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.

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Living the Legacy of Lilee-Jean

Sharing a moment with Lilee-Jean as her principal after her first day of kindergarten. (photo by Andrew Putt)

Sharing a moment with Lilee-Jean as her principal after her first day of kindergarten. (photo by Andrew Putt)

As I sat at a stoplight, my phone flashed that I had received a message and with a quick glance, I saw it was from Lilee-Jean’s father, Andrew.  I had constantly checked Facebook for updates on LJ in the past week hoping for some miracle… but as I sat parked on the side of the road, I read “She’s gone, man…”.   I sat there hunched over in my car sobbing.  It was a moment so many of knew was coming yet nobody knew how to prepare for.  All I could do was sit there and picture Andrew and Chelsey holding their beautiful baby girl… a girl only 2 years and 9 months old that had captured the hearts of thousands.  From the Love For Lilee Facebook Page:

It is with broken hearts we make this post.. As of 5:25pm, our princess Lilee-Jean Frances Putt, our angel here on earth, is now looking down on us from heaven. She had a rough day today, and is no longer in any distress. She passed away curled up in Mommy’s arms, listening to daddy play his guitar. – Chels & Andrew.

It has almost been a week since the world lost a beautiful princess. My wife and I have had many hugs and held our daughters so tightly that they asked us to stop.  I have written about my relationship with LJ and her family before when they visited at our school following surgery because students at our school had fundraised for her.  I also had the honour of being Lilee-Jean’s only principal when she attended her first day of kindergarten at our school as Chelsey and Andrew decided to embrace LJ’s last few months and Dance in the Rain.

I started to reflect when someone asked me, “How do you know the family?”  I wasn’t sure how to sum up how I knew Lilee-Jean and her family but I just said, “I know them because of this incredibly beautiful and heartbreaking journey.”  I met LJ because of the fight; however this family captured my heart because of the way they embraced life… the way they took whatever was dealt their way – and danced.

Last night, I saw a picture of Mary (LJ’s grandmother) holding Lilee-Jean shortly after she was born.  It came to me that at that moment, a few days after LJ was born, we were also holding our girls for the first time.  At that moment, nobody knew what the next 2 years and 9 months would bring.  This is the thing that scares me so much… there is no warning for this and it could happen to any of us.

When I lost a good buddy and teammate of mine last year, I was really struggling so I called my friend Mike to ask about how he lives on after the passing of his mother at a very early age.  He said, ” it is a life-long struggle… but although she is gone, I know that she lives on through me and through my kids in how we teach and how we act – we live her legacy”.

The story of Lilee-Jean and her family has been followed by thousands and thousands of people in the Fraser Valley and Worldwide through social media, radio, TV, and print.  The family has somehow found the strength to recently reach out and thank individuals for little things we did along the way.  As I was reflecting on the image of Mary with Lilee-Jean, I thought about what WE, those who have been touched by this family, can do to carry on Love For Lilee… I reflected on how we can continue to better our lives, carry this beautiful angel with us… and live the legacy of Lilee-Jean.

I want the family to know the impact they have had on me.  I want them to know how they have made me a better person.  I want them to know that I am a better parent and educator and how the message of Love For Lilee will be carried on in homes and schools for years to come.

The Legacy of Lilee-Jean in my life:

  • Be vulnerable and share who we are. Chelsey and Andrew let so many of us into their lives. As difficult as this must have been at times, they shared their love for Lilee which led to so many others #LoveForLilee.
  • Connect.  Brene Brown wrote, ““Connection is why we are here. We are hardwired to connect with others”.  We often get busy in our lives and isolate ourselves in our work and in our homes.  It is important to connect with others – especially within our own communities and neighbourhoods.
  • Cherish the moments.  I will always remember the photos and stories of Andrew making lunches and having tea parties… of Chelsey snuggling with LJ in her bed… of walks on the beach with family in Harrison… of the moments that were taken to feel and listen to life – the sound of a child’s breathing and the feeling of her beating heart.  When they cherished these moments… it made me do the same.
  • Show empathy.  Love for Lilee shows how empathetic many of us can be… and this models and teachers this virtue to our kids.
  • Snow for Christmas in August. (photo via Chilliwack Times)

    Snow for Christmas in August. (photo via Chilliwack Times)

    Serve others. We often get wrapped up in trying to become happy by serving ourselves when true happiness comes from serving others.  Love For Lilee brought so many examples of people reaching out as a community – the story of how the Chilliwack Chiefs Junior Hockey team delivered snow for LJ’s Christmas morning in August still brings tears to my eyes.  Donate to a great cause.  Volunteer to help others.

  • Come together more often as a community.  We often hear about the good ole days of community and how we do not have this anymore.  Lilee-Jean brought out the best in the communities of Agassiz-Harrison, Chilliwack and Abbotsford to prove that there is still so much strength in community.  Seeing pictures of an entire neighbourhood decorate and get dressed up for Hallowe’en in July so LJ could go trick or treating one last time…
    #loveforlilee Hallowe'en

    #loveforlilee Hallowe’en

    hearing about and supporting so many pageants, parties and fundraisers so the family could be with Lilee every day…. seeing the picture of Chelsey’s road lined with pink balloons as she arrived home a few days ago.  Just a few of the endless stories of how this beautiful little girl brought out the best in her community.

  • Embrace the day.  It was so inspiring to see a family embrace every minute of every day… we can all learn from this.  There will never be another day like today – what shall we do today?  Hold on to your kids.
  • DANCE IN THE RAIN. “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass… it is about learning to dance in the rain.”  This saying is now up on my wall and will guide me in so much of what I do.

Thank you so much to the Whittle and Putt families for inviting my family into theirs.  I will always have a part of LJ in my heart and I promise continue to live the legacy that is Lilee-Jean Frances Putt.

A family that changed me forever.

A family that changed me forever.

To learn more about Lilee-Jean and how to continue to support the family, please go to the Love For Lilee website or Facebook Page.

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Modeling and Teaching Our Kids to Reach Out and INCLUDE

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo by Erickson Ocampo: http://flickr.com/photos/coolbite1/3596619861/

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo by Erickson Ocampo: http://flickr.com/photos/coolbite1/3596619861/

Every year, as a principal, I hear the heart-breaking stories from parents and kids about not having friends, not being invited to play after school and never being invited to a birthday party.  Although we are only a few students and children in communities, these stories are far too common and are not only devastating to the children but also the families.

As I grow with my kids, one of my goals is to always reach out and invite a child who, for whatever reason, needs a friend.  I have seen parents do this in our school as they taught and modeled to our children the importance of including others in their circles.

When I was in elementary school, I remember new students moving to our town and struggling to make friends.  On a couple of occasions (probably more), my parents asked me to choose a child that was new or struggled to have friends and invite them to come to a Canucks game with my dad and I (back when the Canucks games were mostly losses but very affordable). These events grew into friendships and modeled to me the empathy and care that is needed to truly understand and appreciate the value of friendships and inclusion of others.

As we move into another school year, my challenge to parents (including me) is for us to reach out and include students beyond our children’s typical friendship circles.  If it is a new student in the class, set up an after school activity for a day.  For birthdays, start by reaching out to one child that needs a friend… and if our children disagree, this gives us the perfect opportunity to embrace a teachable moment about empathy and care.  If it is a student that struggles with some behaviours or disabilities that require support, invite the child to come over with the parent so you can truly understand the challenges that both the child and the family face.  Raising a child with a disability and/or a child that requires significant behaviour support can also be very difficult for the parents. They, too, can be left feeling alone and negatively judged as “bad parents” when it is often a condition that is not about parenting and more about extra support, empathy, and understanding.

A series of these small efforts can have a life-changing impact on children, families and society as a whole.  I invite you to join me, and many families whom I learn from, in reaching out and teaching our children to include others.

@chriswejr

 

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What Message Are We Sending In Our First Contact With Parents?

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by Peter Gerdes: http://flickr.com/photos/petergerdes/2905280530/

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by Peter Gerdes: http://flickr.com/photos/petergerdes/2905280530/

As we start a new school year, one of the key aspects to consider is our relationships with the parents and families of our students.

In the past year, not only have I had reflective conversations with parents and educators about moving to a focus on communication WITH parents (rather than communication TO parents), but I have also discussed preschool and kindergarten beginnings with close friends as well as people in my family.  I have heard personal stories of parents being told by the school that their child is “not ready for school” or is “a constant problem”.  I have also heard of wonderful school:family relationships being built from the first moment they meet – teachers that have made that effort to focus on the positives, empathize, and truly listen to families as they share stories about their child.  The experiences of those that have been there and those that are nervous about getting there all say the same thing: the first contact that is made from teachers and the school to the families is crucial to developing a positive relationship.

These conversations lead me to reflect on the question, “What message are we sending in our first contact with parents?”

Are we:

  • sending a list of forms to be signed and rules to be followed?
  • calling to tell them about a negative incident with their child?
  • meeting them to do a formal assessment on their child (ie. kindergarten or preschool assessment)?
  • meeting to discuss the deficits their child has?
  • telling families how to parent?

OR

Are we:

  • sharing who we are and opening up a conversation about us and their child?
  • calling to share something positive or just talk about the child?
  • meeting them to just get to know the child and the family?
  • calling to share some noticed strengths and interests of the child?
  • developing a relationship in which there is open communication between the school and the family?
  • determining the best way to meet parents where they are for communication?
  • listening to families about their thoughts and feedback?
  • working to build trust?

I realize that in elementary school classrooms, in which students often have only one teacher, it is much easier to develop relationships with families.  This does not mean, however, that because I am a principal or a high school teacher and have more students that I do not try to develop positive relationships with our families at the start of the year. Each contact we make with our families is an opportunity to foster an important relationship.

For me, I will continue to learn from families and staff at Kent on how important this first contact is in forming relationships.  I will work hard to be visible and present with students and families and initiate positive dialogue around our students.  Many of our families come to school nervously “giving their baby” to us… and sometimes, for a variety of reasons, there is a lack of trust. We must work hard to build this trust through listening and engaging in positive, open conversations with our families.

I recall a parent whom I had a very positive relationship with say to me, “I remember the first time you walked up to me… I got nervous and thought – what did my kid do?”  She went on to state that when she went to school, it was NEVER a good thing when the principal called or approached.  Other parents chimed in saying how nervous they get when they see the school’s number on the call display.  This feedback from parents shows how we have to work to overcome the perception that a contact with the school is a result of a problem; we must have a balanced authentic communication of celebrations, sharing of information, and concerns.  This balanced communication all starts with the effort to create a positive first contact with parents.

As my friend Heidi Hass Gable reminds us, “although educators have often taught and worked with parents, students, and curricula for a number of years… we have to remember, that parents are new each year.  This year is often the first time they will have gone through this grade or subject.”  She encourages educators to be patient, empathetic and understanding to parents (she understands this can be challenging and also encourages parents to do the same for school staff).  So if we approach parents as new to us this year, what will be their first impression of our class/school? How will they feel after our first contact?

Although ongoing communication WITH parents/families helps the school, the students, and the families… it is also important that at this time of year, we work hard to lay the foundation and make that first communication with families a positive one. It is also a great opportunity to share our story of who we are as teachers and to find out who our students are as children. Let’s share our stories and listen to the stories of our families.  Let’s work together as parents and educators to make that first meeting or phone call a positive, effective one.

As this is an area that many of us continue to work on, if you have ideas to share, I would love to learn from you – please take a moment comment and share.

Related Posts:

Power of Positivity: The Friday 5 Positive Phone Calls

Building Trust With Parents

Parent Communication: TO vs WITH

Thank you to my wonderful sister, my friends, and staff for sharing their experiences with me and helping me grow as an educator and parent.

 

 

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Taking a Moment to Stop and Play in the Puddles

20130803-233848.jpg

Always important to take a break and play in the puddles.

As parents and educators, we often grow frustrated by children’s lack of focus and how easily they become distracted. Sometimes, though, they can teach us to focus less on the end point and notice the wonders of the journey along the way.

The other day my wife and I went for a run so we packed the kids up in the stroller and drove to one of our beautiful nearby parks. Being parents of twins, sleep and mealtime routines keep our girls happier and my wife and I more sane. We promised the girls after our run, they would have some bike riding time so they could have fun and burn off some energy. Because of some “potty struggles” with one of my daughters, their bike ride time decreased so when they both finally got on their bikes, I was strongly encouraging them to ride around. No less than five minutes into bike ride time, they both hopped off their bikes and ran to investigate some small puddles (photo above). My first response was, “C’mon girls, we only have a few minutes… Keep biking”. Of course, being 2 year-olds, they chose not to listen and began to jump and play in the puddles… Enjoying the moment. At that point, following some toddler giggles that can make anyone smile, they again taught me something – stop, and enjoy the moments; be wide-awake to all that nature and childhood can share. For me, it was about burning energy… To my girls, it was about the first puddle they had seen in over a month… It was about the joy in jumping In water… It was about the sensation of picking up mud in your hands and letting it slide through your fingers.. It was about play and wonder.

We often get caught up in getting to the next event or achieving the next goal in our lives and filling our statements with phrases like “hurry up” or “come on, let’s go”. We sometimes grow agitated when our students and children continually get distracted by sights and sounds (often new to them) outside of what we are trying to accomplish. Sometimes, however, we need to realize that the journey is not solely about us and we need take our kids’ lead by taking moments to enjoy the wonders and curiosities in our journeys… and stop and play in the puddles.

For me it was a good reminder that although routines are important to our family, they are nothing compared to the small moments we will always remember. Sometimes it takes a couple of 2 year-olds to teach me to embrace the journey… Wherever that leads.

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The Power of Outdoor Play: We Built a Hill

Students celebrating on our hill.

Students celebrating on our hill.

“We have such a brief opportunity to pass on to our children our love for this Earth, and to tell our stories.These are the moments when the world is made whole.”

Richard Louv

In the past year, we built a large hill on our back field for our students. To some, the idea was silly… but to most, including our students, the Kent Hill has been something that has helped encourage play and learning in more ways than we ever imagined.

It is no secret that staff and parents at Kent Elementary have strong views on the power of outdoor play and exploration. For a number of years, there have been different ideas and activities like a community garden, outdoor education at the local research station, nature walks, the building of a large outdoor sandbox, and class hikes to the rivers and lakes. In 2007, some teachers at Kent applied and received grants and worked with local university programs and engineering companies to design and build our beautiful garden.

Kent Elementary Garden

Kent Elementary Garden

Within the garden are paths, large rocks, and stumps for kids to play on. In addition, the teachers (particularly Ms. Trish Fushtey) went to great lengths to work with local artists to have each child design and build their own concrete and tile stepping stone for the paths. What we began to notice was that more children were playing in the garden creating their own games than were playing on the playground equipment. We also took note that students loved to play on a little hill that was covered by plants.

One staff meeting a few years ago, I showed the video “Born To Learn” with the intention of simply creating dialogue around education reform. This video led to a passionate conversation around outdoor play and a “long shot” idea of developing a large hill in the field was even thrown out there.

As the garden needs regular maintenance, we held a work bee last year and some dedicated parents came and helped a few teachers and students weed and prune. During this activity, a comment was made by Kathie Cardinal (a teacher very passionate about outdoor education), that we once threw around the idea of building a hill out here… and because of the excitement and dedication of our parent group, they responded with – WHY NOT?

This got the ball rolling on the design and creation of our own Kent Hill. Collin Johnson, a parent and local engineer, worked to research and design the hill with safe and child-oriented slopes. Wendy Clark, Teresa Stoeckly, and Amber Kafi (parents) also worked with Collin to hold meetings and tap into local resources to help create this hill at little to no cost. We took the minutes and designs, along with our WHY, to the Board and asked for permission to build. Although there were some questions, in May 2012, the idea for the Kent Hill was approved and last summer the hill was built and seeded. When the students returned to school in September, the Hill was built but fenced off as we needed the seed to grow. We told them that when the snow arrived in the winter, the PAC had purchased 50 Crazy Carpets that could be used for the hill… the excitement grew along with the grass.

Open for sledding!

Open for sledding!

Unfortunately, our winter was a warmer, wetter one but we did get one sprinkle of snowfall… just enough to move the fences and free the sledders! Normally we would have to wait until the ploughs came to clear our parking lot to create our snow hill; this time it was all ready to go with only a few centimeters (half-inch) of snow.

Following the muddy winter, we finally opened the hill. Of course the students were thrilled to be able to run and roll up and down the hill – the challenge became getting them back into the school shortly after the bell :-).

It is difficult to express in words how the hill has enhanced life at Kent. When I presented our highlights (including the story of the hill – see presentation slides below) to the Board, I shared some expected outcomes of the hill: increased outdoor play, excitement, wonder, health, fitness, and excitement. I also shared the outcomes that we didn’t foresee: regular learning on the hill, infusing the hill into physical education classes and sports day, buddy play (as both primary and intermediate students have access), using for sensory needs (ex. spinning, rolling, climbing), and student developed self-regulation strategies.

The benefits were numerous. Teachers at Kent worked with students to create brand new minor games that used the hill as a key component of their PE environment. Many students stated their favourite event in sports day involved the hill. The last two in the above list really showed how much students can teach us. When a student is a bit antsy in class, we often encourage them to go for a walk or run in the field. I was working with some students that were having a rough day (behaviour-wise) and they mentioned they were having a high energy day. I asked them if they would like to go for a run with me around the school and their response surprised me… they said, “actually, can we climb up and down the hill a few times?”. After we did this, I asked them what they liked about the hill to get some energy out and they responded, “we like digging our hands in and helping us to climb – feels like we are bears”. In the child’s mind, the students were being bears; in my mind, these students had shown me that the hill can be used as a way to help students self-regulate by using not just their legs but also their arms and creative minds. Not only did a “simple” hill create the conditions for more play and joy outdoors, it also helped our teachers enhance play in class and helped our students with some of the sensory diets and self-regulation needs.

Kent Hill: So many benefits.

Kent Hill: So many benefits.

In a fast-moving, light-flickering, and sound-blasting world, I think it is that much more important to help our students learn to ground themselves with nature. What this development did was show us how much students love playing in the outdoors and that a simple, low-cost hill can be a great first step to creating more of a highly beneficial natural play area in schools.

Please take 2 minutes and watch the video below that was shown for the Board about our Hill.

Special thank you to current and former staff for modeling and encouraging the value of outdoor play and wonder.

This would not have been possible without the relationships with our dedicated parent community. Thank you to the following people for making Kent Hill a reality:

  • Collin Johnson, Wendy Clark, Teresa Stoeckly, Amber Kafi of our PAC
  • Abby Contracting
  • Kafi Landscaping
  • Kafi Bobcat
  • Burden Propane
  • District of Kent
  • Dogwood Manor
  • Kel-Mor Enterprises
  • Strohmaier’s Excavating
  • Timberwood Excavating
  • Wedler Engineering
  • Bott Development
  • Timbro Contracting
  • School District 78

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The Most Beautiful Morning Spent Dancing in the Rain

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo by Heather: http://flickr.com/photos/michar/2530447234/

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo by Heather: http://flickr.com/photos/michar/2530447234/

We are faced with challenges every day.  We also faced with a choice of how we respond to these challenges.  Today I had a slap in the face reminder of how, even when faced with the worst hand a parent could ever be dealt, there are people that choose to seek the positives… there are people that choose to Dance in the Rain.

Lilee-Jean was born 5 days before my girls in late 2010.  She started her life just like every other child… but 10 months later, something horrible started to grow inside her little developing brain – a tumour called Gliobastoma (GBM).  For the next year and a half, Lilee and her family did every treatment they could to beat this awful disease.  Although the chances of winning were very low, they kept fighting… After months and months of treatments and battles, they started to feel like they had a chance of beating this tumour.

Just when the sun started to shine a tiny bit on this family, the dark thunder clouds came rolling back in and another tumour was discovered… their worst nightmare came true: time officially became the enemy.  Chelsey, LJ’s mother, shared this quote in a recent blog post:

“Today we fight. Tomorrow we fight. The day after, we fight. And if this disease plans on whipping us, it better bring a lunch, ’cause it’s gonna have a long day doing it.”
― Jim Beaver, Life’s That Way: A Memoir

They still fight every day. As devastating as this has been to this family, they somehow have had the power to change their lens… to understand that if there is a chance of shortened time, they need to embrace every single moment they have with their precious daughter.  Chelsey wrote,

Once again, as always, with urgency, we are living. We are laughing. We are dancing. And we are singing…

…Andrew [LJ's father] and I have compiled a realistic, relatively short and doable list, not only to fill Lilee-Jean’s life to the brim with love, laughter and magic, but to keep ourselves focused on our now and not our later.
We have chosen to call it “Dancing In The Rain” in stead of a “bucket” list for obvious reasons, and if time allows, we will hopefully be adding to it as we cross things off.

There is no better way to fight disease and to fight death, than to live. So when we finish our last few stomach churning, heart wrenching “to do’s” they will be put aside, and left to gather dust until the time comes for them to rear their ugly heads… IF that time does come.

One of the items on the list was “go to school”.  Because of Andrew’s ties to our community (he attended our school years ago and is very well know in Agassiz), LJ’s story has grabbed and wrenched the hearts of many of us in Agassiz and at Kent School (I wrote about this here after she came to visit us following surgery).  Both our kindergarten teacher (Stacey Garrioch @garrioch) and I reached out to the family to offer LJ a chance to spend her first day at school with us.  Andrew and Chelsey agreed that this would be a great fit so this morning, we welcomed our newest student to Kent School.

Photo from Chelsey Whittle

Photo from Chelsey Whittle

Stacey set the day up as a typical day filled with tons of play-based learning for Lilee-Jean and her classmates.  As with every new member of the class, the students were so excited to meet and play with LJ – who showed up with a big smile and her “lucky bear” and new Tinkerbell lunch box.  She hung her coat up on the hook with her name on it, met her buddy and sat down and joined the class.  She was, of course, one of the VIPs so this meant she led some songs, shared calendar time, and told us all about the weather. She was a real Kent student in Division 10.  I think the best part of the day was when I walked in to check in to see how things were going and I couldn’t see Lilee-Jean; she completely blended in and was just ‘one of the kids’ playing in the house centre.  She was busy feeding her baby with two other students like any typical kindergarten student would be doing.  The other times I popped in to take in the moments, she was either pointing out the L in a puzzle and saying this stood for Lilee-Jean, eating her snacks with her classmates at the table, writing on the white boards, or dancing the Gummy Bear Dance with her friends.  I did not want this day to end but I knew she was a typical two year-old and needed her afternoon nap.

Photo from Jessica at the Agassiz-Harrison Observer

Photo from Jessica at the Agassiz-Harrison Observer

I didn’t want this day to end because I wanted to continue to be able to pop in and see Lilee-Jean bringing joy to all of us by just being herself in her first day of school. I imagine this is what Andrew and Chelsey go through almost every moment of their lives… and unfortunately, the moments must fly by.  At noon, Lilee-Jean had her lunch and hung out and played with her classmates.  She then gave every child and adult a big warm hug and left school with a huge smile as she danced in the puddles and caught the rain drops in her hands.  Tonight she will have a girls night as she and her mommy go to a spa and a hotel to continue their dancing in the rain.

As I sat in my office to collect my thoughts, I wondered: when faced with life’s challenges, do we look through the lens of all the problems we cannot change?  Or do we choose to change the lens and see all the wonderful moments life has to offer and dance in the rain? Andrew and Chelsey are going through what every parent fears. They CHOOSE to embrace the life they have with their beautiful daughter, Lilee-Jean.  Because they choose to do this and choose to share their story, I am forever changed. Lilee-Jean may not live on forever but all that she and her family have taught me about life and love will live on through me and so many others that have been touched with their story.

Thank you so much to LJ, Andrew, Chelsey for sharing today with us.  Thank you for letting so many of us into your lives through the window of social media. Thank you for inspiring me and so many others. Thank you for Lilee-Jean for allowing me to spend the most beautiful morning dancing in the rain.

Love for Lilee… forever. xoxo

Please support this family by going to Chelsey’s blog here and liking Love For Lilee on Facebook.

My daughters sang a song they love and one that I know means a lot to Lilee and her parents.  Have a look at the video below or view it here.

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If We Have a Good Idea… Don’t Give It A Name

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Natalie Maynor: http://flickr.com/photos/nataliemaynor/2988366432/

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Natalie Maynor: http://flickr.com/photos/nataliemaynor/2988366432/

Assessment For Learning… Flipped Classroom… Project-based Learning… 21st Century Learning

A few years ago, I was in a learning series and we were learning about the power of shifting our assessment focus from summative (grades, events) to formative (feedback, ongoing).  The facilitator, Yrsa Jesnsen, quoted someone when she said “if we have something good… don’t give it a name”.  What she meant by this was that once we give something a name, it can be defined by whomever and also be branded, boxed, marketed and sold as a specifically defined idea rather than something that can grow and evolve.

I have had a number of conversations about assessment with people online… and what I realized is that people define this term based on their experience.  A US teacher will have a very different view on assessment than someone from British Columbia.  Although many will agree that assessment (ie. ongoing coaching and adjusting our teaching based on what we see) can be one of the most powerful things we do, after going through what a teacher from the US has to go through with endless standardized testing and top-down accountability measures, one can understand how the term assessment can take an entirely different meaning.  We have some teachers in our school use formative assessment practices in a way that is so powerful for our students; however, if I try to define it as AFL, the teachers tend to disengage and give me the look of “do not try to define what we are doing with a single term”. (also check out this post by Marissa Knauf on assessment jargon.)

For the past few days, I have had the privilege of attending and keynoting a conference in Lafayette, Indiana. During my keynote, I said that it is not about “21st Century Teaching/Learning” as a century is a long time; while 80 years from now, we will still be in the 21st Century, I hope that teaching and education will look significantly different than it does today.  Unfortunately, what has happened is that we have taken skills like collaboration, creativity, etc and labeled these as “21st Century Learning”.  As a result of this, companies have been able to define, box these skills up and sell it to people as a particular idea that does not evolve.

During the conference, I sat in a great session with Brett Clark on Flipped Teaching and Project Based Learning and Brett’s thoughts led to a discussion in which my friend Brett Gruetzmacher said to me, it is not about the title of what you are doing – it is about what works for you and your students.  As Brett Clark said, poor teaching is poor teaching… no matter how you shuffle the cards, they remain the same.  So even if you flip your teaching, if you were ineffective before, your students will still struggle.  It is important to take an idea and make it work for us and more importantly, make it work for our students.  In the past, I have been very critical of the flipped class model as I chose to define it as “videos for homework, worksheet in class”. Had I held firm with my beliefs, I would have disengaged from the conversation and not learned from Brett and passionate educators like Carolyn Durley who have defined the flipped model in a way that works for their students and have also included changes to how they assess kids and design their lessons and learning environments.  I have actually encouraged Carolyn to stop calling what she is doing as “flipped” as it is so much more than how so many people define the idea.  She has maintained that she is working to share the stories of what an effective “flipped”  class can look like and can lead to.  Carolyn is a great example of a wonderful teacher whose story may be missed if we choose to define all that she is doing in a single term.

Not naming something may be an impossible task (just check out how many names/labels have been used in this post).  So maybe it is not so much about giving something a name but instead using the name to lead to a deeper conversation around student learning.  As teachers, we need to continually model a growth mindset and engage in dialogue around effective practices that work for OUR students.  Although we should avoid boxing and selling an idea, we need to be open to conversations around ideas in education.  Just because something or someone is labeled with a particular name does not mean that there is effective teaching and learning taking place.  It is less about the name, idea, or tool, and is more about the teacher. Ideas will not change education unless educators use, implement, and reflect upon these ideas in a way that is optimal for our students. We need to be careful to not close ourselves off due to a label and not let a name define what we do in so many different learning environments.

As this is an area I have struggled with, I appreciate your thoughts and feedback.

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Is a School Awards Ceremony the BEST We Can Do?

Questioning Awards

I was recently asked by educator Larry Ferlazzo to share my views on awards ceremonies as part of his article on Ideas for The Last Two Weeks of School. Here are my thoughts:

The final few weeks of school are often the time for meeting, choosing, and awarding the winners at our schools.  Three years ago, our school made the decision to move away from awards ceremonies and consider other ways to honour all of our students.

Although I believe we need to move away from awards I also know this is a difficult decision in most schools as there are often lengthy traditions of trophies and awards.  I am not advocating we lower expectations nor am I stating that every child should get some “top _____ award”; however, as we observe our formal year-end awards ceremonies, I strongly encourage you to reflect upon the following questions:

  1. How many students have strengths and have put forth great efforts but are not awarded?

  2. What impact does a child’s parents, culture, language, socioeconomics and current/previous teachers have on the winners/losers?

  3. Does choosing a select few students as winners align with our school mission and vision?

  4. Are there other ways we can honour and showcase excellence?

  5. Is there a specific criteria or standard that must be met to achieve the award?  If yes, then can more than one person be honoured or is it simply about awarding one person that is better than his/her peers in a specific area chosen by the school?

  6. How does a quest for an individual award align with a culture that encourages teamwork and collaboration?

  7. If we honoured and showcased student learning in a variety of ways throughout the year, would a year -end awards ceremony be necessary?

  8. Do students have a choice on whether or not they enter this competition?

  9. If awards are about student excellence and motivation in the “real world”, why do we not host awards ceremonies for our top children in our homes?

  10. If we are seeing success in encouraging inquiry-based learning, focusing on formative assessment and fostering a growth mindset, how can we defend a ceremony that fosters a fixed mindset and mainly showcases winners often based on grades and/or scores?

I believe we need to honour and highlight achievements and student learning but I wonder… is an awards ceremony that recognizes only a select few, and is often held a few days before our students leave, the BEST we can do?

Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Host celebration of learning events throughout the year (or one at the end of the year) in which students highlight/share examples and demonstrations of a key part of their learning.

  • Host honouring assemblies in which each student is recognized at a point during the year not through an award but through stories and examples of his/her learning, strengths, and interests

  • Encourage class/department events in which each class showcases and shares areas they have been highlighting in their learning

  • Combine the above events with parent/family luncheons so more time can be spent sharing the stories.

  • Share online the wonderful work students and staff do in our schools. Provide digital windows that highlight various stories of learning.

Although there is no single best way to acknowledge the efforts and achievements of our students, we must be aware of our school traditions and cultures and also work together to reflect upon and challenge current practices to create positive change that seeks to honour ALL of our students.

For links to posts on awards ceremonies from a variety of parents and educators, please check out Rethinking Awards Ceremonies.

 

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Sometimes We Don’t Need to Fix It, We Just Need to Shut Up and Listen

One of the key things I have learned from my wife, as well as some staff members, is that it is often more about listening than it is about problem-solving. Although there are many times when a problem needs to be fixed, there are times when our only job is to listen, sympathize, and/or empathize with what the person is telling us.

I recall a colleague telling me about a time in which he sat and listened to the many things that were wrong with a teacher’s class and how she was frustrated with a lack of support for her students. My colleague told me that after he listened, he worked hard to change a number of schedules to provide more support for this teacher. I am sure, if he is like me, he was proud of his efforts in helping to solve the problem. When he went to the teacher and shared his solutions, she became even more frustrated and said, “I wasn’t looking for changes… I just wanted you to listen!”. He spent the next few hours undoing his solutions.

In a meeting a few years ago, I brought up the topic of staff room dialogue. I said that I felt that the focus of the majority of conversations should be about working toward a solution rather than merely voicing concerns. A colleague responded, “sometimes, we just need to vent and not solve the problems.” At the time I struggled to comprehend this but as I grow, along with the help of a number of conversations with my wife, I am starting to realize that sometimes the most important thing I can do is… shut up and listen.

Check out this short entertaining video that shares this point… #lessonlearned (Thanks to Michal Ruhr for sharing)

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