Thanks Mom. I’m Learning From You.

Thanks Mom. I’m Learning From You.

I have a pretty awesome mom.  I spent the first 20 years of life pretending to be wildly independent, forming my own identity.  I spent the next 20 years slowly realizing we have a bit in common.  I’ve spent the last three years openly admitting I am what I like to call “a toned down version of my mother.”  For those that know my mom, you will likely agree: there isn’t a person out there with wilder ideas, a more creative spirit or a bigger heart.

Growing up I had no idea what I wanted to be.  I just knew what I did not want to be.  My mom was an elementary school principal, and since I was on my own quest of independence, I knew I would be anything but that.  At first I was convinced I would be an accountant.  I loved math so much that Continue reading

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I’m Not THAT Principal: Re-Imagine the Role

I’m Not THAT Principal: Re-Imagine the Role

There are certain occupations that tug at our heart strings.  We naturally associate warm feelings with kind professions such as the florist, the massage therapist, and the kindergarten teacher.  We expect to like them.  Contrarily, other professions seem to arouse fear or anxiety just buy stating their title: the cop, the auditor, Continue reading

Ideas from Educon

Last month I had the pleasure of attending the Educon 2.6 Conference in Philadelphia.  My intention was to blog about  take away ideas within a couple days of the conference.   I’m not quite sure what happened but somehow I took a month hiatus  from this blog.  I have spent more time writing at http://www.BeyondHELLO.org but havcn’t found the time to share education ideas here.  And now I feel like a kid with 30 excuses about why I haven’t done my homework…  Regardless, the conference was outstanding and the ideas are worth sharing. So – without any further delay, here are the top 5 things I took away from Educon.

1. You need to visit Philadelphia and the Science Leadership Academy.  This amazing school teaches all of their curriculum through project based learning.  Regardless of the subject, students are assessed based on their five pillars: Inquiry, Research, Collaboration, Presentation and Reflection.   The school has partnered up with the community to create authentic learning opportunities.  For example, each week, the students visit the Franklin Institute as part of their science curriculum.   The school is buzzing with innovative ideas, creativity and students that are proud of their school and thriving in all regards.  If you have the change to get to Educon next year I would highly recommend it.

2. Encienda / PechaKucha / Ignite – call it what you wish – I LOVE it.   I had the opportunity to present in Philadelphia for five minutes using 20 slides.  As a presenter, I did not have control over the slide transitions.  I had 5 minutes, with 20 slides which advanced automatically every 15 seconds.  (PechaKucha is 20 slides at 20 seconds each).    As a presenter, this was intimidating!  Not only did i need to know my stuff, I needed to have a polished presentation where I stayed on track, and said what really mattered while I had the chance.  I found this presentation way more difficult to prepare for than an hour long presentation.  However – I loved it!  I was challenged, I had to be creative, and I had to simplify my presentation to maximize impact in a short period of time.    As an audience member I LOVED watching all the other presentations.  Every five minutes the topic would change which kept the entire audience engaged.  This would be a great strategy to use with students or at staff meetings or district meetings.

3. Story-Sharing Session:  At this workshop, the presenters from IZone (Office of Innovation, New York City Department of Education) taped powerful words  to a whiteboard.  They then took two minutes to tell a personal story about education themed around one of the powerful words.  The audience was invited to listen and also think of their own personal stories about innovation in schools.  If the presentation prompted you to think of your own story, you had the chance to present next.  You could either draw a line from the first powerful word to your chosen word, or if your word was not listed, you could write it one the white board and draw a line.  This teaching strategy encouraged the audience to listen but also required each person to find the connections and share with one another.  We quickly discovered how much our stories connected and how easily we could relate.  This would be a simple way for students  or staff to identify connections between them.

4. Design Thinking.  This was my favourite presentation at the conference.  Teachers from Mount Vernon School in Atlanta walked us through a  ‘Design Thinking’ exercise so we could experience the benefit of seeing change happen, while understanding the value of empathy in problem solving.  For example, their Socials Teacher spoke about his Alexander the Great Lesson, where students needed to get to know Alex as a person before they could figure out what advise they would give to him.  The science teacher had students watch a video of a woman hearing for the first time before asking the class to work together to create an improved cochlear implant.   In our workshop we were paired up and given the task of re-designing airplanes to improve the middle seat experience.   To teach this concept, we were asked to spend 8 minutes with our partner (2 sessions at 4 min each) where we listened to our partner explain their experience flying in the middle seat.  Then, based on the emotion we had heard, we were asked to go deeper for 6 minutes (2 sessions at 3 minutes each) to learn more about our partner.  My partner explained that she needed to move. She didn’t like feeling trapped.  When we went deeper I learned that she loves the outdoors, adventure sports and travel.  I was able to re-frame the problem and create a problem statement:  “Meg, a passionate community educator, needs a way to integrate adventure, movement and space into her middle seat flight because she is passionate about the outdoors and loves new experiences.”  I was then able to draw a protype for an airplane seat that resembled an IMAX experience with a moving chair and simulation video.    I loved this activity because the design I developed was rooted in empathy for someone else’s needs.  If I had started with my own needs, I would have re-designed the seat so I could spend more time talking to strangers – something completely different than what my new friend Meg was looking for.

5. Maker Movement.  I didn’t have the chance to attend the Maker Movement breakout but it seems to be getting more and more attention.  The idea is simply to create Maker Stations where students can use random materials to tinker, hack and create during the day to demonstrate their learning.  Two of our fabulous Thomas Haney teachers are modelling this for our staff by hosting a school wide ‘Maker Faire’ tomorrow afternoon.  Students will meet in one central area and gather materials and then return to subject specific learning spaces to demonstrate their learning.  (Value Village was more than happy to donate their random parts and pieces for our student creations)

After returning home from Educon, I am feeling inspired and energized to try these new ideas. I believe this is an exciting time in education.  We are learning more and more about teaching and learning and finding innovative ways to provide rich experiences for our students.  Teachers are more valuable than ever as they work one on one with students to help them explore their passions and discover what they love to learn about.  Educon was an amazing conference, not just because of the school itself, but also because it brought together innovative educators from across North America.   I’m looking forward to DisruptED Vancouver, this coming October as we too hope to offer a fabulous education conference, where we celebrate innovation, creativity and ideas that inspire.    Registration is now open with early bird rates until June 15th. http://www.eventbrite.ca/e/disrupted-vancouver-2014-tickets-4458812428?aff=eivtefrnd

Two Exciting Education Events for 2014

Happy New Year!  There’s something about January that I love.  Whether or not we keep our resolutions, the simple act of stopping to reflect on the year behind us and look at the new year with optimism gives us a sense of renewal and hope.  It also gives us direction for where we are headed.  “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”  ― Paulo CoelhoThe Alchemist

This coming year I am really looking forward to two exciting education events!  I am hopeful that you will join us in one or both!

1)  The first of the two events, is Make BC Smile – an initiative that students in my leadership class created.  Make BC Smile will take place in BC from Monday May 26th – Friday May 30th.  The premise is simple – have students engage in projects that spread kindness and help make people in BC stop and smile.  What I love about this project is how it came to be.  In October, I showed my leadership class a video I had found on Twitter, created by Massoud Adibpour.  He is a university student in Washington DC who decided to make it his mission to make DC smile.  He got some friends together and began the ‘Honk if You Love Someone Campaign‘.   My intention was simplistic.  I thought I would show the video to my students, and then we would repeat the idea by creating positive signs to hold on Lougheed Highway in Maple Ridge for one morning.  What happened next was pretty cool.  Local media learned of our project because passerby’s phoned the media and asked them to cover it.  The Province newspaper wrote ‘Happy Haney students spread the love with streetside rally‘. The secretaries at our school fielded multiple calls from drivers who wanted to thank the students for making their day.  One lady broke down in tears in the Starbucks line up sharing the impact the simple messages had that particular day.   As an educator, I LOVE the impact this day had on our students.  A couple of days later, one of my students, Caroline, approached me and asked if I had a plan for our leadership class the following week.  I asked why.  She told me she needed 20 minutes of the class.  She had taken it upon herself to contact Massoud Adibpour in Washington DC to let him know that we had repeated his project and she had made arrangements for him to join us via Skype to share ideas for positive projects in our communities!   On the Monday, during the Skype conversation, two other leadership students, Jenna & Miranda, thought of a new idea.  As members of the Maple Ridge District Student Advisory Council, they were in search of a motivational speaker for May for a grade 6-7 leadership conference.  What if Massoud & his girlfriend Bonnie could be the speakers? What if the leadership conference could include a district wide ‘Honk if you Love Someone’ campaign with grade 6-12 students lining the streets from East to West through Pitt Meadows & Maple Ridge?  As grade 12 students at Thomas Haney (a self directed school), they know how to negotiate, take initiative, and advocate for what they want.  So what did they do?  They did their research, looked up flights, contacted Massoud & Bonnie and convinced them not only to volunteer their time to come to Vancouver, but also to extend their stay for a week!  They then set up a meeting with our superintendent’s office to confirm funding.  This ALL happened before they shared the idea with me.  I told them I loved it – I just had one question…. where would they stay?   They smiled and said “at your house!”.  (Which our family is excited about)  I love how they have created this all on their own!  Their goal is to share their enthusiasm with others across the province.  For the week of May 26-30th the Maple Ridge – Pitt Meadows School District will work together spreading random acts of kindness throughout the community in an effort to ‘Make BC Smile’.  We would LOVE to have schools around the province join us.  If you would like to participate, please comment below and our students will be in touch and showcase your initiative on http://www.makebcsmile.com.  I know it will be an exciting week.  I’m smiling already!

2) The second event I’m looking forward to is a bit of a dream come true.  For those of you that know me well, you know I LOVE education and I LOVE planning events.  Well, this year, when a team of educators from our school travelled to Edmonton for the annual CCSDL Conference (Canadian Coalition of Self Directed Learning), we found out that the city scheduled to host the conference next year had to back out.  My principal Sean Nosek and I had already been speaking about planning an exciting pro-d event in Vancouver, so we decided to take the plunge and offer up our school as the next host school for this national teaching conference.  However, in talking with our teachers, we realized we have all reached a place where our expectations for Pro-D are changing.  We don’t want to be ‘talked-to’ – we want to participate.  We want to leave the conference inspired, and full of new ideas. We realized we crave something different – something new – something that shakes up education.  We want to plan a conference that we would like to attend… a conference that challenges us to be better educators and inspires us to try new ideas.  A conference that dares to disrupt education.

After a couple months of preliminary planning our ideas are starting to take shape.  Here’s what I can tell you so far….  DisruptED Vancouver will take place over three days, October 23 – 25th 2014.  The Thursday will take place at Thomas Haney Secondary and the Friday / Saturday will take place at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

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So what is DisruptED?  Our ideas are unfolding but here’s a glimpse into what we hope to create….

DisruptED is different.  It is not for those who want the future to look the same as today.  It is not for those who doubt our education system and what it can become.  DisruptED is for those who believe in the future of education and believe that we have a responsibility to create the best system we possibly can. It’s for those who want every student to have an education that is rich and meaningful.  It’s for those who are willing to challenge assumptions that hold us back and take bold steps to move education forward.

DisruptED promises to be a powerful 3 day conference in Vancouver, BC where great minds in education will gather together to share ideas that are innovative, promising, creative, hopeful and inspiring. DisruptED invites the rogues, the rule breakers, the ones interested in pushing the limits to step forward.   We will provide an opportunity for individuals and groups to come together, to share stories and ideas, united in our belief that beautiful things can happen when we disrupt the status quo.

And we could not promote this idea without living it.  DisruptED will NOT be a status quo conference.  Expect to participate.  Expect to create.  Expect to learn. Expect to teach.  Expect to think.  Expect to laugh.  Expect to experience the beauty of Vancouver as you join in walking conversations on Vancouver’s seawall, engage in rich dialogue in one of the city’s casual cafes, or use what you’ve learned to compete in the DisruptED Vancouver Amazing Race.  Expect to leave motivated, inspired, connected and ready to shake up education.

It’s time to DisruptED. 

I hope that you will consider joining us!  Our call for presenters will open this spring and our website will be announced later this month.   If you would like to join our mailing list please comment below.  For more information you can also contact us via email at Sean_Nosek@sd42.ca or Kristi_Blakeway@sd42.ca

As I look ahead to 2014, I do so with excitement and gratitude.  I cannot wait to join with students to Make BC Smile and connect with educators to DisruptED!

The Purpose of Education

“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”  
Aristotle
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Sometimes when we talk about education we lose scope of what matters.  Political campaigns and media headlines emphasize numbers: school closures, class sizes, rising costs and grad rates.  Numbers give us quick answers, and an easy way to compare schools to one another. While math was definitely my favourite subject growing up, I’m not a fan of numbers when it comes to measuring schools.  Of course class sizes, dollars spent and high marks are important, but these pieces of data pale in comparison to what really matters in education.
Let’s take your own school experience as an example.  Take a second to think back to your school days.   Do you recall the number of students in each course, the cost of your annual school fees or the grade point average of your graduating class?  I’m suspecting those are hard facts to remember.  If this is the case, why do we so often turn to quantitative measures when we set school goals or measure a school’s performance?  Quantitative data is easy to measure but I question whether it should be the goal.  When we focus on what really matters in life, we create environments where kids feel safe, supported, connected, inspired, and excited to learn.
What happens if I change the questions about your education.  This time,  what if I ask you to  tell me the name of your favourite teacher, the best class you ever took or the connections you made with others.  I bet these questions are much easier to answer.  When I look back I remember my grade 10 science teacher Mr. Sandy Hill.  Our class always looked forward to the weeks when science would fall in the last block on Friday, as those blocks were dedicated to lessons in life.  He taught us that ‘hallway’ was the most important subject, and used the power of story to teach us valuable lessons about friendship, compassion, and life in general.  In grade 12,  I met my favourite teacher of all, Mr. Rich Chambers.  And here’s the irony – I hated the subject he taught.  Yet I signed up for Comparative Civilizations so I could hear his stories, and experience what it was like to be in his class.   Every morning he greeted each of us at the door with a handshake.  He brought humour and energy to every class.  He had high expectations and he cared deeply about each and every student.  Attendance wasn’t something he had to worry about as a teacher as his class was so exciting that no one wanted to miss it.
Personally, I will never forget a particular April morning in my grade 12 year.  I had a terrible fight with my parents and I had been crying most the night.  When I woke up my eyes were puffy so I wore my sunglasses to school.  Mr. Chambers was at the door as usual, waiting to greet each student.  As he shook my hand he exclaimed “hey – nice shades!”.  I lifted my glasses so he could see my swollen eyes.  He gave me a quick pat on the shoulder and told me we would chat soon.  What happened next was perhaps the best ‘teacher education’ I have received.  He did not single me out or draw any attention to my bad day.  Instead, he started the class by saying today was the day we were going to have mini conferences with him in the hall to talk about our progress.  He put a video on relating to the curriculum and began to call each student out for individual meetings.  After two or three students, it was my turn, and he was able to discreetly talk to me about what was going on in my life outside school.  I will never forget that moment where he seamlessly transitioned his lesson to discreetly help me though a difficult time.  Teachers like Sandy Hill and Rich Chambers truly understand that the most valuable lessons we learn in school are lessons in life.
 Now that I’m a parent I think about what I want for my own children.  Here’s what I want their school experience to be like:
  • I want them to develop a love for learning  where childlike wonder develops into an inquisitive nature.  Where they are just as excited to raise their hand in grade 12 as they are in kindergarten.
  • I want them to understand how they learn so they can continue to apply their skills to new content throughout life.
  • I want them to become socially responsible citizens who care deeply about others and take the time to know people’s stories.
  • I want them to have rich experiences in and out of the classroom where they connect with community, explore a vast array of topics, and start to discover their own passions.
  • I want them to play.  I want them to feel safe enough to take risks and embrace their creative spirit.
  • I want them to find balance with skills in technological literacy for a  fast paced world yet equal skill in self reflection, mindfulness and comfort in silence.
  • I want them to be loved, appreciated and understood.  I want them to experience synergy and contagious energy that develops when they truly connect with others.
  • And more than anything I want them to always be happy.  I want them to understand that happiness does not come from getting what they want, but rather from giving to others, expressing gratitude, being active and reflecting on who they are becoming.
  • I want them to learn with passionate educators who believe in educating the mind as well as the heart.  This video, which was beautifully created for the Heart Mind 2013 Conference captures this perfectly.   http://www.educatingtheheart.org
As an educator, I want this for my children and for your children.  Do I also want them to get good grades?   Of course I do.  I’d just rather we focus on what matters most.  When we create learning environments where our children can thrive, the numbers will become a by-product of more meaningful and significant goals.

My Top Ten Mistakes and the Lessons I Have Learned

A man may fall many times, but he won’t be a failure

until he says that someone pushed him. ~ Elmer G. Letterman

Recently I sat down to prepare for a job interview for a Vice Principal position with the Maple Ridge School District. To do so, I created a chart, with a range of topics that I thought may come up during the interview. Under each column I reflected on my career in education, with examples that I could use to demonstrate my skill set. I anticipated there may be a question about mistakes I have made, or things I would do differently if I had the chance to go back and start over, so I created a column just for my mistakes. As I brainstormed scenarios, I found that the ‘mistakes’ column brought back some great memories, and I found that I was laughing out loud, thinking back to some of my career bloopers.   

What I started to recognize is that the moments that emerged as mistakes also helped me grow as a leader. Each mistake challenged my thinking, required some creativity, and taught me a valuable lesson.  Looking back, these are some of the most enjoyable memories, as these are days I will never forget!

Pam Becker, Vice Principal at Pitt River Middle School recently wrote about mistakes, and the importance they play in our adult lives. As educators, we often remind students and their parents that mistakes make us human, and help us learn and grow. As adults, we don’t always grant ourselves the same permission, and often choose to play it safe. Choosing the safe route may yield fewer mistakes, but it also dampens our creative spirit.  JK Rowling offered an outstanding commencement speech on The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination. She describes rock bottom as the solid foundation for re-building life. 

Fortunately, I would not describe any of my bloopers as ‘hitting rock bottom’, though I do feel there are lessons to be learned from each experience.  I share with you what I consider My Top Ten Mistakes and the Lessons I have Learned.

Mistake # 10 – BEST 40th Photobest40

To commemorate the 40th anniversary of our school, we decided to take an aerial photo of our students on our field spelling out BEST 40.  We had a vision, and thought it was possible.  I contacted the News 1130 traffic helicopter and they agreed to take the photo.  Unfortunately the time they were in the air didn’t correlate with school hours so we went to Plan B.  I contacted the fire department and asked if they could use their Tower Truck to take the photo.  They agreed, assuming no emergency calls came in.  With vision and optimism, we thought we were ready.  I went to Costco and bought a gazillion roles of hockey tape to line the field before an assembly where we gave instructions on how to line up.   Sounds good right?  Well the logistics had some flaws.  Teachers called me over to tell me they had calculated the angle and that the photo would not work.  The hockey tape didn’t stick to turf, and to make matters worse the colour of the tape almost matched the field colour. Almost everyone suggested we just take one big group photo.  However, my principal and I had faith.  With completely inappropriate footwear for the weather conditions, we gathered five students to help us and we spontaneously used all the masking tape in the school to outline BEST 40. With minutes to spare, we led the assembly and our plan worked. The Tower Truck arrived, no emergency calls came in and we got our photo.  LESSON: Plan ahead but always believe in hope.

Mistake # 9 – Post It Note Chaos

Last June, I was approached by two of my leadership students.  They wanted to play a ‘grad prank’ that was safe and in good taste.  They had a vision of using thousands of coloured post it notes to line the lockers of the school spelling ‘GRAD 2012’.  They wanted to do this on a Sunday evening so the staff and students could arrive on Monday morning to find a colourful and tasteful surprise.  I agreed to meet them on Sunday night, so a group of 10-20 students could create their ‘art work’.  They brought in music, snacks and thousands of post its.  They got to work and I used the time to catch up on work in my office.  Life was going well until I heard banging from the floor above me.  I quickly discovered that the post it note prank had progressed into an out of control party of sorts. Students had let other students in, and not all of them had the same intention.  The pranks were no longer in good taste, and many other minor pranks were being arranged on each of the three floors.  I could not believe that I had essentially contributed to an event that had a negative impact on our school. I felt so much shame. Thankfully one of my friends on staff agreed to help me in the late hours cleaning as much as we could before Monday morning arrived.  Lesson: Kids will be Kids. Give them the wings to fly but not free reign of the school to plan a grad prank. 

Mistake #8 – Emergency Folder Updates

Every room in our school has an emergency folder with information, maps and paperwork necessary to help in an evacuation or emergency.  One particular day I decided to box up all the folders with all the updated inserts, and bring the box home.  The process of updating the folders took longer than I thought and I was tired.  My husband looked at me and said “what are the chances that you will need those tomorrow?”.  I agreed the chance was extremely low and decided to get some sleep, leaving the folders spread across my living room to be completed the following evening.  Of course, the very next day the fire alarms started to ring mid day and our school had to evacuate without signs, class lists, paperwork, etc.   Lesson:  Murphy’s Law Exists!  Be warned!

Mistake # 7 – The Big Drug Bust

Our school is right across the street from a big park full of trails.  It’s a beautiful setting, but also an easy place to hide.  I was well aware that one of our students was bringing drugs to school and selling them to others in the park.  However, I was one step behind him and never caught him in the act.  On a busy day, I saw him cross the road with friends and a big bag.  I checked to see if one of our other administrators could go for a walk in the park with me to see what we could discover.  They were tied up in meetings, but I didn’t want to let this moment pass by as I didn’t want our students smoking drugs in the park. I decided to linger behind the student group and enter the park alone.  In the distance I saw the person with the backpack head off the trail and head into the woods.  I decided I would out-smart him.  Instead of allowing him to see me coming down the same path, I decided to venture into the woods through a different direction so that we would meet up at the same spot.  I climbed over stumps, navigated tree roots and eventually came to the same clearing as the student with the back pack.  I said hello.  He turned around so we were face to face.  There I was staring at a man in his mid 40’s in the middle of the woods.  Hmmm.  Not so safe.  I quickly excused myself and exited quickly.   Lesson:  Safety First.  Plain and Simple. 

Mistake # 6 – Caesar Salad for All 

In preparation for parent night, and a staff dinner at the break, my principal asked me to pick up romaine lettuce at Costco.  I asked how much I should pick up.  She said four.  So off I went to Costco in search of lettuce.  I was delighted to find that Costco has already bundled the lettuce 4 / pack, so I picked up one pack and headed for the till.  Ten minutes before the dinner my principal asked me where the rest of the lettuce was.  I asked her what she was talking about.  Apparently she had meant four packages.  Who knew you couldn’t make salad for 80 people with only 4 heads of lettuce!  Now, most of you will probably think that I should learn something from this, but really, the lesson here is that we need to recognize the strengths in one another.  Funny how Mary never asked me to cook again.  Lesson: Know your strengths.  Cooking is not mine.

Mistake # 5 – Awards Night during Teacher Job Action 

Last June we had difficulty determining whether or not we should host our Awards Evening as the teachers were in Job Action and unable to volunteer their time to assist.  We decided that we would go ahead with a streamlined version.  Rather than having award recipients approach the stage one by one, we would call them up in groups based on the awards won.  Mark Rao MC’d the event, Mary O’Neill shook hands with the students and I distributed the awards and certificates from the table.  Minutes in I realized I was way over my head.  Students were approaching every second, and matching them with their awards in time for the photo was becoming an impossible task.  Deciding the show must go on, I continued to hand out awards and tell the students to smile. Only problem? The certificates did not match their names.  Each time I whispered to the student to see me at the end to swap the certificates.  At the end of the evening I remember Mark and Mary being pleased, and saying ” Wow – that sure ran smoothly!”.  I then explained that our blonde haired top Calculus student actually posed with the Korean student’s Drafting award with the wrong name, etc.  Good thing the camera didn’t have a zoom lens and no one noticed!  Lesson: The Show Must Go On! Smile for the camera, let the students shine and work out the kinks later.  Oh, and pray that Job Action will not return.

Mistake # 4 – Winter Formal Tickets

For years, our school has held a winter formal dance as a fundraiser for school clubs. Tickets have always been a hot item as the venue only holds 250 students.  In years past, students camped overnight to get tickets and then slept through or skipped class.  This didn’t seem educationally sound so we decided that we would sell tickets after school as a secret location within the building.  We decided not to announce the location until after our last class so that all students could attend school, and then have an equal chance of getting into line.  We asked one of our teachers to be near the secret location (at the end of a hallway) to help maintain an orderly line once the location was announced.  We picked our PE hallway as we have cameras in this location and we would be able to replay the video footage if students tried to sneak into line ahead of others.  Again, sounds like a good idea right?  OK – now imagine hundreds of students running full speed down the same hallway with one staff member trying to hold them back.  The video footage is priceless.  Imagine a mosh pit where the teacher, Dave Jones,  is all of a sudden crowd surfing with his hands flailing in the air as he is moved down the hall.  Sorry Dave! Thank goodness we moved to an internet based system this year.  Lesson: Embrace Technology and Avoid the Old Fashioned Line Up Craze!

Mistake # 3 – Fieldtrip Disaster

When I was teaching Marketing at Terry Fox Secondary, I arranged a fieldtrip to Seattle each semester.  We rented a coach bus to travel in comfort.  I did all the necessary paperwork so the office had all the student information.  Students had their ID, and we were ready to go.  However, on the way back home, our bus broke down on the side of the I-5 Highway near Mount Vernon.  The driver concluded the bus would not re-start and we started to unload.  This caused some traffic congestion in the area. Most of our students had moved to the grassy area beside the highway and the final six and the driver were in the midst of exiting the bus.  At that moment, a semi trailer failed to see the traffic stopping ahead, swerved to miss the traffic and instead clipped the front end of our bus.  The bus started to tip towards the kids and the truck flipped over the guard rail in front of us.bus accident  As you can tell by the photo, it is a miracle no one was seriously hurt in this accident.  However, when I phoned the school to inform parents and administration I realized the school was now closed and I didn’t have the contact numbers for our administrators.  Lesson: When planning fieldtrips, leave the necessary paperwork with the school, but travel with the necessary contact information to reach school staff and parents.

Mistake # 2 Hot Air Balloon

While working at Dr. Charles Best, I tried to come up with a creative idea each year to help raise thousands of dollars for the Terry Fox Foundation.  These included a ‘Kiss A Goat’ event, ‘Blue Devils on the Run Garden Gnomes’ and a ‘Hot Air Balloon Event’.  I approached Remax and asked them to donate their hot air balloon for our fundraiser.  They agreed.  We sold plastic balls for $10 each, and set a target.  The balloon operator then dropped thousands of balls from the sky, and the student with the ball closest to the pin won a $1000 cash prize.  The remaining funds went to the Terry Fox Foundation.  Again, sounds good right?  Over the past five years we have raised closed to $50 000 for the Terry Fox Foundation so I would consider this a success on many grounds.  However, when our event ended up on the front cover of the paper, a concerned citizen lodged a formal complaint with the BC Lottery Corporation.  In their eyes, we were teaching children, under the age of 19 to gamble, without a lottery license.  My apologies to the entire district who had to endure re-training on when and how to get a lottery licence.  Lesson: Be creative, have fun, help charities, but get a lottery license first!

Mistake #1:  Sandra & Samantha’s Reunion Twistsandra sam In 2009, we began Project HELLO, helping the homeless from the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver re-connect with family through Christmas Cards.  Sandra, pictured on the left, was the first woman to write a card.  When we found her daughter Samantha in Alberta they were both overjoyed.  Samantha had presumed her mother was dead, and was so excited to find out she was alive in Vancouver.  Neither had the funds to reunite, so our students and staff chipped in and paid for an all-expense paid trip for Samantha to come to Vancouver, including flights, accommodation and food.  After re-connecting them at the airport, we traveled in my car to the hotel.  Mid-route Samantha proceeded to tell the students and I that she would not be accepting the return flight, as she had decided to stay in Vancouver with her mom.  She shared a story about just getting out of jail in time for the flight as she had recently taken a Calgary city bus on a joy-ride.  Her children were no longer in her care.   Shocked and confused my mind was racing.  Minutes after dropping them off at the hotel, I was in contact with the Calgary police to discuss the situation. Samantha did decide to stay for a couple months and live with her mother on the streets of Vancouver.  This wasn’t exactly what we had pictured, yet when I look back, I recognize that it was still a beautiful act.  At the core, a mother and daughter were able to re-connect and share family stories, after a decade of not hearing from each other.  They may live lives that are very different from ours, but they love one another and deserved the opportunity to connect as a family. Lesson: Find the positive in each situation. Families come in many shapes and sizes, and helping them connect will never be wrong.

Above all, the most valuable lesson I have learned is that we have to take risks, seek new challenges and be comfortable making mistakes in order to grow and learn.  Oh – and in case you are wondering, I got the job!  Thomas Haney, I look forward to learning from my mistakes with you!

When the world says, “Give up,” Hope whispers, “Try it one more time.” 

The Power of Why: 101 New Year’s Resolutions

Maybe I’m feeling inspired from our recent trip to Disneyland, or maybe it’s the excitement I feel about beginning a new job next month, but as we begin a new year and I look inward to create meaningful resolutions, I find I am fascinated with the topic of creativity and innovation.

I have just finished reading The Power of Why by Amanda Lang and look forward to power of whyborrowing ideas from the book to spark creativity and innovation in our schools. As a child, Lang decided she wanted to be an architect. Her family supported her career goal and very early on she knew the steps to take to reach her goal. Unfortunately as she reached adulthood, she asked ‘how’ questions to reach the next step but didn’t stop to ask herself ‘why’. Eventually she realized that she had much more passion for the stories within the buildings rather than the buildings themselves, and she changed directions to explore a career in Journalism. All of a sudden all night assignments became invigorating rather than exhausting and she knew she was on the right path.  She now co-hosts the Lang & O’Leary Exchange CBC and is the senior business correspondent for CBC News.

While this book focusses most on the business world I believe there are many valuable lessons that we can take away and apply to education.

  • Shift our priorities. Rather than trying to develop creativity while meeting prescribed learning outcomes, what if creativity becomes an outcome itself?  Developing creativity as a learning outcome or competency allows us to remain curious, seek to improve, ask questions, and look at problems from new angles.  In essence, those who think creatively will continue to learn.
  • Find ways to preserve child-like wonder and reignite natural curiosity. In twin studies, research suggests that 80% of IQ is related to genetics but only 30% of our creativity.  This suggests that 70% of our creativity comes from environmental factors and can be learned. Unfortunately it can also be diminished if it is not encouraged.
  • Focus on the questions, not just a desired answer.  Promote questioning to develop divergent thinking.  A shift to develop a curious mentality versus an expert mentality allows students the ability to understand how they learn, and develops a skill set that will be beneficial in the future.
  • Look at education through the eyes of the customer.  Private schools do a great job at this, promoting their strengths and the benefits the customer will receive.  Unfortunately the public system often turns to the media to highlight what’s not working in schools rather than highlighting our tremendous strengths and opportunities as one of the best education systems in the world. To stay innovative, we need to continually improve while focusing on our strengths.
  • Reflect. If we want to be creative and curious in our work, then we need to start with ourselves.  People who have the courage to self-reflect and ask questions of themselves create opportunities for growth and positive change.  Lang warns that those who focus on routine and comfort may wake up one day only to recognize they are in the wrong career or wrong relationship.
  • Start with individual ideas and then work together. The most creative ideas develop when students have the time to brainstorm alone first and then bring their ideas to the group. Beginning as a group reduces creativity for a variety of reasons including self-censorship, groupthink, taking turns, laziness and a tendency to promote harmony over creativity.
  • We need to teach our students that one of the best ways to stay actively engaged in their learning when they feel they are losing focus is to stop and ask a question.  Students with ADHD have a natural aptitude for applying ideas from one topic to another – a gift in innovative thinking.
  • Shift thinking from ‘How’ to ‘Why’.  Rather than asking how we are going to accomplish our goals, or get our daily, monthly or yearly tasks done, stop and ask why.  Why do students and parents choose our school? Why do we do things the way we do? Often those who have lived in multiple countries or worked in various industries have a learned ability to ask why and look at situations with fresh eyes. Do we take time to stop and get the perspective from those around us?

So – as we enter a new year, I have decided to set resolutions from a different angle. Rather than asking what I want to do this year, I will look a bit deeper with each resolution and ask why. Gaining a deeper understanding of my goals will help me reflect on what I truly value and what I hope to accomplish. To set resolutions that matter, I plan to use a technique Lang describes that is used by many Fortune 500 companies to encourage innovation: Participants at creativity retreats are asked to generate a list of 101 goals. This seems like a rather long list, but the length has purpose as the goals that are harder to think of often require more stretch or deeper exploration into who we want to be. Goals that are further down the list are often more creative and unique.  Once completed, participants are asked to narrow their list to their top fifteen goals.  More often than not, goals near the end of 101 list make their way to the Top 15.

I am inspired by this idea, and will try this in order to set my New Year’s Resolutions for 2013. And like a child with natural curiousity, I will ask myself a lot of questions, understanding why and why not.  Although I have yet to complete this activity (that’s tomorrow’s task), I have a sneaking suspicion I already know one of my top goals for 2013….  I will awaken the three year old child within me and approach life from a curious perspective, not afraid to ask Why or Why Not.  As Lang concludes “asking questions makes life richer, more interesting, more fulfilling and more complete.  Better.  That’s the power, and ultimately the purpose, of Why”.