Listening for the Quiet Whispers

Posted: 23rd February 2015 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

When Two Worlds Collide – Adventures in Feedback

Posted: 8th February 2015 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

I love feedback.  I love getting it, giving it, talking about it, reading about it.  It is a teaching and learning strategy that is often misrepresented and misunderstood.  It deserves more thinking time by educators.  Let’s call this my contribution to the cause.

In Ontario there has been a greater buzz about feedback since Growing Success came out as our guiding document in assessment and evaluation.  It is smack in the middle of the Assessment Continuum:  learning goals, success criteria, descriptive feedback, peer assessment, self assessment.  While all five of these elements are important, I believe that feedback is the most critical.  Without feedback, students won’t use the first two items to enhance their learning and evidence of their learning and won’t have the modelling needed to learn how to do the last two effectively.

With the rise of Growing Success, I was fortunate to be part of many conversations about descriptive feedback with educators in a variety of schools and situations.  One of the researchers I relied on to enhance my own understanding of feedback was Dylan Wiliam.  Wiliam wrote the book on feedback, Embedded Formative Assessment   (and the articles, and the youtube videos).

This one is one of my favourite short videos of Wiliam talking about feedback.  

From all of Dylan Wiliam’s work, and that of many of his research colleagues, I learned these key understandings about descriptive feedback.

  1. Not all feedback is helpful for a recipient’s learning.
  2. Feedback should be more work…more thinking and doing work…for the recipient than it is for the giver.
  3. Feedback shouldn’t be about ego but about task.  (e.g. “You’re a good thinker, Johnny” = ego; “Your explanation about how the author convinced you was well thought out” = task)
  4. A considerable amount of good feedback is in the form of questions.
  5. Feedback is directly related to the learning goals and success criteria the giver and recipient both know and commonly understand.
  6. Good feedback accelerates learning.
  7. Feedback is actionable and targets a specific recipient’s next steps.  What actions does the recipient need to take to make it better?

I really don’t do the research justice by reducing it to these few thoughts.  If you haven’t read Wiliam’s work, I highly recommend it.

Last week, I was fortunate to be at a conference about Visible Learning, the work of John Hattie.  Hattie is a researcher who has (in his spare time…he actually called it his “hobby”) analyzed the findings of 1200+ reliable research investigations and found a way to figure out what are the strategies and conditions that affect student achievement and then to compare them in a meaningful way.  138 strategies in total were evaluated and ordered.  Through his research, he uncovered which strategies have the biggest influence on student learning, which really make no difference at all, and which ones are actually detrimental to student achievement. For a full explanation of the list and the research, please see

http://visible-learning.org/hattie-ranking-influences-effect-sizes-learning-achievement/

Without spoiling too much for you, know that feedback is consistently in the top ten list of most beneficial to student achievement, with an effect size of 0.75.  This essentially means that good feedback can accelerate student achievement almost 2 years worth in a single year. As an important strategy, Hattie and his colleagues dug further into it and came up with these findings:

1. Feedback can accelerate student achievement at almost twice the expected rate.

2. Students need lots of feedback, but that feedback has to be clearly understood by the student in terms of why it is given, what they need to do next and how to do what they need to do next.

3. Students often see feedback negatively because it either comes too late for them to act on it (eg written feedback on an assignment) or because it is offered in a group setting (class, small group) and individual students don’t know how the feedback directly relates to them.

4.  Praise is often confused for feedback.  If the comments are not related to learning goals, not providing new information about how to to further a task, or not having student self reflect on their own next steps, it’s probably not feedback but praise.  Currently, a large portion of teacher to student comments fit into the praise category, not feedback.

5. Feedback needs to be timely to be supportive.

So far, Hattie and Wiliam show some distinct similarities in their views on feedback.  But when I have worked with teachers around feedback previously, many of the questions they had included:  what kind of feedback do I give to that student who is already achieving at a high level? I know feedback needs to allow for critical thinking and connect to my success criteria but what if what a student needs to do next is outside of these parameters – what if they aren’t ready yet for this higher level of thinking and reflecting?  This is where Hattie gave me more to think about.

6. There needs to be a high degree of trust between the teacher and student when providing feedback.

7. There are different levels of feedback:  Self (praise), Task (specific, knowledge based), Process (metacognitive thinking processes used to consider and present learning), and Self Regulation (transferable skill and self evaluation).

8. It is important to provide feedback at the appropriate level (see #7 for levels) at the appropriate time.  Students who are novices to some new learning will need task level feedback.  As they gain proficiency, feedback should shift to the level of process.  When students are highly proficient, feedback to encourage self regulation (allowing students to transfer learning to new applications and to self reflect to a high degree) is most successful.

I’m still thinking about the implications for what advice I would give teachers to provide students with good feedback.  Some of my suggestions won’t change:  know your students, encourage self reflection, have a common understanding of goals, and ask more questions and give fewer statements.  But perhaps some of my suggestions will change.  I see the task/process/self regulation levels of feedback as being somewhat related to the Achievement chart in our Ontario curriculum documents  (see an example here:  here ).  I have usually encouraged teachers to focus on the “meaty” part of the achievement chart:  thinking and application.  But now I wonder if a teacher needs to determine if a student is a novice and need more task / knowledge and understanding feedback, or gaining proficiency and need more process / communication and thinking feedback, or highly proficient and need  self regulation / thinking and application feedback.

The other thing I wonder about is praise.  I have debated all of the “good job!” comments and stickers and considered whether they were limiting student learning, as Wiliam surmises.  (I wrote a blog post on my angst over the sticker debate here ).  But now I wonder if it is a critical piece to help gain develop trust:  trust between a teacher and student, or between students, and in all cases, towards feedback.  I’m still thinking about this one.

I don’t know if this makes any sense to anyone.  I’m still trying to process it all myself.  Synthesizing the work of these two researchers is going to take me a while when it comes to practical applications.  I do know that feedback is good for students, though, and worth the brain strain.  I’d love some thoughts from all of your on-the-ground feedback researchers.

 

One of the jobs I had before I came to work for the HWDSB was for a local child protective services agency.  I would go into the homes of parents and try to help them learn skills to keep their children safe, healthy and learning.  It was a job that had very few resources and required lots of creativity.  For example, I had to find a way to teach one new mom how to know when to feed her new child…however the mother couldn’t tell time in traditional ways.  The mother did, however, keep the television on all day.  So, we started by using the shows that were on at certain times as a sign of when to feed the baby.  Not a traditional tool, but a starting point she was comfortable with and we had available.  Another time, I was working with a young parent who had a very limited income but wanted to learn things to prepare her preschooler for school.  We made letter and number cards out of cardboard cut from food boxes and to work on fine motor control, we made a stacking tower game out of some collected “pizza tables” (those little plastic things that come in the middle of takeout pizza).  Non traditional tools, but effective.

Tony Sinanis (@TonySinanis) challenged schools to join his school last week for No Worksheet Week (http://leadingmotivatedlearners.blogspot.com ) an opportunity for staff to find other ways to teach and other ways for students to learn than through the use of photocopied worksheets.  His argument is that worksheets rarely, if ever, support and extend student learning.  However, they are widely used because they are very good at keeping students busy and compliant, and are easy for teachers to find and distribute. I agree with Tony, and so issued the challenge to the educators at our school.  It reinforced our school-wide goals at providing students with tasks that are engaging, enriching, differentiated and allowing for student voice and choice. It also supported our board’s “Transforming Learning Everywhere” visioning document.  As our board works at providing the opportunities and experiences students this century need to excel, it plans to allow for wide-spread allocation of personal devices to accelerate learning opportunities.  To help fund this, it proposes far less reliance on paper, specifically photocopied paper and textbook purchases.  (I don’t really do the document justice here – these expenses are targeted because they also do not support the new teaching and learning strategies expected.  For a better look at Transforming Learning Everywhere, please see TLE document ).

I issued the challenge.  It was interesting to hear different responses:  some ignored it outright, or dismissed it as impossible/unrealistic.  Some took the challenge, but tried to find ways around it.  And others really took the challenge.

For those that took the challenge, there were still various responses.  Some found no change to their regular practice because they already don’t use worksheets. Others had to rethink their practice quite extremely.  They had to get creative. They included more accountable talk activities, relied more on students to determine how to demonstrate their learning, and increased their use of technology to capture student learning.  Students who had different practices this week noticed the change, and most seemed to like it.  Did they like it because it was novel or because it was good practice?  I guess that’s the next challenge:  if teachers continue to offer alternatives to worksheets, how will students react long term?  I hope some teachers will take the one week challenge and use it to reflect on how they can get creative long term.  They will be the early adopters who will help support the others when worksheets become even less of an option.

Perhaps some of out attempts to reduce worksheets (like, I admit, my attempts to teach time and engage preschoolers) we at a very basic substitution level. I have argued in the past that I am not satisfied with just substitution and that we should aim for choices higher up the SAMR model. I still stand by that, but I think some things – like worksheets and textbooks are hard for us to rethink teaching without until we have first just tried to live without them. So, this week I am happy for substitution, if only for the seeds of change it suggests to staff and students alike.

Sometimes we’re forced to be creative because of a lack of expected resources.  But sometimes we get to be creative because there are better resources we could use.  Thanks, Tony, for helping us reflect on a week of no worksheets.

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?