Saturday, 24 January 2015

Being Part of a Tribe

I have just finished Seth Godin's Book Tribes. It is a fabulous book and if you have not read it then you must. The book discusses how to create a tribe and being part of one.  I gravitated to this book because of Seth's ideas of being a leader and starting your own tribe.  I will admit that have never been happy with the status quo (shocking I know). I personally feel that there is always room for improvement. Society must keep evolving in order to survive. We cannot keep in the same rut, day in and day out. I especially feel this way about education.

Education has to be at the forefront of change because we are raising the leaders of tomorrow. If we want our students to become these amazing people then we must demand that of ourselves. We cannot expect a student to be patient problem solvers, critical thinkers, creative, and innovative unless we are willing to do this. And how can we be these things if all we do is the same thing that has been working for the past ten years of our career. Now I know that some things do not need changing but all things can be improved.

Recently I have been a part of a really big change in my school board. A group of us has been leading the charge to bring GAFE to teachers. I won't say it has been easy but it has gone smoother that I thought.  

I couldn't have finished reading Seth's book at a more timely moment in my life.  I have come to realize that we are a tribe. We are a tribe that is unified in the belief that Google Apps for Education is great for student success. However, we are also a tribe because we all trust one another. No one in our group is thinking negative about others. The comments an ideas that are shared are meant to improve the group not hinder progress. When questions arise all ideas are heard and honoured. In addition, the group makes the decisions not just one person with a vision. It has been amazing to think of a small vision that you may have had but when combined with the potential of 9 other visions, it is truly remarkable. I must admit that it is tough to be always evolving. It is hard hearing, "you need to slow down!" "Why bother?" "that is not how we have done it."  It is hard to get your hand slap for asking questions or commenting on why policies are in place.  However, I take heart in knowing that I have my tribe next to me. I take heart in knowing that together we are a unified force that is guided by our common believes and faith.   It has been amazing to see what power a small unified force can have. Who would have thought that 10 teachers from various backgrounds could get a movement together and plan a conference (it just isn't the way things are done).  However, is that an acceptable line. Is it okay to say, "that is not how things are done?" or should we be asking why isn't it done that way and how can we improve it?

However, what I do know is that because I am part of this tribe: I am far happier, more motivated and willing to do whatever is needed to keep this vision rolling. I also know that everyone of us feels the exact same thing. Being part of something big is thrilling.

We are all parts of tribes everyday. We have our work tribe, family tribe and our own interest tribes. Being part of one is what makes us human. Most of us crave that connection with others.  However, not all tribes are the same or feel the same? My big questions are:

1) How do we replicate that great feeling of being part of a great tribe, with the tribes that you don't feel so great about?
2) How do you build trust while pushing forward with innovation and creativity?
3) How do you build your own tribe?
4) How do you sustain your tribe or the tribe?
5) How do we honour our innovators and changers in the classroom? 
6) How do we foster innovators and changers in our classroom?

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Edmettle: An Amazing Reflective Online Program


So a couple of weeks ago I was ask to pilot Brian Aspinall's new and amazing online program called edmettle.  I told Brian that I would write a review as soon as I was able to do so. Here is that review:

Now I have been blogging about assessment lately and it has been a topic that I have really been thinking hard about. I really believe that success in general is tied student reflection and independence in learning.  I know that this may seem radical but I think back to my own school career and I know that I didn't start learning till I wanted to learn. I think that most students are exactly the same. Now, I also think that as a teacher it is our job as teachers to model and facilitate this process. Students need to learn how to reflect, how to learn and how to think about improving themselves in an education setting.

This is where Edmettle comes in. Edmettle is a great platform that allows students to endorse themselves and others on the "soft skills" of education. I did put those in quotations because I believe that they are not so much "soft skills" but critical skills. These skills include, in Ontario our learning skills (independent work, collaboration, initiative, responsibility, Organization, and self-regulation). However, you can also add your own skills; for our school environment I added our Covey Habits.


Once these skills are put into the system all the student has to do is go to their profile and click on endorse.


There is a couple of great attributes to these endorsements.

1) Brian has added video links so that students can look up what these terms mean. I found this really helpful in Primary because the students can independently research these terms and internalize them through video representation.

2) The endorsements are on the page for as long as the page exist. This is an amazing reflective practise because the students can look back and see how they have progressed from the beginning to the end. It also is a great way to add comments to our own report card system. No longer do you have to remember or look through your notes on how students have been behaving or what they have done but now they are online in one spot.

3) You can have students endorse each other.  Now I like this feature and I don't. I think before you use it there has to be a lot of discussion around what is appropriate to say and what is not. This isn't a bad thing as it also allows you to discuss digital citizenship and learning at the same time.

4) Not only can students add endorsement but the classroom teacher and rotary teachers can as well. This is an amazing feature because it brings a lot of the hallway discussion into a reality for the children.

Concluding Thoughts:

There is a lot of research out there on how reflection yields higher success but reflection also needs to be internalized by the students. I know personally, when I was growing up reflections meant nothing to me. It wasn't until I was an adult that I realized the importance of this. However, if I made my goals, and reflections public I wonder if I would have achieved them sooner. I know that lately since I have been more reflective and public these goals have become realities a lot faster.

Edmettle does just this.  While writing online students make their learning and reflection public for the classroom to see. They see instant evaluation on these skills from teachers, themselves and their peers (if you allow), which in turn makes the student more accountable for their reflections.  Combining this with feedback, success criteria and co-constructed criteria, students are able to gauge how their learning is developing.  In addition, I think that it acts like a perfect bridge between those who are using paper portfolios to those who are trying to go digital. Edmettle allows a classroom or school to have a smaller jump into digital portfolios while still allowing them to host their work in a paper format. Edmettle, through the use of reflection allows students to set goals, reflect on skills and become a better more successful student.

Overall, I am enthralled with this program and looking forward to using it more and more in the classroom.  If you would like to get in on this amazing program go to www.edmettle.com and ask for an invite.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

10 Greatest Things of 2014!

I know that we are three weeks into 2015 but I was recently challenged by a great friend and colleague Brian Aspinall  about reflecting on the 10 best things of 2014.  I loved that in his blog and in many others that they mention how great it is to share their success and how it also is amazing to be reminded of all the positives that have happened.

I think that it is very easy as people to get bogged down with the negatives in your life that we loose site of all the great things that have happened. If you have not done so I highly recommend that you take up this challenge and share with the world what success you have had.  That being said without further discussion here are my 10 greatest things of 2014, hope that I can do this.

1) My son was born, July 7, 2014:  This has been the signal most important thing that happened in 2014. It has been amazing to see him grow and see the interaction between my daughter and him. When all is wrong with my day all it takes is a smile from both of them when I enter the door to make you think about what is really important in the world.

2) I finished my Masters' of Education: Yet another amazing achievement in my life. It took some time but four years well worth it. If you have not done so I really recommend that you do, and go the thesis route not the course. The course route can be quicker but the learning in your own research is amazing. At times I wanted to throw it out the door but it has also allowed me to be a better educator.

3) Presented at the Ontario, GAFE Summit: Being pushed by my other great friend Rolland Chidiac into presenting at this conference was a blessing in disguise. I was already using GAFE in the classroom without knowing it but after going to this conference my eyes were blown open.  GAFE goes well beyond the bells and whistles of amazing tech, it has sound pedagogical learning and enhances student success.   Because of this I started my own admin for my school and implemented it fully into the classroom. I was also able to network with truly amazing educators: Julie Millan, Michelle Cordym, and Scott Mohanan.

From these connection I have been able to meet other amazing educators like Sharon Moskovitz.

4) Met amazing educators: This was also the year that I continued to build amazing relationships with amazing people. These educators have become great friends and colleagues. I will list some but there are so many:

1) Matthew Oldridge
2) Helen Chapman
3) Brian Aspinall
4) Shivonne Lewis-Young
5) Aviva Dunsiger

There have been so many more and just want to say thank-you to all who I have talked to. It has been an amazing journey.

5) Year of presentations: Wow, this year has been filled with amazing opportunities to share and learn from wonderful people. I was able to present at the NFO leadership conference, Bit14, OAME14, GAFE summit, TDSB google Camp and was invited to Waterloo for a numbers talk presentation.

6) TLLP project:  For those not familiar with the TLLP it stands for teaching leadership and learning program. It is a government funded project that gives leadership to teachers to run their own PD. Last year my project was chosen and it was amazing. Not only that but from it came an opportunity of a life time. Ann Lieberman, who is the head researcher and professor at Standford University, asked me and my great friend Michelle Cordym (mentioned above) to go to China with her. Truly a blessing.

7) Started working with amazing group of educators in Peel on our first Google Camp: Now I know this camp is happening in 2015 but it all started in 2014. I am lucky to work in a board full of amazing people and educators. We are not the largest board in Ontario but pretty close and it is full of diverse thinkers and people but that is what makes it special. Peel is an amazing place to work. This group is no different. It has been an amazing journey planning this conference. And a lot of learning too.

8) I maintained my goal of two blog posts a month (except July and December but I was on break)
Now I know this may not seem like a big accomplishment but blogging has been a major goal of mine. I am not the best writer in the world. It is very hard for me to communicate in writing and get my ideas clearly on paper. It often takes me many revisions and even then it still is laden with mistakes. But it is also a lot of fun and very therapeutic.  Maintaining this goal was a big accomplishment for me and one that I stuck with.

9)  My Daughter Started Kindergarten: During my first year of teaching I was told that my teaching would change when I had kids. I didn't believe them and you know what it didn't; however, it did change when my daughter went to school this year.  I have included this in my accomplishments because it made me a better teacher. For the first time in my career I realized what it was like to be on the other side of the table. I was that parent who wanted to ask, "how are they doing?" and it made me realize the power that a great parent relationship has to a child's success.

10) I continue to work with amazing people everyday: I am truly blessed with the school that I am at. We started the journey at Ray Lawson two years ago, built the school from the ground up (not literally but educationally). It has been an amazing journey to be on and one that is so well worth the ride. It has made me a better teacher, a better person and a better leader.

Thank you for reading my top 10 things of 2014. Thank you Brian for challenging me to think and reflect.  It is truly amazing to keep the positives going in our life. If I mentioned you above I for sure want to hear your success and I challenge all of you reading this to do the same. Here is to 2015!! Keep the positives going!

What does it mean to be a Teacher?

I came across this quote last week:

Teaching is...
“inspiring students to discover on their own, to challenge if they don’t agree, to look for alternatives if they think there are better ones, to work through the great achievements of the past and try to master them on their own because they’re interested in them” (sorry cannot remember who said it).

I also received a personal message from a previous student's mother. In a nut shell she told me her son said that he missed me as a teacher. He said that he remembered my crazy antics and that he missed the learning and fun we had. She further stated that it made her realize the impact of a great teacher on a student.

These two statements got me thinking about teaching in general. More specifically, why I got into teaching and what teaching means.

It is very easy to forget how we can impact, for better or worse, a student in our class. We see them for the year but then off they go.  If we are lucky we see them in the halls or they talk to you as you go by but off they go into the yellow sunset to live their lives.   Every now and then we hear stories, read success stories or get a quick email that makes us think of the times we had in the classroom.

These moments in time make me think about why I became an educator. For me it wasn't a story of I have always known that I wanted to be a teacher from childhood. In fact I wanted to be a musician but my Dad told me that that was no way to live. I went to school to be an accountant but soon realized that I was doing this for all the wrong reasons. I volunteered at a local school and fell in love with teaching.

It was the light bulbs that did it for me. To see the mind work, explore, invent and be creative was truly inspiring. Not only that but to think that I had a small hand in that is really surreal.

Seeing this light bulb is one of the most important part of teaching for me. But how do we create that light bulb?
What got you into teaching?
What is teaching mean to you?

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Revolutionist or Forward thinking: Thoughts on Assessment

Today I had a very interesting conversation on Twitter. Now I want to preface this with, this type of conversation has been happening for quite some time and it is a conversation that will continue. But today's conversation made me think.

The conversation was on Assessment practise and it actually stemmed from a recent article in the globe and Mail.
I read this article earlier on in the day and have been stewing over this thought for quite some time. This led me to tweet this in response:

P.S: I did mean to type Write instead of right.

Well this sparked an interesting conversation with John Walkup, based on his twitter profile a professor of Cognitive Rigor ( I apologize John if I messed that up). See the full conversation here on my storify: https://storify.com/MrSoclassroom/debate-on-assessment.

The conversation was quite amazing and sparked many thoughts about self assessment and assessment as a whole.  Would love to hear your thoughts on the debate?

Overall, the themes (in my opinion [not trying to be bias here]) was that John was questioning me using student self reflection as the final mark in the reporting system.

To me reports is a task that I have to do as a teacher. In fact I hate them. I think they serve no purpose (in their present state) except to inform parents about the progress that their child made during the term. What I find even more redundant is that many parents don't even read the comments that teachers write because all they look at is the grades. Now let's tie it back to the globe and mail article. They suggested that grades hinder learning. And with this I agree. 

Learning is a process. When all we are consumed about is a letter at the end of the class we are not worrying about what we are learning just the outcome. If we focus solely on the learning then so will students. This is why I suggested letting my students write their own reports. Now of course I wouldn't be handing in that as the final assessment, as first of all I don't think my principal or school board would let me but also their needs to a some sort of evaluation from the teacher but what is wrong with incorporating their thinking into the reports.  How meaningful would that be? How engaging would it be to see their thoughts and reflections incorporated with my comments? How many parents would spend more time reading the comments because its their child's work?

These are all important questions we need to be asking.

Now as I have said before this is a topic that I have been thinking hard about for the past couple of years. I recently wrote a blog post about it called: Reflection on Assessment.  This year my daughter started school. It has been a very interesting ride.  It has made me really reflect as a teacher on how I am communicating to my students and to my parents. Assessment has been one of those key areas.

For me assessment is about the learning process. Children, like adults, learn at different rates and stages. Learning is not linear but it still is learning. When we impose certain milestones on children there is a sense of failure that goes with it for not meeting those standards. Yes failure is good but losing self esteem over it is not. At the same time it is fine to have standards as long as children know how they learn and that they will achieve those standards eventually. For this to happen, students need to be taught self reflection. It is a very hard thing for students and adults to learn. It starts with being honest with yourself and those around you. Yes as John pointed out their will be bias in a reflection but if we are honest with ourselves then the bias is limited. Students need to see that reflecting allows you to set goals, make plans to reach those goals and then finally obtain them.

In my classroom assessment is ongoing. We have daily conferences with students as they learn, every center and lesson has a reflecting piece that students do through Vlogs or ticket out the door activities. Students have created online portfolios that they share their work and treat it like a resume of learning. Also at the end of every term, we have a sharing session with our parents. Here parents are invited to see their child's work and learn together with them. We play math games, do lessons and the students share their portfolios.  With the help of GAFE (google apps for education) rubrics and success criteria are shared with parents and students. Their assignments are marked with feedback and comments and the students reflect right on the assignment back to me. As I said it is about the learning.

Now the reason why this talk resonated with me so much is John's final statement to me:

So I guess my question is:

1) Is this revolutionary talk? or just forward thinking?
2) Am I out in left field to think that assessment practises and how we report our progress needs to change?
3) How do we make these changes so that they don't seem so radical?
4) What are your assessment practise? 

As always would love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, 29 December 2014

A Year in Review


As another year comes to an end I cannot help but use this time to reflect on the learning that happened. It was a very exciting year, with lots of activity and meeting amazing educators.


Educators who have Impacted my Learning

I want to start this blog post with a big Thank-you to some great friends and educator. This year I have met some incredible people and educators who have pushed my thinking. Without these relationships I don't think I would have has the success that I have had. If you are not following these individuals you need to:

Matthew Oldridge: big thank you for all of the math learning, questions, posts and great conversations.

Brian Aspinall: Thank you for all of the help with computer programing and pushing my thinking in education. Truly an star in our field.

Rolland Chidiac : Thank you for always pushing my thinking and helping me grow in as an educator. Also for being an amazing friend and colleague.

Michelle Cordy: Thank you for your friendship, your jokes and your expertise. You are an amazing educator, leader and friend. Look forward to the journey ahead.

Scott Monahan: Thank you for always answering my questions. You are always there for any help.

Helen Chapman: Thank you for being an amazing educator. You are an inspiration for all.

Julie Millan: Thank you for being a leader and pushing my learning. Also for your help with GAFE and your encouragement to continue it in our board.

Shivonne Lewis-Young : You truly are an amazing educator. Thank you for your leadership in blogging and your expertise in Genius hour.

Neil Lyons: Thank you for pushing my thinking and help with GAFE. It has been great to connect with you and look forward to the learning journey ahead.

Sharon Moskoitz: Thank you for the amazing connection this year. It has been a blast working with you.

Aviva Dunsiger: Thank you for always pushing my thinking with your comments and your posts.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank these educators for there help and expertise. All of you continue to push my thinking with your amazing questions, your expertise and your friendship. Without you I would not be where I am today. Thank you for your help, whenever I ask.

Biggest Aha Moment:

This actually happened pretty recently. As I have blogged before my daughter started kindergarten this year and it has opened my eyes to a whole different look into education. Before this moment I don't know if I truly understood how important the relationship between parents and teachers is. I mean I know that in order to have true success with student growth you need to have a partnership but it was always during various reporting times or if the student struggled.

When my daughter went to school, for the first time I was in the dark. I couldn't help but think about how many times I left parents in the dark or made them have the feeling that they didn't know what was happening.   Newsletters are amazing and so is little notes in the agenda but is that enough. How else can we open the doors to our parents so that they are truly a partner in students learning?

Because of this feeling I decided to do a couple of things:

1) Regularly tweet what is happening in the day.
2) Storify my daily tweets with questions and suggested activities for parents at home
3) Have students write a monthly newsletter telling parents their goals, next steps and success
4) Regular celebration of learning: This happens once a term. Parents come and see students portfolios, solve some problems with the students and share in their successes

I know that these may seem like a lot of extra things for us as teachers to do but to be honest it has really simplified the classroom. Students are taking more pride in their work because they have an audience, parents ( at least in my opinion) enjoy the communication, and there are a lot less questions being asked about my program because parents are always in the loop.


Greatest Impact on my Teaching: 

This year I had two impacts on my teaching. The first was I learned about the wonderful world of Google. Before this I knew what google was, I mean I used it for my own personal use but for education I never even knew what impact it could have. In April I attended the Ontario GAFE Summit in Kitchener and I had my mind blown away. I was truly in awe at all of the possibilities of GAFE (Google for apps for education) in the classroom. I came back from that summit and told my principal about it, signed our school up for a education domain and the rest is history. This school year, my whole classroom has been on GAFE accounts. We use it for assignments, editing, researching, presenting, math and homework. All of my assignments are online where students and parents have access to it. Students also have online portfolios and are in charge of updating this website. If you are not using google I highly suggest that you try some of the amazing apps and learning that comes with GAFE (oh did I mention that it is free).

My second impact is my learning around inquiry. I want to say that I have always been teaching through inquiry and problem solving but it has been me asking questions and then letting the students explore. Now, I have students ask the questions and then go and explore their questions. Opening up the inquiry process to the students allows the students to have better control over their learning. I also have now started with bigger opened questions (e.g. what is the best celebration? Why? or how does the qualities of solid, liquids and gas affect our life?). Having these open ended questions for students guides their thinking but still leaves the learning up to them. They are the ones that design experiments, draw their own conclusions and share it with the classroom.  My role is to guide, facilitate, assess, and scaffold where needed.

Greatest Impact on my Leadership:

This year I was able to take part in the TLLP (Teaching Learning and Leadership Program). This Ontario Program was created to improve the PD (professional Development) in Ontario. The PD is proposed by teachers and run by teacher. If you have not had the opportunity to apply for this funding I highly encourage you to do so.  For a full report on my learning you can read this link.

My personal learning has been how to clarify a vision and build it within a school community. Before I started this journey I thought that a vision could be communicated easily and then, with careful planning, implemented. I learned it takes more than that.  Building connections among staff members is critical, understanding what others think, honouring their opinions, and finding how everyone can fit into the vision is all part of the process. For a school wide approach to take hold it takes strong individuals to lead but it also takes patience, guidance and understanding for it to sustain itself.  This process was not about bullying my way through people to get the project done but by understanding how to encourage all learners to see the bigger picture.  It taught me that a leader needs to have a clear vision but also an understanding heart. A leader needs to see who is on their team, where their understanding is, and how to assist them in their learning and growth.  It taught me to always see the good in people, that resistance is not always about not wanting to change but that people don’t know how and it is the job of a leader to understand where they can assist.

Working On: 

There are many things that I want to work on for next year. The first is learning more about GAFE and all of the amazing things that come with it. I also want to learn more about computer programming and implementing it in my classroom and curriculum. The final piece is finding more time for my family.

Best personal Event:

My teaching is not all that makes me. This year has also bee filled with many cool personal events. This year we welcomed my son (Micah) into the world. Having two kids defiantly changes things but it has been a joy to watch them both grow.

Overall, I cannot believe how fast the year has happened. I look forward to what next year brings and the learning that will come with it. Before I leave I challenge you to reflect on your year:

Who has been the most influential educator in your year?  
What has been your biggest AHA moment?
Greatest impact on your teaching?
Greatest impact or learning in your Leadership?
What are you still working on?
Best personal Event

Would love to see what your learning has been.  I would also like to thank all of my readers for reading my rambles and thoughts. Blogging has been another great experience this year. May next year be a great year for you.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

What does 21st Century Learning mean to you? (blog hop post)

My classroom hard at work

I have been posed the question, what does 21st Century learning mean to me?

For me a this can summed up in five words: Adaptable, Patient, Critical Thinkers, and Creators.

Adaptable: 

The world is changing very rapidly and learners need to be able to change with it. Our students and us need to be able to move at that rapid base and use information as it comes.

Patient:

As the world changes answers may not always be there but they can be. With the right amount of patients any answer is possible

Critical Thinker:

This changing world does not need more complacent workers but thinkers. People that will change the world for the better. Learners also need to be able to sift through the endless streams of information to use it in a proper use.

Creator: 

Learners in the 21st century also need to be creators of information and creators of ideas. Learners using the above skills will be able to generate ideas, products and information in order for others to learn.

My further questions:

1) How do we teach to these skills?

2) How do we prepare ourselves and students to use these skills?

3) Am I missing anything?

I apologize as I am a little over in my word count but hopefully its short enough.

This blog post is part of #peel21st Amazing blog hop. Check out these other amazing Peel Bloggers on this subject: