Words on Fire

“To be without learning is to be without eyes” is the only phrase, singularly situated in the middle of the first page of Jennifer Nielsen’s latest young adult novel, “Words on Fire”.   It is a Lithuanian proverb.

The theme of being “without” is intertwined throughout this beautifully crafted, emotional and thrilling young adult novel.  Audra, the main character, who has led a very sheltered life up until now, is suddenly thrust into a world of survival, discovery and more importantly into a world of books, words and ideas.  It’s a world that had been intentionally kept from her. Her only connection to the written word was her knowledge of the letter A, as the first letter of her name.   So it makes perfect sense that she begins her journey without a deep understanding of the power of the written word and ends up risking her life once she realizes that words have the power to save a culture which is doomed to extinction.

For those of us who love to devour books and can’t imagine a world without them, Nielsen effectively uses Audra and Lukas’ interactions as a vehicle to explain how words, when intentionally blended, can transform the worlds of their readers.

As Lukas shares with Audra, “This is a book of ideas. Someone thought the idea and put it into words on paper. That became a seed, and every time someone reads those words, the seed is planted in their minds too, and it grows and spreads and becomes a plan, and those plans begin to change the world”.

As educators, that is the magic that we want to share with our students. We want our students to do so much more than just “read” the words on a page. We want them to see their power, to know that they (our students) can take those words and use them to create, dream, plan and make a difference.  We want our students to become completely immersed in their reading world like Audra when she shares, “I loved the feel of the paper between my fingers, the smell of the ink. Every word was a symphony, singing in me of other lands, of other people, of places where new ideas were encouraged, not made illegal”.

But beyond becoming immersed in a world as readers, we also want our students to know the power of creation. We want them to use words, play with words and combine words to create other worlds, to create characters and to create tantalizing images of places that others will want to visit.

As this heartwarming tale comes to an end, whether intentional on the part of the author/publisher or just a serendipitous detail, I found tears rolling down my check, in tandem to Audra’s, as on cue, with a 3,2,1 countdown.   When you read page 321 you will know the reason for the tears!

I challenge you to read this book, to share it with your students and to then take up the task of writing with them as they explore the power of words.

Come write with me.

#Oneword 2020

And just like that, we find ourselves ringing in, not only a new year, but a new decade.  Last night at midnight, as the multi-coloured ball dropped in New York City, the revelers were adorned with 2020 glasses, the streets were lined with 2020 balloons and multiple images of 2020 were sprayed across the television screen.  We all knew that this next year was going to be 2020 ~ it naturally follows 2019. But there was something about seeing it so vividly displayed that solidified the reality of a new decade.

For the past few years I’ve committed to selecting #oneword as my first blog post to ring in the new year and in this case, a new decade.  With the images of 2020 still fresh in my mind, I couldn’t help but make the connection to both the popular ABC newsmagazine show 20/20 and the sharpness or clarity of vision that is associated with 20/20 vision.  Ah, should my #oneword for 2020 be VISION?  Although I could find a number of connections and possible tangents to explore with that word, I wanted to narrow the focus and be more precise. Plus, I learned from my #oneword last year, “PRESENT”, that selecting a word that has both the capability of being a verb and a noun brings a richness to the selection and creates the conditions for me to revisit it multiple times throughout the year within various contexts.  As I begin to reread the first few lines of my post, transforming a few of the words and playing with punctuation my #oneword seems to magically jump off the page.

For the 2020 year my #oneword is going to be FOCUS. I want to purposefully narrow the work that we’re doing at school and focus on a few initiatives and do those well ~ instead of spreading ourselves and our efforts too thinly.
A few weeks ago I had bookmarked an article that peaked my interest, “Focus is the Gateway to Business Success” by Dr. Jim Taylor. Within the article, Taylor shares, “Focus is so important because it is the gateway to all thinking: perception, memory, learning, reasoning, problem solving, and decision making.”  He also provides his readers with a few tips bring focus back into focus.

1) Declutter your mind and your work space

2) Master your technology

3) Practice the 4 Ps ~ Perform, process, present and productivity

Lately I’ve been finding it challenging to stay focused on any one task for any length of time.  Even today as I’m working on this post, my phone is close at hand and each notification draws my attention from my laptop to the possibility of something more interesting on another device. Hence the reason that it has taken most of the evening to pen this post.

As we venture into this new decade, which holds limitless possibilities, my goal is to purposefully embrace those possibilities with both precision and focus so that we can yield meaningful and measureable results.

As you ponder the possibilities of this new decade, what will your Focus be?

Come write with me…..

Cultivating the Culture Code

Over the years, I learned, that when watching an Avengers movie I need to wait until after the credits roll in order to see the true final scenes ~ the ones that whet the appetite of the true fans. Those short but extremely meaningful scenes where the premise for the next installment is dangled in front of us ~ conjuring up possible story lines; even though in some cases it may a year or more before our predictions are confirmed or destroyed.

In demonstrating that learned behavior, after completely consuming “The Culture Code” by Daniel Coyle, I diligently read the Epilogue. It was there that I met Carson and it was there that the previous 242 pages of print transformed from a brilliant, engaging tale of highly successful groups and how their leaders built culture to the heart of why I even dove into the book in the first place.

Last week, our incoming Director of Education, Mark Fisher, started to tweet out passages, quotes and his reflections from the book. The first one to catch my eye was, “Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a good carpenter to build one” ~ a quote from Sam Rayburn, shared within the first 12 pages of the book.  In admiring good carpenters, I continued to follow the tweets and got excited about what added value this book may have as we continue to cultivate our culture at Sir Arthur Currie.  Thanks to Amazon it arrived within days and I cracked the spine within minutes of its arrival.

Page after page, I was drawn to the stories of leaders, who throughout history all found themselves at a turning point where they needed to create, cultivate or change culture.  I found myself filling the margins with notes, exclamation marks and/or question marks.  Phrases and sentences became underlined once and in some cases twice.  So much of what Coyle penned resonated with my current practice.

Days earlier, I had just mailed personalized summer letters to all of our staff, thanking them for an outstanding year and more importantly acknowledging their dedication and commitment to our school community.  Imagine my surprise when Coyle included a paragraph on “Overdo Thank Yous” sharing that “thank-yous aren’t only expressions of gratitude; they’re crucial belonging cues that generate a contagious sense of safety, connection and motivation”.

As a school, community who experienced an unanticipated population explosion during our first week of school followed by a first year filled with constant construction, constant hiring and constant purchasing we were poised to either come together as strong as any school family or lose ourselves in the never-ending challenges.  “We are all in this together” is a common theme throughout many of the narratives and its one that I’m proud to share epitomizes our SAC Crew.

I loved Meyer’s response to the actions following the breaking of a glass at one of his restaurants. In watching his waiters’ interactions, he was looking for one of two things.  However, what was most important was that their “number one job is to take care of each other”.  When you have created that culture in a school community, anything is possible.

I have been accused of using “Bruynisms” on the odd occasion….smile.  I have a few catchphrases of my own that I tend to rely on. For example, when others ask what is SAC all about?  “Learning, Laughter and Love” roll off my tongue. It doesn’t mean that we’re not working towards a math goal or that we’re not modeling the expected practices. It means that at the heart of EVERYTHING we do, we are always learning, we are always laughing and at the end of the day, we love each other like family. At SAC, we refer to our occasional educators as “Guest educators”.  It makes conversations with students very easy.  “Today, we welcome Ms. Alba as a guest educator. Let’s conduct ourselves like we do when we have a guest in our home”.   I’ve started to refer to bulletin boards as “teaching tackboards”. That one has yet to gain momentum.  However, the catchphrase that I most frequently use is “I can’t help but wonder”.   There is an intentionality and vulnerability in it.  I am truly looking for input and a rich discussion when I lead with that phrase.

Woven throughout each “Ideas for Action” section is the overarching message that words matter. In my margins, I penned that phrase repeatedly.  I relished in reading how some leaders were bold and brazen in sharing their messages, while others were described as quiet and unassuming.  At the end of the day, their team members knew the importance and they led teams to victory.

Needless to say, I found many of the components of “The Culture Code” reaffirming and yet, as is the case with all that I read, it also left me with some additional skills to hone. Listening like a trampoline is bouncing around in my mind as I look towards this upcoming year.

 

 

Now, back to Carson and the Avengers.  When all is said and done, as school leaders, we invest time, effort and energy as we learn how to cultivate the culture in a school community for the thousands of Carsons that we are blessed to interact with each and every day. As a result of Coyle’s reflection and putting his words into action, Carson shone in his own way.  That is what is at the heart of all that we do!

Lastly, as for the very final scene in the first Avengers movie ~ maybe it wasn’t about the Shawarma.  Maybe it was about what had just happened to an unlikely group of superheroes who needed to build safety, share vulnerability and establish a purpose.

I would love to know how this book resonated with you?

Come write with me….

Pride, Pressure and Purpose

Here we go…. the countdown is on! When we return to school on Monday, we will have only 20 days left with our current SAC crew and only 18 days with our current cohort of students.

As I reflect on the upcoming month, I can honestly say that I am feeling the emotions of pride, pressure and purpose.

Pride ~ As a school that is just finishing their second year, we have much to celebrate and be proud of.  Our team of educators have already built a reputation of being a strong, caring, highly motivated, intelligent and fun loving crew.  We are known as a school community where kindness, collaboration and high standards are non-negotiables.  As our population continues to increase, we continue to welcome more educators, who embody those same traits.  Our students are afforded incredible, cross-curricular, engaging and challenging learning activities on a regular basis.   Each of our classrooms could be featured in a “Third Teacher” Ministry monograph.  Our staff has embraced a Learning For All model of instruction, support and assessment.  My Walk Throughs are celebratory moments.  Moreover, if I am having one of those days, when the emails/phone calls and system needs overshadow the important work of getting to classrooms, I can always count on a few visits from learners excited to share the number of books they have read, their latest persuasive paragraph or their latest math strategy for decomposing numbers.   We have a number of magical places that morph and evolve on a regular basis (our LLC and our Forest of Learning to name but a few) and arrive daily to find out what is in store for our staff and students.

Beyond the classroom, our students have been offered a large selection of sports opportunities, Arts opportunities and community projects.

Our vision of what a school could be, with everyone invested and seamlessly working together is quickly being realized.  I wish there was a word stronger than PRIDE.

Pressure ~ “So much yet to do and so little time” is probably the same mantra that all of my administrator colleagues are thinking this weekend.  Timetables, supervision schedules, final newsletter, class placements, fire drills, ordering furniture and equipment for 4 new classrooms, welcoming new team members, hiring for unfilled positions, graduation, report cards, final staff meeting and PD Day plans, transition meetings for incoming K1s and similar meetings for our a few of our K2s who will be going to grade 1 in the fall.  I am sure that I am missing a few more things on this list.

For me, the list is not as important (as tasks always seem to get done) as being able to maintain a sense of calm and business as usual as we work through the list.  Our students and our crew deserve for month 10 to be just as wonderful as every other month of the year.  For some of our students, they have already started to exhibit signs of anxiety as we near the end of the school year ~ so we need to dig a bit deeper into our support tanks.

Purpose ~ Last week, I was challenged by a friend of a parent (of a student who is struggling with being kind and not physically assaulting peers and adults) who felt that I was overreacting by holding the student accountable for his actions.  She started to quote the phrase, “boys will be boys” and then asked, “Who did I think I was trying to control those natural tendencies”. She tried to share that this type of behavior happens everywhere and therefore we should not be making such a big deal about it.   I, calmly, but sternly replied that although that may be her experience at her child’s school, we are determined to actively watch for, address and alleviate all unkind behavior.  It would be easier to turn a blind eye, but we have our purpose is to create a safe community.

As we look towards the bigger picture of school improvement, we want to ensure that we are honouring what is special about SAC throughout the process.  I want our Purpose to lead those discussions ~ not a deadline.

Finally, our main purpose is to ensure that we continue to love and care for each other during our final month together.  Two years ago, as I was planning our first June PD day, I intentionally created a day filled with team building, fun and laughter as I wondered, what would it look like if we created a family, not just a staff of educators.  Would those nurtured relationships allow us to come together to do the best work possible and to create a school community where we are just as invested in each other as we are in our students?  From what I see each and every day, I would say that our Purpose is alive and well.

What emotions are you juggling throughout the final month of this school year?

 

Come write with me…

A Kaleidoscope Kind of Day

The best way to describe today would be to say that it was a kaleidoscope of events.  Not unlike the workings of a kaleidoscope, with a simple turn (of phrase, in this case) something new and unexpected appeared. There was an interplay of lights, colours and reflection (both literal and figurative)

I started my day doing something that feeds my never-ending learner’s appetite. With a small group of trusted, respected colleagues we spent some dedicated time in conversation and reflection about school improvement and our own learning associated with the new SIPSAW. As we worked through the process, it was like turning of the tube in a kaleidoscope as each new idea and concept would create a different possibility.  The structure of the mirrors ( the intended outcome) was the constant, but the pattern would be modified each time we brought more clarity to our thinking.  I can’t help but wonder if each of us walked away with a different mosaic of thought, as our initial thinking was undoubtedly impacted by the groups’ prompting and provoking.

Upon returning to the school this afternoon, there was a whirlwind of activity and opportunity.  We are currently in the process of re-assessing our K2 students with an oral addition question to determine if they have mastered automaticity or if they have a bank of strategies to use.  We are videoing their responses for the Kindergarten team to review on Monday at our staff meeting.  I had 3 more students to work with today. Two of the students I know quite well as their K1 year was a challenging time for them.  One has a diagnosis of ASD, but her K team has worked miracles and the other student cried for most of her first year with us.   So as I asked them the question, they both took some time, but used a strategy to arrive at the correct answer.  I couldn’t help but wonder what patterns they see as they worked towards their response. For me, the mosaic was a beautiful one of success and celebration.

As I made my way back to the office, there were a couple of intermediate girls waiting for me.  We needed to embark on another conversation about being kind ~ especially in the online world. It seems as if we continue to turn the tube on this conversation, but the mosaic stays the same. It’s as if the mirrors are warped and the reflection isn’t working.  But today, I think that we actually made some progress. There was some genuine reflection in connection to our conversation.  I chuckled to myself at the end of the conversation when one of the girls said, “You should write a book”

The day continued with a few more conversations about being kind on the playground and responding to a couple of emails.

Then, once the students were safely on their way home and the buses had pulled out of the driveway, Heather Elliott, one of our grade 1 teachers, was waiting to share her new purchase, an Abacus ~ thanks to Tracey White and the Math AQ course, and how her students were using it to determine doubles. Heather had recalled a comment I had made a few weeks ago about the importance of doubles.  She said that it caused her to stop and think and now with the Abacus, some of her students can quickly determine halves and doubles.   Her fingers flew over the math tool, navigating the beads from left to right. It was probably at that moment that the idea of a kaleidoscope popped into my mind.

Those moments with our SAC crew, (which occur daily and some days multiple times) when they are so excited about something they can’t wait to come and share are magical ~ much like the beautiful mosaics created by turning the tube on the kaleidoscope.  Those moments are filled with reflection (about their practice, their students, their learning environments, etc.).  They light up as they share and each experience is different and unique ~ yet always breathtaking.

As the sun sets on this mosaic marvelous day, I can’t help but wonder who’s turning the tube?  How are my actions influencing those moments?

 

Come write with me….

The most deserving Caring Adult

  1. When you think of the adults in an elementary student’s life who they would identify as their Social Supports/Caring Adults, your list would probably include their home room teacher, maybe a Learning Support Teacher or a favourite specialty teacher. Occasionally, even administrators might make the list.  But today, we had a student identify someone who should undoubtedly be included on every one’s list.

As our grade 8 SAC Coyotes were working on their Individual Student Learning Profiles in preparation for their upcoming transition to secondary school, our Guidance Lead was printing them from the photocopier when she noticed that one of the students had listed our school’s lead secretary as his “Caring Adult”.

As you can imagine, our kind, caring, wonderful, Joanne Schinkel, was extremely touched by being included within this student’s profile. She called today, “One of the best days ever, as a school secretary”.

As an office helper, this student gets the opportunity to have conversations with Joanne on a regular basis as he helps with band-aids and ice packs and the occasional walkie-talkie signal to our custodial team.  But he also gets to witness the magic that happens every day in our welcoming front office.

Joanne epitomizes what it means to be a caring adult for ALL of our students.  She is the one who greets them each morning with a “Glad you’re here” smile.  She patiently listens to the school yard stories of bumps and bruises and the exciting tales of first teeth that have finally fallen out.  I’m sure that she must have her medical certificate as she effectively identifies the difference between a sore stomach syndrome and an academic avoidance aliment.

And it’s not only the students who benefit from her kindness ~ every guest teacher is warmly greeted by Joanne as they sign in.  She sets them up for success even before the first bell rings.  Her support for our family members extends beyond the warmth of her smile as she effectively helps them navigate their way through registrations, CashOnline, field trip forms, police checks, lunches, extra clothes, appointments etc.

And as for our staff ~ we all LOVE her, APPRECIATE her, RESPECT her and can’t
imagine life at SAC without her !

Thanks to the one student who recognized and publicly included Joanne’s name on his Learning Profile.

Sometimes it’s those who are most deserving, who are most often overlooked.

Who would you identify as a Caring individual in your life?

Come write with me….

A License to Chat

Earlier this week, there were a number of retweets and Facebook shares about this article, “New Filipino Law Requires All Students to Plant 10 Trees to Graduate”

https://gearjunkie.com/philippines-students-plant-trees-graduate

Having students contribute so significantly to their own future is innovative, creative and meaningful. The impact of such a law will be felt on a global scale.

In Ontario, students are required to perform 40 hours of community service. As both a mom and a school administrator I have seen examples where a student has taken this requirement seriously and other cases where it becomes a case of “find anything” in order to gain the appropriate signatures.  Community service has become a subjective term and hence I am not sure that we can be assured that all graduating students have equally given back to their communities in order to gain their diploma.

With this new Filipino law, there is now an intentional partnership between Education and other departments such as agriculture and the environment. Modeling that partnership bodes well for the Filipino people. In addition, the planting of trees is a tangible task that has an easy to monitor outcome.

Requirements to graduate ties in nicely to a conversation that we were having yesterday in relations to elementary students and access to social media platforms such as Snapchat. We are finding that a number of our students, who present so kindly and mature in person, are resorting to nasty, rude and inappropriate posts within various chat rooms. In addition, for those students who are being targeted with unkind words, it is becoming more evident that their sense of self-worth and their confidence are being compromised by the ongoing online insults.  It is heartbreaking to read what is being posted online and even more painful to think about an 11-year-old girl reading such nasty, negative things about herself.  We can continue to provide learning opportunities focusing on digital citizenship and we can continue to provide parents with the suggestion of “turning off the tech” if it is becoming harmful and hurtful ~ but it does not seem as if that is enough.  We have found ways to monitor use at school ~ but that still leaves a lot of evening and weekend access.

In our conversation, we could not help but wonder what our current elementary world would look if students needed to pass a test (something similar to a driver’s test) before being granted access to such platforms. An opportunity to learn how to communicate online appropriately as well as the negative impact of being unkind when online.  Many of us remember the videos of car accidents that they showed us in Driver’s Ed class. What would it look like if the “entry screen” to Snapchat required the user to watch a reminder video ~ would it make a difference?  I wonder if the online conglomerates would consider adding features that block unkind, cruel words and phrases. I know that we cannot completely shelter our students from such cruelty, but it would certainly make this world a better place.

Let us give our students a healthy mind and a healthy sense of self in order to enjoy the healthy environment that our Filipino friends are working on creating.

Come Write with me….

Were You Kind?

If someone were recording all of my conversations today, I would venture to guess that the most frequently used word that crossed my lips was, “Kindness”. It was one of those days when many of our Currie Coyotes needed reminders to simply, “Be Kind” and on several occasions, I started a conversation with, “Were you kind? I find that by using that question as an opening line, we avoid much of the “he said, she said” blame and criticism and we can get to the heart of the dispute more effectively.

From four grade 8 boys who were jostling each other in the hallway and comparing a classmate to a character on YouTube to a grade 2 student who was rude to a teacher ~ all of our interactions included the same, simple question, “Were you kind?”.

Even with a more significant situation, involving grade 6 girls and an online chat group ~ the simple question, “Were you kind?” immediately quelled the anger and the blame and turned the conversation to a more apologetic stance. Oh, how I wish the girls were thinking about kindness before they wrote such hurtful things to each other.  We had a rich conversation about how hiding behind their technology they were so unkind and that they would never say such things to each other in person.  I challenged them to be brave enough to have face-to-face conversations in the hopes that less hurtful things will be shared.

Children intuitively know what kindness looks like, sounds like and feels like. They are quick to blame others for being unkind, but at times, they are less likely to reflect on whether or not their own actions were kind.

Our job, as the adults who love and support them, becomes one of constant noticing and naming ~ and not only when we see/hear unkind behavior but also when we see/hear kind behavior.  I cannot help but wonder if we flood our school community with kindness compliments will it have an impact on our students’ ability to stop and think, “Am I being kind?”

How does your school community promote Kindness?

Come write with me…

And the next Director is…..

Word on the street is that our new Director for the Thames Valley District School Board will be announced tomorrow and as one would imagine there has been a great deal of speculation as to whom has been selected.

During my past 30 years with both the former London Board and then the amalgamated Thames Valley District School Board, I’ve be a part of at least 5 of these transitions.  I can recall, as a student teacher, standing on the Stoneybrook schoolyard listening as teachers were discussing at length the new incoming Director.  At that time in my career, I had absolutely no idea what a Director did.  In my mind, they were an entity on letterhead and someone whom would never know me.

For the next 16 years, as a classroom teacher, I rarely thought about the role of the Director in relation to my work as an educator.  It was during that time that we experienced amalgamation and in looking back on that time, I can only image the skill set that was required to bring 4 former boards of education under the same roof.

It wasn’t until I took the step into administration that I started to comprehend more deeply the role of senior administration and the Director and have a more personal connection.  I can recall the day that Bill Tucker’s promotion to Director was shared with the system. Many had assumed that one of the Executive Superintendents would have been selected ~ but instead the trustees selected, Bill, who was, at the time, the Superintendent with responsibilities for Special Education.   During Bill’s time as Director, I had the opportunity to take part in a number of system initiatives ~ all of a sudden, the Director became much more than a name on letterhead.

Fast forward a few more years and I was heading to the Board office to take on the role of Learning Supervisor, Laura Elliott was promoted from Executive Superintendent of Program to Director.   She embraced the role with a promise to move TVDSB forward with creativity and innovation.   Laura was very supportive and a champion of many initiatives.  She was quick to send a compliment and encourage you to take risks. She will be missed.

So, now as we look towards the next reign of leadership in TVDSB, I’d like to share my hope for the new Director.

May they be someone who:

  • Embraces passion for people over passion for programs
  • Challenges others to collaborate and not compete
  • Listens well and talks less
  • Has the courage to make the tough decisions but the compassion to understand the fallout
  • Trusts their team and takes their lead when necessary
  • Appreciates and demonstrates humility, vulnerability and risk taking
  • Creates a culture that we can all be proud to be a part of

 

When you think of the leadership qualities of a Director, what is most important to you?

 

Come write with me…..

Here’s to Paving New Ground

Ah… the joys of a slow Sunday morning.  As the early sunshine streamed in the kitchen window, the sparking rays were catching the corner on the cover of the latest edition of Professionally Speaking, which was placed on the kitchen table ~ the usual pit stop between the mailbox at the end of the driveway and my office at the end of the hallway.  Instead of taking the magazine to its final resting place, I decided to leaf through the pages as I enjoyed my breakfast.  I was thrilled to see that Cultivating Readers by friends Anne Elliott and Mary Lynch was featured as one of the recently released books.  If you are looking for a summer read and have yet to purchase this resource, I would HIGHLY recommend it. Mary and Anne capture every necessary component of a comprehensive reading program. It is brilliantly written!

As I came to the final page, I quickly recognized the face featured in the article entitled, Money Man, although the Dragon’s Den reference in the subtitle was news to me.

I had the pleasure of meeting Lane Merrifield about 5 years ago at a Mindshare conference in Toronto.  He was there with Jordan Tinney (Superintendent in Surrey BC) and together they were sharing the positive impact that FreshGrade ~ a student/parent/teacher digital portfolio Application ~ was having in Surrey. In that school district, educators were provided with the opportunity to use FreshGrade as both a formal and informal means of sharing student achievement with families.  It was used as a viable and meaningful replacement for their Provincial report card.  In TVDSB, we were in the beginning stages of piloting FreshGrade and it was so meaningful to have the opportunity to meet and chat with the founder, Lane Merrifield.  He openly and passionately shared the reason behind the creation of the application.  It came about following a meeting with his own son’s teacher, where he left feeling that there needed to be a better way to have a connection/lens into the school day.   With such an admirable reason for creating a product that had the potential to be a game changer for home/school connection, I was all in, in terms of supporting this pilot for our school board.

During our first year, we experienced several technical challenges with trying to merge their operating system with Trillium, but FreshGrade was phenomenal with their support. We had not only online technical support at our fingertips, but their president and CEO; Chris Besse would travel from BC to Ontario to assist with the implementation.  The second year things got better and teachers started to dig into the potential of this product.

Two years ago, when we opened Sir Arthur Currie, we became a pilot school where all teachers had access and every student had their own digital portfolio.  Going from a system role where I was supporting at an arm’s length, to being in the trenches seeing it work first hand was phenomenal.  I saw Lane’s dream of creating a school community where no longer could children reply with “Nothing” when family members asked, “So what did you do at school today?”

As a school administrator, I have access to all 625 of our portfolios and I regularly check them.  It gives me a tremendous lens into what educators capture as evidence of student learning and how our family members are interacting with the Application.  I celebrate how our educators are using the Application and the exceptional learning opportunities that they are offering our learners.

Now, in our second year, students have 2 years’ worth of documentation and it is incredible to see their growth.  I can honestly say that it is rare for us to take part in a team meeting, where family members do not refer to the power of FreshGrade. They love it and it has became a part of the beautiful tapestry that sets our school apart from others.

However, as of a few weeks ago, I learned that as we look to the fall of 2019, I would now have the task of sharing the news with both our educators and our families, that FreshGrade is no longer an option for us in TVDSB.

With a lens on fiscal responsibility, consistency, control and Ministry support, the board has decided that educators can use G-Suite or D2L (Brightspace) as a platform for digital portfolios.  They align more seamlessly with online learning modules and are free.  Next week, our staff will be provided with training on Brightspace.  I am praying that it will be as effective and as user friendly (for educators, students and family members) as FreshGrade.  It will be heartbreaking for us if we lose ground on all of the wonderful school-home connections that we have built in two short years, especially as there has been a significant focus on looking for innovative ways to bring families into the day-to-day learning in schools.  I am staying positive!!

Back to the article…. When Lane was asked, who his favourite historical figures were, he replied, “Anyone who stood up to the establishment and paved new ground”.   I smiled as I read this part and couldn’t help but wonder (for just a second)~ what would happen if I stood up to the Board and continued to use FreshGrade for our school community ~ knowing that it was making a difference and that it is currently the right tool for what we’re hoping to accomplish.

Lane also shared that his most important lesson in school was “Perseverance”.

So here’s to our perseverance with this new tool. At the end of the day, I know that our SAC crew will rise to the occasion and do whatever they need to do to continue to build bridges with our community so that evidence of student learning is shared and celebrated.

What are your thoughts on the power of digital portfolios and celebrating student learning….

Come write with me….