Category Archives: leadership

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Google Forms and Siri Unite For Recording Anecdotals

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I’m a big fan of using Siri on my iphone and have been ever since I began using speech to text software with students in about 2006.  Boy, has the technology improved since then!  I now use it to create … Continue reading

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YPALS – Youth Helping Youth at the YMCA

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Peter Skillen and I had the pleasure of attending a working group session at the YMCA of Greater Toronto led by Candy Chow (YPALS Coordinator – ‎YMCA of Greater Toronto) and Nina Arcon (YPALS Specialist at YMCA of Greater Toronto). … Continue reading

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Think Tank: Transforming the learning experience

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This week I had the honour to be invited to contribute to a panel of amazing people at the recent Think Tank session from CECCE, one of Ontario’s French School Boards, along with well known thinkers about transforming educational environments.  … Continue reading

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Educon 2.8: Learning about a missed opportunity

I attended Educon 2.8 once again this year, hosted at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia.  It was great to be in the building once again.  Chris Lehman and Zac Chase provide inspiring leadership and watching this school grow and … Continue reading

Our Learning Commons gets a maker space addition!

In a few days, I’m taking on a new role with a secondment to the Ministry of Ontario in the 21st Century Learning Unit.  I’m feeling bittersweet about the new role; sad to be leaving my school and all of the wonderful students, teachers and parents I’ve come to know in my short time aIMG_0787s a VP, but excited about a new challenge and ready to embrace a new adventure!

Luckily for me, I get to continue to support my school’s newly acquired grant from Future Shop, where we’ve received almost $20000 to enhance student learning with innovative technologies.

Our shopping is almost complete, and I’m planning on chronicling  our journey as we move forward, starting with a little piece of the grant proposal as follows, and sharing our plan of action over the next 8 weeks.

Our students want to become producers, not just consumers of media, and participate as 21st century learners in a world that is creative, collaborative and global. We want students to access tools that allow participation as global citizens, demonstrations of learning through the creation of shareable multimedia projects, and engaging in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programming through projects that are possible with robust technology tools.  Innovative practice with a STEM focus in elementary schools means that students see themselves as idea-makers, planners, designers and builders. We’ve found that our Chromebooks allow us easy ways to collaborate and share files, but this is not enough.  We need tools like laptops, programming software, peripherals for multimedia creation, and Ministry licensed digital resources in order to leverage more of the powerful applications that computers afford us.

Currently, our library is a traditional space holding books and 20 desktop computers in a lab setting.  Our teacher librarian has begun to turn our space into a creative Learning Commons that promotes flexible purposes for learning, and we need mobile devices available to all students, at all times, to be truly transformative for student learning.  Our Learning Commons has the infrastructure to manage this with our efficient wifi throughout the school and a small room attached to the larger space that is the perfect solution to a technology enhanced maker space and multimedia production studio.

STEM initiatives such as the one we are proposing provide an engaging way for students to connect to the curriculum in the areas of math, science, and technology, as well as support the Ontario Ministry’s focus on inquiry based learning and leveraging the power of intentional play to advance learning.  With this grant we can transform this space to include learning, invention, play, creation and innovation and we see it growing from the basic elements we’ve requested to a creative play and invention space that is responsive to the needs, interests and abilities of our students at different age levels.

We are so grateful that Future Shop saw our vision and chose us to be grant recipients so that we can make this happen!

The technology requested in this grant will allow students to develop:

  • skills and experience in creation with multi-media tools (e.g., podcasting, websites, videos, presentations, music)
  • skills and experience in using Logo programming languages (i.e., Scratch, Turtle Art (both free) and MicroWorlds which is included in the proposal, as well as ProBots and BeeBots)
  • hands-on experience using programmable materials (i.e., Little Bits construction tools along with Arduino and Sphero Balls)
  • an understanding of manufacturing and design elements using software that will transpose student designs into 3D artefacts using the 3D printer

Appreciative Leadership – Chapter 1

I’m an eternal optimist.  Was I born this way?  I don’t know… all I know is that I’ve always viewed the cup as half-full and have an easy time finding silver linings somehow.  This must be what draws me to the Appreciative Inquiry approach that I began to learn about in my time as a Community Leader with Powerful Learning Practice.  And I do mean ‘began to learn’ because I feel like I need a lot of years to develop skill in this area.

Imagine my delight to have attended my first Family of Schools meeting at my Board this fall and to be presented with an article to read about all different kinds of leaders.  As I often do, I flipped directly to the back of the article to check out the resources, and found a 9780071743204recommended resource called Appreciative Leadership by Appreciative Inquiry gurus Diana Whitney, Amanda Trosten-Bloom and Kae Rader!   I promptly bought the book and began to read about their definition of AL:

Appreciative Leadership is the relational capacity to mobilize creative potential and turn it into positive power — to set in motion positive ripples of confidence, energy, enthusiasm, and performance — to make a positive difference in the world (P. 3)

I love this positive worldview and the focus on what IS needed, what IS possible and what CAN be done.  Super stuff for an optimist like me!

In devouring the first part of the book, the authors outline the 5 core strategies of AL and I find that they resonate with me.  In fact, these are exactly the things upon which I am focusing as a school administrator:

  1. Inquiry – Ask powerful questions
  2. Illumination – Bring out the best of people and situations
  3. Inclusions – Engage with people to coauthor the future
  4. Inspiration – Awaken the creative spirit
  5. Integrity – Make choices for the good of the whole

I want to get better at asking those powerful questions and as a beginning the authors suggest observing yourself to determine your ask-to-tell ratio.  They recommend that we ask questions about 3 times more than we tell information.  I have no clue what my ratio is, but I’m going to spend a week or two watching that more closely.

Do you know your ask-to-tell ratio?

Making Thinking Visible – Getting started with routines

10999036Making Thinking Visible is based on the work being done at Harvard’s Project Zero and is part of a larger study of Cultures of Thinking about which you can read more here.  The book provides a background about why a thinking focus is important and provides an introduction into the Thinking Routines that are recommended as a way to bring the theory into practice in the classroom.  I’ve found it a nice combination of going deeper into our professional practice as teachers, and practical suggestions that we can implement quickly and reflect upon as we go.  I’m fortunate to be involved with a group of primary teachers at my school who are exploring the text and trying some of the routines as part of their Collaborative Inquiry: How might inquiry-based learning look in a primary French Immersion program?

We’ll be each trying one of the routines from the first section of this book to get us started in discussion at our next PLC meeting, but first I thought I would attempt to briefly summarize the first part of the book.

Here is one of the authors,  Ron Ritchart, explaining why we need a culture of thinking in schools.

In the introduction of Making Thinking Visible the authors ask the question:
What kinds of thinking do you value and want to promote in your classroom?
And, as we look at the kinds of activities in the learning environments we create in schools…
What kind of thinking does this lesson/activity force students to do?
These questions are causing me to look more closely at what happens in my classroom.  I’ve always known that my job as an educator is to create an environment that fosters learning — sounds easy — but in reality, this is a really complex undertaking.  I realize that I can’t ‘make’ someone learn something, rather, the learner needs to be a partner in that process and the definition of ‘learning’ needs to be considered carefully and not be confused with compliance or fleeting knowledge accessible only in certain contexts.  I know that much of learning is unobservable (going on in the head of the learner) and my job is to help make it visible in order to help a learner keep moving forward.
The authors suggest the following activity which would be great for any teacher to try:
 Make a list of all the actions and activities with which your students are engaged in a subject you teach. Now, working from this list, create 3 new lists:
1.  The actions student in your class spend most of their time doing.  What actions account for 75 percent of what students do in your class on a regular basis?
2.  The actions most authentic to the discipline, that is, those things that real scientists, writers, artists, and so on actually do as they go about their work.
3.  The actions you remember doing yourself from a time when you were actively engaged in developing some new understanding of something within the discipline or subject area.
What Is Thinking?
The authors do a really nice job of talking about what they know about thinking, what they have learned about thinking, and what they mean by thinking in the first section of the book.  Although they acknowledge that there are lots of kinds of thinking, they are specifically talking about types of thinking that are particularly useful when we are trying to understand new concepts, ideas, and events  — which is often the kind of thinking we are doing in schools.

They outline 8 thinking ‘MOVES’

  1. Observing closely and describing what’s there
  2. Building explanations and interpretations
  3. Reasoning with evidence
  4. Making connections
  5. Considering different viewpoints and perspectives
  6. Capturing the heart and forming conclusions
  7. Wondering and asking questions
  8. Uncovering complexity and going below the surface of things

If you’ve ever questioned the way you’ve seen Bloom’s taxonomy used, as I have, you’ll enjoy the critique the authors provide there, but that’s another blog post altogether.

The Thinking Routines

“When we as teachers frame our core activity not as delivering the curriculum to a passive group of students but as engaging students actively with ideas and then uncovering and guiding their thinking about those ideas….(we strive to) make students’ thinking visible through our questioning, listening and documenting so that we can build on and extend that thinking on the way to deeper and richer understanding.”  (p.39)
The authors also describe the power involved when teachers make their own thinking explicit to students and model the high-quality conversations about thinking and ideas that should happen in our classrooms.  Both the idea that students need to be focused on the kinds of thinking that actually occur in world of real mathematicians, scientists, writers, artists etc., and the awareness of the power of co-learning, remind me of the amazing contributions of Seymour Papert in his study of how children learn – it’s no wonder I love their approach in this book!
The 3 categories of structures in Part 2 of the book, which they call routines, are selected for their ability to promote questioning, listening and documentation in these three areas:
  1. Introducing and Exploring Ideas
  2. Synthesizing and Organizing Ideas
  3. Routines for Digging Deeper into Ideas
Our first exploration involves choosing one of the routines in the area of Introducing and Exploring Ideas, trying it with our students and then sharing what we notice and wonder about the process as beginners. I’m choosing Chalk Talk as the routine that I’m bringing to the meeting.  Should be some great sharing and learning!