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Archive for the ‘moral purpose’ Category

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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There are a myriad of excuses that follow this string of sentences:  “I am not great at getting into classrooms.   I want to be better at it.  I know it is important.  I know what a difference it makes.

  • It is just too busy at the office.
  • Turning away an angry parent just is not good.
  • If I didn’t have to deal with discipline I could get into rooms more.
  • I teach 75% of the time.
  • Instructional leadership isn’t in my portfolio.
  • I don’t know what to do when I am there.
  • I don’t want to interrupt the learning.  When I go in everything stops!
  • There is just too much paperwork and email to deal with.
  • My staff is not ready for this.”
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The VP and I are committed to being part of the fabric of learning.

Not all school administrators share this gripe.  Not all share the excuses either.  Anymore.  Whether you are put off by me calling them excuses or not may say a little about whether your problem lies in logistics or plain old primal fear.  Fear of what you ask?  I suggest the thing that humans fear the most: not belonging.  In this case by invoking conflict or confrontation with the ones that you spend the majority of your time with each day and happen to be leading, the educators in the building.

What do I understand to be logistics issues?  For the most part I understand logistics issues to be one of two things:  Complaints about the uncontrollable or misaligned priorities.   I am obviously simplifying here.  This is a blog post after all and not a book.  Here are some:

What do I understand to be fear issues?  The issue I have heard discussed by colleagues and taken great interest in is the fear of the conversation with a staff member whose classroom you have visited (or not).  This is different from a “difficult conversation” as it is a continual process and not a moment in time.  Some fears may be:

  • How to give feedback.
  • Hurting their “feelings” versus “It is their job”.
  • Ego concerns (yours and theirs).
  • Avoiding an issue for too long.
  • Resting on “they will never change”.
  • Thinking that the conversation will become a snowball of toxicity and thus need be avoided.
  • Having your good intentions be misconstrued.
  • Not having the right language for the dialogue.
  • It is going to be really hard work.
  • What are you pretending not to know?

I ask this question:  If you deem your issue a logistical one and respond by doing some combination of the following:

holding all your calls, telling the office to talk to the Child and Youth Worker if there is an “issue”, telling the secretary that you are not to be disturbed while you are “visiting” Mr. Cowper’s grade 5 classroom, taking an innovative checklist on a clipboard with you etc.

–Have you heightened the anxiety for yourself and those around you or have you increased the likelihood of a successful classroom visit?  I contend the former.  Can you imagine the talk in the school when the world finds out that the Principal put his entire day on hold to visit your classroom?  What started out with your good intentions has now become a fear issue.  Just wait till you get so busy you can’t do this (in your own mind) and you stop the visits.  How do the teachers feel now that got a visit?  What about the ones that didn’t?  I am wondering if you are picking up what I am laying down.  They are all fear issues.  Logistics issues are simply masking your human need to belong to a group.  Sure, sound tough.  Say it out loud:  “I don’t care if they like me or not . . .”  Yes you do.  Saying it doesn’t make it true.  Do not confuse being liked and being respected.  Visiting classrooms and discussing learning does not have to be an event that ends in your acceptance or isolation.  It can simply be the leader you are and the way you lead.  Watch an episode of Undercover Boss.  The CEO usually says something along the lines of “I had no idea . . .”  Why wait to be undercover?  What are you waiting for?

What can we do about it?

As a group of instructional leaders, leaders being compensated to use our emotional intelligence and positional authority through pressure and support, it is our obligation to stop using some variation of the “I need to get better at getting into classrooms” and replace it with a something new, something intentional.

“I love getting into classrooms and have made it a priority to visit classrooms.  I am an important part of the learning fabric of the school.  I do this everyday through dialogue with students first and teachers second.”  If this wordy sentence is too much for you (I’m told all the time I am wordy) just try.  “I am going into classrooms today.”  or “I am getting into classrooms regularly.”

They still use lie detectors in this day and age!

They still use lie detectors in this day and age!

Making a commitment to do something new requires us to change the words we use.  The actions we take stem from the words we use.  The words we use are a result of our thinking.  Our thinking is who we are.    Our bodies defy us when we lie.  It is practically impossible to fool our physical selves with words.  They still use lie detectors in this day and age!  Thus you stop committing and resort back to “I am not great at…”  (in which case you never will be.) or some other passive statement devoid of intention.    The other result is that your physical body responds to your new intentional statements.  You visit the classrooms.  You engage in critical and constructive dialogue.  Your actions are full of purpose and conviction.   Your statements on learning in the school are more authentic, informed and certainly more intentional.

There are a number of things to do to get better at the feedback portion of the visit.  First stop thinking of it as feedback.  It is a dialogue.  Feedback says–“I am the wise Principal and you will learn from me.”  This stance is less growth and more fixed in Mindset.  Just engage in dialogue.  Ask the teachers to “Talk more about that.” Eventually staff will ask for “feedback” and that is your cue to start calling it that; this is the invitation that says your EiQ (emotional intelligence quotient) is high with this individual.  Engage in professional learning about Critical Friends Groups or Cognitive Coaching.  Understand what Habits of Mind are and use them.  The work you are involved in requires a great deal of understanding about working with adult learners.  The work you are engaged in requires more Emotional Intelligence than you already have.  Exercise it more and it will grow.  Pressure your district or association to help prepare you for working with adult learners, ask for coaching workshops, emotional intelligence work or sessions on professional dialogue with teachers.  Give your needs a voice in your district as there are others with the same needs.  Start a critical friends group or an administrative learning team.  Practise giving each other warm and cool feedback on authentic work you provide.  Avoid comments that speak to the person and not the work.  (These last few comments deserve a blog post on their own.)

Do you need a starting point for working with and talking to the adults in your building that are in charge of student learning?

Stop saying “should” and “but” when in a dialogue with another or with yourself.  When you stop saying these words your mind will eventually stop thinking in these terms.  You replace should with action as “shoulds” only delay the action.  It will take you awhile to find replacements for these words.  There is a way around the words and not the feeling they invoke.  You are trying to get away from the feeling they invoke so new thinking is going to be needed and not simply new words like “however” and “did you think about doing it this way?”

Getting into classrooms is important and non-urgent.  It is the chance to be a visible member of the learning fabric.  It is a chance to remind yourself why you do this good work.  It is a chance to connect with the professional educators in the building, to dialogue, laugh and even cry.  It is the only way any of your vision work will have credibility with the students, staff and parents of the school.  Your positional power is not nearly enough to be an instructional leader.

Portions of this blog post were written while rocking out to Imaginary Cities and Bahamas!

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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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My son has been whispering I’m sorry from the wing back lounge chair for almost 30 minutes. At least I hope that is what he is whispering. Could be he is still repeating that I didn’t buy him a lego set. This might be the largest Starbucks I’ve been too besides Seattle’s flagship. Yet I’ve only seen the first 10 feet. I havent even ordered my triple venti latte yet. This is something as, I admit, I am addicted. No, instead I am using this time to help my son learn a lesson about being grateful.

He entered LEGOLAND in Chicago bouncing and giggling. He left all snot and lower lip. What started as “take my picture, take a picture of that spider, take a picture of the hippo.” Ended as “I didnt get a lego set! I wanted a lego set.” His heart rate was 114 going in and 114 comin out. (I checked with my Azumio app.) Mine, a duldrum 41. We are sometimes “out of sync.”

Remaining calm in the face of such acrimonious dialogue is a skill I did not learn from my father. I am sure generation Xers can relate. My dad did not reason or coddle. You with me so far. While my Dad cultivated my philosophy of high expectations and trust above all else it is my life and skills as an educator that have most certainly saved me as a parent. For instance, I have written this entire post during “the episode” as my daughter calls them. I distance myself from the behaviour, refuse to own negative energy and resist fully the temptation to take events like this personally. The last element being the hardest as Gavin is my flesh and blood.

“You just don’t like me, that is why you didn’t get me legos or a birthday present.” You see he even makes stuff up to try and engage me. Not happening. At this point in the timeout I am surprised the barista hasn’t charged us for the bazillion Starbucks napkins Gavin has used to wipe his nose.

This relationship, between parenting and teaching, is the most important aspect of my life as a father. I share this everyday with students, parents and teachers. It is the one aspect of my personal life that I cannot seperate from my work life. In Loco Parentis or in this case In Parentis.

I got an apology. I got a hug. More than that Gavin figured it all out when he saw me typing on my iPhone.

“Are you writing this all down Daddy?”

“Yes Gavin.” I replied stoically.

“For everyone to read Daddy.”

“Yes Gav. For everyone to read and learn from our mistakes and our work.”

“I love you Daddy. Sorry.”

It seems Gavin has my desire to help others too.

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Talking with Daniel Pink about Motivation, Engagement and Education in Two Parts. Cross posted at Connected Principals.


My wife Tricia “failed” her first driver’s test. There, the world knows. Her father had dedicated the previous few months to teach her proper. During the first lesson she, her father and younger brother got into the sky blue ’88 Caprice Classic station wagon that was parked in the two car garage.

“Place the keys in the ignition place your foot on the brake and turn the engine over.” Her father stated in his stoic and serious manner.

“But Dad, shouldn’t I. . .”

“Listen, if you want to learn you have to listen. Do not interrupt and listen. I’ll teach and you listen. Now turn the engine over. Good. Place the car in reverse and slowly take your foot off the brake.”

“Dad, when am I going to . . .”

“Tricia, you have to listen and do what I say. Don’t interrupt. I am trying to tell you, you need to listen.” The electrical engineer inside was getting the better of Dad. Learning about things like driving and electricity was not done through trial and error. This was life or death. Get it right the first time.

Tricia was making every attempt to engage with her teacher. She was instead being told to comply. Let’s face it. From the driver’s perspective learning to drive is an engaging process. From the passenger’s seat compliance seems entirely appropriate.

Until you realize you just instructed your 16 year old daughter to drive through the closed garage door. The 13 year old boy in the back seat stating that “she was trying to tell you Dad,” didn’t help.

On one of our snowed in nights this winter I had the opportunity to speak with Daniel Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Surprisingly he was snowed in at his location in Washington D.C. as well. For over 45 minutes Daniel, Jodie and I talked about motivation and engagement versus compliance in the educational setting. His insights into the system of education and the connections to his research for Drive are timely and certainly transferrable.

The text below is a record of that conversation presented here with Daniel’s permission. The conversation has been edited for presentation purposes. Thanks to Daniel Pink for his interest in sharing his thoughts, ideas and perspectives with educators.

JC: Variations of the carrot and stick can be seen in classrooms all over the world, certainly in North America. How can we unlearn some of these practices, practices of – to be kind of flippant about it–candy and detentions, so that kids can be motivated to learn more?

DP: For adults unlearning things is far more difficult than learning things so it’s a very tall order. One of the things that‘s happened is that we essentially created a set of assumptions that the way people, whether they are big people or little people, perform better is if you offer a reward or threaten them with a punishment. What’s disconcerting is that this is true some of the time. The danger with our kids is that if we treat them in a way that suggests that the only reason to do something is to get a good grade or to avoid a punishment we essentially sacrifice an enormous amount of talent and capability. When learning is open-ended, collaborative, when it’s about the strategy rather than the right answer then the approach is valuable in terms of helping kids think.
JC: In Ontario we have had a recent change to our report card system driven by a document called Growing Success: Assessment Practices from K-12. Learning skills are at the forefront of a child’s progress. The rest of the report card uses the traditional letter grades to rate a student’s performance. What are your thoughts on assessment, evaluation and reporting processes that happen in schools?

DP: You have to know how kids are doing. The problem is that often the assessment ends up driving everything. It basically becomes the purpose rather than feedback on the purpose and that is incredibly distorting. When you focus entirely on the performance goals, you often have a very thin, fleeting mastery of the material. It could actually be doing kids a disservice. You want to measure learning skills and you need a measure of performance. What concerns me is less grades per se than when grades basically become the goal rather than learning as the goal. If grades are the goal then people will go for the grades and may miss out on the learning. Again, I don’t think you necessarily have to get rid of grades but you have to put it into context. I don’t think there is an ideal evaluation system but before you get to the ideal evaluation system you have to go to the first principles. We are evaluating things because we want to give people feedback so that they can learn. We are not evaluating things as the end in itself.
There’s a difference between a learning goal and a performance goal. They are not the same. Our schools, especially in the States, are focused entirely on performance goals because they think that learning goals and performance goals are the same. Policy makers, even parents, haven’t reckoned with the fact that they are two very different things. I’ll give you the best example of this I can an example that you can relate to in Canada. I took French in secondary school and in university for six years. Every marking period of every semester I got an A in French. I can’t speak French. Why? The reason is I didn’t learn French; what I did is I performed on tests and quizzes. But if you throw me on the streets of Quebec City, in a French speaking part, and I get lost, I’m not going to find my way back home. If I had focused in those six years on actually trying to learn French maybe I would have gotten a B but I would probably be able to speak French. We’re obsessed over performance goals and we’re sort of thinking that if the performance goals are right then the learning goals will follow and that’s just not true. In fact, the opposite might be true. That is, if we focus on the learning goals then the performance will end up taking care of itself.

<img class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-582″ title=”carrots + sticks

JN: How do we change the minds of the students who have been going for that grade all along?

DP: It is really difficult because as an individual you are taking on an incredibly heroic and daunting task. You’re saying how can I deprogram and reprogram my 25 students, and then all the students in the school, and then all the students in Ontario. It’s a very daunting task because every other message they are getting, whether from parents, from policy makers, from the design and architecture of the school’s evaluation system itself, is telling something opposite. So you’re going up against really ferocious headwinds. The way I look at this is you’ve got to start small. Try to reach one or two kids. If you can do that, that is progress – you’ve made a difference in one or two kids’ lives. Try to reach one or two parents. Find one or two fellow educators who are with you and you have a little alliance and that’s how institutions change. That’s how society changes. We all want to be able to say “Whoa! Here we go – we’re going to change it all.” And it doesn’t work that way. It’s slow and it’s one by one. What keeps teachers going is the opportunity to affect one or two kids and to have those kids be better human beings because of their presence

To Be Continued . . .

carrots + sticks < love, “Click” change and Teacher / Learner by Libby Levi for opensource.com

You can follow Daniel (DP), James (JC) and Jodie (JN) on Twitter

@danpink, @cowpernius and @iteachELL

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I just finished watching The Effective use of Consequences on my PD 360 account. This video was great as it reminded me of so many ultra-important philosophies when dealing with kids (my own included). Here are some examples:
1. Most kids would rather be seen as behaviour problems than slow learners.
2. There are no punishments, only consequences and consequences are opportunities for learning.

I found the poem below in an email one day.  The subject of the email was “do you read bad poetry”  This was a reflection activity on the relationship between consequences and punishments. After I read it I deepened my belief that we must understand the student’s perspective and stance on consequences and punishments for it to be truly reflective.  Many schools have them.  Detention rooms, Reflection rooms, Room 104, The “Thinking Room”.  What ever you might call yours I ask you, what are they for?  Who do they serve?  Is it effective or is there a better way? 

Reflection Room–author unknown
I have spent too many nights – sleepless,
fighting with you in my head.
I cannot live with it.
Yet each day that it continues
without my action condones it.
My soul hurts
for kids like Kye-
punished for who his parents are,
and where he comes from,
and because he is a bother-  to us.
Kye doesn’t get what he needs.
Kye gets what we think he needs
from our privileged position.
Kye gets our pity,
but not our compassion.
When did we forget-
what it looks like and feels like
-school for Kye?
Maybe we didn’t forget-
maybe we never knew.
When did good intentions
become a battle for control-
Us vs Them? Final SMACKDOWN!
When did being on Kye’s side
mean that I’m not on yours?
Look in the mirror-
I can’t live with the reflection. (room)

I am reminded of so many important learners that have shared their experiences and beliefs with me over the last 6 years.  Todd Whitaker’s stance on relationships and student behaviour-“they need to leave the office happy because hurt people hurt people.”  I think of Kevin Cameron’s empty vessel analogy in reference to students that need “one caring adult in their lives to make a difference.”  Ruby Payne’s work goes without mentioning a single quote just the simple idea that discipline without relationship breeds resentment.  I thought about many things when viewing this segment.  What I thought about the most though was that I wanted my boy to be loved and treated with patience and understanding when he enters school.  And that is why I will extend that same right to all the students I work with.

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