled British Columbia to emerge as a leader in educational practices and achievement worldwide.

Truth Matters

The truth eventually emerges. Regardless of skillful deceit and the amount of time and manipulation to manufacture the lie.  Sometimes it only takes someone brave enough to champion the truth.  Sometimes the truth is revealed in a series of puzzle pieces over time.  All the time, it requires an audience that is ready to embrace the truth, regardless of the ugly underbelly that may coexist with the lie.

Once the truth emerges, it is sometimes followed by a long period of silence.  A myriad of questions unfold.  Will anyone believe me?  Is it worth the stress of bringing it up?  Should bygones be bygones?  Does the perpetrator of the lie still have the power to make my life miserable? Are the people who were most damaged by the lie still alive?  Does the truth really matter after so much time?  Is the damage irreparable?

The truth may bring up painful memories or challenge the very basis of the life that you have led.  The lie may be fabricated to save face for a poor choice or assume power or undermine a perceived enemy.  The problem is that there is never really a solid basis for lying.  Lies create a power imbalance and fostered the anger of those who know the truth but feel powerless.  With any lie, there is at least one loser. Sometimes it is the person who lives under the injustice of the lie.  Sometimes it is the moral integrity of the liar and those who choose to look away from the truth.  Sometimes it is the physical, emotional and financial damage that results from the perpetuation of the lie.

There was never an upside to removing children from their homes and placing them in church run residential schools.  As a mother, my heart breaks when I consider the pain.  The premise was based on a notion of the cultural supremacy of the people arriving from Europe and the desire for power.  Although Indigenous cultures had existed for thousands of years in Canada, there was an assumption that the people with the weapons and power could decide on the best way for everyone to live or not live.  Residential schools were the fastest, most expedient way “to remove the Indian from the child” – the proclamation of the day and the instrument utilized to attempt to decimate Indigenous culture in Canada.

The process of justification took many the form of several lies, over many years: Indigenous spirituality was not a pathway to God.  European education was superior to learning Indigenous ways of knowing.   Maintaining family ties, culture and language was not best interest of the Indigenous child.  As with most lies, it is in everyone’s best interest to stand on the side of truth.  As Canadians, we demonstrate maturity as a country when we are able to look back in our history and identify poor policy choices and human rights abuses.

Residential schools were an example of how poor policy can be implemented and continued despite  the fact it is fundamentally wrong. Indigenous children removed from their families suffered.  The communities who had no power to stop the removal of their children suffered.  The people perpetuating the lie suffered the fate of any liar.  As a country we failed to move forward with integrity as defenders of social justice.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been profound.  Telling the truth has been embraced as something that matters in our country.  The reconciliation is about people being ready to hear the truth and accept it.  It’s not about accepting blame.  It’s not about living with shame.  It is about the realization that in the earliest years of our history, it  was decided that Canada was better off without embracing the pre-existing Indigenous culture. It was a lie.  The reconciliation comes in recognizing that we are better off with the rich fabric of all the cultures that come together to form Canada.  The hope lives in our ability to listen,  to learn and to move forward together with integrity.

Trump’s USA

It is hard not to reflect on Trump’s U.S.A.   I drove back over the border to Canada and could hardly stifle doing a happy dance.   Is a decidedly different U.S.A. with Trump at the helm.  The promise and hope that accompanied Obama’s election has been obliterated and the despair and fear is palpable.   We entered the United States at the Peace Arch crossing and were promptly subjected to a “random” comprehensive search, along with many other people, most whom did not have white skin or spoke another language.  We were herded along with others receiving various degrees of scrutiny by American officials.  The long lines and indifference to making people wait is apparently here to stay.  Traffic was gridlocked around most cities en route to the Sierra Nevadas along the I-5 and then to L.A. with road work “to serve us better”, too many cars and a lack of infrastructure to provide public transit.

True to our reputation, we are friendly Canadians, and friendly Americans gravitated towards us.  We had fun times with neighbours at the Silver Lake cabin in the Sierra Nevadas.  Shared camaraderie in Ernie’s tackle shop and in the Sierra Inn in June Lake.  Talked “education shop” with a hiker (aka teacher from Oakland) en route to Gem Lake.  Had a blast in the mountains with my older sister’s family as we navigated through our #GrantFire crisis that threatened possible evacuation from our family cabin.  Talked books with the librarian in the Gull Lake Library.  Dashed down to L.A. to visit with more family.  Learned more about my Dad’s life.  Navigated waves in Malibu with our younger nephews.  Had great conversation in the hot tub in Medford.  Yet the news, coffee shop conversations, bumper stickers, billboards and ways people treat each other show a dark underlying current of self-serving interests and unkindness.

One billboard read “REAL” Christians follow the teachings of Jesus.  The love, kindness and a lack of a judgemental stance forming my understanding of Jesus was not the vibe coming off this massive and somewhat threatening sign with the link to “fire and brimstone” rules to follow on the internet or else. The NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People), the civil rights organization formed in 1909, issued the first ever travel advisory and warns of “looming danger” for people of colour traveling through Missouri after Trump’s buddy, Governor Greitens, passed Senate Bill 43 – accurately hailed as a Jim Crow Bill, rolling back human rights and facilitating legal discrimination.  Deadly, race- fueled clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia unfold and Trump is unable to condemn neo-Nazis, skinheads and members of the Ku Klux Klan protesters for their hate propaganda instigating death, racial hatred and mayhem.  People joke and sport bumper stickers saying “Black lives matter to who?’ or disrespect the people who work for them with talk of building a wall or questioning which children are entitled to health care or education.  Trump stickers have dollar signs on either side of his name.  What are the lessons American children are taking from this?  Who do they want to be in the world?  What do they want it to look like.  It is quite telling that the white supremacist group Vanguard America target a university campus to recruit. This seems the polar opposite of the open mindedness and lofy ideals that we expect higher education to inspire.

The basis of the Trump election platform was vilifying “the other” and framing blatant lies as “alternative truth”.  When your quest for power is fueled by racism, misogyny, hate, greed, fear mongering and lies, then that is the basis for your term in office.  For any student of history, this is quite disturbing and comparisons to WWII Germany are not out of line.  Hitler’s speech in the early 1920’s was titled “Why Are We Anti-Semitic?”  People knew exactly who they were voting for and facilitated his actions.  By the end of WWII, 6 million Jews had been killed in Nazi Germany.  This was far too many people to have been killed by the SS.  A population was catalysed to view their Jewish neighbours as sub-human by government leaders with hate discourse, legislation and propaganda.  History has already taught us this lesson.  Our job is to not let history repeat itself.

How we act and what we say defines who we are.  Honesty matters.  Respect matters.  Tolerance is not enough.  Tolerance indicates we are enduring something or someone who is a pain in the neck.  It leaves the “tolerant” one feeling put upon and the recipient of her benevolence feeling embarrassed and insecure. It is true that change and differences and honesty can cause a degree of stress in our lives.  However when we choose to learn from a different perspectives and ways of being, tell the truth, admit mistakes, ask for forgiveness and look for commonalities of our humanity, we open up the opportunity to grow and learn.  When we choose to care about people’s feelings, forgive mistakes and give rather than take, we open our hearts and minds and allow love, respect and reciprocity to be the outcome.  Yes, I’m talking about living in harmony and with generosity towards our families, our neighbours, our fellow citizens and within the global community.  It seems like we should have evolved enough to embrace this by now.

Trump’s latest strategy seems to be uniting the masses by going after an outside target – Kim Jong Un – after all he’s been is a movie and is recognizable by even the uneducated.  It is something we have seen before.  Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction were proven not to exist but the propaganda united Americans to the point that some Americans still believe.  As CIA Director Mike Pompeo has clearly stated, there is no imminent threat from North Korea, in direct contradiction to Trump’s war mongering.  It seems “making America great again,” boils down to waving a big stick.  It feels like haunting foreshadowing of a dark time in global history that we’ll be trying to understand long after the fact.

Many elementary school students will tell you that bullying through violence, humiliation and exclusion is wrong.  They will also tell you that lying to create a reality more to your liking and creating “alternative truths” are both the same thing.  They will be able to explain strategies for solving problems.  They can tell you why the United Nations Universal Declaration of Rights and Freedoms was written and signed in 1959 by so many nations striving to avoid a repeat of past wrongs.  I’m looking forward to going back to school and talking to children about who they want to be in the world and what they want our world to look like.  I want to talk about the ideals of honesty, generosity, integrity and inclusiveness.  It gives me hope.

Fascination with the Brain

Walking along Jericho Beach as a little girl, this piece of wood screamed “brain” to me.  This was long before the fascination with the brain had extended beyond neuroscientists and doctors, to psychologists, to educators, to anyone aging and fearing cognitive decline.  The brain held secrets that were not readily apparent to the naked eye.  It was the also the basis of the best bonding with my neurosurgeon father.

Dr. Peter Dyck is not a man who relished talk of feelings, hopes, dreams, aspirations or divergent opinions.  However he has always been an example of the consummate learner.  He survived war times in Germany.  When he was 12 years old, he was sponsored to come to Canada with his mother and siblings by his uncle in Alberta.  He learned English and excelled in school.  He ended up working on his step-fathers farm in Abbotsford while attending school.  When a cow would die, he did not shed a tear.  He would dissect it behind the barn.   My aunt boiled many a chicken bones so he could reassemble them.  When I would go on rounds with him during summer visits to Los Angeles, the nurses would run when they heard his footsteps.  He was demanding of staff and took patient care very seriously.  Dad became fascinated with the possibility of destroying, rather than removing a brain tumour by using a local anaesthetic and a three dimensional C/T scanner to avoid the trauma of opening the skull.  Radioactive material in a small tube was targeted through a tiny hole in the skull into the centre of the brain tumour.  The concentration used would result in the radioactivity reaching only the tumour cells.  A team was formed including him as the neurosurgeon, Armand Bouzaglou, the radiation oncologist and Livia Bohman, the radiologist, to travel to Germany in 1981 to study the technique for stereotactic isotope implantation with Professor Fritz Mundinger at the University of Freiburg.   This technique was brought back to the USA and his first book about it’s success in avoiding the trauma of a full craniotomy was dedicated to the patients whose hope against overwhelming odds brought about this endeavour.

Not even neuroscientists agree on the inner workings of the brain.  However asking a question and our attitude seem to be the key components informing our brain and resulting in amazing accomplishments and sometimes survival.  Viktor Frankl’s answer to his question, “Why do I need to survive?” allowed him to walk out of Auschwitz and go on to develop his theory of logotherapy, write his influential book, Man’s Search for Meaning, and help many people find a way to cope with the challenges in their lives.   Norman Doidge details many examples of therapies that have allowed the brain to heal in ways that are still outside of mainstream medical practice in The Brain’s Way of Healing:  Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of  Neuroplasticity .  John J. Ratey, MD, in his book SPARK – The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, provides a compelling argument as to why exercise is integral to our ability to cope with stress, learn, as well as maintain good mental and physical health.  The brain is central in all facets of our lives yet understanding how it works is still somewhat elusive.

Educators, such as Eric Jensen started to focus educators’s attention on Teaching with the Brain in Mind  in the 90’s.  Educators are now seriously considering the implications of what neuroplasticity means in the classroom.  Previously held conceptions about the limits of some learners no longer apply, and standardized testing has become one indicator of specific learning strengths and weaknesses, but not an accurate measure of future success.    Perhaps the greatest outcome has been talking to children about how their brain works and how they learn best.   This puts the responsibility and joy learning with the child and allows them to move beyond just looking for a good mark on an assignment.  Giving children the capacity to talk about the connections they are making in their learning and providing numerous opportunities to share their ideas and discoveries, opens up the possibilities to ask new questions and see their peers, teachers and parents as partners in a collaborative process.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Thrill of Change

We hear a lot about the difficulty of change.  The stress of change.  The reluctance of people to change.  However I think change in under-rated.  There is an excitement and a promise of possibility that can also accompany change.  Quite frankly, I love it!   Change is learning.  Every time we venture out of the house, challenge our mind or talk to someone, we are stepping into the possibility of changing our experiences, our feelings, our thoughts or our life path.  Perhaps that is why I like to travel, to read, to write and to talk, yes even ramble, to friends and relatives and even to strangers.


I am on the precipice of a change in job.  I officially start as the principal of University Hill Elementary School on August 1st.  I unofficially started moving in, learning, organizing and exploring at the beginning of July.  I’ve had a chance to get to know the engineering staff, learn about the award winning UHill Kinderclub, School Aged Daycare and Preschool from the amazing staff, walk down the Salish trail and discover an immediate left turn takes you to Wreck Beach (yikes!).  I have figured out how to change the sign with moveable letters at the front of the school and found the cheapest pots big enough to let the amazing plants in the entrance ways continue to flourish.  I have unpacked my still excessive number of boxes of books, manipulatives (yes, I still have the bins of lego and wooden blocks from my own kids) and other treasures (yes, including my rocks).   I am thrilled to have a huge old, oak desk in a huge office with three different views and windows that open.


I had a chance to meet staff, students and parents and heard about amazing outdoor learning programs, arts performances and work around Indigenous ways of knowing and technology in June.    I can’t wait to get to know the people better and to discover the ways I can support them in their work.  Change brings with it the possibility of continuing to grow and develop in ways we have yet to imagine.  Yes, big change = big thrill.  I love it!

Playful People Learn


“Creativity is intelligence having fun.”  A quote from Albert Einstein that I love.  Fun and play are often referenced as activities of the carefree, frivolous and sometimes careless.  Albert Einstein places it exactly where it needs to be.  Front and centre in learning.  In order to play, you are committing to action.  To participate.  To risk the unfamiliar.  To hypothesize.  To imagine possibilities.  To adjust to the unexpected.  To find humour.  To enjoy.  To appreciate.  To communicate.

I was at a conference recently where the speaker was casting aspersions on blanket statements about the merits of play.  He referenced that play needed to take a specific form in order to result in meaningful learning.  I don’t disagree that play can be structured to meet specific learning outcomes.  Teaching kindergarten was very much about structuring play activities to guide children to learn specific skills or develop background knowledge.  Opportunities were designed to encourage children to ask questions and go about finding the answers.  However this is looking at play from a narrow perspective.

A willingness to be playful is a habit that opens up the world.  It presumes a stance in the world that is positive and open to wonder and to other people.  One of the learning teams at my last school would meet on the balcony on Friday after school to drink a pop, debrief the week and chat about the upcoming weekend.  There was always laughter, a litany of responsibilities and plans for play on the weekend with family and friends.  There was a shared belief that those “play” opportunities were an important part of how we experience new things and open ourselves up to getting to know people and come back to school refreshed.

At times I bemoan the fact that middle school students stay late after school to congregate around their handheld devices.  I regularly prompt them to go play outside.  Yet, when I step back, they are collaborating on best strategies to use in the game or mediating turn taking.  When my nephews explained their fascination with the world of Minecraft, I finally came to the realization that higher order thinking skills were at play.  They were engrossed in the possibilities before them.  They were not focussing on the academics preferred by educators but they were learning things that mattered to them.

Roy Lichtenstein – Girl with Ball – 1961
Assuming a playful stance is engaging in structured play activities and more.  It reflects a belief that having sense of curiosity and engagement and wonder and appreciation of successes along the way allows us explore new pathways to learning.  Show me someone who is playful and I’ll show you a learner.  I’ll show you someone who is having fun!

Complexity Theory: Collaboration in Schools

I listened to a great TedTalk today (Zurich, Switzerland 2013) by Nicholas Perony called ” Puppies! Now that I’ve got your attention, complexity theory.”  Perony studies animals to understand how they maintain individualized stable social relationships over long periods of time.  Complex social systems in the animal kingdom are identified and broken down into interacting parts based on simple rules with emergent properties.  He grabs our attention with the picture of puppies pinwheeling around a bowl with the sole purpose of accessing the milk.  The dance is deconstructed to identify the one rule – get the milk.  Bats demonstrate simple association rules that result in complex social structures.  Meerkats teach us about the basis for their complex social hierarchy.  Animals show extraordinary complexity that allows them to adapt and respond.  Simplicity becomes complexity that ultimately emerges as resiliency.

Perony acknowledges that the more complex the machine, the more likely something unexpected will go wrong.  What could be more complex than a school community?  Particularly a school community at the end of the school year.   In days gone by or in strict hierarchical systems, perhaps decision making was easier because one person determined the direction.  Ultimately the stress came from the fact that the decisions didn’t reflect the needs of the diverse elements of the school community.

Perony identifies collaboration as an example of a complex system.   We aspire to a democratic process that best reflects the voices at the table and the needs in the school community.  The first time I participated in an Aboriginal Talking Circle, I was itching with impatience as everyone took the time they needed to express their thoughts.  What I have learned over the years is that I just need to be more patient.  Giving people the opportunity to voice their thoughts and provide the opportunity to participate in the decision making process allows us to all walk together on a common path.  With the end of the school year comes celebrations, reporting, ceremonies, transitions, staffing for the next year and planning for September.  All demand time that is in too short supply and requires collaboration.   If we try to break down collaboration to simple rules, does it increase our resiliency?  I can identify two simple rules that I believe facilitate the longevity of positive collaborative relationships.  1.  Respectfully listen to other people’s ideas.  2.  Be willing to change your mind based on what you’ve heard.

What would are your simple rules be to maintain longevity of positive collaborative relationships?  How do you go about defining them in your decision making structures?

I Believe in You

“I Believe in You!”  This is the mantra of my daughter.  To my chagrin in secondary school, she joined the Cheer Squad at Charles Best Secondary School.  I saw the objectification of women.  She saw the comradarie of the cheer squad and the physical challenge.  It has served her well.  She bought into the importance of encouragement.  As a tiny little girl who only wanted to be with her Mommy, she experienced the encouragement to go out into the world on her own.  In Kindergarten, her teacher nicknamed her Sparky because she brought palpable, positive energy into the classroom every morning.  As a competitive soccer player in school, she witnessed the power of encouragement to impact her performance.  In cheer, she learned why cheerleading came into being.

I worked very hard to interest Larkyn in attending UBC for selfish reasons of my own.  Her quest for adventure and independence, took her off to Queen’s University.  She made a group of friends that negotiated the ups and downs of university life.  Visiting her and her housemates was always refreshing.  The young women who she pulled close to her, were people who demonstrated the same encouraging way of being.  “I believe in you” was often uttered as a young woman with the unbrushed hair in a sock bun emerged from her room with a scowl on her face to take on some assignment or test or interaction that she was not feeling particularly good about.  In this case, “I believe in you” was not a statement assuming success would be the end product.  It was a recognition that her friend was doing something hard.  It was a promise that at the end of the day, success or failure, you were still someone who mattered.

I had an adoring mother who believed I was wonderful and always assumed success in my ventures.  My steadfast determination assured a fair record of successes.  However failure meant not only failing at an intended task, but also disappointing her.  It is something to this day that I experience.  Missing the mark and disappointing the people who really want my success, results in the heavy heart times two.  Perhaps this is residual from being a little girl with blonde ringlets and an over reliance on pleasing.  I do find the “I believe in you”, received and delivered with a smile, has a more positive impact.  It’s like being sent off with a hug of reassurance.  It doesn’t presume an outcome, just the encouragement to “Go for it” and acknowledgement that you’re taking a risk that is hard.

In Grade 3 due to a significant family upheaval, I ended up in a new school after the beginning of the school year.  Peer groups were already established and I was doing poorly on daily timed math drills.  My Mom suggested I talk to the teacher about what I could do to improve.  The teacher told me not to worry about it, I was in the average range.  My take away was that she didn’t believe in me and my belief in me faltered.  It took me until my statistics class in Graduate School to discover I didn’t actually suck at Math.  We have huge power as educators to deflate or inspire.

“I believe in you” is a message that inspires people or at least may help them lighten up.  It isn’t the belief that success is imminent.  It isn’t the belief that failure is an opportunity to teach you an important life lesson.  It’s the statement, “You’re on my team!” and the commitment to cheer for you no matter what!  Unconditional cheering.  Not a bad way to go out into the world and make our mark.  It is a message that I aspire to communicate to my staff, students, friends and family on a regular basis.

Mothers Who Play

For obvious reasons, I am thinking a lot about mothering today.  Mother’s Day tends to do that.  I was fortunate to have a mother whom I adored and provided an amazing model of steadfast love, tenacity and optimism that I have carried with me into my adult life.  I have also had many other woman who have mothered me, including my step-mother, my grandmothers, special aunts, special friends and mothers of my best friends.  They listened to my stories and told me theirs, gave me advice, sometimes solicited and sometimes not so much.  They put on the kettle to solve the problems of the world or drove directly to Baskin-Robbins 31 Flavours.   Yet, what they all had in common was that we laughed together, talked and played a lot.  Conversations and learning were not planned events but came out of hours and hours of time spent together.

When my own kids were very young and I was frustrated in the midst of a messy house in the suburbs, surrounded by laundry, I made my best mothering decision.   The sunshine beaconed but I was nowhere near finishing any of the housework or laundry.  I knew at that moment that I needed to choose.  I was going to clean the house and finish the laundry or we were going to the park.  Going to the ski hill, going hiking or biking, going to the beach, going to the park, going to the library or going in the hot tub won.  The house was messier than aspired for, but I heard the stories my kids were willing to share, fed their interests, laughed and got regular doses of joy.   On the downward slopes on the parenting roller coaster, they provided the promise of better days to come.

I remember reading once that regardless of teacher training methods experienced, teachers often taught in ways that were most familiar to them.  For me the biggest influences on me as a teacher, were the women who mothered me.   Beach time and double solitaire with my Mom.  My Auntie Myrna and her “What’s your story, Morning Glory?”  Knitting, crafting and collecting stuff with Nanny Keenan.  Endless games of Yahtzee and Parcheesi with Grandma Derksen.  Playing cops and robbers with my step mother in the convertible en route to Mayfair Market and annual trips to Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm and the mall. Swimming up and down the pool with Mrs. Patrick debating anything and everything.  These were woman who liked to spend time with me, laughed freely and played with me.  What I brought with me into the classroom was a healthy appreciation of how I learned in environments where I was free to laugh and play with ideas and take more than one kick at the can to get it right.  They also taught me the importance of seizing the opportunity as it presented itself.  I feel so very grateful to the women who have mothered me.  They have helped me to learn the most important things I needed to do as a parent and as a teacher.