So the ongoing saga with my grade 10 IP class continued today, if you have been following my blog (read here) you will know we have hit a rough patch in our class. Last night I decided enough was enough and this needed to be confronted and resolved. Have you ever had those nights where you know you are going into a tough spot the next day and you play scenarios over and over in your head? Well, that was my night. For over two hours I thought and thought about what I was going to say, how I would say it and how I would respond if x or y happened. This morning I had a chance to have a conversation with a teacher about how I was feeling and how frustrated I was. She asked, "have you told them how you feel? And I mean not simply saying you are mad, but how you really feel." A strong question at the perfect time. I was able to jot down some notes about what they were doing in class that made me very happy and the few things that were frustrating me.
Then the meeting. We sat together in a classroom, door closed and we let it all out. I told them how happy I was with them and how great their work was but that there were some things that were frustrating me. One of my students said, "yeah, we noticed you were like a great big grump-opotamus the other day". It was the comment we needed to lighten the mood. Our conversation began as a one way with me doing all the talking, I then asked them the question, "what is it you are looking for?" There were several suggestions, most were valid. I won't go into detail about everything that was suggested, but believe me when I say there will be some changes to my planning for the next lesson. I will share one suggestion though. Normally I would give the students a topic to blog about (i.e. tell me about your favourite vacation, tell me about the first time you ever drove by yourself, etc.). A student asked why they couldn't just blog about what they were thinking about that day, about things that mattered to them. Duh! I felt so stupid. I asked the class if they would like that freedom, almost all of them said they would, a couple wanted me to keep giving suggestions so they wouldn't have to deal with writer's block.
I try my best to design lessons that I think will be rigorous enough to challenge the students but relevant enough to engage them so it does not feel so much like "work". Today I learned a good lesson; what I think is relevant to my students may in fact stiffle their creativity. We need to be careful when we try to get inside the head of our students and design lessons that will engage them. One solution that should be obvious is to talk to the students.
As always, comments are welcome.
A friend of mine shared this picture on Twitter today and it started me thinking about how so many of us look at life. During my day I teach grade one math in the morning and then after lunch I teach grade 10 computers and grade 11 & 12 life transitions. You may be thinking that's two very different age groups to work with, and you are correct. Both groups come with their challenges and rewards and in each group you will find people who "feel the rain" while you will find others who "just get wet". Working with these students keeps you on your toes, the students who embrace life and "roll with the punches" are sometimes easier to teach because of their flexibility. The students who may see the glass as always half empty are a little more challenging to reach. The sad thing is, is that there are many more students in grade one that "feel the rain" than there are in grade 10, 11, and 12. What are we doing to our children to make them feel this way? Is it just a normal part of growing up?
This is also true of a staff, be it teachers or any other profession. There are some teachers that always have a smile on their face and some pep in their step, regardless of what is occuring around them. Then there are other teachers who, from time to time, look like they are carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. I truly believe that the energy we send out is infectious and we have the power to choose how we live each day.
As a leader in my school there are many times when I am frustrated, tired, disappointed, or just plain angry. In these moments I have a choice as to how I will carry myself. I have a choice in how I speak to people, or if I even will speak to people. I can choose to put on a smile and look for the positives or I can don a scowl and curse everything that is going on around me. I owe it to the teachers, students and parents to make sure I remain positive. What I have found helpful is being able to find a quiet spot, identify and acknowledge how I am feeling, and then determine the source of my frustrations. After reflecting on why I feel the way I do I can then move forward, determining steps I can take towards finding solutions. Then I am able to start identifying positives and once again start sending out positive "vibes".
We all get down. We all have moments of frustration and anger. How do you deal with your "low moments"?
As always, your comments are welcome.
Learned another wonderful lesson at school today. While working with the grade one math class I had my students split into their two regular groups. During the 45 minute block I have six students working on iPads exploring the math apps while the other six students are with me at our round table. It is during this round table time that I get to really see how my students are doing and I understand what it is they are struggling on. Even though we are set up this way there are still times when I do not see what the students truly understand. Today was an example of the importance of listening and then taking the time to engage in a conversation.
My student, Curtis (pseudonym), had been struggling mightily with his math work all year, however he never quit. Each day he would ask me for guidance, use my assistance and try his best. Curtis was always willing to try new strategies and techniques, sometimes he would be successful, sometimes he would not. Today's lesson was about combining numbers to 10 and the activity involved finding a missing addend using coloured tiles (i.e. 4 + ?? = 10). The first question the students had to answer was 1 + ?? = 10. Curtis got down to work and was able to organize his coloured tiles to solve the problem and he confidently wrote down the number 9. I left him to do his work and check in with my other 5 students to see how they were progressing. When I returned to Curtis I found he had successfully answered all of his questions and we just getting started on the last one. Wouldn't you know it, this question was 9 + ?? = 10. He stared at the question for a moment and then had that "a-ha" moment, and it was marvelous. He looked at me and said, "hey, it's just like that one up there (pointing to 1 + ?? = 10) but the numbers are just backwards". Celebration time!
So often it is easier to give kids work to do and walk away, circulating but never stopping long enough to catch those moments. Curtis was able to show me a level of thinking I had not seen all year and had I just "cruised by" I would have missed it. I obviously don't catch everything, after all a person can only be so many places at once, but if you just slow things down and make a conscious effort to listen, it is amazing what you will hear. What about your "a-ha" stories? What amazing things are your students doing or saying that make you stop and take notice?
As always, comments are welcome.
My last blog entry (here) was about a lesson that did not go as well as I had hoped. The students were disengaged and my frustration level was as high as it had been all year. I realized that my poor planning was the root of the problem for that lesson. Well, today I had those same students for another session of information processing. I kept that lesson learned well in hand as I planned for today's activity. The work was much more rigorous and as a result the students were on task and much more collaborative. There was a great "vibe" in the room as students were commenting on each others' blogs. It was great to hear comments like, "oh, I like that too" or "cool" or "hey, I went there too!" Along with the encouraging comments was the sound of laughter in the room, a sound that was missing last week.
I firmly believe that students will work to the bar we set. If we want quality products from our students we need to ask them to produce such work. That being said, it is not enough to simply ask for the work, we need to show them what we consider to be a high level product.
This recent lesson caused me to reflect on how I lead at my school. As part of the administrative team we have a vision for how learning occurs in our building. We feel the days of straight rows and worksheets are a thing of the past. We want our students to work together to solve complex problems, not work alone to find the "right" answers to fill in the blanks. This is what we want, but is it always what we see? Not always. With my information processing students I had not set the bar high enough, and the students simply did what was required. Today I set the bar higher, and in the end everyone seemed happier and much more productive (I don't believe these are mutually exclusive). It is one thing for my admin partner and I to want a highly functioning, collaborative learning environment. It is something completely different to lead in a way that teachers understand what we want to see and know that we will be looking for it as we visit classrooms.
I was able to identify and correct what went wrong in my lesson, but this is hardly unique to classroom teaching or school leadership. When was the last time you stopped to reflect on how a day went and ask yourself why things went the way they did? No matter what we want it's always a matter of planning, executing, reflecting, revising, and of course....following through.
As always, comments are welcome!
Had a tough class yesterday, one of the worst ones this year in fact. I was teaching information processing to my grade 10's and the lesson involved finding and posting their favorite (school appropriate) video to their personal websites. An addition activity was to peruse other students' videos and, as the outline for the lesson stated, "see what others are watching." Well, with kids being kids, most of them quickly posted their video and then quickly checked some of their classmates' websites and then, bingo, they were done!
Now I want to be very clear when I write about this group of kids, they are an amazing bunch! They have been hard working risk takers that have created many great things in class. Today, however, they were more interested in socializing than being productive. I found myself having to continually remind them to keep checking other students websites, make some comments, work on their blog, etc. Most of it seemed to fall on deaf ears.
As I walked out of the class I was very frustrated and a bit offended that these students would not keep themselves busy during class time. As I cooled down and had a chance to reflect I quickly realized where I dropped the ball. The lesson and activity were much too brief and I had inadvertently set my students up for failure by asking them to complete a task that was not rigorous enough.
This is where the power of reflection comes in to play. I could have stayed mad at the students or blamed them for being "bad" kids, but in the end they were just doing what any normal grade 10 student would do. They understood the assignment, they completed the assignment and when they were done they turned to their peers to socialize. I believe honest reflection should be a part of every teachers (and every persons) day. Whether it's a quiet moment after the kids leave or on the commute home, I think it is important to review the day and take stock. Every day has it's ups and downs, it's highs and lows and these are the moments we need to remember and build upon. I understood where I "dropped the ball" and understand what I will do different in my next lesson so those "bad" kids can have a great lesson.
As always, comments are welcome.
The attached TED talk focuses on using something that is innate to all of us, our curiosity. When we are teaching what is it that we are doing to capture our students' imagination? I know during my 15 years there have been many lessons where I can tell the students were "zoning out". Obviously I did not capture their curiosity.
So, what are your students curious about? Have you asked them? Sometimes you just need to listen and they will tell you what they are wondering without even knowing it.
Educational leaders need to encourage this type of approach to teaching and learning in their building. Administrators should challenge their teachers to think outside the box like Ramsey Musallam did.
Click for video
As always, comments are welcome.
What an incredible learning experience I had yesterday. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to co-facilitate an assessment and evaluation workshop for a group of teachers and administrators from our school division. Our day had two purposes, reflecting on our experiences from the year as part of a pilot project and creating a tool for other teachers that will be adopting the new assessment practices next year. The goal is to change the way we evaluate students, from focusing on students simply earning marks to students learning content.
A prime example showed up at my school last week when I was on a walk-about. I heard all sorts of laughing and carrying on in the computer lab so I just had to stop in. In the lab I found six grade 10 students crowded around a computer watching the movie they had just finished editing. These students were asked to show their understanding of play Macbeth and decided to do so by re-writing it as a western. Not only did they re-write it they filmed and edited the movie on their own time! When I learned Macbeth I remember reading the play in school and writing essays and quizzes to show my understanding of the tragedy. It was shortly after those quizzes that I forgot most of what Macbeth was all about. That is the change we are aiming for, shifting from a focus on earning marks to a focus on learning content.
The workshop was an opportunity for other teachers and administrators who had also adopted this approach to come together and share what they had learned. One of the requirements for each teacher was that they needed to bring along some sort of artifact that demonstrated something they had done in the area of assessment this year. My role was to take the information they brought and put it all into a coherent format that would be accessible for other teachers in our division. I was amazed with the samples the teachers brought to contribute. From checklists, to rubrics, to lesson plans, to unit plans, to videos of helpful hints, there was something for everyone, from everyone.
What I took from this was the affirmation of my belief that we are always smarter than me. Without the teachers and all of their work "in the trenches" none of this would have been possible. They worked long, hard hours and in the end they created a variety of resources that will be very helpful to their colleagues. No one teacher had all the answers, and in the end our creation (found here: Earning to Learning ) does not promise solutions to every problem that will arise, but it is a start. The other piece that I took from this was the importance of leadership. While the teachers may have done all the hard work it was the expectations, encouragement, and support of the leaders in the room that helped make this a reality. I was so proud to be a part of this entire process and am excited to see where this journey we have only just started will lead.
As always, comments are welcome.
Every day we face numerous circumstances which require us to make decisions, starting with our alarm clocks! Do we roll the dice and hit the snooze button or do we jump up and attack the day? I've always wondered about people who hit the snooze button. Why not just set the alarm for 6:05 instead of 6:00? But, back to choices. Every day we make these choices and for most of them we don't even really take the time to think about it, we just do it.
What if we took just a little more time and made the choice that would make someone else smile? I don't mean running around all day telling jokes or showing copies of your favorite Farside cartoon. I mean what if we took just a little time to do those things to make someone smile. This year I started doing a simple thing that makes my students smile, and it's nothing I say, it's something I wear. Socks. I've started wearing colorful socks and it's crazy how something as simple as blue and orange striped socks will make kids smile, but they do. If you ask my grade 1's it's the blue socks with fried eggs on them they enjoy, however if you ask the grade 8's it's the bright pink ones. Something as simple as socks to bring a smile to my students. It's easy, simple to do and well worth it.
Today I was presented another opportunity where I needed to make a choice. We were out for supper and my 7 year old son and I went up to pay for our meal. At the same time a second gentleman came up to pay for his supper. There we stood, both of us holding our wireless payment terminals and the simple idea came to me. Debit payment race! I asked the other guy if he was up for a race and the smile on his face answered my question before he could even speak. My son was the judge and on his call the race was on. The cards were in and our fingers typed as fast as they could. The winner is not important (as every "non-winner" says), it is the fun and laughs that were created out of one simple choice. I could have just as easily not challenged this stranger to a debit card race, but then I guess I wouldn't have a blog entry today.
So, how does this have anything to do with leadership and education? So much of what we do each day involves interacting with other people, be it students, teachers or parents. We have a choice as to how we handle these interactions. We can play it safe and by doing so we risk very little, or we can take a chance and put ourselves out there. I don't know if my students will always remember my socks or if the stranger I met today will remember our race, but for a moment there was happiness, and that can never be a bad thing. When you have a chance to interact with a colleague, student or parent, take a risk. Sometimes it's okay to let your guard down and just be a little silly, as long as it is not seen as disrespectful or ill timed. For example, I will not be wearing my bright orange and purple striped socks to any job interviews or memorial services, but I might wear them to grad. If people see you as a real person they are probably more willing to come to you when they are in need, and these are the times when your leadership skills can really shine through.
As always, comments are welcome.
This semester I'm giving my grade 11 and 12 students a chance to show their ability to learn on their own by having them complete independent learning projects. I blogged about their projects earlier (here) and have been so excited by what they have been learning. I love how this project has got kids in grade 9 and 10 talking too, they are excited to get into my class and give this type of learning a shot. The best part about this learning project is that it forced me to give up control. I explain the project, coordinate places for them to work and take care of the assessment. Other than that it's the students that are in control. They pick what they want to learn, they determine how they will be learning, they choose how they will present, and they decide how much more they want to learn after the projects are done.
Today I had a reminder of how different this project is. A grade 12 boy is building a mini bike at home after school and on weekends. He wasn't planning on doing this, but when he was forced to pick something to learn, that was the path he selected. When he's at school he cannot do the "hands on" work so he's dedicated the time to researching how to build it and where to get parts. Today he asked me where he could find a band brake and I spoke the three most important words I could at that time. Those words were I don't know. This project is all about the kids identifying and solving their own problems. This does not mean I can't give advice or provide gentle course corrections along the way. Now the truth is I really didn't know, but I thought of a place that might know, that being the local garage. I sent the boy on his way to the garage and upon his return he knew exactly where to look and had a rough idea of how much it would cost.
I worry that sometimes teachers are hesitant to use those three words. They might feel they aren't doing their job if they don't know all the answers. If that is the case, maybe sometimes they are asking the wrong questions. There is no shame in not knowing the answers to all the questions. Those moments allow students and teachers to take the role of co-learners. I learned something today, I learned what a band brake is, and I was reminded of the power of three simple words, I don't know.
As always, comments are welcome.
My wife (registered nurse) and I lived in the Cayman Islands for two and a half years, I taught grade four, she worked at the local hospital. One of the things we were anxious to try was snorkelling. We had looked at pictures and heard stories about the amazing marine life one could see just a few meters from shore. When we arrived we bought the gear we needed and set out to see what we could see. The stories were true, the variety of fish was stunning! Being a Saskatchewan boy, fish normally meant northern pike, pikerel or Captain High Liner. It was amazing! One animal I longed to see was a sea turtle, Cayman is famous for their turtles. No matter how hard I looked I just couldn't find one. We saw stingrays, barracuda, lobster, octopus, parrot fish, American tourists. Everything but sea turtles. I had almost given up, until one day. Nearly two years after we had arrived, I was taking part in a one mile sea swim. During the competition, with arms, legs, and lungs aching, guess what appeared directly below me. A sea turtle! The cool thing about this sighting was that I was in no way looking for marine life during this swim. But there it was. I took a few seconds to slow down my stroke and watch this huge reptile gracefully swim by. It was beautiful.
So where am I going with this? How does this relate to schools? There are always things you want to see from your students, those things that stand out and really catch your attention. The thing is you don't always see them when you expect to, they can come out of "left field" and catch your attention. The key is slowing down when you see them, paying attention and most importantly, acknowledging the students for what they have done.
Every school has rules, procedures, codes of conduct, etc. and these are important. Because we have these does not mean we need to only look for those kids who are constantly breaking those rules. If we spend all of our time tracking down the rule breakers we will miss out on our "sea turtles". When you walk around your school, especially before classes start or at breaks, what kind of things are you looking for? I think it's important to take the time to just be around the students, be in a position to catch them doing or saying what it is we want our students to do and say. The great thing is that these amazing acts are out there every single day. Just like not all sea turtles are the same size, not all acts are the same, but they are no less beautiful.
Once again, comments are always welcome.