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Creating the Conditions: Instructional Leadership #Leadership20

This is the 3rd part in the “Creating the Conditions” series; Part 1 was on Student Discipline, Part 2 was on Love of Reading.

I recently had the honour to present in the Leadership 2.0 MOOC series (in which I am learning alongside others) on “Providing Instructional Leadership” (To view the archive of the presentation click here – you can also view the slide embedded below).  When George Couros asked me to be part of this, I looked over the sessions and chose Instructional Leadership not because I am an expert on this topic but more because this is the area of current focus for me as an educational leader and this would be a way to learn from others.  I figured doing this would challenge me and give me the extra push to channel all of the reading and learning conversations I am having into one 60 minute session. (please note that due to the size of this topic, this is one of my lengthier posts but please have a read and add your stories at the end so I can learn from your experience).


As I communicated with people like Bill Ferriter (who continues to challenge me to be better), I realized that I had some concerns with the term “Instructional Leader”.  To me, that term states that there is a single instructional leader; what the staff of Kent Elementary has taught me is that that everyone can and should lead – and that many people can work together to facilitate instructional leadership.  The key role for me as a principal is to create the conditions for our staff  to be more of a professional learning community and create more opportunities for people to be involved in the instructional leadership of our school.

My reflections lead me to discussions with Bruce Beairsto and Jacquie Taylor (2 former BC superintendents who now work as consultants and volunteer as mentors) about how I can work to create the structures for the conditions for instructional leadership.  Both Bruce and Jacquie said they had a similar concern: the management side of school leadership had been given a bad rap and is something that is crucial to effective principal leadership.  Bruce said, “Leadership and management are the yin and yang of administration… management and leadership are equally noble, complex and necessary.”  He also used the analogy of a house when he said “You need management to build a house but only leadership can make it into a home” (more from Beairsto).  Through these conversations, it became clear to me that I had focused mostly on relationships and conversations but had focused too little on the structures that could facilitate more effective dialogue and put these conversations into action.  The key question for me this year is: how can I work to create the conditions for more  instructional leadership in our school?

One book that I read in my Master’s program was by Blase and Blase and in it, based on their work with hundreds of teachers, they summarize how teachers described effective principals.  The best thing about this list is that this is the feedback that has often been given to me by the staff in our school. Blase and Blase stated that effective principals:

  • lead with a shared purpose
  • empowered teachers (although I struggle with the term “empower”)
  • fostered collaboration and collegiality
  • supported risk taking and innovation
  • helped teachers become inquiry oriented
  • provided resources and time for professional growth

The majority of staff that I have worked with, both as a teacher and a principal, want to lead.  They have an area of passion or interest or they have some questions and want to explore; the challenge is often creating the conditions in which it more comfortable to do this.  When I think back to Deci and Ryan’s work on motivation (also explained by Daniel Pink), the ideas of autonomy and purpose stand out.  How can principals work with staff to provide the needed professional autonomy and voice in developing shared purpose?

Professional autonomy is one of those terms that is defined in so many different ways.  I strongly believe that in an environment of professional learners, professional autonomy can help teachers to flourish (we have “linchpins” in our schools that especially need that autonomy to fly and lead).  I like differentiating between professional autonomy as “freedom FROM” and “freedom TO” that was discussed by Blase in “Bringing Out the Best in Teachers”.  In a top-down controlled environment (think micromanagement), teachers often want freedom FROM doing things that they are directed to do; in a supportive, collegial environment, teachers want the freedom TO try new ideas and dive deeper into areas of interest.  It is important to also note that there are some ideas and initiatives that are agreed upon by staff (the “non-negotiables”) that teachers should not move away from (ie. consistency in assessment).  In our district, teachers have the option of doing some learning team professional development and are given time in lieu.  The past year, we had 5 teachers discuss ways that we could increase the joy in reading at Kent School; they met and learned together far more than the “earned” time in lieu and their conversations and ideas have had a significant impact on our school (click here to read more).  Professional autonomy significantly impacts student learning in our school as staff have shown that when they have ownership (purpose) of their learning, motivation increases.

Being part of the instructional leadership in a school is crucial to the effectiveness of a principal.  In order to be part of this, there must be TRUSTING relationships and credibility.  When meeting with staff we must work had to listen… truly listen.  When listening, I often come back to this story:

A little girl came home from school with a drawing she’d made in class.  She danced into the kitchen, where her mother was preparing dinner.
“Mom, guess what?” she squealed, waving the drawing.
Her mom never looked up.
“What?” she said, tending to the pots.
“Guess what?” the child repeated, waving the drawing.
“What?” the mother said, tending to the plates.
“Mom, you’re not listening.”
“Sweetie, yes I am.”
“Mom,” the child said, “you’re not listening with your eyes.
Mitch Albom

If relationships and trust are important to us, whether it is with students, staff, or families – listen with our eyes.  Doing this allows for us to not worry so much about what we are going to say next and more about actually hearing the message being communicated.  Having trusting relationships helps with the personal credibility needed to be on an (informal) effective instructional leadership team in the school.  Professional credibility comes from the earned respect from others based on knowledge and experience.  Therefore, it is so important for principals to stay up to date on ideas and practices, share this with others, and, most importantly, be in classrooms.  Both being in classrooms learning from teachers and actually teaching a small amount each week (one of the greatest learning experiences I have had as a principal was co-teaching grade 1 reading with a very experienced and effective primary teacher) can only work to build relationships and both professional and personal credibility with staff.

One of the biggest barriers to staff learning, leading and trying to go deeper with their ideas is RESOURCES.  As Chris Kennedy has stated, “If we want people to do well, we need to give them the tools.”  How can principals use the (often small) budget to provide staff with the resources to participate in instructional leadership by enhancing their practice?  The cheapest way to do this is to offer a few tools and TIME.  I find that few teachers ask for much other than time.  As principals, I think we need to move from people asking permission to try new things to asking “how can we…” try new things.  This year, I have offered teachers the option (this is not a requirement in our district) to do an inquiry-based growth plan, not for accountability and not to be sent anywhere outside of school, to help me provide the resources for teachers to grow in area of interest.  I have been so excited to read these and engage in dialogue on how our school can help facilitate their learning.  My former principal, Roxanne Watson, modeled to me the importance of offering teachers time to learn; I again have offered to cover classes for any teacher wanting to observe another.  I will also again offer a “FedEx Prep: Time for Innovation” so teachers can have some extra prep to explore an area of interest and apply that to their practice.  I am hoping that by engaging in reflective dialogue with our staff, I can better provide the tools for our staff to enhance their learning and, in effect, be more involved in instructional leadership.

As we model learning, it is important that we share this with staff and encourage collegial learning.  As Linda Lambert writes:

For decades, educators have understood that we are all responsible for student learning. More recently, educators have come to realize that we are responsible for our own learning as well. But we usually do not move our eyes around the room—across the table—and say to ourselves, “I am also responsible for the learning of my colleagues.”

We need to share our learning and share the learning happening within staff.  I believe one of my roles is to be a connector of learning in our school; I need to connect educators that are separated by bells and walls by sharing the learning story and encouraging staff with similar interests to connect.  This can be done best through face to face but also through email and social media.  Staff meetings are the only time we get to be together as an entire staff; as Scott Benwell said to me, “in BC, we have a total of about 15 hours in which we can meet as a staff – how are you going to organize that time?  Is this time best used for reporting out information or is it best used for collegial discussions that drive us forward as a school?”  Staff meetings must be effectively prepared in a way that leads to important dialogue and sharing for our staff (for a fantastic post on this, check out Cale Birk’s recent post or any of the posts at Bill Ferriter’s blog) as this can be a key structure to facilitating instructional leadership.

Staff (principals included) also need to be encouraged, supported, and challenged. As most of you know, I am not a huge fan of public recognition of individuals so I believe that private conversations that acknowledge the hard work and efforts of our teachers are so important.  Hand-written notes are something I need to do more of as I know how people appreciate these.  Staff do not work hard to get the “prize of a note” but feedback on their (often amazing) efforts can go a long way.  Feedback can also be used to challenge a staff member to reflect on certain practices.  Having difficult conversations with staff is never easy for me, but as Johnny Bevacqua says: “we need to go skate into the puck and go to the hard places”.  A colleague in the district, Mark Classen, has pushed me to seek to understand and see through the lenses of the other person; he has helped me to sit beside and discuss concerns rather than sit across from and debate.  Even our best teachers need positive feedback as well as a push to be better.  Tom Schimmer recently challenged me to approach educational conversations as “gentle nudges” rather than the right vs wrong ways of doing things.  This perspective has helped me engage with a variety of educators (both in and out of our sch00l) in effective conversations that move the focus from teaching to learning and drive both parties forward.  Having trusting relationships can open the door for 2-way feedback that will not only challenge our staff to be better but also make it easier for me to receive feedback to make me better.  It is also important that principals and teachers in our schools understand that when principals enter the classroom, it is to be further engaged in the LEARNING of the school and not to just participate in surveillance.  Although I realize that often when ANY adult enters a classroom to observe it is natural to see change, the more we are in classrooms (and GET OUT OF THE OFFICE!), the less likely it is to be viewed as an event and more as part of the conversation.  Through the conversations, gentle nudges, and positive feedback, all those involved in instructional leadership will see more growth both individually and as a team.

To create the conditions for instructional leadership, it is important that we engage in discussions and are aware of literature on current effective pedagogy.  For curriculum and assessment, one of the areas that we have focused on has been the practices included in Assessment For Learning, particularly having clear learning intentions and criteria as well as using effective descriptive feedback that student can act upon.    When I first started to learn more about AFL and became an administrator, I made the mistake of coming across (preaching) as using the practices of AFL was “right” and not using them was “wrong”; by doing this, I alienated many people in the conversation.  Since then, I have worked with teachers to highlight some of the work already being done in our school as well as setting up reflective staff meeting discussions of assessment practices to give some gentle nudges both in group and individual discussions; too, teachers have challenged my ideas and caused me to continually reflect.  For summative assessments, we are currently trying to use school data to inform us (NOT evaluate) but we have to ensure that this data is as real as we can make it – we have to work to make the data more consistent, ensure that we are assessing the same standards, and not participating in grade inflation/deflation (through late marks, zeros, bonus, etc).  Ideally, we would like to have what Benwell calls an effective dynamic tension between where we are now and where we want to be.  Although we continue to challenge each other, the strengths of staff members,combined with avenues for reflective dialogue, have moved us all forward in providing more effective, consistent, transparent assessment practices in our school.

Creating an instructional vision must be done from within.  It cannot be MY vision because if the staff does not feel they have ownership, it stays as MY vision and goes nowhere.  I need to have a voice but so do others.  The key questions I am asking myself and others are: how do we create a shared vision? how do we KNOW it is a shared vision?  One of the responses is quite simply to truly listen and build the vision from the strengths within the school.  Are other people being heard? Are we tapping into the effective practices already in our schools?  A shared vision with a sense of purpose can guide us in so many instructional decisions; getting to that point requires active listening and open reflective discussions about what we believe as educators.

Another aspect of leadership that I am working on is being a more transparent educator.  I think it is important to show that it is acceptable (and encouraged) to take risks and be vulnerable.  Leadership requires people to put themselves out there and possibly be wrong.  To facilitate instructional leadership, we need to model vulnerability and transparency and encourage staff to pursue the questions they/we have.  David Wees and John Spencer have challenged educators to not only share the successes but also the failures.  I have shared my “oopses” with staff and I plan to blog on this in a future post.  As Brene Brown wrote, “To believe vulnerability is weakness is to believe that feeling is weakness.”  It is important that we show care… that we show feeling… and, at times, we show vulnerability.

As I said, the topic of instructional leadership is vast as so many aspects of leadership come into play.  I believe that the main role of a principal is to create the conditions for instructional leadership to occur in our schools.  The key questions that I am exploring are: what are the conditions that facilitate more instructional leadership that drives each of to be better educators… and how do I create these conditions?

I look forward to reading any insights/stories you can share of the positives and/or negatives of instructional leadership in your schools.

 

 

 

 

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Creating the Conditions: A Love of Reading

A gr. 6 student reads aloud to gr. 2 students during lunch.

This is the second part of a series on motivation called “Creating the Conditions”. For part one on student discipline, click here.

No charts. No stickers. No pizza parties. No awards. No certificates…. and LOTS of reading!

Following the post by Joe Bower, “Daddy, I Want a Book Buck!“, Joe and William Chamberlain encouraged me to share the story of how Kent School has created a positive culture of reading without the use of prizes and incentives programs.  It is difficult to sum up in a few paragraphs but I will make my best attempt to remember the MANY things that the staff and community of Kent School have done to create the conditions for students to motivate themselves to learn through an interest in reading.

In the past year there have been many moments that have made me step back and take note. Here are a few:

  • A student running into me as I walked down the hall because he was so into reading the book he just checked out from the library.
  • Our teacher-librarian shouting out to a primary student passing by, “Leila, I found some more books on pixies for you” and the student responding, “Yay, I will come see them in the morning!”.
  • A student, who less than 2 years ago was a non-reader, coming into the library and asking for any more Dav Pilkey books.
  • Seeing and being part of the seemingly endless activities in our “For the Love of Books” month. Please check out our teacher-librarian’s blog posts on “For the Love of Books”.
  • Getting the results back from our student survey that asked: do you like to read? 97% said  YES
  • Seeing a teacher holding up a huge poster board that had all the book and author recommendations from students from the previous year.
  • Seeing EVERY teacher in the school reading aloud to their students on a consistent basis.
  • Being part of numerous author and illustrator visits.
  • Checking out all the teacher “Hot Picks” books on display outside their doors.
  • Hearing teachers ask powerful questions about reading; also observing teachers trying new things (to our school – like the Daily 5/CAFE) to help teach and encourage reading.
  • Have a teacher-librarian working virtually side by side with our community-librarian to promote reading.
  • Seeing a line up of kids so excited to read with our volunteer community readers on Tuesday and Thursday mornings before school.
  • Seeing students so excited to write letters to their favourite authors
  • Observing our grade 6 lunch leaders reading aloud to both groups and individual students.
  • Being part of a school-wide “Read-In” in which all our students packed into the library (in shifts) to read.
  • Watching children aged 4 and under take out books in an area of their interest as part of our Family Library Card program.
  • Walking into a classroom and seeing kids sprawled everywhere – in every corner and even in cupboards – choosing a spot in which they LOVE to read.
  • Discussing the idea of our kindergarten students walking to our senior care facilities to have our elders read to them.
  • Seeing students so excited about our book swap and book shops in our library.
  • Observing our teacher-librarian read to our Strong-Start (birth to age 5) students each Friday afternoon.
  • Hearing our staff state how important the teacher-librarian position is to our school and using their voice to ensure that we maintain this in our budget. (although I need very little nudging to keep this as a key part of our budget ;-)).
  • Having our previous librarian choose to go back to the classroom to share her passion with reading with her students AND state that she felt the position should go to our current teacher-librarian who was completing the TL program and was excited for the opportunity.
  • Seeing our buddy readers march from the intermediate end down to the primary end each Friday.
  • Having a student so excited to say to me, “Mr. Wejr – I finally got a book on girls’ hockey!”
  • Knowing that every teacher is committed to DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) time – and students are not forced to read books in which they have no interest.  Not enjoying the book? Head on down to the library and get a different one.
  • Watching groups of teachers and staff members meet and discuss on their own time how we need to work to create a culture of reading at our school.

I am sure there are so many things and conversations that occur in our classrooms and libararies that I do not see but the items in the list above have significant impact on our kids’ interest in books. The best part of all of this is that I have had very little to do with leading this culture of reading.  Teachers have used their professional autonomy to meet during professional development time (and beyond) to discuss and implement many ideas to help our students become more engaged readers. One group of teachers used Steven Layne’s book, Igniting a Passion For Reading, to fuel professional dialogue around doing just what the title has stated; these conversations have spread to the staff room, staff meetings and into other classrooms.  At our school, I am so proud to share that we have large number of teachers who are truly excited about reading – they model this in how they teach and what they do every day.  We also strongly believe in the role of the teacher-librarian in our school; our library is slowly converting into a learning commons area and is definitely the literacy and learning hub of our school.

Although this post is primarily to share the story of how a staff can create a positive culture of reading without the use of prizes and other extrinsic rewards, there are embedded stories about the importance of professional autonomy, tapping into the strengths of teachers, teacher leadership, student motivation, staff collaboration, and the power of a school library with a passionate teacher-librarian.

I often hear that students with little home support NEED extra incentives to get them to read.  The staff of Kent school have worked hard to prove this theory incorrect. It is not about pizza parties, book bucks, and stickers – it is about creating the conditions for students to develop a love of reading.

Thank you to the students and staff of Kent School for all they have taught me about the power of promoting a real love of books. Images are a powerful way of sharing stories; please check out the video below for images of what we do to encourage reading at our school (I realize here is a spelling mistake as I could not fit the title in :-)).

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Leadership 2.0 – A Collaborative Learning Opportunity for School Leaders #leadership20

“It’s not what I know, it’s what we know. And my reality is that I would suddenly become much dumber if you told me I had to disconnect when seeking answers or solving problems.” — Will Richardson

No words can express how much I have learned from those that I have connected with both online and face to face.  The learning conversations that I participate in on a regular basis are often informal, ongoing, and thought-provoking; these connections have also led me to even more formal and informal learning opportunities.

My good friend George Couros has organized a fantastic learning opportunity that I am going to take advantage of – a learning series or MOOC (massive open online course) that is completely free, reflective, open to everyone, and based on the Alberta Principal Quality Standards.  Please join me and many others as we collaborate and take our learning to the next level in this 9 part webinar series on Tuesdays beginning October 2, 2012.

 
Leadership 2.0 Open Course #Leadership20

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Goal One: To Read More Children’s Books

One way we promote a love of reading at Kent School.

In the past year, the staff of Kent School have had some inspiring conversations and professional learning opportunities (stemmed from professional autonomy and inquiry) around helping students to develop a love of reading based on Steven Layne’s book “Igniting a Passion For Reading”.  The book is jam-packed with strategies that are easy to implement as well as thoughts that cause deeper reflection on HOW and WHY we teach reading.

One of the pieces that he discusses is that if we want students to continue to enjoy reading, we have to read the books they enjoy.  Although I do not currently teach in a primary classroom, I feel as a principal, I need to be able to discuss and share some of the books that our students are reading.

This year, one of my goals is to read more children’s books.  We have many teachers who are passionate about reading in our school (and this has a huge impact on the joy of reading in our kids) so I am tapping into their strengths and have asked them to recommend books for me to read.  Our amazing teacher-librarian drops off a new book each week in my “Mr.Wejr’s Hot Pick” cubby (see photo above -many of our teachers have this just outside their classrooms to help promote books) and I read it and share it with students. I am excited to read my first books this year: When You Were Small by Sara O’Leary and The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn (actually recommended by my sister).

Although this is a very simple goal, it is just one way that I can tap into the wonderful work that is being done at Kent School around encouraging a love of reading.  By doing this I can better meet kids where THEY are… and have fun reading the books they love to read.

Thank you to our staff for all the work they have done and continue to do to encourage pure joy in reading!

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Starting the Conversation on Rethinking Awards Ceremonies

Since I wrote about our school’s decision to end our awards ceremony and change the the way we honour students, I have been asked a few times how people could start the conversation in their schools.  I realize that most schools have already hosted their year-end awards ceremonies but while it is fresh in people’s minds I wanted to provide a place for the conversation to continue.

As many are aware, when I arrived at my current school, the conversation had already been occurring for a few years; although I was part of the final decision, I was not part of the initial discussions (this was started by staff, parents, and admin prior to 2007).   Having said this, I have often thought about how I would approach initiating this dialogue in a different school now that I have seen and experienced the success of a school without an awards ceremony.  Keeping in mind that each school culture is different and that each school probably has lengthy traditions of trophies and awards in schools, this is not a decision that people can make without the support of some key parents, students and staff. Once you have a few people (your support network) questioning the idea of only honouring a select few in a created competition in which the winner is decided by staff, here are some possible leading questions (I need to be clear, though, that I am NOT advocating for expectations to be lowered nor am I supporting the idea that EVERY child gets some sort of “top _____ award”):

  • Does your year-end awards ceremonies and/or student of the month program align with your school vision, plan and/or goals?
  • What does research say about the use of awards/prizes to motivate (or demotivate) learning?
  • At which age do awards become necessary – 5? 10? 15?  Why?
  • How much of the award is based on culture, language, parents (particularly cultural capital and income) and teachers that the winner has/had and how much is based on the person’s work ethic?
  • What if, as a first step in changing awards ceremonies, we honoured students who met a certain criteria?  This would be rather than selecting one person as a winner (often when many others have worked just as hard).
  • What does “top ______ student” actually mean?  Does this mean they have done well or does it mean they have just done “better” than everyone else? IS the top student in a class of 12 the same as the top student in a class of 120?
  • If awards ceremonies are important for kids, why do we not do this in our homes?
  • Is it possible for an award winner to struggle with success later in life?  Is it possible that there are a few (or many) people out there who have achieved success that did not win an award?
  • If we agree that formative assessment,inquiry-based learning & encouraging a growth mindset are the direction we need to go in education, how can we defend a ceremony based on a fixed mindset that showcases winners based on grades?

The more I discuss and read about human motivation, the more questions I seem to have.  I wonder if we all provided ongoing feedback that personally honoured and challenged our students and we continually worked to form trusting,caring relationships with kids… would we need public recognition at all?

This post is not about questioning whether or not we should have awards (here are many other posts that ask that question); this post is about providing a platform to share ideas and engage in dialogue around the idea of starting the conversation about rethinkng the way we do awards ceremonies in schools.  If you have questions and/or thoughts or if you have initiating successful (or unsuccessful) discussions in your school, please share in the comments section below.

8

What Matters in Our Learning: Student Voice on Assessment & Inquiry

The words of our students. Are we listening?

Through my participation in a few EdCamps, I have had the complete pleasure of meeting and chatting with North Surrey Secondary senior humanities teacher  Jonathan Vervaet(@jonathanvervaet).  I knew about his contagious passion for inquiry and assessment for learning; what I did not know was that I would also be completely awestruck and inspired by two of his grade 12 students.

During Edcamp43 in Coquitlam earlier this year, I attended a session on TEDxKids.  I strongly believe in the power of our students voices and the TEDxKids idea is one that needs to be shared and promoted; I went to gain more knowledge about the event.  Halfway through the session, two students spoke up about their experience in high school.  My ears perked up and my heart started to race as they made a comment about the power of inquiry as well as the movement away from grades.  I encouraged them to expand on their thoughts and during the next 5-10 minutes they shared one of the most powerful stories about pedagogy that I have ever heard.  They spoke about how moving away from grades and using inquiry as a focus made them realize they actually loved to learn.  I was so engaged that I did not take a single note or tweet.  The room was silent the entire time these boys spoke.  Two grade 12 students had completely captivated a room full of administrators, teachers and parents.  It was the first time anyone outside of their classroom had listened to them. At this EdCamp, these boys were being heard and they completely seized the moment.

I wanted to figure out how these two students, Kenny (@Kennycolosie) and Dylan could share their story and thoughts to a wider audience.  I spoke to Jonathan, who unfortunately missed their amazing story, immediately following the session as well as in the weeks following EdCamp43.  We tossed around the idea of a guest post or the boys skyping into our district admin meeting. He came up with an idea to try to recreate the conversation with them and then send me the audio.

The following quotes are the summarized ideas of Kenny and Dylan, two History 12 and Comparative Civ 12 students from a school in Surrey, BC (I have not separated who said what as they both seemed to agree and build upon each others’ responses… I apologize in advance to these guys as my words probably do not do justice to what they originally so passionately stated).

From Kenny and Dylan:

The typical classroom work we see is work… copy… regurgitate… repeat.  We do this for teachers and they ask us questions right away and we can answer.  However, if you asked us next week, or even the next day, we won’t have a clue.  We have memorized but we have not learned.

When we first started Mr. Vervaet’s classes, we hated it.  We were like, “just gimme the worksheets and tell me what to do and I will do it”.  He was talking about inquiry and not giving us grades.  We thought it was dumb… we said forget this feedback stuff… we wanted a percent.  It was so hard at the start.  Then, about a month into first semester, we had to do another assignment for a different class (basically had to copy and paste)… and we were like, wow, this sucks! We realized how much more we liked projects using inquiry and appreciated the ongoing feedback.  From that point on, we started to see that inquiry allowed us to research an area, based on a learning outcome, in which WE were interested.  We got to look at the learning outcome from a point of view that worked for us… inquiry helped us to become way more engaged.  Inquiry helped us to have a voice.  Rather than copying and pasting from Wikipedia, we were actually learning.  Mr. Vervaet makes the learning outcome clear, helps us to understand what it means,  and then helps us to come up with ways we can demonstrate our understanding of that outcome.

Allowing redos and not having percents has been huge to our learning too.  We can show our learning over time and keep improving rather than our stuff at the beginning and end being averaged into some number.  With Mr. Vervaet, our final mark is where we are at NOW rather than an average that includes when we struggled at the start.

Keeping the focus on learning rather than percents makes us take more risks.  We find in other classes that we don’t take risks – we don’t get a chance to redo an assignment so when it is done, it is done.  If we screw up, we lose marks with no chance of changing anything so why would we take a risk? Without redos there is no chance to show learning if we learn something after the due date.  This adds more stress because there is so much pressure to get things right the first time and there is less chance for feedback from the teacher.  If you figure things out late, there is no way to change your mark.  High-stakes learning (without the chance for improvement) makes school suck… makes us not want to be there.  When teachers focus on marks, marks, marks, it puts so much pressure on students to get marks that when the marks aren’t there, students become demotivated, disengaged and sometimes even depressed.  We see most students motivated about learning when there is flexibility of deadlines, projects that we are interested in, and a chance to redo assignments.

Clear criteria is also so important to us.  When you don’t have an idea of what you are aiming for, you end up trying everything and hoping that it is what the teacher wants.  When you know the criteria, the learning outcomes are clear and our efforts can be focused because we know what we are aiming for (rather than guessing or trying to cover everything).

Up until Mr. Vervaet’s class, we struggled to be motivated to learn in school.  We would watch the clocks and count down the minutes until the end of the day.  With inquiry-based learning, we found we were WAY more motivated in school, the learning was more relevant to us, and there were times when we even wanted to stand up and applaud.  At the end of the semester, we were like, “wow, can we retake that… we don’t want it to end!”.

If we could change a few things in high school education it would be to move away from the pressure of grades and strict deadlines.  We still know we need to get things done but having more flexible deadlines so we can plan out our work will make things less stressful for us.  Having the chance to redo assignment also removes some of the pressure and actually improves our learning.  In grade 8, we actually liked the pressure as it was kind of new… but then it wore on us and by the time we reached grades 10-12 we just wanted to get out… the focus shifts to getting to the end and you miss the learning along the way.  We also feel that thigs are changing; students lives are different than they were when teachers were in school and sometimes teachers still teach the way they were taught.  Times are different now so school should be different too.

There is clear research about the power of inquiry-based learning as well as the importance of ongoing descriptive feedback based on clear criteria and learning intentions.  If you look at the image at the top, the words that stand out to these students make it clear  what matters in THEIR learning and that we need to not only listen to the researchers (particularly Dylan Wiliam, John Hattie, Paul Black) and teacher leaders but also to the students in our classes.

Dylan and Kenny have provided clear feedback to us and are some of the voices of the most important people in our schools.  Their views align well with education research…. so this begs the question: how do we make mindsets like inquiry and assessment for learning become the norm, rather than the exception, in schools?  

I want to thank Jonathan for taking the time to do the legwork for this post as well as modelling and sharing his passion for education reform.  Thank you to Dylan and Kenny for their all important inspiring voices on education… keep speaking up boys!

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Assessment Chat with @TomSchimmer – Thurs, Nov 17

It is no secret that an area of education in which I am passionate is assessment – in particular Assessment For Learning or Formative Assessment.  The work of Dylan Williams, Ruth Sutton, Rick Stiggins, John Hattie, Ken O’Connor and Anne Davies have had a significant impact on my thoughts around assessment but since last year, I have had the opportunity to work closely with another local (BC) educator around assessment and grading: Tom Schimmer.

Tom and I met through Twitter and since then, have met face to face as well as over the phone a number of times (see my notes from his presentation here). His mentorship around creating change in schools in the area of assessment will help me for years to come as we move away from the traditional practices to more current ones that benefit student learning. His book “10 Things That Matter From Assessment to Grading” is highly recommended as a practical way to encourage shifts in your classroom and schools.

In our recent #BCEd Chat on Monday November 4, the topic was “the link between assessment and learning”.  It was a great discussion and at the end, I asked “So we all agree that AFL (assessment for learning) is one of the most powerful tools for student learning; why is this practice not in every school and every classroom?”HOW can we work to changing the mindset so AFL is the norm in each classroom?

To help me with this question, I have asked Tom to chat with me on Twitter this Thursday, Nov 17 at 4:00 PST (7:00 EST).  The hashtag for the conversation will be #AFLSchim and

I invite you to join us on Thursday to ask Tom, and engage with others, any questions about implementing AFL into your classroom or school.  If you have any questions you would like Tom to focus on, please leave them in the comments below. Here are some that I will be looking to ask:

  • In a system in which class sizes are not getting smaller, and money and time is tight, HOW can we implement changes so that AFL becomes more of the norm in BC schools?
  • How do we move toward Assessment For Learning in a system that requires grades, percentages, and report cards?

Hope you can join us Thursday at 4:00pm PST! #AFLSchim

Tom will also be joining us at Edcamp Fraser Valley on December 3 in Maple Ridge.  Hope you can join us there to continue the dialogue around topics including assessment and grading.  www.edcampfv.ca

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Becoming a Connected Leader: A Journey

Image from http://bit.ly/pZYAkL

[caption id="attachment_1343" align="aligncenter" width="230"] Image from http://bit.ly/pZYAkL[/caption]
I recently had the honour of presenting to a neighbouring school district about my journey in developing

3

Grading and Assessment with @tomschimmer

10-things2
In June, I offered our intermediate teachers the opportunity to attend, with me, a one day session with Tom Schimmer on the topic  of “10 Things That Matter From Assessment to Grading” (based on his newly released book of the same name).  I have been connected with Tom for about 8 months and we have had some powerful conversations around the topics of assessment, motivation and leadership through Twitter, in person, and on the good ole telephone.  If you ever get a chance to see/hear Tom speak: do it (you can view some of his other presentation slides here).  Be sure to check out Tom’s blog and follow him on Twitter.

The way I often take notes during sessions is to Tweet out comments and info that cause me to pause and reflect.  Although this probably does not “flow” too well, here are my notes from the day (all those without reference are quotes from Tom – I may have missed some references.). Thank you, Tom, for the learning and permission to post this on my blog.

  • “We no longer need to accept the assessment legacy of our past. We know better” – Stiggins
  • “When we think about change, we must think about possibility… we cannot think about what won’t work”
  • “In our current system, how many students are penalized because they do not learn fast enough?”
  • “There is an obvious tension between depth of learning and coverage of curriculum in our schools today”

On CHANGE:

  • “It is our foible as humans to stoutly defend an established position despite overwhelming evidence against it” – Dr. Hawkins
  • “Who is putting the NO in innovation?”
  • “I am personally convinced that one person can be a change catalyst, a transformer” – Covey
  • “How many people have the same phone since 2000? How many people use the same lesson plan since 2000?”
  • “Do any other professions state: it worked back then, why would I need to change?”
  • “Just because you say you don’t believe in something does not abolish its existence nor its effectiveness” (ie. I don’t believe in AFL)
  • “How often do we, as educators, make people professionally uncomfortable – by challenging each other”
  • “Think BIG, start small.”

On Assessment:

  • “It’s not good enough to give students the ‘opportunity to learn’. We must ensure that they learn!”
  • “If students become frustrated and disengage from learning – what do their grades actually represent?”
  • “For sound, accurate assessment – we need to have a clear purpose, clear targets, sound design, effective communication, student involvement”
  • “Formative assessments are designed to keep the information within the classroom”
  • “If your formative assessments involve a spreadsheet… you are missing the mark” Dylan Wiliam
  • “Should be a balance between summative and formative – the pendulum should not swing from one to the other (although formative should happen much more often that summative)”
  • “Summative assessment does not mean a multiple choice test”
  • “We have turned school into a game – all students have to do is collect enough points to win”
  • “How much better would our kids do when the threat of failure has been taken off the table?
  • “Assessment For Learning = CLASSROOM assessment for STUDENT learning”
  • “Are we OVERteaching some parts of the curriculum while UNDERteaching other areas? How do you know without formative assessment?”
  • “We often use methods of assessments that are mismatched with learning targets (ie. multiple choice for a reasoning target) – make sure your assessment methods match the targets.”
  • “To be effective, feedback needs to cause thinking. Grades don’t do that…and comments like ‘good job’ don’t either” Dylan Wiliam
  • “In elementary schools we often confuse maturity with ability.”
  • “Feedback has the smallest effect size when it is related to praise, rewards, and punishments” – Hattie
  • “Don’t just say “good job”.  Finish the sentence! Good job… because you…”
  • Feedback – what matters? Quality of feedback, focus on learning, include strengths – Black and Wiliam
  • When using Descriptive Feedback, make it: Timely, Specific, Clear and Useable
  • “For rubrics – avoid using numbers. Kids will add up the numbers to give them a score.”
  • “Differentiation: Put students in situations where they don’t know the answer often” Dr. C Morreale
  • “What role does time play in distorting the achievement level in our kids?”
  • “Myth: Differentiation is about creating individual lesson plans”
  • “Differentiation is NOT I will teach my lesson and then alter the lesson for those who ‘don’t get it'”
  • “Figure out ways that you can infuse AFL into your practice”
  • “If we say we can or can’t change the way we assess – we are right.”
  • “If we want the system to change – WE need to BE THE CHANGE. Be the example that we want to see.”
  • “For change to occur, we need to be able to take heat from our colleagues”

Some Videos Tom shared:

A student describes the power of forms of assessment beyond tests:

An example of what a class can be if we begin move away from a focus on grades, worksheets and tests and make learning more real for our students.