Reflection is good for the soul

Day 31

Well, here I am on May 31, 2016 deciding how to wrap up my “One a day in the month of May” self-imposed blogging challenge.  Like most days this month, I’ve been on high alert for “blog-worthy” moments and today did not disappoint.

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Today’s post could have easily been focused on the meeting that I had with a former student who has just graduated from Teacher’s College and is getting ready to apply for a position in our board as an Occasional Teacher.  We reviewed and refined her resume and cover letter and talked about potential additional qualifications and next steps.  I know, as teachers, that we’re really not supposed to have favourites… but if I did, she would be at the top of my list and I couldn’t be more thrilled that she has chosen education as a career path.

Or, I could have chosen to, once again, share the pleasure that I experience each time I get the opportunity to engage in meeting new teachers when they are applying for positions. Tonight we were interviewing for summer school ESL teaching positions and the depth of knowledge, understanding, compassion and asset-stance lens that many of these potential candidates spoke from made me proud to know that many students will be able to benefit from spending time with these educators.

Or today’s post could have been a recount of a leadership challenge of how to share potential changes with team members.  That is a skill that I continue to work towards refining.  Conversations never play out the same way that they do in my mind and at times, reactions are hard to anticipate.

Or I could have written about the sheer pleasure that I get from knowing that when a team member is having a good day, they take the time to come and share.  Today, the office was filled with lots of  “Aujourd’hui est une très bonne journée”

Or I could have written about how one team member shared that she was enjoying my daily blogs as it gave her a chance to “interact” with me on a daily basis ~ in knowing that in our two roles, being in the same building happens maybe once or twice a month and therefore time to interact on various topics of learning are limited.  This team member faithfully commented each morning.

But instead, I took some time to reread last May’s daily posts, especially the final one wherein I took the opportunity to thank those contributors who commented, liked, retweeted or added a quote to each of the daily posts.  Once again, I find myself indebted to those readers who took the time to read my daily posts and then to engage in conversations about the topic (either online or in person).  My dad even sent me an email, following the Twisted Sister post.  As a result of a reader sending one of my posts to Sandra Brown the author, she took the time to read the post, send thanks and a comment.  Even Dee Snider from Twisted Sister took the time to challenge my ideas, but admit that the post was “Still cool”!  It’s those “Superstar” moments that continue to remind me of the power of hitting the publish button and it’s a power that is available to each and every one of our students (and educators too…..)


As I critically analyzed and compared last year’s writing to this year’s, my initial thoughts were that I did not progress as much as I would have liked as a writer. But to be honest, I’m not sure what my expected outcome was ~ other than 31 posts in 31 days.

I’ve come to the conclusion that, for me, one’s writing doesn’t magically improve.  Some days the words flowed, the well-crafted phrases eased the transition from one thought to the next, the analogies  bubbled through my brain so voraciously that I just needed to select the most effective one and the ideas came forth faster than my fingers could type away on my keyboard.  But then other days (usually as  I was feeling the pressure of the impending stroke of midnight) it was much more challenging and I sheepishly hit the PUBLISH  button knowing that it wasn’t  my best work, but it was  something ~ it was a record of something that resonated with me that day.

So for my faithful readers this month…..A sincere thank you!!

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From Miners to our Minors

Day 30

echoOnce again, on the recommendation of one of my colleagues, I’m becoming consumed by a fantasy infused historical fiction book entitled Echo and written by Pam Munoz Ryan.  As one of the first main characters is provided with the opportunity to work at the factory with his father, images of corrupt factory owners immediately creates a connection to the miners in Ken Follet’s Fall of Giants. In that story, the rise of the union and their role in ensuring the safety of the workers is brilliantly described.  Factory owners cut corners, refused to upgrade safety equipment and put the lives of their workers in harm’s way in order to generate more revenue.

Fast forward to today and my own connection to unions and their role in the work that we do in education.  In researching the history of teacher unions in Ontario, I found it very interesting that for the majority of their time in existence, unions were mainly concerned with salaries and equity in terms of salaries.  It has only be recently that their scope of influence seems to have extended well beyond salaries and working conditions.   Not unlike the work of the unions back in the days of Follet’s early 1900’s, the health and safety of today’s educators is commendable work on the part of their union.  And every employee group needs to be represented fairly when discussions of wages and benefits are occurring.

But what I struggle with is the role that today’s teachers’ union seems to be playing in decisions about instructional practices, assessment expectations, participation in professional learning opportunities, interview structures ~ to name but a few; none of which will physically harm an educator. I’m not sure that I see the direction connection between the union’s role in monitoring working conditions (safe environments) and the work that we as educators should be doing in terms of supporting student achievement.  And yet, it seems that at most turns, whenever a new initiative is shared with the system, there is an understanding that we will connect with the unions in order to offset the chance that they will craft a memo and encourage teachers to not take part.  And the sad thing is that some teachers seem to forget who their employer is and actually consider following the direction of their union over the direction of their employer.

It has been said that the teachers’ union main goal is to reduce the work load of educators.  I certainly hope that that is not the case.  I would like to believe that all of us entered the field of education to have a positive impact on student learning and in order to have a lasting, meaningful impact that means that we’re going to have to roll up our sleeves and work hard.  Our kids deserve educators who are willing to work hard,  educators who are willing to go above what is expected ~ because it is in that “above what is expected” stratosphere where miracles happen and students who were once disengaged realize that if their teachers are willing to work harder, then maybe they should work harder (1)

Whenever we are provided with an opportunity to engage in a conversation with our union representatives, I’m always waiting for the right moment to say “Would you want your son/daughter’s teacher to take the easy way out, to avoid professional learning, to complete the bare minimum when it comes to reporting achievement”?

I wonder if such a question will cause a pause in the discussion.

Come write with me…


It really is all about Connections!

Day 29

cortinaAs my little grey car made its way up the winding curves of “Snake Hill” on my way to today’s Google Summit, for just a split second I was transported back in time (about 30+ years) to when I was driving, yet another little grey car (a ’73 Ford Cortina) up the same hill on my way to high school ~ wishing each time that the clutch didn’t slip and that I wasn’t going to be responsible for a long line up of vehicles behind me.  As a former Saunders Sabre, this weekend I was a useful traveling companion as I knew the fastest route to the cafeteria, the numbering system for the classrooms and which seats in the auditorium gave you the best view.

During my time at Saunders, I had spent many a night, on the same stage that over the weekend welcomed several Google Educators, playing in the band and the orchestra.  My spare periods and lunch hours were devoted to practicing over and over again until I could finger my way through a piece of music without looking at it and my breathing was rhythmically in time with the pace of the composition. So it was great to spend a few minutes with Mark Carbone, the Chief Information Officer with the Waterloo Board, another former Saunders music grad, and reminisce!

Once my nostalgia for my musical days dissipated (and I stopped wondering why I hadn’t continued playing), I started to reflect on what technology I had access to as a secondary student in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.  I recall thinking that teachers who used the overhead, instead of just writing on the board, were making an effort to somehow engage us as learners.  English, Math, History, Geography ~ all used novels and textbooks as the main source of information.  Every once in a while, the old reel to reel would be pulled out and we’d see a movie. I recall our Sociology teacher had us take care of an “egg” as a project to highlight the challenges of parenting.  I used to love the Chemistry classes when we’d pull out the microscopes, Bunsen burners and various objects to explore ~ mind you, as I recall, the exploration was controlled step by step.  In remembering some of my classmates that control is probably the reason that Saunders is still standing.

I guess you could say that the sewing machine and various kitchen items used in Family Studies would be considered technology ~ after all a Singer sewing machine does amplify the speed in which you can shorten a skirt.

1979-1980-Typing-01It was in typing class with Mr. Costello where we thought that we were actually using “technology”. And yet again, it was very controlled.  We started the year with “aaa sss ddd fff” and by the end of the year if we were able to type “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” we had reached mastery.  I guess that is as creative as one can get with a typewriter.

So in knowing the limitations of access to technology, what did teacher professional learning look like in the early 80s?  What inspiration were our teachers given to push us to greater heights, to ensure that we followed our dreams and to bring out our inner super hero?

I wonder if 30 years from now, some educator will be reminiscing about the days gone by when Google Apps For Educators, Sphero, Google Cardboard and Plickers were the latest and greatest and that teachers used to come together for two full days at a thing called #gafesummit #maplesyrupedu

If they do, I hope that they remember it with fondness ~ as these past two days have been an incredible reminder about what being a truly dedicated educator is all about.  And without bursting anyone’s bubble, it’s not about how to connect the latest and greatest technologically advanced tool to your computer, it’s about connecting with the learner that comes through your classroom door every day!

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#Gafesummit 2016

Day 28 ~


Today, Holly Clark ~ a self-proclaimed Ed Tech Diva, inspired the crowd at the Google Summit in London with her keynote address.   The long awaited event brought together about 400 educators who immediately connected with Holly’s comparison of the U.S. potential President, Donald Trump and our current Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. Following a great deal of laughter, the crowd continued to be motivated with story after story and each purposefully selected video clip. She capitalized on the notion that there isn’t a teacher who doesn’t strive to be more like John Keating from Dead Poet’s society and hope to heck that they never become the Economics teacher, played by Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.images (2)

Her presentation was meaningful in that she shared stories of real students who were in her class, real reactions to technology based strategies that she used (I would venture to guess that a few teachers will now be using Twitter chats, as a form of assessment following the reading of The Outsiders) and real applications that she allowed her students to explore and then her “very real” reaction to their incredible results.  I wonder how many of the audience members searched YouTube tonight for the student generated video which may have been the catalyst for Obama’s successful Change campaign slogan.

Throughout her entire presentation, Holly continued to remind us that our job is to disrupt the status quo in education ~ not in great big massive changes, but in the adjacent possible.  Technology just happens to be one of the tools that we can use to amplify the possibility of change.

My Google search tonight skipped the Obama precursor video and went right to finding out more about Adjacent Possible.  I landed on many sites which attributed the phrase and subsequent explanation to Steven Johnson. ~ The potential (and serendipity) created when you notice and connect the unlikely. Incremental potential solutions to help people caught in conflict or looking for change to keep moving.where-good-ideas-come-from

For those of you who know me, I did a double take and then a quick copy and paste when the explanation included my favourite word, Serendipity.

Like the rest of the participants this morning, I thoroughly enjoyed Holly’s keynote. But more importantly, it left me with many quality questions to pose to the members of our team.

In looking at the work that we currently do in supporting the professional learning of educators in our system, what will it take for us to disrupt our current status quo?

How can we leverage curriculum embedded, purposefully selected technology to amplify the work that we do and the work that our students do?

What are those factors that seem to unlikely impact our work and yet may hold the key to an incremental potential solution?

Come write with me….

We All Agree….. But What’s Next?

Day 27 ~

download (3)Today, with a little help from my friend, in the midst of a complex and intense Ministry discussion (with leads from various boards and Karen Gill, directly from the Ministry) about the Renewed Mathematics Strategy, we broached the subject of competing interests and more specifically how do we ensure that educators continue to focus on strong pedagogical strategies in the area of literacy when at every turn “Math is the Main Thing”.   No sooner was the question out of our mouths, when a collective head nod of agreement from everyone around the table occurred.  I was thrilled to learn that Adolescent Literacy (gr. 7-10) is still a top priority and funding for special Ministry projects had just been released yesterday.  But I continued to push the conversation and asked, “But what our K-6 learners”?

We all agree that any gains that we’ve made in the area of ensuring that all of our teachers are delivering a comprehensive literacy program are still very fragile and we still have lots of work to do in this area.   We also agree that children need to be provided with learning opportunities that will lead to them becoming literate citizens. We all agree that a full school focus will guarantee results more so than a fractured focus with different teachers learning about different initiatives.  We all agree that having administrators at the networking table as a co/lead learner will lead to better results.  We all agree that having coaches who work directly in classrooms, supporting instruction, asking challenging questions, sharing best practices in both instruction and assessment will have a positive impact on both teacher and student learning.  We all agree that focusing on student work and ensuring that we are providing students with timely, strategy focused feedback will have a positive impact.

We could have continued to generate a list of those strategies that we agree upon ~ but at the end of the discussion, the question about competing agendas was still out there….labeled as a great question but still unanswered.

On Monday morning, we’re taking the same question to our own Thames Valley Senior team with the intention of creating a plan of support which will keep “Math as the Main Thing” but also recognize the importance of offering professional learning in other curriculum areas.  There may be significant funding for math and Ministry imposed parameters around hiring, staffing and reporting but at the end of the day I’m confident that the Ministry wants boards to use their collective professional judgement and focus on all areas that will lead to creating a culture of both literate and numerate learners.

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Our job as system leaders is to take all of what we agree upon and provide responsive, purposeful, job embedded professional learning which will assist our teachers in creating those classroom environments where students are curious about the world.

And it is that curiosity which will lead our students to use both their literacy and numeracy skills to collaborate on, critically analyze and then communicate solutions to world problems that we have yet to solve.


Magic Potion

Day 26…

download (2)Today I had the opportunity to spend time with members of our senior team as well as most of our Curriculum Learning Supervisors at a session entitled, “Deliberate and Consistent Use of Multiple Sources of Evidence To Inform Decisions”.  It is a part of the Strong Districts and their Leadership modules being developed by Ken Leithwood and Catherine McCullough.

I find that when I see a title like today’s, there is that naïve part of me that “for just a split second” hopes that I’m going to walk away with the magic potion.  The renowned researcher, Leithwood, who is responsible for “academic press” being one of our favourite go to phrases, is going to impart THE list of what we should be collecting in terms of sources of evidence, then provide us with THE list of what to do with what we find and then magically our scores will increase.  But alas, no magic lists exist!

Instead we were provided with the opportunity to hear the journey that two school boards embarked on as they worked towards improving student achievement and more specifically on they made evidence based decisions along the way.    I always find it interesting when listening to what others are doing and watching the reactions of the audience and checking myself for my reactions.   At times, there is a “been there, done that” reaction.   At other times, people are frantically capturing every step of the process as it resonates as something that we haven’t tried yet, but should.

In reviewing my notes, a couple of “aha” statements earned asterisks….

“I respect the work of Hattie and have often quoted his “Know thy Impact” phrase, but as I was listening to Leithwood talk about the fact that evidence doesn’t speak for itself and that when looking at student generated data we always need to be sensitive to the back story ~  I wrote “Know thy Context”.

Leithwood then shared that historically we have believed that we needed to first create a safe and orderly climate before tackling the academic skills.  But new research is now suggesting that by setting high academic standards for students, the school climate will become more safe and orderly ~ I wrote “Chicken or Egg”

One school board shared their deployment plan for instructional coaches and took the stance that resources would be focused where needed and if a school was not ready to embrace the power of the instructional coach, then they relied on the expertise of that administrator and did not put a coach in that school ~ I wrote “Ready or Not”

My final reflection has nothing to do with today’s topic, but with my note taking.  As I had not charged the keyboard on my iPad, I was left with “old school” paper and pen note taking.  And I must admit that my notes (although not overly neat) definitely tell a story of my reaction to certain parts of the day.  Astericks, boxes, circles, multiple arrows and squiggles are all reflective of the power of certain comments.

Maybe there is something to the latest articles about handwriting vs taking notes on a laptop

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No magic potion, but certainly lots of ingredients to think about mixing as we look towards rethinking how we are using multiple sources of evidence.

The Great and Powerful Oz

Day 25

wizard-of-ozWhen Dorothy and her friends finally reach the hall of the Great and Powerful Oz, Toto uncovers the truth behind the curtain, as there stands a flustered man trying his best to give the illusion that Oz is in control and capable of solving their individual problems ~ a trip home, a heart, a brain and courage.   As the well-known story draws to a conclusion, the reader/audience joins Dorothy in her discovery that she had the answer all along and that with each obstacle that she encountered in her journey,  she not only became more determined for herself, but she started to feel responsible for the dreams of the Scarecrow, Tinman and Lion.

Sometimes I wonder if we think of our learning organization as the Great and Powerful Oz.  Someone/something with the power to show us the answers, lead the way home, provide us with the courage to take the next step and the brainpower to make the right decisions. We do our best to follow the instructions with the hopes of the answers magically appearing.  But the reality is that student learning is complex and the components that lead to improved student learning can not be simplified into a “one size fits all” recipe.     There is no Great and Powerful Oz with all of the answers, but just like Dorothy and her friends, the answers are within us.  As educators, we know what we need to do ~ but the challenge is having the heart and courage to do it.  Ensuring that students are learning is hard work.  It’s much harder than just imparting knowledge.  We need to work our way through various obstacles and gain a deeper empathy for others who are also on this learning journey with us.

downloadClicking our heels three times, may not get us to where we want to be ~ but believing in ourselves as educators, knowing that what we do (when it’s done intentionally and based in sound pedagogy) will have a positive impact on a student and acknowledging the challenges of others as they make their way on their own journey will get us much closer to the where we need to be.


Without Community, It’s Tough To Get To The Work!

Day 24

It seems so easy when we read about it in Leadership books, skim versions of it in blogs before we retweet it, share colourful picture quotes depicting it on our Facebook wall and in some cases cheer for it when we see it depicted in the movies.

But the reality is that building community ~ real community where discussions can occur without judgement, transparency is more than just a platitude ~ it is evident in actions,  and cognitive dissonance is never avoided ~ it is embraced as a gift is one of the most significant challenges of leadership.

We all picture the perfect scenario in our minds (like the Happily Ever After in a fairy tale), with each member of our team feeling as if their voice was heard, their position on the matter was taken seriously and full agreement was reached.  And yet the reality never seems to be that seamless.  At times personal agendas, the need for recognition of individual sacrifice or the need for voices to be embedded in the discussion on the merit of “just because” become the obstacles to creating a positive, effective community.

And without community, it’s challenging to get to the work at hand.  The work that is so vital to a team’s success and ultimately to the people that the team is supporting.

Community is important at all levels in our world of education.  Skillful teachers build community in their classrooms, where students are empowered to share ideas, respectfully challenge each other’s ideas, while still embracing the important component of recognizing and celebrating the accomplishments of their classmates.   At the school level, administrators build community with both their staff and their broader community of parents, business owners, agencies, etc. And of course at the system level, the importance of community holds all of the same non-negotiables that we teach our children to embrace.

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How do you build community in your classroom?  Your school?  In your role at the system level?

Come write with me….


From Racing to Reflection

Day 23

We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience ~ John Dewey.  I love this quote and was reminded of its importance tonight as I was scrolling through my Twitter feed.

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As we race towards the finish line of this school year, the list of “must dos” never seems to get any shorter. Writing report cards, orchestrating graduations, facilitating class placement meetings, planning end of the year trips, creating supervision schedules, interviewing potential new staff members are just of the activities that we find ourselves involved with.  And it’s not like the rest of the world comes to a standstill so that we can complete those tasks.

One of the unique challenges in education is that even before the buds begin to make an appearance on the trees, we find ourselves in the midst of planning for days when the buds will be colourful leaves about to be dislodged by an autumn breeze.  We have one foot in next year and the other one is trying to balance everything that needs to get completed in the next 30 days.

So, in knowing how busy we are as we come to the end of another school year, where do we find the time to actually reflect on what the last year has taught us?

As teachers, what are some of the ways that you’ve involved your students in reflection?

As administrators, how do you acknowledge both the learning that your staff has been involved in throughout the year, as well as your own learning?

Do you share your reflections with your broader school community?


Come write with me….

Shhhh…. The Power of Silence

Day 22


As I’ve shared within posts before, when I’m walking the trails or throughout Delaware I love to listen to audiobooks.   I tend to walk further and faster when I’m involved in an exciting story line and the anticipation of the next chapter is sometimes all the encouragement that I need to strap on my Reeboks. But, I’m currently in between books and therefore my walks the last couple of days have been in silence ~ that is in terms of a reader sharing the various voices in a book.   Silence is the last thing that I would use to describe what was happening in my mind.  Orioles and squirrels became a blog about pedagogical documentation.  I’m hoping that the Languages team will find my idea (hatched as I rounded the final corner of our country block) about how to document where we’ve been and where we’re going a useful strategy.  The transformation of one corner of my garden actually resembled what I had conjured up in my mind (as I took notice of my Dutch neighbours artistically manicured gardens in the village).  The list goes on and on…..not to mention a few “oh my goodness, I better do that before sitting down to blog” odd tasks.

As I reflect on the barrage of ideas that seemed to tumble through my mind on my “silent” walk, I started to wonder about the amount of time that we provide our students for quiet reflection and subsequently idea generation.  How much time do students actually have when their teacher is not talking?  I can’t help but wonder if our teachers (who are truly doing what they feel is in the best interests of our students) are somehow sabotaging our students’ ability to come up with an original idea by controlling the volume and breadth of the audio input in a classroom.

Something to think about ~ and best done without an accompanying soundtrack!silence-is-not-the-absence-of-something