My Education “D” Word: Engaging ALL Students in Their Work (and through Apps!)

February 13, 2015

I am a principal working with a disability… Actually, multiple disabilities… (depends on who you ask!)

My educational D word is disability. Slowly, language is changing in the educational realm, and they may be small differences, but I believe they have huge implications for the way we help students to learn.

As to me, I am working with a vision impediment. I wear glasses. They are very strong glasses and there is no way I could work or drive or read without them. Thankfully, there is a good solution to my impediment now. I have good glasses… If I was born 2000 years ago, I think I would have quickly been eaten by a wolf or starved because of my hunting skills would have been sadly lacking when you can’t see the target! (Sounds like a topic for an assessment blog…)

We have many kids who are working with impediments as well. Some may be working with impediments to their learning, some with impediments to abilities around executive functioning, some with physical impairments, somewhere else…

My grandmother, who is one of my heroes, has since passed but had polio. She was in a wheelchair but did not ever let that stop her. She had an impediment, but boy did she find ways around things.

I love the language of “I am somebody working with ______________.” Rather than saying I am visually challenged, or sight impaired, or just plain nearly blind, I am a person working with a certain impediment to my learning. I have to figure out how to overcome that…

One of the things that I love is that, like my glasses, we have many more tools to assist kids with some of their learning challenges. I love how far assistive technology has come. In fact, I am dictating this whole blog on my iPhone. BTW, I am also working with typing impediment, which is that I am a slow typist…

This afternoon I got to hang out with my good friend and colleague, Steve Clark (@stevewclark), and learn more about his “AppSmashing” work utilizing iPads to enhance learning with students. A link to his work is below, and you will notice the apps are extremely open ended and focused around learning versus worksheet apps…

Steve will only use “Creative” apps, rather than “Consumer” apps which are made for limited purpose. He shares the essential iPad apps that he believes teachers and students need to know how to use. They all utilize the powerful tools iPad has to offer and focus on creating or adapting.

Check out his site and let’s keep supporting our kids to work with whatever challenges they are facing!

Work hard and learn tons!


My Education “C” Word: Formative Assessment & Feedback FOR Learning

February 13, 2015

“Teaching is not my job, it’s my passion. Getting better at it – that’s my job!”

I like the analogy that assessment is like a GPS system or a Cab Driver. If a GPS system or Cab Driver cannot get us to our destination, then it would not be at grade level, and get a 1 on our CBE indicator system. If it gets us there by the best route taking into account road conditions, traffic patterns, weather conditions, and learns and reflects on how to make it better (I know, that is one good GPS system!), then it would be a 4 or be performing at an excellent achievement level of expectations and quality.

As a student (or GPS), I need to know my direction, where I am going, and what I am trying to do. I need teachers to set out clear criteria of what is expected. I need help in setting goals, need to know where I need to go, and need to rework it if I hit a road block, heavy traffic, or an accident… Or in the case of a student, an issue in understanding, a gap in learning, a lack in certain learning competencies, etc.

And yes, there are different ways to get there…

After you get “there,” you need to go back and do it again the next day… Students (or GPS) need to engage in reflection: In the end, did you get there? Was it the best way? Was it effective? Was it timely?

So my education “C” word is COVER… We are not here to “cover” the Program of Studies, we are not here to “teach” the Program of Studies. We are here to enable students to LEARN through creative approaches and tasks (our curriculum). We are way past the old days of “I taught it, it is not my problem if they did not learn it.” Yes, it is up to us to find better paths…

Students need to take the drive again the next day… Or in this case, students need to act like a sportsperson or an artist, where they are always working on improving their performance. Artists don’t do a painting once, they do a “study” and experiment and play and reflect and THINK. Sportspersons don’t practice a skill once and leave it, they work and learn and change and develop and THINK.

“Who do kids learn more from, the COACH or the JUDGE?”

Damien Cooper, in Redefining Fair: How to Plan, Assess and Grade for Excellence in Mixed-Ability Classroom.

Check out a video called Austin’s Butterfly. This is on a detailed drawing a grade 1 student was creating over the course of 6 iterations with feedback each time. It is brilliant and exemplifies our work!

“If our assessment practices do not demand THINKING on the part of students, they are probably a waste of time…”
Damien Cooper

If the GPS took you in a round about way, you need to think if there was a better way… Don’t let those cabbies take advantage of you! Know where you need to go, and help kids understand and develop where they need to go!

My Education “F” Word: Can We Expect ALL Teachers to be GREAT Educators?

February 13, 2015

I had a great, very interesting conversation with a colleague this morning, and I was asked if I had unrealistic expectations that I want to coach and create and develop great teachers for every child in my school, in our system, in our province, and in the world… This person said, “You cannot expect all teachers to be great teachers.”

If we approach this from a statistical perspective, my colleague is correct. We will have teachers who need support or may be in the wrong profession, but we will always have great teachers as well.

If I approach this as an educator, practitioner, and principal, I cannot and will not accept that argument.

Education is growing and developing, and it has changed in huge ways in the 20 years I have been in the field. I hope that all teachers want to become better. Yes we face issues, but DOES IT REALLY MATTER why students have the issues they do? Social issues, poverty, socio-economics, parenting skill, behavioral or social or emotional issues… We need to be the best we can to help them to become what they need to be. Whatever it takes…

If we look at economics, will we ever have enough teachers, education assistants, schools, volunteers, food, finding, technology or…? But I can assume we can have as many excellent teachers as we have teachers…

If we approach this from an equity perspective, I have to believe in the idea that anyone, with the right teacher, can be supported to move out of inequitable situations or social class. Anyone can be anything they want to be with the right teachers and supports.

My Education “F” Word is “Fine.”

I do not want teachers who are “fine.” I do not want to be a principal who is “fine.” I do not want to work at a school that is fine.

I want teachers who are AMAZING! I want to be a principal who is AMAZING! I want to work at a school that is AMAZING.

We need to coach each other to be amazing! We need to collaborate to become better! We need to support each other to have higher expectations for student learning!

A friend sent me a blog about the Pygmalion Effect. We need to be this for our students, but we need to be that for each other as educators who have high standards and expectations for each other.

We know that being an educator is more of a calling than just a job for most of us. I am sorry, but I cannot accept that schools accept “fine” as being acceptable. I know a lot, bring a lot of expertise, work hard, and learn every day. I do not know everything. I do not have a binder to solve all my student issues. I do not have it all figured out.

We need to right people in the right place. We need to be willing to become better… To learn… To grow… To help others… To learn from others…

And yes, statistically I may not be a realist, and I do have a drive for a Utopian education system.

I guess the real question we must ask ourselves is:

How can we afford to NOT expect all teachers to be GREAT teachers for our children?

The 95% Rule – What are the Consequences of My Leadership on the Learning and Achievement of My Students?

February 2, 2015

“What are the Consequences of My Leadership on the Learning and Achievement of My Students?” (assuming all staff in a school are Leaders of Learning)

I was lucky (or unlucky, depending), as I was one of those kids that was good at remembering and memorizing and “got” the work we were assigned in the classroom. Unfortunately, there was never a need for me to have to “think” or to develop any growth in learning or work competencies, as it came easy for me.

Learning to think and learning how to learn needs to happen in learning from the earliest ages right on through high school and university, and into the work world! I can tell you, I no longer “memorize it for the test” in my work. I think and prepare and experiment and consult and discuss and reflect…

I had the opportunity to listen and think along with Viviane Robinson, author of “Student-Centered Leadership” this morning. The title refers to using the lens What are the Consequences of My Leadership on the Learning and Achievement of Students?” I would suggest that a leader is any teacher or administrator who is expected to help kids learn. She identified 5 Dimensions that have a large effect size on student learning and achievement:

5 Dimensions of Student-Centered Leadership

  1. Establishing Goals and Expectations (0.42) – We need to know what we are trying to accomplish in order to try to get there… What is our vision of great learning and how to we make it more effective?
  2. Resourcing Strategically (0.31) – Time with teachers and students is our scarcest resource, so how we approach curricular decisions is critical. What are we resourcing for, but as well, what are we not resourcing?
  3. Ensuring Quality Teaching (0.42) – How do we improve the impact and effectiveness of our work for students?
  4. Leading Teacher Learning and Development (0.84) – Admin is not just management and having nice uniforms. How do we “UNLEASH” excellent learning in our schools, rather than continue with the status quo?
  5. Ensuring and Orderly and Safe Environment (0.27) – If students don’t feel safe, how will we even get near learning?

(From Viviane Robinson, February 2, 2015)

The 95% rule is the idea that “I control and design 95% of my day by how I act and react.” The more I think on it, the more I see the 5 Dimensions fit both the work of educators and students.

  • What are students trying to accomplish, and do they know? What are students actually doing in our classrooms? (Establishing Goals and Expectations)
  • What are students using their time for? Time with teachers and students is our scarcest resource, so how we approach curricular decisions is critical. What are we resourcing for, but as well, what are we not resourcing? (Resourcing Strategically)
  • How are we designing and implementing the most effective learning opportunities for each and every student? (Ensuring Quality Teaching)
  • How do we unleash students and teachers in their learning, so it goes beyond 8:30 am to 3:00 pm and outside the 4 walls of the school? How do we design learning so that students want to come to school? (Leading Teacher Learning and Development)
  • How do we create an optimum learning environment for ALL students depending on their situation and needs? (Ensuring and Orderly and Safe Environment)

In the end, we need to continue to question and push each other as leaders of student learning to create opportunities to be the most effective we possibly can in improving student achievement. We know that our work is hard, and I am glad for that, as I do not want a binder I can pull off the shelf to “solve” a student. The problems we face around learning are so complex and thus will need complex solutions. We we need to go beyond “satisfactory” approaches to “more and most effective” approaches.

The curse of our work is that it never ends, but the blessing of our work is that it never ends. I love that I have never felt like I have completely figured “it” out. If I ever feel like I have completely figured it out, then I will know that I am in trouble… J

Our work needs to promote every educator’s ability to inquire into their impact on learners, and continually working to have a more effective impact.

We are so lucky to have teachers who are striving for achieving more effective learning for each and every child. It is such an amazingly fun journey!

Work hard, learn tons!

%d bloggers like this: