Starting the School Year Right

It has certainly been a VERY long while since I wrote anything on my blog post.  And like many others, I hope to increase my nline reflection and sharing this year now that I have a new role with new opportunities for growth, change and challenge (not that I did not have this opportunity in the past, of course…).

As my first post in a while, I thought I would share this infographic by @jenniferlagarde, called 27 Ways To Make This the Best Year Ever.  It’s a great infographic that uses Thinglink, so it is an interactive infographic 🙂


In the spirit of the “first Days Back”, I thought that I would share my personal reflections on her 27 suggestions… some might not be as thrilling as others but its worth the ol’ college try, right? 😉

Here it goes…

27 Ways to Make This the Best Year Ever

(1) Passion – with me being a new role, there is lots to be excited and passionate about!  I am passionate about making this new experience a growing and learning opportunity, and I am passionate about working with a great team of people to make it happen.

(2) Reach – I plan on continuing to use the ever-growing network of professionals and educators that I have connected with personally and through social media to help to support my learning and to share and collaborate. 

(3) Ditch the desk! – Done (sorta).  Had no choice this year… I am reduce dot s sort of “corner of the room”, with a tall chair so we will see how that goes!

(4) Share your story – this is about the power of branding; making it yours.  The program that I run very much requires a personal and yet professional touch.  I am going to try my best to develop a program and climate that suits, and is the best fit for, the needs of my students and that reflects my own personal and professional approaches to teaching and learning.

(5) Get to know your students – well, of course!  I plan to spend the first week (maybe even first two) sharing, telling personal stories, playing, chatting and getting to know them.  Also, I plan on sharing my experiences and background with them as well.

(6) Play – part of our school FISH! philosophy.  Check and check.

(7) Don’t be afraid to be silly – I think that working in a middle school, this is inherent to survival.  If you can’t laugh at yourself and make yourself vulnerable, its difficult to expect the same from the students.  it helps with #5 and #6…

(8) Reflect – harder than it sounds but another lofty goal of mine.  So much is going to happen this year, I think it would be foolish of me to not record and reflect on my learning and growth, and the learning and growth of my students.

(9) Organize – I honestly believe I am 89% “super-organizer” and 11% “its an organized mess”… I prefer to be in the majority most of the time, however.

(10) Make time for making – I think this speaks to allowing time for me AND my students to learn and explore.  Setting aside time in the day or the week to allow students to create something is an awesome approach to developing those “21st century skills” along with following true to the Inspiring Education direction as well.

(11) Share – I think I tell my oldest daughter this every 2 minutes, and my youngest daughter every 2 seconds.  In my previous role, I experience a wealth of sharing and collaboration that I have never seen before.  Sharing made the “machine” work, and I am incredibly grateful for that opportunity. Now it’s my turn to share what I have learned with those in similar roles and with the staff that I work with each and every day.  Oh, and through social media too.. that stuff is cool.

(12) Allow yourself to be blown away – I think this comes first from being connected and open to the staff in my school as well as to the students.  Locally, we have some incredibly talented and incredible educators that do amazing things with kids each and every day.  Connecting with these fine folk and growing personally would be a great part of this year for me.

(13) Take time to listen to your students – Put down the cell phone.  Step away from the keyboard.  Place the pencil down.  Simply listen.

(14) Empower students through choice – in my new role, working with the students with higher educational needs, choices may not be the best solution for all.  For some, maybe, but right now choice is hard for them and more structure and direction might put them on a better path.  This speaks to #5, #8 and #12 as well.

(15) Be brave – (gulp!) A tough one.  I am currently reading a book called Daring Greatly by Dr. Brene Brown.  It is actually all about vulnerability, and how to learn to be vulnerable in a strong way.  I am very excited to continue reading… lets see how it goes 🙂

(16) Be awesome / Be the teacher you would choose for your child – That is a tough one but a goo one!  Each teacher does this in his/her own way.  For me, its about keeping as current as I can, putting the needs of the students first and having fun.  Everything else will find its place (I’m thinking big now, as its the start of the year… ask me again in December – haha!)

(17) Strut your stuff – I don’t think that teachers are particularity good at this.  We like to do our best for our students, but when it comes to being vulnerable and open to others, we are very quick to shy away or hide.  In my new role, I hope to have the opportunity to work with the great staff I have a little more closely and to be able to encourage them to share more and be proud of what they have been able to accomplish.  

(18) Ask hard questions and help find answers – Some of us are certainly better at this than others!  I really have no idea where I fit on the spectrum of asking the “hard questions”.

(19) Ask for and offer help when needed – Abso-FREAKING-lutely I will!!  I have no shame in saying “boy, I really have no idea what to do here.  (Insert expert name here), would you show / tell / explain this to me please?”  I think I will get a t-shirt made 😉

(20) Teach students not subjects  – I am proud to say that I think this is an area of strength for me.  I can certainly grow more to learn how to better do this with my students, but I believe that I am on the right track!

(21) Choose kind always – Perfect point as a teacher and parent role model.  Choose kind ALWAYS.

(22) Mentor / Be someones superhero – Well, superhero I am no, but I am always certainly willing and open to mentoring any new staff, or even to mentor a students with a particularly hard topic or part of their school / life.  building these relationships can help to strengthen all those involved.  Everyone has something to contribute and to learn from.

(23) Grow – Something tells me that this will not be a difficult task to do this year…

(24) Say thank you and mean it  – and don’t forget to say “you are welcome” as well!  “Yup” or “no worries” is not the same thing.  Period.

(25) Be infections / Spread your genius / Lead – As the lead teacher in the learning support role, this is a new expectation for me.  I also lead a team of 12 educational assistants in my school, so it is kind of like I have my own mini-staff!  Yikes – lots of pressure but in a good way.  I am constantly looking for new opportunities to lead.

(26) Be the change you want to see – How will I be the change that I want to see??  Hmmmm…..

And finally, (27) When all else fails, just dance  – Good idea.  🙂





From KSA’s to ASK’s: Shifting Teaching in Alberta

I attended a workshop today in my district from SAPDC (Southern Alberta Professional Development Consortia… which, I might add, should be using the term LEARNING and not DEVELOPMENT – but that’s another story. Ha!).  The workshop was just over two hours and was a focused and targeted session on Inspiring Education and Curriculum Redesign in Alberta.  I have to say, when people say that “change is coming” I am not sure they realize just how much and how fast this change is going to happen.

Here is a graphic that appeared in the presentation. It is an approximate timeline for the transitioning of curriculum during the redesign process.

What I want to point out on this timeline is the location of the Inspiring Education document.  Way down at the bottom…. 2009, where the start of the timeline begins.  We are currently in 2013, and about to change the calendar into 2014.  What I was so surprised by in the workshop was the amount of people in the room with the view of “this will take 10 years to happen”, “it won’t work in high school” or “how am I supposed to do that?”.  Well, my response to those individuals would be we have already started, it will work and you have to shift your thinking.  With the creation of the Ministerial Order in May of 2013, teachers should be ALREADY thinking in shifts and alternate paradigms to education and student learning.  As one of my course instructors has said, “its like saying you didnt see the change in the speed limit when the cop pulls you over.” The excuse of “I didn’t know” is not holding water anymore and I believe that teachers are going to need to shift now rather than later to avoid burn out.

So where does the shift begin?  To me, is starts with the ASK’s.

In Alberta, the curriculum guides contain knowledge, skills and attributes (KSA’s) for student learning and progress.  These are the tidbits of information, skills and attitudes that teachers in the province are to be teaching the students.  And, as you can see in the acronym, the knowledge portion comes first and is most often emphasized.  This is the course content; what we want our students to learn in science class.  It is what we are comfortable teaching because it is a tangible, easily assessed, checklist-driven approach to teaching.  The government wants me to teach this, so I will teach it.

Inspiring Education, in my opinion, turns that approach on its head.

Teachers will be asked to emphasize the attitudes and skill development of students WHILE delivering course content.  This is very apparent in the Inspiring Education document but even more so in the Ministerial Order.  Both documents call for students to be engaged thinkers and ethical citizens with an entrepreneurial spirit.  The Ministerial Order directly says that “competencies are interrelated sets of attitudes, skills and knowledge that are drawn upon and applied to a particular context for successful learning and living, are developed over time and through a set of related learner outcomes.”  Many first questions that arose yesterday stemmed from the idea of assessment, and how are teachers supposed to assess attitudes and skills.  I know that follows the model of backward design (and its a good model, which I will get back to!) but at the moment I am stuck on what this looks like for my students.  To me, I need to make a shift immediately towards determining the attitudes and skills that are in my current curriculum that my students need to learn, while also addressing the course content.  I believe that if I begin t think in this way, and challenge myself and my students, to examine the right attitudes and skills needed to learn, grow and collaborate, then when the “official release” of the new curriculum redesign takes place, I will hopefully be well on my way to preparing my students for this shift.  I am not sure how much I can change at this point – I am still working on that.  But I do know that I need to change as of May 2013 and that waiting until the change is “at my doorstep” is no longer an option.

35 Corks

643925_10151159353722428_62662312_nI stumbled across this post via Twitter this week, and had a good chuckle.  Ha!  That would be a tough thing to do, try to keep 35 corks underwater using only your hands (I know there are cheaters out there who would say “just put a wood block on them…”)  And then I began to think.  What are the 35 corks that I keep submerged, or know that my colleagues try to drown on a daily basis? So, I decided to set out to list them and here they are!


The 35 Corks That Teachers Keep Submerged (in no particular order)

1. Teaching – its what we do, its what were are good at, and sometimes out teaching assignment of computers, social studies, cosmology and three math classes is what we endure each day.

2.  Inclusive education – with new and important information regarding inclusive education coming (what seems) each school year, teachers are having to plan accordingly to ensure all students are part of their classes, lessons and daily routines.

3. Differentiated instruction – not just a buzz word, but sound instructional practice.  It comes naturally most of the time to effective teachers and the other half of the time is a tough go to think of other ideas.

4. New technology – with iPad’s changing each year and new technology and software entering with the students, teachers have to “keep up” with some of the trends in technology and be able to learn (I think) at least some of the tools that support teaching and learning.

5. Fixing technology – not our jobs, but if we really want that PC to work for students, we need to troubleshoot and fix it ourselves.

6. Report cards – It takes sometimes the equivalence of days and seemingly thousands of typed or written words to compile these documents, in the hopes that all parents get to see them and get a sense of how their child is progressing.

7. Individual Program Plans / Educational Program Plans – for students with special needs or learning disabilities, each students (currently) needs a program plan set in place with goals and objectives developed, tracked and assessed by yours truly.

8. Communication with parents – effective communication with parents is the key to student success, whether that be in person, phone call, email, carrier pigeon or stone tablet.

9. Professional Growth Plans – mandatory in the province of Alberta and held to a high standard by the teachers association, these living documents are reviewed twice a year and personal growth and reflection is expected and required.

10. Social worker – to be there for students when they need advice, guidance or support in non-academic ways.

11. Nurse – from bleeding noses to snotty noses and everything in between.

12. Academic support (outside of class) – one on one help and instruction to students who are struggling, chronically absent, high achievers and even for homework clubs.  Sometimes, teachers do not even get a lunch or a break in the day due to the time committed during breaks and after school to supporting students academically.

13. School committees – the social committee, the PD committee, the healthy living committee, athletics committee, stage production committee…. they all want volunteers.

14. District committees – there are HUGE ranges of committees’ found at the district level, from inclusive education to mentorship to report cards, and teachers are asked each year to join committees based on their roles, expertise and teaching assignments in the schools.

15. Teacher association involvement – whether you become a representative for your school, serve on a local or provincial committee, or attend general meetings for budgets or contract negotiations, there seems to be a meeting every other week from the teachers association.

16. Authentic assessments – these take time, careful consideration and purposeful preparation for the students.  Not to mention the marking that goes along with some of them too.

17. Marking – both summative and formative assessments of (and for) students learning.

18. Coaching – one sport, three sports, five sports…. you name it, we’ve done it.

19. Fundraising – what was once a thing that happened in “lean years” is now a yearly occurrence, and gift cards or chocolates do not sell themselves!  The amount of preparation, time, energy and tracking that goes into a fundraiser is phenomenal.

20. School clubs – if you are not coaching, then you are probably running a school club of some kind.  Consider it your “school duty”.

21. Student discipline – during your own lessons, in the hallways, at lunch or recess and after school, we take tremendous efforts to support and (for lack of a better word) manage students and their behaviours.

22. Role model – I don’t J-walk for fear of someone that might be watching.

23. Student file review – reviewing information about students from their previous years helps to pain a picture of the new students in your classes each year.

24. Additional leadership roles at school – this could be a school-site technology guru, learning coach, learning support teacher or department head, but these additional (non-paying) roles can be just as demanding a role to take on as teaching itself.

25. Home life – putting this one at number 25 does not imply that it is not important!  Finding the perfect balance between working at home and working at school and all the times in between is a difficult task to master.

26. Professional development – attending workshops, seminars, conferences, collaborative communities…. the list can go on.  However, the embedded time to implement and further study what we have learned is actually the bigger obstacle or barrier teachers continue to try to work around.

27.Classroom displays – because keeping the same picture of a rock cycle on the same bulletin board all year can be a bit boring to student day in and day out.  Once in a while, it has got to be changed.

28. Photocopying – need I say more?

29. Bulletin boards – from trims to letters to backgrounds, they are all over the halls and in our classes begging to be decorated.

30. Field trip planning – based on the school district policy and school policy, planning off-site educational experiences is a great way to see your students out of the traditional class!  but man oh man, sometimes the paperwork involved is enough to make you want to pull our hair out!

31. Assemblies – almost entirely absent in high school they are sometimes the bain of elementary teachers’ existence, with the required planning and preparation sometimes needed for a mere 25 minutes of student attention.  Or, they are the opposite – sometimes long, and drawn out narrations or orations that take seemingly hours.

32. Concerts – Winter concerts, Christmas concerts, fall concerts…. everyone loves to hear the students perform and sing!  Ever wonder how much time goes into preparing and rehearsing?  I no longer wonder because I have seen it…

33. Lunchtime supervision – although not a fan favourite for many, I find this a time where I can connect with other students outside of my classes.  Although some days putting my feet up for 10 minutes while I eat my lunch would be a quick trade for no supervision.

34. Dance / tournament supervision – some schools open at 7 am and are open until 10 pm with all the events and athletics and fine arts productions being held.  All of which require school staff to often volunteer hours a week of their time to ensure that the kids have an opportunity to do what they love to do.

35. Everything else that I didn’t get a chance to mention on this (short) list… please feel free to add your item in the comments box.  


What about you?  What are your 35 corks that you try to keep under water each day??

My Own Tidal Wave

big_waveNow I know what Meatloaf felt like.

I am, of course, referring to the singer and not the dish (I dislike one of the two…).  I was referring to in his song, Paradise by the Dashboard Light, when he sings the about feeling overwhelmed and a tidal wave of emotion overcomes him.  My tidal wave is different.  But the analogy is the same.  And I can thank George Couros (@gcouros) for that swell of thought and inspiration.

This week, the University of Lethbridge Education Undergrad Society organized anti-bullying week (#bethechangeuleth), and of the many presenter and speakers organized, George was one of them. I have had the opportunity to hear him speak once before for our school district PD day.  As always, George’s presentation was engaging, inspiring, alarming, inquisitive and refreshing.  And during several points during the presentation, I felt myself asking myself “why don’t I do that? or “what would the impact be on learning in my class if I..?”.  So many questions, so many thoughts.

And the waters began to rise.

But what struck me most during the presentation was not so much the content of the presentation – although it was really good, don’t get me wrong! -nor what was it the draw of the speaker.  I was actually more enamoured with YouTube.  I know!  YouTube.  I was watching the presentation videos with the smile of a child on Christmas morning.

I had been swallowed by the seas of sharing.

At that moment, I had a moment of clarity and excitement.  Here was a site that most of us, I am sure, take for granted each day and visit the site probably as often as we do Google.  But as I watched, what suddenly dawned on me was the power of this website.  The sheer amount of sharing and collaboration that was born through and on this site that the entire world has access to and contributes to daily.  The stats from YouTube are staggering:

  • More than 1 billion unique users visit YouTube each month
  • Over 6 billion hours of video are watched each month on YouTube—that’s almost an hour for every person on Earth
  • 100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute
  • 70% of YouTube traffic comes from outside the US
  • YouTube is localized in 56 countries and across 61 languages
  • According to Nielsen, YouTube reaches more US adults ages 18-34 than any cable network

(Statistics retrieved from on October 19, 2013)

Dare I say, but this is the most powerful site alive and active on the Internet today.  How am I utilizing this site with my students in my classroom?  in what ways are students sharing and learning in my classroom through this incredible portal?  How can I promote and establish connections through the website, as well as outside of the website, to develop global collaboration?  In what way am I personalizing my own experience of YouTube?

The joy of sharing by so many people and being able to see the kindness, creativity, awesomeness, fear, concern, amazement, collaboration, love, passion, hatred and support of so many people in so many countries with so much to share gave me goosebumps.  Honestly!  YouTube really is an amazing creation when you think about it.

What the Dancing Guy Tells Me about School Improvement

Before reading this post, I suggest you watch the video “Leadership Lessons from the Dancing Guy” narrated by Derek Sivers (shown below). It will help get a context of where I go next…

In the video, Derek Sivers speaks about how the “dancing guy” and his followers demonstrate some interesting aspects of leadership.  I suggest that the same follows for school improvement and system change.

I have the great pleasure of taking a masters class from Gonzaga University with Chris Smeaton (@cdsmeaton) as my instructor.  The class is focused on leadership and school improvement, and we have had some very interesting conversations from the first weekend alone about school improvement, who owns it, why it takes so long and where the change comes from.  And for me, this is a topic that I rarely think about because (“let’s be honest, Andy”) teachers don’t control school change – that is for “administrators and central office”.  At least, that is what some small part of me liked to think, even though I know somewhere deep down in the recess of my mind that school improvement depends largely on teachers.  And I asked the question… “why does it take teachers so long to change?”

Then it hit me.  The Dancing Guy.  That’s why.

School improvement, to me, is a shift or change (in some form or another) that takes place from the grass roots.  It is not a top down, results driven, centrally localized process.  It is owned by the teachers and students, and members of the community.  Before any change or shift occurs, there needs to be that nudge or push or shove into the other direction.  Dan Rackwell, from his Leadership Freak blog, describes leadership as sometimes that sideways movement  in an effort to free ourselves from the rip current.  A sideways movement makes sense to me, especially when it comes to school improvement.

And this is where the dancing guy makes sense.  This is the first person to take that sideways step out of the “rip current”.  This first step, however, is not quite as important as the first follower, as emphasized by Sivers in the video.  For school improvement to occur, there needs to be those that take the initiative, but it also takes (in my opinion) the trust and willingness of others to follow.  In the video above, Sivers says the following:

“[The movement] started with the shirtless guy, and he will get all the credit.  But you saw what really happened.  It was the first follower that transformed a lone nut into a leader.  There is no movement without the first follower”.

Let me emphasize that last point.  There is no movement without the first follower.  I see school improvement as much the same way, in that the first steps towards improvement are not as important as the steps by those that follow.  Real school improvement is supported and acknowledged by teachers, as well as students, administrators and the community, and gains momentum as more people see the need and benefits to improvement.  The first steps are the hardest, but the ones that follow are the most important.

Your thoughts?

Why do I teach?

I have a confession to make...

I have a confession to make…

As part of the introductory course requirements, I have asked many of my pre-service teachers to reflect on why it is that they want to teach or why they have chosen to teach?  After reading so many great reflections, thoughts and writings, I felt that it was time that I revisited my roots as to why I began teaching so many years ago (nine to be exact… I know, an eternity).

I love school.  I still love school.  And I think that comes from my love of learning.  I cannot tell you where this love of learning comes from – my mothers inquisitive nature, my grandfathers amazing knowledge and understanding of how things work, or my teachers and their passion for their subject.  What I can tell you is that in the 8th grade, my science teacher, Mr. Sikora, made me love science.  For me, that was a turning point in the first step towards teaching.  I began to dig deeper into the sciences, asking more questions about more topics and more ideas.  This carried into high school where a few more of my great teachers continued to excite and inspire me with more questions.  And not just about science – about reading, writing, thinking, knowing and collaborating.  I think that by the time 11th grade hit, I was set on teaching.

My love for learning has not stopped, I can promise that.  In such a few short weeks in my new position, I have learned so much from not only so many incredible and truly amazing colleagues, but the reflective process and the questioning with the students has been incredible.  I knew coming in that this was an amazing growth opportunity – I just don’t think that I thought I would see how big this opportunity was so soon in the school year.

The decision to teach was never really a question for me – I wanted to work with kids to help them gain perspective, knowledge and understanding about the world around them and to ask critical questions.  I wanted to, and continue to want to, help them to grow.  However, I can honestly say that I do not think that I ever would have ventured to guess about how much it teaching would change me and how much I would grow personally and professionally.

“We Have Ignition….”

My masters program journey has been, for the most part, enjoyable.  Doing the classes through video conferencing between two sites can be difficult at times, and frustrating, but the learning that is happening and the sharing is quite something.  There are 18 of us, myself included.  We have discussed, debated, agreed, shared and discussed some more on many topics relating to leadership, education, culture, organizations and brain research.

And today, we touched once again on the brain.  And I was ignited with excitement about the topic – why didn’t I remember this excitement??


I had actually forgotten about a book that I had read until today.  The book, 12 Brain Rules by John Medina, was used and referenced extensively today in my class.  The topic: the art and the science of teaching.  The rules are simple, and I wont take the time to review them in this post.  I remember at the time reading them that it was sort of that “well duh!” but at the same time thinking “no kidding!” .  And now today, the same thoughts ran through my head, as well as thinking “how can I use this with my university classes?” and “do I follow these same brain rules in my teaching?”.  

The 12 brain rules got me thinking about my own teaching.  It got me thinking about the way that I want to teach and continue to teach.  It made me reflect.  Something that I have (I think!) done in my teaching… but certainly not enough.  I recently began to follow a very interesting and unique pre-service teacher on Twitter (@jbechthold) who has, though his own reflections and writings, made me paused and reflect once more on many aspects of what I am doing.  It has also

emphasized to me the importance of reflection in our business of kids, and ensuring that I, as an educator, am continuing to look for ways to grow and for areas of improvement.