They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
Laurence Binyon ” For The Fallen” 1914
Laurence Binyon wrote For the Fallen in September of 1914, only weeks after the military engagement that came to be known as the Great War had begun. He had no way of knowing how poignant his lines would become, or how many thousands of men they would come to represent. Of all the days observed within the school calendar Remembrance Day is unique. Rather than a day of celebration it is a day of sombre importance to be recognized and honoured with formal respect.
It can be a daunting prospect to teach the significance of such a day to students who have, for the most part, lived their lives at peace. Recognizing the fallen and the sacrifice of those willing to risk their lives in the service of their country is no small task, and every year educators work hard to have students learn the stories that give the poppy and the day its particular place of importance in the calendar.
Remembrance Day assemblies are held across the district and in our schools to allow the current generation of students to pay their respects to those who came before and who, through their service, enable us to enjoy the benefits of peacetime. Beyond learning the messages of “In Flanders Fields” and recognizing the sacrifices of those who served, and continue to serve, in the Canadian forces, Remembrance Day gives all of us an opportunity to pause and appreciate both what we now have and those who risked all to protect it for us.
Schools are supposed to be safe places. When parents send their students to school they expect to hear about good things happening there. That’s why when events like this past week’s hold and secure and lockdown at three of our school take place, people are rightfully anxious and alarmed. “These sorts of things never happened before!” people say and then they want to know what is being done by the district to keep students safe.
The world has changed. Times were when emergency preparedness amounted to fire drill bells clanging out their jarring warnings a few times a year and everyone shuffling out of buildings and reporting a message of all accounted for to the secretary at the flag pole before jostling back to class. Sadly, today’s students face many new and different threats, and school authorities are charged with being prepared against all of them.
Balancing security needs against positive learning environments can be a tricky thing. Students learn best in open, bright naturally lit environments. New schools feature open spaces, big windows and multiple access points. Great for learning, not as well suited to security procedures designed to keep students hidden from intruders harbouring ill intentions.
The BC Government provides guidance in its Emergency Management Guide. In its introduction it states:
“Emergencies are unpredictable. We usually have little warning that an event or series of events may cause a massive disruption in our lives and our communities. As one of the major areas in which people gather, schools are places where emergency preparedness is critically important to the well-being of students and employees and to the confidence that parents feel in entrusting their children to the care of educators in BC schools.”.
To this end the guide lays out processes and procedures BC School Districts are to follow to prepare against and in the event of a variety of emergencies. Lockdowns and Hold Secures event are two such emergencies with procedures designed to protect persons in our schools from real or perceived threats from outside the building. BC Schools are required to have at least two practice lockdown drills each year in order to familiarize staff and students around what to do if they ever face a real threat situation.
Last week three school did just that, and while the situation caused some anxiety for all of us, in the end the procedures worked as they are designed to. The authorities dealt with the threat and everyone got home safely. These events are rare. Let’s hope that continues to be the case. But when we are called upon to follow the emergency guidelines, its good to know that our schools are prepared and know what to do.
Last week many district leaders gathered for a workshop on “Heart – Mind Wellbeing”. Heart-Mind well-being works to develop a balance between educating the mind with educating the heart. SD 60 is part of a Heart Mind in Schools initiative being spearheaded by the Dalai Lama Centre for Peace and Education that is supported by research and grounded in sound educational practice.
Like most school systems, our district is focused upon teaching excellent cognitive skills and promoting strong academic achievement. We also recognize the positive impacts of social and emotional learning (SEL). In fact, research shows that heart and mind learning are highly interconnected, and that improving children’s social and emotional skills directly benefits their ability to learn. In our district we have long said that we want our students to be some of the best for the world as well as best in the world. Heart Mind practices help us achieve that goal.
The science behind SEL is impressive. Children who develop social and emotional skills have better attitudes about themselves and others, and enjoy better social interactions. They are less aggressive, more skilled in handling difficult emotions, and they have lower levels of emotional distress. Students who receive Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) instruction improve on average 11 percentile points on standardized achievement tests, compared to students who do not receive such instruction.
Heart Mind Learning focuses upon five domains. Instruction aims to help students get along with others, be alert and engaged, compassionate and kind and secure and calm in order to solve problems peacefully. These domains are neatly encapsulated in a heart shaped graphic.
SEL creates conditions that increase children’s abilities to deal with adversity, to understand and work with others, and to make good choices in their actions. Along with a good academic base, SD 60 is working to develop students who demonstrate compassion, empathy and confidence and can better manage the difficult emotions, anxieties, and fears that can get in the way of achieving their goals. Our district motto is “Together We Learn” and SEL helps make that happen.
Fall is a season of change, so perhaps its only fitting that Saturday’s election brought significant change to our board of trustees. Four new trustees will shortly be sworn in, and four other individuals who previously served the district, will move on to other adventures. For the first time in a very long time, the majority of the trustees on our seven member board will be first time trustees. Fortunately the three returning trustees are experienced hands, with multiple terms of service behind them, so the opportunity exists to generate an excellent balance of past wisdom and experience with new energy and commitment.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank our outgoing trustees Jaret Thompson, Linda Stringer, Candace Dow and Daryl Pasichnyck for their years of service. During their time on the board, the district underwent a period of tremendous growth, change and and transition. Their tenure saw our student population grow by over 750 students to grow to over 6000 learners. New schools were planned and built, and there was a wave of transitions in many key district positions. Without their contributions many of these changes would have not gone as smoothly as they have.
The returning and newly elected trustees will face challenges too. Our communities continue to expand, and the pressures to provide quality facilities and to recruit, retain and properly deploy personnel will continue to grow . The continuing commitment to harnessing this region’s energy resources means our district will likely continue to expand dramatically. This at the same time as the Ministry of Education is introducing sweeping changes to curriculum and the way education is delivered. Across the district, staff and students welcome the new board of trustees and eagerly await both opportunities to see what their vision is for the future and for opportunities to demonstrate the programs and successes currently underway in our schools. Change is everywhere in our district and we look forward to working with the new board of trustees to see to it that these changes help improve student outcomes in all education matters!
October 20th will conclude the current election season and will see new school boards elected in BC’s sixty school districts. Boards of Education are formed by elected officials known as trustees. Becoming a trustee is indicative of both a willingness to serve and of an ability to earn the public’s trust. What do trustees do? The BCSTA website describes the role of trustees as follows:
“Trustees engage their communities in building and maintaining a school system that reflects local priorities, values and expectations. School trustees listen to their communities; guide the work of their school district; and set plans, policies and the annual budget. Reflecting the strength of local representation, boards report back to their communities on how students are doing: boards are directly accountable to the people they serve.
British Columbia is a large province with many communities, each having different priorities, needs and unique educational requirements. British Columbians elect their 60 boards of education to improve student achievement according to the diverse needs of these communities. As locally elected representatives, the trustees on these boards best understand their respective communities’ particular strengths, challenges and demands.”
As Superintendent, I work closely with the trustees. In addition to their governance role, trustees develop and mandate strategic planning. They also challenge, encourage and require district employees to provide all our students an optimal learning environment. SD 60 is fortunate to have been served by excellent trustees, some of whom have been elected or acclaimed to multiple terms, but all good things do eventually come to an end. This fall’s election will bring significant change to the make up of our board. Three of the current trustees are moving on to new challenges, and it is the nature of elected offices that contested seats can always see change via the ballot box.
Our sitting trustees have always encouraged and welcomed interested citizens to get involved with governance. While continuity of service and board stability have their advantages, renewal and active civic involvement are the lifeblood of elected institutions. Five of our seven trustee positions will be elected this week and it is vitally important that eligible voters in this district exercise their franchise at the ballot box and choose a good team to oversee the district for the next four years.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all those persons who have served or put their names forward as candidates for election. SD 60 is currently in a period of exciting growth and change. Having a board of keen, energetic and enthusiastic trustees will be vital to ensuring a bright future for our students, staff and stakeholders as they deal with education matters.
It’s fortuitous timing that the first statutory holiday weekend of the school year is Thanksgiving. After the initial rush of back to school, and a month of settling into routines, Thanksgiving comes at just the right time to allow everyone to catch their collective breath and to consider what they have to be grateful for. In fact, gratitude can be a powerful tool in learning, particularly effective in helping to focus positive student responses towards school and learning.
In his post “Gratitude: A Powerful Tool for Your Classroom” Owen Griffiths describes how having students participate in a gratitude journal helps “harness positive thinking to increase grades, goals and quality of life”. The act of recording gratitude in a journal has positive effects for both students and adults with some of the outcomes including better sleep, more positive outlooks on life and greater social satisfaction. Students are better able to cope with adversity and challenge when they can identify the positives in their lives rather than dwelling on things that bring them down.
Heart Mind Online suggests that gratitude can be appreciated by children as young as seven years of age. Coupling gratitude with the act of giving thanks can help benefit students both ways. Research shows that expressed gratitude positively affects both the giver and the receiver of the thanks. The observance of Thanksgiving provides us all with both a welcome holiday break and a reminder that gratitude is a gift that is always in season!