20/20 Vision on School Report Comments

It’s time for a change, but how far can we go? In the days of open gradebooks, emails, texting and instant feedback, how do we make report cards a valuable experience for students, parents, and teachers?

The first step is admitting there’s a problem. Report cards have become an arbitrary matter for schools, but what is their value? For parents, it can be a good communication tool between them and the teacher. The grades do only say so much and the report is an opportunity to provide further detail. However, teachers can be constrained by word counts and language barriers, add to that our propensity to infuse comments with edu-jargon, is it possible that we can really provide any meaningful information? As a parent (and a teacher), I know I even have trouble deciphering my daughters’ reports. For the students, it’s all about the marks. I know that this is somewhat dismissive but it’s a rare student indeed that actually reads, processes and applies the comments with any degree of consistency. I will say that this can be a learning opportunity for students and shouldn’t be disregarded but again, is it the best way to accomplish this? For the teacher, even the mention of the comment bank opening can trigger sweaty palms and major avoidance tactics. We have all manner of systems and innovations in place to revolutionize assessments and evaluations, why not report comments? Essentially this protocol has gone unchanged since I was a student 20 years ago.

In discussions with my Head of Academics, who’s onboard (yay!), change is coming. One idea, which was his and I cannot take credit for, was instead of advisor comments, which at present simply summarize what has already been said by the teachers, advisors interview the students and they provide a written reflection on the report that is submitted to their parents. Good idea, huh? Versions of this were happening at my old school but not with any kind of school mandated support. This would address much of the concerns stated above. But what about the comments themselves? How do teachers find new and innovative ways of saying, “your daughter is doing well and I’m not concerned?” to “WHOA, Houston, we have a problem!” Should the report be the first time the parent is aware of any issues? Do we rely on these timeframes too much? Is the comment the appropriate place to address this, when schools are also quite concerned about the report delivering am overall positive message? If not, then what’s the point of report comments? Needless to say, I have more questions than answers, and they’re somewhat cyclical, but the important thing is, I’m asking.

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Welcome to Your New…

Here we are at the beginning of it all. It’s exciting and terrifying all at once. We will feel stress, resilience, heartbreak, and triumphs. That’s how I felt about a year ago when my husband and I made the decision to move to Lakefield College School after being at Ridley College for the past 12 wonderful years. But, it was time to be pushed beyond and see what was there.

Transition and change have been at the forefront of my mind recently (especially as I sit in my newly renovated kitchen) and this year is going to be full of more newness with Cohort 21.  I have high hopes for Season 8 as we peel back the layers to get at the root of our practice and find out what’s good and what needs to be pushed beyond. Last year was my first with Cohort 21, after hearing about it from my colleagues for so many years, and what I discovered with this incredible group of educators, was truly amazing. The enthusiasm, dedication, and investment that others showed for my projects were infectious. There was a spirit of ‘we’re all in this together, let’s see how far we can go’ and I’m hoping that I can carry that on into this year as a coach. I’m looking forward to meeting all of you at the second face to face and hearing about what you are passionate about in your classroom. See you soon!

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It’s Playoff Time

The Pre-game Show:

  1. I conducted surveys to find out what the perception of the library was amongst faculty and students.
  2. As a good librarian, I read about the place of libraries in 21st century education and found special comfort in John Palfrey’s, Bibliotech.
  3. I talked with other librarians at all levels of education about what they felt the role of the library is in today’s educational institution.
  4. I went to cohort.
  5. Based on my action planning and brainstorming, I went back to my school and thought about how our library fit into this new model and what concrete changes needed to be made in order to translate my HMW into action with tangible results. I came up with three main objectives.

The First Period:

Go to faculty and show off. Palfrey advocates for going to the teachers in order to gain an audience with the students. My own personal experience echoed this and so I made meetings with the faculty and even got air time during our monthly meeting. During this time, I reintroduced them to our fiction collection and I showed them the power of our databases, what they can do and how they could be used in their classes. After picking their jaws up off the floor, they promptly brought their classes to the library. This has translated into a 64% increase in database usage over last year and the year isn’t over yet!

Second Period:

More display space for fiction. This is something I have struggled with in my beautiful classic library with oak shelving lining all the walls. When they redesigned the space, they did not think about displays. I will be sure to advocate for this in the next redesign as I am very happy to report, IT WORKS! I wanted to refocus the library on reading for the sake of reading. Much credit here goes to my assistant librarian Jenna Cameron, who has taken this concept and run with it, creating visually appealing, topical and often engaging displays for our books. Statistically speaking, going back 10 years in loan history, we have never had this many fiction books loaned out in a single year AND we are almost triple the loaned fiction over last year and it’s only April! (This cannot be only Jenna and I taking out books)

Third Period:

Redesign the library webpage. This was a must. The webpage has always bothered me and over the years I have made changes and adjustments to it but it has always struck me as very stagnant and boring. In some ways, I really couldn’t blame the students for wanting to use Google over our resource page. I give you Exhibit A…

So, I partnered with our IT department and set out to make some fundamental changes. First, was to divide it into the IB year groups (PYP K-6, MYP 7-10 and DP 11-12). Now, depending on what grade you are in when you sign in to our Tigernet, you will see resources and information that are applicable to you. Second, trim the fat. Take out resources that are not in regular use and target those that are going bring the students in thereby increasing their perceived value of the library as resource for credible information. Third, add in a library booking form for students to book time to talk with their librarian about the resources they require. Fourth, make it look pretty! I give you Exhibits B, and C.


Aren’t they beautiful? With this step complete, I want to continue to develop the online presence of the library. I would like to create instructional videos for choosing appropriate databases, research aids, citation aids and research question development.

Phew! Time to start planning for next season 🙂




Final F2F Slide Deck

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Taking Action

My How Might We statement is HMW create a culture around the library that promotes innovation, collaboration and scholarship. I have posted it up in the library and have had a few students pondering it. I haven’t had much direct feedback except for one student that thought scholarship had to do with money. Fair point. I guess in the absence of direct verbal feedback I can look for other sources. I am happy to report that there has never been so much engagement with the library in general. Students are coming in looking for resources for their projects and books to read for pleasure. In short, I’m starting to see the fruits of my labour and culture is changing.

The library I inherited was very traditional. There was a persistent culture around that library that promoted a quiet, studious atmosphere which did not make it a very engaging collaborative space. You can see in the photos the beautiful wood work, tall shelves and expensive paintings. It makes for a very special place to come to work every day; however, it makes innovation a challenge. My challenge.

How do I engage the students? Where do I display new books to promote reading? How do I address current issues and inquiry?

Well, I’ve had to be creative. Over the past few years, I have done lots of little things to try to change things up in the library. Some highlights are: I put in bench top sitting along the windows to take advantage of the view to the reading garden; I added a large screen TV to provide a flex space into the library so that I could teach research skills in the library; and, I have also taken back some of the shelving and am going to create benches for the students to sit in.

All my research has told me that librarians need to start with the teachers in order to get to the students. So, based on teacher feedback, I am going to recreate our resource page to make it much more inviting and curriculum focused. I created a survey and have received some excellent responses to help guide me in this. My next step is to meet with the faculty individually to get some further subject specific feedback. I have also prepared a student survey asking similar questions to the faculty survey so that I can get the student opinion as well. I will distribute this in the new year.

My goal is to finish the year with a new online resource page that is more engaging, focused and student centred. I’m off to a great start!

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Sincerely Yours, Mrs. Darby


I have thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of the Cohort 21 experience. The ‘big idea’ thinking and the inclusivity has been essential for me as I continue to push the library forward. It’s a big scary world out there and it doesn’t seem quite so bad when we approach it together. But, through all this, I’m still left wondering, what’s wrong with old school? My How Might We statement is HMW create a culture around the library that promotes innovation, collaboration and scholarship? I have to admit, I’m pretty comfortable with the second two of these, but the first has always been a tricky one for me. Innovation – it feels like guessing the future. Not necessarily a bad thing but the historian in me has always looked to the past for inspiration.

This past weekend I attended the memorial service of the former school chaplain at Ridley. Rev. Shantz (or as he was known to us students, The Rev) was so influential in my education and he wasn’t even my teacher (or a trained one at that). There was nothing new or innovative about what he did, even back in the 90s. His sermons were delivered three times a week from the front of the chapel as we all sat in rows and listened. No interaction. No gimmicks to promote engagement. No technology. Just him. His wisdom. His stories.

There’s one in particular that will never leave me. It is the story of the word sincere which comes from Latin sine cera and what it means when we write the words, ‘sincerely yours’. It goes something like this…

In ancient Rome, there were sculptors who would carve beautiful masterpieces out of large slabs of Italian marble. Every so often in the process of creation, there would be a slip or a chip and the intended work would be essentially ruined. Any artist today might call this a happy accident, but there was no room for error in Roman civilization and so the piece would have to be discarded. A true artisan would do so and start anew; however, there were some who would take marble-coloured wax and patch the piece to avoid having to start over. This practice became so wide spread that those wishing to convey to their consumer the authenticity of their piece began to carve sine cera (without wax) into the bottom of their work. Thus, our word sincere was born. The Rev would then speak to us of the importance of living our lives authentically and truly living ‘without wax’.

I was fortunate enough to hear this story twice in my time at school. This was rare because he never really repeated himself, but I guess if you hang around a place long enough, it’s bound to happen. I still remember both times. Where I was sitting. The smell of the radiators as they warmed the chapel occupants from the cold, grey, midwinter day. I remember when he told it the second time how excited I was to hear it again; nudging my friend in the arm to make her aware of the weight of this moment. I could actually feel the synapses in my brain firing as they made connections and were set on fire with knowledge and understanding. I remember the quiet smile that came across my face turning again to my friend to whisper excitedly, “this is my favourite story!”

So now, I wonder, are we creating these moments for our students. Can smart boards and iPads really replace the power of a good story in teaching and inspiring our students? Do they really need to come to the library to gain access to technology? Or is there a much more authentic experience that I can provide? We can be so caught up in improving our practice and being a better teacher for our students, I think sometimes we may miss the mark. Not always, but sometimes.

As I sat in the chapel last Sunday and said my final good-bye to The Rev, I expressed my eternal gratitude to him. Everyone else had left so I told the thick stone walls of my silent promise to always act with sincerity towards my students and thereby bringing that authentic experience. Be present. Be me. Be sincere.


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Rare Species Update – The Librarian Adapts To Her New Natural Habitat

Today’s library. Close your eyes. What do you see?

Learning Commons? Low shelves? High shelves? Students talking and collaborating? A “SHHHHHH” sign posted prominently on the oak paneled wall? Research facilities? Today’s newspapers taped neatly onto wooden rods and placed on racks? Comfy, cozy places to curl up and read the new John Green? 3D printers? Smartly dressed women with buns, large framed reading glasses (complete with chain) and nude toned pantyhose? Books? Screens?


I have now been responsible for running our Upper School library for three years. As I am not a trained librarian (still haven’t figured out whether this is a pro or con), it has taken me some time to figure this one out. This is not for the lack of trying but you’ll see what I mean.

Our school library is beautiful. It is a large (by high school standards) very traditional space. Tall stacks. Beautiful oak panels and shelves. Ornate chandeliers. Tall wing back chairs. You get the picture. Old School. And, like most private schools steeped in 100+ years of tradition, there are alumni who want to keep it this way. So any attempts that I make to push the library forward into 2018 are met with furrowed brows of concern and condemnation, either that or the whimsical apathy of today’s teenager. I have often felt like I was standing in my Gr. 6 guidance class talking about win-win and lose-lose situations. This is definitely the latter.

But I persevered. I started small by adding in high-top seating that looked out over the reading garden. I added signs to help define spaces and provide purpose to the shelving. I then got a little more adventurous with book displays (can’t go too far here as there isn’t actually any physical space for it) and now (horror of horrors) a large screen television. Some people may think that this is not a big deal and I envy you. This has probably been the biggest statement as far as pushing the library forward and the most beneficial for our ever expanding student body as it creates another space for teaching and learning as well as an opportunity to broadcast events (elections, world events) live as they happen. All the while, I have continued to develop the collection both online and in print. Yes, print, too. Other than the mixed reviews, I still didn’t feel like I was getting much traction with all these changes to the library. I felt like ‘status quo’ was good enough for everyone so why bother changing? In June of this year, this was where I was at with the library.

So this summer, I took matters into my own hands and I read the book Bibliotech by John Palfrey. Despite its focus on the American public library, it gave voice to many of my struggles as a librarian in 2018. We put up with a lot of crap. “Books are dead.” “Who needs libraries anymore with the internet?” “I don’t need to know how to do research.” As a former Latin teacher, I am all too familiar with this line of dialogue. And frankly, I’m tired of it. Tired of trying to convince students (and teachers) of the value of research, books and libraries. Until I had read Bibliotech, I thought I was alone and thus I would remain.

But something happened this year. Still not sure exactly what, new students, new attitude? But I’m no longer alone. The books are being used and the students are engaging with the library again. The teachers are requesting times to bring their classes to the library so I can work with them on their research. They are using the databases (and finding what they need!). The students are interested in knowing how to do research. They are interested in finding ways to promote the use of the library. I nearly fell out of my chair the other day when a young man (not my usual clientele) came in and asked if I could help him find the Da Vinci Code. I tried my best to hide my excitement at the request and calmly directed him to the fiction section. I couldn’t contain myself when I suggested three other books he could read if he enjoyed this one. Victory. That’s a ‘W’ for the librarian.

So I’m riding this wave. When I interviewed teachers and students about the library to help inform this blog, I was pleasantly surprised by what I heard. The teachers were happy with the collection, loved the focus on getting Indigenous resources, and pleased with the online databases to support their curriculum. The students were wanting more fiction, wanting to know more about how the library worked, wanting more interaction, wanting more…me. This isn’t about stroking my ego but just a recognition that things are headed in the right direction.

So what’s next you ask?

The online resource page. I made changes to it when I first started to update it but now I am bolstered by my recent successes and it’s on! I want to blow up the page with two main goals:

1.divide it into resources specific to the grade level they serve and have three separate pages for PYP, MYP and DP.

2. Spice it up. It’s boring. Looking at it, sometimes I’m not surprised the students choose google (but please at least make it google scholar!).

So, that’s it. That’s why I’m here. That’s how I’m going to push the library forward. The nay sayers can snicker and google “How do I read a book?”. Librarians Unite!



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My First Time…

Let’s make this quick and dirty. I have never done this before and am nervous-excited. Is it as good as everyone says?! Yes, my first time blogging. Do I have something to say that is of value to everyone? I’m very much an actions speak louder than words kinda girl. I prefer to do it, rather than talk about doing it and so the idea of writing down my deepest darkest thoughts about anything idea that scurries across my brain seems a little tedious and unnecessary.  BUT, I am also a huge believer in being open to the new. Even though the concept of blogging has been around for probably more than a decade, it’s all new to me. In all my years on this planet, I have figured out that nothing can be gained by sitting quiet in a corner. It’s only through interaction and collaboration that we as humans can grow into something better. Stay tuned…

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Welcome to Cohort 21

c21_logo_mediumWelcome to Cohort 21. This is the first post on your new blog. This journal is an integral part of your Cohort 21 experience. Here you will reflect, share and collaborate as you move through the C21 learning cycle towards your action plan.

Cohort 21 is a unique professional development opportunity open to CIS Ontario teachers and school leaders who are seeking to explore  what it means to a teacher in the 21st century.


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