Things I Think I have Learned about Learning – Part 2: Connections

Much is being written about best practices for how to do online learning during this pandemic age and unlike Dr. Seuss I won’t pretend to be an expert on the subject. However, I have been afforded a unique perspective and experience from which to share some reflections about online learning having looked at this as, as the old song says, “from both sides now” as an educator and a student, and have experienced some of the best and worst of online learning over this past year from both of these viewpoints.  When my online journey began one year ago, the initial task was to organize instruction at our school through a Learning Management System for students and teachers who would be in their homes on opposite sides of an ocean for what was initially to be for only two to three weeks to give this COVID thing time to “settle down.” If only that were true.  At that time, because of this perception that online learning would be a temporary measure and from our lack of experience, we focused mainly on asynchronous (not at the same time) instruction and teachers busily prepared online activities that students could complete on their own time without worrying too much about the quality of the teacher-student connection.  As we progressed through the spring and it became clear that face to face (f2f) instruction would not be re-established, and so teachers were encouraged (and required) to increase their synchronous (at the same time) contact and regularly connect with students despite time zone challenges. 

Although there were differences in the connections established between teachers and students, many teachers developed excellent practices to build strong connections with their students and quickly grasped that the quality of the teacher-student connection was still “the main thing.” With the onset of much better interactive platforms and educators learning from experience, we are long past the days when computer-based instruction meant a student sitting behind a computer working asynchronously and know that interaction and communication is required to make any classroom work. Indeed, if I was to do anything over again as an educator from this first foray into online learning last spring,  it would be to increase the synchronous component as much as possible and decrease the time students are working on their own.    

After returning home to begin my PhD studies to become a student myself, I soon learned that I would be an online student and so began a different online journey.  While I was disappointed not to be in f2f instruction, I also noticed the irony of being in front of a screen as a learner rather than educator and plunged into my studies eager to have this experience this from a new perspective.  I have found that the name of the game is still about building strong connections between teachers and learners and the classes that I have participated in so far have at least three characteristics that have contributed to building these successful connections and will call these community-building, differentiated structure, and technological ease

  • Community-building means that, to the greatest degree possible, the online experience simulates an in-person experience and feels like a classroom.  It is really hard to create community when cameras are off and people can’t be seen and is a pet peeve of mine so cajoling or requiring that cameras be on as much as possible is essential. Finding ways to encourage and promote communication between teacher and student, and between students is another key way to create a community feel. Breaking classes into smaller discussion groups is a key strategy to help overcome the awkward silences that can occur in larger group settings. I also think it is fair game to notice the personal artifacts and pets and people that appear via the window into people’s lives that Zoom affords us and that just noticing these helps create authentic community within the class.

  • Another component that makes online experiences successful is how the class is structured for teaching and learning. If traditional transmission of learning through direct instruction does not engage students in a f2f class, it works even less so in an online environment and a greater variety of differentiated modes for communicating and instruction need to be applied.  As a student, I must say I enjoy some direct instruction so this doesn’t mean that the teacher should altogether abandon providing some direct instruction. However, after about twenty minutes of “hypnotizing the chickens” (a US Military term for the fog that sets in after about twenty minutes of a PowerPoint) other methods for communicating information need to be applied. One of the best methods for this that I have experienced as a student is to breakout into small groups for discussion and for the group to complete a Google form which can be contributed to by every one in the group. This can then be used to share with the larger class when the breakout session ends. Coming up with different varieties of activities is essential for students to remain engaged.

  • Technological ease means that the technology has to be easy, efficient and just has to work.  Technical points such as having a good camera with proper lighting (and yes, a good background), good wi-fi connections, are good starting points but the other teaching and learning activities need to be well structured.  My experience as an educator was very positive with a learning management platform and while these are now commonplace, there are advantages and disadvantages to each platform but the main point being that there should be a single entry point for all teaching and learning activity. Students will need to easily navigate whatever learning management system is used to find and share course material, hand in assignments, and easily dialogue and connect with students.  Teachers should share live links with students in real-time to allow students to easily locate resources and not make students go searching for these resources later.  While there is concern about creating distractions when providing something in real time, I find there is more value being able to focus on the content in the resource and not spending time finding the resources on my own.

These and other practices are supported in a short literature review here called “The Efficacy of Virtual Instruction in K-12 Education” from Georgia State University (2020), identified as one of the top ten significant studies of 2020 by Edutopia. While this pre-pandemic review concluded that effectiveness of online learning is at best mixed, there are some practices that support the points made above with the most significant being of the value of “incorporating peer and teacher feedback” (p. 4) into learning activities. One study concluded that there is a “strong, positive relationship” (p. 6) between positive rates for course completion and student grades when there are strong student-teacher interactions.  Relationship quality remains an important factor in student success whether in f2f or virtual settings and as any successful teacher will say, is one factor that should be sought for at all costs. 

While it is unclear how long instruction will be provided in a virtual or blended  environment, for the foreseeable future at least all teachers and students need to find out how to build and then maintain strong connections to provide the greatest chance for creating student success.   As education prepares for the next steps into the post-pandemic period we will see what practices will carryover. Which brings us to Part 3 of this series, Things I Think I Have Learned About Learning called “After the pandemic: what’s next?” Until then, stay connected out there in virtual land.

Things I Think I’ve Learned about Learning – Part 1

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The title for this entry came from a daily blog/newsletter I subscribe to called “Things I Think I Think” by Mark Horstman.  You may know Mark from the Manager Tools podcast series (if you don’t you should!) and being a former army officer he is usually pretty point blank with his opinions and advice. However, as evidenced by the title and this graphic from Manager Tools, he is also is open enough to admit that there is a lot of stuff he doesn’t even know that he doesn’t know.

This past semester at school has been an experience like this.  While there are things I have learned about learning which confirmed what I feel quite certain about, I am never too quick to announce the certainty of something I think I may have learned.  Anyone who has been in education knows that there are too many moving parts and factors in the equation to be certain that something will be true 100% of the time. However, like Mark, saying that there are things I think I’ve learned also represents that there are things that the combination of research and experience tells us are true.  In the three parts of this blog over this first month of the year, I will describe three things I think I’ve learned from this past semester and apply to this current age we are living in. The first is about the social aspect of learning, the next are some thoughts about online learning from the perspective of both a student and teacher, and the third about some next steps forward for education as we prepare for the post-COVID era.

The first thing I think I’ve learned about learning is about the social component of  learning.  David Brooks writes in a recent NY Times column that “people change when they are put in new environments, in permanent relationship with diverse groups of people” and describes how learning with others is superior to traditional modes of direct instruction or training.  Learning is best seen in this way as a team sport and while this is an intuitive idea, it has also been formalized by learning theorists in various ways one of them being Communities of Practice or CoPs.  Wenger and Lave https://wenger-trayner.com/introduction-to-communities-of-practice/ are the theorists usually credited with  this idea and describe CoPs in three specific dimensions.  

The first dimension is the common interest of the members involved in the community, referred to as the domain, and defines what the community of practice cares about.  These would be things such as photography or a public speaking or even a sport. The second dimension, called community, talks about the quality and depth of relationships which create the bonds between members and the resulting connections formed as a result.  The third dimension of practice develops as knowledge within the community is built through the social and shared learning activities that group members participate in together.  If you think about it, you are probably now or have been involved in a community such as this whether as part of a hobby, social or church group in the past.  Think about how much you learned as a result of the interplay of the common interests, relationships, and common activity which occurred in these groups and how this shared experience has spurred you on to further learning or maybe even driven a specific career pursuit or personal passion.

I know what you are thinking, this all sounds great but how does this work in an age of online learning?  We will look further at online learning in Part 2, but communities of practice are and have been popping up online in the past few years initially to connect people separated by geography and now are growing in number further as a necessity of the times.  Online communities include all three features of person-to-person CoPs (that’s domain, community, and practice) but instead of occurring face to face happen in a virtual format.  For myself in these recent times, I have been surprised and gratified from my own experience by the amount of online community which can develop whether it be withing an online class or from something external to a class.  My own experience arriving at university and not knowing a soul and only being able to get to know teachers and fellow students from an online experience confirms for me that community and connections can be developed online.  Even though separated by time and distance, our common interest of learning the subject matter, combined with our regular online gatherings and the activities which we have been able to complete together, have resulted in a remarkable degree of connection and learning for myself and I believe for my fellow students also.  I can say with confidence that in each of the classes a community of practice was established and the interaction which occurred online was a key component of the learning process. The good news arising from this is that we shouldn’t feel that we  have to wait for face to face interaction again to benefit from the social component of learning, however the structure of these online communities does have to be shaped with intention which will be discussed further. I will write more about this in Part 2 of Things I think I’ve learning about learning when we discuss the topic of learning online.

Re-post: Blueprint for a post-pandemic future

education-reimagined.org/a-blueprint-for-educations-post-pandemic-future/

Some great thoughts here from the author, Grant Lichtman, about considerations for education in the soon-to-be coming (it really is coming, isn’t it?) post-COVID world. His advice that, “The last seven months have been a hot mess, but this period has also been a cauldron of creativity” should be well taken by anyone in a leadership role to leverage this moment of creativity. On to the future!

What is Learn4Forever?

Retrieved from https://www.quotes160.com/2013/08/10-all-time-best-quotes-on-education.html

“What is Learn 4 Forever?”   I was asked this question by a colleague recently and I responded matter-of-factly by saying, “Well, it’s a blog where I post stories about learning at our school.”  Straightforward and simple for sure but it got me thinking on a deeper level about the stories that this blog could tell about learning.

The Gandhi quote that appears here and on the masthead expresses a sentiment that well captures a key purpose of Learn4Forever.  This quote guides our lives in two ways:  first, that the complete person seeks to be present in the moment and to live each day as if it were her/his last.  Second, that the complete person approaches each day with an “What can I learn today?” attitude and takes an open stance toward what can be learned from their experiences on that day.  One of my core beliefs which has developed from my experiences with learning and life is that, ‘we are all learners, all the time’ which fits in perfectly with Gandhi’s advice that we never quite have life all figured out and there is always something more to learn.   

The core purpose of Learn4Forever is to share stories about learning so that readers will become better learners themselves and can then help someone else to become a better learner.  It’s become trite to say that we are all on a learning journey, but it’s a cliché that works because it describes something we understand and have all done (or used to do before COVID and won’t it be nice to take trips again!).  We can learn through experience and activity; through information from audio, visual, or written sources; or through conversation with others.  What defines what and how much we can learn is determined by the attitude which we bring to the table. 

My learning journey has brought me here, to the University of Alberta in sunny Edmonton, AB (it actually is pretty sunny!) where I am a PhD student in the Education Policy Studies department.  I have worked in public and international education as a teacher, and school or district leader for most of my adult life, and have spent 21 years so far as a student in school besides.  This journey has taken me to five countries in one way or another and continues to humble me along the way as the main lesson to be learned seems is that I’ve got a lot more to learn.  The journey continues however and while I am not quite sure where it is leading, am enthusiastically ready for the adventure to continue.

Each week this blog will bring readers a story of learning to encourage you on your journey, and to help you encourage someone else on theirs.  The topic could arise from a real life learning activity I’ve been a part of, something I’ve seen or read about learning, or something that has been shared with me by others, but hope that all the stories shared will inspire you to “Learn as if you are going to live forever.” If you have a learning story you would like to share, please feel free to send it to me and will share with others as they fit the purpose of the blog.  See you next week for a new learning story and have a great week of learning ahead!

Now Go and Find Your Success!

WeChat Image_20200706173322Message to the Class of 2020:

You have had an unforgettable, historical and some might say, success-defying graduation year.  Through circumstances way beyond your control, you were thrust into the wild world of online learning, social distancing, mask wearing, having very few live teachers, no May holiday, and many other disruptive forces conspiring against your success.  Yet, here you are, at your high school graduation ceremony and ready to move on to the next part of your life.  How does this experience match the definitions of success you may have heard in the past? How will this experience change your definition of success in life for you?

We started the year with the theme, “You Can Do That” where we showed a speech given by a university student at Georgia Tech which gave the “you can accomplish whatever you want” message and where success is        defined as a continual upward climb toward the highest points of achievement.  That was all nice talk before we were faced with the realities of the virus.

When you came back after more than 3 months away from school, we talked about GRIT and did some activities which tested your perseverance and determination to achieve success.  We talked about how you would need to show GRIT in your studies to make it though the challenges of online learning and not having many of your beloved teachers around.  That you made it this far means that you have been able to show the GRIT necessary to complete this portion of your academic life and should encourage you for the future.

From the experience you have gained this year, and from your achievement of reaching graduation what have you learned about success in life?  I’m going to suggest three ways that you can go and find your success in your future:

  1. Your most successful experiences in life may well also be your most difficult.
  2. Dreams are important to have, but they don’t always define success in your life. Even if you don’t reach your dreams, you can still be a success.
  3. Finding your calling & special purpose in life is the primary way that you live a successful life.

It has been an honour to be your Principal during this historic year in our school, in China and around the world.  As you go out into the new world that is still taking shape and will present many challenges, remember what you have endured and persisted through this year as you find your way to success.  Congratulations Shanghai grads of 2020!

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A Quarantine in Shanghai

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Visitors from the school and the Community Quarantine Commitee on Day 12

Note:  this was written to reflect my quarantine experience from March 11-24, 2020.  Since this time, of course, the world situation with the virus has become much more serious and my thoughts are with all the people and their family members affected by the virus itself.  We also owe all of our heroic health workers our full support and encouragement as they work daily on the frontlines against the virus.    

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My Quarantine Tree

Day One:

I began my quarantine with much trepidation.  We’ve all heard stories of what happens to prisoners in solitary confinement.  Was this going to happen to me?  As I look back however, the days quickly blended together into one with the exception of the first day, which always stands out.  After waking up, having breakfast and getting unpacked I was visited in the late morning by three friendly people from the local community who gave me an old-fashioned mercury thermometer with instructions (had trouble with this thing throughout), a sheet called “Tips for quarantine observation at home” and a third piece of paper called “Home isolation and disinfection precautions” along with a container with about 8 chlorine-bleach disinfectant tablets to dissolve in a litre of water.  This handout described 7-steps to keep my apartment clean and disinfected during the quarantine period.   They finally left me with three forms to provide to our government contact at the school.  Before they left, and knowing these would be my final visitors for a long time,  I asked for a picture of the three visitors to which they happily obliged.

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I received a text that the “vegetable was left on the shelf, please take it away quickly” and went downstairs to retrieve the order.  My Ding Dong grocery order was here in an amazing 24 minutes!! The afternoon was spent figuring out how to order food and completing the forms given to me by the visitors in the morning.   The food-ordering process is an app called “Ding Dong” which has a remarkably efficient layout and assortment of items that wasn’t too hard to figure out even in Chinese.  I ended up ordering 20 items for about $70 CAD (350 RMB) and after getting some help to enter my address (thanks Kirby and Snow!), I sent in the order and paid the money using another pay by phone app in China called Alipay.  I received a message that the delivery would be made between 15:00 and 15:30 and since it was 14:27 already, I assumed this would be the next day.  I was assured by one of my helpers that this would be happening TODAY and indeed received a call from the delivery person early at 14:51!    An amazing 24 minutes!  The Chinese internet system is amazingly efficient with these kinds of processes. Apparently it seems to be ok for me to go out of my apartment for specific reasons, but not out of the community itself.  Fair enough.  I wasn’t sure where the “shelf” was and didn’t get much help from the security guards, although did get some help from an English speaker named Ada who was eager to help this helpless foreigner.  She was also concerned about which country I had come from and if I had a fever and once I assured her I came from Canada (I love being from Canada in these situations) and that I didn’t have a fever she pointed out where the “shelf” was and I eagerly grabbed by three bags of food and household items.

Anyway, other than ordering an exercise bike and coffee on Baopals (English version of Taobao) that was pretty much my day.  I had three square meals and go some work done in between these other happenings so all in all, it was a productive first day of quarantine.  Only 13 more to go!

Days 2-14

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A door magnet kept track of when I opened my door. Apparently it was NOT ok that I went outside.  I checked with our school office staff and was told under no conditions was I to go outside at risk of having to start my quarantine countdown all over again.  A magnet was being installed on my door that would tell whoever it was tracking me that I had opened my door.  Opening the door to get deliveries or put out the garbage was ok, but I was NOT to go out. Each person on quarantine was monitored by the Community Quarantine Committee working under the authority of the local police department who report any concerns directly to the police.  Needless to say, that Day 1 venture was indeed the last time I went out of my building for the remaining time on quarantine.

Life quickly settled into a routine.  Wake up, make coffee, take my temperature, check out the we chats and messages that had come overnight from other parts of the world, and turn on CNN using a free internet site available in China amazingly to catch up on the days events.  It quickly became apparent that what was just starting to happen at home was escalating quickly and watched with everyone else as public events, travel, school, and even sports (gasp!) were quickly cancelled or postponed indefinitely.  My plans to watch the NCAA tournament and the beginning of baseball season while on my quarantine came crashing down as the sports-entertainment complex came to sudden and screeching halt.  Although I was in China, the former epicenter of all things virus, there was a palpable shift in focus and the feeling became apparent that China was now on the other side of the curve that the rest of the world was just now beginning to accept as reality.

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Ordering and prepping food became a major consumer of time and effort.  Since I wasn’t allowed to go out, the next problem was how to get food up to my apartment.  Delivery people are not allowed to individual apartments during this time, so the order was left on shelving at the front gate.  When I arrived, I had been contacted by a neighbor from the building next door, “Chris-t” was the English name he used on we chat (yes, with a “t” on the end) although it sounded to me more like that he pronounced it as Chris. For obvious reasons, I used the latter when addressing him.  In any event, “Chris-t” proved to be a tremendous help throughout the quarantine.  Any time I was receiving an order of some kind, I would call him and he would happily pick up my order and deliver it to my door.  I am not sure what I would have done without Chris-t. This is a keyhole view of Chris-t bringing up my groceries.

I was not able to accept visitors of course and had no contact with anyone until Day 12 when I was visited by the General Affairs director and a couple of members of the community committee to check that I was ok and had enough food.  I appreciated their visit but was glad something hadn’t go wrong say, on Day 3.  That would been a long time to wait for their help!

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Other parts of my quarantine time were used for reading, taking and reporting my temperature twice a day, binging on Better Call Saul, catching up one the growth of the virus on CNN and other news channels, and getting work done.  Although students were not in school (and still aren’t by the time of publishing), there was plenty of work to do communicating with school staff and our teachers scattered all over the world.  Between meeting with teachers, our local admin team, and the other Principals all on Zoom (man Zoom must be doing well), this was sufficient social connection even though I was by myself.   I also connected with my amazing wife Judy twice a day which were the cornerstones of my day.  For the time being, this kind of virtual connection is what we have and am thankful for the human connection it brings.

Finally, after 14 days I was visited by a member of the community committee and a “doctor” to take my temperature and the officially let me know I was a free man.  It went by very quickly and went about as smoothly as one could hope for.

How to sum up my quarantine experience?  It didn’t suck!

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I’m free!

A Return to China

A personal blog about my return to China in March 2020

Welcome to China!

Travel day: Monday, March 9th

On a clear and sunny March Vancouver morning I arrived to a sparsely occupied International terminal at YVR. There was a noticeable difference between the USA departures section and the International area with the usual traffic and bustle present at one end of the departure gates which not nearly matched at the other. There was no lineup at any of the check in lines and the China Eastern boarding agent was happy to see someone coming who required his assistance. I asked for my usual aisle seat and was given the option of getting one in either of an empty row of three or of two. I took the two seater.

The waiting sign at the Security check said 0-5 minutes and I whisked through usually tedious process very quickly with only my plastic container of “wet ones” disinfectant wipes causing a slight delay (the sensor thought it might have been a liquid) and once approved by the agent, I was on the way to the boarding gate.

Having been warned about the lengthy delays upon arrival at Pudong, I stopped by the duty free and a convenience stores to get some water and snacks. I usually abhor those places due to their over-pricing but this time it felt different. The stores were well-stocked with merchandise and staff but devoid of customers. I almost felt that it was an act of charity buying something from them and even agreed to the outrageous “buy two, get one free” scam for both chocolate bars and blueberries.

The boarding gate itself was sleepy, and once called to board the passengers moved quickly to get on the flight. Anyone who has flown to China knows the boarding lines, even with the grouping system, are long and subject to people cutting in at any time. Not so today. There was no need to do so.

I was one of the final travellers to board but had no trouble finding an overhead bin for my carry-on and settle into my “luxurious” two-seat (an aisle & a window!). All of the flight staff had masks and gloves, and every Chinese passenger I could see was wearing a mask. We’ve all read that masks are one of the least important means of preventing the spread or catching the virus, but the pressure to conform to this societal and cultural expectation is immense as China fights the “people’s war” against all things virus. I eventually put on my mask about 30 minutes in.

The flight was no more than half full (certainly less than the 70% estimate by the agent at check in) and I could have had my pick of empty two, three or even four-person rows! After we took off and achieved cruising altitude, the crew came around to conduct temperature checks. I have to admit a moment of panic about this. “What if I have a high temperature? Will I be whisked away to a ‘special area’ for the duration of the flight and immediately handed over to the police to be taken to a dreaded ‘community quarantine’ location?”

Luckily, I seemed to pass this test and the beverage and meal service began. I was certainly much more cautious about not eating with my fingers and using the utensils as I dived into my chicken and rice meal. After that, the flight settled into the usual flow with the lights being dimmed and everyone napping or watching movies. Next stop, Shanghai!

Hazmat wearing staff take health forms from arriving passengers at Shanghai-Pudong airport.

Arrival:

Our thankfully uneventful flight brought us to Pudong, Shanghai’s busy International airport. As we prepared for our arrival, we were given a health form to complete asking us for information and details about our recent travels and about our current health status. The flight crew was also giving out a QR code for those who wanted to digitize this process. Trips to Japan, S. Korea, Iran and Italy were specifically mentioned as locations from which people should identify that they had travelled to. Once the plane landed everyone got up for the usual race to the exit door, but we were politely told to return to their seats because the “quarantine officer” had to board and clear the plane for arrival. We waited for about 45 minutes during which time, we only saw one young foreign family being escorted off the plane. Not sure if this was because they were a family with young children or if they had shown signs of the virus. Or maybe it was nothing.

After being released from the plane there were two new steps that I could identify which had been added to the usual deplaning procedure.  First, we had to line up and hand in our forms.  The line for those who had completed the digital process with the QR code was actually moving a little slower than the paper line.  Score one for food old-fashioned paper-based bureaucracy.  The second new step was a rather fancy temperature taking station, where we each ushered into a “lane” surrounded by newly-installed technology where our temperature was taken and once we had “passed” we were sent to the customs line for the usual passport stamping and fingerprint retrieval.  After that it was to baggage claim and then the final walk through “nothing to declare line” where we were slightly delayed as what appeared to be a group from Japan were being directed to a specific exit line. 

Two things that stood out about the arrival experience.  One was the amount of Hazmat wearing staff which lent a B-level Science fiction movie quality to the atmosphere in the building.  The second was the scarcity of passengers.  Any Chinese airport is usually a hive of energy with lots of hustle and bustle.  This was noticeably absent and while it speeded up the processing time it certainly lent to the overall surreal-ness of the arrival to China. 

A card with the temperature of the food handlers at the McDonald’s at Pudong airport.

While waiting for my ride I saw a friendly McDonald’s in the terminal and wanting to get my pre-quarantine meal wandered in an ordered a Big Mac.  Upon getting my bag of fast-food I noticed a card stapled to the packing with the names and recent temperatures of those handling the food to signal that they were healthy and virus free.  Hadn’t seen that anywhere before.

Arriving at my apartment, it took about 20 minutes for me to get registered with local security guard and get my temperature taken for the fourth time that day. It was a relief to get to my apartment about 4 hours after I landed. All in all, a not too bad arrival day. Quarantine here we come!

You Can Do That!

image_28bc5a50-6a19-43bd-bfe2-fdf77533c8ef.img_9582This speech was shared at the Opening Ceremony of Maple Leaf International School – Shanghai on September 2, 2019.  It was inspired by this epic convocation speech from Georgia Tech in 2013.  

It is a privilege and honour for my wife and I to come to Shanghai to be the Principal of the BC program.   This is my third year in China with Maple Leaf after working for 28 years in schools in the province of British Columbia, Canada where our curriculum comes from and I am very excited to come to the Maple Leaf Shanghai campus to work with students and teachers.  I hope you will have a great year and I want to encourage you in your studies and your preparation for your university applications that “You can do that!”

For students, “You can do that!” means that you can learn to gain new knowledge, improve your study skills, and increase your English ability.   Remember, you must take care of your own well-being by getting good sleep, eating proper food, and getting exercise. This will enable you to attend class everyday and in every class, keep up with class activites and to prepare for tests.

To teachers, “You can do that!” means that you can find new ways to engage and involve your students in lessons, help build students understanding of a new or difficult idea, and get involved yourself in clubs and school activities even when you are tired from a long week of teaching students in their second language.

To parents, “You can do that!” means that you can encourage your child to do their best, stay focused on their goals even when they make a mistake, and help them develop their character as they move from being a child to becoming an adult.

For us as a campus, “You can do that!” means that together we can grow to become the best campus in Maple Leaf and the best International School in Shanghai if we each remember why we are here.  Maple Leaf’s challenge to you is that “You know where you are going”  as the school helps to prepare you for a successful life and university career.  If we focus on building good habits and achieve success in the classroom, our school will achieve growth in quality and in enrollment as other students will want to join and experience our success.

You can do that, Shanghai campus!  Have a great year ahead!!

From Dreams to Destiny

From Dreams to Destiny – July 2019

Bamfield sunsetAll young boys have a dream of holding a real, live bow in your hand; grasping the arrow between your index and middle fingers, pulling back with all your might and then letting go and hitting the bullseye, or so goes the dream. Often times the actual experience is that the arrow hits the ground a few metres in front of you or goes sailing by the target into a well-positioned hay bale.  You try and try and try again until your fingers hurt, and you don’t think you will ever be able to hit the paper target anywhere, much less scoring a bullseye, but with time and practice (and more pain), eventually you get closer and closer to hitting the middle ring and reaching your dream of hitting the target and accomplishing something meaningful.

In some ways starting a new school is kind of like this experience.  There is great anticipation and preparation for immediate success and hitting the target every time, and then your first few attempts miss the target altogether or fall short of scoring any kind of a hit.   However, with commitment and dedication you persevere and with the support of your team of teachers, staff, parents and students you get closer and closer to reaching the dream and begin to see impact of your work and get closer to your dream goal.

In the first year of Maple Leaf International Academy in 2018-19 we started our year together by talking about dreams and how they drive you toward success.  A quote that was shared at the beginning of the year was, “You have to dream before your dreams can come true.”  (P. J. Abdul Kalam).  Everything that you will accomplish in life in one way or another begins because of a dream that you have had. The dream for our students and our school was established in preparation to apply for a world-class university by achieving a top-quality graduation through a combination of classroom and real-world experience.

We ended the year talking about destiny.   Sometimes movies portray destiny as being something that is not in the control of a person, like Luke Skywalker in Star Wars or Simba in the Lion King. I don’t agree with that idea because each of us are the ultimate person in charge of our destinies and are responsible for making our own choices along the way to reach our dreams.  Even Luke and Simba had to make choices so that they could reach their target.  One of the main objectives of the first year in the Academy was to establish the new directions of the British Columbia curriculum.  A big part of this is to incorporate what the BC curriculum calls the six core competencies into everyday learning for students so that students are not just learning content in subject areas. Students are able to apply this knowledge so that they will have the ability and skills, or competency, to be successful in university and in life.

TargetOne way that we did this was to feature one of the parts of the six competencies to focus on as a monthly theme called “What is Your Learning Target?”.  Each month students completed a specific activity connected to one of these competencies and then gathered evidence to show ways that they had grown in this competency area.  They then did a short self-assessment of what they learned and what they need to further accomplish so they can meet the intended learning target.  At the end of the school year, students completed a summary of each of the Learning targets in the Communication competency.

One example of an activity to help students reach their learning targets was our Maker Day, the theme was Generating Ideas from the Creative Thinking core competency.  A Maker day is a learning activity where students are presented with a problem and using simple materials must build or “make” a solution to the problem. Students were challenged with generating creative ideas to solve each problem and it was fascinating to see how many new ideas they came up with to solve these problems.   PinnochioStudents participated in three activities called the “Leaning Tower,” “Marble Drop” and “Pinocchio” and were each encouraged to use their own creative ideas to solve the problems, but of equal importance was helping others to make their ideas better.  When working in groups, students (as well as many adults) aren’t always able to encourage others to make their ideas better.  They usually either reject them completely, or agree without adding ideas to make the better. Being able to generate your own ideas and then help others make their ideas better is an important skill for life and an important part of the creative thinking competency.   This activity was very practical way of helping students develop their ability to generate ideas to solve a problem and work with a group of others to help solve a problem.

Ignite YannieAnother example of students reaching their Learning Target was The Ignite Inquiry week which happened at the end of the first semester.   This activity arose from the learning target of “Acquiring, Presenting and Interpreting Information” from the Communication competency area. An Inquiry is learning which is organized around a question which is generated by the learner and not the teacher.  It should be something which the students are interested in, are able to research, and then draw some conclusions from and also provide some ideas for further learning or inquiries.  We drew on the knowledge and five-step process developed by the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry (PSII) in Victoria, BC and appreciated the input of the school founder and Principal, Jeff Hopkins as we designed our week of Inquiry.

Students were challenged to prepare a presentation on their Inquiry using the “Ignite” PPT format.  An Ignite is a speedy-five minute presentation of no more than 20 slides where students talk about the answers to the questions which they found out from their research during the week.  Some students chose an important question such as “Personal Privacy versus Country Security,” a current issue society such as “The New Technologies of Solar Power” or from an area of personal interest such as “How to Film a Movie” or “3D Printing.”

Ignite SolarStudents received awards for the Top Technical presentation (Architecture), Most Entertaining (Food Colour and Taste) and for finishing in the Top Three were able to present their Inquiry to the parents at the Parent Meeting to end the semester the next day.  It was great to hear the presentations from all of our students (in English and using no script!) about a topic they had chosen and learned about with support from teachers.  This activity showed students how to turn their own interest into something they can learn about and communicate to others.  Inquiry will continue to be a learning method used at our school to connect BC Curriculum, Learning Targets, and student areas of interest.

Students need dreams in order to reach their destiny and make good choices along the way in order to fulfill their dreams.     We asked the students at the end of the year what their ideas were to establish the destiny of our school and for them as students.  As usual, when you ask students a question they come up with sometimes “surprising” answers. Ideas such as “listen to students opinions from time to time and try to solve them,” “provide more out-of-school activities,” “ learn more difficult stuff, “have more activities that help students really know this world,” and “make students be conscious to themselves” were some of the responses that students gave about how each of them, and our school can reach its destiny.   The staff of the Academy will continue to help students to reach their destiny as it grows and develops each year.

This first year at our school has been a tremendous year of hard work, learning new subjects, improving English and having fun and we will carry wonderful memories with us always.  All teachers admired the commitment to excellence that the students demonstrated throughout the year in every activity and it has truly been a privilege and honour to work alongside them in this first year of the Academy.  It is hard work opening a new school as there are many decisions to be made and new systems set up.  I am proud of the work which has been done this year and know there remains much more to keep working on to produce a high-quality school which provides students an opportunity to attend a world-class university.  As I have said to students many times, while our school is small and new, it is also able to be flexible in programming and provide students with a high-degree of personal attention to help them achieve a quality graduation and prepare a strong application to their dream university.

Our story is one of students pursuing a Dream so that they can each reach their Destiny. Like both Luke Skywalker and Simba it takes perseverance and resiliency to reach a dream as mistakes are overcome, problems are solved, and difficulties are met with determination.  Good luck to all Maple Leaf schools and students as you move to follow your dream and reach your destiny!