Thursday, December 3, 2009

Practice informs theory

I thought I would highlight some of my understandings from the amazing Quest Conference I attended. I don't know that I have a handle on many of these concepts or that I have represented the ideas correctly. Also, some ideas may warrant further investigation. I thought I would capture them in a few meaningful words.

Here goes:

Dr. Michael Fullan: We need “whole system reform”

Our work needs:

1. To be precise
2. To go deeper
3. To adhere to the speed of quality change

Change the mindset: Practice determines the Theory
Teachers have a “moral imperative” to “Raise the Bar” and “Close the Gap”
”Interdependent Practice” - essential between student, teacher and admin.

Dr. Douglas B. Reeves:

Mistakes and Perfection:

Teachers have “initiative fatigue” – so keep it simple: IDEAS=ACTION
Take risks, get up from the falls and KEEP GOING because MISTAKES lead to PERFECTION
Malcolm Gladwell – Expertise is equivalent to 10, 000 hours of performance
Data = Efficacity
PASSION is STRESSFUL – so we need “harmonious passion”- examine data based on classroom by classroom and teacher by teacher
SUCCESS = defined by the Greater Good

Formative Assessment:

FEEDBACK must be: 1. Accurate 2. Specific 3.Timely
STUDENT ENGAGEMENT – is derived from People & Practice and NOT Programs
Do your assessments match goals? Do you involve students in designing assessments?
What are the consequences of not doing the work? = Do the work.

Role of Leaders:

Listen more than you talk
Have focused meetings without a single person “in charge”
Principal participates as a “learner”
Examine need for TIME/SPACE/PEOPLE

Role of Teachers:

Individual and Shared Responsibility to teach and learn
Intelligent Accountability
Job Embedded Learning – Interactive Collaboration = increases depth/focus

Importance of Writing:

Non-Fiction writing improves student scores in Math and Science
Teachers should also try to write non-fiction for their own practice and engagement

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Know Thyself

One of the sessions I attended at last week’s amazing Quest Conference had to do with “Cultural Proficiency”. The first activity the presenters asked us to do was to think of 3 great things that described ourselves and explain them to a colleague. Needless to say, it ended up sounding like a job interview. The second activity was to write down 5 descriptors that were used to explain who we were and that were integral to the “core” of our being. Next we were asked to remove them from the list one by one based on any criteria we wanted to establish. What we were left with would explain our priority/priorities or most accurate descriptor. The last one standing on my list was “mother.” The presenters explained that in order to know others, we must look within and know ourselves.

This activity undoubtedly helped explain why being away from my kids for 9 days was so difficult. What did I miss while I was touring France and Belgium with 60 kids and 6 other teachers? My daughter’s first tooth came out. As I told this story to a fellow teacher at the conference, she asked: “Did the tooth fairy still come?” I replied: “He did.” To my disappointment, when I came back, my daughter lost her second tooth while I was catching up on my jetlagged-but-much-needed sleep. This one went down the drain and so a letter to the tooth fairy was in order. My daughter decided she would politely ask the tooth fairy what her name was instead of asking for a certain amount of money which I told her would be ill-advised. She left a pen under her pillow for the tooth fairy to respond. In the morning, the tooth fairy wrote a single name: Fatima. My daughter carried around the letter all day informing all her friends of the breakthrough in finding out the tooth fairy’s name. It almost made up for my absence.

My trip to France and Belgium was incredibly amazing and it was the first time I had been there. The tour included: La tour Eiffel, Montmartre, Mont-St.-Michel, Caen, Rennes, Dieppe, Juno Beach Centre, Arras, Le Louvre, L’Arc de Triomphe, Versailles, Ieper, the Menin Gate, Passcheandale and Vimy Ridge on Remembrance Day. They were sites I will never forget and that I can share with my kids someday. But for now, I am happy to be home and happy to be spending time as a “mother” with my family.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Welcome Back Global Citizens!

As September looms on the horizon, teachers are beginning to think about the first day of school, the activities and rules they will be establishing in their classroom and the approaches to discipline they will take. In addition to establishing routine and learning names, teachers should give some thought to knowing their audience. Students come from all different backgrounds, religions and social classes. Exposing students to news events, books, articles, movies etc. that do not only represent a particular segment of society is paramount. The most important item in my classroom, for instance, is a map of the world.
It is essential for students in North America to realize that they are not the centre of the universe and that the world is a bigger place. All perceptions they have regarding what life is are just that: perceptions based on their experiences. What if I told them that where I come from, children walk barefoot in the streets? If they lived in Malawi, children would be working on tobacco farms where they would be exposed to so many carcinogens that their lungs deteriorate only after a few years. More than 75 000 children work on such farms in Malawi. (Monday August 24th,2009 Globe and Mail ) The Canadian government has decreased most of its aid to Africa and is now concentrating on South America. The argument is that problems of corruption and dependence on foreign aid have weakened economies in Africa to the point they cannot self-sustain. Africa has already received billions of dollars in aid with deplorable long-term results for its prosperity. Does aid really inhibit sustenance? How can aid be used more effectively to guarantee a country’s prosperity?
My most vivid memory of my time in Nairobi was on my birthday. My aunt took me to a slum area in Nairobi. We picked up bread and milk. Our driver went about to gather the people and they all lined up. My aunt instructed me to hand out a portion of bread and a bottle of milk to each person. They were mostly women and children in the line-up. For that day they would be full. But what would happen the next day? And the day after that? Was I doing a disservice to these people? Or was I just keeping them from going hungry for one more day?
Why not start the year up with a debate or discussion relating to the “real world” in one of your classrooms?

Friday, July 10, 2009

For the tech savvy

Living with a software developer has not always been easy. In this day and age, having someone in the house who is technologically savvy can often be regarded as a bonus. It’s nice to have someone to rely on when the technology eludes you. It’s also nice to have access to free downloaded movies, songs and TV shows that we missed. Unfortunately, keeping it simple has never been my husband’s forte. He is constantly on the search for better and better use of technology and the ease of use it provides. Easy for everyone, except me. When we first got married, my husband set out to simplify my teaching life by writing a program to keep track of my marks. Despite my repeated protests, he spent every night in front of the computer ironing out this marks program and occasionally showing me how he had created the next box or diagram or whatever. I explained that I was already using a great marks program called MARKBOOK that works really well and contains Ontario Curriculum Expectations, rubrics etc. After many nights at the computer, he eventually abandoned the task. It was a good thing since the following year, our school board mandated MARKBOOK as the only marks program that we could use.
My husband loves to, in my words, “mess” with the computer. If he could, he would have a computer in every room. As soon as I got a laptop from work, he pounced on it and found a way to network it to our computer and then hook it to the TV so we could watch our free downloaded movies or TV shows. Since he got his iphone, he has no longer needed my laptop and has been playing movies from there using a cable from China?? Don’t ask. I don’t know. He just “jailbroke “ his iphone and can now do videos, access our home computer and so many other things that are too long and crazy to mention. He now wants to mess with my phone and I said, “stay away”!! Not that I don’t want to have access to all this cool gadgetry that I will never use, but I would like to keep it simple. Simple means things don’t go wrong. Somehow, at the most crucial times in my life, the computer has always failed me. For instance, on a couple of occasions, our computer got “infected” with a “virus” and therefore I lost all my marks! No I didn’t back up. With all the “questionable” applications running on our computer, it was no wonder we got a virus. But, not to fear, my husband has discovered a new virus scanner that is superior to all others. Only problem – it takes twice as long to access anything on the internet because of its security features. Yes we do have high speed internet but what is the point?
My husband reformatted our computer recently and neglected to save any of my bookmarks and so I lost them in the shuffle.
“You don’t use GMarks?” he said.
GMARKS, schmarks – what in the world are GMARKS???? No, I use the simple, basic bookmarks that come with the computer okay! So I discovered that as a result of the reformatting, our internet is much faster, however, my WORD processing software has been upgraded and everything looks different. Now, in order to save a file, it takes 5 minutes as opposed to 30 seconds. Today I needed to open up a power point presentation for my online course, and guess what? No power point has been re-installed. Today our home phone, or should I say internet VOIP phone doesn’t work. Sure we save lots of money every year by using an internet phone and we get long distance practically free – but TODAY it doesn’t work!!
My husband’s latest project is hooking the iphone to our car stereo system and DVD player. He has also figured out how we are going to make practically free long distance calls from the States when we go to Vermont next month for our family vacation and use a roaming data plan for under $20.00. I sure hope it works.

Monday, July 6, 2009


It's a nice sounding word. Now try to say it 5 times and fast! Stuck?? Perspicacity, perspicacity, perspicacity, perspicacity, perspicacity. It reminds me of part of a poem I once wrote:
Try as we might;
To shed some light;
Clarity (or Perspicacity)
Out of
On any topic, there are always more unanswered questions than answers. On love. On life. On kids. On death. On education (yes I did throw that one in!). So this summer, I am setting out on a quest to acquire a better understanding of some of these and other areas. In terms of education, I am taking an online course - yes teachers do spend their summers thinking about the fall. Until now, I wasn't really interested in the course I had signed up for. It was simply a course that I need to take another course that I plan to do next year. A stepping stone. Much to my surprise, I am really enjoying the course because I can still make links to secondary education and my prodigies are my kids. I was never interested in primary education because I felt it wouldn't challenge me in the way that I need to be challenged. I was wrong. It is the old adage: "You never know something until you try it." The course has really been interesting in terms of deciphering what kind of learner you are and what kind of learners your students are. Howard Gardner's multiple intelligence theory has been poked an prodded on so many levels that now there are so many types of quizzes used to describe learning style. So here's a really good one done by the Birmingham Grid for Learning:

Saturday, June 13, 2009

My hidden talent

“Can you say it again,” asked my 10 grade English teacher Mr. Proctor.
Oh no, I thought, after presenting a memorized soliloquy of a Shakespearean play. Did I screw up my lines? Perhaps I wasn’t loud enough? So I repeated my lines once more as Mr. Proctor listened intently.
Afterwards he said, “You have a gift.”
So now I was getting a present?? My bewilderment was obvious.
“Your pronunciation and enunciation was flawless and your ability to move people with your voice is remarkable,” he continued.
“Oh.” I said, still bewildered and now dumbfounded. I walked back to my seat to digest the news.
I had enjoyed reading Shakespeare aloud; except for the memorization part (I have a terrible memory). By evening my glee was obvious.
“Mr. Proctor says I have a gift!” I screamed when my mom walked through the door. As I spilled all the gory details to my mom, I awaited her response.
“That’s good,” she said. “But ask Mr. Proctor how the gift can help you in your future career.”
Future career? What difference did that make? I thought. I have a gift. Period.
My mom explained, “People often make career decisions based on their talents. If this is one of your talents, then you need to know how you can use it to your advantage.”
I guess she had a point. The next day, I gathered up the courage to ask Mr. Proctor the very same question. Mr. Proctor paused for a moment then said:
“You could be an actor,”
Acting? I was definitely not into acting. I am extremely straightforward and acting in any situation is not my forte.
“Or you could go into languages.”
Okay. Getting warmer. I did love learning French.
“Or you could be a teacher.”
Maybe, I thought, he’s onto something, as I walked back to my seat.

I recently shared this story with my students last week to explain that all of them have talents in different areas. Sometimes, someone points us in the right direction. Sometimes we choose to ignore the signs. I know I did. Luckily, my career destiny did finally materialize. The signs are always there. And destiny always wins.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Le Racisme

En lisant le journal hier et aujourd’hui, j’étais bouleversée en apprenant qu’il y avait un incident de racisme et l’intimidation dans une école où j’ai travaillé, il n’y a pas longtemps. Je n’étais pas complètement surprise en entendant de ces nouvelles de racisme, parce que je sais que cela a existé pendant mon séjour. Je l'ai senti parmi quelques étudiants et malheureusement parmi leurs parents. Cependant, mon expérience personnelle n’était pas complètement mauvaise. Et d’après les 400 élèves qui ont protesté à Keswick High School contre le racisme et l’intimidation et en faveur du garçon qui a été intimidé, il est évident qu’on peut affecter le change. Pourquoi le garçon qui a été intimidé, était-il accusé, c’est une question que tout le monde pose. Connaissons-nous tous les détails de tout ce qui s’est passé ? Probablement non. Est-il juste qu’un garçon qui a été harcelé et frappé par un autre, soit chargé de l’assaut physique à cause qu’il s’est défendu contre son agresseur ? Le garçon qui s’est défendu avait une ceinture noire en karaté. Jusqu’à quel point peut-on utiliser la force pour se défendre contre l’harcèlement et l’intimidation ? Apparemment, la loi dit qu’on n’a pas le droit de se défendre jusqu’au point que l’agression devient excessif. En tant que quantité, qu’est-ce qui constitue la force excessive ? Est-ce qu’on doit attendre jusqu’on reçoit trois coups de poings avant de réagir ? Est-ce que nos lois sont trop rigides pour évoquer la justice ? Ce sont des questions que je poserai dans mes classes dans la lutte contre le racisme et l’intimidation.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

It’s a cruel, cruel winter. . .

January is scorching by in its usual frigid way and what are you still doing? Feeling cold? Feeling sorry for yourself as you brace for the next snowfall or record cold temperatures? Hibernating? Trying to nurse a cough or a cold which just won’t go away?

Prepare for summer. Ahhh, summer. The sweetness of summer is indescribable, like opening up that 1st delectable chocolate truffle and feeling it melt in your mouth as you close your eyes. In the summer, birds in the sky retract their wings to say “thank you.”

Winter must also be thanked for its blahs and blues. The true meaning of summer cannot be understood without a good dose of winter. Its stark contrast is what makes it apparent and appeasing. Like Black and White. Imagine. A black man in a white house. That is apparent and appeasing.

The winter is long and bitter. It tempts and taunts us with its glittering icicles and singable snowmen. It is not long before frostbite sets in. There appears to be no end in sight.

Never fear. Summer is here. Imagine a field. Imagine the wind blowing softly upon this field. Imagine the sound of music. A dance, perchance? Only the imagination can conjure up images of such contrived contradiction.

The reality of summer may be months away but its image is forever etched in our hearts.