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.

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 »

Learning Targets- Assessment for Learning

The latest issue of Educational Leadership “Instruction that Sticks” arrived with lots of goodies that seem very applicable to what I am focusing on with pre-service and new teachers.  I found the article “Learning Targets on Parade” by Susan M. Brookhart and Connie M. Moss (p.28-33) particularly relevant since we have recently done a PD session on planning at the WQSB and Curriculum and Assessment Plans are due from pre-service teachers this week in the University of Ottawa classroom where I am a TA.

Key quotes/notes from the article:

  • There is a lot of research available that shows clear learning goals help students learn better and that they are better able to connect learning to prior knowledge, select effective strategies and monitor and adjust their work.
  • “A learning target theory of action calls for teachers to design the right target for the day’s lesson and use it along with their students to aim for and assess understanding” By only writing the objective on the board- teachers are conforming only to the ‘letter’ and not the ‘spirit’ of assessment for learning (Marshall and Drummond, 2006).
  • There should be a daily learning target for each lesson that adds “a subsequent level of challenge or increase students’ understanding or skill”.  All lessons then add up to the objective of the larger Learning and Evaluation Situation (LES).
  • Key elements of a learning target:

1. Describe for students exactly what they’re going to learn by the end of the day’s lesson

2. Be in language students can understand

3.  Be stated from the point of view of a student who has yet to master the knowledge or skill that’s the focus of the day’s lesson

4. Be embodied in a performance of understanding–what the students will do, make, say, or write during the lesson–that translates the description into action.

5.  Include student look fors (sometimes called criteria for success) in terms that describe mastery of the learning target rather than in terms of a score or grade. (p.29-30)

  • “Each day, students should know what new content they’re learning and how they’re sharpening their skills”(p.30)
  • Learning targets are NOT a description of an activity and should be different for every lesson- try answering the question “What are the students trying to learn?”
  • “Students should never feel as though they’re simply repeating the same thing today that they did yesterday” (p.33)
  • Learning targets= daily; Learning goal= larger learning outcomes.
  • “When the learning target for today’s lesson builds on yesterday’s learning and leads to tomorrow’s learning, and when all the learning targets in a sequence of lessons lead students to achieve a curricular goal or standard, learning will stick” p.33
Posted: October 12th, 2014 in planning, Response to Reading | No Comments »

Mentor Book club

Having Hard Conversations by Jennifer Abrams

having hard conversations

I am enjoying the first two chapters of the text and am reminded that as awful as some of these conversations are, they are so important for professional growth. Among the many reasons Abrams gave for why we hesitate to have hard conversations (Chapter 2), many spoke to me. In particular the following resonated most with me:  Desire to Please (Reason 1), Personal Safety (Reason 2), Personal Comfort (Reason 3), Waiting for the Perfect Moment (Reason 7), and Fear of Kicking Somebody Who is Already Down (Reason 12).

As I read, I found myself reflecting on the various occasions when I did have a hard conversation and when I didn’t and should have. Although not every conversation went swimmingly, I regret the times that I didn’t say anything much more than when I did. I recognize that had I had a little more experience or training in this area things might have been smoother, but I certainly learned a lot from these difficult situations and often have been thanked by those I had the conversations with. I also have been reflecting on the times that someone has had a hard conversation with me about my actions and although I have found it a tough pill to swallow and a knock to the ego, I appreciate the fact that someone took the time to challenge me to do better. I feel that they really did come to the conversation with my best interests in mind and thus it felt more like an opportunity to grow because I was being supported. In fact, I think those moments are when I have often tended to learn the most professionally. In the end, we want to support our new teachers and see them succeed and it is through these honest, clear and well-crafted communications that growth (for us and them) will likely occur.

From the first two chapters, I have pulled out the following quotes/points that spoke to me as a mentor, administrator and colleague:

  • Relationships are everything in this field (2)
  • Yet telling the truth to one another, as coaches, as administrators, and as colleagues, is one of the most important ways that we grow personally and professionally. (3)
  • Having a hard conversation is a skill for which many of us have no training and little experience. To have hard conversations and do them well, we need some support and some challenge. We need models”(p.3)
  • Hard conversations are about being true to oneself, doing what is right for students, and shaping an environment that supports learning. We need to learn to do them well. (3)
  • Principles of clarity, crafting and communication (4-5)
  • Being mindful of those policies (chains of command, hierarchical systems in place for who is and who isn’t to speak about certain topics) is critical both legally and politically.
  • Hard conversations in schools are essential, not only for our own growth, but for success—our own and that of those around us whom we impact.


  • There are many reasons why we don’t speak up. Abrams provides 18!
  • Dennis Sparks (2005): Two of the most significant barriers to the realization of human potential—resignation and dependency—are also often invisible to the causal observer. By recognizing and naming them, we begin the process of shifting from resignation to possibility and from dependency to a sense of personal power (p.ix).

This is echoed in the Sept. 30 article Eight Qualities of a Great Teacher Mentor by Kimberly Long.  As an early career teacher, she highlights the following qualities as the most effective for new teacher mentors:

  1. Respect
  2. Listening
  3. Challenging
  4. Collaboration
  5. Celebration
  6. Truth
  7. Safety
  8. Empathy


Posted: October 8th, 2014 in Coaching and Mentoring Program, mentor book club | No Comments »

Journal #9- The final weeks

In my Epistemologies of Educational Research class, we were asked to keep a journal over the semester.  Initially, I was writing them privately, but have decided to post them to my blog to reflect the research journey I am on.  Although most journals are written as I engage with our required text:  The Research Journey- Introduction to Inquiry by Sharon F. Rallis and Gretchen B. Rossman (2012), this is my last entry for this class.

I can’t believe I am in the home stretch!  I don’t think I was even able to imagine this place from where I started this journey way back in September.  I know that I have many more twists and turns ahead of me, but at this moment it does feel good to be heading towards what Rallis and Rossman (2012) call ‘True North’.  For the past two weeks, I have had the opportunity to engage with the research topics of my classmates through workshops and seminars.  It has been amazing to hear about their research process and witness how far we have all come in the past few months.  I chose to do a workshop to present my research process to my classmates and was pleased with the experience.  I used Hilda Taba’s Concept Formation (thanks Instructional Intelligence training!) to have participants engage with my conceptual framework and research design through an inductive thinking strategy.   After finally completing the OGS and SSHRC applications, I feel like I have a pretty good handle on what I intend to do in my inquiry project and how I will accomplish it.  Trying to put all the important elements of the research and design into a workshop was both challenging and rewarding.  Once again, I am reminded about the importance of making my research engaging to others and always being able to answer the question, ‘So what?’

As a celebration of our journey together, our last class will be a carnival where invited guests will join us as we share our research through a creative means.   Through my journals, I have been reflecting on my perspective, epistemological assumptions and potential  biases that I bring to the research process.  In my research on the mentoring experience for mentors in the Western Quebec School Board, I feel it is paramount that the voice of the mentors is captured and shared.  Since most induction and mentoring research is focused on the new teachers and their experience, I want to explore what mentors in the WQSB experience and learn from the mentoring process.  The research questions that will guide me through this doctoral inquiry project are:  1) How do teachers transition into effective mentors? and 2) Does the mentoring experience transform a mentor’s professional practice and if so, how?

Although there have been few studies directly focusing on the mentors’ experience with mentoring, Moir and Bloom’s (2003) study on new teachers did reveal important insights into the mentoring experience for mentors.  It indicated that effective mentoring not only benefits new teachers, but has powerful benefits for veteran teachers in that it offers professional replenishment, contributes to the retention of the region’s best teachers and produces teacher leaders with the skills and passion to make lifelong teacher development central to school culture.  I want to hear from the mentors in the WQSB whether they also experience these benefits in their professional practice.  I also want to capture their voices in sharing the triumphs and struggles they’ve experienced as they transition from teacher to mentor.

Posted: November 24th, 2013 in journal, phd | No Comments »

Article Critique #3- Mentoring focused on one instructional strategy

Open Text- Week 8


Stanulis, R.N, Little, S. & Wibbens, E. (2012). Intensive mentoring that contributes to change in beginning elementary teachers’ learning to lead classroom discussions.  Teaching and Teacher Education. 28. p.32-43.


“Mentoring has gained popularity as an effective way to support beginning teachers during the induction year”(p.32).  Researchers argue whether an investment in mentoring will lead to increased teaching effectiveness and student learning (Feiman-Nemser, 2001; Hobson et al., 2009; Lofstrom & Eisenschmidt, 2009; Roehrig et al. 2008; Stanulis & Floden, 2009; Sundli, 2007).  Mentoring has been linked to professional growth, teacher retention, increased instructional repertoire, increased job satisfaction and greater student learning.  However, one concern that this article raises is that much of the international research on mentoring relies on mentors’ and beginning teachers’ perceptions of learning through interview or survey (Hobson et al, 2009).  In fact, there are no large-scale empirical studies of impact of teacher mentoring after one year of mentoring (p.32). In fact one experimental study in the US indicates that after one year there was no effect on improving classroom practices, which is problematic for mentoring and induction proponents. “Generic mentoring was not found to make a difference in changing practice; generic professional development has not been found to make a difference either”(p.32).  In order to be effective, studies show professional development must have key characteristics: extended time for opportunities to learn, a challenging of the status quo of teaching practices, time to work and learn in communities of practice, a focus on theory combined with practice and a clear link to student learning.  Similarly, mentoring must have structured professional development that targets a clear, ‘high-leverage’ practice linked with instructional quality (p.33).

The first year of teaching marks a critical phase in teaching; new teachers are not finished products that only need to refine skills they learned in teachers’ college.  “Targeted feedback can help novices develop ways of seeing and understanding complex ways of teaching by enacting specific practices with guided support”(p.34).  Although beginning teachers need to learn many things, they can benefit from developing one practice well rather then trying to fix everything in their teaching at once.  Mentoring has the power to do this, however, it is often focused on emotional support, managing the workload of teaching, and classroom management.  “Little is known about the direct impact of mentoring on developing teaching effectiveness in specific skills”(p.34).  This study argues that it makes sense for beginning teachers to focus on only one ‘high-leverage’ practice such as learning to lead classroom discussions. High-leverage is defined in this article as a practice that: a) occurs frequently in teaching; b) can be enacted across curricula; c) is something that beginning teachers can work to master; d) allows beginning teachers to learn about student understanding; e) recognizes the complexity of teaching; and f) has the potential to improve student achievement as a research-based practice.  Through purposeful mentoring support, beginning teachers can learn the distinct set of skills and knowledge needed to lead discussions for high-level thinking (p.34).

This mixed-methods quasi-experimental study by Stanulis, Little and Wibbens (2012) took place in a large high-poverty school district in the Southeastern United States and focused on 42 beginning elementary teachers in the treatment group and 41 beginning teachers as the control group.  They created an intervention (high level discussions) based on principles of instructional quality and effective professional development, and studied the effects of this intervention on the treatment group’s practice as it compared to the control group.  Whereas the treatment group had prepared, full-release mentors to support them with this intervention, the control group “received the district’s ‘standard’ mentoring program, which consisted of assigning a beginning teacher to a school-based mentor who was also a full-time teacher.  The district did not have a formal induction curriculum, no selection criteria for mentors, nor formal expectations for mentor preparation or mentoring activities”(p.35).  “[The study] relied on observations of teachers’ practice across one school year in order to collect empirical data about teacher growth”(p.33). Specifically, it examined whether mentoring focusing on one instructional strategy can have an effect on classroom practice and was guided by two basic principles: 1) Leading discussions is a high-leverage practice that beginning teachers need to learn to execute effectively; 2) Mentoring directed to a targeted practice will lead to increased effectiveness in this practice (p.33).  Learning theory guided the design of this study and it is framed by four key principles described in the article.  Instruction in schools should be: learner-centred (acknowledgement and value of student voice), knowledge-centered (teacher use of high levels of questioning leads students to a deeper understanding of content with higher rate of retention and transfer of learning), assessment-centered (higher-order questions facilitate formative and summative assessment), and community-centered (sense of collaboration and partnership with their teachers and peers in the classroom).

This study used quantitative data from an observation rubric to show that participation in the “mentoring program does make a significant contribution to instructional quality as measured by our instrument”(p.38). The survey analysis (qualitative data) provided further “insight into the ways in which beginning teachers reported that participation in the intensive mentoring program impacted changes in how they set up and used discussion in their classroom”(p.38).  The findings of this study indicate that: “When a high-leverage practice is targeted, beginning teachers can learn to appropriate important knowledge and skills associated with a complex practice such as leading discussions early in their career.  In this way, induction is aligned with high-leverage practices associated with internationally recognized research on instructional quality”(p.40).  As stated by the study’s authors, there is further research needed to provide more evidence that discussion-oriented teaching produces certain student outcomes related to critical thinking and understanding.  Ultimately, this study was designed to research whether induction support through mentoring that is intensive and structured in a developmental sequence will help beginning teachers’ pedagogical needs.  Over the course of the year, through mentoring the treatment group improved in their ability to lead high-level class discussions.  “Typically mentors are provided little or no focused preparation on ways to support novices to develop high-leverage practices”(p.40). There are many questions that remain to be answered that the study poses:  Are there particular kinds of mentor actions that are more successful in changing beginning teacher practices than others?  If so, what qualities do the more effective mentors possess and what mentoring moves do they enact?  What elements of the school context could lead to increased changes in teaching practices?  Why and how are some beginning teachers more adaptive to teaching situations and contexts?  How does student learning improve as a result of discussion-based teaching?  These are great questions to guide my own research journey and there is an important lesson to take away from this study:  mentors need specific training in high-leverage instructional strategies in order to target these interventions with beginning teachers.  A structured plan and support program for the mentors to introduce a variety of these instructional strategies would be useful in all induction and mentoring programs.

As stated in the article, the facilitation of high-level discussions that promotes critical thinking is a core practice and it is situated within a particular type of instructional quality that is learner-centered, knowledge-centered, assessment-centered and community-centered.  However, this study’s focus on one instructional strategy—beginning teachers learning to lead effective classroom discussion—does not take into consideration that there are many other instructional concepts and skills also at work, such as strong classroom management, building a safe and collaborative learning environment.  Surely, the mentor would be supporting the beginning teacher to establish these criteria before true high-level discussions could take place.  As well, this study indicates that by targeting the mentoring practice to one specific intervention, beginning teachers “did teach differently post-intervention when compared to a similar group of teachers who did not receive [the] intervention”(p.37).  I feel that there is also a missing discussion in this study on the implementation process of an instructional strategy.  There is evidence that the power of an instructional strategy develops as a teacher moves along the various Levels of Use (Hall and Hord, 2011) from level 0- non-use and moving to the top level of VI Renewal (0- Non-Use, 01 orientation, 0I preparation, III Mechanical, IVA Routine, IVB Refinement, V Integration, VI Renewal).  After one year, there will likely be significant variance between the teachers’ abilities to lead high-level class discussions and I would argue that similarly, the mentors would have varying levels of ability with the intervention which would ultimately affect their beginning teacher’s practice.  Another concern I have with this study is that the quantitative data focused only on the beginning teachers’ ability to lead high-level class discussions.  This is only one instructional strategy that will have an impact on student learning.  What if mentors from the control group focused on how to use graphic organizers in the classroom to increase student learning.  Of course, the beginning teachers would not perform as well on a rubric focused on classroom discussion, but they may in fact have equal success when it comes to student learning.  Since this article highlighted at the beginning the fact that the majority of mentoring research relies on mentors’ and beginning teachers’ perceptions of learning through interview or survey, I am critical of their use of an observational rubric focusing on teachers’ practice of leading class discussions rather than capturing student achievement data.  Ultimately, this is an area that needs much greater research in induction and mentoring research.


Hall, G.E., & Hord, S.M. (2011). Implementing change: Patterns, principles and potholes (3rd edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Posted: November 7th, 2013 in Article Critique, Open text, phd | No Comments »

Theoretical Notes #10- Language

Theoretical notes #10

Pennycook, A. (2004). Performativity and Language Studies. Critical Inquiry in Language Studies: An International Journal. 1(1), 1-19.

  • There is a crisis in the understanding of language which may give an important impetus to the development of language studies.
  • Consider languages themselves from an anti-foundationalist perspective, whereby language use is an act of identity that calls that language into being.  And performativity, particularly in its relationship to notions of performance, opens up ways to understand how languages, identities and futures are refashioned.


  • There is an over-determinded sense of linguistic fixity, with its long ties to colonialism and linguistics needs to be profoundly questioned.  The concept of language used by linguists was invented by European theorists to account for the diverse modes of articulation by different human groups, but for all the supposed relativism of the notion of languae, the concept’s model of totality, basically organic in structure, is no different from the nineteenth-century concepts it replaced. (p.2)
  • We need a set of relations that preserves the concept’s differential and relativist functions and that avoids the positing of cosmopolitan essences and human common denominators.
  • We need to: 1) transcend the disciplinary constraints imposed on us by linguistics and applied linguistics; 2) ‘disinvent’ language; 3) build a reconstructive program to find new ways of thinking about language.

Disciplining language

  • There is an entelechial assumption (a thing whose essence is fully realized) that languages are real objects waiting to be discovered.
  • Languages are not pregiven entities but rather are the products of the mode of study; and this process of forming languages is deeply embedded within colonial projects of knowledge formation.
  • Cohn (1996): “Europeans ‘took control by defining and classifying space, making separations between public and private spheres; by recording transactions such as the sale of property; by counting and classifying their populations, replacing religious institutions as the registrar of births, marriages and deaths; and by standardizing languages and scripts”(p.3)
  • Assumptions about languages as bounded territorial entities: an ideology of languages as separate, autonomous objects in the world, things that could be classified, arranged, and deployed as media of exchange


  • 1) Linguistics of Saussure is tied to “cultural constructions of colonialism” focusing on internal linguistics.
  • 2) Structuralist perspective that words did not represent objects, but rather were part of a self-contained system held in place by mutual agreement
  • Language was an objective fact and thus could be studied according to the same scientific principles as other objective domains of the real world.
  • 3) huge emphasis on the scientific nature of their enterprise and the need to establish for linguistic studies respectable academic status as a ‘science’.  Foucault: “What types of knowledge do you want to disqualify in the very instant of your demand ‘Is it a science?’”
  • linguistics disqualify: all those non-scientific, interpretive, exploratory, open-ended questions about language and life.
  • There is a particular arrogance about most linguists concerning what it is necessary to know about language, so that only those who ‘really know’ are regarded as having proper authority”
  • ARGUMENT: need to find ways of using linguistic knowledge within a broader paradigm of language studies.

Disinvention, reinvention and performativity

  • Harris: linguistics has profoundly misconstrued language through its myths about the autonomy, systematicity and rule-bound nature of language, its privileging of supposedly expert, scientific, linguistic knowledge over everyday understandings of language, its belief in the primacy of spoken language and the existence of homogeneous speech communities, and its belief in a telementational model of communication.
  • Hopper and Harris take issue with the assumption that languages or grammars have an ontological status prior to their emergence in communication
  • PENNYCOOK: interest in exploring how we can develop a more useful sense of language for the diverse contexts of applied linguist work: 1) no longer isolates language from other social behaviours and semotic systems, allowing for a broader approach to multimodality (integrated meaning-making practices). 2) develop an antifoundationalist view of language as an emergent property of social interaction and not a prior system tied to ethnicity, territory, birth, or nation.
  • ‘disinvent current notions of language in order to be able to reinvent them for use in a new politics of language studies”


  • J.L. Austin’s Speech act theory & Performativity- think about language and identity, languages as entities, and language as part of transmodal performance
  • Butler: work on gender and identity
  • Performativity: can be understood as the way in which we perform acts of identity as an ongoing series of social and cultural performances rather than as the expression of a prior identity
  • The performative constitutes identity, and thus is a productive act, but also that what it constitutes is what it is purported to be, and thus it is involved in a form of circular, self-producing activity. 2) this process of self-production is by no means a question of free-willed choice to take up some form of identity or another but rather occurs within a “highly rigid regulatory frame”(p.8)

Performative speech acts

  • Austin: Constatives: describe a state of affairs; Performatives: accomplish something.  Significance of performatives as that they were not boiund by truth conditions but rather could succeed or not succeed, their success depending on contextual factors such as following the conventional procedure, the right words being uttered by the right people in the right circumstances, and the whole having the right effect.

Performativity, power, iteration, identity

  • How is it that language can function as a form of social activity, achieving different effects, causing people to act, bringing multiple reactions?
  • The idea of how we do things with words: discourse in poststructuralism
  • Derrida: objected to the serious/nonserious distinction, seeing it as too closely linked to notions of intention and presence, and further raised the question of originality in writing.
  • Habermas: a principal fault with the post-Cartesian philosophy of consciousness on which much critical theory rested was the reliance on instrumental reason presupposed by the concept of a subject isolated from other subjects and a material world.  Set out to understand how a relationship to the world was intersubjectively established and how the communicative function of language was central to this process.
  • Habermas: emphasis on a normative version of language use as essentially for the purpose of communication and the realization of rational understanding reduces this use of the performative into little more than the grounds for achieving rational consensus.
  • Bourdieu: performative utterances must always fail if the speaker does not have the institutional power to speak
  • Butler: language should not be seen as “a static and closed system whose utterances are functionally secured in advance by the ‘social positions’ to which they are mimetically related”(p.12)
  • While Bourdieu usefully shows that both the linguistic and the Critical Theory (Habermas) approaches to performativity fail to conceptualize the local contingencies of power that enable a performative to work, Butler shows that this implies a static vision of the relationship between language and the social, by which power in language is determined only by prior power in the social domain.
  • We need, therefore, to have a theory of how social transformation operates through linguistic use rather than seeing all language use as mirroring the social.  The performative, then, is “not merely an act used by a pregiven subject, but is one of the powerful and insidious ways in which subjects are called into social being, inaugurated into sociality by a variety of diffuse and powerful interpellations”(p.13)

How to do identity with words

  • Performativity: We are able to go beyond the language/society divide that Bourdieu perpetuates; we are able to see how social subjects are constituted; and we can see how the sedimented intepellation of the subject produces performative effects.
  • Poststructuralist point of view, the subject is produced in discourse- the production of identity in the doing.

Doing language with words

  • Understand how we constitute linguistic and cultural identities through the performance of acts of identity.
  • Hopper:  grammar is simply the name for certain categories of observed repetitions in discourse; “there is no natural fixed structure to language.  Rather, speakers borrow heavily from their previous experiences of communication in similar circumstances, on similar topics, and with similar interlocutors”(p.14)
  • It is actually a result of the repeated layering of acts that purport to correspond to an identity but actually produce it in the doing
  • Bakhtin: all language use carries histories of its former uses with it.  This challenges the centrality of competence over performance (the ways in which in the doing it does that which it purports to be)
  • Languages are no more pregiven entities that preexist our linguistic performances than are gendered or ethnic identities.  Rather they are the sedimented products of repeated acts of identity.

Refashioning ourselves with words

  • This notion of performance can open up our understanding of language as a transmodal performance.
  • We need to be cautious not to suggest that language is merely a site of identity performance.  Thus, while it is useful to view language and identity as interrelated acts, we should also try to avoid a view that suggests that they are acts that we can easily choose.  Paraphrasing Butler: Fashioning language and identity implies a set of repeated acts within a highly rigid regulatory frame that congeal over time to produce the appearance of substance.
  • Performance in the sense it is being used here provides the way of seeing agency in the refashioning of the self, going beyond a notion of the original and mimicry to include parody and appropriation.
  • Such a view of language in terms of performativity, helps us to see how subjectivities are called into being and sedimented over time through regulated language acts.  Ground for considering languages themselves from an anti-foundationalist perspective, whereby language use is an act of identity that calls that language into being.  Performativity: opens up ways to understand how languages, identities and futures are refashione.d


Posted: November 7th, 2013 in phd, theoretical notes | No Comments »

Journal 8- Week 8

In my epistemology class, we are being asked to keep a journal over the weeks of this semester.  Initially, I was writing them privately, but have decided to post them to my blog to reflect the research journey I am on.  For the most part, the journals are written as I engage with our required text:  The Research Journey- Introduction to Inquiry by Sharon F. Rallis and Gretchen B. Rossman (2012).  This journal focuses on chapter 6.

There is an important connection between the conceptual framework and the design (the what and how).  As I begin to develop my inquiry project, I am starting with the conceptual framework and moving to the design- which may actually modify my conceptual framework!  An important note stressed in the reading: “the overall logic and approach to a study should not be driven by methods; it should be driven by the conceptual framework and research questions”(p.114).  For now, my two research questions are: 1) How do teachers transition into effective mentors? and 2) How does the mentoring experience impact the mentor’s professional practice?  By focusing on the mentor’s experience, the conceptual framework of adult experiential learning seems appropriate.  I will use Dewey’s (1938) 3 principles that govern our life: continuity, interaction and reflection.  With mentoring, these principles are definitely at play as I explore how veteran teachers transition into mentoring (continuity), and their experience with mentoring: how they interact with new teachers, other mentors, students and their school community (interaction) and how they reflect on the mentoring experience as required by the CMP (reflection).  The realm of adult development theory is quite complex and there are different approaches to it, however, Malcolm Knowles’ theory of ‘andragogy’ and its 6 principles [1)the learner’s need to know, 2)self-concept of the learner, 3)prior experience of the learner,4) readiness to learn, 5)orientation to learning, 6)motivation to learn] is a good starting place.  In this way, the questions, in practice, provide the bridge between the conceptual framework and the design (p.115)

Along all stages of the inquiry project, I must remain clear about my purpose (goal, aim, guide, intention).  At this moment my purpose is to explore and describe the mentoring experience for mentors in order to inform the current practice at the WQSB.  As such, the case study design where I will study the CMP at the WQSB in depth is useful because it is “intended to capture complexity and context; their often open-ended nature encourages the inquirer to ask about what is not yet known or obvious”(p.123).

Posted: November 6th, 2013 in journal, phd | No Comments »

Open Text #6- Teacher mentoring and evaluation

Open Text – week 7

Darling-Hammond, Linda (2013)  When Teachers Support and Evaluate their Peers.  Educational Leadership 71(2).p.24-29

Future reading:  Darling-Hammond, Linda. (2013)  Getting Teacher Evaluation Right: What really Matters for Effectiveness and Improvement (Teachers College Press); The Art of Coaching by Elena Aguilar (Jossey-Bass, 2013)

Key notes from article:

  • Focus of the magazine is on teacher leadership which connects to the practice of teacher mentoring
  • Historical failings of teacher evaluation system: Reliance on the school principal alone as the person expected to observe teachers, mentor beginners, coach those who need help, document concerns and support processes for those who struggle, and make the final call on whether to recommend dismissal based on the assembled record.
  • Peer Assistance and review (PAR) programs that rely on highly expert mentor teachers to conduct some aspects of the evaluation and assist teachers who need it.  Demonstrates (over 30 years) that “it’s possible to evaluate teachers rigorously, support them intensely, and make personnel decisions effecively.p.24
  • Union leader Dal Lawrence (1980): proposed a program to the Toledo Public School District to better mentor and induct new teachers into the profession.  The program also provided intensive support to veteran teachers who struggled.
  • Success: identifying teachers for continuation and tenure as well as those needing intensive assistance and personnel action.
  • These systems- collaborations between unions and school boards- build in due process and assistance for teachers placed in intervention.  They have proven more effective than traditional evaluation systems at both improving teaching and making effective and timely personnel decisions.
  • Center for Teaching Quality- benefits of peer evaluation: “key to strengthening [teacher evaluation] will be to involve more classroom teachers in the process of reviewing their colleagues…1) good teachers know content and how to teach it..2-administrators are overburdened with many complex issues that only they can address..3)any effective teacher evaluation system will need to be closely connected to other elements of teacher development from pre-service [to] induction [to] professional development in working communities of teaching professionals”(p.25)
  • PAR has 2 features: 1) the expertise of consulting teachers, skilled teachers who have been released from some classroom teaching responsibilities to serve as mentors who support fellow teachers in the same subject areas and grade levels; and 2) a system of due process and review that involves a panel of both teachers and administrators who recommend personnel decisions based on evidence from the evaluations (p.26)
  • Internal review board is made up of 9 members- 5 teachers, 4 admin who oversee the program.
  • Governing body is responsible for overseeing the work of the mentor teachers as well as evaluating accumulated evidence on a participating teacher and making final tenure and employment recommendations to the superintendent of schools.
  • Consulting teachers: 5 years of teaching experience; intensive selection process that includes classroom observations, interviews, a review of their teaching evaluations, and recommendations from peers and administrators.  Toledo: They are employed full-time to support 10 novice or struggling teachers over the course of an intervention or mentorship period.  They serve up to 3 years before returning to the classroom, and they’re paid an annual stipend of $5,000-$7,000

Support & Evaluation:

  • Consulting teachers design a support, intervention, and improvement plan based on the needs of each teacher.  5 domains: planning an designing instruction, instruction, classroom management, assessment, and professional development.  Mentors assist with lesson planning, share resources, observe in classrooms, and provide feedback on classroom management and instructional practices.
  • Struggling experienced teachers: intensive guidance and direction, including helping the teachers design and implement individualized improvement plans.  Periodic reports to governance board.

Program Effects:

  • Retention rates for beginning teachers have increased significantly and that those who leave are primarily those the district doesn’t renew rather than candidates who become disenchanted with teaching.
  • Many improve sufficiently to be removed from intervention status, and typically 1/3 to ½ leave on their own or by district request.  Because teacher associations collaborate in creating and administering the programs and due process is built into the design of the model, there are no extended legal proceedings when a teacher is dismissed.

PAR in action:

  • Primary goal was not to get rid of bad teachers but to further develop good ones.
  • “Today we have better trained teachers who are used to reflecting on their practice and talking about pedagogy.  We want evaluation to make sense for them”
  • Existing induction program called Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA)

What the Research Found

  • Historically, about 2/3 of veterans identified for intervention improve substantially and successfully complete the program; about 1/3 resign or are dismissed.  Among beginning teachers, about 20 percent are not renewed.
  • Success of the program in both building competence and weeding out poor performers at the beginning of their careers has helped raise the overall quality of practice in the district.
  • Both consulting teachers and mentees report that they became better teachers as a result of their careful analysis of and work on practice.  Thus, relatively few teachers are identified as struggling later in their careers.
  • It combines the mentoring and evaluation functions that are sometimes kept separate in district evaluation systems: Poway: we are also responsible for evaluation of first-year teachers.  So we observe and conference, we support teachers, but our evaluations are not confidential…People ask, ”How can you do both support and evaluation?”…95 percent of the teachers I have worked with have forgotten that I am their evaluator by Thanksgiving…I am there to support them…Permanent Teacher Intervention Program: The teacher receives assistance from a teacher consultant much like the new teacher does in the induction program.  In this program, the principal remains the evaluator and the teacher consultant reports progress to the principal and the governance board”(p.27-28)

What Consulting Teachers Do:

  • Consulting teachers are carefully chosen by the governance board and the program director on the basis of their teaching ability, coaching and communication skills, and leadership ability
  • San Juan & Poway: Consulting teachers serve for 1 to 4 years before rotating back into the classroom.  The governance board evaluates their work by reviewing their reports and presentations and can terminate their appointment at any time if there are concerns about performance.
  • The consulting teachers participate in targeted professional development and in a regular problem-solving group with peers
  • Provide extraordinary amount of support for instructiona dn evaluation, both for the teachers with whom they work diretily and often for other teachers in the district.  They not only observe in the classroom and give feedback, often videotaping or scripting the lessons so there’s a record of practice, but also work with the teachers to develop lessons, assignments, classroom management systems, and grading systems.  They help select curriculum materials, model lessons, and analyze student work in conjunction with the participating teacher.  They lead professional development events and also attend various events with the teachers so they can provide follow-up coaching.  During this period, they document the teacher’s progress both as a learning tool for the teacher and as part of the due process that accompanies evaluation.

What is in the documentation:

  • A detailed improvement plan; detailed logs of each observation and conference with the participating teacher; meeting notes, email correspondence, sample lesson plans, and other supporting evidence; summary reports that the consulting teacher produces every two months for the governance board.
  • Records, which detail the focus on improving teachers’ practice as much as documenting teacher strengths and weaknesses, are a record for advice and counsel and the source of the governance board’s later review.

Teacher Leadership: The Essential Ingredient:

  • Teacher leadership is essential to productive teacher evaluation that supports growth in practice.  Teachers grow their practice through effective professional learning and coaching, and through the kind of communal engagement in sustained work on instruction over time that PAR offers.
  • Everyone develops shared standards of practice and a collective perspective on how to improve the work.
  • Engaging expert teachers- can help districts build systems that link evaluation, professional development, and collegial learning- and can help develop a teaching profession that retains talent and continually expands teachers’ individual and collective expertise.


CRITIQUE & implications for WQSB:

  • Must have collaboration with Union
  • How do you get enough teachers to exit teaching in the classroom to perform job after 5 years?  Is removing them from the classroom a good idea?
  • Great for struggling teachers- what do we have in place now?  Are they open to being part of this?  Is Union on board?
  • Separation between evaluation and support for experienced teachers but not new teachers.  Would this fly?
  • Is there an APP for this- great to create one to keep notes/documentation for mentors.
  • Promote to administrators and then teachers?
  • Different governance board- not only Director of HR but a committee of teachers/admin…great idea!
  • In thesis: Need to talk about new teachers staying in the profession (figures) and quality improvement in the future years.  Talk with administration- survey? Questionnaire?
  • Get to CALIFORNIA- New Teacher Center and Accomplished California Teachers (ACT)
Posted: October 31st, 2013 in Open text, phd | No Comments »

Theoretical notes #9- In preparation for a guest lecture by Colin Evers

Theoretical notes #9

Evers, Colin and Lakomski, Gabriele (2013).  Methodological individualism, educational administration, and leadership.  Journal of Educational Administration and History.  45(2) p.159-173

  • The article argues for a more balanced approach to organizational functioning, one that involves both structures and individuals.
  • There are serious problems with leader-centric accounts which involve a commitment to methodological individualism: 1) it is logically difficult to describe individual actions without recourse to structures. 2) methodological individualism fosters a centralized mindset inviting the attribution of leadership where none may exist. 3) evidence for distributed cognition compromises leader-centrism. 4) administrative tasks themselves are often highly structured.
  • 1950-1980- systems theory provided the preferred model of organizational functioning, structural factors prevailed
  • 1980+ leadership has been increasingly invoked as the dominant explanatory category with transformational leadership one of the main sources driving organizational change. “a powerful capacity for transformational leadership is required for the successful transition to a system of self-managing schools”(Caldwell and Spinks)
  • rise of individualism at the expense of structural accounts which affects the kinds of policies that should be adopted to deal with the problem.
  • This leads to rewards and penalties for teachers and students…links teacher employment conditions, such as salary increments or retrenchments, to the learning outcomes they are thought to achieve.
  • Finland: it educational reforms are of a more structural kind…use of high salaries and high entry requirements, teaching is, culturally, a high status profession.  Teachers, as individuals, enjoy a high level of professional autonomy.  High level of income equality and almost all schools are government schools.
  • Strong international relationship between educational achievement and equality of income.
  • The activity of individuals, which is the central thesis of methodological individualism cannot give the full scope of what can be achieved through the action of individuals.

Individuals and structures

  • “There can be no sociology unless societies exist and…societies cannot exist if there are only individuals” (Durkheim= holism)
  • Social action is defined explicitly as being reducible to the actions, thoughts and beliefs of individuals (Weber- rational action) view of a science of society depends on the interpretation of the meaning of actions.  Even if we have high levels of regularity in social phenomena, explanation of social phenomena need to be cashed out in terms of the rational action of individuals.
  • School leaders= utility maximisers.
  • Social knowledge is not something held in the head of any one individual.
  • Decisions and behaviours occur within the context of knowledge of such social facts as organizational cultures, codified practices, normative standards, institutional goals, and distributed cognition.
  • Distinguish 2 types of methodological individualism: 1) ontological, claiming that the physical nature of an aggregate can be reduced to the physical nature of its component parts.  The ontology of a society is no more than the ontology of all its individual parts. 2) explanatory individualism

The regress problem

  • How we describe what individuals do
  • they might engage in social practices and if we try to reduce these practices to the actions of individuals a regress threatens.  These practices and a vast array of social practices based on institutional structures that include “money, marriage, governments, and property’ are partly constituted by collective intentionality that sometimes must take the form of language for its expression.  And collective intentionality is not a property of individuals.
  • Very existence as principals is constituted by social facts expressed in employment contracts and collective understandings, and their leadership role is partly constituted by contractual and conventional constraints on action, constraints whose specification includes the socially constituted definitions of teachers and other employees.  Leader-centric accounts of organisational functioning are not ignorant of the structures that define and sustain leadership.  The worry, rather, is that the emphasis on the leader as an individual can both bracket and discount the causal field in which organizational functioning occurs.

The centralized mind, emergence, and self-organisation

  • An epiphenomenon, an artefact of collective coordinated action that gives the appearance of leadership
  • ‘centralised mindset’- any pattern is presumed ot be created by someone or something.
  • Alternative leader-less view may be a better explanation of organizational functioning.
  • Central controller: result of initial, low level, context-bound, coordination and collaboration
  • Human brain is a spectacular example of de-centralisation
  • The concept of emergence: “very much a term of philosophical trade” and can mean “pretty much…whatever you want it to mean”
  • Emergent entities (properties or substances) ‘arise’ out of more fundamental entities and yet are ‘novel’ or ‘irreducible’ with respect to them.
  • Social phenomena have emerged out of individual action, methodological collectivists, or ‘collectivist emergentists’ reject the conclusion that collective phenomena are reducible to individual action.
  • Study of self-organising systems: aided by multi-agent modeling that addresses the issue of how collective behaviour emerges from, but is not reducible to individual action.
  • Emergence is above all a product of coupled, context-dependent interactions.  Nonlinear.  The behaviour of the overall system cannot be obtained by summing the behaviours of its constituent parts.  The whole is indeed more than the sum of its parts (Holland)
  • ‘strong” emergence: a ‘high level phenomenon arises from the low-level domain, but truths concerning that phenomenon are not deducible even in principle from truths in the low-level domain’ (Chalmers) Ex: the phenomenon of consciousness, as consciousness cannot be deduced from any number of physical facts.
  • ‘weak’ emergence: when the high-level phenomenon arises from the low-level domain, but truths concerning that phenomenon are unexpected given the principles governing the low-level domain…weak emergence is the phenomenon wherein complex, interesting high-level function is produced as a result of combining simple low-level mechanisms in simple ways (Chalmers)  Ex: boids and Game of Life where unexpected, novel behaviours emerged that could not have been predicted on the basis of the simple basic rules that first gave rise to them.
  • Non-linear complex systems as schools that are embedded in and responsive to social, political, economic, and other extraneous forces.
  • Leadership may be an epiphenomenon, the result of an emergent property of interacting individuals following organizational rules of interaction that require them to respond to certain aggregate features of the collective.

Distributed cognition

  • 2 key arguments against explanatory methodological individualism: 1) the difficulty in giving an aaccount of what individuals do that does not make use of structural concepts 2)  a) the behaviour of a colletive of rule-following individuals can give the appearance that someone is in charge of the collective but this is misleading- and an emergent property b) the formulation of these rules for individuals in a social, or organizational, collective will make use of structural terms.
  • Article makes 3rd argument: views of leadership, such as transformational leadership, or instructional leadership, that posit as central the requirement that these leaders provide cognitive leadership, such as intellectual stimulation, special problem-solving skills, or knowledge leadership in instructional matters: cognitive ‘scaffolding’ is embedded in various contexts.  What is an organization and how might it function: theory of distributed cognition and the extended mind (iphone example where a non-biological, technological device has become a cognitive extension of our mind)
  • The individual agent (teacher, admin) in carrying out their daily tasks which involve their knowledge and skills, is not sealed off from other such agents but is in fact enmeshed with them in a vast cognitive field that comprises all the other agents in the school and all manner of resources, both material and non-material.
  • QUESTION common complaint: Schools are underperforming in terms of student learning because of leaders’ failures to exercise leadership and/or teachers’ failures to teach effectively
  • There is a fluid and changing inter-relationship, both cognitive and material, that are characteristic of cognition in context.  The idea of the autonomous self that ‘owns’ its knowledge, a central assumption of methodological individualism, is illusion rather than reality.  Causality in teaching and learning is multi-directional rather than linear and is thus much harder to determine.
  • Distributed cognition perspective, the distinction between the individual and the collective or social- between agency and structure- is a difference in quality, dimension and complexity.  ‘Organisation’ in this vein can thus be understood as a formation of extended minds in the way described, characterised by fluid boundaries and intimately bound to and formed by the contexts in which they operate

Structured problems

  • Individual cognition is not only scaffolded by artefacts and the social nature of the division of cognitive labour across other individuals, groups, and societies.  It is scaffolded by the nature of cognitive tasks.
  • The very act of leading in social contexts is constituted by social structures and social facts.


  • Leader-centrism has transformed distributed leadership into influential models of teacher leadership where the same individualist assumptions are already feeding performance and accountability policies and practices.
  • Holistic approach to organizational functioning is required.
Posted: October 31st, 2013 in phd, theoretical notes | No Comments »

Journal 7- week 7

Journal #7- Week 7

After a not so relaxing reading week spent trying to cobble together a SSHRC and OGS program of study statement out of thin air, I am back in classes and reflecting on the research journey.  I feel like I have made leaps and bounds in terms of progress by going through the scholarship application process.  It is really firming up my dissertation framework (whether that remains in the next few years will be interesting to watch) and I notice how all course readings are viewed through a new lens: what does this mean for my research?  In class today we discussed the difference between a conceptual framework and a theoretical framework.  According to Rallis & Rossman, “Theory with a capital T refers to an accepted “set of assumptions, axioms, propositions, or definitions that form a coherent and unified description of a circumstance, situation or phenomenon”(p.91).  Both Theory and theories (that which can be viewed as a set of working understandings or hypothesis (p.90) contribute to a generative conceptual framework, one that can be considered foundational.  “Theory can provide perspective and suggest pattern, but it need not define what you can see”(Schram, qtd on p.91).  The conceptual framework connects the what with the how of the inquiry.  The what: what is already researched, what Theories inform your ideas, what are related concepts? And the how: dow do you make sure the design flows logically from this framework.  The metaphor of lens is useful here when talking about conceptual framework. and a great guiding question for the study:  What have you learned that you didn’t already know?

Speaking about ‘knowing’- in class we discussed the articles focused on memories.  Upon reflection, I see how it is important to be aware of the failures of our memory system as outlined in the readings and the impact this may have on the doctoral research process.  I am more aware of how my interviewees’ memory of events will affect the interview results as well as my own narrative development is affected by my memory. The workshop we experienced on “I remember” which had us brainstorming on what we remember using those 2 words as a starting point was an interesting way to see that episodic memories jump to mind and that the items we shared were not necessarily emotionally laden or something incredibly important to each of us.  I really enjoyed watching the Ted Talks with Elizabeth Loftus on the “Fiction of Memory”.  We had an engaging discussion on the ethics of planting false memories and really about doing experiments on human subjects for the ‘greater good’.  Not sure where I stand on this just yet- as I see the ethical problems, but also see how the experiments focused on planting false (and scary) memories (indeed a questionable practice) also has helped some people- especially innocent victims who were accused of committing a crime based on (false) witness testimony.  The brain is an amazing thing and I will need to be conscious of leading components in my interview questions, as well as my own perception of the mentoring experience in my doctoral work.

Key notes from the lesson:  the literature review can’t be just a description, but must be a critical analysis of the methodology people used- the way people arrive at their findings is just as important as their findings.  As well, how we organize a lit review is important- we may consider arranging the review in any of the following ways: historical or chronological, conceptual or thematic, pivotal moments, or methodological (ie. By the various methods used by researchers on the problem or issue) (Rallis & Rossman, p.106).  In terms of interviews, it is important to consider focusing on 4-6 people (decided by your committee) and I may want to consider the Siedman approach (90 minutes, time shared in advance) : 1) examine past; 2) present lived experience and 3) What was the meaning you assigned to past and present experience.

Since our research journey is focused on conceptual & Theoretical frameworks, I have a few more Theories to consider and have ordered Tara Fenwick’s (2003) Learning Through Experience: Troubling Orthodoxies and Intersecting Questions.  In particular I am looking seriously at experiential learning and the constructivist theory:  reflecting upon concrete experience and using Dewey (1938):  The 3 principles that govern our life:

1)    continuity (for every experience there is a story)

2)    Interaction- individual in a context/environment

3)    Reflection- decipher the quality of experience.


Posted: October 31st, 2013 in journal, phd | No Comments »