The Immeasurables

Each year, many students in Grades Four and Seven around British Columbia participate in the Foundational Skills Assessments (FSAs) which is followed in the springtime by a report by the Fraser Institute ranking schools based on the results. Each year, there is plenty of talk among parents and educators as to how the school rankings capture only a part of what elementary students learn and the effectiveness of schools.

While foundation skills of reading, writing and numeracy are inarguably fundamental to the purpose of elementary education, there are frequent conversations as to the many “immeasurables” schools are responsible for that foster the well-being of children related to their social, emotional, and physical health.

In my years in education, I have noticed an increase in expectation and appreciation for schools’ roles beyond primary levels in developing the whole child, focusing not just on academic success but social, emotional and physical development as well. Experiential evidence and academic research suggest that educating the mind cannot be done effectively without a strong social and emotional foundation.

It is fortunate that as awareness and expectations of the importance of schools doing more to educate the whole child increase beyond academic development, many of the “immeasurables” are now being measured and shared with the schools, districts and communities that are responsible for the development of children.

Some of the work of measuring is being done by the Human Early Learning Partnership at the University of British Columbia. For several years, the Partnership has been utilizing the Early Development Instrument (EDI) to measure core areas of early (pre-kindergarten) child development that predict adult health and positive social outcomes.

More recently, the Partnership has started implementing the Middle Years Development Instrument (MDI) for children ages six to twelve. Recently, the Director of the Partnership, Professor Kimberly Schonert-Reichl, spoke to school leaders in School District 45 about the MDI and the focus of this post will be on some of the results of the MDI for the community of Bowen Island.

A survey was administered to Grade Four students at BICS last spring with the intention of measuring children’s overall health and well-being. The phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child,” is recognized in the survey so it analyzes assets within a child’s community, including at the child’s school, that support their overall health and well-being.

The assets within the school and the community that are recognized as supporting overall health and well-being are summarized (not in order of importance) as (1) supportive relationships with adults, (2) supportive relationships with peers, (3) participation in enriching after-school activities, and (4) proper nutrition and sleep.

As the community of Bowen Island considers how we are setting our students up for success, it is worth analyzing the data from the MDI – available here. The rest of this post will be divided in three sections: first, assets that promote development; second, some of the results of these assets on students’ well-being; and third, my conclusions from reading the report.

Assets

Asset 1 – Supportive Relationships with Adults

  • 97% of students report having medium to high connection to adults at school (86% high; 11% medium)
  • 86% of students report having medium to high connection to adults in the neighbourhood (67% high; 19% medium)

Asset 2 – Supportive Peer Relationships

  • 84% of students report having medium to high sense of peer belonging (68% high; 16% medium)
  • 84% of students report having medium to high level of friendship intimacy (67% high; 17% medium)

Asset 3 – After School Activities

  • 94% of students report watching less than 2 hours of television per day (22% report watching no television at all)
  • 98% of students report being on the computer less than 2 hours per day
  • 89% of students report participating in an organized activity (sports, music, arts) 2+ times per week

Asset 4 – Nutrition and Sleep

  • 97% of students report having breakfast (3 or more times per week)
  • 81% of students report having meals at home with family 3 or more times per week
  • 84% of students report having a good sleep 3 or more times per week (68% high; 16% medium)

The MDI summarizes the percentages of children reporting each of the assets in the form of a puzzle. In the puzzle to the right, the percentages include students who report “a little true” or higher to questions related to each of the assets.

Overall Health & Well-Being

The well-being index shared below summarizes student responses related to feeling happy and optimistic, having high self-esteem, general health, and little sadness. Students were asked to share their sense of these attributes on a scale of 1-5 (1 = disagree a lot, 5 = agree a lot) where average responses less than 3 were considered low, and average responses 4 and greater were considered high.

My Conclusions

In reviewing the data, there were few surprises and few alarm bells as to the assets BICS and the community of Bowen Island are offering children. The community is, in comparison with the neighborhoods in the rest of the School District of West Vancouver and the other districts in the province I reviewed, doing well. However, one cannot help but have some concern that 25% of students report low well-being.

In considering what to do with the MDI report, there are no glaring deficits or assets needing particular attention but the high percentage of students reporting low well-being suggests there is plenty of room for improvement, and regardless of result, we may as well always be oriented toward improvement.

The key takeaway for me though is not just in the results. It is that the school and community generally should be reminded often of the key assets that have been identified as promoting the positive development of children and to ensure we as a community are deliberate in promoting these assets. In many ways, the statements that students were asked to respond to are more enlightening than the answers as it is the statements in the survey (“At my school there is an adult who really cares about me.” “In my home, there is a parent or another adult who listens to me when I have something to say.”) that reminds us of our purpose and the importance of our roles in schools and communities.

It will be interesting as the survey is implemented in coming years to track progress, note trends, and identify needs of varying cohorts. It is fortunate that the “immeasurables” are being measured.

Note

This blog is not intended as a summary of the MDI report (its results or how the results were acquired) for Bowen Island or School District 45. MDI results for various districts can be found here.

Further Reading

Click here to read about the importance of sleep from Catherine Ratz, principal of Irwin Park Elementary School.

Moving or Wandering?

Tolien ImageIn a recent blog post, I referred to Bowen Island Community School as a “moving school.”  As I was writing the post, I shared it with my colleague Laura Magrath for her input.  She suggested I clarify the word “moving.”

Her concern was that “moving school” might suggest simply moving from trend to trend without taking the time and expending the required energy to implement anything of substance.   If schools are planes and educators are its passengers, this would be like flying around the world, touching down on various runways but taking off before anyone has had a chance to disembark and learn about a place beyond what they could see in brief moments below the clouds.  Lots of energy is expended in such sightseeing but little is gained.

The ambiguity of the word moving encouraged me to clarify between moving and wandering.

As individual educators, it pays to wander broadly:  to read blog posts, learn of the latest trends, experiment with strategies.

It is best, however, for schools not to wander.  Implementing change in a school requires a significant amount of time, energy and inertia, and if not done well or without follow-through, innovation too often feels like adding to practice rather than evolving practice, of increasing workload without increasing student achievement.  A wandering school means that broad changes may be made, but likely not deep ones.

So, with all of the opportunities to improve the education we offer students – new curriculum, insights into brain research including executive functioning and self-regulation, access to new tools for learning – how does a school ensure it does not, in an effort to “keep up with the times,” wander from one great initiative to the next without spending enough time to do any of these initiatives well?

I have far more thinking to do on this and it is central to my professional growth plan for at least this year but my first thinking on this suggests there are three keys that help a school move rather than just wander.

The first is to clarify what the drivers of change are – goals for students – and what the strategies are to achieve goals.  In other words, to start, as educators have long known, with the end in mind and then look at strategies to achieve those ends.  To move, alignment of strategies towards well-articulated goals is needed.

Regarding being clear on goals for students, the new BC Curriculum, currently in draft form, clearly articulates what students are to know and understand as well as the skills – or competencies – students are to develop.  The core competencies – Thinking CompetencyCommunication Competency and Personal and Social Competency, as well as a focus on foundation skills – literacy and numeracy – provide an ideal starting point for any discussions as to the validity of instructional strategies or tools for learning.

The second key is to identify whether professional learning is an evolution of practice or a revolution of practice.

Evolution, as I am referring to it, means doing similar things better; revolution means doing things markedly different.  Evolving practice is, inherently, constant and there is a tremendous capacity among educators as learners for evolving practice.

If it is a revolution in practice, doing things markedly different, it is worth assessing what existing practices are being replaced and can be discarded to “make room” for significant changes.  It is not common where entire practices are so far off the mark as to be discarded outright but changes in how students are assessed, and how student progress is communicated as related to the core competencies noted above, will likely involve a revolution in assessment as educators do more than simply adapt to the profiles of the core competencies, but instead change significantly.

It is important, through the measurement of school goals, to recognize a staff’s capacity for revolutions and to engage in evolution constantly, but revolutions infrequently.

A third key is recognizing that the crucial element of innovation is follow-through and that follow-through takes time.  A school’s growth plan may be in place for several years and this does not suggest stagnation.  Engaging an entire staff to pursue an initiative – and to do it well – is a far less facile process than individual learning and the inertia generated through collaboration takes time to develop and even more time for the benefits of this inertial to be fully realized.

As a new principal, I have been asked what kind of stamp I will put on the school.  I will work with our school community on the evolving vision for BICS and school-wide initiatives, keeping in mind our goals for students and where we are at in achieving those goals.  I believe it is important to find a balance between incorporating insights into learning and being responsive to the changing world we are preparing students for, with ensuring that educators have sufficient time to truly move on the agreed upon core strategies.

Similar to how students are encouraged to learn deeply and how teachers offer time and space for that to occur, schools must also take time to go deep.  Often, continuity in change is needed.

I am interested in learning more about the keys to moving on innovations rather than wandering between innovations.  Please consider commenting below on how this is done.
Further Reading and Viewing:

For an interesting perspective on the art of wandering, click here to read Sean Nosek’s blog.

Click here to read Chris Kennedy’s post, “Less But Better.”

And for an example of a true revolution in education related to student discipline shared with me for a laugh recently by a BICS parent while I happened to be writing this post, click here.

A New Beginning?

In January of 2005, I started my teaching career at Bowen Island Community School.  It was a temporary assignment, just six months, teaching Grade 6-7.  After leaving BICS, I taught Grade 5 for several years at Ridgeview Elementary School before returning to BICS as vice-principal in 2010 to carry on my teaching career and begin my career as a school administrator.  Now, in January 2015, I have the honour and privilege of leading BICS as principal.  So, in many ways, BICS has been a place of beginnings for me.

But will the change of principals at BICS be a new beginning for the school and, if so, a beginning of what?

At first thought, it might seem ungrateful and naïve to suggest that the school will carry on just fine without the thoughtful guidance and inspirational leadership of BICS’ now retired principal, Jennifer Pardee.  But so much of Jennifer’s work at BICS was to create a shared vision for the school involving students, educators and the community and to build capacity in staff to pursue innovative approaches to teaching and learning.  So, while Jennifer will be deeply missed by the BICS community, professionally and personally, much of her leadership has been to foster conditions for continued success after her retirement.

Over the years, I have heard BICS described as a “moving school.”  A moving school is one that has very clear priorities and where there is buy-in from staff to develop and implement strategies and tactics to achieve those priorities.  In other words, a “moving school” is an improving school.  Current research, insights from experience, as well as technological innovation, have created many opportunities for schools to move forward on several key initiatives.  At BICS in recent years, there has been a greater focus on social and emotional learning, aboriginal education, self-regulation, and a restorative justice approach to student conduct; there is increased access to digital technology, and our school iswell on its way to an inquiry-based approach to learning where students practise and develop critical thinking skills and mindset.

We are certainly not at the beginning stages of any of these initiatives but they will each continue to guide the work we do for years to come.  I will use this blog space, as Jennifer and I have done over the last several years, to write about our school’s progress.

So there is much to be continued, but there are other changes on the horizon in BC education; there are new beginnings.  The BC Ministry of Education has released a new curriculum, currently in draft form, that BICS will transition to in coming years.  The curriculum is a major redesign that articulates what students are to know and understand in a way that supports inquiry-based learning (I have written on this aspect of curriculum here), and will change the way student learning is communicated with a focus on three core competencies – Thinking Competency, Communication Competency and Personal and Social Competency (I have written on this topic here).  Our school is well-positioned to transition to this curriculum as we have been focusing on many of its core elements – inquiry, critical thinking, flexible learning environments – for years.

What students need from their education to be successful in a rapidly changing world and insights into how people learn means that the vision for BICS will continue to evolve as we strive to provide students with the most relevant and effective learning experiences we can.  But as the BICS staff is deeply invested in many initiatives, at this time of transitioning principals, at this time of a new beginning for me, consistency for the school in pursuing the initiatives in which we are immersed, in doing them as best we can, is needed.

Change is certainly upon us at BICS, but change is nothing new in a moving school.