Chaos

I watched the film, Capernaum, en route to Taiwan to visit my daughter.  I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.  In the midst of family time, fun, jet-lag, and new discoveries, it has permeated my consciousness.   I had to research the setting to discover that it took place in the slums of Beirut.  The documentary-like film making and apparent authenticity of the actors led me to discover that none of the actors were trained in theatre or film.  I learned that Capernaum means “chaos” in Arabic and what that looks like in Lebanon.  In her research to co-write and direct her film, Nadine Labaki, tells us “I asked the children I spoke to if they were happy to be alive, and for the most part the answer was no.”  As an educator and as a human being, children living with chaos cannot be passively accepted.

One scene of Capernaum frequently comes to mind.  After another hellish day of trying to eek out survival, 12 year old Zain and his younger sister, Sahar, sit looking out at the sunset.  She puts her head on his shoulder and you see the palpable love between the two siblings.  It resonates because it is the almost living of one life that exists between similar aged siblings, often of different genders, that reflects the understanding of all aspects of their shared life.  I saw it with my younger brother and sister.  I see it with my own children.  In both cases, the older brother assumed responsibility for the care of his younger sister.  She reciprocates with ultimate loyalty and devotion.

It makes the film all the more devastating when Zain is unable to protect his sister, loses hope and lashes out.  His despair takes him to a place where he tries to sue his parents, in his words, “(b)ecause I was born.”  There is no evidence of parental love or protection in the story.  There is also no evidence of a society that has embraced the age-old concept that It takes a village to raise a child.

Capernaum also exposes the multi-faceted joy, desperation, hopelessness and kindness of the young woman named Rahil.  She is in Lebanon illegally from Ethiopia.  The cost prohibitive system commands a registration fee beyond her means and puts her in direct line of abuse, by a human trafficker.   She is a pawn in the power struggle of the maker of rules and opportunists, both with no regard for her.  She lives for her young son and he brings her joy.  When you see the little man standing in squalor, crying when a warehouse is raided by police, it is clear that all that child needs at that moment is his mother and a “village” to help her raise him.

In a recent interview, Nadine Labaki, director and co-author of Capernaum, states:      “For me, film-making and activism are one and the same thing.  I really do believe cinema can effect social change.”  In the case of this film, it already has.  The twelve year child who was illiterate and living on the streets in Beirut during filming, is now resettled in Norway and is going to school and learning to read.  The world is less able to close its eyes to life in the Beirut slums and Lebanese prisons.  The whole focus of Amnesty International has been to shine a light on human rights abuses so governments are held responsible for both the laws the make, the rules they enforce and when they choose to look away.

The difference with this film is the integrity of the director and the research.  The focus of the film has not been on box-office statistics, pleasing the crowd or propagandizing for power.  It is a call to action to change our world for the better.  Now more than even, it takes a village to raise a child.  We have the power of a global village that can be mobilized.  Since the 80’s in Canada, we have been teaching children to write about what they know.  As the power of social media and social commentary has grown, we have not kept pace with teaching children how to harness their power to effect change.  Passive acceptance of any stance hands over the power to the person with the agenda. Researching the source, understanding the politics and motivation of the source, triangulation of source material must be taught.  Aldous Huxley warned us about becoming passive receptacles that take in a message and do nothing, in his book 1984.  Our responsibility is to teach how to go after truth and accept you have a role and a responsibility to effect social change to make our world better for all.  Otherwise, we are choosing to live passively with chaos.

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Puzzling Over The Peking Opera

I am not one to miss out.  How could I have never been to The Peking Opera?  I love the arts and have actively aspired to learn more about Chinese cultural traditions since I first taught at the Fuyang Bureau of Education twelve years ago.  At my daughter’s suggestion, I jumped at the chance to buy us tickets to see The Peking National Opera Company in Taipei .  The National Arts Centre is impressive and very fitting for viewing this ‘national treasure’.  We settled into our plush, red velvet seats, ready to be inducted into this art form.

At break time, the women beside us was thrilled that we returned after the break.

“But are you actually enjoying it?” she inquired.  We talked of the obvious strengths and Taiwan’s role in preserving this art form as part of their unique cultural history.

By the end of the performance, the woman beside us had been moved to tears, as had many others in the audience.  People jumped to their feet with a rousing standing ovation for the performers.  My daughter and I looked at each other and cautiously joined in with the polite response of good Canadians.  We clearly understood that we were missing a big part of the picture.

It was easy to appreciate the elaborate costumes and navigate the plot, even though the performance was in Mandarin.  It almost felt like a puppet show with stock characters and stylistic conventions like hand shaking that allow the audience to follow the storyline.  Stock characters that occur across different stories include:

sheng – the gentleman; dan – woman; jing – rough man; chou – clown with the mask

The talented musicians sat in a large box on stage playing traditional instruments like the erhu and allowing the emotion of the story to unfold.  The mime, dance, and acrobatics commanded attention.  The war scenes were a thing of beauty with the complex choreography and perfect timing.  We weren’t sure if the general was dead or imprisoned. If his love came to tell of his release from unjust captivity or visit him in the afterlife?   It didn’t really matter to our overall understanding of honour, strife and resolution.

It was the vocal performance that proved to be the biggest challenge to my daughter and I.  It was so far outside of anything that we had experienced before and defined as beautiful.  Particularly the very valued and extremely high vocal range of the dan was met with reluctance on my daughter’s part and a stifled cringe on my part.  And yet the response of the people around us revealed that we are outside of a big secret.  Something meaningful had transpired and the meaning remained elusive to us.  What is the trick to unlocking the mystery?  What background experiences or knowledge is required to understand the significance and beauty of the performance?

The Beauty of the Monster Within

The black poster with the gothic lettering did not come under my range of awareness until the third morning that I woke up and crept on to the deck waiting for Taipei to wake up.   The garden space has been created on the deck at the top of the 72 stairs and emerges to claim its place in the world of Taipei rooftops.  A haven of plants, birds and secrets.  The black poster asks “What kind of monster have I become”?  It is positioned beside a photo on the beach of a pre-pubescent girl on a beach with a cigarette handing out of her mouth.   The picture does not reflect all that is “sugar and spice and everything nice” but the survival of a young girl who has experienced loss, betrayal and anger.  The image is not one of innocence but of Paradise Lost.

Beyond the protected garden paradise emerges the dichotomy of the old and new of Taiwan.  Tiny green leaves emerge and begin their climb towards the heavens.   Two shiny, stainless steel  water tanks stand over the tenuously placed air conditioning systems and rusting out sheet metal, cracked tile and dirty brickwork.

Two pigeons take their place above a small area of red, clay roof tiles beyond and look down on me.  The bird choice of my not quite related, paternal grandfather brings the warm glow of having been loved unconditionally.  Only some people are able to celebrate the contradictory elements of innocence and respect the quest to emerge beyond mere survival.  He lived dichotomies and he could understand them.

Traffic in the background is a steady, predictable hum.  No blaring horns.  No sirens. No persistent car alarms.  Warbling birds and tiny chirps are different from the plaintive seagull calls and crow scoldings of my usual life, but somehow familiar and calming.  A persistent sweeping of the broom establishes a rhythm.  Exercise for a higher purpose.  Cleanliness.  Godliness.

There is no fengshui in my morning alcove.  It is a creation of the mind where the green astro-turf under the table, the collection of textured, patterned and coloured blankets over comfy couches, butterflied and dragonflied pillows, real and fake plants come together with curios to feed the imagination.  The space is not beyond the possibility of dark, twisty discoveries and fabrications.

On my flight to Taiwan, my viewing pleasure included the movie creation of Mary Shelley’s life.  Many were disbelieving that an eighteen year-old girl could have authored such a book as Frankenstein.  The bigger discovery is that the girl had already experienced such despair, disenfranchisement and had personal knowledge of the monster within by the time she was 18 years old.  The Frankenstein book was made possible by Percy Bysshe Shelley, the poet she loved, her own loving father, a disapproving step-mother and the havoc they wrought with her heart and mind.  Her strength was her ability to name her monster, chew on it and use it to make sense of her life.

The paint bucket with clean white paint drips emerges from a hiding place behind a couch.  The ability to put a fresh face on the less than clean and sparkly.  Imagine the possibility.  Re-created the sense of self you want to project.  Yet, is aware of the monster that lurks beneath the surface that is responsible for teaching us how to be resilient.

Barbie Celebrates International Women’s Day

Barbie, the iconic doll of my childhood, celebrated her 60th birthday this year on March 9th.  This celebration, a day after International Women’s Day, is cause to pause.  This is particularly the case for me.  I was well versed in the world of Barbie long before passionately embracing the quest for gender equity.  International Women’s Year was not declared and the March 8th day celebrated, until 1975.

The 1908 garment strike for better working conditions for women in the United States precipitated the first National Women’s Day in the United States in 1909.  The 1910 Socialist International Meeting in Copenhagen brought the quest for rights for women and suffrage to the international stage.  By 1911, the first International Women’s Day marked the right of women to vote, hold public office, work and participate in vocational training in Austria, Denmark, Switzerland and Germany.  It would take Nellie McClung and her Manitoba suffragists until 1918 to secure the vote for women in Canada and make it clearly understood that “nice women” did want the vote.  Susan B. Anthony would be hard at it, for another two years to secure the right for women to vote in the United States.

My sister had one of the first Barbies.  No bendy legs or moving wrists but a doll that brought the promise of the empowerment of being a grown-up who could make all her own decisions.  She was pretty and had flipped up hair like our mother.  Barbie liked nice outfits, shoes and accessorized, just like our mother, our aunts and our step mother.  Her store-bought clothes were expensive, so my grandmother would design and make clothes with the scraps of material from other sewing projects.  My grandpa made clothes chests for Barbie and Ken from wooden Japanese orange boxes.  My Barbie also had a car, so she was not limited in her travel.  My mother did not learn to drive and get her white, Maverick until the year Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.  I knew a car meant freedom.  Barbie also had a carrying case so I could bring her with me to the park, the beach, houses of cousins, my friends and my father.  Her wide range of clothing allowed her to be dressed appropriately for any activity.

It was not until I went off to university and cut my feminist teeth that Barbie fell out of favour with me.  I baulked at the notion that society had limited expectations that women should look, act, and present in a deferential way or conform to the expectations of others.  By then the slam was no longer that of Manitoba Premier, R.P. Roblin, that “nice women don’t want the vote.”  It was the notion that a woman voicing her opinion was less than desirable.  A man could assert strong opinions and be celebrated as “assertive”.  A woman doing the same thing was labelled with “aggressive”.

As a teacher and a mother, I worried about helping young girls to find their voice and embrace the many opportunities open to them.  I bemoaned when my students wrote Barbie adventure stories, especially when I was framed as the Barbie or her friend.  I refused to buy my daughter a Barbie.  When all she wanted for Christmas was a Barbie, my friends rallied and bought her several “Go, Girl” dolls.  I loved them.  They came with a themed sports outfits and gear, had flat feet and looked athletic.  My daughter politely said thanks for the hiker, the soccer player, and the skier snowboarder dolls.  She was clearly not impressed with these dolls, although she loved participating in all of the activities.  She was thrilled with the one “real” Barbie from the Fashionista line, with long blonde hair and accessories.  She was delighted that my “retro” Barbie collection of clothes and shoes fit her so Barbie could have some variety in her outfits.

As generations of Barbies have emerged, so have the varieties of skin colours, abilities, and interests reflected.  There is the notion that little girls need to see themselves reflected in the doll.  I don’t refute this.  However, my experience is that of my daughter’s selection of “the doll” makes me wonder.  I mean the special doll that takes a significance beyond all others.  This is the doll elevated to a position of human status.  The doll that is cared about, nurtured and even her feelings worried about.  For my daughter, this was Ruby.  I even feel somewhat guilty referring to her in the past tense.  She was an ever-present member of the family who biked the Kettle Valley Railway with us, travelled to through Italy with us, saved our son from a concussion when he fell from the top bunk, and attended weddings with us.   Ruby is a Cabbage Patch doll with black skin, short curly hair and brown eyes.  The minute my daughter saw her in my friend’s garage, it was clear she was the one.  My friend, Jan, saw it immediately and gave her the doll.  At that time, Cabbage Patch dolls had seen their day. My fair skin daughter with long blonde hair and blue eyes did not see herself in the doll.  Yet, Ruby was the one who allowed learning that my daughter was ready to embraced.  She is the one doll that continues to reside in my cedar chest because she is too treasured to part with.

For me, I didn’t want a Barbie that looked like me.  I wanted a Barbie who could go out dancing, drive a car, wear nice clothes, walk-in grown-up shoes, and make her own decisions.  My frustration with the pace of my physical development wasn’t an issue with looking like Barbie.  It was an issue with my cousin, my sister, and my neighbours who looked older than me and could do things that I was not allowed to do.  It was people treating me like I wasn’t very smart because I was a pretty little girl with blonde ringlets, a shy demeanor and a goal to please.  Barbie was the one with the power in my world.  A power that I wanted.

My older sister and I both grew up to be fiercely independent.  Our mother, Barbara, chose a different path that most as that time, by choosing to leave a marriage that did not encompass the kind of respect and trust she wanted in a relationship.  She taught us that we deserved respect.  The financial challenges we lived with taught us the importance of getting a good education and being able to take care of ourselves.  Yet my Mom did look like Barbie and did defer to men in a way that women in the secretarial pool did in the 60’s and 70’s.  However, she was that person and a “steel magnolia” at the same time.  As little girls, we were able to identify where we were going and what we wanted to take with us.

Sixty million barbies are sold in 150 countries each year.  The “Go, Girls” dolls went out of business.  Clearly the Barbie appeal meets some desire of our girls.  Perhaps what Barbie provided for me was the opportunity to explore through play what I wanted to incorporate into my adult life.  For me that still includes reading and playing at the beach, working at my own job, me deciding, travel, as well as appropriate clothing, foot ware and accessories for any occasion.   I will be curious to see how Barbie contributes to opening up the possibilities our girls.  Clearly, she is not going away.  Happy International Women’s Day, Barbie.

Universal Design in Learning

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I was privileged to attend Jennifer Katz’s session on Curriculum Implementation Day in Vancouver recently.  She did what only a skilled professional development speaker is able to do.  She breathed life and passion and renewed energy for the work we do.  I love professional development days and curriculum implementation days for just this reason.  It is not teacher preparation time where the focus is on the myriad of daily tasks to be accomplished before going to bed.  It is reflecting on the big picture of what really matters in what we do during the days we spend with our students.  What are the things that our students will remember well into their adult lives?

One aspect of my professional growth plan this year includes working with staff to further implement universal design for learning into the school community.  As Jennifer Katz explains, Universal Design is a term borrowed from architectural design.  It came into vogue in the early 80’s when government was mandating wheelchair accessibility for public buildings.  This was a very expensive process after the fact but it was welcomed by not only people in wheelchairs but also by people pushing strollers or wheeling bags or carts or bikes into buildings.  Buildings and spaces started to be designed to meet mandatory building codes but also provide choices and elements for a wide range of users.

The “L” was added to create the term “UDL” for Universal Design for Learning and emerged as a lens or worldview to physically, emotionally, academically and socially accommodate all of our learners.   The shift allows educators to design the learning environment and programming with diversity in mind.   The original model for UDL was created by CAST at Harvard with a distinctly American context.  Katz has been working with them collaboratively in a Canadian context.  Shelley Moore has provided us with the meaningful graphic of the bowling pins and the reminder that if you want all of the pins to go down, you aim for the edges.  In our lesson design, our planning for those students on the “edges” will allow us to also target those students in the middle.  John Hattie’s well cited research on effect size, bodes well for UDL.  An unusually high effect size of 2.8 is assigned for using the UDL 3 Block Model with struggling readers due to the synthesis of multiple measures.

Ensouling Our Schools – A Universally Designed Framework for Mental Health, Well-being, and Reconciliation by Jennifer Katz is a great read, a wonderful way to invite conversations and an implementation handbook.   It has provided a blueprint for possibilities and her pro-d sessions throughout the district have scaffolded the various options for implementation.  Flexible learning spaces are in place.  Supports and spaces have been designed to assist students to self regulate.  Two types of activity paths are in the halls.  Standing desks and wobbly chairs are physically present.  Many classes provide daily supports such as “Spirit Buddies” to create a welcoming context.  Many lessons are structured to accommodate the wide diversity of learning strengths and needs.  However social and academic inclusion represents an ambitious goal.  Doug Matear, Principal of Student Support Services in the Vancouver School Board, provides a solid goalpost of what we’re aiming for:  “Universal Design for Learning allows all learners to be successful and included in all our lessons.  It provides learning adaptations for all that choose to use them and applies Assessments for Learning principles to foster meaningful and relevant meaning making.”  Cleary this is a process rather than an event.  Fortunately, it is a goal that is supported by the implementation of the new curriculum and assessment in British Columbia, with the emphasis on collaboration and the development of core competencies.

After my very inspiring professional development session with Jennifer Katz, I attended a more utilitarian session and refreshed my learning of the computer system required for ordering and managing inventory.  I got to know a colleague far better in this session as we supported each other.  The instructors of the session anticipated that each person would walk in the door with a different level of comfort with computers and proficiency with the program.  It was designed for everyone in the session to be successful.  Additional staff was available to scaffold participants not on track with the main presentation.   Visuals and hands on opportunities to practice were planned with varying degrees of support.  As a result, everyone walked out the door having learned something at the session.  Nice UDL lesson design!

Next my new buddy from this session and I headed to the annual after-hours mixer with retired colleagues.  To my delight, I was able to visit with my Grade 1 teacher from Queen Mary Elementary School.  When our paths crossed 10 years ago at a function for current and retired administrators, I recognized her eyes instantly.  More amazingly, she recognized my eyes as well, and went on to ask about my mother, Barbara.  In those days, Queen Mary had students who attended from the duplexes for rent by beach, the army barracks and the real estate had not yet sky rocked in the immediate vicinity.  What I remember from Grade 1 is that my teacher had kind and smiling eyes.  Single mothers were few and far between at that time but she also had the same kind and smiling eyes for my mother.  Universal design was not yet in vogue, but she created a learning community where everyone was welcome.  That’s what I remember.

A Learning Tour at University Hill Elementary

Welcome.  As a member of the VSB, I would like to acknowledge that we live, work and play on the unceded and traditional territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Coast Salish peoples.  We are fortunate to be nestled in the Pacific Spirit Park and in walking distance of the beach.  Teachers and students are able to explore how learning indoors can be consolidated through outdoor learning experiences, and also how learning experiences outdoors can be consolidated indoors.    Questions generated are authentic and the learning is vibrant.

Our school currently welcomes 330 students from Kindergarten (5 years old prior to Dec. 31, 2018) to Grade 5 (10 and 11 year olds) in 15 classrooms.  Our student tour leaders are delighted to be able to show you around our school and encourage you to ask lots of questions.  The following challenges are to help you engage with our students and staff to understand some of the priorities at our University Hill Elementary School.  The staff and students touring you around the school will be able to give you some understanding of the history, our peer helpers program, Indigenous teaching and breaking down the barrier between learning outdoors and learning indoors.

Parents of students in British Columbia sign a media release if they consent to their child’s picture being taken for the school website or blogs.  We understand that photos allow you to remember many good ideas that you will be seeing today.  Please be respectful and do not include student faces in your photos.

The following challenges have been designed to help you better understand the British Columbia Curriculum and it’s implementation at our school.  Information to meet these challenges can be derived during your school tour and visits to the classroom.  Some organizational information:

  1.  Please divide yourselves into five groups for your school tour.  Students leaders have prepared tours for small groups.
  2. Most classrooms are open for visitors.  If it is not a good day, please respect the sign that says “No Visitors today, please.”
  3. A maximum of 3-5 visitors are welcome into classroom at one time.
  4. Several teachers will be joining you at lunch to tell you about their programs, the learning community and answer any questions you may have about our school.

Challenge 1 – Look for evidence of the 7 principles during your observation.  It may be helpful to use the 7 Principles of Learning Chart.

The OECD has pointed out that the rapid advances in ICT have resulted in a global shift to economies based on knowledge, and an emphasis on the skills required to thrive in them.  At the same time empirical research on how people learn, how the mind and brain develop, how interests form, and how people differ has expanded the sciences of learning.  The result is that the educational community is now “rethinking what is taught, how it is taught and how learning is assessed”.

The OECD’s work on innovative learning environments was led by Hanna Dumont, David Istance and Francisco Benavides. Their 2010 report “The Nature of Learning”  identified seven principles of learning:

  1. Learners at the centre
  2. The social nature of learning
  3. Emotions are central to learning
  4. Recognizing individual differences
  5. Stretching all students
  6. Assessment for learning
  7. Building horizontal connections

Challenge 2 – Engage in a conversation surrounding the Spirals questions. 

Dale Chihuly Glass Art – Palm Springs Art Museum

The Spirals of Inquiry by Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser lists three questions that will find helpful in engaging with students and staff.  Students are encouraged to look closely, notice details and ask questions to encourage learning in all aspects of their lives.  Many staff are involved in inquiry projects to explore their professional questions.  Vice principals and principals in the VSB are using these questions to guide their professional growth plans.

  • What are you learning and why is it important?
  • How is it going with your learning?
  • What are your next steps?

Challenge 3:  Note the development of core competencies in the classroom.  The New Curriculum:  You will note that competencies and concept-based curriculum are intertwined with learning standards in B.C.’s New Curriculum. Core Competencies have become the focus of learning and they use content to develop the three main areas:

  1. Communication
  2. Creative and Critical Thinking Skills
  3. Personal and Social skills

Challenge 4:  Find examples of Student Voice and Competency Based Assessment The new curriculum has shifted the focus from summative assessment to formative assessment.  Students are encouraged to identify their starting point and formulate a plan for growth.  The focus has shifted from a deficit model to “I Can” statements.  Students are invited to be active participants in determining how they learn and planning for growth in skills, strategies, and collaborative practices.

Challenge 5:  The Canadian Experience – Note examples in the school of how students are being introduced to the role of Indigenous populations played in the development of Canada and our perceptions of Canadian identity.

Wab Kinew, hip hop artist, author, broadcaster, politician, Ojibwe activist, and leader of the NDP Party in Manitoba, has said “Reconciliation is realized when two people come together and understand what they share unites them and what is different about them needs to be respected.”  Authentic reconciliation happens when people develop relationships with one another.

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Challenge 5:  Identify several different types of learning spaces and the types of competencies being developed in those spaces. 

We have several options for student learning at UHill Elementary School.  Supervision is required in all spaces.  Classroom teachers work with SSA’s (Education Assistants), Resource teachers, the principal and students to explore possibilities to maximize student learning in a variety of spaces and places.

  • The Classroom – indoor and outdoor spaces
  • Outside Learning Spaces
    • The Readers Writing Garden (outside)
    • The We Are One Rock Circle (outside)
    • The Soccer Fields or basketball court (outside)
    • The Buddy Bench (outside)
    • Sidewalk games
  • Resource Rooms
  • The Gym
  • Collaboration Spaces outside classrooms
    • Foyer in the main entrance
    • The Starry Night Room / Room painted yellow
    • The Garden Room – currently the in residence program, Project Chef, is in this room
    • The Main Foyer
    • Library
    • The Learning Lab / Maker Space Room
    • Gym
  • Active Learning Room (ALR) / room painted white
    • Ready Bodies Learning Minds
    • Peer helpers Program, a Grade 5 Leadership Program, at 11:45 am facilitated by The Community School Team
  • Places to Self Calm, work quietly independently, with a partner or small group
    • Peace Pod / room painted blue and decorated with saris
    • The Think Space – in the Office area

Challenge 6:  Breaking Down the Barriers:  Identify examples where learning outdoors is brought into the classroom and where indoor learning is brought outdoors.

The places where we live and grow impact our experiences and our perceptions.  Living in a temperate rainforest, attending school in the Pacific Spirit Park, and walking down to Acadia Beach impacts the knowledge our students are developing but also how they self regulate.

I am a big fan of Twitter to keep parents informed about what is happening at the school by posting updates and pertinent information @UHillElementary and to further my own professional learning @CarrieFroese

We hope you enjoyed your visit!

Ms. Carrie Froese

Principal University Hill Elementary School

Vancouver School Board, British Columbia, Canada

Inquire2Empower Blog carriefroese.wordpress.com

#NYR2019 – Do Less

One of my favorite reads of 2018 was Andrew Sean Greer’s hilarious book called LESS.  It is a laugh out loud book that has left me thinking about it for a long time.  What matters in life?  A work-life balance is elusive if work comprises a good chunk of what is in fact LIFE.  This year I have one all encompassing New Year’s Resolution.  A resolution that that I’m not even certain is achievable by me.

  1. Do Less.

I have finally come to the conclusion that more is not better.   More is exhausting and never allows for completion, no matter how hard I am running.   It also has a capacity to suck the joy out of life.  I am a writer and consumer of lists.  Things to do to get in shape.  People to call.  Books to read.  Places to go before I die.  Errands to complete.   Things to do before I finish the school year.  The month. The week. The day. Before I get up from my desk.  Goals, tasks and projects.

It all sounds very exhausting.  It is.  I have loved early mornings and delighted in late nights for most of my life.  As a child, my biggest challenge on long summer visits to see my father and step-mother, was staying in bed long enough to not get in trouble in the morning.  As I got older, I loved to read and dance and socialize late into the night.  However, as my Nanny Keenan reported, time moves faster as you get older.  And the lists move beyond fun to include many things that need to be done but do not fill my heart with joy.  I arrive home exhausted and can barely get up from the couch after dinner and an episode of Modern Family.

Ultimately the things I end up doing are not even on my list.  They are the things that jump up in front of me and require my immediate attention.  The time left over does not allow me to derive a sense of accomplishment from list completion.  I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about the multitude of things not yet done.  Before I know it, I become a slave to my “Things To Do” list, and people are commenting on why I’m sending emails at 2:30 am.  Weekends are easily consumed trying to catch up.

This year, I aspire to change all of that.  The goal is not just DO LESS but to be JOYFUL DOING LESS.  To prioritize the things that matter most.  What are the things that require my undivided attention?  How is my attention to the task at hand going to make the biggest difference?  To my health?  To my well-being?  To my relationships?  To my integrity?  To the functioning of my school?  To my learning?  To my experience of joy in daily life?

The quest is to NOT to get lost in the minutia.  To engage in the things that matter over the long haul.  Yes, I still have a goal to read 100 books this year.  I didn’t make the target last year. Not because I couldn’t, but because I limited my reading to way too many books that I figured I SHOULD read.  This year, I’m blowing that open.  I still have a plan to get in better shape and relieve stress through exercise.  I will take the time to do the ENTIRE circuit around Stanley Park on my bike.  I’ll take the weekend to go skiing.  When I check off those items on the list, I will feel PURE JOY and NO GUILT.  I still aspire to actively participate in the BC Principal Vice Principal Association Committees, Book Clubs, the Wild About Vancouver Steering Committee, write more and embrace other sources of new learning as well.  Learners and learning energize me.  I also aspire to spend more time with students, teachers, parents and colleagues and acknowledge it as time well spent.  Emails, paperwork, and other tasks will not garner my immediate attention.  Everyday, the number one thing on my list will be to do some things that bring me joy.  I will invest in the people and things that I enjoy.  I will accept that I can’t do everything today.  I will do less.

Welcome to Our School

We are proud of our school and happy to welcome visitors into the conversation about learning.

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As a member of the VSB, I would like to acknowledge that we live, work and play on the unceded and traditional territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil Waututh) andsḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) Coast Salish peoples.

We are delighted to be able to show you around and encourage you to ask lots of questions.  The following challenges are to help you engage with our students and staff and understand some of the priorities at our school.  The staff and students touring you around the school will be able to give you some understanding of the history, our peer helpers program, Indigenous ways of knowing and breaking down the barrier between learning outdoors and learning indoors.

Challenge 1 – Look for evidence of the 7 principles during your observation.  It may be helpful to use the 7 Principles of Learning Chart.

The OECD has pointed out that the rapid advances in ICT have resulted in a global shift to economies based on knowledge, and an emphasis on the skills required to thrive in them.  At the same time empirical research on how people learn, how the mind and brain develop, how interests form, and how people differ has expanded the sciences of learning.  The result is that the educational community is now “rethinking what is taught, how it is taught and how learning is assessed”.

The OECD’s work on innovative learning environments was led by Hanna Dumont, David Istance and Francisco Benavides. Their 2010 report “The Nature of Learning”  identified seven principles of learning:

  1. Learners at the centre
  2. The social nature of learning
  3. Emotions are central to learning
  4. Recognizing individual differences
  5. Stretching all students
  6. Assessment for learning
  7. Building horizontal connections

Challenge 2 – Engage in a conversation surrounding the Spirals questions. 

The Spirals of Inquiry by Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser lists three questions that will find helpful in engaging with students and staff.  Students are encouraged to look closely, notice details and ask questions to encourage learning in all aspects of their lives.  Many staff are involved in inquiry projects to explore their professional questions.  Vice principals and principals in the VSB are using these questions to guide their professional growth plans.

  • What are you learning and why is it important?
  • How is it going with your learning?
  • What are your next steps?

Challenge 3:  Note the development of core competencies in the classroom.The New Curriculum:  You will note that competencies and concept-based curriculum are intertwined with learning standards in B.C.’s New Curriculum. Core Competencies have become the focus of learning and they use content to develop the three main areas:

  1. Communication
  2. Creative and Critical Thinking Skills
  3. Personal and Social skills

Challenge 4:  Find examples of Student Voice and Competency Based Assessment The new curriculum has shifted the focus from summative assessment to formative assessment.  Students are encouraged to identify their starting point and formulate a plan for growth.  The focus has shifted from a deficit model to “I Can” statements.  Students are invited to be active participants in determining how they learn and planning for growth in skills, strategies, and collaborative practices.

Challenge 5:  The Canadian Experience – Note examples in the school of how students are being introduced to the role of Indigenous populations played in the development of Canada and our perceptions of Canadian identity.

Wab Kinew, hip hop artist, author, broadcaster, politician, Ojibwe activist, and leader of the NDP Party in Manitoba, has said “Reconciliation is realized when two people come together and understand what they share unites them and what is different about them needs to be respected.”  Authentic reconciliation happens when people develop relationships with one another.

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Challenge 5:  Identify several different types of learning spaces and the types of competencies being developed in those spaces. 

We have several options for student learning at UHill Elementary School.  Supervision is required in all spaces.  Classroom teachers work with SSA’s (Education Assistants), Resource teachers, the principal and students to explore possibilities to maximize student learning in a variety of spaces and places.

  • The Classroom – indoor and outdoor spaces
  • Outside Learning Spaces
    • The Readers Writing Garden (outside)
    • The We Are One Rock Circle (outside)
    • The Soccer Fields or basketball court (outside)
    • The Buddy Bench (outside)
    • Sidewalk games
  • Resource Rooms
  • The Gym
  • Collaboration Spaces outside classrooms
    • Foyer in the main entrance
    • The Starry Night Room / Room painted yellow
    • The Garden Room – currently the in residence program, Project Chef, is in this room
    • The Main Foyer
    • Library
    • The Learning Lab / Maker Space Room
    • Gym
  • Active Learning Room (ALR) / room painted white
    • Ready Bodies Learning Minds
    • Peer helpers Program, a Grade 5 Leadership Program, at 11:45 am facilitated by The Community School Team
  • Places to Self Calm, work quietly independently, with a partner or small group
    • Peace Pod / room painted blue and decorated with saris
    • The Think Space – in the Office area

Challenge 6:  Breaking Down the Barriers:  Identify examples where learning outdoors is brought into the classroom and where indoor learning is brought outdoors.

The places where we live and grow impact our experiences and our perceptions.  Living in a temperate rainforest, attending school in the Pacific Spirit Park, and walking down to Acadia Beach impacts the knowledge our students are developing but also how they self regulate.

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I am a big fan of Twitter to keep parents informed about what is happening at the school by posting updates and pertinent information @UHillElementary and to further my own professional learning @CarrieFroese

We hope you enjoyed your visit!

Ms. Carrie Froese @CFroese

Principal University Hill Elementary School

Vancouver School Board, British Columbia, Canada

Inquire2Empower Blog carriefroese.wordpress.com

Reflections on Peace Education

The Germans capitulated and the Armistice was declared at 11 am on November 11, 1918.  The First World War, the war to end all wars, was over.  The parting words of Matthias Erzberger, the Catholic politician and chief German delegate negotiating the surrender to the French General Foch, were “A nation of 70 million can suffer, but it cannot die.”  There were no handshakes.  The conditions for the next world war had already begun.

Nov. 11, 2018 Vancouver, British Columbia, Victory Square Cenotaph (Photo by C.Froese)

A hundred years later, we still pause to remember, lest we forget and make the same mistakes all over again.  Wars have extended from military encounters to vague looming threats of nuclear war or terrorists targeting innocents or mass shooting targeting anyone defined as “an enemy”.  Leaders are able to be elected with angry rhetoric, a disregard for divergent opinion, and without a vision for a peaceful, global context or respect for human rights.   The most populous democracy in the world has nearly one mass shooting per day (2018 Gun Violence Archive) and a president advocating the use of torture and turning away refugees at the border.   The quest for a peaceful world seems increasingly uphill.

The League of Nations, an international body devoted to peace keeping, was the brainchild of Goldworthy Lowes Dickinson, a British political scientist in 1914 and precursor to the United Nations.  Drafted by British politician Lord Robert Cecil and the South African statesman, Jan Smuts, and supported by US president Woodrow Wilson, the draft was proposed at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919.   The covenant was established in the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919 by 44 states.  This included 31 states that fought or joined the Germans in the Triple Entente during WWI.  Peace was on the table and there was global recognition that the cost of war was too high.

The signing of the covenant of the League of Nations 1919 (Wikepedia file:No-nb bldsa 5c006.jpg)

The focus on global peacekeeping of The League of Nations evolved into what we know today as The United Nations.  The United Nations Declaration of Peace and Freedoms was signed on December 10, 1948 and 48 countries signed the document that articulated basic human rights and a vision of a peaceful world where people were entitled to celebrate their religion and culture with their family and live free from war.  It has been translated into over 500 languages to date.  It continues to be the go to reference in discussion of peace and freedom.  It has become a measure of the moral integrity of our leaders and ourselves.  I believe it becomes the best way in which we can find our way towards leading a life in a peaceful context.

The United Nations Declaration of Peace and Freedoms has been simplified for use with children.  The conversations about peace and freedoms with children are perhaps the most hopeful.  It is when minds are open to new learning, imagination is ripe, possibility is endless, and ideas are being defined into passions.  My passion for human rights was ignited at an Amnesty International booth at Granville Island when I was a student at The University of British Columbia.  Learning about human rights and incorporating the fundamental beliefs into our lives, has the power to change the way people perceive the world and interact with each other.  It is content that facilitates the development of all of the core competencies in the New British Columbia Curriculum.  It requires communication, problem solving, and actively engages reflections of personal and social development.   It provides hope for the pathways being navigated by our students.

Learning from Wab Kinew

I’m getting ready for Wab Kinew’s visit organized by Vancouver Kidsbooks this Wednesday.  I finally read his book The Reason You Walk (2017 edition) from the stack beside my bed.  This book brings to life the negative impact of residential schools on the parenting of the children who attended. It is a very personal story of Wab’s relationship with a father suffering from his years in residential school.  I will never understand what overtakes people that allow themselves to treat human beings with such cruelty, let alone the most vulnerable. Repeatedly.  This is one of the dark stains on Canada’s reputation as a country that champions human rights.

Many of us have witnessed the apology for residential schools to Indigenous People in Canada by Stephen Harper when he was Prime Minister in 2008. The question that lingered was “What now?”  Certainly the first step was acknowledging what had happened and why it happened.  The attempt to “Kill the Indian in the Child” can only be understood in the context of cultural genocide.  As a country, we have a long way to come back from decisions that were made in our infancy as a country but sustained for way too many years after.

Wab Kinew has written a book that is truly a book about acknowledging what has happened but also moving beyond the atrocity of residential schools.   Wab Kinew (pg 211) tells us: “Reconciliation is realized when two people come together and understand that what they share unites them and that what is different about them needs to be respected.” That is an achievable goal to strive towards. And I am inspired.

The title of the book, The reason you walk or “Ningosha anishaa wenjii-bimoseyan” comes from the lyrics of an Anishinaabe travelling song. Wab Kinew’s dad, Ndedeiban, passed on the teaching to him: The words are interpreted as a direct message from the Creator aka God (The Reason You Walk, pg. 252):

  • “I am the reason you walk. I created you so that you might walk on this earth.
  • I am the reason you walk. I gave you motivation so you would continue to walk even when the path became difficult, even seemingly impossible.
  • I am the reason you walk. I animate you with that driving force called love, which compelled you to help others who had forgotten they were brothers and sisters to take steps back toward one another.
  • And, now my son, as that journey comes to an end, I am the reason you walk, for I am calling you home. Walk to me on that everlasting road.”

This book is as much about a father-son relationship as it is about larger political issues. It helped me to better understand my own mother’s long lingering journey towards death. And the all too soon deaths of my aunt and brother.  This book is testament to the fact that different faith traditions can speak universal truths that cross religion denominations.  As human beings, we are all on the same journey of joys, defeats, celebrations and sorrows.  The end goal is to allow people to define their own journey and support each other along the way.