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Newsletter Article : Gangnam Style – What to do when Kindergartens say “Sexy Lady”!


At times the job of Elementary School Principal can be very entertaining. Last week I had the task of speaking with a few of our youngest learners about why it was inappropriate to refer to others as ‘Sexy Lady’ at school. The students involved listened to what I said, pretended they understood what I was saying, and promised that they wouldn’t do it anymore. It wasn’t until later that evening that I made the connection between the words and their source, and figured out why the boys might have had some trouble figuring out why it wasn’t an appropriate thing to be saying.

Often in the evening my son and daughter will ask to look at pictures of themselves on my phone (yes, they are just as vain as their father!). As we were flipping through the pictures we came across a video of my son (also in Kindergarten) and two of his hockey teammates dancing to “Gangnam Style” at a recent Vancouver Giants game. Just to make the point a little clearer to me there was a Birchland student from my son’s team (not one of the ones mentioned above) dancing right behind him. When the four of them held their hands up in the air and screamed “Ehhhhhh…Sexy Lady” I finally figured out where the boys at school learned these words.


This situation has further pointed out the need for us to have a continuous open dialogue with our children. The need for us to really pay attention to what we are exposing them to, and to help them put the information they are being inundated with into some sort of rational perspective. With over 1.3 billion YouTube views, shielding a 5 year old from hearing “Gangnam Style” is a virtual impossibility. Whether walking through the park on Canada Day, sitting at a Giants game, or maybe even coming to school they will hear this song, or something else with content that is hard for a young child to decipher appropriately.


Personally, this understanding will help change the way I conduct conversations with students in this type of situation. I think that I will first need to ask the children where they have heard these words before (hopefully it will be from a song or game and not be what “Daddy always says when he is mad while driving”). After figuring out the source of the information it will be important to spend the time to help them understand why those words might be in a song, but would not be appropriate to be repeating in a public venue. I guess after doing that we can turn up the music and practice our best dance moves!


Fooling Around in the Bathroom

It is not rare to walk down the hallway and hear strange noises coming from the boys bathroom in an elementary school.  Sometimes you hear giggles, or doors slamming, or screams as the boys play tag, toss around paper towel, or slam the doors on the stalls.  And although my school is not immune to this type of behaviour I must admit that I am very pleased that our students do a pretty good job of respecting their school, and this includes their bathrooms.

Last week I was heading down the hallway on my way outside about 10 minutes into the outside play portion of lunch.  As I walked past the boys bathroom I could see that there were two boys standing at the sinks.  I paused…it was quiet.  I heard a whisper.  I looked again, they hadn’t moved.

What were they doing?  There was no water running.  There were no giggles.  They weren’t throwing around paper towels, and they definitely weren’t going to the washroom (or at least I hoped they weren’t as they were still standing at the sinks).

I waited another 30 seconds or so.  They still hadn’t moved.  What were they doing?  Thinking that they must be up to no good I finally entered. 

There they were.  Two grade 3 boys, standing at the bathroom counter, pencils in hands, writing.  They had their writers workshop sheets spread across the entire counter, and they were whispering about what the illustration for page 7 should look like.

For about 30 seconds I pretended to be disappointed in them.  “Boys, you should be outside playing!”

“But, Mr. Pearse, we really want to finish the story we are writing for the Kindergarten class!”

“But boys, this is bathroom, the sink is dirty!”

“Don’t worry, Mr. Pearse, we washed it with soap and water before we started.”

Trying to hold back my laughter I asked why they were writing a story for the Kindergartens.  To my amazement I learned that this wasn’t a class assignment, something their teacher had asked them to do, or some other task imposed upon them by external forces.  They had decided on their own that it would be really nice to write a book for the Kindergartens, they had told the Kindergarten teacher they would have it done by the following day, and they really needed to get it done.

Based on their strengths they had divided the tasks.  They brainstormed the concept together, one boy was the ‘writer’ and the other was the ‘illustrator’.  They had the book properly laid out such that the front and back cover were side by side on one side of the first page, page 1 and 14 were of the reverse of this page, (Thus the entire book would fit together, be folded in the center and held together by a few staples in the middle) and they had a deadline that they needed to meet…not because they were assigned homework, not because they would get in trouble if it wasn’t done, but because they had promised the Kindergartens they would have it done, and they weren’t going to let them down!

As I helped the boys pick up their papers and move to one of the large work tables we have in our front foyer to complete their book, a smile appeared on my face that likely didn’t disappear for several hours.  How awesome is that, instead of heading outside to play ball, dig in the mud, or use the swings, two of our boys ‘hid out’ in the bathroom to write.  Knowing that they might get caught, and that they could get in ‘trouble’, they took the chance because they see themselves as writers, and they want to share their stories with others.

Over the past two years of my career I have spent much time learning about Project Based Learning.  Choice, 21st Century Skills, Authentic Audience, Student Voice, and Feedback are all key concepts in this strategy, and were all present in this task.  But this task wasn’t an ‘assignment’, it wasn’t created for them, and there would have been no repercussions if they had never completed it.  The Kindergarten teacher would have simply said something like “Don’t worry boys, it was a wonderful idea and just the thought of writing a book for us was very sweet!”

So why?  Why are they writing in the bathroom at lunch?  The answer is really quite obvious.  Their teachers have created an amazing culture of learning in our school.  When they are working on numeracy concepts, our students see themselves as Mathematicians!  When they are working on their arts and crafts, they see themselves as Artists, and when they work on Writers Workshop they see themselves as Authors.  And when they believe that they are authors, they do what authors do – they publish books!  Why?  Because they are authors!

And they are right! (4384)

Collaborative Problem Solving – Dr. Ross Greene

Kids do well if the wanna!


Kids do well if they can!

Over the past six months or so I have been promoting the “Kids do well if they can” philosophy with the staff at my school, last Friday (Nov 2nd) I was lucky enough attended a workshop by Dr. Ross Greene in North Vancouver along with two staff members from my school. Now the real work starts as we start actively working with the Collaborative Problem Solving Approach (CPS) at our school.

Thinking that a child’s challenging behaviour is working for him is just wrong

Driving home from the workshop the three of us made a commitment to sit down for 45 minutes this week and complete (or start to complete) the Assessment of Lagging Skills and Unsolved Problems (ALSUP) for one of our most challenging students. Although we knew this would create a lengthly list of Unsolved Problems it gave us a place to start. Now that we have the list we will put “Plan B” into action and start helping challenging kids!

After returning to work on Monday and knowing that one of the things that Dr. Greene talked about is trying to avoid “Emergency Plan B” and instead use “Proactive Plan B” I made an ‘on the fly’ decision today to engage in “Emergency Plan B”.

“I saw a usually mild mannered teacher, who was at training with me last Friday, coming towards the office with a student in tow (which thankfully is a rare sight in our school). After a quick assessment of the situation (rudeness, disrespect and a pinch of swearing) I suggested that the three of us sit down to discuss what had happened. In my mind I very quickly formulated an “Unsolved Problem”. The result of the drilling was truly shocking, or as Dr. Greene would say was a “Wow, moment”. The clarity with which the student was able to articulate his concerns was amazing, and through some questions from both the teacher and myself we very quickly understood the students’ concerns. When given the opportunity, the teacher quickly inserted her concerns and I managed to fumble my way through the ‘invitation’ (This did lead to me re-listening to the “Invitation Step” pod cast while walking the dog this evening). After reminding myself about 5 times that it was a collaborative effort that created the best plans I think I managed to insert some of my own ideas while still incorporating those of the students.

At the end of the day we have a solution that adresses the concerns of both parties and I believe is feasable. The process took about 15 minutes and everyone left happy, which was stark contrast to the scene we started with.

I am now officially sold and can’t wait to get into solving problems proactively.

If you are looking for more information on the CPS approach please visit the parts of the website I find most useful are the Listening Library, Why Solve Problems Collaboratively, and the Paperwork sections.

The following Blog Posts are also very good:

They Need Teaching…Not Punishment - Chris Wejr

Collaborative Problem Solving in the Classroom – Joe Bower

Collaborative Problem Solving with Curtis – Joe Bower (lots more from Joe available here)


Never, Ever, Give up on a Kid!

For years I have talked with my staff members about the importance of maintaining a connection between a student and the school for as long as possible, even when you are convinced that the child will lose this connection. I strongly believe, and have frequently said (pontificated, preached?), that every day we can keep a child connected in a positive way increases the chance that the child will have a positive memory of school, and even if they become disconnected will increase their chances of returning and finding success.

The problem is that we rarely see this happen. Instead, what happens is the child moves, is taken into ministry care, falls into the drug world, or something else and we are left feeling like our efforts were futile and did no good. Standing behind my beliefs, when this has happened I have debriefed with staff members reminding them that they have left an impression on the child, and have increased that child’s chances for success.

This week I received confirmation that this is true, and am so proud to know that the staff I worked with, who fought so hard for a child only to watch him slip away, now knows they did good, and helped guide an amazing young man through part of a difficult childhood. Although it wasn’t easy at the time, they showed compassion and respect and THEY MADE A DIFFERENCE!

Last Wednesday I met up some family members at a taco place for a quick birthday gathering (don’t, ask how we ended up at a taco place, I am kinda thinking it was meant to be) it was a little crazy with 5 kids between 4 months and 9 years old, and I must admit I was slightly flustered when I arrived at the till. Not surprisingly, as it happens about once a week, I heard a familiar line, in a familiar tone, “Mr. Pearse? Is that you?” But on my end, I was blank, looking at the tall, fit, we’ll kept young man before me, I had no clue who he was.

Once he told me his name, I had to ask him to take off his hat to actually believe who was standing there. As he extended his hand for a shake, that meant more than any words could ever say, I was in complete disbelief that this student, of all the troubled kids I knew, appeared to have made it through.

He was working, so we didn’t initially get the chance to talk, but as I sat down my wife asked who the kid was, I told her and it was a name she remembered me talking about 7 years earlier (this says something about the kid!). “Looks like he made it,” she said!

As we finished dinner, he got off work and we had a chance to catch up. I heard stories of foster care, being kicked out of schools, cocaine, group homes, extasy, selling drugs, owing money, arrests, and finally an alternative school back in our district, some success, reunion with his mother, getting clean, focussing on martial arts, A’s on report cards, and graduation from a regular high school program.

I am proud that we never gave up on this boy, to the last day he was at our school we fought for him, and from the look on his face when he shook my hand, I know that he knew it!

By showing kids that you care about them and believe that they can be successful you will not always be able to prevent them from going through tough times. But what you can do is give them hope, give them a positive memory to cling to, and provide them with the knowledge that there are people in the world who will help them when they are ready. And although you may not always find out about it, you will make a difference! (5226)

Pondering QR Codes

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to attend the the Coquitlam Administrators conference in Whistler, British Columbia.  Our presenter for the conference was George Couros who did an amazing job of crafting sessions that spoke to members at all levels of technological knowledge.  A few of my colleagues have already done an excellent job of crafting their thoughts on the conference experience.

Brian - Shift to the Future - The Wisdom in the Room

Janine – Cmentguide – Creating a Culture of Leaders

Bryn – VP Stories – Social Media as a Tool for Learning

Pam – The Mindful Classroom – Finding a Mindful Balance with Technology

Although I initially thought I would blog my personal experience at the conference, life got in the way (more specifically a Power Rangers birthday party) and by the time I got to it there seemed little point (it had been done for me).  Instead I want to reflect on a small piece of the conference and the potential impact it may have on the ways I attempt to interact with the parent community at Birchland.

On Friday afternoon we participated in a scavenger hunt that saw us wander around Whistler Village scanning QR codes.  I must admit that in preparation for this event I had to download a QR code reader onto my IPhone.  However, I was intrigued with this method of communication and started asking myself how it might be used in our schools?

I wondered what would happen if I produced a QR code that automatically linked to our school’s most recent newsletter and then put it up around the playground, soccer field, front doors, and who knows where else at our school?  Would parents know what to do?  Would they figure it out?

Thus an experiment was born in the staffroom at my school:

I placed these on the tables before school on Tuesday, after completing my supervision at recess I overheard a conversations in which a teacher said, “Oh, yeah, but don’t bother, it’s just the Newsletter!”  I believe that the somewhat sarcastic tone was for my benefit, as the staff had quickly figured out who was responsible for the secret message.   I was very happy to know that the simple placement of a code on a table aroused enough interest to scan it and see what it was.

Using this information I am working to create a caption, maybe ” ? BIRCHLAND ? ” to put over the code which will be printed, laminated and then posted around the exterior of the school, I wonder if the soccer moms of the world will be as inquisitive as my staff. (4464)

Newsletter Article: What is Assistive Technology

Below is a newsletter article from last spring that I neglected to publish on this blog.

Following our last newsletter I was asked by a parent to define the term ‘assistive technology’.  In order to truly understand the term it is first important to understand the meaning of the term ‘technology’.

One of the issues in defining this term is the often misuse of the term technology to refer to new electronic technologies such as the iPad.  Yes, the iPad is an example of technology, but so is the hammer, pencil and even the diapers my daughter wears (hopefully she won’t be using this technology for too much longer!).

When referring to assistive technology many educators make this same assumption and think of electronic technologies that are used to assist learners with special needs, when in reality assistive technologies are much more than just electronics and although they are usually designed for students with special needs can assist all students in the learning environment.

Two easy to see examples of non-electronic assistive technologies that I see almost every day are Velcro Shoes and large pencil grips.  Both of these devices are used to provide access for students with poor manual dexterity to basic tools (shoes and pencils) however both of these items are also used by students without these needs to assist them in their own use of those same tools.

A good example of an electronic assistive technology that is used at Birchland is Co-Writer which is part of the SOLO-6 suite.  Co-Writer is advertised as a great program for student with:

  • Illegible handwriting
  • Very poor phonetic awareness or inventive spelling
  • A physical disability that makes typing difficult
  • Difficulty translating thoughts into writing

These tools, along with many others, are used seamlessly at Birchland by students with and without the learning needs described above.  Much like the message from the cartoon, students at Birchland are trained how to use the tools available to assist them with their learning and that it is their responsibility to self-regulate and use them when they need to.

Please ask your child what tools they know how to use, and how they use these tools to assist them in becoming independent learners. (4031)

Newsletter Article – Perspectives on Bullying

Often, as parents, educators, and community members, we are confronted with situations that we feel we need to discuss with our children, but just can’t find the correct words.  The tragic death of Amanda Todd, a neighbour and colleague’s child qualifies as one of these situations for myself.  And although I don’t believe it would beneficial to be talking specifically about this case in our classrooms at Birchland, I believe that this is a powerful time to appropriately educate our children in our homes, classrooms and communities on the subject of bullying.

I strongly believe that the place to begin when discussing this topic is with a definition of bullying, as I often feel that the word is over used.  Sometimes the word is used to refer to situations that are one-offs, or disagreements between students rather than true bullying situations (not to say that these situations don’t require adult intervention, just that labelling them as bullying would be incorrect).

The Bully Beware website (created by SD#43 Principal Cindy Seddon) lists three things that need to be true in order for an act to be considered bullying:

  1. Was it intentionally mean-spirited (embarrassing, humiliating, physically harmful, etc.)?
  2. Was there a power difference between the ‘Bully’ and the ‘Victim’?
  3. Was the act repeated?

The best definition of bullying I have read is from a New Zealand website which defines it like this:

“Bullying is when someone keeps doing or saying things to have power over another person.”

When looking at the issue of power, it is important to think of this as either social or physical power, and to understand that some children command a greater sense of this power than others.  It is also worth pointing out that although arguments can be made that a single event can constitute bullying, usually it is a series of acts that take place over time.

As far as advice for parents on the issue of bullying I strongly agree with the words Tom Grant used in his letter to parents last Friday:

“Awareness and education are key to preventing bullying. As parents, it is important that you watch for changes in your child’s behaviour and signs of stress. Open dialogue with your child is critical to supporting them. We ask that you talk to them about bullying, appropriate internet use and how they are feeling. If you are concerned about your child’s welfare please talk to a school staff member or seek help from other community support services.”

Attached to Mr. Grant’s letter are several resources and some information on bullying.  If you are looking for more information this is a great place to start. (3885)

Classroom Lighting – It makes a difference

One of the reason I love my job is that the educators I work with are constantly doing amazing things.  One example of this was the educator I spoke of last year who engaged her students in meaningful dialogue about the design of their classroom.  Another one would be the transformation of the district behaviour program at our school from a segregation model to an inclusion model by the Teacher and Educational Assistants who run it.

Another amazing educator I work with writes a classroom design blog that I regularly follow, his recent post on classroom lighting has spurred me back into blogging, hopefully to stay!

In his post he writes about lighting in his classroom and his neighbour’s, Mr. S’s, classroom, and the ‘spaces’ they have created with the use of lights.  Last Monday morning I had the opportunity to open the day in Mrs. L’s classroom when she was caught in a horrible traffic jam.  When I initially arrived in the room I discovered that a painter who was painting the outside door had left the classroom open and many of the grade 1 and 2 students were already in the classroom.  To say there was a ‘buzz’ in the air would be a bit of an understatement.  My initial thought was to use my voice to calm the room, however I quickly change my mind when I was reminded by a lamp that was infront of me that Mrs. L doesn’t usually have the large flourescent lights on, and instead uses lamps.  So I walked around, saying good morning to students, and turned the lamps on.  Once they were all on I turned the main lights off.

The effect was immediate.  The sound level was cut in half.  Two students who were chasing each other stopped and about half of the students in the room started moving towards the carpet, which is the morning meeting place.  After seeing this I left the room to retrieve the attendance book and ensure there were no other emergencies in the building.  When I returned I continued welcoming students and moved to the carpet area to start the day.  The day started in a calm, relaxed way with a discussion about where their teacher was, how she would probably be feeling when she arrived (after being in a traffic jam for an hour and a half) and how they could help her have a great day.

The reason the day started so well had little to do with me, but instead was due to the environment that has been created by Mrs. L.  She has created a calming classroom that helps her students self regulate.


To blog again…

I believe this is the third time I have written this post…or actually the second, as I don’t think I started blogging until after my first child was born.  However I distinctly remember taking a blogging break following the birth of my second child, and am now returning after the birth of my third child.

It’s only been four month, and two of those were summer vacation, so it hasn’t really been that long, but what bugs me about this is I have had things that I wanted to blog about and didn’t.  Oh well, I am sure the ideas will resurface at a later date.

This evening I return to blogging, inspired by a colleague’s blog post I just read (which I will respond to in my next post) and offering a picture of the reason I have not been blogging.


The Saga Continues…

I doubt that there are many classrooms that have gone through as many reorganizations as this particular grade 2 room in my school.  They started with groups.  Thinking it would help them ‘self-regulate’ the students asked if they could set up their desks in rows.  Soon, they discovered that this wasn’t working for everyone and they switched to 1/2 rows and 1/2 groups.  Speaking with the teacher I was stunned to learn that these shifts had been thought out, and requested by the students.  Once they convinced their teacher that they had legitimate reasons for the next change it was granted.

After the half and half configuration the teacher started to get a little curious about the whole experiment.  What would happen if there were no desks?  How would they do?  Thus she planted the seed!  This time, the students thought it was their idea, but it was really hers, she just wanted to see how they would do. Although they enjoyed it, it was quickly apparent that this worked much better for some than others and thus another student driven change was discussed.  The result?

 The interesting point about this one is that the teacher provided no direction as to how to set up their desks.  It was simply decided that if a student wanted their desk back, they could go retrieve it from the hallway.  It is also important to count the desks.  TEN, there are ten student desks in this picture, and two that are used for other purposes.  It is also important to realize that the desks are in rows.  The students didn’t appear to discuss this, they just did it. 

This picture was taken the next day.  Count again…Twelve!  Again, still in rows.

So this morning the teacher comes me again to show me what has happened.  Due to a number of activities today she didn’t bother setting up her computer and Smart Board projector this morning.  Now look at the three tables in the foreground and recount the desks.  We are back to 10, and the tables are being utilized as work spaces.  The most interesting question of the day definitely goes to the student who said “Mrs. O. I really like working at this table, can we get more tables like this in our room?”  You can imagine the smile deep down in the teachers heart.

I wonder if the students will figure out that they can arrange their desks into groups that begin to create a space similar to the table? (5458)