Mind the Gap


Several years ago I had the opportunity to take a few teachers and students on a trip to Finland to visit some schools, teachers, and students. In planning our journey we had a one-day layover in London, England and determined that we’d use that delay to go visit a 7-12 school in the suburbs of London.  This process would require us to use the London subway/train system to get from our hotel to the school, about four transfers undertaken during the morning rush hour.  Well over a million people moving across all those trains at that time and our little band of 7 from a community of 56,000 in northern Alberta set out the concur the Tube. It seemed like a daunting task as we planned it, and it was thrilling and a bit anxious as we operationalized it, made all our connections and safely arrived at the school.   At each stop, as we waited, boarded, passed each station, departed and made a way one phrase echoed over and over, “mind the gap”.

Consider this map of the train run at it works and it meets the needs of all those who need to move across one of the great cities of the world, but truly – “mind the gap”.

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It strikes me that everything about an inclusive education model is entirely about minding the gap but perhaps not quite in the way we might anticipate. The gap in my mind is extremely individual.  It can be measured in the collective for sure as one explores one demographic group against another, but in truth, the key gap is that between where the individual student is now and where that specific student wants to be and can be (not always the same thing) on any given day.

What do you truly believe about the potential of the individual?  My belief system suggests that we are all sons and daughters of God.  This does not suggest that one religious belief system is right over another only that universally every single man and woman is a son or daughter of God. Just as we grow from childhood to adulthood in this life we have a spiritual and eternal potential that can be seen in our eternal spiritual parents.

So the effort to mind the gap and ultimately close the gap, that space between where I am today and where I can be in anything I undertake, is the work of the moment, the day, year and on into the eternities.  Big and small picture stuff to be sure but isn’t that what core beliefs are all about?  I think it is.  On a personal level, it feeds into the statement that the more I know, the more I know I need to know more.  At Grande Prairie Composite High School it led to contributing to and mindfully striving to live the school motto painted on the gym floor basketball boundary, “Everyone learning every day”.  If any of us are going to close our personal gap, if we are going to help others work at attaining their potential we need to truly live a life of learning… every single day.

We have an educational system that truly was designed to meet a very specific end, an industrial model – even a factory model that assumes all students learn at the same pace.  Witness the Carnegie Unit of 25 hours per “credit” of instruction and a historical norm of teachers setting dates for quizzes, unit exams, assignments and ultimately final exams under the assumption that all students learn at the same pace.  The quadratics unit exam is next Wednesday, that’s when the train stops and you pass or fail, end of story.  Stack on that the belief in practice that for some in education, and particularly some with a misguided notion of accountability through standardization that suggests all students learn the same way and the same rate of time or the division, school or teacher appears to have failed, at least in the eyes of the political/financial head.  Advocates seem to believe all students are best assessed the same way, can share their knowledge the same way and for the convenience of a schedule complete their learning and are ready to move forward on the same day and time. It is a flawed and false mindset that rather than minding the gap, expands that gap at an individual and collective rate.

What gap are we to mind?  I would suggest that there are multiple gaps, just as there are multiple stops along the London subway (Tube) system.  There are gaps in our personal relationships.  There are gaps between student marks at the simplest level, gaps in course selection, and achievement.  There are gaps in identifiable groups based on ethnicity and gender in various courses and programs.  There are gaps in support for students with high needs, gaps for students with high ACE’s (Adverse Childhood Experience) scores.  There are gaps in terms of students who could, with support, take and successfully complete more rigorous programming.  There will always be gaps in our understanding and practice, the one eternal truth is that there will always be a need to learn and grow, for all of us.  There are a lot of gaps.

I need to start with myself, I invite everyone to begin there.  Perhaps our mind should turn to the gaps in our own lives, they clearly exist.  Think of the very best you that you can imagine.  Now think of you as you currently exist.  What is the nature of that gap as you analyze where you are and where you want to be or could be?  What’s being done to help close that gap for you as an adult?  As a parent?  As a teacher?  As a son, daughter, husband, wife?  What about each student as they reflect on the score they thought they could earn, the life they thought they could build for themselves and that gap?

Consider the gaps, accept the challenge to close the gaps you see in your own understanding and commit to being a support to those around you in whatever capacity.  The process of minding and closing gaps in the process of development and growth that leads to the very best version of self and supports others in the same way.  Mind the gap. Close the gap one hour, one day at a time.


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21 Ways to Be a Great Teammate…#21

#21 Leave the place better than you found it.  It is the last of 21 ways Jon Gordon (2015) suggests one can be a great teammate.  I have some thoughts I’d like to share about several of the ways to be a great teammate but I’ll start with #21 .

Jon Gordon’s book outlines the example of George Boiardi, a lacrosse player, a very special lacrosse player at Cornell who passed away on March 17, 2004 while playing lacrosse.  It was certainly with mixed emotions that I read the book and considered the lessons contained therein.  Anyone who has coached for any length of time has seen glimpses of the behaviors Gordon illustrated through the life of George in their players and can likely recall a few who draw out special memories perhaps different and yet the same that can lift us all in the reflection.

As I came to realize when George had passed away, what year, I was reminded of a very special athlete who embodied many similar attributes who also passed away in 2004, Sept 1st while at football practice in his case, Jeff Halvorson.  I’ll write a little more about some of the great teammate traits Jeff embodied in a future post.  To me there are many similarities.

Today I want to focus on this 21st way; “Leave the place better than you found it.”  If you consciously strive in your interactions with others to lift and improve there is no limit to the impact you can have.  I’m also certain that for the most part you may never fully know how far the ripples of your actions reach through the thoughts and lives of others.

One of Jeff’s high school teammates was a young man by the name of Brian Ridgeway.  A year behind Jeff in high school they played on the Grande Prairie Warriors and played against each other in junior football in BC.  Brian played a few years with the Montreal Alouettes in the CFL before his second major concussion led to an early retirement.  Brian was entertaining as a high school football player, a safety for the Warriors he played with reckless abandon.  In his post- secondary and professional career, he moved up to linebacker, he loved to hit.

The Okanagan Sun were the dominant team in BC Junior football through the 90’s and into the early 2000’s.  In 2004, they advanced to the national championship, lead through the early part of the season by Jeff Halvorson as he scored 17 touchdowns to lead the Canadian Junior Football league despite passing away midway through the season.  Two years later as the Sun wrapped up the regular season they hosted the Vancouver Island Raiders, a team that had been founded in Nanaimo starting in 2005.  Brian Ridgeway was an original captain and exemplified this 21st way to be a great teammate.

I remember a conversation with then Sun’s head coach, Jay Christensen.  Jay shared that following that last regular season game, a game the Raiders had won, that as he walked through the building he observed this senior captain in action with his teammates and walked back to his own coaches’ room announcing that he didn’t think his team could beat the Raiders in the upcoming playoff game.  It might not have seemed like a big thing to others but as a football coach of 19-23 year olds he’d been in more than one locker room and observed more than one veteran interacting with rookies as a visiting team hurried to get showered and get on the road.

What he had observed was a captain not berating the rookies to hurry up, players certainly wouldn’t have been first in the shower, but rather a captain helping rookies gather up their equipment and even carrying their bags out to the bus.  Brian’s example in the locker room (and his exceptional play on the field) convinced him that the leadership of the team from its lead players was something special beyond the physical talent of the players. The kind of difference that makes it difficult to lose.

I’m convinced that the attitude of giving, of checking your ego and working toward taking anything you do from where it is to a higher place is inspirational and changes the DNA of the organization or the people impacted by that effort.  There is a song, it’s a hymn really, entitled “Have I Done Any Good?”  The lyrics ask the questions that someone committed to leaving any relationship, place or situation better than they found it would consider.  I’m grateful to Brian, Jeff, the story of George as shared by Jon Gordon and the hosts of people I’ve been blessed to work with, teach and coach who work at leaving it better than they found it.  Have I done any good in the world today?  Keep those memories and chances are you have and will.


Gordon, J. (2015). The hard hat: 21 ways to be a great teammate. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.


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Just one book…

The other day I was asked if I might be able to recommend one book, just one book, to be presented as a gift to some student teachers completing their final round of student teaching as they wrap up their degree and prepare for a career in education.  I had an instant reaction and replied, Rules for a Knight by Ethan Hawke (2015).  Not an education methods, philosophy book at all.  However, it is a book I believe everyone could benefit from if they allow themselves to be the father, the central character in this tale, as he shares some thoughts about what it is to be a knight for his children prior to the next day’s battle where he’s certain he will die.  The development of personal character being the primary purpose from my point of view.  I’ve been an unpaid (and likely unknown to Ethan Hawke) personal promoter of this book for the past 18 months.  Must read material from my point of view but, the one book for a new teacher…maybe not.

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Returning to the question, one book, the best book for a new teacher, I found myself thinking about my library.  I have a lot of books, print and Kindle format.  After 32 years in education, coaching over 60 teams (mostly football), a Masters and a Doctorate in Education Leadership, there is a lot to choose from.  I believe deeply in trying to meet the needs of all students.  They come to our classes and schools in all shapes and sizes.  The exceptionally average, the high flyer, the kid where the school is her one refuge from an absolutely crappy life, the kid who at first glance one might think will never learn a thing…all kids.   To pick one book for the 2017 graduate I have to hope it’s a trigger book, one that lights a desire to get the second, third and so because there really isn’t one book that’s going to answer all the questions, provide all that a new teacher (or old) will need.  I think this is telling me I need to share more about the books I’ve read, books I’ve started, books others have told me you must read that have impacted me as I try to be the best teacher and leader I can be.  These books have impacted how I work with my fellow teachers, and how I work with anyone I have an opportunity to learn from and teach.

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Robert Marzano (2017) has written several editions of books that speak to the art of teaching while exploring the science that supports that art.  I’m a believer that if you don’t sense, feel, breathe and develop a personal passion for teaching, the art part of the work, you’re never going to be the best you can be for your students.  In the absence of the art, that passion for teaching, education is just a job.  If it’s just a job you will fall short of your potential to really maximize the learning experience for all your students.  If you fail to continue to learn, you cannot be the best teacher you can be.

I believe in a different twist on the saying, “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink”. For me, it’s, “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him thirsty”.  A thirsty horse will drink wherever there’s water.  To that end, I’d hope that reading this first book would help build the thirst that would lead to book after book to fully develop the art and science of teaching, assessment strategies, instructional strategies, literacy, numeracy, working with challenging students.  Do you think there’s a book for students about surviving challenging teachers?  You have to believe you can make a difference in the life of all your students, and your peers.  For me, in order to be your best you have to believe you can work miracles, and then learn how.

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            My first book for the new teacher (with lots more to follow) is Dave Burgess’ work, Teach Like a Pirate (Burgess, 2012).  Here’s one paragraph from Dave’s section on passion for you to ponder:

My professional passion sounds like this: I’m passionate about creating lifelong learners. I’m passionate about increasing the self-esteem and self-confidence of my students. I’m passionate about having students leave my class with a larger vision of what is possible for their lives. I enjoy helping students who are apathetic about school get excited about coming to school, even if it is just because of my class. I love developing the creative and innovative spirit of my students. I am passionate about not letting them fall victim to the horrific educational trends that would have us turn children into test-taking automatons who are able to spit out facts and trivia but are unable to speak about anything of significance or meaning. I want to model and inspire a spirit of entrepreneurship and drive for constant self-improvement in all areas of life. I am also passionate about developing engaging presentations for my material. (Kindle location 174-181)

I like the way Dave Burgess thinks, it reminds me of why I loved teaching the poetry and story of Dead Poet’s in English, or took students out to a farmer’s field and measured out the distance of the battlefield at Passchendaele in Social Studies.

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It’s probably why I so loved Richard Mulligan’s character, Herbert Gower, in the 1984 movie “Teachers” which was released during my last year in and my last student teaching round.  Yes, ancient history.

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We can all stand to teach a little like a Pirate, I wonder, restricted to just one book, what you’d want that new graduate in education to read?  Perhaps it’s a title I’ll be sharing in some of the posts to come.


Burgess, D. (2012). Teach like a pirate: Increase student engagement, boost your creativity, and transform your life as an educator. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.

Hawke, E. (2015). Rules for a knight: The last letter of Sir Thomas Lemuel Hawke. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.

Marzano, R. J. (2017). The new art and science of teaching. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Dave’s website: http://daveburgess.com/


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Learning, Winning, and My Bad….

John Maxwell (2013) starts his book with a question, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you wouldn’t fail” (p.1)?  It’s certainly easier to cliff jump into a lake if you know it’s not going to hurt, the water will be warm, and there is no risk, no fear, no chance at failure, even if failure is a bit of a belly flop entrance to the water. But would it be the same experience?  The same challenge?

(this water was quite cold by the way…I’m 3rd from the top)

And sometimes more is learned than won….


Now, this isn’t about life-threatening experiences, it’s about the willingness to try, to reach, to succeed and ultimately to be willing to fail along the way to succeeding or perhaps as Maxwell later asks us to consider, “what do you learn when you fail”?  Stories, urban myth or otherwise are all around us of great inventors and the multiple times they failed in what they were working to develop before it worked.  They didn’t fail at say inventing the lightbulb, they learned a 100 or 1000 ways that the light bulb couldn’t be built and then…after all those lessons like magic, let there be light.  The overnight success has more than a few hours of learning process invested that on many occasions looked nothing like a success.  Somehow, we must ensure we, as the guides for our students and those who work with us in education, embrace the learning process for what it is, a collection of peaks and valleys wins, and losses that can hurt a bit and reward a bit along the way.

Along with that line of thinking, I like this podcast series I’ve come across recently and while the voices are mostly teachers and administrators I think all of us in education can identify and could probably find a story or two to share.  It’s called “My Bad…” you see it in sports, the QB or point guard makes a bad pass, the receiver drops a great ball, they point to themselves and say to the others, “my bad…” I messed up, I didn’t get that right, and of course, implied in the statement is the notion that they will get it right the next time as a result.  (Doesn’t always work that way but hey I did suggest there were a few 1000 my bad’s along the way to inventing the lightbulb).

The website for the My Bad podcast is here https://www.bamradionetwork.com/my-bad/ you can also find the My Bad podcast in iTunes podcast section.  Some stories may not apply to you, others can hit right between the chambers of your heart.  Check a couple out.  More importantly, recognize the theme of the podcast; we are in the work of learning from mistakes, most of what we do is formative and “My Bad” is a part of that formative process when we mindfully work to learn and improve.

Maxwell, J. C. (2013). Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn: Life’s greatest lessons are gained from our losses. New York, NY: Center Street.

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Moving Forward or Falling Back

The Japanese have a saying, or at least when I was in Japan years ago a Japanese individual told me they have a saying that goes like this, “Shinpo shiite inai kagari dairaku shiite imasu”.  Now over the years my Japanese has faded a bit and I’ve spelled it the way I remember but the translation is relatively simple, “to the degree we are not progressing, we are falling back”.  There is no such thing in this life as standing still.  Even if standing still is measured as an opportunity lost.

Joe Paterno wrote, “Every kid who has ever played for me has heard me say this a thousand times: ‘You either get better or you get worse.’ You never stay the same.  You get better as a person or you get worse as a person.  You do something every day to make yourself a better person.  You go by and pick up a piece of paper and put it in the garbage can.  That makes you a better person.  The same is true for football (or any other sport or activity) When you go out to the practice field, you are not the same player you were the day before.  You are better or worse.  That is life.  If you go out and practice poorly, you start to go down.  Make the effort to be a better football player.  Do not just go out and practice.  Think about the practice.” (Browning, 2001, p. 168)

These words expand upon the Japanese concept and Coach Paterno provides a sad reminder that the words hold true for our entire lives.  A great career can be significantly, and to some extent irreparably, blighted when you fail to continue to progress and hold the character ground you’ve attained.  Looking the other way when what is called for is action, big or small, to ensure the right thing is done is, at an individual level, getting worse as a person.  We must work to have the courage to own our actions and our inactions.

What am I doing today that is helping me improve?

How do I react to the suggestion that I need to know more about something, or that I may be wrong in my understanding?

Is there something calling for action on my part that I’ve resisted acting upon?  What can I do to change that in the next hour, day or weeks ahead?


Browning, E. (Ed.) (2001). Coaching beyond the x’s and o’s: By the experts. Monterey, CA: Coaches Choice.

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Stay humble and kind…


A lady by the name of Lori McKenna wrote the song as a list of things she wanted to make sure she told her children. Not a bad list of things for all of us to remember particularly when we get just a bit too caught up in ourselves, in taking offence, finding offence, and forgetting to look for the good in others.

McGraw and others have had a hand in creating the Stay Humble website http://www.stayhumbleandkind.com/  Take a look, consider how you might make a difference in a world that, at least from my point of view, is increasingly challenged to consider others, stay humble and kind.

I found myself wanting a root beer popsicle….

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Change – Redesign – Rethinking Schools

I recently had the opportunity to present to three sessions of high school students who indicated that they might want to be teachers. Close to 80 high school students 5 young men and 75 young women (that’s something to be explored another time) shared a few of their thoughts about why they wanted to be teachers. I invited them to think about the classroom they would work in, the students they would work with and the difference, positive or negative they might be in those lives.

I also found myself pondering this in the process, I started teaching in the fall of 1985 Grade 9 Social Studies and English, I remember many of those students the band stream kids and the “Alternate” class on stream for a high school experience many of them in targeted for the “integrated occupations program” rather than the high school diploma program. 31 years later I feel like a lot has changed but then no, not so much or certainly not as much as perhaps things need to change.

My granddaughter started kindergarten this year and appears to be enjoying every minute…she will graduate in the spring of 2029 what will her learning be like? Her classrooms, her instruction models, her assessment models? How will they be tailored to her specific needs? My other grandchildren are each very different just as the student I taught and coached in my life were, and are individuals but did I consider enough their individual needs, will there be room to differentiate enough for them? Is this where technology can truly make a difference?

Those students I visited with, if a 30 year career follows 5 years of education and training will be teaching classes well into the 2050’s – care to guess what their classroom will look like, how classes will operate, instructional and assessment practices? How are we preparing today’s students to adapt?

This image has attained some level of notoriety, doubtful that it was Einstein’s actual words, but then again it doesn’t take an Einstein to know that assessing everyone in the same way does present more than a few problem regardless of the exam.


In fact I’d suggest it provided the basis for this presentation by Prince EA

It’s alright to have a little cognitive dissonance around what we’re doing as educators, parents, students, in this process of learning but it’s not ok to continue down a path built on an industrial model that is highly unlikely to meet the needs of students who will be expected to lead our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren in the course of their own careers as educators.

All teachers and all education systems in the world make a difference…how would I explain the difference I’ve made?  How would you?

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Addiction, what’s my paradigm?

I find myself recently challenged about some of my thoughts, previously held dispositions around addictions and addicts. Having watched a couple of Ted Talks recently, and in consideration of some of the students and adults I work with IN ADDITION to reflecting on my own approach to Golf, Football, buying/reading books, and work this is really an area where the more I know the more I need to know more.

I’ll come back to this one but I’m using this post more like a short electronic bookmark/bookshelf.

Gabor Mate (author of “In the realm of hungry ghosts: close encounters with addiction”)  in addition to talking about addiction ties in the piece of responding to Trauma – what it is we need emotionally that we’ve somehow convinced ourselves can only be filled by our “addiction”.

What about the addiction to power, the addiction of those who are focused on getting “stuff” at the expense of others or making up for some real or perceived shortfall.  Insecure/inferior – historical examples discussed would open the door for a wide range of conversations.

Johann Hari provides further examples particularly about the void that addiction fills and how punishment – the go to move most often employed in our schools and countries – may be missing the mark.



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Failure is a moment…and then you decide

It has been far too long between posts. I could write about the many things that have been going on; the work, the family, the dissertation, the life, but really in the end I just haven’t made it a priority to gather my thoughts in this forum and write them down. I should have, if only for me, but if the best time to plant a tree is 20 or 40 years ago and the second best time is today (if you’re not deep in a Canadian winter) then the best time to start writing was yesterday and the second best time is today.

I love sports, pretty much all sports though I admit some are only highlights “SportsDesk” viewing for me, football and hockey I PVR and watch as much as I can, particularly the Edmonton Oilers, KC Chiefs, Denver Broncos, Eagles, Colts, Niners these have been my teams over the years but I enjoy great plays and great players across the NFL, CFL, NHL and NBA.  Lessons never cease to come from sports and are relatively easy to apply in our own lives.

Take a minute to consider Blair Walsh kicker for the Minnesota Vikings. In the first week of the 2015 season playoffs he had a chance to win the game for the Vikings and defeat the Seattle Seahawks, a relatively simple chip shot kick in a range where he has previously made 189 of 191 kicks from 27 yards or closer – in short Blair Walsh is money from this distance ALMOST a sure thing.  And then ALMOST happened, shanked it, pulled it wide left and now he’s 189 of 192 kicks and the Vikings season has ended. Failure…but no where near fatal and that’s a key difference.

Watch the video of the play – the Seahawks joyous, clearly recognizing their good fortune, stunned disbelief really the primary reaction of the Vikings, the joy for the Seahawks lasted about 7 days then they too lost and their season came to an end, that’s the way it works for all but one team every year in every league.

Take a minute to read the MMQB (Sports Illustrated Article)  by Peter King @SI_PeterKing a conversation with Blair Walsh and a great story of the support and reality check he received from a group of elementary students – would have been cool if it had come from a group of adults at some forward thinking corporation as well but perhaps us grown-ups need a reminder about perspective…ya think?

The President of Harvard wrote a letter a couple of years back suggesting that students of Harvard read, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schulz, I was lucky enough to be in the Harvard book store, read the letter and then read the book she wrote, “Twelve hundred years before Rene Descartes penned his famous “I think therefore I am” the philosopher and theologian (and eventual saint) Augustine wrote, “fallor ergo sum”: I err, therefore I am”.

Blair Walsh like 100% of the rest of us on this province made a mistake – in his case a very correctable mistake and that’s it, lesson learned a part of his life story but just a part, not even a chapter and he’s decided that after that moment of failure it’s move on, move up, and continue to work at being the best he can be.  I’d suggest on many levels as a fan and on a personal level related to the multitude of mistakes or failures we experience every day it’s a pretty good example to follow.



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This life is a time to….

We have this life on this earth, may last a day, may last 115 years, but this is the life.  What we do not get are “do-overs” in the sense that yesterday was and yesterday will not be again. This is not to say we can’t have a conversation about yesterday, or even where we were or where we were not before we came to this life – only that we cannot change our past.

What we do control is the next few minutes, hours, days, weeks, and however much time we are granted in this life.  In many respects it is the what’s next, the tomorrow’s, the application of lessons learned that frames our future and the invitation to mindfully ponder that future and work to make evermore wise decisions about our time and activities is at the core of Christensen’s book.

I think it instructive that the book provides a guide for moving forward, improving upon our individual condition through improving choices built upon improving results.

how will you measure your life

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