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?

 

Play is the Thing

Posted: 15th August 2017 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

This morning, a twitter conversation between Andrew Campbell (@acampbell99) and Matthew Oldridge (@MatthewOldridge) caught my eye:

I respect and appreciate the work of both of these gentleman and I wondered:

Andrew responded with his thoughts:

I wonder still, though, is that true?  Is the playfulness of an action in inverse correlation to the challenge it possesses?

As it happens, I’ve done a lot of playing this summer.  Some of it was not at all challenging:  paddling at the cottage or inventing new cookie flavour combos were fun things to do, but weren’t overly taxing cognitively, physically or otherwise.

I also engaged in some forms of play that were challenging.  I decided (a while ago, I’m slow at play apparently) to write a novel, just for fun.  Purely recreationally – while I hope one day to get it published, when I set out to do it, I did it just to see if I could.  I like writing; it is fun for me.  For me, writing a novel was totally play.  It was also one of the most challenging things I have ever taken on.  That didn’t make it less fun, but possibly more.  It was a mountain that I challenged myself to climb and I wasn’t giving up until I was at the top.  I’m not sure if I would have had as much fun if it wasn’t quite so challenging.

I’ve also watched others play this summer.  One of those I’ve watched pretty closely is my 11 year old daughter.  She is a perpetual motion machine; the kid never stops moving.  During the school year, she trains 4 days a week as a circus performer and plays on every possible team and sport at school as many days of the week as she can.  This summer, due to scheduling glitches, she only trained two days a week and didn’t play any sports competitively.  For the first time in a long time, she had ample time to play.

I wasn’t surprised that many of her play choices were physical ones.  What I was surprised by was how much she challenged herself in her play.  She used a wide variety of equipment (climbing ropes, trampoline, balance beam, trapeze, aerial hammock, balancing canes) in our house and taught herself a ton of skills that exceed those she does in her required training, both in complexity and strength needed.  For her, playing meant doing stuff that was hard; over and over again, for fun.  This was pure recreation – no coaches or audiences were watching – and the challenge was the carrot to make her play worthwhile for herself.

I can’t help but make connections to the experiences of play I see at school.  There are times that it isn’t challenging at all.  At times, students want to engage in play that is repetitive or mindless or easy for them.  But, I would argue that more often than not, play IS about the challenge.  Whether it is a challenge to see how well they can do at something they couldn’t do before, how well they can do against another person, how to explore new or novel ideas or situations and align them with their schema, the commonality is that it is a challenge.  Further, the challenge is part of the intrinsic motivation – it is what makes the play fun, or recreational, and therefore makes it actually play.

Maybe my definition of play is different than the one Andrew provided, and if that’s the case, we may end arguing on the same side.  But the original quote from Matthew was about using play in mathematics.  Using play – making math fun – is good for mathematics and for the students who need to learn it.  Making the play in math challenging is also a good thing because it provides some of that motivation students need to continue pursuing it.  And, I would say that I have seen really good math teachers who seamlessly combine the two – challenge and play – to the benefit of their students. Math may be the mountain many of our students need to climb and if making it playful and challenging is what helps them get to the top (and want to get there), that sounds like a worthwhile endeavour, doesn’t it?

Back in the Saddle Again

Posted: 9th August 2017 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

So, this is weird…us meeting here like this.  You see, I haven’t been here in a really long time.  I used to drop by frequently; committing my thoughts to paper, engaging in some on-line discussion about school, education, professional learning and whatever else I needed to write to help me organize my thoughts.

Just to add to the weirdness, I may as well just come right out and say it, me coming here is mostly about me.  I mean, I’m happy to chat if you want to engage, but I come here to put my jumble of thoughts into some kind of coherent order.  My box of drafts that have never been published are proof of how often I need to get organized (and how often I fail).  Actually, as I look back at my published posts, there are a whole lot of times where I pressed publish and still failed.  Sorry about that.

What am I doing here after so long, you ask?  Yeah, it feels strange to be here again, but I think I need to be here.  Like I said, I come mostly for selfish reasons (no offense, right?) but in the last year I had to prioritize some selfish indulgences and this one didn’t make the cut.  We’re all busy; I’m sure you understand that kind of decision making about commitments.

I really missed being here, though.  And even worse, I discovered something a little disheartening.  You know how sometimes you make a decision you think is for your own good and it actually works out that there was no good to be had?  Yeah, that.

Lifelong learning is a very important priority for me.  Professional learning is something I try to maintain regularly for the betterment of the staff, students, colleagues and community I work with.  And while I appreciate the learning opportunities I get through my job (principal learning teams, conferences, professional reading), I know that what cements new learning for me to a point that I can apply it (and really, isn’t that the goal of learning?) I need to process it and connect it.  For me, that means writing it down.  This blog forces me not just to write it down but (and this is a big one, if you read some of my posts stuck in draft) make it coherent to others.  Communicating my thinking happens here, not in a conference or a learning team.

If I’m not blogging, then it is more difficult to organize my thoughts.  If I’m not blogging, then I’m not going to do as well at communicating my ideas.  Which means I’m not as effective at being an educator or leader as I could be.  And that has led me to think it is time to shuffle up those priorities again.

Nice to see you again.  I hope to see you again soon.

#OneWord 2017 – Relate

Posted: 9th January 2017 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

Last year, I participated in the One Word goal setting for 2016 and chose to focus on the word Stretch.  I was at a place professionally where I was itching to make some changes and try out some things outside my comfort zone.  As I reflect on how I did on the year, I would have to give myself mixed reviews.  I stretched, and it was uncomfortable, and at times I stretched too far, too fast (patience would probably be another good word for me sometime…I can always use more patience).  But I also learned a lot about myself and what I could accomplish.  “Stretch” was difficult, but overall, I’m glad I did it.

This year, I wanted to go in another direction.  We talk a lot in education about the importance of building relationships with the people around us:  students, staff, parents, community, colleagues.  Building and cultivating relationships with individuals is a really big part of my job, and, if you are in education, probably your job as well.  And I will keep chugging along with relationship building in all of the ways that I know:  talking with people, getting to know them, collaborating with them, baking cookies, serving humbly, problem solving, relieving stress, providing direction/hope/a laugh/a hug/structure/support.  Check, check, check.

Somewhere in the midst of my stretching, I came to a new realization.  Building relationships is important, but it can become somewhat lockstep and one dimensional if we don’t also find a way to actually relate.

Huh?

In the educational world, I’ve kind of looked at building relationships as a recipe that we are always adjusting a little and baking, over and over again.  Add a new pinch of this or half a cup of that, stir it up, serve and repeat.  Time consuming work, but satisfyingly tasty when you put in the effort (most of the time).  But it is a recipe in the sense that it is largely at the mercy of the baker – a one dimensional creation.  One that can be reciprocated, of course, but largely something that we set out to do to someone.  The problem with this is that a one dimensional relationship can be ok but it is just…nice.

I want to figure out how to really relate to people that I am trying to build relationships with in my professional world.  How do I get to know the real them?  How do I actually help that real them?  How do I show them the real me?  How do I understand what the real barriers are in what we are trying to create?  How do I honestly and totally look at where they are actually coming from and understand why they (and I) do the things we do?

So, I’m going to try to figure it out.  I want to get beyond the building relationships checklist and do better at learning how to relate to the people I’ve been aiming my checklist at.

Relate.

What’s your goal this year?

 

Would You Wear the Santa Pants?

Posted: 23rd December 2016 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

I wrote this post last night as I was mulling over this dilemma but didn’t come to a decision until this morning, so couldn’t include the conclusion until now.  Welcome to my overthinking world!

 

For the last several years, I’ve been in and around schools in December.  It is a fun and busy time of year in a school:  the first snowfall, concerts, family events.  It has a little bit of everything and lots of celebrating.  But this is the first year in a school that I’ve heard so much more about Christmas than I have about any other winter event or holiday.

It’s my first year in this school.  I know that every school community has a culture and vibe of it’s own.  I know that this school is situated in a community that looks and feels different than many of the other schools I’ve been in.  But I have still been overwhelmed by how much Christmas talk there has been.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Our teachers and students talk, sing, and learn about a wide variety of cultural traditions and celebrations.  We have some students who do not celebrate Christmas and others who celebrate a mix of other cultural or religious celebrations in addition to some Christmas ones.  But when I talk with students, I’m hearing a whole lot more about Christmas than I have in any other year.

So, this brings me to my wardrobe dilemma.  I celebrate Christmas; that is certainly part of my own personal traditions.  We are having a last-day-before-the-break assembly tomorrow, and many people will be dressed in festive wear.

Do I break out the Christmas pants?

On the one hand, I want to be a real person to the students I work with.  I celebrate Christmas and I am proud to do so and share my experiences with the students.  On the other hand, I want to respect the students in the school who do not celebrate Christmas and may get swept up in a wave of CHRISTMAS because the voice of the majority drowns out the smaller, but still oh-so-important voices of the minority.  In the past, I have downplayed it all and kept as holiday-neutral as I could; to be respectful towards all of my students.  But I wondered, is this the year that I celebrate along with the crowd?

What to do.  Wear the Santa pants or stick with my regular (boring) principal garb?

Here is the addendum I have added this morning.

Wardrobe decisions shouldn’t keep one up at night.  This one did.  I feel a little silly about that but I think it is actually a bigger issue.  How do I show respect and care towards all my students equitably while still honouring the connections I have with them and helping them to see me as a real person and not just a cardboard cut out in an office?

I don’t know if it was the right decision or not, but I decided today to wear the Santa pants.  It is a part of me.  And while I might reply “Merry Christmas” to those students who say it first to me, I will try to learn how to respectfully and appropriately celebrate with my students who have different meaningful celebrations in their lives.

In the meantime, me and my Santa pants will enjoy this last day of school before the winter break.  Merry Christmas.  Happy Hanukkah. Happy Winter Solstice.    Did I make the right choice?  Was I inconsiderate?  What do you think?

 

Amaryllis Thoughts

Posted: 27th November 2016 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

amaryllis

When I was a primary teacher, I think I grew an amaryllis flower in my class every December (except for that one year I was in the classroom with no windows, but that’s another story).  Since we travel most Christmases now and I don’t have my own little group of students to grow for, I haven’t done this in a while.  This year, I decided to grow one again at home to add some festive cheer to our stay-at-home Christmas.

The amaryllis box says it needs four to six weeks to grow.  About ten days ago, my youngest daughter and I got it started.  We talked about how tall it would get and how quickly it would grow.  And then we waited.

And waited.

Still waiting.

The photo above is our mighty amaryllis ten days after planting and I’m beginning to have my doubts that it is going to reach maturity in four more weeks.  We’re getting a little impatient.

In other news, this weekend I have been working on planning out a math-focused Professional Development Day for the educators I work with.  During the initial planning, I was working with my colleagues Lisa Neale and Mark Verbeek to plan out what learning opportunities we could provide.  When we hit a bit of a roadblock in the planning, my wise friend Lisa reminded me that we sometimes need to slow down to make progress.

My PD thoughts turned to my amaryllis.  While I was focused on watching the stem (not) grow to great heights, I completely forgot about what might be going on under the soil.  Maybe my amaryllis has spent it’s energy these last ten days spreading roots so that when the stem does start to grow tall, the bulb will be strong enough to support the height.  You need strong roots before you make great surges in growth.

So now I’m rethinking my plans for the PD Day this week.  I want all of the educators I work with to soar to new heights in their practice.  But maybe I need to make sure that I’ve given them the time to grow strong roots first.

 

 

 

Learning to Fail

Posted: 12th October 2016 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

This year I started at a new school that has an active and interested parent community who wants to know more about what is happening in their children’s classes.  To help this, I started a blog on our school website.  I’m hoping to use this forum as a means to start different conversations with the community.  What follows is a post that came out of some of the work of our recent PD day.  We’re trying eliminate the “f word” mentality to failure.  What do you think?

I don’t know if there is anything more difficult for parents to do than to watch their child fail at something.  Whether it is a sport, an academic task, a developmental milestone, or a social situation that just goes frustratingly wrong for your child, failure of any kind is painful to watch.  Do you give them a nudge and help them succeed?  Or should you set them up for success by altering the task to make it manageable or to eliminate the possibility of failure?  Or do you bite your tongue, sit on your hands and watch them fail, with their tears/disappointment/anger/frustration weighing heavily on you?

On our recent Professional Activity Day, the staff at our school spent some time discussing failure.  Here are a few of the thoughts we discussed.

Some amount of failure is not only inevitable, but important to a child’s growth and learning.  It’s true – as painful as it may be to watch a student fail, we know that some of our best learning comes out of experiencing failure.  You fail, learn from your mistakes, reflect on what you could do differently, develop motivation to try again, and then try again.  Hard won success out of failure can often equal really good learning.

Failure is an indication that learning is difficult.  We want the learning our students do to be challenging.  If learning comes too easily, it means we aren’t ensuring that those students are learning to their full potential.  But hard learning means that there will be failure along the way.  Which would you prefer?  Hard-earned deep learning or easily achieved more superficial learning?  The truth is, we need a balance of both, but we can’t avoid that difficult learning.

Perseverance can be tied to a student’s willingness to try (and fail).  In the education world, there has been lots of talk in recent years about developing perseverance or “grit” in students as a key indicator of rich learning.  When you look at many of the key skills we are measuring in student achievement (problem solving in mathematics, inquiry skills in language and social studies, for example), a student’s ability to persevere through difficult learning is vital.  Ironically, this mindset of perseverance that is essential to student success in difficult learning, is inhibited by a student’s worry about failing.  Too often we see students unwilling to even attempt a task because they are afraid to fail.  We have a difficult job to convince students to put that fear behind them and give it a try…so that they can be more successful.

So what are we doing about it?

We’re talking about failure.  Whether it is on morning announcements or in class meetings, staff are committed to making failure a topic of discussion.  If we take away the taboo of the topic, we hope students will be more willing to see it as a necessary part of life and learning.

We’re modelling failure.  We know that school staff are learning role models for our students.  So, we are “thinking aloud” our own failures and showing students how we own them and then modelling the process we take to move past them.  I even wrote about it in my professional blog to share my own learning from failure.  You can see that here, if you are interested.  https://kkeerybishop.commons.hwdsb.on.ca/2016/07/11/fail/

We’re providing opportunities for “hard” learning.  We know that we need to offer students tough problems and deep learning that will stretch them.  We know that it may mean that we have to bite our tongues when students start working on a math problem and go awry.  Sometimes we don’t “save” them right away, but let them work through the problem, misconceptions and all, to let them come to the realization on their own that they are wrong.  And then we let them figure out where they are going next.  Many of our lessons involve conversations about those misconceptions and what led to them because this is a rich source of learning for students.  Hard learning, but rich.

Please don’t misunderstand.  We are not trying to set our students up to fail.  We want them to succeed at learning widely and deeply.  The truth is, though, that to do that we will have to help them experience failure along the way.  Just like every parent who watched their children learn to walk had to also watch them fall at times, we know that we’ll have to weather some difficult experiences of failure with our students in order to help them find success.

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.