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 19, 2012
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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.”

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 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 15, 2011
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Because They Do It, Does It Make It Good?

It’s easy when students do the work, no questions asked. It’s nice to see them engaged in the task we have given them. It’s a pleasure helping students work through an assignment they’re working on. In fact, for many, this is a great day of teaching. To many; students, parents and teachers alike, this is the personification of what school’s all about.

Then there are those times where students resist. They put up roadblocks. They fight back. They challenge the task. I hear it often, students feel comfortable voicing their reservations, asking questions, pushing the activity.

But sometimes, that feels so, ineffective. It leaves me feeling … uneasy, unsure of whether I’ve done my job. Especially, when I look into another room and find students diligently engaged in the task.

Then I think about it, maybe even rationalize it some, and consider the engagement of a kid who scoffs and challenges versus the engagement of a kid who willingly fills in the blank.

The thing about our pursuit of “student engagement”, sometimes students engage in bad pedagogy.  In our pursuit, for the attention and affection of our students, we have to ensure that the work we do is valuable.  Just because a student does the work, doesn’t mean we’ve engaged them in learning (marks economy) or critical thinking or valuable lessons.

Isn’t that the next step of authentic learning? Recognizing that doing the work, without questioning it, is problematic. Our job as teachers, and that which we should instil in our students, is that we should always question the work we are asked to do. Especially as we move closer towards the creative-class economy.

This is not to say that when students participate willingly the learning isn’t happening, but rather to say, that we need to be aware, even if students are diligently working away on their assignment.

———-

As I re-read this post, drafted a few weeks ago, I’m well aware that the post insinuates the motive of the student is paramount to creating authentic learning experiences for our students. Yet, I don’t suggest how to do it.

I think my main idea is to have a conversation with each student, often. It doesn’t need to be formalized and rubric-ized. Talk to them to understand their reason for doing the work (or not doing the work, both are relevant).

The other thing is to be continuously reflective of the work we ask our students to complete. Just because students did a “good job” or “enjoyed” the work, doesn’t mean you should do it.

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