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.

“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.