One Minute Meetings – What could you possibly accomplish? 

After stumbling upon an interesting post by The School Vlogger,  Dr. Mary Hemphill, I noticed she happened to be talking about engaging student voice at her school, and when she began to talk about changing culture and keeping students at the centre, I was really intrigued.  The idea being shared was one way that she was addressing the challenge of collecting data from the most important people in the school – the students!  We’ve all used surveys, and engaged in conversations and observations,  and of course google forms, but do we really hear from everyone that way? And how engaged in the process do they really feel? It was my experience as a school leader that despite the most intentional planning to know every student, there were some voices I heard more than others and some classrooms that I visited more frequently than others.  After watching the YouTube video below, and hearing this idea, I was excited about trying it and was missing being at my school in order to give it a go!

3 simple questions…just 1 minute out of class time, AND asked to every one of the students at the school…could that be done?

Who did I know who might value this, and want to give it a go?  I sent out a tweet to my first educational mentor, Kathy Gossling-Spears, who I was fortunate enough to meet in my first 3 years of teaching.  Our dream has always been to have a school of our own one day! 🙂

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Just as I thought, Kathy dove in and gave it a try. Watch the video below that inspired us and check out the interview with Kathy about her observations about the first time trying it!

Give it a try and let us know what you find out and how it works for you!  Kathy is now on round two, so stay tuned for an update on what she has learned. 🙂

Kathy’s Interview after trying 1 minute meetings

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Google Forms and Siri Unite For Recording Anecdotals

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 reminders, schedule calendar events and dictate emails and documents when I have a quiet place to do so.

So this summer, while exploring assessment with AQ students, we were considering the ways that technology affords us powerful ways to capture or document learning.  We know that the easy access to cameras and video has been helpful, so how are you transforming the ways that you keep your anecdotal records?

Google Forms is a great way to capture information that automatically populates a spreadsheet to keep records for you.  So why not put it to use, with Siri, to record the great things you see going on in your school if you are an administrator, or in your classroom if you are a teacher!  Using your phone, you will always be able to quickly update and you can sort your spreadsheet later by category or by name.

  1.  Create a google form that lists the people you are keeping records about, in a dropdown type of format in question #1. Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 8.54.52 PM
  2. Use categories with a checkboxes list – since you will perhaps want to select more than one category at a time in questions #2.
  3. Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 8.57.23 PMFor question #3, add a long answer paragraph so that you can dictate your message using Siri with lots of space to talk. Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 8.59.54 PM
  4. Add the link to the Google Form to the home screen on your smart phone or tablet and you are ready to go!

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I’m a primary teacher at heart so recording observations and conversations are stilpizza-boxes-358029__180l some of my favourite ways to document.  In the early 90’s I used pizza boxes (empty, clean and donated) to save the best pieces of student work (determined by my grade 1’s and 2’s ) and based on success criteria (not sure what we called it then but that’s what it was…).  Students then led the parent-teacher conferences with those portfolios – the evidence of their best learning with an explanation of why.

We also used to develop many ‘rolls’ of camera film to post around the room to document the learning.  Now, that’s such a snap with our digital devices!

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Making in Grade 2 – Circa 1989

 

 

YPALS – Youth Helping Youth at the YMCA

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). This group of about 12 young people are about to launch a blog that will help newcomers to Canada in areas that would help make the transition easier: health care information, customs, laws, education information, etc.

In this digital age, our tools allow us to reach out over time and space in a more non-linear fashion, and that’s exactly what this group is hoping to do.  Their blog will allow people who are preparing their arrival in Canada to begin to investigate their new life before arriving, as well as help those folks who are already here find and explore this source for information.

I was asked to contribute my knowledge about blogging, and especially aspects of Creative Commons that would ensure that this public space wouldn’t be violating any copyright laws.  Similar to my experience with working with teachers, these students had never heard of the Creative Commons.  They weren’t aware of the laws around responsible use of the works of others, or how to license their own content.  Peter and I hear all of the time about how the presence of ‘digital natives’ will mean we no longer have to focus on building capacity for technology use…”they were born with it, they just know it!”  Not our experience. It was so refreshing to work with these smart, amazing, self-directed and community minded young people who were so eager to learn.  They were delighted that we were sharing sites that would give them great content for their school assignments too!

Congratulations to this team of YPALS at the YMCA of Greater Toronto! I can’t wait to see what they come up with and hope that I get invited back again…thanks for the opportunity!

Think Tank: Transforming the learning experience

cecceThis 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.  My ECOO colleague Peter Skillen and I have crossed paths recently with many CECCE educators in attendance at Educon, ISTE and various Ontario events, as well as in my work at the Ministry, so it was wonderful to have a chance to hear more about the deep dive they are taking to transform their system. The school board has been working to fundamentally change their system to serve students, not just in the their academic pursuits, but in their well-being as they grow and develop into engaged, compassionate, learning citizens and @heidisiwak does a great job of capturing their journey here in her blog if you’d like to learn more.  I found it a challenge to decide what I might contribute to this amazing panel,  but was willing to give it a try and participate, and hopefully add something of value to the discussion. Michael Fullan did a wonderful job of finding a way to share all of the voices in a relatively short period of time!fullanpanel

If you search #cecce hashtag, you’ll see many of the tweets that describe the day. Over and over I heard people focused on three critical factors that lead to effective change:

  • First, we have to understand how people (both students and adults) learn.
  • Second, we have design learning environments and experiences around interesting, provoking, and real-life authentic issues.
  • Lastly, we must trust all learners to be partners in their own learning

There were many things to note,  but one thing struck me as especially important and it came from the student trustee on the panel.   There had been lots of talk from the adults in the room about ‘deep learning’, but Matthew really named it when asked about what he wanted from his education.  He said that he wanted learning “that would help him in the rest of his life”.  This stuck me as a specific example of the kind of learning transfer that we talk about when we focus on deep learning.

When we broke into table discussions after the panel, I was interested in following that further and asked Catherine (another student trustee), what kinds of things she felt she was learning at school that she felt would benefit her for ‘the rest of her life’. She mentioned discovering her passion for causes and helping people to learn more about them through events that she has organized through her school.  She mentioned the student government that she’s been involved with, and along the way the teachers who have supported her in developing her strengths, both academically, and through her interests in extra-curricular.  This led our table to a discussion of passion-based learning and how extra-curriculars should not be extra at all, but a part of school life.  In reflecting on that conversation, I realize that in that brief conversation, Catherine named many, if not all, of the competencies that are so much a part of the educator conversations happening to describe 21st century learning: communication skills that evolve as a part of authentic collaboration, creativity and critical thinking in the pursuit of learning and in the sharing of meaningful information to persuade others, the entrepreneurial spirit involved in social action,  and the self-awareness that is required to take risks, understand one’s strengths, and to continue to grow and persevere to accomplish goals.

As we continued our discussion at the table,  the school board members, along with student trustee Catherine, mentioned that joy is important, that relationships are key, and that the partnerships were an important part of making education relevant to our children and youth.  This was palpable in the room throughout the day from the remarks of all of the organizers of the event, and evidenced once again in the thoughtful closing comments from Superintendent Eugénie Congi.  What a great team! Screen Shot 2016-03-05 at 5.09.27 PM

I’m excited to hear how this work at CECCE evolves and I thank the organizers for allowing me to be a part of it.  I hope that I am able share this success story across the province so that other boards and students can benefit from their deep thinking and vision for their teachers and students.

On a personal note, I’m excited that I’m able to continue my French language learning and I found the benefit of the simultaneous translation that was provided to me during the event to be amazing!  Merci!

 

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 change has been fantastic.  The school feels more like Ontario schools than other US schools that I hear about, although I must confess that it is the only US school I’ve had the opportunity to visit!

I really enjoyed talking to teachers and parents this year, and spent a fair bit of time asking them questions and loitering in the hallways to get a sense of what was new at the school. You’ll know, if you’ve ever attended Educon, that sessions are about conversations, not presentations, and it’s a place of rich dialogue and networking.

I attended one session that really got me thinking and reflecting on my past practice at school last year as a vice-principal.  It was called The Privileged Voices in Education, facilitated by Audrey Watters @audreywatters and Jose Vilson @TheJLV.  I chose to listen rather than talk. The conversation ran the gamut of sensitive and passionate topics: race, privilege, access, voice, agency, challenges with getting people involved politically, and the fear of corporate interference and what that could mean for students.  There were students, teachers, parents, and administrators in the room.

It’s my nature to begin to shift to action oriented thinking and a few people started to talk about some of the things we CAN do to help give ALL students and parents a voice in education. The issue of our complicity was raised – both from the point of view of those who are silent in their daily lives, and those who don’t even feel privileged enough to join in the conversation — such a complex issue.  We were prompted by Jose toward the end of the session to be reflective about our complicity, and this is when I realized that I had missed an opportunity last year at my school.

Edward Johnson PS received a grant for technology last year, which I’ve written about before. We got the grant because we had a parent on school council who volunteered her time to search out grant opportunities and follow them up.  We also likely got it because I knew what to write, how to phrase that proposal, and could even support the school in the implementation of a great space and make it work.  Our school isn’t a school that is lacking…we have a supportive community of parents, and lucky students who are comfortable and privileged with their opportunities.  I’m suspicious of corporate funding, because I often think it goes where it is NOT needed most, and yet I wanted to support the parents and bring the best to my school and my students.  Was I complicit in adding to the gap between rich and poor schools?

I could have done it differently.  I could have partnered with a school just a few blocks away and done some work to share what I know about writing that proposal with other parents, teachers and administrators. We could have split the money (it wasn’t huge, but $20000 is definitely sizable) and partnered the two schools to be co-learners in this venture.  Was I complicit in promoting gaps between schools that ‘have’ and those that ‘don’t have’? Not intentionally.  Could I have taken action to encourage a partnership that could shed some light on a school in need and help build capacity there?  Yes definitely.

I hope I get another chance to approach this differently another time.

One person in the room provided some interesting insight for people wondering about the intention of corporate support in education realm.  Find out how much they are investing in the grants themselves, and then try to find out how much is spent in marketing the grants.  Interesting….

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!

School Improvement Plans Are Everyone’s Business

Making our SIP (School Improvement Plan) come alive!

This year I heard about someone on Twitter who decided to post their Board Improvement Plan in a visible space at school to share with students, parents and the community as you see in the photo below.

SIPAfter hearing this idea via @leblancpeter @tlobaker and @nhamilton647 my Principal, @davidpmarquis, and I have decided to implement this in our school this year with a few additions.

Some big ideas are driving our thinking:

  • a vibrant school is one where everyone is learning
  • digital artefacts allow us to share in new ways
  • administrators should model their efforts to try new things
  • administrators should be helping to ‘tell’ the stories about meaningful learning in which students, staff, parents and community members are engaged
  • making thinking visible helps us to build knowledge as a community
  • constructing artefacts help us to articulate our learning to promote dialogue
  • pedagogical documentation needs to be purposeful

How will we do this?

We plan to post an image of the SIP in our hallway at the front of the school that links to photographs and documentation that will demonstrate our learning goals for the year and plans for school improvement. We’ll need to convert some of our current edu-speak into lingo that makes better sense to parents and students…this will be great!  We’ll take that a step further and create this digitally as well, so that QR codes posted could take visitors to more interactive online spaces like teacher websites, interviews with staff, students and parents, and evidence of our great learning spaces through text and images as well.

In implementing the thinking routines from Making Thinking Visible from Project Zero at Harvard this past year, I’m thinking that many of the routines for synthesis and exploring ideas will fit in perfectly. I will try to post this work in progress as we get going and share our hiccups and successes!

Inviting Family Voice: Crowdsourcing For Remembrance Day

I remember hearing Annie Kidder from People for Education talking about parent engagement a couple of years ago. She was cautioning the educators in the room to look beyond the obvious in terms of parent engagement.  We often think parent engagement means that the parents actually need to show up at the school for events.  This idea stuck with me…parent engagement can mean so many other things: helping your child come to school ready to learn, reading the correspondence the school sends out in order to stay informed, participating in fundraisers, responding to requests that might be made for occasional volunteering…all sorts of things, many that might not even take place in the school building or during school hours.  Not every parent can be present during school hours, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be engaged in school life along with their children!  As a working parent of two children myself, I looked for ways to contribute and do my part to support and understand the school, but it couldn’t happen during the school day.

So, when my principal and I were chatting about our Remembrance Day assembly and how we could bring student voice to the process and make the Remembrance more relevant to our students who are in Grades K- 6, I was thinking back to those comments from Annie Kidder and thought about using technology to help out.  Here’s what we came up with to make this work!

First, I created a google slideshow and added a title slide and my example slide to model the process.  Then, I created a screencast to show parents and students how to collaborate and add their slide about their family members who may serve or have served in the armed forces in Canada or other countries.  I used my favourite quick and easy screencasting tool, Screen-cast-o-matic, and then uploaded it here on YouTube.

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 5.07.22 PMI shared the plan with staff and mentioned that I had never tried this but wanted to give it a go. I also mentioned what might go wrong, and that I had a Plan B to try and prevent any issues that I was anticipating could create any wrinkles.

It was pretty exciting when I saw the first slide come in yesterday from a family, and it continues to grow!  I wonder how many will contribute?  We’ll know at the end of the day Monday.  These will be read by students at the assembly as we share it with our whole school, and shared out later on our school website.

One of the things I’m working on as a new administrator through the Ontario Leadership Framework, is modeling some risk-taking for staff and letting them know that I’m okay with them trying new things even though they might not always work.  We all need to try new things and they might not always work perfectly, but that’s part of learning!  Another focus is increasing student voice in our school and building relationships with our parent community, both things I hope will be nurtured by making this small effort to reach out and include our families in our celebrations at school.

UPDATE! This was a huge success! We had 38 slides contributed which I thought was a great result from a first attempt,  and the students loved hearing their names and their families mentioned.   I wonder how this crowdsourcing approach could be used in other areas?