Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘learning’

I cannot believe it! The Reciprocal Learning Partnership, The University of Windsor, The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and the Greater Essex County District School Board are working together (with me) and sending a group of Principals to Chongqing China! There we are going to present at the annual Conference and learn in our 7 sister schools. I am going to keep a journal of my experiences here on my blog for my family, friends, school and colleagues to read.

Our district prepared poster boards to highlight our recent school life. This is it:

China Poster – Kingsville PDF

Read Full Post »

I have been honoured to serve the community of Eastwood for the last 6 years as their lead learner and Principal. In the course of my work I have supported many parents attempting to help their children in learning.

One of those parents is Stephanie Renaud. Stephanie is a certified teacher, a writer and a @yoga_junkie! She came to visit as she was preparing for a new article around parent/principal relations. As a result Stephanie published in Windsor Parent Magazine and dedicated the piece to me. On my last day the magazine arrived and I was very surprised and extremely honoured by her kind gesture.

I have featured Stephanie’s writing here before so I thought I could share her latest piece with you as the content is helpful for all parents.

Article Below By Stephanie Renaud B.A., B.Ed.
Dedicated with gratitude to James Cowper, principal of Eastwood Public School 2009-2015

Developing a culture of trust between the key players in a child’s education sets the stage for growth, development and success for all concerned.

Whether the connection with your child’s principal (or any professional on staff) arises casually through your continued presence in the school at various functions, or because of the need to collaborate on academic or behavioural issues, the mindset of each player as they enter that interaction plays a major role in whether or not it will be productive.

A mindset is defined as a habitual or characteristic mental attitude that determines how you will interpret and respond to situations. Carol Dweck, through her research at Stanford University, divides mindsets into two categories; fixed mindsets and growth mindsets.

The difference is simple.

A fixed mindset arises from the belief that your qualities, or those of others, are carved in stone. Conversely, a growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things that you can cultivate through your efforts. These ideas are broadly applicable to any situation or interaction you find yourself in.

When it comes to your role in your child’s educational journey, the mindset that you approach it with can and will make all the difference. James Cowper, who has been principal at Eastwood Public School in Forest Glade for the last six years puts it this way “If a parent is trying to communicate with a principal or other educational professional about something the first thing they have to do is adopt a growth mindset. Why? Because everything in a school is about learning, this is the baseline and from every experience there is an opportunity to learn. “

As a parent, there are some basic assumptions, or ideas that you can hold in your mind as you develop your relationship with your child’s school that will set the stage for the development of productive, positive partnership.

Presume positive intent – It is incredibly easy to allow our anger, frustration or discomfort with the events bringing us together to colour how we approach our communication. Start by entering each encounter, whether it be a phone call, a face to face meeting, or email, with the assumption in your mind that the person on the other end is coming from a positive place. This way you set yourself up ready to work as a team before you even begin. After all, we all want to see our children succeed.

We are all on the same team – Ultimately, the reason that parent and professional are working together is the child. Your child. You all come together with the interest of working towards the highest good for this child that you can achieve. After all, isn’t that what we all hope for? Bearing this in mind as we work together supports us in weathering disagreements with equanimity and productive collaboration when tough situations arise. It’s how we work through the hard times that determine the good times we see.

We all bring a key ingredient to the table – Principals are the experts in education. They have completed 13 years of post-secondary training as well as numerous years in the classroom to earn their way to the office that they now occupy. They bring a very important ingredient to the table. Parents are the lead on parenting. Anything that happens outside school hours is the parents purvey. Between the two people, you have the entire day covered. Knowing this, collaboration becomes a powerful tool. If you are facing an issue such as aggressive or inappropriate behaviour that has caused a suspension, how you as the parent deal with the time your child is at home will have a great influence on how productive and effective that disciplinary action will be in fostering growth and learning in your child.

Have a clear idea of what you want to know before communicating with each other- Do you really understand the events surrounding this communication? What caused this to happen? There may be rules, or disciplinary procedures, or other motivations that you don’t understand clearly that brought this all about. Have clear questions ready to ask when you communicate so that you will be fully informed as part of the team.

Principals (and teachers) are people too –This means they have stress, and bad days and families like everyone else. Seeing this, you allow yourself to have compassion for them, and patience. You expect this in return, giving it will inspire and call out the same in them.

Be the master of your own mindset – Says Mr Cowper; “Be aware of your own motivations and presumptions. These make or break a partnership.” As you interact, you may become aware of a presumption that you hold that is not jiving with or helping your current situation. A growth mindset opens one to the possibility that this can evolve based on the quality of your own experience.

IMG_1350.JPG

As with any partnership, the people who are on each side make all the difference in how that partnership plays out. So, what happens when it’s the professional that has the fixed mindset and the parent who holds the growth mindset?

“The only thing we can do as human beings is be mindful of who we are and mindful of our behaviour and let everything else happen around us.” Says Cowper. “We must all focus on who we are and what we do, and if that guidance system is kindness and understanding then you can’t go wrong.”

By focussing on our own contribution to the situation and being confident that we ourselves are coming from a place of openness, in a spirit of collaboration, we set ourselves up to frame our relationships in the most productive and responsive way possible. In doing this, we feed the learning and lay the groundwork for positive, productive growth.

As always, tweet me with your thoughts, and contributions @yoga_junkie I love to hear from you!

Read Full Post »

​Eds,

We are excited to host a “gathering” of educators on Monday morning. We will come together in the Eagle’s Nest in the morning for some breakfast snacks. All staff are welcome to come and mingle with our visitors. Please sign in at the office and get a visitor lanyard. Our guests are invited to investigate student learning in the grade 2/3 area and the 5/6 area and are invited to explore the rest of the school if they wish. They will be with us until 11:00 or so. School officially begins at 8:30 am. I will speak briefly with all visitors after morning announcements and then you are free to move to observations. Nutrition break lasts from 10:10-10:50.

We welcome staff from Queen Victoria Public School and staff from Indian Creek Public School in Chatham. Together we endeavour to work so that learning is deeper for our students. I wish to thank the partnerships of Principal Moore and Principal Callow and the innovative educators who take the risk to engage with fellow eds. in school observation visits.

The purpose of our gathering is to again recognize that schools are learning laboratories. Having visiting teachers helps us immensely in ensuring that what we say and believe we are doing for students is evident by their metacognitive understanding. We start with the question: Are the students able to articulate their learning in meaningful ways. We ask visitors to help us with this work. We also recognize that visitors take with them learning that will undoubtedly impact work in thier respective buildings. Questions you may want to ask our students are:

What are you learning?
Why are you learning this?
What are your next steps?
How are you going to move forward?

2015/01/img_2531.png

We have embraced student metacognition (thinking about thinking) as our methodology to learn deeper.

As I personally prepare for a school visit I really only do one thing. I take a mindful stance. Mindfulness is defined as paying attention, on purpose, non-judgementally. Of course this sounds easy. As you all may have experienced, as teachers, the non-judgementally part is the hardest. We as educators (especially at report card time) have been trained to believe that judging is our job. I ask you to take a mindful stance. Join us here at Eastwood to observe students, to dialogue and to learn together.

If you would like to take a look at our learning journey for the last couple years you may investigate our School Improvement Plan for Student Achievement and Well Being.​

We will use the attached observation sheets for your visit. We request that you give these observation sheets back to the host school prior to your departure as will will use these observations to grow and learn. We believe that transparency builds trust. If you wish to make a copy before leaving so you can take your notes with you the office secretary Kim or James will be happy to help you.

Looking forward to meeting all of you. Thanks for your patience and mindfulness with our students and our learning environment.

James

2015/01/img_2530.jpg

Read Full Post »

2015/01/img_2467.jpg

Principal Mark Rinaldi-Ross and I have engaged with our staff during the instructional rounds process this season. Seen here Mark is on the floor observing. He is an amazing leader. Also involved is the impressive staff of Parkview under the leadership of Dave Simone. Our three schools partnered to build trust and cultivate our respective cultures of learning.

Observing. I profess this art is in limited supply in our classrooms today. The kind of observation I speak of is non-judgmental. It is exercised with what I call “interested neutrality.” It must be practised….. and critiqued. The best way is inside the protective environment that protocols can offer. When I say protective I simply mean controlled. Skilled facilitators lead teams of learners through the layered processes of instructional rounds.

I do not believe that observing is limited because our well meaning professional teachers do not want to observe as a value judgment. I suggest that they have not been coached how to, their efforts to do so have not been honoured or they have been too busy “covering” curriculum by virtue of their’s or their leader’s expectations. These obstacles are common derailers of becoming learning leaders.

Engaging with our staff in instructional rounds (IR) involved:
-visits to classrooms to observe student learning
-recording observations
-grouping and naming observation clusters
-dialoging through the process
-addressing strengths and next steps in alignment with school visions and plans

By partnering with our teachers and further with fellow schools through the IR process we, as leaders, address and overcome all three obstacles. The nature of IR reduces the threat of judgment as the focus is on how the students learn together by documenting what they say and do in descriptive ways. Feedback is delivered and teachers listen carefully for patterns, inconsistencies and celebrations. There is no intent to find fault or offer advice. Key here is that only the teachers being visited have the innate knowledge of the learning that has been happening in the room. Visitors simply offer descriptive observations.

The team is coming to Eastwood in two Mondays. We are excited to hear our partners observations. I am so pleased to be part of my school team and the greater team of three schools. I trust my learning stance and interest to sit on the floor and observe student learning will continue to support my teachers as lead learners.

2015/01/img_2503.jpg

Our mentor text on Instructional Rounds.

Read Full Post »

Photo by @Jaymaisel

First Snow, Elizabeth Street Photo by @Jaymaisel

I woke up today after whirl wind of recent days past.  ECOO, EdCampSWO and back to the school house and family!  I am always tired at days end. Its the kids and my kids that bring me great joy that I do not realize my fatigue until 9 pm at night when I K.O. in 3 minutes flat.  This morning I woke at 5 am to head out to the gym to realize it was snowing.  Falls first snow.  It has been amazing to me since I was a kid.  I get real joy out of listening to the kids oh and ah at the window. I decided to stay home from the gym and wait for them to wake up just to hear them this year.  It was as I expected.  Zoe threw on boots and took Hawksley Sirius (the dog) out for a run in the snow.  The flakes were huge here in Essex County.

When ever this happens for the first time I remember the words I heard Taylor Mali speak at Learning Forwards Annual conference in 2010.  He blew me away with this one and I have never forgotten.  So today to honour kids, snow and learning everywhere I picked up the P.A. handheld and read Undivided Attention to the entire school with no intro or warning.  I share it with you here.  Enjoy.

Undivided Attention
by Taylor Mali

A grand piano wrapped in quilted pads by movers,
tied up with canvas straps—like classical music’s
birthday gift to the criminally insane—
is gently nudged without its legs
out an eighth‐floor window on 62nd street.

It dangles in April air from the neck of the movers’ crane,
Chopin-­‐shiny black lacquer squares
and dirty white crisscross patterns hanging like the second‐to­‐last
note of a concerto played on the edge of the seat,
the edge of tears, the edge of eight stories up going over—
it’s a piano being pushed out of a window
and lowered down onto a flatbed truck!—and
I’m trying to teach math in the building across the street.

Who can teach when there are such lessons to be learned?
All the greatest common factors are delivered by
long‐necked cranes and flatbed trucks
or come through everything, even air.
Like snow.

See, snow falls for the first time every year, and every year
my students rush to the window
as if snow were more interesting than math,
which, of course, it is.

So please.

Let me teach like a Steinway,
spinning slowly in April air,
so almost-­‐falling, so hinderingly
dangling from the neck of the movers’ crane.
So on the edge of losing everything.

Let me teach like the first snow, falling.

Mali. Taylor. “Undivided Attention.” What Learning Leaves. Newtown, CT: Hanover Press, 2002. Print. (ISBN: 1-­‐887012-­‐17-­‐6)

Read Full Post »

@Brockbulldogs (Mark Roth) and myself are on the way home from #bit14 in Niagara Falls, Ontario. The Educational Computing Organization of Ontario (ECOO) and Ontario Association of School Business Officials (OASBO) have closed their second combined Bring IT Conference at the Scotia Bank Centre. So… we are going home, happy, full, and contemplative.

There is much conversation in the car. Most regarding our respective roles as administrators in schools full of awesome students and caring teachers. All of whom are doing their best to improve the lives of each other. Completing a blog post while my compatriot drives affords me the opportunity to consider and ask him about his highlights. I have asked Mark to consider his experiences in three categories:

  1.  Learning Highlights (ie.  I know something different now and will do something different because of it.)
  2. Challenging Highlights (ie.  I heard something and wish to challenge it as I get positive results the way I do it already.)
  3. Questioning Highlights (ie.  This new knowledge makes me ask further questions.)

The Learning Highlights:

  1. The repeated message that Children, Pedagogy and Relationships of the Heart come before any technologies (from the pen to the iPad).
  2. Collaboration in the Learning Space with Peter Skillen when he stated the SAMR model is simple.  It is just a way of being.  There is nothing complex about it and it can be applied all over the educational landscape
  3. PBL, Maker Space, Inquiry and any other push to move away from the industrial model of education to the more robust and 3 dimensional constructivist and creative nature of learning is the transformation that we continue to need.

The Challenging Highlights:

  1. To paraphrase George Couros we too believe that teachers do not love the status quo as Ron Canuel alluded to (somewhat cheekily).  Teachers love kids.  They do the best they can with the information they have.  Our job is to be certain we are all using the best and most recent knowledge base to deliver learning. (ex. Brain research that states kids learn better after physical activity).
  2. The continued argument regarding the use of social media as a tool is complicated.  Warnings about students impacting their future versus the Danah Boyd research in It’s Complicated is challenging for us all as adults.  Do we look away or use the teachable moments?
  3. The continued references to digital citizenship is bothersome for us.  There is no digital citizenship, only citizenship.  We don’t say “Show a little digital kindness.”  Nor do we turn on the light switch and say wow, that technology is amazing.

The Questioning Highlights:

  1. How do we guarantee equity for students when there are classrooms that are not engaged in the transformation whether that be an ill prepared teacher, nervous leadership or a misuse of resources?
  2. What is our next immediate set of behaviours that will make our learning permanent?
  3. The world we are building is for the kids.  Can we all listen to what they want and still sleep soundly at night?
  4. Can we make this learning opportunity (#bit15) a reality for an entire division of Principals and help the cause, the transformation?

Thanks @dougpete and @Cyndiejacobs and the entire “Kelly Green” team for a great learning conference.

IMG_2163.JPG

Read Full Post »

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!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: