Sunday, January 3, 2016

Today I lost a good  friend, and the world of education lost a leader, and a great innovator.

I had the honor and privilege to call Joe Bower my friend since our University days at RDC / U of A. We shared many laughs during these days, and through our years as teachers, and PD Chairs for our respective ATA Locals.   I can't tell you how much I learned about education, and about life from Joe.   I'm proud of the work our two ATA Locals (& CATCA) accomplished.  It was inspiring to work with this man, and I will always remember these great events fondly.

I always envisioned Joe doing great things in the future, and now that his journey has come to an end, I can see I was absolutely right.  Reflecting on Joe, and the impact he had on education in Alberta, and throughout the world one can see that this is no fluke.  Joe was ahead of his time, his thoughts and opinions once considered radical, and out of line are becoming common practice.  Joe was right about a lot of things, and its great to see improvements in our education system, and think he was a part of this.

As I scrolled through Twitter tonight, a social media platform Joe encouraged me to join for its ability to create more effective an reflective teachers, I was in awe at the impact Joe had.  Reading and seeing so many great educators sharing their feelings about Joe was a great way to celebrate this great man. Rest in Peace Joe, you were truly a great teacher!

Monday, April 27, 2015


How has technology helped with your personalized learning? This question was asked at a meeting I attended recently and it made me think a great deal about myself, my students and learning. In my own province, Alberta, the government has been moving forward with a huge shift in curriculum, called Curriculum Redesign. move forward with a Curriculum Redesign. The Ministerial Order states the following...

"...the fundamental goal of education in Alberta is to inspire all students to achieve success and fulfillment, and reach their full potential by developing the competencies of Engaged Thinkers and Ethical Citizens with an Entrepreneurial Spirit, who contribute to a strong and prosperous economy and society."

What is an Engaged Thinker?  Children are curious, but teachers and schools need to channel and nurture this curiousity as a guides.  I once read a book by Dr. Randy Pausch called the Last Lecture.  In this book, Dr. Pausch gave a recommendation to all teachers and educators to teach your students meta-cognition.  Meta-cognition is understanding oneself.  This means students need to be curious, and this is their responsibility.  Curriculum Re Design is an exciting opportunity, and we as teachers, parents, and students need to truly consider how we can embrace our students curiosity. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Neurodiversity - An Important Word for Teachers

I just finished Thomas Armstrong's book "Neurodiversity in the Classroom" and I have to say it is a must read for any educator.  This thoughtful book links common sense ideas and practices schools can easily implement in their buildings to better reach all students.  Simply reading the table of contents will provide an outline of what teachers and schools can easily do to improve their ability to reach and teach all students.

We as educators focus on deficits, and not strengths, and its no wonder we run into 'challenges' as we work with a great

Too many of our students think that school is a place where they have no strengths.  Why not create a classroom environment where students can use their strengths to demonstrate their learning?  I love Dr. Armstrongs term...POSITIVE NICHE CONSTRUCTION.  In the animal kingdom, organisms always build a niche where they can succeed, why don't we do this in schools too?  Fostering curiosity, success, and learning in students is a special skill, and Armstrong's book will give every educator great ideas on how to do this.

Our education system needs to do a better job of helping students understand their strengths, and in my mind, Armstrong's book will help all educators do just that...


Get the book here...

Follow Armstrong's blog here...

For those who would rather listen...check out this great Youtube of Dr. Armstrong here...

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

How to Teach a Love of Reading...

Teaching students the importance of Literacy is critically important to their future success.  That said, do we teach students to love reading?  Or, do we teach students to hate it?  These are important questions, but as a starting point for me, I would strongly encourage every teacher, administrator, EA, parent and student to read Kelly Gallagher's book...

Readicide:  How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It.  

(For teachers in Red Deer Catholic its worth noting that the Foreword is written by Dr. Richard Allington, who is coming to Red Deer in late August for our opening PD day.)

During the summer months, many people read because this is one time in the year they have time to do so.  If this is you, grab a copy of this book, and enjoy!  This book is truly a great read, and I know it will change how you look at how you teach reading in your classroom, no matter what your grade level.

You can follow Kelly Gallagher's blog here...

And on Twitter here...@KellyGToGo

Monday, January 7, 2013

What if your PD Looked Like This? What the heck is #redcamp

What if your PD looked like this? 

(click on the link;)

If you've watched the video, I hope you've come to understand a little bit about the power of intrinsic motivation and autonomy.  With regards to Teacher Professional Development, this seems to be a new concept.  Personally I believe many teachers in North America have forgotten how important it is to maintain the professionalism and art that is teaching. 

As teachers, we have to do more than handout worksheets, and get students to fill in the answers.  As an example, I recently had a conversation with a colleague who explained that a student of hers was complaining that her Social Studies school work was too hard.  "Couldn't we just complete worksheets, you know, the kind where the answers are in each chapter of the textbook?"  This is an interesting dilemma for a teacher; the idea that a student would complain that their assignments made them think, create, and problem solve.  As Professionals it is important that teaching is much broader than handing out questions.  Great teachers engage, discuss, and get their students thinking.  Teacher Professional Development should be like this too.  The #edcamp model is a great example of how this could work, and I truly hope that teachers throughout Central Alberta will give this kind of learning a try.  Teachers love to "talk shop" and this un-conference does just that!

In life, the answer isn't always at the back of the book, and I believe when it comes to teacher Professional Development this is true too.  As a profession, we can't be the students who are complaining that they have to think at school.  We have to embrace our learning needs, wants, and challenges.  We can't let people do this for us.  If we do, then we are just technicians, we are less than professionals.  Professionals always try to better themselves, so why not try #redcamp.  It's local, it's free, and it may just be the kind of Professional Development you're looking for.

For further information, check out this great TED talk by Kristen Swanson.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Summer Set Back?

Should we radically change the school calendar?  Recently I read an "article" about getting rid of summer vacation for kids.  Read Here  One of the arguments was that kids forget "stuff" over the summer break, and then teachers and schools waste all sorts of time trying to catch them back up again; it is assumed that this cycle continues throughout the students K-12 career.  To me, an ideal situation is one where kids use the summer break to learn and grow based on their own interests and passions.  How can schools embrace summer breaks as an opportunity for student growth and learning?   Does our society create a situation where the parent(s) are working, and the student gets to stay home all day and play video games or watch TV?   If parents are unable to enrich their childrens lives during the summer break, is it a schools job to "fix" this situation?

A recent article in the Globe & Mail on increased enrolment in Summer School shows that kids aren't taking Summer School because they're repeating courses they've failed.  Many are simply interested in "getting through" the factory we call school.  If this is true, it saddens me because our schools should be engaging and interesting places. The learning that goes on in schools should lead to a well rounded education, one that prepares students for a future where their opinion and involvement in society makes the world a better place.  Schools shouldn't be a place where the big reward at the end of it all is simply some grades and the chance to leave.  That said, it is interesting to me that it is succesful students themselves who are driving the increase in summer school enrolment.  It's as if students are interested in their futures..."let me get school out of the way so I can move ahead with my life!"  It is this form of personalizing their education that schools should be interested in embracing...the question is how.  One recent example of how was a week long camp I read about where students interested in law enforcement, receieved an up close and personal chance to see what that job is really like.  To me, this is an example of what summer learning should be like, quite the opposite from regular school.  The benefits go way beyond the classroom too, it was a very interesting piece of learning outside of school. 

As a summer work experience teacher, I am in touch with students and their employers constantly over the summer.  The teacher / student relationship has a very different feel to it over the sunny season because of the broader community relationship developed through work experience.  The above articles, and my personal experience made me think that schools may be better off moving away from the normal idea that all "learning" happens at school.  The important questions are, how can we effectively involve the home, the community, and businesses more in the broader education of our children?  When we rely on schools for education, we forget that education happens outside of school too!  Of course this begs the question, "What is school for?"  If that is a question you've been pondering then you simply must read Seth Godin's book "Stop Stealing Dreams."  This free E-Book is a must read for any teacher or education stakeholder.   

Student motivation to get through school should lead students to their preferred destination.  If you're thinking that schools should just deal with the societal demands of literacy and numeracy; preparing students for the workforce you would be wrong.  Education stakeholders seem to worry about the results of standardized tests more than anything.  Of course, these measures indicate certain skills in literacy and numeracy, I understand that, and its easy to argue that literacy and numeracy are critical to future success.  What these exams miss out on is something more important. 

Should our schools be offering more of what  Patrick Awuah is trying to offer in Africa?  Patrick Awuah is trying to improve life and an education system in Africa by teaching his countries children skills such as Leadership, Critical Thinking, and Problem Solving.  His questions,  around why Ghana produces so many corrupt and unethical leaders had me thinking about what our Education system values.  Awuah believes that Ghana's children needed a lot less emphasis on the rote memorization of facts, and the regurgitation of this information.  I believe this is what we need too.  It took an African TED Talk to help me realize how important it is to reform our education system for the betterment of our children. 

When all we are worried about is grades and marks, we seem to forget what school is for.  This clip from HBO's series (The Newsroom) highlights some of America's failures, and it has made me think a lot about what we need our schools of the future to do.  Our world needs leaders, and we currently prepare our young for the future by forcing them through a factory we call education.  Let me be clear, we have a great Education system in Alberta...we don't have this whole thing wrong, but we do need to look at improving it.  Our children need to know and understand what true Leadership is, What Critical Thinking is, and how to Solve Problems.  This is something schools can't do on their own, this kind of learning needs to be done in partnership, with parents, the community, business, and schools all involved. 

Summer school enrolments increasing may point to the fact that students are eager to get through and get started on their own personalized agenda.  This is what we want and need from our students.  As they emerge from high school, they need to be prepared to get out in the world, and follow their interests and passions.   They need to know how to read and write, and they need to know what real Leadership, Critical Thinking, and Problem Solving is.  In many ways we need to go back in time and foster the Pioneer spirit that helped settle Alberta.  Reading A Candle in the Grubbox by reminded me of what it really means to problem solve and persevere, it's a great read for all people interested in education.

Our system needs to ensure that students know more than easily forgetable, Trivial Pursuit kinds of questions.  Should we consider the calendar too?  Of course, but the question is how can we change our school calendar to be in constant support of students? 

All of this from a question about Summer School.


Monday, January 9, 2012

What if Teachers Were Paid Like Professional Athletes?

I had a few thoughts rolling around in my head over the holidays, and one had me thinking about the teaching profession, and how it pays its professionals. The question was, does our education system, with a basic structure of Superintendents, Administrators, and Teachers running the show, have things all wrong. In sum, we are basically operating under the assumption that Superintendents make the most money, Administrators make the next most money, and teachers make the least? This isn't a debate about paying teachers more, but I was comparing the pay grades of these positions in terms of real value?
In professional sports, the "best" athletes make the most money. These athletes earn a great living, but that said they work for owners, Team Presidents, and General Managers. Owners aside, I am assuming that Team Presidents and General Managers do not earn anywhere near what the highest paid athletes make. Why? Because the athlete, a person not in a official position of "power" within a team is the reason for success or failure. Compare this to teachers. Teachers are on the front lines of education; student motivation, happiness, wellness, and success depends on the teacher. A great teacher can make a huge difference, be it positively or negatively, in a child's life. Does 'success' in our system push our best teachers into Administrative positions?
There is some logic to the fact that a great teacher, should remain a great teacher for as long as they can. Unlike professional athletes, a master teacher would probably age like a fine wine. Their skills and influence in the classroom would grow because they would continually do the job they were meant to do. Our education system would appear to push our best teachers into leadership positions. Hence the question, does the allure of "Administration" take great teachers out of the classroom to the detriment of students? I understand the argument for Instructional Leadership, and I do know that there are many great teachers acting as Superintendents and Administrators. I have no doubt that these fine teachers themselves continue to have a positive impact on schools, teachers, and students. That said, part of me can't help but wonder what would happen if we had a system where the best of the best stayed in the classroom. What would it be like to work in a system where the best players stayed in the game for as long as possible? To me this was an interesting question, and I sometimes wonder if we have things completely wrong.