Sept. 25th – 29th

How do I know? How do we know?

These questions have been rattling around my head for weeks, especially after our last Administrative Leadership Team (ALT) meeting. These questions were asked to the ALT group as we discussed several items related to student and adult learning, and since then I have found myself struggling to find answers. Last week I wondered if my daughter was “learning” anything as she created a stuffed owl (read here), and how, if I had to, could I measure that learning. So often we feel we need data to validate what we feel. As teachers we have an instinct about our students and about what they have learned, and often we use tests or assignments to support and report. The numbers support our beliefs and we can use them to report to parents. I think that’s why when a student scores poorly on a test or a project and we have anticipated they would do very well, we start asking questions. Rarely do I remember asking myself, “hmm, how did that top student score well on that test?” Nor do I remember wondering why a student who consistently struggled in the past failed a test, after all it was just validating what I had anticipated.

But why should it take a misalignment of our predictions and the results to prompt us to ask why?

At our ALT meeting we were asked to predict the outcomes from our 2016/17 developmental reading assessments (DRA) for grades 1, 2, and 3. After taking some time to reflect I committed myself to my predictions and waited in anticipation as our learning superintendent shuffled through his papers to find our data. When I saw the data and set it beside my predictions I noticed the two sets were not aligned, in fact I was way off! While our results showed our students in grades 1, 2, and 3 were performing slightly below the division mean I was not overly worried about our students and their ability to read at grade level now or in the future. What caused that feeling? A clear understanding of the commitment to student learning that each teacher at Waldheim School has shown over the course of my 14 months of being associated with this school. What did give me pause was the fact that I did not “know” the students better than that. How could my hunch be so off? How is it that I overestimated their results so drastically? For whatever reasons, and I’m sure there are many, I did not know the students as well as I thought I did. This leads back to the question, “how do I know”. Obviously when I made my prediction it was based on shaky ground, I didn’t really know, but rather I was being cautiously optimistic. As you know, my goal this year is to be more curious. More curious about what you are working on and more curious about what and how the students are learning. Hopefully next year when I’m asked the same question I will know a little more than I did this year.

When you think of your students’ learning, how do you know?

Here’s what lies ahead for a relatively quiet week:

Monday:

  • K-6 staff meeting (3:15 @ Departures)
  • Class visits (do kids know the big idea?)

Tuesday:

  • Class visits (do kids know the big idea?)

Wednesday:

  • EA meeting (8:00 am ~ library)
  • Fire Drill (am), Lockdown (pm)
  • Class visits (do kids know the big idea?)

Thursday:

  • Terry Fox Run/Walk
  • Class visits (do kids know the big idea?)

Friday:

  • Class visits (do kids know the big idea?)

As always, create a great week!

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Sept. 18th – 22nd

As I am sitting down to write this week’s edition of On the Horizon, my 7 year old daughter, Eva, is busy working away on one of her birthday gifts. She received a sewing kit from her auntie, and in it are all the materials for her to create her own little stuffed owl. It’s pretty cute, but it also requires a lot of side-by-side learning. This is one of those moments when I’m in a little over my head, as I am not a master at sewing, not even close! What I have noticed, however, is that she is much more able to solve her own problems as she continues to struggle with her kid-safe needle and thread. This whole activity is a perfect microcosm of what learning should be, a kid engaged in an activity that interests her (she’d have given up on Lego long ago), is stretching her (it even says it’s for 8+), and has a clearly defined product. My role has gone from helping her set up and demonstrating how to pull the needle and thread through, to a cheerleader on the side.

So, what mark should she get?

My friend, George Couros (@gcouros), posted a link to this article by Bill Ferriter. In it Ferriter talks about the good old, SWBAT acronym, and for those of you relatively new to the profession, SWBAT stands for students will be able to. When I was teaching math, all of my lesson plans would contain SWBAT, and to be honest, it was pretty easy to come up with these objectives, especially for my senior level math classes. While it was easy to create a statement to put on the board (i.e. students will be able to identify the numerical coefficients from a quadratic equation and use the quadratic formula to solve the equation), it wasn’t always easy to measure what they had learned. In the end, I was focusing on what was measurable, not what was meaningful.This brings me back to Eva’s sewing activity. How do I measure what she has learned, and how do I share this with her mom who is currently at work and not seeing the process? I could count the number of errors she has made, but will that be an accurate measurement? I could record how long it took her, and then ask her to complete another one, but will that be an accurate measurement? I could find out if any other kids her age have sewn an owl kit like this and set them side by side and see which one looks better, but will that be an accurate measurement? The funny thing is that’s how I used to measure learning when I was teaching other subjects, like grade 5 social studies, or senior psychology, and as I reflect, I am sure I wasn’t always measuring what was important. As Eva was working, I asked her, “Eva, what are you learning?” Her response was, “I’m not learning, I’m just sewing”. Interesting. I bet if I had given her a sheet of addition questions or a spelling list she’d be able to formulate a different answer to that question. Has she already been trained to think that if it isn’t readily measurable it’s not really learning? If so, that makes me a little sad.

As we continue along our learning journey this year, keep asking yourself, “am I measuring what’s measurable or what’s meaningful?”

Maybe the smile is all the measurement I need.

 

Here’s what lies ahead this week:

Monday:

  • Jon Yellowlees is popping out for a visit
  • Cross country meet in Langham
  • Class visits

Tuesday:

  • SCC meeting 5:00 pm
  • Class visits

Wednesday:

  • EA PD meeting 8:00 am (library)
  • IA magazine sale fundraiser kickoff (9:00ish ~ library)
  • School pictures (in the gym)
  • Holly Kruger at school to meet with various teachers
  • Class visits

Thursday:

  • Meet the teacher BBQ
  • Class visits (am) / BBQ set up (pm)

Friday:

  • Classroom visits

As always, create a great week!

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Sept. 11th – 15th

Another wonderful weekend with the kiddos, lots of fun activities going on to keep us busy. On Saturday we spent time visiting my mom, and my niece and her new baby girl. Bobby and Charlie are interested in the baby, but it’s Eva and Maggie who are really over the moon with her. They spent a lot of time holding the baby, feeding her, and just laughing at the noises and faces she makes. It was so cute to watch as they were playing with their own real live doll. Sunday was another fun day as we celebrated Eva’s 7th birthday. It’s hard to believe it’s been 7 years already,  but she’s growing up to be a pretty spectacular kid.

It’s also hard to believe we have completed a week of school already, it just seems like yesterday we were enjoying the beautiful summer weather. When I think back on the week, I am very encouraged by the enthusiasm I’ve seen and heard in the hallways and classrooms. The students were hard at work and I saw things like:

  • coding
  • creating oobleck
  • sketching objects from different angles
  • running football routes
  • practicing multiplication skills
  • getting over fears and self doubt
  • small group discussions on learned helplessness
  • discussing our favorite numbers

And this was just in one short week! One of the things that really stood out was the mindset all of you have taken with your students. There is a feeling of belief in every classroom, and I hear things like, “you can if” and “what if you tried this”, it’s so great to see! During the year there will be a lot of discussions about mindset, and lots of opportunities at staff meetings and during hallway conversations to think about the power of our belief in the students we are working with. A friend of mine posted this article online today and as I read it I really wanted to go back and start my teaching career over. So many of my tasks were very superficial, not intentionally, but rarely did I really push my students to make “stretch mistakes” nor did I seize enough on “a-ha moment mistakes”. Too often I jumped in to help rescue the students, this is something Joanne and I talked about last week as she was discussing learned helplessness with her psychology class. If you have a chance give the article a read, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Here’s what lies ahead this week:

Monday:

  • Staff meeting (3:15 pm) ~ Big Idea: How do I structure my environment to optimize learning
  • Bruce meeting with SCC chair (am)
  • Classroom visits

Tuesday:

  • Bruce & Jesse away at ALT, Katharine will be acting administrator

Wednesday:

  • Meet the teacher BBQ preparation
  • Evan away with senior golfers
  • Classroom visits

Thursday:

  • Meet the teacher BBQ (4:30 – 6:30 pm)
  • Brittney away learning about effective writing instruction
  • Classroom visits

Friday:

  • Katharine away learning about effective writing instruction

As always, create a great week!

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Sept. 4th – 8th

I took the twins to Watrous today as they are spending the next few days with their grandpa and grandma, an annual trek that all of our kids have enjoyed over the years. They have so much fun learning from grandma, be looking after her dog, helping her bake cookies, or learning about why Little Manitou Lake is so buoyant. One of my favorite things to do when I drop the kids off is take some time to drive around Watrous and Manitou Beach, I love the colors and smells of September as the leaves begin to turn and fall.

While I love the sights and smells of fall, what I really love is the feeling of first day back. Your rooms look great, the kids will have their supplies nice and new, there will be fresh hair cuts, new shoes, fancy outfits, and a lot of happy parents. I know how my kids are feeling about going back tomorrow, Eva is so excited for grade 2, while Bobby is a little more reserved, but I know he’s excited as well as he heads for grade 5. How do you think your students are feeling? What’s going through their minds as they lay their heads on their pillows tonight? I’d also invite you to think about your own thoughts about the students who are coming into your classes. Who is going to need a little extra love? Who is going to learn in a way that is different than the rest? Who is going to teach you to teach in different ways? Through all of this, I’d invite you to reflect on our conversation last week, our conversation about why we do what we do.

Enjoy tomorrow, create a great day for your students, and let’s make this the best year it can be for everyone!

What Lies Ahead:

Monday:

  • Labor Day, no school

Tuesday:

  • First day of classes
  • Assembly at 9:30 (listen for all call prior to coming to the gym)
  • Classroom visits

Wednesday:

  • Classroom visits

Thursday:

  • Classroom visits

Friday:

  • Classroom visits

As always, create a great week!

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