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Moving Beyond the Sit ‘n Git Model of Professional Development

This post was originally written for the Canadian Education Association in 2015. I believe it is still relevant and important today. 

I often wonder if what we see as teaching at professional learning events would be acceptable in a high school classroom. If the purpose of professional development (Pro-D) is professional learning, then what is our evidence that learning does, in fact, occur? Are we using effective teaching practices in Pro-D?

Although Pro-D is evolving, the “Sit‘n’Git” way of learning seems to still be alive and well in many conferences and workshops throughout Canada and the U.S. In the past five years, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve sat in a large conference room for a number of hours with hundreds of other dedicated educators and not been provided with the opportunity to even talk to the person beside me. People are spending hundreds and thousands of dollars to attend these events to listen to a series of lengthy lectures without the opportunity to network and wrestle with the presented ideas. I’m not opposed to a keynote address to start off the day with some inspiring, thought-provoking ideas; however, if there is no opportunity to take these ideas and move deeper, many of the thoughts that are initiated in the keynote get lost as I move on to the next session or listen to the next presenter. It’s no secret that in order for deeper learning to occur, we must DO something with a new concept; we must apply new learning to take it from an idea to implementation. Our current typical model of Pro-D makes deeper learning a challenge and often only leaves participants with a few ideas that are unfortunately left on the shelf with the many glossy white binders from workshops of years past. At some point we need to stand up and say that a high volume of “Sit‘n’Git” style of Pro-D is no longer acceptable and is an insult to those who have spent money, time, and effort to attend. While doing this, we also need to rethink the conference model and professional learning so that it better aligns with what we want to see in classrooms.

There are many articles written about rethinking professional learning (for example – http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/04/20/is-the-pd-day-broken/ and http://www.cea-ace.ca/sites/cea-ace.ca/files/cea_fone_teacherpd.pdf) For me, the experience needs to be relevant, continual, and collaborative. As educators, we need time to take an idea, wrestle with it, discuss it, and then plan for implementation. Ideally, there should also be time for follow up with reflective dialogue either as a staff or as a group.

In B.C., the current learning model for teachers is five to six separate (often not aligned, surface level) PD days, monthly staff meetings, and (optional) after school workshops. Is this the best we can do? We know the importance of professional autonomy, so how do we offer this and also ensure that professional learning moves beyond surface level workshops or lectures that give participants the chance to mentally opt out? What is our collective responsibility as schools and districts to create the conditions for deeper learning that affects positive change?

It will likely be some time before we completely rethink Pro-D, so how do we make the best use of our current model?

One of the most effective ways to create change is to focus on the bright spots and build from there. There is a powerful movement of professional learning opportunities that have moved away from the “Sit’n’Git” model to one that taps into the strengths of participants and creates more opportunities for networking. All of these require TIME and it is important for us to change the question from “CAN we provide time for Pro-D?” to “HOW CAN we provide more time for effective, ongoing professional learning?”. 

Here are eight ideas to move us beyond the “Sit’n’Git”:

1. NETWORKING/COLLABORATION TIME AT CONFERENCES – We don’t have to blow up our system; we can start small and ensure that there is important “blank” space in between workshops or following keynotes for teams or groups of people to move the learning deeper. Within workshops, always provide time for participants to DO something with their learning; move from the “sit’n’git” to the “make’n’take”. We can use models that encourage inspiring ideas (keynote, workshop) as well as the time to take the WHY of ideas and move to the WHAT and HOW. I am excited to present in Red Deer next week at the Central Alberta Teachers Convention and they have the Thursday planned for presentations and workshops and the Friday planned for networking – a great way to take the new ideas and dive deeper the following day. 

2. TEACHER ACTION RESEARCH – B.C. teacher, Jennifer Delvecchio, shared a grassroots concept of a“growing learners/pedagogy from within” group of teachers that used some of the allocated Pro-D days – along with school supported time (and some of their own time) – to take a concept and spiral deeper over time. Teachers looked at published research and then reflected on their own practices to question and implement change to benefit student learning. By continually analyzing practice in their own classrooms and making the time to meet a priority, they were able to use the published research in a way that actually created positive change in their classrooms. By tapping into teachers’ curiosity and providing small bits of time for reflective dialogue based on gathered evidence of student learning, we can drive powerful professional learning forward. I have seen the power of this in the past 2 schools in which I have served as principal. Teachers (and staff) have used professional development days, after school workshops, and collaboration time (in addition to their own time) to continually meet with a partner or small group and spiral deeper in their learning. This has a significant impact on student learning and the learning conditions in the classroom (see #3).

3. COLLABORATIVE TIME AND INQUIRY – For the past 2 years in the Langley School District, time that was previously allocated into two learning days in the year has been spread out over the year in the form of six collaboration mornings (80 minutes each). This model is more organic and teacher-driven than the typical professional learning community (PLC) model as educators are encouraged to choose an inquiry question with a small group of colleagues and then take the time to spiral deeper into their inquiry (see Spirals of Inquiry by Halbert and Kaser).  Another example of providing small bits of collaboration time at a school level (based on the passions and curiosities of staff) can be read here.

4. IGNITE EVENTS – Ignite sessions can feel kind of like an “underground” professional learning experience where a number of people meet and listen to others share a story, an idea, or an experience through a short series of slides (20 slides, 15 seconds per slide). There is some sit’n’git but the best part about the events is the networking that occurs before, during, and after the series of five-minute presentations that plant seeds of conversations.

5. EDCAMPS – More and more districts and even some schools are offering Edcamps as a way to tap into the strengths and knowledge of participants. With no formal set agenda and no formal lectures, participants bring their topics to the day and help facilitate conversation on participants’ areas of interest. The challenge with Edcamp, along with many of these participant-driven events, is keeping the passionate dialogue going beyond the event.

6. RETHINKING STAFF MEETINGS – Many schools are making professional learning the focus of staff and department meetings. If information can be sent out in a memo/email, leave it off the agenda and free up time for engaging discussions and reflections on student learning. Something as simple as “what have you tried since the last workshop/conference/collaboration that has had an impact (small or large) on student learning?” should be discussed at staff meetings. Cale Birk is doing some great work on Learner-Centered Design (LCD) that shows the power on redesigning the time we spend together learning as a staff.

7. INSTRUCTIONAL ROUNDS – The Kamloops School District has been exploring the use of Instructional Rounds (based on the work out of Harvard as a way to provide ongoing dialogue and reflections based on non-judgmental observations of educators by educators). The challenge is providing release time for rounds to take place but if a district is willing to consider HOW money is spent on professional learning, instructional rounds should be on the table.

8. SOCIAL MEDIA – There are many different platforms (Twitter, blogging, etc.) that can continue conversations past the event (and also help with the sharing of good ideas). Social media can help to connect people in areas of passion or curiosity who can have conversation that can lead to deeper dialogue in other platforms. Dean Shareski challenges us to connect with one person at an event and keep the conversation going beyond that event.

The Sit’n’Git, single event idea of Pro-D does not align with what we know about teaching, nor about professional learning. We need a sense of urgency to create change in this area. Start small. Build on what is working. Let’s work together to making professional learning more relevant and continual so it leads to deeper change in education.

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How taking email off my phone helped me win the inbox battle and live more in the moment

CC Image – Dean Shareski https://flic.kr/p/4wpGFf

There were moments in the past few years when my inbox reached over 1000 unread emails. I felt like I was drowning each time I looked at my Outlook or my phone email app.

I remember when I used to take pride in how “connected” I was – how I could be contacted at almost any time and how I could connect with so many others in so many ways.  Then I started to realize that being so connected was actually causing me to disconnect with those right in front of me – my family, my friends, my colleagues. I was missing so many moments because I was either staring at a screen or sitting there pondering how I should respond to a challenging email, tweet, or post.

I decided to take ALL notifications (other than texts) off my phone so I could stay more in the moment. It was about at this time when I realized (ok, my wife helped me to realize) I had a problem because although not having notifications helped me to focus more, I was still checking my phone many times each hour… and now I was not just checking the notifications but I was opening up the apps to see if there were notifications. #fail

New plan. I was still convinced that I needed to be connected for work purposes and that Twitter and Facebook were the problem so I took these apps off my phone.  This worked wonderfully as I was not being drawn into conversations and I was able to be way more in the moment when I was either with family and friends or at work.

There was still a big problem. I felt that in order to keep up with the many (often over 100) emails each day, I needed to regularly check my emails on my phone. I was convinced that if I did not do this, I would fall way behind in the inbox battle. I started to read more books on increasing focus, organizing my mind and life, and disconnecting more often. In almost every one of these books, they gave the same recommendation: only access email from your computer and only do this at certain times during the time at work. I recall thinking that, “yeah, that may work for some people but, as a principal, I get over 100 emails a day… this is not going to work”.  I continued this addictive pattern of regularly checking my emails on my phone to keep up with all the emails.

About a year ago, I happened to be sitting next to a colleague, George Kozlovic, a high school principal whom I have a ton of respect for and who seems to be well connected in the world of education, and he happened to share that he did not have email on his phone.  Wait a minute… the principal of one of the largest high schools in the province does not need to have emails on his phone? I pressed for more info and he said the same thing that the books said – he checked it only from his computer when his purpose was to check emails. Hmmm…. Koz got me thinking.

Last summer, I needed some pure family time so I did it… I took email off my phone (I can just hear how “proud” my dad would be of me for this “gigantic” step… haha #notsomuch … as he shakes his head about people on those stupid phones).  Yes, this is a no-brainer for many people like my dad but for me, this was a significant step. What if someone needed to contact me about the school? What if someone needed something? How many emails would I have when I checked in a few days???  It was the summer so I thought it would be an easier step to see if these were actually real questions to be worried about.

Freedom! Wow, the fact that I could not check my emails from work freed me up to just simply BE. I could BE a dad. I could BE a husband. I could BE me! I would forget where I left my phone more often as I didn’t check it. I was less interrupted and got into “flow” more often doing tasks I wanted to do (as research continues to show how ineffective multi-tasking is for getting anything done). After a couple weeks (yes, 2 weeks) of no emails, I checked my email expecting to learn something huge about school or work and to get that inbox drowning feeling again… but I had hardly any new emails and none of these were urgent. I did this for the rest of the summer checking emails every 1-2 weeks… but could I really do this during the school year?

I kept email off my phone and started the year. I knew that I could check webmail through a browser on my phone but the extra steps that are required somehow prevented me from checking email. Once I left work, I left my emails. On weekends, no email until Sunday night. When I was home… I was home. After 9 months of this, here is what I have learned:

  • By not checking emails so often, I write way fewer emails. Because I write way fewer emails, I get way fewer replies. The number of emails I get each day is about half of what I used to get.
  • Many emails that I once thought I needed to respond to… I now know do not always require a response. The string of “reply-all” emails can be scanned and deleted rather quickly (unless it this conversation is a priority).
  • Sometimes an email is sent to me and by the time I check in the morning, the issue has been resolved. By being so available, I was making myself more needed than was necessary. If it is something urgent, all staff and colleagues have my cell number but people do not want to interrupt family time.  I think people believe that email is less intrusive as it is up to the receiver to check their inbox… which I now know is true. Staff will now send an email knowing that I will likely not respond until the next day.
  • I am more focused during email time and I believe I write more effective emails. I found when I used to email on my phone, my emails were less professional and much quicker (especially my responses). Now, my emails are a bit longer but I feel have more clarity with a more professional tone.
  • I can accomplish way more in a day than before. It takes minutes to get back to what we are doing each time we get distracted so being pulled away by emails causes everything else to take longer.
  • I am winning the inbox war. My inbox rarely gets above 10-15 emails that require a response and I can often get this back down to zero in the morning before school.
  • In the evenings and on weekends, I am only at work when I choose to be at work. I still need to work many weeknights and some hours on the weekends but I am not drawn into a work mindset by an email that comes on my phone. I can also now be on my computer working at night and not check my emails which also increases work efficiency.

I realize there are people that are reading this and thinking, “Wejr, man, you had a problem when you were tied to your phone that much”… and they would be right.  I wasn’t alone, though. Even at work, in meetings, an email would be sent to our admin team and I would hear phone after phone buzz or beep and see people like me leave the moment to check our phones. That WAS me. I was so worried about missing out on something from outside that meeting… that I was missing out on the discussions taking place inside the meeting.

We live in a time where there is an expectation to always be connected. This is a trend and expectation that needs to stop. At our last admin meeting, our superintendent provided some wise words and encouraged us to avoid checking email between Friday evening and Sunday evening to help with wellness. Many educators have a concerning work:life (lack of) balance so strategies like this are important to implement. I encourage people to take an additional step to take the notifications off and, even better, get the emails off your phones.

Yup, I did have a problem with a bit of an addiction to checking emails and a problem with feeling like I was drowning in my inbox – but I think I have solved this one. By taking email off my phone, I am winning the inbox battle and living way more in the moment that is right in front of me.

 

4

When Kids Teach Kids Through Social Media

My nephew excited to learn.

My nephew excited to learn.

A number of educators in the Langley School District spent the day learning from Alan November today.  During the morning, a key takeaway for me was asking the question “who owns the learning?”(also a title of November’s book).

While at conferences, workshops, and sessions, I often share my learning through social media.  The best part of sharing my learning is when someone outside the session does or says something that takes my learning to a whole new level.  Today, my sister and nephews helped make that happen.

November showed this AWESOME video of a child attempting and reflecting on his Rube Goldberg Monster Trap machine.  This video showed a child embracing mistakes and attempts in learning, a growth mindset, and complete engagement and excitement for learning.  Take a moment to watch below:



After watching this video (and loving it), I did what I often do at professional learning sessions… I shared it.  I have the wonderful privilege of having my nephew (“MN”) at our school this year in one of our kindergarten classes so when I posted the above video on our school Facebook Page, my sister saw it and showed MN.  After watching the video over 10 times and getting so excited at the same times Audri did, my nephew had an idea… HE was going to build his own project!  Within a few minutes of watching the video of Audri, MN had gathered a few of his toys and attempted to build a quick, 5 year-old  version of a Rube Goldberg machine. Check it out below.



How awesome is that? A 5 year-old boy in Langley watched a video from another boy in another country and was inspired to participate in his own learning experience!  I love the body language and brief dialogue when his machine DOESN’T work.  MN continued to try to make this work and then grew frustrated and destroyed it (I often do the same thing when putting together furniture from IKEA).  When his mom asked, “what would Audri do?”, MN responded “Audri would keep trying… but I think I need a break so I will try more after lunch”.  His four year-old brother was also inspired and then added, “no, Mom, we don’t need a break… we just need a bigger ramp and a toaster!!!”.  They worked together to make it successful after they had a break (without the toaster but with a bigger ramp) :-).

As fantastic as this moment of shared learning was for me as an educator and an uncle… it left me with further reflections:

  • Would MN  have been inspired to do this if an adult simply told him to do it? Would he have been as inspired if he watched a video of an adult doing this?
  • Do we (adults) embrace sharing our learning and sharing our mistakes and risk-taking like Audri does?  If we do not, what do we model to our kids?
  • How can we encourage a growth mindset in which students and adults are determined to continue on with learning despite setbacks?
  • Are we showing our kids what success looks like? Is the criteria of success clear to our students?
  • Are we doing enough learning by DOING?
  • Are we encouraging enough self-assessment?  If we are the ones doing the assessment, who owns the learning?
  • Are we sharing our learning so others can benefit?  Are we sharing our kids’ learning (being respectful of consent, etc)?
  • Are we using social media to help with our learning? (like this child does when failing to start a fire with a bowdrill set)
  • Are we tapping into the power of kids teaching kids through social media?  (Show Caine’s Arcade and watch what kids immediately want to do)

I thoroughly enjoyed the day with Alan November.  Because of social media, someone outside of the session enhanced my learning by creating and capturing a moment that has made me further reflect on a deeper level.

Students NEED us.  They NEED teachers and parents to help support their learning… but we also have to reflect on the aforementioned questions and ask ourselves, “Who owns the learning?”.  When we give up some control and create the conditions for more opportunities for kids to learn with and from each other (with our support)… more student engagement and increased student learning can occur.

19

Not Everyone Is Able to Tweet and Post Who They Are

There is often much discussion around the separation of our professional and personal lives on social media.  Some districts strongly encourage this separation while others encourage the blending of both.  I have been a supporter of the latter as I believe that if we share who we are online we develop better relationships with others.  In December, I tweeted the following:

From an organization perspective, I wholeheartedly agree with my tweet.  I encourage people to share who they are and be transparent in their views on education.

However, my friend Royan Lee gave me some pushback on this idea when he tweeted,

What I did not realize when I tweeted that, was that my view on the subject was coming from a lens of privilege – the lens of a middle class, white, heterosexual male.  Where I fell short in my tweet was that I failed to empathize with those whose lives are considered less acceptable to some.

When Royan brought this side to my attention… I stopped and thought about deleting the tweet, but then realized this is all part of the learning.  It was not my intention to be ignorant but by wearing my invisible napsack of privilege… I felt I was.

I immediately thought about my friends who have struggled most of their lives with a target on them for being gay.  I thought of my gay friends who are now so happy with their girlfriends, boyfriends, husbands, wives, and kids.  I thought of how these important friends that have inspired me and taught me so much cannot always share who they are for fear of being attacked by those who judge and throw stones.

I have been attacked for my views on education and sometimes these became personal; however, I have never been attacked for who I am or who my family is. For those with a personal social media account where they share all of the joy in their lives and happen to be gay (expand to LGBTQ), it is a sad reality that, because of societal views and judgment from others, they feel they cannot share this personal joy in their professional streams.

I recently shared a video of who I am with the families and staff of my new school.  It was very well received and it immediately help foster some relationships with families.  In reflection, I cannot help but think about what it would be like if I did not have the “typical wife and two children” family.  What if my wife and kids were a husband and kids?  Would I still share this?  I feel we have a fairly liberal society in BC but there would likely still be some families that would shut me out or view me differently.  We all love to belong and love to be accepted and although I would hope that I would have the courage to be publicly proud of my family, I am not sure I would as that might be risking this feeling of acceptance.  It is reflection like this that help me to attempt to look through the lens to help me understand how difficult it must be for my gay friends and many others who want to share who they are but live in a society that still has some people that look to judge rather than seek t0 understand.

I was going to write another post about the importance of sharing who we are… and I still believe this is important;  however, it is much easier for people with a life that is more acceptable in society.

Although Royan’s tweet was not specifically about the LGBTQ community, it was a wake up call for me to change my lens and seek to understand the difficulties for students and adults to post and tweet who they really are.  To all my friends, as well as those in my network, for whom I failed to understand their lens…. I apologize.  Thank you so much to Royan and the many others who continue to teach me to empathize with others and attempt to view life through a new lens.

Looking through a better lens.   cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Kevin Dooley: http://flickr.com/photos/pagedooley/4196773347/

Looking through a better lens.
cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Kevin Dooley: http://flickr.com/photos/pagedooley/4196773347/

 

11

Looking Forward With Excitement; Looking Back With Pride

Walking on, looking back with pride.

Walking on, looking back with pride.

Pardon the delay of this post. It was originally written a week ago but the flu hit our family and it never got posted.

As I begin the next exciting journey of my career with the honour of being the principal of James Hill Elementary in the Langley School District, I have had many moments of excitement as well as many that have caused me to pause and reflect on my time at Kent.  Prior to the final week at Kent, I found myself looking back with a critical eye – looking for all the things I could have or should have done differently.  Maybe this was because I was handing my “stuff” over to the next principal, maybe it was because I was struggling with leaving a school and community I love, or maybe it was just me reflecting on how I need to continue to grow as an educator… but I think this caused a bit of a shadow over the many truly wonderful things I was privileged to be a part of at Kent.  After talking to a great friend and teacher at Kent, Stacey Garrioch, my sadness, nervousness, and minor regrets began to turn into happiness and pride.

I then made a list of the positive (major) moments, ideas, and changes that occurred during my time at Kent.  I have written about many of these in my blog before (linked below) but as I add closure to my journey at Kent, I wanted to describe the proud moments and changes that stick out to me and pay tribute to the efforts of the staff, students, and community of Kent Elementary and the Fraser-Cascade School District.  Please note that these changes were not my doing; these changes often arose from an individual or group on staff or in the community and I just helped to make the change a reality.

  1. Ending awards  This conversation began prior to my arrival at Kent but I was honoured to be part of the final decision to move away from student of the month and year-end awards. Rather than award a select few students for strengths in which we chose to be the most important, we decided to honour each child at one point during the year for the strengths and interests they brought to our school. Our year end ceremony moved from an awards ceremony, in which often only parents of award winners attended, to a grade 6 honouring ceremony in which our gym was packed as each child had family members there to support him/her.  Death of An Awards Ceremony and Rethinking Awards.
  2. Moving away from rewards and punishment  This is another conversation that was initiated prior to my arrival but I was proud to be part of its evolution.  We moved away from sticker charts and behaviour prizes to instead place emphasis on students doing the right thing… just because it is the right thing to do.  When negative behaviours arose we placed the focus on determining the lagging skills, putting supports in place to teach/coach the lagging skills, providing opportunities for restitution, and working to ensure their is a positive sense of belonging. In the past few months, the school has also created a team to implement self-regulation strategies into a few classrooms. My Issue With Rewards, Creating the Conditions: Student DisciplineThey Need Teaching – Not Punishment, and Movement Is Not A Reward.
  3. Focusing on student interests, strengths and passions  Too often we place all the emphasis on the deficits of our students and staff.  The previous principal of Kent, Roxanne Watson, helped to show me the powerful shift that occurs when we start with strengths.  One of the successful initiatives that we have had at Kent for the past 6 years is the Choices Program that provides the opportunity for teachers to teach in an area of their passion and for students to choose to learn in an area of interest or passion.  Kent has a tradition of strong athletics, music, Aboriginal culture with dedicated staff that support this each year. Honouring A Student’s Strength: The Story of Daniel and Giving Students Choices
  4. Putting a focus on outdoor play   It started with a group of teachers working together to create a beautiful garden in the back field.  Parents then built a sandbox.  We then built a hill!  All of these provide the students with so many more opportunities to be inquisitive and active in the outdoors. The Power of Outdoor Play: We Built A Hill.
  5. Making the school library (and the teacher-librarian) a priority  Kent School has shown me the impact a passionate teacher-librarian and well-designed library can have on literacy (not just skill but, more importantly, a love of stories and reading).  In addition to literacy as is traditionally defined, a teacher-librarian can be a leader in the areas of research, education technology, inquiry and professional learning.  The staff at Kent have also shown me that we do not need pizza parties, prizes, nor points to encourage kids to read. Creating the Conditions: A Love of Reading.
  6. Fostering a partnership with our First Nation Communities  Although Kent School has a effective relationships with a number of the First Nation communities, the working relationship with Seabird Island is one that should be a model for others to follow. The Seabird Education committee consists of band leaders who are passionate about creating positive change and working to ensure all children get the best education possible.  The admin and (passionate) FN Support Worker met with the education committee four times a year (in addition to other less formal meetings) in which we discussed evidence and actions that could help the students.   The education committee supported and challenged Kent School in ways that created change that benefited not only First Nation students, but also all the students.  This was REAL collaboration with REAL trust in which there was a dynamic tension that allowed for intellectual collisions to help move us forward.  We have a long way to go to ensure more success of our Aboriginal students in BC but Seabird Island and Fraser-Cascade have made significant gains in this area.  Seabird Education Committee: Learning Together
  7. Increasing parent communication with technology  A key belief of mine is that in order to best communicate with families, we need to meet them where they are.  At Kent, we moved beyond the paper newsletter to include more frequent information (that can initiate 2-way dialogue) sent out in our blogs, Facebook Page, Twitter feed, Remind101 (SMS), Flickr, YouTube, etc to create a variety of ways to share the wonderful things that happen at the school. Using Tech To Meet Parents Where They Are, Parent Communication: To vs WITH, and Your School Needs a Facebook Page
  8. Shifting the focus away from grades  This is not as significant of a jump at an elementary school as it is at a high school; however, a focus for our school has been to put less emphasis on the grade and much more emphasis on growth minsdset with descriptive feedback, success criteria, and clear learning intentions. This has helped to create better evidence of learning, decrease anxiety, and increase confidence. 6 Big Ideas of Assessment Practices
  9. Continuing to make inclusion a priority  This was nothing new for Kent School as we just continued down the path that was set in motion long before I arrived.  I was always proud to see all students fully included with support throughout the day; not only does this help the child with special needs but it also has a huge impact on all students as they learn communication skills, empathy, care, and (most importantly) friendship. Modeling and Teaching Our Kids to Reach Out and Include
  10. Creating time within the day for teachers to meet and tinker with ideas  We often say that collaboration is important and that we want innovative practices in schools yet we often fail to provide the structures to make these a priority.  In the past, I have tried some extra preps for innovation (“FedEx Preps”) but this year, we placed time in the schedule for innovation and collaboration. FedEx Prep: Time For Innovation, FedEx Prep: A Reflection, and Creating Time for Teachers To Tinker With Ideas
  11. Providing opportunities for student leaders  Student leadership is part of the culture at Kent School.  Whether it is through buddies, supervision, help with decisions, or running activities to improve the culture of the school, the students worked hard to lead. I recall someone asking what our “leadership program” was and, although I am sure there are some great programs out there, I responded with “we had dedicated teachers that model and encourage it… they create the conditions for students to lead.”  When we moved to a “Play First Lunch”, our staff, along with the grade 6 students, made sure that the younger students were supported in the transition.
  12. Increasing opportunities for students and staff to connect with others  Encouraging and supporting the use of technology and social media to connect and learn from others had a significant impact on our school.  Although we did provide release time for staff to visit other schools, the technology provided the opportunity for staff to connect with and learn from other passionate educators around the world.  I am proud of the many ideas that were ‘stolen’ from others to benefit students at Kent. 🙂 How Social Media is Changing Education
  13. Continuing to foster community partnerships  Being in a small town in which relationships are key, the school has a lengthy tradition of community partnerships.  Here are just a few examples:  twice a week before school, retired community members come in and read aloud to children (one-on-one) in the packed library;  students regularly work with the Fraser Valley Regional Librarian to help support stories and literacy; the choir regularly travels to community halls and care homes and performs for others; the grade 6s reach out to the care homes to play games, read, and do crafts with elders; the Kent athletes participate in tournaments and playdays with nearby First Nation communities of Seabird and Sts’ailes; students also attend celebrations such as Sto:lo New Year at Seabird each year; the high school leadership students are regular helpers at a variety of events we host; students and staff from the Agassiz Centre for Education buddy up with Kent students and also partner in a number of “Senior-Teen Luncheons” at the Legion Hall to promote generational relationships and understanding; then at Christmas, the school invites the community supporters in for a huge turkey dinner in our gym.  One of the most memorable (and heart-wrenching) moments was when our community embraced Lilee-Jean and her family as we welcomed this beautiful 2 year old in to spend her first and only day at school.  These community partnerships help the students learn far beyond the school walls. The Most Beautiful Morning Spent Dancing in the Rain
  14. Embedding Aboriginal ways and culture  Some key staff members have worked hard to make sure that Aboriginal education and knowledge of First Nation language and culture moves beyond being a “field trip”; culture, language, history, and story-telling all occur across the curriculum and throughout the day.  The idea of honouring a child for the gifts he/she brings to us is just part of what is done at Kent.
  15. Showing pride in who we are  We worked hard to honour children for who they are. We challenged and supported students to grow and excel and also remember the strengths and interests in their lives that help to create their identity.  One of the most memorable activities I have been a part of was Identity Day in which each child in the school did a project on themselves.  The conversations and learning that resulted from Identity Day spilled over into days and months following the event and helped to create better understanding and more confident learners in the school. I will always remember a luncheon/honouring ceremony when a cousin (a young adult) of one of the students nervously and emotionally spoke up; she said, “I went to Kent 8 years earlier… and struggled… and I am so proud to see my cousin go through Kent school and be PROUD of who she is”. Identity Day: Pride in Who We Are

I am so thankful for all the opportunities that were offered to me during my time at Kent School and the Fraser-Cascade School District.  Writing this post has shown me the awesome power of having a blog as I was able to look back and read about the learning moments that occurred during my journey.

As I finish the chapter that is my journey at Kent, I look back at powerful learning, close relationships and wonderful memories.  As I start my new chapter at James Hill, I look forward with excitement for the opportunity to create new learning, new relationships, and new memories. I have only been at James Hill a few times now and I am already learning so much from the staff. One of the greatest aspects of education is that, although we may have similar goals, things are done differently with a variety of perspectives in different communities and contexts.   Each school community has its own ‘ecosystem’ and these new perspectives and relationships inspire me and help me grow that much more.  I am thrilled to have the opportunity to be part of this community and write a completely new chapter of my life full of moments that will make me proud to be a principal and educator at James Hill.  Hopefully I can add a few small pieces to the already strong cultures and traditions at our school.

IMG_6187

My girls and I “looking forward” with excitement!

Thank you so much to the communities of Kent and James Hill along with the districts of Fraser-Cascade and Langley.

If you are interested, here is the video I created for the community of Kent School that was shown on the last day of school.

 

24

Missing the Moments By Trying to Capture the Moments

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo by Paul Coles: http://flickr.com/photos/mr_fujisawa/8169394062/

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo by Paul Coles: http://flickr.com/photos/mr_fujisawa/8169394062/

I noticed Apple’s advertisement for the latest iPhone, titled “Misunderstood”, being shared through social media with some positive comments.  It shows a boy that appears to be deeply distracted with his phone while the rest of his family travels, hugs, makes snow angels and snowmen, and celebrates the holidays. Then on Christmas, the story takes a turn (in Apple’s favour) as he shares that he was actually using his phone to document and create a movie for his family.  In the end, his mother is filled with the emotion of the gift.  You can see the ad below or click here.

I am not sure I am a fan of the commercial.  I have been that boy trying to capture everything with a phone.

I love capturing moments.  I love sharing moments.  I also know that I do this too much but have improved. My wife has caught me numerous times trying to take a photo or video and then asked me, “do you know how many times you actually miss the moment along with the great moment that followed… because you are looking into your screen?” #doh #busted

I remember a few years ago I had the goal of capturing our school sports day so that parents could be part of it from beyond our school field.  At the end of the day, I had a large number of videos and photos that were taken and shared… then I realized that I watched most of sports day through a screen.  I missed the giggles, the cheers, the teamwork, and the playful moments that occurred outside the small screen I spent most of my day looking through.  Did some parents appreciate it?  Absolutely. But I had lost sight of what sports day was all about and felt I missed being there.  I could have captured a few shots with the camera and posted the odd photo; instead I buried myself in the camera app (and share) to the point that I feel I missed a good chunk of that sports day.

I am not saying we put the devices away all day nor am I saying we never capture and share.  I just know from my experience, that I have sometimes gone too far and lost sight of the goal of just being there… in that moment.

The title of the ad, “Misunderstood”, is a powerful one in that I agree we do need to be less critical THAT devices are being used and more reflective in HOW and WHY the devices are being used.  The boy’s purpose of the phone’s use in the ad was clearly a positive one.  My purpose on that sports day was a positive one. For me, though, the real question is: does the capturing of the moment enhance or take away from the moment?

For the ad, it is a fictional story so there really is no context to discuss; however, it is a great opportunity for us to reflect in our own lives as adults and with our kids about when is the time to put put the device away and just… simply… enjoy… the moment.

I’m still struggling with figuring out this new journey of capture and share… not a lot of answers but a whole of questions.

@chriswejr

7

The Importance of Modeling Positive Use of Social Media

Used with permission from the Magnussen family.

Cyberbullying. Stalking. Pedophilia. Narcissism. Screen time. These are the headlines that grab the most attention around the topic of students using social media.  These articles and reports strike fear into parents and schools to the point that has resulted in the banning of social media.  By banning, we put our heads in the sand and cross our fingers that somehow, in some way, students will avoid using social media or somehow miraculously figure out how to use it in a positive manner.  When we do this, what actually ends up happening is we get students sneaking around using social media tools and teaching themselves what is and what is not appropriate.  Gordon Neufeld, author of Hold on to Your Kids,  speaks of the problems with this on a broader level as peers then attach to each other without adults (teacher, family) and teach themselves which behaviours are acceptable.  In order for adults to guide and be the teachers of any skill, we need to be aware and we need to be involved.

As adults, we need to be the teachers.  We need to be the models.  Much like with other skills and behaviours. We need to focus on the relationships we have with our students/children and model and teach digital citizenship.

At our school we have students up to the age of 12.  In a very informal survey I did last year, I found that almost 75% of our students in grade 5 and 6 were using some form of social media (predominantly Instagram and Facebook) and many of them were using it with very limited support from adults.  This is not a criticism of parents nor is it a criticism of schools and teachers; we are all taking this new journey together and as we grow with the tools, we start to see the issues that arise.  Because of this, I have taught mini-units of social media with our 5’s and 6’s with the focus on digital footprint and online communication (as well as what to do when a child experiences negative behaviour online).  We speak of BOTH the negatives (ex. the importance of knowing how to take a screenshot on any device as well as the impact of this) and the positives (ex. the positive impact a child can have on others through supporting and sharing online).  My goal with these sessions is not to tell students to connect online but rather to teach the impact of posting online as well as the skills of how to communicate and interact online. In addition to these sessions, as more students and classes begin blogging and connecting for educational purposes, it also provides us with key opportunities to teach digital citizenship.

One thing that I have been thinking about lately is the idea that my friend, George Couros, recently mentioned to me: Digital Leadership.  Much like leadership offline, students and adults can LEAD others in how they interact and treat each other online.  When we put our heads in the sand and ban social media, we miss a huge opportunity to showcase and tap intp digital leadership and model a positive online presence.

In a recent session I did with the BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils on schools using social media to enhance parent engagement, a question was asked about the fear around using Facebook in schools (click here to access the archive of the session).  My response was that although I understand the fears involved with posting online, I believe that it is our job as adults in 2013 to MODEL appropriate and positive use of social media.  For example, like other schools in BC, we have fairly strict protection of privacy laws (FIPPA) so we need to have specific consent of parents in order to share photos (especially when stored online outside of Canada).  This consent is often beyond that of a 12 year old’s understanding… so in addition to the consent that is required by an adult, I ask the students before a post a photo of them.  I want them to learn that it is not appropriate to post any photos of friends or peers without them knowing.  Another area that I also am trying to model with students is how and when to put the devices away and self-regulate in a world in which there is always someone online that wants to engage.  Students know I use social media and they also see me using technology in a very purposeful manner (see Why I Took Facebook and Twitter Off My Phone).  By sharing the ways we use social media and including students in this discussion, we schools can be digital leaders and open the doors to some deeper learning experience on how to better navigate this new(ish) world of social media together.

Not only is it important for schools to model digital leadership and citizenship. it is aslo important to share the stories of other digital leaders (particularly youth) who are using social media to make a positive difference to others.  Many of you know the relationship that I had with the family of  a young girl, Lilee-Jean Putt, whom we lost recently to cancer at the age of two. Because of my online connection to LJ’s mother and father, I came across the Facebook page of a 17 year old girl, Angel Magnussen, who has made it her life purpose to help sick children in a variety of ways. Angel is not your typical 17 year old.  She is a 17 year old who is #proudtohaveDownsSyndrome (from her Twitter bio) and a passionate girl who has started her own non-profit business “Hugginz By Angel”.  This business raises money for BC Children’s Hospital in a variety of ways but most importantly, by selling (well, mostly raising money and donating) beautiful blankets Angel makes to wrap around as many sick children in need an “Angel Hug”.  From her Facebook page:

I have just started up my own Non Profit Fundraising Business “Hugginz By Angel”. I make and sell specially designed cute cuddly hospital pajamas for kids and teens and blankets young children and babies. I knit Love Hats for sick kids too. I want to make sure that every sick child is wrapped up in a warm hug. Sales of Hugginz benefit Variety the children’s charity. Please check out my Hugginz By Angel photo album to see the photos and get the ordering and sponsorship information. You can help me to reach my fundraising goals for these charities by sharing my website www.hugginzbyangel.com and spreading the word about my latest fundraising efforts.

Not only is this impressive, but it is also inspiring to see how she is using her blog, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to share the stories of so many others that are fighting battles and need our support.  Because of all the work she is doing, the mainstream media has started to take notice and, in addition to the numerous honours she has received, she has been recently featured at WeDay as well as on CTV.  Although I have never met Angel (but hope to one day), please take a moment to like her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter – you will read stories of empathy and unbelievable care that is having an impact on so many families needing support.

Negative issues like cyberbullying are important to discuss with our students and children; however, because of these issues it makes it that much more important for adults to model and be digital leaders for our youth.  Angel did not learn to use social media in a positive way one evening; she has the support of her mother to help tap into the power of social media and enhance her message and purpose.  As schools, we no longer can stick our heads in the sand and hope this goes away.  We need to be digital leaders and find ways to become part of the conversation, share powerful stories like Angel, and model the positive use of social media to our students.

 

18

Why I Took Facebook and Twitter Off My Phone

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo by Quinn Dombrowski: http://flickr.com/photos/quinnanya/8107606569/

image cc licensed (BY SA) flickr photo by Quinn Dombrowski: http://flickr.com/photos/quinnanya/8107606569/

I am proud to call myself a connected educator; however, I am not proud to say that being connected distracted me from my students… and my kids.

When I first joined Twitter in 2008, I was skeptical and was trying to use it to try to figure it out to help my wife use it for her business.  Later that year, I found the power of creating a personal learning network and for the the next few years, I could not get enough of talking all things education on Twitter and through blogs.  As a new principal, the people I connected with through Twitter we instrumental in helping me to grow and survive the first few years; however, I had trouble turning off and the phrase “power down, Wejr!” became quite common in our house.

From http://xkcd.com/386/

From http://xkcd.com/386/

I loved being so connected as there was always someone to talk and debate issues in education.  Real friendships grew out of my interactions on Twitter and I would never ever question the value of social media in education and professional learning.

This past year, my word has been “FOCUS” as this is an area I have always struggled with.  I currently have half of our large hedge trimmed, 2/3 of our patio rails painted, and only the back lawn mowed.  My wife jokingly says I must have A.D.D. but I actually do have a significant struggle with focusing on one thing at a time.   I am not good at being still; if there is a spare moment, I need to be doing something.

What I noticed this past year is that the “something” that I often needed to do when there was a spare moment was to check my social media apps on my phone. If the kids had to go to the bathroom, I would check my phone.  If I went to do laundry and was not with the girls for a moment… I would check my phone.  If I was walking down the hall… if I was waiting in line…I would check my phone.

I knew something had to change so I took all notifications off my phone aside from text messages.  I STILL went and checked my phone… but instead of checking the notifications, I would actually open the Twitter or Facebook app just to check for replies or messages.  As sad as this may sound for a “thirtysomething” to be doing this, you can imagine how hard it is for our students and teens when social interaction and connections are that much more important.  To be clear, I would not check my phone when I was with the kids – I had the self-control to avoid that.  The problem was that I would check when I had that spare moment and although I would put the phone away as soon as I was with the kids (or students), I often became distracted.  I was distracted by a message or reply that got me thinking… and when the wheels started turning about a tweet or a message, I found myself absent from the next few moments with my students or family.

As we hit the summer, I wanted it all to be about my family.  I decided to take the Facebook and Twitter apps off my phone and disabled email.  You would not believe the impact this had on me.  For the first few days of the summer, whenever there was a bathroom break for the girls (during the “Daddy.. PRIVACY” phase), I would think to go to my phone.  That was a huge slap in the face to me about how often I would reach to check.  I learned to be still.  I learned to enjoy those quiet moments.  For me to check my social media and/or email, I would need to open my laptop and at a time when my focus would be connecting online.  This meant that when we were at the park, or on a walk, or away for a week camping… I could not check my social media.  I realized that by connecting less, I was connecting more.  I was not distracted and my focus was 100% on the people that were right in front of me.The reason that I want to share the story of my highs and lows of connectedness is that I think we need to find a balance that works for us, our students, our jobs, and our families.  We are in a time where being connected is becoming less optional and I worry that with so many opportunities to connect, we lose the deeper connections with those directly in front of us.  I am not saying that social media is a negative or a bad thing nor am I saying we need to avoid social media; my connections online have led to deep relationships with people that have had a huge impact on my life.  I am also not saying that everyone needs to do what I did as most people likely have more self-control than me.  What I am saying is that we need to make social media work for us.  We do not need to be available at all times to all people.  We need to be available to the people that are with us in that moment. We need to model effective, respectful, and appropriate use of our devices to our kids.  We need to step back and reflect on our purpose.

Brene Brown wrote,

Connection is why we are here. We are hardwired to connect with others.

I truly believe in the power of connection.  With access to so many people who are willing and able to connect throughout the day, it makes it that much more important to be reflective and purposeful in how and when we use social media and technology in our lives.

Thank you to the student in Jonathan Vervaet’s education class at Simon Fraser University that asked me the question, “Can we be too connected?” as my response led to this post.  Thank you, too, to my wife for her constant nudging to “power down”.

Be sure to read my friend Dwight Carter’s post Disconnect to Reconnect as this had a large impact on me last summer.

Note: I realize that I can still access the web version of social media sites on my phone but for some reason, I was able to prevent myself from doing this.  As I am now at work and have learned more self-control, I have added email back to my phone.

18

Share Who You Are, Let People In

A family sharing a little bit of who they are… with me.

Sharing who we are and letting people in are so important to building trusting relationships with students, staff, family, and the community.

Yesterday, I was in my office gathering some things together after the bell had gone, when a kindergarten student, “K”, peered into my office and in the smallest,sweetest voice said, “Mr. Wejr, would you like to come and meet my dog?”  My first thought was that this was a child excited about her new dog and wanted to share it with people so I immediately (and excitedly, as I love dogs) said, “Sure!”

When I walked to the front of the school, not only was there a dog there waiting to meet me… but a BULLMASTIFF waiting to meet me!  Two years ago, we lost our beloved Ozzy to cancer.  This was such a challenging time for my wife and I as Ozzy was our life for so many years.  We still miss him every day and whenever I see a bullmastiff, my stomach fills with excitement and my mind fills with great memories of our big bear.

I said to K’s mom, “Oh my… a bullmastiff! My favourite breed in the world! Did you know this?”  She then let me know that she had walked with her dog to school to pick up K and there was a group of parents at the other end of the school.  When they saw the bullmastiff, they told her that she had to take her to meet Mr. Wejr!

When Ozzy was diagnosed with cancer, I was very emotional but I actually mentioned it at an assembly and shared much of his final months/days with people through social media.  As hard as it was, I let people in.  Staff reached out to me.  Students continually asked how Ozzy was doing and always were there for hugs.  When we lost Ozzy, inspired by words from my buddy George, I wrote a blog about losing our “little” guy and celebrating the life of Ozzy.  Staff and families of Kent School, along with many people online whom I have never met, read the post and reached out to me with empathy and care.

I think too often we feel that we should hide our personal stuff from work.  We hear (especially on social media), “keep the personal and professional separate”.   I know that we need not share ALL our personal stuff but what if I had not shared any of the love and struggles we shared with Oz?  What if I kept stories of who I am as a person outside of school completely private?  Would I still get moments like the one that happened yesterday?

I strongly believe that, as educators, we need to share who we are.  Put ourselves out there.  Let people in.  Be more vulnerable.

I don’t meant that we need to do this solely through social media and I don’t mean we need to just share our tough times.  We need to be comfortable with sharing more of our personal side – the moments of joy, sadness, success and challenge.  As a principal, there is nothing I love more that hanging out, playing and chatting with the students every recess and lunch. I get to share a little bit of who I am and I get to see a little more about who they are.  My students check out photos of my family on Instagram and constantly ask how they are doing.  I also really enjoy the informal dialogue with parents and staff at the end of the day.  I love it when a parent or staff member comes to tell me something about an event or topic which they know I can relate (ex. dogs, toddlers, books, sports).  When we do this, we humanize us.  We move from Mr. Wejr: the principal – to Mr. Wejr (or Chris): the person, the teacher, the husband and father, the sports fan… and the guy who would love to meet my dog.

When staff, students, and families see us for who we truly are, the relationships change… the conversations change… and the moments change.  

Thank you to K and her mom for taking some precious moments out of their time together to share a little bit of them in a moment with me… and their dog.