Category Archives: Professional Learning

Hold on to a Learning Focus

“You have got to have a lot of dance steps, so depending on who your dance partner is, and what the music is, you can actually shift the repertoire. A lot of us fall into default mode so when the music changes to rumba or cha-cha, we keep doing the samba…. A skilled professional … will actually shift repertoire, and has a range of pedagogy.” (Allan Luke, Leaders in Educational Thought, 2012)

This year #Cyberpd is exploring DIY Literacy: Teaching Tools for Differentiation, Rigor, and Independence by Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts. Roberts and Beattie Roberts focus our attention on the idea that students will have different learning needs at different times and that we need to be ready to meet them where they are with the tools they need so that they can be independent learners. While I agree that tools that make the learning sticky are important, I want to first pull the focus away from the teaching need (the tools) and put it on how we determine what the student learning need is because it’s only with a very clear sense of the ‘why’ that the tools become meaningful. Without focusing on the problem first (the learning need), tools and strategies may become “activity traps” (Katz, 24). 

Sometimes teachers struggle to identify student learning needs. They reference things like students’ level of organization (coming to class prepared to learn) or self-regulation (putting phone way) or responsibility (completing independent work/homework) as obstacles to learning. And sometimes they identify “the curriculum, or the politics of education, or the lesson plan” (DIY, 2) as the things that block student learning. But none of these things are student learning needs.

What does a student learning need look like?

It is learning that the student(s) needs based on the evidence we have. This might be our own assessments, and it might be evidence from standardized tests, and it might be a combination. What is clear, however, is that even after we have taught the skill in the best way we know how to, some students still don’t get it.

What Roberts and Beattie Roberts note is that a student learning need is a teacher learning need; that “we don’t [always] have at our fingertips the content we most need to teach our kids” (23).  What do you do if the way you have been teaching students a skill is not reaching all of your students? If we have evaluated the importance of the skill; that is, we have determine that the skill is valuable, then there must be a sense of urgency for students to learn it (33)!

If you don’t belong to a collaborative inquiry or a professional learning community  then the authors suggest that teachers can access professional texts and a professional learning network (PLN) to help them find new content and/or strategies that may address their students learning needs. But by far and away, their first suggestion “Never teach alone” is the best alternative. We are better together! And not just because we need to model modern learning for our students, but also because the themes of teacher leadership, collaboration, and inquiry feature prominently in the research findings of leading education experts (e.g., Little, 1982; Darling-Hammond, 1998; Ball and Cohen, 1999; Lieberman and Miller, 2004; Hargreaves and Fullan, 2012; Hattie, 2012; Timperley et al., 2007; and Katz et al., 2013) (Donhoo and Velasco, 13-15). This research drives the collaborative inquiry I facilitate each year. The “link between teacher practice and student learning is a strong and robust one (Katz et al., 36), and it compells me and my team to work together to do the learning we need to.

So, when I read the Bonus Chapter, “Do it Yourself: Mining Your Own Work for Strategies”, I immediately made the connection to the work we do in our collaborative inquiry. Based on the determined learning need, we do

  • ask “How do we teach our students to…?;
  • seek the advice of experts;
  • challenge each other’s perspectives to “try to see a lot of different kinds of WHATS”;
  • do the work ourselves to see what will happen;
  • study what we did;
  • challenge each other’s assumptions about the learning.

We do all of this because we are trying to get to the WHY–the WHY behind the observable because that is what makes the difference. (Katz et al., 2013)

What is the it – if improved – that is going to make a difference for learning? This is what defines powerful professional inquiry, “a challenge of practice” or “a persistent and familiar instructional improvement dilemma” for which both educators and learners “at this point in their learning, have no easy solution” (City, Elmore, Flarman, & Teitel, 2009). Addressing challenges of practice is complex work as educators examine, analyze and make sense of the connections between student learning needs and their instructional practices. (Capacity Building Series, Dynamic Learning)

The challenge while reading DIY Literacy: Teaching Tools for Differentiation, Rigor, and Independence is to not get caught up in the tools…in a teaching focus, but to hold on to a learning focus.

Please share your collaborative professional learning experiences in the comment box.

Let’s learn together!

 

6 Comments

Filed under #CyberPD, Professional Learning

Poplar trees and tablets. Thinking about engagement.

When my family gets together there is always at least one project on the agenda. From building furniture to changing the brakes on a car, the kids come home to do their ‘making’. “It’s great to do projects here”, they say. “The space, tools and materials are all at hand!”

We don’t mind. The kids, all in their 20’s, are ready to learn from us. They now want to know about buying tires, making jam, and planting trees. 

Last week, on December 24th actually, the project was to take down an old poplar in the back of the property. Tricky business taking down a 60 foot tree.

skitch

But this kind of project is exactly the type that gets everyone ramped-up. There are calculations to be done, and re-done, and theories regarding the falling tree’s trajectory to be hashed out (and then bet upon). Oh what fun!

My job is to document the process, and I did by snapping pics and posting them to the family Google hangout. 

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 2.33.00 PM

And then an unexpected message appeared.

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 2.38.29 PM

Last year for Christmas, I got my 85 year old father a tablet. Learning to use it has been a slow process. He doesn’t have a smart phone (yet), so everything is new for him. Each time he comes for a visit, he learns or relearns one thing. This fall he began to attend a class to learn more about how to use the tablet.

And he joined the family hangout.

This was always the goal. The family chat is lively with lots of pictures shared. It is one way we stay connected, and I knew that beyond appreciating the conversations, he too would be more connected to all of us. He never chatted with us though, preferring to ‘listen in’. 

Last week when my dad saw what we were doing, he was intensely jealous. He wanted to be there with us to be part of the excitement. In fact, he was so engaged in the event that he overcame his fear of texting, of doing something wrong, of looking silly in a public space, and he typed out his disappointment and admonishment.

How come major move happening without senior advisor?

This story is a terrific example of what engagement can look like at the various stages of learning. Clearly, my dad was motivated to learn how to use  the tablet. He persisted in his learning even though he didn’t always have a teacher. He sought out direct instruction and he practiced. As his confidence grew, he showed a willingness to join the hangout and then to participate in it.

Engaging our learners is not about entertaining them. It’s not about making things easier. It’s not about doing everything for them. It’s not about how much fun they’re having. Rather, student engagement is his or her intellectual commitment to learning. It is building the skills and knowledge needed to make that leap, conduct that inquiry, or create that project. It is the day to day, week to week, month to month learning that makes taking that risk possible. 

I’d love to hear your observations about learner engagement.

Leave a comment

Filed under General, Professional Learning

#oneword15…6 months later

 

WHY INNOVATE?

On January 1, 2015 I declared that my word of the year would be innovate:

My word is INNOVATE. But this choice has little to do with technology directly and more to do with thinking about using the curriculum in innovative ways. I want to challenge my understanding, my perspectives, my biases about the curriculum. What does it mean to construct meaning? Communicate meaning? What about to generate, gather, and organize ideas and information? What changes, if anything, when literacies include digital literacies? How might English as a discipline need to be reconsidered?

What I avoided in that initial post was answering the question why? Why innovate? And why did I choose a word that is so closely tied with technology, but not focus on the integration of technology in teaching and learning that is at the centre of so much of the educational conversation today?

I’m an English teacher, and I am not a particularly geeky English teacher either. Like most English teachers, I believe English class offers students the opportunity to engage with and consider deeply the big ideas of our lives through the stories we read. Narratives provide a lens to the world that we may otherwise never access, and that lens helps us to understand each other, which is more important today than ever before. So the study of the narrative structure and stories, which in fact, is all the Ontario English Curriculum asks us to do (“read a variety of texts”) is not the problem.

WHY ENGLISH?

Academic students* are bright, curious, and creative, but that doesn’t mean that they want to read Nineteen Eighty-Four and write an essay. And yet, is there any doubt that the majority of instructors and professors in post-secondary do still require traditional demonstrations of learning from their students?  While I believe that students need to be able to write at length to explore their thinking, I also believe that students must be fluent in digital literacies, so that they can be critical consumers and purposeful creators of digital texts.

This, then, is the current and pressing challenge for the discipline. We can neither abandon the old wholesale nor adopt the new only. We need to innovate: To find novel solutions to this important problem.

mrsdkrebs via Flickr

I let go of many of my certainties: whole class novel studies, literature circles, and lessons from the past. Instead, we choose our own novels to read, we considered various critical perspectives in small groups using the Question Formulation Technique, and we looked for new ways to have conversations about a book that no one else in the class was reading (via Goodreads, for example).  In the academic class, we collaborated to create a Mindomo map on literary theory, designed personal poetry anthologies, and blogged to think out loud about our learning.  In the college class, we considered how our worldview impacts the decisions we make, which led us into an inquiry on ethics. Students’ contributed their thinking (aka research reports) to our on-going wiki textbook: Global Perspectives: A Textbook for Teens by Teens. 

AND?

I pushed myself to push the students to own their learning, to be the designers of it. There was choice in text, in topic, in theme, in approach.  We worked on learning to be learners.

If I were to look back on the type of work I’ve done, I would say that I improved in different ways. If I hadn’t taken a risk to do certain things, I probably would have been way below than I am now.—grade 11

In the beginning of the semester, we covered a lot of things, one of them being: you cannot learn and grow if you don’t fail. During the course of this semester I have had many setbacks and failures, but that’s okay, now that I have recognized these problems I can keep working on them again next year, both in English and in my other courses.—grade 11

We still wrote essays.

Writing my second essay has proved to be better than my first one, which is probably due to my actual liking of the topic. I went into this essay having more motivation to do a good job. I actually wanted to do it. In my mind, it wasn’t me being forced to write about something I didn’t want to. It was me putting my story onto a piece of paper, which to me, is a lot more appealing than the former.—grade 11

So?

Innovation in learning is a process of self-discovery. It’s looking for unique ways to solve the problem of making the learning our own. It’s a journey to yes.

Yes, you can read what you want to. Yes, you can make that video. Yes, you can research that topic. Yes, you can write that rant. Yes, you can remix. Yes, you can Skype that person for an interview. Yes, you can research via Twitter. Yes, your poetry anthology can be digital. Yes, your poetry anthology can be non-digital. Yes…


 

*Although here I am writing about students who will pursue academic studies beyond high school, I do not think that this conversation is just about them. Students who choose to enter into apprenticeships or directly into the workplace also need many of the same literacy skills. 

5 Comments

Filed under Professional Learning, Teaching, Year End Reflection

#cyberpd 2015 title pitch

cyberpd

#cyberpd  holds a very special place in my heart because it is the event that first got me connected digitally (in a significant way) back in 2012. I couldn’t participate last year because I was in courses all summer and living on the road, but I am happy to be back!

I teach high school English and this year my stack of TBRs are all works of fiction. I am fortunate to have a supportive Principal who has helped me build a new and substantial class room library, and my goal this summer is to read as many of the titles as I can.

But professional reading is important to me, and I am hoping that #cyberpd offers me that one must read title for this summer as it has with Who owns the learning? and Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives.

I am very compelled by the buzz around Creating a Culture of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools by Ron Ritchhart. Creating Cultures of thinking

I have learned so much from Ritchhart’s Making Thinking Visible as it has supported my professional work on learning how to engage students in questioning. The biggest challenge is that students don’t think. They have been trained to sit back and wait to be told what to do, and at best, to answer teacher questions. Generating their questions, questions that haunt them, that must be answered is a tough sell. But I am an optimist and truly believe that by creating a real professional learning community the culture of a school can be reshaped into one where personal inquiry, and thus, deep, meaningful learning, can happen.

The post below is only one that I have read on Creating Cultures of Thinking. In it Patricia Northrop quotes from the book’s introduction:

It feels good to be a member of a culture of thinking. It produces energy. It builds community. It allows us to reach our potential. This is something we as educators need to remember. A culture of thinking is not about a particular set of practices or a general expectation that people should be involved in thinking. A culture of thinking produces the feelings, energy, and even joy that can propel learning forward and motivate us to do what at times can be hard and challenging mental work.

Indeed.

Not only is this passage inspiring, it also describes for me the very essence of the #cyberpd community.

Creating Cultures of Thinking is my nomination for #cyberpd 2015.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under #CyberPD, Professional Learning

#makeschooldifferent

I grew up in a place and at a time when communication beyond face-to-face interaction was limited to the phone. Long distance calling was exorbitantly expensive and so, rarely done. It was hard to imagine being an ocean biologist when the nearest ocean was a thousand miles away. It was hard to believe that you could do anything other what you saw in front of you, and most of the time, there was simply nothing there.

Nothing on TVCreative Commons License futureatlas.com via Compfight

I’m not even exaggerating.

I still live on the edge of the populated spaces in this country where there are no traffic lights, no stores open for evening shopping, and no line-ups for…well, anything. Waiting in traffic means someone is helping that turtle trying to get to the other side or a family of raccoons have decided to cross the road. And yet I don’t have to live on the periphery of  intellectual spaces any longer. I can participate in the most current educational thinking of Ontario, Canada, and beyond. I don’t have to wait for someone else to decide what is important for me to know about teaching and learning. I don’t have to hope that someone will provide me with inspiration for my work. I don’t have to draw on only the local resources to design courses that are meaningful, relevant, and intellectually engaging for my students.

What this does mean; however, is that others in my situation don’t have to either. This has been the challenge, then the difficulty, and now the problem facing me of the past five years. Why are the educators around me not embracing the opportunities offered via the current technologies to grow and learn past where they are physically located? Why rely on Nelson or Pearson solely to teach their students? Why do they think that what they have always done is sufficient today?

This brings me to this…..

MakeThingsDifferent screenshot Fryed

And Donna Fry’s blog is a source of inspiration for me. She tagged me in this post where she enumerates the 5 things that she thinks we need to stop pretending in order to #makeschooldifferent.

Here is my list…

#1.  We need to stop pretending that teachers can do this job alone. We need to recognize that planning time cannot mean that teachers work in isolation; nor can it only mean planning across grade teams. It must also mean having time to connect with educators beyond our four walls.  It means growing our PLN. It means honouring social media connection time as valuable.

#2. We need to stop pretending that all educators are de facto good learners. Tom Whitby has said, “To be better educators, we must first have to be better learners.” Agreed. And this does mean all of us who claim the title of educator: ECE, EA, Teacher, Coach, Consultant, Coordinator, Principal, Supervisor, Education Officer, Program Manager etc. We all need to expect of ourselves first what we expect of our students…to be risk-takers, metacognitive, and ‘learning ready’.

#3. We need to stop pretending that someone else is going to do the work. All educators at every level of our education system must engage in the actual work with students. The days of “walk-throughs” by administration need to end. Rather, administration needs to work in the classroom to remain connected to the ever-changing demands of the teaching-learning exchange.

Instructional rounds conducted by teachers and administration have taken hold in some places and work because they support/model a culture of ongoing learning. I have to believe that that culture is passed on to and/or picked up by the students, too.

There are other examples that demonstrate the importance/value of everyone doing the work. You can see here the Northern Ontario eLCs working with teachers and students of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board and the Trillium Lakelands District School Board. Another example comes from a session I attended for preparation work for a new e-learning course where Lori Stryker from the Assessment Branch of the Ontario Ministry of Education spoke about her work with teachers and students in classrooms to ensure that the work does not live in the theoretical realm, but moves always to practice.

#4. We have to stop pretending that learning is about isolated subjects driven by content. We need to design learning to be interdisciplinary so that students and teachers can tackle real world needs. This might mean solving real problems like how a school can acquire a new field for outdoor learning and recreation/training, or it might mean developing a program that responds to students’ desire to learn about the traditional life of their people (much like the  Specialist High School Major program in Ontario does). We need to see this kind of learning become the norm.

Frankly, it is becoming more and more difficult to explain to high school students why they need four English credits. They don’t dispute needing to develop and strengthen their communication/literacy skills, but many of them would rather do that work via robotics, student council, or a music business course.

Which brings me to …

#5. We have to stop pretending that only some teachers are teachers of literacy. Everyone needs to be able to speak, read, write, and create really well. Literacy is the set of skills that drives all other content–regardless of discipline. Literacy instruction needs to be built into every part of a students’ day because it is a set of skills that was, is, and will always be needed. Advanced literacy skills ensure that students will be able to think critically, communicate persuasively, and work collaboratively. In Ontario, the work of incorporating/embedding literacy into every grade 7-12 classroom is supported by the Adolescent Literacy Guide and the folks at the Curriculum Services Branch of the Ministry of Education. It’s up to our school and system leaders to make sure that every teacher is skilled at literacy instruction.

Of course, there are more than 5 things to stop pretending. Here are some other voices who have expressed ideas that I would add to my list too!!!

Heather Theijsmeijer

Colleen Rose

Ms. Armstrong

Deborah McCallum

And I would like to challenge my English teacher colleagues  @msjweir@arachnemom, @sarle83, and @danikatipping. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts ladies!!!

2 Comments

Filed under Literacy, OSSEMOOC, Professional Learning, Teaching

#OneWord

What one word captures your work, your learning, your focus for 2014? After all is said and done, what one word synthesizes your thinking of the past 12 months? What one word caught your attention and distracted you every time you heard it?

 

One Word Reflection

for 2014

 

2014 is the year I worked on my Principal Qualifying Program part 1 and 2 courses. Predictably, we were asked to list our top beliefs that would guide us in our leadership. EQUITY emerged as #2 on my list (#1 being honesty and #3 being collaboration). Equity for students, for families, for all staff is desirable, of course, but it’s not always easy to attain. Everyone has ideas about what should happen in a school–from access to technology to class room resources to experiential learning opportunities–and many can make very convincing arguments as to why their ideas should be put into action. And many still confuse an idea of fairness with that of equity. But with a strong conviction around student learning, I think that true equity can be attained and maintained.

New field trip idea?

You want to teach a ______course?

You think we should spend money on_________?

No problem.

Tell me how it’s best for students?

And now….

One Word Focus for 2015

So a lot of great words have been chosen for 2015….

@Glennr1809 has a few:  balance, serving, network, vision, network. Check it out here.

@avivaloca chose being uncomfortable. Check it out here.

@Dunlop_Sue chose change. Check it out here.

@fryed chose courage. Check it out here.

My word is INNOVATE. But this choice has little to do with technology directly and more to do with thinking about using the curriculum in innovative ways. I want to challenge my understanding, my perspectives, my biases about the curriculum. What does it mean to construct meaning? Communicate meaning? What about to generate, gather, and organize ideas and information? What changes, if anything, when literacies include digital literacies? How might English as a discipline need to be reconsidered?

I am thinking that I will post about this work, but better I will tweet out what INNOVATION looks like more regularly with #oneword15

UPDATE!!!   There is some desire to create a Word Cloud of Ontario Educators’ one words. Tweet out your one word for 2015 to #onewordONT.

Please Join Us!

 

2 Comments

Filed under Professional Learning, Year End Reflection

What Great Principals Do Differently: An Introduction

The WHY

What sets great principals apart? Whitaker argues that if we can clarify “what the best leaders do, and then [practice] it ourselves, [we] can move into their ranks” (xi). But he does not argue for a prescribed recipe. In fact, he strives to build a framework within which each principal can continuously work on improving his or her leadership skills. “Think of [this book] as a blueprint. The principals are the architects. The teachers establish the foundation. The students move into the building and fill it with life and meaning” (141).

Let’s begin.

The Best Teacher

One of Whitaker’s key ideas is that of the best teacher. What does “best teacher” mean to you? And why is that person(s) so important to great principals?

 Best teacher 2

 Superstar teachers from Al Burr (1993) are those who

  • former students remember as their best teacher
  • parents regularly request for their children teachers
  • have the respect of their peers

Great teachers are indispensable. They can help a new principal learn the job. They will tell the principal the truth in a way that is acceptable.  They keep the principal’s confidence. They have school wide-vision.  Great principal’s will always base their decision on what the great teacher will think of it.

Todd Whitaker’s voice.

I think it’s important to hear Todd speak because his passion, confidence, and style will remains with you as you read the text.  Here he is speaking to the first of his 18 statements of effectiveness: “It’s people, not programs who determine the quality of the school.”

 

This is some list. What jumps off the page for you?

Here are my top three picks:

#3 Who is the variable? Great principals make all teachers aware that they are the variables in the classroom. When we talk about high expectations, it’s that teachers need high expectations of themselves. Likewise, effective principals view themselves as responsible for their school. They do not look to factors outside the school as the cause of problems or issues with students or staff. Great principals are problem solvers. They draw upon people from within and from beyond the school community to look for innovative ways to approach problems.

# 7 Hire Great Teachers because you want your school to become like the best teachers you hire. Whitaker argues that many principals will hire who fit into their existing staff, but it’s impossible to improve your school in this way. Hiring teachers who will lead other teachers and who have talent will be teachers who help principals achieve their goals for the school.

#11 Loyalty to whom? Great principals know to keep the students, all students, at the centre of their decisions. Principals are constantly faced with ideas, initiatives, plans, and opportunities for their school, students and staff alike. Great principals will ask the question of any new idea, “What would my best teachers think of this?” But they will also ask, “What is best for the students?” 

Does Whitaker’s thinking align with our conversations in Ontario? I think  it does. Have a look to see where his 18 statements of effectiveness fit into the Ontario Leadership Framework. At least, where they fit for me, today.

Whitaker and OLF 2014 PQP2

The “Building Relationships and Developing People” strand gets the bulk of the effectiveness statements, and that makes sense. As George Couros comments in the beginning of his post exploring the “Setting Directions” strand,

“building relationship and developing people” should have been the first leadership strand in my opinion, as everything starts with relationships and knowing your people.

There are a lot of books on leadership and being a principal. Whitaker speaks to ways a principal can become more effective that are grounded in his experiences and his work in education. He shares his philosophy through personal anecdotes and vignettes to which all principals, and aspiring principals can relate.

Every principal has an impact. Great principals make a difference.

Leave a comment

Filed under Professional Learning