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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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!

 379 total views

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!

 476 total views

Is It Just an Illusion?

 

I’ve always loved optical illusions, the way you think you see one thing, when really it’s just a trick your eyes are playing on you. Magicians use it all the time, and for me, there is nothing better than seeing an illusion, knowing that what I just saw could not have really happened. Yet I saw it, with my own eyes, and I have no clue how the performer pulled off the feat. Of course, if something can trick the mind, you can bet that there is an advertising firm looking for ways to leverage that into increased sales.

Do you see the hidden symbol?

The power of illusions had me thinking about what our students see on a daily basis in our school. I believe every adult in our building has the same underlying belief that our kids are worth the effort that this job takes. I see it when you stay after school to help kids learn, I see it when you lead an extra-cur program, I see it when you allow students to push your floor cleaner, I see it when you sit beside a student and ask, “how are you doing”, I see it when you stop in the hallway and listen to kids, I see it when you spend hours before and after school planning and co-planning, I see it when you Tweet about the amazing things happening in your room.

Do the kids see it?

Do the kids see how much you care, or are their eyes playing tricks on them? Ellen and I were speaking with her pre-calculus 30 class last week about the reason she is setting the bar so high for them. It’s not to show them how smart she is, and how they could never attain the level of mastery over mathematics that she has. No, it’s because she knows the vast majority of those students in her room will be moving on to post-secondary institutions and she wants them to be as ready as possible. Do the kids see that she cares, or are their eyes and ears playing tricks on them, seeing a teacher that is making things tough for them. I’m sure many of them understand why she is doing what she is, but what about those who are tricked by the illusion?

The kids I really wonder about are those who think their teacher does not care about them. Some kids may be under the illusion that, in their teachers eyes, they are not really that special. Are you okay with that? Are you okay with a student in your class thinking you don’t really care about them? If you are not okay with that (and I’m assuming you’re not) how do you make sure they are getting the real message, and not the illusion? In his article, Dr. Ken Shore writes,

A student’s self-esteem has a significant impact on almost everything she does — on the way she engages in activities, deals with challenges, and interacts with others. Self-esteem also can have a marked effect on academic performance. Low self-esteem can lessen a student’s desire to learn, her ability to focus, and her willingness to take risks. Positive self-esteem, on the other hand, is one of the building blocks of school success; it provides a firm foundation for learning.

-Dr. Ken Shore

If there is a correlation between a student’s self-esteem and their willingness to engage in learning, who would not want to take advantage of that? If we all want the best for our kids, what possible reason would there be that we would ignore the importance of self-esteem? I’m not so naive to think that alone we can completely repair all the damage a student’s self-esteem may have experienced over their career as a student. But, that does not mean we don’t have a role to play. Do we want to be the people who strengthen the illusion, or do we want to be the one’s that slowly chip away at the false narrative?

I think we have a tremendous opportunity right now, given the hard work we are engaging in as it relates to assessment. In a recent tweet, Katie White (@KatieWhite426says,

Assessment processes have to leave our learners with optimism. They have to see how assessment leads to growth and success. How might we shift our assessment decisions to make this happen?

-Katie White

It’s not too great of a leap to think that an optimistic student is one who will develop the ability to repair a fractured self-esteem. How are you using assessment to help fill our students with optimism, thus helping them see how much you care? This makes me think about how Briane is doing this with her WorkPlace Math 10 class. She has developed different ways of assessing that still hold students accountable to the curriculum, but so with a softer edge (to borrow a line).

As you approach the new week, I’d invite you to think of ways to let every student know you care about them, and believe in them. I came across this video, and love looks on the kids’ faces as their teachers tell them how much they care.

Here’s what is on the horizon this week:

Monday:

  • Holiday

Tuesday:

  • K – 8 Staff Meeting

Wednesday:

  • Gym closed (am only)
  • Fire drill (we’ll have a close look at the forecast first)

Thursday:

  • EAs and Corinne in Vancouver (Zones of Regulation work)
  • Bruce & Jesse will be taking on EA roles on Thursday

Friday:

  • Bruce away all day

As always, create a great week!

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My Students are Fixing Me

A beautiful house on a park-like yard. Plenty of food in the fridge and new clothes hanging in the closet. Yearly family vacations spent fishing, water skiing, and eating ice-cream. Huge Christmas celebrations with plenty of presents for everyone. Numerous family gatherings featuring games and rousing sing-a-longs around the old family piano. The security of a loving family together every night and then always there in the morning.

This was my life growing up in small-town Saskatchewan. Norman Rockwell himself could not have painted a better picture of life in the Mellesmoen home. It was a house filled with love and laughter.

So why was it so difficult for me to navigate life as a high school student? Why was the mental mirror in my head always reflecting something akin to a fun-house freak, rather than the happy kid in those sepia-tinted pictures I now see in mom’s photo albums? When the soundtrack for my life should have sounded like Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds (Don’t Worry About a Thing), why did it sound like some depressing, sad song, sung by a broken soul? Why was it so darn tough growing up?

I thought about that today after I was blessed to have a deep, uninterrupted conversation with a group of grade 12 students who were on their spare, sitting in the hall discussing life. You see, I’m a nosy principal, and the kids have gotten somewhat used to me asking how things are going. They have also developed a great deal of patience when faced with, what I think, is a great sense of humor and wonderful puns and jokes. I’ll never understand how they don’t find humor in questions like, “how else would the cells in our bodies communicate if not by cell phone?”

This conversation was not about jokes though. We talked a lot about the real struggle people face growing up in a world shared through social media. We talked about the way kids put on a brave face every day, when inside sometimes they just want to scream. We talked about kids who hurt other kids, and how they must be feeling. We talked about life.

As I sat there, I could not help but think about how confident I am in our leaders of tomorrow. I felt like these kids are going to be more than just okay. I could see and hear in them a desire to make the world, even if it’s just that world around them right now, a better place. I know as my career slowly moves along, one day, I will be on the sidelines watching as the next generation leads the way. I’m confident they will do a great job of taking care of those who have come before them.

If…..

They will take up the charge if we remind them that the reflection from their inner mirror is not always telling them the truth. They will lead the way if we make sure the radio in their soul is tuned to the right station, not the one playing songs of false lyrics. They will take care of us tomorrow if we take care of them today.

I’ve been thinking a lot about why my path has guided me where I am today. How did a person who dreaded school so much, and felt so lost and alone for so many days at school end up back in the exact same environment? You would think I would have done anything to avoid school after the experiences I had growing up. But I didn’t. I believe I am where I am today for two reasons. The first is a dream.

I have a dream that every student who walks through the doors of our school will do so with their head held high. I have a dream that every student who walks through the doors of our school will do so with a belief that they have something to contribute. I have a dream that every student who walks through the doors of our school will do so with the belief that they are part of a loving family. I have a dream that every student who walks through the doors of our school will be able to share their voice without fear. I know we are not there yet, and I know I can’t do it alone, for there are times when it seems like a mountain too big to climb. Our school is made up of close to 400 students and over 25 caring adults, and it will take every one of us, working together, to actualize this dream.

That’s one reason why my path has lead me back.

Here’s the second reason.

School broke part of me as a youth. Not intentionally, nor was it the sole culprit, but it was part of the reason. For years I struggled with self-doubt, and the residue of those feelings still show themselves even to this day. For example, as I write this, part of me is scoffing at myself, saying, “oh Bruce, people will think you are so full of yourself for writing this”. Here is the second reason I believe my path has lead me back; healing. I am finding that the more I work with these incredible students, the more I am healing. Those pieces that were broken in my youth are being put back together by our incredible kids.

This is where you come in. Whether you are a teacher, an EA, a parent, a cousin, a neighbor, a director, a custodian, a grandparent, a coach; you have a role. The next time you see a leader of tomorrow, stop, and with a smile, ask how their day is going. The next time you see a leader of tomorrow, stop, and with a smile, ask them for advice. The next time you see a leader of tomorrow, stop, and with a smile, allow them to help you. The next time you see a leader of tomorrow, stop, and with a smile, listen. They will take care of you tomorrow if you take care of them today.

My gosh, who would have thought my students would be fixing me!

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How are YOU Part of the Story?

You can accomplish anything in life, provided you do not mind who gets the credit

-Harry S. Truman

I’m currently into the early stages of Good to Great by Jim Collins, and one of the overarching themes has been the importance of being willing to let others take the credit when things go well. As I read this, I immediately thought about Trace and Ellen and the success they’ve experienced with the senior girls soccer program. When speaking with them, they never talk about the work they have done. As coaches, they speak about the team, the way the girls work together, the way they support each other, the way they push each other to become better, and the way they have grown together. Our senior girls soccer program has gone from good to great. Trace and Ellen accomplished a great feat, and neither of them were concerned about getting the credit. 

I think about our adult learning, and how proud I am of the work we are all doing. The learning is not restricted to just our teachers, it’s all hands on deck. It is evident that the EAs, our custodial staff, and our admin assistants are a part of our learning. Their finger prints are all over our growth and their impact is especially evident with our most vulnerable and reluctant learners. Key to this learning is the work of our learning facilitators, Steve and Shantel. While they are vital to our growth, they will be the first to point to the impact Brenda has had on them as learning leaders, and how she continues to play a role in their work. While their impact is immense, none of them will stand up and say, “for it is I that has caused this learning to occur”. Even just writing that seems so absurd, which is a testament to their humility.

Our soccer program and our adult learning are  just two examples, and there are so many more I could include, such as:

  • our early learning program, especially the growth in our literacy skills in the early years
  • our ever-evolving athletics program that is reaching more student athletes every year
  • our student leadership program that is continuing to flourish under our teacher leadership
  • our programming for students who struggle with the regular content
  • the evolution of our parental engagement

I’m sure I’m missing other examples, and my apologies to those I may have overlooked.

These programs do not grow through good luck, they require the leadership that you provide. Hopefully as you are reading this you are reflecting on your role in the growth that is happening at Waldheim School. Hopefully you are thinking about how you are part of our story. I’d invite you to contemplate the following questions:

  1. Are the kids who happened to be born between 1999 and 2013 coming to their school, or are they coming to your class?
  2. Do you believe that just because something worked yesterday does not mean it will necessarily work tomorrow? Do you feel you have the flexibility to deal with that?
  3. Are you a school teacher, or a classroom teacher? (I need to credit @gcorous with that question from his book, The Innovator’s Mindset)
  4. Are you a change agent, and how do you model this for your students and peers?
  5. In relation to #4, what are you learning about this year, and how is it impacting you, your students, and your colleagues?

When I think about the great programs that are occurring in our school (and in our school division as a whole), I think about the quiet leaders that working to make this happen. I think about how Trace and Ellen would answer those 5 questions as they relate to their soccer program, and I’m pretty sure I know what they’d say. As Steve, Shantel, and Jesse discussed at our last PD day together, one of the greatest impacts to student learning, based on John Hattie’s work (found here), is collective teacher efficacy. As we continue to strive for greatness as a school, think about your role and remember, you are an important member of the team, and your gifts are needed.

Here’s what is on the horizon this week:

Monday:

  • Brenda is hosting two new PSSD SERTs for the morning
  • All teacher staff meeting after school (agenda)

Tuesday:

  • Bruce away (partial am only)

Wednesday:

  • Halloween sock-hop (see Brittney’s email from earlier this week)

Thursday:

  • Post-Halloween sugar crash 🙂

Friday:

  • 7 – 12 progress reports due to the office
  • Sr. girls volleyball playoffs here (after school)

As always, create a great week!

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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!

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I Wanted to be a Comedian.

Waiting for the bus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what is on the horizon this week,

Monday:

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

Tuesday:

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

Wednesday:

  • Carnival preparation

Thursday:

  • Elementary Carnival (4:30 – 6:30)

Friday:

  • PD/Prep Day

As always, create a great week!

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The Weather is not the Climate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday:

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

Tuesday:

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

Wednesday:

  • Spirit week continues

Thursday:

  • Terry Fox walk
  • Spirit week continues

Friday:

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

As always, create a great week!

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He Was a Good Rabbit

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

He had fun taking care of the classroom bunny.

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

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

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

Here’s what lies ahead this week:

Monday:

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

Tuesday:

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

Wednesday:

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

Thursday:

  • Classroom visits: how are you doing?

Friday:

  • Classroom visits: how are you doing?

As always, create a great week!

 

 

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