Thursday, September 22, 2011

Making music magic happen in the classroom, my dad the music teacher

When it became apparent that my time with my father was getting near the end I began thinking about all of the things that made my dad amazing.  There were two faces to my dad, the head of the Collins household and the music teacher at Van Tech. I am not ready to write about my dad on a personal level yet, but I thought I could write about him as a teacher. He was an incredibly talented musician, one who could listen to a song on a tape a few times and then go to the piano and play it.  For 35 years my dad passionately taught music to grade 8-12 students at a school on the east side of Vancouver at a school called Vancouver Technical Secondary (Van Tech). 

When he passed away on September 18th, 2011 I decided to set up a memorial page in his name on Facebook, hoping to get a few stories about a side of him that I did not get to see much.  I was not sure what would the response be as he retired nearly 10 years ago.  I have been blown away by the response of former students and I would like to thank them for taking the time to remember my dad, as all I now have are memories.  Many of the stories that have been shared are personal and have brought a lot of joy to my family as we always knew he was a special person.

My dad never sought attention, limelight and did not like to be the center of attention.  His focus was always on his students.  I would often see him sitting at his workbench with a collection of tapes listening to music that his students had given him to listen to and consider using in his class.  My dad taught me a long time ago that in order for students to be motivated to participate in classes they have to be interested in what is happening.  He chose music that would engage his students, and created a classroom environment that made students want to come. 

He had over 300 students taking in his choir classes every year.  All he asked was that you give it your all.  His classroom was always open at lunch and students would come in and spend their lunchtime singing. My dad would record himself playing songs requested by his students who wanted to practice certain songs or enter competitions.  If he could play the song on the piano and the lyrics were acceptable he was game.  Students loved coming to his class.

His memorial page after about 48 hours has over 130 people.  Words that keep coming up are passion, energy, kindness, welcoming, enthusiasm, belonging, joy and respect.  Students from years ago can still name the songs that they sung.  The funny part of that is that the very songs they mention are the ones I remember my dad playing on his stereo at home.  I remember his playing the Phantom of the Opera over and over again.  I remember giving him the Proclaimers tape and I also remember the Lion King.  These are just some of the songs mentioned by former students.

Former students credit him for becoming teachers.  Others would invite him to their weddings because of how important he had been to them.  Others were naming songs that make them think of my dad every time they hear them.  So many students commented on the connection that my dad seemed to be able to make with so many students.  Every time I bumped into a former student of his they would ask me to say hi to him.  I would pass on the message and my dad 9/10 would remember the student and also name any siblings the students had.  When he could not immediately remember the student he would immediately go and grab a yearbook, find them and then be able to tell me a story about that student which I would pass on when I would see that student again.  He loved his job, his students and his school and his memorial page shows that.

This all brings me to ask a crucial question- if you had a memorial page, what would your former students write about you?  What would they remember?  What words would they use to describe you?  Something to think about as you prepare your next day’s lessons.  Is your class one that students would be able to passionately describe 10 years later?  How about 20?  How about 40?  If not, why not?  What could you do differently?  How are you going to be remembered?

Please feel free to visit his memorial page and see what an amazing teacher he was
I miss him so much, but I am glad that his memory lives on in so many people.  Thank you.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Teaching Social Responsibility with Musicals

There are many ways that as educators we look at ways of working with children on self-regulation, social responsibility and bullying.  We tend to bring in artificial scenarios that the kids cannot relate to, blatantly obvious situations that the kids see right away but rarely happen in real life or we preach.  If the only time these lessons are taught is a contrived environment we risk losing them.

A few weeks ago I went to see Wicked with a friend of mine and had a chance to talk about all the different musicals we saw.  There is something about a good musical, the way the music just captivates you.  There are 3 musicals that really stand out for me for a variety of reasons.  The first is Les Miserables, I love the story first and foremost, and I am in the process of reading the novel by Victor Hugo again.  The second one is Wicked and the third one is Hairspray.

Les Miserables is an amazing story of personal transformation by a man who finally had someone believe in him.  The change in Jean Valjean when he is brought back to the Bishop's residence with the silver that he had stolen.  It is during this part that it comes to one of my favourite literacy moments:

The Bishop drew near to him, and said in a low voice:--
"Do not forget, never forget, that you have promised to use this money in becoming an honest man."
Jean Valjean, who had no recollection of ever having promised anything, remained speechless. The Bishop had emphasized the words when he uttered them. He resumed with solemnity:--
"Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God."

This leads to the amazing change in Jean Valjean from hardened criminal to heartened citizen. He becomes an upstanding citizen who never forgot the opportunity he was given.  There were times where he could have faltered but did not.  In the end he ends up making the lives of those around him better, because someone gave him a chance and believed in him. 
This clip takes you from his time in prison to his meeting with the bishop.
The clip shows you the new Jean Valjean and the way he is still viewed by the police officer.

Wicked was a musical that I saw for the first time at the end of June.  It was an interesting look into school life.  The way it delves into relationships, bullying, friendships, perceptions, seeing the person for who they are on the insider and many other lessons we try to instill in our students is remarkable.  There are so many rich conversations that could be had because of it.
A great clip from the musical of Elphaba standing her ground.

Hairspray is another great story that explores relationships on so many levels.  The story takes place in 1962 and delves into body image, racial relations, separation and segregation and again seeing the good in people, not just how good they look.  The ending of the musical is quite powerful and a heck of a lot of fun.

Great music, wonderful story lines, amazing life lessons and fantastic opportunities to discuss choices, acceptance, inclusion and giving people a chance.  A fun learning environment through music, why not?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

School did a good thing

I was reading Lyn's post on reading which was inspired by@thenerdyteacher's #schooldidagoodthing idea and I thought that I would add my own.  I was really lucky to have many wonderful teachers in my school life, whether it be at elementary, secondary or university.  The ones who really stood out for me were the science teachers, or the teachers who loved science.  My Grade 5, teacher, M Raoul, loved science and I am pretty sure that he was the teacher that gave me the bug for loving science.  Now, I will be honest, some of this may gross you out, but here comes the story.

He was very much a teacher who liked to let us explore science.  We got to eat it, live it and breath it.  At one point he brought in pigs' stomachs for the class to cut open and look inside the contents.  I loved it!  We had containers where we emptied the contents to look at the different stages of digestion which he lined up.  He brought the science from the text book and the sheets of paper to life.  It was awesome!  I know some of my classmates did not feel quite the same way I did because some seemed to turn a nice shade of green and had to leave the room, but I felt I was in my element.  We also looked at other animal organs and got to dissect those as well.  He was always so  passionate about everything that he taught. There was no doubt in my my that he was favourite teacher, and even some thirty years later, left a memory that is still fresh in my mind.

Merci M Raoul.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The politics of politics

On Monday May 2nd Canada went to the polls and for the first time in around 7 years Canada has a majority government.  If you are unfamiliar with the structure of Canadian Parliament, there is information here that may be useful for you.  Pretty quickly after the polls were closed in British Columbia the results started to be broadcasted and were becoming clear rather quickly.  While I must confess up front that it was not my party of choice that was elected, it was interesting reading the comments on Twitter, many of them negative about the results.

There was frustration with the fact that a party would have a majority of the seats despite the fact that they only had around 40% of the popular vote.  There was frustration with the feeling that at times voters were not voting for someone they agreed with politically but rather who would have the best chance of beating the person they least wanted in.  Many comments were directed around that BC seemed to have little effect on the overall results because of time difference.  There were also the usual outbursts of corruptness, ethics, personalities and so on.

I am not enough of an expert on the different possible ways that voting can happen, but in every system there is a flaw.  Some systems by design limit the amount of choice someone has when voting, others give rise to parties who may have extreme points of views and others require multiple voting which is taxing on people's time and the countries financial resources.  No system is perfect.  My frustration revolves around what politics appear to have become. An incredible financial, ethical and environmental disaster.

The environmental one is staggering.  How many times are the leaders in an airplane or a bus going from one town to another, one province to another. Towards the end of the campaign the leaders of the different parties seem to spend a ridiculous amount of time flying all over.  I wonder if they have to pay a carbon tax?  The signs that are posted on lawns, abandoned properties and meridians all over the place all need to be thrown out.  What kind of message are we sending to kids with the amount of waste that is produced?  It is quite shocking to think about how many of the pamphlets, mail, brochures and signs are going to end up in the dump or elsewhere.  I cannot even begin to fathom the ecological dammage done, and especially when you consider that 3 of the 4 major parties supposedly have a green platform.

The financial one to me is more distressing.  How many millions of dollars are spent on the campaigns?  The way that elections are now run from signage to transportation to commercials to conventions it is impossible to not discuss money. It appears to be impossible to take part in an election without huge fundraisers.  With everything going on in our country from childhood poverty to unemployment, education and health care is there not a better way for this money to be spent than on the signage and commercials?

I also wonder how much is funded by taxpayers?  To be honest I don't know the answer to this question, but there has to be a portion of campaigning that comes from the tax base.  I don't know about others but I would much rather see that money being spent on healthcare rather than a panflet that tells me what a great party each one is.  If there is to be tax dollars spent on elections campaigns then I would like to see it benefit the tax payers in terms of information, more on this later.

With respect to campaign finances, when you are depending on people and organizations giving you money, are you entirely free to make decisions that are best for the country or province?  With this system in place, does this not essentially mean that every party is in someone's backpocket?  What is their influence on decisions?  If someone/some group has made a substantial donation, would some of them not expect to see something in return?  Does this not, at the very least in appearance, compromise the integrity of the party?  It is unfortunate that we look at the list of donors and the decisions and too often find situations that come off looking suspicious.  It is entirely possible that this it was a decision that was done for the best interests of the country, but the smell is still there.  Ridings with MPs of the majority party seem to be rewarded for voting a certain way.  With this much money involved and the need for MPs to keep their seats, decisions too often do not seem to pass the smell test.

What are some limitation that I would like to see?
1) The number of times a leader can visit a province and region.  If you trust the candidates that are representing each reason then you should not have to be there as much.   In the Greater Vancouver Area there are MPs who are prominent, well respected and known.  James Moore, Libby Davies and, before he was defeated, Ujjal Dosanjh.  Like any good company, you need to have people you can trust to deliver your message.  Why does there appear to be so little trust in the ridings representatives?

2) The platforms should be available to all, and the leader can be given a way to deliver that platform.  Networks could have an evening special with the leaders of all parties who have over x% of the popular vote where they could explain their platforms.  Debates are currently done on two nights, one in French and one in English.  Debates should be regional and not language based.  The Maritimes have their needs, the Prairies have their needs, BC has theirs.  Each region, or better yet province, should be able to hear how each parties' platform will benefit them.  This is where the tax dollars should go, an opportunity for the canadian citizens to learn about what each of the major parties represent in order to make an informed decision.

3) Signage should only be allowed on private property, not on meridians, curbs or abandoned lots.  They need to be made of recyclable material.

4) Stronger Campaign financing and expenditures limitations in place including annual donations from groups and individuals.  If we are to trust our political system then we must have greater confidence in the integrity of the decisions.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

AFL, letter grades and dinner, a great combo

I had a wonderful dinner with the first few principals involved in this conversation and two of our assistant superintendents as well as Ruth Sutton.  The dinner time conversation?  Moving away from letter grades.  Everything we have read, seen, experienced and heard tells us this is the right path to follow.  Ruth had spent the day with around 100 elementary and middle school teachers talking about assessment and was generous enough to spend time with us afterwards giving us her experience, thoughts and ideas as to the steps needed to make this work.

One thing she said that really stood out is that we need to get the kids to focus on personal bests and not on their rankings.  The image that she painted was one of running a marathon and focussing on our time.  Every time we run we want to get better.  If we always finish first, second or third but our times are getting worse we are not improving we are regressing, but rankings would not show that.  I loved that analogy, encouraging the students to focus on their progress and not on their rankings.  She said that research shows that to keep students engaged that up until grade 12 they should not be ranked and sorted.  The longer we have them focus on improving, the more successful the students will be.  She also suggested that we bring in people from universities and big companies to talk to parents and students about what they want to see in their respective recruits.

The universities need to talk about the skills that the students need to STAY in university and not just to get in.  Many of us can think of students that we went to in university that bombed out of 1st year university because they did not know how to self-assess, critically examine their work, peer edit and so on.  It is almost a wasted group. What skills were they lacking that allowed for them to flunk out of university?  What is it that most employers are looking for?  Self-motivated, eager to learn, adaptable and goal setting individuals.

Every time we talked about what we needed to do, it came down to the assessment practices.  If we are telling parents that this is good for the kids then the proof has to be in the pudding.  The parents need to see the rich information that comes from formative assessment and standards-based assessment.  It will not work if we take away what they know, tell them this is good and then not have the assessment practices to back it up.

Lastly we talked a little about reporting, what should the new report card look like and what should it contain.  One of the ideas that I really liked was changing comment boxes to "Succeses and Next Steps".  This would have what the child is able to do and what the child needs to focus on next.  This speaks to planning, it speaks to record keeping, it speaks to solid assessment practices.  The other part that I really liked was including the child's own writing of his or her report card.  Have the student write "What I am good at?" , "what do I know?" and "what do I need to get better at?" as well as maybe "What are my next steps as a learner?" and have them present their own evidence to back it up.  If this is done properly the child's own self-evaluation should pretty much be bang-on.

After EdCampVancouver and this dinner, I am very excited about where education is headed.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Ed Camp Vancouver

Today was a most interesting day of most amazing professional development.  The day was presented as an unconference, no key note speaker, nothing lavish, just a bunch of dedicated people who are passionate about education.  It was representative of most stakeholders: parents, teachers, principals and some students. It is hard to describe the day in a way which accurately would reflect the conversations that were held today.

The beauty of the day was the respect for the knowledge of the group that was there, the fact that everyone had something to offer, something to share, something to reflect on, a question to pose and a desire to learn.  These were not sessions that were being offered by someone looking to pad a resume, someone who had not been in a school in years and was preaching nor was it someone who had already done the same presentation 25 times in the year and did not adapt it to the group present.  These sessions were lead by questions from people within the room. I was looking at the board of potential topics with people putting sticky notes on them to show which ones were of interest.

As we were looking at the board of topics there were other conversations that started and new topics were posted.  As new topics were posted some stickies migrated, others added their stickies to the new topics and 16 topics were chosen for the day.  4 sessions per time slot, 4 different time slots.  There were conversations around assessment for learning, bringing English LA into the 21st century, Social Media 101, moving away from letter grades, engaging all partner groups, moving away from awards ceremonies, creating online communities as well as many other great subjects.  We were there from 9 am to 4 pm, and then some of us went to a pub to continue the conversation afterwards, those who had the long commute home had their continuing conversations in the car, the #edcampvan hashtag continued to be used long after the day was over.  It is now 10 pm and that hashtag is still showing up and being used!  Talk about powerful pro-d!

I took in 4 amazing sessions, each one passed quickly, with conversations continuing long after the session was over.  The discussion were so rich, provocative and reflective. The varying points of view from different districts, levels, stakeholders and experience was so enriching.  I honestly feel that I would have happily attended each session for a day instead of just the 45 minutes sessions (which often continued well after the time elapsed unlike other sessions where people were packing up their bags before presentations were over).  It just felt as though we were just warming up.  To have that many people together is powerful pro-d.  There was so much to listen to, so much to share, so much to think about and so much to bring back to schools.  As I was driving home I started to wonder how we could make our pro-d days much more like this.  Good solid conversations, professional dialogue and getting to the meat and potatoes.  Let's get it all out on the table.

I would have loved to have school boards and Ministry of Education representatives there.  They need to hear our thoughts without the bureaucratic red tape that can exist when meeting with govenment representatives.  Open honest conversations without politics so that they can hear what it is that we are trying to do, hear what our barriers are, understand how it would be better for students and we could hear what their vision is without a podium and a rehearsed speech, what their concerns are, what their barriers are.  If we can truly have all stakeholders represented then we can really begin to make magic happen.

There is much to bring home to our schools and a lot to think about how the day was shaped and how we can use this format.  Is this the future of pro-d?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Making of a masterpiece

Too often we show students completed work, the final product.  Students may look at it, read it or hear it and think that it is fantastic, but then they think that they never could do it themselves.  We may try to break it down for them, but we rarely show how they got to the final product.  We try to encourage them, give them positive feedback and tell them that they can do it.  Rarely are students ever shown what the rough copies looked like, how many models or sketches were done nor how many pieces of crumpled up paper ended up the waste basket (and of course properly recycled).  Today I spent a good part of my morning in the Musee D'Orsay in Paris, one of my favourite museums of all times.

As I was walking through the museum admiring the work of the artists and been mesmerized by some of their creations, I was thinking to myself that I wish I could paint like that, or sculpt like that.  The works are amazing.  I was looking at a painting by Gustave Courbet called A Burial at Ornans.  It was not so much the painting as it was the size, roughly 10ft by 20ft.  The people are life-sized in the painting and the detail is impressive.  The reason that I bring this up is because I started wondering how many sketches he must have done prior to doing the painting.  There are many paintings of this size in the museum and I kept thinking that they had to have planned it out and did not just start painting.

As I continued around the museum there was a section on Gustav Mahler.  The reason that I bring this up is because the display contained some of his sheet music.  When you start to look at the sheet music you realize that they are drafts of some of the music he composed. There are sections crossed out, times changed, notes changed and titles changed.  Sometimes there are whole sections that have been taken out, and other times just a few bars (I have not taken a music class in years so my terminology might be off).  As I was looking at this I kept thinking that this is what kids need to see, the rough drafts with changes and editing that had been done.  Mahler made mistakes, he changed parts of it, he did not get it right the first time round.  This would have been a great lesson for students to see, even world famous composers don't get it right the first time.  Too often we focus on the genius of the work and not the time and effort that went into it.

I think it would be of great use to our students if we could find more collections like the Mahler one so that they could see the editing process and realize that even great artists needed to review and change their work.  I feel it makes them realize that these great artists are human and had to take their time, a very important lesson for students to learn.  The next time you are featuring some great artist, see if you can find some roughs, I think it will make the lesson richer.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Allowing kids to fail without feeling like a failure

Between the jet lag and not having slept in over 30 hours, waking up at 3am in France is an interesting time to reflect.  For some reason I started thinking about the magic of children's beliefs and the profound sadness of those who are struggling.

A couple of reasons probably led me to these thoughts.  We recently had the students complete a survey for a local university.  The students had been told that if at any time they became uncomfortable with the questions they could just stop.  When the questions got to self-esteem, a number of students that we worry about decided that they did not want to continue, which was quite sad that at a young age they already had that image of themselves.

The second reason was that a friend and colleague had tweeted about the incredible passion of students and their desire to change the world.  She had shared an example of the student wanting to do something for the victims of the earthquake in Japan.  The question was then posed, when do children stop believing that they can change the world?  I had replied with "When adults tell them too many times they cannot do it".  Why do so many of us adults tell kids they can't do something rather than letting them try.  Hopefully they are successful, and if not, can there not be a rich conversation around the why, rather than a "I told you so" conversation?

With the debate around moving away from letter grades, some of the talk was around the life lessons around failing.  I am not sure if there are life lessons in failing but there are amazing lessons to be learned from failed attempts.  When a baby is learning to walk, there are going to be moments of teetering, there are going to be times of falling flat on the butt (thank goodness for the extra padding in the nappies) and perhaps the occasional set of tears when they completely lose their balance.  The vast majority of adults would not try to stop them from trying to walk until they felt the child was ready for the experience.  We let them experience failed attempts as a natural part of their development.

When children first begin to speak, we listen to what they say, we do our bet to understand them and there are a lot of hand gestures, pointing and guessing involved.  We do not stop them when their utterances are incorrect.  We let them try to explain themselves, we ask them to repeat. We model the language for them, they listen, they mimic and they keep trying.  There are many failed attempts that might occur, but the key is that they are encouraged to keep on trying.

One of the parts of my job that I really love is when I watch the kindergarten students build with blocks or lego.  Their imagination is inspiring and their thought process is so verbal and remarkable.  You listen to them talk to one another as they attempt to build the largest tower in the world.  It will fall over and they try again.  They talk about what they felt went wrong, they make adjustments and they try again. That tower may fall 10-15 times, but each time they try with a new idea and gradually they are more successful.  If we were to intervene and show them what they are doing wrong, would they be as interested in trying again or will they become passive as you show them what to do.  Would they still be interested in hypothesizing on their own and lose the desire to continue? When they ask for help, do you push them aside, build a large tower or do you ask them questions, listen to their ideas, and then maybe ask a few guiding questions and let them try again.

This is not to say that we should not be limiting some of their ideas.  I remember when I was on supervision watching two boys with large golf umbrellas running up to the playground.  Somehow intuitively I knew what they were up to and I stopped them before they climbed to the top of the playground to do around a 10-12 foot jump to test out the parachute abilities of the umbrellas.  This does lead me to pose the question, when should we intervene, when do they need our protection?

We try to protect the children by not letting them make the same mistakes we made, but is that the right thing to do?  By limiting their exposure to making mistakes, trial and error and failure, are we preparing them for what to do when they encounter difficulties?  Are they given as many problem solving opportunities as they need?  Think back to the conversations that are had when the child makes a mistake, when their attempt to do something ended up in failure.  Were they told that it serves them right for trying?  Were they told that they should never have tried it in the first place? When do those conversations need to take place?

In “protecting” students are we stunting their growth, limiting their development and diminishing that spirit that they can be whatever they want, that they can change the world around them and that they can be a difference maker?  When do they start worrying about red tape, policies, whether or not it is worth trying?  Why are there so many adults who intentionally, or accidentally, correct students until they no longer want to try?

It seems that in the school system, as the students get older, we move more from experimenting, trial and error and problem solving to one of rigidity, compliance, and focussing on what is wrong versus what is right.  To fail at an attempt is considered unacceptable, and then we fail the students when their failures exceed their successes. Students are then assigned a failing grade.  Nothing like reinforcing what they are not getting to motivate them to try again.

We can have a later conversation about how to differentiate between the student who gets it right away and the one who gets it on the 20th attempt, but if on the 20th attempt they get it and really understand it, why are they then given a failing grade? They may have struggled on their homework and quizzes, they may have needed extra tutorials and they may have stayed after class to get extra support, but if on their last assessment they have clearly demonstrated that they understand what was taught, why are they being punished or diminished for having failed in their first attempts? Are we teaching or are we sorting?

One of the biggest disservices we can do to our kids and students is knock that spirit out of them by constantly correcting, limiting, condemning failure and not letting them experiment.  If they are not likely to be seriously hurt, should we be stopping them?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Changing the Face of Reporting Through Assessment Practices

A little while ago I wrote about how a number of schools in my district were looking at changing our reporting practices, moving away from letter grades to standards based reporting.  Based on the recommendations of @tomschimmer and @birklearns when it came to re-examining our assessment and reporting practices, I picked up two books by Ken O'Connor:  How to Grade for Learning and A Repair Kit for Grading; 15 Fixes for Broken Grades.  I have just started reading A Repair Kit and already in the first chapter there is a great list which would be a very good conversation starter for any staff.  The discussions on these points alone could take a while.

15 fixes for Broken Grades
Grades are broken when they -
• include ingredients that distort achievement
• arise from low quality or poorly organized evidence
• are derived from inappropriate number crunching, and when they 
• do not support the learning process

Fixes for ingredients that distort achievement
1. Don’t include student behaviors (effort, participation, adherence to class rules, etc) in grades; include only achievement.
2. Don’t reduce marks on “work” submitted late; provide support for the learner.
3. Don’t give points for extra credit or use bonus points; seek only evidence that more work has resulted in a higher level of achievement.
4. Don’t punish academic dishonesty with reduced grades; apply other consequences and reassess to determine actual level of achievement.
5. Don’t consider attendance in grade determination; report absences separately.
6. Don’t include group scores in grades; use only individual achievement evidence

Fixes for low quality or poorly organized evidence
7. Don’t organize information in grading records by assessment methods or simply summarize into a single grade; organize and report evidence by standards/learning goals.
8. Don’t assign grades using inappropriate or unclear performance standards; provide clear descriptions of achievement expectations.
9. Don’t assign grades based on student’s achievement compared to other students; compare each student’s performance to preset standards.
10. Don’t rely on evidence from assessments that fail to meet standards of quality; rely only on quality assessments.

Fixes for inappropriate number crunching
11. Don’t rely only on the mean; consider other measures of central tendency and use professional judgment.
12. Don’t include zeros in grade determination when evidence is missing or as punishment; use alternatives, such as reassessing to determine real achievement or use “I” for Incomplete or Insufficient Evidence.

Fixes to support the learning process
13. Don’t use information from formative assessments and practice to determine grades; use only summative evidence.
14. Don’t summarize evidence accumulated over time when learning is developmental and will grow with time and repeated opportunities; in those instances, emphasize more recent achievement.
15. Don’t leave students out of the grading process. Involve students; they can - and should - play key roles in assessment and grading that promote achievement.

The first chapter resonated with many of the thoughts that I have had, namely around the punishment/rewards aspects around letter grades and what they represent. O'Connor writes that grades have served a variety of purposes including: to communicate student achievement to students, parents, school administrators, post-secondary institutions and employers as well as sorting and selecting, motivation and punishment.  These purposes are in conflict with communicating their successes and ranking and sorting.  The first chapter is a lot to chew on.

Which ones are the most important? which ones resonate the most with you?

Monday, February 28, 2011

Education Finances

Education finances are a tricky thing.  I don't claim to be an expert in the field, but as the Liberal leadership campaign came to a close, it is time to wonder what will happen with public educational in British Columbia as a result of the new Liberal Party leader. The new leader of the Liberal Party, and Premier of the province, Christy Clark has had a tumultuous relationship with teachers in the past and has pledged to re-examine the funding formulas.  As to what exactly this means, I am not sure.  Over the past few years as education finances debates continue in BC with the Liberals, the cost of public education continues to rise.  There are costs to move forward and there are additional costs just to maintain status quo.

Trying to have a 21st century school is trying.  Districts are struggling with bandwidth, and our district is no exception.  At this point I am not even talking about the additional hardware necessary.  There is no point in adding hardware if the system cannot handle what we currently have.  From my understanding BC was one of the first to have Internet in the schools, meaning that the problem is that BC was one of the first to have Internet in the schools and needs to seriously upgrade the infrastructure.  Our Provincial Learning Network is outdated and maxed out.  In order to deal with this problem our district has had to examine different possibilities.  It was mentioned in an article that for the Coquitlam School District "middle-of-the-road option that costs less than putting fibre at every school site but would still require a one-time $2.5-million investment plus $290,000 a year, or $785,000 annually to lease fibre over 20 years and the tools for five years."  

The district can either wait for additional funding to deal with this or take it on by itself.  To the best of my knowledge there is no additional funding coming.  That means that just to be able to have a manageable system the district needs to come up with nearly $3,ooo,ooo.  I just do not understand how the reigning provincial party can be talking about 21st century schools without providing the money necessary for the required infrastructure to make it possible.

Another finance piece that has confused me is how money is taken away.  Over the past few years taxes have been added, green initiatives have been put forth and schools have been footing the bill.  Perhaps it is just me, but I fail to understand why it makes sense to give schools $ and then take them back.  Here are a couple of examples.  This year, School District 43 will pay $232,000 to Pacific Carbon Trust to offset its energy, fuel and paper consumption but will get no money back for innovative projects, such as composting or recycling, that are cutting waste and dealing with climate change.  The second example is last year districts were saving money for required major renovations and yet had the money taken away because it was deemed to not be necessary because it had not been spent.  Since when is it prudent to spend your annual budget when you are not sure what renovations or major work might be necessary. 

These renovations would have replaced old and outdated boilers and made the schools heating systems more efficient, provide better air quality and make the schools "greener".  Better air quality, I would think, would result in fewer people being sick, another cost.  The great part of the Carbon taxes is that the money taken back was money school districts were going to use to make renovations and alterations that would have allowed the school districts to become more carbon neutral and now have to pay the Carbon tax because they were not compliant with the Green Goals.  To me it does not make sense to essentially fine a school district $232,000 because of a law that was enacted by the provincial party and then not giving the funding to the schools to make the necessary changes. 

Budget times are always interesting as districts have many difficult decisions to make.  It would be nice if there were not additional cost pressures added, but perhaps that is not reality.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

My struggles with the FSAs

Earlier this week I was sitting in the computer lab watching the students complete the grade 4 numeracy portion of the FSA  (Foundation Skills Assessment - British Columbia's standardized tests for grade 4 and 7). There were many thoughts going through my head during this time.  I had looked at the rankings that the Fraser Institute published and saw that my school had jumped significantly in the standings.  I knew that we would be moving up from where we were last year, our focus has been on writing for the past few years.  We have enjoyed some rich professional development, had great discussions, found different ways to emphasize and promote writing in the school and continued to work with different writing programs.  These have all lead to improvements.  I do believe that the students have improved in writing because of these changes, but that does not tell the whole story.

Our results are directly impacted by the number of eligible students who write the different tests and the number of students who have been excused from writing it for a variety of reasons including parental request that their child not write the tests.  If a number of very strong students are excused from writing the test, our results will drop, conversely if the number of students excused from writing are struggling learners our results will rise.  If there is not a flu bug running through the school around that time then the results go up, if there are a few kids who families all go on vacation at that time our results could drop.  There are so many external factors that impact the results of the test beyond the teaching that if they fall in your favour as they mostly did last year, the result is a rise in the rankings, if they do not, as was the case two years ago and this year, they will drop.

To give you some insight as to how it works I will include a brief description.  We received the package a few weeks earlier and I decided to wait to start.  Over the past few years the system has had problems where students will be kicked out of the electronic portion and have to log back in.  For some students this would happen 3-4 times over the course of the time they were working on one portion of the test.  This caused a lot of stress and caused some to panic and become very anxious, worried that they would have to start again.  (I cannot even begin to imagine what would be going through a high school student's mind when writing a provincial test and this happens!).  I hoped that by waiting there would be fewer students using it at the same time, thereby reducing the possibilities of crashes.

During the couple of weeks leading up to us starting I had some conversations with other schools, people on my soccer team and elsewhere discussing the FSAs.  A couple of friends with students at schools outside of our district were telling me that the kids had been practicing the tests for a couple of weeks and were a bundle of nerves because they were told how important these tests are and that they had to do well to represent the school.  One of my colleagues was telling me that she had 3 different parents come to her and ask whether or not their child should be writing the test because they were worried that their kids would not be successful because of their IEPs (individual education plans) and would therefore bring the school results down.  She told the parents that it was their choice, but that they should not be excluding their children for that reason.  Would all principals have said the same thing?  At our school all students write the test unless we are concerned about the impact that this could have on the student, and we do not spend any time practicing.

I had a few parents come to me a little before we were going to start wondering why we had not started our tests when when some of the neighbouring schools had.  I explained my rationale and they felt that it made sense.  One then asked me if we all received the tests at the same time and I let her know that I believed that to be the case.  The next questions caught me off guard as it was not something that had entered my mind.  If you held onto the tests for a couple of weeks, is there anything stopping schools from practicing with the actual tests before starting?  Could they all do a rough draft and then copy the good draft into the booklet?  If they were not all doing the electronic portion at the same time, would it be possible for a class to begin the reading portion and then copy the stories, print them and be able to go over them with the other students to prepare them for the questions?  When I answered that hypothetically speaking this was possible she was stunned.  How was this standardized?  In order for it to be standardized should all the kids in the province be doing the tests at the same time, or at the very least, all of the kids in the same school at the same time?

There are other factors that concern me as to how the data is used.  Two years ago our school received additional staffing partly due to the fact that we had a larger number of students with learning challenges than we normally had.  That year, when the students were writing the FSAs, the flu went through the school and some got sick, 1 missed a lot of time from school so I decided to not have that student finish the FSA. Result, not meeting expectations in all areas.  2 students went on vacation part way through the test, result, 2 students not meeting expectations.  2 students broke down in tears because they were frustrated so we took the tests away, result, 2 students not meeting expectations.  I believe that 4 of those 5 students would have fully met expectations.  I had two students who would not be writing the tests for a couple of reasons and I used their identifications to show the students to log on.  Result- 2 more students not meeting expectations because I had logged them in and answered 1 question but did not click on submit thinking the results would not show, this was a boneheaded moment which I did not repeat.  When you have a cohort group of about 50 kids and 7 are not meeting expectations for reasons other than the results of the test itself is one thing that a school can address and explain to its community, when an outside agency is ignorant of what happens in the schools and publishes results is another.

Four years ago we had the exact same number of identified gifted students as student with learning challenges two years ago.  The school went from double digit number of students who were gifted to double digits with learning difficulties.  The cohort was completely different and something outside the control of the school.  The result was a huge drop in the number of students not meeting expectations.  I go over the results with the parents, give them the numbers as well as some background information.  I am able to explain why we have gone up or down.  Our community is aware of our context, an outside agency examining and working with the data is not.  When a school has their test data compromised because their electronic results have gone into an Internet abyss and suddenly 10 students results are automatically not meeting expectations and those results are published, the public perception of the school can be compromised.

From my vantage point, the FSAs can provide useful information for a staff to look at and plan our school goals.  We can use it as a measuring stick to chart our progress, knowing our context.  This is not shirking responsibility.  I still stand in front of our parents and share the data and listen to concerns that they may have.  My concern is that when a non-informed group that ignores or does not care about the contextual situations that can arise in schools, and publishes results that are challenged statistically it impacts the perception of the school.  Why are schools punished because H1N1 hit their schools hard one year?  Why are schools punished for not practicing for the tests for weeks and choosing to focus on the curriculum and using the FSAs as a snapshot as they were intended to?  Why are schools punished because the cohorts each year can be significantly different from year to year and give a false increase or decrease in the students' perceived success?  The number of students writing is also compromised, based on parent willingness to have their children write the tests.  There are some schools where only 30% of the eligible kids are actually writing the test.

If everybody is not writing the test at the same time, in the same way, under the same conditions, with the same number of kids in a room writing it together, with the same preparation, with ALL students writing the test regardless of abilities, with one large group of independent markers marking all of the tests in the same way and removing the possibilities of possible manipulation of the testing situations, intentionally or accidentally, the test is no longer standardized even if all of the questions are the same.  There are just too many outside factors possible to make this testing equitable.  Let schools use the information for the way that it was intended and not let outside agencies compromise the validity of a non-standardized standardized test.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Twitter Effect and Standards Based Reporting

What has started off as a few innocuous questions is gaining huge momentum.  Who knew that responding to a tweet could have a potentially large impact on an entire district?  A simple twitter conversation around eliminating letter grades led to me sending an email to an assistant superintendent which then led to a conversation in person between the 3 main participants of that conversation.  From there it grew to a potential committee of about 9 schools, which then led to an email to the 70 some odd schools in the district to which about another dozen or so schools have responded that they are interested in taking this on.

I have to admit that I am borderline freaking out right now because I thought this might be a small group.  I was wrong.  My assistant superintendent is lining up potential facilitators, using connections to bring in some amazing people and looking for a way to get this project subsidized.  My superintendent is sending me references for material that I should be looking at.  We had our district volleyball tournament and teachers are coming up to me and telling me how excited they are to be a part of this.  I am stoked, but also quietly shaking in my boots.

I guess we are going to have to call this the "Twitter Effect" rather than the "Butterfly Effect".  If someone tweets in Coquitlam, BC, what can happen? Now I guess I get to the point of my post.  Help!!!!!  I had the opportunity to virtually take part in the Educon session Standards Based Grading: Is it fair? by Kristen Swanson and Mike Ritzius.  I loved the presentation and the conversations that I could overhear, but I really enjoyed the virtual chat that I was able to take part in.  Through that chat I was given 4 great resources as a starting point:

  1. The Journey of SBG

  2. Why do we grade the way we do? A Simulation

  3. To grade, or not to grade: that is the question!

I am going to put together a quick google doc to try and collect as much information and resources on standard based grading/assessment.  Any help you can offer would be greatly appreciated!  Please find the document here:

Standards Based Reporting

Thanks for any help, ideas or suggestions that you can offer.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Public Ed vs Real World

As the conversation around the elimination of awards and letter grades continues, there are many people who decry the changes because we are not preparing the students for the "Real World".  Most of the comments were along the lines of "In the "Real World" there are winners and losers so why are we sheltering them from that "reality"?".  The callers on the talk radio seem to feel that young adults think that because they put in the effort that their work should automatically be appreciated in the "Real World".  Based on the arguments offered, apparently you don't get the praise and recognition from your employers unless you are the best of the best in the "Real World".  The one sidedness of the comments was surprising, but it got me thinking.

Are there winners and losers in some aspects of life? Absolutely.  There are people who are going to be offered jobs and those who get the thanks for applying letters.  There are people who are going to get promoted and then those who will be fired.  Top sales reps will get awards, top actors will get awards, top athletes will get awards.and so on.  There are people who will see those people getting the awards and the cash bonuses and will push themselves.  To deny this is foolish, but for how many more does this have little or no impact, or even worse, the complete opposite effect. 

So what will happen in schools, if honour roll and awards ceremonies are removed?  How will this impact the students?  I feel that it would not have a significant impact nor be detrimental to the students' learning.  Many secondary schools now do awards on separate nights, so often the general student population are not present to see the awards being handed out.  There are many students who aren't motivated by the awards.  If they are motivated about their learning intrinsically, they will put in the time regardless of whether or not their name goes on a plaque.

If it is crucial to celebrate the best of the best, why is a "B" average celebrated?  Does this not water it down?  How was a "B" average deemed the cut-off point? If we are to truly recognize the top students, let's eliminate all those who do not have straight "A"s in every course they take.   No "B"s allowed.  Period.  Why is this not done?  Because we want all students to be encouraged to give us their best.  The top students will be rewarded with scholarships, university entrance letters and choices of post-secondary institutions.  Those whose grades are not as high have a limited choice of post-secondary institutions.  If the students are unsure as to what they want to do when they graduate and were only motivated by letter grades, what are they going to do once they graduate?  What becomes their motivation?  I doubt that their employer is going to return a document that they have worked on with a letter grade attached.

Another question to deliberate is how many of those students have tutors? How many of those students have parents who have the ability and the confidence to help them with homework?  How many other students could achieve that level of academic achievement if their home circumstances were different?  What if they did not have to go and pick up their younger siblings, feed them, help them with their homework and then go and work a part-time job to help the family put food on the table?  For some students, a C+ represents an amazing achievement.  For others, it is an incredible achievement that they even made it to school.  I have seen students who in grade 6 are waking themselves up, making their own breakfast, walking for 30 minutes and getting to school on time while watching some of their peers getting dropped off in 500 series Mercedes Convertibles.  I am blown away every time I see those kids in my class and in my school being an active participant and I am going to find every possible way to recognize that.

Whenever I am out with friends and we talk about our various work environments, recognition and praise seem to be a big part of the satisfaction of the job.  Those who do not enjoy their work tend to comment on how they are working hard and not being recognized for it, their boss takes credit for their work, does not even know who they are or only talks to them when there is a problem.  Those who enjoy their work usually comment on how much they appreciate the fact that their boss acknowledges their work and effort, that they take a personal interest in their lives and that they are approachable.  Why would kids be any different?  People, as a general rule, like to be acknowledged for what they are doing, adults and kids alike.  The praise must be authentic and not contrived.

Self-assessment has also been questioned.  Why do we let students assess themselves?  Because it is a crucial life skill to have.  Learning how to critically look at your own work and be able to identify areas that need improvement and strengths are essential in many jobs.  Learning how to look at someone else's work and  identify areas that need improvement and strengths are also essential in many jobs.  This is not the teacher passing the buck, there is a lot of interaction, teaching, modeling and dialogue that has to be in place for this to be effective.

The last point that I wanted to address was late work, as that was another point that seemed to come up a lot.  Yes, it is true that many teachers accept late work.  Yes it is true that fewer teachers are penalizing students who hand in the work late by reducing the mark.  Students receive 2 marks on a report card, one that is supposed to represent their knowledge and understanding of the material covered and another that represents the work habits.  The letter grades are supposed to be a reflection of how well a student understands the material being covered, not a due date.  When there are issues with work that is continuously late there are meetings scheduled, plans set up and regular updates given to try and change it around.  We meet with parents to try and determine if there is a root cause for the work not being done.  Are there issues that we are not aware of at home or at school?  More often than not, penalizing a student for late work does not motivate them, in their eyes it often justifies why they don't bother.  Many students who are struggling with their homework or assignment completion are kept in at lunch or after school.  Sometimes it is arranged that they will be dropped off early on some days in order to get additional support.  There are consequences given when the work is late, but it should not be reflected in the marks.  The key is support and working with all partners to have them improve their work completion. If they have poor work habits then they receive an "N" for their work habit mark.

I guess it comes down to a philosophical perspective on the role and purpose of school.  Are we to be a sorting system where we continuously rank kids and in one form or another and tell them what their place is in the school?  Most people would agree that seating kids according to their marks is very damaging, I saw it firsthand when I went to school in France.  Why do it on a grand stage?  We are there for every student from the most gifted to the most challenged.  Our goal is to find that inner spark, that inner passion that will move that child to give us everything he/she has.  Our responsibility is by the time they leave the school system we have given them every opportunity to be the brightest, shining light they can be, that they have developed as deep an understanding of all of the curricular content as possible and are the best citizens possible.  For every child this is going to be different.

The students are already ranked and sorted in every competition out there whether it be track or debating, writing contests or basketball, Verbathon or other academic challenges.  Those that strive off of competition have many opportunities to do so at school and outside of school.  We see it every lunch hour, but we also see students who are reading quietly, skipping with friends, taking care of the school garden or picking up litter to keep the school grounds clean.  Knowledge, understanding, respect and support are a school's responsibility.  If society determines that there is a need to rank and sort once they are outside the school system, then that is society's choice.  When students leave school hopefully they are confident, independent young adults with the ability to think critically and are self-motivated.  To me these are essential skills for the "Real World".  If gold stars, A's and awards are the only things motivating them then we are in trouble.

Friday, January 7, 2011

If you want to eliminate letter grades, what do you need to do?

We are in the process forming a committee in our district that will be re-examining report cards at the intermediate (grade 4-7) years, with the initial starting point of the conversation being the elimination of letter grades at the elementary level.  I do feel that letter grades should be eliminated at the elementary level.  I do not feel that you can change assessment practice without changing the reporting practice.  But can you have this conversation without discussing assessment?  Can this conversation be had without involving parents? What kind of information needs to be presented and how would it need to be presented?  How long will it take to change it over?  Is it possible to overcome the emotional/cultural/historical values of letter grades and reporting formats?  So many questions to ponder when looking a major philosophical shift in reporting practices that have existed for decades.

We had a very good first discussion pondering the first steps that need to be taken.  An important part of the discussion was about the fact that there is an emotional attachment to letter grades that needs to be addressed both inside and outside of the school setting.  We can all think of letter grades that have impacted us emotionally in a very strong way.  I remember when I got a C- first term of grade 11 Chemistry (I learned that I might actually have to study).  I was sick to my stomach and preparing myself to go and do my French Military Service in order to avoid a very uncomfortable conversation at home.  The C- that I got in 3rd year genetics was the happiest C- in my life as I managed to pass the course on the first attempt, unlike roughly 50% of my classmates.  These letter grades mean different things to different people depending on the circumstances.  For some they are a driving force, for others they result in crippling anxiety.

Parents are used to letter grades, they understand, or they believe that they understand what the letter grades mean.  They usually only remember getting letter grades, and tend to not be able to recall what their earlier report cards would have looked like.  They remember the conversation that they would have had at home with their parents, and they remember the incentives and/or the consequences of those letter grades.  There is a degree of comfort in the familiarity. Many teachers are used to letter grades as a means of communicating the varying degrees of academic success of the students to their parents.  This means that a significant shift in thinking that will be required should we change our reporting practices.

Assessment practices also came up, with a large emphasis on their importance in changing our reporting practices.  Is it possible to change the culture around the report cards without changing the culture around assessment practices and communication about the assessment?  Can changing the way we report change assessment practices? If we are to come up with a different reporting system, what needs to be considered?  Is it possible to retain a previous reporting system that was based on an entirely different methodology of assessing?

Part of the reasoning behind the elimination of letter grades is that assessment practices do not match up with letter grades.  Formative assessment is supposed to be a significant piece of the puzzle. How are students progressing?  What have they learned from the feedback?  Also, in my opinion, the assessments are not meant to be averaged out.  If you are a true believer of formative assessment, then the September/October assessments are teaching tools, not measuring tools.  A December report card should be reflective of where the student is now and include comments on how they have progressed based on the feedback.  The students should be able to self-assess quite accurately because they have been actively involved in their learning.  They should be credited for learning from their mistakes, not punished for having made them.  The parents should also have an understanding of the assessment strategies, philosophies and purpose so that when assignments come home they know what the feedback means and have an understanding how to support their child's learning.

This means that there is a significant educational/information aspect that needs to be included.  Presentations to parents about the language that will be used and what it means are key.  If parents understand the rationale and terminology, they are more likely to support it.  There will also need to be an important investment into professional development in order to ensure a common understanding of the philosophy behind the new reporting ideology within the school system.  Trust is also going to be an issue.  Trust with the parents as well as trust with the staff.  How is this going to be better for the kids?  How is this going to be better for communicating a child's progress to parents?  How is this going to be more effective for the teacher?

Will focusing on performance standard language and assessment practices be sufficient to make this change?  Any suggestions as to what are the next steps we need to take?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Who will be the "heroes" in 2011?

It is hard to believe that it has almost been a year since Vancouver hosted the 2010 Olympics.  As the year 2010 came to a close the Olympics were on all of the Canadian top 10 news stories of the year.  The transformation, even for a short time, of our city, province and country was amazing.  The sea of red and white in downtown Vancouver was awe inspiring.  It was a once in a lifetime event that I will always remember. 

I wish we could hold on to those emotions and the amazing stories that came out of it.  For two weeks students were focused on the amazing feats of athletes who, more often than not, competed for the love of the game.  While the 2010 Games did open up with the tragic death of the Georgian slider Nodar Kumaritashvili, it also opened up with the determination of the Georgian Olympic team, marching in the Olympic Opening Ceremonies in black armbands in honour of their fallen comrade and receiving a standing ovation as they entered the building.

The first Canadian gold medal was won by Alex Bilodeau, who immediately went and embraced Frédéric, his brother with cerebral palsy.  He demonstrated great humility in those interviews when he was the golden boy of our nation as the first ever athlete to win Olympic gold on Canadian soil.  He could have gloated, he could have bragged, he could have behaved in many ways and yet when asked about his struggles and challenges, he minimized them in comparison to his brother's.  Rather than talk about himself he talked about his admiration for his brother, and how his brother was his inspiration.  He also donated his winnings from the gold medal to Pediatric Health Centres for cerebral palsy and encouraged other athletes to do the same as well.

Joannie Rochette's mesmerizing performance after the sudden death of her mother was one for the ages. I doubt that there were many dry eyes after her performance and the emotion she showed following the conclusion of her last skate was heart-wrenching.  The strength and determination that she displayed was breath-taking.  Clara Hughes, as inspirational a Canadian athlete as any, won another medal in these games. She is the only Canadian to ever win medals in both the Winter and Summer Olympics and is tied for the most medals ever won by a Canadian athlete.  She was instrumental in the 2006 games for promoting Right to Play, becoming an ambassador for the organization and donating her winnings to the cause the she trumpeted and had many other athletes follow her example.

There were many other amazing performance by Canadians such as Lauren Woolstencroft winning 5 gold medals in paralympic ski events, Brian McKeever who became the first athlete to be named in a Winter Paralympics and Winter Olympics team in the same year, although he was not chosen to compete on the final roster for the cross-country ski event during the Olympic Games.  He dominated his events in the paralympics with his brother as his guide, but his times would have allowed him to compete in the Olympics. His challenge, as a legally blind skier, would have been to ski the course without the aid of a guide.  To be top 50 in the world where visual clues are critical to a good time because of slopes and turns is an outstanding achievement, and competing against others who do not share that same affliction is impressive to say the least.

While many will remember the golden goal by Sidney Crosby, there was so much to celebrate from these games in terms of character, perseverance and generosity.   There were many amazing examples for children of all ages to appreciate.  Our students showed the same enthousiasm for all of these athletes as many of the Tweens did when Justin Bieber came into town.  Something I came to realize this year is that the students are amazed by many feats, they just need to be exposed to them.  We had the opportunity to invite a Canadian Paralympian from the Beijing games.  She was a torch bearer for the Paralympic torch and the students were very excited to meet her.  She commented to her mother later that the kids made her feel like a star. Many of the students were talking about how cool it was to meet someone who went to the Beijing games.
 When we invited a veteran to take part in our Remembrance Day assembly, the kids demonstrated incredible enthousiasm when greeting his as they left.  What this taught me was that we need to do a better job of introducing positive role models to our students.  We have amazing people in our communities.  There are many children looking for someone to emulate and look up to.  While it is difficult to compete with the tabloids, TMZ and other celebrity-afflicted media, we can help them identify with those who give back to their communities hopefully instead of those who become prima-donnas, and expect everything to be catered to them and seem to only take from the community.

There are many ordinary people doing extraordinary things in our communities.  We have amazingly talented kids in our schools and our school communities.  I need to do a better job of finding them and introducing them to our students.  We can either present them real heroes or let media dictate that the Kardashians, Paris Hilton, Charley Sheen, Kanye West, Brett Favre or Lindsay Lohan are the ones to emulate.