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Jan 19, 2012
Comments Off on Banning the Word ‘Final’

Banning the Word ‘Final’

Is it time that we remove the word ‘final’ from schools?

You know, final marks, final assignment? Should we be creating an educational culture that sees learning end?


First semester is drawing to a close and my students start talking about how they are so happy to be “done” with certain subjects, “done” with certain ideas, etc. They can’t wait to see their “final” marks. And the more students talk about school with this finality, it worries me. It worries me that semantically we’ve associated the end of a semester and the distribution of grades with the ending of learning.

I worry that a student who gets his “final” mark in Grade 12 English believes he is done learning English.

It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the idea that students ever finish a subject. Some may think that I’m getting all worked up about a semantic detail, however, I think it is more than that.  This contributes to a student’s disengagement with the material.  This semantic minutiae may be what allows for students to give up on courses and subjects.

When did Apple decide they were done with their first product? Microsoft? I’d argue that any person who creates will readily recognize that they are never finished with the process. The learning never ends.  In fact, those that do believe they are done rarely are able to innovate and are often relegated to obsolescence.

And so, maybe we need to rethink the way school deals with growth, achievement, and minor semantics. Maybe we don’t call it a “final” grade? Maybe we rethink continuity of learning?  Maybe we ban the word “final”?


I use Evernote with my students to provide feedback on their assignments. As the semester progresses, they are able to look back through that notebook and see what I said on their first essay. But also, I am able to look back and see what I said on their first essay.

What if this was expanded?

Every teacher had access to a student’s Evernote notebook and I could look back and see what their Grade 9 English teacher said about their essay writing skills. What if the feedback from Grade 9 isn’t irrelevant and instead helps establish where a student continues.

Then we never get a ‘final’ exam, just an exam that continues to tell us something about where that student is with those specific skills.


Or do teachers/students/parents/administrators need/want finality? Something to hang their hat on. You know, the ability to say, “My daughter got an 80 in English.”

Dec 22, 2011

Should Teachers be Brands?

As a member of the Twitterverse and the edublog-o-sphere, I’m out there. My thoughts, ideas, questions and plans are made quite public.  People, most of whom I’ve never met, know how I approach my classes and may even understand the nature of an assignment better than some of my colleagues.  I’ve made a conscious decision to make my teaching public.

There are risks to it. I get that.

I’ve been wrestling with the nature of personal branding lately. Should teachers be brands? If so, where’s the line from establishing your personal brand in the building and in the greater community of educators?

And further, is the idea of marketing yourself as a teacher, as you would in other professions, essential as we move toward a more democratized system of learning?

On the other spectrum though, I wonder how much of Twitter, blogging and social media is about creating opportunities to self-promote and to fulfill my need to feel important?

By developing and honing our “digital footprint” we are taking an important step into writing our professional narrative, however, where does that end and self-serving ego stroking begin?

The ‘Mr. Kemp’ brand is built. People know that when I’m in a room and pedagogy is talked about I’ll challenge, I’ll question, some people think shit-disturb.  But how far should I push the brand mentality? If I’m aware of it, does it make it worse?


A student walks into my classroom, a student I’ve never taught, and says, “What are you teaching next semester? I really want to be in your class.”

I ask, “Why? You might hate me. I’m very mean.”

“Nah, I know you’d be a great teacher.”

And my brand is real. It’s alive. In a small way, the teacher brand of ‘Mr. Kemp’ is influencing choice.

But I’m not sure how I feel about it.  I’m not sure whether I should be consciously creating, managing and considering my teacher brand. But don’t we naturally?


Ultimately, I’m struggling with watching people on Twitter and the edublogosphere blatantly self-promote, while also believing you need to establish your reputation to have your ideas taken seriously. So where is the middle ground?

When having breakfast with some friends, I raise the question.  They tell me, “Authenticity is the key.”  (There’s that word again.)

“If you tell people you are great, they’ll see right through it. All you have to do is show people your greatness.”

Man, if only it was that simple.

Dec 14, 2011

Cast a Vote: Moving Students from Apathy to Advocacy.

In Ontario, only 48% of eligible voters voted in the most recent provincial election. Pathetic.

That said, StudentVote (an organization that enables mock-student election to run concurrently with real elections) ran elections in more than 50% of all schools. Their participation is climbing.

And that’s why we came together. Well, kind of.

Last Saturday, I participated in the StudentVote Post-Election Consultation where a group of 60 or so teachers from across the country and across the educational landscape got together and talked about the future of civic engagement.

How do we move students from apathetic to engaged? The question sounds familiar because, of course, we struggle with this in every facet of education. But this was different.

Organized and run by the StudentVote staff, the consultation was structured, yet free-flowing. Basically a moderated discussion about what has worked, specifically our successes with StudentVote, and how we can engage students in further civic duty.

It was refreshing to hear so many ideas connecting our joy of democracy and ways to make learning about it, and engaging in it, more authentic.

And that’s where my head was, “Give me something real.” Not “school-ized”.

There were a few solid ideas:

– A day where students can “grill” MPs or MPPs. Get them in the classroom and don’t describe what you do, defend your [party’s] positions. Students would have to be informed on the issues and be able to intelligently ask questions. Will do this for sure next semester with my FFP.

– Democracy boot camp – This was run by the StudentVote people, but I didn’t participate. From the brief snippets of info that I got I see it as a one day all inclusive bombardment of our political system including panel discussions with representatives from the parties. I like this idea. I think students can get involved and maybe run one for a feeder school, or maybe multiple feeder schools, if not our school. Heck, we could invite parents and the community. Lots of potential with this one, though right now, many random thoughts.

On top of all the discussion we had a fantastic guest speaker of Alison Loat (@alisonloat) from Samara. This organization looks at civic engagement and is a “research, think-tank” (take a gander at some of the reports they’ve published). She spoke that the civically disengaged aren’t necessarily apathetic, but often they have negative experience with bureaucracy.

How can we move politics closer to democracy?


A few questions I had going in and coming out of the day:

1. How do we keep students (heck, everyone) engaged in matters of the state between elections?

2. What “simulations” / “games” / “events” are there for students to participate in meaningful authentic ways with parliament?

3. How can we make citizenship, both digital and otherwise, part of all curriculums, not just that in Grade 10 civics?

4. Does StudentVote really work? Does it really make them voters in the future?


The truth is, I’m not a civics teacher. I teach it as an element of the Futures Forum Project, but it’s not my baby. Being civically engaged and an advocate for our civic rights and responsibilities is my thing.

How do we create meaningful, authentic learning opportunities for our students and allow them to experience success/ownership of the direction of our country/province/city? How do we include them in our community?


My other line of thinking is for a possible follow-up post, but here a few quick random thoughts:

  • (1)The professional development was geared towards helping this non-profit organization. How does this effect teacher engagement on a Saturday? When professional development (or any learning) has a clear and direct goal are people more inclined to over-engage? Is that possible?
  • (2)The consultation was also “paid”. We each got money for showing up. How does that affect the commitment to professional development? How would have the turnout/engagement been different?
  • It was difficult to determine the hierarchy of the group. Sure, there was the organization who was “leading” the discussions, but it was a flat organization. How did this affect people’s willingness to share?
  • StudentVote was open to back channelling, yet it didn’t really happen. How could this have enabled more sharing? What is our hesitation? Are these the people to start that push with?
  • If a teacher is engaged in one element of school life (civics, elections, politics, sports, drama, etc.) are they less effective in other venues? Should we promote teacher specialization or breadth learning?
(Author’s Note 1: I refer to the day as PD, mainly because that what it was for me. A chance for me to develop professionally. As Taylor mentions in the comments, from StudentVote’s perspective it was a consultation. Fair enough, but ultimately, it was a chance for me to learn.)
(Author’s Note 2: Paid, may not be the right word, but the idea that participants were walking away with something concrete, is important. How that changes buy-in, and in turn, what that might look like in different circumstances is interesting.)



This blog is all over the place, I know. There are so many good, creative thoughts that came out of the day for me and I feel like this is the way I need to express them. Hope it is readable.

Dec 6, 2011
Comments Off on Now That I’ve Got Your Attention

Now That I’ve Got Your Attention

I’ve never been able to pinpoint exactly the day when we lose students. You know that moment when students decide school is not for them. Despite my inability to identify the moment exactly, we know it happens. It happens as a result of a series of mis-used, ill-prepared, and dreadful learning interactions.

I believe that every time we put busy work in front of our students, worksheets and fill-in-the-blanks, we lose an opportunity to reach them in meaningful ways. We mis-use their attention. Continuously, more students check out of school as a reflection that we’ve wasted their attention, their eagerness and their curiosity and they don’t trust that we’ll serve them.

Seth Godin, when looking at business and marketing, states:

Every interaction comes with a cost. Not in cash money, but in something worth even more: the attention of the person you’re interacting with. Waste it–with spam, with a worthless offer, with a lack of preparation, and yes, with nervous dissembling, then you are unlikely to get another chance.

The same goes for teaching.

We work in an attention economy. Granted, we work in multiple economies (intelligence, service, etc.) but ultimately; as the ability to connect with the learned, the spread and wealth of knowledge, and our willingness to be taught by strangers grows; our ability to harness and work with the attention we are given and make it exceedingly meaningful and authentic becomes more and more critical to the system’s success.

How do we go forward and use the attention we get?


This is in response to Seth Godin’s blog: Getting serious about the attention economy.

Dec 1, 2011
Comments Off on Disconnected Within the Community

Disconnected Within the Community

I have been engaged in the process of making my classes student-directed, inquiry-based communities of learning.  I have worked hard to build the sense of camaraderie and  ownership in the room for every student. I think it’s a process worth following.

But then, as I walked through the downtown core of my community, I see many people who are disconnected. I see people struggling to make their way through this life while social services are available, opportunities can be had, but whatever it is, they resist the feeling of community. They never feel like they belong.

Is this true of the one or two of the thirty kids in my room? Does the learning community mimic the broader community? Will there always be the marginal ones?

When classes are quantitative, students assigned to a seat and sitting in rows, they are easier to manage. Keeping track of them is normalized. When involved in a dynamic, inquiry based classroom, it’s not easy to keep track. That may be part of the struggle for teachers and why they are reluctant to “buy-in”. The management is not inherent.

Does giving up control, offering autonomy and parsing ownership provide more opportunity for the disconnected to stay disconnected? Or does it give a student a better chance to hide?

As school work moves more in the direction of connected collaboration, does this offer students more opportunity to get credit without making the demonstration?

Some top songwriters get credit for writing a song in which they’ve only polished one line. Is this happening in my open, distributed classroom?


I had this great conversation with a student the other day who has been struggling in my class. This student felt disconnected, was uninterested and proceeded to ask for “more regular English”.  As this conversation continued, I asked this if they felt they were a member of the community and they said, “No. I don’t know anyone in this class.”

“How can that be? We have done so much team-building, group work and in fact, you’ve done real well on some of those projects.”

“Yeah but … these aren’t my people.”

To a certain extent, I understand. Then, on the other hand, I don’t get it. I watch this students interact with classmates and this student is fine. Not the most talkative, but not the quietest. This student, on the outside, seems connected. But, obviously, doesn’t feel it.

How am I going to connect this student with our learning community? How could I have missed this?

That said, I do take solace that this student felt comfortable coming to talk with me, though it is more than half way through the semester.


Does the nature of a student-directed, inquiry-based learning community lead to some members feeling disconnected?



Nov 29, 2011
Comments Off on Winning (and Losing) as a Team

Winning (and Losing) as a Team

Learning, no matter the context, the subject or the purpose, is a team game. You’ve got learners, teachers, helpers, clarifiers, questioners, etc. By working together we learn. We learn lots by working together.

Like any team, no one person is more valuable than the team. Each player plays a role.

Sometimes that role is spelled out for us, decided, before the game is played. Sometimes the role changes mid-game, mid-play, mid-season. But everyone plays a role.

I am coaching the high school hockey team and I watch these guys determine what role they’ll play. I see the grinders dig, the shooters shoot and the defensemen stay back.  I see players who understand their role, do it and play within the team context.

But I also see when players try to do too much. They forget their job and try to do someone else’s. The winger who is on the wrong side of the ice, the defensemen who rushes the puck too often, even the goalie who tries to pass the puck. Each player has put their own agenda ahead of the team’s goal. Now, don’t get me wrong, sometimes it works. You catch a good bounce and you’re off to the races. But more often, it hurts your team’s chances.

This too happens in learning. We can know our position, our role in the process and we can sit it in it or we can try to do too much. Step outside of our own role and cost the team. Force our agenda upon the learning process.

The team is the most important part of learning process.

How often do we, as teachers, lose sight of the team? As department heads? As administrators? How often is the agenda individual, rather than team oriented? How often are we setting learning goals in the classroom, department, school and board with all members of the team present and listened too? How often are we doing it in name only?

We have a choice to win or lose for each kid when it comes to learning. It is going to take teamwork.


Nov 24, 2011

Building an iPad App

Last night I started developing my first iPad app. I have an idea for an app that isn’t in the app store that will help me, so I figure, it’s up to me to build it.  The problem, of course, is the last time I programmed was first year University, a long time ago.

Believe it or not, that was a long time ago.

I now find myself in the position of a learner with a steep learning curve in front of me. To build the app, I need to process the syntax, the logic and the processing of app development. It will take me hours upon hours to program, debug, and design the app myself.

The problem is I’m a guy who likes instance results. I want the app now, I want to start using it tomorrow and that’s not going to happen. I could just partner with a programmer, pay them for their time and be on my way.

And so, I’m at an impasse.

Probably that tough crossroads many students find themselves.  The place between wanting results, taking the easy way out, focusing solely on the final product and the tough journey of real learning, the grit and patience it needs to build the skills, the hours it takes to get there.

I feel humbled by the crossroads because I know the answer isn’t easy. Both roads lead me somewhere I want to go, but which road do I take?

I’m walking down both paths right now, sending out my feelers to programmers I know and picking up a few books, YouTube videos that teach me some of the basics.  Eventually, I’ll need to choose.

I think about the factors that influence our students to make these choices. How many times do I facilitate the factors for them to choose to hunker down?  How many times do I make them feel that the easy way is worth it?

By building an iPad app, I’m rekindling my memories of those choices. Those crucial choices we make as students.

Nov 6, 2011

Is School a To-Do List?

“What do I need to do to pass this course?”

“Can you give me a list of assignments for the course, so I know what I need to do?”

These questions, recently, have got me thinking, is school just a giant 12-year to-do list that needs checking off? And if so, what’s on this list?

The more assignments we standardized, tests we mandate, our education system starts looking more and more like that to-do list.  The thing is learning never makes the list. Discovering your passion never makes the list. Creative problem solving never makes the list.

I know teachers are going to read this and say, “Yeah, but assignments are the means of assessing the curriculum, so really, the curriculum is on the list. That’s what the to-do list looks like.”

Really? Because I’m not sure if you ask a student they can tell you what’s on that list. They can, however, give you a list of tasks the teacher has deemed important and put them on their list.  You know that list, you were a student.  You remember putting together a list for the weekend: 1. Write English essay. 2. Study for math test. 3. Finish map assignment for geography.

Is this what we want school to be? A giant list of work. Right now, school is not a place where you engage in curiousity and inquiry, for students, school is a place you do work. You hunker down, do the tasks that are required and then bugger off.

The thing is, we are framing it as a to-do list and telling students to complete it on our timelines. If you can check off the Grade 9 math tasks already, too bad, wait for everyone else. If we want school to be a to-do list, then we need to re-think how we offer that list, how we affirm that list, what’s on that list.

We need to change that paradigm.  We do that by shifting the focus, changing the nature of the work and by re-writing our to-do lists.

Nov 3, 2011

I Wimped Out.

Totally and utterly, I wimped out.  I backed away from my ideals and didn’t have the tough conversation today.

I like to think of myself as a man of principle. I am willing to say what I believe and willing for those beliefs not to be popular. I take pride in being able to take honest feedback. I also take pride in having the courage to engage in “challenging conversations.”

And so, when the opportunity arose, someone asked for my opinion, I whimped out. I decided not to engage. Was it the pressure of the crowd, the desire not to be “that guy”?

I don’t know why. I wish I had, but something prevented me from “getting into it.”

How often do we “hold our tongue”? How often do we refuse to engage? How many others share our thinking, but because it is challenging the status quo, decide to close their door, refuse to engage in the public discourse?

How do we create a culture where people are encouraged to engage in the conversations?

How do we ensure that people don’t wimp out like I did?

Oct 11, 2011
Comments Off on Have We Gone Far Enough?

Have We Gone Far Enough?

Jerry Seinfeld works on his material, practices it, performs it, perfects it and then uses it. Over and over. He has said that every year he throws out only 20% of his previous year’s material and builds on the 80%.

George Carlin was known for building towards an HBO special, filming it, and then never performing one of those jokes again. The minute the special was over, he started working on the next one.

So, who has grasped the nature of innovation? Who would you pay to see? Who is better? More effective?

What does this mean for teachers. Is it prudent to keep 80% and hone it, tweak it until perfection and building only 20% from scratch or should we build the structure one year, toss it out when we’ve got a new group of students in front of us? If we recycle lessons that have worked in the past, are we diminishing the opportunities for our students?

Some interesting conversations happened today around the nature of accepting what has been done in the past and tweaking it and honing it or should we start from scratch, recognize the revolution and build anew and I’m not sure where I fall. Generally, my classes don’t look the same from year to year, but I do recycle elements, good or bad? Is that the balancing between the ideal and the practical?

I realize this post is a series of contradicting questions, but this is what is rolling through my head today.

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