The Blog Post That Wouldn’t Let Me Sleep

Posted: 23rd September 2016 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

It’s late.  My house is quiet.  Even the teenagers are asleep. But I’m not.  My mind is spinning too much to let me rest.

I could use the rest.  It has been a busy month/week/day.  But tomorrow (I guess it is actually today now) is a big day.  It is our first Professional Learning Day of the school year.

I love PA days.  I’m enough of a teacher-geek that, while there are lots of interesting things to do as a principal, getting to spend some time teaching and learning with staff is a highlight of the job.

This PA day, however, has me thinking a little too much.  I’m not sure why.  That’s why my head is spinning.

The topic isn’t that strange.  It is a variation on a PD session that I have participated in many, many times.  We’re looking at system goals, deconstructing student learning, analyzing evidence and setting school goals.  It’s a pretty typical beginning-of-the-year session.

But for some reason, the session tomorrow (um, today) has me thinking about Friday night movies.  You know those Friday nights when you want to celebrate the fact you made it through another long week but you are so exhausted that all you can manage is to curl up on your couch and find an entertaining movie to enjoy?  I was thinking that those movies tend to fall into two categories.  You’ve got your quirky or surprising or shocking flicks that blow your mind because they are full of surprises and shift your understanding of film entirely.  Can you think of what some of those have been for you?  You probably can, because when you experience a mind shifting kind of movie it becomes unforgettable.  But then there is the other type of movie.  That’s the old familiar:  you choose it because it is a comfortable genre, with a predictable (but enjoyable) story line and maybe even featuring some well known actors that have often been with you in your living room on Friday movie nights.  How often do we turn to these kind of comfortable type of movies?  For me, it’s pretty often.

So what do Friday night movies have to do with PD?  I’m glad you asked.

The session we’re working through tomorrow (right. Today), has the makings of an old familiar movie.  We know what the story line will be as we follow through on our predictable steps of reflection, deconstruction, analysis, construction and plan for future analysis.  We’ll fondly recall the actors to get us through the movie; those strategies we’ll plan to use (the need for ongoing feedback and assessment, small group and differentiated instruction, meaningful tasks, learning revolving around critical skills).  We even have a familiar setting in the system goals we’re aiming for:  getting kids to read, write, engage in mathematical thinking and do so with enhanced personal and social well being.

But.  The teacher-geek in me knows that all of that can lay the groundwork for a pretty mind-blowing second act.  If we do our job right tomorrow and develop a common understanding of our goals, their purpose and the means to help us reach them, we’re setting ourselves up for some exciting times.  Because that’s when it happens, right?  When innovation or creativity or some mind shifting unforgettable-ness (I’m making up words now.  It’s that late) can occur because we have all focused in on what needs to be done and why we have to do it.

Educators are all about routine and structure and familiarity except when they’re not.  And when they’re not, they are all about finding new ways to get our students to learn even better than they have before.  That is, essentially, our two movie mash-up; the best of both Friday night movie night worlds.

I don’t know if any of this makes sense to you.  I’m not even sure if any of this will make sense to me once I’ve had a chance to rest and reflect.  But for those who find themselves engaging in a familiar pattern of professional learning tomorrow (I know.  I know.  Today) or in the next little while, I wonder how you will approach it.  Will you roll your eyes and say “here we go again”?  Will you settle back to just comfortably absorb an old familiar story?  Or will you find your popcorn and get lost in it all from the opening credits knowing that you might just experience something unforgettable if you keep with it?

Always a Student

Posted: 13th September 2016 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

About a year ago, I started an adventurous (for me) project.  I love writing and have been able to write professionally in a variety of text forms over the last twenty years.  One text form that I most appreciate as a reader is the fictional novel.  So, I had some ideas about what I wanted to write and went for it; I started writing a novel of my very own.  Three months and 100 000 words later, I thought I was close to being done.  Life got busy and I had to take a break from writing for several months, but this summer I tried to get back to it.

And hit a brick wall.  Hard.

After almost four decades of considering myself a capable writer, I discovered something completely unexpected.

Editing (and I mean editing, not just proofreading), is really hard and I’m not good at it.  Also, I hate doing it, which is probably closely related to the fact that it is hard and I’m not good at it.  Half the time I don’t know if I’m making progress or a mess.  The undo button is my best friend.

As a result, I found a lot of other projects to occupy my time.  Despite the fact that the previous summer I had found time to plan, research and then write 100 000 words of text, this summer even washing my windows pushed higher up the to-do list than editing did.  After years of advocating and programming for, and even teaching courses on, reluctant writers I became one.

While not great news for my foray into novel writing, it has given me some new perspective on our students and writing and learning.  Here’s what I have learned:

  1. It’s Complicated.  Teaching the writing process (brainstorming, drafting, editing, proofreading, publishing) is important.  While we don’t expect our students to take each step of the process with every writing piece, we do have to make sure they get comfortable with all of these complicated processes throughout their educational years and in a variety of text forms.  Some students (or, ahem, adults) will avoid certain steps; spending excessive amounts of time on other steps or breezing through a step with a minimum of effort and effectiveness.  We need to equip our students with strategies to support all of the steps.
  2. We Need to Know Before We Teach.  Teachers need to experience the writing process in a variety of ways to provide students with the strategies they will need.  I admit that I have taught writing for many years…and then I taught teachers how to teach writing…and I STILL am struggling with one critical step as a writer myself.  How well did I provide my students with the skills they needed?  Images of teenagers – my former primary students –  now unable to edit haunt me.  (That may be a little melodramatic).
  3. Work Avoidance.  When I was avoiding editing, I did things like washing my windows.  Students tend not to be that productive in their work avoidance techniques, instead turning to things like disrupting others, acting out or shutting down.  We know that when some of those behaviours hit in our classrooms one reason we can suspect is work avoidance.  Figuring out how to end their frustration with a task and help them get back on their way can cut down on the disruptive behaviour.  Dr. Ross Green tells us that “children do well if they can”.  We need to work to help them get to a place where they can do well.
  4. We need the check ins and instruction.  Every tv show I’ve ever seen featuring a classroom scene shows one of two things:  a teacher lecturing or students working independently.  Since we aren’t into making “made for tv” classrooms, our learning spaces should feature a much higher proportion of small group guided instruction, small group and individual conferencing, student self reflection, and workable teacher feedback.  These teaching strategies are so much more effective then lecturing or assigning.  This summer, I think if I had been able to show some of my work with an experienced novel editor and talk through what I needed to do, set myself some goals, and learn some new strategies to get me over my road block, I would be a lot further ahead.  Sure, my windows would be dirtier, but maybe I would now have a finished writing piece.

I haven’t given up on my writing.  When I do finally get to the end of this process, I’m sure it will help me be a better educator.  In the meantime, I’ll use what I have learned so far to support our students when they do struggle.  Gaining this new perspective helps me see the struggles in a new light.  I’ve heard that some of the best teachers were struggling students and I’m beginning to see why that could be.

As my teenagers are fond of saying, “the struggle is real”.  It’s also not fun, but maybe some good can come from it.  In the meantime, I am in the window cleaning business until I can find a new angle to approach my editing.

Stay tuned.  I’ll let you know when I make a breakthrough.

 

 

 

The Old Weathered Desk

Posted: 1st September 2016 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

office desk

 

This is a student desk that sits in a corner of my new work space.  It is weathered and worn, with initials carved into the wood.  Yes, wood.  This desk is so old it is made of heavy, real wood and features an inkwell hole in its top.

I love this desk already.

I love that there is room for me to share my office with students.  I hope that students will come down to visit me and do some school tasks in this alternate work space.  I hope that when they come, they will see it as just that:  an alternative, not a punishment.

I love that this old desk has history.  Those initials and dings all speak to many years of students who have sat at that desk learning, dreaming, and growing.

Now the desk sits waiting for a new year (educators, students and parents all know that this is the real new year).  Old desk, new year.  There’s something about that contrast that just represents education so well, I think.  Isn’t that what we do?  We take the old, traditional and steady and blend it with the new, innovative and original.

I don’t know what is in store for that desk this year.  But I’m pretty sure it is going to be great.

Happy new year, learners.

 

Post Script:

Just in case you were worried that this was in any way me professing the need for desks for learning, it isn’t about that.  Desks are one structure we can use to help us facilitate learning but not the only one.  Case in point, right beside the old weathered desk is another piece of furniture I’ve brought in for students.  Take a look.

office desk

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?