What Gifts Will We Receive?

Anticipation. That’s the word that keeps rolling through my thoughts this morning. Anticipation. As I enjoy a cup of coffee and a bagel I look out from the hotel window watching cars roll by, presumably on the way to work. What will their day bring? What will they get to do today? Over my shoulder a table full of people discuss what they are looking forward to on this day. What gifts of learning will come their way today?

This is #CAfLN19. This is the Canadian Assessment for Learning Network conference.

This year, educators from across Canada have gathered in Delta, BC to discuss leading and learning all through the lens of assessment of and for learning. At the heart of everything we will discuss today are the students we have left back home.

This is my first #CAfLN conference, and I am so excited about what I get to learn today. I am anticipating some tremendous speakers who will undoubtedly nudge my thinking and invite me to reflect on the what, how and why of our assessment work. In the mean time, our colleagues and students are back home, knee deep and shoulder to shoulder taking care of the heavy lifting and deep learning. I am excited about the gifts we get to bring back to those people.

I am anticipating…

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Getting Ready for Game Time.

Athletes know the importance of practice, they see the connection between the hours of focused work and the skills that are needed for their competition. They understand that practice is a time to improve while ‘game time’ is an opportunity to let it show. As I left school today, several red-faced athletes had just finished track practice on an unusually cool May afternoon. They were on the field with their teammates and coaches working on the fundamentals, getting feedback from the tape measure, the stopwatch, their peers, their coaches and their own intuition. They left the field without an awards ceremony, a podium, or even cheering fans. They practised, and they practised hard knowing ‘game time’ is in three weeks.

How many calluses are needed to create a champion?

Artists know the importance of practice, they see the connection between the hours of focused work and the skills that are needed to create their own masterpiece. They understand that practice is a time to take risks and try new techniques which they may or may not incorporate into their masterpiece. As I walked the halls before the Easter break, I noticed a student working on a variety of sketches on her tablet. She put a line here and some shading there, only to erase bits and pieces and try again. I noticed her lean over and show a friend, asking for her feedback. The words, awesome and cool were used, but what caught my attention was when the friend expressed how the current rendition was an improvement on the last one. The artist agreed and kept sketching. I’m lucky enough to have one of her creations hanging in my office, and I find it interesting that her finished piece of work looks nothing like her sketches. I do see certain elements that are similar, like her shading and cross-hatching, which is a reflection of the hours of practice that have gone into honing her skills. She has, and her hard work has paid off as she is now creating incredible pieces of work.

How many pages are tossed in the bin before the artist is satisfied?

Do our academics know the importance of practice? Do they see the connection between the formative and the summative? I understand why artists and athletes spend considerable time investing in the development of their talents, the term, a labour of love often comes to mind. I will see kids shooting hoops every day at noon because they love it. I will see kids carrying a sketchbook and high-end pencils because they love it. It is a labour of love, and they know the reason for practice. So the question we face as teachers is, what is the thread that connects the training with the performance when we consider our academics? As a young teacher I used to answer the age-old question, “why are we learning this” with a variety of answers. I’d say, “because it’s your job” or “because it will be on the test” or “because it will help you next year” or (and I admit this with embarrassment) “because I’m the teacher and you are the student”.

None of those reasons would inspire me, so why would I expect them to inspire my students? Similarly, why would I expect it to inspire the staff now that I’m a principal and part of the team that leads adult learning? Where I was falling short was learning about my students and learning about their motivations. Some students are motivated by marks, some are driven by a love for a particular subject, topic or genre, some are motivated by a desire to do well, some are motivated by a desire to please others. What I failed to do as a teacher was to learn about my students and really get to know them as learners. I also was unable to show a clear connection between the formative tasks I was asking them to do and the summative tasks they would complete for marks.

But it improved. I stopped treating my summative assessments as some secret that could only be revealed at the moment it needed to be completed. When I taught senior math, the students knew my exams would look exactly like the reviews which would look exactly like the practice questions we’d see in class (the ones they did not get ‘marks’ for). When I taught physical education, the students knew what would be evaluated, when this would happen, and how it would look. They also knew that they would have time to practice without a fear of their marks being impacted as they were in the learning stage. When I taught drama, the students and I discussed the criteria, often times they would help me refine the way I’d assess, and then when they performed there were no surprises. The students knew, and the students could see a connection between the practice and the performance. Were there times when students would be apathetic and not try their best? You bet! We have to remember we are people working with people, and quite often a student’s best effort can look different based on a myriad of factors.

Too often we treat our summative assessments as a way to catch or trick kids. I’ve heard teachers boast about specific questions on a test that are virtually impossible because it is a challenge for the stronger students. Can you imagine if the 110-meter hurdles were designed like this? Would some hurdles be set low, while others were set at a height only a select few could clear? I’ve heard teachers say that for a student to earn a mark that reflects mastery they need to create a product that is better than the teacher could create. What?!?

We need to ask ourselves the tough questions when it comes to assessment. Why do we assess the way we do, and how is our approach helping us best understand our students and understand our own effectiveness as teachers? Personally, I don’t think any trick questions are needed for that. Just simple transparency, honesty, and a genuine love for this incredibly challenging, yet rewarding, profession in which we work. After all, teaching should be a labour of love!

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Stories of Learning

All week Eva talked about the trip she was going to take. She was so excited about the upcoming adventure that would see her and her friends from Girl Guides head to Calgary for a few days of fun and learning. She wondered what the bus ride would be like. She imagined what she would see at the Calgary Zoo. She was curious about the different displays at the University.

I wonder what she is painting?

We dropped her off at Venture Heights on Thursday morning, and I was barely able to get a hug goodbye as she grabbed her gear and bolted from the van. The girls were talking and laughing as they anticipated the arrival of the bus and as I drove away I could not help but think about the fun and learning that awaited them.

As I write this, Eva will be enjoying her breakfast and will be getting ready for the long trip home. When she arrives home I know she will have souvenirs and stories from her adventure. I’m excited to learn about her trip.

This sharing of evidence has me thinking about the phase of learning we are in right now as a division and more specifically, at #WaldheimSchool. We have been on another amazing journey this year with our colleagues and with our students. It is hard to believe we are a mere forty days away from the end of the school year and we are entering the story telling phase of our adventure. This has already started with our staff presentations, and will continue this week in BC as Brenda and I proudly wave the Waldheim School flag, sharing our learning story at the CAfLN conference. In the division, the annual Learning for Life stories will soon be shared, and I am anxious to watch as Jesse and the learning team share the amazing work that has been happening in our building.

This process will also continue as we begin telling the story of our students’ learning to wrap up the year. As we do this, I wonder about…

Triangulation: when we talk about the learning that has occurred for our students this year, how are we going to incorporate products, observations, and conversations in our summation? In our transition meetings, how will you share this valuable information with your colleagues? In your reporting, how will you capture this in an efficient and meaningful way for parents? In your year-end conversations with your students, how will you share this with them to help them think about next steps in their learning journey?

Student Voice: Just as my daughter will have a story to share with me about her trip, our students have a story about their learning journey that they have experienced from their perspective. We may have observed their learning, but they lived it. As we enter into the final phase of our year, how will student voice be invited? How will this inform you of your effectiveness? How will you respond? How will this inform the teacher(s) they will have next year? How will this reflective process help students understand their own next steps? What are some ways to collect this (FreshGrade, SeeSaw, SurveyMonkey, written reports)?

Click to enlarge.

Next Steps: we know that ending a school year can be bitter sweet for both the student and the teacher. So much work has gone into the planning, delivering, and assessing of learning. There is always so much growth that occurs and it can be hard to say farewell to students that may be moving on to a new teacher, a new school, or leaving us after graduating. Even though it is difficult, we have the opportunity to provide our students with the gift of next steps. As you prepare for sharing the students’ learning story at the end of the year, where do next steps fit? How can these next steps inform future planning? What message is sent about the continuum of learning if we do not include next steps?

What is the plan going forward?

Effective Efficiency: When teaching, I always struggled with year end reports that were balanced. I wanted to inform parents and students, but how much was enough? How much was too much? When I had a class of 36 grade 10 industrial arts students I needed to find a way to effectively communicate learning while not needing to take a week off to write all of my reports. I needed to be effective while being efficient. When you think about how you will create these year end reports, what message do you want to share? Why is that message important? When will you begin crafting these? How will you find a balance that honors your students, their parents, and yourself? Who will you trust to give you critical feedback on what you have created?

Are these the whole story or just one piece of a larger picture?

It may seem early to be thinking about year end procedures, but we also know from experience how fast things move in May and June. As you reflect on the year you have had with your students, now is a perfect time to begin thinking about what each learning story will look, sound, and feel like. Just as I get to experience part of Eva’s learning from her report on her trip, I hope each parent will get to feel as though they have a deeper and more thorough understanding of their own children as learners after they hear your stories.

Here is what lies ahead this week:

Monday:

  • first day back from the break, enjoy the stories the students bring with them

Tuesday:

  • Bruce away (am only)

Wednesday:

  • I’d like to have dates for 3-way conferences, progress reports, and days in lieu sorted so we can work with Laird and Hepburn to ensure they work for everyone. Please have any feedback to Jesse and/or I by today (see e-mail sent outlining these dates)

Thursday:

  • Brenda & Bruce in Vancouver at CAfLN Conference sharing our school learning story

Friday:

  • Brenda & Bruce in Vancouver at CAfLN Conference sharing our school learning story

As always, create a great week!

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Why We Are Successful.

Something caught my eye this morning, and it was something that made me think about creativity. My wife had done our weekly grocery run yesterday, and at one of the stores they were giving children pictures of a bunny and eggs to color. The idea is simple, yet cunning at the same time. Spend pennies on photocopying coloring sheets and invite the children to bring them back to display in the store. This way the business achieves a goal; getting people in the building. Well played grocery store. Well played. It isn’t the stores business model that had me thinking, it was the uniqueness of each picture that my children had finished. Every picture was colored the way they wanted it to look, and each product highlighted their favorite colors.

At the exact same time the kids were showing off their art work, my wife was tending to the little seedlings that were growing in the egg cartons by the window. She is preparing for our garden, and something that stood out was how each little sprout looked the exact same. The little plants were all leaning towards the window at the same angle, all growing at approximately the same rate.

This contrast had me thinking about the way we are educating our students. Are we inviting the uniqueness that I saw in my kids’ art work, or are we asking our little seedlings to grow at the exact same rate, giving them the exact same thing?

Walking the halls of #WaldheimSchool, I know the answer. Here are some of the things I’ve seen lately:

  • an Instagram post from our home ec class celebrating the churros that two boys chose to create
  • a wide variety of projects that our industrial arts students are busy creating
  • numerous different small businesses that our grade 11 and 12 entrepreneurship students are managing as an assessment task
  • several unique creations in our biology class that our students made to identify and define the parts of plant and animal cells
  • a library full of individual cultural celebrations that our grade 1S students shared with the school
  • displays on the wall and in the art cabinet of distinct projects created by our students as they combine art with mathematics
  • phys ed classes being designed and lead by students who are bringing their own passions into gym class
  • grade 5 students planning their genius hour presentations
  • ELA students voicing and supporting their opinions in class either through spoken or written word

And that was just last week!

All of this creativity and choice reminded me of a terrific TEDtalk I saw a few years ago. Sir Ken Robinson shares in his presentation (below) the three important things we need to remember when we are dealing with learning:

  1. People are naturally different and diverse, and therefor they will all have different needs and motivations. It is our job to learn about our students and understand what it is that they require to succeed.
  2. Children are naturally curious, and are natural learners. It is our job to ask ourselves, “are we allowing this to flourish, or are we unintentionally stifling this”?
  3. People are inherently creative. We see this everywhere and I always chuckle to myself when I see films depicting a future where we all have the same ‘space-age’ outfits and all drive the same type of floating cars. We are all creative, so why would schools want to limit this?

If you have a moment to watch this video, I’d invite you to think about your role in our school. What resonates with you as you watch? Are there some things you think you could do differently? If so, could tomorrow be the day to take that first step?

I believe we are well past the time when we would view every student as needing the exact same thing, and if they could not learn the way they were taught, they needed to change how they learn. I am excited that we are on the leading edge, that we are a group of adults that understand that if a child does not understand then it is the teaching (not the teacher) that needs to adapt.

I will let you all in on a little secret. I know why the adults in our building are successful. We are successful because like our students we are:

  • Naturally different and diverse
  • Curious
  • Inherently creative

Here is what is on the horizon this week:

Monday:

  • Staff meeting, presentations continue with Ellen, Mitchell, Chenile, and June sharing their learning celebrations

Tuesday:

  • Bruce & Jesse at ALT
  • 7 – 12 progress reports due to office

Wednesday:

Thursday:

  • Locker clean up (schedule set this week, Jamie will have supplies available)
  • 7 – 12 progress reports available to students today (paper copies by request)

As always, create a great week!

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Why Would Students Want to Practice?

“Now, in the small group character representations, group 925. Give it up for Working 9 to 5!”

This was the moment we were waiting for, our 8-year-old, Eva, had been rehearsing with her group for weeks and today was performance time. Krista, Maggie, and I sat in the front row, anxiously awaiting the routine, while, unsurprisingly, Bobby and Charlie opted to stay home and play monster trucks. The music hit, and out came the girls in their matching outfits. They looked incredible and performed very well. Of course, my eyes watched Eva’s every move, and I was so proud of her as she danced and lip-synched her way through the song. The routine finished with the troupe standing together, smiling brightly and bowing to rousing applause. With pride filling my heart and tears filling my eyes I watched as my little girl marched off stage with her friends.

Ready to perform!

The performance, which started as a choreographer’s idea, had become a reality, and I think about all the preparation that went into making it a success. I think about the first time they heard that music, and the first steps they tried to master as a group. There were countless days of watching Eva practice her actions in the living room as Dolly Parton’s famous song played on the computer. Eventually, Eva learned her entire routine and was ready to go! She shared with me that she was a little nervous about the performance, saying how it will be different in front of a large crowd. We talked about nerves and discussed how it’s just our bodies getting us ready for a stressful moment. We talked about how it’s normal to feel that way.

Practice, practice, practice, performance. This sounds a lot like the work we are doing with our students, and it seems a lot like our assessment practices. After their routines, all the groups that performed were called back on stage, and the adjudicators came out and offered words of wisdom and encouragement as they handed out the awards. Our girls did not win in the overall competition; however, they did perform to what was deemed the ‘Gold Standard’. To my surprise, that isn’t the top award as the best routine went to a large group of teenage performers who were awarded the ‘Supernova’ award. I still do not entirely understand what the judges are watching for, but trust that they have some idea what they are doing.

When I think about the way we assess our students, I’m reminded of practice versus performance. What used to be the common practice of grading everything and then calculating an average has given way to a more accurate measurement of only grading the summative, or performance, task. I wonder what Eva’s mark would have been had her instructor averaged all of her practice into her final grade? I wonder how all of the missed steps, or stumbles along the way would have impacted her mark? Yet we used to do this with our students. I can recall times when teaching where I would take in piles of marking, plug the scores into an Excel sheet, apply a weight to specific tasks, add them all up and average them out. In the end, I thoroughly sterilised the marks, and even worse, I felt I had the professional latitude to adjust the scores to reflect how I felt the student had performed.

With this change comes the challenge. Why would a student feel practice is essential in certain subjects? It’s not that the notion of practice is lost on them, you see it daily when they are on their skateboards, shooting hoops, playing video games, or drawing pictures. They understand the importance of the practice in those situations and are willing to spend hours perfecting their craft. So how do we get them to mimic that passion and commitment in our math classes? In our science classes? In our shop classes? In our ELA classes? I have a few thoughts:

First, it’s not easy! What motivates student A may not motivate student B, and as we know we have classes comprised of students from A to Z! So our first challenge is understanding each student, figuring out what motivates them, and then leveraging that to our advantage (remember, we have the gift of hindsight the students may not yet have).

Second, it’s a long season! There will be struggles along the way, times when students are either reluctant or downright defiant. We need to understand that in this is a message, and I believe it is usually the same: I’d rather look reluctant than unable. I think it is a choice students make to ‘save face’ and one we see so often in the middle years. How do we support those students? How do we create a safe place for them to ask for help and to be vulnerable? How have we done this for each other in our adult learning this year?

Third, it’s about how they learn, not how you teach! This was so difficult for me to wrap my head around. For years I believed it was my job to teach and the students’ job to learn, and if they did not learn the way I taught, they needed to change. In my fifth year of teaching, I was introduced to differentiation by our head of learning in the Cayman Islands. I recall how it made perfect sense to me but scared the heck out of me at the same time.

Finally, it’s possible! I genuinely believe we can get to a place where students are motivated to practice their skills leading up to an evaluated performance. I reflect on the work I got to do with our drama class this year. They were tasked with memorising a 20 to 30-line monologue which they would perform in front of their peers. They were given ample time and were given clear criteria for how they would be evaluated. They understood that for two weeks they could practice and fail miserably without any fear of their marks being impacted. They realised that their practice would affect their performance and thus influence their scores. Did they perform flawlessly? Nope, not one of them. But, they all memorised a large portion of their lines, and all stood in front of the group and performed. To me, that was a success.

Now, how do you apply this in your setting? How do you help students see the importance of practice with a clear understanding of how they will be assessed? Again, I have some thoughts on that:

  • Co-create the criteria for evaluation with the students. If they own it, they will understand it
  • Begin with the end in mind. If you know how you will assess your students, you will be less likely to dedicate time to superfluous learning
  • Share the assessment with the students. This does seem a little radical at times; however, when I think about letting students see the test BEFORE they write the test, it will allow them time to think about what they know and what they need to learn. If you are worried about kids simply memorising answers to a test, you may want to re-examine the test itself and ask if memorisation is synonymous with learning.

I understand that teaching is much more than 9-to-5; however, it is what we do, and as I shared recently with some senior administrators and board members, it’s what we do very, very well at Waldheim School. I know I’ve only brushed the surface of engaging students in learning, but I do believe it is something we need to discuss continually, and without too many spoilers, believe it is something that will undoubtedly guide our adult learning in the future. I think it is the teamwork and commitment to students that will help us take our work from the gold level to that of supernova!

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Choices

We had said our goodbyes to dad two years earlier, and had laid him to rest in the old cemetery that stood on a lonely hill south west of Watrous. As part of the grieving process, we knew a visit to the old family farm was something we needed to do, but we also knew we needed a little time between dad’s passing and making this final trip. Dad grew up on the farm south of Watrous and eventually married and started raising a family until moving into town in 1970. The farm was a place we would often visit, and it was where I first learned to do things like shoot a gun or drive a truck. It was also where I developed an appreciation for the hard work those who came before us had to endure.

The old farmhouse

The farm will always have a special place in my heart and mind, but is also a place we will likely not revisit. The buildings are old and leaning, showing the effects of the relentlessness of time and our Saskatchewan weather. There is very little left there, and accessing the yard is a difficult task as the road has long been reclaimed by nature. Eventually it will all be gone, and much like my strong father, it will be but a memory, and a happy one at that.

On the day of our final visit, 15 of us made our way down the winding, dusty country roads until we arrived at the closest access point to the yard. Some of us walked, some of us were transported by my brother in his rugged Jeep. The tall grass was thick and tangled, and the prairie bush made the trek slow and difficult. We could see the old house in the distance, and knew our destination, however many of us selected different paths to follow. While most people went in small groups, either in Brad’s Jeep or on on foot, I elected to walk alone. This was a time for me to reflect on the many visits I had made with dad to the farm. Those were cherished memories, and I wanted to be alone with them in the summer sun, and as I walked I could feel him with me.

The old schoolhouse on our land. What was learning like then?

So much of what we do on a daily basis at school involves a journey towards a destination. Last week I was reminded of the importance of #choice. I got to spend time in Briane’s Biology 30 class as they were presenting their interpretations of plant and animal cells. As I watched and listened, I recalled how I learned about the parts of a cell when I was a teenager. I remember the black line master with blanks and arrows pointing to parts of the animal cell. We were to fill in the blanks and color the cell to show the teacher we could identify the different parts. I recall that every student in my Biology class had the exact same assignment, with the exact same expectations. Now, I do not fault our teacher, he was doing what he felt was best at the time, but I think about how much our students enjoyed this learning task, and began to wonder what I would have created had I been given the opportunity to do this project.

A cell is like a zoo.

After the presentations were complete, I asked a few students about their projects. I wondered how they felt about learning in this way. They all said it was very hard work, but they really enjoyed it. They all said that they enjoyed the freedom to choose and appreciated the clarity of the instructions. They all knew the destination, but were free to choose their path. I asked the students if they felt this way of learning was more effective than labeling and coloring a worksheet, and all of them agreed it was. Activities like this reflect the power in choice and the freedom that is inherently part of MPSC.

We are seeing more and more of this choice in our learning. I think about the various projects being created in Dan, Marla, and Krisinda’s classes. I think about the different books being read in our classrooms as novel studies are now becoming the exception, not the norm. I think about the choices Trace is building into his math lessons as students choose the best environment in which they learn. I think about the choice I see in Jesse’s Entrepreneurship class as students choose their own businesses to run. I think about the choice I see in our science classes as kids choose how they would like to be assessed. I think about the choice I see as teachers invite guests into their room to share their expertise. I think about choice.

When we offer ourselves and our students the freedom to arrive at a clear destination, we honor them as learners. Some of them will choose to travel in groups, just as some of my family members did at the farm. Others will choose to travel alone. It is our job to help them see the destination, the house on the hill, and to be there for them should they need our help.

The question I will leave you with this week is this: how are you creating choice for your students in your class, and how do their choices help you develop a deeper understanding of who they are as learners?

Here is what is on the horizon this week:

Monday:

  • staff learning meeting (presentations by Trace, Katharine, and Sharlene

Tuesday:

  • classroom visits: what does choice look like in our learning?

Wednesday:

  • Regional KidsFirst Language and Literacy Program for parents with kids 0 – 6 years old. Jesse & I may be running back and forth between the school and Zoar Church for the morning
  • classroom visits: what does choice look like in our learning?

Thursday:

  • Bruce away all day ~ meeting in Warman
  • K – 3 bowling day

Friday:

  • School dance
  • classroom visits: what does choice look like in our learning?

As always, create a great week!

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What a #Challenge Reveals

There is something neat going around Twitter these days. It’s something straightforward, but revealing in the same vein. It’s the #7BooksILove challenge. Here is how the challenge works; at some point, one of your Twitter friends will invite you to take part in the challenge, and for one week, you are to post a picture of seven books that have meaning for you. The challenging part is that you can only post the cover, there are no explanations allowed as to why. Initially, I thought this was somewhat interesting, however as more posts kept popping up, I was intrigued by the titles that were being shared.

It was interesting to see people posting images of current titles, but at the same time, it was the titles from their youth that made me smile. It was like they were opening a small window and allowing us to see a little piece of their childhood. For example, my younger sister, Sandy (@MMellesmoen ) has posted covers of Why Shoot the Teacher by Max Braithwaite and Sweet Valley High: Double Love by Francine Pascal. As I saw these tweets, I began to wonder why these titles resonated with her. What was it about these books that spoke to her? Certainly questions I will pursue answers to the next time we get together for coffee.

It is the simplicity of this challenge that had me thinking about how we are coming to know our students. During our learning meetings, we have discussed our assessment practices and how we are developing a deeper understanding of every child we work with. Conversations, observations, and products; all part of the process you are using to help paint a picture for yourself, the students, and their parents. Where would something like the #7BooksILove challenge fit? How could you tailor this for your class? Could home ec students have a #7MealsILove challenge? Could our History students have a #7InfluentialMoments challenge? Could our science students have a #7CoolExperiments challenge? Could our Kindergarten students have a #7ImportantPeople challenge?

The power of this #7BooksILove challenge is that it is something everyone can be a part of because it is about them. There is no right answer, only information. This requires no ‘marking’ as the process is a way to add more pieces to the endless puzzle that is our students. How would this information help you help your students? How could this be used as a tool for engagement? How would this help you develop relevance?

It is a process that invites further conversations, after all, you may wonder why these were my #7BooksILove covers:

As always, create a great week!

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In the Tall Trees of Learning

“Shhh! What’s that sound? Bruce, go check what that is.” Such was life in the great outdoors when my wife and I would take Bobby camping. It was very common for her to jab me in the ribs with her elbow and wake me up after she heard something outside of the tent. Of course, when I woke up, I never heard anything, but she would always swear that it was not her imagination. I’m not the bravest soul, and would never venture out, after all, what if there was something there? What would I be besides an appetizer? Looking back, what I really think she was hearing was the echo of my snores as they rattled around the northern pine trees.

We could imagine what was out there, and sometimes I’d joke about the size of the bear that must be sniffing around. Of course, I thought it was hilarious, but in hindsight, it probably explains why she was always so tired and wasn’t a huge fan of camping. I was able to get back to sleep while my poor wife had to suffer, wondering what the heck was making those sounds. Quite often in the morning we would venture out, looking for wild strawberries to have with our breakfast, and we’d always do our best investigating. We would be on the lookout for tracks or droppings from God’s nocturnal creatures, but being ‘city-slickers’ we couldn’t tell a deer track from a tricycle track. What we really needed was someone to walk beside us, and point out evidence to help us unravel the mystery from the night before. We needed someone to point out tell-tale signs of recent activity, and tell us if we really needed to be concerned.

This week we have an opportunity to act as ‘tracker’ for our students’ parents as we welcome them for our second round of conferences. This Wednesday and Thursday, we get to bring them along on the journey as we share with them the latest evidence of learning that has occurred for their children. Just as an expert tracker can spot things in the wild that a layperson like myself or my wife would miss, we have the ability to point out the tell-tale signs that their child occupies that space and that while they are there, they are immersed in some serious learning.

How will you approach the journey into the tall trees of learning with your students and their loved ones? Will you wait for them to ask, or will you have evidence ready for them? Will you lead the walk, or will you follow your visitors, pointing out things along the way? Will you identify the obvious tracks, or will you show them the things they might overlook without your expert eye? Just as a tracker can predict future behavior, what might you share that will shed some light on next steps for learning? Most importantly, what do you want each parent to learn as a result of coming to the school Wednesday or Thursday? How will you know if they have learned it? How will you be intentional?

We never did figure out if there were any wild animals rummaging through our campsite all those years ago. I was too afraid to go out with a flashlight to look around, and did not have a keen enough eye to spot all the clues the next morning. Let’s make sure we are pointing out the important evidence for our students’ parents as we look for the signs their wildlife has left behind. (Maybe don’t call their kids wildlife on Wednesday or Thursday night!)

Here is what is on the horizon this week:

Monday:

  • K – 12 staff meeting (presentations begin with Steve, Joanne, and Bruce)

Tuesday:

  • Brenda, Steve, and Bruce at Warman ~ Mental Health Literacy workshop

Wednesday:

  • P/T Conferences begin
  • Jesse with students from grade 10 – 12 at Warman hockey tournament

Thursday:

  • P/T Conferences continue
  • Dwayne & Jade away with the grade 6 basketball teams

Friday:

  • Day in lieu

As always, create a great week!

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Reflections From Our Learning

One of my favourite memories from many years ago is being an assistant coach for my sister, Sandy’s, softball team. We were part of a team made up of girls 14 and 15 years old, and the head coach had assembled a group of individuals, some of who were natural athletes, while some were just starting to develop their skills. What was unusual about this group was their commitment to the process. The coach was a stickler for several things, like how the girls all had to have their hair up and back, how our warm ups always looked the same, and how the people on the bench were just as critical to our success as those in the field. It was a team, and we were excellent. What was so cool about this experience was that my parents would come to all of the games and watch their kids with pride. I remember dad and Sandy replaying parts of the game, and discussing great plays and missed opportunities. It is a memory I will always cherish because of the joy it brought to our parents.

Those of you that are parents will understand this feeling, and I thought about this on Monday morning as Jesse was sharing a story of watching his son score a highlight reel goal in his hockey game. It was as if Jesse was reliving that moment right in front of Corinne and I, goosebumps and all! His jubilation wasn’t focused on the goal, but it was about the celebration of his son’s growth as a hockey player. It was beautiful.

On Monday morning we welcomed Charmain Laroque (@charmaindawn ) to sit with our family at #WaldheimSchool as we discussed reconciliation. As we came together in our learning, I quickly began to fill with pride. I saw people invest in their learning and invest in their colleagues. People were serious about the work we were doing, and I could feel the growth happening in the gym in real time. As we shared in our discussion circle the impact of the activity I was overcome by the outpouring of emotion. It was authentic, meaningful, heartfelt and beautiful.

We listened to Shantel and Mitchell share what they have learned this year as a result of taking a risk, opening their classroom, and inviting in guests to help bring indigenous ways of knowing into their class. As they answered Jesse’s well-crafted questions, I was filled with pride as they spoke about the impact the guests had on their students. They talked about what they learned, about what they saw and heard from their students, and how they were proud of their students. Mitchell and Shantel were allowed to be vulnerable and share some of the fears and uncertainties that came with inviting outsiders into their learning. This willingness to be so open and honest reminded me of the safety of the group at Waldheim School, it was reassuring, encouraging, palpable and beautiful.

We were invited by Jesse and Katharine to think deeply about where we are in our own learning journey as it relates to reconciliation. We were asked to be vulnerable and were asked to support a colleague. I was so proud of Joanne and her willingness to be open about the question she is wrestling with, how do we heal the wound. The depth of the questions that were crafted by the group filled me with pride. They were sincere, thought-provoking, well crafted, and beautiful.

We have only started our reconciliation work, and before Monday, I must admit I was scared and unsure about how this work will look for us. After Monday morning those feelings have been replaced with feelings of hope and belief. Our work together reminded me of the strength we have in our group. I believe we have significantly strengthened our collective efficacy this year by tackling some big questions as they relate to assessment. The dream was to help bring a diverse group of people together to support a diverse group of students to succeed beyond their own expectations. The evidence of the belief in one another was on full display Monday morning in that learning circle. John Hattie defines collective teacher efficacy as the collective belief of teachers in their ability to positively affect students. This belief was never as apparent as it was that morning. We have come together and are making a huge difference in our students’ lives, I truly believe that. I am able to watch this happen and just like a proud dad cheering on their kids, I am full of pride.

The feeling is overwhelming, humbling, encouraging, and beautiful.

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The Strength of Our Team

How do you bring a group of individuals together to work towards a common goal when the goal itself seems almost unattainable? Even better, when you successfully accomplish this, how do you capture and explain the feeling that is created?

For example, for over 200 years, men, women, and children have been coming together to take part in a competition that sees teams of 300 – 400 people working together to build human towers. These towers, known as Castells, can reach incredible heights, as high as 15 meters. The goal of this competition is to create and carefully disassemble the tallest tower, however, the mission is to do this carefully. What is so incredible is that the members become smaller and younger the higher up the tower reaches, children as young as four years old have been invited to scale the human structure while their parents watch from the stands. As a father of four children aged 12, 8, and 5 (twins), I cannot even imagine the feeling those parents must have as their little ones climb higher and higher. To achieve such an incredible feat requires an unwavering commitment to the process and a belief in the team. I think about how each member must commit to the people beside and above them while trusting those people supporting them. It is a shared belief that as a group they can achieve the seemingly impossible.

When I think about these builders and their mission, I reminded of our team at #WaldheimSchool. This year we have welcomed many new members to our family, and I think about how we support Jade, Dan, Katie, Mitchell, Briane, Chenille, Samantha, Bailey, and Brandi as they figure out what it means to be a part of such a committed group of professionals. I see how seamlessly they have become part of the fabric of our learning community and I recognise how this reveals their character. While this does speak to their character, it also speaks very loudly to the character of the rest of the staff that has welcomed them with open arms. We are a strong family that supports one another, believes in one another, and counts on one another.

This year we have been reflecting on and discussing our beliefs and practices as they relate to assessment of and for learning. As a staff, we have continued to look at ways to deepen our understanding of our students, trying to develop a clearer picture of who we are working with, and in which zone they are operating. Together, we continue to try to know our students. As a staff, we are continuing to learn how to work together and continue to learn how to learn together.

In his Visible Learning Study, John Hattie has revealed that the most significant impact on student learning is collective teacher efficacy (CTE). This year we have been involved in the heavy lifting of reflecting on and refining our assessment practices as a way to strengthen our CTE. In doing so, we are finding that together we can accomplish incredible things. I’m so excited to see how we ‘flex our CTE muscles’ as we seek to deepen our understanding and strengthen our practices as they relate to things like parent engagement, reconciliation, student engagement, literacy & numeracy rates, inclusion, and graduation rates.

An experienced builder, Michael Entecott, was asked why he is a Castell builder, and it was his response that made me smile. He said, “this is a very complex question, and I don’t really have an answer. You can’t explain it. It is impossible to explain. You have to feel it. If you feel it, you understand it.”

I have had opportunities this year to explain our adult learning process to other people. I have been able to share with others the incredible work every single adult at our school is waist deep in this year. I have been able to highlight some of the fantastic things we have done and some of the dreams we have for the future. What I have noticed, however, is that I can’t adequately explain how it has all come together. I can share the why, what, and how, but I can’t really get them to understand the power of what we are doing as a team. I can tell them about the conversations that are happening and how adults and students are talking about assessment and the impact it has. I can say to them all these things, but I can’t get them to really understand it. I can tell them how a group of individuals has come together to accomplish incredible things, but I can’t make them understand it.

If they could feel it, then they could understand it.

Here’s what is on the horizon this week.

Monday:

  • PD/Prep Day (see Jesse’s e-mail regarding learning agenda for the day)

Tuesday:

  • Bruce & Jesse away at ALT

Wednesday:

  • Hot dog order forms due

Friday:

  • Hot dog sale

As always, create a great week!

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