Monday, November 7, 2011


A couple of weeks ago Linda and I attended a seminar hosted by the Dalai Lama Centre with Margaret Wheatley, a highly regarded organizational theorist and leadership consultant. Her recent book is entitled - Perseverance - Leadership in Turbulent Times. The topic definitely seemed timely. She framed her comments around a metaphor drawn from a Hopi prophesy that essentially says that in the presence of a fast flowing river, the people who are clinging onto the shore will be ripped apart whereas those who move into the river, keep their heads above water, keep their toes pointed downstream and look out for those with them will persevere. Take a look at this YouTube clip on Perseverance. It is a great time for all of us to think about how we support the ones around us and the ways in which we are moving ahead in support of all our learners - no matter what.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Lansdowne Middle School - Hooks Readers

Last year the NPBS team at Lansdowne Middle School in Victoria developed a unique approach to hooking kids on reading by having them develop on-line book flyers. Check out the wiki created by librarian Jane Spies to see what the learners had to say about this engaging experience. Thanks to the team at Lansdowne for sharing this strategy.

Friday, October 28, 2011

BC Innovative Learning Environments

Connected Classroom - Gold Trail

Today the Ministry released the new Education Plan. At the heart of the plan is the focus on learners owning their own learning - and the challenge of designing more responsive, flexible systems to meet the needs of all learners. There are important linkages between the goals of the Education Plan, the focus of the on-going inquiry work in Network schools and the exciting number of truly innovative learning environments that are being developed across BC.

For the past two years, Linda and I have been part of an international projects sponsored by the OECD on Innovative Learning Environments. This project involves representatives from 25 countries identifying promising local case studies, some of which are selected for inclusion in a set of international cases and then a few of which will be the subject of more in-depth research.

Last spring we submitted six case studies from BC - and we could have submitted a lot more. Over the next few months, we will be continuing to identify promising case studies and inviting representatives from those learning environments to participate in this project. No money or glory involved - this is simply a chance to get the great work in BC understood and recognized on an international platform. To be accepted into this project, the learning environment has to be designed in response to a significant learning need, it must consider the use of time and space in new ways, and connections across the curriculum and with the community are built in.

One of the BC case studies that has been accepted into the 'universe' of international cases is the Connected Classroom in the Gold Trail School District. Three intermediate classrooms are linked by technology and are creating strong social-emotional connections across geographically remote communities. Check out a video clip to see the excitement on the part of the teachers and the learners. Not only is this a great example of innovation and creative thinking, we also think it is a strong example of the five elements indicated in the Education Plan.

Stay tuned for other examples from BC - and from around the world.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Every Learner is a Somebody

At a fund raising event last fall at Alberni Elementary School, a grade one student was overheard saying: "Why do we have to do this? It's not like we're going to make a difference." This sparked discussion among the staff about the ways in which personal beliefs and attitudes dictate personal actions. Out of this, their Network question emerged and they spent a productive year working to equip their learners with the tools, attitudes and beliefs that would encourage genuine community participation. Their observations about the changes in student behaviour and anecdotal feedback from parents told them they were on the right track. The differences in response between their Aboriginal and non Aboriginal learners raised even more questions and they are now seeking out ways to help each child become more aware of their valuable role in the life and care of their classrooms. We think there are lots of schools who would be interested in the specific ways in which the teachers at Alberni are tackling this question.

The best practices in the world are evident in BC schools - in some places, at some times, and in some situations. Through the Network we have been working hard to find ways and spaces where we can learn from each other and build on the great work that is taking place in schools across the province. We really believe that if we work together in a spirit of generosity and inquiry, dig deep into our own practices, look around to see what we can learn not only from the most current international research but also from cutting edge practice in BC schools, that we can truly improve the life chances of every learner.

Over the summer, a team of Network volunteers read the hundreds of case studies submitted from NPBS and AESN schools. All the case studies will soon be available on the Network website and we hope that you will take the time to explore what is happening in these inquiring schools. We have put together a small set of Sample Case Studies that contain the stories of inquiry, innovation and improvement from schools from Comox Valley to Vernon, Nechako Lakes to Invermere and everywhere in between.

Network schools agree to share their strategies, ideas, resources, triumphs and challenges openly and freely. We ask that if you learn something from a Network school or if you use resources or programs developed by colleagues in another school, that you will acknowledge the source. So, thanks to the team at Alberni Elementary for sharing their successes with helping to ensure that every child feels like a somebody - a somebody who can make a difference.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Assessment resources

Over the past few years a number of assessment resources have been developed provincially including webcasts involving several NPBS educators. They are now readily available on the West Vancouver School District website.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Awards, recognition and a growth mindset

Does every student in your school have two adults who are crazy about them?

June is the time of year when family members cram into school gyms and auditoriums to celebrate the accomplishments of their young scholars, athletes, and citizens. School awards ceremonies are steeped in tradition and to question the way we recognize our learners can bring out all kinds of emotions.

We know there is an on-going debate about how we recognize excellence and effort - and the extent to which awards ceremonies reinforce what Carol Dweck refers to as a fixed mindset (my abilities are inherent – “I am rotten in French, so was my Dad”) or encourage a growth mindset (I can get better at anything with effort and support – “If I work hard at Math, I know I will improve”). Dave Bartley, Principal with his Star

We also know from the research of Kim Schonert Reichl, that what builds social-emotional strength and resilience in young people is having two adults at school who are ‘crazy’ about them. This is an extremely important finding and is leading us to wonder the extent to which this is the case for all learners in our schools.

Earlier this month, we had the chance to attend a very special ‘Stars’ evening at Skeena Junior Secondary School in Terrace. Organized annually by Phys Ed teacher Frank Morelli, this event has quietly been taking place for the past ten years. Every staff member is invited to nominate a student ‘star’ for the evening. This may not be a student who will win an academic award or who is a starter on a school team; what they are is a ‘star’ in the eyes of the teacher for their effort, improved attitude, contributions within or outside of class, or for something as simple yet important as showing caring for their classmates and their teacher. Each ‘star’ receives an invitation along with their family to attend a potluck dinner at the school. None of the students knows who nominated them until one by one their names are called and they stand beside the teacher who described why they are stars.

We watched as “Tom”, hat on backwards, looking down at his feet, heard his teacher say how proud she was of the positive changes he was making in his behavior and how pleased she was to see that he was growing into a fine young man. We watched him stand just a little bit taller and a hint of a smile creep onto his face. We heard another teacher read a poem he had written about “Candace” a young girl with unique learning needs who made his day, every day, by asking how he was – and then listening to hear the answer. Candace glowed as he acknowledged her kindness.

Whether or not this approach to awards will work everywhere is not the point. What does matter is that for this evening, in this school, with the dedication of these teachers, these young people know what it like to have at least one adult who is crazy about them. And maybe, just maybe, they will begin to see themselves as real stars.

Network Reflections and Impact

Over the last few weeks, celebrations of networked learning have been held in twelve sites around the province. Linda and I were able to attend several and in every spot, we were deeply impressed with the quality of the work, the focus on learners owning their own learning, the teamwork across roles, and the dedication and commitment of all of you to achieving our shared vision of EVERY learner crossing the stage with dignity, purpose and options. We have seen countless examples of the positive impact of formative assessment and the confidence learners demonstrate when they can answer the three key questions: Where are you going wih your learning? How is it going? and Where to next? We came away from both the seminar and the celebrations more convinced than ever about the power of networked inquiry to create both quality and equity.

Later this month, along with some Network colleagues, we are meeting with the Minister of Education to share some of our observations about the impact of the Network. We would welcome any observations that you would like to share and invite you to post or email us your comments.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Northwest Network Celebration

On May 30 I had the good fortune of attending the Northwest Network celebration in Smithers. The room was packed, the projects are producing impressive results and the commitment and enthusiasm of the participants were pretty amazing. The teamwork across the Northwest in supporting the teachers and principals involved in the depth of inquiry and transformational practice witnessed is making a significant difference.

Here’s some of what we observed:

1. The importance of a focused inquiry versus a goal - many schools reported that by working through their question, they experienced many unanticipated outcomes. They had a chance to go more deeply as the year unfolded, to reframe their thinking, to expand or narrow their focus, and to continually ask themselves - 'is this making a difference to our learners and how do we know?' There was also complete consensus around the notion that inquiry gets a lot harder as teams go deeper,

2. Changing practice is challenging - Prince Rupert Secondary School framed their presentation around professional learning as a game of snakes and ladders. This idea really struck with many of the teams who were able to extend the metaphor as they reflected on learning as much more difficult than teaching. They also used the metaphor to explain the conditions that lead to their finding and climbing the next ladder - as well as the snakes that impeded their progress. This may be a much better image than the implementation dip. The final statement from the PRSS team - 'there is no losing as long as you keep playing' - seemed to me to sum up the spirit and determination of all the educators in the room.

3. Trust, social responsibility, community connections, inclusion and respect were themes that connected across all the presentations. As one presenter paraphrased from Kim Schonert-Reichl's talk at the seminar, "the kids don't care how much we know until they know how much we care." This caring was demonstrated in a range of ways including the two new teachers talking about the TREC program at Pacific Coast School who captured the imagination of everyone in the room.

4. Increasing respect for Aboriginal ways of knowing through building knowledge - whether through traditional ways of learning and knowing, appreciation of a range of art forms, community collaborations, family involvement strategies, cross age coaching, a focus on Aboriginal content in Math and Literacy - were reflected in a number of presentations.

5. The welcoming nature of the northwest to new schools, teachers new to the profession, and experienced educators new to inquiry was also deeply evident. Having a teacher who started her formal career in January 2011 working alongside a teacher who retired last year but is still involved in supporting the staff at her former school with their inquiry provides a powerful model for our profession.

6. We have talked in other settings about the importance of weaving three ways - from the wisdom traditions of our Aboriginal people, the strong research and evidence base from our profession, and from innovative, imaginative approaches at the leading edge of practice - as we work together to create more responsive, relevant, and personalized learning for all BC learners. This weaving was evident in many schools presentations. Kitwanga Elementary School was one of several schools that provided an exceptional model for what this looks like in practice.

Learning with and from other schools on behalf of the students we serve is at the heart of the network. It is a privilege to be part of this work.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Crossing the Stage

We believe in action and are proud that schools across BC are taking up the challenge of EVERY learner crossing the stage with dignity, purpose and options. For a Grade 9 girl failing Math 9 improving dramatically in just one term, for a class of Grade 10 students who have all struggled with literacy and within a semester succeed beyond all expectations, and for the young Aboriginal learners whose mother and father are helping every week in their local school to show their families how much they care about learning, this vision is becoming a reality.

One of our greatest pleasures is to visit schools and to see the impact on young people, teachers, principals and families where inquiry about really important questions is a way of life. Recently we were in a secondary school where at the end of the first reporting period, a new vice principal took seriously the challenge of “if you can predict it, then you can prevent it.” Knowing that punitive approaches would do nothing to improve the behavior and failing grades of “Sam”, a strong-willed Grade 9 girl, the vice principal entered into a different kind of agreement with Sam. She believed that Sam could and would learn under the right conditions. The short version of the story is that Sam passed every course at the end of the second term with especially dramatic improvement in Math. We have encouraged this action-oriented VP to write a fuller account of what she did, how Sam and her teachers responded. Look for an article coming out soon!

Over dinner with a group of assessment savvy colleagues in Cowichan, we saw video clips of Grade 10 students talking out loud about the difference it made to their learning when they were clear about the learning intentions, when they were able to co-construct criteria and when they received regular coaching feedback. This class was filled with kids who had struggled for years with reading, writing, and had experienced limited success in previous English classes. The next day we had a chance to talk in person with some of these young people, including the young man in the photo. We were moved by their expressed confidence as learners and by enthusiastic plans for their careers after they ‘walk the stage’. What made the difference? The key was a courageous teacher who was determined to apply everything that she was learning about formative assessment and everything she knew from her previous experiences with struggling learners. This class not only demonstrated substantial growth in their skills and confidence, each one of them passed the provincial exam with flying colors.

The third school we visited was a small elementary school serving primarily Aboriginal students. As soon as we walked in the door we were struck by the smell of freshly popped popcorn and the bright displays of student work everywhere in Hul'q'ummi'num' and English. Among the first people we met in the school were a mom and dad, responsible for the smell of popcorn. With five children of their own, they spoke eloquently about the importance of parent involvement. Never have we heard the impact of family support better articulated than by these parents – we wish they had both been wearing a wire! They were showing all the children how much they valued learning. They – along with the staff – were determined that their children would cross the stage and they were doing their part to make that happen. And if popcorn made by a caring mom and dad helps, then bring it on!

Occasionally we can get discouraged about how hard it is to make large-scale system-wide changes. When we visit schools and classrooms such as these, however, our hope is reaffirmed that we can indeed ensure that EVERY learner will cross that stage.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Personalized Learning, Performance Standards and Visual Arts

For years, we have been saying that the BC performance standards are an invaluable resource for teachers, parents, and learners. Based on the judgment of hundreds of teachers, the performance standards create a shared set of understandings about what quality work looks like. With recent updates in Reading and Writing, and work underway in Numeracy K-12, the Performance standards just keep getting stronger. A key aspect of personalized learning is developing the skill in learners to coach themselves. The Ministry has just released Visual Arts K-7 formative assessment standards. We are confident that this resource will be extremely useful as a coaching tool for both learners and teachers. Let us know what you think.

Getting to Graduation

The BC Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development!
(BCASCD) is sponsoring a dinner presentation on Getting to Graduation
featuring Gayle Bedard (District Principal, Aboriginal Education,
Surrey), Perry Smith (District Principal, Aboriginal Education, Abbotsford)
and Caroline Mahlman (District Principal, Aboriginal Education,
Sunshine Coast), on April 7 at Heritage Park Secondary in Mission.
Registration begins at 5:30 pm, dinner is at 6 pm and the presentation begins
at 7 pm. Registration is $50 and more information is available at http:// or

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Three Key Questions

Many of you have been working with the three key learning questions for student engagement and ownership: Where are you going with your learning? How is it going? Where to next? Here are some suggestions as you 'listen for' evidence of learning. We look forward to hearing what you are learning as you work with these questions.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Network Learning Opportunities

The Network seminar, May 15-16 is going to provide a great opportunity to learn from some of the schools in BC at the leading edge of personalizing learning. In addition, Lorna Earl, Kim Schonert-Reichl, Helen Timperley, Alma Harris and Laura Tait will be working with us to create deep and sustained learning connections. Hope to see many of you there!

Here's a link to the blog by John Medina, author of Brain Rules. His work on learning and neuroscience is important and easily accessible. Check it out!

This morning I (Judy) attended a healthy living inquiry session at Vancouver Island University featuring the work of Grade 3, 4, and 5 students at Randerson Ridge Elementary School. The work of these students was deep, thoughtful, and inspiring. I had a chance to ask some of the students the three key questions: Where are you going with your learning? How is it going? Where to next? One young boy in Mary Lynn Epps class answered this way:
"I am learning to write with more flow and more detail. I am using the criteria Ms. Epps gives us to see how I am doing. First, I write a bit. Then I look at the criteria to see how I am doing and what is missing. Then I write some more. I usually do this three or four times until I get my final draft. I am working on my 4 C's, in particular becoming more cooperative. I am pretty good at working with the person next to me in class but I need to work on making more of a contribution in a bigger group."
It is impossible to get thoughtful answers to these questions unless the learners are clear on what is is they are intended to be learning, the criteria for determining the quality of their work, and descriptive feedback that helps them figure out their next step. I think that Donovan has a pretty clear idea.
What do you think?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Navigators of Learning

Linda and I are currently at Michigan State University at the iNET conference. We'll post comments throughout the conference. Have just heard from the vice president of the Asia Society about the International Schools Network. In the 27 schools across the US the mission is to create students who are college ready and globally competent. The resources available on their website are definitely worth exploring.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Seminar May 15 - 16

We are looking forward to a great couple of days of deep learning and connecting. Check out the flyer. Complete registration information will be out very soon.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Network Seminar May 15-16

We are looking forward to a highly engaging and powerful set of presentations at the Network seminar entitled Creating Connections - Inquiry Deeply. Helen Timperley, Alma Harris, Lorna Earl, Kimberley Schonert Reichl and Laura Tait are our featured speakers along with teams from several BC network schools. Registration details will be available very soon. Save the dates now!

Monday, January 10, 2011

ICSEI Papers

The 'state of the art' papers at ICSEI 2011 prompted some lively discussion. Take a look and see what you think. School Effectiveness, Teacher Effectiveness and System Effectiveness.
We are looking forward to seeing many of you at the winter NPBS / AESN meetings and will be sharing some new ideas about ways to deepen your inquiries.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

ICSEI Update

The 24th annual ICSEI Congress is underway in Cyprus and we are delighted that Paige Fisher, Harry Janzen, Lynn Brown, Lynne Tomlinson, Mary Lynn Epps are part of the expanding BC team. One of the features of this year's congress has been the commissioning of three state of the art papers - on school effectiveness, teacher effectiveness, and system leadership. These are being presented tomorrow and once they are public, we'll post a link.