Telling Stories

Posted: 23rd January 2015 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

I think I may have had an epiphany yesterday. Now, don’t mock me if what I end up saying is something that it so obvious you already knew it. It was some good learning for me. In a learning session today with John Clarke I learned that our best learning happens when we express our thoughts instead of when we just think them. So I am going to express and see what we all learn.

Yesterday I engaged in a day of learning with fellow administrators. We were involved in sessions that challenged our thinking about how our teachers teach, how our students learn and how we lead. One of the speakers, Dean Shareski (@shareski) talked about the responsibility of story telling. He said that when we talk about the 21st century learners that we are preparing to be our future leaders, we should not discount the importance of story telling as a key leadership skill. Um, pardon? Not collaboration, or problem solving, critical thinking? Not coding, documenting and reflecting, or questioning? Nope. Storytelling.

I had to think about this one. What could it be about story telling that links to leadership? I think we like to learn from people who teach through stories, but isn’t that just because it’s more interesting?

It made me think about some of the stories I’ve learned from. Some stories were from gifted speakers who have used story telling to emphasize a point, like educational speakers, teachers, pastors. Many learning experiences have come from written stories – those in printed texts, visual ones (like a movie) or auditory ones (like a song). What has made each of these learning through storytelling opportunities more memorable than someone just saying “don’t do this because this will happen” or some other wise tidbit?

I think it is because we are both social and egocentric. Socially, I am curious about YOUR experience because it’s interesting to learn about others, but I also want things to be about me. If this learning is going to be important to ME, I need to find ways to connect it to my life and my story.

I think story telling leaders provide this seemingly dichotomous balance to their listeners. They are saying, essentially, “here is a story about me…or Johnny…or Cinderella…here is some message we might get from that, but how that message translates into something meaningful in your own life is what I am leaving in your hands because you are the expert on you.” Great storytelling leaders would then be able to say “But I think what you’ve taken from this is important and valuable to my learning too, so once you figure out your new story from this learning, it will be your turn to be the leader and send us in a new direction.”

Back to my epiphany. Telling a story is the perfect tool to differentiate instruction. You dispense thoughts to be imparted that are then translated and made better by each one of your audience members, each with a unique and highly personal translation. Further, those translations can then be shared to deepen the learning of all again. Huh. Storytelling as reiterative, differentiated, engaging, personal learning.

So if my story here today, as a new version of Dean’s story yesterday, resonates with you, then what does that mean to you? How does story telling fit into leadership? Into teaching? Into learning?

 

 

 

Risky Business

Posted: 17th January 2015 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

We often talk about our current generation of students in terms of the skills they have or lack.  They are tech wizards.  They have an ability to adapt to progress.  They have an inability to persevere in tasks.  They have a need for support in problem solving and critical thinking.  It makes me wonder how much of that is due to the influence we, their parents and educators, have had.  Some of those influences have been intentional:  if you give a 2 year old an iPad to play with and explore, it seems you would expect that they pick up the use of devices quickly and naturally.  Other influences, I think, are more nebulous and unintentional.  We talk about a subset of parents of this generation as “helicopter parents” (or, likely, educators).  Adults who swoop in and save students from problems; adults who fight battles for them, or who limit the battles and decisions they might have to make by planning and organizing their lives for them.

I’m not someone who spends much time in an RV, but I like the commercial created by GoRVing.ca, which you can see here:  Wildhood Video

I don’t profess to be the best parent ever (as I’m sure my children and husband would readily agree), but I know we have worked hard to allow our kids opportunities to take risks.  We let them jump on trampolines, toboggan, climb trees (and walls, and buildings, and once the Loggerman’s Arch in Stanley Park), cliff dive, and swim with sharks.  I will readily take a 6 year old zip lining through the rainforest (and I will zip line too, cane and all).  I will let my kids fight their own battles in the classroom and on the playground and with friends and frienemies.  I will let them get jobs and figure out how to manage jobs and school work.  I will let them train in sports that are dangerous.  I will let them get hurt in those sports, then bandage them up and let them get out there again to train some more.

 

In our house, we have made a decision to let our kids grow up having to be decision makers, problem solvers, risk takers.  We want them to persevere through trials, to learn from pain and from success.  Do they make all the decisions I would want them to make or I would advise them to make?  Not always.  But then sometimes they make better decisions than I would have advised.

Those are my own kids.  I share the responsibility of their well being but my husband and I are willing to let them take some risks.  In a school it is a little different.  We are entrusted with the responsibility of other people’s children, and I know that they wouldn’t want us to take as many risks.  So we don’t throw snowballs at school, or climb trees, or take them anywhere near water.  And I get why we don’t.  There are risks involved.  We want our students to be safe.

But.  If we as educators are not helping our students learn to take risks and parents are swayed by the media, or fear of injury, or from worry that a child may afraid or suffer a little (although maybe that suffering may also result from good learning and joy and pride at overcoming an obstacle), how do our children become risk takers?  How do they learn perseverance?  How do they discover what THEY can do?

I think, unfortunately, some of our children who are most sheltered from these experiences are ill prepared to deal when serious risk comes their way.  It is hard to shelter an adolescent from all hurts:  drugs, alcohol, mean spirited “friends” are hard to avoid completely until adulthood.  While I totally see that those risks are often very serious, especially when compared to conquering climbing a really tall tree, how will they face the really serious stuff if we have sheltered them from the other things?

I don’t want my kids to grow up in a virtual world.  I want them to experience it fully.  That means they will try things and sometimes fail and sometimes succeed.  Sometimes they will try things with me holding my breath and closing my eyes.  Sometimes they will try things while I bite my tongue.  Sometimes they will come venting or crying when it doesn’t work out.  But other times, I get to celebrate with them and cheer them on.  That makes it all worth it.

How do we encourage our students to face risks too?  How do we make them into the decision makers and problem solvers that we want them to be, while balancing out our need to keep them safe?

 

Name Your Carrot

Posted: 14th January 2015 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

I’ve been thinking about change lately. How do you encourage lasting, progressive change for a group of people? What are the things that inhibit change? What are the things that enhance change?

Today I reflected on this with some other school leaders. We were given several words that represent puzzle pieces to support change. Some of the words – resources, vision – were understandable and ones I think we consider when supporting growth and change. But there was one puzzle piece I am still thinking about.

Incentive.

People generally like routine; they like knowing what to expect and how to do what is expected. We need a push of some kind to make change. We need a big push to make long-lasting, significant change.

In education, we ask people (educators, students, leaders) to make changes to their practice and their thinking quite regularly. Some changes are ones people are eager to make while others will take more convincing.

We know that the most sustainable motivations for change are those that are intrinsic. If we are all waiting for extrinsic motivation – a sticker, shiny new toy or award to make change – change is going to be sporadic and limited at worst or, at best, require constant vigilance and support. I’m trying to figure out what the intrinsic motivations we have to make good change.

For educators, our incentives could include our passion for our jobs and a desire to do the best we can, or our strong belief in life-long learning, or our understanding of how change can positively affect our students, or our understanding of how working collaboratively with colleagues towards change is good for students and for a culture of learning.

I think we all recognize that change is hard. If incentive is the missing puzzle piece to make change in education, what could those specific incentives look like? What do educators feel they need to want to change? And in particular, what kinds of intrinsic motivations do they need to want to make change?

What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

Posted: 11th January 2015 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

One thing about spending time over the holidays in the company of my own kids and those of other family members is that it is inevitable that someone always gets asked “So what do you want to be when you grow up?”. I remember being asked this as a kid by well-meaning adults and never knowing how to answer it. Given that I grew up in an era where it was expected that you prepare and train for a single job for your entire career should have made it easy. My kids are some of our 21st century citizens. We now expect that they will have not one career but many. That they can’t prepare and train for a single job but need skills that will transcend a narrow skill set and be applicable across a wide variety of jobs. And of course, we tell our students that we are preparing many of them for jobs that haven’t even been thought of yet. All of that makes it kind of difficult to answer that question about what you want to be, doesn’t it?

As much as that kindly aunt or uncle is well meaning when they ask about a child’s future career plans, their outdated expectations are telling of a different era. You would think in the educational world, though, that we could be better than that. Unfortunately, I’m not sure we always are.
In 2013, Ontario came out with a K to 12 policy entitled “Creating Pathways to Success: An Education and Career/Life Planning Program for Ontario Schools.” You can see this 48 pages of goodness here . It has some really good resources and supports. It links to current practices in our school, that, when viewed together in light of this document, start to make cohesive sense. Understanding that inquiry-based learning and a focus on student metacognition in the kindergarten documents link to students identifying their personal strengths and interests as they begin to career plan is illuminating. You can see how connections to self have been drawn into many curricular areas concretely in recent years to support students in the Education and Career/Life Planning inquiry process (see page 13 of the document for an outline). You can see how recent pushes on gathering of portfolios of learning for students will support their learning needs not only for curriculum areas, but also the important learning skills areas.

Policy is one thing. But how does our practice link to these ideals?

Are we, in class, still asking our students a 20th century version of what do you want to be when you grow up? Are we teaching students and parents how to think and look beyond a narrow skill set? Are we predominantly transferring specific knowledge to students or encouraging them to learn transferable skills (and teaching them how to transfer and apply those skills)?

My son is in first year university in what is essentially a pre-med program. A few of his exams sounded like exams I remembered: lots of individual desks in a gym with an invigilator (why did they always have squeaky shoes???) while many students silently and furiously wrote for a few hours. But he also had exams I never had. For one of his exams, he had a 1:1 interview where he had to explain examples of a variety of competencies. Although it was a science-based course, he was able to use evidence from far-reaching sources. For example, to explain his learning about learning through collaboration, he used his involvement in the program’s school musical as an example. He is generally a leader in most situations but this musical is a bit outside his normal comfort zone so he is having to rely more heavily on his peers for support and co-learning. His reflection on this made an excellent example on an exam in his science based class. Would you have seen that or tried to use that in an exam you participated in? Me neither.

Educators often naturally teach the way they have been taught. I wonder what the teachers in 20 years will focus on for their students. How will it differ from the way we teach now?

I guess my other question is, should we wait 20 years to see that difference. How could or should it be different now?

Measuring Shadows

Posted: 11th December 2014 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

One of the jobs I had before this one was as an early years teacher in a child care centre. One afternoon I was outside with my gaggle of 2 and 3 year old charges exploring our shadows. One little guy was particularly intent on measuring his shadow. He had chalk and a tape measure and was determined to see how big it was. Every time he moved his shadow moved too and he could never quite catch it to measure it. After some time and some tears, he allowed me to use the chalk to mark where his shadow was and then we were able to measure it together. Now I had one happy shadow hunter. Until the next morning when we went outside again so he could proudly show his big shadow to the other teacher and he discovered his shadow had shrunk due to the different time of day. Sometimes measuring shadows can be awfully difficult.

Inquiry-based learning has been a hot topic in education for the last while. I am happy that so many educators and students in our school are willing to give inquiry a try in their teaching and learning opportunities. With enthusiasm or trepidation (or both) they jump in. They tweak, they start over, they try a different approach, they dig deeper. It can go a million different ways.

And then they all come to the same screeching halt.

How do we evaluate this?

Assessment is one thing. I can observe, provide feedback, ask questions, and have students dig deeper into their learning in inquiry. I can also have students set goals, reflect on those goals and gather evidence of their process and products to support those goals. But evaluation is about me assigning a standardized value (marks or grades) using standardized criteria (curriculum expectations) on non-standardized learning that I didn’t necessarily direct nor do I understand completely.

Within this quagmire are several distinct problems.

1. I have standard expectations and my students have led their learning in directions not captured by the expectations.

2. Since students are owning their learning and not just receiving it from me, they know more about this topic/process than I do. If I don’t understand it all, how will I know how good it is?

3. Feedback helps students to further their learning whereas grades tend to bring it to a full stop. How do I assign a grade while at the same time encourage my students to keep learning?

4. What relevance does a grade have on student-led inquiry? Am I moving the impetus to learn from an internal motivation (I want to learn because this is good stuff) to an external motivation (I want to learn because I want an “A”)?

I personally think we could do with more feedback and fewer grades, whether we are engaged in inquiry-based learning or more traditional forms of learning. I think we all need to be self-motivated life-long learners because it is good for us and not because we’ll get a gold star for it. However, I do think the angst we face in grappling with evaluating inquiry learning actually has a few advantages.

1. It forces us to know – really know and understand – the foundational knowledges and skills that we want students to learn, apply and translate in a variety of situations. And (here’s the kicker) where we find those in our curriculae.

2. It forces us to really communicate what students need to learn to students (and parents). All that practice targeting learning goals and success criteria will help us here.

3. It forces us to look beyond the pretty product or the interesting factoids of learning and observe what we really see happening to change how a student thinks.

4. It forces us to rely on the expertise of our students to help us understand how much and how well they have learned. Metacognition valued beyond a quick post script on an exit card? How refreshing.

My little shadow chaser was frustrated but worked through his issue, with support, only to be foiled again by a new variable. If his shadow had co-operated like he expected it to there wouldn’t have been tears, or help needed, or surprises along the way. It wouldn’t have been HARD and it probably wouldn’t have been memorable.

Evaluating inquiry is hard. We will repeatedly need help, or be surprised, or need to cry. But I’m willing to bet that what we learn along the way will be good learning.

How are you at chasing the shadows of inquiry evaluation?

Tis the Season

Posted: 1st December 2014 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

And so it begins. For the next three weeks schools will be filled with many holiday movies (let’s just say it, they are Christmas movies), holiday crafts (and I purposely say crafts instead of art), and cards and lists for Santa.

We all know that behaviour tends to get a bit challenging in schools this month. It isn’t difficult to figure out why. Fewer expectations, less structure, more thinking and doing Christmas.

As a classroom teacher, I had reservations about bringing too much Christmas into my classroom. Some students didn’t celebrate it or were embarrassed their holidays didn’t look like the Hallmark versions. Or there are the students for whom Christmas is a religious holiday but in the public system we water it down to feature only it’s non-religious elements. Worse yet, there were always those children who were too worried about two long weeks away from school and stability to think about Christmas. Real life is most certainly not always a pretty picture. And along with all of these differences and worries, there are also lots of people struggling with the season. Maybe it is the first holiday since the death of a loved one, a move away from friends and family or the loss of an income for the family breadwinner.

And I’m supposed to sit there and enjoy watching Rudolph with my wreath-shaped crossword puzzle in the back of my Santa letter and NOT be a behaviour problem?

I actually love the Christmas traditions that my family and I share. But those are mine and not something I’m going to inflict on my students. I want to value their feelings, their traditions, their experiences. Too much of what I see in schools in December is the opposite of valuing students – all students. I appreciate that many people love this season, but remember it is not for everyone.

Watch for those quiet or upset students this month. Or the ones that don’t want to participate. Or the ones that get sent to the office. Again. Are we valuing them?

Stickers, Great Job and Real Feedback

Posted: 24th November 2014 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

“I’ll never remember the bad things but I’ll always remember the good things” (Mindy Kaling in The Mindy Project)

I was a program consultant in the years immediately following the release of Growing Success in Ontario. I spent a good chunk of my time teaching administrators and teachers about the assessment continuum: learning goals, success criteria, descriptive feedback, peer- and self-assessment and independent goal setting. My favourite one to talk about was descriptive feedback. It just really clicked with me; provide students with meaningful, targeted feedback that causes student thinking. Asking students great questions to push their thinking, steering students to reflect on the clear targets provided, growing students who knew their strengths, next steps and strategies to meet their goals? That is one lively, inviting classroom of learning in my books.

So, now I’m an administrator. Most of the feedback I am asked to provide looks like this: “good job!”, “that’s wonderful work you are doing!”, “how about a sticker for that great work?”.

Stickers. I’ve resorted to handing out stickers as feedback. Now granted, they are fancy smelly/glow in the dark stickers, but still.

Here’s the thing. I am never happier than when I’m in a classroom asking students “hard” questions to push their learning (and mine). I love that look on a student’s face when you know the wheels are turning and something exciting is going to result. But what do you do when students are sent down to the office proudly displaying their hard work, clearly looking for accolades and not hard questions?

You give them a sticker. And you remind yourself to head into the classroom mid-process next time to offer real feedback Before We get to the sticker finale.

So, friends, I need some feedback. Am I a feedback sell out for trying to mix quality feedback with the sticker accolades?

My Progress Report

Posted: 23rd November 2014 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

Last week, two fellow educators in my board blogged about their greatest strengths and weaknesses – Sue Dunlop and Aviva Dunsiger .

At the same time, I had just finished reading many, many sets of progress reports for our students, and I was beginning some TPAs (Teacher Performance Appraisals) on some staff. It looked like the only one not getting a progress report was me. It seemed like the ideal time to do a little reflecting of my own. It is a little scary reflecting on oneself in black and white for everyone to see, but while I am camera-shy, I am not reflection shy. So here goes.

In Sue’s blog post, she talks about how often our biggest strength can become a weakness. We become almost overconfident with those skills; one’s heroic hubris, you might say. I think I can identify with this. I think my biggest strength as a leader is my ability to reflect and think through situations, people, motives, organizations and see them from another perspective. One of the problems with that, though, is I tend not always to see things the way other people would want me to see them, or the way they see them themselves. Is it good for a leader to have a varied take on things? Maybe. Sometimes. But the biggest effect of this on me is that I then second (and third) guess myself because I wonder how I should be thinking. It’s like holding a mirror up to a mirror. The reflection just keeps going and going and it is easy to get lost in it. As a result, I don’t always effectively communicate what I’m thinking or even try to. I think I have become that absent-minded professor.

So here is the funny thing. I have never been the most talkative person. I prefer not to be in the limelight. I like shared leadership over autocratic leadership. And I went into teaching. Should I have been a writer or a scholar or a stay at home mom? Maybe. My strengths tell me I’m better suited to those professions. But choosing the easy way isn’t the best way to find challenging learning experiences (which is not to say being a writer, scholar, or stay at home mom isn’t challenging in different ways). However, when your strength is reflecting you need something to chew on. So, I chose an uncomfortable profession. Then I chose uncomfortable leadership opportunities within that profession. Then I chose ways to make my thinking more visible (yeah, a blog all about me and my experiences is a little cringe-worthy from my perspective). But I will keep choosing uncomfortable paths because that is how I learn.

The good news is that I see lots of students/educators/others like me. They positively squirm when asked to try something or consider something. And then, the people-watching reflector in me smiles. They’ll learn.

Learning Together

Posted: 11th November 2014 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

Today is Remembrance Day, and it may possibly be the last one we (in Ontario) celebrate in school if legislation goes through making it a National holiday. That makes me a little sad.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love a weekday off as much as the next guy. But we are in the business of educating students – our next generation of citizens. We educate them in reading and math and science and music, but we spend as much time, if not more, on working on their skills as a good citizen. The proof of this can be seen in the several hundred progress reports I just finished reading. More space and time is devoted to learning skills than to all of the subjects combined.

I worry if Remembrance Day becomes just another school holiday, we will miss an opportunity to engage students in thinking about the importance roles reflection, respect, appreciation, remorse, pride, sadness, and hope play in our lives as Canadians. I realize that we can do all of these things all year long, but to miss a day that really capitalizes on the sentiment…that epitomizes a wasted opportunity.

Can we do this learning on November 10th next year? Sure. Will it be as meaningful if our students tell us they spent November 11th playing video games or sleeping in? I’m not sure.

Remembrance Day is evolving each year as history continues to offer us new things to reflect on, and as some of our older histories, and older vets, slip farther from our memories. If anything, the history grows more complex each year. To me, that means we should devote more time in school in helping students understand, not less. We don’t all have a Grandpa left alive to sit us on his knee and talk about the war. We must find other ways to teach students how to remember.

I don’t make a lot of political statements, but I do hope this one time that the effects of making Remembrance Day a national holiday are considered. I hope to be in school next November 11th.

Parallel Parking Math

Posted: 23rd October 2014 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

Yesterday two colleagues, Jared Bennett and Gerry Smith, shared an interesting video. It’s worth the 45 seconds it will take to watch.

Math Video

Now, I am a pretty vocal proponent for the need for meaningful math in our classrooms. The phrase “Hey, let’s use the textbook to create a good math lesson” rarely, if ever, crosses my lips. Students should have the opportunity to develop their understanding of numbers and mathematical concepts in ways that really make sense to them. Encouragingly, in the last several years we have made some changes to how we teach math to get closer to this. There has been greater use of manipulatives, encouragement of non algorithmic solutions, demonstrating understanding in multiple ways. But is it enough?

Coincidentally, today I also received my youngest daughter’s EQAO results (Ontario’s standardized testing)from last spring. If you haven’t seen the parent communication from EQAO before, it not only provides results but also explains how parents can support their child. One point under mathematics struck me as an interesting one. It reads: “Let your child know that you think mathematics is important”.

That suggestion was intended for parents, but I would think it is equally important to educators as well. The makers of that nifty new math app clearly don’t think math is important enough to learn. I guess it has me wondering how important is it to educators if your main method of teaching math is the assigning of textbook-like tasks?

It made me think of when I learned to drive. I practiced parallel parking many, many times and crossed my fingers when I got to that part of my test. In the years since that day, I can probably count on one hand how often I have actually parallel parked. I cringe at the thought of having to do it. I only practiced enough to pass. Parallel parking is hard and just not important to me.

How many of our students say math is hard and just not that important to them? How many of those same students practice enough to pass the test and then promptly leave all that learning behind? How many parents and teachers perpetuate that idea by providing tasks that just help them pass the test?

I don’t want our students to be parallel parking mathematicians. Encouraging parents to stress the importance of math is a great suggestion from EQAO, but the educators providing those students with the tools to approach mathematics should be developing some better strategies too.

With that in mind, here are some of the strategies I think are our responsibility.

1. Real World Math Opportunities. I know, I know, this one is highly debated by people. But here’s the thing. Parallel parking isn’t important to me because I don’t use it. Those textbook questions rarely convince me that it is something important enough to learn. Real world…and I mean REAL life applications, not a phoney word problem encouraging me to calculate at what point Train A will pass Train B, give students a glimpse into how much math permeates their world. Even more importantly, I think real examples show students how math is often more complex and multi-faceted than textbook examples would have us believe. If we know student ability to persist in task is important to success, those real world examples also give students those opportunity to persevere.

2. Making it Interesting. Full disclosure. I cringe when people tell me that they are creating a board game for math. I’m not against board games per say, but I am when this is the main example of real world that we can come up with. Having said that, I do agree that Games, not just board games, can encourage enthusiasm in students. If the game is making math interesting AND is actually making it more meaningful then I promise not to cringe so much. But don’t just stop at games, there are other ways to make math interesting to them, including incorporating personally relevant context, linking to other learning, and letting students help create the learning to be done.

3. Make Math a Thinking Sport. Apparently this post is becoming a bit of a confessional for me, so here goes. Something else that makes me cringe is the phrase “Use pictures, numbers & words to show your answer”. When this mantra becomes a checklist that students use to fill a page with little thought about how each of those elements add to the reader’s understanding of the learner’s thinking then we haven’t set students up for very rich learning. It becomes the primary equivalent of a mysterious algorithm that you just plug in the numbers and hope for the best. Instead, I think our students will be better math students if we teach them that math is about thinking and understanding first, and finding the right answer a distant second. Teach students how to question, challenge, explain, explain in another way, compare and reflect. Devote major portions of learning time to these processes and good answers will follow.

There are other great strategies to make our students better mathematicians. What are some of your must haves in a math program to avoid the curse of “parallel parking unlearning”?