Browsing articles in "Thoughts"
May 4, 2017
Comments Off on Work together and don’t talk.

Work together and don’t talk.

I’m trying to figure out how to make students more productive.

I’m trying to figure out how to help students use their time more effectively.

I’m trying to help them isolate the variables that affect their focus, alter them when they want, and thus become a more efficient learner.

It’s all about data collection and data management.

I am not a statistician.

As of right now, the data sits in a spreadsheet, thousands of individual entries of productivity and the factors that influenced it from students in grades 9-11 in both academic and applied streams. The data is not surprising. It has identified that the biggest factor that is connected to productivity is their interactions with each other.

As students engage in a more collegial, collaborative work environment they are more likely to identify themselves as less productive. Students who identify that they were only 10%-45% productive over the course of 30-45 minutes, “friends/classmates” is about 83% of their reason. “Cell phone/social media” makes up most of the remainder.

I know that some will question the “richness” of the task that students are engaged in. Clearly students will be more distracted when doing a worksheet on literary terms.

In turn, I’ve had them record their productivity assessment in all sorts of different task environments like individual work, group work, inquiry-based, gamified tasks, autonomous tasks, etc. and the results stay mostly the same.

Their peers are the greatest inhibitors of productivity.

It begs the question:
How do we help students maintain productivity, build the skills of collaboration, maintain critical social ties whilst knowing that having students work together is working against their productivity?

May 2, 2017
Comments Off on Mid-Career Teacher

Mid-Career Teacher

I see it in the eyes of my students. I see it in the conversations I’m having with my colleagues.

I am no longer a new teacher.

I’m no longer the young buck in a school of old stags.

No one is looking at me and trying to decide if I’m a teacher or a student, anymore. (Ok, in reality, I don’t think that ever applied to me, only in my mind.)

I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact that I’m a mid-career teacher. Slowly.

But what does that really mean?

To me it means I’ve got experience to know when something works and when it doesn’t, but I’m also at risk of getting caught in the rut of ‘well, it worked last year’. It means I’ve got a shred of influence with my colleagues because they’ve seen me in action, but my perspective comes with the baggage of past statements. It means I’m settled at my school and yet, starting to look for ways to “change things up”.

I’ve even caught myself saying, “Students aren’t as _________ as they used to be.”

This is the point in a teacher’s career where they start getting offered fewer opportunities because they are no longer the upstart.

The realization that advancement means administration for many means this is the job you’ll be doing for the next twenty years. This is also the point where switching careers becomes the most difficult. You are “locked” into the job in many respects.

How does the system support teachers at all phases of their career cycle? But specifically, those of us who find ourselves in the murky middle?

Apr 27, 2017
Comments Off on Why the shift is needed?

Why the shift is needed?

Jun 24, 2016

The Myth of the Isolated Innovator

“I had this idea that would shake the foundation of education as we knew it. I told people, they laughed and turned away. It was me against the world. I was forced back into my corner, alone. My only option was to find the other isolated members of the innovators club and preach only to that choir.” –An innovative teacher

This is the going myth in educational innovation. The myth that innovators are isolated by their radical ways and that the majority of teachers are either too “stuck in their ways” to see the brilliance of the innovation or they’re too lazy to change their ways.

The more I read on creativity and innovation, the more I see that story we tell as self-serving cover. Rather than learning to communicate why the innovation is better for students, we resort to protectionism. We develop an air of superiority because we are so ahead of “them” rather than being uncomfortable.

I’ve felt this. I believed this myth.

I was wrong.

Seth Godin’s blog today reminded me that someone truly interested in changing the way things are done MUST be a cornerstone in the community. They must facilitate communication. They can not be a whisper in the hallways.

It is not enough to self-congratulate.

It is not enough to speak to the echo chamber.

It is not enough to blame the “traditional” ones.

It is not enough to close your door and think you are being radical.

We must work to disrupt the myth that innovators are isolated. This is my challenge to those of you who want to innovate to step into the arena despite your level of discomfort.

The only way to change is through people. Avoiding people changes nothing.

Recommended Reading:

Nov 1, 2015
Comments Off on Learning is Water

Learning is Water

This is my first foray into video. This is the first instalment of a series of educational metaphors I hope to use to connect my students with the power of image in communication.

I hope to use my own video footage in future pieces, however, I am so thankful for the plethora of options using the Creative Commons protocol.

As always, feedback is welcome and encouraged.

Sep 24, 2015
Comments Off on A FitBit for Learning

A FitBit for Learning

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My mother has taken to wearing a FitBit to track her steps, her water intake, her sleep cycles all in an effort to stay healthy. She finds satisfaction when the little piece of plastic vibrates to celebrate her hitting 10,000 steps in a day. The presence of it reminds her to drink another glass of water. She can look at the data it provides over a day, a week, month or year.

I trained harder than ever for two Ironman races earlier this year. Every time I went for a run or ride, I linked into the GPS satellites and tracked my movement. I strapped on a heart rate monitor and stayed within set ranges. I used the data to focus my training on my aerobic threshold, rather than training like I have in the past by going full on every workout.

My students get into class and they have no FitBit. They have no heart rate monitor to focus their efforts.

They have me.

The data I give them is not enough. It is scattershot, often after the task is complete, and is not well-documented enough to really allow them to do solid data analysis.

How can we change that?

What data can they harness while working to increase productivity, flow, learning and progress?

What variables affect these things and how can I help them create the specific range that will focus their efforts?


At this point, I have asked them to try and track certain variables: time on task, breaks (even if they are minor daydreams), words written or pages read, happiness, the challenge of the task, who they are sitting beside, the music they are listening to, stress level, what they’ve eaten today, and how much sleep they had.

By gathering this data, I’m hoping to be able to start helping students make sense of their data in hopes that they can isolate the variables that affect (positively and negatively) their focus and productivity.

I’d like to work up to including outside data about quality of work, etc. I haven’t figured out exactly how to do this.

I want a FitBit for learning for my students. I haven’t totally figured out how to do this.

Any ideas?

Sep 18, 2015
Comments Off on Technology is Muddying the Water

Technology is Muddying the Water


I love how technology has changed things. I love how it democratizes knowledge. It gives access to information, but also to an audience which we could never have found.

Technology allows me to spout off into the abyss and potentially land on the ears of someone who needed reassurance, who wants to challenge me, who remixes my ideas into something better or simply who gets a chance to think. It gives us a chance to find and build community.

However, as the conversation continues to bristle around how to integrate technology into the classroom, I worry that the bigger narrative about change is being glossed over.

The change that matters is the immense shift in power around information, experts, ideas, ownership and feedback.

A new app can’t help with that.

Apr 17, 2014
Comments Off on In Action (@adoelman & @ballantynedj)

In Action (@adoelman & @ballantynedj)

Walking into their classrooms, I had my assumptions. They were predicated on the ideals we’ve talked through, the passion I knew they have and the stories we’ve shared.

Walking into their classrooms, I had my expectations. They were predicated on their conviction for improvement, their commitment to their students and their openness for my visit.

This week, I had the good fortune to spend time in both Anne Doelman (@adoelman) and Dan Ballantyne’s (@ballantynedj) respective classrooms. I was given the rich opportunity to see them in action.

It’s a rare opportunity in teaching, to be a fly on the wall. Too often, the doors are closed, access limited. When I was given the chance, I headed to the classrooms of two teachers I have already learned much from and who I knew would give me more opportunity to be better.

In Anne’s classroom, the easiness of relationship was obvious. Students were comfortable in the environment. It was clearly an environment of trust and mutual respect. Anne has the benefit of a very large, open space, with “quiet” rooms attached. I witnessed an ability to outline intention without being dogmatic. That’s what Anne does best.

It highlighted for me, and gave me a kick in the pants to mimic, a commitment to a student’s understanding of purpose for each element of action. I thought I did it well enough, however, Anne demonstrated an even more explicit means of intentional communication.

She had a video camera rolling for even the smallest interaction, so that students could capture evidence of their speaking and listening skills. The idea of capturing heaps of evidence of their learning was paramount, but the piece I miss, is giving them the footage; allowing them to decide what makes the cut and what doesn’t.

While watching Dan, I saw the epitome of patience. I could see the intersection of his desire to embrace the ideals of the Futures Forum Project and the realities of working with a group of disaffected, disengaged students. And it was working. By being flexible and dynamic, by embracing a student-led suggestion, Dan showed how easy it was to give power to his students. It was neat to see students feed off of another student’s ownership of their learning.

I liked watching Dan be inclusive, while also not forcing inclusion. He reminded me to offer opportunities to participate, but not to mandate it. He allowed a student to passively participate. I hope I do that, but I’m not always sure. It was definitely a moment of insight for me.

Both classroom visits showed me the richness of my teacher network. It authenticated what they’ve talked about and it allowed me to see them in action. A valuable tool more teachers should be provided.

Mar 2, 2014
Comments Off on Four Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Teaching

Four Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Teaching

The other day, I was talking to a friend about becoming a teacher. He wasn’t interested in becoming one, but he started asking about how I made the decision. To be honest, it was one of those things that just happened. When you are studying English literature at university, the career options often start at English teacher. A few years later, I was standing in front of a group of grade ten students teaching Australian history on my first practicum in teacher’s college.

I never processed through the implications of the choice before the choice was made. I’m more of a jump-first, react-second type guy.

Now that the first phase of being a new teacher has faded, I have an opportunity to reflect on the things I’ve learned and the things I wish I knew.

Here are the four major things I wish I knew before I started teaching:

1. The job never stops.

Everything I hear on the radio, every book I read, and every conversation I have, my mind is processing for the contexts of the classroom. I strongly believe that being human in the classroom allows for more connection and stronger community, that’s why everything I do outside of the classroom is analyzed and considered. It’s not straining or stressful, in fact, it’s enjoyable.

The other aspect of the job never stopping is that there is always something to do. Feedback, planning, polishing, whatever it is, it always hangs over. Even through the summer, whenever I’m on vacation, I’m thinking about how to do things better; thinking of ways to tweak and innovate.

It’s like many jobs in this fact, but something I didn’t anticipate at all.

2. Rarely do you know if you are successful.

When I was in sales, I knew when I had a good day. I knew when I had a good week or a good month. In teaching (even more so in high school), seeing the payoff of the work is almost non-existent. Sure, you may see a kid develop their writing skills or speaking skills, but the real goal is to help develop a whole person. That impact is often minimal by any one teacher.

There is no real mechanism that evaluates your effectiveness. There is no metric that proves efficacy, which then leaves teachers swinging at fences. We talk about having success criteria for student learning, but there is none developed for teachers. That in itself is fine, but it also leaves teachers waffling somewhere between success and obsolescence. With no method of receiving feedback or meaningful assessment, our idea of our own success is measured with wet noodles.

3. Dealing with colleagues is harder than dealing with students.

I thought dealing with the hormone-injected, clique-crashing, teenage angst was the challenge of being a high school teacher. The reality, for me, is dealing with colleagues is often much more challenging. I’m a firm believer that most teachers are there for the same reason I am, to make the lives of students better today than they were yesterday. However, dealing with the school, union and personal politics has pushed me to learn how best to work with others.

In the last few years, I’ve made a concerted effort at trying to understand the perspective of all involved before moving forward, however, I still often find myself being told my actions have caused a series of unfortunate events.

Generally, my reaction is to keep moving forward and keep creating space for my ideas/opinions. However, challenging ideas is sometimes taken as challenging the person. The challenge of being aware of my own ego and avoiding the conflicts with colleagues’ ego is on-going. My learning continues.

4. The system is broken and everyone in the system knows it.

The biggest thing I wish I knew before I started was that the system is broken, everybody knows it, but because we can’t agree how to fix it, we keep perpetuating the broken system. The “tried and tested” is considered “non-negotiable”, regardless of the lack of true evaluation of the methods. There are too many people with too much invested in the system (despite its broken-ness) to see real reform.

And it’s not that it is broken. It’s that everyone knows there are flaws and yet, nothing. It’s frustrating when you come across an obstacle and it is only an obstacle because of an arbitrary decision that was made years ago.


Despite all these things, I stand by the fact that education and teaching is dynamite. Going into the profession, I wish I was fully briefed.

What do you wish you knew before you started teaching?

Jan 16, 2014
Comments Off on Can She Choose Nothing?

Can She Choose Nothing?

I’m an advocate for choice in education. I think the more we can personalize the experience, the more relevant we become, especially in a knowledge-rich, democratized culture.

And so I proposed the idea that next semester in English class, I would have no “required” reading; meaning no “core” text, no “class novel”, nothing that isn’t chosen specifically by the individual student. Sure, I’d make recommendations, nudge students to challenge themselves with great books, etc., but nothing would be something everyone in the class had to read.

That’s not to say they didn’t have to read. I just wouldn’t compel them to read any one specific thing.

The logistics of the idea aren’t fully worked out in my head and I’m not sure if I’m actually ready to jump into it, but the idea is percolating.

no-thank-youThe biggest pushback to the idea is what if a student chooses to read nothing. What if she doesn’t like reading and so unless she is compelled, she won’t do it? My first instinct is to assume that she is probably not reading a compulsory text, anyway.

Sarah Le (@sarle83) wrote a great post about the reality of students pretending to read. (

My more thoughtful response is to use my relationship with the student, along with her understanding of the requirements of the course (curriculum expectations) to help her find/choose texts that she’ll enjoy. It could serve multiple purposes, obviously get a student who wouldn’t read to read something, but more importantly, building the personal relationship. It is a way for me to demonstrate to that student that I value them as an individual.

The other big pushback I got for this idea was around class discussions. How do you hold a class discussion when everyone hasn’t read the same source material? My response, you don’t. Instead you hold mini-discussion amongst people who have read texts that have similar themes. The class discussion model, although I love it, does often trend towards teacher-directed, with only select students participating.

Alas, it is an idea. It needs more development around how do you track reading? How do you keep students accountable? And, what if they still choose nothing?

But, there is a lesson in there too, isn’t there?


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