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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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In typical Twitter fashion the connections between education folks has Kevin Bacon’s six degrees beaten hands down. Lisa Parisi, Brian Aspinall and Doug Peterson lobbed the ball to me (among others) to complete this blog meme. Lee Kolbert‘s challenge connects many of us.
Be sure to read all the way to the end because you may have been tagged to do this on your own blog.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

11 Random Facts About Me

      1. I’m a Creative Writing and English Literature double major.
      2. I love French toast, cooking it, sharing it, eating it. (real maple syrup only.)
      3. Before becoming a vegetarian in 2004, I could put away 2 Big Macs, a 9 piece chicken nuggets, a large fry and a chocolate shake. Scary.
      4. I put myself through university as Marmalade, goofy side-kick and jester for Canadian children’s entertainer Beebo. I played instruments, sang and danced but mostly acted like a clown for cheap laughs and children’s smiles.
      5. I can moon walk and do the worm. I do the worm (on the front lawn) on the last day of school every year as the buses leave.
      6. The second album I ever purchased was Michael Jackson’s Thriller on cassette tape.
      7. A team of 4, including myself and my wife, created two of the first academic “hypertext” websites for the University of Windsor, English Department. Christina Rossetti, Romantics Writer was our subject. We had to code every line. Our prof. would only mark the work if it was printed and bound. That is hilarious!
      8. I married my high school sweetheart.
      9. I cannot do the Rubik’s cube. Not even one side.
      10. I share a birthday with my first Principal as a teacher. – Mrs Keillor.
      11. I’m qualified to drive a semi, fully rigged transport truck in case this principal thing doesn’t work out.

11 Answers to Lisa and Doug’s Questions (I mixed and mingled them)

1. My favourite quote is:

“For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.” ~ Carl Sagan From his fictional work entitled Contact. A piece of writing that inspires me to do my best as an educator is given to us by George Bernard Shaw:

“This is the true joy in life, that being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no “brief candle” for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”

2. Have you been to a concert?

A tonne of them. I am an Indie rock fan so my favorite spot is Magic Stick in Detroit. You can see great bands early in their career. The venue is small, the amps are loud. The building also houses The D’s oldest bowling alley downstairs.

3. Favourite book as a child:

In grade 5 Mrs. White read Robert C. O’Brien’s “Z for Zachariah “. I was captivated every day she read it and to this day it remains the only book I have read more than twice. I subsequently forgot to return it to the Maplewood school library and it is still in my possession to this day.

5. What movie do you think everyone should see and why?

I don’t answer should questions.

A movie that changed my perspective and ultimately changed my lifestyle is “The Cove”. I love documentaries. This one made the four of us weep (my kids included) As a family we do not purchase tuna and visit zoos or marine parks any more.

6. What is your favorite park?

My favourite park is “Big Hill Park” in Essex where I grew up. The kids named it that. The park is 3kms from my house with a man-made hill in the middle. I remember going down the hill on my bike for the first time when I was 8 years old. I took my son down the hill on his bike just this summer. The look on his face reminded me of the feeling I had. Exhilaration. Funny part…my home is taller than the hill.

7. What is the craziest thing you have ever done?

Most of those need to stay out of the print medium so my son doesn’t try them as a teenager. A double black diamond in Sunshine Valley, Maine was crazy. It was a natural run with trees and powder, like something out of a Warren Miller film. It was the closest I’ve ever come to actually flying. My brother-in-law bailed on his snow board and we thought he’d caused an avalanche. I have the whole event on video tape in my mind. It was awesome! Then there was the hike into the Tofino, old growth rainforest to the natural hot spring on my honeymoon to Vancouver Island. We started in at dusk. We didn’t have flashlights. My wife hits me in the arm to this day when I bring it up.

8. What are you better at than anyone else you know?

Easy, my hand written signature. I’ve been working on it for years.

I’ve been told in educational settings that at critical moments in meetings and conversations, both formal and informal, I use silence very well and know just the right questions to ask to keep the conversation critically productive. Critically productive does not mean comfortable. That being said. I’m self-aware that my biggest strength is also my double weakness.

9. If you were to know any language other than English what would it be?

Anishinabek / Ojibwe – I have a deep respect for First Nations people and culture. I would love to be able to speak the language and teach it to ensure it lives on. It is an honest and clear language. So far I understand that things are described in very natural terms, there is seemingly no hyperbole to distract the communicators from the truth.

10. What is the best picture you have taken?

My partner Tricia is the family photographer and my sister is a professional. For me though I got this one completely by accident last March break. I credit @jaxbeachteach for convincing me to stop off at Neptune Beach outside of Jacksonville, Florida on the way home.

zoeonbeach

11. What is your dream vacation?

This year I started a 4 over 5 with the intent to travel to 3 different continents during the year away from work. We have a family goal to write a book while away. We are busy narrowing down our list of 100 to 10 things we must see or do on the planet.

I nominate these great people to have fun with this activity: (If you don’t have a blog let this be your “About Page.”)

Jodie Nardone: @IteachELL
Zoe Cowper: @Zozibella
Shannon Hazel: @Shannonhazel73
Terri Barrette: @teach_terri
Connie Ellis Leclair: @ConnieEllis
Kelly Moore: @kellmoor
Chris Knight: @knightchris
Jenny Ashby: @jjash
Shelly Pike: @shelpike
Aviva Dunsiger: @avivaloca
James Shelly: @JamesShelley (my first twitter conversation ever)

Here are your 11 Questions:

1. What has been one of your most significant learning experiences?

2. Talk about something that, for you, reason can still not explain.

3. Rural living or big city life, why?

4. How did you get your name?

5. Name something you couldn’t live without.

6. If you were a professional wrestler what would your name be?

7. What are you pretending not to know?

8. If I dumped out your junk drawer what would I find?

9. What is a powerful lesson you learned from a parental figure?

10. Where were you on 9 / 11 / 2001?

11. If you could give all your time and wealth to a charity…who/what?

I need to mention this to Doug, Brian and Lisa…this blog post took me longer to format than the previous 80.

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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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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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iSEE through Learning: information Safety, Ethics and Etiquette through Learning

I am working with a number of teachers to support the integration of technology into a Project Based Learning environment. As the Principal time is of the essence. I have blocked out two periods a week to work with a group of 13 students in grades 5 and 6 to support their learning on ancient civilizations. We have a fundamental question: What civilization provided the best innovations that impact our current civilization. The teachers started by using the work of Garfield Gini-Newman on critical thinking.

Below I have included a letter to parents that I wrote in order to invite them to participate with their child.

Dear Parents and Guardians,

I am working closely with Mrs. Mundy, Mrs. Deters and Mrs. Chartier to help support your child’s learning in social studies, science and literacy. Specifically I am working on incorporating the use of web 2.0 tools to track, engage and record our learning.

What is web 2.0?

Web 2.0 is the term that is being used by educators all over the globe to describe the use of the internet to create content and place it in the public forum for use, manipulation and creation. In other words it is a creative process for showing your learning that others can use to show their learning.

Web 2.0 has a myriad of online applications that can be used to generate content creatively. Some examples of web 2.0 tools are:

Social Media Applications: Twitter, Facebook, texting
Content Creation Applications: Blogging, YouTube, AudioBoo
Networking Applications: Skype, Google+, email

It is my intention to work with your child on learning the important lessons of safety, ethics and etiquette in this ever changing learning environment. For example, our first lesson was: “If we wouldn’t say it in the classroom, we won’t say it on Web 2.0” There are many lessons and learning opportunities that will arise from our work in this environment. It is my intention to help protect our children by teaching them with the tools instead of assuming they are protected by banning the tools for learning.

If you don’t already please follow the many web 2.0 elements of school life at Eastwood. We have many blogs, a Facebook account, Twitter feeds, Audioboo account and Youtube Account. These accounts will connect to the work your child is doing and is a way for you to share in the learning. I am going to host a parent night in May so stay tuned.

I also included this poster, that hangs in all classrooms, to illustrate our work with students to understand the role that BYOD plays in our student learning.

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I had the great opportunity to work with a classroom teacher most recently.  Sure, you say, that is what Principals do.  This was different.  It was like undercover boss.  I co-planned and co-taught with the teacher.  This experience was different.  Together the teacher and I hurried through some plans to delivery a background knowledge lesson on Making Connections.  This was uncharted territory for both of us.  What the teacher expressed as intimidation I expressed as anxiety.  We were in this boat together!

The interesting piece here is the result.  Prior to working together the teacher, very honestly, articulated that she was quite intimidated by the thought that I was making qualitative judgements about her teaching along the way and that I may not respect her as a teacher when the lesson is through.  I expressed the very same fear and was able to recognize that it was our ego talking.  Post teaching the exact opposite was quite clear.  I, very honestly, articulated the exact opposite of her initial fear.  I respected and valued the work this teacher was doing 10 fold now that I had got into the trenches with her.  Her willingness to team with the Principal, her ability to voice concern, her ability to reflect and her acceptance of coaching along the way all worked together to strengthen my qualitative judgements of her abilities as a “Learn Maker”.

Something did come out of this for me.  I realized, with her help, that I ask a great deal of questions.  I have reflected on this much.  Many of my colleagues and teachers alike would suggest that was my job!  “You are supposed to ask the questions!  If you don’t who will?”  I can hear them say.  This idea has not helped me reflect on why I ask the questions.   Ah-Ha moment!  Instead a fellow teacher hearing our debrief after the day was through commented, “Sir, you ask questions like a Gatling Gun!”  We all laughed.  I reflected.  Do I ask questions to get them where I want them?  Do I ask questions to get them to think deeper?  Do I ask questions as a tacit effort to move them?  or…….Do I ask questions to allow them to find their own way.

Print Your Own Gatling Gun Colouring Page if you too are reflecting on your questioning technique!

I followed my experience up with a Skype call to a genius.  A member of my larger PLN is a facilitation leader and thought leader on Protocols and Critical Friends Groups.  I needed help.  I understand that just by virtue of exploring my questioning techniques and motives I am headed up the right path.  I have two resources that I can put into my “arsenal” to help me gain insight on my practise.  I have a protocol that I will use in a PLC setting with my instructional coach to help my learning become more public (Focus Point-School Reform Initiative) and The Pocket Guide to Probing Questions is a reference that I will use to guide my reflection on my “Gatling Gun” like questioning quality.

The experience was a rich one.  The follow-up plan for the student work and achievement has already begun with the teacher I worked with.  My continued work on providing teachers valuable feedback through a coaching stance is causing serious self-reflection about what school administrators can do to take the focus teacher instructional improvements for student achievement improvements to the next level.

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A member of my larger PLN, @couros, asked his greater following if he would be the only one reading a student’s new blog?  His tweeps responded.  I included this response (with some minor edits).

Hello Caitlyn,

actually no, Mr. Couros is not the only one that will read your blog.  As a matter of fact I presume a whole bunch of people read your blog. I am interested in what teacher candidates are learning and are capable of as that directly relates to what I do daily, lead a school in learning. I am a Principal in a school where it was a gentle “nudge” to get 100% of my teachers blogging.  It is a subtle expectation that our teachers become literate (at least) in the language that our clients (students) are speaking in these days. I have a letter I would like you to read from a blog that I attend sometimes. While to many it may seem harsh it is the reality of the learning environment these days. As a Principal I make it my mandate to support teachers in learning. Whether that is technology learning or learning about their students or whatever, we must practise what we preach…we must first be learners.  Blogs are great ways to illustrate your learning, be reflective about your craft and invite others into your conversation and your classroom. I learned something when I read your blog. You should not stop your blog. You should track and record your learning. If you sit across a table from me hoping to get hired as a teacher I will definitely ask you for your “digital citizenship card.” With this card comes great responsibility. I will have already looked you up on the “internet” and probably know a lot more about you than you think. There are many of us that are not savvy yet and may not ask you these questions or know about your digital footprint. Are you willing to gamble?

Anyway…read this letter ( http://teachpaperless.blogspot.com/2009/08/letter-to-teachers-of-my-children.html ) and then Blog about the thinking that was going on in your head when you read it. I look forward to your response.

I am available at cowpernicus.wordpress.com if you are interested in my “transparent learning.” You can view my teachers’ blogs from eastwoodeagles.wordpress.com. Keep in mind we are all at different stages of learning of course and support is key.

Good luck with Mr. Couros.

Caitlyn’s Response can be found @ http://caitlynbartlett.wordpress.com/

Keep up the good work Caitlyn.

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