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Posts Tagged ‘reflective practise’

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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“with the calendar about to turn to 2014, administrators must move past these tried and true techniques in order to stay visible and transparent and have an open door as a school lead learner – in the physical and virtual world.” –Mark Roth

It is a guest post Friday! True, I have taken 2 days off. And now I am guest posting…lazy? No. Truth be told  two days were spent in bed, with my two lovely and really sick kids. The flu bug got us all. Three days. Brutal. Flu shot avoidance no more. We were scheduled to visit a teacher friend and his family (we have daughters that share names–he named first) and I was scheduled to blog about our simultaneous teacher work in distinct parts of Ontario. Instead I watched 24 hours worth of Gold Rush, Ice Cold Gold and various Survival Shows (the real kind) with my two sickies. We slept and blew noses for the other 24 between doses of penicillin for the ear issues and motrin for the fevers.  In an unrelated and funny story the autocorrect feature on my planned hosts iOS called me a “sucky butt” instead of the intended sicky bug in her response text message to my plight and change in plans. Wouldn’t Freud be happy to know that even Siri slips!

Enough of my sob stories…

Today I am happy to introduce Mark Roth.  Mark’s work as a Vice Principal for the last 8 has brought him to 4 different schools.  There he has worked on his instructional leadership skills.  I am happy to share his first personal blog post here as another example of our administrative leaders challenging themselves to make their practise more transparent via web 2.0 tools.  Fittingly Mark has risen to the challenge b speaking on that very topic.

The Closed Door: No Longer an Option

by Mark Roth

For years staff in schools have wondered why administration have had their doors closed. Why, when there was a conversation in the office was it always private? Parents couldn’t understand why they had to wait four days after a report card before they could speak with the teacher. Administrators have walked the hallways, peered through the top half of a door and asked themselves, “why don’t they share with each other more”? Perceptions? Perhaps. I see a cycle that is being shattered by our youngest learners as they seek to change the world for the better. Then we realized, visiting classrooms, greeting parents before and after school, and making oneself available with an open-door office policy were great techniques to “open the door” and build deeper and meaningful confidence on the public education system.  However, with the calendar about to turn to 2014, administrators must move past these tried and true techniques in order to stay visible and transparent and have an open door as a school lead learner – in the physical and virtual world.

As a school lead learner, one must engage in learning and effective communication with staff, parents and students or one will be seen as having the door closed. The most logical way to stay engaged is to effectively use the tools that so many of our youngest learners are already using or better yet, be ready to use the ones they aren’t even using yet.  A quick Google search brought me to The Social Web. How can one possibly keep up? Web 2.0? Apps? iPad vs Android? To blog or to tweet?  Is this even smart as an administrator?

Social Learning in the Classroom

My suggestion, use the one(s) that work for you, understand the rest and continue to learn about the new ones. Let’s face it, our parents are engaged in the digital world. A recent study by Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project found that 77% of 18-29 year-olds with an annual household income of less than $30 000 are smartphone owners. Usage increases to 90% as household income increases. Early Years students are Tweeting their twenty-something parents from school with a device that they brought from home and Skype with them at work so they can share with the rest of the class what their parents do all day. Aren’t these the parents of the young learners that will fill our schools for the next twenty years? My own teenagers have informed me that if I want to know where practices are or what time their next game is, I can subscribe to Remind101, check the blog, browse the website or join the e-mail list.

What? No phone calls? Better open the door.
Pew Research
rothimage006

You can follow Mark on his school twitter feed @brockbulldogs.  Stay tuned as he prepares his own blog for our shared learning.

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I have embarked on a major project as part of my NSDC Academy Class of 2011.  I am working with 20 other elementary administrators like myself in some ways and very different in some ways.  We are engaging and learning together with a critical friend from another jurisdiction on the continent.  Our critical friend is a fellow learner, administrator and a skilled facilitator of adult professional learning.  The goal of my work is to enhance, develop or initiate the facilitative leader in all of us.  We are building on leadership skills that we all have.  We are building on the facilitative skills that lie in the realm of pressure and support.  We are working in the realm of relationships and protocols for engagement.  We are working so we may harness the true power and expertise of our teachers for improved student achievement.

First things first.  I am using technology to engage with my counterparts.  Using Twitter, Blogs, YouTube, Wikis and Google proved to be far to complex for many of my colleagues.  The learning curve was simply too steep for many.  I went to the one stop shop for professional educators:  The School Improvement Networks, PD360.  This on demand professional learning experience is tailored for educators.  It combines almost all the components of the above mentioned network tools in one place.  There are limitations however.

I look forward to updating this blog entry regularly as it will serve as my journal for my work with colleagues.  So far…14 of 22 have signed in for the first time.  Not bad.  We have two different physical meetings scheduled including our first….how to….coming up soon.  In all we will be working through protocols for PLCs from the School Reform Initiative and Michael Fullan’s newest Motion Leadership.

There is work to be done.  I am doing the work alongside my friends and colleagues.  I am engaged in and implementing the learning simultaneously.  Exciting and tiring.  Our kids are worth it.

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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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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).  

Cheers
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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