While our daily focus remains on the well-being and learning of our students we are starting to lay the foundation for the school year that will begin next September. We have scheduled our Welcome To Kindergarten information session for the evening of Thursday, June 6th at 7:00 and are looking forward to meeting our new JK students and families at that event.
We are also starting to plan the class placements for the students that we already have. Class placement is a complex and comprehensive process that involves a great deal of time and consideration. We seek input from the current teacher(s) and our support staff and Special Education staff when needed. We also seek input from parents and guardians.
The following link is the Class Placement Form 2013 that parents may download so they may have an opportunity to provide input into the class placement. On the form you will have the chance to share some information about your child that we may not know- emerging interests or peer concerns that you feel may help us in making our placement decisions. Please note that there is no space on the form for a parent to request a teacher. Staffing changes and circumstances present too many variables to make this viable and I don’t believe in offering something unless it can be delivered.
Though we value your input, the placement decision is ultimately one that we make here at the school.
‘Knowing what to change comes before knowing how to change.” ~Andy Hargreaves~
Many of us have fond recollections of the tools we brought to school when we were young- binders, a pencil case filled with freshly sharpened Laurentian pencil crayons and, to mark our passage into adolescence; a shiny geometry set! Having the opportunity to personalize the tools we brought to school was (and is) important. Every August the aisles of local retailers are laden with backpacks, binders and booklets splattered with superheroes, sports logos and boy bands, all in the name of personalization.
The tools we use are important; in many ways they define the opportunities and outcomes that are possible; and this has never been more apparent than it is now. We carry in our pockets powerful tools that can, and will, lead to meaningful change in both opportunities and outcomes for all our students.
The short video by Cheryl Fiello is embedded in this post, not as an endorsement, but to open up the conversation we are having in some of our classrooms, with some of our students and our families. A conversation about tools.
BYOD is an acronym for Bring Your Own Device. The devices in this case being the smartphones, media players, tablets and laptops that belong to students and families. Most of you know that our school-based technology connects to our school wifi network. You may not know that students can also connect to our wifi network using their student login and password on their own devices.
A few of our classes have embarked upon a school-based pilot project this year to explore the BYOD process, gather information and provide feedback and guidance to the rest of our school community. We have tapped into the guidance and support of our district support staff as well as teachers in schools where BYOD projects are already in place. The guidance included practical tips like how to store the devices safely, when and where to use the devices and strategies for monitoring the safe and appropriate use of these devices by students.
Of course we are still gathering, still learning and still exploring- but the early consensus is positive from the staff and the students. The ways that we can connect, collaborate and communicate are vastly different from our days of pencil cases and geometry sets (even though we still use both). The range and power of the tools these students bring to school far outstrip those of the tools I brought, but at the core, the premise is the same; given the chance, we like to use our own tools.
Over the next few months we will need to carry on this conversation in preparation for the next stage in our BYOD process. Our plan to ensure equity of access, our strategies to manage student safety and the security of their devices and the impact this change will have on many of our well established school structures.
The change might be in our pockets, but it is no small sum.
Democracy works best when we have the leisure to do some hard thinking together. ~Deborah Meier~
Of all the issues we deal with as a school bullying is, by far, the most volatile and and delicate. In the range of issues I manage as our principal it fits into that box labelled ’important and urgent’. The reasons for this can be rhymed off by most of us, parents educators and students, with fluency; perhaps not with the urgency and potency of the poetry that is linked to this post.
We all know that ‘bullying’ is an issue in schools. We know this because bullying is an issue in our society and schools are nothing more than a DNA samples of our communities; with one important difference, of course. Unlike our communities, in schools our children co-mingle and co-exist in very close proximity, sorted by age with adult supervision that is far different, in both ratio and role, than they experience in their families and homes.
It is in our public schools that our children receive their first, and longest lasting, impressions of what the ‘real world’ is all about; struggles, joy, despair, triumph, cruelty, justice and injustice- all played out on a daily basis. I’m pretty certain that each of us has as a goal the elimination of bullying, it would be pretty hard to advocate for this type of behaviour. But, this goal is both complex and demanding- and achieving it will require that we make some significant changes to the way we operate our schools.
Many of our most deeply and dearly held school traditions will need to be examined if we really wish to tackle this issue here at Park Ave. PS. The emphasis on competition, incentives and rewards; reflected in practices like honour rolls and awards; though greatly appreciated by the ‘winners’, do need to be examined. If we set as our common goal the creation of of a school that is truly inclusive; then we will need to take a hard look at all our practices and ‘do some hard thinking together.’
For me, bullying is a manifestation of the absence of empathy- the cold, hard application of ‘me first’. As a father, I know too well the protective instinct I have for my children- and how easy it is for me to place the interests and needs of my children before those of others. It is the struggle I have to find a place in my heart for the children of my neighbours that is tested when my children go to school. These are the conversations I have as our principal when I am working with families inside that ‘important and urgent’ box. I know that each of our parents send the best children they have to our school every day. And I know that these children struggle to learn who they are, make mistakes and, as a result, often hurt one another in many ways- the poem by Shane Koyczan illustrates just how impactful those hurts can be.
Our staff know I’m fond of using witty, pat phrases and one of my favorites is ‘I don’t just want to take the skeletons out of the closet, I want to dance with them!’ I’m proud that we will be focusing on bullying awareness, inclusion and the issue of homophobia on Pink Shirt Day this Wednesday and I’ll be wearing pink with pride.
I want more than another shirt day though, I want us to have a real conversation about how we can work on this in a democratic, inclusive and impactful manner- do you?
“We shape our tools and then they shape us.” Marshall McLuhan
We had a great conversation at our Parent Council meeting this week on the changes that are underway here at Park Avenue P.S. Some may know that our staff and students have been quietly re-tooling; changing the way that we use technology for teaching and learning. Specifically, our staff and students are exploring the ways we can use mobile devices as tools for learning.
If you look carefully, you will see evidence of this all over the school. Several of our classes have been engaging in a pilot project on the ways we can incorporate students’ personal technology (iPods, tablets) into daily learning, how to appropriately use web-based learning systems like Edmodo and many of our primary classes have launched class blog sites.
As a first year principal, I take a great deal of pride in how willing our staff have been to embrace these innovations. Not only because I believe they are important innovations that our public schools need to adopt but also because these are observable and tangible evidences that provide me with feedback on the impact of my leadership. It’s important to note that everyone, even school principals, want to make a difference. It’s also important to note that all of these changes trace directly back to our school improvement plan goal to continue to work to ensure our school is inclusive, our learning is inquiry-based and our practices are innovative.
The video above gives a poetic view of how we can help our children learn that the tools we have now do allow for meaningful connections- to, as my friend Royan Lee often says, ‘expand and not escape.’ Of course our teachers play a critical role, as parents do, in guiding and structuring this learning. This is why we have provided many of our teachers with iPads so they may inquire into the ways that these tools can support their professional learning and their classroom practice.
At our Council meeting, some of our parents did admit that all this ‘hopey-changey stuff’ was putting them on a pretty steep learning curve and that is perfectly understandable. For many adults, when we enter a school, we expect it to be the school that we attended rather than the school that it could (and should be) in the now. Too often, I’m afraid this remains the case.
My colleague Jackie Gerstein has written a great blog post that breaks down how the evolution of the internet has and can impact the pedagogy and practice in our classrooms. Another great read is the book Too Big to Know by American author David Weinberger.
Schools only work when there is trust and trust exists when all stakeholders feel they have a voice and a choice. As parents and community members I hope you feel welcome to ask questions about the changes we are undertaking; why, when and how. I also hope you will feel that you can also respond; through conversations, notes and to these blog posts- it’s pretty simple all you have to do is click in the Leave a Reply box and share your voice- and you are all welcome to do so.
“Leadership is getting someone to do something they don’t want to do to achieve what they want to achieve.” ~Tom Landry~
It’s true, the best part about my job is that I get to be a ‘teacher’ for both children and adults. Since my arrival as principal at Park Avenue P.S. last fall I’ve had the chance to work alongside a great staff, amazing students and wonderful families. What I’m most proud of is the learning we have started in the area of networked digital learning and how our staff have started to tinker with some of the tools that our students are eager to use. I asked our grade 3/4 teacher, Anita Simpson if she would share some reflections on her learning journey this year.
I appreciate Anita for her eagerness to learn and put herself out there:
In the past, I believed my my Professional Learning was a journey. It involved taking courses, doing action research, completing workshops and reading current information from highly recommended and published authors. I was an advocate of directing my own Professional Learning.
I attended conferences and workshops about student learning, differentiation, assessment, character building, reading, writing, and technology. You name it, I signed up for the conference or workshop! My resource selection was and is very developed because every conference or workshop that I attended, I was encouraged to purchase the recommended resource.
People resources were limited for me. Although I was teaching at a publicly funded school, I really wasn’t the kind of teacher who made a habit of asking for someone’s help. I was fiercely independent (or so I thought).
My first exposure to a social media venue happened last summer when a former VP had suggested I go on Facebook. I did, and loved connecting with people. I also learned to Skype, out of sheer desire to thwart missing my grandchild while I was in China. I was amazed and loved Skyping too. I had a twitter account but I have to be honest, I really didn’t know how to use it, so it just sat with no tweets, no followers or no one following me. I was Tweetless.
This year, my Principal recommended the use of twitter and also recommended the resource Discovery Education. I revived the twitter account, deciding to give it one last attempt before I put it to rest forever. I was not convinced it would work, because after all, I really did not see the use for it. I obtained a password to access the Discovery Education site and thought my Principal was being helpful with the Science Inquiry that I had started in my class.
Presently, the way I do my professional learning has changed significantly and so have I! The catalyst for change was Discovery Education and Twitter.
Discovery Education Canada has enabled me to locate information that has been compiled by educators and I discovered it was not just about Science! There is an enormous and vast amount of resources for all subjects, for all grades! I was shocked and delighted.
Tweets have enabled me to see what others are doing in their classrooms and have also connected me with professionals just like me who are willing to share their expertise and knowledge. My classroom is now open, not in the physical sense of the word, I have tweeted about some of my students’ accomplishments, and ideas that others may find useful too.
Currently, my Professional Learning involves connection. I feel connected and I feel that my professional learning can be developed right at my fingertips! I can find out what I need to know in a matter of minutes. The beauty of our Professional network is that all our doors are open and our learning is not just self-directed, it is transparent.
P.S. Okay, it wouldn’t be fair if I just ended it there. I am continuing to learn and I have #1, just completed an online chat on twitter..scary but extremely rewarding and thought provoking!
#2. My connection with people continues to grow and again, it has been extremely rewarding. I have laughed out loud, connected with people who will help me with my learning and in turn help my students and #3. My excitement that I am experiencing can not be conveyed in words. Anyone interested in connecting with like minded people will not be disappointed. Happy Travels!
“When students step out of the door of the institution called school today, they step into a learning environment that is organized in ways radically different than how it once was.”
In spite of the some of the stormy events of the past few weeks; both in the atmosphere and the in political sphere, a lot of really cool things have been going on at our school. Primarily, we have had the chance to engage in some professional learning together in the key areas that are reflected in our School Improvement Plan and we’ve been working in our classrooms to tinker with and implement some of this new learning.
In earlier posts on this site I have referred to the ’3 I’s” of our school plan; Inclusion, Inquiry and Innovation and tried to connect these with our focus on effective mathematics instruction, supporting students with learning challenges and the use of communications technology to support 21st century learning. The video link above is a thought provoking piece on why these ideas are important for our students and our schools.
Over the past few months we have been working in small teams to develop and refine our own questions in these areas; forming teams of 4 to 8 staff members to research and inquire into the ways we can improve our mathematics instruction, understand the different ways that children learn and look at the ways we can use iPads as teaching and learning tools.
Today, a friend and colleague of mine, Dean Shareski, spent some time working with our staff, via a Skype video conference. Dean, who Skyped in from his home in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, helped us explore some of the media tools that are available through our partnership with Discovery Education Canada and offered up some practical tips on ways we can use social media tools like Twitter, blogs and Edmodo to support student learning and parent communication.
There was a time when a teacher could believe that they knew everything they needed to know to be successful upon their graduation; those days are no more. It turns out our license to teach is also a license to learn.
“One kind word can warm three winter months.” ~Japanese Proverb~
Like our wild and varied winter weather, the past few months have brought challenges, and many questions. In the midst of these events swirling about; weather and otherwise, we have remained focused as a school community on the well-being and learning of each of our students.
This past Friday the staff spent part of the day reviewing our School Improvement Plan; working together to identify some key areas for us to focus on over the rest of the school year. To start the day off, I shared a short video, produced by the Dalai Lama Centre, titled Educate the Heart. The two minute video, embedded above, speaks softly about the importance of educating both the mind and the heart.
It’s true that schools are usually seen as places where children develop their academic skills and talents; however, while not diminishing the importance of these capacities, equally important is the role that schools plays in helping our children develop into caring and thoughtful citizens. It is a given that in school and in life; we will face conflict and challenges. As a staff, we are committed to supporting our students in this area.
We provide our students with opportunities to lead in these areas with programs like our student Conflict Managers, Lunch Monitors and Reading Buddies. We invite community partners like the York Region Police and Covenant House in to share experiences and expertise through the VIP and outreach programs. Our students also benefit from the many parent and family members who bring their time and talents right into our school as volunteers, School Assistants and School Council members. All these are important, but there is more to be done.
Later on this month each of our students will bring home their first term report card. As you read through the report with your child, we hope that you will have the opportunity not only to celebrate the learning that they have accomplished since September, but also the growing they have accomplished in the Learning Skills.
After all, if the world now expects each of us to be life-long learners, then these learning skills may be better thought of as living skills, essential for our students to become the people we all wish them to be.