Supervision For Learning

Starting this fall, I am participating in a Supervision For Learning cohort through the BCPVPA, my provincial association. We have just started our work and here are some reflections.

The organizational of the professional development ticks all the boxes for what the research says effective pro-d looks like. We are meeting as large group 5 times, spaced throughout the year. Also, we each have a triad that meets weekly for about 45 min to share our learning tasks and reflect / support each other. The program is set up to be imbedded, ongoing learning.

Our first task was about listening. I found it interesting that although I see myself as a good listener, I was never this mindful about it.  I focused on my conversations during the few weeks we were working on this skill. I got to describe my learning to my triad, and was able to set listening goals for the next week.

Our next task was about giving effective feedback, asking curious questions, and having learner-focused dialogue after a learning walk. I sat in two classrooms this week and looked for something I could provide feedback on. When giving effective feedback, start with “I noticed that…” Remember, feedback provides a starting-off point for a conversation about learning. Then I tried to form a curious question, starting with “I wonder…” Finally, I moved to the learner-focused dialogue, where I ask a specific question about one student. “What strategies could you use to keep Jimmy engaged in that learning activity?”

This first week was all about practice. I told the teacher I was talking to that I was a learner in this activity. I shared with him that I was not sure how I would do, I asked him to help me by giving me feedback on the questions I asked. We even tried to come up with some better questions together.  Though this, we both were thinking about our thinking about the learners in our school (which is awesome.)

Then and interesting thing happened when was when I was reflecting on my own about the conversation. I was able to come up with a more focused learner-focused question. Excitedly, I went back to the teacher to share. He liked my new question, but even better, he said that he had been thinking about my question since we last talked. This meant that because of our conversation, he was reflecting on how he could improve the learning of a specific student in his class.

I look forward to this continued learning and growth. I can already see it benefiting myself, our teachers and our students.


My Inquiry Project – Part 1 The Question

Recently the Leadership Team at School District 48 Sea to Sky has embarked on a powerful new journey. We are creating individual inquiry projects that we will work on and then present at the end of the year. After two collaborative sessions, my inquiry question has been proposed, tweaked, scrapped, reinvented, the tweaked again. I think I have it now:

If we use Collaborative Problem Solving Strategies at our school, will it decrease the maladaptive behaviours to stressful situations for our students?

Collaborative Problem Solving is a way of doing business in a school that believes that kids do well if they can. In our alternative program, were have just begun exploring these ideas, proposed by Ross Greene (See my post: I’m a kids do well if they can guy.) The idea behind my question is that if we work proactively with students on their unsolved problems, will that work reduce the amount of maladaptive behaviours that get in the of students doing well (socially, emotionally and cognitively.)

The next step in my inquiry project is I need to determine what kinds of evidence I can collect that will help me answer my inquiry question. How or what can I use as evidence that using these strategies are reducing maladaptive behaviours? Leave a comment below or tweet me @rmass if you have any input or ideas.

We Wanted To Be a Thinking School

I went to a great elementary school in Richmond BC, it’s called Westwind Elementary.

The teachers there were really progressive, and I remember everything we did involved community building, cooperative learning and project based learning. This is back in the mid-eighties, when I was in grade 5 and rockin’ a hockey hair mullet and dressing up like Crocket and Tubbs was cool. The staff there were ahead of their time, and I look back at those formative years as a real cornerstone of my desire to always be a learner.

Recently I was lucky to run into one of the teachers from the Westwind staff at Edcamp leadership BC, in Delta. Mr. Ayres was a young teacher back then, and I remember he taught grade 4-5 and I remember him being really tall. When I ran into him this past weekend, he was more mature, and he didn’t seem as tall and he asked me to call him Garnet. He is now a Deputy Superintendent and in pursuit of his own life long learning, was attending Edcamp on a Saturday.

We spoke briefly after the intro session, and although our conversation was short, many things that he shared about the Westwind days deeply inspired me as a educational leader. He said:

The teachers were lead by an inspirational Principal, Mrs. Chiba, who was a different kind of Principal.

The teachers used to sit around in the staff room after school and share their graphic organizers, “look at this one, look what this kid did with this one, how could I use that one?”

The teachers at our school were passionate about learning.

You know how some school are “reading schools,” we wanted to be a “thinking school.”

Thanks Garnet, for being part of a progressive staff, lead by an innovative leader, in pursuit of teaching kids how to think.

ps. Thanks to Mrs. Oldfield , my grade 5 and grade 6 teacher, for teaching me to learn about things I am passionate about, I was lucky to be one of your students, RIP.

Students should make pots for people who need pots

Since the days of my teacher training, I’ve been a fan of John Dewey. John Dewey believed that education should be experiential. That is, educational should be real and authentic. Students should not read from a book about how to make pots, they should  actually sit at a wheel and make pots! At my school, I see my staff trying to create opportunities for our students to make pots daily.

This weekend I came across the following video, and it challenged me to take my learning and thinking about Dewey’s work a little further.

Freire and Holt’s work add a social purpose to learning. If people are learning to make pots by actually making pots that’s great, but, maybe even better is making pots for people that actually need pots. This will most likely improve the quality of your learning because now the pots have a purpose. They are for something. It naturally leads the learners to think critically and to go deeper in their learning.  “What kind of pots do they need? What are the pots for? What are the best materials to use? What are the resources available?”

With our learners we should always strive to create tasks that are based on real problems. Then, together, with our learners, we can explore, think critically about, and create meaningful projects and solutions to problems that actually need to be solved.

Lets go make pots for people who actually need pots.

Aboriginal Learners and Motivation

Recently I was a part of an introductory meeting for my district’s Aboriginal Enhancement Agreement Committee, and the theme: “how do we motivate our Aboriginal students?” came up again and again.

This theme assumes that this group of students are skills yes, motivation no. That is: they can do it, they just don’t want to.  This puts us in the “motivation business.” Now we need to come up with a suite of motivational strategies to get them to be successful. We will create and apply incentives and punishments to motivate them to do what they need to do.

What if we are wrong? What if these learners are skills no, motivation yes? That is: they lack the skills to do it, so they can’t do it.  Now our role just changed, we are now in the “problem solving business.”   We can work with each individual to find out what the missing skill or unsolved problem is and get to work on fixing it. Once the student has the skills they will do well because they are already motivated to do well.  This is collaborative problem solving, where we do things with students instead of doing things to them.

I’m a kids do well if they can guy. I believe that all people are motivated to do well. Nobody gets up in the morning and thinks to themselves “I want to do poorly today.”  There is usually a lacking skill or unsolved problem that is getting in the way of people doing well.  Our job is to work with the learner to dig down and find the unsolved problem and then get to work on fixing it, together.

If these ideas pique your interest, go to Ross Greene’s Lives in the Balance website for more information about kids do well if they can.