The Evolution of Teaching and Learning is Sweet.

I remember a song, way back in 1984, by an R & B artist with a fun, yet, soulful voice. Her name, Chaka Khan, seemed so unique to a 15-year-old, sheltered, Saskatchewan boy. The song, called, I Feel for You, hooked me immediately, and I recall trying some of my favourite break-dancing moves to it with my buddies. We had a lot of time on our hands back in those days (it’s just a shame we didn’t have much rhythm). That song has always held a spot on my personal top 100 songs of all time, partly because of the infectious beat and fun lyrics, but mostly because of how it takes my mind back to a carefree time of my life.

Fast forward to 2019 and a 50-year old me, still without rhythm, driving along the highway in our families white minivan. On the radio comes a song that is new to me. It has a funky beat that has me tapping out a tune on the steering wheel and bobbing my head as I cruised along. “What the heck is this?” I said out loud, almost expecting the DJ to answer me. The song faded and the voice on the radio began telling the story of the singer’s return after an absence of over a decade. Chaka Khan was back! Her latest song, Like Sugar, hooked me in the same way that I Feel for You did 35 years earlier. The new song opens uniquely, just like the old one did, and within seconds you are hearing her magical voice. It’s a familiar sound but updated. The song could have lived in 1984 alongside her other hits, but it is just as comfortable today.  

I believe that great music is not bound to any particular era, nor is it explicitly tied to a single genre. Whether it’s Billy Stewart singing Summertime in 1965, Dwight Yoakam covering Suspicious Minds in 1992, or Taylor Swift’s new song, Lover, great music will continue to captivate us.

So too does excellent teaching! I was fortunate to get to hang out at Leask School today as part of our annual site visits that our administrative team does every year. While I was there, I saw and heard some fantastic things from the staff and students. It was a frigid December day on the prairies, but the school’s warmth made our visit special. As we popped into various rooms, it was evident that there was a common thread in the building. The kids were the ones doing the work, and ultimately, the learning. They were engaged in discussing the parts of stories, looking for themes, discussing scientific problems, and preparing meals for their peers. Every room looked different as flexible seating was the approach to their classroom design. In every lesson, there was a lot of side-by-side learning going on, both teacher-student and student-student collaboration. Much of this is evidence of the changing landscape of teaching and learning in our division. It speaks to the shift from a teacher-centred approach to education to a student-centred approach. It is exciting to see this evolution and the impact it is having on our learners, both young and old.

I noticed a lot of the ‘new’, but there was also a lot of the ‘traditional’ as well, and I believe that’s a good thing. When I was young, relationships with our teachers were important, and they still are. I saw a lot of evidence of strong relationships, from fist bumps to high fives, to pats on the back. Clear, attainable learning goals were important when I was in school, and they still are. I saw a lot of evidence of clear, attainable learning goals, from I Can… statements to teacher modelling, it was all there. As we were preparing to leave Leask School, a fellow principal and I were commenting on the strong relationships we had seen in the building. This colleague of mine is in the twilight of his career, and it made me smile when he said, “you know Bruce, I’ve been doing this for over 30 years, and I still believe it all comes down to relationships.”

I agree with him. Teaching and learning continue to evolve for the better. There will be common threads connecting the great educators of the past to those of today and beyond. And as Chaka Khan says, that’s sweet!

What do YOU think? 

  • What are some of the most important qualities of great teaching that will endure?
  • Who were the most influential teachers in your life? What made them special?
  • What are some of the best changes that have occurred in education?
  • What needs to continue to evolve?

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Taking X-Rays of Our Math Minds

It’s unusual to get a call on my cell phone at school during the day, but when the display show’s my son’s school, I answer! This happened a few weeks ago, and when I heard Bobby’s voice, I knew right away that it was serious. I could tell he was trying not to cry, but he broke down and pleaded with me to come and pick him up. He said, “I fell on the ice, and I think I broke my shoulder”. In an instant, I was in the van and on my way to get him.

During my drive, I was speculating about what was wrong. Was it just a bruise? A broken collar bone? A separated shoulder? All I had to go on was a quick conversation. When I walked into the school, I spotted Bobby, and his left arm seemed to be hanging, which made me think that it was a broken collar bone. We immediately zoomed to the nearest medical clinic where the doctor took over. Some x-rays revealed what was going on for him. He had fractured the upper portion of his humerus.

As this was all unfolding, I was trying my best to get in contact with my wife. She is a registered nurse, and when it comes to anything health-related, I always count on her. While in the pharmacy purchasing a sling, my phone rang again, this time it was my wife, thank goodness! She had some questions and then said, “bring him to the hospital, I’ll get another opinion”. I was confused by this, but she knew something I did not, she knew this fracture might be at the growth plate. A consultation with a second doctor revealed this was not the case, and he was given instructions for how to care for his arm. With that, his terrible day was winding down, and all that was left was for me to order his favorite pizza for supper.

When the dust settled, and I calmed down, I had a chance to reflect on what had happened. Bobby self-diagnosed, he said, “I think I broke my shoulder”. He knew there was something wrong, but he couldn’t put his finger on exactly what it was. I started to speculate, maybe a separation, perhaps a bruise, possibly a break. I wasn’t sure. The first doctor ruled out certain things by just feeling his arm and shoulder, however it was not until he took some x-rays that the real problem was revealed. After finding this out we could then make a plan, with the doctor, to help Bobby heal up.

Does this sound similar to what we do with our assessment? I worry that too often we stop at the speculation stage. Bobby thought he broke his shoulder, but when I saw him I thought it was something else. Had we stopped there we would not have gotten to the real problem.

This makes me think of our current state of understanding numeracy at our school. A student says, “I hate math”, much the same way Bobby said, “I broke my shoulder”. The student knows something is wrong and we need to hear that. We need to go deeper than simply saying, “just work harder” or “ask for help when you need it”. Those are both great strategies, but it would be like me putting an ice pack on Bobby’s arm and saying he’s cured.

At our school we have evidence that things are not going well; we have students saying they “hate math”, we have students misbehaving during math class (a clear sign they are either bored or confused), and we have results from our provincial math assessments. All indications are that we need to know more about what is going on for our learners. So we are digging deeper.

I’m so excited about the work we are going to do as a team. Our administrators, special education resource teachers (SERTs), learning facilitators (LFs), and classroom teachers are putting our heads together to come up with a plan to take some mathematical x-rays of our students to see just what is going on so we can come up with a plan, whether it’s an ice pack, a sling, a cast, or surgery. We know it will not be a one-size-fits-all approach, and we know it will be tough work. We also know that we have a great team and believe that by collaborating with our amazing students and parents we can help our students heal up so they begin to talk about math the same way they are now talking about reading and writing, which they love.

It’s amazing what you can learn from a slip on the ice.

What do YOU think? What resources can you recommend? What have you seen that has worked well? What is some advice you’d have for our team and our students?

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