Author Archives: LiterateOWL

Podcast: #edchat – School culture

I believe, after 34 years of total dedication to the profession, student success and committed idealogy, that this is THE most undervalued variable to success in public education. The current horrific leadership by Government not withstanding, the social dynamic of management, admin, teachers, parents and students, is a massive variable in whether an institution is effective. The notion of efficiency, productivity and value added effort is so much a business model. Public education, if you value it, needs to address school culture on all levels. To just portrait public education in labour or economic terms is foolish. The struggle of teachers to be treated (maybe uniquely) fairly is about nurturing a positive school culture. The podcast linked here discusses the issue objectively. The compensation of professionals in education cannot be addressed unless the environment of healthy culture is also handled wisely because so much of education is driven by the social dynamic of adults and youth. The topic of volunteerism always opens up passionate debate because teaching is never as simple as drilling oil or producing a fixed product. Teaching always includes nurturing children in the humanity of thinking. Even a teacher, who volunteers as an athletic coach, is always focused on the ‘development’ of the person, not some easily measured variable like industrial productivity. Children are not widgets. We all need to never forget school culture in our policy, actions and attitudes. Tom Whitby’s Twitter based #edchat podcast gives the issue of school culture terrific value. – Al Smith

Once a week Highlights and amplifications from the Twitter discussion of the week on #EdChat. Hosted By Tom Whitby and Nancy Blair and members of the EdChat team of moderators including MaryBeth Hertz, Kyle Pace, Jerry Blumengarten, Jerry Swiatek, Steven…

From Al Smith – @literateowl


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Owls are Leaders that endure.. @bccancer

I think we all should hear about some positive school news because there isn’t to much lately.

BC Cancer Foundation (@bccancer) 2014-06-03, 3:02 PM @kelowna_owls have raised $300,000 for cancer research since 2001! So proud to have you as our partners in discovery! From Al Smith – @kssreads

I usually reserve this blog for library and learning concepts or issues but heck what is more important than building the sense of community service in students and social commitment than cancer campaigns and science research?

At KSS we lived it with cancer victims in our student body. We still live it with cancer survivors on our faculty. Students, fit wives of PE teachers, Fine Arts teachers- librarians; no one is untouched. At KSS, our Rec Leadership Program includes several classes of teens led by teachers Fane Triggs and Tony Sodaro. In addition to the instruction pieces they volunteer loads of energy and hundreds of extra hours each year to package projects like the KSS CANCER WEEK event. Not just one activity but a comprehensive multi-event/multi-day campaign. It’s not just a letter home. It’s a full scale real world exercise in community service and fundraising. Car washes, breakfasts, HEADSHAVING , Golf tournaments, rallies, …more.., The school has supported the event over the years, as they do so many other large KSS projects because we strive to provide our students with opportunities and experiential learning that includes people skills and learning by doing and sharing the experience as a team. These mostly extracurricular events cannot be easily run in small schools and they cannot be a success without many teachers ( and admin support) working voluntarily in the evenings and during weekends. Big projects mean many extra teachers need to be away from their own children in order to dedicate themselves to KSS students. They don’t do these talks for any extra money. They don’t do it for promotions. They don’t do it for for any other reason than a sense of professionalism and a bond to Owl culture and tradition.

The Cancer Week campaign is now part of our school culture. It’s part of our yearly planning and conversations. I’ve come to be proud of how so many teachers annually dedicate time and energy on various extracurricular projects at KSS that drive community partnerships. We’ve seen how our school can plan and execute large events with notable excellence. Teachers have worked with well with administration, district staff, patents, students and the wide community to build a school project like four decades of Western Canada Basketball, or the notable Encore Music or hosting Debate or BC Provincial tournaments or Student Leadership Conferences… Etc.

These events take heart. They take teachers with skills and volunteerism that very few people understand- especially the Government. Wondrous events like the KSS CANCER WEEK campaign that endure and built hope beyond the classroom walls exist because teachers like Triggs and Sodaro chose to be as resilient as any survivor and don’t lose hope.

Think of the positive impact to thousands students over a dozen years? Who may become future Foundation chairpersons?

Think of a school project that averages a donation of $25000 EACH year?

Share this with those who think ‘those who can’t -teach’ . Those of our community who may be the most gifted and dedicated to people and certainly children- are teachers. That’s worth something!

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BCTLA DEAR2014 intro

Reminder. Mark your calendars.
Monday, October 27th will be the 8th annual Drop Everything and Read event.
Watch for announcements and printable posters soon.

Details will be available at
Jeff Yasinchuk


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An Apology to my Students

Originally posted on Evolving Teaching:


Dear Spring 2014 Humanities Co-op:

As of tomorrow, I will no longer be legally allowed to send emails to you on the weekends so this is your last Sunday email from me.  I know that some of you will be very happy about that since it will mean that I can’t bug you about your overdue work!   And yes, I know I still owe you a pizza party for violating the rule you imposed on me about no emails after 6pm!

Speaking of eating, I’m very sorry to tell you this but those of you who regularly stay in class to eat your lunch are going to have to find another place to eat starting  this week. You will also have to bring lunches that don’t require a microwave. I have been ordered to not be in my classroom during lunch which means you can’t be there too to heat…

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George Lucas on the Meaning of Life | Brain Pickings

“There is no why. We are. Life is beyond reason.”

themeaningoflife.jpgWhen a frustrated young woman asked the most brilliant man in the world why we’re alive, Einstein responded in five poignant lines. This question — at the heart of which is a concern with the meaning of life — has since been answered by many other great minds: For David Foster Wallace, it was about going through life fully conscious; for Carl Sagan, about our significant insignificance in the cosmos; for Annie Dillard, about learning to live with impermanence; for Richard Feynman, about finding the open channel; for Anaïs Nin, about living and relating to others “as if they might not be there tomorrow”; for Henry Miller, about the mesmerism of the unknown; and for Leo Tolstoy, about finding knowledge to guide our lives.

But one of the most profound answers comes from legendary Star Wars directorGeorge Lucas. In The Meaning of Life: Reflections in Words and Pictures on Why We Are Here (public library) — that remarkable 1991 anthology that gave ustimeless meditations on existence from a number of luminaries — Lucas uses an autobiographical anecdote as the springboard for a larger meditation on the meaning of life and our best chance for reaching its fullest potential:(Brain Pickings)

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Meaning of Life? “My best guess is that we share a collective spirit or life force or consciousness that encompasses and goes beyond individual life forms. There’s a part of us that connects to other humans, connects to other animals, connects to plants, connects to the planet, connects to the universe. I don’t think we can understand it through any kind of verbal, written or intellectual means. But I do believe that we all know this, even if it is on a level beyond our normal conscious thoughts -George Lucas

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Night Owl Theatre presents- premiere April 29

Kelowna Secondary School’s Night Owl Theatre presents, The Tree That Holds Up The Sky by Paul King.

Come join us for a dramatic night at the Night Owl Theatre, premiering April 29, 2014. Doors will open at 6:30pm and the performance will begin at 7:00pm. Tickets are $12 for adults and $8 for students. The show will run April 29th – May 3rd at 7:00pm each night with a matinee on May 3rd at 1:00pm.

The Tree That Holds Up The Sky explores what happens when two cultures collide. A construction company embarks on building a straight road across the world when they run into a giant tree they must cut down in order to complete the road. The people who live around the tree believe the tree holds up the sky and if it is cut down the world will end. See for yourself the fate of tree and those that live around it.


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5 Good Reasons to Take Your Kids to the Library Today | Cully

Regular library visits inevitably lead to more reading.

And reading, as it turns out, is brain food!

Libraries have played such an essential role in our family that I’m almost gobsmacked when I encounter families who don’t share my enthusiasm. Some say that the children’s rooms of libraries are an anachronism in a world of mobile screens with books on demand. But I say that while childhood has changed quite a bit, children have not.(Cully)

********************Al Smith*************************
twoloons twoloons @literateowl


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Beyond Five-Paragraphs

Firstly, I’m a teacher-librarian not an English teacher. I don’t pretend to be an expert in either craft.  I’m commenting to support the thesis in Kimberly Hill Campbell’s article of Education Leadership ‘Beyond the Five-Paragraph Essay’. Years of research indicate the model isn’t a wonderful writing aide. So why are we still fighting it’s implementation in 2014?  Our school has mostly moved away from it in favour of other writing devices. As a librarian the outcome and eventual writing or production exercise does influence your course of action.


“The five-paragraph essay format often puts students’ thinking in a box.  Ther’s a better way.”(Hill Campbell)

Many of colleagues have embraced a comprehensive inquiry model or PBL which starts with students generating big questions  not simply completing a  topic outline that fits 5 paragraphs or three boxes.  It’s valuable to emphasize organizational skills but in 2014 its finding personal meaning and filtering content within issues that is vital. Writing becomes a form of affirmation. Their writing is driven first by research and then by a deeper level of thinking.  Hill Campbell says, “developing an authoritative voice’. She claims the organization actually comes after the purpose of writing is generated- after the inquiry.  She discusses the virtues of not establishing predetermined formula of size or shape but let the student’s position statement and evidence dictate the organization and writing needs. I like her assessment.  Check her article out.




Hill Campbell, Kimberly. “BEYOND The Five-Paragraph ESSAY.” Educational Leadership 71.7 (2014): 60-65. Canadian Reference Centre. Web. 14 Apr. 2014.< >



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A Job at Google or a Principal Job in West Vancouver?

Originally posted on :


Thomas Friedman recently wrote a piece in the New York Times on “How to Get a Job at Google.”  As I read the comments of Laszlo Bock, the Senior Vice President of People Operations for Google, the more I found that Google is looking for many of the same attributes in its employees that we are looking for in West Vancouver, when we hire principals and vice-principals.

One of the more common questions I am asked is just what does someone need to do to secure a school principal or vice-principal job?  The truth is there is no one thing or an exact path.  In West Vancouver we do receive dozens of applications for any job opening, and many of these candidates have all the required boxes checked for what is needed in these leadership positions.  Many who apply believe there is a certain ‘formula’ in getting a job as a principal or vice-principal, but I haven’t seen it yet. I…

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Kathy’s Tumblr – Standards can be censorship…

I’m a middle school librarian and try very hard to work with the faculty. This year I feel challenged, because students from one language arts class tell me that they are allowed to read only nonfiction. I approached the teacher, and he told me that it was because of the Common Core State Standards.


Challenge-Ready: Using Thoughtful Leadership to Promote the Freedom to Read | Scales on Censorship | School Library Journal(kishizuka)

*******************Al Smith*************************

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