Moral Virtue and Parking Lot Safety #cisva

I had a really interesting conversation with the Grade 6 class today.  I asked them “Why should we do what is right?”

Their answers were great.  They included: “because God gave us free will and by doing what is right we are being who he has called us to be”, “because even if no one else knows we should do what is right”, and “because if you are a good person you should just want to do what is right”.  Aristotle would be pleased.   He defines moral virtue as a disposition to behave in the right manner.  In short, good people desire to do the right thing simply because they are good people.

At school, we try to instruct the children to do what is right because it is the right thing to do; the proper use of the gift of free will from God.  We also teach them that integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is looking.

When I was a child I would not have been able to give answers nearly as good as the students in Grade Six.  In Grade Two I learned the Act of Contrition which, at that time, was not simplified in children’s language.  One very memorable line states “I detest all my sins because of your just punishments.”  When I was a child, the main reason I did what was right was that I was literally scared to death to get in trouble!  This was an immature, albeit relatively effective, moral code.

Within the context of this discussion of moral virtue let us turn our attention to the epicentre of ethical dilemmas; our school parking lot.  Why should you drive slowly?  Why should you not double park?  Why should you drive in the right direction?  Why should you use the crosswalk?  The immature responses would include “so you don’t get in trouble from Miss Easterbrook” or “so nobody gets hurt.”  These reasons are limited but true and good.  Even better reasons would be “it contributes to safety and order” or “it sets a good example for the kids.”  The best answer would be “because it’s the right thing to do.”

Whatever the reason; fear of punishment, safety, or moral virtue, it is time to step up as a community be safe in the parking lot.  Please drive slowly.  Please only park in designated parking spots and do not double park.  If being good for the sake of being good is not reason enough, consider the little girl in Toronto who died in the school drop-off zone this week.  For every reason, being safe in the parking lot is the right thing to do.


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We More We Email, Tweet, and Blog, the Less We Seem to Connect #cisva

When I took the position as Principal at Cloverdale Catholic School almost nine years ago the school had a weekly newsletter and a website.  Today, we have a Facebook page, Twitter account, Google Calendar, modernized website, teacher blog pages, Mailchimp mailouts, Class Dojo, a Principal blog, and other forms of electronic communication.  Communications from the school to home have never been more frequent, but sometimes things feel “less connected” somehow.

Modern communications have a way of doing that.  Even though we communicate more often, we can be made to feel lonely and disconnected from each other.  I think part of the reason is the “surface level” nature of our communications.  An email or tweet doesn’t convey the body language or emotion of a real conversation.  Even a printed calendar from the “old days” carries more depth of meaning than a Google Calendar.  The printed word has tangible, visible, homey qualities that make it more meaningful and experiential.  You can show it to people, pin it to the wall, and hold it in your hand.  Modern communications offer little of that experience.

Maybe I’m just getting old.  Perhaps there are parents reading this who roll their eyes and are used to and like the way things are.  For now, I will endeavour to rekindle that old feeling of real communication while also staying on top of the latest in communications technology.  This is a period of change not just for our school, but for society.  We have to embrace the best of the modern world without losing touch with what makes us who we are as a community.  Let’s start by talking.  If you ever want to know something, have a concern, or just want to talk, please stop by the office to say hello!

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Crossing the “Trust Threshold” #cisva

I’m working on articulating a relationship theory I have called the “trust threshold.”  The trust threshold is the point at which one’s trust in another is greater than their skepticism and a person lets go of doubts and fears and is willing to work together despite challenges and setbacks.  Allow me to explain with an example.

Joan, a parent of a student in Grade Seven, had negative school experiences herself.  Her son has a learning disability and she has never felt he received the kind of instruction and support in school that he really needed.  She approaches the upcoming school year with skepticism and doubt about whether this year’s teacher will be any different.  To start the school year Joan is negative about homework, notes from the teacher, and stories from her child about the school day.  Over time, however, she sees positive results in her child’s attitude towards school and academic achievement.  Joan’s receptiveness towards the teacher and the school starts to change and she opens up to the same feedback she was receiving to start the year.  Occasionally there is critical feedback on student work or bad news from the teacher, but now that Joan has crossed the “trust threshold”, she sees these pieces of information in a new light.  She trusts the teacher more than she doubts him, and all feedback is accepted in a constructive light.

This scenario plays itself out in all areas of life including parenting, police/community relations, politics, church communities, even marriage.  Once we cross the trust threshold we can be more open, more creative, and more accepting of new and different ideas.  The important question is, how do we get across the trust threshold when often so much bad has happened that prevents us from doing so?

I believe the first step is listening with humility.  Usually in a relationship that lacks trust at least one side has been burned in the past and has their defences up.  In a school setting when encountering an upset parent, it would be easy for me as a Principal to think to myself, “Oh boy.  Here comes another angry parent!  These people drive me crazy!”  If that is my thought going into a conversation, I will not have the humility to really listen to what these people have to say and let down my defenses.  To build trust, at least one side has to let down their defenses and be humble enough to listen.  Even if the claims or demands of the other side seem unreasonable, they are very real and reasonable to them and based on experiences and emotions they really feel.  Listening with humility opens the door to trust.

The second step is building off of small successes.  We need to celebrate successes so we can join together in seeing that our efforts are making a difference.  If we only focus on negatives it will be difficult to cross the trust threshold.  When I say small successes I really mean it.  Even being able to look each other in the eye and greet one another kindly can be a start in some circumstances.  In other instances, living up to an agreed upon commitment may be an example of success.  Eventually we can look at results for successes, but if we do so too early we may see more negative than positive and move in the wrong direction.  Building a relationship of trust starts with the small things.

Once the trust threshold has been crossed, one can allow for mistakes and failures and they will not set us back too far.  We know that the other person is listening with humility.  We have experienced success together.  When setbacks do occur, they can be seen in the bigger picture of past success.

What will this look like in real life?  Once the police have crossed the threshold with their community, young people will not feel scared when approached.  Once a politician has crossed the trust threshold he or she can propose a policy without a revolt from his constituents.   Once a parent has crossed the threshold with their child’s teacher, they will not dread getting a note or email from the school.  Once a principal has crossed the threshold in his school community he doesn’t avoid certain people or situations.

It is my sincere belief that one of the most important reasons for the success and growth of Cloverdale Catholic School is that a great deal of our community has crossed the trust threshold with each other.  A great many of our students, parents and staff relate exceptionally well to one another and there is an overall atmosphere of trust.  If you feel like that’s not the case for you, please do stop by to talk in person as I’d love to hear from you and for us to make a fresh start.


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Social Media: The Modern Day Forbidden Fruit for Teens #cisva

As a Grade Seven teacher for ten years, a principal for eight years, and a parent of 3 (almost 4) teenagers, I have seen my share of online behaviour.  I can say with confidence that access to social media is one of the greatest sources of anxiety, temptation, and pressure there is for teens.  At this age kids are seeking (sometimes desperately) approval, acceptance, and affirmation.  They are often unsure of their identity (Who am I?  Why do I matter?  Where do I belong?) and will look anywhere for it.  Social Media sites and apps provide what appears to be the perfect forum to answering these questions.

Just as the apple in the story of Adam and Eve truly gave knowledge of good and evil, social media does indeed give knowledge to our kids.  Like Adam and Eve, however, it is not knowledge and access that they are ready for or meant to have.  In having it, they get exactly what they want but rather than bringing them fulfillment, confidence, and peace, they are left feeling empty, lost, and often abused.

As well-intentioned and involved as parents are, they are often the last to know about what their kids are really doing online.  It is not that trusting your kids is bad, but is just so EASY and so TEMPTING for kids to hide certain aspects of their online lives.  In many cases kids have not themselves done anything wrong, but they hide bad things they see because they don’t want their parents to get involved or become more diligent in their observation of their online activity.  In other cases kids are too ashamed or embarrassed to tell their parents what they have seen or done online.

This year the teachers and I want to take a much more positive and proactive approach to this problem.  In the coming weeks we will be sending home more information and a social media contract you can discuss and sign with your child.  Our hope is that, together, we can help our kids build their self-esteem and grow to be the confident, capable, and holy young men and women God wants them to be.

Thanks for your involvement and if you have any questions or comments please feel free to leave a comment below.  You can also check out this excellent website for more information

Thanks for reading!

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How is a School Calendar Determined? #cisva

This year I am planning a series of blogs on “stuff people have probably wondered but never asked” in education.  The first question may seem like a rather mundane subject, but it actually really impacts the lives of students and their families; how is a school calendar determined?

The process of setting a school calendar begins with the provincial government’s Ministry of Education.  Independent schools are required by the Ministry to have 850 hours of instructional time.  This includes time during which students are under the supervision of their teachers, so in addition to regular class time, it includes things like student-led conferences, fun day, talent shows and school Masses.  It does not include after school activities, recess and lunch time (even though I would argue that in some ways they learn more at these times than they often do in class!)

The next stage of the calendar making process is the school board that oversees Catholic Schools of the Archdiocese of Vancouver (CISVA).  The CISVA has a higher standard for minimum hours than the government, requiring 900 hours of instructional time.  The CISVA also sends out a calendar mapping out mandatory holidays like Christmas Break, Spring Break, as well as three system-wide professional days.  The CISVA also determines the first and last day of school.  Schools are required to use these dates unless there is a very special local circumstance (i.e. construction projects) that necessitates a change.

At the local level, there is very little leeway in terms of holidays, start and end dates, and professional days.  We get to choose a couple of professional days and a day for a staff retreat.  This is done in alignment with the needs of the staff and the school.  Usually, one day is set aside for planning near the end of the year.  Another day is used to work on our school growth plan, which this year is renewing a comprehensive reading strategy.  Our staff retreat this year is in January and will be focused on our school theme “Caring for Everyone in Our Common Home.”  It usually involves bringing in a guest speaker and spending the day in prayers, listening and quiet reflection.  Finally, dates like fun days, talent shows, and fundraisers are usually determined based on when there is time, facility availability, and the needs of the organizers of the events.

I’ve heard it asked (though never by CCS parents), “if professional days are really for “learning”, why are they always on a Monday or Friday?  Sounds like just another long weekend for staff.”  When we choose to put professional days on Mondays or Fridays it is not to make a long weekend for staff, but it is a consideration for families.  Professional days can give families some extra time together.  Having professional days on Mondays and Fridays also allows for at least four days in a row of school, thus disrupting the learning week less than if you had it on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday.

Finally, I’d like to address the issue of the two week Spring Break.  As an educator I am not a fan of it, but as a parent whose schedule fits with it, I love the extra time with my kids.  Originally the public schools had a one week Spring Break.  To save money, they began adding a “shut down” week to their one week Spring Break.  This “shut down” saves public school districts a lot of money.  During that week they do not pay hourly staff, or clean or heat the school.  If a district could save $10,000 per school, and had 100 schools, they would be saving $1 million dollars per year.  Public school districts save a lot of money as a result of the extended Spring Break.  As an independent school we don’t save much, if any, money.  I will resist any move to save money by taking pay away from some of our hardest working employees who happen to be on an hourly scale.  Catholic schools went with a two week Spring Break mostly to align ourselves more closely with the public school calendar.  We did so without sacrificing any instructional time as we still are required to exceed government expectations for instructional hours by 50 hours.  The decision to go with a two week Spring Break was ultimately made several years ago by the CISVA Board of Directors after consultation with all stakeholders.

So that is my understanding of how a school calendar is determined.  If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to leave them in the comments.

Thanks for reading!

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Farewell Address to 2017 Graduating Class: Know Your Worth #cisva

Today I want to talk to you about something most of you don’t know or at least forget too often: your worth.  You are far more valuable than you give yourself credit for.

How do you know how much something is worth?  Is it the asking price?  Is it a random guess?  No.  When it comes down to it, something is worth what will be paid for it.  A bottle of water? $1  A fidget spinner? About $10.  The Ferrari Marcello will own by the time he is 21? $200000.

Well, if the worth of something is determined by what some one is willing to pay for it, what are you worth?  $1, $10, $200000?  What would someone pay for you?  We could ask your parents.  I’m certain everyone of them would say they would do anything for you.  They would give their lives to save yours.  How does that make you feel to hear that?

What if I told you that you are worth even more than that?  Look upon the cross behind me.  God, the creator of the mountains, oceans, planets and the entire universe, loves you; enough that he himself came down to earth to die the most agonizing death upon the cross to save your life.  You are worth that much.  The life of Jesus Christ was paid for you.  Do you remember when you were little and you would say to your parents, “I love you this much” with your arms stretched out?  When you look upon the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross remember that he was thinking of you.  He was and continues to say “I love you this much.”

Let’s bring that back into the context of your everyday lives.  If you are worth this much, why do we so often struggle with self-esteem and confidence?  We forget our worth.  We look at celebrities and think they are worth more than us because they are more beautiful, more talented, smarter, more loved.  We look at our classmates and think they are more popular, more cool, more athletic.  Every time I see one of you in tears I think to myself “If only you knew your worth.  If only you knew how much you are truly loved.”

You are so loved.  God loves you.  Your parents love you.  I and the staff of CCS loves you.  Your friends… they are nice but don’t rely on them for determining your worth; they are often as confused and messed up as you are.  How do we continue to remember how much we are worth?  By spending time with those who love us.  Go to Mass, pray, and read Scripture to remind yourself of God’s love.  Have dinner with your family, help around the house, and snuggle on the couch while watching a movie to be reminded of your family love.  Finally, when High School has got you down, come back to CCS.  You will always be welcomed and loved here.

May God bless you all as you make the next step in your journey.

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How a Catholic Worldview Inspires a Catholic School’s Special Education Policy #cisva

Below is the Principal’s Address I gave at our school’s Annual General Meeting from May 24th… 

First I would like to talk about what makes us special.  There all sorts of schools in the province.  There are public schools, private Christian schools, other religious school, private non-religious schools, and other Catholic schools.  What sets Catholic schools, specifically Cloverdale Catholic School, apart from the rest?  What is a worldview? What, specifically, is the Catholic worldview?

At it’s very essence, a Catholic Christian worldview is the worldview of Jesus Christ Himself.  The more we see the world and its inhabitants as Jesus does, the more we are aligned with Christ’s worldview.  How does this differ from the secular worldview?  After all, do we not share the values of the “secular” world; truth, beauty, science, making the world a better place, freedom of speech and tolerance?  First of all, part of the “Catholic intellectual tradition” is to define our terms.  What does a typical secular person mean by words like “truth” and “beauty”?  I’m fairly certain that the Catholic definition of these terms would differ from the secular one.  Nevertheless, let us assume for a moment that we do agree on the definition of these terms.  What then differentiates the “Catholic” worldview from the secular one?


I would argue the fundamental difference is why these things matter.  Beauty, truth, science, the environment etc… do not matter for their own sake.  They matter only insofar as they contribute to our eternal destiny.  Through knowledge of truth we understand the truth of God.  Through appreciation of beauty, we grow in our love of God our creator.  Through environmentalism, we share in God’s gift of creation by caring for our common home.  Through the lens of a Catholic worldview, all aspects shared with a secular reality take on an eternal purpose.  In believing that we are all destined for immortality, we erase the boundaries of class, race, religion, ability, and utility.  In a Catholic worldview we see all people as beautiful, good, and worthy of love not just based on their usefulness and achievement, but because they are children of the King, our creator.  If all ends in death and nothingness, there are human limitations to how far we will go.  With an eternal purpose in mind, or a Catholic Worldview, there are no limits to our love and care.  Not even death can stand against our eternal purpose; to know, love, and serve God and be happy with him in this world and the next.

As an example let me discuss how a Catholic Worldview has influenced how we approach Special Education at Cloverdale Catholic School.  At CCS each and every child is valued and treasured, not because of their potential as learners, athletes, musicians, or future workers, but because they are created in the image and likeness of God.  Therefore when we accept students into our school we do not consider how much their support will cost or how challenging certain behaviours may be.  We accept all children unconditionally.  I am proud of the progress we have made in the area of Special Education.  When I started here 8 years ago we had only a few Special Needs students and only 3 Educational Assistants on staff.  Now, we have 14 designated Special Needs students and 14 Educational Assistants on staff.  We have gained a reputation not necessarily for expertise in the area of Special Education, but in our willingness to love, accept, and support every child and their families unconditionally.

Let me conclude by answering the question that may be in the minds of some; that is great for kids with special needs, but how does it help my child?  First of all, I have seen countless examples of students growing in gentleness, compassion, and acceptance by working daily with kids with challenges.  But I think the real impact is far deeper than that.  What I want for my children is to know deep down that they are loved unconditionally not just by God, but by the adults in their lives who they admire.  What greater way for them to learn this than by seeing unconditional love at school every single day.  They can look around themselves in every single classroom in our school and see that unconditional love at work.  When my child fails a test, loses a game, or makes a stupid mistake they can know that like all the students in the school, without exception, they are loved and valued not because of what they can do, but simply because they are a child of God.

Thanks for reading!

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