Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Conference Day

At this time of year, it is easy to get caught up in the busy-ness of life and we can all be guilty of thinking only about ourselves and what we are struggling with.  One of the best ways to take me away from these thoughts occurred last Thursday, when J.N. Burnett Secondary shut down regular classes and instead had students participate in a series of conferences/workshops focused on Social Responsibility.  Each student went to their homeroom class and was given a schedule for the day that included guest speakers like:

John Banovich-a renowned speaker who works with MADD Canada, Mr. Banovich (an actor and director in the TV and Film industry) made the following video about his experiences.  He is a survivor from a horrific car accident involving a drinking driver.  He spoke honestly and passionately about safe driving and making good choices.  We have had him speak at our school several times before, and his message certainly resonated with our Grade 12 students.
Holocaust survivor Alex Buckman gave a stirring speech to our Grade 11's about how to overcome the obstacles in your life and how important it is to care for others.  One of the other presenters introduced himself before the two men had to go their separate ways, and he later said that despite what had been a frustrating morning (dealing with traffic, car problems etc.), meeting with a man like Mr. Buckman always puts things into perspective and reminds us that our challenges are not so overwhelming.  Our students felt much the same way. 

Brandon Steel from the Vancouver Police Department and Joe Caliendo, a former Hell-Angel gang member, made a presentation about Gangs and Drugs.  The hard-hitting presentation impacted all those who observed it.  The Officers with whom I spoke prior to the presentation are trying to reach kids early enough so they are not enticed into a world of  gangs, drugs, deceit and other illegal activities.  Their talk was very well-received.

Jesse Miller-Mr. Miller is a a former Police officer who is now a widely-acclaimed public speaker looking at the dangers of social media and digital footprints.  He gave two presentations, speaking with every student in the school.  His engaging, thought-provoking and informative sessions had students walking away promising to tighten the securities and become more careful about the photos they put on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and other social media platforms.

Students also had a series of Social Responsibility lessons led by homeroom teacher on topics like: Safe Driving, Racism, Diversity, Suicide Awareness, Bullying, Stress ManagementEthnicity, Building Resilience (a session led by members of the Psychology 12 class for Grade 8 students) and for the Grade 12's a lesson reviewing and updating their Grad Transitions documents.

The highlight of the day (for me, personally) was the 13th Annual Seniors Brunch, where the Leadership class, led by Ms. Leslie Cain, invited over 120 guests from neighboring care homes and Community Centres.
Waiting for out guests to arrive

Here they come!

Enjoying some entertainment from Glee!
Writing about the experience is a member of the Leadership 11/12 class, Czara Bernabe.
The Senior’s Brunch is that time of the year that J.N. Burnett opens their doors to welcome and appreciate our seniors. Ever since I entered high school, I would always see this yearly event and wonder what is it for? Is it just to appreciate seniors? Is it an event that leadership class prepares every year? Yes, it is all of those things, but being able to participate made me realize how much more there is to it. “Doing the actual event is only 10 percent of the work, 90 percent is planning and organizing the event, and it is the hardest part”-Ms. Cain (our Leadership teacher). This statement is true, because every little detail and every single decoration was thought of and created by the leadership class. Every step brought the students closer together. Yes, we had our disagreements and minor problems, but when the time called for it; we all rose up.  The Senior's Brunch is an event that everyone enjoys and has a wonderful time. For the students, the teachers and especially for our seniors, it’s an event that you come out of smiling and having created positive memories and relationships that will last a lifetime.

Pearl Xu, one of the editors of Burnett's on-line newspaper, JN BAM, also wrote about the day here.

All in all, another fantastic day, and one that made me very proud to work at this great school.  Thanks and kudos to all of our students for their efforts in making the day so rewarding and to our phenomenal staff (especially the Conference Day planning committee members-Mrs. Musani, Mr. McDonnell, Mr. Anderson, Mrs Ten-Pow, Mr. Lee, and Ms. Takada) who do all the little things that make the experiences for the students so valuable.  Also deserving mention are Ms. Cain, Mr. Ghaug, Ms. Freeman and the band plus the students from Glee for their efforts with the brunch.  Thanks to everyone for such a memorable day!

Friday, November 16, 2012

A Good Student?

When I got home from work today, one of my sons shared with me a school assignment he was given. The assignment asked him to describe what makes a good student.  I have copied his response below.  His response raises some interesting questions for me, his father, who is also an educator...
You: A Good Student
So you want to be a good student?  Excellent!  Some of the qualities of a good student are being a good listener, doing what you are supposed to do and being nice.  Now let's get into the details.
First off, a good student listens.  That means not interrupting when somebody is talking, trying to hear what somebody is saying and sometimes, if you're being asked to do something for example, doing it.
Secondly, doing what you're supposed to do is very important.  That doesn't mean you mindlessly do everything you're told whether or not it's fair.  It just means you're nicely doing the things that are reasonable.
Lastly, you should always, always be nice.  Not just to the teacher, but to everybody whether or not they're your friends or just people you barely know.  You should always be nice to everybody.
Now, all these things lead up to respect.  That's the big idea.  Be respectful.  That is how to be a good student.  So go out there and be a good student!
I am very proud of what he wrote about listening and being respectful.  These are some very important skills for being a good human being.  I also appreciate that he wrote about "not mindlessly do(ing) everything you are told", since that requires some analysis of just actions.  But I am concerned that in his very short school career, he has developed a limited view of what is key to success at school.  While these traits are very much within his personality type, the idea that being cooperative, staying quiet and being respectful will ensure success in school is concerning.  When I first read what he wrote, I asked, "What about asking questions, learning, thinking and exploring?".  He responded, "Yeah.  I guess those would be good, too". 
I can appreciate that this is one young person's thin interpretation of what leads to success, and I recognize that as a rule-conscious pre-teenager, he will not have to alter his personality to be successful at school .  But if this definition is widely held among many young students, I worry that those whose personalities are less quiet and compliant will be at odds with themselves.  We need to ask, "Are we (parents and teachers) not being explicit enough in celebrating skills like thinking, questioning and creating?  Are we putting too much focus on compliant behaviour and not enough on creative thought?"  And most importantly, "How widespread is this definition among students, and how do parents and teachers help to shift it so students see that being a good student is much more than being a cooperative person?" 
Below is the one of the first images I found when I searched Google Images for "A Good Student".  Lists like this make it difficult to encourage students to take risks and look for creative solutions to problems and may make the more rambunctious students feel they have to change who they are.  I would be curious to hear suggestions for how to expand the definition held by my son and others....


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

We Will Always Remember

Last Friday, J.N. Burnett Secondary School put on our Remembrance Day ceremony.  A teacher committee, led by Mr. Marco Soriano, put together an extremely poignant program that left all who observed proud and reflective while also inspired to make a positive  difference.  Student performers did an exceptional job of showing how the sacrifices of many have led to the privileges we enjoy living in Canada today.

Students entered the gym walking past beautiful artwork that adorned the walls, created and displayed by Ms. Kirsten Taylor's Art 9-12 classes.  The program began with Mr. Soriano's Drama students emerging from the audience while the Concert Band, under the direction of Ms. Sue Freeman, played A Bach Minuet.  This cued a processional of Cadets, who carried in the British Columbian and Canadian flags.

Students then stood for the singing of O Canada, led by student, Ronny Au, who was accompanied by the Concert Band.  Following O Canada, the Drama students performed a movement piece that paid tribute to fallen soldiers and ended with the statement, "Dulce et Decorum Est".

Amanda Fielding and Mrs. Lisa Zuccolo, accompanied by William Yao, then performed a stirring rendition of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah.  This was followed by our Masters of Ceremony, Roydon Desouza and Moses Caliboso reading a short poem about why we continue to celebrate Remembrance Day.  They then introduced a special guest, Master Bombadier Ms. Heather Walker, who performed the Last Post and Reveille.  Following the Moment of Silence, the school Glee Club performed a magnificent version of Taylor Swift's Safe and Sound.

The ceremony ended with a powerful and inspiring video put together by Mrs. Cristina Carvalheiro (see below).  The video showed an appreciation for the efforts of those who have served, but also gave an uplifting reminder of what we can all do to make the world a better place.

Thank you to the performers and planners of such a beautiful ceremony.  I was moved beyond words and incredibly proud to be Canadian and a part of the Burnett community.  It was a day to remember, both for the sacrifices made by those who have served and for the efforts of our students and staff in showing our appreciation.  Lest we forget.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Technology and Engagement (Part 2)

As discussed in a previous post, I made it a priority this week to get into classrooms and see what is happening in our fantastic school.  In my last entry, I wrote about how teachers were utilizing technology to enhance the learning in their classrooms.  It was exciting to see the risks being taken and the sharing among colleagues, and the feedback from students was overwhelmingly positive.  In this post, I want to look more closely at Student Engagement, focusing on several classes I observed during my own No Office Day, where students were fully immersed in their learning, this time without the aid of technology.

In the first period of the day, I was invited to watch presentations from students who had entered the Charmin Challenge (similar to what is seen here). Using toilet paper and pink garbage bags, Ms. Celine Jackson's Grade 9-12 Textiles students had to design, create and present outfits that signified what they felt it meant to be a woman, and brought attention to the fight against breast cancer.  Students had to collaborate, problem-solve, think creatively and then present their efforts to the rest of the class.  Each of the 6 presentations that I saw was a masterpiece and a creation that the students will be proud of for years to come.

In second period, I was invited to Ms. Stephanie Davis' Psychology 12 class.  Students had been studying developmental milestones and had invited in a group of Preschool students from the neighboring West Richmond Community Centre.  Our students had created games for the youngsters to play that would provide some insight into their developmental stages.  The four-year old students excitedly entered the room and immediately engaged in the games being shown to them by the Burnett students.  I observed several of our more "reserved" students suddenly transform into interactive and excited leaders.  I asked one of them what  they felt the difference between them and the 4-year olds was.  He explained that the youngsters had no inhibitions and no reluctance to engage.  He stated (and I agreed) that as we age, we often become more self-aware and thus less-willing to take chances with people we don't know.  Fortunately, the enthusiasm of the kids was contagious and the entire room was alive with learning, interaction and engagement.

In third period, I followed our guests from the Psychology 12 class to Ms. Farrah Meralli and Ms. Stephanie Davis' Humanities 8 Incentive class.  Under the guidance of student teacher Ms. Wendy Lai, students were to lead the children through some interactive games and craft building.  The activities were designed to bring out the leadership skills in our students, since for much of the year there has been too much focus on marks accumulation and not enough on learning and building community (a common concern for many Burnett students).  The activities were a smashing success for the class, since students, both young and older, were immersed in connecting with one another, getting out of their comfort zones and learning how to effectively communicate and share.  Like in the Psychology class, it was amazing to watch how infectious the enthusiasm of the 4 year-olds was, how they took attention away from grades and marks, and put it on engaging and learning about self, each other, communication and sharing.

In last period, I was invited to watch Ms. Andrea Lam's Math 8 class, as the students were making presentations called "Iron Chef Burnett".  The students had been studying fractions and as a way to bring the concept to life, Ms. Lam had them draw a food item, get into partners and then find a recipe that used those foods. The recipe would then need to be expanded from its original size to something that could feed a class of 30.  This required converting fractions from mixed numbers to improper, and multiplying by another whole or improper fraction to make enough for 30.  Students were encouraged to make the food and bring it to class.  Many groups did and following the presentations of the mathematical steps they followed, a party was held.  The students had to communicate with each other and to classmates during their presentations, they had to problem-solve, think creatively and like in the parabola lesson from my previous post, the real-life example made the concept so much easier to understand and much more memorable.  I was so excited about sampling the products and talking with the students that I forgot to take any pictures.  My apologies!

At the end of the day, I went to the gym to watch the annual Breaker Classic, a Senior Boys Volleyball tournament.  The tournament featured 12 teams from around the Lower Mainland, and was organized and staffed entirely by students.  The gym was alive with athletes, scorekeepers, referees, concessions stand staffers, team hosts and several coaches.  Mr. Wes Bevan and former student Mr. David Tam, the team coaches and sponsor, oversaw the event, but allowed students to take the lead and make decisions about how to run it, what to sell, costs to be set and met etc.  A project of this size is no small feat, but the students were up to the challenge, and after 2 solid days (all night Friday and Saturday from 8 AM until 7 PM), the feedback from the coaches and competitors was that it was an exceptionally well-run tournament.  Events like these may not show up on a report card, but they comprise a significant part of the learning experience that is part of high-school life.

What I saw on just one Friday had students fully immersed in what they were doing.  Through project-based learning they were developing critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, collaboration and so many more 21st Century skills.  While student engagement is something that we need to continue to improve, I would argue that students can not be more engaged and developing skills that will greatly enhance their futures than what I saw on Friday.

I was so proud of and inspired by what I had seen, that I struggled to keep myself from getting emotional re-living the day with some colleagues. So, to all the critics of the education system, please take the time to actually set foot inside the schools in your neighborhood. I am sure you will be more than impressed by what you see. I know I was.

Technology and Engagement (Part 1)

After an invigorating but tiring RASA Retreat last weekend, I made it a point this week to see what is going on in our school.  I consider myself a good communicator and engage in many valuable conversations with staff and students about the things they are doing, but despite my attempts, I often find myself wanting to be in classes more, so this week, I made it my number one priority. 
Some of the things I wanted to observe, following much discussion about the BCEd Plan, 21st Century Learning and Skills and reading several education books (which I will review in a future post), are the levels of Student Engagement and the Use of Technology to enhance teaching and learning in our schools.  These things are often portrayed as lacking in our education system.  

While I agree with many of the suggestions for how educators can help improve the system, sometimes I find myself frustrated that teachers are not being given enough credit for already doing many of the things being discussed.  Two of the 5 components of the BCEd Plan are "Quality Teaching and Learning" and "Learning Empowered by Technology".  In the past three days, I have had the opportunity to get into several classes, both by invitation and sometimes just "popping in", and have seen some amazing student engagement demonstrating quality teaching and learning and some phenomenal efforts to enhance learning through the use of technology.  In this post, I will focus on the technology aspect of what has been happening at Burnett Secondary.

One of our Senior Chemistry teachers, Mr. Robbie Kailley, came to me awhile ago expressing some interest in pursuing the "Flipped Classroom" model.  He found some very affordable technology (a tablet and headset with a microphone-about $90 at Best Buy), and tried augmenting his lessons with examples that could be posted to his website.  These videos would reinforce things that were discussed in class, or would introduce new topics for future lessons.  While Mr. Kailley has admitted that the production of such videos is front-end heavy, he has enjoyed making them, and the students are finding them extremely valuable.  Just one of the many Chemistry 11 examples that he has posted to his website for students to review can be found here.
Much of what Mr. Kailley is trying to replicate is offered through the Khan Academy, which is a free, Internet-based educational service.  There is quite a buzz about the Academy, both positive and negative, but one thing that can not be denied is that a review video that students can access on their own time, and can watch as many times as needed, can reinforce much of the concept that is trying to be learned.  While the Khan Academy can not, in my opinion, replace the valuable interaction between a teacher, his/her classmates and a student, it does allow for repeated review of certain concepts.  This alone can help students who learn in different ways or at different rates.
An added bonus is that Mr. Kailley has been willing to take on a leadership role piloting this type of work, and is now sharing his efforts with other staff.  He has presented at Educational Facilitator meetings, worked alongside staff testing other products and will be leading a tutorial session for teachers at an upcoming Pro-D day.

Not one to assume things are good, Mr. Kailley has also decided to survey one of his classes to get some feedback about whether or not the videos are beneficial.  The class of 28 students responded as follows:
  • 21 people watched
  • 20 found it helpful (1 said "not yet")
  • all of them want more videos
  • 8 think it would help in math/physics
Some comments were:
  • The video helped because in class we do not have enough time to do other examples, so it is a good review.
  • Helpful since it is audio and visual combined
  • It helped me a lot because I wasn't here for the class when we covered this, and after I watched the video, I understood it.  I could visually see how to do it, while pausing and replaying the video.
  • Good to see more examples!
  • This gives me more time to understand the lessons.
  • It wasn't too fast and just like the explanation that was given in class.
  • It helps me understand more when I am at home and don't know how to do the homework.
  • I could review the videos before I come to ask you questions.
Another teacher I spoke with this week was teaching her Math 11 classes about parabolas, and using her iPad decided to film some staff (myself included) shooting three pointers.  Using an app she found called Explain Everything, Ms. Sara Haave was able to embed the basketball video inside a white screen that she could type or write on to make notes and explain the concept she was trying to teach.  The class was provided formulae and notes regarding distance, time and height, and then she paused the video.  Ms. Haave asked her students, based upon what they had seen and the calculations they had made, "Would the shot go in?".  The level of engagement and enjoyment from the students and the teacher was astounding.  The real-life example of the concept made the lesson more engaging and the use of technology helped keep the students focused and curious.  Another by-product of this work is the excitement the teacher has about what she is doing.  Ms. Haave is excited to try new things, and is sharing her experiments with teachers across disciplines, as evidenced by a conversation I witnessed between her and a Senior English teacher just down the hall. 
One other tech-related class that I had the chance to get into this week was a Science 10 class where I had been invited to share information about technology tools that students could access for their upcoming Biomes presentations.  Following some staff meetings where I had used things like Prezi and Animoto, Ms. Sam Jessa has started playing with those programs.  While I am sure she could have led her students through a discussions about how to augment presentations using these tools, she invited me to come and speak with her class.  I relish these opportunities, because I do miss the regular interactions with students.  I jumped at the offer, and spent about 30 minutes in a couple of classes looking at Animoto, Prezi and Glogster as presentation aides.  Many students were already aware of the sites, and were able to add to my understanding of how to best use the tools.  I hope that the technology will help add to their presentations and make them more engaging for the presenters and their audiences.  More important than my lesson, however, was the chance to interact with students and have them see me as a human and a teacher.

I was very impressed with the efforts being made, the levels of student learning and engagement occurring as well as the excitement the staff had to test these technological tools in their classrooms.  We have had staff sharing these practices with each other at Professional Development days, in Educational Facilitator Meetings and in staffroom discussions.  The energy and excitement that changes like these are creating is beneficial to both staff and students.  While technology is only a tool, observing the discussion and sharing of ideas and practices reaffirms for me that we have exceptional teachers who are trying new things and making the learning environments for their students more engaging.  Thank you for all your efforts.  Do not think they go unappreciated, by your students, their parents or me.
In an upcoming post, I will be writing about some of the extremely engaging lessons that I had the opportunity to observe that had nothing to do with technology....

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Presence and Intent

The Richmond Association of School Administrators hosted their biennial retreat this past weekend at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler in beautiful Whistler, BC.  As the first village snowfall of the season came, we engaged in professional conversations about "Leveraging our Leadership Through Times of Change". 
Thursday night's keynote speaker was BC educator Tom Schimmer.  He gave us some helpful reminders of what stage staff may be at in terms of willingness and capacity to make change.  Tom's humorous style and ability to tell stories made the session easy to follow and related well to the environments we are all facing.
Friday we had some engaging conversations facilitated by Diana Cawood and former Richmond District administrator, Stephanie Hardman.  We spent some time analyzing our "best selves" and discussed how we need to remember the values that lead to those examples.  The opportunity to connect with feeder-school families was beneficial and has prompted us to schedule time to connect with one another more regularly.  Friday concluded with a dinner and social event that highlighted just how likeably human all of the people in the group are, proving that each of us is so much more than "professional educator". 
Saturday had a slightly slower pace and concluded the weekend with some EdCamp-style conversations on wide-ranging topics including Assessment, the BCEd Plan, Technology in the Classroom and Student Engagement.  The most important element to these discussions was recognizing and sharing with each other the passion we all have for what we do, and promoting the opportunity to connect with each other to share the ideas, practices and philosophies.
A Google Doc of the weekend can be found here.  The conversation all weekend was rich, but two things stood out to me more than anything else: 
#1 Intent must be clear
This is not a new idea, but I was reminded that while my intent may be clear to me, it can be easily misinterpreted by others.  Any intent needs to be clearly articulated, but it also must be supported by consistent behaviours.  While the discussion reminded many of Simon Sinek's "Start With Why", I reflected upon a video by Dan Pink I stumbled across earlier in the week titled "2 Questions".  If our sentence is clear to everyone, then the intent, or "Why" we are doing something should be understood by all with whom we work.
#2 Presence matters.
While this idea is not new either, I was reminded of both physical and emotional presence at the retreat and in a couple of circumstances this past week.  I made a point to get out of my office on Wednesday, and observed several classes.  In each example, I was fully engaged in the class and activities and got feedback from students and teachers, thanking me for my "presence".  The students were excited that I was taking an interest and participating in what they were doing, and the teachers were proud to showcase the efforts of their students and of the new things they were trying in class.
On a more personal note, I also got the chance on Wednesday to watch my eldest son participate in the "Fun Run" at Minoru park.  I got to see him as he approached the finish line, and the look on his face and the elevated effort once he saw me was palpable.  The run was at 4:30 PM, which is much earlier than I usually get home from work, and my son told me after he finished that he was worried I wouldn't be able make it.  That stung a little, because he needs to know that I would never miss an important event in his life, but the appreciation in his face and the extra effort that he gave when he saw me reminded me that staff and students are the same.  Everyone appreciates being seen and will work that much harder when someone who is fully-engaged and "in-the-moment" is there to cheer them on.
Thanks to the RASA Pro-D committee for organizing the event and to all of my colleagues for inspiring my thinking and contributing to my enjoyment of the time in Whistler.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Difference We Make...

Friday, October 5th is World Teacher Day.  On this day, please take the time to acknowledge and appreciate the important work that teachers do.  With its arrival, I am reminded of a post I started last year, but never published.  Now is the time to share that post. 

At the end of a confusing and challenging year in British Columbia Public Education year, a teacher on the J.N. Burnett staff brought me the following note.  He had received it from a parent of a student he had taught a couple of times during her five years with the school.  It was an uplifting reminder of the positive impact teachers can have on young lives.  With the permission of the teacher and the parents who authored the letter, I share it here (names have been changed to protect the anonymity of all the parties involved).

Dear Mr. Johnston;
I wanted to not only express my sincerest thanks to you for being a very special  teacher to my daughter, Kirsten, for the past two years, but also to comment that you have the qualities for reaching a more challenging student like Kirsten.  Not all teachers have this talent.  To teach the easiest and brightest in the class is not tough, but to reach those with low marks and seemingly little interest and also to rope in those such as Kirsten who is not unintelligent, but who has had a lifetime of challenges due to her severe ADHD, that requires talent and caring.
Poor Kirsten has had her older brother (Jim), 10 years her elder, fly through highschool and UBC as a gifted student academically, musically and socially.  They love each other and Kirsten tried desperately to emulate him, but what a hard act to follow!  Jim never had you as a teacher, but recalls you as a TOC and remembers you fondly.
Kirsten's two biggest problems with English were reading too quickly, thus jumping words and then missing the point and much of the content.  But she always hated to go back (impatient like many of us...).  Her second big problem was editing, which you picked up on right away.
I tried for years to look at her writings and subtly make suggestions when she veered off topic or it didn't quite make sense.  But you, sir, are a teacher, and I am a nurse.  And who wants to listen to their mother, anyway?  Especially a mother who has had some serious medical issues this past year (Kirsten has many conficted and complicated feelings about this).
This year she was afraid of failing English.  But then she got you for a second time and you continued to, rather than just mark things "wrong", make suggestions or give her hints and ideas for how to make her thoughts "more correct" or "easier to understand".
You have also stimulated her interest in what she was reading in class, to the point, this year, that she would actually come home from school and tell me all about it!
The third (and probably most important) thing you did was create in her a desire to read for PLEASURE.  We are a large family of readers and to see her reading for joy (and not because she has to) is a pleasure for me and a happiness for her that is beyond words.
Little did she realize the tribute she was giving you last week when I asked her what she thought you had done for her.  She replied, "He gave me confidence in myself".  And so you did.  We can not thank you enough for instilling her love of learning and belief in herself.  You are a treasure of a teacher.  Thank you so much.

As has been stated before, "You make the weather" and teachers do make a difference.  Sometimes we don't hear it enough.  Thank you to the parent for taking the time to acknowledge the efforts and to the teacher for making such a positive difference for students at J.N. Burnett.
 Happy World Teacher's Day!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Grade 8 Retreat

Last week, the Grade 8 students from J.N. Burnett Secondary school took part in a three-day retreat to Camp Stillwood over-looking beautiful Cultus Lake in Chillwack, B.C.  143 of the 145 Grade 8 students in the school participated in the retreat along with 13 adult sponsors and 23 Grade 11 and 12 leadership students.  Everyone had an amazing experience, getting to know one another, developing their leadership skills and coming together as the Grad class of 2017.  With the weather surpassing everyone's expectations (27 degrees and sunny everyday), and the copious amounts of delicious food keeping everyone sustained, the trip was extremely enjoyable.  The trip created memories that will last a lifetime.  Two of the Senior Leadership students (Ian Sapollnik and Amanda Odorico) were kind enough to write a summary of the trip and what they felt was learned by those involved.
The grade eights came to the retreat with energy and excitement, but also with some insecurity. From the beginning, I could see them staying in their comfort zones, afraid of exploring the world of opportunity that exists when they step out. Since three days are not very long, there was no time to waste.
                We arrived at Camp Stillwood, settled down, and started off with a scavenger hunt. Through different activities that involved teamwork, creativity, problem solving and a whole lot of running, I could see my group already bonding and becoming a true team. Having collected all of our clues, we ran back to our starting point. Sweaty and exhausted, we assembled the letters we had been given into the phrase “Don’t Stop Believing.” I looked around at my team of grade eights, and I felt a sense of unity not just between them, but between us.
                Tuesday involved even more challenges, through a series of different activities: Drama, Team Building, Leadership Lessons and Art. For my team, Team Building was the most productive, because it allowed us to continue expanding the bonds we had developed both within our group as well as with other groups. My highlight of that day, maybe even the whole retreat, occurred as we were heading in for lunch.  The grade eights were lined up outside in their teams, and the leaders started to go in. Once inside, I looked back and saw the students having a cheer-off. Without any help from leaders or teachers, my team was chanting louder than any other. For me, this embodied what the whole retreat is about: turning the grade eights into strong leaders and giving them the spirit and purposefulness to succeed throughout high school. The day wound down with a charades tournament, which pushed the students to work together and take initiative.
                Wednesday felt very short, and after the closing ceremony and some free time, unfortunately, we had to leave. I looked around, and I saw many things. I saw a group of classmates who had developed from timid individuals into a unified group. I saw a massive amount of potential for these students to continue to evolve. I also saw all the student leaders, including myself, who guided the grade eights through their journey. The retreat was a unique experience for us as well. We faced very difficult tasks, and by overcoming them, we all bonded as a group and grew as individuals.  Just like how the grade eights didn’t know each other very well, I had never met some of the leaders I was working with. The chance to rely on one another so greatly and support each other to such an extent provided us with a challenge that shaped us and changed us in the same way it did the grade eights. 

From a leader’s eyes, the retreat was a great success. In three days, we created a group of young students who are now ready to be Burnett’s future leaders, as well as a smaller group of older students who developed their skills further and challenged themselves while challenging others. The theme of the retreat, “believe,” was found throughout the whole week. It was found in the leaders, the students and in the teachers. Interestingly enough, I also found myself in disbelief over how much the retreat had changed everyone. (Ian Sapollnik)
 The grade eight retreat was a great experience for me. I was able to grow as a leader and was able to learn from any mistakes that had been made and turn it into something positive. Being a leader at the camp was so much fun. I was able to talk to the grade eights and learn about them and what they thought about high school. Some even asked me how high school was for me and I told them about the great events that happen in the school. Since the retreat, I’ve had a bunch of the grade eight students come up to me and tell me that when they get into grade twelve that they want to be a leader, too. I think that was the best thing I heard the whole time, because I feel like somehow I got the kids involved or the desire to be involved in the school some how. (Amanda Odorico) 
Special thanks to the staff of Camp Stillwood and the school staff who gave up time with their families to help supervise the students.  Thanks also to the Leadership students, Ian and Amanda included, for their energy and enthusiasm.  It looked like you enjoyed yourselves and learned just as much as the Grade 8 students did.  A special word of thanks to the teachers who worked so hard behind the scenes and before the trip began, getting things organized and ready.  Ms. Meralli, Ms. Davis, Ms. Cain and Mr. Blair, your efforts are truly appreciated.
Congratulations to the Grade 8's for a hugely successful trip, and we look forward to you developing even more close-knit relationships with your peers.  We encourage you to continue being involved and making memories as you become the Grads of 2017.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Welcome Back!!!

The Labour Day long weekend is upon us once again and students, teachers and parents prepare to begin another year of school.  This is an extraordinarily exciting time for students, something of a relief for parents and an anxious and invigorating time for teachers.  This year will be like most others, as students reconnect with friends, talk about their summer adventures, and excitedly look at their timetables to see who is in their classes and who their teachers are.
I am very much looking forward to the upcoming school year, and am hopeful that much of the labour unrest that impacted last year is behind us.  I watched a great deal of Olympics coverage this past summer and was inspired by the efforts of Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, Oscar Pistorius and of course, Christine Sinclair and the Canadian National Women's Soccer team.  At Burnett, our mission this year will be to help you "Find your Greatness".

I also love a good Sesame Street "Back to School" video to get me ready and The Count was always my favourite character.  I look forward to seeing each of you at school and hope we can bring out the same enthusiasm the Count has in this video (though I know the classes will be much larger than 10).  The excitement of a new year and the opportunity to meet and connect with so many people truly is the best part of school.  Enjoy it and take full advantage by getting involved in everything the school has to offer.

So, from all the staff at Burnett Secondary School, we want to wish a bright "Welcome" to our new students, and a hearty "Welcome back" to all those returning for another year at our great school.
Have a fantastic year!!!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Commencement Address

This past Thursday, J.N. Burnett Secondary School had its Commencement ceremony to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of the Graduation class of 2012.  It was indeed a spectacular evening, highlighted by the stunning accomplishments of this incredible group of young adults, the moving musical tribute performed by graduate Anna Toth, and the Valedictorian address by Justin Wang.

I, too, had the opportunity to address this special group of individuals, and am pleased to share it below.

Good evening distinguished members of the platform party, staff, family and friends. To J.N. Burnett Secondary’s graduating class of 2012 we say “Congratulations.”  It is an honour to be addressing such an outstanding group of young people.
To begin, I must acknowledge that it has been a difficult year for education in British Columbia.  However, what has become evident during these trying times is how fortunate we are at Burnett to be working with such a caring staff and exceptional student body. I can honestly say that the staff and students of Burnett have faced the many challenges with amazing consideration for each other and with the resolve to persevere. You, the graduating class, have shown yourselves to be wondrously talented and courageously determined.  You have risen above the obstacles before you and prepared yourselves admirably. 
It has truly been a privilege to work with you and to watch you grow these last 5 years.  And yes, many of you are snickering, thinking that I have had a bird’s eye view of you. It’s true...I do (some of you think I can see everything).  But, from my perch, the qualities you have demonstrated are the ones that I, and others, have seen and commended.
You have ideas for how your life will unfold, and those plans may change hundreds of times over your remaining years.  Yet, as I look around this auditorium, I cannot help but notice the pride shining from the faces of those people in your lives who are so invested in your present and future decisions.  This certainly includes your teachers and me, but even more so, your parents and family. 
As a father myself, I now view life events through the lens of parenthood. So you will understand that when I recently read an article entitled “10 Things You Won’t Hear at Your Commencement Ceremony” I was especially drawn to Number seven on this list that I actually do want you to hear.  The author, Charles Wheelan, writes: “Your parents and other adults in your life who care about you don’t want what’s best for you. They want what is good for you, which isn’t always the same thing. There is a natural instinct to protect our children from risk and discomfort, and therefore to urge safe choices.”
Allow me to share a story from my own life to illustrate.  Many of you have perhaps noticed the scars on my neck and wondered how I got them. Well, when I was nine-years-old, my dad took my sister and I out for a bike ride. That November day, I lost control of my bike and fell out into the road; I was struck by a car.  It was very traumatic and I was seriously injured and hospitalized for a long time. 
Naturally, since then, my parents have always been very uneasy when I get on a bike. Just two weeks ago, when I participated in the Ride to Conquer Cancer, a bike ride from Vancouver to Seattle, it would be an understatement to say that my parents would have much preferred that I not go.  Understandably, they wanted what was good for me -- staying safe. It was difficult for my folks to contemplate what was best for me, which was getting back on my bike, training and being healthy, and meaningfully remembering a friend who had lost his battle with cancer. 
Mr. Wheelan continued, ‘Theodore Roosevelt—American soldier, explorer, president—once remarked, "It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed." Great quote, but I am willing to bet that Teddy's mother wanted him to be a doctor or a lawyer’ because this is what parents and the adults who care about you desire—your protection, safety and security.  Sometimes we need to be pushed or to push ourselves; we need to risk failure. Then we learn; and we become stronger and wiser. 
So what is the purpose of me telling you about my experiences and the article by Mr. Wheelan?  It is not to indict the adults in your lives (your parents and teachers) for wanting what is good for you instead of what is best for you.  Nor am I recommending that you be reckless.  I am encouraging you to find yourselves and your passions, push yourselves toward greatness and not to be afraid or quit if and when you encounter failures.  Remember, life is not about who makes the fewest mistakes.  It is about how you respond to those challenges.
As I close, it is fitting to note the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage….  To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” 
Grads of 2012, we know that you have been equipping yourselves to face the many challenges and the endless possibilities available to you.  We want to wish you the very best. Thank you for your significant contributions to the school and the community and we congratulate you for reaching this important milestone in your lives.  Know that we are all extremely proud of you.
Now go out there, live with courage and make a positive difference in the world, because, to quote many of you over the last several months… “YOLO”.  I will let you explain that term to your parents. 

Thank you and Congratulations!

PS-thank you to the editor of the above notes (you know who you are!).  Also a big thank you to the people who worked so hard behind the scenes to pull off the event, and to the grad class who made the efforts so worthwhile!  Enjoy a relaxing and fun-filled summer and best wishes for your future!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Another Epic Journey

Last weekend, as a welcomed respite from the hectic schedules many of us have been keeping as another school year comes to a close, several friends, colleagues and I took part in the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer in support of the BC Cancer Foundation.

This year (the fifth edition of the event) was a record-setter in more ways than one.  3,011 riders plus countless volunteers raised over 11.2 million dollars and set out to cover the 242 kilometers between Cloverdale's Fraser Downs Park and Redmond's Marymoor Park.  Team Bodin, the team founded in memory of our good friend Lorne Bodin, was comprised of 14 members (riders and volunteer crew), and raised $26,562

Many of us rode last year, and were so inspired by the experience, decided to do it again.  After the cold and wet of 2011, most of us were certain that the weather could only be better this time around.  We were wrong.  While slightly warmer, Saturday had significantly more rain this year, and while it did not impact the ride (because once you are wet, you are wet!!), the campsite in Mount Vernon was a challenge.  We arrived after pedalling through adverse conditions, only to see the weather worsen in the tent-city that had been set up for us.  The baseball field we were inhabiting eventually turned into a mud-pit.  With thousands of people huddled under shelter and lining up to get food and use the bathrooms, it was impossible to stay dry or get clean.  But none of the inconveniences brought on by the weather could dampen the enthusiasm of the group as we all sat together, shared stories and listened to inspiring speakers.

Sunday was much more dry, and the pleasant riding conditions made day two very enjoyable.  After journeying through the beautiful farm and parklands of Western Washington, we rolled into our destination of Redmond around 2:00 PM, cheered in by enthusiastic supporters and family.  Emotions ran high as we all thought of who we were honouring and what we were trying to do.  

It truly was an epic journey, one that has created memories for me that will last a lifetime.  Thanks to every one of the team members for sharing the experience with me, and to all of the donors and contributors whose generosity allowed it to happen, and whose donations are making a difference.  Let's keep up the good fight!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

PAC Legacy Scholarship Presentations

The past two and a half months have been hectic and as a result I have not been able to give much attention to this blog.  As a new Principal, I have been working, for the first time, through complicated and sensitive issues surrounding staffing (downsizing and layoffs, plus posting and hiring), timetable issues, Commencement planning and speeches plus all of the regular end-of-year stressors (which this year have been further complicated by the continued labour unrest between the BCTF and the Provincial Government).  To say the learning curve has been steep would be a massive understatement.  At times I have felt overwhelmed and have questioned my abilities and decisions.  I suppose, however, that the second-guessing and constant analyzing and thinking is a positive part of the reflective process that goes with learning new things and challenging oneself.

Despite the long hours and restless nights, I have continued to enjoy what I do and the people with whom I work and learn.  One such event that reaffirmed my love of this job was held this past Wednesday evening.  Our Parent Advisory Council (PAC) held its annual PAC Legacy Scholarship Presentations for any Grade 12 students who wished to share with parents their Graduation Transitions documents.  The evening was attended by eleven parents (volunteers from PAC and anyone else who was interested), and 20 students.  The library was set up so that parents could rotate around tables and have brief question and answer sessions with students who were presenting  reflections upon their years in school.  The six most interesting and engaging presentations (as decided upon by the parent group) were chosen as recipients of a $500 PAC Legacy Scholarship.  Though I was not evaluating the presentations, I did have the opportunity to observe and have informal conversations with many of the students and parents.

I was thoroughly impressed.  There were students who were preparing to go to school next year in faraway places like the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell and University of Hong Kong.  There were aspiring Doctors and Scientists plus several Artists, Fashion Designers and future Youth Counsellors.  Among the most inspiring were the stories of students who have overcome feelings of isolation when they arrived in Canada understanding very little English.  There was also a student who demonstrated and talked about his love of the VEX Robotics extra-curricular program that he was a founder and leader of.  There were students who talked about the changes they had gone through on their journey towards adulthood, including one who had fallen in with a group of friends early in his school life that led to some poor decision-making.  His family intervened and set him up with Richmond's Integrated Youth Services Society, a charity founded by Esther Ho which looks to  support new immigrant children by introducing them to causes like the Personal Growth Youth Pilgrammage to Yunnan, China.  The student has now been overseas and is actively involved in fundraising to help bring a high-school education to students in rural China.  Talk about a life-changing experience!  Others talked about how much they had grown from their experiences in Leadership classes and when they were given opportunities to be role models for younger students in events like our Grade 8 Retreat.  

In each of the conversations I had with students, I asked them after their presentation was over what was one memory of school that they would recall 15-20 years from now.  In each case, the answer was "the people".  I also asked what they were most proud of from their time in school.  In most cases the response was "I surprised myself by how much I overcame and improved".  I was pleased to hear that the students will remember the relationships formed in these years and was reminded of the article written by Charles Wheelan that is getting a great amount of attention in the Twitter world now.  The article is a tongue-in-cheek commentary on Graduation speeches.  Titled "Ten Things Your Commencement Speaker Won't Tell You", item number seven rings true for me and I thought of it frequently when speaking with our Graduates.  It refers to how the "Adults in your life don't want what is BEST for you, they want what is GOOD for you".  Too often, our children and students are protected from failure and risk by the adults in their lives.  We do this with the best of intentions, but if we push them a little, and allow them to fail and learn from their mistakes, they will surprise themselves and us with what they can accomplish.  The presentations from Wednesday night confirmed that if we allow them, our students can and will go above and beyond, even if their first attempt may not have ended with a positive result. 

What a fantastic evening it was!  Thank you to the parents who invited me to attend, and especially to the students who once again inspired and reinvigorated me with their stories, aspirations and reflections upon their time with us.  As an entire group, you will be fondly remembered.  Best of luck in your future endeavours.  These last few weeks will be a blur for you.  Study hard but slow down and enjoy the moment.  The memories and relationships you will take from here will last a lifetime.