Tuesday, December 27, 2011

One Year Later

I swore I would not do this, but here goes anyway...  A blog about my one year anniversary of Blogging and Tweeting as well as a New Year's resolution.

During the Winter Holidays of 2010, I was introduced to Blogging and Twitter by a colleague and friend of mine (@terryainge and Pacer Post).  He was relatively new to it also, but was describing the benefits, saying that Twitter was the best Professional Development tool he had come across, since it helped him stay informed and connected at any time of day.  He described Blogging as a means of formulating and articulating more clearly some of his philosophical beliefs about education.  I had some time over the break a year ago to play around and attempt to learn what benefits the two social media tools could provide me, and admit to becoming hooked almost immediately.

Just over one year has passed since my introduction and I still do not use Twitter like I could, only rarely finding the time to "Tweet" about an article I have read or a link to somebody else's blog.  I do, however, use it as a "voyeur", and it helps me stay informed with the most recent articles, thoughts and discussions on many topics within education.  I have yet to participate in an #edchat or other Twitter discussion hashtag, but have been an interested on-looker and can certainly see the value.  I have spread the word about the use of Twitter for the purposes of Professional Development with our staff, and have managed to get a few teachers to join in.  A commitment I am making to myself for the upcoming year is to get more actively engaged with all that Twitter can provide, becoming more willing to participate in the discussions, share my beliefs and challenge the thinking of myself and others.

While I have not yet taken full advantage of all that Twitter has to offer, Blogging has been much more meaningful for me.  On December 21, 2010, I posted my first entry, about the Seniors Brunch, an act of social responsibility our school has been engaged in for the past 12 years.  I found the process of writing about it very valuable since I was forced to synthesize more clearly all that I saw as important in the things we do at school.  I have long had some general ideas about what is important, and some vague answers to the question, "Why do we do what we do?"  Blogging has forced me to think more deeply about what is important, and made me take the vague philosophies I have, and make them more specific, and in some ways, more measurable (though measuring all that is important in schools is a hot-button topic for a future post).  Writing for an audience is very good for forcing people to put more thought and specifics to what may have been vague ideas, and some staff at our school are now using blogs with their students for those very reasons.

Shortly after writing that first post, I took the time to reflect on all that my good friend, Lorne Bodin, has taught me over the years we have known each other.  His fight with cancer, his passing in early January, and my family's attempts to support his family, still occupy my thoughts daily.  Blogging about him was a form of therapy, and it served as a great communication tool for sharing information about his Celebration of Life and the Photos from the event.

Since that time, I have returned to blogging about the goings-on within our school and community, writing with great pride about the amazingly talented staff and students who continue to overcome obstacles to produce and be responsible for impressive feats of socially-responsible behaviour, academic achievement and extra-curricular excellence.  Admittedly, much of what I write about is little more than school newsletter material, but I find even that serves a valuable purpose.  As the Principal of a school, it is important that I am aware of the things occurring in our building, and if I am hoping to influence some change and/or improvements in how we go about our business, then one of the most effective methods for encouraging this growth is to celebrate the positive examples already happening.  While some see Blogging as a tool for challenging thinking and posing questions (which it is), I fully intend to continue using my blog as an on-line journal, celebrating the accomplishments of our school, in hopes of expanding the pockets of excellence that I see.

As I grow more comfortable with my role and the use of the tools, however, I hope to be able to push the limits of my social media use, encouraging deeper thought and spurring on greater connections and conversations within my workplace.  Therein lies my New Year's Resolution.  I resolve to take my involvement with Twitter and Blogging to a deeper level, encouraging even greater thought and reflection and to challenge my thinking and the thinking of those with whom I interact, in hopes of promoting my professional growth and the continued improvement of the school where I work.  While there is some inherent risk in this, I believe it is a risk worth taking.  Some of the questions I may ask, or the philosophies I may share, could result in failure, but to quote Sir Winston Churchill (found in a blog by Jeff Delp, a fantastic administrator/blogger from Arizona whom I follow), and words for all of us to remember when working with our students and children,
"Success is not final, failure is not fatal;  It is the courage to continue that counts"
I look forward to continuing the journey, and hope that those who take the time to read what I put out there find some value in it also.

Enjoy the rest of your holidays, and may 2012 bring health and happiness to you and your family.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Great things...

The last few weeks of school before a holiday are always crazy.  Students and teachers are frantically trying to tidy up lose ends, and all members of the school community are slightly frazzled and looking forward to a break.  This year was just like every other, and I, for one, am very pleased to now be enjoying some "down-time", and reconnecting with my wife and children.

As busy as the past few weeks have been, however, I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to thank and congratulate all of the people who have made them enjoyable, despite the frenetic pace.  There have been several spectacular events recently, among them:

The canned food drive organized by our Student Council.
As in every year, the month of December is full of socially-responsible efforts (including our school-wide Conference Day and Seniors Brunch), and the Student Council once again championed a canned food drive.  Every C block class for four weeks, students were asked to bring in donations that would be packaged up and sent to the Richmond Food Bank to aid people less fortunate.  Once again, Burnett students gave in record numbers, this time collecting over 16,000 items which were taken to the food bank.  Way to go Breakers!

The Winter Music Concert featuring the talents of the Burnett Music Department.

The annual concert brought in standing-room-only crowds of friends and family who were entertained by the Beginner's Band, Jazz Band and Concert Band under the direction of Burnett Music teacher, Ms. Sue Freeman.  The show was superb and left all members of the audience proud of the work done by these musicians, and the music performed helped people get into the festive mood.

Santa's Breakfast, also organized by our Student Council, was yet another December event where the entire school came together from 8 AM to 9 AM on the last day of school to share some Christmas and Holiday spirit and be entertained by the Jazz Band, Glee Club and make more donations to the Food Bank.  Staff and students were treated to a delicious breakfast put on by the Student Council.  The event set a great tone for the last day of school, and got people excited about the holidays!
The Edge Project, featuring the talents of the Burnett Drama Department, was hosted by the Green Thumb Theatre company and performed at the Roundhouse Community Center.  This high-quality, professionally-produced show, featured material written and performed entirely by students.  There were four schools from around the Lower Mainland (Burnett, Alpha, Seycove and Tupper), each performing five different scenes about teenage life.  It was an important, thought-provoking show, and speaking with the students after the show, one could see how justifiably proud of themselves they were.

I also had the pleasure of observing some amazing classes, as students performed in a mock-trial in Law 12, played some wildly engaging games of Jeopardy in a couple of Socials Studies 9 and 10 classes, and all Junior PE students performed their own creative dance projects for huge audiences in the gym on the last day of school.  In each of the classes I observed, I saw students completely engaged, being creative, courageous and respectful of one another.  Everything I saw reflects very positively on our staff and students, and our entire community should be proud of what is going on in our school.

Another fantastic month, where I got to see amazingly talented people working hard to produce stunning events.  I continue to be impressed by the courage and attitudes of the young people we have the pleasure of working with.  When I look back on my teenage years, I know that I was not as socially-aware as students today, nor did I have the confidence to perform on stage in front of my peers.  Kudos to all those involved, and I wish you all a happy holiday season and best of luck for the new year.  See you in 2012!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Conference Day and Seniors Brunch

Last Tuesday, Burnett Secondary had the first of it's two annual "Conference Days".  These are days when the school shuts down normal operation and focuses on the topics of Social Responsibility (the December day) and Career Awareness (in February).  The Social Responsibility day has become a highlight of the year for many staff and students, as well as members of our community.  Among the activities planned for the day are:  Guest speakers like Jeff Torres, who spoke about overcoming obstacles and making a positive impact, Jonathan Livingstone, representing Youth Unlimited, who talked about making tough choices, Marion Cassirer, who spoke about her survival story during the holocaust, John Banovitch from MADD, who presented about Drinking and Driving, and Matt Hill and Steph Tait-Run for One Planet, who presented about environmental sustainability.  The day also included lessons delivered to homeroom classes on topics such as Suicide Awareness (Chimo), Stress Management and Healthy Relationships (Planet Ahead), Bullying, Racism, Safe Driving, and Grade 12's spent time updating their Graduation Transitions documents. 

Unquestionably, however, the highlight of the day is the Seniors brunch.  This is the 12th annual event (my first-ever blog post was reflecting on last year's event) where we invite over 120 seniors from neighboring care homes and community centres to our school and offer them some lunch, as well as entertainment (the Jazz Band and Glee club perform) and some good-natured companionship. Writing about her experience in helping coordinate the brunch is Leadership 11/12 student, Jei So.

  Our Leadership teacher once said, “99% of the work for all successful events goes into planning them” and for Senior’s Brunch, we followed her thesis and made this event both successful and memorable.  To be frank, this was not a simple task that my classmates and I could complete in just one class because there were so many things to organize!  All the jobs sure did sound easy, but once we started to work… boy!  Was there a day where we didn’t have a problem?  The day our instructor, Ms Cain, brought up this event, our class was organized into different committees.  For example, we had the invitations committee, food committee, table decorations committee, MCs and so on.  I was part of the invitations group, so I remember making a total number of 180 invitation cards for each of the seniors and actually going to the different senior centres to drop them off!  That by itself was not an easy task because I think we had only 3 days to make all the cards and get them delivered. However, we got a lot of help from everyone (even from people that weren’t in our leadership class!) so thankfully we managed to get it all done in time!  Speaking of helpers, we had A LOT of people that volunteered their own time to help us out and support us! Honestly, I don’t think this event could have been pulled off if people didn’t help.

   On the day of Senior’s Brunch, I could tell that everyone was nervous but excited!  It was such a beautiful moment when the seniors got out of their buses and walked towards the school with smiles on their faces.  Some even dressed up just for this event!  As we greeted them inside the school, we got to have a little chat with them and get to know them a bit!  It was a truly touching moment because for some of them, we learned that this was the only event they went to and actually looked forward to (this pressured us but at the same time, it made us have the determination and passion to do the best we could).  As an MC, although I was very nervous, I felt comfortable talking in front of the seniors mostly because I knew that they were warm-hearted and understanding.  During the event, we had JN Burnett’s Jazz band come in and play wonderful Christmas music while the seniors ate their sandwiches and soup!  This was my first time hearing our Jazz Band play and I never knew how amazing they were!  It almost felt like I was listening to a recorded Christmas album!  In addition, we got our school’s Glee Club to perform.  The performance by itself gave everyone smiles.  We could tell that the seniors absolutely loved their performances because some of them were singing along, feeling the beat of the song, and moving their bodies!  So, thank you Jazz Band and Glee club!  As the event was going to conclude, we decided to add in an “open mic” session where anyone could come up on stage to tell a story, a joke, sing, make a comment, and basically just share their thoughts with each other.  Fortunately, we had numerous seniors that came up mostly to thank us.  That was an extremely precious moment for everyone that participated in Seniors brunch, mainly because their comments made us feel good!  

   The best part of this event was that we truly got to experience the joy of giving back to our community and it really did feel absolutely amazing.  I was so thankful that our leadership class got this opportunity.  One thing that I cannot get out of my mind is when almost 2/3 of the seniors got up to form a conga line with the students, including Santa and the elves!  In conclusion, even though it took us a lot of hard work to make this event successful, it was fun and everyone had a marvellous time.  In addition, it brought people closer together and created opportunities for people to meet new people!  For example, I got to work with some different staff members at the school and I really got to know them better!  

   PS- Senior’s Brunch definitely goes into my list of why I love the month of December the most! I will be looking forward to next year’s Seniors Brunch!


To all of the staff and students who participated in the day, the Conference Day planning committee (Mrs. Musani, Ms. Takada, Mr, Anderson, Mr. Lee, Mr. McDonnell and Mrs. Ten-Pow), Ms. Freeman and the Jazz band, the student-run Glee club, and of course, Ms. Cain, Mr. Ghaug and the Leadership class who worked so hard putting together the Seniors brunch, THANK-YOU!  It was yet another magical day for our students and our guests.  It is always great when we can slow down, help others, and become more aware of how to make the world a better place.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Recent reading

This past summer, as part of my preparation to assume a new role (Principal of J.N. Burnett Secondary School), I decided to expand my reading repertoire.  For several years, I have never given myself enough time or felt it important enough to delve deeply into literature that could help me improve my practice, or even become more aware of different ways to do or think about things.  I will admit to having been little more than a magazine reader (Sports Illustrated, most often), with the occasional biography or sports-related story (Andre Agassi's Open, Randy Pausch's The Last Lecture and Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie as examples) thrown in during infrequent family vacations.  Thanks to my recent involvement with Twitter, I have been inspired to read several excellent books by accomplished authors, many of whom discuss valuable ideas around education and working with young people.  Among the most thought-provoking that I have read over the past few months include:

The Element by Sir Ken Robinson

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Drive by Dan Pink

Childhood Under Siege by Joel Bakan

and most recently, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

Each provided me much to consider.  I found myself nodding in agreement with most of what Dan Pink articulated, since I have long felt as an athlete I never had "Drive" for an extrinsic reward, but rather because I enjoyed seeing improvements from hard work and I wanted to continue making those gains.  I struggled with some of what Sir Ken Robinson suggested, perhaps because his stories all profiled extreme examples of high achievers, and society is comprised of people with widely diverse work ethics, backgrounds, experiences and attributes.  He never discussed 'how-to' achieve the "Element" and I feel that the 'way-of-the-world' will make it hard for many to find theirs.  Malcolm Gladwell's book dove-tailed nicely with Robinson's, better exploring the reasons why "Outliers" were successful (10,000 hours, opportunity, luck, culture etc).  Gladwell also wrote specifically about education and attempted to explain the Asian affinity for Mathematics.  His examples made some sense, and caused me to think about what happens in schools like the one I work in.  I was impressed by the research poured into Joel Bakan's "Childhood Under Siege", but surprised by the American angle it held, especially since he lives next door to my parents in Vancouver.  Also, while I appreciated much of what he wrote, I felt the conspiracy theories he discussed resulted in too paranoid an outlook, despite his concluding statement that he was optimistic because of his faith in our youth. 

The work most thought-provoking for me, however, was Amy Chua's "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" (which I just read this weekend).  Full of sweeping over-generalizations about "Chinese" and "Western" parenting styles, despite being somewhat self-deprecating and humorous, the book can be seen as inflammatory.  All of that aside, what the author made me consider are the dangers and benefits of two opposing styles of working with young people.  Chua is a demanding perfectionist who can be described as micro-managing her children's lives.  She recognizes this and attributes it to her Chinese heritage.  She also wrestles with her idea that this a better way to raise children than the more "Western" traditions of play, freedom, self-discovery.  As even Chua notes, there are countless parents, regardless of cultural background, who fit into either style (more often defined as 'traditional' or 'progressive') and I have seen both types within the same cultures in my own school community. She claims to favour her style, stating that "Western" parenting is the "path-of-least-resistance" and does not teach the values of perseverance and the confidence that comes from hard work.  Her strategies have led to great successes for her children, but at times have sabotaged her relationships with them.  Despite those drawbacks, much of what she does echoes what is profiled in Gladwell's "Outliers" (hours of opportunity, cultural traditions, work ethics etc.) and while she subscribes to reward techniques that are not always aligned with Pink's theories in "Drive", she argues, somewhat compellingly, that her hard-driving style is helping develop a self-confidence in her children that will serve them well, wherever life takes them (though she seems to be attempting to make the choices for them on where their lives will go).

I highly recommend each of these books for anyone interested in expanding their thinking and reconsidering what parents and schools must do to better equip children for the future.  The common thread running through each one (with the possible exception of "Childhood Under Siege"), whether you agree with the author's position or not, is that confidence plays a huge role in learning, discovering passions and feeling successful.  The question raised for me following all of this reading is, "how do we help instill that confidence in our learners?"  I do not have all the answers, but with the BC Education Plan we need to keep in mind that sometimes the pendulum of change can swing too far, and we can lose sight of the many great things we have done in education in this province as we search for something new.  We need to create learning environments that develop a sense of confidence where we blend some of the traditional "Chinese" elements of work ethic, discipline and  perseverance (as celebrated by Amy Chua), while still encouraging more progressive "Western" ideals of self-discovery, social interaction and pursuing passions.  I am not suggesting that one style is better than another (though I consider Chua's efforts far too extreme for most parents and children), but there needs to be an awareness of the benefits and shortcomings of each, and, as Chua herself admits as her story continues, a willingness to incorporate aspects of each style when working with children.  Doing so will lead us to improve upon an already exceptionally strong education system.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Grade 8 Voices

About five years ago, Burnett Secondary's Administrative team decided to start talking to students about their school experiences more.  As part of a Professional Development project that the school district was supporting (called Secondary Futures), a group of teachers and administrators attempted to start the conversation of how high school could be done differently (long before the BC Education Plan).  The group discussed ideas for generating conversation and at Burnett we decided to talk to our students using an appreciative inquiry model.  We asked our students a series of questions about what they enjoyed in school, and what they felt school needed to add to help them be more successful in the future.  We started by interviewing students in Grades 8, 10 and 12, and made notes of the feedback we received from our conversations.  We then went back and recorded several of the comments students made and created a video that we were able to share with our staff.  The video highlighted many of the great things we were already doing and should think about doing more, as well as some of the areas we needed to change and focus our energies on improving.

The video was extremely helpful, and has initiated conversation and changes in purpose and practice from many stakeholders in the school (students and teachers alike).  I recall enjoying the conversations very much, and we have decided to continue them every year since, now focusing the talks on Grade 8's.  Thursday and Friday were the "No Office Days" we set aside to stay out of the office and get into each of the 7 Humanities 8 classes within the school and talk with students about what gets them excited about learning.

It has been a busy and awkward year, and perhaps we have not been in classes as much as we should have. Thursday and Friday were exceptionally busy yet invigorating days due to the conversations we were able to participate in.

To start the visits, we introduced ourselves and explained why we were there (though the teachers had prepared them with information that we were coming).  We then got students into small groups and gave them a handout that listed 4 guiding questions (however, students were told they did not have to follow them directly).  The questions were:
    • How has your Grade 8 experience been (so far) versus what you thought it might be?
      • What are the things you are really enjoying about high school?  Describe a lesson where you left the class excited about what you were learning.  What made it that way?  What are the good things we are doing that you feel we should be doing more of?  How do you like to show what you have learned?
        • What would make Grade 8 better?  Give us some examples of what can be done differently. 
          • What do you wish you knew or were told before you came to high school?
            As you can imagine, the conversation was electric.  Kids love being asked these types of questions and the feedback flew at us (most of it extremely positive).

            Samples of responses include:

            "It's been more fun than I expected."

            "I thought I was going to get bullied and be afraid of the teachers, but everyone has been really nice!" 

            "There are lots of friendly and helpful older students"

            "I like getting to meet lots of new friends"

            "I like how we are expected to be more independent"

            "I like the alternating schedule and having 4 different classes with different teachers and class mates each day."

            "The Grade 8 retreat was awesome.  I got to meet lots of new friends"

            "I like the hands-on activities" 

            "I like teachers who make us laugh" 

            "I like when the teacher relates the topic we are learning about to our lives"

            "I like when the teacher talks to us in our language"

            "I like classes where we get to play games or talk to each other and share ideas" 

            "I like it when we get to use our iPods and Blackberries in class for research"

            "We have more freedom and responsibility" 

            "We get to choose some electives based on our interests"

            "I think there should be less taking notes" 

            "The lockers are too small and nobody wants a bottom one"

            "We had a math class where everyone had to bring in a dish of food that used math to make.  We spent half an hour eating and talking.  It was awesome."

            "We should have fewer tests and quizzes"

            "There is still lots of homework, but it is less than we expected"

            "I wish I could have sit-in on some classes when I was in Grade 7, so I would have known what it was going to be like"

            "The cafeteria is too expensive"

            "Lunch is too late in the day"

            "I would like to have more field trips" 

            "I enjoy all of the extra-curricular clubs and teams"

            "We need a louder bell"

            "I don't do very well on tests, and I like that in some classes my teacher lets me show them what I know in different ways"

            "The washrooms need repair" 

            "It is difficult to get around-the hallways are crowded and lockers are hard to use"

            "I wish I had a map of the school before I started, since it was hard to find my way around"

            "This school is AWESOME!!!  Don't change anything!"  (I think this student may have been looking for bonus marks-lol...)
            While some of the responses we received were predictable, the feedback from our students over the last few years has been extremely valuable, somewhat reaffirming and has also led us to make some changes (both big and small).  Equally important, however, is that we are encouraging our students to become self-advocates, a very important skill we must help develop to prepare them for their future.  Too often, students in our community have quietly followed along, unwilling to share their thoughts and ideas with their parents, teachers and administrators.  We are letting them know that their voice is important, will be heard and can result in positive changes taking place.  They greatly appreciate this opportunity.

            As much as the British Columbia Education Plan is upon us, and offers some good ideas for ways we can improve what we are doing in schools, one of the best places we can start is by talking to the students we are servicing.  They have some great ideas and are excited to share!

            Friday, November 11, 2011

            Lest We Forget

            Today was November 11th.  On this day, people around the world stop, reflect, remember and appreciate the efforts and sacrifices made by their forebears.  In Canada, we take time to acknowledge the military personnel who have given and continue to give so much for the way of life we enjoy.  Sometimes it feels as though we take for granted the comfortable and orderly lifestyle in Canada, but when we stop and recall all that has gone into creating this way of life, we can't help but feel overwhelmed and forever indebted.

            Yesterday our school held its Remembrance Day ceremony, acknowledging the sacrifices of the past and present, and linking these struggles to the lives we lead now.  For many of our students, the wars from years gone by seem so far removed that it can be difficult for them to identify with the sacrifices people have made.  The goal of our ceremony was to acknowledge the efforts and sacrifices, and link them to the experiences our students now enjoy.

            This year, the ceremony was run exclusively by and featured several performances from our students.  We invited a guest, Mr. Tony Spiring, who we recognized as a veteran and who was captivated by the tribute our students put together.  Morgan Steele and Sarah Aljeboury acted as Masters of Ceremony, our concert band under the direction of Ms. Freeman and singer Pearl Xu led a stirring rendition of "O Canada", and Richmond Cadet and member of this year's graduating class, Kevin Zhao gave an inspiring and poignant opening address to the audience.  He was followed by Anna Toth who gave a stunning performance of a beautiful song she wrote in honour of Remembrance Day called "There's a Shadow".  There was also a striking video montage put together by Mrs. Carvalhiero and the Photography class as well as Calvin Li's playing of "The Last Post" and "Reveille".  The Burnett Glee club performed "Amazing Grace", four of our students performed the poem "Why wear a Poppy?", and we closed with another uplifting video montage put together by Mrs. Carvalheiro and the Photography class, reminding us to appreciate the freedoms and rights we have been given as part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  It was truly an inspiring ceremony that made the audience appreciate the talents of our students and the sacrifices made by those before us to enable our way of life.
            As stated by our guest, Mr. Spiring, the ceremony was truly impressive.  He explained to me after it was over that he has been attending ceremonies like these for several years, and while he appreciated all that he has seen, he had never before been part of one so moving and inspirational.  Like me, he was awed by the talents of our students, and even more impressed by the audience members who observed with such respect and dignity.  The behaviour of our students, especially when watching one another, is remarkably respectful and added a fantastic element to the ceremony that made all of us within the Burnett community proud.

            I would like to say thank you to all those who planned, coordinated and performed in the ceremony, and also recognize all of our staff and students for the exceptional decorum from the audience.  It was truly and inspirational event that made me very proud of who we are, where we've been and where we are going.  I would be remiss if I did not also thank the countless military personnel and their families for all they have done and the sacrifices they have made to enable the way of life we enjoy in Canada.  Thank you.

            Congratulations on a job well done and never forget.

            Sunday, October 30, 2011

            The BC Ed Plan...Where are we?

            Last Friday's announcement from the BC Ministry of Education (the BCEd Plan and document) has people all around the province talking.  What does this mean?  How is this different from what is going on now?  How is implementation of this change going to happen with teachers in job action?

            An important question for those of us in schools is, "What are we already doing that fits within what the government is proposing, and where do we go from here?" (Acknowledgements to Gino Bondi, who has posted a similar thread for John Oliver Secondary School in Vancouver, on his blog, Learning the Now).  While many are frustrated by the lack of clarity and the timing of such an announcement (complicated by the labour unrest in education), I believe there is some good in the proposal from the Ministry, because we are already engaged in several of the practices required.  I have written previously of some of the potential roadblocks to any sweeping change (in blog post Personalized, 21st Century Learning).  But now that there are some specifics to the plan, we all need to look at where we are in order to frame the discussion of where we need to go.

            In reviewing the document, the Ministry has pinpointed 5 pillars in their plan:
            • Personalized Learning for every student
            • Quality Teaching and Learning
            • Flexibility and Choice
            • High Standards
            • Learning Empowered by Technology
            When I look at our school (J.N. Burnett Secondary in Richmond, B.C.), I see Graduation rates over 96%.  I see highly professional educators constantly reflecting upon and refining their practice, updating assessment strategies to incorporate Assessment for Learning, and working hard to support the diverse needs within our school, specifically the English as a Second Language learners.  I see truancy and misbehaviour rates at remarkably low levels, and a social responsibility/awareness among the students and staff that is exceedingly impressive.  I see technology all around the school, with wireless Internet accessibility, and teachers and students using mobile devices and other technology tools in classrooms.  I see standards of learning and achievement reflected in high provincial exam results and significant numbers of students making the academic honour roll and being recognized for maintaining high scores on report card Work Habits.  I see students able to choose a path for themselves, based on interests and areas of strength, with a wide range of elective courses, on-line learning opportunities, as well as work experience and outside-of-school credit avenues.

            All these things tell me we need to stay the course with our professional development projects, expanding the pockets of cutting-edge assessment and instructional practices.  We need to continue promoting cultural and environmental awareness campaigns, and to celebrate the exceptional things our students are doing.  To move forward, areas requiring more attention include continuing to promote creative, critical thinking and supporting students in their pursuits of individual interest, providing greater flexibility and depth within coursework.  We also need to expand our abilities to utilize the available technologies, and incorporate more of them into our classrooms.  We need to continue to "personalize" learning, so that our students become more engaged and less concerned with credentialing.  And we must carefully consider the structures of our school in order to enable greater flexibility and choice.  In all, I am proud of where our school is, and encouraged by our willingness to grow and continue moving forward with 21st century learning.  The Plan put forth by the government does not intimidate, rather it excites because I see our school well on its way.

            The B.C. Ministry of Education is looking for feedback from parents, students and educators.  If you have suggestions or thoughts, provide them here.  As stated in a previous blog entry, education in British Columbia is entering an uncertain and tumultuous time, but the discussions being initiated by documents like the B.C. Education Plan provide us an opportunity to reflect, give feedback, and hopefully make the system that much better for the student in its care.  Be sure to share your opinions.

            Wednesday, October 19, 2011

            Be Your Best!

            Earlier this week, my wife and I had both of our children undergo a fairly routine medical procedure, but one that required our children being put under general anaesthetic.  The anticipation of it, and the subsequent surgery and recovery has been an ordeal for the entire family. 

            Being at BC Children's Hospital most of the day yesterday was an interesting experience that made me think about my family as well as the work we educators are involved in.  I saw my children, my wife and myself wrought with worry, concerned with how the procedure would go, and how we could best help alleviate the stress and discomfort.  I saw the very same look of concern on every parent and child in the waiting room, post-operative room and recovery room.  All were understandably worried and relying on the staff at the hospital to treat their child as the most important thing in the world.  The staff at BC Children's Hospital were truly amazing.  They handled our entire family with tremendous care.  Despite our children's procedure being quite routine, we were greeted by friendly and calming nurses, anaesthetists and doctors, and they truly made us feel like the procedure our boys were about to undergo was the most important thing the staff was going to do that day.

            We need to remember that as teachers, we are entrusted with the most important things in people's lives...their children.  They trust us to do the best job possible, just as we had to trust our nurses and surgeons.  Students often come to school with all kinds of preconceived notions and dispositions, just as they come to the hospital full of dread and worry.  We need to be able to see that discomfort, address it, and make students feel safe, important and well cared-for, just as the staff at BC Children's Hospital did for our family and all the others I observed yesterday. 

            While the consequences for a mistake may seem more immediate and severe for medical practitioners, educators are charged with no less-critical a task.  We can take a chance and try something new if we feel it might lead to a better result, while surgeons usually do not have that luxury.  We have the opportunity to re-teach or try it again if students didn't understand what was being taught.  But how we go about our work requires that we remember how important the job is, and what the students and their parents are hoping to get.  We need to be our best!  Parents and their children are trusting us to make the experience of school a positive one, just as they do when going to the hospital.  My children, wife and I owe a huge debt of thanks to the staff at Children's Hospital for doing that for our family. 

            Thank you.

            Saturday, October 15, 2011

            Personalized, 21st Century Learning

            Throughout Canada, and across many countries around the world, the movement for reform in education is significant. Many authors and experts are discussing terms like "21st Century Learning" and "Personalized Learning".  The group of Secondary Principals in the Richmond School District decided a few weeks ago to begin reading and discussing the terms as part of their professional development.  We started by looking over the Ministry of Education's Interactive Discussion Guide.  Since going through it, I have engaged in several conversations with colleagues, staff and students, and have done further reading on the topic (21st Century Learning on the Ministry site, and The Premier's Technology Council Vision for 21st Century Education as well as blog posts like "The 'New' Ministry Initiative"), and while excited by the rich conversations and thinking the topics have resulted in, I have more questions than answers about how "Personalized, 21st Century Learning" is going to evolve.

            If I am honest with myself, while I am aware of the definitions, I am less clear on how I see these things ultimately manifesting themselves in our schools.  I have seen literature that discusses the Eight C's (Critical Thinking, Creativity, Collaboration, Cross-cultural Understanding, Communication, Computing, Career plus Caring for Self and the Environment) and Three R's (Reading, Writing and Numeracy) of 21st Century Learning, and understand that for learning to be Personalized, we need to provide options and choices for students, and supply them opportunities to explore areas of interest and strength embracing tools like technology.  But until we are comfortable with what these things will look like in practice, we may struggle in helping move our schools any closer to achieving that goal.

            B.C. Minister of Education, George Abbott released earlier this week his Plan for Education Transformation, and after digesting it, and reliving the conversations I have engaged in the past couple of weeks, four issues come forward (though I am sure there are several more)...

            1. As indicated above, I am unsure what these things will look like, and I do not think I am alone.  Many people are aware of the definitions, but are not sure how things will need to be done differently in order for us to move schools effectively into 21st Century Learning.  I am confident that much of what our teachers are doing, and have been doing for lengthy periods of time, are personalized and geared toward the 21st Century (peer teaching, progressive assessment strategies, the evolution of Distributed on-line learning, cross-curricular unit planning to name only a few) but it is not clear what the government expects schools to look like.  Perhaps this is deliberate, because each context is different.  But I have been asked in conversation, "How is this different from 'Student-Centered Learning'?" and, "What about the student who doesn't know yet what his/her areas of strength and interest are, or who is only interested in one thing, which may change as s/he grows?" or, "What will we be giving up in moving toward this system, and how is that considered better?"  These are all excellent questions that we are struggling to answer.
            2. Two of the most important skills from the Eight C's are critical thinking and creativity.  Inherent in becoming a creative, critical thinker is a willingness to take risks.  One of the greatest obstacles facing students and educators today is the societal pressure to achieve marks.  We live in a "data-driven" world, where it seems we need to quantify everything with numbers, including our students' learning.  I have had numerous conversations with students over the years, listening to them fret over their marks and stress over pleasing their parents and getting into university.  Many post-secondary institutions in B.C. are moving toward "broad-based" admissions policies, schools are moving forward with assessment-for-learning strategies that don't penalize risk-taking, and the Ministry has taken some focus off exam results by abolishing optional Provincial exams.  But there still exists a reluctance for students to take chances and look for unique solutions to problems due to a fear of being incorrect, and having that response negatively affect their standing.  The fear of "getting it wrong" needs to be alleviated, freeing students to think creatively and take some chances.  This is a big shift away from where we are now for parents, students, educators and institutions and needs to be our highest priority.
            3. Money continues to be an issue.  Some educators I have spoken with are hoping that Personalized Learning  will result in a reduction of the chasm between the wealthy and the less affluent, but wonder where the money will come from.  While money is a factor everywhere, and can not be used as an excuse for not moving forward, much of what 21st Century Learning is supposed to be about requires technology hardware, and comes at a cost.  Our school is still struggling with out-of-date hardware and software, and keeping up with the rapidly changing technology world is an almost impossible task.  The concern is that without appropriate technology supports in schools, the gulf between the haves and have-nots will increase rather than be reduced, since only the affluent will be able to access those technological advantages.
            4. Most important in any efforts for change is buy-in from parents, students and teachers. Deep change like what the government is suggesting requires it, but as a colleague pointed out to me, teachers in B.C. are dealing with job action and contract negotiations and aren't feeling particularly appreciated or supported.  Telling them to improve and change how they do things may not be well received at this time and will not be successful "without fully engaged and committed" parents and professionals.
            There is little doubt that the future of education is unsettled and intimidating yet exciting and full of opportunity. Students, teachers and parents need to think differently about the purposes of education and it's goal of preparing students to become productive members of society. Starting the conversations and improving and sharing practices that lead to "Personalized, 21st Century Learning" (and commonly understanding what these terms mean for professional practice) are critical in creating schools that are best preparing tomorrow's leaders with the skills they need. If you have suggestions for how you see these terms coming to life, and how you intend to overcome the obstacles in your schools (I have ideas, but admittedly, they are vague), I would love to hear your thoughts.

            Wednesday, October 5, 2011

            World Teacher Day

            Today was a great day.  I had the opportunity to connect with several staff and students, and after what has seemed like a hectic first month, it was a welcomed change.  The Bill 33 consultation process and paperwork is complete, some of our SADE reporting and Class Size and Composition data has been extracted and analyzed, the timetable appears to be balanced and 1701 reporting has been taken care of.  These are only a few of the first month's priorities.

            Today was a day for me to get into classes, and connect with staff and students.  I also got the chance to express some of my appreciation for all that the people of our school do.  Since it was World Teacher Day, I purchased donuts for the staff (a small token), and with some students, delivered them to classrooms around the school with a heartfelt "thank-you".  Tomorrow, I am hosting an appreciation lunch for the members of Student Council who assisted us during the first week homeroom classes with the tasks teachers could not perform due to job action.  I also got to observe a couple of excellent lessons today, specifically one of a teacher going through the evaluation process where she very effectively got students talking about bullying and ways to combat it, employing all kinds of technology (powerpoint and video examples for her own discussion, as well as promoting student cellphone use for their own anti-bullying PSA videos), and she handled the class with an easy aplomb.  It was a pleasure to be in the room and throughout the hallways during the day.

            It got me to thinking about the impact of teaching.  Being World Teacher Day, I wanted to show some gratitude to the teachers at Burnett, as well as the inspiring people who have helped shape me into the person I am today.  I know that there is a call for reform in education, and as we move forward into a largely unknown future, we do need to look at constantly improving how we go about our business.  That does not mean, however, that everything we are doing and have been doing is wrong.  I look at the experience I had as a student, and recall it fondly, but when I compare it to the experience I see today's students getting, and the people they are becoming, I am exceedingly impressed.  Students today are even more tolerant, literate, creative, thoughtful, and socially and environmentally aware, to list only a few of the skills we see in our students each day (check out blog posts by Chris Wejr and Cale Birk on this topic).  Much of that must be attributed to how they are being taught.

            I would also like to take the time to applaud the efforts of some of the more influential teachers I had while growing up.  I always enjoyed being at school, and the things I learned and the experiences I had created positive memories, and lessons that will last a lifetime.  Acknowledgements to Chris Kennedy for his post, A Little Bit About Mrs. Caffrey, that has inspired my reflecting.

            • Mrs. Webster-my grade 1 teacher.  I was new to the area, having just returned from the United States.  I didn't know many people, but her classroom was so welcoming and warm, I could not help but become comfortable with her and my classmates.  
            • Mr. Porter-my grade  4 teacher.  A year I will never forget.  I was hit by a car in early November, and nearly lost my life.  Mr. Porter helped both my friends and myself get through a very difficult time.  Always the teacher, when he learned of my accident, he used the skeleton hanging from the door for Halloween to talk about what had happened to me, and performed an anatomy lesson of sorts to inform the class of which bones had been broken.
            • Mr. McTavish-high school PE teacher and rugby and basketball coach.  A man many of us looked up to and tried desperately to impress.  A national level rugby player and fantastically inspiring coach who put countless hours into the lives of the students in his classes and on his teams.  Extolling the virtues of discipline and hard-work, his lessons still resonate with me today.
            • Mr. Hallett-high school Biology teacher.  A teacher passionate about his subject area, but more importantly, someone students saw as a real human.  His sense of humour outdid all the others, as he dressed in black on test day.  It was his challenge to us to see if we could outperform his exams.  He honestly wanted us to.  Most indicative of his impact were the number of students, past and present, who showed up at his funeral a few years after our class graduated.
            • Mr. Auman-high school basketball coach.  Provided me opportunities in something that I loved, and nurtured my thirst to learn, improve and chase my dream of playing the game that has helped develop so many of the life skills I value most.
            • My parents-the ultimate educators.  Their teaching continues today, as I learn from them how to raise my children.  A nurse and and a professor, they have dedicated their lives to helping others, and have always worked hard doing so.  They set the bar for my sister and me, have supported us beyond measure, and we are fortunate to have had them be the role-models they are for leading a happy, successful life.   
            • Too many others to list-coaches and mentors from my young adult life until today.  Constantly asking me questions, provoking my thinking, pushing my efforts and modelling the ethics required to make things happen.

            So to all of the fantastic teachers I had growing up, and to the wonderfully dedicated and talented educators I see all around me at Burnett Secondary, keep up the important and inspired work that you are doing.  Please know that you are making a difference in the lives of many, and that you are greatly appreciated.  Thank you.

            Wednesday, September 28, 2011

            Grade 8 Retreat

            J.N. Burnett's Grade 8 class just returned from three days at Cultus Lake's Camp Stillwood, on a retreat designed to bring the grad class of 2016 together.  The weather cooperated and students had a memorable time, bonding with one another, working with the fantastic Leadership 11 and 12 students who were guided by Ms. Cain, and making memories that will last the duration of their time in high school and beyond.

            Here as guest bloggers, writing about the experience is  one of the Leadership students who played such a huge role in making the camp happen (Jeevan Sandhu), as well as a series of Grade 8's who wrote about their experiences at camp.

            After months of hard work and preparation from both staff and students, the annual grade 8 retreat has come and gone. Ms. Cain, Ms. Meralli, and Mr. Blair worked alongside the leadership classes to ensure the trip was perfectly planned and executed. What seems like a short three day vacation for most onlookers is actually lots of work considering the fact all information has to be gathered, organized, and then used to make activities for the grade 8’s to enjoy. 

            Nonetheless, the day arrived and by 7 am the gym was full with nervy yet excited grade 8‘s. This would be the first trip away from parents for a lot of the grade 8’s so lots of tension was expected. The teams were organized with there group leaders ready to get going onto the cozy charter buses. Once Mr. Blair gave the green light everyone including the half asleep teachers boarded the buses to start a long and eventful day.

            The bus ride was about 2 hours long but in no time at all we were pulling into the gates of Camp Stillwood. After everyone got out and gathered their belongings we had a first meeting in the main room. By now all teams had received their colourful t-shirts and we had just met the camp supervisors. Mr. Blair had a few words to say about expectations and within minutes everyone had been to their rooms and grade 8 students were all over the place enjoying the campground facilities. 

            The first official event of the day was lunch. This was the first of many delicous meals we were provided with by the kitchen staff at Camp Stillwood. The meals were unique because it forced students to go and sit with lots of people they have never met before. This provided a great bonding time for leaders, teachers, and especially the grade 8’s.

            The first activity that we had planned for the students was a campground wide scavenger hunt. The scavenger hunt had leaders taking their individual groups around to each station. At each station was located a teacher who provided the group with a task to do. If the task was completed successfully the group would receive the next clue. In the end not all teams finished the race but the message of the scavenger hunt ‘Don’t stop believing" was evident.

            The first night was finished off with mini games in the big dome and a movie in the maple lodge. The games in the dome were enjoyed by all participants and suprisingly energy levels were excellent up until bedtime. After two hours of either watching The Blindside or running around in the dome, the students were treated to chocolate chip cookies with sugar loaded hot chocolate as their late night snack. As guessed many students were anything but sleepy after that snack. Nonetheless everyone was put to sleep.

            The second day was just as jam packed as the first. Activities were planned all day requiring students to sing, dance, draw, paint, run, play, and watch. The four stations were: drama games with Tombert, Mr. Leslie and Mrs. Macdonald in the ampitheatre, sports challenges with Mr. Gomes, Mr. Ghuag, and Mr. Blair in the fields, watching Glee with Ms. Davis, Ms Meralli, and Ms. White in the maple lodge, and lastly making photo frames with Ms. Takada, Ms. Schneebelli, and Mr. Almas in the arts and crafts room. These activities took up all the way until after dinner.

            The last event of the day was the charades marathon in the dome. At first their were games including the 13 grade 8 teams and the one dreaded teacher team. The teachers were reigning champions for the past 3 years. After 5 rounds of that it was the teacher team that came out victorious. However the teachers were challenged to a rapid fire round by the leadership group. It was a hotly contested game but in the end the  more equipped and superior team came out on top. The leadership students were now champions after a close 5-4 victory. After all the tears were shed and jokes were made, it was time to sleep.

            The night was short but not boring, to say the least. Mr. Ghaug, Mr. Gomes, Mr. Blair, and Tombert tried there best to scare the downstairs boys cabin, however to much shock not a single soul was awoken by these attempts.

            Morning came fast and the day was going to be much shorter than the last two. After breakfast, cleanup was done in all rooms. After cleaning up the grade 8s were given their last bit of free time at the campsite. It was time for them to meet at the maple  lodge in no time. The maple lodge is where we sat and watched the amazing video that Mrs. Johal spent hours to make. The video was followed by Mr. Ghaug saying a couple words on the past three days.

            Upon leaving the maple lodge we took our great big group picture. The picture was taken in order from colour to colour in our groups. After the big picture we headed into the cafeteria for our last meal as a big group. We left the cafeteria saying out thank-you’s and good-bye’s and headed towards our buses. 

            Whether it was beating teachers in charades, getting pranked by Mr. Gomes and Mr. Ghaug, or just enjoying the meals with the group, I know the leadership group cherished every moment of the trip and I am confident that all teachers and grade 8’s would agree with this statement. 

            Special thanks to Mrs. Johal for putting together the amazing video above.....

            It was the people made Grade 8 retreat so epic, awesome, exhilarating and amazing.  The people that I got to know, the people who inspired, the people who I ate with, and even the people I annoyed when I was rustling at night.  I couldn’t forget the leaders.  The leaders who pointed us to the right destination when we were lost, who offered a helping hand, who forced us to go to sleep and who beat the teachers at Charades.
             -Hui Zhang  
            After and during the grade 8 retreat, the grade 8’s were more comfortable and united with each other than before.
             - Ann Gee 
            Camp definitely affected my grade 8 year.  At camp we made memories that will last a lifetime.  I wish we never had to leave the retreat, I really miss being there.  Waking up every morning surrounded by friends, staying up late talking, playing games around a campfire and especially getting to spend time with and getting to know our classmates was just amazing.  The camp leaders really made it all the more fun, and when I’m in grade 12 I hope to get the opportunity to come back to camp and do what they did for us.
             - Joceline Savoie
            The grade 8 retreat was amazing, fun and changed my life.  It was the experience of a lifetime.  At first I was scared of being in high school with all the big kids and changing classes, but the grade 8 retreat has changed my mind.  I made tons of new friends, and I learned that grade 12’s are not as scary as they seem.  The retreat taught me to believe in myself and never give up.  I think this lesson will be very useful and important in my high school life.  The leadership students were great, amazing, awesome, indescribable! They helped me and taught me life lessons through the retreat  that is why in the future, I want to be a leadership student.  I want to do what they did for me, to the future grade 8’s.
             -Elaine Leung 
            After the retreat, high school doesn’t seem such a bad and scary place as it did before.  I really hope that the next year’s grade 8’s will go on the retreat because it is a thing to help us get used to high school.
            -Mizu Lee 
            The grade 8 retreat was a great experience for me to have fun with my peers and meet new friends.  Besides having fun, it was also a time to show some leadership and responsibility.  This camp experience has affected me greatly because I learned how to take care of myself, be independent, and putting aside my own shyness and say hi to people I don’t know yet.
             -Michelle Chan 

            Congratulations and thank-you's to all the people who worked so hard to make the camp a success. It surely was!!!

            Sunday, September 11, 2011

            Remember to Breathe....

            As a new Principal, I am going to try and reflect every week or so on the experiences I have enjoyed as I continue to learn on the job.  The first couple of weeks have been bumpy and challenging, but at the same time exhilarating, exciting and enjoyable.

            Every year start-up seems to be frenetic as we get things settled in.  This year is especially challenging since I am new to this role and there exist some complicating factors including; Phase 1 of BC teacher job action, our office staff losing its head secretary to retirement, our day custodian having to take an extended leave, our senior afternoon custodian also retiring and our brand new Administrative team learning the structures of the school, meeting the staff and assuming new roles.  It has been a little harried to say the least.

            As in every year start up, counsellors are working frantically with students to adjust timetables and balance classes.  We attempt to prepare for the upcoming Grade 8 retreat (a 3 day camp in Cultus Lake's Camp Stillwood), we have begun our Bill 33 preparations, and we continue to rework the timetable to serve our ever-expanding ESL population.  To the students, thank you for your patience and understanding, and I remind you to slow down and enjoy time with your family and friends and allow the staff at school to work to get you all the things you need.  We do have your best interests at heart, and will do all that we can to give you what you have asked for.

            Despite being busy and feeling a little overwhelmed at times, the first couple of weeks have gone quite well and I am now starting to find my feet.  I do, however, need to remind myself of the same things I have asked the students to remember.  In a conversation with my wife this weekend and recounting several of the issues we have faced in the first week with students, I found myself speaking incredibly fast, and she told me that I seemed more "wound up" than normal.  She was right, and I think many of my conversations with people in this first week have been a little too high-paced.  I need to slow down, listen and remember that "this, too, shall pass".  The staff at Burnett is extremely professional, caring and hard-working, and they will do all that needs to be done to support the students in our care.  I need to be able to listen to them and provide them the supports to do their jobs properly.  This needs to be done on all levels, including staff working with students and each other, and students working with their peers, their teachers and their counsellors.
            I can not thank the people around me enough for their patience, support and hard work.  There are too many to list, but you know who you are...  Within the next week or so, most things should be resolved and the normal pace of life in high-school should resume.  In the meantime, take care of yourselves, slow down, and for all of us (especially me)...Remember to breathe!