Christie Lake Climb For Kids! Join the Adventure!

Our official logo for Christie Lake Climb for Kids!

 

This is a great day and the start of a new adventure.
We are very happy to announce that the Christie Lake Climb For Kids fundraising trek is now ready to sign up participants.
The August 2018 trek will be taking place in Peru, starting in Cusco and will head towards Ausangate Mountain. The trek reaches an altitude of 5200 m which is a real mental and physical challenge. Are you interested in a big challenge?

Each participant on this expedition will be asked to raise money for Christie Lake Kids, a wonderful organization in Ottawa that provides recreation opportunities for low-income children throughout the year.
The trip is being planned and coordinated by Merit Travel here in Ottawa.
Christie Lake will provide each participant with their own fundraising page and will help each team member to raise money throughout the upcoming year. This is really a big community fundraising event that will take Christie Lake all the way to Peru.

A full itinerary is available here along with a booking form for those who are interested in signing up. We will be taking 16 people and to reserve your spot, you need to complete the form and make a $500.00 deposit. You can contact Darren Prashad at Merit Travel to secure your spot he can be reached at DPrashad@merittravel.com

We are planning an information meeting for mid-November to go over all the details and to introduce people to the personal training group we plan to use to get everyone in great shape for the trip!

You can now sign up for the information meeting here. The meeting will take place on November 20th at 6:30 PM at Great Escape Outfitters 369 Richmond Road in Ottawa.

This will be a terrific adventure and a unique way to give back to a wonderful organization. Having done one of these trips to Mt. Kilimanjaro last April, I know this is a great way to help others and yourself at the same time.

 If you can’t go but would like to help with the fundraising, I will share our fundraising page once this is up.

Looking forward to a great year and a terrific climb!

 

 

Freeing the Minds of School Administrators

OK, today I admit I am entering the world of fantasy posts, but I am still going to give this a try.

We have seen lots of Twitter traffic and great blog posts in the last two weeks about how educators are stifled in what they can write on social media by school boards who do not want to read dissenting opinions from their employees.

The best posts are coming from Andrew Campbell. This post is great

So, we know what the problem is – the overarching authority of school board bureaucrats and senior admin to stifle all thoughtful opinion but their own. But is there a solution?

Only if you live in the world of fantasy!

I think this is really an issue of governance. Education in Ontario is really controlled by a small number of senior administrators who are in no way overseen by anyone else in the province. Yes, there are lots of ministry directives, but there is no oversight on the overbearing behavior of board admin.

I write board admin because I don’t mean school administrators – principals and vice-principals.

These are the people who have trained for years to become administrators and put everything on the line every day to keep things going in their schools. It is a tough job and there is little or no support for the hard work that they do. There is also little protection given to them in they run into conflict with parents and even worse, board officials.

Many believe that they are agents of their school board first and that the decisions made by the board, decisions they have no say in, must be supported without question.

This is the incredible thing. School administrators are seldom asked for their opinion about how things should be done at a district level. These decisions are made by superintendents and program coordinators who have little connection to the schools they oversee.

School administrators need to have a voice. They need to be consulted in a meaningful way and they need to know that if they speak out they will be protected by a higher authority than their own school board.

If this were to happen we might actually read some interesting and useful comments on how schools can become more effective. Right now, the best we can expect from a school administrator on Twitter is cheerleading – the useless tweets that are designed to make the school look good without conveying any useful information.

So, again firmly in fantasy land, this is my solution. Free up school administrators from the heavy drag of district officials. Let them speak on the record so we can hear from a very effective group of front-line workers who may actually have some ideas on how to bring about effective change to our schools.

This shouldn’t be a fantasy.

 

 

Social Media and Educators – When Will We Grow Up?

Doug Peterson has written a number of great posts over the past few days based on a wide-ranging Twitter conversation we had on the weekend.

Doug has summarized the conversation really well in the following posts:

Yeah, it can happen – Oct 11
The right to tweet – Oct 10
The “P” in PLN – Oct 9

This is a hard conversation to summarize as it went on for three days and had participation from at least ten different participants. The conversation is collected here in case you want to see it.

I also tried to summarize things in this blog post: Twitter, Educators, and Dissent – October 8

As the conversation evolved, we got closer to talking about free speech, social media and working for an institution. I don’t think anything was resolved, but it was very interesting and more than a little sad to read what people had to say.

To me, it shows that our ideas on social media are still evolving. It indicates that institutions have an incredible fear of social media and see it still as a threat. It also reminds me of the incredible power of institutions to suppress the actions of its members even if these actions are not clearly critical of the institution.

To be honest, it is amazing that we had any sort of conversation as some of the participants are still working for districts and these individuals clearly took a risk by getting involved. I totally understand why others decided to stay clear.

I wrote one comment on Doug’s post and I think this would be a good conversation to have openly on voicED Radio.

In preparing to write the comment, I took a look at an old disciplinary letter that I received. It had a chilling effect. It brought back all the old, bad emotions that swirled around during the last year and a half of employment for that district. Truly, writing about this stuff is more difficult than what I have written in the past about my mental health journey.

Still, this needs to be written about. Institutions should not be allowed to operate with impunity, nor should they be motivated by fear or the desire to sanction employees who challenge their way of thinking.

I hope these posts, discussions, and comments can open this conversation a little bit. It is way past time that we matured in our views regarding social media.

Here is my comment:

Hi Doug. Thanks for your posts over the past few days. Very interesting discussion. Reading the comments and your post again I think it is important to point out that disciplinary action is not a black and white thing. I think we are all looking for the smoking gun – the obvious tweet that is clearly over the line. It is not as simple as that and not everything can be resolved through a face to face conversation either.
When it comes to a violation of board policy leading to disciplinary action, it is the school board that defines what is appropriate and what is not. They are the ones holding all the cards and they determine what is appropriate. They issue the letter and add in that any further ‘violation’ will lead to further action including suspension without pay.
These are extremely effective actions because they do not need to define what a violation really is.
When you don’t have to clearly define the policy or the violation almost anything can be considered a violation. This effectively shuts down the person who receives the letter.
School Boards are well within their rights to do this and in Ontario at least, nothing can be done about this, especially if you are an administrator.
You do not have to say or tweet something critical of the board, you just have to do something they disagree with. None of this is obvious and none of this falls within the easily defined lines you mention above.
What is the result of all this? Basically, silence.

Twitter, Educators and Dissent

So, this is my third rewrite of this post. You wouldn’t think this would be so difficult, but this is a complex subject with many points of view.

There is no question that Twitter is a vital tool for personalized PD amongst teachers. How they see Twitter is varied and nuanced.

 

 

In my first draft, I was pretty cynical about the apparent lack of critical commentary on our current education system on Twitter. When I turned to members of my own PLN, I found that the conversation turned towards the real difficulty educators face when attempting to adopt a critical stance regarding the system.

To me, this is a really interesting point. Social media has given educators a wonderful platform for sharing ideas and for expressing opinion. Unfortunately, supervisors have also learned that social media is a great way to monitor dissenting opinion. Those who criticise the system can be sanctioned. All you have to do is monitor their Twitter feed.

This is not where I expected to go with this post, but I have to pause and take note of what people wrote today. Many of the writers mentioned that they had been called into their administrator’s office because of something they had written on social media. I certainly have.

I think this shows a fundamental abuse of social media. Professionals should be allowed to express themselves without fear of punishment. We are losing out on a critical debate by shutting down the very people we need to hear from.

This is a shame because the education system needs critics. While teaching is a very creative endeavor, education administration is not. Senior administrators are valued best when they are successful at protecting a narrow set of beliefs that never really challenges their own positions of privilege and authority.

 

There is no question that the education system needs to be excellent. It needs positive supporters and intelligent critics to achieve real excellence. We are missing out.

Without constructive criticism, Twitter devolves into a senseless cheerleading platform, a thoughtless flag waving standard for the politically correct.

Andrew Campbell has written an excellent article on this whole topic. Here is a quote:

A teacher explained to me that they’d been called into a meeting with supervisory staff and asked to defend a tweet they’d made about a board policy, which was taken out of context. Teachers have taken down tweets after meetings with supervisory officers who didn’t like what they were posting, and they’re strongly encouraged to ensure that their tweets reflect favourably on the school or the school board.
How School Leaders Are Changing EduTwitter - Andrew Campbell

I had lots to write about educator’s ability to write thoughtful content on Twitter. It’s not all about dissent.

I started with this:

This to me content creation is where the best contributions on Twitter reside. Stephen Hurley had a good thought on this:

I like Twitter (more than other social media) because it helps me “test” ideas. And tested ideas become stronger, or altered.
Stephen Hurley

 

Most of my active PLN is made up of content creators – Stephen Hurley, Donna Miller Fry, Derek Rhodenizer, Julie Boulton, Carol Salva, Sarah Ann Lalonde and a great many more fall into this category – I learn from this group constantly as they put out questions and share ideas on a daily basis.

Now at this point, I was drying up, so I put a question out to my PLN. The response was astounding and I have created a Storify of the two-day conversation. I really suggest you take a look at this – pretty amazing stuff!

What does Twitter do for educators? Content creation? Constructive feedback? Displaying work? Ideas?

Thanks so much to my PLN, you wrote the bulk of this article. There is a whole lot more to write about educator and Twitter, but for today let’s focus on the current state of debate on the state of education and maybe how we can free educators up to express their really important opinions.

Response to George Couros: 4 Ways To Not Let Others Dim Your Light

One of the great things about walking all day is that you have lots of time to think. This latest post has been on my mind and I think after walking such a great distance, it is a good idea to put this out there.

Again, George Couros is an inspiration, but this is something that was on my mind throughout our West Highland Way trek. I would encourage you to read his entire post. He makes a great deal of sense and I just wish more people in senior administration would do more than just retweet his work and ponder what he is saying.

I hope that what George writes and what I am writing here will help people who are going through similar experiences. If this is you, read carefully what George writes and don’t let anyone ever dim your light!

The reality of our world is that people get threatened when other people shine their light on the world.  This bothers me even more so when it is educators doing it to educators, as our jobs are to empower those we serve, not try to bring them down.  If you are doing this to a colleague or peer, would you do it to a student? Would you do it to my daughter if she was in your classroom?  In education, this is unacceptable.

Here is my response to the post.

Thanks George, a very good post and excellent advice. There does come a time however when you need to consider leaving the system when those in positions of higher authority have made the decision to block you any way they can. I guess this come under #3 ‘move on and ignore’.

You are right to point out that it is strange that educators can treat other educators poorly, but my experience tells me that with a few notable exceptions, educators forget who they are (or were) the higher up the corporate eduladder they climb.

They can be very cruel and unforgiving to the point where on my case, they suspended me for three weeks without cause. While I was later vindicated and invited back into the professional fold, they never apologized which to me is inexcusable.

A year after my suspension, I retired from my board and I am much more at peace. I still have a great community of positive fellow educators that I work and correspond with, but I no longer have to suffer the negative soul destroying authoritarians who made my life so difficult.

Coming on to two years now after the suspension, it still rankles and this is something that could still be solved with a simple ‘sorry’.

How can we expect to make real progress in our education systems when the people at the top expect blind compliance. To forge a different path means that you could be punished with impunity.

That was the end of my comment today.

I don’t expect ever to hear from my former employers. It would be good if they took responsibility for their actions. It was shameful, but I have certainly moved on.

I have climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, I have had the privilege of assisting my partner through major surgery and I have trekked more than 100 km through the Western Highlands with my daughter.

I have left the past behind and I love the exciting challenges that the future presents.

Thanks George and the West Highland Way for getting this post written – finally! Now on to more great positive adventures in the future.

If You Want to Learn You Have to Walk

OK, so I didn’t post every day during the West Highland Way. Can’t blame the wifi – it was pretty good in most places. It’s all me. By the end of each day, I was totally exhausted, ready to eat, drink (a pint or two) then sleep.

It is totally exhausting to trek over 20 km a day over rough, and very beautiful territory. Colleen and I did this for over 100 km in all sorts of weather.

The walk really tested our limits and this is an exhilarating experience! At the end of the day, we could hardly move and I got used to padding around the hotels and B&Bs in my sock feet – it was too painful to wear my shoes!

There is an immense amount of learning that has gone on here. When you walk through a country for eight hours a day over pathways that are easily 200 years old the character of the land begins to seep in.

For both of us, we had more and more questions as the days lengthened. Where do the feral goats come from? Why are there so many abandoned stone houses everywhere? Who really was Rob Roy? What is the legacy behind Scottish giants like William Wallace and Robert Bruce? Why did the Glen Coe massacre happen?

It is thought that these wild goats are all that remain from the Highland Clearances

Each night after we poured over our trip notes (excellent!) for the next day we turned to our history books to answer some of these questions. Walking the country calls you to learn more about this beautiful rich land.

This was my constant companion – along with Colleen – throughout the trek

I know as we take a much-needed break today in Fort William (why is it called Fort William?) we will both be reading up and sharing information on what we are learning

hey dad, do you know what Celtic priests were called?

This is why a love of history is so important. It informs your travels and enriches the walking. The walking, in turn, brings out a curiosity to learn about the land.

What a wonderful way to travel!

Slow travel in Scotland

Slow travel is not so much a particular mode of transportation as it is a mindset. Rather than attempting to squeeze as many sights or cities as possible into each trip, the slow traveler takes the time to explore each destination thoroughly and to experience the local culture.

The Art of Slow Travel

I didn’t know this was a term, but slow travel is a thing and we are doing this now. We are spending our second day in the little town of Drymen, Scotland, 30 miles north of Glasgow. Tomorrow we start on the West Highland Way, a trail that was developed 30 years ago as the hiking craze took off in the British Isles.

I am traveling with my daughter Colleen who is just starting a journey that will take her all over Europe. We actually bumped into each other yesterday in the town square. No need for cell phones here.

I like the term slow travel for what we are doing. We have settled into our second B&B in Drymen and we will start hiking around 22 kilometers a day on the way to Fort William and Ben Nevis eight days away.

This is not a tour that will take in all of the Highlands of Scotland, this is a moderate 135-kilometer trek through the highlands ending with a climb up the highest mountain in the United Kingdom. A wonderful way to see beautiful countryside.

After climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro last year, I am most interested in travel that allows me to walk from place to place. Any form of motorized travel blurs the experience and takes me away from learning more about my surroundings.

What I have learned so far. Drymen was settled first (at least that is what we know) because it is located close to the Endrick River and a shallow fording of the river. There are supposed to be ancient fortifications guarding this ford, but I couldn’t see them.

 

Endrick Water

The town hosts the oldest licensed pub in Scotland the Clachan Inn. Established in 1734, it was once owned by a sister of Rob Roy. The pub is wonderful and offers at least 30 different types of scotches.

Right outside the pub is a road that stretches straight to Stirling and was built during the 1745 Highland Rebellion to link up key defensive positions for the British.

Not bad for 24 hours. Tomorrow will be more of a challenge, but as we travel into the Highlands, we will learn even more and meet more people who are out to discover a bit of Scotland. Lots to experience, but we will continue to do it slowly.

The beginning of our trail starting tomorrow.

Travels with My Daughter

It’s a really different world when you no longer work in a traditional setting. I don’t call it retirement because I am still working, just at other things.

There is work coming and there has been lots of work, but when you leave the mainstream working world you need to become a bit of an opportunist. Two weeks ago, I dropped our youngest daughter off at the airport in Montreal to start her grand tour.

It occurred to me on the way home that I am between contracts and probably for the first time I can remember, I really don’t have anything I really need to do.

This is an odd sensation, not one I am totally comfortable with, but you really need to lean into things when you are facing a major turn in your life.

So, I will join my daughter for nine days of hiking through the Scottish Highlands. I haven’t been to Scotland for 35 years, so it is way past time that I visited. We will hike through the Highlands and attempt Ben Nevis at the end of our hike. After climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, this is the only type of travel that I want to do.

To do it with our youngest daughter is a really wonderful opportunity. I am so glad I decided to take a leap and go for it.

So the writing will continue, but I will be back focusing on adventure and trekking. I am very fortunate to be able to take this opportunity. Let’s see what leaning in really looks like.

 

Fostering a ‘why not’ Mindset: Dr. Jacqueline Landrum Sanderlin

Dr. Jacqueline Landrum Sanderlin
WE Day Conference speaker, New York Wednesday, September 20

You often speak about adopting a “why not” mindset. Can you explain what that means?

The “why not” mindset is a mindset of possibilities for almost anything, for community partnerships, for the ability to do more than what we are expected to do. As a principal, I was tired of just getting things that we needed. I wanted to have things that our scholars – I refer to our students as scholars – wanted, and also that they deserved. In other words, why should not we deserve the best? That type of thinking changed our attitude of what we deserved. My perspective is for us not to just think big, but to think even bigger.

My partner Heather read this quote to me yesterday and it has stuck. I am always trying to figure out what really good leadership is all about and why it is such a rare commodity. Rare at least in my definition.

I think it has something to do with courageously adopting a ‘why not’ mindset. I have seen these type of leaders in the past, people like Carol Hunter a now-retired principal in the Ottawa Public Board and Lorne Howcroft, my first principal in the Dufferin-Peel Board. Both of these individuals were striking in the sense that they had a real vision of what was possible and neither felt confined by the narrow strictures of the district bureaucracy.

This type of leader is an inspiration. They have real courage and do not define themselves by the current mandarin mantra.

The important line in the quote is ‘why should not we deserve the best’. Getting the best for your students will mean working outside the confines that your school board wants to put around you. How many leaders are comfortable with doing that?

Most school leaders believe in alignment – the idea that the main ideas that govern the school are seamless with what the school board and by extension what the ministry believes in.

No really strong leader was ever praised for doing alignment really well. To do the best for your staff and students, especially in hard to serve areas you need to be an unconventional thinker and look outside your district for partners that share your vision. School board administrators want you to support their vision – I don’t think you can do both. To really serve your community you have to find a new way.

Most school leaders will not accept these ideas and I have had discussions with administrators who certainly not hold these views and who actually judge my thinking on non-alignment to be disloyal.

My question is, who are we supposed to be loyal to? Why were we hired to lead if not to think on our own and advocate always for our students? If we have the courage to do this we must accept the enmity of those who believe our actions must always align with those of our district.

The school leaders I have the most respect for all had difficult relationships with their district supervisors. To me, that is a sign they were on the right path. I am sure it has been the same for Dr  Sanderlin.

We don’t need to be proponents for the district mantra. We need to say ‘why not’ and act for our communities. If we don’t, who will?

When Taking Risks – Do You Stand at the Top or the Bottom of the Stairs?

These days, I have lots of time for reflection. This really helps with my writing and new ideas are coming all the time. Today, I found myself with my bike at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the top of Parliament Hill. The pathway is blocked due to construction so it was either up or back the way I came.

I never like going back so up I went, 286 stairs. The view looking up was a bit daunting, the view from the top was beautiful.

I thought maybe this would work as a metaphor for how to deal with the risks one takes throughout life. Here, I am talking more about professional risks. Sometimes these risks leave you looking up wondering what went wrong and other times you can survey success from the top of the hill.

What are some of the factors that determine success and failure?

Sometimes I think it has everything to do with the people you find yourself working with. One project that I had been working on for the past few months collapsed entirely yesterday. I wrote about the venture here. The project had real potential, but I lacked partners who shared a similar view of the potential of this program. I do blame myself for this. I should have seen the signs – lacklustre response to the proposal, e-mails seldom returned, long bureaucratic notes on why certain things couldn’t happen – the list goes on. It’s a pretty standard list.

Why didn’t I just cut and run, I have seen all these signs before – I have been in education systems for over 31 years!

So, this is the bottom of the stairs looking up. These things happen, if you are not willing to take some risks you will never have the chance to get to the top of the stairs. You need to be at the bottom sometimes so you can savour the top!

There is so much to celebrate when you do get to the top of the hill. I think as you gain experience you get a little bit better at finding projects that bring out the best in everyone involved.

I put voicEd Radio in this category.

It is so wonderful to work with people who encourage and empower you! My wife and I both work on a show for voicED and we have received nothing but enthusiastic encouragement from Stephen Hurley, the creator of this great project.

Here a risk paid off. We had never done a radio show before, now we have a bunch of broadcasts – including a half-hour live show – that we did as part of an amazing full-day live broadcast featuring most of voicEd Radio’s regulars.

My point is, you have to keep taking risks, even when your plans fall completely flat. Over time, the failures are no longer very important and you learn to move away and take whatever lessons you can. Then you find some real pearls like voicEd Radio where you meet great, positive educators and you take your learning to a whole new level.

So keep climbing, don’t look back, move away from the negative nellies and get to the top of the hill!