It’s that time of year again. Time to reflect on my year, the professional growth goals (PGP) I set for myself, and set new ones for the future. Reading last year’s reflection, I’m happy to see that I have accomplished many of my goals. As a self proclaimed life-long learner, it makes sense that some of those goals continue to be ones I have for myself this year too.
The ones I achieved?
Blogging with my students; blogging myself; create engaging opportunities for students to continue on their own documenting journeys.
The ones I still have?
Create authentic learning experiences in math (and I’ll add in all subject matter) that naturally reach students where they are and allow for growth at many levels.
It has been a year full of rollercoasters. With the two hats I wear, I feel it would be appropriate to reflect on each one separately. I’ll begin with grade 5 teacher.
Last year was a challenging one for me, but definitely one of growth. Although my PGP last year focused on Personalized Learning, I still don’t feel it is something I have completely mastered. I try my best to honour student interests, provide choice, differentiate, and introduce students to tools and techniques that work for them as individuals. Grade 5 is an interesting year in terms of maturity and development. Last year, I introduced an activity, “Be the Quote” based off of Miss 5th’s Keep The Quote. Every week, I posted a new quote and as a group, we would orally share what it meant and what it reminded us of. With the group of students I had last year, I wanted a space where we could discuss feelings and behaviours openly. I adapted that activity this year to become a writing task each week, recognizing that some students had things to share they may not feel comfortable discussing out loud. What I love about this activity is that it exposes students to varying feelings that may be different than their own and allows them to begin thinking of examples beyond the classroom walls. It helps begin to anchor how their actions impact others, and the control they have over the outcomes in their life.
The class novel we begin the school year with, Wonder by R.J. Palacio, contributes to this lesson as well. Students are encouraged to make connections with their own challenges in school, and ways they have felt different or insecure, to become more compassionate and inclusive classmates. There are many real-world initiatives and ways to contribute more to society that can be linked to this unit, and something I would like to focus on more next year.
With every task I give, students are always aware of the assessment expectations, through outlines and rubrics. One new addition this year, based on a podcast from EB Academics, is that even before we begin reading a book or a task with multiple steps, I let students know what the very final project will be. That way, they can begin planning and collecting evidence and examples to make the final writing process easier. One student, who struggles specifically with written output, has shown tremendous improvement with getting his ideas out on paper after I made this very simple switch.
I am proud of the commitment I make to bettering myself, and learning from others to offer my students the best education I can. It is through my own research for my class that I am also able to help my colleagues, and share those discoveries with them as well. Which brings me to my second hat – Teaching and Learning Coordinator.
As I’ve written about before, last summer I completed my Principal’s Qualification course (although I have yet to submit my final project…but more about that soon). Early in my career, a seed was planted in my head by a former principal that I would do well in leadership. Ever since then, different administrators have echoed that sentiment, and I have continued to do things to try to further my path down that road. I have held more formal positions of leadership, but have also at times acted as an informal mentor to my colleagues. At this moment, when I think about my most ideal position, it would be exactly what I am doing right now…teaching and working with teachers to better their own practices.
However, I don’t feel that the coordinator portion of my current position is as developed as I’d like it to be. I sometimes find it a challenging place to sit, where teachers aren’t “required” to meet with me, yet my job depends on it. I would never want anyone to feel forced to work with me. The opposite actually. I would hope that after spending time collaborating and brainstorming, teachers would see the value of the partnership and seek it out more often. And some have. But others, even when offered, do not always accept. There is no way that I would be the educator I am today without the support, guidance, collaboration and thought-partnering with my mentors and coaches.
One part of my PGP this year was to live through the prototype protocol, in order to then support other teachers going through the process themselves. It’s amazing how my mindset has shifted, appreciating the feedback portion of the protocol more than I ever thought I would. I am so much more motivated to build and complete my blogging course for teachers, knowing that I am creating something they had a say in, something they believe will be beneficial to them, and something they will therefore, hopefully, use often.
I mentioned earlier that I have not completed my Principal’s Course final project. Why? I had chosen to focus on documenting learning, specifically the value of blogging for teachers, administrators and students. I wanted to choose something that I was living and breathing in school, and something that would not end once my final project had been submitted. But that’s part of the problem! My documenting hasn’t stopped! I keep learning more, creating more, prototyping more, and adding more that I want to share as part of my final submission. I guess this is a good problem to have 🙂 Leading workshops for teachers and parents has been an added experience that will undoubtedly help me if/when my role continues to evolve further into leadership. Last night was the most recent of these sessions, where I helped our grade 3 parent cohort understand the school’s philosophy and expectation for our BYOD program.
Over the last number of weeks I have been working closely with Gerry de Fazio, who has acted as a consultant for our school through NoTosh since February 2018. She has been a thought partner for me, a coach, and sometimes(often) that little nudge I needed to continue moving forward with my PGP. As her time with us comes to a close, I will transition into taking over that “nudging” role for our teachers. Through our time together, I have learned even more about playing a coaching/mentoring role. It’s about asking the right questions at the right time, NOT being the expert. It’s about listening. It’s about supporting. It’s about finding barriers and attempting to lift them…kind of like what it’s like being a teacher 🙂
I am somewhat nervous about taking on this new responsibility. But when I think back to what I said just a few paragraphs ago, that I want to work with more and more teachers, perhaps this additional clarification about what my role and responsibilities entail, my collaboration and coaching with teachers will organically increase.
In a future with so many unknowns due to COVID-19, I am hopeful that amongst the tragedies will also be positive steps forward, particularly in education. With the personalization, flexibility, and the need to narrow in on specific skills during remote learning, I am eager to see how we will “go forward” to school and build these practices into our everyday instruction.
Over the last few weeks, I have moved into the planning phase of the prototype protocol, and have begun developing the actual website where my blogging course will live. I met with our IT Director, and discussed the various platforms that would make sense. We ultimately landed on using an existing private faculty blog that teachers currently have access to, yet rarely use. He has been in discussion with our head of school to see how we can increase traffic to this blog, and adding this component may help!
So off I went to begin building the site. I created the shell, started adding in placeholders for information and was about to begin populating when….WAIT….I NEED TO GET FEEDBACK! When I mentioned this to one of my mentors, Gerry De Fazio, who has been guiding me through the prototype protocol, she said that this is exactly what we hope all teachers will come to experience. When the protocol becomes second nature, and when we recognize the value in each step rather than seeing it as a hurdle we need to overcome, we will have found success.
I’ve decided to try something new as a means of documenting my process. I’ve created two video reflections to document my initial version and then will update with videos as I meet with more teachers.
There has been a lot of talk about how we are living through history these days. The things we document about our experiences learning and working from home will be read and analyzed by students and historians hundreds of years from now. Just as we learn about events and lives of people in the past, their journals, pictures and accounts help us better understand what life was like.
Many students have already taken the opportunity to write journals of their own, but last week we talked about the things we thought would be important to document and how.
Here’s a quick video of the collaborative brainstorm we did on Jamboards:
And our final image of all the suggestions:
Fortunately, we launched our student blogs this year, with this exact (well, almost exact) purpose in mind. We wanted to give students a platform where they could keep track of their thoughts, learning and experiences at this point in time. It will always live there, as a resource for them, and others, to look back at and learn from.
Taking all the suggestions from the students, and also being inspired by this post by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano, I created the following image for students to use as inspiration for documenting their experiences. I hope this will bring some fun and smiles into what we know is a less than ideal time.
My last post was on March 2, 2020…ten days before my school closed its doors due to COVID-19; eleven days before we had our first virtual staff planning session over Zoom and Google Hangouts; 16 days before we began the soft launch of our emergency remote learning program; 21 days before we launched Phase 1 of our emergency remote learning program; and 7 weeks before we will launch Phase 2 of our emergency remote learning program on April 20th.
Now that we’ve lived it, we know that it would have been impossible to explain or imagine what life would be like a mere 7 weeks in the future. Which is in and of itself the point of this post. The majority of my posts on this blog have focused on documenting learning, and supporting teacher and student blogging at my school. I am not the most avid blogger, and sometimes fall out of the groove. But as I am faced with the challenges of adapting my curriculum, thinking about the “what” and “how” of teaching, and deciding what important skills I want my students to learn and capture during this time, I am challenging myself to capture this moment as well. As I have read all throughout the news and on Twitter, we are living history right now. When this started, we prepared to be closed for a week or two, then 4, and now…? Will I remember all the details of what life was like to be able to tell my children? When my students talk to their grandchildren about living through this pandemic, will they remember the various phases they went through and adjustments made to their learning? Will it be important? Just as I couldn’t imagine what life would be like today back on March 2, it is impossible to know what information will be of value or what will be remembered. All I can do is document it here, and if nothing else, have something I can look back on proudly when this is all over.
Pride is the overwhelming feeling I’ve had in the last number of weeks. I am proud of how quickly my school responded to the emergency by closing its doors to protect our community. I am proud of how eagerly (albeit with anxiety and some frustration) my colleagues and I launched a full distance learning program. I am proud of how open, transparent and flexible the administration was to making changes and adjustments to that program, based on feedback from parents, students and teachers. I am proud of how calmly and responsibly my students jumped into this new learning environment to collaborate with their teachers and peers. And I have to believe that we were all able to do this because of the work we’ve done over the last three years. If we had not worked with NoTosh to figure out what we believed to be true about teaching and learning at OJCS, we would not have been able to continue that teaching and learning as seamlessly once the building itself was closed. If we had not worked with Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano around Now Literacies and documenting learning, we (and our students) would not have been able to so adeptly respond and function within a virtual learning environment. I am SO proud of all the work we have done.
Here’s a quick timeline of the last 7 weeks:
*It’s important to note that this past year we had a soft launch of our BYOD program for students in grades 4 – 8. When we launched our distance learning program, many students already had their own devices. The majority of our families are fortunate enough to have homes with multiple devices and strong internet connections. Through every phase, teachers and administrators have been in contact with families and have been extremely supportive and flexible in expectations. We have always come at this with the understanding that financial and health conditions will continue to change for families, and no student will be penalized for missing a meeting, or being unable to submit work. Communication is always made in these circumstances to make alternate arrangements.
March 12 – last day of in-school learning March 13 – faculty meetings to plan and prepare over Zoom March 16 – 17 – PD faculty planning days March 18 – 20 – Soft Launch. Students checked into Google Meet at 8:45 and followed a schedule set by grade groupings, with each team of teachers making their own changes as they saw fit. Feedback: A LOT of screen time; families with multiple children found it challenging to have kids on different break schedules, younger students needed too much parent support and lost focus quickly. Teachers, parents, and students were exhausted. March 23 – April 3 – Phase 1 – Return to regular schedule where all breaks are streamlined across the school. Teachers are “available” during all regular teaching blocks, but have a range of online vs non-digital activities, synchronous vs asynchronous teaching. We read, cooked, sang, created, connected, prayed, and celebrated – all online! Feedback: primary teachers are starting to find their groove and understand what their students can and cannot do within a specific time frame. Morning lessons are much more productive. Middle School schedule needs to be shifted to have longer blocks, but fewer classes in a day. Shorten the learning day with optional work periods and teacher office hours in the afternoon. April 6 – 20 – Passover Break April 20 – ? – Phase 2 – A new Middle School schedule was created and will be tested. Lower School teachers will continue to make changes as needed and have been encouraged to “lighten the load” in the afternoon by scheduling more flexible, independent work periods for students to be more self-directed (for example, Genius Hour, building challenges, Phys Ed. Art, etc.) and are also encouraged to adjust as needed. Feedback: TBD
What do I hope to achieve with my students over the coming weeks?
I hope to inspire them to learn about things they are interested in learning about.
I hope to continue giving them opportunities to interact and collaborate with their peers.
I hope to create an engaging, inclusive, supportive online learning environment that they look forward to joining each day.
I hope to support them in developing the skills they will need to navigate this online world, which will undoubtedly support them in the future as well.
I hope to continue supporting them in documenting this unprecedented moment in time.
As we head back to school after our Passover break, we will begin to discuss common end-of-year events, like Sports Day, end of year trips, report cards and graduation. Just as we have worked through things as a team, we will continue to do with these events as well. We will continue to look to our colleagues around the world who are experiencing this with us. We will continue to make history.
My initial goal for my PGP was to create a set of learning modules around blogging to help teachers who are new to OJCS understand what we do, how we do it, and why we do it.
After collecting data and challenging my assumptions as a part of the prototype protocol, this remains one of my goals, but three new things have emerged that I never would have thought of had I not asked.
Create a “Blogging Agreement” between staff and administrators, so that we are all on the same page in terms of what we should be blogging about, how often, and if there are any educational hot topics that are “off the table” so to speak. How can we blog according to the OJCS way? Let’s set the floor but no ceiling.
Create some type of database of hot topics, articles, blog posts, etc that could help provoke teachers’ thinking in case they need some type of inspiration for their blogs.
Teachers who are already teaching at the school still have blogging skills they’d like to improve upon. Just because someone has been here since the launch of blogging at OJCS, doesn’t mean they feel completely comfortable with all aspects of Edublogs. Therefore, my learning modules should be both deliverable through coaching sessions, but can also be more “self-serve” where teachers can pick and choose the topic they’d like to learn more about and work their way through it independently.
Before I jump into each of these projects, I still want to work slowly and get feedback to ensure I don’t put all my efforts into something that really won’t be beneficial. Where do I start, then?
First, I’ll need to meet with my Head of School to discuss the Blogging Agreement and confirm what his “Floor” wishes are. I’ll also need to see if he has strong feelings about topics that may go against The OJCS Way.
Next, I will use Trello (a somewhat new tool for me) to make an outline of each learning module to make sure I’ve included enough in each section, and have included all the various skills teachers would want to learn. I will share this with my colleagues and ask for feedback again to make sure I haven’t missed anything or made any assumptions that need to be corrected. I will refer to courses I have completed myself, such as the JumpStart Basics unit from Cult of Pedagogy, and Ampeduca from Silvia Tolisano, as references for ways to organize learning modules for adults.
Finally, I’ll continue to brainstorm ways to house the “Hot Topics” menu for teachers to choose from. One idea I already have is to use our Faculty Info Hub blog that already exists. Teachers would then have the ability to post their own articles and help provoke the thinking of their peers. If a Kindergarten Hebrew teacher reads an article on French Immersion in middle school, for example, they may post that article and see if any our our French faculty have thoughts or opinions on the matter, which they can then in turn post to their blog.
I feel really excited about the work that is to come. I’m glad I didn’t just jump in right from the get-go, as these new discoveries make me realize that I would have missed such an amazing opportunity to give our staff what THEY need, what I THINK they need.
In my last post, I named some assumptions I had about blogging, and then challenged those assumptions by collecting data in various ways. Based on that experience, it was by far the easiest to ask people to fill out a survey in order to get high participation and feedback. Only two people participated in a padlet, two people added sticky notes in my classroom, and based on my own schedule and the schedule of my colleagues, I never had a chance to do any in-person interviews. The majority of the people I sent the Google Forms survey to filled it out, and spent time answering the questions honestly.
My next step was to take all that information, organize it in some way, and analyze it to help me make decisions about next steps. I started by looking at all the various platforms where I collected data, and writing each point on its own sticky note.
After that, I placed all the sticky notes, in no particular order, on a wall in my classroom. This felt like a good spot to model for other teachers how they could follow the protocol in their own classrooms. This was also based on the work we did with NoTosh, as I attempted to build a project nest in my own room.
Finally, I asked teachers for their help again, and invited them in to organize the data in any way they felt made sense.
If someone had spent some time with the data before them, they didn’t need to feel confined to the “categorization” that had already been made. The sticky notes were used purposefully, as a way to show how flexible the data was.
What did I learn from the responses?
Many see blogging as a great tool for communicating with parents, as a platform to share what they are doing in their classroom with a global audience, and a place to document, learn and grow from where they are now.
Most teachers feel completely comfortable with blog posts related to what they are doing in class and for sharing homework. It is posts about educational hot-topics and personal philosophies that teachers are more reluctant to write about.
One common frustration with blogging is that teachers feel parents are not interacting with the blogs in the ways they would like (no commenting, never read it, don’t follow)
Although teachers see the value in blogging, they want it to be self-motivated and not something that is “required”. They believe that blogging is personal, and it is not necessarily the right tool for everyone. When it is “top down,” the quality of the post is jeopardized, and it is harder to be meaningful.
Although teachers feel they know the basics, many still feel like they have a lot to learn and would have appreciated more training at the beginning.
So where do we go from here?
It is interesting to think more about the “top down” comments. Especially as I am working on Principals Qualifications, I understand that there are goals and visions that principals and school leaders make that they need to share with the rest of their stakeholders. I understand that there will always be critics and people who do not necessarily share the same visions or values. It is important to continue working with those teachers to find some common ground.
How long does writing a blog post take someone who is anti-blogging? Could their reluctance be due to a lack of skill?
Although it would still be mandated by admin, would deadlines by which certain types of posts needed to be posted be helpful in actually diving in and getting it done?
Could writing something out of your comfort zone actually help in changing your opinion about blogging? Would it be helpful to have a list of possible blogging topics to choose from to help the juices flow?
I think a few more conversations with people about this would be helpful. But it is clear to me that a more streamlined training program could definitely be helpful for staff who are new to blogging. Creating a set number of lessons, focused on specific skills, with specific tasks attached to them, could be helpful in overcoming some of the barriers that currently exist for our staff around blogging. If these lessons are clearly defined, while new teachers would have to go through each sessions, more experienced teachers could also choose specific lessons to attend to help develop their skill and continue climbing their own blogging ladder.
I can’t believe we’re already into our third week of school and this is my first post. I take it as a good sign that we’re so busy and engaged in class that there hasn’t been any time for an update!
But that doesn’t mean we haven’t been documenting our learning!
One new addition to our school policy this year is the soft launch of our Bring Your Own Device initiative for grades 4-8. Understandably so, there has been lots of conversation about what this means in terms of screen time for our students. I thought a good first step would be to show you how we’ve been using the devices in grade 5 to help enhance our learning. Technology is being integrated in meaningful ways, not simply for the sake of using a device. While we may have these devices in our classrooms, they are by no means being used ALL the time, and we are pretty deliberate about what they are used for.
First, we’ve made a few additions to our weekly classroom jobs. This summer I read, Who Owns the Learning by Alan November. In this book, he talks about the Digital Learning Farm, and how by giving student’s jobs within the classroom that are integral to the learning, they will take more ownership of their learning and become meaningful contributors to the class culture. This fit in perfectly with the work I, and a cohort of OJCS teachers did, last year with Silvia Tolisano. This matches our own OJCS North Star that We own our own learning. Therefore, three new jobs in our classroom are the researcher, the documenter, and the habit finder. The researcher helps answer our questions in the moment when they come up. I am the first to admit that there is A LOT I don’t know. In our classroom, students are curious and if questions come up we don’t know the answer to…the researcher will find it for us! The documenter captures the learning happening in the room and in the school. They take pictures and videos of important learning. This is great practice for when we launch out Student Blogs (grade 5 students did this last year, if you’d like to read more about it. The habit finder pays special attention to how we are following the 7 habits in our classroom, captures these moments and documents it for us. These will be great examples to share with the whole school at our monthly Rosh Chodesh assemblies.
Let’s see what some of our documenters have captured so far!
We were introduced to EdPuzzle, a place where we can watch videos and answer questions to check for understanding. These “flipped lessons” will most often be watched at home, but we did a quick lesson in class to make sure everyone knew what to do.
We also spent some time practicing our Math critical thinking skills by choosing a question to answer, solving it with our partner, and then documenting our thinking process on Flipgrid. We used the video feature and also the new whiteboard feature to create tutorials. By focusing on what we learned and what we found challenging, we’ll be able to use that learning for next time!
We also started reading our first class novel, Wonder, by R.J Palacio. We’ve already had some great discussions about friendship, acceptance and kindness. Even though some of us have already read this book before, we know that books are like gifts (simile alert! We also started talking about literary devices 😉). You can find something new each time you open it!
Finally, today students started watching video feedback from me on their first paragraphs. Using Screencastify, I was able to record myself editing the students’ work, offering tips and suggestions for improvements they could make. This personalized feedback allowed students to focus on the specific skills they are working towards, and make any necessary changes at their own pace. Afterward, one student said she couldn’t believe how helpful it was to be able to have the video open in the corner of the screen, while her document was open as well. She was able to pause the video at appropriate times and edit her work as necessary.
This is just the tip of the iceberg! It’s so exciting to see how much we’ve accomplished in such a short period of time. It’s clear that this is going to be a great year!
If you look back at the date of my first post, you’ll see that I have not been blogging for long at all. Documenting my learning in this format, on this public platform, is very new for me. It began as a tool provided to me and my colleagues who were fortunate enough to participate in a learning cohort with Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano (who I have mentioned many times in my posts) and has quickly turned into something I enjoy doing, value doing, and am eager to share out.
As with many things that are new to us, we often look for resources that can help us do what we’re doing, better. One such resource for me as I have begun to capture and reflect on my learning, has been A Guide to Documenting Learning, by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano and Janet A. Hale. This is not a book that needs to be read cover to cover. It is also not the book that I read at the beginning of my journey and now sits on my shelf. It is full of post-it notes, some weathered pages and has been the inspiration for many of the lessons in my classroom. This is because the authors have made this static book as interactive as possible, by including QR codes, website links, tool suggestions, annotated images and infographics to help the reader understand exactly what is possible. It is in and of itself, an artifact of learning that models what each of us can do to grow professionally and personally.
What I love most about this book is that it highlights that we are all learners. The line between teacher and student does not need to exist. What applies for educators in terms of documenting our learning applies for our students as well. The book recognizes that we are all at different points in our journey and there are no excuses as to why you can’t start now. Whether you are documenting your own learning as a professional, documenting the learning of your students, or helping your students to own their own learning and become reflective and critical thinkers for themselves, this book has many strategies to help you get started and continue learning every day.
Here is our newest Blogging Challenge. Students will add to their personal blogs, and are challenged to complete as many of these challenges as they can! We will also continue adding work based on other activities we are doing in class. Students are always allowed, and encouraged, to post about things they are doing in school, in all subjects.
It is my hope that we will have a mini student led conference, where you will come into school and your child will walk you through their blog, including all the artifacts of their learning. More information on this to come.
Please continue to check your child’s blogfolio and comment! Remember to leave your last name off when commenting to help keep the privacy of your child. Asking questions, adding information, and offering suggestions are all great things to include in your comment.
And as always, if you have any questions or comments for me, please leave them below 🙂
As I work on creating a Blogging Bingo Challenge for my students, I felt an inforgraphic explaining some of the tasks would be helpful for my students. I contacted Kelli Vogstad, whose blog post on Digital Portfolios has been a guiding light for me as I go through this journey. I first asked for permission to use her descriptions of the Four Kinds of Documentation. I also inquired if any graphic already existed. With her full approval, I set out to create my first infographic using Piktochart.
The learning curve was pretty minimal and I was extremely impressed with the vast supply of graphics, borders and backgrounds. It was fun and easy (and time consuming!)
This is the first draft I sent to Kelli, asking for her feedback, as these are really her thoughts, not mine. One thing to note is that I am using a free account on Piktochart. In my working copy, I linked Kelli’s name to her blog post (linked above as well) where she goes into more detail and supplies examples. With my free account I am only able to save as a PNG, and would need to upgrade to save as a PDF, which would allow for the link to be live.