A Kaleidoscope Kind of Day

The best way to describe today would be to say that it was a kaleidoscope of events.  Not unlike the workings of a kaleidoscope, with a simple turn (of phrase, in this case) something new and unexpected appeared. There was an interplay of lights, colours and reflection (both literal and figurative)

I started my day doing something that feeds my never-ending learner’s appetite. With a small group of trusted, respected colleagues we spent some dedicated time in conversation and reflection about school improvement and our own learning associated with the new SIPSAW. As we worked through the process, it was like turning of the tube in a kaleidoscope as each new idea and concept would create a different possibility.  The structure of the mirrors ( the intended outcome) was the constant, but the pattern would be modified each time we brought more clarity to our thinking.  I can’t help but wonder if each of us walked away with a different mosaic of thought, as our initial thinking was undoubtedly impacted by the groups’ prompting and provoking.

Upon returning to the school this afternoon, there was a whirlwind of activity and opportunity.  We are currently in the process of re-assessing our K2 students with an oral addition question to determine if they have mastered automaticity or if they have a bank of strategies to use.  We are videoing their responses for the Kindergarten team to review on Monday at our staff meeting.  I had 3 more students to work with today. Two of the students I know quite well as their K1 year was a challenging time for them.  One has a diagnosis of ASD, but her K team has worked miracles and the other student cried for most of her first year with us.   So as I asked them the question, they both took some time, but used a strategy to arrive at the correct answer.  I couldn’t help but wonder what patterns they see as they worked towards their response. For me, the mosaic was a beautiful one of success and celebration.

As I made my way back to the office, there were a couple of intermediate girls waiting for me.  We needed to embark on another conversation about being kind ~ especially in the online world. It seems as if we continue to turn the tube on this conversation, but the mosaic stays the same. It’s as if the mirrors are warped and the reflection isn’t working.  But today, I think that we actually made some progress. There was some genuine reflection in connection to our conversation.  I chuckled to myself at the end of the conversation when one of the girls said, “You should write a book”

The day continued with a few more conversations about being kind on the playground and responding to a couple of emails.

Then, once the students were safely on their way home and the buses had pulled out of the driveway, Heather Elliott, one of our grade 1 teachers, was waiting to share her new purchase, an Abacus ~ thanks to Tracey White and the Math AQ course, and how her students were using it to determine doubles. Heather had recalled a comment I had made a few weeks ago about the importance of doubles.  She said that it caused her to stop and think and now with the Abacus, some of her students can quickly determine halves and doubles.   Her fingers flew over the math tool, navigating the beads from left to right. It was probably at that moment that the idea of a kaleidoscope popped into my mind.

Those moments with our SAC crew, (which occur daily and some days multiple times) when they are so excited about something they can’t wait to come and share are magical ~ much like the beautiful mosaics created by turning the tube on the kaleidoscope.  Those moments are filled with reflection (about their practice, their students, their learning environments, etc.).  They light up as they share and each experience is different and unique ~ yet always breathtaking.

As the sun sets on this mosaic marvelous day, I can’t help but wonder who’s turning the tube?  How are my actions influencing those moments?


Come write with me….

The most deserving Caring Adult

  1. When you think of the adults in an elementary student’s life who they would identify as their Social Supports/Caring Adults, your list would probably include their home room teacher, maybe a Learning Support Teacher or a favourite specialty teacher. Occasionally, even administrators might make the list.  But today, we had a student identify someone who should undoubtedly be included on every one’s list.

As our grade 8 SAC Coyotes were working on their Individual Student Learning Profiles in preparation for their upcoming transition to secondary school, our Guidance Lead was printing them from the photocopier when she noticed that one of the students had listed our school’s lead secretary as his “Caring Adult”.

As you can imagine, our kind, caring, wonderful, Joanne Schinkel, was extremely touched by being included within this student’s profile. She called today, “One of the best days ever, as a school secretary”.

As an office helper, this student gets the opportunity to have conversations with Joanne on a regular basis as he helps with band-aids and ice packs and the occasional walkie-talkie signal to our custodial team.  But he also gets to witness the magic that happens every day in our welcoming front office.

Joanne epitomizes what it means to be a caring adult for ALL of our students.  She is the one who greets them each morning with a “Glad you’re here” smile.  She patiently listens to the school yard stories of bumps and bruises and the exciting tales of first teeth that have finally fallen out.  I’m sure that she must have her medical certificate as she effectively identifies the difference between a sore stomach syndrome and an academic avoidance aliment.

And it’s not only the students who benefit from her kindness ~ every guest teacher is warmly greeted by Joanne as they sign in.  She sets them up for success even before the first bell rings.  Her support for our family members extends beyond the warmth of her smile as she effectively helps them navigate their way through registrations, CashOnline, field trip forms, police checks, lunches, extra clothes, appointments etc.

And as for our staff ~ we all LOVE her, APPRECIATE her, RESPECT her and can’t
imagine life at SAC without her !

Thanks to the one student who recognized and publicly included Joanne’s name on his Learning Profile.

Sometimes it’s those who are most deserving, who are most often overlooked.

Who would you identify as a Caring individual in your life?

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A License to Chat

Earlier this week, there were a number of retweets and Facebook shares about this article, “New Filipino Law Requires All Students to Plant 10 Trees to Graduate”


Having students contribute so significantly to their own future is innovative, creative and meaningful. The impact of such a law will be felt on a global scale.

In Ontario, students are required to perform 40 hours of community service. As both a mom and a school administrator I have seen examples where a student has taken this requirement seriously and other cases where it becomes a case of “find anything” in order to gain the appropriate signatures.  Community service has become a subjective term and hence I am not sure that we can be assured that all graduating students have equally given back to their communities in order to gain their diploma.

With this new Filipino law, there is now an intentional partnership between Education and other departments such as agriculture and the environment. Modeling that partnership bodes well for the Filipino people. In addition, the planting of trees is a tangible task that has an easy to monitor outcome.

Requirements to graduate ties in nicely to a conversation that we were having yesterday in relations to elementary students and access to social media platforms such as Snapchat. We are finding that a number of our students, who present so kindly and mature in person, are resorting to nasty, rude and inappropriate posts within various chat rooms. In addition, for those students who are being targeted with unkind words, it is becoming more evident that their sense of self-worth and their confidence are being compromised by the ongoing online insults.  It is heartbreaking to read what is being posted online and even more painful to think about an 11-year-old girl reading such nasty, negative things about herself.  We can continue to provide learning opportunities focusing on digital citizenship and we can continue to provide parents with the suggestion of “turning off the tech” if it is becoming harmful and hurtful ~ but it does not seem as if that is enough.  We have found ways to monitor use at school ~ but that still leaves a lot of evening and weekend access.

In our conversation, we could not help but wonder what our current elementary world would look if students needed to pass a test (something similar to a driver’s test) before being granted access to such platforms. An opportunity to learn how to communicate online appropriately as well as the negative impact of being unkind when online.  Many of us remember the videos of car accidents that they showed us in Driver’s Ed class. What would it look like if the “entry screen” to Snapchat required the user to watch a reminder video ~ would it make a difference?  I wonder if the online conglomerates would consider adding features that block unkind, cruel words and phrases. I know that we cannot completely shelter our students from such cruelty, but it would certainly make this world a better place.

Let us give our students a healthy mind and a healthy sense of self in order to enjoy the healthy environment that our Filipino friends are working on creating.

Come Write with me….

Were You Kind?

If someone were recording all of my conversations today, I would venture to guess that the most frequently used word that crossed my lips was, “Kindness”. It was one of those days when many of our Currie Coyotes needed reminders to simply, “Be Kind” and on several occasions, I started a conversation with, “Were you kind? I find that by using that question as an opening line, we avoid much of the “he said, she said” blame and criticism and we can get to the heart of the dispute more effectively.

From four grade 8 boys who were jostling each other in the hallway and comparing a classmate to a character on YouTube to a grade 2 student who was rude to a teacher ~ all of our interactions included the same, simple question, “Were you kind?”.

Even with a more significant situation, involving grade 6 girls and an online chat group ~ the simple question, “Were you kind?” immediately quelled the anger and the blame and turned the conversation to a more apologetic stance. Oh, how I wish the girls were thinking about kindness before they wrote such hurtful things to each other.  We had a rich conversation about how hiding behind their technology they were so unkind and that they would never say such things to each other in person.  I challenged them to be brave enough to have face-to-face conversations in the hopes that less hurtful things will be shared.

Children intuitively know what kindness looks like, sounds like and feels like. They are quick to blame others for being unkind, but at times, they are less likely to reflect on whether or not their own actions were kind.

Our job, as the adults who love and support them, becomes one of constant noticing and naming ~ and not only when we see/hear unkind behavior but also when we see/hear kind behavior.  I cannot help but wonder if we flood our school community with kindness compliments will it have an impact on our students’ ability to stop and think, “Am I being kind?”

How does your school community promote Kindness?

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And the next Director is…..

Word on the street is that our new Director for the Thames Valley District School Board will be announced tomorrow and as one would imagine there has been a great deal of speculation as to whom has been selected.

During my past 30 years with both the former London Board and then the amalgamated Thames Valley District School Board, I’ve be a part of at least 5 of these transitions.  I can recall, as a student teacher, standing on the Stoneybrook schoolyard listening as teachers were discussing at length the new incoming Director.  At that time in my career, I had absolutely no idea what a Director did.  In my mind, they were an entity on letterhead and someone whom would never know me.

For the next 16 years, as a classroom teacher, I rarely thought about the role of the Director in relation to my work as an educator.  It was during that time that we experienced amalgamation and in looking back on that time, I can only image the skill set that was required to bring 4 former boards of education under the same roof.

It wasn’t until I took the step into administration that I started to comprehend more deeply the role of senior administration and the Director and have a more personal connection.  I can recall the day that Bill Tucker’s promotion to Director was shared with the system. Many had assumed that one of the Executive Superintendents would have been selected ~ but instead the trustees selected, Bill, who was, at the time, the Superintendent with responsibilities for Special Education.   During Bill’s time as Director, I had the opportunity to take part in a number of system initiatives ~ all of a sudden, the Director became much more than a name on letterhead.

Fast forward a few more years and I was heading to the Board office to take on the role of Learning Supervisor, Laura Elliott was promoted from Executive Superintendent of Program to Director.   She embraced the role with a promise to move TVDSB forward with creativity and innovation.   Laura was very supportive and a champion of many initiatives.  She was quick to send a compliment and encourage you to take risks. She will be missed.

So, now as we look towards the next reign of leadership in TVDSB, I’d like to share my hope for the new Director.

May they be someone who:

  • Embraces passion for people over passion for programs
  • Challenges others to collaborate and not compete
  • Listens well and talks less
  • Has the courage to make the tough decisions but the compassion to understand the fallout
  • Trusts their team and takes their lead when necessary
  • Appreciates and demonstrates humility, vulnerability and risk taking
  • Creates a culture that we can all be proud to be a part of


When you think of the leadership qualities of a Director, what is most important to you?


Come write with me…..

Here’s to Paving New Ground

Ah… the joys of a slow Sunday morning.  As the early sunshine streamed in the kitchen window, the sparking rays were catching the corner on the cover of the latest edition of Professionally Speaking, which was placed on the kitchen table ~ the usual pit stop between the mailbox at the end of the driveway and my office at the end of the hallway.  Instead of taking the magazine to its final resting place, I decided to leaf through the pages as I enjoyed my breakfast.  I was thrilled to see that Cultivating Readers by friends Anne Elliott and Mary Lynch was featured as one of the recently released books.  If you are looking for a summer read and have yet to purchase this resource, I would HIGHLY recommend it. Mary and Anne capture every necessary component of a comprehensive reading program. It is brilliantly written!

As I came to the final page, I quickly recognized the face featured in the article entitled, Money Man, although the Dragon’s Den reference in the subtitle was news to me.

I had the pleasure of meeting Lane Merrifield about 5 years ago at a Mindshare conference in Toronto.  He was there with Jordan Tinney (Superintendent in Surrey BC) and together they were sharing the positive impact that FreshGrade ~ a student/parent/teacher digital portfolio Application ~ was having in Surrey. In that school district, educators were provided with the opportunity to use FreshGrade as both a formal and informal means of sharing student achievement with families.  It was used as a viable and meaningful replacement for their Provincial report card.  In TVDSB, we were in the beginning stages of piloting FreshGrade and it was so meaningful to have the opportunity to meet and chat with the founder, Lane Merrifield.  He openly and passionately shared the reason behind the creation of the application.  It came about following a meeting with his own son’s teacher, where he left feeling that there needed to be a better way to have a connection/lens into the school day.   With such an admirable reason for creating a product that had the potential to be a game changer for home/school connection, I was all in, in terms of supporting this pilot for our school board.

During our first year, we experienced several technical challenges with trying to merge their operating system with Trillium, but FreshGrade was phenomenal with their support. We had not only online technical support at our fingertips, but their president and CEO; Chris Besse would travel from BC to Ontario to assist with the implementation.  The second year things got better and teachers started to dig into the potential of this product.

Two years ago, when we opened Sir Arthur Currie, we became a pilot school where all teachers had access and every student had their own digital portfolio.  Going from a system role where I was supporting at an arm’s length, to being in the trenches seeing it work first hand was phenomenal.  I saw Lane’s dream of creating a school community where no longer could children reply with “Nothing” when family members asked, “So what did you do at school today?”

As a school administrator, I have access to all 625 of our portfolios and I regularly check them.  It gives me a tremendous lens into what educators capture as evidence of student learning and how our family members are interacting with the Application.  I celebrate how our educators are using the Application and the exceptional learning opportunities that they are offering our learners.

Now, in our second year, students have 2 years’ worth of documentation and it is incredible to see their growth.  I can honestly say that it is rare for us to take part in a team meeting, where family members do not refer to the power of FreshGrade. They love it and it has became a part of the beautiful tapestry that sets our school apart from others.

However, as of a few weeks ago, I learned that as we look to the fall of 2019, I would now have the task of sharing the news with both our educators and our families, that FreshGrade is no longer an option for us in TVDSB.

With a lens on fiscal responsibility, consistency, control and Ministry support, the board has decided that educators can use G-Suite or D2L (Brightspace) as a platform for digital portfolios.  They align more seamlessly with online learning modules and are free.  Next week, our staff will be provided with training on Brightspace.  I am praying that it will be as effective and as user friendly (for educators, students and family members) as FreshGrade.  It will be heartbreaking for us if we lose ground on all of the wonderful school-home connections that we have built in two short years, especially as there has been a significant focus on looking for innovative ways to bring families into the day-to-day learning in schools.  I am staying positive!!

Back to the article…. When Lane was asked, who his favourite historical figures were, he replied, “Anyone who stood up to the establishment and paved new ground”.   I smiled as I read this part and couldn’t help but wonder (for just a second)~ what would happen if I stood up to the Board and continued to use FreshGrade for our school community ~ knowing that it was making a difference and that it is currently the right tool for what we’re hoping to accomplish.

Lane also shared that his most important lesson in school was “Perseverance”.

So here’s to our perseverance with this new tool. At the end of the day, I know that our SAC crew will rise to the occasion and do whatever they need to do to continue to build bridges with our community so that evidence of student learning is shared and celebrated.

What are your thoughts on the power of digital portfolios and celebrating student learning….

Come write with me….

Ode to the Artists

Whenever I sit down to craft an “I am” poem I can conjure up hundreds of descriptors for the final word in the opening line ~ but “Artistic” would never be one of them.

I am, however, a lover of The Arts.  I watch in amazement as dancers move in time to music and tell a story through dance.  My simplistic Hustle moves pale in comparison. I feel it in the pit of my stomach when a singer hits a magical note and holds it for an eternity ~ creating such emotion, that all too often that pit in my stomach bursts through as tears in my eyes.  I am on the edge of my seat as I am transported to other places when watching live theatre.  The actors use ever muscle to create experiences that I can relive over and over in my mind.  Then there are those artists who create works of art through paint and sculpture ~ to be able to create something so incredible on a canvas that once blank or to take a piece of marble/clay and release a masterpiece from it is a talent second to none.

Over the past two days, I have been blessed with a couple of opportunities to feed my passion for the Arts.  On Thursday, I stopped by the Art with Panache studio to see the opening of the Crossed Arm exhibition.  Julia Armstrong (my daughter’s future mother-in-law) and Margaret Crosby were displaying their latest works of art. Julia’s creations use oils with texture to capture the beauty of the landscape or the emotion of the subjects. I stood and looked in amazement trying to imagine how a palette of paint is transformed into something so creative.  Do the colours magically combine?  Is there a predetermined scene that she is trying to recreate? Does she know that when colour A, whispers past colour B that the end product will be so stunning?

My second exposure to the Arts was a fun-filled night at the Original Kids production of Rock of Ages.  A friend’s son is in the cast so I jumped at the chance to go and enjoy it.  Throughout most of the play, I sat in amazement at the thought that these are high school aged youth, who are singing, dancing and acting with such professionalism and style.  Their talent, their bravery and their passion for their craft shone through.   Kudos to Original Kids for providing this experience for so many children in our community.

Although we may not have a Provincial Assessment to measure our student’s mastery of The Arts, it does not mean that they are not imperative to the growth and development of our future generation.  The Arts builds empathy, compassion and understanding. I am so thankful to those educators whose passion for the Arts is alive and well.  Thanks for the opportunities to allow our students to perform and shine!

Come write with me…

Be Our Guest

They were literally dancing and singing as they came down the hall. Two grade 7 girls were so excited that they couldn’t contain their enthusiasm for a visit from a “guest teacher”. They shared that their teacher had told them about a special guest teacher and they recalled that last year, when their teacher shared that a guest was coming, it was Ryan Matthews (our former Instructional Coach). So they were hoping that Mr. Matthews was coming today and their prediction was correct.

Then a few doors down, our Grade 3 students were thrilled that their special guest, Mary Lynch (not only a teacher, but a real life author and personal friend of their teacher) was stopping by for a visit.

Today was not a special day ~ It was just another day!

One of the many exciting features of SAC is that our hallways are always filled with guests. Our crew has created a culture where they frequently reach out to not only each other, but to system support staff and invite them to co-plan and co-teach.

I believe that almost every  SAC classroom educator from grades 1-8 has worked with our current instructional coach, Kristina Van Hees on at least one occasion and most of them have worked regularly with her.  The students see her as one of our staff members ~ she is even in our staff photo and featured on our Currie Crew #oneword display J

Sarah Sanders has been a welcomed guest in a number of our classes as she has helped to build our knowledge about Indigenous people.

Erin Mutch has supported both school wide initiatives, such as our naturalized playground and classroom activities.

Terry Brown has brought his robotics expertise to our school and as one can imagine the grade 7/8 students learned so much from him.

David Carruthers has visited on several occasions to support VR Expeditions.

And the list goes on….

When we open our classroom doors to guests on a regular basis, we create a school culture where our students see their teachers as learners. They see them embracing the chance to work with other teachers.  Collaboration (between adults and students) becomes a natural form of learning.

How often do you invite a guest into your classroom?

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The Forest of Learning

As it is with most of our adventures, it’s all hands on deck at SAC over the next 6 days as our grade 3 and grade 6 learners demonstrate their mastery of the Ontario Curriculum by completing their Provincial EQAO assessments.  This year we have a number of grade 3 students who require scribing in order for them to provide the most accurate evidence of their understanding and we want to ensure that our students have a relationship with their scribe.  One of our educators partners in a Kindergarten classroom in the morning and provides support for our grade 3s in the pm, so it makes the most sense for her to be a scribe.  Therefore, I get the opportunity to spend the morning with one of our Kindergarten classes.  Today we ventured out to our Forest of Learning for the first 50 minutes of the day.   Once I counted heads, multiple times, to ensure that all 27 of the students were safely in the gated Forest of Learning, completed a Health and Safety walk about, moving precariously fallen tree limbs and double checked with my ECE partner that the garter snake that was spotted last week had not recently emerged, I relaxed somewhat and started to engage in conversations with our students.  I was amazed at the learning activities that they were spontaneously engaged it.  It needs to be noted that Karen Vilon, our Kindergarten Outdoor Education Specialty Educator, has done an amazing job of creating such a rich, engaging and fun space ~ which continually evolves and changes.  From bubble containers on the fence, to huge magnifying glasses, to raised vegetable beds, to an outdoor kitchen set, to balances hanging in trees to multiple examples of numbers throughout the Forest, there is definitely not a lack of tools for the students to engage with.

As our time together continued, I transitioned from casual conversations to intentional observations of student learning.  I watched a small group of girls roll and then stack three rubber tires, to create a shelter from the rain. They were able to identify the tires as cylinders and note the properties of rolling and stacking.  I couldn’t help but wonder, how do we document that they’ve already mastered that concept in Kindergarten and will not need to revisit it with a paper and pencil assessment in the years to come.

In another part of the Forest, a small group of students were gathered around their campfire, pretending to drink mugs of hot chocolate (wood chips) and telling scary stories.  They were so kind to each other ~ taking turns and ensuring that everyone had an opportunity to share.  As I listened to them tell their stories, it was evident that they had mastered the concept of what makes a story scary and that a story needs to have characters and a beginning, middle and end. May we continue to provide our students with opportunities to share campfire stories for years to come as they develop more complex story lines.  The power of oral language needs to be honoured throughout our lifetime, not just in our childhood.

And, in yet another part of the Forest of Learning, students were navigating their way from stump to stump, demonstrating their mastery of balance and timing.

Our time in the Forest of Learning was all too short.

I learned more about that group of learners from watching them interact with each other in the Forest of Learning than I could have ever captured by sitting down and assessing them with a paper and pencil task.

I love days like today, when I get to become a learner.

When was the last time you were amazed by something that your students demonstrated?

Come write with me….

Turn off the Tech and Get Lost in a Good Book

As I was driving through one of the small towns on the way home yesterday, the radio station I was listening to was airing a spot from the local library.  The librarian was sharing highlights from a recent book about the impact of technology on reading. Many of her points were ones that I had heard before and even quoted on various occasions; most notably the connection between our current state of decreased attention span and our inability to get completely lost in a book. At times, I find myself a victim of that very reality.  These days if I want to become totally immersed in a book, my cell phone cannot be within an arm’s reach.

Her next points were connections I had not pondered. As students are no longer reading fiction (without interruption) at the same rate as past generations, their ability to feel empathy has been compromised.   It is through immersing ourselves in fiction that we learn to see the world through the eyes of other characters. I love sharing a read aloud and then asking questions such as, “How do you think the character felt when they ….?  Or, “If you were the main character, what would you be thinking at this point in the story? ”Those students who can provide rich responses to such questions have connected with the character on a very special level.  They have been able to get inside the mind of the character.   Those students tend to be more empathetic and kind towards others.

Uninterrupted reading of fiction also builds our students’ ability to problem solve and critically analyze points of view. Without opportunities to read fiction and thereby travel alongside the characters’ journey ~ experiencing their thought process as they make decision after decision ~ we never get the chance to flex our own problem solving muscles.

A society without people who can critically evaluate various points of view and work through various options can easily fall prey to political rhetoric and thus their opinions can easily be swayed.  The implications for democracy are frightening.

With our current state of “technology at our fingers” and competing interest for our student’s uninterrupted time, our job as educators has never been more challenging ~ but when one looks at the alternative, it has never been more important!

What rich fiction story will you read your students tomorrow?  What questions will you ask that will create the conditions for them to articulate both empathy and a rich analysis of the how the characters solved a problem.

Come write with me….