Recent Reads

Winter break always provides some extra time for reading and so far I have finished two books.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline was a book that AJ Juliani  mentioned in his blog post The Best Books of 2016 for Teachers (And Learners).  Always interested in reading a fiction book over the break I looked to see if this was available at our local library, it was and I grabbed it.  Once I started it was hard to put down and I finished it in few days.  Set in 2045 and has lots of 80s references – Atari 2600, TRS-80 and tons of songs and movies – the story is a good one!

I have recently started listening to the The Tim Ferris Show Podcast and on one podcast with Peter Diamandis  he talked about his book Bold and what he had written about.  Although the book was more business focused and entrepreneurship I was intrigued.  I checked the book out of the library and it was another one I couldn’t put down.  Some of the take aways from the book:

  • Exponential technology and the five that are going to change the world
  • the secrets of skunk and how this could relate to education – is this a “design” process that could be used to help us in what schools could like?  Is this even doable in a school or district?
  • the 10x strategy – if you are going to change go for 10x better not 10% better than the status quo.  Again, how would this relate to education and how we look at solving our issues?
  • Google’s 8 Innovation principles – some great principles here and again leaves me to think how would these principles be applied to education?
  •  The billionaire wisdom chapter that gave me a glimpse into Elon Musk (Tesla), Richard Branson (Virgin), Larry Page (Google) and Jeff Bezos (Amazon) – all names I have heard of but didn’t know much about other than the companies they are most connected with.
  • Crowd sourcing, crowd funding, building community – some great info and step by step stuff

I can’t help but think – how could some of these principles and ideas be used in education?  Some of the mindsets on change and disruption are intriguing to me and I wonder how this might transfer to our problem solving that we need to do in education.  If you get a chance to read the book – I encourage you do that – I would love to hear your thoughts on what you learned!


From Out There Somewhere – 16.12.2016

Here are some things that I have been reading and/or watching lately.

10 Ideas for Google’s 2016 Education on Air Conference

How will I use these next semester in my math class?

6 Videos to Spark Creative Thinking

some ideas for design thinking projects

8 “rules of the road” for better mental health

a good analogy to share with staff, students and others

5 Simple Ways to Give Students Feedback During During Project Based Learning #HackPBL

use of conferencing, written feedback and mini-lessons

How To Manage Obstacles That Keep You From Achieving Your Personal Goals

10 Things to think about and a “try this” for each one

Use Winter Break to Renew Your Spirits and Sense of Purpose

Some techniques to ease stress and recharge

10 Learnings From 10 Years of Brain Pickings (animated)

Read and liked the original post but enjoyed the animated version – worth the 7 minutes


Conversation Pieces

Over the past few days it has been great to stumble into a variety of exciting conversations at Bloom.  A quick snapshot of the conversations:

#1 – two teachers discussing a 6 point rubric versus the 100 point scale.  The discussion about how to use the 6 point rubric and the impact on kids was great.  Even better, it was teachers from different curricular areas discussing how to use it in their classrooms

#2 – what is a student data notebook and my discussion of what this was and could look like in an English class or in a math class

#3 – two science teachers collaborating about exciting (usually meaning fire or loud noises) demonstrations and linking it to their course.  Even better, the teachers’ willingness to go into each other’s classrooms to demonstrate

#4 – how do we build reading interventions for our middle years students AND what data are we using to help us guide this decision.  Further, how do we build this into our weekly schedule

#5 – a teacher finishing Myron Dueck’s Grading Smarter, Not Harder book and discussing strategies

Great conversations for sure.  How do we amplify this to all staff?  Looking forward to what I stumble into next week . . .

Day 3 of @SolutionTree #atplc Institute

The final day of institute had us do one breakout session followed by a closing keynote address.  I was intrigued by both of the sessions because of their titles but also because of who was speaking.

Today’s first session  with Tim Brown (@ctimbrown) was entitled Student Data Notebooks: Developing Ownership, Motivation and a Growth Mindset.  Lots about this title had me intrigued and Tim is a very engaging speaker so I was looking forward to this one.  Here are my learning and/or takeways from the session:

  • Students’ self-efficacy has a 1.44 score for Hattie’s Visible Learning (2009) – this equates to over 2 to 3 years of growth – we need to look at this
  • To improve student self-efficacy and help develop a growth mindset students should be tracking and studying their performance (analyzing their personal data) and receiving more verbal feedback
  • We need to normalize and determine the cycle (ie every 2 weeks; 6 weeks, …) of students analyzing their personal assessment data
  • Give students the essential outcomes for the unit at the beginning of the unit
  • Can we create classroom data walls (with no student names) to show how we are doing as a class
  • Many examples of student data gradebooks were shared.  Everything from reflection on term progress sheets, to chemistry unit essential outcome tracking sheets.  The idea of student data tracking was also presented by Myron Dueck (@myrondueck) at our district day at Fulton a few weeks ago.  While Myron called it something different the setup of unit overview sheets with student friendly outcome on it for kids to self-report on was very similar.
  • While it is good to have students create these data notebooks – the key is to then revisit the sheets and check on the progress of the goal they set.  Teachers need to build into their lesson/unit planning a couple of minutes per kid to have these conversations.

This workshop was a great follow-up to the common assessment workshop I did yesterday.

Luis Cruz (@lcruzconsulting) did the closing keynote entitled Because All Means All! Embracing Change as a Means to Ensure Learning for All Students.  I really enjoyed the break out session led by Luis that I attended so I was looking forward to the closing keynote.  Luis did a great job of story telling and really hooking folks in with his “3rd base kids” analogy.  My learning and takeaways from this session:

  • Ending the cycle of poverty for kids is the “why” behind our work.  Follow this up with: we are in the business of saving lives of every kid that walks in the building.  A powerful statement to help frame where he was going to take us in his talk.
  • Choose a “healthy” culture over a “smart” culture.  The work is harder if you do this but absolutely necessary.
  • When you are a healthy culture you’re not looking out the window for solutions, you’re looking in the mirror for solutions.
  • Leadership is influence to increase learning for our school and he describes leadership (from Marzano’s work) is most effective when carried out by a small team of educators with the principal functions as a strong cohesive force.  This leadership team should also develop a purpose that is focused on student learning.
  • To understand change people must understand the why, who and the how of the change.
  • We need to work to create encores.

Culture, change and leadership and what to do when you get back to your site were the themes for this one.  The presentation was motivational and emotional – and it must say something when the audience gives you standing ovation when you are done!

3 days of fantastic information and things to think to about.  If you get a chance to attend a PLC institute – go for it.

Day 2 of @SolutionTree #atplc Institute

My Day 2 of learning was enjoyable and I was able to select breakouts that each supported the keynote from the morning.  I enjoyed the linkage between the 3 sessions and even more, the sequencing just happened to work out nicely in terms of flow for my learning.

Today’s keynote entitled “When All Means All” by Mike Mattos (@MikeMattos65) was full of great content; however, what I enjoyed most about the presentation was the linking of the stories Mike told to help drive home the importance of the topic.  Throw in a some humour and a “restart” at the beginning and it made for a very engaging presentation. My learnings and thoughts from this presentation are:

  • 80% of jobs in Canada are thought leader jobs.
  • Tracks of learning below grade level is not an option.  If you teach a child all day, every day below grade level, why would you expect them to be at grade level or above at the end of the year.  Students need to have access to essential curriculum and an intervention plan must be setup for areas of “not there yet”.
  • Groups coordinate, teams collaborate.  (this tied nicely to my first breakout session)
  • Creating a guaranteed, viable curriculum is number-one factor for increased levels of learning. (Marzano, What Works in Schools: Translating Research Into Action, 2003)
  • The essentials standards chart and the conversations to be had when used by groups who collaborate.  A big thanks on sharing this document!
  • For skill interventions, we must get down to: by student, by standard.  How can our interventions be planned and effective if we don’t know this?
  • The importance of common assessments (this idea linked nicely with my second breakout)
  • Do you absolute clarity of what kids need and will you do everything you can to get them there.  The story of Mike’s grade 5 teacher was very moving.
  • Be Bold!

The keynote for the morning really set the stage for the day.

My first breakout session was facilitated by Luis Cruz (@lcruzconsulting) was titled Collectively Responding When High School Students Do Not Learn.  At the panel discussion yesterday, I was very impressed with Luis’ responses to the questions and I changed my plan of breakouts to attend his session as I wanted to learn more from him – was I glad I went!  I really enjoyed Luis’ information and explanation of collaboration and some of the things we need to consider.  Luis also provided/directed us to some important pages in our Learning By Doing book that we can use to help support the best practices related to PLCs.  My specific takeaways from this session are:

  • Doing PLC vs becoming a PLC
  • Collaboration is the linchpin to everything else and our need to be clear on what we need to be doing during collaboration time.
  • Understanding that group norms can be different but go much further than professional courtesies.
  • The flow chart and agenda planning for collaboration time – strategies he shared and the 4 roles to be filled during collaboration time really helped me frame what it should look like.
  • The Stages of Collaboration as another way to explain it.
  • Be prepared for resistance in your journey.  If there is no resistance maybe we are not being bold enough.
  • A quote from sign at a Stage 7 Team: “Are the decisions we are making right here, right now, what is best for our students or more convenient for us?”  Wow, this one hits you in the nose and makes you think.
  • The common assessment analysis protocol and how to use it to help analyse assessment data.

This session I really enjoyed – the content/theory combined with a bit more of a what it could look like framework really helped me out.

Creating Useful Common Assessments by Sarah Schuhl (@SSchuhl) was my final breakout of the day.  Each of the keynotes and breakouts I have attended so far each talked about common assessments as a vital key to PLCs.  I was glad I was able to attend this breakout where Sarah presented some theory and practical examples to help develop quality common assessments.  My learnings and takeaways from this breakout are:

  • What are the keys to a common assessment – a great list – same assessment, scored the same way, administered the same way, given the same day (if possible).
  • What is the purpose of assessment? (always a great conversation starter)  What does a balanced system of assessment look like.  Would you be surprised that it looks like a pyramid and the base layer is formative assessment done by the individual teacher.
  • The teacher assessment reflection tool – this may be a good place to start to talk assessments in a school – although some statements related directly to the PLCs, there are some good things for teachers to think about and reflect on.
  • The 5 keys to a quality assessment – clear purpose, clear targets, sound design, effective communication, student involvement (Stiggins, Arter, Chappuis, & Chappuis, Classroom Assessment for Student Learning, 2006)
  • An overview different assessment methods, the good and bads of each.
  • Webb’s Depth of Knowledge Levels and the 25% – 50% – 25% (DOK1, DOK2, DOK3) breakdown for unit assessments.
  • The variety of ways to incorporate student reflection of the data of their own assessments.
  • The varied of exemplars and reproducible tools used to help educators work through the process of developing common assessments.

I appreciated the breakout on one specific thing of PLCs, the common assessment, and how to develop common assessments that will be useful in assessing students on the known targets and providing relevant and meaningful data on whether or not students learned what they needed to learn.

A definite brain full of learning on day 2.

Day 1 of @SolutionTree #atplc Institute

I am 1 of approximately 650 people arriving from 7 different provinces and 1 state to attend Solution Tree’s PLC Institute in Edmonton.  Today was day 1 and after 1 keynote, 2 breakouts and a panel discussion I have lots to think about.

Tim Brown (@ctimbrown) opened the Institute with a keynote titled The Professional Learning Community Journey: Creating and Maintaining a Culture of High Expectations.  Some of the takeaway comments or points for me from this presentation were:

  • It’s not how long you have been teaching but if you have a growth mindset.
  • PLC isn’t another plate to add to your table – consider it your dishwasher.
  • Teaching practices do have a shelf life – and some of our practices need to be put up on the shelf and left there.
  • Three big ideas for PLCs:
    • Always focus on the learning
    • Work collaboratively on matters (only) related to learning for all
    • Team members hold themselves accountable to the results and look to continually improve
  • Essential, guaranteed, and viable curriculum needs to be determined and assessment link to these need to know ideas and concepts.
  • Four critical questions for PLC:
    • What do we want our students to learn?
    • How will we know they are learning it?
    • How will we respond when they don’t learn?
    • How will we respond when they already know it?
  • Assessment should give students a message of hope – that you aren’t there YET but how do we get you there (growth mindset!)

This opening session gave me lots to think about related to how we learn and grow as a staff with our students at Charles Bloom.

My first breakout session was facilitated by Francois Masse (@Fmasse001Mass) entitled Collaborative Common Assessments: Assess for Success.  In the keynote to start the day it was mentioned that common assessments was part of the PLC process and I thought this session would be a good place to gather some more knowledge.  The takeaways from this session for me were:

  • Asking the 5Ws about assessment and probably the most interesting discussion was around the Why Do We Assess Question
  • Determining the essential curriculum is needed before determining/creating common assessments (a common theme today)
  • Essential curriculum can be designed top down (highest grade to lowest grade) but delivered bottom up.
  • The 7 week cycle and checkups vs autopsy assessments of student learning
  • Celebrate the success during the cycle and checkups

The second breakout session was facilitated by Charlie Coleman (@Heart_Coleman) entitled Reading Intervention at the Middle School Level.  Part of the opening day keynote talked about interventions as part of the PLC process and I was intrigued by this session and how I could “borrow” ideas and strategies from Charlie for Charles Bloom.  The takeaways I had from this session:

  • If you talk about anything other than learning, collaboration or results you are not in PLC mode
  • Literacy across the curriculum and not just by the English or Language Art teachers
  • Move away from autopsy assessments to checkups (recurring theme today)
  • The need to determine the collective commitments as a group
  • Priority Learning Outcomes (essential curriculum) that leads to assessments of the essential to know ideas (recurring theme today)
  • The intervention pyramid and how do we all get better at our base of the pyramid interventions
  • We need to look at what already do and have?  Can we re-designate? What do we use? What do we need? Some questions we need to consider when moving ahead

The panel discussion at the end of the day re-emphasized some of the themes I heard emerging during the day.  However, one interesting discussion was the responses to functioning as a team and the difference between collegial and collaborative and how do have some of those difficult discussions on a team.  And I really liked this point, “the #1 pronoun is WE not I”.

I have heard of term PLC before and knew the potential of this type of process of staff learning; however, I didn’t fully understand the key components. While today showed me the guiding principles of PLCs and the common themes amongst all the sessions I attended were abundantly clear, I left thinking – where do we start?

Looking forward to Day 2 . . .


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?