Moving the Ring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday:

Tuesday:

  • Business as usual

Wednesday:

  • Gr. 7 & 8 field trip (Regina)

Thursday:

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

Friday:

  • Business as usual

As always, create a great week!

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Looking Forward to a Great Year

What a beautiful Christmas break, the weather was incredible, and we had plenty of opportunities to get out sledding or to play with the dog. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas break surrounded by your loved ones and were able to get the rest and relaxation we had all earned as 2018 came to an end. I am very excited about getting back to school, I love the routine that work brings, and I really look forward to seeing all the staff and students again. The break was an opportunity for me to spend more quality time with my family and was also a chance to reconnect with my mother, my brother, my sisters, and my nieces and nephew. As is usually the case, I ate too much, exercised too little, and laughed just the right amount! What were the highlights for you?

But now it is time to get back to work. The changing of the calendar provides an opportunity to reflect on the year that was, and to plan for the year ahead. I love the culture in our building and love the way we work together to try and make everyone feel as though they are part of the fabric of Waldheim School. That being said, we all know that we must continue to improve, both individually and as a collective. I think about the new members of our Waldheim School family, staff and students, and hope that they have figured out what it means to be a Raider. I do not think there is anyone in our school family that would say they are perfect or that there are not areas they want to improve on. While we need to be aware of areas of growth, we also need to be kind to ourselves and celebrate those things we do well. What brings you pride and joy?

Looking back at 2018 I can see things I need to improve on as your principal. This year, I will continue to work on my leadership skills in the following ways:

  • Asking more questions: every day is an opportunity for me to connect with the members of our school family. I will ask more questions that will hopefully help those around me think deeper about what they are learning and what their impact is on the learning in our building.
  • Trying to see around the corner: with experience comes the ability to see some things coming, and I’m going to work harder on being more proactive than being reactive. I am hoping that spending more time in classrooms and asking more questions will help me see what’s coming sooner rather than later.
  • Fostering a growth mindset: Henry Ford said, “whether you believe you can, or believe you cannot, you are correct.” Sometimes it’s just as easy as adding the word “yet” to your thoughts (i.e. I can’t motivate that student to have better attendance….yet)
  • Reading and writing more: this is more of a personal one; however, I want to keep pushing myself through reading and writing. There is a wealth of knowledge available to us, and I want to continue to grow as a leader by reading more professional books. I also want to continue developing my own voice as a leader and will continue to work on my weekly blog along with any other writing opportunities that come my way. Who knows, maybe in 2020 I won’t wait for writing opportunities, maybe I’ll go looking for them.

I guess I could sum up my goal for 2019 as follows:

I want to become a leader who no longer feels like he needs to prove himself. I will become more confident in my actions and decisions by committing myself to learn about leadership on a consistent basis. I have a dream that every student at Waldheim School feels safe, valued, and appropriately challenged. I know that I cannot make that happen for every student, I need the staff to do that work. My job is to take care of the people who are taking care of the people. My goal is to get better at that!

So what will you work on this year? When you look at the growth that occurred during 2018, I hope you are proud of yourself, you should be! January 1st, 2020 will arrive, and we know how fast a year goes, so, how will you make 2019 your best year ever?
I look forward to seeing everyone on Monday morning as we continue to learn together and grow together.

Here’s what is on the horizon for our first week back

Monday

  • K – 12 staff meeting (Agenda)

Tuesday

  • Bruce away (2:00)

Wednesday

  • Classroom visits

Thursday

  • Classroom visits

Friday

  • Classroom visits
  • SRC Dance

As always, create a great week!

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We’re Not Even Getting Marks for This!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday:

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

Tuesday:

  • Final preparations for Christmas concert

Wednesday:

  • K – 4 Christmas concert matinee performance

Thursday:

  • K – 4 Christmas concert evening performance

Friday:

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

As always, create a great week!

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I Played My Best For Him…

“I thought my heart was going to come right out of my chest”

These were the words Bobby whispered to me in the church on Saturday afternoon at his piano recital. He had just finished playing The Little Drummer Boy for a room full of people he had never met before, and in his words, he ‘nailed it’. Every day for the past three weeks Bobby had been practicing in preparation for this moment. I remember when he was told the title of the piece he was learning, and how excited I was to share that that carol was his mother’s favorite Christmas song. With dogged determination, he practiced over and over and as the days passed we both began to hear the improvement (I wrote more about this here.) I recall the day when he went mistake free, start to finish, because all he did when he was done was let out a quiet, “yes!” with a subtle fist pump. All of that work led up to his performance, a solo that barely lasted one minute from start to finish, including his shy bow before heading back to my side. He did a great job, and I could not have been more proud.

In our work we often talk about learning and assessment in terms designed to help us wrap our heads around what is considered best practice. We talk about ‘practice time’ and ‘game day’ when we refer to formative and summative assessments. As I watched and listened to the kids playing their pieces at the Christmas celebration, I could not help but think about how I was seeing the results of authentic learning in it’s purest form. This was ‘game day’ for those kids, their guests, and their teachers. The students were given a piece to practice over a period of time, coming back weekly to their teacher to demonstrate their progress. It was during these lessons that feedback was given to the students and next steps were set up based on where they were at that moment. The students then went away and practiced some more, and the cycle continued. During this entire learning journey there was not one mark given, only feedback. Some of that feedback occurred in the moment beside the teacher, some of it was in written form in their journal. It was simple process; work with the teacher, practice at home while self-assessing, demonstrate growth for the teacher, receive feedback, practice with teacher, repeat.

The recital could be viewed as their summative assessment, a culmination of their hard work where they had one shot in front of the crowd to show what they know. Of course this does not mean that Bobby is done playing the piano, nor will he now put The Little Drummer Boy away. He has already talked about how he will be playing this for his relatives this Christmas, and we’ve discussed the possibility of creating a performance tying the songs he knows together in a longer performance. Summative assessment should not mean over and done with, it should be a snap shot in time. Katie White (@KatieWhite426) writes, “summative assessment is the way we verify learning and determine proficiency. It is an essential  part of the learning cycle” (p. 153). Note how she says it is part of the cycle, not the end of the cycle. Saturday afternoon was a verification of what Bobby had learned and an opportunity to show his teacher he is ready for the next challenge.

What about the cycle in our classrooms with 15, 20, 25, or 30+ students? It is through the art and science of teaching that you are making this happen at #WaldheimSchool. I’ve seen the creative ways teachers are carving out time in the day to listen to students read, to sit beside students as they wrestle with concepts, or to simply stand back and watch them work together to deepen their understanding. One of the best examples of this is watching the home ec students, especially when they are in their cake decorating unit. I love watching the students experiment, collaborate, and then seek feedback from Marla and Krisinda. I also secretly hope for a slice of cake when they are done! Assessment is not easy, and when I reflect on how I used to teach, particularly my math classes, I am embarrassed by the steps I failed to take. Here was the normal learning cycle when I taught:

  1. Tell the kids what they’d be learning (I’d post my objectives by writing, today you will learn…..)
  2. Have them copy notes off the board
  3. Demonstrate two or three examples from their upcoming assigned work
  4. With about 25% of the class time remaining I’d assign several questions for homework
  5. Get frustrated the following day when the kids hadn’t ‘figured it out’ on their own
  6. Move on with the next lesson because we didn’t have time to stop
  7. Get more frustrated when the kids failed their tests
  8. Repeat…

There were so many opportunities for me to do a better job with my teaching, and looking back now I have to pause, understand that I was doing what I thought was best in the moment, forgive myself, and move on. I wonder how well Bobby would have done had he learned how to play piano the way I taught math. Imagine him showing up for lessons to sit and listened to his teacher play The Little Drummer Boy so he would know how it should sound, but not getting to touch the keys for 75% of the lesson. Imagine the frustration he and my wife and I would have when he came home to practice, only to have us fail to know how to help him. Imagine him returning for lessons having experienced little or no growth. Now imagine how he would have felt in that church getting ready for his summative assessment.

I’m glad Bobby learned how to play The Little Drummer Boy the way he did. I’m glad he ‘nailed it’.

Here’s what is on the horizon this week:

Monday:

  • 5 – 8 staff meeting (hopefully you’ve had a chance to view the agenda and think about the reflective questions)

Tuesday:

  • Bruce & Jesse at ALT, Katharine is acting admin

Wednesday:

  • Tentative relocatable classroom walk through with contractors and facilities

Thursday:

  • Ellen & Bruce in Saskatoon all day for 11 & 12 math/science learning trip

Friday:

  • Laird Christmas concert (matinee & evening performance)

As always, create a great week!

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The Power of an Audience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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