The Leader’s Discipline

This month I had the privilege of participating in a professional development opportunity with a coaching and leadership organization called The Roy Group (  Twenty-one participants, including teachers and administrators, from Handsworth and Carson Graham Secondary gathered over an immersive 3 days to engage an experience called The Leader’s Discipline.  This work was facilitated by Roy Group founder, Ian Chisholm as well as Carson Graham Principal, Ian Kennedy.  Much of what we were to discover later was shrouded in a bit of mystery, but a few instructions we did receive beforehand included to clear our calendar for the event, to plan to leave our cell phone off and emails unattended, and finally to make sure we came prepared to discuss a professional problem of practice.  Oh, and to dress for activity!

We began with a Wednesday evening dinner that brought the groups from both schools to break bread and build relationships in anticipation of Thursday and Friday.  Each participant introduced themselves and talked a little bit about their learning intentions for the experience.  Ian Chisholm, or ‘Chis’ as we called him, spoke a bit about his professional journey as well, and how it brought him to work with us today.  A few of the aforementioned instructions were provided and we all left looking forward to the next day.

On Thursday morning we met at the North Shore Tennis Club on Lloyd Ave in North Vancouver.  Although having lived in North Van for most of my life, I’d never actually been inside the facility, so it was neat to see.  To begin the day we were each given a notebook, pen, and a series of custom stickers that included quotes, concepts and key ideas we would be working with throughout the day.

The first idea we played with was what it means to be a ‘mentor’; that a mentor is name you don’t give yourself – it needs to be given to you.  We also discovered that the word ‘mentor’ is actually the name of the person Odysseus left his son, Telemachus, with before leaving for the Trojan war.

Our first activity, without giving away the details, was designed to illustrate how being an engaged and attentive listener is such an important skill.  And that way we conduct ourselves has real effect on those we interact with.

It was from this activity that I knew what we were learning was going to be absolutely applicable to my daily work.  Much of my day is comprised of brief 5 minute interactions with colleagues, parents and students.  And my ability to be ‘dialed-in’ for each of those conversations has a significant impact on my effectiveness as support in my school.  How you conduct yourself is so important.  We learned that ‘conduct’ is where everything inside of you, meets everything outside of you, and the way I conduct myself creates an ‘atmosphere’ in others.

With colleagues in the school, it’s important that the atmosphere I’m creating is one of safety… but not comfort.  Particularly with all the changes happening in education, it’s more important than ever that educational leaders are encouraging movement from comfort through discomfort – but from a place of safety.  High performance professionals who are heavily engaged in their work are not comfortable.

Through our second activity we started to explore what meaningful feedback looks like.  We were partnered up to complete a task which involved tossing tennis balls from a seated position, and through multiple iterations discovered the relative value of encouragement versus detailed information as feedback.  This is where we also began to examine coaching as a vehicle for feedback, mentorship and, ultimately, leadership.

In the afternoon this understanding was further refined as we hit the tennis court to start using a coaching model for providing feedback.  Chis kicked off the session with an intro to tennis pro turned philosopher Tim Gallwey.  Gallwey is the author of The Inner Game of Tennis, a psychological examination of sport performance phenomenon.  In it, he describes two selves: Self 1, which is analytical, ego-driven and gets in the way of Self 2, which is more unconscious, intuitive and physical.  When an athlete is ‘in the zone’, they are fully realizing their Self 2 potential.  The secret to the Inner Game is really to find how to get Self 1 out of the way of Self 2.

For the purposes of this activity, we participants were arranged in trios, with a coachee (player), coach, and super coach who would provide feedback to the coach on their performance.  Coaches used something called The Question Funnel with their players; a series of questions designed to increase awareness and focus attention.  Meanwhile, the super coaches who were observing the work of the coaches with the coachees followed The Feedback Model.  This model employs three simple, but powerful questions: 1. What went well?  2. What was tricky?, and 3. What would you do differently next time?  Once the coach had the opportunity to provide reflections of their own, then the supercoach was able to offer their thoughts.  The ideas we had established earlier about quality feedback needing to be more informative than encouraging were also reinforced through this activity.  We each had an opportunity to try all 3 roles, and from this activity I learned that as a coach/mentor it’s important to be highly attentive, to allow the student to define their own goals, and to remember that learning is a reflective process that works best when people feel safe.

To wrap up a very full Thursday, Chis introduced us to ‘Henderson’s Disciplines’ – 4 ideas, that when combined together provide a powerful framework for decision making.  They are: Reflect, Inquire, Pause and Act.  Chis reminded us that reflection cannot be superficial – it must be rigorous to be useful.  And that pausing really is important, despite how difficult many of us find it to do.  And so for homework, we were challenged to carve out an authentic and meaningful pause;  to take a break from the day, and to make a conscious effort to relax at some point between when we ended our Thursday and began our Friday.  Unfortunately for the Handsworth participants this also happened to be our Parent-Teacher Interview evening.  But needless to say, we did our best!

On Friday we moved locations from the tennis courts to a seminar room at a local rec centre.  The focus for Friday was to take the theory and concepts we had learned, and bring them to bear on a real problem of practice we were dealing with.  Essentially it was to bridge the theory with the real world and to make it explicitly applicable. 

Our first activity was to form new trios of coachee, coach, and super-coach, but this time we weren’t refining tennis skills, but rather coaching our colleagues through real work issues.  Ian and Chis provided us with an exemplar to start, and then we broke out in to different spaces to work.  It was a wonderful opportunity to practice using these new tools we had just been equipped with, in a real world situation.

Another tool which was added to our belt to work through these issues was the GROW Model.  GROW stands for Goal, Reality, Options and Will, and each category includes a series of questions to be used to drill down into a problem and help work towards a possible resolution.

As a coachee, it was insightful to have a coach who could take my issue in unanticipated directions with their questions.  It forced me to examine it from a new perspective.  I also noted that I didn’t need my coach to have all the answers – the coach is not going to be the source of the solution; they are just there to facilitate my own reflection and to take it in different directions.

Our culminating activity for the day was an outdoor competitive group challenge.  We were divided into 4 teams, each with a coach to help guide using the Question Funnel, and supercoach to employ The Feedback Model with the coach.  Our team challenge was a timed obstacle course, and brought together many of the concepts we had already learned, including having the coachees (the team) determine their own goals.  We were encouraged to practice our questioning techniques, rather than telling people what to do, and were reminded that leaders are able to check their emotions by grasping themselves, grasping their team, and finally grasping the task at hand.

As we wound down the experience and debriefed some of our takeaways, we discussed how leaders don’t create followers, they create other leaders.  And that good coaching is really having the right conversation before, and having the right conversation after.

We were challenged to identify 10 topics we hope to be coached on, and by whom, and to write them down.  Lastly, we set some tangible goals for ourselves, moving forward, and committed to practicing our new coaching and leadership skills in some way.  For me, I’m pleased to say I’ve already brought these lessons to bear on my own practice by using The Feedback Model in conducting performance reviews.  I also feel better equipped than ever to navigate some of the complex relationships and difficult conversations I regularly encounter in my role.

This was a wonderful professional development experience, and I would highly recommend it for anyone in a position of leadership, or who works in a highly relational industry.  It was great to have the chance to work with the team from Carson Graham as well.  I’m looking forward to integrating these skills even more into my daily work, as I know they’ll serve me well.  Thanks to Ian Chisholm, Ian Kennedy and the Handsworth and Carson Graham teams.

The Leader’s Discipline

The First 100 Days

The winter break marks roughly the first 100 days in my role as Vice Principal at Handsworth.  Without having any frame of reference from past years, I still think it’s safe to say it was a remarkably busy beginning to the school year.  The learning curve for the position was described to me as ‘taking a sip from a firehose’, and I think after having experienced the first four months, that it’s an accurate description.

Preparations for the 2017/2018 school year had already began long before I took on my role.  Building the school timetable, student course selections and preparations for school wide events for the year had already begun in earnest during the previous school year.  One of the first challenges was to try and pick up work that had already began by others and to carry through and compliment it where possible.  I spent part of July, and much of August making sure everything was in place for our massive 350 student Grade 8 Retreat.  That event, combined with welcome preparations for our annual Japan Exchange, filled my plate with event planning.

The other major piece before the start of the school year was staffing.  The restoration of class size and composition language in the BC teachers’ contract meant that more staff would need to be hired to start the year.  That, combined with leaves and retirements, gave us about 20 new staff members to start the year.  It took a few weeks in July, and every day leading up to the start of the school year before we were able to staff the school to meet the needs of our students.  We were actually fortunate we were able to (almost) fill all of our positions before start-up.  I know many other schools, especially in other districts, began the year severely short-staffed, and in some cases, still have positions unfilled.

The challenges to start the year were layered and varied.  Operationally speaking we had staffing shortages, new orders for reporting on student learning, and the introduction of the new BC curriculum for grade 8 and 9.  Decreasing class sizes necessitated recapturing teacher preparation areas from the school to convert them into instructional spaces.  This meant some difficult conversations with people being displaced from areas of the school they were accustomed to working in, and having the unfortunate circumstance of some folks needing to work in upwards of 6 different spaces in the school.  Certainly not ideal.  Other school based challenges include ongoing student discipline, working to support our vibrant arts and athletics programs, and the continuing restructuring of spaces and supports to better accommodate the varied needs of our students, particularly our complex learners.

I’m very fortunate to be working this year with such a strong admin team.  Our other VP was already working at Handsworth and provided some administrative continuity.  And our new Principal has moved from the Vancouver School District to Handsworth and brings a wealth of experience and perspective that is refreshing.  Plus, they’re just really great people!  And I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention how outstanding the ‘extended’ administrative team is.  We work so closely with our front office staff, supervision, and counseling department on a daily basis, and their amazing work is so integral for us to be able to do our job well.

One of the great positives of my new role is that I now have a wider professional network in the district on which I can rely.  All the administrators in our sister high-schools and family of elementary schools, as well as our directors and upper executive are always only a phone call away should we need their advice or assistance.  Having a broader, district perspective is also important so I can stay in tune with the direction the district is moving when it comes to things like specialty district programs, aboriginal education and other emerging initiatives.

From my colleagues, I’ve learned not to get overwhelmed by the ‘tyranny of the urgent’.  Some days I finish with more unread emails than I started the day with.  And each and every person who comes through my office door throughout the day is there to share what their most pressing issue is at the moment.  Providing an attentive and supportive ear is always needed.  Admittedly, it can be difficult when conversation 1 is about a student in an emotional family crisis and, 5 minutes after, conversation 2 is with a staff member concerned their classroom is a bit too warm.  Arguably the biggest part of the job is relationship building, and having people feel like they’re being heard, regardless of how big or small the issue is, is a huge part of that.  One of the tools I’ve added to my belt is prioritizing responses.  Emergent issues are classified in one of 4 ways: ‘urgent & important’, ‘not urgent, but important, ‘urgent, but not that important’, ‘not urgent & not important’.  Clearly things that are ‘urgent & important’ are priority 1, and things that are ‘not urgent & not important’ can wait until later.  This reduces the list of immediate ‘to-dos’ significantly during the work day.

Relational trust is, indeed, one of the most important aspects of any leadership position, and I’m very fortunate to get to still work at the school where I’ve established some great relationships with staff.  But relationships are like a garden, and its takes continued time, care and attention to make sure they’re positive. Difficult conversations are certainly easier to have when you have an established positive, trusting rapport with a colleague.  Having that relational piece already in place has allowed me to focus on learning more of the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the job.  To begin the year, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.  As Donald Rumsfeld once said, there are such things as ‘unknown unknowns’.  For example, having never taught a French Immersion class, I didn’t know how many FI credits students needed to get a dual dogwood.  There were also ‘known unknowns’.  I had also never built a school timetable, or used the administrator interface on MyEd.  Relational trust has given me the space to focus on learning what I previously didn’t know.

My decade of work at Handsworth did, however, provide me with an existing understanding of how many of the programs at our school do work.  Nowhere has this been more evident than in athletics, as I served previously for 4 years as our school’s Athletic Director.  Disappointingly, this year also marks the first year I won’t be coaching basketball in 12 years.  I do really miss coaching, and hope I can return to it once I’m better accustomed to the rhythm of the administrative calendar.  I also miss my classroom and being able to teach about what I’m passionate about.  I loved my business classes, and know I had many students who also found their passion in business by taking courses with me.  My hope now is that in my new role that I can inspire more students and staff on a broader scale to engage in what they’re passionate about, and to take what excited me in the classroom about business and try to bring it out in other ways in the school.

Being a school-based administrator is an incredibly complex job.  We have over 1600 people working in our building every day.  In the business world, our school alone would be considered a ‘large’ business.  There’s something new to deal with each day, whether its operational items like hiring and evaluations, organizing school wide events like Remembrance Day assemblies and parent teacher interviews, completing ministry requirements for tracking student data for school funding, overseeing school budgets, occupational health and safety, navigating the complex layers of managing a unionized work environment, supporting the social-emotional needs of students and staff, working with facilities on maintaining or transforming spaces, meeting with parents, covering classes for staff, or spearheading educational leadership initiatives.   The list goes on!  Amidst all the chaos of the day, it’s good to be constantly reminded that students need to be at the centre of all our decisions, and that if we’re framing all our choices by the greatest good for the greatest number of our kids, then we’re probably moving in the right direction.

I’ll end this post with a great resource for current or budding administrators.  It’s been a wonderfully valuable reference point for me as I navigate this new professional journey.  Here is a link to the Leadership Standards for BC Principal’s and Vice Principals.  It was developed and revised by the BCPVPA Standards Committee in 2016 and provides some great insight into developing one’s capacity in educational leadership.

Looking forward to the rest of the year!


The First 100 Days

The Innovator’s Mindset

This past month I read George Couros’ The Innovator’s Mindset. It was a book that came a good juncture in my professional growth as I move from teaching to administration. The book walked a nice line between both a teacher and administrator’s perspective on how to foster a culture of innovation in classrooms and a school as a whole. As with any book on education, I try to see if what I read simply reinforces my existing beliefs, or if it challenges me to see things differently. While much of what Couros writes was already in line with my beliefs, there was a lot of food for thought in the book and moments where I paused to reflect on my own experience and ways I could try to reframe some of the work we’re doing at Handsworth. I thought I might share a few notes and highlights from the book that really resonated with me.

This year our overarching goal at Handsworth has been deeper student engagement, inspired by our work the previous year with Design Thinking. In The Innovator’s Mindset, Couros says that engagement is good, but empowerment is better. I have had a confluence of inspirations between my experiences at High Tech High with exhibitions of student learning, the self-assessment piece coming with BCs New Curriculum and now reading Couros’ comments of moving beyond engagement. I’m excited to see how we can move towards real student empowerment next year. One idea we are working with is to possibly restructure our twice-yearly parent-teacher interviews to have them be, rather, led by students who will share what they’ve been learning, perhaps with a portfolio of work.

One of the quotes Couros cited early in the book was from American educator and author, Stephen Covey, who talks about the speed of trust. As someone who subscribes completely to the idea that any organization is only as strong as its people and the relationships between them I agree wholeheartedly with the notion that things just get done, and get done faster, where there is an established culture of trust. This culture is developed, as Couros says, “by the expectations, interactions, and, ultimately, the relationships of the entire learning community.” But, even more importantly, relationships are built first on a one-to-one basis. I like Couros’ suggestion that as an administrator it is important to work with smaller staff groups of 2 to 4 people to create an intimacy that is lacking with larger assembly style groups. I have been fortunate to work with some great district administrators in North Vancouver who have also worked hard to create relationships with other staff in those types of smaller working groups. Networking is so important, because, as is mentioned in the book, “alone we are smart, together we are brilliant.” Strong relationships create an environment for innovation.

I had to laugh when the example of Blockbuster was brought up when illustrating the notion that organizations must “innovate or die”. I actually worked for Blockbuster all through my high school and university years. I was an employee there in the year 2000 when a small, little known company named Netflix began its mail order DVD program.

In what is now a fairly well known monumental business blunder, Blockbuster’s CEO had the opportunity to buy Netflix but decided to pass on it because he considered video streaming to be a niche market. Education is also a “business” that is experiencing a rapid transformation. Our students, as “clients”, have higher expectations than ever for how they will be served. It’s on us, collectively, to make sure we aren’t delivering a VHS experience where a digital one is required.

So how do we foster this innovative change we are so earnestly pursuing? Couros says that to inspire change, we must make a connection to the heart first before making a connection to the mind. And again, this really speaks to the importance of relationships – both between staff, and also staff and students. Inspiration comes from embracing possibilities. And as an educational leader, it is going to be incumbent upon me to help create those conditions where creative risk taking and positive change is more likely to occur. A culture of compliance is anathema to fostering innovation. Moreover, it’s important to realize that the improvement of our practice will never really have a finish line. We’re in education after all. If, as a discipline, we’re not constantly adapting and improving, then we aren’t truly living what it means to embrace that culture of learning.

Today, more than ever before, there seems to be this pronounced push and pull between innovative, personalized, big idea learning practices, and the forces of testing, compliance and traditional learning. Thankfully it seems that new thinking is beginning to win the day. School shouldn’t be about “what’s on the test”. It should be a safe and welcoming place where students have permission to make mistakes; to fail quickly and fail often so they learn to find success, not just in the classroom, but also in life. In reading The Innovators Mindset I was reminded of a John Green quote I love. To paraphrase, it goes, “About the test… The test will measure whether you are an informed, engaged, and productive citizen of the world, and it will last your entire life, and it will be comprised of the millions of decisions that, when taken together, will make your life yours. And everything, everything, will be on it.” Whether or not we prepare our students to be productive, happy and engaged citizen is the real measurement, I believe, of quality of the learning happening in our schools.

There was, however, one assertion Couros made that I wanted to challenge. He asks what is a student more likely to need to know how to write: an essay or a blog post, suggesting that the latter was more important. I understand the irony of questioning this within a blog post, but I have to say that any good piece of persuasive writing, be it an op-ed piece, a blog post or even an online review requires some understanding of ethos, pathos and logos – elements of persuasion that are the foundation of a good essay. This is in addition to understanding the importance of quality evidence and establishing a good structure. This is not to say the essay is the be all and end all, but it gives young writers a great foundation; a platform from which they can propel to all other forms of writing, including blog posts. But maybe that’s just the English teacher in me. Blogging is certainly important. Couros discusses what a fantastic professional development tool it can be, and I have to agree. While I know what I write is read by very few people, it encourages me to refine my thinking on topics in education – something I will increasingly be challenged to do as I navigate the world of administration.

As a budding administrator, Couros reminds me that the higher up any one person is in an organization, the more people they serve. I’m looking forward to serving more people than ever, and hopefully in the process being a force for innovation and change that can affect even more students. One of the most profound questions that came up frequently in The Innovators Mindset was, “Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom?” I will be serving many classrooms now; albeit in a different capacity, so I feel there is an enhanced responsibility to ensure that all classrooms in the school are safe and caring spaces for learning. But beyond that, I think for me, it’s also going to be important for me to ask, “Would I want to be a staff member in my own school?” The Innovator’s Mindset has given me some good inspiration in helping me make that a positive reality.

You can find The Innovator’s Mindset online at

The Innovator’s Mindset

Winter Residency at High Tech High

c3sbjkjxuaakjou-jpg-largeLast week eleven of my colleagues and I had the privilege of traveling to High Tech High in San Diego, California for a transformative professional development experience. High Tech High is a collection of charter schools whose students are admitted by a zip code based lottery designed to draw students who demographically reflect the diversity of the surrounding San Diego county. “High Tech High” is a bit of a misnomer, because although the school incorporates technology in a variety of ways into the classroom, technology is not the focus. High Tech High focuses rather on using project-based learning (PBL) to enhance student engagement and achievement.

What is PBL?

PBL is a constructivist approach to teaching that involves student-centered instruction through assigning purposeful activities and projects. It allows students to work more autonomously to construct their own learning, and culminates in realistic, student-generated products. While the projects are the product, the processes by which the students arrive at that product are far more important. Teachers use scaffolding, elements of design thinking, front-load students with essential understandings and develop inquiry questions to be answered before the conclusion of the project. PBL proponents understand that student knowledge is constructed, not transmitted and work to build a reflective understanding of the project development experience.

The 2017 Winter Residency

img_5589Over the course of our three days at the HTH Winter Residency, participants worked to refine their understand of PBL through activities and discussion. Our group came well prepared with existing projects and ideas we were looking to refine and tune. Some of the major initiatives we’ve been working on at our school include our ‘Innovation Wednesdays’ and a possible school wide project to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary. Individual teachers also had inquiry questions and class projects they brought to HTH to tune up and reflect upon with colleagues from around the US and Canada.

Two of the most valuable and rewarding aspects over the three days of the residency I found were the opportunity to explore the campus and to interview current HTH students.

I’ve always been interested in the intersection between form and function and specifically in a school how its physical space influences the style of instruction. The classrooms of HTH have enormous windows giving visitors like us the opportunity to peer in and easily see what’s happening. Students work in rooms where desks are arranged in circles or small groups for more collaboration. Transparency is seen not only in the generous windows, but also in how student work is displayed throughout the interior of the buildings. There were visual displays of learning around the schools including murals, exhibitions and even science demonstrations that could fit in a classroom windowpane.

Making learning visible is a consistent theme, and was achieved primarily through three methods; firstly, the aforementioned exhibitions of work, secondly through presentations of learning, and thirdly though student-led conferences. During student conferences, students would address what they are learning and why, how they’re successful, what challenges them, how they’re doing as an individual learner and how they’re doing within the broader learning community. Conferences are mediated with a curated selection of student work the provided authentic evidence.

screen-shot-2017-02-10-at-8-01-19-pmThe opportunity to speak with current HTH students was also immensely insightful. All the students we spoke with were incredibly articulate and able to express quite thoughtfully their experience at the school. They all seemed very aware of what a special place it was they were attending, and how lucky they were to have been chosen by lottery. Student performance seemed to be buoyed both by the fact their work is constantly exhibited, and because they knew the opportunity they had been afforded was one coveted by many other students. In my discussions with the students I tried to dig deeper into any perceived shortcomings of their experience, to take a more critical look at anything HTH could be doing better with their project-based approach. One of the aspects the students lamented was that they didn’t have many of the conventional extra-curricular experiences like sports teams or school dances other schools were more likely to have. Any shortcomings, however, paled in comparison to the educational opportunities made possible by going to HTH, including the remarkable post-secondary enrolment rates.

Dr. Kaleb Rashad

screen-shot-2017-02-10-at-8-02-31-pmThe other truly inspiring piece of the Winter Residency was the chance to hear the new Director of High Tech High, Dr. Kaleb Rashad, speak. He was both the keynote speaker and also provided a Q&A session at the end of the three days. He encouraged us to look for inspiration during our time, and not simply to try and imitate what they were doing. Dr. Rashad had a lot to say about leadership, both from a theoretical and practical perspective. His mantra was to “love your people” and that in doing so, they would feel empowered to do “badass work!” When asked what he looked for with respect to instruction when sitting in a typical HTH class, he said that students should be engaging first in divergent, convergent, and then reflective thinking processes. When it comes to Pro-D he suggested we should always be modeling for teachers what we want them to do in their classes – avoid stand and deliver professional development experiences! Dr. Rashad has had a variety of educational leadership experiences, and throughout all of them it is evident he’s worked hard to build positive relationships and an inclusive and supportive school culture. To that end, he’s introduced something he calls ‘open mic’, where he makes an effort to sit for 10 minutes at the start of the year with each and every staff member to listen closely to his or her concerns without judgement. Anything said in those meetings is always shared in confidence. Dr. Rashad urged us to build trust and show people you love them – and that your staff, in turn, will also trust and love each other. One of the best ways to do this was via what he called “the two P’s”: permission and policies. Give your staff permission to dream big – to go for it and try something new and innovative and have them feel supported. And the second “P” is policies. An educational leader should work to get the rules and policies out of the way stop people from doing amazing work. Reducing those barriers will help cultivate a positive school culture and make great things happen for students.

Documenting the Process

c3snc8kuyae07g3-jpg-largePart of my process in attending the Winter Residency was to document the journey of my North Vancouver colleagues. I made an effort throughout the three days to grab as many sound bites and video clips as I could to stitch together at the conclusion of our time together. I’m pretty self-critical, so the finished product is never as good as I’d wish, but I was really happy that in documenting our experience I got to celebrate my colleagues’ experience and all the wonderful reflections they had. If building collegial trust and relationships is considered a vital piece of positive school culture, we certainly checked that box off on this trip. Spending four full and intense days together was a wonderful way for us to bond, and I know we’re stronger as a staff for having taken so many people down with us. I have to thank our school board for being so supportive of this experience in allowing us to go. This video also helps validate the professional growth we were all hoping to gain by attending.


img_5626There were so many take-aways from this experience from project-tuning major school projects like “Innovation Wednesdays” & “Canada 150”, to speaking with students and exploring the campus, to reflecting on educational leadership and connecting with colleagues. This was truly a transformative professional development experience. For Handsworth staff, all of these take-aways were wrapped in the over-arching goal of increasing student engagement. Our first week back at Handsworth has already been influenced by our time away. Staff met this week to introduce a student leadership course to bring new student voice opportunities to our school and to help shape version 2.0 of Innovation Wednesdays. Our Canada 150 project has a small working group who will start drafting details for our staff. Each staff member who came on the experience had to commit to refining one piece of his or her practice, and for me it’s all about how I make student learning more visible. One of things I was reminded of while at HTH was that students raise their performance when they know their work is going to be public. It becomes less about the marks and more about the quality of the work itself. Look for me to be sharing more student work in the future via social media and in exhibitions around the school. Thanks to HTH and to SD44 for a wonderful experience.

Winter Residency at High Tech High

Why I Coach

With yet another basketball season upon us, I thought this might be a good opportunity to take stock of, and reflect upon why it is I coach.

I can still remember playing sports in high school and wondering to myself why on earth anyone would volunteer so much time to a team when their own kids didn’t play on it, and they themselves didn’t even get to play either! I mean, they just stood on the sidelines and did the substitutions and drew up a few plays… it didn’t seem like much fun to me.

Volunteering to coach basketball is a huge commitment. It’s 6 or 7 days a week for 4.5 months of the year. There’s overnight / away tournaments, which means you’re averaging upwards of 20 hours a week in time spent volunteering. ‘Cowichan’ has become a 4-letter word in my house as it means I’ll be away overnight yet again with the basketball team. I’m not popular on those weekends with my family, but it’s a chance to take the team away for some important bonding and quality time. So why do I continue to do it?

The first team I ever coached - Grade 7 Hillcrest Elementary.
The first team I ever coached – Grade 7 Hillcrest Elementary.  My sponsor and principal next to me.

For a bit of context let me take you back to my first real basketball coaching experience. I was in second year at the University of Victoria in 2001, and as part of my teacher preparation program we had to go volunteer to coach a team for a season. There was a local team of grade 7s at Hillcrest Elementary in Victoria that needed a coach for their season and so I dutifully went over to the school and met with the principal. I remember how ecstatic she was that I was there. It was wonderful to be so warmly welcomed by an administrator.  She told me that if I hadn’t come to coach that these boys likely would not have had a team. And what a team they were. Grade 7 is not a lot different than older grades when it comes to a recipe for success. They say you can’t coach height, which turned out to be a good thing for me because my team had 2 boys who were pushing 6 feet tall. I surprised myself with how much I genuinely enjoyed leading the boys through practices, drawing up plays for them to run, modeling good sportsmanship, and making every attempt to have all the boys playing time be as equitable as possible. Having a winning season made my first coaching experience enjoyable, but it was all those little things I had previously thought would be boring when I was a player watching my coaches that I found I really relished.

My Grade 6 Wanouchi Junior High boys team in Japan
My Grade 6 Wanouchi Junior High boys team in Japan. Toshiki is second from the bottom right.

And so I was hooked. For the past 15 years since I’ve been coaching. Even when I lived overseas I made sure I continued to coach. My team of grade 6 boys at Wanouchi Junior High in Japan were easily the least talented group of boys I have ever worked with. We spent an entire season working on the right-hand lay-up (their good hand!). I got to work on my Japanese by repeatedly yelling such phrases as “ASHI CHIGAU!” (wrong foot!) We lost every game that season. But we had so much fun. I can still remember Toshiki, the kid who looked like a sumo-wrestler and was my #5 ‘big man’ and the way he and I would high-five if he even caught some of the rim on one of his shots. I’m not sure he scored a basket that year. It was most evident to me during these times that extra-curricular involvement was where you had the opportunity to cultivate real bonds with students; bonds that tied them to you, and by extension tied them closer to their school community.

Over the years I’ve come to have a new appreciation for the time and effort my coaches put in for me as I went through my K-12 experience. People like Bob Baldwin, Vinny Alvano, Scott Bennett, Peter Therrien and Garth Thomson just to name a few. Without the hours and hours those men put into volunteering with me I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today, or be the person I am today. I often think about what their time with me has meant. I know many of the qualities I’ve developed as an adult are due, at least in part, to the guidance they helped provide throughout my own formative years.

Coaching means responsibility. It means leadership. It means having to bite your lip when you’re upset at an official’s call because you know you have a bench of 15 impressionable minds sitting next to you. It means knowing when to encourage and when to discipline. How to provide expectations and help athletes set goals. It’s about dealing with fragile egos, disappointments, and acting with humility when you win.

Coaching is not always easy. Cutting players is the worst – I wish everyone could make the team. I’ve been cut from teams and I’ve been one of the last players on the bench. It’s not fun when your name is not on the list or when you never get off the bench – I know that. Coaches have to make difficult decisions, but I try to focus on the fact that in volunteering I know I’ve been able to provide the opportunity for more students to participate than if I hadn’t volunteered at all.

I coach because I enjoy having the group rely on me for guidance and leadership. I coach to pay it forward and thank those coaches who took the time to guide me. I coach because I know the importance of providing opportunity for students to participate in extra-curricular activities. I coach because I enjoy the technical aspects of the game and being able to continually learn more. I coach, selfishly, because it gives me a better connection with my students, and most of all because I’ve found I genuinely enjoy it.

And with that, I’m excited to start another season!

Why I Coach