Who Will Be Their Terry Fox?

Posted: 25th July 2015 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

A million years ago, I was a teenager who was very driven.  I thought I had my whole life planned out.  I was committed to achieving my dreams and I worked very hard to creep towards them.  I knew how to get through high school quickly and successfully.  I knew how to balance those academic needs with my athletic goals and plans.  I knew where I wanted to go after high school, what my first career would be, then what schooling I would do to achieve my second career goals.

Then, as life is likely to do, I was thrown a curve ball that I didn’t see coming.  With only a few years to make everything I wanted happen, I watched everything fall out of my grasp.  As a cocky, driven teenager who thought I had everything under control, I was devastated.

But I was also lucky.  Once I came out of my self-pitying funk, I looked around.  I had people around me who motivated me and let me try new things, introduced me to new ideas, and supported me when I took my first timid steps in new directions.

I had a teacher who insisted that I, a straight A student, go see the guidance counsellor, and persisted when I refused multiple times.  I had that guidance counsellor who saw through my bravado and introduced me to goals that would help me get back on track.  One of the things he had me do was explore applying for a national scholarship called the Terry Fox Humanitarian Award.  I probably would have resisted, but he broached it as a challenge, knowing that I was not one to back away from a challenge.  So, I researched Terry Fox and learned a lot more about what he stood for, what he dreamed, what he accomplished, how he persevered despite adversity.  How, even though he lost the battle, he is still winning the war today.  There were a lot of correlations between his story and mine and I was sad to say I had not done nearly as much to persevere…yet.

Terry Fox’s story inspired me and gave me the kick to get my life back in order.  I was headed in a totally different direction.  I had to humbly start over in many ways and try on things I had never considered, (including eventually, a never-before-thought-of career in education).

I never met Terry Fox, but he changed my life and pulled me out of my own hardship.  He helped me see how to take my driven spirit and drive it in a different direction, and that it was ok to do so.  It wasn’t failing, it was adapting.

I’ve been following the semi colon project with great interest.  In any school I have worked in, mental health issues are a concern.  They affect students, staff, and families, both directly and indirectly.  And, although public perceptions are slowly changing, there still is shame and blame associated with these illnesses.  This, of course, only contributes to making the problems bigger and more difficult to manage.

I wonder now, if I hadn’t had help, especially in the way of mentors like Terry Fox that I could learn from and be inspired by, what I would have done.  I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think I would have been able to pull myself out of my funk as well as I did.  While I am grateful I received that national scholarship, I think my life would have been forever changed even if they had not granted it to me.

We all need mentors to help us get over ourselves and provide us with hope.  I faced physical adversity and found a role model in Terry Fox.  For others with mental health illnesses and struggles, I have wondered who would be willing and able to mentor them well.

I think the semi colon project can help.  People face all kinds of adversity and need all kinds of mentors.  People who have faced the strain of mental illness and now see light on the other side need to be visible for those who are still in the dark.

I am glad for the semi colon project.  I am proud of those who stand up and are willing to be those mentors.  Terry Fox may be forever known as someone who changed many lives, but I have full confidence that your strength will be an inspiration to many who desperately need it.

Thank you, semi colon people.  You will change lives.

Passion + Perspective = Progress

Posted: 2nd July 2015 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

Like many other twitter-attached educators, I was following along with the tweets and blog posts coming out of the ISTE 2015 conference over the last week or so.  Jealously.  (I don’t think I was alone in that.  There seemed to be almost as many #notatISTE tweets as there were posts from the actual conference).  I gleaned whatever learning I could from afar.

One thing that caught my attention was the buzz about Pernille Ripp and her five minute IGNITE session.  I was happy that Aviva Dunsiger tweeted me with a link to Pernille’s blogpost about her session.  You can see that post and a recording of the session here.

Aviva sent me the link because we have, at our school, been working very hard at giving students a significant amount of voice and choice over the last few years.  We’ve done it sometimes in conventional ways and sometimes in ways that are considered out there.  Funny enough, earlier this week ideas of this sort came up even in interviews Paul Clemens and I were doing for new office administrators – because student voice and choice significantly changes what school looks like, what rules look like and most importantly, what learning looks like.

I nodded along with Pernille throughout her recorded session.  She’s absolutely right when she said these things: “Even the smallest changes can make monumental differences… We have to take the first step… We have to change the way we are teaching.”

But the session had me wondering.  The overgrown toddler in me who always wants to know why was adamant and looking for answers.  Not why Pernille said the things she said – that I get.  I wondered why there was such an outpouring of reaction to her session.  Don’t get me wrong – I think everyone in that room and everyone who sees the recorded session should react so positively to the challenge, but I found it interesting that this session stood out among so many good ones as noteworthy.

Why?

Now, I don’t know for sure, but here’s what I’m thinking.  Pernille is a noted author, gifted educator and a transparent learner – all this you can glean from her blog and her books.  There can be no question that her passion for student voice and choice is evident throughout all of those.  But so many educators and speakers have passion for the topics they speak about and teach.

It was Pernille’s opening story that got me.  She didn’t talk at first as an educator.  Or as an author.  Or as an educational speaker.  She spoke as a parent.  She told us the story of a child – her child.  That story provided for her an imperative to help us understand the changes she needed to make in her practice and the imperative as to why we all would need to consider changes in our own practices.

It isn’t about what we know or what we do because research says we should.  It isn’t about what we learned in teacher’s college.  It is about figuring out that kid in front of us and being willing to do whatever we have to do to get him or her to learn – willingly, joyfully, persistently.  Being willing to do what needs to be done for that student is often antithetical to our core understanding of what it means to teach – aren’t we the experts?

What Pernille did in her session is hook us with perspective.  We all have passion but if we don’t maintain the perspective of the student – that student who needs to learn and be heard in ways we may not have considered – I’m not sure we’ll make the progress we so desperately need in education.

Use your passion and your expertise, but not at the cost of the perspective of the student.

Thanks Pernille.

A Lesson in Refined Sugar

Posted: 29th June 2015 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

I recently learned about the refinement process of sugar.  I bake a lot and have worked with more than my fair share of sugars.  So, when my aunt (a retired teacher and someone with an endless supply of interesting tidbits) asked me “What kind of sugar do you think is more refined, granulated sugar or brown sugar?” I was pretty confident I knew what I was talking about.  White sugar (granulated), of course.

Yeah.  Totally wrong.  Turns out that when they are making sugar, they strip it all the way down to the snow white little crystals so many of us use to flavour our morning coffee or bake our sugar cookies.  Then, they take those pristine granules and add back in molasses and whatever else to then make brown sugar.  Huh.  Who knew?  Clearly not me.

It had me thinking about what we do in education to refine our practice.  I think about the teachers I have heard talking in the last little while about something new they are going to try or learn this summer so that they can put into practice when school resumes.

Learning something new requires lots of work and thought to get it all perfect to put into practice.  That is sometimes a daunting task for educators, but most are so committed to improving practice that they do it anyway.

But I like to look at what that shiny new practice looks like months later after teachers have been experiencing it for a while.  It’s usually different.  Not as pristine.  Not as perfect.  It has been taken from that stripped, pure practice and has had flavour added to it.  Teachers take their perfect plans and make them their own.  They make them better.

For those who are committed to planning and learning this summer, carry on.  Do your best work.  But know that your granulated sugar plans will probably benefit from the colour and flavour that can only come when you put them into practice next year.

 

Graduation Thoughts

Posted: 23rd June 2015 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

I love graduation.  I love everything about it:  the pomp and circumstance, the ritual of it all, the excitement of the parents and younger siblings.  I think my favourite part is watching the graduates filing in.  Beneath the styled hair, sky high shoes and crisp new ties are those faces that can’t hide their emotions.  Some of them are so proud and excited it practically bubbles out of them.  Others are shy about the attention but still pleased to be there.  Others are so nervous but comforted by being part of the group and move with the wave of their peers.

In this graduation season, I can’t resist sharing my thoughts.  Below are the thoughts I shared with the graduates of Ancaster Meadow yesterday.  What words of wisdom would you give the graduates in your life?

Congratulations graduates on making it to this milestone day.  Unlike some of the other milestones you’ve experienced in your life before now – learning to walk, your first words – this is a milestone that you will remember for the rest of your life.

Some of you may remember your first day of school – another milestone.  You may remember standing at the door waiting for all of those tall teachers to come out; standing beside that crying kid with the Spiderman backpack wondering what you had gotten yourself into.  Now you look down at all of those tall kindergarten teachers and that crying kid has been your best friend for ten years.

You represent quite a milestone for Ancaster Meadow.  That year that some of you started Junior Kindergarten here was the year this new school opened.  You are the first set of Ancaster Meadow graduates to have students who have been at this school for all ten years of their elementary education. You, and this school, have grown a lot in ten years.

You will hear many people tonight talk about this being the start of your future.  How you are becoming young adults and how to use the skills you’ve been given up until now to make amazing things of your life.  Many of those people saying those things know what they are talking about.   They remember their grade 8 graduations and how they thought they were ready to do anything and succeed wildly.  The truth is, you will leave here and you will succeed.  But the other truth is that you will probably screw up a bit on the way, and that’s ok.  That’s part of learning and growing up too.

But don’t be nervous about those successes and failures.  You come prepared with plenty of things to rely on, and some of those you learned in these walls.  You have learned how to be compassionate and caring, how persisting through those hard subjects is worth it in the end, how to work as a team, how to laugh at yourselves, how revealing who you really are and what you really think to others is important.  You are all strong, smart, independent thinkers and I, and this whole room full of people, are very proud of your abilities.

You have spent the last few years listening to Mr Clemens’ words of wisdom every morning.  We all know what an awesome Principal Mr Clemens is and his words are very wise.  But there is another school principal who has some pretty wise words that I want to leave you with today.  In the words of Professor Dumbledore (with a little help from J.K. Rowling):  “It is our choices (Harry), that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

Every one of you will leave this building tonight with many amazing abilities.  You job, from this day on, is to use those to make choices that will leave the world a kinder, better place.

Celebrate all of your abilities today.  Make good choices tomorrow.  Learn from your mistakes and rely on one another always.  I’m sad to see you all leave us here, but I am so confident that you are ready to create new milestones.  Go build us a better world.

All the Extras

Posted: 11th June 2015 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

I’ve been thinking recently about all those things that aren’t significant elements of our curriculum but are important to developing students who will be good global and local citizens.  You know the kind of thing I mean.

  • Character Ed – how do we teach students to value and model integrity, honesty, respect, kindness?
  • Contributors – how do we teach students that it is important to not always be consumers, but to remember how important it is to give back to others; donating time, money, acts of kindness?
  • Environmentally connected – how do we continuously encourage students to be actively responsible for our environment, particularly when previous/current generations aren’t always the best role models?
  • Problem Solvers – how do we teach students to look at complex problems from various perspectives, consider a wide variety of options to solve or support, and to reflect throughout the process to check for appropriate progress?  This one, I will admit, is woven into the curriculum a little more, particularly in math and science, but I think students who are exposed to only traditional math/science problems still have trouble applying the process to their own real world problems.
  • Communicators – how do we teach students to value and respect their voices (in writing, on social media, orally) and, perhaps even more importantly, the voices of others, regardless of whether they agree with the thoughts and ideas that were expressed?
  • Self Advocators – how do we teach students to own their learning?  To be responsible for advocating for what they need, what they want to learn about, and developing ways to share that knowledge with others?

Growing up well is a complex process.  Educators have a stack of curriculae that they are responsible for teaching to our students and a finite amount of time to do it.  So how do we address these really important ideas as well?

It got me thinking about the character education lessons I was responsible for teaching to primary students about ten years ago.  We had these big cards that we read from the back of, accompanied by a picture on the front of the card that would teach our students – in about 5 minutes a day – the finer points of character education.  This week – integrity.  Next week – honesty.  I dutifully “taught” my students using these cards, but I wonder now if I actually taught them anything useful.  This kind of teaching – whether it is character ed or any of those extras listed above – doesn’t fit nicely into 5 minutes a day or onto a glossy teacher lesson card.

Many teachers I know today do a far better job than I did with these extras.  The biggest factor I have seen that has contributed to real, thoughtful understanding and application of the ideas behind the extras?  Inquiry.

When students are engaged in inquiry – real, authentic opportunities for learning in rich and diverse ways -they find their voices.  They find their passions.  They see and interact with the world around them.  They learn about their impact on their world and the impact of the people and events around the world on them.  They become outraged about different issues and plan solutions and act on their ideas.  They persevere through problems and collaborate to find solutions and act on them too.  They talk to each other.  They listen to each other.  They seek out answers from experts and become experts for others and share what they know in innovative ways.  They see learning, not as 8 separate boxes of their day, but a continuous process that involves lots of different topics and experiences.

Here’s the funny thing about extras.  Whether it is extra sauce on your burger or the seat warmer in your car, the extras are usually what make the experience that much better.  (Full disclosure, I am now daydreaming about Triple O Whitespot sauce and my van’s seat warmer on a cold winter’s day.  They really are wonderful things.)  I don’t mean to minimize these skills by calling them extras.  I think they are actually the elements that make our students’ education far better.  In education (and burgers and cars, I guess), the extras are important.

How do you fit in the extras?  How important are they to you?  If inquiry isn’t the mode you use to get to them, what do you do?  If you do use inquiry, do you see an increased ability in your students to get at the extras?

Learning Perspective at Soccer

Posted: 26th May 2015 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

Tonight I took my youngest daughter to soccer practice, parking myself in a lawn chair on the edge of the field as soccer parents tend to do.  As I watched the kids play, I talked to a fellow soccer mom.  We talked about the light and fun stuff:  summer plans, funny things our kids were doing, how beautiful the weather was.  But somehow our conversation turned more serious and I found myself listening to this mom talk about her life – how she had to flee from a country in the midst of war, having witnessed terrible things.  She talked about what kids there had had to endure, how families had been torn apart, how bleak life was.  And how, for those who managed to escape the physical and mental effects of living in a war, life was still so hard because jobs, food and adequate shelter were so difficult to come by.

I listened quietly for the most part.  This is so far outside my experience.

I thought about the things that we complain about here in North America.  I thought about what I complained about today.  Try it.  Think about the last 5 things you complained about to someone….

Humbling, isn’t it?

I thought about what school is like at this time of year, when routines are out of sort, changes that create uncertainty rule, tempers/impatience/demands are high.  Complaints seem to come from lots of different sources for lots of different reasons.

Take the time to celebrate.  Take the time to plan, build bridges, share stories, solidify relationships.

Honour the great fortune that we have to live, work and learn in the environment that we have.

That’s what I’ll be trying to do in the next month.

 

 

 

Summer Dreaming

Posted: 17th May 2015 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

It’s the May long weekend here – a celebration marking the life of Queen Victoria, and a benchmark that proclaims,  especially in the school world, that it is almost summer.  We still have over a month left of school, but next week countdowns will be on, plans to wrap up learning projects will be underway, end of year celebrations will be prepared.  We are halfway through the crazy month we call AprilMayJune and we are racing downhill to the finish line.

Summer vacation is just around the corner.

In my little piece of the world, summer vacation means a two month break from classes for students and educators.  Non-educators often like to offer digs about how they wish they had a job that gave them two beautiful months off in the summer.  Educators often endure these remarks silently or with eye rolling assent.  We’ve heard it before.  There is little point in arguing.

Or is there?

Educators I know spend the summer break doing regular vacation-y things:  travelling, spending time with family, home and garden improvements, dunging out the backs of closets (maybe that one is just me?).  Of course they do.  They work hard and deserve rest and relaxation.

But there are many, many educators that I know that also take classes, courses and workshops to enhance their skills; teach classes, courses and workshops to enhance their colleagues’ skills; do professional reading; plan for next year’s classes; meet/network with colleagues and talk school; stretch their own skills in some way that will make them a better educator for when they return to their students at the end of the break.

I wish more educators would talk about their summer plans that will make them even better educators.  It would help with public perception of this difficult and demanding career we’ve signed up for.  But wishing doesn’t help much if I don’t participate too.

This summer, I have a stack – a sizeable stack – of professional reading that I want to do.  I’ve been in this role for a couple of years now, I think I have the basics down.  Now, I get to really focus in on my own weak spots and push my thinking instead of just managing everything.  I’m looking forward to that.  I’m looking forward to learning from some experts:  some from those books I’ll read, and probably others on my deck over some summer food and beverages.  I’m also trying something I never have before and frankly, it is scaring the bejeebus out of me and making me really excited at the same time.

I love writing.  I’ve written for different audiences in different genres for many, many years.  I have written a cookbook, songs, curriculum packages, course material, newspaper articles, speeches, brochures, ads, PSAs, a blog, not to mention all of the emails, memos, letters, TPAs, thank you cards, newsletter articles, and reports that come with the job.  This summer, I want to stretch my writing muscles.  I’m taking on a new genre, hopefully for a new audience, and I haven’t a clue how I’m going to get there or what it will become.  For a planner like me (and what educator isn’t a planner?), that is scary.

I’m doing this because I need a little refreshment.  I need to try out new skills and give myself a challenge.  I also think it will, eventually, help me be better at my job.  I completely plan on learning new skills that will transfer over to my writing/planning/educating self that returns in late August.

If you are an educator, I am sure that you will have summer dreams already starting to take hold (you ARE a planner, aren’t you?).  I would guess that many of those plans are of the rest/relax/revitalize type, I am also willing to bet you have some of those plans that are going to enhance your skills as an educator too.

Go ahead.  Dream about summer.  But you may want to reflect on how you could share some of those dreams with the next non-educator who takes you to task for your summer vacation.  What could you tell them?

And Now It’s Personal #MakeSchoolDifferent

Posted: 3rd May 2015 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

Just when you think you are doing well – reflecting and learning, maintaining transparency to be accountable to your learning – someone comes along and calls you out.  Just last week I posted a blog called Make School Different, in response to a challenge issued to me by Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca).  You can see that post Make School Different .

I loved reading all of the other blogs in the series.  I found myself nodding and agreeing, sometimes questioning, and reflecting on our collective practices.  Then Doug Peterson (@dougpete) came out with this blog post:  What a Difference a Word Can Make , reminding us that collective change and thought is all well and good, but personal reflection needs to go deeper.  That’s when Doug (and his dog) challenged us to go back and reflect on how we would individually, rather than collectively, change to make school different.

Thanks, Doug, and your little dog too, for making this personal.

Not one to back down from a challenge, I decided to stick with my original list and reflect on how I would make it personal.  Here goes.

When it comes to education, we have to stop pretending… that we have all the answers.  I know I don’t have all of the answers, but I sometimes jump to conclusions or responses without waiting to learn the thinking behind all of the perspectives.  I need to make sure I am listening and considering everyone.

When it comes to education, we have to stop pretending… that time is a barrier. I will admit it, I do not have enough time.  Ever.  For anything.  I am always rushing away and leaving things undone and this leads me to guilt – mom guilt, wife guilt, employee guilt, administrator guilt.  I’m a mess that way.  I’m working on it, but making decisions about what gets left undone is hard.  I make hard decisions about what can wait, but I still feel guilty about that.

When it comes to education, we have to stop pretending… that things are good enough. This one is tough.  I want to keep growing and changing and I want others to grow and change, but I know I need to balance the expectation of growth with celebration of progress so that it doesn’t sound critical.  This will always be a balancing act, I think.  Learning how to read people, build trusting relationships and offering support along the way helps.

When it comes to education, we have to stop pretending… that the learning comes first. Before this position I was a curriculum consultant.  My job WAS the learning.  As an administrator, I’ve had to unhinge my blinders and remember all of the other components that make up a learner.  Sometimes I need reminders, but I think I am getting better at this.  I am particularly proud of the fact that I have focused my attentions this year on creating positive school culture/climate.  I’ve learned a lot about it.  I still have more learning to do.

When it comes to education, we have to stop pretending… that the best way to measure learning is with a mark.  I do believe this – students are more than the marks we give them.  I need to help teachers find those alternatives and give them the learning time and practise to reflect on this if it is a priority for me.  I need to think about this one more – it’s one thing to say it, it is quite another to do it and to expect others to do it.

Well, that’s my transparent, personal take on making school different.  The other thing I have done, and I challenge others to do, is to take a look at others’ posts about this topic and figure out what on each list is something I need to do more of.  There isn’t a list out there that I’ve found that hasn’t given me things to improve on.

Thanks Doug, Doug’s dog, and Aviva for pushing to make this personal. It is hard, but cathartic, and helps me see next steps for my own learning and practice.

When Good Things Happen

Posted: 1st May 2015 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

Education is some serious business. All that thinking, working, disciplining. Lining up, quieting down, handing in. Sometimes it is all a lot of WORK.

And then, some days come along where all sorts of good stuff happens.  Education is a collaborative business. I think on those good stuff days, we should be working extra hard to share the wealth. It seems to me that more often we share the painful days. I will share your pain if it helps you, but I would much rather share your joy.

Well, I had a good day today, so I’m going to share it.

One of my frequent office visitors from kindergarten came down and told me that she has vowed to be good from now on. She wrote it all up in an official letter, told me, her teacher, and the head secretary so we will all check up on her. A five year old begging to be held accountable for her actions and goal setting for improvement. That’s a good day.

I received an email from my editor saying the family of a man I wrote a biography about was so thrilled with how well I captured their dad in my writing. My writing had a real purpose that affected a family in a real and positive way. That’s a good day.

My fellow office workers and I laughed today. Finding joy in little things through the day makes work a little less WORK.  That’s a good day.

With the help of some board colleagues, I found out we would be able to offer a pretty exciting opportunity to about 150 of our students. Networking for the long term gains of students. That’s a good day.

Having staff willing to go the extra mile to help out a colleague. No complaints, just offers of help. Definitely a team approach. That’s a good day.

Sometimes in the media or in our venting conversations, we can get lost in the negative. Educators have a responsibility to promote, share and reflect on the joy in our jobs too. What made your day great?

Branded

Posted: 28th April 2015 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

I find the concept of personal brand quite intriguing. I will admit, in my entitled western world existence there are a few brands that make my heart go pitter patter…Kate Spade, Calvin Klein, Christian Louboutin…sigh.

Despite my shoe sickness, I am actually far more interested in personal brands. With a plethora of social media sites to share our pictures, thoughts, comments, and videos we create an image of ourselves that can be seen by far more people than we generally meet face to face. That image we portray is created to share a vision of ourselves that we want others to see.

We counsel students to consider who might see their brand.  Sure, you may want to be seen as the fun party girl by your friends, but that brand might not do you any favours if you are applying for a job.  But people shake off advice and seem to have to learn the hard way sometimes. Feelings get hurt, cyber bullying occurs, tears, friends lost, arguments. We try – so hard – to use those awful experiences as opportunities to teach and caution and we desperately hope that lesson will stick.

So, of course, the creators of social media have evolved as these problems have evolved. Now some of the fastest growing social media sites are those that disguise the authors and participants. If you want to say something mean about somebody, don’t share it on Instagram where someone can question you about it, turn to Yik yak instead (their motto: “share your  thoughts and keep your privacy”). Teaching people that you can be someone online who you would be ashamed to be in person makes me sad.  How does this help our society?

I’m old enough to know that I should never post something I wouldn’t say to someone’s face. I care too much about my integrity and my responsibility as a citizen, both local and global. I’m also not willing to lose my online identity; it is part of who I am and how I communicate. But I worry about this mentality where if my identity is protected I can say whatever I want, no matter who it hurts.

The fact that I’m old/experienced enough to know how much this bothers me leads me to believe that it is unlikely to be me or anyone of my generation who will be able to reverse this trend. Those social media trend setters are going to have to be the ones to take a stand and  stop the unbranded free for all. They will have to be the ones to insist on reinstilling personal integrity and community-minded values.

I may not be someone who will bring civility back to social media, but I might teach someone who will. Will you? What will you teach them?