Assume Less, Understand More

The laughter and banter filled the dressing room as my teammates and I were getting ready for the big game. Nothing was really on the line, but when you are 11 years old every game feels like the Stanley Cup final, and this Saturday afternoon contest was no different. I had everything on but my skates, and as I rummaged through the old red canvas bag the realization hit me, I left my skates in the porch! The night before I had been at the outdoor skating rink with my buddies, and upon returning home I forgot to put my skates in my equipment bag. I had assumed mom would do that for me. I assumed wrong.

I remember as if it were yesterday. Tears filled my eyes as it became clear I wouldn’t get to play, I was so upset. Seeing me crying in the corner, my coach asked me what was wrong, and after I explained it to him, he quickly took me to the caretaker’s room where I phoned my dad. I told dad what happened, and within 15 minutes my skates were at the rink. To this day I’m not sure how fast dad drove, but I’m sure he was taking a significant risk zooming down the frozen Saskatchewan highway on a Saturday afternoon. In the end, I was able to play and to be honest, I do not remember anything from the game, just the sinking feeling in my gut and the relief when dad ran into the dressing room. He never yelled at me, or made me feel bad, he just helped me tie my skates and sent me on my way. What an incredible dad. I sure miss him.

The mistake I made that day was that I assumed my skates would be where they always were. I assumed that just because mom had put them there before, she would do it again. I assumed everything was fine. I think about this because I wonder if we are making a lot of assumptions about our students. Had I taken a moment to check my equipment bag I’d have noticed my skates were missing. What are we missing in our schools because we are assuming?

I recall several occasions of being guilty of assuming students understood the content I was delivering. I would explain the big idea for the lesson, proceed to demonstrate two or three examples on the board, and then, with good intentions, ask if everyone understood. I assumed they had grasped the concept. I assumed they knew what to do. I assumed. Of course, I would then be frustrated when several students would ask questions when I had just shown them three examples on the board. I assumed they understood what I was teaching them. Assumptions can be dangerous things, and when situations go sideways, it may be because we assumed one thing and were then faced with another. We need to be careful to not judge the whole iceberg just by what we see on the surface, and I’ve been reminded during my career of the importance of watching, talking, and listening.

Watching: I do not mean setting up a chair in the hallway and staring at kids, teachers, and parents, that would be creepy, I mean is being present in the halls, the classrooms, and on the playground. I mean being intentional. When I’m out of the office, I always try to watch how groups of kids interact with each other and make mental notes of what I see. Who is normally hanging out with who? Where do groups of kids typically congregate? What is their normal day-to-day behavior? Certain patterns begin to emerge, and what you then start to see is when things are out of the ordinary. The investment of time watching allows you to notice when things are ‘off’. If you are never watching, then you will never spot unusual behavior, this could lead to assumptions.

Talking: It’s amazing how willing students are to engage in conversations if you just stop and sit beside them. In my classes when I assumed the students understood, I talked to the students. Had I talked with the students I’d have quickly learned if they actually understood or were merely trying to avoid looking lost. There are many opportunities to sit and talk with kids on a daily basis, and I’ve found they are very willing to share what they are learning about or what they are currently busy with outside of school. Of course, the warning that comes with this is when you engage with a student in the primary grades. You need to be ready to invest a good chunk of time, especially if they are going to share exciting stories about a new pet, a trip to grandmas, or a lost tooth. Taking time to talk with students shows them you care and it creates an opportunity for the real magic: listening.

Listening: Stopping and talking opens the door for an opportunity that so many of our students need; someone to listen. Most of the time if you listen to students you will hear them tell you about the great things that are happening in their lives, they love to celebrate accomplishments or talk about fun activities they have been a part of. However, there are times when they need you to listen because something is troubling them. This is when you need to do something so important: be quiet. I learned a long time ago the power of listening to hear versus listening to speak. If you sit back and observe people talking, you usually hear them talking about themselves, frequently building upon what someone else has said. If you are listening to speak, that is what you are doing. You are hearing their words, but thinking about your experiences, and are waiting to jump in with your story. When you are listening to understand, you are not going to talk about you, you are likely going to ask questions about their story.

By watching, talking, and listening a person will begin to assume less and understand more.

Everything I wrote about was focused on students, but see how it works for you when you change the word student to teacher, co-worker, friend, or spouse. Watching, talking and listening are potent alternatives to assuming, after all, had I taken the time to look in my hockey bag, asked mom, or even better, listened to her the first time she told me to pack my equipment, I would not have assumed I had what I needed.

Here is what is on the horizon this week:

Monday:

  • Final day of semester 1
  • 9 – 12 staff learning meeting AGENDA

Tuesday:

  • Prep day for teachers
  • Bruce away all day

Wednesday:

  • First day of semester 2

Thursday:

  • Watching, talking and listening during class visits

Friday:

  • 7 – 12 progress reports and comments due to office

As always, create a great week!

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Moving the Ring

As I peeled the wrapping paper off, I began to realize what the gift was, and I started summoning my inner acting skills. Once again my in-laws had bought me a puzzle to solve, not a jigsaw puzzle, but one of those ring on a string with a block of wood, puzzles. I hate these things! I think my in-laws know this and secretly chuckle about it, after all if you can’t antagonize your son-in-law, who can you antagonize? I needed to let them know how much I ‘appreciated’ this gift. This memory is from a few Christmases ago, but I was reminded of it after watching this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SeaaYXBkUVE

As I started watching this video my hands actually started sweating as the sight of this puzzle immediately heightened my anxiety. If this had been gifted to me, I’d likely have employed the use of a big pair of scissors while muttering several colorful phrases. But I enjoyed this video, it was so satisfying to see an ‘expert’ demonstrate the steps required to solve the puzzle, but what I really liked was the sound of the people watching. There were ooo’s and aaah’s as his hands deftly maneuvered the rope and slid the ring. The solution was unfolding before their eyes, and they could see the way before he actually finished. The excitement was building. Then there was the payoff, the sound of the ring clinking on the red ball. The looks on the men’s faces were priceless, but the very best was yet to come. The elderly man, who had spent years trying to solve this riddle grabbed the puzzle and began solving it for himself. What an achievement!

Earlier this year I had an opportunity to speak with a teacher about some of the work we are doing at #WaldheimSchool as we wrestle with the big questions associated with assessment of and for learning. One of the comments this teacher made was that these questions have been around for a long time, and it was that question that gave me hope because of the following:

  1. If we are still discussing it after all these years, we believe it is important, we haven’t simply thrown our hands up and said, “unsolvable!”
  2. If we are still discussing it after all these years, we believe we can come up with a ‘solution’, we haven’t simply thrown our hands up and said, “unsolvable!”
  3. If we are still discussing it after all these years, we believe that it will be together, not alone, that we find a ‘solution’we haven’t simply thrown our hands up and said, “unsolvable!”

I use the term ‘solution’ with trepidation, after all I think we can agree that there is not a one size fits all solution to assessment of and for learning. In fact, I believe that trying to implement such a solution in the past is what has brought us to our current state. As a result, we are in the process of moving away from one singular type of assessment towards practices that honor our learners and our teachers. I believe we are moving towards assessment practices designed with and for all learners, including methods that inform teachers of their impact.

In a way, we are trying to move the ring from the green ball to the red ball, and it is very difficult work! This makes me think of a discussion Ellen (@ellen_verityand I had last week about an assessment task she had her students complete earlier this month. The kids were learning about electromagnetism and were given the choice on how to demonstrate their understanding. They could build a project, complete a test, or write a scientific paper (I think those were the three choices, I’m sorry if there were more that I missed). A challenge for Ellen showed up when a student, who typically demonstrates her learning to an extremely high level, opted to write the paper, and struggled with it. Ellen was faced with an opportunity, either tell the student, “too bad, so sad, you chose this route, you get what you get” or she could look for ways to help the student try again. She chose the latter. I believe she did so because of the three things listed above: it was important to her and the student, she felt there was a ‘solution’, and she believed that speaking with her colleagues would lead her to the right decision.

Every difficult moment we face in our work provides us an opportunity to make a choice; shout “unsolvable” and move on, or we can pause, reflect, and connect with our colleagues in search of the answer. The elderly gentleman worked on that puzzle for ten years until he had help solving it. We will be working on our assessment practices for our entire careers, with the understanding that we will never discover the ‘solution’. This is what makes me so proud. It isn’t the ‘solution’ that matters, it’s the journey, the collaboration between peers and the belief that it is what’s best for all learners that matters. It’s about learning! And while we may never have a 3:48 video on YouTube ending in cheers, we will have something better. We will have the knowledge that everyday we tried to get a little better, and never threw our hands up and shouted, “unsolvable!”

Here’s what is on the horizon for this week:

Monday:

Tuesday:

  • Business as usual

Wednesday:

  • Gr. 7 & 8 field trip (Regina)

Thursday:

  • 10 – 12 final exams begin
  • Bruce away (pm only)

Friday:

  • Business as usual

As always, create a great week!

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We’re Not Even Getting Marks for This!

There was a quiet anticipation as we made our way through the old, winding corridors. I could hear the conversations as the students trailed behind me, this was a new experience for most of them, and it was clear they were in awe of their surroundings. This learning activity was set up by their Physics teacher, @ellen_verity , and the students only knew one thing, and that was that they would be completing a learning lab studying inelastic collisions. I was along as a chaperone and was just as excited. Part of the excitement was in the wonder of what we’d be learning, the other was the flood of memories as we walked by old classrooms where I had studied mathematics as a University student many years earlier.

We were met by two men, a lab instructor and a graduate student, and they took us to the science lab where we would spend the next two hours creating collisions. After an introduction and a brief discussion outlining the lab the students would be completing, the work began. The students were busy determining mass, calculating velocities, and wrestling with formulae that first-year university physics students would normally encounter. It was a treat to watch the students learning together as they completed the 90-minute lab experiment. One of the comments that stood out to me above all the others was from a grade 12 boy who had been struggling to determine the energy loss in the experiment. He had repeatedly tried and failed to calculate the correct answer, his only support was from the facilitator who encouraged him to “check his math” as his answer fell outside of the acceptable range that the instructor had told the students to keep in mind. He turned to his lab partner and said, “I can’t believe I’m still working at this, it’s not even for marks”. The boys laughed and then returned to their work. Eventually, they had found the error in their calculation, and when they had succeeded they could not hide their pride. They had persisted and were rewarded for their hard work. This ‘stick-withitness’ was demonstrated at all the stations, not a single group dropped their pencils and said, “that’s it, we’re done here”. It made me think about why, and I have a few theories.

1. Environment: the students were working in a different environment than they were used to, and it seemed to be a big change for them. In reality, there was not a lot of difference between their school lab to the one they were in on this day; the tables were similar in height, the stools looked and felt the same, the lighting and temperature were familiar, and one student even noticed the laminate on the counter tops was peeling, just like back at school! So while the different setting surely had an impact on their mindset, I do not think it was the greatest influence.

2. The lab facilitator: the students commented on how smart the lab facilitator was. One student marveled at how he would manipulate different formulas with ease, while another student found it interesting how the facilitator could predict the mistakes students would make. It was apparent to me that the students wanted to do well for this facilitator, and wanted him to know that they brought with them a solid understanding of high school math and physics. While this desire to impress was apparent, like the environment, I do not think this was the greatest influence either.

3. The challenge: this lab involved shooting a 60-gram steel ball into an apparatus that consisted of what I would describe as a cage attached to a pendulum that would swing up using the momentum of the shot. The challenge was to use simple measurements (i.e. height, distance, gravity) to determine the initial and final velocity of the ball. From there the students were challenged to use this information to calculate momentum and eventually determine if there was a conservation of energy. All of this flew straight over my head, but it was fun to watch the kids work through a lab that was not too difficult, yet not too simple. It was a task that was just right in terms of rigor. While the task, was in the Goldilocks zone, much like the environment and the facilitator, I do not think it was the greatest influence.

4. A sense of pride: above all else, I believe the students wanted to successfully complete the lab for their own sense of pride. It was wonderful to see the smiles on their faces when they had correctly calculated the velocity or the momentum. It was wonderful to watch them work together to compare their calculations and discuss what they had learned. It was wonderful to watch them traverse the highs and lows that are typically associated with deep learning. I believe it was this sense of pride that was the greatest motivator for the students, after all, like that student indicated, they were not getting any marks for this. This was truly learning for the sake of learning, and I could feel the engagement in the room.

Given that we are currently immersed in looking at and talking about our assessment practices, I could not help but think about how closely engagement is tied to our assessment work. In her book, @KatieWhite426  writes,

engagment is strongly connected to assessment. Not getting the best effort from our students and feeling like we are working harder than our learners are symptoms of a system not grounded in authentic learning” (p. 153).

Reading this took me back to many times in my classes when the kids were not as “in to” the learning as I had thought they would be. I felt like I had created a highly engaging lessons only to see slumped shoulders and partial efforts. I would have chalked this up to “kids being kids”, however there also numerous lessons when the exact same students were highly engaged and motivated. I had to come to terms with the fact that it was me, not them. I also had to be gentle on myself and forgive myself when a lesson fell flat. I had to have the belief that I could learn from it and improve on it.

This also makes me think of our mindset, as Katie’s quote invites us to view engagement as something that is within our control versus looking at it as something the students consciously choose (either they want to be engaged or they don’t). Of course, going one step further, this also takes me back to our school goal, every adult at #WaldheimSchool will develop a deep and thorough understanding of every student they work with as learners. If we really know our learners we can then begin to craft engaging learning opportunities which in turn will lead to authentic assessments. I’d invite you to think about this the next time it feels like you are working harder than the students are.

Here’s what is on the horizon for our final week before the Christmas break:

Monday:

  • 9 – 12 staff meeting (any 5 – 8 staff are welcome to join us as our meeting last week was cancelled)

Tuesday:

  • Final preparations for Christmas concert

Wednesday:

  • K – 4 Christmas concert matinee performance

Thursday:

  • K – 4 Christmas concert evening performance

Friday:

  • 7 – 12 locker clean up (schedule to be posted Tuesday to assist with your planning)
  • K – 6 Christmas classroom activities
  • 7 – 12 Christmas activities (pm) lead by the SRC

As always, create a great week!

 424 total views

The Power of an Audience

Sometimes, when I least expect it, I catch myself thinking about learning and this happened today while I was preparing supper. As I was tending to the pots on the stove, my oldest son was practicing the piano. The song he was practicing at first sounded vaguely familiar, however once he started playing it with a little more confidence it occurred to me he was playing my wife’s favorite Christmas carol, Little Drummer Boy. Stopping and starting, he really struggled with the song. He knew how it should sound, for he had heard it numerous times in the past, and he also knew what he was playing was just not quite right. The notes were off. He would mess up the timing. He would lose his place. And he would growl with frustration. One thing that is important to understand is that my son has inherited his father’s short fuse. When I get frustrated or angry it’s not a pretty sight, and if I’m trying to complete a task and I end up in this zone, the only thing I can do is walk away and try to reset. I could sense Bobby was heading this direction, so I asked why he was practicing this song with such intensity.

His answer reminded me of a powerful tool we have as educators, audience.

Bobby told me his motivation for practicing was that he wanted to perform this song at his auntie Susan’s house this Christmas season. One of our family’s Christmas traditions has been to gather around the piano and sing carols. I recall Christmas sing-a-longs many years ago at my grandparent’s home in Carrot River, and as young child I loved to hear my aunts, uncles, and grandparents sing together. I’m so happy that my children have had the opportunity to be part of this experience, even if their dad does not sing along (I’ve come to accept that my musical talents are pretty much restricted to playing the radio). I’m even more excited that Bobby now wants to have more prominent role in this and actually play the piano to lead one of the carols.

This is why he is practicing over, and over, and over. This is why he is getting better and better. He is learning.

He is learning so he can perform for an audience. This makes me think of how often our students are asked to ‘perform’ for an audience. I recall asking students to complete learning tasks as a classroom teacher, and at times their hearts were just not in it, however, if I asked them to create something for a learning fair that involved other classes or parents, they would always be a little more diligent. This also makes me think of ‘performances’ I’ve seen in our school in the past, such as:

  • the grade 1 class singing at the Remembrance Day ceremony
  • the grade 7 science fair
  • the genius hour presentations at parent/teacher conferences
  • Life Transitions learning fairs
  • math cafe
  • readers cafe
  • writers cafe
  • assemblies
  • plays

These are many things that you may have also seen in your school in the past. There are also some other very cool ‘performances’ I’ve seen that create an opportunity for students to present to an audience.

  • the IA teacher lets his students know their projects will be shared online via Instagram (check it out here)
  • a geography teacher inviting his students to present their tourism ideas to two other adults instead of just presenting their ideas to the class or the teacher
  • the journalism teacher asking her students to seek real sponsorship from businesses in town to support the school yearbook
  • the Psychology teacher challenging her students to create real learning activities that will be taught to the Kindergarten class
  • the senior ELA teacher inviting the kindergarten class to hear his students’ If you give a                             stories (for example, If you give a panda a crayon)

In all of these cases (and there are more) the students know that the audience will not just be the teacher or their classmates. They know it will be a more diverse set of eyes and ears, and because of that their pride kicks in, and they usually put in a greater effort.

Obviously not every learning activity can be set up for an audience, but, are there ways to invite students to share their learning with more people than just their peers or the teacher? I’ve seen an increase in the use of online sharing tools, like See-Saw, Class Dojo, and FreshGrade. What else can you do? There is Facebook Live, Twitter, and YouTube. Of course with online sharing comes other factors teachers must consider. Some families do not want their children sharing online, but are there ways to share processes and products without sharing faces and names? If we want our students to work towards mastery and deep learning, how can we occasionally use the power of an audience to accomplish this? I’ve seen it in our school, I’d love to hear other ideas, so please comment below.

And as far as The Little Drummer Boy, I’m expecting to hear an awful lot of it over the next few weeks!

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Where Are You Pointing Your Telescope?

It was a perfect night for star gazing. Not a cloud in the sky, the fall air was crisp and cool, and the moon shone brightly over the city. Bobby’s teacher,  @blaine_gaudet had arranged for the grade 6 class to meet at the observatory at the University of Saskatchewan on Friday night as they continue to study the solar system in their science course. While they were there, the students had the opportunity to view many of the displays and artifacts in the observatory. They were able to speak with two experts (U of S astronomy students) who would answer their questions and extend the kids thinking with questions about space. It was a fun night, and Bobby wanted to share this experience with his aunt Susan. My sister, who teaches in Saskatoon, has always been close with Bobby, so it was no surprise when she agreed to come along on the field trip.

Upon our arrival, we were’t sure what to expect. We didn’t know how many other students would be joining the group, nor did we know exactly what we’d be looking at through the telescope. What we did know, however, was that we’d have an opportunity to learn through looking, listening, and asking questions. We were curious about things. Bobby asked, “I wonder if that’s a planet or a star beside the moon?” My sister wondered where the space station was, and if it were observable that night. I wondered if Starbucks would be open late enough to get a cappuccino after. I actually wondered if we’d be able to catch a glimpse of Saturn and her beautiful rings. We enjoyed our time, learning many cool things. For instance, it never dawned on me that the telescope through which we were looking was constantly moving, just ever so slightly. This movement is designed to keep time with the movement of the Earth, thus maintaining a focus on the target. We did get to look at Mars and the moon, but alas, not at Saturn. It was an amazing time, and one I’m sure we’ll do again in the future. What struck me was the conversations that occurred on the ride home. We were actually filled with more questions than when we first set out for the evening. We looked at the night sky in a different way, and noticed things that we may not have prior to this.

It was a night of real learning.

I then started thinking about the learning that is happening on a daily basis in our school. Are students walking in with a rough idea of where they are going for each class? How can this mindset benefit them? Are students able to build on prior learning, or is everything ‘new’ each class? I wonder about where you ‘point the telescope’ in your room? We looked at 3 things, just 3, and it was plenty for a 90 minute session. How often are you moving your ‘telescope’? We were all able to look and learn, the facilitator did not say, “students you only get to look at the moon, parents, you get to look at the Pleiades”. What are the ways you are inviting #allstudents to look at and learn about ‘the Pleiades’ in your classes?

It was cool to see a kid (anyone now in their early 20’s will be known as a ‘kid’ to me) from the U of S, with no formal teacher training bringing MPSC to life. I was reminded of the simple ingredients that were brought together to create an authentic, engaging learning experience for all 30-plus people who were there that night. No desks. No notes. No SmartBoard. No worksheets. There was plenty of choice, a lot of conversation, tons of side-by-side learning, and a lot of freedom for the kids and parents to learn in many different ways.

What a great night!

Here’s what’s on the horizon this week:

Monday:

  • Bus driver meeting & bus evacuation drill 9:00 am
  • 9 – 12 Staff Meeting
  • Classroom visits: what are you wondering about?

Tuesday:

  • Classroom visits: what are you wondering about?

Wednesday:

  • Dental screening (gr. 1 & 7)
  • Classroom visits: what are you wondering about?

Thursday:

  • Picture retakes
  • Classroom visits: what are you wondering about?

Friday:

  • Classroom visits: what are you wondering about?

As always, create a great week!

 461 total views

What are You Looking At?

It feels like Mother Nature is trying. Trying to bring back sunny skies and warmer weather. We can hope that the weeks ahead bring normal to above normal temperatures as our farming families continue to work on bringing in the crops. I’m hoping for warmer weather for our athletes that are playing outdoor sports this fall, like our cross country runners or our soccer players. And finally, I’m hoping for warmer weather for those little ones who will be ringing our doorbells in 17 nights, as kids and parents venture out for Halloween night.

Last week was a bit of a rough one as I felt pulled in many directions, all the while, suffering from my annual autumn cold. I’ve learned over the years that there are somethings I can always come to count on in September and October, including back to school nightmares (still have ’em) and a cold or two. When a person is feeling under the weather or feeling overwhelmed, it is easy to get caught up in a negative spiral. This may include things like negative talk, feelings of frustration, a quick temper, or failing to see all the good around us. I felt myself heading that way this week, until a conversation helped me refocus.

I had a chance to talk to Corinne about the PD she was a part of on Friday, 5th. For some reason I was expecting her to say it wasn’t a great use of her time, or that she could have gotten more work done at school. I’m not sure why I expected that, Corinne has never uttered a negative word about division led PD, rather, she has always been a strong believer in the learning that happens when adults get together. I think it was my mindset that caused me to anticipate a different answer. I was in a low place. What she did say was exactly what I needed to hear. She said, “it was amazing! The lady talked to us about focusing on the 90%”. After some discussion, Corinne explained about the importance of focusing on the positive people and positive things around us. She said when you really stop and look you see that for the most part, things are really good around us. It’s our choice where we place our focus.

Just the nudge I needed. I left the office and went to look for the 90%, and it was easy to find in our building. Kids having a ball in the gym, students working in the hallways on their independent studies, classrooms buzzing with engaged kids, teachers creating opportunities for kids to celebrate their heritage, teachers creating Reader’s Cafes, SERTs celebrating evidence of growth, students starting work experience programs, caretakers spending time in classrooms listening to kids, and Porter, of course Porter! If I’m ever wallowing in the depths of the 10%, I know where I need to go, and that’s back into your rooms and into our hallways.

It also makes me think about the choices we get to make everyday in our classrooms and in our interactions with our students. As our parent/teacher conferences approach, what are you planning to focus on? The 90% or the 10%? How will your students and their parents feel about learning at #WaldheimSchool? That’s not to say that we never share information that parents may be uncomfortable with (although I know that has already been communicated by you). We get to decide how we do this, we get to choose if it’s the 90% or the 10% we focus on. It’s about our mindset.

Here’s what is on the horizon this week:

Monday:

  • 5 – 8 staff meeting

Tuesday:

  • classroom visits

Wednesday:

  • Bruce away (am)
  • P/T conferences night 1 (supper will be provided)

Thursday:

  • P/T conferences (supper will be provided)

Friday:

  • Day in lieu

As always, create a great week!

 365 total views

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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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!

 409 total views