Browsing articles in "Reflections"
May 4, 2017

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?

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
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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 30, 2015
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Never Too Old for a Coach

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Peyton Manning is a Super Bowl winning quarterback and a 5 time NFL MVP. Love him or hate him, he is a success.

While speaking at LeaderCast 2015, he explained how he understood there to be 4 pillars to success.

  1. Learn to thrive being uncomfortable.
  2. Teammates need to be on the same level.
  3. Devote yourself to intense preparation.
  4. Invest in a coach.

It was interesting. Here was a guy who knew the fundamentals, had had the fundamentals drilled into him his entire life, explaining how he had his old university coach run him through fundamental drills in the off-season. If ever there was a guy who could back it off a little in the off season it would be Peyton Manning.

He said, “As soon as someone doesn’t need to be coached, taught or mentored, they are in trouble. As you either get better or you get worse. You never stay the same.”

He said, “A true coach is someone who shoots straight to give you relevant information.”

Although I am no Peyton Manning, I decided to hire a coach this past year as I trained to compete in a couple of Ironman triathlons.

My coach was able to introduce a new dynamic to my regular training. He insisted on new methods, new styles of workouts and kept me focused on the bigger picture, even when I doubted the methods.

At the first meeting with Dave he told me, “You’re going to have to trust me.” And I did. I had no reason not to.

What worked for me was that my coach was flexible. He understood that my life was more than the practice, more than the competition. This was critical.

My coach provided me feedback when I needed it, not always, not constantly. Most importantly, he never evaluated me. He fine-tuned my workouts, for sure, but never was he the one that ultimately judged me. This too was critical.

At 34 years old, I opened myself up to a coach for the first time since I was a teenager playing hockey. He was someone who shot straight and gave me relevant information. Proving as always, you’re never too old for a coach.

How can we rectify the paradox of being effective coaches and ultimately judges of our students?

Apr 17, 2014
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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
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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?

Nov 19, 2013

What’s Your Default Position?

At the beginning of my teaching career, I assumed the typical default teacher position, “No.”

“You want to work in groups when I want you to work individually? No.”

“You want to do a different assignment than this one? No.”

“Can you work in the hall? No.”

And so on, and so on.

Let’s be honest, ‘no’ as a default position makes sense. It makes order easy. Having thirty students in a room, in theory, is easy. Because of course, in theory, they are all at the same level, need the same attention, have the same motivation, etc., etc. The reality is that thirty students in a room are thirty people in room. Each with different needs, different baggage, etc., etc.

To make things easy for me, I relied upon the insistence of compliance. If everyone is doing the exact same thing, in the exact same way, in the exact same time frame, it’s simply easier to manage for me.

I hid my default position under the guise of “fairness”. It’s not fair for any deviation of what I want.

Sure, I said yes at times, but really it was usually because it worked for me too.

Instead it was ‘no’ to change. ‘No’ to student ideas. ‘No’ to difference. ‘No’ to chaos.

Seth Godin points out the truth of what “no” means:

What “no” means
I’m too busy
I don’t trust you
This isn’t on my list
My boss won’t let me
I’m afraid of moving this forward
I’m not the person you think I am
I don’t have the resources you think I do
I’m not the kind of person that does things like this
I don’t want to open the door to a long-term engagement
Thinking about this will cause me to think about other things I just don’t want to deal with

And so over the last couple years, I’ve made a conscious effort to change my default position. What if my default position was yes?

“You want to try something different? Yes.”

“You think this is boring? Yes.”

“You want to run with this? Yes.”

“You want to change the direction of my plans because of a movie/news article/book? Yes.”

The power of a different default position is that my students start owning what they are doing. They start owning the direction/decisions of the class. They start owning their time. They start owning their learning.

My classes are louder, crazier, less controlled. I’ve potentially got thirty students working on thirty different “assignments”. My evaluation doesn’t fit into an easy grid/weighting/mark calculation.

Is it better? I think there have been moments of joy, moments of revelation and more moments of engagement. If that’s better, than yeah, it is better.

Godin is right. Saying “no” is more often about me than it is about them. What’s your default position?

Oct 7, 2013
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I Can’t Learn For You

Last Thursday, my night school class started railing against teachers. More accurately, they started slagging on the bad teachers they’ve had in their school career. It started after one of them did a presentation entitled, “The Problem with the School System”.

I let it go as his audience rallied around him. The bad teacher legends were starting up when I cut in.

“Let me get this straight, you think you were unsuccessful in school because of the teachers you had?”

“Yes.”

“You blame the teachers?”

“Yeah.” They agreed. The few became the many. They started back in on the teachers that had ‘done them wrong.’

I interjected again.

“I think you are to blame.” They stopped talking. They looked at me. “I think it is your fault you didn’t learn.” Silence. “I think, you came into this room tonight, hoping I could give you something, ready to be passive. Only a handful of you have been active in your learning so far, the rest of you are sitting waiting for learning to just happen. But the truth is learning is up to you. I can’t do that for you.”

The sat in silence. They wanted to resist. They tried to form a rebuttal. But they couldn’t.

————-

The truth is, in a culture of passive entertainment and apathetic entitlement, school needs to reframe the process of learning.

Being passive in learning is no longer an option. The problem lies in that too many teachers, students and parents are waiting for school to teach, waiting for the information/skills to wash over them and waiting for someone else to do the work.

But the truth is, time’s up.

The radical, tactical shift that I’ve been promoting and writing about for the past three years is about moving the system towards something more active. We need to be nimble. We need to be constantly moving, changing.

There is a great quote, “Decisions are made by those who show up.” It is not completely true. We’ve got to expect more from ourselves. We’ve got to do more than just show up.

———–

Later on in the evening, one of them approached me, “Mr. Kemp, if you can’t do the learning for us, what is your job?”

“I believe my job is to set the environment for you to learn and to offer feedback and support as you ask questions and explore. You see, I’ve been through the maze of developing these skills before and so, I’m standing in the middle. I can’t just tell you to turn right or turn left. Instead, I need to keep shouting so you can hear me, as you figure it out.”

“You really believe this?”

“Yeah.”

May 13, 2013
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Resisting the hustle and bustle for silence

They hated it when I first introduced it. They tweeted, “This is killing me.” They even begged me after class to never do it again.

Eight weeks later, I suggest it, they do it. They like it.

I call it No-Talk Thursday.

Sure, there are still the skeptics and the resistant, but as a whole the class fades to silence much quicker now than it did then. It is a stretch of time where they are allowed/encouraged to disconnect and instead plug into themselves.

This isn’t to say they never do it on their own time, but when the world is buzzing around you too many of them choose to buzz along.

————————-

In about fifty days, I’ll be leaving K/W and flying to B.C. to begin my 42 day Bike Across Canada. Forty-two days of solitude, pedals and scenery. As I’ve explained to my classes what I’m doing, many of them ask, aren’t you going to get lonely? Aren’t you going to get bored all by yourself?

The truth is I don’t know. I don’t think so, but I’ve never gone this long on my own. I’ve never allowed myself this long to be contemplative.

I’ve never been silent for so long.

————————-

As we shift gears and move into our “No-Talk Thursday”, I often think “Is seventy-five minutes a week near enough?” Should we be practicing quiet contemplation more in schools? Is school too loud?

As we shift our classroom pedagogy towards a more online presence, a more “connected” existence, do we also allow the natural hustle and bustle of technology into our classrooms and in essence, into the learning procedure?

We know that learning happens when a student “thinks about thinking” or a student “wrestles with the knowledge/concepts/ideas”, however, are we giving students space to do that critical contemplation, or meta-cognition?

Should we be taking more time to resist the hustle and bustle and add more silence?

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