I Wanted to be a Comedian.

Waiting for the bus

My twins are absolutely loving Kindergarten, and it’s only been a couple weeks. Stories and samples of work are shared on a regular basis, and Charlie loves to ask me questions like, “dad, what does B stand for?” I play along, of course, and reply, “no, what does B stand for?” With a smile he says, “buh, buh, buh. Ball.” He’s been having fun learning all sorts of interesting things, some he learns at school, other lessons he learns on the playground and on the bus. One thing he has learned is that the bus ride is not what he had thought it would be. He tells me it’s loud and it smells funny.

Something I’ve noticed with my twins is that so far making mistakes does not really bother them. When they print their names, if they reverse or miss a letter and we help them fix it, they do not get upset. I see this a lot in our youngest learners at #WaldheimSchool. There is no fear or hesitation as they learn a new song or dance in Kindergarten, or create a unique pattern or poem in grade one. As I visit classrooms in our K to 12 school, something I notice is that as I move into middle years or high school, students become a little more reluctant to take a risk with their learning. We’ve all seen kids take risks in other areas, and it reminds me of a mindset I had as a middle years student; I’d rather look funny or silly in front of my peers than look stupid or ill-informed. As a result of this, I would never take a risk with my learning, even if it meant passing up on opportunities to explore things I was curious about. I remember a learning task our grade 9 ELA teacher asked us to prepare for. This assignment was to write and perform a quick comedy routine for the rest of the class. I’ve always loved comedians, and was secretly excited about this opportunity to perform an original piece. Not being the first to perform, I quickly noticed the ‘cool’ kids were simply reading Laughter is the Best Medicine, one of my favorite sections from a copy of the Readers’ Digest. I was disappointed and scared at the same time. There was no way I was going to buck that trend, even though I secretly wanted to. When it was my turn, instead of taking a risk, I grabbed my friends Readers’ Digest and quickly read a funny story and returned to my chair.

Learning opportunities for all students are characterized by high expectations
(rigour), personal and purposeful application (relevance), collaborative learning
environments (relationship), risk-taking to consider alternative instructional
approaches (innovative) and student choice (engagement).

You will recognize the above quote from our guiding document, MPSC. When I think about the teacher’s intentions for our class, I recall being surprised by such an innovative (although I didn’t use that word at the time, I think I thought it was cool) approach. I still remember that lesson and how excited and engaged I was, and ultimately how disappointed I was. I often wondered what our teacher thought about that lesson. I wonder if he felt like he failed. He took a risk, and it was through our actions as students that it did not work out as I’m sure he’d hoped it would.

What have you tried that may not have worked out as you had envisioned? What risks have you taken that ultimately came up short?

The fear of failure can stand in the way of all of us, from administrators to teachers to support staff to students. So what can we do about it? As I think about my grade 9 ELA class, it was not a safe environment for risk taking. In fact, the more I reflect, our entire school during the early to mid-eighties, was not a safe environment for risk taking. That’s where I feel we need to start, creating a safe place for students to take risks. In his article, Youki Terada states,

despite how common mistakes are, students often perceive them as negative and as a potential threat to their self-worth. A positive classroom climate—one where the teacher and students treat mistakes as learning opportunities—can create better conditions for learning.

As we continue to grow, we need to keep looking at our learning environments and ask ourselves if they are a safe place to take a risk. What are your students telling you through their words, actions or in some cases, lack of action? I know I’ll be asking myself that at our staff learning meeting on Monday.

Here’s what is on the horizon this week,

Monday:

  • all staff meeting after school (see agenda sent out Friday)
  • SACL presentation 6:30 pm

Tuesday:

  • Bruce at PD planning meeting (1:00 pm) ~ tentative

Wednesday:

  • Carnival preparation

Thursday:

  • Elementary Carnival (4:30 – 6:30)

Friday:

  • PD/Prep Day

As always, create a great week!

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The Weather is not the Climate

“Please dad, please!” my youngest, Maggie, begged. “Can I please go play in the snow, it’s winter time now.” She didn’t need to remind me, I was frustrated enough with Mother Nature’s mischievous ways and did not need a reminder from my 5 year old. I explained to her how winter had not really arrived, it was simply a sloppy layer of snow that would quickly melt in a day or two. Mistake. As tears rolled down her cheeks, she pleaded with me to let her go to mini-mountain, a hill in the park at the end of our street. I knew the hill all to well, as I’ve pulled my kids up on many blustery, winter days. “I’m sorry honey,” I explained, “but mini-mountain is too muddy to go sledding on today”. She did not get it, to her, the weather of the day signaled that winter, and all it’s glorious fun, had arrived. Fortunately the forecast is calling for warmer temperatures which means my kids can return to bike riding and playing in the back yard for a few more weeks. It also means I can blow my sprinklers out! Good thing the weather is not the climate!

This unwanted dumping of snow has me thinking about our school climate, and how sometimes the odd storm can roll in. Occasionally things can feel like they have gone sideways in our building, as issue after issue arise. We find ourselves at the end of the day, hair disheveled, a bag of Skittles (therapy candy in my office) in hand, eyes wide, looking at each other and we ask, “what the heck was that about!?!” But are those days, those crazy, whirlwind days where nothing seems to go right, indicative of our school climate? Or are those days simply anomalies like what we have recently gone through with our September snow falls? In his book, Collaborative Leadership, Peter DeWitt (@PeterMDeWittdiscusses school climate. In a section titled, School Climate: The Plate Everything Lies On, Dewitt quotes Jonathan Cohen of the National School Climate Center (yes, it’s actually a real thing). He states that school climate is defined as,

the quality and character of school life. School climate is based on patterns of students’, parents’, and school personnel’s experience of school life and reflects norms, goals, values, interpersonal relationships, teaching and learning practices, and organizational structures.

The quality and character of school life. As Jesse and I begin to spend more time in your classroom and in the hallways, we are seeing, hearing, and feeling more of this quality and character of school life. I heard many incredible things last week, one of which really stood out to me, and really tugged at my heart strings. At our EA meeting last Thursday, Cora was describing her week, and was talking about her experience working with one of our newest students. The little guy is a very curious fellow, and has really kept Cora on her toes, but it was his outlook on life that she wanted to share with us. I’m paraphrasing, but she said, he’s always so happy. He has every reason not to be, yet every day he is smiling, curious, and full of wonder. If anyone is ever having a tough day they need to spend some time with him and it will brighten their mood. Cora shared this during our round table portion of the meeting, and she could have shared anything, but she chose to share a highlight which had a positive impact on her. She did not choose to complain about something, and I believe this is a reflection of our school climate.

We are a staff that works together to look for the good things around us, and I truly believe it has an impact on how our students view the world around them when they are in our building. When I think about our school climate, the quality and character of school life, I think about things like Cora’s celebration. I think about a boy who has brought in bags and boxes of produce from his own garden. I think about a little Kindergarten student who always has a little gift, even if it’s just a high five, for Miss Corinne. I think about a grade 11 girl who came to my office to share with me how much the entire class enjoyed a substitute teacher they had for some of their classes. I think about the new students that have joined our #WaldheimSchool family this year, and how they are fitting in seamlessly. I think about the community support we are seeing in terms of our SCC and our volunteer coaches. I think about the progress so many of our elementary students have made this year. We are not perfect, but we are sure doing great work and are striving to get better every day.

Take a moment to think about your classes or classroom. How would you describe the climate? How is your classroom climate impacting the overall climate of the school (or as I always ask, how are you part of our story?)? What have been the storms that have popped up, and how have you weathered them? How have you grown from them? As you know, there will always be those moments that leave us scratching our heads, either out of frustration or confusion. It’s a good thing these are not the norm, they are the exception. It’s a good thing the weather is not the climate.

Here’s what is on the horizon for another busy week:

Monday:

  • Briane Saathoff will be coming out for a visit
  • 9 – 12 staff learning meeting (see agenda sent on Friday)
  • Spirit week kicks off

Tuesday:

  • Shantel, Steve, & Bruce at LF meeting
  • SCC meeting (6:30)
  • Spirit week continues

Wednesday:

  • Spirit week continues

Thursday:

  • Terry Fox walk
  • Spirit week continues

Friday:

  • Spirit week concludes with SRC assembly (details coming out this week)

As always, create a great week!

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He Was a Good Rabbit

I remember the excitement when my son, Bobby, walked upstairs Christmas morning two years ago. He wasn’t expecting it, but there it sat, wiggling his little nose, looking around, wondering where he was. He was the cutest thing you’ve ever seen, his cute ears, tiny, fluffy tail, and soft, silky fur, made this little rabbit the perfect buddy to cuddle with. Bobby was first introduced to rabbits by his grade 3 teacher who had one in her classroom, and he really fell in love with them when he had an opportunity to bring it home for a week. It was a big decision, but my wife convinced me that getting him a rabbit would be a wonderful learning opportunity for him, and a great chance to teach him the responsibilities of pet ownership.

He had fun taking care of the classroom bunny.

Bobby fell in love with his new little pet instantly, and even though we thought it was strange, the bunny quickly grew into his name that Bobby had selected, Jeffery. Jeffery the rabbit was a great friend to all the kids, and they would roar with laughter when he would do the simplest things, like nibble on a banana or stand on his hind legs sniffing at the air. Which is why his loss was so tough this weekend. Not only did Bobby learn how to care for a pet, he also learned the brutal lesson of how it feels to lose something he loved so dearly. This leads me to wonder how Bobby will fair at school on Monday? Will his mind wander back to Jeffery and fill him with sadness, or will he smile his shy smile as he remembers the fun times? While I pray for the latter, I know it will be a combination of those emotions. He was a good rabbit.

This year the administrative team of PSSD are asking the questions, how are you doing? and how are you doing… As you look at the questions, you instantly see a difference. The first is an invitation to discuss one’s feelings, while the second (i.e. how are you doing…parent engagement?) is an invitation to participate in a discussion where one might share evidence, ask questions, and deepen one’s thinking. I hope Bobby’s teacher asks, “how are you doing?” Sometimes that’s all people need; the knowledge that someone in their world cares about them. This causes me reflect on the importance of relationships in what we do. In this industry, we are people who are working with people. Some are older, some are younger, but in the end we are all just people trying to do what is best based on what we know. It’s something I try to be aware of everyday, and while I’m not always successful, it’s something I try to be mindful of.

As you prepare for another week ahead, how will those around you know that you are curious about how they are doing? If someone asks you, “how are you doing?”, will you tell them the truth?

Here’s what lies ahead this week:

Monday:

  • Grade 5 – 8 staff meeting after school
  • Classroom visits: how are you doing?

Tuesday:

  • Grade 8 bike trip
  • Kindergarten only school pictures
  • Classroom visits: how are you doing?

Wednesday:

  • K – 12 school pictures
  • Classroom visits: how are you doing?

Thursday:

  • Classroom visits: how are you doing?

Friday:

  • Classroom visits: how are you doing?

As always, create a great week!

 

 

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What Would Dr. Dre Say?

As I was tidying up the dishes my oldest boy, Bobby, who will turn 12 in approximately 3 months, made his way back up stairs from his basement bedroom. He announced to me he was going to practice his piano, something my wife and I try to get him to do on a regular basis. “Our pleading and prodding is paying off” I thought to myself, he was doing what we had hoped he would do, practice! As he sat at the piano and started playing, I noticed this was different, and frankly, it wasn’t that good. As he played it sounded strangely like a cat walking across the keys, as I said, it wasn’t very pleasant. This went on for a short while, and I could sense some frustration in him. “Hey Bobby” I asked from the kitchen, “what are you trying to play?”

“It’s something I heard on a meme on YouTube” he responded. No sooner did he say that, than he was up from the piano bench and running back downstairs to his room. I thought he’d given up due to frustration, however I was surprised to see him return back upstairs, this time with his tablet. He spoke into the Google search engine, asking it to find him information on how to play the song he was trying to replicate from what he had seen and heard. After a couple of quick searches he had found what he was looking for, and as he pressed play I realized what it was he was trying to replicate. If you know me, you know that I’m not a big fan of music by artists like Dr. Dre or Snoop Dogg, it’s just not what I choose to listen to. But my son liked the sound of the piano from the meme and wanted to learn how to play it.

Undaunted, he sat at the piano and tried over and over and over. It was brutal, but he did not give up. He had found a tutorial on YouTube that was guiding him, and he would watch a few seconds, pause it, try to reproduce what the anonymous hands on the video had done, and then he would repeat the process. On and on this went for several minutes, until he nailed it. It came right out of the blue, but what he was playing sounded very much like what he had been listening to. The next thing I heard was real music to my ears, Bobby was so excited that he actually cheered when he recognized that he’d had a break through. I heard things like, “yes!” and “awesome!” As a father, I was proud, and always the teacher, I was so happy to hear my son celebrating his learning.

In that 20 minute span, my son, through no intentions of his own, made me stop to think about what real learning is. It was in those moments that I saw and heard what I wish I could see and hear every single day in every single classroom, not only in our school, but everywhere. Neither my wife, nor I play the piano, but we wanted to give our kids the opportunity to learn, and if they wanted to pursue it, we’d make that happen. So the ingredients were there for him tonight. He was motivated by something that interested him. He had a base knowledge from which to build. He had the tools he needed; those being the piano, his tablet, and the WiFi. He had time and a safe, non-judgmental (remember, I just thought to myself it sounded like a cat on the keys) space in which to work. He also had the freedom to stop when he was satisfied.

I think about the things he didn’t have. He didn’t have assigned music sheets chosen for him. He didn’t have a timer sitting on the piano, nor did he have a person sitting beside him giving him feedback. He had a video tutor, and his ears provided all the feedback he needed. He was not playing for a grade, he was playing for himself. As he struggled he saw and heard hopewhich was the feedback and encouragement he needed to keep playing. In the end, he had success.

Scenes like this play out all over the place, time and again. You see it at skate parks where boys and girls try and fail at stunts. You see it on playgrounds where kids try to master their skipping while singing, “strawberry shortcake, huckleberry pie….” (it’s in your head now, isn’t it). You see it at the lake where people try and fail to master the art of paddle boarding. If you look, you see it everywhere. But, do you see it where it matters most? In the classroom.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by!

 364 total views

Let’s Go for Coffee

Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love a good cup of coffee. It can be iced or hot, black or fancied up, I just love the whole coffee experience. This was one of the pleasant surprises when I began working in Waldheim, the wonderful coffee shop, Departures. It has become a favorite place for me to pop in for a cappuccino or a latte, and while it would be easier and cheaper for me to simply brew a cup at work, there are a couple things that keep me going back. The two things that bring me back day after day are the art and the atmosphere, and recently I was thinking about what great teachers are doing in their rooms that are similar to what’s happening at Departures.

First, the art. I have an espresso maker at home, and buy good coffee, usually from Starbucks or McQuarries Tea and Coffee Merchants. When I’m craving a good cup of coffee, I dig out my maker, the coffee, the milk, and some flavoring syrup. I load up the portafilter, tamp it down, and begin to brew. After the shots are pulled, I begin steaming some milk, making sure to create some foam for the top. Once this is all done, I put it all together, and sit down to enjoy my creation. Every time I make a coffee this way I think to myself, “well, it’s okay, but it’s no Departures”. While the baristas at Depatures or Starbucks are using machines that are much higher quality, I believe it’s something more than that. It’s the art that they bring to their creations, and it’s an art that has been learned and honed over many, many pulls. It’s the same way I feel when I get to watch the incredible work that is going on in our classrooms. There is an art to the way Glen moves effortlessly through the shop that makes every student feel like they are important to him. There is an art to the way Steve captures every student with his combination of wisdom and wit. There is an art to the way Trace makes every athlete in his gym classes feel like they can do it. There is an art to the way our teachers and EAs do what they do. As you think about yourself as an artist, who have and continue to be your mentors? Who do you think you are impacting?

Second, the atmosphere. There are many coffee shops from franchises like Starbucks to local shops like City Perks, and while they all try to bring their own unique twist to this industry, they also all have things in common. Coffee shops are more than a place to quickly grab a cup to go, they are places where people go to meet friends, to work, to read, or just to relax. It would seem strange to go to a coffee shop today and not have access to free Wi-Fi while sitting in a comfortable chair with a plug-in handy. It would seem strange if there were no music playing and no art hanging on the walls. And of course, it would seem very strange if there were no friendly, knowledgeable baristas there to greet us and share their art with us. It’s the same way I feel when I get to walk into your incredible classrooms. The way Sharlene has made her room a safe, caring place for kids to explore and wonder. The way Katie and Cara have created environments that are like the fertile ground of a garden, just waiting for the kids to plant their seeds of learning on the walls to share with others. The way Ellen spends hours making what could be a sterile science lab into a place where the kids feel welcome and are encouraged to wonder. The way Joanne and Brenda take their smaller canvases and create beautiful spaces for some of our most vulnerable students to feel safe. The way Jamie and her crew work tirelessly to make sure the school is safe, tidy, and inviting. As you think about your room, what have you been intentional of as you’ve tried to create an atmosphere suited to bringing MPSC to life? How will you know if your ‘customers’ are satisfied?

My friend, George Couros (@gcouros) often speaks about his incredible parents, and how they created a thriving restaurant business in Humboldt by keeping things like this in mind. They created a successful business by caring about their customers and serving great food. How can you use the model of a successful coffee shop or restaurant to make your students’ learning experiences the best they can be? 

Look at your learning space with 21st century eyes: Does it work for what we know about learning today, or just for what we know about learning in the past?
Sir Ken Robinson
The Third Teacher (2010)

…now I’m craving a coffee!

Here’s what lies ahead this week

Monday:

  • K – 4 staff meeting (agenda)
  • Classroom visits: listening to the learning

Tuesday:

  • Grade 8 bike trip
  • Bruce & Jesse at ALT, Steve acting admin

Wednesday:

  • Classroom visits: listening to the learning

Thursday:

  • Classroom visits: listening to the learning
  • Meet the Family BBQ (4:30 – 6:30)

Friday:

  • Classroom visits: listening to the learning

As always, create a great week!

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Let’s Have Fun.

Bags are packed, clothes are selected, groceries are purchased, and alarms are set. We are ready to go! I have to imagine that similar scenes are playing out all across Saskatchewan this weekend as the turning of the leaves remind us of the familiar time of year. A coolness accompanies the early morning, and there is a familiar smell in the air as harvest continues to roll on. It’s back to school time. There will certainly be a nervousness, some restless sleeps in anticipation of what the first day will bring. For some it will be just another year, nothing to fear going into the room on day one. “This isn’t my first rodeo” they may think, but for others it’s a feeling in the stomach that makes them wish for just one more week of holidays. This is especially true for those who are new to our school, those who have not had a chance to live the day to day that Waldheim School brings.

And the students may be feeling this way too!

Every year I think about the possibility the new year brings for all learners in our building. Students have a chance to start again, building on what they learned last year and what they experienced over the summer holidays. We say students can come in with a clean slate, although I often wonder, who is responsible for what is written on this unseen slate, the student or the teacher? Adults also have an opportunity to start over, to build on what they have learned last year and over the summer. We get to make choices as learning leaders in our rooms and in the building, we can take a risk and try something new, try something we’ve read about, or seen in action. I think about things like the curiosity Marla and Krisinda showed in how Glen shares student work on Instagram, the wonderings Sharlene has about using online portfolios to communicate with parents, the way Shantel has been working with Brenda to get ready for her new role, the way Dan has been curious about working with new students, and the way Jesse has thought about parent engagement. Everyone is trying something new this year; EAs have new assignments, teachers starting their masters, new roles, new courses, new opportunities.

This change can be scary, and at times this change can stand in our way of taking that risk. I’ve shared this video (below) before, however every time I watch it it reminds me that everything will be okay, and that we are not alone.

Finally, a word before we open the doors on Tuesday for our #partners in learning. Let’s have fun! Our goal this year is to use our assessment strategies to continually learn about our students and what they need from us to be successful. I cannot think of a better way to do this than by being #side-by-side with our learners having fun. Help the students see that we are partners in this learning journey, we are in this together. Another video (below) I’ve shared stresses the importance of having fun at work. Something I noticed last week was all the laughter in our meetings and in our hallways.  There is an optimism that permeates everything we do, a belief that together (students and adults) we can achieve great things. I have, and will always, believe that it is these #relationships that make the biggest difference in what we do as a school.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ZKiJejNRtw

Thank you once again for allowing me the honor of being Principal at #WaldheimSchool. I look  forward to the amazing year that lies ahead.

Monday: Labor day holiday

Tuesday: First day back!

  • opening assembly (10:00)
  • helping students with course selections
  • classroom visits: what are you looking forward to this year?

Wednesday:

  • classroom visits: what are you looking forward to this year?

Thursday:

  • classroom visits: what are you looking forward to this year?

Friday:

  • Bruce/Joanne team meeting (noon)
  • SRC assembly: fundraising kickoff
  • classroom visits: how was your first week?

As always, create a great week!

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