Significant Events and Identity

The theme of identity is one that keeps resurfacing for me this year.  First in “Journeys Into Literacy”, when participants were challenged to think of a “memory book” – the book you keep going back to re-reading and that led you to reading other similar books.  For me, it was the book Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.  Our literacy leaders then challenged us to think about what this book reveals about our identity.  Are you what you read?  What path did this memory book set you on?  We started thinking about our reading “diets” and what they revealed about us.  I love historical fiction.  This book set me on a path of reading the stories of various heroines in the past.  I also like reading biographies as you can see in my “shelfie”:


Later on this year, in a leadership course, we were asked to write down 5 events that made a significant impact on us on Post It notes.  Then, as a group, we created a timeline, sharing our events sequentially.  It involved being a bit vulnerable and sharing some pretty personal information.  It felt uncomfortable, but also created community.

Recently, a Grade 7 teaching invited me to collaborate with her in History.  I told her about the leadership activity and we decided to try it with her students.  Students wrote 5 significant events in their life and shared them with the group sequentially.  Our timeline spanned from 2002-2015.  There is probably a more tech savvy way to do this, but we went with this:


We then analyzed the events.  They consisted of their own births, the births of their siblings, illnesses and surgeries, starting school, changing schools, starting different sports activities or hobbies etc.  We then asked students what all of these events had in common.  Students responded by saying that these events had an impact on who they became or involved big changes in their lives.  It’s at this point that we shifted gears.  We told students that it’s the same with history.  For this next part, you could have heard a pin drop in the class.  It was one of those magical moments when you KNOW you’ve got their attention.  We went on to explain that there are events that are significant because they made a big impact on Canadian identity and involved big changes that are reflected in our world today.  We expanded on the idea of what makes something significant, connecting their thoughts about their timeline to history.

Currently, students are working on their “top ten” significant events from 1713-1838.  They have to rank them and explain why they are most significant.  What do they reveal about our Canadian identity?  How did they shape and change us?  And I quote the Ontario Curriculum (p.130):

Historical importance is determined generally by the impact of something on a group of people and whether its effects are long lasting.  Students develop their understanding that something that is historically significant for one group may not be significant for another.  Significance may also be determined by the relevance of something from the past, including how it connects to a current issue or event.

I’m already thinking of the questions that I need to ask after their presentations to tease out the last two sentences in the quote above.

Once students explore each other’s projects, and we delve deeper into significance we’re going to move into “Historical Fiction” and the idea of perspective.  I love the book “Jeremy’s War” by John Ibbitson for example because it speaks to students about the war of 1812 better than a history book can.  The voice is of a boy about their age living through the war and conversations he has when he encounters significant people.  This is a genre that straddles fiction and non-fiction.

And finally, we will be writing some historical fiction.  They are going to choose the event that they connected with the most this year. I share with them my family history in Quebec and model the facts that I would use to create a story.  I blogged about the same task at this time last year.  They will create a “Choose Your Own Adventure” story in a Google Presentation format that will be told in the first person and include at least two different perspectives. If you Google “Choose Your Own Adventure Sylvia Duckworth”, you will find great templates, resources and instructions on how to do this.

This class will have had the chance to discuss history, read some historical fiction and then finally write about history.  It makes me think of Rachel Wente-Chaney, a keynote speaker at the Google for Education summit in Kitchener a little while back.  She started off by asking “What story do you want to tell?”.  She continued to quote from “Consciousness Reconsidered” by Owen Flanagan of Duke University, who says that “evidence strongly suggests that humans in all cultures come to cast their own identity in some sort of narrative form. We are inveterate storytellers”.  Don’t we all write our own history?  It’s probably also defined by the stories we don’t tell…

And well, you can’t talk about impact without a good quote from Winston Churchill.  How do you want to be remembered?


Let’s Stop Pretending…

I’ve accepted the challenge by Sue Bruyns…

Let’s stop pretending:

1. That kids misbehave because they want attention, their own way, to manipulate us, because they are unmotivated (lazy), have a bad attitude, a mental illness, a sibling who was the same way, incompetent parent(s) or because they are making bad choices.  I know I’m guilty of saying at least three or even four of the above list and it’s not really about that.  Kids will do well if they can.  Most of the time these misbehaving students have lagging skills.  For more information on this, I highly recommend Ross Green’s “Lost at School”

Behind every challenging behaviour is an unsolved problem and lagging skill.


2.  That Instructional Coaches are “experts”.  Working with an Instructional Coach is a partnership.  We co-plan, co-teach, and I don’t mean to be cliché, but we do in fact co-learn.  My job is to help you find your best next step and what is going to make an impact on student learning in your classroom.  I’m not going to swoop in and tell you what to do or hand you a new resource that’s going to make life easier.  We’re going to figure it out together and sometimes that involves us making mistakes together.  I’m lucky to work with teachers who understand this.  Just yesterday a teacher and I sat together and mucked around in Google My Maps – we figured it out and brainstormed some great ideas.  I co-taught a lesson involving inquiry learning.  I sat at a table with teachers learning how to use Chromebooks.  In each of these instances, I also learned something new.  While I do get to attend PD from time to time, I would say that a majority of my learning comes from my work with teachers.

3.  That teachers don’t have the biggest impact on their students.  I’m still floored when I am working with a teacher who does not realize that they can have the biggest impact on student learning.  That’s why what teachers choose to do matters and that’s why it’s so important to be intentional about it.  Let’s stop pretending that student ability depends on whether or not the child studies, does their homework, have home supports or pays attention. The teacher has a bigger impact on the student than any of that.

4.  That because students are compliant that they are engaged.  There’s a big difference.  Some of us (ahem, including me) are control freaks.  Inquiry and students having input on learning in the classroom is messy – and loud.  We all need to let go a bit.  I promise you might even get goosebumps.

5.  That French Immersion programs are only for “strong” students.  It’s not private school, it’s not elitist, it’s a program choice.  Many of the difficulties students experience (not all) would occur in an English school too.  It’s not the French Immersion teacher’s job to “weed out” students that misbehave or are struggling.

I challenge some of my #fslchat colleagues… Dawn Telfer, Maddalena Shipton, Bruce Emmerton, Myriah Mallette and Rochelle Rogg to name a few… any #fslchatters actually… to write their own post on the same topic.

Access to Learning

I’ve had a couple of experiences in the last two weeks that have made me think about learning for all.

The first experience was using Chromebooks with grade 4 students.  A few weeks ago, I taught a group of students in Grade 4 how to use the voice to text feature.  This week, I was working with the teacher and took the same group into the hall so they could spread out and use the Chromebooks to finish up their slides.  I can tell you first hand the difference that speech to text technology made.  One student went from three words per slide to complete sentences.  He’s a mover and a shaker… but in the hall he was engaged, concentrated and focused. In thirty minutes he had it done.  He walked back into class and started to add pictures.  And then I caught a moment that made me smile.  He proudly showed off his work to his neighbour. His teacher shared with me that he is not often done on time, much less ahead of others. And there he was showing off his work, proud posture and all. The feeling he had there is powerful. He was able to do his work to the best of his ability.  He didn’t have to wait years for equipment, assessments… he simply had what he needed to get it done.

The second experience was a conversation with an administrator about mastering math skills.  I was trying to convince him of the value of “Number Talks”. My most convincing argument was giving him an example that I wrote about in my previous post.  Take for example a teacher only teaches long division to his/her students. It involves many steps and some of our students have difficulty remembering them. My recent number talk included 4 different ways to divide. Two of which were new to me.  One involved multiplication actually.  Only one was similar to long division, but made way more sense number-wise. My argument is that if our students know ways other than long division, all division questions are open to them. They have access to division. They won’t shut down. They can solve it their way, not one way. One way of doing things is a barrier for some. Accepting multiple approaches gives all students access to the math, instead of shutting down each time there is a problem involving division.

When researching and thinking about this some more, I came across a great quote by Mohamed Jemni who did a Ted Talk about “An Avatar capable of sign language”.  His Ted Talk by the same name is worth a view.


And all of this reminded me of two different keynote speakers from the Google for Education Summit in Kitchener a few weeks ago.  One of the presenters, named Rachel Wente-Chaney, spoke about how technology is not revolutionary.  It’s the decisions of people behind it that really makes the difference. It’s really about teaching students how to use it purposefully and meaningfully. It’s not the tech itself that makes the difference but the choice the teachers and students make when using tech that are revolutionary. For example, allowing a student to use speech to text technology. The second keynote speaker, Kevin Brookhouser mentioned a web based game he was playing called “Limbo” in his address.  In this game, a little guy overcomes different obstacles in order to move forward (avoiding a boulder while climbing a hill for instance). It quickly become apparent that he can’t swim.  There is a crate in the water that he can climb on though.  Kevin showed how no matter how hard he tried, he could not cross the water on that crate.


Brookhouser then described that he kept trying to climb on the crate to pass through the water but kept falling off. It was really frustrating. He could not figure it out until he learned to pull the crate towards the trees, use the crate to reach a branch and climb over the pond in the trees. He spoke about “tool fixedness”. Essentially, that we as humans get so fixated on a tool being used for one sole purpose that we can’t see any other way of using it. It is really hard for us to see any other solutions. He spoke of algorithmic problems (where there is only one solution) vs. wicked problems (famine, environmental concerns, education for all) and how we have to get really good at solving algorithmic ones. The wicked ones are important too… but that is a blog for another day!  Is there really only one way of dividing, writing, reading, etc.?  Yes, we need to get good at finding the correct answer, but I would argue that we need to be open to multiple ways of getting there. If you’re not good with the crate … climb through the trees.

Is this what we mean by transforming learning?  It’s looking past traditional ways of doing things?

Is “tool fixedness” present in our classrooms? Are there tools, strategies out there that we are too fixated on?  So much so that we might not see a solution right in front of us?

What are some other ways we can making learning more accessible to all of our students?  What obstacles are standing in our way?

As always, I welcome your comments below.

Number Talks Work

In the last little while, I have had the pleasure of exploring “number talks” or “math talks” with a few Grade 4 & 5 teachers.  I’m using the book “Number Talks” by Sherry Parrish, which advertises that it will “help children build mental math and computation strategies”.  I can attest that it indeed does that.


So first, what is a number talk?  Here are some resources that explain it better than I can. I also understand that Jo Boaler has done significant work in this field.

A video (Grade 5 division)

An article:

I’m going to admit something terrible.  When I taught in Grade 5, I used to avoid the mental math components of my math textbook.  The kids found it hard.  And now I know they were probably a bit too prescriptive by telling kids how to think, instead of honouring the different ways students might tackle a math operation.

Earlier this year, a Student Work Study teacher lent me a book on “Number Talks” and I’ve been fortunate to be a part of a group that is exploring them at one of my schools until recently.  Now I am exploring them with teachers at all 4 of my schools.  The more I do them, the more I learn.  Moreover, they are FUN!  I love seeing the different ways of thinking around the same math question and when this registers for the students in the class it’s a bonus too.

Most recently, I did a number talk in a Grade 5 class as part of a “CIL-M” day – where two of us co-taught a lesson that was designed by a group of teachers.  I was the lead teacher and for the “minds on” portion of our three part math lesson, I modelled a number talk.  The teacher really liked how her students responded in class.  We decided to explore them a little further together and set up a bunch of consecutive dates where I could come in and model.

We focused on multiplication with her class, and in just three number talks we could definitely say that the students moved forward strategy-wise.  They started using the strategy “partial products” for instance which we observed they were not using in our first talk.  Her students were engaged and eager to share how “they saw the math in their heads”.  It was neat to see them see the math different ways and trying out a “new” strategy.

On my last day, she threw me a bit of a curve ball, asking me to model a division math talk (which I had never done).  I studied and learned a couple of great (new) ways to do division mentally.

The division number talk I did in that class is probably my favourite to date.

At the end of it, the teacher and I had an excited talk about how we learned two new ways to divide – one was “partial quotients” and the other was the strategy named “proportional reasoning”.  I have had the pleasure of trying to teach Grade 5 students to do long division (it’s not easy), so I could understand her enthusiasm!  Now all of them could access division, it was not a matter of memorizing the long division rules.

“Number Talks” have trained me to listen to students to try and name the strategy they are using to arrive at their answer.  Sometimes, I have to admit, I might not know the name of the strategy and so I had to look it up afterwards (the kids and I come up with a temporary name).  I have also done a number talk using sample questions from a textbook or by using decimals and fractions instead of the whole numbers found in the book.  Once you are comfortable with the format, you can use anything (even EQAO multiple choice practice questions for instance).

Sometimes the student strategy can’t be found in the book – and how wonderful for that student to have the strategy named after them and to see them get creative in their thinking.

What number talks really do is help teachers identify what strategies their students are using so that perhaps they can encourage them to move to more efficient strategies.  I would likely have some guided math associated with this in small groups after some observation to help move them forward.

Perhaps too, I modelled taking a risk in front of the teacher by doing a last minute division talk for the first time.  I’m really excited because she is now trying the next talks on her own.  In fact, the classes where they are truly being implemented are in those classes where the teacher and I worked together over a few days.  I’m going to touch base, follow up and make sure they are still going well.  But I know that if I had my own class, I would be doing these talks.  I’ve seen what they can do after a week, but imagine what they could do after a year… it is truly transformative (and not just for the students).

Documenting Learning

Dictation has been a bit of a homework battle at our house until recently.  Despite the fact that writing, math and drawing are some of my 7 year old daughter’s favourite activities, homework is source of arguments at our house.  Each week, she has a French book to read, some math sheets to complete and dictation spelling words to memorize.  Her dictation words cause so many tears that I now leave them until Thursday – the night before the “test”, focusing on math and reading instead.  And despite my personal feelings about dictation and memorizing spelling words, we get them done.

I brought out my iPad a few weeks ago when it came time to practice.  I did hesitate to use it, fearing it might be launched during battle.  We used an app where she could draw the words and erase them easily called “Show Me”.  When it came to remembering the words she got wrong, I would try and have her focus on a pattern.  For example: “Look all the words that end in r do not have an e after them”.  That’s my way of doing it.  Turn it into a rule that you can remember.  This caused more anxiety and frustration.  Exasperated, she showed me how she sees the words and it blew me away.

She started turning each word into an image in front of my eyes.  She would explain to me what each word looked like to her and it was really quite amazing.  Each letter was part of the “drawing”.  For example, we just tried the word “learn” (her choice).  She turned the “l” into a clock, the “e” into her sitting at a desk, the “a” into a question mark and the “r” into a happy face when she understands something and the “n” into her brain with a thought bubble coming out of it because she is concentrating and thinking and “that’s how you learn”.

It’s not how I would have done it or remembered it best.  The whole time I just want to butt in and say “l” makes the sound “l” or you can remember the “n” because you hear it…  But sure enough, this is what helps the words “stick”.  Her dictation results have improved a lot since moving to this way.  It’s not my way, but her own way of seeing them that worked.  And most of all, we are not stressed and it’s an enjoyable way to spend time together.

It made me wonder, how many times when helping students out have I perhaps imposed my way of seeing the words, math problem, writing piece etc.?  It also made me think of articles on the dangers of “multiple intelligence tests” and student thinking they can only learn things one way (i.e. kinesthetically, musically, visually, etc.).  How does knowing this strategy help me move her towards more efficient strategies?

My thinking was then pushed a little bit further.

This week I had the pleasure of being a part of an FDK Network with ECE, Kindergarten teachers and Rose Walton, the Early Years Learning Coordinator with TVDSB.  Recently, Rose brought a new Ministry “Capacity Building Series K-2″ publication to Instructional Coach team’s attention. Not the one printed in October of 2012 “Pedagogical Documentation”, a new one titled “Pedagogical Documentation Revisited” from January 2015.

We had a rich discussion around the revised edition. Here are some of the quotes that resonated with me:

“…pedagogical documentation is intended to uncover the student’s thinking and learning processes, it has the potential to help us look at learning in new ways, to assess flexibly with particular needs in mind and to individualize and differentiate our response.”

“what makes their team’s documentation pedagogical is (sic) the inferences they are making from it and where they need to go next in the learning”

You can find the rest of the article here:

It’s about figuring out how that child learns best through actively listening to the student, recording what they say, reflecting upon what they say and then also including parent or other teachers that work with that child as well.  How will this information help inform your next step?  Why is capturing this learning artifact important?  It’s not always about communication with home.  It’s about recording what they are learning, but more importantly how they are learning.  And on the very front page of the article it states that it’s the assessment as and for learning, not a summative assessment of learning.  Perhaps “Pedagogical Documentation” captures some of the things in this sketchnote illustrated by Sylvia Duckworth:


It’s no mystery to teachers that kids don’t think alike.  Nor do they learn alike.  It’s a matter of really listening to that student express what they were thinking and letting them have a voice in telling you how they learn best.  I’ve figured out how my daughter best learns those tough dictation words.  I also know that knowing this might be a help in other areas of difficulty as they arise.  What next steps can I take?  How could making her aware of this help her as a learner?  How might her visual way of memorizing words be applied to other areas such as math for instance?  I know I want to have more conversations with her about how she learns best.  What do I need to learn to support her further?

And one last note on homework – I know that being a parent has completely changed my outlook on homework!  I know what I would like to be doing with my daughter each night.  But I can’t help but wondering … if we think differently and learn differently, should that not also be reflected in homework assignment too?  But that is a blog for another day…

We Are More

You may recognize the title above from Shane Koyczan’s passionate performance of his poem at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010.  I had forgotten about it until recently.  Our Learning Coordinators presented his poem “To This Day” during a recent session that I attended.  “To This Day” is a powerful poem about bullying and moving beyond it.  This is a theme that has always resonated with me.  In fact, on my way home from the session, I actually stopped at the bookstore and bought a copy of the graphic novel of this poem for myself.  In reading it however, I knew that it was a bit mature for the Grade 5 class I was preparing to work with.  So, I got reacquainted with Koyczan’s poem We Are More.

When I did a first read of the poem “We Are More”, I quickly realized there were some elements in it that the students may or may not have background knowledge on.  Also, it’s a long poem, so what parts of it would I focus on?  Would they know who the “number 9 and 99″ were? Would they understand what he means by the line “we are young”?  How many of the students would understand the reference to “Little Italy”?

When we select texts, it’s important to be purposeful about it by anticipating what might trip up students, what connections they might make between this and other books they have read, themes, stereotypes, other subject matters etc.  In this case, the teacher was working on “Canadian Identity” in Social Studies.  But how could we help student build a little background knowledge prior to reading?

In order to develop some background knowledge, we cut up images of Maurice Richard, a hockey sweater with number 99, a map of the world with colours indicating approximate country ages, a book entitled “Magic Words”, a street sign of “Little Italy” etc. Students found other students with similar images and proceeded to glue them together and begin their research, jotting notes around the image using classroom computers.  This is an idea I borrowed from the same literacy session called “Tea Party”.  Using images and having students come up with ideas before even attacking the text is a great strategy.

When done, each group had about 5 minutes to present what they found out about their image. After each presentation, we asked questions about how these images might be related to each other. It was fascinating to gather what students already knew or had learned. In fact, they actually gave us chills at some points as we started to shape the idea of Canadian identity. Some of what they said was so insightful and went way beyond what we were expecting.  They were making connections to lessons the teacher had done in Social Studies, texts they had read in class and it was all generated by students.  And we had not even touched the poem yet.

Following this, we played two versions of Shane’s poem. The first time showing his passionate performance, the second time with lyrics. You could see the kids recognize “their part” in the poem.  Following this, the classroom teacher modeled “leaving tracks of her thinking” with the first part of the poem.  She noted connections, background knowledge and what thinking and reacting she was doing as she read.  Students returned to their groups and began leaving tracks of their thinking around the poem.  We collected the responses and used them the next day, highlighting some of the thinking (annonymously) that students did.  We also tracked which reading strategies they were using.  In our analysis, the teacher and I recognized that the students did not do a lot of “synthesizing”.  Perhaps the poem does not lend to this strategy?

Later, we asked the students to provide some feedback.  For example – what other images should we have included?  The CN tower and Canadian money were popular responses.

In the second day, we discussed that part of understanding “who we are” as Canadians is also about looking at our imperfections.  Day two involved an observe/infer/I wonder activity about food sustenance issues in Nunavut.  Students were definitely engaged in this piece.  I shared with them my experiences of helping out a family by sending some items in the mail they were requesting.  I won’t go into all the details, but the end of the lesson came back to Shane’s poem:  We Are More.  Part of our identity as Canadians is that we care for others.  Furthermore, it’s an issue that has many perspectives to consider:  the grocers, the Innuit people, the government, etc.  We are more than the “one story” that can be told about us or an issue affecting many.

We ended our social justice themed session positively, with a “Kid President” video about how to change the world.  Just a couple of hours ago, the “Kid President” posted the video below for Canadians.  And if you listen closely, you might just head a few of Shane’s words in his message.

Kid President’s Message for Canadians

And I’m also reflecting on what “more” I could do with all of this next time I teach it.  I only had two days, so I crammed a lot in.  What text features or poetry techniques could I focus on?  What more could I do in writing other than journal entries?  What slam poetry about Canadian Identity could students create imitating Shane’s style?

And, I’m not one who is afraid to put it all out there.  You can find a copy of the lesson we used here.  It’s a beginning really that needs to be developed further.

Canadian Identity File – Google Drive

Inspired by Mrs. G’s Grade 2’s

Today I was very lucky.  I got to introduce “coding” to Mrs. G’s grade 2 class!

We started in her classroom and on the Smartboard, I found the website  I showed the students where to find the “Angry Birds” tutorial.  We watched the video together and had a chat about computer language.  We then did steps 1-3 of 20 together on the SmartBoard.  The students were really excited to head to the lab and give it a try themselves.  To help them find it easily, we posted the link to this tutorial as a shortcut in the school’s handout folder.

Once the students got started, I took a few minutes just to jot down a few things I was hearing and seeing.

I heard:

  • “I did it!”
  • “Oh! I have to turn right not left.”
  • “That’s what’s wrong!”
  • “What does this do?”
  • “Yay!”
  • “Finally!”
  • “I knew I could do it!”

That last one was music to this teacher’s ears!

I saw:

  • head scratching
  • high fives
  • kids peeking at each other’s screens
  • kids asking for help from each other and problem solving together
  • kids asking the teacher for help
  • little chair dances when students were excited that their code worked
  • hands raised above their heads like they had just scored a soccer goal
  • kids taking a deep breath

Then, I got distracted by a student stuck on level 14 (of 20).  There was a particular “if/then” block causing his some confusion.  I have to admit, I have never been this far into the “Angry Birds” tutorial …  I am “Frozen” tutorial certified though!  And we figured it out together.

At this point, their very wise teacher suggested if they were past level 10 that they could buddy up because sometimes “two minds are better than one”.  Students started showing each other how to do this.  They were so patient and kind with each other.  The buzz in the room was incredible.  The teacher then told me that all of this reminded her of a computer programming class she took in University (YUP! – many of the concepts are the same!).

At the end of the period, we sat together.  I asked students what they enjoyed about coding.

Their replies (no prompting):

  • When you make a mistake because you learn.
  • The computer has no choice but to listen to you.

Huh. I’ve never heard a student say their favourite part of an activity was making a mistake before.  We also talked about what we did when we were frustrated or stuck.

  • Try again and keep trying until you get it.

This brought about a wonderful conversation about the word perseverance.  I also shared that I had learned something new on level 14…

On my way out the door, I passed Mrs. G who said that one of the kids had just told her it was “the best day of school ever”.

When I do coding with kids, I feel hopeful for them.  Imagine what they will be able to do one day.

I think coding teaches students so much.  Today, I saw evidence of learning skills everywhere (collaboration, perseverance, taking risks etc.).  I saw math skills (the work they did involved a grid, turns, counting how many “hops” they had to make, sequencing, logical thinking, visualizing).  Also, I saw students that were actively engaged in problem solving… for over 45 minutes!

I have plans to go back after March break to move into using the website “Scratch” with them.  I’m really looking forward to it!

And I wonder if adults would exhibit the same growth mindset when learning something new?

What’s my Impact?

A few weeks ago, one of the administrators that I work with asked me: “How do you measure the impact of your coaching?”.  He has a habit of asking me tough questions.  I often need some processing time before giving an answer.

Following this, my learning supervisors asked us to keep track of our coaching activities for a period of two weeks.  They provided us with a data sheet.  Let me be clear, I’m not tracking who I’m working with, but I am tracking my coaching activities and how much time I spend doing each activity (for example co-planning, teaching, networking, sending emails, working one on one with a teacher, providing professional development etc.).

Both of these things have been on my mind.  How do you measure the effectiveness of an Instructional Coach?

While I would not want to have to track my coaching activities all the time, I’ve actually enjoyed collecting this data. It’s made me reflect upon areas of my coaching that I need to develop further.  For example, I noticed that I only sometimes use data in my work with teachers.

It’s also helped me be aware of what the data tracking sheet is not measuring and perhaps some of those “anecdotal” instances in my interactions with students, teachers, support staff and administrators that give me important feedback (good and bad) about my effectiveness.

First, an example that was the answer I provided for the administrator. Last year, when working with a group of teachers in math, they infused one three part lesson into each of their textbook units. This year, the same group of teachers begins planning with the curriculum first and a common assessment they are working towards.  They use  many open ended questions (not in their textbook) to develop several three part lessons and then uses the textbook here and there.  They now recognize that their textbook does not actually align with the curriculum all the time too.  They did the work to get there, but I know that my work with them played a small part.

Last week, a grade 4 student came up to me and said: “Mme I came up with a new multiplication strategy, let me show it to you – it’s kind of like the one (so and so) used, but different”. This teacher and I co-taught a cycle of “Math Talks” in her classroom for a few consecutive days leading up to this. This week, I got an email from a parent of a student in the same class who was at home with her son who was sick. He was showing her all the different multiplication strategies they had come up with and she was amazed at all the different ways students multiply.

A teacher said to me: “I know you are trying to sell literature circles right now, but I’m not ready for it”.  Translation: back off lady!  And it also made me more mindful about how I am communicating things so that it does not come off as me trying to “sell” an instructional practice or a resource.

What about the goosebumps I got during a couple of SOLE (Self-Organized-Learning-Environment) activities? I was hoping after some investigating that students would discover certain big ideas.  As the teacher and I asked questions that prompted students to make connections between their areas of research, those ideas started emerging.  It felt magical and in fact they went further than what the teachers and I were anticipating.

How about my picture, included in a composite with the rest of the teachers, hanging on the wall of one of my schools? I very much feel a part of the team there, and that’s also reflected in the team meetings that I am included in.

What about the whispers of “yes!” I heard when I introduced literature circles in a 5/6 class? I had worked with a lot of the 5’s on literature circles the year before and they were really excited to give it another go.

Here’s another: I’ve been modelling 3 part lessons in math with a couple of teachers who are now ready to move to me co-planning and co-teaching instead.

The LST teacher who has found out about a great app I used with a grade 3 class and is going to use it to support students with special needs in older classes.

Supporting and lending an ear to coaches that are new to the role.

What about the relief an LTO expresses because they are feeling less overwhelmed after getting support?  Some of our newest teachers don’t qualify for new teacher support programming.

What about the many instances of work I’m doing with teachers using their “self-directed” PD?  They are using their half day funding and choosing to partner with me.

How do you measure co-authoring a blog with a teacher, who has become a friend really, and then giving her a little nudge to share her point of view on changing the library into a learning commons?  I imagine the impact she will then have on others or even the system and I feel proud to have been a small catalyst in that.

These are a few examples of victories coupled with a few setbacks over the past couple of weeks. Being a coach is a bit of a roller coaster ride. There are days when I wonder about my impact on student and teacher learning on my drive home.  And I make mistakes.  I had the same roller coaster feelings as a teacher.  However, you have other days when you know that you have made a difference and have made an impact.  Sometimes these positive changes are big, sometimes they are small.  Sometimes you can’t really measure them until almost a year later when you reflect about where that teacher or group of students started and has ended up.

How do you measure inspiration?

I think a summative assessment of my effectiveness would have to be balanced like how we assess our own students.  It’s that balance between observations, conversations and products.  I feel like our learning support supervisors do take this into account. We have conferences with them a couple of times per year and they gladly come out to our schools to see what we are doing when invited.  Each month when we gather as a coaching team, we bring a “product” – an artifact that demonstrates the effect of our coaching on student learning.  I think it’s that balanced “COP”s model or “triangulation of data” that really gives the whole picture of coaching effectiveness.  And I think that this data that we collected over the past two weeks is measuring the processes in coaching, which is an important snapshot to have too.  Perhaps it’s more of a formative assessment?

I welcome your comments below!

Thinking of Moderating a Twitter Chat?

This Blog has been co-authored by Dawn Telfer and myself:

We have been co-moderating #fslchat – a chat for Core French and French Immersion teachers for just under a year.  We have learned a lot about leadership and running a chat and we wanted to share some of what we have learned (often through mistakes).

1. Who is your audience?

We did a lot of talking and planning before beginning.  First, we asked around, contacting FSL leaders such as Sylvia Duckworth or Colleen Lee-Hayes (who moderates #langchat) to find out what chats already existed.  We participated in #langchat actually before creating anything of our own.  We had a lot of deep conversations about what need our chat might fill, who our audience would be and topics we would like to address.

2. Think About Your Timing…

We planned our first few chats poorly timing wise.  In our first few weeks, we were competing with the Superbowl, The Walking Dead premiere and Hollywood awards shows.  At first, it was just Dawn and I plus a couple of people.  We felt it was embarrassing at first, but we were determined to get it going.  We had a lot of anxiety, hoping week to week that people would show up.  We polled people to find out what night of the week best worked for them using Google Forms.  But the time had to work for us too.  We hold it on Sunday nights because it helps to energize us for the week ahead and our kids are in bed!

3. It’s not about you.

It’s about building community.  Although we created the #fslchat hashtag, we don’t really feel that it belongs to “us” anymore. We feel like it belongs to everyone who uses it.  People use it to share French ideas, resources and asking questions through the week – beyond our chat time.  We’re more proud of that than anything else.  People are not just there to connect with us- there are lots of great examples of leadership and expertise beyond ours!  We welcome guest moderators or even people that want to take over the chat entirely here and there.  Most of the topics we come up with are suggested by regular #fslchat participants.

4. You can’t be the smartest person in the room

We actually try responding to the ideas of others and encouraging others through the chat instead of just giving our opinion to our own questions.  We certainly feel as though we learn just as much as we teach.

5. Leave room to celebrate, end with energy

We always start with an idea that Jen copied from #educoach.  Question 1 is always sharing an “eduwin” – something great that you want to share and celebrate with others. This starts us off in a positive way and is often a sharing session where we gain ideas from each other. We usually try to end with a question related to how developing a “PLN” (Professional Learning Network) on Twitter or participating in #fslchat energizes us for the week.

6. Supporting Similar Chats

A few people have used #fslchat to advertise their own chats. We are really supportive of this, but appreciate a head’s up. Earlier this year, we saw a few chats begin and fail because the audience was too narrow.  We have discussed that having many chats on a similar topic does not strengthen us all.  It might be a good idea to join a chat that already exists to determine if a new branch is needed.  That being said, we have a very positive rapport with #langchat, a similar chat to ours, and often support each other.

7.  It’s a huge commitment.

You will be committed to doing this every week.  We take breaks here and there, because life gets busy.  We strongly recommend having a partner to work with.  It really is helpful in planning for the chat.  Well planned chats will have a series of questions prepared in advance along with a sense of how much time to allocate to each question.  Many chats use the Q1/A1, Q2/A2, … format.  A partner can help with the questions and direction of the discussion to keep things on topic, in a timely manner.  Until you run a chat by yourself, you can’t really appreciate the importance of that.

8. Disagree Agreeably

This week, Doug Peterson’s blog disagreeing made us think about how to disagree on, or offline. I think sometimes online we don’t model the advice we would give our students, when we teach them to disagree agreeably. Conflict will arise and you will resolve some publicly, but should resolve them respectfully and privately where possible.  You don’t have to respond to rude comments that are made to you.  Sometimes silence is the best reply.

9. Advertising

This is a tough area.  Especially in education, we have so many commercial products at our disposal.  It’s a fine line between being a supporter of a product and actively being a salesperson for it!  Teachers can be especially passionate about or against a particular product.  You’ll need to decide whether your chat is going to focus on pedagogy or the tools that someone might use.

10. Ownership

Part of the joy and the power of chatting is the openness and general willingness of folks to enter into discussions.  Technically, there is no ownership of a hashtag or a chat.  If you’re starting something new, it’s a good step to do a Twitter search to see if it’s been used by someone else.  You might want to consider entering into a partnership or to choose a different hashtag.

11. Using Students

We have yet to involve students in #fslchat but we recognize that sometimes chats will have students or student ambassadors involved in the discussion.  If you plan to do this, you’ll need to consider, in advance, how they’ll participate and how you’ll protect them should anything untoward happen.

12. Asking Questions

When running a structured chat, it is important to have the questions developed in advance. We often begin with a theme and then choose 5-7 questions for the chat. We post resource questions but also mix them with instructional questions. Posting the questions several days before the chat can help followers to ready themselves with examples or links.

13. Listeners

We are also aware that we have listeners that tune in each week, but that don’t post. We try and recognize them here and there too. Sometimes we are surprised to hear chatter about the chat from people we didn’t “see” online. It helps to reinforce that the chat is being actively followed, even if the live chatters seem low certain weeks.

We are sure this list will grow as we continue to grow with #fslchat!

Our thanks to Doug Peterson for his two cents!!


Paying Attention to Everything

I have to admit, my blog has gone by the wayside this month.  I’ve made excuses… I’m busy, stressed, tired… and on top of that we’ve all taken turns with a cough and stomach flu at my house.  I’ve even tried giving myself the advice I would give to a stuck student: “Write about something you love!”.  I thought about the hearts that I would have students keep in their journals – full of things they love.  These were supposed to help prompt some writing.  To be honest, I’m a bit scattered and not even sure what to write about next.


As an Instructional Coach at TVDSB, I’m not focused on one subject area.  For instance, We don’t have specific coaches for literacy, math or technology.  I’m partnering with teachers in Math, Language, French, Science, Social Studies, etc. from Kindergarten to Grade 8.  But I’m not complaining.  I really enjoy the diverse areas that I get to explore in any given week.  And it’s worth repeating that I am a co-learner.  I am building new knowledge as I collaborate and interact with other teachers, administrators, students, coaches, learning coordinators etc.  My day is full of rich conversations with other educators telling me about what is happening in their classrooms.  We problem solve together and try out new techniques and plan next steps.  Some even let me come in and experiment and try out something I’ve read or heard about in their classrooms.

You know that feeling of your head spinning after a great learning session?  I have that almost daily.  I’m paying attention to everything.  If there is one skill that I have gotten better at, it’s listening attentively.  My focus is sharp, but switches to so many different areas and tasks in a day.  In between, I’m making connections between so many different subject matters.  I’m synthesizing too.  What do I see and hear that are common threads in my daily work?  What themes and big ideas keep coming up?  Lately I find myself thinking about the following:

  • Helping students make their thinking visible (in all subjects!)
  • Moving from concrete examples, to models, to more abstract thinking…
  • Teaching students how to develop essential questions (it’s not easy)
  • Engagement & motivation
  • Emphasizing process over product (teaching kids to think!)
  • Meaningful technology integration (equity & coding is on my mind)
  • Different ways of documenting learning and what to do with this information (feedback & assessment driving learning)
  • The importance of teachers having choice in and driving their own learning opportunities
  • Reading and writing floats on a sea of talk… (in English and in French)
  • Leadership styles, creating vision and growth culture in our schools…
  • Etc!

And before I blog about any of these topics, I need to deepen my own understanding.  What do I need to learn?  Sometimes my blogs are inspired by the string of connected events will jump out at me in a given week – often prompted by a life experience or interaction that stands out.  I usually consult a book, blog, article that will push my thinking before writing.  Often, I find a quote that can express an idea more eloquently than I can.

Despite outward appearances, I’m a bit of an introvert.  I need a little quiet in my day to help me switch gears, absorb information and refocus.  Sometimes it’s in these quiet moments (like my drive between schools for instance) that it all comes together.  Often however, it’s during conversations with other teachers.  And sometimes a good blog will just hit me out of the blue and flow out of me easily.

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But for today, perhaps making a list of topics that are in my thoughts is all that I can do.  I’m hoping to unblock once I get some rest during the upcoming holidays.  And while this post is a bit rambly, I did write about something I love.  Because I love being an Instructional Coach.

And I was also given good advice by the person who first helped me get this blog set up in the first place.  It’s important to comment on the blogs of others.  Perhaps that is something I can handle in the meantime.

Have a great holiday…

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