Less Is More

Hello everyone, 

Just a short one, of less. Many of my friends and colleagues have heard me say “Less is more” and “keep it simple”.  I do truly believe that in so many ways, personally and professionally. In the article “15 Steve Jobs quotes that will leave you feeling inspired” in Business Insider that you can see at http://www.businessinsider.com/best-steve-jobs-quotes-2016-2 Steve Jobs is quoted to say:

“That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex; you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.”

No wonder he owned a boat and I have Mr. Turtle Pool. 

What it really comes down to is whatever you do, do it well. And it is a heck of a lot more manageable to do a few, or less things, well. 

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Its Not About Knowing Everything

Today I have been lucky enough to attend the #gafesummit in Palm Springs and be a learner again.  The weather down here is pretty great too!  One big thing that I have been reminded of is it is no longer the role of the teacher to know everything or to make sure kids know things.  It has been great to see a tiny bit of the potential of the tools that are out there for education, or some of the ideas that great educators have.  However it is a lot more clear now than ever that education is more about what Jaime Casap opened an Innovation session with:

It is about asking students what problem(s) they want to solve and what they will need to know, or what tools they may need to use, to solve those problem(s).  He then encourages them to go back to their school and demand the education that they need to do it.  The question is, are we as educators really open enough to make it happen for them or holding on to the ways things used to be done, or how we were taught some years or decades ago?

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The Only Thing Constant is CHANGE

Change TileSo far summer has been restful and reflective.  Even though school is out, there is still a lot of Twitter action and focused conversations going on that constantly keeps my perspective changing on a plethora of educational issues.  I like to think of this constant change as a gradual evolution rather than a flip-flopping between viewpoints.  Twitter, and all the different opinions and perspectives to consider, IS constant professional development.  Thank you to all of you in my PLN.  You have all contributed to the reframing of my thinking, and thus my growth as an educator.

This summer, I have been getting ready to change schools like I did two years ago.  However, this time I am so fortunate to take on a new role as an administrator and educational leader, and in a new district too.  I am so excited to do my best to keep up with the impending super-steep learning curve.  My change in schools two years ago was the best thing I could have done for my own professional growth.  Having the opportunity to work with new colleagues, in a new learning community, offered so many new and valuable experiences.  It is something I wish for all my colleagues but during a time of declining enrolment in most BC school districts, movement is very difficult.  However, this is a topic for another time…

The thing about change is that it is constant like the tile above.  (Source: Freethinkers Club on Facebook).  For myself, as a teacher, summer was a time to re-evaluate what worked and didn’t work so well, allowing me to tweak the latter.  With everything going on during the busy school year, the reflection phase of meaningful change did not always get the time it deserved.  I am enjoying the time and space to consider what I could change about my perspective and practice for next month.  What would you change for you this upcoming school year?

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Are We Really Helping? Its Marks Season

The following has happened a few times.  I visit my mom every day in her medical residence and help her with either her lunch or dinner.  Then we “go for a spin” because she says that rolling in her wheelchair helps her to digest her meal.  However when we get to the elevator, a number of people have gone out of their way to be helpful and hold the door.  It is a great gesture but as it turns out, the people do so in a way that makes it more difficult to get my mom’s wheelchair into the elevator.  The good samaritans actually get in the way.  To make matters a tiny bit worse, when they realize that my mom and I cannot enter, they move out of the way and the “open-door-pause” for people to usually enter the elevator has passed and the door shuts with the elevator empty and starting on its way to another floor.



As an educator, I wonder how our mandated version of ‘school’ gets in the way of true learning and engagement in our students.  In an attempt to give students an indicator/position amongst other students or a ladder to climb, is the practice of reporting through marks getting in the way, just like the good samaritans holding the elevator?  I am not really here to gripe.  Rather I am just wanting to be a little more mindful of what we do as educators, and what we focus on.

I used to love talking with my niece and nephew about what they did in school.  They would tell me about their teachers, their projects, friends and run upstairs to fetch their works of art/math/music/writinig/reading to show me.  That all lasted until they reached Grade 4.  After this, school was just school.  “It was okay” or “I am doing okay” became the typical responses.  Here in BC, Grade 4 is when students receive letter grades.  I am a secondary educator and I have hundreds of other examples.

As an educator, it pains me to how anecdotal and work habit comments take a distant second place to the letter grade or percent.  Sometimes the latter are completely ignored in the presence of the prior.  A colleague of mine writes all her anecdotal comments by hand and has not once referred to the comment bank provided by the school office.  Her comments are always authentic and appreciated, just like the learning in her drama studio.  Thanks to her, I now create all my comments and address them to my students.  And to this day, there isn’t a single parent that I have actually talked to that didn’t appreciate a conversation about their child’s progress over the reported two digit percent or letter grade.  I worry that the current focus on letter grades, percentages and rankings, serve as “useful data” about our students.  @jim_allison just posted an extremely thoughtful and thorough post on school rankings.  You can see it at http://expandmythinking.blogspot.ca/2013/06/tanked-thinking-on-schools.html  

I understand that there has to be some way to record the progress of thousands of kids in our province but is our practice really hitting the mark?  Are marks/percents/rankings getting in the way and shifting the focus of school away from the real authentic learning that is already happening?  If we go one step farther, are students still being held hostage by marks like I was when I was a teen a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away?  In my Geography 12 class, I used to sit in the front right corner of the classroom.  I was so close to the corner I could have been wearing a dunce cap.  So I wouldn’t miss out on the rest of the class, I used to sit sideways in my desk to my teacher’s dismay.  One day he had enough and threatened to give me a zero on an upcoming quiz if I didn’t sit facing straight ahead.  My former teacher is still teaching.  Does that still happen?!  This is also an example of how marks can be inaccurate.

So what is being done about all the focus on just marks?  There are countless teachers using rubrics and giving descriptive feedback to their students.  The school I am at now has many departments using systems based upon a set of “Essential Learning Outcomes”.  There is still a final mark but throughout the entire course, there is constant feedback and reflection on the part of the students and much less focus on a singular mark.  Across the province, other teachers are doing similar things.  The Inquiry and #geniushour movements are in full stride and most of the work done by students is not for marks.  It is clear that there is a ton of mindfulness around the use the marks for reporting and how it has affected our practice.  Awesome.  However, teachers in BC must still provide a mark for student progress to the M.O.E, reducing our children to keystrokes and taking away from their unique personalities, quirks, skills and potential.  There are still interest groups that use marks to judge students, schools and loosely, communities.

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Mini School Alumni Experience (M.A.E.) Pub Night or Family Reunion?

mae pub night group


Last night the organizers of M.A.E. put on a wonderful “Pub Night” event at the Shark Club in Richmond.  Kudos to Martin, Nicky and Natasha from the class of 2005!  It was a great experience and treat to see, chat, and connect with everyone who was able to attend.  The original goals of the McNair Mini School were to give students and families in the McNair catchment another option for their educational experience, to create a unique sense of family, and to “push the envelope.”  The thing that stuck out the most last night was the sense of family.  While in the program, social barriers broken down.  Students cared for one another.  The event, supposedly a “pub night”, felt more like a family reunion.  Generations were present in older and younger grads, and old teachers. McCormick and Cartwright were there, the original creators of the program, who broke ground in 1996.  Upon walking in, there truly was a “chemical” feeling of belonging to a family that shared up to 5 years at McNair, 15 outdoor trips, 5 Christmas Potlucks, 5 Arts Nights, 1 Science Fair, 1 Night of the Notables, and 1 trip to the Salvation Army Soup Kitchen.  Yup, a chemical feeling of belonging to a movement that was bigger than any one person in attendance.  I really don’t know how else to describe it.  There were grads from as far back as the class of 2003 in attendance!

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As the night went on, stories of the past were shared along with talk about current situations and forecasts for the future.  Although all the students had the similar cohort-based secondary school experience, the entire world really has become their oyster.  Some of the grads….

travellers!!! (UK, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Central America, India, China) in/finishing school, in medical school, completing a Ph.D in Geophysics, joined the workforce as lawyers/consultants/accountants/graphic designers/actors/TEACHER IN THE MINI SCHOOL/entrepreneurs, worked and working abroad, MARRIED or soon to be (some to other Mini Schooler’s!), PARENTS!, on Richmond’s 30 Under 30 List, Leaders in the community…. and the list goes on.

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What a truly wonderful experience.  In some careers, there are more immediate results.  As an educator, the results often come after a number of years.  It was well worth the wait and I can’t wait till the next event.  Hopefully more grads and teachers can come out and do a little, or a lot, of reminiscing.  As for the family angle, it doesn’t really matter where you meet, it is who you meet with and I realize that the connection will be there forever.

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One Benefit of Students’ Cellphones… Sort Of

blackberry curve 8520 white

I wanted to share an experience I had today.  A student of mine highjacked my class today, for a short time, to ask me why I didn’t call him (because he wasn’t in class)!  He was joking, sort of, but still highjacked my class.  The history:

One of my classes has a number of at-risk students who have trouble attending class.  So to encourage them to get to class, or out of bed, or make a choice to come to school, I invite students who know they have challenges to give me their mobile phone number.  I promise to only phone them when they are not in class, and from the school’s phone.  Some kids I phone more than others, some rarely and some it seems like every day.  My goal: to remind them there are lots of people in the building that are in their corner whenever they are ready to come to school.  Also, the phone call is trying to remove/relieve some of the stress associated with coming to school so there is more room for learning to get in.  As for the other kids who don’t have a problem, there has been another benefit.  They have watched me call one particular boy pretty much every day.  One person finally asked: Why do you keep calling?  Before I could answer, he said “you just won’t give up on him will you.”  For me: Touchdown.

So back to today, the student who highjacked my class wanted to know why I didn’t phone him.  He said he was expecting my call and if I had called, he would have started running so he wouldn’t be as late as he was.  It made the whole class laugh.  Touchdown again.

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Voice of Our Youth Foreshadows the Future

It is the voice of our youth that foreshadows the future.

I was lucky enough to get a rare seat at the McNair Mini School’s Performing Arts Night on Tuesday April 16th.  The program has students perform on stage to help them ‘push their envelope’ and get up on the lonely stage to feel, and deal with, the butterflies that come from being in front of a live audience.   All proceeds from the event are donated to Canuck Place Hospice and to date, the McNair Mini School has donated a whopping $15,000. It is amazing to watch all the students get up on the stage and perform.  It is equally amazing to watch the crowd cheer and support the performing students.  The talent and heart showcased was amazing.  However, this year’s show had a really great performance in the form of a voice of/for the youth and even for the rest of us.

The poem below was written and read by a student by the name of Manisha (who I am extremely proud to say is a former student of mine…… unfortunately not for English!)


Everyday we make a choice.

We choose to stand up and change the world, or we sit back and continue with our lives.

We choose to walk or bike, from school to work. We choose to ride the bus until we get off at the next stop.

We choose to go to school to get an education.

Highschool, scholarships, then university!

We sit at computers filliing out applications, suggesting a promising future.

Some of us have it all figured out, every little detail planned with perfection.

Others don’t know where they are going, so they take a break.

But if you’re like me, you know where you are going but sometimes you don’t know how to get there.

There are an unlimited amount of paths for me to choose from, but how can I know which one is right?

I don’t know where I will be in 20 years, but maybe not knowing is the best part.

At times like this, I refer myself to a quote from Dr. Seuss: “You have brains in you head. You have feet in you shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go.”

There are people in the world who don’t get to choose, people who don’t get to choose because they have to work everyday to stay alive.

But all of us here, we have a choice

What choice will you make?

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