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….

Ode to the Artists

Whenever I sit down to craft an “I am” poem I can conjure up hundreds of descriptors for the final word in the opening line ~ but “Artistic” would never be one of them.

I am, however, a lover of The Arts.  I watch in amazement as dancers move in time to music and tell a story through dance.  My simplistic Hustle moves pale in comparison. I feel it in the pit of my stomach when a singer hits a magical note and holds it for an eternity ~ creating such emotion, that all too often that pit in my stomach bursts through as tears in my eyes.  I am on the edge of my seat as I am transported to other places when watching live theatre.  The actors use ever muscle to create experiences that I can relive over and over in my mind.  Then there are those artists who create works of art through paint and sculpture ~ to be able to create something so incredible on a canvas that once blank or to take a piece of marble/clay and release a masterpiece from it is a talent second to none.

Over the past two days, I have been blessed with a couple of opportunities to feed my passion for the Arts.  On Thursday, I stopped by the Art with Panache studio to see the opening of the Crossed Arm exhibition.  Julia Armstrong (my daughter’s future mother-in-law) and Margaret Crosby were displaying their latest works of art. Julia’s creations use oils with texture to capture the beauty of the landscape or the emotion of the subjects. I stood and looked in amazement trying to imagine how a palette of paint is transformed into something so creative.  Do the colours magically combine?  Is there a predetermined scene that she is trying to recreate? Does she know that when colour A, whispers past colour B that the end product will be so stunning?

My second exposure to the Arts was a fun-filled night at the Original Kids production of Rock of Ages.  A friend’s son is in the cast so I jumped at the chance to go and enjoy it.  Throughout most of the play, I sat in amazement at the thought that these are high school aged youth, who are singing, dancing and acting with such professionalism and style.  Their talent, their bravery and their passion for their craft shone through.   Kudos to Original Kids for providing this experience for so many children in our community.

Although we may not have a Provincial Assessment to measure our student’s mastery of The Arts, it does not mean that they are not imperative to the growth and development of our future generation.  The Arts builds empathy, compassion and understanding. I am so thankful to those educators whose passion for the Arts is alive and well.  Thanks for the opportunities to allow our students to perform and shine!

Come write with me…

Be Our Guest

They were literally dancing and singing as they came down the hall. Two grade 7 girls were so excited that they couldn’t contain their enthusiasm for a visit from a “guest teacher”. They shared that their teacher had told them about a special guest teacher and they recalled that last year, when their teacher shared that a guest was coming, it was Ryan Matthews (our former Instructional Coach). So they were hoping that Mr. Matthews was coming today and their prediction was correct.

Then a few doors down, our Grade 3 students were thrilled that their special guest, Mary Lynch (not only a teacher, but a real life author and personal friend of their teacher) was stopping by for a visit.

Today was not a special day ~ It was just another day!

One of the many exciting features of SAC is that our hallways are always filled with guests. Our crew has created a culture where they frequently reach out to not only each other, but to system support staff and invite them to co-plan and co-teach.

I believe that almost every  SAC classroom educator from grades 1-8 has worked with our current instructional coach, Kristina Van Hees on at least one occasion and most of them have worked regularly with her.  The students see her as one of our staff members ~ she is even in our staff photo and featured on our Currie Crew #oneword display J

Sarah Sanders has been a welcomed guest in a number of our classes as she has helped to build our knowledge about Indigenous people.

Erin Mutch has supported both school wide initiatives, such as our naturalized playground and classroom activities.

Terry Brown has brought his robotics expertise to our school and as one can imagine the grade 7/8 students learned so much from him.

David Carruthers has visited on several occasions to support VR Expeditions.

And the list goes on….

When we open our classroom doors to guests on a regular basis, we create a school culture where our students see their teachers as learners. They see them embracing the chance to work with other teachers.  Collaboration (between adults and students) becomes a natural form of learning.

How often do you invite a guest into your classroom?

Come write with me….

The Forest of Learning

As it is with most of our adventures, it’s all hands on deck at SAC over the next 6 days as our grade 3 and grade 6 learners demonstrate their mastery of the Ontario Curriculum by completing their Provincial EQAO assessments.  This year we have a number of grade 3 students who require scribing in order for them to provide the most accurate evidence of their understanding and we want to ensure that our students have a relationship with their scribe.  One of our educators partners in a Kindergarten classroom in the morning and provides support for our grade 3s in the pm, so it makes the most sense for her to be a scribe.  Therefore, I get the opportunity to spend the morning with one of our Kindergarten classes.  Today we ventured out to our Forest of Learning for the first 50 minutes of the day.   Once I counted heads, multiple times, to ensure that all 27 of the students were safely in the gated Forest of Learning, completed a Health and Safety walk about, moving precariously fallen tree limbs and double checked with my ECE partner that the garter snake that was spotted last week had not recently emerged, I relaxed somewhat and started to engage in conversations with our students.  I was amazed at the learning activities that they were spontaneously engaged it.  It needs to be noted that Karen Vilon, our Kindergarten Outdoor Education Specialty Educator, has done an amazing job of creating such a rich, engaging and fun space ~ which continually evolves and changes.  From bubble containers on the fence, to huge magnifying glasses, to raised vegetable beds, to an outdoor kitchen set, to balances hanging in trees to multiple examples of numbers throughout the Forest, there is definitely not a lack of tools for the students to engage with.

As our time together continued, I transitioned from casual conversations to intentional observations of student learning.  I watched a small group of girls roll and then stack three rubber tires, to create a shelter from the rain. They were able to identify the tires as cylinders and note the properties of rolling and stacking.  I couldn’t help but wonder, how do we document that they’ve already mastered that concept in Kindergarten and will not need to revisit it with a paper and pencil assessment in the years to come.

In another part of the Forest, a small group of students were gathered around their campfire, pretending to drink mugs of hot chocolate (wood chips) and telling scary stories.  They were so kind to each other ~ taking turns and ensuring that everyone had an opportunity to share.  As I listened to them tell their stories, it was evident that they had mastered the concept of what makes a story scary and that a story needs to have characters and a beginning, middle and end. May we continue to provide our students with opportunities to share campfire stories for years to come as they develop more complex story lines.  The power of oral language needs to be honoured throughout our lifetime, not just in our childhood.

And, in yet another part of the Forest of Learning, students were navigating their way from stump to stump, demonstrating their mastery of balance and timing.

Our time in the Forest of Learning was all too short.

I learned more about that group of learners from watching them interact with each other in the Forest of Learning than I could have ever captured by sitting down and assessing them with a paper and pencil task.

I love days like today, when I get to become a learner.

When was the last time you were amazed by something that your students demonstrated?

Come write with me….

Turn off the Tech and Get Lost in a Good Book

As I was driving through one of the small towns on the way home yesterday, the radio station I was listening to was airing a spot from the local library.  The librarian was sharing highlights from a recent book about the impact of technology on reading. Many of her points were ones that I had heard before and even quoted on various occasions; most notably the connection between our current state of decreased attention span and our inability to get completely lost in a book. At times, I find myself a victim of that very reality.  These days if I want to become totally immersed in a book, my cell phone cannot be within an arm’s reach.

Her next points were connections I had not pondered. As students are no longer reading fiction (without interruption) at the same rate as past generations, their ability to feel empathy has been compromised.   It is through immersing ourselves in fiction that we learn to see the world through the eyes of other characters. I love sharing a read aloud and then asking questions such as, “How do you think the character felt when they ….?  Or, “If you were the main character, what would you be thinking at this point in the story? ”Those students who can provide rich responses to such questions have connected with the character on a very special level.  They have been able to get inside the mind of the character.   Those students tend to be more empathetic and kind towards others.

Uninterrupted reading of fiction also builds our students’ ability to problem solve and critically analyze points of view. Without opportunities to read fiction and thereby travel alongside the characters’ journey ~ experiencing their thought process as they make decision after decision ~ we never get the chance to flex our own problem solving muscles.

A society without people who can critically evaluate various points of view and work through various options can easily fall prey to political rhetoric and thus their opinions can easily be swayed.  The implications for democracy are frightening.

With our current state of “technology at our fingers” and competing interest for our student’s uninterrupted time, our job as educators has never been more challenging ~ but when one looks at the alternative, it has never been more important!

What rich fiction story will you read your students tomorrow?  What questions will you ask that will create the conditions for them to articulate both empathy and a rich analysis of the how the characters solved a problem.

Come write with me….

Sheldon’s Quest

It may have “all started with a Big Bang”, but after 12 seasons, the Big Bang Theory writers gave their loyal viewers a well-written and heartfelt ending ~  which included closure to story lines, a “finally” repaired elevator and scenes that were so moving that they did not require the live studio audience to break out in laughter.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the premise of this show, it becomes apparent within the first few episodes that the main character, Dr. Sheldon Cooper has only quest in life and that is to win the Nobel Peace Prize ~  any cost. It would be interesting to do a word search and see how many times, within the 279 episodes, the writers included a reference to the Nobel Peace Prize.

Like so many quests, the hero’s journey is greatly enriched by the detours, the challenges and the times when all hope is lost. In the case of Sheldon, the writers brilliantly created a cast of characters who accompanied our hero on his quest.  They provided comic relief, encouragement and on several occasions, reminders to re-evaluate the cost of being so singularly focused.

Throughout each season, we watched as Sheldon allowed himself to experience deep friendships, love and even marriage.  But all the while the quest was still there, lurking below the surface ~ to the point that on his wedding day, with the help of his bride, the magic formula suddenly made sense.  The hero had finally achieved a major milestone, which made the quest attainable (with significant help from his wife).

As the final season draws to a conclusion, Sheldon learns that he and his wife, Amy, will be indeed honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize and he begins to craft his acceptance speech.  We see the hero revert to his former, self-absorbed self and write 90 minutes worth of his own accomplishments and in the process alienate himself from his “band of brothers”.

With minutes to spare, our hero has a change of heart and instead of regaling the audience with his speech, he turns their attention to his friends and acknowledges their role in his quest.  It turns out that those relationships, those challenges, those detours and those times when all faith was lost were the true prize.

As we near the end of this school year and we begin to reflect on the goals that we set in September, (our quest) is it important that we reached that pinnacle?  Or is it the learning, the challenges that we overcame and the relationships that were forged or deepened throughout our journey, that we will remember?

Come write with me….

Life at the Lake

For those readers who have faithfully been reading my “Post a day for the month of May”, my apologies for the short break.  As you may have gathered from Day 17, I headed up to our cottage for the Victoria Day weekend and although the view of the water, the peaceful surroundings (except for the invasion of the black flies) and lots of physical labour combined with fresh air were conducive to prime writing inspiration,  the unreliability of the Internet created some frustration when it came time to publish the posts.

Here is my Day 18 post!

Life at the Lake.

I did not grow up “on the lake”, nor did our family own a cottage when I was growing up. Hence, I do not have rich, detailed stories passed down from generation to generation about the ever-changing water levels, families of animals returning year after year and trees surviving extreme winters.

For one week each summer, we would venture to a fishing camp and rent a cottage. We still created wonderful memories with rich, detailed stories, which continue to be shared ~ but the natural surroundings never played a central role.

When our own children were young, we continued the tradition of renting a cottage for a week each summer.  We loved the outdoors and appreciated the beauty that Mother Nature gifted us with, but to be honest, we did not pay much attention to how best to sustain that beauty.

Five years ago, we finally took the leap and invested in our own cottage on the Trent Severn.  It is a modest, rustic cabin, with an accompanying bunkie for our now grown children and visitors.  Bru-Ski Bay (as we have renamed our lot on Lost Channel), nestled among tall strong pines, is surrounded by water on three sides. Each side offers a different entry experience. On one side, you can dive off the dock into deep water.  One side is located on the scenic point, with a gradual walk into the water (although, as a prime fishing spot ~ there is not a lot of swimming happening there). The third side is a haven for frogs and lily pads (marshy and moist).

As relatively new cottage owners, we have learned that the inaugural trip in the spring involves a great deal of stewardship for the natural resources, so that we will be able to enjoy their beauty year after year.  Trees damaged by the winter winds needed to be trimmed in order to not compromise other trees and plants, fallen branches needed to be removed from the water’s edge and the hummingbird feeder needed to be refilled.  

Stewardship of our Earth is one of those life skills that we can sometimes overlook in our quest to meet the multitude of curriculum expectations.  My heart sang with joy, when late last week, I looked out of my office window to see our grade one classes taking it upon themselves to weed and tidy our gardens.  It was so evident that they were taking pride in our school.   As a new school, we often remind our students to take care of their furniture and equipment ~ as we want it to last for years and years.

One does not have to be in a new school to feel that sense of pride and stewardship.   As you look towards the upcoming week, what can you do to demonstrate stewardship of resources (natural or other) in your school?

Come write with me…

To Pack or Not to Pack….

brown vintage suitcase standing at docks near the sea

Here we are embarking on the first long weekend of the season.  This year I’m venturing up to the cottage to take part in the opening weekend festivities, along with the family.  Historically, I’ve waved good-bye as the boys have headed North to hook-up the water pump, remove the exterior weather proofing material, and heat up the sauna for its inaugural use.  I enjoy some quiet time for a few days and then look forward to the stories of winter damage, curious critters creating new crevices in corners, the first frigid lake dive and the tales of the meat eating black flies.

Access to our cottage is via the ATV in the winter and by boat for the other three seasons, therefore packing is always an event in and of itself. I’m sure that there is a magic formula for ensuring that you have most of the essentials combined with the least number of containers/trips from the vehicle, to the dock, to the boat, to the other dock, to the cottage. I have yet to master that formula. The complexity of this “first season” trip is that everything was brought home in the fall ~ food, bedding and linens, condiments etc.  So, in my mind EVERYTHING is an essential, but I’ve been warned not to over pack from those who will be lugging the multiple containers.

Last night as I contemplated how best to pack (what is a “MUST “be packed and what is a “CAN WAIT” for the next trip),  I started to think about educators throughout the Valley who will be moving to new learning environments next fall and those who will be transitioning into classrooms after sharing their gifts from a system role for a number of years. In our school, at least four of our teachers will be moving to portables and most of our teachers who teach late primary, will be moving to new classrooms. Our growth and expansion has been incredible and it doesn’t look like there will be any slowing down in the near future.

If you are one of those educators who will be transitioning to another learning space, what will you be taking with you? What are the tried and true resources that are worth the multiple trips? What success criteria will you be using to determine the effectiveness of a resource? How has your selection criteria evolved over the years?

As for the success criteria for our weekend at the cottage, I’m hoping that in my quest for compact and my laser focus on the “MUST” have,  I didn’t forget the toilet paper….smile.

Come write with me….

Happy Long Weekend,

Rock Star Moment

On January 27 2017, I wrote and published a post called, Stepping Stones. It detailed a time in my career, shortly after our school board had welcomed 450 Syrian refugee students, when I took the opportunity to visit schools and share this heartfelt journey of Rama and her family as they fled a war torn country and traveled to safety.  A day later, I was thrilled to see that the author, Margriet Ruurs had not only read the post, but she left a comment and then days later a Facebook friend request.

Fast forward two years and once again I was referencing Stepping Stones within a post ~ as our grade 7/8 students were taking part in the Global Read Aloud and exploring Refugee by Alan Gratz, I read them Stepping Stones to build their background knowledge on the war in Syria.   Margriet, once again reached out with a message of appreciation and inspiration.  At the same time, her book, The Elephant Keeper had been shortlisted for the Forest of Reading and we started to explore the possibility of her coming to London to meet our students at Sir Arthur Currie in conjunction with her trip to Toronto for the Forest Festivities.  With a little help from friends, we were able to make it work and today was the big day. I told our students that this was one of my “Rock star” days as I was going to get to meet someone whose work I have admired for some time.  I am not sure if they noticed the subtle connection between “rock” star and Stepping Stones, but they certainly could sense my excitement as I embraced Margriet like a long lost friend, instead of someone that I just met minutes before I introduced her.

Our incredible Library Learning Commons educator, Danielle Cadieux, worked with our students and encouraged them to create their own inspirational Stepping Stone reflections and then she assembled them to produce an amazing display.  Needless to say Margriet was very impressed with the both the work and the words of our students, to the extent that she has asked us to send her the file, so that our creations can be included on her website. I watched with pride, as she complimented our students for their beautiful work.

There is something so inspirational about listening to an author share how a simple act/idea ultimately leads to a work of art that changes lives. In this case, it was the simple act of scrolling through Facebook and then taking the time to rewind and look again at the unique stone pictures of Nizar Ali Badr and being curious.  It was Margriet’s curiosity and months of perseverance, which led to their partnership, and the ultimate creation of Stepping Stones.

I watched as our students intently listened to her story of how a conversation with a young man at an Elephant Orphanage uncovered his journey from being an elephant poacher to being an elephant caregiver.   It was so evident in listening to Margriet that one of her gifts is her curiosity in others ~ she definitely listens to learn and then uses what she learns to weave beautiful, inspirational stories.

As I continue to explore my own writing (in the simplistic form of this blog) I found myself landing on three take-aways from listening to Margriet today:

  • Always be curious
  • Take the time to truly listen to the stories of others
  • Perseverance pays off (for one of her books, it took 8 years of research)

 

What guides you as you write?

Come write with me….