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.

1 Comment

Filed under School

Care for Our Common Home (and School) #cisva

The theme for Catholic schools this year is “Care for Our Common Home” based on Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si.  The media’s emphasis has been primarily on the natural environmental aspects of Pope Francis’ teachings.  This is good, but Francis has a larger picture in mind.

What Pope Francis is trying to get people to do is to be more caring and mindful of how our actions effect others.  For example, when we pollute, we impact the lives of the poor around the world who are most vulnerable to environmental degradation.  On a very local level, however, we can consider so many of our actions and how they impact those around us in unintentional ways.

One example of how we can show care for our common home is by being safe and setting a good example for our children.  Sure, parking in the wrong direction or crossing not at the crosswalk may not result in immediate harm, but when a child sees an adult they respect do this they learn bad habits.  After seeing speeding drivers and jaywalkers they learn two things: 1) rules are subjective and 2) it’s okay to take risks.

Another seemingly small thing where we can show greater care is uniform policy.  It may seem like no big deal to wear a shirt without a crest or a pair of pants from Walmart, but in doing so you are effecting your child’s view of rules and lowering the standard for the entire school.  It’s not just the principal’s job to enforce rules.  It takes buy-in and cooperation from the entire community.

We can show care by welcoming new people into our community.  I know it can be awkward saying hi to some one you do not know, but think about how they feel?  We pride ourselves on being a welcoming community, yet I see new parents waiting alone after school.  We can show care by welcoming them and making them feel at home.

Pope Francis’ hope for the world is that we can be more mindful of how our actions, no matter how small, can impact the world around us.  We can think about greenhouse gasses and  oil spills, but we can also think of matters closer to home.  Let’s make this a great school year not by the grand things we do, but as St. Teresa of Calcutta said, by “doing small things with great love.”

Thanks for reading!


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

What Makes Outdoor Education So Special? #CISVA

At the end of every school year we ask our Grade Seven students to write about their best memories of their years at CCS.   The vast majority of students will put Outdoor Education at the top of their list.  That’s not just their best Grade Seven memory, it’s the highlight of their entire eight years at our school.  What makes Outdoor Education so special and why does it leave such a positive and lasting impression on the students?

The Party Factor – Of course one thing 12-year-olds love is hanging out with their friends.  Outdoor Education can be viewed as a three-day sleepover.  They love the freedom of staying up late talking and being “in charge” of their own cabins.

The Emotional Surge of Being Away From Home – Memories are made more lasting when they are attached to strong emotions. For many students Outdoor Education is their first experience of being away from family for an extended period of time.  This stirs up a myriad of emotions, especially when you add in the prayer and reflective activities students engage in while at Outdoor Education.

A New Experience of Faith – Many students have never experienced prayer and sacraments outside of their school, home, and Church.  At Outdoor Education we enjoy Mass on the side of a mountain overlooking the valley below.  Students also engage in evening prayer and see their faith and each other in a new way.

Getting to Know Their Teachers and Each Other in a Different Way – Students experience their teachers and their friends in a different way at Outdoor Education.  Everyone is just a little more relaxed, maybe more like they are at home.  Teachers can be themselves and students enjoy seeing them in this way.  Students also learn new things about each other and learn to be friends with completely new people.

A Break From Electronics – We do not allow the students to use any electronics at camp.  For some reason if you took away electronics at home kids would hate it, but at camp kids love it!  The break from screens gives them time to think, play, be creative, and be social.  The transformation is quick and noticeable almost immediately.

Experiencing the Outdoors – Most of us live very suburban lives with a small patch of grass and a nearby park.  Being in the wilderness changes things.  A sense of wonder and awe fills the students as they experience the sights, sounds, and smells of the great outdoors.

As a teacher I always liked Outdoor Education for all these reasons.  While being away from my own family for three days was a sacrifice, it was always good to see the growth in the students.  The benefits of these few days can be seen for the rest of the year.  I am so grateful to our own teachers who sacrifice family time to be a part of Outdoor Education.

Have you had positive Outdoor Education experiences?  Can you think of any other reasons it is such a special event?  Please leave your thoughts in the comment.  Thanks for reading!


Filed under Uncategorized

Caring for Our Common Home #cisva

On Thursday, May 26th,  I attended a workshop on Pope Francis’ latest encyclical “Laudato Si: Caring for Our Common Home.”  This letter to world details the Church’s position on the environment and our role in stewardship over the Earth.  It was an enlightening experience to hear and have explained what the Pope is saying and how his vision of environmental protection fits with my (lack of) understanding.

I’ve never been much of an environmentalist.  In fact, I have found it rather amusing in the past to have fun with people who go crazy over the environment.  That’s not to say I’m against taking care of the environment, I just never took it super seriously.    In fact, I still am not sure whether “global warming” is caused by human activity or not.  What on learned on Thursday changed my attitude almost completely.

It’s not that the Pope has convinced me one way or the other of what the causes of global warming may be.  What I realized from understanding Laudato Si is that it’s not about what could happen to the environment if I pollute or waste, it’s about what is happening to my fellow man here and now.  It’s about learning to reduce my own consumption and my own waste.  It’s about sharing what I have with those in in need.  It’s about doing my part, however small, to reduce the amount of pollution I create.  Instead of focussing on the possibilities, it’s about focussing on the reality of my own life.  I need to live with humility and in solidarity with the poor more than I do now.

The point from the Pope’s encyclical that made the biggest impression on me was the impact that environmental degradation has on the poor.  The lifestyle of the wealthy does have a direct impact on the lives of the poor.  Seeing it through this lens helps me appreciate that every little thing I do, however small, can lead to a real change in my heart and a real change in the world.  If everyone does a little, it actually can make a difference.

So what difference will this make at Cloverdale Catholic School?  We are going to commit to wasting less.  We can start with paper.  We go through more than 500,000 pieces of paper each year.  I don’t even know how that is possible!  That’s over 1600 pieces of paper per student and that is unacceptable.  Secondly, we are going to get in line with the rest of the world and begin composting our food waste.  Finally (for now), we are going to build a garden/farm here at the school.  Getting kids’ hands dirty and helping them appreciate where our food comes from should make them into more well-rounded, healthier people.  These three relatively small areas are a beginning and as they say, every epic journey begins with just a single step.

Thanks for reading!



Filed under Faith, School, Uncategorized

Good Parenting: The Spirit is Willing But the Flesh Is Weak #cisva

We all have heard the saying “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”  I take this to mean that I know the right thing to do, I want to do it, but I just can’t make myself do it.  We see it in many aspects of our lives but typically use it to refer to things like healthy eating, getting more exercise, or going to bed earlier.  We know what we should do, but we choose to indulge ourselves anyways.

I see this at work a great deal in my own life as a parent.  We have expectations in our home about how much screen time the kids should have, how much we should pray as a family, the cleanliness of the kids’ bedrooms and bathroom etc…  I find myself time and time again relaxing one expectation or another for an array of reasons i.e. “well, she had a hard day” or “as long as you make sure you do it later” or if my child asks for something sweetly enough “okay just this one time.”  If you multiply 1 of these gestures of leniency per day times 7 children times 365 days per year you would have 17, 885 rule exemptions in a year.  My home would be chaos!

I know the right thing to do is to stand by the expectations because they are good for the children, but I often allow myself to relent anyways.  Why?  I have 4 main reasons and as I will explain, they are all super lame.

1. I want them to be happy

Of course we all want our children to be happy.  There is a big difference, though, between short term and long term happiness.  Letting my child eat a whole bag of chips may make them happy in the next 15 minutes, but I know very well it won’t make them happy in two hours and if I let them do it often enough it will make them unhealthy (and therefore very unhappy) in the long run.

2. I want them to like me

Don’t we all want that hug and smile and to have our children say “Oh you are the best daddy in the world!”  Of course we do, but these are children and they have terrible judgement!  A kid who thinks being allowed to eat a whole bag of chips makes their parents great is a terrible judge of parenting and we should take no solace in their approval.  In fact, the opposite is likely true.  It’s like asking some one in plaid shorts and a striped shirt if they like your outfit.

3. I can’t deal with their behaviour if I say no

Sometimes I’m just too tired to deal with the “stuff” I’m going to have to deal with if I I say no so I just give in before causing a tantrum.  I understand how tiring life can be, but this is likely the saddest reason of all.  How can I function as a responsible, working adult if I can’t even stand up to a child when I know what is right?

4. I want to be nicer than my own parents

I have terrific parents and I had a wonderful childhood but I’m sure deep down all of us want to have some kind of revenge for all the times our parents said no to us for things that we thought were completely unfair.  Guess what?  Our parents were right to say no and we should do the same.  Even if it was unfair and there’s no reason for them to have said it, learning to deal respectfully with not getting what I wanted helped shape me as a person.

So what can we do?  First of all, we need to stop being wimps with our kids.  We are in charge, we know what is best, and we have to act with fortitude.  Stand by your rules and expectations.  Also, we need to support each other.  By this I mean respect authority of other adults.  If your child tells you a story about how mean their teacher is, don’t complain about the teacher in front of them.  Tell them that their teacher wants what’s best for them and we will figure it out together.  We need to have a relationship with our children that goes beyond just “doing stuff for them.”  Communicate everyday about lots of stuff, not just what needs to get done and what they want.  Finally, I highly advise you pray together as a family.  I notice a tangible difference in myself and my children when we take time to pray together.  It doesn’t have to be a lot, just something everyday.

Being a good parent is really difficult.  May God bless us all in this most challenging but most important work.  Thanks for reading!


Leave a comment

Filed under Family, Uncategorized

The Success of the Re-Designed Progress Reports #cisva

In November 2015, Cloverdale Catholic School issued its first reformatted Progress Reports in a very long time.  The changes were implemented in response to BC’s redesigned curriculum and incorporated the Core Competencies and individual student goals.  The new format was the result of a months long process of feedback, compromise, and reiterations involving staff and parents.

After the first official roll-out in November, parents were able to complete an online survey to once again give their impressions.  The feedback was generallReport-Card2y positive, with an average overall positive impression of 82% and many specific and positive anecdotal comments.  While this is a good thing, I don’t think it tells the whole story.  As the only person in the entire school community who gets to read all 311 report cards each term, I can see something more important.

The change in format has really changed how teachers think about reporting to parents.  Now that teachers have to specifically consider the Core Competencies, the examples and insights they share about student progress are significantly more personal and meaningful.  It is tempting as a reader to be skeptical and think “Oh, they probably write the same thing about everyone and just change a few words.”  I can assure you, this is absolutely not the case.  As I read through the reports I was overwhelmed by the personalization of each and every report.  I was left with the very strong impression that every classroom teacher knows and cares for each individual student almost as if they were their own.

I think the improvement in the Progress Reports speaks to two important things.  Firstly, the teachers at Cloverdale Catholic School really know and care about their students.  Secondly, changing how we report (or perhaps do many things in education) is an important way of refreshing our perspective and reinvigorating our practice.  Believe it or not, because of these improvement, I’m actually already looking forward to reading all 311 third term reports.

Thanks for reading!


Filed under Uncategorized

What is the “end” of Catholic Education? #cisva


“I’ve got such a hard class this year!”

What constitutes a hard class?  When a teacher or principal says this, what is their definition of “hard”?  I think each individual’s answer to this question reflects their answer to the bigger, more philosophical question “What is the “end” of Catholic education?”

When our objective as an educator is compliance with instructions, any behaviour that runs contrary to compliance makes reaching the objective more difficult.

When our objective is completion of prescribed curriculum, then a class that takes longer to complete tasks is more challenging.

When our objective is academic excellence, then a class with lower than expected levels of ability or achievement is hard.

When a teacher labels a class as “hard” I think they are often confusing the “end” of education with the “means” for achieving it.  Compliance, completion, and academic excellence, for example, are not the ends of Catholic education, they are partial means to a far greater end.  The goal of Catholic education is the formation of the whole child in Christ.

When we measure success based upon what I have called the “means” (compliance, completion, and academic achievement) and not the “ends” (holistic formation in Christ) we can cause several problems.  Firstly, we may measure success incorrectly.  Secondly, we run the risk of separating the “wheat from the chaff” in the classroom, labeling students as those who can and those who cannot.  This is an injustice as it takes away the dignity of the individual and limits their capacity for growth and access to opportunities for learning.  This view is opposed to real “inclusion” of students with differences and risks limiting students with intellectual or physical disabilities to the sidelines of the classroom.  Finally, we limit students at both the top and bottom of the academic spectrum.  Students at the high end achieve success before they reach their full potential.  Students at the low end never achieve a sense of success at all.

If the end of a Catholic education is developing the whole child in Christ, and measuring success cannot rely solely on measures of compliance, completion of work, and academic excellence, then how do we measure success?  My answer is, unfortunately, not a satisfactory one for those who like black and white answers and standardized comparisons.  The key rests in the educator knowing the child as an individual.  What are his strengths and weaknesses academically, emotionally, spiritually, and physically?  What are her (and her parents’) goals?  What measures can be put in place to gauge progress towards those specific and personal goals.  This is a way of educating and assessing that is respectful of the individual abilities and potential of each and every learner.

Is all this realistic?  If we have 30 students how can we attain such heights of personalization?  At least part of the answer lies in relinquishing more responsibility and control to the learner and adapting to the times.  This is easier said than done.  What I do know for sure is that if we don’t adapt as educators, classes are only going to get “harder.”

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized