Who Says You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks?

Every year in Manitoba, all schools are required by law to have 10 fire drills and two Lockdown drills. These allow staff and students to be prepared for any emergency situation. Twice a year, we also practice bus evacuations in case our students are involved in an accident or if ever there is a fire or other emergency that would require all riders to be evacuated from the bus. Our last drill happened to be this past week.

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As usual, my First Graders found a seat and tried to listen carefully to what the bus driver was saying, but there was a continuous high pitched sound ringing in the bus – one even I could not ignore. Before the driver started, I asked him if it was possible to turn this alarm off (as it was a clear distraction for everyone on board including students who have sensory sensitivities). He told me that unfortunately, it wasn’t possible. If he took out the key, another alarm would sound which would be worse than the one we were currently experiencing. I found this to be confusing, because it was the first of many bus drills I have experienced where we have had to endure such an excruciating sound. So he continued explaining the safety procedures and asking students questions while this awful noise resonated within the confinement of our bus. All I could think of was how much my students would retain with this unwelcome distraction (and how we could make these drills better – We’ve all been through them – the same drill, twice a year for more than a decade…but that’s a conversation for another time!).

Anyways, after 10 minutes, the driver who was in charge of the bus behind us came to ours and informed our driver that her last group had finished and she was leaving for lunch. While she came in to deliver the message, she immediately heard the piercing sound and instantly turned the key a notch which finally silenced this dreadful tone. the best teachers are the best learners An instant sigh of relief came over the entire bus. I immediately thanked her and when our bus driver realized what she had done, his eyes lit up in wonderment. He quickly asked her how she did it and for her to show him how! He then turned to us and said “22 years I’ve been a bus driver and she’s been driving for just one year.” I smiled and nodded my head. This example just confirmed my belief that you are never done learning. You can learn new things daily, no matter how much experience you have, no matter how much of an expert you are, and no matter who you’re with. There is only one requirement – you have to want to continue to learn.

This driver’s feelings were much of the same as he embraced this learning opportunity from someone in his field, regardless of how many more years experience he had over her. No one likes a “know-it-all”. What made my day was how he was genuinely grateful for his colleague to have shown him this new trick and surely his daily riders will appreciate it as well!

Many thoughts and questions came about as I reflected on what I had just witnessed.

  • If the sound did bother him, why didn’t he ask someone to see if they were experiencing the same thing or ask someone for help? As George Couros (@gcouros) puts it, “Try, fail, and try something else until you find or create a solution that works.”  What I want for my students is for them to have the drive to seek solutions and find the answers they’re looking for, but know that I am always there to help and guide. I want them to be assertive and take charge. Don’t wait for someone to show you – be willing to try and find a solution yourself. Stretch yourself. Innova
  • Just because it’s always “been that way”, why wouldn’t he question “why”?
  • How do we treat our new teachers in our schools? Are they seen as having less experience or are they given time to share their strong points?
  • If you are a new teacher – don’t be afraid to share your knowledge with others. Do not discredit yourself for having little experience on the playing field. Others can learn from you. The same is true for seasoned  teachers who continue to learn as they teach. As Derek Sivers (@sivers) states in his motivational video Obvious to You. Amazing to Others, “Everybody’s ideas seem obvious to them”. Clearly something so simple as turning a key made such a difference in the lives of many!

This just goes to show you that you CAN teach an old dog new tricks (especially when continuous learning is welcome) and that you should never underestimate people who have less experience than you. Other teachers may have judged this bus driver for his lengthy bus drills or his difficulty hearing, but what I took away from my short time with him was how he embraced this opportunity to learn. Regardless of where you are, take the time to get to know the individuals you work with. Learn from them, learn with them and expect them to treat you no different. You’ll never know what you may learn from one another, no matter how long or short of a time you’ve been there!

Cheers to all teachers who continue to be learners – for themselves and most importantly, for the learners in their classrooms! What’s your next stop and what will you learn?

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A Learning Continuum: What Teachers Need for Themselves

As teachers, we spend hours thinking about learning outcomes and competencies as well as developing continua to ensure scaffolding and success for all students in our schools, whether it is in reading, writing, communication, social emotional learning or in other areas of our curricula. This reminded me of how we, as teachers, need a learning continuum ourselves to ensure we keep moving from our point A to our next point B. Sure, we have Professional Development (PD) days and we draw up a Personal Learning Plan or a Growth Plan each year, but how can these be made better? To my knowledge, every teacher has them, so what isn’t working? Why is there continued resistance towards change in the field of Education? Why are we not setting the bar higher?

I recently had the very rare opportunity to take part in a PD day with none other than George Couros (@gcouros), author of The Innovator’s Mindset. As a member of the newly hired staff of École Sage Creek School (#SageCreekLRSD), we spent the greater part of the day discussing as a team the importance and significance of being innovators and wanting the same for our students, as we prepare for the adventure we have ahead – the opening of our new school this September. This is such an exciting and rare experience because all staff members were hired at the same time and therefore, we have the chance to create something amazing, push boundaries, challenge conventional thinking and develop a school culture from the ground up. Everyone on the team is a key player and we, as a staff, understand this. What really empowered me during this PD event was the way all staff members embraced Couros’ message and understood why change in education is necessary. Many who weren’t (yet) connected to Twitter signed up and by the end had posted video reflections and were sending their first Tweets. It was so nice to see my colleagues take risks and step out of their comfort zones because we know that great things never come easy. As a staff, we have a short window of time before our students walk in their classrooms and we need to collaborate more than ever to ensure we aren’t doing “old school in a new building”. Couros set the tone for the path that lies ahead.

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Walking away from this PD day, I realized this one was like no other and was not to be taken for granted! One of the many take-aways I have from Couros is that if you aren’t swimming, you’re sinking. Education is changing and if we aren’t keeping ourselves up to date, we are falling behind. I’ve always been a believer in life-long learning and believe that teachers should hold themselves to the same standards to which they hold their students. We need to learn and continue to learn – all ways and always. This made me think of how PD is done elsewhere and the place that holds Professional Learning Plans or Growth Plans in our schools. In my experience, many teachers roll their eyes when they are reminded to hand in theirs by mid-October. Many choose not to attend other PD opportunities, but complain about what is offered within the division. And those follow up meetings mid-year and end of year sometimes don’t happen. What message is this giving teachers? That their own professional growth isn’t important? That there is no time to discuss how the school and division can support you in your goals?  Have you ever known what goals teachers in your building have set for themselves without asking them? Are you guilty of implementing a strategy or reading an article just before your mid-year meeting to look as though you’ve really been reflecting and working towards the goal you’ve set? Why aren’t we sharing our learning with one another?

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As I reflect on PD events in other schools and divisions, they are (usually) nothing more than pockets of information, given to certain members in the building, who rarely have the opportunity to share their knowledge and learning with staff. If so, it is during a very little allocated time slot within a staff meeting and only if time permits. Rarely do teachers have the time to reflect, plan, try and implement the strategies, tools or practices they’ve learned during their PD. This is true for all of my own PD, except two of which were incredibly meaningful and made an impact on me as an educator. Both were focused on pedagogy and not on curriculum content.  Furthermore, many PD days have zero follow-ups and at the best of times, follow-ups are conducted by consultants who participated in the very same one-day workshop.

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As a teacher, I’m positive I am not the only one who has been frustrated with how quickly initiatives change. When they do, so does PD. It often seems we are switching priorities so often that we feel we never fully reach our set goals. We rarely have the chance to deepen learning because we skim the surface of many initiatives because of the constant changes. Jennifer Katz, author of Teaching to Diversity– the Three-Block Model of Universal Design for Learning, explains, “Racing through one initiative after another with one-off professional development days and no consistent follow-up is destructive to teachers’ feelings of self-confidence.” Not only do many teachers leave the profession because of burn-out, others may feel they don’t measure up when in reality, they are amazing – they just haven’t had the opportunity to shine.

On the bright side, it is clear through the #IMMOOC Twitter chats and the other teachers I follow on social media that PD in education is slowly changing for the better. In one school I know, a PD committee (made up a handful of skilled teachers) is facilitating their learning by setting up Genius Hour-type sessions and had their staff signQ3 up according to what interested them most. Staff learning from one another within their own building – what a concept! It costs next to nothing (only time), is based on staff’s strengths (and not on what they are lacking) and the greatest advantage is that you have a set of experts on campus that can guide you and support you at any time. I see more schools holding Book Clubs and having meaningful conversations that turn into action and I’ve come to know more teachers who are on Twitter, which tells me they are making use of all the PD available at the end of their fingertips, when and where they please! I see movement in the right direction.

What if…

  • What if teachers took more time to live out their Growth Plan instead of limiting themselves to one school year? Why change goals when you can deepen learning?
  • What if Growth Plans were co-constructed with a group of teachers in the building to promote collaboration and increase accountability?
  • What if all staff members shared their learning with one another and had time set aside to do so?
  • What if all teachers viewed all students in the school as their own?
  • What if early years teachers knew what middle years teachers were working on?
  • What if we took time in our day to reflect on our personal learning so best practices become the new standard?
  • What if we used a Google Doc to respond to an email to administrators, so we could see all answers, questions asked, and reflections made that far? Would more teachers give their feedback knowing their answers are recorded? Would this save admins countless hours of reiterating, repeating and summarizing (both inside their office and online)?
  • What if we focussed less on “being knowledgeable in all but masters of none”?
  • What if teachers had a say in their division’s priorities?
  • How would self-confidence rise if all teachers felt supported and heard?
  • What if all staff, including administrators, knew each other’s goals? How would we help one another reach them?

In regards to PD, it’s so important that we take the time to reflect and implement what we’ve learned and what gc selfie pic.JPGwe are learning. I understand there is no one size fits all, but
there is always room for growth.

We are so very fortunate to work in a 21st century school.
Let’s make sure 21st century learning takes place!

When Doors Open – #IMMOOC Week 1

As I reread the introduction and chapter one for my first #IMMOOC blog post, I came across a section I had highlighted last October when I first read The Innovator’s Mindset, “Change is an opportunity to do something amazing” (p.2).  Not only did this simple sentence with a complex meaning speak to me then, but even more so now, for many reasons.

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Three years ago, I decided to leave my amazing school division (which was my second home) to teach closer to my physical address and my soon to be children’s school, for the sole reason of having more time with my kids. I wasn’t looking for change, but an opportunity came up that would allow me to have more time with them (or so I thought), so I took it. As it was, I was travelling one hour each way to go to work so I was really spending the equivalent of 10 full time work weeks on the road per school year. I was so eager to get that time back and spend it with my kids.

I knew the division I was walking into had a lot of catching up to do, but it wasn’t until I started working there that I realized how much. Knowing I had been doing a lot of good things in my classroom in terms of pedagogy and relationship building, I was shocked at how very traditional this new school and division was to me. I felt I was running against the current and getting nowhere. I felt inefficient and lost some of my drive. I struggled my first year in that environment, but I survived (and yes I mean survived) because I was in it for these 18 kids who challenged my thinking and gave me purpose. Regretting my move and feeling deflated, I was so happy to become pregnant with my third child, because I would have a break from this isolated working environment. I suppose when you work in an environment for so long, you don’t question the way of doing, because that’s how it’s always been. We need time to learn with and from our colleagues, reflect on our own practices and get students involved to make learning relevant and meaningful, for both students and staff. As George Couros states, “There is no end to growth and learning. Schools, more than any other organization, need to embrace a commitment to continuous learning.” (p.9). When we know better, we do better. Some staff members at my school hadn’t had the opportunity to see how things could be different, could be better, could be amazing, because some just do and redo what has always been done.  We need time to discuss, share, reflect and adjust to connect with our students and make deeper learning the new standard.

As I returned to work this past September, I had a better attitude towards my school because I was thrilled to see my oldest child start Kindergarten. I saw her in the halls and at recess. Knowing far too well that I wanted her learning experience to be rich, meaningful and significant, it encouraged me to be more vocal and share what I knew to people who asked about Hangouts, flex-seating, Seesaw, or other projects I had going on. There is so much potential for what learning can be! And what’s most exciting for me as a parent of a child who attends this school is that many teachers are embracing change. They are experimenting with flexible seating, adjusting their table heights, allowing kids to have a voice and choice. This year, a book club among a handful of keen staff members facilitate discussions and reflections on how we are building relationships within our school and developing secure attachments with our students. That connection piece is coming along well!

A few months ago, I prepared my CV, not because I was unhappy where I was, but because I came across a teaching opportunity that I wanted to be a part of, which just so happened to be in my first school division (my first home). I wasn’t looking for change but this dream job presented itself to me as a locked door and I wanted to be able to walk through it. To do so, I knew I had to knock, introduce myself, prove myself and the key would be then handed to me, if I was the right fit. Seeing as this new school, opening in September, represents everything that this book is, I needed to ensure that my teaching practices where still in check, along with my mindset, which has always been do what’s best for your students. When I got the phone call offering me my dream job I was over the moon. I was beyond excited to be part of a team who believed learning is creating not consumption and who collaborated, communicated and allowed students to have their voice be heard.

When I first mention my new move this coming September, usually people respond  by saying “You’re willing to commute to the city again? or “Won’t you miss seeing your kids in the hallways?”. My answer simply put is yes. Actually, since working in my children’s school, I’ve actually missed my commute. It was my me time to reflect on what was happening both personally and professionally. As it stands now, I take my teacher hat off, walk forty steps to daycare and put my mom cap on. I have next to no down time.

I feel this tremendous amount of guilt because I’m leaving my kids behind to pursue my dreams and my professional goals, to seek learning opportunities that will make me grow. After reading George Couros’ recent post Working on “Meaning”, followed by @AnnickRauch’s post, Balance vs. Meaning, I was relieved I wasn’t the only one who had this sense of guilt. Mom’s should be selfless not selfish. Ironically, I believe this move will make me a better mom because of the embedded self-reflection time into my day. Another response I get often is “Oh, it’ll be nice to work in a brand new building”. Yes, but the large windows and fresh paint aren’t the reasons I want to be there. It has everything to do with the learning that will take place there.

Even though my time at this current school was short, I learned a great deal and if I happened to inspire only one teacher to make changes in their pedagogy, that will have an impact on students, their families and the school community. George Couros reminded us all at the very end of the first live episode with A.J. Juliani and John Spencer, it doesn’t matter if you have a million followers or a few. Even if your post has an impact on one person who read it, subsequently you’ll have an impact of 20 something students. We can’t forget the image that one stone will create a ripple effect once it is thrown in water. But to make a ripple effect, the rock has to immerse itself in its new environment. Only then can it make waves.

The choice is in your hands. You decide whether the change will be amazing or not. Ultimately, when it comes to change, we decide whether we knock on the door, open the door, walk through the door, or build the door. No matter what is found on the other side, you’ll learn something new, or at the very least something new about yourself.

Deliver The Good News!

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In 2002, my boyfriend (now husband) was a close-up magician. He could manipulate cards, create illusions and attract a crowd within seconds. As his interest in magic grew, so did his ideas. He decided to buy a snake and bring it with him to all of his shows. Needless to say, when I married him, I said yes to more than just him.

Although I wasn’t too keen on having a pet snake  (her name is Panda), she quickly grew on me. Believe it or not, at first, I didn’t even want to go near the aquarium. But as teacher, I could see how students could be curious, amazed, intrigued and how easy it would be to have her spend time in our classroom and create memorable lessons that would have students excited and motivated to learn. My first year as a teacher, my husband was the one who came to take her out and show her my students. The next year, I had the courage to take her out myself and I haven’t stopped since. I’ve heard comments from parents saying their child was disappointed because they didn’t have the teacher who had the pet snake (little do they know, they get to meet her anyway). Some parents come up to me and say “Is it true?”. Yep.. it is.

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When I read Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess (@burgessdave), I could instantly relate to his message. To increase student engagement, we have to transform our teaching and draw students in creatively. Would you want to be a student in your classroom? As Dave Burgess puts it, “Provide an uncommon experience for your students and they will reward you with an uncommon effort and attitude” (p.55). This has proven to be true on more occasions than one. It just takes the right hook and you’ve got their full attention.

Bringing in my snake in the classroom has taught me that those somewhat disconnected students come alive when they are presented unique learning opportunities and that I can overcome my own fears. However this year’s learning experience has reminded me to be the deliverer of good news.

I’ve always been one to express gratitude towards others who have helped me or taught me valuable lessons. When someone merits a compliment, I deliver and at this one particular moment, the timing was just right.

You see, every year, Panda comes to stay a short while in my classroom and as always, other classes ask to come to visit her too. I invite them to come when my students are in gym or music class so I can give them the full experience. As I was hosting this one class, one kid in particular was bright-eyed and in awe. Full of questions. Curious as can be. I answered the students’ questions, made them predict her colour and length and explained her needs. This one student, who I’ve spoken to on many occasions on the playground, came to me afterwards and thanked me for letting his class see Panda as the other students were walking back to their classroom. I smiled and said “It’s my pleasure, you’re so welcome!”. The next day, when I crossed him in the hall, he thanked me again. And again at lunch, and again the next day! I thought it was so thoughtful that he’d be so thankful, for this experience must have been very special to him.

A week later, as I was leaving the daycare after dropping off my kids in the morning, I held the door open for this grateful student. He went inside and got his things in order. As I waited for his mom and younger sibling who were further behind to come through the door, I stopped her, asked her if she was this student’s mom and she instantly looked at me worried. I presented myself as the 1st grade teacher and explained how her son had come into my classroom to see Panda and that he had really impressed me with his big heart and kind words. I described to her how every time we crossed paths he would sincerely thank me for letting him see Panda, and that I just wanted to let her know that her son was extremely polite and grateful. Tears instantly filled her eyes and I didn’t know what to say. She genuinely thanked me for the message because her son had recently been written up for a major incident at school, and the positive message I delivered at that particular moment was just what she needed to hear.

Of course, I could have just greeted her, held the door open and carried onto my classroom, but I didn’t because I wanted to deliver my message. The chance presented itself, so I took it and I’m glad I did. Who doesn’t like to have a thoughtful note in their mailbox or to be stopped for a candid compliment? When you have something nice to say, say it. You never know how much of an impact your message may have on someone’s day.

A Vision Worth Living

At a recent meeting, I was asked to consolidate my thoughts in a one page document on what my vision would be for my ideal school. This original piece is written in French and the English version follows.  Please note, writing in English is not my strong suit.

Ma vision pour l’école idéale

L’école idéale, selon moi, est fondée sur l’intégrité et basée sur le principe qu’il faut avant tout, construire et nourrir des relations riches et positives avec la communauté scolaire entière. Le climat et la culture d’école s’enracinent chez les apprenants, de sorte que les élèves, leurs familles et le personnel ont un sentiment d’appartenance élevé envers leur école et ressentent envers elle, une fierté sans pareille.

Dans mon école idéale, la collaboration est mise au profit de tous les apprenants, tant chez les élèves que les adultes. L’action, la réflexion et la communication ouverte sont également privilégiées. Le personnel est ouvert d’esprit, transparent et valorise le développement professionnel. Les membres du personnel partagent leurs connaissances et leurs compétences avec leurs collègues ainsi que la communauté scolaire, de sorte que les élèves tirent profit des meilleures pratiques pédagogiques possibles telles que l’apprentissage par projets, la conception universelle, les Makerspaces, les flipped-classrooms et les student-led classrooms, pour n’en nommer que quelques-unes. Subséquemment, les élèves acquièrent les compétences du 21e siècle en vivant des expériences riches et réfléchies et en recevant de la rétroaction sur mesure. Puisque les relations sont inspirées de confiance, les élèves se permettent de prendre des risques sans se soucier de vivre des échecs, car toute la communauté perçoit ces derniers comme des occasions d’apprendre, d’ajuster et de grandir. Dans cet environnement sécurisant, le personnel aussi se sent à l’aise de prendre des risques, d’essayer de nouveaux outils technologiques et mettent en pratique de nouvelles approches, car le bien-être des élèves est ce qui est au cœur de l’apprentissage. Le personnel est engagé à mieux faire parce qu’il sait mieux faire. Dans mon école idéale, tous les joueurs contribuent chacun à leur façon, afin de former une équipe gagnante, car celle-ci est consciente du fait qu’on est plus fort ensemble qu’individuellement. Dans cet esprit d’équipe, on célèbre les succès et on partage nos défis dans le but de trouver des solutions ensemble.

L’école idéale, selon moi, se distingue des autres écoles en voulant éveiller et cultiver la curiosité des apprenants et d’exploiter le potentiel qui est caché au creux d’eux. Pour se faire, les enseignants sont à l’écoute de leurs élèves et intègrent leurs intérêts et leurs passions au sein de projets valorisants pour que les élèves soient des actionnaires motivés. Dans mon école idéale, les élèves et le personnel vivent des expériences émouvantes. Le transfert n’est pas seulement souhaité lors des expériences vécues à l’extérieur de la salle de classe, mais également effectué dans le cadre de la salle de classe, par l’entremise de projets authentiques qui ont un impact significatif et qui se vivent à l’échelle locale et globale dans le moment présent. Dans mon école idéale, le pouvoir est partagé, mais un leadership  engagé et convaincu sait mobiliser son personnel. La qualité règne et les personnes ne se sous-estiment pas. On se fixe des objectifs, on les atteints et on vise toujours plus haut afin de se dépasser.

Dans mon école idéale, chaque personne qui y est a une voix qui porte, mais ensemble, on chante la plus belle des harmonies. Quand la musique et la mélodie se font entendre, les autres ne peuvent s’empêcher de se mettre, eux aussi, à chanter.

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A Vision Worth Living

The ideal school, in my opinion, is based on integrity and on the principle that we must first build and nourish positive relationships with the entire school community to create a school climate and culture that is rooted so deep within the learners that students, their families and staff develop a strong sense of belonging and feel an unparalleled sense of pride towards their school.

In my ideal school, collaboration is put to the benefit of all learners, both students and adults alike. Action, reflection and open communication are a way of being. The staff is open-minded, transparent and values growth and professional development. They share their knowledge openly with their colleagues and the entire school community so that students benefit from the best pedagogy possible such as project-based learning, universal design, Makerspaces, flipped-classrooms, student-led classrooms, or a combination of these, to name a few. Subsequently, students acquire 21st century skills by experiencing deeper learning and by self-reflecting daily. They become problem solvers, critical thinkers and life-long learners. Since relationships are built on trust, students allow themselves to take risks without worrying about failure because the whole community sees failure as an opportunity to learn, adjust and grow. In this safe environment, the staff also feels comfortable taking risks, trying new tools and putting new approaches into practice, because the students’ well-being is at the heart of it all. In my ideal school, the staff is committed to do better because they know better. All players contribute in their own way to form a winning team. They are aware that they are better together than apart. In the spirit of teamwork, success is celebrated and challenges are shared to find solutions together.

The ideal school, in my opinion, leads by example, fosters growth and challenges conventional thinking. Students’ potential is reached by giving them their voice and allowing them to incorporate their passions and interests into what they are learning. Students are empowered, valued and motivated. Schools are networked and students make a difference at both local and global levels. In my ideal school, power is shared and the leadership knows how to mobilize its staff. Quality reigns and individuals do not underestimate their competencies. They set goals, reach them and aim higher to better themselves.

In my ideal school, every person has a voice that carries, but together, they sing in perfect harmony.  When the music and the melody are heard, others cannot help but sing themselves.