Browsing articles in "Reflections"
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.

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 25, 2011

Let’s Grow Success



I like the Growing Success document.


In fact, this document demonstrates a trust in teachers that is often not present in the political rhetoric of education.  The document outlines an ideal that teachers are able to assess and evaluate according to their best understanding of the needs and skills of their students.

Two words stand out:



These two words are used repeatedly throughout the document. They rely on a teacher’s ability to take consideration of student demonstrations, be it in product, process, conversations or observations.  They also rely on a teacher’s ability to interpret the evidence as gathered by the teacher.

The word most glaringly absent from the document is calculate. The MoE has done away with the notion that a grade, as found on a report card, is a straight calculation of marks.  I believe that this is a telling sign that education is slowly, albeit too slowly, systematically moving to a more individualized, student-centred learning environment.

It is now our job to start effectively using this responsibility and communicating the way in which we are looking for success.

This is scary for teachers. Calculating leaves no room for error. Interpretation and consideration can be misused and we’re going to need to defend it and that’s worrisome.  I get that.  When a parent calls asking about a mark, it is sometimes a tough conversation to begin.  That said, when we engage in the conversations of interpretation and consideration we are more likely to engage in conversations of learning, which ultimately, are what we’re looking for.

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 21, 2011
Comments Off on Do You Trust Me?

Do You Trust Me?

More and more articles, blog posts and editorials, about everything, I see us struggling to trust. We struggle with trusting schools, governments, corporations and individuals. We’ve been burned so often that we are no longer able to envision an environment where people (the individual or the system) are working for the good of the people. Where does that leave us?

Locking our doors, eliminating variables and an insistence that the structure will protect us. Protect us from whom? Everyone?!?

I fear for my students that they’re learning in an environment that shows no trust; an environment that enables fear. Whether it is a learning environment that doesn’t trust the judgement of the teacher or where the teacher doesn’t trust the student, we are reinforcing this vision that people cannot or should not trust, and it worries me. Students are absorbing media that tells them to expect uniformity and to think that aberrations, missteps, mistakes and alterations are insistences of incompetence or implied deception.

This mistrust is leading us into a standardized, sanitized view of the inner workings of the classroom.

This mistrust is leading us to a hyper-connected world with no real connection.

This mistrust is leading us to belie our common sense and our human nature.

I worry that not only does the public, system, and government not trust teachers, but teachers, themselves, don’t trust themselves to be great. Unwilling to try to be better for fear they might be called to task.

There is an epidemic of mistrust that is spreading and I think, for the sake of students and teachers, we must be the ones to begin having and showing trust.

Nov 15, 2011
Comments Off on “I Had An Epiphany.”

“I Had An Epiphany.”

He is 17. A total of 8 credits. His attendance, spotty at best. His troubles, plenty.

Yet, he’s here.  He is here and ready to learn.  Today.

He tells me that a night ago, as he was getting ready to go to sleep, “I had an epiphany. I just realized out of the blue that it’s up to me. I mean, no one else will get me to where I want to be, but me.”

I ask, “Hmm, so where is it you want to be?”

“I don’t know, probably the military. But more importantly, I just had an epiphany that all the things you’ve been telling me about owning my learning and it being my education, with the emphasis on my decisions, are right.”

“So, what now?”

“Well, I got get as many credits as I can.”

“What’s the first step to getting the credits?”

“Probably, showing up. That’s my biggest challenge, after that, the work, but first showing up.”

I smile. He smiles. And then he grabs the netbook from my desk and proceeds to work steady, even while the rest of the class is quite distractible. He works uninterrupted until I ask to see what he’s got so far. He shows me … progress.

Now, if this is where the story were to end, it would be great. Simple motivation and a reminder to keep doing what I’m doing. Connect with kids, continue to remind them that they have power to direct their learning and rely on the fact that eventually the message will sink in and when it does, I’ll be there to help them.

But it doesn’t stop there.

He’s human. Not a case study, just like his learning it doesn’t come to a neat package. It’s going to require a constant re-evaluation and reflection on where he is and what he needs.

But starting from an epiphany is fine with me.

****Author’s Note: Although the gist of this reflection and the conversation is true and accurate, I have changed some of the details and timing to protect the identity of the student.

Nov 14, 2011
Comments Off on Little BIG Thing #6: Play Devil’s Advocate

Little BIG Thing #6: Play Devil’s Advocate

“Mr. Kemp, what’s your opinion, your real opinion?”

I hear it often enough. I wait to hear their thinking and then purposely argue the other side. I don’t like the term the “devil’s advocate” because it appears inherently negative, when in fact, it engages.  Sometimes there is nothing more engaging then waging battle. Intellectual battle.

Now, my wife and friends will probably tell you that this is nothing new for me, I constantly and consistently argue “for the sake of argument”. But it is even more pronounced.

Students catch on quick enough that I’ll argue both sides. They get frustrated with that, but naturally, it goads them.  I like to think I don’t care what you think, just that you think. I’ve found myself arguing both sides in the same argument. Students love that.

So what’s the catch? I think students like to argue, especially with a willing adult adversary because it doesn’t happen often. They are often shut down before they get going.

But here’s the real catch when playing devil’s advocate. I say little. (Okay, I try to say little). I let the students do most of the persuading, the debating. It’s a well-timed, well-placed question or comment that can fire them up again.

The question is, what side are you arguing on today?

Nov 9, 2011
Comments Off on Some Days…

Some Days…

“There are good days and there are bad days, and this is one of them” -Lawrence Welk

Some days you aren’t on your game. You feel like you are missing a beat. You feel like you never quite get to that gold standard.

Today was one of those days.

One of those days you wish you could have back. It was full of those moments you wish you could redo. It was my fault, a combination of poor sleep, restless thoughts, building frustration and the feeling of isolation.

I’d love to pinpoint the minute the day got away from me, but I can’t.

But it is today that I question my reactions the most. Which student of mine was having that day? Who will have it tomorrow? How many students try to tell me it is that day and I don’t hear them?

I think I might learn the most from my inability to perform at my peak today. I take the opportunity to recognize my “areas of need” and build upon my “next steps”. Today will stick with me, as a learning opportunity, but that’s because I get to choose. I’m not stuck learning by someone else’s schedule. I’m not being assessed on what I couldn’t do today.

You realize on these days that all the bluster of consistency, achievement, assessment is all awash in inconsistency, failure and judgement. That mastering learning may be about minimizing these days and taking advantage and creating more of those days.

You know, those days when you are on your game. When the right word is right there. Those days when the rhythm is your soul and everything you touch turns to gold.

Some days are like today where my learning is personal, my growing is optional, and my ability to decide what I demonstrate is my own.

Nov 2, 2011

Busted. Cheaters Never Prosper, Well, Sometimes…

A colleague of mine showed me some student work today. It was brilliant. It was a creative representation, a drawing. Clearly some effort had been put forth. In passing, I said, “Let’s hope it wasn’t traced.”

Sure enough, we Googled it. It had been copied. It wasn’t hard to find at all.

She had decided at some point, the risk of getting caught was worth the effort it took to create something original.

She had decided at some point, the chance of getting caught is small enough.

She had decided at some point, it’s time to jump through the hoop of school, rather than actively engage in the process.


When a student takes the shortest route from assignment to mark, they are telling us that learning is not to be found and doesn’t matter. The mark matters. That’s it. I think there are two factors in play:

  1. The work, the community, or the learning is inauthentic. Students know when they are being made to do “busy” work. This is not to say every assignment that a student has cheated on is “busy” work, but I would presume that giving students an authentic opportunity to learn something that is meaningful will result in engagement in the task.
  2. The student has been sold on the marks economy and believes that marks are akin to success and the process doesn’t matter. This saddens me the most as this is mostly adult-driven. We, the adults, have created an atmosphere of competition and a feeling that students marks are indicators of value. This student feels that the opportunity to feel value is not to try, but to achieve the number.


In the end, that student will learn, hopefully, but how many others are looking for the shortest route. How many others have found the shortest route and weren’t caught?

Nov 1, 2011

“I’ve Let Myself Down”

That’s what one of my students told me when reflecting on the semester, so far.

In the conversation, she reviewed a litany of failings and missteps. The tears soon followed. She didn’t offer excuses. She had let herself down. Missed assignments, lacklustre effort, and skipped classes don’t help her case. But, she’ll do it.

She recognized, in that conversation, that the first step of learning is desire.

“If you’ve let yourself down, how are you going to work towards picking yourself back up?”

“How can I help? What do you need from me?”

These were my responses. We didn’t need to go over the grade, the repeated grammar errors, or the contradictory attitude. She didn’t need that. She needed to know, she’s still on the road. And that to me is why I’m here. Yeah, to worry about the grammar and reading, but to support, nurture and facilitate the attitude of, “I’ve made a mistake, I need to improve. What can I learn here?”

That to me is a student-directed classroom. At the core, the student heart open, brain waiting with a desire to learn.  I’m still present. I still have to help her get there, but it’s not me telling her she let me down. It was self-directed.

I liked that she said it. It let me know she was learning.

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