Sunday, 27 October 2013

Acts of kindness and compassion

Each and every Monday, our learning community gathers together for a short assembly used to kick off the school week. Below is a video entitled the "Russian video that made the world cry"; Keith, a teacher at our learning centre, showed it during our public gathering. After the video ended, he posed these questions for our students to reflect upon - "Should this video really make us cry?" and "Aren't these behaviours, these actions, things that we should we doing every day?"

Later that same day, our Youth Care Worker wrote on the white board in the multi-purpose room (where we gather as a community) the following:

-understanding and caring when someone is hurt or troubled;
-it is wanting to help even if you don't know them;
-you forgive mistakes;
-you are a friend when someone needs a friend.

The video, the questions, and what was written on the white board inspired this post.

The "Oxford English Dictionary" defines kindness as "the act or quality of being kind"; compassion is defined as the "sympathetic pity and concern for the suffering or misfortunes of others" accompanied by a desire to ease or relieve it.

While being kind to each other every day is something that a community strives for, we sometimes become so engrossed in our full and ever so busy lives, that we may neglect kindness, forget to be compassionate. It is vital that we give pause to these simple yet touching behaviours, specifically "acts of kindness", those selfless behaviour that can either assist or cheer up others. These are actions that we engage in, that may get someone to simply smile or laugh more, that may ease someone's pain or burden, that let's someone know that you care.

As educators, we can have a very positive and powerful influence on both the culture within our schools and on the students who enter our buildings. Therefore, it is imperative that we model the common courtesies of every day life - "please", " thank you", "you're welcome", holding the door open to let people enter. These gestures demonstrate respect for the individual and the environment, which in turn encourages students to regulate their own behaviours leading to more positive interpersonal relationships.

Everyday, I try and make it common practise to say good morning or good afternoon to each student, addressing the student by name, then asking a question of them. The question can be about the course the student is working on, it can be about how the student is faring, it can be about something that I know is of interest to a particular student. I'm confident that most of the students realize that I do this because I care about them as a person, about their stories, about the potential they each possess. I want all the student to know that they are valued; that they realize, or come to understand that NSLC has a culture that is safe, caring and inclusive. This is a culture that all members need to promote and sustain.

I now want to share 2 acts of kindness, of compassion, that came to me via staff and students:

A short while ago, as I was sitting in my office late in the afternoon on one of those long, less than stellar days, Jennifer, a member of the teaching staff, came into my office and presented me with a hand full of notes, notes that her students had written for me. She gave me the notes and promptly left. Each note contained 1 line, 1 simple thought, and as I read through them, I was deeply touched by what the students had written. Encouraging comments like, 'the principal lets us wear our hats'; 'she is always smiling'; 'she always says hi and knows my name'. This action, and these notes, cheered me up; the students had let me know I was cared for; it made my day! In what other profession can something as wonderful as this happen?

Each day I go on a "walk-about"; I go into each classroom and observe our keen young learners. I chat with the students, inquire about their learning, talk with the teachers. On Tuesday, after one of my walk-abouts, I returned to my office, and there on my desk was a beautiful bouquet of flowers and a card addressed to me. The bouquet and card were from my support staff; it was their means of expressing appreciation for me as leader/principal/boss. How wonderful! Again, my heart was touched.  

Acts of kindness and compassion can be like a chain reaction, a "pay it forward", so to speak. Another video to show students is "Watch this.... You will definitely share this."

November 13th is the date established for celebrating "acts of kindness". 

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Typical "learning centre student"...huh??

So, what's in a name or a simple phrase? Usually quite a lot. A name or phrase can be defining, and sadly sometimes, with less than positive connotations. Let me explain...I have been part of the learning centre community for a long time now....since March 1990, just shy of 23 years. (Yikes! Where has the time gone?) Since starting in the learning centre, all those years ago, I have always grappled with this notion of a "learning centre student". When someone, usually a colleague, makes reference to a "learning centre student" I have often thought, "What exactly does that mean, 'learning centre student'?" Is there really a "typical" learning centre student?? Quite frankly, I don't believe that there is; if there is, the definition evades me. The students who attend a learning centre, are just kids, young adults, similar to any other kid/teenager who attends a mainstream high school. From my perspective, learning centres are a microcosm, if you will, of a high school. The commonality amongst students who attend learning centres, the 'thread that binds', is that most of the students have not been successful in high school for myriad reasons. However, that being said, we have students that cover "all walks of life", from the poor and good attendees, to students who may struggle with learning to the exceptionally bright and gifted, to those who contribute positively to our community to those who challenge the expectations of the learning environment. Does this not sound like any other school population? If so, why then do people often say 'learning centre student'? This phrase, in my perception, tends to 'pigeon hole' a student; it is somehow attaching a stigma to a child unnecessarily which, unfortunately can be very limiting for the student. "Oh well, she is a learning centre kid", or "What do you expect, he's from a learning centre". Unfortunately, the connotation is a negative one. The teenager who attends the North Surrey Learning Centre, is a student first, just like any other student in the Surrey School district. We as a staff, have expectations of and for our students; we are not often disappointed in that the students usually meet or exceed  expectations. When I was an undergraduate student at the University of Alberta taking a pedagogical course in teaching children with learning disabilities, one of the first things that the professor emphasized was that the student is not a "learning disabled child/student', but rather a child/student with a "learning disability'. Always put the child first. This simple but powerful difference has ressonnated with me to this day.
My question is, should we not be in the habit of always putting the person first, followed by the descriptor? Therefore would it not be phrased as a "student who attends a learning centre" rather than a "learning centre student"? Or am I needlessly worrying about semantics? I welcome your comments.  

Sunday, 8 July 2012

The tweet and the post...

All the social media/web 2.0 tools (blogs, wikis, facebook, twitter) can be overwhelming and simply daunting due to the fact that it is ever changing and there is just so much of it! However, I am very aware that all this 'technology stuff' is the stuff of our students and as a principal, the leader of a team, it is imperative that I know something about it, that I am somewhat literate in this milieu. Social media is here to stay, and it's not a matter of whether it is used in our schools, but how. Therefore, part of my personal learning this past year was focused on how to use social media effectively. I was inspired by members of my staff already engaged with social media, or moving in that direction; I also wanted to inspire, to be a role model to staff, through my own learning and risk taking.

The two areas of social media that I have dipped into are Twitter and blogging. When I heard about Twitter, I was a "nae sayer", a real skeptic. Why would I want to know what a celebrity, or any other individual for that matter, is doing in their life, in 140 characters or less? Not something that I wanted to be part of. My attitude changed however, when I went to a workshop for administrators, "The Digital Discovery Series", where I had the good fortune to hear what George Couras @gcouras had to say, and show, about social media. It was at this workshop where I was convinced it was time to investigate Twitter; I came to the recognition that Twitter is so much more than what I initially and mistakenly, understood it to be. And since that fateful evening in March, I have used Twitter as an educational tool, almost daily, to read articles and blogs, to watch youtube videos, to further my professional learning in the area of 21st century learning pedagogy, leadership strategies, and other topics of interest. It is professional development at my fingertips 24/7! It is through Twitter that I have embraced my own learning and developed my personal learning network (many of whom are administrators and teachers with the Surrey School district) which has provided 'non-exhaustive' educational information and has been incredibly inspirational. Twitter is helping me to continue to evolve as an educational leader. At our last professional development day for the year, I gave a workshop on Twitter, encouraging my staff to "tweet it out", and a number of the teaching staff have since joined! All of this in just five short months.
With blogging, posting has been slower. I had three objectives in mind with regard to "Why blog"? I liked the idea of being able to share some of my professional endeavours and journey via this social medium. Second, encourage teachers and thereby students, to blog---and indeed some staff and students are blogging (a few staff members already had blogs). Third, raise the profile of NSLC by addressing such questions as "What is a learning centre?","Who attends or can attend?", "What kinds of things happen in a learning centre?". My intention was to blog once a week. My first blog was posted April 1/12; 2nd blog, April 12/12 - a little more than a week, but not bad! However, I have not been able to meet my goal of once a week. I am now working toward blogging twice a month, which is more doable. In September, with the start of a new school year, perhaps blogging will come easier, and I will be able to post a good quality blog a little more frequently. Something definitely to work toward.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

LC Departments: A Year in Review

We had a 'meeting of the minds' (Department Heads and principals) at the Cloverdale Learning Centre where, for the better part of 2 hours, Department Heads from within the learning centres, shared some of the exciting works that occurred throughout the 2011/12 school year. Wow, some amazing things went on in (and out) of our schools! It is virtually impossible for me to describe all that happened; therefore, I am going to focus on some of the highlights from each department.

Physical Education - Currently, none of the learning centres have a gym (City Central Learning Centre, previously known as Newton LC, now has a gym...the envy of us all!) which, at times, makes delivering PE a feat not for the weak of heart! Yet with will, focus and hard work from the all members of the department, and a determined department leader who worked tirelessly with the school district and Surrey Parks and Recreation, a dynamic program is underway at each learning centre.

Some of the highlights:
- 3 of the learning centres are now offering daily PE, clearly beneficial for those students involved
- iPads are being used; students design their own workouts; investigate nutrition programs
- NLC has a boys' club, operating out of the Newton Recreation Centre; all young men from the other lc are invited, and encouraged, to participate

Over the past 6 years, physical education within the learning centres has evolved from where it was virtually non-existant to a program of high interest and engagement. As with any course/program, evolvement and improvements will continue as "the road to success is always under construction". An emphasis is certainly to promote and encourage healthy and active lifestyles for all our students.

Mathematics - the learning centres, as with all secondary schools, were in the second year of a three year curriculum change and implementation. Of course, this is exciting, at times perhaps a wee bit daunting, involving a tremendous amount of work for all the teachers within the department.

Some of the highlights:
 - trying on new curriculum, which involved tweaking (and tweaking again and again!), making adjustments, and rewriting curricula to best meet the educational needs of our students. A highlight you ask?? Absolutely!
 - use of moodles for AWMath 11
 - greater use of technology
 - "Math out Loud", a theatre presentation at the 'Frederic Wood Theatre', UBC. A play about math, and the kids loved it!

Career Education - there is always a flurry of activity within this department! Work experiences, partnership programs, Baristas, Pathfinders, Rona, City of Surrey, Flora Design, the list is endless.

Some of the highlights:
 - 34 students gained entry to district partnership programs
 - a new program is coming our way (February, 2013) - the Kwantlen Mentorship Program will offer dual credit (secondary and post secondary credit). **More info outlined under Social Studies
- students volunteered at 'Kent Street Activity Centre for Seniors' where they hosted and served dinners at special events - what a great way for students to connect with seniors and give back to the community!
- students volunteered at the "Surrey Food Bank"- again, a great way to connect with, and give back to the community!

Social Studies - a department that is always on the "cutting edge" with respect to reassessing, reviewing, revising and looking at best practise. Maintaining the "status quo" is not something this department aligns with!

Some of the highlights:
 - Learning Centre/Kwantlen Polytechique University partnership program - meetings have occurred with District administration and KPU to iron out the details for a new Humanities Partnership program. Temporarily under the name of "Active Citizen" partnership program, this opportunity will be available  to pilot (hopefully, fingers crossed!) in the second semester of the 2012/13 school year. This program is an extension to the work the department has been doing with KPU for the last 2 years, where students from each learning centre participate in a university course, Criminology: Justice/Injustice and receive partial credit for SJ12. This is what I mean by being innovative!
 - field trips to the 'Firehall Theatre', 'Holocaust Centre'
 - Social Justice "Goat Getters" fundraising initiative - raising enough funds to purchase goats for villages in Africa

A department certainly doing their part to connect our young learners with the community of Surrey and with our ever changing global community.

English - like the Social Studies department, this is group of forward thinking teachers - taking initiative, taking risks, always looking for ways to increase student engagement by trying to ensure that curriculum is relevant and meaningful.

Some of the highlights:
 - dipping into 'project-based' learning, with extensive use of technology to support this learning strategy
 - "Pacific Cinematheque" documentary film project, 'Signs of Ethical Living', was a huge success (see my blog Digital Film Making Boot Camp, May/12); project was presented by students to the Surrey Board of Education - how cool! All the documentaries have been posted on youtube
 - three joint "Arts Starts" events - invited artists who presented to the students were Ivan Coyote, Berend McKenzie
 - Poetry Workshop Series with Taryn Hubbard: "Uncovering Our Home: The Poetics of Place in Surrey"

And now for something really exciting - Kenneth Sutherland, a 2012 graduate of the NSLC, is a published author! Check out the Student poetry anthology at

Science - a team of educators who, like "Bill Nye the Science Guy" try to link the 'text book' science curriculum to the science of everyday things. By giving students lots of choice for projects, etc the department vigilantly tries to increase engagement and learning.

Some of the highlights:
 - the "Finding Nemo" project and web page creation - students created some awesome websites
 - the LORAX project on Sustainability of Ecosystems
 - concerted effort to integrate technology into the curriculum (moodle, GIZMOS)

Business Education - the accountants, the auditors, the entrepreneurs, the marketers!

Some of the highlights:
 - Visual Media Arts 12 (photography) was offered at all centres; very 'hand-ons', engaging course; all work done with the digital camera and computer
 - Business Information Management 12 also offered at all centres; again, a computer based course that all students are encouraged to take (10, 11, 120 as the skills learned are applicable to all subject areas

That folks is a small glimpse into some of the course/curriculum emphasis for 2011/12. As the principal of NSLC, I feel very fortunate to work with some very dedicated teachers and visionary teacher leaders. The learning centres are indeed a very special place to learn and play... and work.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Learning at Harrison - A reflection

Listening to Dr. Michael Wesch our keynote speaker at the SPVPA conference at Harrison Resort, was a truly worthwhile learning experience. Michael's message, delivered in a wonderfully eloquent manner was clear - create a sense of wonder in your students. So, just how do we create this 'sense of wonder' in our students? The answer - get them asking questions, relevant, meaningful questions because to question is to wonder. Encourage students to query, to ponder, to be curious, to marvel, to inquire. Inquiry based learning is one strategy that allows students to connect to their learning in a meaningful and relevant manner. With guidance and coaching from the teacher, the students formulate questions that peek their interests about what they are learning. Students need to be on a quest which can lead them from the "where they are now and what they know" to "what they want to know and where they want to be".

Many of the issues facing our students at NSLC, in Surrey, in British Columbia, in Canada, in North America have global relevance; real problems with real consequences and real solutions. Students can now deeply explore issues that captures their interest, that create that sense of wonder, that burning ? They can tackle these issues by working collaboratively with others from within the same classroom, same school, same city, same country or from classrooms half way around the world! Harnessing the technology to research the question, the 'wonder', then present/share the 'ah haws' via blogging, youtube, twitter or other means of social media... a great and exciting, fulfilling journey of learning!

At NSLC we are embarking upon the journey of inquiry based learning; currently in our infancy, having taken a few baby steps this year. In September, we will be attempting to implement this form of pedagogy across all disciplines...and it's "all aboard" exciting is that! Monday, September 24th, Dr. Roland Case, a professor from SFU, well known in the methodology of "critical thinking", will be leading the staff in a workshop on inquiry based learning. Staff members, Jennifer Aulakh and Jonathan Rempel, both in graduate programs, will also be sharing their knowledge on the topic. Are we excited? You bet!

Sunday, 13 May 2012

"Digital Filmmaking Bootcamp"

A select number of students from all five learning centres in Surrey were given the opportunity to try their hands at film-making, and wow what a success! And just how did all come about?

Thanks goes to our English department for their meticulous design, research and essential ground work that made possible this film-making venture. Teaching staff met with the Education Director from "Pacific CINEMATHEQUE" to design a documentary film project, with numerous connections to all the language arts courses currently being offered in the learning centres. Once the cornerstones of the proposed project were solidly in place, staff from "Pacific CINEMATHEQUE"  ( ) came to Surrey and provided some very intensive instruction for our students. With their years of expertise, the instructors from "Pacific Cinematheque" helped equip our students with the necessary knowledge and skills which enabled them to script, direct, film and produce amazing pieces of work. The students had 12 hours of intense instruction; the goal: in small groups, construct a question used to promote the issue of 'ethical living' and then produce a 5 minute documentary that would answer the questioned posed. The end result - nine very powerful film clips addressing topics from body modification to eating disorders to civil unrest. I had the opportunity to view all 9 short documentaries and was utterly impressed.

So how did these students who had never filmed before, never handled expensive, state of the art filming equipment, put together such meaningful and poignant pieces of work? 21st C learning, that's what was happening! Through inquiry/project based learning, social media, and collaborative research into issues currently affecting their lives and the communities they live in, the students were totally engaged in their learning. It was the relevance and the meaningfulness, the connectedness to the "real world", the use of technology, the ability to collaborate with peers, and being active learners that made this project so successful. If you want to read more about what keeps students engaged click here. "Hats off" to the students from all the learning centres, and notably those from NSLC (of course I'm biased) who should be very proud of their accomplishment. You're all "stars"!

Thursday, 12 April 2012

And about the "Grade 10 Challenge"...what is it??

I want to let readers of this post know that one of the significant differences between NSLC and the other 4 learning centres in the Surrey School District, aside from the fact that we're the uh best --- oops, did I really write that? All kidding aside, NSLC is home to "Grade 10 Challenge" the only program of its kind in the district, and it is an integral part of our learning community. Who does "Challenge" serve? Is is designed for students entering their grade 10 year, but who may still have grade 8 and/or grade 9 courses yet to be successfully completed. "Challenge"  may be just the answer to help these students willing to work hard to get back on track. Students are eligible to stay in the program for one school year where it is expected that they will complete English, Math, Planning, Science, Social Studies and Physical Education. When the school year ends, regardless of whether or not all 6 courses were achieved, students' time in "Challenge" has ended. It's one 'kick at the can'. Students may transition back to mainstream, attend other learning centres or stay at NSLC, but not in""Challenge"as "those days are o-o-over". Those that choose to stay, will now be educated on the other side of the 'Mason/Dixon line', so to speak.

For those students who find it difficult organizing and working on four courses per semester, "Challenge" may be a good fit in that students work on two and/or three courses per semester. For those students who find mainstream overwhelming and impersonal because of the sheer numbers and size of the school, again "Challenge' may be the right fit. It is a small, intimate setting - 2 wise sages, 30 keen young learners per session!

All students wanting to attend "Challenge" are required to write a literacy and numeracy assessment prior to admittance. It's important to understand that "Challenge" is not designed nor resourced for students with severe learning disabilities or for those with other significant learning issues. The typical student can be described as average ability, but for various reasons (truancy, behavioural challenges, health concerns), mainstream is not working well for them at the present time.

I hope dear readers that you have gained some understanding into the Grade 10 Challenge Program. Too, there is a standing invitation to come by any time and "meet the Challenge"!