Sunday, December 15, 2013

Conference Day, Senior's Brunch and Winter Concert

There is so much happening in high schools around North America in the weeks leading up to the Winter Holidays.  A small sampling of some of the goings-on at Burnett follows...

On Thursday, December 5th, Burnett Secondary school held it's 14th annual Conference Day, which was highlighted by the Senior's Brunch.  Always a holiday memory for both our guests and our students, this year was no exception.  The Conference Day seminars focused on Social Responsibility and lessons delivered by homeroom teachers included Safe Driving, Social Media Awareness, Anti-Bullying and Building Community as well as Understanding Racial Diversity.  A keynote speaker seen by the entire school was Michael Bartolotto, as well as guests who spoke about the Holocaust and The Richmond Multi-Cultural Society who presented about building community.
It is with great pride that I show below a highlight video of the ever-popular Senior's Brunch, created by students Meghan G and Janelle P.  Well done girls and thank you to the entire Leadership and Law classes plus some Student Council members, Mr. Ghaug and Ms. Davis as well as the Glee club, Ms. Freeman and the Jazz Band and Ms. Johal and the Dance class.  The smiles on the faces of both the students and the Senior's indicated that a great time was had by all.
Ho, Ho, Ho

Getting ready...
Here they are!
Glee club singing
Another recent highlight was the Winter Concert, hosted on Thursday, December 12th.  A full house of spectators were treated to an excellent concert put forth by the Concert Band, Grade 8 Band, and the Jazz Band.  Thanks go out to all the performers and their director, Ms. Freeman.  The admission of canned food or money to be donated to the Richmond Food Bank raised hundred of cans of food as well as hundreds of dollars all to be given to a very worthy cause.

Grade 8 Band
Concert Band

Next week is our last before the holidays, so I would like to remind students to do what you can to help support those in need.  Our Student Council Canned Food Drive (which has brought in thousands of cans of food and several hundred dollars in donations so far) will continue through Friday, so please do your part.  Also to look forward to is Friday's ever-popular Santa's Breakfast, where lots of entertainment (including a performance by our staff) and a full hot breakfast will be served to any and all who purchase a ticket (all proceeds will be donated to the Food Bank).  Tickets are available from Student Council members at lunchtime for $5 each or 4 for $15.
Enjoy the last week and to all members of our school community, have a Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for the New Year!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

An Opportunity

Educators and parents across British Columbia are currently being asked to provide feedback about the Ministry of Education's new Curriculum Frameworks.  At first glance, the documents are encouraging and exciting since the content for each course (frameworks for English, Social Studies, Mathematics and Science have been developed for Kindergarten through Grade 9) appears to have been reduced, thus allowing more freedom for teachers and students to explore concepts in greater depth, incorporating more cross-curricular teaching and learning, and pursuing more student passions.  
This new freedom provides an opportunity for all of us to redefine what we do.  At Burnett, we are beginning the conversation with our own questions for staff:  "What are the things we are struggling with?" and "What help do we need in order to address these issues?"  And for Educational Facilitator meetings: "What are the things we want students to learn in all courses?" and "How do we overtly teach and assess these things?"
We have questions about the unknown; How will Graduation program courses be impacted (Frameworks are still being developed for  courses in Grades 10-12)?  How will curriculum changes be reflected in the summative provincial exams that exist in English 10 and 12, Math 10, Science 10 and Social Studies 11?  But we are improving our use of new technologies, are altering assessment practices to become more outcome-based and informative, and are adding strategies that help increase student engagement.
Seth Godin's Ted Talk "What is School For?" (and associated blog posts "What is school for?" and "What is high school for?"), asks a very important question that we in British Columbia now have the opportunity to answer.

While some may consider Godin a little radical and seemingly hyper-critical of the American Public Education system, his question is one that demands our attention as we move forward with our Assessment practices and new, less content-heavy Curriculum frameworks.  Godin refers to public education having been created in the industrial age to produce obedient, interchangeable factory workers. We have come a long way from the industrial age, and are now doing so much more than teaching students to be compliant, but, as Godin states, school needs to be reformed to: "measure experience instead of test scores", utilize the new technology available, encourage "cooperation rather than isolation", help our students "do something interesting", and teach them how to "connect the dots, not collect the dots".  While I do not agree with everything Godin states in the video (I think there is some value in memorization and society demands that we develop more than individual passions in our students), he very provocatively and correctly suggests that we need to rethink the purpose of school today.

I don't see those of us in education "Stealing Dreams", but I am excited that we have the opportunity to redefine what we do and answer the very important question, "What is School For?"....

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Challenge

The job of educator is a tough one, especially in the politically-charged climate of contract negotiation years.  Teachers, support staffs and administrators are all challenged to work with widely-diverse student groups, all the while looking to adapt and improve their practices to reflect the ever-changing landscape of education and the world in general.  Recently, a friend sent me this link, and it served as a reminder of why I (and so many others) got into this fantastic profession in the first place.  The job of teacher is incredibly taxing, but equally rewarding.  Looking at the list in the article, I found myself nodding often in agreement.  Why become a teacher?  To experience personal growth and continue to be a student; to pay it forward and to give back;  to get to work with kids everyday; and to motivate others by my example (part of why I got into Administration).
It is sometimes easy to forget all the good that is happening around us in education and when we get new documents from the Ministry of Education and the revisions to Curriculum, some begin to feel overwhelmed and frustrated by the perception that educators around the province are not already doing several of these 'new' ideas.  But the documents, at first glance, seem to provide much greater freedom for educators and their students, being less prescriptive, open for greater exploration in detail and depth, and allowing more linking of concepts across curricular areas.  The key for schools and its leaders is to take this freedom and encourage change in practice, giving teachers permission to try new and innovative things to help improve student engagement.
Having just participated in several very deep and meaningful conversations on this past Friday's Professional Development day, I am excited and believe we are on the right path.  There were conversations about balancing the management and leadership responsibilities within school-based administration and our role in helping schools embrace new curriculum documents and making them work for staff and students.  Friend and colleague Jim Allison wrote about the responsibilities of being a school-based administrator very eloquently on his blog, Expand My Thinking.  He writes of needing to stay connected with staff and students and building the relationships that foster trust and communication.  In order to be effective, the Principal must demonstrate ability to perform the Management responsibilities, while still pushing the organization forward with reflective questioning and challenging of issues that seem at odds with the mission of the school.
At Burnett, we are constantly engaged in conversation, and I am tasked with asking the right kinds of questions that encourage reflection, thinking and sharing.  At upcoming staff meetings, we will be asking the questions, "What are some things we are struggling with?" and "What are the supports you need to address these issues?".  In Educational Facilitator meetings, we have begun the conversations around the new curriculum documents and the freedoms the new directions have seemingly afforded us by asking "What are the things we all believe in (across departments)?" and will follow up with questions like "How do we teach and assess those things?".  The conversations will continue to be very rich and stimulating.  The intent behind them is to direct our actions and future Professional Development days, as we continue to adjust our Assessment practices, adopt the new curriculum, increase the depth of content exploration and link concepts across departments. 
It is an exciting time to be an educator, but it is easy to feel overwhelmed.  I need to keep asking questions that promote thought and reflection, while acknowledging all the good that I see.  The appreciative lens approach to improvement is working, but the gentle nudge of thought-provoking questions and discussion is at the core of Leadership, which is the responsibility of all those entrusted with taking our schools and the education profession into the future.  I am up for the challenge.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

What do I need to improve?....

Education discussions these days are often centered around questions like, "What are the things we need to improve?", "How can we do this better?", and, "How can we make school more engaging for our students?".  These are great questions that deserve our attention.  In schools on days like the Professional Development day just past, these are exactly the questions we ask.  We place our focus on topics likes Instructional Strategies, Assessment Practices, Student Engagement and Connecting with our students and our communities.

I am extremely proud to work at a great school, full of passionate, professional educators and motivated, respectful and enthusiastic students.  I often feel spoiled to have the opportunity to work with and around such inspiring and talented individuals.  But when I take the focus of Professional conversations off the system and our staff and put it on myself, I find there are many things I need to improve.
My background and attitudes lead me to being a 'glass-half-full' optimist, and I usually see the good in things.  When looking back at blog posts I have written, most of them are enthusiastic endorsements of all the fantastic stuff I see around our school.  As an instructional leader, I also believe that one of the most effective ways of getting people to move in a certain direction is to find examples of what I think is positive, and celebrate it for others to note.
At a recent Principal's meeting, the Professional Development discussion was focused on three questions: "Do you have strong a professional learning community in your school?", "If yes, what was your role in creating it?  If no, what can you do to enhance it?", and, "What are the themes/focus(es) for your school's professional growth this year?".  It was an incredibly rich conversation that went well beyond the hour it was scheduled for.  People spoke passionately about their school's plans for the year, and what they have done to help guide those plans. 
One of the themes that came up repeatedly was the idea of utilizing the 'appreciative lens' (celebrating what we are already doing that fits with where we want to go), while still creating the 'cognitive dissonance' that is required to have professionals think.  People all need to be encouraged when trying something new, but they also need to be challenged to think about what could be done differently or how it can be done better.  It is a difficult balancing act, and something I need to improve. 
While I am incredibly proud of the great things I see in and around our school, there is still much we can do to get better.  I want to see our school fully embrace Standards Based Assessment by establishing marks bins that reflect those standards as opposed to the measurement tool being used (tests, assignments, homework etc.).  I would also like to see us continue to promote critical thinking and problem solving by encouraging students to take more academic risks (we have a very competitive student population who, understandably, are worried about 'getting it right' for the score that may help get them into University).  In order for students to take some risks, learn from the mistakes, and try again, I believe teachers need to role-model the same behaviour.  I need to push our staff to try new things, giving them permission to make a mistake, learn from the effort, refine and try again.  To that end, the video below will be the focus of our next Professional Development day.
We are already doing much of what I want to see in our school, but where I need to improve is balancing my celebrating the excellence while still creating the dissonance required to help professionals think about improvement.  If not careful, the constant trumpeting of all that is good can breed complacency (people thinking that we are already 'perfect'), or the compliments can become hollow.  Learning how to achieve that balance is going to have to be part of my Professional Growth Plan.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Grade 8 Retreat 2013

I have often wondered "What do parents want most for their children in high school?"  Now that I am a parent of a new high schooler myself, I can better answer the question.  I want my child to be welcomed, to feel connected and to have great pride in his school.  I want him to be challenged and supported, and I want him to be safe.  This is a big responsibility for a school, but one that I am confident we do a very good job of providing.
Each year, one of the ways our school welcomes its newcomers is to host a Grade 8 Retreat.  A team of four extremely dedicated teachers plan and book the trip, collect the fees, organize the activities etc. With the help of 35 student leaders plus 13 other adults, away go over 250 people from J.N. Burnett Secondary.

We have been going to Camp Stillwood, a beautiful sight overlooking Cultus Lake in Chilliwack, BC, for the past 5 years.  The trip is quite frequently referred to as the highlight of their time in high school by our graduates, and this year was no exception.
Getting ready to go!

We have arrived at Stillwood

The dining hall

Team games in the Dome

The closing ceremonies

Group photo just before leaving.  Good times!
We began our trip early Monday morning, gathering in the gym before boarding the buses heading to Cultus Lake.  Once there, the students were fully engaged in activities including: Getting to know your team members, a 4 station rotation of Arts and Crafts (making a picture frame memento), Drama skits, Leadership discussions and Team Building games.  There was also a team Cheer-off, a movie night (this year we watched "42-The Jackie Robinson Story"), the writing of a "Letter to Myself" (which is given back to the students when they graduate), and the highlight of the trip, the Charades tournament.  The camp is very well-equipped to take care of our every need and the food preparation and distribution was extremely high quality.

The students all came home fatigued, but very excited about the connection to their new school.  They told parents all about the new friends they made, the relationships they now have with the senior Leadership students, and how they know their teachers better and see them as regular people who want to help.

As I continue to look at activities through the lens of my 13 year old, Grade 8 son (who goes to a different school), I see that trips and efforts like these, designed to help students feel a greater sense of connection and belonging, go a very long way.

I can not thank enough all of the adults who gave up three days away from their families, the 35 Leadership students who were magnificent in connecting with our Grade 8's, the Stillwood staffers, the Grade 8's who represented themselves, their families and our school so well, and especially the four Burnett staff who put so much time and energy into making the sure the event happened without a hitch.

Following events like last week's, I can truly say, "I am proud to be a Breaker!", and am more confident than ever that we are providing the kind of environment where students quickly become connected and parents can feel good about sending their children.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Welcome Back!!!

The Labour Day long weekend is once again upon us and with it comes the excitement and nervous energy that is part of a new school year.  It is, indeed, a second New Year, as students and teachers alike try to anticipate what lies ahead and make resolutions and set goals for the upcoming academic year.

I have written posts along these lines in the past (here and here), and each time attempt to put to rest the minds of students and parents, reassuring them that the upcoming year will be a time of great growth and fun times for our students.  This year (like every other) will be filled with opportunities and some obstacles, but these are learning experiences.  Both parents and students need not fear making mistakes, but should instead embrace all the options available in high school by working hard, getting involved, meeting new people, making some memories and learning.  I recently saw the following video clip of Ashton Kutcher talking to young people about some keys to life and can't say it any better...

Remember what he suggests: 
1.  Work Hard-take advantage of your opportunities
2.  Be smart-think, ask questions, be generous and be thoughtful
3.  Build a life-create the opportunities you desire 

Full Disclosure.... My eldest has just turned 13 and is entering his first year of high school.  He is excited, but understandably nervous.  His mother and I are even more so.  We worry about how he will adjust to greater responsibility, meeting new people, and some of the inevitable disappointments that come with growing up.  He is still very young and impressionable, and watching him and thinking about all that he will deal with and overcome reminds me that all of students new to our school are like him.  They need to be gently welcomed and encouraged, yet be given the chance to explore and learn in their own way.  Each of our students is the son or daughter of two parents who care desperately for their well-being and trust their educators to challenge, teach, listen to and care for them.  We do not take this responsibility lightly and will do everything in our power to provide an outstanding experience for your child.  Like in my situation, the children you are sending us are the best ones you have, so we will be sure to treat them that way.

As tradition dictates, I will sign off with a Sesame Street video, welcoming students back to school and wishing them a GREAT year!!!  Welcome Back,  Breakers!!!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Commencement 2013

Another year has come and gone, and as I reflect upon all that has transpired this year, I am truly grateful that I have the opportunity to work with the talented and professional students and staff at J.N. Burnett Secondary school in Richmond, BC.  This is the end of my 21st year in education, the 8th at Burnett and the second in the role of Principal.

Last year, as I concluded my first as a Principal, I felt I had endured what would be my most challenging year.  A year filled with job-action, labour unrest, a feeling of uncertainty as I tried to learn on the job, and teachers being unable to help us with so many of the responsibilities that are required every year.  We made it through those circumstances, and I felt quite confident that since teachers would be back volunteering their time, and I felt like I knew what I was doing a little better, the job would become easier.  I was wrong.  It has not been an easier year.  But it has been a more enjoyable year, and I feel like I have grown as a professional, the staff and school has continued to improve how they go about their business, and while I am more exhausted than ever before, I feel very good about where we are and what we are doing.

Despite the busy-ness of our work, I was reminded of why the job of "educator" is the best in the world at our Graduation ceremony last week.  Seeing the pride in the faces of the Graduates and their families, as well as the satisfaction the staff feels for helping shape the class into the group of young adults they have become; Commencement is truly a remarkable evening.  I continue to be impressed by our students and staff and want to thank them for making our school such a great place to be.  What follows are the words I shared with our audience at the ceremony last Thursday.
Good evening distinguished members of the platform party, staff, family and friends. To J.N. Burnett Secondary’s graduating class of 2013, we say, “Congratulations.”  It is a privilege to be addressing such an outstanding group of young people.

As we reflect upon the past year, it often becomes difficult to ignore the tragic stories that plague our headlines. Distressing news of the Sandy Hook School shootings, the Boston Marathon bombings and teen suicides across our country draw our attention. But, we are not defined by these disturbing acts; what is sometimes overlooked in each of these troubling situations are the countless acts of bravery, selfless heroism, and compassionate care displayed by regular people drawn together to make the world a better place.

Now, as I glance around this auditorium and consider the narratives that have filled the hallways of Burnett, I am reminded of the valuable stories that we have chosen to define us. Despite our individual struggles, we have come together to raise awareness through our drama performances and clubs. We have served brunch and performed for the seniors in our community; we have raised funds for the unmarked graves of veterans; and, these are just a few examples. You, the graduating class, have been a large part of these acts and you have shown yourselves to be wondrously talented and courageously determined. 

It has been a privilege to work closely with so many of you over the past five years. We are extremely fortunate at Burnett to be part of such a caring staff and exceptional student body. I can honestly say that the staff and students of Burnett have worked together to face their many challenges with amazing consideration for each other and with the resolve to make a positive difference in this world.

Tonight, I would like to share the words of a man whose story also inspires. His name was Jim Valvano. He was the compelling, charismatic and championship coach of the North Carolina State Wolfpack Men’s Basketball Team. Valvano was diagnosed with terminal cancer but just a month before he passed away, he gave a simple yet powerful speech. He said, “Do three things everyday: Laugh. Think. Have your emotions moved to the point of tears.”

To Laugh - Working with all of you for the past 5 years, I have been given so many reasons to laugh. I know you all guffawed when I sang Baby, It’s Cold Outside at Santa’s Breakfast. There’s lots of chuckling around the school when, for example, you prepare for in-class presentations and practice for PE Dances and for the Glee Club Performances on Valentine’s Day (thanks for the brownie points that got me!).

To Think - Educators and students around the world are challenged to think deeply everyday, and we at Burnett are no exception. We have exchanged intelligent questions to make each other reflect upon how we do our work and how we live our lives. To quote Adlai Stephenson, “As you prepare to leave this place, do not forget why you came.” You came to school to learn – continue to do so. I encourage you to practice curiosity; strive to know things and persist in asking questions.

To Cryto have your emotions moved to the point of tears. This happens to me far more frequently than I would care to admit. As a want-to-be tough guy, I try to hide it, but on so many occasions, I swell with pride watching or listening as you give presentations, complete astounding achievements, and offer selfless assistance to each other and members of our community – a Remembrance Day Ceremony, and a Flash Mob performance in Chemistry class are just two examples of several that give rise to a few tears of deep appreciation and gratitude.

Grads of 2013, we know that you have been equipping yourselves to face the many challenges and the endless possibilities available to you.  And, you will face your critics. Contemplate and consider what others think of you, but do not be discouraged by what they think of you. Because, as Dr. Seuss writes: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind”.   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 and live with courage – do good in this world. And if you remember only one thing from tonight, remember the words of Coach Valvano:
If you laugh, you think and you cry; that’s a full day.  That’s a heck of a day!  You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”

Thank you and Congratulations!

To each of our Graduates, "Congratulations, thanks for all you have done and best wishes for your future".  And for those returning to Burnett again in the fall, enjoy a fun-filled and relaxing summer!!!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Recent Highlights

While the past month has been crazy-busy (I wrote some reflections about the work in an earlier post), I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge so many of the great things that I have been fortunate enough to witness and/or participate in during the months of April and May.

On April 17 and 18, the student-run Dance club (under the sponsorship of Mrs. Fuller) collaborated with Steveston-London and McMath Secondary schools to put on a fantastic showcase of incredible dance performances.

At the end of April, Mrs. Galan and Ms. Wu organized their annual ESL trip to Victoria.

Time for High Tea!
To kick off May, on Wednesday, May 1st, Mr. Todd Yamamoto organized his annual Science fieldtrip to Playland. A good time was had by all, and students got the chance to study what they have been learning in the world beyond the walls of our school.
A beautiful day (if you don't mind line-ups)
My favourite ride!
On May 2nd, the J.N. Burnett Fine Arts department members put on our annual Fine Arts Night.  Our Superintendent, Monica Pamer, highlighted our night (among others) in one of her recent blog posts, and as she indicated, the evening was an impressive display of passion and talent.

Sidewalk art
The Jazz Band at work
Anyone hungry?

Who is thirsty?
Good crowds!

On May 3rd, the student-run ARC (Animal Rescue Club), under the guidance of sponsor Ms. Galan, organized its own "Cage-a-thon" to raise money and awareness for the SPCA and what we can all do to help our furry friends.

Looks pretty comfortable!
On May 10th and 11th, Burnett students hosted our 6th Annual Cyclebetes fundraiser.  Another successful event that raised money and awareness for Juvenile Diabetes Research (a cause very important to me).

On May 15th, our school submitted its School Performance Plan.  If interested, feel free to read it here.

On May 16th, the Grads of 2013 had a fantastic evening to enjoy a 3 hour boat cruise around Vancouver Harbour.
Check out the boat!
Beautiful night!
On May 22nd, our Parent Advisory Council hosted its Legacy Scholarship Presentations.  These presentations are a highlight of the year. Students talk to parents about all they have done and learned during their time in high school, and what they are looking to do next. The very inspiring stories leave everyone impressed and the parents have a tough time deciding upon which of the 16 presenters will be awarded with a $400 scholarship.
Getting ready to tell their stories
Also on May 22nd, the Music Department had their annual Spring Concert.

On May 25th, our school hosted the First Annual Lorne Bodin Bike Ride which I have written about here.

On May 30th, our Athletic Director, Cat Bateman, hosted our annual Athletic Awards Banquet.  Unfortunately, I have no photos, but wanted to say congratulations and thank you to all of the athletes, coaches and our hard-working AD, who make such an important part of school experiences happen.

And best of all, throughout the month, I was invited into several classes and was blown away by the great things I saw (below are just a few of the photos from some of the classes I observed).
Displaying a mobile in Ms. Dunn's SS 9 class
Presentations from the Number Devil in Ms. Rodriguez' class
More Number Devil
A Mid-Summer Night's Dream in Ms. Lam's class
Dissecting rats in Ms. Farnden's Biology class
More mobiles in Ms. Dunn's class
Flying motor airplanes in Mr. Bevan's Tech class
Mr. Niessen's class trying to propel all kinds of items
ESL class pen pal letters
Hard at work in Art with Ms. Mrsic
And an appreciation video put together by students for their Chemistry teacher (Mr. Kailley)!

These are just a few of the great things happening all the time at Burnett.  I can't thank enough the fantastic staff and motivated, curious and fun-loving students who help make Burnett such a great place to work and learn.  We only have a couple of weeks left!  Study hard, have some fun and finish strong!