Browsing articles in "Reflections"
Feb 16, 2012

Reputation is the Currency of Social Media – How to Accumulate It and Spend It Wisely in School

While delivering a presentation to a group of teachers about online collaboration, someone said, “For students, reputation is the currency of social media, not marks.”

This observation redefines a student’s relationship with school work whenever social media is added to the equation. Which then begs the questions:

If we are creating inauthentic reasons for these students to use social media, are we using or abusing the currency of social media?


How do we help students accumulate this type of currency, save it, spend it wisely? Can we make them effective currency-managers in their future?


When asked to get a blog started, a student asked me, “Can I just use my blog or should I start another one?” (She didn’t say another with indignation) which confused me, I had just assumed students would not want to mix their ‘personal’ blog with the one that they’d be using for school. I replied, “You choose, either way works.” (My reply sounds so disinterested and disengaged, but it was more interested and trying to give her control.) She ended up deciding to use her previously started blog. And she posted an entry to her readers (however many that was) stating something like, “Sorry folks, for the next few months some of my posts will be school work. My teacher is having us write blogs. Sorry if they are dorky and nothing related to my real life.” She used different language but this was essentially her thoughts on blogging, in class.

At first I was a little put off thinking, “Me, dorky?” But that passed. Most of the blogging that students are asked to do is self-directed, but that didn’t matter.

Instead, I saw that she wanted to separate the authentic blog she was creating with that of school. She wanted to separate her reputation currency with the school work she’s “have” to post.  And there lies the conflict.

On one hand, blogging (or Twitter or Facebook or other social media) is an opportunity for students to engage with an authentic audience, however, it costs them something when the direction of the blog is directed, in any way.  So, by using social media we are caught in the crux of having them create something school-specific (inauthentic) with having them spend some of their social currency for our purposes (authentic).


A student of mine tweeted a 140-character review of a book she just finished. I asked each student to keep us posted with the books they had read and finished.  I didn’t say there were marks involved, but she tweeted knowing that we were attempting to build personal learning networks/community (with classmates, etc).  The first time she tweeted, she wrote the name of the author in the tweet.  I mentioned that she should tweet with the author’s Twitter handle.  Sure enough, when my student re-tweeted the review (positive) with the author’s Twitter handle, she got a response.

From the author.

This led to an interesting conversation about the book over Twitter with my student and the author. Authentic. Engagement. Appropriate.

Watching this on Twitter, I saw a student accumulating the currency of legitimacy in reputation. She recognized it. It was “for” school, but it carried weight beyond school.


Ultimately, the next step of this discussion in my head is to process through the second question. If the currency of the future (this seems a little ominous, but it isn’t meant to) is reputation, how do we help students build a healthy, strong reputation, know how to use it to its greatest affect and build the future they envision with it?

How do we help students find/harness/use all the ways we can accumulate this currency?


Feb 14, 2012
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Learning and Forgetting

What if we took a step back? We start with no previous idea of what school looks like. What if started over? We start by looking at the most natural form of learning that happens at birth.

A colleague recommended Frank Smith’s book, “The Book of Learning and Forgetting” to me as she knew I am interested in radical ideas, a revolution of learning, and was always willing to have my ideas challenged. Well, this book does that.

The most important element to the book is how we define learning, as I mentioned in my earlier post, Smith suggests,

“All learning pivots on who we think we are, and who we see ourselves as capable of becoming.” (11)

He argues that the system that is formed on the need (or illusion) of control, missing the point that students are always learning something. The problem is, the system as it is, is making students learn that disciplines like science, math, arts, English are boring, separate and not for them.

He addresses the critics of a more holistic learning approach by stating,

“Teachers sometimes rationalize making learning unnecessarily complicated for children by saying they have to be ‘challenged’.” (27)

This is found in our worksheets, grammar rules, and seemingly inauthentic approach to teaching. We assume that the more control and ‘scaffolding’ we provide the more explicit the learning will be, when instead, we are teaching students that each of these separate pieces fit together, but only when we’re ready to show you.

And he lays out a few gems about teachers, in general.

On why they are resistant to change

“The difficulty in getting many teachers – or their administrators – to change their attitudes and their ways is not that they are ignorant, but that they are insecure. They are afraid their world will fall apart if they give up any of their power or claim their independence.” (96)

On what he would establish as the key role of the teacher

“It would be the responsibilty of teachers to ensure that opportunities to engage in interesting and productive activities are always available.” (98)

On the crazy notion that we can improve bad teachers

“External control, detailed procedures, and constant monitoring don’t make poor teachers better ones.” (100)

On what it takes to be a good teacher

“All the good techers I have known have been good organizers, arranging interesting experiences for their students and themselves, and protecting those experiences from officious interference.” (101)


This is a book that I believe every teacher should read as teacher candidate. Not because I think it is flawless and has all the answers, but because it leads us to asking big questions about the purpose of a public education system, the role of the teacher and the classroom, and it requires us all to start with why.

I read through the book twice, once just reading it, now it lays on my desk highlighted, circled, dog-eared, starred, copied. It reminds me that I am learning, right now, but what I’m learning is up to me and the people with whom I surround myself.

Feb 10, 2012
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Who We Think We Can Become

The thing about learning is it is inescapably linked to the people around us.

In school, the room matters, the teacher matters, but the attitude of the people in the room matters the most. The people in the room determine how we see ourselves and therefore, defines our capabilities.

Frank Smith, in his excellent book The Book of Learning and Forgetting, agrees:

“All learning pivots on who we think we are, and who we see ourselves as capable of becoming.”

What this means is we need to foster community. We need to have students associate/connect/ with the achievement possible. That may be out of our hands.

I do know that we need to maintain the highest of expectations for all and we need to ensure the challenge of learning is in each of our students’ wheelhouse: just hard enough.

When students are a part of a community, they identify. They make each other see themselves as capable.


What image of capability is your learning community painting?

Feb 7, 2012
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Fresh Start or Keep the Community?

A new semester has started. Day one, in the books.  I get a chance to meet all my new students and say goodbye to a bunch of the old ones.

It’s a chance for a fresh start. But, it breaks up the community of learners we’ve created.

For one student, who I taught last semester, whose circumstances caused her drop out. A new semester means a chance for renewal. It is a chance for her to wipe the slate clean. She said to me, “I’m so glad that the new semester is here. I now don’t feel buried in all the stuff I haven’t done yet.”

For another, the new semester is jarring. It upsets the equilibrium he’s come to expect. He’s forced to break a routine that was working for him. He came to me and said, “Mr. Kemp, I don’t want to stop having our class. It made me excited to come to school every day.” I know he’ll get over it, but his sentiment made me think.

How can we organize classes / learning communities / opportunities for learning that speak to both student’s needs?

Is there inherent value in constantly having a student re-integrate to a new community? Or are we creating an environment that develops unneeded stress and anxiety?

If you picked up and moved houses every four months, what is the likelihood you’d invest in building a relationship with your neighbours? What’s the likelihood that you’d shovel their driveway or trim their hedges? By constantly having students dropped into new learning communities are we diminishing the need/will/want of building connections with those that are not our friends?

On the flip side, if you live in the same house, beside the same people for 10-15 years, do you get neighbourly complacent? Will students stay in the role that they’ve developed for themselves and never have to step outside their comfort zone?

As much as I love have a fresh start, I love learning in a built community where culture has been developed.

So, where is the middle ground? How can we develop a system that speaks to both sides of the equation?

Feb 3, 2012
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Re-Evaluate What You Value

I’ve gotten quite a bit of feedback about my last two posts. It has me thinking about what these two posts are really saying.

Sure, they look like a list of things about which I’ve run my mouth. Not an uncommon response: “Boy, you sure know how to screw up.”

But, that’s not the underlying theme.

I think the underlying themes is the idea that we should constantly re-evaluate what we value.

Our professional philosophy should be challenged by others, by the system, by the research, but more importantly, by ourselves.

As a learner, we need to be self-reflexive. That’s where the gold lies.

It is not enough to establish your values. It’s not enough to establish what you value.

Learning comes when we re-evaluate our values and what we value.


My question is, “Is there a professional ethic in re-valuating what we value?”

Feb 2, 2012

Mark My Words…Things I’ve Gotten Wrong (Part 2)

As easy as it is to claim that I’ve figured it out, it can be just as easy to acknowledge where I’ve been wrong. But then again, sometimes it is very difficult to notice the change we’ve made in our philosophy. Often it feels like, we’ve been there all along. Well, I can say, there may have been a few more things I was wrong about. Here lies the continuation of my list:

For Part 1, click here.

4. Attitude, Behaviour, Attendance and Punctuality Should Affect Marks.

I once said to a student, “Your behaviour tells me you are not all that interested in getting this credit.” Yes, it was my first year teaching. I was following the ideas I had been led to believe. But I had adopted the belief that all these things can be / should be associated with a students grades. In fact, I had a long discussion in my first year with my department head whether a student with 20 absences should even be eligible for the credit, regardless of their abilities. Granted, this changed quick.

5. The Purpose of School is to Prepare Students for University.

I went to university. It was always ‘expected’ of me. So I did. Why wouldn’t I expect the same from my students. On top of that, the work that I once assigned was always in service of their pursuit. Now, of course, I knew that there were different ‘streams’ of students, but ultimately, I held the belief that deep within each student was the dream of university. I was wrong here too. Each student has a vision of the future, which may include university, but doesn’t need it.  In fact, I think this is a major struggle for teachers. Not all students long to be university educated. In fact, I now grimace when I hear a teacher say, “We have to do this to prepare them for university.” We’ve confused our mission. We’ve lost our ‘why’. This is why I believe in the educational revolution. We need to reframe our purpose as a public education system. If we give exams, just to prepare them for university, haven’t we lost our purpose.

6.  Avoiding Mistakes in the Classroom

I use to be incredibly worried that my students would find out I’m not a great speller or that I’m not a great writer or that I don’t have all the answers.  I use to fluff off answers I didn’t know in hopes that students would never see that I am learning as I go. I didn’t want them to know that I didn’t know it all. Now, I do the opposite. I learn with no walls. I’m more intrigued of their thoughts then those I had developed. I open my learning to inside the classroom. I tell them what I’m reading, what I’m learning, how I’m doing it. I ope myself up, more readily, to honest feedback, to stinging indictments, to mistakes.  I implore you to dive in, head first, it is worth it.

Again, these six mistakes I’ve made are not nearly as comprehensive as they should be. They are but a sampling of the path I’ve walked on as a teacher. The thing is, I’m still walking that path. I haven’t stopped moving. I haven’t sat down on the bench beside the tree. Even more importantly, I don’t have that ignorantly held belief that the things I’ve gotten wrong won’t keep growing.

For now, let me say.

I was wrong. I’ve changed my mind about a few things that I held pretty firmly.

The thing is the change of position, mentality, ideology, happen over time and sometimes, over night. It happens through a heated conversation with a colleague, a blog post by a stranger or an article written by an academic.

I’m happy to be wrong. But not as happy as I am being right. 🙂

Let me know of things you’ve gotten wrong in the comments. Let us wear our history like a badge.

I was wrong. And I’m still learning.

Jan 31, 2012
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Mark My Words … Things I’ve Gotten Wrong (Part 1)

Sometimes, when caught in the moment, I have a tendency to make big sweeping declarations of thought. Those statements that hang in a gallery for all to see. If you are a consistent reader of this blog, you’ll know I’ve made some big, some have said “ballsy”, statements about education, the revolution, pedagogy and what makes a good teacher.

As often as I’ve been right, I’ve been wrong. Over the course of my career in education, I have been wrong many times. My beliefs and ideas around my role in the classroom have changed. And so, here is my list of things I’ve gotten wrong. This is no way a definitive list, but it is the evidence of my reflection on where I’ve come from.

I think it is important to note that we’ve all been wrong. The list of things I’ve gotten wrong in the past is

1. Games = Learning.

On a regular basis I use to play games in class.  I would bring out the Jeopardy game (with buzzers and everything) and we’d play.  Students would be engaged and laughing and shouting out answers, and I thought I’ve done it.  I’ve created a learning environment that is to be envied. I believed that if students were having fun than they must be learning too.  As I’ve reflected, talked, read and researched about he nature of engagement, I’ve often been reminded that many of the “games” in learning, hide learning. They gloss over learning.  They make learning about trivialities, not deeper critical thinking.  My Jeopardy game is on my shelf collecting dust now, I often think I should pull it down and give ‘er a whirl, but I’m too busy actually learning with my students.

2. Tests = Indicators of Success

When I first started, I was all about the test. Every chapter, content quiz. Every two weeks, test. After every unit, I’ve got to test them. I tested them to make sure they were “keeping up”.  When I look back in my files and see the old tests I used to give, I cringe. Multiple choice questions about who said what, why. Worse yet, I use to give zeros to students who missed my tests or have them re-write it at lunch to teach them that tests were important. Again, the more I reflected, talked, read and researched, I felt foolish. I started adjusting my expectations, buffering the responsibilty of the test with other tasks. Sure, I had a balance now. But, I’ve gone even further. Stepping away from tests all together. Nothing in an authentic learning environment is about what do you know in this minute, write it as fast as you can.  Now, that’s not to say that I don’t give exams, I’m mandated at times to do that, but every chance I get, I try to get out of it. Imagine a time, outside of school where you are put under the circumstances of proving yourself like that. Your driver’s test, that’s maybe it. And even that, you can redo immediately.

My distaste of standardized testing is unchanged. I haven’t, nor will I, waver on it.

3. Technology is the answer.

I’m a gadget guy. My playbook, ipad, ipod touch, macbook, blackberry will attest to that. I’ve never understood people’s resistance to the ever-changing new technology. I was making websites in HTML before Mozilla released a second version. But, the thing I’ve come to learn is that technology itself is not the answer. I used to think that if we put it online, or had them type it, or integrated technology to the task, it inevitably made the task better. I was wrong. The task is more important than the tool.  The learning is more important than the task. It is easy to get caught up in the razzle dazzle, shiny lights always attract the eyes, but technology needs to be seen for what it is, an opportunity to use a variety of tools that might make learning more effective, efficient, authentic.


There are more, this is but part one.


Jan 12, 2012
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When the Energy is Palpable

It was like the perfect storm. Three different initiatives all crashed down on me today. In the pre-holiday blitz, I had put them until the week back. “We’ll do it on Wednesday the first week back.” It must have come out of my mouth easily, because they all collided.

So, I was on edge.

I knew it would be one of those days. But then something happened. That same something that happens anytime challenges are weighed, actions are begun. The something that makes me keep going.

Students bought in. Fully. Without reservation.

Yes, I was running around trying to maintain order all day. But the energy was palpable. It reminded me why I do it.

My social justice club was eager to begin their water challenge, my 2P English class were buzzing while preparing for a social awareness campaign, and we orchestrated representatives from 11 schools to gather and prepare for this year’s edition of Strip the Streets.

It makes this job easy when you can feel the energy. You aren’t swimming up stream. It reminds you why.

And isn’t that the essential piece, why are we organizing, preparing, running, supporting, etc.?

I wasn’t the only one.

One of my students said to me, “Wow, you can feel the energy building. I’ve never felt this from school before.”

That sure feels good.

Now this post isn’t just to toot my horn, although I’m doing that too.  This post isn’t to say I’ve figured it out.

I wanted to write this post because I was worried for this day, felt overwhelmed going into the day and was regretting my commitments in the morning. This post is a reminder to me that chaos, the colliding of activities and actions, is okay. It will work out if we are rooted to the why.

When the energy is palpable, something is being built. Hopefully, it is momentum.

Jan 9, 2012
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My Three Words of 2012

“When we are motivated by goals that have deep meaning, by dreams that need completion, by pure love that needs expressing, then we truly live life.”  – Greg Anderson

I don’t often do New Year’s Resolutions.

A buddy of mine (@spegg) pointed me to an interesting blog post by Chris Brogan. Brogan has been framing the changing of the calendar for the last few years based on three words. Three words that capture the “why” of the concrete goals. To act as “lighthouses” in the murky fog of motivation and change. Obviously, this got me thinking.

Without further ado, my three words of 2012:

Create – I want to make more time to pursue the creative. But more than that, it is not enough to start. Anyone can start a project, but the hard part of creation is completion. Create is also connected to the idea that I want to create more authentic connections with people, in person and face to face. Creating is about being open, about being willing to put the work in and about the will to finish.

Challenge – Obviously, I have laid down my major personal/physical challenge for the year. I will be competing (relatively) in the Mont Tremblant Ironman. It is a major physical and mental challenge. My training, my race and my recovery will greatly define the year, I’m sure. On top of that I have set various challenges for myself, including writing goals, learning goals, and relationship goals. These challenges will push me. I like the idea of a monthly challenge, I just haven’t fully realized that yet.

Discipline – I like to say yes. I am scatter brained. I am sometimes inconsistent. I, at times, lack discipline. I, at times, lack organization. I’m pushing myself to find my inner discipline. I need to push past laissez-faire and become more effective, productive and focused. This may require me letting some things go, which will be hard, however, I need to come to the realization that I can’t do it all, however, hard that is to accept.

So there are my three words, what are yours?


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.

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