Voice and Choice: Comments on sessions with students

April 27, 2014

On Friday we had a session with the group who did a pitch around the general concept of engagement.  As part of the day we invited students from two of the pitch ideas to attend and take part.  This was done as a philosophical choice about making sure that student voice was included in the discussion.  We did not give it much more thought than that.

However, as we began to discuss the topic of engagement it quickly became very clear that the student voice was critical and was shaping the day in ways we had not imagined.

Our board improvement plan says that we are working on student achievement through voice and engagement.  I have seldom seen it in action any more clearly than on Friday – at least at the system level.  We have realized several times this year that we needed to simply ask the students or just ask the teachers when we were trying to figure out the next best step in a variety of projects.  Here was another example of the importance of remembering the power of asking, giving authentic voice and listening to it.

Thank you to all who were in the group on Friday.  It was eye-opening and soul enriching.


Quotes without Comment (YET): The importance of STRENGTHS

Easter Monday MLOG – April 21, 2014  

I have been reading about the Gallup poll taken about student engagement.  There are some stunning results and many important lessons to be learned.  If you are interested here is a great blog by Grant Wiggins that considers it in detail: Grant Wiggins on Engagement and the Gallup Poll

Meanwhile, here are a couple of facts that struck me as astonishing and worthy of pondering:

Among the 600,000 students who took the poll in 2013, those who strongly agreed with two simple statements were 30 times as likely as those who strongly disagreed with both to be emotionally engaged at school. Those two statements were:

1. My school is committed to building the strengths of each student.

2. I have at least one teacher who makes me excited about the future.

Teachers are asked to ensure “that the praise they offer is personal and meaningful.”

And more:

The key, from Gallup studies of schools nationwide, is to build education plans that match up with each student’s unique strengths. In other words, when students know what they do best and have opportunities to develop those talents, they are more motivated and enthusiastic about learning.

 So which of these things surprises you most?  Which do you want to take action upon first?

Cast Your Net: What Vision Are You Trying to Catch?

I was listening to “Tapestry” – a CBC radio show  – today and the host was speaking with a “Christian movie critic”.  He kept explaining why the title he had did not fit his actual role.  He said, yes, I am Christian and yes I review movies but I am not a critic nor do I let my Christian title get in the way of sharing beauty.  He went on to say that with every stroke of a brush or pen, with every word we write we are always casting our nets to capture the beauty of the world and the greatness of the promise of eternal life.

It was similar to Bishop Crosby’s message to the SO’s at our AGM on Wednesday.  He pointed out that everything in the Easter message is about LIFE and we have to see it and celebrate it and be grateful for it.  Every day.  In every way.

So, my question to you (and to myself) is: What have we done to celebrate life today?  How have we shown our gratitude for what we have?  How have we shared that need with our students???

April 6, 2014: Another Sunday Creating Another MLOG

I was reading a leadership blog (17 Ways to Meet Tomorrow’s Challenges ) and saw that one of the ways to meet tomorrow’s challenges is to: Invite others to compensate for your weaknesses.  So, I am thinking that I should determine my strengths so that I can know how best to compensate for my weaknesses.

I have done the test in Now, Discover your Strengths and found that my five top areas are: Maximizer, Positivity, Strategic, Developer, and Input.  This means that I am interested in potential of others, that I like to look for and develop others strengths, that I like to give praise and am lighthearted, and that I am inquisitive and like to collect things.  So, what areas do I need to compensate for?

I seem to lack the areas that involve seeing people as individuals who need strong relationships.  I might not analyze things fully or work hard enough to increase my circle or make things predictable.  So, anyone want to work with me and provide these traits?  I am looking for your balancing input!

Last day of March – Out like a lion?

I sometimes wonder if we are working to make sure we are going “out like a lion”.  The countdown to the end of the year has begun.  Are we giving up or are we making sure that all of our work is lion-like?  Giving up would include rushing to make sure we “get it all done”.  Giving up might include leaving out topics or events because our calendars are just too packed.  Instead we need to keep our learning in mind and only allow ourselves to do the things that enhance learning.  If we move quickly to finish things but do not ensure that our learners are with us, is it worth it?

Let’s roar together.  Let’s make sure that each and every day is filled with the power of learning and the joy and awe of seeing learners grow in success, in knowledge and in understanding.

That is my take – what do you think?

March 24, 2014

“Our job is to make change. Our job is to connect to people, to interact with them in a way that leaves them better than we found them, more able to get where they’d like to go. Every time we waste that opportunity, every page or sentence that doesn’t do enough to advance the cause is waste.”

Seth Godin in Linchpin – See more at: Leading Questions


How can you top this?  I see it everywhere in our board.  I see us trying to make connections in classrooms, in PLC work, in meetings and in hallways, staff rooms, gyms and computer labs (do we have any of those anymore?)

It is this connection and the determination to make people better – to positively impact those we meet – that makes my life interesting and my work worth it.

Two Questions

I was just watching a video about how to make a vision STICK.  The speaker suggested that the key to success was asking two important but simple questions:

  1. What are we doing?


  1. How do I fit in?

So I asked myself!  What are we doing?

Well, I think we are trying to help students find the JOY in their learning.  I think that we have said that we want to hear their voice and engage them in learning so that they will achieve and that the best way to do that is to bring them opportunities for JOY.  This may mean giving them CHOICE or making assignments meaningful, authentic and genuine.  It may mean listening to how students want to share their learning and being flexible enough to accept these ways as communication that allows us to shape our teaching to meet their needs.  That seems to be our board improvement plan in a nutshell.

And then I asked myself, How do I fit in?

And I am going to answer that NEXT Monday in Mary’s Monday MLOG.

How about you?????


Lessons from Skiing

It was so nice today and I was out skiing and thinking about what I might put in my Monday MLOG.  As I skied I wondered if there were some lessons I might learn from the wonderful activity I was doing.

First my mind went to the soul enriching renewal that was happening because I was in nature and in solitude.  My mind was quiet and I was able to actually listen to my thoughts and ponder any patterns that might be there in my over-filled mind.  Lesson?  Sometimes we have to provide time for students/teachers/staff to think and renew and get their thoughts in order.  What does that look like in a regular day?

Secondly, my mind went to the idea of the tracks I was following.  The rigidity of the ski tracks give me the freedom to develop my technique and to ski smoothly.  Lesson?  Sometimes we need to have rules or templates or boundaries in order to have the ability to develop creatively.

Okay – enough for this time!  I am sure there are more lessons out there, but they will have to wait for another MLOG.

Post March Break – And the Race is ON!

I have been alive for 385 dog years, or 1731699612 seconds (as of now) and I celebrated my 20,000th day on Feb 1, 2014.  Having said that, I have to comment that time runs faster after March break so I know I will age more quickly and add many more days, more quickly before the end of June and the end of another school year.

During the week-long break (or 604,800 seconds of vacation time) I was trying very hard not to work.  I found it hard to resist doing some reading though.  I came across a great blog that suggested that to know yourself as a leader you should ask yourself how you think you are when you are at your best.  Then ask yourself that three more times.  After doing that, the blog suggested that you ask yourself what you would do to be a better leader.  Then ask others.

I thought this was a great exercise in combination with my reading of Now, Discover Your Strengths which uses Gallop Poll data to compare your answers to questions to determine your top five strengths.  Next week, I will reveal what others say about me and what the book suggests is true.  Stay tuned!

Just Capturing Some Thoughts on our New Leadership Model and How It Is Affecting Us

We (as a board) have been working on the idea of having people be leaders (lynchpins) in their own work lives.  We have been integrating leadership with engagement.  And as we do, voice and choice keep bubbling up to the top of our collective consciousness.

So, I thought I would like to try to track a little of the journey so far.  Some of this is repetition but it is necessary for me to put it all in perspective, so repeat it is.

Okay, first of all came our view of our board improvement process.  A few years ago we decided that we needed to have the board improvement plan spring from the school improvement plans.  We asked all of the schools to think about what they knew about their students and their current learning situation and to create a plan to improve based on the data they had.  Then we brought all of the teams together and shared what we knew.  This led us to create a board level plan.  We had one goal that first year.  We were all going to focus on writing and we were using EQAO as a measure of our overall success.

This was the germ of the idea that the leadership of our board lay not at the top (at the board level) but at the school level where the everyday work touched the student desk – IS the student desk!  This started us on our way.

The process evolved over the years and has been refined and massaged but the premise is always the same.  We look to the classroom to direct the business of improvement.  The board facilitates the overall direction and makes sure that the connection to the province is clear and can be followed.

The need for supportive structures became clear as we moved forward.  We needed to be able to ensure that we were converging and that we were all working on a focus together even though we had individual needs within that area.  We needed to find more ways to build choice and voice in to our work for our staff and students.

So, two things happened this fall.  First we disconnected from EQAO as our target for improvement and asked teachers to look for true JOY in learning.  We were trying to validate the good work that teachers are doing and find ways to measure it and ensure that it continues to meet the needs of all of our learners.  Engagement, quality assignments, relevance and meaning became the criteria for success.  JOY became a measure.  (“Did you see JOY in your work today?  Did your students see it?  If so, do more of what you did today.  Connect with students.  Share their awe, wonder and joy in learning and good things will happen.”)

Secondly, we asked teachers to choose their own professional learning community based on the needs they could see in their students.  We provided 35 topics based on the needs identified by common assessments we use, through a teacher survey, through focus groups with students, and from current (Ministry and other) research.  We asked staff to choose which topic met the needs they saw in their work and to do an inquiry PLC based on this topic.  We gave them choice and then we also gave them voice by letting each group run their own inquiry base on the needs of the group.  (We gave each group a common session on how to develop and choose an inquiry question and how to move forward on it.  We stay in touch each session and try to provide “just in time learning” based on the needs they identify.  Other than that, we try and let each group move forward on its own.)

Then we had a new thing occur.  Some of our system level staff went out to actively encourage staff to do a TLLP submission this year.  We had none for this school year and so we thought we would try and turn that around.  We talked to people, tapped them on the shoulder to see if they were interested and then listened to their ideas.  We helped them develop their plans and then we waited.  We had a record number of teachers put forth TLLP plans.  But better than that, we learned that our staff wanted to be heard about the ideas that they had.

So, now, we are at the middle of the year and we find out we have CODE money coming for the 21st century projects.  So, it is late in the year for something new.  We are thinking that we could use the money to do projects we already have under way and just enhance them.  It could be easy.  It could be a relief from the stress of finding money for projects.  Instead, we decide that we are going to ask staff and students what they would like to do.  We sent out a communication asking for ideas that fit the criteria of the money from CODE and asked for a “2 minute pitch” in order to get a chance to bring to life an idea that they had.  We would fund up to $15000.00 per idea, support the process and make sure that it fit the criteria of the project as well as the overall board direction.

It was GENIUS!  We had 22 groups present their pitches even though they had less than two weeks to prepare.  Three of the pitches involved students – one of them was totally directed by a grade 5/6 class.  Several of the pitches were done by phone and/or video.  All of them were brilliant.  None of them were about money grabs or attempts to get technological equipment for themselves.  All of them were about our board priorities.  We found out that the goals of the board are more ingrained than we had realized.  The projects followed themes that fit our directions.  This was not because we told them to do this or because they talked to each other first.  These groups were collaborative among themselves but there was not time to be collaborative across projects.  The themes are real themes that organically sprouted in the pitches and reflect the things we have been trying to say for the last few years.  (Eureka!)

It was humbling to see that we have people who are trying to form TRIBES (a la Seth Godin) and who are willing to do extra work to make their ideas (dreams) into reality.  (Or to put it another way – we have leaders at all levels!)  We previously had no way of allowing this power of the individual to come out.  We thought we were hearing it through the School Improvement Teams but there were people who were not connected to that group but who had ideas.  They told us they loved being heard.  They told us that even though the 2 minute pitch was like the Dragon’s Den and terrifying, it was exhilarating and worth it.  They are excited to get started.

So, now we have to build on this and find the best way to support and grow these ideas.  It is an amazing place to be.