What is Innovation Anyway?

I have learned so many things since becoming a school administrator 8 years ago.  One of the most important lessons that I have learned is to respect the reality that teachers are all at different places in developing their craft.  They are certainly at a different comfort level with using technology and with reaching out beyond the way we have always done things in the classroom.

Once I realized this important lesson,  I also realized that the idea of “innovation” looks different for all of us.  I was reading a blog post recently written by George Couros. He was talking about how we have this idea that innovation is something huge, and because of this, we may not feel like we can be innovative.  I have been reflecting on this idea this week.

One of the favorite parts of my job as a school administrator is that I can see a little piece of everyone’s classroom and the learning going on within,  pretty much whenever I want.  What a treat!

I feel like I see the most wonderful and often innovative things happening, but teachers do not think they are being innovative because they are “just doing what teachers do” in their minds.

Our school division puts a priority on technology and encouraging innovation and engagement.  We do not lack in bandwidth or devices.  For that, I am extremely grateful.  A few year’s ago my vice-principal and I decided we wanted to push our teachers a bit out of the comfort zone and have everyone set a goal to have a way to use technology with their students that allowed their students to be creative and make connections.  It did not have to be anything crazy, but just taking one step away from using our devices for drill and practice activities.

I was so proud of all of our teachers.  When given the chance to start from wherever they were and take a small leap, most of them really shined.

Since we did not want this to be a one and done, this year we have challenged them to take some activity or learning lesson they have done with their students before and reflect on ways to tweak it or add to it or change it to make it even better for their students through making connections or creative endeavours using technology.

Are they being innovative?  I think so!  To quote the blog post mentioned earlier in the post, “Small changes, big difference.”  I can’t wait to see what they all come up with.

Meaningful Mindset

http://timetothrivecoaching.com
http://timetothrivecoaching.com

Here I am being prompted to write another post because of something I saw on Facebook.  I am not sure if that means I should spend less time on Facebook or not, because it does lead me to think of some important topics.   Growth mindset is a topic that comes up often in educational discussions these days.  Growth mindset for teachers, growth mindset for students…what does that even mean?

The particular post I was reading on Facebook was a person venting out about city planning here in the City of Estevan.  I am not sure why people continue to vent things out on social media using a string of curse words to get their points across, but that is the subject of another post perhaps.  The thing about this post and the number of comments that followed, was the attitude that we can just post something, get others to join in a negative tirade and then feel that some positive change might come out of that.  I know schools and school principals are sometimes the target of these posts and if the truth be known, most times we don’t even see them.  It is difficult to promote positive action or change when the right people do not even receive your thoughts or concerns, which is probably what happened in this case.

I have to wonder, if we stopped for a moment before venting out the negative and spent some time, sharing positive solutions or possibilities, what a difference that might make.  I don’t know much about city planning and even though the railway tracks going down the middle of the city cause me some frustration at times, it seems to me, if I want a voice in decisions, I need to get involved in a positive way.

I came across a blog post on the weekend titled, “Quit Complaining”.  It caught my eye, because it was exactly what I was thinking in response to the Facebook post.   The author of the blog post explained that complaining negatively impacts the energy of the complainer and everyone around that person.  The post goes on to say, after 30 minutes, the effects of complaining actually start to change the ability to problem solve.

“Exposure to negativity for 30 minutes or more impacts the neurons in the hippocampus, impairing the ability to problem solve. We give away our power and become victims when we focus on complaints over solutions.”

In my last post, I mentioned the opportunity I  had, recently,  to listen to Tom Hierck speak on student engagement with the rest of our school division admin team.  Our grades 4-12 teachers then spent the day listening to him at the beginning of October.  One of the messages he left with us was the opportunity we all have to judge the actions of others in a positive or negative light.

For example, the person who cuts you off in traffic…

Is that person really being a jerk, who is irresponsible or has that person simply made an error in judgement that we all make at different times while driving?   Mr. Hierck was trying to get the point across that we should consider giving the benefit of the doubt in these simple situations and moving on without misplacing frustration and energy on negative paths that truly lead no where.

It makes sense when you think about it.  The time spent stewing in frustration or anger is lost on the person who cut you off, but takes away from the ability we have to move on with our day and focus our energy on much more important things.

www.flickr.com
http://www.flickr.com

Having a growth mindset, seems to be the ability to  focus on the process of learning rather than the fixed end result that cannot be changed.  Is it possible there might better way to do something  I have done a million times, if I stay open to the possibilities?  Can I truly stop and consider someone else’s perspective and be a better, more informed person because of it?  Can I make a mistake and look at it as a pathway for growth, rather than a failure?  Can I tackle something difficult and not give up in the middle of the struggle? Can I look at my weaknesses as opportunity for growth and not be discouraged?

So, what does this mean for students in the classroom?

We used to believe that intelligence and ability was fixed.  A sort of-you either have it or you don’t when it came to intelligence and talent. When I was in school, we were all given intelligence tests and our overall ability was judged looking only at that number.  Over the years, research has shown us that is not the case. All of our students have the ability to grow in different areas given the right circumstances and the right motivation.

I was watching a TED Talk presentation by Carol Dweck, a Stanford University, psychologist who specializes in research studies based on motivation and “growth mindset”.  In her presentation, she is talking about the power of “not yet”.  Her theory seems to be,  we are always on a continuum of growth towards achieving our goals.  Students who have been taught to have a growth mindset, look at challenges much differently than those who are just aiming for a passing grade or the end result.  Students with a growth mindset will not give up when given a difficult challenge, but rather look to it as being “not yet” there.

She offers many studies that show having a growth mindset can make a huge difference for our students and their ability to problem solve.  Her advice to parents and teachers is to stop telling our students how wonderful they are.

Now, we might say… “What? We are trying to build up their self-esteem?

She does not want us to stop praising them, she just wants us to think about how and what we are praising.  Instead of always telling our children and students that every little thing they accomplish is the best, she believes we should praise the struggle, the quest for understanding, the process needed to stretch and solve problems.

The “Quit Complaining” blog post, I mentioned earlier, suggested a quick strategy that might benefit us as adults, but seems to me could be a habit that might benefit our students as well.  The strategy was to simply add the word “so” to the end of our complaints or frustrations followed by the actions needed to make a positive difference.

If we go back to the complainer I mentioned at the beginning of this post, it might go something like this…

I get so frustrated by many of the decisions made by the city planners, so I think I should try to contact my city counselor and explain my frustrations and find out why certain decisions are made or think about running for city council so I would have a voice in the decisions that are made.

Now, I know, that sounds a bit optimistic, but again, if we do nothing, we get nothing.

Is it possible to change our language in classrooms to promote positive mindsets in our students? Rather than praising the student for doing well, can we instead, praise the process or the struggle?  When a student makes a mistake or does not quite achieve to the level he or she needs to be at, can we promote a “not yet” there atmosphere instead of a “you failed” atmosphere? Can we focus on the problem solving or seeking positive solution, type actions in our classrooms, rather than on end results?

We cannot do this alone.  Like most things that happen in schools, we need parents and families to be an equal part of the team.  Can parents also promote the idea that learning and growth is a process and perhaps it is okay if we are “not yet” there, “so” how are we going to get there?  Our first response may be to solve problems for our children, but imagine the benefit to them learning to solve problems for themselves.

Learning from the struggle.

Our students do not need to be praised for every move they make. They do not need a reward for every step they take.  Instead, they need encouragement to build a growth mindset that will take them into the future.  If we model and encourage growth mindset, we could be well on our way to having a group of young adults that might not be discouraged when challenged and might not expect to be rewarded for completing the simplest task.

 Imagine what those young adults might accomplish.

 

Understanding the (not so) New Math

https://en.wikipedia.org/
https://en.wikipedia.org/

I will confess I am a social media junkie and like to participate on a daily basis.  I encourage our teachers to use twitter accounts to share classroom happenings and I put effort into keeping our Pleasantdale School twitter account and Facebook page up to date. I have always had an unwritten rule about social media, that I follow not matter what.  I do not allow myself to jump into negative discussions.  I do not feel that social media is the place to voice our misunderstandings and would rather go to the source and try to educate myself before jumping on a negative band wagon that I may not understand.

Earlier this week, however, I came across a Facebook post about the “new” math.  Now I put quotations around “new” because I personally feel it is “not so new”.  I understand why people call it new, because it is different approach to teaching and learning math than most adults have experienced. The Facebook post I am referring to is one many of you have probably seen.  It shows a simple math question being answered in one step and then goes to compare the same math question being solved in multiple steps, using what might be an unfamiliar strategy for many of us.  The post goes on to imply that the long drawn out answer is what makes our “new” math so ridiculous and nonsensical.  It also implies that all aspects of all math classes involve long drawn processes, rather than a simple algorithm solution.

Now, most of know that things in the media or, as an extension, social media, can be portrayed just a bit biased or out of the context of the big picture.  In seeing the post I felt myself being drawn into the discussion.  I explained my understanding and experience of math in the classroom on a daily basis.  I quickly, however, jumped out as the discussion continued on in a negative direction.  I could see that no one was wanting to consider any other perspective than the one they already had.

As a child my experience with math was a very negative one.  I would start each new year, with my new scribbler doing well with the first review unit.  I like my notebooks neat and clean and would line up my questions in neat and tidy rows, feeling confident.  However, my confidence was more often than not, soon dashed.  I did not understand numbers and my memorization of basic algorithms only took me so far. Soon my tidy notebook was a mess of erased spots, scribbles and re-written numbers.   I could not transfer my understandings from one context to another and soon found myself repeating the same memorization process while being secluding away from the rest of the class with others like me. Somehow repeating the same methods of learning, over and over again, never really worked.

My experience was so negative that when I was choosing where I wanted to go after high school I actually tried to find a future career that would not require me to do any math. I remember flipping through college brochures trying to find some career in which I could work with children but never have to teach them math.  Thankfully, my confidence in math did build as an adult and although I did not directly start my career to be a teacher and a principal, I was able to achieve these goals and I realized, as an adult, I could in fact understand and do math.

Grade 4, Understanding Multiplication
Grade 4, Understanding Multiplication

This story and confession leads me to why I wanted to write this post, rather than continue in a negative Facebook discussion.  I think that there are many parents, community members, and others who still wonder why we are teaching math in this “new” way.  I think we have tried to educate others about the need for our students to understand numbers and not just memorize algorithms in order to be successful in using math in many different situations.  I also think that we need to continue to do so.

I have countless moments of awe when I am hanging out in math classes with students.  As a matter of fact, my own math confidence continues to grow as I watch our student work in math classes demonstrating, for me, ways to break down and understand numbers I have never considered before.  I can relate to the struggle a non-confident math student goes through and it is a wonderful thing watching them reach understanding by allowing them to use other strategies and straying away from only memorizing basic algorithms.

Representing numbers, Mrs. Mukendi, Oxbow School
Representing numbers, Mrs. Mukendi, Oxbow School

One of the best explanations for our need to use “new” math strategies , that I have seen, is in a video Why is Math Different Now?  Posted by Dr. Raj Shah who is the owner and founder of Math Plus Academy in Columbus, Ohio.  I hope you will take a few minutes and an open mind to watch his explanation and consider his thoughts.

The things I think I would like to share about math in the classroom today are the following:

  1. There are many ways to arrive at an answer to a math problem, not just one.
  2. It will perhaps surprise some, that the “old” way of doing math is still a strategy taught to our students and used in the classroom every day, but it is not the only one.
  3. It also may surprise some to know that we do, in fact, continue to drill the basic math facts that provide the foundation to all other math.
  4. Many of the problems that will face our children, are not one-step, one solution kind of problems.  We will need our children to understand there are many solutions to most problems and have the skills needed to consider those multiple solutions.
  5. The thing that has the greatest effect on a child’s confidence in math is the attitude of parents or caregivers to the subject.  Positive talk about math, new or old, is very important to student success.
Grade 5, Patterns in numbers
Grade 5, Patterns in numbers

 

I think raising children and teaching are two of the hardest, but most rewarding things that we are blessed to be able to do.  I hope we will not keep adding new things to our already busy lives, but I hope we will never keep trying to get better at the things we already do.  If you are wondering about reasons we have moved to the processes involved in “new” math in the classroom today, please do not hesitate to talk to a teacher.

 

 

Staying the Course

 

http://magicalmarketingmakeover.com/
http://magicalmarketingmakeover.com/

Everywhere we turn in the media are interviews and information about job stress.  I have seen multiple articles, posts and studies lately about the teaching profession and how many young teachers we are losing due to job stress and other reasons.  The statistics show that our young teachers are only staying in the profession for 4 or 5 years and then moving on to something else. This morning I came across an article about stress in the teaching profession and I was shocked by the negative and misguided comments written in response.

 

 

 

Teacher well-being is a timely topic for many of us. I have always considered myself to be a high energy and tackle anything coming my way, sort of person, but at the end of last year I was definitely suffering from some serious stress related health problems.

Over the summer I realized 2 things:

1.  I can’t make everyone happy no matter how hard I try to no matter how many extra hours I put in.

2.  I can’t solve everyone’s problems no matter how hard I try to and no matter how many extra hours I put in.

I think there might be a few different reasons that young teachers are moving on from our profession at what some might consider an alarming rate.  I have noticed a change in the respect given to teachers over the course of my teaching career.

I didn’t always want to be a teacher, but once I decided that was the direction I was going, I was always proud to be able to say I am a teacher.  It didn’t matter what school I was in or what position I had.  Over the course of my career, I have taught every grade kindergarten through grade 12 in some capacity or another and have enjoyed them all.

Some of the lack of respect I notice seems to come from government, who do not always treat us like professionals in the manner we might like, some comes from the public perception that seems to be driven through media,  and yes, I think we need to take responsibility for some of it as well.

http://timetothrivecoaching.com
http://timetothrivecoaching.com

I sometimes look back and wonder if I was starting all over again, if I would still choose to be a teacher.  I look around me and see many other professionals which appear to have equal job satisfaction, making much more money than me with much less educational investment.

As you might have guessed by what I have said so far, I am pretty close to retirement, so I am not changing my focus from teaching at the moment.  As a matter of fact, I am not even negative about my job and I enjoy what I do very much.  If you ask any of my three children if they want to be a teacher, they will answer with a resounding “NO”.  I am not sure if that is a reflection of what they have observed in me or if it is just their destiny to go in another direction.

I have learned over the years that I do not function well without a challenge.  I can become bored with what I am doing and need to add some element of challenge, before I suffer discontent.  It has happened a few times over the years, but I have been able to find enough opportunities within the teaching profession to branch out and try different things.

One piece of advice I would give to others is to keep learning and keep challenging yourself to be better at what you do. I think we do enjoy some autonomy within our profession that we do not always take advantage of.  Yes, our curricular outcomes are mandated to us and many expectations are directed to us, but how we meet those outcomes and live up to the expectations is up to us, so why not have a little fun with it.  I hope that I set this example  for the teachers I work with and they know that thinking outside the box is always welcome and trying new things is what it should be all about.

images2DS5Y4E6

I have also learned, maybe recently, as a result of my health problems, that I can step back and let others be leaders.  I do not have to control everything that goes on around me.  I know now that I cannot make everyone happy, so I need to step back and let others take control at times and not feel like I am personally responsible for everything that happens in our school.  I am not very good at this, but getting better and I think that it is a benefit to our students every time I am able to do it.

Most of the teachers I know do not like to brag about the things they do in their classrooms, despite the fact that, in my perception,  many of them are doing wonderful things.   To them it is ordinary and not worth talking about.  I think this may be part of the reason not every teacher wants to jump into using Twitter.  They might judge the educators that share as bragging or feel like they do not have anything worth sharing.

I think the “bragging” is more like sharing, collaborating and branding.  The one thing we all want more of is time and it seems to make sense to me to share the things we are doing so we are not all starting over from the beginning.  The ideas, thoughtful information and support that I receive from my twitter involvement is incredible.

http://www.jenksps.org/
http://www.jenksps.org/

Another reason I think the sharing is so important is because we need to tell our positive story.  If we allow others to tell our story it often comes from media sources that might not portray the positive things that are happening in our classrooms and schools.  If we make an effort to tell our own stories more often maybe we can change the negative attitude that I was reading about this morning, by offering up a different perspective.

Maybe we can engage our parents and communities in what we are doing.

Maybe we can set a positive example for our students as they are portraying their own “brands” in the social media world, if they see us sharing positive and exciting things about our schools.

I agree that things can be discouraging and there are many stressful things that teachers deal with on a daily basis that I did not even touch on in this little rant, such as class size, data tracking, high level behavioral issues.  The list can go on and on really, but I choose to concentrate on the things we can control and try to support the people around me in doing the same.

Thanks #saskedchat for helping me stay the course.

cropped-cropped-Screenshot-2015-02-20-16_50_25

 

 

Celebrating the Moments

http://www.edutopia.org/
http://www.edutopia.org/

I been thinking recently how hard it can be to stay right in the moment in this job.  It seems like with the greater focus on gathering data and striving toward future goals it can be easy to forget to celebrate the journey and remember the story along the way. Now I am not trying to say that goals and data are not important…quite the opposite really.  I think having goals keeps us focused on continual improvement and we can’t argue with that.  Gathering data is one quick and easy way to show that we are making improvements or in some case that we are not.  It helps us know when to change our strategies and readjust our focus when striving to meet the needs of our students.

I think one thing we need to remember though, is that data does not tell the whole story.  We can get so focused on where we need to be that we forget to concentrate on where we are.

Last weekend I came across a blog post linked to twitter by Josh Stumpenhorst.  In his post titled, “Stop Preparing Students” he talks about our race to the future always preparing our students for some future moment, rather than staying in the present and enjoying and nurturing their growth where they are right now.

Every day when I am walking around our school and observing teachers and students in action, I appreciate the here and the now.  It is really what tells the story about what is happening.  It tells the story of student growth and of teachers nurturing that growth in every student in many different ways.

As we are approaching our 3-way conferences, again we are planning for the here and the now.  Students are reflecting on their own growth and what things they will share with their parents.  Our parents are wondering how their children are doing right now at this point in their growth and academic and social development.  Teachers are completing report cards taking a look at the here and now for each of their students.  They know the journey and are planning to share the story of student growth with parents next week.

Looking at data and striving toward goals is so important in our schools and in our classrooms, but taking time to celebrate the moments is important as well.  Each of our students has a story to tell, I hope we will slow down and listen.

http://www.jenksps.org/vnews/display.v/TP/5084ace25def9
http://www.jenksps.org/vnews/display.v/TP/5084ace25def9

My Take on Teachers

http://georgiatechhts.blogspot.ca/2014/09/take-time-to-thank-teacher.html
http://georgiatechhts.blogspot.ca/2014/09/take-time-to-thank-teacher.html

Two things have prompted me to choose teachers as my topic for blogging this week.  The first reason was the fact that it is World Teacher Day today and that is worth talking about.  The second reason, and much closer to my heart, is because I had the privilege of spending Friday talking to most of my teachers about their personal growth plans.  I enjoy my job most days but two of my favorite days of the year are kindergarten orientation day and I don’t even have to explain why I love that day.  My second is when I actually get to have time to sit down and connect with the teachers in our school and talk to them uninterrupted about the things going on in their classrooms and their lives.  The meetings are short and sweet, but so valuable to me.

I have been a teacher myself for 27 years.  I seems kind of weird to put that number down in writing and I have to admit that makes me feel a bit old.  During that time I have had many different experiences and have taught every grade from kindergarten through grade 12 in one capacity or the other.  I have also had the opportunity to work with countless wonderful teacher colleagues from who I have learned many thing about life and teaching.  When I am walking around our school and in and out of classrooms, I am able to observe learning and teaching at its finest.  It is a great feeling I get to have as a principal knowing that the students in our school are learning and growing everyday under the direction of the hard working and dedicated teachers we have. reading Countless studies conducted on teacher effectiveness support the fact that effective teachers not only make students feel good about school and learning, but also  a teacher’s work results in increased student achievement. As a matter of fact a number of them indicate the teacher is the single most important factor.

Research studies such as these would be no surprise to someone like me who witnesses the effect of a teacher on his or her students every single day I am at my job.  Teachers are not only presenting lessons on curricular outcomes and helping students work through academic problems.  More importantly, they are helping students every day work through many social issues and problems, wiping away tears and helping students fix mistakes that they have made, handing out hugs when they might not be there from other sources and offering support for students in countless other ways. As a principal, it makes sense to me that one of the most important parts of my job is to support my teachers because I know the effect they are having on our students every day.  It is important to have days such as World Teacher Day, so we can stop and think for a moment about the countless ways a teacher has had an effect on our lives.  I hope we do not have to wait for a day such as this to be set aside for us to see the importance of supporting and thanking our teachers. I know I don’t.

“This is the value of the teacher, who looks at a face and says there’s something behind that and I want to reach that person, I want to influence that person, I want to encourage that person, I want to enrich, I want to call out that person who is behind that face, behind that color, behind that language, behind that tradition, behind that culture. I believe you can do it. I know what was done for me.”  —Maya Angelou

Roaring into Reading

reading2

One of the things I feel I need to improve on is using our data to drive our goals and instruction at the school level.  The more I work with data, the more I appreciate the information we are able to gather from it, and it’s usefulness when it comes to achieving our school goals.

As we approached the end of last school year we realized our early learning reading scores were not as high as we would like them to be, and some of our students had not made as much improvement with their reading as we would have liked to see.  We decided as a staff that we needed to dedicate our efforts to the improvement of our young readers.  After much research and discussion we decided front loading of phonological awareness skills was where we were going to start.  Our student support teachers organized groupings according to our May benchmarking scores and set about planning and getting materials prepared to hit our students hard with small group phonological awareness and reading, on a daily basis, as soon as we returned to school in the fall.

We decided to call our groups ROAR, which stands for Really Outrageous at Reading.  We started first thing Monday morning on the second week of school.  We divided our grade ones and twos into small groups with each adult taking a group every day for 20 to 30 minutes.  We are using  the classroom teachers, principal, student support teachers, custodian, educational assistants, library technician, office administrator, counselor and speech language pathologist to run our groups. It is a real testament to the strength of our school team, when so many members are willing to help.

 

reading3

At the beginning of the week our little students seemed a bit reluctant and unsure about what was going on.  The second morning when I asked my group members if they had read their books at home, not all of them replied yes, but as the week went by the excitement for the groups continued to grow.  Pretty soon the students couldn’t wait to line up and get to our rooms so we could get started.  Now when I ask them all if they have read their books at home and practiced their sight words, they usually reply with a rounding yes!

A typical group meeting would begin with a new book.  As we are reading the book we are talking about letters, blends, syllables, rhymes and making predictions about what is coming next.  We spend some time recalling events after we are finished reading, then  move on to play a game involving sight words, letter sounds or something along those lines.  Every few days the group leader will change-up the game and we rotate books and activities on a regular basis.

reading

ROAR has been a lot of work for our student support teachers who spent endless hours in June getting all of our reading materials and activities ready.  They have met with our staff and trained all of us, teaching us the routines we needed to follow on the daily basis.  Our two student support teachers are the ones we go to if we are having any problems or issues along the way.

We plan to carry out ROAR for about 8 weeks, then screen all of our students to see if they have made any improvements in our reading scores from May data.   My guess is we will see improvements.  We hope to do ROAR again this year with our young students and hopefully move into our other age groups as well.

reading4

It has been such an honor for me to be involved with our reading groups.  It is fun to be up close and personal with our early years students and I can’t help but be excited by their enthusiasm for learning.  I can’t wait to see the data we gather from our screening in October and  look forward to being involved with our next ROAR project.

 

My Son, The Learner

http://familyonbikes.org/blog/2011/07/why-do-some-people-live-their-dreams-and-others-dont/
http://familyonbikes.org/blog/2011/07/why-do-some-people-live-their-dreams-and-others-dont/

Late last night as I was watching TV my son appeared from outside.  When I questioned him as to where he had been, he replied, “I was building stuff.”  He then proceeded to show me an elaborate potato gun he had constructed and explain to me how it would work.  He also made sure I knew that he did the best with the materials he could find in our shed. (Not his ideal materials apparently)  The potato gun was something that he had seen at a conservation camp he had attended recently sponsored by the Estevan Wildlife Association.

Many times I have been amazed at the learning attitude that my son Nate has.  He sees himself capable of many things.  He can picture how something will go together, how he can make things, even how he can mix chemicals to create elaborate fireworks displays for friends and family. (I know, I know… who lets their 15-year-old do that?)  If he does not know how to do something, he will “Google it” or “You Tube it” to clarify. He never sees limits in what he can learn and accomplish when he is busy with his passions.  He will construct, test, and reconstruct, test over and over again to create the exact chemical reaction he is seeking in a firework.

I am amazed by him.

The flip side of this story though, is that my son has struggled in school since he started kindergarten.  He had trouble learning his letters, then he did not learn to read until after most of his classmates were well on their way.  He still struggles to find the motivation to memorize things and apply them in the school setting. He hates chemistry, not because he does not understand chemicals and their reactions, but  because he is put off by the need to memorize the periodic table and the lack of hands on learning experiences.  He is struggling to complete his high school in a setting that does not allow for much flexibility or creativity.

I do not worry about Nate’s success in life, but I do worry about his success in the school setting.

Last night I was watching a video of Tony Wagner speaking on “Play, Passion, Purpose” thinking about my son and other students surviving their education.  Dr. Wagner speaks of the antiquated education system and gives many examples and reasons why we need to change our teaching and learning.  He talks about allowing students to play, to explore their passions and to find purpose for their learning.

At times, change in our educational system seems so slow it is hard to recognize.  I realize I need to be part of that change.  Meeting the needs of today’s learner is something I am very passionate about and spend quite a bit of time learning and collaborating with others about.  Last year I had the opportunity to go back into the classroom after spending 5 years as a Learning Support Teacher and school administrator.  It was such a learning experience for me to be “walking my talk” with my staff.  One of the things I tried with my grade 6 and 8 students was Genius Hour.  It was fun to allow time for students to pursue passions and work together to learn new things and it was such an excellent way to get to know them.  When I reflect back on this experience there were many positives, some negatives and, of course, many things I would change.

http://secondstreet.edublogs.org/2014/02/25/presenting-genius-hour/
http://secondstreet.edublogs.org/2014/02/25/presenting-genius-hour/

This summer I read the book “Inquiry and Innovation in the Classroom” by A.J. Juliani and have been participating in a book chat on Friday mornings #2k14reads. We will be meeting for two more weeks, so please join us.   I plan to do Genius Hour with my students again this year, using some ideas from the book and things that were shared by the many wise teachers in the book chat.  One of the things I realized last year was that I did not front load my students enough about what passions really are.  Students are not used to having free time to pursue the types of learning they do outside of the school day.  They need to see themselves as learners and realize that learning does not have to be teacher driven.

I hope that I can encourage others to work toward project based learning, driven by students.  We need our young people to have the intrinsic motivation to learn from mistakes, such as the learning I see in my son when he is chasing his passions.

Having Fun Doing It

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/03/20/how-laughter-keeps-us-san_n_177353.html
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/03/20/how-laughter-keeps-us-san_n_177353.html

I was able to start my week in Saskatoon at the Saskatchewan IT Summit.  Not only that, but I had the opportunity to take two of my teachers with me and totally enjoyed being able to get to know them away from our building.  All in all it was a fantastic way to start my week.

There were many great ideas presented to us at the conference but my favorite part had to be our key-note speaker, Rushton Hurley.  He was full of very practical and easy to incorporate ideas and was funny and engaging to listen to.  Rushton offered up various links and ready to use resources, many of which I was able to come back to my classroom and use this week.  Take the time to check out his website Next Vista for Learning. It is a free online library of teacher and student made videos, organized and ready to use.  I used some of the videos and set my grade 6 students figuring out a new web tool, narrable.com.

Listening to Rushton brought forth a very important message that I feel we need to stop and remember on a daily basis.

Slow down and have fun being a teacher.

Here are a couple of my tweets as I listened to him.

I think it is easy to get caught up in the negative things that can be going on around us and overwhelmed with the demands of our jobs, rather than taking the time to enjoy the little moments each day that make us laugh.

We have had a difficult couple of weeks in Estevan and in our school division as a whole with the tragic death of a young teacher.  As we tried to rally around our own during that time and offer whatever support we could, the true meaning of what we need to remember to do came crashing to the surface for me.

Slow down and enjoy the moments.

Attending the memorial service and then attending the conference and listening to Rushton just drove it home a little more.

We need to take time to have fun with each other and with our students.

I know I am constantly bragging up my staff at school, but trust me I have reason to brag.  We try to have a lot of fun together which might be illustrated by a little trick that was played on me when I was at the conference last week.

BnFPnfQCcAExomD

Every day at school my little students make me laugh.  They are so funny, curious and passionate that it is difficult to have a bad day when we slow down and enjoy them.

Learning needs to be fun and we need to remember to have fun doing it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Strong Relationships for Student Success

http://www.childswork.com/blog/2012/02/building-better-relationships-between-schools-and-parents-of-special-needs-students/
http://www.childswork.com/blog/2012/02/building-better-relationships-between-schools-and-parents-of-special-needs-students/

 

 

We have just completed another round of 3-way conferences and in some cases teachers are still meeting with a few parents who needed rescheduled times. As I was leaving the school on Wednesday evening when conferences were finished,  reflecting on how things had gone, and feeling very weary, I must admit,  I also felt lucky to have a teaching staff that always has what is best for students in mind  and lucky to have the parents that try to advocate for their children.

Even though the process requires very long hours of preparation and dedication, the importance of the relationship building and communication are priceless.

I have had quite a few conversations with parents lately who have called me with concerns, or in some cases I have had to contact them due to behavior issues.  The one thing I  tell those parents, and wish I could tell all of our parents, is how grateful I am when they are strong advocates for their children.  I wish all of our students had strong advocates.

I am always grateful when parents come to me with a concern or question and appreciate the effort they are putting in on behalf of their children.  We may not always understand the motivation behind their concerns, but, in that moment they are reaching out to forge a relationship that will benefit their child.

Relationships take time, effort and determination.  As a parent myself I can be confused  by what my son’s teachers expect from me. Do they want me to be involved, even if it comes on my terms and in my way?  Would they rather I left decisions regarding my son’s education up to them and did not interfere? or are we both seeking a balance?

I think we are not always very clear about our expectations for our parents.  It is easy to become discouraged when we reach out and they are not responsive.  Before making quick judgments, take a moment to remember we do not always know what our parents are dealing with and what they are bringing to the table.  What we interpret to be lack of interest or caring or criticism for the things we are trying to do, can in fact be something totally different.

I have been lucky to forge very critical relationships with teachers and principals as I have followed and supported my three children through school.  My youngest son is now in grade 10 and I continue to seek out ways to communicate and  be an advocate for him.  I have met teachers who were not interested in relationships and found this disappointing and discouraging.  However, the majority of teachers I work with, and reach out to, are working hard to find ways to create a positive learning team.

beyond_the_bake_sale

I just finished reading the book “Beyond the Bake Sale,” by Henderson, Mapp, Johnson and Davies.   The basic premise of the book is about creating better relationships with our parents and not just relying on superficial things like bake sales and fundraising.  It is one of my goals to create a culture in our school where parents feel welcome in the building and truly feel an important part of our team.

One of the things stood out for me in the book was  “…we know that parents are more motivated to support their children’s learning when they receive clear invitations and support from teachers and other school staff to be engaged, are confident about their ability to help their children and are clear about what they should do to support their child’s learning.”

 

I was having a conversation with my staff  this week after we attended a division professional development day where all the schools in our school division shared the math action research projects we have been working on this year.  Many of the presentations we listened to had a portion about connections and relationships.  This made me feel very positive about the direction we are moving in our school division and especially in our individuals schools.

http://simplehome.biz/category/internet-marketing
http://simplehome.biz/category/internet-marketing

If we continue to make an effort to welcome, honor and connect with our families, I believe our parents will respond by becoming loyal members of our school community and will take every opportunity they are able, to participate in their children’s education in ways we never thought possible.

Sound like a win-win situation to me!