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

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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.

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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):

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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).

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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.

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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)


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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)

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Parenting in the 21st century

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As a parent of two adolescents, I often think about how best to raise my children.  I can sometimes see my father or mother’s parenting techniques finding their way in my own beliefs on how best to raise children.  What has become very apparent to me is that no two children are the same and while role modeling and instilling values are critical components to a child’s healthy upbringing, there are many other variables that contribute to their overall development.

It seems to me that we are witnessing an era in which anxiety and depression, as well as other mental health issues are on the rise.  According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, mental disorders in youth are ranked as the second highest hospital care expenditure in Canada.  Currently, 1 in 5 Canadians suffer from some kind of mental health issue.  Perhaps humans have always had this rate of anxiety and depression, but it appears that the ways in which our children are coping with these challenges is changing.  From signficant avoidance in the way of chronic school non-attendance, low motivation, lack of focus, to increased aggression and counterwill, substance use, cutting, suicidal ideation or attempts, and engagement in other high risk activities, some of our youth today are displaying concerning behaviours.

Over the past year, Riverside staff have been exploring ways in which we enable our students to develop socially, emotionally, and personally.  Our goal has been to further promote and develop a caring and compassionate community, using the Social Emotional Learning Framework as a tool to guide us.  Two weeks ago, I attended a session with Colleen Drobot, a counsellor who has been trained under Dr. Gordon Neufeld.  Colleen provided us with insight into the importance of attachment and relationships with our children, understanding that many of the challenges we see in our kids today (attention, anxiety, counterwill) are rooted in their connection, or lack thereof to adults.  Over the next few months, we, along with the staff at Pitt River Middle School, will bring Colleen back to meet with us so that we can better understand the needs of our students, how best to meet those needs, and how family and other key adults play critical roles in the development and growth of our children.

Attachment is the drive or relationship that is characterized by the pursuit and preservation of proximity.  In other words, it is our desire to stay close to one another, to be emotionally and physically connected.  The purpose in having our children attached to us is that it makes our children more receptive to being taught, cared for, and guided by us.  It allows us to act with natural authority (clear family hierarchy), creates a sense of comfort and retreat in our home, evokes their desire to be good for those attached to, and acts as a shield to protect our children from becoming too wounded by the outside world.  Children who are attached to key adults in their world move through the appropriate developmental stages (emergence, integration, adaptation).  In emergence, our children show curiousity and interest in learning.  They learn to think for themselves, value uniqueness and differences, and seek to be their own person.  During integration, our children learn to contrast their impulsive feelings or wants with their emotions.  In other words, they begin to understand that a desire may have consequences or that having courage in some situations is contrasted with foolishness in others.  At this stage, our children begin to show self-control, work towards goals, be patient when frustrated, understand fairness, and be capable of cooperating with others.  They show concern for themselves while caring about the needs of others.  During adaptation, our children learn not to erupt in aggression when frustrated, to accept limits and restrictions, realize the futility of a course of action, benefit from adversity, recover from loss or trauma, and learn from mistakes and failure.  They learn to go from mad to sad and it is often the acceptance of a situation that leads them to renewed emergent energy and adaptation.  Our children must learn how to adapt and become resilient if they are to thrive in our society.

So, what are some things we can do as parents and key adults to help our children develop?  First and foremost, connect with our children.  Be present for them and be aware of nonverbal cues (eye contact, smile, openness, nonjudgmental, nonthreatening).  Let them know in words and actions that they can depend on you.  Protect your child’s dignity.  Inspire trust and invite dependence.  Independence will come with time and healthy development.  Realize that there may be other key adults who can be a part of your child’s life (grandparent, coach, etc).  Build a village for your child.  Provide more than what is pursued (your child asks for a hug, give them two).  Provide guidance, but let children problem solve with you to better understand healthy ways to make decisions and make positive choices.

Parenting is no easy task, but it is the greatest gift to our children.  If your child begins to engage in behaviours that have you concerned, schools have staff available to assist.  From counsellors, youthworkers, administrators, educational assistants, and teachers, there are plenty of people who can offer support or resources to ensure that your children and our children are able to lead healthy and successful lives.  It takes a village to raise a child.  Let’s develop a sense of community that tells our children we are collectively contributing to their development and well-being.



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A Community of Children and Adults Learning Together


Engaging staff and students in school or system wide change is a challenging endeavour.  Change can start from the bottom up or top down.  It often requires resources in the way of time, money, and people.  Any new initiative needs support for training and capacity building to ensure that staff and students feel capable of implementing and navigating a new reality.  Change requires an understanding of the why, how, when, where, and who.  Within any organization, we know that there are people who are mavericks, early adopters, and risk takers.  They are comfortable with the messiness that is often involved in implementing something new.  In fact, some people thrive on this and see it as an opportunity to create, play, and problem solve.  Others are more cautious.  They want to understand the implications behind a new initiative and see that it has some merits before jumping on board.  This next group of implementors prefer the fine tuning process of an initiative.  They adopt late, but implement with further depth and analysis.  While sometimes critical or even skeptical, these later adopters help us get closer to successfully implementing a change that was at one point simply an idea.  They remind us that we cannot make assumptions about our process for implementation or that everyone is comfortably embracing the new change.  I always appreciate how these individuals get us to think deeply about why we are doing something new or how it will make a difference.

Riverside started a digital 1:1 initiative this year in which all grade nine students brought a tablet or laptop to school.  This was initiated by our staff in the fall of 2012 as we explored the skills that we believe are necessary for our students to thrive in this 21st century.  This dedicated group of educators has been working as a team; meeting every Wednesday morning to problem solve, share ideas, and plan for up-scaling this initiative to include grade tens next year.  They continue to refine their practice and understanding of how to use technology as a tool for teaching and learning.  I am inspired by their level of commitment, desire to learn new skills, and willingness to work through every obstacle they encounter.  These teachers  are incredible lead learners.

Next year, we will add 30 students to our team to help us deepen our understanding of how technology can enhance the learning experiences for our learners.  This Riverside Tech Squad will explore new ways for using technology in the classroom, support students, and assist our learners in using the technology to build more coherence between our digital and physical worlds.  This learning process is a partnership between children and adults.  Our staff have been learning from students and students have been learning from our staff.  As many of our teachers have indicated, in order to teach in this type of environment, we need to be comfortable letting go of our belief that we are the experts in everything that occurs in our classrooms.  Students will come in with strengths in areas, such as using a piece of software or an app, learning a shortcut on their device, or creating media presentations that surpass the knowledge base of our teachers.  This provides an opportunity for empowering our students to showcase their skills, share their knowledge, and get recognized for their strengths and passions.

This year, we decided to create a short documentary on our first year of 1:1 implementation as a way to hear what staff and students have experienced in this learning environment.  With the help of two remarkable grade 12 students, Matthew Young and Kyle Murdoch, we were able to interview and capture some of the thoughts and reflections of those directly involved in this digital environment.  Matthew and Kyle spent countless hours interviewing, filming, editing, and consulting with several staff and students.  They didn’t do this for money or anything extrinsic, other than the love and enjoyment of creating films.  Matthew and Kyle are a perfect example of students who have blended some coursework in art and photography with their own self-taught experiences so that they can produce remarkable pieces of work, such as the one you are about to view.  In fact, they even spent a day shadowing a company that was doing some filming here for a Staples conference, just so that they could learn more from experts in the field.  These two young men are passionate, determined, and dedicated.  Enjoy their work!



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Underestimating the Potential in Our Children

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There has been a large amount of discussion amongst educators regarding teacher centred and student centred learning environments.  Recently, our admin team snickered as we thought about elementary students leading their parents through student-lead conferences and then transitioning to secondary school to find out that they are no longer part of the conversation in parent-teacher conferences.  This seems strange.  Why would we have a system that is intended to build more independency and autonomy with age, yet give less responsibility and voice in the learning process as students transition from elementary or middle to secondary?

In our recent staff meeting, we spent some time discussing how we are using student self-assessment in our classrooms.  How are we teaching students to recognize quality learning?  How are we encouraging conversations between our students and parents about the learning that takes place in and out of school?  Where is the gradual release of dependency for students as they move through our system?  Why aren’t students present in parent-teacher interviews?  It was interesting to hear about the different strategies that staff are incorporating into their lessons to ensure that students have a greater stake in their learning.

Last week, we held a meeting for the parents of our incoming grade nines to present what we are doing with digital technology at Riverside and to encourage students to come to school with a device.  We were fortunate to have over 30 students volunteer their time to share with parents how they are using their devices for learning, what they like and don’t like about their devices, and their overall experience using the technology to deepen their learning.  While I presented to half of our parents, the other half toured four stations to interact with our students.  I must say that the highlight of the evening was the interactions between the parents and students.  Imagine grade nines pulling up their Edublogs to show how they demonstrate their learning, discussing their file management system to stay organized, showcasing some of their creative works, and speaking about how they collaborate with their peers in and out of the classroom to support one another.  The students were terrific.  They showed their enthusiasm, honesty, and passion.  It reminded me that we don’t tap into them nearly as much as we should.

Two weeks earlier, a few of us made a visit to Thomas Haney Secondary and Fraser Heights Secondary to learn more about what they do to empower their students to take more responsiblity for their learning.  We heard about student-lead conferences, portfolios, flexible learning schedules, personalized learning, and cross competencies.  We were curious as to how secondary schools were implementing some of these ideas.  It was great to see schools who have turned these conceptions into action and we enjoyed the conversations with staff as we shared stories together.  If we want students to be more invested in their own education, we need to release some of the control and be flexible in when, how, what, and where students learn.

It has become apparent to us that developing citizens to thrive in this 21st century requires us to realize the potential in our children.  We often underestimate what they are capable of achieving.  I enjoy watching school plays, seeing artwork, reading poetry, watching students experiment, witnessing the determination of winning a provincial championship, or sharing in the eloquence of a child’s spoken word.  I get inspired by their depth of thinking as they analyze current and historical events, create videos and photographs that elicit strong emotions within, or design objects that demonstrate the innovative nature of our learners.  It is a privilege to watch our students learn and a joy to see their pride when they showcase their learning to others.  It’s time to hand over the reins and enable our students to take more ownership in their learning.  We need to let the world see that our young citizens of today have a tremendous amount to offer.

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