What PINK SHIRT DAY really means to me

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PINK SHIRT DAY is today across BC, and really across Canada and the world at this point.  It is an important day to highlight the very serious issue facing people of all ages–bullying, harassment, cyber-bullying, and people just.not.being.kind.  To me, it means something a little bit different.

PINK SHIRT DAY was a grassroots movement started in 2007 by a 17 year old boy in eastern Canada–all in support of another student who was harassed for wearing a pink shirt to school.  By recognizing, organizing and executing the first “pink shirt day” to take a stand of the injustice of bullying, this student is just one example of how young people CAN make a HUGE difference in society and their communities.

To often we forget that students like this young boy were the “firestarters” for change in their communities, as movements like PINK SHIRT DAY become more commercialized and take on a life of their own.  PINK SHIRT DAY is just one of many examples of how students (OUR STUDENTS!) want to have the opportunity to change the world, whether it be through social activism, entrepreneurship or even a mix of both.  The question is, how can we promote and support students in a way that helps them make these big ideas into reality?

(wait for it…)

CAPSTONE, FOLKS!  We have been given the ultimate GIFT by our curriculum, with Career Life Education, Career Life Connections and CAPSTONE.  Through these courses and the CAPSTONE requirement for graduation, we are given students the opportunity (and for some, the excuse) to jumpstart their big ideas, to move forward with their plans to change the world.  Some great examples are the Youth Philanthropy Initiative, the Socialpreneurship Project, STEM, project-based learning, MakerSpaces.  School-based programs, such as the partnership and trades programs, IB, leadership, social justice–there are too many to name.  They are all opportunities to connect into CAPSTONE, and leverage students into PINK SHIRT DAY territory.

So, remember–PINK SHIRT DAY has its own special message; however, never forget it all start out with some kid who wanted to make a difference. 

Gifting time, not technology

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It is the time of year where kids are asking Santa for legos and dolls, bikes and boardgames–but also new cell phones, and gaming systems too.  In a world where technology has woven itself into most aspects of our lives, there shouldn’t be any surprises when your 6 year old asks for an iPhone X, or your 4 year old wants a Playstation.  Take care when choosing technology for your kids–be they 7 or 17, as the gift of more technology is really a gift of stolen time.

When it comes to teens, technology contributing to “stolen time” has gone too far.

45% of teens, especially aged 13-18, spend more time online (social media, video-streaming, etc.) almost constantly. 44% of teams talk about being online several times a day–for a total of 89% of teens being online on a regular basis.  When teens are online, they are doing everything from Snapchatting with friends to posting/reading on Reddit, watching videos on YouTube and online gaming.  When they are in the midst of these activities, they aren’t:

  • Engaging with friends or family (meals, conversations, activities)
  • Being active (sports, walks, outdoor pursuits)
  • Practicing self-care (eating, sleeping, hygiene, cleaning)
  • Learning (listening in class, doing homework, reading, participating)

Teens are losing out on life.  They send pictures of smiles instead of actually smiling.  They are playing games virtually instead of together.  Have they come up with some amazing stuff? Absolutely!  But at what cost?

In the past, teens spend approximately 2-2.5 hours per day watching TV.  With the advent of portable technology, that number has increased to about 6 hours (as of 2016).  According to a recent study by the Pew Research Centre, teens have admitted to worry about their usage levels.  In secondary schools, the concept of “cell phone addiction” is an everyday reality.  In my own building, observing the stress levels and anxiety from a cell phone confiscation is nothing less than alarming (almost as much as a student who has had their vaping device taken).

So, when hitting the mall–think twice about what your teen wants, and ponder instead what they really need.  A $800 cell phone could translate into a course at university, a trip at Spring break.  A new game for the XBOX could be swimming lessons…Not all technology is bad, but shouldn’t those opportunities that arise beyond the screen are the ones we want to get for our kids?

So, think twice before getting the latest and greatest tech, and about having those importance conversations and limits in place surrounding technology.  Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

http://www.pewinternet.org/2018/05/31/teens-social-media-technology-2018/
https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/screen-time-nih-study-60-minutes?rebelltitem=2#rebelltitem2

 

 

The Importance of Resilience

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We’ve all experienced those kids that are likeable, that strive to be successful even from a young age.  Those kids who have their eyes on the prize, who easily (or seemingly so) find success at anything and everything.  It just comes “naturally.”  These kids have goals and plans, and the fortitude to do what it takes to achieve them.  But more often than not, we see kids who want to be successful but struggle.  Maybe they have learning barriers, maybe they are easily distracted (squirrel!).  These kids either overcome those obstacles to achieve or, they just stop trying.  They disengage.

I was one of those kids who wasn’t an instant all-star.  I struggled to be liked and I was always a little different than my peers.  I mean, I wanted to be a park ranger when I grew up, which is definitely not typical for adolescent girls.  One thing I can say for sure, is that achievement sometimes is difficult for those who don’t fit the mold.  Even though I had a well-rounded set of talents, being that they weren’t typical, I still struggled to be seen as someone with potential.  That’s why I feel that I was seriously lucky to find my passion early in secondary school, in the way of technology and digital arts.  Finding a connection and fit was how I learned to be who I was, to further develop my strengthens rather than focussing on what I thought I needed to be.  Having a teacher look at me like there was a future, who embraced my differences and pushed me to try harder made such a difference in how I interacted with peers, how I approached problems.  It was like being given a map and told I could go anywhere.

It’s not the same for kids anymore.  They have so many more outlets for their peers to give feedback, all thanks to technology.  Finding satisfaction in just being themselves is becoming more unattainable as their world of peers broadens.  Technology has also opened up what seems like unlimited competition. There used to be just one or two kids you had to compare a success to but now its infinite.  We compare ourselves on the world stage, against celebrities, sport stars, professionals.  What good is your best strength when there’s a thousand other people hash-tagging the same thing, every second of the day?  It’s no wonder kids struggle with resilience and don’t like taking risks that might lead to failure.  Everything you do, good or bad, has the potential to be broadcast to the world and archived indefinitely.

I asked one of my top students about having the world as a critic, and she said “you can just be the best person you know how to be, and it shouldn’t matter what anyone else thinks.  You can’t give up because what does that say about you?”  She’s an exception in a lot of ways, as it’s so easy for many students to give up.  They are lacking resilience and perseverance–some of the most important tools we need in life.  They get us back up on the horse, help us find another fish in the sea.  Resilience and perseverance work together to get us out of tight spaces.  We as educators should be helping prepare our students for life’s ups and downs.  We need to provide opportunities and organize experiences that allow our students to develop perseverance and grow resilience.  But kids are smart.  They’ve learned all about the path of least resistance—it’s easier, its faster.  It usually doesn’t result in failure.  Unfortunately, it also doesn’t lead to adventure, or greatness, or world-changing ideas.  If quitting, or not even trying means zero negative outcomes, that is what is now seen as the better choice vs. trying and the possibility of failure.  Kids are missing out.

We have to push back against that mindset.  Kids are scared to take chances on themselves.  They compare themselves to every hashtag or snapchat story they see.  We have to change that by giving them opportunities to be brave.   I used to do this project in computers where I removed myself as a resource—I remember one of my quietest, back-of-the-room seat-warmers stand up and walk across the room to a peer he had never spoken to before to ask for help.  I can tell you, for him, that took serious courage.  What that kid wasn’t my top student?  No.  But he was talented (when he tried), and he had a great sense of humour.  It took four years to really get to know him and know the best way to push him outside his comfort zone.  I had to learn the best place to “start a fire” with him.

We really do need students to be brave, so they take risks.  We are lost as a society if risk taking becomes a faux-pas.  Technology is interfering with people trying new things—we can always find someone who did it better online.  I can’t even bake a cupcake without comparing it to the thousands of others posted on Pinterest or Instagram.  If I struggle with that comparison as an adult—undoubtedly most kids are struggling too.  I learned about risk-taking essentially in the dark ages.  Unless someone loaded their camera with a fresh roll of film—most of my risks went undocumented.  I remember doing silly things, like cartwheels during gym class and wacky halloween costumes.  No way are some kids doing that now, as they don’t want to go viral.

Technology doesn’t have to be all bad though!  We get to be connected to anyone and everyone we want to showcase our stuff to, be it cooking or biking or whatever.  We have the opportunity to be You Tube stars, to write and blog and share our wonderful creations to the world!  But, we still need courage, resilience, perseverance to be ourselves, to rise above the negative comments, the broadcasted failures.  The vlogging, blogging, hashtags, boomeranging will to continue to be an essential influence on our kids.  We need to equip them with the compass they’ll need to navigate the virtual world, so they can use it to their advantage.

We need to encourage adventure, risk-taking and the pursuit of excellence so resilience and perseverance make a comeback.   This is what is going to equip the next generation to take on the world, to get back up when they fall, and try, try again BUT most importantly, be successful.

Parent Connections

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With the world of today, parents are finding it increasingly more difficult to connect with the school community and classroom teachers.  One would think that with the increased usage of technology, parents would feel more connected vs. less.  Although some parents may receive upwards of 3-5 emails per week from their student’s teacher–others feel left in the dark in regards to how their child is faring.  Obviously, there are significant differences in parent communication when you look across the span of different age groups (elementary, middle and secondary)–with a notable drop in parent involvement as students draw nearer to graduation.  So, what is the answer?  To determine the answer, we first must identify the end goal.

Is it to have more parents present in the building (PAC, events, etc.)?

Is it to have parents feel more involved, nay, BE more involved in daily classroom learning (via home checks, emails, etc.)?

I would argue that both goals are important, at all levels of education.  There are certainly more opportunities at the younger grades for parents to be involved than at the secondary level; however, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is impossible.  Taking the time to invite parents to interact with the school is the first step in creating bridges between classroom and home; however, inviting multiple times is often required for parents who are busy and have limited options for school participation.

Three key ways to encourage parent involvement:

  1. Keep them informed.  How can a parent be involved if they are not informed of what is happening around school?  If a child isn’t overly forthcoming with school-related news, parents should have another access point for important dates, going-ons, etc.  For some schools, a weekly newsletter or blog has been useful for keeping parents “in the loop,” especially when items such as report cards, field trips or assemblies is concerned.
  2. Offer multiple opportunities to get them in the building.  While parent-teacher interviews are a standard way for parents to be included in student learning, there are many other avenues to have parents visit a school, even a secondary school! First, hold events at times that are typically available for working parents, such as open house evenings, performances, etc.  Second, offer more than the typical events that parent attend (sports, theatre, band), such as Fine Art/Applied Skill open houses, Social Studies project presentations or family-friendly language plays are just a few suggestions!
  3. Keep inviting them.  If turn out is lower than expected, keep inviting parents.  If they can’t attend the first event, it doesn’t mean they won’t or can’t attend the next.  Making sure parents really know schools want them to be a part of their child’s education is vital to seeing more participation and presence at the school.

Overall, having parents feel included in their child’s education will lead to them being more involved, more invested and more likely to encourage their student to be more engaged with their learning.  School community should be a symbiotic triad between staff, students and parents.  All three working together leads to better education for students, and that is of course, what we are here for.

 

 

Substance over Technology: Tools, Tasks & Takeways

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Is technology a stumbling block for you?  Does a lack of internet connection ruin your day?

There are two extremes to technology use in the classroom; with a full range in between.  On the one hand, there are teachers who utilize technology tools because they feel that it is the ‘thing to do.’  They are creating Powerpoints instead of overheads, using YouTube Videos in lieu of VHS.  They have embraced technology as far as they feel comfortable.  If you mention blogging, or hashtags, they bear a panicked look–hoping beyond hope they can retire before anyone notices their Smart Board is covered in dust.  On the other hand, there are teachers who have plunged classrooms into the deep end of the technological pool.  Every day they use something technology-based with their students.  They’ve logged hours upon hours on the in-school COWS, and have a ‘app’ for everything.  They use so much technology, students are beginning to forget how to write with pen and paper.  Both of these extremes exist; fortunately, the majority of teachers fall somewhere in the middle.

substanceovertechnologyTechnology doesn’t need to be the centre of your classroom.  It also doesn’t need to be a pain in the you-know-what.  Think of technology in two ways: as a teaching tool, and as a learning tool. By combining both tools, you should be able to create a dynamic and modern learning environment for your students, where technology makes tasks easier, and takeaways more magical.

Never feel pressured to teach with technology, 100% of the time.  For example, does it make more sense to use a tablet for notes in math than an old-fashion overhead? Of course! Notes can be reused and saved, rather than erased…plus, no more overhead pen all over your hands!  Technology as a teaching tool can make your classroom a better place for not only your students, but for you as a teacher.  How you incorporate it is up to you, and I encourage you to find new ways to give notes and lessons, be it through presentation software, or perhaps Skyping with an expert.  You don’t need to use it all the time, but at least find way to use it sometimes, and always for the betterment of student learning rather than for the sake of technology.  Technology tools should make daily or weekly tasks, like notes, easier and more engaging.  When technology is used as a learning tool, students are given the opportunity to learn new technology, but how to use technology as a tool rather than a toy (see HERE for a post about that).  When there is sound, pedagogical reasoning behind using technology as a learning tool when it comes to students, good things happen.  When students use technology to explore, to engage and to demonstrate their learning, the takeway factor is magic.   Don’t be afraid to discontinue the use of technology if it isn’t positively impacting learning in your classroom or if students aren’t yet ready to use it for learning.  Find another way, another tool, that does work for your students.

And above all, when using technology in your classroom–for teaching or otherwise–make sure that what you are doing has substance.  Make sure that you are utilizing technology as a tool for learning, that the tool hasn’t taken over the teaching.  Remember: Substance should always win over technology.