‘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.
“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.
“…however puzzling and illogical a child’s responses might be, they arise out of some sort of internal logic, which every child develops to make sense of the world and language.” Marie Clay
I snapped that photo a few days ago while I was observing our Reading Recovery® teacher, Dee Marshall, conducting a lesson with one of our grade one students for a group of her Reading Recovery colleagues. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but Dee and our student were actually on the other side of a two way mirror and were not able to see or hear us as we observed and discussed the lesson while it was being taught. In Reading Recovery® parlance, this process is called teaching ‘Behind the Glass’ and it is one of the key components of the ongoing professional learning for these highly skilled reading intervention teachers.
In our district, York Region, we are fortunate to have (and remain committed to) having a Reading Recovery® teacher in each of our schools. It is a big part of our focus on helping our kids become confident, skilled readers and writers and supporting our teachers in their inquiries to further develop their understanding of effective reading instruction and an important part of the continued positive results our district has seen in the area of reading.
How does one little program have such an impact, you may wonder? The strength of the program lies in the simplicity of it. Over a 4 month span of time the teachers work with individual students on a daily basis for lessons that last 30 minutes. Within the lesson the teacher observes the student reading and writing, gathers on the spot assessment information and provides instruction specifically targeting the student’s areas of difficulty; tracking the student progress and providing follow up and support for the parent to put into place at home.
As beneficial as it is for young readers, the Reading Recovery® program is also integral in adding to our professional understanding of how children learn to read. The professional learning structure for the program requires that the Reading Recovery teachers work together to observe their teaching, share their observations and assessments and document this learning for other Reading Recovery® teachers. Lastly, this expertise is shared with our staff, from Kindergarten to grade 8.
As a classroom teacher I made it a regular habit to observe Reading Recovery® lessons to deepen my understanding of how children learn to read and improve my practice as a reading teacher. As a principal observing these lessons continues to be an important part of my learning and leadership.
Though I applied as a young educator; I never served as a Reading Recovery® teacher. I think my principal at the time knew all too well that my high activity level and tendency to move about might not make me the best candidate to perform a role where I would be working in a small room with one student at a time. We are fortunate to have a great teacher in this role at our school and I was delighted to have the chance to sit in and watch her at work.
Yes, there is a lot of attention being paid to the things that may not be going on in our schools these days, but it is important for me to continue document and share the many things that are still going on in our school~ especially the important classroom teaching and learning that forms the foundation for everything we value as a school and community.
“Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as they demand thinking; learning naturally results.” John Dewey
The traditions and culture of education are deep and resilient across all grades and subjects and it is often a challenge to overcome the inertia of the “we have always done it that way” stance. In a program such as Kindergarten, this can be even more apparent. Quite often, the practices and approaches applied in K programs are seen as sacrosanct and part of the canon that can not be overturned or challenged. This is exactly why I believed that the addition of Full Day Kindergarten to Ontario’s schools would be a great opportunity for creative disruption.
Along with a revised curriculum that adresses the need for developmental learning, inquiry and authentic documentation of learning came the creation of a partnership between Early Childhood Educators (ECE’s) and Ontario Certified Teachers (OCT’s). These two forces, along with the investments made in program resources are serving as the catalyst for some rich learning, for kindergarten students and the educators who work with them. An example of this?
A few weeks back I was engaged in a conversation with one of our Park Avenue PS FDK teams (@BrewerBerryman1) on the challenges they were facing with structuring their learning environment in a way that would allow them to better document the student learning using the iPads we had provided. This is a classic teaching problem of practice; we are so busy teaching, we don’t have the time to observe and assess what the students are learning.
We were fortunate in that we have an FDK team at a neighbouring school that has done some detailed work in this area; and @TechieAng and @KimberCoombes were more than happy to open up their classroom for an observation and reflective conversation on how they were managing this challenge. We observed how, in this class, rather than wait in a large line up the students entered the classroom with @KimberCoombes (the ECE) in small groups as they arrived, unpacked and then headed off to the learning centres that were set up around the room. Over the 10 minute entry time (prior to and after the morning bell) all 27 students followed this process calmly and with varying degrees of independence. During this time the OCT and ECE interacted with students, providing prompts and gathering assessment data. It wasn’t until 28 minutes into the morning (I timed) that the students were called to the carpet for a whole class learning activity.
That was about a month ago. Over the past few weeks I’ve been peeking into @BrewerBerryman1′s class to see how their efforts are progressing in making this change of practice; the photo above is evidence of their efforts. The day starts with much more focus and calm, students are interacting with each other and the team has lots of time to gather assessment evidence to inform both their lessons and the practice they set up at the learning centres. The students have responded positively to the defined autonomy that this entry routine provides.
It is also worth noting that this is also evidence of the impact of collaborative, inquiry-based learning between professionals, through face to face interactions, Twitter and blogging. It was the reading Angie’s tweets and blogs that our team had their curiosity tweaked in the first place and this collaboration is continuing as they carry on their inquiry along with @TechieAng and @KimberCoombes.
So I have two questions related to my leadership as a principal: How can I continue to help our teachers re-examine traditional practices? (like starting the day with ‘carpet time’) and How am I supporting the use of joint work through face to face and online networked interactions to help our staff structure and guide their own professional inquiries?
For me, it is important to remember each of us, when given the chance and choice, will choose to learn; we were born that way.It is also important for me to note that this is one example of how our staff are working to make inclusion, inquiry and innovation the foundation of our school culture as we move forward.
“Authority is granted to people who are perceived as authoring their own words, their own actions, their own lives, rather than playing a scripted role at great remove from their own hearts. When teachers depend on the coercive powers of law or technique, they have no authority at all.” Parker Palmer
The video linked above is one of my all time favorites for lots of reasons; yes, the cool animation is one of those reasons. But the key reason is the way Dan Pink prompts us to think differently about the traditional practices we use in schools and the assumptions those practices are based upon. Because schools are usually large, complex and laden with ‘tradition’, we tend to use rather blunt tools to manage and maintain order. We develop policies, and codes of behaviour and implement them with a one-size for all approach.
Using rewards and punishments (or carrots and sticks) is one of the traditions that is deeply embedded within the culture of most schools and classrooms and it is something that we are beginning to reflect upon as a school community. I’m careful when I approach this topic because it tends to pick at the very essence of our beliefs as educators and parents and can lead to rather heated conversations and responses. It is, however, important for us to talk about these practices because, in my experience, truly inclusive school communities and classrooms do not require carrots and sticks and, it turns out, the research tends to support this.
Daniel Pink’s synthesis of the research focuses on three concepts; autonomy, mastery and purpose, as the critical components for motivation and engagement. He also points out that rewards do work in contexts or circumstances where the task requires lower-level thinking or application of skills. Of course, this is the great challenge; if we think about the knowledge, skills and beliefs that we know our children are going to need to be caring, successful and healthy in the world we now live in, our focus must be on higher-level thinking and skill development. Let me share an example of what this looks like in my practice
I’ve remarked to many, that Park Avenue is perhaps the most active and athletic school in which I’ve ever had the chance to work. Every corner of our yard is occupied with children playing some type of game, and the intensity of the soccer and football games played by our older students is remarkable. Over the past few weeks we have been working with the students in grades 4 to 8 to resolve some conflicts and mangage the challenges that pop up during these games. Some of these conflicts have led to some words and actions that are just not okay, and both students and parents have raised this concern with us.
Of course, the easiest (and bluntest) response would be to just use the ‘stick’ and ban the games. We have not chosen that path but instead have engaged our students in a critical and reflective inquiry about why and how these conflicts are arising and how they can use these situations as a context to learn about self-regulation, cooperation and creative problem solving. They have written about their issues and concerns, we have met to talk about these issues and we have made some decisions about how they want to play and what they want to happen when hurtful things are said or done.
A few key decisions were made. The first was to stop keeping score; since many of the conflicts were the direct result of arguments over scores, we hypothesized that eliminating the score might help reduce the conflicts (and it has). Another decision was to be clear about how we would manage name calling and rough play; the players agreed that this was a problem and asked for support in monitoring and intervening when this occurs. As a result, I’m watching a lot of recess soccer and football games these days and providing that direct support through conversations, reminders and, occasionally, time outs.
I’m impressed with the passion and honesty that our students have brought to this issue and have appreciated the chance to use this situation as a chance to both model and put into practice, my beliefs for our students, staff and community.
“As teachers do we see our role as initiating learners into mathematical communities, speaking and inquiring with young mathematicians at work? Or do we speak to them, trying to transmit a of skills and concepts…developed by previous mathematicians? Are we teaching the history of mathematics rather than mathematics? ~Cathy Fosnot~
It’s encouraging to see the enthusiasm with which our Park Ave. P.S. team has embraced our whole school focus on mathematics teaching and learning~not only because this is an area of personal and professional passion for me; but also because we are, as a staff, uncovering some powerful and important insights about the nature of mathematics and networked learning.
In stressing the importance of inclusion, inquiry and innovation my role has really been that of catalyst and coach; providing resources, structures and guidance for this learning. In our conversations so far, we have discovered that our students have a wider range of skills and, deeper understandings, than the tools that we were previously using; revealed. In our case, all our students, including those students who have been identified with learning disabilities, are revealing capacities and communicating ideas in ways that are both surprising and encouraging.
The problem shown in the photo above (The Sold Out Show) is a great example. In designing the task for her students, Ms M considered the models and strategies her students were using as they solved multi-step multiplication and problems. She created a problem that would push her students to better understand the relationship between these two operations as well as the important mathematical processes of reasoning and proving how they know their solution is accurate.
Rather than demonstrate and have her students memorize the steps toward an accurate solution, Ms M has crafted a problem that will help her students to build and communicate their understanding. The culmination of this task will see the students analyzing and questioning each other’s proofs with Ms M taking the time to highlight the mathematical relationships, ideas and terminology as they are doing so.
For many of us,this is a reversal of the model of instruction we experienced as students; one where the teacher demonstrated the singular procedure and skills that would be needed to complete a task, then assigned a similar task with the expectation that all the students would replicate what had been demonstrated. This model worked, for about half of us.
In our classrooms, we are asking students to show us what they know about mathematics and how they are able to apply this knowledge in context; then using these contexts to push them to a deeper understanding of how mathematics allows us to make sense of our world, communicate about our world and work to solve problems in our world~ a process that the Dutch mathematician Hans Freudenthal describes as ‘mathematizing’.
Creating classrooms where our students mathematize, rather than memorize, is our ultimate goal; as always, your comments and questions are welcome!
“Mathematics is not a careful march down a well-cleared highway, but a journey into a strange wilderness, where the explorers often get lost.” ~W.S. Anglin~
Across Ontario schools are taking a deeper look into the the research and practice on mathematics teaching and learning so our recent work at Park Avenue P.S. in this area doesn’t make us unique. Like all schools in our district, we are part of a learning network; a family of 4 or 5 schools that have agreed to engage in joint work to support and improve our classroom practice. Our network will support our school focus on mathematics teaching and learning from K to grade 8.
As a first step, we have spent some time looking at what our student’s strengths and needs are in this area; using both our own assessments as well as our provincial assessment results from grade 3 and 6 (we will continue this work on our next PA day on Oct. 22nd). In addition, we have also started to read, think and talk about the most current research into effective math teaching; most adults have deeply ingrained experiences that often cloud their perceptions of what math actually is, leading to some confusion at school and home.
Rather than a set of pre-determined rules to be memorized, mathematics is actually a way of structuring and representing our physical world~ like a language. Since the best way to learn any language is to be immersed in it and use it-rather than be forced to memorize it- we are working as a whole staff to design problems and tasks that will help our students do this.
It is also important to note that all learning requires one to struggle and learning math is no different. The struggle we wish for our students is not, however, in the memorization of the mathematical concepts but instead in the development of these concepts. As I used to remind my students when I taught math,; trust what you know and understand, not what you remember.
There are three key areas we will embed into the work we do in our school and network and we are happy to share them:
- Inclusion: all students require support and instruction that draws upon their learning styles, experiences and starting points to construct their understanding of the mathematical strategies, ideas and concepts being taught.
- Innovation: real world applications, models, contexts and tools; designed will form the basis of our learning tasks~and this will look much different that what most of us recall as ‘math instruction’.
- Inquiry: just as most of the math problems we encounter in daily life require us to pose our own questions and often work with others to solve them, our students will be challenged to pose questions, hypothesize and struggle a little to find and prove their answers.
I’m grateful to our colleagues from the Mathematics in the City project, based in New York City, for sharing their research and practices and supporting our learning journey into this new territory and, as always, invite your responses.
“Do not confine your children to your own learning, for they were born in another time.”
As autumn arrives and we settle into the routines and rhythms of the school year it is as good a time as any to take note of where we are as a school community and begin the conversation about where we would like to go over the next 9 months, and beyond.
I’m grateful to our Park Avenue team for helping launch this school year in a smooth and professional manner. The complexities of settling over 400 children, aged 3 to 13, from hundreds of different families and homes is a task we often take for granted. Certainly, there will always be a few bumps and boo boos with the start of a new school year (and we had a few) but, for the most part, our staff have done a remarkable job. And on top of that, they had to ‘break in’ a new principal!
Of course there are challenges that we face as a school and a district that are mirrored across the province, but those are not for us to dwell on now. Now, our focus as a school community ought to remain on the learning and well being of our students, our staff and our families. We can all agree that this is the most important work we do as educators and parents, and the good news is there is evidence of this work everywhere in the halls and classrooms of Park Avenue Public School.
In my mind, there are few things as complex as what we call a ‘typical’ public school and I’ve always believed that complex systems are best operated within simple structures. The world we live in now is evolving in a rapid and significant ways. Likewise, our schools and school systems will need to evolve in order to ensure that our children will have the skills and dispositions to thrive in this world. Over the next few months you will hear me talk and write about the structure that I shared with our staff in order to focus and guide the work we will be doing together. You’ll hear us talk about three I’s: Inclusion, Inquiry and Innovation, as the structures that we will use organize student and staff learning. I’m offering a brief point summary of each one:
- Inclusion: creating the conditions where every student, staff and community member has the voice, the tools and the agency to learn and contribute in our school community.
- Inquiry: using our questions and curiosities as the starting point for learning; and to teach the critical thinking and communication skills required in the world we now live.
- Innovation: using the tools of the 21st century (along with the tried and true) to seeking creative and more efficient ways to learn and collaborate, both within our school community and beyond.
We will incorporate the ‘three I’s’ into our work as we review our school-based and EQAO assessment evidence and begin to plan for both student and staff learning in the year, and years, to come. Please feel free to join us on this journey; at home with your child, here at the school and through our @ParkAvenuePS twitter feed and my Principal’s blog The Open Office.