My Learning ‘Needs’ for September

For the past two years, I’ve been working as a lead principal in a system role. Although the role fulfilled my need for new learning and anew experience, very little of our work has been directly linked to a specific school or to student learning. In September, I’m heading back into the role of JK-8 principal. My excitement grows each day. Continue reading “My Learning ‘Needs’ for September”

It takes a village…

Helping handsMy wife and I live about 15,000 kilometres from my in-laws. We have great ways to stay connected. We phone, we Skype (note, this is now a verb), we follow each other on Instagram and Facebook. But my sister-in-law also uses Tinybeans, a closed sharing network designed primarily for parents to share moments in a child’s life with family and friends who can’t be along for the ride at every moment.  It is also marketed as a means of capturing the story of your child’s ‘growing up’.

‘Canadian’ Uncle Peter and Auntie think it’s wonderful!   While I was catching up on previous posts early this morning, there was a video ‘starring’ my 2 1/2 year old nephew.  Here he is, as is pretty typical for a toddler, playing with buckets of water.  He’s filling them; he’s dumping them.  Sometimes, he’s watering the plants with them.  He’s asking questions. He’s wondering things out loud.  And, this morning, HE’S COUNTING THEM. OUT LOUD. AND WONDERING IF THERE ARE ANY MORE. Although this activity isn’t prompted, it’s immediately supported by his Mum.

I capitalized this interaction because it is a terrific example of the perfect blend of play and learning. It’s self-directed but supported. It’s interactive and social. Mother and child are talking about water and buckets. But it could be anything. When my son was my nephew’s age, it was hubcaps.

My brother-in-law and sister-in-law, along with their friends and family – both near and far 🙂 are a wonderful, knowledgeable support network. They will foster learning in this child (as well as his younger sibling and soon-to-arrive cousin) because they all recognize the importance of social interaction as part of learning.

But not all children have this network. Not all children are surrounded by an accessible, knowledgeable and supportive adult group.  And not all parents or caregivers have this knowledge base nor have the opportunity to spend this kind of quality time with their child(ren).

This raised some questions in my mind. Questions to which I wish I had answers.

So I leave it to you… Please comment, question, ponder or even answer some of these in the comments section.

  • If the above-mentioned kind of ‘pre-school’ learning is important, what role can public education play to support a child’s early learning?
  • How can educators get out into communities to work with new parents?
  • How can education or early learning systems get to where they are most needed?
  • Will a fostering of life-long learning in schools impact the next generation of children as these ‘life-long learners’ become parents and/or caregivers?
  • When I go back into a school as a principal, is there something I/we can do to support the early learners in our community before they get to school?

Or add your own.

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.”