Youth today must make many key decisions throughout their high school and post-secondary years which impact not only their education journey but their pathway through life. There are amazing opportunities in our world today for our youth to pursue. This abundance of choice is wonderful, yet given the pressures they must feel to find a pathway that leads to a fulfilling life, decision-making must surely be challenging.
I attended the Iron Ring Ceremony for University of Calgary engineering graduates over the spring break. Although the atmosphere was one of jubilation due to that feeling of accomplishment, there was a mood of uncertainty and apprehension. Job prospects are grim, especially in a province where so much of its economy is driven by one resource – oil. This makes it even more important for those graduates to distinguish themselves from others. The keynote speaker, Canadian astronaut Dr. Robert Thirsk, shared his ‘fulfilling life’, and encouraged graduates to push out of their comfort zone, take risks, and have fun to ensure they each lead a fulfilling life. What great advice for students of all ages and a thoughtful reminder for parents and educators that our children need encouragement to take risks. Experiencing failure and tackling challenges develop resiliency and grit.
My pathway was straightforward. I knew from the young age of six that I wanted to be an elementary school teacher. I was in love with my Grade One teacher, Mrs. Barber. I graduated from high school, attended UBC where I earned my Bachelor of Education degree, and secured my first job in Delta teaching Grade One. I admit there were no tough decisions to make and certainly no risk-taking involved. I was fortunate in so many ways, yet I probably did not have an opportunity to develop much resiliency as I rarely faced disappointment or rejection. I sailed through my school years and achieved my education goals with relative ease. But that was a long time ago.
I applaud our youth today whose pursuit of happiness and personal satisfaction can take them on less conventional pathways. This takes courage, a great deal of risk-taking and knowing one’s strengths and limitations. These students often have an entrepreneurial spirit and possess creative thinking skills which are needed to distinguish themselves in a challenging job market and an uncertain economic environment.
As both an educator and a parent of three children all in their twenties, I feel connected with youth. I never tire of hearing stories of who is living where and doing what. Their journeys are all unique and interesting. The following three individuals are examples of the many youth who have pushed out of their comfort zones as Thirsk suggests, and are making amazing contributions to our world.
Tamo Campos attended Handsworth Secondary for two years and finished his high school years at Sentinel Secondary where he was enrolled in the Super Achievers Program. He was a friend of my daughter throughout high school and continues to be so today. Perhaps it’s the love of snowboarding and the outdoors they both share that keeps them connected. Tamo founded "Beyond Boarding", an environmental and humanitarian activism group which raises awareness about issues impacting the world. Tamo was awarded top Canadian environmentalist under the age of 25 a few years ago. Here is a young man who followed his passion, combining his love of boarding with a desire to make social change.
In a previous blog I wrote about Richard Loat, a graduate of West Vancouver Secondary School. His entrepreneurial spirit and love of hockey motivated him to make a difference. He is founder and CEO of "Five Hole for Food," a non-profit organization that uses hockey as a vehicle for social change in order to raise food, funds and awareness for food banks across Canada. His organization recently shifted its direction. According to Richard, “…there are opportunities for us to tackle the issues in communities in Canada and across the world that lead to the situations of need that we’ve been trying to alleviate”. A recent glance at his website indicates he has a staff of 35 working with him. What an impressive accomplishment for a young man.
Kelsey, a twenty-six year old entrepreneur who graduated from Handsworth Secondary, launched her own business two years ago. She founded “Bare Knitwear”, a company that sells Alpaca scarves hand knit in Peru. According to her website, "Through the production of knitwear, 150 female artisans learn to use their knitting skills to become self-sufficient while living in the poorest region of Peru." Setting up a website, learning about importing and online distribution, negotiating with business owners in South America, have all been part of the learning journey for this young entrepreneur. In addition to the online market, 15 retailers throughout Canada, USA, and The Netherlands sell Kelsey's knitwear.
Tamo, Richard and Kelsey are three of many youth today who have demonstrated that courage, confidence and entrepreneurial spirit we should be nurturing in our students. Each one is leading a fulfilling life, hoping to make a difference in the lives of others. No doubt each one of them had support along the way from various mentors, teachers or family. Tamo certainly had a role model in his grandfather. You might recognize his name - Dr. David Suzuki. And when I interviewed Richard, he credited his teachers for their support and encouragement. Kelsey attributes her success in part, to her loving mother. Well, I’m not sure those would be her words, but given she is my daughter, I think I am allowed to say that! I am very proud of her.
Students with quantifiable accomplishments are easily recognized and lauded, such as scholarship recipients or those with the highest Grade Point Average. Yet let’s not overlook those individuals with latent talents who are on courageous, less predictable pathways. These kids may not be headliners, but they are difference makers, full of determination and tenacity. We need to listen to what they need and want, nurture their interests and support them in their pursuits. Let’s empower our youth to be successful leaders in their communities and in our world. Their pathways may be unconventional by our standards, but there’s nothing really conventional about today's world.
Education systems are being transformed to ensure students are prepared for our changing world. As an educator I am immersed in the learning at our school, constantly rethinking how we are supporting our students and preparing them to be successful. What I continually ask myself is, ‘How are we empowering our students and what else could we be doing to equip them for our changing world?' This is an important question and interestingly, I always come back to the notion of ‘metacognition’.
What is metacognition?
Metacognition is simply the process of thinking about our own thinking and learning how we learn. It involves higher-level thinking skills such as those identified in Bloom’s Taxonomy. 'Metacognition' defined by Dictionary.com is, "higher-order thinking that enables understanding, analysis, and control of one’s cognitive processes, especially when engaged in learning.”
Why is ‘metacognition’ important?
With knowledge so easily accessible for our students through the use of technology, they must be able to ‘do’ something with information and apply or transfer this knowledge and their understanding to different contexts. Jobs in the future will demand people be capable problem-solvers. Students must understand how they learn and be able to adjust and adapt their thinking strategies when confronted with problem-solving tasks.
How is ‘metacognition’ being addressed in curriculum frameworks?
In my last blog, I referenced three curriculum models, one developed in British Columbia (BC), another from the Center for Curriculum Redesign (CCR), and the third from the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (IB PYP). All three highlight the important role metacognition plays in the learning process.
BC: The redesigned curriculum includes three core competencies that all students need to develop in order to engage in deep learning and life-long learning. “The thinking competency encompasses the knowledge, skills and processes we associate with intellectual development...Thinking competence includes specific thinking skills as well as habits of mind, and metacognitive awareness.”
CCR: The framework developed by CCR includes ‘meta-learning’ as the fourth dimension that transcends the other three dimensions. “It supports and rounds out every other dimension of education (knowledge, skills, and character) by creating goals and feedback loops in which students continue to improve and thrive, without teachers or parents prodding them at every step.” (p. 154 Four-Dimensional Education by Fadel, Bialik, and Trilling)
IB PYP: The ‘Approaches to Learning’ include different areas of skills that support learning across all disciplines. ‘Thinking skills’ includes dialectical thought and metacognition. In addition to skill development, the IB PYP model includes ‘Reflective’ as one of the Learner Profile traits. “We thoughtfully consider the world and our own ideas and experiences. We work to understand our strengths and weaknesses in order to support our learning and personal development.”
How are we promoting metacognition at West Bay?
Each fall parents, students and teachers examine the five essential elements of the PYP (knowledge, concepts, skills, attitudes, and action) and develop learning goals together. Students need guidance and at times, dissuasion, from setting goals that are performance-related. Before we adopted gradeless report cards, I used to cringe at the ‘getting straight A’s’ goal! It is much easier now to focus on process-oriented goals that are attainable and relevant for the student. Discussion centres on what skills the child needs to develop in order to support his/her learning. Students are encouraged to monitor and reflect on their learning goals throughout the year.
Report Cards (Communicating Student Learning)
As previously mentioned, the documents for communicating student learning no longer include letter grades. All components of the redesigned curriculum are assessed. Students complete an articulation sheet for each IB Unit of Inquiry where they reflect on their progress within each of the five essential elements. These self-assessments reveal much about how students think and their ability to reflect on their learning.
Professional Development- Growth Mindset
Understanding the importance of fostering a growth mindset is key if we hope to motivate our students to improve and support them in reaching their goals. Last year we read and discussed Mindset by Carol Dweck at our Staff Book Club (pictured below). At last month’s staff meeting we revisited the notion of mindsets. We discussed strategies that encourage students to internalize a growth mindset and teachers shared how they acknowledge effort and encourage resilience. Our parents are keen on understanding the implications of growth and fixed mindsets and are hoping to host a parent education session this spring. Working together to help our children persevere through challenges, to shift their thinking from ‘I can’t’ to ‘I can try’, and to create a love of learning that will have a long-lasting impact is important.
Teachers use thinking strategies and graphic organizers to help students recognize the steps involved in thinking. They model their own thinking out loud to demonstrate the thinking process. Learning activities are provided to help students transfer their thinking from one context to another. Teachers strive to make thinking explicit and visible in classrooms and provide tasks that focus on the higher level thinking skills, including problem-solving and decision-making. Students are given on-going feedback and encouragement. Summative assessment tasks are designed to determine if students are able to apply their knowledge and understanding to real-world situations.
How are we empowering our students and what else could we be doing to equip them for our changing world?
Once again, I return to my initial question. Despite what we are currently doing to empower our students, we need to continue reflecting on our teaching similar to how we expect our students to reflect on their learning. As Charles Fadal (Founder and Chairman of the Center for Curriculum Redesign) stated at the 2016 FISA Conference, "students beg for relevance". We must continue introducing modern knowledge to engage and prepare our students. Pictured below are students learning coding skills and being exposed to robotics by district teacher leader, Todd Ablett.
Coding and robotics are examples of providing 'relevance' for our students yet the hidden outcome is really developing metacognitive skills. Regardless of what knowledge is introduced to our learners, if the tasks demand students to be problem-solvers where they must continually apply and adjust their thinking strategies to overcome challenges, then we are indeed equipping them for our ever-changing world.
"The surest way to prepare students for a changing world is to give them the tools to be versatile, reflective, self-directed and self-reliant.” (p. 145 Four-Dimensional Education by Fadel, Bialik, and Trilling)
Like many students, I learn best when information is organized. When proposals, ideas or concepts are presented using a graphic organizer, my brain has an easier time making sense of it. I can visually see the inter-connectedness of ideas in flowcharts, Venn Diagrams, charts, models and timelines. Remembering and understanding information in order to apply it to other contexts becomes an easier task.
At the recent FISA Conference, I had the privilege of hearing a presentation by Charles Fadel who is described in his recently published book Four-Dimensional Education – The Competencies Learners Need to Succeed as a “global education thought leader and expert, futurist, and inventor…”. Fadel who has worked with educators in over thirty countries, is the founder of the Center for Curriculum Redesign (CCR), an independent, non-partisan international organization. His presentation was thought-provoking and relevant to our context in West Vancouver, where educators are continuously re-thinking how to deliver the curriculum using an inquiry approach, how best to leverage technology to enhance learning, how to provide assessment tasks that are rigorous, relevant and authentic and how to develop compassionate, action-oriented citizens.
Fadel presented a four-dimensional model or framework (below left) of educational goals that portrays how Knowledge, Skills, and Character are intertwined, with the 21st Century Learner being at the core. The fourth dimension, Meta-Learning, is not included within the other dimensions. As Fadel notes, “…its significance must be highlighted explicitly, so that we are constantly reminded to incorporate meta-learning strategies into the knowledge, skills, and character portions of our learning experiences…”. Following extensive research and analyzing best practices from countries all over the world, the purpose of the model is to help educators understand, design and implement a relevant education for today’s learners.
While hearing Fadel speak, my brain immediately made a connection to British Columbia’s “Know-Understand-Do” curriculum model (above right) that supports a concept-based approach. Big ideas and fewer learning standards enable deeper, more personalized learning to occur. The BC model is impacting our education system, prompting conversations and changes to practice throughout the province. As I analyzed the two models and reflected on their respective commonalities and differences, I recorded my thinking in the chart below. Remember how my brain works?
CCR’s Four-Dimensional Education Model
BC’s Redesigned Curriculum Model
The Knowledge Dimension (What we know and understand):
· Includes both traditional and modern knowledge
· Themes are embedded across “Knowledge”
The Know Element:
· The essential topics and knowledge that students are expected to know are detailed at each grade level
The Skills Dimension (How we use what we know):
· Identifies skills needed for learning, productive work and life success
· Focuses on the 4 Cs:
The Do Element:
· Identifies the skills, strategies, and processes that students develop over time
· These are subject specific but are connected to the core competencies which include:
- thinking (creative and critical)
- personal/social (relate to one’s identity in the world)
Core competencies are embedded in all areas of learning
The Character Dimension (How we behave and engage in the world):
· Six essential qualities identified:
The Understand Element:
· Generalizations and principles, key concepts
· Represents what students will understand at the completion of each grade
· They are intended to endure beyond a single grade and contribute to future understanding
The Meta-Learning Dimension (The process of thinking about thinking)
· Students practise reflection and learn about their learning
· Internalizing a growth mindset
· Supports and rounds out the other three dimensions of learning
The "Understand" component in the BC model is incorporated in the "Knowledge" dimension in Fadel's (CCR) model where knowing and understanding are linked in the one dimension. Fadel's model explicitly identifies the six qualities which are essential for our learners to possess in order to engage effectively and successfully in the world. The Core Competencies identified in the "Do" component of BC's model are aligned with those listed in the "Skills" dimension of the CCR model.
As an educator in an International Baccalaureate (IB) school, I am mindful of the model that encompasses all facets inherent in the Primary Years Programme (PYP) as this is what drives our practice at West Bay. This model appears s different than the triple Venn Diagram format yet includes many of the same elements.
The five essential elements of the IB PYP include:
· Significant, relevant content that we wish students to explore and know about, taking into consideration their prior experience and understanding
· Curriculum is organized under six transdisciplinary themes
Concepts: (These direct the learning and are at the heart of inquiry)
· Key Concepts include:
Approaches to Learning: (Skills that are relevant to all the subject areas and also transcend them)
· Social Skills
· Research Skills
· Thinking Skills
· Communication Skills
· Self-Management Skills
Attitudes: (Knowledge, concepts and skills alone do not make an internationally minded person; attitudes contribute to the well-being of the individual and group)
· Successful inquiry leads to responsible action initiated by the student as a result of the learning process
Regardless of which education framework we use to structure our conversations, what is becoming increasingly apparent is the shift to more holistic approaches to teaching and learning where skills and character development are valued alongside the acquisition of knowledge. Given information is readily accessible through technology, learners need to understand how to make sense of the myriad of information available to them. Each model outlines what we want students to know and be able to do, and how we want them to act. Each recognizes a more balanced approach is needed for our students to be successful in a world that Fadel refers to as ‘volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous’. Fadel encourages us to tranform our education systems to meet the needs of our 21st Century learners. I can't help but feel confident we are doing just that in our West Vancouver schools and most certainly at West Bay as we delve into the redesigned curriculum with excitement and a sense of urgency.
The midway mark of the school year is already upon us, but like runners in a long distance race, there is no coasting through to the finish line. Just as runners assess their progress and gauge their pace, so must educators reflect on the successes and challenges along the way and be strategic and persistent in their efforts moving forward. This mid-year reflection outlines what is working well and where we need to go to ensure a strong finish.
What structures currently in place are working?
There is no doubt that technology has positively shifted the learning environment. Students in the upper grades are using Google Docs for their writing assignments and Google Slides for presentations. Teacher leaders on staff support their colleagues in learning how to use technology apps and set up websites including Google Classroom or Weebly. Several teachers are using FreshGrade as a communication tool with parents who appreciate getting a glimpse into their child’s learning.
To ensure students are accessing the Internet safely, Social Media Educator Jesse Miller was invited to speak to students in Grades Two through Seven. He also worked with our parents to help them understand the realities associated with their children’s Internet use. Involving parents, teachers and students in these conversations is important.
Self-Regulation Tools and Strategies
We are forging ahead with our work in the area of self-regulation. Teachers continue to be mindful of the visual clutter as well as extraneous noises in their classroom environments and have taken measures to reduce these stressors. We continue to have conversations about what our learners need to reduce their anxiety, to help them focus, and achieve that essential state of calm and well-being. Recognizing that varying degrees of anxiety are apparent in learners from Kindergarten through to Grade Seven, several teachers are attending conferences to learn what programs could support their students.
Teachers are keen to work with our District Occupational Therapist Moray McLean to learn what tools might help students reduce anxiety levels. Ms. Burke is finding weighted pads effective for her Grade One students who need calming deep pressure input. Grade Five teacher Mrs. Kelpin is trying a lycra sensory sock for some of her deep pressure proprioceptive seekers. She is amazed at how quickly students return to the ‘green zone’ after only a short time stretching inside this sock.
Some of Mr. Darling’s Grade Seven students use juggling as a calming technique. Research suggests that juggling therapy may be effective for the treatment of anxiety disorders. Read more here. Children coping with anxiety typically achieve a calm and relaxed state after activities including gum chewing, deep breathing exercises, juggling, and other sensory activities. Our open-minded teachers are eagerly trying different strategies to help their students.
Once again this year our upper intermediate students are enjoying exploring their passions and connecting with community members. Experts are sharing their knowledge and experiences in a variety of areas. Students are deepening their understanding through this rich, meaningful communication with others. Community mentors are also helping build teacher capacity and engage our students in the area of physical literacy. This year our students are being exposed to Table Tennis, Curling, Rugby and Field Hockey during their PE classes. Thanks to Director of Instruction Diane Nelson who works with all schools to facilitate these wonderful opportunities.
Where to Next?
The Canadian organization kidsCODEJeunesse will be partnering with our Grade 5-7 teachers this spring, helping them embed code into various aspects of the curriculum. Following the successful Hour of Code earlier this year, our teachers are excited to support student learning in this growing area. In addition, two of our parents will be extending the learning beyond the school day by offering classes that teach students about the tools and languages of technology to help them become creative thinkers.
Creativity and Innovation
We hope that new technologies including a 3D printer and document cameras will be available to our students later this spring. Both these technologies will be used to actively engage students in the learning process and we look forward to the many doors that will be opened for creative endeavours.
The redesigned BC Curriculum acknowledges that Aboriginal perspectives and understandings should be embedded into all parts of the curriculum throughout the entire learning journey of students from Kindergarten through Grade Twelve. We are fortunate in the West Vancouver School District to have resources available to ensure the learning is meaningful and authentic. Bob Baker (Sahplek) visits our schools regularly and works with students to enhance the learning. He recently worked with our Grade One and Grade Three students on myths, mask-making, and oral story telling.
Teachers want to authentically integrate Aboriginal teachings and values into the teaching and learning. They believe that a common understanding is important in order to provide meaningful instruction to students, especially when issues of a sensitive nature such as residential schools are part of the curriculum. Our school's Book Club is reading Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese. We will continue to learn and share together and endeavour to create an accurate and respectful portrayal of First Peoples and their histories.
We are cheering for a strong finish to the school year in June. Yet we recognize that the race is never really over. As educators, we are always racing to keep pace with the technologies and needs of our students. We are racing to ensure students are receiving an education that will prepare them for a rapidly changing world. We continue to look back at where we have come to build on what we know has worked and what we know must be improved. And we must ensure our students are engaged in their learning by being immersed in rich, authentic learning experiences moving forward.
Thank you to Janet Hicks, West Bay's IB Coordinator, for being a guest blogger. Her thoughts on 'vulnerability' pertaining to both parenting and her professional career speak to the importance of developing resiliency.
I have been thinking a lot about the word vulnerability lately and I have to admit I find it challenging as a parent and an educator to be vulnerable. Both of my sons over the years in hockey have had to try out for teams. They have given it their best shot, been courageous, vulnerable and hoped for the greatest outcome. Even when they do make the team they still continue to be vulnerable with their coach and teammates. This feeling of vulnerability extends beyond parenting and comes into play professionally with my role as a PYP coordinator.
IB PYP schools go through an intensive evaluation process (every five years) where schools assess themselves against the standards and practices set forth by the International Baccalaureate Organization. The self-study is a process of formal reflection in which the teachers, students, parents, administrators and district leaders honestly evaluate school practices and ongoing initiatives that enhance the implementation of the IB programme.
West Bay’s self-study began two years ago with gathering evidence on our previous goals, reflecting on our current practices and preparing a five-year action plan. This process (one of the key parts of my position) involved conducting surveys with staff, students and parents, creating policies, writing a lengthy self-study document and rating all areas of our organization. It was extensive, worthwhile and pushed our staff, students and parents to be not only reflective, but vulnerable.
This long process has made me think of the words reflection and vulnerability and their relationship to teaching and learning in a different way. I have always known reflection is a main part of the IB Primary Years Progamme, but I never considered what a large part vulnerability plays. We are constantly pushed to reflect on what we do and how it is affecting student learning. We reflect on our unit planners, on our Progamme of Inquiry reviews, during our collaboration times, in our Professional Development days, and in our staff meetings. We are continuously asking children to reflect on their thinking. Teachers often joke that sometimes we are reflecting on our reflections!
The process of reflection makes us vulnerable and it opens us up to critique and analysis. This feeling of vulnerability can sometimes lead to fear or courage. People can choose to be fearful or they can be courageous and push themselves to try new ideas and then ask how did it go and how could it be better next time? During this evaluation process I saw our school community become vulnerable and I am proud to say courageous. Of course there were anxious feelings, but we all came through the process proud of our strengths and open to improving our weaknesses. As you can imagine, opening yourself up to critique is not easy.
The word vulnerability has also caused me to think beyond my profession to parenting. Shouldn’t we strive to raise vulnerable kids who are willing to fail? Aren’t children better off running the risk of failure rather than never trying new opportunities? In Brene Brown’s new book Daring Greatly he writes, “Raising children who are hopeful and who have the courage to be vulnerable means stepping back and letting them experience disappointment, deal with conflict, learn how to assert themselves, and have the opportunity to fail. If we’re always following our children into the arena, hushing the critics, and assuring their victory, they’ll never learn that they have the ability to dare greatly on their own.” If this is what we are hoping for our kids, should it also not be what we are modeling as educators?
As educators and schools we need to be open to suggestions (IB calls them recommendations) on how to be better or how to improve the system in which we work. Is this not what we are constantly asking our students to do? Are we not always encouraging them to think bigger, become more open-minded and reflective in their thinking? Why is it so difficult for us to do the same?
In reflection, over the years my boys have ‘made’ the team and not ‘made’ the team. They have experienced success, had to overcome adversity and disappointment and not let the fear of being vulnerable stop them from trying new things. I feel schools need to foster resilience not only in their students but in their teachers as well. Let yourself be vulnerable, be open to ‘recommendations’ and try new things even if that means it does not go well the first time. We push our students to take risks, present in front of others, work with people they don’t know, and re-evaluate their questions and thinking. Isn’t it time we view vulnerability as less of a weakness and more of an openness to try new innovative practices?
Not only does the winter holiday provide time for us all to connect with family and friends, it also affords us a much needed change of pace. I find myself contemplating personal goals and resolutions for the new year as well as reflecting on our school’s accomplishments thus far and our plans for the remaining six months. When Superintendent Chris Kennedy challenged us to write a blog framed around a single word, a word that best defines our hopes and goals for the coming year, I wondered how I could synthesize all my holiday thinking around one word! It was indeed a challenge. Of course it then occurred to me that the word ‘challenge’ would be the perfect word.
Effective leaders challenge others to push their thinking and this is exactly what Chris Kennedy did by encouraging us to blog. This is also what I strive to do as a school leader. In working with the staff we have engaging conversations about how to improve our assessment practices and ways to communicate student learning meaningfully. We talk about self-regulation and how we are viewing students’ behaviour differently in order to understand each one’s unique needs. We push each other to think beyond what is considered ‘normal’ because really, is ‘normal’ necessarily the best way? And what is ‘normal’ anyways? We must continue to challenge our assumptions and strive for what is best for our students in today’s context.
I also realize I must anticipate and tackle each challenge that presents itself as we push forward and forge new ground with innovative ideas to enrich our learning environments. Challenges are no doubt distractions yet should be considered opportunities for reflection that result in deeper thinking. Considering and honouring other perspectives is important as each challenge is embraced in an effort to meet the needs of all our community members.
And what about my personal goals? I certainly want to continue to challenge myself in a variety of areas, fitness and a healthy lifestyle topping the list. Perhaps listening to Dr. Art Hister talk on Global TV about the importance of flexibility, resistance training and balance as we grow older caused me to pause. My flexibility is abysmal! I have resisted yoga classes all these years as I’ve convinced myself that running, biking and hiking are far better and more enjoyable forms of exercise. The thought of being in a hot room surrounded by people posing does not have much appeal to me. Yet I probably am not doing myself any favours having this close-minded attitude. I will not commit to yoga classes (yet) but will challenge myself to improve my flexibility. Thanks Dr. Art for reminding me.
Challenge, both used as a noun and a verb, seems like such a fitting word for who I am and where I want to go. I want to challenge myself to be a strong educational leader, one who is well versed on what is important for today’s youth. I hope to tackle challenges that come my way with an open mind and find appropriate solutions through working collaboratively. I want to challenge myself to try new forms of exercise (notice I didn’t mention yoga) and get more sleep to ensure I have an abundance of energy to have fun and enjoy life.
Happy New Year everyone! I look forward to welcoming you back on January 4th and working together once again for what promises to be a fun-filled, busy six months of learning at West Bay.
Students of all ages regularly come to my office, armed with proposals for my consideration. You may think these would pertain to issues they are disgruntled about, such as the sports court schedule or rules about no flips off the playground equipment. Yet this is rarely the case. Students approach me from a place of concern and care – for others. As an IB School, we strive to develop internationally-minded citizens; consequently, when students are eager to make a difference and prompted to take action, I am thrilled. Lately our students are feeling compelled to help others after hearing or reading about the plights of those less fortunate, whether it be the Syrian refugees, the homeless in Vancouver, or youth who are not afforded the same sporting opportunities as they are. This compassion is apparent all year round but during the holiday season, generosity and acts of kindness are particularly evident.
Ziyan in Grade 5 learned about the Syrian refugees coming to Vancouver and he passionately wanted to help them. Unsure of the type of clothing they would possess, he wondered if the families might benefit from warm hats. Thus the launch of a knitting club. Three times a week at lunch a group of students knits hats using looms. Ziyan hopes to have 50 warm hats ready before the holiday break.
Annik, Taya and Kiana in Grade 5 raised $316.70 by making and selling healthy muffins to support the Syrian refugees. Victoria Mendes will visit West Bay on Wednesday to accept a cheque on behalf of the West Vancouver United Church.
Sport enthusiasts David B and Kai H in Grade 7 feel very fortunate that they can participate in organized sports. They learned about the JumpStart Program, an organization working with Sport Chek and Atmosphere which helps make the world of sports accessible to children who are less fortunate. The boys approached me with a proposal to organize a student basketball game at lunch. Students would be charged a loonie to come and cheer on the teams; all money raised would be donated to JumpStart.
Parents support their child’s action at home and continually model taking action themselves. Below is a crew of parents wrapping gifts for hampers being delivered to families in need at our sister school.
Grade 7 teacher Kevin Darling challenged his students to consider alternative ideas to the traditional Secret Santa gift exchange. The students brainstormed incredible ways to ‘pay it forward with kindness and joy’ in lieu of buying gifts for classmates. On Thursday students will venture into the community to share joy in a simple, yet meaningful way. All West Bay staff members encourage students to consider ‘now what’ as a result of their learning. When students are immersed in this kind of culture both at home and at school it is not surprising that taking action becomes a mindset.
In the new BC Curriculum, part of the Personal/Social Core Competency focuses on the development of socially responsible citizens. “Students who demonstrate social responsibility are active, caring, and responsible members of society. They collaborate effectively with others, demonstrate a strong sense of community-mindedness, and take actions to support diversity and the environment. They show respect for everyone’s rights, and demonstrate empathy and a sense of ethical care as they develop relationships and consider differing perspectives.”
By giving our youth important skills at a young age, they become aware of the social context in which they live. As they grow older and become increasingly independent, we hope they will consistently demonstrate responsible action knowing that it is the ‘right’ thing to do rather than what is ‘expected’. Providing experiences for our children, listening to their ideas, supporting their initiatives, and validating their efforts fosters the development of active, compassionate, caring young people who one day will be our future leaders.
No, no, no. It wasn’t that long ago I might be heard saying you can’t bring that pogo stick to school, take your hat off in class, and throw your gum in the garbage. Now in the fourth year of our self-regulation journey, I find myself pausing and thinking before responding quickly with a knee-jerk negative response.
While supervising in the turnaround a few weeks ago, a parent leaned out her car window to ask, “Can Blaise bring his pogo stick to school?” I paused, thought about possible safety issues, and responded hesitantly, "sure". Within days the ‘pogo stickers’ were in action every recess and lunch. Eight-year old boys are having a blast outside hopping safely around on even pavement, eagerly showing off their talents, taking turns respectfully with peers, and most importantly, burning energy. These boys may have headed to our Learning Centre to jump on the mini tramp to burn energy during instructional time; now they can burn that energy outside on their pogo sticks, resulting in greater concentration and focus during class time.
Similarly, I have wrestled with the hat issue at school. Admittedly being old-fashioned and somewhat traditional, I insisted students take off their hats before entering school. This usually pertained to boys who enjoy wearing baseball hats with their favourite team’s logo embroidered on the brim. But in the last few years I’ve wondered if it is really a battle worth fighting. Considering the students’ perspective and their needs has shifted my thinking. Are they being intentionally disrespectful? No. Hats not only provide an entry point for conversation and allow me to learn more about a child’s interests, they also alert me to the student’s state of well-being. Hiding under a brim or hoodie may be a coping strategy for a struggling child, allowing him to feel less exposed and consequently calmer and more secure. Wearing a hat or hoodie is a socially appropriate means for an older student to stay regulated emotionally and socially, much like climbing into the egg chair would be a developmentally acceptable means for a younger child to achieve the same result. Children feeling overwhelmed by certain situations often withdraw and resort to strategies that work for them to feel safe.
I no longer ban gum chewing in class even for our young learners. Research indicates that gum chewing helps supply the brain with more oxygen, thus improving students’ attention and alertness. Grade Seven students are allowed to chew gum only after lunch, as this is a time teacher Kevin Darling finds his students the most lethargic. Our Grade Two teacher Candice Charlton reported that gum chewing helped one student stop chewing on the sleeve of her shirt. With our greater understanding of self-regulation, we now know that many students require that oral stimulation to help keep them calm. Chewing gum replaces the need to take breaks, thereby increasing time on task and perhaps even academic performance.
Three words come to mind when I think of my own experiences in school -- conformity, uniformity and rules. We sat in rows, were quiet for the most part, worked independently at our desks, memorized material, and weren’t allowed to wear jeans or hats. We were all treated much the same, all followed a long list of well-intentioned rules, and were given little choice as to how to demonstrate our understanding.
Today at West Bay and all the schools in our district, individuality, self-expression and different learning styles are embraced and celebrated. Educators are viewing student behaviour through a self-regulation lens and students are the beneficiaries. They feel empowered to make decisions for themselves as to what tools and strategies they need to ensure they experience success in school and in life. Students have greater choice, feel their needs are understood and respected, and are confident to be themselves -- and they are appreciative. We are not finding gum stuck under desks and there is no argument from students when asked to remove hats on certain occasions. As my colleague Kim Grimwood, Vice-Principal of Cypress Park notes, "Students are learning how to be responsible with the choices they are afforded."
There may be fewer rules to follow, yet guidelines remain in place to ensure safe and caring learning spaces are present for each and every member of our school community. Pogo sticks, hats, and gum may be what a child needs, and a need may now trump a long-standing rule. I am not saying ‘yes’ to everything, but I can assure you that I think twice before saying ‘no’ in case an improved learning experience for a child could be the outcome.
You may be familiar with the classic song, “Georgia on My Mind”. Georgia has been on my mind - but not the state of Georgia as is the subject of this popular song, but rather the amazing young athlete whose trajectory to success has been impressive to say the least. West Vancouver's Georgia Simmerling, the 26-year old dual Olympian, has been on my mind for good reason. Georgia represented Canada at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Alpine Skiing and competed in Ski Cross in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. And now she has a new goal – to make the Canadian National Track Cycling Team and compete in the next Summer Olympics.
Georgia first caught my attention as a member of my daughter’s T-Ball team many years ago. At that time I recall being very impressed with her competitive spirit and tremendous grit. A broken nose, bruised finger or bleeding knees never deterred this youngster from giving it her all – without a whimper. Her drive and determination combined with her coordination and skill made her a coach’s dream then and I’m sure the same holds true today.
I had the good fortune of interviewing Georgia recently as she and my daughter have remained friends since those glorious T-Ball days. At the age of thirteen, Georgia told me she had to pick between soccer and ski racing as skiing had many travel demands. She chose ski racing as, “I love to go fast!” Being the youngest of four children and having three older brothers likely played a factor in her need for speed! When I asked why she is putting her skiing on hold to pursue cycling, she smiled. “I came up with this crazy goal a few years ago. I am going to focus all my energy in making it happen. If it doesn't, it doesn't, and I will be okay with that because I will know I have given it my all." Now that's determination.
The three words she says describe her best are ‘outgoing’, ‘driven’, and ‘happy’. I couldn’t agree more with her choices and I would also add ‘resilient’, ‘enthusiastic’, and ‘compassionate’. In addition to her busy training schedule, Georgia is an Athlete Ambassador for Right To Play, a Canadian organization that uses the power of sport and play to educate and empower children facing adversity. “I have the opportunity to inspire and influence the future of young people’s lives, lives of children that are growing up in today’s world with far, far less than I had as a child.”
I asked Georgia what sports she played in school, a question which prompted a laugh from this gregarious young lady. “As many as I could!” She thoughtfully explained that sports taught her many life lessons and skills which she carried with her into adulthood. In particular, time-management skills, overcoming challenges, commitment and focus were skills that transferred into many areas of her life beyond the sports arena.
What keeps motivating Georgia Simmerling? “Achieving personal goals is the most rewarding thing as well as the journey that accompanies each goal. Every day I am grateful to do what I do and represent my country and be a role model for young girls and boys across the country.”
What advice would you give young people today in their formative years as they explore various interests and passions? This question prompted an enthusiastic response from Georgia. “Pick a passion and set goals! If you don’t know what your goals are that is okay. Break it down and think about what you like to do whether it’s playing an instrument, dancing or writing a book. Find your passion and set a goal that is attainable, yet challenging at the same time. The best part about achieving a goal is how good you feel when you achieve it- and then you are motivated to set another goal! Goals keep us focused and excited about life. If your goal is not related to athletics, I highly recommend incorporating some physical activity into your routine once a day. Even if you think activity doesn't directly impact your goal, it actually does as there are side benefits. Exercise gets your endorphins pumping, clears your brain, gives you energy, helps you focus and achieve your goal. Go for a run, play a sport, and then go and write your book, or play your instrument, or whatever it is you are passionate about."
What words of wisdom would you share with parents of young children? “Get your kids in activities and get them excited about their commitments. Get them outside and off the couch watching TV or texting. And please don't make your child pick one sport to play. I guarantee this leads to kids falling out of love with their sport, and does not help them be well rounded. Who knows what they will want to do when they are 12, 13, or 14 years old? If they want to play lots of sports please let them. It's good for their development and for fostering life skills, including working with teammates and improving their hand-eye coordination.”
Georgia’s advice for educators? “Let students think for themselves and on their own two feet. Encourage them to develop confidence by giving them a voice.”
Interviewing Georgia was delightful. Her accomplishments and gritty determination are admirable, yet it was her humility and her ability to reflect and articulate what really matters in life that impressed me the most. Many times throughout our conversation she mentioned the importance of family and the support and encouragement her parents and brothers provided, playing a key role in helping her achieve her goals and shape who she is today.
Georgia, thank you for sharing your journey thus far. I look forward to watching your progress and achievements over the next few years whether in skiing, cycling or perhaps another endeavour. I wish you all the very best as you go for gold! You will be on my mind.
Remember the 1992 Dream Team? The United States men’s Olympic basketball team comprised of extremely talented National Basketball Association players was nicknamed the Dream Team. They won the gold medal at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, never really being challenged, defeating each opponent by a significant margin.
At our first Professional Development Day of this school year, I displayed the photograph above, welcoming our teachers as West Bay’s 2015 Dream Team. I am indeed fortunate to be working with an exceptionally talented group of professionals who brings their “A” game to the classroom every day. However, their end in mind isn’t an Olympic gold medal, but to provide a positive learning experience for every child and to ensure each one feels like a winner.
Through collaboration, our teachers work harmoniously to plan meaningful, engaging learning activities that bring the curriculum to life. Each teacher’s ideas, personal experiences and strengths enrich the conversation. Teachers share ideas about creative ways to connect classroom learning to the real world. This might entail planting a garden, hatching chicks, or gathering data on insects collected in our schoolyard. It may involve planning a full day field trip to the Parliament Buildings in Victoria to complement the unit on government or heading off the BC Sports Hall of Fame to enhance a goal-setting unit.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend the recent TedxWestVancouverEd event. All speakers made outstanding, thought-provoking presentations on a variety of topics related to ‘Going Beyond’ and ‘Re-thinking Education’. But the words of Allison McNeill, head coach of the Canadian Women’s Basketball Team for twelve years, resonated with me and I couldn’t help but make connections to our team of teachers at West Bay. Her comments about competition, culture, and collaboration could easily be applied to all teams, not just those in the realm of athletics. “Collaborate with people who challenge your thinking…the beauty of collaboration is you get pushed and stretched to where you’d never go otherwise.” Through collaboration, West Bay teachers strive to ‘go beyond’ to foster a love of learning, ensuring their students are engaged, challenged, and successful.
“You don’t have access to their minds unless you have access to their hearts”. I referenced this quote by developmental psychologist Dr. Gordon Neufeld on Curriculum Evening before introducing our stellar teaching staff to the parent community. It speaks to the importance of educators building connections with students to earn their trust. Without a doubt, the West Bay Dream Team consists of teachers who understand that developing positive relationships and creating safe, caring cultures within their classrooms are of utmost importance. I am grateful to work with such dedicated, passionate educators who make it their priority to find ways to access their learners’ hearts.
On World Teachers’ Day, this blog post acknowledges and honours the 2015 West Bay Dream Team and teachers all over the world who understand and value the importance of educating both the mind and the heart and who ‘go beyond’ every day for every child.