Can Ontario fix its maths curriculum – Not Yet: Response to Greg Ashman

Greg Ashman seems to be one of the few people writing in opposition to the ongoing disaster that is math instruction in Ontario. This week, he wrote another great article on what is not working with math in Ontario – Can Ontario fix its math curriculum.

Great article and really interesting comments. I agree that Ontario’s obsession with Michael Fullan is misplaced and he needs to move on. However, from what I have seen, Fullan is still the hero of the Ontario education scene and he can do no wrong. The solution to the problem of low scores in Ontario is just to train teachers harder in the inquiry-based system. You can get a good sense of this in this recent interview with Dr Mary Reid of OISE http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1041393219874/

True enough, no one will listen to the critics as we have been marginalized and to speak out against Fullan and the dominant ideology in Ontario is a huge risk to your career in education. As Greg Ashman writes,

There are a few prominent Canadian voices on Twitter but, as far as I can tell, they hold no positions of authority in Canadian education and will be easily marginalised as eccentric, old-fashioned conservatives.

I have felt this way for awhile and as an administrator here in Ottawa, I knew that to publically speak out about the inquiry obsession would have been very unwise from a career perspective. Now as a retired educator I can speak out, but it is not likely that what I write will have any impact.

The trend will continue to be to emphasise inquiry over explicit teaching and results will continue to go down. Senior administrators and ministry officials will continue to drink to constructivist kool-aid because there is little critical thinking going on and school boards demand conformity from their educators and conformity to some really bad thinking is actually the way to guarantee an advancing career for an administrator.

How many years will this silliness continue? How long will we put the blame on teachers who just don’t get inquiry? How long with Ontario’s math curriculum be directed by people who do not need to face its consequences in the classroom?

Thank-you Greg Ashman for your clear perspective on math in Ontario. We can only hope that someone here is listening!

Poor Math Scores – Should We Really Blame the Teacher?

I am listening to a rebroadcast of a CBC Ottawa interview on the Ontario Math curriculum with Mary Reid from OISE. This is one of a series of interviews and articles seeking to understand why students, especially in elementary school, are doing so poorly in math. You can hear the full interview here.

The interview was really nothing new until around the 5-minute mark when Mary Reid makes the classic argument that I always find misses the mark. At this point, Dr Reid dismisses any problem with EQAO and squarely puts the blame on teachers and their training for low math scores in Ontario.

Teachers, she says are not ready for inquiry-based learning. Teachers have high anxiety and low content knowledge when it comes to the inquiry approach. Professional development takes a ‘one size fits all approach’ whatever that means. So, because of the teacher’s high anxiety levels, we are failing at the inquiry-based approach.

These ‘highly anxious’ math teachers then pass this anxiety on to their students.

Then the argument takes on a bizarre note – research shows, according to Dr Reid that it really is the female teachers who are to blame. Female teachers especially pass on this anxiety to their female students, not the male students. This is what the ‘research’ shows. How do you even test for that?

We have been doing inquiry-based math in Ontario for a long time. Over the years, math results in grade 3 and 6 EQAO tests have steadily gone down. During this same period of time, teachers have been continually blamed for not being strong and skilled enough to effectively teach math.

The human factor always comes out – if you are really skilled and somehow ‘get’ the inquiry approach, your kids will do well. If not, your kids will do poorly. I only thank my lucky stars that I never had to teach math in such a poisoned atmosphere. How do elementary teachers do this when they are continually blamed by OISE professors and senior administrators for failing their students?

Why do we not look at the tests? Why do we not examine the curriculum or the inquiry approach?

As long as we see our teachers as lacking something we will continue to have problems when it comes to the math curriculum. It is now time to stop this fruitless blaming and look critically at EQAO and the curriculum.

We certainly need to look at how we assess learning in our schools. Today in the Globe and Mail, Sir Ken Robinson was interviewed and came much closer to a true assessment of our current system.

We need to recognize that children have a huge range of natural abilities and they all have them differently. Our education systems are designed to focus on a small band of those. If you have a narrow conception of ability, you end up with a very big conception of disability.

Sir Ken Robinson, Globe & Mail, September 8, 2017

The sooner we take a really creative approach to how we do education in Ontario the sooner we will be able to liberate our teachers and students to learn, live and grow in our schools. We really need to learn to stop blaming our frontline educators and move on to something much better.

 

My Trek Through the First Day of School

As a principal, I really liked the first day of school. I got to see families and kids once again and I was always excited about all the great stuff that was planned for the new school year.

This year has been a little different. For the first time in 31 years, I am not in a school. I retired last December, so being away from school is not new to me. But, the first day of school is special.

So today, I needed to do something to mark this occasion. I was up almost at the same time – my wife is still teaching – and I drove her to school. I then got my trekking gear on and headed to the Gatineau, the beautiful hills just north of Ottawa.

I hike a good deal these days, especially the Wolf Trail in the Gatineau. Almost always I trek with friends or family, today I went by myself.

I wanted to have a day of quiet reflection, a day to note a new turn in my education career. I say a new turn because I am still an educator. I still work hard at connecting with other educators through Twitter, blogging and most recently, VoiceEd Radio.

I see myself now as an educator who is not tied to any school board or any official position. This is allowing me to write with more honesty about what I think about a whole host of education issues and topics. It allows me to take part in great projects like the Dream Mountains Kilimanjaro trek last year and this year a climb in Peru for Christie Lake Kids and hopefully a three-week trip to El Salvador with University of Ottawa students.

I think as educators we need to constantly evolve and grow. When we are fortunate enough to be able to retire, I think it is something to seriously consider. One can continue doing what they are doing, but I think with diminishing returns.

We always remain educators however, we just move to other stages.

Today was a wonderful day of hiking and reflection. I treasure the past and look forward to new vistas as an educator. The challenge remains the same  – to seek out the new opportunities to grow and contribute.

The summit of Wolf Trail – a great place for reflection

 

 

Take It Back – Where Are We With Explicit Teaching?

It’s worth considering why we are in this situation. Why do bad ideas persist and even flourish in the field of education when they would have been superseded in medicine or engineering?

Greg Ashman Take It Back

I just read Greg Ashman’s latest post – Take It Back, he writes some great material that flies in the face of current education orthodoxy, so I find him refreshing and I like how he challenges the education status quo.

Tomorrow, teachers and students across the province of Ontario will be returning to class again entering the world of the 4C’s, 6C’s, Play-Based Learning, Deeper Learning and Inquiry-based Instruction.

These are all wonderful ideas but they all skirt around the true nature of teaching. Ministry officials, politicians and senior administrators all love these ideas, but I am not entirely sure why. It seems to me that if you want to be part of the established flow, you must uncritically accept all these ideas. To stand up in a meeting of principals and say that you question any of these ideas is a great way to put your career aspirations on a back burner.

That is of course until the ideas get called into question in the forum of public opinion. Right now in Ontario, there are several good articles out there that attack the way math has been taught in schools for the past decade. The Inquiry approach is not leading to better math scores no matter how much the math deck chairs are rearranged. Take a look at When will Ontario break the cycle that is failing its math students? by Anna Stokke, a professor of mathematics at the University of Winnipeg.

To be honest, in my years as an administrator, I never saw a huge amount of inquiry-based teaching in the classroom. I always worked with really talented teachers who had seen many of these education fads come and go. I did see many educators on Twitter and at school board meetings talk about the revolutionary impact of inquiry-based learning and I witnessed the 6C dogma of Michael Fullan being proclaimed everywhere in our school board. I don’t really believe that these ideas ever had a huge impact on good teaching, but to say so publically was never a good idea.

Greg Ashman makes the point in his post that educators now need to ‘take back’ education from those who have swung too far away from explicit teaching in all areas of the curriculum.

Instead, we need to fix this. This one is on us. We are the ones who want to be treated as professionals and so it is time to take control of our profession.

Sadly, you won’t see many educators write like Greg Ashman, it is simply too dangerous. To go against the orthodoxy is somehow seen as disloyal, it certainly doesn’t make you a team player.

This is a big problem. How do we question ideas that in reality make little sense and that have little hard research to back them up? How do we act when we see the education emperor really has no clothes?

I would start by questioning more and reading more – don’t get too caught up in someone else’s education orthodoxy.

Community Response to Five Ways to Damage a Good School

A week ago, after Doug Peterson’s suggestion, I came up with a brief survey to see if I could gain any more insight into actions that might damage a good school. No survey on Twitter is going to elicit much response. Even so, I have received 10 responses to my survey. The results are summarized here.

To be honest, I don’t know if we moved the discussion much beyond Greg Ashman’s original post. He is provocative and he comes up with excellent points to ponder on a regular basis. He has another post on education and non-conformity and I really want to read this and look for more writing prompts based on his thoughts!

There were a few suggestions that are certainly worth mentioning here from the survey. The one comment that dominates has to do with developing positive relations with staff, students and parents.

Build a community & relationships. If you don’t have positive relationships with your students, then nothing you do in class really matters. The same applies to admin. If you don’t take the time to build relationships with your staff, then it will be difficult to get staff buy in for positive changes.

I agree with this comment. If you do not engender positive relationships with the people you serve and work with, no infusion of educational technology or educational theory will make a wit of difference in your school.

In education, we all seem to love the newest fad or upcoming idea, whether it be social-emotional development, deeper learning, inquiry-based learning, project-based learning – the list goes on and on.

We often fail to see the enduring importance of developing and maintaining a respectful relationship with all the people in our buildings. It is almost as if developing a community of respect and caring is a second-tier idea that should be seen as a given and not worthy of discussion.

I don’t think this is the case and I do believe we need to reexamine how we treat the people we work with.

I have come to a number of schools where administrators didn’t seem to have a clue how to work in a constructive manner with their staff. This lack of ability needs to be addressed because failing to deal with an uncaring attitude can really damage staff members. I have often worked with gifted administrators who truly understood the importance of empowerment and I really think their contributions need to be recognized and celebrated.

I think one reason why the work of George Couros gets so much attention is that he really gets this. Throughout his book, The Innovator’s Mindset, George continually focusses on the importance of developing positive relationships with the people you work with. This is such an essential point it can’t be overemphasized. Everything needs to start with the promise that the administrator will honour and respect the people they work with. If this is the starting point, all manner of innovative and wonderful things can happen at a school.

As we enter another school year, let’s try to remain positive and keep in mind what truly makes for a wonderful school – a group of people who strive to respect, honour and empower every person in their building.

Opening the Doors of Teacher Education – Learning in the Global South

I really enjoy working with the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa. They are open to all sorts of new ideas and are always looking for opportunities to deepen the learning experience of their students.

This year, we are going to offer a unique volunteer opportunity for teacher candidates who will be completing their second year at the Faculty of Education.

All students have to complete a three-week volunteer placement before they finish their program. It is up to them to decide what they will do for their placement and students are offered a variety of opportunities to consider at the beginning of their second year.

This year we are offering students a placement in El Salvador where they will be able to learn something about what it is like to work as an educator  in the Global South. We have done these kinds of trips in the past for teachers, but what a wonderful opportunity to take part in a trip like this as part of the formative teacher education experience.

We can learn a great deal by talking to teachers in other countries. While the circumstances of teachers in El Salvador can be drastically different from what teachers experience in Canada, there are remarkable similarities as well. Teachers in both countries have to surmount the challenges of working in low-income areas and we all aspire to offer a holistic education for our students to prepare them for the world they will live in.

Having an opportunity to talk with teachers and students from the Global South can add a rich element to the teacher training we provide our teacher candidates with. Learning what it is like to live and struggle in a poor Southern country can add valuable life experience for teacher candidates preparing for a very challenging career.

We will be working with CIS –  Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad (Center for Exchange and Solidarity) in El Salvador.

CIS aims to strengthen people-to-people solidarity and contribute to the construction of a new El Salvador. They have a great deal of experience working with delegations from the United States and Canada. They have put together a program that will be presented to students in September. Here are some of the highlights:

Proposed Objectives:

  •    Learn about the history of the El Salvador, and the root causes of war, migration and violence.
  •    Exchange ideas about the educational system and teaching methodology in El Salvador and Canada with Salvadoran teachers and students of education.
  •    Promote a culture of solidarity, of mutual support and global connections for social and economic justice.

Possible activities:

  •    Testimony – History of the War and El Salvador.
  •    Hike ecological forest which was a guerrilla encampment during the war in Cinquera Cabañas.  Learn about History and the Environment.
Church in Cinquera, El Salvador
  •    Visit site of Guadalupe and Tenango massacre in the Department of Cuscatlán-Cabañas and learn how survivors have overcome
  •    Visit public school and exchange with students and teachers
  •    Exchange with CIS scholarship students studying education
  •    Visit historical sites in San Salvador:  The home of  Oscar Romero’s home and the chapel where he gave his life
view of the chapel where Oscar Romero was killed

 

  •    Visit the Jesuit University and site where 6 Priests and 2 women workers were massacred in 1989.
  •    Stay in a rural community:   visit homes, visit a school, do some exchanges with the community and /or school teachers; meet with women’s businesses, make tortillas.
  •    Stay in Urban Community:   Meet with teachers about special challenges of gangs in schools; understand the displacement of communities during the war and earthquakes and shanty town settlements; exchange with CIS art therapy course, and human rights committee.
  •    Workshops:  Participants will be asked to develop a workshop  or a series of workshops on one theme to share in the community depending on their skill set and interest – Some examples, that the community request  include education methodology,  different arts, marketing, computers, English,  gender, human rights, environment, culture of peace, communication, environment.
  •    Indigo – history, culture, cultivation and processing of dye and dying clothes by women’s groups.
Salvadorian Enterprises for Women collective in Suchitoto (an hour from San Salvador) where they raise, dye and make clothes from indigo.
  •    Exchange with CIS English and Spanish Teachers and popular education and language instruction.
  •    Spanish classes are available online or at CIS in El Salvador. www.cis-elsalvador.org.

For the sake of brevity, I have only included some of the objectives and activities that could be included as part of the three-week program.

This is a very rich and varied schedule and I know that teacher candidates taking part in this trip will learn lots.

Now it is really up to the students to decide if they will make this their volunteer option for 2018. I hope some of them do, it promises to be a rich learning experience.

with students from the school in San Jose las Flores

 

 

Linking Adventure to Support for Kids: Christie Lake Climb for Kids!

 

our new logo for Climb for Kids by Mairi McGuire

A few weeks ago, I put out a brainstorming post on ways that adventure travel could be used to fundraise for non-profits.

I have learned that to raise money for any project or cause, you need to have an idea that really captures people’s imagination. It is a very competitive market out there and your idea really needs to stand out if you are going to attract funding.

Linking Adventure to Support for Kids

Now, after a few weeks of planning and consultation, we are ready to announce a new venture that will raise money for Christie Lake Kids – a wonderful foundation here in Ottawa that provides recreation experiences for low-income kids throughout the year.

At Christie Lake Kids we believe the experience of growing up in poverty does not define a person or limit their potential. We build physical, social and character skills in children facing barriers associated with poverty through Transformative Recreation experiences.

Christie Lake Kids Website

We will be working with Exodus Travel who have really taken to the idea of adventure travel as a way of fundraising for organizations. Their philosophy, as stated on their web page is a good indication that these are people willing to take adventure travel in a new direction.

It is all about adventure. That is what Exodus was founded upon and what the company is still all about. Discovering countries, cultures, environments, cities, mountain ranges, deserts, coasts and jungles; exploring this amazing planet we all live on.

Exodus Travel web page 

The plan is to trek through the Rainbow Mountains of Ausangate a truly beautiful part of the world.

So, the adventure begins. We want to make this a great trip for all involved, first, of course, to raise money for Christie Lakes Kids but equally important, we want to make this a wonderful adventure for the people who will be our team of fundraisers. This way we can have an experience that will continue into the future.

Are you interested? Send me a note at mcswa1@gmail.com and we will get in touch.

Itinerary 

  • DAY 1

    Start Cuzco (3400m); free time to acclimatise.

    Set amidst hills in the Andes, the Imperial City of the Incas, Cuzco (3,400) was the geographic, cultural and political centre of a vast empire which, at its peak, stretched from present day Quito in Ecuador to Santiago in Chile. After the Spanish conquistadores invaded the city they started building on top of the Incan structures, resulting in unique architecture, a fusion of the Incan and Spanish colonial styles.

    The group flights usually arrive in the mid-afternoon, giving time to wander the cobbled streets admiring the old houses, visiting its interesting museums, churches and pre-Columbian buildings, or to sit in a café and sample a coca-tea.

    It is recommended to take it easy upon arrival into Cuzco and to drink plenty of water to allow your body time to acclimatise to the altitude (3,400m).

    There will be a welcome briefing in the hotel lobby this evening.

    Hotel San Agustin Plaza / Eco Inn (or similar)

  • DAY 2

    Four ruins acclimatisation walk, including Sacsayhuaman, Qenqo, Puka Pukara and Tambomachay.

    The hills above Cuzco city are dotted with some of the most interesting Inca ruins. We drive to the highest, Tambomachay, and return on foot to Cuzco via Puca Pucara, Qenco and Sacsayhuaman: an easy acclimatisation walk to get used to the altitude. An open-air picnic lunch is included during the hike near the spectacular ruins. The day walk is about 7km in total.

    A packed box lunch is included today.

    Hotel San Agustin Plaza / Eco Inn (or similar)

    Meals included:
    Breakfast,
    Lunch
    Distance covered: 7 km / 4 miles
  • DAY 3

    Free day in Cuzco.

    Free day in Cuzco to relax and further acclimatise before starting the trek. A range of optional activities and sightseeing excursions can be arranged, including visits to Inca and pre-Inca sites south of Cuzco, or walks in the hills surrounding the city but we recommend taking it relatively easy in order to adjust to the altitude in preparation for the start of the trek tomorrow. Please see the Optional Activities section in the Trip Notes for further details and prices.

    Hotel San Agustin Plaza / Eco Inn (or similar)

    Meals included:
    Breakfast
  • DAY 4

    Drive to trailhead at Chillca; short walk to first lodge (4368m); traditional music performance.

    We drive for approx. 4 hrs by coach beside the Vilcanota River, stopping en route to visit the temple of Checacupe, then the upper valley of Pitumarca. When we reach Japura, we leave the transport behind and trek a short distance to Chillca – our first tambo (mountain lodge). We will be greeted by people from the local communities, usually playing Andean instruments, and there’s the chance to try some coca tea.

    Comfortable Eco Lodge (Tambo)

    Meals included:
    Breakfast,
    Lunch,
    Dinner
    Distance covered: 3 km / 1 miles
    Activity (hours): 1.5
    Andean Lodge Trek, Peru
  • DAY 5

    Trek past glaciated mountains, waterfalls and llama territory to Machuracay (4814m), at the foot of sacred Mt. Ausangate.

    After breakfast, we trek alongside huge herds of alpacas and llamas in the glacial valley of Phinaya. We will ascend past the Pjachaj waterfalls and come to more glaciers at Santa Catalina. We continue walking for roughly five hours amidst huge walls of glacial moraine, and passing glaciers and glacial lagoons to reach Machuracay Tambo. Our bags, carried by a llama caravan, meet us there and the family that runs the lodge will welcome us.

    Comfortable Eco Lodge (Tambo)

    Meals included:
    Breakfast,
    Lunch,
    Dinner
    Distance covered: 15 km / 9 miles
    Activity (hours): 5-7
    Andean Lodge Trek, Peru
  • DAY 6

    Over the Palomani Pass (5150m) to Anantapata (4750m) via the ‘Nevado del Inca’ sandstone formations.

    Today we take in our first mountain pass (5,150m) from the top of which we are rewarded with spectacular panoramic views. Descending alongside the glaciers, we trek to the Ausangate Cocha Lake for lunch. After lunch, we see a stark contrast in the landscape as we enter a region of red sandstone sediment formations. Here, we will usually see vicuñas (a smaller relative of the llama) and sometimes condors can be seen soaring overhead. We stay at Anantapata Tambo tonight.

    Comfortable Eco Lodge (Tambo)

    Meals included:
    Breakfast,
    Lunch,
    Dinner
    Distance covered: 12 km / 7 miles
    Activity (hours): 5-7
  • DAY 7

    Follow an isolated trail through multi-coloured mountains to Huampococha (4800m).

    After breakfast, we set off along a trail towards another mountain pass. Dropping down, we walk past Lake Kayrawiri, surrounded by rugged mountain peaks and the great valley below. Striations of colour are embedded in the hillsides (a geologists dream). Then we go on to Cerro Laya Grande via the extensive Glacier del Inca, and the most striking colours in the sediments of Yauricunca. We take lunch here amidst this unique landscape. On our way to our last lodge, we should see Andean geese nesting in the cliffs of Anta. Just before reaching Huampococha Tambo we pass the flat iron formations of Apu Labrayani.

    Comfortable Eco Lodge (Tambo)

    Meals included:
    Breakfast,
    Lunch,
    Dinner
    Distance covered: 12 km / 7 miles
    Activity (hours): 5-7
  • DAY 8

    Cross the Anta Pass and descend to the valley where the trek ends; transfer to Cuzco.

    We wake to fantastic mountain views and set off on our final walk. A steady climb brings us over our final pass, the Anta Pass. We descend from the pass and encounter some peculiar looking shapes of limestone – formations of Cretaceous age. We hike here until the end of the trail in Trapiche, where we have lunch before returning by bus to Cuzco.

    Hotel San Agustin Plaza / Eco Inn (or similar)

    Meals included:
    Breakfast
    Distance covered: 11 km / 6 miles
    Activity (hours): 4-6
  • DAY 9

    Visit Pisac market and the fortress of Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley; continue by train to Aguas Calientes.

    Today we visit the magnificent Sacred Valley of the Incas, including the incredible ruins at Pisac and the fortress of Ollantaytambo. From Ollantaytambo we take the train to Aguas Calilentes (the town below Machu Picchu).

    The Sacred Valley, which runs along the Urubamba River near Cuzco, is the true heartland of Incan culture and tradition, which is still strong today. The high-Andean scenery is dotted with old towns and villages dating back to pre-Columbian times. The ruins of the Citadel at Pisac guarded a road from the lowlands and gives way to a picturesque landscape of terraces carved into the solid rock itself. Whilst the Inca ruins at Ollantaytambo give you a sense of the scale of what is to come as huge stone terraces scale the valley sides. This was the royal estate of Inca Emperor Pachacuti as well as being of religious and defensive significance.

    Hotel Casa Andina (or similar)

    Meals included:
    Breakfast
  • DAY 10

    Guided tour of Machu Picchu; return to Cuzco by train and by road.

    Machu Picchu ruins Cuzco, Peru

    One of the highlights of the trip is the visit to the greatest ruin in the world, the lost city of Machu Picchu. This is one of the architectural and engineering marvels of the ancient world, in a mountain setting of staggering immensity. The Spaniards never found it; the Incas left no records about it, so Machu Picchu remains a great enigma, a city lost for centuries in the jungle until it was rediscovered in 1911 by the American historian Hiram Bingham.

    We wake early to make the short bus journey up the winding road to the ruins (approx 30 mins). Your leader will give you a two/three hour guided tour of the ruins and afterwards there will be free time to explore at your leisure. There are some spectacular walks around the site that you may wish to do, including following the path to the Inca Drawbridge or even up to the Sun Gate for that iconic view of the ruins.

    In the afternoon we take the train back to Ollantaytambo, from where we continue the remainder of the way to Cuzco by road.

    Hotel San Agustin Plaza / Eco Inn (or similar)

    Meals included:
    Breakfast
  • DAY 11

    End Cuzco.

    • The tour ends after breakfast. The group flights depart Cuzco this morning.

      Meals included:
      Breakfast
    Altitude charts
    TPO Altitude Profile

    Our ESRI Story Map

    We will update this story map as Climb for Kids! develops throughout the year.

Extend Your Trip

Amazon Rainforest extension (from Cuzco)

Code: XPC

Easily accessible via a short flight to Puerto Maldonado from Cuzco, the Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest and home to an astonishing array of wildlife, as well as countless plant species. Spending three nights at a lodge in the incredibly rich Tambopata Reserve, we use motorised canoes to explore its lakes and rivers, and follow jungle trails to discover its dense forests.The detailed itinerary can be found here.

Please ask your sales consultant for more details.

Lake Titicaca extension

Code: XPT

Journey across the spectacular high altiplano to Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable fresh water lake (3,800m). Explore its waters by boat and visit the descendants of the Uros Indians who live on floating reed islands, and are also known for producing fine textiles. Back on the mainland we visit the pre‐ Incan site of Sillustani, comprised of burial towers with fantastic views over the region. The Titicaca Extension is only available after your main tour as we do not recommend arriving straight into Puno due to the altitude. 

 

Andean Lodge Trek, Peru

 

 

Second Response to Five ways to damage a good school

One of the roles I took very seriously as an administrator was that of the gate-keeper. The administrator needs to shelter staff from unnecessary distractions that take them away from the important job of teaching.

I took this to mean that I had a responsibility to protect staff from the many ‘edufads’ that continually rained down on us from our school board and the ministry. My most recent favourite is Deep Learning, something that still defies any logical explanation. Michael Fullan, Ontario’s education guru has written volumes on this concept and his ideas have filtered down to all the schools in my former board. There is no debate about this concept, all schools are expected to follow the Deep Learning mantra even though most of us have no idea what it is and how the concepts improves or even impacts the learning of our students.

The second of Greg Ashman’s ‘howlers’ that have the potential to damage a school has to do with this ongoing trend in education – Lock yourself into the latest novelty

It is almost impossible for schools to filter out all of the bad ideas. Often, senior managers will have a pet project or enthusiasm that seems pretty reasonable at the time.

We don’t need to belabour the point about Deep Learning, it is simply an example of another fad that needs to play out in our system until it exhausts itself. Then we can all go back to what we were trying to do before – offering an excellent education, devoid of distractions, to our students.

The most recent recruiting poster for the Ottawa Public Board plays on this idea of the deep learner. The poster is based on the idea of the 6C’s another Fullan concept that is usually put out there along with Deep Learning.

While all this looks wonderful on a poster, isn’t this what good teachers have always done? Don’t we want all educated people to collaborate and be globally aware? Would it not be more honest and appropriate to say that the goal of education is to teach concepts in math, science, language arts, history etc that people need to be competent and literate in t0day’s society?

I really like writing that provokes critical thinking and Greg Ashman is doing what good educators have always done. He thinks and he challenges the standard orthodoxy which calls on educators to accept ideas without challenge.

Maybe educators along with their students need to adopt a goal of really thinking critically for the academic year ahead.

Thanks for the challenge Greg!

 

Response to: Five Ways to Damage a Good School

There are just some posts you have to read. Last week, I came upon this post by Greg Ashman, Five ways to damage a good school. As a former school principal, I am a sucker for lines like that.

His ‘five things’ were really interesting, and if I can, I will try to comment on some of these factors because, from my experience, he makes lots of good sense.

The first one is not something that you would think would make a top five list, but it is interesting.

Focus on the furniture

I admit that this is a bit of a pet peeve, but I think Greg is on to something here.

The most efficient physical arrangement is to have individual classrooms with tables that are laid out, or at least can be laid out, in rows, yet you will struggle to find a consultant or architect who will recommend this.

It might even be politically incorrect to agree with this point, but as a principal, I got so tired of ‘experts’ telling me how terrible it was that some teachers still had their students in rows. How terrible, how lacking in creativity how 1920’s!
To me, it was important to remember that this supposed expert had not taught in a regular classroom for at least a decade.

Another consultant whose feet were a bit more firmly planted in the classroom noted that rows were important for kids. Sometimes a student needed to know that they had their own safe space in the classroom, something they would be able to count on. This makes lots of sense and as a principal, I never told any teacher how to arrange their classroom and never made any judgement on the quality of instruction based on the design of the room.

Educational orthodoxy these days seems to be firmly planted in the ‘flexible seating’ mode. Take this article in Edutopia – Flexible Seating and Student-Centered Classroom Redesign by Kayla Delzer:

Our classroom environments should be conducive to open collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking. This simply cannot be done when kids are sitting in rows of desks all day.

When I returned to the classroom a few years ago, I had rows. I was able to create this flexible seating arrangement simply by asking the kids to move their desks – they were quite capable of doing this, allowing for some increase in physical activity, another benefit of going to flexible seating.

Here’s the thing. Too often, educators get caught up in the latest fad – flexible seating and the expense that comes with this is one of the newest things. In schools with limited resources (I would say most schools in Canada), the purchase of new furniture means that something else will not be bought.

I one school that I had worked in, the new administration decided to purchase flexible seating rather than provide computers for kids. How can that be seen as a good thing? In many schools, the arrival of a new principal means that new office furniture is in order – how can we justify these expenses when we still rarely see 1:1 schools in Canada? Where are our priorities?

Thank-you Greg Ashman for making such an interesting observation. Let’s try to keep our focus on empowering our students, not the latest edufad.

 

New School Year? Why Not Start a School Blog?

I always loved the excitement that comes with this time of year. Getting ready for a new school year always presented new possibilities and projects. In the past few years, I really enjoyed setting up a new year of blogs – one for staff and one for the school community.

What I have found over the past few years is that as a school leader, one must do a very good job at telling the school’s story using every form of social media that works.

In my last school, I found that blogging weekly to the school community worked very well. I started using a school blog when I started at St. Anthony School. Communication here was a big challenge, especially in a community where English was not the first language at home for many families.

I chose to blog because it was the only format that could be translated into different languages using the handy translation tool. I also felt that the days of the paper newsletter were over and that the community had to move to a more flexible form of communication.

I love to blog and I had used a staff blog as a way of communicating with staff members for several years. The school blog was an attempt to introduce the great communication tool to parents and the wider community.

One of the wonderful surprises that occurred with the new school blog was the amazing staff participation in the creation of the weekly blog.

an excerpt from the kindergarten entry from one of our school blogs

Generally, almost all teachers contributed something for the upcoming school blog post. As time went on, many added photos from activities that had taken place during the week before.

This was terrific for the parents and I think really encouraged wide readership of the school blog. From a principal’s perspective, this was wonderful as I received a weekly rundown of what each teacher was planning for their students.

The blog was certainly an act of love, and it did take most of my Sunday to put it together. I really believe that it was well worth the time, especially when students asked me to make sure that photos from their class be included in the blog!

I used Edublogs both for the school and staff blogs. For around $8.00 a month, I subscribed to their ‘pro’ service which allowed me to access their excellent help desk. This was money really well spent as my questions on some of the technical fine points of blogging were always answered within hours of my initial query.

So, if you are looking for a good project for the upcoming school year, why not take up blogging for your school or for your classroom. The work you put into it is really worth the effort. You will be opening up your world to the parents you serve.

Good luck, any questions? Please let me know, very happy to help!

Next post – how to put together a staff blog.