Multicultural Week

A group of BICS educators and parents/guardians formed the BICS Diversity Group several years ago with the intention of its participants learning more about diversity and inclusivity and contributing to making BICS a more inclusive school.

We are also organizing Multicultural Week for March 11-16, 2019.

Preceding the week, the Diversity Group hosted Alden Habacon who offered a workshop for the community of Bowen Island on inclusion literacy. In Mr. Habacon’s presentation, he spoke of the A, B, Cs of inclusion; three key elements for a school, workplace or organization to be inclusive. Organizations that ensure people feel they are treated fairly, where they feel their uniqueness is valued while also feeling a sense of common belonging to the organization, and where they have a voice over decisions, typically have inclusive cultures. The intent of our week is to recognize and celebrate differences amongst cultures.

Mr. Habacon started his talk explaining the difference between intent and impact and our Diversity Group is keenly aware that there may be a difference between our intent and impact with respect to offering a Multicultural Week.

After all, we’re calling it “Multicultural Week”. How much value can be attributed to something that’s only given a week’s focus? On the other hand, if people were to wear poppies every day of the year, would the act of remembrance of soldiers be enhanced or diminished? I suspect the latter. A focused week does not mean that is the only time attention is drawn to a topic, but it does highlight its importance. That is certainly the case with learning about diversity and inclusion at BICS.

Further, what aspects of culture can actually be shared to an audience of 333 children, aged 5-13, all within a short period of time and are these really the most important aspects of culture worth learning about or sharing?

Accessed from “OIC Moments,” March 5, 2019

The “Cultural Iceberg” (attributed to G.R. Weaver) suggests that there are aspects of surface culture, readily apparent to outside observers such as food, flags, festivals, dances, games, fashion, art, etc., and aspects of deep culture, such as attitudes about education, approaches to religion, marriage, raising children, the elderly and communication styles and rules. Although deep culture may, in fact, play a more significant role in the day-to-day lives of different people, deep culture is not easily observable without significant time with someone of a different culture or perhaps through experiences living overseas. And of course, aspects of deep

culture would also vary between people of a particular culture. Deep culture is therefore not something that we will be able to feature prominently in our Multicultural Week; however, deep culture would be a great topic of discussion for families in exploring their own culture. The iceberg offers some entry points for an examination of a person or family’s beliefs that may be rooted in their culture.

Is it worth it then at school just skimming the cultural surface?

I think it is as long as everyone involved knows that is what we are doing. We are not trying to overpromise what will be learned during Multicultural Week. Rather, we are highlighting that the differences among how people live are worth learning about and to appreciate that the culture that students may be influenced by is one of many equally valid ways of living.

Our intent is that students gain some awareness and understanding for some of the differences among cultures, an awareness that cultures don’t just belong to other groups but that we all have been influenced by both the deep and surface cultures of our families, an appreciation that these differences suggest there are many ways of doing and of being, and most importantly, an openness and curiousity for learning more both about their own culture and the culture of others. The impact of multicultural week remains to be seen and as our purpose is to stimulate curiousity this impact may remain to be seen for some time to come.

Orange Shirt Day

What does meaningfully recognizing Orange Shirt Day look like in an Elementary School?

Our BICS Indigenous Education Committee, consisting of teachers and parents/guardians, has been considering that question since our school dipped our toe in the water in 2016 by recognizing Orange Shirt Day via a brief email to parents and as part of a September assembly. Those efforts did little more than to simply recognize the existence of Orange Shirt Day. With a K-7 student population, which in October means 4 year-olds to 12 year-olds, recognizing Orange Shirt Day in a meaningful way is not simple.

Our Committee recognized that with significant differences in developmental readiness, much of the learning should happen in classrooms so the Committee offered teachers a menu of learning related to Indian Residential Schools and supportive, authentic Indigenous resources.

But school-wide learning was also needed. Events and learning that happens school-wide are often identified by students and families as being important and we wanted students to know that recognizing Orange Shirt Day, and learning about Indian Residential Schools in Canada, was important. So, we held an intermediate assembly on Monday, October 15, and a school-wide assembly on Wednesday, October 17. On Monday, we shared the story of Phyllis Webstad, the founder of Orange Shirt Day, noting the inspiring motto of the day, “Every Child Matters” and unpacking the phrase. Grade 4-5 students also shared some of their learning from their classrooms about how the Indian Residential School system contrasted so sharply with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

On Wednesday, students and staff wore paper orange paper cut-out shirts which had the message, “I will __________, because Every Child Matters.” The point was to impress upon students that we have a collective responsibility for making the statement Every Child Matters true. During our school-wide assembly, we also celebrated a little bit of the Squamish culture with Squamish elder Sahplek, Bob Baker, who shared several songs with us, including “Esḵéḵxw ta sp’áḵwus,” “The Gathering of Eagles,” which students have been learning to sing along with over the last year. It was a great opportunity for students to further develop a personal relationship with Sahplek and the Squamish Nation and to gain a greater appreciation for aspects of Squamish culture and storytelling. Grade 7 students glued the 370 orange shirt cut-outs onto a piece of paper to preserve their “I will” statements beyond Orange Shirt Day. They are presently displayed on a bulletin board outside of the office.

In addition to our efforts with students in school, our committee decided that parent education and community education would be essential as conversations about reconciliation are important family conversations. On October 13, we offered a free screening of the film Indian Horse for the community and several members of our committee shared with attendees a list of authentic indigenous resources related to Indian Residential Schools in Canada that parents and community members could use to further their learning and stimulate conversations. To draw community members to the film, a member of our committee wrote an article for The Undercurrent explaining the significance of the film. Sahplek welcomed attendees to the screening and shared the important message that Indian Horse tells just one story among far too many. Sahplek spoke a little bit about his experiences in residential school as well. Following the film, Sahplek told the audience that while it is important that viewers attempt to contemplate the tragedy and loss of residential schools, it is also important to move forward together positively, and so, he led attendees in a song together. It was a powerful conclusion to the evening.

Indigenous worldviews and learning are embedded throughout the curriculum but Orange Shirt Day – and Orange Shirt Week as we referred to it – provides a specific opportunity for educators, students, and families to make evident a commitment to rooting out discriminatory beliefs and actions that were the rotten core of the Residential School System. For our youngest learners, it is an opportunity to reinforce the point that they matter and that they have a responsibility to their peers to ensure their peers feel like they matter too.

I am grateful to our Indigenous Education Committee for their important work. Thank you Andrea, Beverley, Carmen, Cindy, Fraser, Jane, Katie, Laura, Meribeth, Sarah, Sarah, Simon, and Stephanie.

Timeless and Timely Learning

With the exception of mass extinctions, many would argue that the world is changing more quickly now than ever before; climate, as well as technology changing the way people live, are two of the most obvious examples.

In the late summer, West Vancouver Schools principals and vice-principals participated in a workshop with Discovery Education’s Hall Davidson. Mr. Davidson spoke about some of the technologies that are, and will, change the way students learn including Artificial Intelligence (AI), Virtual Reality (VR), and Augmented Reality (AR).

Disruptions to the status quo that prompt change are often a good thing, but they can also distract from an organization’s or a system’s true purpose. The disruption could also be significant enough to alter an organization’s or system’s purpose.

In an elementary school, when evaluating the benefits of new tools and ideas in education, and trying to gauge how much prominence, if any, such tools and ideas should have in the learning of 5-13 year olds, a lens or framework is helpful. Over the summer, I’ve been thinking about learning that is timeless, timely or both.

In an elementary school, there is still plenty of room for teaching timeless skills: reading, writing, numeracy and social and emotional learning. The value of these skills has never diminished and many would argue that with the internet providing access to abundant and potentially overwhelming information, as well as providing platforms (blogs, social media such as YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter) for self-expression and an audience, literacy skills are becoming even more valuable.

There is also great value in teaching timely skills and concepts. The increasing role of technology in our lives makes learning the basics of computer programming timely; coding is interesting to many students and is becoming another part of understanding the world.

As one evaluates the prominence that coding or any other timely learning such as VR and AR should play in a young person’s education, it is worth examining if that timely learning has timeless roots. For coding, there is much to be learned about the concepts of computational thinking such as (1) breaking a problem down into parts or steps, (2) identifying patterns, (3) developing instructions to solve a problem, and (4) generalizing patterns into rules. Such concepts of problem solving are applicable for areas of learning unrelated to technology and possibly fall into the timeless category. If in the future machines come to do almost all of the coding and coding becomes a far less valuable skill, or less valuable for many people to have, the skills and concepts of computational thinking will endure and continue to be taught.

Even without timeless roots, however, there is room for timely learning. In addition to it (usually) being interesting, timely learning also helps students understand what it means to be a learner. Thriving in a period of rapid change requires curiousity and open-mindedness to try new things, agility to adapt to change, and pivoting to work around roadblocks. Sometimes what is learned (content, skill, or competency) is less important than developing key traits of a learner’s mindset such as open-mindedness.

The overlap between “Timeless” and “Timely” learning continues to expand. Timeless learning such as developing literacy skills should, whenever possible, incorporate timely enhancements such as using tools like Google Read & Write to help with comprehension, or Discovery Education Techbook to access vetted, developmentally appropriate, resources.

I don’t have the answer for how much learning should be timeless, timely, or both, only that learning should be in all three zones.

In 1920, the artist George Bellows said,

Try everything that can be done. Be deliberate. Be spontaneous. Be thoughtful. Be painstaking. Be abandoned and impulsive. Learn your own possibilities.

Learners – whether they be educators or students – can be many things, whether it be a teacher very carefully crafting a well-developed year plan of how a student is going to learn to read or at other times, they can be spontaneous, maybe even “abandoned”, in trying something new simply because learners should try new things. Such is the mindset of someone, or the culture of an organization, with great possibilities.

Thinking Like a Designer

How will people get around 20 years from now?

Answering this difficult question is part of the challenge BC Ferries is facing in redesigning one of their busiest ferry terminals, Horseshoe Bay. Ferries are usually an “in between” form of travel: rarely is the area immediately surrounding a ferry terminal the destination, and so, BC Ferries’ terminals must synergize with how people get to the departure terminal and leave from the arrival terminal.

Is large car capacity needed in the next generation of ferries to accommodate electric, autonomous vehicles, or are smaller, more pedestrian-focused ferries needed to serve as intermediaries for a public travelling almost exclusively by public transit? What terminal design can accommodate these different, and equally plausible visions? (Perhaps our obsession with travel will diminish and an interest in virtual reality will increase to such an extreme that ferries, and terminals, will get smaller and less busy with people living more sedentary, virtual lives. (Hopefully not, though I say that not yet being acquainted with the merits of virtual reality as it would be 20 years from now…))

Unlike a smartphone, which is somewhat nimble in adapting to new technologies (for a few years anyway), designing a ferry terminal intended to last decades is a little more of a commitment; especially the parts of the terminal made of concrete. How does one design something with such a lifespan?

BC Ferries is currently consulting with various stakeholders and trying to get a sense of what its passengers (commuters, domestic vacationers, foreign tourists) hope for and need from a redesigned terminal. When BC Ferries requested that students participate in the consultation process, we jumped at the chance: what a terrific, real-world, opportunity for students to apply their understanding of some aspects of the design process to share ideas with BC Ferries and also learn a little bit about what factors BC Ferries is considering in their redesign.

BC Ferries – factors to be considered in making decisions about the HSB Terminal redesign.

Embedded in the practical considerations of how the terminal will accommodate various vessels are ethical decisions: what is the most sustainable form of transportation both on the water (electric ferries coming soon?) and to and from terminals? How will the terminal be accessible for all passengers? And how will the terminal be respectful of its neighbours? Students have the opportunity to apply some of their learning from the Future City Project that students participated in earlier, where they imagined, researched, and designed, cities of the future that attempted to solve issues of sustainability and accessibility.

The BC Ministry of Education’s Applied Design, Skills and Technologies (ADST) Curriculum, touted for providing hands on learning opportunities such as sewing or woodworking, also provides opportunities for more abstract thinking, such as offering input on the design of a ferry terminal intended to accommodate, and seamlessly integrate with, several generations of transportation methods. Students will be submitting design ideas to BC Ferries which will be featured in some of the upcoming consultations they are doing with communities.

Opportunities to learn about real-world design are limited only by one’s initiative and capacity to think as a designer. A developed and deliberate method of observation can allow almost any object or system to be examined, both for its form and function. Another class at BICS, not engaged in the BC Ferries consultation but engaged in other aspects of the ADST curriculum throughout the year, is learning about universal design. They have been working with Javier Estebecorena of Hermanos Estebecorena Design Studio. Mr. Estebecorena is a designer and mechanical technician, and fortunately for our school, a parent of children at BICS. He has been volunteering his time with students to teach them design thinking, sharing his insights of universal design and assisting them to make observations based on functional, aesthetic, social and economic perspectives and to expand their responses to products and systems beyond simple judgements of like and dislike. His hope is that from their earliest learning, students think of design universally, in other words, they understand that the same principles and many of the same processes apply to all forms of design.

Mr. Estebecorena also hopes for students to feel empowered to be doers, to be more than just people who use things created by others, but become creators themselves, whether that be by creating physical items, or by creating ideas that challenge traditional perceptions or ways of doing. This is the essence of the ADST curriculum and I look forward to sharing more of this work in future blog posts as students continue to work with Mr. Estebecorena.

Mr. Estebecorena will also work with our Community School Coordinator, Sarah Haxby, on our “slug art” by designing eye-catching signage that encourages cars to slow down in the school zone. These designs will be featured as part of our Bike to School Week, May 28 – June 3.

BICS students are very engaged in the ADST curriculum, whether it be through creating (knitting, sewing, some classes even doing woodworking) or thinking like a designer in order to understand complex systems and propose solutions to some of the challenges we face. In a variety of ways, the ADST curriculum is proving to be one of the most interesting additions to BC’s revised curriculum and aspects of this curriculum will be featured in future blog posts.

Remembrance Is…

Principal’s Address at BICS’ Remembrance Day Ceremony, November, 2017

Hosting a thoughtful Remembrance Day Ceremony is not an easy task. We call it Remembrance Day but few people in this gym have any memories of war. Most of us likely do not even have a family member who has experienced war so are not even able to remember stories told about war.

So if remembrance, for most of us anyway, is not about recalling memories, what does remembrance mean?

Remembrance is appreciation.

We owe it to the men and women who have risked their lives and often lost their lives in service of our country to remain aware of, or become aware of, their heroism, sacrifice and loss.

118 000 Canadian men and women have died in service of our country, many of them, and I would think most of them, died young, in their 20s, 30s and 40s; some even in their teens.

Many more soldiers returned home with severe, life altering injuries, and others returned home deeply impacted by the stresses of witnessing or being a part of horrifying, traumatic events.

So, remembrance is appreciation – appreciation for the men and women who have courageously served our country with the seemingly contradictory aim of establishing peace through fighting. And remembrance is sadness, for the loss of so many people who fought for, and died for, a peace they themselves would never get to enjoy. In a sense, many soldiers traded peace in their lives for peace in ours.

Remembrance is learning, learning about the wars and peace keeping missions that Canada has participated in and learning about other conflicts as well.

When we learn about and try to understand the devastation that wars have had on soldiers, Canadians and others, on men, women, and on children, as well as the destruction of the land, one cannot help but conclude that war is the ultimate failure of humanity; it is a last resort in attempting to resolve a conflict with the intention that there will ultimately be a winner and loser when truly all sides involved in war suffer.

Remembrance is therefore a caution, a caution that all peaceful methods of solving conflict should be pursued before resorting to threats and violence.

We must also acknowledge that Remembrance is privilege. How fortunate are we to remember – past tense – people who have sacrificed and suffered in war. Not all, but most Canadians are not at present directly impacted by war – we live freely, in a democratic country, and for us living on Bowen Island, or nearby areas, we live in one of the safest places in the world.

We must acknowledge that this privilege is not afforded to everyone – the people of Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Somalia, Mali, Libya, Sudan, Nigeria, Yemen, Myanmar – the list goes on – do not have the comfort and security that I think most people gathered here today feel, and quite frankly, take for granted. And really, shouldn’t we be able to take being safe for granted? This sense of safety and security should not be a privilege, it should be afforded to all.

But it is not, so remembrance is responsibility. We cannot simply enjoy our privilege. The people of Bowen Island, and the people of Canada generally, have responded to the responsibility of helping others from around the world in need of safety and security, accepting them as refugees with the belief that they will enrich our country, not threaten it.

Remembrance is many different things to different people. For all of us, though, I suspect remembrance is sadness; sadness for the loss of life from war and sadness that despite sacrifice, no war has yet become the war to end all wars.

Originally Posted on the BICS Blog

At the start of our Curriculum Night last Wednesday (Sept. 13), Vice-Principal Laura Magrath and I shared a fifteen minute presentation which had two intentions: summarize the layers of learning that happen at BICS in every subject, in every classroom, every day; and second, to provide some questions that parents could ask their children that would prompt a dialogue about these layers of learning. This blog post is a summary of that presentation.

Layers of Learning

We are in year 2 or 2+ of many provincial, district and school initiatives. While we are at a stage of continuing to do things differently (and always will be), we are also in a stage of consolidation; of ensuring that our work from the last several years stays current in our minds as we plan learning environments and learning experiences for students.

And so, to integrate these initiatives, we shared the graphic to the right with families. It summarizes four layers of learning:

  1. Engagement – If students are not engaged in the task, nothing else matters. Our staff use an “Engaged Learner Profile” to provide learning experience for students that engage them with (1) the curriculum, (2) the social environment (peers, school staff, guests), and (3) the physical environment. Students can reference this profile as they begin to take greater responsibility for their learning.
  2. Curriculum – Between units, subjects and often over years, students develop understandings of big ideas and relatedcurricular content and develop curricular competencies related to their subject. More simply, students understand, know, and do.
  3. Learning Character – Our school goal is for students to strengthen their learning character including becoming more responsible, open, ambitious and resilient. We use the “Circles of Care” framework to help students understand how they can develop their learning character; for example, being open-minded in challenging ones opinions, open-minded to the perspective of others, and open to new experiences at school and beyond.
  4. Core Competencies – While part of the curriculum, the Core Competencies are in a separate layer of learning quadrant as they transcend the curriculum. Core Competencies are not specific to any subject or any grade, they are instead a set of competencies that one relies upon and develops throughout life. The competencies incorporate many of the foci of our school and district: self-regulation (Personal Awareness and Responsibility Competency), critical thinking (Critical Thinking Competency), and digital access (Communication Competency).

Surrounding the quadrants is the First Peoples Principles of Learning. The Principles, set out by the First Nations Education Steering Committee, outline an approach to learning that will be inclusive of all learners. While they are “First Peoples Principles” the wisdom of these principles applies to the learning of students of all cultures.

Underlying, but visually missing from this framework, is the emotional side of learning. Happiness at school and in the classroom is foundational to learning.


Family Discussions of Learning

“How was your day?”


Some children may provide more than a one word answer about their school day; most others will need a little more prompting!

By sharing with families the Layers of Learning, we hope that questions from parents/guardians can prompt a dialogue, rather than a discrete question and answer session. And in this dialogue, in addition to students sharing what they are learning about, they can also talk about how they are learning, who they are learning from, and why.Layers_Questions

Similar to the layers of learning frame, we introduced the frame with topics related to engagement, curriculum, learning character, core competencies and the First Peoples Principles of Learning.

The layers of learning are not hierarchical. One quadrant is not deeper than any other. Each quadrant is ever-present, to varying levels of importance, in everything students do at school. Our educators do a magnificent job incorporating effective practices in their approach to learning and our hope is that the frameworks above help summarize these effective practices (layers) and provide families with a greater understanding of what students learn about and how, as well as some questions to ask about learning.

These questions are just a start. What other questions prompt a dialogue about learning? Please consider commenting below to add your response or tweet us: @bics_news.

Thank you for reading.


Learning Character – Openness

It’s easy to get caught up in the moment in thinking that “now, more than ever, the world needs more…tolerance, more openness, more dialogue, more shared problem-solving…” Recent events in North America and beyond have prompted me to think that openness – openness to trying new things, to meeting new people, to considering viewpoints different from one’s own – was needed now more than ever. My social media feed is as refined as it has ever been to share news stories suggesting that.

In reality, considering many countries’ histories of colonization, inequality, segregation, sexism and war, the need to be open to others has always been necessary in order for diversity to be a strength rather than a dividing and oppressing weakness.

At BICS, our school goal is for students to strengthen their learning character including becoming more responsible, open, ambitious and resilient. While this second character trait, open, maybe is not needed now more than ever, it is perhaps the most important character trait of a learner. After all, learning is about trying new things, considering multiple viewpoints and negotiating one’s own understanding, and welcoming opportunities to meet new people, learn about them, learn from them, and perhaps even be changed by them.

Openness is not taught in a week but we are calling the week of February 20-24, 2017 “Openness Week” at BICS and we are holding several events that we hope will inspire students to recognize the value of being open and encourage this important aspect of their learning character.

On Monday, our intermediate students will participate in a ROAR (Responsibility, Openness, Ambition, Resilience) Assembly. The key message will be the link between self-regulation and openness. Typically, as someone becomes upset, or dysregulated, less and less of their brain is activated, particularly the reasoning parts of the brain which might actually be open to considering alternate perspectives. To the extreme, in a survival situation when fight or flight is activated, little more than the amygdala is controlling actions.

On Tuesday, BICS will celebrate International Mother Language Day. BICS students whose mother language is one other than English will meet with our English Language Learner (ELL) teacher Ms. de Boer and me to create a bulletin board that will display the word “Welcome” in as many Mother Languages as we have at BICS. Learning a second (or third) language is an incredible accomplishment and our ELL students deserve credit for their efforts. It will also be interesting to raise the profile of diversity of languages at BICS and share the vital connection of language and culture.

On Wednesday, students and staff are encouraged to wear pink shirts to school. Pink Shirt Day, occurring all across Canada and in other countries, originated after a high school student was made fun of for wearing a pink shirt. The next day, two peers wore pink shirts and started providing them to others as well. Wearing a pink shirt is a statement by anyone who wears it that they are someone who will not stand by and allow bullying to happen; rather, they are someone who will support someone being bullied. Our primary students will also have an assembly that celebrates the idea, “It’s OK to be different.”

On Wednesday afternoon, the Diversity Group will meet. The group, consisting of parent/guardians and BICS staff, has formed this year and discusses racial diversity at BICS and beyond. The goal of our group is to become more aware of systematic racism in Canadian society and to be open to the role we as citizens play in this system.

Whether it is being open to fun experiences like participating in band, joining the cross country team or Destination Imagination, or whether being open is more difficult – like working with someone new, or challenging one’s perspective and beliefs – openness is central to a successful approach to learning. Encouraging openness in students is a responsibility we share with families and we take this responsibility seriously. This week and beyond, openness will continue to be an essential aspect of learning character that we encourage and rely upon for students to be successful.