CILO – Creating Innovative Learning Opportunities – Nov 28, 2012

November 28, 2012

Hi all,

After the couple of weeks that we have had, this afternoon will be so important for us in a restorative capacity. Please take the let this opportunity to engage in the passionate work that makes our jobs so exciting and wonderful and draining all at the same time!

This morning at my ESPA meeting, I learned a ton about supporting students with anxiety and stress and some research work in how to enable students in their own “self-soothing.” One school has been working with Alberta Health Services and a group called and they are helping students when they are anxious or in a high stress state to practice learning how to come down. Interesting stuff…

As well, a doctor from the U of C, who is a specialist around learning in mathematics, shared a bunch of new research that is coming out about teachers and mathematics, as well as how students best learn mathematics. I can’t wait to share some of the research and the thinking at a later date…

Enjoy the afternoon and, as always, work hard and learn tons!


CILO Creating Innovative Learning Opportunities – November 14th, 2012

November 14, 2012

After having spent last week doing some amazing learning and collaborating with educators from all over the United States, Ireland, Australia, Thailand, Ghana, and Canada, I am even more excited to come back to the work that our phenomenal staff is undertaking with our students at Keeler school.

I honestly am so proud of the work that our school and our board are doing. Once I had a chance to compare what is going on around the world, it gave me a great understanding of what we are accomplishing here. The learning opportunities that are being developed for our students are amazing. Just wait until our PD Day on Friday where I get to share with you about my experiences around one of the big things going on in American education right now, called into Interim Assessments. This is their version of formative assessment and, boy, is it interesting…

Have a wonderful afternoon creating innovative learning opportunities for our students and

Work hard, learn tons!

Strategic, Learning-Centered Leadership

November 7, 2012

As a leader in my school and my system, how can I be much more intentional, purposeful, and deliberate in how we work to achieve improved student learning?

This has been a theme through our work all week. Dr. Elizabeth City worked with us this morning on “Strategic, Learning-Centered Leadership,” and I think it is important to break that term down very specifically…

We need to be able to answer “Three Questions” about anything we are doing…

  1. What?
  2. Why?
  3. How?

My own early definition of “Strategy” – a purposeful, intentional method to best achieve a specific outcome.

Dr. City offered a few ideas of her own about what “Strategy” often is…

  • Placing bets (or hedging our bets)
  • “The set of actions an organization chooses to pursue in order to achieve its objectives. These deliberate actions are puzzle pieces that fit together to create a clear picture of how the people, activities, and resources of an organization can work effectively to accomplish a collective purpose.” – Stacey Childress
  • A few carefully considered things to focus the systems work on that when put together, create a powerful engine for system improvement
  • A series of well informed, well educated bets
  • Balances problem solving with pursuing a vision
  • Evolves based on progress made, results and learning
  • NOT everything you do
  • NOT everything everyone wants you to do
  • NOT a sure thing
  • NOT something static
  • NOT a piece of paper or wall chart

Why does strategy matter? Does it matter?

A few days ago I would have grumbled about this question. Now I would say that Strategy is a tool that I can utilize to enable staff, parents, the admin team and myself to examine and make decisions beyond emotional responses. Strategy forces us to prioritize and make choices about what to do (and what not to do!) It allows us to marshal and focus resources and help our organization to move from where it is today to the brave and bold vision for student learning. Strategy needs to be both visionary and problem solving, or where do we want to go as well as what issues do we need to fix.

Unfortunately, Strategic Planning isn’t strategic if it:

  • Commits to doing too much
  • Tries to respond to everyone’s interests
  • Is static: doesn’t evolve based on learning
  • Sits on a shelf rather than driving our work

I have been the worst one to try to cram too much in our School Development Plan and let it be static, rather than using it as a driver for focusing and enhancing our work.

Working through this, I see our team has spent way too much time on wording and work that had very little productive value for our Strategic Planning process. I want to make sure we make it:

  • Targeted to improving student learning
  • Short and sweet
  • Easy to understand visually, like the CBE 3-Year Plan Overview chart
  • Addresses identified problems but leading to realizing our vision for learning
  • Everyone can relate their work back to it
  • Decision making is aligned to the strategy

Sounds simple, I know. It will be interesting to see how I can help our staff look at the School Development Process differently and developing Strategy differently. This must not be a worksheet activity or a make work project for us as a staff…

Work hard, learn tons!

Demography Isn’t Destiny

November 6, 2012

Demography Isn’t Destiny… – The success of our learners should not just depend on the area they are born in…

Do not be afraid to fail. Be afraid to succeed in things that do not matter.
Dr. Benjamnin Mayes

“The limits of the possible can only be defined by going beyond them into the impossible…”
Arthur C. Clarke

Equity, that our kids get what they need to be successful, and Excellence, that kids can be the best they can possibly be, needs to be the mantra for our work. Kids only know their situation, their life, and their context. They do not often know any different. Why would they? They always assume there is something better out there, but I think they assume most people have the same situation as they do, and that there is nothing atypical about their life or home, no matter the social issues continued in that home life. I grew up in the area in which I now get to be Principal, and know that education will be the best way to help our students rise above hardship.

So what does that mean?

Empowering Students Through Education – Education will be the key to positive change for our kids. Not poor education, not just the basics, not worksheets, but authentic learning that makes our kids think and collaborate and reflect and learn…

Overcoming History and Cultural Differences – Many of our kids are affected by their history, whether cultural or family or individual. We need to help them get past that, no matter their ethnicity, family, background or country of origin. Big issues for some of our kids…

Turning Hardships into Opportunities – The hardships are there… we need to turn them around and start to look at how we build upon the strengths that our kids bring, rather than only focus on lagging skills…

Building Relationships and building Common Ground – Relationships and process have to happen before we even get near change. How we work together, build trust, and communicate is how we will get to bringing about important change. We need to get from stranger to leader… I still remember when the time I was finally waved at by parents outside, months after I went to Keeler. I knew that moment was the beginning…

Time for all of us to step up and make it all happen. It will take all of us together, but I know that we can do it.

I am not sure who said it, but “Anyone can fly, you just have to have a place you have to go and no other way to get there…” and we need to figure out how to help our kids do this!

Work hard, learn tons!

Musings While Traveling Down The Literacy Road…

November 6, 2012

“…it is crucial for me to never forget that it is my responsibility as a leader to ensure we all reach our full potential.”
Mark Federman, The Literacy Principal

“Literacy is a human right, a tool of personal empowerment and a means for social and human development.”
UNESCO, 2007

“The 25 fastest growing professions have far greater than average literacy demands, while the fastest declining 25 professions have far lower than average literacy demands.”
Barton, 2000

This afternoon Dr. Paola Uccelli shared that there are over 6800 different languages (not dialects), at least, around the world, which I think is utterly amazing. Linguistic diversity can be a challenge of assuring excellent education and an opportunity to understand and improve instruction for how we work with language learners. Our society has ever increasing literacy demands in order to access not only information but learning as well.

Imagine a single language speaker like myself… I find it fascinating being here in Massachusetts at Harvard University, taking in the culture and differences, trying not to get hit by cars, listening to all the Boston (Bahhston…) accents and others from around the country. Yet I can speak the language and communicate with locals.

To put it in perspective, what if my family moved to China and that there were very few English language speakers to draw upon for support. Imagine:

  • Getting off the plane
  • Getting a cab
  • Finding a restaurant
  • Signing a lease
  • Registering my kids for school
  • Anything involving a form in an oriental language where I do not understand the characters in the least basic sense

I would be in trouble! I would not even be able to identify the word “Name” at the top of a form, never mind understanding a piece of text…

Comprehension becomes extremely complex, as it is not a set of finite skills, as is memorizing the sounds of 26 letters. Because of prior knowledge and understandings, the same people can read the same piece of text, and interpret it extremely differently and construct their own meaning. Unfortunately, we often expect “correct” answers when interpreting the text, so that thinking is not part of the process…

Reading Comprehension: A Definition

The process of simultaneously extracting and constructing meaning through interaction and involvement with written language

Control and comprehension in the language of school is a requirement for success in schools, especially around academic language. It is different from storytelling, and different than the informal language we use outside of school. There are very abstract concepts and densely packed information, written in a perspective, which is not used outside of academic forums. Students are used to conversational language forms that are ever-changing and developing, even as the child’s language development is growing. Being a skilled language user in some social contexts does not guarantee adequate language proficiency in other social contexts.

Plus, language does change and evolve…

To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man (Shakespeare)

Groovy (60s)

Hey Man… (70s)

Yo, know wha I’m sayin’ Holmes? (Ghettospeak)

LOL… OMG… (Texting)

This is not easy work… I think we need to instill a love of learning, reading, language, and thought. I think we need explicit instruction in how we learn to read and write. Like me, kids need to learn how to use “speech to text” to COMMUNICATE, not just to write… Why do I write this blog? I am “writing” more through this blog than I ever have before, because others can see it, it is not just for me.

Can we do the same for students and their learning?

Work hard, learn tons!

Creating and Sustaining Meaningful Family Engagement

November 6, 2012

Family partnerships that are engaged and participating in their child’s growth and development are imperative (according to the research) in order to improve schools and learning. Big surprise, I know…

Parent engagement has been a major part of our work at Keeler School, as we know that the more engaged our parents and community are, the better the outcomes for students. Often, our parents are unsure of how they can be involved. I have done a lot of work over the past years in enabling parents to be advocates for their child, often especially if they have any type of identified different needs, but how else can parents become engaged?

To be honest, as an educator and parent, I don’t even always understand how to be the best advocate for my children within the education system…

Families can be engaged as:

  • Supporters of their children’s learning
  • Encouragers of an achievement identity, a positive self-image, and a can-do spirit
  • Monitors of their children’s time, behaviour, boundaries and resources
  • Models of lifelong learning and enthusiasm for education
  • Advocates for improved learning opportunities for their children and at their schools
  • Decision Makers/Choosers of educational options for their child, school, and community
  • Collaborators with school staff and members of the community

The following is from American research by Dr. Karen Mapp of the Harvard Graduate School of Education in her book Beyond the Bake Sale: The Essential Guide to Family-School Partnerships.

The Impact of Family Engagement

  • Faster literacy acquisition (from reading or talking with your child)
  • Earn higher grades and test scores
  • Enroll in higher level programs
  • Are promoted more and earn more credits
  • Adapt better to school and attend more regularly
  • Have better social skills and behaviour
  • Graduate and go on to higher education

This tells me that parents MUST BE A PART OF THE SOLUTION for many of the issues we are facing in education.

What do I believe about all parents?

  1. They all want the best possible for their kids…
  2. All parents can be supporters and advocates for their kids…
  3. The accountability for building and enhancing positive relationships between home and school is on the staff and leadership of the school…

Parent engagement has changed at Keeler School, and we are already seeing the benefits work into how students are learning. Parents feel welcome just coming into the school, and most know my name and have met me in person. The very first 2 minutes a parent spends in the school are critical. Did they feel welcomed and were they treated positively? If not, we could spend years trying to fix two minutes of time…

Many of our parents did not have positive school experiences when they were young and much of emotional ramifications still carry with them as they come to Keeler. I believe it is my and my staff’s job to get past that, and we have to do it fast! Back to building positive relationships folks! We need to respect our parents and find out what they know about their kids already.

Parents have reasonably easy access to the leadership team and me when they need it. Five minutes early on may save hours of meeting and fixing later…

All parent activities are connected to improving and enhancing student learning, but I see a lot of potential in working with families around whole school goals, but as well making sure they are part of developing and meeting their child’s goals as well. I think that we cannot assume all of our parents know how to support their children’s learning goals, and we need to help them practice in order to learn and develop their own skills as parents.

I am nowhere near a perfect parent, and have made mistake after mistake after mistake… For me to come off as a “high and mighty educator” would be so detrimental to developing parental capacities, so I try to joke and share about some of those mistakes and tie them into our discussions in order to promote comfort and enable us to move forward as a Student Learning Team.

In the end, it is all about the student and the learning. If developing and engaging our parents will help that, why would we not do this work? There is our biggest commonality. We are all here for YOUR child(ren)…

Remember, as a parent YOU are your child’s first and best teacher. Your job as a parent is to educate… And we are here to work with you!

Work hard and learn tons!

Stewarding our (Constrained) Resources

November 6, 2012

How do we align our financial resources with our mission and goals? How do I, as an administrator of a K-6 school, make sure that we use all resources to the best and most efficient ways possible to ensure the best learning for the students at Keeler School and in the Calgary Board of Education? How do we as an educational institution (not for profit) improve organizational performance and outcomes?

The Balanced Scorecard – Connecting the Mission and Organizational Performance (

A tool that was shared with us this morning for examining if we are meeting our Vision and Strategies and are being effective in our organizational performance is called the Balanced Scorecard. It was a tool that came from For-Profit Companies and was adapted for Not-For-Profit groups like schools.

Why look at this now?

How do we better use the bottom line to our advantage?

How do we ensure quality education no matter the number of students we are funded for?

How do we learn from past best practice, yet look to the future for innovative, creative and promising practice?

What are we going to be and what are we going to do next?

What are we NOT going to be and NOT going to do?


So, what is our work, vision and strategy?

The Calgary Board of Education Mission
“Educating Tomorrow’s Citizens Today”

The Calgary Board of Education Vision
The Calgary Board of Education is the dynamic learning community of choice.
We provide quality learning opportunities and options. Our learners take ownership by discovering and developing their potential, passions and gifts. They take their place as lifelong learners and make a significant contribution within a complex, changing world.

The Calgary Board of Education Values
Students come first.
Learning is our central purpose.
Public education serves the common good.

The Keeler School Development Plan for school improvement and development, which is connected to the CBE 3 Year Plan. The CBE 3-Year Plan has been very useful in this work as it lays out the system goals that all schools can be and need to be part of. (see page 4 of ) One of the strategies identified as part of our work is:

Stewarding Our Resources
Resource Management on Behalf of Student Learning

Decisions at all levels of the organization (schools to service units) are:

  • Based on values and priorities
  • Data Driven
  • Strategic
  • Responsive
  • Coherent with the learning agenda
  • Coherent with each other
  • Sustainable

So, how do we bring in resources that enable the development of student learning and do not distract us from our mission? How do we stay true to our vision? There are choices out there as to online, private, charter, catholic and public schools. There are arts-based, special needs, language immersion, and religious-based schools. We cannot be all of those, so lets make sure we utilize our resources wisely and strategically, rather than all over the place…

Education is a very emotionally charged issue, and is not the same as a For-Profit Company that has a bottom line and the shareholders are all important in all decisions. Strategy is usually long-term. Initiatives should exist to help us achieve our strategic objectives.

In looking at Resource Stewardship, I realize that having a clear mission and strategy is imperative. In looking at spending initiatives, no matter how large or small, it would be very helpful for me or the teachers or the admin team to look at the spending and compare it to if and how much it aligns and will help us achieve our strategic goals.

In many of my decisions around resource utilization, this will be a much more beneficial process to be able to make informed and intelligent decisions, rather than a short-term decision based on whim.

Imagine a teacher coming in. “Derek, this looks awesome for students. We should get this. Can we, please?” Turning this around to make a case for how it aligns and supports our strategic objectives changes the discussion drastically. It is no longer a decision based on “gut feeling” or on if they catch me at a good moment. It also places some of the responsibility on the staff members for being a part of the process as well.

This will help get us out of the “Dad, can I have some money?” syndrome…

Work hard, learn tons!

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