But I Do Worry!

Last week, I read a blog post by one of our Board’s superintendents, Sue Dunlop, that really resonated with me. In this post, Sue talks about visiting schools and talking to students. Having worked in one of Sue’s schools before, I know that her school visits always include classroom visits. She mentions in this post that sometimes students don’t explain work as teachers expect them to, or they do things that teachers wish they didn’t. It happens. Often teachers worry when students don’t respond as we’d like/hope that they would, but Sue assures us that her time spent in classrooms is not to evaluate teachers, but ultimately to connect with kids. I appreciate this! The thing is, I am the teacher that Sue talks about in her post.

As comfortable as I can be with vice principals, principals, and superintendents, the minute that these visits happen, I feel my heart rate go up. I feel my hands start to shake. I feel the nerves. I hear every question that gets asked. I hear every word that my students say. I hear every comment made by both the students and the adults in the room. I can’t help myself. I tell myself not to worry. I tell myself that there’s nothing I can do now. I tell myself that I have great students that have so much to share. And yet, on many occasions after unexpected classroom visits, I feel as I did today when I sent out this tweet to Sue: 2015-04-23_19-22-35 While I understand Sue’s reply … 2015-04-23_19-29-56 I’m really struggling with following her advice.

I’ve been thinking a lot today about why that’s the case. I think that things would be slightly different in other circumstances. I’ve been very lucky in the past ten years to work with administrators that visit classrooms all the time. Do I feel like throwing up every time they come in? Yes! But do I appreciate their visits? Absolutely! I reflect a lot after they come in and from the discussions that we have while they’re there, and I regularly make changes based on these visits. Today though, someone visited with the principal. I know that my students could have discussed more about their learning. I know that they could have shared more of their work. I know that they could have shown more than they did. I even know the reasons that these things didn’t happen, and I know what both the students and I could have done differently to make this short visit a more meaningful one. I want a do-over, but I’m guessing that the visitor that came today, will not be coming back again. Now what?

It is as I write this post, that I begin to better understand the problem with tests and/or complex culminating tasks. What about the work that led up to this final point? What if a student has an off day, struggles with such a complicated assignment, or does not showcase the same quality of work that he/she has done the whole year through? I am this kid. It may seem worse in my head than it was in reality, but for me, I feel like the visit could have been so much more. I want all of us to be seen for our “every day,” not that “one moment in time.” While I realize that my principal has had numerous visits beyond today, the other visitor hasn’t, and so, I can’t help but wonder what impressions were made after one look. It’s not about just what was seen and heard … but what wasn’t seen and heard?

Sometimes I think both students and adults need second chances. And while I want to “not worry,” for my own professional growth, I also want an opportunity to try again. This may not happen though, so what should I do? How do you reflect, learn, and move on? Tonight, I’m in need of some advice. Can you help?


#MakeSchoolDifferent: What We Need To Stop Pretending

On my prep this afternoon, I happened to catch this blog post by Donna Fry (thanks to a tweet from Sue Dunlop) with a very important challenge.

2015-04-21_19-06-11Like Donna, I also really enjoy Scott McLeod’s Blog and I like what this challenge is encouraging. Maybe to move forward in our own schools and communities, we need to start by being up front about what’s not happening and isn’t perfect in education. With this in mind, here’s my list of five.

When it comes to education, we have to stop pretending …

1) That we’re all on the same page. We’re not. We don’t all embrace the same philosophies, and we often have different priorities based on our own beliefs and school experiences. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe the key lies in continuing to reflect on what’s best for kids (and then responding to these needs).

2) That we’re all making changes. Some educators really believe in the need to change practices (e.g., to embrace inquiry in the classroom, to encourage more thinking and real world applications in math, etc.), and some believe that the way that they taught before is best. They’re still seeing results. They feel that there are gaps in the new methods. There seems to be this swinging pendulum between extremes — new versus old — and I can’t help but wonder if sometimes there’s a need for a middle ground.

3) That kids are kids. Yes, in some ways they are. Many have overlapping interests. Many have similar behaviours. And yet, socio-economic factors, language factors, and/or mental health factors (along with other factors, I’m sure) can make a difference. Not all students have the same life experiences. Not all students come to school with the same knowledge. Can they make gains? Absolutely! But we may have to start at a different point with different strategies because of their varying needs. This does not mean that we should set the bar lower, but instead, be open for new and/or different approaches. Sometimes theory and practice do not align perfectly.

4) That parents don’t care, or it’s only some parents that care. I’ve worked at six very different schools in our Board, and connected in many different ways with parents at all of them. I’ve noticed that what works for some parents doesn’t work for all, or what works best for us isn’t what’s best for parents. Just like we differentiate for students, maybe we need to do the same for parents.

5) That technology improves student engagement and instruction. It can, but it doesn’t always. I think it’s all in how this technology is used. If we’re using technology as electronic worksheets, then we’re not really making changes. Yes, we need to start somewhere, but we also need to progress from where we started. Technology makes the biggest difference when we start to reflect deeply on pedagogy and our own teaching practices, and when we ask, “What can we do differently to better meet the needs of our students?” I think that the key isn’t technology: it’s self-reflection and meaningful change

Now that we have these different lists of five (of which mine is only one), where do we go next? Maybe it begins with in-school discussions about the topics on these lists, and where each of us perceive our needs. We may all have different starting points, but I think that’s okay: we’re all still moving in the right direction. This blogging challenge seems like a great first step in us progressing from “talking” to “doing.” What do you think?

I would love to hear all of your “lists of five,” but in the spirit of the challenge, here are the five bloggers that I hope will also give this a try.

Kristi Keery-Bishop

Sue Dunlop

Jo-Ann Corbin-Harper

Jonathan So

Brian Aspinall

I’m excited to read your thoughts!




The Choice To Code

I’ve continued to think a lot about coding since EdCamp Hamilton on Saturday. The first session that I attended was a coding one, and the conversation from it continued out into the hallway thanks to the wonderful, Margot Roi. I think that it was our talk that helped me make sense of my thoughts.

  • I love how coding allows for thinking and problem solving.
  • I love how students take more ownership of their learning through coding: creating in ways that work for them.
  • I love the connections to curriculum. (I don’t think that I fully saw these connections before for primary students, but conversations with Peter Skillen and Brenda Sherry at EdCamp helped me understand these links. It all begins with looking at the curriculum as a “landscape,” and really knowing the expectations. This leads to better seeing the connections. Thanks Peter and Brenda!)
  • I love how coding allows different students to emerge as leaders.


But I don’t think that coding is for everybody. Ultimately, we want students to understand these coding programs, so that they can make the choice to use them if/when they think they might be the best option. I think “student choice” has to outweigh the use of any one program though. 

  • Sometimes students need to physically manipulate the objects to understand the concept better and/or demonstrate their learning.
  • Sometimes students might think that a different program or tool is better for sharing their learning.
  • Sometimes students might think that a different program or tool might appeal more and/or work better for their given audience. 
  • Sometimes students really need to rely on their strengths: this may be coding or this may be something else.

I always think that my biggest job — my greatest goal — as a teacher is to ensure that all of my students meet with success. Coding may be what a student needs to meet with this success, or it may be what prevents this success. Choice makes coding an option, but not the only oneHow do you provide this choice in the classroom? What impact do you see for students? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


Expanding Our “Teams”

EdCamp Hamilton was full of many high points and wonderful conversations, but one that really stuck with me happened earlier on in the day. As I mentioned in my post yesterday, I made it to 3 out of 4 of the sessions, but for the one time that I wasn’t at a session, I was still listening, thinking, and conversing. I happened to be part of a great conversation at the registration table. I think that Adele Stanfield captured this discussion best in her tweet:

2015-04-19_17-07-26So often in education, I think that we look at teams as the grade teams that we have in our schools. Having worked in mostly large schools before, there are usually two or three other teachers teaching the same grade as me, and we’ll often exchange ideas and learn together. But there can be limitations to grade teams … Sometimes when we’re looking at learning through a narrow lens — only the single grade that we teach — we forget about the big picture. Where are students going next? How can we help them get there? What are the fundamental skills they need in order to succeed? We need to see beyond our grade to do this, and that’s why conversations like the one from yesterday, are so valuable.


I’ve had the benefit of teaching multiple grades: in some form or another, I’ve had teaching experience in Kindergarten to Grade 6. Are there certain grades that I like teaching more than others? Yes. Have I regretted any of these “grade moves” though? No. I now have a better understanding of where students start, where they go, and what might matter most (or least). I’ve gotten to see links between curriculum expectations, and gain a better understanding of what these expectations might mean beyond the current grade. I’m not saying that everybody needs to switch grades or teach in different divisions. But if these changes aren’t happening, I think that we need to make more of the connections like my one from yesterday at EdCamp.

Maybe this starts happening through our PD. I think back to this blog post that my previous VP, Kristi, published earlier in the school year. She speaks about what happened when teachers from various divisions got together to plan and share ideas. The learning was powerful! So often, we only see the differences between grades. Maybe we need to start by looking for similarities, and then exploring the variations within these general, similar areas. I wonder about the impact on achievement if there was more of a continuum of learning: a reality that can happen by connecting with others beyond the grade and/or subject area that we teach.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t “team” with our grade team partners. There is a lot of value in doing so. But there’s also value in looking outside of our grade teams, and learning from and with others in our building. With social media, we can also extend this learning to others in our community and around the world. We don’t have to work and learn alone. Maybe by expanding our definition of a team to those outside of our grades, we can also find the support, encouragement, and ideas that we need to not just speak about moving forward, but moving forward. What do you think? How have you done this, or how do you envision doing so? I’d love to hear about your experiences.


We All Need “Our People”

Today was a fantastic day of learning at EdCamp Hamilton. I have no doubt that my thinking and learning from today will make it into multiple blog posts, as I continue to reflect. This first post though was inspired by a blog post reply from a Grade 12 student that attended EdCamp today. Labika is a student that I’ve gotten to know through Twitter. She attends a local high school, and a number of her teachers are ones that I learn from on Twitter. She’s a very mature and thoughtful student that continually reminds me about the importance of student voice in education.

Just after lunch today, we had a conversation in the hallway. She was telling me some of her thinking about learning environments and sharing online. She raised some great points and interesting questions, and I asked her if she shared these thoughts in the sessions. Labika mentioned that at first it was intimidating to be in a room full of adults, and over time, she felt more comfortable and shared more. It wasn’t long after this conversation that we gathered back in the Drama Room for the Smackdown: coordinated by Sue Dunlop. Sue lined up some people to share, and then others were encouraged to chime in. I happened to be sitting beside Labika and behind one of her teachers, Melinda. Labika really wanted Melinda to share about Kahoot, and when she didn’t, we both encouraged Labika to do so. At the very last minute, Labika agreed. It was wonderful to see this student standing up in front of a group of adults and confidently sharing her thinking about a tool used in the classroom: speaking about the benefits that she saw from a student perspective. In my blog post comment to Labika, I mentioned how glad I was that she stood up and shared her thinking during the Smackdown. This is when she replied with,

2015-04-18_19-41-54This comment of hers really got me thinking. It was then that I sent her this tweet:


The truth is that Sue Dunlop encouraged me a lot today. Last year, I spent the whole EdCamp behind the registration table. I tweeted a ton and joined in on many conversations online, but I didn’t go to the sessions and get involved. This year, Sue gave me a “gentle nudge” to leave the chair, go, listen, and chime in. And while I jokingly tweeted proof from the first session that I followed Sue’s advice, I have to say that I’m really glad that I did.


I learned a lot today. I listened a lot today. I thought a lot today. And I feel inspired to make some additional changes now and try some new things that I hadn’t considered before (check out future blog posts for more on this).

While I may have been able to learn some of these new ideas through the tweet stream, Sue’s push coupled with many friendly faces in the sessions, helped me jump into conversations that I may not have jumped into before and ask questions that I may have been reluctant to ask before. My one word for this year was gettinguncomfortable,” and I think today I needed someone to encourage me to do just that. Thanks Sue for being that person!

I didn’t make it to every session, but I made it to 3 out of 4. I was actually only going to go to two, but I overheard a great conversation about mental health and online sharing in the courtyard, and I got brave and went out to join in. Attending an Edcamp and going to sessions may not seem like a big accomplishment to many, but for me, this was hard, and I can definitely connect with Labika’s feelings today. She was not alone. But she found her voice today, and I’m really glad that I also found mine.

Sometimes no matter how old we are, or what our life experiences may be, we need “our people” to help us find our voices. I’ve had many “people” over the years — a number of which were at EdCamp Hamilton today — that help me do just that. I hope that everybody at today’s EdCamp found their “voice,” as we do need these varied ones — from students to parents to educators to administrators to community members — to help us move forward in education. Who are your “people?” How did they help you find your voice? and/or How did you help others find theirs?