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ECOO Echoes

October 26, 2013 Leave a comment

In the end it is better to see the world for what it is becoming, instead of what it is. Better to fight for the future, instead of the past.”              Joe Keohane

I spent the past few days at the annual provincial conference for the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario (ECOO). The conference is an important part of my principal learning; it exposes me to the emerging ideas and concepts in my field and provides me with the opportunity to connect (and re-connect) with the many creative and passionate colleagues that make up my online professional learning network.  As an added bonus, this year I was able to attend the conference and learn along with two of our Park Ave PS teachers, Andrew Bernier and Erin Stanojev- a genuine treat!

I’ve embedded an earlier version of the talk given by one of the keynote speakers, Jamie Casap, that really did a nice job of synthesizing the key theme of the 3 day conference: Bring IT Together. In a clever piece of wordplay, the ‘it’ is actually the IT, or Information Technology, that we take for granted, and often make limited use of, in our schools.  Those who know me also know that I am a keen advocate for ‘better’ not ‘different’ – for me, they are not the same thing. Better speaks to the impact our work has on student’s lives and learning, where as different is often nothing more than a change in tools- like how we now use data projectors the same ways we used to use overhead projectors and VCR’s.

For me, the real learning begins after I have returned from an workshop session or conference;and I have just a few reflections from my time away (infused with a Beatles motif) that I wanted to put out there- both from a personal and system stance:

  • Get Back-  I am at my best as a school principal when I get back to where I started from; the classroom. I have to admit, I’ve been a bit of an office cat since the start of the school year and that needs to change.  As I spent the last few days immersed in learning alongside classroom teachers (I’ll get to that point next) it reminded me of how my leadership needs to be situated at the intersection of students and teachers- in the classrooms and halls. Not only when I am co-teaching, but even just sitting somewhere other than my office when I have work to do on my laptop- our school-wide wifi enables anyone to connect and create anywhere- myself included.
  • Come Together- The best part about the ECOO conference for me is that it is almost entirely made up of attendee’s who are classroom teachers. There are a smattering of district IT folks and a tiny number of school and system administrators.  The ideas, passions and frustrations of these most innovative and gritty educators fuel my head and my heart and make a direct impact on my thinking as a school principal. I don’t doubt the importance of the large, prestigious, mega-conferences that administrators typically attend; I just doubt the impact these events have. They are often so disconnected from classroom practice, and lacking in teacher voice, that the transference is limited. I know that time away from the school is a challenge for principals but I would love to see more of my colleagues attending teacher-focussed events like ECOO.
  • The Long and Winding Road- The keynote speakers at this event were thought-provoking, edgy and authentic. @ambermac, @jcasap and @kevinhoneycut each talked about how the changes that the we have seen in the past 5 years will require adaptive, creative and deep evolutions to classroom and school practice and they alluded to the importance that our public schools lead this process. The teacher-led sessions offered ideas that were cutting-edge, creative and impactful. We are in a context where we have to fight against the inertia of traditional school cultural norms; with school and system leaders, with parents, with policy makers, and, in many schools; with ourselves!  Too many in our profession are not looking ahead to the place where our students have already arrived-and are still moving, and if we are not with them we cannot have an impact on them- and they need us now more than ever.

Jamie Casap started his talk with the statement that public schools are integral because,”Education disrupts poverty.” Whether we are talking about a poverty of resources, ideas or opportunities; this is true. If public schools are going to remain a place where they have an impact on children’s lives we need to be both different and better, it’s getting too late to Let it Be.

But…Why?

February 29, 2012 Leave a comment

The lights go out and it’s just the three of us                                                                                 You, me and all the stuff we’re so scared of

~Bruce Springsteen~

We’ve had a busy few weeks at my school as we approach the March break in Ontario. Into year two of a new reporting timeframe, educators are adapting to the reality that with report cards going home in early February, the cycle and flow that we grew accustomed to has been altered (and change is scary).

Principally, the past practice was to use the last few weeks of February to assess, evaluate and report, which meant we could say things like “…this is important stuff, report cards go home soon!” to keep things in order and in response to the question “Why do we have to do this?”

Then we would all take a well-deserved break.

Now February and early March are filled with learning and teaching. With the next report card months away at the end of June, February now is the beginning of a learning cycle, not a culmination. Our thinking has had to shift and this is kind of scary for us. Fortunately, we have really brave and curious teachers at our school and they are eager to adapt and grow. So, I’ve been doing a lot of co-planning, co-teaching and professional inquiry, especially in our grade 7 and 8 classes, where the “why” question is not easily answered.

We’ve been exploring ways to build inquiry into our learning tasks; just in math for now and, soon in language and the other pursuits. We been thinking about ways to use the question “Why?” and adding the questions “How?” and “When?” and, “Why not?” as the launch pad for our learning.

Much of this was prompted by a spike in student actions that were not okay to us and required some responses (read disciplinary) and some reflection on our part as a team. We realized our older students were trying to tell us (and show us) that they needed something different and personal. We have decided to look upon this as their invitation for us to change; an invitation we decided to accept.

Early results from our students (and teachers) is this is good stuff. We are talking more with each other (and not at each other), we are using more complex and creating contexts for learning about number and taking the time to support our students to work in small teams to solve problems. We are all smiling more, and laughing more.

This is a much nicer way to lead up to a break, I think:)

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