Follow Through

Well, each blog this summer seems to start with a bit of an anecdote. This entry will not be different!

A fellow Instructional Coach is a wonderful tennis coach. Early in the summer, she invited me to a tennis clinic and I clicked well with the group. At first, we worked on getting the “rust off” of my strokes. I had not picked up a tennis racquet in 7 years.  The next thing I knew, she put me in the “not ready for prime time” doubles league (for beginners).  I am now playing twice a week for an hour and a half. Sometimes I’m even squeezing in a singles game.  I love the social aspect and the exercise. I leave refreshed, happy and completely spent.

One main area of difficulty I have in tennis is following through after I hit the ball. I need my swing to extend so that my wrist is near my ear with my racquet over my shoulder. If you’re a golfer or a baseball player, perhaps you understand this.  Sometimes I don’t follow through at all or I will only follow through to the shoulder level. It’s something I am working on. It’s not easy because it involves muscle memory and changing a bad habit. But I’m working away at it all the time.

image

Most ideas for my blogs are inspired by my thinking while driving. I have a short 20-25 minute commute to work.  I enjoy it immensely.  I listen to music, drink coffee and generally wake my brain up.  My drive is pretty much a straight line and involves very little traffic.  I’m a morning person, my best ideas often occur on these drives and then roll around in my head before I spit them out in a blog.

Today I had just attended a fantastic summer session on “Developing Safety and Behaviour Plans”. We talked about the importance of debriefing following an incident. In teaching, there are debriefs everywhere. On my subsequent drive to St. Thomas, I started thinking about where in education we need to “follow through”.  The reflect and connect piece in a three part mathematics lesson was one idea that I had. Or the Consolidation piece for that matter.  The debriefing we do as coaches after having observed, modeled for or co-teached with a teacher was another. Talking about reading strategies or writing strategies students used after they have worked independently during a literacy block. Asking a French student what metacognitive strategies they used to understand a lesson…  There is so much value in these “follow throughs”. But sometimes, we cut them short. And often, this is the important and valuable stuff.

image

You could even extend it to new practices you intend to put in place this school year.  What goals have you set for yourself?  How are you going to keep yourself accountable and ensure that you follow through?

I know that this year, I’m going to be a bit more mindful of my follow through both on and off the tennis court.

image

As always thanks for reading – comments are most welcome!  What other “follow throughs” do we need to pay more attention to in education?

Let it go…

Are you wondering if the title above is based on the popular Frozen song? Well it is! I’m not afraid to admit I know more of the lyrics than I probably should. Being home with my kids this summer has been great. But with us home, the wear and tear on the house definitely increases. One activity I’ve been doing more often is picking up random toys that are strewn through the house.

A little while ago, one of my little ones got a new doll house for her birthday. It came with a bit of furniture, but she’s been inspired to use furniture and toys from other “kits” to supplement it. She plays imaginative little games that are wonderful to listen to and complex. She’s in French school, and I laugh as she flips between English and French. Although I am a little concerned about her well developed skill of saying sorry in French!  But the flip side of this wonderful creative play is… the mess! Yesterday, I felt so frustrated as I sorted through little bits. Tiny pieces are my nemisis – a tea cup and saucer in one kit, a tiny little flower the size of a ladybug in another. It’s enough to drive you absolutely mad.

But I then had a bit of an epiphany. My daughter does not really see them as separate kits. To her it’s all furniture. Expecting her to clean it all up in the separate kits? She’s just not there yet. She does not see if that way. So, why do I keep driving myself crazy sorting them into three bins? What I need to do is get past my own need for order, and just lump them all into one. Perhaps it’s a bit of naïveté on my part… but I’m secretly hoping one bin will mean she’ll help clean them up better (a person can dream!).

Earlier this week, I found myself relating some of the story above to a meeting I recently had with a teacher. We were discussing her 1/2 split and how she was going to manage her literacy block and the content areas of Social Studies and Science. We were talking about how she could integrate the content into her literacy block. She recapped our meeting by basically saying: “So, I need to go slow and double dip!”. Integrating different subjects is important. It’s a really effective way to cover lots of different expectations at once. Furthermore, we talked about slowly building the autonomy of her students in that literacy block and the importance of routines.  She’s going to add some art and drama too.

In a few weeks, teachers will be asked to hand in their classroom schedules and principals will be checking them to make sure they adhere to the amount of time the board recommends we spend on different subject areas. We’ll work on blocking out the year. We are often given some guidelines to show us the order in which to teach math strands for instance. But within this framework, there is room for flexibility. I know I’m grateful for the flexibility to integrate. It can lend to more engaging work. In fact, this year, a wise Mathematics Learning Coordinator told me that students often see math as – math. Not the separate strands that we chunk out for them. We actually train them to compartmentalize when in actuality, they would probably be better served having the flexibility of mind to think about a problem using measurement, number sense and numeration and some geometry.  We should be focused on helping our students discover what connects the units within a subject.

So, now I’m thinking about other areas of life/school where we organize things into nice neat units. I do have a nagging thought that there are instances where this is absolutely necessary (assessment of different subjects for instance). But I’ve learned that teaching is not straight forward. It’s complex and … it can be messy. And often what comes out of that is some wonderful creative stuff. We just have to have the courage to let go of some of our ingrained compartments and combine a few things (cue the music with “Let it go, let it go” softly in the background). Our curriculum are starting to reflect this as well (Strand B in Social Studies has strong ties with the Science curriculum for instance). As you look through your curriculum, what else could you put together in one larger bin?

It’s hard adapting our ways to how our students perceive things, but it’s so important.

So what can you let go of having control over? How can you blend a few things this school year? What does need to remain separate? How could you cooperate with a colleague that provides “prep” for you to blend the subjects a little more? Just a few things I’m thinking about at the moment!

20140817-123307.jpg

Getting Below the Surface to Deeper Understanding

My summer reading continues. I’ve been reading during my children’s swimming lessons, soccer games & practices, bag piping events, car trips, beach trips or camping in our patched up 1981 Coleman tent trailer. And not only books related to work. I usually have a few books on the go at once. One that is a tough read that challenges me that I will read in small chunks (currently Stratosphere by Michael Fullan). Another that is usually work related – that inspires me (two at the moment that I will get to soon). And then I will have one on the go that is pure escapism and fun non-work related reading (currently The Sisterhood by Helen Bryan).

I’ve already blogged about “The Art of Coaching” by Elena Aguilar. It’s a great read that I am enjoying in chunks. Not because it’s a hard read but because I’m really trying to reflect after each part. The chapter I just finished is about listening skills and questioning. I’m a coach – this is supposed to be a strength for me!  And I think I’m a good listener (my husband would disagree). But I know there is room for improvement. In Chapter 11, Aguilar challenged me to think about the last time I truly felt listened to deeply by another. It reminded me about how good it feels. I am setting a goal for myself to listen more deeply and try tuning out next steps, connections, advice, etc. that we think about when listening to another. She explains: “If a coach listens only at a surface level, she can assist only in shifting smaller, surface-level things”. She also encourages coaches not to respond right away. Give some wait time when listening to another and you might be surprised what comes next. She advises that often a simple “tell me more” can be very effective. Active listening means clearing your mind and not listening to respond: “Active listing is a strategy for a speaker to convey that she’s listening, and also to ensure that she’s hearing precisely what the other person wants to share. We can repeat back or paraphrase what the other person says”. She goes on to share 5 great prompts:

-In other words…
-What I’m hearing then…
-It sounds like you are saying… Is that correct? Did I miss anything?
-I’m hearing many things…
-As I listen to you, I’m hearing…

This Chapter is filled with good advice. And I’m processing it (and playing with it) this week in my interactions with others. Active listening is a skill I want to further develop this year.

Earlier this year I was given another book “Talk About Understanding – Rethinking Classroom Talk to Enhance Comprehension” by Ellin Oliver Keene. It’s been on my reading list all year, but I didn’t manage to get to it. It’s really focusing on something I’ve been thinking about this year. She and some teachers noticed students are able to give you the formula response – they can talk about strategies they use in reading. But they were growing concerned. They could give an “APE” – answer, proof, extend answer in response to reading when asked an open questions. They can make text-to-text, text-to-self answers. But the teachers and Keene wanted students to dig deeper into their understanding. They did their own Collaborative Inquiry around 2 questions. The first “How can we help children understand more deeply?”. Secondly, “How do we know when they comprehend deeply?”. At this point in the book, I’m on the edge of my seat.  And an added bonus – so far it seems to echo what I learned in our board’s “Journey Into Literacy” series put on by our literacy team this year.

Keene observed a teacher named “Jen”. Students had a chance to jot down in their reader’s notebooks what happened in their minds as they read a short text. Then in pairs, students shared their entries. She divided a chart paper into two parts – “In My Mind” and “In My Life”. Next, a student named Tiffany shared a simple connection.  Following this:

Jen reiterated Tiffany’s point so that she could hear her own thoughts aloud and have more time to think. Jen continued, “How did this thinking about her help you understand this piece better?”.  This was the turning point – and a very important question if we’re interested in deeper understanding.  Tiffany must have known then that she was going to have to respond differently.  Jen wasn’t asking about the connection anymore, she was acknowledging Tiffany’s thinking, but pushing beyond it.

The student then expanded on her answer.  The teacher then prompted her with “What else?” and she was forthcoming with insightful character details and events in her own life that helped her empathize with the character and understand her point of view.  I’m really looking forward to reading the rest of this book and discovering more stories like this one and discovering the answers to their 2 questions above!

I couldn’t help but notice the parallels between the two books. “Tell me more” and “What else?” are similar. In both cases there is a prompt for deeper understanding to come to the surface. Whether it be listening to a student, a colleague or a friend, people feel valued when you listen actively and unselfishly. You really need to put yourself away and focus on the other. The questions and actions can come later. But without this first step, you might not be asking the right questions or taking the right actions.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read this.  It certainly helps me clarify and tune into my own thinking and perhaps ask myself “what else” and go beyond the surface level.

And… I have a few Books on deck: “Making Thinking Visible – How to Promote Engagement, Understanding and Independence for All Learners” by Ron Ritchart, Mark Church and Karin Morrison and “Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn” by John Hattie and Gregory Yates. Just by the titles, I know that they will be good books to read close together. Oh yes, and also “The Last Train to Istanbul” Ayse Kulan!

Bribery Didn’t Work in my FSL Classroom

I’m having a great summer hanging out with my kids. They are active little girls that are busy playing soccer and doing some swimming lessons. My youngest daughter was in her third attempt in “Sea Otter”. Her big stumbling block? She needed to attempt to get her whole head under water. For the last year, she has been full out refusing. So what did I resort to? Bribery. Huh. I promised her an ice cream cone for the whole family if she gave it a try. And, well, it worked! She bobbed, wiped the water from her eyes, turned to me and screamed: “Mommy, do I get an ice cream?”. It was cringe-worthy. I sighed and gave her the thumbs up.

Another anecdote before I get to my point. Once a week, we head to the public library to take out some books. They have a reading program there. I asked my oldest daughter if she wanted to take part. You get rewards and prizes for reading, doing an occasional book chat with the librarian. She said: “No, that’s okay Mom… we do lots of reading at home”. She is intrinsically motivated to read, the rewards are not necessary.  For her, the joy of reading is its own reward.

At the end of the school year, a couple of teachers I know recommended a book called “Drive – The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” by Daniel H. Pink. It’s actually written with a business or economist audience in mind. However, it’s not hard for an educator to make connections to what motivates us and our students. It goes into a topic we have a lot of first hand experience with but do not always fully understand.

20140728-201943.jpg

You may or may not know that I was a French Immersion teacher.  Every year I started to same way. I began the school year with the expectation that my students speak French in the classroom. They had to address me in French. We had certain times during the day when they had to speak French – to me and to each other. They almost always did great at speaking in French with me. However, getting them to speak French with each other in the classroom was much more difficult. Complicated reward systems and, dare I say, punishment systems would be worked out by both students and the teacher. And they would work… for a while… until they didn’t. So I would switch the game up, tweak it as needed. And this system would work, but for an even shorter period of time.

In this book, I learned that extrinsic rewards only work for algorithmic task (routine work that follows a formula or set of instructions that can be done automatically). However, rewards and punishments do not work for heuristic tasks (non-routine tasks that require creativity and conceptualizing). According to Pink, when rewards and punishments are used in heuristic tasks, studies show that they can “extinguish intrinsic motivation, diminish performance, crush creativity, and crowd out good behaviour. They can also give us more of what we don’t want: They can encourage unethical behaviour, create addictions, and foster short-term thinking”.

My first daughter was not intrinsically motivated to do a bob in her swimming lessons. It was a routine type behaviour – so the reward works. But rewarding my other daughter to learn to read is not a good idea. She is already motivated to read. Her reward is the activity itself. Rewards could mess that up and even do long term damage.

Pink continues with the three elements that he feels are essential to motivation. He uses the acronym “AMP” – Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. People like being autonomous (being in charge of our own actions). Mastery is a mindset – it requires you to see yourself as someone who can continue to learn and that your intelligence can grow and that it is not “finite”. As for purpose: we also want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. We need to understand “why” we are doing what we are doing.

Is is just me or does the whole autonomy, mastery and purpose idea really fit well into inquiry based learning? Not to mention the links I made between a few business models in Pink’s book and “genius hours” and “self organized learning environments”. There is so much more to this book than I can get to in this blog.

So how could I have helped my students understand this in an FSL (or any classroom for that matter – be it Math, Science or any other of the subjects)? How could I have promoted autonomy in language learning? How could I have encouraged them to have a better growth mindset? How could I have better helped them understand the value and purpose in learning a second language?

When in comes to the “shifts” in the new curriculum and in the strategies FSL teachers are using with students, I think we’re on the right track. We help students become more autonomous by teaching them to think about the strategies that they use (metacognition). We encourage them to have a better mindset with “Can do” statements encouraged by the CEFR. We help them understand the purpose by setting them up with authentic, real-world, meaningful tasks in the FSL classroom. We use learning goals and success criteria.  Perhaps doing more of this would have helped motivate them to speak French.

Pink goes on to explain that “offering praise and feedback rather than things people can touch or spend” is a much better idea. This provides “useful information rather than an attempt to control”. Here’s a neat flow chart found on p.67 of the book that details when you should use rewards:

And so now that I have a better understanding of motivation, I want to delve into better understanding of how the brain learns language. I’m a bit preoccupied with right and left side of the brain. Routine tasks happen in the left side of the brain. Non-routine tasks happen in the right side. Language learning happens in the left – so what does this mean? Fortunately, a colleague has recommended this book which I am hoping with help me connect the dots in my own little inquiry.

20140728-202416.jpg

And what’s motivating me to do all this? Well “AMP” of course. I’m being autonomous (but let’s not confuse this with independent – your comments, recommendation and clarification are welcome) in my exploration of this topic. I’m thinking and acting. I’m growth minded for sure – I do not think that my understanding of this topic is limited. I’m looking to build and deepen my understanding about why rewards didn’t work in my FSL classroom. Finally, my purpose is to share my own understanding with anyone who reads this blog and the other educators that I collaborate with that might be interested. And really, if I get down to it, my ultimate purpose is to help increase student learning.

Can You Change Someone Else’s Belief?

Warning this post uses the work “belief” way too much!

Late last week I found out that I am returning to all three of the schools that I am currently an instructional coach in.  Plus, I’ve got a new French Immersion school on my roster!  I felt so relieved because I’ve developed so many fantastic relationships with the teachers in my schools.  In some cases, I feel like I’m just getting to the deeper partnering work with these teachers.  Trust has been established and we’re going beyond them just asking me for a resource and into partnering and co-learning.  I’ve had the opportunity to team up with teachers and students on some amazing projects.  I’m fortunate to work with such an amazing group of educators and I’m so happy that our partnerships will continue!  I’m also really excited to meet new educators too.

At one point this year a teacher asked me where we learn “all this stuff”.  Well, to be frank, we get some PD from our learning supervisors and learning coordinators.  But to be perfectly honest, I’ve learned so much from the teachers that I work with.  In a lot of cases, teachers are trying out something for the first time (and so am I!).  I’m helping teachers with inquiry in Science and Social Studies…  but I’ve never actually had my own class to do this with!  I’m grateful to all the teachers who have taken a chance on me and have invited me along for the inquiry ride.  There’s a lot of change to deal with in education.  So much of the change in education these days seems to revolve around teachers “shifting” their mindset.  A shift towards inquiry based learning, a shift in how we teach grammar in French Second Language instruction, a shift in teaching math through problem solving, a shift towards technology integration.  I’ve always been an open-minded person who is not afraid of taking a risk and trying something new.  But can I really change someone’s beliefs in education?

Last Friday on the PD day, an administrator challenged me on this.  Does anyone really have the power to change someone else’s beliefs?

Currently, I’m reading “The Art of Coaching – Effective Strategies for School Transformation” by Elena Aguilar.  It’s a great book to read now that I have a year of coaching under my belt.  I’m doing a little self-reflection as I read it.

artofcoachingdownload

She speaks a lot about beliefs (around p. 34 … “The Basics About Beliefs”).  Here’s a few highlights:

1) We all have beliefs and they drive our actions.

2) We experience beliefs as truths, and we seek evidence to support them.  But they are actually just mental creations.  They are not facts (although they might appear to us to be).  They are strongly held opinions.

3) Some of our beliefs make us strong, some do not serve us.

4) The good news is beliefs can be updated or changed.

But as the administrator who challenged me said … I cannot actually change a teacher’s belief.  Only they have the power to change that themselves.  So what can I do?  Part of my role is asking a lot of questions.  Figuring out what that teacher believes about their class, learning and their practices.  I need to meet the teacher where they are at first.  Aguilar’s book recognizes that it’s all very complex really:

Coaches help people delineate the cognitive steps that led them to a belief system.  We work with them to change their actions.  The reflection tools we use when coaching clients allow them to slow down their thinking processes and hone their awareness of how they form beliefs.  It also allows clients to identify gaps between their actions and their core values.  

I like being challenged by others.  The nudge by the administrator the other day really clarified my thinking.  And in doing so, I changed my belief about beliefs.

quote-posters_14817-0

And so I’m wondering… how is this new belief going to translate into action for me next year?  How will my coaching be a bit different based on this new knowledge?  What tools can I use with teachers to help them examine and be more aware of the beliefs driving their actions or their mindset?  What other beliefs of my own do I need to examine more closely?  What do I need to rethink?

greatquote

And I’m only on Chapter 3!  There may be a few more blog posts related to this book and another by Jim Knight this summer!

And as usual, I’m interested in your thoughts!  Please share them below.

 

Why is this working?

One of my favourite writing “units” each year was teaching descriptive and narrative writing through the mysterious illustrations of “Harris Burdick”.  As the story goes, Harris Burdick was a man who brought some fantastic black and white illustrations to a meeting with a publisher named Peter Wenders.  Each detailed drawing contained a caption and a title (see below for an example).  Burdick left the pictures with the publisher and promised to return the next day with the stories that accompanied the drawings.  But he never returned.

houseonmaplestreet

The House on Maple Street:  It was a perfect lift-off.

Since then, children everywhere have been writing stories that go with the illustrations.  I have also come across the book “The Chronicles of Harris Burdick” by Chris Van Allsburg, where famous authors such as Gregory Maguire, Lois Lowry, Kate DiCamillo, Louis Sachar and Stephen King have written a story based on one of Burdick’s 14 images.  The book even contains an introduction by Lemony Snicket and his take on Burdick’s disapearance!  I’ve passed this on to many teachers I’ve worked with this year.  It’s a great way to connect reading and writing.  And is it ever engaging!

burdickbook

Last year, I had the pleasure of hearing Dave Burgess, author of “Teach Like a Pirate” speak at my school during a PD day.  It was an amazing session on increasing student engagement, teacher creativity and transforming yourself as an educator.  One of the questions he asked us was something along the lines of “What lesson do you have in your repertoire that people would pay tickets for?”.  For me, the Burdick one stuck out for sure.

pirate

I have been working on another engaging writing task recently.  It has been created collaboratively with a Grade 7 teacher for a tech project that we are involved in. Together, we crafted a very successful writing task.  One, I dare say, we could sell tickets for!

We began discussing how historical fiction is right in the middle of fiction and non-fiction.  It’s based on something that happened, but the gaps are filled with realistic details. One of my favourite discussions with this group was on the following quotes, taken from “Genre Connections” by Tanny McGregor (click on it to enlarge).  We asked them which quote resonated with them the most.

 quotes

I modeled my own research process.  I showed them a few articles I had found and the details in the articles that inspired a story in me.  I shared some of my family history.  I shared my passion for this genre of literature.

We asked them to choose an event between 1750 and 1850 that they personally connected with this year.  They would then write their own historical fiction piece, demonstrating a person’s perspective on a significant historical event in this time period.  We gave them the task of writing their historical fiction piece in the style of “Choose Your Own Adventure”.  This is an idea that I learned about through Sylvia Duckworth on Twitter.  Students are using Google Forms for this.

We are only at the graphic organizer phase, but we have been blown away by a few things.  The first is the high level of student engagement.  This is a class that is normally very chatty.  But for this task, it has been silent and they are on task.  I know, I know, they are supposed to be learning from each other!  But I would also argue that “creativity requires solitude”.  Secondly, the level of historical detail they have provided in their stories is amazing.  Thirdly – they are researching and asking questions as they go.  They are not deep questions yet – most can be answered with Google.  While they are not collaboratively inquiring, they are using inquiry skills.  Lastly, they are being extremely creative.  To be honest,  I don’t know if I could be as creative as these students.  I hope to share a sample story here soon!

I have been reflecting about “SAMR” too.  It is a tool teachers can use to reflect on technology use.  Ideally, we should be aiming above the dotted line, creating tasks that are in the blue and green zone in the graphic below.

samrdownload

I feel like this project has helped us go above the dotted line.  We’re in the M/R region.  But the task is not just engaging because of the tech.

Next, I envision a grand conversation about perspective when looking at historical events.  Do we experience any of the same challenges people in Canada experienced in earlier times?  What types of developments permit us to respond to them in different ways than people did in the past? What connections can we make between their stories? What “truths” can we learn from this?

So what do these two lessons have in common that make them engaging?  In both cases, the quality of the writing is higher than usual, more work is handed in on time and students that are not normally engaged are much more productive.  Why do students connect with them?  Could it be that both tasks require creativity and that is what is engaging them?  Do both tasks provoke curiosity?  I’ve read that “curiosity and creativity are cousins” afterall…

What lesson do you have that students LOVE every year and that you could sell tickets for?  How can we ensure we do more of this?  What do you do to provoke curiosity and promote creativity?

I don’t think I’ve got it all figured out.  I’m rambling mostly.  Perhaps you can help me shed some light in the comment section below!

In case you are interested, Sylvia Duckworth’s instructions on how to do a “Choose Your Own Adventure” using Google forms can be found here:

https://docs.google.com/a/thamesvalleymail.ca/document/d/1G7xUe2IQNALsoqZe7uKofyPRu7O2ligqoVckjRNpOa4/edit

Inclusion Elevates All

Recently, my mom and I traced back the French side of our family through “Ancestry.com”.  It’s been fascinating.  We’ve almost got the family traced back to the first “Lamarre” that came over from Normandy France (near Rouen) in the 1660′s.  My mom is from Longueuil, Quebec, which is directly on the other side of the St. Lawrence from Montreal.  Louis Lamarre was a soldier who boarded a boat bound for New France and somehow or another, he became the baron of this area of Quebec. He actually lived to be 94 years old which is exceptional for that time period! Most of the records we found about the Lamarre family were from baptisms, weddings and funerals – in fact they attended the same church for about 300 years.  I’m proud of my French heritage.  But to be truthful, I’m actually more Scottish than French!

These discoveries are a bit bittersweet really.  Several years ago, our last relative in Longueuil passed away.  I miss having someone there to visit.  But the French line continues in our family.  My sister and I are both French teachers and completed most of our education in French. Despite moving to Ontario at the age of 12, my mom still speaks beautiful French. She has francophone friends that she plays “Bridge” with and travels with regularly. My daughters, niece and nephews attend French schools.  I’m very grateful for French education in this province.

flag2downloadThis year our Literacy Coordinators developed a wonderful diversity kit for all of our elementary students.  It contains wonderful books and lessons for teachers around race and ethnicity. One message that the Coordinators shared was how important it is that all of our students “see” themselves in the literature that we share in the classroom.  This practice builds inclusion in the classroom.

I learned the importance of this last year.  Approximately one third of my Grade 8 class had origins in South America, and most of these students spoke Spanish as well as English and French.  I’ll never forget how the dynamics in my classroom were flipped on their head one day when we read an article on the death of “Hugo Chavez”.  These were students whose parents had personal experience with his government.  Many students who were normally quiet began to participate.  Those who were my usual discussion leaders were quieted – listening to the stories that these students shared.  My only regret is that I didn’t do more of this.  It’s extremely engaging.

I find myself making a connection between these  experiences and some professional development opportunities this year.

Last fall, I was excited to see French Immersion schools participating in literacy workshops called “Journeys Into Literacy” offered by the same coordinator team.  While I was there participating with my two English schools, I did use what I learned there with teachers in my French Immersion school too. Much of what I learned there applied to the FSL classroom: highlighting text features and how they help us understand a text, interactive read alouds, making thinking visible and constructing new knowledge to name a few!

image

Today I was in a classroom where a teacher asked his students if Canada’s population was more like a salad or a soup?  The answer of course is salad.  Here in Canada, we are not a “melting pot”.  We can retain our own identity (carrot, tomato, lettuce for instance) while being part of the whole. Each individual and diverse part is needed to make the salad. The same is true in education.  Our classrooms, schools, board and education system need to reflect this salad.  Our country is bilingual.  Multilingual really!  We offer various French programming. It’s part of the salad. Perhaps the croutons… but ideally,  I would like it to be the dressing! The English and the French language programs compliment and strengthen each other.

And so I am wondering….

How might we ensure our French teachers “see” themselves in the PD offered at our school board?  We need to continue to ensure that those classroom benefits – inclusion and tolerance that these diversity kits offer also applies to learning opportunities offered to teachers. What can we do to ensure they see themselves in what is presented or organized?

After all….

“Inclusion elevates all” – Elaine Hall

Gentle Nudges

In 2010, I took the Spec. Ed. Part 1 AQ course on campus at Alt House.  It was a fantastic course and I learned a lot. I attended in person, on campus. I still think there is a lot of value in that.

One thing that I learned through the course was the value of literature circles.  I had heard of them before, but I had never tried them. Traditionally, each group has a different novel, one that they have chosen for themselves.  All group members read the same part if the book and complete a different “role” to be discussed (summarizer, illustrator, connector, discussion director, etc.).  I immediately implemented them and learned the value of letting students pick books they are interested in, the importance if book talk, training students to respond to each other’s contributions.  It was easy to differentiate and provide extra support (like audiobooks) or challenging books to those who needed them.  In time, my “role pages” got more challenging, requiring deeper thinking.  But my thinking on that is evolving too…

Another thing that I learned was the idea of gentle nudges when it comes to working with exceptional students.     Keep providing them with different accommodations until you find one that works. Keep nudging them in the direction they need to go. If one strategy does not work, try another until you find something that does.  And don’t give up.

So where have I seen examples of these two ideas in my coaching this year?

Well.

Perhaps literature circles are a bit like our collaborative inquiry networks this year.  Teachers had a say and choice in the PD they wanted to participate in.  And just like in literature circles, this means more engagement and ownership on their part.  They had the opportunity to discuss their questions with other teachers who were “on the same page” if you will (bad pun, I know).  In some cases, they did study actually study a book together!  Working together helped them deepen their understanding.

Do I use gentle nudges in when working with teachers? I do. Now, I need to qualify this a bit. Not because they are like exceptional students, but because opening your door to an Instructional Coach can be a bit intimidating and can make you feel vulnerable.  And in some cases, teachers are in fact struggling with a part of their teaching practise. In other cases they are looking to enrich it.  It’s about timely feedback and meeting a teacher where they are at, figuring out where they want to go and the steps it takes to get there.

On occasion I think of Stephen Katz’s book “Intentional Interruption” and his idea that too often in education we operate in a culture of niceness.  We have to push each other out of examples that confirm what we already believe and into that uncomfortable area where learning happens.

20140503-072034.jpg

Are these nudges examples of me coaching too lightly?  Should I push more?  I will be honest, I’ve always thought of the pushes described by Katz more as nudges.  However, perhaps there are times where we need to be more assertive and push each other’s thinking.  It’s what we call in literature circles: disagreeing agreeably!  Be passionate, but respectful.  It’s okay to cause each other some discomfort because that is where the learning happens.  But be mindful to challenge the idea, and not the person.

20140507-063514.jpg

Finally, I have been nudging my own thinking about literature circles!  I’ve been revisiting Harvey Daniels only to learn he has moved away from the traditional roles pages.  He found that at times they can stifle conversation.  New models I have been seeing involve post it notes stuck in different pages with student thinking that they then discuss as a group.  And what about inquiry circles instead?  What about students discussing different texts on the same topic?  How is the literature block going to change because of inquiry?

And these are examples of a nudge that I might give a brave teacher willing to explore this with me.  Together, we can explore and deepen our understanding of this type of activity.

And for that matter… Feel free to give me a nudge in the comment space below!

Roving Leadership

Last summer, a group of 38 Instructional Coaches and our Supervisors worked to develop a description for teachers and administrators of what the instructional coach role would entail. This is what we came up with:

Instructional Coach Role

I’ve been reflecting on this page lately.  I guess I’m doing a bit of a self-assessment actually.  Have I been this person in my schools this year and if so, to what degree?  What I like the most about this list, describing the role of the instructional coach, is that there is a recognition in it that learning is complex.  As is teaching… and leadership for that matter.

Recently, a principal lent me the book “Leadership is an Art” by Max Dupree.

leadership

In this book, there is a section about “Roving Leadership” that really struck a chord with me.  Here are a few things Dupree says about roving leadership:

1)  Roving leaders are those indispensable people in our lives who are there when we need them.

2)  In many organizations there are two kinds of leaders – both hierarchical leaders and roving leaders.

3)  Participation is the opportunity and responsibility to have a say in your job, to have influence over the management of organizational resources based on your own competence and your willingness to accept problem ownership.

4) No one person is the “expert” at everything.  But some people have special competences.

5) In special situations, the hierarchical leader is obliged to identify the roving leader, then to support and follow him or her, and also to exhibit the grace that enables the roving leader to lead.

6) It’s not easy to let someone else take the lead.

7) Roving leadership is the expression of the ability of hierarchical leaders to permit others to share ownership of problems.

8) When roving leadership is practiced, it demands that hierarchical leaders, roving leaders and followers be enablers of each other.

9) Leadership can be shared, but not given away.

10) Roving leadership, freely and openly practiced together, is the vehicle we can use to reach our potential.

I see a lot of roving leaders in the schools that I am working in.  I see wonderful administrators that are encouraging their teachers to delve deeply into their “problems of practice” through networks where teachers are engaging in collaborative inquiry.  At those tables, there are roving leaders. I observe groups of teachers working with administration to develop school improvement plans or to solve problems collaboratively.  Teachers leading edtech in their schools. I continually witness LST teachers conferencing with experts, parents and students.  Not to mention the “roving leaders” I witness everyday on Twitter…

And yes, Instructional Coaches also have the potential to be roving leaders in our schools.  In fact, I am incredibly fortunate to be working with so many growth minded teachers, administrators and supervisors this year:  they have enabled me to be a roving leader in my own way.  And I’m taking advantage of these opportunities.

Here is one example:

One of my schools has a lot of new teachers this year. As I listened to teachers this year, one thing that kept coming up were questions about classroom management.  And talk about complex – classroom management is very complex!  With the  permission of the admin, I decided to offer a five week book club at the school through the book “Creating Caring Classrooms” by Kathleen Gould Lundy and Larry Swartz.

 4142X-qAOVL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU15_

I was really pleased when 6 teachers committed to the book club.  We kept it simple – one hour after school, one chapter at a time. I’m not endorsing this book as a “must have” either.  In fact, we borrowed copies of the book from colleagues of mine for our purpose!  But this book was a great springboard for deep and meaningful professional conversation about classroom management.  I love how the Chapters are broken up:  Building Community, Building Communication, Building Collaboration, Building Compassion and Confronting the Bully issue. There are many activities that are very similar to those described in “Tribes”.  One week, we invited a Mental Health TOSA to talk to us about Universal Supports – those things that help these students, but benefit all students (amazing!).  Administration also joined in on a few chats!  Perhaps the familiar faces in this group permitted more frank and open discussion – a “culture of learning” if you will.  Teachers exposed their vulnerabilities and we problem solved together, sharing instructional strategies and resources.  I was not an expert in the group either, I was reading alongside them.  It was a really neat group – and I’m sad that it’s over!

My supervisor Sue Bruyns posted this on her Twitter feed this week:

 BmOQIRgIYAA7-nW

This is absolutely true of classroom management.  But I’m looking at it and I’m thinking you can also replace “Teaching”, “students” and “classroom” with “Leadership”, “teachers” and “school” respectively.

So, how are you a “roving leader” in your school and what are you doing to create a culture of learning?  

What are you doing to build community, communication, collaboration, compassion and confront the bully not just in your classroom, but in your school?

Instructional coaches are not the only coaches in the building after all…

These are just a few things I’m wondering this week.

Questions Circling Around in my Head

In the last few weeks, I have been very fortunate to have had two experiences in Science classrooms that have helped deepen my understanding of inquiry based learning.  In the first class, I was an observer.  In the second class, I was a co-teacher.  Both lessons featured mysterious circles.

The first was a Science period in a Grade 5/6 classroom.  The teacher provoked curiosity in his students by posting this:

BjHrqcMIIAELaAL

Can you guess what the middle circle word might be?

He then handed out each of the circle subjects to his 7 groups of 4 students.  At their tables were two computers.  Two group members researched the topic (for example “Ecosystems”) while the two others used the second computer to work on the presentation for the class.  They were allowed any format they wanted to share information – a skit, a presentation, a word file, poster etc.  They had one hour to prepare a 5 minute presentation.  Students were very engaged – debating which program would be best to use for the presentation, determining who would research and where.  What I loved about the two computer format was that the students could not simply copy and paste – they had to talk to the other students.  We walked around, asking questions and REALLY facilitating as the students constructed knowledge around us.  The teacher reminded me on several occasions that he had not in fact taught them anything (yet!).

After recess, the students began their presentations and I marveled at the questioning the teacher engaged each group in.  He masterfully helped students make connections between their presentations – how are food chains and food webs similar or different? A discussion on invasive species popped up and eventually … they came up with the word in the middle of the circle.  Have you guessed it?  It was “biodiversity” and this was the kick off lesson.  Wow.  Think of all the knowledge those students have about their unit of study and they have only just begun!

My second experience was one where I was doing the teaching in a grade 6/7 Science class.  I can’t take credit for this lesson.  It is one my very talented learning coordinators shared with me earlier this year during some training.  I posted the following picture:

mystery-1

I asked students to write their observations on one colour of post it notes, paying attention to line, shape and colour.  On a different colour of post it note, they wrote down an inference.  I was pretty strict about this.  For instance, I challenged one student who observed “sand”: “What do you see that makes you think that is sand?”.  We ended up agreeing that a scientist would say it’s a granular substance and that “sand” was an inference.

Afterwards, we charted our observations and inferences.  They were wonderful (I wish I had taken a picture!). Then I gave them some more information by posting a video in which they can see a fish is making this shape in the sand.  Now I had their attention.  I asked them to come up with “I wonder” questions and they did.  Following this, students were given a short informational text to read about puffer-fish - and why they build these strange nests.  After reading I asked them to go through the list and see which questions were answered by the text.  And guess what?

The text answered every single one of their questions.

Hmm.  I felt a bit sweaty actually.  And then it came to me.

So what questions do you have now?

And they blew me away.  They came up with rich, deep questions that scientists are probably researching somewhere.  I had them recognize the difference between their two sets of questions.  Gosh … we even got into a whole side bar about what males do to attract females!

So in this lesson, perhaps the knowledge they constructed was less about puffer-fish.  Instead, they learned that once presented with more information, you need to revise and refine your questions based on new learning.

And that is really what it’s all about isn’t it?

But I’m not done with the circle idea yet.  You may or may not know that I co-moderate a chat for Core French and Immersion French teachers every Sunday night.  Before one of the chats on engagement, I went looking for images.  I posted this picture during the chat:

Bi5D5gSIcAATpqF

It was created by http://www.studentengagementtrust.org – and it has been my biggest “Retweet” ever.  Hundreds of times thanks to it being mentioned on another chat.

And how are my first two sets of circles related to this last set?

Well that’s  just one of the “I wonder” questions circling around in my head.