The Mark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is what is on the horizon this week:

Monday:

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

Tuesday:

  • Spirit week continues with colour day

Wednesday:

  • Spirit week continues with Superhero Day

Thursday:

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

Friday:

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

As always, create a great week!

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Learning Through Celebration

I remember the shocked look on her face as she scanned the room. She could not believe how many people were packed into that small village hall at Manitou Beach. It was my wife’s grandmother’s 90th birthday celebration, and she had no clue it would be this big of a deal. Her eldest son had traveled back from Australia to spend time with her and on this day he convinced her to go for a drive to do some sightseeing. The village hall was one of the stops he wanted to make and she must have wondered why there were so many vehicles in the normally empty parking lot. Though it was over 10 years ago, the way she responded still makes me smile. I have been blessed with an amazing set of in-laws and grandma Kane was always so nice to me (and no they don’t read this, so it’s not like I’m trying to curry any favor). The reason we gathered on that day was to celebrate, and the room was full of laughter, tears, songs, and plenty of stories. Listening to people talk I was able to learn more about the family that had welcomed me years earlier.

I bring this up because we are moving towards our learning celebrations at Waldheim School. I recall last year the pride and joy that would fill our staff learning meetings as teachers and EAs would share stories of challenges and triumphs, of obstacles and achievements. Much like grandma Kane’s celebration, there were moments of laughter, tears, and most definitely moments of learning during these staff presentations. What I look forward to is the opportunity to see and hear you talk about the journey you have been on with your students this year. Prior to the break, the K to 4 teachers began the planning process at their staff learning meeting, and this will continue over the next two weeks with the grade 5 – 8 and 9 – 12 teachers respectively.

Some colleagues have asked why we do these presentations, and it makes me think about the importance of celebrating. Outside of school we celebrate all sorts of things, and you may think about many of the events you have been part of; weddings, birthdays, graduations, retirements, anniversaries, etc. I think it is important to celebrate what we are doing in our school as well. Our career defines much of who we are, and the work we do is critically important to so many people. When you think about the journey you have been on this year, what fills you with pride? Take a moment to think about these questions:

  • who has impacted your learning this year?
  • how have you grown as a professional this year?
  • what have you read that has caused you to reflect on how you do your job?
  • why is your school a better place because you are part of it?
  • why are you important to your students, colleagues, community?
  • if someone you truly loved spent a full day at school with you, what would they notice?

You make #WaldheimSchool a better place. You are important to our family. You have grown this year. Celebrating this is not bragging. You deserve the time to share your growth with your peers and they deserve the gift of growing by hearing your story. I got to experience the love and laughter in that small village hall and through that was reminded of the importance of laughter, family, friendship, and giving. You have an opportunity to celebrate and share with us, and I can’t wait!

Here is what is on the horizon this week:

Monday:

  • 5 – 8 staff meeting
  • Jesse away

Tuesday:

  • Bruce away (am only)
  • SCC meeting (6:30)

Wednesday – Friday:

  • Business as usual

As always, create a great week!

 250 total views

Are Tests Helpful?

Years ago my wife and I lived in the tropical paradise of the Cayman Islands. It was a beautiful country home to some amazing people that to this day I still call friends. One of the benefits of living in such a place is the opportunity to enjoy the ocean and the bevy of marine life that would always astound this Saskatchewan boy. When I first began snorkeling, I used to try to swim up to and observe the myriad of fish that would gather around the colorful coral. I would always be so disappointed that my presence would scare them off. Slowly I began to learn that I did not need to be constantly chasing fish around to get a closer look, rather, I needed to swim out to where they would likely be and then stop. As I would float quietly in the crystal clear Caribbean waters, the fish would begin to appear. Being able to be a silent guest in the world’s aquarium is a gift I will always remember.

I apply this philosophy to my work in our school. Everyday I get to choose how to be in the students’ environment. I can stay in my office and wonder how things are going. Much like the person who never leaves beach, they may enjoy the sun, but never really get to see the magic on the reefs. By staying in my office I might hear how things are going, but I do not get to live it with the students. So I venture out, quietly making my way through the building, strolling in and out of classrooms, looking for opportunities to engage in conversations with teachers and students. Sometimes, it’s an opportunity to help a student fasten a piece of wood on their industrial arts project, sometimes it’s an opportunity to dance with the Kindergarten students.

Earlier this week I had been involved in a heated debate with Aiden, trying to convince him the DC Universe is superior to the Marvel Universe. As I walked away after failing to sway him, the heading on a student’s computer screen caught my eye.

Is Making Students Take Tests On Things They Learn In School Helpful?

This year our staff has been deeply engaged in learning conversations about assessment, and while this could be considered an example of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, it grabbed my attention nonetheless. I felt compelled to talk to Daisy about what she was writing about. She was excited to engage in a conversation about assessment, and her peers who were sitting near by quickly joined in. It was a wonderful discussion that I was so honored to be a part of. I’ve asked her and her teacher, Katharine Kerr (@katharine_kerr ) if they would allow me to share this paper here. They agreed, and I’d love it if you could take a moment to read what a grade eight student from #WaldheimSchool thinks about assessment.

I’m glad I left the office and swam into the waters of learning!

 284 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!

 458 total views

What Would Dr. Dre Say?

As I was tidying up the dishes my oldest boy, Bobby, who will turn 12 in approximately 3 months, made his way back up stairs from his basement bedroom. He announced to me he was going to practice his piano, something my wife and I try to get him to do on a regular basis. “Our pleading and prodding is paying off” I thought to myself, he was doing what we had hoped he would do, practice! As he sat at the piano and started playing, I noticed this was different, and frankly, it wasn’t that good. As he played it sounded strangely like a cat walking across the keys, as I said, it wasn’t very pleasant. This went on for a short while, and I could sense some frustration in him. “Hey Bobby” I asked from the kitchen, “what are you trying to play?”

“It’s something I heard on a meme on YouTube” he responded. No sooner did he say that, than he was up from the piano bench and running back downstairs to his room. I thought he’d given up due to frustration, however I was surprised to see him return back upstairs, this time with his tablet. He spoke into the Google search engine, asking it to find him information on how to play the song he was trying to replicate from what he had seen and heard. After a couple of quick searches he had found what he was looking for, and as he pressed play I realized what it was he was trying to replicate. If you know me, you know that I’m not a big fan of music by artists like Dr. Dre or Snoop Dogg, it’s just not what I choose to listen to. But my son liked the sound of the piano from the meme and wanted to learn how to play it.

Undaunted, he sat at the piano and tried over and over and over. It was brutal, but he did not give up. He had found a tutorial on YouTube that was guiding him, and he would watch a few seconds, pause it, try to reproduce what the anonymous hands on the video had done, and then he would repeat the process. On and on this went for several minutes, until he nailed it. It came right out of the blue, but what he was playing sounded very much like what he had been listening to. The next thing I heard was real music to my ears, Bobby was so excited that he actually cheered when he recognized that he’d had a break through. I heard things like, “yes!” and “awesome!” As a father, I was proud, and always the teacher, I was so happy to hear my son celebrating his learning.

In that 20 minute span, my son, through no intentions of his own, made me stop to think about what real learning is. It was in those moments that I saw and heard what I wish I could see and hear every single day in every single classroom, not only in our school, but everywhere. Neither my wife, nor I play the piano, but we wanted to give our kids the opportunity to learn, and if they wanted to pursue it, we’d make that happen. So the ingredients were there for him tonight. He was motivated by something that interested him. He had a base knowledge from which to build. He had the tools he needed; those being the piano, his tablet, and the WiFi. He had time and a safe, non-judgmental (remember, I just thought to myself it sounded like a cat on the keys) space in which to work. He also had the freedom to stop when he was satisfied.

I think about the things he didn’t have. He didn’t have assigned music sheets chosen for him. He didn’t have a timer sitting on the piano, nor did he have a person sitting beside him giving him feedback. He had a video tutor, and his ears provided all the feedback he needed. He was not playing for a grade, he was playing for himself. As he struggled he saw and heard hopewhich was the feedback and encouragement he needed to keep playing. In the end, he had success.

Scenes like this play out all over the place, time and again. You see it at skate parks where boys and girls try and fail at stunts. You see it on playgrounds where kids try to master their skipping while singing, “strawberry shortcake, huckleberry pie….” (it’s in your head now, isn’t it). You see it at the lake where people try and fail to master the art of paddle boarding. If you look, you see it everywhere. But, do you see it where it matters most? In the classroom.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by!

 353 total views

Thank You! June 25 – 29

Like the monkey said after he ran over his tail with the lawn mower, “it won’t be long now!” What an amazing year.  We’ve arrived at the end of this chapter of the book of learning at Waldheim School, and it makes me wonder, what lies ahead for all of us? I think about those excited kids that were in on Friday to meet June, and the nervous parents of first time students. I think about those new families moving to our school next year, and their nervous excitement. I think about new staff members that will be joining us next year, what must they be wondering? I also think about staff members saying farewell to Waldheim School, and while I’m sad to see them leave, I’m excited for their new schools and the new students that will benefit from their arrival.

As this will be the final On the Horizon for the 2017/18 school year, I wanted to take a moment to say thank you to you, the authors of our “book of learning”.

First to the EA’s, those amazing ladies who work with some of our most challenging students on a daily basis. Everyday you show up with a smile on your face, and an attitude that screams, “every child is worth it, and I’m never, ever going to give up on them!” Cora, Priscilla, Krista, Jamey, Kimberly, Bailey, and Helen have been an integral part of our team this year. Thank you for everything you do!

Jamie, Malinda, Brandi, and Ed work so hard to keep our school looking amazing, but they are so much more than that. They are part of the fabric that makes us great. A couple weeks ago Jamie popped her head into my office and shared a piece of information with me regarding a student. Not all caretakers do this. This was not done to cause trouble for the child, rather she was aware of expectations in our building and knowing that she’s part of the team she shared this information. Crew, your busy season is upon you, all the best this summer, we promise to stay out of your way until the end of August! Thank you for everything you  do!

Sara, while you are only with us a couple days a week, the impact you have on our building and on our vulnerable learners is immeasurable. Not only are you a critical ear for our students, you are also an important person in my role. As a beginning principal there  are many days I’m left wondering if I’m on the right track, and you have been a patient listener and have asked the right questions at the right time.  Thank you for everything you do!

June, again on Friday I was in awe of what you do, and how effortless you make it look. Kindergarten is such an important part of a person’s life, and you help these youngsters as they begin their journey. From your gentle, kind words to your unwavering expectations, you are critical to the success of those kids, and to the peace of mind for their parents. Thank you for everything you do!

Sharlene, you have continued to amaze me with your innovative, open style of teaching. You have your kids reaching far beyond anything they may have imagined coming into grade 1. Keep sharing your learning with others, you create a ripple effect that makes us all  better. Thank you for everything you do!

Shantel, you have become “Waldheim School” in such a short time. Your leadership, and commitment to student success has not gone unnoticed, and I’m so excited for you and your expanded role next year. We have appreciated your voice during our adult learning this year, and you need to be proud of the impact you’ve had on all of us. Thank you for everything you do!

Cara, it is so hard to believe this was your first year at Waldheim School, you worked so hard to become part of the family. Your quiet, inquisitive nature served you well as you grew into your role with us. Thank you for bringing so much music, laughter, learning, and joy to our building, coming into your room always brightened my day! Thank  you for everything you do!

Amy, from the moment you started talking about students in our interview in Warman this year I knew you had “it”. The kids love you because you loved them first, and you continue to inspire me to always see the best in everyone. You will be missed terribly, but I know Hanley will be a better school because of you. Thank you for everything you do!

Brittney, you are one of the most amazing teachers I’ve ever had the fortune of learning from. When you reflect on the year you’ve had, I want you to think about the mountains you’ve moved, and how you did this. I watched a teacher develop deep, meaningful relationships with kids based on love and respect and based on a desire to help every single one of them grow under your watchful eye. You’ve had a great year, thank you for everything you do!

David, you have had an impact on our school that’s even larger than your laugh. I hear community members speak of the way their children have fallen in love with learning with Mr. Guenther. Watching you with the kids, it’s easy to see why they love being in your class, you have a passion for learning that you let shine through. Thank you for being such a risk taker, and such a leader on our staff. Thank you for reminding me of the importance of learning from my mistakes. Thank you for everything you do!

Brenda, you continue to inspire me, everyday, to be the best I can be for our kids. Your commitment to the kids you work with is second to none, and your passion for adult learning has helped create the culture at Waldheim School. So many teachers look up to you and count on you for advice and support, thank you for being there for them. I hope you are excited about your new role in grade 1/2 next year. Thank you for everything you do!

Leah, thank you for continuing to model risk taking and reflection in your daily work. The leadership you have shown with your commitment to your Genius Hour work has been awesome this year. What I appreciate about you the most is your reflective style, you have transitioned from a senior math/science teacher to a strong elementary teacher, that’s not an easy thing to do. Thanks for everything you do!

Joanne, I can’t even begin to list everything you’ve done this year, from taking over the milk program, to putting on the career fair, to helping the girls perform an amazing version of Annie. What stands out to me the most, however, is your love for those kids you work so closely with. They may make us pull our hair out some days, but you never give up on them, you never quit, and you always remind them to be the best they can be. Thank you for everything you do!

Marla, your work with our young leaders is so critical to helping create well rounded young adults. I appreciate the extra time you take to make your room available to students who may need a safe, quiet place to hang out. Thank you for everything you do!

Krisinda, thank you for allowing your passion for your students show through this year in our adult learning. Your message of loving and caring for every student is so important, and one that cannot be stressed enough. Thank you for everything you do!

Glen, thank you for allowing me to spend so much time in your shop, even when I know I’m getting in the way. I love to see you working with our kids, you model MPSC every day in your room, and do so in a way that honors, challenges, and celebrates each and every student. There is a reason you are so revered in our division, and I continue to be blown away at the work you get out of those kids by simply standing back and letting them know you believe in them. I’m happy you are at Waldheim School, and I’m grateful that I get to learn from you everyday. Thank you for everything you do!

Trace, thank you not only for your commitment to your students as learners, but for your commitment to them as individuals. You show love and patience for all of your kids, and when faced with a tough choice for a student, I often catch myself thinking, “what would Trace do?” Thank you for agreeing to take on the acting admin role again this year, it gives Jesse and I such peace of mind knowing you are taking care of things at the school. Thank you for everything you do!

Katharine, thank you for your endless enthusiasm and your commitment to every learner (young and old) in our building. You have gone the extra mile for so many of your kids this year, it is humbling to watch. I really appreciate the way you model for your students how you want them to live as learners, it is very inspiring. Thank you for everything you do!

Dwayne, thank you for anchoring the elementary end of Waldheim School. I am always amazed at how well you juggle things with 30+ kids on a daily basis, and how every single  student in your class knows how much you care about them. Thank you for everything you do!

Ellen, thank you so much for the impact you have had on our students this year. I remember the words of your cooperating teacher, Greg Bardal, who told me in August, “you are getting a winner, she’s a keeper for sure!” He could not have been more correct. In your first year you have somehow managed to strike the perfect balance with the students who know how much you care, but also know you are the lead learner in the room.  Congratulations on an amazingly successful first year, and thank you for everything you do!

Steve, thank you so much for being my “go-to” when I’m in need of advice. You have the pulse of the school community and that is so important to everything we do. I know how busy this time of year is for you, with finals and grad, and what I continue to marvel at is how you do it everyday with a smile on your face and a never ending supply of time for anyone who wants to talk. Thank you for everything you do!

Evan, thank you for a great year.  You have had such an amazing connection with the students this year, they really look up to you, and you will be missed greatly by everyone here. As you enjoy your summer, and look ahead to the fall, I want you to think about those kids who are waiting for Mr. Derksen to enter their lives in Rosthern. They don’t even know the impact that is heading their way. Thank you for everything you do!

Lori, thank you for the support in the office that you give Corinne. I’m so happy that your time has been increased for next year, we are a busy office, and your help is invaluable! Thank you for everything you do!

Corinne, I don’t even know where to begin. Simply put, I’d be lost without you. You are the first person I see in the morning, and the usually the last I see at the end of the day, and you are always smiling. There are so many things I appreciate about you, but I’d say the one that stands out above all is your love for the kids. You have a special place in your heart for our vulnerable kids, and there is a reason your desk is the first place people stop when they come to our building. Thank you for everything you do!

Jesse, you are my right hand man, and the guy who keeps me grounded and looking in the right direction. Thank you so much for your leadership this year, you have been an incredible addition to Waldheim School, and I know how much the staff and community as a whole appreciate you. One of the lesser known things about you, that I really admire, is your commitment to deep learning at our monthly ALT meetings. I have loved learning from you this year, and look forward to many more years working with and learning from you. Thank you for everything you do!

To all of you, thank you for trusting in me and keeping me in check when I need it. I think we have an incredible school that serves an incredible community. We have had an amazing year, and from the bottom of my heart I want you to know how much I love each and everyone of you!

Well, one week left, and here is what lies ahead:

Monday:

  • K1 Grad
  • Grade 4/5 Guenther & 5 Hardy to Shekina (sp?)
  • Bruce away (am) only
  • Final exams continue for 10-12 students
  • Staff meeting after school (please see agenda sent out today)

Tuesday:

  • K2 Grad
  • Final exams continue for 10-12 students
  • Staff gathering at Jesse’s

Wednesday:

  • Final day of classes
  • Classroom clean up

Thursday:

  • Grad
  • Prep day
  • Laird 8 to 9 transition meeting (1:30 in Laird)

Friday:

  • Final day

As usual, create a great week.

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Just Let Go. June 18 – 22

“It’s okay daddy,  just hang on and then let go!” Those were the words of my seven year old daughter, Eva, today as we spent a bit of Father’s Day at their new favorite place, Clip and Climb. This is a place that makes wall climbing accessible for all ages and abilities, and does so in a safe, fun way. As I watched all four of my kids scurry up rope ladders, climbing walls, and jungle gyms, I noticed my palms were beginning to sweat, and my chest was getting a little tight. You see, I’m very scared of heights. This fear makes several things difficult for me, like hanging Christmas lights on my house, cleaning eave troughs, or fixing the banners in the gym. I don’t like heights, but there I was, in my safety harness, with my little ones who were encouraging me to go for it. I cautiously started up a pretty basic structure, and when I was about 8 feet off the ground I went for it….almost. That’s when my seven year old reminded me to just let go. So I did. It was such a rush of adrenaline as I was lowered safely to the ground via an autobelay that is specifically designed to prevent you from free falling to the ground.

Eva floating down.

I had successfully dipped my toe in the water, and was ready for my next climb. This is when Bobby asked me to climb the rope ladder with him. As we made our way up, I noticed I was beginning to feel very nervous again. Bobby swiftly made it right to the top of his ladder, while I froze half way up, a height that I’d say was about 50 feet up, while in reality, was likely more around 15 feet. Regardless, I was faced with the same challenge, just let go. It took quite a few deep breaths, and some encouragement from the staff, but again, I went for it. I repeated this pattern over and over, even commiserating with some other parents that had been coerced into the “fun”. As I kept trying different structures something started to change. I have no idea when exactly it happened, but after a while I noticed I was not scared anymore, I was tired, but not scared. I was taking more chances, climbing higher, taking a few more risks, and all the while, having a lot of fun!

My sister’s b-day cake. Always lots of joking in our family.

Initially I was going to write about the importance of laughter, and it’s therapeutic benefits (see here) after we had spent time at my sister’s birthday party on Saturday. It was today’s experience, though, that had me reflecting on the work we’ve done this year and the change that awaits all of us next year. I know when we started our learning journey this year there was some fear and nervousness, and each of us had to just let go at some point. Just as I was completely exhausted at the end of the day today, I know we are all tired as the end of the year approaches. While I was exhausted, I was also proud of what I had done in overcoming some of my fears. As the end of the year creeps closer, I am also very proud of the work that has been done at our school this year. For a moment, I’d like you to consider the following:

  • what filled you with fear and/or nervousness at the start of the year?
  • how did you work to overcome these fears?
  • how do you feel about the work you’ve done now that the end of the year approaches?
  • how can you draw on what you learned this year to help you continue to grow next year and beyond?

We have a great week ahead, with a lot of work for all learners at #WaldheimSchool, and it starts tomorrow with a grade 7 & 8 field trip. Here’s what lies ahead this week:

Monday

  • grade 7/8 trip to Redberry

Tuesday

  • Bruce away (am) swimming with kids pre-K class

Wednesday

  • Annual awards ceremony

Thursday: National Indigenous Peoples Day

  • Bruce away (am) classroom environment meeting
  • Bricks 4 Kids day 2
  • Annual Jones awards
  • Last day of classes (10 – 12)

Friday

  • Final exams begin
  • Laird Grad

As always, create a great week!

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Pride and Joy: June 11 – 15

What gives you pride and joy in your work? When Brad was out for a visit on Friday afternoon, he asked that question, one which had been asked by Lori Jeschke on a few different occasions. Pride and joy at work. At one point I would have thought that was an oxymoron, I would have said pride and joy at work was like jumbo shrimp, or found missing. The thing is, when asked about what gives me pride and joy at work, I actually had more trouble narrowing it down than I did with coming up with just one answer. Before you read any further, however, I’d like you to answer the question yourself. What brings you pride and joy at work?

I’ll get to my answer in a bit, but I need to share the other side of the coin, what brings me pride and joy in my life. If you visit this blog, it’s likely very obvious; it’s my children. I am always in awe of the things they do, and sometimes I may be in awe of the poor choices. For instance, how did anyone think that putting apple sauce on the family dog would be a great idea, but one of my kids did, and I was in awe of that decision. Of course there are other moments, moments when I sit back and think, “how did they become so awesome!?!” This Saturday was one of those moments when I was full of pride and joy.

The forecast was for clear, sunny skies, so I could not resist a trip up to Waskesiu with Bobby, Maggie, and Charlie, while Krista and Eva were at Girl Guides camp at Pike Lake.As my kids were playing on the beach, I noticed a grandmother and her granddaughter, who I’d assume was about 15 months old given how she walked on the beach, approach the area where my kids were digging. I made my way over to them, just to be sure Charlie would not inadvertently hurt the little girl, however to my surprise, Charlie got down on his knees and said, “hi there. Do you want to play?” She instinctively reached for the shovel he had, and that’s when the pride kicked in. He offered it up to her, and then proceeded to show her the rest of their beach toys. They played together under her grandmother’s supervision for a few minutes before she toddled away on another adventure, while Charlie returned to the place that Bobby and Maggie were playing. These two will likely never see each other again, however it was during that moment that their lives intersected that I felt great pride in my little guy.

When I think about the joy in my life, I also think about the time I get to spend with my family. Today was one of those days as I was able to take the kids to the University for a walk, then to my mom’s for a visit, and finally, to Art in the Park to look around and listen to a little music. We have so much fun together, and the part that brings me so much joy is the way they fully capture me, allowing me to put the rest of my life on pause for a moment. This brings me great joy.

Have you answered the question yet? What brings you pride and joy at work?

For me, I feel great pride when members of the #WaldheimSchool community achieve success as a result of their efforts. It could be personal bests in athletics, nailing a line or song in the play, creating a great product in class, hitting a home run in a lesson they’ve delivered, delivering an engrossing presentation to the staff at a staff meeting, or successfully planting the seeds for a more engaged community. So many people do so many different, amazing things at our school, and it’s being able to be a part of that that brings me great pride.

When I think about what brings me joy at work, I think it’s when I see or hear about those who struggle the most have moments of success. I’m never as happy as when someone who is full of self doubt smiles with pride, and when someone who tells themself, “I can’t do that”, and then they turn around and exceed their own expectations. I see it everyday, kids and adults alike who are faced with challenges find a way to overcome, and grow. I truly hope you can identify what brings you pride and joy in your work, and I hope you are able to share that with others.

We are three weeks away from the end of the year, let’s make every moment count, and it starts this week:

Monday:

  • Staff meeting
  • Gr. 6 at Camp Kadesh

Tuesday:

  • Bruce & Jesse away at ALT
  • Gr. 6 at Camp Kadesh

Wednesday:

  • Katie Kulchar coming for a visit

Thursday:

  • Div. III Soccer
  • Bricks for Kids (gr. 1/2, 2, 3, 5)

Friday:

  • Grade 7-12 Slo-Pitch tournament

As always, create a great week!

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How’s Business? April 30 – May 4

What a gorgeous day Saturday was, and while today isn’t quite as warm, we still had a chance to get out in the back yard with the dog. The kids enjoyed their swing set, and played made up games, while I tidied up the mess from the long winter. Speaking of Saturday, we had a lot of fun visiting my mom while Krista slept after her night shift at the hospital. Eva (my 7 year old) got a craft for her birthday, a white tea set with paint and brushes, and has been dying to do this. So, we all sat around my mom’s table, painting away, making quite a mess, but everyone was proud of their saucers, cups, pots, etc. It was a fun way to spend some time with mom.

My dad with Eva 7 years ago.

Something we talked about as we were visiting was my dad’s business that he ran through the 1980’s and part of the 90’s. He had a business where he sold bulk Esso petroleum products and fertilizer to farmers around the Watrous area. My first job as a high school student was to go to the business after school, and usually I needed to pull weeds, cut grass, clean oil drums, or organize stock. As I got older, I became more involved in the fuel and fertilizer delivery, and eventually in the financial end of the business. Reflecting now on how dad approached his business, he was very particular about a few things. The buildings, grounds, and stock needed to look good. Things were clean, and organized, and to dad, this was a sign of pride in his work. The way all of his employees treated customers was extremely important, he knew they were the key to his success as their was always competition down the road. Dad also believed it was crucial to take care of his employees, he was very responsive to their needs, he cared about them, and their families.

I’ve been thinking about the parallels between an effective business, and an effective school for a while. Of course there are differences, as I’ve never viewed students as customers, nor staff as employees, but there are many similarities. I’ve seen how hard everyone works to make their rooms inviting for students, and this is mirrored by the amazing work Jamie and her crew do on a daily basis to keep our school looking clean and welcoming. I think about how we try to reach, each and every student, just like how dad tried his best with every customer, from our largest, regular accounts, to our one time visitors. I also think about how we support each other. Just like any great staff, we learn together, we struggle together, and we celebrate together.

As I think about the staff presentations we’ve been having this year, I’ve been struck by the common thread through all of them: students first! If we were all business owners, presenting to each other, I know the common theme would be customers first. As you think about the presentations, what have you heard? How has your “business” improved this year because we have been learning together? How can we measure this when after all, we don’t have profits or losses in the monetary sense, like my dad did. Will you do a customer satisfaction survey? If so, what would you ask? When and how often would you do one? How would you respond to your customers’ responses? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

As I look at my calendar, I see I only have one scheduled event, which takes place Tuesday after school in Warman, so the week will be filled with classroom visits, side-by-side learning, chats and Tweets, and lots of laughs!

As always, create a great week!

 

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How Pretty Does it Have To Look? April 16 – 20

This weekend was another quiet one around our place as Krista was working all weekend at the hospital. The kids and I were busy tidying up the winter toys, cleaning up the van, getting dad’s car ready, and keeping up with the day to day duties. There was also lots of time spent chasing the dog around the basement and playing with their new sketch books and sticker books (the things you find when you open the trunk of your car after 6 months!)

One thing the kids love to do is to help make lunch and supper. On Saturday, we had fun making homemade pizzas using flatbread as our crusts. The kids were able to slather on their sauce, add their toppings and then continually ask, “how much longer, how much longer?” I reflect on this activity after having read my Sunday e-mail from Brad Nichol, who spoke a lot about side-by-side learning.

When I think about the learning that was going on making these pizzas, I think about things like estimating portions, fine motor skills, learning about time, shapes, fractions, and even healthy eating. While Bobby has no trouble spreading his sauce and estimating how much cheese to grab from the bowl, Charlie has a few struggles. So while he was left with a pizza that wasn’t as professional looking as Bobby’s, he enjoyed it all the same. Something else the kids learned about was how to take turns, and how to be patient. With 6 pizzas to make, and only enough room for two kids at the kitchen island, they needed to practice patience. It was a fun time for the kids, and for some reason, they always like their pizzas a little better when they have a hand in making them. From my perspective, it’s more time consuming, it leads to frustration and mess, and truth be told, I likely rather just do it myself (confession: there are many days that I do).

On Sunday, Bobby had to work on writing a persuasive piece for his teacher, and decided to argue in favor of bringing vending machines to his school. He worked on this beside me, asking for some suggestions and wondering if I could read what he had wrote. As I read it, I wanted desperately to tell him to add this or change that, but I had to resist. For Bobby, the letter he was writing was similar to the pizza Charlie made on Saturday. It wasn’t a masterpiece, but in the end it was his, and just like I put Charlie’s pizza in the oven, I did help by typing Bobby’s letter. These are skills they are still working on.

How does this relate to what we do as we learn side-by-side with our kids at school? How much do we tell or show? How much leading is too much, and do we let our kids struggle enough? When we talk about My Prairie Spirit Classroom, we talk a lot about side-by-side learning, effective feedback, relevance, rigor, and student voice and choice just to name a few. As you think about the tasks you are asking the students to complete, how do you know if they are ready, and what do you do if you find out they are not? Last week, Ellen was discussing a risk she was taking as she was inviting her grade 10 Environmental Science class to learn about various forms of energy through a class debate. Part of this process involved bringing in experts from outside of the school, like the local mayor. I wonder how she knew her students were ready to be a part of this conversation with him?

As you read this, and think about your students, I’d love to know what you are wondering.

Here’s what lies ahead this week:

Monday:

  • setting up gym for Annie play
  • classroom visits (Brad has me thinking about things I can do to make these visits more valuable for you, I’ll discuss that with you individually this week as opportunities present themselves)

Tuesday:

  • Bruce & Jesse at ALT (Katharine is acting admin)
  • Annie matinee performance

Wednesday:

  • Annie evening performance
  • My wife’s birthday (don’t let me forget!!!)
  • Classroom visits

Thursday:

  • EA meeting (presentation planning)
  • Classroom visits

Friday:

  • Annie evening performance
  • Classroom visits

As always, create a great week!

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