Tuesday, 3 October 2017

IMMOOC - Week 2 - Observe & Report

This is the second post in my continued participation in the Innovator’s Mindset Massive Open Online Course (IMMOOC).  My first, from last week, can be found here.


I’ll admit, I was overwhelmed by the amount of content generated by this Online Course last week. The word “Massive” is a fitting moniker. There were thousands of educators participating through Blog, Twitter and Facebook posts throughout the week. I was fortunate to be available to view the Live YouTube chat  featuring Jo Boaler & George Curous on September 25th while concurrently following an active Twitter feed around the global hashtag #IMMOOC & my own board’s hashtag #IMMOOCTVDSB. It was impossible to keep up with all of it. I did, however reflect on this sound bite from Joan Boaler as an important reminder.
This week, I continued to re-read the book, with an eye toward the following questions that were presented to our group:


  • How can you create opportunities for innovation in your leadership? In your teaching? In your learning?
  • If you were to start a school from scratch, what would it look like?
  • Take one of the “Characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset” (see below) and write an example of how you exemplify it in your own work.


I am going to start with the final prompt and answer it simply. I will then use the other two prompts to support that answer. The characteristic of the Innovator’s Mindset I want to look at is #5 - the ability to observe.


How can you create opportunities for innovation in your leadership? In your teaching? In your learning?


My new role as an Instructional Coach has taken me out of the conventional classroom setting. Although I am enjoying new opportunities, I miss the familiarity of a high energy Grade 5 classroom. I miss the daily opportunities to spark excitement, support calculated risk, foster meaningful inquiry and promote creativity. Last year, I was genuinely enriched by the progress my students and I made as we embraced a new approach to tackling curriculum.  Bolstered by Trevor MacKenzie’s wonderful book “Diving into Inquiry” and strengthened by numerous professional development opportunities, I had the confidence to take chances.


I want to apply this approach to my new position. However, I know this is going to be a challenge. I am still acclimatizing and building relationships. Intuitively, I recognize that both leaders and innovators need to begin as observers. That has been a challenge for me. I am so excited to get things rolling. Much like the experience George Couros details in Chapter 1, “I took on this position knowing it was a bit of a risk” and, for now I need to learn about the constants before I start to push for change. I guess, borrowing his analogy, I need to spend my time in ground school before “trying to build an plane in the air.”


If you were to start a school from scratch, what would it look like?


When I first read this question, I reflected on the two new schools that were built in my board over the past year. I was fortunate to be able to follow the progress on Twitter and I knew that all the hallmarks of a modern education institution (flexible seating, STEAM-EDU, Project Based Learning, GAFE, etc.) were being embraced by the administrative team that was chosen to open them. In fact, had I not been successful in my application to be an Instructional Coach, I would have applied to teach at Sir Arthur Currie Elementary last May.


As I reflected further, the monumental undertaking that must be involved in starting a school from scratch became overwhelming. I mean, it is easy to point out the flaws in any new undertaking - particularly one as important as a school. Shamefully, I admit that, as a member of a staff who experienced the challenges of a school’s expansion, I have willingly participated in the criticisms...
  • “Why didn’t they do that?” 
  • “Did they not know that a basketball court needs to be wider?” 
  • “Couldn’t they have put more plugs along the back wall for the computers?”
  • “Really, two new bathrooms for over 400 new students?”

Like the proverbial "Monday Morning Quarterback" or “Armchair General” it is easy to see the faults when given the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.  So, I guess I would do everything I could to ameliorate the complaints - with the recognition that mistakes will be made and overcome. I would begin by assembling the best possible team I could find. People with experience, foresight, passion, wisdom and smarts. I would draw from as many qualified sources as I could find to make the best possible decisions. Once again, I find myself recognizing the same truth I identified when responding to the first prompt.
Innovators need to be observers first.  
I’ll think about that this week - as I continue to try to build relationships through staff room conversations.

Monday, 25 September 2017

#IMMOOC - Week 1 - Innovation from Adversity

This autumn, I will be participating in the Innovator’s Mindset Massive Open Online Course, known by the odd sounding acronym IMMOOC.

This is the 3rd event to be centered around the George Couros book “The Innovator’s Mindset - Empower Learning, Unleash Talent and Lead a Culture of Creativity”. I read the book last year, but this is an opportunity for me to participate with over 1000 other educators in a series of YouTube live sessions and Twitter Chats. Additionally, we are encouraged to write weekly blog posts from prompts that are provided in the days leading up to each session.

This week, we were asked to read the Forward and the Introduction to the book. The questions posed were

a. Why is innovation in education so crucial today?
b. Talk about a time you dealt with adversity in education, and how you overcame it?

I enjoyed the read. I even took the time to watch the suggested videos from Kate Simonds TedX Talk I'm Seventeen and the delightful Be More Dog commercial.

a. Why is innovation in education so crucial today?

Innovation in education is so crucial today because, as Couros puts it, “To succeed, (students) will need to know how to think for themselves and adapt to constantly changing situations.” Katie Simonds raises the concern that traditional models of education can limit this skill. As she puts it, “we’re teaching them to stop thinking outside the box and to accept adequacy. We’re teaching them to conform to standards and to lose their creativity. But, before this happens, students don’t think of logistics or limitations, they’re fearless.”

I agree, we need fearless creators in our future. We need the kind of thinkers who do not shy away from challenges - young people who embrace change and can maximize the technology that will shape our world. To some extent, my motivation is self-serving. At 52, I am staring squarely down the fairway of the back nine in my adult life. People like 17 year old Kate are going to be the caretakers and wardens of this world - which is particularly important to me, as I move into my senior years. I need them to be adaptable, creative and passionate. I do not want them accepting adequacy and the status quo. Consequently, I need to do my part now to empower my students to be creative risk-takers who, like the cat in the “Be More Dog” video, recognize that “the world is amazing” and that they can contribute meaningfully to it.

b. Talk about a time you dealt with adversity in education, and how you overcame it?

In 1989, getting a mandatory math credit for my undergraduate degree seemed an insurmountable task. I took two half courses, one in calculus and the other in finite computation and probability. To my complete surprise, I got through the calculus course with a passing grade...barely. During the spring, as I plugged away at discrete and continuous distribution theory, I could feel it all slipping through my mind like sand through open fingers. The more I tried to make it stick, the more impossible it felt. I was unsuccessful. I bombed the mid-term and things only got more complex as I worked toward the final exam - which I left early. At the very least, I recognized quickly that my probability of passing was zero.

I talked with my professor a few days later. I let him know that I had not completed the exam and wanted to see if there was another course I could take that would satisfy the requirements of a half credit.

“Do it again in the fall”, were his words of advice. “I’ll be teaching it and I’ll be mindful of your presence. I will talk with you after each class and, if necessary, I can set you up with one of my teaching assistants to get support.”  

I did take it again and made excellent use of the resources provided to me. Additionally, because I knew the professor was mindful of my presence, I arrived at every class early and prepared.  Admittedly, I had missed a few classes during my first run and I was famously tardy. I passed the midterm with a nearly perfect score. Given that this was worth 40% of my final grade, I moved into the more challenging parts of the course with renewed confidence. I was less successful on the final exam, but I managed to secure a grade in the high 60’s.  

Reflecting on this experience and the first section of the book leads me to the following:
 
  • I want to be the educator that makes kids persist and who is there to support them in their efforts.
  • I want to be an educator that is constantly mindful of their presence and their goals, so that I can recognize when they are struggling.
  • When it comes to creating a culture of innovation, I want to use the words that my professor used with me - “Do it again.”

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Instructional Coaching Journey - Day 1

Today was the first day of school. This is something I have experienced from both sides of the desk over 40 times. However, for the first time since 1998, I did not begin my day greeting a new group of eager and excited students. Instead, I made a left turn at the end of my driveway and traveled to the Board Office to meet, mingle and learn with an eager and excited group of Instructional Coaches & Math Coordinators. This was the first of many upcoming Professional Development sessions that will help me acclimate and settle in my new role as an Agent of Change for the Thames Valley Board.   

The supervisory team welcomed us with a fun video and a thoughtful treat. In many ways, they demonstrated the collaborative, collegial and professional approach that I hope to present.
Ice Breaker Activity
There was a new twist on an old icebreaker activity. Much like my students, I alternate between liking and loathing these activities. I do enjoy meeting new people and sharing my ideas but, I often find myself caught up in moments of awkward silence at the end of these encounters. More frustrating is being stuck in a veritable "no-man’s-land" between tables and a human log jam, waiting for a chance to move or engage someone else. I know it is in my head - but I always feel utterly graceless and oafish in these moments. I was fortunate today, I was stuck near the snacks and coffee table.

We broke down some numbers from EQAO and solidified our focus as coaches. I summarized it quickly as a personal mission statement and put it at the top of my calendar and into a Canva poster for Social Media. I’m not sure why that works for me. I think it is something about making things concrete for me. It reads as follows “My Focus needs to be intentional & precise, and must be directed toward tangible improvements in Literacy and Mathematics.” I will reflect on it regularly as I move forward.
It is nice to finish at exactly the end of the day. It is also a treat to be able to spend a little time on professional reading & writing. Typically, the first day after school is spent organizing lesson plans and preparing for another hectic and engaging school day. Instead, I did some reading and wrote this reflection. More PD tomorrow.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Alright, Fair Enough

Recently, I was visiting a friend when a noise erupted from the basement. His children, two young boys, had obviously reached a tipping-point in their play, and a screaming match ensued. Frustrated, he did what I have seen many adults do. He interceded, a little angrily, and the argument stopped.


I’m no stranger to this tactic. I’ve done it many times at school. Two students are in a conflict at recess and, immediately, I default to a well rehearsed proclamation - like a code in a program, randomly selecting a line of script.


“Enough!”
“Stop it!”
“Just try to get along.”
“Find someone else to play with”
“You go that way … and you go that way.”


However, I have been thinking about a line from this classic Monty Python sketch


“An argument is an intellectual process”.

Recently, I heard comedian Bill Burr discuss the topic of arguments between friends. He highlighted the power of three words that can bring two sides to a quick and amicable resolution when the exhaustion point in a quarrel is reached.


“Alright. Fair Enough.”


The intersection of these events got me thinking about curriculum and teaching - which might be the mantra of every teacher.


If it is important to learn how to argue, or debate, how can I teach my students (Grade 5 - 8) to do it?
Can I do this in an effective, fun, cross-curricular, & collaborative way?


I’ve decided to call this activity “Fair Enough”.


  • Perhaps, the Monty Python argument sketch could be used as a “Minds On”.
  • Start with a discussion about arguments. Present them as valuable. Make the connection to science, essay writing, political opinion, sports, laws, etc.
  • Allow for Student Voice. Have them Think-Pair-Share stories about arguments they have had, won and/or lost.
  • Talk about the idea of a debate as a formal, respectful exchange of ideas in front of a crowd.
  • Students find partners and choose a pair of opposing topics. I have started a list here, but students can determine their own.
  • Collaboratively (or independently), they prepare their arguments. Depending on age and ability, this could be done as simple point form notes, or as a Ignite or Lightning Talk with a Google Slideshow.
  • Practice time can be provided depending on the desired complexity.
  • Students go head-to-head in front of the class.
  • When ideas have been exhausted, the students look at each other, shrug their shoulders and say “Alright, fair enough.”
  • I’ve included a Google Slide that you can edit for your purposes.


Curriculum & Learning Skill Connections


  • The connections to Oral Language, Literacy and Drama are obvious.
  • I like the idea that we are embracing the importance of an argument as a foundation for progress in our society.
  • I think it connects well to curriculum expectations for writing structure (The five paragraph answer sandwich model).
  • I like that students who are about to argue are encouraged to collaborate to help each other solidify their points and counterpoints.
  • I like that this activity could be unplugged (scrap paper and a pencil) or plugged (Google Slides).
  • I like that there is a safe conclusion for both parties: “Alright, Fair Enough”. This is also a useful social strategy for future arguments.

Hopefully, I can share this lesson with a class next year. I’ll write about the results. If it doesn’t go well...Alright, fair enough.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

#BookSnapping my way into Instructional Coaching

On Friday, June 30, at approximately 8:00 am, I got to the end of my driveway and made a left turn.

This is significant because, for the last six years, the start of my work day has always required a right turn, westbound, to Eagle Heights Public School.

As I made this slight kinesthetic adjustment, a cognitive shift occurred. A new reality became tangible and I drove, east, toward the Board Office, reflecting on my new career path.

I began my first day in a new role as a Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) working as an Instructional Coach (IC) with a focus on Literacy and Math with Kindergarten to Grade 8 classes for four schools in our Board.

When asked by friends to describe this role, I have had to rely on my own experiences working with the IC's assigned to my schools. Last April, I accessed release money provided by our Federation (ETFO) and had the chance to “shadow” a colleague, @Kylede08, for half a day. This helped me solidify my understanding.

Recently, I was provided with this article by Heather Wolpert-Gawron called “The Many Roles of an Instructional Coach”. I was asked by the supervisory team to read it and ...

  • Identify three, very important points.
  • Identify a personal “aha” moment.
  • Reflect on how I see this impacting our work (as IC’s) moving forward.

I have decided to use this article as an opportunity to do some professional writing and also to explore the idea of #BookSnaps that I had read about on the @TaraMartinEDUTwitter feed and through her R.E.A.L. Weblog page. #BookSnaps make use of Snapchat and Bitmoji to annotate and share ideas from things that you are reading.

So, here are my “three, very important points” using #BookSnaps.


"The position is defined differently...and attempts to standardize (it) can undermine its effectiveness."
TOSA's don't evaluate teachers/ We're teachers just like them. Through a partnership based on trust & respect...(we) help teachers reach their fullest potential."
"Instructional Coaches...have a lot of insight into the daily victories that occur in all classrooms. He or she would know that photos need to be taken & tweeted for all to see."
My personal “aha” moment came here.

"I use all of the walls and don't have a front of the room, per se."
I had no idea that some Instructional Coaches had access to a classroom where they could set up a flexible seating space for students and teachers to visit. That would be a wonderful situation. Many teachers with whom I speak are interested in moving toward a flexible seating/student centered classroom design. Wouldn’t it be great to provide them, and their students, with an opportunity to experiment with the experience, rather than making a bold and sudden transition.

Here is what I will reflect on as I move forward into this role.


Know your role.
Identify your strengths.
Keep learning.
Model learning.
Enjoy learning.

This is what I am going to focus on next.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Summer Goals 2017

Last year, I decided to set some fairly lofty S.M.A.R.T. Goals and I made them public through this blog post. I was not successful meeting them all, but it did keep me on track and motivated. As I said last year, “Past summers have taught me that, left to my own devices, I will increasingly accomplish less.” Consequently, I know that I need to put a plan in place before the first week of July ends.

I am moving into a new position with the Board in September. I will be a Teacher On Special Assignment (TOSA) acting in the role of Instructional Coach for four schools in the Zorra Township area of Oxford County.  I attended my first Professional Development at the Thames Valley Board office on Friday, June 30 and got plenty of literature to read over the summer.

Additionally, I will be teaching another three day Summer Academy course, sponsored by the Elementary Teacher’s Federation of Ontario (ETFO). This year, it will be in Toronto at the end of August. My topic is similar to last year, Blending Tech into a Junior Classroom. However, this year I am putting more specific focus on Math and Literacy.

So, my S.M.A.R.T. goals for the Summer of 2017 are…


  • Preparing for the Summer Academy Course I will be presenting (August 22 -24)
  • Reading the books on the list above.
  • Participating in a TOSA Summer Book Study for Trevor Mackenzie’s “Dive into Inquiry” Join us here.
  • 20 minutes of Spanish daily using Rosetta Stone and Duolingo.
  • 2 hours of guitar practice weekly.
  • At least 6 blog entries before September 1st.
  • Continued work with Scratch, Makey Makey, Google CS First and Lego Mindstorm EV3 Robots. Let’s say, 3 hours per week.

Beyond this I want to continue to nurture the important relationships that I have with family and friends. I am planning a 50th birthday celebration for a good friend who will be visiting from Iqaluit, Nunavut in August, so that will keep me busy. I am also going to work hard to maintain a good level of physical fitness through beach walks, kayaking, weight training and a good stretching routine using Fitness Blender.

According to the researchers in The Happy Movie the three keys to achieving life's most important emotion are…

  1. Exercise your mind and your body. Learn every day and challenge yourself physically.
  2. Give of yourself. Be charitable - not just with money, but with your spirit and your talents.
  3. Build and strengthen important relationships.

I think my summer goals are a recipe toward that success.

I look forward to hearing your goals. Share them with the hashtag #Summer17Goals

Monday, 3 July 2017

Keep on Truckin'

On Thursday, June 29, I spent my last day at Eagle Heights Public School as a member of the staff. I walked to school in the morning, leaving early so that I would have time for a coffee and the opportunity to reflect. It was a spectacular morning, with a bright summer sun illuminating an impossibly blue sky. Perhaps, I am romanticizing a typical Ontario morning in June. In retrospect, I think I may be personifying an optimism that I needed to embrace that day.

Many teachers will agree that the final day of a school year brings with it a strange energy - a deliriously heady mix of excitement, nostalgia, anticipation, trepidation and resolution. It is a place of wild dichotomy, where a year’s worth of structure seems to come undone. Emptied desks, blank bulletin boards lead to backpacks stuffed with memories and mementos. An odd community where wild packs of exuberant ten year old boys, drunk with summer excitement, might race past hugging congregations of weeping grade 8 girls, some still clutching day old graduation bouquets.

This year, more than others, my ballasts were swayed by this turbulent sea. Unpredictable waves of wistful reflection and hopeful optimism swept over me throughout the day. At the morning assembly, two of my closest colleagues shared kind and honest words about me as I looked across an ocean of familiar faces. I was suddenly aware of how many students have passed through my class, or been on a team I have coached, during my six year stay.

My current students were wonderfully kind. Their sweet words, hand-written letters and determined hugs were a bittersweet reminder of the change that was ahead. I had a much needed laugh when one student said, “I hope you like your new job, but not too much - and you can come back and teach us in Grade 7”. My wife reminds me that I say this every year...but, they really were a great group of kids who made me a better educator.

The momentary calm after the final dismissal bell was short-lived. Staff members quickly scattered to predetermined locations where they met in groups of four. The annual Eagle Heights Road Rally was about to begin. Our team’s theme was “Sensing the Seventies” and I made the practical decision to dress as a 70’s basketball player because … shorts! My teammates rocked everything from platform shoes to tan coloured cullottes with yellow socks.  
Me and Captain Canada 

We raced around the city (respecting traffic laws, of course) guided by a list of eclectic instructions. This was, in many ways, a recipe for competitive mayhem. We were tasked with gathering as many peculiar items and intentionally choreographed, but comically ludicrous, photographs as we could before travelling to the party headquarters by the 5:30 deadline. It was the perfect distraction.

The evening featured lots of laughter, a great meal, sing-a-longs and speeches. It was a chance to reflect on the past while receiving and sharing well wishes for the future. I left at a reasonable time. A new chapter in my educational career would begin the next day and I wanted to be rested. Even though I am excited about my future, I will miss so much about Eagle Heights. I grew tremendously as an educator and a person over the past six years. I have such great respect for the wonderful colleagues with whom I worked. I am not sure if I conveyed that fully when I made a brief speech after dinner. I guess I am still not sure it has fully registered. I suppose, I'm still adrift, sailing between two ports and adjusting to the winds of change.