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.