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Principal @PrincipalONeil, Principal @KerryGreenDuren and I presented at Connect 2016 in Niagara Falls on April 28, 2016.  Our session was well attended and the feedback was flattering.  We decided to keep working on our approach to school announcements and then brought our learning work to the TELL Conference in August. TELL is an OPC sponsored event titled: Technology Enabled Learning Leaders. Here is the updated slidedeck.

“These are your Morning Announcements: Sharing School News has Changed!”

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Eastwood Eagles

The most important thing is to be kind.

Dear Parents, Students and Eastwood Community Members

It is with profound happiness that I address you this last time as your Principal in saying thank you from the bottom of my heart for 6 years of absolute joy working as your school’s lead learner.  As you may have heard I have been asked to move on to support the learning and work of another great community in Kingsville at Kingsville Public School.  I am happy to announce Principal Nick Arundine (Ah-run-din-ay) as Eastwood School’s newest Eagle.  Principal Arundine is ecstatic to join the team!

 I have always asked our teachers and students to embrace change and view each change as an opportunity to grow and learn.   I will model that philosophy by using the skills I have honed here and the strength taught to me by Eastwood students in making a successful and enthusiastic transition to my new school.  I will take with me the fond and everlasting memories of students at Eastwood School.

Eastwood has been my home for 6 academic years.  I have raised my own children through my time here.  We have added a family member from the very student population at Eastwood.  The parents and teachers in the Eastwood community have helped shape my parenting and my life.  The students of Eastwood have trusted me to help cultivate a positive vision of their futures.  I am eternally grateful for the trust given to me to work with every child and every adult in an effort to bring a vision of a great and successful future to our community and to each individual.

We made kindness the most important part of being an Eagle.  We walked together on the sweet grass road and reminded and helped each other when we fell or forgot.  We were always there for each other, apologizing, picking each other up, supporting and listening to our understandings.  I witnessed incredible acts of kindness and courage at Eastwood and was inspired daily by our children and our leaders.  Often our children were our leaders.  Their voices and thoughts brought honesty and integrity to our work.

In the time that I spent at Eastwood school I always did my best.  I stepped up to challenges and made decisions based on the needs of our students.  I relied on the experiences and observations of our great teachers and our parents.  It is in working collaboratively, reflecting and dialoguing with each of you that we were able to make great things happen for kids.  Our work together was not without failures, mistakes and missteps.  These were essential to our learning together.  One might say that if we weren’t making mistakes we just weren’t trying hard enough!

Eastwood is a safe and kind school.  It is this way because of you.  Every member of the Eastwood family contributed to its greatness and will continue to shape its future and define its culture.  I am a better man, principal, parent and human because of my time at Eastwood among the Eagles.

I wish all of you the best in life.  I am only a tweet away!  Follow my learning and let me know about yours.

Wake up each day be your best self and remember that it is a great day to be kind.

My Sincere Thanks,

Mr. Cowper

James

@Cowpernicus

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I am sure Mrs. Renaud would have stumbled upon Twitter on her own in short time.  In fact I am pretty sure she had an account and maybe just wasn’t using it yet.  I am not going to take credit where it is not due, ie. it was not I that made her “Tweet”.  After all she is correct in saying that it “is fast becoming an indispensable tool in the world of education.”  So as the Eastwood Parent Involvement Committee Chair person I expected her, sooner or later, to engage with the various accounts that our school had to offer.  Why then aren’t all parents grabbing this same opportunity, this chance, to keep their ears on the tracks and their eyes on the horizon while their children fly by on the high velocity train we are calling the education system today.  That is to say that many schools are catching that train.  Others may be slow off the platform while still others are sitting at the station waiting for the bus.  Nevertheless, the realm of social media and content creation in my context is a realm of learning, connecting, creating and collaborating for all learners.

This image, pulled from twitter just this evening in fact, states a powerful message about harnessing the power inherent in the technology of today.  Try inserting Parents or Principals in place of Teachers!

Author Unknown

Author Unknown: If you know of the origin please comment so I can verify and attribute please.

It wasn’t long into the school year that Mrs. Renaud began recognizing the power of the twitter-verse.  She soon started sending tweets about her learning as a parent.  Her son and his classmates interacted with her.  She shared these experiences with other parents.  Shortly after that Stephanie discovered #ptchat (parent/teacher chat).  She attended EdCampSWO on April 6, 2014 and now is looking to start her own twitter groups to help other parents learn alongside their children.  Below is a culmination of all these experiences in the form of an article that she wrote for a regional publication highlighting the power that social media, specifically twitter, can have on the relationships between parents, students and school. Please read this guest post by Mrs. Renaud and then feel free to send her a tweet and let her know what great work she is doing as a learning parent!

It’s Sweet To Tweet! A Guide to Twitter for Parents

by: Stephanie Renaud (@yoga_junkie) Eastwood (@EastwoodEagles) Parent Involvement Committee (@EastwoodPIC) Chair

Twitter is fast becoming an indispensable tool in the world of education.  Schools and their teachers are jumping on the bandwagon by the dozen.

If you are not a Twitter user already, I am sure you have heard of it.  It is very simple to create an account.  All you need is an email address.  You are in complete control of what you follow, so it is easy to customize your feed to your interests and likes, much like Facebook.  A quick search of the Greater Essex County District School Board site reveals that many, if not most schools have an account that you can follow, as well as individual teachers, classes, school organizations and administrators.

I contend that, as parents, we would be well placed to be jumping on the band wagon as well.  Here’s why.

Reasons why is it sweet to tweet as a parent.

#1 Connect with other parents.

Community is a powerful thing.  In a time when so many of us are part of dual parent working families, we barely have time to kiss our kids goodnight when we tuck them in, to say nothing of building relationships within our community.  Yet these connections are what makes life meaningful.  These connections help us to understand that we are not alone, that there are others out there who have the same joys and struggles we do.  In the same way that Facebook allows us to efficiently and conveniently connect with our friends and loved ones about our lives, twitter can help us connect to our children, our community and our schools in convenient, manageable ways.

#2 Up to the moment info on what your kid is doing at school.

How many of us ask our kids what they did at school today?  I am willing to wager all of us.  How often is the answer “oh, nothing.”  Ugh! I am trying to be interested here! Twitter offers you the opportunity to be tuned in to what your kids are doing on a day-to-day basis so you can ask questions that are much more specific.  The more specific you are, the more interested you sound, and the more likely you are to get a meaningful response.  When our kids feel like we are interested in their learning, their learning becomes just that much more engaging for them.  Who knows? We might just learn something new ourselves.

#3 Tweeting saves trees.

How much paper comes home in your kids’ school bags?  If they are anything like mine, it’s at least a small forest per week.  In an effort to reduce the paper waste in schools, many of them post updates and information on Twitter. Trouble is, not enough parents are active on the interface to substantially reduce the need for paper communication.  Become active, it can reduce waste.

#4 A place to ask questions and get answers from people who know.

As parents with children in school we often have questions and concerns about what happens at school with our kids.  Tweeting these questions and concerns allows us the opportunity to connect not only with other parents who may be wondering the same thing, but also with professionals both in our school community and in the larger global community who can give us answers, feedback and next steps.  Without leaving our kitchen table.

#5 A safe place to air general concerns and share ideas.

Who has time to go another meeting? So often our concerns and ideas are shelved due to sheer lack of time to set the meeting, to address or share them.  Let alone attend that meeting and be present enough to make it meaningful.  Tweet it.  Instantly your concern is communicated to the relevant people, be it your administrator, your child’s classroom teacher or the parent involvement committee for your school or region.   To make it even better? The responses are delivered right to your mobile device, be it iPhone, iPad or laptop.  Did  you have an idea to share? A new way to approach a problem that you see with how your school operates? Tweet it! Ideas are powerful things, and are better when shared.

#6 Does your child have special needs? Reach out to others who walk the same path.

With the rise of ADHD, autism and other developmental and behavioural diagnosis in children it has become more important than ever that we connect with other parents who do the same job we do.  Sharing ideas, questions, and struggles is a great way to help our own parenting strategies evolve and improve.  As a special needs parent, the more tools I have, the more effective I can be.

#7 Great way to stayed connected as a working parent

Let’s face it, we are all way too busy.   Being more involved in our children’s education is something many, if not most of us want to do that we just feel we don’t have the time for.  The emergence of social media as a tool makes being involved as easy as checking your twitter feed.  It only takes a few minutes, and instantly you are more informed, more involved.  Like my mom always told me, knowledge is power.

#8  Knowledge is power.

The more information we have as parents about how and what our children are learning, the more we can support and extend the learning beyond the classroom.  Research is clear on this point.  The more education is extended beyond the four walls of the classroom, the more meaningful and long-lasting  it becomes.  How powerful is that?

As parents of increasingly technologically capable young people it behooves us to join the digital movement.  With awareness and involvement in the digital world we have the ability to guide and safeguard our children in the new digital frontier, and join with our schools in facilitating the development of our students as global citizens with media savvy.

Every school in the #GECDSB has a website.  I encourage you to look up your schools website where they will no doubt have multiple twitter accounts listed.

If you are still not feeling too confident that you can set up your own account and get tweeting, check out these links which lead you to some nice, simple How-To guides to get you started.

http://www.digitaltrends.com/social-media/how-to-use-twitter/#!DDUXH

http://mainframereview.com/how-to-twitter-for-dummies/

Tweet, engage, empower.  It’s that simple.

 Special thanks for this post goes to Stephanie Renaud, Eastwood Parent Involvement Committee Chair

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Experiment!  I just mailed in cheek swabs from Hawksley!

What breeds make up this handsome young man?

Image

Please post your replies on twitter or comment below.

In 10 days DNAmydog.com will send back all the pertinent information for me to understand the breeds that make up Hawksley’s genome.  Will the information be beneficial to me helping him stop barking at everything that rolls? (car tires, kids on bikes, skateboards and roller blades)  Will the test help me in learning why he likes glossy magazines instead of his expensive chew toys?  Will the test final put to rest the debate in the Cowper House: Lab or Boxer?

Stay tuned to find out!

Image

 

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Friday’s I have decided to encourage others to engage in the reflective practise of blogging followed by my sharing of their work here at The Principaled Life.  Today I am honoured to include teacher voice on my blog.  That of Jodie Nardone.  Mrs. Nardone teaches and learns at Eastwood Public School.  She works with ELL students and students that access the Special Education Resource Room.  Mrs. Nardone has used class blogs for some time.  She is an active Ontario Educator on Twitter.  Most recently I challenged her to use her blog as a reflective practise tool.  The result of our Skype calls is the rejuvenation of her professional blog.  She shared this initial story with me as she most recently chaperoned her students, along with her teaching partner Mrs. Silvestri, to the Windsor Mission.  This trip was the result of her students digging deep to truly understand the need and process that our most vulnerable citizens go through for the basic necessities of life.  Enjoy.

Mission Inquiry by:  Jodie Nardone

I am pretty confident with the why and the what about Inquiry. I’ve been struggling a bit with the how, particularly how it looks in my SERR (Special Education Resource Room) classroom. Until recently, and quite by accident.

In keeping with the spirit of the season and at the same time respecting the many cultures in our building, my teaching partner @SilvestriESL and I decided to decorate our school Christmas tree.  It sat bare, save for a few strings of lights, at the main entrance of the school.  We would decorate it with mittens and scarves to donate to people in need in our inner-city.  We would call it the “Tree of Warmth”.  It became a provocation for inquiry.  Each day more items were added to the tree by the kind staff and students of our school.  My students began to ask questions.  Questions about why we are collecting these items.  Questions about what we were going to do with all of the items the students and staff had collected. This prompted us to do some research and watch some videos. Together we decided it would be a good idea to deliver the donations as a class to the local Downtown Mission and get a first hand look at the impact their kindness has on our own community.

Tree of Warmth

We packed up all the items that had been collected, hopped in the cars and headed to the Downtown Mission where they welcomed us with warmth (despite the fact that their furnace had broken that morning).

The Windsor Mission

The Students were given a tour of the building by MaryJo, the Community Outreach Coordinator, with an explanation of what happens there. When asked at the start of the tour what was special about Eastwood school, in typical Eastwood fashion, students responded with answers like “because at Eastwood we are kind”, and “people there are respectful to others”.  Our visit to the Downtown Mission has since inspired our class to do more and thus began individual student inquiries.  The students learned that the food items needed most are proteins like tuna and peanut butter as well as boxes of cereal.  They brought that data back to the school and used it to create what they called a ‘7 Day Cereal Challenge’.   They were on their own ‘mission’.  With minimal direction from teachers they researched more information about the Mission on their iPads, prepared a presentation to share with all classes in the school, designed and hung posters, wrote and read announcements, and created videos using iMovie on the iPad to advertise their challenge.   Students who are not easily motivated were engaged and students who ‘don’t write’ suddenly had a purpose.   Ali was inspired. He wrote, practised and delivered morning announcements to motivate his student colleagues to take part in the challenge.  Each morning they are collecting, tallying and graphing the total donations coming in.  This is just the beginning for us.  Our intent was to collect and donate hats and mittens to the Mission.  It sparked more.  While not a traditional inquiry, it certainly lead me to understand how student ownership of the learning increases engagement and the moral purpose of education.  Where will my students go next with investigations around poverty in Canada?

Please listen to MaryJo describe the Foodbank and the personal care room.MaryJo in the Food Bank

 Please consider following Jodie this #FollowFriday at @iteachELL .  Her newest Blogging venture can be followed and read at mrsnardone.wordpress.com

@iteachELL

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Cross-Post Thursday!

Today’s Blog post is a cross-post shared by Doug Peterson of Off the Record.   The interview took me some time so cheating here and using it in my 21 day event made sense.  I’ve had the honour of knowing Doug for some time.  Since I came on to teaching  actually.  He has been influential to so many educators by turning them on to some new tool that invoked critical thought or creativity in students.  Want to know what is going on in innovative Ontario classrooms?  Follow Off the Record.  You will be in the know.

An Interview with James Cowper

Posted on October 22, 2013 by @dougpete

I’ve had the pleasure to work with James Cowper in a couple of schools where he has served the Greater Essex County District School Board as an administrator.  He’s a supporter of teachers, as you would expect from an administrator, but he also “walks the walk” when it comes to using technology in education.  Recently, we met for a coffee to chat and solve all of the world’s problems and that served as a launchpad for this interview.

Doug:  Thanks, James, for sharing your thoughts via this blog post.

James:  No problem Doug.  I am happy to talk and listen with you.  I am quite flattered that you wanted to hear my thoughts and stories of days in the schoolhouse working with learners of all ages!  I appreciate it.  Thanks.

Doug:  I recall our first encounters with technology – it seems so long ago that you were involved in a technology project when you were at Mill Street Public School in Leamington.  What did you learn from working with students at Mill Street?

James:  I learned that kids are kids everywhere you go.  I came in on the front end of an ICT project in which recycled computers along with millions of meters of RJ45 (EthernetPicture1 cable) were deployed to a 350 pupil K-8 school.  The computers had competent capabilities and the staff and students were anxious to use them.  What I learned about kids and computers was that it is the creativity that we must exercise with the tools of the trade.  Using the computers, funny I don’t even call them that anymore, to drill and kill or surf and turf is just not the ticket.  Kids need to create, collaborate and communicate with the technology.  I learned an awful lot about what not to do with technology funny enough.  Of course we were doing the best that we could do at the time.  PL around the high-end use of the devices was not structured or supported in a way that would lead to critical use of the tools.  I learned that you couldn’t fool kids.  Saying that computers engage kids and then using them as word processors, encyclopedias and digital worksheets only lasts so long.  If you do this for too long the kids will video you teaching the class, put it to music, morph Albert Einstein’s head onto your body and post the video for all their tweeps to see.  Seriously.  It is not the computers or the iPads that “engage” kids.  It is the access to the world, the creative quotient and the ease of collaboration that engages them.  Those things are not done with a device, a computer alone.  They must be married to the facilitation and supervision of a learning teacher.

Doug:  Since that time, you have been promoted to Principal at Eastwood Public School in Windsor.  During our coffee, you indicated that you’ve been there for five years now.  So, a question – if someone is making their first trip to Eastwood – what would they see that would invoke the understanding that this school really has its act together with respect to Technology?

Picture3James:  Well, we don’t have hover boards and wear silver suits yet.  Kids are not glued to screens with robotic teachers.  Books and board games is still the best part of the day at first nutrition break so I am not sure you would really be able to see a difference.  I apologize for my sarcasm.  I mean no offence.  Really.  If you had asked me what school would look like in the year 2013 when I was in grade 5 I would have said flying in cars and learning from robots!   (I think Ms. McTavish assigned that project!) You can feel a difference at Eastwood School.  At least that is what almost every visitor has said to me at one point or another.  What you can feel is a calm energy that comes when we are all functioning at very close wavelengths.  Kids are working at learning and teachers are learning while working.  It is symbiotic.  The technology that is incorporated into the day and the learning is organic.  Getting an iPad is not a monumental event.  Students do not run full tilt to the power cart.  It sits open and students get them when they need them.  There are no more labs.  We do not covet our tools in closets or the Principal’s office to gather dust.  I would say that the novelty of the device is gone.  What is left is a new type of pen and pencil.  Kids view them as tools to do the business of learning.  It is not the device that has made the difference at Eastwood it is the inherent connectivity that has.  The device without Wi-Fi access would be like having a Porsche without tires.  You can enjoy the look and the rev of that awesome engine you just couldn’t go anywhere.  Kids do walk around with devices.  We have BYOD norms.  Before you even walked in the door you would recognize we have a pretty substantial online presence.  Short of that we have a staff that continue to learn and grow in the area of tech. utilization, integration and content creation.  We are as careful as we can be with regards to where and how we spend our limited budget dollars.  We also are always looking for innovative ways to build community partnerships.  Two years ago we were awarded a reading grant, the first in the district, and we gained the opportunity to spend eighty thousand dollars on learning resources.  So as a school that has its act together I would say that we have found the reasonable and appropriate place to infuse technological tools to enhance our learning.  I would say that we have been responsible digital citizens.  I would also say we’ve lots to learn and much work to do.

Thanks Doug for allowing me to share here.  If you wish to read the interview in its entirety please follow the links to Off the Record.

Tomorrow’s post–Hey Principals!  Are Those Teachers on Twitter?

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So you have a plan to unveil a school blog page for the start of this academic season. . .

The Eastwood School Blog

Now your question might be:  What is the best way to inform our families that it will be our primary communication portal?

Well, here are a number of strategies you could employ:

  1. Word of Mouth.  Have a few contests where the kids login and answer some questions in the mornings.  The info they need to answer can only come from the blog.  Better yet, have them leave their answers on the blog as a comment and award a few winners each morning for a couple of weeks.  This will wear off eventually so be careful with the carrot at the end of this stick.  You want the reward to attract them to the blog and once there the information has to be rich in order for your visitors (parents and students) to want to come back.
  2. Get a digital club together and make sure the kids are talking the talk.  Have them adorn the hallways with posters.  Make sure there is a Digital Club blog to go with the school blog so that kids are attracted to the work of their counterparts.  Make sure you are embedding Dig. Cit. into your days as someone will test the boundaries and make some faux pas.  That is okay.  It is all about the learning.  Careful…don’t want to scare them away with punishment, on the contrary you want to attract them with learning.
  3. A Facebook and Twitter account with a brand page or school page helps and be sure to link both to your blog.  Facebook will get your blog in parent circles the fastest.
  4. Decide on a strategy ahead of time for dealing with comments.  Moderating comments maybe the best way to go in the interest of preserving everyone’s Digital Footprint.  Better to have a moderated comment to talk with a student about rather than a public one.  After a meaty discussion on Dig. Cit. allow the student to then make the decision about whether the comment need be public or edited.  Interpretation learning is always so rich.  When students and parents see their comments they are empowered to join the conversation.
  5. Use the school sign to advertise the blog address all year!  Order a large banner from the school photographer if you don’t have access to a school sign.  They offer these for free with your yearly contract.
  6. Send a newsletter until January and advertise the blog in every issue on the front.  Let the community know the timelines.
  7. Give the Whys of the Blog: eco-friendly, fiscally responsible, up-to-the-minute, always available, more interactive, read/write, etc.
  8. Keep your posts up to date.  The longer they are stagnant the more readers you lose.  Keep your posts short and tidy.
  9. Don’t be afraid to move beyond information items and include some important stuff on the blog with decisions to be made.  Increase the value of the visit.
  10. Add pictures to all of your posts.  Make sure all consents are up to date and signed! Call parents when you are showcasing or naming a student.  This double redundancy is so appreciated by parents and puts safety and courtesy first.  Adding the Flickr widget is a great help especially when combined with the iPhone app!
  11. Add polls to some of your posts.  Let the community vote on some items.
  12. Add video to some of your posts.  Keep them short and to the point.  (My first couple “From Mr. Cowper’s Desk” were dreadful!  Too long and wordy.)–you need a safe YouTube channel to do this right.
  13. Allow students to contribute writing to the blog.  This increases your word of mouth traffic.
  14. Enable the Post from Email function.  This allows you to update from anywhere with no app required.  Make sure parents can subscribe to the blog via email.
  15. Install the WordPress App on your iPhone.  This way you can quickly and quietly fix spelling errors or delete posts.
  16. Put the blog address everywhere.  Let the community know that this is where the stuff is and if they aren’t reading it they are missing out……not in these words of course…you get the point.
  17. Use tags!  This will help your readers find the blog when they lose the address.  They will lose the address.  Make sure the blog has the school name in the address and make sure you tag with the school name each time.
  18. Change the phone message and have the message state the blog address for the most recent and up to date information and “goings-ons”
  19. Think Multimedia: video, pics and audio.  Audioboo is another great little iPhone app that lets you add real-time conversations and audio from around the school with three clicks!
  20. Add a Clustr-Map widget to the blog to track visitors.
  21. Get the staff Blogging!  The more familiar it is to all stakeholders the more it will “stake a hold!”

I hope these ideas help you increase your communication level with your school community.  Enjoy the analytics that WordPress offers.  This will help you track the most interesting posts and the times that your blog is used the most.

Happy school blogging in 2012-2013 everyone!

If you have other ways that you have increased the school blog use please comment!

Thanks.

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