Keep an eye on this site & Twitter (@brucemellesmoen) for information about the changes that are on the horizon for this blog. There will be a new format, however the focus will still remain on learning and leading.
A new year is upon us as our students arrive bright and early tomorrow morning. We have just enjoyed a relaxing summer, where we were able to recharge our batteries and are now ready to begin the 2019-2020 learning journey. Over the past two weeks I’ve seen all of you digging into your work, preparing for your students. Rooms are ready, lessons are planned, assessment strategies are in place and all we need now are our young learners. Are you excited? I am! Are you nervous? I am! I have to wonder how our students are feeling.
In our house, our four kids are ready to go. Bobby is looking forward to meeting Mr. Evans and seeing his buddies from last year. Eva has loved school from day one, and cannot wait to see what is new in grade four this year. The twins, Charlie and Maggie, are excited to be heading to grade one where they will be attending full time, even though Charlie has said he could use a little more time off. As a parent, I’m wondering how their teachers will get to know them. How will they engage them? How will they challenge them? How will they gather feedback from them to make tomorrow better than today?
Last week, at our opening staff learning meeting, we discussed John Hattie’s 8 Mind Frames for Teachers, as shown below:
My fundamental task is to evaluate the effect of my teaching on students’ learning and achievement.
The success and failure of my students’ learning is about what I do or don’t do. I am a change agent.
I want to talk more about learning than teaching.
Assessment is about my impact.
I teach through dialogue not monologue.
I enjoy the challenge and never retreat to “doing my best”.
It’s my role to develop positive relationships in class and staff rooms.
I inform all about the language of learning.
We had a very good discussion about these mind frames with our colleagues, even if it was slightly rushed. As you revisit this list, what are your thoughts about day one? How are you going to evaluate your effect every day? How will you keep the phrase, I am a change agent, in mind every day? Who will do the talking tomorrow? When does assessment begin in your classes? Will there be kids who walk out tomorrow who have not talked with you? What challenge are you looking forward to tomorrow? What will your impact be on the relationships in the staff room? Will you engage with your students’ parents tomorrow? How?
For some of us, tomorrow is day one of what has the potential to be a long, successful career. For others, it is another day one, like others that have come and gone. And for others still, it might be our very last day one. Regardless of the stage you are at, know that we cannot do this without you. What we are striving to accomplish; every adult will have a deep and thorough understanding of every student we work with as a learner, is a massive undertaking. Together we are better. Through collective teacher efficacy, there is nothing we cannot do. That’s what is so special about #WaldheimSchool. It’s an us with them mentality, not an us versus them mentality.
Enjoy day one. Create a great day for every student. And never forget: KNOW THY IMPACT!
Some of the strangest articles catch my eye as I scroll through social media. I have become much better at skipping the nonsense, like the bashing of politicians, the critiquing of social groups, or the ongoing debate over the colour of the dress (which is white and gold by the way). Last week, an article about an Arizona man caused me to stop and read. Cory Nielsen, also known by his YouTube moniker, The Penny Building Fool, was featured in a post that chronicled the story of his one-million penny pyramid. It is pretty cool to see what a $10,000 pyramid looks like, and the time-lapse photography is almost hypnotic in its presentation. Another interesting post showed a gentleman creating a diorama of a gold mine, complete with little hand-carved workers, lights, and faux foliage. Creations like these take a lot of time, planning, patience, revision, and effort. They are not merely thrown together at the last minute, at least not the ones that create a buzz online.
These incredible feats remind me of the work you have created this year. You have spent time planning, teaching, assessing, reflecting, refining, and repeating. You have taken every student from where they were on day one in September to where they are today. What a journey! Step back for a moment and look at what you have done. Look at where your students are on their path of learning, and look at the footprints beside theirs, can you see yours?
Like a great work of art, or a fantastic song, or a beautiful poem, or a delicately turned piece of wood, the learning you created for your students is just as awe-inspiring.
But there is a difference.
Eventually, the painting is completed and hung on the wall. At some
point, the book is published and placed on the shelf. Ultimately the song is
recorded and pressed into vinyl (or put on an 8-Track, right Corinne?). Your
work is not like that. We do not simply work all year and, as June turns to
July, walk away. This is a work of art that is ever evolving. This is a craft
that takes an entire career to create. This has never been so evident to me as
it has this year as I was able to watch, from the sidelines, two teachers at
opposite ends of the teaching timeline. Briane has just walked through the
front door of our profession and has started her journey down the long hallway
that is a teaching career. She has begun to fill her shelves of learning and is
starting to hang images on the wall in her hall. It is exciting to think what
lies ahead of her, the limitless possibilities and the unknown students yet to
experience her caring ways.
At the other end of the timeline is our dear friend and colleague
Dwayne. At one point, he, just like Briane, walked through the front door of
this profession, and I bet he can still remember that first day. His hallway
shelves are stuffed with lessons learned. His walls are covered with pictures
of students from years gone by. Various frames house the images of memories he
must have from his years in the classroom, on the court, on the water, and on
the trail. Over time the dust accumulates on these images, but with a light
touch, they are brought back to life as if they had just happened yesterday. In
one week, he will walk out the door of this profession but will take with him
all the good that comes with a career’s worth of experience.
Each of us walks our own path and thankfully, we are not alone. We can
stop and look behind us at the experiences we’ve had. We can recall lessons
learned and use this information as we head forward into the unknown. Past
experience does not allow us to know the future, but it does help remind us
that if we prepare, if we are flexible, and if we are reflective, everything
will be just fine.
Being the last blog post (maybe) for the 2018-19 school year, I’d like
to invite you to consider the following questions:
1. This year you worked with many learners, both
young and not so young. Think carefully about each one. How did you impact
their learning journey this year? What would they tell their loved ones about
their experience with you as their learning leader?
2. In a year full of working
with our young learners, what are some of the highlights that you would
celebrate? Would it be seeing a student make progress with their reading or
writing? Would it be watching a student learn how to self-regulate their behaviour
more effectively? Would it be seeing one of your students present at Learning
3. We took time to think deeply
about our assessment practices, and at times, our thinking was challenged. What
changed for you this year? How will how your assessment look, sound, and feel
different next year?
4. As a staff, we dipped our
toes into the Zones of Regulation to help support the work our EAs are doing,
and as we prepare to close the door on this year, how has this program helped
you help your learners? What are you still curious about?
5. This year we have supported
each other on our own journeys, and you have been important to many people.
Looking back at the year, who has been there for you? How have you thanked
them? Who have you been there for?
On a personal note, I want to thank each and every one of you for your support this year. When I was a much younger person, I was not always happy, and much of how I defined myself was formed from my school experience. I never felt as smart as the other students, nor did I feel like I really ‘fit in’ with my classmates. School was a difficult time for me, and what has been shocking for me is that so many of my classmates had similar feelings. For the past 20 years in education, my motivation, or as Simon Sinek calls it, my why, has been to create an environment where students do not fall victim to this same mindset. I know I have not accomplished my goal yet, but thanks to you and everything you do with our kids, I feel we are inching closer every day to actualizing this dream.
When I was invited to consider accepting the role as principal of your
school, initially I was scared. Excited, yes, but scared. Every day is a chance
for me to learn how to become a leader, and every day, all of you take the time
to help me become better at what I do. I’ve just stepped through the front door
of my principalship and have so much more to do, but I am so grateful that you
are here to help guide me.
Please enjoy the last few days with your students, you are so important
to them, please let them know how much they mean to you. Laugh lots, give out
so many high-fives your palms glow red, play with your kids outside, cheer them
on as they tackle their finals, talk to that elusive student that you’ve been
meaning to connect with all year. Take time for yourself, and most of all, soak
up the love from this year’s version of #WaldheimSchool, it is different from
years past, and as always happens, it will be different next year.
As always, create another great week for those around you!
Here is what lies on the horizon for one final week
final exams continue for 10 – 12 students
no grade 7 Hepburn students for HE/IA
K – 9 progress reports should be to Corinne if possible
final exams continue
K – 9 progress reports sent home
Final day for all kids
Classroom clean up time (please take as much home as possible to ease the load on Jamie, Brandi, and Kelly)
10 – 12 progress reports available for students
Final day for staff, please note there will be no access to the school until August 19th. If it is an emergency, please contact Jamie before coming in, there may be wet wax on the floor.
I have always loved swimming, and from an early age I found it was one thing I was pretty good at. In my early teens, my best friend Paul and I worked with the staff at the local swimming pool to organize a speed swimming team, The Watrous Whitecaps. We were a group of kids that had no real idea what we were doing, but it was an excuse to get more time in the water. Eventually we became more organized and started competing regularly in different competitions across the province. I focused on the backstroke, and by the mid-eighties I was beginning to bring home some hardware from different meets.
In 1986 I had an opportunity to race in the provincial championships in Humboldt. I can still remember how the sky looked as I chugged along in my outside lane, and I can remember hearing my coach yelling encouragement from the poolside deck. I remember a lot about that race, especially the little things I did not do quite right. My start was not as strong as usual, I messed up on my second turn, and I miscounted my strokes on my final length of the 25 meter pool. In the end it was a fantastic experience, but it was a missed opportunity. You see, I was in first place for most of the race, but it was my final mistake, not completing that last stroke, that kept me off the podium. Fourth place. It was that close!
We all have these stories in our lives. Stories of times we just missed our goal. My goal was to finish in the top three at provincials, but I just came up a little short. Of course there is a flip side to that tale as well. A story of success. In the wake of my actions were many fond memories, and a swim team that, to this day, still competes. But my goodness would I have loved to have grabbed a medal.
You may notice a little change in this week’s blog post as I am going to focus on things that did not work out how I had hoped they would. I’m going to take a bit of time to reflect on the year and shed some light on some things I’d love to have a “do-over” on. Please do not view this as a pity-party or as a plea for your forgiveness, rather, it is simply a look back at 2018 – 19 and a look at some things that did not go how I’d hoped.
The Right Question at the Right Time was a goal I had set for myself at the start of the year. As an administrative team, Jesse and I had spent a lot of time discussing the gift of a great question. My goal was to formulate a mediative question for you, whether it was in your classroom while you were teaching, in the office during a discussion, on the playground during supervision, or over a Coke (or a Pepsi with Dwayne) in the staff room. Looking back, I think I started strong this year, I was very intentional, and then at some point, I started asking fewer questions. Inadvertently I left you with fewer gifts as a result.
I reflect on a perfect opportunity that passed me by on Friday as I was in Steve’s room for a moment with the grade 10 class. Steve and his learners were engaged in an amazing conversation about stereotyping in the media. One student was sharing his opinions, which were well thought out and articulated very clearly. What stood out to me was that this boy does not typically consider himself one of the “smart” kids, yet there he was, a leading voice in the room. What I wanted to ask Steve was, “what intentional moves have you made as a teacher this year to create an environment where student name feels so comfortable to share his opinions?” I should have asked that question. I missed a chance.
Intentional, Uninterrupted Conversations was something I was hoping to schedule this year with every staff member. As 2017-18 was drawing to a close, I was able to have a great conversation with a staff member who reflected on how helpful conversations like these were in her previous school. I put together a rough schedule for when I thought I could meet with different staff members, knowing some were ‘morning’ people while others seemed to have more time open after school. For a variety of reasons, this did not happen as frequently as I wanted. When a teacher approached me this spring about how having a brief, yet focused meeting like this would have been beneficial, I realized I missed an opportunity.
Something I really appreciate is the way all of you have found a way to carve out time to come and speak with me from time to time. These conversations have varied from issues that need to be dealt with immediately to casual conversations about life, about learning, and about the little things that occur daily at school. What this tells me is that there is a need for this, and you are all figuring out a way to make this work. What I do not like about this is the message it sends; my time is more valuable than yours, and you need to ‘check’ if it’s a good time for the principal to talk. I should have scheduled those meetings. I missed a chance.
Covering Your Classes was something I have always wanted to do more of since becoming an in-school administrator. I recall for years as a teacher feeling that at times, my administrator did not fully appreciate what I was going through in my classroom, not only the struggles but the highlights as well. I always thought it would be great for my principal to spend some time with my struggling mathematicians or with my exceptional welders. I wondered how they would feel if they’d spent an hour immersed in our deep conversations in psychology or how they would differentiate an ELA lesson for 29 grade five students; eight of which were below to well below grade level and five of which were all well above grade level.
I did have a chance to cover some classes this year, and it was nice to have the classroom teacher feeling again. Most recently, I was able to cover Kindergarten for June, even if it was just for half an hour. I do think June was little concerned though, she did pop in and ask how I was doing (I couldn’t bring myself to answer honestly, I was floundering). Having the opportunity to work with the K-class reminded me that I wanted to do more of this. I should have covered some classes for you this year. I missed a chance.
A shoe factory sends two marketing scouts to a region of Africa to study the prospects for expanding business.
One sends back a telegram saying, SITUATION HOPELESS STOP NO ONE WEARS SHOES
The other writes back triumphantly, GLORIOUS BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY STOP THEY HAVE NO SHOES
The above anecdote reflects the choice I get to make. Do I look back at 2018-19 and feel hopeless because of the chances I missed, or do I think about the glorious opportunities that lie ahead?
On Monday we will have a chance to hear two more learning stories, Jesse’s and Dan’s, and then we will have an opportunity to do our own reflecting. I think it is important to make a note of those chances we may have missed, and then look at the opportunities they create. Cara shared one of the most insightful comments I’ve heard in years in her presentation. She spoke about a tough situation she was facing with a parent. Cara did everything she could to come to know this parent’s child as well as she could so, together, they could make the best decision possible. During this process, Cara’s assessment practices were impacted, and this had a ripple effect on what she did in class, and in the end, every student benefited from this tough situation. Cara found a glorious opportunity in a “shoeless” situation.
What missed chances will be your gifts for 2019-2020?
Here’s what is on the horizon for this week:
Staff learning meeting with two more presentations, a reflection activity, and a look towards next year.
June, Brenda, and Kim are observing a pre-K student in Saskatoon to assist with a transition plan
The annual Jones Awards! The students are excited about another opportunity to come together to share some laughs and showcase their talents
Showcase of Excellence takes place during period three. We will celebrate the academic, athletic, and artistic accomplishments of many of our students
Final day of classes for grade 10 to 12 students
Jesse is away today at an admin planning team meeting
Final exams begin for students in grade 10 – 12 (regular classes continue for all other classes)
Kindergarten orientations take place today (typically we use the library for this)
As the curtain closed the cheers echoed off the gymnasium walls as the audience signaled their appreciation for the show they had just experienced. For close to two hours, children and adults alike were captured by the performance of the Waldheim School drama club. This diverse collection of young thespians performed their version of The Lion King, and those in attendance loved it! The singing, the acting, the lighting, the make-up, the costumes, the set, the choreography, all coming together to create a magical moment.
The following morning students began to slowly make their way into the school for another day of learning, however this day was not typical for some. A grade ten boy who played an important role in the performance the night before approached the gym doors. I watched him as he slowly opened them. He must have known what he was going to see, but it seemed as though he secretly was hoping it would not be true. He turned away with a forlorn look on his face, and when our eyes met, he said, “I can’t believe it’s done!” This young man who lives and dies with the fate of his favorite NBA team had always had just one dream, to play basketball. This year, he reluctantly signed up for the drama production, and found a new passion, the arts. A student who is usually just on time for period one was one of the first students on campus this day. His friends began to file in and they started to reflect on the night before. Talk began to turn to the future, and to what they would tackle next year. They were planning while the feeling was fresh. They were imagining opportunities before the final decorations were even removed from the walls. They had just delivered their greatest performance and were already contemplating possibilities.
It reminds me of the feeling we have as leaders of learning this time of year. As students are marking X’s on their calendars, we are imagining opportunities. For some of us, change is in the air. Sharlene and Andrea will be sharing a class, as will Jade and Brenda. Laura and Robynn will be joining our family, while Dwayne will be enjoying a Pepsi while wondering how Alaina is doing. Bobby-Jo and Katharine will be taking on more leadership as they jump into the LF role, while Steve and Shantel will continue serve as mentors to them. Mitchell and Katie are off to new schools where they will undoubtedly continue to grow as amazing teachers. For the rest of us the change is not as significant, but just as exciting. New students, new rooms, new assignments, and new curricula will certainly keep us sharp as we look towards the new school year with our keen #2020Vision.
Just as the students are already discussing next year’s performance, we too are thinking about next year. We have been invited to think about how our professional learning goals align with the division’s Strategic Planning Framework. When you think about what you want to work on for next year I’d invite you to think in a way similar to how the young actors are thinking:
What play would the audience love to watch?
Notice how this is different than thinking, what play would I love to perform? In the same way if we think about our professional goal(s) as a means to serving our students we will be more likely to have a greater impact on their learning. So, where does your goal live? How does your work empower your students while supporting the division’s Strategic Planning Framework?
It is often said that great teaching is a mix of the art and science of the profession, and some days we may feel like actors on a stage, and while we do need to think on the spot, it can’t always be improvisation. Great teaching, which leads to deep learning is scripted. It’s rehearsed. It’s delivered. It’s refined. In the end, while there may not be a standing ovation, we hope it has an impact on our audience. With three weeks left we are now into the final scenes of this play, enjoy the rest of the performance as you deliver your denouement.
Here is what is on the horizon this week:
Gr. 5 Clip & Climb trip
Gr. 6 Camping Trip
Student celebration ceremony discussion
Jr. Girls Soccer Playoffs (Mitchell taking team to Stobart)
Jesse & Bruce at ALT (Steve is acting admin)
Elementary school swimming in Martensville
Annual ball tournament (teachers, bring your glove and clothes for the teacher/student ball game)
We have been putting it off for a while now and every so often we are reminded of the need to get at it! Sometimes it’s easier to just close the doors and pretend they are not there, but that does not change the reality that hides within. It’s the closet in our front entrance, and it is home to a collection of shoes and boots. It is a collection that continues to grow and this weekend it’s go time! For some shoes, it literally is go time as they head to the dumpster (i.e. an old pair that Bella decided to munch on).
We have a few areas like this in our home, some are frustrating, like shoe mountain, others are more interesting, like the bins of work the twins have brought home from Kindergarten this year. After every day at school, the two of them would dig out their creation of the day and proudly explain what it was. Never being able to throw things out, we would ‘file it’ in their bins that we had set up for just this purpose. Looking through them at this time of year is fun, and is an opportunity to see the growth that has occurred during the year. I’m sure you also have areas like this in your homes, they could be the photo albums, the memory boxes, the garage, or the attic, but they are collections. Collections, when viewed as more than just ‘things’ can tell us a story.
Last week, a few of us from school had a chance to look at a collection that has been steadily growing during the year at division office. I recall looking at the learning wall earlier this school year and noted how well organized and neat it appeared. Upon my most recent viewing, the first thing I noticed was how it had grown to become almost overwhelming at first glance. There are stories upon stories upon stories on the wall in the form of data, pictures, hand written notes, and tweets. All of these various stories, both big and small, are like trees in a forest, and on the wall lives a forest of learning. As we listened to different people walk us through information on the wall, I began to reflect on our own forests of learning in our school.
Last August, I recall a conversation with Cara in her classroom. In an almost apologetic tone, she spoke about the bare walls in her classroom. “They’ll get better” she promised, “eventually there will be student work up there”. I remember thinking to myself that they were perfect just the way they were. Cara, like the rest of you, had set up several blank canvases for the students to work on during the year. Cara, like the rest of you, did not fill the walls with a story for the kids to learn, rather, you set up the walls as a place for kids to write their story. When I began teaching I was taught that I had to have my bulletin boards all ready to go for day one. I spent money I didn’t have at supply stores buying posters I didn’t need. I could have saved myself so much time and money had I been a little more open to setting up a canvas versus setting up a gallery.
As we welcome the month of June, it is now a perfect opportunity to step back and take an intentional look at the stories your students have written for you. Better yet, invite a colleague into your room and ask them what they see. What stories have the students told this year? As you look at the various pieces of evidence each student has given you, what does the data say? How does this data support your observations? How do the data and observations reflect what you have learned through your conversations? We are closing in on the final stages of the 2018-19 school year, and we know how hectic things can get. Be intentional about taking some time to close your door and have a quiet moment of reflection on all of the evidence you’ve collected this year. Your students have written their stories for you, it would be a shame not to read them.
Now, time to tackle shoe mountain!
Here is what is on the horizon this week:
Staff learning meeting, presentations continue!
Lion King matinee performance
Lion King evening performance
Gr. 4 – 6 track & field meet at Waldheim School (Hepburn, Rosthern, Stobart, Waldheim)
I have been thinking about my youth. For some reason, I am finding myself reminiscing about years gone by, whether it is because I watch my own children at play or because fifty is quickly approaching. Recently I was recalling a favourite place in my home town. The ParticiPark, which was a legacy project created by the local Kinsmen Club in the early 1980s, was a place that holds many special memories for me. As a child, I’d explore the vast, winding trails that meandered through the tall trees. I would play with my friends in the park as we would let our imagination make the rules. We would always end up with various bumps, bruises, and scrapes. It was a place where we could be creative, there were no rules or supervision, just kids being kids. It was a place of misspent hours where we would make mistakes. It would be where we’d have our first puff of a cigarette nabbed from my dad’s coat. It was a place where disagreements might be solved through fisticuffs. It was a place where we learned how to be friends. A place for serious debates about Batman versus Superman. A place for clumsy first kisses. We were young, curious, healthy and free.
I loved late September and early October in the park as the coloured leaves formed a carpet on the ground, and the crisp air was full of the smells of autumn. I also loved spring in the park as the annual melt created many opportunities for us to get really creative. Whether intentional or through a flaw in the design, the paths in the park would always flood with dirty, frigid water. We would spend hours playing on homemade rafts that would inevitably tip or sink, leaving us with full boots, wet clothes, and sore ribs from all the laughter. It was a recent edchat on Twitter that brought many of these special memories floating back, and it has me thinking about the way our children are continually learning.
The #atAssess chat was titled Assessment in Exploratory Contexts, and once I figured out what that meant, I started looking at the questions and thinking about the work we are doing at #WaldheimSchool. Participants in the chat were invited to share their thoughts and experiences as they related to the following questions:
1. Rich learning can often happen outside the confines of a classroom. How might we integrate assessment into outdoor, schoolyard learning?
2. How might we collect and document evidence of learning while outdoors?
3. How might we assess students when everyone is “on the move”?
4. In what ways can assessment unleash student imagination?
5. What might our assessment approaches look and sound like when they are engaging imagination?
6. What are some of the barriers we might remove from our assessment practices in order to optimize open-ended learning contexts?
7. Why are assessment and exploratory contexts often seen as contradictory? How might we shift this perception?
Taking part in this chat had me reflecting on the many ways we already are doing much of this work in our school. I think about students planting gardens, building cardboard boats (which would have rocked in the ParticiPark), or studying shadow length outside. I think about the way students are invited to bring their experiences into their learning by the way you allow them choice in their reading and writing, by allowing them choice in their art and PAA creations, by opening up opportunities through Genius Hour, and by inviting their voice in your speaking circles.
We are doing great things, but how do we keep growing? I go back to a conversation I had with Trace a few weeks ago as he shared something he was wondering about. As a phys ed teacher, he was wondering how he could leverage the activities many of his students were involved in outside of school. For example, should all of the physical activity involved in hunting somehow be acknowledged for a high school student? What about the student who regularly participates in rodeos? What about the boy who follows a strict workout plan after school? What about the girl actively involved in synchronized swimming? Do we ‘count’ this extra-curricular activity as we strive to understand our students? Or, is this just that, extra? Should it merely stand alone and not impact or influence our work? Can it?
When you think about the students you know and work with, how do the myriad of outside activities become woven into the fabric of learning in your setting? What about the boy who finds therapy in tending to his garden? What about the girl who is creating animated art on her tablet ‘for fun’? What about the kids who have built their YouTube channel called D – Three Reacts, a channel with over 48,000 subscribers (yes, 48,000!!!)? What about the kid that is struggling with the harsh realities life sometimes unfairly throws their way? How is all of this learning being brought into your class? Or does it sit alone, untapped, on the sidelines?
With five weeks remaining, and many outdoor learning opportunities coming our way, how will you let your students’ imaginations run free while trying to capture some of the learning?
Here is what lies on the horizon this week:
June & Brenda pre-K visits
Bruce away (pm)
Firefighter challenge (1:00 – 1:45)
June & Brenda pre-K visits (part 2)
Amazing Race (1:45ish)
Student Support Team Year in Review Meeting (11:30 – 1:00 ~ Joanne, Brenda, Jade, Bruce)
Learning for Life Presentation! Jesse, Ellen, Dwayne, Katharine, and Bruce away (am)
7 – 12 track and field athletes and helpers away (list finalized this week)
I could not resist. The pile of laundry, the flowers waiting to be planted, the uncut lawn, and the depleted bank account all said stay home, but the lure of the sunny skies, warm sand, and fresh air was too much for me. Away we went, up to Waskesiu for the final day of the May long weekend. While the lake water is still frigid, the tired kids and sunburned shoulders are all evidence that summer is just about here. The kids had a blast digging holes on the beach, playing on the swings, trying to skip rocks, wading in the lake (even if it was just up to their knees), and eating ice cream.
Our favorite family destination was just how we left it last summer and it is so neat to see the kids start to recognize similar things from season to season. I think the predictable nature of the park is something the kids enjoy, they know their way around and they feel safe there. They spend less time wondering what to do, and more time getting down to the business of fun and games. It all looked and felt the same, but there was one exciting change we were looking forward to exploring, the new grocery store. Located across from the main beach, the store, known as the Trading Post, is a place my kids love to go because of the variety of fresh baked treats they chose from for the ride home. While Eva, Charlie, and Maggie usually try something new, for Bobby, it always has been, and always will be a good old lemon danish. He’s pretty predictable. I love that about him.
Familiarity with a sprinkle of change. It reminds me of our school. Last week we learned of a few staffing changes and these are always exciting. New staff and new assignments create opportunities for teachers to collaborate and think about how best to reach our learners. It is a time of year when we are walking with one foot in the present and one in the future. We understand how critical these final six weeks are in our journey, but we cannot help but be excited about the potential the future holds. The work we do is as complex as it is important, and the students count on us to keep things safe and predictable with a sprinkle of change every now and again.
As May turns to June and our staff presentations continue, it is an opportunity to reflect on the work we’ve done. We get to talk about the way we’ve kept things safe for our students so they can spend less time wondering what to do, and more time getting down to the business of learning. As we begin to wrap things up, I’d invite you to think about the numerous successes you have had. Think deeply about why things worked. I am not a huge believer in luck, I think things that worked for you did so for a reason. There is a lot that went right this year for you, own it! You created it. Once you have the long, detailed list of things that went right this year, flip the page and think of one thing you want to work on for next year.
I know the one thing I want to work on for next year: uninterrupted, intentional inquiry. I was able to have a great conversation with some teachers on Friday, and they helped me see the benefit of setting aside blocks of time to meet. They explained how 20 to 30 minutes of uninterrupted time with a staff member to discuss how things are going would be so beneficial for our team. I realize there is so much more I need to work on as leader, but this is what I want to focus on for next year. This will be my little sprinkle of change. What will yours be?
Here is what is on the horizon for this shortened, yet busy week:
7 – 12 track and field in Dalmeny
Staff learning meeting after school (presentations continue)
The weather was perfect for the kids to toss their scooters into the van and hit the road into Saskatoon. One of their favorite places to explore is the University of Saskatchewan, and they have come to enjoy riding their scooters on the paths in the bowl. Before they begin terrorizing the pedestrians and the gophers with their reckless racing, they always like to head into the Agriculture building first. A highlight for the kids, and yes, maybe for me too, is the ride in the glass elevator. This is always followed by a visit to Apple Jack, the metal sculpture that depicts what appears to be a prairie boy sitting under an apple tree with his books close by. From there the kids love to race through the walk way that connects the Agriculture building to the Biology building, where the giant dinosaur skeletons, live fish and snakes, and dazzling rocks and minerals await. It’s the same routine, and it’s a lot of fun for everyone.
Saturday’s visit was different than previous trips we’ve made. As we entered the Biology building, my youngest boy, Charlie immediately noticed all the helium balloons dancing on the ends of their ribbons. Their curiosity was piqued and they quickened their pace to find out what was going on. We discovered a collection of displays and demonstrations as University students had set up for the Let’s Talk Science expo. Many things caught our eye, including the live snakes and the falcon, however it was the learning about light demonstration that captured our imagination. As we sat in the lecture theatre, two young chemists performed a series of experiments that were designed to teach us about the way light and chemical properities of substances work together. It was the demonstration involving black light and tonic water that really intrigued me.
When you look at tonic water, it really does not look like much. It’s a clear liquid, a little bubbly, but for the most part is quite unassuming. When you turn on a black light, not much happens. Alone, black lights and tonic water are not all that exciting. But, when you bring the two together, and the black light reacts with the tonic water, magic (or as is usually the case, science) happens. The black light causes the tonic water to glow this beautiful, fluorescent blue. It looks like a beverage you would see in some science fiction movie, but there it was, right in front of us. You’ve probably already figured out what I was thinking about as I watched this demonstration, and saw the expression on my kids’ faces, after all, they were completely blown away by this.
What I thought about is the magic that happens when two things come together; adults and students. I see it every day, and I see it all over the school. I see it when Dan and David are working on his 3-D chess board, I see it when Dwayne and Alaina co-present at our staff meeting, I see it when Lucian lights up when Jade walks in the room, I see it when Kelly and Corinne work through a tough spot, I see it when Jesse and Aliyah discuss her scholarships, I see it in Cora’s smile as Porter does his excited dance, I see it in the smile Reane shares with Jamie in the hallway, I see it everywhere!
Are we illuminating every student? This does not mean that you need to be every thing to every one every day, but, as a team of 35 caring adults, is it possible for us to make sure every student is at least given the opportunity to glow under our light? We are blessed to work in a school where every adult wants every student to succeed, so I do believe it is possible. Doing rough math it works out that the magic number is twenty. Twenty illuminations in a day by each staff member and we would have the entire school glowing brightly. (The actual number is 13.1, but just think about the power created when kids are illuminated by multiple adults in the building!)
Is this realistic?
I truly believe it is, and I feel this way because of the evidence I see every day. Here is the challenge for Monday’s illuminations: think of a student that you have not connected with yet this year, and make a move to connect with them. That’s it, I believe it is that simple. If we each take a moment, and start shining our light on those students who may be trying to live in the shadows, out of sight, I believe we can illuminate them.
On Friday, I had the shocking and troubling realization that I’ve never really had a conversation with a certain unnamed grade 9 student. I was embarrassed and disappointed in myself, so I made the effort to sit beside her, only for a few minutes, to see how she was feeling about school. I learned from her that she really loved the academic side of school, particularly reading, but really struggled with the social aspect of the daily routine. We discussed how some people make it look so easy, and ended up drawing a second student into the conversation that was feeling the same. I have no clue how she felt about the discussion, but I know I felt better about making time for her.
You likely have students that are very easy to connect with. They are the ambitious, outgoing kids who are always ready to talk (and in some cases talk, and talk, and talk, and talk…..). As I was reminded by a grade 10 student from Delta, BC, the quiet, shy kids really need the adults in their school to make an effort to get to know them.
You may think your light is not that powerful but it is. Our quiet, unassuming students (our tonic water kids) may seem content, but don’t let that stop you. Shine your light on them. Illuminate them. Connect with them and watch the magic happen.
Here is what lies on the horizon for this week:
Dwayne is prepping the track for our students to practice on, please be aware he will be out there in the morning
SCC AGM at 6:00 pm
Lock down drill at 9:15 am
EA staff meeting 8:00 am
Fire drill at 1:30 pm
Prep day (PowerTeacher Pro training for those who wish at 9:00 am in the computer lab)
“Oh my goodness, look at all these messages!” Brenda could hardly contain her excitement as she showed me her phone. The screen was populated with well-wishes from staff members, and she commented that it was what she needed. We knew that being invited to share our story was a real honor and a duty that we felt we needed to execute in a way that captured the work being done in our building. We were nervous but knew if we shared your story, we would be just fine. All of those messages to Brenda reminded us of how we got to Vancouver.
As I sat at the side of the room, listening to Brenda speak, advancing the PowerPoint as we had rehearsed, I was transported back home. My head was in BC, but my heart was in Waldheim. She spoke about the many different ways we have implemented some of the big ideas we have been wrestling with this year. Brenda’s words caused the audience to write feverishly, nod in agreement, and smile wide as our message was clearly striking a chord. Educators from across Canada heard Brenda share our story. They heard your story.
The word that was in my head on the flight out was anticipation. As I sit waiting in the Vancouver airport, a venti Starbucks at the ready, the word that has replaced anticipation is affirmation. We are doing great work! Teaching is incredibly challenging, and this year you all have committed to turning the dial up on your learning. You have all dug in deeply to our assessment work, and what we saw and heard in BC affirmed that we are on the right path. Getting to hear from such heavy hitters as Damien Cooper, Ken O’Connor, Lorna Earl, Katie White, and Lori Jeschke was a real treat, but it was the way their message had Brenda and I looking at each other, smiling and knowing what the other was thinking that was so affirming.
Does this mean we are at the finish line? Hardly. The more we discussed the work that has been done, the more excited we became for the prospects that await us through the end of this year and into next year. It is true that we were the messengers this time, but Brenda and I both agreed that #WaldheimSchool could, nay, should be sending teams of teachers to present at conferences like this. We were encouraged to share our voices with others, and I’d like to invite each of you to think about what it is you have to say. Your voice matters. Your work matters. Your learning matters. You matter.
We were invited to think about who we want to be as difference makers in the lives of the students we work with. I was moved to think about what it means to be an adult in our building. This is something we want to dig deeper into as next year unfolds, but for now, we’d like to invite you to think about these questions:
What qualities best define an adult at Waldheim School?
Who do you want to be as an adult at Waldheim School?
Why is assessment the most important aspect of great teaching?
Why does it matter if you show up every day?
If a student was asked, “name two adults in your school who believe you will be a success”, would all of our learners have a response? If not, are you okay with that?
Your work and your love of your students is what inspired Brenda and I, and we were proud to wave the Waldheim School flag. After all, when you look at all the fantastic things you do, it’s pretty easy to be so proud. Thank you for the gifts you have given us, and thank you for letting us tell your story. #Affirmation!