A Two Sided Blog Post

Posted: 1st February 2018 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

Have you ever wondered what really goes on in a school to support a student who struggles with self-regulation?  Aviva (as classroom educator) @avivaloca and Kristi (as school administrator) @keerybi team up to offer their perspectives on how they would approach a specific situation.  Changing a student’s ability to self-regulate takes a lot of work and time.  Here’s a glimpse at the what it might look like.

Situation:

You are in a busy Kindergarten class with 30 JK/SK students and two educators.  You have a mix of student-chosen activities and school/class-imposed activities throughout the day.  You use an inquiry-based approach to learning; allowing students to dive into play in a variety of settings.  These settings are enhanced by teacher-established provocations and facilitation.  But, despite all of this, you still have some students who frequently have problems engaging in learning safely in a way that enhances their learning.  Marsha, for example, is a student who sometimes has difficulty engaging in play.  Instead, she regularly demonstrates:  yelling and whining, wandering around the room, hitting of students and staff, throwing of toys or classroom items, running from the room.  Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!  What are we going to do with you?

Educator Right Now Supports:

In the short-term, I need to develop some solutions that will keep Marsha and the rest of the students safe first. It’s the hitting of students and staff, throwing of toys and classroom items, and running from the room that are my three biggest concerns. I want to try and give Marsha some space in the room, so that she can throw things without hurting anyone else, and even lash out without injuring a student or a staff member. I want to try to empty some shelves in this space, so that there’s less to throw, but still an area for her to move. I also want to try to position myself near the door, with likely the door closed, so that it’s harder for her to leave the room. Classroom doors are often heavy for Kindergarten students, so it will likely take a little time for her to open it, and in that time, I can always call the office for additional support if needed. I can’t easily leave the classroom because of the other students (even with my teaching partner being there), and if leaving the classroom could also result in leaving the school, then I’m going to need some administrator support.

As for the yelling/whining, I need to really monitor how loud it is. Sometimes a quiet response from me can help with quieting a child. Sometimes directing to a preferred activity, or a more sensory option (e.g., water or playdough) can also make a difference. If Marsha is really loud, I may also need to contact the office, and explore another space for her to go to quiet down. Her volume may also impact on the volume of the rest of the children in the classroom, which then just increases the stress for many other children … and the adults in the room. It’s a vicious cycle!

The wandering would probably be the least of my concerns. I might be able to intercept this wandering with a redirection to a preferred activity or a sensory option (e.g., the water or playdough), which could help. That said, Marsha’s not a safety risk if she’s wandering in the classroom, and sometimes the physical movement can actually calm a child. I would likely be more apt to monitor this wandering, and see if she eventually settles. All of this being said, these “right now supports” are largely band-aid solutions. The might solve the problem at the time, but will they help prevent future problems, or help us better understand what’s causing Marsha to respond in these ways? This is where the long-term supports, and Self-Reg, really make a difference!

 

Principal Right Now Supports:

No matter how many students you have in a school, a good principal gets to know all of his/her Marshas as early as possible.  So, I will have had some conversations with the educators in the room and have done some observation of my own before trying to help Marsha – and the rest of the class – in this moment.

Safety is always my first concern.  So I’m going to see how I can immediately support to increase safety for Marsha, for the other students, and for the educators in the room.  However, barging in and immediately taking charge can backfire and escalate a situation.

First I would scan for any immediate safety threat – if Marsha is throwing something, am I more helpful helping relocate other students, removing possible throwing objects or relieving an educator from shadowing Marsha so that he/she can support other students?  If Marsha is hitting someone, can she be distracted by me (sometimes a new voice and face can deescalate a situation but sometimes not) either with my voice, my presence, or an object I can provide?  Can I prevent hits by moving the person being hit away and giving Marsha some physical space?  If Marsha is making a run for it, can I predict her most likely route from past experience and determine if it is likely a safety risk (i.e. is she running down the hall and stopping to hide under the stairwell or is she running out the door and into traffic?).  If she needs an escape from the room but is likely to pick something relatively safe, like the stairwell, I will follow at a distance and try to alert back up support, in case she changes paths.  If she is heading out the door, I am quickly eliciting help and following her out the door.  If this is the normal course of events, we probably have a fine-tuned plan for how we all react (e.g. I follow on foot with my phone, teacher alerts office to advise whether to contact family and police, resource teacher is alerted to follow as well).  If it is a first time event, I follow on foot with my trusty phone and call the office to relay information and get support put in place.  (Side note:  what did Principals do before cell phones???)

If the behaviour isn’t about safety, I may be in to observe since Marsha is one of the mystery students I want to help support the educators in figuring out.  I may watch to see patterns of wandering, timing of whining or content of whining.  I trust my educators to have some thoughts about why we are seeing these behaviours.  We’ll talk about these later.

 

Educator Long Term Supports:

The more that I’ve read about Self-Reg, the more that I’ve learned that there’s almost always a bigger reason behind the behaviours that we see. Is this misbehaviour or is it stress behaviour? This is when I have to slow down and ask myself the question that Stuart Shanker often asks: “Why this child, and why now?” We see the Marshas of the world that are yelling, wandering, hitting, throwing, and running, but if we stop and look for the reasons behind this behaviour, we often see a lot more.

For me, it often comes down to determining the stressors. What is triggering this child? There’s a very comprehensive list of stressors in this Self-Reg Toolkit, and I’ve found that it’s often a combination of different things that are leading to the behaviour that we’re seeing. If we know the stressors, we can also look at making changes to reduce them. This may be about changing classroom design, lighting, sensory experiences, noise levels, academic demands or expectations, transitions (frequency and time), and social opportunities. I’ve found that while some of our classroom changes may be made with Marsha in mind, Billy, Bob, Sue, and Joe, will all still benefit. When Marsha’s calmer, the whole room feels calmer!

We also need to consider our own Self-Reg. How are we feeling at the time that we’re seeing Marsha’s behaviour? How do we respond to Marsha? If we’re feeling stressed, this often compounds a child’s stress. And sometimes, we think that we’re hiding it well, but kids hear it in our voices and see it in our actions. If I find that the room …

  • Is getting louder,
  • A child is acting out,
  • Somebody’s running,
  • Screaming is about to start,

the very best thing that I can often do at the time is stop … and breathe. I need to make sure that I’m self-regulated, so that I can make those small actions. Get down lower. Be quieter. Speak and move from a distance. Kristi mentioned something similar in her principal supports, and this is equally important for educators. For Marsha to self-regulate, Marsha’s educators need to feel just as calm.

 

Principal Long Term Supports:

 

For a Principal, my long term supports are more about the educators than Marsha, actually.  Educators are at close range, in the moment, all of the time while I can closely experience the situation at times, but I also can step back, view the bigger picture and offer supports that go beyond the moment.

My first job is to encourage.  Educators work tirelessly with very little praise.  Boosting teacher confidence by acknowledging specific things they are doing that are supporting Marsha and the other students is of paramount importance to helping them maintain their calm and self efficacy.

Next, I question and facilitate educator reflection.  Helping educators prioritize concerns and streamline next steps helps decide what supports to try.  If I read Aviva’s account, I get the sense our first priority is the hitting.  I would help educators reflect on any patterns they see to the hitting (is it always at the end of the day? Or just before lunch? Is it in reaction to certain children or certain toys/activities that are not available when Marsha wants?)  This allows us, as a team, to meaningfully make changes to the environment, routine or support.  Changing everything at once rarely turns out well.  Slow and steady is what we aim for to support progress. Reassurance and celebrating those small victories will hopefully help them to see the progress and abate the frustration of not having quick fixes.

The third role I try to fill is as advocate.  I try to access the resources and supports that will promote change, safety and learning in the classroom.  Since some resources, like Educational Assistants, are a very finite resource (and worth their weight in gold!), this usually means getting creative and being an active participant in that change.  If you ever came to my office, you would notice it’s distinct lack of decor.  I have bare, beige walls, two student work tables, a variety of calming manipulatives (kinetic sand, building toys, games, puzzles, a student rocking chair, stuffed animals, books) and my desk shoved in the corner as far back as I could manage.  My office is rarely without students working on regaining self control and developing better self regulation.  I often have to make important phone calls from the supply room or meet parents or staff on hallway walks, but in my school, there isn’t another space that is suitable for use as a calming area. That is how I am creatively making space to support students.  Advocating for, and communicating with, various teams and outreach supports within the school, board and community will also bring in different perspectives and supports for Marsha and her educators.  Multidisciplinary collaboration results in educator/parent/student and most definitely principal, learning.

With Marsha, I would probably bring her down to visit my office at a time when she is well regulated and in good self control so we can start to determine favourite calming resources and to familiarize her with me and the space.  Building rapport with her in the calm times will make things less challenging for her (and me!) in the not so calm times.

I often think of that old photo of JFK working in the oval office with his young son playing under his desk when I think about modern day principals.  We still have a whole lot of business and paperwork and reporting to deal with, but we are also juggling a whole lot more constant student contact to help meet the growing student – and staff – needs of well being.  My hope is that being there to help staff maintain their well being, feel they are not alone, and offer support and encouragement in a variety of ways will ultimately play a small role in helping Marsha develop self regulation skills.

 

Where Does This Lead?

In a school, educators and administrators don’t need to work in isolation. Marsha needs support. We’re there together to support her: with both short-term and long-term solutions. Self-regulation helps us view Marsha’s behaviour differently, and hopefully determine what’s leading to the yelling, wandering, hitting, throwing, and running that we’re noticing in the classroom.

Whose voice is missing here though? How can they support Marsha’s self-regulation? As an educator or administrator, what might you do to support your Marshas? We’re providing two sides to this blog post, but would welcome any additional sides.

One in Five

Posted: 31st January 2018 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

Me about 8 years ago at a board workshop:  “One in five people will be affected in their lifetime by mental illness?  That number can’t be right.  Maybe they mean one in five of us will know someone affected; not that one if five will ACTUALLY face challenges to our mental health.  Yeah, that must be what it means.”

Today is Bell Let’s Talk day.  It is a corporate social media initiative that raises funds and awareness for Canadian mental health support services.  I started to think, as I read the many tweets and posts today about it, how much my understanding of mental health has changed since that board workshop.

Here’s a little of what I know now:

  • mental illness and other challenges to mental health affect many, many men, women and children.
  • we are masters at hiding or masking challenges we are facing, including those that affect our mental well being
  • you can’t always believe those happy face selfies on social media.  No one is immune to mental health challenges
  • in schools, we deal with an inordinate amount of inappropriate behaviour that, when we dig into it, can often be related to issues of mental health and well being
  • challenges to student well being has sobering ripple effects:  caretakers of those students (educators, parents, health practitioners) are having their own well being compromised as they struggle to support everyone
  • there is not enough help, not enough resources, not enough time to adequately support all of the people in our lives who need help with their mental illness or well being

In schools, educators are under incredible pressure to begin with.  We have a challenging curriculum, with a finite amount of time and resources, to teach a wide variety of students with various needs, while facing parent/administrator/board/ministry pressure to deliver certain results.  Now throw in not just one challenging student in the class, but try ten.  And those challenging students aren’t just pulling someone’s pigtails or calling others mean names.  They are:  threatening to cut themselves or commit suicide, threatening to hurt or kill their teacher or parent or classmate, worrying about everyday things to the extent that they can’t function in class or at home, not able to get out of bed or leave their house without paralyzing fear, lashing out with extreme acts of physical aggression towards adults and children without control or remorse.  How are you feeling about getting through that curriculum now?  How is your own mental well being now?

I am all for the Bell tagline “Let’s Talk About It”, but even more, I think we need to figure out “Let’s Do Something About It”.  We need trained health care professionals supporting our students and others when they need it, not when they get to the top of a 3 year waiting list.  We need supports in our schools that will help alleviate the pressures this is putting on educators so that they can help ensure student well being is supported so students can learn and educators can teach.

I appreciate that in Ontario we are mandated to set board and school goals around well being each year.  We will work diligently at educating ourselves more about what we are up against.  We’ll also try out new initiatives that provide supports to those who need it, and other initiatives for everyone to hopefully teach students well being strategies that they can use throughout their lives.  We’ll use kindness, respect, patience, care and compassion to treat these little guys as if they are our own children, even when we are drained and in need of some well being support of our own.  We’ll work together to try to share the difficult load because we are all in the same boat.  But, it seems that each year that boat rides a little lower in the water and our bailing bucket isn’t equipped to keep us from sinking.

Me now:  “One in five people will be affected in our lifetime by mental illness?  That number seems a little low, doesn’t it?”

 

The Two Sides of Resolution #OneWordOnt

Posted: 7th January 2018 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

My first grown-up job was working in PR and event planning for an arts council in the Toronto area.  It was a pretty amazing job for a fresh high school graduate (except for the commute.  Hamilton to Toronto was not fun even in those dark ages).  I learned that I did better writing about the arts and promoting our events if I tried some of them out.  Sometimes I did this as a spectator or audience member but other times I jumped in as an active participant.

One spring, a few of my colleagues and I decided to have one of our artists who specialized in photography teach us her art.  Remember, this was the dark ages, so no iPhones or self focusing point-and-shoot cameras for us.  Nope.  We each had a big, clunky camera with various lenses and buttons.  Over several sessions, we learned how to hold the camera (pro tip:  using an unnatural-feeling tripod hold under the lens instead of above will steady the camera for mid-exposure shots and will keep your fingers out of the shots), use different lenses, aperatures, framing shots, using lighting, and focusing for close, mid and long distance foci.  It was, and still is, one of my favourite “arts” to study because of how much science was involved.  I learned more physics during these workshops than I did in OAC physics.

Each week,  I would diligently put into practice all of the lessons:  frame the perfect shots, judge light, set exposure, focus and click.  Then, I would wait until I could get the photos developed to see how I did (dark ages equals no instant glances at the digital shots.  This was real film that took at least a week on my meager student budget to develop).  More often than not, my photos were far from perfect.

My biggest problem was always mistakes in focus.  I adamantly insist that this is as much a fault of my incredibly bad vision as my actual photography skills.  Yes, that must be it.  My coke-bottle eyeglass lenses MUST be impeding my ability to focus the camera lens, right?

I’m still not great at taking photos; even now the self-focusing, digital variety don’t turn out for me as well as I would like them to.  But the story connects well to my #OneWordOnt goal I wanted to set for this year: resolution.

I don’t actually hold much with official New Year Resolutions, but for the last few years, I have taken some time over the winter holidays to reflect on my professional practice and determine a small course of action I could take to improve my skills.  In 2016, my One Word goal was stretch.  And I did stretch, sometimes uncomfortably so.  In 2017, my goal was relate.  This, too, was a good goal for me and one that I have made some progress on but plan to continue to work on.  This year, the word I have chosen is “resolution”.

Did you know that resolution has quite a number of meanings?  We often relate it this time of year to those goals we set.  But it also has meanings ranging from characterization (e.g. “he went forward, with resolution, into the path of trouble”), conflict (e.g. “they determined a resolution beneficial to both sides”), musical (e.g. when a harmony changes, fixing a discord), medicine (e.g. “the resolution of symptoms indicated an end in infection”), chemistry (e.g. reducing a solution into its separate components), physics (e.g. using two or more forces together in replacement for a single, but equal one), and, of course photography (e.g. the extent of detail seen and focused in an image).

While I appreciate the many meanings, it was the last that I initially thought of when considering my goal.  Just like when I was a photography student, I am frustrated these days professionally by how often things are fuzzy or not quite seen with the the detail I would like them to have.  My work days pass in a dizzying series of experiences, decisions, conversations, and impressions.  I don’t have a moment to breathe, eat or reflect in the course of a day/week/school year.  While I know the pace is just a part of the job, I feel that I sometimes have to make decisions based on only fleeting glimpses of information or impression.  I don’t have time to stop and think before pressing on; there are too many demands on my time and energy.  I don’t like it.

So, my goal this year is to try to find ways to stop and think in order to bring clarity to some areas before making a decision.  Interestingly, I am expecting that focusing on resolution will slow down my efficiency in problem solving.  This isn’t going to make me very popular with people waiting for me to decide.  I think waiting and considering will also have the effect of considering more sides of an issue instead of quickly responding to a single side (often making that person happy, but maybe not others).  This, too, may affect how those around me feel about my treatment of issues.  But, anyone in leadership has to develop a thick skin to criticism and conflict, and I am slowly resolving myself to this as well.

So why do it if it isn’t popular?  I’m in a position where I need to make lots of decisions every day.  That is a big part of my responsibility towards the school, the employees, the students, and the community.  It has been important to me to be efficient but I wonder more and more about the value of effectiveness vs efficiency.  I want to make effective decisions, impactful decisions, right decisions.  To do this, I need to spend more time stopping, thinking and bringing the full issue into focus.

So, let me stop and ask questions.  Let me do more research or observing or considering or consulting before moving forward.  Let me slow down the pace, when possible; to weigh effectiveness over efficiency in an impatient world.

Hopefully it turns out better than my photographs.  I’ll let you know.

 

Time Yet for A Hundred Indecisions

Posted: 6th December 2017 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
excerpt from The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, T.S. Eliot

 

One interesting thing about having a professional blog is that you (and anyone else who reads it) have a concrete artifact detailing when and how your thinking changed.  Like when you go back and read something you wrote and think “what was I thinking?”  However, I think I may take a page out of Eliot’s thinking and consider it just part of the decision/indecision process; subject to a hundred visions and revisions.

The example that prompting my thinking about this is my assertion about good learning is hard learning.  There is some truth to the fact that sometimes learning is difficult.  Sometimes it requires perseverance and problem solving.  Sometimes we need “grit” (in all my revisions, I’m still not a fan of this word), stick-to-it-iveness, or a firm determination to grin, bear it and just do it.

But, is that always true?

There are times when I have also asserted…in black and white within this blog perhaps…that learning is fun, inquiry natural, and life long learning an essential condition of humanity.

But can it be fun or natural or essential if it is always so hard?

But I tried to think about those examples of when I felt learning was difficult to see what I would revise.  What I came up with was a tapestry woven of shades of grey, and the black and white of my assertion gone entirely.

  • Learning is hard, sometimes.
  • Learning is easy and enjoyable, sometimes.
  • Learning is sometimes easy but the application of that learning into our practice is difficult.
  • Learning is sometimes difficult but, once mastered, easily applied.
  • Learning is enjoyable, and frustrating, and interesting, and tedious, and thought provoking, and mind numbing.
  • Learning is not the same for any two people, and no two learning experiences for any one person are the same.

Under my heavy blanket of shades of grey, I had another thought.

What if what’s really hard about a learning process isn’t the learning itself but our ability to reflect on it, refine it, and accept that it is a messy kind of wonderful?

And is it any wonder that all of us educators struggle to find the magic formula to teach our wide variety of students a wide range of learning items in a relatively short amount of time?

Take a breath.  There’s time yet for a hundred indecisions.  Keep learning.  Keep teaching.  Keep struggling.  Keep enjoying.  Keep wondering.

 

Birthday Cupcakes

Posted: 8th November 2017 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

Tonight I have been working on making cupcakes because I need them for breakfast tomorrow.  Yep, that’s right.  Breakfast.

Several years ago, it was the eve of one of my kids’ birthdays.  Figuring out our schedule was always tricky; two busy educator parents plus four active kids meant problem solving daily to figure out how to get everyone where they needed to go, plus fed, plus rested before the start of a new whirlwind of a day.  On that day, I hit a problem solving wall.  There was no way we would all be home after school the next day for a birthday dinner.  The only time we would all be home, and at least partially awake, was at 6:45.  In the morning.  For 15 minutes.

Now I know this admission will not make me mother of the year, but that’s my life.  However, I plugged ahead with making the cupcakes birthday kid asked for and ordered everyone to be in the kitchen at 6:45 a.m.  There was groaning and grumbling.  There may have even been eye rolling or foot stomping.  But, in the morning, in various states of dress and school-readiness, all six of us were in the kitchen.  We lit some candles, sang off key as only family members can do, and ate sugar-laden cupcakes before orange juice, toast or cereal.  For that few minutes, we enjoyed our sugar and company before running off in all different directions.

The next kid’s birthday approached and we asked what he/she wanted to do.  The answer?  Cupcakes for breakfast.

Since then, we have had cupcakes for breakfast whenever someone has been home for their birthday.  We’ve eaten them in a road side stop in West Virginia, at the cottage, and of course, around our kitchen island as we rush around getting ready for school.  For a few minutes, we cling to this simple tradition that grew out of necessity (or parental desperation) one day long ago.

As I made my cupcakes tonight, it reminded me of all of the traditions we have in school.  Each school and classroom has any number of events and procedures that become meaningful traditions in the eyes of the students, staff and families that participate.  From the outside, they may look silly or simple; the way a teacher greets her students at the door each morning with a catch phrase, the game the class always plays when they want to celebrate some success, the song the kindergarten class sings (adorably) every winter concert.

When we ask our kids “what did you do at school today?”, the simple pleasures of school aren’t likely to be talked about, or if they are, to be understood by those people outside of the experience.  Instead, our kids tell us about the extraordinary – good and bad, like the problems they had with a peer or the super awesome game they won in phys ed.  But, as someone who gets to observe, and when I’m lucky participate in, some quiet, mundane, amazing traditions in a school every day, I have to tell you that these are the moments that help build a school and class community.  These are the heartbeat of a school; the steady pump that pushes life through the system.  They are so critical and yet rarely noticed because they just quietly keep doing their job.

What makes the heartbeat of your school?  What are those understated but really important birthday cupcakes that define – and enrich – your experience?

Observations, Conversations and Products

Posted: 18th October 2017 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

If you have kids somewhere in the education system, how are they evaluated in their classes?

How were you evaluated when you were in school?

Here’s a regular conversation at my breakfast table:

One kid:  “Ugh.  I have a test today.”

Another kid:  “I have 2 tests today.”

And another kid:  “I’m supposed to have 3 tests but I’m hoping I’ll get to do one of them tomorrow.”

Tests have played a role in school evaluation for a very long time.  We’ve all been there.  But, I started to wonder, after one of these breakfast conversations, when was the last time I was evaluated using a test?

Well, there is the ever favourite annual WHMIS testing we are required to do but that doesn’t totally count because when you don’t get the right answer you are sent right back into the learning module to get the information.  Not exactly a test in the true sense of the word.

I honestly don’t think I’ve taken any formal test since I graduated from university.  But have I done lots of learning since then?  Oh yes.  Have I been evaluated?  Definitely.  Has my learning been negatively impacted by not having tests?  I don’t think so.

So how has my learning been measured since I left my school student days behind?

  • interviews and conversations
  • personal or collaborative reflection
  • journaling (and blogging!)
  • observation of my practice
  • by teaching others
  • projects I’ve completed or been involved in
  • demonstrating new skills/knowledge practically

In other words, through a variety of observations, conversations and products.  A wide range of choices that allowed me to show off my learning in meaningful ways.  And nary a multiple choice question in sight.

We want students to have choices to represent their learning.  We want students to demonstrate their learning in meaningful ways.  So, I guess I’m wondering:  are we doing our best by our students by relying heavily on tests to represent their learning?

Don’t get me wrong; there are times that a test may be the most appropriate tool.  But are there times that we use tests because they are easy (or easier)?  That might mean that they are easier to implement, easier to control the information the evaluator is seeking, easier to evaluate, easier to demonstrate to parents/students how the student is doing, or easier for students to prepare for.  And while one or more of these might be true some of the time, it is doubtful that it is true all of the time.  Plus, easier doesn’t necessarily mean better.

I love that Growing Success tells us that evaluation is based on the use of observations, conversations and products.  I wonder if we all, as educators, need to be reminded of this from time to time.  Perhaps the time we put into planning tests, preparing them, having students write them, and then marking them could be used differently.

For those who love to say that our job is to prepare students for the real world, maybe we need to consider how many tests we have written as an adult in the real world.

Tests have their place, but other sources of evaluation should also have a significant place in our schools.

If you are an educator, how would/have you expand(ed) your use of other products, conversations and observations?  How do we make these alternate sources of evaluation more mainstream and accepted?

 

Run For, and Learn From, Terry

Posted: 27th September 2017 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

I just wish people would realize that anything’s possible if you try; dreams are made possible if you try. It took cancer to realize that being self-centered is not the way to live. The answer is to try and help others.
Terry Fox

 

Every school has traditions and yearly events.  One of my favourites has always been the Terry Fox run, which our school is running tomorrow.  Can I be a little indulgent and tell you why I love it?

We all know that there is so much more than academics and curriculum to teach at school.  Learning how to be kind, to socialize, to earn trust, to gain responsibility, to take risks but be safe, to problem solve and to be creative are just a few.  To teach these lessons, great educators use a wide variety of resources, including other students, staff, volunteers and visitors, and the messages from role models from outside our school sphere.

Terry Fox is one of those role models who articulates so well what it means to dream big, to stretch yourself beyond comprehension, to try, and to succeed (even in failure).  There are so many messages here that resonate with our students whether they are 5 or 18 or beyond.

When I was a high school student, I was prodded into applying for the Terry Fox Humanitarian Award by a kindly guidance counsellor.  Beyond my wildest dreams, I was chosen as one of the national winners.  Crazy, right?  I already felt unworthy, and then I started going to the conferences for the award winners and members of Terry’s family.  As much as I valued the scholarship that paid for my degrees, I valued all I learned at those conferences even more.  To be surrounded by people who embodied endurance, care, challenge, kindness, community/global mindedness, and positivity was so humbling.  I have tried so hard to live up to the high standard that Terry Fox and all of those award winners exemplified.  If you’ve been in a school with me, I hope you’ll know that these are the traits I try – always – to model for students.  I don’t always succeed, but it is always my goal.

Tomorrow I am not in the school when the students will run for Terry Fox.  I’m so disappointed that I won’t be there – it is like missing Christmas morning – but I can’t wait to share with them in the morning message a little of what I have learned from a life lived with Terry Fox as a role model.

Academic learning is important, but life holds far more (and more complex) learning outside of curriculum.  I am thankful that I get to help educate students about these valuable lessons.

So, we’ll run for Terry, learn from Terry, and grow better human beings in our schools.  Thanks Terry.

Passion Projects – Aiming Our Marshmallows

Posted: 25th September 2017 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

 

I found this quote when I was surfing the net to find some “food for thought” to contribute to a professional learning day for my staff last week.  I like it – it’s a little quirky, not too serious, but also thought provoking.

But the quote kept nudging at me.  I am keen to support voice and choice in student learning, but that’s not what was getting to me.  If we are working to convince educators to support student voice and choice in their learning, shouldn’t we also support voice and choice in educator learning?

Now, that’s not to say that educational leaders don’t support educator voice and choice, but sometimes the structures of learning we are provided limit this.  For example, in my district we are engaging in four cycles of Continuous Learning and Improvement this year.  (This is, essentially, just a new acronym for the plan/act/assess/reflect cycle of various acronyms we have participated in for many years).  These cycles are fast paced in our already fast-paced school year.  As a result, it will be really difficult to focus on teacher professional learning in a meaningful way and the time will be spent on focusing on looking at student data, planning instruction, measuring progress and planning again.

Student learning cycles may be good for focusing on student learning, but does it always help educators:

  • reflect on their own learning?
  • feel their interests and passions in education are valued?
  • find their own voice?

I’m not so sure it always does these things.  Also, I worry that having only a few months for each cycle of learning will not give teachers enough time to find their niche in deep learning.  I don’t want to just throw marshmallows at my teachers’ heads and call it professional learning.

I strongly believe that the best teachers are those who are excited about learning, invigorated by their jobs and keen to create new experiences for their students.  And I also believe that the best way for them to be excited about student learning is to allow them to be excited about their own learning.

So, we’re going to try something new for our school.  In addition to participating in the CLI cycles to focus on student learning and improvement, we’re also going to engage in teacher professional learning that is a little different.  It has:

  • educator voice
  • educator choice
  • an open learning stance
  • opportunities to share and learn from one another
  • opportunities to learn ABOUT one another
  • time to mull
  • opportunities to learn how to connect to student learning and student needs
  • passion

We’re using the premise of passion projects that are so popular in our classrooms and bringing it to the staff room.  Why?  Well, one of my colleagues asked me to create an “elevator speech” to explain why passion projects for staff.  Here’s what I came up with:

To me, a teacher passion project is the opportunity for learners to invigorate their practice or experience by digging into learning that connects to their interests, questions and passions.  It allows for self-directed, self-paced learning, reflection, collaboration and sharing.  It’s benefits include further professional knowledge that will affect one’s own teaching and student learning, and an excitement for personal inquiry.

I don’t know yet how it is going to go.  Right now, the staff at my school have discussed and researched some passion possibilities, and have started to plan some of their learning and how it connects to what they want for their students.  As the year goes on, I hope to learn whether this is a good way to support educator and student learning.

So that’s how a quote about marshmallows led me to educator passion projects.  But now I’m curious.  How do other people ensure that educator learning is as valued and important as student learning in our schools?

 

Caretaker of the Dish with One Spoon Wampum Belt

Posted: 13th September 2017 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

Did you ever go to a meeting expecting the usual information sharing and end up smack dab in the middle of a ceremony?  It’s a little like heading to the hardware store to zip through your to-do list and ending up attending a wedding.  This happened to me today.  It was awesome.

At our system Administrator’s meeting, we were welcomed and educated by the board’s Indigenous Education team.  We were then each offered a Dish with One Spoon wampum belt to be used in our schools.  This wasn’t our typical “go get in line to take these new resources for your school” kind of giveaway but a ceremony; we had to thoughtfully and publicly acknowledge our willingness to accept the responsibility of using the wampum for school education and community building but also to accept it as a treaty of friendship.

If you aren’t familiar with wampum belts, and the Dish with One Spoon Wampum specifically, here’s a synopsis that our board team provided:

“The Dish With One Spoon Wampum Belt represents the treaty relationship between the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and Anishinaabe with respect to sharing the land and resources thereon.  Wampum guarantees a message or a promise.  The “Dish” or sometimes called the “Bowl” represents what is now known as southern Ontario.  We all eat out of the same Dish with only one spoon ensuring that our Dish is never empty.  This symbolizes our roles and responsibilities of sustaining the land and natural resources and treating each other and all living things with equity and respect.  By utilizing the spoon, as opposed to a knife or fork which could draw blood, we are consciously choosing to maintain peace between all people who come into agreement under this treaty.  Treaties mean nothing unless they are accompanied by wampum.  Belts were given and received as treaties as seals of friendship.”  (HWDSB’s Commitment to Indigenous Education document)

Tonight I’ve been reflecting about what this means to me.  First of all, I love the symbolism and messaging that is the background story of this wampum; it aligns so well with many of the other messages we share and teach at school.  However, I don’t currently feel that I have enough learning to be comfortable supporting the education of staff and students on the ideas, perspective, history and traditions of the Indigenous people and their experience.  But, I am willing (and eager) to learn.  While the wampum belt I received today is a symbol of the treaty and a tool to be used in education, I feel like it is also a concrete anchor – a catalyst – to the learning that needs to happen.  And learning IS uncomfortable at times.  I feel fortunate that we have such an accessible team of people that can help me and the staff and students to support this learning.  So, while we’ve been asked to find a champion at each school to lead the learning on this, I am selfishly going to take it on myself.  I don’t want to just say a land acknowledgement statement or display the wampum belt in the office.  I want to know how to learn from it, to minimize my ignorance and bias, and maximize the effect it can have on those around me.

It feels like I’m starting a “new” year with excitement about the unknown in front of me and where I can go and what I can learn.  What’s your new September learning excitement?

Be Careful, There’s a Baby in that Bathwater

Posted: 8th September 2017 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

My first car – in 1990 – was a 1978 Triumph TR 7 hardtop.  It was, perhaps, a little quirky for a brand new driver.  No power steering or power windows.  A cranky manual transmission that required me to engage the clutch (with my heel), the brake (with my toe) and the gas (with my other foot) every time I stopped so it wouldn’t stall.  An engine – in a tiny two seater car – that roared louder than the big diesel powered school buses of the 80’s.  But it was a great car.

Then I started attending university in one city and working in another and needed reliable transportation.  After that, a herd of kids followed, which meant more reliable…boring…predictable….transportation.  My name is Kristi and I am a minivan-driving soccer mom.

But, for the next couple of months I’ve got some “new” wheels due to a transportation crisis in my house during baseball coaching/school start up season.  I’ve borrowed my mom’s summer car so that we can all get where we need to go with the fewest headaches.  What am I driving?  Take a look:

My new ride is about as far away from my minivan as a vehicle can get.  It’s a little 1988 Mazda convertible.  Flip-up lights, obstinate manual transmission, am/fm radio with an actual dial to tune in the channels.

On my (loud) ride home in this baby, I was thinking about the proposed changes to the Ontario math curriculum that have been making news this week in education circles.  Old cars to math?  I know.  Stay with me.

I am the first in line to applaud the fact that the math curriculum is going to be updated.  It is outdated and, worse than that, really difficult to teachers to implement well.  Since the purpose of curriculae is to provide structure, direction, and consistency to instruction and learning, anything that can’t be implemented well will fail or at least falter.

Our new math curriculum needs some updates to improve the quality of math learning for our students.  I think most people who have experienced it would agree.  There are far too many specific expectations and massive overall expectations.  Big ideas are hidden.  Process expectations hold a minimal role.  Some concept learning trajectories are clumsy, disjointed or unreasonable.  There’s little scope for differentiation.

As I drove today, I realized that there were a lot of features from my modern-but-uncool minivan that I was going to miss in the next few months.  Good suspension.  Heated seats.  Rear window defroster.  Air bags.  But there are other features that I won’t miss – 12 cup holders, Sirius radio, automatic side doors, back up camera, automatic transmission.

I think the tricky part with a curriculum update is going to be picking the right modern updates that will meet the need without cluttering it up with new features just because they are shiny and new.  My list of must-haves and can-do-withouts might be different than yours.  You’d trade the heated seats for Sirius radio?  Me, not so much.

There are going to be some updates that we’ll probably all agree on, like cleaning up the expectations so they aren’t so overwhelming.  That might mean reducing the number of specific expectations, it could mean combining several specifics under meaningful big ideas and common conceptual learning, making the overall expectations more meaningful, or maybe it’s a little of all of this.

Some of the changes are going to be more controversial.  Do we need more of an emphasis on procedural/computational learning or less?  (I’ve heard both argued).  More real world math or is this just a shiny extra?  Have the process expectations been overlooked all this time because they are buried in the current curriculum or because they don’t have a place there?  What do you do with differentiation?  Spiralling? Cross-curricular links?

Those are just a few of the questions I can see being asked.  But there is one more question that I think we need to consider.

What good can come out of the current curriculum that we can carry forward into a new one?

I’ve spent enough time with the current curriculum to know that there was a lot of thought and research that went into making it.  And while it has it’s problems, there is certainly a depth a math expertise and knowledge in it that alludes most of us – me most certainly included.

Driving my minivan and driving this 1988 convertible are very different experiences.  Each has positives and negatives.  In an ideal world…or an ideal car…we wouldn’t be swayed by either nostalgia or novelty when creating the perfect driving experience.  I hope the team that will work on the new math curriculum will be similarly grounded.  Don’t throw out everything just because it is old, but don’t keep it just because we liked it at one time.  Don’t try to cram in every new buzz word/concept because it’s new, but don’t ignore the evidence that points to changes that will be good for students and educators.

If I ever have a mid-life crisis and go out and get myself a crisis car, it will have a cranky manual transmission, heated seats, air bags and an energy efficient engine that roars like a diesel powered school bus.  I want it all.  And I want it all in a math curriculum.

What do you want in a new math curriculum?