Last weekend I attended the one-day TEDxWestCVancouverEd event at the spacious and always pleasant Kay Meek Theatre in, yes, West Vancouver. It was the second time that a TED licensed event with a focus on education took place on Vancouver’s north shore and some three hundred people of all ages turned out for this event. Compared to last year’s one hundred that probably was some advance evidence that it probably would be a worthwhile get together.
And it was. There were some twenty speakers who each took on education from their perspective, all interspersed with a few 4-minute power talks about the changed meaning of the word 'smart'. It would be beyond the scope of this review to highlight and review all speakers, but a few stood out for me. One of the school district’s own librarians, Arlene Anderson focused in on the changing culture of reading and how mobile devices and other trends have basically disrupted the art of reading in a negative sense. Arlene argued we have to find our way back to immersive and deep reading and she ended her talk with the much needed statement ‘print is an elegant medium’ which brought home the essence and importance of reading to all. Things got a bit more serious with the very personal account of Olympian Silken Laumann who encouraged all to bring in the ‘vulnerability-quotient’ in order to show a bit more of ourselves, weaknesses and all, so that we can learn more from each other. It reminded me of the well-known American venture capitalist Brad Feld who only a few years ago stunned the world with his open account of his struggles with depression.
The afternoon speakers that stood out were Judy Halbert and Kris Magnusson, both of whom focused on how we can help students overcome obstacles and Judy’s case specifically was, at least in my mind, one of the best. In her talk entitled 'Getting beyond No' she challenged the traditional ‘no’ many students get when they try and carve out their own learning route and that it is crucial that we listen to them when they indicate where their interest levels and learning routes are. The video of Clifton, the boy that was finally allowed to show the piano playing skills he had learned on his own from YouTube, was a fitting, uplifting and somewhat emotional moment to close the day.
As mentioned, the clever thing about the day was the four short chats about the term ‘smart’ and how it had evolved over the years. They acted as a central theme running through the day. Former lawyer and now actor Josh Blacker educated the audience on his struggles as an unhappy lawyer and how making hard and often financially challenging choices delivered him from the constraints that his original career driven education had put upon him. In one swoop Blacker tied together the separate pieces that most speakers had given us, namely that it is the individual student, no matter what age, who in the end sets the curriculum and its ultimate direction. Bringing this into practice is of course harder, but as the attendees strolled away in the early fall sun it was clear that there is no shortage of thought provoking ideas to help us propel in the right direction. Kay Meek has a capacity of five hundred and so there is a good chance the place will be sold out at next year's TEDxWestVancouver Ed.
Photo: organizer and West Van educator Craig Cantlie opens the day at the Kay Meek stage. Other organizers were Cari Wilson, Brooke Moore and Garth Thomson.
As part of my business practice I have started a few years ago to give all CEOs and other close associates I work with a book for Christmas. I do this because I like sharing something and also take the opportunity to let others learn a few things that I think are worthwhile or feel we need to pay attention to.
It started with Sonia Arrison's 100+ which talks about how we will all live much longer, followed by Brett Wilson's Redefining Success in 2013. Last year it was Zeke Emanuel's Brothers Emanuel which describes the journey of three incredibly successful brothers one of whom became Obama's chief of staff and Mayor of Chicago. All of these books of course had a deeper message about learning and education.
The one that contained a really direct point of view on education was Brett Wilson's book and here is what I wrote in the letter accompanying each book:
Although I do not watch TV anymore (old media!) I did notice that Alberta-entrepreneur Brett Wilson had become some sort of a celebrity in Canada. As I found out during a book lunch he gave in Vancouver last month, Wilson has a lot more to talk about then just business and making money. His personal journey through many ups and downs combined with his focus on integrity and giving back are worth learning from. More than that, he points in the direction of how the next generation should take on the economic challenges ahead and that being an ‘entrepreneur’ is an attitude that applies not just to business, but to any job or role in society. All of this impacts how we look at education, the way we do business and how we shape the communities we live in.
West Vancouver's superintendent of schools Chris Kennedy wrote a blog post about the book and you can find it here. Excerpt:
Wilson argues for the importance of “teaching marketing, entrepreneurship and philanthropy beginning in elementary schools and continuing into all higher learning, either academic or in the trades.” Given the excitement and engagement with Me to We, and similar movements often done as an “add-on” to curriculum, he makes a persuasive argument that these areas should actually be part of core schooling – a course, he suggests, in changing the world. Wilson says that the ways in which anyone can make an impact on, or in, the world comes down to offering their time, money or leadership.
I would say read both Wilson's book and Kennedy's blog post. As for this year's Christmas gift, lots of candidate books and no decision has been made as of today, but I will make sure to blog about it on this site once it has come out as the annual Christmas gift.
Here is one of those snippets of news that highlight what the generation that is now going through the school system is up against. Income inequality is increasingly an age issue where younger people entering the workforce will have a much harder time to make ends meet as opposed to their parents, according to the Conference Board of Canada today:
“Increasingly it’s clear that Canada doesn’t have a problem with a declining middle-class; rather it’s a problem of income and wealth inequality for younger generations,” he said.
To me this means that we will have look that much harder at what 'work' will be like tomorrow and what the real value is of university education when it means students have to incur vast loads of debt to obtain degrees that no longer hold the value they once had. It will require a radical overhaul in thinking about how we educate and to what end goal.
When I started out in my role as PAC Chair in September 2007 our parent team was immediately confronted with a huge issue. The province had determined that many play structures around British Columbia were no longer compliant with safety regulations and had to be replaced within short order. Of course, our school fell into that unlucky group and we were asked to ensure that the non-compliant playground was replaced sooner rather than later. And no, there were no funds so it was up to us to finance it. And, we were told, most schools take years to get the funding together and given the price of modern play structures, bake sales wouldn't really cut it.
Thanks to a great PAC team and very supportive community we pulled it off and a new playground was unveiled at the Lions Bay School on the first day of school in September 2008. This ironically was the day that the big financial meltdown got underway and I always wondered if we would have been able to raise the funds if we had started our playground campaign a year later.
Although a great success, I remained puzzled by the funding mechanisms that underpin our public schools. On the one hand it is great to give certain fundraising efforts to parents to get them involved and give them a sense of ownership in schools. But on the other hand this works only in so many school districts. Many areas will not have the luxury of being able to repeatedly access a community for funds or corporate gifts. And more pressingly, what if provincial coffers dry up further and PAC fundraising is required to buy basic necessities or help maintain facilities? And will a relationship between parents and schools that is increasingly built around money and budgets not become strained over time?
Food for thought and time to have an open debate about the funding structures on which our public schools are built.
The Lions Bay students bus to Gleneagles and Rockridge at 7:40 AM and 8:00 AM respectively. The parents are quite happy with that routine as it is a hard line in the sand: "get out of bed otherwise you will miss the bus!" We never know exactly what goes on in the bus, but we do know it a fantastic service that connects our community with West Vancouver and gets our kids in school on time, safely.
Photo made by my good friend Norman Pellow in May 2008.
As I am gearing up for the November 15 election for school trustee, I thought it would be important to outline what I think are the key issues facing public education and what I will focus on as elected trustee:
THE FUTURE: A Changed Landscape for Education
Globalization and the proliferation of new technologies have forever changed the job market. The cradle-to-grave career that we were raised on in the late 20th century has pretty much evaporated overnight and so it is our challenge to ensure that education – in its broadest sense – prepares the next generation for an era of uncertainty and volatility, but also one of immense opportunity and creativity. The enormous amount of information now offered by the internet requires critical thinking, judgment and the skill set to purpose technology to an individual’s advantage. This is a multidisciplinary task that includes mathematics, languages, social studies and equally important: arts. As many experts have pointed out, our current education system is a 20th century legacy and it is time to move beyond that.
My Goal: I want to ensure our schools are able to adapt to this new global technology driven landscape and are given all the necessary resources to accomplish this. Schools need to contribute to raising creative, resilient, tech savvy, multilingual, global citizens who have the foundational skills to reinvent and have multiple careers.
THE SCALE: Maintain and Improve Current Scale
In this age of cost cutting and rationalization there is a strong tendency to amalgamate structures and processes in the belief that ‘bigger is better’ and that larger operations deliver the efficiencies we need. That may be true in some cases, but merging school districts and closing smaller schools accomplishes the exact opposite of what schools need to do to effectively deliver personal learning experiences: small scale settings where students, parents and staff can work together to deliver the best possible learning outcomes. Smaller organizations allow for flat, open and better communication channels between students and teachers, parents and teachers, teachers and administration.
My Goal: I will strongly support the independence that school districts have now and where possible seek to enhance this independence while at the same time supporting and nurturing smaller schools and their unique learning environments.
OUR SOCIETY: Work to Preserve Civil Society
Our open and democratic society with its freedoms and rights is not a given. A long battle was fought for this by previous generations and today we are witnessing the erosion of such core values as ‘respect’, ‘participation’ and ‘responsibility’. So all of us will have to work for and recreate our civil society every single day. The recent labour conflict revealed that even our carefully calibrated institutions can not always adequately absorb and resolve conflict. We consequently run the risk of not only setting a terrible example for our students, but also of a steady fraying of the social structures that underpin our society.
My Goal: As a school trustee I will make it a top priority that we realize that not a lot is needed to see a breakdown in this social order and that all parties need to work together, every day, to maintain and build out our success as a free, open and shock absorbent society. The art of compromise is central to that.
THE BUDGET: More Learning Support, Courses and Resources
It has been clear that BC schools do not always have the staffing and resources they need to fully deliver the curriculum, in particular if we take into account the changing needs of students and demands of that rapidly changing global landscape mentioned before. Continued investment in staff, technology, facilities, extracurricular activities and materials is essential. Public schools also compete with private schools, homeschooling and other options open to families nowadays. And school districts also compete for talent, so how do we attract the best teachers and administrators?
My Goal: I want to start to seriously look at how we can better leverage our resources and find alternative funding mechanisms so we can deliver what our students need and what our staff requires to deliver the education that enables students to compete and cooperate, but also enables the school district to compete effectively with alternative schooling options.
THE COMMUNITY: Build Partnerships
Relations between provincial and local entities are not always optimal and so it is with school districts. School districts need to increasingly carve out their own identity and build strong local partnerships to complement and improve on that what is funded or given from higher levels. In other words: there is a strong need to build and deepen partnerships locally with municipalities, businesses and community organizations.
My Goal: I want to start developing local initiatives where more joint use of assets (think about the fact that many school buildings remain unused for 50% of the calendar year), and creating partnerships with local profit and non-for-profit entities widen that ability of school districts to operate effectively.