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 28

UDL Success!!!

The process of transforming the way we work with our students is gradual. One of the first things we have been working on is moving away from the ‘resource room’ model where kids who are not reading/writing at grade level miss classroom instruction to be involved in extra instruction to work on their areas of weakness. We continued pulling kids but only in short-term focus groups set up for a specific purpose (this term it was phonemic awareness). Some kids who are on our support list did not need this group so the only support they received was to monitor their progress. Interesting thing – all of the kids who received in-class only support made great progress since their last assessment. Below are my musings about why this may have happened…

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January 10

How UDL has changed my job

I am a student services teacher who programs for students with a variety of special learning needs including learning disabilities, autism, cerebral palsy, etc. UDL has turned how we plan for our students upside down.

In the past I tried to keep up with what the teachers were doing and plan a program for the students I worked with that was somewhat related to what they were doing. Keeping up with such a variety of programs was exhausting and sometime around December (okay November) I lost track of the classroom programs and the students’ programs became less and less related until they stood alone with some token inclusion.

The difference is that in a UDL framework rather than teachers planning lessons aimed at their most average students and then trying to add on bits to make the others fit in, the teachers are planning lessons from the beginning with those students in mind. While this may sound like a subtle difference it is not. The focus has shifted from looking at what the student or the student services teacher needs to do to make the student fit or to fix the student, to looking at the lesson itself – the curriculum – to determine where the barriers are and to find ways to remove them. It is the curriculum that is seen as potentially problematic, not the students.

The classroom teachers have been provided with a variety of technology tools (teacher laptops, Smartboards, projectors, and access to a shared set of student laptops), and they have been involved in ongoing professional development helping them learn about useful software and websites for making their lessons more accessible for their students. While we have amazing teachers at our school who are eager to reach all of their students, prior to having these tools the prospect of differentiation was daunting. Technology has made differentiation more accessible for teachers.

My job is becoming one of continuous collaboration. I support teachers in understanding UDL, pass on web and other resources, ensure access to technology when needed, meet to discuss individual needs etc. I support students when they need assistance with skills that are not naturally provided within the classroom (I have short-term pull out programs for grade 4 and 5 students who are reading well below grade level, and who need to develop phonemic awareness skills). I help students learn the technology they need to help them access the curriculum.

The moment the shift was most obvious for me was during our IEP meetings earlier in the year. In the past I was the one who spoke the most, it was about what I was planning to do to fix the student. This time I set up, chaired the meetings, and took notes but the teachers did most of the talking. They were talking about how they could make their classroom program accessible for their students.