Week of learning


This week was full of learning. Our conferences with students and parents were on this week. I learned a lot about what their shared goals were, how the parents interacted with their kids, and it’s always interesting to see how the learners interact with their parents (and two teachers) around.

After that was PD. This year was pretty good, we had some exciting speakers, and I’m interested in seeing how I can apply more critical thinking into my classroom.

On the final day in the final session I presented the above slideshow. One of the exciting things about working in such a large school is that you don’t always know who will be in your presentation and that person’s job will be much different from yours (or sometimes the same).

I knew as a school we wanted to focus on assessment and how to record it in a meaningful way.  I’ve been using forms for about four or five years to really show the depth of the conversations I have, and how that relates to learning or goals. I’ve embedded Victor Wooten’s video outlining the idea of economy of motion. At school we’re always trying to get so much done, but often we can do the many things in one or two motions, we just need to practice doing those motions.

Anyway, it was an interesting time, and I hope the participants had enough time to really work on what they needed to work on so their forms help students learn more effectively.

End of the year

 Some rights reserved by CIMMYT

As the year wraps up we are enjoying the harvest (I guess) of our work all year. We’ve sown a lot of seeds, planted a lot of ideas, and now we are celebrating what has come of our hard work.

This year (my first back in the classroom in five years) has been really rewarding. I’ve loved being with a small community of students (instead of the 1000 or so I usually work with) and it’s been great growing and working with them.

As this year is coming to an end, and a new year, in a different grade level, and a slightly different role start to take shape, I’m really wondering about how teams grow.

We’ve (some of the school leaders for next year) recently attended a leadership workshop. It’s been great getting to know people in a similar position, but also just having a whole school approach to how we grow together. I’m thinking about how I can best apply my learning for next year, and what that means for the future teams I’ll be a part of.

My biggest take away is that hierarchy can be good. I’ve always kind of resisted that type of leadership, but after this meeting, I’ve come to better understand the benefits that a hierarchy can provide. We don’t want to be purely hierarchical, but knowing when and how to establish authority and then swing back towards a more dynamic form of work relationships is something I really look forward to trying to implement.

Is independence killing community?

 Some rights reserved by JameEz Photogr

I led a PD yesterday on inquiry. When I’m working with a new group of people I usually start off by asking, do you know who this man is?


Usually the answer is no.  They figure he has something to do with track.  The answer is Glen Mills, Usain Bolt’s coach.  I start off this way because I want people to see you don’t have to be the best to teach the best. You have to be a good coach, you have to teach well, you have to want the best for someone else.

I ended off this particular PD with the idea “Do you want to be the best teacher or do you want to have the best learners?”

With teachers promoting themselves or their style (myself included) I wonder how that effects students? Like how does my being a Google Certified Educator benefit my students (other than having some useful skills, does that actual designation mean anything)? How does me collecting badges help my students? When I focus on myself, how does that effect the community?

If we believe that knowing is situationally constructed and socially constructed where is there value outside of a community?

I fully understand that people join these communities (Google Certified Educator, etc.) For reasons that might be different, they may want to join a passionate community to push the boundaries of what we can do. I’m just not convinced everyone joins for communal reasons.

When I relate this to my environmental thinking, it seems like very often we are selfish (surprise right) and that leads to environmental instability and change. Because we take what we want without thinking too much about how that effects the larger community (human or otherwise).

This week has been just focused on these thoughts. What do I implicitly and explicitly teach about independence and community and how can I focus on making my learners more community oriented. I think I’d rather work with someone for them to be the best rather than being the best myself.

Learning Communities

Some rights reserved by shareski

I’ve been thinking a lot about learning lately. Most of the time I hope teachers do, but the lsat week it’s been right at the forefront of my thinking.

My school has been talking more about personalised learning lately, and what that might mean at our school. At first I was really worried about this, not because I don’t believe in it, but as a digital literacy coach I could sense some anxiety from my colleagues.  How do we really create personalised learning? What does that mean, and how do we get to it?

This year, so far, the iTime experiment has been going really well.  Students are creating apps, making a siren, creating websites, making a stand for my ukulele, making some cars and many other things.  It’s interesting to see what the students have chosen to learn more about.  The hardest thing for us (as a learning community so far) is how do we authentically assess this.  We have a form which allows us to identify how we want to be assessed and how we think we are doing in regards to that and our project.  But it seems forced at the end, because it just doesn’t seem like it fits at that time. Next week I think I will have some conversations with them as they head towards self/peer assessment using these forms.

I think a lot of it goes back to the idea of time though, and how the idea of limited time, or a rushed curriculum can hinder someone’s ability to be really creative, or take risks.  I wonder how we as teachers, especially in a “competitive, international” environment can really make a move on this without a fear of repercussions.

Anyway, if you’re doing personlised learning, how do you do it? What area your tips?




Why Quantitative?

AttributionNoncommercial Some rights reserved by Ken Whytock

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about how to actual see where we are in our learning journey.  I know that many schools have a focus on quantitative data.  We use standardised tests to make sure we are learning at the right time. We focus a lot on quantitative data because it is easier to show a big picture with lots of data at the same time (I think anyway). 

So, how can we present more personal qualitative data to parents.  Right now we are entering conference time, and we want to share the stories and make it personal, so I wonder how our teachers are doing that, and what the parents are thinking. 
I was reading this article about Modern Learning and wonder how we can use qualitative data more effectively.  We can use it to paint a bigger picture and a more complete story, but how do we use it to enhance our teaching practice.  How do we use it to drive inquiry? 
Way too many questions this week. 

Shaping our class

AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by Matt Stratton

I was just talking to one of my colleagues about this lately.  How can we shape our classroom, and our classroom culture differently.  

I was mentioning Lakoff, and how metaphors help shape our reality.  Today reading Creating Cultures of Thinking I came across the same idea.  Often we refer to school as work, especially for students.  How does this shape how they go about their day? 
I remember Sir Ken Robinson talking about teachers as gardeners. 

How powerful can we be if we start changing our metaphors? How do we start this? 
When we think about vision of a school and the places we want to go, we don’t often address how we shape our school through language.   When we think about brands and story telling and the whole image of school, we as teachers need to start shaping it through our daily interactions, the metaphors we create and the language we use. 
I’m not sure gardening is the best metaphor (although it fits nicely with my environmental beliefs) but the idea that growth is always possible and that there are seasons of better growth really resonates with me (actually now I wonder if this is something we have to differentiate as well). 

Diving into a new year

AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works
 Some rights reserved by AdamCohn

I’m pretty excited about this new year.  A lot of things will be going on.  Some of my grade three teachers will be going one to one with ipads, really going to focus on cognitive coaching with (so far) six teachers (I’m hoping to build on that) and bringing a new fishbowl type model of PD to school. 

All of this goes towards a more personalized style of development.  At times I wonder about how beneficial or damaging personalized learning can be.  I guess it’s important not to totally enable enable a learner to dictate everything, but rather create situations where as individuals they can succeed.  Specifically I’m thinking about teachers, and how we need to engage them where they need it most, without offering overly involved amounts of people. 
Hopefully our fishbowl model will address these issues, smaller groups focused on things they need to know (school directed) but build up relationships so we can work on what the teachers want to know and hopefully add in some cognitive coaching as well. 
I start seeing new teachers next week, looking forward to seeing the new teachers and reuniting with the old.  

Using questions to dig deeper

This is the second year I’ve done this particular “sharing the planet unit” with grade 1 students.  Last year the focus (their focus, not mine) was on butterflies, we had seen a lot.  This year, we are focusing a lot on millipedes.   Through questioning we are able to help the students use online resources to identify and figure out what these living things are about. 
I want to start changing (drastically at times) how my questioning skills can dig deep fast.  I’ve been working all year on structuring questions, my co-teachers think it’s a natural skill of mine, but I’ve worked very hard on it.  However, I’m not yet where I want to be. 
I’ve been reading coaching books to help develop questions that will make my teachers more effective, and I’m hoping I can transfer these questions, or these questioning techniques to students.  How can we go deep fast though? Is it possible, recommended? 
These are the thoughts that are running through me right now.  How do I become the most effective questioner? 

Why so slow?


The end of the year is quickly approaching, and this is a time I find when teachers are definitely trying to speed things up.  We want to get all of the content in before the students go to their next great, before they try to get things presentable to parents, and before we rush off to our summer vacations.

At our school at least half of the grade levels I work with are finishing the year with sharing the planet, so I’m pushing for a go slow movement for the next six or seven weeks.  We need time to fully experience what it’s like outside in order to actually make those connections (something I feel I talk about all the time).   I now have four classes I take outside every week.  It’s a start (one class is trying to move to everyday next year), but we are moving forward which is great!

We are taking the time to wonder and think, something that is difficult for some teachers.  We have to talk about connections and thinking deeply about how things work together (which is the central idea for most of our units, but never really adressed this way).

All in all, in just one week I’ve seen more excitement about the unit. Students are actively engaged and posing good questions.  This week we are trying to “look closely” to see how things work and what things look like.

Going slow is great for us right now, hopefully I can convince some teachers to keep it up after these seven weeks.