Choices

We had said our goodbyes to dad two years earlier, and had laid him to rest in the old cemetery that stood on a lonely hill south west of Watrous. As part of the grieving process, we knew a visit to the old family farm was something we needed to do, but we also knew we needed a little time between dad’s passing and making this final trip. Dad grew up on the farm south of Watrous and eventually married and started raising a family until moving into town in 1970. The farm was a place we would often visit, and it was where I first learned to do things like shoot a gun or drive a truck. It was also where I developed an appreciation for the hard work those who came before us had to endure.

The old farmhouse

The farm will always have a special place in my heart and mind, but is also a place we will likely not revisit. The buildings are old and leaning, showing the effects of the relentlessness of time and our Saskatchewan weather. There is very little left there, and accessing the yard is a difficult task as the road has long been reclaimed by nature. Eventually it will all be gone, and much like my strong father, it will be but a memory, and a happy one at that.

On the day of our final visit, 15 of us made our way down the winding, dusty country roads until we arrived at the closest access point to the yard. Some of us walked, some of us were transported by my brother in his rugged Jeep. The tall grass was thick and tangled, and the prairie bush made the trek slow and difficult. We could see the old house in the distance, and knew our destination, however many of us selected different paths to follow. While most people went in small groups, either in Brad’s Jeep or on on foot, I elected to walk alone. This was a time for me to reflect on the many visits I had made with dad to the farm. Those were cherished memories, and I wanted to be alone with them in the summer sun, and as I walked I could feel him with me.

The old schoolhouse on our land. What was learning like then?

So much of what we do on a daily basis at school involves a journey towards a destination. Last week I was reminded of the importance of #choice. I got to spend time in Briane’s Biology 30 class as they were presenting their interpretations of plant and animal cells. As I watched and listened, I recalled how I learned about the parts of a cell when I was a teenager. I remember the black line master with blanks and arrows pointing to parts of the animal cell. We were to fill in the blanks and color the cell to show the teacher we could identify the different parts. I recall that every student in my Biology class had the exact same assignment, with the exact same expectations. Now, I do not fault our teacher, he was doing what he felt was best at the time, but I think about how much our students enjoyed this learning task, and began to wonder what I would have created had I been given the opportunity to do this project.

A cell is like a zoo.

After the presentations were complete, I asked a few students about their projects. I wondered how they felt about learning in this way. They all said it was very hard work, but they really enjoyed it. They all said that they enjoyed the freedom to choose and appreciated the clarity of the instructions. They all knew the destination, but were free to choose their path. I asked the students if they felt this way of learning was more effective than labeling and coloring a worksheet, and all of them agreed it was. Activities like this reflect the power in choice and the freedom that is inherently part of MPSC.

We are seeing more and more of this choice in our learning. I think about the various projects being created in Dan, Marla, and Krisinda’s classes. I think about the different books being read in our classrooms as novel studies are now becoming the exception, not the norm. I think about the choices Trace is building into his math lessons as students choose the best environment in which they learn. I think about the choice I see in Jesse’s Entrepreneurship class as students choose their own businesses to run. I think about the choice I see in our science classes as kids choose how they would like to be assessed. I think about the choice I see as teachers invite guests into their room to share their expertise. I think about choice.

When we offer ourselves and our students the freedom to arrive at a clear destination, we honor them as learners. Some of them will choose to travel in groups, just as some of my family members did at the farm. Others will choose to travel alone. It is our job to help them see the destination, the house on the hill, and to be there for them should they need our help.

The question I will leave you with this week is this: how are you creating choice for your students in your class, and how do their choices help you develop a deeper understanding of who they are as learners?

Here is what is on the horizon this week:

Monday:

  • staff learning meeting (presentations by Trace, Katharine, and Sharlene

Tuesday:

  • classroom visits: what does choice look like in our learning?

Wednesday:

  • Regional KidsFirst Language and Literacy Program for parents with kids 0 – 6 years old. Jesse & I may be running back and forth between the school and Zoar Church for the morning
  • classroom visits: what does choice look like in our learning?

Thursday:

  • Bruce away all day ~ meeting in Warman
  • K – 3 bowling day

Friday:

  • School dance
  • classroom visits: what does choice look like in our learning?

As always, create a great week!

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What a #Challenge Reveals

There is something neat going around Twitter these days. It’s something straightforward, but revealing in the same vein. It’s the #7BooksILove challenge. Here is how the challenge works; at some point, one of your Twitter friends will invite you to take part in the challenge, and for one week, you are to post a picture of seven books that have meaning for you. The challenging part is that you can only post the cover, there are no explanations allowed as to why. Initially, I thought this was somewhat interesting, however as more posts kept popping up, I was intrigued by the titles that were being shared.

It was interesting to see people posting images of current titles, but at the same time, it was the titles from their youth that made me smile. It was like they were opening a small window and allowing us to see a little piece of their childhood. For example, my younger sister, Sandy (@MMellesmoen ) has posted covers of Why Shoot the Teacher by Max Braithwaite and Sweet Valley High: Double Love by Francine Pascal. As I saw these tweets, I began to wonder why these titles resonated with her. What was it about these books that spoke to her? Certainly questions I will pursue answers to the next time we get together for coffee.

It is the simplicity of this challenge that had me thinking about how we are coming to know our students. During our learning meetings, we have discussed our assessment practices and how we are developing a deeper understanding of every child we work with. Conversations, observations, and products; all part of the process you are using to help paint a picture for yourself, the students, and their parents. Where would something like the #7BooksILove challenge fit? How could you tailor this for your class? Could home ec students have a #7MealsILove challenge? Could our History students have a #7InfluentialMoments challenge? Could our science students have a #7CoolExperiments challenge? Could our Kindergarten students have a #7ImportantPeople challenge?

The power of this #7BooksILove challenge is that it is something everyone can be a part of because it is about them. There is no right answer, only information. This requires no ‘marking’ as the process is a way to add more pieces to the endless puzzle that is our students. How would this information help you help your students? How could this be used as a tool for engagement? How would this help you develop relevance?

It is a process that invites further conversations, after all, you may wonder why these were my #7BooksILove covers:

As always, create a great week!

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In the Tall Trees of Learning

“Shhh! What’s that sound? Bruce, go check what that is.” Such was life in the great outdoors when my wife and I would take Bobby camping. It was very common for her to jab me in the ribs with her elbow and wake me up after she heard something outside of the tent. Of course, when I woke up, I never heard anything, but she would always swear that it was not her imagination. I’m not the bravest soul, and would never venture out, after all, what if there was something there? What would I be besides an appetizer? Looking back, what I really think she was hearing was the echo of my snores as they rattled around the northern pine trees.

We could imagine what was out there, and sometimes I’d joke about the size of the bear that must be sniffing around. Of course, I thought it was hilarious, but in hindsight, it probably explains why she was always so tired and wasn’t a huge fan of camping. I was able to get back to sleep while my poor wife had to suffer, wondering what the heck was making those sounds. Quite often in the morning we would venture out, looking for wild strawberries to have with our breakfast, and we’d always do our best investigating. We would be on the lookout for tracks or droppings from God’s nocturnal creatures, but being ‘city-slickers’ we couldn’t tell a deer track from a tricycle track. What we really needed was someone to walk beside us, and point out evidence to help us unravel the mystery from the night before. We needed someone to point out tell-tale signs of recent activity, and tell us if we really needed to be concerned.

This week we have an opportunity to act as ‘tracker’ for our students’ parents as we welcome them for our second round of conferences. This Wednesday and Thursday, we get to bring them along on the journey as we share with them the latest evidence of learning that has occurred for their children. Just as an expert tracker can spot things in the wild that a layperson like myself or my wife would miss, we have the ability to point out the tell-tale signs that their child occupies that space and that while they are there, they are immersed in some serious learning.

How will you approach the journey into the tall trees of learning with your students and their loved ones? Will you wait for them to ask, or will you have evidence ready for them? Will you lead the walk, or will you follow your visitors, pointing out things along the way? Will you identify the obvious tracks, or will you show them the things they might overlook without your expert eye? Just as a tracker can predict future behavior, what might you share that will shed some light on next steps for learning? Most importantly, what do you want each parent to learn as a result of coming to the school Wednesday or Thursday? How will you know if they have learned it? How will you be intentional?

We never did figure out if there were any wild animals rummaging through our campsite all those years ago. I was too afraid to go out with a flashlight to look around, and did not have a keen enough eye to spot all the clues the next morning. Let’s make sure we are pointing out the important evidence for our students’ parents as we look for the signs their wildlife has left behind. (Maybe don’t call their kids wildlife on Wednesday or Thursday night!)

Here is what is on the horizon this week:

Monday:

  • K – 12 staff meeting (presentations begin with Steve, Joanne, and Bruce)

Tuesday:

  • Brenda, Steve, and Bruce at Warman ~ Mental Health Literacy workshop

Wednesday:

  • P/T Conferences begin
  • Jesse with students from grade 10 – 12 at Warman hockey tournament

Thursday:

  • P/T Conferences continue
  • Dwayne & Jade away with the grade 6 basketball teams

Friday:

  • Day in lieu

As always, create a great week!

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Reflections From Our Learning

One of my favourite memories from many years ago is being an assistant coach for my sister, Sandy’s, softball team. We were part of a team made up of girls 14 and 15 years old, and the head coach had assembled a group of individuals, some of who were natural athletes, while some were just starting to develop their skills. What was unusual about this group was their commitment to the process. The coach was a stickler for several things, like how the girls all had to have their hair up and back, how our warm ups always looked the same, and how the people on the bench were just as critical to our success as those in the field. It was a team, and we were excellent. What was so cool about this experience was that my parents would come to all of the games and watch their kids with pride. I remember dad and Sandy replaying parts of the game, and discussing great plays and missed opportunities. It is a memory I will always cherish because of the joy it brought to our parents.

Those of you that are parents will understand this feeling, and I thought about this on Monday morning as Jesse was sharing a story of watching his son score a highlight reel goal in his hockey game. It was as if Jesse was reliving that moment right in front of Corinne and I, goosebumps and all! His jubilation wasn’t focused on the goal, but it was about the celebration of his son’s growth as a hockey player. It was beautiful.

On Monday morning we welcomed Charmain Laroque (@charmaindawn ) to sit with our family at #WaldheimSchool as we discussed reconciliation. As we came together in our learning, I quickly began to fill with pride. I saw people invest in their learning and invest in their colleagues. People were serious about the work we were doing, and I could feel the growth happening in the gym in real time. As we shared in our discussion circle the impact of the activity I was overcome by the outpouring of emotion. It was authentic, meaningful, heartfelt and beautiful.

We listened to Shantel and Mitchell share what they have learned this year as a result of taking a risk, opening their classroom, and inviting in guests to help bring indigenous ways of knowing into their class. As they answered Jesse’s well-crafted questions, I was filled with pride as they spoke about the impact the guests had on their students. They talked about what they learned, about what they saw and heard from their students, and how they were proud of their students. Mitchell and Shantel were allowed to be vulnerable and share some of the fears and uncertainties that came with inviting outsiders into their learning. This willingness to be so open and honest reminded me of the safety of the group at Waldheim School, it was reassuring, encouraging, palpable and beautiful.

We were invited by Jesse and Katharine to think deeply about where we are in our own learning journey as it relates to reconciliation. We were asked to be vulnerable and were asked to support a colleague. I was so proud of Joanne and her willingness to be open about the question she is wrestling with, how do we heal the wound. The depth of the questions that were crafted by the group filled me with pride. They were sincere, thought-provoking, well crafted, and beautiful.

We have only started our reconciliation work, and before Monday, I must admit I was scared and unsure about how this work will look for us. After Monday morning those feelings have been replaced with feelings of hope and belief. Our work together reminded me of the strength we have in our group. I believe we have significantly strengthened our collective efficacy this year by tackling some big questions as they relate to assessment. The dream was to help bring a diverse group of people together to support a diverse group of students to succeed beyond their own expectations. The evidence of the belief in one another was on full display Monday morning in that learning circle. John Hattie defines collective teacher efficacy as the collective belief of teachers in their ability to positively affect students. This belief was never as apparent as it was that morning. We have come together and are making a huge difference in our students’ lives, I truly believe that. I am able to watch this happen and just like a proud dad cheering on their kids, I am full of pride.

The feeling is overwhelming, humbling, encouraging, and beautiful.

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The Strength of Our Team

How do you bring a group of individuals together to work towards a common goal when the goal itself seems almost unattainable? Even better, when you successfully accomplish this, how do you capture and explain the feeling that is created?

For example, for over 200 years, men, women, and children have been coming together to take part in a competition that sees teams of 300 – 400 people working together to build human towers. These towers, known as Castells, can reach incredible heights, as high as 15 meters. The goal of this competition is to create and carefully disassemble the tallest tower, however, the mission is to do this carefully. What is so incredible is that the members become smaller and younger the higher up the tower reaches, children as young as four years old have been invited to scale the human structure while their parents watch from the stands. As a father of four children aged 12, 8, and 5 (twins), I cannot even imagine the feeling those parents must have as their little ones climb higher and higher. To achieve such an incredible feat requires an unwavering commitment to the process and a belief in the team. I think about how each member must commit to the people beside and above them while trusting those people supporting them. It is a shared belief that as a group they can achieve the seemingly impossible.

When I think about these builders and their mission, I reminded of our team at #WaldheimSchool. This year we have welcomed many new members to our family, and I think about how we support Jade, Dan, Katie, Mitchell, Briane, Chenille, Samantha, Bailey, and Brandi as they figure out what it means to be a part of such a committed group of professionals. I see how seamlessly they have become part of the fabric of our learning community and I recognise how this reveals their character. While this does speak to their character, it also speaks very loudly to the character of the rest of the staff that has welcomed them with open arms. We are a strong family that supports one another, believes in one another, and counts on one another.

This year we have been reflecting on and discussing our beliefs and practices as they relate to assessment of and for learning. As a staff, we have continued to look at ways to deepen our understanding of our students, trying to develop a clearer picture of who we are working with, and in which zone they are operating. Together, we continue to try to know our students. As a staff, we are continuing to learn how to work together and continue to learn how to learn together.

In his Visible Learning Study, John Hattie has revealed that the most significant impact on student learning is collective teacher efficacy (CTE). This year we have been involved in the heavy lifting of reflecting on and refining our assessment practices as a way to strengthen our CTE. In doing so, we are finding that together we can accomplish incredible things. I’m so excited to see how we ‘flex our CTE muscles’ as we seek to deepen our understanding and strengthen our practices as they relate to things like parent engagement, reconciliation, student engagement, literacy & numeracy rates, inclusion, and graduation rates.

An experienced builder, Michael Entecott, was asked why he is a Castell builder, and it was his response that made me smile. He said, “this is a very complex question, and I don’t really have an answer. You can’t explain it. It is impossible to explain. You have to feel it. If you feel it, you understand it.”

I have had opportunities this year to explain our adult learning process to other people. I have been able to share with others the incredible work every single adult at our school is waist deep in this year. I have been able to highlight some of the fantastic things we have done and some of the dreams we have for the future. What I have noticed, however, is that I can’t adequately explain how it has all come together. I can share the why, what, and how, but I can’t really get them to understand the power of what we are doing as a team. I can tell them about the conversations that are happening and how adults and students are talking about assessment and the impact it has. I can say to them all these things, but I can’t get them to really understand it. I can tell them how a group of individuals has come together to accomplish incredible things, but I can’t make them understand it.

If they could feel it, then they could understand it.

Here’s what is on the horizon this week.

Monday:

  • PD/Prep Day (see Jesse’s e-mail regarding learning agenda for the day)

Tuesday:

  • Bruce & Jesse away at ALT

Wednesday:

  • Hot dog order forms due

Friday:

  • Hot dog sale

As always, create a great week!

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The Mark

I ran into a student the other day in the hallway, and he looked like he was trying to walk down the hall while carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. Typically, this student has a pep in his step and is always quick to flash a smile. This day he looked different. His gaze was turned down, his shoulders slumped, his stride slower, and he didn’t meet me with a smile and a hello as usual. I asked him how things were going, and he didn’t say a word, he just passed me the paper. I looked at it and asked what was upsetting him. He directed me to look at the mark on the top right corner of the page; 14/28. Initially I did not see the number there in black ink; instead my eyes darted around the page looking at his work and the feedback his teacher had left for him. The mistakes he made in his work were obvious; a missed negative, a calculation error, a transposed number, a question not attempted; they all contributed to the mark.

It was the mark he focused on, and it got me thinking about the marks we put on our students’ work. This year we have spent time discussing assessment, and have talked about grading and reporting. The conversations we’ve had have been deep and insightful and have helped me develop a better understanding of assessment of and for learning. I’d invite you to ponder the following questions as you provide feedback on your students’ next summative assessment piece:

1.    What will be the initial reaction? A mark causes a response. A student will be elated, deflated, or may have gotten what they predicted they would. Regardless a number will create a reaction. When you think about the reaction from your student, how will you prepare for that? In the end, we want to help our students succeed, and if we can help build their self-confidence, or avoid the erosion of it, we are making strides in the right direction. How will they react?

2.    What are they expected to do with the mark? A mark should not mean the end of the learning. What should the student be expected to do once they have been given their piece of work back? Is there a normal routine that occurs in your room? Is it a game of ‘find and share’ with friends? Is it a game of ‘flip and hide’ the evidence? Regardless, there should be something the students are invited to do with this feedback. 

3.    How is the mark part of a larger picture? We speak a lot about triangulation of data, and it’s the other evidence you have been collecting that may elicit the reaction discussed above in #1. How is this summative piece part of a larger collection of data? Is this the first piece of a larger puzzle? How do we let the students in on the plan?

4.    What does the mark cause you to think? Sometimes a mark causes a reaction before the student even sees it. I recall times marking an assessment piece only to be caught off guard by the performance. When things do not go as anticipated, you should begin asking questions. During several staff learning meetings, we’ve discussed a variety of things that can impact an assessment, from how we create the assessment, to how the students had prepared, to how the students felt when the snapshot took place. Just remember sometimes when things do not go as planned you need to hold a magnifying glass in one hand and a mirror in the other.

5.    What does the mark cause the student to think? What the student thinks goes deeper than the initial reaction, and it speaks to question #2. If the students are invited to do something with their feedback, how does this process look and sound? Do we give enough time to this stage of the feedback cycle, or is the piece returned and the students are left to digest it on their own?

6.    How do the comments help explain the numbers? I was fascinated at how fixated the student was on his 14/28. He seemed oblivious to the written feedback on the paper. It can be frustrating when students simply stuff their assessment pieces in their desk or backpack with little to no acknowledgement of the comments the teacher has spent hours writing for them. Once again, this can be addressed by #2 above. What are the students expected to do? What are the established routines? One thing I needed to work on as a teacher was my penmanship. Often my comments looked more like a doctor’s prescription rather than something they could read and reflect on.

7.    What are the plans for next steps? We’ve discussed this as well, and we’ve talked about how assessment should inform students and teachers about the critical next steps. I think about when I used to teach fractions in my elementary math class and would intentionally follow it with a unit on probability. By doing this, I was able to reinforce the work we had just done in the previous unit and had an opportunity to provide enrichment for those students who had mastered fractions while at the same time giving reinforcement for those students who struggled with fractions earlier. When you put that 1, 2, 3, 4 or that percentage on an assessment, what are you already planning?

The mark is a powerful thing as it evokes a response and has an influence on the student’s state of mind going forward. What are we doing to help our students move their learning forward using the information it brings?

Here is what is on the horizon this week:

Monday:

  • Grade 5 – 12 teacher staff meeting
  • Spirit week begins (PJ and/or slipper day)

Tuesday:

  • Spirit week continues with colour day

Wednesday:

  • Spirit week continues with Superhero Day

Thursday:

  • Bruce away
  • Hockey tournament
  • Spirit week continues with hoodie day

Friday:

  • Spirit week concludes with 80s/90s day (oh my!)

As always, create a great week!

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