Category Archives: Dream Big Dreams

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.

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.

Why I Hate Letter Grades

I hate letter grades.
They are harmful, ineffective representations of my students’ learning.

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Those who know me personally know that I’ve always been passionate about assessment. I’ve always thought I had a fairly firm grasp on good assessment practices. I’ve always thought I had students’ best interests in mind by providing ongoing, descriptive feedback and never giving letter grades on projects. This year, we have also explored ePortfolios as a way to document student progress. I spend a considerable amount of time and energy encouraging my students to focus on learning and improving rather than on extrinsic rewards and punishments.

Yet every term, I fail numerous times because I must assign a letter grade in each subject area on report cards.

How is this helpful for students? How does this contribute to passion, intrinsic motivation, or lifelong learning?

Those are the things that really matter to me. I want my students to love learning. I want to inspire them to find and pursue their passions in life. I want them to look honestly at where they are and where they want to go in their learning journey. How can I honestly expect them to do that when all of their amazing progress and achievements are reduced to a single alphabetical symbol at the end of each term? My answer is that I don’t think I can anymore.

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I’ve proposed an inquiry project to my school district that would explore how eliminating letter grades on intermediate report cards in favour of anecdotal evidence, ePortfolios, and conferencing affects student learning. While I feel hopeful that the proposal is a step in the right direction, I have also recently come to realize that we need to create change where we currently have the power to create change. I don’t have control over whether the inquiry project is approved for next year or over our report card templates. Although I will continue to advocate for change in those areas and hope that I am well supported, I am proposing another more manageable shift in practice for the time being. Something I can change NOW.

I know others already do this, so I do not claim ownership of the idea in any way.

Rather than simply involving my students in a discussion about their grades (where they feel they fit on a continuum, why they think they fall where they do) I am going to involve my students in the process of assigning grades. They will decide what they think their grades should be. They will provide evidence from their ePortfolios and projects throughout the year that supports their position. We will have an honest discussion about their samples and their progress and we will come to an agreement about what their final grade should be. I hope this will allow them to truly reflect on where they were and how far they’ve come as well as their strengths and areas in need of improvement. I know that this will actively involve them in a new learning experience.

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Screen shot of one of my student’s ePortolio pages – “Français”

I know that this is not a perfect system and that we will make mistakes… ePortoflios were new for us this year and are still progressing in terms of reflection. However, I strongly believe that in their current state, grades are harmful to my students’ learning. I can no longer treat them as they’ve always been treated because it goes against everything I stand for in my classroom. Kids feel a lot of pressure from society to perform, and this often causes them to take less risks for fear of “failing.” How will they ever learn to love learning if they are terrified of failure? How can I ever get them to want to think outside the box when they are placed in a box at the end of each term? I want them to be free of boxes and categories so that they can see the light that is learning!

We have to start somewhere. This will be my somewhere.

Do you plan on finding levers for change in assessment and grading? If so, how?

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This is obviously not a complete argument against grades. There will be future posts on the “why” of abolishing grades. In the meantime, check out @joe_bower’s blog page “Abolishing Grades” for some great resources.

Inspiring Others to Flourish

On May 11, I was lucky enough to attend TEDx West Vancouver: Rethink Education. It was a very inspirational day full of amazing speakers. However, there is only one that I have not been able to stop thinking about.

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quantumlars via Compfight

Katy Hutchison is an amazing, inspirational woman. Following the murder of her husband in 1997, Katy spent five years waiting for a conviction. Despite her tragic situation, where many would seek revenge, Katy developed a sense of compassion and a desire to support young people who, because of upsetting or unfortunate circumstances, end up making poor decisions.

Katy shared her story of how she met the man who murdered her husband, asked him why he did it, and then, when he began to cry, proceeded to hug him. She spent time visiting him in prison and getting to know him. She remained calm and compassionate. She used her tragic situation to practice forgiveness. She watched him recover slowly and re-enter society. She did what I am not sure many people could do. She gave him a “time in.” Katy is a remarkable woman for whom I will forever have an immense sense of admiration.

Katy now travels the world sharing her story about how her experience has taught her that restorative justice is the most effective way to deal with poor behaviour and decisions. I was very much impacted by her story and I began to think about how her philosophy applies to our education system. Rather than reprimanding bad behaviour, shouldn’t we spend time trying to get to know our students and why they may be making poor decisions? Shouldn’t we try to understand their perspective? Perhaps if all educators were a bit more like Katy, we could help students grow into the people they were meant to be.

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Katy influenced me to reflect on my everyday interactions and experiences both with my students and with everyone else I come across in life.

Perhaps if everyone were just a little more like Katy, our schools and our world would be better off.

When did you last help someone flourish into the person they were meant to be rather than what they appeared to be on the surface?

 

Moving Forward

I have a secret….

I dream big dreams!

As a child, I believed that I personally had the power to change the world.

Luckily, I had a mother who encouraged my creativity and my big dreams. I also made friends with other big dreamers. Together, we were unstoppable! What could we NOT do? We had a solution for everything!

I never really thought that it wasn’t possible…

Until I entered the “real world”… Until I became a teacher.

What happened to their creativity, their resilience, their perpetual optimism? Where was their sense of adventure? How were children being stripped of these wonderful qualities? I became angry. Frustrated. How could I help them unlearn “school”? How could I make them believe again?

I understand that my dream is big. But why shouldn’t it be?

Although my perspective has changed over the years, I will still find a way to change the world.

I will continue to tell my students that they can change the world too. I need them to believe. We all need them to believe.

It may not happen overnight… I can admit that I HAVE learned that much.

But by taking one small step at a time, we can create change.

We can help each other move forward.

Isn’t that really all anyone ever dreamed of?

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