Archive for the ‘reflective practise’ Category

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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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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Clearly technology is not the sole answer to the teaching  learning gap.  It is just another channel to watch.  I view Twitter dialogue (#edchat) as a Protocol for my learning.  140 characters is concise to say the least.  A person of my loquaciousness needs boundaries.  Twitter gives me that structure.  Because it is on the public timeline I have also maintained public integrity.  I know that my digital existence is infinite.  I will be held accountable for my words.  Thus there are inherent “norms”.  My efforts are to get my colleagues to the table to discuss the issues in the same light.  I do not have a lack of faith or belief in any of us.  I know that people don’t “hate” me for talking it up.  On the contrary I understand that each of us has deep understanding for the role that education has played in our lives and we wish to provide that to our communities.  Technology is one avenue to get to that conversation outside of the time crunch and certainly outside of your circle of influence.  I have pictures of technoids sitting in rooms with handhelds engaging in Tweetups!  This is a structured protocol.

My friend’s email was included as a response because it helps me recognize the obstacles to having other educational leaders join the conversations.  I respect my friend immensely and thus view these perceptions as real concerns and obstacles for other professional educators.

  1. The time needed to learn the technology.
  2. The superficiality of the “Twitterverse”.
  3. The feeling that being self-referential is a bad thing.

1.  The technological learning curve is actually quite steep.  With the likes of WordPress, Twitter,  and other Web 2.0 applications that are web based there really is no length of time to learning these pieces of software.  There are oodles of people willing to help you once you are actually plugged in. 

2.  It is simple, only follow those people who offer something to your professional learning profile.  When they stop offering something to your professional learning profile stop following them.  Likewise you will notice that you can allow only those people you feel are following you for professional learning reasons.  Sure the web is full of stuff that just isn’t adding to the collective social consciousness of the world.  So are book stores.

3.  Delete self-referential and insert self-reflective.  T.W.I.T.T.E.R.-The World’s Intellectuals Taking Turns Exchanging Resources.  This was a Twitter post late last week by an educator I follow.  “Resources” are practical applications, web resources or could simply be the ideas, feelings, opinions and experiences that keep your mind actively assimilating new information.  Twitter provides a timeline for your self-reflection.  The self reflection you offer can stimulate others self-reflection.  It is essentially self-reflection for collective wisdom.  Please do not tell us what you had for breakfast.

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In my defense re: Twitter 
I am of an age where the time I need to invest in learning to use technology is overwhelming. I also have a personal bias against the inanities of the “twitterverse”. I feel we are raising a generation so introspective that they really do believe the world should care about what they had for breakfast. So much introspection breeds delusions of grandeur; this world needs more inflated egos like I need a hole in the head. I concede that situations like the Haiti earthquake were covered in the first person by Twitter and that kind of direct communication did contribute to the global action in support of the survivors, but each week, alongside the news topics, are just as many followers for pop culture like Justin Bieber or LOST. That self-referential “digital noise” really turns me off. After reading the article, I would also concede that the author feels his Twitter network keeps him motivated. As I seem to be in a bit of a rut right now, I guess I can understand that.
By the way, the Dec. 2009 issue of WIRED ( yes, I do read a variety of periodicals- even those on technology on occasion) had a very interesting article about Evan Ratliff who decided to shed his identity one month to see if it were possible to hide in plain sight in the digital age. For one month he travelled around the U.S. with those who were trying to find him close on his heels. They set up networks, FACEBOOK, blogs and Twitter etc. to share information; “where is Evan Ratliff?” In the end, his Twitter posts were his undoing and he was found on day 25. What connected for me was that an institution sprung up instantly to solve a problem. Members did not compete, they collaborated (Vanish Team). I found this saga to be a parable for how knowledge will be disseminated and shared in the future and what we need to prepare our students for. 


Wired Magazine: Where is Evan Ratliff?

Just blathering on a Sunday afternoon. I need to pay my bills electronically so I am using email as a task avoidance strategy. (<~~ yes I realize the irony of ending this with a self-referential statement).  

Your Friend


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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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A member of my PLN asked today for her PLN to respond to this:

@AdmiMom PLN ~ What is your favorite motivational quote?

By far, By far it is this lovely little mantra by George Bernard Shaw,

This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one. 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 I live it is my privilege – 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 love. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me; it is a sort of splendid torch which I’ve got a hold of for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.
George Bernard Shaw
Irish dramatist & socialist (1856 – 1950)

This is how I strive to live my life.  Thanks George.

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The use of protocols in Professional Learning Community meetings is essential to the continued growth and evolution of  a school.  Gains in student achievement depend on the learning and learning processes of the adults in a building.  If we expect our teachers to differentiate for students we, as instructional leaders, had better differentiate for their learning styles.  I believe that the appropriate use of protocols in PLC meetings do many things but most importantly they:

  1. reduce the threat of exposing yourself to the group and allow you to become vulnerable with colleagues
  2. increase risk taking behaviour and sharing through structured and formal practises
  3. allow for shared leadership as the facilitator is not the “Sage on the Stage” but simply the choreographer (there is nothing simple about it of course)
  4. engage all learners
  5. can be adapted by participants to be used with students of all ages

I refer to brainstorming  in light of a recent Blog post on Education Innovation that I read weekly.  The spoof “demotivation”  poster (that I was sent years ago-prior to PLCs in our setting) below depicts the concepts behind ineffective PLC time the best I think.  I am reminded of meetings my significant other would describe in one of her career settings.  She laughs every time she views this poster and states, “It’s so true!”  If we know this as educators and we know what makes the difference in PLCs why do we still revert back to old, less effective habits? 

The Power of Meetings

None of us is as dumb as all of us.

Recently I engaged a staff of Early Years and Primary teachers from 4 neighbourhood schools in the Interview Design and Dialogue Protocol to elicit as many consistent and common ideas around a battery of questions about the current state of balanced literacy in schools  (I adapted a protocol form from Jon Saphier of Research for Better Teaching).   More importantly was the form in which this process was done.  There was chart paper, stickies and markers but this was secondary to the fact gathering phase which was done far more precisely and structured than traditional “brainstorming.”  Using the design process we essentially eliminated any risk by engaging in one on one dialogue to start.   The only stuff that made it to the chart paper (dialogue: the second to last phase) had been consistently communicated across the length of the interview phase. 

Teachers in 4 groups of 8 heard 4 responses plus their own to the one question they asked.  They then met in “like question groups” to discuss and chart the most common and consistent responses to the questions.  An example of one question was: “What evidence of a balanced literacy approach exists in a classroom in our District?”  8 individuals asked this question 4 times and recorded the responses.  8 response pages with responses from 32 individuals became one side of a piece of chart paper.  Talk about precision.  Essential to the protocol was that once the question was asked all you were “allowed” to do was record.  This was an interview and not a conversation.  

I immediately thought of the above poster when I read the title (Dumber Together) off the Education Innovation RSS feed on my Netvibes page.   While the intent of its inclusion is humour it has been true for me in limited instances.  My goal as an instructional leader is to make this “demotivation poster” irrelevant.   A reader @Education Innovation comments that the information presented is unsourced.  Maybe . . . but haven’t we all been there before?  If the answer is yes than why, when we take over the reigns, do we seem to perpetuate this form of Professional Learning.  Brainstorming sessions can be effective.  There must be a sound protocol to make them work for everyone however.  I continue to work through the many protocols presented by the National School Reform Faculty in an effort to engage with adults in meaningful and unthreatening ways.  As I stated earlier, gains in student achievement depend on the learning and learning processes of the adults in a building.  I am dedicated to the use of protocols to make sure that each of us is as smart as all of us.

InterviewDesign from Jon Saphier at Research to Better Teaching

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