Status quo, or status no?


“It’s always been done this way.”

This sentiment is one of the biggest “icebergs” that I’ve encountered in my career as an educator–for such a small little statement, sometimes underneath it is laden with deep emotions–happiness, complacency, pride, disengagement, frustration, nostalgia…the list could go on.  Sometimes the status quo is an essential tool to school culture, but determining when to change the way things are done is a lesson that I think all school leaders are constantly trying to learn. One important factor to consider when addressing status quo is whether something is just an unwritten rule or if it is a deeply entrenched tradition.  Obviously, some basic research and sleuthing may be needed to determine as such. There are three big questions that leaders could look to ask when it comes to the status quo  before entertaining a change to the status quo or reworking a tradition.

  1.  Is it habit, policy or tradition?  Oftentimes, we mistake habit for tradition.  Just because something is done regularly doesn’t necessarily make it a tradition.  Habits, or what we might refer to as routines in education, certainly can turn into traditions but there are important factors that need to be in place for them to do so.  These factors include people, motivation and time.  If these factors aren’t present, then either something isn’t really a TRUE tradition, or it isn’t one that is likely to be sustained much longer.   What if you encounter something that hasn’t been around long enough to be considered a tradition, BUT it has certainly become a well-developed routine or habit (status quo)? If that is the case, then you have to ask whether it has the potential to be a positive and perpetuated tradition, or if it might be better changed and/or modified.
  2. Who and how?  This is actually very important when it comes to the longevity and sustainability of traditions.  Who perpetuates the tradition and how they do it is very important to whether a tradition continues.  Traditions only “live” if there are people to continue them, and that requires meaningful sharing and passing on to all who are meant to participate.  For example, if a tradition began with a staff in the early 1990s, and that staff continued it forward until the mid-2000s but did not see fit to bring newer staff members into the tradition, then as the original staff left or retired the tradition would cease.  Alternatively, if that same staff shared the tradition with each new staff member as they arrived, there would be a higher likelihood of the tradition surviving.   The way in which the tradition is shared is also important for buy-in.  Simply stating, “this is how its done” won’t foster motivation from newer staff who are meant to take up and continue a tradition–there has to be some semblance of mentorship involved, time dedicated for the sharing and then active participation in a tradition.  This is where I feel a lot of traditions in schools especially fall short as those who are engrained with traditional are often loath to let others “take up the torch,” for fear of losing out on some unsaid power.  Depending on the who and how, some traditions naturally see their end; however, expediting that end might be an option depending on the ratio of willing participants to casual observers.
  3. When and why?  As previously discussed, traditions often begin out of habit (routine) or policy.  When looking at whether a tradition has run its course, it is important to learn not only about how deeply embedded a tradition is amongst current staff (and students) but also how and why it came into being.  Traditions do have a way of outliving their usefulness, depending on why they began in the first place; however, if the “who” and “how” of a tradition is alive and well, that may not matter.  A staff survey regarding their knowledge and feelings about certain traditions might be a good start in order to determine whether a new option or “retirement” will be well received.

Changing traditions or letting them go isn’t for the faint of heart nor is it something that should be taken lightly.  The status quo is some instances is the very glue that is holding everything together; whereas in other cases it has staled culture and created divides.  Finding a way to balance change while respecting true tradition is the juggling act that a leader must learn to take part in, and unfortunately there isn’t a manual for how to do it successfully–every organization, every group of people, and every instance of status quo or tradition will vary.

If there was one tradition or unwritten piece of “status quo” in your organization that you could change, what would it be?  


Gifting time, not technology


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!



The Importance of Resilience


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.

Finishing Strong


Emotions run high, stress levels are skyrocketing–the sights, smells and feels of June are almost indescribable for those who aren’t a part of the education system.  It’s impossible to qualify or summarize how thousands of students and hundreds of teachers and staff are feeling on any given day.  From excitement or frustration to joy and despair (and everything in between) both students and staff are literally riding a rollercoaster for weeks on end leading up to that final bell.

There is so much that contributes to making June the worst month of the year for many.  Some of our students are ramping up for their final goodbyes, and not just at the Grade 12 level.  Students are leaving buildings and moving upwards all over districts, from elementary school to middle or secondary, or middle to secondary.  Our Grade 5s/7s/8s are moving onward and it’s scary.  Our 12s are leaving, and its exciting for some but overwhelming for others.  On the other side of things, some students are learning (or realizing) that they aren’t moving up due to a lack of learning outcomes demonstrated and that’s hard too.  Our staff is being inundated with pleases, and last chances and piles of extra work so they can try, one last time to help push someone through–even though they’ve been trying all year to help that happen.  We are expected to plan and execute celebrations, award assemblies, graduations, BBQs, final field trips.

It. is. beyond. exhausting. 

So, take a breath.  Take twenty of them.  It is so hard not to break down, to give up.  But you know you can do it.  You do it every year.  You smile, you give condolences.  You cheer, your say “don’t give up.”  If you are new to teaching, like so many are this year–know that you are so important during this transition for kids, be it grade to grade or building to building.  I know that puts tremendous pressure on you–but balance is going to be key.  Don’t take do summer school, unless necessary.  Don’t feel pressure to attend every concert, every game, every fun fair for their entirety.  CHOOSE YOURSELF as often as you can, whenever you can.  Close your door at lunch, and take a breath.

This too shall pass, and the freshness of September with eager kids, and smiling staff will once again arrive.  And, whatever you do–don’t skip your morning coffee for nobody, no how.


The Importance of Learning Resilience


If you had (or have) a child in school, what is the most important thing you would want them to learn?  Or, if you are an educator–what do you most wish for your students to learn during their 12-13 years as students?

Is it to read? To write?  To problem solve?  To program a robot, draw a map? Correctly identify a prime number?

For myself, the most important thing that I wish for my children and for my students, is to learn resilience.  This is what is going to keep them going when things don’t go as planned.  Is it what will let them overcome obstacles, difficult math questions, annoying people, and most importantly failure.  I want my kids, my students to be able to get back up when they are knocked down.  To keep going, no matter how hard things are.  Other elements that go hand-in-hand with resilience are courage, empathy, determination, perseverance.  All important skills to have, all important characteristics I wish for my children, my students to develop.

So the question is, how do we teach students resilience?  How do you help a child understand how failure and hardship can be a good thing?  In one of my programming classes, I used a project that pushed the boundaries of my student’s capabilities.  The project was to follow a online tutorial to create a game in an outdated program, called Adobe Flash.  The best part of the tutorial was that was incomplete and contained elements that didn’t necessarily work as stated.  That meant that students had to look outside the tutorial for new sources of help: their peers, user boards, help blogs, etc.  I, as the teacher, removed myself as a resource.  This was beyond frustrating for some of my students.  They struggled, they failed.  But then, they persevered.  They pushed back.  Some of my students learned to actively seek out help, either from online sources or from peers they’d never spoken to before.  In their reflections on the game (which many actually didn’t complete in its entirety), they talked about how they learned to find other ways to solve problems and how to deal with their frustration.  For some of my students, this project was one of the first times they had to confront this type of experience, and I am glad that I had the opportunity to provide it.

We need to provide more opportunities to help our students learn to fail, to learn to be resilience, and to learn to overcome obstacles.  By now, you have figured out that we can’t teach resilience, we can only facilitate opportunities for it to develop.  We can only sit on the sidelines cheering, encouraging and pushing our students to figure it out for themselves.  My challenge to you is to foster ways for students to develop resilience, to become confident in what they are capable of.  This means taking the risk of failure, it means being an example.  Sometimes it means anger, frustration and tears; however, sometimes it means conquering a mountain, and overall, it is the best possible “teachable moment” you can provide to a student to set them up for success.