Learning Through Celebration

I remember the shocked look on her face as she scanned the room. She could not believe how many people were packed into that small village hall at Manitou Beach. It was my wife’s grandmother’s 90th birthday celebration, and she had no clue it would be this big of a deal. Her eldest son had traveled back from Australia to spend time with her and on this day he convinced her to go for a drive to do some sightseeing. The village hall was one of the stops he wanted to make and she must have wondered why there were so many vehicles in the normally empty parking lot. Though it was over 10 years ago, the way she responded still makes me smile. I have been blessed with an amazing set of in-laws and grandma Kane was always so nice to me (and no they don’t read this, so it’s not like I’m trying to curry any favor). The reason we gathered on that day was to celebrate, and the room was full of laughter, tears, songs, and plenty of stories. Listening to people talk I was able to learn more about the family that had welcomed me years earlier.

I bring this up because we are moving towards our learning celebrations at Waldheim School. I recall last year the pride and joy that would fill our staff learning meetings as teachers and EAs would share stories of challenges and triumphs, of obstacles and achievements. Much like grandma Kane’s celebration, there were moments of laughter, tears, and most definitely moments of learning during these staff presentations. What I look forward to is the opportunity to see and hear you talk about the journey you have been on with your students this year. Prior to the break, the K to 4 teachers began the planning process at their staff learning meeting, and this will continue over the next two weeks with the grade 5 – 8 and 9 – 12 teachers respectively.

Some colleagues have asked why we do these presentations, and it makes me think about the importance of celebrating. Outside of school we celebrate all sorts of things, and you may think about many of the events you have been part of; weddings, birthdays, graduations, retirements, anniversaries, etc. I think it is important to celebrate what we are doing in our school as well. Our career defines much of who we are, and the work we do is critically important to so many people. When you think about the journey you have been on this year, what fills you with pride? Take a moment to think about these questions:

  • who has impacted your learning this year?
  • how have you grown as a professional this year?
  • what have you read that has caused you to reflect on how you do your job?
  • why is your school a better place because you are part of it?
  • why are you important to your students, colleagues, community?
  • if someone you truly loved spent a full day at school with you, what would they notice?

You make #WaldheimSchool a better place. You are important to our family. You have grown this year. Celebrating this is not bragging. You deserve the time to share your growth with your peers and they deserve the gift of growing by hearing your story. I got to experience the love and laughter in that small village hall and through that was reminded of the importance of laughter, family, friendship, and giving. You have an opportunity to celebrate and share with us, and I can’t wait!

Here is what is on the horizon this week:

Monday:

  • 5 – 8 staff meeting
  • Jesse away

Tuesday:

  • Bruce away (am only)
  • SCC meeting (6:30)

Wednesday – Friday:

  • Business as usual

As always, create a great week!

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Are Tests Helpful?

Years ago my wife and I lived in the tropical paradise of the Cayman Islands. It was a beautiful country home to some amazing people that to this day I still call friends. One of the benefits of living in such a place is the opportunity to enjoy the ocean and the bevy of marine life that would always astound this Saskatchewan boy. When I first began snorkeling, I used to try to swim up to and observe the myriad of fish that would gather around the colorful coral. I would always be so disappointed that my presence would scare them off. Slowly I began to learn that I did not need to be constantly chasing fish around to get a closer look, rather, I needed to swim out to where they would likely be and then stop. As I would float quietly in the crystal clear Caribbean waters, the fish would begin to appear. Being able to be a silent guest in the world’s aquarium is a gift I will always remember.

I apply this philosophy to my work in our school. Everyday I get to choose how to be in the students’ environment. I can stay in my office and wonder how things are going. Much like the person who never leaves beach, they may enjoy the sun, but never really get to see the magic on the reefs. By staying in my office I might hear how things are going, but I do not get to live it with the students. So I venture out, quietly making my way through the building, strolling in and out of classrooms, looking for opportunities to engage in conversations with teachers and students. Sometimes, it’s an opportunity to help a student fasten a piece of wood on their industrial arts project, sometimes it’s an opportunity to dance with the Kindergarten students.

Earlier this week I had been involved in a heated debate with Aiden, trying to convince him the DC Universe is superior to the Marvel Universe. As I walked away after failing to sway him, the heading on a student’s computer screen caught my eye.

Is Making Students Take Tests On Things They Learn In School Helpful?

This year our staff has been deeply engaged in learning conversations about assessment, and while this could be considered an example of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, it grabbed my attention nonetheless. I felt compelled to talk to Daisy about what she was writing about. She was excited to engage in a conversation about assessment, and her peers who were sitting near by quickly joined in. It was a wonderful discussion that I was so honored to be a part of. I’ve asked her and her teacher, Katharine Kerr (@katharine_kerr ) if they would allow me to share this paper here. They agreed, and I’d love it if you could take a moment to read what a grade eight student from #WaldheimSchool thinks about assessment.

I’m glad I left the office and swam into the waters of learning!

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What Do You Do If They Burn the Bread?

I love cooking and have thought about the possibility of enrolling in some culinary courses when my career in education concludes. What I really enjoy is the freedom that comes with creating a dish and, if it is a success, the reaction of my family. In the past, I have created wonderful meals for myself, but there is something more satisfying when someone else has that positive reaction. Of course, not every meal is a success. I recall when I was 14 or 15 my dad and I were alone for the weekend, and I volunteered to cook supper. I thought pasta with chicken, vegetables and a creamy sauce would be a great meal. I thought wrong. What I created was a pot of glopity-goo that looked terrible and tasted worse. I also learned a little about my dad that day when he powered through a bowl full before offering to take me out for a burger, fries, and milkshake at our favorite local cafe. Talk about feedback!

While dad did not say what he was likely really thinking, my kids are not as gentle when my meal misses the mark. They are quick to tell me if it is too salty, too spicy, or just gross (their words, not mine). This happened this past Friday when the chicken pad thai that I created was tried by all (a family rule) but rejected by some. As we sat together, the feedback began to flow freely. Charlie was the first one to say that it didn’t really look like something he would enjoy, but he did try it. It was a little too spicy for him, but he ate enough to satisfy his hunger. Maggie was not as willing, and after two bites, opted for the plain noodles and chicken, versus the batch coated in the peanut sauce. Eva, the pickiest of all of our eaters, had a try, but like Maggie, chose chicken, raw vegetables, a few noodles and a lot of peanuts. Then there was Bobby or iron gut as we affectionately call him. He dove in, and his only comment was that it needed a little more spice, so he grabbed the hot sauce that he had received as a Christmas gift from his grandmother.

Pad thai is a favorite dish of ours when we have the opportunity to enjoy Asian cuisine, and this was not the first time I had prepared this meal. I had an idea of what it would look, smell and taste like, and this helped guide my preparation. Along the way, I continually sampled the elements as they came together. I tested the noodles, I tried the chicken, I tasted the sauce and checked the vegetables. While doing this, I considered what else was needed until a final dish was presented, crushed peanuts, chopped cilantro and all! It was an enjoyable meal, and all that was left to do was tidy up the kitchen.

Creating a meal for others is very similar to what we are asking our students to do on a daily basis, and if we think about our home ec program, it is exactly what we are asking our students to do. When I think about the process of preparing a meal I think about the ongoing assessment that is involved. The formative assessment as I sample and adjust, and the summative assessment as I set a final dish in front of my family. I think about the elements and key attributes of our division’s shared beliefs on assessment (found here) and how I experienced these on Friday during supper time.

  1. Collaboration: when I cook, I cook for my family, not just for myself. If that were the case, this dish would have contained shrimp and fresh bean sprouts. In doing this I am inviting feedback from them, it is a collaborative process. When you think about the products your students are creating, what are some ways you have used a collaborative approach? I think about the opportunities I missed as a teacher when I did not spend time allowing students to turn and talk about their learning. This would be like me preparing the pad thai, eating my portion, then serving my family only to walk away and not engage in their feedback. How would this improve my dish for next time?
  2. Communication: with my supper the communication was instantaneous, starting with Charlie asking, “what smells so good?” There is a trust that exists within our family, and they are not afraid to tell me what they think of my cooking, be it good or bad. How does communication sound and feel in your room? How have you built common understandings and language for your learners? In what ways do you ensure your feedback is timely and shared in a way that allows all of your learners to maintain their dignity? At our table, my family knows they can be brutally honest, but they also know how to behave when they are a guest.
  3. Clarity: while I may not prepare pad thai again for a while, I was able to identify ways this dish was better than previous attempts. I also knew that my creation was not nearly as tasty or attractive as versions I have had at restaurants. How are you providing clarity for your students? Rick Stiggins (@RStigginsposits that students can hit a target that they know about and that stands still. How are you ensuring the students know what the goal is, and how are you ensuring you are not unintentionally shifting it?
  4. Consideration: this certainly was not the best meal I’ve prepared for my family, and if they were basing their opinion of my culinary skills solely on this one dish, they would feel their dad had a lot of room for growth. Fortunately, they do not only think about my last meal, but they also remember the spaghetti and meatballs, the Greek chicken, the steak and potatoes, and the homemade burgers. Of course, they also have to consider the terrible soups, or burnt grilled cheese sandwiches of the past as well. Overall, the kids would likely say their dad is a pretty good cook based on the many meals they have enjoyed in the past. In your learning environments, what are you basing your assessment on? Are your students judged by their very best, and only their very best? How are you considering growth and how are you capturing evidence of this? Every so often I get distracted and burn the garlic bread, but does that mean I have not demonstrated proficiency in preparing this in the past? What do you do when kids burn the bread in your lessons? Do you hold it against them, or invite them to throw it out and try again?

The primary purpose for all assessment and evaluation experiences is to support and improve student learning while informing teacher instruction.

-PSSD

When you think about your practices, how are you doing? Over the next few weeks, we will begin discussing our staff learning presentations, and I am very excited to hear your celebrations along with hearing about what you are still wrestling with. Sandra Herbst (@Sandra_Herbst ) speaks about the importance of closing the knowing-doing gap, and this makes me think about the great work we are doing as a staff at #WaldheimSchool. I believe that the learning we are involved in is continually closing that gap.

Here is what is on the horizon for our final week before the February break.

  • Monday:
    • K – 4 staff learning meeting (agenda)
  • Tuesday:
    • Business as usual
  • Wednesday:
    • Business as usual
  • Thursday:
    • PSSD Pride Party in Warman
    • Bruce away (pm only)
  • Friday:
    • 4 – 12 ski trip
    • K – 3 fun day

As always, create a great week!

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Together We Are Unstoppable

When this all began, I was scared, almost to the point of quitting and running back to the life I knew before. I was worried about all the people I would disappoint if they found out after 4 years of post-secondary study, and thousands of dollars spent that it was all for not. I had given it two months, and felt I was out of my league, over my head, and just not cut out for it. I had imagined what teaching would be like, what an awesome opportunity it would be to have my own room, to be a part of a staff, and to have students work with and learn from me. What I discovered in those first couple months is that what we are doing is incredibly difficult, and requires a serious commitment to the craft. I didn’t think I had it in me. I was done.

Sitting in his office, then principal, Ken Garinger (@kengaringer ) listened to me as I spoke. I told him I didn’t think I was cut out for this profession, that I was not the right guy for the job, and that I was thinking about getting out. I remember that moment, in his cramped little office in McClellan School, and I recall the feeling I got when Ken spoke. He wasn’t upset with me, nor was he disappointed. He didn’t chastise me or make me feel guilty. He listened, and spoke softly. He asked me why I wanted to be a teacher, and why I was feeling the way I was. We talked, and while he didn’t give me the secret trick that made teaching a breeze, he did create a bond that made me feel supported. I knew he was in my corner, and I knew he wanted me to be successful. He wanted me to succeed so the kids could learn and grow, but I knew he wanted me to succeed so I would learn and grow. That relationship he established in that conversation is what sustained me and helped me become who I am as a professional today.

I was thinking about this conversation as I was reflecting on the importance of relationships and their impact on student learning. The research is clear on this, students who have a positive connection with their teachers will more likely feel secure in their learning environment.

Students who have positive relationships with their teachers use them as a secure base from which they can explore the classroom and school setting both academically and socially, to take on academic challenges and work on social-emotional development (Hamre & Pianta, 2001).

I’m sure we can all recall those teachers who made us feel like we could do anything. That we could be greater than even we, ourselves, thought we could be. Hopefully everyone can point to a teacher they had along their journey that made them feel this way. As you reflect on what it was that teacher did or said, think about how you felt as a student in their classroom. How can you create that feeling for all of your students? I think that is such a huge challenge, creating this feeling for all students. We all know that some students are very easy to reach, they crave that relationship and thrive off it. We also know there are other students who are more difficult to connect with, they set up barriers and can do so in multiple ways. Those students are part of the all that we are trying to reach. Just because they put up a barrier does not mean we stop trying to go around, over, or through it in a way that shows them we really do care. I think this short video sums it up nicely,

The line from this video that resonated the most with me was,

If I’m comfortable around them, I’m more confident around them.

This leads me back to the learning work we are doing together this year. I believe we are doing more than just discussing assessment at #WaldheimSchool. We are doing more than talking about assessing outcome based learning or the impact of formative assessment. We are doing more than analyzing how and when we assess or how and when we report to students and parents. What we are doing is building relationships. In our meetings, I have heard so many of us talk about the struggles we are having when it comes to assessment. And while we are continuing to fill our toolbox through our research and practice, we are really building relationships.

John Hattie’s Visible Learning Study indicates that collective teacher efficacy (CTE) has the greatest impact on student learning. He says CTE, “refers to a staff’s shared belief that through their collective action, they can positively influence student outcomes, including those who are disengaged and/or disadvantaged” (Hattie 2016). What I see in our meetings is a staff that believes in each other and supports each other. I know that through this work we will continue to strengthen our relationships and through our collective action there are no hills too high for our team climb. I am so thankful for the support I received on that October afternoon in 1999 and am so honored to be a part of a staff that exudes those exact same characteristics that Ken showed to me. Let’s keep getting better one conversation at a time.

Here is what is on the horizon this week:

Monday:

  • K to 12 staff learning meeting (Agenda)

Wednesday:

  • 7 – 12 progress reports sent home

Thursday:

  • Bruce & Jesse at ALT (Theme: Closing the Knowing – Doing Gap)

 

As always, create a great week!

 

https://steinhardt.nyu.edu/appsych/opus/issues/2013/fall/gallagher

Hattie, J. (2016). Third Annual Visible Learning Conference (subtitled Mindframes and Maximizers), Washington, DC, July 11, 2016.

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