The Choice IS Ours

Posted: 14th April 2014 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

Every morning during the announcements Paul Clemens, the principal at our school, starts us all thinking with his words of wisdom. I’ve never asked him how he chooses what he shares but the thoughts are often quite timely and generate thought and conversation. My favourite part, though, is his conclusion every day: “Make it a great day or not, the choice is yours.” That’s so true, isn’t it?
On March 25, I started by 30 days of gratitude to help me more mindfully look at things through a positive lens as a means to combat stress and fatigue in the school. Deciding what to write each day (and paring my choices down to one favourite) is a high light of my day. I love reading in my twitter feed when others comment on their what they are grateful for as well. We have so much to be thankful for in education (and in general) in North America. It is sometimes difficult to see this through the day-to-day crises we face but it is true.
Since I wrote that post on March 25, more stress has been heightened in the school in a way that is a different experience for me because it is my first year as an administrator. Some of the stress is because of decisions that I’ve been a part of making, and some is because of decisions that have been made on behalf of the school for us. It is interesting that it does come down to choices and how different people react to them. When different viewpoints and factors are considered and difficult choices are made, people sometimes see the decisions as flat and one dimensional when in fact there are so many sides that they haven’t considered. Other people accept decisions based on an understanding of the complexity of thought (if not the specific factors themselves) behind decisions, despite how they may be adversely affected. Other people immediately trash the decisions and attack the decision makers in various ways.
Here’s the truth I am discovering. Sometimes decisions are made that we aren’t going to like, for whatever reason. We still have the choice in how we react, just as Paul says during the announcements. We can work with what we’ve got with a positive attitude or fight it all the way. The choice IS ours.
I have a whole lot of years left in my career. I have heard more negativity blasted in my vicinity this year than in any year of my career thus far. I don’t want to get caught up in it, be a part of it, or encourage it. I will endeavour to find ways to stay positive – like the gratitude project – and hope that helps. I will keep making decisions thoughtfully, using as much perspective as possible. I will keep in mind that decisions are unlikely to please everybody but they need to fulfill a purpose as best as possible. I will attempt to work with decisions that have been made for me by finding creative and positive ways to implement what may not look like an ideal answer.
I’m trying to make it a good day. I want to make that choice. I have these goals through the negativity and the hard decisions and the fallout.
To you who may have more experience than I do with these unpleasant realities, what else can I do? Any suggestions for either making or accepting decisions that seem to breed negativity? I’ve made my choice. Now I just need the strategies to implement it.

A Pink Elephant Riding on a Bicycle

Posted: 2nd April 2014 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

I drive through downtown Hamilton on my way to work each morning. It is a fascinating drive for many reasons (if you’ve ever been to downtown Hamilton, you’ll know what I mean). One thing I see is a big, handpainted picture on the side of an old brick building on the corner of Cannon and James right downtown. It is a picture of a pink elephant gleefully riding on a bicycle. There is no heading or slogan, no circus near by, and is just about the only spot of colour on that corner. Let’s call this elephant “Pinky”.
Pinky has no discernable purpose. Sometimes Pinky makes me smile. Sometimes Pinky makes me wonder what he is doing there. Sometimes I take Pinky for granted because he has just always been there so the idea of a pink elephant on a bike doesn’t seem so weird.
Pinky reminds me of some of the things I see in classrooms. There are things that teachers and students do that make me smile. Then there are those things that I see and don’t question just because I have seen them so often. Unfortunately, sometimes those things – both those that make me smile and those I don’t question – should make me stop and reflect.

What the heck is the pink elephant doing riding the bike?
Or
What are we really teaching kids by …

You can probably think of different things that fill in the ellipses. Off the top of my head – colouring title pages, crossword/word search puzzles, daily review of calendar – are a couple of easy favourites. Sometimes the elephant is more insidious. Sometimes it looks like good “work” until you take a closer look. What does that amazing Bristol board of research actually have to do with the curriculum expectations it was intended to evaluate?
As educators, we should all be reflecting on our own practices and being a critical friend of those around us. (Forgive me for this, but it is just too perfect to resist) we should all be helping to question the elephants in the room. We should all ensure our students are getting the best learning they should get.
So how do we do it? How do we stop and reflect on the elephants in our schools without people feeling like they are being attacked?
Someday, when I’m not actually in the driver’s seat when I pass Pinky, I’ll post a picture so we can figure him out. In the meantime, what approaches can we take to figure out what practices in our schools are truly beneficial?

30 Days of Positive

Posted: 25th March 2014 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

I am utterly, completely exhausted. This year (and it isn’t nearly close to being over, I realize that) has just worn me out. I’m not sure what it is…new job, new school, too many side jobs, increasing home demands, decreasing time for myself, never ending winter…probably a combination of all of these has contributed to my state of exhaustion. Trust me, I know exhaustion. 4 non sleeping kids later, I still live without the help of caffeine. This is a troubling state.
So what can I do? This is the question that I’ve mulled around a bit since March break. There isn’t anything in my list of culprits that I can cut back on, except maybe – hopefully – winter.
Last night I got an idea I’m going to try. I’m involved in a professional book club for Stuart Shankar’s book Calm, Alert and Learning. It is intended to teach us more about self regulation. I find it fascinating. One thing that came to my attention yesterday is how the research in the book talks about how the ways we react to, and manage, stress are closely tied to mood and intentional thoughts. Thinking positively and having a good attitude will lend themselves to a better ability to deal with stress and self regulate. The author notes that adults who model these skills and attitudes will help students learn them too. In my own simple way, I am taking that to mean that positive thinking can be catching.
If I’m exhausted, I doubt I’m the only one. What if I could find a simple way to give myself an excuse daily to be positive? What if I could model this positivity? Would anyone “catch” it? Keep in mind, I don’t think I am a negative person in general. But I don’t know is I am always intentionally positive.
I think I’m stealing from Oprah here. I believe some years ago she was pushing for people to have a gratitude journal. I don’t think I can find time for something like that, and it would be difficult to share. So I am going to simplify it a bit. For the next 30 days, I am going to attempt to tweet out one thing I am grateful/thinking positive about in relation to education. If you read it each day, maybe you can reflect on whether that is something you are grateful about too in your educational world. Maybe you would even join me – a whole lot of positive tweets can only do us some good, right? I’ll be tweeting at @kkeerybi using #gratitude for the next month. Join me if you need to breathe some fresh life into your tired state. Join me if you just think the edu world needs a little more positive thought. I’d love to see what could happen if educators made a conscious effort to spread some positivity. What could happen?
I’m not sure. I’ll let you know in 30 days.

Dear Harry Connick Jr,

Posted: 22nd March 2014 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

Dear Harry Connick Jr,
I’m not really in the habit of writing to celebrities, but I felt strangely compelled to write this to you today. I somehow think this probably isn’t a typical fan mail letter, though. Sorry about that.
I’ve been watching this year’s season of American Idol and I am always really interested to hear what you have to say to the contestants. It is obvious that you are an accomplished musician in your own right, but more importantly, you come across as a true student of music. I love to see lifelong learners – especially when people who are clearly successful make a point to continue growing because their passion to learn goes beyond monetary/celebrity success.
So it is with great distress, and a fair amount of wrinkled laundry (that part probably doesn’t make much sense unless you know I PVR American Idol to watch while I fold humongous piles of my family’s laundry), that I say I am really unhappy with what I am seeing this season. Every time you give valuable feedback – like, real feedback that involves next steps for the singer to learn from and apply – you get booed. Then your fellow judges seem to take the role of placating the musicians by telling them how great they are, further negating your feedback.
How do you sit there so calmly? If I were in your shoes, I would be standing up on your glittery desk in the spotlight and schooling the whole group of them – musicians, fellow judges, and audience members alike – in the power of REAL feedback.
I think a lot about feedback and it’s effect on students. Not so much for musicians, although there was that one year I was voluntold to be the music teacher for 60 grade 2 students and I ambitiously tried to teach them all to play the ukulele (side note, have you ever tried to tune 60 ukuleles? Not a fun job). I digress.
Real feedback is so misunderstood in our society these days. It seems if you aren’t prefacing any comments you make by “you are doing a great job!” Then you are too harsh. But the research, led by a rock star in his own right, Dylan Wiliams (he’s an educational rock star), states that as soon as we assign that evaluation – like saying great job – our real feedback that the student should use to foster their growth is negated. So, as much as I appreciate Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban as musicians, I have to tell you that they are doing your good feedback – and the contestants – a true disservice.
It’s tough to be the only one who understands the methods you are using to try to teach. In the education world we are trying to spread the word about the need for more valuable feedback and fewer placating, meaningless evaluatory statements. Some teachers have really taken to it and are having great success. Those that are successful have found that they have had to really educate the students, their parents and their colleagues about what they are trying to do. Those that try and fail are those that succumb to the “good job” crew because giving good feedback is hard.
I hope that as educators keep trying to give good feedback, you’ll see more young musicians who can accept it, act on it and ask for more. That’s the crazy thing, once you get used to good feedback, you actually crave it. “Good job” becomes frustrating feedback for you. You want to learn and want that support to move you where you want to go.
So Harry, I hope you keep giving that good feedback. Ignore the boos from the audience, ignore your colleagues who continue to just say “good job” and “your hair looks fabulous tonight”, and give those kids the feedback they deserve. It’s good for them. It will help them. They may even thank you later.
Also, if you are ever interested in getting out of this music business, let me know. I think you would make a great teacher.

The Selfie Era of Assessment

Posted: 20th March 2014 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

Driving home today I heard that most horrible song that is on the radio right now called Selfie (if you haven’t heard it, be grateful!). It is intended, I think, to be a satirical take in the self involved, tech focused stereotypical teenager. I’m not sure it really captures the era as well as it could, but it makes one good point by focusing in the selfie.
The selfie is an interesting phenomena. It is really about capturing the small, daily moments in your life and sharing them regularly. Instead of just seeing someone’s wedding or birthday pictures, you get frequent glimpses into their daily life. I like it. I feel like I get to know people better through these small moments. They feel more real.
The shift in documenting student learning is kind of like a selfie assessment. Instead of waiting for these big, formal, once-in-a-while staged events to measure someone’s learning, we now are finding ways to capture tiny bits of learning all the time. Taking a daily capture of assessment selfies is probably less work than a twice monthly staged assessment. It also gives your students more opportunities to express their learning, each tiny piece giving you a more clarified vision of who they truly are. IT IS MORE REAL.
The song is still awful, and I don’t know if my comparison of formal wedding pictures vs selfies makes sense when you think about shifts in assessment, but it amuses me. I hope you like it too….and I hope you don’t hear the song. It will seriously stick with you all day.

Getting Uncomfortable

Posted: 19th March 2014 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

This is a tale of two experiences from today.

Today I got to experience educator learning in a variety of ways and it got me thinking and reflecting. In a leadership meeting this morning, I saw a large group of accomplished, smart, experienced administrators get uncomfortable. We were being asked to do something that would be difficult work. This isn’t a group that resists hard work. But this was some thinking work without a clear start, clear end, or pathways in between. I watched some administrators go through various emotions – frustration, anxiety, denial. The facilitators of the session recognized this and talked us through it. They didn’t answer the thinking questions – we still have to do the thinking – but they helped provide some comfort and structure to allow that thinking to happen with a safety net. It was very interesting.

As I write this, I am sitting with a group of aspiring leaders. They are spending an evening in some heavy reflection about their current experiences and how they lend themselves to future leadership opportunities. The energy in the room is palpable. It’s hard thinking here too, but there is a clear structure, guided provisions, and mentors to support all along the way. I’m not seeing fear, frustration or anxiety but they know they have a difficult task before them too.

I outline these two very different experiences for a reason. Both involved educators reflecting, both involved hard work, both provided facilitation. But there was a different vibe in the room for each.

It’s making me think about my own experiences this year. I’ve had lots of experiences that have been challenging. Most I have faced head on and tackled enthusiastically. A few I’ve resisted as long as I could and then doing with, admittedly, a lot less enthusiasm. Until now, I hadn’t really reflected on why I reacted the way I did to each. Today has helped me think about that.

The conclusion I have come to is this. The experiences I saw today were so different because of passion and preparedness. If you are passionate about a challenge and have the necessary preparation for it, you will face it head on. Without those two things, you can still do it, but it won’t have the same vibe.

The truth is, educators won’t be passionate or prepared about every challenge they have to try. As an administrator, I have to do my best to set the conditions to be prepared and try to build the passion by finding links to something that resonates with the learners. As teachers, we should be doing the same with our students. How are we preparing them for their challenges in learning? How are we ensuring that they have some links to their passions?

These are just my thoughts from a tale of two experiences today. How do your experiences resonate with these reflections?

Learning Together

Posted: 5th March 2014 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

I really enjoyed watching sci fi movies and shows when I was a kid, especially Star Trek and the Jetsons. It’s funny now to see how many of the “futuristic” fictions we saw on those are actually real now. People carrying around hand held computers for communication and information sharing; medical diagnosis and treatments using technology from a distant; travel to other planets; vacuuming robots (I so want one of those!). One thing, though, that hasn’t really caught on as much is some of the learning environments for students. I remember seeing on one of those sci fi shows students learning in individual pods, looking at a screen and having knowledge flashed in front of them to absorb/learn.
I can’t tell you how happy I am that this particular advancement never materialized.
Learning today isn’t really about the absorption of knowledge we can passively learn from an outside source. Learning is about knowledge that we collectively create. Knowledge that you just get is easily retrieved from those ubiquitous handheld devices instantly. Creating knowledge takes a lot more effort.
Students can’t learn in a bubble. For true learning to occur, we need students, teachers, parents, outside supporters and other stakeholders to all join in the conversation, ask hard questions and dig for deeper understanding and application. I think it is really hard to do well. This week, through a wide variety of events, I learned different things to consider to help make this learning easier or better.
Relationships come first
Students, teachers, parents, administrators, school personnel…none of these groups will learn well unless time, work, and thought has gone into developing strong relationships. We need to see these relationships as something that is crucial to invest in. Not once or twice, but continuously.
Milestones can be achieved, but learning never ends
This year in our school we have been exploring the role of student inquiry. It has been really exciting to see how teachers and students have approached this. One of the biggest struggles we have collectively had is the conflict of process vs product. Teachers,,parents and students have long looked to learning products to measure success. Tests, projects, culminating tasks, essays, exams…all products. But inquiry, by its very nature requires us to focus much more on the learning achieved through the process. Reflecting on the journey – and learning how to use that for assessment and evaluation – needs to be something we continue to strive for.

Talk is cheap. So we can afford to do more.
In my first year as a kindergarten teacher, I was in the unfortunate position to be in a classroom in the basement of a school. The only class in the basement. Since travelling up the stairs with 25 4 & 5 year olds was challenging, I spent a lot of time in that room without any other adult to talk to. My administrator didn’t come down there once that whole year. No one did. In contrast, I taught K at another school on the alternate days in a vibrant building with a grade team partner right across the hall, and with lots of colleagues who talked,shared and visited my room. In one school, I felt like I was making progress and learning about how to be a kindergarten teacher. In the other, I just felt abandoned. My teaching suffered. We need that collegial talk to keep us thinking, trying, sharing and learning.
I’m glad our students get to learn in a social environment. I hope those students absorbing knowledge in isolation remains science fiction for a long time.

Learning Like an Olympian

Posted: 18th February 2014 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

I adore watching the Olympics…summer, winter, major sport, sport I’ve never heard of…doesn’t matter, I love them all. I love seeing the feats of strength, ingenuity, endurance, passion and teamwork. Funny thing is, I love all those qualities in teaching and learning too.
Sometimes I think we need to approach learning and teaching in school a little more like athletes and coaches approach sport. Let me explain some examples of what I mean.

Growth mindset.

It is a term that I have only in the last year or so heard referred to in education (I’m sure it has been around longer and I’m just woefully behind in my professional learning – sorry Ms Dweck), but is a given in sport. No matter where you are as an athlete, there is always room for growth. All abilities can be improved with hard work and effort. How often do we hear students asking what they need to do to get an A and then work just hard enough to achieve it, despite what further learning they could do? How about teachers? Have you ever heard one say what I’m doing in my teaching is good enough? Hmm. I’ve never heard an athlete say that.

Attention to detail.

I have been watching olympic ski and bobsled races this week. Those races are won and lost by mere hundredths of a second. It’s a little mind boggling how tiny actions have such huge effects. So, for people looking to make improvements, sometimes it’s not the big changes that need to happen but the subtle tweaks that can help you gradually gain some ground. How often do we communicate to students that they can make little changes and make gains? How often do we encourage teachers to make one meaningful change to make a difference?

Observation, action, feedback, reflection, repeat.

Several years ago, when TLCP (teaching, learning, critical pathways cycles) were introduced we spent hours designing beautiful unit plans before we ever thought about the students and then were surprised when students didn’t do well. A coach would never dream of making a training and conditioning plan for an athlete without first seeing what they can do, what they need to work on, and consider the best way to get them to where they need to go. Then that coach would watch then throughout the action, make fixes along the way, and figure out where to go next based on how things are looking. It’s an automatic thing in sport. Why isn’t it automatic in education? Teaching isn’t about a magic bullet resource, textbook or program, but about how a teacher (coach) uses what he/she knows about the athlete (students) and the sport (curriculum) to create the best plan to bring them as far as they can. That’s the recipe for authentic teaching and learning planning.

Celebrate when you can. Reflect when you can’t. Move on. It’s all part of the journey.

Not everyone at the Olympics goes home with a medal. Those that do have an awesome opportunity to celebrate, and then move on. Those that don’t have an awesome opportunity to learn from the experience, and move on. Either way, it’s about moving forward and celebrating what you can. Not everyone will get all As on their report cards. But everyone should be able to reflect on what they learned, celebrate those achievements, and move on to the next opportunity. One never knows when those little victories will lead to your big win.

Feedback is good.

Athletes trying to get to the top of their game seek out advice and coaching from a wide variety of sources. Coaches, mentor athletes, doctors, nutritionists, kinesiologists, physiotherapists, psychologists, trainers…each one will analyze the athlete’s performance and offer feedback/next steps/strategies. In education, feedback to students and teachers is sometimes only seen as criticism when it should be seen as an opportunity to learn. (Kind of ironic that we sometimes seem most reluctant to learn in the field of education). We need to teach students (and teachers) to seek out feedback from lots of perspectives and use it to figure out how to make things better.

I need to get back to my olympic watching. Can’t wait to see what I learn next about education.

Start the Conversation

Posted: 13th February 2014 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

This is the seventh year that I haven’t had my own classroom. In that time, I have learned so much and there is a very long list called “Things I’d do Differently Now If I had My Own Class”. At the very top of my list is the thing I am now most disappointed about how I taught. Can you guess what it was? Keep reading. You’ll figure it out.

Today was report card day. It is a day filled with excitement, pride, congratulations….or dread, disappointment, shock. How do you know which side of the coin each student or family will land on?

I was with my daughter tonight at physio and the physiotherapist started a conversation about her son’s report card. She was shocked at the marks, the lack of meaningful comments and the fact that this was the first she had heard about any problem. I don’t know the teacher, or the child, but I could sympathize with the helpless reaction of the parent.

Virtually every administrator I have worked with has had the same mantra: nothing on a report card should be a surprise to a parent. I believe in this mantra too. As a classroom teacher, I took it seriously and contacted parents in the week or so leading up to report card day.

But I regret that now.

Not contacting the parents – I’m glad I did that and I think I had a pretty good relationship with my students’ families. But I waited far too long to talk to them. I know now that if I had made regular, frequent contact with parents about on-going progress, successes and challenges, I wouldn’t have had to make those pre report card calls. I think my students would have benefitted a whole lot more. I think the parents would have felt more a part of a team. It would have been better for all of us. That’s my biggest teaching regret.

Now my job sees me talking to parents virtually every day. Often they are difficult conversations about tough topics without easy solutions. Often these conversations make those talks with my own students’ parents look like a walk in the park. Tough conversations, but they are worth it if it helps our students and our school. Sometimes it takes many, many conversations to make progress. Still worth it.

Teachers seem to fall into two groups: those who love to communicate with parents and do so frequently…and those who don’t. We all have busy lives, so I don’t think on-going communication with parents is done just for fun by teachers, but because they realize it is worth the effort.

So this is my public apology. I am very sorry to all my previous students and parents. I didn’t mean to keep you in the dark…I just didn’t know better. I realize now that my efforts were kind of like cramming for an exam. Too much work too late and not enough work along the way.

If I had to do it again, this would be my plan.

Start the conversation early. Use the parents to help me figure out my new students without doing it all on my own.

Continue the conversation regularly. Frequent communication often means shorter chats than my marathon whole-semester-in-one-conversation ones did. (I wish I had figured this out sooner!)

Find out what kind of conversations work for you AND the parent. It doesn’t all have to be phone calls. What is meaningful and do-able? Mix it up.

Don’t just report doom and gloom. Don’t just report sweetness and light. Every student has strengths. Every student has next steps. Share both. You don’t do a student or their families any favours if you only share one side of the story.

This is the advice I would give new teachers, or those who struggle with parent communication, but I’m still learning. What else is important to keep in mind?

Agree? Disagree? Who Cares?

Posted: 5th February 2014 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

I recently read a post by Dean Shareski http://ideasandthoughts.org/2014/02/01/2690/
I like his posts. They make me think, which is a good thing (I like his tweets too, but they just usually make me laugh, which is also a good thing). But this post bothered me a little. One of the reasons I love to learn with an online PLN is because I can find some like minded people that push my thinking and energize me. Like minded doesn’t mean we agree on every point – we all have opinions and experiences that give us different perspectives, questions and ideas. It may mean that we are starting with some basic fundamental understandings; a commonality to drive our discussion, or as Dean discusses, or blog comments.
I’m probably not as smart as Dean (especially considering I live in an EST time zone), but I like to think I know a little about learning. When I was musing about my thoughts on this, it reminded me of the accountable talk strategy of Agree/Disagree we use with students. In this activity, it doesn’t really matter whether you agree with your talking partner or disagree. What matters is that you express your opinions, ask questions, build on ideas and come out with a slightly bigger perspective on the topic. When I comment on a blog post, it doesn’t matter if I start with “I couldn’t agree more…” Or “what were you thinking?” What matters is my thinking that comes before I comment, the words that come after that opening phrase and the thinking it evolves for reader and writer. Learning is iterative. It doesn’t have to be confrontational to be learning.
Don’t think I don’t notice the irony of me fighting for being agreeable as a worthy option when I’m disagreeing. I see it. I just don’t think it matters. Agree. Disagree. Whatever. Just think, learn, grow.