How our teachers make learning visible through collective blogging

Every Sunday I take immense pleasure in putting together a blog post for our parents.  The best part of this is that almost all of it is written by our teachers.  For the past two years, our staff has developed an incredible expertise for writing to their parents each week on what will be coming up during the next few days and what the highlights of the past week were.  We write a ‘collective blog’ together each week.

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display of art work put up this week – portraits of Einstein 

I write every teacher back and comment on their post.  I have often said to them that they really need to share this with others! Of course they do – to the people most important to them – their parent community.

It is up to me to highlight their work to the wider education community.  I am very happy to do this.  People need to see what this incredible group of people put together each week.  All of this is completely voluntary, but they all see the great benefit the collective blog has in getting their message out.

Kindergarten News for December 5-9, 2016

We are very excited to plan many great events for our Kinders. They are embracing all of our initiatives and as educators we are delighted to see how all of our efforts are so very much appreciated. A special thank you to our parent community for supporting us too!!

The Kinders were so reflective and attentive during the school’s first magical Advent celebration on Thursday. We look forward to attending the second celebration next Thursday

Thank you to all the parents who have sent in their donations of toiletries for St. Luke’s Table. Whatever small donation you can make is much appreciated.

On Friday they all had fun on their walk in the neighbourhood and they loved discovering where their stuffed animals were hibernating in the school yard. Of course, the delicious hot chocolate with marshmallows was enjoyed by all after coming in from the cold. Thank you for sending in a little stuffed animal to hibernate. Thank you to Ms. Ekich for joining us on our hibernation walk!

Kindergarten news for the upcoming week

All our parents read this every week.  The students as young as grade one will ask if a particular picture or event will make it to the blog.  Students want their parents to see what they are excited about at school.

This is what I think all schools need to do.  By putting out regular collective blog posts like this we are breaking down the barriers between the school and the parent community.  The beauty of making this a ‘collective blog’ is that the teachers do the most important work – providing the content.  I put it all together in one blog and post it to our Twitter and Facebook accounts and send it directly to our parents through Remind and Synervoice.

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winners of the St. Anthony Superstars Award for the past week – proud kids!

One great benefit to all this is that I have such a better idea of what is going on at school.  I read all the entries and notice as new ideas, activities and programs spread throughout the school.  Through the blog I know how we are growing and innovating as a group of educators.

I won’t post the entire blog here – its pretty long – but you can see our latest edition here.

If you take a look, maybe you could post a comment on the blog – Great work deserves to be recognized!

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Do we see poverty in our schools?

For many years, I took groups of teachers and students down to the Dominican Republic, Mexico and El Salvador.  There is no question that the poverty down there is grinding and the injustice is at times overwhelming.

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Kindergarten class in El Salvador

These trips were very meaningful and I was fully committed to sustaining partnerships with the communities we came into contact with, especially in El Salvador.

Many of you may already see where this is going.  What about the poverty in your own backyard? What about the terrible poverty in Canadian indigenous communities?

I never really had a good answer to these questions.  I guess I thought that I was doing my part.

Now, I don’t see this as good enough.  I have been very fortunate to work in a high poverty section of our city – for me this is a first.  I am ashamed to say that I really didn’t know the extent of the poverty in these communities in our own very wealthy city.

We routinely buy boots for our kids.  We support children through breakfast and lunch programs, we subsidize a whole variety of lunchtime programs so that our kids get the same educational opportunities as others in better off neighbourhoods.  We are constantly applying for grants for recreational equipment, technology and improvements to our yard.

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Where do we get help? From wonderful community orientated businesses like Starr Gymnastics

I am not writing this to make us look virtuous, this is simply some of the things you need to do when you live in a poor neighbourhood.  Even in a rich city.

Sometimes you have to go cap in hand to well off schools to get help, especially at Christmas.  I don’t like doing this, but it is important to help families especially at Christmas.

This year, we were turned down by one of the well off schools in our board.  This same school routinely raises thousands of dollars for schools in Southern countries.

Of course, this is their choice, but what has happened to our priorities?  How have we lost sight of the poverty of our neighbours?

I have no answers, only to say we still have a long way to go in the journey from charity to true social justice, especially in our own backyard.

As for our school community, we will do just fine.

 

 

Digital Implementation in School: How are we doing?

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Implementation of digital content seems to be widely misunderstood.  You can’t just drop in a sophisticated digital program without a really good implementation program.  Like with everything in education, it comes down to the person.  If teachers are ill-equipped to use new programs, they will fall back on traditional teaching methods.

Implementation is a long game.  To successfully introduce a program, you need a multi-year plan for professional development and support for your teachers.  If we use the SAMR Model as a measuring stick, I think that most teachers are still at the Substitution level.  At this stage, with all the technology available, we should at least be working at Modification – ‘Tech allows for significant redesign’.  I don’t think this is happening mainly because teachers do not have sufficient time during the day to explore the tools already out there that would allow them to transform their use of technology.

In Canada, teachers spend an average of 800 hours in the classroom per year.  In contrast, Japanese teachers spend 600 hours in the classroom (Education at a Glance 2014: OECD Indicators).  The Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education suggests that teachers need at least 10 days a year be set aside for in-school teacher training supported by coaches and mentors.  In Sweden, teachers are allocated 15 days or 6% of a teacher’s total working time to professional development (How High-Achieving Countries Develop Great Teachers, August 2010).

Timely, well-supported PD might help us to move towards Modification and eventually, Redefinition.

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As part of this process, it is really important your staff with excellent digital training resources. We are in the second year of a partnership with Atomic Learning.  I consider this a great investment.  You cannot ask your teachers to rely on YouTube or Google when they have questions on a variety of digital programs.  They need sources of curated material delivered by professionals who are used to working with teachers.  Atomic is not the only source for this professional learning, but for us, it’s works really well.

Discovery Education, especially in the United States and Great Britain is also providing excellent on-line and person-to-person PD.  The personal touch, in my opinion is really important.  Discovery spends a significant amount of time encouraging teachers to meet and share ideas.  They also feature innovative teachers on their blogs through the DEN- Discovery Educators Network.  The element of ‘teacher voice’ is a very important aspect of their approach to professional development.

digital-implementation-in-schools-how-are-we-doing-google-docs-clipular-2Discovery Education puts a great emphasis on connecting with other educators

Pockets of innovation certainly do exist, but to me, the implementation of digital technology has been painfully slow.  We seem to still be willing to invest in text and print resources rather than make the leap to digital texts and resources that allow for greater innovation and creativity.

The tools are certainly out there.  They do require a significant financial commitment, but we need to move in a more deliberate fashion towards the adoption of these tools at a much more meaningful level.

Teacher directed PD

Today we had something that unfortunately is becoming increasingly rare – an in-school PD Day where we were able to control the agenda.  First, I have to thank our board for allowing us to plan our own day.  This makes such a wonderful difference! Within the parameters of our school improvement plan, teachers chose to focus on one of the ‘critical actions’ outlined in the plan.

This is how the day looked:

PD Plan for Friday

I. Seesaw – presentation on the Seesaw tool for student engagement

II. Innovative Learning Stance: What am I doing differently this year to help achieve the school priorities? What are my critical actions and what do I expect to see as a result of these actions?

responses from  teachers 

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III. Leveraging Digital – choose one digital tool to work on – it can be seesaw, Edublogs (see below) or some aspect of Discovery PD section here or another tutorial from Atomic Learning.  Please add your choice to the survey (you are able to go in and edit your answers – you will need to do this by the end of the day) What learning can you record (based on your work today)here that we can add to our SIPSaw? 

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Ten Easy Ways to Integrate Technology in the Classroom Training

Education: One Day at a Time.

Sometimes in education the struggle seems like it is just too much.

With every child and family, we deal with there is always a fine balance.  What is the child learning, how engaged are the parents, what does the child or parent bring to school with them every day?  What has happened to the family even before the first bell?  What are we missing, what do we not see?

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Each of us in our lives in education only see a part of the life puzzle that are our students and families.  We try so many different things to help motivate and engage the people we work with.  Sometimes we are successful, often we are not, most of the time we will never know.

To keep a healthy perspective, we need to learn to take one day at a time – this is certainly a tired out phrase, but there is great wisdom here.  Life can only be lived one day at a time, it is impermanent and it changes all the time.

Today, after working with a particularly challenging student one teacher commented, – well, I guess he won today. I really don’t know what to do about a comment like that.  Who wins in the work we do?  Are we supposed to win?  Is anyone ever the winner?

If we try to see that we are all on a lifelong learning journey, with good and bad days, we might be able to develop a more positive perspective.

It’s not about winning or losing, this is not a ‘battle’, this is life and we should all be learning together.

 

 

What I am thankful for

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We are well into a new school year and this is a good time to reflect on what we are thankful for.  I think this is a good exercise for all educators in November.  Too often, it is easy to see the glass half empty.

So, this is my list – what is on yours?

I am most thankful for educators who deal with so many children who are already in crisis mode when they enter the school.  Dr. Stuart Shanker writes that many of our children enter the school under tremendous stress for a number of reasons – so much can happen to our children before they even enter our classrooms.  A good summary is included from a portion of an infographic that can be downloaded for free from the Mehrit Centre.

Our staff excel at dealing with children in this heightened sense of stress.  Most are able to see that misbehaviour is actually stress behaviour. They then work to create a safe space in our school so that the child at least has six hours where the crisis mentality is reduced and students can begin to learn.

What does this look like?  I am thankful for all these actions.

Staff that create calm spaces in their classrooms to help students transition throughout the day.

Educational assistants who patiently accompany children throughout the day and by their very presence allow the student to be successful

The gentleness that staff show towards troubled children and the sense of safety this creates

The flexibility of all educators to deal with a hectic schedule and for knowing when some of their kids need a break

The professionalism of staff members who write thoughtful and incisive progress reports that are a true reflection of the strengths and needs of our children.

The openness and welcoming atmosphere created by office administrators and custodians to all visitors to our school – they support the open, welcoming atmosphere that helps students and parents feel safe.

The creativity and calmness shown by our early childhood educators that make the challenging transition of our newest students to school atmosphere as stress-free as possible.  This is truly an amazing feat as many of our children have not been exposed to large groups of children before – just think how stressful this can be!

The main element in all this is the creation of an oasis of Peace.  The more we learn about the social emotional needs of our children, the importance of a peaceful, nurturing environment becomes the most important factor that leads to success for our children.

 

 

Implementing Digital resources at your school some points to consider.

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Today I learned that we will be losing two really important digital programs at our school.  This is a real blow for us as we are trying very hard to supply our teachers and students with excellent digital content to support the use of chromebooks in the classroom – all students from grades 3 to 6 have their own computer and the juniors (4-6) are expected to bring their machines home every night.

There are two important factors that seem to be influencing decisions about access to digital resources.  One is the expense, the other is implementation – not enough teachers across the school board are using these costly programs.  I would like to focus on implementation.

Implementation of digital content seems to be widely misunderstood.  You can’t just drop in a sophisticated digital program without a really good implementation program.  Like with everything in education, it comes down to the person.  If teachers are ill-equipped to use new programs, they will fall back on traditional teaching methods.

So what can we do?  Here are a few ideas.

  • Implementation is a long game – to successfully introduce a program, you need a full-year plan of PD and support for your teachers.  Some of this training has to be driven by the principal or someone else who is available to put on demonstrations and workshops during the day.
  • Webinars are good, but people are better.  We have found that while webinars are easier to arrange, teachers prefer to meet with a representative of the company producing the content.  When we have been able to arrange this, implementation has gone up dramatically.
  • Teachers need in-school time to experiment with the programs.  Last year, after the introductory workshops, all teachers were given release time to experiment with the programs.  They could choose what program they wanted to experiment with and many times they were able to contact the service provider to get just-in-time solutions to their problems.
  • Provide your staff with a good on-line PD resource.  We are in the second year of a partnership with Atomic Learning.  I consider this a great investment.  You cannot ask your teachers to rely on YouTube or Google when they have questions on a variety of digital programs.  They need a source for curated material delivered by professionals who are used to working with teachers.  Atomic is not the only source for this professional learning, but for us, its works really well.
  • People need to understand the importance of curated resources. Richard Byrne of Free Technology for Teachers states that he rarely uses Google as a way to locate material for teachers.  This is a really important point.  If you want really good content, it has to be curated.  Discovery Education, for example, does an excellent job of bringing educational resources together in math, science and social studies.  Other tools like unroll.me and Scoop.it are wonderful ways to collect information of interest to you. You choose the content and receive (in the case of Scoop.it) suggestions from your personal learning community.  The important point is – curated resources can cost money.  You can’t sustain your school just using Google and YouTube.  You need to make sure the materials you are using with your students are excellent and have been selected by professionals – you can’t guarantee this with uncurated sites like Google.

Implementation is not easy.  It is much harder than simply buying machines for everyone in your school.  It is something that requires a great deal of thought and yes, sometimes, financial resources.