What Did You Make At School Today?

Posted: 12th August 2016 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

Summer is good for many things, one of which is professional reflection.  Ok, it isn’t one of the more exciting of summer things, but it is still a good one.

This summer as I’ve done some professional reading and lots of personal playing, I’ve had a bit of an epiphany.

I’m a maker.

Yep.  That’s my big epiphany.  I make things and I like making things.  I like cooking.  I like sewing.  I make pottery.  I like gardening.  I like to get my hands on power tools.  I like designing things and then working on making them.  Walking the aisles of craft stores and hardware stores gives me a bit of a buzz.  I like writing purposeful things that I can point to and say “read this.  I wrote it and I think you’ll like it.”  I think this qualifies me as a maker.

Summer, to me, is a great time because I have more time to play and make stuff.  During the school year, time is at a premium and while I still might have time to make something, I have significantly less time to play.  It is all about churning out a product.  Get dinner on the table.  Check.  Whip up that item for the birthday party this afternoon.  Check.  The Hallowe’en party is in 10 hours, mom and I NEED a costume now.  Sigh.  Check.  I do all of these things, and I like them, but it isn’t very fun.  It isn’t always joyful.

But then there is summer play.  I’ll go to my mom’s pottery studio and play on the wheel there just to see what I can throw, without necessarily worrying about the end product.  I’ll whip up something in the kitchen because I’m inspired by the gorgeous produce around me and not because everyone is starving.  This is the joy of making.

In our schools and in the educational buzz world, maker spaces are big.  I’m all for them; letting students get their hands dirty and make something is a worthy project, and I’ve talked about it a little before here:  https://kkeerybishop.commons.hwdsb.on.ca/2016/01/16/thinking-about-maker-spaces/  But as people jump on the maker space bandwagon (and, I must stop here and say that I really admire the bandwagon jumpers for at least trying new things), I wonder if we need to think about what this is going to look like in our classes?

When we plan to make our schools and classrooms maker spaces, are we going to:

  • allow students to play?
  • allow students to create joyfully?
  • allow students to discover and explore?

Or, are we going to:

  • limit their creativity and expression to fit in our boxes of what is acceptable to create?
  • create a prescribed checklist of conformity to make sure we are all making and thinking the same?

I recognize that educators are in a quandry.  We have a specific set of skills and knowledges that we are required to provide learning opportunities for and to assess and evaluate, so there are going to be checklists and guidelines.  While we are still following curriculae and evaluating students’ ability to achieve, it has to happen.  But educators are pretty innovative people.  I have confidence that there will be plenty of educators that will find ways to honour the curriculum and the requirements of teaching and still find opportunities for students to play, to make and to create joyfully.

Maybe, when it comes to us planning our maker space opportunities during this coming school year, we need to be reminded of the joy we felt in the summer when we just made something because we loved to play.

Are there any other joyful summer makers out there?  How do you see balancing the needs of your maker spaces in a curriculum-based classroom with the need to allow students to play and create joyfully?

 

 

My Favourite Things

Posted: 20th July 2016 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

I’m just back from an extra long weekend at the cottage with my family.  I love that all of my kiddies still look forward to going (even though internet connection is sketchy at best!) despite their busy lives.  One of our favourite holiday games is “Top 5…”  Sometimes it is something as mundane as Top 5 Beaches we’ve been to.  Other times it is a little more bizarre, such as the memorable Top game of “Top 5 foods you have eaten off the ground”.  (I declined to participate in this one, just so you know).

During some quiet beach time, I got to thinking about education.  I am, if I go by my pension date, about halfway through my career in education.  Why haven’t I ever done my Top list about being an educator?  If you read my previous blog post, I have had a difficult year, but I am still looking forward to going back to school this fall.  Why is that?

So, based upon some lake-side reflection, and at the danger of sounding like Julie Andrews (no kittens or raindrops in my list, though), here is my Top 5 List about Why I Love Being An Educator.

5.  The Perfect Blend of Collegiality and Autonomous Learning.  It seems to me that educators are very lucky to have opportunities to learn new things on our own based on our interests and experiences, but also to learn with a group of colleagues and be able to test out and use both sets of new ideas.  While I haven’t always been a fan of mandated learning, I do love the buzz in a school when you have several people working towards common goals and seeing each other try things out and succeed.  But I also love the vibe that individuals bring in when they bring their own passions and share them with their students and colleagues.  Seriously, how lucky are we?

4.  Boldly Learning Where None of Your Thoughts Have Gone Before.  Five years ago, my focus of learning was all curriculum-based.  Now, I am more likely to be trying to figure out how to develop student self regulation skills, or how to get students to think deeply and divergently.  I wonder what I’ll be focusing on in another five years?

3. We Get to Play in Many Sandboxes.  This one may not be as true for secondary educators, but isn’t it exciting that we get to go to work every day and:  do math, share our favourite books, inspire young authors, teach a new playground game, dabble in the arts, and wonder about our connections to history and geography?  All in the same day?

2. Talk About Contributing Members of Society.  When you think about the different layers of our work, educators find so many ways to contribute to the betterment of our world.  Sure, we teach young minds and prepare them for life but we also support parents and families to make connections between education today and their child’s needs.  We connect children and their families to resources they might desperately need like social work or special education modifications and resources.  We provide opportunities at school that students might not get at home, whether that is the chance to try their hand at coding or sculpting or knowing what it feels like to be part of a basketball team or to organize a charitable donation activity to learn how to give back to others.

1. The Students (and if this isn’t in some way your number one answer too, you probably shouldn’t be an educator).  How amazing is it when you can actually see that moment when a student: 1) masters a new idea, 2) has a skill breakthrough, 3) wonders something so far out of your frame of reference it blows your mind, 4) shows you glimpses of the amazing contributing member of of society he/she is destined to become, 5) realizes that he/she is important.

Again.  How lucky are we?  What is your Top 5 list about being an educator?

#Fail

Posted: 11th July 2016 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

If you’ve been hanging around any educational chats in the last while, you have likely read, discussed or posted your own thoughts on developing risk taking in students.  Whether you have called it grit, building perseverance skills, one of the cute FAIL acronyms (Fail=First Attempt In Learning, etc), or development of problem solving capacity, it all boils down to the same thing.  We are all extolling the benefits of letting kids fail in their learning.

Well, let me tell you, even if it is good for you, failing sucks.

This year, I jumped on the #OneWord bandwagon and set my goal for the year.  You can read about my thinking back in January when I set the goal, here:

https://kkeerybishop.commons.hwdsb.on.ca/2016/01/02/one-word-2016/

The word I chose to represent my goal this year was stretch.    It’s been a busy six months, but as I reflect on how I’ve done on my goal, I find that I have failed far more than I have succeeded in stretching to meet the specific tasks within my goal.

Wait, did I say fail?  But that can’t be!  We don’t really fail anymore, do we?  Besides, the year is only half over.  There is still time to succeed.  Many goals need tweaking along the way once you get into them.  There were extenuating circumstances that affected my progress.

These consoling excuses are all true, but I still have to admit that I have failed.

Much like the experience of our students, I’m not really used to failing.  I was a successful student in school.  I have excelled in the extra curricular activities I choose to pursue (of course, who chooses to pursue the ones they aren’t good at?). I pride myself on successfully completing my to-do lists.  I even feel guilty when I abandon a book I don’t like.  Failure, as society has conditioned us to believe, is not an option.

So, as I sit back now and lick my wounds, I have to reflect on where I go from here.  I still have half a year on my goal of stretching.  Some of my failures are things that I still intend to pursue further armed with some new knowledge, new strategies and from new angles.  Others I am going to admit are currently beyond me (not an easy admission to make) and I’ll spend some time thinking about whether they are things I need to work on at another time.

It’s interesting to note that, in reading over my One Word blog post, I assumed success.  Even though the goals were a stretch, I assumed that I would succeed because I usually set goals for myself that I am eventually successful at.

Now the question is, can I use my failing experiences to help better prepare students to fail too?  (You don’t know how weird it was to write that.  We really ARE conditioned to avoid failure, aren’t we?).  I think so.

  • Failing still feels like, well, failure.  If we are preparing students to experience it, we need to prepare them to know that it doesn’t feel great.  Giving them a FAIL acronym or pat them on the back for developing “grit” doesn’t adequately acknowledge the emotion or frustration they will feel when they fail.
  • Teach students that there will be some goals that are beyond them, some that are well within their reach, and others that they will have to chip away at to succeed.  Learning that not every goal is achievable is a key, although maybe controversial, lesson in critical and reflective thinking.
  • Admit our own failures.  We provide students with role models in everything else, failure mentors shouldn’t be any different.  Using ourselves as those mentors is probably more meaningful to a student than telling them how many times Alexander Graham Bell’s communication inventions failed before he finally placed that first phone call.  If we are their mentors, we can walk them through the ups and downs of failure.
  • Celebrate the successes within the failure.  When I now sit back and reflect on one of my colossal failures this year, I can see glimmers of good stuff within it.  I learned how to do things differently, I made a difference to this person, I changed a practice for the better.  Those are the things I need to build on.  The same would be true of our students when they fail.  We have to do this carefully, though.  Glossing over the failure entirely and only focusing on the good may protect them from the hurt of failure, but may not teach them how to get over it.  We can’t teach students to avoid failure altogether.

Stretching is still my goal for 2016.  Some of my original goals are things I’m still working on.  Others are shifting as conditions have changed.  And some, I have failed.  But I will learn from those and find new ways to stretch.

Measuring Milestones

Posted: 28th June 2016 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

Tomorrow my daughter Eden graduates high school and it has me thinking.  So often we parents measure time by the milestones of our kids, don’t we?

Today, Eden’s graduation has me thinking back the first grade two class I taught in 2006. I taught at the school my kids attended and Eden was in grade two as well, right next door to me. Now, this was a little too close for comfort for me (I am pretty much the opposite of a helicopter mom) but I tried to stay out of her way and she tried to stay out of mine and it worked fairly well for us. But my own class of students that year were a very challenging bunch, and I gained some extra special challenges as the year went on when some students were not thriving in other classes.  I liked working with students who needed a little extra patience, time, listening ear or love. (I still love working with students like that).

But Eden’s graduation has me wondering: how many of my grade two class ten years ago will be walking across a stage to receive a diploma this week? How many of them have plans for their future and the means to make those plans happen?

I count myself lucky that my husband and I have successfully helped navigate half of our offspring so far to this milestone. Truthfully, I know we had it pretty easy and it was still HARD.

Our children, so far, have been blessed with physical and mental health that have allowed them to thrive. They’ve had a stable home environment with someone always to vent to, problem solve with, cry on, and celebrate the good stuff. They have found the academic burden challenging at times but always totally manageable. They have had good friends. They have made good decisions when it comes to respectful, responsible behaviour. They have never had to worry about where their next meal was coming from, where they would sleep next week or when they would next see their parents.

When I think back to my grade two class of ten years ago, I can probably count one one hand the number of students that were similarly blessed.

One hand. Less than 25%. All the rest faced bigger challenges, even as 7 year olds.

And it was STILL hard.

Educators, we have that unique opportunity to help some kid, sometime, get closer to a goal of getting across that stage and getting a diploma….or of making their life better in some other way. All of those baby steps along the way by all those educators can make the difference for every child. Every child. Not just some small percentage.

Tomorrow, when my girl walks across that stage, I will be silently thanking every educator that helped her get there and praying that there were more educators after me who have helped to get my little grade two class of 2006 across a stage too.

Every child deserves that. That’s why we do what we do, right?

Rest up this summer, educators. Next year, we have more lives to save.

Grades Do Matter

Posted: 4th June 2016 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

There is a lot of talk about grades among educators and others who like to talk about education.  As many educator friends of mine are currently spending their beautiful weekends inside pouring over culminating tasks, marking tests and preparing exams.  Students I know are working full out to make what their teachers read/view/hear the best they’ve ever heard.  So, I had a few thoughts about grades myself.

Grades do matter.

  • Grades affect what university program a student gets into (even if, laughably, the program is an inquiry-based learning program, it has a 97% mark average threshold for consideration).
  • Grades affect what high school stream a student is recommended for.
  • Grades affect how a student thinks about himself/herself.
  • Grades affect how educators think about a student.
  • Grades affect how parents think about their child – how they congratulate them or support them or get them help.
  • Grades affect how educators must budget their instruction time and how they use their planning time (and their leisure time, if we’re being honest).
  • Grades affect how boards and ministries look at schools:  what questions they ask at what schools and what opportunities different schools are provided.

 

It isn’t a question of whether grades matter or not.  The evidence clearly points to the fact that they matter.

The real question is should grades matter?

Life Long Learning

Posted: 2nd May 2016 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

 

Two Steps…Forward?

Posted: 30th April 2016 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

No wonder educators are stressed out about racing the clock.

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

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

 

 

 

Are We Dancing on the Head of a Pin?

Posted: 21st April 2016 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

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

Stretching Like a Marathon Runner

Posted: 3rd April 2016 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

Time to dig in and just run.

Finding the Right Pebble

Posted: 27th March 2016 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

Change is good.

Change is constant.

Change is difficult.

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

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

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

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