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“Why Would I Want to Learn From Someone Who Doesn’t Want to Learn From Me?”

The graphic created by the 2013-2014 (Ontario Education) Minister’s Student Advisory Council has been distributed widely.  It is the “student voice” on where Ontario Schools should be going.

One section that struck me was the part that said “why would I want to learn from someone who does not want to learn from me?”

MSAC Students Future of School 2013
http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/students/speakup/preMSAC.html

In the past, as John Malloy says, teachers were expected to be the “holders of the knowledge”.  They were supposed to know everything, and impart that knowledge to students.

But now, as Catherine Montreuil so eloquently states, “It is unacceptable for any child to be stuck and not learning in our schools”.

It is the teacher’s job to ensure every child is learning.

This is different from knowing everything.

Teachers do not have to solve problems of learning alone.  They can consult with outside professionals, their Professional Learning Network (which they must take time to cultivate), their colleagues, parents and students.

But to solve problems of learning successfully, they must get past the idea that they have to know everything.

Steven Katz refers to “Creating the conditions so teachers need and want to know”. (http://www.curriculum.org/k-12/en/videos/creating-the-conditions-for-demand)

As school leaders, we must make sure that all of our teachers are open to listening to what students have to say.

As teachers, we need to teach students how to respectfully and effectively question practice as we guide them toward “gradual acceptance of responsibility” for their own learning.

(Gradual ‘acceptance‘ of responsibility modified from ‘Gradual Release of Responsibility“, Frey and Frey 2008, explained in this glossary)

Question and Be Questioned

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                   woodleywonderworks via Compfight cc

Have you ever considered that the incidence of childhood asthma could be related to the use of antibiotics for early childhood illnesses?  It’s not a big stretch. Many of us could believe that there could be a correlation.

But have you ever considered that it might be the bacteria in the child’s intestine (changing as a result of the antibiotic doses) that are the driving force?

This was new information for me, and I heard it while listening to Dr. Brett Finlay on “Bugs ‘R Us” on CBC Radio Ideas, part of a lecture series at the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies.

What about the idea that some forms of autism are caused by changes in the composition of the intestinal bacteria?

I would never have believed that one.

Many doctors wouldn’t either, it turns out.

But one mother was completely convinced that there was a relationship between her son’s onset of symptoms of autism and the use of prescribed antibiotics.  It took quite an effort to get doctors to believe her, but indeed she was able to reverse her son’s symptoms through fecal transfers. (Dr. Brett Finlay)

We are learning that human diseases may be linked as closely to our intestinal bacteria as they are to our genetic make-up, something we would never have considered not many years ago.

We live in an information age.

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 cristinacosta via Compfight cc

We can’t possibly know everything any more, even if we have titles and education that suggest we should.  People without degrees in medicine can research, observe, and deduce.  They can question their diagnosis and carefully present other possibilities.

But have you ever tried to ask your doctor about a self-diagnosis?  It’s not generally a practice welcomed by the medical profession!

One of my strong interests is the field of nutrition.  I have read extensively on the subject since high school.  When I was studying for my B. Ed., the faculty had a dietician visit us to teach us about basic nutrition. While the presenter did a great job of showing us the basics, I felt that her statements did not reflect current research.  I challenged her, politely, on some of her thinking.

After she left, my professor was livid.  How dare I challenge her professional knowledge.  How could I possibly think I might know more than she did?

question mark blog

CarbonNYC via Compfight cc

Last year, one of the people I admire and follow on Twitter, Ira David Socol (@irasocol) posted the simple statement, “The future comes from questioning everything“.

As professionals, we need to embrace conversations about our work, and we need to be open to those who challenge our practice.  Through these conversations, we learn, improve and consider solutions to problems that may not have been previously obvious.

As educational professionals, we need to encourage our students to have the confidence to respectfully and appropriately challenge authority.  It is through these conversations that we all move our learning forward.

It is through these conversations, these challenges, that we discover unlikely connections, important understandings, like the link between intestinal bacteria and brain function.

What Will You UnLearn Today?

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What did you learn today?

David Warlick often begins his talks with something new he has learned that day.  He frequently shares these learnings on his blog as well.

Every day I try to follow his example and think carefully about all the new things I have learned.

But sometimes we need to UNlearn before we can really see the need to learn something new.

A very wise AQ instructor once suggested that without even realizing it, we (teachers) often revert to “delivering content” basically the same way day in and day out, regardless of the audience – and often in exactly the same way we were taught in school.

When I started to examine my teaching practice, I realized that this was true.  She challenged me to shake up my routine, to collaborate on ideas with other teachers, to focus on the needs of the learners rather than my perception of how things should be done.

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 carnagenyc via Compfight cc

I realized that my teaching style had been influenced more by how I was taught in school than by what I learned when I took my B.Ed.

The foundation of a teacher’s knowledge and competence comes from a teacher education program. But does Ontario’s teacher education system influence prospective teachers’ behaviour and thinking?

Do teacher-candidates change their practice as a result of their teacher education program, or do they default to the methods used during their own education?

Do the years of being part of the education system have more of an effect on practice than the teacher training program?

Student teachers arrive with views of teaching and learning, developed during their own time in school, that can distort their new ideas of learning during teachers’ college.

Research has demonstrated that the effect of teacher education on changing the prior beliefs and learning of student teachers is weak (Tryggvason 2009).


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But teachers now have to teach in ways that they themselves were not taught. Currently, as we consider 21st Century skills and the pace of change, there are more and more demands on teachers and what society expects them to accomplish.

In Finland,  teacher educators use reflective and critical thinking and the introduction of a variety of new and useful teaching strategies helps new teachers to question their current thinking and adapt new methodologies.

Teacher education in Finland is being moved into research universities, which reflects the understanding that the training of teachers should be done in conjunction with innovation in other areas.  This type of setting also assists Finland in attracting some of the best international minds in teacher education.

I’ve started to think more about what I believe to be true vs. what I know to be true.  How many of my ideas about learning need to be challenged and unlearned? How do we catalyze deep conversations about practice that challenge our default methods?

What is it that I need to unlearn today?

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 duane.schoon via Compfight cc

Further reading:

Learning, UnLearning and ReLearning

Hargreaves, A. (2000): Four Ages of Professionalism and Professional Learning, Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 6:2, 151-182

Kosunen, T & A. Mikkola (2002): Building a Science of Teaching: How objectives and reality meet in Finnish teacher education, European Journal of Teacher Education, 25:2-3, 135-150

Tucker, M. (2012). Teacher quality: What’s wrong with U.S. strategy?. Educational Leadership, 69(4), 42-46

Tryggvason, Marja-Terttu (2009). Why is Finnish teacher education successful? Some goals Finnish teacher educators have for their teaching. European Journal of Teacher Education, 32(4), 369-382

Learning is Not a Competition

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Greenwich Photography via Compfight cc

The revelation earlier this week that Canadian Cycling hero Ryder Hesjedal had been a doper and a cheater came as no surprise to those of us who have spent good chunks of our lives involved in the world of elite cycling.  Road racers claim the culture of doping gives them no choice but to cross the line into dishonesty to survive in their sport. Clean cyclists are robbed of their funding and their ability to make a living when cheaters hog the podium, and some of the best athelete role models never get to compete for their country.

Cheaters also “hog the podium” in school.

In a culture of learning, there should not be a “podium”, but we all know that there is.  It’s called “Recognizing Excellence” or “Academic Awards”, or some other such thing that allows us to celebrate the “winners” of the competition called school.

Ryder Hesjedal chose to race on a bicycle and he chose to cheat to win.  Jesse Jakomait continues to choose to race on a bicycle and chose NOT to cheat to become an Olympian.  Choosing to compete can be healthy and fun and push you to stretch your personal limits if it works for you, but it is a choice.

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But children do not choose to come to school.  They have to.

They come to school to learn, not to compete for marks.  We know that learning works best in an environment of collaboration.  Competition for the highest mark, and practices like bell-curving, work against collaboration, and against best learning.

We know that feedback from teachers is a powerful way to move learning forward, and we know that when that feedback is accompanied by a number, a grade, students look at the grade and ignore the feedback.

This recent article/interview on CBC Radio Day 6 outlines the problem of awards and extrinsic awards for learning:

“[But] you don’t just get rid of awards assemblies because they make the kids that don’t get rewards feel bad. You get rid of awards assemblies because they’re not useful for any kids. Everyone loses in a race to win.”

Changing the rules of the game is hardest for those who are winning at the game, as demonstrated by the interviews of “furious parents” at the beginning of the audio interview.

And when learning is a competition, just like elite cyclists, students cheat.

As a Principal, I spent more than a few hours dealing with students who “cheated” on tests, exams and assignments.

But why do kids feel they need to cheat? If kids are supposed to be learning in school, how does cheating enter the picture?

It comes down to how performance differs from learning.  Comparing yourself with others, fighting for the highest mark, competing for a spot in a university program or trying to meet parent demands for high marks sets students up to find the easy way out, which can be cheating.

This math major says it well.  Math is hard, but you can do it. “Stop comparing yourself to that other student!”

Schools need to be a place where children and young adults feel valued, are encouraged to reach their full potential, and learn to work with others to achieve excellence.  There is no room for the message that winning is the only thing we value.

Save that for the cyclists.

Note: Thanks to Louise Robitaille (@Robitaille2011) for sharing this thoughtful post by @terryainge: https://deltalearns.ca/terryainge/2013/10/28/understanding-assessment-how-i-fell-out-of-love-with-the-grading-program/

Please also see this collection by Chris Wejr (@chriswejr): http://chriswejr.com/thoughts-on-awards-ceremonies/

Changing the Trajectory

What assumptions do we make about the life trajectories of the students in our classrooms?

Over the past three days I have been very fortunate to have the opportunity to share in learning with the Northern Ontario Education Leaders at their fall conference #NOELONLINE.

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The pre-conference address was given by the Director of the Bruce Grey Catholic District School Board, Catherine Montreuil. I learned so much from her presentation that I went home that night, tossed mine in the virtual garbage, and began again, this time aligning my message for the next day with her very powerful approach to educating all children.

Below are my reworked and reorganized notes from the first hour of her presentation.  The idea that really stuck with me was the thinking around how to change the trajectory of the lives of the students in your classroom.

It is unacceptable for any child to be stuck and not learning in our schools.  

(Think, for a moment, about any grade nine or ten applied class, or about any child who is not reading.)

It is also unacceptable to respond to this  with “oh but …” statements, like “Oh, but that child is LD”, or “Oh, but that child came to us in grade 4 and couldn’t read”.

Every child can learn. If the child is not learning, our JOB is to figure it out and fix it.

Learning is HappeningPhoto Credit: Krissy.Venosdale via Compfight cc

We do not do this alone though.  We solve problems of student learning as a team.  We invite in outside professionals who view data differently. We take a collaborative inquiry stance and continue to try until we solve the issue.

Working in isolation as educators is inconsistent with professionalism.  We can’t solve all the learning problems in the room on our own.

We measure, very carefully, the impact of our actions on student learning, and there must be a positive impact on student learning.

We honour the fact that teachers work very hard and care deeply, but it is not about how hard teachers work, it is about the impact of their work on student achievement.   Working hard and spinning your wheels helps nobody. We need to do it differently.

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Photo Credit: Renato Ganoza via Compfight cc

We need to focus on building the capacity of the classroom teacher.   The triple P approach is a place to start: Precision teaching to student needs, Personalization of learning, and Professional learning around how to effectively use assessment data to inform practice.

All students deserve and need a trained, talented teacher who is doing precision work.  There is no evidence that working with an Educational Assistant strengthens academic outcomes for students.  Our students with the highest learning needs require professionals who can do the precision instruction that will impact learning.

When we step back and closely examine Student Success initiatives, we see that in Ontario they are primarily structural. Necessary, but structural.  It does not, however, result in sustained improvement in instruction. If we work on engaging reluctant students, and we can increase their productivity, and then we have something we can work with to move their learning forward.

Every student needs a personalized learning plan. If you we’re to walk into a classroom and “freeze” the room, for every child we should be able to ask, “What is she/he doing?”, and “Why is he/she doing it?”.  The answers to those questions must be to meet the individual learning needs of the student, based on observation, conversation, or other assessment information.

technology in classroom Photo Credit: giulia.forsythe via Compfight cc

Assessment data + Thinking, collaborating teacher + Technology

Accurate assessment data, in the hands of a thinking, networked, collaborative teacher, using technology to personalize learning  and engage students can change the life trajectory for a child.

Pausing at a Checkpoint

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Buttercup captured on the last day of #Summer2013

I like taking time to honour the changing of the seasons.

Last Saturday was the last day of #Summer2013. People will say it was an awful summer, but I can’t think like that. I spent the day outside, breathing in the fresh air of northwestern Ontario, capturing images of the flowers still blooming on the side of the road, in my garden and along the trails. I thought of all the unexpected changes over the last three months – our daughter’s engagement, our son’s new position with Goldcorp, the crazy attempt to get into Toronto during the flood, the week in Muskoka, the Ranger Jamboree in Huntsville. There were campfires, reunions with lake friends and family, special times on the dock and in the boat. We raised chickens, had our most successful garden ever, and we sold our camp on Manitoulin Island.

This summer I also gave up my role as a secondary Principal.

When I decided to accept a new position with the Ministry of Education, I could think only of all the new possibilities. I didn’t realize how difficult the reality of giving up a leadership position in a school was going to be.

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Photo shared by @colleenkr (Colleen Rose)

It seems like only yesterday that I was working on “entry plans” that started with building relationships.

They don’t teach you in “Principal School” how to walk out the door. For many nights after handing in my keys, I saw the faces of my students every time I shut my eyes, because it’s not about leaving a building, it’s about walking out on people who depend on you.

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Raleigh Falls Near Ignace, in Northwestern Ontario

The end of summer is also the beginning of fall.  Before long, the breathtaking brilliance of colour, the intense angles of light and the woodsy fragrances force us to pause and take it in.  Summer memories begin to take a back seat as the daily changes around us capture our attention.

As I move on in a new role in education, I am excited about how I can continue to make a difference in a different way – how I have more time now to focus on work with teachers to build capacity in digital learning. This new role brings opportunities to connect with leaders throughout the province and to think deeply about how we can best meet the learning needs of Ontario students.  It is powerful learning and important work.

I miss my students.  I treasure the opportunities to work with teachers from my former schools and hear the stories of how our students are progressing in their lives and in their learning.  They continue to be in the forefront of my thinking as my role in their lives and my sphere of influence changes.

Red Rock (during the first week of fall 2013)
Red Rock (during the first week of fall 2013)

Going Deeper with Twitter

Whenever someone is presenting on the value of Twitter for teachers and educators, and there is a shout out for “tell us who you are and why you love Twitter for education”, there is always a flurry of people talking about how they love twitter for connecting with other educators, for conversation and for sharing ideas.  But how often is that really happening?

Image from slideshare.net courtesy of Donna Fry and Colin Jagoe.
Image from slideshare.net courtesy of Donna Fry and Colin Jagoe.

The most valuable moment in my growth as a twitter user came several years ago when I posted a math resource.  Ira Socal (@irasocal) replied that he didn’t think I was the kind of educator who used resources like that. It caught me completely by surprise.  I had not critically judged the resource I shared.  It was being used at my school.  A teacher had recommended it.  I tweeted it. But I had no idea if it was effective.

Image from SlideShare.net courtesy of Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach (@snbeach).
Image from SlideShare.net courtesy of Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach (@snbeach).

How often do we share without thinking? How often to we quickly scan something and share? There is so much information out there.  How often do we take the time to read, think, reflect, and ask questions of our PLN? How often do we engage our PLN in critical thinking, or in conversations that challenge our beliefs?

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Stephen Katz talks about the importance of not trying to cover a “mile”, but to pick the right “inch” and then dig in deep.

There is nothing wrong with sharing.  I hope that what I put out there is useful, that it provokes thought and helps kids.  But it is worth taking the time to really read something carefully, to reflect on what is being said, and to challenge the thinking of others.

So how do we start digging deeper into what we are learning from our colleagues on Twitter?

Think about taking part in a chat.  Everything you need to know to take part in a Twitter chat can be found here: Cybrary Man’s Educational Chats on Twitter. If you want to see samples of chat discussions, check out the #edchat archives here.

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Photo from Slideshare.net courtesy of @thecleversheep (Rod Lucier)

Or, just read something that is posted.  Blog about it. Ask questions about it. Think more deeply about it.  Who would use this? Do you agree with it?  Does it align with the Strategic Plan where you work? Do you have experiences to add to it? Can you refer to it in a discussion on another topic?

There are real people with great brains behind those Twitter handles. Let’s make sure Twitter is more than an “echo chamber” and instead, a place where we can challenge each other to think critically about our practice.