Saturday, April 30, 2011

JNB Wake-a-thon 2011 (Guest bloggers)

After 1 week of having no at-home internet connection (my modem died, and it took Telus 5 business days to get us a new one), I am finally reconnected with the world of blogging and Twitter.  I will admit, I feel very disconnected, but likely was more productive around the house.  Perhaps I need to get some balance back into my life.  I was able to connect at work, but simply can't find the time to write much during the workday, and struggle to have uninterrupted time to read many of the articles that get mentioned on Twitter.  I will attempt to reconnect now, and have employed a couple of guest bloggers to help me out.....

The J.N. Burnett Secondary Leadership 11/12 classes, under the direction of teacher Ms. Leslie Cain, for each of the past seven years have hosted an event called the Wake-a-thon, similar to the 30 hour Famine, whereby students are asked to raise money for causes outside of their own.  One of the main beneficiaries of the monies raised at our Wake-a-thons is a school we are helping build in the Dominican Republic.   This year's Wake-a-thon was one of the most successful yet, raising over $10,000, and in the 7 years we have run the event, we have raised in excess of $70,000.  The overnight extravaganza, for which students must raise $50 in order to participate, was a smashing success, and to explain the event, the cause and the learning that has taken place in running it are guest bloggers, Jeevan Sandhu and Sarah Aljeboury, two of the Leadership students who took on major roles in facilitating JNB Wake-a-thon 2011.

Wow, looking back at this one huge event our school raised more than $10,600 for building a school in Dominican Republic and Haiti, sending aid to Japan and lastly raising money and awareness for our very own JNB ARC Club.      
The event itself took weeks and weeks of preparation by our school’s leadership classes. First  came the registration and compiling our database. We had to make pledge and permission forms, advertise throughout our school, and set up the registration desks to allow students to sign in. Our database was essential to our success because without it there would be no event. We needed to ensure all forms were returned one way or the other because we were dealing with legal documents.

Next up was our task of finding some sponsors so we could provide our students with food without charging extra money. Gratefully, we secured three generous sponsors. First was our  PAC, which donated us a delicious continental breakfast that was available to the students during the closing ceremonies. Cobs Bread also gave us a money donation which allowed us to buy burgers, buns, condiments, and veggies with dip. Our last sponsor was Live Vision, which not only gave us a monetary donation but also came in as a live band to perform for us. The live band provided us with a nice break between activities and meal time.

Finally after countless hours of preparation the day of the event was here. For us leadership students it meant being ready to go right after school in order to set-up for the event. Once we were done set-up students had already started to roll in and in no time at all everyone was ready to go for the opening ceremonies. The grade 10 PE incentive class did a great job by keeping everyone energized and active. However the opening ceremonies were controversial to say the least. The infamous teacher’s team was cheating every chance they got. Somehow they still came out as winners in the overall standings. We believe Ms. Bateman, our scoreboard judge, was a co-conspirator with the teacher’s team.

            At last, after the opening ceremonies, group photo and a minor mishap in our communication with the band, the activities started. We had basketball and hockey in the south gym, and a volleyball game in the north gym. Burnett's famous badminton was a hit in the small gym. In Ms. Batemans room we had taboo and other board games however it was soon transformed into a beauty parlour. Guys and also one of our staff were getting their make-up done. It certainly was a sight to see! In the theatre we had the Cage-a-thon, which was our JNB ARC students raising awareness about animal cruelty. In Ms. Cains room we had our super busy video games room. Unfortunately for Mr. Blair and Mr. Ghaug losing in FIFA leaves them with a sour taste for that room. However, both Mr. Anderson and Ms. Davis were glued to their video game TV’s. Ms. Davis successfully conquered the world of Super Mario.

            We ate, played, listened, and most importantly stayed up the whole time during the wake-a-thon which made this year’s event a great success. All students had fun and joked around without forgetting the true reason we were there. For us leadership students it was also a success because everything ran smoothly without any major problems. We are all honoured to be given the opportunity to play an integral role in such an important event. It is impossible to say that everything went as planned and ran perfectly without any problems or disagreements. However that just shows the great teamwork of our group and the magnitude of the event. Our ultimate goal was to raise our target money amount and also raising awareness for these global issues and we feel that was done!

As previously stated, most of the money raised ends up going toward a school we are helping build in the Dominican Republic.  A small group of interested staff and students partner up with a group called Hero Holidays, and actually go on-site, performing the manual labour of building a school, working with other interested volunteers from around the world, and getting to interact with the locals.  For all those who have been I can say it is a life-changing experience.  Below are some photos from our last trip there, as well as a link to the blog the students wrote while there last July.




A fantastic evening for a very worthwhile cause that speaks volumes about the type of caring students and staff we have at J.N. Burnett Secondary.  In excess of 200 students stayed the night, and all participants raised well in excess of the minimum $50 required.  We also had 24 different staff members who participated at some point on a Thursday night/Friday morning of a long Easter weekend, very willing to support the cause and contributing to its success, as well as getting to know their students on a personal level and exposing their own human side.  It was the type of event that makes me proud to be a Breaker! 

PS-Are you saying we cheated?  Never!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Great Weekend

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of engaging in a series of events with others in the field of education, athletics and family (3 of my passions!).  Saturday started out with Edcamp Vancouver, an "unconference" designed for people interested in discussing issues of their choosing in education.  It was an opportunity to meet face-to-face with many of the insightful and thought-provoking people I had recently come across through blogging and my still-neophyte use of Twitter.  It was an excellent day, where educational topics fostered dialogue about experiences and thoughts on "best practice".  While the dialogue was inspiring and spurred on more thought for future Professional Development efforts in the Lower Mainland, what struck me most was the passion the participants shared, and the value in coming together to share these thoughts.  Sharing our experiences and creating a new shared experience (the conference itself) was, in my opinion, the most valuable part of our day.  The ideas had already been shared via Twitter and blogs, but coming together to elaborate and converse about them is invaluable shared experience, and means so much more.
Friend and colleague @terryainge and I reluctantly left the conference a little early, since we had tickets to the Vancouver Whitecaps versus Chivas USA soccer match.  A game synopsis can be read here.  Again, this was a fantastic opportunity to share an experience with others, meet new people and discuss the event or any other interests we may share.  I could easily have stayed home and watched the game on television, but there is something different about going to a game in person.  Being part of the crowd, talking with others and appreciating the efforts of those we are watching with many people does have a significant effect on the experience of watching an athletic event.  It was also a treat to witness the galvanizing nature of such events.  Vancouver is an incredibly diverse, multicultural city, and events like last night's soccer game remind us of that, and give great opportunities for people of different backgrounds to come together.  A Whitecaps game, similar to a Canucks game or the experience we shared during the Olympics last year, are prime examples of diverse backgrounds coming together, sharing an experience and learning about and embracing one another.
Sunday morning, my wife and I headed downtown to participate in the 2011 Vancouver Sun Run.  In excess of 50,000 people converged on the area of Burrard and Georgia and proceeded to tour this beautiful city on a 10 km run.  The competitor in me at times got frustrated, since I was unable to break free of the crowds and thus couldn't come close to a personal best or my goal time for the run.  At the finish line, I asked myself why I come to these events, since I could run 10 km at home, free of the people and get a better work out and post a better time.  I answered the question quite quickly.  It is because, again, I am sharing the experience with others.  I ran into several other people whom I knew, one I had met only the day before at Edcamp Vancouver.  @remi_collins and I  introduced ourselves to each other at the conference, since we had followed each other on Twitter and read each others blogs.  Remi also wrote a blog about the Sun Run.  I saw a few others I knew in the crowds, and when my wife completed the run, I gave her a hug, and mentioned how proud I was of her, and that she seemed proud of herself.  Again, the best part of the event is sharing the experience, seeing others enjoying and being proud of themselves and their family members.  My goal time, once I thought about it this way, seemed inconsequential.
After the Sun Run, I came home, played with my kids, washed the car, mowed the lawn, then sat down to reflect on the weekend.  I am now tired, and very much looking forward to watching the Vancouver Canucks playoff game #3 versus the Chicago Blackhawks.  I never played hockey (I was a basketball, rugby, soccer guy who now loves golf), but I seem to care passionately about the Canucks.  Why?   Because I am sharing the experience with much of the rest of the city, and the galvanizing effect of the success of any of our sports teams (but especially the hockey team) is something I enjoy watching impact the people.  The game is due to start soon, so I better finish this up...!  Go Canucks!!  Give us something fun to talk about at work tomorrow.  It seems to have a positive effect on most of the people in our city.
So how do the experiences I had this weekend affect my thinking about education?  They reinforced much of what I already thought about school.  I believe that the reason the buildings still exist is because coming together to share experiences and develop relationships is worth so much more than curriculum and facts.  Bruce Beairsto has written about the "core benefits" of school, mentioning that one of them is relationships and community in his post  "Necessary Disruption (part 3)".  Students could stay at home and credential and even learn much of what they need to know to graduate.  But, if given a choice to come to school or not, the vast majority of children would come.  Why?  Because school is the ultimate shared experience.  We have all done it, and we all have opinions about its benefits, drawbacks and how it can/should be done differently.  With all of the call for reform, much of which I agree with, we do need to keep one thing in mind....  School is an incredibly important shared experience, and being human, shared experience is something we enjoy, want and NEED.

All in all, a great weekend that will only be improved when the Canucks win Game #3!  Go Canucks, go!!!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Take Your Time

As we enter what Cale Birk (@birklearns) described as "the month of AprilMayJune" in a recent blog post (here), he reminded us to take the time to reflect and ask yourself some important questions about your work.  I would like to add to Cale's comments the reminder to take your time and think carefully and investigate thoroughly the issues you are dealing with.  Sometimes in haste, we make assumptions that can lead to errors in judgement. I made such an error today, and the issue ended up taking me longer than it should have and could have fractured a relationship between a student and myself.

I was dealing with a discipline issue that a teacher brought to me when two students were exchanging menacing comments and threats with one another.  One of the students was well-known to me for his history of non-attendance and poor achievement.  The other boy had no history whatsoever and was a quality student.  The two combatants had very different stories, and eventually I brought them together in hopes of resolving the issue.  Both boys stuck by their stories in the presence of the other and I was in a rush to get back to some of the timetabling and report card issues I was dealing with.   Rather than take the extra time to speak with other classmates who may have been witnesses, I sided with the student who had no history of poor decision-making, warned the boys to leave each other alone, and sent them back to class with a warning (since nothing serious had come from the comments).  I know better than this, but tired and rushed, I skipped some critical steps...

As you can imagine, the young man I did not believe was upset with me and his counterpart when he went back to class.  My gut was uneasy, so I backtracked and decided to speak with a couple of potential witnesses, just to confirm my suspicion.  Much to my surprise, the witnesses corroborated the story of the young man whom I did not believe.  Immediately, I needed to go back and speak with the boys again, first to reprimand the student with no history of dishonesty, and help him understand the damage he had done to his reputation, and then with the boy whose story I thought was inaccurate.  I apologized to him, and to his credit, he accepted it and smiled.  The issue between the boys was significantly improved after I spoke with them a second time, and the day continued without incident.  I was fortunate I listened to my gut and followed up, but wish I had done so in the first place.  In my haste to get back to the many other tasks I was working on, I ended up spending more time sorting out the problem than I would have if I had taken the time it required in the first place.  Worse, I risked a relationship with a student, and made him feel unheard.  I can offer no excuses, only an apology.  I am fortunate that my apology was accepted, no further issues came of it and the relationship between us was salvaged.

So, as Cale suggested, take time to reflect and ask yourself some important questions, but also take the time to investigate as you know you should.  It will likely save time in the long run, and will help maintain the quality relationships you have worked so hard to develop.  The busyness will eventually pass, but reputations and relationships last much longer.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

10 Picture Tour of J.N. Burnett Secondary

Last week, Cale Birk (Principal at South Kamloops Secondary School) proposed that people in his Personal Learning Network take some photographs of their school to give others an idea of what their learning environment looks like. 

He posted some photos of his school here, and challenged us to do the same.

I thought it was a great idea, and equipped with a substandard cellphone camera and no eye for photography, I decided to enlist the help of a couple of our Senior Photography students to give their perspective of what our school is all about.

Below is a 10 photo tour of Burnett Secondary School in Richmond, B.C.  It is a great place to work and learn, filled with 1250 enthusiastic and friendly students, and progressive, passionate educators.  Special thanks to photographers Bernard Patascil and Wendel Genosa.

Overlooking our Multipurpose area/cafeteria

Outside one of the many hubs of activity-the library

Looking down the hallway at some of the past Grad composites

The student managed store-I love the name...Passion!

Hard at work making cream puffs!

Working on a Biology lab

A Physical Education class playing badminton

The other student-run school store

Student artwork outside the art rooms

We are Breakers!  We have slogans all around the school. 
"Breakers Believe in the Power of their Dreams"

Just had to add one more.  A sunny afternoon in beautiful Richmond.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

What kind of education do I want for MY kids?

As our family's first experience having a two-week Spring Break comes to a close, I look back and fondly recall an extended opportunity to spend time together, catch up, and talk about and do the things we enjoy.  Too often, during the busy times of the school year, we do not get to engage in these activities or have these conversations.  That is something I need to change and make time for with my family.  In fact, doing and talking about what we enjoy, what we are good at and what gets us excited are very valuable for adults and children in helping identify strengths and encourage exploration.  Breaks from the routines of life can allow us to explore these areas of interest, but should not be the only times we endeavour to pursue them. The routine of school should be based on opportunities for children to explore their passions and pursue areas of strength.  One of the deepest conversations we engaged in during the break was regarding school.  I recall sitting with my wife and children, asking, "Do you miss school?" and, "What do you miss about school?", "What do you wish you did more of at school?", and, most importantly, "Do you like school?"

The questions open a very broad topic, and the answers were largely positive. While I did hear comments about being bored on occasion and preferring Spring Break when they were free to do as they pleased, I think that both of my children (like most kids) enjoy being in school, learning new skills and getting to interact regularly with their peers.   I have two great kids, a 10 year old boy in Grade 5 and an 8 year old boy in Grade 3.  Both are in French Immersion programs in Richmond, are quiet, compliant, studious kids, who do well in school.  I think they are the type of students that most teachers enjoy having in class because they do as they are told, have very little in the way of behaviour issues, and try to please adults.  I am confident that with the personalities they have, they will be reasonably successful throughout their time in school, because they fit the profile of students who are easily instructed.
My having confidence that they will be successful students, however, does not entirely ease my mind when I think about their life beyond school.  Like most parents, I want for my children to become happy, confident, well-adjusted adults who are considered to be good people.  What they choose to do with their lives professionally is up to them, and I truly believe that if they enjoy what they do and do it well, they will be successful.  Below is a video of John Wooden describing his definition of success.  It takes a caring person to be able to define success this way, and to inspire others to meet that definition.  How do schools reinforce what John Wooden describes as success?

We are faced with many other questions in education, and one of the most often asked is "Why do you do what you do?"  A good question and a blog post by Tom Hierck (here).  I know the answer for me.  Similar to Tom, I do what I do because I care, and because I have the responsibility of trying to make a positive difference for students.  But when I think about how I am most concerned about my children's happiness, confidence and moral character, it makes me ask a more specific question: "Exactly what do I want my children's school experience help them to develop?"

Similar types of questions have swirled around in my head before.  I have written a Statement of Educational Philosophy a few times in my career, (the first couple of times before I had children of my own) and while it has evolved over the years, the question of what is most important has always been at the core.  But when put into the context of my own children, it has, for me, become more personal (although I am not sure it should).  The answer can go in several different directions, and I struggle to keep it brief, but below are the things I want school to help develop in my kids:

1.  Confidence-Tom Schimmer wrote on his blog that "It's all about Confidence",
"If our students are convinced they can be successful – if they have the self-efficacy – they are likely to try harder and persist longer when they face obstacles. Confident students believe they can eventually learn anything...
The opposite of confidence, of course, is anxiety.  As most of us know, anxiety interferes with memory, attention, and concentration.  Anxious students prefer to have information fed to them as they have a general sense of incompetence...
Confidence transcends any skill and any century. Teaching is, and always will be, about building confidence…confidence is about expecting a positive result…expecting a positive result drives the desire to learn.
I could not agree more.  I want my kids to be confident in themselves and in their ability to learn and perform things.  I have seen how anxiety inhibits their learning, ability to think and recall and their desire to persevere.  I have also experienced in my own development how positive feedback develops confidence which leads to increased interest, engagement and hard work.  The most important element I hope my kids get from their time in school is that sense of confidence in their ability as learners.

2.  Thinking Creatively/Asking Questions/Looking for Answers-the world in our future is largely to be discovered.  In education we spend significant amounts of time talking about 21st Century Skills and Learning.  Included are things like: collaboration, engagement, critical thinking, using technology, and many more (see blog post by Jeff Delp here).  Simply put, to do things the way they have always been done will not be sufficient for our children.  We need to be able to teach different skills in different ways than in the past, and students will need to be able to think and problem solve differently in the future.  I worry about this most specifically with my children.  As people-pleasers, they are reluctant to question, and are very concerned with doing things right.  Much like me, they are not yet as creative as they will need to be, and are most comfortable working on something where they know what they should produce.  I need my children (and all children) to be able to ask questions, not fear making mistakes, and try new ways of doing things.  Schools need to concentrate on developing these skills.

3.  The ability to work with others and develop relationships-it is my opinion that the most important elements of school in today's world are social interaction and peer relationships.  It is the thing that students enjoy most in school, and is the reason why schools exist in the form they do.  It is possible for students to do all of their learning (correction: Credentialing) through the computer in on-line environments.  The world, however, will desire collaborative working/learning in the workplace, and students need to develop these skills in school.  They also need to learn to appreciate differences of opinion and culture.  This is part of the obligation of schools; working in unison with the home to develop strong moral character in their students.  I want my children to learn to relate and work well with others, yet still be able to share their ideas with conviction and pride.

4.  To have their passions uncovered and celebrated-teachers need to find out what their students are good at and enjoy, and weave those things into the curriculum, thus enabling studnets to be more engaged in their learning.  It takes time for teachers to uncover/recognize/celebrate these skills, but in all likelihood, they are the things students will be using in their lives after school.  Too often, students have their shortcomings pointed out and all efforts are concentrated on improving the areas of weakness.  This practice only serves to frustrate and alienate the very students who need our assistance most.  Schools need to spend more time uncovering strengths and passions, then helping students develop them.  Being challenged in areas of strength can produce stunning achievements and a sense of pride and accomplishment for students that they will strive to replicate in their lives after school. 

In short, I want my kids to get from school the ability to be creative thinkers, passionate about their interests, aware of how to respectfully engage with others, and confident in their abilities to persevere, explore and look for alternate solutions.  I think they are among the things that most parents want their children to learn at school.  

Last night I watched the guilty pleasure, "School of Rock".  While Dewey Finn (aka Ned Schneebly) did not behave as a professional role model, his enthusiasm, care for his students and the way he helped them find their passions (I know, it was a movie...but his project-based learning method is all the rage!), is something for us to emulate.  We owe it to all of our students to make schools places where they love coming, get engaged in life-long learning with and from each other, are celebrated for their unique sets of skills and have their confidence developed.  These are all things that Jack Black's character did for the students in his class.  I hope that my children (in fact, all the children in any school) get the opportunity to uncover their passions, work creatively with their peers and develop confidence.  What do you want school to help your kids develop?

In my next post, I will explore the question, "How do we ensure we are promoting these things in school?"