Category Archives: School

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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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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FSA Results Don’t Tell the Whole Story #cisva

At the Catholic Educator’s Conference earlier this month Father Tony Ricard from the Archdiocese of New Orleans spoke in the keynote address.  His message was loud and clear for teachers in Catholic Schools: If you don’t see yourself first and foremost as a Religion teacher, get out!  He went on to say there are lots of jobs for people who just want to teach Math, Science or English.  There are public and private schools that do that stuff.  The reason we have Catholic Schools is so that we can form students in Christ.  No matter what grade or subject you are teaching you must help form the students in their Catholic worldview.

Recently the Fraser Institute released it’s annual rankings of schools based on the annual Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA) test.  This test is deployed by the government each year to look for trends in education and academic achievement.  I am actually in favor of standardized tests when used for the right reasons.  I believe the government has every right, and the duty, to find ways to make sure the billions of dollars spent on education each year are well used.  The problem with the FSA test is that it is only a very small sample of one aspect of schooling.  It is certainly not meant to “rank” school from best to worst.  For one thing, the results as published by the Fraser Institute do not compensate fairly for ESL or special needs students.  They don’t take into account the socio-economic status of a population.  Yes, that information is in there if you dig, but the message the average reader gets looking at the results is that #1 is the best school and #900 is the worst.  This is simply not true.

There is so much more to school than just a single test score.  Being here everyday and seeing all the creative thinking, artistic development, athletic competition, and personal formation reminds me of just how much we do above and beyond academics.  Most importantly, as a Catholic School, our most important mission is formation of the whole student in Christ.  I am proud of the work our staff do with students each day in every aspect of school life.  Don’t get me wrong, we do just fine on the FSA test, but I never have and I never will use it as the number one reason for families to choose our school.

Thanks for reading!

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Why I Send My Children to Catholic School #cisva

I have been working in Catholic schools for 18 years.  For the past eight years I have had the privilege of serving as Principal at Cloverdale Catholic School.  While I have done my best to improve the school over the years, I believe the school has done even more to improve me.  CCS is not your average, run-of-the-mill elementary school.  The faith life of the school, the personal commitment of the staff, the inclusion of students of all abilities and differences, the growing and vibrant community, and the child-centered appreciation of fun make CCS not just a great place for me to work, but a place where I have chosen to send my own children to school.

Faith comes first at CCS.  Our teachers are committed to developing the children in their appreciation of the love of God.  From this love bursts a desire to live an ordered and moral life.  Our students receive religious instruction and opportunities to pray daily.  We also celebrate weekly Mass, Adoration, and Confession.  Celebrations of traditional and communal Catholic prayer are balanced with personal prayer and praying with scripture.  Our students are given every opportunity to open their hearts to Jesus and grow in faith.

The staff of CCS are chosen not solely on their resumes and curricular expertise, but also on their love for God, teaching, and for developing the whole child.  Our teachers give of themselves both in the classroom and outside of it through extra time spent with students in a variety of extra-curricular activities.  Most importantly, staff see their time at CCS as part of their vocation and ministry; not just their job.  As a result, students feel welcome and wanted in the classroom.

CCS is proud to welcome students of all different religions, ethnicities, languages, and abilities.  There is a culture of caring not only among the staff, but also among the student body.  Students with disabilities are nurtured and provided resources they need to reach their personal full potential.  It is an integral part of our mission to serve all with great love just as Jesus would.

The community of Cloverdale Catholic School and Precious Blood Parish is relatively small.  Whether you are at a basketball game, Sunday Mass, or the annual Parish Bazaar, families have many opportunities to pray, learn, and play together.  There is no shortage of ways to get involved and connect with other parents and children.

Since our school is full of children, it makes sense that we have a lot of fun.  Our beautiful and spacious playground makes for great opportunities for both creative and structured play.  Our teachers get in on the fun too, planning popcorn sales, themed activity days, teacher vs. student sports, and spirit days.  Although we take our jobs seriously, we try not to take ourselves too seriously.  This sense of fun makes CCS someplace both adults and kids can look forward to going to each day.

Catholic schools are great places to live, work, pray, and play.  CCS is a special school and I am proud to be both the Principal and a parent.  If you are a parent at a Catholic school and you have reasons for sending your kids that I have missed, please post them in the comments.

Thanks for reading!


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After a Month of the Redesigned Curriculum #cisva

BC’s newly redesigned curriculum came into full effect this September and our teachers and students have been hard at work implementing the changes.  I am proud of and excited about the things that I see going on every day at school.  Teachers are being creative and connecting with their students’ interests and skills in new and exciting ways.  Walking the halls and looking in I am delighted to see students growing in meaningful ways in the areas of Thinking, Communicating, and Personal and Social Responsibility.  Whether it is seeing Grade Twos building boats, Grade Sixes getting together as a group for team building challenges, or the Grade Fours making choices about how and where they best learn, school feels new and different, which is something I haven’t been able to say before.

While there are definitely changes, we have been careful not to forget the fundamentals.  Students are still heavily engaged in reading, writing, and mathematics, but they are doing so with newfound curiosity and energy.  Instead of just drilling 30 students with the same math questions at the same time, teachers are focussing on students’ individual levels of learning and knowledge gaps.  Students are still writing, but now in the context of their interests and choices.  Students are reading, but now with increasing purpose and critical thinking.  By adding choice and meeting the needs of individual students we hope to make school more meaningful while still building skills and knowledge.

It’s an exciting time to be in education.  While there are always challenges and adjustments when making a shift in thinking, I believe that overall this change is a very good and overdue one.  I’m excited about what the future holds.

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