The word is out…Students Like Their Chromebooks Blog Post #4

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A few weeks ago I read a great article from E Missourian.com

Survey: Students Like Their Chromebooks

The article was about a report written by Debbie Haley, technical director for the Meramec Valley R-III Middle School.  In the report, she outlined that through a district initiative, each student from grade 6 through 8 had received a Dell Chromebook.

The students were able to bring their new machines home while the teachers received training on how best to use the Chromebooks as a learning tool in the classroom.

The comments of the students speak volumes about programs like this:

“Having a computer to take home means I can look up stuff and learn how to do things any time without having to ask the teacher,” 

“This is the best way to do homework because if I forget my math book, it’s on the website,”

What I noticed about these comments is that the students in our school have been saying exactly the same thing for the past two years.

I recently retired as principal of a small low-income urban school.  We made the decision over two years ago that to give our students a greater chance of success, they needed to have their own Chromebook and the juniors (grades 4-6) needed to bring them home every night.

The program had its hiccups and nay sayers, but it was a success.  Teachers received good quality PD and the freedom to learn more on their own.  Students were expected to bring their machine home every night and continue work on digital programs, including Google apps for Education and Hapara that they had started at school.

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It became the expectation that a computer would be available at all times and if one broke down, it would be replaced immediately.

Our school board did some things to make it feasible to become a 1:1 school.  Chromebooks were cheap to buy, we were a Google board, so students and teachers had access to all the great apps available through Google.  Training was available to students and teachers on some of the programs that we were using every day and we did receive some computers from the school board as we were considered a high needs school.

teachers receive a certificate after a training day on Discovery Education
teachers receive a certificate after a training day on Discovery Education

While we never did a comprehensive report, I feel that the program was a success.

As part of my ‘good-bye’ from the students and the teachers, a video was created that allowed many of the students to say something they were thankful for that had taken place while I was principal.  Many of them said they were thankful for their Chromebooks and the freedom it gave them to learn independently.

I was surprised by this especially because we had just completed a major school yard renewal – with play structures – and I thought this would be what meant the most to our students.

It wasn’t – it was their Chromebooks.

To me this is really important.  By providing powerful computers to our students we were giving them a voice, we were allowing them to control their own learning.  By training the teachers, we are giving them the confidence to use the machines every day in class.

The major drawback to all this is that this was a school initiative not a district-wide project like the Meramec Valley students were part of.  Sadly, because our district cannot yet see the value in 1:1 programs, our effort to provide computers to most students will not be sustained.

It is sad to say that most administrators do not see the value in having a computer for every child.  Our district no longer gives out computers and has recently gone with a new Chromebook that is twice the price of the ones we used to purchase.

It is very hard to understand why people do not see the value in these programs and why they do not listen to the students who have been empowered by these sophisticated tools.  There now is ample evidence that 1:1 makes a real difference when done properly.  I look forward to the day when small initiatives become district priorities.

 

Time to Go to Work! Blog Post # 3

Every Sunday, I try to read Brain Pickings. I used to read this to find something I could add to my staff blog. That is over now, but I still need to write and share. This quote from Marcus Aurelius seemed to be a great way to start as we all head back to some form of work.

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At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work — as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”

So you were born to feel “nice”? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?

Marcus Aurelius – as read in Brain Pickings

Now is my time to redefine what it means to work.  This is my first day without a formal ‘job’ in over 31 years.  How I will define work will have to change.

There is plenty of ideas to fill the gap – no problem.

First, I pledged to do 31 posts in 31 days.  This was to be the first real posting day, but I snuck in a few earlier.  There is also the great challenge put out by AJ Juliani to blog for 30 days. Signed up for that too #30daysblogging.

That could be enough work to get me started, but I have also taken on a different challenge.  I will be climbing Mount Kilimanjaro with a great group of adventurers at the end of March.  I am doing this because I need to break out and take on a physical challenge.  The climb also allows me to raise money for the Ottawa Senators Foundation – a group that does amazing work for our kids here in Ottawa.

my logo for the climb
my logo for the climb

No pressure, but if you want to donate to my charity (goal $6000.00) you can give on-line here.

This is my main work for the next three months.

I will also work on learning and reflecting on what I have experienced as an educator over the past 31 years.  The more distance I get from my conventional job the easier – I think – it will be for me to reflect, learn and of course write.  This blog will actually help me to focus my learning.  There are so many directions I can go in now that I am finally freed from my daily work obligations.  This blog may help me to focus on a few learning goals that I can move through over the next few months.

For today, an eight-kilometre hike in -30 C conditions.  A good start, I think for the first new day of learning.

Trust and other things…Blog Post #2

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This is the first day of 2017 and I am ready to get on a roll for my 31 posts.  I wrote earlier that I planned to do 31 posts in 31 days.

This wasn’t my idea – my wife suggested it.  It’s a great idea.

We woke up today after a wonderful New Year’s Eve of tramping through the snow to gather with hundreds of other Ottawa folk to watch fireworks on Parliament Hill and simply wander around in the snowy wonder of a beautiful winter’s night. We met people, waited for free buses and loved the freedom of a wonderful night shared with so many people.

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Already, there are so many things to write about!  This morning, I read about a great project my friend Dean Shareski has started – the #Deanie Awards.

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What a wonderful way to start the year – recognizing people who are doing interesting things.  The first #Deanie recipient  posted the photo on trust at the top of today’s blog post.

I don’t know this person, but I watched him do a great singing presentation at an Ignite Talk.  Of course, I followed him and found this great retweet on trust. “Principals, your teachers must first trust in you before trusting in the change itself.”  The original tweet is from Nathan Lang, Ed. D. @nalang1, so I followed him too.

I am getting a little far from my original post idea on trust – I am sure I will get back to it – I really do see trust as the essential ingredient for anyone who aspires to be an effective principal.  Trust empowers, trust brings out the best in people, trust creates community.  yup, got to write more on this later.

For now, I want to celebrate a wonderful New Year’s Eve with my wonderful partner Heather, the #Deanie Awards and the wonderful gift of being open to making new connections on the first day of a hopeful new year!

More hope to come!

 

 

Climbing Kilimanjaro Post # 1

As my first of 31 posts in 31 days, it makes sense to start with future plans.  This blog is names ‘Teach Talk’ and this has been my main vehicle to write about education issues and projects.  This really is no different, the trip to Kilimanjaro will raise money for kids in our school neighbourhood, helping them to get involved in recreation programming in their neighbourhood.  I also plan to use different forms of communication technology to reach back into the classrooms that I can link to.

So, here is #1 – the beginning of the next adventure.

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Hello Everyone!!

In 95 days, I will be setting out on a brand new adventure.  I will be climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro with a wonderful group of Adventurers led by Shawn Dawson.

I am writing this post for a  variety of reasons.  Some of you have already donated on my fundraising page – thanks so much!  I am already at 48% of my goal of $5000.00.  All this money will go to the Sens Foundation and then directly to Rec Link – a wonderful organization that supports kids and families in the Dalhousie, Ottawa Center West neighbourhoods.  I want to thank all of you for helping me get half way there!

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For you and all future supporters, I created this email group so I can let you know how the climb goes.  I have invested in all sorts of communication technology that I will use to connect to students in schools.  My main platform to tell our story is produced by ESRI and you can access it here.  This is a work in progress and I want to publically thank ESRI for all the wonderful support they have given me.

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Finally, I am looking for your support.  You can join us for our January 27th (Friday) Gala Fundraiser Retirement Party (see above).  Tickets are $25.00 and if you register on-line, we will get tickets to you and you will get a tax receipt!

This promises to be a wonderful night with live music and a great silent auction.

Many of you have supported me on past projects like the Aviva Community Foundation – you are a great, dynamic group that in the past has allowed me to raise $140,000.00 for St. Anthony School.  Now, I would love you to join me on this great adventure and contribute to a really important organization.

Thanks so much for reading this and for your support!!

 

Paul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

31 Days of posting

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This week marks my final week in formal education as a principal.  This is my 31st year in education and I retire this Friday.

It is with mixed feelings that I leave, but it is time for new adventures and most importantly, it is time for some reflection.

What have I learned over the past 31 years?  I need to begin the process of sorting that out.

I want to do this through blogging because I find that writing really helps me to clarify my ideas and helps me consolidate my learning.  The pace of the day in our school – in any school is simply too hectic to allow time for proper reflection.

So, starting in the new year (taking a break for Christmas), I will be writing 31 blog posts on some of the things I have learned and am learning about education.  I see this as a great way to begin the process of renewal, by reflecting on what has gone on and what the future holds.

Topics?  Not sure, but I am sure a whole bunch will come to me.  I am open to ideas.  If you can think of something I should write about, let me know and I will give it a go.

For now, here’s to 31 great years and to whatever the future holds!

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How our teachers make learning visible through collective blogging

Every Sunday I take immense pleasure in putting together a blog post for our parents.  The best part of this is that almost all of it is written by our teachers.  For the past two years, our staff has developed an incredible expertise for writing to their parents each week on what will be coming up during the next few days and what the highlights of the past week were.  We write a ‘collective blog’ together each week.

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display of art work put up this week – portraits of Einstein 

I write every teacher back and comment on their post.  I have often said to them that they really need to share this with others! Of course they do – to the people most important to them – their parent community.

It is up to me to highlight their work to the wider education community.  I am very happy to do this.  People need to see what this incredible group of people put together each week.  All of this is completely voluntary, but they all see the great benefit the collective blog has in getting their message out.

Kindergarten News for December 5-9, 2016

We are very excited to plan many great events for our Kinders. They are embracing all of our initiatives and as educators we are delighted to see how all of our efforts are so very much appreciated. A special thank you to our parent community for supporting us too!!

The Kinders were so reflective and attentive during the school’s first magical Advent celebration on Thursday. We look forward to attending the second celebration next Thursday

Thank you to all the parents who have sent in their donations of toiletries for St. Luke’s Table. Whatever small donation you can make is much appreciated.

On Friday they all had fun on their walk in the neighbourhood and they loved discovering where their stuffed animals were hibernating in the school yard. Of course, the delicious hot chocolate with marshmallows was enjoyed by all after coming in from the cold. Thank you for sending in a little stuffed animal to hibernate. Thank you to Ms. Ekich for joining us on our hibernation walk!

Kindergarten news for the upcoming week

All our parents read this every week.  The students as young as grade one will ask if a particular picture or event will make it to the blog.  Students want their parents to see what they are excited about at school.

This is what I think all schools need to do.  By putting out regular collective blog posts like this we are breaking down the barriers between the school and the parent community.  The beauty of making this a ‘collective blog’ is that the teachers do the most important work – providing the content.  I put it all together in one blog and post it to our Twitter and Facebook accounts and send it directly to our parents through Remind and Synervoice.

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winners of the St. Anthony Superstars Award for the past week – proud kids!

One great benefit to all this is that I have such a better idea of what is going on at school.  I read all the entries and notice as new ideas, activities and programs spread throughout the school.  Through the blog I know how we are growing and innovating as a group of educators.

I won’t post the entire blog here – its pretty long – but you can see our latest edition here.

If you take a look, maybe you could post a comment on the blog – Great work deserves to be recognized!

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Do we see poverty in our schools?

For many years, I took groups of teachers and students down to the Dominican Republic, Mexico and El Salvador.  There is no question that the poverty down there is grinding and the injustice is at times overwhelming.

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Kindergarten class in El Salvador

These trips were very meaningful and I was fully committed to sustaining partnerships with the communities we came into contact with, especially in El Salvador.

Many of you may already see where this is going.  What about the poverty in your own backyard? What about the terrible poverty in Canadian indigenous communities?

I never really had a good answer to these questions.  I guess I thought that I was doing my part.

Now, I don’t see this as good enough.  I have been very fortunate to work in a high poverty section of our city – for me this is a first.  I am ashamed to say that I really didn’t know the extent of the poverty in these communities in our own very wealthy city.

We routinely buy boots for our kids.  We support children through breakfast and lunch programs, we subsidize a whole variety of lunchtime programs so that our kids get the same educational opportunities as others in better off neighbourhoods.  We are constantly applying for grants for recreational equipment, technology and improvements to our yard.

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Where do we get help? From wonderful community orientated businesses like Starr Gymnastics

I am not writing this to make us look virtuous, this is simply some of the things you need to do when you live in a poor neighbourhood.  Even in a rich city.

Sometimes you have to go cap in hand to well off schools to get help, especially at Christmas.  I don’t like doing this, but it is important to help families especially at Christmas.

This year, we were turned down by one of the well off schools in our board.  This same school routinely raises thousands of dollars for schools in Southern countries.

Of course, this is their choice, but what has happened to our priorities?  How have we lost sight of the poverty of our neighbours?

I have no answers, only to say we still have a long way to go in the journey from charity to true social justice, especially in our own backyard.

As for our school community, we will do just fine.

 

 

Digital Implementation in School: How are we doing?

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Implementation of digital content seems to be widely misunderstood.  You can’t just drop in a sophisticated digital program without a really good implementation program.  Like with everything in education, it comes down to the person.  If teachers are ill-equipped to use new programs, they will fall back on traditional teaching methods.

Implementation is a long game.  To successfully introduce a program, you need a multi-year plan for professional development and support for your teachers.  If we use the SAMR Model as a measuring stick, I think that most teachers are still at the Substitution level.  At this stage, with all the technology available, we should at least be working at Modification – ‘Tech allows for significant redesign’.  I don’t think this is happening mainly because teachers do not have sufficient time during the day to explore the tools already out there that would allow them to transform their use of technology.

In Canada, teachers spend an average of 800 hours in the classroom per year.  In contrast, Japanese teachers spend 600 hours in the classroom (Education at a Glance 2014: OECD Indicators).  The Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education suggests that teachers need at least 10 days a year be set aside for in-school teacher training supported by coaches and mentors.  In Sweden, teachers are allocated 15 days or 6% of a teacher’s total working time to professional development (How High-Achieving Countries Develop Great Teachers, August 2010).

Timely, well-supported PD might help us to move towards Modification and eventually, Redefinition.

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As part of this process, it is really important your staff with excellent digital training resources. We are in the second year of a partnership with Atomic Learning.  I consider this a great investment.  You cannot ask your teachers to rely on YouTube or Google when they have questions on a variety of digital programs.  They need sources of curated material delivered by professionals who are used to working with teachers.  Atomic is not the only source for this professional learning, but for us, it’s works really well.

Discovery Education, especially in the United States and Great Britain is also providing excellent on-line and person-to-person PD.  The personal touch, in my opinion is really important.  Discovery spends a significant amount of time encouraging teachers to meet and share ideas.  They also feature innovative teachers on their blogs through the DEN- Discovery Educators Network.  The element of ‘teacher voice’ is a very important aspect of their approach to professional development.

digital-implementation-in-schools-how-are-we-doing-google-docs-clipular-2Discovery Education puts a great emphasis on connecting with other educators

Pockets of innovation certainly do exist, but to me, the implementation of digital technology has been painfully slow.  We seem to still be willing to invest in text and print resources rather than make the leap to digital texts and resources that allow for greater innovation and creativity.

The tools are certainly out there.  They do require a significant financial commitment, but we need to move in a more deliberate fashion towards the adoption of these tools at a much more meaningful level.

Teacher directed PD

Today we had something that unfortunately is becoming increasingly rare – an in-school PD Day where we were able to control the agenda.  First, I have to thank our board for allowing us to plan our own day.  This makes such a wonderful difference! Within the parameters of our school improvement plan, teachers chose to focus on one of the ‘critical actions’ outlined in the plan.

This is how the day looked:

PD Plan for Friday

I. Seesaw – presentation on the Seesaw tool for student engagement

II. Innovative Learning Stance: What am I doing differently this year to help achieve the school priorities? What are my critical actions and what do I expect to see as a result of these actions?

responses from  teachers 

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III. Leveraging Digital – choose one digital tool to work on – it can be seesaw, Edublogs (see below) or some aspect of Discovery PD section here or another tutorial from Atomic Learning.  Please add your choice to the survey (you are able to go in and edit your answers – you will need to do this by the end of the day) What learning can you record (based on your work today)here that we can add to our SIPSaw? 

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Ten Easy Ways to Integrate Technology in the Classroom Training

Education: One Day at a Time.

Sometimes in education the struggle seems like it is just too much.

With every child and family, we deal with there is always a fine balance.  What is the child learning, how engaged are the parents, what does the child or parent bring to school with them every day?  What has happened to the family even before the first bell?  What are we missing, what do we not see?

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Each of us in our lives in education only see a part of the life puzzle that are our students and families.  We try so many different things to help motivate and engage the people we work with.  Sometimes we are successful, often we are not, most of the time we will never know.

To keep a healthy perspective, we need to learn to take one day at a time – this is certainly a tired out phrase, but there is great wisdom here.  Life can only be lived one day at a time, it is impermanent and it changes all the time.

Today, after working with a particularly challenging student one teacher commented, – well, I guess he won today. I really don’t know what to do about a comment like that.  Who wins in the work we do?  Are we supposed to win?  Is anyone ever the winner?

If we try to see that we are all on a lifelong learning journey, with good and bad days, we might be able to develop a more positive perspective.

It’s not about winning or losing, this is not a ‘battle’, this is life and we should all be learning together.