Life Long Learning

Posted: 2nd May 2016 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

Sometimes learning requires a lot of time and attention.  Sometimes it only takes a brief interaction.

Today I was talking to someone who was jumping into some unfamiliar learning.  The person reminded me that learning isn’t about a list of all of the things you don’t know yet.  It’s about how you approach the fact that you still have more to learn.

That may be the best description of a life long learner I’ve ever heard.

Landing planes and learning.  It’s all about the approach.

 

Two Steps…Forward?

Posted: 30th April 2016 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

In our fast-paced, demanding world, there never seem to be enough hours in the day.  I was thinking this morning about one task that I have been eager to finish since Christmas holidays but it is going to take me about eight solid, uninterrupted hours to do…I’ll be scheduling it in for early July at this point.

Educators know all too well about long to-do lists and racing the clock and the calendar to try and fit it all in.  It is a demanding profession.  I would hazard to guess that this is one of those topics that causes educators some of the most stress, especially as the end of the year approaches.  Have I managed to provide my students all of the learning opportunities they will need to be successful next year?  End of the year educator guilt.  It is an epidemic.

Recently in the news I have heard about several additional time and expectation pressures that have been put on educators.  I’ve heard reports about districts in the States that are eliminating recess in order to squeeze in more learning-at-your-desk time.  In other areas, there is talk of lengthening the school day to create more time for learning. Here in Ontario, a minimum of 60 minutes of daily mathematics instruction has recently been enforced.

Now, I think math instruction and learning is important.  I also think recess is important.  So are big chunks of time for literacy and language instruction, science experimentation, arts exploration, physical activity and even time to just learn how to be good people.  I think there should be time to let students pull out a great book and lounge on the floor reading.  There should be time for students to discover new passions, immerse themselves in learning about those passions, and then sharing that learning with others.  There should be lots of thinking time, tinkering time, talking time.

No wonder educators are stressed out about racing the clock.

Mandating a number of minutes or lengthening student time in a desk is not the way to make learning better.  A great teacher who knows their students’ needs well with lots of strategies and resources to provide instruction can do more in 50 minutes than another teacher could do in twice that time.  Squeezing out “extras” (you know…the arts, physical activity, time to ensure student health and well being before learning) to make more time for “essentials” can leave students exhausted, unmotivated and unprepared to learn.

How about instead of counting the minutes of instruction, we support educators to make the minutes they teach count?  That’s a tough job (far more difficult than mandating minutes of instruction) but aren’t our educators and students worth it?

 

 

 

Are We Dancing on the Head of a Pin?

Posted: 21st April 2016 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

I have some aspiring doctors in my house who like to watch videos of surgeries online.  As the non-squeamish parent in the house, I have, on occasion, been told that I “gotta see this”, and have watched as well.  During one pediatric heart surgery, I remember listening to one of the doctors talk about how the experience was like dancing on the head of a pin.  He had such a tiny surface on which to manipulate, create, recreate and invent.  It stuck with me as a really interesting image and idea.

It made me wonder if what educators were trying to do with inquiry was also a model of that dichotomous dance.  Are we trying to create limitless ideas and applications within a very small playing field?  Does our curriculum – our evaluation dance floor – put up big barriers to our inquiry dance?

A curriculum could be seen to create some limitations, perhaps, or it could be seen as a means to provide structure.  That heart surgeon, no matter how innovative, would not be able to manipulate a heart to do the job of a kidney, and I would hope that we are ok with that.  Inquiry, no matter how creative, should still revolve around some underlying understanding and key learning.

But, does that mean we only have a pin-worth of space to dance on when we inquire?  I’m not sure so sure of that.  A curriculum may provide some structure but that doesn’t mean it is finitely limited.  Take 100 teachers and classes working through the same social studies unit and the same curriculum content.  How many different ways could you see students represent their learning, make connections to their prior understanding and their world, and use different resources and ideas to spark their learning?

Do we, educators and students, get to experience a dance where we create, innovate, communicate?  Do we get to make ideas whirl and spin?  If we commit to an inquiry stance, the answer is of course.  Should we feel confined or limited when we have to experience that dance within the confines of a curriculum?  I don’t think we should.  But I wonder, if we do feel confined, perhaps it is time for us to learn some new dance steps to stretch our own experience and expertise.  I think the curriculum gives us plenty of room.  We’ll save the pins for the heart surgeons.

Stretching Like a Marathon Runner

Posted: 3rd April 2016 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

Today my neighbourhood was overrun (literally) by about 11 000 runners in the Around the Bay Race.  Due to my own physical limitations, I am not a runner and haven’t been for many years, but I really admire those people who take on the commitment of such a task that is as much about mental endurance as it is about the physical task.

Back in January, I committed to my One Word Goal:  stretch (my post about this is here. )  I had some goals in mind at that time.  Since then, some of those have materialized, some have not, some I haven’t had time for and some have surprised me.  I can tell you, though, that this much stretching has been difficult to keep up with.  There are some days when I would like a little less stretching….or some time to focus on some of the other goals that I really, really wanted to get to but I don’t have time for right now.  One of the goals is stretching me a lot farther than is comfortable.

Back to those runners.  I was thinking about what they had to endure today.  Weather conditions were not ideal for a long, bay-side run, but they just had to pull on their warm layers and deal with it.  I’m sure many of them hit a wall somewhere during their run (maybe on the dreaded hill climb?) and had to just push through it until they found their groove again.

I have to start thinking about my goals like a marathoner and not a sprinter.  I’m going to face unexpected conditions and I’ll just have to figure out how to roll with them.  I’m going to have to pace myself.  I’m going to have to put my head down and get through the hard parts.

Time to dig in and just run.

Finding the Right Pebble

Posted: 27th March 2016 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

Change is good.

Change is constant.

Change is difficult.

On this Easter long weekend, I’ve had a bit of time to catch up with one of my good friends.  He is a nature and wildlife photographer in Banff and I love exploring his pictures.  One series he did a while ago captured avalanches that I found myself going back to.  I find it fascinating.  Avalanches can be so devastating but can also be a tool used by park and mountain authorities to help control where and when snow collapses.

That had me thinking.  Avalanches can be out of control and dangerous, or controlled and well managed.  It really just depends on where you place the first pebble.  The pebble is important; every change needs a catalyst, even a small one.  Change is going to happen, but choosing how to start that change is where you get the control.

So, I find myself thinking about catalysts for change in education.  There is an art to deciding where to place some pebbles to bring about the right change, at the right speed, in the right direction.  Planning those pebbles requires thought, reflection and the right mindset.  It requires people collaborating and communicating to make sure that all of their pebbles are working together for the same change.

When you are planning for change, what do you consider before you go to place those pebbles?

Being the New Kid

Posted: 20th March 2016 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

‘Twas the night before the final term (because no matter what the report cards say, we all measure terms by Christmas break, March break and Summer break, right?) and all through the house all the school kids were moaning:

  • “I don’t want to get up early tomorrow.  I just can’t do it!”
  • “I think I forget EVERYTHING about functions.  How is that possible?”
  • “How am I going to watch Tiny Houses in my pjs in the morning with hot chocolate and whipped cream if I have to go back to school?” (that, actually, is my ten year old. She’s kind of addicted to Tiny Houses.  I think she’s going to be an architect.)
  • “I don’t know what I’m doing – going to a new school.  What are the routines?  Will they get my juvenile and yet also sarcastic sense of humour?  How am I going to handle meeting that many new people all at once?  I don’t even know where the bathroom is!”

It wouldn’t take much investigating to learn that the final thought listed above is my own.  Tomorrow, I move to a new school in a new position.  I like new experiences and have jumped jobs at least every three years for my whole life so I get used to change fairly quickly.  Still, that doesn’t mean that I don’t get the butterflies and feelings of self doubt that are pretty common night-before-the-first-day-of-school for students and educators alike.  I do.  Um.  A lot.

It has me thinking, though, about our students.  Change is constant in education.  Whether it is new schools, new teachers, new classrooms, new friends, new ways of learning, new tools for learning or just new challenges in learning, we ask students to change constantly.  As I learn more and more about the importance of maintaining a person’s mental health and well being before learning can occur, it makes me wonder if there are things we can do to prepare students better for the constant changes they face when they come to school each day.

This is the first time I’ve gone through a job change where I’ve been actively thinking about this.  So I’m going to keep an eye out and reflect on my own experiences in the next few weeks and let you know.  In the meantime, if you have some tips, I would be happy to hear them.

By the way, I have Tiny Houses set on the PVR.  We have a hot chocolate and whipped cream date tomorrow night after school.

goodbyesign

 

Being part of a school community reminds me so much of a big, boisterous extended family.  There are the people you rely on when you need help, people who’s shoulders you regularly cry on, people who are guaranteed to make you laugh even when you are having the worst day, people who drive you crazy with weird habits but you love them anyway.  You know, that kind of family.  People around whom you can be yourself.  People who help you make that self a little better each day.

The family I’ve been a part of for the last two and a half years currently features about 900 students, 80+ staff and countless community and family partners, not to mention the people who have graduated, retired or moved on to other schools.  By my count, that means my family features well over a thousand people.  And since family helps you grow and learn, I am a very lucky lady.  This is my last week with this family and I thought it might be a good time to reflect on just a few of the things they’ve taught me.

Play IS learning.  Really good learning. – School-wide, we have spent a lot of time learning about inquiry, learning through inquiry and stretching our understanding about how we learn best.  And my biggest revelation has been that educators and students who play with ideas, strategies and techniques tend to be more innovative, creative risk-takers and apply their learning more readily.  Play also signifies that we can have a little fun while we learn. There is also as much important learning that happens on the playground, during extracurriculars, in the staff room and in celebrations as there is in the classroom.  We all need more play.

Relationships matter and it takes work to create good ones.  – If we are going to be a good family, we need to know each other, spend time with one another, and talk with one another.  Educators need to know their students.  Administrators need to know their staff and students.  Staff need to know each other. The bigger your class/staff, the harder it is to really know people beyond a superficial level and the easier it is for people to hide or get lost.  Lilo (from the movie Lilo and Stitch) said it best:  “Ohana means family and family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten”.   Some people are easy to fall into a relationship with while others take more work.  Taking the time and effort to try to make sure no one gets left behind or forgotten is worth it.  There are hidden gems to be found that way.  I know.  I’ve found some in my family and I’m really glad that I know them.

No one can do it all and no one should do it all. -I’ll admit it, I am really not naturally good at asking for help.  My mother tells me I started saying “I can do it myself” in that cheeky toddler way at a very young age and I haven’t stopped yet.  The problem is, in a school I can’t do it myself nor should I try.  Spreading around the work, the collaboration, the leadership opportunities, the learner opportunities, and the “do-er” opportunities makes us all better as family members.  The school is so, so, so much better when I don’t try to do it all myself.  There are far too many talented people that I get to work and learn with and they make the school better by sharing the load.  I’m very grateful that they’ve made me better by showing me different (better) ways to do things.

I’m moving on to a new family which is exciting and scary at the same time.  The one thing I find reassuring is that I’ll take the million lessons learned from my current family to make me a better member for my new family.   I’ll never be able to repay my big family for all they’ve done for me, but I’ll never forget them.  Which is just how it should be in a real family.  Thanks, Ancaster Meadow.

How Do You Make “One Size Fits All” Fit?

Posted: 15th February 2016 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

One of the things I have learned in the last six months is that good writers know when to abandon writing that just isn’t working and approach it from another angle.  I have tried to write this blog post three different times before this, but it always came out feeling negative, which isn’t what I was going for.  So, instead of talking about how “one size fits all” PD doesn’t work, I wondered if I could approach it another way.  Let’s see how it goes.

If you are an educator, you have likely experienced at least some form of “one size fits all” professional development, and if you are like most educators, you have probably experienced a fair bit of it.  I’ll admit that I have had my fill of it too, as a teacher and as an administrator, and worse, I’ve been responsible for facilitating it for other educators.  The truth is, we know the research tells us that it isn’t optimal as a means of professional learning (or for student learning, for that matter), but sometimes there are conditions out of our control that limit the options.

So my question is, are we stuck with this homogenous professional development?  Is there any hope?  Do we just drag our feet in and hope for good snacks or can we make something worthwhile out of it?

The petulant toddler in my head is begging me to just cross my arms, roll my eyes and dismiss it all as hopeless.  That would be the easy way out.  The problem with that (aside from the fact that one shouldn’t let petulant toddlers make decisions) is that professional development can be a somewhat finite resource:  the time, money (for release etc), and available expertise set aside to allow educators to experience it is a shrinking commodity.  I hate to see it all wasted.  If we’re stuck with it, we should at least try to make the best of it, like the resourceful learners that we are.

I can think of a few ways we can make the standardized PD work for us.

  1. Forget go big or go home.  Look for one meaningful bite.  You know those times when you go to a PD session and want to embrace every single thing and try it all tomorrow?  Those are great (and sometimes hard to come by), but realistically, change takes time and replicating everything as the presenter showed it is probably not going to happen.  If you go in listening and looking for one useful nugget, you’re less likely to reflect later and be disappointed.  And be creative where you find that nugget.  Sometimes it will come from a presenter, sometimes from a tablemate, or maybe just a quote/resource on a page or presentation that sticks with you.  One small thing is easier to implement too, so you have a greater chance of actual application of your learning.
  2. Think like an educator.  There are times when I have gone to a PD session and have known that it really wasn’t directed at me.  Sound familiar?  If, instead of tuning out, you view it as an opportunity to learn something that you can pass on to someone else who could use it, you’re likely to learn a little yourself and maybe do someone else a good service when you pass it on.
  3. Reflect on what you would have done differently.  Presenting or facilitating professional development is difficult work, just as teaching is.  If you think about how you felt as a learner during it and determine what things you would have done differently in the presenter’s place, consider that your learning for the day.  Then apply it the next time you teach your students/present PD yourself and see the same tuned-out look on your learners’ faces.
  4. Ask why and advocate for change – specific change.  Our savvy students ask us all of the time “why do we need to learn this?”.  Giving them a real context for their learning is important and we shouldn’t be any different.  If you don’t see a connection between the proposed learning and your learning needs, ask why.  Good teachers/presenters/facilitators should be able to explain why you, why now.  If it doesn’t fit, use those reflection tools presenters give you to suggest other ways/things you want to learn.  I’m learning how slowly change comes, especially when you are talking at a system level, but I have faith that all of those voices for change will eventually make an impact.  At a school level, you would hope that those tides of change could shift even faster.
  5. Grin and bear it, then find your own PD.  There’s some PD you just have to put up with because it is a requirement of the job.  Hopefully this is a minority of the experiences for you, but it happens.  In our age of ongoing learning by so many educators that is documented on social media, written in educator resources, or shared at the staff room lunch table,  seeking out those learning opportunities that feed you and fit your needs is an important role for all learners.  We really have no one to blame but ourselves if we say that we haven’t learned anything.

I admit, making do with standardized PD is not my first choice (and, incidentally, strategy #4 above is my favourite).  In a perfect world, PD would be tailored very specifically to the needs of all of the learners, all of the time.The truth is, we’re still working on it.  As an administrator, I can tell you that I am always trying to find ways to tailor learning to my educators’ needs and balancing that with the expectations of the district, just as I expect educators to do with their own learners and that is something I am wholeheartedly committed to.  But when you have to make do with “one size fits all”, what strategies do you use to make it worth your time?

Quiet Learning

Posted: 31st January 2016 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how adults learn best.  We are all aware of the trends and changes in how we teach and how we facilitate learning opportunities for students, and I think these are all very positive changes.  I love the different ways innovators are providing for students to think, create, collaborate, hypothesize, invent, experiment, and play.

But educators, I have to ask.  What opportunities are you given to play, invent, create, collaborate and think?

Thinking and learning is not just for kids, but often how we approach professional development is with a checklist of things that we say we shouldn’t be focusing on with students.  Limited/no choice, “sit ‘n get” lectures, responsibility on the individual to apply and reflect their new knowledge on their own (which, we all know, is difficult to get to, even if we are motivated).  I’ve participated in these types of learning opportunities for many years.  Heck, I’ve planned and facilitated more than my share of these too.  There are times, I think, when this is the most efficient way to deliver information.  There are fewer times, I think, when it is the most effective way to change practice.

It got me thinking about the different learning opportunities that I’ve experienced in the last few weeks. I’ve had lots of varied opportunities to learn. What learning worked for me?  Where have I applied my learning?  My reflection surprised me.

Where I’ve learned the most was not in the lectures, workshops, professional readings or official collaborations.  Nope.  Not by a long shot.  My greatest learning this month came from a series of quiet, impromptu conversations I had with several colleagues.  Many were with people who have been educators and administrators for longer than I have, or have experienced different variables in their roles than I have.  Some of them I share many leadership qualities with while others had me wishing that I could do and be what they are as leaders and educators.

One by one, my quiet teachers sat with me and we just talked.  We chatted about how things were going in our schools:  our current struggles and recent successes, where we wanted to go next in our work, what we still needed to work on.  There was no agenda, no protocol of conversation; just professionals talking with one another freely.  It was so simple, but I took away new nuggets to apply from each of them.

I would love to see more opportunities for educators to play, experiment, collaborate, inquire, make and learn. But I think we also have to value the unscripted, quiet conversations – in person, on line – that happen between professionals.  Those conversations might give us the push we need to try something, the encouragement we need when we are running very low, or the helpful hints to apply new learning we have but don’t know what to do with.

This was just a snapshot, from a very small cohort of one, but I know it works for me.  I will be sure to seek out more of these quiet conversations.  What works for you?

Thinking About Maker Spaces

Posted: 16th January 2016 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

There is so much good stuff going on in education these days, isn’t there? I’m excited when I get to walk into a classroom or lurk a learning space through someone’s blog or tweets and see the innovative ways students are learning. One trend that I’ve been thinking about is the inclusion of maker spaces in classrooms and in programming.
Maker spaces vary greatly in space, resources, expectation and age or level of participant. As far as I can see, there is no one-size-fits-all model for a maker space or how to use it. I like that. I like how it can vary depending on the facilitator, the participants and what resources you have. If you don’t have a 3D printer and only have one table’s worth of space to dedicate, you can still have a maker space that stretches students to think innovatively, creatively and collaboratively, and create something meaningful to them. That, it seems to me, are the common variables in maker spaces: an allowance for innovative thought and a means to apply that thinking.
When trends take off like this, it always has me thinking about the why. Why is it that there is such an insurgence in maker spaces in education? What is it about our education system that was lacking that required this move? Why now?
I think educators have realized how important a role student advocacy and student-led inquiry and learning is to provide our young thinkers opportunities to hone skills that will serve them throughout their lives (problem solving, innovative thinking, critical awareness and analysis, resourcefulness, collaboration, creativity, communication…I’m sure there are others). I see how maker spaces can provide a venue for some of those rich experiences.
The why now and what are the gaps questions are a little more complex. On the one hand, as our lives and roles in the world have changed drastically in the last generation, particularly due to the explosion of technology and it’s uses, educators have shifted practices to meet the new needs of learners. Now that everyone basically carries a powerful computer in their pocket all of the time, we can devote less of our time and energy to learning tasks that can be done by a device. Need to know the capital of Turkey? A search engine will provide that for you, along with a synopsis of Turkey’s history and geography in less than a second. As knowledge patterns change, humans jobs and roles have changed. We all recognize that and education is slowly shifting to align itself more to those unique roles that humans still do better than machines: problem solving, innovative thinking, critical awareness and analysis, resourcefulness, collaboration, creativity. Does this list look familiar?  Maker spaces help to fill that gap.
That’s part of the why now, but I think there is another gap we are trying to fill. All of those complex human roles are not, in fact, anything new. Resourcefulness, creativity, critical analysis and the rest are not unique to the 21st century. Think about how resourceful people were during World War One to find ways to survive. Or how the creativity of Leonardo da Vinci’s thinking led to innovations in art, technology and science in the 15th century. (By the way, I just googled da Vinci to recall what century he lived. I’m not ashamed to note where computers and the internet are smarter than me.) Consider the critical analysis of someone like Socrates even farther back in history and how his methods of dialogue continue to challenge the patterns of thinking and teaching even today.
What I’m trying to say is that all of these complex ways of thinking are not 21st century inventions. But for some reason, our 21st century learners have not had the same opportunities to explore and practice these, which has led to the need for maker spaces.
I think, perhaps, the ease of life we have in our modern times has forced us to create opportunities through things like maker spaces. When something breaks, we go out and buy a new one instead of figuring out how to fix it: who fixes vacuums anymore? We create structured opportunities for play for our children in big plastic-filled “play lands” instead of kicking them out the back door after breakfast with nothing more than a peanut butter sandwich in their pocket and one rule: come home when it gets dark (the whole topic of letting kids invent play and avoid boredom through sheer exposure to environment and a lack of constant adult direction is worthy of its own blog post, but that’s for another time). We seek to replicate products of design instead of innovate: why build a better chair when you can build an Eames knock off with less effort and more profit?
You have to admire the irony in it: humans roles have grown increasingly intellectually complex as technology has taken over some of the more rote, physical and automated roles we previously had to spend our time doing. But at the same time, humans relying on the advances in technology have made us soft and less skilled for the roles we now find ourselves needing to fill.
Is your head spinning yet? Mine too.
If anything, thinking about the why has just led me to understand how important it is that we do provide learners (students, educators and anyone else who wants to learn and keep pace with progress) with opportunities to tinker, to try out new ideas and new materials, to create freely, to communicate their ideas to seek feedback and share learning, to try to make something impossible be now humanly possible.
Don’t we owe it to our 21st century da Vincis to give them those opportunities?