Well, 2017 was a heck of a year on our homefront. Although I am not sorry to see it go, the writer in me feels the need to reflect on the challenges, adventures and things to celebrate it brought us through some sort of process of documentation. Thank you to Sue McFarlane Penner, a dear friend and one of my true gifts of 2017. Her inspiring Thanksgiving Family Gratitude letters helped me recognize the importance of capturing all that life brings us as a family through the power of words.
Many of you may be familiar with the powerful image featured below or one of its countless variations.
Originally created by Craig Froehle, a business professor from Ohio back in 2012, the image has seen many, many iterations over the past five years. To read more about this graphic’s journey check out The Evolution of an Accidental Meme: How one little graphic became shared and adapted by millions.
I am a person who often thinks “in metaphors”. After I came across the original image years ago, it stayed with me. When I was planning for my grade 5-8 ELA students or co-planning with teachers in my role as an inquiry support teacher the image often came back to me….What were the “crates” or scaffolds I would need to put in place for each of my students to ensure they each had equitable access to the learning we were doing? How could I differentiate the learning for my students to ensure everyone would find success?
These supports took many different forms over the years including; reading materials at a variety of levels, assistive technologies such as voice to text programs, alternate assignments, student choice and much, much more. These supports looked like building trust, building on a students’ strengths, building connections and building relationships. These supports were always about discovering each individual learners’ needs and then discovering the best fit, adjustment or adaptation necessary to make each student most successful.
In my current position, my role has shifted over the last number of years to work more closely with adult learners and the thinking and importance of finding the scaffolds necessary to meet the individual needs of learners to ensure equitable access to learning and success still rings true.
Image from (State Dept./Doug Thompson)
When I recently came across this variation of the first image pictured above it struck a chord with me. The powerful notion of equity coupled with the beautiful image of growth and facing the sun seemed a perfect fit. Isn’t that what learning is? Continued growth? And isn’t that what we want for our students? To thrive and feel the warmth of the sun?
In today’s context we know our contemporary learners are vastly different than previous generations. Our students are far more diverse, as are their needs. It is becoming more and more evident that as educators, we must change our focus and our approach in order to meet our students’ changing needs and the demands of our society. Merely differentiating programming to meet the needs of students is no longer enough and maintains a teacher-centric approach. In order to ensure equity and success for ALL students, we must also find space for a more learner-centric, personalized learning model in our classrooms and in our schools. (You can further explore this topic in a previous blog post entitled Paradigm Shift to Personalized Learning. ) Yet, as the role of teacher shifts and changes in many places from one of the owner of the knowledge to one of facilitator or coach, our learners have never needed us more.
Our students need us to help them develop the skills, competencies and building blocks necessary to take responsibility for driving their own learning and thinking for themselves. They need us to offer opportunities to connect their individual interests, talents, passions, and aspirations to the learning they are doing in their classrooms. And they need us to guide them as they become active participants in moving their learning forward through questioning, deep thinking, reflection, and goal setting.
Once again the amount of guidance students will need will vary from individual to individual. Some of our more independent self-starters may need less support. While others may need our help in modeling learning behaviours, asking the right questions, accessing the right resources, documenting their learning and planning for next steps. As with anything, personalized learning opportunities will vary from class to class, school to school and district to district. Finding the right balance between teacher directed instruction and student-driven learning will also vary depending on individual contexts external pressures and other variables. However, finding a place for students to direct their own learning in some fashion must become a priority in order to develop the problem solving, capable thinkers and autonomous learners today’s world requires.
As the role of schools shifts and curricular reform spreads the pinnacle role of teacher remains the same; ensuring equitable opportunity for ALL students to learn, grow and find success, ultimately preparing them for the future. In doing so we can support all learners in finding their place in the sun.
In November of 2002, I had the opportunity to attend the Teacher’s Institute on Parliamentary Democracy in Ottawa for a week. Aside, from being amazing professional development and the fact that I met incredible people from across Canada, it brought me to our nation’s capital, a city I never visited before. The patriotic Canadian in me loved Ottawa.
But nothing could have prepared me for the true beauty and intensity of experiencing a Remembrance Day service at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity and I think it is something all Canadians should experience once in their lifetime. I was in awe of the thousands of people who lined the streets nearby, the parade of hundreds of pipers and war Veterans marching in and the unparalleled sense of respect that surrounded us. A visit to the Canadian War Museum that afternoon gave me the opportunity to meet firsthand then, one of the few remaining World War 1 veterans at 101 years old. He has since passed. I was privileged enough to be staying at the Lord Elgin Hotel across from Confederation Square. By that evening as we packed up to head home the image of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier covered in a sea of red poppies was breathtaking and is forever etched in my memory.
Since then I have had a strong conviction to work even harder to help students gain insight into the true significance of Remembrance Day. As a parent, I also tried to ensure that my children began to understand and appreciate the great sacrifice of our Veterans, from a very early age.
It is a topic I have given a lot of thought to….that is how to best discuss the subject of Remembrance Day with kids. No one wants to talk to their little ones about war, guns, and death, but what I have come to realize is that we sometimes don’t give them enough credit. As kids get older and more mature, so too should our conversations. Also, our conversations need to focus less on content, that being facts, dates, locations, and statistics but the stories of war; the loss, the emotions, the impact, and the sacrifice.
And when we do so; when we frame our lessons and our student learning around the STORY and through a lens of EMPATHY kids are ultimately far more invested in the topic. They want to know more. Our focus and conversations around this are hopefully not just a “one-off” before our school assembly once a year but should instead be much more impactful than that and include deeper thinking and reflection.
Here are a few resources I have collected over the years to help facilitate and promote inquiry, questioning, critical thinking and conversations around this topic through an empathetic lens.
The resources listed below include videos, texts, artifacts and images and then the variety of strategies used to respond through questioning, critical thinking, reflection, and discussions. Many of the strategies that can be used to support student response come from two excellent resources including:
- Q Tasks by Carol Koechlin –
- Thinking Routines from Making Thinking Visible (Richart, Church & Allison) and Project Zero . If you are not familiar with this amazing resource, check this video out:
Resources for Remembering
The first number of videos are ones I have used for our school Remembrance Day service over the years but can also be used in classrooms to activate thinking. Some of the ones listed toward the end could be used with further, more specific intent in mind.
Shawn Hlookoff -Soldier
The Trews-Highway of Heroes
George Canyon-I Want You to Live
Global TV Soldier Cries
Standing Strong and True (For Tomorrow),- an all-star Canadian country single
Bell Poppy Commercial (powerful- lead to conversations focused on being empathetic, taking action)
Remembrance Day Ad- war through time (great for timeline)
Veterans Affairs- learning videos (content focus)
A good “go-to” strategy for videos is RVL- Read, View, Listen from Q Tasks.
One text resource that can be used with students in the middle years is the newspaper a lot of schools order through Veteran Affairs. In fact, Veteran Affairs Canada has a multitude of resources teachers can order in advance each year.
Two strategies that work well with this newspaper and other expository texts related to war and Remembrance Day online or in books are the QAR strategy or Fact React.
In the way of fiction Feather and Fools by Mem Fox I have found to be an excellent picture book to help discuss the topic of war with younger children.
For older students, the picture book Faithful Elephants is the thought provoking story of elephants in a zoo in Japan during World War 2.
Pictures are a great source to stimulate thinking and conversations. Veteran Affairs has an Image Gallery and each year Veteran Affairs Canada produces a poster with powerful images which schools can order. They also have all of the past posters archived here and I have used the past year’s posters to set up picture response inquiry stations for students to work through. Practical strategies for responding to images are Step In, Step Out from Q Tasks or from Making Thinking Visible; Step Inside or See Think Wonder.
Seeing and touching actual artifacts from history is an excellent entry point for our students to be able to relate and understand more deeply. I taught at a school in the North End of Winnipeg for 10 years and we were lucky enough to be located near the Fort Garry Horse Museum and Archives . Each year I would have the organization send over artifacts and or we would have the students visit the museum.
Veteran Affairs also has also begun a Borrow a Boot Project in recent years. Also, try asking students to bring in war-related artifacts, surprisingly over the years my students have brought in quite a few to share. My own children have also had the opportunity to bring in their great grandfather’s war medals we have at home and this was a very meaningful opportunity for them.
There are many rich learning opportunities to explore with our students through inquiry around the topics of our Canadian Veterans and Remembrance Day.
As the years pass and many of our Veterans do as well, it becomes more and more essential that we give our children the knowledge and understanding needed to ensure remembrance in future generations.
Week 6 IMMOOC Blog Prompt #1… give a shout out to 3 other blog posts that you have read from other participants.
Love it! I have really appreciated reading the blog posts of fellow #IMMOOCers over the last number of weeks! Here are a few that have stood out for me.
Blog Post 1- The ‘Not So” Secret Ingredient
This was one of the first blog posts I read as part of IMMOOC and it has stayed with me. Everything about it felt right and familiar from the start. The post eloquently highlights the importance of empathy as being the “glue” or “magic sauce” that holds everything together and is as the driving force in all that we do. Carolyn goes on to explore why empathy is “the most important ingredient in our classrooms and our lives.”
Carolyn then offers insight into how to foster a classroom environment that values empathy:
- Listen. Let’s truly listen to our students; our colleagues who share a difference in opinions; our leaders who hold different viewpoints. Listen for understanding and discuss with patience and love.
- Ask questions. We can’t know what something is like without probing and pondering the scenarios of which we have had no experience. Ask questions and then actively listen to the responses.
- Identify biases. Provide opportunity to recognize biases that exist in ourselves and our students. Model and encourage self reflection as a way to confront these biases.
In today’s context, it is essential that we create a culture that builds empathy in our classrooms and in all that we do. This “not so” secret ingredient is key to recognizing biases, giving us perspective and shaping our ability to truly understand the feelings of another. As Carolyn suggests, “let’s make building empathy in ourselves and others the focus of our work here on Earth. Doing so will create an environment where the other 7 innovative mindset characteristics can thrive”.
Blog Post 2: Reflection Isn’t for Wimps
Ashley Helms –@ash_helms
In this post, Ashley shares the many entry points to reflection and some of the challenges we face as educators when it comes to reflective practice. She states, “What is true every time, is that it (reflection) is different every time, and I have to be open to the reflective process. I am committed to being reflective-in my practice, in my parenting, in my relationships, in my life. What I know…is that I don’t have all the answers and I am not going to get it all right-but I am still learning…”
I couldn’t agree more. We must remain committed to the cause, and vigilant in our pursuit of meaningful reflection.
I have been thinking a lot about reflection as of late and considering why it is such a challenge for both students and educators. I truly appreciated the many metaphors Ashley used to unpack the forever shifting reality of reflection as well as its necessity.
Blog Post 3: When Strengths and Passions Collide
Lead, Learn,Grow- On a mission to share and inspire greatness in all of us.
Approaching learning using a strengths-based model, has always been a foundational piece of my own philosophy as an educator and a topic near to my heart. In her post, Jullian suggests that as a learner she is at her best when her strengths and passions collide. She created this matrix exploring this notion:
She makes this statement; “I created this to remind myself that just because adults or kids are good at something, does not necessarily mean that they are passionate about it.” This statement really resonated with me.
Strength ≠ Passion
Just because our students are good at something does not guarantee they are passionate about it. Just because our students demonstrate an aptitude or skill, does not mean they enjoy the process. For example, just because a student is a brilliant mathematician, does not necessarily translate into him or her wanting to spend countless hours doing more math formulas. For these students, their interests or passions may lie in something completely different or unrelated.
Interesting…. now it seems so obvious, yet I hadn’t really thought about it in such simple terms before. Seeing it laid out in the matrix and later as the equation I made above, left me thinking. Supporting our students as they build skills, and strengths are essential but so is giving students the opportunity to explore their individual interests, and passions, keeping in mind all of these pieces may not, and possibly even should not always align. Thank you to Jullian for the visual reminder and thought provoking post.
If you haven’t seen the video entitled The Tattooed, Skater Principal Making School Fun Again, it’s worth a watch. It was recently featured on Freethink which shares stories of people thinking differently and making a difference.
This is the summary that accompanies the video:
Hamish Brewer, a tattooed, skateboarding principal in Northern Virginia isn’t your normal principal. Hamish is a born motivator, constantly calling on his students to “Be Relentless.” The New Zealander with an infectious energy served as principal of Occoquan Elementary, a school serving a large low-income and immigrant community.
His unique leadership approach turned Occoquan from a struggling school with sagging test scores into one of the best schools in the state. Now, he’s in his first year at a new school, tasked with spearheading the same transformation he led at Occoquan. Can he replicate his remarkable success at Fred Lynn Middle School?
Hamish Brewer is exciting to watch. His enthusiasm is contagious. His energy is unparalleled and the vision of change he brings to a school building and culture is inspiring. However, the reality is that every leader is NOT Hamish Brewer. Many principals may not possess his larger than life personality and comfort level in front of an audience on a mic. Some administrators may not have his easy way with the kids or huge sense of humour. Many will certainly not be skilled as on a skateboard or with a spray can of paint, as he is :). However, although those pieces have undeniably contributed to Hamish Brewer’s success in transforming the schools he leads, this is not what struck me most. What stood out for me was his relentless pursuit to do the best for kids in a quest for his school to be amazing. It was instead his relentless commitment to changing the game, and being an educational disruptor. And it was his relentless focus on changing the narrative of school, away from “archaic educational processes” towards making learning more authentic and relevant. The word relentless is one he uses regularly with students and it is a prominent fixture all over the walls of the school.
The word relentless resonates.
In his book The Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros talks about “relentless restlessness”, a term suggested by Pixar’s Brad Bird as a phenomenon that serves to spread and sustain excellence in an organization. George suggests that it is this “relentless restlessness that will serve our students well and empower educators as learners”. We must be relentless in our pursuit of innovative teaching and learning that improves the lives of our students.
In a blog post summarizing and reflecting on The Innovator’s Mindset, Gerald Fussell a principal from Vancouver Island, focuses further on the idea of “relentless restlessness” with the following statement:
Hamish Brewer’s relentless restlessness shines through in; his passionate devotion to innovation and the learners in his school, his commitment to the constant evolution of student learning, and ultimately his success as a leader. His innovative, creative approach to meeting the diverse needs of his students is to be commended, however it is his relentless vision and commitment which we must emulate. We look forward to hearing about Part Two of Hamish Brewer’s adventures as he moves on to Fred Lynn Middle School!
#IMMOOC Week 5- Blog Post 3
The wise words above were written by my 14 year old daughter. She started high school this year and was so excited about beginning this new chapter. I have written about Sarah and her journey through school before, but summarizing it all in the big picture; school has always come easy for her, but in many ways, over the years, it has also left her under challenged and somewhat disengaged. Sarah thought high school was going to be different.
You see, Sarah is a creative soul. She loves anything artistic in nature and has an amazing way with words. She is a thinker and a problem solver. She enjoys collaborating with people and enjoys public speaking. She is very globally minded. She embraces learning that encompasses these pieces.
Sarah does love the culture of high school. She has made some lovely connections and new friends. She appreciates the offering of more clubs and experiences and is taking advantage of them. She welcomes the extended freedoms and opportunities. But she also thought, because of the nature of the program she is in, that she was going to see less worksheets, less videos, less lectures, less textbook assignments and less rote. She was looking forward to more project work, more discussions, more collaboration and more creative means to share her thinking and learning. Sarah thought high school was going to be different.
So, to feed her creative soul, over the last couple of weeks she has started to drive some of her own learning outside of school. She is writing daily, based on prompts and ideas she has found online. She is reading a lot of poetry. She set up a blog, entitled Long Story Short, to share some of her past writing pieces and she is working on some new blog posts. She is finding her own way to colour outside the lines.
#IMMOOC Week 5- Blog Post 2
I saw this quote as of late and it stuck with me. As educators, one of the most important perspectives we can bring to our practice is one of INTENT. We need to be purposeful in all that we do. Time is precious in the learning lives of our students, so when we plan with intent we maximize our return. When we think deeply about the WHY behind what we are doing with our specific learners in mind, we are well prepared, and we are deliberate in our approach; we can make every second count.
If we are being reflective practitioners on a regular basis than considering the intent behind each of the learning experiences we set up for our students should be a driving force each and every day. How much of what we do is out of habit as opposed to strategic and intentional?
It is also essential that we share the learning intentions with our students. The WHY shouldn’t be a secret. Getting the students to really understand what their learning experience will be, why they are doing it and how their success will be measured is key.
In order to get where we are going, we need to know where we are heading.
With the challenge of writing 3 blog posts for #IMMOOC week five, each under 250 words, and on the eve of October 23 with a call to educators to #teachlikegord, how do I write about anything else.
Gord Downie was an innovator; He lived his life with passion and empathy. He was thoughtful and reflective which was mirrored in his intense lyrics. He critically considered the issues and stories that conflicted our great nation and shined a light. He was both a problem finder and a problem solver, never shying away from the tough conversations. The resilience and grit he has shown over the past year is admirable. There is much to be learned from Gord Downie.
The Tragically Hip have been a part of the fabric of my life since my high school days. Like for many Canadians, the band and its unparalleled music has been a constant, and always playing in the background of life. Whether it be camping trips, road trips, weddings, music festivals, concerts and just everyday life ….so many fond memories, and their music has served as a soundtrack throughout.
The passing of Gord Downie has left me feeling reminiscent this past weekend and grateful for this band that has had such a tremendous impact on so many. I will miss Gord Downie and his crazy antics on stage and his amazing ways with words. He was the ultimate lyricist and poet, honouring Canadian history and culture like no other. I am so grateful for the powerful project he took on since his diagnosis in The Secret Path, raising awareness about Residential Schools and Reconciliation. And as a brain tumour survivor myself, I am humbled by his advocacy in this area through the Gord Downie Fund for Brain Cancer Research. Gord may be gone but his music will live on always, as will his legacy.
On October 23 #teachlikegord.
#IMMOOC Week 4 Blog Prompt
Who is an educator that has had a tremendous impact on you in your career that you met through social media or have dug into their stuff from afar? Why did they have an impact?
After reading this week’s #IMMOOC blog prompt, I could have written about many educators from afar that influence my work. In fact, my last week’s blog post focused on exactly that; the power of the NETWORK. However, in thinking about someone whose work truly resonates with me and whose stories come back up for me over and over again, it has to be Shelley Moore. I wrote this blog post after reading her book, One Without the Other: Stories of Unity Through Diversity and Inclusion, and say the following;
“ This book is a must-read for all educators. It explores how inclusive education can increase the learning and life chances of ALL students. After reading the book and looking further into some of Shelley’s work online, one thing that becomes quickly apparent is her strong experience base and her true passion for children and education. She is a master storyteller who appears to leave much of her heart and soul in all that she does. She has most certainly found her meraki, and through her work, shares her voice to inspire that in others.
In the book, Shelley Moore suggests a definition of inclusion in which there is no “other”. Instead, she states, ‘ We are diverse, all of us. We all have strengths, we all have stretches and we all need to get better at something. The difference in teaching to diversity, however, is that we don’t start with our deficits, we start with our strengths’.
Imagine the possibilities if we organized our students by strengths instead of most schools’ traditional model of deficits. Imagine the possibilities if we supported our students in their quest to find their passions and fuel their interests. Imagine if schools were places that relentlessly sparked the inspiring artists, scientists, engineers, musicians, poets, designers, inventors and makers in our midst with regular opportunities for creation and exploration.”
Shelley’s stories stay with you. Her Tweets and blog posts often inspire and ring true. I can’t tell you how many times I have thought about the “sweeper van”, or the boy Under the Table (her Langley TEDTalks)and considered the importance of finding the “dictionary” or common ground that we need so that the world of our students and ourselves can come together. If you haven’t seen her video, Transforming Inclusive Education, check it out as her bowling analogy along with her insight into the importance of “changing our aim” is extremely powerful. Just this past week Shelley Tweeted out a powerful article from the New York Times, entitled You are Special! Now Stop Being Different that is so related to her own message and really makes you stop and think about the experiences of students.
Shelley’s work in the area of inclusive education and messages around presuming competence in people, focusing on a strengths-based model of education, and believing that all people can learn are such important ones and so parallel my own beliefs as an educator. On top of that, her sincerity and the authentic, thoughtful and genuine way she shares her thinking and learning make her a strong, impactful and important voice in education today!
IMMOOC- Week 3 Blog Prompt….What is one thing that you used to do in education that you no longer do or believe in? Why the change?
Despite thinking about this prompt all week, I have been struggling to find the right reflective piece to blog about. However, on the eve of taking part in a highly anticipated day of learning with AJ Juliani tomorrow, it dawned on me.
One thing that has changed so much for me over the last few years is how I engage as a professional learner. Becoming a NETWORKED, connected educator over the last number of years has been a game changer for me.
In years past when attending professional learning sessions put on by colleagues or at conferences, I would take copious notes, capturing the content of the session, as well as the thoughts and connections I was making. In the end, I am not sure how effective or impactful those strategies were for me as learner. I don’t recall going back to all of those notes very often, as when I did I often found they hadn’t in the end really captured what I was looking for.
Now, when I attend PD, I regularly use Twitter. I often capture some of my biggest takeaways in the form of a Tweet and using this platform I often engage with the presenter as well as other participants. This process is dynamic, engaging and furthers both collaboration and learning. If there is something a presenter says that really resonates with me, I capture it graphically as well, using something like Quote Creator etc. What often makes the PD and my entry points even richer yet, is the fact that I have often already made a connection to the presenter and his or her work either via Twitter or his or her blog etc. This too helps to enrich and extend the valuable learning I do as a participant.
I can’t tell you how many times I have used the Twitter Advanced Search to seek out something I have Tweeted from a conference or presentation. I also use Storify to capture and archive a number of Tweets related to a presenter, conference or specific focus. For example after spending 4 days taking part in an amazing PD opportunity at the Learning Forward Conference in Vancouver last December, I captured many of my Tweets and those of others using Storify. Or I regularly created a Storify to celebrate all of the Tweeting and reflection that would happen in my school division, when George Couros came to work with our school division staff for a week at a time like seen here. The process of creating a Storify as well as having it as a resource to come back to over and over again is very powerful.
I also often blog after taking part in valuable professional learning. Blogging helps me unpack my new learning in a deeper way. Reflecting on where I am at and where I am going is what pushes my thinking forward. Doing this in a public way makes me even more cognizant and accountable for my reflective practice.
Similarly, I now do all of these exact same things when reading a professional book. Being a NETWORKED educator has immensely changed that process for the better as well. Having the ability to engage with an author while reading his or her work, using the means of Tweeting to converse with them, and reviewing their extended work online, extends my own learning once again. Blogging about this author’s work while reflecting and documenting my thinking helps me carve my own learning path or next steps moving forward.
As a professional learner, shifting from my more PASSIVE STANCE of the past, to a position of being a much more connected, engaged member of a professional LEARNING NETWORK has been hugely impactful for me. Keeping in mind innovative shifts in education and the larger context, I will continue to embrace continued change, and growth as a learner, moving forward!