Nov 12, 2012
Comments Off on Should Extra-Curriculars Count?

Should Extra-Curriculars Count?

Three students, three different outside interests. Three students that are taking time to create, develop skills, or produce professional work.

She’s writing a novel and is 30,000 words in.

He plays hockey four to five times a week.

He’s illustrating a children’s book for me.

Each of these projects are self-directed, have full student engagement, require these students to work tirelessly at developing the requisite skills and demonstrate them. Yet, things that happen outside of school count for nothing in it.

It seems that timing is everything because she’s demonstrating her English skills but unless it was assigned between 8-2:30 it seems that that demonstration doesn’t count.

Why don’t extra-curriculars count? Why don’t we assign credits to those students that demonstrate the elements of courses on their own time? Why do we require students to perform the tasks we assign as proof of skills and abilities?

I’ve floated this idea to some students, just as a supposition, their response, “Yeah, good question. But it’ll never happen,” or “Who’s doing the evaluation of these products?” or “How do you know it was that kid who did the painting?” or “Aren’t some sports teams harder and require more dedication?” or “What about access to resources, they aren’t equal?” All good questions, no simple answers.

But I’m left unsatisfied. I’m left thinking about the work that they’ve done and thinking why aren’t we encouraging this. Why aren’t we legitimizing their efforts?

I know, I know, people are going to ride me for suggesting we should provide extrinsic rewards for their work and undermine their intrinsic interest. I agree with that argument too.

However, while we’re counting, should extracurriculars count?

Nov 7, 2012
Comments Off on Little BIG Thing #7: Show Gratitude

Little BIG Thing #7: Show Gratitude

Too often, in the crush of things to do, I need to be reminded to slow down and recognize all the things that work in harmony and make this thing I do, this job, this passion, a place where I can grow and learn. On top of that, sometimes I need to lift my head out of the water and gaze around at the horizon and see both where I’ve come from and where I’m headed.

The easiest way to gain that perspective is by showing gratitude.

I try to recognize and acknowledge those that I am grateful for and show them that gratitude regularly. However, I’m not nearly as conscious about with my students.

I heard of a colleague who for Thanksgiving wrote a little note of thanks to each of her students, those things matter. After hearing about it, I’ve tried to make a concerted effort to show gratitude more often. Especially to my students as it fosters an open, kind community.

It’s always interesting when I offer my sincere gratitude to students for something specific, it’s a visual change in their body language. It changes their tone.

One of my considerations is to identify the moments when I’m getting frustrated or tired and that’s the moment when I need to offer gratitude. To the student who is challenging me the most, the perspective I gain by looking through the lens of gratitude, changes my reaction.

The next consideration is that my students come from different contexts before they walk into the room. I need to recognize and have gratitude for those other influencers, my colleagues and their parents. I try to offer gratitude to my colleagues who help establish the culture in the school. I have tried to maintain a habit of writing a thank you note to colleagues who go beyond. My next step, might be, to take that idea and send e-mails of thanks to parents, for their children’s behaviour. All it does is foster a positive relationship.

 Today, right now, in this moment, who are you thankful for? Have you told them?


Please feel free to share with me, your thoughts on what the Little BIG Things of Education.

Related Posts:

The Little BIG Things of Education

Little BIG Thing #6: Play Devil’s Advocate

Little BIG Thing #5: Listen to Their Music

Little BIG Thing #4: What I Learn is As Important

Little BIG Thing #3: Surprise Changes Culture

Little BIG Thing #2: Celebrate Being Wrong

Little BIG Thing #1: The Brightness of Your Eyes

Nov 6, 2012

To Be Engaged Through Authenticity

It’s a mystery what engages students. Whoever says otherwise is lying.

Sure, there are some tried and true strategies that result in engagement; those things that have students knee deep in rich learning. But can we really answer what it is about those experiences that hooks them?

In class today, I saw a group of students totally focused on the role of the government in relation to private enterprise while participating in Civic Mirror. I would classify these students as being immersed in the learning, however, as I take a step back I can’t seem to pinpoint what it was that was the factor for engagement.

Was it the gamification? Was it the competition? Was is it the structure of the activity?

I’ve seen students totally immersed in learning before when none of those things were present and instead, it was because it was fun, or included technology, or aesthetically pleasing.

So then, what is it that results in true engagement?

My first thoughts are connected to Dan Pink’s theories of intrinsic motivation being autonomy, mastery and purpose. (If you haven’t read Drive yet, pick it up. I think it is essential teacher reading.) But I also think, engagement is about authenticity.

That’s why it is so damn hard to pinpoint what causes engagement. It is equally hard to pinpoint authenticity.

I think of authenticity as a means of making learning real life.

It is connected to authentic audiences (not just the teacher or other classes but the marketplace). It is connected to authentic problems/projects (not just school work, imagine if projects). It is connected to authentic learning (I suppose this is about purpose primarily).

What does all this mean?

I don’t think I’ve got answer. I think that engagement is still a mystery, but it is in the process of moving “school work” to “life work.”

Nov 6, 2012
Comments Off on Teaching and Learning: Inherently Required?

Teaching and Learning: Inherently Required?

With the changing tide of public education, I think we are charting territories where this essential question is being explored?

Do you need a teacher to learn?

The idea that we are learning partners, or that we are no longer the fountain of knowledge, I think lends itself to this question. If we recognize that we are facilitators, activators, or evaluators, does the role of teacher go by the wayside?

I try to think of my learning, I don’t have a teacher in the formal sense, but I do need someone. Be it the writer of a book or the maker of the YouTube video, there is someone responsible for the dissemination of the information. But what happens when we start removing the human, is Google my new teacher?

In a tinkering framework, in a place where I start a problem, then wrestle with it, rearrange the pieces until the problem is solved, experience is my teacher.

If I write a novel, edit it, and print it, in our incredibly on-demand world, and it doesn’t sell, the marketplace is my teacher?

In our budget conscious, austerity measured world, is this what the corporate interest is investigating? Isn’t the biggest single cost-savings in education always teachers?

I’ve said many times here on this blog, that I believe it is absolutely paramount that teachers are learners, but by that very nature are all learners eventually teachers, or are all learners teachers to themselves?

In fact, my ramblings and reflections on feedback have brought me to this quote from Dave Nicol, We tend to think of feedback as something a teacher provides, but if students are to become independent lifelong learners, they have to become better at judging their own work. and so again I beg the question, are teachers an absolute requirement in the learning process?

Douglas Thomas suggests that the role for teachers now is to provide, “the context not the content.” Is this where we find the need for the external instructor?

I’m not suggesting we remove teachers from the room or even that the job of a teacher is not critical, however, for how long? If learning is our purpose, do we not need to look at whether teaching is inherently required?



This blog post has been rattling around in my head for a while, I know it is greatly incomplete and states a serious of ridiculous questions, however, I needed to get it out.

Oct 30, 2012
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A Culture of Kindness

It’s around. With the internet, it never turns off. You can’t find any quiet places to get away from it. You can’t ever take back your actions online. All of this, yet in conversation with my class a week ago it seemed that they were content with blaming the victim. “Yeah well, she …” always leads to justification.

It’s mob mentality run amuck.

I wonder if this is the straw. The one that broke the camel’s back. The last piece before those ignorant of technology recognize that we have a lawless wild west right now. And Jesse James has rounded up the old n’er-do-wells and is using them to inflict damage.

Part of the problem is that we don’t really know how to define bullying.

My take is that our problem is not bullying. The problem is our culture of meanness.

We have politicians who would rather find faults, than fix breaks. We have a media culture that looks for another group of people that we can all safely sit and laugh at. We have students who think saying, “I was just joking,” is enough justification for being mean.

What I propose is a new culture of kindness. A conscious attempt at holding each other accountable.

It starts with parents and teachers. It starts with turning off Jersey Shore and Honey Boo Boo. It starts with making a concerted effort to praise, compliment and acknowledge. It is too easy to be mean, especially when the victim isn’t present, or no one holds you accountable.

Too many people blame technology for the bullying and not enough spend time thinking about the tone of our conversations.

We must be better than this. Kindness works too.

Oct 29, 2012

The ECOO Experience #ecoo12

Last Thursday, I had the privilege of presenting my thoughts and ideas at the ECOO Conference 2012. My presentation was geared around my assessment and evaluation methods and madness.

I was proud to speak in front of such an intelligent, engaged audience who asked so many great questions and provided some varied perspectives. I have embedded below the slides from my presentation.


The conference moved this year from one where the tool was the principal focus to the pedagogical shift taking shape in education. Obviously, I like this move. I think too often we spend time worrying about the what and how of teaching, and too little time is spent wrestling with the why. This conference enabled that wrestling.

However, it also enabled something else for me, it forced me to focus my thinking around assessment, which ironically I spoke about. I realized, with more clarity than I had before, that assessment is right now the linchpin to the shift in education.

John Seely Brown, Michael Fullan, and even Nora Young, all addressed the shift in instruction, but none of them offered the insight into the shift in assessment and I fear that is underlooked.

Frankly, assessment and evaluation may be the structure of the system that slows down change the most.

I see it as there are two main cogs in education, instruction and assessment, and while instruction is slowly coming to life, assessment is still in a state of disrepair. It’s rusted over and will take some serious elbow grease to get it moving again.

And we can’t disregard it.

We’ve made cosmetic changes to evaluation, however, at the end of the day will universities and colleges accept our students if they haven’t jumped through the hoops of GPAs and averages. What then becomes of the innovation, creative problem solving, and imagination?

The ECOO experience has focused in my interest in assessment and evaluation, it has left me with more questions than answers and has enabled me to connect with other educators asking those same questions. I can’t wait to see where this takes me.


It’s Not About the Number

Sep 27, 2012

Is Teaching Political?

Every day, in one way or another, I stand and deliver. I influence the natural patterns of thought of my students.

That’s what learning is all about.

On one hand, I try to avoid being political. I try to keep my own beliefs in the background. I try to bury my bias. My goal is not to sell an ideal but to encourage critical thinking.

On the other hand, I strongly and vocally encourage social justice and the pursuit of cultural awareness. I strive for my students to be active citizens and critical of authority.

This may come as a surprise to many, but I’ve got opinions. I’ve got many opinions on many subjects. Not only do I have opinions, I like to share my opinions.

What job do I ultimately have? To be my authentic, opinionated self, while maintaining a healthy grip of objective reporting, much like Murrow and Cronkite or to be devoid of personality, a list of facts and figures with no bias?


I’d like to say this post is not about what’s happening in Ontario where there is a showdown between the Ontario Liberal Party and teacher unions. I’d like to say that this is a reflective post about the nature/value/danger of my opinion in my classroom.

But it is.

It’s important to know what their teachers are facing. It’s important for students to understand the climate of the school. It’s important for students to understand that regardless of what is happening, their teachers are there for them, despite potential withdrawal of extras.

Does that make students the pawns of both sides?


I also think this post is questioning the rhetoric that what the unions are “fighting” for are the “democratic” collective bargaining rights. I’ve seen it said, “We’re fighting for everyone, not just teachers.”

Yet, I’ve asked colleagues who were teaching during the Harris years and after, did the labour dispute make them overall more political active and the answer was no. Unless the issue was affecting them directly, they were unaware.

If we are railing against the loss of “democratic rights”, why aren’t we up in arms about the federal government’s use of omnibus bills to pass ill-supported legislation?


I suppose at the end of the day, I’m curious, is the nature of teaching political?

Sep 19, 2012
Comments Off on It’s A Simple Algorithm

It’s A Simple Algorithm

He walks into the classroom mid-way through solving the Rubik’s cube. Before he’s through the door, it’s solved. Within seconds he’s messed it up again and then spins the cube to start solving. Within a couple minutes, it’s solved again.


This guy is your typical applied level student. Interesting, nuanced, at points disengaged and most of all, not meant to sit in a classroom doing worksheets all day. He’s easily distracted in class, struggles with writing, and yet, as this huge untapped potential for learning. He doesn’t seem himself as someone school is designed for and that makes perfect sense.

“How did you do that?”

“It’s a simple algorithm.”

“Where did you learn it?”

“On Youtube,” he says non-chalantly as he shows me his Rubik’s cube belt buckle. “My fastest is 1minute and 6 seconds.”


“But, I’m trying to get better.”

He sits down, hardly listening to the school announcements, and whips through it a couple more times. Complete it, mess it up, complete it again.

I ask him to teach me. He says, “You can just go watch some Youtube videos and it will be much easier.” But I sense a learning opportunity. For me and for him.

I sit down, he stands over my shoulder and starts the process. In the position of student, I quickly become discouraged. I say, “I’ll never be able to do this…” and “This is too hard…” and “I’ll never remember this,” but he just calmly tells me to keep trying. He stands over my shoulder for something like seven minutes until I shrugged it off. “Never mind, we’ve got other things to do.”

It’s easy to say that the student who shrug off school, don’t know what’s good for them. Or paint the need for today in the light of their future. But the reality is, it is hard to learn. It is hard to be put into a situation that is difficult, all day, every day, and still maintain your enthusiasm for showing up.

I’ll be back, I’ll eventually (my goal is by the end of the semester) be able to solve the Rubik’s cube, but I see myself as learner. But I don’t have to do it everyday. Just chipping away.

How often do we take the same skill and make students do it over and over, day after day? Maybe it’s time we diversify. Maybe it’s time we allow students to determine when they need a break.

I mean, after all, it’s a simple algorithm.

Sep 9, 2012
Comments Off on Trust Ends Where Trust Starts.

Trust Ends Where Trust Starts.

How do we make others trust us? Often it is through personal, deliberate acts of kindness, generosity and honour. It takes time. It takes repetition of these acts. It doesn’t always happen.

I think one of the most pressing issues within our culture is our culture of mistrust.

It destabilizes everything.


I was talking to my class, two days into the new school year, about the idea of trust. Who they trust? Why they trust these people? Do they trust me? Earning trust?

The overwhelming sentiment in this Grade 11 class, trust is hard to earn, often broken, and sometimes elusive.

I asked them if they trust the government: overwhelmingly no.

I asked them if they trust their teachers: overwhelmingly no.

I asked them if they trust the police: overwhelmingly no.

If they trust me: not sure.

I recognize that this class is not a random or statistically-relevant sample size, and I do recognize that it may be part of a teenager’s m.o. not to trust anyone, however, I don’t think they are alone. And I think this is indelibly sad and dangerous as we move into a more connected world.

Their thoughts in when they decide to trust someone, when they act first. When they feel trusted, they trust.


It is harder now to gain the trust of a stranger than ever before. But that is what is needed. From teachers, politicians, administrators, parents.

Our culture does not trust.

Being antagonistic is not going help. Being adversarial is not going to help. Instead, interactions of kindness will help. Instead, actions of supreme generosity will help and actions of righteous honour will help.

Trust ends where trust starts through actions of kindness, generosity and honour.

Sep 5, 2012
Comments Off on Let’s Start… (Maybe Some Leadership?)

Let’s Start… (Maybe Some Leadership?)

I’m tired of political rhetoric. I’m sick of the extraneous bad radio spots. I’m over talking about wage freezes and retirement gratuities. I think the us vs. them dynamic serves no one.

Let’s start talking about teaching.  Let’s start talking about learning. Let’s start talking about the fact it takes a community to raise informed citizens and a generation of critical/creative thinkers. Let’s start talking about how we can work together to make things work.

I know, I know. My union brethren is going to talk about how the government is not sitting at the table. I get it. They aren’t doing their part. So, let’s just start doing ours. Why are we waiting for them? 

Let’s start really talking about the inefficiencies in the system, the extraneous. Let’s start talking about how we can be better. Let’s start talking about how we can save money.

Getting into a fight with a waiting and willing opponent is foolish and often dangerous.

Instead, let’s start talking to our students’ parents about how we can create a better learning environment. Let’s start talking to them about how we can make them learn more. Let’s not mention wages, sick days and grid structures. Instead, let’s talk about their kid. The individual. What can we do to help them learn?

Let’s start talking to the world about the value of an education. Let’s start talking about learning something new, not achieving a higher mark. Let’s start talking about what happens in a classroom, for real. Strap up cameras in the room and show the world. Write to our papers. Let’s start talking about why people love their teachers. Let’s start talking about why we need to be better as teachers.

Let’s stop the rhetoric and lame commercials. Let’s stop trying to solidify a better bargaining position.

Let’s be honest.

Let’s start being the leaders we can be.


***Any time an us vs. them dynamic is created, there will be victims. Too often, it is the students. ***

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