Category Archives: learning

The Doctor’s In


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Dean Shareski’s post “Why Teachers aren’t making “the Shifts”” examines reasons for teachers not making progress in changing their practices with the changes that are taking place around them.  They aren’t staying current. Dean’s post is a great read and really covers much of what needs to be said. As well, there are some great comments. I was going to comment but figured maybe a post would more in order. Although I agree with Dean, I believe that our current situation is the result of decades of how educational thinkers have treated teaching and learning. Our current state didn’t just “happen”.

During the discussion, Dean discusses the physician analogy that is often cited when talking about professionals and the changes that are taking place. Like Dean, I find the whole medical analogy to be problematic in a few different ways but mostly because we’ve moved surpassed the medical model in education.

The Doctor is In

What if we followed the medical model for education? Okay, they have certain specific technology that has changed the way testing and treatments occur. But much of the rest is no different than it was over 50 years ago. In fact, in many small local hospitals, much of the decor hasn’t changed much and the actual building is nearly 50 years old – like most schools. The format – arrive, tell a receptionist you are, take a seat, wait to be called, go to a small examining room, doctor comes in with file (paper file), and discuss the current situation. Now, here’s where things get tricky and we sometimes make assumptions that doctors are cutting edge. They listen to our symptoms, press or make us cough or whatever – figure out what we have, give us something or tell us we’re getting older and doing that will cause a pulled muscle which will feel like your ribs are broken. Rest and don’t do that again. But, think about it, how many human bodies have they seen that are physiologically different? Basically, all human bodies are the same – with similar responses and organs in the same place. But imagine, if each time a doctor had to do a diagnosis that the body wasn’t the same. They had to look for the heart and lungs to do the tests. That just by looking at the person you couldn’t tell what was different on the inside.

Next, imagine that instead of sending the person off to get blood work and an X-ray the doctor had to do these themselves before they could send them to any experts for followup – they had to do all they could at level 1 before they could look for level 2 support? And, imagine that before being able to move on to level 2 supports, they had to confer with three or four people and demonstrate that the person needed to see an expert because they had exhausted all their level 1 ideas and tests.

Finally, imagine if you will, that despite the advances in technology, the doctor still used “old technology” – yep, a stethoscope and put the thermometer under your tongue or, instead of the fiberglass cast they still used plaster?  Would they be labelled as behind and not keeping up as a professional? What if they still use paper files and everything isn’t on a computer? What then?

Medical Model for Teachers

The students show up at the school, all sitting in chairs outside the classroom waiting for their teacher to see them. One by one they file into the room where they have a short meeting with the teacher who examines where they are in their development and assigns them some more work to do before sending them off on their way to get it done. When they encounter a student who seems to be having difficulty, out comes the referral form and the student is sent off to get the appropriate supports, not returning to see the teacher until after the specialist has released them from treatment. Within the school building are all the necessary support people, from dieticians to reading experts, all working with children. And if the student doesn’t make progress? Well, do we blame the obesity epidemic on doctors?

Really, we need to stop trying to shame people into doing things because that’s what we’re doing. We’re finger-pointing and creating an analogy that will hopefully shame people into changing their ways. Instead, we need to listen. And not the head nodding, repeating-back-but-not-really-listening-but-checking-the-excuse-list type of listening. I mean, if we really examine our learning paradigm, do we throw the towel in when a student gives us excuses for not working? Or do we dig deep and see what we can do to help them – not do the work for them but help them in their learning.

For far too long we’ve treated teachers as empty containers who need to have PD days where we open their heads and pour in some more information hoping that they’ll go back to the classroom and do it. We’ve hired staff to unpack outcomes, build units, incorporate technology all in the name of efficiency so that teachers don’t have to be burdened with these learning activities – we’ve left it to the “experts” who then pour it out for the teachers to use. We’ve tried to make the learning for teachers easy and relieve them of as many burdens as possible instead of letting real learning take place – the messy not-so-controlable type of learning.

That is where there is a the biggest difference between doctors and teachers – professionalism. For decades we’ve de-professionalized and “teacher-proofed” curricula and lessons in order to create units and lessons that can be followed from start to finish moving along the checklist of effectiveness and efficiency in order to cover more information more quickly. There have always been those who have bristled against this and stretched the boundaries in the classroom. With the ability to share stories and ideas via social networks, teachers are able to find like-minded individuals. This shift has created an exciting change in how some teachers are engaging students and questioning the way much of the school-system functions and the current role of teachers. But this isn’t all teachers. In fact, teachers are at different stages of adoption and shift which is natural. But as Dean points out in his post –

When I think of some of the teachers who are changing their practice, they are often what I describe as “positive deviants“.  I’m always interested in their stories as to how they began to make the shifts they’ve made. Often there’s a bit of luck. They happen to go to a conference and hear a Will Richardson speak and are awaken to ideas they’ve never heard before. Sometimes they take a class and have a professor that introduces them to a new approach to learning. Sometimes they hear about a thing called blogging and head down a rabbit hole. While lots of people might have these same experiences and do nothing, there’s a greater number of teachers who’ve never even had a chance like these. Again, I don’t know exactly what it is but knowing we have such a small number of teachers really making these big shifts isn’t because teachers are uncaring, dumb or lack conviction.

After decades of “teacher-proofing” and years of having “experts do their work”, it’s only when teachers head out on their own, through their own learning, that a shift begins to happen. Most teachers, even after hearing something great and going back to try things out, have run into the “NO” wall. Others, myself included, who have tried to move things ahead, have met with resistance and, at time, being publicly humiliated or ridiculed for what they are doing. This really kills any desire to try things differently. Not everyone experiences incredible support for what they are doing. There are many who have to quietly go about what they do. And there are many who leave the profession – some to become advocates of change in education!  A great majority of teachers do not see the need to adopt many of these practices because they are already taxed with other initiatives and requirements from division and provincial educational authorities. And not following these can be harmful to ones job health!

Why are We Surprised?

Teachers care. Period. Some teachers are in it for the “job” but even they care. Some care so much it drives them away because they cannot reconcile the caring with what is happening. Some care so much they work themselves too hard and leave the profession. Most care so much that they do what is asked of them and then do more. They spend mornings, noon hours, after school with students. They spend countless weekends traveling all over with sports because they care. We need to honour that caring more and not make assumptions about why they aren’t keeping up with their “professional learning”. The most disparaging line I’ve heard lately goes like this:

Teachers say they don’t have time to incorporate technology and learn about new things for students. Saying you don’t have time tells me your priorities.

It’s not exactly like that but the gist is because these teachers don’t have “time”, students aren’t their priority. Maybe in a very rare case. More likely, they are doing so much on so many fronts and have bought into the “they’ll tell me what’s important at a PD event”. Really, with so many initiatives taking place in schools, teachers have little time for their own learning. In fact, many districts, in the name of efficiency, are doing the learning for teachers by unpacking the Standards or Outcomes for the teachers, telling how to teach – use Inquiry/PBL – doing the work for them so they can get down to teaching! What they seem to have forgotten is that the learning comes when you do the work themselves.

Are we surprised that teachers aren’t making the shift? Maybe if teachers had been given the professional respect of professions, we wouldn’t need to ask the question.

Next up, those who are on the edge – Outliers – being on the edge – success or failure. A personal journey as an Outlier.

Change may be constant but it still takes time


"Transition and change is difficult. It takes time."

How many times have you heard this? How many times has this been seen as an excuse for not changing? I know I've read more than a few blog articles about no longer accepting the "excuses" for not changing – there needs to be a change and we need to move on – NOW!

Lately I've been working on transitioning myself through a major life change – one that is extremely exciting – and scary and terrifying and exhausting and ……. but it was time. Not being one to ignore that change needs to happen, I made the decision – after discussing it with my wife – to move on. To what, I have no idea but the rut was starting to get too deep. I wasn't seeing things with new lenses anymore. I was starting to look for "easy" solutions at times – not the right solutions.

This morning on twitter I happened upon this tweet


As I read through the article there were so many things that struck me as being important in the educational context.

1. Healing takes time – change requires healing time

Often I’ve heard “Well, they need to get over it. That’s the way it is and it’s time to get with the times”. In fact, the number of articles that are almost hostile to people who aren’t willing to change as quickly as they should is somewhat surprising given we are suppose to be an empathetic and concerned group of individuals. As an administrator who has been involved in working with a number of staffs in different schools on improvement and change – I didn’t always understand this and often thought “Let’s move on. We’ve been going over this and rehashing this.” I didn’t understand that, as the educational leader, I needed to listen to where they were in the change process – not where I was or where I wanted to be. But that’s only the start – the next step is empathizing and then help them move forward with the understanding that staying put isn’t an option and support will be in place to transition.

2. Telling someone that change is going to happen doesn’t eliminate the need for time for healing.

As a parent, this has been so real for me and my wife. We have lived in 7 different communities. As parents, we learned that we needed to discuss the move with our children well before it happened BUT that didn’t mean they wouldn’t need time. I still remember my oldest boy, days before we were moving our last time. He had never really experienced leaving friends. There he was, with his best friend, walking behind our house in the late evening along the back road. The two of them, arms over each others shoulders walking – occasionally talking – stopping to look, point, talk. It nearly broke my heart as I watched these two friends help one another – tears rolling down my cheeks as I witnessed friendship as it best. Later that night, before bed, we talked about how he was feeling. LIke it was yesterday, his reply was “I’ll be okay. I know it will be okay. I just need time to get use to this.” He was 8. He taught me that change was okay – but it wasn’t easy no matter how much advanced warning.

As an administrator, I constantly remember this as I have worked with teachers, parents and students moving through the change process. After moving to a new school, our staff was in the middle of a planning meeting as the old school was being demolished. As we watched the old school being torn down – there were many teachers who couldn’t concentrate on the meeting we were having – so we stopped. Watched. Some tears were shed. Memories were shared. They knew for 2 years that this was going to happen. It didn’t make it easier.

Too often, in the name of progress, the rush to change becomes a litany of initiative after initiative in the name of “Doing what’s best for students” with new ideas coming from all over the place. Telling people that change is coming doesn’t mean you don’t have to help them when it actually happens. Again, empathy is a big part of this and giving teachers a list of 10 things isn’t empathetic. Neither is listing all the benefits or, like I’ve seen, ridiculing those who aren’t changing in forums of those who’ve change. The last one, sorry to say, is somewhat of a staple in some twitter circles and is so embarrassing that people with fairly large followings talk about other people like that yet do it in the name of “What’s best for students”. Exactly what would children learn from that?

Another group I’ve especially seen this with is new teachers. “10 things to you need to know as you begin teaching” is a great title but if you’re really concerned about new teachers, you’ll talk to them – constantly – not just at the beginning of the year or during the new teacher follow-up meetings or class observations. Even if it means making a note to yourself to stop by after school or in the morning to “talk” (I mean listen) to them, it’s needed. They need to “hear” from you in more than emails, memos and observations. And, no, you don’t have the answers – they aren’t asking questions but working through change.

3. Change goals are too vague and too longterm.

“It’s what’s best for students” isn’t good enough anymore. For everyone who pulls this phrase out when referring to school reform and the advancement of technology, quit saying it because I can give you a whole grocery list of items that would fall in this category and fulfill the criteria.

And the rationale that “It’s what is happening everywhere outside of school” is another one that needs to hit the dumpster for the same reason as above. Again, there’s a grocery list of things that fit here. Yes “everyone is on ______________” but, that’s doesn’t mean it’s for everyone or that we will find the same fulfillment/satisfaction/learning/growth. This is as ridiculous as saying we’ll teach all the students in our room the same way with the same material and expect them all to learn and be excited about it. How about let’s stop this “one size fits all” for teachers and, instead, help teachers with some long-term goals for change and then short-term feedback goals for success. “Everyone’s doing it” is something a teenager says to their parents not something that I would expect in a conversation concerning educational change that is impacting the lives of teachers.

Goals need to be specific – we’re moving to use ePortfolios because….. – and have the people doing the change fill in some of the reasons because there are people who will be ready and accepting of the change and be prepared to move things forward. Constant initiatives from out there “in the best interest of students” hasn’t really worked so far – why do we expect them to suddenly work? Be specific about the change. Set a longterm goal – but then set short term goals and allow people to move forward, make mistakes and work through the changes. Give individuals the assistance they need to move forward, hold them accountable and be expected to be amazed.

As an administrator, one thing I’ve encountered numerous times is the “3 year plan – 1 year mindset”. The initiative is given 3 years to be fully implemented but that is 2 years longer than the timelines given for seeing results. There will always be those people who want to impress and will be willing to “succeed” at all costs – but in education, the human cost – especially when it relates to teachers, students and parents – is just too much. Either live by the 3 years or stop the smoke and mirrors and be honest about the change timeline. People may not be happy but they will know what is expected of them – especially the leaders in the school – and adjust accordingly. Support for a 3 year initiative is much different than that of a 1 year initiative.

4. Not everyone moves at the same rate or has the same needs

Individual needs are not usually part of the planning process when discussing change. People talk about them and acknowledge them but don’t plan for the differences. Instead, whether it’s teachers within a school or schools within a division/district, the expectation is that the change will look and proceed along a certain path and, if it doesn’t, there is something wrong. Similar to how students with different learning needs were viewed in the past, which is somewhat ironic.

Planning for different needs and different progress is messy and isn’t without problems – which you would think would be understood given the situation. Yet, it is not uncommon to have educational leaders compare teacher A to B&C&D because A is a “rock star”. The reasons for this are numerous but it’s usually doesn’t have the desired impact. Which, really shouldn’t be a surprise. Instead, leaders should be a) continuing to support teacher A with their work but also providing support for B, C & D. Not being a “rock star” shouldn’t be seen as a negative or be used as a comparison of ability. Instead, plan that this will happen, identify who might need assistance, be open to working with them and provide supports with short-term goals and help to move them along. Too often, the expectation is that with adults, the learning will be roughly similar for everyone and, as organizations, the same inputs will provide consistent results across the domain.

Individuals need time to move through significant change. Too often, because teachers are adults, the assumption is that they will not need that much time or they will be able to rationally see the need for change and will “Get on with it.” Too often, this mistake becomes costly in terms of the human factor which then affects the school culture and, well, my experience in changing these errors is that it leads to a negative and unproductive working and learning environment. Maybe it’s time that people focused a bit more on the individuals in the change process and less time telling them to “just get on with it.” because “there’s no excuse not to move on.” Well, in my experience, there may not be an excuse but there is a reason and, if you take the time, not only will you find out why but you’ll be amazed at the change that will take place.

Productive Group Work


Productive Group Work

by Nancy Frey, Douglas Fisher and Sandi Everlove

In Productive Group Work, the authors discuss the importance of effectively working in groups. As most people have discovered, not everyone knows how to work in a group. In fact, many people have difficulty working collaboratively to accomplish a task. This isn’t to say that students don’t work collaboratively – most share collaboratively online and, if they are gamers, work in a team-oriented situation online. Many students play school sports and are aware of team dynamics. However, working collaboratively in a work environment isn’t always the same as some of these other situations. The company softball team has a different dynamic than the company team responsible for sales and advertising.

The introduction outlines how, for the most part, group work, especially in schools, isn’t necessarily effective. In the first chapter, they provide the characteristics of productive group work and it’s essential role in learning. Learning theorist Lev Vygotsky and his work on social learning outlines the essential role that groups and social learning have in the development of the child. The learning that children do takes place on two levels:

first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people … and then inside the child

Learning is more effective in a social context where interactions with others pushes one’s understanding to new and deeper levels.

“we must view group work as more than a means of completing a project or task. Productive group work is an essential stepping stone to learning and mastery.

The book focuses on the five principles from the work of David and Roger Johnson (1975) –Learning Together and Alone :

1. Positive Interdependence
2. Fact-to-face interactions
3. Individual and group accountability
4. Interpersonal and small-group skills
5. Group processing

Through explanation and specific classroom examples, the authors demonstrate and explain how a teacher can effectively help students to work collaboratively and develop the necessary skills to be effective in a collaborative group situation.


Each of the chapters combines sound theory and practical information so that teachers can begin to use the information in their own classrooms. The book is 117 pages in length but provides some very good charts, formats and questions for consideration that will help any teacher to develop a comprehensive plan for collaborative work.

Templates like the Peer Response Techniques are helpful in planning and working with students to develop skills in working with other people.

p. 78

Classroom Implications

As a Social Studies and Humanities teacher at the middle years and senior levels, I began my teaching thinking that I could just put the students in group and they would know what to do. Wrong. I found out quickly that didn’t work and the work that was done and the classroom chaos that ensued did not allow for very productive learning. So I began to experiment and over the years learned that what is described in the book is, in fact, essential to effective collaboration. As an administrator, there are practical points to consider when thinking about collaborative groups with staff. Defining group norms and expectations before doing any work is an important part of effective collaborative efforts.


This is always a hot topic when it comes to group work. I struggled with this for some time being aware that students within groups didn’t always equally share the load. However, after starting to plan using Understanding by Design I began to develop group projects that had an individual component to them which required students to gather information that would then become part of the greater group product but would be their individual assignment. Then, after reading Ken O’Connors – A Repair Kit for Grading I did some more adjusting to this so that the group projects reflected a number of Social Development attributes which were reported separately – this is the current format of many report cards – but individual assessment comes from an assignment related to the work done in the group.

Classroom Example

To introduce students to systems, they are required to build a lego project using different system formats which allow for different types of interaction among the group members within a specified amount of time. Each group has a different type of system model to follow. This allows students to see how communication might work in different systems and how individual interpretations affect the effectiveness of the work within the system.


Students then had to reflect upon the model, describe the strengths and weaknesses of their role, where they might find this model in a working situation, the effectiveness of the model and how they would improve the model to make it more efficient.

I also began to work with students on presentation skills – reading the information word for word off of a powerpoint was not an effective presentation. This video was one I have used to begin a discussion of what effective presentation might include. Because we read some of the book A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink, we also view a few of the videos to have students determine what makes an effective presentation. We create a rubric which is then used to provide formative feedback. Summative assessment comes from an individual assessment.

From an Administrator Point of View

What I especially like about this book is that it provides practical information that teachers can use within their planning that will make a difference. It identifies that working in a group requires that they model and teach students the expected behaviours. A co-teaching model would be very beneficial to demonstrate to students how two people work together to complete a specific task – describing to students the role of each person – maybe including other support people that students might not be aware of their roles – to diagram and visualize the group processes.

Within a staff, some of the information is a powerful reminder that as lead-learners, we need to be cognizant of the roles people take on on staff and be sure develop a collaborative culture where all members work toward a common vision and not a few people doing a lot while others let them – characteristic of what many teachers probably saw while in school. As leaders, we need to ensure that we refresh ourselves with the different principles outlined in the book – ensuring our groups at the school level work effectively.

Telling and Doing are not the same

Telling – Why not?

Smoking – We all know it’s bad for your health, is linked to cancer and is the root cause of many other physical problems. Yet people continue to smoke, we continue to sell tobacco products and our youth continue to be swayed to using them. Why? In the 21st century with so much advancement, why does this continue? Why can’t everyone just quit?


As someone who smoked for years, quitting smoking was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I didn’t do it on the first try, in fact it took many years to go from wanting to doing  and finally being able to state that I had quit. I still get cravings and I’ve needed to change my lifestyle so as to avoid being in certain situations where I willpower just won’t work. It was a very HUGE difference between saying “I’m quitting” and actually doing it. People who have never smoked don’t understand. Bill Engvel, an American comedian, talks about quitting smoking and how hard it is. Getting advice from non-smokers who’d tell him to “just quit! Why can’t you just quit?”  And it’s true, people who have never smoked will give all kinds of advice on how to quit, bombard you with all sorts of health information, which makes you feel even worse – sometimes like a complete failure. Someone who has smoked isn’t as quick to offer advice and will be more willing to offer support if asked but they aren’t as full of the “I know how” advice or the “you’re an educated adult, what’s wrong with you?” tone.

Technology Integration

What does  smoking have to do with technology integration?. For one, it’s kind of hard to sneak around the corner to “integrate”! How they are the same is that many people will tell you that’s it’s easy or that you should be doing it or how you should do it or why you should do it and provide you with all sorts of data – making you feel like that failure as their finger-wagging tone continues the “What’s wrong with you?'” But, they’ve never really done it. They’ve never looked at year/lesson plans and tried to imagine how they might integrate technology. They’ve not had to assess or evaluate students in order to provide a “mark”. They’ve not had to look at the long term of how does this fit into where I am now and what I do everyday. They might have classroom experience or put together a lesson or two but not the day-in day-out year-long experience.

They can tell you you should do it, that it can’t be that hard and will provide you all kinds of stats/articles/data about why, as a teacher, you should be doing it. They’ll throw out phrases that will include “21st Century Skills, digital citizenship, digital natives” and others. Some will be able to point you to teachers who “didn’t know a thing about technology but are doing it” just like there are some smokers who quit, first time, no problems. Well, for the rest, it wasn’t so easy.

A Plan

As you move to integrate technology, you might want to think of these things along the way – they’re things I’ve learned from experience in my classroom:

1. Decide why you are doing this and make a plan. Base your decision on learning not because you think you should or someone says you should. Cool might look “fun” but focus on the learning that will be taking place and how it will become part of the strategies you use in class and how might you assess the learning. I use tools like MindMeister and Gliffy to do brainstorming – sometimes. For some of the work, they are the best option for getting students involved and helping them to make connections between parts. They’re relatively easy to use. Now, there are other options like Popplet, text2mind and Mind42. This year I’ll also be looking at aMap and wikimindmap in some of my classes and I might even give Pinterest a go. Now, I’ll look at them but I won’t force them to fit and if I can’t use them, that’s okay. We’re way past the “wow” factor – our time is too precious.

2. Find your support people are and USE THEM. Teaching is not a solitary endeavour. Although there are a great number of resources that show you how, having someone to go to for support is essential for success. Whether it’s IT support or planning support or assessment support or delivery support, you need to have someone who can give you a hand. In the division where I teach, we have different people who support me in each of the above areas but because they are a distance away, it is important to find someone within the building or within you PLN that you can look to for assistance and help. This is where those connections via twitter or Classroom2.0 or Ed Administrators2.0 help.

3. Be prepared for setbacks. It will happen and there will be times when things don’t work out. Instead of tossing in the towel, getting down on yourself and forgetting it – reflect on what happened. That is why it’s important to plan – so you can assess for yourself and then make adjustments. Make notes of what went well and what you need to do to be successful.

4. Allow the students to guide some of what happens. You don’t have to control the whole process. In fact, it’s better if you build in various opportunities for their own exploration and sharing. Build the capacity of the room – make learning, not control, the focus of what is going on.

5. Have a backup option. I’ve been using technology in my classes since the mid 90’s – wikis and the LMS HotChalk since 2006 or so and have found out through experience that I always need to have an option that will allow us to continue to learn even if the internet is down or the system is buggy or ….. I’ve amassed a pretty good collection of items, articles, pictures that provide alternatives if things are working. Now, having more students BTOT, I rely on them to provide a buffer if our school system isn’t working. Heck, I’ve created my own  hotspot to allow students to work. But you need to think about these types of things and have alternatives. Having 26 grade 1’s all being frustrated because “It won’t work” can lead to great issues.

6. You need to lead with your strengths. I’m really good at the big picture – putting things out there so students/staff can see the parts fitting together. I’m not as good going from parts to whole – so I use my strengths and look for someone who can support me in areas where I’m not as strong. As an administrator, I have staff who have strengths which I encourage them to use and develop. When I first began teaching, I wasn’t very good but I was surrounded by a whole team of great teachers, each with their strengths. I visited them, watched them, had them help me, give me ideas and suggestions. I focused on making improvements while still using my strengths.

Telling and Doing are not the same

I’ve noticed that people who have quit smoking aren’t the first to offer you advice. In fact, they usually only offer suggestions or ideas because they know that whatever you do, it won’t be easy. They listen to what you have to say – will tell you a story or two of their failures before they were successful.  I know very few people, actually only 2,  who were successful the first time and did it with no plan. It’s kind of like that with technology integration – people who are successful usually have many setbacks, have learned from their mistakes and will share but will do so through stories which will usually include a failure or two.

Then there are the “Tellers” – they’re experience is vicarious – they’ve talked to all sorts of people who have done it but they really haven’t had the experience themselves – they don’t know what it’s actually like to have those successes – they just tell you that they will come. They’ve never been in a room with 29 grade 7’s when the computers aren’t working and things are going south fast – the panic as you realize your plan isn’t working, the sinking sense of failure, the “what do I do now panic” that sets in. They’ve heard about it, maybe even seen it but working through it and learning from it and watching or hearing about it are two different things.

So, as you begin to make plans, looking for tools to use – I like the site which has all sorts of sites that give you many different options that are searchable by tags – remember that you aren’t alone – you have supports around you and you need to use them. There will be setbacks but it’s only a failure if you don’t learn from it and move forward. You don’t have to control everything – it’s about learning and not control. Use your strengths – we all have them. Give yourself time – you are making changes in “teachingstyle” much as I did with having to make adjustments in lifestyle. One of them was exercising – I still remember my first “run” walking to the end of the block and back. Don’t compare yourself to what others are doing.

It’s about the season – not the game

This weekend the Sr. Girls basketball team played in another tournament final. We didn’t win. Now, many people who watched made comments like “Well, you had the chances, the ball just didn’t drop” or “You just couldn’t find your groove” or similar things. These statements are true – on the surface. However, as the coach/leader, I’ve learned to evaluate not just the team performance but mine as well. On reflection, this loss was more about me, as a coach, not making good decisions as it was about the team not shooting well.

As a coach, I’ve never had to cut a player because I’ve never been in a position to have that many players! Each player on our team plays. They have to because we don’t have a long bench. In fact, with everyone there, we have 9 girls. They each have strengths and weaknesses and we work at improving both throughout the season. Our team needs all the players to play – we need everyone to go out and give it their all. It’s just our reality. We don’t have a bunch of height this year but we have other strengths. Last night I didn’t coach to those strengths. I had a game plan and we stuck to it – too long – too late I realized it wasn’t going to work. By then the girls were frustrated, tired and somewhat disheartened. We regrouped at half but it was too late. Next practice, I’ll let the team know that the loss was probably due more to my decisions than their playing. It was a coaching error not a playing error.

Was the loss a failure? Absolutely not! It’s only our 2nd all year and it provided us with some more incentive to work hard at practice, focus on the drills and put in the time. Although it was a disappointment it was by no means a failure. It was LEARNING! We all learned – the team and I – we learned. It was important learning – critical to our future success.

Behind the Bench

This is my 17th year as a basketball coach. In fact, I’ve coached most sports over my teaching career. I’ve had the honour of coaching a team all the way to provincials and a few to Regional Playoffs. Basketball has been the sport I have coached the longest and the one I knew the least about when I started. In fact, when I first started, I didn’t really consider basketball a sport. Growing up on Canadian prairies, I did what so many other youth do, I curled. And played hockey and volleyball and badminton and did track but there was no basketball. None.

17 years later, I’ve learned quite a bit about the sport but I still know very little. That is why I watch video on YouTube, subscribe to newsletters, check regularly a few key websites and, whenever possible, watch what other teams are doing. I have to be willing to learn and adjust what I do as a coach so that the each member of the team can continue to get better. Having coached primarily teenage girls, I’ve also developed a sense of what works with motivating them, what helps to keep them focused, when to push and when to lay off. Today we didn’t have our usual practice because the team needed time off. They needed to rest. Some of the seniors will be going over the game throughout the day and will come to our next practice determined to improve. The juniors will follow them.

Being a Leader

What I’ve described above is somewhat of a mirror reflection of my journey as a teacher/administrator. I started teaching not really knowing what it was about. The first few “seasons” were losing seasons. None were winless but some were pretty darn close. I became determined to improve since I couldn’t cut any players, I needed to figure out how to help each of them. I eventually figured out that if I stuck to “my game plan” and didn’t pay attention to what was happening with the team – we’d lose. ALL of us would lose.

Now as an administrator, it’s the same thing. By no means do I know it all as a school administrator but I have become better at leading because I’ve become better at using all the talent in the room. I can’t cut anyone! Instead, my role is to seek out those strengths and talents, encourage and grow them while at the same time working on the weaknesses. For teachers, each day is game day – 5 days a week. But it’s about the season – we want to have a winning season with students. However, will there will be days when it just doesn’t flow and it won’t be a “winning game” or you’ll have a bad “quarter” and that is when, as an educational leader, I ask teachers to reflect and critically evaluate what they did, the decisions they made and the “plays” they called. Sometimes it’s a student having an off day. But sometimes, it has nothing to do with the students – it’s our actions/reactions/game plan that needs to be adjusted.

To Err Is Human – To Forgive Divine

We will make mistakes. It will happen. In fact, if it doesn’t, I’m thinking that you have a talented group that isn’t being challenged. It’s like being a 4A team playing in a 1A league – you’ll be a winner but what will the players learn? No challenge – little growth – little development – limited progress. If you challenge them, there will be mistakes and unsuccessful attempts  but it will be how you react that will be critical in development. Are you willing to self-evaluate critically? Will you admit it was partly your error? Will you point out how you made the error and discuss it? Will you change that loss into growth and improvement? Will you be willing to forgive – them and yourself? It is a critical step – letting go and moving on – not dwelling on the mistake but focusing on looking for improvement – in yourself and your “team”.

As a coach, I serve my team. That is my role. Yes, I push them at practice, find the drills and make game decisions but I serve the team – building individual talent to make us a better team. As a school administrator, I have a similar role. In both cases, I cannot play the game/teach for the others. I have to relinquish control of the play  – I am there to serve. So, when I err, I must be willing to accept it but then, demonstrate that it is a learning experience – model life-long learning – seek out solutions and then begin the task of working with the team, learning from what has happened. As a coach I server – I lead – as an educational administrator it’s the same thing.


You Can’t Stop the Rain

Singing their Song

So often when we talk about schools, students, parents and teachers, we discuss things in arm-lengths type of way. We discuss how they need to have richer and more meaningful learning experiences, how we need to provide them with the opportunities to use the technological tools in authentic learning experiences. What we don’t discuss is how schools need to be places of living not just of learning. They need to be places of community where children can experience life-lessons not just academic lessons. The story that follows is about one such event that took place at our school this past year.

The Idea

Tyler came to see me after basketball practice. I coach girls basketball so he had to wait until after I was done to see me. This isn’t necessarily unusual as I often have students come to see me after school, some because they want to work, some need help and some just want to be able to stay at the school for awhile longer. On this occasion, Tyler wanted to talk. He had this idea that he wanted to put on a Coffee House to raise money for Cancer. As he explained to me, he just really felt he needed to do this. His grandfather had passed away earlier in the year from cancer and he wanted to do something. He had been involved in other Coffee Houses, he played the guitar and thought it would be a great idea. We discussed times and dates. Another teacher who happens to play in a band was willing to help Tyler with setting up. A date and time was picked and the school was booked. Tyler was excited about the event which showed in his eagerness to get started on preparing. On December 8th, our school hosted the Coffee House where over $1300.00 was raised for Cancer Research.

The Rest of the Story

The story is a bit more than just the Coffee House. It’s a story about life. Tyler spent the next few weeks after our initial meeting working on the event. He put up posters around the school. He put out jars to collect money and advertise at various businesses around the town. He put up a sign-up sheet at school and began to spread the news that this was taking place. He spent a few days after school practicing, as did a number of the other students who were going to be taking part in the event. He promoted and had his friends promote. He arranged for a local band to take part.

The evening of the event, there were about 80 people in the school foyer ready to watch the different performers. In attendance was Tyler’s family, including his grandmother. This is where the real story starts. As Tyler got up and welcomed everyone, he explained that his reason for doing this was because he really needed to help others. He described how much it hurt when his grandfather had passed away, how the pain had been so great and he had hurt so much and he wanted to help others because it hurt so much. He explained that his grandparents would have been married 50 years this summer and his first song was dedicated to them as he had been practicing to play it at their anniversary. Beautiful. Powerful. Here was an 18 year old young man doing what many other adults could never do, would never do.  Then, with each performer that took the stage, there was a story. One had lost a sibling, another had lost a parent and a third had recently lost a sibling. They sang and danced in remembrance. The band,  which one of the staff plays in, took the stage.  One of the members had recently lost their spouse. It was an incredible evening. It all happened because one young man wanted to give – give to others because of the hurt he felt. Throughout the evening, people laughed and people cried. They applauded the efforts of the performers, enjoyed coffee and dainties and shared in conversation. All because one young man wanted to give.

Schools Are Real Life

Too often I hear the phrase “Well, when they leave school and experience real life…..” In fact, school is real life. To try to explain that to anyone who isn’t in a school is difficult. Schools reflect, to some degree, the society of which they are a part. Some of the resistance to change is, in fact, a resistance of society to the changes taking place. Schools are more than just places of learning, they are places of living which are changing and evolving. For so long schools have tried to keep the changes taking place in the society  from disturbing what was going on within their walls. This is no longer acceptable – our schools need to be living and growing, adapting and changing. But it’s more than just technology – it’s about all aspects of life. Too often when people discuss school reform, they focus on technology and learning but it’s so much more – it’s about life long learning. You can’t stop the rain from falling but you can use it to power your ideas and grow your dreams if you quit complaining about it falling

Tyler ended  the open mic portion of the Coffee House with a classic Tom Petty song – Free Falling.

Free Falling

Schools are real life – real life for our children. Things may not be where we expect them to be but then again, when does life ever go according to someone’s schedule or plan. Let’s not diminish what does take place through focusing on one narrow aspect like technology. Life is so much bigger.