Make School Different

Posted: 22nd April 2015 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

I was recently challenged by Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca).  Aviva knows that I have a hard time turning down a challenge, especially one that makes me think and reflect.  So here we are.  Donna Fry (@fryed) initially issued the call.  She had requested:

“Please join us.  When it comes to education, what are 5 things that we have to stop pretending?  Post on your blog, tag 5 others, and share using the #makeschooldifferent hashtag.”

Here goes.

When it comes to education, we have to stop pretending… that we have all the answers.  Education has evolved past the google-able knowledge-based learning.  Even Siri doesn’t have all the answers we need now to be educators or for our students to be learners.  Thinking through the tough questions is more interesting/challenging/stretching/engaging than quick easy answers anyway.

When it comes to education, we have to stop pretending… that time is a barrier. It’s not a barrier, it is just an easy excuse. Time is a constant (well, kind of) in the sense that it is a finite resource and always will be.  We are all busy.  We all have too much to do.  You have to make the hard choices about what is the best way to use that time.

When it comes to education, we have to stop pretending… that things are good enough.  Celebrate the good, for sure.  But don’t stand still.  Progress doesn’t work if you don’t move forward.

When it comes to education, we have to stop pretending… that the learning comes first.  Now listen, I love curriculum as much as the next guy (probably more than most.  I know good chunks of it without opening it anymore.  It’s really quite annoying to others, actually).  You may have the most stupendous drama lesson, or way to teach fractions or strategy to get every kid to read and write but I would argue that there is something far more important than the learning within educators’ realm of responsibility.   The learner HAS to come before the learning.  One size does not fit all.  One starting point does not work for everyone.  Setting the conditions for learning has to have some degree of personalization.  We teach kids not curriculum.

When it comes to education, we have to stop pretending… that the best way to measure learning is with a mark.  I know we are stuck with evaluation reporting that requires marks.  But I hope every educator finds so many more ways to measure a student’s learning.  And I hope every student and parent know how much more a student is than a sum of his/her marks.

So those are my five thoughts for the day.

The second part of the challenge was to nominate 5 people to also take up the challenge.  I decided to challenge 5 HWDSB bloggers that I know.  Some are teachers, others are administrators.  All can definitely teach me a thing or two.

Enzo Ciardelli (@ECiardelli)

Adele Stanfield (@adeletweets)

Lisa Neale (@lisaneale)

Susan Bosher (@SusanBosher)

Jared Bennett (@mrjarbenne)

 

An old band from many years ago called The Platters once had a song called The Great Pretender.  The first verse went like this:

Oh-oh, yes I’m the great pretender
Pretending that I’m doing well
My need is such I pretend too much
I’m lonely but no one can tell

The Platters – The Great Pretender Lyrics | (MetroLyrics)

Education should be an area where we aren’t lonely in our ideas.  We need collaborative partners.  We need a community of learners.  Join us while we stop pretending and open our minds to changing our thinking together.

The Day the Bake Sale Exploded

Posted: 18th April 2015 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

The saying “it takes a village to raise a child” may be overused but it has endured over time because of the truth behind it.  I think those of us who are privileged to work in schools have the inside scoop on what this statement means if we look at our school as a village.  I especially love seeing how this works in a school with a wide range of student ages.

I started thinking about this yesterday as several bits and pieces of my day reminded me of how so many of our staff and students (and parents and community partners) work together to make our school a great place to be.  Let me share some things I saw and experienced.

There was a large group of intermediate students working together to play cricket.  Some of the students were having their first go at this sport while others had played and experienced it for years.  The newbies were encouraged and enthusiastic.  The experienced players coached and encouraged.  Some, in fact, took the time to provide the teacher with information about the finer points of the game and feedback about how to best teach techniques.  Only an environment that encourages respectful learning would work with a group of students so broad in their range of experience and ability.  What a great lesson for students.

I saw staff come together to support a student in crisis.  As I responded to the call, I couldn’t go more than a few feet before someone else offered help or a student or staff member expressed concern for the student.  That’s a caring community.  Another great lesson for students.

I saw thirty 4 and 5 year olds decide that, based on their inquiry on large aquatic animals, they wanted to raise money to sponsor a great white shark.  They needed $55 to do so.  So, they spent the week baking in the staff room with our wonderful staff, spent hours in their classroom creating dolphin bracelets, created signs and announcements to invite the school to their Friday sale and hoped they might get enough of a response to sponsor that shark that they have spent months learning about.  Here’s a picture I took as I squeezed my way through to see how they were doing:

 

It was amazing.  So many people came out to support them and patiently wait their turn to order their goods.  They raised almost ten times their goal.  The students were so excited.  While the experiences of raising money and of doing something to help others were both impactful on the kindergarten students’ learning, I think their biggest lesson was how when you ask others to help you accomplish a goal, so many will respond enthusiastically.  Another great lesson for those on both sides of the bake sale table.

Making a school a great place to be involves a whole lot more than the curriculum.  The curriculum is important, for sure.  Interestingly, on our report cards, learning skills are placed first.  We evaluate and comment on the character and work (life) skills of the student before we talk about how well they did in math or reading.  It doesn’t minimize how well students do on those academics, there is something just a little bit higher up the importance scale.  We need to develop in students an understanding of how they are responsible for supporting others’ learning and well being and they can expect that others will help them as well.

How do you create those conditions in your school?  How do you ensure that students, staff, volunteers, parents and the community see themselves as part of a village and that they all have a responsibility to help raise each child?

 

 

Ghost Story Learning

Posted: 9th April 2015 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

Today I had an author come visit me in my office.  This author is 5 years old and an active participant in one of our kindergarten classrooms.  My author friend showed me her latest creation:  it was a well written chapter book (Seriously.  5 years old.  I know, right?).  She had chosen to write a scary ghost story because it wasn’t a genre she had written before (full disclosure – she didn’t use the word genre…although she probably could have).  We happened to be right beside a stack of the city newspapers and I shared a story I had written from today’s paper.  Admittedly, my newspaper stories are not nearly as impressive as her ghost story, but I was happy to show how I do “real” writing too.

I mentioned the newspaper series I wrote to my kindergarten friend to show how writing is an important part of my life too.  But it got me thinking about a second conversation I had recently.  I was speaking with an aspiring leader and we were discussing some of the skills needed to take on a role in leadership.  I talked about how one of the biggest things I had needed to prepare for was figuring out how to be a leader in areas I wasn’t an expert.  Sure, I can talk curriculum all day long but I’m supposed to lead health and safety walks?  Hmm.  And how am I supposed to adequately support our amazing French teachers when my French language skills are seriously lacking? Umm.

How well you do at leadership or teaching or learning has a lot to do with how you approach the unknowns.  One of the reasons I write different series for the newspaper is because I end up writing on topics I have so little knowledge about.  I’ve written on local athletes, courier du bois, and the winter Olympics; none of which would fall within my expertise.  But I jumped in, learned as I went, made some mis steps, reflected and rewrote and ended up proud of my accomplishments.

That process I’ve followed as a writer is pretty much identical to the process I have taken as a leader, and before that as a teacher, and all along as a learner.  But, I wonder how often have I explicitly modeled that for my students or my colleagues?  I don’t know.  For example, I showed my author friend my finished product, but I didn’t tell her that I didn’t know a lot about football before I wrote the biography on a CFL player.  I didn’t tell her that I wasn’t sure that I would be able to do a good job on it.  I think I probably should have.

We want our students to model their thinking along the way and not just show us their polished finished products.  If I am going to help anyone do that, I need to show my thinking along the way too, even if it isn’t pretty or always right.  That’s a challenge for educators, I think.  How do we find opportunities to be as transparent with our hard, messy learning as we expect our students to do?

 

As the Song Says, Let It Go

Posted: 6th April 2015 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

As the mother of a nine year old, Disney-obsessed daughter, I can add “can sing all of the songs and recall significant portions of dialogue from the movie Frozen” to my dubious list of accomplishments.  Few haven’t yet been affected by the earworm-worthy “Let It Go” by now.  But if you have, have you ever considered what it actually means?  Aside from the obvious references to being a queen and living in a winter wonderland, it really is a song about the freedom to be gained from relieving yourself of some responsibilities and from the expectations of others.

Hold that thought while you now hum away (sorry about that.  It has a habit of sticking in your head, doesn’t it?)

In education, we are very good at advocating for change; progress gained through research findings, pedalogical or curricular shifts, or even direction from leaders and colleagues.  Educators have a very hectic job.  You are pulled in many different directions, having to plan ahead while thinking on your feet and reacting to the students in front of you.

I think often when a new idea or strategy is suggested, educators first approach it with a little dread.  Not because they don’t want what is good for their students and not because they don’t want to learn and progress, but finding the time and energy for one more thing is daunting.

Isn’t it strange that we spend so much time in education pushing the newest and greatest, but we spend very little time reflecting on what this newest and greatest with displace?  Our time – both with our students, and for planning – is finite and always will be.  To introduce something new, logic would say that we need to get rid of something else to make room.  Instead, I think many educators try to figure out how to squeeze one more thing in.

Rethinking practice is difficult.  We are often committed and passionate about the things we do and why we do them.  Figuring out what we can do without – what isn’t as important or meaningful to our students’ learning as everything else – is difficult.

I think we all need to learn, like the song says, to let it go.  We need strategies to figure out what we can leave behind.   Finding someone we trust who isn’t as invested in our practices as we are to help think through the options is a good strategy.  Listening to their advice might not always be easy, but it is a good starting point.  Finding time to reflect regularly on our practices through the perspective of the students is another good habit we should get into.  For list makers out there, one technique I find quite helpful to support this is to use a “Re-use, Re-think, Reject” organizer when considering change:  what can I maintain?  What could I do differently to better effect? What can I get rid of?

Educators work very hard. It is not an easy job.  How do you manage balancing the need for change and progress with the finite resource of time?

I think we also collectively need to cheer each other on.  Sharing things we’ve successfully  let go from our practice and how we did it helps others better understand how they can make change too.  So, I’m interested to hear what kinds of things people have let go – how did you do it and how does it feel now?

Long after the song has faded from our memory, educators will still be trying to figure out how to balance all of the demands of a busy classroom of students.  We can get better at it if we learn some strategies to help let it go.

 

Criss Cross Applesauce, the Sequel

Posted: 1st April 2015 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

Music teachers have my undying gratitude and respect. I don’t think I could ever handle being an instrumental music teacher to beginning woodwind, strings and brass players. God bless those music teachers – they are a special and hardy breed – but that amount of noise would quickly do me in, I think.

But that music noise isn’t really about me and my needs – it is about students who need to try things out, practice, and squawk, squeak and emit other shrill noises before getting to making beautiful music. All of that uncomfortable (for me) stuff is a necessary part of their learning. I guess that means I would either have to: a) restrict students to only playing some nice, quiet, gentle instruments…maybe paper tabletop pianos? , b)endure the noise for the sake of student learning c) get out of teaching music.

Yesterday, my educational kindred spirit, Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca) posted this post:  Criss Cross Apple Sauce and other such rules   It talks about how we have created rules for young students – how to sit, how to respond in class, how to walk down the hall.  Aviva considers whether we have created these rules for our students’ benefits or if it is more for our own comfort.  Aviva wonders if we should be reconsidering these rules and allowing students to exhibit behaviours that will increase their comfort, not ours.

I agree with Aviva wholeheartedly, but I think she gives a perspective from a teacher of very young students.  We don’t tend to ask 14 year olds to “criss cross applesauce” (Although, I kind of want to, just once, to see what they would do.  Would they have had that demand ingrained into them years before and would they comply?  I wonder…) I think of one experience I had as a classroom teacher several years ago.  I had a student teacher and our class practiced what we called “regular talk”.  The rules were no raised hands, no raised voices, and you listen as respectfully as you want to be listened to.  Students loved it and learned some appropriate listening and speaking behaviours.  The student teacher working with me (she was a wonderful sport, and is now a fabulous and well respected teacher in our board) quickly embraced it and all was well.  Well, at least until her advisor came to observe her.  I don’t know – maybe the advisor didn’t get it, or maybe she didn’t have enough critical next steps to provide the student teacher so picked on this.  Whatever it was, she was extremely unappreciative of the regular talk classroom.  My student teacher was disheartened.  I was apologetic about steering her wrong.  We both went home that night upset.

I give my student teacher a lot of credit, though. She came back the next day and said that she had thought it over and would rather do what was right for the students than do what was good for her evaluation.  We continued our regular talk.  I was so happy – she got it.  It isn’t about us, it is about them.

Hats in class, raising hands, working in groups or individually or in partners, demonstrating their learning in a way that a teacher hasn’t tried….what makes educators uncomfortable but is good for students?  Other than our own discomfort, what is holding us back from providing a learning environment that works for kids?  What do you think we need to rethink?  I’m going to have to get over my own noise issue and spend some time in an instrumental music classroom.  I know they are doing amazing learning.  How about you?

It Makes You Wonder

Posted: 25th March 2015 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

I lived through the experience of parenting four articulate curious toddlers. I experienced first hand the life of a kindergarten teacher and preschool teacher for several years. I promote the use of inquiry by students and teachers. Believe me when I say that I have heard a lot of wondering questions. The best ones seem to come spontaneously from young children unafraid to explore their environment and make meaning of all sorts of things that we take for granted through our own experienced eyes.

But if educators are life long learners, Shouldn’t we be getting back into the practice of wondering?

Here goes. My wonders for today:

1) how in the world did it get to be the end of March already? Why does time seem to fly faster the older I get?

2) how does snow melt when the air temperature is below zero still?

3) why does the air in my house feel warmer when there is more humidity even though the temperature is the same?

4) how can I promote a greater use of our outdoor space as a valuable learning environment for our students (beyond its role in recess and PE?). How can I sell this to teachers? To students?

5) how can we (educators) better communicate to parents the shifts in educational practice…and convince parents those changes might be different than what they know but they are good for kids?

6) how do I maintain growth in a personal leadership learning Goal I have when it is no longer really a top priority for me? Is this how students feel when they are just done with a unit/inquiry? If I’m not motivated or interested any more is there any benefit to my learning (or in my connection, to students’ learning) to keep pushing because I haven’t met a timeline for a goal?

I need to practice what I preach. Wondering is good for kids. Wondering is also good for educators. While I might not share all my wonderings here, I will be making a more conscious effort to reflect on my wonderings and see where they take me. Do you wonder?

There is something to be said for how deeply new ideas or approaches end up permeating into far reaching areas of your thinking.  What started off as simple may end up being so multi-faceted that you can’t quite believe that is where you’ve ended up.

It started for me with the idea of promoting student voice and choice in learning.  The idea that self-actualized learning (or facilitated rather than directed learning) is more engaging, more personal and more meaningful for students and better prepares them for the challenges of modern life.  It starts by asking students to think through their learning needs, exploring information and making connections collaboratively, and then deciding how best to demonstrate and share their new learning.  A shift, for sure, but doable and understandable, I think.

But once you understand the role of student voice and choice, it is difficult to cage it into these narrow confinements.  If we want students to think for themselves, create new knowledge and apply their learning meaningfully, where does it go next?

Well, over this March break, for me, it went to weird places.

First I read this article in the Globe and Mail about a local principal and the changes in discipline in his school.  You can read it here:   How A High School Principal Curbed Suspension

I will admit that the whole suspension/expulsion/punishment side of administration is one of the least favourite roles I have in this job.  As this article hints at, the effectiveness of punishment in education is being questioned.  I know that I would much rather devote my time to counselling students; teaching them to think through their actions, the effects of those actions and to plan out how to better approach situations in the future.  I understand that punishment isn’t likely to go away anytime soon, but if we are dedicated to shifting student learning from a system of “You learn this because I said so and here is how you will learn it” to a system that says “You learn what you need to learn, how you need to learn it and I will help you get there”, then wouldn’t our system of punishment have to change too?

This leads me to the next weird place I landed.  If you have been on social media in the last few days, you have probably heard about #Odinbirthday.  A young boy in Peterborough, Ontario was celebrating his 13th birthday and not one of his invited peers responded about coming.  His mother claims that Odin has difficulty making friends and that he has dealt with issues of bullying in school.  One must be hesitant to believe without critique everything in the media, but one truth we know is that he invited other kids and no one came to his party.  Why?  I don’t pretend to know the missing perspective here – the kids who were invited may just not have been able to make it.  But, let’s say that there is a possibility that the kids didn’t come because they don’t like Odin.  Did they break any rules?  No.  You aren’t obliged to go to a party are invited to.  They had that choice, right?

OK.  Stay with me for a minute and I’ll get to the point.  Say these party invitees had been raised in an education system of punishment/reward.  Right/wrong.  Do as I say because those are the rules.  It’s not unlikely – this is a pretty pervasive system in education.  These invitees didn’t break any rules by not going to a classmate’s party.

But now let’s say they instead went to a school like that described in the Globe and Mail article.  One that encourages students to be part of the learning process and to understand their own need for learning, and thinking through their own behaviour.  One that encourages students to value each voice as adding to our collective learning.  One that understands that we need to work at creating rules for collaboration together so that we all benefit.  That just because it isn’t something that you aren’t punished for doesn’t necessarily mean that it is good.  Did Odin’s classmates break an official rule?  No.  Did they value Odin and the contributions he could make (or consider how their actions may have impacted someone else)?  Maybe not.

This leads me to one more weird place.  My daughter’s toque.  If you hang around any teenagers, at least in this part of the world, it is not uncommon to see teenagers wearing a few key accessories:  a phone and a hat.  Guess what two things are most often banned in a high school classroom (at least in my very small and admittedly biased study)?  You guessed it:  phones and hats.  My daughter was angry about the no hat rule at school and wanted to know why it was a thing.  What purpose does it serve?  Why do you get reamed out for wearing one in class?  Why must everyone put their phones in the bucket on the teacher’s desk at the beginning of class?  While she knows that I am not responsible for the rules in her school, she figured I must at least be able to explain the thinking behind this rule.  I really couldn’t.  Telling her that that is just the way it is and that she should be respectful of the rules just to demonstrate her respect of the rule keepers didn’t feel right.  She wasn’t saying that she wouldn’t follow the rules, just that she questioned the validity of them and that no one would explain the thinking behind them to her to make her want to follow them.

I want my daughter to have a voice and I want her to know that that voice is respected by her peers, her teachers and her administrators.  Telling her just to leave her hat in her locker wasn’t making me feel like that was the way to do it.

I have no resolution to these three separate, but connected scenarios.  School rules exist.  School punishments exist.  Hurtful decisions by students exist.  But, I wonder as we further own up to the responsibility we have to student voice and choice – not only within curricular assignments – if we would see some shifts in these things.

So there you go.  It was no beach vacation for me for March break but I did go to some weird places in my head.

 

Dancing As If No One Is Watching

Posted: 12th March 2015 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

I picked up two of my daughters after a high school dance last night. On the ride home, they were chattering on about watching some of the students dancing like they were alone in their bedroom, with no inhibitions. I haven’t been to a high school dance in a while, but I suspect some things never change. Some will dance to have fun without any cares, others will dance to show off, others won’t dance because they are too scared of what everyone else will think.

I don’t dance but I do write. We all write for many different purposes and audiences. One of my favourites is this, right here: blogging. It is my chance to greedily take 15 minutes for myself, to think clearly enough to express myself, to connect my thinking to my own other thoughts and to other’s thoughts. Self regulatory, selfish, reflective bliss.

I know, as I write, that someone else may read this. Maybe someone will read it and even add to my thinking with comments or questions, maybe not. But I can’t write with that intent in mind. I have to focus on writing for the purpose of reflecting; I have to dance as if no one is watching.

If I wrote with an audience in mind, it would change my content and skew my thoughts. Audience and purpose are too intertwined. Change one and you affect the other. If I write thinking about those other people who may read it, I have stained the purpose of self reflection. It would become narration with the intent of feedback/challenging/celebrating/informing/entertaining. I’m happy to let anyone read it and take from it whatever they want, but I have to write it for me.

That got me thinking about our students. We want them to be self reflective and take the time to think through their thinking in order to further their learning. There are, at least in Ontario, a surprisingly substantial number of expectations that clearly show that it is a skill we need to develop in our students.  So my question is, when do we get them to reflect like no one is watching…or judging…or expecting? How do we provide them with those authentic opportunities to reflect without that effect of an other audience haunting their reflective efforts? Is there a way to balance this need for autonomous thinking and reflecting with our need to further their skills AND (just to make things complicated) evaluate those skills?

I’m curious. How do you get your students to think like no one is listening, reflect like no one is evaluating, and learn like no one is watching?

 

 

Things I Know For Sure

Posted: 1st March 2015 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

By three methods we may learn wisdom:  First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”  ~ Confucius

Confucius may have been on to something.  We know that there are different ways that we learn and acquire knowledge and wisdom.  Current educational research tells us that we need to give reflection a substantial time, place and weight to allow for a greater depth of learning.  It seems to fly in the face of our busy, fast-paced, multi-tasking world.  Good educators and learners, though, I think carve out the needed time and focus to allow for it.

I propose a challenge of reflection to all you striving educators and life-long learners.  Can you stop and reflect on your learning this year?  What are 5 tidbits of wisdom you have gained?  What can you share with others?

Here are mine.

1.  Everyone is on a learning journey, whether they want to be or not.  Taking the time to find out what motivates them, what scares them, and how to support them, is worth it.  Supporting someone using their agenda instead of your own makes a difference, and may make the reluctant learner more willing.

2.  Listening is a HARD skill.  You only get better at it with practice, focus and a heavy dose of putting others’ needs before your own.

3. Looking for ways to celebrate progress, achievement and effort should be an on-going goal of anyone in leadership.  But you need to be able to clearly identify and relate what it is that is worth the celebration.  Vague congratulations and good jobs are empty efforts at promoting progress.

4. We all have a finite amount of time, energy and resources.  For the biggest impact, focus your efforts, stay the course, and let the rest go (for now) with as little guilt as you can manage.

5. I learn best when I can share and learn from others who share too.  I get the sense that I’m not alone in that.

 

So, what are 5 things that you know for sure that you have been learning?  What can you stop and reflect about?  Let’s make Confucius proud.  Reply in the comments, or post your own blog “Thing I Know For Sure”, or just reflect and share in person with someone if that’s what helps you.  There is power in reflecting; why not use it?

 

Listening for the Quiet Whispers

Posted: 23rd February 2015 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

I consider myself a life long learner, and I am hoping that you can see this in this blog. I’m always trying to learn, reflect, question and enhance my professional knowledge and skills. As a relatively new administrator, I have freely admitted that some of my biggest goals revolve around leadership skills. This year, I have focused on a leadership goal that has been somewhat nebulous. It has also been frustrating at times, slow moving at others.

A few weeks ago, several leaders were together reflecting on our personal leadership goals and discussing our next steps. One general piece of advice from one amongst us was to make sure that we are not so busy with the doing, changing, and making moves to step back, observe and reflect on what change we actually see. Good advice, I thought. It happened to coincide with a Professional Activity day in our board, followed less than a week later by a school staff meeting. I forced myself in both situations to step back, quietly observe and reflect.

Do I see progress on my specific goal for change? Was there anything to celebrate? Did it help me gain any clarity?

In my quest to observe and listen, the feedback I sought didn’t all come from the sources I expected. I expected to get some first hand accounts from participants and some observations from my perspective. I got those, but my most meaningful reflection information came from unexpected sources. On both the PA day and the day of the staff meeting, different people pulled me aside for a quiet conversation. Each of these people have been outside my goal – they neither know what my goal is nor have they been part of the work of the change. And yet, in these outsider positions, each offered me feedback about their own observations that gave me clear evidence of the effects of my work.

They had no idea about the evidence they provided me. They still don’t.

It doesn’t matter that I haven’t specifically declared this goal publicly (and I haven’t for a reason – it affects other people who may not be agreeable to this goal being publicized). By stopping, listening, observing, and taking in the evidence – even when it surprised me – I’ve been made more reflective towards my work of learning. I can’t tell you how much I needed this breath of refreshment. The work of learning can be hard, tedious, frustrating.

We teach students and educators to reflect on their work as part of their own cycles of learning: plan, act, assess, reflect. But I wonder how often we teach them to find ways to reflect outside our normal spheres? How often do we ask them to look for those quiet pieces of evidence? How often do we – as celebrants of life long learning – pull people aside to be a quiet voice of refreshment too?