The Best Version of Ourselves

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This year I have read a plethora of reasons NOT to participate in the tradition of New Year’s resolutions:  “If you can’t love yourself at 185 lbs., you can’t love yourself at 150 lbs.”  “Embrace who you are.”  “Be gentle with yourself.”  I am a believer in self care and proactive, positive change but these loud and prolific proclamations evoke the images of Mr. Scrooge and his “Humbug” response to considering the notion of goodwill toward all people during the Christmas season.

Part of family tradition with my mother included annual New Year’s Resolutions.  The pens and erasers and note paper from stockings were put to good use.  My mother, my older sister and later my sister-cousin, would compile lists of things that we were going to do in the following year.  It was a time of dreaming big and thinking through all of the possibilities.  I did learn to ski, snowboard, water ski, drive, finish a 10 km run, do a mini-triathalon, finish my MA, take the kids to the park rather than clean the house, entertain, travel and rotate between personal and professional reads.

Yes, I have also been a chronic breaker of New Year’s resolutions.  My eating habits slip and so does my exercise regime.  My love affair with diet coke re-ignites.  I don’t sleep enough and work too late.  I don’t invest enough time into human rights work.  I don’t do all of the wild and wonderful things I had planned for the new year.  But the possibility remains that I will and if I do, I will be proud of my accomplishment.

I still heartily believe that I can be a better version of myself. And so I am in the process of making both personal and professional goals for the upcoming year.  This will be the year I unfriend diet coke, eat less junk, take more stairs, stretch before I exercise, get enough sleep and maximize engagement in relationships and in online possibilities.  And yes, I believe I can do it.  At least some of it.  Hope still burns!  And in my wake of enthusiasm, I will encourage my relatives, friends, colleagues and students to join me in the pursuit of being the very best version of ourselves.  Good luck with your New Year’s resolve and accomplishments big or small along the way! Continue reading “The Best Version of Ourselves”

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Why Do I Lead?

imageIt is a hectic time of year but pretty much every month in the school year is shrouded in busyness.  Getting back to school, meeting reporting deadlines, getting ready of special assemblies, celebrations and project presentations with the overarching goal of meeting the social, emotional and academic needs of our students.  In administration, you add yet another layer to the busyness.   During our recent career day sponsored by the Spirit Committee, one of the students chose “Vice Principal” as their dream job.  Of course, it begged the question.  Why?  The response was true enough: I smile a lot and laugh at my own jokes.  I spend most of the days just talking to kids and teachers and parents and people who fix stuff in the school.  I get to play everyday.  I have a whistle and lots of keys.  I get to do fun things like building the playground and garden boxes. I make rules and get to talk on the PA. What more could you want in a dream job?

I recently became part of the School Administrators Virtual Mentor Program (#SAVMP).  George Couros suggested the blog topic:  Why Do I Lead?  It has pushed me to reflect on the various types of leadership that I have experienced as a student, a teacher, a parent and an administrator.  My first memory of  leadership was in Grade 7 at David Lloyd George Elementary School in Vancouver, British Columbia.  I was running to be team captain.   I was nervous beyond belief to be up on the stage giving a speech and facing the possibility of a humiliating defeat.  My eyes flickered up from my shaking cue cards to see the front rows of primary students cheering.  Those little people believed I could be their leader.    Getting elected was thrilling but the biggest takeaway for me as a kid was that big people and little people believed my ideas mattered and wanted to talk about them with me.  My takeaway as an adult is that I want everyone in our school communities to have that experience.

Subsequent activities that I have chosen, or been co-oped to lead, have been things I have been heavily invested in, such as social justice, my children, my students and professional development.  Leaderships skills were not a precursor to assuming the leadership roles for me but were more of a by-product of the experiences themselves. Every leadership role has been a risk taking venture.  The learning has come with the grand successes or the abysmal failures or the things to consider for a later date.  Each leadership opportunity has connected me with people who pushed my thinking, made me laugh, tried my patience and allowed me to see things from a different perspective.  Each opportunity helped me to grow personally and professionally.

There are many opportunities for leadership when you work in a school.  Throughout my career, I assumed a variety of leadership roles in sports, BC teacher Federation PSA, LSA’s, professional associations and committees while teaching at the elementary school, middle school and university level.  When I was seconded to Simon Fraser University as a faculty associate, my realm of leadership possibilities broadened.  In the Faculty Associate role, I worked in several school districts with student teachers in a Kindergarten to Grade 12 module.  It provided the opportunity to engage in conversations with many administrators about their role and experience many school cultures.  The multifaceted challenges in the role of the administrator in developing a learning community was intriguing.

I have been fortunate to work with a number of strong school administrators who challenged the status quo and supported teachers with innovative teaching practices. What they all had in common was the willingness to support and trust the initiatives proposed by staff members.   We are fortunate in British Columbia to have a strong public school system.  We are also in a time of unprecedented change that requires that educators have the confidence and support structures in place to cope with the advances in technology and shifts in parenting, society and curricular expectations.  School administrators play an integral role in creating and envisioning an environment that supports the intellectual, human, and social and career development of all students.    This requires their personal investment identifying the possibilities open to us as educators.   It is inspiring to work in community to develop the background knowledge and skills required to provide the scaffolding for school communities to meet with success in the challenges of change.  Richard Gerver (2014) highlights the work of Professor Guy Claxton (2002) and his definition of the 4 R’s of Learning Power as Resilience, Resourcefulness, Reflectiveness and Reciprocity.  I lead because I want to be part of a network that supports teachers, support staff, parents and community partners in providing the very best kick at the can for our students to graduate with the background knowledge, skills, creativity, and confidence to fearlessly embrace the possibilities in their future.

 

 

Responding to Negative Feedback 

With the excitement of the holiday season comes lots of free floating stress.  In schools, the combination of report cards and Winter Concerts and overtired kids and adults can be challenging.  Festivities with family can bring a plethora of opportunities for negative feedback.  Although a season of nothing but good will and joy would be ideal, it isn’t always the reality.  I regularly receive THE MANAGEMENT TIP OF THE DAY compliments of the Harvard Business Review.  Always interesting food for thought.

December 3, 2015

Decide How You’ll React to Negative Feedback

When criticism arrives unexpectedly, remembering how you should react to it is tricky. Getting caught up in the heat of the moment can overwhelm our best intentions. Think through the reaction you want to have now, so that you’ll be ready when the time comes:

Listen carefully to what’s being said. Is the criticism of you fact or opinion? And is it accurate? What’s the intent and motive of the person giving you feedback?

Don’t get defensive. Even when your criticizer is factually wrong, saying so isn’t helpful. Listen to what the person is saying, then ask questions to make sure you understand it.

Ask for time to consider what’s been said. Doing so defuses the immediate situation, shows the person you consider the feedback important enough to be considered carefully, and gives you a chance to decide whether the criticism is true.
Adapted from “How to Handle Negative Feedback,” by Dick Grote.

The goal for the season:  Listen carefully and think long and hard before you speak 🙂  Easier said than done 🙂  Good luck.

 

TedxVancouver Starts the Conversation

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One question brought 3500 Vancouverites from all walks of life together on a rainy day.   The tone in Roger’s Arena morphed from captive to zen to electric depending on the speaker and the message. Technology provided an interactive component to solicit opinions of the group, artist renditions accompanying performances, illustrations of speaker’s points and the opportunity to tweet(#TEDxVan) and show that history can be interesting with Sam Sullivan’s videos. Continue reading “TedxVancouver Starts the Conversation”

The Couros Brothers Inspire Educators

 

Alec Couros referencing George Couros at Whistler Conference 2015 for VSB Admin

It is fairly common to hear couples that speak on the same topic at conferences.  It is less common to have siblings pursuing and presenting on the same area of study.  This year I had the good fortune to hear both of the Couros brothers speak.  Although I follow both of them on Twitter, @gcouros @courosa, read their blogs (The Principal Change by George and Open Thinking by Alec),  face to face contact is still best case scenario for me.  George Couros came to speak with Jordan Tinney at a PDK Vancouver (UBC Chapter) dinner meeting: ” Report Cards and Communicating Student Learning:  Leadership and Learning in a Changing World “. He awed the Vancouver, B.C. audience with his forward thinking about the mindset of innovator’s (2015, The Innovator’s Mindset:  Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity 2015 release) and implementation of a wide variety of progressive tools and strategies to stimulate curiosity and make learning visible, including various digital portfolios.  This was the first PDK- UBC Chapter meeting where people were tweeting from outside the room.  Interest in the topic and his 92.2 K Twitter following were undoubtedly part of the reason.  When I learned his big brother, Alec Couros, would be joining Vancouver administrators in Whistler for our Fall Conference, I was not sure what to expect.  His job as a professor at the University of Regina indicated ivory tower, but his 94.7 K Twitter following, tweets and blog posts indicated something more dynamic.

To my delight, his session was every bit as engaging and informative as his brother’s session with Jordan Tinney in Spring.  The session started providing a theoretical frame as to why educators need to establish an online presence and be the authors of their own story.  He also spoke to our responsibility to define respectful discourse on the internet and teach our students about appropriate posting before any damage is done.   Then he emerged into a whole range of ways to engage our students in their own learning using technology and available APPS.  Dr. Couros provided opportunities for online engagement via a Twitterchat and references so we could go back and play with new tools at a later date.  Educators with varying degrees of comfort with technology and differences of  background knowledge on social media walked out of the room excited about their new learning and with a manageable path they could navigate.

Both of the Couros brothers were able to inspire their audience with not just an openness to change but an excitement about the potential of change.   Their willingness to “boldly go where no “one” has gone before” (Do I need to cite Star Trek?) is energizing for some.  That is not to say that people who embrace change are not without fear.  With any change in life, there is risk.  Continuing on the “tried and true” path is the safest route and perhaps shields us from possible criticism for the questions we can’t answer or for not getting it “right” the first time around.  However as reflective practitioners, our role is to identify what we do well and what we could do better.  How do  we welcome and better facilitate the learning of our students with diverse cultural and linguistic profiles? With varied academic strengths and needs?  With questions we can’t answer?  With varied mental health?  With varied trust in the school system?  With delight in the experiences and energy our students bring into the classroom?  The Couros brothers were both able to shed some light on the possibilities.  They also provided the encouragement, background knowledge and manageable steps to keep us moving forward, not just for the sake of change, but for our students who will need to navigate in a world quite foreign to the one we grew up in.  Thank you, gentlemen 🙂

 

 

ProD Inspiration

Professional reading on the topic of professional development largely espouses the view that much of professional development for educators is not worth the time or money. Large-scale conferences or filling the room with a speaker does not serve the attendees in the room. This has not been my experience. I am a whole-hearted enthusiast of professional development in a variety of forms largely because I’ve experienced the direct benefit.

I have actively engaged in “teacher research” or “reflective practice” or “inquiry based practice”, since it was introduced to me under the label of “qualitative research” at Simon Fraser University in pursuit of my MA. I was in my Kindergarten class, creating a body of research with my questions and my students. Maureen Dockendorf popularized this process for wide-spread participation of teachers in Coquitlam.  Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser’s work and subsequent book, Spirals of Inquiry (2013), has continued to provide a philosophical frame and structure for educators to find answers to their questions while maintaining a focus on student learning. There is no limit to the power of asking questions, focusing on our classrooms and engaging in a conversation with colleagues about our practice and the implications for student learning.

Implicit in the asking of big questions, is the quest to find the answers. That doesn’t just happen in the microcosm of our classrooms. Some of my recent questions have come out of the work with the Grade 3/4 class I enroll on Monday and Tuesdays and my computer classes with intermediate students.   I’m working with a small group of colleagues trying to integrate digital technology into our practice to develop language proficiency and extend thinking skills. Our inquiry group has been supported by Audrey Van Alstyn and the VSB PILOT initiative – Professionals Investigating Learning Opportunities using Technology.  We have had access to planning time, regular practical instruction, discussion of pedagogy and the SAMR model with Dr. Reuben Puentedura, the support of literacy mentors in our classrooms and the opportunity to learn from others involved in PILOT via Speed Geeking and The Digital Fair.   The learning curve has been steep, and at times daunting, but always exciting. However the learning does not happen in a vacuum. We are constantly drawing on the background knowledge and ideas of specialists in the field.

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Much of my thinking has percolated on the ideas from professional reading, professional development and the subsequent conversations in person and via social media. I am energized by professional development and I have been involved in many different forms. I would like to discuss the impact of three professional development opportunities that would meet the criteria for a stand and delivery professional development.   Even though interaction is built into the presentations, according to popular research, it would render this style of professional development as obsolete.

LEARNING AND THE BRAIN CONFERENCE (May 2014):

The research on the plasticity of the brain opened up interesting conversation with my father, a retired neurosurgeon and fueled a fascination with the implications for education. When faced with the opportunity to attend a Brain Research Conference in New York, I jumped.  The power of neuroscientists and educators coming together to define best practice is probably one of the most powerful opportunities at our disposal today. Yes, I was one who lined up to have my purchases signed by the “rock stars” of educational research. And yes, then I proceeded to read the books and look for connections with my practice and applications in my educational context.  I have even participated in the follow-up monthly online chats.

INTERNATIONAL READING (NOW LITERACY) ASSOCIATION (July 2014):

I first became involved in The International Reading Association as a beginning teacher in Abbotsford. Level of involvement fluctuated throughout the years, but my role, as a literacy teacher and learner remained constant and the International Reading Association has always been the “go to” place for practical application of educational research. The International Reading (now Literacy) Association Leadership Convention in Tampa, Florida brought together literacy leaders from North America and beyond to share our work with our provincial /state and local literacy councils. I attended in my capacity as the Provincial Coordinator interested in supporting research based literacy teaching.  The connections made with colleagues of like mind has provided a bank or ideas and support to continue with my work in literacy learning and leadership.

PHI DELTA KAPPA – UBC CHAPTER

My involvement in PDK has come out of a love of the cross-pollination that comes from engaging in conversation about educational leadership with people engaged in a variety of education contexts, from a range of school boards and educational institutions. PDK is a professional organization that is founded on the premise of research, generally organizing 3-4 dinner meetings and featuring a speaker or panel to discuss an area of interest to our members. In April (2015), George Couros and Jordan Tinney presented a session: Report Cards and Communicating Student Learning: Leadership & Learning in a Changing World. The room was filled to capacity within the week and the waiting list started to grow. Tinney and Couros engaged participants in a discussion of the possibilities for innovation that exist in the educational context in B.C. to engage and empower students as well as teachers, utilize social media and create digital portfolios to document student learning.   They created electricity in the room. Ideas were also processed via twitter (#PDKedchat )during the presentation and allowed people outside the room to participate as well.

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In each of these contexts, people of like mind and a growth mindset flocked to sessions to discuss the ideas and make sense of the presentation in light of their own educational context. The conversations would continue long after the actual presentations within professional networks, in blogs and via twitter. The connections with other professional development was be processed, questioned, discussed, embraced, dismissed or implemented in hybrid form.

James Paul Gee presented a talk called: The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students Through Digital Literacy at The Learning and the Brain Conference in New York in May 2014. I was inspired and had a template to build my understanding of what digital literacy needed to look like in my context. At a breakfast meeting in Tampa with Marcie Craig Post, the Executive Director of International Literacy Association, the discussion continued about the need to provide students not only with the scaffolding so they can learn to talk, read and develop thinking skills but the importance of “talk, text, and knowledge (TTK) mentoring” required to use digital tools effectively for literacy development. Tinney and Couros pushed the card with the possibilities for implementation of meaningful assessment and evaluation practices.

When presentations resonate with educators, the conversation continues. Listening to a presentation brings a depth of understanding that doesn’t always come from reading the book, a blog or a twitter post. When people I respect recommend titles of books, I read them or at least aspire to read them! When they ask a question that captures my attention, I think about it. Perhaps I use it to frame my next inquiry project.  I have been lucky to have many opportunities to learn new ideas, consolidate old ones and ask questions. I’ve had the good fortune to listen to amazing professionals with breadth of background knowledge and experiences. They stood, they delivered, they engaged the audience and made me think.   I left the room with new tools, more questions, a sense of efficacy and the inspiration to act. I strongly believe the appetite for this mode of professional development is not going away anytime soon. It represents one necessary part of my professional development appetite.

On the Road with Terry Fox

Nine year old Kerry Anne Holloway spent the summer of 1980 driving across Central Canada.   Her dad, Bill Vigars, worked for the Canadian Cancer Society as a publicist and he decided to take his kids on a road trip for work.  The gig was acting as the public relations organizer for Terry Fox on his now historic run from the Atlantic Ocean to Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Kerry Anne is now a registered clinical counsellor living in Burnaby.   She learned early of the importance of devoting herself to caring about other people.  April 2015 marks the 35th anniversary of Terry Fox’s cross-country fundraising effort to raise $1.00 for every Canadian for cancer research.  Friday, Debby, our grade 2 teacher, organized for Kerry Anne to come and talk to our students before the annual “Toonies for Terry” Run for Cancer Research.   The reaction to Terry Fox presentations by the people in the room is always fascinating.  Many of us who followed Terry on the t.v. and radio and cheered him during his Marathon of Hope, have the emotional response triggered by the memory of a special friend or relative who is remembered with affection and the very personal sadness of loss.  For our students, he is a historical figure.  A Canadian hero.  A guy you want to be like.  Terry Anne’s task is big, to inject the humanity into the legend. 

 Kerry Anne is one of those people who remember what it’s like to be a kid.  She is able to reach back in her memory and pull out the things that matter to kids.  She shared how he ate TONS of food and that when they went into a restaurant, it seemed like he was ordering a whole page from the menu.  That they had food fights.  That her and her brother brought him oranges and water.  That he was nice to her.  That he LOVED basketball and would play it when he was taking a break from running.  That he was never the best player as a kid but loved to play.  That when he got older, he wanted to be a P.E. teacher.

Our students knew Terry dipped his toe in the Atlantic Ocean in St. John’s Newfoundland and then ran for 143 days for the  5,373 kilometers to Thunder Bay, Ontario.  Kerry Anne put it in understandable terms.  He ran 4 Vancouver Sun Runs everyday.  20 kilometers before breakfast.  10 kilometers before lunch.  10 kilometers after he had a nap.  Rain or shine, he was out there.  He went through 9 running shoes.  That he had a sock on his prosthetic leg that he grew VERY attached to and that you can see in Ottawa.  She shared he would be really tired at night so the rule was that they were not allowed to bug him after 8 pm.  Once her brother went in to chat with Terry and one of the adults came and knocked on the door.  Terry quickly hid her brother under the bed so that neither of them would get into trouble.  He was a guy who had your back.

Kerry Anne talked about the things that inspired Terry.  On August 27th in Terrance Bay, Ontario, Gray Scott of Welland, showed up to ride his bike beside Terry.  Greg rode behind Terry for 6 kilometers.  Greg had also lost his leg to bone cancer.  For Terry, this was one of the most inspirational moments and one that brought him to tears when he talked about it.

The kids in both the primary and intermediate audience ate up everything Kerry Anne had to share.  When a question came up that she didn’t know the answer, one of the kids in the audience did.  One on the emergent readers in the audience excitedly threw up his hand to report that the words Terry Fox were on the picture of his van.  Another little girl nicely summarized her learning for all of us:  “Terry Fox never give up.”

Kerry Anne shared a lot of the things she learned on her recent trip the Canadian Museum of History (previously the Canadian Museum of Civilization) in Ottawa.   The Fox family lent more than 200,000 items to the museum, including the jug he filled with water from the Atlantic at the beginning of his run, his own Marathon of Hope t-shirt, his Team Canada hockey jersey from Bobby Orr, his runners and his prosthetic leg with the modifications he made for comfort.  She also shared one of the letters that she wrote to Terry detailing how her brother was always wanting to watch Mash on t.v. and that there were better things they could be watching.  She told us she did a search and found her letter in the Canadian Museum of History Archives.  The museum has scanned and made accessible many of the letters that school children wrote to Terry Fox and other key documents.  Clearly this will be something we will be interested in pursuing.

My favorite story was about Kerry Anne and her brother fighting in the car one day.  Kerry Anne remembers the adult response, “Be quiet and watch Terry run.  You are never going to see anything like this again.”  And she hasn’t.

Terry Fox died on September 1, 1980 and left us with a challenge:  “Even if I don’t finish, we need others to continue.  It’s got to keep going without me.”  On Feb. 5, 1981, Canada’s population reached 24.1 million people and the Terry Fox Marathon of Hope raised $24.17 million.  Every year people in almost 25 countries participate in runs and fundraisers to raise money for cancer research.  So far over $600 million has been raised in Terry’s name.  You can add another $807.00 to that.  Way to go Tecumseh Elementary students for keeping the dream alive.

 

Green Vancouver: Sorting Stations That Work

Happy Earth Day!  This year at my school we started the task of garbage sorting.

Recycling

Compost

Landfill waste

The process is fraught with difficulties.  And yet at the Vancouver Sun Run this Sunday, the process was streamlined and highly successful.  40,000 people converged in BC place Stadium to eat oranges, bananas, bagels, cheese and drink chocolate milk and juice.  Lots of garbage.  Multiple sorting stations.

   

Teams of volunteers were at the stations directing people toward the appropriate container.  And they even were separating out soft plastic and compostable cups. I am inspired to work harder to train volunteers to make this happen with the same ease at our school🍃🌺🌱.