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Friday, January 11, 2013

Inclusion? What is inclusion?

A week or two ago I read a powerful post in a blog I subscribe to, KARE Givers, written by Sean Grainger, a teacher from Red Deer, Alberta.  Sean's recent post titled WHY EMPATHY caused me to reflect on what an inclusive education might look like in a school district.

Personally, I am a strong believer in striving to ensure our system is an inclusive school system.  I want my children, and their children one day, to thrive in an inclusive community.  I like where we are going, and to realize that reality I think we need to ensure our schools start kids off learning how to thrive within an inclusive school system.

I found it appealing in Sean's post how he helped weave together the different types of fabric that represent all of our students.  I think the case could be made that there is no normal anymore, is there?  Our students come from such diverse home backgrounds, and and bring so many unique qualities  whether they are FNMI students, have physical or cognitive issues, are gifted, etc.  My belief about inclusion is that it is a culture that embraces the goal of ensuring every student recognizes they BELONG exactly where they are when at school, and that our schools will do all they can to learn their needs and accommodate them to ensure  they have the most success possible.

As an example, several years ago when I was a vice principal and we used to convert our tests to audio cassette tape to support students with academic challenges, and it was hard work to convince students there was no need to feel self conscious when using the tapes.  Who wants to be different, even if we need it?  I shared that I chose to use audio books for a similar purpose, and I would share my experiences as a student with a 50% hearing loss who struggled to accept supports that could perhaps have helped me achieve more in school.  With our students then, we would talk at length about how each of us was different, and identify the MANY differences we all could have.  Based on that, wouldn't it be a shame if we didn't take advantage of those supports available to us?  When an advantage presents itself, it is our responsibility to take advantage of it.

At that time, we had an OUTSTANDING resource teacher (Tina, wherever you are these days I hope you are well!) and we had tremendous willingness to of our students to accept those supports.  It remains a source of pride that 'non-coded' students at that time would request the audio tapes as well.  Why not?  If it is good for one, couldn't it be good for all?  It was during that time, and in those conversations with staff and students, that my personal vision of inclusion began to be formed, long before Action on Inclusion kicked in.  Looking back I see, as Sean shared, the important role empathy would play in realizing that vision!

I'm a fan of consciously addressing empathy, and emotional intelligence, in our schools.  That was at the core of our vision at DTPS when I was principal.  Understanding emotions, and the role they play in building personal and community success, is effective at helping kids and parents understand how a school can be more effective for everyone in it.  Not everyone will show up at our schools having mastered empathy, but I believe they understand it at a foundational level and everyone has the capacity to develop it.  It is worthy of spending the time in our schools focusing on building empathy and helping people to manage/control their emotions..  As I continue to reflect on the heels of the recent school shooting tragedy in Newtown CN, and in the challenges faced by an increasingly divergent society, perhaps empathy needs to be explicitly identified as a key element at the core of our overall inclusive district vision?

From Sean's blog:  

A balance is struck in culturally diverse schools when students realize that being different isn’t a quality reserved for others, but rather a state that describes each one of them. 

Well put Sean.  Everyone is different, somehow, and is therefore deserving of understanding and empathy.  As a precursor, we have to first help students build deep understanding of themselves, and how they behave, make decisions, etc.  Once they understand themselves fully, I believe it will be easier for them to understand others and then to recognize the differences, some subtle and some more visible, and be empathetic.

I believe there is a strong connection between empathy and emotional intelligence.  I believe we need to talk about these as essential competencies/traits our students need, and I think perhaps we start here on our path to inclusion instead of focusing solely on the strategies to support those who are perceived to most need to be included.  

In summary, it is not just 'those students' that need inclusion.  We all need inclusion.   To be the best it can be, our society needs inclusion.

Friday, January 4, 2013

TEACHERS: Know Thy Impact!

At a recent session for our district's first and second year teachers, I showed a a short video of John Hattie talking to teachers about the impact they have on student success.  Clicking on the picture will open a new window and play the 1:36 video.

What I like about that short video is the powerful way Hattie communicates the message that teachers have a POWERFUL impact on both individual and collective student achievement.  Too often it is easy to get caught up in the fast pace of school, and the planning-instruction cycle, and focus on our inputs instead of the output.  The results of the daily work we do as teachers should be considered formative, and provide information so we can make different choices about what we do as teachers in order to achieve different results.

I think it is critically important to keep up with the work we are doing to change our system and our practices so we can embed the time and use it to consider our impact as teachers.  As teachers we must continually consider the output, i.e. individual student learning, and structure our daily work to ensure we intentionally make changes as needed to respond to student needs.

In the book Classroom Instruction that Works, the authors Robert Marzano, Debra Pickering and Jane Pollock identified 9 broad teaching strategies that are proven to positively impact teaching.  We reference these strategies for teachers in our district when we talk about quality instruction and making choices that are most likely to positively impact student learning.  In his book Visible Learning, referenced in more detail HERE on this blog, Hattie shared that "...just about everything works."  Most strategies will yield a positive impact on student achievement.  With limited resources (time and money) it is essential teachers choose those strategies that will have the most impact on student learning.  These are commonly referred to as 'high yield strategies'.  The point I always stress with teachers is that Marzano's strategies, and those outlined in Hattie's book, are a great place to start when considering effective teaching strategies.

Over the years I have had the pleasure of watching MANY outstanding teachers change students' lives, both academically and in other ways.  Those teachers used a variety of different styles/strategies/approaches, but regardless of the input, the output was the same.  In spite of using different strategies to achieve their goals, the teachers I can think of had many things in common though, chief among them the focus on changing what they did to meet the students' needs. 

As I reflect on the work we are engaged in and our potential for continuous improvement, I am very excited.  We have outstanding teachers and administrators in our schools.  We have outstanding beginning teachers apply for new positions.  The future looks quite bright, in my humble opinion, and I look forward in my new role to be able to work together with teachers and administrators in our district to make us even more effective at impacting student achievement. 

As we move forward, let's be mindful of what works, and strive to make choices about our behavior that will result in our being able to benefit from the efficiencies and synergy of an integrated system.

Research, data collection and use, and mindful/intentional reflection on practice are valuable tools in our arsenal for improving student achievement.  Keeping knowledge of our impact as teachers and administrators provides a strong foundation upon which we can be intentional about what we do!

Happy New Year!

May all your goals, personal and professional, be realized for yourself and your students in 2013.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Checklists in Education

UPDATE:  November 30, 2012:

When addressing the importance of planning in education in a blog post this morning, Grant Wiggins made reference to Gawande's Checklist Manifesto.  I like his idea of using an INSTRUCTIONAL PLANNING template as a planning checklist.  What a great way for instructional coaches to support teachers in helping focus their planning activities too!  :)  Check out Wiggins' blog here:

-------------------- original post follows  -------------------

When I'm overwhelmed, and/or struggling to juggle a variety of tasks that are competing for my attention, I find myself making lists to help manage the chaos.  It works for me, and I appreciate the mighty checklist.

So does Atul Gawande, a surgeon/author/researcher who wrote the book The Checklist Manifesto.  It might be my bias towards lists in times of complexity that influenced me to LOVE this book, but I don't think so.  I think it is because it makes sense and I see room for this strategy in the complex system where I work.

Our educational system is incredibly complex, as are our individual daily jobs within the system.  Education is highly social work, is based on the interactions of many people and in a wide variety of settings, and as such relies on highly effective communication to be successful.

Gawande's premise is that in highly complex systems (like ours) checklists can be a great resource!  To illustrate his point, Gawande describes how checklists have improved the effectiveness of complex surgeries in (previously) successful hospitals.  He also describes how pilots RELY on checklists to simplify the amazingly complex tasks involved with flying commercial jets.  It is a compelling testament to the mighty power of the seemingly little list.

I am in agreement with Gawande's premise that we must manage complexity, decrease 'errors' and increase our successes.  There will be are times when we are not as effective in our system as we desire.  Lets learn from those 'errors' and seek to explicitly stop doing what is less effective and start doing what is most effective.  

Reflecting on the need to learn from our mistakes, I was reminded of John Hattie's claim that when it comes to education, "...just about everything works...".  Just about every educational strategy is effective to some degree, but it is clear that some work more consistently or more effectively than most.  Instructional strategies such as Marzano's essential nine strategies, for example, are proven to be highly effective.  Why wouldn't we all strive to use them?

What I found most valuable in this book is the focus on improving the SYSTEM.  Talk about improving education really, when you think about it, is talk about improving individual school systems.  When considering how we might improve our school district, we must plan accordingly, given we are a complex human system.  Gawande offered the reminder that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts when he said that great systems are more than just great components!  They are an EFFECTIVE mesh of those components!
Working backwards from the system level, as educational leaders we must help our schools each be great, and work effectively together!  We must also help our teachers in each school be great, and mesh well together.  Great systems then can only be the result of great individuals working collectively as a great schools that then work collectively to form a great district.

Autonomy is a condition necessary for high intrinsic motivation, but I think it what effective systems do is create the parameters within which autonomy can be exercised.  Having a high degree of professional autonomy was described by author Daniel Pink (in his book Drive) as one of the three essential components of someone who is highly intrinsicly motivated, along with personal mastery and a strong sense of purpose.  Gawande described autonomy as requiring limits, to ensure it was not a complete distraction from the core focus of the organization.  I think that is a minor difference only.....ultimately, why not?

I appreciate that Gawande identified effective systems have standards, set clear goals, measure progress and utilize some form of centralized decision making to pull it all together.  Along with effective teamwork, collaboration, and communication is as much listening as it is sharing!  In the surgical checklist situation Gawande described, nurses and doctors communicated together on an equal playing field and in working through the presurgery checklist that equality made a significant impact on the effectiveness of the surgery.

What might this equality and effective communication look like in our schools?  Can we create a 'start of year' school checklist?  Who would use it?  What would it look like?

Reflecting on our district and wondering how we might apply the concept of a checklist, I considered the idea of a checklist as being similar in some ways to our guiding principles.  A surgical checklist identifies the things essential to successful surgery.  How can our guiding principals be shaped into a 'pre-learning checklist'?  Or into some other checklist?

To me, the power of the book is the promise that exists when a systems focus becomes entrenched within an organization.  It's worth the effort and investment to change to be a better system.  Our students will benefit!

If you've read this far, thanks.  I have a small favor to ask.  If you are a teacher, and Gawande's premise makes sense, please consider adding a comment to this post in response to the following question:

Where is one place in our system that we might be able to create and use an educational checklist?

I'm thinking when we transfer a new student in, or register a new student.  A checklist might be created to help review prior learning, identify student needs, etc.  Simple, but powerful, to walk through all the steps of a checklist to quickly get to know a new student.

I'm curious to hear other thoughts too, please.....

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Case of the Missing Zero (Subtitled: What's the REAL Issue?)

What an excellent week of meaningful educational discussions in the mainstream Alberta media!

I think the discussions generated by David Staples' recent column, on the topic of assigning grades of zero for incomplete work, in the Edmonton Journal are fantastic, and I especially appreciate the comments shared by disgruntled educators and concerned non-educators.  An article that can get people from inside and outside education talking about student learning is a valuable piece of writing, and this one has identified a pretty hot issue.

Ive been thinking about what I can learn from these (emotional) discussions....

A lot of good points have been made on both sides of the issue.  A lot is also left unsaid, and I think there is much much much more to the story than is represented by: 'he wanted to give zeros, he wasn't allowed, he's suspended, and common sense again seems to take a backseat to academic policy'.  

Some of the points made in support of assigning zeros for missing work are hard to argue with:

"Somewhere along the line they (the students) have to learn they have to be accountable..."

"There are very few soft zeros in the real world"

"We can use every teacher with high standards that we've got."

I agree COMPLETELY.  Students do need to be taught to be accountable. The real world does get tougher.  High standards are good.  Does anyone REALLY think the education system no longer holds those values?   That doesn't make much sense, does it?

I do believe, however, that the people making these statements may be forgetting one fact from their own past, and from those of their friends at age 17:  Not everyone who is currently in their 40s learned the lessons above by the end of grade 12.  I certainly didn't.  Many of my friends did not either.  Some people I know did.  It's likely the same now.

One of the benefits of teaching for over 20 years is having points of reference spanning many years.  Just as there were some spectacular students 20 years ago, there are some spectacular students now.  Let's not paint a picture of doom and gloom for modern education.  We graduate more students now than ever before, and we must not forget to celebrate those who succeed!

Spending time arguing about zeros misses the point I think.  Supporting ALL students is the real point. I'd love to see the conversations of this week keep going and morph into a desire on the part of those 97% of respondents who feel students should be given zeros to take a SERIOUS look at what school, and society, are really like TODAY and identify changes we can make to our education system to improve student learning.

One of the educators quoted in the Journal made reference to unmotivated and underachieving students in high school, reading significantly below grade levels.  That is sad.  Struggling students do not get to high school, in my experience, without years of supportive parents and caring teachers, administrators, and support staff trying to help them.  Hundreds of hours?  Thousands maybe?  Let's not dismiss the significant efforts of those teachers and parents who put in the hours trying to help kids before they arrived in high school

Just as there is no ONE factor that solely contributes to a student's development, there is no one solution (give them zero when they struggle) to solve the problem of their struggling at school.  
If society is more complex and challenging, let's realize that school (a microcosm of society, right?) is more complex and challenging too.  We can't use the solutions of yesterday to solve problems of today if they don't fit.   

Since I know you are thinking it,here are some solutions I'd like to see, based on my experiences as an educator and as a parent:

Mental health issues for children are on the rise, just like they are for adults  Let's get every child (and their families) who need mental health support the help they need before age 10.  Physical activity is part of this.  Let's fund playgrounds with new schools, give kids tons of gym time, fund/staff school breakfast programs, and support biology to help kids develop!

Let's adequately fund social supports for families in need.  Period.  Sales tax for social supports.  There.  I said it.  The S-T word.  Sorry.

Early literacy development is essential for preparing children for success in later grades.  Let's get every child into pre-school or kindergarten programs and primary grades at school where they get the attention, the excellent instruction and the COORDINATED support that matches their needs. 

Let's not have schools ridiculously overcrowded if we can help it.  If we can't help it, let's fund more teachers to work with those students.  Let's help teachers have the time to develop that deep knowledge of every student's needs so they can use their training to meet those needs.

Let's stop talking about building partnerships with our communities and start to make it happen.  Force agencies to work together, but support them to do so as well.  Offer huge tax benefits to businesses that partner with schools.  Offer huge financial support and programming flexibility to districts prepared to do the work with businesses to provide students with MEANINGFUL learning opportunities in their communities.  Relevance, more than punishment, motivates disengaged youth.  Ever see a student surprise you with the depth of their passion, their caring, or in any other way?  They all have it in them, as each of us does as well. Let's draw it out.

Let's provide funding that ensure teachers have the support needed to continually upgrade their skills, and the time to refine their practice IN the classroom. Not after hours. Let's be clear about expectations (i.e. the most important thing is good instruction) and lets be generous with support.

Let's publically celebrate our students who succeed within the confines of an outdated system.  MANY are graduating prepared for a complex global world.  Something good is happening too, and it is not fair to forget that.

There's lots more hat can be changed, sure.  But give me the above and I'll be happy.


I'm happy now, actually.  We are doing pretty well.  I see it in the mirror; I am a way better teacher today than I was before.  I see it all around me.  Things are improving.  We continue to focus on improving. Daily.  I look forward to seeing what school will look like in 10 years.  It's going to be that much better.  I seriously doubt improvement will look like the practices of the past.  We know more about how we learn now and we need to use that knowledge.

To end the zeros discussion for now, can we agree on the following?:

If a student does not hand in an assignment, teachers and parents need must continue to work with the student to complete that work.  Hound the student.  Pester the parents.  Rationalize.  Show two marks.  Cajole.  Bribe.  :)  Offer consequences for not doing the work.  If after all of that the work does not get done though, find out WHY it is not getting done.  Then solve that problem.  

Missed work represents missed learning outcomes (i.e. missed curriculum) and students are expected to master as much of the curriculum ad they are capable of mastering.  At the end of the year, let's summarize what remains to be learned and use that knowledge to start next year.

I can actually live with zeros at the end of June if the steps above have been completed.  

I know we need to be practical too. Give the zero if you need to right now.  Marks ultimately don't mean too much anyway.  :)   They are artificial representations of learning.  To prove it, I'll give good cash money to anyone who can tell me how a 68% differs from an 81% with respect to specific learning outcomes in MATH 9.  What's the difference between those marks?  What does the student who has an 81% know that the other student doesn't?

As we move forward though, try reflect on what might be the REAL issue at the heart of the conversations this it really zeros?  Or is it something bigger?


Monday, April 30, 2012

Farewell to a GPPSD Icon

Over the course of the last two weeks I've had the opportunity to attend two separate retirement functions for one of our district's senior administrators.  The retirement of Dr. Roger Mestinsek, GPPSD deputy superintendent, was celebrated locally at Crystal Park School and again in Edmonton at the College of Alberta School Superintendents retirement banquet.

Roger (center, in the picture above, with CASS Executive Director Kath Rhyason and CASS President Roger Nippard) was recognized at both events for his wisdom, his commitment to students and our district/system, and just generally for the excellence with which he met his expectations while employed for the Grande Prairie Public School District for 38 years.

I have had the pleasure of working with Roger for almost half of my career with the district and I've learned an incredible amount and seen first hand the positive impact he has had leading staff and students.

Among the many pieces of East Coulee Advice Roger has shared over the years, his words to live by from the CASS retirement banquet are worthy of sharing with our students:  "Find something you love to do, and find someone to pay you to do it!"

I know that I am not alone in being thankful for the opportunity to have worked with Roger and as he leaves to explore new interests in the field of education I know too I speak for everyone as we wish him all the very best!

Good luck Rog!

Success for ALL Learners

Recently, at the provincial FNMI Conference in Grande Prairie, I had the pleasure of seeing some inspirational people from Alberta schools receive recognition for their considerable efforts to help our students succeed. There are some amazing people involved in education in our district/region/province, and it is always inspiring to hear the passion in their voices as they talk about what working with our students means to them. I'm fortunate to have been able to share in their celebrations.

I also had the great fortune to spend Friday March 30th working with Dr. Russell Bishop, from Waikatu University in New Zealand, and my peers from the GPPSD administration team. Dr. Bishop has committed a significant portion of his career in New Zealand to improving, the academic and cultural success of indigenous Maori students in New Zealand schools.

Dr. Bishop's work has led to the Te Kotahitanga Project, which is a project embedded in New Zealand schools and focused on helping teachers improve their practice in ways that will contribute to improving Maori students' achievement.  The model Dr. Bishop shared with us, has the following mission:

Te Kotahitanga is a research and professional development programme that:
  • supports teachers to improve Māori students' learning and achievement, enabling teachers to create a culturally responsive context for learning which is responsive to evidence of student performance and understandings
  • enables school leaders, and the wider school community, to focus on changing school structures and organisations to more effectively support teachers in this endeavour.
There are some excellent video resources on YouTube, if you'd like to see Dr. Bishop and other passionate individuals speak of the project.  If you're interested in seeing our FNMI students achieve higher levels of success, I'd encourage you to take a look and see what we can learn from the NZ experience of Dr. Bishop.  I am incredibly optimistic the strategies at the core of this project have the potential to improve our system, inform our work with community and benefit our students!

Dr. Bishop spoke about the power of EMBEDDING support for Maori students into our classrooms, and shared that  "What is good for the Maori student can be good for all students, but what is good for all students is not necessarily what is good for the Maori student."  To me, these words echoed what we know about inclusive education, embedding technology into instruction, etc.

Our support should be systematic, must be based on highly effective teacher-student relationships, and I think in an ideal world it will occur during class time and not outside of class.  I know that as a teacher, I benefited a great deal by learning while co-teaching with my peers.  Reflecting on systematic and embedded support, there is a lot of talk about the role learning coaches can play in supporting our teachers in the province.  As we look at the potential for this type of embedded support in our schools, I'm excited to see the results!  

In the end....Dr. Bishop again affirmed for us what we all intuitively know already.  The teacher is the key to student success and it is essential teachers create effective relationships with students.  The relationships facilitate learning.

In essence, like any other parent, I want my children to know their teachers care for them and build responsive, reciprocal, and respectful relationships.  Our goal should be to have that for every student!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

You Know, We Just Don't Use That Word Here.....

I am not sure how I missed it, as the video has been on YouTube for almost a year and has 1.5M views, but the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign to end the use of the r-word is a pretty big deal! What a powerful campaign!

It is especially important in an inclusive society, and in our inclusive schools, that we do not let the r-word exist. And while we are at it, let's address the other inappropriate words too!

I had an administrator, fairly early in my career, tell me that a behavior ignored is a behavior reinforced. He shared that we needn't always 'fix' the situation, but if we wanted the behavior to stop eventually we at least had to note it as inappropriate and that it needed to stop.

It is is a great strategy.

Inappropriate language is one of those things we need to address in our classrooms and hallways, and the phrase "we just don't use that word here" is a powerful way to address poor choice of words. Using that phrase in passing lets others know they were heard and their language was inappropriate. Using it when you have more time to work with students can lead to great discussions about why it was used, why it is inappropriate, alternative ways to communicate emotions, etc..

Taking the time to have those conversations with students can be more powerful than we imagine at times!

I don't know how many times I've used it, but what I found tonight when Reading Chris Smeaton's Superintendent's Blog is that strategy is almost EXACTLY the message shaered in the Spread the Word to End the Word video.

I WISH I would have had this video to quickly show a student on my phone in a hallway or classroom when I was explaining why words were inappropriate!

Give it a watch. It is very short. Powerful too. The impact:duration ratio is high for this one.

What do you think colleagues?

How hard would it be for EVERY one of us to address the inappropriate language we hear used in our schools? How powerful could that phrase be if 700+ GPPSD staff use it every time it is needed?

Something to think about perhaps. A behavior ignored is a behavior reinforced.


Monday, March 19, 2012

What Did I Learn This Week (March 12-16, 2012)

On March 15 and 16 I attended a learning symposium organized by Alberta Education and the College of Alberta School Superintendents.
If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen my tweets from this event containing the hash tag #cass2012.  In addition to taking notes at a learning opportunities like these, I like to share items I find particularly interesting or relevant with others.  Twitter is one of my key outlets for sharing, and I find great value in the content others share via Twitter.  I like to do my part to contribute to the conversation.  

So, on that note, for those of you who may not follow me on Twitter, I thought I'd share some of the other key learnings I learned this week. My observations and questions for self-reflection (or for you to comment on - if you like) are in bold, blue text. 

Relationships Matter - an incredible amount! The importance of building deep and meaningful relationships with staff, parents, and students was evident in sessions focused on high school completion, anti-bullying, curriculum redesign, increasing FNMI student success, and improving student attendance.  It was equally evident in our keynote presentations too.  What does this look like in our schools?  

If relationships are THIS important, what must we do as a district to facilitate the development of strong student-student, teacher-student, teacher-parent relationships in our schools?  How can we support everyone to grow the kinds of relationships that will allow us to maximize student learning?  

We Are Responsible For Intellectually Engaging Our Students!  One of the staff from Alberta Education presented that the 2010-2011 School Year resulted in the most impressive academic results in history.  According to the this presenter, based on our students' results, and the Tell Them From Me surveys, for an average class of 30 students, the following would be true in Alberta last year:
  • Of 30 students, 22 (73%) will graduate HS in 3 years after starting High School.
  • One additional student (77%) will graduate after 4 years of high school.
  • One more additional student (80%) will graduate within 5 years of graduating.
  • 14 of the 30 (48%) students are intellectually engaged in MA/SCI/LA
  • 8 of the 30 (27%) students are interested and motivated in their courses.  
Is this good enough?  I don't think so.  It is not what I want for my kids, or your kids either, for that matter.  So what are we going to do about it?

This is not just an Alberta problem, either.  Check out this graph showing student engagement and motivation from a national study of 6-12 students in 2009:

From What Did You Do In School Today? First National Report, May 2009, Canadian Education Association.
An 80% 5-year graduation rate is pretty impressive, really, compared to previous years.  It is not enough though.  Assuming the survey results referenced above are valid however, the intellectual engagement and motivation should be cause for concern.  Where do we start?  I'm thinking the key to hooking our students on intellectually engaging and motivating courses might be a combination of relationships and instructional practice.  What do you think? 

Instructional Practices and Instructional Leadership are the Foundation of School Improvement - The difference between leaders and managers has been discussed at great length in many by many other better writers than I, so I won't get into it here.  I think we all agree Instructional Leadership is more important to student success than Instructional Management.  At the district level, we need to support our administrators so they may be able 
to support their teachers to provide effective instruction in every classroom.

On the topic of classroom instruction, there is SO MUCH research to support what we know are effective instructional techniques.  As schools and districts, we need to expect those effective techniques are used whenever appropriate.  I'm sure it is not just me who has been noticing that Marzano's research into effective teaching practices is a foundation of a great deal of the action research taking place in Alberta right now.

My thoughts on this?  I really think our district is on the right track in this area.  If we want different results, we need to do things differently.  Our expected instructional practices and our focus on supporting administrators to be instructional leaders are great for kids!

I Think Competencies Might be Bigger Than Outcomes. - I like the direction Alberta's curriculum re-design will be taking.  Of course students will always need to learn specific course content, but education is so much more than specific learning outcomes.  When I was principal at DTPS, I used to talk to the students about the types of neighbors they could be once they were done school.  When they are 40, and taking care of all of us now, we need them to be knowledgeable AND to be good people.

I love that Alberta Education's vision is to prepare our students to be engaged and ethical citizens with an entrepreneurial spirit.  That is powerful.  We might need to help people understand that entrepreneurial does not necessarily mean that our students will want to start their own business.  :)  But on the whole, this vision works for me to describe the kind of students we need to graduate!

And in general, to summarize:

The Good Old Days Are Great Memories... - ....but the future will be different.  This is pretty much guaranteed!  The move away from Carnegie Units and CEUs at the high school, the move towards flexibility, personalization, and inclusion, etc., are all topics we heard about repeatedly.  Our schools, and our system, are on the right track.

Let's not wait. 

Let's change now if we know it will be better for kids.

100% high school completion is not just a dream. The impossible is made up of possibilities!  Let's keep moving towards the possible!

See you there!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Becoming Our Own Experts

With all of the talk of late re: the role of data in education, and the importance placed on system-level or larger-scale standardized tests, talk tends to lead to trying to identify the real measures of success in schools.

Requests to standardize educational practices then, based on these results, are commonly raised by some external educational stakeholders, and are commonly argued against by internal stakeholders. Similar discussions tend to occur re: the role of data and research.

I love watching these discussions unfold in person, online via blog comments, or on twitter.

As I try to detach from the emotional beliefs I hold given I am deeply embedded in the educational system, and observe these conversations/arguments from the sideline, I am often reminded of one of my 'self-sayings'. The little voice on my shoulder often advises me: "Approach with caution those who are too certain," because I think being open to new ideas is a VERY important trait in this era of RAPID change!

For those who claim data and research should drive the educational bus, I try to understand why they hold that belief. For those who claim we need to be open to constructing our own learning and not basing our decisions on the research of others, I try to understand the foundation of their beliefs.

Ultimately, I find trying to look beneath the arguments on both sides helps me to arrive at my own conclusions more quickly. Tonight I happened across a 16 minute TED talk on the topic of experts and I thought it was extremely appropriate to education. In this talk, economist Noreena Hertz talks about why we should be cautious when it comes to taking the advice of experts. Give it a watch, and after you are done I'll reveal my position on the role of research, data, etc, in education.

Interesting, isn't it?

I think she makes a great point. We truly need to become our own experts in education, because each school and each community TRULY DOES have unique circumstances. To do that though, I think we need to provide a framework for building a base level of knowledge. We need to bridge the ideal of completely constructivist learning with the need to be accountable to a set of curricular standards expected by society. I think we need to bridge theory and practicality to attain a level of consistency for all students.

In our district, our administrators have worked for the past 3 or 4 years to identify expected instructional practices that should be evident in every classroom. Our superintendent sent a letter to every teacher reinforcing these expected practices. Providing a balanced approach to teaching literacy, and focusing on reading comprehension in every subject area, are examples of our expected practices. We also talk a lot about the most effective instructional practices identified through comprehensive meta-analysis on student achievement by Marzano and Hattie, and some are also evident in our expected practices.

I think our expected instructional practices, as well as identifying some of the core interventions we are expected to provide all students, create a platform by which we can support the growth of the experts in our classrooms and offices. Expected practices are not maximums...they are the minimums, from which continued teacher growth will occur. Looking back, I would have given up a prep block in my first few years if I had been told to focus on these specific instructional practices. It would have improved my teaching in a faster and more focused way than I experienced.

As continuous improvement happens, our experts will be more and more successful, and our ability to address unique needs at each school will continue to improve. Consequently, I hope, our reliance on external experts should increase as well. And so on. Wouldn't that be a desirable circle of improvement to set in motion?

What do you think the role of experts is in education? I'd love to know your thoughts....add a comment perhaps?


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Frequently Asked Questions at GPPSD Tech Mentorship Session

On Tuesday February 21, 2012, it was again my pleasure to spend some time with our first and second year teachers and their mentors as they attended one of their four district mentorship sessions. We spent an excellent morning talking about ways that technology can (a) support their professional practice by helping with organization, etc., and (b) support student learning in their classrooms through integration into their instruction.

After discussing how tools like Evernote, Diigo, DropBox, and Outlook can help with organization, note taking, research, etc., we moved into discussion of practical ways to integrate technology into our daily instruction. We very briefly looked at the TPACK framework, where technological knowledge must overlap with pedagogical knowledge as well as content knowledge.

We also reinforced that technology is a tool, appropriate in some places and not the best tool in others. Providing students with choice, multiple means of engagement, and multiple means of representation is an important practice in our district, and technology has a role to play in helping prepare and engage students.

The bulk of our time together was spent looking at the essential 9 instructional practices identified by researcher Richard Marzano as having the most significant impact on student achievement. For those who might not be familiar with Marzano's research, and excellent summary of the tools is available HERE.

Teachers worked in small groups to identify different strategies that could be used for three of the strategies identified by Marzano as having a significant influence on student learning. The strategies we looked at today included Identifying Similarities and Differences, Note Taking and Summarizing, and Non-Linguistic Representation. The different strategies shared by teachers were OUTSTANDING! It was very affirming to see the creativity, passion, and engagement of our teachers today! A summary of the primary tools/strategies identified during the session, with links to videos or text-based introductions for each, is available on my slideshare account HERE. It is also uploaded to our district mentorship portal site HERE (note: accessible only to GPPSD staff).

At the end of the session today, protégées and mentors completed an exit slip. The FAQ (frequently asked questions) arising from those exit slips are addressed below. I hope they help. If you have additional questions, please email me!

You mentioned our GPPSD WIKI on Digital Citizenship and Internet Safety. Where can I find that again? Check it out HERE. Excellent resources and lesson plans for you to use in your class next week....for all levels! Use it. Add to it.

Where do I find the time to learn all this stuff? The best advice I can give is to approach learning about what is out there, and how to bring it in, the same way you eat an elephant. One small bite at a time. Check for local PD sessions, attend tech learning link sessions, hit up the sessions at convention, and most importantly, talk with others and learn from your colleagues! It is important, as we talked about today, so try give it some small amounts of your attention on a regular basis.

Wow. The pace of change re: Tech is something else. How on earth can we stay current? Unless you are prepared to make some big sacrifices in your personal time, this is a challenge. I highly recommend EMAIL. Subscribe to receive email updates from the following sites, and you will get the best of the best shared with you on a regular basis. If you have time to read the email, great. If not, delete it without guilt and try again when you receive the next one. They will come to you automatically.
  • FreeTech4Teachers - This is an EXCELLENT blog with many practical strategies shared on a regular basis. I recommend this site above all others to those wanting to learn more about a wide range of tools. Sign up for email updates HERE.
  • Vantage - An excellent resource sent out monthly by the 2Learn Education societ, it is focused on levels, on themes, and it always includes French resources as well. Sign up for it HERE. Sit back, and revel in the quality resources that will be sent to you forever, with nothing required on your part. :)
  • Ask a Tech Teacher - I don't receive the updates from this site, but I've heard people like it, and when I looked at it tonight I saw some decent-looking tips. Scroll down the left hand side of THIS PAGE to receive email updates.
And remember....if you don't like what you receive....unsubscribe! These three should be a good starting point though! For the more advanced among you, you might also want to look into RSS feeds and Google Reader to stay current. Google it. You know you want to....

What do we do if we don't have access to computers, labs, etc.? This is our reality. As good as we have it with respect to technology, we don't have enough. I'm not sure there is enough, until every student has a device with them all day. Focus on small and simple tools (digital cameras, a school netbook, the SMART Boards most of our rooms have) and use them as much as possible. When good enough is not possible, go for the best you can do. We will continue to advocate for increased technology spending and/or flexibility through the district budgeting process!

We did not talk about SMART Board Resources. Where can I find more of those? Google SMART resources and you will find a lot of sharing sites. One of the best I find for beginners is the SMART Exchange on the SMART Technologies website, HERE. You can search by level, by grade, etc. You might also check out my diigo links on interactive white boards (IWB) HERE, as I've saved many resources over the years.

Hey! You mentioned a cheap, effective USB document camera for under $100. Where did you find that? I ordered the Ipevo Point 2 View document camera online from I've not used it myself, as I shipped it off to a school for testing as soon as it came in, but I hear it is simple and reliable. Which in the world of tech = good news! KISS, right? Keep it simple s-----.

You talked about simple ways to create animations. What was the extra-something? I was referring to xtranormal. Here is an example, it is my introduction to our digital citizenship and internet safety wiki.

There are other great sites for helping kids create animations as well. Learn more about those sites, including Xtranormal, HERE.

We did not talk about web pages, but the topic came up. What is an easy way for kids to build pages? This is actually pretty easy for most students, and I think they will take to this quite easily. My son in grade 8 recently built a web page for an inquiry project instead of writing a paper. He built a Weebly site, and you can check it out HERE. For a description of some of the more common tools available, I'm going to give the last word to Richard Byrne, from FreeTech4Teachers HERE.

If you're still reading. Thanks. If you were at the session today, thanks. If you have any questions, drop me a line. If you have anything you'd like to add (note: I haven't even mentioned Edmodo yet) please consider leaving a comment in the comments box below!

Talk to you later.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Preparing Our Students For Their (uncertain) Future

As responsible 21st Century educators, and lifelong learners committed to staying current with educational theory, I do not believe I've met anyone who does not take our responsibility to prepare our students for the their adult life seriously.

In speaking with parents and community members over the years, I do not believe I've met anyone who does not recognize that the world has changed from when most of us were young adults and that we need to build a solid foundation of basic skills in our students as well as preparing them for the collaborative and fluid future they will face.

But, when all the rhetoric is said and done, what does all that mean?  What does it mean to say the world is different?  The Shift Happens video series started by Scott McLeod and Karl Fisch do a great job of quantifying how our society has changed over time.  If you've not seen those videos, I think you should take 15 minutes and watch them.  You're likely to be amazed by some of the statistics.

Drilling down even deeper however, and thinking about our current environment, I read an interesting statistic this morning that I believe does a great job of driving this point home as well.  According to an article in Business Week by David. J. Lynch, the United States currently manufactures 25% more goods than just 12 years ago, yet (and here is the important point), the number of workers used to create those goods remains the exact same.

As production increases, and labor rates stay the same, it is not a result of workers increasing output or hours by 25%.  Rather, automation and an increase in the use of machines and technology is the culprit.

Increased manufacturing, if this statistic is true, is not likely enough then to break an economy free from a recession, depression, or even just a major slowdown.  I expect automation is only likely to increase in the future, not decrease, bringing even fewer jobs to the market.

Instead, as author Daniel Pink suggests in his book A Whole New Mind, we need to increase the number of knowledge jobs, and prepare our students to assume those positions.  To prepare students to create and apply new knowledge, on a broad scale, will require some changes to how the education system and schools work.

To help parents and the community understand the reasoning behind these changes, it HAS TO BE our job to help sell the change.  We have to help create the vision by engaging in the conversations about education reform in our communities!  We need to create a shift in understanding so that parents value these skills and recognize the need for educational change and then we need to accept that we ourselves have to change first before we get our students to change.

That is going to be hard, I think.

As education reform progresses, I see the comments by parents in the newspaper reflecting their belief in traditional system.  It is our responsibility to engage our communities in the discussions that will help them build the understanding of what the future holds, and what being prepared for the future represents.

Project-based learning is in our future.  Problem solving, both individually and as a member of a team, at all levels must be a core skill.  Creativity is something to be valued, and therefore we must foster it in our schools.  Our future depends on it.

As the Cheshire Cat said to Alice, "If you don't know where you are going, then any road will take you there."  We need to know where we are going so we can help everyone in our communities get on the right road.

I believe in where I see us/our system heading.  Do youagree that we are on the right road??