Tag Archives: Education

Connected Educators: Beyond Wires

I Think, Therefore I BLOG - (Being Normal is n...

In honour of Connected Educator’s Month and Canadian Thanksgiving, this blog post celebrates and explores why I am grateful to be a “connected educator“. Being a connected educator means many different things to me. Yes, it means that I am an educator/administrator who appreciates the role technology plays in enhancing learning. That to me is the literal part – connecting to technology with screens, wires, networks, apps, platforms, google searches, etc. But, that literal part is just one small  piece. Being a connected educator means being connected to other educators who are also open to sharing and learning from the wisdom of practise that comes from educators and thought leaders from around the globe. Being a connected educator means I value growing as a professional beyond the literal walls of the school where I work or the physical workshops I attend or the books that I read. As a connected educator I want to take ownership of my own ongoing growth and professional practise by connecting into a limitless pool of learning that comes from other people who share my passion for learning, leadership and personal/professional growth.

In the 18 months since I officially became a connected educator by joining twitter and starting this blog, I’ve “met” so many amazing people. While I have a small sense of what they look like through their posted photo and I know their name or moniker, I’ve never shaken their hand, made eye-contact with them or even exchanged the “how’s the weather?” niceties that come with a first face-to-face meeting or workshop icebreaker activity. All that is done away with in the connected educator world. No getting to you know you period required; that’s what the “about” page is for! The second I made  choice to “follow” or “subscribe” I became connected to another educator because something about their experiences, understanding, philosophy, perspective or practise either resonated with or challenged/provoked me. I may not know how many sugars or how much cream they like in their coffee (I myself am a double-double Canuck coffee drinker), but by reading their words, whether a short and sweet tweet, or a more detailed blog post, I have come to know what motivates them professionally, and I believe, by default also personally because so many of us wear our professional hearts on our sleeves. I know they care deeply about their role in learning because their words move me to act. I know that they challenge my assumptions and provoke my thinking and inspire me to reflect on my own learning journey and areas where I can grow.

Being a connected educator also means you are a risk-taker yourself by giving back to the connected community. Connected educators support each other because we have a deep appreciation for the value of learning and best-practise pedagogy. We know that relationships matter to learning. We know that theory is just theory unless it is put into practise. We try new things in the name of this and we are compelled to reflect as a result. Even though we’ve never “met” we get to know each other so well through the digital window into each other’s classrooms and learning spaces! Receiving a re-tweet, a comment, a new follow, a favourite, a pingback, etc. lets us know that we are making a contribution and that somewhere else in the world someone else connected with what we put out there. It’s not about the numbers or the status – it really is about knowing that you share a commonality with another educator in the name of learning.

Being a connected educator also means you have choice. You can choose how much or how little to engage. I myself stick with twitter, blogs, wikis and the occasional use of Pinterest. That’s what I can comfortably manage without feeling overwhelmed by too much information. I have my own “Twitter Thursdays”, a day of the week where I devote my train commute to school to learning through twitter posts. The connected educator is in control of every last detail of their learning – the who, the when, the where, the how, the what and the why. You can access and/or give as much or as little as you choose – what other PD offers you that?

I’d like to express my sincere gratitude to the educators and thought leaders who continue to inspire me because we are “connected”. My connected community continues to expand, which is a sure sign that I am growing as I learn from others, and hope that others might learn something from me in return.

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Teacher or Learning Architect?

“I think…”, “I feel like …”, “Try this…”, “It sounds like…”, “I’m not sure how exactly to describe it, but it’s like…”, “Ahhh…”, “I’m not sure…”, “There has to be…”, “It is…but it isn’t…”, “It’s not…”, “How do you…?”, “I think you are right…”, “What do you think…?”, “We need to think about it in a different way…”, “Can we…?”, “Is that because…?”, “Ohhhh!”, “Ooooo…”  ….

All of the above statements are the inquiry utterances of a group of adult learners engaging in inquiry learning at a recent inquiry based learning workshop that I had the opportunity to facilitate. One of the biggest misconceptions about inquiry based learning is that it is only about asking questions and finding answers. Go back and read the list of utterances again. Inquiry is so much more than asking questions and seeking answers.

Kathy Short put it best when she described inquiry as both a stance and a state of tension. When I share this definition of inquiry with adult learners, they often ask, “but what do stance and tension really mean?”

According to dictionary.com, the second definition they provide for stance is: a mental or emotional position adopted with respect to something. So, inquiry is a mental or emotional position we adopt with respect to learning. Inquiry tension lies in the mental or emotional position of the stance. When we think, feel or believe we have to figure something out, or find out the truth by either confirming something we already believe to be true or dis-confirming something we’ve assumed to be true, or figuring out something that is totally new, we are activating the inquiry stance. As educators, it is our role to be the inquiry architects as we take learners on a journey through an inquiry cycle (there are many! just pick one or make your own hybrid!). Many times I hear other educators lament, “but they just don’t ask questions. How do I get them to ask questions?” Therein lies our first mistake. When we limit the inquiry stance to just asking questions, we limit the potential for meaningful and contextualized inquiry stance learning. Take a step back and really listen to what the learners in your classroom are saying. If you don’t hear anything, then perhaps the flaw lies in the designer and not the learner. Inquiry begs us to examine and challenge our own beliefs and assumptions (our own mental and emotional position) about teaching and learning. Do we see ourselves as teacher or as learning architect? 

The Learner Profile in a Changing and Growing (IB) World

On Friday, I had the opportunity to listen to and participate in a Learner Profile focus group with Robert Harrison, a curriculum manager for IB continuum development in the The Hague at the IBSO annual PD day. Robert shared some sound but provocative thinking around the review of the Learner Profile and the challenges the organization is facing as the alignment of the 3 IB programs (PYP, MYP and DP) continues to evolve. The IB Learner Profile, originally called the PYP Student Profile is a set of 10 attributes that describe what humans could/should strive for if they seek to be an internationally minded citizens of the world. The 10 attributes are:

  • Inquirers
  • Thinkers
  • Knowledgeable
  • Communicators
  • Open-Minded
  • Reflective
  • Caring
  • Balanced
  • Principled
  • Risk-Takers

Since it’s inception with the PYP in 1996 the profile itself, while since being adopted by all 3 programs,  has undergone very little change, even though the organization has grown considerably. The profile is the living, breathing manifestation of the IB Mission statement and at the heart of all three IB programs. All teaching and learning in the IB, including knowledge, concepts, skills, attitudes and action can in theory be born of the Learner Profile.

As with any review that takes on a truly reflective stance, questions start to arise, such as: is the Learner Profile truly an international set of attributes? Does the profile impose a set of western values on schools in the east? Where should the emphasis of influence lie if the Learner Profile is truly representative of global citizens who are in effect living without borders? Are there attributes that should not be a part of the profile? Are there attributes that are missing? Just how many attributes should define what an internationally minded, globally conscious citizen is striving to be? Is there an end to our growth within the profile? Is the profile in and of itself measurable if there is no end? Should we be measuring it? How? When? …

These are just some of the questions the IB is grappling with as it examines and reflects upon the Learner Profile across the continuum. I admire and commend their work. No, the Learner Profile isn’t perfect. But, it does ensure that how we are educating our students is at the core of what we do. For me, it keeps the calling of education to be something nobler alive. The Learner Profile is not just for students – it is for EVERYONE – we are ALL learners (or at least that is the hope!).

“I think it must be apparent to every thinking mind that the noblest of all professions is that of teaching, and that upon the effectiveness of that teaching hangs the destiny of nations.” ― David O. McKay

Do you have opinions and ideas you would like to share with IB as they continue collecting feedback? Do your students? I encourage you to take action by completing the learner profile global survey and by participating in the virtual focus group. Visit http://sgiz.mobi/s3/LearnerProfileReview before October 31. Don’t miss out on this great opportunity to be a part of the evolution of IB!

Thirteen Tips to Start the School Year Strong

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Back to School!

In these parts, the new school year is upon us. It is a time of excitement, anticipation, and above all, a time when setting the tone can make or break the next 10 months of your life. Starting the school year off “strong” takes a little more effort on the outset, but the benefits in doing so pay off in dividends throughout the school year. Here are my top 13 tips to start the year off strong – tips I’ve learned along the way from great administrators, educators and from my own experiences as a teacher and administrator:

  1. Create a variety of opportunities and engagements that will allow for your students to make meaningful connections with you and their classmates over the first days, and then continue this throughout the year. Send a communication (e-mail or letter) to students sharing some info. about yourself and things you did and learned over the summer. Share your hopes and goals for the school year and let them know you are both excited and nervous for the first day of school, too. Use the morning arrival time as “connection time”. (When I was in the classroom students had to give me a high five, a knuckles or a handshake before they could start the day.) Talk to your students about their lives outside of school. Connecting meaningfully with students builds trust!
  2. Schedule time to explicitly go over expectations, procedures and routines on the first day and over the first few weeks of school. Continue to practice and reinforce these on a regular basis until they are habit. (This may involve lots of “do-overs”.) Consistency with follow through is key to ensuring expectations and procedures are sustained throughout the year! If you are consistent, your students will respect you and strive to be consistent too! Essential agreements are also very effective for establishing classroom norms too (e.g. cooperation and what it looks, sounds, feels like; friendship, etc.).
  3. Give your students a voice by involving them in establishing essential agreements, procedures, routines and even some set up of the room. Ensure expectations and agreements are clear (e.g. We agree to respect each other. Respect looks like.. sounds like…feels like….). Prominently display them in age appropriate and student-driven ways to foster ownership. Plan to make time to review these many times over the year to ensure students understand and uphold them; refer to them regularly for redirection and praise students who diligently put the effort in to put them into action. Modify them as needed throughout the year to honour academic, social and emotional growth.
  4. Be the first to make first contact with parents; introduce yourself to parents before they introduce themselves to you. Send out a welcome e-mail (separate from any communication with students) and be the first to introduce yourself and shake their hand as they arrive with their child over the first days of school. If an issue arises during the school day, contact the parent before they pick their child up if possible so the parent is not blind-sided and can prepare to support their child. Make sure that you share positive news with parents too so that they know that hearing from the teacher isn’t just about the “bad and the ugly” but also about the “good”.
  5. Be responsive! Keep communication with parents, students and colleagues open and honest. Base your communication on what you know to be true and not on what you might assume (facts vs. inferences). Respond to parent contact or concerns in a timely manner, with the goal of response over reaction (do your detective work, or find out what you need to know before responding). If a parent seems frustrated or angry – do not use e-mail to communicate (even if they e-mailed first!). Take the extra bit of time to make human contact – it will help to alleviate the situation and most likely prevent it from escalating. The “human factor” trumps everything!
  6. Make the time for students to play games and have “silly” time in class. Observe how they interact, follow rules, share, take turns, laugh, etc.
  7. Build in time for mindfulness (e.g. deep breathing) or short physical breaks, especially where students are in the same space/with the same teacher for an extended period of time. Activity is not just for PE class! One of my favourites (and of my former students) was body wrestling. (Send me a message and I will describe!)
  8. Establish and commit to holding regular classroom meetings/communication circles. Not only is this a great time for group problem solving and bringing to light social issues or concerns, but also an opportunity to appreciate and celebrate each other.
  9. No matter what grade level, use picture books to support learning, stimulate discussion, enjoy some down time together, be inspired, imagine, wonder, and connect.
  10. Focus on effort, not achievement. Use clear criteria to set students up for success. Use the action cycle as a reflective framework for looking back, being “present” and planning forward.
  11. Be explicit; assume nothing!
  12. Being a teacher is 99% marketing! Sell your curriculum to your students everyday. If you are excited, they will be too! Brand your classroom to create a unique/distinct identify for your community of learners.
  13. Create a culture of inquiry in everything you do. Embrace opportunities to inquire alongside your students. For students to become effective inquirers, they need to see the adults in their world inquire and wonder, too!

What are your tips to start the year “strong?” Feel free to add to this list!

Action FROM Learning

It is not enough to have lived. We should be determined to live for something. May I suggest that it be creating joy for others, sharing what we have for the betterment of personkind, bringing hope to the lost and love to the lonely.   Leo T. Buscaglia

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Action FROM learning is something a learner chooses to do because of what they are learning or have learned. This type of action is a spark ignited by passion. Action FROM learning ranges from smaller scale actions taken by a learner such as changing something they personally do to make the world better (e.g. turning the tap off when brushing teeth) to larger scale action that involves others and requires a plan to follow through (e.g. organizing a clothing drive for a homeless shelter). Action FROM learning happens because something the learner was exposed to triggered them to take the “what” of their learning beyond the 4 walls of the classroom and out into the wider world. The learning brought the learner to the realization that they have a responsibility and that they can DO something about it.

Action FROM learning needs to be modelled, encouraged and fostered within a school community. Learners need to understand intrinsically that action is a process and that when they engage in a cycle of action, not only are they doing something to make a difference for others, they are also creating an opportunity for personal growth and reflection. This process can be simple as a realization and making a simple lifestyle change, or it can be complex and involve many steps.  Each time a learner chooses, acts and reflects, he/she deepens his/her understanding of themselves and their connection to others. When a learner completely follows through with an action thought or idea, whether it’s as simple as holding the door open for someone or as complex as organizing a large scale fund raiser, their action helps them to  become a better person by helping others or the world. Ultimately they help themselves as their own outlook on the world changes or shifts as they create impact around them.

For the last 10 years I have had the privilege of mentoring young learners through the action cycle. I don’t see myself as a teacher of action, but as a mentor. I am there to help big and small dreams become reality by supporting students as they seek to change the world and create impact. Kids are big dreamers and when they are moved to take action, especially larger scale action, they are as Craig Keilberger calls them, “shameless idealists”. Sadly, reality has the power to crush even the biggest idealists.  As an action mentor, I support the idealists in also being realists so that they don’t give up on their action dream, because there is no greater reward than seeing the action process through with the knowledge that change was instigated either near or far.

Critical to action FROM learning is that it connect to an ISSUE. Taking meaningful action is not about an event, which is a common pitfall to look out for when mentoring students through the action process. So many kids come to me saying, “I want to have a bake sale” or “I want to sell bracelets.” My questions back to them are always “What issue is it that you care about/are passionate about? WHY do you want to do this?/Why is this important to you?” Those 2 questions have resulted in major shifts in the culture of action in the two schools where I’ve taken on the action mentor charge. Students no longer come to me with an “action event”. Instead, they come with a cause or issue and the action is born out of their passion for that issue. Most frequently, the issue connects to an issue they’ve explored in class or to something they’ve talked about at home, or even something they saw in the newspaper/news/on-line. Once the issue is clearly defined, then we explore the “doability” factor: “Is this action possible/doable? What is our goal? How can we make it happen? What might get in our way? What do we need? What is our timeline? How much support will we need from others? How much education/awareness raising needs to be done to gain the support of our peers’, teachers and/or parents? Are we willing to change our plan if we need to to ensure this action happens?” A nice byproduct about supporting and mentoring action in this way, is that students always raise awareness first because they naturally want to educate others about what they care about. For larger scale action, awareness within the bigger community is paramount to the overall success of the action.

When I mentor students through an action plan, we work under the following guidelines:

Central/Big Idea: Understanding issues that affect us, our community and our world can help us to take meaningful action to make a difference.

Lines of Inquiry:

  • Issues affecting us, our community and our world
  • Working together to make a difference
  • Planning for, implementing and reflecting on action/service

Guiding Questions:

CHOOSE: What (issue) will we take action for? (local or global?)

ACT: How will we achieve our action goal? What steps will we take?

REFLECT: How successfully did we achieve our action goal?

These guidelines help us to share a collective focus and ensure that the action our students follow through with has a clear and meaningful purpose and that it is highly effective. Successful action leads to more action – it becomes a part of the values of the school community and it is celebrated and honoured as an important part of the learning process.

Stay tuned for the next post: an exploration of “Action FOR Learning”

Chaos in the world brings uneasiness, but it also allows the opportunity for creativity and growth.” Tom Barrett

Our Grade 5s are currently inquiring into the concept of sound and its environmental and technological applications. As a part of their inquiry they’ve visited some concert halls to explore how sound is used in a carefully designed space for a specific purpose. As we collaborated in the creation of this new unit in our program we wondered how much the students would really understand beyond the traditional sound basics. Exploring the applications of sound opened the possibilities up quite wide and with 10 and 11 year old learners, we wanted them not only to understand the science of sound – those aspects of sound that don’t change, but also come to appreciate that sound can be harnessed and the harnessing of sound pushes people to new limits, boundaries and change. The summative assessment involves the students planning, designing, constructing and presenting some sort of concert/presentation space. This afternoon I strolled into Grade 5 and landed in the most beautiful form of learning chaos – students spread out across the room surrounded by plans and construction materials. The chatter in the room was buoyant as they created their own masterpieces and inspired each other with their creativity and knowledge. Words like “acoustic baffling” and “resonance” were common place as they truly had become one with their task. Every material chosen had a specific purpose connecting back to enhancing the sound they hoped their space would create. Ideas ranged from traditional to downright innovative. My favorite was a dual purpose flip stage – on one side the stage was padded so that gymnasts and acrobats could perform daring feats to music; on the other side the stage floor was wood and Neil Diamond (a girl after my own heart) was perched in the center ready to belt out “Sweet Caroline.” Inquiry is a beautiful thing – and sometimes, beautiful things require chaos before they emerge.  Learning should get messy, and as educators, we need to make sure that we provide a classroom community where that happens on a regular basis. When we step back and provide a learning environment that invites problem solving, innovation, and creativity learning becomes vibrant in ways we never dreamed!

Professional Discourse with Not-So Strangers

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Computer-globe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve spent the last several days sick in bed with the flu. For those of us high strung type A educator types, being away from school for too long is always a challenge. I miss the frenetic pace of the day and that feeling of constantly being here, there and everywhere all at once. It got to the point where I was actually ahead of my digital workload (gasp – this never happens, usually I’m swimming in it!). So, what else is a gal who is ahead of her digital workload to do when relegated to bed with the flu for 4 days straight? Well, I finally fully launched this blog, opened a twitter account and made a PiEd PYPer Facebook page. I’m feeling pretty tech savvy with myself right now (picture my peacock feathers standing tall) even though I must admit, I’m not yet fully comprehending twitter at the moment. (Tips and tricks gratefully accepted, please!) That being said, I finally had the time to explore a ning for IB PYP educators called “PYP Threads” that I joined a little while ago but hadn’t yet had the chance to really dive in and explore. As I toured around the site, I felt the call to begin to engage. Having the opportunity to take part in some very deep professional discourse with colleagues whom I’ve never met face to face was utterly stimulating! I happened upon a post about central ideas and whether or not PYP teachers should post them on the wall during a unit of inquiry. I decided to put my two cents worth of comments in, and the next thing I knew I was engaged in a very deep and pedagogical conversation with a fellow PYP Co-ordinator currently in Japan. How cool is that? I even noticed that the recent conversation thread had made it onto the ning’s twitter feed which brought some others into the dialogue too. One of the best things about being a part of the International Baccalaureate community is just that – that you can have deep and meaningful professional discourse with someone from ANY IB school in the world, and because we all speak “PYP” we can engage deeply and stimulate each other’s thinking and reasoning. We can share perspectives, ideas and practice, and the most beautiful thing of all is that we can remain open-minded and live out that last bit of the IB mission statement, that says… “These programmes encourage students [educators] across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.

How do you engage in professional discourse? Leave a comment!

You Have To Start Somewhere…

So I’ve decided to start a blog, again. I kept a blog once before, when I was teaching a class of Grade 2 boys. (http://dynamitelearning.blogspot.ca/) It was a professional goal for me that year to communicate via a blog with the parents of the students in my class and as a reflective tool for me to document what was going in my classroom. The boys in my class that year loved going home and looking at the new blog entries with their parents whenever I made a post. It made them feel special and it helped them to have meaningful conversations with their parents about their learning. What was even more fun for them was watching the map that tracked where blog visitors came from. By the end of the school year, we had visitors from other places that we weren’t connected personally to, and that fascinated them. The fact that other people, who they did not know from other parts of the world could look in on us and learn from our learning was a huge point of wonder.

While I no longer have a class of my own, I view the teachers that I support through curriculum coordination and administration as my class – each colleague requires differentiation just as the learners in my classroom did. Each colleague brings something unique to my day, whether it is a challenge, a problem to solve, a project to work on together, documenting curriculum, realizing school based initiatives, an A-ha! moment, etc. Even though I am surrounded by a team of amazingly talented and inspiring colleagues in a fantastic school, I have a need to process my own learning beyond the walls of my school, so I’ve decided to blog once again. It’s time to chronicle my own reflections, learning, new understandings, wonderings, and challenges. Maybe, just maybe, along the way, others may join me again, whether they are close to home, or across the world.

In order to prepare myself for this blog, I’ve spent a lot of time exploring other blogs related to education and more. I’ve been so inspired by the reading I’ve done, and I am now hooked on several blogs, which I will be sure to share here, too! I love learning from other people’s perspectives. I am a constructivist at heart – I like to build my own understanding FROM something. When I first thought of starting up a blog again, I had a lot of doubts. Could I do this again? What exactly was I going to write about? Will anyone care? In preparing myself to do this I’ve gone through my own inquiry cycle. I started by PREPARING – thinking about my purpose and intent. Then I began to EXPLORE by looking at what else is out there in the edublogoshphere. Next, I started to PROCESS by brainstorming ideas around possible blog entries that I might write about. Thank goodness for the notes app on my iphone because I’ve learned you never know when or where an idea might strike! And now I am at the TRANSFER phase – I am ready to take action with my learning by actually committing to writing a blog. Through my inquiry process, I realized that YES, I can do this again (I do love to write after all), and that YES I do have things to write about and that NO, while it doesn’t really matter if anyone else reads this, that YES I do hope that there are others out there who will either identify with me, share with me, or want to challenge my perspective, helping me to grow. That’s what I call a win-win! So…you have to start somewhere and this is it for me…one post down…the PiEd PYPer plays a tune!