The Power Relax

I’m a school principal in the last weeks of school before summer holidays. Stress is a fact of life. The days are high octane with not a moment to spare between the demands for immediate problem solving and the call of the “things to do”  list. I can’t help but to reflect on lofty goals of balance and prioritizing “me time” written after summer holidays and again at New Years. The goals that emerge after a break when anything seems possible.

My coping strategy recently has been to sneak in physical outlets to “burn off steam” as part of the ultimate oxymoron, the “power relax”. I’m fortunate to be able to bike to work. The hill up to Queen Mary Elementary was my nemesis as I walked to school from Jericho Beach as a little girl. It proves to play the same roll in my life as I bike to work from Kits Beach. I still find no joy in the hill. It remains something to be conquered. Arriving at the top, a small victory.  Yes, even joy.  I have also discovered the merits of the driving range and how the length of my drives correlates with the degree of angst I’m feeling.  It also brings a degree of satisfaction.

Less effort requires a bigger time investment for the “power relax” . 9 holes of golf by yourself or 18 holes with a friend. A 90 minute salt float at HÄLSA spa. Two yoga classes in one day. Or if you’re lucky, a sunny day at the beach after writing school goals on how to support students in learning strategies to self calm. I’m pausing to breath mindfully😉  I’m open to other suggestions…

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The Magnitude of Motherhood

                                                              Artwork by Grade 1 Student

Mother’s Day weekend, always turns my attention to my mother and how I mother, and Charles Dickens1: “It was the best of times,  it was the worst of times, …”  The only thing more joyous or tough than being a kid, is being the kid’s mother.  There is a magnitude to the task of mothering.  Grand success is celebrated.  Mistakes will echo for a lifetime.  Frequently the definitions of both differ widely, depending on the person making the judgment.

One Mother’s Day, my five-year-old and his three-year-old sister arrived at my bedroom door carefully negotiating the ultimate treat, “breakfast in bed”.  My husband was away on business but proudly, the tray was placed on my lap with the folded napkin, handmade cards, juice and their favorite breakfast.

My daughter, Larkyn: “I wanted milk on the Cheerios.”

My son, Tyler: “I told Larkyn, it was just too big a risk.  The juice was enough.”

As mothers, the question is always:  What is too big a risk?  The quest to protect is hardwired with hormones and magnified with adoration of the tiny addition to our world.  My younger brother was killed in a car accident less than a year before our precious boy child was born.  En route home from the hospital with our son, I was overwhelmed with the task of protecting my baby.  The fear of the worst case scenario was palpable.  I wanted to protect every aspect of his life.

As a pre-schooler, Tyler was looking up at me with adoring eyes while we were reading Franklin in the Dark2.

“You’re not afraid of anything, are you Mommy?” Then after a brief pause, he continued with a quizzical brow. “Except underground parking lots.  You’re really afraid of underground parking lots.”

The conversation continued that although I was afraid of underground parking lots, I still went in them.  It was okay to be afraid, but if you never did anything that was a bit scary, life would be boring and you would never learn new things. The trick deciding what risks were worth it and taking precautions.

My father and step-mother were extremely fearful.  My father went through the war in Germany as a child, became a neurosurgeon and regularly dealt with serious head trauma.  My step-mother loved her routine and feared lots of things like dust, water and snakes.  One summer at our cabin, the wind came up while we were fishing and I couldn’t get the motor started.  My step-mother was terrified and I used every ounce of my ten-year-old muscle mass to row us to the safety of the dock.  Worst case scenario, we would have landed on the other side of the lake or on the rocks in the creek.  Life was filled with danger and the possibility of embarrassing yourself.  I was terrified to make mistakes.  That was one reason, I chose to live in British Columbia with my mother.

My mother was also fearful, but my Auntie Myrna was her counter balance.  She was my mother’s older sister and could make the rules.  As a little girl at the beach, Stanley Park and Tatlow Park, where my Grandpa was a caretaker after retirement, I remember her lifting me up big trees and rocks so I could climb up to where the big kids were.  My Auntie Myrna believed I could handle the risk and so I did.  My temperament and my need to keep up with my older sister, cousins, and kids in the neighbourhood meant I grew familiar with accepting a challenge.

My boy cousins on my Dad’s side were always filled with ideas that took me to risky places when we visited our grandparents in Abbotsford or camped as adults in Osoyoos.  My boy cousins could get me to try new things, break rules, and play hard.  Even as an adult, I would rise to the challenge.  One cousin managed to get me to swim across Osoyoos Lake to the American border and back.  Yet pride did not always require accomplishment.  My boy cousins still do a good imitation of me trying to say “One more time” with a mouth full of water as I tried repetitively to get up on one water ski.  I never did get up on one ski, but the story is told with admiration at how long and hard I tried.

As a mother, the challenge is to encourage our kids to try new things and support them for trying even in the face of disappointment.  The first time my daughter didn’t get, yet another DQ (disqualification), for her butterfly stroke at a swim competition, our family was wildly crazy with excitement and cheers.  The father beside me asked if I realized my kid didn’t win.  Just depends on your definition of what counts as a win.

It is heartbreaking to see our children experience injuries, failure or disappointment or sadness.  It is hard to teach them to accept an outcome they didn’t expect, to be hurt or to recognize their own mistakes without blame.  We can’t navigate the pathway for our children.  We can help them to take risks to learn new things and meet new people, problem solve when things don’t go as anticipated and accept responsibility for mistakes.  Resilience is required to find joy in life despite disappointment.

Upon her graduation from Queen’s University, Larkyn thanked me for never saying a degree in philosophy was a waste of time because she’d never get a job.  When pushed by a CBC reporter at The Quarry House Restaurant one Mother’s Day about what he loved about his mother, Tyler replied: “She has always supported me in whatever I wanted to do.”  The biggest gratitude I have for my mom is that she always believed in me, even when I didn’t.  Apparently, our task as mothers is encouraging our children in the challenges they choose, celebrating victories, supporting them as they cope with adversity, and believing in them.

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  1. Charles Dickens (1859). A Tale of Two Cities.
  2. Paulette Bourgeois (1986). Franklin in the Dark.

Indigenous Ways of Knowing: Transforming our Relationships

I believe in Aboriginal Enhancement agreements.  For some, they represent a token of political correctness which can be limited to lip service.  For others they focus our attention on something that matters not only in terms of facilitating basic human rights, but developing a culture of kindness and respect that we as Canadians have built our identity on.

John Hattie points to a large body of research that informs us that the largest predictor of health, wealth and happiness is not grades achieved by students, but the number of years spent in school.  Low graduation rates of indigenous students have meant that part of our job as educators is to create a learning environment in which all students find something to stay for.  Obviously we want this for all of our students.

Daniel Wood wrote an article in the travel section of The Vancouver Sun newspaper (Apr.28, 2018) on Easter Island:  “And once the last tree was chopped down, there was no wood to make a boat and leave.”  The habitat once plentiful with fish, birds, palm trees and fertile lands was left an archeological site on grassland.  Like those who inhabited and devastated Easter Island thousands of years ago, we too have much to learn.   The FNESC materials give us with tools and insight into how we can draft meaningful goals to incorporate indigenous ways of knowing into our curriculum.

What is frequently lacking is a clearly articulated learning intention so we can determine if we are making an impact.  From this intentional stance, we are able to devise a plan that serves the needs of all of the students in our care:

  1.  To create a culture of kindness and respect.  For our indigenous students, it means listening to the stories and rather than rewriting history.  It means finding a way to move forward together.
  2.  To create a learning environment where students are engaged in learning.
    • How can we support students in their ability to self regulate so they can learn?
    • How do we incorporate student choice and provide clarity and high expectations into our learning contexts?
  3.  To incorporate indigenous ways of knowing into our lives.
    • What does it look like when we understand the First Peoples Principles of Learning and incorporate them into our lives and stories?

In response to stereotypes of indigenous culture that have pervaded our culture, and appropriation of cultural items to gain profit, we are left unsure of truly what is respectful.  Anthropologist, Aaron Glass states in his interview with Heather Ramsey of The Tyee ( March  2011):  “Totem poles, he says, have been added to the stereotype of the North American Indian, along with the teepee, the tomahawk and the feathered headdress.”  If we are earnest in our intention, this fact makes us wary when we see these images and concerned that we may be perceived as a part of the system that perpetuates negative stereotypes and gets in the way of developing respectful relationships.

The Tomahawk Barbecue was the first drive-in restaurant in Vancouver started by Chick Chamberlain in 1926 just off Marine Drive.  Chick learned to cook in the early 20’s when he opened a small coffee shop in a cabins to rent business with his brother.  The drive-in part of the restaurant wasn’t a huge success because of the dust from the unpaved roads.  It did evolve as a community hang-out.  One of the patrons of the restaurant mounted a big tomahawk over the door and the name stuck.  It managed to stay open through the “Dirty Thirties” largely because Chick would accept payment in curios, hand made pots, drums, cooking utensils, large and small totem poles, masks and other beautifully carved objects from those who couldn’t afford the food.  He started to purchase indigenous art long before it was recognized as valuable.  “Tomahawk’s famous hamburgers are named after some of the Indian chiefs Chick had known over the years, as a sort of memorial to his friends: Skookum Chief, Chief Capilano, Chief Raven, Chief Dominic Charlie, and Chief August Jack.”  Chuck Chamberlain is Chick’s son and has maintained his father’s legacy.  Chuck was happy to share stories of the his Dad, his restaurant, and his friends over the years when I came for breakfast on a rainy Saturday morning.  A painting of Chief Simon Baker graces the wall when you enter.  Chuck is proud of this friendship and was honoured to be a pall bearer at Chief Baker’s funeral.

The story that was most powerful was the story of the Wild Man of the Woods Mask used in the Squamish ceremony of boys moving into manhood.  When the mask is needed for a ceremony, it is taken down from the special resting spot in the restaurant, and once it’s purpose is fulfilled, it is returned to a place where it rests with the spirits of the ancestors.  This is so different than the experience of another friend of mine who is a member of the Squamish Nation.  He took a special basket made by his grandmother to the Museum of Anthropology with an inquiry about how best to preserve it.  The Museum of Anthropology explained they could help.  When my friend and his family returned to request it for use in a special ceremony, they were denied access.  Two similar scenarios with the biggest difference being the respect demonstrated and the dynamic of power and control.

I remember going to the Tomahawk Restaurant for breakfast as a very little girl, one weekend when my aunt and my Mom ventured over the Lion’s Gate Bridge to go to Capilano Canyon with my sister and cousins.  My husband remembers not being able to finish the Skookum Chief burger, nicknamed The Hulk burger, when he was a little boy.  Yet, I paused to return because of the name – Tomahawk.  As a student of history and an educator wanting to rectify past wrongs, I had many questions.  Was it respectful?  Was it appropriate?  Was it a remnant of past uninformed representations of indigenous culture?  Tomahawks were from the prairies, weren’t they?   It wasn’t until I did some internet research, listened to an interview and did some the reading, that I gave myself permission to return for a visit and a questions to ask.  And yes, I was dying to see the art.  While I was there, chatting with Chuck, I kept thinking of the First Peoples Principle of Learning:  Learning is embedded in memory, history, and story.  Listening to the stories always needs to proceed formulating the judgement.  What I heard on Sunday, was pride in respectful relationships and families that have become intertwined over many years.

Recently I cited Byrd Baylor’s book, Everybody Needs a Rock in reference to an Indigenous sharing circle of large boulders that we are installing in our playground.  The intention is to help students understand the very beginnings of the concept of democracy in giving everyone a voice.  One of my respected colleagues, questioned my reference to a non-indigenous author.  Again I did some internet research to discover that she has maternal Native American decent but grew up in a largely non-indigenous culture.  However I went back to the First Peoples Principle of Learnings:  Learning is holistic, reflexive, reflective, experiential, and relational (focused on connectedness, on reciprocal relationships, and a sense of place).   Ultimately, isn’t our intention for all people to embrace these principles because it represents universal learning that matters.  And isn’t it our intention for all people to share the stories that come to form their understandings.

Anthropologist, Aaron Glass also stated in his interview with Heather Ramsey of The Tyee (March  2011):  “What we argue in the book is that the totem pole has been a constantly evolving form, so there was never a moment when “it” almost died. It kept changing, migrating, transforming. This is not a story of death and rebirth it is a story of continual transformation.”  As with the totem pole, the relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous people will continue to evolve and transform as we open ourselves to new learning.  Hopefully this time we get it right, and that relationship will be based on respect, honesty, shared power, and a willingness to be open to learning from each other.

Perhaps the World Starts

In her poem, Perhaps the World Ends Here , Joy Harjo does a marvelous job of capturing the power of community in negotiating the lessons life and death around a kitchen table.  It was the first thing that came to mind the other day.   A warring group of 10 year old boys were sent to The Office.  Friends.  Enemies.  Frenemies with the balance tipping to enemies on this particular occasion.  Betrayal.  Unkindness.  Hurt feelings.  Exclusion.  Anger.  Sadness.  Hopelessness.  Frustration.  Despair.  Indignation.  All palpable in the room.

All of the boys were separated and directed to use the calm down strategy that works for them so he could move from the reactionary mode to a problem solving mode.   On this particular day, time was not particularly helpful.  The external appearance of calm was stitched together by the moral indignation of the crimes of the “other”.   All four boys were ready to erupt at the smallest provocation.

The  boys came into my office so I could help mediate the talk that was doing nothing but adding fuel to the many fires.   When they had a seat at the table, I realized that I hadn’t cleared the teacups from my peer leadership meeting with my Community School Team partners.

I explained, “Sorry, I haven’t cleaned up from my last meeting.  Let me get that out of your way.”

The response, “Oh, that’s not for me?  I’d like a cup of tea.  It’s a thing to calm down. ”

“Hmm.  Well, there still is some in the pot. I could get you some” was my response.  Fortunately I had decided to keep the tea set I bought for my daughter with the large  teapot.

The first thing the boys were able to agree on was that they all wanted tea.  With sugar.  Apparently lots of sugar.  The shift of attention to tea was like shifting tectonic plates.  Before long, feelings were bared.  Frustrations were vented.  Tears were shed.   Plans were made.  Heartfelt apologies were expressed.   The balance had shifted to friends who were still somewhat annoyed with each other.

My thoughts wandered to my maternal grandmother, Nanny Keenan.  The rule in the family was, when you walked in the door to visit, you kissed Nanny hello and then put on the kettle for tea before you took off your coat.  All of the news, joys and struggles of life were wrestled with, cried over, or laughed about over a cup of tea.   In her poem, Joy Harjo writes of the kitchen table:  “It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.”  Perhaps the same is true in part on the playground, in the classroom, or in the principal’s office over a cup of tea, on a good day!

Incorporating Understanding of Residential Schools into Canadian History

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The Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre was officially opened at UBC on April 9th, 2018.  As the University Hill Elementary School community works, learns and plays on unceded Musqueam lands, we very much wanted to share our acknowledgement and respect.  Ms. Melody Ludski, one of our teachers who is actively engaged in learning about  Indigenous Education and ways of knowing, also wanted explore ways to include the stories of our collective Canadian history to create a future vision of who we want to be in the world. We were so appreciative that she represented us at this event, and that our librarian, Mr. Jorden Covert, streamed the event into the library so students and teachers could also participate.

Indigenous expressions of culture were banned by Canadian law from 1885 to 1951.  However from 1951 until quite recently, Canadian Education systems have been largely silent on presenting an accurate rendition the decisions and implications of our history on our indigenous people and the subsequent attitudes we embraced.  In his speech, University of British Columbia President Santa Ono  quite articulately expressed the work of Aaron Lazare, Emeritus Chancellor, Dean and professor of psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in his speech at the opening ceremony:   “First, people are not guilty for actions in which they did not participate. But just as people take pride in things for which they had no responsibility (such as famous ancestors, national championships of their sports teams and great accomplishments of their nation), so too must these people accept the shame (but not guilt) of their family, their athletic teams and their nations.”

The UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (1989) and the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2008) protects the right of children to know their culture and language:

Article 15

  1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the dignity and the diversity of their cultures, traditions, histories and aspirations which shall be appropriately reflected in education and public information.
  2. States shall take effective measures, in consultation and cooperation with the indigenous peoples concerned to combat prejudice and eliminate discrimination and to promote tolerance, understanding and good relations among indigenous peoples and all other segments of society.

“Fully implementing this national education framework will take many years, but will ensure that Aboriginal children and youth see themselves and their cultures, languages, and histories respectfully reflected in the classroom.  Non-Aboriginal learners will benefit, as well.  Taught in this way, all students, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, gain historical knowledge while also developing respect and empathy for each other.  Both elements will be vital in supporting reconciliation in the coming years.”

“Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future”

Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, July 2015, p. 240

The Vancouver School Board has signed it’s second Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement, which is dated June 2016 to June 2021.  Many Vancouver Schools are able to directly impact their indigenous students and have a lot to learn from their indigenous families.  All VSB schools are required by the school district to also focus on developing inclusive aspects of our culture and community:

Vancouver School Board District Goal #3 :  To increase knowledge, awareness, appreciation of, and respect for Aboriginal histories, traditions, cultures and contributions by all students through eliminating institutional, cultural and individual racism within the Vancouver school district learning communities

It is an expectation that Vancouver Schools are actively engaged in making our schools more inclusive places.  It is our job as educators to inform ourselves with the background knowledge that was likely omitted from our own school experiences.  It is also our responsibility to be open to opportunities that present learning that just might take us outside of our comfort zone. After all we ask kids to do that all the time.

 

Note:  For more information read Aaron Lazare ‘s book, On Apology,

Who are “Breakaway Learners”?

Sometimes, happenstance or serendipity, or whatever you want to call it, just happens.

Subject line in my overly full email inbox reads:  A seemingly out of the blue email from a children’ book author based in US and living at UBC
The text:   Long story short, I am a visiting scholar at UBC through March 5th and passed your school many times.  I write children’s books — which I have read to thousands of children of all ages and stages (ideal range is 2nd — 5th grades)… Seeing and being in schools and working with children of all ages and stages is what I do — and having been a university president and senior advisor to the US Department of Education, I am ever of the view that the most important education is that which occurs early…  And, for the record, I attach a photo of myself and a short bio so you can see I am legit.  

My Response:   Is there a cost attached to this great offer?

The beginning of another beautiful relationship that started online!  Karen Gross did come to University Hill Elementary School to share her stories with our students.  She captivated both teachers and students alike.  She was aware of our outdoor school and environmental focus and arrived with her newest children’s book, Lady Lucy’s Dragon Quest, a story about droughts and saving land and crops with a strong female protagonist with a collaborative approach to problem solving.  Our Korean students were thrilled that Korean students were the illustrators, who are now in college and who continue to illustrate.
2.  plasticity references the permanent change that occurs in the institution itself in response to required changes
3.  pivoting right references supporting students in their ability to make short and long term decisions that will bring abut the most favourable outcome
4.  reciprocity  that extends beyond student willingness to share ideas and commit to agreements with staff listening and responding, to institutions being responsive to the ideas and needs of their changing populations
5.  belief in self by teachers and institutions stepping away from a deficit model of education to one that builds on strengths

Wild About Vancouver

Wild About Vancouver is a celebration of the outdoors being held from April 18-25, 2018.  Activities are planned by individuals, schools, sports organizations and community groups and centres.  All activities planned during the week are free to participants.   The goal for the week is to generate lots of energy, ideas and momentum for participation in outdoor learning, activities and fun that continues well beyond the week long celebration.  There are lots of opportunities to participate.

  1. Get ideas and register on the Wild About Vancouver  website. Tweet out lesson ideas, activities, events and blog links.  Be sure to include @WildAboutVan so we can retweet and generate some excitement!

Hashtags #getoutside #getoutdoors #outdoorlearning #outdoorclassroom #natureschool 

3.  Email blog posts to banack@ubc.ca

4.  Encourage a friend to participate in an outdoor activity.

  • Ideas from University Hill Elementary School for the 2018 Wild About Vancouver
    • scheduled weekly nature school / outdoor learning experiences
    • Hatch butterflies in the classroom
    • Create a butterfly garden for them to live in when they are released
    • Create an Outdoor Classroom
    • Start a leadership group to teach playground games
    • Plant Potatoes.
    • Start Worm Composting
    • Raise salmon fry  and release them into the wild
    • Read Gillian Judson’s new book, A Walking Curriculum with your staff or community group and try out a few of the walks or ALL 60!
    • Host an Earth Day Barbeque

#GetOutside  #HaveFun

For those interested outdoor enthusiasts outside the Lower Mainland of Vancouver, British Columbia, consider of the continuing the movement in your community!

PechaKucha Meets Ignite Meets Edvent

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PechaKucha, Ignite and Edvent presentations have various rules to govern the format. They have one basic elements in common, to engage the audience and communicate a message within a fast paced presentation.

PechaKucha Nights (PKNs) are a Japanese innovation to allow presentations from multiple presenters throughout the night.  20 slides are shown for 20 seconds each (6 minutes and 40 seconds in total) hence the name “PechaKucha” or “chitchat”.  How To Make a Petcha Kutcha is a YouTube “meta-kutcha” created by Marcus Weaver Hightower from The University of North Dakota.  He goes through all of the essential elements to consider, including slide show suggestions in the preparation.   Rosa Fazio @collabtime used Spark Video for her Ignite at The British Columbia Principals’ Vice Principals’ Association Friday Forum which was very powerful.

Ignite sessions are similar.  20 slides are advanced at intervals of 15 seconds for a total 5 minute presentations.  The 1st Ignite took place in Seattle in 2006 and the presentation format has spread exponentially to cities all over the world to multiple disciplines.

EDvents are less formal in form for educators coming together to “chitchat” about educational issues.  The inspirational quality of the 5 minute is presentation is at a premium to stimulate educational discourse between speakers at the event.  There could be one slide,  There could be props.  There could be an adherence to pechakucha or ignite format.  There could be a theme.  I presented on a “Menu for Meaningful Learning” in keeping with the food theme at EDvent 2017 in Burnaby, British Columbia.

The challenge of all of these formats is to remove all of the extraneous detail, to make the message succinct and content engaging.  My first “EDvent” was extremely stressful.  My ability to ad lib by reading the audience was stripped away by the need to follow a well-practiced script to ensure my presentation was coordinated with the timed slides.  It was different from any other presentation I had done, albeit not quite as stressful as my 9th Grade oral report on the tomato plant.  Fortunately I was surrounded by like-minded educators who were proud of me for being brave enough to take the risk.

I have been asked to do another ignite and I’m starting to think about how to improve on my last performance.  I’ve gone to two respected colleagues who have taken the “edvent” to an art form.  Gillian Judson @perfinker responded that a good ignite session “comes from a position of engagement and connects with the heart of the listener.”  Rosa Fazio @collabtime also shared similar wisdom:  “When I write an ignite, my goal is to make a connection between the head and the heart.”   There you have it!  The aspiration to connect and inspire the listener is what dictates the power of the presentation.

On April 17th, I will be attending another Edvent 2018 #tunEDin organized by Gabriel Pillay @GabrielPillay1 with the effervescent enthusiasm of his sister, Rose Pillay @RosePillay1 aka CandyBarQueen.   I am looking forward to connecting with other colleagues in Education, being inspired by the signature EDvent format and to glean helpful hints for my next ignite session.  I hope to see you there.

 

 

Reggio Inspiring Classrooms in British Columbia

I am part of a group of educators in the Vancouver School Board, considering various inquiries about aspects of Reggio Emilia inspired practice.  We came together with other like-minded educators in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia to participate in a school visit to Opal School in Portland, Oregon during our Spring 2018 vacation.  Ninety British Columbia teachers converged on the Portland Museum where this model of Reggio inspired educational practice is housed.  We had three days of intensive presentation, observation, engagement, reflection and discussion.  In trying to make sense of the myriad of perceptions and information, I sought out books.  Fortunately, Portland is also home to my new favourite place – Powell Books.  This bookstore of all bookstores, takes up an entire city block, has new and used titles and is staffed with knowledgeable readers.  I found what I needed for the learning to continue.

Reggio Emelia Classrooms started in Northern Italy just after World War II in an effort by educators, parents and the municipal government to “produce a reintegrated child, capable of constructing his or her own powers of thinking through the synthesis of all the expressive, communicative and expressive languages.” (C. Edwards, L. Gandina, G.E. Foreman, eds. 1993, p.305).   Essentially people came together in the belief that providing rich experiences grounded in basic human rights for children from 0-6 years old was the best strategy to prevent another emergence of fascism.  Building connections and respectful relationships between child, parent, teacher and the community was a foundational premise.  Although it is widely accepted that it is not possible to transport educational ideas intact from one culture to a totally different context, there are ways to implement certain principles and ideas inspired by the Reggio experience.

Loris Malaguzzi, the father of the Reggio Emilia philosophy of education,  developed a metaphor that is very instructive in understanding the Reggio approach.  His premise is that the relationship between the teacher and the student is much like throwing a ball, or as Vygotsky framed it, providing “scaffolds” to support young learners.  The teacher must be able to listen and catch the ball thrown by the child, then toss it back in a way to extend the learning and maintain the motivation of the child to continue the game, aka for the child to continue to ask and answer the questions he or she cares about.

An exhibit toured the United States in 1987 called “The Hundred Languages of Children”  that provided the context and the educational process of the Reggio Emilia schools with a display and explanation of photographs, samples of children’s paintings, drawings, collage, constructive structures and explanatory scripts and panels.  In 1996, editors Carolyn Edwards, Lella Gandini, and George Forman brought together a collection of essays and perspectives by influential thinkers and educators in what has become “a bible” of Reggio Emilia thought in a must-read book called The Hundred Languages of Children:  The Reggio Emilia Approach to Early Childhood Education.   The “hundred languages of children” refers to the multiple ways that young children grapple with their questions and create meaning, including drawing with various media (crayons, coloured pencils, pastels, charcoals, sticks…) on various surfaces (paper, glass, sand…), painting, plasticine, clay, murals, photographs, plays, skits, water, mud, wood, mirrors, light table and … , as well as with oral language.  As Malaguzzi emphasizes “(t)he wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experiences” (p. 73).   Malaguzzi likened setting up the atelier, or space, for stimulating and meaningful centres of activity, to the setting up of ‘market stalls” where customers look for the wares that interest them, make selections and use them for their own purposes.  With familiarity exploring the materials, comes the possibility of them being used as a tool for communication.

In Reggio Emilia schools, students are encouraged to ask questions and set up investigations or projects to find answers.  “(T)he actual theme or content of the project is not as important as the process of children thinking, feeling, working, and progressing together with others.” (p 194)  However there are some general guidelines and principles in Reggio project work (p.210)

  1. Groups of 5 or less activate the most intense learning and exchange of ideas
  2.  Establish and maintain reciprocity / a sense of “WE”
  3. Graphic and verbal exploration
  4. Teachers work collaboratively to develop the project questions, comments and interests of the children involved
  5. Ample time for students to come up with their own questions and their own solutions
  6. Bring the knowledge and experience of the small group back to the other children and adults in the school.

The educators at Reggio Emilia schools invest heavily in documenting student work.  This documentation may include recordings, observations, transcriptions of children’s dialogue and photographs of key moments.  One of the purposes is to reflect back the learning process back to young children to help develop their meta-cognitive thinking.  In addition, the “systematic documentation allows each teacher to become the producer of research, that is someone who generates new ideas about curriculum and learning, rather than being merely a “consumer of certainty and tradition.” (p. 157)  Regular meeting and discussions happen between teachers to assist in selecting documentation for display to parents, program planning and problem solving.   Intellectual conflict is valued and understood as the engine of all growth in Reggio for both teachers and students.  “Children’s work (drawings, verbal transcripts, symbol making) is incorporated into the classrooms and school hallways by means of large and dramatic displays, and reflects the serious attention adults pay to children’s ideas and activities.” (Lillian Katz, 1990, p.217)

Reggio Inspired Opal School is both a private pre-school with two classrooms and publicly funded Kindergarten to Grade 5 Charter School with four classrooms.  It represents an “ecosystem” or a Reggio inspired approach to learning based on the core belief that each child is capable, competent, creative, and filled with skills we need in the world.  There was a very respectful way in which adults talked and interacted with students.  They took the time to slow down the interaction with the purpose of trying to understand the child’s perspective and helping the child to ask the questions and come up with a plan to understand.

The school has a long wait list and entrance is determined by a lottery.  It is extremely well funded and provides students with a wide range of materials to express their learning and many large professionally prepared samples of documentation.  We were invited to be observers or listeners in the “ecosystem” and to look for examples of playful inquiry in the four  K- Grade 5 classrooms, as well as adopt a willingness to be transformed.  Popsicle sticks at the door controlled the number of observers in the room to keep disruption of the learning environment to a minimum.

The day started with a Morning Meeting time.  Project work was introduced with a provocation, a stimulating event, question or activity to motivate students to consider the topic.  Explore time or project work provided the opportunities for collaboration.  Students generally worked in small groups exploring a topic while one of the two teachers was transcribing discourse on a laptop computer.  There is no library, cafeteria or gym in the museum so the classrooms, playground and museum grounds need to fulfill these purposes.

All of the activity in the school has a learning intention to guide attention.  “Intention setting keeps educators from getting too far ahead or falling behind the students” according to Opal School staff (March 2018).  Learning in not theme based.  The emphasis is on learning to learn, developing empathy and agency rather than learning content about the topic.  It is a particularly strong model for developing project based learning with a proclivity to action.  Students are encouraged to explore big questions that will motivate learning over time.  Topics included:

  • Impact of plastic water bottles on the environment
  • Refugee Crisis
  • Culture of Hate
  • March Against Guns in Schools
  • Contributing to the Vietnam exhibit in the Museum about Tet

Reggio Emilia Inspiration for Schools in British Columbia: 

Although Reggio programs were designed for children from birth to 6 years, many of the principles holds true for older school aged students to be nurtured in the same supportive context by educators, parents and community partners.  Many educators have embraced many of the principles and philosophies of Reggio Emilia Schools and they can be found in the New Curriculum in British Columbia.  Yet, there are other aspects to consider as well.

  1. Student Centered Learning:  I love the quote by Loris Malaguzzi, founder of the program in Reggio Emilia: ” We wanted to recognize the right of each child to be a protagonist and the need to sustain each child’s spontaneous curiosity at a high level”. (p. 45)   Viewing the child as competent and capable of learning is a large step away from the notion of the child as a “tabula rasa” or empty vessel.
  2. Inquiry:  We can develop schools that encourage students to ask complex questions, plan investigations, and believe in themselves as capable and competent learners, even when faced with cognitive dis-equalibrium.
  3. Acknowledging the Role of Conflict:  Reggio philosophy acknowledges the role of conflict in coming up with the best solutions.  Students are encouraged to disagree, debate and problem solve independently.  Teacher discussion is much the same with problem solving involving listening to all of the viewpoints presented.  Deference to authority has not had any place in Reggio philosophy due to the WWII experience.   I believe students and educators would benefit from more rigorous debate, lively exchange of ideas and problem solving opportunities.  Decisions should be based on clear thinking not alliances.
  4. Learning Intentions:  As we are dealing with school aged children, there is a curriculum that we as educators are responsible for covering with our students.  Using provocations to engage students in a topic and teaching students to set a learning intention has benefits to both motivation to learn, making connections and considering a direction to pursue.
  5. Multiple ways to explore questions and communicate learning:  In many ways our curriculum in British Columbia is doing just that.  Inquiry is encouraged but the variety of ways to communicate not yet fully understood.  An atelier (studio / lab) for exploration may not be a reality in schools in British Columbia, but the exposure and ability to explore questions using a variety of media is possible.  In many of our schools, the accessibility of parks, beaches, forests and farm land provide access to materials not often readily available in urban settings.  That being said, the funding to allow exploration of a wide range of artistic expressions would open up amazing possibilities.
  6. Communicating Student Learning:    I believe the new ways of reporting to parents is continuing to be a positive development in nurturing relationship with students, parents, educators and community partners.  Reporting from teachers continues to be important but one avenue of communicating student learning to parents.  Mandatory student led conferences indicate the importance of student voice in learning.    Parents are also frequently invited into informal events which allow them to gain greater insight into the learning process of their child.  Large displays which documents student learning in diverse ways and sharing project outcomes and actions also brings a better understanding of the role of play and inquiry in the learning process.
  7. Documentation to develop Meta-cognitive Skills:  Teachers currently use a variety of means to document student learning.  However the documentation is frequently used for assessment purposes.  There would be real benefit in putting a greater emphasis on using documentation as a tool to help students develop their metacognitive thinking skills.
  8. Professional Development:  As John Dewey put it, educators are called to adopt a stance of “learning to learn”.  Educators are involved in daily conducting of systematic research on daily classroom work for professional development, curriculum planning and teacher development.  The obvious benefits of this process make it very worthwhile to facilitate common prep times in schools to allow teachers to meet for these purposes.
  9. Designing schools to facilitate collaboration:  In Italy, there is high value placed on art and aesthetics.  Historically, designing public spaces includes not only the aesthetic but the priority of facilitating social interaction.  Our schools need to be designed or transformed into spaces and places to invite collaboration and indicate that we put high value on the education of our students.
  10. Creating Mutually Beneficial Community Partnerships:  Creating the Opal School in the Portland Museum opens up a range of options to consider.  Young Opal students were able to contribute to the curated Museum display teaching about the Tet celebration in Vietnam.  What a powerful way to demonstrate the power of the inquiry project to the students, parents, community partners and the public.  No wonder there is such a long waiting list to attend.

7 Habits +1 to Empower

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Betty Boult was the keeper of the knowledge when it came to Stephen Covey and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People when I first started teaching in Abbotsford.  She had done the facilitators training and she facilitated with flair.  We had animated discussions and were committed to engaging with the ideas and doing the work to complete the workbook meticulously.  I can still play out some conversations that resonated and remember my queries around some of the habits.  Those were the days when “sharpening the saw” was just a part of daily life and took much less deliberate effort.   Saying “no” was not yet part of my repertoire and everything was a priority.   These were the days before children and my husband was working just as hard to start his business.  The advantage of professional development in Abbotsford was that it was a small enough district that we all did pro-d together.  Therefore, the things we learned and ideas we were thinking about, were discussed in the staffroom, as staff socials and the ideas frequently referenced.  I think in this way, many of the ideas were incorporated into who I was.

I recently finished reading Stephen Covey’s (2008)  The Leader in Me:  How Schools and Parents Around the World Are Inspiring Greatness, One Child at a Time.  In this book, the learning is focused on children in K-5, middle and secondary schools, in the United States (the main focus), Singapore, Canada and Japan.  The power is that it that the ideas are introduced and developed with entire school populations.  Students are taught public speaking and acknowledged for their strengths and encouraged to assume responsibility for leadership tasks within the school.

I remember shortly after my Covey training, I was asked to do the goodbye tribute to my mentor, Joan Fuller, at her retirement function.  Public speaking had never been in my comfort zone.  Memories of tomato seeds bouncing out of my hand during my 9th grade oral report haunted me.  Boring topic.  Questionable choice to be holding the smallest of all seeds for an oral report in front of the class.  Terrifying teacher who was known to roll her eyes. Nothing good came out of it and I carried a lingering fear of public speaking.  However, I loved Joan and had a vested interest in making her retirement special.  I was terrified.  I was over prepared and tripped over my words.  I was glued to my cue cards.  My vocal chords constricted.  My legs shook.  I blushed.  And yet, I lived through it.  Everyone clapped and smiled.  Joan was delighted and cried.  And there were no tomato seeds.  I drank the Kool-Aid and was excessively proactive and had a passion for professional development.  I found myself more and more speaking in front of audiences,  in both my professional life and involvement in personal passions.  Yes, I was one of the lives that was changed because I had come to understand I had something worthwhile to say.

Covey is frequently referenced but I wonder how many people really understand the ideas and have integrated them into their lives and then regularly revisited.  There is a tremendous amount to be learned that directly correlates with empowering, not only adults but children too.

For those of you who need a quick recap of the habits:

  • Habit 1:  Be Proactive
    • Take initiative
  • Habit 2:  Begin with the End in Mind
    • Set goals
  • Habit 3:  Put First Things First
    • Prioritize and only do the most important things
  • Habit 4:  Think Win-Win
    • Getting what you want while considering others
  • Habit 5:  Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
  • Habit 6:  Synergize
    • work well with others to accomplish a task
  • Habit 7:  Sharpen the Saw
    • Eat well, exercise, get enough sleep
  • Habit 8 (added in 2004):  Find Your Voice and Help Others Find Theirs –
    • Identify gifts.  Optimize them.  Develop them.