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Archive for July, 2012

When meeting as a Critical Friends Group (CFG)  it is essential to surface assumptions. Assumptions about the work, about each other. Assumptions about learning and the learners. Last July in Alpharetta, GA we started our 5 day institute experience by exploring our working assumptions for the following days.

  1. Our work products are better when we collaborate.
  2. Protocols offer equity in voice as well as efficiency.
  3. All 3 jobs: participant, presenter and facilitator require practise in order to improve.
  4. Creating and sustaining collaborative cultures is rigorous and intentional

At times when dialogue is stunted or a group is stuck it may be entirely necessary to voice your assumption in order to move beyond a hump. When it is time for the facilitator to allow time for Q and A it is important to understand that Q and A stands for Questions and Assumptions. If we had the answers we wouldn’t have the questions.  Coming together “beyond the place of right and wrong” makes for rich and fertile learning ground.  Rumi continued “there is a field, meet me there.”  At the heart of the CFG is equity of learning for presenter, facilitator and participant in a place where we can see things together.

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We are all unique, but we are not alone. I can see things you can not see and you can see things i can not. We must try to see what is there together. M. Holquist

This poster was hanging in the space that we were using in the media centre of Alpharetta High School.  Apropos of our CFG work I thought.  You?

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How many times have you heard “Research shows that…”

I saw my first “Back to School” commercial yesterday (July 26) and the How Soon is Too Soon question popped in my mind. Here in SWOntario we don’t start school until September 4th. I digress.

This ad claims that “laboratory tests, over the last few years,” have shown that babies fit in better during those awkward pre-teen and teen years after drinking cola.

Hmmmm…..my math isn’t that bad.

Be careful when you quote, listen to, claim and read research that might strengthen your point. Read critically, question, seek further resources and by golly make sure the math adds up. When it does it makes a world of difference. When the math doesn’t add up we lose the trust we are building in the public education system. As Douglas Reeves says “It makes us all look bad.”

Do you still:

  • have spelling tests?
  • “do” calendar?
  • work in isolation?
  • say “they mark too easy” when referring to colleagues whose students excel?
  • give a student a grade a week later, a month later, never?
  • think a grade is feedback?
  • ban handheld devices in your classroom?
  • show movies on the SmartBoard?
  • believe social media is a fad?
  • believe the best learning environment is a quiet one?
  • demand (parents) or give worksheets (plural) for homework?
  • say “respect must be earned?”
  • use the sentence “the problem with kids these days…”
  • blame the teacher, the administrator, the parents, the students, the school district or rock and roll music…etc.

Now, do you know what the research says about these practises? Does it align with your thinking or challenge your thinking?

It is time to learn something new. Step out of the comfort zone and into the learning zone, the risk zone. Take a learning stance. Find new research. Heck, develop your own research out of an inquiry.

This school year, abandon a practise that you are hearing questioned more and more. Replace it with something new, something different, something from a colleague or even “scarier” a colleague’s blog! Something that makes the kids say…”What has gotten into Mr. Cowper?!? This guy wants us to Tweet our learning? OMG He has changed! He is CRAZEE!”

Yup…there it is. The magic word. Change. Do you believe they used to allow ads like the one above in magazines? They also used to smoke on airplanes, have back seats, with no seatbelts, the size of Montana, give children bottles of ink and a fountain pen? My gosh…the Principal used to use a strap to teach learnin’!

“They” is actually we. We have segregated our schools, isolated our most vulnerable students away from schools, assimilated the culture out of our students and myriads of other draconian practises that kept us from being true learning institutions. Institutions with a culture where the most important learning was about ourselves, about our interconnectedness with the earth with each other (our kids) and about learning.

This year connect. Research shows that, good or bad, the greatest and most impactful aspect of a student’s life (no matter the grade) is their teacher. Connect with them. Learn with them. Know them.

And have fun doing it. (I know Ms Rotundi, I am never supposed to start a sentence, let alone a paragraph, with a grammatical conjunction.)

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Below is an exerpt from the School Reform Initiative’s website which defines a Critical Friends Group. This is the institute I attended in Alpharetta, GA in July 2012 lead by Dr. Thomas VanSoelen (@tvansoelen). I attended with the professional learning intention of building my facilitation skills. I left understanding that I had done so through exercising and practising my participant skills.

CFG builds the learning capacity of the group by engaging members in significant work in an environment that supports risk taking. To make it more likely that learning in CFG will build the group’s capacity for transformational learning, several key elements are essential.

  • Groups are voluntary and sustained. A critical friends group is made up of a group of six to ten educators who meet regularly, perhaps every four to six weeks, over a sustained period of time. Membership is often voluntary. Voluntary participation helps to increase the likelihood that the members are committed to taking on risky and challenging work and staying engaged over time. Similarly, CFGs continue to work together beyond the completion of a particular time cycle such as a semester or school year.
  • A skilled and experienced facilitator or coach supports the group. The coach, who frequently is a member of the group who has participated in professional development to develop the skills, strategies, knowledge, and dispositions to facilitate the group’s learning.
  • Groups use protocols to build their capacity for learning. The disciplined use of protocols or agreed upon processes and structures helps the CFG build its capacity for learning. Protocols help sustain a steadfast focus on teaching and learning. And, they offer the structure that allows a group to deprivatize their practice and explore the most difficult and challenging issues of insuring that students experience educational excellence.

Since I have returned I have officially started a CFG. 11 amazing administrators volunteering their time, trust and academic energy to learning and leadership reflection.

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Presenter Check-In (Fish Bowl) following Issaquah Protocol by Dr. Thomas VanSoelen

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Golfing with me Da made it to my heart list in Atlanta. I am very fortunate.

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I have begun, stopped and started again on a training regime in preparation for the Detroit Free Press Marathon on October 21st, 2012.  Along the way I will be running with some new collaborators in Algonquin Park this August as we begin #UnPlugd12.  I am excited, tired and anxious to see my goal through. 

To me this whole marathon thing is such a great metaphor for the work that goes into moving our schools forward.   The steps in training is where the real work is done.  Each run is different in length, intensity, speed etc.  Each run is just another attempt at building resilience, strength and stamina.   Each run is practise and preparation and each run is recorded, diagnosed and tracked.  The intent?  To set pace and prepare the body for the event.

Here is the catch.  It is completely an individual experience.  You are only racing for yourself and only against a time standard that you set.  The metaphor for me is strengthened in that I set my growth plan, act on it, move forward on it with critical friendships and make sure I am looking at multiple angles for evidence of growth, stagnation or need for refinement.

I will run tomorrow, I will run tomorrow, I will run tomorrow.  My mantra.  I am not procrastinating.  Au contraire.  I am making a commitment, living up and building trust, in myself.

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What is EdCampSWO?

Are you attending EdCampSWO on October 13th, 2012 at the University of Windsor, Faculty of Education?

EdCamp South Western Ontario wants you to come and ask questions, offer resolutions and learn!

If so and you want to know more or see exactly what you are getting into check out this video of EdcampTO (Toronto).

Stay in Touch with EdCampSWO News at:

Twitter: @EdCampSWO

Blog: EdCampSWO.com

Wiki: edcamp.wikikspaces.com

Registration: edcampswo.eventbrite.ca

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During my 4 day institute on Critical Friends Groups in Alpharetta, Georgia we continually referred to our “gingerbread man”.  On day one we started our “Opening Moves” with the construction of gingerbread men that carried a number of our notions, perspectives, thoughts into our intense 4 days of learning work.  Each area on the cardboard cut out represented thoughts that we had.

  1. The head was a place to write things that are annoyances to us or things that “drove us crazy.” 
  2. The chest or heart was a place to locate those things that you loved. 
  3. The stomach area was for things that gave you indigestion.
  4. The hands were a place to indicate something you endeavoured to let go of during the institute and something you brought to the table.
  5. Each leg represented a place to write a reason you came to the institute and something you hope to take away with you.

During each day of the institute participants took their “gingy” in hand and reported out about one of the items on the surface.

On day one I shared that “something I love as a father is the noises Gavin makes (all be them rude sometimes) when he is really enjoying food that I prepare for him, especially when I cook him homemade tomato sauce for his penne.

Out of that sharing came this audioboo when I returned home and made Gav a tomato sandwich:

[gigya src=”http://boos.audioboo.fm/swf/fullsize_player.swf” flashvars=”mp3=http%3A%2F%2Faudioboo.fm%2Fboos%2F884642-the-noises-gavin-makes-when-he-likes-my-food.mp3%3Fsource%3Dwordpress&mp3Author=Cowpernicus&mp3LinkURL=http%3A%2F%2Faudioboo.fm%2Fboos%2F884642-the-noises-gavin-makes-when-he-likes-my-food&mp3Time=03.46pm+14+Jul+2012&mp3Title=The+noises+Gavin+makes+when+he+likes+my+food.” width=”400″ height=”160″ allowFullScreen=”true” wmode=”transparent”]

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