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On August 11 and 12 I will be participating and presenting with Chris Moore (EdCamp you School!) and Dustin O’Neil and Kerry Green-Duren (These are you Morning Announcements) at the TELL conference.  TELL is represented by the four associations of Administrative Leaders in Ontario:

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The two days will include 4 learning sessions for Principals and Vice Principals.  I will be sharing at 2 of them with my fellow colleagues.  Included in the two day program are keynote addresses with these educational thought leaders:

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Chris @ICprin, Dustin @PrincipalONeil and Kerry @KerryGreenDuren are happy to include the content of our conversations here at Cowpernicus.com.  Our agenda for the two day experience will include:

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You can also choose to stay in touch with the latest technology enabled learning and leading educators at TVO’s Teach Ontario.

 

 

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10 Lessons from The Lego Movie for Principals Looking to Inquiry to Solve Learning Needs.

Lego Gavin
Buried in Lego with a smile on his face!

Two things were informative to me last week. The first was watching the Lego Movie with Zoe, Gavin, McKenna and Tricia. The second was my dialogue with 8 teachers around the use of inquiry based learning as a primary pedagogical method in the classroom. These two experiences happened over two days and the parallels were more than evident.

First, The Lego Movie. I loved it. The movie was excellent. 5 stars. The kids didn’t stop laughing and neither did I. Gavin has been saying everything is awesome. The whole time I watched I could not help but draw on the metaphors in the movie for inspired teaching and learning in an inquiry based classroom. I know I was supposed to be entertained not thinking about work. The fact of the matter is I am always thinking about work. Work for me is learning and learning is the work so it is pretty inherent that as I experience life I think deeply about how learning has shaped who I’ve become.

The dialogue I had with three separate teachers around the concept of an inquiry based classroom brought forward three common themes: 1. Trust is Key 2. Learning is Messy and 3. Let’s Dialogue About This Together. I captured some audio of three of the 8 teachers below. As I listened to each of them and physically witnessed inquiry (at different stages) happening in the classrooms the connections to The Lego Movie continued to deepen for me. After a conversation with fellow educator Mrs. Wideen (@mrswideen) we agreed that the classroom parallels to the central theme of the movie could not be ignored. We agreed to do our best to somehow draw on these parallels in a blog post. Let me introduce Kali to offer some background information about the pedagogy of inquiry that these teachers have been experimenting with.

Listen to Ms. Sak discuss the process.

1. The Man Up Above.

Are you the one in charge? The one that gives permission, allows, shoulds, tells, supposed tos? Yes you are. Regardless of your approach the initial understanding is that you are the boss. The one in the big chair, the Principal. Have you heard-“That’s why you get the big bucks.” often? You have positional authority. The question you must ask yourself and further reflect on is how much you engage your positional authority over those that report to you. The 1:99 rule applies here. If you are engaging your positional authority as a Principal more than 1% of the time you are stifling the environment with your Omnipresence. Give yourself a rest. Repeat after me, “I am not the smartest person in the school, I just happen to be the leader.” (John Maxwell)

2. The Piece of Resistance-Put a Lid On It!

Now that we have clarified your possible reliance on positional authority in leadership I would like you to consider putting a lid on your opinions. I, for one, know that my opinion is offered far too much. I have learned to ask many clarifying questions before asking a probing question. I attempt not answer questions from teachers, especially ones that start with “What should…” or simply “Should I…” I have learned that the word should places the onus of responsibility on the person answering the question. True it is just a word. True it is a word that people use without thinking. True it might not mean what the user intends it to mean. I ask us all to be more cognizant of the words we use and the meanings they may have. I function with this in mind: The words we use are representative of the thoughts we have. The thoughts we have are representative of who we are. If I use the word should all the time I am behaving from an area of myself that functions on guilt and “arms-length responsibility”. Put a lid on the “shoulds” and the “buts” for that matter. Inquiry is about letting go of the rules a bit. It is about not relying so much on what traditional school is “supposed to” look like. Certainly it will not sound like a traditional classroom setting. During the initial stages of inquiry processes there will be judgement. People will have an opinion about the noise, the play, the fun. Listen carefully Principals: “Let this not be you!” Instead ask questions and learn alongside the teachers and students.

3. Now that you are allowed to play down here, We have to invite your sister!

Let the good news and fun be shared. Find innovative ways of sharing learning stories with the world. Blogs, Twitter, Youtube and Sharepoint newsfeeds are all good options. Resist the temptation to offer space at your next staff meeting to have the superstar inquiry teachers present all the good stuff they are doing. Find ways to make organic connections between your teachers that are taking risks and seeing successes and those that still may be nervous or petrified of these new innovations. Teams of teachers (not individuals) at Eastwood and Dr. Suzuki are engaging in these processes. As a Principal investigate how you have determined teams of teachers. How do you develop succession planning for students coming from an inquiry based setting to one where these processes are still only ideas. Getting teams working dynamically is no small task. Trust is the key to these relationships. Getting along is is easy. Truly dynamic teams can function even better off dissonance.

4. Everything is Awesome.

A positive attitude is contagious. Overpriced coffee is delicious. Smile. Buy some coffee for staff. Stop worrying. Follow the Blunt Educator on Twitter for a couple laughs. Staying positive and having an optimistic attitude is the reason you are in the position you are in. I am not telling you to ignore reality instead create an alternate one. Find a way to learn with and from your teachers and students. Make a way to experience awesome.

5. I’m a normal Principal.

Emmit was a “normal construction worker.” You are a normal Principal. What does this mean? Explore what normal is for you by challenging those beliefs with some new behaviours and modes. Park in a different spot. Have coffee and do some paperwork in the Learning Commons. Start an audioboo account and share short conversations with teachers and students for others to hear. Basically stop being so normal. You really aren’t normal anyway. None of us are. Miss Martin made a statement that I consider to be on of the most profound I have heard when discussing her practise. She stated simply, after describing that her methods were not achieving the learning results she had planned for, “I reflected and realized that I was the problem.” Reflection, for a Principal, at this level is not entirely normal. I dare you to be more abnormal. When Principals take learning risks teachers do to. Like Miss Martin did, take responsibility for your reality.

6. Where are my Pants?

Inquiry based teaching is not about product. It is about process. While collection and curation of learning products may be an end process the inquiry itself will certainly catapult further learning. Have you ever had one of those dreams where you were at work and then realized you weren’t wearing any pants? Embracing inquiry based learning pedagogy in your school can be quite similar. You freak out a bit, hide in your office for a bit. You peak around corners and then finally wake up to realize everything is okay. You have pants on, the kids are learning and the teachers are energized by the engagement that their students are exhibiting.

7. “Numbers, Numbers, Numbers, Business, Business…” A Lesson from UniKitty.

I laughed outloud when Unikitty was doing her impression of Mr. Business trying to confuse and hold up the robots and micromanagers. Mr. Business exclaimed: “All I demand is complete perfection, now. . . send in the Micromanagers!” There is a chance that if data is all you use when helping get to the Why then all they are hearing is UniKitty blah. Find a way to draw on the why of our needed and intentional actions. If you are interested in how “Why” motivates folks watch Simon Sinek explain his thinking. The curriculum is the starting point for learning objectives. Much like Lego we can use these as building blocks, we can interchange and mingle pieces from other sets. We can group, ungroup, map and link new pieces to create something that was better than the illustrations on the front cover. Teachers are master builders and facilitators of learning. If you are Mr. Business gluing stuff down, locking it in place, boxing it up and putting it on a shelf you are Kragleing the Curriculum. Give your teachers freedom and they in turn will give children more freedom.

8. Bandaids, Batteries, Boogers and Legos. Learning in here is a mess!

You can find everything in a tub of Lego. I have found the garage door opener, my watch, money, jewellery, dead insects and everything else that could somehow come into play when creating with Lego. Miss Martin describes that for her students learning is messy.

Listen to S.Martin on her Inquiry Journey.

9. Cloud Cuckoo Land is not to be Feared.

Inquiry based classrooms are not to be confused with chaos, disorder, recklessness or my fav. “A Free For All.” On the contrary teacher facilitators dialogue, plan, revision lead and teach through the entire process. We are not talking about abandoning curriculum, throwing expectations out the window and allowing the children to rule the room. Teachers at Eastwood and Dr. Suzuki school have used open, mini and curriculum based inquiries in order to engage the children in the complexities of the learning process. At Eastwood teachers use the mentor text Comprehension and Collaboration by Harvey and Daniels. Find more resources and starters at Inquiry Based Learning.

Listen to S. Watson-Jones discuss Inquiry at Eastwood

10. You are the Special.

My good friend Dr. Jeff Hillman (@learningstance) used to tell me, “You make the weather James.” Others have said, “When the Principal sneezes everyone gets a cold.” I understand both of these analogies first as a teacher myself and now more deeply and fully as a Principal. I really like the Lego metaphor best though. As the Principal you are the special. Just like every teacher and more pointedly every student in the school is the special.

and then build another one!

If it breaks I can rebuild it.

To Read Mrs. Wideen’s blog post on the parallels to The Lego Movie please visit: mrswideen.com!

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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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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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A video that was inspired by @Johnwink90 ‘s 136 character tweet.

On Saturday, July 18, I participated in #satchat.  I had some time while the kids were playing Plants versus Zombies (the “Cowper Game App of the Summer!”).   I had a coffee and my partner was reading beside me.  I figured….why not.  The topic of the day was “Back to School” and leading us was @DCulberhouse.  I knew that the majority of the educators were West Coasties and I was interested in their take on Back to School.  Of course there were many other participants from all over North America.  Until the spammers got ahold of the hashtag things were going great.  Of course the infiltration of spammers has nothing to do with the good people leading or participating in #satchat.  On the contrary.  The fact that we were trending a topic on a Saturday morning across the continent (and warranted the most inappropriate spam) speaks volumes about the quality of the 140 character content.

As @dougpete explains in What does Twitter for PD Mean; Twitter can be a launching pad:


The best learning for me happens when the conversation takes off and doesn’t necessarily stay in the social media.  I like following the links – take me to news reports, research, forums, wikis, and blogs where the meaty stuff resides.  You don’t get the full monty 140 characters at a time but like the library card catalogue, it should be there to tease and inform you about where the good stuff is.

After reading @dougpete’s blog entry and considering many conversations with incredible learning leaders like @kellypower and @globeandtims I continue to rehash the essential question:  Is Twitter a Professional Learning tool?

Well, in this particular instance,:

  1. I participated in the chat on Saturday with a group of like-minded educators passionate about learning and opening the school year (from all over North America).
  2. I learned of a myriad of ways other leaders are handling logistical issues that are ever-present in the first weeks of school.
  3. I grabbed a few nuggets of wisdom that resonated with me.
  4. I learned of many ideas, best practises and innovations for having a successful Back to School Night.
  5. I learned of one Principal (@JohnWink90) making “How To” videos for his parents and community.
  6. I made the committment to “give it a go” (thanks for the lingo @jessmcculloch) myself with an iPad, iMovie and our Eastwood Eagles YouTube account.
  7. I filmed the entire video using my own children and a few adult helpers as “actors” on the very same day.
  8. I then sent the video to three individuals (@avivaloca being one), I have never met face to face, for their perspective and assistance (as well as an administrator in a neighbouring district.)
  9. I also sent the video to two Vice Principals in my district for their perspective and assistance.
  10. Finally I uploaded the video to our school blog and mailed it directly to our faculty (we have some new faces)

I have captured the moment I got the idea with this image:

This endeavour involved professionals, learning, technology tools, acting (doing) and reflecting.  I will undoubtedly get feedback from the community, other school leaders and the kids.  Granted there is not a direct impact on student achievement.  I still believe firmly that the reason I engaged in the entire process was because I am a member of an ever-expanding professional learning network through Twitter.  Again, in this instance the power of social media lead to deeper learning experiences.

For me Twitter has not been the best professional learning I have ever engaged in.  I believe that saying this is hyperbole.  On the contrary I have had some incredibly moving learning experiences with one, two or three people in a room making dialogue over work, learning, dilemmas or successes of our profession.  These are the professional learning experiences that have been the most riveting and influential.  Funny thing is. . . without Twitter I may not have had the opportunity to have these conversations with the likes of those mentioned above (not to mention the 34 #UnPlugd12 -ers from last weekend!).  Twitter has turned me on to some individuals who have led me to question, bolster, appreciate, act on and essentially change my perspective on just about everything I have learned to this point.

Thanks good sir.  I hope it helps our school community this September.  I am going to have some fun filming a trailer for this academic year next!

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“Critical consciousness, they say, is anarchic. Others add that critical consciousness may lead to disorder. Some, however, confess: Why deny it? I was afraid of freedom. I am no longer afraid.” Paulo Freire

Last February myself and six teachers (Jr, Int) attended a local highschool PL session on Critical Thinking in the classroom. Garfield Gini-Newman is a Senior Consultant for The Critical Thinking Consortium, TC2, and an adjunct professor at OISE in Toronto, Ontario. While originally challenged by the space to learn in and the seating arrangement I slowly appreciated the value of sitting with 70 other professionals in a fishbowl in the welcome corridor of the high school. Students walked past and watched us listening, talking and learning from behind the glass.

Our reason for entering the room was laid in evidence from 8 years of performance on the grade 6 EQAO assessments (limited level 4 performances), results from our Stretch your Thinking questions of 2010-2012 and most importantly the professional opinions and anecdotal evidence of our expert teachers around students’ abilities with critical thinking. The perception: our students, en masse, have not been able to access level 4 performance tasks. The tasks that largely involve critical analysis, critical thinking and higher order problem solving. We decided as a group that this may not be because our students simply cannot present and perform this way but rather (and more introspectively) that we are not preparing lessons and activities that allow for students to illustrate or possibly access this level of thinking and thus practise the process. We asked the question: Are we using Critical Thinking as a framework for our learning activities?

We came prepared to be critical of ourselves. Each teacher brought with them a lesson or activity that we wanted to “Tweak and Fortify” (Gini-Newmans’s mantra for Critical Thinking prep). Garfield uses the “problematize the content” method to make learning happen in the classroom. He juxtaposes the “correctional method” and the “problematization method.” One stifles learning and thinking and the other instigates it. He calls this whole process “Additive Teaching.”

We began with a picture of Burnaby BC in 1942 and were asked to decide the month, day, and time of day from the evidence we had. We were left with the question, Why should you or should you not give the students the answer to the question posed? Many answers revolved around stopping the thinking, not highlighting the process, undermining the learning and talk, creating winners and losers.

Before coming to today’s event the teachers were sent a form in Google Docs asking questions about student performance, engagement and thinking. Questions also were asked of teacher learning need. Teachers were asked to watch an embedded YouTube clip of Garfield and were asked: Do you want/need more of this learning? The results were clear. We needed to attend the workshop.

Garfield stated a number of times this day, you can do this in your classroom tomorrow. The most practical of his ideas: Stop having students copy from the board or take notes and instead throw four statements on the board and ask them, “Which one of these statements is true and which ones are false?”

One of the watershed quotes Newman threw up on the screen was a poem from T.S.Elliot in 1933 in which he stated: “Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” He specifically was referencing the role google, apps, iPhones and the lot have played in the classrooms and learning work of the 21st C teacher and student. With the knowledge that the answer is “out there”, instead of inside your head, he challenged all educators in the room to start framing problems and content differently. He challenged each of us to reframe our roles. Of specific practical interest was his work on a PBL matrix. My grade 5/6 teachers used this work to create the framework for a unit on Ancient Civ. the very next week! Garfield provided a 7 step process for designing critical challenges:
1.critique the piece
2.judge the piece
3. Rework the piece
4. Decode the puzzle
5. Design to specs
6. Perform to specs

(One example used was that students not only chose the most important items to carry into the woods with them but them they must rank order them. All this is done on a sea of talk–critical talk)

Garfield started to scare some people when he suggested flipping Bloom’s Taxonomy on its head. “What if we flipped on end the foundations for teaching and learning and made invitations to create products of value or solving meaningful problems the foundations of learning for all children?” He called this being a “little bit provocative.” Newman also juxtaposed Critical Thinking and Inquiry Based Teaching. His goal is to bring these two things together in the classroom and call it Critical Inquiry. As we discussed this process I was drawn to think about and reflect on the work of my Early Years teachers currently. Critical Inquiry is alive and well with 4 and 5 year olds when an adult knows how to probe with questions.

There were strong connections to my teachers’ current work on Visible Learning stemming from the work of John Hattie. Problem Solving teaching only has positive learning effects when students are taught the skills they need to arrive at an answer. He continued to develop these ideas by showing us his Engagement Taxonomy. Garfield asked us to consider: To what degree are the students: Empowered? Challenged? Entertained? On task? Are they asked to be actively involved? Are they required to use a high degree of concentration and committed to the process of learning? All of these questions were digested and discussed at table groups.

The Critical Thinking classroom involves a Community of Thinkers, Critical Challenges and the Teaching and Assessing of Intellectual tools. These tools include: background knowledge, criteria for judgement, critical thinking vocabulary, thinking strategies and habits of mind. This, in essence, is the TC2 Model of Critical Thinking.

Garfield was certain to share his website that houses many free Critical Thinking resources. http://www.tc2.ca is the home of the Thinking Teacher. Also included is the electronic source book. This work stems from Garfield’s work with the Alberta department of Education in which he problematized the social studies curriculum. Thoughtful Books is another resource that highlights mentor texts to engage the learners in thinking critically. Tools for thought requires a subscription in order to use ready made resources for specific topics. Again the lessons are created to build critical thinking skills. The teachers that subscribe to the service can add content from their experience. There is a cost to this material. (Sounds somewhat like the work of Ian Jukes with the 5 Fluencies, http://www.fluency21.com/, if you have not already you need to become a “Commited Sardine!”)

As days and months passed I came across this picture, that was shared on twitter, a couple weeks ago. It reminded me of Garfield’s opener and his critical thinking work. How might you use it?

Garfield’s work brings into question our roles as teachers. He challenges us to look more critically at our own processes. He asks us to “unfreeze” our current systems and free the students thinking. Releasing responsibility is always hard. It is definitely needed in classrooms. Let’s let our children think by provoking them with problems to resolve rather than providing them with answers to remember.

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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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