Flip The Switch for Professional Learning

Do our teachers feel like this? And if so, what do we need to do to help get the light switch more visible?


IMG_3022 (3) Ask a teacher about professional learning, she will tell you exactly what she needs and why she needs it. You will then hear how she expects to learn through the same robust, relevant, and collaborative approaches that she uses everyday with her students. Ask the same of other teachers you will get similar responses.

Well, most of the time. That was not the case yesterday. When I asked a teacher friend about her professional learning she blindsided me with an account of her nightmare  the previous night.

The nightmare begins with a teacher standing in darkness, no light, not one iota. She extends her arms forward, nothing there; reaches up, nothing, reaches behind, a wall greets her hands.

As she touches the wall, a bell rings. A disembodied voice booms, “Please proceed to the other side of the room.” The teacher cries out, “What am I doing here? Why go…

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Change and Vision: Where will we (should we) be in five years?

Is it true – might there be no difference in five years?pencil

I was just reading a blog about ways to make big differences in the life of education (Ross Cooper: Three Ways to Promote Noticeable Differences ) and the question was asked that if we returned from a five year sabbatical would
we notice a

To answer that I think back to five years ago.  In some ways there are no major changes in our system.  However, in many ways we have moved in huge leaps and bounds.  On the one hand, we are still worried about EQAO and not getting the scores that the province wanted for us.  On the other hand, we have student voice as a huge part of our decision making.  We are listening to grass roots input and trying to hear the needs of the student and classroom as our loudest input for change.

We have more technology – although it is largely still used as substitution in the SAMR model (see Kathy Schrock’s description and quick video for an overview of what the SAMR model is about if you want more information).  We have many more devices available, have started a BYOD model in the high school and have started to help primary students learn to code.  However, the pockets are not deep and they are not wide-spread enough to be called the norm of our system.

So, do we need to follow the suggestions of the blog and define our vision, say no to things not in the plan and do more with less in terms of PD?

I feel like it might be a great idea to try to have a laser focus on the vision.  What exactly do we want our system to look like in five years?  Can we define the parameters and chart the path?  There would be many people disappointed when their “pet peeve” was not part of the big plan.  There would be many hard decisions to make (possible including having to refuse some ministry initiatives and funding) and we would have to stay the course.

My fear would be that a strict adherence to a plan for five years from now might not have the foresight necessary and might bring us to a destination not worthy of the journey.

What do you think?  Have we made progress?  Do we need a tighter vision and firmer adherence to “the plan”?

Learning with Saint Louis and Brenda Augusta

Some of My Learning from Working with Saint Louis and the Continuum
I was able to work with a group of educators from Saint Louis today who were delving into the use of their writing continuum.  Brenda Augusta (from Connect2Learning – the same company as Sandra Herbst – who visited us in June) was able to work with the staff and students to model the use of the continuum.
Here are some of my learnings:
1.       The message is more important than all other parts of the writing.  We need to value the message and allow the other (also important but not FIRST) elements to come later.  This means that spelling, punctuation, other conventions and even genre takes a second place to the importance of a clear message that conveys the meaning intended by the author.
2.       The continuum (no matter how good it is) has to be able to shift as the learning shifts.
3.       Sometimes there is nothing better than explicit instruction.  And finding the balance between explicit teaching and inquiry learning is tricky.
4.       If we want rigor (and we do) we have to show students examples of quality so that they can create it too.
5.      The continuum is a powerful tool for writing but also for descriptive feedback, giving us wording for next steps and transferring power to students so that they can control their improvements.
I would like to thank Brenda Augusta for a full day of thought provoking work.  I’d also like to thank Trudy for welcoming me in to the learning and the entire staff of Saint Louis for taking the risk to continue.  Special thanks to Mariette who ran herd on this, to Marnie who made lunch, to Karen who made gluten free delights, and to Lael who helped set up, clean up and keep everyone on track.
So, I learned these five things (and others) – what would you like to learn from the work of this group?  Or, if you were there today, what would you like to share about your learning?

More About the PQP1

Here is what I learned this weekend
I was invited to be a guest at the PQP1 course this weekend (see previous post). As I was reflecting on the event, I was thinking about what the group taught me. So, here are some things I learned:
1. The group there this weekend is interested in differentiated instruction, world religion, integration, inclusion, and critical thinking.
2. These future leaders are all good listeners and reflective thinkers.
3. They agreed with me about the need to know and tell your own story, the importance of cultural awareness and the need to accept diversity.
If I came to a session with you as a participant, what would I learn from you? What do you think it is important for leaders to know?

Back to the Future?

Back to the Future?

Well, maybe it was not the same as travelling in a DeLorean to see what is happening in the future like Marty McFly and Doc Brown (this week was “The Future” as depicted in the movie, in case you hadn’t heard), but it was a glimpse of the future for me anyway.

I was honoured to be asked to be a guest at the PQP 1 course this weekend.  I went in to this class of aspiring leaders and was very happy to see what the future has in store for us.  This group was bright-eyed even at 8:00 on Saturday morning.  They were building community by breaking bread together and sharing their knowledge and resources.  They were friendly, inquisitive and curious, respectful and brimming over with relationship building capacity.  I felt welcomed, included and honoured – as though I mattered to them.

I want to thank the group for letting me see their eyes light up with excitement.  I want to wish them well and I want everyone to know that these leaders in our system are working hard and building a place where we can all make a difference.  The future is in good hands – and even better the present is too.  These leaders are working to make a difference now.

Thank you!

New Year Blog

I did not know where my blogging might take me last year. I made a commitment to post 250 words once a week and then just went from there. I was surprised to find that at the end of the year I was able to look back and see patterns and that just the act of writing once a week had allowed me to be more reflective. So, here I am again.

As a teacher I always feel like I get the benefit of having two New Years. I get to celebrate in January, of course, but September is also a New Year worth celebrating. I like to take time to think about what should be done differently this time, about what I need to add to my repertoire and what needs to come out of my routine.
So, here are my resolutions for this school year:
1. I am going to “eat the frog” – no more procrastination – do the thing I wish to do least first thing each day and then enjoy the rest of the day free of guilt.
2. I am going to be more reflective and grateful for the many wonders in my life.
3. I am going to bless more and curse less (see a great message about this here).
4. I am going to actually be a lifelong learner by making sure I learn something new each day.
5. I am going to look for a more balanced way of living (more exercise, less overtime).

Please ask me about my list when you see me and share what are you doing this year?

Reflection on the Loaves and the Fishes: What I meant to say on June 12, 2014 at the Prayer Service

This is what I meant to say after the reading from Luke (9:10 – 17) on the miracle of the loaves and fishes:

What a wonderful gospel story – it’s one we all know – have heard many times and probably thought about in a variety of contexts.

This is a great story! It’s about the abundance of blessings and the bounteous generosity of God’s gifts to us. How fitting for us tonight!

But it is also about community, collaboration and breaking free of the fear of sharing – it’s about risk-taking and sharing.

The people in the gospel story are tired and in a place where there are no resources available. One person brings forward a meager offering – they must have known it could not be enough.

Imagine yourself there. Can you remember a similar time when you feared there was not enough? The feeling of not being able to meet your goal or provide your share is a frightening one. How often do we feel we are in the scarcity mindset? How often do we worry that we won’t have enough – be enough – give enough? We forget about God’s abundance mentality.

You are a blessing, a gift, a miracle. You have done more good works, calmed more storms when others didn’t even know a storm was brewing – given of yourself to make our world better. Like the five loaves and 2 fishes – maybe it did not seem enough. But your modeling of generosity – your willingness to do what you could do to make a difference changed the world.

Your commitment to taking a risk, to sharing your faith, to providing what you have makes our work a 12 baskets full of leftovers place. Jesus smiles as you offer your good deeds and transform the world.

Are you relevant?

Are you relevant?

If the measure (or one of the measures) of a good job/career is to be relevant – to make a difference – it is a good question to ask oneself. Do you make a difference? What do you do that matters? To whom have you made a difference today? This week? This year?

How would you know? I have often lamented that my work does not have a tangible product attached to it. Unlike a brick layer, I cannot point to my row of bricks at the end of the day and know that I have been productive. Instead though I CAN know that I have not been a part of the great machinery that produces just “another brick in the wall” (to reference Pink Floyd). I can look and see if I have been part of the relationship building team that has made a difference to a student (or staff member) by smiling when it was needed, knowing something personal about my students (or colleagues), empowering someone to take the action they needed to take.

What have you done today to make a difference?

May 20, 2014 – Post BIPSA Post

“To change we need to have a clear picture of our current reality as well as the goal we want to achieve.”      Jim Knight in Educational Leadership, May 2014.

On Wednesday we met and discussed our current reality in the board: we hashed out what we think we need to do to have effective school improvement plans.  Then the five schools were able to share their common ideas and goals and developed the board improvement plan.

This year the plan stays the course and adds the dimension of Intellectual engagement.  The schools have chosen to focus on the academic press (rigour) of their planning but have pulled out the key concepts of trust and relationships as part of the way to get there.

The day was invigorating and, as usual, brought us a shared vision for the coming year.  Alleluia!

Legitimacy and Leadership – May 12, 2014

I was at Leadercast on Friday (an all-day session of speakers who talk about the qualities needed to be good leaders and how we can encourage people to step up and be that way) and Malcolm Gladwell was speaking about how the theory of deterrence is not one that holds much weight.  People do things that are dangerous or scary or that carry a large penalty even though they know they might be caught.  The idea of scaring people into doing things just does not work.  So instead he was suggesting that people do things (no9t under duress, but) when they feel that the authority being wielded is legitimate.  And one decides this if they feel that the interactions are 1) respectful, 2) fair and 3) trustworthy.

So, I am wondering (and hoping) that you have seen this in action from the people at the CEC.  I truly hope it is so, since I know that when I need to speak I will be listened to and respected.  I know that what is asked of me is asked of everyone (or of those who should be asked) and that I am treated fairly.  I also know that the things I am asked will not arbitrarily change and that the consistency represents the best thinking of those asking the tasks.  I really appreciate that this is a process and it is one I have experienced from those I work for and for those who report to me.  I see it from all levels of our organization.

So, for all of that – thank you.