Why Do I Call Myself and Instructional Leader?

It seems as though there is some strange confluence of events in my life these days. Last week I had a conversation with a friend who is completing her Principal Qualifications Program; she wanted to know how I view my role as an instructional leader now that I am a Vice Principal. A few days later, I read Royan Lee’s blog post about his blogging process “Writing in Snippets”. This was followed by Dean Shareski’s challenge in “How To Make Better Teachers“. When I moved out of the classroom two years ago, one of the things I missed most was the direct teaching of kids and helping them learn, question, and grow. My wife, who is a Principal, reminded me at the time that my classroom is just bigger now and that I get to work with different students. While this is true, I’m not really sure how much teaching I have been doing as I learn my new job. As we start the second semester, I am thinking more often about my role as an instructional leader in my school.

When my friend asked me about my what instructional leadership looks like, she told me she assumed I would tell her about teaching a course within the school. In fact I do not teach any class now, but do spend a great deal of time working with teachers at different points in their careers become better at some aspect of their practice. Whether it be helping solve a computer problem, suggesting articles to read related to their classes, or simply being somebody to bounce ideas off as they talk through a challenge, this is how I see myself as an instructional leader.

Dean’s blog about improving teachers struck a chord for me. Like Dean, I was fully aware of the concept of the Reflective Practitioner, and the value of self-reflection as part of the teaching/learning process. Like many teachers, I often asked my students to reflect on their work, their learning, or their successes and challenges. I, too, had spent time thinking about how I teach — the usual thoughts about how well a lesson went or how I could make changes for the next time. But I’m not sure this was significantly impact-full on me as a teacher beyond the specific lesson at the time. Ontario’s Assessment and Evaluation guiding principles focus on Assessment for Learning, Assessment of Learning, and Assessment as Learning, concepts I believe should be applied not just to the student and their learning, but also to the teachers. Specifically, Assessment of Learning could be viewed as Assessment of TEACHING — Did the teacher really convey the objectives of the lesson well? Were student learning needs met to ensure success? Was the lesson meaningful? Applying the Reflective Practitioner approach is a necessary aspect of teacher growth. This is not busy work, but essential to the long-term development of professionals.

A few years ago I started this blog with the hope of providing some support to the teachers I was working with at the time. I did post a few things related to initiatives in the school that we were coming to terms with as a result of changes to Ontario’s curriculum and our needs as teachers to adapt and grow. Unfortunately, I did not maintain the effort required as my role in the school board changed. While I regularly read other blogs and follow a great many excellent educators on Twitter, my contribution that learning has been limited. I do post and re-tweet regularly on Twitter, participating in various chats (#engchat, #cpchat, and #ntchat are some favorites), and I certainly share with other teachers articles I find. While I am a strong advocate for Social Media based professional learning, I have not done much to promote or advocate for my teachers to take the plunge. So I am going to take Dean’s challenge, albeit somewhat modified as I have not been much a blogger myself. I have approached four teachers whose experience ranges from a first year teacher to a Department Head to take part in some Reflective Practice, blogging, and professional reading. I will use Royan’s article about his blogging process and tools as a way to manage the writing process for my group and myself. While the individuals selected are each excellent teachers, they each have different comfort levels with technology so I know this will take some hand-holding and guiding. Hopefully this experiment will help these teachers examine what they do in the class, try new things, or verify for them that they are on the right track when other suggest they may not be.

I firmly believe that educators must by their very nature and profession strive to be lifelong learners. If we stop trying to improve, or believe we have nothing left to learn, then we must reconsider our purpose in the education system. I look forward to the upcoming experience, and I look forward to any feedback as I open up my flat classroom.

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Why? Why not? What if? Questioning Our Way to a Better Tomorrow

Why? Why not? What if? Questioning Our Way to a Better Tomorrow.

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Pause for thought

I recently ran into a former student whom I have not seen in nearly 15 years. I was surprised he remembered me since we did not part on good terms — he was caught cheating on his major term paper and responded by throwing it in the garbage. At the time I was pleased with myself for having found his essay through a quick Google search (0.63 seconds he told his now girlfriend when we saw each last week). While I still remembered him and the incident, I doubted he would. He surprised me however by saying that he was glad I caught him and taught him a lesson about taking the easy way through life. Over the years I have referred to this student, his paper, and my actions; interestingly the intervening years have caused me to rethink why I tell the story. There was a time when I told this story to show that I was diligent about maintaining the academic integrity of my class; for a while I told the story to show how technology can be used effectively in class by teachers; more recently, though, I have told this story to highlight how my assessment and evaluation practices had changed.

Fifteen years ago I wanted to make that student know that he could not hand in work that was not his. I was certain that I had assessed him fairly for having cheated, but did I really assess anything? Did I help him learn anything abut my course or have him actually show me what he learned? If the same situation occurred in my classroom today, I would have told the student what he had done wrong and worked with him to get me his own writing. I wish I had taken a moment to have my former student rethink his actions in class and show me what he could do. Instead, I have had years to rethink what I do and how I can help my students learn from their mistakes so I can actually assess their learning.

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More Bloom’s Taxonomy Ideas

Iowa State University’s Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching has created an interactive version of a revised Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Objectives.  The interactive site provides examples of learning objectives that match combinations of cognitive process and knowledge dimensions.


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Critical Thinking Part 2

At the April 26, 2011, GCI staff meeting Giane Kedroe, Christine Mak-Fan, Sam Souannhaphanh, and Rupi Bergamin presented on the recent Garfield Gini-Newman PD on Critical Thinking. Gini-Newman is a Professor with the Department of Curriculum, Teaching, and Learning at OISE/U of T whose area of expertise is critical thinking.  He is also a member of the Critical Thinking Consortium (www.tc2.ca).

The GCI presentation began with an examination of what constitutes critical thinking in action (click the image to see the slides):

Critical Thinking

The GCI presentation also discussed contrasting types of questions intended to move students away from fact-based readings of texts towards questions intended to make connections between what they are reading and their prior knowledge as well as the world in which they live (click on the image to view and save document).

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The Best Resources For Helping Teachers Use Bloom’s Taxonomy In The Classroom

This is Larry Ferlazzo’s list of web resources for including Bloom’s Taxonomy in our lessons. Ferlazzo is a prolific blogger of education issues.

The Best Resources For Helping Teachers Use Bloom’s Taxonomy In The Classroom.

Bloom’s Taxonomy is talked about a lot in educational circles.  However, if you believe a recent survey of visits to 23,000 U.S. classrooms, the higher-order thinking skills it’s ideally designed to promote doesn’t get much use.

And I can understand why.

It’s easy to get caught-up in the day-to-day work involved in teaching a class or multiple classes, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of doing the “usual stuff” and not “think out of the box.”

I thought it might be useful to share in a  “The Best…” list the resources that help me try to use Bloom’s Taxonomy in my classroom.

There may very well be resources out there that do a far better job of explaining the Taxonomy and how to use it. However, a lot of them are caught up in academic jargon or are just not offered in a way that I find particularly usable.

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Notes from the Teacher

Each day my son’s teacher sends parents an email about what was done in class and what is coming up. We always know what is going on and we fell connected to our child’s learning. This worlde image (created at wordle.net) uses just three of her notes home. Click on the image to see it larger.

Wordle: Ms. Macleod's HW Emails

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Apps for Engaging Reluctant Readers

On April 13th, 2011, Barbara Welsford facilitated an Elimunate Webinar on Assistive Technology, Apps In Action for Reluctant Readers. The link below will take you to the slides of her presentation.

Apps for Reluctant Readers

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Introductions and Discussions

Over the last year much has been made of smartphones and other electronic devices in classrooms.  British Columbia principal Cale Birk recently wrote a thoughtful (and thought provoking) blog about how his school, South Kamloops Secondary School, navigated the introduction of new technology into classrooms.


One of the most poignant comments came from one of his senior teachers: “Whenever something like this comes along, we need to do THIS. We need to talk about it. We need to DISCUSS it. Whatever it is, we’ll figure it out!”. As a staff, we also need to discuss where we see the successful integration of technology into classrooms.

In the fall of 2010, members of the staff participated in a brief survey about the integration of technology in classes at Glebe. The results showed that many teachers wanted to learn how they could use technology, but that they were also afraid of how the technology could be used inappropriately. You can see a summary of the results, or if you wish, you can still add your voice by completing the survey (I will close the survey at the end of the school year).  Hopefully we can have more discussion on how we see technology being used as a learning tool in our classrooms.

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Twitter, Wikipedia, MISA, & Cloud Computing

In the last few days I have come across a few interesting blogs and resources that are worth taking a look at on our quest for Critical Thinking in our classrooms.  Each of these resources came to my attention through connections in my Professional Learning Network  made on Twitter’s social media network.  I use Twitter a great deal to share ideas and resources with teachers throughout Canada, parts of the United States, and Europe as well.  This is an extremely powerful form of Professional Development that has greatly enriched my teaching.  It is worth noting that the Ontario College of Teachers has just released its own Advisory on the Acceptable Use of Social Media which guides teachers in their appropriate use of the now ubiquitous social media.  On his blog “The Clever Sheep” Rodd Lucier wrote today about the OCT Social Media Advisory and refered to the media release that says teachers “Represent yourself in social media the same way you would in person.” With this good advice in mind, the focus of this post is some of the wonderful resources I have been directed to because of the members of my PLN.

Rodd Lucier tweeted today about Wikipedia and scholarly research.

While I am sure he was being a bit tongue-in-cheek, there is merit to considering how we teach students to use resources like Wikipedia.  In addition to usage guidelines for this project, the website, which is strengthened through user posted and edited content, offers these reasons for assigning research work through Wikipedia:

In contrast to traditional writing assignments, working with Wikipedia may offer several advantages for students:

  • students are held accountable to a global audience for what they are doing, and thus may feel more devoted to the assignment as a whole;
  • students’ work will likely continue to be used and to be improved upon by others after the assignment has ended;
  • students learn the difference between fact-based and analytical writing styles;
  • students strengthen their ability to think critically and evaluate sources;
  • students learn how to work in a collaborative environment
  • students gain insights in the creation process of texts on Wikipedia. This enables them to draw conclusions about the purposes for which Wikipedia is best used;
  • students gain insights in the creation process of texts on Wikis in general, an increasingly essential skill in a modern IT workplace (that can be put on one’s CV); and
  • students understand that they not only consume information, they help to create it.

This is certainly something to consider as we deal with student who believe that all scholarly research begins and ends with Wikipedia and Google.  While I have previously been quite vocal in my opposition to Wikipedia as a valid resource, I believe teachers have a responsibility to teach students how to be good researchers and to distinguish between poor information and valid information.

Earlier today, Kelly Power Tweeted about introducing a group of teachers to the London Region Professional Network’s Assessment and Evaluation resource website.

While Assessment and Evaluation is certainly a major topic in Ontario schools following last year’s publication of Growing Success, not many districts have provided such thorough and accessible resources.  For teachers in the Ottawa Carleton District School Board, London’s MISA Resources site will be an excellent companion to the OCDSB’s Educators’ Resource Guide.

Last week, Ben Hazzard posted a blog listing his top 5 tech resources for 2011, all of which were based on cloud computing.  He calls these soft tools because these resources are neither OS or location specific.  For Ben cross-platform usage was an essential requirement to be included on his list.  The motivation for Ben’s list was Rodd Lucier’s updated top 10 list of tech tools in which he included the MAC specific Keynote presentation software.

Until I had started following teachers like Ben and Rodd on Twitter, I had no real idea of the power of cloud computing, however the two lists these educators have provided really give us an idea of what tools we can use to be more creative, productive, and organized; more importantly these are tools we really should be using with our students so that their own toolboxes are more complete.  I still recall with pride a comment made  by a former student after her first semester at Algonquin College.  I had been an early user of the Blackboard LMS, the standard at Algonquin.  She was thrilled to arrive at college with a working knowledge of Blackboard because we had used it the year before in ENG4U. She said that her prior knowledge and experience eliminated for her the angst and frustration her classmates were experiencing. She was able to focus on the excitement and challenge of being at college rather than figuring out how to get her homework and lab notes.  In addition to our professional responsibility to be life-long learners, we have a responsibility to our students to give them exposure to the tools they may need after they leave our classrooms and hallways.

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