Professional Growth Plan, 2014 – ?

My professional growth plan is very much linked to school growth plans.

All schools in BC must prepare a school plan that sets one or more school goals for improving student achievement, the strategies to achieve these goals and the measures for determining success.

It is one thing to measure school growth and improvements in student achievement, it is another to trace results to causes. Schools are not science experiments where one variable at a time can be added and tested. With many teachers and many strategies all at play each year, it is not difficult to acquire data on many areas of student achievement – such as literacy skills – but tracing this growth to the strategies of teachers in a variety of classrooms is difficult.

At Bowen Island Community School, our Growth Plan, poses the question of inquiry:

Will an increased focus on inquiry-based learning that places emphasis on developing students’ critical thinking skills and self-regulation skills improve the level of student engagement and academic achievement?

The question examines the affect inquiry-based learning and critical thinking have on student engagement and academic achievement. As BICS has also focused on self-regulation, digital access for students and teachers, environmental education and place-based learning, tracing improvements in student engagement and academic achievement to any one cause is perhaps impossible; and perhaps unnecessary.

Each of the strategies mentioned above work in concert and I am learning more and more how dependent they are on one another. I often refer to the Galileo Education Network for a concise definition of inquiry. They state:

Inquiry is a study into a worthy question, issue, problem or idea. It is the authentic, real work that that someone in the community might tackle. It is the type of work that those working in the disciplines actually undertake to create or build knowledge. Therefore, inquiry involves serious engagement and investigation and the active creation and testing of new knowledge.

The strategies and approaches of environmental education and place-based learning, where students learn in the community and look at issues or problems facing the community and world, is very much aligned with the definition of inquiry as described above. Further, digital access, far from being a strategy in its own right, can be viewed more as an effort to support inquiry by providing students with as much opportunity as possible to delve deeply into a topic, beyond the opportunities people, places, and print found in the community and library might offer. Digital access also allows students to share their inquiries with others. With access to so much information, the ability to assess the reliability of information and make sense of it, core tenets of critical thinking, is vital. In this way, through inquiry, students practise critical thinking skills rather than just learn what it means to be a critical thinker.  This practise of critical thinking is core to the philosophy of the Critical Thinking Consortium, which has helped guide BICS’ work in this area.  Self-regulation, in the words of Stuart Shanker, is the ability for students to be calm, alert, and learning. It is perhaps the foundation for any other strategies a school might wish to implement.  Inquiry is pointless unless students have the capacity to be engaged.

My growth plan involves inquiring into the following questions:

  1. What does it mean for someone to be engaged in learning?
  2. What factors (culture, strategy, tactics) lead to learner engagement?
  3. How can you tell whether students and teachers are engaged and can engagement be traced to particular strategies (inquiry, digital access, self-regulation), tactics or attributes of a school’s culture?

As I begin my inquiry, I am becoming more and more aware of the challenges of isolating strategies and determining their individual impact. Self-regulation, regardless of what other strategies a school might have in place, has tremendous power to improve student achievement. But it is already bundled together with other strategies our school is pursuing. It may not be possible to weigh the individual impact of various strategies but I am looking forward to learning more about measuring results from the formidable combination of strategies at work at BICS.

What are the Attributes of an Ideal Environmental Educator?

Photo:  Jeff Morales

Photo: Jeff Morales

Bowen Island Community School recently shared a job posting for an environmental educator teaching outside45, an ecological education program based on Bowen Island.  Interested applicants can apply on Make A Future until Wednesday November 19th 2014 at 1 p.m.

The purpose of this post is to share the attributes we highlighted we were looking for in an ideal candidate and invite readers to share what they feel are the most important attributes of environmental educators.  What would you add, remove or prioritize from the posting below?

The successful candidate possesses a Certificate of Qualification from the Teacher Regulation Branch as well as a recognized Wilderness First Aid Certificate (typically at least 50 hours) and demonstrates the following:

  • a strong background in environmental and experiential education with elementary school-aged children;

  • high level of outdoor skills for a variety of activities including, but not limited to, hiking, kayaking, canoeing, camping in all seasons, and orienteering;

  • interest in cultures of coastal First Nations of BC and, more generally, Traditional Ecological Knowledge including learning from the environment and pursuing the goals described in School District 45’s Aboriginal Enhancement Agreement;

  • excellent planning skills, both of curriculum and to coordinate the logistics of field experiences;

  • clear understanding of risk management and the ability to work with other staff, parents, and students, to implement a risk management plan;

  • ability and experience to plan, teach, differentiate and assess an educational program building on the goals and outcomes as described in the Ministry of Education’s Provincial Learning Outcomes and Integrated Resource Packages and knowledge of BC’s Draft Curriculum;

  • an ecological and inquiry-based approach to learning, including integrating learning from various subjects for the purpose of developing big ideas, conceptual understandings and Core Competencies;

  • proven ability and interest in working in a very collaborative teaching and learning environment; this position involves working very closely with several colleagues and parents;

  • a clear understanding of the characteristics of intermediate-aged children and the ability to develop a positive learning environment addressing the intellectual, physical and emotional needs of students of this age;

  • ability to seamlessly integrate digital access into teaching and learning;

  • an understanding of self-regulation strategies;

  • proven effective written and verbal communication skills with students, colleagues and parents.

Where Does Courage Come From?

Seventy years ago this past June, Allied soldiers invaded Normandy France as part of Operation Overlord to take Europe back from the Nazis.


Photo: Gilbert Alexander Milne/Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-122765

In the dark hours of night, soldiers crowded onto small landing craft and made their way across the English Channel, avoiding mines along the way.  As they approached France, soldiers could see and hear gunfire and bombs and they had to summon courage knowing that they were going towards gunfire and bombs, not way from them.  Soon, their landing craft would hit the beaches of Normandy, the front door of their craft would open, exposing them to even more enemy fire, and they would wade into the water, amid bullets and bombs, climbing through barbed wire and other obstructions, so that they could fight their enemy all the while knowing that the last time Canadians tried doing something similar was at Dieppe, where more than half of the soldiers died.

Where does someone find courage to do this?  Is it inherent in young people who just seem to tolerate risks?  Or is it more thoughtful than that?

In the month of November, examining the actions of soldiers and others who took action in war despite ultimate risks of grave injury and death provides some insights into where courage comes from.  It becomes obvious that courage is not characteristic of individuals who have not thought through the certain consequences or risks of their actions, that is foolishness.  Courage is quite the opposite.

Many soldiers who decided to join the war effort were very aware of the risks involved.  But they were equally aware of the risks of not joining the war.  They understood that not fighting could lead to a loss of their freedom, a loss of their family’s freedom, a loss of the values of their country, and possibly even death for themselves, their loved ones, and groups of their society.

It is never easy to take action when something has a certain or possible negative consequence for ourselves or others, yet it is often necessary to take action to avoid even worse certain or possible negative consequences for ourselves or others.

This has great implications for what we do in schools.  We encourage students to be positive bystanders, or “upstanders.”  This means that when students witness a conflict, they intervene in a positive way.    This does not mean intervene in physically, it means intervene in a way that normalizes safe, inclusive and respectful behaviour.  This takes courage.

In a situation where a student is being made fun of, an upstander might say, “I don’t think you should say things that make others feel bad, please stop.”  If other bystanders say something similar, the person making the comment realizes this type of behaviour is not acceptable.  But just as it is not easy fora soldier to go towards bullets and bombs, it is not easy for an upstander to actually speak up.  They might fear that the person making the negative comment won’t be friends with them any longer, or will turn their negative comments on them.  It is hard to expect people – children and even adults – to take risks of loss of friendship or drawing attention and possible ridicule to themselves, unless they have thought about such situations in advance.

If the bystander has thought through all of the risks of action and inaction, they may find the courage to speak up.   They may find the risk of losing a friend or being the target of negative comments is outweighed by the consequence of being in a school where students get made fun of and having to live with the idea that they are seen by others as someone who supports mean behaviour or lacks the courage to stop it.

Courage, therefore, is not just something people have in the moment where they are tested, it is the process of preparing for that test, of prioritizing our values and being convinced of what we will stand for.

Courage is not something some people are born with and others not, it is hardened inside of those who take the time to prioritize what matters to them.

At this time of Remembrance, when we honour individuals who took ultimate risks in standing up for their values, let us also consider what our values are and be inspired to stand up for them.