A blog post one year in the waiting, and decades in the making.
I would like to share some thoughts about a life with my first teacher - my dad.
Just like any young boy, I loved spending time with my dad. There was no need for any rewards because time with dad was reward enough. My earliest memories involved him taking me for a walk down to the creek near our apartment with my little sister in tow. I had sweet rubber boots and an even sweeter one-piece “creek suit” and was free to roam about wherever I wanted. I made dams and sent stick ships down the creek to my amusement. Minutes seemed like hours in those days. We visited all of the parks around the city too. Whenever there was a new park we were early visitors. I couldn’t get enough. And my dad wasn’t the type to sit on the sidelines. He chased my sister and I all around, and encouraged us to be fearless of heights and new challenges. I never heard "don't do that" or "get down from there".
As I got older, we did all those goofy things that most boys and their dads do. We would exit a building and immediately start racing to the car – first one to touch it won (I don’t think I ever did). Other days we would be playing catch and my dad would drop a wicked curveball, or if he really wanted to show off, would fire a heater right down the pipe and into my glove. Sometimes he would show me the power of the short punch, holding his fist inches from my shoulder before thundering in and then calmly asking me to give it a go and pop him back. My attempt always seemed to hurt my small fist more than it did his muscular shoulder.
Spending time with dad almost always involved a trip to downtown. Compared to metropolitan cities, downtown Thunder Bay wasn't much, but to us it was everything and it seemed like my dad knew everyone in town. We were always running into people he knew, and each time we would stop to talk to everyone he would say “hey, you remember my boy, right?” and I remember those big, large men stopping to shake my hand, tussle my hair and perhaps even reach inside their pockets to hand me “two-bits”. Ultimately we’d end up at the Arthur Café where I would be treated to fries with gravy and a coke. I recall my dad walking by tables and grabbing cheques off his friends’ tables and carrying them up to the register and taking care of them. “I got it,” he would say.
On top of this all, my dad was the best hockey player I knew (soooo fast), and just seemed to be that kind of athlete that could try something and just be a natural at it. In his 40s he decided to take on something new, a triathalon, and completed it almost completely on will and natural athletic ability.
As I got older our relationship changed in the ways that they do as kids become teenagers. “Time with dad” just became less of a priority as I explored my independence and time with friends. My dad just rolled with it, but continued to give me what I needed. You got some pocket money? Gas in the tank? Car running ok? He came to watch all my high school basketball games and was always a happy spectator, standing in the back and taking it all in. That pride carried over into University where he always made sure my tuition and books were taken care of. Just like at the Arthur Café, he was still grabbing cheques, but this time they were mine.
Throughout his life as my dad, Tom Fero made his living on the docks of the Thunder Bay waterfront. As a Graintrimmer, his job was to load grain from the harbour elevators on to the lake freighters which would come up the Great Lakes to Thunder Bay from all around the world. As a key break-of-bulk point for prairie wheat, Thunder Bay was a busy place. I knew enough to know that this wasn’t always easy work. Winters in Thunder Bay were bad enough, but a winter on the waterfront was a savage environment of its own. I remember the cold, snow, driving wind and rain, and thinking “Dad is working outside? In this?” I would lie in bed, listening to the intense thunder (the city was appropriately named) and staying partially awake listening for the door to open signalling me that dad was home safe and it was ok to go to sleep. I don’t remember my dad missing a day of work in his life.
This post could not be complete without recognizing that my dad, for all his beautiful ways did have his share of shortcomings. However, like most things with dad, this too had a way of turning itself into a teaching moment and I learned from the person closest to me that not everyone is perfect.
From the tense I have been writing in, you can surely tell where this post is heading. It was just over a year ago that I lost my dad. The tough, athletic, unbreakable man I knew and loved was stopped suddenly by heart failure. In his final days my dad was able to pass quietly, surrounded by the love of those closest to him and under the watchful eye of my beautiful sister who was his faithful sentinel, refusing to leave his side over days and nights. He didn’t want anyone to make a fuss over him, and used his fading words to only ask others how they were doing, and how life was for them.
Losing a parent is tragically unbearable and I know many others have been unwillingly forced to manage these times as well. I’ve had my tears and my dark moments, but I hold the best thoughts closely. When I think of my dad, I smile. I smile because my memory can easily transport me. When I close my eyes...
I still hear the slow trickle of the creek by the apartment.
I still feel the bony arch of my back as I sneak past dad’s tag on the park.
I still sense that anticipation that our next race to the car would be mine.
My hand stings from the fastball, and the shoulder from the short punch.
I still taste the fries with gravy.
I still see his hair flowing from his helmet as he streaks down the right wing.
I still feel that sense of comfort afforded when the front door opened after a cold, rainy night.
He’s always standing quietly in the background at my game.
I always have pocket money. The gas tank is always full. The car runs fine.
I will never forget looking into his beautiful blue eyes and sharing our final farewell: speaking the words “I love you” and hearing the same in return.
My first teacher was mine from birth. While he never set out to teach me one lesson in particular, he ended up teaching me almost everything I needed to know. There will always be a lot to smile about.
I try not to overestimate my role as school principal. I know that it's the teachers and support staff that do much of the heavy lifting in the building on a day-to-day basis. Through my years as an administrator, I know there are benchmark moments in the school year where I am asked to make key leadership decisions that will strongly influence the life of the school and those same teachers and staff which commit so much. One of these moments is budget time.
I highly respect the way our district allows principals to make the important decisions for their schools through the budget process. The simple explanation of the process looks like this - the school is allocated funds based on a variety of factors, but primarily projected student enrolment. From this allocation the principal then leads the decisions regarding staffing for the school. The entire district knows this as RAM time (with RAM an acronym of Resource Allocation Method) and planning begins in earnest in April.
While teachers and staff have an understanding of the process, it does not make times any less worrisome. If the school population is likely to stay the same, staffing will likely look similar. If population is projected to increase, there is a good chance that additional staff will be hired. Finally, if a school population is on the decline, hard staffing decisions need to be made. Staff will often begin to predict the budget implications and it's impact on their position almost immediately.
As a leader, these are the difficult times. As I have talked about in my previous blog posts, the school staff become a family of our own. Everyone puts their heart and soul in their work for our students and school. We come to know each other as professionals, and as friends. While I am fortunate to receive amazing counsel from my administrative team, it is ultimately the principal that signs off on all budget decisions. I'm not going to lie, these difficult decisions are heart-wrenching. In the end, I rely on some key principles to guide me through these times:
1) Students First - the first step is to work with the current staff and school administrative team to determine the needs of the students moving into the next school year. Key elements in this stage are ensuring class sizes start at right numbers, and that students with complex needs have support staff available to assist.
2) Listen to the Staff - beginning as early as February we begin to analyze school needs as a staff. It often occurs past the mid-way point of the school year, which is enough time to determine the value of decisions made for the current year. No one knows better than the staff what needs to stay the same and what needs to change for the next year.
3) Staff over Stuff - when you value relationships as part of student learning, you know that investing in the relationships and the people that build them is essential. At the school level, we can often look at alternative options such as limiting copying and paper use, or forgoing tech purchases, in order to keep the staff that matter at our school.
4) Deliver News Directly - when bad news is coming it becomes evident right away and everyone knows it. There is no need to delay the delivery of news. My way of working is to talk with staff directly in a one-on-one manner. I also don't delay the news or "sugar coat" what's coming. I say what needs to be said as straight as I can and, if needed, provide the rationale for school decisions.
5) Support Staff Through the Process - Delivering bad news isn't the last step, and in my view it's just the beginning. Frequent check-ins afterward are important, and it's even more essential to find out what the preferences of that staff member are toward their next steps. From there, I try and reach out to colleagues in order to gauge the possibility of a match for our displaced staff. I remain on their side, always.
Being a leader in good times is pretty easy. I've been in the position to add staff throughout this process and to ensure everyone at your school has a guaranteed position and to welcome in new people into the fold can be exciting and fun. Leading through a lean budget isn't easy at all. As I muddle through the series of difficult decisions the common refrain from friends is "oh well, that's why you get paid the big bucks". I am fully aware that my decisions impact people in both their professional and personal lives and I don't take that responsibility lightly. My only hope is that my guiding principles make the process a bit easier for those impacted.
I think I have always been a pretty busy guy. When I use the work busy, I don't mean it in the sense of feeling overwhelmed with life, but I mean it in the way in which I always seem to be able to find ways to busy myself. I don't relate to boredom, and I don't think I ever have.
As a kid, I could always find something to do. I wrote about some of my experiences in my December post, Play, but I want to expand on that. When it comes to dealing with boredom, I think I was always able to handle things. If I was on my own I had Lego, Adventure People, Hot Wheels, and lots of action figures, boats, cars, planes, and other toys. In my mind I can easily revisit those memories and when I think of it now I marvel at the creative scenes and situations I could invent in my mind. Oh, and man was I the MASTER of sound effects. You can bet that every car hitting a jump, or a plane taking off had a wicked sound effect with it. I built roads and garages. I gave my action figures names and I invented entire back stories for them. There were good guys and bad guys and they all had motives. And, of course, no play scene was complete without sharks and / or lava.
As a parent, I loved those moments with my own kids, and could insert myself pretty easily into their free play. Both of them seemed to inherit that sense of creativity and fun. My recent curiosity relates both to my own kids, and my students. The question for today's world is do children even have the chance to be bored anymore? Truth is, since they have discovered their screens, I don't think my own kids have ever had to deal with real boredom.
Wrestling with boredom is not an original thought. It's been documented in many ways, but when related to my own context and experience it becomes all too real. I think my experiences were most accurately captured in Clive Thompson's article in Wired magazine and as I read this I found myself nodding my head an awful lot.
Recently, I have come to know boredom. A broken ankle can do that. And while I am a bit too old to pull out my Lego and action figures, I still find that my mind activates in the same ways it did in my youth. I can "feel" how boredom leads to creativity. So, what is the message for adults? Boredom can be ok for kids. Let them be bored, and don't rescue them from this time. Let it happen, and see what emerges. When they say "I'm bored" respond as my parents did, "go find something to do."
What are your experiences with boredom? How did you deal with it?
"Assessment is not a spreadsheet, it's a conversation." - Joe Bower
I was thankful that I had the opportunity to learn from Joe Bower a couple years ago during a YYCEdCamp event hosted at Robert Thirsk High School. Joe was a captivating presenter who brought everyone in the room into his talk, In this way he led by example. His passion was assessment, and he tackled a controversial topic head on. What is the purpose of a zero, an incomplete assignment, or a failed test?
Like many teachers in the audience, I had mixed feelings. Part of me believed in the premise of "you get what you get and you don't get upset" mindset. You may have come to know this from your parents too. It's the mindset that hard work and commitment trumps all. Simply put, if you didn't achieve your goals, you must not have put the effort in. Failed test? Study more. Missed assignment? Make better choices with your time. Some may have come to know this as Tough Love.
Another part of me was a bit more practical. After all, isn't being a teacher is about really trying to understand what a student knows, and finding the right ways to figure this out. This mindset is a little bit different. Failed test? Let's look at your responses and redo it. Missed assignment? How can I help you, and when can you get it in? Tough Love advocates may call this Coddling.
This topic brings out a LOT of passion in both teachers and parents and it's become a landmark discussion for the state of the world we're living in. Even in reading this, I am sure you've already drawn your line in the sand.
For me, after my time with Joe, I realized that having a student have a test re-do, or allowing a student to have an extension on an assignment wasn't "giving in" or coddling, it was good teaching in action. Here is what dealing with zero, or responsive assessment allows a teacher to do:
1) Connect - a failed test or missed assignment is a chance for the teacher to really get to know the student. It is the "conversation" that Joe refers to. As a teacher I could look into the results and identify the gaps in learning and, if required, re-teach them. In the case of a missed assignment, I could make the assessment as to whether that student didn't understand, have the time or materials, or just have too many other things on the go to complete it in a timely manner.
2) Reflect - I had to learn to see a failed test as an indicator to my teaching and not necessarily the student's learning. As I looked at things more and more through this lens I began to recognize patterns, and these patterns identified areas for improvement in my teaching.
3) Inspire - No one, especially students, respond well to failure. In my experience failure only leads to more failure through self-doubt, frustration, and ultimately a lack of desire to persevere. When a student knows that you care about them, and that you will provide them with the support they need, you can truly inspire them to achieve. You can avoid all the negativity and literally turn nothing into something.
My son recently received his driver's licence on his first try. In talking with many adults since this, everyone seems shocked that he got in on his first attempt. Story after story revealed how many times some of our family and friends needed to repeat their road test in order to pass. When you think about it, some professions, including law, medicine and engineering, allow multiple attempts to test for professional designation. Where does the Tough Love apply in these cases?
The truth is that we adults need the same second chances for our success that we seem to be willing to rip from our children/students. We can learn from our failed tests and missed assignments and go on to be successful. As teachers, we have to assess each situation one student, and one conversation at a time.
My short little blog post can not do this intense topic full justice. Joe Bower worked hard to spread the word to abolish grading. Much of his work is captured on his blog which is still active. Please visit his page, peruse the links, and share your thoughts. It remains a divisive topic in education: http://joe-bower.blogspot.ca/p/abolishing-grading.html
It is always great when you find a good crossover clip - one which allows both teacher and parent to understand a concept without too much eduspeak. I have loved watching these related videos posted by Rick Wormeli and hope you might as well.
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.