Personal Blogging Plan – Next Steps

Over the last 8 weeks I’ve been participating in a Blogging in the Classroom course at Boise State University.  Although I’ve maintained a few different blog spaces prior to this one, they have mostly served as learning portfolios; I haven’t ever blogged regularly until this course.  I have maintained a blog for communication purposes within my school, but I’ve never ventured into developing a personal blog.  Prior to this course beginning, I started to become more active on Twitter and began to actively follow a number of bloggers that had become a part of my personal learning network.  Over the last few months I’ve found myself appreciating the opportunities for reflection provided by regularly reading and commenting on a number of blogs.  I’ve also been considering starting a personal blog to give myself a space to work out my ideas and reflect on my own experiences.

This fall I will be completing my final course for me MEdTech at Boise State, which will be a portfolio course.  The process of gathering and reflecting on learning artefacts from the last three years will provide good inspiration for writing and reflecting on my personal learning journey.  I intend to set up a personal blog space to share my thoughts about learning and teaching, schools and communities.  While the blog will be publicly accessible will allow for comments and interaction, I anticipate that I will most appreciate the opportunity to formulate my thoughts and share my reflections, regardless of the amount of followers or readers.

I am still considering what I would include as regular postings, and I know myself well enough to recognize that I will need a framework and a plan in order to develop the habit of regular posts.  A number of people I’ve spoken with over Twitter are participating in a 365 Day Project of some sort or another.  I had considered this, but I really don’t see myself being able to sustain a daily posting schedule.  Instead, I’m considering the following for an initial blogging plan:

Tuesdays – Technology Posts – Our little school is opening up our network to allow students to bring their own devices this year, and we are also becoming a GAfE school.  With all of this on the go, I believe I will have thoughts to share regarding the implementation of these two processes, along with the other technology experiences we accumulate over the year.

Fridays Professional Growth Reflective Posts – Each year teachers in Alberta develop Individual Professional Growth Plans to focus their own self-determined professional growth.  A key element to purposeful growth is identifying an area of desired growth and regularly reflecting on progress towards achievement of a stated goal.  I plan to take time on Fridays to comment on my professional growth, including reflecting on professional conversations, (face to face or otherwise), readings, and PD sessions attended.

Whenever Possible – Sharing from the school blog.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I maintain a student learning blog co-curated with students from our elementary school.  In an effort to get their learning story out, I will repost student posts to my own blog as they are written.

 This initial plan of a minimum of three posts a week will help me to keep my blog relevant and active.  I intend to sustain the habit of blogging from September 2014 – June 2015, at which time I’ll decide whether or not I wish to continue with the practice.

Lastly – where will this blog be?  I will likely establish a new blog site at WordPress.  I have used Blogger, WordPress and Weebly in the past (also Edublogs, obviously), and I’ve found WordPress to be the most intuitive for me.  Our family is going off the grid for most of the month of August – into the wilds of Western Canada – I will set up my new blog in late August as the school year begins – I’ll be sure to link to it from my other spaces (including this one).

Professional Reading – 3 New Reads from 2014

I am a reader.  I have at least one teaching-related book on the go most of the time, and I often have a non-teaching book on the go as well.  I’m not a big fan e-reading for sustained reading; I like to make notes, hi-light passages and dog ear pages while I read – I’m still a fan of paper when it comes to reading.  As a member of both ASCD and Phi Delta Kappan, I receive a number of new books automatically each year, and the senior leadership team in our school division also recommend books that they believe fit the jurisdictional context.  I have also found a number of great recommendations from those people in my PLN on Twitter.

Three new books I found, read, appreciated and shared this year are:

1. The 12 Touchstones of Good Teaching by Bryan Goodwin & Elizabeth Ross Hubbell

This book arrived just before a staff member went to Las Angeles to attend the ASCD Conference in March.   It came at a perfect time of the year – that time when we often need to remember to keep first things first and to be sure that we are making the most of the time we are spending with our students.  The book refers to three basic three basic imperatives for teaching:

      1. Be demanding.
      2. Be supportive.
      3. Be intentional.

2.  Learning Targets:  Helping Students Aim for Understanding in Today’s Lesson by Connie M. Moss and Susan M. Brookhart

This was another book that I received as a member of ASCD.  This book is about planning and designing instruction and learning, similar to the UBD model.  This book also helped to remind me that what we are doing, although difficult, can be made less complicated by keeping the target clearly in view.  The book is based on a very simple theory:

“The most effective teaching and the most meaningful student learning happen when teachers design the right learning target for today’s lesson and use it along with their students to aim for and assess understanding.”

3. He’s The Weird Teacher by Doug Robertson

This is a book that I stumbled on because of Twitter.  Doug Robertson  (@theweirdteacher)is a passionate elementary school teacher from Oregon.  I have not yet finished this book, but I can say that it is based on the positivity; not getting pulled into the negative attitudes associated with education, building relationships with all people connected to the students under your charge and making sure that your classroom or school is a place where students want to learn.  This is a relaxed, non-stressful read that I recommend as a reminder that the way we approach our students and their learning matters.

I’m open to suggestions for books that you recommend – what are your must-read-and-share titles?

Going with Google

Over the last four years, our little school has been working at connecting students’ school lives with their real lives.  Our goal has been to change what students do at school to make it more relevant to the things they do out of school.  With Alberta’s rigid and prescriptive program of studies, this is no easy task – there is a laundry list of content knowledge and skills for each subject area that students are expected to learn, and some of those laundry lists were developed more than 15 years ago.  One positive change on the horizon is that the prescriptive curriculum is being redesigned – we expect to have an updated and revamped curriculum to work with by the fall of 2015, which should support teachers in making school more interesting and relevant to students.

As much as the content needs to change, pedagogy needs to evolve around student collaboration – one new tool that supports this change is the Google Apps for Education (GAfE) suite.  GAfE offers students an easy, safe and intuitive platform to use to create, curate and collaborate on school assignments.  Students can comment on each other’s work, peer review and make suggestions, as well as physically edit shared work with other students simultaneously.  As with most Google products, GAfE is continually being updated and improved.

Our school division has been somewhat reluctant to move to the GAfE model over the last few years.  There has been much talk about student security and lack of infrastructure to support the use of this platform. In spring of 2014, our school submitted a proposal to run a pilot program for the school division to learn whether or not using the GAfE suite can enhance student learning opportunities and also what technological, pedagogical or administrative would need to be addressed before any whole-scale adoption of this program were to take place.

I had never used any of the Google Drive functions or programs until I started my studies at Boise State University in January of 2011.  As soon as I started using Google Drive, I quickly saw the benefits of the tools as well as the ways in which they could be used to support learning in the classroom.  I am excited to see our school moving in this direction, and I am optimistic that our pilot will report positive findings for the rest of our school jurisdiction to make the move towards GAfE if they so desire.

Approximately 25% of our teaching staff requested to and will be attending the Google Apps for Education Summit in Calgary in August as a bit of primer on the tools and how they can be used. I’m optimistic that our teachers will find the PD useful and that they will find themselves prepared to use these tools effectively in the classroom.

Just as we received confirmation that our pilot project had been approved, we started to hear rumblings about Google Classroom, essentially a small-scale LMS that Google will be launching in the fall of 2014. Click on the video link below to see a short preview of what Google Classroom may look like:

http://youtu.be/K26iyyQMp_g

We are in the queue to pilot Google Classroom as a part of our GAfE project – it’s going to be a busy few years; hopefully these efforts will prove productive.

Social Media in Schools – What Are You Using?

It wasn’t all that long ago when home and school communication was simple: a newsletter came home once a month, and if there was bad news a phone call would come from the office.  Things have changed now – with most people spending more and more of their time connected to the world via multiple social media platforms, communication needs to be more up the minute and ongoing than it has been in the past.  Earlier this year, our little school launched a school-wide Twitter account for ongoing information, a school-wide blog for two-way communication and sharing the learning story, weekly emails from classroom teachers and a classroom based Twitter account to allow students to connect with the global world.

Although these tools have changed the frequency and ease of communication, we still offer a monthly comprehensive newsletter (soon to be supplemented by a weekly vlog) and some news continues to be best delivered via phone call or face to face meeting.

How is your school using social media tools?

Take a moment to answer this 5-question survey:

Survey Form

Orientation to a New School – Tell Them From Me

As the principal of a grade 4/5/6 school, I spend part of the last few months of the year supporting incoming students and families as they begin to transition to our school.  We approach this task in a variety of ways – we visit the grade 3 students in their own classrooms, we invite incoming students to activities at our school, we send home copies of our paper newsletters, encourage incoming parents to follow our school Twitter feed, host a face-to-face orientation session, just to name a few.  While engaging in this process, I often feel as though I am only sharing the information from the office  point of view.

This year I approached things a little differently.  As the face-to-face session approached, I took an iPad on a tour of the school and asked our current students what advice they would share with our incoming students.  The footage was very much unscripted, but the sentiments were pretty honest.  I shared this video with our incoming students and parents in June to rave reviews and looks of relief – here’s hoping that this approach, along with the other steps taken along the way, will support students and families in having a positive beginning to the new school year.

Have a look at the video below:

Building Community – One Big Family

As a grade 4/5/6 school, we only have a few years in which to develop relationships with our students before they head off to junior/senior high school.  When students arrive at our school, they have generally only attended one school so far, that being Horace Allen School, serving K-3 students within our community.  Transitions are difficult, and for some students (and parents), transitioning from the only school you’ve ever known to a different school can be quite challenging.  As a small school “in the middle”, we work at both welcoming students into grade 4 and preparing students for grade 7.

There are a number of ways we build community – mixed grade events and challenges, family night activities, mixed grade sports teams and clubs – just to name a few.  A few years ago we visited another school to take part in a Music Monday celebration.  We opened by singing O Canada together, but before we moved onto to performing the combined program together, our host school sang a school song.  The rest of the assembly went very well – we made some great music together.  The idea of a school song really got me thinking – perhaps this would be a way to help build a little more community within our school – something we could all do together.

Over the next month, I gathered our school choir and we pushed through a few different ideas for themes for a school song, and finally settled on “One Big Family”.  We worked out a few musical details and rehearsed the song for a couple of weeks before introducing it to the wider school population.  This song was very well received – it’s easy to learn, high-energy, and even gives the kids a chance to clap along.  Have a listen to an early recording of the song:

 

We’ve now had a school song for 5 years – we end every assembly with the song, and it’s one of the first things that students learn as they become a part of our school community.  The theme, “One Big Family”, has become an unofficial motto for the school, and we refer to it often when working with students.  Having a school song is not a silver bullet to building community, but the ability to share something when we are together as a school does help to develop relationships.

 

Isabelle Sellon School – Student Enrollment – What Next?

As a small community seemingly always on the fringe of collapse and implosion, school population and enrollment numbers are always a hot topic.  I don’t propose any answers or solutions within this post, but I can provide a different perspective.

Our little school of 130 students in grades 4/5/6 has seen a number of changes over the years.  Isabelle Sellon School was originally opened in 1960 as a high school, serving students in Blairmore only, as students in Bellevue attended M.D. Mceachern School (closed in 2003) in Bellevue, and students in Coleman attended Horace Allen School.  Isabelle Sellon school only operated as a high school for a few years as the newly built Crowsnest Consolidated High School opened in 1970 and housed all grades 9-12 students from all towns in the Crowsnest Pass.  Beginning in 1970, Isabelle Sellon School took in students from grades 1 – 8, a configuration that lasted until 1978, when all Isabelle Sellon School became a junior high school (grades 7 & 8) for all Crowsnest Pass students.  In 1985, our school became a true middle school, welcoming students from grades 5-8; this configuration lasted until 2003, at which time ISS became a grades 4/5/6 school.

photo

Although these changes in configuration seem erratic and frenzied, they are symptomatic of the changes in population in the Municipality of the Crowsnest Pass.  As a town that has always relied upon coal mining and related industries, our population changes can be directly linked to the flux in the coal market, and the viability of the mines within our area.

Currently we are a community of 5,500 people, with approximately 650 students in K-12 between three schools.  It’s hard to imagine that in 1982, there were 500 students enrolled at Isabelle Sellon School alone, plus the healthy school populations at the three other schools within the municipality.  As our little community continues to seek it’s identity (are we a resource town, a tourist town or a combination of both, or something altogether different?), it’s interesting to look back at our history through the lens of our school system.

 

It’s A Simple Process – Right?

This post is in response to Examining Generational Differences which was posted by Michael Barbour the professor for my EdTech 537 masters class on blogging. The original post can be found here.

Earlier this summer I reread an article by Marc Prensky regarding the idea of today’s students being “digital natives” – learners who have individually spent 10,000 hours playing video games and 20,000 hours watching television by the time they leave college.  Prensky argues that the education system must make whole-scale adjustments to its methodology and content in order to provide to reach their students.  Prensky also makes an argument supporting some of the ideas of the gamification of education.

Although I cannot dispute that most, if not all, of today’s students will approach school having amassed a higher number of “screen hours” than previous generations, much of Prensky’s article is based more on interesting opinion and conjecture as opposed to research.

Schools and classrooms are complex, complicated and dynamic environments.  Teachers have many factors and variables to consider when it comes to supporting a community of learners.  Although most of today’s students arrive at school having used technology tools (tablets, hand-helds, computers, etc.), they haven’t necessarily used them as a support for formal learning.  A student’s comfort and competency with digital tools becomes another factor that a teacher must consider when designing learning experiences and providing instruction.

While designing effective learning experiences for a complex, complicated and dynamic group of students, teachers need to remember the simple questions that guide effective planning and instruction:

  • What do we want students to learn, experience or be able to do?
  • What do they already know, what experiences have they had, what can they already do?
  • How will we know when they know it, have adequately experienced it or can do it?
  • What will we do when they don’t know it, haven’t adequately experienced or can’t do it?
  • What resources, strategies or supports will be used to support learning process?

With these questions in mind, student learning guides the planning, instruction and assessment cycle.  Teachers have the responsibility to choose the role that technology tools (as well as any other resources) will play in each phase of the cycle, and should consider students’ individual learning needs throughout.

When the task of planning, instruction and assessment is simplified, accommodating this generation of students is similar to accommodating students of any generation.  High-quality, effective planning and instruction considers the use of technology (among other strategies and resources) to support student learning, but doesn’t necessarily require it.

References:

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants – Part II: Do they really think differently? On the Horizon, 9(6). Retrieved fromhttp://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

 

Am I Creative? – (Guest Post) – K. Tamminga-Paton

This post is contributed by Karen-Tamminga Pato, an Art teacher and leader within the Livingstone Range School Division, and a member of the LRSD Curriculum Synthesis Team.  With potentially transformational changes coming to Alberta Education in terms of curriculum and instruction, teachers, students, parents and educational leaders across Alberta are working together to redesign, modernize and improve curricular documents to support the vision of the provincial Inspiring Education initiative.  Ms. Tamminga-Paton is also an active artist; visit www.tammingapaton.com for further information.  

This past spring, I was asked to do a workshop at our annual Divisional PD Day – “something related to the Ministerial Order on Student Learning; something about creativity in the classroom.” As a fine arts specialist who exists in the rarified world of secondary arts education in a small community, I am a bit of a novelty. My entire career has been under the wing of administrative favour, if you will, and I did not suffer what so many of my colleagues did from being absorbed into the Core Subject vacuum. The schools I have had the privilege to work in have had a strong arts program, supported with a great budget, generous timetabling and endless opportunities to celebrate what students created. So it just made sense that I would have something to say about this Inspiring Education concept – it being all about innovation and creativity and entrepreneurialship and all – and provide some tips for my fellow colleagues on how to go about doing this. I realize now what was hoped for was a package of cool, innovative, creative ways on how to integrate the arts into other subject areas. What I ended up talking about was my personal belief that creative classrooms happen because the teacher is a creative individual. It wasn’t a big hit. People listened politely enough, but they left a touch early, just as I was wrapping up, as though to say, thanks, but I have no idea how to use this in my classroom and it didn’t get me any closer to figuring out this Ministerial Order thing. It definitely wasn’t the most inspired workshop I’ve done. The truth is, I ran out of time because I talked too much so we didn’t even get to the activity.

I’ve asked myself what else I should have done, but to me, personal creativity still seems to be the lynch pin behind the Inspiring Education vision. If I had to summarize my entire career in a few words, for certain, one of them would be permission, as in permission to engage. My world is filled with people who willingly relinquish their personal creativity, and very likely yours is, too. Every day I bump against students’ fear of creating something new, who are stuck in the myth of ‘not getting it right’. I work hard to convince students and adults alike that they not only have the right to engage in the arts, but they must! That to develop a creative capacity is, as Maxine Greene says, “to work for the ability to look at things as if they could be otherwise.” John Dewey calls our imagination a gateway for new meaning and possibilities. If I can get my students, especially those in junior high and older, to give themselves permission fearlessly create, to step into that place of ambiguity, then I feel I have won. The skills, theories and technical jargon will follow as it becomes necessary to know. And how do I convince them? By doing it myself. By stepping into unchartered territory, fumbling about, finding my way (or not) and coming up with something new. And then I tell the story. Or show the painting. Or share the poem. I especially attempt to show my creations in their raw state. I highlight the process, not the product, and I believe there is authenticity in our mutual creative experience because they know I walk alongside them in this beautiful, messy adventure. One of the first questions I ask any new student art teacher is, “What are you doing in your personal life that’s creative?” It doesn’t matter if they’re good or not, what matters is that this creativity muscle is alive and well, that they have some understanding of its language, its process, its weight and heft so they can then recognize and nurture it in their students.

CBEpainting                    paintingquote

 

 

 

 

 

As a member of the Curriculum Synthesis Team network, I get to participate in a Big and Important Conversation. We meet in the coolest room in the Calgary Board of Education’s building where they have the largest selection of marker colours for its floor-to-ceiling whiteboards that I’ve ever seen. Here, a group of educational professionals ask courageous questions and imagine what could be.

This team is, of course, a small part of the big ship called Inspiring Education. Hundreds of small and large players – urban, rural, French and English, aboriginal, including representatives from all grade levels and subject areas – have contributed to this Conversation. This is not just another rabbit trail Alberta Education is having us walk down. The big ship is making a slow and irreversible turn. Education, as we know it, is being redefined. Curriculum will no longer be a noun, the dispensing of a body of knowledge, but a verb – a series of actions where students engage in meaningful and productive learning experiences because they’ve caught a glimpse of what is possible. And this is what will be required of us, their teachers: courageous imagination. As we personally exercise our imaginations and allow ourselves to loosen our classroom grip, the boundaries broaden and new horizons appear. It’s as much for us as it is for our students. For to be creative is a profoundly human endeavor that shakes us out of numbness.

… Would I change my workshop? Yes. Not the topic, but certainly the method. I would have started with a question and then turned every one loose with a smorgasbord of materials. And a whole pile of colourful whiteboard markers.

 

Foreshadowing Curriculum Redesign with A Lamb? (Guest Post) – M. Dembicki

This guest post is contributed by Myrna Dembicki, Assistant Principal at Horace Allen School and a member of the Livingstone Range School Division Curriculum Redesign Team.  Follow Myrna on Twitter @MyrnaDembicki.  

Early in my career, the mother of a student approached me and asked if the classroom could take care of a tiny lamb while the family was away for a few days. The mother had rescued it from a neighbor who was leaving the lamb to die because it was a runt. I thought briefly about the idea, accepted. The lamb was ‘ours’. In the next few days, the classroom was transformed into a learning lab. Students rearranged their desks and created a ‘barn yard’ in the centre of their circle so they could watch their fleecy classmate. They organized a feeding schedule, a recess ‘supervision’ schedule, rest time schedules…all a lamb could want (or, perhaps, not). The students wanted learn more about lambs and sheep, and asked me to bring books from the city library to supplement what our small, rural school library offered for research. They figured out the quantity of milk-replacement the lamb would need each day so I could ensure to have enough on hand. They talked with the custodial staff about the best way to ‘clean up’, and were in charge of this. The experience was a wonderful one for our combined grades 1-2 class, much richer and deeper than I’ve described. I suspect some of the students may still be reminded today of the experience, as I am, though each is long grown to adulthood.

Our classroom was overtaken by the experience of caring for that lamb. During that time period, I thought about…worried about…the experience hijacking formal curricular objectives and the precious time being ‘lost’ due to the experience. I had a year plan to follow, after all. I began scrambling to find appropriate objectives in various subjects at the end of each day to ‘justify’ having the lamb in our class. I wondered about… worried about…this experience taking away from managing the curriculum that I so desperately tried to be accountable to. During that week, I wrote formal lesson plans after the fact, after the learning I observed during the day, again in the pursuit of justifying the experience. I felt guilty, and didn’t tell colleagues of my after-the-fact planning.

We are currently in a time of educational change in our province as we experience ‘curriculum redesign’. For the first time, teachers are being asked to participate in designing the change, in the writing of curriculum (e.g. http://inspiredcurriculum.ca). After years of having numerous outcomes we are expected to teach and students to grasp, we will have been given permission to experiment and ‘play’ with outcomes. I feel like I’ll be cut loose from the ties that bind me to a rigid curriculum as I eagerly await a new scope and sequence and a redesigned, more efficient curriculum. This redesign is both exciting and terrifying at the same time. As a teacher, I feel empowered, perhaps innocently, that I will be trusted as a professional in the classroom. I feel frantic to offer opinions and give input…but the content and experience feels so vast I don’t know where to begin! As an administrator, I am nervous about the scurrying from the governing body I sense, with information coming suddenly and then changing to meet very tight timelines. I worry about the job ahead in helping educate not only parents, but also teachers, about the major shift ahead.

In the end, I feel cautiously confident that unexpected rich experiences won’t need to be justified, and that following the interests of the students will be accepted. I have high hopes that curriculum redesign will give me the permission to do the things the students feel passionate about rather than cover the outcomes I have been required to cover. I am hopeful that if I’m ever again in the position of accepting a lamb into the classroom for which I am the educational facilitator, I will accept without concern. Fingers crossed…fingers that I hope will not be slapped.