Guest post – “Learning? Thinking? Or thinking to learn?

Cheryl Van Ooteghem, the Principal of Program, wrote a piece in late August 2014 about the important role that we play as parents to model how we ‘make our thinking visible’. I asked her permission if I could include it here. She said ‘Yes’. 🙂

“Learning? Thinking? Or Learning to Think?

Everyone sends their child to school to learn. Or do we? Do we send our children to school to become programmed robots who simply regurgitate facts and formulas, or do we send them to school to learn to think?

Learning is not about committing ideas to memory. Learning is about exploring ideas and building on our understanding of the world. Remember your two year old child who never stopped asking “why”? They were learning to make sense of the world around them. Learning is about problem solving, generating ideas, analyzing facts, critically evaluating decisions and asking questions to make sense of things. David Perkins in Smart Schools (1992) says that “learning is a consequence of thinking”. Scores on a test (depending on the test) are not evidence of learning.

I know as a parent, I often said to my children; “think about it”, “think for yourself, or “what do you think?” For those of you with pre-teens and teens, I’m sure, like me, there were plenty of times you wished you knew what they were thinking (well, maybe not all the time)!

As parents we need to model thinking and learning for our children. Instead of saying “I don’t know” or “because I said so”, we need to share our perspectives, insights, ideas and misunderstandings with our children. We need to share how we plan, organize, make a decision and seek clarity at home or at work. We need to share our thinking with our children so they can develop their own ideas and learn how to think.

When our children offer a differing opinion, we need to value what they have to say, instead of allowing it to become a “because I said so” power struggle. We need to ask our children this simple question; “what makes you say that?”, and listen – really listen. We need to have them explain and share their thinking with us. Even when their ideas are very different from ours, we need to give them their voice, and then offer ours with an explanation as to why we think that way.

Tonight when your children come home from school don’t ask them what they learned today or what they did. Instead, ask them what made them think today. When they look at you as if you have two heads and have completely lost it, ask them more questions. Push them to think. Together, we need to encourage them to question what they see and read on the internet, we need to model for them how to make informed decisions, and we need to prepare them for jobs not yet created.

Excited, interested energy is learning, because that’s when thinking occurs; that’s when children own their learning, and that’s what going to school is all about.”

Getting ready for ‘Friday’ afternoon

A principal colleague of mine shared an analogy for describing the passage of time in a school year. A former principal had passed it on to her. She treats each school year like a week and assigns each month a ½ day. September is the equivalent of Monday morning, October is Monday afternoon; November equals Tuesday morning, etc…
We have arrived at Friday. As a matter of fact, Friday afternoon is right around the corner.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, here are a few reminders to help get through ‘Friday’ before the weekend is upon us.

1. Be at your best. Joe Atherton, a mentor of mine, once told me that I needed my best teaching in May and June. Students need engaging, relevant activities all year long. But this is crucial now. Cross-curricular, challenging, engaging and interesting should be your buzz words.
2. Keep yourself at your best. We have difficult jobs. We have high expectations of ourselves as individuals and as a profession. We move at a quick pace. To maintain that, we need rest, exercise and healthy choices. Know when to work hard but know when to stop.
3. Be diligent and vigilant. Many students struggle with the pending end of the school year. They are going to miss friends, miss structure, and miss routine and, yes, some of them will even miss us. They show that struggle in many different ways. A common one is to push behaviour boundaries. Be diligent in your commitment to remain fair and consistent in your expectations. Be vigilant when supervising students in your classroom, the hallways, the yard and other common areas. Take advantage of the relationships you have built up all year with our students. They know you; you know them. That’s important to remember.
4. Be OK with the idea that you probably didn’t complete all the things you set out to complete. The wonderful thing about our curricula in Ontario is that it is built on ‘Big Ideas’. If you fret over the small menu items, you’ll go mad. Let it go. Focus on doing less, but doing it better.
5. Be prepared and plan for the minutia. Remember that there are responsibilities at year-end (report cards, OSRs, packing/preparing for cleaning, etc…) Don’t let them creep up. Plan to tackle some of these tasks ahead of time. Set a schedule for each small task.
6. ‘Friday’ tends to be a busy day. Keep everyone informed of what’s going on. This helps everyone (students, parents, staff, community) manage ‘Friday’ a little better and manage it together.
7. Have fun. Learning new things as well as reflecting on past learning should be a celebration.

This is by no means a ‘Words to live by’ or ‘Seven critical things every educator must know’, but just the ramblings of a teacher who has been through ‘Friday afternoon’ from the classroom and the office almost a dozen times each. I hope, if you got this far, you found it helpful.

Transparency with Staffing – part 1

The purpose of this series of posts is to provide you with more detail about the staffing process for the upcoming 2014-15 school year at Erin Public School.

Over the next few weeks, I will attempt a more detailed explanation of our school staffing process. This is the process used to create a school’s classroom organization, to staff teaching positions, to allocate numbers of students into classrooms and then to review and re-organize this organization if necessary. Please note that any errors in explanation are totally my own and will be clarified upon discovery.

The school-level staffing process for the 2014-15 school year began in mid-February, when projected numbers for September 2014’s enrolment were submitted to the Board. After discussion with the District Staffing Committee and the E.P.S. Staffing Committee, the tentative enrolment numbers lead to a tentative organization for September. In other words, these February enrolment numbers provide the basis used to staff schools and determine both the Grade organisation and the number of teachers in a school in September. These enrolment numbers comprise our school’s current enrolment, the enrolment coming from our feeder schools (Ross R. McKay & Brisbane), our early JK registration and historical data on enrolment trends.

School organization is then reviewed again on the 2nd day of school in September. Changes in classroom distribution are common since enrolment projections and actual enrolment don’t generally match. School Boards are also bound by restrictions such as the cap on primary class sizes and the Board-wide requirements for class size averages.

Our total teaching staff allocation for 2014-15 is 20.8; 15.0 classroom teaching positions structured as follows: JK/SK; Grade 1; Grade 2: Grade 3: Grade 4: Grade 5/6; Grade 6; Grade 7 (x3); Grade 7 French Immersion; Grade 7/8: Grade 8 (x2); Grade 8 French Immersion.   We have two 0.5 teacher allocations for a junior-level (Grade 4-6) specialized classroom for students with a learning disability. We also have an additional allocation of 4.8 teachers in various support and specialized roles such as Special Education & Resource, Library, Planning Time and Core French. When compared to our current school year, this is a total reduction of 0.6 teaching position. This is because of our projected decline in enrolment.

In addition, our principal allocation for 2014-15 is 1.0; our vice-principal allocation is 0.3 and our Designated Early Childhood Educator allocation is 1.0.

Confused about the decimals? Each full-time position is represented by a 1.0 allocation. Therefore, a 15.0 classroom teacher allocation means we have the equivalent of 15 full-time positions allocated to classrooms. If you count our classrooms, you’ll notice there are fifteen; one for each classroom teacher position. In Special Education & Resource, we have been allocated 1.4 teachers, which means we have the equivalent of one full-time teacher and another who would be allocated this responsibility for 0.4 of a full-time teacher’s position.

Please note that no specific staff member has been permanently allocated to these positions. The tentative places allocated to staff at this time can and likely will change several times over this lengthy process.

Hopefully, this helps clarify where we are in this lengthy process. Our next step in the is the teacher surplus, vacancy and transfer process. This will be the subject of my posting during the week of May 12th.

Do you have questions? Email me at the email address linked to this blog – principallearning@gmail.com and I will answer you directly or may post the answer on a future blog post.

FFTF enters the blogsphere

For several years now, I’ve been forwarding an item on a weekly basis to school and Board colleagues entitled the ‘Food For Thought Friday’ (known from here on in as the FFTF). This artefact is often an article, a video or a blog that is intended to cause the reader to think about their own educational practice or to start a conversation.

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of blogging and, in my ‘other life’, have managed a non-educational blog for years. Yet, the idea of putting myself ‘out there’ in education has always been intimidating to me. What finally pushed me over the edge was a subtle word of ‘encouragement’ from a senior administrator with my own school board in a very brief F2F conversation last week about Canadian administrators one should follow on Twitter. I also look at some of the classes in my own school with students blogging about their learning and feel a little embarrassed that the students are fine to put their learning ‘out there’ but that the principal has cold feet. That doesn’t wrk any longer.

The FFTF will now be part of a weekly blog post. If that’s all I do for the time being, so be it. If all it means is starting a larger conversation for a few people, I’m happy with that. If, at a future point, the blog becomes a place for added transparency in my practice, that’ll work too.

This also opens the weekly FFTF up to ‘the world’. Feel free to comment and discuss at your leisure.

Peter

December 6th, 2013 FFTF: I was discussing the uses of Twitter as a tool to learn and connect professionally. This is part of the same conversation referred to above that finally pushed me to get the FFTF onto a blog (almost one full year after my initial commitment to do so). The Superintendent and I agreed that one of the first things needed for a successful venture into the Twitterverse was to have appropriate people along for the journey. I was funny how as a school and a system leader, we both had George Couros at the top of our list of people to follow. George’s post entitled “Our Thinking has to Change” challenges some outdated perspectives on our role as teachers, particularly as it applies to current and emerging technologies that we use with our students. It also highlights the importance of our relationships with students and how that must adapt to encompass the tools of our ever-changing world.

http://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/4278

Happy FFTF, everybody.

My Etmooc Journey

I’m 2 weeks late on my commitment to have a blog up and running before the end of 2012. It took registration in my first Mooc to push me towards publication. This is the #etmooc page of my blog. It’s purpose is to post, reflect on, disseminate and question my learning throughout this journey.

I am a K-8 school principal in Ontario, Canada. I love my job. I just thought I’d put that out there. More than a few people are surprised when I tell them what I do for a living and even more shocked when I describe how much enjoyment I get out of it. I’ve been working in schools since 1990 and have been an ‘official’ teacher since 1993. I’ve dabbled in Core French, taught Extended French for 5 years, Grade 7 & 8 for another five, a taste of a classroom for students who struggle adapting to a regular class environment and another brief taste of Grade 5. My ‘recipe’ for educational work includes equal parts Catholic (1st 10 years) and Public (most recent 10). I consider myself to be proficient with technology and have pretty strong opinions about where technology should be in our schools.

Out of Etmooc? Easy… I’m looking to connect. I’m looking to learn. I’m looking to share. I’m looking to challenge my own assumptions. I’m looking to respectful challenge others as well. Mostly, I’m looking to extend the love I have for the work I do into new spaces and places. And I’m glad I’m not looking alone.

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The first post

I’m 2 weeks late on my commitment to have a blog up and running before the end of 2012. It took registration in my first Mooc to push me towards publication. The #etmooc page is where I’ll post for the duration of thhis online experience. Then, my Principal Learning journey will continue in this section of my blog.