Reflections of a ‘second language’ learner

IMG_0184Almost a cliché, I’m sitting, coffee by my side, writing in a Paris apartment. I’m waiting while my wife sleeps off her third night of bread eating despite her gluten intolerance. 🙂

In my new role as F.S.L. Lead, I’ve read a lot in the first month about the acquisition of a second language. But while here in Paris, I have been reflecting on how I live with my first language and the implications that reflection has on how we learn, maintain and deepen language learning.

I was born 50 years ago to parents who had recently moved from the Acadian Coast to Mimico for work. As my parents interacted with me, I imagine my early thought processes, my early problem solving, my formative synaptic connections happened in French. With French as their first and only language, they would have spoken to me, comforted me and scolded me ‘en français, s’il-vous-plaît’. My English came from the neighbourhood and the T.V. I am part of the original ‘Sesame Street’ generation. I don’t ever remember not being able to speak or understand both languages, but I certainly imagine that my languages developed somewhat simultaneously.

Fast-forward four-plus decades. I have lived exclusively in English-speaking environments. My first few days in Paris highlight the non-linguistic elements of language. I can understand written and spoken French with near-native fluency. I can speak it without initially letting on that it isn’t my native tongue. But, after using a few sentences, I find myself frequently tongue-tied. I lack the cultural context. And I find myself pondering questions such as:

How should I order my coffee? What does that mean on the menu? What is the correct way to ask that question? What is the difference between café, cave à vin, brasserie, pub and restaurant? Is there a particular daily paper I should get if I want to read my news from a particular point of view? …and numerous others.

I have lived 50 years going through life as an English-using, white, Canadian male with a significant knowledge of French. My schooling, from the 2nd grade until the end of high school, took place in a newly emerging Ontario French school system. Yet I feel my anxiety level rise as I contemplate how to manage simple daily tasks in a language that is, in reality, my first.

It causes me to reflect on what we ask our students to do in French classes every day. We want to provide authentic experiences. We approach language acquisition from an experiential as opposed to a technical starting point. That brings a practical purpose to learning. I think that’s a good thing. But are we recognizing that the cultural context, the non-French ‘vécu’ our students bring with them into our classrooms and schools might be as much a challenge to second language acquisition as the lack of vocabulary, syntax and grammar? We are trying to bring them with us on a learning journey. Are we recognizing that their starting point is going to influence how successful they are?

The ‘return’ of Food For Thought Friday

IMG_1493Those who know me well enough know that my Saturday mornings (or Sunday mornings when hockey is not in session) are often spent as ‘learning’ mornings, perusing the newspaper, websites, Twitter feeds, Pinterest pins, RSS feeds and Facebook posts for thought-provoking ‘gems’. In the past, as part of this learning process, I have shared one article, blog post, video clip, etc… that caused me to stop and think. I typically shared this with my staff internally, with brief comments, and called them FFTF or ‘Food For Thought Friday’. On rare occasion, I have also posted them publicly.

Moving forward, once per week, I am committing myself to a blog post. I will at times repost someone else’s idea with some of my own “Food for Thought” added in. At times, I will share tidbits from my own practice or ask questions about what I see or perhaps even challenge the status quo.

I often talk about the importance of visibility in learning. I actively work at this and post information to my own school’s website and Twitter feed in the hopes of sharing that learning. I need to be much better at sharing my own. I spend so much time admiring and reading the work of online mentors such as George Couros, Donna Miller Fry and Brian Harrison that I forget I can be adding to the conversation.

Here it goes…

In his recent blog post, Richard Wells (@Eduwells on Twitter – click here for the post) challenges the status quo of schools, implying that the constructs of school (schedules, routines, assessment, learning activities, professional development, etc…) are not created for student learning, but for teacher facility and convenience.  He embraces instead his definition of student-centred learning and highlights five actions schools could and should take to foster it.

A couple of questions come immediately to mind.  What would such a time(table) look like in an Ontario K-8 school?  Do we have any that have successfully played with this type of flexibility? If 20th century schooling is to blame for a fixed mindset where conformity & control in school are the norm, that’s pretty deeply-entrenched. How do we change that?

If it’s going to be ‘Food for Thought Friday’ then it needs to makes us think. If this doesn’t provide you with some food for thought… 🙂

Cheers.  Peter

Questions to ask PQP pt 1&2

Later on today, I will be speaking with candidates from OPC’s Principal Qualifications Program Parts 1 & 2 about my journey as a connected school leader. I always find it funny when I get asked because I don’t see the ‘connected’ part as a separate part of my role. I see it as integral to what I do.

The School Level Leadership pillars of the Ontario Leadership Framework talks about the importance of building relationship and of nurturing a collaborative culture. I find it critical to reach out to the education world beyond your building. If you don’t, think of the expertise your missing.

To the candidates, I’m sure you’ll have some questions for me. And I’ll be happy to answer them.  But I also have a series of questions for you as you think about school leadership as a possible next step in your teaching career. There is really no order of importance or perceived insight to these questions. This is the result of a 30-minute ‘brain dump’. Others may choose to add questions in the comments. You may choose to reflect on them publicly there as well. I look forward to meeting with you today.


Food for thought

What will the critical skills be in the world for which we are preparing our students?

Whose world are we preparing students for?

What technology do you think people are using?

Are you technically proficient?

Are you prepared to be an agent of change?

Can technology have a positive impact on student learning? If so, how?

Can technology have a positive impact on your work? If so, how?

If you’re looking to be a lead learner, are you connecting yourself to a world of learners?

What about the Ontario Leadership Framework? What pillar(s) might connecting be able to enhance?

What tools would you expect staff to be able to use?

What tools would expect students to be able to use? What tools do they use?

What’s different about the world in which we live now in comparison to the world in which you lived when you where in school? What’s different about your classroom, both physically and pedagogically, and the one you were in as a student?

My Learning this morning – April 24th

In early January, our school was part of a District Support Visit.  After this visit, we were provided with a series of questions to focus on to further our journey of learning as it relates to our School Improvement Plan for Student Achievement. Staff were given an opportunity, during an activity called a ‘dot-mocracy’, to give input on where our school-wide learning focus should be. The activity revealed that staff would like to increase the amount of learning they do from each other.  Today’s PA Day was structured to allow staff to ‘share their expertise’.

The structure of the day is included here.

As my ‘reflection’ piece, I’ve chosen to narrate about where I went, what I saw and how I structured my morning.

I visited every room. And I went sequentially, starting in our tech room and ending in our Junior French classroom. There was only geography and methodology behind my thinking, walking from one classroom to another.  I’ll post a sample from all rooms on another page and include the link but, for now, and although I learned something in every room, I’ll provide some highlights.

I Wonder

I noticed that a blog post had already been started in Kindergarten. I noticed, and was quite inspired by, Kalin’s desire to not only post about his successes but also what he perceived as a lesson that didn’t go so well. The explanation of the start of the inquiry process gave me great initial insight into the Kindergarten learning environment. I also noticed the links to my own practice teaching Grade 7 & 8 history this year.  I have tried my hand at ‘Je vois, je pense, je songe’.

Student voiceI saw what I perceived to be some ‘messy’ learning. It highlighted for me that student learning can indeed get messy. I’m also guessing that is the best kind of learning for some of our students.  The highlight of student voice and student product here highlighted that for me. Student learning seemed evident right along side teacher guidance. I could imagine myself being successful in an environment that allowed my voice some visibility.

I also appreciated process. Going through this classrooms was easy.  The process of guided instruction in both Math and Language was laid out for me as if I was a student in the classroom. As a student, I was provided with tasks that helped me practice important skills independently. The purpose of each task was explained clearly.  As the teacher, I knew what I would be doing at the guided reading table and what direct instruction for the small group of students would look like.


I could (and will) further share my learning. My intent of this blog was to provide staff with an example of what a blog post can look like. It’s purpose here is to act as both a model (to comment on freely, please), an archive of some of my learning this morning and an opportunity to share some of the expertise people can find in this building. And of course, the blog post made it a working lunch for me.  🙂

My first day – #OutstandingPrincipals Learning

I’ll start off by saying I’m humbled and a little shell-shocked to be where I am right now. I’m in a room with 39 other Canadian principals as lucky as I am. We’re in a room that, over the next 5 days, will be filled with some of the top business and education leaders in the country. They’ll be my teachers at Rotman’s School of Management for The Learning Partnership‘s “Canada’s Outstanding PrincipalsTM” 5-day executive program. Because of a successful nomination submitted by staff member Cathy Dykstra and supported by parents, students, community members and supervisors, I get to hang out here and learn. To quote Adam Sandler, “Not too shabby.” Continue reading “My first day – #OutstandingPrincipals Learning”

The start of my Masters journey – “I wonder…”

I have just completed the second week of my first course in my Masters in Educational Technology degree program via UBC. The course is on the Methodology of Educational Research. The textbook I’m (kind of) reading defines ‘educational research’ as the application of the scientific method in an educational setting.

I remember the scientific method. It was taught to me in school. I taught it to my students when I taught, likely quite poorly, Grade 7 & 8 Science. I watch it take its place inside the classrooms I visit as a principal. Except my professor stated something which I’ll paraphrase here:

She said something like, “To help frame your research question, start exploring your own practice and ask yourself questions that begin in ‘I wonder’. “

‘I wonder’ statements. In a Masters’ degree course. As a starting point for educational research. Hmmm… Not ‘Form a clearly stated purpose or question’. Not ‘Predict the outcome and form your hypothesis’. Not ‘Explore current research to help frame your question’. I was simply asked to start looking at my practice with “I wonder” statements in mind. In the same way we ask our students to look at their world with ‘I wonder’ statements in mind.

Another example of All I really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. 🙂  I think I’m really going to like this Masters’ thing. 🙂

I Wonder

FFTF – A YRDSB principal’s school journey in Math

I haven’t been nearly as prolific in my Food For Thought Friday postings or my blog postings as I should be. This is one of my goals for the new year. Part of my role as principal is to bring you some learnin’. Part of our responsibility as learners is to make our thinking visible and our learning transparent. I’m in week 2 of my Masters’ of Educational Technology studies via the University of British Columbia and exploring my own learning in other areas. This will include a commitment to more open learning from me.

I’m going to bring back the weekly post. I’m also going to continue calling it the FFTF (Food For Thought Friday) but likely ignore the date on the calendar. Sometimes it will be my own thoughts, at other times it will include the thoughts of others but it will always involve something that caused me to think about my own practice and the learning of the students and staff cI work with daily.

I came across a web site discussion on OSSEMOOC (Ontario School and System leaders Edtech Massive Open Online Course) that included excerpts from a Nov 2014 blog post from Brian Harrison, an Ontario principal colleague, who blogged a few months ago about his school’s journey in improving student achievement in math. His discussion includes some intersst ideas about ‘back to basics’ math and ‘new math’.  Interesting read and video attachment.  Totally FYI.  And I know; it’s not Friday. 🙂



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 – and I will answer you directly or may post the answer on a future blog post.