November 10

Rethinking WHY I Blog

A few weeks ago many of Coquitlam’s Principals and Vice-Principals attended our annual conference. This year’s topic was the power of educational leaders using social media. I was inspired by the thought provoking message George Couros sent about carefully considering the WHY behind educational leaders using social media. While I have been blogging at this address since 2007, I have been quiet since I became a vice-principal. I told myself that I wasn’t posting because I was in a different phase in my new role – a learning phase – I would save posting for when I had learned enough to feel confident about sharing what I had learned.

George’s presentation pushed my thinking on this – I realized I was missing one of the key reasons WHY being engaged in social media matters. I was seeing my blog as a place where I would publish what I had learned – something rather summative in nature. What George helped me understand is that my blog could do so much more for me as a learner if I used it as a place to document my learning during the process of learning. A place where I can post my thinking and play with my ideas. A place where I could invite input and push-back from others. I realized that as the name of my blog “Playing with Ideas” implies – it should be a place where I am tinkering, experimenting, risk-taking. The very things I want the learners I work with to do. This is a subtle but powerful shift for me.

If I use my blog as a place where I am documenting my learning, I will be putting my ideas out there before they are fully formed with the intention of inviting conversation and push-back. This to me seems a bit scary but when I reflect on my history as a learner it has been key moments of push-back that have been the most instructive and have changed the way I do things. Here are two examples of push-back that have inspired self-reflection and have had a direct impact on my thinking and my actions:

  • Face to face push-back: A parent who shared with me what other parents were saying about me as a kindergarten teacher – “great teacher but unapproachable”. By nature I am a reserved person – I hadn’t realized how my natural social cautiousness was perceived by others. This comment inspired me to design my master’s project around reaching out to parents more actively and openly in order to build a stronger classroom community – this push-back shifted my thinking and altered the path of my career.
  • Blogging push-back: Heidi Hass-Gable provided me with some push-back that helped clarify my thinking around the dialogue we have with our school community regarding WHY we need to do things differently in education. You can read about that conversation on my other blog “Connectedness” and her comment on that post.

These examples of push-back (along with many others…) have caused me to reflect and reshape my thinking as a learner and educator. One of the quotes George Couros shared during his presentation was: “If self-reflection seems difficult, acceptance of failure will feel nearly impossible.” (Unusually Excellent: The Necessary Nine Skills Required for the Practice of Great Leadership by John Hamm). I realized that if I use my blog as a place to document my learning, I will be taking the time to stop, reflect on my thoughts and actions, and I will open myself up to the guidance and input of fellow learners. I know that one of the things that keeps me from posting is the possibility that I will be displaying my ignorance in some way. I need to remember that the times my thinking has been challenged has not defeated me, rather, it has helped me rethink and refine my ideas. It has made me a better and a stronger learner and person. Exactly what I want for all the learners I work with.

Another aha moment I had at the conference was when I began to relate documenting my learning through my blog to the conversation kindergarten teachers have been having about shifting their assessment practices to the documentation of early learning. Increasingly they are involving the children and their families in this process. You can read more about documentation of early learning in a series of posts by Brian Kuhn: Shift to the Future: Documentation. Since the conference documentation of learning also came up in conversations about rethinking Graduation Requirements at the Provincial Level. Some of us were thinking that blogging would be a good way for our high school students to reflect on and play with their ideas in a cross-curricular way. Bryan Jackson’s Talons students are already doing this type of reflective documentation of their learning – I love this example: Talons Grade 10 Introductions. I believe that blogging as a way to document learning has transformative potential for our learners.

This brings me back to another of my take-aways from George’s presentation – another reason WHY I should be blogging. By involving ourselves in meaningful and reflective use of social media, we become models of thoughtful and reflective learning, and of digital citizenship. We know that most of our kids will be involved in publicly documenting their life experiences through the use of social media with or without us. Without models our children are navigating the digital world – with all of its inherent dangers – alone. Simply providing them with lessons and lectures about the dangers and about digital citizenship has limited effectiveness. Engaging alongside them will have a far more powerful impact.

In his post “It’s not optional anymore” George Couros writes:

“There can no longer be an “opt out” clause when dealing with technology in our schools, especially from our administrators. We need to prepare our kids to live in this world now and in the future. Change may feel hard, but it is part of learning.  We expect it from our kids, we need to expect it from ourselves.”

Chris Kennedy echos this in his post Principals as Blog Leaders:

“We often talk about the many changes happening in education and how we, as leaders, need to model the change.  We want students to take the risks, own their learning, be ready to make mistakes but to learn from them as well,  and to create content for the digital world.  We can help by modelling all of this.”

We now have access to digital tools that make us increasingly able to provide powerful learning opportunities that can meet the needs of ALL learners. The learners we work with need us, as they always have, to mentor and guide them in becoming self-regulating learners, in developing meta-cognitive skills, and in developing social consciousness. The context of today’s learning is vastly different then the context we grew up in. To fully understand it we need to engage in it – the learning opportunities are endless.

This is a very challenging but also very exciting time to be a learner and an educator. George implores us to JUMP:

In my next post I will post links to some examples of inspiring blog posts written by School Administrators who have already jumped…


March 6

Learning through Games

Games can be a very effective and very engaging method for learning for a wide range of learners but as teachers it is our job to choose wisely. The learning should not be contrived. I was asked recently to evaluate a math game to determine if it would be good for use in our classrooms. I believe the object of the game was to explore a fantasy village (though I was never quite sure what the object actually was…). Occasionally I came upon a road block and had to complete a math challenge in order to continue exploring the village. The math challenge was irrelevant to the game, it was just the chore I had to do before I could get back to the fun. Teachers must carefully consider the message this is sending about math!! There are probably thousands of games online for most math concepts. Choose carefully!!

Warning: Choose games carefully!

One of the other concerns I have with computer-based games for learning is that we need to ensure that the objective of the game is a worthy objective, that it fits with what we value as teachers. One example: I don’t use worksheets in my classroom to teach phonics. I don’t believe that teaching phonemic awareness in isolation through worksheets has any positive impact on their reading skills – and can be detrimental because they are generally so mindless (I sure don’t like filling out forms – why would my students???). While computer games designed to improve phonics or phonemic awareness skills may be far more engaging than worksheets, they are just dressed up worksheets. While the kids may learn the isolated skills few kids actually apply these skills to reading.

But they love it…

I find it surprising to see teachers who would never give their Kindergarten students a phonics worksheet, but will sit them down in front of a computer screen doing a glitzy version of the same. They justify this by explaining how much the kids LOVE the activities which always makes me laugh. My two kids LOVE chocolate, potato chips, candy etc. and would be thrilled if I offered these things for dinner each night. I don’t because I know it is not the best thing for them. They also LOVE TV… need I go on?

Playing to Learn Math

This post was inspired by the following fantastic presentation Playing to Learn Math created by Maria Andersen about the use of games to teach math skills. It makes many fantastic points about how and why games can be great learning activities when selected carefully. I need to take some time to play some of the games she recommends to brush up on my Algebra skills!

I will post games as I find them. If you have any recommendations for games, or any comments about games as educational tools please add your ideas in a comment on this post.
February 28

Temple Grandin: The world needs all kinds of minds

This is a must watch video for all educators. It is ridiculous that our education system tends to want all kids to conform, that we tend to be focused on everyone doing things the same way, that we focus on the individual, that we don’t value “all kinds of minds”. Temple Grandin highlights the value of all kinds of minds to our society. As a society we desperately need schools and teachers that understand this. We know as adults that if we are able to work effectively within a cooperative group we can achieve more than what we would if each individual worked in isolation. We can achieve synergy. As educators we need our students to experience this. We need to build learning environments that foster cooperative learning so that our students understand and benefit from the true value of diverse thinkers and learners.

February 19

UDL-Sunshine Coast-February 19, 2010

Here is an updated version with some added links for this presentation. All of the links are live so you can view the resources referred to.

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I really enjoyed my time on the Sunshine Coast. What a beautiful place – wishing I had stayed longer… perhaps forever… Hoping to hear more from Sweet Cascadia soon!! 

Please add a comment, question, story … below and join the conversation. It is all about collaboration!!

February 18

UDL Planning For Inclusion & Differentiation

The break-out session following my Keynote address for the UDL Conference on the Sunshine Coast on February 19th went a completely different direction than I planned based on the interests of the participants. I am loading up the slides I had planned to go through because I think they are still useful and really did not require a presentation to follow their intent.

October 22

Horizons 2009 ~ CUE BC Presentation ~ What is UDL?

CUE BC 2009 - UDL_1

We had five “learning intentions” for participants in this presentation.

  1. To gain an understanding of UDL
  2. To understand why it is important that we understand and embrace UDL in our classrooms now as we are eager to meet the needs of increasingly diverse student populations, and as we need to make decisions about the types of technology we purchase and the pedagogy that drives it’s use.
  3. That UDL is not about the technology.
  4. That UDL is a subtle shift in paradigm that is having a profound impact on learners
  5. That creating Universally Designed schools and classrooms is a journey into which we have taken our first steps with a long way to go…

Continue reading

August 17

Back to school advertisements…

Back to school advertisements make me crazy!!! The Staples’ – “Its the most wonderful time of the year” advertisement is running continuously. The picture of those two children dreading school makes me sad. (Wow – the commercial is on again – second time since I started writing this post/rant). I so want school not to be something they dread –  a bitter pill – nobody wants to take it but it is good for you so you must. The father skipping through the store so gleeful about sending the kids off – what are we saying to our kids??? (There it is again!! – granted it is 1:54 am so I am writing slowly but reeeaaally). Reality is that many kids do dread school – I really believe we can do better than this for our kids. As a parent I get that it is nice to have time away from the kids but could this not be something we keep to ourselves? I get that this commercial is intended to be cute and make people smile but it really just makes me sad.

May 1

Ableism: My thoughts 1 year later…

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2009

Last January I blogged about my reflections following reading: New Directions in Education: Eliminating Ableism in Policy and Practice by Thomas Hehir. The following thoughts stuck with me and guided my practice over the past year.

  • Hehir defines ableism as ” deeply held negative attitudes toward disability that are analogous to racism”.

Then I looked up “racism” according to Merriam-Webster racism is:

April 17

UDL Presentation at the CASE Spring Conference

Today I spoke at the CASE (Council of Administrators of Special Education) conference. I was thrilled to have been asked to be a part of this conference and very much enjoyed sharing the exciting things that have been happening in Coquitlam. I based most of what I said on my previous blog posts “How UDL has changed my job” post and my “UDL Success” post. The most important messages I wanted to share during this presentation were:

  • Our appreciation and thanks to the BC Ministry of Education and to SET BC for their role in bringing the UDL movement to BC. We are very excited to be a part of this shift in paradigm.
  • That this project is perfectly timed with a change in the questions educators are asking about technology. In the past educators questioned “why” and “should we” use technology in education. Now educators are asking “what?” and “how?”. Universal Design for Learning provides a framework within which teachers can make informed decisions about the use of technological tools to help students succeed at school
  • The amazing progress our students have made in gaining reading skills since we began the project, and what we believe to be the reason for their success.

I uploaded the presentation slides to SlideShare:

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Click the like above to view and/or download this presentation on SlideShare.

The blogs / web resources I referred to in my presentation were: