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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Creating a Culture of Innovation

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As a school Principal, I often think about the actions we take and structures we create that provide the greatest impact on student learning and engagement.  In other words, if every school and educator implemented the best designs for formative assessment (assessment that drives learning) and summative assessment (assessment of learning), would we have an educational system that is the very best for each child?  How does an extensive toolkit of instructional strategies to engage students ensure that student learning has been achieved to a higher degree?  Can we motivate children if we do not have the quality of relationship with them that will allow our students to be guided by the educators or adults who teach them?  How much influence does our ability to manage our classrooms have on minimizing distractions in class or reducing transition times between activities to maximize learning and on-task behaviour?  How much do our own personalities and learning styles influence the way we teach and therefore the quality of learning our students experience in our classes?  At the core of everything we do as educators, how do our own belief systems, personal circumstances, cultures, and values influence the learning experience of our students?

There have been numerous studies in the field of education to try and deconstruct many of these questions with the hope of narrowing in on the number one thing we should do as educators to influence student achievement.  However, we know that student achievement is not the single indicator of a child’s success in life.  In fact, there is sufficient research that provides evidence that a person’s social and emotional well-being is more important to a child’s future opportunities than a child’s intellectual well-being.  The Ministry of Education in British Columbia is looking at our education system closely and attempting to address some of the challenges we have with our current model for educating children.  How do we ensure high expectations and quality teaching/learning without standardized assessments, such as final exams?  What are the competencies that most benefit students as they learn particular curriculum content?  How do we provide feedback to children and parents that gives our learners and their support systems more insight into their growth and development over time?  Our current system tells us that our child may be getting a “B” in class, but what does this really mean and how does this provide us with direction on where to focus our resources?  At what stages of development should learning change from reflexive or automatic, such as the syntax for reading, arithmetic, and writing and move to more reflective learning in which we want our students to critically think about solutions that may be more open-ended and abstract.  At what stages should learning be more directed by the teacher and when should the learning be more independent and driven by the student?

Rather than write a lengthy response to each of the questions above, I will focus my writing for this blog entry on what I believe to be the critical component that sits at the root of all of these questions.  While I recognize that assessment, instructional strategies, classroom management, personalities, and learning styles are critical to the effectiveness of any class setting, I believe that systemic effectiveness (success throughout an entire school, district, or province) needs to take into account the culture in which we operate.  My experiences have taught me that there is a readiness or willingness on the part of educators to deepen their effectiveness in the areas I’ve mentioned above when they feel that they are part of a culture that values risk taking, play, and innovation.  More importantly though is that this culture tolerates failure with the recognition that this is the nature of learning and we will become more effective over time.  This culture celebrates collaboration and teamwork as well as trust, care, and support for one another.  The culture is one in which we can be honest, but not personal, critical, but not pessimistic, solution oriented, but not pathological.

This culture takes time to develop and it starts with our leaders.  Our leaders must give permission to play, create, innovate, and take risks.  They must be seen as risk takers and innovators themselves.  Strategically, we know that small wins increase our willingness to take more risks and greater risks.  We learn to see that small wins and especially our failures teach us important things to move us forward.  We know that data or evidence is important in helping us determine what a successful innovation would look like and whether the innovation is worth keeping.  Furthermore, we value innovation within the context of coherence….the innovations are connected to the goals or vision of our school.

Approximately three months ago, I had the privilege to meet with Brian Coupland, the Director of Innovation for Staples.  He is an interesting man with extensive experiences consulting with many of the top companies across North America.  I was inspired by a comment he made to me during our meeting.  He asked me how much failure I would be willing to accept as a school leader that values innovation.  Immediately, my mind raced.  In the world of social sciences and educating young minds, how much failure is acceptable and can this failure have detrimental effects on our children?  How might we manage failure in order to limit or mitigate risk?  He then told me that most very successful companies will accept that only 10-20% of their innovations are successful, because they also know that these successes are what enable corporations to thrive and surpass organizations who take a much more cautious approach.  There is a realization on the part of the leaders in these companies that applied learning comes from failure and that failure is part of an iterative process towards success.  The approach to innovation is often pragmatic and thoughtful.  It involves small scale experimentation or trials with feedback and possible upscaling until there is enough evidence that the innovation is worthy of large scale implementation.  While this approach may take more time to implement, it inherently manages the risk.  In many ways, this has been our approach to moving to a 1:1 Bring Your Own Device Model for all our current grade 9 students.  We started with pilots, learned about what worked and didn’t work.  We upscaled to our current grade nines and are recognizing where we are seeing successes and where we need to make refinements.  We will work towards a large scale implementation that will be school wide by 2016.  The reality is that organizations must continually innovate within a culture of risk taking, failure, and learning.  Organizations who do the same thing day in and day out will eventually fall behind because someone else out there is creating better ideas, better products, and better services.  In this global market, it does not take long for a consumer to go elsewhere, especially in a digital world where the choices are endless and accessible.

In many ways, schools are no different.  With on-line schools and open boundaries, parents are often looking for the type of education that they believe will fit best for their child.  When we look at the number of international students studying in Canada and around the world, we realize that parents are not only willing to change schools within a district or between districts, but they are also willing to send their children to a different country in pursuit of a better education.  As a parent, my children are my greatest investment and I am willing to do whatever I can to give them the best chances for a successful life.  I think about this when reflecting on what we need to do at Riverside to ensure that our learners are prepared for a future of unknown possibilities and that this world is so much more than reading, writing, and arithmetic.  And while learning outcomes in our courses are important to me, it is even more important that we create a culture that explicitly and implicitly tells our learners we want them to play, create, innovate, be curious, and be inspired.  We are developing a next generation of innovators and problem solvers to tackle some of the greatest challenges our world has ever faced and this requires a mindshift in the way we educate our children.  If we are not developing a culture which promotes and supports innovation and creativity, I believe we are stifling the strengths and desires within each child and educator to see the possibilities and successes which lie ahead.  And in a world of unknowns, this to me is critical.  As Michael Fullen once said, “Everyone wants to be part of a success story.”  Build the culture and the success will come.

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Implementing a Large Scale Digital 1:1 Learning Environment

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Firstly, I want to take a moment to welcome all the new families and students to Riverside Secondary School.  This blog is one of my communication tools for you, educators, and other professionals who are interested in the changing world of education.  I hope you find it informative and interesting.  My hope is to share with you some of the things we are currently doing at Riverside, as well as our ideas and plans for the future.

I have written in the past on our intention to move to a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) model, enabling us to have a digital 1:1 learning environment.  We are now in our fourth week of implementing this model with our 345 grade nine students, making this a large upscaling project from the pilots we ran last year.

I would like to share what we have learned and experienced in these first four weeks as I believe it will provide the insight and guidance for schools considering a multi-platform, BYOD model.  I also want to emphasize that while there is plenty of troubleshooting that is required to get something like this off the ground, there is a signficant support system for staff and students.  This support we have provided is in the way of District and Site Based IT (network monitoring, access, and troubleshooting, creation of Virtual Classrooms with teacher in service, Creation of Office 365 accounts and in-service for all students and staff, Thursday tech talks to address specific tech issues with staff), classroom support through a full-time LIF position that is shared between two teachers (provide technical support in the classroom for staff and students, collaborate with staff on integrating technology to support and enhance learning, ensure effective transitioning for grade nine students), a teacher site contact who is available for one block per day to provide further technical support to staff and students, and weekly team meetings to address challenges and share successes.

There are two key components to our BYOD model.  The first is in developing a level of digital proficiency so that students and teachers are able to use their devices effectively to do simple tasks, such as accessing our network, Office 365 accounts, and content on Virtual Classrooms (teacher web-site), downloading pdfs, annotating or typing on pdfs, saving pdfs to Skydrive, creating documents in Office 365 and other apps, sharing documents, embedding code, creating blogs and wiki spaces, and creating a file management system in the cloud.  Our experience in the pilots have suggested that this process will take 4-6 weeks for all staff and students to feel a level of comfort and proficiency in these areas.  At four weeks in, we are seeing that the majority of staff and students have addressed the technical components and are transitioning to the second key component of our BYOD model.

The second key component of our BYOD model is how we utilize the technology to enhance student learning.  Our staff are developing lessons and units that promote creativity, collaboration, problem solving, media fluency, and research.

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Furthermore, we are utilizing opportunities that integrate technology with developing digital citizens who understand how to protect privacy, create and publish, build social networks, and act ethically.

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Over the next few months, I intend to share stories of the exciting work our staff our doing with students to further engage them in the learning process and deepen their thinking about the curriculum in which they are uncovering.  This team of educators is very innovative, adaptable, flexible, and determined.  They get motivated by challenges, enjoy collaborating with their colleagues, and recognize that the possibilities are endless for integrating the technology to make learning more relevant to students.  My point in sharing this is that a culture of risk-taking, collaboration, commitment, and innovation is critical for any school choosing to journey down this path.  This culture must get supported by a strong and flexible IT team, solid IT infrastructure, a supportive and collegial network to handle all the troubleshooting that is needed, and coherent vision for what we are trying to accomplish with the technology.

In a recent professional day, I asked our team of grade 9 teachers what is currently working in our digital environment.  Here is a summary of what they said:

  • Students are troubleshooting, sharing ideas, and helping one another with their devices.  It is building competency for students across the different device platforms in the classroom.
  • Friday has become a day to free up students from the curriculum by focusing on play, creativity, innovation, and sharing.  We are using this as an opportunity to learn from one another, collaborate, and explore different tools.
  • Students have more voice into what they are learning and how they are learning it.  They have some investment into the teacher’s Virtual Classroom.  They submit viral videos for their classmates to see.  It draws them into our web-site and gives them an opportunity to contribute to the class in a different way.
  • The support from IT, LIF teachers, and colleagues has been very helpful in building capacity and alleviating anxiety.
  • It is helpful to quickly see what students are producing.  We can get work sent to us digitally anytime, from anywhere so that we can see how the students are doing.  It’s nice to have a digital copy of what students have produced.  We can imagine an archive of student work over their high school years that will show progress in learning and thinking.
  • Opening and saving documents through Adobe Pro 9 before uploading to our Virtual Classrooms is great so that students can open these documents to annotate or type on them on any device.
  • Student Services has a better idea of what we are all doing in our classrooms because they can go to our Virtual Classrooms to see what the students are learning.
  • Students have become leaders with the technology.  This has enabled some students to shine who would not normally get recognized.
  • No more large, heavy textbooks.
  • Wikis and blogs minimize the need to submit emails to teachers because these can be run through RSS feeds into readers for the teacher.
  • Students are developing a toolbox or backpack of digital tools to assist them with their learning.

So, what have been some of the challenges we’ve experience so far?  Well, the truth is, in a BYOD model, we have several different types of devices in a classroom and they all operate differently, making some things frustrating for staff and students.  Currently, 87% of students have brought a tablet device, while 13% brought a laptop.  Laptops are fairly simple to navigate in that they typically have a hard drive which allows for easy file management, storage, and workflow.  However, most laptops do not have touch screens, nor do they allow students to write on them.  For most laptops, the app world is not available.  Where things get very interesting is with the devices.  We have students who have brought in Samsungs (Notes and Tabs), Ipads, Surfaces, Asus, and other types of tablets.  Each one of these devices has different apps available through the app store and operates differently depending on the operating system.  Some devices can open up PDFs enabling students to write on them, while other devices cannot without the PDF first being opened and saved through Adobe Pro 9.  We also noticed that some devices easily integrate with Skydrive (cloud storage) in Office 365 and others…not so much.  File management is not so simple as storage is in the cloud.  Some browsers easily communicate with our Virtual Classrooms to download documents and other browsers do not.  We (staff and students) have found solutions to many of the challenges we’ve encountered, but it has certainly added a level of complexity to the classroom that didn’t exist before.  We are in the process of surveying our students to ensure that they are all able to navigate the technical components that are needed to move forward with their learning.  Our LIF teachers will provide 1:1 support to those students who are still struggling with certain components of their devices.

I am very pleased with the progress of this project so far.  While there are still some challenges to work through, I am impressed by the level of engagement and  learning that is occurring so early on in this initiative.  These students are well on their way to creating a positive digital footprint that they will carry with them to future employment and education opportunities.

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Building a Compassionate and Caring Community


This past September, the staff at Riverside identified two key focus areas for the school. Upon reflection of our vision, and working from our strengths, we felt that our identity is in a large part based on our desire to innovate and our obligation to care for one another.  While it is one thing to identify areas of focus, it is another to develop common understanding, school wide strategies, and plans for implementation.

My intent in this blog is to highlight the start of our journey as we work towards further developing a caring and compassionate community.  Although there are many things we do in schools to build belonging, connectedness, and relationships, we tend not to be as explicit about developing mental health or social and emotional well-being.  Yet, many of the challenges we deal with in secondary schools related to bullying, substance use, or chronic absenteeism connect in some way with concerns around mental health or social and emotional well-being (SEL).  For this reason, our staff have made mental health and SEL the topics for our initial discussions toward achieving a caring and compassionate community.

On May 17th, our staff engaged in a professional day organized by our pro-d committee that targeted our goal of building a caring and compassionate community. The probing questions for the day were:

1. What do we understand about mental illnesses/health?

2. How does mental health impact student learning?

3. How do we support students with mental illnesses?

4. How do we promote positive mental health for our students and ourselves?

We started the day with a powerful presentation by Elizabeth Bancroft, one of our teachers and three of our students who shared their speeches from our recent Spoken Word Festival.  The student speeches eloquently identified the struggles with mental health issues such as cutting and suicide.  They reminded us of the day-to-day struggles that some of our students experience.  We admire the courage and resiliency of our students; the belief that perseverance will bring them better days ahead, yet we can’t help but wonder if there is anything more we could do to assist them through the most difficult times.  As educators, we feel compelled to support our students, care for them, and help them see the possibilities that may exist down the road.  However, mental illness has the potential to interfere with a child and family’s hopes and dreams, sometimes with very little warning.  With statistics indicating that 1 in 5 people will suffer from a mental illness, there is a very real possibility that our children or their friends will experience some very difficult personal struggles.

Building a caring and compassionate community means that we create opportunities for students and staff to talk about mental health.  Specifically, we should be able to speak openly about mental illness, the challenges associated with these illnesses, how to respond when someone is experiencing a mental illness, and what we can do to improve our mental health.  We talk about living a balanced life, but we do little to model or teach this to our children.  Our children occupy their minds with so many thoughts that they want to share, yet they worry about being judged for these thoughts or feelings.  They don’t want to disappoint or scare us.  Being effective at helping children understand mental health means that we become better at listening to what they are saying…and what is not being said.  Our children can tell us a lot by their silence and non-verbal cues.

Creating a culture of trust and openness in which students are willing to share their thoughts and feelings takes time.  While I would like to believe that by the very nature of our position as educators, children should automatically trust us, I know that this is not the case.  Youth are cautious when it comes to relationships with adults.  They want to trust us, but they need to know that we are trust “worthy”.  In order to build a culture of care and compassion, we must value and create a trusting school environment that is:

  • Safe
  • Caring
  • Well managed
  • Participatory

The rich discussions and conversations that we have with children can only happen once students believe that the environment allows them to expose their vulnerabilities, without persecution or judgement.  Once our actions are reflected in the environment we seek to create, students will begin to accept the guidance, coaching, and teaching necessary for them to look within.  What does it mean for a child to look within, to better understand themselves within the context of a group or community?  How do our children develop effective and healthy preventative and responsive systems to deal with stress?

In a recent workshop with Miriam Miller, a researcher at UBC working with the Social and Emotional Learning Framework (Visit for more information), she discussed the importance of teaching students to be competent in the areas of:

  • Self management
  • Self awareness
  • Responsible decision-making (social responsibility)
  • Relationship skills
  • Social awareness


She indicated that when social and emotional learning is taught explicitly in schools, we see improvements to social emotional skills, improved attitudes about self, peers, and school, improved classroom behaviour, and 11% gains in achievement.  Furthermore, there is a decrease in conduct issues, aggressive behaviour, and emotional distress (anxiety and depression).  There is signficant benefit in working with our children to be proficient within the SEL framework, both to students and the culture of schools.

In order for us to understand the social and emotional health of our school, we have started to gather data from our grade 9 students in conjunction with Miriam Miller to look at factors such as sense of belonging, relationships, collective efficacy, pro-social behaviours, social responsibility, and bullying.  This data will assist us with the conversations and actions to better support the well-being of our students.  Moreover, the health and well-being of our students is reflected in the health and well-being of our schools and communities.  I am looking forward to the results of this study as they will be helpful in determining our next steps in achieving our goal of building a caring and compassionate community.

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Riverside Partners with Samsung to Launch Samsung School

A couple of blog posts ago, I shared the results of one of our 1:1 pilots we ran in semester 1. In that post, I also indicated that we were going to start another pilot, but I would share the details of that pilot at a later date. Well, I am finally able to say that Riverside is the first school in Canada to partner with Samsung and launch Samsung School. We have been working with Samsung School in a physics 11 class since the end of January 2013. While we have played with numerous devices and ecosystems over the past several years, what Samsung School does is offer a management solution that brings seamless integration and convergence to a safe and secure environment.

In our pilot, we have been using 31 Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1’s, a 65 inch digital e-Board, dedicated server, and Samsung School software. What I like about Samsung School is that it is designed around an ecosystem that recognizes the importance of collaboration. Students can share screens with each other or the teacher. The teacher has the ability to view any student’s screen from the teacher’s device to see how students are doing and what they are working on. The teacher is also able to interact with that student via his or her device with the simple touch of a button. With the touch of another button, that student is able to project what is on his or her screen to the main e-Board for everyone else to see. This means that a teacher is able to respond faster to a student who may be struggling or off task, as well as promote a classroom culture where students become teachers and experts. Imagine the quiet or not so quiet student who takes their seat at the back of the classroom, hoping to “hide” from the teacher in order to cover up any difficulties they may have. Now, the teacher is able to recognize when this particular student needs immediate support and provide this support in a very non-intrusive way. The solution also builds in a polling feature. There are many apps that do this, but this feature is built into the software. Again, what I like is that students are able to be more honest about what they do and don’t understand than in the traditional classroom where a teacher may ask for hands or thumbs up. The software also allows teachers to create and post quizzes or tests, push out content, notifications or messages to the entire class, lock screens, bring in relevant apps, track attendance, and keep a markbook. In essence, the solution is bringing what many of us are doing with several different pieces of third party software into one location.

Samsung has thought about the solution from both the teaching and learning perspectives. While the solution is focussed on building an interactive classroom that is efficient (intended to accelerate learning) and secure (a fairly enclosed ecosystem so no worries about FOIPPA), it also takes in mind the importance of immediate feedback, increased student responsibility, and increased ability of the teacher to monitor what students are doing with their devices during the times that students are assigned to their Samsung School Class. What I also appreciate about Samsung School is that it still enables teachers and students to move beyond the software into the full capability of the Galaxy Note where students can access further apps, expand their research, utilize social media, create and publish content, Skype with peers and experts, and take advantage of the S-Pen technology, which is the best stylus and app I have seen on the market. In this 1:1 environment, students are able to take their learning beyond the classroom to any space, any time, in a variety of ways. From the screen casting apps, to share understanding of solutions or ideas, to the documentation of learning through video, photo, or other digital recordings, we are better able to gain insights into the thinking and learning process of our students. We are no longer as interested in the final product as we are about the journey to the destination. This is exciting as it enables us to be better at identifying misconceptions, typical content or skill areas where students often struggle, or recognizing the depth and breadth of a child’s understanding.

Riverside will be moving to a 1:1 environment for all grade nines next year. Currently, we have a team of approximately 18 teachers who will lead this initiative. This group meets weekly to share ideas regarding digital fluencies, content development, infrastructure and device fluency, security, assessment, and teaching/learning strategies that will reshape our current mindset for how we educate children. The knowledge we are gaining from our pilots, research, and experiences will assist us in ensuring that we deliver a learning experience to students that is engaging, enriching, exciting, and authentic. Our challenge is to prepare our students for a future filled with possibilities and opportunities that do not yet exist. In speaking with a group of students at Riverside, President and CEO of Samsung Canada, HT Kim, said, “We are looking for those who are unique, different, creative. We want people who can innovate.” As Will Richardson says in his recent article in Educational Leadership (Vol. 70, No. 6), “Learning is now truly participatory in real-world contexts…where learners outside school walls can converse, create, and publish authentic, meaningful, beautiful work.” In this educational setting, the walls are blurred as learning happens everywhere at any time with anyone, teachers are learners, learners are teachers, learning is about inquiry, and collaboration is the norm. This is an incredible time to be an educator and a learner.

Riverside will begin a series of Open Houses to share what we have learned about Samsung School. Anyone interested in attending one of these sessions can rsvp to or The demo days are scheduled for April 9, April 30, and May 29. Space is limited. All seats have been filled for April 9th, but we are now taking registrations for the other two sessions. I hope you can join teacher, Deb Nordheimer, myself, Adam Rogers from Samsung, and some of our wonderful students involved in this pilot!

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