Thinking outside the box ~ it’s good for kids

End of the second last day of school.

Kid comes up to a couple of us having a conversation.  He’s got his backpack on and is on the way to catch his bus.

Says to us something along the lines of “When I first got here I was exploding all the time, like right away, like every day!  And now I don’t!”  He just smiled and walked away.  Left us standing there ~ wondering where that came from.  Out of the mouths of babes.

It got me thinking.

And then I arrived home, checked my mailbox and found my copy of The Register from OPC and started flipping through it.  Something caught my attention ~ an article about how kind and caring adults can impact kids more than we know.


Which got me thinking of Fullan’s Cs ~ and so I went back to this illustration by Sylvia Duckworth (which I love by the way) and I started making connections to the kid who doesn’t explode so much anymore.  Why is that?  What changed for him?  How was he so self-aware that he could articulate the change he was feeling?  What is going on here?

I looked a little more closely at the Cs ~ through the lens of that kid ~ who really has changed the way he operates in his world  ~ from 9 to 3:15 at least.

Some of his needs were a bit different than many of the kids we serve.  And some of them were just like every other kid in our building.  But for the most part, he needed out of the box thinking to help him be successful.  He needed us to be creative in the way we structured his day.  He needed to be heard.  He needed us to let him communicate his needs.  He needed us to listen.  He needed to learn to listen back.  He needed help solving problems.  He needed us to teach him to do that.  He needed to play.  He needed to have fun learning.  He needed opportunities to collaborate with his peers so that he could feel confident and successful.  He needed to feel respected.  He needed to be taught to respect.  He need to take lots of breaks.  He needed a safe space to do that.  He needed to eat at times that were different than the times dictated by the bell.

I like to think we gave him what he needed this year.  And we’ll give him more of what he needs next year.

So thank you kid ~ for sharing all that  – in your simple way.  And walking away with a smile.  You left us all smiling too.

Teachers! You’re so lucky to be teaching in the age of Twitter!

My final year of teaching was my first year using Twitter at school.  I had stumbled across another educator using Twitter in her classroom and I was all in!  I thought this was awesome!  Problem ~ I discovered Twitter was blocked at school.  Disappointment.  I remember emailing someone in IT asking if it might be unblocked.  And at some point during that year, it actually was!

I had already decided that we (my students and I) were going to tweet regularly about our learning and so I decided to make a big poster with the Twitter logo on it and an even bigger title called “Daily Tweeter”.  I laminated that thing so I could write the name of the daily tweeter on it with an erasable marker and off we’d go into the Twitterverse!  I was so excited!  I didn’t really know what was going to happen or who would read our tweets, if we’d have any followers, but that was ok.  I always liked taking risks and trying new things.  We were the Awesome 8s.

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I created the account, presented my pretty poster to the class, got them excited, drew the first name of the daily tweeter and we were off!  Except we weren’t.  Twitter wasn’t really unblocked at school ~ at least it didn’t work consistently.  For whatever reason, it was super fussy and we couldn’t always post our tweets.  I don’t know if the fact that we only had access to Internet Explorer was a factor, but it was super disappointing.  Students were frustrated, and so was I.  But we didnt give up.

We took to tweeting from my personal cell phone (when cell phones weren’t really allowed at school).  Remember this was long before wifi in schools and so I was using my own data plan.  My students and I were secretly tweeting from my cellphone when we couldn’t access Twitter on the school network.  They soon lost interest in this, and our Twitter adventure kind of fizzled out.  I was disappointed to say the least because even then, I could see the power of Twitter in the classroom.  I felt very isolated and wanted to connect my students to the larger, more global classroom.

I was still using my personal Twitter account though and so decided to pursue it for my own professional development ~ even if I couldn’t tweet from our school account at school.  I’m so glad I decided to stick with Twitter.

Fast forward 4 years and I’m now an administrator who regularly tweets from both my personal account and my school account and I’m witnessing most of the teachers at my school tweeting from their own classrooms.  They’re doing the most amazing things with Twitter and I was reminded today of my own frustrating experience trying to do the same 4 years ago.  I almost wish I could have a Teaching with Twitter “do-over”.

LKDSB Educators ~ this link is for you.  Add your Twitter info in this Survey and see who else you can connect with in our board.  Here’s a link to the ever growing list of LKDBS Educators on Twitter!

Teachers of today ~ you’re soooo lucky to have access to Twitter in your classrooms.  Harness its power!  Connect with other educators!  Connect with other classrooms!  Bring the world to your students!  Share what you’re doing with others!  Join a global project!  Tweet questions out to your followers!  Answer questions from other classrooms!  Collaborate! Connect! Take a Risk!

You’re so lucky.

So what did you get out of that Twitter Chat anyway?

I woke up this morning and one of the first things I did (after getting that first cup of coffee ready) was to check my Twitter feed. This is a normal occurrence on most mornings.  I noticed that one of the teachers in my school @mraspinall was already up and  tweeting away in a weekly #satchat.  I had tried my first #sunchat last weekend and quickly realized that the pace was way too fast for a Sunday morning (must not have had that first cup of coffee yet).  This morning though I felt semi-awake and started to follow along.  The topic of the chat was one that interested me – Teacher PD.  As an administrator it’s something I needed to tune into.  While I’m lurking away, I notice my Principal @icprin has now chimed in.  Still lurking I came across a tweet that caught my eye and so I started to participate.  I tweeted a few times, got retweeted a few times, got a few new followers, was added to a couple of lists and before I knew it the chat was over.

And that’s where my story begins really. When my thinking starts.  When I start reflecting,  When I start making connections.  When I start to ask myself questions.  Two cups of coffee in, and I realized I had a blog post to write.  So here I am.

I’m a member of the Ontario Principal’s Council (@opc).  OPC has been broadcasting a series of Web Conferences Supporting Principal Leadership that I’ve been participating in.  The next one is called “Using Social Media to Tell Your School Story”.  I’m really not sure what I will be learning on Tuesday but I’m really anxious to find out.  I feel that my school does a pretty good job of using social media to tell our story.  Most of our teachers are on twitter.  Some tweet from a personal account, others from a classroom account, but they’re all tweeting about the happenings in their classrooms.  I’ve witnessed some pretty amazing connections both inside and outside of the building lately – from a parent tweeting questions to her son’s class to a high school teacher down the road participating in a math activity with one of our Grade 2 classes.  All spontaneous, all unexpected, all authentic, all awesome!!

We have a school Twitter account (@icrps_sundevils), and a student run Public Relations Twitter account (@creekpr).  Our Twitter account is linked to our Facebook account.  We have a Vine account linked to our Twitter account and my Instagram account is also linked to our school Twitter account, although now I’m thinking I’d better create a school Instagram account since I seem to be using Instagram a lot lately.  We don’t have a Snapchat account, a Tumblr account, a Flickr account, or whatever else seems to be out there these days, but who knows?  Maybe we will soon.  If we see the need we sure will.

But are we telling our school story and is that an important thing to do?  To find the answer to that, I turn to some important statements that represent my school board.

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As an educator in my board, I know that what we (the collective) believe in supports our mission of “Fostering Success in Every Student Every Day” and guides our vision of “Our Students – Shaping Our World”.  And so I decided to rephrase those belief statements from my board and turn them into questions, all the while thinking about telling my school’s story using social media.  Maybe you want to do the same with your board’s belief statements?

  1. Is my school’s use of social media an investment in the future of the students in our building?  How?
  2. How does social media help all students to learn and how is social media part of quality instruction?
  3. Does my school’s use of social media embrace diversity in self, others and the world?  Does it portray a safe and caring learning environment?
  4. How do social media connections show a shared responsibility (students, staff, families, community, First Nations) in the success of our students?
  5. Does our use of social media show accountability, transparency?  Do we promote an open dialogue?
  6. How can social media help my school to be innovative and continually improve?  Does it?

I don’t know the answers to all these questions.  Maybe a few of them can be addressed on Tuesday as I talk with colleagues before, during and after the OPC Web Conference.  I hope so.

And that’s what I got out of that Twitter #satchat this morning.

The Great Classroom Swap!

At my school, we are all about empowering students.  As a staff, we work hard to encourage student leadership, to recognize the efforts of aspiring leaders, and to nurture the qualities we want our students to take with them after they leave our care.  We listen to what they have to say. When students are given opportunities to learn responsible behaviour, they learn to become responsible.  When they’re given opportunities to be trusted, they learn to be trustworthy (thanks Maggie Colquhoun for that one).  When they are given opportunities to push the boundaries, they learn to think outside the box, to get creative, to question.

And so it made sense, mid-year, to do some rearranging…to build on what they had already mastered.  We decided to move our 4 Intermediate classrooms to one end of our school where 4 classrooms extend out onto a wide open space we call “The North Foyer”.  Students have long used the hallways of their building as learning spaces, and so to provide our older students with a dedicated space where opportunities for learning could take many more shapes and forms, with more collaborative learning opportunities, made sense to us.  Our Junior students who used to use that space are now aligned with the rest of our Junior division and are loving their new rooms.

The really cool part was the day we actually swapped classrooms.  Kudos to our custodial staff who were on hand to provide support where needed.  One of our custodians actually commented after the fact that it was really cool to see the students take ownership of the day.  They all pitched in and worked collaboratively to 1) move their desks, chairs, supplies, locker contents, teacher resources, books, tech equipment, etc., 2) set up their new rooms.

I watched kids plan the layout of their new spaces, to brainstorm together the best plans, and when they didn’t quite work the way they thought, to go back to the drawing board and try again.

It was a great day and boy are the kids happy!  One of them even asked if we could have a ribbon cutting ceremony!  And so we did.

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My #10goodthings

I was recently tagged in a post by @mraspinall to reflect on my #10goodthings in the past year.

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I honestly haven’t put a lot of thought into this figuring that it would be easy to come up with at least 10 things – so in no particular order here goes.

  1. I get to be Vice Principal for another year at my school.  This may not seem like anything outstanding, but it is.  I absolutely love my school and was so happy to learn that I would get to stay a second year.  There is often a lot of movement between schools for us VPs so to stay at one school for longer than a year is a blessing.  And boy am I blessed.  Awesome and I mean awesome students.  Passionate and dedicated staff.  Visionary principal and mentor.
  2. I successfully helped to implement a student leadership program in my school that has morphed into a leadership council this year with student led committees including chairs, co-chairs, and an executive council that meets regularly to set direction for the school.  It’s pretty cool.
  3. I have helped lead my school staff into the world of social media.  We have a school Twitter account, Facebook page, and remind accounts for staff and families.  We also have most of our teachers using some form of blog to interact with both students and parents.  And best of all, many of our staff now have Twitter accounts and are regularly tweeting!
  4. I have started blogging!
  5. I attended my first and second edCamps and will continue to do so – they’re awesome ways to connect with other like-minded educators and to see what amazing things teachers and leaders are doing in their buildings to enhance their own learning and their students’ learning.
  6. I started using the word ‘co-learner’ because I truly believe I am one.  We’re all in this together.
  7. I embraced coding and learned its value in education.  Thanks @rebecca11612 and @mraspinall!Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 8.53.10 PM
  8. I encouraged my son to stay in England for another year to teach.  He is now teaching a Grade 4 class in a little town just north of London and is loving it.
  9. My youngest daughter successfully transitioned from high school to university and is now at UVic in British Columbia taking Theatre.  She’s such a ham.
  10. @gcouros followed me on Twitter today!

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Stop Teaching, Model Learning

At our PA day on Friday, we were fortunate to have a few Grade 8 students give up some of their day off to come and teach us about Minecraft and Scratch. In their Patterning and Algebra unit they were looking at a series of figures out of the text book and quickly recognized that they could easily be duplicated in Minecraft.

They were keen to show their teacher (a self-admitted Minecraft rookie) who in turn gave them free reign to create. What they ended up sharing was an elaborate setting filled with multiple series of figures that needed to be solved in order to manoeuvre through the game. They gave options like “if you think A is the answer continue left, if you think B is the answer continue right”. One direction would be a dead end guiding the player to the correct answer. It was quite elaborate and inventive. The students shared that they collaborated on the game with each of them taking on a particular aspect of the design (bridges, etc.).

What I loved about this whole thing was that it was totally student led and that they were quite comfortable sharing their expertise with us. The knew their material well and were engaged in the learning process. You couldn’t help but be enthused and engaged with them.  These kids are learning in a classroom where they recognize themselves as teachers too.  The best way to demonstrate learning is when you can teach someone else.  Isn’t that what we as teachers have known for a long time?  Let’s empower our students to teach us things they feel passionate about and can use to make their learning real.

I was in a brief conversation on Twitter over the weekend – a conversation about taking risks and as a follow up to a similar discussion on our PA Day, I shared that I value when I hear teachers say to students “I don’t know – let’s find out together”.  A Twitter colleague rephrased it better to “Stop Teaching, Model Learning”.  Thanks to Isaac, Andrew, Matt, Amanda, @mraspinall, @audrey_stephen and @RayVanGeel for inspiring this post.

I Learned a Lesson Today

Our Intermediate Division walked down to our local high school for a presentation today.  There were 4 other feeder schools there with their 7s and 8s as well so you can imagine the audience.  We really didn’t know what we were in for but were open to hearing a good message.  Since it was “anti-bullying week”, we figured the assembly would address that.  We were presented with a multi-media production from a group of twentysomethings who sang, danced, and acted out a variety of skits around that topic.  It was all very entertaining. 

Then this guy who was older than the others addressed the audience – he spoke for a good 45 minutes or so and shared his story of being bullied, bullying, using drugs, alcohol, going to prison, and all the challenges that went with a lifestyle he struggled with and eventually overcame.  He shared his story.  He also posed a lot of questions to our kids – questions about bullying, drinking, drugs, eating disorders, and other things that teens do to cope with life’s stressors.

It was an OK presentation but I questioned whether it was worth the money spent bringing the presenters in. I felt I’d seen productions that were just as good from our local high school’s drama students who write, produce and take their anti-bullying play on the road annually to our board’s elementary schools.

I just hoped the kids wouldn’t think the presentation was too lame, too ‘in your face’ or too whatever. I honestly didn’t think their view would be that positive.

Boy was I wrong. Those kids were impacted. The presenters knew their target audience, and for reasons beyond my understanding, hit the mark.  And I definitely made an assumption that missed the mark and learned a valuable lesson today.  Never assume that your own take on something is a one size fits all viewpoint that everyone else shares.  You’d probably be wrong.