Today was one of my favorite days of the year as athletes from the over 40 schools in our division completed in the annual track and field championships. The University of Saskatchewan was the venue as students from grade 7 to 12 gathered to try and best their best in running, throwing and jumping events. The activities had me thinking about academics and the disconnect we seem to have when it comes to assessing students' learning. Indulge me, and imagine the following scenario:
A grade 10 student has decided he wants to continue his involvement with track and field, and signs up for the 110 m hurdles event. This student has committed to the team, and the coach has developed a plan to help the student do the absolute best he can. For weeks the student, his teammates and his coach spend time together practicing, critiquing, refining, and celebrating. The coach even invites experts to come to some practices to guarantee the student is learning the correct skills and the coach is looking for the right things to offer feedback on. The day of the big meet draws closer, and the athlete has seen growth in his ability and feels he is ready for the big race. The night before the race the boy gets a good night sleep and then proceeds to start the day of the meet with a healthy breakfast. On the way to the venue the athlete spends time visualizing what the race will be like, the sound of the gun, the steps to the first hurdle, the feeling of launching himself over each hurdle, hitting his stride just right each time. He knows he is ready, and he trusts his practice will serve him well.
This is where the surprise occurs. As the boys shows up at the track he notices something is not right. Why are the hurdles set at different heights? During practice they were always the same. Why are the distances between the hurdles not consistent? During practice he learned how many steps he needed to take until it was automatic. Why is not 110 meters, but 145 meters? This is not what he was expecting.
Being who he is, the boy lines up at the start line and runs the race to the best of his ability, but he is no where close to matching or beating his personal best.
Would we tolerate this if it actually happened at a track event? I can say with almost 100% certainty we would not.
So my question to you is this. Why do we tolerate this in our classrooms? Why do we ask children to practice in one way and then have them write tests that look and "feel" totally different? Why do we ask kids to write tests completely unassisted when during all of their practice time they have always been assisted by the teacher? Is this the absolute best way to determine what it is our students know, or is it the most convenient method that meets the needs of the teacher? In my grade 11 math class I am very intentional with what I do with my assessments. Here are a few things I believe:
I'd love to hear your thoughts.
On Thursday, May 12th, I took my son to one of his regular appointments with the child psychiatrist in Saskatoon as a follow up meeting to discuss how a change in his medication has been working. You see, my oldest boy has ADHD and what the doctor feels are some struggles with anxiety. This does not really surprise me because, as the saying goes, "the nut does not fall far from the tree". All my life I've struggled with anxiety, however during my teens and early 20's I did not know that, I just felt like there was something wrong with me. Unfortunately I decided to self medicate myself through alcohol, which as everyone knows is not the best medicine for someone's ailments! As the doctor and I talked, I found myself sharing some of my worries for my son about moving into a new class next year, he is going from grade 3 to 4. As I was talking I realized that everything I was saying had to do with my anxiety, not my son's. During this entire conversation my boy was sitting and listening, and after I caught myself, I thought, no wonder he's anxious, look at how I'm feeding it!
This caused me to reflect on how we feed our students or staff without even realizing it. Do you think your class or staff take on your persona to some extent? If you are a "control freak" how does that effect your staff's autonomy? If you are always anxious, does this have a residual effect on your teachers or students? If you are "happy-go-lucky" does this impact your school culture?
I'd have to argue that who you are has a great impact on your surroundings.
I've come to terms with my anxiety, and in fact I now am able to channel my feelings of worry and trepidation into actions. I have realized that my anxiety can and has made me a better educator and leader because I want to do what's right, and sometimes I worry that if I'm not thorough enough I will upset people. Of course, every sword has two edges (I think, I'm not a sword guy, I just like the saying) and I need to be aware that I cannot let my anxiety stand in my way or cause me physical harm.
I'm excited for a new opportunity that is coming my way as I finally will get to "take the training wheels off" as a person I admire once told me. I am going to be making the move from vice principal to principal and of course with that move comes my trusted friend anxiety. I can either let it stand in my way or feed my passion to be better at what I do. Today I choose to let it feed my ability and desire.
As always, comments are welcome.
On a cold and rainy Saskatchewan spring day, I was once again reminded of why, rain or shine, I have the best job in the world! As an in-school administrator, one of the perks of my job is the opportunity to hang out in a variety of classrooms and be part of the students' learning. Today I was busy meeting teachers and students at the school I am transferring to next year when my phone buzzed in my pocket. Reminder: Grade 4 playground proposals today. The grade 4's have been busy learning about formal and informal writing and as a part of this, the teacher wanted them to practice formal presentations. The students have decided that they want to get a couple of new pieces of equipment for the playground, so the teacher, being as "on the ball" as she always is, decided this was a perfect opportunity to have them write and speak about something they are passionate about.
So there I stood at their classroom door, waiting as they prepped their room for the presentation. When I was invited into the room, I was met with smiling students, a comfy chair with my name on it, a mug of hot chocolate and two chocolate chip cookies (the kids know how to get to my heart). The presentations were terrific, and even though the structures they want to buy are close to $20,000, they had taken an important first step, and put the wheels of change in motion.
As administrators, I think it is so critical to make the time to be with the students as often as possible, this has to be our focus. In addition to being in the room, we need to be a part of the learning, and today was an example of why this is so important. The students have seen me in their room countless times, and they know I am always keenly interested in what they are working on. To receive this invitation told me that the fact I take this time matters to them, and as I told the kids, if it's important to you it's important to me.
When I visit a classroom I always try to follow a similar format:
To my fellow administrators, what are some of the things you look or listen for in a room during a visit? To my fellow teachers, what are some things you would love your administrators to notice when they are in your room?
As always, comments are welcome.
For those of you who know me, you already are aware that I'm the father of 4 kids (9, 5, 2 yr old twins) and know that balancing life and work is always tricky. Last night, my 5 year old daughter, Eva, and my wife went to see the live performance of Mary Poppins. The two of them were accompanied by my mom, my two sisters and my two nieces for what they called their girls night out. The performance ended close to 10:00 pm, so by the time they arrived back home, I was already sound asleep. This morning, my daughter came bouncing out of her bedroom, eager to tell me all about the "flying lady" and the "amazing songs". She talked about the performance with smiling eyes, and summed it all up by saying, "after all, anything is possible dad, if you let it!"
Such prophetic words. Anything is possible...if you let it.
I started thinking about how we approach learning, both adult learning and student learning. Do you believe that anything is possible? When you look at all your students, do you believe all of them can achieve at a high level? When you think about yourself, do you set limits on what you think you can do? If so, where did these limits come from? What evidence do you have that you cannot learn to really high levels?
Here is a task you might want to undertake in private, for I doubt you would ever tell anyone how you "rank" your students, even if it is done though instinct or what others call their gut feelings. The task is to think about the students currently in your class, and think about how you have ranked them based on your belief of how deeply each of them can learn. Likely many of you reading this will say you do not rank your students in this manner, which is great, however it has been my experience that many teachers do, and this evidence often reveals itself through subtle comments, usually in the staff room or in my office. That being said, we all have students who are achieving at different levels in our classrooms, and what I'd ask you do is only focus on what you are:
a. doing to help close the achievement gap for the students who come out on the low end of your unofficial scale
b. not doing to help close the achievement gap for the students who come out on the low end of your unofficial scale
After you have done that, simply ask yourself why. Why are you doing what you are doing, and why are you not doing some things that might help.
I get it, we are all busy, and all the students in our class need help at some point. But, if we are creating excuses for why we are not closing the gap for these struggling students, then I think we need to evaluate what we are doing in our room and how we can change our approach to learning. Sometimes all we need to do is ask for help, we cannot pretend to know the answer to every question, nor the solution to every problem.
Larry Leverett_ writes, "it is time to reject the myths that provide excuses for action. It's time to stop blaming the victims, relying on non-school factors to excuse our performance in schools, and accepting the poppycock that closing the achievement gap is a problem without a solution."
After all, like a 5 year old said, anything is possible dad...if you let it!
As always, comments are welcome.
On my way to a presentation this morning I drove down a familiar road, one that I've traveled countless times and one that offers great scenery to enjoy. As I drew closer to my destination I noticed some large machinery near a gas station that had recently relocated to a different part of town. The station had sat empty for a while in the hopes that someone would take it over, but alas, that did not come to pass. The gas station was not that outdated, but customers were demanding the latest innovations in the world of petroleum and convenience goods.
This started me thinking about how we respond to our customers, our students. As May unfolds it is the time of year when we walk with our feet in two different worlds; reflecting on the past year, while starting to look ahead. Many teachers decide to tweak certain things from the past in an effort to improve their art, and I think it's important to be ever-evolving in the world of education. But when is it time to tear it all down and start from scratch? This does not mean abandoning the goal of student learning, just like the gas station did not abandon their goal of providing the best customer service they can in a timely manner. But when are tweaks not enough? Tearing it all down can be a scary proposition, and sometimes the fear of the new can stop us from letting go of the familiar.
How do you know if it's time to make some big changes in how you teach? I think it is safe to say there will be different indicators for different people, but here are a few questions I ask myself each year:
As always, comments are welcome.