In the Age of Disruption

As many of you know January is one of my favorite times of year in schools and throughout our District.  It is now that we really see the routines and structures of the Fall settle in, and learners engage in a more focused manner.  In our Secondary schools, we often begin to see the completion of one semester, and the commencement of the next.  Although the days are dark, we can see February and March not that far away on the horizon – along with the promise of Spring.  And, we increase our focus on forward thinking and planning for the next year.

We are in interesting times.  The sand frequently shifts beneath our feet, and our landscape changes.  Our horizons become more clear in one moment, and blurred and cloudy the next.  During an election year it sometimes feels like we are as a leaf hanging on tightly to the branch, fluttering madly in the wind as each interest tries to complete its mandate and set a platform for the next election.  With votes as currency in that domain, the economy, the environment, and the public sector – including Public Education – experience a groundswell of attention as the “commodity.”  Opinions are bandied about regarding how successful our public sector has or has not been, and a surge of criticism pushes back in an attempt to shift the horizon of the Province.  The anomaly in the narrative, in my mind, are the agreed upon statements of what we as a public value.

These public debates are important – but I am saddened when I see well-intended, thoughtful, smart people drowning in the murky swamp of negativity rather than healthy, helpful dialogue and debate.  Competing imperatives and values are the norm in any organization in the public domain.  However, the narrative often pushes aside the celebrations of success, innovation and exceptional work that occurs.  While our conditions are imperfect, our students are engaged in exceptional learning experiences – because we have exceptional people who work and volunteer in our District and who are providing important services throughout our communities in support of children and youth.  I truly believe we all come to work each day with a desire to do our very best – no matter what our role is in this important work.  Because of this, and because of supportive parents and community, our students thrive.  For conditions to improve – it is my sincere belief that activism should be viewed as a strong voice that brings about change – by focusing on the change that will foster the conditions of positive improvement rather than focusing on the conditions that some believe impede improvement.

I for one am looking forward to 2017.  I view the year ahead with optimism and a sense of adventure.  I hope that you do too, and that we work together as a team to encounter, experience, enable and energize.

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In The Wake of Orlando

Recognizing that I often address the District regarding significant world events, a few people have noticed and mentioned to me an absence of comment regarding the recent mass shooting in Orlando, Florida.  A couple have also expressed their concern about how I might have been personally impacted – and for this I express my deepest appreciation.

Perhaps selfishly, I needed to grapple with this senseless act within my own internal mechanisms before I felt I could make any public comment.  With some sense of gratitude, I was distracted from this by the annual grueling June schedule which (as with most of you) has kept me from personal time for reflection and with my family.

My first public mention of this horrible event ended up being included in my comments at the retirement and long service recognition banquet this Saturday evening.  In consideration of the importance of what we do as adults involved in the education of our children and youth – no matter our role in this work – custodians, administrators, education assistants and teachers spoke with compassion and deep commitment to our students.  In my comments, I spoke about the privilege it is to see our adults connecting with our students from a place of deep compassion and caring.  Our tight-knit school communities know each other well.  We know many of the challenges that each of us, employees and students, bring to our learning communities.  And, with compassion we reach out to support each other.

It is through generous acts of compassion that communities open spaces for enlightenment, wisdom and development of self.  In last week’s message to our District, I shared a link to the OECD document, Global Competency for an Inclusive World.  In the introduction to this document, Andreas Schleicher wrote “…Schools need to prepare students for a world in which people need to work with others of diverse cultural origins, and appreciate different ideas, perspectives and values; a world in which people need to develop trust to collaborate across such differences; and a world in which people’s lives will be affected by issues that transcend national boundaries.”  Later in the document we read, “If young people are to co-exist and interact with people from other faiths and countries, open and flexible attitudes, as well as the values that unite us around our common humanity, will be vital.”

In my opinion, the mass shooting that occurred at Orlando is a scar on humanity.  It joins a lengthy list of horrible acts through the history of humankind and deeply wounds our collective identity, reaching deep into the scaffold of values we each hold until we finally find those values that we share as a global community.  These acts are insidious.  As horrible as they are, however, I wonder if they are more horrible than the daily attack many people – children, youth, and adults – experience when they become victims of vile rumors, malicious bullying, refusal to understand and learn about each other, and the isolation of unfounded judgement.  In the end, one needn’t attempt to rank the degree of adequation of these events.  I contend that it is these behaviors that have injured or killed the souls of many human beings throughout history.  When we ignore or compel these behaviors through our own actions we send the message that it is okay – a message which quickly escalates and in some cases becomes the vile attack such as we saw last weekend.

This brings me back to the comments I made at the long service and retirement banquet.  I believe it is through a relentless commitment to accessing our personal compassion,  and sharing that freely with those around us,  that we can contribute to the development of a world in which people are able to work with others of diverse cultural origins, “…and appreciate different ideas, perspectives and values.”  And so it is with this that I give my thanks and appreciation to each of you for being kind, for your compassion and for your commitment to the children and youth in our care and the adults with whom we work.  You do make a difference and together we collectively massage a healing balm on the wounds that are etched into our common humanity.  Never to forget – but hopefully to grow closer together in our collective efforts to make a better world.

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The Consequences of Choice

What is the purpose of public education in your mind? This is a significant debate, and one that has embroiled communities, educators and researchers for a very long time. It is also at the center of the choice agenda in public education.
In 2002 new legislation was passed in the Province of British Columbia, giving parents and students enrolled in public education systems the right to seek educational choices beyond their neighborhood schools. While schools are still required to define prescribed “catchment areas” students who are normally resident in BC are free to attend any school in the Province regardless of where they live and subject to availability of space and appropriate educational programming. While some districts already accommodated these kinds of choices, the new legislation required all to comply.
This change in practice, along with an evolving understanding of the importance of personalizing learning experiences for learners, has also morphed into the development of an array of specialized programs that allow students to become immersed in areas about which they are passionate. Throughout the province programs that focus on learning through the Arts, a variety of Sports offerings, learning through the trades, and other specialized academies and programs have sprung up as schools and districts seek both to meet the learning needs of students, and to provide choices for students.
In part the need to offer choice of educational opportunities for students has stemmed from an historical debate about the purpose of education. Kieran Egan, a respected and reknowned educator, researcher and author writes eloquently about the streams of thought he calls the Aims of Education that have emerged through the years. He defines them as “mutually incompatible” and charges that education systems try to appease the diversity of their communities – most often unsuccessfully. The first “aim” or purpose of education to which some subscribe is to “fill learners with existing content and knowledge.” The second aim describes the purpose of education as a means to support learners with their own self-discovery based on their developmental trajectory. The third is that the purpose of education is to prepare learners to “fulfill a useful role in society.”
In SD8 (Kootenay Lake) we offer an array of choices for students. The first choice is for each student to attend their community school. Or, students may choose to attend a different school. People’s reasons for choosing to send their children to schools outside of their neighborhood vary from “it’s closer to where I work” to “we are seeking more choices for our child” or “that school offers a particular program that my child would like to attend.” We offer language, trades, arts, sports and outdoor education programs throughout the District. We are very proud of the choices that our students have and recognize that students are experiencing success every day whether it be in their community school program, a school in another community, or in a special program in which they have enrolled. Although each of these programs is as different and unique as the students who are enrolled – they all have one thing in common – and that is the learning outcomes they must achieve. The curriculum itself is the consistent aspect of any program offering throughout the District.
The consequences of offering choices are many and we as a community have to decide how we will deal with them. One about which we hear a lot is that of transportation. If a student chooses to attend a program outside of their catchment area, who is responsible for transporting them? Another is course availability and selection. Our schools are not large enough to provide multiple offerings of many courses. If a student chooses to enroll in a specialty program or go on exchange in one semester, but courses they need to take aren’t offered in the semester when they are back at their home school – who is responsible for finding alternate ways for them to access those courses? Is the school responsible for organizing itself around each student’s individual needs? These, of course, are just the tip of the iceberg in this important conversation.
In my experience, consequences lead to change. It is important that we as a community engage in open and honest dialogue as we transform to better meet the needs of today’s students. If we are going to work together to adapt to meet the needs of todays’ and future learners we have to be willing to move from “what is” to “what can be.” It is important to view these challenges through the lens of possibilities, rather than the lens of blame and judgment. One way we can do this is by understanding where each of us comes from when we ask the question, “What is the purpose of public education?”

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Welcome to the Graduating Class of 2016, The Graduating Class of 2029 – and All Those In-between

The 2015-2016 school year is about to begin. Even though this is my 47th new school year as a student or an employee, I still get that “new school year feeling.” A sense of renewal is evident as relationships shift, new notebooks are opened, routines commence, and we take that step over the threshold to something that is strangely both familiar – yet unknown.
It is an exciting and interesting time in education. We live in a world of constant change. During their time as students from their Kindergarten year to now the graduating class of 2016 has experienced world shifts that have significantly influenced us, changed our children, and caused us to reshape learning environments and how we go about meeting the needs of this generation of learners – to whom we refer as the millennials. Political, cultural, technological and environmental shifts have occurred and have had tremendous influence on educators who are working tirelessly to adapt to meet the changing needs of students.
This group of students likely has very little sense of the world that existed prior September 11, 2001 and they do not understand the impact that one event has had on the way we experience our lives. Things we expect in our daily lives were just ideas not that long ago – and things that have become the “new norm” have quietly immersed themselves in our lives. As an example, expectations of mobile technology have infiltrated the traditional learning environment, and instant access to knowledge and other people is the norm. Facebook was started in 2004 when this class of students were in grade two. We are now learning that the Facebook platform on which students have since relied as a means of social engagement is slowly becoming a thing of the past and we see that our youth are now moving onto Instagram and other social networking sites.
This year we will welcome Kindergarten students, who will be the graduating class of the year 2029, or thereabouts. Things that are new to us – these youngsters take for granted and expect. We can’t predict how the world will reshape itself between now and when they graduate. However, one thing we do know is that our Public Education System will be striving to understand the changing needs of these students.
In the 2015-2016 school year, teachers of students in grades Kindergarten to nine will begin to phase-in a new curriculum which will be fully implemented next year. Teachers from all over British Columbia have worked together with other leading experts to design a curriculum that embraces the best that we know about learning. Transforming curriculum will assist our educators in their continuing efforts to support each of our students. Core competencies, essential learning, and literacy and numeracy foundations, are the features of the redesigned curriculum through which students will have the opportunity to think, learn and grow in our ever-changing world. A new curriculum for grades 10-12 is presently in draft form, will be phased in commencing next year.
So, yes. I do get that “new school year feeling” every year – because every year is different. I am excited to observe passionate, committed staff members throughout our District from Yahk, to Slocan City and up to Meadow Creek as they focus our collective energy on supporting each new generation of students. Our communities can be proud of the accomplishments of our outstanding children and youth. It’s a new year, and a new era in public education. As a community let’s take that step together – over the threshold to something that is strangely both familiar – yet unknown.
Welcome back to those who are returning – and a special welcome to those who are joining us as new students, parents and staff. I hope that the 2015-2016 school year inspires you and engages you in amazing new learning.

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Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, Bullying…and other things

At the Board Meeting last week, in one order of business the Board of Education approved Policy 215 – Sexual Orientation/Gender Identity.  It was serendipitous that this occurred the day before Pink Shirt Day which occurred on February 25.  Along with two other policies, this one was approved without fanfare – even though it was ten years in the making.  There were no bottles of champagne uncorked, no banners flying and no balloons floated up into the sky.  It made me think about how different our society is now than it was in my youth – and it also made me wonder about whether we really are that different now than we were in the days of my youth.

In my youth it was not uncommon for me to be called a “fag” and queer, and teased and harassed.  It wasn’t because I was “out” – in those days I didn’t even know what being “out” meant, nor did I really know what being “gay” meant – other than something you never wanted to be because it was apparently something that was deviant and evil.  I’m not even sure the people who taunted me knew what they were saying – other than it was perhaps the most hideous put-down and slur they could conjure-up in their brains.  I really have no idea what impact those years have had on me.  I like who I am, and who I’m becoming – and am very comfortable and happy in my life.  I don’t know how I would have developed in the absence of the abuse – one never does.

I have been blessed and fortunate in my life to have made friendships with strong people who have taught me and modelled a positive pathway – had I been abandoned by my family and friends my life may well have been very different.  My mother was my greatest advocate and supporter.  Because of this – my life has really been a wonderful one.  But I know this isn’t the path for every child who questions or doesn’t understand their sexual orientation and gender identity.

When the Sexual Orientation/Gender Identity policy first came to my desk as something on which we needed to work in Policy I was worried.  I was very worried that people would discount the importance of the policy because they might see it as a personal agenda of mine.  Frankly, I didn’t think it was wise to use such specific language in Policy and I believed we should rely on strong wording that already exists for the protection of all human beings in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (CCRF) and the B.C. Human Rights Act.

It was my husband who pointed out to me that although we have come a long way in our society – the fact remains that he and I choose to surround ourselves with accepting people.  We both have had strong family and supportive relationships.  He also reminded me that when we were looking for a community to call home, we needed to carefully choose a community that would be embracing and welcoming – our choices were limited by our relationship.  I can’t even remember what being “out” means – we just are.  For us, there’s just simply no closet.  But perhaps that is because of the way we choose to live.

However, I am reminded that there are many youth and adults who still do not have pathways to learn how to be comfortable with themselves, date and build positive relationships – because being lesbian, gay transgendered or queer is still fodder for teasing, bullying and abuse.  And that’s not okay.  It’s just plain wrong.

There were no bottles of champagne uncorked, no banners flying and no balloons floated up into the sky when the Board adopted Policy 215 – because we have come a long way.  But we still have a long way on this journey – maybe to a place where we look back and ask ourselves why we had to have such specific language in polity to protect any human being.

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Finding Your Inner Escalation Manager

I knew it was time for a holiday, when during a call to a certain telephone service provider I was told that I was being referred to the escalation manager.  My thoughts were something like, “The escalation manager?  Who knew there was such a person?  And, do they know that being referred to the escalation manager only makes some people escalate more?”  I had other thoughts too, but I won’t share them here; I think you can see where this was headed.  The escalation manager was smart though; she didn’t call me until the next day.

This little experience did give me cause for pause and a good reminder.  In schools, this time of year is undoubtedly joyful and exciting—but it is also a time of year when people are tired, energy is high, and there are often changes in routines and predictability.  Students and staff are staying up later than they should, many of us are consuming out-of-the ordinary amounts of treats and goodies, and there is a bustle of activity beyond the school day for many.

At this time of year, I am particularly concerned about our students and staff who are experiencing difficult life circumstances or for whom the holiday season magnifies feelings of sorrow and loneliness.  Hearts that are broken, bank accounts that are empty and cupboards that never have enough plague the lives of many amongst us throughout our communities.

We don’t have escalation managers in our schools.  Instead we try to be extra-understanding, extra-generous, and extra-patient with each other—and with ourselves.  And, perhaps there is a lesson here; maybe, just maybe, we need to be more understanding, more generous, and more patient with each other and ourselves—all year long.

I would like to wish each of you a safe and restful break.  I hope that your celebrations will be joyful and I hope that we will all discover our  inner “escalation manager.”


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2014 Message to Graduates


Having met several of our graduating students, I want you to know that I am encouraged and very impressed with the youth of today.  I will focus my comments on gratitude, generosity of spirit, and the importance of being the wonderful you that you are.

As I look at you I see beautiful young women and handsome young men; smart, creative, amazing individuals who are emerging into adulthood.  Your parents and all the adults who have cared for you are probably feeling a little shocked today.  As much as this is your graduation, I can assure you that your parents and caregivers still see you as the tiny child they held in their arms when you were born; the toddler who ran to them when you were hurt or anxious; the young boy or girl whom they comforted with bedtime stories, or what you looked like when they stood at your bedroom door watching you sleep.  They are thinking about the first step you took, the first word you uttered, the first time you were hurt or injured, the first time you won, and the first time you lost.  You are their proudest accomplishment – and so I hope you give them a break, and make sure to share today openly with them.

Being educated is not an accomplishment that is enjoyed by the majority of the world; in fact, today you join a small minority in the world population.  This has been, in part, due to your hard work – but it has also been a conscious decision by our community to give you the gift of education.  Be sure to say thank you to those who have been by your side for the whole, or even a part of the journey.  I hope that you will take up the challenge of freely and generously giving back by sharing your gifts, talents, and possessions; in so doing you fulfil your responsibility as a citizen of a global community.

You live in a complex world.  Arguably this era in human history is the most complex that we have ever seen and it is only going to become more complex.  But this is a sentence that could have been spoken at every graduation ceremony over the course of time.  Today you join all those who have gone before you and who have made the world what it is; the world didn’t make itself.  It took people just like you who had ideas, energy, skills and desire to get us to where we are now.  And you will be no different.  In the words of John Kennedy, “No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man’s reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable — and we believe they can do it again.”

I hope that you are proud of who you are because you have reason to be proud.  I hope that you feel prepared to make good life choices, and to pursue the opportunities that come your way.  I also hope that you are strong and resilient, confident young people who will be able to face, and then learn and grow from the challenges life brings to us.

Don’t be afraid to be who you are.  Henry Van Dyke taught us that we should “use what talent you possess:  the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best.”

I want to encourage you to choose fulfilling adventures.  Make them your own, and design your life knowing that dreams may change, goals may shift and circumstances may get in the way.  Always remember that each of you is a unique and special individual; please don’t let anybody take that away from you.  In the words of Steve Jobs, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition …”

Don’t let the fear of failure hinder your journey.  Be the wonderful you that you are.  In a Commencement Speech, Jim Carrey said,   “I learned many, many lessons from my father, but not least of which is that you can fail at something you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance doing what you love…go forward in your life with enthusiastic hearts and a clear sense of wholeness.”

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Unfinished Business

Recently, the journals I kept during my practicum experiences as an emerging teacher surfaced from a dusty box.  As I spent time scanning through the hand-written observations, reflections, lesson plans and stories of successes and failures, I began a journey down memory lane through the past almost 30 years.  This opportunity gave me pause as I considered how much I have shifted in my thinking about pedagogy.    As well, it gave me a wonderful sense of how much our world has changed since those years.

The children I taught then, in grades 1, 2 and 4, would now be in their 30’s and early 40’s.  They are adults in today’s world.  Yet nowhere in my thinking of the time did I consider the world into which they would emerge as adults.  Computers in the classroom weren’t a consideration, never mind the internet and ubiquitous access to an array of technologies.  The pedagogy of the day was teacher-centered.  My successes were noted by my mentor teachers in how well the class was managed and how lessons were delivered, not by student success.  In the day, I think I approached teaching from an egocentric perspective; if my lessons were delivered well, and the children didn’t do well, it was their problem; not necessarily mine to solve.  Children’s work was produced for me, and they were not asked to contribute to something important; something that makes a difference and enriches other people beyond the classroom.

This brings me to a book edited by Richard Elmore, “I Used to Think…and Now I Think.”  The book contains essays written by educational leaders (including Elmore) who are describing their shifts in thinking and what they have learned through years of dedicated study, research and practice.  Elmore frames the book as an important professional dialogue.  “My fellow contributors and I hope to model, in a small way, what professional discourse might look like if professionals were expected to learn over the course of a career,” Elmore writes. “It strikes me as ironic that in a field nominally devoted to the development of capacities to learn, there is so little visible evidence of what those who do the work have actually learned in their careers.”  We can also refer to the work of Ron Berger, CEO of the Expeditionary Learning Network.  He speaks not only to the importance of making learning visible, but also ensuring that learning is public.

I could probably write a book with several volumes on what I have learned in the course of my career.  Most people probably could, if we were being honest and open with each other.  For today, I will focus on summaries of four “shifts” I have made in my thinking and that deeply influence my work today.  I believe that these shifts are necessary in order for us to adequately prepare emerging adults for the complexities of a world we could never imagine.  I also recognize that there were many similar shifts over the past 30 years, bringing me to where I am in my thinking today.  I offer these thoughts as part of a professional dialogue hoping that readers are, perhaps, sparked in your own thinking and contribution to the collection of our combined journey.

  1. From a view of Adults As Learning Leaders to An Understanding of Students as Learning Leaders

Educators have spoken about student-centered learning for many years.  In the best of circumstances, we have interpreted this to mean that adults lead learning experiences for learners, based on feedback from learners through behavior and assessment of and for learning.  In the least of circumstances, this means that the teacher imparts knowledge that learners are expected to master.

Our rhetoric continues to name adults as Learning Leaders (a common term for designated leadership roles in many educational institutions.).  We continue to refer to principals as “leaders of learning” in their schools, and we continue to advertise for senior leaders who will be Directors of Learning and  “visionary leaders of learning.”  We continue to envision adults as the interpreters of what must be learned.

I have learned that we need to reframe and rename our roles as educators.  In fact, it is the student (child, youth or adult) who leads their own learning and it is incumbent upon us to facilitate their leadership.  We need to listen carefully to what students are asking as they engage in challenging and purposeful learning experiences.  Students lead their way and educators help them overcome the barriers.  I have learned that we need to reimagine what our role as educators will be and frame ourselves in this new paradigm.  I am not sure we are far off in our intent, but the importance of the language we use to define our roles cannot be understated if we are to truly see a shift in our practice.

Michael Fullan writes that we need to see teaching shift from a focus on required content, to “…focusing on the learning process, developing students’ ability to lead their own learning and to do things with their learning.”  I think we understand this – but I am not convinced we truly believe it and live it.

We also know that there is tremendous merit in ensuring learners have opportunity to pursue things that matter to them, and through which they may possibly make a difference.  The momentum that is gained when learners engage in personal, real world challenges is remarkable.  Educators must make better sense of how to enable learners and help them over the threshold to new knowledge that matters.

  1. From An Emphasis on 21st Century Skills and Competencies to An Emphasis on Global Sustainability and Citizenship – Changing Skillsets Required to Emerge As Adults With the Ability to Participate Fully In Efforts Toward Global Sustainability

In my recollection we have spent the last 20 years talking about 21st Century Skills and Competencies.  We have invested millions of dollars in professional development to define 21st Century skills.  We have framed our profession with the requirement of preparing students for the 21st Century.  I have learned it’s time to move on.  We’ve been in the 21st Century for 15 years.  These skills and competencies should be common-place and the norm in learning environments throughout the Province.  And, they should be central to our curriculum – a notion I will discuss in a later point.

If we haven’t already, it is time to think carefully about the world in which our students will emerge as adults.  Our reality is that as political, economic, technological and environmental shifts occur residents of the earth will be relied upon to work together in a global community to share resources and provide pathways of sustainability for our resources and our population.  This reality will change the way citizens pursue their livelihood; and, people will need to be able to be flexible and nimble in order to shift the way we interact with and rely upon each other.  Technology is welcoming people into world conversations, who may never have participated before and we are seeing third world countries participate meaningfully as contributors, due to the access of nearly free internet.  We are seeing important changes in who participates in decisions that impact us, and how they participate.  Our students will need to gain the skills and competencies not only to survive these shifts, but to contribute to them.

I have learned we have to be watching our youngest learners, and positioning ourselves to meet their changing needs. We know now who our gradates will be in 2026.  Are we prepared to adjust our systems, resources and processes to meet the needs of this generation of learners as they grow and mature?  Just as individuals need to be flexible and nimble, organizations need to be flexible and nimble.  Strategic planning needs to evolve from hierarchical, rigid structures to malleable, evolving ideas that roll flexibly.  We need to become fluid organizations, with well-honed habits of observation, critical analysis and the ability to motivate and accept change.

We do not have the time to spend years developing new curriculum, especially if it is rooted in content.  It is outdated from the moment of conception.  Skilled educators will be able to watch students lead the way, and become engaged in the journey with students.  Curriculum will be developed by students who are encouraged to frame real-world challenges, and seek solutions collaboratively both locally and in their global communities.  Learning organizations need to be responsive and nimble if this is to occur, and prepared to welcome unproven innovation and design.  Furthermore, we need to believe that even our youngest learners can contribute rich knowledge if given the chance.

  1. From a Focus On Bringing Effective Practice to Scale to A Focus on Bringing Effective Learning Environments to Scale

For far too long a teacher’s skill has been measured by how well we plan lessons, execute a lesson, and manage a group of students.  Professional development has focussed on these categories and teaching has been considered an “action word” or a verb.

Perhaps we should consider teach as a noun; a name we give to the dynamic relationship between a teacher and a student in the presence of content.   Richard Elmore calls this the “instructional core.”  Students who are deeply engaged in task lead the way and the teacher helps the learner map the path, finding ways around barriers and helping the student access the resources needed to solve a complex problem.

When you think about it, it is silly to think a practice that has been successful for some learners will be successful for all learners.  We should be able to go into every learning environment in this Province, and see evidence of common standards for an effective learning environment; evidence of collaboration, engagement in real-world questions, rigorous challenge, and so forth.  How the facilitators of learning establish these environments would vary according to context. This is a celebration of the expertise, skill and creativity our staff bring to this work.  If we are serious about facilitating learning experiences with our students, we need to free teachers up to do that, by removing rigid parameters that, in an archaic sense, signal their success.  Learning organizations need to signal that teachers will be supported as they join learners on journeys through the unknown.

We need to be asking if our schools and learning environments are giving students the opportunity to do “good work.”  Gardner speaks about the engagement of learners in efforts that are excellent and ethical and that have meaning.  Further, we need to challenge the notion that schools are the only valid places for student learning AND that teachers are the only means through which our students can access the expertise they need to engage thoroughly in their learning.

  1. From a Focus on Content as Curriculum, to a Focus on Skills and Competencies as Curriculum

In a compelling blog published in March, 2012, Grant Wiggins ponders whether “Everything you know about curriculum may be wrong.”  He says, “A revealing shift in the winds has in fact occurred in our era in professional education.  In medicine, engineering, business, and law courses are no longer built backward from content.  They are built backward from key performances and problems in the fields.  Problem-based learning and the case method not only challenge the conventional paradigm but suggest that K-12 education is increasingly out of touch with genuine trends for the better in education…this idea of designing backward from the ability to use content well for worthy present and future purposes has lurked under the surface or in pockets of the medieval paradigm that still dominates curriculum for centuries.”

The emphasis in our schools can no longer be on whether a student has mastered content.  Student success needs to measure whether they can work collaboratively, seek knowledge from many sources, share learning in many ways, and become engaged in rigorous and challenging, complex real-world issues.  Our communities are telling us, and educators agree, that Citizenship, Imagination and Creativity, Resilience and the ability to be successful in life choices, work and further learning are more important than content mastery.  Yet, in the Province of British Columbia, recent drafts of new curriculum remain rooted in content.  This means that indicators of success will continue to be based in content mastery rather than in the development of skills and competencies.  As educators, we need to challenge this, and stand strongly in support of deeper reform.  Completion requirements need to shift, and students need to be given the right of learning with purpose, and demonstrating their learning in many ways.

For years I have maintained that if students are engaged in purposeful learning, they will do well on the required exams, even if the exams are content-based.  Now I think we need to be more assertive in our expectation that if we are really raising our children and youth to thrive in our future, we can no longer “play the game” with measures that are archaic and highly influenced by what we knew in the 19 century.  Educational transformation will not be successful if we keep measuring and celebrating “improvement” with our current metrics.


For me, these shifts are drivers of change.  They provide a forward-thinking momentum and challenge our status quo.  For me they will evolve and I will continue to shift.  No doubt others came long ago to the conclusions I have contemplated in this blog.  However their voice has been too quiet; we don’t see enough of us who are willing to share our thinking in visible and public ways.

Indeed, our business will never be finished.  Thank goodness – because I love it!

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Seasons Greetings from Superintendent Jeff Jones

Seasons Greetings from Superintendent Jeff Jones

This year’s Christmas Message will be a little different than the one’s I have shared in the previous three years.  It is about finding joy – rather than assuming it is experienced by all.

While I don’t have the benefit of having worked in this District for many, many years and building relationships with people over that time, I have had the privilege of getting to know many of our employees over the past 3.5 years.  Over time, as trust slowly is built, people have begun to share their lives and their circumstances with me.  For this I will be always grateful.  This is the human and personal side of my work which I enjoy so much.  The life stories I hear are reminders of the complexities of the human experience in a world of constantly changing cultural values, expectations, economies, environments and global realities.  I hear stories of individuals who have emerged victorious from what were seen as insurmountable challenges.  And, I also hear from and about people who are currently deeply immersed in their own personal issues of economic pressures, heartache, poor health, crises of personal identity.  I am acutely aware that for many of our employees, this time of year is painful and difficult.

To all of you I want to share a message of hope.  If you are lonely, hurting, challenged with financial issues, experiencing your own personal crisis – no matter what it is – I urge you to look to those who have overcome and realize that you are not alone – and that it does get better.  For those who have overcome these challenges – I urge you to share a message of hope and thanksgiving for your resilience.

Nelson Mandela taught that, “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”  Henri Nouwen wrote that, “Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.” 

I truly believe that Joy is inspired when we share our human experience with each other.  Generosity of spirit and means is inspired at this time of year; it is a reminder to be the best of who we are – no matter what our personal circumstances may be.  We can all inspire hope.  And, perhaps,  this is how we can choose joy.

My Christmas Wish for all of you is that you find joy and peace – no matter where you are on your personal journey, that this festive season inspires you personally, and that you have a safe and well deserved holiday.

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2013 Message to our Grads


It is an honor to represent the Kootenay Lake School District at several of our graduation ceremonies throughout our District.  These special occasions give us opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of our students.

At each ceremony I attend, I am given the opportunity to share a message to our Graduates.  This year, with slight adjustments for each different context, this is the message I gave.  My focus was “milestones.”

A milestone is but one of a series of markers along the journey of one’s life.  Milestones are reference points and can be used as a reassurance that the right path is being followed.

Sometimes graduates look upon graduation as the beginning of “real life” – as if the life journey between birth and now has had no relevance or meaning in one’s journey.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  From birth until now you have become who you are today.  Your curiosity and the opportunities you have had have helped you to become passionate about many things, to develop areas of expertise, and to learn any number of skills and competencies – all of which will combine to help you along your life journey and through much further learning.  So, this celebration is important – but to me it isn’t the milestone.  The milestone – that reference point that will be used as a reassurance that the right path is being followed – is the combined experiences and relationships you have formed to this point in your life.  In fact, it is YOU who is the milestone.  Who YOU are at this very moment in time will largely define who you become because you will always look back at the you you are today – and use this as a reference point.

I hope that you are proud of who you are.  I hope that you feel prepared to make good life choices, and to pursue the opportunities that come your way.  I also hope that you are strong and resilient, confident young people who will be able to face, and then learn and grow from the challenges life brings to us.

Today is a celebration for you – but it is also a celebration for those who have helped you along the way.  Your parents, your community, your teachers and many of our staff who have worked with you and watched you grow and mature are very proud of you.  Graduation is not an accomplishment that is enjoyed by the majority of the world; in fact, today you join a small minority in the world population.  This has been, in part, due to your hard work – but it has also been a conscious decision by our community to give you the gift of education.  Be sure to say thank you to those who have been by your side for the whole, or even a part of the journey.

And so, my advice to you is to treasure this moment.  Etch it in your brain as a reminder that will be with you for the rest of your life.  But mostly, treasure who you are right now.  All the best to you in whatever choices you make throughout your life!

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