Finding the balance…

Had an interesting experience last week.

Our school leadership team had the opportunity to finalize our school improvement plan and meet with our Superintendent of Schools to discuss next steps.

We had been provided a list of guiding questions that our SO used during a rich 1.5 hour  focused conversation. A number of voices were invited around the table to ensure multiple perspectives were represented, and people spoke very frankly about the progress, challenges, and work that still remains to do to improve student achievement in a few areas as identified from a variety of different data sets. At several points, it did not even feel like a meeting; rather we were discussing educational change very honestly and openly. People listened, opinions were welcomed, colleagues offered support and extended ideas, AND some even disagreed agreeably. Nice!

When it came time for the rubber to hit the road and define our immediate next steps, the need to differentiate teacher professional learning offerings became more apparent than ever. As I am sure is the case on many school staffs, we have people at very different professional learning comfort levels. As the co-facilitator of our weekly TLCP sessions, I have also come to appreciate that there is the work that teachers feel needs to be done based on their perspective, and then there is the work that admin feels is required to move students and teachers along in our critical thinking and mathematics journey. While some might feel they know what the nature of the work is that needs to be done next… teacher buy-in is not a given. The Concerns Based Adoption Model (CBAM) research of Hall and Hord has taught us for decades that unless we value the need for the perceived change, change will take longer to achieve and chances are it will not stick…

The good news is we have SEF days to access. Now we need a professional learning menu that offers choice if we really want to empower teachers to self-direct their job-embedded learning.

There are some excellent online resources available through our district online training and learning repository, PLUS this Fall, the Ontario Ministry of Education came out with some incredible monographs and webcasts DVDs that align directly with our areas of focus. So, the WHAT TO LEARN? syllabus is already there… at our finger tips actually.

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So here is the balance challenge:

I suggested allowing teachers to experience inquiry-based learning by having them sign up for their own professional learning focus and then, based on a set agreed-upon schedule, they would meet with those colleagues interested in the same topic to design their own learning adventure. We could assemble a variety of applicable learning resources from which they could read, discuss, study…

However, members of my leadership team feel this is too open-ended and teachers need more direct instruction and facilitation.  Hmmmm??? At what point do we allow teachers to experience curiosity and inquiry on their own without direct-facilitation from others?

I want to read the recent Natural Curiosity publication from the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study (Natural Curiosity) OISE to find out more about instilling meaningful inquiry and curiosity in play-based early years programs.

Maybe everything we need to know, even about facilitating meaningful job-embedded teacher professional learning, does stem from Kindergarten?

Would love to hear what others have done or think…


The critical thinking media literate classroom

Imagine you are one of 6 administrators on tour of a neighbouring school to investigate a particular ‘problem of practice’? Now imagine that the school you are visiting has identified ‘critical thinking’ as the problem. Do you know what to look for on your ‘instructional round’ of K-8 teachers and students on their journey towards critical thinking?

Teachers of media literacy have been embracing the explicit teaching of bias, perspective, equity and inclusivity for years, however, critical thinking seems to be the bigger buzz word in education right now. Many districts across Ontario are deepening their collective understanding with the help of Dr. Garfield Gini-Newman from OISE/UT, and resources from The Critical Thinking Consortium TC2 in British Columbia are all the rage! In fact there is even a Twitter chat called #ctchat that was struck up Wednesday nights from 7-8pm EST to broaden awareness and share strategies for implementing critical thinking across the curriculum! Sorry, couldn’t help the shameless self-promotion for our #ctchat. Please join myself and @digitalnative if you are interested.

And so while critical thinking sounds new, I was inspired to remind educators from all over that Ontario is in a very fortunate spot because we have had media literacy added to our Language, 1-8 curriculum since 2006, and teachers need not look very far for amazing ideas on how to get their students on the road to critical thinking about things they absolute love to watch, listen to, play, and read: MEDIA! That’s right, the media literacy curriculum found in our provincial curriculum document is chock full of ways to help students become critical analyzers and responsible creators of media texts of all types. And teachers need not stop there either. In 2007, the was also released. The best part about it is that it contains field tested media deconstruction and production lesson plans, helpful tips, and background information to equip teachers with the media frameworks to make this all happen in the classroom. AND, if interactive learning and video viewing at your own pace is your preferred learning style, check out the Media Literacy, 4-6 eWorkshop module co-produced by the Ontario Ministry of Education and TVOntario.

Thanks to Fullan, Hill, and @Crevola ‘s Teaching and Learning Critical Pathway [TLCP] model, most Ontario schools have the opportunity to access additional professional development funding to release teachers to plan out 6 week long planning, assessing, and instructing sessions to address areas of need in their schools. In the case of critical thinking, why not use some of the TLCP time to peruse these helpful resources with colleagues and focus in on how thoughtfully planned cross-curricular media literacy lessons might help address student improvement needs and school data.
The revised Language, 1-8 document has been around for more than 5 years, and yet we could still afford time to think deeply about how media literacy fits into balanced literacy to promote open-ended questioning and critical thinking. Similarly, I am sure there are a few administrators out there who could benefit from learning more about how media literacy and critical thinking complement one another so well! As my colleague wrote during one of our #ctchat, just like teachers, school VP’s and P’s require access to the tools and learning if they are to effectively support critical thinking and inquiry at their sites. The @etfoaq Media AQ candidates I am learning and leading with also have lots to say about this right now! The answers may very well lie within the document, but as is often the case in education, we are too quick to abandon the implementation of quality innovations when we hear of newly published research and/or approaches. If we stay the course and work our way through the implementation dip (Fullan, 2001), we may very well find that proficient media literacy teaching and learning is a key to critical thinking and student success.


Coffee that binds…

It isn’t every day that you come across a group of colleagues with whom you gel 24/7, but this year, I have had some defining moments of professional insight that have been spurred on by remarkably passionate and smart people inside AND outside my building. And when this happens, the potential for magic in teaching and thinking exists!

As I am sure was the case for many an Ontario educator, this week felt like one of the l-o-n-g-e-s-t so far this year for a wide variety of reasons. In my particular case, our progress reports went home this week on the same day that we hosted a dozen visiting P’s, VP’s, and SO’s as part of the province’s School Effective Framework (aka SEF) process. While we were ensured from the get-go that there was nothing extra to prepare or do, teachers being teachers, we all wanted to show our best work for our guests and have our students shine. Translation? Major extra stress during an already jam packed week which concluded with student-led conferences Thursday evening till 8 pm and Friday morning.

As the week went on, more and more teachers seemed to be getting sick too: raw throats, running noses, sleepless nights, and overall fatigue. Student behaviour referrals peaked in the office as well because we all know, just like with parenting, when teachers are stressed, kids sense it and act up! Staff morale seemed at an all time low Thursday to the point where I had to get a breath of fresh and I decided to go out for lunch. For that extra push to get through what would turn out to be a very long night (finally left at 8:30 pm), I picked up my signature grande latte, and treated two of my fellow coffee loving colleague to a Dopio Espresso and an Americano. Upon my return, I discovered they had skipped out for lunch themselves. A quick text message confirmed they were on their way back and would join me for coffee talk in the library (one of my favourite job-embedded professional development models) while they’d scarf back their impromptu sushi.

And as usual, this Thursday’s talk did not disappoint! When the three of us talk about the awesome lesson we had that day; how a particular student rocked our world with a piece of art they created; what’s broken in education; or an idea on how we can change the world, I swear I am teleported to another learning galaxy. This week I termed it as a “MOMENT” unlike any other. A moment when, spurred on by our overpriced hot Starbucks beverages, our passion for learning and our shared philosophy reached new heights and clarity all at the same time. I find myself so much more grateful than usual for the collegiality, professionalism, trust, and respect I have with these 2 fine educators, and I encourage you to read Kevin Sebastian’s and Jonathan Lewis’ (@j_lewie) excerpts in David Booth’s new book, Caught in the Middle, to know what I really mean.

Even though I am spent energy-wise this Friday night, I realize how much I treasure the moments when we really get to know the real person behind the grade level or subject; when I develop an appreciate of the full narrative that they each bring to my experience at school everyday. Deeper insight into the people I work and lead with provides me with clarity of the individual strengths, talents, and passions that can be leveraged/harnessed to mobilize positive social change in our school community and beyond…

We take long strides to get to know our learners, but how well do we really know those with whom we spend our working hours each day of the week? How many teachers’ passions and talents go untapped because no one ever asked or shared?

Hugs to fellow Ontario educators-we made it!


Transformative experience at ECOO11

It may be because of @snbeach and @willrich45 ‘s keynote address; or being surrounded f2f by tweeps with whom I have only ever dialogued online; or sitting beside REALLY smart people during the sessions I attended on Thursday; or chatting with @digitalnative post-conference in the lobby of the Sheraton hotel; or thinking about my digital footprint after hearing @royanlee and @zbpipe ‘s session. Basically, I am not sure how it is that I am finally entering the blogosphere, but here I am after what I am referring to was a trans-formative experience at the ECOO2011 conference October 20, 2011!

First off, I am most grateful to Todd Wright, Principal of Curriculum in the York Region DSB for supporting me to be away from my school last week as a member of the Literacy@School (L@S) [#litschool] leadership team to attend #ecoo11 for the day. Thank you Todd!

Walking into the keynote room Thursday morning, there were familiar faces everywhere! I was delighted to hear that @royanlee (fellow L@S team member) and @danikabarker (first time meeting f2f) wouldn’t mind sitting right up near the front, so we settled in and were soon joined by @shannoninottawa (first time meeting f2f), and @jeygenraam and David from York Region DSB. As all good 21st Century presenters do, Sheryl and Will leveraged the expertise and interests of the group by having us interact with one another in a Google doc (tres cool!). In no time at all, it became very evident that each of us brings different perspectives and value to the conversation, and working within this group dynamic was a great experience.

At one point, Sheryl commended Canadians on our collective know-how, experience, etc…, but then reminded us that we still have far to go in terms of sharing our know-how, experience, etc… with others. This stuck with me big time, and I got to thinking, unless I share all of my ideas, thoughts, solutions, how will anyone else ever benefit?

So, when we were prompted to create our personal professional #changegame tagline, mine came to me right away: I Am What I Share!

I had a chance to share this a-ha moment with  @snbeach in the vendor’s area at lunch and not only did she listen attentively, she challenged me with: “So what are you going to do about it?”

She’s right-how many times have you gone to a conference and left with a gazillion different ideas to use in your practice? Unfortunately though, the minute we walk through the school doors, that enthusiasm and momentum seems to go out the window.

Following my magical minute-long conversation with Sheryl, I thought, the onus is on ME to make the change I want to see. So…. during an impromptu chat in the lobby of the Sheraton with Colin (@digitalnative) and Royan (@royanlee) we charted the path for what might become our ‘sharing opportunity and venue’ about our learning journey regarding critical thinking and inquiry.

In a nutshell, one thing I have learned about leading change is that change is SOCIAL. So, before we can lead any change in the way teachers explicitly teach and assess critical thinking, we need to know the people who will be the change agents with us! This means taking time getting to know one another-and I mean REALLY getting to know what they are all about, their passions, what they know, where they have been, what they have seen/learned, what they can do. If people know that you really know them, and are aware of how THEY can EACH fit into the change equation, they will walk to the ends of the earth for you! I know I have done that for a number of amazing Principals and Superintendents in my time. Haven’t you?

Bottom line-out of mutual respect, comes committed and shared purpose… Please join us on Twitter Wednesday evenings from 7-8 pm EST for #CTchat to talk and learn about critical thinking.

Thank you #ecoo11 for all that you did last Thursday. You have NO idea how ‘changed’ I am as a result!