SPARK! 10: Helping Future Parents Help their Children

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The Sunshine Coast School District has a phenomenal early learning program for the parents of pre-kindergarten children. It’s called SPARK! From birth to school entry parents attend regular sessions to learn about the growth and development of their children. Three workshops per year focus on children at each stage of development: there are classes for the parents of infants, for one year olds, for two year olds and for three year olds. Parents then attend KinderSPARK!, a program for parents whose children will be in kindergarten the following year. This amazing and highly subscribed program developed over a number of years in our district. Parents just keep coming back for more of the expert information, dialogue, sharing, guidance and support. The majority of  parents on the Sunshine Coast attend at least some SPARK! or KinderSPARK! sessions.

It’s easy to find articles from a wide variety of sources that prove investment in early learning pays huge dividends to our children, our society and our economy. Early learning proponents are found in very diverse publications  (see Business week – The Heckman Equation and Huffington Post – Kindergarten is Too Late for two examples)  and support the economic and moral argument for supporting early learning. In support of this, our Ministry of Education provides a comprehensive Early Learning Framework to help guide initiatives in supporting our youngest learners.

As proud as we are of our SPARK! program, however, we still knew that too many of our young students’ parents were not attending SPARK! A segment of our parent population is not benefiting from these amazing, free and incredibly important learning opportunities. Our efforts will continue to reach out to these parents. However, through discussion, we realized that we CAN reach all parents in the future. They are in our schools right now. We recognized that if we could mandate in our district that every high school student has access to these sessions, one way or another,  that our students will have a theoretical framework in their minds for when they eventually have children of their own.  Further, if we go beyond the theoretical and provide an opportunity for our high school students to experience speaking to, interacting with, and supporting  very small children in a practical way, that this could lead to a very dramatic shift for families in the future. We knew we were on to something, and now we’re doing it.


Our Early Learning Coordinator, Kirsten Deasey (@KirstenDeasey) worked with the teachers of Planning 10 courses at the high schools to develop three academic sessions and one practical session. After learning some fundamentals of child development and interaction strategies, grade 10 students will be attending local StrongStart sites to work directly with children. They will help them to find and read books that excite and engage the youngsters in, they will engage the children in dialogue using their new skills and they will reflect on what they have seen and learned in the process.

We fully expect that this will make a difference for all children in our district for many years to come. Our youngest students will be more properly cared for, better nourished, spoken to regularly and read to more often, and provided with more learning and interactive experiences all because now, their parents will know how.

We’re proud of spark 10. It’s an investment in our students that we simply can’t afford to miss.


Student Voice

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“Students have a right to a say in their education. “

This is a simple and respectful phrase, but there are usually few opportunities for trustees and senior staff to hear directly from their students on an ongoing, consistent, committed basis.

With this in mind the Board of Education of School District No. 46 (Sunshine Coast) has gone far beyond having “student voice” as a strategic plan motto. They will be swearing in, permanently, the role of student trustee at the board table during their November 12th public meeting. The voice of students will be heard at each public meeting and students, in return, will hear from one of their own, about what is happening at the policy level.

 To support the student trustee, the newly formed District Student Leadership Team (DSLT) met for the second time on October 17th. Two senior students from each of our high schools came together to develop effective communication strategies amongst schools, to share significant successes and challenges that they and their fellow students experience, and to determine who would be their student trustee representative.

Through a thoughtful consensus process, the team agreed that one of their number will be the Student Trustee for the 2013/ 2014 school year. They selected another student to be their Chair.

The energy, passion and enthusiasm of this student team is awe inspiring. They want the best opportunities for themselves and for their fellow students. They are creative, articulate and thoughtful. Their expertise as students will enrich and strengthen the educational dialogue for us all. 

Students deserve a voice in their education. That’s not a motto, that’s a fact.



Everyone is welcome

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IMG_3181The beautiful black and red button blanket banner boldly welcomed me to Kinnikinnick Elementary School in my language, and in the language of other members of the school community. As I enjoyed my school visit  and marveled at the depth of education that Kinnikinnick students share with their teachers, I asked their principal about the obvious presence of aboriginal culture in her school.IMG_3178

With a sparkle in her eye, Cathy McCubbin spoke of  welcoming everyone to the school to learn and to be together.

“It is so important that children see themselves clearly in the school to create the sense of belonging that we all need. [Respecting everyone’s culture] is what we do.”

As we toured the classrooms and hallwaysIMG_3176 it was crystal clear that the spirit of the school is about respect and support. Cathy told me that the assemblies have regular cultural traditions, developed in partnership with cultural advisors from the Sechelt Indian Band and the SD 46 Aboriginal Team, that include welcoming and honouring songs.

As I left the school later in the afternoon, I glanced back at the banner.



It felt good to have visited Kinnikinnick Elementary School.

IMG_3177It felt wonderful to know that the kids and their families feel that, too.


A Community Reading!

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Something very exciting is happening this week.


Everyone is talking about reading.


Everyone is acting and dressing like characters they have read about.

Everyone is loving reading!


Everyone wants to read more!

Students, parents, teachers, principals, support staff are modelling and teaching great reading strategies.

Thanks to the leadership of our teacher-librarians and community partners we have Coast Reads engaging the entire community in a discussion about great Canadian literature.

We have authors visiting our schools to share their passion for writing books with students.

We can be proud of a culture in Canada that embraces reading from birth to old age with parents and schools in close partnership for children’s literacy.


Happy Literacy Week!


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Well, for once, I’m not writing about education. Today, I want to write about wiring, which is odd since I don’t know much about it.

I was inspired by a conversation with one of our district electricians this morning. Bob’s expertise is remarkable in itself. This is an area where my total technical knowledge is from a one-semester electricity/wood work/ metal work course in grade 8, about 35 years ago over at Handsworth High School in North Vancouver.  As we chatted, Bob explained some of the challenges and opportunities in our district clearly and succinctly and in a way that I had no trouble understanding, even thought it was above my head technically. He talked about a variety of projects that need attention in our district and others that he has dealt with in the past. He was excited to be explaining how some solutions were arrived at in creative ways, and with a team of highly trained maintenance trades people. Technically, he and his colleagues are brilliant.

But that’s not what impressed me the most.

I was impressed with the way that he talked about our district in the context of the work of educating students in a safe, comfortable and efficient environment. He talked about working with our custodians to insure their safety and efficiency. He referred to working with principals, administrative assistants, teachers and students to make working, teaching and learning easier, safer and better. He related stories of situations that could be unsafe or inefficient, and what he and his team mates did to remedy the issues.

Bob also talked about his interactions with colleagues in the maintenance and technical department. With the support of our facilities manager, they work as a multi-disciplinary team to creatively address district infrastructure, develop a plan for each project, and each uses his expertise to make the project a success. Each of our schools has many examples of such projects successfully brought to completion. There is simply no way that  we could function as an educational institution without their contribution to learning.

The Ministry of Education describes 21st Century Learning as knowing how to, “apply knowledge to new situations, analyze information, collaborate, solve problems, and make decisions.”

Our maintenance department epitomizes the best of 21st Century Learning and has done so for many years!

And I thought I was just going to write about wiring.

SD No. 46: The Right Direction

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I heard a terrific retirement, “do you remember when”, story at the recent Sunshine Coast Teachers’ Association retirement celebration. One teacher, Barry, said that he and his teaching partner, Mike, would often be out on field trips with their students. At various points in the day Barry would be at the front of the group of students and Mike would be watching from the end of the line.  Barry would check in on the students with Mike with a glance back. Mike would quickly flash the, “OK”, signal and on they and their charges would go.

I have an image of the two of them, marching along a path on a field trip or in more regular classroom lessons and activities, checking in with each other as partners as they move through the days of learning and teaching.

I love this simple story. It is a terrific metaphor for who teachers and all educational staff are and what they do.

“Are the kids okay? Are we going in the right direction?”

“Yes! The kids are okay. We’ve got them all.”

Parents invest such trust in their children’s educators. They trust that we will keep their children safe. They trust that we will provide the excellent education that B.C. schools are so well known for. They trust that we will talk with them about academic and social challenges and successes that their children experience at school. They trust that our hearts are in the right place and that their children are our priority. They trust that the kids are okay.

We are in the last couple of weeks of school for 2011/ 2012.  Stories of exciting moments in education are being shared at retirement celebrations and end of the year gatherings. I love to hear the stories of mutual support, of love for students and their learning, of the enthusiasm that makes educators special and makes the work so rewarding. I hear the stories of dedication to public education, to kids and to each other.

Thank you to all staff in our district for a challenging but still wonderful year for students.

Thank you to the retiring staff of SD No. 46. You have dedicated your professional lives to changing students’ lives, to supporting colleagues and to making things better.  You are special, and you have made a difference.

“Are the kids okay? Are we going in the right direction?”

“Yes! The kids are okay. We’ve got them all. “

“Let’s keep going.”

Teachers and Principals gathered with trustees and senior administration at the annual retirement luncheon to celebrate their dedication to students and each other. Best wishes to all!

Twenty-Year Old Energy

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My niece posted a saying on FaceBook that I’ve been thinking about:

Live your life. Take chances. Don’t wait. Because right now you are the oldest you’ve ever been and the youngest you’ll ever be…ever again.
The viewpoint of a twenty year old student reminds me of the energy and, could it be called “perkiness”?, of starting new things with new people. Most of us have a context to live in. We know what we can do and what we can’t do. We have systems built through tradition, logic or both. We know the rules and we typically work within them. We have adapted to the systems we entered as young adults and, in many ways, we make sure they continue as they were upon our arrival.
Young people aren’t so concerned with all that “stuff”. They are learning in colleges and universities about things they care about; they engage with their peers and their eyes are opening  to new ideas and new patterns of interaction. They’re excited about the opportunities of the world they are entering and they are determined to see if there is a better way.They don’t accept systems at face value: they challenge the status quo and push at tradition. Their attitudes can be scary for those who have been successful in “our” systems. Their fresh viewpoint, without the brakes that we automatically apply, is both energizing and intimidating!
On the Sunshine Coast our school district has begun to define a new model of professional inquiry for all teachers and principals. At our recent introductory session we discussed what this initiative (a change in some of what we do) will look like over the next three years. We discussed why inquiry is effective and what teachers and principals are truly interested in learning to support their professional growth. Many told me of the energy they feel as they look forward to sharing new insights with their colleagues. They talked about ideas that are new to them. They met colleagues they have not interacted with before and began discussions that could go on for years as they explore their professional passions. Inquiry is not new to many of them, we have amazing expertise on the Coast. Many want to get going with the excitement of learning with their colleagues as soon as they can and some have already have begun!
Sounds like twenty-year old energy to me!
At a recent event, the B.C. Ministry of Education program department leaders discussed their openness to innovation. They referenced their flexibility for school districts to discuss school year calendar change in their communities and to develop innovative and enhanced opportunities for students. They asked if there are structures or processes that are in place right now that are interfering with the ability of school districts to make change that will support teaching and learning. They want to support creative work that will enhance student learning.
The Ministry is excited by new ideas, new initiatives and people working together on a professional level. Their contagious enthusiasm is energizing our province to embrace innovation and to research best practices. Their flexibility will support creative teaching options and more open-ended opportunities for students.
Sounds like twenty-year old energy to me!
I hear principals talking about options and possibilities in their schools. I hear the School District No. 46 (Sunshine Coast) trustees I work with talking about pathways for students and asking questions about how we support their teachers and support staff to meet student needs. I hear members of the British Columbia School Superintendents’ Association (BCSSA) talking about the exciting learning opportunities that are taking place in their districts.
These, too, sound like twenty-year old energy to me!
Motivation and support for exciting innovative work in education is here right now. Teachers, principals, superintendents and the Ministry of Education want all of our students to have the very best of opportunities in our public school system. They always have. We have, right now, this commonality, this focus, and this mutual support for excellence in our province.
Live your life. Take chances. Don’t wait! Because right now you are the oldest you’ve ever been and the youngest you’ll ever be…ever again.
That’s what twenty-year old energy sounds like!
That’s what education in British Columbia feels like!

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