Category Archives: Change

2017: A Year of Intention

Last year, I couldn’t choose just one word for the year, so I chose 3 words that would guide me to be my best self: Balance, Strength, and Relationships. I cannot say that it went smoothly… In fact, with some long awaited consistency in my vie quotidienne, it seems I finally had time to delve deep into my personal struggles. Rather than a year full of balance, it felt like a year full of self doubt, overwhelm, and frustration. Side note: I’m sure this is only in part due to my inability to choose a single word…

However, these words also led me to make a few decisions in 2016 for which I am grateful. They were changes that were not sudden, but had a positive impact over time.

  1. Starting a gratitude journal. For real this time. I have successfully expressed gratitude for something daily, in writing, for the past 8 months. This allows me at least one moment of release from my anxiety at the end of each day.
  2. Spending time in nature. I didn’t strictly adhere to my #photoaday2016 aspirations, but the project did allow me to become more mindful of the world around me. Allowing myself permission to take a trip to Maui over Spring Break helped renew my energy and positive attitude in ways I wasn’t expecting. More time exploring this beautiful province reminded how grateful I am to live here.
  3. Devoting more time to friendships. Some people just make your soul feel good. Time outside of our own head can be a good thing. Enough said.
  4. Renewing my love of physical activity. I took rowing lessons, signed up for a barre membership, and even attended a couple of yoga workshops. All of these things have helped me focus on staying healthy outside of the classroom so I can hopefully be healthier in the classroom.
  5. Being vulnerable. This one was much less conscious, but powerful nontheless. Sharing my struggles with colleagues, friends, students, and strangers has given me a sense of freedom I wasn’t expecting. It has allowed others to see me as a whole person rather than the shiny version that I have typically tried to present to the outside world. I am now in a place of heathy contemplation about what really matters in life.

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@beverley.bunker #photoaday2016

As we head into another new year, I’ve been inspired by the idea of an intention for the year. The idea is that an intention guides us in our daily lives but is more fluid and organic than a specific goal. It can change with us as needed. So in 2017, my intention is to simplify.

I’m not sure what exactly that means yet… but I think that’s ok. I know it speaks to my heart. I believe it will help me be more intentional in my actions, my words, and my decisions. What more can we really ask of ourselves than that?  Intentionalilty is what makes a good teacher a great one.

Wishing you love and joy in 2017.

Searching for Truth & Reconciliation

For too long, Canadian history books have painted a euro-centric picture of colonization. For too long, we have ignored our collective history in favour of a charming perception of Canada as a kind, respectful, inclusive country where we protect human rights and freedoms. We have glossed over darkness and ignored the needs of those who have suffered. I feel fortunate to live now in this time of transition where we can all play a part in truth and reconciliation. BC’s redesigned curriculum is founded on the First People’s Principles of Learning, and yet there are so many questions for teachers to navigate…

What are the principles? Where can I learn more? How do I teach perspectives authentically and respectfully? Is it about tackling the tragic history of residential schools? Helping students see the value in not just tolerance, but acceptance and respect for diverse points of view? How do we address sensitive topics like religion and abuse (especially at the elementary level) while still being truthful?

The only thing of which I am convinced is that it is now about so much more than content.

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This year, I have made an attempt to learn more. I’ve attended workshops, read stories, and most recently, heard Wab Kinew speak about how the residential school system has impacted his family. First hand accounts of the inter-generational effects of disconnection and abuse have made me reflect on everything from anger to compassion and forgiveness.

Recognizing my own ignorance, I have a pile of books waiting to be read, including Wab’s The Reason You Walk, and I have made an attempt to involve my students in my learning journey this year. We have explored picture books and kid-friendly biographies about attending residential school, which were a beautiful way to introduce the topic.

We’ve also increased our emphasis on place-based learning. Through weekly nature walks, we try to learn from nature rather than simply bringing learning outdoors. So far, we’ve explored geometry, patterns, human impact, and physical education.

While I do believe these are steps in the right direction – my students are genuinely engaged in the history of residential schools and wanting to learn more –  I don’t feel they are anywhere near enough. I know that I will never understand enough.

We can never make things right, but we can continue listening and seeking people’s truth. I only hope we can find the courage to admit our ignorance, acknowledge the tragedy of our collective past, and open our hearts to those who need to be heard. I am no expert, but I will continue seeking people’s truth, as I believe this is what will lead us to reconciliation.

Communicating Student Learning: My Personal Journey

Three years ago, I wrote a post entitled Why I Hate Letter Grades. I figure it’s about time I write an update on my adventures…

In the fall of 2013, one brave soul (@BronwenHowden) decided to join me in the ride that was our district’s Communicating Student Learning pilot. We were two teachers in one of five schools that term to design our own report card template. We jumped on board very quickly and fumbled our way through implementation in first term. It was a very sudden shift for the community and in hindsight, there are many ways we could have communicated more clearly. However, we learned a great deal, and by second term, we were using feedback from parent surveys and a focus group to make changes to our template. By third term, we were finally gaining confidence in our methods of communicating student learning. While we knew all along that we were working to design assessment that promoted growth and learning, it was finally becoming more widely accepted in our community and we had evidence from students to support the shift that had taken place.

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cc Photo Credit: liquidnight via Compfight

We continued revising and using our template the following year alongside digital portfolios with Fresh Grade and approximately 8 more teachers and tons more schools in the district. We felt our confidence grow as we were more able to articulate our rationale for the changes and more students and parents began to see the benefits of assessing in alternative ways. Parents having access to ongoing communication of learning via Fresh Grade was hugely beneficial, and we referenced these learning samples in our CSL anecdotal assessment. We decided to maintain this formal paper communication in addition to the portfolios throughout the year, as we had already changed a lot in a short period of time, and it put many parents at ease. However, we did make some significant changes to our template, such as removing formal reporting of individual subject areas (other than Literacy and Numeracy) in favour of more cross-curricular approaches to learning and including personalized learning plans for each student. We also focused on improving the quality of our ongoing communication with parents.

Bronwen and I came out of that second year feeling there was no way we could ever return to the “old ways” and confident we could now move away from report cards altogether. Although there were a million and one factors that influenced our decisions throughout those transitional years, there were five main principles consistently guiding our practice:

  1. Formative Assessment
  2. Competencies
  3. Student Conferencing
  4. Self-Assessment
  5. Ongoing Communication with Parents

Experiencing this transition as educators provided us with the time we needed to truly explore what quality assessment looked like in practice. Looking back, we can see that learning intentions and criteria guided all of our assessment, students were involved in the learning process through co-creation of criteria and regular self-assessment, and we were focused on developing competencies through content knowledge. We improved our communication with parents through the use of Fresh Grade, email updates, class blogs, social media, and conferences. One on one conferences with students lasting 15-20 minutes every term were invaluable. It was a lot of work – we had to completely rethink how we structured our days – but somehow it felt like less work than before, as it all became so much more meaningful. We knew our students’ strengths and challenges inside and out. Even more importantly, so did our students.

Now in a new school (and desperately missing my original partner in crime!), I have finally made the complete shift to communicating student learning through Fresh Grade. I don’t think anyone can argue that it is valuable to have regular updates about their child’s learning, but change will always be difficult. I remain focused on quality assessment in my use of Fresh Grade, as it is not really about the technology, but a shift in mindset.

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cc Photo Credit: SevenSeventyFive via Flickr

There are numerous Surrey Schools educators who have already put together guidelines about the what, why, and how of digital portfolios, so I will refer you to to their brilliant work. You can find links to many of them in Elisa Carlson’s blog post here. What I have done is put together a few key pieces of advice, educator to educator, for those who are moving toward ongoing communication of student learning for the first time:

  • Be transparent! Students and parents need to know what you are doing, why you are doing it, and how they can be involved. Let them know you are learning alongside them but also share resources to help them understand the transition. Ask them what they want and highlight connections between their input and best practice.
  • It’s all about the learning! If you are doing significantly more work than your students, STOP. Portfolios are not about including as much as humanly possible, but providing quality assessment of key learning throughout the year. Students should absolutely be involved in the process, no matter their age, and assessment should be moving their learning forward.
  • Learn to embrace change! Change is not meant to be comfortable but it should be meaningful. Don’t try to do the same thing in a new way; if you’ve committed to using portfolios or other alternatives to grades, you’ve committed to being a part of the change. It’s ok for your communication to look different… it should.
  • Be prepared to listen! Not everyone is ready for change at the same time. Focus on strengthening relationships by finding common ground. Actively listen to those who disagree with you. Take feedback for what it is – a learning opportunity. Remember that parents, teachers, and administrators all want what’s best for kids.
  • Find a partner in crime (or several)! Together, we are better. Collaborate. Share. Question. Collaborate some more. Support each other along the way.

I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to explore multiple ways of communicating student learning in my district. It’s been an amazing journey that I would not trade for anything. What are you doing to ensure quality assessment and communication of student learning?

CSL, Fresh Grade, and the draft BC curriculum provide me with so much flexibility in designing meaningful learning opportunities for my students. You can check out my visual presentation entitled “Redesigned Curriculum in Action” here as a sample of some things we do in Division 3.

Three Words for 2016

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Happy New Year! Once again, it’s been awhile since I have devoted time to blogging. I’ve written many a post in my head, but unfortunately, they have not often translated into actual posts for people to read. I would like this to change because writing brings me joy and provides me with an outlet for reflection. However, the highlights of my 2015, although not blogging related, were pretty awesome, so I’m going to tell myself I have a long list of very good excuses and forgive myself for the lapse in writing.

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Photo Credits: Patricia Gillespie, Moonrise Photography

I’m not usually one for New Year’s resolutions, but I have been inspired over the past several years by educators who have shared their “one word” for the year. While I like the idea of a guiding word, I never felt that one was enough. So rather than choose just one, I’ve carefully chosen three words that I feel will help guide me through 2016 – not to achieve goals necessarily, but to help me be my best self.

1. Balance

This is a word that I am choosing to remind myself that it is important to rest, rejuvenate, and restore. As someone who struggles with anxiety daily, I am prone to overworking myself in pursuit of approval and perfection. I hope that the word BALANCE will remind me to revisit my passions outside of education and to focus on my social and emotional needs. It represents my desire to act and to reflect, to share and to listen, to care for others and for myself.

2. Strength

This past year, I gave up a passion of mine that keeps me grounded and in good physical health. This year, I am reminding myself to revisit physical activities that make me feel strong – hiking, dance, yoga – because to me, STRENGTH means positive physical and mental health, a sense of self. It also reminds me to look for courage within myself when I am lonely, overwhelmed, or afraid. I hope I will have the STRENGTH to make healthy decisions for myself in 2016.

3. Relationships

This word is to remind me to revisit and strengthen the many meaningful RELATIONSHIPS I already have in my life. I often get wrapped up in my day to day life and forget to connect with those I would consider my closest friends and family. I am hoping to change this. I also feel this word represents the most important aspect of my educational philosophy; I hope it will remind me of my professional values in stressful times so I can choose care and compassion over reaction.

So those are my guiding words for the new year. There is so much right in front of us that we forget to nourish. Rather than planning for drastic changes, I’m hoping my #threewordsfor2016 will help me better understand myself and my role in the lives of those around me.

What words will guide you in 2016?

Five Life Lessons

There goes my commitment to blogging a minimum of twice a month! November just flew by and now winter holidays are already upon us.

To get back into the swing of things, I’d like to share five things I’ve learned (or re-learned) this past month.

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Photo Credit: Some Driftwood via Compfighcc 

1. Change Is Both Amazing and Difficult

Two of the classes at our school are participating in our district’s pilot program  “Communicating Student Learning” to revise our current report card model. We have moved towards a focus on core competencies (Critical Thinking, Creativity, Personal & Social Responsibility, Communication) and we have chosen to take letter grades off of our reports. Instead, there is an emphasis on self-assessment and conferencing with individual students. Personally and professionally, I have found this experience to be incredibly rewarding. I have had many meaningful conversations with students about their strengths and goals in the past couple of weeks. It is amazing to see the insight that most 12-year olds have about themselves as learners. It was also wonderful to hear about what they are enjoying and what they are excited about. My eyes have been opened to how powerful a single conversation can be as I’ve been able to more clearly understand what particular students need from me to help them improve. Others are struggling to accept the new format; some are uncomfortable with self-reflection and others want to keep letter grades. I understand their struggles because change can be difficult and overwhelming. Hopefully second term will go more smoothly for everyone as we all adjust and become more comfortable with the changes.

2. Masters Programs Require A Lot of Time!

This one has been a steep learning curve for me. I was so excited to embark on my new learning journey in September, but I was completely unprepared for how much time I would have to dedicate to my coursework. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the course… but it has been a balancing act that has not always worked out for the best. I am hopeful that I will improve my time management in January!

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Photo Credit: Βethan via Compfight cc

3. Family Is Important… And So Is Health

Originally from Ontario, my spouse and I usually fly back to Toronto every year for the Christmas holidays. All of our family is there; we moved out here together in 2009 looking for something different. This year, we have both been under a lot of stress and not as healthy as we would like. After much discussion, we made the difficult decision to stay in BC for the holidays this year. With no family here whatsoever, it will be our first experience alone for the holidays in eight years. I love my family and I look forward to my once-a-year visit… but this year other things had to take priority. Everyone needs some down time once in awhile and for us, this is the way to get it this year. The best decisions – the ones that make the most sense at a particular time – are not always the easiest. I will miss spending time with family, but I look forward to exploring new traditions.

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Photo Credit: mohammadali via Compfight cc

4. New Challenges Are Scary

I have been wanting a student teacher for quite some time and finally requested one this fall only to not be assigned a placement. I was so disappointed, but in the end, it would have been completely nutty to have one these past few months! This week I was offered the chance to work with someone beginning in January. My initial reaction was excitement – I’ve been looking forward to this! – and then I realized just how scared I am. What if I am not a good mentor? I like to think I enjoy a challenge, but sometimes my inner child pops up and reminds me that I don’t feel ready. However, in this case, I will accept and embrace the fear, and then move on, because I know it will all work out. At the very least, passion is contagious!

5. I Can’t Do It All

I have had to let a few things go this year. For a variety of reasons, it was a very overwhelming fall and there is no way I would have survived if I had kept it all on my plate. For the first time in my career, I was burnt out and ready to quit. As someone who has struggled for a long time with perfectionism and a need to please others, this was a very difficult lesson. I can’t do it all; in fact, I don’t want to do it all. I am learning to focus my energy on the things that matter most to me. I am learning that I don’t need to have my foot in everything. This lesson has been a long time in the making, but it is finally beginning to sink in and it feels pretty good…

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I know it’s December and it’s a crazy time of year for many… but don’t forget to take some time to relax! Sometimes the things that most need our attention are right in front of our eyes and we choose to ignore them.

What are some lessons you’ve learned so far this year? What are you looking forward to?

Possible: Kids Get It

My last post Possible: A Frame of Mind touched on how we as educators need to shift our mind sets to context in order to inspire change in the system. We must understand our “why” and encourage others to find theirs before we ask teachers to change their practice.

Last week, I had an awesome conversation with my students. I asked them what they liked about our class and what they would like to change about school. Here are some of their responses…

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I think teachers should be closer with their students. It makes it so much easier to learn when you are connected with your teacher.

I really like how we have a lot of freedom and choice in our class. I’ve never really had this much freedom in school before.

I really like how we learn in different ways like in Math we use manipulatives and whiteboards and iPads. Math is more fun and easy to understand with manipulatives and it’s so much easier to show my thinking on an iPad than on paper.

Sometimes I think teachers forget what it’s like to be a kid. School is so much more fun when your teacher gets to know you and understand you.

I think more teachers should think about the physical space in their classrooms. How a room is set up makes a big difference in how I feel at school and having different spaces to learn is really helpful.

Honestly, I wish I had recorded the conversation because my kids were SO insightful! Their ideas were extremely well articulated and more powerful than I expected. Everyone was engaged in the discussion and wanted to contribute. We talked about making a video this year to share our experiences and what changes we would like to see in education moving forward. It was a very exciting day for me as an educator and a very powerful group activity. They have since asked if we can have awesome conversations every Thursday.

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We can’t be afraid to have these conversations with our kids. There is so much we can learn from them.

Kids get it. As long as their voices are valued, they will always see what’s possible.

Possible: A Frame of Mind

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Lately, I’ve been having a lot of conversations about the need for transformation in education. There are so many incredible educators out there – people who are building strong relationships with their students and making learning relevant in a variety of ways. My PLN is a wonderful source of support in this respect as they have so many tools, ideas, and stories to share with the education community.

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However, I can’t help but feel lately that we are preaching to the converted.

How can we broaden our circles of conversation to include more and more educators?

I think there are endless possibilities for how we can connect with others. Face to face within our schools has always been a possibility, district initiatives, and obviously connecting online through blogging and social media such as Twitter and Google +… and yet it doesn’t seem like enough. It is still a very small minority of educators that are working towards a new and different model of education.

Last week, I had the opportunity to spend the day with Will Richardson (@willrich45) as part of my district’s IML Innovators group. Although many people made insightful comments that day, one of Will’s has stuck with me. He said that it is not enough to focus on our practice; in fact, we should forget about changing our practice. Until we have dedicated the time to discussing the CONTEXT, the reasons for which we believe education needs to change, there is no point asking educators to change what they are doing in their classrooms. Students are not being harmed by anyone, so let’s spend some time understanding the why before we jump into the what and the how.

This was brilliant! It made me realize why I often feel like people think I’m nuts. Although I shifted my advocacy focus away from specific tools long ago, I still feel that tools are what most educators want to be given. They think it’s about the technology, that there are teachers who use tech and those who don’t, when really it is about improving students’ learning experiences. I want to transform education, not mass distribute new tech tools into our classrooms. But Will made me realize that perhaps it was bigger than I thought; maybe they don’t understand the context or the possibilities that changes could provide to education. Suddenly, the “problem” seems much more manageable. Although it may be time consuming, we must value reading, sharing, and discussing educational issues with our colleagues. We devote a lot of energy to building relationships with our students, but we often forget to do the same with our colleagues. Possible is simply a frame of mind; I want all educators to be able to envision what’s possible.

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So I urge you to ask yourself: Is possible your frame of mind? Because if it’s not, if we continue to look for faults in transformational ideas rather than strengths and possibilities, then I think we have already failed. The choice is up to us; we all have the power to put a little more possible in education.