I still recall the moment I realized I was doing it wrong. I was in my second year of teaching and was sitting in my classroom after school. I had been hard at it and needed a break so I went down the hall to visit with my team partner and found out she was gone for the night. I continued on to try and find someone else to connect with. All the lights were off. I checked the clock. It was just after 7:15 pm. I wondered what the heck I was still doing at school.
Every adult knows that feeling no matter what profession you're in. For teachers, it begins after the students leave for the day. You check in with your colleagues, share a few laughs. Then you fill your water bottle and grab a snack. Maybe there is a staff or professional learning meeting. You return to your classroom. It's nice and quiet. Time to get some work done.
Here's what "getting work done" looks like for a teacher struggling with work-life balance. You start by cleaning up the classroom from the chaos of the day. You re-organize a bit, respond to a few writing journals, and give some feedback on the math assignments that you said you would do three days ago. Only after these little things are done do you begin thinking about tomorrow. You thumb through your rough plans and the curricular outcomes and begin to prepare. You start searching online and then you magically find that "must do" activity. Then you put everything else aside and start to gather materials for this latest and greatest thing. Of course the materials aren't around or exactly where you would expect them to be (where the heck would you even find litmus paper?) so you go online to find out where to get it and you make a plan to go there right after school to pick it up. Suddenly, it's after 7:00 pm and you still don't know exactly what you're going to do tomorrow and your whole day hinges on the faint hope that Walmart sells litmus paper.
Thankfully, I had the presence to recognize that this could not continue day after day. I knew if this was going to be my reality as a teacher, that I would burn out. I also knew that over time I would grow bitter and resentful over all the extra hours and how my work-life balance was askew.
I had to work smarter. I had to be more efficient. I had to take control of my processes to take back the extra hours.
If you are reading this and realize that this is you, here are some simple tips that helped me through those times:
Plan the Right Way - If you are still planning for tomorrow over hours at the end of each day then you are doing it wrong too. You need to create long, medium and short range plans that will carry you through days and weeks at a time. There are many ways to do this effectively, but your gauge of your effectiveness is simply the way you feel about your preparedness when you leave for the day or when you wake up in the morning. If you're anxious about your readiness then you need to keep searching for planning models that will allow you to feel better about this.
Set a Limit and Stay Within It - On average, I was at the school until after 6:00 pm every day. I told myself that if I could leave by 5:30 pm, that I could earn back an extra half hour. Instead of leaving at 6, I could be home by that time. Eventually, I was able to move that to 5:00 pm and that is still my target time to this day.
Make a Date For Yourself - Take one day of the week and book something for yourself. Make it for 4:30 or 5:00 so you know you will need to leave to get there on time. For me, I joined a Wednesday night golf league. Pick something that you love to do but don't have time for and make it a priority. Put it in your calendar, tell your colleagues about your plans, and make it your routine.
Take the Team Approach - As independent as you want to be, you need to have a team to work efficiently. The best teams plan, prepare, and follow-up together. They share the load of the hard work that needs to be done and instinctually find the ebb and flow of the team dynamic. Work with your team to divide and conquer so you're not all doing it on your own.
Talk Less, Learn More - Now, as a principal, one of my main feedback points to my teachers is that they're spending too much time with up-front teaching and not giving enough time for students to engage in learning. It might sound crazy, but I would often script out my talking points for my lesson. I was making it about me and not the learning. Use your time effectively to set up the learning intentions for the day and find a way to get the students working quickly. They will get more from you working alongside them as they do a task than they might in just listening to you explain it all. There is a time for up-front direct teaching, but pick your spots.
Apple Units Aren't the Answer - While preserving the "Apple Unit" to revisit year after year will make you feel comfortable and secure, this simply is not best current practice. If you're finding that you're squirrelling away binders and boxes of stuff to re-use, don't.
Copying is a Hint - Take a look at how many photocopies you're creating, and ask yourself what is the purpose they serve. As a teacher, one of the most arduous tasks I would undertake in preparation and planning would be the search for the perfect "blackline master". If I couldn't find one, I would make one. I can guarantee you're spending way too much time on this aspect of your planning, which will only be a very small part of the desired outcomes. When I made the move to notebooks and journals I took that daily task off my plate.
Talk to Someone - Work-Life balance problems are real, and you're not alone. Burnout is also real, and it happens to those who can't manage it until it's too late. If you find yourself struggling with this and unable to cope with it, please seek help. You might want to approach your school administrative team. Believe me, we've all been there. Identifying this a a problem for yourself is often the first step toward change. If you want to keep things private (often the case with those struggling with work-life balance), please seek help from your doctor.
I don't claim to have a perfect work-life balance. Part of my problem is that I really do love my job a lot and enjoy being at work. What I do feel that I do effectively is recognize when things are getting out of control. I'm not afraid to set things down for the day and just wrap it up. I can now navigate the flow of the school year and can adjust the peak times and low times (there aren't too many of those) more efficiently. It's still a work in progress for me, but one thing I know for sure is that my weekly golf game awaits and spring can't come soon enough.
The irony of the fact that I am composing and posting this on the weekend is not lost on me ;-)
One of our guiding values at the Calgary Board of Education is that Public Education Serves the Common Good. I share this value and love that public education is for everyone.
As a principal, I am asked to contemplate my commitment to this value on a daily basis. Sometimes it comes in the form of responding to parents asking me about "That Kid in their kid's class". You know That Kid. He's the one who talks way too much and can be distracting to others. Or maybe she's the one who randomly swears. That Kid may also be a bit of a bully sometimes, or perhaps even a thief.
We all know That Kid.
The truth is That Kid, like all kids, has a story.
That kid who talks too much actually has ADHD. His parents have chosen not to medicate him because his father was medicated as a child and his opinion was the drug has had negative and lasting repercussions. They are currently trying dietary changes and herbal remedies before pursuing trial medication.
The little girl who randomly swears was recently adopted by a loving foster family after years in other foster homes. While in the care of one of these other foster homes she lived with some older children who swore at her, telling her to "f#%k off" whenever she came near them or their toys. Thankfully, she's now getting some help from a counsellor.
The bully is looking for a bit of attention because his single mom is working two jobs to make a good life for her and her only son. The thief spent the first seven years of her life in a refugee camp where the only way to survive was to steal. The bully meets regularly with a play therapist who is helping him to make positive choices. Through a charity organization, the thief recently received the first toy she could call her own.
These stories may sound dramatic, but they're not. These are real stories encountered in my life as both a teacher and principal. My response to the parent asking me about "That kid in their kid's class" often comes out as what might sound like a stock, canned answer like this: "we know that this is a concern, but we assure you that we are working with the teacher, the family and others to ensure school is a safe, positive environment for everyone." I know this can come off as dismissive, but it's not. I can't relay the details of That Kid's story to you because, quite frankly, it's not my story to tell. These stories come to me in confidence from the parents of That Kid who help me to understand what's happening in their child's life.
The inquiring parent doesn't get to see the work behind the scenes. That inclusive, detailed work involving meetings, email exchanges and phone calls between the teacher / school and the family of That Kid. They don't get to experience the ways in which the teacher has planned out his or her day to make sure That Kid is accommodated and successful. They don't get to feel the positive response, love and respect from the classmates of That Kid who want nothing more than for them to be happy.
And what we don't get to see is the tears of the parents of That Kid because they don't want their child to cause trouble at school. We don't experience their sleepless nights as they wonder what tomorrow might bring. We don't get to feel the anguish that occurs when they see an email pop up from the teacher, or the school number appears on their call display.
With all this said, I would be the first to say that continual disruption, swearing, bullying and stealing have no place at school and need to be handled directly. What I do know is that your child's teacher is often the first to know and the first to respond. You can bet that by the time you have come to see the principal to talk about That Kid, that we are very likely already on top of things. Just as we want the best for That Kid, we also want what's best for Your Kid.
Public education, after all, is for everyone.
The family was forced to divide and conquer this weekend, leaving my son and I holding down the fort at home with the dog. It probably comes as no surprise, but on these occasions my son and I often use this situation as a good excuse to slip away for a burger and some father-son bonding time. As we were enjoying our burgers together and I was contemplating this week's blog post, I realized how passionate many feel about burgers. I mean, who doesn't have their favourite burger place? I think it's something about the burger place that connects with people. Well, I got thinking about my local favourites and wondered if this topic might spark some commentary.
Before I offer my list, I have to qualify a couple things. First of all, when I rank my favourite burgers I am considering the following:
1) I'm looking at the traditional cheeseburger of the joint. I don't really go for the fancy "Smokehouse" or anything with fruit or some kind of gimmick. I like a regular cheeseburger with a good compliment of fixings.
2) Size doesn't matter. In fact, I am learning to appreciate the smaller, tastier burger of late. I find a good double burger to work, but anything meatier takes away from the experience for me. Also, I won't get bacon on any burger larger than a single.
3) The atmosphere of the joint can't hurt the burger, but it can certainly help. Also, the significance of the place to me can adjust some ranking in this case.
Here are The Passionate Principal's Top Ten Burgers in Calgary:
10) Boogies Burgers - for many a staple in their top three. I have to admit, I've only recently tried it and was a bit underwhelmed. Cracks the top 10 because I trust my friends and there must be more to it so I'll give it another shot.
9) Peter's Drive In - Mostly here for the iconic nature of the experience. While most like the milkshakes, a Peter's burger is my favourite part of the visit. I also like how the single is really a single plus.
8) Fatburger - My feelings about Fatburger fluctuate from time to time. I love the hand-made patty, and a single is way more than filling. Extra points for choice of complimentary fixings.
7) Five Guys - Like Fatburger, the Five Guys hand-made burger is awesome. I feel it's a bit more consistent and I love their basic menu. No "Hula Burgers". Just burgers.
6) Earl's - May have bounced off the list if they didn't commit to Alberta Beef, but the Earl's experience is always good because it's almost always a family event.
5) Regrub - Charging hard up the list. Again, often overlooked because of the fancy milkshakes, the Regrub burger is so so good, and so much better than that sweet stuff. I like the odd and varied patty sizes from burger to burger. You get the sense that the owners want you to feel like you're really sitting in the family kitchen eating a home made mama burger.
4) Smashburger - A nice addition to Calgary chains. Best part about Smash is that their burgers are so tasty. Maybe a bit salty for some, but their gimmick of "smashing" the patty really works for me. I find it to be the perfect size.
3) Thomsons - My annual stop at the Hyatt lounge for a burger during Teacher's Convention is a tradition with my wife (who is also a teacher) and me. Great burger, complimented by the best burger pickle around. What makes getting a burger even more special is they often sell out on the Thursday of convention. It's that good.
2) Clive Burger - I don't often hear Clive mentioned by many, but it's a must-do. Again, like Five Guys, a simple menu, so you know it's all about the burgers. Smallish, but totally filling burger and you always know you're getting 100% natural, antibiotic and hormone free Alberta Beef. You can taste that awesomeness.
1) White Spot - Despite the fact that I am usually about 15 years younger than most visitors to White Spot, this is my go-to and something I look forward to. My family knows that when dad gets to pick a dinner out, we're heading to White Spot. I love the Double-Double and the sauce and great pickles complete the epic experience. Call me old-fashioned, but if you haven't really hit this burger, make a point of doing so. It's also a big hit with my father-in-law and his senior's group.
South Street Burger Co. (just a bit too pre-fab for my tastes. Too focused on satisfying many tastes. Just make one good burger)
Burger Inn (constant location changes pushed this off the list. Was probably top three in the 90s)
McDonalds Big Mac (still the "go to" after a late night out)
Note that I have yet to try the following recommended Calgary spots - Naina's (although I hear their signature is a stuffed burger, possibly making them ineligible based on my criteria), Buchanan's (likely my next stop), Vagabond (the pictures and reviews have me very intrigued), Burger 320 (new on my radar, but recommended by many friends)
Bonus List - Top Burgers Outside of Calgary
In and Out Burger - one of the highlights of my trips to Vegas or California. Cheap and awesome.
Cheeseburger in Paradise - Waterfront Lahaina, Maui. Say no more.
McKeller Confectionary, Thunder Bay - the original greasy burger. Hometown version of the Coney Island Hot Dog. You probably gotta grow up with it to love it.
Dana Clara / Patti Fero Burger - my family always tells me that you can't find a better burger than at home, and every time they step up, they back that up.
I can not wait for the reactions and suggestions. There is no way that anyone reading this list will think that I've got it all right. Please feel free to comment with your feedback. Oh, and I bet you're all hungry now. See you at White Spot.
PLCs, it's time for us to get back together.
I forgive you for interrupting my valuable teacher time.
I forgive you for making me comply in completion of all that dreaded accountability documentation that I gave to my school admin teams, for which I never received feedback.
I forgive you for your lack of direction, intentionality, and ability to connect with what I actually needed for my professional development.
I am ready to reconcile, because for the first time I realize that I have had a part in our demise. All this time I was always so quick to blame you and so quick to go to the dark side, that I never saw the beauty of our potential.
I remember hearing about you for the first time. Even before we met. I thought we would be great together for a long time. I was excited to see you on our professional development days, and even after school. For a brief while, I could say I even loved you PLCs.
It quickly turned ugly. Soon, there were those afternoons, after a full day of teaching, that I cursed your name as it was uttered over the intercom - "PLCs will start in 5 minutes in the library. Please bring your evidence of student work." Those words were almost always accompanied by the immediate scramble to try and grab some of that student work that I thought might best relate the topic we were supposed to be talking about. I remember grabbing the most generic examples I could find, just in case what I thought we were going to be talking about was incorrect, again.
"Another make work project" I would mutter to myself, and every slightly more loudly among my equally disgruntled colleagues. It started almost immediately - the clock watching, the marking, the internet surfing, and texting. Heck, we even took phone calls we would never pick up on personal time. Washroom breaks, water bottle refills, snacking, and even cutting out art materials for next day's lesson. We all took our turns in our small group rotating through any one of these distractions. We would curse that one eager teacher that was still in love with you and actually did everything they were supposed to. Then our PLC days became the most likely days to see colleagues away on appointments.
Coming into the principalship, I swore that there was a better way. I would be the one to find a new way to bring meaningful professional development to my staff. I tried everything, intentionally, to oppose you PLCs, even denying your existence. And for a long while, I convinced myself, and my staff, that we were happy. I was hopeful that I would show up to a senior leadership meeting and hear someone say PLCs were going away forever. They didn't. It never has ceased to be at the centre of the conversation.
Then it hit me, it wasn't you, it was me.
I was the closed-minded one.
Enter immediate regret.
This was the first step to me reaching out to you again.
I didn't get to this spot all by myself. I need to thank our district senior leaders for staying the course. I also need to recognize the Galileo Educational Network for providing the "how", considerate of all the obstacles which I encountered in my teaching career, and backing the need for effective PLCs with current research. Finally, and ironically, it was my own teachers who have brought us back together. They want to work with you, and for that to happen you and I need to be good. For them, and for the sake of improving student learning, I can do this. But, let's not get back together for the sake of the kids. Let's find a way to fall back in love. For this to happen, we both need to give a little. Let's go slow, stay flexible, and change just a bit.
I am optimistic.
For those non-educators, PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) happen when teachers come together to work in a group. PLCs can take on many forms depending on the direction of the school district and/or construct of school administration. When done right, they examine the critical questions surrounding whether or not there is evidence that teaching has had a direct impact on student learning. Much time and attention goes into ensuring schools are getting this right.
The above pictures depicts student work before PLC and the picture below, after PLC. The teachers in this PLC had recognized that many of the students were struggling with paragraph formation and they set this as a key learning intention After a series of lessons around forming good paragraphs, the students were able to apply the necessary concepts independently. This is the evidence that shows how teaching can have a direct impact on student achievement.
“Ian has the ability to be a great student when he puts his mind to it.
He must learn to concentrate in class.
He must learn his multiplication tables.
He must learn to get along with his classmates.
Has the ability to write good compositions.
Writing is neat.
A more serious attitude towards school would be beneficial to Ian.”
- Term 1 Progress Report for Ian Fero, Grade Four, Mr. Seki
On report card weekend for many students I thought it would be a great idea to pull out some of my old report cards and take a look at a few of them. I was hoping that I would find some pretty good content for this blog post and I was able to find this fine example from grade four.
There has been a lot of discussion about progress reporting to parents over the last number of years, particularly after the Calgary Board of Education went to a 4-point reporting scale for K-9 schools. I realize that some parents might be looking for some insider tips into what their child’s report card really means. So, here are some simple tips to understanding your child’s report card:
Moving to a twice-a-year reporting process makes “no surprises” even more essential. What this means to me is that a parent shouldn’t have to wait until a January or June report card to gain an understating of how their child is achieving in their current grade. Teachers are asked to engage in regular communication with home (email, phone, or face-to-face) to identify any potential struggles just so you are informed in a timely manner, on what’s exactly happening at school.
We Celebrate Student Strengths
Every student, no matter where they’re at this particular moment in time, has achievements worth celebrating. Knowing and identifying which areas a student is most successful in is a key part of the reporting process. We want you to know what those things are, and hope that you know we respect your child for the talents and gifts that they bring to school. One of the constant comments from parents that I heard in my early days of school administration was “all I hear is the negative from the school”. If this is true, then this is a problem, so we always begin by acknowledging the positive things. We care for your child and want them to be successful.
Construct a Plan
What I have always tried to do is ensure a plan for improved success is communicated in the report card. One of the things I have always rejected is the comment implying that achievement is a matter of an enhanced effort at home (ex. “Ian would benefit from practicing his multiplication tables at home”). While a partnership between school and home is essential for student success, it is not ok to put this burden entirely on the home front. As a school, we want to examine our organization of supports, beginning at the classroom level, to ensure we are doing all that we can to improve student learning at school. If we want students to be successful at school, then we need to help them at school with support from home.
Indicators, which in our reporting system are a 1-4 scale, are the numeric attempt to summarize a semester’s worth of achievement. Trying to do this in one number means that a teacher needs to take all of the data accumulated over time. The student story toward that indicator is so much more than just a number. The comments are where the teachers spend most of their time when constructing the report card. As mentioned, we want these comments to be strength-based, but we also try and identify areas for growth, and of course a plan. The time, care, and attention that go into your child’s report card comments are significant and should be viewed as the most important part of the report.
Know the Language
There are a couple consistent messages that occur in almost every report card and provide a deeper understanding into your child’s progress if you know what to look for. These key phrases are “independently” and “with support”. When we use the word independently, it most often means that a student can understand, demonstrate, and maybe even extend, concepts taught. This represents ideal student achievement. Conversely, students who complete the same tasks with support indicate that, at this time, they require assistance engaging with those particular concepts. Support can encompass extra time, repeated instructions, modified expectations; one-on-one or small group time with a teacher or an Educational Assistant, or the help of manipulative or assistive technology. Another word that matters in report card comments is "consistently." Ideally, students are able to replicate successes consistently across the curriculum, and from concept to concept.
Mom: “Teacher, how does my child rank in the class?”
Teacher: “Through my assessment, I rank your child in the top three in my class.”
Mom: “Wow, that’s great. I am very happy to hear that.”
Teacher: “Well, I wouldn’t say that. This is the lowest class of achievers I’ve had in years.”
You may have seen this quick anecdote as it’s widely circulated in various forms. The key point is that there are too many variables in play when looking to compare your child’s achievement to that of their peers. Keep your parental focus on your own child and where they are at this time. Report cards are not standardized assessments, and therefore cannot be used for student-to-student comparison across classes, schools, or districts.
Possibilities are Endless
The report card is a snapshot in time. Perceived excellent achievement does not open doors for your child, just as perceived poor achievement does not close them. Todd Rose, Harvard Graduate School of Education Professor, tells his story in his book The End of Average and in his TED Talk https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4eBmyttcfU4. While interesting, his story is not unique. He talks about finding his passion and calling much later in life, and working in dead-end jobs before he discovered his path. He also states that every person has specific strengths and talents, and a jagged profile meaning no two learners are exactly the same. What does matter is that your child needs your support and encouragement, as well as that of thier teacher, to be successful.
Based on the report card comments I received in term 1 of Grade Four you could probably surmise that I was in for a rough ride that year. I remember my mom and dad coming home from parent-teacher conferences and thinking I was done for. While I can’t say my parents were thrilled with my report card and follow-up conference, they did say that my teacher really liked me and wanted me to do my best. He moved my desk and told my parents that he was going to “work with me” to realize my potential. My dad also told the teacher that if he had any more problems with me that he wanted to know right away, and made it clear to me that he’d be following it up with a pretty direct conversation with me (children of the 80s can read into what a “direct conversation” with dad really meant). After all of that impact, here are my year-end report comments:
“I am very impressed with the work Ian has put forth on his book reviews.
Keep up the good work Ian.
Ian is a very nice boy who participates well in all activities.
Behaviour has improved.
Good luck in the future.”
Thanks Mr. Seki, Mom, and Dad. It was onward and upward from there…for the most part.
Recently, I watched the Brett Morgen documentary Montage of Heck, an authorized biopic about the life of Kurt Cobain: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4229236/
For some context, I was in my early twenties when Nirvana hit with Smells Like Teen Spirit. I guess I was old enough to have my angst in check, but young enough to enjoy the music. Old enough to buy my own CDs and not worry about curfew, but young enough to still be making some questionable choices. I was a fan of the band, and would say they were on a pretty heavy rotation. I can remember eagerly awaiting the 1993 release of In Utero, and purchasing the album the day it came out.
What I wasn't at the time was a huge magazine or tabloid reader. In the days pre-dating the internet and social media you really only knew bands through their music. To be honest, I didn't really know Kurt Cobain, or the troubles he was going through. When he passed in 1994 I already felt like I'd had a lifetime with him and the band even though they had only released 3 studio albums, and a fourth if you include MTV Unplugged in New York. I remember knowing about Courtney Love, and his drug problems, but I never knew the extent. On the day he died, I remember feeling very sad, but when I watched this documentary it hit me harder than it did on that day over 21 years ago.
I found myself thinking about Kurt from the lens of the teacher and a parent. The whole documentary played out to me like a series of missed warning signs; like calls for help that went unanswered. I saw Kurt's creative genius as the blessing and curse of intense, unacknowledged, untreated ADHD. What I found myself asking were things like "What would you do if that were a student at your school? Would you notice the signs? What would you do? Would you have been able to make a difference?" Of course, there are no certain responses, and that's what's making me think of him and his plight more. When the credits rolled, I felt very sad.
Since viewing Montage of Heck, I've downloaded the entire Nirvana catalogue and have been listening to it on my iPhone via Apple Music on a few long walks, just as I did back in the early 90s (except on my Sony Discman). I have moved past the sadness, and into the place of enjoying the music once again and a place of appreciation for the work of Morgen, and the gift he gave me to allow me to revisit my youth and the music that influenced me.
In March 2000 I wrote an independent inquiry for an undergraduate class entitled Reggio in North American Schools: To What Degree is Transfer Applicable which I recently went back and took a look at. In many ways, this paper represents some of my earliest reflections.
I remember being introduced to all things Reggio by my outstanding field advisor, Gail Danysk, who remains a great educator. It was Gail, and the work of Pat Tarr at the University of Calgary that sparked my interest and quickly got me thinking about how quickly I could get teaching and start to "do Reggio". A couple other key pieces fell into place right away for me. First, my initial teaching role was in kindergarten, and second, I had a very supportive, arts-centred principal in Carmen Roman.
Early on, I knew that I could not simply "do Reggio", but I did realize that I could take the best elements and bring them to my practice. As I look back over 16 years ago, I can see how my beliefs in the Reggio model have influenced my career in education.
I have maintained that the child is always the lead character in their own learning, the main focus, and the their own best advocate. Regardless of age, the child always knows which way they learn best, and it's our job as educators to watch, encourage, and set up opportunities for them to let this play out in our classrooms. Listening to student voice in the classroom is a critical part of this process, and the child needs to be able to express themselves openly, honestly, and directly with the teacher and classmates.
Parents are also critical partners in this process. It's not a case of sending your child to school and hoping for the best. It's about being a critical part of the teacher - child - parent triad. This is a supportive, trusting relationship, where all parties work on behalf of what's best for the child.
The teachers who have the most advanced assessment practices are always the best researchers. This isn't about going out and doing research, but rather conducting research in the classroom. These teachers are able to listen to children as they learn to find out what they really know, and where they want or need to go next. They implicitly know each child as a learner because they have spent the time with them, and also because they are flexible to let things play out despite what might be on their agenda.
Some other elements that remain critical parts of my teacher and leadership practice that have a Reggio influence include:
1) the importance of play
2) creating opportunities for wonder
3) celebrating and incorporating the beauty of nature
4) valuing the role of collaboration: student - student, student - teacher, teacher - teacher
5) utilizing the documentation process to make learning visible
6) taking pride in how the school looks and message it relays to all who enter
So all these years later would I say I was able "do Reggio"? I guess I would say that I have been able to confirm my initial beliefs, and realized that if you start off your own journey looking to simply copy or replicate Reggio that you have missed the point altogether. I would say it's about being Reggio-inspired and ensuring that it lives each day in not only your mindset, but your actions.
I was thankful that someone thought enough of that initial paper to have it published, and pleased that it's still available on the internet on the University of Calgary site. Please feel free to share some stories of how your practice remains Reggio-inspired.
Sometimes you can really shock yourself.
While I wasn't a new teacher, I was a new teacher to my school. I was the youngest teacher on my grade team of four teachers and I was still trying to figure things out. At that time of my teaching career I would say that I was a good "ideas man", as in I had all the ideas of things that could make effective, engaging lessons for my students, but I wasn't a great implementer. Most of these good ideas got left on the cutting room floor partially because of my lack of follow-through, but also because I was overruled by my more experienced teammates.
Thankfully, I had a great, inspiring team partner who helped me work through this awkwardness. She believed in my ideas (as I trusted hers) and throughout the year, helped me put them into action. I remained quite reserved in our grade team meetings however, often deferring to my more experienced partner to lay out our plans. As the year went on, the team split into two different camps with one content to deliver content in a more traditional way, and the other intent on doing things a bit differently. While we were all very friendly with one another, we accepted that we were operating under different pedagogical frameworks. Our grade team meetings quickly faded away and we only met to organize bigger events such as Outdoor School.
A meeting about starting a new club was one of the reasons we came together as a grade team. One of the things I was very passionate about was providing clubs and extra-curricular opportunities for our students, particularly in the area of athletics. This meeting became very frustrating for me, because I was told time and again by the other members of the team (not my team partner) why clubs were not always workable at the school. As a new teacher to the building, I didn't have any history, so I trusted them and just went along, focusing on my teaching. The interest in running clubs faded to the background for a few months.
The groundswell of student grumbling started once the snow hit the ground and outlets like the recess soccer game became less available. The behaviour incidences picked up, and everyone became a bit more edgy. I remember talking to one of my students and asking him why things were so off the rails and his immediate response was "recess is so boring". Recess boring? If recess was boring, we definitely had a problem.
I decided that I was going to start a Floor Hockey Club. I checked in with my school admin, and they were supportive. I checked in with our PE specialist, and she was supportive too. I checked in with my students, and we had 4 in 5 commit to a floor hockey club. Things were rolling fast, and my idea was on the way to becoming a reality. Then, I met one of my grade team partners in the hallway. The exchange went like this:
Him: What's this I hear you're going to be starting up a floor hockey club?
Me: Yep, hoping to start after the Christmas break. The kids are excited!
Him: You can't do that. It won't work.
Me: What are you talking about? I already asked around and everyone agrees.
Him: Listen, we have a lot of things on the go in January. It's the start of our big push toward exam prep, and we need to focus on our curriculum. The students get very distracted by clubs, and especially sports clubs. They don't focus well when their mind is on these things. Trust me, we've tried it before.
Me: Well, I think it would be helpful to them to blow off some steam and run around a bit.
Him: What about the kids who can't play after school? You know we have a lot of kids that have other obligations.
Me: I talked to the kids and they don' t think it will be a problem.
Him: I didn't really want to say this, but some of the other teachers on staff don't like the way you're changing things up here. If you start a club, then we're all going to have to do a club. Maybe just slow things down. Take a year to get to know the school.
Me: WHY DON'T YOU TRY TO STOP THINKING OF ALL THE REASONS THIS CAN'T HAPPEN, AND START TO FIGURE OUT JUST ONE WAY TO HELP MAKE IT HAPPEN?
Wow! I surprised myself with that. It was very much out of character for me. I didn't want to be disrespectful, but I was passionate about what I wanted to do because I thought it was the right thing to do for the students.
Today when I look back on that little outburst I call it a career defining moment. From then on I started to gain the confidence that my ideas, good or bad, were worth exploring. I started to trust my gut instincts, but more importantly I started to listen to my students. Their voice became more prominent in my planning, and I didn't (and don't) hesitate to run something by them first.
The Floor Hockey Club was an instant success, and the benefit extended well beyond the students. Other teachers who had wanted to do clubs of their own started to put things together for other students in the school and a prominent change in culture began. Ultimately, I was most happy when my grade team partner (the one who I had the disagreement with) when he told me he wanted to start a soccer club in the spring. We planned it out together, and he began a great run as the teacher lead of our leadership club of older students who would referee and organize our younger ones on the soccer fields at recess. A couple years later at his retirement, he told me that taking on that leadership club had been one of the most rewarding parts of his career.
I wonder what would have happened if I had just backed down that day in the hallway. I wonder if I would have found my confidence to pursue my passions. I do know that that key phrase that came blurting out of my mouth that day has become one of my leadeship mantras. As we start a new calendar year, I want to resolve to keep that at the fore of who I am as a leader. I want to always try to find a way to make things happen.
(and for those of you that look at this blog post graphic and get a little song in your head, send me a comment and let me know what it is)
I don't think kids play like I used to.
I was that kid who ran home from the bus, opened up the door to my home, threw my backpack in the house, yelled "hi" and "bye" to my mom, jumped on my bike and was off to find a new adventure. I was that kid who would be out playing and exploring with friends. None of us had a phone, or a watch, we just went home when the streetlights came on or when we got hungry.
I can remember running through old lumberyards and building sites to collect discarded wood so we could then drag it through the bush to the place where we would build our tree fort. I remember the excitement of welcoming a new classmate to the school where inevitably the first questions we would ask were "Hey, do you play hockey? Wanna join our street hockey game?" I can also remember hearing about a new park opening up on the other side of town, grabbing our bikes and riding there. It must have taken us an hour and a half each way.
I knew what a “soaker” was – you know, when you get too close to the water (or mud) and step in too deep only to have your rubber boot fill up. In those days of my youth I got hurt, lost, trapped, scared, and embarrassed. I even remember the floorboards of our tree fort giving way and dangling by one arm from a tree branch so high up that I probably would have died if I'd fallen. Some days, I would even just ride to Canadian Tire and go to the sports counter and just stare at the Wrist Rocket behind the glass as if it was the coolest, most desired prize on the planet.
I don’t think my own kids do any of that. It makes me sad, and it makes me feel like I have failed somewhat as a parent for not providing them with those opportunities. But then again, isn’t that the problem?
I think in some ways, we as parents (yes, I’m throwing some of you under the bus too) spend too much time trying to find the right opportunities for our kids. We shuttle them to play dates from the earliest age. We enroll them in athletics and music lessons and if they’re really good at it we ask them to do it more, and if they’re not good at it we often allow them to choose another activity to see if that will go better. We manage their time, their schedules, and their passions. Where is their voice and independence?
This week I was asked to consider play, and the role it plays in education. It seems like a logical fit - kids, schools, engagement. When you add the words wonder, curiosity, and imagination, it seems like play just has to be an integral part of what we do. However, part of me just doesn’t understand the where and the how. I’m torn, because part of me wants to just go for it, but the other part of me says, “how can I timetable that?” When that part of me starts talking I feel like I do as a parent and the inevitable rub is that there just isn’t enough time for that in the day. There is just too much to do. Of course, that’s not the right response.
I know my exploration is still underway. I also see the ironical side of trying to reconcile play, because natural play should just exist without the need to schedule it or check it off on a to-do list. What I do know is that play needs to be a part of what we do in schools, and that I want my own kids, and my students, to experience the beauty and tragedy of the “soaker”.
I would love to hear your memories and thoughts about play. Do you feel the same? Have you found a good balance? How does play fit in your own life, and in your role as parent and/or educator? Please feel free to reply and comment.
The image I used above is a screen capture from a video I was introduced to this week. It’s a child experiencing rain for the first time. Check out the video here, and turn the sound off for better effect. I think it’s a great way to think about the beauty of play. Follow my colleagues and their work using #CBEplay
"Who took my charger?" is becoming a pretty common phrase in my household these days. With four digitally connected people in the house, those chargers seem to missing more often then they're in the place they were left. I can say from experience that parenting in the digital age is not easy.
I also have to admit that I struggle with this as a parent myself. My own children, age 15 and 12, are pretty much glued to their devices (primarily iPhones) daily. My wife and I have tried it all in an effort to manage usage. From designating screen time to locking out the wifi, to more radical measures such as taking phones away and "grounding" them from the phones, we still seem to be looking for the 'just right" solution.
As a school principal, I am being asked on a regular basis to assist parents who are equally as frustrated with similar concerns. Specifically, the questions are about amount of screen time, exposure to questionable content, activity on specific apps, cyber-bullying, lack of sleep, and even addiction. If you are experiencing some of these concerns, just know you are not alone.
Alberta educational researcher, Phil McRae, has been part of a team looking into the impact of the digital age on our kids. Here is a summary of some of the findings in Growing Up Digital:
1) 67% of teachers say the number of students negatively distracted by digital technology is growing
2) 90% of teachers indicate the number of children with emotional challenges has increased
3) 56% of teachers say the number of students reporting cyberbullying has increased
4) 66% of teachers are observing students coming to school tired, with decreased ability to focus
5) 76% of teachers frequently or very frequently observe students multi-tasking with technology
Dr. Michael Rich, the Mediatrician, and The Centre on Media and Child Health, have a wealth of resources to assist parents of children of any age. Some of the most consistent tips to parents include:
- Help you child manage their time online
- Establish an evening charging station so your child does not bring their device to their bedroom
- Set time limits for screen time, and give them reminders such as "you have 5 minutes"
- Watch for warning signs that device time interferes with sleep or even eating
- Model your expectations by putting your own advice away at family times such as dinner
Paul Davis, is a Canadian presenter who specializes in Social Networking Safety. His TED Talk offers "real talk" and many helpful tips to parents. Some of Paul's key points include:
- The parent is the owner of the phone / device / internet account and are responsible for it
- There is always a trail of internet/online/App activity no matter if you think it's anonymous (it's not)
- Your online activity as a youth follow you into your adulthood and can impact your employability
For many of us, we feel a bit out of our element in dealing with these technology issues and we are not digital natives like out children are. We are being asked to navigate these deeply impactful issues through a rapidly changing landscape. Throughout it all, I have to keep reminding myself that I am the parent, and that I have to not only establish the boundaries, but model the way for my own children. Being open and honest, and educating my children about their digital identity is part of the process. I also know that doing nothing is not an option, and that in some way I think my children are looking to me to help them make the right choices, as they always do.
I am an elementary school principal, passionate about engagement, innovation, and learning from the unique skills and interests of students and fellow educators.