A New Beginning



I will start by saying that this post is for the parents, students, and staff at Centennial Secondary.  I’m very pleased to be joining you as the new Principal and look forward to meeting you in the upcoming weeks.  I thought I would share with you a little bit about what I’ve learned in my first week at Centennial, why I write this blog, and what I hope for in the coming months and years.

You will notice from my previous posts that I spent the past seven years at Riverside Secondary School.  I began writing this blog to inform our community about the work we were doing in our school.  Rather than a Principal’s Message in a newsletter, you will receive a link to my blog where I hope you will visit to get more updates about topics in education that are relevant to our school community.  I believe that it’s important to communicate what we are doing with others beyond our school community so that we can share ideas and learn from one another.  A blog and other forms of social media are tools that help us reach a greater audience, but also reflect the world in which our children are growing up.  I hope you will find my blog informative, educational, and different than perhaps what you may be used to with typical Principal Messages.

I have truly enjoyed my first week at Centennial.  I spent my first four days wandering the halls, visiting classrooms, being in grade assemblies, and learning about the unique programs, courses, and attributes of Centennial.  I am currently trying to understand more of the history of the school, the community surrounding Centennial, and the operations of the building.  While there are parts of the job as Principal that are similar from school to school, each campus has unique ways in which they do things and in the way they “feel”.  I use the term “feel” to represent the culture and overall sense that a person gets when they walk into a building.  The ways in which students greet or interact with staff and each other, the positive tone of the building, the care from staff towards students and each other, and the sense of accomplishment that is evident on the walls and in the voices of those who share their pride differs from school to school.  I have enjoyed a warm welcome from staff and students.  I have found the students to be very polite, kind, and respectful.  They are getting used to seeing me with my partner Liege, a PADS dog who is here for students who just want to pet him or those having a very difficult day and need some time to decompress.   You can read more about Liege from a previous post if you’re interested.  The staff are passionate about what they do and speak fondly of their students.  They have high expectations for these Centaurs and they truly care about them.  I attended the recent musical, “The Audition”, and I was overwhelmed by the talent of the students.  I also know that this doesn’t magically happen.  Great teachers are able to get the very best out of their students and this was certainly evident in the way these talented actors performed.



I have enjoyed being in the new building.  It is beautiful with lots of natural light and common spaces for students to gather.  The theatre, library, cafeteria, art and tech ed rooms are beautiful, state of the art spaces.  I have learned that the new building has not come without it’s challenges, but it is beginning to feel more like home for staff and students as they settle in.  We are still working through some of the deficiencies and making other adjustments to address the need for further equipment or supplies, but we are much further ahead of where we were five months ago.  We need to get some identity in the building as the walls don’t yet have anything on them that represents our school.  However, I know this is starting as I am hearing more about the leadership classes developing themes for the Pods (sections of classrooms that gather around a common space) and the art teacher working with students to begin showcasing student work in the building.  We will continue to go through construction with the demolition of the old building and the assembly of the new gym, fitness centre, and additional classrooms, as well as a new artificial turf field.  I understand that parking has also been a challenge.  I believe this will get addressed once construction is complete as additional parking is supposed to be installed during this last phase.  While there is no exact timeline on when the construction will be over, we are estimating that it will take approximately 20-24 months to complete.  Of course, as you know, timelines are seldom firm when it comes to massive construction projects like this one, so flexibility and patience will be key.

I often get asked as a Principal going into a new building what I plan to do or change.  I never really like this question because I believe it is insensitive and presumptuous to think that a person can go into a new organization knowing what it needs before truly understanding how it operates.  Furthermore, my role as a Principal is to work with the community in ensuring that we are committed to a shared desire for what we believe our school should and could be.  Centennial has had a long history of success in many different areas, including academics, athletics, trades, and the arts.  We will continue to do our best to excel in many different ways while giving students a stage to show their talents and skills, but my belief is that it all starts with culture; a culture of care, a culture of goodwill, a culture of connectedness, a culture of trying new things, and a culture that is willing to make mistakes and learn from them.  Organizations that thrive are those that feel safe for people to excel and move beyond their comfort zones.  They are places where trust and relationships are at the forefront so that taking risks is not seen as a casualty in their practice, but as a necessity in their way of being.  So, if you are wondering what my focus will be for the next while, it is simply to understand Centennial as quickly as possible, while building the relationships and trust necessary to work as a collective team.

On a final note, I thank you for allowing me to be part of your community.  I am excited at the opportunity that lies ahead and feel fortunate to be on this journey with all of you.

Posted in Culture, General Education | Leave a comment

Where to From Here?

Understanding a new school takes a significant amount of time.  The ability for me to become effective in a new place is partially dependent on how quickly I understand the people, the day to day operations, community, and programs.  In order to help me understand Centennial, I decided to gather information in multiple ways.  Firstly, I met with Department Heads and asked for them to each share something with me that I should understand about Centennial.  I then met with a group of staff who have been at Centennial for 20+ years and asked them to provide me with the history on the school.  I also sent a short questionnaire out to staff, students, and parents requesting everyone to share their perspectives on our identity, culture, atmosphere, programs, staff, students, and opportunities for student voice.  To determine whether the data I received was authentic, I presented it at our Department Head meeting and then at our Staff Meeting.  The staff was able to affirm that the data from the questionnaire seemed to accurately reflect what they were feeling and experiencing at Centennial.  We then asked our staff to work in groups to explore opportunities that would enhance our culture, identity, student voice, and staff connections.  The feedback from this staff meeting will be used at our next Department Head meeting to begin planning our next steps as we move forward together.

I will say, that overall the view of Centennial by staff, students, and parents is generally positive.   While there are areas that are worthy of further exploration, the most inspiring feedback I saw was the way in which the staff felt about students.  The responses from staff about students were overwhelmingly positive and complimentary.  It is clear that the staff have very high regard for the students at Centennial.  Below is a wordle that summarizes all the feedback on students.  The larger words in the wordle are those that were mentioned more often.  For example, many teachers described the students as diverse, respectful, energetic, kind,  caring, and compassionate.wordlestudents

The staff saw themselves as caring, helpful, hardworking, dedicated, passionate, and talented as per the Wordle below.  However, they also recognized that there were feelings of being divided, separate, polarized, wounded, and deflated.  Some of these feelings are due to moving into a new building and having little time to connect.  They acknowledge that the move has been tiring and stressful, but also realize that there is a need to become more connected.  They feel a sense of optimism in their new space and look forward building on the existing culture at Centennial.


When looking at the variety of programs being offered at Centennial, there is a strong sense of pride in Athletics, Musical Theatre, Art, Experiential Studies, AP, Tech Ed, Club, Culinary Arts, and Music.  See the Wordle below for the program offerings that staff identified as unique or positive for students.


Centennial’s identity appears to be rooted in community, diversity, tradition, history, pride, and excellence.  As the Wordle below reflects, there is also a sense that we are currently in Flux or in Transition. Several staff characterized this by describing our identity with words like: potential, unknown, growing, and developing.


The Wordle below indicates that the culture and atmosphere of Centennial is generally welcoming, caring, diverse, positive, friendly, and hopeful.  Staff also identified the culture or atmosphere as having moments of being frustrating, fearful, isolating, disconnected, tense, or negative.  While this is not typically the atmosphere, it’s important to recognize that there are times when it does feel this way.  Our job as educators is to determine when and why this occurs so that we can minimize those types of experiences for staff and students.


I am looking forward to working with the staff, students, and parents on how we move forward together.  There is an incredible opportunity at Centennial now that we’ve moved into a new school.  My sense in speaking with staff is that while the move has been tiring and stressful, they are feeling more settled and optimistic about what may lie ahead.  I too am hopeful and excited to be on this journey with them.



Posted in Culture, General Education | Leave a comment

Riverside Updates

With another school year well underway, I wanted to share with you some of the current initiatives occurring at Riverside. I will start by saying that this post is primarily for our parents so that they have more insight into what we are working on behind the scenes.

As you know, schools around the province are working through the implementation of the Ministry of Education’s new curriculum. While much of the content that existed on our old graduation program still exists in the new program, there is a very clear shift in the teaching approach and learning process for students. Courses are now built on a model of Know-Do-Understand.

Know do Understand


If we use Mathematics as an example, it is built on 5 strands or big ideas (what students need to “understand”):

  • Number Sense
  • Computational Fluency
  • Patterning
  • Geometry and Measurement
  • Data and Probability

Each mathematics course also focuses on problem solving, financial literacy, and First People’s Perspectives.


The curricular competencies embedded in Mathematics are what students need to be able to “do”:

  • Reasoning and analyzing
  • Understanding and solving
  • Communicating and representing
  • Connecting and reflecting


Lastly, the specific topics in Mathematics are what students must be able to “know”. For example, in Pre-calculus and Foundations of Mathematics 10, students must be able to do things such as:

  • Factor polynomials
  • Graph data
  • Calculate slope for linear relations
  • Graph linear functions

Feel free to view the comparison guide and other tools if you are interested is seeing how the old curriculum compares with the new one or want more information on the new curriculum.

In addition to these changes in subject specific curriculum, students are required to self-assess their core competencies. The core competencies are “sets of intellectual, personal, and social and emotional proficiencies that all students need to develop in order to engage in deep learning and life-long learning.”  These core competencies will be the same from k-12 and are:

  • Communication
  • Thinking (Creative and Critical)
  • Personal and Social (Positive Personal and Cultural Identity, Personal Awareness and Responsibility, Social Responsibility)

Currently at Riverside, all grade 9 students will be self-assessing these core competencies in all their classes.  Their self-assessments will be reflected on their Edublogs.  Parents are encouraged to visit their children’s blogs to view their reflections as well as gain more insight into the learning that their children are experiencing in their courses.

As you know, all students at Riverside use a device (laptop or tablet) in their classes.  Technology continues to be a focus for Riverside.  We have focused on technology for three main reasons:

  • It enables us to help students develop a positive digital footprint which we believe is essential for them in the 21st century
  • It allows learners, parents, and teachers to see the learning journey of a student as they document the types of experiences they encounter daily and highlight their best work in their digital portfolio
  • It gives students a tool to create, publish, express, and connect beyond the four walls of a classroom.

Now that our technology initiative has been fully implemented, we have started to shift our focus on building innovative culture and understanding innovative design.  Over the past two years, we have engaged in several projects to assist us on this journey.  From visiting high performing companies and schools to learn about their approaches to innovation, to gathering input via staff and student think tanks, we have been generating an understanding of what innovation could look like at Riverside.  Over the past year, we created a library design team consisting of staff, students, district staff, and community members to rethink and redesign our library.  Once complete, it will include several collaborative spaces consisting of high and low tech options for students, a makerspace for students to prototype, and other flexible spaces for students to research, reflect, connect, read, and imagine.  We hope to begin this transformation in the coming months.  We are also in the process of rethinking our current timetable to include more flexibility for students to:

  • engage in further innovation and inquiry
  • attend to their mental health
  • seek additional support for their courses

While we redesign some of our current structures to support innovation, we are simultaneously working to build culture around innovation by showcasing exemplars around the school where staff and students are collaborating in cross curricular ways to make learning more meaningful and purposeful.

Lastly, many of us have probably recognized the increase in mental health issues that seem to be impacting so many of our youth.  Anxiety and depression continue to be at the top of the list, but in a recent conversation with students, our staff found many more topics of interest pertaining to their well-being.  In fact, many students struggle with understanding the difference between fear and anxiety, sadness and depression, conflict and bullying.  As a result, we are currently working on a mental health day for students to offer them several sessions and workshops on topics such as managing stress, anxiety, sadness, depression, building trust, tolerance, and inner strength, body image, gender acceptance, dealing with social media and substance use.  The intention is to bring our community experts into the school to help educate our students on these issues and then follow up the day with an evening session for parents on these same topics.  We are hearing more and more from parents that raising youth today is challenging.  It’s not easy trying to navigate social media, drugs, changes in family and societal structures/values, mental health, and high stakes for students wanting to go on to post secondary school.  We too feel the complexities of all this in education.  While there are no simple solutions to many of these, there is an abundance of knowledge on these topics to help us make more informed decisions in the ways we can best support our children.  I look forward to another exciting year!



Posted in Culture, General Education, Innovation, Technology | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Road to Innovation

Innovation Graphic (2)

A key area of focus for Riverside is on building a culture of innovation and creativity.  As a school, we have spent a great deal of time finding ways to integrate technology into curriculum with the intent of opening up possibilities for students to express, create, learn from others, and connect with the greater community.  As we’ve continued down this path, we have felt more compelled to look at ways that students can pursue their passions and find more purpose in their learning.

Over the past three months, we conducted a series of think tanks with staff and students.

The think tanks asked 5 questions to provoke discussion:

  1.  Do you believe that we need more opportunities for staff and students to IMG_1529innovate/create?  Why?  Why not?
  2. What are we currently doing to embrace or enable creative/innovative opportunities for students and staff?
  3. What are the barriers to having more opportunities for students and staff to innovate/create?
  4. What are some ideas/suggestions to help build more opportunities to innovate/create?
  5. Where might there be opportunities within our school in order to build or generate more TIME to innovate/create?

Through this process, several themes emerged that are key areas in which we will begin to research and develop strategies to implement:

  1.  School Atmosphere and Culture
    • Community oriented
    • Inclusive
    • Showcasing Learning
    • Opportunities outside of class
    • Emotional Health
  2. School Structure/Organization
    • Timetable that offers more flexibility in the way of what to learn, how to learn, and when to learn
    • Course Options/Offerings
    • Opportunities for further support
    • Rethinking class size and the way classes are structured
  3. Individualization/Personalization
    • Engagement
    • Passion
    • Real World Application and Skills
    • Student Choice
  4. Pedagogy (Teaching and Learning)
    • Cross Curricular
    • Teacher and Student Innovation
    • Technology
    • Future skills/applications
    • Rethinking assessment
  5. 21st Century Fluencies/Competencies
    • Critical Thinking
    • Creativity
    • Innovation
    • Inquiry
    • Collaboration
    • Communication
    • Information

IMG_1542Using these key ideas, we started to conduct some research on what other schools and organizations are doing to build more opportunities for innovation and creativity.  This past Monday, we sent teams of staff out to ten different schools/organizations to begin our quest into what makes these schools or organizations positive exemplars for being innovative/creative.  Our teams then returned in the afternoon with their findings to share out as a staff.  I want to personally thank the following schools/organizations for accommodating us on these visits and for inspiring us:

While it would be difficult to capture everything that we observed, here is a summary of some key learning:

  • Make learning cross-curricular or multidisciplinary.  Very little is learned in isolation.
  • Ensure there is time built into the school for collaboration and innovation and make the schedule flexible.
  • Consider space to innovate and create, such as Makerspaces, open areas, and common spaces to collaborate and ideate.
  • Create a culture that includes time or opportunities to build team and get to know each other better, address emotional wellness (yoga, relaxation, mindfulness, stand up stations, food), take risks, learn from each other, encourage, recognize and acknowledge ideas and accomplishments, including failures, bring the outdoor into the learning space (picnic tables, plants, etc) or bring the learning space to the outdoors.
  • Utilize technology.  There are very few jobs that don’t use it and it’s a great way to connect with others in the field as well as share your thinking and learning.
  • Maximize the use of Independent Directed Studies as an opportunity for students to engage in passion based projects while earning credit.  Add some structure in the way of goal setting, student check-ins and presentations to help them with moving forward.
  • Make mentorship part of the learning and consider the value of community mentors and older peer mentors.
  • Cohorts offer opportunities for students to have more connections with others who share similar interests.  This helps to create community.
  • Find the balance between skills that require practice and refinement and the pursuit of passion through inquiry and innovation.
  • When innovating, start small, experiment, and take the time to go big.  Set some ground rules regarding how teams will work together, such as “all ideas welcome”, “no jerk” policy, sharing welcome, but no showboating

One piece of advice provided to us during our visits was that it’s important that staff and students see that their input from the think tanks has translated into action.  Our intention is to begin working towards ideas and strategies that refine and enhance what we currently do at Riverside around innovation and creativity.  We are excited about the opportunities that lie ahead.



Posted in General Education, Innovation | Leave a comment

Learning Beyond the Walls of A Classroom


This past spring break, I was fortunate to join fourteen Riverside students on a Free the Children trip to Tanzania, Africa.  The intent of this journey was to provide service in a small village by building a school, while experiencing and learning about the culture, geography, and people in the community.  This blog post is a collection of my journal entries during the seven days in this incredible, rural setting.  My reflection of this trip is based on my learning, particularly from our two incredible Masai warriors and two Free the Children Facilitators who taught me a tremendous amount about this wonderful place.

Day 1

IMG_6181We arrived in Kilimanjaro at about 9:30 pm and began our bus ride in the dark to the Outpost Lodge in Arusha where we would bunk down for the night.  This was the first time I had ever slept under a mosquito net, but our rooms were comfortable with showers, toilets, and electricity.  In the middle of the night, I was awaken by the sound of rain pounding on the roof of my room.  By 6:30 am, the sound of rain eased and was replaced by the strange songs of birds, and soon after, the first rays of sun made their way through my window.  As I exited my room for breakfast, I enjoyed my first real glimpse of Africa.  It was greener than I had imagined.  While there were rumours of monkeys in the banana trees, I could not find them, but looked forward to seeing the flora and fauna that we would encounter over the next week.

We boarded the bus once again and made the hour long trek to our camp.  Upon our arrival, we were greeted by close to a hundred students who were singing and welcoming us.  We were honoured to be greeted with such kindness and looked forward to the interactions we would have with the locals over the coming days.  We then made our way to our camp for an orientation and became acquainted with our cabin tents and camp staff.  While rustic, the camp was comfortable, food was terrific, and the portable showers were a treat on our working days.


The landscape in our village of Oldonyo Was is drier than what we experienced in Arusha.  This is a farming community with several fields of corn, small trees, long grass, goats, cows, and donkeys.  It is dwarfed by the foothills and peak of Mount Meru, but incredibly scenic and picturesque.


Day 2

The jet lag didn’t make for a great sleep, but the chirping of the crickets all night was a nice treat.  We were greeted in the morning by the sound of roosters and began our day with a Swahili lesson from our Masai Warriors.  It was great to learn some basic phrases to help us interact with the locals.  We then made our way to the job site for an orientation and safety training before starting on our actual build of the school.  Since we were the first school group with Free the Children, our job was to begin digging for the foundation of the school.


The existing school has the very basics for educating children.  It exists of brick walls, a dirt floor, desks, and a chalkboard.  Classrooms which are half the size of ours are filled with approximately 55 students.


There is no question about how privileged we are in BC with the resources available to students and staff.  While we have our own challenges, we are fortunate to work in schools with running water, bathrooms, heat, technology, whiteboards, gymnasiums, libraries, and general school supplies.  Furthermore, we have the benefit of many varied course offerings and supports for students in the way of counsellors, youth workers, psychologists, and speech and language pathologists.  None of these things are evident in the school we visited in this village.  They have the very basics of what is needed for an education, but the children are excited to learn and see education as the key to finding solutions for clean water, agriculture, alternative income, and healthcare.

Day 3

Access to water is a challenge in these rural villages and in many parts of Africa.  We were fortunate to join three mamas from the village on a water walk to experience the  journey that these women make each day so that they have water for cleaning and cooking.  We left camp with the mamas leading us along a dirt road and through rocky trails for about 2 kilometers until we reached a well.  Upon our arrival with our 20 litre jugs, we learned that the well was already dry.  This was not unusual for the mamas who then lead us for another half a kilometer to the next well.  Fortunately, we were able to fill our jugs and begin the trek to their homes with the 20 kg filled jugs on our backs.


We arrived at the mamas homes and were thanked for bringing them the additional jugs of water than they would normally get on any given day.  One of the mamas was kind enough to give us a tour of her home which is seen in the background of the picture below.  The homes are very basic.  They are made of tree branches with mud and a tin roof.  Inside is a small sitting area and a bedroom.  It is simple, but it is shelter and it is a sense of pride for the mamas who built their homes by hand.


Living here is about survival.  There is no television, electricity, or wifi.  When you consider all that we have in our homes for convenience, it does not take long to realize how good we have it.  Some might say, we have it too good and that our perception of needing more is selfish in comparison to what others have or how they live.  In this village where they have so little, family and community are so vital.  There is a strong sense of dependence and connection with one another.  Sometimes I wonder if our desire for more has resulted in our loss of community here as family members leave their neighbourhoods for further education, newer homes, or better opportunities for employment.

Day 4

We took a break from our build site and hopped on the bus for a safari to the Tarangire National Park.  This would be our first opportunity in search of the big 5 (lion, water buffalo, elephant, rhinoceros, leopard).  For many tourists, this is a dream come true.  We started our adventure at 5 am with a 2.5 hour ride to our destination.  Spending several hours on the dirt roads looking across the grasslands, we spotted many species of animals, such as impalas, elephants, giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, wild boars, ostriches, baboons, and monkeys.  We searched at great length to find a lion, cheetah, or leopard, but to no avail.  The warm weather likely kept these beautiful cats in the shade staying cool.

This is such a beautiful place.  Words cannot describe how majestic and surreal it is to see these animals in their native habitat.  If only we could have more time exploring this amazing terrain, but all good things must eventually come to an end and we made our way back home in time for dinner.

After another wonderful meal, we enjoyed a campfire and some storytelling with the Masai Warriors.  They provided incredible insight into the history and present lifestyle of  the Masai tribe.  We learned about what it takes to become a Masai Warrior, the structure of their families, and the responsibilities of the warriors in protecting their property and people.  One of the traditions of becoming a warrior was to kill a lion.  Since lions are now protected, they have started a new rite of passage which involves pursuing a university education.  It’s an interesting shift, but one they believe will benefit their families and communities.


Day 5

We began our fifth day at the build site.  This was our third day working on the foundation.  We were finally ready for mixing and pouring the concrete footings in order to begin laying the bricks.  This was exhausting in the heat, but we worked together and made good progress.



We headed back to camp for some lunch and a group activity.  As we sat in our mess tent, I looked out beyond the camp and could see some of the students hauling stalks from the Sisal plant back to a nearby field.  They were building goal posts for a soccer match that we would play in the afternoon.  After the nets were ready, we could see the kids warming up.  We knew immediately that they were preparing for a competitive game in which they wanted to win.  We quickly put on our Riverside shirts, headed out to the field, had a cheer, and enjoyed some play time with the students.  This was one of the highlights of the week as it was an opportunity to interact with the students and witness the excitement of their classmates cheering them on the sidelines.


With pride, I will say that this was a win for the Rapids.  Not realizing how important this was to the children in the village, we would soon learn that a rematch was being planned for our final day of our stay.

Day 6

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  We woke up to some Irish music courtesy of Ms. Blaxland and Ms. Chittenden and headed back to the build site.  We continued to work on the foundation, laying the bricks until we could get them stacked four high.  This would be the point at which the walls would begin to get constructed.  We also took breaks during this build to interact and dance with the students at the school.  Watching our students hold hands with the children in the village, sing, dance, and make grass bracelets, was heartfelt.  Although they could only communicate in a limited way using words, the body language was clear…everyone was having fun and building connections with one another.


We headed back to camp for lunch and were then visited by a couple of mamas who taught us how to bead bracelets.  This was a fun activity for the students who soon began the conversation about wanting a beading class at Riverside!  There is something relaxing and enjoyable about this particular activity.  For many students, I suspect it brought them back to their younger days in elementary school where there were able to make crafts.  Many of the students continued to bead into the evening, creating gifts for family or friends.

A few students took some time in the latter part of the afternoon to do their laundry…the way it’s done in the village.  Given how this is a very manual process here, I would assume that there is no excuse for any of our students to not do their own laundry back home (moms and dads, that one is for you.:).


Day 7

This was an emotional day for many.  It would be our final full day at camp in this beautiful community.  We pooled our money to purchase two goats as part of a traditional meal to thank the camp staff and teachers from the school for their generosity in taking such great care of us.  We were treated incredibly well by the cooks, cleaning staff, and water boy (majimoto).  Majimoto’s job was to fill the bucket for our showers with warm water so that we could have a rinse at the end of our builds.

We had another opportunity to go to the build site and work more on the foundation.  We had accomplished what we could in the 7 days here.  The school was ready for the next group to build the walls.


Our work ended with a torrential downpour as we quickly ran for cover.  While the adults gathered under the roof of the school, our team of Riverside students saw this as an opportunity to cool off and they quickly assembled in the open area to embrace the showers.  After about 30 minutes, the sun returned and we made our way back to camp for some lunch and rest before our soccer rematch (which we won again).

After the soccer game, we all gathered with the students and staff at the school, as well as members of the community to have a celebration and say our goodbyes.  We were treated to more songs and gifts of shukas and beaded jewelry.  However, the most incredible gift to us was offered by the village and this gift was one that we would have to leave at camp once we depart.  We were offered a goat, which is by tradition, one of the most honourable gifts that could be given.  We spent more time interacting with the students and staff, sharing smiles and tears, before heading back to camp to get ready for our feast.

After our incredible dinner, we boarded the bus to a nearby field for warrior training with the Masai.  We would get a glimpse of Mount Kilimanjaro here before the clouds would roll in and cover the snowcovered peak.  We practiced throwing the conga and shooting the bow and arrow.  All I can say is, thank goodness the Masai warriors were there to protect us because our aim and technique left something to be desired!


Day 8

We depart camp for our return flight of 28 hours, including our layover in Amsterdam.  Before we get to the airport, we stop at a cultural museum to learn more about Africa and do some shopping at the market.  We have been blessed to have an incredible adventure with an amazing group of students and staff in one of the most beautiful places in the world.  I am so grateful to the people of Oldonyo Was who opened their community and homes up to a group of strangers.  I know that many of us were not ready to go back to our homes in Port Coquitlam.  Perhaps this will leave us with a yearning to return one day and learn more about this incredible country and continent.  For now, we will each share our stories of this adventure through our own lens and hope that the lessons we learned will translate into changes and actions that will make our world a better place.


Posted in Culture, General Education, Globalization | 3 Comments

What the Dog Said

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Two years ago, I crossed paths with Leah Pells, a Counsellor in School District 43 and her PADS dog, Smokey.  We were sitting in a district meeting and I spent some time talking to her about how Smokey was being used as a service dog at her school.  Smokey is a CAI (Canine Assisted Intervention) Dog.  In essence, he is a therapy dog, used to help bring calmness to an anxious student, a smile to a child having a difficult day, or the softening needed for a child to open up and share their story.  I remember spending some time sitting beside Smokey, enjoying this calm temperament and unconditional acceptance of me being in his space.  I went home that night, reflecting on some of the emotional challenges our community had been going through with some tragic events that were creating a lingering energy making each day feel like a cloud hovering over top of us.  I thought about how a CAI dog would assist our school and made the decision to apply for one.

The process for acquiring a PADS dog is a lengthy one.  In my circumstance, it was 2 years in the waiting, consisting of an interview and visits with various dogs to our school and my home.  PADS is an incredible organization that places tremendous energy, resources, and pride in training their dogs to be excellent ambassadors and in ensuring that they get paired with the most suitable recipient.  This past November, four PADS dogs visited Riverside.  We walked the halls and adjoining park, visited classrooms, and watched them interact with staff and students.  While I spent time with each of the dogs, PADS trainers observed the dogs’ behaviours and mine to determine which dog might be the best fit for me and the school.  They then visited my home and family, repeating the process of walking through our neighbourhood and observing our behaviours.  We eventually agreed that one of the dogs, a lovely black lab named Liege, would be the best partner and companion for me, my family, and Riverside.


Liege is a gentle, calm, 3 year old who offers a playful side to those who respond accordingly.  He handles with ease, the busy hallways of a school, noisiness of a gym, and energy of a secondary school.  What I’ve learned, is that he not only seems to be popular with students, but he is just as popular with staff.  There have been several occasions of staff walking into my office and laying down on the floor to cuddle up with Liege.  He is affectionate, tolerant, loving, and gentle.  He is a welcome relief for many of us during the hectic and stressful moments that occur in a school day.


I have been asked on several occasions what it is like to have a dog at work with me.  The truth is that while my day looks a little different than it used to, I have managed to fit Liege into my role.  He joins me in meetings, settles students when I need to have difficult conversations with them, and helps me get more connected.  He reminds me why I’m here by making students and staff the priority.  He forces me to step out of my office much more and be around the people that I am supposed to be serving.  Liege and I spend some time each day working on his training, just to ensure that he is keeping up with his fourty or so commands.  He can open and close doors, turn lights on/off, fetch, tug, and crawl.  He is able to follow chain commands, such as “Liege, Look, Get It, Hold, Bring it Here, Give.”  He enjoys learning new behaviours and is enthusiastic about following his command structure.  Proactively, we use Liege to bring a level of calmness to the building.  Giving students a chance to just say hello and give a welcome pet, or receive a “kiss” from Liege seems to bring out plenty of compassion from students.  We visit classes when students have tests to write to help lower their anxiety, or join  students have more difficulty handling changes to routines, or transitioning to a new situation, such as in Student Services.  We have taken part in psychology classes when students were learning about mindfulness or needed Liege to help decompress after a lesson that was very intense.  We are using Liege to work with students who are afraid of dogs, support students in counselling who are experiencing personal or socio-emotional issues, and have found him effective when working with students who have been reluctant to comply with a staff member’s request.


Liege has been a welcome member of our support team here at Riverside and a terrific companion at home.  We are incredibly fortunate to have the support of PADS and a district who allows us to utilize these service dogs to assist us in our classrooms and schools.  While it may not be easy knowing exactly what Liege has to say about his new job, he has made quite the impression on staff and students with his gentle, loving nature.

Posted in Culture | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

A Co-Design Process for Innovation


I believe candor is important, so let me start by stating my perspective on one of the key elements of change.  While I know it is valuable for educators and schools to focus on things such as assessment, curriculum, teaching strategies, classroom management, and child development (this by no means is the complete list of priorities in education), I believe the catalyst to our efficacy in all of these areas is culture.  The culture of an organization is a reflection of our thinking and being with respect to:

  • curiousity
  • experimentation
  • acceptance of failure
  • care and support
  • honesty
  • learning
  • pride

My view is that we can push the boundaries of what we are currently doing in education if the culture is right for us to innovate.  Under these conditions, we are open to new ways of assessing, teaching, understanding children, and working as a community to better this generation for a future that will look different than today.

This blog entry is a summary of our recent professional day as a staff on September 25.  The focus of this day was on designing innovation.  We used a Co-Design Process taken from a recent workshop by WellAhead attended by Pam Becker, our VP,  to understand, develop, and refine ideas that would be potential innovations.

We started the day with a short introduction.  The messages we wanted our staff to hear were that if we are to truly innovate, we need to suspend judgment of the ideas, encourage thinking outside the box, and avoid being consumed by potential barriers.  In essence, we need to give ourselves permission to dream as big as we want.  We also wanted them to know that they have our permission to fail; that in fact many innovations fail and that in this failure are sometimes the greatest opportunities for learning and growth.  If an idea is worthy of implementation, the potential success of that innovation will fuel us, give us a stronger sense of pride, and push us further to pursue the next innovation.

The first activity we asked of each other was to write on a post it note what innovation meant to us.  Here are some of the comments:


At our subsequent staff meeting, we organized these post it notes by themes.  The overarching ideas that emerged from that activity are another reminder of the key components necessary in any culture of innovation.  Even more importantly, these themes, as well as the Co-Design Model can be useful in teaching our students how to be innovators.  Here is a summary of the themes generated by staff:


We then started our Co-Design Process by outlining the Co-Design Ideation Principles (a set of guidelines for effectively innovating and working as a team):

Capture 3

With these ideation principles in mind, we launched into the innovative design process using our school goals to guide us.  Our school has two main goals or focus areas.  The first goal relates to developing community (relationships, care, compassion, sense of belonging, and positive school culture) and the second goal relates to technology (developing 21st century fluencies and a positive digital footprint).

Capture 2

The staff were asked to organize in groups of 6-8 people around one of these goals in order to begin our design process for innovation.  The Co-Design process starts with 4 key steps:

Idea Generation (the staff were asked to brainstorm as many ideas that related to the goal of their choosing and write each idea on a sticky note).  They then shared these ideas with a partner and chose one idea on which to focus.

Idea Development (the staff use a Co-Design worksheet to clarify their idea).  The worksheet then circulates amongst the group members in a round robin format so that each person can provide feedback on the idea.

Capture 4

Idea Refinement (the staff take the feedback from their colleagues to refine their idea)

Idea Desirablity (on a matrix, ideas were plotted to determine if they met all or most of the criteria for desirability, feasibility, impact, and integratability)


IMG_1693 large

Ideas that fell closest to the centre of the matrix (in essence the bulls eye) were seen as best fitting all criteria for innovation desirability.  This led to further discussion and reflection as each group ultimately worked to pick one key idea to present to the rest of the staff.  With twelve group ideas presented, staff members were then asked to regroup according to the ideas that most appealed to them.  These newly formed teams went through a second round of the Co-Design process to gather more feedback and to refine their ideas.  At a subsequent staff meeting, teams met again to reflect on their ideas and to assess whether they met the following four pillars for potential innovation:


  1. Human Element (Does it touch the heart?)
  2. Does it push the boundaries of what we believe to be true?
  3. Does it generate a feeling of energy for us or does it involve an emerging field?
  4. Does it utilize technology or 21st century skills?

The staff will continue to work on their potential innovations over the remainder of the year, refining, experimenting, and learning.  Our focus is on the design and culture of innovation as well as the collaboration that ensues.  I look forward to being on this journey with our team and am incredibly fortunate to work alongside such a passionate group of educators.

On a final note, our Department Heads and Admin Team organized the pro d for our staff, including the presentations and format for the day.  A special thanks to such an incredibly dedicated group of leaders who continually help us push the boundaries of what’s possible. (Jamie Askew, Pam Becker, Joni Blaxland, Jeremy Brown, Raquel Chin, Rob Colombo, Miriam Cyr, Bryan Gee, JJ Hyde, Paul Lemire, Bonnie Mattu, Carlo Muro, Jennifer Nelson, Jeremy Neufeld, Dave Romani)

Posted in Innovation | Leave a comment