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?

 

Make School Different

Posted: 22nd April 2015 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

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

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

Here goes.

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

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

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

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

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

So those are my five thoughts for the day.

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

Enzo Ciardelli (@ECiardelli)

Adele Stanfield (@adeletweets)

Lisa Neale (@lisaneale)

Susan Bosher (@SusanBosher)

Jared Bennett (@mrjarbenne)

 

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

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

The Platters – The Great Pretender Lyrics | (MetroLyrics)

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

The Day the Bake Sale Exploded

Posted: 18th April 2015 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

Ghost Story Learning

Posted: 9th April 2015 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

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

 

As the Song Says, Let It Go

Posted: 6th April 2015 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Criss Cross Applesauce, the Sequel

Posted: 1st April 2015 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

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

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

It Makes You Wonder

Posted: 25th March 2015 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

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

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

Here goes. My wonders for today:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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