Exploring Educational Change with Educators in Vancouver, British Columbia

Educational change is an exciting topic with he promise of many pro-active, positive changes in educational systems around the world.  I am working with secondary teachers at Royal Bridge Education Group in Coquitlam today.  We will be engaging in learning about educational change and responding to the ideas using strategies and tools to engage learners in other contexts.  I will be encouraging participants to set up a Twitter Account and respond to the ideas and the strategies and tools on a Twitterchat @CarrieFroese #edchat #edchange #bcedchat with a corresponding A(nswer)1 if a Q(uestion)1 is asked.   It would be great if interested blog readers also participated.

I will be providing front-end loading about educational change, in both global and British Columbia contexts.

Enter provide your feedback in our TwitterChat @CarrieFroese #edchange #edchat

In our discussions of educational change, I will be focusing on the following thinkers and content from a number of sources.  The following links provide some extension materials to supplement materials presented in class and to provoke deep thinking. 

BC Ministry of Education

Explore Educational Change in British Columbia: 

■BC Ministry of Education Website   https://curriculum.gov.bc.ca/

■Content Area Material K-12   https://curriculum.gov.bc.ca/curriculum/

■Existing and New Curriculum Comparison https://curriculum.gov.bc.ca/sites/curriculum.gov.bc.ca/files/pdf/curriculum-comparison-guide.pdf

I love this Search Tool – Big Ideas / Content/ Curricular Competencies / Subjects / Integration  Take some time to explore the possibilities

https://curriculum.gov.bc.ca/curriculum/search

Carol Dweck – Mindset

Michael Fullan

Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser / NOIIE_BC

Spiral of Learning by Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser

Judy and Linda speaking from Barcelona.  A great overview and discussion in 20-30 minutes.

http://www.debats.cat/en/debates/spiral-inquiry-tool-educational-transformation

Laura Tait 

First Nations Principles of Learning

Inquire2Empower  The Indigenous Voice carriefroese.wordpress.com

 

John Hattie and Helen Timperley

Making learning visible with John Hattie – Know Thy Impact

The Research of John Hattie

In 2009 Professor John Hattie published Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. This groundbreaking book synthesized the findings from 800 meta-analysis of 50,000 research studies involving more than 150 million students and it built a story about the power of teachers and of feedback, and constructed a model of learning and understanding by pointing out what works best in improving student learning outcomes.

Since then, John Hattie has continued to collect and aggregate meta-analyses to the Visible Learning database. His latest dataset synthesizes more than 1,600 meta-analyses of more than 95,000 studies involving more than 300 million students. This is the world’s largest evidence base into what works best in schools to improve learning.

Download the full 250+ Influences Chart here.

https://www.visiblelearningplus.com/content/research-john-hattie

Feedback: The communication of praise, criticism, and advice with an article about ‘Feedback in schools’.

The Power of Feedback – A PowToon explaining the ideas of John Hattie and Helen Timperley with respect to providing feedback to learners.

 

David Istance /The OECD – The 7 Principles of Learning

OECD – Centre for Educational Research and Innovation – The Nature of Learning (2010) – Using Research to Inspire Practice, Edited by Hanna Dumont, David Istance and Francisco Benavides / Practitioner’s Guide (2012)

http://www.oecd.org/education/ceri/50300814.pdf

7+3 Chart

http://www.educationalleaders.govt.nz/content/download/80599/660652/file/Seven%20le

Sherri Stephens-Carter – The Five Whys

A variety of strategies, processes and tools will be used to prompt learner engagement with the materials and support collaborative practices in class.  They may include the following.  We will be discussing the possible teaching applications for these strategies, tools, and processes.   All ideas are welcomed @CarrieFroese #edchat #edchange

#Blogging

#Carousel

Checklist for #VisibleLearning Inside

#GalleryWalk

#InfinityLearningMap  Infinity Learning Maps  are a practical in-road into the science of learning-how-to-learn. The approach provides a tool for teachers to support students to draw a picture of how they see the interactions surrounding their learning.  http://infinitylearn.org/infinity-maps-2/

#Jigsaw

#Kahoot

#KWL – Know Wonder Learn – Donna Ogle – 1986

#PetchaKutcha

#Sli.do

#SpiralsofInquiry

#TenMinuteWrite

#TheFiveWhys – Japanese tool

#ThinkPairShare – a collaborative teaching strategy developed by Frank Lyman of the University of Maryland in 1981

#ThreeStepProcessforChange #Fullan

#Twitter

#TwitterChat

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Eating Marigolds

When I was eight years old, I got my first dog.  My sister had gone down to California to live with my father and I was very lost and all alone.  A family friend convinced my mother that the answer was a puppy.  Scamper was a little, black, curly haired cock-a-poo.  She was an amazing playmate and helped me rediscover joy in my life. 

Joy came to Scamper particularly easily.  One of her greatest joys was in late spring when my mother planted rows of yellow marigold flowers and bright red salvias.  Scamper would promptly get to work biting off the marigold flowers.  She was not a particularly well trained little dog.  She would throw the flowers in the air.  Catch them.  Run in circles with them in her mouth. Roll in them.  And finally she would eat them.  We were left with long rows of green marigold plants with no flowers.  My mother did not find any joy in this.  My dog could not contain her joy.  We all find our moments of joy in different ways.

The big joys come from the relationships that develop with the people who are there for us over the long haul.  The people that let us know that we matter and that we are special.  We don’t even need to see these people frequently.  These are the kindred spirits that help to sustain us through the hard times and celebrate the good times.  Then there are the people who we cross paths with and we develop relationships that are situational.  They are fun and filled with laughter and open us to other ways of being and doing.  Often as the context shifts , the relationships fade into the background.  They are fun while then last.

As the complexity of life and the demands of work and home increase, joy can get lost.  People are not always kind and do not always give you the benefit of the doubt or struggle to find joy themselves.  Demands can feel insurmountable in a 24 hour period. 

For me, the answer is to go on a deliberate quest to find joy on a daily basis.  The beautiful thing  about working in a school is that it is filled with kids.  Joy is always close at hand.  Stories.  Smiles.  Questions. Explanations. Pondering. Witnessing joy in accomplishments.

I ran into a colleague not too long ago.  She said “Yeah, I was thinking about your joy thing.  I tried it.  I like it.  It actually works.”  I love being known for my “joy thing”.  I am looking forward to summer joy.  In summer, I don’t have to go looking for joy.  It finds me.  Beaches. Books.  Lakes.  Laughter. Friends.  Family.  Biking.  Golf.  I’ve even discovered that marigolds are actually edible and will definitely order a salad with marigold flowers in it.  Who knew, Scamper was on to something! The things you can learn from your dog!  Joy in eating marigolds.

The Indigenous Voice

I grew up living, learning and playing in Vancouver, British Columbia, on the ancestral and unceded lands of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations.  I saw Indigenous people but I did not hear their voices.  In school we learned about a culture that was part of our past.  Not our present. Definitely not our future.  Yesterday on National Indigenous Peoples Day, the first day of summer on June 21, 2019, that had changed.  And to quote an expert on joy, Chief Dan George, ”And my heart soars”.

Raising of Indigenous poles at the VSB – proud moment in our quest for human rights in Canada

In the Summer 2019 edition of the Montecristo magazine, Robert Davidson talks about when he erected a totem in Masset in 1969.  It was the first one that had been raised since the 1880’s.  “…it opened the door for the elders to pass the incredible knowledge that was muted…Before the totem pole was raised we had no idea of their knowledge.  I had no idea that art was so important.”  I think Vancouver educators are hopeful that the poles raised at the VSB this week to advance reconciliation with Indigenous people and celebrated on National Indigenous Peoples Day with 1000 plus people to bear witness to the event, will be part of many positive and productive learning conversations.  I am deeply grateful that Akemi Eddy took her Grade 1 students to see the carvers in process and brought back wood shavings. Angie Goetz was able to support students in transforming the shavings into their own beautiful art.  Akemi also took three of our students with Indigenous heritage down to the VSB ceremony with our ever-supportive PAC parent, Kathleen Leung- Delorme.  These students were able to bear witness to the smudge at the beginning of the day in the presence of Judy Wilson-Raybould and Joyce Perrault.

I was fortunate to meet Joyce Perrault when I was the vice-principal at Norma Rose Point K-8 school in Vancouver.  It was one of the many schools that she was working as an Indigenous Education Enhancement Worker.  Not only was she able to establish a strong rapport with students in the relatively short weekly assignment at the school, but she was a sweet and gentle soul with a plethora of ideas to empower Indigenous students in finding their own voices, and to support non-Indigenous students in applying Indigenous teachings to explore their own pathways.  The hallway displays were inspired, interactive and collaborative ventures created with the Indigenous students she was working with.  She had put together a flipbook of the Medicine Wheel Teachings from her Anishinaabe/ Ojibwe heritage that she had implemented with students over the years.  She was looking for a publisher.  I had no doubt it would be published.  She thought the publisher would use her text and drawings.  I thought that the publisher would use the text and assign an artist to market it as a hardcopy version that could be used in libraries and on coffee tables, as well as a soft cover for use by individual kids.

The publisher smart enough to pick up the book was Peppermint Toast Publishing.  It is a small publisher in New Westminster that publishes one book per year.  They made a wise choice.  Joyce Perrault’s first book, All Creation Represented:  A Child’s Guide to the Medicine Wheel, was published in 2017 with Terra Mar’s amazing illustrations.  The Vancouver School Board alone has purchased 250 copies.  Her second publication is in process to support educators in teaching Indigenous ways of knowing through Medicine Wheel teachings.

This year, as principal of University Hill Elementary School, I did not have the number of Indigenous students, to warrant the assignment of an Indigenous Education Enhancement worker. However in Vancouver, it is mandatory for all public schools to have an Indigenous goal to support the quest to decolonize education. At University Hill Elementary, our Indigenous goal is: To increase knowledge, acceptance, empathy, awareness and appreciation of Indigenous histories, traditions, cultures and contributions among all students in an authentic way.

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Learning to Powwow dance with Shyama Priya

Our teachers took on this goal with enthusiasm.  When I arrived at the school, Melody Ludski, had already taken the lead in having a spindal whorl commissioned by Musqueam carver, Richard Campbell.  He came to unveil his amazing carving with his daughter shortly after the Truth and Reconciliation walk in 2017.  I was talking about how impressed I had been with the fluency of the young woman speaking Musqueam on the stage at the end of the Truth and Reconciliation Walk, only to discover that she was Richard Campbell’s daughter.  And she was standing in front of me.  Bonus! We had amazing teaching that day and our students were able to hear the welcome in the Musqueam language from Richard’s daughter, Vanessa Campbell .  Richard Campbell also shared the process of his carving, from the inspiration in the selection of wood to the finished product.  He also shared that he was a survivor of the residential school system.  Students, educators and parents in the audience witnessed first-hand the pain of the experience and the incredible support in the father-daughter relationship.

Many of our teachers have been engaged in personal, professional development around Indigenous teachings via VSB supported inquiry studies, school based professional development, book clubs and university coursework.  Our students have been the winners.  Delta authored materials published by Strong Nation Publishing have been implemented by primary teachers to teach core competencies. Ideas have been implemented from Jennifer Katz book, Ensouling Our Schools – A Universally designed framework for mental health, well-being, and reconciliation.

Staff got together to plan an outdoor learning space once the portables were removed from our site.  A large circle of twelve large rocks that were big enough to seat 30 students were installed to facilitate outdoor learning.  Some teachers wanted twelve rocks to teach time.  Many agreed one needed to be placed to indicate true north and all of the compass directions.  Some of us were excited with the possibilities for use as a talking / listening circle, as practiced in many of our classrooms, as well as integration of other Indigenous teachings.  The Musqueam have gifted the VSB with the word, Nə́ caʔmat ct, which means “We Are One”, as part of our move towards reconciliation.  I personally love thinking about it that way and calling it that as a way of honouring that our school is on Musqueam ancestral lands and demonstrating our openness to learning.

The intermediate curriculum benfited with the success of The Human Rights Internet Grant (www.hri.ca) for $1900.00 to implement new curriculum with Grade 4/5 students with a human rights lens on our Indigenous people.  Students learned about the United Nations Declaration of Rights and Freedoms which was adopted by Canada in 1959 and the implications of these rights for our Indigenous people.   It allowed us to show honour and respect by inviting Indigenous speakers to share Indigenous teachings with our students.  Intermediate students had inspirational drumming and storytelling sessions with Alec Dan and teachings about indigenous plants by Martin Sparrow in the Pacific Spirit Park.  This Human Rights Internet Grant also enabled UHill Elementary students to share their outdoor learning with students from Norma Rose Point during the Wild About Vancouver Celebration in April.  It also allowed us to invite Indigenous speakers to share their teachings with the entire school including: Debra Sparrow to talk about the replica of one of the MOA (Museum of Anthropology) weavings by her and her sister Robyn Sparrow that we recently purchased and display in our foyer; Shyama Priya to share her Powwow dancing, including participatory opportunities for our students; Martin Sparrow doing the Indigenous Acknowledgement and sharing his teachings at the 2nd Annual University Hill Elementary Multi-cultural Fair; Martin Sparrow sharing bannock and salmon pate at our Earth Day BBQ.  Joyce Perrault was also willing and able to request some of her teaching time allotment to come and share her book with our Grade 3 students and her process of writing it with our aspiring UHill Elementary authors.

Joyce Perrault in conversation with Vincente Regis about Indigenous teachings.

Vincente Regis, a new PAC member, came forward with an idea for a school community Arts Festival at a PAC Meeting this Spring.  He spoke passionately about the Arts Festivals he had implemented in Brazil as an educator.  With enthusiastic support from PAC, we  started meeting shortly after the PAC meeting to begin the planning for the first UHill Elementary Arts Festival.  He very much wanted it to unfold before the end of the school year while momentum was high.  When we decided on the date when we weren’t building the playground, and when I could access staging and tables for the event, Vincente immediately understood the significance of the Arts Festival taking place on Indigenous Peoples Day and the opportunity to honour the Indigenous voice and the contribution to Indigenous people in all aspects of the arts.  He promptly began planning to incorporate an Indigenous song from Brazil with our students.  I went to work to find an Indigenous artist willing and available to open with the Indigenous acknowledgement and put a spotlight on the Indigenous contribution in the arts.

The British Columbia Literacy Council of the International Literacy Association (BCLCILA) is currently going through a period of revitalization and relocation to Vancouver, British Columbia.  Due to the BCLCILA  / International Literacy Association membership of two UHill Elementary staff members and the support of BCLCILA, we were able to invite Joyce Perrault to not only facilitate an after-school session with educators in May, but also participate in the school community event on Indigenous Peoples Day, June 21, 2019 from 3:30 – 6:30 pm.  She graciously accepted even though her morning started with her participation in the VSB ceremony to honour the raising of the 13-metre pole carved by James Harry of the Squamish Nation, and his father Xwalack-tun, a master carver with 50 years’ experience, as well as the male and female welcome poles by Musqueam carvers, William Dan and his family and his siblings Chrystal and Chris Sparrow.  Big day!

Laura Tait, respected Indigenous educator, and current Assistant Superintendent at Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools (SD 68) has been cited to have said “If you want to know about Indigenous culture, make an Indigenous friend.”  That has been the basis of trying to provide opportunities for developing community with our Indigenous neighbours.  I have now participated with Joyce as she has engaged in learning conversations with students, educators, and parents.  Her pride in her Ojibwe / Metis heritage has remained constant.  Her voice has grown along with the number of people wanting to hear her story …”And my heart soars.” And more importantly, so does hers.  Our path to reconciliation needs to include more of these spaces for the development of Indigenous voice and friendships.

Tolerable Risk in Learning Revisited

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A good chunk of my adventures these days seems to have taken the form of following my daughter around on her adventures.  Work away in Barcelona.  Teaching in Viet Nam.  Most recently Taipei at Spring break.  By the time I arrive to visit her, our daughter, Larkyn, has scoped out the place and is able to plan a trip that encompasses the “must visit” spots. This of course included Taitung, on the south end of the island and Toroko Gorge.

I was amazed at how different Taiwan was from Mainland China.  Excessively polite people stop in the street to see if you need help with directions, line up to get on and off rapid transit and would not consider pushing.  Wilderness continues to abound.  Wild monkeys chattered as we walked to the beach.  The beaches were pristine and inviting, although swimming was often prohibited unless you were surfing.  Apparently too many people have died stepping into the shallows to take a selfie.  Coming from BC we promptly ignored this rule.  We sought out coral to check out the little fish, only to discover that the most venomous snake on the island, the water krait, also hangs out there.

Swimming back to the shore, what felt like a long reed, brushed against my leg.  No reeds in the shallows of the ocean.  Something that looked like a stick poked out of the water.  This particular beach had a lifeguard who insisted it was a stick.  This was vigorously agreed upon by my daughter’s boyfriend who had tired of all of the snake warning photos I had been sending every time they mentioned hiking.  At one point, my husband and I watched “the stick” bend it’s head to have a good 180 degree look.

By the time we reached the Toroko Gorge, I was not just worried about snakes but paralysed with fear at the thought of them.  My husband was determined that they would not prevent our hike into the gorge.  By this time, I was happy to enjoy the amenities of the luxurious Silks Place Hotel with the three different hot spring pools of varying temperatures and drinks on the rooftop pool deck.  The gorge surrounded us and I had no desire to leave.  But I was worried about letting my insistent husband go hiking alone, so off we went on our happy hike with me already ticked off.

The hike begins with a trek through a long, dark, damp tunnel.  A perfect place for a snake to be lying in wait.  On the other side of the tunnel, the sign.  Apparently wasps, and falling rock were added to the list of hazards.  And more dark, damp tunnels.  For the first time in my life, the fear overtook the wonder and the joy.  I spent the entire hike not awed by the beauty of nature, but consumed with the fear.  And angry to be in that situation.

I have been a risk taker for as long as I can remember.  You do something hard and then revel in the success.  Or you learn that flipping forward from the swing set is a bad idea and end up with a broken foot.  Or you dislocate an arm from rolling too fast down too big a hill.  Or need ten stitches because there just wasn’t enough land between the fence and broken bottle in the ditch.  These were absorbed as learning not a reasons to stop taking risks.  There was no anger than soured the experience.

For my older sister, it was different.  When she was 7 or 8 years old, she was doing the circuit with the other kids in the neighbourhood.  At one point, she fell off her bike, squished her finger and concussed herself.  She was done with the neighbourhood circuit.  She was mad at her stupid bike.  It wasn’t learning but a lesson.  She would not grow up to embrace risk but to be leery of it.  This was very much reinforced by our mother, father and step-mother who had adopted the stance that only calculated risks with a guarantee of success were acceptable.  Risk that might end in failure were for stupid people.

Risk taking has become a big part of the conversation about learning in education.  There is now general acceptance that if students do not take risks in their learning, then maximum learning does not occur.  There is now an expectation for students to risk failure in the pursuit of the learning process.  However in this equation, I’m not certain that we factor in student orientation to risk.  If the risk presented is too big, it threatens to overwhelm our more cautious and risk-adverse students.  These are the students who can’t get started.  The concept of risking failure is far from their understanding or comfort zone.  For other students, it is the grand leap that provides the challenge for them to sink their teeth into and explore the full extent of their imaginations.  These students need little front end loading to define and engage in project based learning.  Our quest as educators is to provide the scaffolding for cautious students to feel secure in their learning journey and for our adventurous students to feel the freedom to explore multiple pathways to finding their answers.  That is not an easy task.  It require is a trusting relationship with our students and an understanding of their family context.

Understanding fear in the workplace is no less complex.  Amy C. Edmundson has written a great book called the fearless organization – Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth (2019).  The author is the Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard School of Business School.  Edmundson’s life work inadvertently came out of doctoral research in a hospital considering errors in the practice of medicine.  The reach of the research became much broader with the discovery that when people work in a climate of fear, their ability to grow and innovate is threatened.  Brain research has given us considerable proof that the brain shuts down if a person is afraid.  This book provides a number of stories and examples from hospitals, the movie industry, NASA, Google, banks and classrooms to illustrate possibilities for framing workplaces that incorporate high standards with inquiry, candid communication, and a willingness to share mistakes, in order to encourage creativity, learning, and innovation.  There is a reason that this is a basic premise for software development since the first discovery of a “bug” in the programming.

Suzanne Hoffman, superintendent of the Vancouver School Board regularly uses sli.do in our monthly Admin admin meetings as a tool to solicit the thoughts of the group and to facilitate purposeful discussion.  I found the use of sli.do as well as paper/ pencil surveys and conversations including these questions very helpful in setting the tone of meetings. It allowed me differentiate between the areas I was able to address and take steps to provide opportunities for collaborative practices and funding issues:

What are you up against? What are your concerns?

What do you need?

What can I do to help?

I found the three inter-related practices suggested to create psychological safety very helpful for framing staff meetings:  setting the stage, inviting participation, and responding productively.  With repeated use they helped to develop a learning tone and step away the assumption that my role was to function as the top of a hierarchy and provide the answers or direction.

Staff presentations of their professional inquiries and background knowledge were very purposeful in encouraging collaborative practice and setting the tone of our monthly staff meetings.  The Indigenous inquiries by Janet Logie, Pam Schofield and Melody Ludski, provided the leadership in moving forward on our Indigenous goal in a meaningful way.  Michelle Jung came to the school to do a maternity leave at the Kindergarten level.  She was experienced and enthusiastic about the new reporting procedures.  She was instrumental in providing background knowledge and direction as we moved forward to adopt reporting procedures that are more in line with the newly implemented curriculum in British Columbia.

Inviting participation was most successful when the questions were framed carefully and there was a structure to facilitate collaborative practice and report back to the group.  The following suggestions from Edmondson’s book for attributes of powerful questions were very helpful in developing more thought provoking questions:

  • Generate curiosity in the listener
  • Stimulate reflective conversation
  • thought provoking
  • Surface underlying assumptions
  • Invite creativity and new possibilities
  • Generate energy and forward movement
  • Channel attention and focus inquiry
  • Stay with participants
  • Touch deep meaning
  • Evoke more questions

Learning to respond productively was a big growth area for me.  The hierarchy of the educational system puts the onus on the principal of the school to provide the answers.  It is a Catch 22.  You provide an answer.  It is attacked.  You become defensive.  You have lost.  Adopting a stance of appreciation, destigmatizing failure, and defining clear boundaries allows the group to get on with the learning.   I do believe “A fearless organization realizes the benefits of diversity fostering greater inclusion and belonging.” (p. 201).  It makes for difficult questions, but a focus on instructional leadership allows us as principals and vice-principals to benefit from the thinking of the whole group.  it’s just that old habits and expectations of ourselves die hard!

What is Powerful Professional Development?

I have a passion for learning.  I was a curious kid.  A risk taker. A reader.  As a beginning teacher, my learning was fueled by the plethora of professional development opportunities to learn that were available in the system, including district and school based professional development.  The British Columbia Teachers Federation (BCTF) provides a structure and funding for vibrant, Professional Specialist Associations to organize groups of like-minded teachers into Local Specialist Associations.  I jumped in feet first and became actively involved as participant and executive member of The Primary Teachers’ Association.  My first principal invited me to attend my first meeting of The International Reading Association (now the International Literacy Association).  I would go on to become the president of the local chapter, The B.C.Literacy Council, and then provincial coordinator.  Human Rights Education.  Special Education.  English Language Learning.  Outdoor Learning.  I had a wide range of interests and the encouragement from colleagues and administration.

There is no shortage of professional development opportunities for curious educators.  In fact, the big question, is how do we take the front-end loading and personal passions and incorporate the ideas into educational practices that support our students in their learning?  The focus on “Make and Take” or “ideas to try tomorrow”, were often novel but not necessarily transformative in my practice.

I was fortunate to cross paths with Maureen Dockendorf.   After 5 years of teaching in Abbotsford,  I began teaching in Coquitlam.  I promptly signed up to participate in a Teacher Inquiry group led by Maureen Dockendorf.  We defined areas of interest.  Clarified our question.  Came up with a plan to work with our students and colleagues to find possibilities and sometimes, answers.   Reported out on the learning to keep us accountable for doing the work and integrating other sources or learning.  The added bonus was it was fun.  It involved collaborating with colleagues.  It caused us to carefully considering the questions and responses of our students.  It led to reflection of who we were as educators in the class and how we were meeting the needs of our students.  It allowed us to go deeper in our learning.

The work of Linda Kaser and Judy Halbert has been instrumental in the inquiry process becoming an influential force in the learning of educators and students in British Columbia.  The Spiral of Inquiry they developed has been instrumental in shifting the way we think about learning.

  • What am I learning and why is it important?
  • How is my learning going?
  • What am I going to do next?

Professional development expectations have shifted.  The merits of a powerful speaker conveying ideas based on solid research and practices continues to be inspirational.  The New and Aspiring Leaders Program designed by the Harvard Graduate School of Education is masterful at bringing together inspirational speakers and facilitating with educators from all over the world.  Collaborative structures were built into the program to facilitate the sharing of ideas with educational leaders from all over the world.  Educators were astounded by the implementation of Universal Design in education for all students in Canada.

A number of strategies have become common place to facilitate conversation about the ideas.  Think Pair Share, sitting in table groups, focus questions, and mixer activities have become common strategies to encourage even diverse audiences to talk about the ideas being presented by the speaker.

Social media has become a tool to present, learn and engage with colleagues about ideas online.  I have seen this as a way to get people in the same room to engage with each other and the speaker.  Twitter has become my newspaper and educational magazine.  On a daily basis I will read articles, blogs and magazine stories that are recommended by the people I follow.

I also participate in twitter chats, some regularly scheduled like @BCedchat on Sunday nights at 7 pm PST, other slow chats over the course of a month, like @perfinker.  I share out things I’m excited about and sometimes plan to meet face to face with online , like annual Edvents facilitated by @Edvent247

I have been asked how I have the “extra” time to blog.  For me, writing is my effort to make sense of the ideas percolating in my mind.  Having worked as a faculty associate at Simon Fraser University, I developed a strong appreciation of sitting with ideas over a period of time before making a judgement.  It was not learning that came easily to me.  One of my colleagues in Coquitlam nicknamed me the Tasmanian Devil back in my SD#43 days.  Reflection takes time.  If I can reflect before formulating and articulating an idea in writing, then I am in a much better place to engage in a discussion.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to participate in the inaugural year of Short Course II offered by the British Columbia Principal Vice Principal Association.  The design of Short Course II  for experienced principals and vice principals incorporated the three elements I believe are required to exist in an infinite loop for professional development to be powerful enough to implement personal and systemic change.  The elements continue on throughout a lifetime, although not necessarily in the same order.

  1. Inspiring big ideas to consider
  2. Opportunities for meaningful collaboration with peers to occur
  3. Time to reflect on the ideas

Leading, learning and innovation was the focus of the four day summit offered by BCPVPA at the University of British Columbia – Okanagan campus in Kelowna, B.C.  The input was inspirational on so many levels.

  1. The Indigenous people in the area, welcomed us to the land and shared their teachings.
  2. David Istance not only presented but engaged with each of the groups. As many of you will already know, he was one of the authors of the OECD 7 Principles of Education that have been the catalyst of educational change around the globe.
  3. British born, Amelia Pederson, presented the doctoral work she is doing at Harvard and actively engaged with the group, table groups and individuals throughout the week.
  4. David Weiss, President and CEO of Weiss International, gave us his perspective from working with organizational consultants who lead innovative consulting and training projects.
  5. Innovative business owners in Kelowna welcomed our BCPVPA groups into their companies and engaged in conversations about their inspiration, their process of developing their innovative idea, the skill set required of their employees and their goals moving forward.

Opportunities were structured for collaboration with colleagues throughout the province over the course of the four day program and throughout the year.

  1. A facilitator was assigned to each group and welcomed us into our table group and posed discussion questions and processes to keep us on track.
  2. We sat in the same daily table group and had the opportunity to get to know each other and engage with the ideas and questions together.
  3. We also had the opportunity to meet with other people with similar interests to develop our own inquiries to focus our work throughout the year. I was able to connect both professionally and personally with colleagues from Delta and Richmond to tease out my ideas.
  4. Informal opportunities to collaborate were part of the program, such as the wine and cheese at a local winery and the Open Deck time on the roof of FreshGrade.
  5. Online opportunities were provided to meet with our table groups over the course of the year.

By the time I had finished Short Course II, I had defined the first of my professional growth goals.  This is a management requirement for principals and vice principals in the Vancouver School Board in in British Columbia.  However for me defining an inquiry goal has always been part of grounding me in my practice.  Doing it prior to the start of the next school year allowed me to reflect on the previous year, consider new learning and thoughtfully plan my year so I could act deliberately rather than reactively.  During Short Course II, we agreed to meet with other SCII participants and participate online with our table groups.  It being the inaugural year, the anticipated challenges with technology presented themselves.  However it provides a pathway forward to continue to engage with colleagues over time.  The more we got to know each other, the better the conversation.  The inspiration, the collaboration and grappling with the ideas over time, provided an amazing model for powerful professional development.

The White Terror of Taiwan

My daughter’s latest adventure has brought her and her boyfriend to Taiwan to teach English in Taipei.  The riveting history of Taiwan is previously completely unknown to me.  The culture that resulted from years as a Japanese colony, transitioned to the brutal military dictatorship wrought with the human rights abuses of Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang, to an aspiring independent spirit held in check by the Chinese Nationalist Party After WWII. The quest for power of Chiang Kai-shek with his KMT base in Taiwan and Mao Zedong’s Communist party stranglehold over mainland China, resulted in the the deaths, torture and psychological terror of thousands.

I highly recommend Green Island written by Shawna Yang Ryan.  This story between the daughter and the father who delivers her into the world on February 29, 1947 casts light on the bloody, political history of Taiwan from the end of the WWII and into the 21st Century but also illuminates the love and strife that comes from being part of a family. The 2-28 Peace Park in Taipei emerges as a memorial to the dead and broken, who fought and suffered at the hands of those who revered power, far more that human life and dignity.

Our travels to the beaches of southern Taiwan brought us close to Green Island, which has become a tourist attraction.  It mentions in the tour book that the old timers of Taiwan are not much interested in going anywhere near this reminder of the incredible fear and suffering. It seems much like historical sites that offer a legacy of fear, kindle curiosity, and promise an inability to forget.

#GetOutdoor

The Wild About Vancouver Festival is a grassroots movement that started in 2015.  The intention was a brainchild of Dr. Hartley Banack, who teaches in the Faculty of Education at UBC.  His students were tasked with going into willing schools to design possibilities to task learning outdoors.  The schools in turn participated in some of the student designed ideas and introduced the ideas to students in another school.  The celebration of this learning was planned to coincide with the annual celebration of Earth Day.

During my first year of participation in Wild About Vancouver 2015, I was a teaching vice principal at Tecumseh Elementary School.  As has always been my practice, I spent a lot of time teaching outdoors to both generate enthusiasm for learning and prompt inquiry.  I also developed an “Outdoor Einstein” after school program with the VSB Community School Team to provide outdoor experiences that were unfamiliar to many of our students.  We invited students from a neighbouring school and shared the joy.

Each year the Wild About Vancouver Festival is a little different.  It is always happens during the iconic cherry blossom season of Vancouver and Earth Day.  As the Steering Committee changes, so does the celebration.  Committed educators and outdoor enthusiasts bring a vitality and energy to the planning that is palpable.  It is a model of collaborative practice.  It is also an opportunity to reflect on the things that matter to you.

As a Vancouverite since my infancy, the celebration has a few important purposes.  It is opening up the possibilities for outdoor activity to adults and children alike, as well as inspiring the desire to ensure those outdoor opportunities continue as the city grows.  It is also about breaking down the walls of the school, to inspire our children to stay curious and interested in asking questions and finding answers outdoors and making connections with what is happening indoors.  WAV also brings in focus how we take care of our bodies with exercise and our mental health through an ability to pause to notice, appreciate and wonder in response to the amazing and often beautiful things happing around us.

I am now the principal of University Hill Elementary School, in a school community that values the rich learning opportunities in the Pacific Spirit Park and down the hill at the beach, all year round.  During the week,  The Swornfern Community came to visit from Norma Rose Point School and participated in a scavenger hunt led by students leaders.  They were given the challenge to find…

  • 3 Bat Boxes
  • The Mud Kitchen
  • Garter Snake Corner
  • 4 interesting trees
  • The Butterfly Garden
  • The “We Are One” circle
  • 5 kinds of birds
  • The Poppy Garden Bed
  • The Reading / Writing Garden
  • Pacific Spirit Park
  • Site of the new playground
  • The Food Garden
  • The “Secret” spot in Pacific Spirit Park

Martin Sparrow came to share his learning with the Grade 4/5 students and the Metro Vancouver rangers came to share their learning with our younger students.  Joyce Perrault, Indigenous support worker extraordinaire, planned the opportunity for Indigenous students at Norma Rose Point School and UHill Elementary to meet in our “We Are One” circle to learn together.

The Wild About Vancouver Festival is very much about celebrating the possibilities.  Kate Foreman and Andrea McEwen are teachers on staff at University Hill Elementary School who were also involved in the very beginning stage of the Wild About Vancouver Festival. The Earth Day BBQ has become a model of how a school community can come together in celebration of learning and enjoying being outdoors.

IMG_8549This year Kate Foreman, led the charge in organizing and welcoming over 500 students, staff, parents, volunteers and community helpers.  David Eby, our MLA and Attorney General, joined us with his son.  Jennifer Reddy, School Trustee, attended along with a visiting rescued owl, an electric car, The Bike Kitchen volunteers, The Young Naturalist Club, the TREK volunteers and  community partners and parents hosting booths with activities for students. I was amazed when I was approached by a First Grade who held up his model of DNA (two strands of red licorice with toothpicks and marshmallows connecting them) and gave me an impressive description of the “building blocks of all life”.

IMG_8597At the culminating Wild About Vancouver TidalWAV event at Creekside Park, just north of Science World, the positive energy continued.  Science World gave free access to the Nature Play area for families at the festival.  The playground attracted a brave crew that were willing to brave a wind that Vancouver rarely experiences.  Gail Sparrow, former Musqueam Chief, and Alan Mackinnon, Vancouver Park Commissioner started off the event for us.  The presence of Youth Outdoor Education (YOE) students from Templeton, the Strings Orchestra from Magee, Search and Rescue, The Vancouver Park Rangers, the longboarders, Fresh Roots, Trek, the Sandpiper Program, the steering committee and participants made for an inspiring event.  Our 5th year of the Wild About Vancouver Festival and we are inspired to continue to spread the message.  Check out www.wildaboutvancouver.com and #GetOutdoors

Join us for the Wild About Vancouver Festival 2020

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.

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.