Building Community

How might we build community amongst grade 7 students as a way to create spaces where these students can take academic and social risks in any classroom space?

These past few weeks have been exciting with the end of the year (2019, not the academic year) wrap up. We committed to a few events as a class and found success with them. One event was supporting a family in our community through a Christmas basket program. As a class, we donated towards a larger school goal and created cards for our families.

We also held a hot chocolate and candy cane party where students were able to bring in their favourite mugs and tell stories about these mugs as we filled them with hot chocolate and chatted about anticipated plans for the holidays.

Today, we returned and in the spirit of building community we spent a lot of time listening to each other describe highlights, and memorable moments. Fear not, those of you reading who are worried about kids who did not have a great holiday. I sent emails, checked in with kids over the break, and before returning and knew what safe questions we could ask in our space without making it uncomfortable for anyone, but in a way that let everyone share something and be involved.

We then took some time to complete a “more of….less of….. in 2020” and we spent some time independently looking at what we want more of in 2020 and what we want less of in 2020. We then collated the lists and created a class list of 6 “more of….less of” ideas to focus on this year.

When this was done, we spent some time reviewing our agreements from September that hang on our wall regarding class norms and discussed/reviewed what each norm might look like over the next few weeks.

The curriculum can wait a day or two, routines need to be established and students need to know that I’ve missed them and am cheering for their next success.

Project31 and Community

I work at a school that prides itself on community. We do an awesome job investing in our kids. Last year my #cohort21 project took a very academic route. I looked at peer to peer feedback last year. This year I want to take a more social look based on the conversations I’ve had with my students and the survey feedback they have given me. I want to help my homeroom create a cohesive community by offering them a wide variety of learning experiences that help them both grow as individuals, but also as a community.

We’ve started with a few small team-building challenges that looks both at the communication of words and communication without words. Early in October we started planning for “Project 31”, a Halloween event and each and every one of my 19 students dressed up like a chocolate bar for Halloween and we passed out chocolate bars to the whole school.

We’ve got plans to volunteer with BINGO at a seniors complex, and we are going to go watch some basketball games in the coming months to cheer on our classmates who are on the teams (basically, all but 2 students in our class).

I’m not sure if after out meeting this will be the direction of my project this year, or if this will be just something I do to strengthen the community feel in my own homeroom class. Either way, I’m excited to see where we go from here. After all, this is just the beginning.

How do you keep momentum going into May?

hey pay attention


May in a boarding school is about as long as three minutes. There are activities, exams, trips, special functions, report cards, special one-day projects and drama and of course, a few days of classes between each of these things. Today, I gave an assignment and I want to spend the next class having the kids peer mark their assignments and this got me thinking about how my HMW question will fit into the 6 (!!eek!) classes I will have with my kids before exam reviews start since they are pulled in a bazillion directions for all kinds of really neat opportunities and experiences. I don’t want them to not take part in these special activities, but I am also aware of how little class time is left and how long peer evaluations take.

And this is the point I want to get to…when did me talking *to* the kids to cover that one last thing before exams become more important than letting the kids *do* the thing they need to learn skills that are completely necessary and super transferable between subjects and grade levels.

Really, who doesn’t need more time and space to practice becoming aware of their own shortcomings when completing assignments, and have the time and space they need to implement edits.  I have come to accept that understanding one more thing about tectonic plates probably won’t have that lasting impact I think it should have, but I do know that having the skills they need to think critically about their own work is going to have that impact.

This brings me to my HMW question and the fact that I need to write this blog to remind myself to be purposeful in allowing students the time they need to create, edit, reflect and implement. I need to be intentional in creating space in my last few lessons for students to continue on their learning journey.

How are you using those last few precious moments of class time?

A little video recap to kick off the celebration

It’s time to celebrate! It’s time to look at our own learning, look at our own growth and look at how this has positively impacted our students and possibly even other teachers in our buildings. It’s time to recognize the impact a year can have when we decide we want to make a change. It’s time to pat ourselves on the back, and it’s time to start reflecting on where this growth will lead us to next year. Some of us may choose to continue on the same path as we still have work to do with our HMW questions. Some of us may choose to tackle a question that came up this year, during our work with our 2018 HMW question. The best part – all of this celebrating is just the start of something great and you get to choose just how great it is going to be for HMW 2019.

I won’t be able to attend #cohort21’s final F2F as I am only a part-time attendee. That being said, I’ve created a video for you all so that you can see the journey we went on this year over in NB. The best part, for sure, is the student survey at the end of the video. Numbers don’t lie, and with numbers like these, I can’t wait to see where we go next with peer-to-peer feedback and resiliency. For those of you who want to see the feedback from our third lab a bit closer, I’ve posted the two photos below as they are either too blurry to read, or too far away to read in the video. I opted for too far away so you don’t think there is something wrong with your eyes.

The video link can be found by clicking these blue words.


HMW update from NB

March break is behind us almost two whole weeks now, and late last week I gave my grade 8’s a lab. I was vague about a lot of the lab and encouraged them to think through variables they could manipulate, and to think about what hypothesis could test those variables and then devise their own materials and methods to support the testing of their hypothesis. This is the second lab we have done with this amount of vagueness. It was much smoother since they knew I was not looking for the right answer, but simply their science. Students then conducted their labs, and after some feedback/reminders about the feedback they gave each other last time we did peer feedback on a lab, they completed the feedback portion of their lab.

Today, labs are slowly rolling in and students have been instructed to attach their feedback to their good copy. Here’s an example of the feedback students are now able to give each other – and I love the rich discussions that happened in our last class when students were verbally explaining this feedback to each other. The students were discussing why they gave the scores they did, how to improve their partners work and students were able to defend their decisions in terms of methods and variables and conclusions. Students were paired up and many students asked 2-3 others for feedback, giving feedback to each person themselves. Students kept emotions out of it. There were no tears. Not one student appeared upset by the feedback but took it as an opportunity (personal challenge) to grow. It’s been a long time coming. Students now understand that this feedback is meant to help them improve. Students are being blunt, but effective in their feedback. #alltheteacherfeels

When your cape is in the wash

This week is busy at school, well, really when is an independent school not busy? I’d argue Christmas day. We are 7 school days away from March break and everyone is trying to wrap up units and minimize assessments that need to happen over the holidays.

I feel like I am doing some exciting things in my room, but I have not been great at allowing the process of peer-to-peer feedback this week. #teacherfail

How easy is it for us to get pushed into a time crunch and sacrifice the very thing we have vowed to work towards improving. I know that one week does not mean this is a failed venture, and I know my students are OK not grading each other on appropriate activities this week as I try to increase their resiliency through the giving and receiving of feedback, and some are happy as they see it as one less step before they can submit their own work.

I also know I need to give myself some grace. It’s a new week next week and there is a whole term left once we return from March break. I have big plans for a cell unit where students need to gather clues and prepare a presentation as an end of the unit project. I also have another group using the makeymakey board to create interactive ears and eyes. Both of these projects will need feedback and multiple drafts before students can submit. We can use peer feedback there.

I thought I’d put this out there in the interest of being transparent and as a way to remind each of you, in the crazy lead up to March break to give yourself some grace and kindness. We are all superheroes, but even a superhero needs to wash their cape.


What happens when you just don’t grade it?


This week I had my students present in front of the class and did not grade it – but the students in the audience were required to provide feedback to each other about the presentation. It was amazing. Those kid honestly are starting to get it! #teacherwin

Last week we started our technology unit and as a way to grab their attention, we started with the most common form of handheld technology students use -the phone. #bringbackthepencil

Students had to design a survey by deciding on a population to compare (boys vs girls, day students vs boarders, middle school vs high school etc) and then had to create a few questions to ask them about cell phone use in their lives. This was as varied as using phones before bed, impacts of phones on grades, to the number of hours and the apps students use – all in all not bad for a first attempt at designing our own questions. We discussed being bias and leading questions. We discussed giving people options vs having students openly respond to answers. We then learned how to build Google forms, how to compose an email that was more in-depth than “please fill this out” followed by a link and then we waited.

After a few days we learned about the neat feature to link a google form to a google sheet, we learned how to sort columns and how to create charts in the google sheets. We learned what types of graphs are good for what types of data, how to manipulate the scales on the graph and what that means for the data we are displaying. We reviewed how to properly title our graphs. We then learned how to export graphs to the google slides and then, we started to prepare our presentations.

Students had one slide, in the style of the 3MT (3 minute thesis)This has changed presentations in my classroom. It is not perfect for every presentation, but it was perfect for this one. Students had one slide with one to two graphs on it and 3 minutes to talk to us about what they found out and what they thought it would mean for the bigger population.

Students pushed each other by asking questions about sample size, graph selection (why did you not use this other type), the wording of questions that could have been misleading. My favourite was two back to back presentations that had asked the same questions but had totally different results despite having surveyed the same population. The depth of analysis and discussion was amazing. The students decided, on their own, that it might have to do with when the survey was sent as it was asking students to look at their typical phone use. One was sent on a weekday, early morning and one was sent on a weekend mid-afternoon. We talked a bit about lived experiences and how people answer surveys based on their recent experience and not as much based on their “average” experience. I could not have planned a discussion that rich. It was authentic. It was lived and they understood the limiations of their survey. 

The discussion was rich, the students learned so many valuable skills and the best part, all of the feedback was student-driven and the kids who were presenting towards the end were pointing out their own flaws and how they would fix them should we do this again before opening the floor to the other students to given feedback. I hardly said anything in a feedback way, I mearly moderated to be sure everyone who wanted to voice an idea or suggestion was heard.

The kids all took the feedback graciously, the kids giving feedback were nice, but direct. I wish I had videotaped it so I could share it with you.

My HoD also popped in for a little while and caught up with me later that day and said he could not believe the richness of their discussion and the feedback they were giving each other given that they were grade 8. He was also very excited about how the students could talk about the trends they saw in their graphs.

This has been a long term goal – to use more authentic data and graphs in science and have kids be able to say something about them. It stems from my math teaching days and it was so nice to have that pat on the back that I’m seeing results from my efforts. 

Perhaps you can use the 3MT or only student feedback for your next presentation?


Candy & Innovation

This week, another teacher and I hosted a think tank of sorts modelled off the cohort21 conferences. We started the day with this projected on the board, the Rocky theme song playing as kids entered the room and small candy dishes on each of the tables. There was group work, brainstorming, timers, action plans, ideation, challenges, idea switches, and of course high-level productivity.

Early this fall, we introduced a new internal innovation challenge called the Heads Cup to our students. Any student can participate so long as they present their innovation to a panel of judges later this month. We knew the students were making progress but wanted to really give them time to be creative, have teacher resources available and really push them to the next level with their innovation.

I am happy to report that the sugar bursts as we became brain tired, the excitement when things worked out, the happiness for other teams and the whole group working together to make each presentation the best it could be was amazing. It gave me all the good feelings – the ones you have when you are at F2F with the cohort21. The energy was amazing. The kids were mentally exhausted in a really good way – they were energized about their ideas but needed some time to digest what was happening and how far they had come in one day.

We are going to meet with the kids for an hour next week to run through their presentations again, just before the big reveal and I could not be prouder of how far the kids have come along in terms of exploring their innovation and its impact to society.

I know we are really focused on our own action plans, but being a part of the cohort experience and realizing how awesome it is to focus in on something with no distractions, sugar and positive attitudes gave me the ideal model to use when facilitating this workshop and for that, I would like to thank #cohort21 and the awesome people who make it happen.

How do you set up success?


This week I gained a whole new perspective on teaching. I am now a teacher-parent (or is it parent-teacher?). My newly minted 3 – year old son started full-time daycare on Monday. He went from being home with a caregiver having full attention, to being in a room of 18 students with 2 adults – slightly less than 1:1 attention he was used to throughout the day. To say it has been a smooth transition would be an absolute lie.

It’s the first time I’ve been the “parent” in the parent-teacher relationship and day 1 challenged me. I felt awful leaving the first day and wondered if we had made the right choice. I wanted to make excuses for behaviour, but I knew I didn’t want to be “that” parent. I also know that if he was at home, I would have disciplined the behaviour as well, so there was no reason to make excuses as it was inexcusable. I know kids are resilient and bounce back after some transition time, and I’ve seen it a lot with my own work, but it’s different when you are the parent.

The next day we went in, and the teachers were so cheerful to see my very apprehensive son that it immediately set him at ease. One of the teachers remembered an activity he enjoyed the day before and set him up doing that right away.  My parent brain was going “that’s so sweet” as I left and headed myself to work and later, upon reflection, my teacher-brain went “she set my son up for success first thing, she’s creating a relationship with him, she’s learning about how he learns” and this whole experience got me thinking about what we do as teachers each start of a term, each start of a week, each start of a class to build relationships and set our students up for success. This then got me thinking that maybe I’m not the only teacher coming back from break thinking about curriculum outcomes, how many school days I have to get through them and all of the other “content” parts of my job. Maybe I’m not the only turkey-comatose adult needing a reminder to put relationships first in the next few weeks (then again, maybe I am….there was a lot of turkey going around).


You can’t pour from an empty cup



Today we kicked off our second year “This is Me, This is Us” campaign (, which was started in our location by one of our Associate Faculty last year. She is currently away working towards her BEd.

This year, I want to do more to discuss mental health with my whanau (family group/advisor). My grade 7’s. I’ve created this poster as a talking point for us today. I hope that students will be able to come up with ways that they currently take care of themselves so they can take care of others, and hopefully, each student will pick up a new method to try. It’s not perfect, it’s not a cure, it’s not a fix all, but it is starting the conversation, normalizing the vocabulary, and reminding us all to take care of ourselves – especially in an environment that often demands excellence.

We’ll pick up the discussion on Monday, looking at all the suggestions and how we might apply them to our own lives. Then we’ll look at what mental health care looks like at RNS with some posters that some lovely staff have put together (i.e. who to turn to, how to access help).

How do you help your students with their mental health?