Believe in Something Bigger Than Yourself

I just listened to Joe Biden on CNN this morning. Really powerful interview. He is an intriguing person. A career politician and possibly a presidential candidate in 2020. Of course, he can get into the political fray just like any other politician, but there is something different about him and his recent political memoir, Promise Me Dad.

Grief changes you and he has had more than his fair share in life. In 1972, soon after being elected to the Senate, his wife and 13-month old daughter were killed in a car accident. In 2015, his oldest son, Beau, died of a brain tumour.

His interviews have a cut wretching honesty that we seldom hear. As a public figure, he is known as someone who reaches out to people who have gone through tragedy.  This is something he knows a great deal about.

There are some important lessons here. First, he talks a lot about his son. Beau was someone who was always positive. We hear how important this is all the time, but how many of us really live this? Beau’s relationship with his father was obviously something very special.  The title of the book comes from a conversation he had with his son where he urged his father to run for the presidency all at a time when he was dying from cancer.

Joe Biden with his sons Hunter left, and Beau, in the early 1970s.
Credit via Joe Biden

It seems to me that people who have gone through the strainer of personal grief or tragedy somehow can see life differently. There needs to be more to live for, especially when you are living with the reminder of your own story.

Today, Joe Biden responded to one of the interview questions with this line:

If you don’t believe in something bigger than yourself you will never be happy

Pretty powerful.
This helps to reflect on some of the interchanges I have had with people this past week.
It has been a big week. We have now started fundraising for our Climb for Kids! project and this is always a challenge. Asking people for money really opens you up in ways that can be uncomfortable. One person, for whom in the past we have done lots of volunteer work for asked not to receive any of my emails about the campaign because ‘it doesn’t involve me in any way’. Another person chose this week to call me out for a note I had sent him around the time of my father’s death. It wasn’t a note I am proud of, but I wasn’t really at my best.
I mention these interactions because the negative can have such a profound impact. Most times it would be much better to remain positive or just keep certain comments to one’s self. We all do better if we can get out of our own petty worlds and just believe in something bigger than ourselves.
So as the week went on I looked back on the comments of supporters from last year’s fundraising climb to Mt. Kilimanjaro. These notes are positive and so affirming and they celebrate the attempt to be something bigger. Sometimes when confronted with the negative it is so much better to seek out the positive.
I was really struck by Joe Biden’s interview today. I was taken by the way this man takes solace and strength from his family as I do. I was encouraged by his and his son’s determination to look to the positive.
A son’s affirmation of the father is a powerful message. I have that and those who can’t see beyond themselves will just have to take the back seat.

Climb for Kids: Photo of the Day Ausangate Mountain

Ausangate Mountain by Peruvian Mountains https://www.flickr.com/photos/55373852@N03/

 

Ausangate mountain itself is considered a holy mountain (or mountain spirit) by local Peruvians and is the deity of Cusco. Since pre-Inca times the mountain has been a place of worship and offerings and this tradition continues today.

Ausangate Trek – Complete Guide to the Highest Trek in Peru

I think our trek will be dominated by Ausangate Mountain. We hike around the mountain and at 6372 m, we trek to its base but we do not climb it. It is one of the highest mountains in Peru and is certainly a challenging technical climb.

It is interesting to watch the videos that have been made about the trek around Ausangate. This is high altitude and you can hear this in the videos. Breathing is laboured and trekkers take it slow.

The passes on the trek are beautiful and daunting as you can see in the video below. The highest, the Palomani Pass is at 5200 m.

One big difference from the video above is that we will be staying in tambos or lodges which will be great after challenging days trekking. The video is good however as it gives a more gritty look at what the trekking will probably be like.

There is no question that training will be essential for this trip. Referring back again  the Complete Guide:

The trek is classified as grade C which means the trek is fairly long and many sections are at high altitude. You’ll need a good level of fitness and stamina as you’ll be trekking over many steep sections in which the altitude changes significantly over a short space of time.

Thanks to Merit Travel for many of the beautiful images over the past few days. The trip is coming closer every day and it is great to see more of what we will be experiencing as a group this August.

If you are reading this and want to come on the trip, just write a comment on this post and I will get in touch with you.

Who Monitors Education in Ontario?

Trustees have a fundamental duty to rebuild the essential democratic linkages between citizens and board employees, who are in essence public servants. How to do that, is a fundamental question to all those that aspire to elected office.

Four Questions Ottawa Citizens Should Ask Before Voting for Their New School Trustees

Education is political and to forget this can lead to fundamental problems on how the system is run and managed in Ontario and other jurisdictions across the country.

In an excellent post this week, Four Questions Ottawa Citizens Should Ask Before Voting for Their New School Trustees, Dr Dragos Popa from the University of Ottawa has laid out four challenges for people running as public trustee in the 2018 Municipal elections. It would be a very good idea for all candidates to read this post and come up with clear answers to his challenges.

The public takes education for granted in this province. Unless you have a child in the system and even if you do have a child in the system, very few people have any sense of how public education is managed.

Even at the provincial level, there seems to be very little political will to seriously look at governance issues in public education. It seems that politicians and the public, in general, have surrendered up public scrutiny of the system to school board officials mainly because education is best left up to the experts.

This is a mistake and can lead to serious consequences. Dr Popa correctly points out that schools are nowhere nearly as ‘user-friendly’ as they should be. There is not the sense of public accountability that is more in evidence at the different levels of government. School officials are able to act with impunity because they know their actions are seldom challenged in the forum of public opinion.

To be fair, our education politicians are at a disadvantage. Years ago under Mike Harris, public education trustees salaries were discontinued, replaced with an honorarium as low as $5000.00 a year (The Fewer Schools Boards Act and the Toronto District School Board: Educational Restructuring 1997- 2003). School authority trustees are paid an honorarium at the same rate as was paid on December 1,1996 (Good Governance Guide, Ontario Public School Boards’ Association).

The problem with this is that politicians paid an honorarium cannot be expected to put in the time necessary to act as independent arbiters of school board staff policies and decisions. When it comes to governance issues in Ontario they simply do not play an effective role.

This may sound overly harsh, but it is not a criticism of the people who basically act as volunteers in the management of education in Ontario. I have worked as an unpaid board member before and I know that over time, a board member will become a ‘captive’ of management staff, the people responsible for supplying board members with the information they need to do their jobs.

This is a problem. Trustees are at best part-time employees of their school boards while the people they are charged with monitoring are full-time officials charged with maintaining a system that largely benefits these officials.

There is little public accountability in this system and there seems to be little interest in changing this dynamic. In fact, in a Globe and Mail article by Caroline Alphonso written in 2014 and updated in 2017, attempts by public school trustees in several school boards to raise their honorariums were reversed by the provincial government (Ontario orders school board trustees to cancel pay raises).

This leads me back to the original post by Dr Popa. He is correct in offering up important questions for new trustees to consider before the election, but do we have a system that actually encourages the necessary independence to actually challenge a system that is no longer accountable?

Is this a system that is truly public and accountable? Can we do better than this?

 

31 Days of Posting – This Time all about Discovery Education

This time of year is great for looking back and planning for the future. Today, I have again pledged to post for 31 days, this time I will be writing about Discovery Education. Last year I started my retirement by pledging to write for 30 days. I don’t think I made it, but I did get out lots of posts last year. maybe I will make it this year.

I have decided to focus on Discovery Education. Why?  First, I received a #Deanie from Dean Shareski, a wonderful educator and a great supporter of teachers. I was pretty happy to get some recognition from Dean, I have a great deal of respect for his writing and his opinions.

Recognition is always great. It is a terrific motivator. When I read Dean’s tweet, I realized I really needed to step up my game on my Discovery Education blog – a site I had started to promote the great resources available for students and teachers.

The second thing that has me posting today is some of the work I am doing for Discovery Education. Discovery is currently revamping some of their Science Techbook material to get ready for state-wide adoption of the Techbook next March.

This is something that ministry people in Ontario should consider. Discovery will actually go back into their own material and modify it to fit the curriculum expectations of a state (or province) that adopts their material. They can do this quickly because they have a whole host of writers and editors that work with them on a regular basis.

The Techbook series, includes three separate editions, one each for Science, Math and Social Studies. In each Techbook there is a huge collection of excellent digital material. As in earlier blogs, I need to upload material to my blog as people who are not subscribed to Discovery Education can’t access all of the digital content.

Here is a screenshot of a grade 6-8 Earth Science lesson on fossils.

On the right-hand side, you will notice a text button. Many of the Science Techbook lessons are now available in a variety of reading levels. This material can be directly assigned to students with a simple link. All material is divided up into sections starting with Engage and moving on to Elaborate with STEM plus a Model Lesson this all follows the 5E Inquiry Learning model.

The Model Lesson is quite detailed and would be a great assist to a teacher. As we don’t usually have science or math specialists in elementary school these model lessons would be an invaluable assist as teachers prepare to teach new science and math concepts. I have uploaded the Teacher Preparation section of this lesson to Google Drive so you can get an idea of the material included.

The Model Lesson also has a section that shows the alignment between lesson content and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and the Common Core.
These are American curriculum standards, however, if this material was adopted by the province of Ontario, the material would be adapted to comply with Ontario Science Curriculum. That is one of the great selling points of Discovery Education material. It can be quickly and accurately adapted to fit new jurisdictions if adopted.

All this may sound like a huge sales pitch, but I am doing this on my own. I believe in the way Discovery education does things because their content is excellent and they really believe in teachers. I support them because they expend so much creative energy bringing educators together.

So, off we go again. Let’s see if I can get closer to 31 posts this time. There is certainly enough to write about!

One Word for 2018: Radio #OnewordOnt

I am always looking for good writing prompts. Without prompts, it is hard to keep inspired enough to come up with new posts and regular writing is something I plan to continue to focus on as I start my second year in retirement from a formal position in education.

Today’s prompt came out of a discussion on Voiced Radio with Stephen Hurley and Doug Peterson. These two are an inspiration to me and much of what I write these days comes from discussions initiated by one or both of these active educators. Their show, This Week in Ontario Edublogs is broadcast every week and they have now reached their 40th episode.

While discussing blog posts from the past week, they came up with a post from Julie Balen, #OnewordOnt Introduction.

She writes:

There are many reasons why one would take on this challenge, but for most, it comes down to focus and intentionality. Having one word through which to “see” your practice, to guide your work, and to reflect on your professional learning gives you a chance to be really intentional about your professional growth.

If you continue reading, you can see lots of great bloggers who have added their words to the One Word Challenge. It came out in discussion today that none of the contributors came from men! Julie responded via Twitter during the broadcast making the conversation even more dynamic!

So, I need to take up the challenge. I choose Radio. Maybe not the kind of word that is used as part of a challenge like this, but this is what I came up with and I’m sticking to it.

I choose Radio because it offers wonderful learning and connecting opportunities for the new year, especially through Voiced Radio.

I also choose Radio because I was inspired by my partner and fellow broadcaster and blogger Heather Swail. Heather wrote a great post about radio last week – here is the beginning:

A single voice punctuating the dark. Light, bantering voices filling your head. Storytellers mesmerizing with pauses and intonations. Music lulling you to sleep. Radio has been my companion for so many years, in light and dark

Heather SwailThe Seductive Power of Radio

Radio works for me because it represents the opportunity to connect with others. Last week we did a great broadcast led by Brad Shreffler capping off a week of creative connection making all under the hashtag #voicedgratitude. We talked live on radio for over two hours. It was a great community discussion and very interestingly, very few of the discussion participants knew each other a year ago.

There is still something magic about radio that Twitter can’t replace. Radio allows you to hear the other person. Radio tells stories, radio fuels the imagination.

So Radio is my word. What will the new year bring? What will year two of VoicEd Radio be like? For many of us, this is a new barely tried medium, there is lots of room for growth.

A year ago, even before the first broadcast on VoicEd, Derek Rhodenizer and Stephen Hurley talked about the concept. You can hear the first of many rich conversations here.

Connecting and learning this year involves Radio. Where will we be 12 months from now?

 

 

What Do We Really Value in Education?

Sometimes the hardest questions in education get danced around and never answered.

Like all institutions, the education system is imperfect and the biggest problems never really get looked at. Right now in Ontario, there is a very worthwhile consultation taking place on assessment. Voiced Radio and other commentators are doing an excellent job at promoting and participating in this on-going discussion. This is really good news.

We look at portions of the system because we can’t look at the whole thing.

Recently I have listened to former colleagues talk about the situations in their schools. These conversations are not uncommon and they make up the ‘war stories’ that all educators share.

While we despair when we hear about poor and sometimes unethical management in our schools, nothing is ever done about these situations. We never ask the question – what do we really value in education? If we really asked this uncomfortable question would we continue to protect adults who clearly have no idea how to manage schools and the people in them?

There are a whole set of rules, conventions and practices that exist to protect individuals, especially those in privileged positions of power in the education system. A huge amount of energy is put into sustaining these rules and conventions.

Not everyone deserves this type of misguided practice. When we protect these people, we certainly put students, staff and parents in the back seat.

Our lack of action displays a lack of concern for the people we are supposed to serve. Maybe we think incompetence is OK, or maybe it is just too hard to swim against the bureaucratic tide that protects those who are simply not up to the job.

The best we can say is ‘wait them out’. But what does this do to the mental strain staff members have to put up with every day? If we really want to take mental health seriously in our schools we really need to get our own house in order and call to task those individuals who are really not up to the responsibility of properly managing a school.

I write out of anger and frustration about what I hear. It is very frustrating that some school administrators are allowed to act with impunity, secure in the knowledge that their authority will not be questioned and that they will always be supported by school board staff who really do not want to rock the boat.

Our students, staff and parents deserve better. We will never have an excellent system while we continue to look the other way and support poor governance of some of our schools.

Good for Ontario to take on the EQAO while elephant, but let’s broaden our scope and take a really serious look at how our schools are managed.

Conversations on Improving Ontario Schools – EQAO, Assessment, Reporting

I want to thank VoicEd Radio and Derek Rhodenizer for alerting me to this very short public consultation on assessment and reporting in Ontario. Huge topics to be considered and a shame the consultation period is so short.

I agreed to take a look at the consultation questions and take part in a VoicEd Radio discussion on this topic. Today, I decided to look at some of the questions, especially because the role of EQAO is being discussed.

Join the province-wide conversation about how best to improve Ontario’s approaches to classroom assessments, large-scale provincial assessments including Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) assessments, and Ontario’s participation in pan-Canadian and international assessment programs.

How can EQAO assessments be improved to realize the provincial goals?

I tried to answer the questions posed, I have included some of my responses below:

The best thing we could do with the EQAO infrastructure would be to get rid of it. Assessment is done best by the classroom teacher using a variety of tools much more sophisticated than the ‘one-shot’ EQAO test. The teacher learns a great deal from classroom assessment that can then become the basis for useful feedback to the parent and of course, the child.

EQAO costs a huge amount each year and this money could be better used if the funds were invested back into the classroom. Maybe we could also look at more sophisticated ways of reporting back to the parent rather than the cumbersome, jargon-filled report card.

EQAO scores are used as ways to rank schools and do little to measure the progress being made by the student. It was brought in at a time where accountability was the main concern of government in Ontario. Surely we have become more sophisticated in our approach to education in Ontario.

What types of EQAO reporting do you consider to be most useful, and why?

The current reporting is not useful. It happens once a year and as a principal, I would put this out to teachers and parents and then get back to the job of learning. The main concern about reporting was the ranking that inevitably happens after the results came out and the associated hand-wringing that would take place when our school didn’t do well in math scores.

I was also very uncomfortable with the crowing that our school board would do every year when our results showed better than the provincial average. We never heard anything about the fact that the majority of students we taught were the middle-class sons and daughters of Ottawa-area professionals. Flag waving in the education world is always a bad thing.

EQAO actually has helped us remain complacent about what we are doing to improve the lives of our students. It also marginalized poor schools who tend to do poorly on EQAO, but leaves the whole question of economic inequality unanswered.

I was surprised by the next series of questions – maybe there is hope! The survey steered off in a new direction by focusing on in-class assessment. To me, this is a very good sign that we are actual beginning to think in Ontario when it comes to EQAO and assessment.

Classroom assessment strategies are developed by teachers to help students move forward in their learning and to determine and inform students and their parents/caregivers on their learning progress. Typical classroom assessment approaches include class work, tests and various other activities and assignments that are assessed based on curriculum expectations. Teachers use a variety of assessment tools, which may include direct observation, portfolios, journals, written assignments, presentations, seminars, group work, tests, projects, and self- and peer assessment.

This section was followed up by a few questions including this one.

What types of reporting of student learning in the classroom do you consider to be most useful, and why?

So I continued to respond:

All these are useful except the Provincial Report Card. This is cumbersome and wastes teachers’ time. Timely reporting is more practical and useful and ways to encourage this should be investigated. Parents need good, practical information. Report cards are not timely but are done because they have to be done. Progress reports are more useful because they are more timely and are quick to assemble. We might do better with more progress reports and fewer report cards. Just in time reporting is more helpful to the student, teacher and parent and this should be encouraged.

My concluding remarks:

Some good questions here -thanks for this opportunity. I think it would be a good idea to go further and look at the current governance model for Ontario that keeps local superintendents in charge of school boards and that continues to support a religion-based education system (Catholic Schools). If we are truly interested in reform, we need to investigate and challenge beyond assessment and reporting.

I would love an opportunity to expand on this section, but this is probably enough for one survey. Maybe we could talk about rotating superintendents back into the classroom – now that would be a sea change! I am happy to see these questions – thanks, Derek and VoicEd Radio!

Talking Nationally About Violence in the Schools and Looking for Solutions

Cross-country Checkup is a good way to measure what issues are of interest to Canadians every week. This CBC show has been on for many years and it has always been a good barometer of public opinion. This week, the topic is violence in the schools and the danger staff face on a regular basis.

This became a public issue last week when an Ottawa teacher went public with a violent incident that ended his teaching career.

One issue that is being brought up this afternoon is the very dangerous situation educational assistants (EAs) find themselves every day. While I don’t know many teachers who have been injured on the job, I regularly witnessed EAs being injured. They were also verbally abused by students and parents and were seldom able to seek any recourse for what happened to them.

Is this a systemic problem? Why are we hearing so much about this now that a floodgate has been opened?

I think it comes down to an overemphasis on individual rights over collective rights. When I suspended students, it was to protect the collective. The individual had lost the right to be part of the school community, therefore they were suspended. I used this line with parents and it (of course) was not appreciated. However, suspension, especially starting in grade 7 was an effective tool and I hope high school vice principals are still able to use it. Our job was to protect staff and students. 

On the other hand, you could say that ejecting a student doesn’t solve anything. Suspension is a necessary sanction, but what is happening that leads to behaviours that lead to a suspension?

Education is an incredibly labour-intensive field. Typically, when governments want to save money on education there is only one way to do this, staff gets cut or the necessary staff are not hired.

From my perspective as an administrator, the best way to assist children, especially those with emotional or mental health issues is to have enough staff in the building to care for these students. This means more EAs, more social workers, and more in-school therapists.

The conversation continued long after the show and it included tweets like this:

Obviously, we didn’t reach any conclusions, but it is an important discussion.

I let this post sit for a few days. It is a sad topic and it is really hard to find the positives. Then last night, I attended the information meeting for a new fundraising program we are starting – Christie Lake Climb for Kids! I have written about this before on this blog. It’s an exciting opportunity and I hope we get 16 participants for this first expedition.

a reason for hope – our Christie Lake Kids meeting last night

What was really refreshing for me last night was the presentation on Christie Lake Kids. This program offers a wide variety of recreational services for low-income kids. They run a terrific summer camp along with programming throughout the year including cooking classes, a fully funded hockey team and a whole variety of after-school programs in some of the most challenging neighbourhoods here in Ottawa.

I think I needed to be reminded that while we have some really challenging problems in our schools, there are some really forward-thinking organizations like Christie Lake that are offering solutions.

More suspensions and more blame will not ease the problems of violence in our schools. Progressive recreational programming like Christie Lake will offer solutions that at least will address some of the challenges we are facing in our schools.

It has been an interesting week. Lots of discussion on how we are facing a crisis in our schools and one really positive way to find a solution that really helps kids.

For my part, I want to focus on some progressive solutions. I hope others do too!

Move Like a Cat: Challenging the System Every Day.

from George Couros – Only Schools Can End Schools

There are some education writers who always catch my attention. They are provocative and they give me ideas on what I can write about.

Two of these educators are George Couros and Greg Ashman.

In a recent post, George Couros wrote about institutional change and the school. He featured a quote that mentioned businesses like Netflix, Uber, and Airbnb and how these innovators have challenged or replaced institutions that believed they were secure in supporting the status quo.

Greg Ashman seems to come up with something challenging almost daily. Recently he wrote a biting critique of the 6C fad, 21st-century skills and the current belief that teaching collaboration beats out traditional content. I love the title – Can we add ‘move like a cat’ to the list of 21st century skills?

There may not be too much in common in the two articles, but both challenge complacency and that is a really important service that all educators need. Greg Ashman’s article, in particular, would be a wonderful opener at a principal’s meeting at my former school board! Greg, I would have added this video.

Funny, but are there ever workshops at education conferences on reforming the system? Is this a topic that is just a little too uncomfortable?

While these ideas are important for our growth as a profession, George Couros makes the point that the people who really need to hear this message are not even listening.

They are not listening to Greg Ashman’s challenge of the sacred cow that is the 6C’s – maybe better called the silly C’s?

My point is that these and other writers need to hold a central place in our discussions on how the education system needs to evolve. There should be a place for these discussions at education conferences and we need to realize we can do better and we need to challenge more.

We do not have to be slaves to alignment. Maybe we need to move a little like a cat!

The education hierarchy may not be interested in such talk, but neither were the owners of Block Buster.

So, let’s move.

Making Connections – Edcamp Ottawa, Voiced Radio, MADPD

opening workshop on the gradeless classroom at Edcamp Ottawa

To me these days it is all about making connections. This past week has been particularly rich. Starting last Saturday, we took in the latest Ottawa Edcamp where we were able to put together four interviews for our show First Hand Stories.

All four of these are now up on Voiced Radio thanks to Stephen Hurley.

The turnout was great for the Edcamp. There were at least 75 participants and a wonderful collection of workshops scattered over three sessions throughout the morning and early afternoon.

Lots of great sessions at Saturday’s Edcamp Ottawa

All four First Hand Stories conversations were really fun to take part in. One included Derek Rhodenizer who blew in for a few minutes after his kids’ karate lesson. He was there long enough to take part in an on-going discussion about setting up podcasts for students and teachers. He later sent me a Youtube video that he had made on the topic.

The conversations also led to this tweet

This brought Chris Cluff and Stephen Hurley into a great hour-long conversation on Sunday night on Chris’ show Chasing Squirrels. Here we talked about silo busting, something that came up in response to Derek’s tweet on Saturday.

We had a bunch of good conversations at the Edcamp with teachers who had never been on Voiced Radio before. We also covered mental health in schools, the gradeless classroom, creativity in schools and blended classrooms. We also had the chance to interview Laura Wheeler, one of the original organizers of EdCamp Ottawa.

All to say it was a great 48 hours of connecting and meeting new people. All possible because of alternative ways of learning – Twitter, web-based radio and edcamps.

The connecting continues this week as Stephen Hurley and Doug Peterson will be going live at the BIT 2017 Conference in Niagara Falls and the next MADPD begins to take shape including some form of a virtual town hall including a whole host of educators.

This to me is the new learning. It is happening every day and in new and very innovative ways. I think traditional education institutions really need to pick up on this and get more involved. Although we are connecting more and more the circles are still pretty small.

I would love to see some of the big school boards promote MADPD or Voiced Radio on their Twitter feed or take a leading role by encouraging their educators to take part in these new approaches.

This is where the new learning is happening, they should not be left behind.