Final reflections on CONT-702

As I wrap up the final module of my summer AQ, Integration of Information and Computer Technology in Instruction, Part 2, I am prompted to reflect on my learning. And what better place than a blog for doing that? 

Module 1: A Vision of 21st Century Learning

Module 1 focused on setting the stage for technology integration by emphasizing the philosophical and pedagogical basis for integration technology in the classroom. For me, this was really valuable, as one of my primary goals in the course was to develop my understanding of what it really means to integrate technology in a meaningful way, and not just as a fun add-on or an excuse to try out new tools (because, let’s face it, I really like trying out new tools!). Using technology can help to shift the classroom environment from the traditional, factory model of churning out clones to one that values innovation, creativity, problem-solving and collaboration. As the technology integration specialist at my school, I have a particularly important responsibility of vetting technology tools before introducing them to my colleagues, and so it is key that I ensure that I have this framework in mind at all times.

The suggestions of my fellow candidates of a couple of specific technologies piqued my interest as well. Anchor FM, a tool for creating and distributing podcasts, got me thinking about how easily podcasting would fit into my Comm Tech curriculum, and further discussions and modules really solidified for me the value of podcasting for developing student skills of communication and critical thinking. 

Module 2: The 21st Century Classroom

Module 2 focused on exploring inquiry-based, flipped, and blended learning. In this module, I was able to solidify my belief that going fully “flipped” in my classroom is not the way to go, but at the same time, I recognized that there are so many more ways of blending learning than simply using screencast videos to teach concepts. The value of blended learning was made more apparent, not just in its ability to support more personalized learning for students, but also in the way it takes advantage of existing resources and tech tools to free up the teacher to do impactful work beyond direct instruction, like providing more feedback and personalized support to students.  

The major assessment for this module was the creation of an inquiry-based lesson plan, and I was so excited to be able to take a couple of loose ideas that had been rolling around my brain for a while and fashion them into a coherent project plan that I will actually be able to use come September. 

Module 3: Instructional Strategies

The third module brought with it two more tasks that had immediately practical implications for the upcoming academic year. I got to explore augmented reality as a new instructional strategy and developed a project for my work with the grade 7 guidance classes next year. I also was tasked with creating a teacher workshop using one of several instructional strategies, and so I was able to create a complete resource for a Tech Breakfast for teachers in the fall, a practice I started this past spring and plan to continue. Two birds, one stone! 

Module 4: Connect!

This was another valuable module that focused on various ways of connecting – to students, to other teachers, to parents, and connecting our students to the wider world. I had two major takeaways from this unit. First, I want to be more proactive with my communication with parents to ensure that positive communication sets the tone for the year. Rather than communicating with parents only when something is going wrong, I want to share good news stories and successes from our class. Second, reflecting on the PLN that I have, between Twitter, blogging, reading blogs, and using Google Hangouts, I realized what a huge impact that my PLN has on my professional learning on a daily basis. I feel gratitude for having the opportunity to participate in these forums and learn from others who are far wiser and more experienced than I am. As a result, I want to share my experience with the faculty at my school, so I plan to run a Tech Breakfast all about dipping your toes into the PLN water in order to start taking charge of your own professional development. I got some great feedback from fellow candidates about making sure that this is done in a low-pressure way that is not intimidating.

Module 5: Skills for a Digital Age

Finally, module 5 focused on digital citizenship and 21st century skills. I got to explore new resources to support digital citizenship in the classroom, and I uncovered several ideas (from course readings and other candidates’ posts) for embedding these lessons as a regular part of my Comm Tech class. My work with the grade 7s on digital citizenship as part of their Guidance classes will benefit from the variety of resources, especially those from Common Sense education, that I discovered. 

Final reflection

At the start of this course, I made a commitment to myself not to use any existing projects or activities as a basis for my coursework. Instead, I would create something new for each task, and try to use new-to-me technologies, or tech tools that I wasn’t very comfortable with yet, in order to stretch myself. Although it meant that several of the tasks and assignments took me longer than perhaps they could have, I feel as though upon completion, I now have a whole new set of classroom activities that I can implement next year. Because I’ll be teaching a new course, doing this also helped me to get more familiar with my new curriculum and set up several activities and projects that I will be able to use in my planning. Going beyond what I already knew and did in my class forced me to think creatively and try new things, and I’m grateful for having done that. 

Going forward, I still hope to explore many of the instructional strategies that I didn’t have a chance to explore in depth, and I still feel like I could continue to hone my criteria for selecting and using technology in order to ensure impactful and transformative learning for my students. But I’ve expanded my PLN, engaged in meaningful discussions with my fellow candidates, and used a significant portion of my summer to grow as an educator and renew my commitment to life-long learning. So I would call that a success. Thanks for everything, CONT-702!

My go-to tools for building and maintaining my PLN

I wrote this reflection on the value of PLNs for my AQ course, but my blog seemed like an ideal place to cross-post it given the content.

I already have a fairly well-established PLN, and I can pretty confidently agree with the sentiment found in one of the articles: “Interestingly, many teachers who are active online have remarked that they’ve learned a great deal more from their PLN than from any professional development session they’ve attended.” (Step 1: What is a PLN? Teacher Challenge) That said, much of my PLN has been established and built thanks to in person professional development experiences as well, and my PD experiences have been enriched thanks to the connection with my PLN. 

I have been on Twitter since 2012, though it was not until about 2015 that I started really exploring the possibilities for taking advantage of it for professional learning. I discovered Tweetdeck, which is a service/website that allows you to manage your Twitter feed more effectively, and that made all the difference. With Tweetdeck, rather than just seeing a single stream of all of the accounts that you follow, you can also follow “lists” (groups of people that you or others can curate) or hashtags. This allows you to choose what you see. While looking at Tweetdeck can be overwhelming, for me, I have found that it is the best way to really curate and find that you’re looking for. Twitter in general can be overwhelming, as well. The best advice I ever received about using Twitter is that while it can be a firehose of information, you are free to dip your cup in to collect a bit of water every once in a while. Like many of the articles mentioned, you can spend as much or as little time as you choose to. For me, it is five to fifteen minutes per day. By following the right people, I am able to discover articles, resources, and news that are up to date and relevant to my interests. Participating in or hosting Twitter chats, as well, can open up discussions and get me reflecting personally about my practice. Follow me here.

Tweetdeck can appear overwhelming at first glance but it is actually a really useful tool for sorting tweets by groups or hashtags.

I have also been blogging since the fall of 2015, when I was prompted to start a blog as part of a full-year professional development experience called Cohort 21. It is an integrated experience that basically allows you to work on a particular area of your teaching practice for the full year, with four face-to-face sessions with facilitators, coaches and other participants, while remaining connected throughout the year by blogging, Tweeting, and using Google Hangouts. For me, the main benefit of blogging is that it forces me to be a reflective practitioner. I don’t blog as much as I’d like to, but I love being able to share successful projects or classroom experiences, and I find so much value in reflecting on those activities that didn’t go so well, and hearing from others who have had similar experiences or suggestions for improvement. Obviously, student privacy is a big concern, so I do not post any photos of students or any details about where I work or particulars of my students. I have in the past posted some student work with the students’ and their parents’ permission. You can follow my blog here. 

I also use Feedly to read and follow a large collection of educational blogs. (I have a personal Feedly account, as well, for following non-educational blogs.) Feedly allows me to see all of the unread blog posts in one place, rather than having to visit each site on its own. My only complaint about following a lot of these educational blogs is that many of them have become monetized, and so there are a lot of sponsored posts and self-promotion that I find I have to wade through. I’ve had to start unfollowing some of them for that reason – not enough substance, too much selling.  A couple of my favourites: Seth Godin (not necessarily education-related but he’s got such good stuff!), EdTechTeam, and Cult of Pedagogy.

Google Hangouts is the third of my secret weapons in my PLN. Hangouts lives in my Gmail, which I always have open on my computer. Often when you think of Hangouts, you think of video chatting, for which it is a wonderful tool. However, I am a part of several group chats through Hangouts, which allow a group of people to communicate asynchronously but without having to navigate to a new page in the browser or check in to a different website. In particular, I am part of a Canada-wide educators chat that is one of the most valuable tools that I have. I have had to turn off notifications or else my devices would be pinging constantly as this particular chat is extremely active. But if I have a question – about what tool would be the best for the job, or a troubleshooting question about a particular app or service – I usually get the answer I need within ten minutes. For example, a teacher at my school might ask me if there is an app out there that does x y or z. I post my question to the chat, and the teacher thinks I’m a superhero when I have an answer for them before the end of the day. I am so lucky to be a part of that chat, and I am included because I made personal, in-real-life connections with some of these educators while attending and presenting at professional development conferences. 

Finally, I know that the next frontier for being a connected educator is podcasts. I simply don’t find that I have the right blocks of time to listen to podcasts regularly. (My drive to work is 30 minutes, but a lot of podcasts are longer than that, and I hate having to stop mid-podcast!) However, the one podcast that I do try to stay on top of as much as possible is Cult of Pedagogy. Jennifer Gonzalez does great work and tackles really pertinent topics. 

All of these above tools are my “go to” ways of fitting in professional development wherever I can. Having a PLN is all about a mindset of lifelong learning, and I don’t have to wait for the budget to allow me to attend a massive national conference in order to learn something new, nearly every day. I can’t say enough about the benefits of developing a PLN like this. 

One last thing that really resonated with me from the readings was this quote: 

“Too often connected educators are the worst advocates of connectedness because of their enthusiasm for what , and how they are learning. They tend to overwhelm the less informed with too much information that would scare off anyone who already views technology as an obstacle to overcome, as opposed to a tool to be learned and used effectively.” (Tom Whitby, The Connected Educator Culture)

I can certainly attest to this, as it seems like many of my colleagues just close their ears when I start talking about using Twitter. Does anyone have any tips or ideas for not coming across as overwhelming or preachy when trying to get colleagues to start exploring some of these PLN tools??

iPads vs. Laptops: the Showdown

N.B: I am currently enrolled in (and neck-deep in course content for) a summer AQ course on “Integration of Information and Computer Technology in Instruction, Part 2” and decided to post one of my assignments as a blog post. I’d love for my Cohort 21 community to weigh in on the discussion and fill me in on any arguments I may have missed! 

Inspired by a previous discussion in this course about the merits and drawbacks of iPads vs. laptops in the classroom, I chose to explore a series of articles that discussed this very topic. 

Here are the links to the articles I read:

For the love of laptops: As learning tools, tablets don’t cut it by Gary Stager, 2013

Day of the tablet: In classrooms, it’s the right tool for the job by Dan Brenner, 2013

IPads for College Classrooms: Not so fast, some professors say  by Ben Weider, 2011

The iPad in Education: Uses, benefits and challenges by Thierry Karsenti and Aurelien Fievez, 2013

My essential question that guided my inquiry into this topic was “Are iPads or laptop computers a better choice as a learning tool in classrooms?”

Interestingly, on AALF.org, not one article that I could find on 1-to-1 computing was published after 2014. This leads me to believe that this site has not been continuously updated, as I am confident that there are many, many articles and research summaries out there that have more up-to-date information. Because of this, several of the arguments made in the articles, especially those that argued against iPads as a learning tool, were outdated and no longer relevant. Here are my summaries: 

For the love of laptops: As learning tools, tablets don’t cut it by Gary Stager, 2013

This article argues that laptops are the best choice for learning in schools. The author begins by talking about how he has been providing professional development for schools implementing laptop programs for many years now, and how the adoption of the laptop in schools “embodied a school’s commitment to realizing the dreams of John Dewey, Seymour Papert, and John Holt: to embrace learning-by-doing anytime, anyplace, unencumbered by the traditional curriculum or bell schedule.” Herein lies my first concern with this article. This seems a very overly optimistic understanding of the actual impact of the use of laptops in schools. While yes, laptops in schools provide teachers with the opportunity to do new things in their classes, the examples of where schools have radically transformed their entire structure and pedagogy thanks to the possibilities of laptops are few and far between. I can think of a few examples – High Tech High comes to mind, for instance – but I would say that as a general rule, so far, technology use in schools has been less than transformative of the overall structure of schools. 

However, the author redeems himself somewhat when he states that his “work has been guided by a desire to help kids learn and do in ways and in knowledge domains that were otherwise inaccessible. Computing, the act of using a computer to make things—programs, novels, art, video, robots—is the game changer.” I appreciate that he recognizes that transformation is possible in the things we ask students to do, thanks to technology, because that, to me, has always been the end goal of technology integration.

The author’s principal arguments against the iPad are these: 

  • “The iPad can’t do the things I most value in a computer for learners” such as the creation of executable files, programming, robotics, and filmmaking. 
    • I would argue that most of this represents an outdated argument that does not take into account the many new apps and tools available on an iPad for filmmaking (iMovie, Adobe Clip) or programming and robotics (Scratch, Dash & Dot, etc.)
  • “The iPad is a consumption device” suitable mainly for consuming videos, e-textbooks (which “reinforces a quaint view of education that transfers agency from learners to publishers”)
    • Again, this is no longer the case as the number of apps available for creation of content continue to grow.
  • “The iPad provides an illusion of modernity with no real challenge to the nature of schooling” and is a “tool of compliance, not empowerment.”

Day of the tablet: In classrooms, it’s the right tool for the job by Dan Brenner, 2013

This article represents the opposing viewpoint to that of Gary Stager. Brenner argues that given the demands of schooling and student needs, the iPad is the ideal tool for the job. He ensures that he is clear in his assessment that there is a time and a place for laptops (for example, he mentioned that he typed this article on his laptop, not his tablet), but that iPads check all the right boxes for use in schools including portability, creation and production of work, communication between teachers and students, and going paperless. 

The portability of iPads, as compared to laptops, is Brenner’s first arguments. It’s hard to disagree with this. The battery life, size, and weight, especially for the price (when compared to similarly sized and weighted laptops) are difficult to match. Score one for the iPad!

One of my own primary arguments against the iPad, and one that came up in the iPads for College Classrooms article as well, is the fact that typing on an iPad is not ideal. For writing an essay, taking down notes, or doing any length of written communication, iPads are frustrating. However, the author pre-empts this argument by indicating that during the iPad pilot project he is discussing, students were provided with keyboard iPad cases. This, I think is a good thing. Without a keyboard, an iPad is nearly impossible to do any writing on. 

The ability to go paperless in the classroom, with iPads facilitating both teacher-student and student-to-student communication, is another good argument. In the pilot project he is discussing, all student work is submitted digitally, assesses it, and returns it digitally, cutting down on paper clutter and the possibility of misplacing work. Again, this is a valid argument, though I would also argue that this is more than possible with the use of laptops as well. 

Finally, Brenner argues that iPads provide the tools to allow students and teachers to be “researchers, questioners, creators of ideas, and producers of innovative thought and knowledge.” In particular, he talks about iBooks Author, iMovie, and iTunesU as particularly useful tools for teachers and students to create content. IMovie came up as an important tool in our discussion in this course as well. The ability to use the camera and immediately edit clips into a professional-looking movie, without all of the barriers to entry of a high-end editing suite, is a real plus. 

Summary and conclusion

I am not going to summarize the other two articles but simply reference some of their arguments in my conclusion.

First of all, all of the articles that I read were too outdated to be of much value, in my opinion. Many of the arguments against iPads included data that was no longer true. In particular, the iPads for College Classrooms article argued that since iPads require slow finger-typing, they make written coursework difficult. However, that argument is rendered moot if students have access to Bluetooth keyboards connected to their iPads. Similarly, the same article continues that the “finger-based tablets are passive devices that have limited use in higher education”, since professors and students cannot use them to easily annotate resources. Again, with the advent of the Apple Pencil, this argument is no longer based in reality and does not apply. With the advances in technology and the addition of new apps and accessories, iPads can take a strong advantage.

Advantage: iPAD 

PORTABILITY & COST

IPads have always had the advantage over traditional laptops due to their portability, weight, and cost relative to similar-sized laptops. However, to really make an iPad as useful as a learning tool as possible, an Apple Pencil and a bluetooth keyboard are almost indispensible. The addition of these accessories does two things: they add to the overall weight and take away from the portability of iPads, and they add to the total cost. (A single Apple Pencil alone is worth $115!) 

Secondly, none of the articles were written recently enough to take into consideration the development of a new type of laptop – the netbook – such as Chromebooks, whose cost is considerably cheaper than an iPad, and whose portability is just about on par. 

Advantage: NONE 

MANAGEMENT

Another argument that should be made in favour of Chromebooks (I’m moving away from laptops now, as my experience is almost entirely limited to Chromebooks in the classroom rather than traditional laptops) is that they are ideal for a school setting because of the ease of managing and updating them. Updates can be completed remotely and services can be added or removed at the click of a button from the administrator’s console. 

Adding and removing apps from an iPad, and updating the iOS, is a different story, and I have the emotional scars to prove it. Every time there was an update, or a teacher wanted another app added to the iPad, each device had to be physically handled on an individual basis to do the updates. Not ideal when we’re thinking about the manpower and time required to do this. (If there is a management system available that I am unaware of, then please do let me know!)

Advantage: CHROMEBOOK 

EASE OF SHARING

IPads are intended as a personal device. If every student has their own iPad, then this argument is moot. However, at my school, iPads are a shared device. We have carts with iPads on them that must serve multiple classes at multiple grade levels. The difficulties encountered with this are numerous. Students are constantly leaving an account signed in that causes conflicts with another student’s account. Students have to worry that a work in progress might not be there the next time they go to work on it. 

Chromebooks, on the other hand, are designed to be shared devices and they eliminate the conflicts that occur when a student forgets to log off. A student’s preferred Chrome browser setup automatically appears when they log on, and all traces of that student are removed when they turn off the device. This is a huge win for Chromebooks for me. 

Advantage: CHROMEBOOK 

APPS

The sheer number of apps available for iPads is staggering (and sometimes overwhelming!). Chromebooks have traditionally been limited to apps that can run on a browser, but more and more software companies are developing Chromebook friendly versions of apps. For instance, a couple of years ago, you would be hard pressed to find a browser-friendly video editing tool. Now there are several. 

Advantage: NONE 

CONTENT CREATION

While many Chromebooks now have reversible cameras, I have yet to encounter a Chromebook that is as easy to use as a video camera as an iPad. For quick content creation, using sophisticated apps, the iPad wins in this department. Additionally, there is no version available for Chromebooks of the highly technical Creative Cloud software by Adobe, which includes Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and Premiere Pro. There are iPad, apps, however, which, although limited in their scope, can provide a starting point for this software suite. 

Advantage: iPAD 

TOUCH SCREEN CAPABILITIES

An iPad, by its nature, is a touch screen environment. Chromebooks are not, which can add accessibility issues, especially for young students not accustomed to using a mouse or trackpad. However, more Chromebooks are being developed that have touch screen capabilities, which could lead to the Chromebook catching up in this department. 

Advantage: iPAD 

So with that, you’ve heard all the arguments. I’ll leave it up to you to decide. Leave me a comment to let me know where you stand! 

Oh, and full disclosure from me: I wrote this blog post on my desktop computer, with my Apple Pencil-annotated articles open in OneNote on my iPad beside me. I created the illustrations below (my terrible first attempt at sketchnoting that left me with a terribly kinked neck!) using Adobe Draw on my iPad.

For me, the clear winner would be a combination of both, as I truly believe that both the iPad and the laptop have their place in different situations.

Stumbling toward my question… finally.

The brilliant @gnichols and @jmedved have often said that sometimes just getting yourself in front of the right question can be the work of an entire season of Cohort 21. That’s where I’m at this year. Despite knowing since the 3rd F2F that my HMW question was all wrong for me for this point in time, following a 5 Whys protocol with @lbettencourt that ended in tears (yes, it’s true), I still seemed unable to land upon a better focus for my Action Plan. As it stands officially, my question is this: How might we engage always-busy faculty in meaningful and just-in-time PD? 

Not a bad question, to be sure. But I know deep down that I chose my question based on the fact that I had already come up with a plan that would allow me to check off that box and consider myself successful at another season of Cohort 21. But that is so not the point of Cohort 21.

After the soul-searching conversation with @lbettencourt, I also knew that if I was being honest with myself, worrying about engaging the faculty in my new tech integration position was not super high on my list of pain points. If we’re supposed to be trying to fix a big challenge in our practice, I had to finally admit that, despite trying to avoid it, my greatest challenge this year was about finding a balance for myself in my work and personal life. Even trying to put it out here in this space I struggle with feelings that it’s too selfish a question to be worthy of inclusion.

Before we get to it (I’m stalling because I haven’t actually figured out the wording yet but I’m convinced I’ll figure it out by the time I write out my thought process), there were a few things that got me to this place.

First, @amacrae‘s Action Plan that led to the CIS Ontario Women’s Network got me thinking hard about the power that we women have to support one another. So many of us are in the same boat of struggling to be everything to everyone in our lives and feeling inadequate. That night at UCC connected me with so many likeminded and similarly-challenged colleagues. I had an amazing chat with @swelbourn and a few others and I remember talking very little about school or teaching, but instead commiserating about the challenges of being a working mother. The session I attended with Stephanie Young on “Gender Biases in the Workplace” provided some honest information about the real struggles of pursuing a career and raising a family simultaneously.

Second, the Twitter chat that I hosted earlier in the year was focused on finding balance and seeking personal wellness. It was such a great chat and it felt to me like it was a topic that needed to be talked about. So many of us struggle during the school year to find time to self-care, or feel guilt when we stop working for an hour to do something that is good for our own mental health. We all have different individual challenges but it seemed clear that balance is for sure a challenge for most of us.

Third, my blog post during the March Break Is this the new normal got such a surprising and supportive response from the C21 community. I was afraid to come right out and say that I was struggling with these things, but I felt so supported by everyone who left a comment with a word of encouragement or understanding. (Thanks @lfarooq @amacrae @edaigle @jmedved @acampbellrogers!)

Finally, today at lunch I sat down with two incredible female colleagues who were already engaged in a conversation about, surprise, surprise: feeling guilt and exhaustion about being a working mother. It was like a message from the gods. On this day, the eve of the C21 final F2F, I couldn’t ignore it any longer. I had to change my question. One thing that Gisa mentioned, which I couldn’t get out of my head for the rest of the day, was that she would love to interview some other working mothers and find out what their greatest challenges were, and what hacks they’ve developed over the years in order to manage. As soon as she said this, I could see the documentary video forming in my head. This was what I wanted to do.

How might we recognize and share the challenges of being women/mothers/wives/teachers/coaches/fill-in-the-blank-with-the-other-hats-you-wear ? 

So I have no fancy slide deck summary of my journey. I’m sorry everyone. It’s after 9 p.m. and 4:30 a.m. will be here far too soon. But I’ve finally landed myself in front of the question that makes me excited to start to find ways to answer it. And it might not be #perfect but it’s #goodenough for now. 

Thanks for reading, and for all of your support on this roller coaster of a year. See you all tomorrow.
Jen

Building the CIS community through sport

Like most coaches, I breathe a huge sigh of relief when the season comes to an end. I love coaching my team, but it is a huge commitment that can mean long days and time away from my family. The snowboard season is no exception. Although we don’t have late games that follow a long day at work, we do have very early morning bus rides and a lot of full days away from school, which means writing lots of coverage and missing important meetings and work time. But most of us would have it no other way.

Sometimes we might wonder if it’s worth it. Does the benefit of the athletics experience for the students outweigh the costs of the missed class time? In my personal experience, especially coming off the end of this particular snowboard season, I would answer that with a resounding yes.

The CISAA snowboard league is a league like few others, I believe. Somehow, and I’m not sure how it was created, there is a true sense of community that exists amongst the athletes and the coaches. It was there before I became a snowboard coach and it continues today.

There are few other sports that run in the same way as snowboarding does. Alpine and nordic skiing, swimming, and track and field are the few that come to mind. Most regular season athletic competitions at our CIS schools consist of two teams meeting for an individual game or match. Think hockey or basketball. Instead, with snowboarding, at each weekly event, all schools are present together. The coaches are together on a weekly basis to run the events, we have a coaches’ meeting the morning of every event, and we often eat lunch together. This provides us with the opportunity to get to know one another, and it is something that I value so much. I feel a huge sense of community amongst the snowboard coaches, and this extends even to the athletes, who, despite competing against one another, seem to really support one another. This season’s OFSAA experience underscored that to me, and I thought it was worth sharing.

The Snowboard Cross event, although not technically part of OFSAA yet, is a great first example. Because the sport is so new, the provincial championship event runs not with school-based teams, but association-based teams. Each athletic association is able to send two teams of four females and two teams of four males. While each association is free to select their representative athletes however they choose, CISAA offers the spots to the top 8 male and female GS racers, thus forming teams that are made up of a mix of schools. This year, CDS, GCS, and SMCS made up our combination of athletes. (Athletes from LCS and HSC, though some qualified, were not able to attend this particular event.) As a group, led by CDS coach Andrew, we warmed up, trained, and competed. Even the coaches got in on the action, forming a coaches’ team to compete against the coaches from the other associations! (I thought I was going to die on the Craigleith Bowie Cross Track that day, but happily I survived with no serious damage inflicted.) And the results were impressive: the first CISAA girls’ team took gold, while the first CISAA boys’ team took third place. It was a privilege and a moment of pride to watch these athletes from various schools come together, work together, strategize and compete as a group, all representing CISAA.

Athletes from CDS, GCS and SMCS warm up before training on the Bowie Cross Track at Craigleith on Feb. 27.

CISAA’s 1st Girls team, made up of athletes from CDS and GCS, prepares to race at the Ontario High School Boardercross Championships on February 27. This team ended up taking first place!

 

The impressive CISAA coaches’ team (who took second place among the coaches, with absolutely no help from yours truly!)

That evening, the CDS team gathered for a team dinner. Or, I should say, it was supposed to be a team dinner. But the Sward family – a former CDS family whose two children were instrumental in getting the CDS snowboard team started several years ago – opened their home to not just all of the CDS athletes and their parents, but to all of the CISAA athletes and coaches who were up in Collingwood for the night. The result: a beautiful evening of #CISAAfam celebrating the almost-end of another snowboard season together. Coaches, parents, athletes, and even an athletic director breaking bread together in the spirit of community. It was an unforgettable evening, and it really underscored the potential for athletic endeavours such as snowboarding to create community.

Being part of the CISAA Snowboard group of coaches is such a highlight for me. It rivals Cohort 21 with regards to the supportive collegiality and the sense of belonging that I get from it. Here’s to another successful season behind us and, I hope, many more to come!

 

Coaches from CDS, SMCS, LS, GCS, and RLC celebrate at the CISAA Championship on February 20. (We missed HSC and half of RLC in this photo, unfortunately!)

 

Is this the new normal?

Day 8 of March Break. Despite a massive list of “to do’s” and goals for this much-needed mid-year respite, I’ve only just begun to scratch a few things off and am already feeling guilt about time misspent. Writing a blog post was certainly one thing on that list, in addition to renewing my Google L2 Certification, prepping my final units for the third term, and doing a video course on Adobe Premiere Pro. These are on top of the almost-too-many-to-list personal “to do’s” that have been waiting for months for me to tackle.

We keep reminding Cohort participants that there is no need to feel #cohortguilt, but then why do I feel it so constantly?

It’s not just #cohortguilt, either. I feel like I’m experiencing guilt in every area of my life these days, and I want to know: is this just par for the course now? Is this the new normal? Will I always now feel guilty if I send my daughter to daycare when I’m home from work? Will I ever have the chance to sit and read my book without feeling like I should be doing something more productive?

I’ve always valued my professional development so highly, so it’s really hard for me to admit that I don’t particularly want to spend my personal time to study for my recertification exam. I am not particularly keen on developing a rubric when it seems like everyone else is enjoying themselves on a tropical beach. I can’t bring myself to start that Premiere Pro course because I’m afraid it will end up being like every other online course I’ve started this year and didn’t finish.

Is this just how it’s going to be from now on?

Some thoughts on a snowy day

Today marks my fourth day in as many weeks working from home. The first day was due to extreme cold, the second due to a burst pipe and flooded Senior School, the third was due to freezing rain, and today’s is due to a “Colorado low” bringing a bunch of snow and freezing rain. But I’m starting to better understand the law of diminishing returns when it comes to snow days this year.

Don’t get me wrong: I love me a snow day like everyone else. The unexpected ones are the absolute best, when you’re dressed and about to walk out the door for work and you get the call to go back to bed. (Though I never go back to bed. A snow day is far too great a gift to be wasted with sleep!)

But this year, with four of these days already under our belt and no end of winter in sight, I’m starting to realize how much I must love my job when the thought of a snow day actually disappoints me a little bit!

I’m also starting to see the interconnectedness of what what we do, and how all of those moving parts that make up life in an independent school get a wrench thrown into them when the school is closed due to weather or other things. I ache for our drama department, who has had rehearsal after rehearsal cancelled due to these days. We’re too weeks from their winter production and they are desperate for rehearsal time. Tests and assignments have had to be cancelled and squeezed in on top of an already jam-packed academic schedule. Our poor athletic director has spent more time rescheduling cancelled games than he spent making the original schedule, I’m sure. As convenor of the CISAA snowboard league, I’ve spent hours on these “days off” writing emails trying to figure out what to do about our cancelled Championship event last week. I’m worried about whether our event tomorrow will be able to take place, and if it can’t, what it will mean for our now rescheduled event for next week. (Can you even imagine it – a snowboard league that wishes we didn’t have quite as much snow?!)

Our schools are filled with such a rich abundance of activities that everyone is now feeling the squeeze. It just makes me realize how valuable the work is that we do on a daily basis – not just our teaching but all of the other activities that we do: the trips that we chaperone, the plays that we direct, the parent phone calls that we make, the administrative forms that we fill out…. A snow day is a lovely break from all of that but in the end, it seems to create even more work for a lot of people.

So on this cold, blustery snow day, I’m very grateful not to have to drive back and forth to work (and I’m using my time to really try to get caught up on work!) but I am also cognizant of how will affect others. Be safe and warm today, friends!

The wrong question

Going in to Friday’s F2F, my HMW question was this: How might we engage always-busy faculty in meaningful and just-in-time PD?

To be honest, this question was not so much developed as it was pulled haphazardly out of my panicked brain fog in a desperate attempt to get myself together in time for the third F2F. I ended up having to leave the second F2F before it even began in November, and so missed the whole design thinking process that everyone else engaged in to arrive at their raison d’être for Cohort 21 Season 7.  

I felt lost. So, in trying to come up with a HMW question, I figured I would focus on my new position as tech integrator. I knew I already had some PD sessions planned with faculty coming up, so perhaps I thought if I used this as my question, I would surely be able to declare this season a success without too much additional hard work. I don’t know. But arriving at the WE Global Learning Centre on Friday, I was not confident in my HMW question’s ability to survive some hardline challenging. And was I ever right.

For the “Five Whys” protocol, I sat down with the incredible @lbettencourt, and in the kindest and gentlest possible way, she proceeded to ask me “why” in such a way that it was immediately clear that I had not yet arrived at the right question. It very quickly became obvious to me that feelings of guilt and of not being enough were obscuring me from finding a HMW question that would actually serve to help me and improve my practice. We moved from a focus on faculty PD to conversations about busyness, balance and wellness. As it turned out, and as Lisa (my therapist for the day) helped me realize, my original question stemmed from a fear of not being good enough – in new position in particular, but also as a Cohort 21 coach, as a wife, and as a mother. I made my focus on faculty PD because I was worried that my colleagues and administrators at school might think I’m not doing my job if, by the end of the year, I don’t have hard data demonstrating the impact I’ve had.

My biggest takeaway from the day, besides the big burst of fresh energy that I got just from being in the same room with my tribe, was something that @gnichols said right near the end of the day

“Being in front of the right question is far more valuable than answering the wrong question.”

I may not be in front of the right question just yet, but I’m pretty sure I’ve found the wrong one. To be continued…

Thanks to everyone who asked questions, provided encouragement, and was engaged in the struggle of learning alongside me on Friday.  

On failure and taking risks

Just before the break, my Director of Academics asked me to speak in Monday’s academic-themed assembly – the first day back from the break. I’m not sure why he tapped me on the shoulder, and I immediately recoiled from the idea, but I knew that I had some ideas that were worth sharing with the student body. They were about taking risks and managing failure, so it only made sense that I lead by example and step out of my own comfort zone, take a risk, and write something to share with the school, no matter how difficult it might be for me. 

Then the holidays hit, and along with them, a nasty bout of bronchitis and strep throat, which meant I completely lost my voice for almost a week and am just now getting it back. I’m not sure if I’ll be well enough to speak in tomorrow’s assembly. Nevertheless, I wrote the piece that I intended to share and figured I would share it here with you in case it doesn’t otherwise leave the Google Doc on my computer. 

In his 2005 commencement address at Stanford University, Steve Jobs said this: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” He was talking about the multiple unexpected turns his life took, and the various failures along the way, like dropping out of university and being fired by Apple, and how they eventually, and surprisingly, ended up as being the things that led to his greatest successes. What he meant was that as much as he could have tried to plan the direction his life and his career were going to go, inevitably there are things that happen to derail that train. But in the end, those setbacks and those failures can end up being the milestones along a very successful journey.

So why am I talking about Steve Jobs? Because he embodied what the most successful people around us are all about: taking risks, making mistakes, and finding their way to success in spite and because of them.

Taking risks and failing at things that we try is something of particular interest to me recently, and so I wanted to share these thoughts with you today. As many of you know, I have a one and a half year old daughter. Although in teacher’s college I learned all about what is happening in the brain as we learn something new, my understanding about how learning happens has never been as clear as it is now. As I watch my daughter navigate this huge, unknown world, it’s almost like I can see the synapses forming in her brain, right before my eyes. Everything that she sees being done, whether it’s watching me put my shoes on or brush my teeth,  she immediately wants to try to replicate. And in doing so, she makes a LOT of mistakes. She fails. All the time.

Not too long ago, she was very interested in the cutlery that we were using to eat our dinner. So of course she wants to try it. Me, being the adult, of course, was worried about the mess that would surely ensue. And that is because the danger of failure is ingrained in me. But I handed her a spoon and a bowl of applesauce, and she missed her mouth more than she found it. And she turned the spoon upside down on the way and spilled applesauce all over herself. But as time went by, every time she got a bit more applesauce in her mouth. She got a bit better. She stayed a bit cleaner. And this is how we learn.

Children decide they want to do something and they try it. They don’t worry about looking silly, or what it will say about them and their worth as a person if they fail at it the first time (or the second time or the third time). They keep trying, over and over again until they get it. But as we grow up, we become more and more worried about failure. We worry what people will think of us. We worry what failing at something will mean for our future. And so we stop taking risks, and we start sticking with the “safe” route, to make sure that we’ll be successful. And I’m telling you all right now that doing this really takes the fun out of learning.

Let me ask you this: Have any of you ever had a choice on an assignment or project in school where you could decide to do the “safe” thing – the thing you already know you can do successfully – or you could choose to do something maybe a bit more creative? Or out there? Or something new to you that maybe you’ve always wanted to try doing? How many of you, when thinking about that scenario, would choose the “safe” route? Kudos to you if you would go the route of trying something new.

Your teachers aren’t immune from these fears either. Teachers, how many of you have tried an innovative new lesson only to have it blow up in your face and be a complete and utter disaster? Did you reflect, re-evaluate and try to tweak it to try it again? Or did you say “forget it” and toss out that idea and never return to it again?

The thing is, if we don’t take risks and we aren’t willing to try something new, we will never leave our comfort zone. And it is by leaving our comfort zone that the magic happens.

Term two is about to begin. Soon, the student services team will begin their sessions to introduce the course selection process. As you consider your options, think about signing up for that course that you’ve always been interested in but weren’t going to take because it wasn’t part of the “master plan” for your university and career plans. Think about checking out a course that maybe none of your friends are taking but you’re actually interested in the subject matter. And think about enrolling in the course that maybe you know you will struggle with a bit, that course where you know you won’t achieve 95% but it sounds fascinating. Because you know why? You’ll probably actually learn something along the way.

There is no shame in engaging in the struggle of learning. There is only shame in avoiding the challenges that will cause you to grow and stretch and change as a learner. I’ll leave you with this quote from Theodore Roosevelt, from a speech often referred to as “the Man in the Arena”:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes up short again and again… who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

All images created in Canva. The design of the “Comfort zone” image was not an original idea – I’ve seen it many times in a similar format, but couldn’t find one that was labelled for re-use. 

A small moment of mindful appreciation

Can I just be honest for a minute? Finding the time to write this blog post has been really hard for me. It’s not that I don’t love blogging; I actually love the process of organizing my thoughts and reflections, writing them out, and opening up a conversation about some topics that I’m passionate about. Since the October F2F session, I’ve had several ideas for posts. But I have not been able to squeeze in a single minute for writing before now. Even now, there are about a hundred other things that I should be doing. Plus, I haven’t yet had a chance to do the homework of my interviews with my learners to determine their needs. But, an email from @adamcaplan to all coaches this week included this as a to-do list item:

Write a blog. Any blog! Possible topics: How did the last F2F go for you? What have you been thinking about this past month? What three things would you change if you could snap your fingers? Do you have any ideas for an action plan this year? What is new for you this school year? Which book or article has most resonated with you since school began this year, and why? What do you hope for of participants in the next F2F?

So here I am. What’s new for me this school year? I’m so glad you asked.

In the middle of August, coming off my maternity leave, I started in the job that I’ve been working toward for a very long time: technology integration specialist for the Middle and Senior Schools. Although the school had this position in the past, when the previous person left the school unexpectedly, the position wasn’t filled, and I unofficially took on some of the responsibilities of this role as part of my job in the Middle and Senior Library. I was thrilled when the school reposted the tech job after five years and I was the successful applicant. While I enjoyed working in the library, deep down I knew it wasn’t my true calling. This is what I was made for.

We’re now one quarter of the way through the school year, and what a ride it has been so far. I absolutely love my new position. I am working with teachers and students, and even some staff, trying to make technology work harder for them and facilitate their learning. I’ve learned so much already and challenged myself with completely new (to me) projects, like the grade 8 3D printing project that just wrapped up. I still have so much to learn, and an endless list of possible projects and partnerships that I want to make happen.

But wow, has it ever been busy. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so strongly the sense of treading water trying to keep from drowning under the amount of stuff I have to do every single day. And throw a 15 month old into the mix and I just don’t have the same time that I once did to work during evenings and weekends.

How I’ve been feeling lately.

Lately I’ve been finding myself getting stressed out on my drive in to work as I go through all of the tasks and priorities for the day. But Tuesday morning, as I drove down some of the few remaining undeveloped roads in my region, I was struck by the beauty of a surprise overnight snowfall. Every tree was coated in a thick layer of not-yet-melted snow, and the morning light was just beginning to rise.  And so I tried to put aside the stresses and the pressures, if only for a moment. I tried to slow down my racing brain and just appreciate the beauty of my surroundings. And you know what? Although I arrived at work and got right down to business, and likely didn’t have the chance to even look out a window again until dusk was falling and I was heading out to my car for the evening commute, those few minutes of mindful appreciation made a difference in my day.