One Word for Your Year

The start of the school year is a busy time and this year I wanted our opening day staff meeting to be as short as possible; however, I wanted to do an activity with staff that would provide us (the vice principal and myself) some insight into what our staff were wanting to accomplish during the year.  When I was reading Ditch That Textbook (which I previously wrote about in this post), one activity that stood out to me as a potential opening day activity was an activity I will call “The One Word” activity.  There was a chapter in the book  (Ch 35: Create a Mission Statement) on this activity and it is also based on the post Change the Way You Teach With One Word, both written my Matt Miller (@jmattmiller).  Instead of writing a teaching mission statement, the activity has staff think about one word that can be the focus of all the planning and directions they take during the school year.

After having the staff read the chapter (3 pages long), we provided them with a graphic organizer to complete and time to reflect.  The 4 outside boxes were the staff’s working space and the box in the middle of the page is where we asked them to write their one-word.  While I was interested in the one-words that our staff would provide, I was equally interested in their responses to these questions that were one the organizer:

  • What do I want from this year?
  • What do I need?
  • What is in my way?
  • What needs to go?

The responses will help us work to support (which is my one-word) each staff member in an individual way.  The one-words were wide ranging and you can see them in the graphic below.


I look forward to our conversations that we will have with staff members based on this activity and trying to sort out the ways to best provide support.

What would your one-word be?

Ditch That Textbook #DitchBook

I recently finished Ditch That Textbook by Matt Miller and it gave me many things to think about and reflect upon.

The first two sections of the book focused on the reasons to move to ditching our textbooks, both in a literal sense and a mindset towards how we teach sense.  I appreciated the thoughts in these sections and some of the sections will provide great conversation starters with staff at our school.

The third section provided some practical strategies on how to ditch your textbook, create a space of your content, create content and let your students create content.  The one key point that came out to me in this section was a move to Google Apps for Education (#GAFE) is a fantastic way to go;however, I need to also create a different space to share resources and links for my class or school.  I have just started exploring GAFE and I intend to use it next school year and had thought it may be more of a one stop shop; I need to rethink a few things on this point.

The final section of the book was devoted to helping you develop a #DitchBook mindset.  From creating a personal philosophy, mission statement to some theme planning.  I particularly liked the mission statement section, so much so I opened up Evernote and made a note about a possible opening week staff activity.  I also enjoyed the Identify Major Themes chapter.  With the changing BC curriculum, we have been trying to encourage staff at our school to think and plan in themes – I think this section provide a good and easy to understand strategy for developing theme based plans.

Many of the chapters have a QR code that links to further resources on the website.  Below is a list of the links that I found the most interesting.

10 Thoughts on How to Go Digital and Why We Should

4 Hospitality Principles that can Transform Our Classrooms

20 percent projects: 7 Ideas to Think About

11 Class Activities with Sensors You Didn’t Know Your Phone Had

Why “Holes In Wood” beat “Drills” in Education

20 Collaborative Google Apps Activities for Schools

20 Ideas for Solid Student Blogging

10 Ways Google’s Philosophy Can Guide Teachers

My goal is to implement two of the strategies or ideas from the book each term next year. . . . .


My Growth Plan Year in Review

In my school district all principals and vice principals develop a personal growth plan each year.  My growth plan had 3 goals and this is my reflection on each of the goals.

Goal 1: To increase the frequency of my classroom visits and provide feedback (verbal or email) to staff about my observations, comments, thoughts and questions.

Of my 3 goals, I believe this is the one I had the most difficulty in reaching.  My intentions were to be in 3 or 4 classrooms each day and provide feedback to staff.  In Semester 1, I was not meeting this goal and probably averaged a few classrooms a week.  In Semester 2, I had 3 or 4 weeks at the beginning of the semester when  I was meeting this goal of being in classrooms; however, when March arrived my visits decreased similar to Semester 1 levels.  The difference for Semester 2 was I planned out my week and scheduled time to do learning walks.  While my visits were happening (although not frequently enough), my real struggle was providing the feedback to teachers about what I saw and heard in their classrooms.  This will be continued area of focus for me for the 2016-2017 school year.

Goal 2: To become familiar with the new curriculum and find ways to support teachers in trying components of the new curriculum.

I believe I attained this goal by doing the following things during the year:

  • facilitated new curriculum implementation sessions for our district
  • attended the Langley EdCamp and Peter Liljedjahl workshops
  • facilitated Middle Years design and curriculum implementation sessions for our middle years program that will begin in September 2016
  • created staff meeting learning activities focused on the new curriculum
  • school based pro-d time on the new curriculum
  • Friday Bulletin Links of the Week

Goal 3:  Improve the focus on learning and increase student and staff resilience when facing a learning challenge.

I believe I did satisfactorily with this goal.  The ongoing struggle in our school is how to have our students focus on their learning more and not give up when they encounter a learning roadblock.  After reading Carol Dweck’s book Mindset, I thought the best way to help our school improve in this area was through a growth mindset focus.  Throughout the year we did the following:

  • staff meeting learning activities on growth mindset – one was a introduction to growth mindset and one was more teachers learning about growth mindset
  • discussions at the department head level on how to introduce and have our students learn and develop a growth mindset
  • Friday Bulletin Links of the Week

As a staff, we will be determining a way to have our students learn about growth mindset and alter our teaching strategies to incorporate more of a growth mindset.

This year we (the Vice Principal and I) sent out staff feedback surveys to gather info on what we were doing well and where we could improve.  The survey questions were compiled from a few different websites/blogs and our school district surveys. The list of survey questions can be found here.

A few themes that came from the feedback are:

Things I do well or strengths:

  • decisions focused on what is best for students
  • support for teachers in feeling empowered to make decisions regarding their teaching and freedom to innovate and try new strategies in their classroom
  • patience and calmness

Things I need to improve or areas of growth:

  • visit classrooms more often and more importantly provide more frequent feedback to staff regarding the visits
  • quicker response time to emails and phone calls
  • work (along with staff) to improve school culture

Time to create a plan for next year . . .

Writing Your Own Story

This past weekend, we had our Grad celebration – we tried a few “new” things for our school – caps and gowns made comeback and we had the celebration over two days, not one.  Grad is always a wonderful celebration of all our students’ learning, a chance to look back and ahead.  I also had the pleasure of speaking to the grad class for a few minutes – here is what I had to say.

Good evening ladies and gentlemen, honoured guests, Bloom families, community members, and grads of 2016.  I would like to recognize the traditional territory of the Okanagan people on which we learn and celebrate tonight.

I have the great honour of being the proud principal of Charles Bloom and fortunate enough to have worked with this group of students for the past 5 years.  While all our graduating years of students are special, this one is especially important to me as this is the first group of students I taught when I arrived at Charles Bloom – Math 8 and what a memorable class it was.  It has been wonderful to see each of you in this grad class grow and learn over our time at Bloom together.  I know that during the years leading up to graduation there have been people who have supported you along the way – to each of you that join us tonight – I say thank you for supporting these amazing grads – they couldn’t have done it without you.  Grads, please make sure you find the time to say thank you to all those that supported you in your learning journey.

When describing your grad class words such as diverse, creative, approachable and independent come to mind.  It is these qualities as a collective that make you a formidable group – and one that I have enjoyed working with over my 5 years at Bloom.  Your individuality and sense of self is refreshing and your ability to communicate your own needs as well as your group’s needs is impressive.  While your individual struggles have similarity, each of you possess a strength and drive that let you work through your obstacles – this strength will serve you well in your future.

Along with you, I have learned many things over my 5 years at Bloom and for that I say thank you.  As individuals and as a group, your willingness to share your opinions about our school and how we can change it for the better have been appreciated.   As students you have experienced lots of change at Bloom and your ability to learn within this change is apparent.  Please remember that you don’t have to be in school to learn and gain knowledge – seek out places and opportunities for you to learn and grow.

One of my favourite things to do each day is have dinner with my family – we sit, eat and chat about each other’s day, what we learned, my wife and I chat about our work day, Maya and Emmett tell us about their playtime with friends and sometimes they ask “how many kids got into trouble at Charles Bloom today dad?”  What I love about this time is that is our chance to tell our own story.  Grads, I want you to think about writing, and telling, your own story – and yes, you do have the power to write your own story – about your life and your career.  You have had wonderful teachers and supports thus far, hopefully you have found some inspiration during these opening chapters in your story – remember, it is your story and you control the plot.

When you tell story I also want you try and answer this question “what is my gift?”  This isn’t a gift in a material sense, because you have graduated or it is your birthday, but your gift is your special talent or ability that you possess.  Your gift doesn’t have to be earth shattering or grand, it is the one thing that each of you is good at.  And believe me when I say, each of you has a gift – some of you know what it is, some of you don’t – that is okay.  When you do find out what your gift is, the more important question then becomes how will you use it?  Will you have the courage to try? To use your gift and follow your passion, I sure hope so.  For me, if you don’t try, if you don’t take that leap of faith and use your gift – you are existing in life and not living your life.

Before wrapping up, I wanted to share a couple of quotes for you to think about.

The first quote is from Drake, who says: “Pain makes you stronger. Fear makes braver. Heartbreak makes you wiser.” (end quote) You will experience these emotions in your future, if you haven’t already, and the true sign of your character is how you respond, persevere and grow through your difficulties.

The second quote is from Lupita Nyong’o who said “No matter where you are from, your dreams are valid”. (end quote) Rural community or city, school of 340 or school of 1000 – dreams don’t know the difference – pursue yours with vigour.

Grads, as you leave our Bloom nest and move onto writing your next section of your story – be proud of where you are from – it makes you unique.  Have the courage to use your gift and live life, do not just exist.  And as you move through life and encounter successes and obstacles – be strong, brave and wise.

Congratulations to each of you and our Charles Bloom grad class of 2016, you make us all proud and I wish you every success in your future.

Thank you

What Are We Saying?

After reading, Meaningful Change Is On All of Us by George Couros I was interested in designing a learning activity to create a discussion for our staff.  The portion of the George’s post that I was most drawn to was the link to Your School’s UX.  What Is It? And Where Do We Start by @irasocol and this was my starting point.

While many of our staff discussions focus on what is best for kids, we rarely ask the question “what are the kids experiencing?”  We wanted to create an activity (based on @irasocol’s post) that would have our staff focus on the user experience of our kids.  At our department head meeting we had the staff do a Learning Walk and we created this notes sheet (What Are We Saying Learning Walk) along with some questions to consider.  We asked them to answer these questions and discuss what their experience from the viewpoint of a student at our school.  We gave them 20 minutes to walk and then we would meet back and discuss.

The staff discussion led us in many different directions but the feedback provided was interesting.  A few of the points that I will reflect on:

  • Staff discussed that they had to remind themselves that they are supposed to do the exercise from the viewpoint of a student.  I talked about this before the learning walk but I should have explained what I wanted to do in the discussion portion of the activity more clearly and this would have helped staff understand.
  • There was lots of focus on entry ways and hallways and not as much feedback about classrooms.  I was hoping that we could discuss what a classroom “says” as you sit in the classroom.  We did have one group provide some feedback in this area and it was a very rich comparison between how they felt in classrooms.  We were able to talk about welcomeness, warmth, visual stimulus/self-regulation and inclusiveness from these comments.  If I were to do this activity again I would provide their feedback as an example.
  • If people were to use Google maps to find our school based on the listed address they would arrive at a location that has no signs indicating the name of the school or welcoming them to the school.  What folks would consider the main entrance of our school is actually the “back” of the school based on street address.  We need to look at how we improve our street address “welcome”.
  • We did this activity after school when students had already left the building.  Would this activity been better if we did it during the school day?  How can we collect student feedback in a more meaningful way?

Viewing school from our students’ experience is a different viewpoint and one that we will continue to discuss on our staff.  This learning activity was okay for a first attempt and sparked some good discussion; however, we need to make a few adjustments before the next time we use this activity with staff.

Hacking Our Learning

One of the changes we have been trying to implement at our staff meetings and department head meetings is providing time for a learning activity.  This is a chance for us to learn and discuss a topic as a group.  In our last staff meeting we discussed a chapter from the Hack Learning Series.

We looked at “Hack 7: The In-Class Flip” from the Hack Education – 10 Quick Fixes for Every School book.  We used a jigsaw strategy to break up the sections of the chapter and then in groups of 3 staff discussed the hack.  We also created and provided a template for teachers to utilize if they wanted to plan an in-class flip.

The reading time was short (which was great for a staff meeting) and the discussion was great.  Some of the reasons why we wanted to introduce this hack and the discussion points/questions that came out the meeting are:

  • In our (small) school, we have combined (split) classes and we need to look at strategies that can allow teachers to deliver a concept idea in a combined class.
  • Flipped classrooms have been talked about as a strategy but in locations where there is a varied level of internet access for families, the in-class flip removes this barrier.
  • The “station model” is a good way to have students work through a variety of different tasks and provide the teacher opportunity to work with small groups of students.
  • Does the content delivery in the in-class flip doesn’t have to be done just with video?
  • Is there a way to utilize this strategy in a cross-curricular way?
  • What types of activities should I be using at the other stations?
  • If we only have one or two laptops in a classroom can this strategy still work?

The jigsaw structure and groups of 3 were done by drawing from a deck of cards – all diamonds read this section, all 4s (diamonds, clubs, hearts) jigsaw together the chapter – and it was great to see the discussion amongst our staff.

I like the Hack Education series as each hack (chapter) is a quick read and provides the following info (this list is taken right from the book):

  • the problem
  • the hack
  • what you can do tomorrow
  • blueprint for full implementation
  • overcoming pushback
  • the hack in action

How would you utilize the in-class flip?

If you had the opportunity…

to design a program in your school, how would you do it?  Where would you start?  What would you focus on?

This is our opportunity at Charles Bloom Secondary (@bloomsecondary) this year.  It is only November but were are in the midst of beginning our planning for our 2016-17 school year.  Our school is a grade 7 – 12 secondary school and our enrollment numbers are having us look at new design of our grade 7 and grade 8 programs.  Forced by numbers or learning opportunities for kids – I am sure the debate will be full of emotion as we progress thru the year.Our opportunity – develop a Junior Program (grade 7/8).  It will be a multi-grade program and with the new BC curriculum upon us – should we even be using the term multi-grade program. 

Our current position – meet as a team to set out our timeline and plan some visits to other places – get an idea of what other folks are doing and then create something that is unique to Bloom.  I have been asked a few times in the past few weeks – what is the going to look like?  My answer – “I don’t know” but I am looking forward to finding out what it will be.

Here we go . . .