Reflective Practice
I am an educator with the Western Quebec School Board and a phd candidate at the University of Ottawa. This blog is a depository for many of my resources and a place to reflect on educational issues that interest me as an educator and parent. It is my hope that one day it will stimulate dialogue and be a place for educators to share ideas. Thank you for joining me on my reflective journey.

Week 7- Shape of a Girl and Homophobia

No easy themes this week!

We had an incredible opportunity to witness Megan Carty‘s (Cart Before the Horse Theatre) presentation of Joan McLeod’s Shape of a Girl.  See our article in the University of Ottawa Gazette.  The Shape of a Girl is a powerful one-woman show that was inspired by the Reena Virk story.  Megan brought along 3 of her chorus members, all students at Canterbury High School and this brought an excellent dimension to the story- especially making for such an insightful talk-back session.  It really reminded me how important it is to have students share their experiences with future educators- they provide such an important dimension.

Here is a great link to a Shape of a Girl unit plan for teachers working with this production from Theatre for Young People (Green Thumb theatre).

We had a lot to digest after this production in our literature circles and I, of course, through in another challenging theme- the role of race and homophobia in bullying.  I can’t believe how it always feels like I just don’t have enough time in these classes.  So much to unpack.

The readings that anchored the class were the following:

  • MacLeod, J. (2002). The shape of a girl. Talonbooks.
  • Byers, M. (2010). The Stuff of Legend: T/Selling the Story of Reena Virk. Canadian Ethnic Studies, 41(3), 27-48.
  • Jiwani, Y. (1999). Erasing race: the story of Reena Virk. Canadian Woman Studies, 19(3), 178-184.
  • Walton, G. (2004). Bullying and homophobia in Canadian schools: The politics of policies, programs, and educational leadership. Journal of gay & lesbian issues in education, 1(4), 23-36.
  • “Homophobia: It’s getting better” (Mar. 3, 2012) The Economist.
  • Supplemental Resources:

The class activities were the following:

Opening Circle- Student led

SPIDER WEB.  Using the biggest ball of yarn I have ever seen, we made a circle outline and then tossed the ball across the circle after answering the question “Who did you connect/reconnect with over the long weekend?”  It was a great way to check in with each other after 2 weeks with no class.  It was really nice to see where people were at and the headspace we were in.

I like using this in class to embed content- vocabulary, story building, what do you remember about this unit, etc.

Inclusion Activity:  2 Truths and a Lie

One of my favourites.  Each student comes up with 2 true statements and a lie and shares with the group (or small groups in our case).  As a group we are to try to guess the ‘lie’.  Once again, although it is important to reconnect as a large community- we also needed to take some time to reconnect in our small groups before we dove into these thorny issues.

Literature Circles:  Week 4

It is so amazing to see people so engaged.  I really wish I was able to jump into the conversations- and normally would in my classroom- but want to respect the discussion as I know I have a tendency to take over discussions.  This happened in the feedback session as I really wanted to share my own opinions.  This is probably where I am having the most difficulty in the facilitation role– how to balance my own input and highlighting of key issues.  I find it so interesting to see the level of engagement in the small groups and how quickly I lose people when we start the class discussions.  Working from the social-constructivist framework (or at least that is where my head is at during these comps exams) I know my goal is learning and I am struggling to see how I can enhance my delivery to have that conversation.  I am certainly enjoying the use of the reflection journal as a main source.

Discussion around the themes

Many excellent points were raised in the lit circles- here are a few of the points:

  • How can some of these difficult issues be brought into the curriculum/content- sexuality, gender, race, cultural norms?
  • The power of language and the use of homophobic slurs- how can we address this as teachers?
  • What is happening in the Catholic schools?  How are they responding to Bill 13 and the new sex.ed curriculum?
  • How do we handle parent complaints- topics addressed in class, school or curriculum?
  • What if your beliefs do not match with your school culture?
  • Should there be a law to make bullying illegal? What is the effectiveness?  What does it teach?
  • What is the role of the media in bullying?- thinking about the Reena Virk case
  • How do we unpack bullying as a relationship problem and a social behaviour?  How do we teach/model healthy social interactions?
  • How do we teach beyond the binary- race, culture, sexuality, gender?  What is the role of heteronormativity, etc?
  • Is homophobia really getting better (see required reading)- are students really beyond this issue as they sometimes say or are we making assumptions?

Energizer- The Human Knot

This is such a fun activity, and we really did a great job of knotting that there was no getting out.  This was a first for me.  We suspect it was because we all crossed hands- but really there was no way of movement.  Our group also had the difficulty of not talking.  In the end, we had to surrender to defeat- but it certainly made us more comfortable in each others’ space.  The debrief was around the issue of communication and the ‘knotty’ situation of bullying.

Closing Circle- Values we hold dear

We were asked to write 5 values that we hold dear in ourselves onto 5 cue cards.  Once completed, we paired up and labelled ourselves A and B.  From here, we made inside/outside circles and had to choose one value to discard (prioritizing).  We would then share our rationale with our partner.  Once done, the circles would move (different circles moved each time)  We went through this process until we were left with one final quality that we held most dear.  These words and the rationale for why this is important as an educator was shared in a final community circle.  It was powerful to see these qualities and something to keep in mind as we travel through the school system as teachers.  In the interest of full disclosure, I chose integrity…something I struggle to enact daily.  Luckily, I have a lot of role models to keep me in line.

Until next time…off to continue my studies.




Posted: February 24th, 2015 in Creating Healthy, Safe and Supportive Learning Environments | No Comments »

Visible Learning- LCEEQ conference in Laval, Quebec

“Where are we going?  How are we going? Where to next?”

Instead of teaching my Monday class, I had an opportunity to join many of my colleagues from the Western Quebec School Board (WQSB) as we invaded Laval, Quebec.  There was quite a number of us heading to the Visible Learning Plus Conference (Dr. John Hattie) hosted by the LCEEQ (Leadership Committee for English Education in Quebec).  The description we were given was: “Visible Learningplus is a professional development program for teachers that explores how evidence can be used to create innovation in the learning environment. Their work is focused on John Hattie’s research and the principles of Visible Learning and visible teaching. This outstanding research involved millions of students and represents the largest ever evidence-based research into what actually works best in schools to improve learning…”  I couldn’t wait.

visible-learning-for-teachers-by-john-hattie-book-covervisible learning

I have had the privilege to attend (and even present at) a few of the LCEEQ’s earlier conferences- back when it was called IDC (Implementation Design Committee)- and have always been so impressed by the high quality of the presentations and the engagement of those in attendance.  This year our numbers reached almost 1000- it felt a bit like being at a rock concert as I know I wasn’t the only one who was eager to see the ‘real’ John Hattie in action.  It was an amazing experience and I loved how I was able to connect with a bunch of colleagues from various parts of my life (Accompaniment with Dr. Avril Aitken, English Language Arts Committee, Ministry initiatives, school board, mentors and teachers).  After feeling a bit like a fish out of water in the PhD world, this felt a bit like coming home to so many friendly faces.

Our school board has been playing with Visible Learning for the past few years- in particular, the staff at D’Arcy McGee and Symmes JHS, under the direction of George Singfield and his team, have been doing some really interesting work.  I have heard staff saying they are inspired by this initiative and excited about the work they are doing.  They also are seeing results.  Having once taught and been V-P at those schools, I was invited to join the school’s PD training on Visible Learning this year brilliantly facilitated by my mentor Ainsley Rose.  It blew my mind.  The potential impact is so incredible on student learning and this conference was a fabulous way for me to get a different perspective and dig a little deeper.

Dr. John Hattie delivered the key note presentation titled Visible Learning and the Science of How we Learn.  He did not disappoint.  I loved hearing about his vision and how he is thinking about education today.  It can be summed up in the guiding principle of Visible Learning- when teachers see learning through the eyes of their students and students see themselves as their own teachers.

There were so many things that stood out for me, but I will target a few of the gems:

Can we identify the excellence around us?  This is really at the heart of visible learning- and developing assessment capable learners.  It is about examining what we are doing well and building on it.  The motto of the conference and Hattie’s work is “Know thy impact“- we need to really understand what we are doing as teachers and how this impacts student learning.  We need to build trust and understand where excellence is.  We need to ask impact questions:

  1. What does it mean to be good at _________?
  2. What is the magnitude of that impact?
  3. How pervasive is this impact? Is everyone getting it in the class????

Kids come to school to watch teachers work.  As Hattie points out, much (he says 45%- but I don’t know where that number comes from) of what we are teaching students, they already know.  We need to move past surface learning to deep learning.  This conference gave us many ways to engage in this area.

The importance of student-teacher & peer-peer relationships for effective feedback.  “The purpose of trust is to wallow in errors”.  I believe so much in the affective domain- the relationships and trust; Hattie’s work really seems to reinforce this.

– The pit is not something to be afraid of- we need to encourage students to embrace feeling like they don’t know what to do and own the various learning strategies that will help them get out of the pit.

Kids need to set expectations for themselves that exceed their expectations- and ours.  We need to be clear about our learning intentions for EVERY lesson and use success criteria as a means for students to gauge their own learning.  It is about helping students see themselves as their own teachers and knowing what to do when they don’t know what to do.

The best teachers turn you onto their passion for the subject and see something in us that we didn’t see in ourselves.  We have an enormous impact on students and can truly make a difference in their lives.

Teacher observations- this is clearly an area of interest for me and Hattie is very critical of teacher evaluations and observations.  He said a lot that I am still chewing on, but a couple of things stood out:  1) observations only highlight how you should teach like me- the focus is not on the learning.  2) accountability has a downside.  We need to identify the excellence- this should be our focus.

– introduction of the SOLO taxonomy (Biggs & Collins, 1982) which stands for Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome and “is a means of classifying learning outcomes in terms of their complexity, enabling us to assess students’ work in terms of its quality not of how many bits of this and of that they got right.”  Check out Biggs’s website on SOLO Taxonomy.

SOLO taxonomy

In terms of taxonomies, Hattie also gave a pretty damning account of Bloom’s (even the revised version!)…something that I will have to look into further.

Bloom's revised

At the start of his presentation, Hattie addressed and dismissed some of the criticism he has received.  This is an area I want to look more into, but to my (novice) understanding, he has been questioned on the numbers & effect size work and for not delving into the impact on pupils of social factors such as home life and poverty.  As Hattie points out, there has been a lot of misreading of his work and there is danger of an oversimplified view of the research leading used to push policy initiatives that are not in the best interest of students, teachers and communities.  I also wonder about the theoretical framework that Hattie works from (and the research studies he uses) and how that may be a source of tension with some critics.  I know there is no magic bullet and this isn’t the holy grail (as it has been called), but I find this has been a great place to start important professional discussions.  I also am pretty impressed by what is happening in some of these schools- it may be time for a visit to New Zealand to Stonesfield School.

After the keynote, we had 4 break-out sessions delivered by excellent facilitators that gave us greater insight into some of the key areas of Visible Learning.

1) Instructional Strategies for Metacognition- Jenni Donohoo

“Increasing teachers’ own metacognitive awareness of their cognitive processes is an important first step in preparing them to increase student awareness” (Linda Baker, p.421 in the International Guide of Student Achievement)

2) Student Voice- Julie Smith–

“No one has a bigger stake in teaching effectiveness than students.  Nor are there any better experts on how teaching is experienced by its intended beneficiaries.  But only recently have many policymakers and practitioners come to recognize that-when asked th right questions, in the right ways-students can be an important source of information on the quality of teaching and the learning environment in individual classrooms”

3) Using Data to Make Learning Visible- Ainsley Rose

Teachers and leaders believe that their fundamental task is to evaluate the effect of their teaching on students’ learning and achievement.  By seeking evidence to inform their teaching and practice, teachers and leaders are also asking, “Where am I going?” “How am I doing?” and “Where to next?”

4) Feedback That Makes Learning Visible- Peter DeWitt

“The art is to provide the right form of feedback at, or just above, the level where the student is working…”

Some other standouts for me:

–  “When you put the child together first, the rest of the world follows”

– We are working in a DRIP state- Data-Rich, Information-Poor.

– It is not about the data, but the story (conversation) around the data

Finally, Ainsley Rose did the closer and, as usual, he was incredible.  I felt inspired, I felt lucky to have chosen this profession and I felt like we were on the right path.  We can make a difference; it is all about “Gentle pressure- persistently applied”.

This is where I am wallowing now and really liked Ainsley’s Questions to consider

  1. How do you currently make the learning goals clear for your students?
  2. How do you now they are clear?
  3. What might you now do differently?

Future reading:

What Really Works in Special and Inclusive Education- David Mitchell

Flipped Leadership Doesn’t Mean Reinventing the Wheel-  Peter M. DeWitt

The Hidden Lives of Learners- Graham Nuthall

Collaborative Inquiry for Educators: A Facilitator’s Guide to School Improvement- Jenni Donohoo

Habits of mind: Arthur L. Costa

Start with Why: Simon Sinek: Check out his website and TedTalk


Collaborative Inquiry DeWitt Nuthall Start with Why What really works (Mitchell) Habits of Mind

Posted: February 13th, 2015 in Professional Development Training, Visible Learning | No Comments »

Writing…keeping me honest

I am in my second week of a newly formed writing group.  My supervisor (Dr. Ruth Kane) is incredible and has asked me to join a group of inspiring women to focus on our professional writing.  This is a major area of weakness for me.  It is not that I don’t enjoy writing; I just haven’t published much (yet!) outside of my professional life as an educator.  There really is a big difference between academic writing and the type of writing I have been doing.  This writing group is a great opportunity for me to focus more on the academic side and learn some of the tricks of the trade.  It is also a great place for me to connect with recent PhD graduates and outstanding professors. Most of these women have also managed to balance this academic life with children and thus, serve as great role models.

The book that Dr. Kane has chosen to focus our work is Wendy Laura Belcher’s “Writing your Journal Article in 12 Weeks- A Guide to Academic Publishing Success”.  Guiding me along this journey is the book “Learn to Write Badly” by Michael Billig (a required text for Dr. Richard Barwell’s course), which I found to be a great read that highlighted some of my concerns (frustrations) about academic writing.

25435_Belcher_Writing_your_Journal_Article_in_12_Weeks_72ppiRGB_150pixw                                                                                              learn to write badly

We are currently working on Week 2- and this post will summarize what struck me from these 2 weeks.

Week 1Designing Your Plan for Writing

This week really was about getting underneath your feelings about writing and in particular, academic writing.  Some of the negative feelings from Belcher’s classes really spoke to me:

  • I enjoy revising, but I hate getting that first draft down (for me it feels so permanent and somehow I am always hoping that it would be better- it just doesn’t sound as good as I thought it was in my head).
  • I feel like procrastinating whenever I think of how much writing I have to do and how little I have done (I am a massive procrastinator- maybe it is because it delays my disappointment of seeing what I actually put in print- see above).

I also am really feeling the imposter syndrome in this academic world when it comes to academic writing.  I want my writing to be useful to educators and, in general, I don’t see that happening with many published articles.  This view is echoed by Billig in his discussion of academic language- “One thing has not altered: if students and their teachers try to use simple, clear language, rather than big specialized concepts and phrases, then they will risk appearing as if they were inadequate, untrained and, most importantly, as if they did not belong”(p.63).  I want my writing to be clear and simple; I find the most impressive writers are those who convey complex ideas in ways that I can easily understand them.  This is one of my goals and luckily I have some great models in this writing group. This will be a great process for me.

  • Successful Academic Writers Write… “First and foremost, get writing!”- Samuel Eliot Morison.  If we want to get better, we need to get writing.  Makes sense…and Belcher encourages setting a plan for writing- daily.  It is not about having long chunks of writing time; it is about consistent and daily writing that will help improve our writing and increase those positive feelings.  By meeting as a writing group and making our writing social, we will have a better chance to be successful.  We have committed to 1 hour of writing for 5 days a week and a meeting once a week as a group.  In order to keep me on track, I will keep the following in mind when I feel crunched for time:  “those likely to describe themselves as very ‘busy’ or very ‘stressed’ did not produce as much as those who were writing steadily.  In other words, you are not too busy to write, you are busy because you do not write. Busy-ness is what you do to explain your not writing”(p.5).
  • Persist despite rejection- I think of J.K. Rowling here and many others!
  • Pursue your passion- write about what is meaningful to you…”Whatever your pump is, paint it”
  • Selecting a text for revision- What have you already written? I am thinking of 2 texts- one that would be very meaningful to me and something that I have been wanting to work on for a long time.  The other a research study that would need a lot of revising.
  • Choose a writing site- my home office is perfect now that we have rearranged it to have me looking outside rather than at the wall- who knew that was all it would take to get me comfortable!
  • Design a writing schedule- trickier- but I am committed to finding that one hour a day.
  • Anticipate writing obstacles- these are excellent!  A few stood out as most relevant to me- these were Number 5 “I’m going to make writing my number one goal in life” [demands for time and perfection encourage its avoidance], Number 7- “I have to read just one more book” [“Writers who learn to leave holes in manuscripts to be filled later master valuable skills in writing: they learn to proceed amid ambiguity and uncertainty” (Boice)] and Number 28 “I need big blocks of time to write, and my schedule doesn’t allow such blocks” [long stretches are elusive and “people who use only big blocks of time to write are less productive and more unhappy than those who write daily”].
  • In the end, I don’t have the luxury of long blocks of time (family and comprehensive exam time!) so I am going to do what I can and remember- “feeling too much guilt is counterproductive”(p.41).

Week 2- Starting Your Article

  • Types of academic articles are described as are the weight they each have on a hiring committee- very helpful for a graduate student.  Unfortunately, the article I have chosen to pursue doesn’t seem to be among this list.
  • Myths about publishable journal articles- what gets published and why.  Once again, this is very helpful for a student.
  • Ingredients of a good abstract- this is the assignment for the week and the book provides excellent tips and examples.  Not only is developing the abstract an important first step for the writer as it focuses your energy to the topic and argument, but according to APA (1994) “a well-prepared abstract can be the most important paragraph in your article”(qtd. on p.54).
  • Reread your paper & make a list of revision tasks- this is a big one for me.  Not only will I have to cut down the article, I will have to add in newer information and change the narrative focus.
  • Draft the abstract & then SHARE.  This is where I am right now.  I have to draft the abstract and then share it with my writing partner (coordinated by Dr. Kane).  This is what makes writing social and will keep me honest (and on track time-wise).
  • Read a model article- I have actually already done this and have targeted a journal where I would like to submit my work.  I am working backwards from this model to craft my abstract.
  • Revise the abstract- keeping my reviewer’s comments in mind.

OK- off to draft that abstract…no procrastination.

Posted: February 8th, 2015 in phd, Writing | No Comments »

Tribes TLC training (in review)

The Tribes TLC mission:“to assure the healthy development of every child in the school community so that each has the knowledge, skills & resiliency to be successful in our rapidly changing world.”

This year I had the opportunity to facilitate with my colleague, Julia Horner, a Tribes TLC training at the Western Quebec School Board (WQSB).  We first met in late November and again in late January.  It was an incredibly energizing experience and I probably learned more than I shared.  As a group, we were made up of mostly new teachers to the WQSB- but had a variety of teaching experience (first year to 25 years!).  It is so powerful to have such different perspectives and experiences together in one spot.  This post is an attempt to sum up some of what happened during these amazing days.

For more information on Tribes TLC, please go to their website:

I am also very grateful to my supervisor/mentor Dr. Ruth Kane and colleague/mentor Dr. Linda Radford for asking me some challenging questions regarding this training and pointing me to Dragonfly consulting’s aboriginal perspective on tribes- – which definitely resonated with me as I engaged in the training.

It is important to note that the Tribes TLC training is clearly designed and has a strict implementation process.  Fidelity to the process is critical and as certified trainers (TOT), we have agreed to follow the guidelines as we were taught.  I certainly believe that there is room for an update (the articles & videos would be a great start), yet understand the process is based on research and that there needs to be a protocol to keep it the same as it spreads internationally.  I know that there are real concerns about the fact that it is a program with financial ties.  As well, although it never claims to ‘own’ the activities/strategies that are used- people can be heard often talking about ‘tribes’ activities and processes that have been around for a long time in the educational, outdoor ed, leadership and NGO world.  That said, I am still a strong supporter of the process as it really does give some practical tools for teachers to help make their schools “safe, caring and motivational for all.”  We have to start somewhere!

It was a wonderful 4 days with wonderful educators.  I think we had the opportunity to make some great bonds that will stay with us throughout our careers.  I also hope that we will be making a difference for our students and their classroom experiences.  Isn’t what this what it is all about?  In the end, I had a blast and was so happy that I agreed to do the training; I hope my colleagues felt the same.  Here is a photo of our group (we are missing a few people!):

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It was mentioned that it would be so much fun to all work together in a school- a school that would be made up of these qualities:

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How great would that be??  At least we can take the first steps in our own classrooms.

I am also attaching the sheets of our strategies- unfortunately, we were unable to get a photo of the first 2 days of training with the page numbers…but I hope that this helps.  Thanks everyone!!

IMG_4654IMG_4650 IMG_4652  IMG_8767


As requested, here are a couple of the extras that we added to the training:

– The connection between restorative practices philosophy and the Tribes TLC process.  Interesting- they have also made this connection.  See the article on Tribes and Restorative Practice here.

– FISHBOWL- a great strategy to do decision making.  While in a full circle, we had a participant share a concern to the group.  There was a seat opposite the student where participants from the outside circle could jump in, sit and share a suggestion and then return to the outer circle.  There are many variations- check out Student Fishbowl or Teaching Strategy

– Dr. Angela Duckworth and Grit- see the TEDtalk here.  This led to an interesting discussion!

– To support the discussion around Brain Compatible Learning, we read sections from this book that I use with my own children often:

fantastic elastic brain

– On the final day, each group was asked to choose and lead an energizer- they were selected from the Energizer box and we had a lot of fun with all of them!

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– We shared some of our favourite reading to get us thinking/talking.  Here are some of the titles:

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Posted: February 4th, 2015 in Professional Development Training, Tribes | No Comments »

Week 5- How are schools responding to bullying?

Another great week- it is actually quite difficult to imagine that this community has only known each other for 5 weeks.  The level of trust and sharing is remarkable- a testament to the students who have chosen this class, but also to some conscious decisions on how to build community among us.  Trust the process…I do.

Before I get started on the recap, I have noticed how I keep returning in class to the fact that this is an elective course.  As such, I suspect the students chose the class titled- creating healthy, safe and supportive learning environments- because they want to do this in their professional practice.  We seem to share a similar philosophy and there is very little overt resistance to the ideas being thought through.  I like that students are questioning the readings and the discussion points and thinking about the practical application of some of the ideas to build community.  Would this be the case if it were a mandatory class? I wonder about the process and how much work it may take to develop this level of community if more resistance were present.  This would definitely reflect a typical staff- a mix of different perspectives and approaches to discipline, community and curriculum.  It would certainly be a challenge for the instructor and one that I think would be interesting to observe, reflect upon and learn from.    That said, I wouldn’t change how things are this year- what a wonderful group of people that I get to work with and learn from every Monday.  Here is what we did this week:

Required Reading:

  • Olweus, D. (2003). A profile of bullying at school. Educational leadership, 60(6), 12-17.
  • Walton, G. (2011). Spinning our wheels: reconceptualizing bullying beyond behaviour-focused approaches. Discourse: studies in the cultural politics of education, 32(1), 131-144.

Supplemental Resources:

  • Olweus, D., & Limber, S. P. (2010). Bullying in school: Evaluation and dissemination of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 80(1), 124-134.

Learning Intention: Students will explore the work of Olweus..So that we can further build our understanding around anti-bullying programs.

Success Criteria: Literature circles- You will know you understand when you can discuss the successes and shortcomings of these programs.

Opening Circle:  Something Good in Your World

Using my globe squishy ball, we did a circle go-round sharing something good in our lives.  This is a great circle activity to remind students to focus on the positive in their lives- especially in times of tension/stress.  I know that we are half-way through the term and likely work is starting to pile up.  As such, it is important to remember what/who makes you happy and feel supported in times of struggle.

Circle Activity (student led):  What is your ‘superhero’ word to combat bullying?

The co-community leaders did a great job focusing on what we bring to the classroom as teachers or ‘superheroes’ in order to address bullying.  We were each given a coloured circle and were asked to write one word that would represent this superhero power to combat bullying.  There were a variety of words shared and reasons behind that choice as we did our circle go-round- the group compiled all the words into this image:

Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 1.40.47 PM

Four Corners:  Dove, Fox, Lion & Deer

In the 4 corners of our classroom, I posted the pictures of the above animals.  I then asked students to think about the following questions- one at a time.  They would go and stand by the animal that best represents them for the first question, share with those who chose the same animal and then choose a spokesperson to share their thoughts with the class.  It is always so interesting to hear the different interpretations and reasons for selecting their animal.  Of course, there is no ‘right’ animal and no ‘better’ choice.  I find these activities continue to provide insight into how we may respond as a group to conflict in a classroom/home.

1. Which animal represents you best when you are in or around conflict at work/school?

2. Which animal represents you best when you are in or around conflict at home?

VARIATIONS:  You can use any image such as scenery (mountains, river, meadow, ocean) or even words (strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree). You can provide students with an opportunity to move once they have chosen their corner or update their reason for selecting this corner.  Embedding content into the questions makes this strategy more powerful.

Here is one for Mathematics: OAME; History: Facing History; a description of the activity: Humber

Energizer:  The Community Handshake

As a class, we were asked to take our relationship to another level and develop a class handshake.  In pairs, we worked to develop a simple handshake that we could use when greeting one another outside the hall- building a sense of belonging to something unique.  After the pairs had finished creating their handshake, we joined another pair and shared our handshakes.  Then, as a group of 4, we had to select (or combine) one handshake to share with another quad.  This went on until we selected one handshake to represent the class– in the end we did a bit of a combo- Let’s see who remembers it in 2 weeks’ time…  wiggle, wiggle (snapping)/ hand slap, hand slap/ up high, down low/ and butterfly wings moving up to an ‘aaahhhh’ sound.  Am I right?

Life Maps: 

This is one of my favourite activities to further build inclusion and influence.  As a teacher, I always share my life map first and then ask students to spend some time putting down the key markers of their life.  It is not about being artistic or creative- it is about sharing key events with your small community.  Even if you write something on your map, you do not have to share it with the group.  I find this is so powerful to provide further opportunity to learn a little more about what each group members bring to the community.  I chose to do this at the half-way point because I felt we had developed our relationships enough to move deeper in our sharing.  Here is my life map that I shared with the class- please excuse the crude drawings:

life map


Literature Circles:  Since this is the first time I have done this in an adult learning setting, I am very pleased with the level of thinking and discussion that is happening.  It remains hard for me to stay out of the discussions, but I am enjoying reading the notes, the probing questions and the reflections on the process.  It has become clear that students need more time in their lit. circles and we have added music playing in the background.  The feedback is crucial to making this process meaningful to the class.  The area I continue to struggle with is trying to balance taking up their group discussions and not having the time to open it up to full group discussion and/or my own response to the readings.  Have to still iron this part out.

Closing Circle:  Trust circle lap sit

We had an opportunity to do a simple trust game when Micheal Montgomery came to visit on week 2– This week, the group challenged us to move our trust into another level.  We were to form a tight circle and sit down together- resting on each others’ laps.  To move it into another level, we were asked to start moving around circle together.  Here is a posting of another group doing this team-building activity:  Trust circle sit

It was important that the group provided the opportunity for group members to pass on this activity and it was really great to see that we were able to accomplish it (it is a big class!) although only got a few steps in….

See you in 2 weeks…




Posted: February 4th, 2015 in Creating Healthy, Professional Development Training, Safe and Supportive Learning Environments | No Comments »

Bullying- Week 4

It is hard to believe that we are in week 4!  On one hand, it feels like time is flying by (almost at the half-way mark!).  On the other, it is hard to imagine that we were mostly strangers only 4 classes ago when you look at the community and the sharing that has been happening.  Trust the process, indeed.

Today’s topic was about Bullying- examining the successes and challenges of various programs.  We used the following articles as anchors this week:

Required Reading:

  • Swearer, S. M., Espelage, D. L., Vaillancourt, T., & Hymel, S. (2010). What can be done about school bullying? Linking research to educational practice. Educational Researcher, 39(1), 38-47.
  • Guerra, N. G., Williamson, M.A., & Sadek, S. (2012). Youth perspectives on bullying in adolescence. The Prevention Researcher, 19(3), 14-16.

Supplemental Resources:

  • Carrera, M. V., DePalma, R., &Lameiras, M. (2011). Toward a more comprehensive understanding of bullying in school settings. Educational Psychology Review, 23(4) 479-499.
  • Walton, G. (2005). “Bullying widespread”: A critical analysis of research and public discourse on bullying. Journal of School Violence, 4(1), 91-118.

This was also week 2 of our students taking the reins as community co-creators (shout out to Kristin Reimer for these titles!).   Once again, they were amazing & I will try to do their work justice below.  Here is the run-down:

Learning Intention: Students will explore the question of bullying. So that we can frame our responses around the subject

Success Criteria: Literature circles- You will know you understand when you can highlight the key issues from the readings and state your own position/provide critique.

Opening Circle (student-run):

We started with slam-poetry To This Day Project.  We were then asked if we wanted to share our own stories of a time when we were bullied.  Although this was originally supposed to be an online survey, it turned into a circle sharing.  I felt honoured to listen and share in this experience.

Put Yourself on the Line:

In response to our work last class, I wanted to address what was happening at  Dalhousie (trying to get the right pronunciation in my head!) University in the Dentistry Faculty.  I showed a short clip of the University President announcing the suspension of the 13 male students and the University’s use of restorative justice from the CBC.  From here, I asked students to weigh on whether they thought the use of restorative justice was appropriate for this case by putting themselves on the line- literally standing along an imaginary line where one end represented ‘strongly agree’ and the other ‘strongly disagree’.  Even though we had many students clumped around the middle range, there was some disparity.

From here, I did a Fold the Line, where one end snaked around until the strongly agree and strongly disagree were across from one another and each student along the line had an opposing partner.  To clarify- this was not to be a debate.  This was a discussion- a chance to hear another person’s opinion and reasoning.  As such, I used the Paraphrase Passport strategy-  student A (one side) would speak for a minute, then student B would paraphrase what they heard.  Then roles would reverse.  There was no chance to argue positions.

Once back in the circle we discussed the challenge of listening to someone’s position without jumping in, paraphrasing others’ positions and deeply listening (especially when it is very noisy).  This is a great activity to share different opinions (you would eventually keep rotating down the line to get a multitude of positions) and learn to paraphrase/listen.  It also can sometimes be enlightening to hear another person’s argument and see how that may impact your own position.

Many students shared that they didn’t hold a position as they did not have all the facts in this matter; something that doesn’t seem to be a problem for many commentators to various websites.  I do respect the various positions that have been shared in the news and it is certainly a complicated,  interesting & messy situation.  I look forward to watching this unfold.  For more information, check out:

Restorative Justice- Dalhousie University site

Emma Teitel: When restorative justice isn’t enough (Maclean’s)

The Avalon Sexual Assault Centre’s letter to the Dalhousie President

Dalhousie Students condemn restorative practice in Facebook scandal” (Jan 6. CBC)


Literature Circle #2:

The topics of our lit. circles were the readings and from my facilitator stand-point- there was some excellent discussion going on.  I find it quite amazing that I have absolutely nothing to do at this point- I am really not needed at all!  The points shared by the groups were excellent and really cut to the heart of the readings and some of the issues raised around ‘bullying programs’ and the missing discussion on context- impact of social ecological considerations.

Energizer: Who is the leader?

Sitting in a circle, one participant is chosen to leave the room (or cover their eyes).  A member of the circle is chosen to be the leader.  They begin my making a movement/sound (clapping hands).  All participants copy the movement.  The object is for the person in the middle to figure out who is the leader.  They have 3 guesses.  [Amazingly- each centre person was able to spot the leader- not usual for this energizer!]

Guest Presenter: George Singfield, Principal of Symmes Junior High School & D’Arcy McGee High School (WQSB)  School Website

George has been my mentor, administrator, colleague and friend (even drama troupe member!).  He shared his personal experience and philosophy with regards to bullying with the class.  In particular, he clarified the difference between pillar and program in terms of how a school deals with bullying.  He also discussed his view on the various definitions of bullying and shared the various way he and his school are trying to build a culture of kindness, empathy, caring and respect.  George shared the ways in which the students are engaged in the process and how, as a school, student voice is fundamental.

This video was created by students for the Not in My School – Pink Tuque launch.  So powerful!

This book is on George’s reading list:  Student Voice: The Instrument for Change by Russell J. Quaglia and Michael J. Corso.

Student voice

Students were also introduced to the awesome polling tool that can be easily integrated into their classroom: www.poll

There were lots of questions, lots of stories and I was reminded, once again, about how lucky I have been to have had the chance to work in a school with George as my principal, with colleagues so dedicated and inspiring- and students that make Symmes and D’Arcy such fabulous schools.

Closing Circle: (student led)

In order to shift the energy to end on a more positive note, we had a student (a certified yoga instructor) lead us through a few breathing and stretching positions (nothing too strenuous!) and it is amazing what this can do to the mood.  There are lots of great resources to help build mindfulness in the classroom (60 second breathing).  We then enjoyed some up-beat music and formed inner/outer circles with blank papers taped to our backs and had the chance to write a compliment on the backs of 5 of our community members.  I didn’t have a chance to read mine until I got home and set up my computer, and it was certainly nice to have a little blast of positivity in that particular moment.  It was a great way to share some of the positive gifts we bring to our class community.

Looking forward to next week.



Posted: January 27th, 2015 in Creating Healthy, Instructional Intelligence, Safe and Supportive Learning Environments, Tribes | No Comments »

Restorative Practice- Monday’s class in review

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” MLK

Another week passes and yet I wonder how it is that I can feel pressed for time in a 3 and 1/2 hour block (I am pretty sure this is not echoed by the students who find this an incredibly long day!).  Clearly- I need to work on my timing.

Today’s class was the first of our now established structure.  Each week, a different group is responsible for the opening & closing circle and our class energizer.  This week, the group set a very high bar with their impressive selection, implementation and facilitation.

Like always, I want to begin with my learning intentions and success criteria:

Learning Intention: Students will explore the principles of Restorative Practice…So that we can build an understanding of the framework.

Success Criteria: Literature circles.  You will know you understand when you can highlight the key elements and apply to various situations.


Opening Circle:  Student-led – SNOWBALL activity.

Description:  Each participant has 2 pieces of paper.  They are asked a question- in this case, to write one word that describes you. Once finished, they crumple the ball into a tiny snowball and toss it into the bucket (at a target).  Each student will then choose one of the ‘snowballs’ to share with the class.  These were anonymous. The second question aimed to get a little more personal and we were asked to share something others may not know about us.  Again, from the group of snowballs we would share what was written and could acknowledge our own paper by raising our hands if we wanted to.  Powerful.

Milling to Music: Strategy

Description:  While music plays, students meander (dance?) around a space until the music stops.  They find a partner/triad and discuss a question (posted by the teacher).  Once the time is up, they thank their partners and continue to circulate as the music plays.  Once all questions have been discussed, the teacher can ask for key points from the discussion.  This is a great way to get students thinking about the upcoming content of the lesson or review key points from the last lesson.  I like to start my questions with something less personal and build on their responses.  Today I used the following questions:

1. What do you need when you have been harmed?

2. What do you need when you have done the harm?

3. What do the parents of a child who has been harmed need?

4. What do the parents of the child who has done the harm need?

Literature Circles: Each member of our community has been assigned to a group and a task within their group for the lit. circles.  Although our groups are 5 or 6, I am interested to see how this goes since I usually prefer groups of 4/5, but had more students than expected and no more extra days!  The roles in the groups are facilitator (responsible for the process and the questions), resources (extra resources), note-taker, presenter (key points), reflection (about the process) and submission (to me).

Readings were based on Chapter 1 & 2 of “The Restorative Practice Handbook”  (

little book of restorative practice

The level of engagement was great.  It is hard to refrain from eavesdropping- but I know my presence would change the dynamic.  What was shared was also indicative of the level of conversation.  It is a great way to have students discuss the required readings- I am hoping this way everyone can contribute their thoughts/opinions.

Energizer:  Student-led. I like my neighbour

Students sit in a circle.  There is one less chair than participant.  The person without a chair has to stand in the centre of the circle and state, “I like my neighbour who…” and complete the sentence.  The emphasis was on getting to know each other a bit better so it was about something they like to do (hobby, sport, etc).  If you agree with the statement, you must leave your seat to find another (across the room is preferable).  It is a great way for students to get comfortable, get back some energy, challenge personal space, and mix up a circle (who is sitting beside whom) to do a different activity.

Guest Presenter:  Ellie Wilkinson (consultant)

My friend, colleague and mentor, Ellie Wilkinson graciously came into the class to share her journey with Restorative Practice.  She shared her journey- her involvement with Peaceful Schools International, developing a peaceful schools initiative, and how she came to restorative practices.  This is a philosophy or a framework for working with students/peers/family, etc that she comes to naturally, however, stressed that it is not only about the discipline aspect- but about authentic dialogue and proactive relationship building.  Ellie reviewed some of the key elements of the readings such as the social discipline window,  the restorative practice continuum and the compass of shame.

socialdiscipline continuumcompass of shame

Ellie stressed the importance of relationships with students, how we need to move from the minds to the hearts of youth and shared her successes and challenges.  Ellie’s work has truly made a difference in the school we worked in and it goes to show how one person really can make a difference in the lives of children/youth.  She certainly made a difference in my life and I credit her with so much learning and inspiration.

For more detail on restorative practice- see my page on restorative practice (tabs above).

Closing Circle: student-led reflection in partners

Using paper plates with happy words on them, we each found a partner that had the same word- and shared our reflections based on 6 questions provided by the group.  I found this a really great chance to dissect/pull out key elements of the lesson and presentation.  I enjoyed sharing with my partner a lot.  Of course, we ran short on time and the reflection time was cut down- but the group handled it with grace and expertise.  Being unflappable and flexible are key attributes for any teacher.  Well done!



Posted: January 21st, 2015 in Creating Healthy, Professional Development Training, Safe and Supportive Learning Environments | No Comments »

Building Community & Inclusion- Week 2

What a tough time slot that 1-4:30 is!  Most students are arriving to class after already having had a 3 hour morning class and then lunch.  Oh well- we will embrace the challenge!

My intention for last night’s class was to continue to build community as a whole group (we have 6 new students), introduce a different perspective to circles (Micheal Montgomery from the WQSB presented!), and build inclusion in the small community co-constructor groups.  I also wanted to model the structure of the class (opening circle, activity & closing circle-reflection).  Here is what we did and a few of my reflections sprinkled within.  We’ll start with my Lesson objective (which I, of course, forgot to share with the group– one of the things I push the most, I forgot to do…sigh!)

Learning Intention:  Students will experience the various uses of circles (trust/courage)

So that we can continue to create a safe, trusting space, build community and unleash positive energy for ourselves and our students.

Success Criteria: closing circle reflection

You will know you understand when you can represent your key learning and describe its implication for your practice.

Opening Circle:  LIVE WIRE strategy

– Each member of the circle is given a short wire (we used pipe cleaners) and they were asked to represent how they are feeling- based on experiences since last week/today.  We then went around the circle to share those representations.

Reflection- I find this a great strategy to get the sense of the space people are in.  It helps me make adjustments to the planned lessons and also gives me some insights on effective groups (creating a balance of energy, etc)

Extensions:  Students could represent content understandings, how they felt about the most recent test, when something emotional happens to the group (lock-downs, etc).


– Each member of the group states their name and does an action that represents their interest  (miming golf swing, opening a book) or what they feel like ( jazz hands, star jump, shrug).  Like the traditional wave, the person to the right repeats the name and action and this follows around the circle until it returns to the original group member (wave).  With such a big group, I chose us to do an ‘echo’ which has the whole group in unison (we tried!) stating the name and action.

Guest Presenter:  Micheal Montgomery (WQSB)  

I was lucky enough to meet Micheal this year during our Tribes TLC training session.  His varied experience with circles through a NGO perspective was one I wanted to share in this class.  Selfishly, I also wanted to learn more about the different uses of circles.  Micheal shared his experience working internationally as a Child Rights, Participation & Protection Advisor for the International Institute for Child Rights and Development .

1. Unity Circle

Intention:  creating a safe, trusting space, building community & unleashing positive energy

Process:  Together we used webbing to work with a physical dimension of circles- discussing the balance of the circle, the role of power we each play.  We played with leaning back, closing our eyes and leaning back & sitting down/standing up together and reflecting on how that felt.  The lens Micheal kept reminding us- was to think of our students and those youth who will be in our care- what role do we have in building their trust in their community? In us?

I have done this work a lot in the Destination Leadership/ DestiNation Imagination camps Alan Earwaker & I have run for the past few years at the WQSB to build community among the 60-70 young leaders we put together for 2 days.  Alan (our Outdoor Ed specialist/consultant and generally awesome facilitator) introduced me to the power of circles to build trust and connection using webbing.  Alan calls this work Raccoon Circles- For more information check out this resource by Dr. Jim Cain:  Teamwork & Teamplay- Building Unity, Community, Connection & Teamwork
2. Self in working with young people 
Intention: reconnecting with own childhood experiences of school and being taught

Process: Groups of 4 addressing 2 questions –
a. Think of your own experience at school – what made you feel safe/unsafe
b. Think of a teacher who really connected with you and helped you – what were the important characteristics of that teacher
Big Group debrief – what can you take forward in your own work?

3. Two examples of Circle work – handouts (Circle of Trust, Circle of Courage) 
Process: discuss key principles that emerge from both regarding safe environment and positive youth development.
Big Group debrief – what can you take forward in your own work?

Micheal used the following resources:

Circle of Trust- Touchstones-


Circle of Courage-


For more information on circle of courage & outdoor ed: see Look to the Mountain

* We ran out of time for the 3rd part, which is really too bad.  I would love to say I picked it up in the closing circle, but I definitely did not run that well at all…. more later on that.


Intention:  to review readings for class.

– dividing the group into A & B; A’s step into the centre and face B’s.  In partners, they will answer (taking turns and changing roles after 30 sec- I will facilitate) the guiding questions.  Once the first question has been discussed by both A & B, the facilitator will move a circle (A’s or B’s) a few steps to the right or left so the partners change.

Reflection:  This is a great activity to build safety in discussion (especially when students haven’t completed all the readings) It also gives everyone the same time to share & pick up different perspectives as you go along and chat with new partners.

*This is challenging for some students as the noise level can make it difficult to concentrate and can over-stimulate the senses.

Extension:  Using content questions- have students bring along a graphic organizer to jot down key findings from other students, repeat the same questions so more information can be shared about the specific topic, use chairs so this can be done seated, this can be done for problem-solving.

GROUPINGS- There are lots of ways to form groups.  This class I used ‘hello in different languages’-

Description:  With the names on the back of a card, students had to greet one another using the language on the card they were given to find their groups–

extensions:  animal noises, sports (Olympics), jigsaw pieces, musicians, pieces of art from the same artist, etc.

Cooperative Learning:  I am very grateful to the training I have had in collaborative learning.  Thank you to Dr. Barrie Bennett and the training I have received with Beyond Monet and Cooperative Learning I am very strategic about how I run group work.  It is my experience that group work can be a disaster unless it is run with a lot of thought- I also really like grouping students using their own requests (card with 7 names on it of other students).  I will sometimes keep a group for a term (not for all activities!) or will change them up if I see that they aren’t working.  It is pretty tough to do this on the first meeting with a group of 40…We’ll see how it goes.

beyond monetbennett

A great resource for me is Johnson’s Five Basic Elements- check out some of their work here

Inclusion:  What’s in your cellphone/wallet

Intention: Before getting the newly formed groups to work together, I always try to do a short inclusion activity.  This class was to share one item that they have in their cellphone/wallet.

Reflection:  We learn a little more about each person by what they choose to share & how to share, make connections and get a sense of what is important (and perhaps what could impact their time to do group work!)


I only mention this here because I realized (it was pointed out!) that I need to better prepare for how groups select the date of their presentation (in our case- when they are the community builders).  It was a bit of a free-for-all.  Next time, I will be prepared with a way to make this more FAIR!  Thanks Rachel for the suggestions of:  a trivia quiz (from the readings??); playing cards with the order revealed; straws; or even oldest combined age, etc.


I was hoping to show the following TED talk by the ‘real’ Freedom Writer teacher, Erin Gruwell:  Becoming a Catalyst for Change.  My intention was to discuss how we have an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of students…even though sometimes it feels a bit hopeless or we are in structures that aren’t ‘with us’.

Closing Circle:  LIVE WIRE REVISIT

Intention:  was to represent their take-aways or learning and/or how it applies to their practice (see my success criteria!)

Reflection:  Total fail.  I was worried about time, felt rushed & my delivery was rushed and unclear.  What I wanted to do was have the group reflect and represent what they learned.  Instead, I asked how they felt- which was not specific to today’s learning and the actual reflection process I wanted.  Next time…

Always a process….



Posted: January 13th, 2015 in Creating Healthy | No Comments »

Creating Healthy, Safe and Supportive Learning Environments- class 1

I have the absolute privilege to be teaching my first class at the University of Ottawa.  Although I have run many PD sessions and had the opportunity to TA with two extraordinary mentors (Dr. Ruth Kane & Dr. Linda Radford) in the Urban Cohort last year and this past fall semester- teaching your own class is somehow different.  To say that I had a case of the nerves is a bit of an understatement.  That said, I survived.  I had a great time!!  Hopefully the students did too.

The name of the class somewhat hints at the approach I will be taking this semester.  This course was developed by an incredible PhD student- Kristin Reimer- finishing up her PhD with a focus on Restorative approaches (I believe).  I really hope I do this course justice & that we’ll both teach the course next time so I can learn from her approach.

I was asked by my students to list the activities that we used in our first class (3hr30min).  I have decided that it is time to use this blog usefully- so this is where I will post the lesson design.  For more resources on building circles in the classroom- check out this site: Teaching Restorative Practice with Classroom Circles

Class 1- Focus was on building inclusion and community building.

The Tribes trail

The Tribes trail

Learning Intention:  Students will establish community norms and engage in activities (circles, activities, cooperative learning strategies) to build inclusion.  So that we can begin to create and experience a positive learning community.

Success Criteria:  You will know you understand when you reflect how what we learned can be used in your own practice. (Final Circle Go-Round)

Classroom set-up:  CIRCLE  (You could definitely feel the scepticism of walking into a room that is set up in this way.  It shakes up one’s comfort zone immediately- especially if you don’t know anyone!  There really are less places to hide.  I asked people to put their ‘stuff’ away which leaves us quite open with no distractions or barriers created by a desk).  I also asked everyone to put on a name tag- a purposeful way for us to get familiar with each others’ names.  Changes the dynamics of the group too as we

Energizer 1:  That’s Me!

Description:  The facilitator asks questions and the group stands when a question speaks to them shouting, “That’s Me!”.

How I used it:  I asked various questions (I usually move from less personal/broad to more linked to the curriculum.  I use this in the classroom as a ‘hook’ and in PD sessions with lots of people).  The types of questions I asked ranged from:  Who needs a cup of coffee to get moving in the morning? to Who knows a student who is struggling in school? and ended with Who would like to add more tools to their teaching tool box? (the idea being that everyone would stand up and the answer becomes:  That’s US!)

Circle Norms

Circle Norms

Tribes TLC agreements

Tribes TLC agreements

Discussion:  Popcorn out ideas to the question:  When have you used circles in your life?  (kindergarten, discussion groups, camp fires, dinners, etc)

Norming/Agreements:  We set agreements for our circles which include using a talking piece and the idea that we listen respectfully (attentive listening, sharing the talking time, no judgements, & no distractions such as cell phones).  I shared the Tribes TLC agreements and this great visual:

Strategy 1- First Circle Go-Around:  Name, What you teach & what you hope your students will learn from having you as a teacher or being in your class.  (This was so inspiring!  Interestingly, there were few comments about the ‘content’ or subjects we teach- it was more focused on students’ social and emotional learning)

Strategy 2- Partner Introductions:

Description:  Finding a person they do not know, label yourselves A & B.

1. Person A asks as many questions as possible non-stop (1 min)

2.  Person B answers as many of the questions as they want/can (2 min)

3 Person B asks as many questions as possible non-stop (1 min)

4.  Person A answers as many of the questions as they want/can (2 min)

5.  Thank partner for sharing and then confirm which items they will share with the full group (3 items or so)

6. Whole group sharing-

Reflection:  I find this such a great way to learn a little bit more about each other.  It is much easier to share interesting aspects of our life when we aren’t the ones sharing.  It feels less like ‘bragging’, and definitely contributes to greater knowledge of others quicker and we can start making connections to follow up on in breaks/groupings.

Energizer 2- 3 Ball Toss

Description: In a circle, students stand with their arms in front of them.  Starting with the leader, the ball is tossed across to another student by saying their name.  This student passes to another student across the circle stating their name.  They now place their hands behind their back (so we know they have received the ball).  The leader receives the ball last.

Level 1: use a single ball.  Do it silently

Level 2:  3 balls used

Level 3: Do it in reverse- add all 3 balls

Level 4: Do one ball in regular order, 2nd ball in reverse and 3rd ball circling around.


Reflection:  It is always wise to remind students that the purpose is for the person to catch the ball successfully.  Discuss what we can do when the ball is dropped.  Remind students about the agreements & no judgement.  A great suggestion was made to have students purposefully drop the ball and have others pick it up as a trial.  This can be stressful for some students (catching and throwing)- take this into consideration & make adaptations (roll, bounce the ball).  It is also a great time for students to shine if this is their skill (capitalize on this by having them help others).

Strategy 3- Pairing Partners and PMI chart

Have the pairs from the partner introductions find another pair.  Together share names and try to find 3 things they share in common (this is the inclusion piece). Whenever new groups form, it is important to take a few minutes to build inclusion.

Using the PMI chart (Plus/Minus/Interesting) graphic organizer, we watched the following TED talk on the Ignorance Project.

Reflection:  I really like using PMI charts during videos and clips.  I find graphic organizers keep students focused when watching movies/clips/videos, etc.  It also helps students who struggle when sharing in groups because they have something written down.

Strategy 4- Closing Circle Go-Around

This is the closing strategy of the class.  The final reflection (could have been a ticket out the door reflection, but I chose to do it in the circle) was to share your thoughts on:  What are your initial thoughts on what we did today? What could be applied in your classroom?

Reflection:  It was really nice to hear that students are feeling intrigued and looking forward to our Monday classes. Some students shared a bit of trepidation about the whole circle format (very nice to have such honesty early on!), but they have an open mind to it all, which is fantastic.  Students shared that this perhaps may not be their favourite way to learn but want different ways to work with students; others spoke about how they want to be able to do more of this type of teaching in their classrooms and that it is nice to have physical approaches embedded in the session.  They also spoke of how they can immediately apply what we did together to their class (hence this blog post to remind them!).  They are also happy about the assignments (at least right now!) which they feel will be applicable to them in their practice.  Here’s hoping!!

I am excited that students felt like we are really building a community and are engaged by the people in the class.  There is really a great energy and vibe in this group- lots of open minds.  I can’t wait until next Monday.



Posted: January 6th, 2015 in Safe and Supportive Learning Environments, Tribes | No Comments »

Finnish Lessons- Foreword & Chapter 1

OECD: “Finland is one of the world’s leaders in the academic performance of its secondary-school students, a position it has held for the past decade. This top performance is also remarkably consistent across schools. Finnish schools seem to serve all students well, regardless of family background, socioeconomic status or ability.”

Finnish Lessons by Pasi Sahlberg

I have always wanted to read this book- from the moment I heard an interview on the CBC.  Interestingly, I was notified by many people that this may be a book I would like & was even sent a copy by my sister-in-law (Thanks!).  I am definitely enjoying it and at this stage of my PhD studies, am finding further connections than perhaps I might have a year ago.  Here are some of my initial thoughts…

As Hargreaves points out in his foreword, the Finnish school system is an alternative model to the Japanese educational method—“making schoolwork more rigorous, extending the impact of standardized testing, and increasing the number of hours of schooling over the school year”(p.xv). Having worked in middle and high schools in Japan, I would watch students leave their day school and head to Juku (cram school- this was common in late 90’s) where they would spend another few hours studying and preparing for entrance exams (high school or university). The stress these students seemed to be under and the role of the teacher (extending way beyond the school day) was something I really wondered about and worried about replicating. It generally feels as if this is the model North America (US??) is adapting and I can see the reason- the academic results indicate that this may be an effective model for student achievement- study more and test more often. To read about an alternative model is very exciting and something that has me thinking in regards to teacher development, evaluation and mentoring.


Here are some of the key points pulled from the Foreword: Unfinnished Business

  • Force, pressure, shame, top-down intervention, markets, competition, standardization, testing, and easier and quicker passages into teaching, closure of failing schools, the firing of ineffective teachers and principals, and fresh starts with young teachers and newly established schools—the very reform strategies that have failed dismally over 2 decades in many Anglo-Saxon nations—are being reinvented and re-imposed and with even greater force and determination.
  • Fullan (2010) is a critic of Race to the Top strategies as it “pays little or no attention to developing the capacity of leaders and teachers to improve together or as a system; it is based on a failed theory that teacher quality can be increased by a system of competitive rewards, and it rests on a badly flawed model of management where everyone manages their own unit, is accountable for results, and competes with their peers—creating fiefdoms, silos, and lack of capacity or incentives for professionals to help each other.”(xvi)
  • “One of the ways that teachers improve is by learning from other teachers. Schools improve when they learn from other schools. Isolation is the enemy of all improvement. (xx)

Chapter 1- Introduction: Yes, We Can (Learn from One Another)

  • The demand for better quality teaching and learning, and more equitable and efficient education is universal
  • Education systems have a moral and economic imperative to succeed- a nation’s financial wealth and “each person’s well-being and ultimately happiness arises from knowledge, skills, and worldviews that good education provides”(1)
  • 3 aspects of Finnish success in educational change:
  • inspiring vision of what good public education should be
  • despite international influence and borrowing educational ideas from others, Finland has in the end created its own way to build the educational system that exists today
  • systematic development of respectful and interesting working conditions for teachers and leaders: world-class teacher education programs, well-paid position, teachers in Finland may exercise their professional knowledge and judgment both widely and freely in their schools. They control curriculum, student assessment, school improvement, and community involvement (p.7)
  • “The Finnish experience shows that consistent focus on equity and cooperation—not choice and competition—can lead to an education system where all children learn well. Paying teachers based on students’ test scores or converting public schools into private ones (through charters or other means) are ideas that have no place in the Finnish repertoire for educational improvement. (9)
  • 10 notions:

1. Finland has an education system in which young people learn well and performance differences among schools are small—and all with reasonable cost and human effort.

2. This has not always been so.

3. In Finland, teaching is a prestigious profession, and many students aspire to be teachers.

4. Therefore, the Finns have probably the most competitive teacher-education system in the world.

5. As a consequence, teachers in Finland have a great deal of professional autonomy and access to purposeful professional development throughout their careers.

6. Those who are lucky enough to become teachers normally are teachers for life.

7. Almost half of the 16-year-olds, when they leave comprehensive school, have been engaged in some sort of special education, personalized help, or individual guidance.

8. In Finland, teachers teach less and students spend less time studying both in and out of school than their peers in other countries.

9. Finnish schools lack the standardized testing, test-preparation, and private tutoring of the United States and much of the world.

10. All of the factors that are behind the Finnish success seem to be the opposite of what is taking place in the United States and much of the rest of the world, where competition, test-based accountability, standardization, and privatization seem to dominate (10-11).

Posted: October 19th, 2014 in Moment of Reflection, Professional Reading, Response to Reading | No Comments »