Work Intensification & The Brain

I am a grand fan of technology.  It opens up possibilities for how we work, how we teach and how we connect with the like-minded, inspiring and divergent thinkers who we wouldn’t run into in the local Starbucks.     The down-side is the work intensification.  It is literally possible to work 24/7 and still never finish the to do list.  Because so many educators  give it a valiant try to complete everything on their lists, Health and Wellness became one of  themes for the BCPVPA, British Columbia Principals and Vice Principals Association, Friday Forum on February 23, 2018 open to educational leaders in British Columbia.

Gary Anaka was one of the speakers, originally a secondary Science teacher, who has worked tirelessly in presenting  brain research about structure, neurogenesis and plasticity in an accessible way. Over many years, he has provided not only made sense of  brain research but actively models purposeful ways to engage the brain and considerations for maintaining brain health in his engaging brain coach presentations.  This was all underlined and the ideas further developed by Dr. Sabre Cherowski, Dr. Fei Wang and Sr. Stephen Berg.  Each speaker added to create an iron-clad rationale as to why educators need to not only teach health and wellness but live it as well.

Best of all, I got up the following Sunday morning, abandoned any thought of trying to catch up on emails or attending to nurturing my spiritual well-being indoors and headed up Blackcomb Mountain to complete the assigned homework of getting out in nature for my mental health, moving to grow brain cells, skiing for my physical health and enjoying life and tending to the relationship with my best friend and husband of many years.  All good things.  Only the residual guilt for the ignored things to do list remained.  The trick becomes, what work and how much work is to be done.

This seems to be going the route of every blog post I write every new year and after every extended holiday.  The quest for balance.  In this quest, my German / Scottish roots and my all too developed work ethic, most often tips the balance towards work.  The real issue is one of priorities.  As an administrator, I have no qualms telling staff that their first responsibility is to take care of themselves.  It is another things to prioritize my own health and wellness over the ever increasing onslaught of things to be done.  It is, well… work.

In these times of work intensification, we need to create space for people (yes us) to take care of themselves in order to do the work that matters most.  The beauty of the field of Applied Educational Neuroscience is that it commands a wide scope of attention extending beyond the realm of educators.  Our role is to nurture young brains  therefore it follows suit that we need to understand the field and put our learning into practice.   The rationale for optimizing conditions for brain health and wellness therefore becomes the ultimate priority in doing our work as educators.  It adds another item to our list of things to do – helping students, parents, community partners and beyond to understand why.

Note:

Gary Anaka has published a number of books through Portal Press that are a good way to support the ideas presented in his lively Brain Coach Workshops.

Your Magical Brain:  How It Learns Best

Brain Wellness:  The Secrets of Longevity

Your Brain on the Job

Other Resources:

Teaching with The Brain in Mind  by Eric Jensen is an easy to read book with many instructional strategies.

The Brain’s Way Of Healing by Norman Doidge, M.D. is a fascinating book around current research into many things we still don’t really understand abut the brain.

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Have a Hyggelig Day

I inadvertently learned a new word today.  I was following the array of posts and articles on happiness and gratitude.  Long ago, my husband noted that he had never met anyone who worked so hard at being happy.  It was a hard-fought learning from my childhood that has become as natural as breathing, albeit sometimes breathing with a harsh chest cold.  The morning reading included yet another article on how the Danish have a long standing record as being the happiest people in the world.  Hence the new word – hygge (hue-gah).

The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking, CEO of The Happiness Research Institute, is one of the bibles of this Danish word.  Yet, another internet discovery.  I was taken through a you tube walk through the homes of both a self acclaimed 100% Danish expert returning from a hard day at work and Scottish Diane in Denmark who is married into the expertise.  Apparently life’s simple pleasures really are the best.  Wiking lists 10 things that can be found in the typical Danish home to create the comfy, cozy context to induce this relaxed sense of security and contentment.  It includes everything from candles (or a fireplace), lamps, blankets, books, hot beverages, to wood furniture, comfy clothes and thick, wooly socks.  Apparently I am well on my way to developing my own hygge expertise.  I am certainly committed to doing the research.

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.

Kids Own Their Learning

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The Spiral of Inquiry by Judy Halbery and Linda Kaser  is my favorite  framing of the inquiry process because it speaks to both the educator and the learner in academic and social-emotional learning contexts.   Teachers are asking big questions about their students and how to support them; students are taking responsibility for their learning.  It is the questions that we ask that are going to make a difference.  If students can answer the following questions, then the revised curriculum in British Columbia is well on its way to being implemented:

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

Students are actively engaged in knowing what they are learning and why.  Learning is happening as a result of moving forward with a plan, not just the luck of the draw.  This goes hand in hand with the work that people such as Stuart Shanker, Kim Schonert-Reichl and Leah Kuypers are doing with self regulation.  The goal is to give students the power to identify their moods and thoughts without judging them as good or bad, as well as create a customized set of strategies to cope with them.  As a school principal, I am engaged in these conversations with my students on a regular basis.

All too frequently, students will tell me that it is bad to feel angry or sad.  No so.  Being angry or dismayed at injustice is often a catalyst for needed change.  However coming up with a well reasoned problem-solving strategy is not going to happen when the blood is flooding the reptilian brain in preparation for flight or fight.  The best thing we can do for our students is to help them identify the self calming strategies that work for them so they can problem solve and get back to a place where they can continue learning.

One helpful strategy for many of us, is to take a break.  I have shared with many kids that one of my calm down strategies is to make a pot of Earl Grey tea.  Their strategy could be as simple as walking to the fountain for a drink or moving to another place with teacher consent and appropriate supervision in place.   This gives the child the control over self calming  when he or she is not feeling in control of the situation.


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I encourage students to use a timer (1 minute, 3 minute or 5 minute) to help them meet the goal of calming down rather than dwelling on the problem, and then moving into problem solving mode.  Once a plan is formulated, students move back to the classroom.  The three inquiry questions are just as relevant with social-emotional learning as they are with academic learning.

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

When students are able to self calm, the learning is acknowledged and students are able to move forward with a sense of accomplishment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peaceful Playgrounds

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I recently read a publication in the NY Times Sunday Review called My Kid’s First Lesson in Realpolitik.   Annie Pfeifer is a parent bemoaning the need for our children to stand up to bullies.  There is recognition of the fact that “helicopter parents” swoop in with speed and  vehemence to deal with any conflict, big or small, that his / her child may encounter.   The alternative presented is to let kids fight it out, like on the playgrounds in Switzerland, so they learn how to deal with conflict.  It is my position that both of these options fail to provide our children with the confidence or skills to deal with conflict.  Our kids need educators and families to work together to provide the guidance and mentoring to teach kids how to resolve conflict.

Playgrounds serve to be a microcosm of the world where our kids learn important lessons.  They are filled with students who are human.  Perfection may not be possible but the aspiration to create a peaceful playground is paramount.  We want our future generation to accept that everyone is invited to the party and we all need to learn to co-exist peacefully to create a better reality.  A playground is a relatively small fishbowl and a good place to learn about kindness, acceptance, tolerance and to develop problem solving skills.

Peaceful playground require:

  • kindness
  • communication skills
  • compassion
  • empathy
  • inclusivity
  • compromise
  • sharing space, equipment and friends
  • an ability to express feelings, while considering other people’s feelings
  • an ability to understand when you need to self calm and practice those skills
  • problem solving skills
  • ability to follow safety rules and game rules

Of course the list could go on.  We have a number of programs and theories to help us navigate this course.  School Codes of Conduct are mandatory in schools in British Columbia and are widely published on school websites.  Articles and tweets about the topic of self regulation has become common.  @Stuart Shanker has committed to tweeting a daily quote #SelfReg to encourage us to pursue and gain a greater understanding of root causes of our feelings and how to deal with them.  .

I particularly like The Zones of Regulation program developed by Leah Kuypers, to teach kids that feeling emotions is never a bad thing but we require strategies to deal with them in ways that keep others and ourselves safe.  If you are very angry and in the “Red Zone”, your job is to self calm before you try to problem solve.  Kids are fascinated to learn that “yoga” or slow breathing actually causes your brain to calm your body.  Science at work!

The Peaceful Playgrounds Program is another program that I really like.  Basic messages are framed in a way for kids to easily remember and apply on the playground.  It also includes a plethora of ideas of things to keep kids active and problem solving on the playground.  Problem solving strategies that you probably remember from your own childhood.

  • Talk
  • Walk
  • Rock, Papers, Scissors ( Yes, you commit on 3 – agreed upon rule! )  In several of my other schools, this was know as Ching, Chang, Push, apparently a well established strategy in China too!

War Toys To Peace Art is a group established to fund art projects by peace loving groups of children.  The Friendship Bench is one way for kids to find their way into playground activity if they need some additional support.  A bench is designated as a space for kids to demonstrate kindness by inviting kids looking for a friend looking for someone to play with.  Programs like Jump Rope for Heart give kids a focus and the equipment to get involved in healthy playground activity.

Kids are human and sometimes they will need help resolving conflicts face to face AFTER they have calmed down.  When kids don’t make good choices, they need the opportunity to own them.  Kids need to be able to express how they are feeling and what they didn’t like in face to face conversations.  They also need to learn to listen to other opinions, how the choices he / she made impacted the other person and to develop strategies for how to repair relationships.  They also need to learn to move forward after they have dealt with the problem.   Adults are there to support kids in dealing with the problems.  The goal is for kids to develop the skills to problem solve and the confidence that they can.  Adults are involved in the process to ensure that name calling and bullying (physical and emotional )  do not become an accepted norm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reframing 2018

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I’m am writing this blog post as a series of questions but it is actually a reframing of my New Year’s Resolutions.  I am undaunted by the fact that I have been writing the same resolutions using different words  and forms for many years.  To believe that we cannot become better is to admit defeat.  Like my mother, I am an eternal optimist.  Although things did not always turn out as planned or hoped for or prayed for – she put steadfast belief that people could become their best selves, as did all three of my grandmothers.  Strong women that worked with deliberate intention.

I have German and Scottish roots and perhaps because of that,  a well developed work ethic.   I also have a creative mind and need for little sleep, so the possibilities in life are endless.    Unfortunately time is not.  I continue to struggle with the limits of a 24 hour day.  In the past, it has been all about creating work / life balance.  My colleague, Brian Kuhn, frames that best as “working to live” as opposed to living to work.  However at times, my life has become frenetic in trying to get things done.  My first question is how can I discipline myself to work less and maintain balance?

The quest to balance body/ mind / spirit has often been in the “life outside of work” end of the teeter totter and “work” on the opposite end.  Because there is a plethora of competing demands and imminent needs everyday in my job,  during the school year the teeter totter is most often is grounded in the problem solving and minutia on the work side.  The natural school break times do allow me to refocus priorities, replenish my energy reserves and reframe my next go in the elusive quest for balance.  This seems to be the times I play catch up with creative possibilities, physical and spiritual wellness.

Yes, these are the times of the “ultimate oxymoron” –  the power relax.  Although laughter is a key part of my stress management at work and enjoyment of life, it isn’t enough.  My latest and greatest power relax is the salt float.  My cousin in Cairo is right, it’s not the Dead Sea.  It is 90 minutes of floating in highly concentrated salt water, all by myself in the ocean room of the pristine Halsa Spa in Kits.  Like being a noodle in soup.  My preference is no sound and no light but ambient sound and the blue light and the pod option, work too.  Reading, yoga, cardio activity (walking/ hiking, biking, skiing / boarding, swimming, golfing ), sunshine when possible, good wine and socializing with people I enjoy – all build up my depleted energy reserves.  How do I maintain the balance to maintain long term energy reserves?

Over time I have been changing my perception of balance to be more of a teeter totter with triangular seats on either end.  How can I carve out the time and place to meet physical, spiritual and intellectual needs at work and maintain enough energy to create the same balance at home?   The goal is to avoid the frenetic pace I maintain at work and then collapse in front of the News, Murdoch Mysteries and Modern Family.

My school is right beside the Pacific Spirit Park and Acadia Beach and most classes regularly engage in outdoor learning.  All but the most torrential days are outdoor days during recess and lunch.  The school is less than 20 minutes from four golf courses.  I can ride my bike to school in 40 minutes or less, depending how energetic I am on the big hill.  My husband and I live right beside the beach and already walk to shop, see movies, eat out or go to church.  How can I extend that to get enough exercise at home and work to maintain a healthy perspective and body?

My work first as a teacher, then a teaching vice principal and now as a principal have afforded me many opportunities to participate in rich face to face opportunities for professional learning.  Participation in social media has added another layer to access information and connect with people online.  Blogging has incorporated more depth to personal reflection because it is public and invites further conversation.  The many challenges of implementing curriculum change and adapting to societal change creates stress and possibility in all school communities.  My current school has students speaking 34 different home languages in addition to English.  Some students live in the area, others commute and some will return to their home countries when they have learned English or when their parents finish their studies at The University of British Columbia.  How can I incorporate the voices and needs and desired directions of our staff, students, parents and community partners with national, provincial, district and community school team directions?

For me, spiritual wellness requires times of quiet reflection or a pause button to stop and be grateful for the people and events unfolding around you.  What matters most doesn’t fit on a To Do list with time limits or happen with a perpetual open door policy.  Although I participate and grow from participation in organized religion, spiritual wellness is bigger than participation in church activity.  Church can be a conduit to spiritual wellness and empathy but unfortunately, I have seen it also used as a weapon to control or justify entitlement and hurtful actions.  Fortunately I live in one of the most diverse and profoundly beautiful areas of the world.  A walk in the neighbourhood takes my husband and I to the beach, skiing and hiking takes us to the mountains, wine tasting in the interior of BC takes us to the desert, golf takes us to the park, and a walk just beyond the school grounds takes us to the forest.  I believe that nature feeds the soul because it speaks the natural beauty and diverse forms of life that surrounds us.  On a very foggy late afternoon in December, I was working in my office and happened to look up just in time to see a bald eagle descending down on the playground to scoop up it’s prey.  My question is how can I hit the pause button and look up more often?

My goal throughout 2018 is to go about answering my questions.  One of my ideas to encourage sharing of ideas is a tea time on the first Friday of the month from 9:15 – 10:15 am at my school.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  My student leaders will be providing school tours and talking about their learning at the same time.  Good luck with your reframing in 2018.

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

From the Ministry of Education Website:

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

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

Kids Asking Questions

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

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

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

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

Why is the ocean so full?

Why do people go to school to learn?

What was the first moon landing like?

Why is a slug “nature’s hotdog”?

What are “nature’s french fries”?

Why did the first mushroom decide to grow?

How do plants start?

What was the first food on earth?

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

Why do dogs chase cats?

Why did the sun start?

How do birds fly?

Why don’t some people respect other people?

Was there outer space before the Big Bang?

How was gravity made?

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

Are ghosts real?

How was the first iPad made?

How do we grow?

How come some animals started living like people?

Why are there seasons?

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

Fascination with the Brain

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Thrill of Change

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


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


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