Who’s Invited?

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My mantra as an Elementary School Principal in British Columbia, Canada is “Everyone’s Invited to the Party”.  We register the students who live in the defined school catchment or there is space in the school to allow for a cross boundary permit.  There is no requisite testing or evaluation of “fit” in the school community.  As a student of history, I ascribe firmly to the notion that the state of democracy in a country can be judged by the state of the public-school system.  In British Columbia, we are in good shape.  Our curriculum is progressive and focused on student learning.  We do well on international testing of student achievement and have been acknowledged for the strength of the system.  That doesn’t mean that there is no room for improvement, particularly when it comes to students who enter the public system with social and/or learning differences.

Both my maternal and paternal grandmothers were matriarchs who held their families together.  They both experienced a considerable amount of adversity in their lives and it made them resilient and appreciative of family bonds.  They actively stayed in touch with each of their four children, their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  They shared family news and ritual gatherings helped all of us step past petty grievances and hurt feelings with laughter and shared memories.   Newcomers to the family were welcomed with open arms and celebrated.  My grand-mothers thought less of themselves and more of the family members they sought to embrace.  They provided the ultimate example of inclusion.

With the deaths of my grandmothers, the bonds loosened and the context of family changed.  This change seems to be reflected in society generally.  A huge focus on the individual and their losses, happiness, divorces, and boundaries has weakened the concept of family.  Bullying by exclusion takes root in this context. The concept of family and the requirements to maintain inclusion in the life and fabric of family changes to one of judgment, preference or arbitrary measures in all too many cases.

There is no doubt that setting boundaries in cases of abuse are required for the safety of individuals involved.  However, all relationships are hard because people are not perfect, have expectations, and they keep changing.  We can learn about the importance of investing in these relationships from our grandmothers.  Blood connections are not required.  An investment in time, effort and empathy is required.  We are included in the family because we fit into the web or relationships through blood or affiliation.  Our shared experiences are instrumental in defining who we are.  Strong families create spaces for all members to be loved and celebrated.  There is also scaffolding to navigate through difficult situations so that the family is able to remain intact.  The longevity of the relationship brings depth because of the shared experiences.

In his book my grandmother asked me to tell you she’s sorry (2015), Fredrik Backman does a masterful job of illustrating the insecurity of 7- almost 8- year old Elsa in finding her place in her two new families, after the divorce of her parents.  Her father’s wife has two of her own children and her concern is that she upsets the family dynamic, as she has read on the internet, so they don’t want her around.  Her mother and her step-father are going to have a new baby and her concern is that they will love the new baby more because he belongs to both of them.  Fortunately, in this case, both parents and their partners are very focused on the child’s needs and respecting the other parent. They fully invest in including Elsa in both of the families she belongs too.  In this situation, everyone wins.

On Twitter this week, @MrsHankinsClass was sharing how her students said “Welcome to the family” when the new student said “Hi”.  This is a concept of family in the very best of ways.  Day One that new student knew he was welcome and he was in a safe place therefore in a position to start learning.  There is an expectation that differences will exist, problems will be encountered and there will be a will a respectful problem-solving process.  This is what inclusion is supposed to look like.  You walk into a classroom where it is just fine to be yourself.  Perfection is neither expected nor required.  In the midst of challenges and poor choices, the expectation is that you calm down, then problem solve and then repair relationships.  Tomorrow is always another opportunity to be your best self.  Growth is the valued currency. 

I’m excited about the beginning of a new school year and it isn’t restricted to the new post it note colours and shapes and the smell of new notebooks.  I’m in a new school and there is another opportunity to work with a new staff to welcome our students to a school where they want to come each day.  Fredrik Backman defines the most important human right as the right to be different.  Yes, everyone is invited to the party!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wild About Vancouver and More…

I am on the Steering Committee of a group called Wild About Vancouver, brainchild of our fearless leader, Dr. Hart Banack, UBC.  This is a particularly good opportunity because I get together with people who experience the concept of #GetOutdoors on so many different levels.  Our conversation started with a goal of organizing an outdoor festival to get people of all ages out as participants and stewards of our amazing city, Vancouver, British Columbia.  Yes, Canada for those of you familiar with another Vancouver, south of our border.   Vancouver in itself provides many opportunities for outdoor activity and is widely known for the active lifestyle of it’s residents.  The outdoors provides many possibilities to enhance mental health, physical well-being, environment awareness and action, as well as curricular instruction.

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I am writing this blog on the deck of my father’s cabin in the Eastern Sierras at the doorstep of Yosemite.  Just like my first visit at 9 years old and ever after, I am awake before anyone else.  This was one of my favorite places to be when I was a little girl on visits with my older sister down south to see my father, step-mother, and later younger siblings.  I could get up and out.  No burglar alarm to be dis-armed.  There were discoveries to be made and other early risers in the world.  And I had energy to expend.  Lots and lots of energy.  Cabin life allowed for that to be a natural part of life.  We hiked beyond the waterfall.  Rowed.  Played “Kick the Can” endlessly with the other cabin kids.  Tried to steer the motor boat clear of the dangers of pipes hidden in reeds, sand bars and trees in the lake and on the “jungle cruise” aka stream.  Fishing was a challenge for me unless we were casting and then reeling those rainbow trout in.  I was a high activity kid.  As an educator and a Mom, I had a personally tested strategy of using the outdoors as a way to increase focus in the classroom and to get kids to sleep at night.

I carried the habit of running, biking, hiking, and physically challenging myself into adulthood.  I learned as an adult that no one actually cared how you did at something.  Sometimes just trying was a victory.  I did my first Terry Fox 10 km Run for Cancer Research at the urging of my husband.  I believed passionately in the cause.  I watched Terry run on the nightly news and my Mom had already suffered her first bout of breast cancer.  I hit the 9 km mark and thought I was going to have to stop when a volunteer on the sideline yelled “good form”.  That carried me to the finish line with renewed energy, through many Sun Runs, My First and only Triathlon at Cultus Lake, and getting back to running after pregnancies and injuries.  Experiences skiing during my high school years, made learning to snowboard achievable.  Familiarity on my bike made the bike trip through the Prince Edward Island a glorious adventure.   A willingness to try some new physical challenge frequently ended with an increased sense of pride.  When that didn’t happen, it resulted in a good story, frequently filled with laughter.

When I graduated from the University of British Columbia, it was the 80’s and very difficult to get a teaching job in Vancouver.  I did another year at UBC to get a diploma in English Education while continuing to worked in a daycare / out of school care centre.  My quest “to teach” was infused with my supervision responsibilities.  I got my Class 4 driver’s license and we took those pre-schoolers all over the lower mainland of Vancouver to explore.  School aged kids were welcomed to Sparetime Fun Centre after school and organized into clubs.  We went outside to collect materials for arts and crafts.  We ran. We danced.  We played.  We learned.  By the time I got a full-time job at 22, learning through play indoors and outdoors was a well-established part of my understanding of how you establish rapport and create bridges between experience and curriculum.

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I did my mandatory “out of town” practicum in Abbotsford, British Columbia, because I could stay for free with my paternal grand-parents.  When I had my son, I wanted to be closer to home  and started working in Coquitlam, where we had purchased our first home.  When our youngest daughter went off to Queen’s University, my husband and I promptly moved back to Vancouver where I grew up and both of us lived, prior to kids.   The place I was teaching, determined how I went about teaching the curriculum.  In Abbotsford, background experience of students included experiences with gardens, cows, berry picking, farms and the ever-present smell of manure from spring to fall.  In Coquitlam, salmon spawning in streams, raccoons in garbage, bear awareness when hiking or running in the park, and deer wandering on roads was common place.  In Vancouver, walking and biking as a preferred mode of transportation, many local mountains for skiing and snowboarding, beaches, seagulls, crows and ethnic cuisine permeates life.  This awareness of place has increasingly become part of education as we have reflected on how we incorporate understandings that are implicit in the Indigenous cultures that were present long before Canada emerged as a country.

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The location of the school in British Columbia impacts how many Indigenous students attend.  This sometimes provides a block for staffs trying to authentically incorporate Indigenous teachings into the curriculum.  However, the sense of place provides an entry point for all students to gain insight into Indigenous ways of knowing.  Examining how the place we live impacts our experiences, lends itself to going outdoors and considering our present and historical context.  Many things in life cannot be anticipated or guaranteed with confidence.  If you live in Vancouver, I can guarantee that it will rain and I can even tell you what that smells like.  As a 6-year-old in Venice, my daughter looked up at me and smiled and said “It smells like home, Mummy”, when it started to rain.  These understandings over time are the things we can learn from the stories from our local Indigenous people. Medicine Wheel teachings that have been incorporated into many Indigenous cultures have much to teach about how we make decisions, resolve conflict and achieve mental health.

My mother was in the hospital awaiting a procedure when I was called into the room to calm her down.

My response, “Breathe, Mum…No.  Not like that.  Into your abdomen…  You know…Yoga, breathing.  No.  Not like that.”

My mother’s exasperated response:  “You mean I’ve been breathing wrong my whole life?”

The poor nurses came running when we both burst out in uncontrollable laughter with tears running down our faces.  They thought they had lost us both.  However, there is a reason that the Japanese have taken the world by storm with “Shrin-yoko” or “forest bathing” since the 1980’s, yoga practices have become common place for people of all religions, and Indigenous teachings to improve physical and mental health are being considered.  They teach contemplative practices and breathing that is very much centred on experience in nature.  As a special education teacher and school principal, much of my work has been teaching students how to self-calm BEFORE problem solving.  The first step is always to slow down breathing and learn what strategies work for you.  My first go to strategy is physical activity but all of my students can tell you that a pot of Earl Grey tea works wonders for me.  The trick is to have more than one strategy that works for you.

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We have many amazing educators on the Wild About Vancouver Steering Committee.  Although I have many years of experience in education from kindergarten to the university level, as a classroom teacher, administrator and university instructor, I am constantly learning from our committee members who come with varied experiences and approaches to how they get children to pay attention to the nature around them.  Although I can’t prioritize what is most important about experiences outdoors, I strongly believe it is our success in getting children to pay attention that has the most significant impact on teaching curriculum.  When we closely consider something, we come up with the best questions.  The best questions result in the deepest learning and meaningful discovery.  Engaging with nature is a catalyst for curiosity and the learning that comes with it.

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Wild About Vancouver Committee members have all come together because we love Vancouver and want to fully engage people of all ages outdoors in all our city that has so much to offer.  What we believe is most important varies with who you are talking to on the Steering Committee or what participant.  Our ideas and suggestions are very contextual in that we are sharing what we know as Vancouverites.  We have a one week long Wild About Vancouver Festival every year with a grand WAV event in the city.  However, the learning and the application of this learning is relevant in any context.  I have learned so much from participating in twitter chats and blogs originating in England and Germany.  I have also taken from Reggio Emilia early education teachings with roots in Italy by doing lots of reading and visiting the Opal School in Portland, Oregon.  And I’m pondering Wild About Vancouver at my Silver Lake playground in the East Sierras on the California – Nevada border.  This model of celebration of outdoor activity takes place in many cities.  The Wild About Vancouver model takes it one step further by incorporating a celebration of the outdoors with a striving to deepen the learning we take from nature in all aspects of our lives.

Please include us in your you tweets about Outdoor learning @WildAboutVan and tag us with #getoutdoors and #outdoorlearning in all social media posts.  For you Vancouverites, we are always looking for participants and Steering Committee members if you are so inclined.  Check us out at https://www.wildaboutvancouver.com/

Enjoy the day and #getoutdoors

Another School Playground – DONE!

 

I arrived at one Vancouver school as administrator and was surprised that there was only one large climbing web for all of the students.  The old wooden playground had already deteriorated and been removed long ago.   The provincial government allowed applications from casino funds to be directed towards building school playgrounds.  The Parent Advisory Committee was on the hook to do fundraising to raise most of the funds.  It was a difficult neighbourhood to fundraise.  Caring was plentiful.  Cash was not.  The PAC president, Sirtaj Ali, led the charge.  Wednesday pizza day, casino funds and donations over the course of 7 years went towards two phases of the playground installation.  Save-On Foods took on the community build of the second phase as a team building activity for staff.  They arrived with huge numbers, a wealth of enthusiasm, bagged lunches for all of us and for the most part were finished in one day.

The kids, staff, VSB Grounds department and particularly the PAC were heavily involved in this project.  We met.  We strategized.  We involved the staff and students in making recommendations, voting on the mock up from the Playground company they preferred and even the colours.  And we celebrated when it was finally done.  The fitness circuit built into it was a favourite with students, teachers and community members.

I was transferred to a new school site.  As the daughter of a neurosurgeon, I grew up to be wary of safety infractions.  As a very conscientious principal at a new school, I was on high alert for things that needed to be taken care of.  My background knowledge with playgrounds helped me quickly identify, the playground needed some care.  Some pieces just didn’t work.  Regularly there was something else that was broken or falling apart.  The process in the Vancouver School Board is to submit a SCHOOL DUDE for required work.  This would send create the work order that would be submitted to the appropriate department without remaining on hold on the telephone.  Great system.  The people in the VSB Grounds Department are great.  My Operating Engineer, Lin Low, and I would discuss the problems, tape off the NO PLAY zone and I would the submit the School Dude.  Geoff Pearmain and the VSB Grounds crew did everything they could to try to repair the existing structure.

The playground was only ten years old but the PAC of the day had decided to go with a friend that built playgrounds.  Shortly after the company was out of business, parts were unavailable and issues began to emerge.  For this reason, the VSB now requires that four suppliers are approved with strong track records for quality and enduring reputation.  The final straw  for the playground came in May of my first year at the school when a chunk of rotting wood fell out of swing bridge, compromising the integrity of the entire bridge and access to the other structures.  It also triggered a full safety inspection that concluded that the entire structure would need to be condemned.

This was not a surprise to me but an anticipated eventuality.  My sister lives in Texas.  One of their good friends sued her and her husband when their son hurt his leg on the slide in their backyard at a birthday party.  I well understand the safety risk for students and the litigiousness of our North American context.  If it wasn’t safe, I wanted it down.  Students were quite pragmatic about the need to get a new playground and readily shifted their attention to what they would like to see in a new playground.  One of the PAC parents went into high gear looking for funding options.

The provincial landscape had also shifted around funding school playgrounds.   The Provincial Government allocated three years of funding to alleviate Parent Advisory Committees from the responsibility of replacing playgrounds and making them more accessible.  This year, the BC government provided funding for 50 new or accessibility upgrades to playgrounds in 34 BC school districts.  The Vancouver School Board was allowed to submit three applications to build playgrounds or make school playgrounds more accessible.  Our school was a natural choice being the only school without a playground.  We were allocated $105,000 and two other sites received funding to make them more accessible.

One of our PAC members, Leah Chapman, worked with me to provide the information required to complete, submit and successfully access a Federal accessibility grant of $14,383.00.  Mona Hassaneen and Ossama Abdel-Hamid were able to access a Benevity Community Impact grant of $1,307.33.   Their employer, Apple Inc., was willing to match their employee donations to an approved recipients as part of this program.  I learned that the VSB has been approved as an acceptable charity and several employers have participated in these grants.  The Hamber Foundation provided a donation for $1000.00 towards the cost of the accessible swing.  Several of the members in our school community also made donations to ensure the playground build included all of the desired elements.  Jen McCutcheon (PAC) and Andrea McEwen (teacher) worked with SwingTime and engaged with the school community to design a playground that would be fun, accessible and designed with our location in the Pacific Spirit Park in mind.

The year without a playground was not as painful as some people feared.  This was partially due to the responsiveness of my Director of Instruction, Aaron Davis, to my request for funding for Community School Team staff at the school twice a week during lunch time.  The CST staff came into the school and worked with my student leaders.  They provided support to these students to develop their capacity to direct younger students to play possibilities and problem solve when conflicts arose.  The CST staff also taught large group games and provided scaffolding for student leaders twice a week on the playground.  They supported children in using the Buddy Bench and provided materials to engage students, including bubbles, chalk and skipping ropes.

The first year I arrived, I had prohibited parking on the Primary soccer field, and had the field reseeded during the summer.  When this field was finally re-opened in fall 2018, the Kindergarten to Grade 3 students were delighted.  Initially they would roll in the grass as well as play soccer on it.  They loved having their own luscious, green, designated space.  I worked out a deal with University Endowment Lands manager, Jonn Braman, to deal with our parking issues during school events and parents eventually got used to the parking prohibition on the field.  Intermediate students had the two upper fields to spread out on.  Soccer was a regular activity.  Baseball, kickball, and other large group games were also very popular.

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It was necessary to create a variety of spaces and activities for students to engage in over the course of the year.  Three things were particularly successful.  One area outside of the lunchroom and library was named The Reading-Writing Garden.  A group of kids met with me to make mobiles to hang from the tree, hang bird feeders, reorganize flower pots, do some replanting and bring books to sit on the rocks or benches and read or write in journals.  This same area was the meeting space for The Bird Buddies.  I posted a poster in the library facing outside, with local birds that we could identify.  When my Nanny Keenan’s opera glasses and my binoculars were in sufficiently high demand, I purchased a set of good quality binoculars.  I taught binocular use and care.  Once trained the students were allowed to take the binoculars beyond The Reading-Writing Garden and see if they could sight birds flying around us in the Pacific Spirit Park.  Eventually I also got rain-proof books from Mountain Equipment Co-op so they could tally the birds they saw.

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Special thanks to my Wild About Vancouver buddy, Megan Zeni @Roomtoplay, I set up a Mud Kitchen.  I am a big fan of twitter for ideas @CarrieFroese.  I had lots of ideas from both Megan, and twitterchats starting in England and Germany.  I happened to share my wild and wonderful plans with Megan at one of our Wild About Vancouver @WildAboutVan planning meetings. Megan’s response:

“Or you could clean out your cupboards and throw the stuff in an old laundry basket and put it out for kids to play with.”

When the portable had been removed from our site during my first year at the school, the staff had made the decision to install an outdoor learning area.  We had more garden boxes built installed and a big circle of twelve stones.  It provided seating for a class of 30 during outdoor learning, lent itself to circle games, teaching Indigenous ways of knowing, and the teaching of directions and time.  Incidently it was also a perfect place for The University Hill Elementary School Mud Kitchen.  The rocks are perfect counter tops and appliances for concoctions of all sorts.  The very favorite items in the Mud Kitchen were the measuring cups, sifters for the sand, spoons and to go coffee cups that have long ago lost their lids.  I could be guaranteed a non-fat low foam latte if I ventured to the Mud Kitchen at recess.  As items went walking, new donations came in.  Wendy Yip, UBC president, Santa Ono’s wife, came for a visit in Spring.  Afterwards we received not only a thank-you card, but also some donations for the Mud Kitchen.  Thanks, Wendy!

In the Vancouver School Board, teachers do not do supervision duty at recess and lunch.  I was fortunate to work with three very experienced playground supervisors.  We met regularly to come up with pre-emptive solutions to emerging issues.  When I was re-assigned to another school this Spring, the prevalent feeling was that we had developed a definite sense of team.  I will certainly miss these ladies and the Education Assistants who were also regularly out on the playground supporting students at recess and lunch.  I’m glad we were part of this journey together.  Although we are delighted to have a playground, I’m sure that many of the other elements introduced will endure and add depth to the outdoor learning of the students.  Hopefully this post will help for those of you asking for some direction when a new playground needs to be built.

 

Eating Marigolds

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is Powerful Professional Development?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Learning Tour at University Hill Elementary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dale Chihuly Glass Art – Palm Springs Art Museum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We hope you enjoyed your visit!

Ms. Carrie Froese

Principal University Hill Elementary School

Vancouver School Board, British Columbia, Canada

Inquire2Empower Blog carriefroese.wordpress.com

Superheroes Champion Syrian Refugees via CBC Podcast

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1947 This suitcase carried belongings of mother and her four young children to Canada to start a new chapter of life

It all started with a suitcase on Human Rights Day on December 10, 2015.  Tecumseh students were first asked to reflect on the Syrian Refugee crisis.  Students wrote letters to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressing their desire for Syrian boys and girls to live in a place without war where they could go to school in safety.  They wrote heartwarming notes to Syrian refugees so they would know that Canada is a country that values human right and was welcoming to people wanting to start new chapters of their lives.

This project captured the mind and heart of Grade 5/6 teacher Marion Collins, who worked tirelessly to provide learning opportunities for teachers and students throughout the year in the spirit of the redesigned curriculum in British Columbia.  With the help of a grant from Promoting a Culture of Peace for Children Society, the suitcase became a symbol of the refugee experience and a work of art welcoming individuals to add their individual voice to the multicultural expression of Canada.  With the help of a grant from ReadingBC (the BC council of the International Reading Association), the writing component of the project grew to include stories and photos of the journey to Canada of Tecumseh students, clothing with messages to Syrian refugees to go in the suitcase, reflections of what students would grab if they needed to leave home in a hurry like refugees.

Last week, Science World hosted the Digital Fair of the Vancouver School Board.  Grade 5/6 students presented their Graphic Novels inspired by CBC podcasts.  Graphic novels featured student created Refugee Superheroes to equip Syrian refugees with the skills to cope with the experience of settling in a new Canadian home.  They use captions, time labels, sounds and speech bubble to demonstrate their innovative, creative and unique style.  Most of all, they continue on the spirit of welcoming that comes from children who understand the challenges and difficulties that accompany leaving your home to start a new chapter of life in another country.


Curriculum Learning at Gr.6 Camp

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Last week was the annual Grade 6 Camp Elphinstone experience.  For students on the South Slope of Vancouver, it is a game changer.  Most of the children come to camp and experience a plethora of “Firsts”.  This year some of those “firsts” included:

  • taking a ferry
  • staying in a cabin with friends
  • sighting a baby bear
  • watching a river otter poop
  • canoeing
  • kayaking
  • archery
  • catching a fish
  • swimming in the ocean
  • attempting to hit the bell at the top of the climbing wall
  • Meal time and Campfire ritual of songs and chants and debates
  • counting the seconds between the forked lightning and thunder
  • eating Mexican sushi (actually scrambled egg breakfast wraps)
  • setting the table, serving food, and cleaning up

The team building opportunity presented by the camp experience creates a  perfect opportunity to develop the essentials of social and emotional learning.  This results in a sense of belonging and a wonderful tone going into their final Grade 7 year of elementary school for Tecumseh students.  The YMCA has years of providing high quality programming for young people and has all of the elements of the camp experience down to perfection.  The camp rituals of family style food service and traditional campfire songs and activities challenge students to take risks, engage in experiential learning and explore their identity.  The young counsellors from Canada, New Zealand and Australia are able to keep up with the pace of energetic Grade 6 students and facilitate safe and memorable learning experiences.  Our Junior counsellors from David Thompson Secondary and sponsor teachers came together to ensure the best experience possible for our campers.

If you talk to our students, they will tell you they are on a holiday from school.  In actual fact, they have simply entered the outdoor classroom to engage in experiential learning masked as fun.  The learning is not in just one experience but many experiences in nature and with peers over time.  If you have the time and inclination, you may want to open up the redesigned curriculum in British Columbia-Grade 6.  The three-day camp experience touched on many big ideas, all of the core competencies and a meaty chunk of curriculum.  The social emotional learning is pervasive throughout all of the activities and experiences and indigenous ways of knowing are infused throughout the experience.

Meal time and camp fire included  action songs, chants, listening games and debates for students to hone their powers of persuasion.  Shelter building required teamwork to come up with a plan to build a shelter from materials on the forest floor that could withstand both the earthquake and water test.  Canoeing, kayaking, hiking, the climbing wall and archery challenged students to take risks, learn a new skill and took the development of flexibility, strength and endurance to new levels.  The range of games such Running Pictionary, Capture the Flag, Camouflage tag and Wink, Wink, Murder necessitate safety rules, game rules, social interaction, spatial awareness and verbal and non-verbal communication skills.

Upon reflection, the camp experience opens a myriad of possibilities for more intentional curriculum learning.  I am not proposing duo-tangs filled with photocopied worksheets.  I am proposing that we consider the aspects of curriculum that can be incorporated into the camp experience.  Place based Aboriginal perspectives and ways of knowing as outlined in the First People’s Principles of Learning could be clearly articulated.  The opportunity to directly teach social emotional skills to allow students to develop coping skills for dealing with stress and for dealing with conflict effectively are present throughout the daily schedule.  The consideration of opportunities for direct instruction in mindfulness by tapping into nature and social interaction are plentiful.  It means people with background knowledge about the solar system, constellations, local flora, fauna and primary resources become invaluable.  Materials such as compasses, Write in the Rain notebooks and field handbooks may need to be purchased. The camp experience may be re-imagined, not as an “extra” but as a vital pathway to develop and incorporate big ideas, core competencies and curriculum knowledge for our students in a meaningful way.

#WelcomeSyrianRefugees

imageOn December 10th, 2015, Tecumseh Elementary School paused to celebrate Human Rights Day and to consider the plight of Syrian refugees.  If you had a chance to read the Welcoming Syrian Refugees blog (Dec. 2015), you will remember that Marion Collins was reading Hannah’s Suitcase with her students and we had the idea to create peace art with the old wooden suitcase that my paternal Grandmother brought to Canada in 1947 to start a new chapter of life with her four young children.   With the help of the grant from Promoting a Culture of Peace for Children Society, the suitcase has become an inspiration for representing ideas through art, reading, writing, listening, speaking and caring.

One side of the suitcase is decorated with messages of welcome to the Syrian refugees. The other sides are decorated with Jackson Pollock inspired art by Grade 3 students. Each colour represents each individual in Canada with all of our similarities and differences.  The finished masterpiece is the representation of all of us coming together to create something beautiful.  Tanya Conley’s students also made flags of the countries of origin of Tecumseh students and of the suitcase.  A local artist, Larkyn Froese, came into help the Grade 3’s with applying the flags on the project.  Grade 6 students wrote messages of welcome on fabric squares and sewed them on items of clothing to be displayed coming out of the suitcase.

The artwork became a catalyst for more questions and an inspiration for the reading and writing of Tecumseh students.  With the help of a grant from ReadingBC (The British Columbia chapter of the International Literacy Association –ILA), Ms. Collins continued to expand the project to include a literacy component with the entire school.   The experience of leaving home and family behind is a difficult experience as an immigrant and as a refugee. Many of the parents in our school community have given up good jobs in their home country and work hard, often with more than one job, to provide better opportunities for their children in Canada.  Ms. Collins spearheaded a writing project with intermediate students to interview their parents and discover family stories of hardship and triumph.  Several albums have been filled with the interviews and photographs for display with the suitcase.

This same family history vein was pursued by Ms. Conley’s HumanEYES art based initiative that celebrates the diverse life experiences of young people throughout the Vancouver, Coast Salish ancestral lands.  This project documented inter-generational and inter-cultural storytelling and celebrates the importance of family and maintaining cultural roots.  The project culminated with an intergenerational cookbook filled with recipes, art and family photographs of her 4th graders that has been included in the suitcase as well.

Ms. Collins, her enthusiasm and the desire of staff to get involved resulted in almost all of the classrooms in the school taking part in the project.  Several classes stopped to consider the notion of taking flight in war-torn areas with very few belongings.  They learned many refugees leave home with a house key in the hope their home will survive the war or as a memory of what was.  Several intermediate classes of students designed hamsa handsan old and still popular amulet for magical protection from the envious or evil eye in many Middle East and North African cultures.  They created keychains with the hasma hand, a key and a fimo sculpture of what they pack if they needed to leave home in a hurry.  Primary students wrote and drew about what they would bring and have created albums of their ideas for inclusion in the suitcase as well.

The #WelcomeSyrianRefugees project was first featured at the United Way luncheon for Syrian Refugees that was hosted at Tecumseh Elementary school this Spring.  The most common reaction from the adults viewing the project has been tears.  In the barrage of negatives on mainstream media and social media, there is comfort that Canadian children are welcoming their Syrian children with open arms.  There is also the hope that there are many Canadian adults who are doing exactly the same thing.

Note:  The title #WelcomeSyrianRefugees came from the Twitter handle of the same name that expresses messages of welcome not just to Syrian refugees.  This project will be on display at the Vancouver School Board during July and August 2016.  Our goal is for it to be displayed at a variety of venues as a way to warmly welcome refugees as they begin a new chapter of their lives in Canada.

 

Taking learning and purposeful play outside, rain or shine

imageInvestigating Our Practice Conference in the Faculty of Education on Saturday, May 14th.  The day was filled with poster presentations, talks and interactive experiences by undergraduates, grad students, faculty and alumni.  It was particularly exciting to see the level of engagement of the student giving up their very sunny Vancouver Saturday to consider a range of ideas and questions.  For those of you who are not Vancouverites, when the sun comes out in full glory, we go outside – never quite certain how long it will be around.

I had the pleasure of presenting The Outdoor Classroom:  Taking learning and purposeful play outside, rain or shine with Claire Rushton, Alli Tufaro and Ali Nasato.        We were pulled together by a common interest in the opportunity provided by outdoor learning.  This one interest was able to pull together so many elements that have been embraced as key ideas in the Redesigned Curriculum in British Columbia, such as:

  • The social emotional benefits of engaging with nature
  • The natural way in which we can engage students in practicing and understanding the First Nations Principles of Learning, including:
    • experiential learning
    • patience and time required for learning
    • exploring one’s identity
    • everyone and everything has a story
    • history matters
    • there are consequences to our actions
  • Ways to engage students in cross curricular learning opportunities
  • Connecting classroom lessons to the larger world
  • Using resources in the classroom to answer our questions about observations made outdoors
  • Reporting back about the things we care about to authentic audiences

Of course, the list goes on.  Another interesting aspect of our collaborative group was the power of inquiry in developing our professional practice as educators throughout different stages of our careers.  Both student teachers have found a way to focus their  professional learning throughout the practicum experience.  Claire Rushton, as the coordinator of the Social Emotional Learning cohort has used the outdoors to bring  Richard Louv’s work to life and introduce the power of “nature … as a healing balm for the emotional hardships in a child’s life..” by integrating the experiences in nature to frame discussions of social – emotional learning. I have engaged in a personal inquiry of how to use iPad APPS  (photos, Drawing Pad, Book Creator, Twitter) as a way to access information, document and share outdoor learning.  I’ve also been able to support the staff I interact with on a regular basis in their own inquiries.  Inquiry, as framed by Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser in Spirals of Inquiry, has provided a framework for beginning teachers as well as a school administrator and university instructor.  The learning has fuelled more questions and future inquiries.

 

I very much hope our collaboration continues…perhaps after the frenetic pace of the end of practicum, final observations and reports and end of year demands and celebrations!