If it’s Good For Kids

Draft Week

At different times over the past three years, I have written posts, or started to write posts, and for some reason I haven’t been able to work some of them out. For one reason or another, the idea wasn’t finished or at least not at the level where I felt it was good enough to publish. I have recently had the desire to go back and finish some of those posts, so this week, I am going to finish 5 posts that have been sitting in my draft folder for a while, in some cases, over two years. I picked five that I wanted to finish, maybe not the best, but ones that I needed to work out and take the time to finish because they meant something to me. Today’s post was originally written on June 14th, 2013, and ventures into a topic I believe will become an area of interest for me, professional development. All week, whatever I had written will be in italics and then I will add to the post to finish it. Kathy Melton is joining me in this week long return to posts we never finished, her blog can be found here.


cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by Penn State

We have been bouncing around a lot of ideas about change and innovation in education this year, and having great conversations about where we might go next. I find that there come times in conversations about education where we lose our steam and we come to a lull. I also find that the best way to invigorate the conversation, if you haven’t already done so, is to ask what would the students say about the topic? Sometimes we forget that what we are doing has a lot to do with our students, and considering their thoughts about what we are doing is vital.

As we plan for our Educator Innovation Day, I have been thinking about applying the same desire for change and innovation we have for our students education to our own learning. Collaboration, Choice and Flexibility are words that come up as we brainstorm ways to change education, maybe these are key to changing professional development as well. 

What can I say, it was June and I got busy. So this is where I will continue…

What I hope to see in professional development is that we practice what we preach. We need to help make the learning personally meaningful, connected to a wide and authentic audience, and flexible in its delivery and setting. We want to be supportive of risk taking, and motivators of active research from our staff. We should be modelling these aspects of learning and sharing in our own professional development as well.

If it’s good for kids, it’s good for us, because learning is learning. I believe that when we get together as professionals to talk about where education should go, we should always consider what students would say about it. I also believe that when we come across a great learning experience that our students are participating in we should also ask how we could apply that to our professional learning. Is this a valid point? Can we apply the way our students learn best to our own learning? What are your thoughts?

What Should We Change?

Draft Week

At different times over the past three years, I have written posts, or started to write posts, and for some reason I haven’t been able to work some of them out. For one reason or another, the idea wasn’t finished or at least not at the level where I felt it was good enough to publish. I have recently had the desire to go back and finish some of those posts, so this week, I am going to finish 5 posts that have been sitting in my draft folder for a while, in some cases, over two years. I picked five that I wanted to finish, maybe not the best, but ones that I needed to work out and take the time to finish because they meant something to me. Today’s post was originally written on April 29th, 2013, at a time I was very interested and excited about the potential for change in education. All week, whatever I had written will be in italics and then I will add to the post to finish it. Kathy Melton is joining me in this week long return to posts we never finished, her blog can be found here.


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by hang_in_there

I am in one of those moods. I am in a mood where I choose to believe that all this talk is going to result in action. I am believing that our provincial government’s commitment to education reform is real. I have faith that the time, the opportunity and the key individuals are all where they need to be. So how are we going to do this?

In my school we have been working in a few areas – Inquiry, Project-Based Learning, Innovation/Creativity and Alternative Classroom Design – and we are just one school. My worry is that when we open the flood gates to “change”, people who are excited and passionate about a specific area are going to want to run with their ideas, and at the school, division or provincial level this is going to result in spreading ourselves too thin.

So Change, yes. But what should we change?

 So, I got stuck. I was struggling with how to respond to the question WITHOUT being clouded by what I find to be the priority areas for positive change in education. I wanted this to be a conversation piece where people could share where they believed change should happen and why?

I am no cop-out artist, I won’t avoid the question, although my answer will be a little bit on the vanilla side…

In our province we had something called the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI) which was scrapped in the recent budget cuts, before a lot of the action research could be completed and/or reported. It’s too bad, because my answer would be to implement a model where educators could put forth proposals to our Ministry to experiment in an area of change that they believed in and were willing to not only implement, but put in the necessary planning/research before and during their trial.

What are your thoughts? With all this talk of change, what specifically would you want to see changed? What would you want to see be made the priority of change in schools?

Doesn’t Make Sense

Draft Week

At different times over the past three years, I have written posts, or started to write posts, and for some reason I haven’t been able to work some of them out. For one reason or another, the idea wasn’t finished or at least not at the level where I felt it was good enough to publish. I have recently had the desire to go back and finish some of those posts, so this week, I am going to finish 5 posts that have been sitting in my draft folder for a while, in some cases, over two years. I picked five that I wanted to finish, maybe not the best, but ones that I needed to work out and take the time to finish because they meant something to me. Today’s post was originally written on January 20th, 2013, and I am very clear on why I didn’t publish this one – I value my job. All week, whatever I had written will be in italics and then I will add to the post to finish it. Kathy Melton is joining me in this week long return to posts we never finished, her blog can be found here.

 


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by CarbonNYC

Its such an exciting time in education. I love the conversations going on about how we can improve our systems and create a better educational experience for our students. Every day on twitter, I see excited and committed professionals discussing personalized learning, educational technology, inclusion, differentiation and so much more. I also see many people discussing assessment.

The biggest theme I see discussed is change, and let’s be honest, we are in the midst of major changes. Many schools are no longer purchasing textbooks, teachers are exploring ways to go without paper, classrooms are often comprised of flexible learning spaces rather than desks and chairs assembled in rows. The hours of a school day and the traditional school calendar itself are being reviewed and changes considered. I can’t honestly think of an area of education that we aren’t looking at changing. And what are we basing these changes on? Research. Plain and simple, we are learning what helps improve our system and we are taking that research into account when we make the decisions about how to run our schools and divisions.

Like I said, what a great time to be involved in education as we take the steps forward to improve. So why then, do we not apply this same type of thinking to our standardized tests. We are beyond teaching students things they can easily google, so recall of knowledge is not really the type of higher order thinking we are aspiring to, yet we continue to assess our students using a measure that only addresses that level of thinking. We talk about how we want our education system to help develop our students for the real world, yet very few people perform these type of tasks anymore. Textbooks, paper, desks are going away, why not these archaic tests.

I wonder how we get rid of standardized tests? Does it take elected officials in our government? I wonder how long we’ll wait for that to happen. Will it be public opinion? I think that would take a lot of work on our part to educate our parents and I’m not sure we have the resources or personnel to make that happen quickly. Does it take brave division leaders to make a stand? That’s probably the most likely, but it would take someone very brave to stand up and be the first to stand up and say no.

It’s a shame that when it comes to this area, change will take longer than it should. It doesn’t make sense to keep this practice going, but sometimes breaking with tradition is difficult. I hope we aren’t waiting too long.

Well it turned out, it did take active professionals, elected officials, and vocal division leaders all working together and because of their work, these tests will be gone in the next few years. At the time I wrote this post, the news of phasing out our province’s Provincial Achievement Tests had not yet been reported. When I was done writing this  post back then I thought no matter how much I tempered my message, and trust me – I did temper it, it could still be said that I was undermining what we were doing in our division. I decided not to post it, and it sat in my drafts until now.

Now I feel it is ok to share how I was feeling. I was frustrated, and I wanted to challenge someone to step up and fight against the tests, someone with more influence than me. I think there are a lot of educators who felt this way and for a long time. A lot of the time, probably 60-70% of the time, I am inspired to write because I am working something out and I need a space to put my challenge in words so that I can better understand what I am struggling with. I publish them to share my journey, to gather valuable feedback from my PLN, and to hopefully bring some guidance to someone who is in a similar place as I am. Writing this post back in January helped me to understand my frustrations, but I made the decision that the sharing side of writing would have to wait on this one until a time it wouldn’t be an issue. A post perfect for this Draft Week project.

 

Ok, What If It Is All About YOU?

Draft Week

At different times over the past three years, I have written posts, or started to write posts, and for some reason I haven’t been able to work some of them out. For one reason or another, the idea wasn’t finished or at least not at the level where I felt it was good enough to publish. I have recently had the desire to go back and finish some of those posts, so this week, I am going to finish 5 posts that have been sitting in my draft folder for a while, in some cases, over two years. I picked five that I wanted to finish, maybe not the best, but ones that I needed to work out and take the time to finish because they meant something to me. Today’s post was originally written on June 15th, 2011, when I was wrapping up the final weeks of my first year in administration. All week, whatever I had written will be in italics and then I will add to the post to finish it. Kathy Melton is joining me in this week long return to posts we never finished, her blog can be found here.


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by ark

I like the times that our conversations about education are flipped and we play the Devil’s Advocate. When this happen, you end up seeing what the issue is really about. This week, I have been treated like crap by a couple angry students, and I keep repeating my mantra “It’s not about me, It’s not about me”. But, what if it IS about me? What if this student really sees me as the problem? What if this student really does dislike me? What if this student feels I am incompetent? What should this change?

Well, in my opinion, it really should change nothing.

Let’s play this one out… So let’s say I interact with a student, I talk to him or her about a situation, allow them to offer their feedback and then I deal with it as I see fit. Let’s say this kid launches into a tirade of how I am unfair, how I am picking on them, how I am on a power trip and that they would rather see me hit by a bus than show up at the school the next day. What if this student won’t give me a chance when I try to talk to them and wants nothing to do with me. How do I move forward?

Well first of all, I am not paid to be my students’ friend, I am paid to educate them, and while a healthy relationship with that student would be more beneficial, I may have to work, for at least a little while, coping as best I can with our fractured relationship. Second, I teach so that everyone can be successful, not just the students who like me. I have a job to do and I will do it regardless of how the students feel about me. Third, I am a model for my students, a point that is important to remember, and how I handle this situation will show them a great deal.

If I hold a grudge and can’t move past this interaction, I teach my students that when people treat you poorly, its ok to give them the power to control you. I show them that I am unable to wipe the slate clean and start again. I am telling them “If you make a mistake with me, I no longer value you as my student”. If I ignore the student, I teach them that when people hurt you, they aren’t worth your time. I show them that I will react to their poor treatment of me with poor treatment of them. I tell them “If you aren’t respectful, you aren’t worth my time or attention”. If I lash out at them I am teaching them that the way to solve a problem is by fighting and belittling. I am showing them that they don’t have an adult as a teacher, but rather a peer. I am telling them “If you come at me with disrespect, I’ll disrespect you right back”.

If a student is treating you poorly, and it turns out you are the reason, not a crappy night of sleep, a tough interaction with a parent or a social issue with a peer, it doesn’t change who you are and what you are expected to do. It might not be easy, but our job stays the same regardless of how we are treated.

Wow. I wrote this? I am a little surprised. Clearly, it was June and I was dealing with some young people who were not treating me all that well. As you can see, this post was done, and I must have made the decision it was a little too harsh to send out. Let me see if I can put in to words how I feel about this post now, two years later…

Reading over it a few times now I believe my intent was correct. How we interact with our students, especially in times of frustration – theirs or ours – can have a profound impact on the student and our relationship. What I find interesting is I don’t remember these interactions, and I have a pretty good memory. When I look back on that year in administration I remember the last few months being a wonderful experience that reinforced for me that I would want to return to administration when I was done coaching (or earlier as it turned out).

I do try to mend fractured relationships and at least gain the respect of a student when dealing with them on a matter of discipline, so my best guess is that I was frustrated that I couldn’t get through to this student or these students and it was bothering me.

In the past couple years since I wrote this, a couple things have happened. The first being that I changed schools, and in this new school the way that discipline is handled is more open to the interpretation of the professional dealing with the issue. There is a great deal of trust in that, and a lot of flexibility which leads, usually, to better interactions with the students. The second is that I have gained a wealth of experience from working with two amazing administrators in this building, my principal Carolyn and the Assistant Principal Tracy. The two of them have given me so many more tools in dealing with students that I haven’t had any situations like this arise in the two years here.

All that being said, I’ll play Devil’s advocate and say if something like this situation arose again, I believe a lot of what I wrote was correct: In dealing with the student I would want to show them respect and care, show them that this is simply a hiccup and that our relationship will not be broken because of it, and that I want success for all students not just the ones I get along well with. I guess the only real change to this post would be that I believe I have a far more developed ability to avoid getting to this point, and that has everything to do with some learning I have done by working with really great people and following their lead.

See The Light

Draft Week

At different times over the past three years, I have written posts, or started to write posts, and for some reason I haven’t been able to work some of them out. For one reason or another, the idea wasn’t finished or at least not at the level where I felt it was good enough to publish. I have recently had the desire to go back and finish some of those posts, so this week, I am going to finish 5 posts that have been sitting in my draft folder for a while, in some cases, over two years. I picked five that I wanted to finish, maybe not the best, but ones that I needed to work out and take the time to finish because they meant something to me. Today’s post was originally written on March 10th, 2011, during my first year as an assistant principal at a different school. I had been struggling through my first experience with administration, bogged down by the minutia of the position and having trouble seeing the brighter side of the work. All week, whatever I had written will be in italics and then I will add to the post to finish it. Kathy Melton is joining me in this week long return to posts we never finished, her blog can be found here.

 

See The Light (March 10, 2011)


cc licensed ( BY SD ) flickr photo shared by Jonty Wareing

I have been waiting for a break in the clouds for some time. This first year of administration has been a big change, and has left me wondering at times if it is the right path for my career. Some of the work I have found challenging simply because it is time consuming and not all that interesting, mostly work that exists in my office and away from teachers, students and classrooms.

The break came this week in an odd way. Nothing earth shattering happened, there was no project or event that we put on, or monumental interaction with a teacher or student. What happened this week was that I was able to take the time to appreciate the good things that were happening in my day-to-day work. My vision has definitely been clouded, hindered by focusing so much of my time and energy on worrying about the little details and the busy work that I never seemed to catch up on. This week, for some reason, I wasn’t so hung up on the wrong things and suddenly I was able to see the side of the job I needed to see.

I spent some time working with a teacher, fairly new to the profession, and we discussed his practice and how to improve in an area he felt he was struggling. I had a few great interactions with students in my office that went well and I was able to help them with certain difficulties they were having with their behaviour. I also spent some time talking with a parent who had some concerns, and I felt like we both left the conversation feeling solid about our plans and how everything should roll in the future.

Nothing earth shattering, really just regular admin interactions on any given day. The real difference comes from the fact I was enjoying myself this week, and I felt confident in what I was doing.

 

That was where the post ended – feels like I had gotten to my point, I don’t really know why I stopped. Maybe because I didn’t feel I had much to say beyond that, or maybe because I felt it was simply a personal issue I was working out, I can’t really say. I know looking back that the year ended very well for me and I felt pretty good about the job I did. I ended up leaving administration and went back to the classroom, the reason being I was offered, and accepted, the head coaching position of the Men’s basketball team at a small local university. I am still coaching that team, but I have found a way, or I should say, my principal, my division and I have found a way for me to return to an administrative position while still coaching.

What I know I took away from that first year as an assistant principal was a good 6-7 months of struggling to find my way and 3-4 months of realizing I could do it. It was right around the time I wrote this post, or draft of a post, that I started to find confidence and enjoyment in the day-to-day work of an administrator. Heading back into this position next year I know I will take a great deal of experience I gained from that year and use it to do the best job I can.

I am sure most people in new jobs have a moment or a period of time where they start to find their groove and make the position work for them as much as they work for the position. For me, seeing the light in March 2011 put me on a path that meant I knew, one day, I would come back to administration and that day will be this August, and I look forward to a new challenge and even more learning.

Let The Learning Boil Over

potnolid

 

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.” T.S. Eliot

I know, its a very eye-catching and thought provoking image to open up this post with isn’t it?

It all started with a conversation I was part of at ConnectEd Canada in Calgary with George Couros, and a small group of people as we prepared for a session. We were talking about rubrics, and George brought up that he wasn’t a fan as they can put limits on the learning, innovation and creativity. He talked about how the top end/side of a rubric puts a stop to where the learning could go. The more I thought about it, the more I thought he was right. While I am not a big rubric user, I am not against them either. Some people there were big supporters of rubrics, and as George’s session took place, the topic came up organically again, and some people really defended the use of rubrics.

That was more than a month ago, yet the conversation stuck with me. I started discussing rubrics with a few teachers at my school, and the more we talked the more the conversation kept coming back to a pot. Yes, a pot. The kind you cook things in. The metaphor that seemed to work best, when talking with my co-workers, was that of a pot on a stove:

potwlidWhen we think of a rubric that has an end point for learning, we are talking about a pot with lid on it. The learning is contained, and limited to the “pot” that it exists in. It doesn’t matter if the rubric is co-created with students, or comes directly from the teacher, if it has an endpoint, it can limit the learning. Maybe this picture would help:

Rubric Pot

Our final area on our rubric, marked here in green ends up being as far as most students will aspire to go with their learning. Unless some very deliberate teaching has been done, or the student is keen to push themselves further, the rubric says “This is far enough”. We know this happens all the time, we have all heard students ask “Is this good enough?”, and this has to be what we try to avoid.

So what if we take away that last line of our rubric? The one that puts a “lid” on “Excellence” or “Mastery” or whatever is at the top of your rubric. What if we take the lid off the pot and ensure that our students don’t ever feel like we are putting limits on where their learning could go?

Rubric Pot 2Maybe they take their mastery of writing persuasive essays to convince their local politician to stand up for the rights of child workers in another country. Maybe they take their excellence in understanding aerodynamics and build their own hovercraft. Wherever their learning, creativity and innovation might take them, I don’t know, but I do know one thing is certain, we don’t want to be the ones limiting where that might be.

“Good Enough” is learning for someone else, and we don’t want our students to simply aim for something that is not going to challenge them, or has no meaning to them. Thanks to George for this, and the first quote, as they seem to be right on the mark:

“Most people fail in life not because they aim too high and miss, but because they aim too low and hit.” Les Brown

So let’s continue to do everything we can to let the learning boil over, even it is simply ensuring our message is clear by making a simple change to the rubrics we use for assessment.