Goodbye Guacamole: Finding Balance in the Crazy World of Education

Goodbye Guacamole: Finding Balance in the Crazy World of Education

12814244_10156710943540134_2235263687946280847_n.jpgI have spent three of the last four weeks in Mexico. On our last day here in the sun, I realize that this is likely the first and last time (until possibly retirement) where I will have the opportunity to relax this much mid-year. For the first week, I was invited to participate in We Move Forward – an amazing Wellness Retreat for Women in Isla Mujeres where I presented on the Science of Happiness and Impact of Giving. After four days back at work I was packing again and heading to San Jose del Cabo for Spring Break with friends and family for two weeks in the sun. Continue reading

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

Pop’s Sparkling Eyes: A Lifetime of Learning

Pop’s Sparkling Eyes: A Lifetime of Learning

My Pop had the most amazing character. He was hard working, honest, friendly and intelligent. His father died when he was a teen, so he grew up fast, working hard to support his mother.  A motorcycle accident stopped him from going to war, and in the hospital he fell in love with his nurse, my Nanna.  Together they crafted a formula for raising six children:  hard work,  witty humour and a whole lot of love.  Nothing was more important to Pop than his family, and his sparkling eyes let us see through to his soul.  Without much formal education, he was a scholar of life, cherishing and appreciating knowledge as he found it.  On his breaks at work, he would sip his coffee and Continue reading

Light and Joyous: My kind of perfect.

Light and Joyous: My kind of perfect.

Every once in a while, someone will walk into your life and shift it forever.  We never know when these encounters will occur: a simple interaction that blossoms into a lifetime friendship.   Yet, life has a way of bringing the people we need into our lives, at the right times.  After we meet them, we can no longer imagine life without them, as the synergy just makes life better.

Twenty seven years ago, my life changed for the better in the cafeteria of my junior high.  It was lunch time, and like many other students, I was in the cafeteria line up to buy some food.  There was nothing special about this day.  In fact, like many schools, the lunchtime routine in our cafeteria had social norms that repeated themselves day in and day out.  Everyone knew who would sit at each table. And for the most part, everyone knew who would sit with who.  And like every day before, I had full intention of sitting with my group of friends, at the second table on the left, next to the window.  And yet, on this particular day, something happened.  As I took my cafeteria tray and started my diagonal walk to ‘my table’ I heard someone from the table right in front of me call out “Hey – what’s your name?”   The voice came from the first table, closest to the cafeteria line up.  The first table next to the wall was unofficially reserved for students with special needs.  On this particular day, a friendly boy named Steven was calling out to me as I passed.  I stopped and told him my name.  We were both thirteen and had never talked to each other before this moment.  He smiled and said “Kristi – sit with me!”  I still remember the pause – a moment where I wondered what to do… should I sit down or should I walk to my table where my friends were expectantly waiting. And in that split second, I made one of the best choices of my life – and I decided to sit down and meet Steven.


Steven told me his name and asked what I had for lunch.  I told him I had a cucumber, tomato and cream cheese sandwich.  He replied “cucumber and cheesie?”  I said yes.  With the biggest smile and some outbursts of enthusiasm, Steven became my friend.  It was a definitive moment, with set expectations.  “Kristi – give me your phone number – I will call you everyday!! Can we be friends for 40 years?”  Luckily I said yes.

Twenty seven years later, Steven has kept his promise, and he has called everyday.  He has been there as a friend through significant moments, as the usher in my wedding, welcoming everyone with a nice loud “Welcome to Kristi and Shawn’s wedding – SIT DOWN!”, as a groomsman at my brother’s wedding, and at most family events.  He has volunteered at many places I have worked (Capilano Suspension Bridge, Terry Fox School teaching with me, Charles Best School and Thomas Haney Secondary) He has helped as the water boy or ‘assistant coach’ on many teams, he has helped me teach, and he has made thousands of friends wherever we go.  You see, hanging out with Steven is not just a nice thing I do.  Hanging out with Steven is one of the best things I get to do because he knows how to live life.


Steven might just be the happiest person on the planet.  His loud voice, boisterous laugh, fast walk, and teethy smile make him pretty distinct.  If you meet Steven, you don’t forget him.  And he never forgets you.  In fact, he can list off thousands of names and remember the phone numbers of everyone he has met.  Steven has an unparalleled amount of contagious enthusiasm.  He loves meeting new people and finds a way to make them feel loved right away.  He breaks the ice better than anyone I have ever met.  He is funny, energetic and forever positive.  He knows how to lighten up a room, how to make people laugh and how to make people feel good about themselves.   Recently my family needed to go to the airport so my husband Shawn could fly to Regina for six months of RCMP training.  We decided to bring Steven with us for two reasons.  One – he wanted to go.  Two – we all knew that we would all be better able to handle the emotion of the day with Steven’s ability to make every event just a little bit lighter.


Steven knows how to be authentic.  He is quick to tell you what he loves and what he hates.  He was offered a job cleaning up in a mall food court years ago.  After two days he quit.  He will still tell you “I hate it – the garbage stinks!”  He would much rather work for free doing things he loves.  Steven knows how to show gratitude and always says please and thank you.  When he gets really excited he claps his hands and shouts “I love it!”  He is joy.

Twenty seven years later, he is one of my best friends. He still says “what do you have for lunch – cucumber and cheesie?” and phones every day to check in. He is like family, and often sleeps over at our house. Our two boys call him uncle Steven.  Last week he babysat for an hour.  My kids say It was the best experience ever.  Together they played hide and seek and ate as much candy as they wanted.


I am not sure what will happen in thirteen years.  Steven tells me every day that we are friends for “40 years”.  However, this morning at breakfast, he turned to my boys Jaden and Cole and said “hey J – Colesy – can we be friends? Be friends for 40 years!”.  They too said yes, so it looks like we get to have Steven in our lives until at least 2054.  And for that, I am incredibly grateful.  Steven teaches me every day what life is really about.  He is happy.  He is kind.  He is light and he is joyous.  And that is my kind of perfect.

To all my friends who know Steven, add your comments below and I will happily share with him. 

I Am Not On A Side: We are in this together

September is a time of renewal… changing seasons, crisp nights, fall colours and back to school excitement. It’s my favourite time of year. Until yesterday, most of us hung on to some hope that Tuesday would bring upon us this annual sense of renewal. Now we have learned that this will not happen as schools will not open on time.

For months I have intentionally steered away from blogging about the the labour unrest between the BCTF and the Provincial Government. As a school administrator, I am not a member of the BCTF so ‘technically’ I am on the ‘other side’.  But not everything can be explained from a technical stance. Matters of the heart are anything but technical. And to me, this is a matter of the heart. You see, I don’t just love the students I get to work with, I love our teachers and support staff who give every day to enhance the lives of kids.

To become an administrator, you need to be a teacher first, and usually an exceptional one at that. I too went into this profession to make a positive difference, share a love of learning and inspire hope for the future. Just like most teachers, I believe I have the best job in the world; not because of the pay or the holidays, but because I get to work with young minds, I get to create, I get to be part of a professional learning community and I get to feel a sense of renewal that comes every time a child or teacher achieves another milestone. Regardless of my job title, at heart, I am a teacher and a learner first (and I feel confident I speak for my admin colleagues).

There are many blog posts that delve into the political unrest and impasse that divides the BCTF and the government. Most of what I read is technical in nature either explaining the history behind the dispute, the current conditions or the financial demands for a settlement. I am not going to write about those things. Why? Two reasons. First, I don’t feel I’m an expert on the situation, and second, I think it all pales in significance to what really matters. So what matters most? The people. Everyone involved in this mess. The students, the parents, the teachers, the support staff, the administrators, the leadership teams, the board members, the tax payers, etc. Each one of us is human, and each of us is somehow connected to this ugly situation that has caused a lot of hurt.

When this dispute started last spring, boards across the province were faced with the impossible task of cutting millions of dollars from their budgets. Teachers were laid off, support staff were let go, some trustees decided not to run again, and schools felt the heaviness. Unfortunately boards made impossible decisions knowing that whatever they decided to do, someone would get hurt. Many meetings saw tears from all ‘sides’.   Blame began, dislike spread for those making the cuts and the first ugly signs of ‘sides’ started to arise.

As job action progressed, teachers were instructed by their union to enter phase two of job action where staff meetings and email between administrators and teachers ceased. Again, unnatural ‘sides’ emerged, as both ‘sides’ had different responsibilities they had to meet. Again, on paper, a technical divide emerged. Yet a strong staff is not made up from technical job descriptions aligning together – but instead from human beings that come together to share, grow, celebrate and inspire one another. A strong staff has heart. Asking these ‘sides’ not to work together is like asking a happy couple to break up. It doesn’t feel right. As we were all asked to take ‘sides’ we did so, knowing almost secretly that we are all in this together, not because we have the same political beliefs, but simply because we are human and because we have heart. It saddens me that we had to say goodbye to retiring teachers on picket lines. It saddens me that some jobs were cut completely and not replaced. It saddens me that teachers and students had to miss many year-end activities that they looked forward to.

But here’s what saddens me most. When I turn on the news or social media, I am flooded by opinions of what teachers and the government should or should not do. I am flooded by sweeping statements that judge the character of the people involved. I am flooded by opinions of what should be done, what school should look like and how things should end. This boggles my mind. Yes – I would hope that everyone cares about kids, education and the future, but caring for kids does not make everyone experts in education. Hopefully we all grew up seeing a dentist as well, but certainly unless we have also gone to dental school, we do not feel we are an expert in dentistry. Our teachers are experts in education. They give their lives to their careers and they continually develop as mentors in learning for our children. They are fighting a fight not about wages, but about learning conditions. They know we have one of the best education systems in the world. They know what conditions they need to maintain this. It kills them to see a system erode to a point where they can’t best serve each child. Financially they have paid a steep price, but what saddens me most is the hurt they must feel against their profession and their character as they face public scrutiny from some. Throughout this ongoing dispute I have seen people turn against trustees, against leadership teams, against administrators and against teachers. And every time we take sides or have people against us, we all get hurt.

I do not have all the answers, but here’s what I do know…

My mom was a teacher for years and a principal. My husband works in a support role with kids with special needs. I want the best school experience possible for my two boys. Most of my best friends are educators. And there is something that unites us all – we did not go into this profession because of our technical skills or scholarly success. We became educators because we lead with our hearts. We love our jobs, we love the kids, and we love the miracles we see every day when we connect with a young mind and see one radiate with curiosity, hope and wonder.   We love the magic of connecting with other humans. We lead with love.

As September approaches, our hearts are heavy. As students, parents, teachers and administrators, we are all hurt. The excitement of the first day will not be here on Tuesday.

The day will come when ‘technically’, things are all worked out. But just like any broken relationship, it’s hard to forget about the hurt. Our hearts all need to heal. As we move forward I encourage all of us to do so in kindness. If you have an educator who made a significant difference in your life, take a moment to tell them. If you support your local schools, take time for a random act of kindness to show you care. If you have friends struggling to find childcare offer to help. And if you are not sure what do to, stop and think with your heart.

As the picket lines return on Tuesday I will not be taking sides. We are humans first and for that reason alone, ‘sides’ should not exist. We are in this together. May we take care of one another and keep sight of better days to come when the joy of learning will return.








Thoughts from a New Principal: What I Don’t Know

Usually when I sit down to write, I feel excitement run through my veins as I channel ideas into text.  This post is a little different. Although I’m excited, I feel a bit of nervous energy running through me with an inside voice chirping the words “are you sure you want to share this with the world?” You see, I’m about to become a principal for the first time. I have a myriad of thoughts: what I think I know, what I know I don’t know and of course that unknown area… wondering what I don’t know but don’t even know I don’t know!  Some may suggest the ‘fake it until you make it’ style of leadership, but that’s not quite my style. I’d prefer to be myself and put it on the table: I’m new. I’m going to make mistakes.

For the last 15 years I have worked in secondary schools but this time I get to work at an elementary school.  Besides one parent, I do not know a single student, family, teacher or support worker at the school.  To add to this, we are also in the middle of job action in BC where teachers are on strike and clerical and support staff are not crossing the picket line.  That means that on my early days at the school, I may be the only one who can enter the building as teachers look on from the perimeter of the school.  It’s a daunting thought… I kind of feel like I have something in common with a burglar… entering a place familiar to others but foreign to me.  Hopefully my smiling face, kind words and some fresh baked muffins will distinguish me from your typical intruder. (And for those of you reading this who know me personally – YES – it will be my mom who offers to bake the muffins as I still can’t cook but do still have the greatest mom in the world).

As I transition from secondary school to elementary school some things are easy to figure out. I will no longer allow kids to drive themselves to school, take Tim Hortons runs or attend dances until 11 PM on school nights. I will no longer be writing numerous reference letters for scholarships and first time jobs.  These are the obvious changes. It’s the new social norms I need to learn…like Band-Aids and icepacks… as I head to the states on vacation i think it may be a perfect opportunity to stock up on kid friendly Band-Aids with the coolest logos like Pokémon or Monster High characters. However I also have visions of every kid lining up pretending to have an injury just to get a cool Band-Aid.  Hmmmm, maybe the plain ones are better….bandaid

And there is so much more I do not yet know…I do not know names, I do not know where the staff room is, I do not know what the typical routines are ,or what makes this school unique and wonderful. I do not know the history of the school, what students and staff have been working towards, or what has already been achieved.   Ok… let’s be honest… I don’t even know where my own office is.

For these reasons, that inside voice chirps “why on earth are these people going to look up to me as a leader?”  But thankfully a louder voice chirps “because it is going to be great!”  I know that I have a lot of learning to do but I feel ready and I trust that listening is the best way to transition. Although I openly admit there is so much I do not yet know, there are some things I do know….

I do know that I’m ready to give 100%.   I’m ready to build relationships, discover strengths, celebrate successes and try new things. I’m ready to give back and find ways to connect with our community.

I do know I’m ready to learn, which means I am ready to fail and ready to succeed. I believe that how we handle failure is just as important as how we model success. When we show students it’s ok to make mistakes, we give them permission to be more creative and take risks.

I know that learning lasts a lifetime and learning is reciprocal. I learn from students and staff and as they to can learn from me. I see parents, students, staff and admin as learners first. If we recognize that we are all here to learn together we can create a collaborative community with a mindset for growth.

I know that nobody likes spending time on what they are not good at. While we all have challenges to face, it’s much more uplifting to focus on the positive, celebrate our strengths, and discover the unique talents that each of us can offer. I believe in praising publicly and discussing problems privately.

I know that all teachers became educators because we love kids, love learning and we love making a positive difference. When we keep this at the centre of decision making, we will not lose sight of what matters.

I know that elementary students have contagious energy and a natural enthusiasm for learning that we should foster and encourage. How wonderful would it be if students entered high school with as much curiosity and wonder as they bring to kindergarten? Just last spring a six year old girl named Katie ran up to me when I was helping with recess supervision and proclaimed “I want to save my money to buy you a peacock bird bath!”   In fifteen years of high school I don’t think I received such a colourful, creative gift idea. While I’m not keeping my fingers crossed this colourful garden accessory arrives any time soon, I do hope to embrace the passion, enthusiasm and creativity that kids so naturally exude.

Finally, I know that we are stronger when we work together. When we create a safe learning environment we set a foundation where we can try new things, support one another and reap the benefits of a connected learning community.

As we near September, I know that I have a lot in common with the incoming kindergarten class.  We are new, we are excited, we are nervous, we want to make new friends and we know our moms are not too far away…  (I’m hoping my mom is at least a phone call away, not at the end of the driveway…but then again, being a retired elementary principal who still loves to give back to schools, she might just be out there… you just never know)

And so, despite that chirping inside voice that says don’t share this, I know I will for a couple reasons.  First, I believe that nervous energy is one of the first signs that learning is about to occur.  I know I’m moving into new territory and that energizes me.  Second, I write this for others because I want to model what I hope our students and staff do on a regular basis:  take risks, make mistakes, be vulnerable, and know it’s ok to not know everything.

I don’t have all the answers.  I’m not going to pretend to. But together I believe we will succeed. And so, Harry Hooge Elementary, I look forward to being a part of your community.  May we take risks, make mistakes, celebrate our successes, and learn and grow together.

I can’t wait to meet you.

Now, about those Band-Aids….?????

Kristi Blakeway


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 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.

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  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 or

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!

Beyond HELLO: Feeling Alive


At 66 years old, Les has already defied the odds.  On the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, those who make it to the age of 40 are considered seniors and eligible for discount cards issued from Carnegie Centre.  Yet, as Les told us late this afternoon, he just doesn’t feel old.  With sparkling eyes and a youthful spirit, he feels alive.  Les has survived the dark days on East Hastings and has lived to tell about it.  He has learned some hard lessons in life, and paid the price, serving time behind bars in Maple Ridge just a few years ago for drug trafficking.  He doesn’t make excuses – he admits he was on the wrong path, and prison was what he needed to make the choice to never go back to old habits.  He lives without regret, and wouldn’t change his past, as it has shaped who he is today. With a toothless smile and laugh lines in all the right places, Les demonstrates an admirable sense of resilience.  Living in Canada’s poorest neighbourhood has not dampened his spirit.

 In month four of Beyond HELLO, Les joined my principal Sean Nosek and I for a late lunch today at the Lost and Found Café.  In exchange for a warm meal, Les agreed to let us share his story.  Les reflected on his life with appreciation for the good times, even finding the positive lessons that emerged from his time behind bars.

Les grew up in a Chinese immigrant family, attending local Vancouver schools – Strathcona, Britannia and Van Tech.  He was never really that good at school, and at the age of 18 he had only achieved a grade 8 education.  With a need for adventure and curious spirit, Les joined the army.  In his four years of service he traveled the world, serving our country.  His favourite adventures include the warm Mediterranean water in Cyprus and training days jumping from planes at the Army Airborne School in Alberta.

After four years of service, Les returned to BC and took a job in Prince George.  Initially he worked in the kitchen for Northwood Pulp and shortly after took a physical job in the mill.  He hated the manual labour of the mill and decided to explore his love of the kitchen.  Les reminisced about days when the ‘Keg & Cleaver’ and ‘Hindquarter’ were the top restaurants in town.  He worked his way up from kitchen help to 2nd cook and eventually head cook.  The hours were long, the lifestyle was draining and the split shifts consumed all of his time.  Facing exhaustion, he decided to make a change and venture to Toronto to live near his brother.  It was in Toronto that he found the balance he was looking for.  He fell in love and married his wife, and secured a job as a baker for Loblaws; a job he kept for over two decades.  Unlike most I have talked to, Les preferred to skim over the details of the triggers and turning points that sent him back to the DTES. Yet, unlike most, who live with the pain, Les appeared to be free from his past.  He let us know his marriage fell apart, his brother died, his parents both died and he turned to drug trafficking as his means for survival.  The streets of Vancouver became his home.  Unlike most whose eyes search for approval or understanding when telling of their past, Les is different.  He is matter of fact about the wrong turns in his life, and seems to have forgiven himself for the pain and mistakes in his life.  Perhaps this is why Les has survived to 66 in Canada’s roughest neighbourhood.  His lightness is perhaps his best survival skill.

Today Les lives month to month relying on his old age security cheque.  He receives $1400 / month to cover his rent, food and expenses.  He lives in modest, low income housing yet he takes pride in his home, where he has his own kitchen, his own television and room for his roommate, Smoky the cat.

Through our conversation, we took some time to tell Les a little about our lives.  When we mentioned we were high school administrators, he smiled back at us, saying “that’s ok”, with an understanding that many who have failed at school do not have the fondest memories of the principal’s office.  Les was surprised that we had driven from Maple Ridge to take someone for lunch.  I let him know a little about Beyond HELLO, sharing my goal of taking one person for lunch each month.  I explained my own view, that the neighborhood is plagued by unnecessary judgment and that each person on the streets has a story worth hearing.  He smiled in agreement.

When I asked Les what he would want others to know, he paused momentarily, and then explained how the neighbourhood works.  Everyone knows everyone.  He may not know all the names, but he knows the faces.  It is a community, yet everyone living on the streets has their own means for survival. In the words of Les, “everybody has their own thing – their own way to survive.” I suspect Les’s positive disposition may just be his strongest armor.  His smile spreads ear to ear as he lets us know that even the police walking the streets of Hastings like him now.  They know he is drug free and only sells cigarettes for extra income.

Knowing that Les knows the faces of the DTES, I decided to ask him if he knew some of the people who have shared their stories with me in the past.  We spoke of Cynthia, Garth, and Cindy.  While he didn’t know their names, he recognized Cynthia and Garth enough for us to have casual confirmation about their whereabouts.  Next, I asked him if he knew Sandra, otherwise known as ‘Little Momma’.  I described her in detail, as the first woman I had met on the DTES back in 2009.  I spoke of her slender build, her mobility struggles and her kind heart.  Within seconds, Les knew exactly who I was talking about and with excitement, as if he had big news to share, he blurted out rather loudly – “HEY – did you know she found her daughter!”  With equal excitement, and perhaps less humility I blurted back “I found her daughter!”  Sandra, and her daughter Samantha from Alberta, are the first two people we reconnected through Project HELLO in 2009. Our students were so moved by this mother daughter connection and the human need for family to find each other that they fundraised and paid for Samantha to fly to Vancouver for a reunion.  We drove Sandra to the airport to greet her daughter and arranged a full weekend including hotel accommodations, hair cuts, meals, etc.  The experience will always be one of the most meaningful experiences of my life.  It was the springboard for Project HELLO and the inspiration for my students and I to turn our one-day fieldtrip into a lifelong project.  To have someone living on the Downtown Eastside quote this story back to me almost four years later, someone whom had no idea that I had anything to do with the reunion in the first place, was magical.   In a simple second something changed.   Les knew he had made our day, just as much as we had made his.  We ended with handshakes, some photos and a commitment to stay in touch by saying hi next time we are in his neighbourhood.  After paying the bill we ventured back out to Hastings in hopes of touching base with Sandra.  With a genuine eagerness to help, Les called out behind us – “I hope you find her”.  The sound of his voice said more than his words.  In the time it took to eat a meal, Les had another significant moment in a life worth living. Another reason to smile, and feel very alive.

It’s Time to Disrupt Education

This past week I had the pleasure of traveling with ten staff members from Thomas Haney Secondary to attend the Canadian Coalition of Self Directed Learning (CCSDL) Conference.

This year, the conference was held in Edmonton, Alberta and hosted by St. Joseph’s High School.   Over four hundred educators across Canada gathered together to share best practices in self-directed learning and flex schooling (Alberta).  It was one of the best education conferences I have attended as it offered a rich line up of presentations, a school tour showcasing self directed learning in action and a well thought out agenda that balanced professional development with time to socialize and network with others.  The staff at St. Joseph’s did a phenomenal job organizing a first class conference with great attention to detail.

Thomas Haney has been a part of the Canadian Coalition of Self Directed Learning since the coalition’s inception in 1996.  The CCSDL was built with the idea that we are stronger when we work together and share ideas.  Thomas Haney School is now in it’s 22nd year of self-directed learning.  Attending the CCSDL conference each year allows our teachers to network with like-minded educators who are continually finding progressive ways to teach in a self directed system.  This forward thinking model allows for personalization, creativity, and innovation.

The three keynote speakers left us with ideas and inspired us to ask great questions. Lee Crocket, author of the 21st Century Fluency Project, introduced his Fluency 21 Unit Planner cloud-app where educators can collaborate and share unit plans.  He spoke to the importance of a gradual responsibility shift so that graduates can finish high school well able to manage their lifelong learning.    Garfield Gini-Newman, senior Lecturer at the University of Toronto and a senior national consultant with The Critical Thinking Consortium shared ideas on how to nurture self regulated critical thinkers.  One idea that stuck for me was the notion of starting each unit with a question of inquiry instead of teaching and then asking questions.  When students begin with a sense of wonder, their learning becomes more relevant.  This helps our students develop a lifelong inquiry mindset.  He also suggested students keep a thought book where they right down their initial thoughts and change their thoughts as they learn about a topic.  This book then allows the teacher to offer ongoing feedback and to recognize the learning journey for each student.  He suggested that teachers should move away from the stand and deliver instruction model, and even move away from the ‘guide on the side’ approach.  To fully engage students, teachers should see themselves as choreographers helping all of their students in their own learning journeys.  Maureen Suhendra, from the Khan Academy, spoke to how teachers can use the Khan Academy’s free educational resources in the classroom.  The Khan Academy now offers over 4300 videos in their free online education platform.  The Khan Academy is a great example of how education is changing, and how schools will need to meet the needs of a digital generation.

While the keynotes were all wonderful, perhaps the richest experience occurred naturally over the four days as the nine teachers and two administrators from our school strengthened our connections with one another.  With 11 of us travelling together, we represented ten teaching areas within our school and had a range of experience in self directed learning – some with over 20 years at Thomas Haney and others in their first year.  A natural synergy occurred, where conversation flowed easily and we were constantly able to ask ‘what if? questions.  We left the conference energized, inspired, and proud of where we are at as a school, but even more excited about where we are headed.  With enthusiasm, we accepted the invitation to be the host school for the 2014 CCSDL Conference.

Although we are in the initial planning stages, we know that we want to build on momentum and share educational practices that are engaging, creative and powerful.  We want to hear from both students and teachers, whose names you may not know, but whose stories you will not forget.   At next year’s conference we will showcase self directed learning but we will also extend our reach beyond the CCSDL, opening the invitation to any educator who is searching for ways to rejuvenate their teaching practice.  We will showcase educators who dare to be different:  the thinkers, the creators and the innovators who find ways for students to follow their passion while engaging in relevant learning experiences.

We have decided to align the conference with the BC Provincial Pro-D Day. On October 23, 24, and 25th, 2014, we will welcome educators from across the country to come together to ask questions, and celebrate innovative practices that are re-shaping education.  We are committed to our vision of hosting an amazing conference where educators can learn and grow together to help transform our schools to meet the needs of Canadian students.

We hope to see you there! More information will follow as we unfold our plans for the Vancouver CCSDL Conference – 2014!