Tag Archives: learning

The Power of Visible Learning

I enjoy reading Hattie’s work (Visible Learning and Visible Learning for Teachers), but in all the quality time I have spent with Hattie’s writing, I have only really thought about how it applied to children/students.

My first day in #etMOOC changed all that.

I have been encouraging educators I work with to engage in the #etMOOC experience (“encouraged” may be perceived by some as an understatement).  You already know how I feel about this perfect/open/free opportunity to learn and connect.

Yet throughout the last three months of “talking up #etMOOC”, I thought only about how much my colleagues were going to learn about educational technology.  I had not expected to learn so much about learning – on the first day!

On day 1, Jenni Scott-Marciski wrote her first blog post ever.  She shared her experiences in joining Twitter, her hesitations about blogging, and here very personal thinking about connecting.

Even though I see Jenni every day, this was all new to me.  Yes, I knew she was using Twitter to learn and connect, and yes, I knew she had started #etMOOC, but I was astonished at how much better I understand her learning now with just one posting.

She was making her thinking and learning visible, and it helped me to understand where we need to go next.

I had a similar experience with my #etmooc introduction.  I have been trying to use iMovie for months now, sneaking in to watch and learn from students as they create videos in their classrooms, asking for help from friends.  But the process of making and posting a video made my learning visible to others, and as a result I have received direct instruction on what to fix and how as I move forward in my learning.

I would not have posted that video if it was for “marks” or if it was for an evaluation.  I would have kept my learning private.  But the understanding that I am in a safe and supportive learning environment made me feel encouraged to share and learn.

And what does this tell us about student learning?

Apples for the teacher

Are You Unhappy with the Status Quo?

When I first started connecting online and building the amazing PLN I have today, I saw all of the wonderful things people were doing and the changes they were making in education.  I thought it couldn’t be that hard if so many people were doing it and being so successful at it. But when I started trying to enact change in my circle of influence, the roadblocks were far bigger and more numerous than I had imagined.

Why is educational change so difficult?  Why is it so complex?

The concept of ‘school’, of ‘education’, is mired in so much history and tradition.  Everyone has ‘been through’ school, which tends to make us believe that we know everything there is to know about it.

Everyone has a personal concept of school. The structure has been essentially unchanged for a century.  We have expectations about what our children will experience when they go to school.  Some parents expect that their children will have report cards with near perfect marks.  Others assume their children will find school as horrific and demeaning as it was for them.  But for most people, the concept of school is static and they don’t think of it as an institution that could or should radically change.

BLOG School

In schools, we have deeply embedded cultures.

“By culture, I mean the unexamined, deeply-embedded norms and expectations that district staffs share about performing their central tasks of schooling children. These feelings, values, and patterns of behaving are often unarticulated and passed on to newcomers unobtrusively.”
Larry Cuban The Hidden Variable: How Organizations Influence Teacher Responses to Secondary Science Curriculum Reform Theory into Practice, Vol. 34, No. 1, Reforming Science Education (Winter, 1995), pp.4-11 Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.

Screen shot 2013-01-03 at 10.21.09 AMUnless you have a child in the school system, or unless you are affected by the K-12 system in some way, you likely won’t take notice.  The recent Ontario fight over Bill 115 is a good example.  In spite of losing extracurriculars, participating in walkouts and seeing the effects of the threatened legislation every school day, when the headline in the papers was, “Bill needs to go, teachers”, people were asking, “Who is Bill?”.

Those who were disengaged from the education system during their youth are likely to remain disengaged until they are drawn back in by the experiences of their own children.  They don’t follow what is happening and they don’t contribute to the discussion on educational change.

And so many people fear change.  I hear many parents tell me that schools need to get “back to the basics”, and if we want parents to be engaged, we need to stop making so many changes because parents don’t understand what is going on in schools any more. It doesn’t look like it did when they were there (let’s hope) and they are afraid to look stupid in front of their children.

We don’t always see the connection between education and changes in society, even though we know about  industries closing because the system is no longer sustainable.  For many people, the old school they went to as a child is what is comfortable to them, even though it has become dangerously irrelevant.

For change to work, the discontent with the reality must be far greater than one’s tolerance of it. “You won’t change unless you are really unhappy with the present situation.” (see video below)

As educational leaders – and I use the word ‘leader’ as a mindset, not a position – we need to be aware of the complexity of change so that we are fully cognizant of our entire sphere of influence, and so that we don’t become discouraged.  The status quo is never good enough.  We can always do a better job of educating children.  Let’s look at how we can make small daily changes and celebrate each win without becoming discouraged.  Remember Newton’s first law of motion*.

Get many “objects” to start moving in the right direction and we may just start something that remains in motion – with the goal of meeting the learning needs of every single one of our students.

*Newton’s First Law of Motion:

An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an unbalanced force. An object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

 This law is often called “the law of inertia”.

Waks, L. (2007). The concept of fundamental educational change. Educational Theory, 57(3), 277-295.

Leader, Take a Hike

Recently, I heard a leader in education say,“If you think you are leading, and nobody is following, you are only out taking a walk”.

I really liked this at the time, but the more I think about it, the more value I see in taking a walk.  While we usually want to move forward with our co-workers in education, there are times when you need to go alone, both literally and figuratively.

Walking (running, hiking, skiing, cycling) alone is where I do most of my reflecting and thinking, away from phones, tweets and email.  It is a time that has become more and more important as the principal position becomes busier and more complex in the current Ontario education climate.

But figuratively, taking a walk on my own lets me explore and try first before sharing and leading in my school.  I need my PLN to help me learn what I need to know so that we can accomplish our school goals (explained very well here).

Taking courses, enrolling in MOOCs, speaking at conferences, learning with others, all of these “walks alone” enhance my understanding and build my capacity to meet the needs of the people I teach and learn with every day.

At times, the walks become more of a hike, or even a marathon.  While we work to thrive on the edge of chaos, competing initiatives and expectations pull us in more than one direction.  As a principal, my access to information can be restricted as rules, narrowed mandates,  and chain of command supersede the need for principals to be resourceful, resilient and creative (Hargreaves 2005).  I frequently find myself at the edge of a cliff or the base of a brick wall, choosing to take a risk or climb even higher for a teacher or student whose need to move forward is more important than protocol or politics.2009 17 Hike over T Harbour

Walking alone allows for exploration, personal fulfilment, FAILing without an audience, and rest.  Walking alone makes me better prepared to return to my school, ready to share what is new and lead to new destinations, confident they are worth travelling to.

2009 07 Lupins

Hargreaves, A. (2005). Extending educational change. (pp. 1-14). The Netherlands: Springer.

Bring Yourself to Your Classroom

Back when I was involved with the Ministry of Natural Resources Critical Incident Stress Peer Support Team, I was fortunate to spend time with Dr. Martin Rappeport.  At the time, he gave me some career changing advice about teaching.  He told me to stop trying to be so many different things in the classroom, and just be myself.  He said I had many things to share with my students, and I should do just that.  “Bring yourself to your students.  Be genuine.  Bring all the gifts that you have and value your life experiences as worth sharing with your students”.

Colleen chats with  author Jeff Kinney through Skype with local elementary students*.

One of the key things about being a great teacher is to go out and have those life experiences – to learn constantly and to reflect on your learning, and to be willing to talk about and share that learning with others.

As teachers, we can also learn much from other disciplines.  While pounding out my long run this morning, I listened to Simon Gowan on the TriSwimCoach podcast.  He talked about how important frame of mind is when considering athletic performance.

One of the lessons we can learn from training is understanding how the way we are thinking affects our physiology and our performance.  For example, if we are out for a long run and we are thinking about how hard it is and how tough it is, then it is difficult to put one foot after the other.

But instead, we could be thinking about things like how fortunate we are to be healthy enough to run. If we are out running in a beautiful place we might think, “Wow, I wouldn’t see this if I wasn’t out running today”.  Having that enhanced mental state improves our performance and makes it so much easier to do the training work.

Run in beautiful places!

So when schools are places of hope; when schools are places where kids are in a mental state of excitement and enjoyment of learning, shouldn’t this make learning so much easier?

We can take what we learn from other places in our lives – our many other pursuits – and apply it so that we can be the best teacher we can be, and give kids the best learning environment we can possibly give to them.

*Photo courtesy of Invision for Skype/AP.  Read more about Skyping in the classrom here: http://northernartteacher.wordpress.com/2012/06/12/beautiful-learning-with-technology/

We Know It’s Broken, But How Do We Fix It?

Shared by zen under a Creative Commons licence http://www.flickr.com/photos/54289096@N00/354274498/

It’s March Break.  It’s beautiful outside, but I am inside researching.  And I am frustrated.

There is plenty out there telling me that we need school reform.  Granted, most of it is actually aimed at the US, but as a current secondary principal, I know Ontario secondary schools have to be a target as well.

The question is, what do we do? As a Principal, what do I do?  The system still supports old thinking, and we need massive structural change if we are going to make a real difference.  The change we try to implement at the secondary school level is opposed by the structure of the “credit” system, the need for “high marks” to get into university, “awards” and scholarships and competition rather than collaboration.

What small changes can we make to engage students and improve learning while working to change the system as a whole?

As I work through this question, I will share my thinking and my challenges here.

In the meantime, here is some of the reading and listening I have done today.  I hope it challenges your thinking too.


Children Stressed to the Breaking Point Due to Standardized Testing

Recently New York City made public teacher evaluations based on student standardized test scores.  This proceeded the state of New York’s decision to change how educators are evaluated, in part by connecting the standardized test scores of students into final ratings.  The following letter was shared with me by a friend whose daughter is in the New York City Public School System.  She plans on sending this to officials in the NYC Department of Education to inform them of the potential that more standardized testing will have as a result of recent reform efforts.

Ben Levin’s book: How to Change 5000 Schools http://www.hepg.org/hep/book/93

Carol Dweck: Mindset Podcast http://blogs.hbr.org/ideacast/2012/01/the-right-mindset-for-success.html

Rethinking School: http://hbr.org/2012/03/rethinking-school/ar/1

“The test of a successful education is not the amount of knowledge that a pupil takes away from a school, but his appetite to know and his capacity to learn” Sir Richard Livingstone, 1941 (p. 28).

“No curricular overhaul, no instructional innovation, no change in school organization, no toughening of standards, no rethinking of teacher training or compensation will succeed if students do not come to school interested in, and committed to, learning.” Steinberg, 1996 p. 194

“The need, rather, is to free ourselves from the collective conceptual blinkers which the existing apparatus of educational assumptions represents.  At the heart of such a project for comparitivists, I suggest, must be the recognition of the central role of culture in facilitating and shaping the process of learning and thus, of the need to study the part played by the perceptions and feelings of the individual learner.

Broadfoot, 2000 Comparative education for the 21st Century: Retrospect and Prospect Comparative Education 36(3), August 2000: 357-371