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Saturday, 13 February 2016

Hail to the IT Department

We recently started a Makerspace Club in our school. Last week, we had MinecraftEDU installed by our IT technician so that we could use it for our Makerspace. The kids were so excited. But yesterday, when the students went to use it, we noticed that someone had inadvertently deleted the pathway. These types of glitches can be so frustrating and they happen all of the time.

For reasons I often rail against, we don't have administrative rights over our school technology. In my more frustrated and impatient moments, I can rant against the imposed limitations of not having administrative rights over the technology we use and the dependency on a "middleman". However, in my more rational moments, I understand the logic behind the school board having some control over what goes onto our computers. 

So this morning, I emailed our IT technician to tell him about our issue with the MinecraftEDU pathway disappearing and the kids not being able to log onto it yesterday. He answered my email within ten minutes, ON A SATURDAY MORNING! That made me think about how much I truly depend on our IT department. I call or email one or more of them several times a week. They must get so tired of  all of the calls they get, but they are always so polite and accommodating. It must be difficult to have a job where most of the people contacting you are contacting you because they are frustrated. (Of course, we could have a whole other conversation about why they are frustrated, and what needs to be done proactively so that no longer happens... but that is a for longer conversation another time.)

Our IT department is full of unsung heroes. They are pretty much at our beck and call. And we don't ever really acknowledge all that they do for us. We have "Secretary Appreciation Day", "Educational Assistant Appreciation Day", and "Teacher Appreciation Day". I believe we need an "IT Department Appreciation Day". In fact, I don't even know what we are supposed to be calling them. They are usually referred to as the "IT Guy" or "IT Person". I think "IT Technician" is probably the more accurate term, but I am not even sure. 

I would like all of the IT support people from our board to know how truly grateful I am to each and every one of them for all of the help they have given me over the years, the patience they've shown, and the openness to supporting all of my requests (even the seemingly crazy ones!). Thank-you Wayne, Bill C., Melba, Ryan, Paulo, Bince, Roger, Saleem, Victor, Beverley, Joanne, Mike B., Brad, Jason, Mike A., Bill B., Dan, Jeff, Carl, Todd, Martin, Jordan, and Tim! (That isn't even the whole team, but I've never worked with the Secondary folk). I hope I didn't miss anyone because you are all rock stars in my book!

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Empowering Students to be Agents of Change - Battery Blitz

Yesterday, the Earth Rangers came to our school. It was an incredibly exciting presentation. It was also a call to action. Many of our students felt compelled to sign up with the Earth Rangers after seeing that presentation. The Earth Rangers are working hard to "Bring Back the Wild" and save our biodiversity.

The Earth Rangers  suggested that we can help our endangered species by protecting their habitats. They have a campaign on right now called the Battery Blitz Mission  to help dispose of batteries safely and keep them out of landfills.

Some of our Grade Six students were so empowered by this call to action, that they went home, created a flyer, and passed it out in their neighbourhood. They collected 159 batteries in less than 24hrs! Isn't it an amazing flyer?

We are learning to teach through inquiry in our school. But I think teaching through inquiry is just one thread in a much larger tapestry. I wish we were learning how to empower our students to have agency! Inquiry is one way to put our students in the driver's seat of their own learning. But it is not the only way. Some people feel the goal of teaching through inquiry is to keep students engaged in their learning. I don't think so, I think the goal of inquiry is to empower our students to recognize that they have power, or agency, that what they do and think matters, and that they can make a difference.

Students need to believe that when they don't understand something, or when they are stuck on a problem, there is something they can do about it. They are not helpless. They have the power to change their misunderstanding into understanding. They can get help or they can help themselves. There is always something they can do. We need to teach them that. We need to teach them how to be learners.

Once they recognize that they are in charge of their own learning, they become empowered to be agents of change in the world in which we live.

The Grade Six teacher was so excited when her students showed her their flyer. These students took what they have learned in school and applied it for a real purpose to solve an authentic problem in our world. And they did it on their own, not because someone told them they had to. They were autonomous, they had purpose, and they believed they could master the task. As Daniel Pink says, that is all they needed to feel the drive to get things done!

Inquiry is a powerful way to engage our students, but connecting an inquiry to a real-world problem that they can help solve empowers our students and provides purpose for the learning we ask them to do.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

The Making of a MakerSpace

I want to create a MakerSpace in our school. A space where students can come to create, innovate, and explore. A space and place where they can make discoveries and solve problems. This space can also be a place where they are in charge, where they learn to collaborate, and truly work together to get the job done.

I want to do this for the students in my school. But I also want to do this for me. I NEED to create, to innovate, and to solve authentic problems. Creating this space will be a project that will serve my needs too. 

Students feel the same way that I do. There is undeniable pleasure and motivation in being a part of something that solves a problem, meets a need and makes the world a little bit better for someone else. 

Frederick Buechner said, "Vocation is where our greatest passion meets the world's greatest need". 

Daniel Pink says that for people to be motivated, they need to have autonomy, mastery and purpose. I am hoping to create a MakerSpace where students can create and innovate autonomously with tools they can be successful with. The trick will be to ensure that their creations and inventions serve a purpose. 

There have been many things I've been considering prior to embarking on this project:

1. Where will I find a space for it in the school? I've decided on the computer lab, which we call the "Lighthouse" (seems appropriate for an idea warehouse doesn't it?) Our Lighthouse is large, with tables in the centre of the room and computers around the periphery. We have storage cupboards in there as well. The walls are still bare - lots of potential for those walls!

2. Who will be using it and when? I've decided to start small. I am going to call it a "MakerSpace Club" and have it opened several days during the week during the lunch hour. That way, I won't be disrupting class use of the computer lab during the day. Ideally, I would love to see this evolve into a space where teachers feel the need to take their students to during the day to work on some problem-based learning and inquiry. 

3. Who will supervise students in the MakerSpace? Since it will be running during the lunch hour, I will need adults to supervise. Luckily, I am in a school where teachers are constantly giving up their lunch time in the service of our students and I've already got two volunteers!

4. What resources will I need and where will I get them? This is a bit trickier. As with all publicly funded schools, money is tight. I am starting with my own resources, Legos and K'Nex for building that my own children have outgrown, along with odds and sods of craft materials I've collected over the years. Being in the computer lab gives us the additional option of using the computers, so I've looked into getting a school account with MinecraftEDU so that students can also be creating in the virtual world as well. I'm planning on putting out a call to our parent community in the search for cardboard as well. The question is, should we also look for used electronics to start taking apart and building with as well, not to mention wood working materials? I don't know a lot about that sort of stuff, so am feeling a bit out of my comfort zone. 

One of the teachers asked if I was going to come into the school on the weekend to get it all organized, and that was my original thought. But I reconsidered this. If this is to be a space where students can work and explore autonomously, then shouldn't they be involved in the creation of the space? So tomorrow, we will begin together to create our very first MakerSpace. 

If you are interested in learning more about MakerSpace check out these links. 

Wednesday, 6 January 2016


Last year my #OneWord2015 was AGENCY. I'm still enamored with the word because I believe wholeheartedly the real "transformation" that needs to take place in education is the empowerment of our students to be agents of their own learning.

So I was really stumped. How could I pick a new #OneWord2016 when I'm still working through last year's word? (I think that word alone will continue to evolve for me - and for education - over the next decade!) I continued to ponder the word AGENCY and all that it has come to mean to me this past year.

In the hopes of getting inspired, I read other people's posts, including The BloggessMark's MusingsMiss Kit Kat, Learning About Learning, and Living Avivaloca. I felt very inspired by each of those blogs, and they really moved me to think. I especially loved that Aviva chose "hearing" because unless we make the effort, we often don't hear what others are telling us. Without careful listening, we stand to miss so much!

Then I read David Fife's Perspectives and I was actually quite envious. His word is "mindfulness". I wished I had picked "mindfulness"! "Mindfulness" is strongly connected to "metacognition" for me, but it is far more beautiful.

I sat and pondered these posts thinking how each impacted me differently, how my thinking was extended and strengthened with each new post.

In his post David wrote that there are 3 simple steps to find your "One Word - Prepare Your Heart, Discover Your Word, Live Your Word."

So as I sat and pondered, and as I attempted to prepare my heart, I realized that my word had been with me all along. My #OneWord2016 is PONDER.

This year, as I learn to be a Vice Principal in a new school community, I want to be sure to think things through carefully before arriving at any conclusions; I want to contemplate all possibilities before making any decisions. I want to think deeply. I want to attentively listen to what others are saying and mindfully reflect on what I don't hear. This year I want to PONDER

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Learning to be a Leader

I am learning to be an administrator. It is a humbling journey. The first thing I learned was how much I don't know and how much I still need to learn.

Back in August, our school board held a lovely retreat day for all of the administrators. Our guest speaker was Fr. Raymond Carey. His talk was inspirational, but one thing he said was that the analogy of a school community being a "family" was inappropriate. I disagreed with him at the time, and four months into the job, I disagree even more strongly.

It is not that I feel like a parental figure toward the staff, I don't. It is that I feel responsible for their well-being. It is that I've come to realize that "relationship building" is more than getting to know one another, it is about caring for one another; caring how other people are feeling, how they are coping, and actually taking care of them when they need a little extra support, even it is just doing a duty, or finishing off some photocopying for them because they are in a hurry. The staff at my school have taught me that as they have cared for and supported me in this new role.

I've learned that to be a VP means being able to fill in for anyone when needed. I've swept and washed floors, I've provided First Aid, I've done duties for CUPE members who can't do their usual duties because of job action issues. I've counted and deposited money, I've answered phones, wiped noses, sang songs, made bus tags - no job is too big or too small. But many of these jobs are new jobs to me and have required new learning on my part.

It often feels as though the bulk of my day is spent dealing with discipline issues, health concerns and busing. I was warned that this would be the case, I knew very well that these were a major part of the VP role, but somehow I really didn't understand the urgency of each of these or how utterly time consuming they would be. There are fire safety plans, concussion protocols, anaphylaxis and asthma protocols that all need to be created, shared and followed. It really has not left much time for focusing on what I am passionate about - learning and teaching.

I try to squeeze in those precious conversations about learning and teaching, maybe even just a well-timed question here or there, but it is truly a challenge to find those opportunities during the action-packed day.

Having a break has provided me with some valuable time for self-reflection; it seems that somehow the words "Leader" and "Administrator" have become uncoupled in my psyche and my days have been spent in learning how to be an "Administrator" - one who manages or operates an organization. Tomorrow I want to begin learning how to be a leader. As I head back to work, it will be with a renewed focus on learning and teaching. I plan to step it up and become a co-learner with the educators in my building, so that we can begin breaking down classroom walls, deepen student thinking and encourage students to own the learning.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

It Should NEVER Be About Whether It Is Right Or Wrong!

Just have to weigh in on this one. It has gone completely viral, and everyone is talking about it. How awesome is that? All of social media is united in discussing the commutative property of multiplication!

Why 5 x 3 = 5 + 5 + 5 Was Marked Wrong

I think this whole debate underlines our assessment issues in Math today. Educators should not be marking questions like this as "right" or "wrong".  The point of math questions should not be about discovering who is right and who is wrong, but about uncovering student thinking. That is why it is far better to provide feedback rather than a "mark" on a question like this. Better still, use it to promote a class discussion. It isn't social media that should be discussing this math question, but the very class that was asked it.

We don't know what the student was thinking here. For question 2 the child drew an array, we don't know how the child was visually looking at that array without having a conversation with him or her about it.

Let's stop telling children they are right or wrong and start asking them to tell us about their solutions! They might surprise us all!

Who Is In Your Class? New Role - New Learning

I have a new role this year. I am a Vice Principal in a K-8 Elementary school. Some might see this as a "logical next step" or the "natural progression" of a career in Education. But in all honestly, Administration was NEVER on my radar. Those who know me know that I am passionate about children and I am passionate about learning. I have never been interested in management and I have always thought of administrators as managers.

Working in Curriculum, however, I had opportunities to go into many different schools, and it became quickly apparent that the schools that had a culture of learning, the schools that moved, were the schools where the administrators saw themselves as "Instructional Leaders". These administrators knew how to empower their staff and students to make learning happen.

How did they do it? Could I do it?

I strongly believe that the way we "do school" needs to change. I've been trying to find the best place I can be to support that change on a larger scale, because a great classroom here and there is not enough. Every child should have the opportunity to learn, to be motivated and interested, to be curious and to feel successful.

I had the pleasure of seeing Steven Katz speak last fall. He gave me lots to think about. According to Katz, the connection between changes in teacher thinking and practice and student achievement is very strong. But the connection between professional learning and changes in teacher thinking and practice is much more fuzzy.

What does this mean to me?

- Sending a teacher to a professional development in-service does not ensure changes in thinking or practice.
- Change in teacher practice is not enough - compliance does not beget improvement in student achievement. There needs to be a change in teacher thinking for the change in practice to actually have a positive impact.

So basically, whoever is doing the thinking is doing the learning. If the "System" is telling teachers what to do and how to do it, teachers aren't doing the thinking, the System is, so teachers are not learning. They may be compliant, and so it might look like their practice has changed, but unless they believe in that practice, it will not be enacted with a fidelity that leads to improvement for students. Nor will the change be sustainable.

What we need to do is provide the time, space, resources, and permission for teachers to do the heavy thinking. And we need to join them in it. Administrators need to learn with their teachers.

So, this year, my learning is all about how to do this best. Steven Katz asked us "Who is in your class?" And suddenly I realized I could be an administrator. It is not about being a manager (although those pieces need to happen as well... perhaps more on that in the next post). It is about building relationships and empowering people. It is about creating a culture of learning where it is safe to take risks and where we believe in one another's ability to do what is right and necessary.

If I believe that students should own their own learning, then I must also believe that teachers must own theirs. Steven Katz said that to be a good administrator is to "influence people to change". I think it is even more than that. To be a good administrator is to inspire and empower people to grow and to create the conditions necessary for that growth to happen.

That is what I am hoping to learn over the next few years. How do I create the conditions necessary for learning and growth? I'm blessed to be with a principal who has created a culture of learning in her school. I plan to pick her brain, question her every move, and take some risks of my own.

I will let you know how it goes.