Innovator’s Mindset

Brain Train

Since reading Sheila Vick’s  post on teaching kids about the brain and self-regulation, followed by Annick Rauch’s post on how she followed up these lessons with different breathing strategies, I found it necessary that my grade ones follow suit. The brain is so complex and I immediately knew I wanted my students to better understand how their brain works in terms and visuals they could understand. The earlier they can name their own emotions and identify how they are feeling, the earlier they can develop their own tools and techniques to self-regulate. Subsequently, they’ll be able to do the same with others who are struggling and will be able to offer them help and support. It’s a true lesson in empathy because we all know there are times where we are all overcome with big emotions. We must not add fuel to the fire. Giving the students the proper vocabulary to use during these times is essential for them to be able to verbalize their feelings and begin to understand them.

My current school uses Diane Gossen’s Restitution to build school culture. Each class follows a set of monthly activities to determine each individual’s needs and together, we create an environment based on trust and understanding that is always solution- focused. This month’s task was a lesson on the brain and I knew I wanted to blend Sheila’s lesson on Big Brain, Little Brain and introduce Siegel’s hand brain model to what we were already doing in our school. Siegel's hand brain model

After our Big Brain, Little Brain lesson, I gave each of my students a Tootsie pop. This sweet treat was a great way to have students see the prefrontal cortex as the Big Brain and the amygdala as the Little Brain. It was a clear visual to them that the soft, dark, chewy center (amygdala) was malleable and could be molded to interpret or misinterpret information that could cause a person to “flip their lid”. The hard, clear candy shell was a perfect representation of how the Big Brain can think clearly and can reason with the amygdala to make good decisions. Two heads are better than one. Both the Little and Big Brains have to communicate effectively to work together and they cannot do so until we are calm and can think logically.

Inspired by these posts and videos as well as Caelin Phillipot’s bulletin board, my class decided to make a video of their own calm down strategies to use when they “flip their lid”. They were full of ideas…and making this video allowed them to understand what they can do to regain control of their bodies and minds and get back to thinking with their Big Brain. These are such important lessons to learn. It’s a no-brainer that these need to taught! 😉

Merci Annick, Caelin et surtout Sheila de votre partage et de vos connaissances!


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.

Q1 true

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!