All posts by SGDSB 2014 CODE Project

A Review: A Man Called Ove

A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman

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This book has been on my reading pile for two summers. This Christmas I simply grabbed it off the pile and had no expectations of the book itself. I could not put the book down.

How hard can it be to kill oneself?  Ove asks himself that question every day as he longs to be reunited with his wife. A thorough, sensible, practical and conscientious person, he makes the necessary plans and arrangements to kill himself while leaving behind the least amount of mess and fuss as possible. This is Ove. If nothing else he is thorough and “un-fussy”.

Ove is lonely. He loved his wife and is lost without her.

 “He was a man of black and white. And she was color. All the color he had.”  (A Man Called Ove).

He had no life before he met his wife and he most certainly had no life with her gone. In loving her, her absence caused even greater  loneliness:

We fear it, yet most of us fear more than anything that it may take someone other than ourselves. For the greatest fear of death is always that it will pass us by. And leave us there alone.” ( A Man Called Ove)

A thoughtful man, he simply planned out how he would take fate into his own hands so that he could once again be with the one person who brought colour into his black and white world. However, the best laid plans don’t always work out and with the timely intervention of a chaotic, group of “idiots”  meaning is brought back into Ove’s life- whether he wants it or not.

We know that you cannot judge a book by its cover and in this book we learn this lesson applies to people as well because in the end, despite Ove’s best intentions to prove otherwise,  it turns out that Ove’s heart is truly too big for his body.

This book spoke to me on so many levels and I will admit that I cried when reading this book.

And I think that there is a little bit of Ove in me.

So I reminded when reading about a character such as Ove, that maybe just maybe, when we least expect it, we can be the colour in someone else’s life.

This is a must read!

“We always think there’s enough time to do things with other people. Time to say things to them. And then something happens and then we stand there holding on to words like ‘if’.” (A Man Called Ove)

A Review: The Best Kind of People

A Review: The Best Kind of People

By Zoe Whittall

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I was drawn to this book given its somewhat relatable premise. A highly regarded educator and upstanding citizen has an unthinkable claim made against him. The resulting fallout not only ruins his career but impacts his entire family. The book touches on society’s ability to quickly and harshly judge, especially in this day of social media, without knowing all the facts.

It also touches on society’s willingness to distance themselves from people in their time of need. Although this was a much hyped book, I don’t think the author developed the characters robustly as they developed in stereotypical ways. Whittall also seemed to integrate other societal themes such a homosexuality in a small, narrow-minded town,  or teenagers and drugs without much success.  Arcs like that seemed to be more of an add-on rather than thoughtfully developed throughout the character. As well, the ending seemed to wrap up nicely without spending some time thinking through how events and people would truly evolve. The author had the idea of a great book but unfortunately the writing doesn’t necessarily live up to the idea.If you are going to read it, have realistic expectations and consider it for light reading- on a beach or on a plane!

A Review: Professional Capital:Transforming Teaching in Every School

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If you have hopes of making a significant impact or change in any system that seems mired in bureaucracy, entrenched beliefs, and on overall lack of vision that makes a systematic shift nearly impossible, then Professional Capital is a must read. The authors Michael Fullan (@MichaelFullan1)and Andy Hargreaves (@HargreavesBC), present ideas not only what to do but they provide guidance on what has been proven to not successfully sustain change.

As outlined in the book we already have the resource to make the changes necessary to provide our students with the 21st-century competencies and learning that will equip them to be successful and lifelong learners:educators. It’s how we utilize, develop and support teachers that makes the difference in shifting change. Fullan and Hargreaves provide actionable steps to transform the readily available capital that currently exists within the system. By providing them with opportunities to develop human capital (skills, competency, efficacy), social capital (the relationships within the system and the network the individuals are connected with) and decisional capital (entrusting those with the ability to make professional decisions) we empower educators to support the change needed in education.

 

There were some keys messages that resonated with me:

 

1)You can’t do it alone. We know that change is scary, messy and hard. It can only occur with genuine, not superficial collaboration and commitment, within your school, within the district and globally. Becoming a connected educator is key to learning how to improve practice for the benefit of students. It’s not about us. We need to get out of our comfort zones, challenge our thinking and push and pull ourselves and our colleagues to new learning in the interest of our students.

 

2) Teachers need to be a part of authentic, professional learning communities that both support and challenge their  ideas and contribute and support ongoing professional growth. Connecting with colleagues in both face to face and online communities builds capacity for all. As one of my favourite quotes suggests, “the smartest person in the room is the room.” (David Weinberger). Why not connect with others and learn from the best practices employed by other educators? If we all do this, soon we our best practices will simply practice and we will move on to our “next practice” to continuously support our learners.  

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3) To support the rich potential of a PLN/PLC educators need to have a voice in the implementation. Compliance of someone else’s ideas is not true collaboration and will not sustain and impactful, long-term change.

 

4) It is morally imperative that as educators we see all students as own and make ourselves accountable to the learning of all these students. As soon as we invest in all our students a collective capacity and responsibility occurs that supports a positive shift for all. By helping others, we all win.

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Making a shift in education at all levels cannot occur from the top down. It won’t occur with an influx of money and it certainly won’t occur by chasing the latest initiative. Transforming education at all levels and across systems requires a sustained investment in human capital but also a commitment by all the professionals to work together at all levels and across the system to impact change that empowers the people at the heart of the change:the teachers. Teachers are willing to do the work to improve the learning experiences of their students if they are empowered with the skills to be experts at the centre of the change.

By working and learning together and by keeping our students at the centre of our planning, thinking and action, we can’t help but implement the changes necessary to provide our students with the 21st-century education that will allow them to be successful lifelong learners.

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A Review: Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level

We are hearing the concept of “innovation” more and more throughout the education world but what does that mean? This is what Don Wettrick tackles in his book, Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level.

 

What does being an innovative educator take? According to Pete Freeman (@MrPeteFreeman), a former of student of Wettrick’s, innovation takes, “sawdust. Lots of sawdust.” (p.123). Curious?

Pete shared the story of a factory worker who took home the “worthless” sawdust that piled up in the factory and made something new with it. From worthless sawdust came particle board, mulch, and charcoal briquettes. Being innovative opened up a world of possibility. (p.121). Pete’s vision  to “…take something I was carrying around with very little value and give it life” (121) is what we want for all of our students because the last time checked, life was not a series of worksheets.

 

#GeniusHour, #HourofCuriosity, #20Time or, whatever you want to call it,  are all asking the same thing of us: to support a culture of innovation, and student centred learning and leadership within our schools and classrooms. It means giving students an authentic voice in their learning. Many educators consider this risky business. In an innovative classroom, educators relinquish control and provide support for students as they journey towards their goals. It is less about the worksheet and more about student passion, connecting with people in the community and the global community and utilizing social media a positive change. It is about empowering our students to make a difference in the world with their learning.

Nervous about how to get started? Don  Wettrick provides readers with the building blocks of incorporating innovation in the classroom, in an aptly named Chapter “There is No Plan”.  Wettrick gives you the guidelines in successful implementation, but the tips are already in our best practices toolkit: take risks, model risks, collaborate, connect, be creative and reflect. Most importantly, understand that the learning is the journey, not the destination.

If you are looking to truly bring student centred learning to your practice, while preparing  students with real-world problems solving skills, Pure Genius is one of the resources that can help you feel invigorated and supported as you shift the learning culture of your classroom for your students.

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Review:What Connected Educators Do Differently

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What Connected Educators Do Differently” by Todd Whitaker (@ToddWhitaker), Jimmy Casas (@casas_jimmy) and Jeffrey Zoul (@Jeff_Zoul)was one of the books that I selected for my summer reading. This year, administrators and leads in Superior-Greenstone District School Board were not given assigned reading, but rather were allowed to choose books that supported our unique learning leads.  I selected “What Connected Educators Do Differently” because I try to model and promote connectedness across our Board, but I wondered if the book would provide with any greater insights into being a connected educator.

This book reaffirmed in me the importance of being a connected educator. Sometimes we need to hear the messages that we hold to be truths from a variety of sources and again and again. Knowing that we are not alone in our thinking, while learning new perspectives that support our beliefs, can give us the continued strength to keep moving forward.

There were many ideas that resonated with me and I am grateful for the resource to giving me the opportunity to reflect on the core beliefs of being a connected educator.

  1. No matter what technology you use to connect, the main goal of connecting is the relationships formed. It is these relationships that enhance our current beliefs, challenge our thinking, and support us as we engage others to become connected educators with end goal being what is best for our students. Being a connected educator is not about the technology, but rather the relationships that emerge and strengthen as a result of the technology.
  2. A virtual PLN is based on trust and support. Our connected PLN can support our thinking and professional risk-taking-sometimes more than our face to face colleagues.
  3. No one can do it all or know it all. A PLN is vital to ensuring we share our strengths to support ongoing learning with each other so that as a collective we all become stronger educators. Connected educators possess a “giving mindset” (126) and know that sharing is beneficial to all; most specifically  for the person doing the sharing! Being a connected educator is not about us as individuals.  It is about becoming a better educator/leader to support those we serve in the best way possible.connected-educator
  4. Honouring authentic voice does not mean having others implement your ideas. Leadership means truly allowing individuals to take control of their learning and not leading our pre-planned ideas. 
  5. Being a connected educator doesn’t mean being plugged in 24/7. Being a connected educator means knowing when and where to connect and when and where to disconnect. In fact, the ability to disconnect and focus attention elsewhere is key to being an effective connected educator. Being connected 24/7 can compete with our ability to be mindful and in order to be creative, critical leaders and educators, we need to practice mindfulness.  By maintaining personal health, balance and face to face relationships, our online relations can flourish.

I wasn’t sure that as a connected educator I would take anything new from “What Connected Educators Do Differently” but I did. This resource would support educators who are on various entry points along the connected continuum. There is learning for everyone in this book. I appreciated that the authors reaffirmed my professional goals, caused me to reflect and enhanced my understanding of my professional assumptions.

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Keepin It Real: A Review

 

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Lisa Donohue compares educators to that of Christopher Columbus, the explorer that used the tools at hand to navigate unchartered territory. According to Donohue, “our youngsters are the ones who will define the worlds to come, and our role is to equip them as well as possible for the unknown future.” Are we preparing our students, who like Columbus, are entering unchartered territories, or are we providing our students with learning environments that are best suited for us?

It is hard to deny that technology plays a greater role in both our personal and professional lives. Despite this increasing reliance on technology, and a global dialogue about technology enabled learning and teaching, how many educators truly embrace technology in their classroom as a means of supporting current, sound pedagogical practice? Let’s be honest, how many technology enabled learning opportunities have been missed because of an educator’s unwillingness to embrace change and take learning risks in an ongoing effort to support student learning?

 

 What does your classroom practice look like?

 

“…teaching is the only profession where we have the same responsibilities on our first day as on our last. It’s the way in which we carry out these responsibilities that define our career.  If we’re doing the same thing we did 20 years ago , then we have failed not only ourselves , but our students to.”-Arthur Birenaum.

Keepin It Real, provides 21st century classroom opportunities that any educator can implement that support the skills we need to empower our students to be successful, engaged individuals outside of our schools.

The author focuses on the “new literacies” needed to be successful in our changing world:

  • Reading Literacies
  • Writing Literacies
  • Media Literacies
  • Digital Literacies
  • Social Literacies
  • Critical Literacies

 

These are vitally important skills to be able to interpret the world we live in. As educators, we need to adapt to the rapid changes in order to help our students safely navigate the online world in which they learn, play and work in.

At the recent  technology enabled learning and leading conference #TELL2016, the message was clear, we can no longer afford to wait for all educators to become “comfortable” with technology before engaging our students.

 

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Trying to “get on board” with technology in the classroom can seem like trying to jump onto a fast moving train that just won’t slow down! It may seem like you will never “know it all” or “well enough” to introduce it to your students, but that is is the benefit of integrating technology into the classroom! Our students are so open to learning and sharing alongside you and they don’t expect you to know it all. In fact, they love to show you what they know! Integrating technology into your classroom also allows you to model lifelong learning, co-learning and risk taking-valuable skills for our students!

As Donohue explained

“When I began my teaching career many years ago, I stood at the door  of my classroom every morning, welcoming my students into my room. It seems that now I stand at my classroom door and, instead of inviting them in, I invite them to look out, beyond our walls, beyond our community and into the world.”

-Lisa Donohue, Keepin It Real, 79

Keepin It Real is a great resource to get started on transforming your teaching practice by integrating technology.It explains how the “new literacies” are a means of supporting the “old literacies” (reading, writing, speaking, listening) while engaging students with 21st-century learning opportunities. Each chapter provides relevant, easy to use examples of how educators have integrated technology into their lessons and Donohue provides student feedback from each of the tasks.

If, as educators, we want to do what is best for our students, we need to prepare them for a world that is highly connected and digitalized. If we remain in our comfort zones, we support student learning that allows them to remain successful in our world, not theirs.


“The primary aim of education is not to enable students to do well in school, but to do well in the lives they lead outside of school.”

                                                                                                             -Elliot W. Eisner

A Review: The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto

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I just finished reading The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom (@mitchalbom).

As with all his novels, Albom weaves his lesson adeptly throughout the characters, especially that of Frankie Presto and his musical gift. Uniquely narrated by music, the narrator provides us through Frankie, many opportunities to understand the many gifts we each posses and the role that these gifts have in shaping our lives.

The message that resonated with me is that we all, at different points in our lives, join a band. Our band members may change and our musical tastes may change, but in the end we all play to our own music and the various band members we play with help create our sound.

“Everyone joins a band in this life. And what you play always affects someone. Sometimes, it affects the world.”-Mitch Albom

Whether playing a solo piece or a rambunctious melody, the lesson that was evident throughout was that we never truly understand the impact that people have on our lives nor do we truly understand the impact that we have on others. Our relationships need to be sacred and we need to be cognizant of the potential impact we have on others. We may not be fully aware that we are members of someone else’s band, but we need to be aware that as we navigate life, we support, intentionally or not, the music of others.

“You cannot unplay your notes. Time, like music, is indelible that way.” -Mitch Albom

Although I enjoyed the message about how our lives are so interconnected with others, I have yet to read a Mitch Albom novel that has impacted me the way that Tuesdays with Morrie did. Tuesdays with Morrie captured my heart and set the bar high for any of Albom’s subsequent efforts!

 

The Innovators Mindset-Blog Hop #4

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In my position as the Technology Enabled Learning and Teaching Contact for my Board, I am often tasked with generating data and completing reports that document results on the impact that innovative teaching practice is having on our teaching practice and that of students’ learning. It is a difficult position to be in because innovation, as we have discussed throughout the book study, means different things to different people. What is innovative for one educator may be common practice for another.  Can the impact of innovative practice be measured quantitatively?

Innovative practice takes risk, time and reflection to implement effectively. I often feel that the goal of measuring innovation is counter-intuitive to innovation itself.

As an educator, I do understand the value of measurement. Our data tells our story.By measuring our efforts we can inform our future direction. However, for educators to feel supported and encouraged to take risks, in the school and in individual classrooms, I think the idea of meeting measurable outcomes while creating innovative learning environments is difficult to balance. Being accountable to standardized reporting formats is stressful for educators and relinquishing control over student learning in an attempt to create student centred learning is intimidating in systems of increasing accountability. I think that the strongest indicators of measuring the impact of innovation on our practice and student learning lies in the conversations that occur both inside and outside the classroom.

When these all important conversations are occurring the results are immeasurable. The impact of these conversations go far beyond the single classroom and help build energy,momentum and the capacity to “innovate within the box” . I can create reports, and charts but the most empowering signs of how innovation is impacting practice in education comes from the emails and conversations I am grateful to have with all educators in my Board. Conversations that are open, honest and based around what is best for our students give us the greatest insight into innovative practices. If you are not hearing these conversations, or you are not a part of them, then no amount amount of measurable, quantitative data will allow you to truly measure the impact of innovation in our classrooms. Listening and contributing to the journeys of innovative educators is the most powerful part of the process!

Listen-the conversations are all around and if they are not- spark a conversation with a simple, ”What if?…”

 

 

A Review: The Illegal

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The Illegal, by Canadian author, Lawrence Hill is another opportunity to get to learn new Hill characters such as Keita Ali, Lulu, and Mrs. Ivernia Beech ( a tea drinking, cookie eating, fiercely independent senior citizen). Lawrence uses his writing skills to weave a robust cast of characters against the fictional lands of Freedom State and Zantoroland.

Keita Ali grew up wanting to be a winning, marathon runner. He trained and aspired against the backdrop of his homeland, Zantoroland, but due to the increasingly dangerous political circumstances of his homeland, he becomes a runner in Freedom State. Running becomes a metaphor for something much more than the physical act. Keita Ali runs from his homeland, and his old life and he runs towards a future as a man with a documented identity. He no longer experiences the joy of running. He runs for his freedom, and for his life and that of his sister. Set against the frightening existence of undocumented people fighting to survive while struggling to balance an undocumented existence while clinging to their identity is all too real in today’s world.

Although a fictional novel, The Illegal is a timely read as we witness  in the news the struggles of people who flee political and economic situations that none of us can truly understand.The news is filled with stories of people fleeing their homeland in search of a better life and that of those who have already fled but exist in the shadows due to their illegal status. It is in these shadows that Keita Ali exists and runs to survive.

The ending wraps up the conflicts that are so strongly developed throughout the book a little too tidily, but the book and its characters capture the reader and make the book an enjoyable read.

Click here to hear a recent interview of Lawrence Hill by the CBC’s The Next Chapter by Shelagh Rogers (@RogersShelagh).

Innovator’s Mindset Blog Hop-“What if…”

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What If….?

Imagine for a moment that you could implement innovative practice in your school or classroom. Don’t think about the policies. Don’t think about past practices and the way “things have always been done.” Don’t think about finances. Don’t think about the naysayers. Dream big. Aim for moonshot thinking. Allow yourself to imagine. Start with “What if…”.

George Couros posed a series of  the “what if” questions in his book, The Innovator’s Mindset. The question that resonated with me was, “what if schools operated as if we should all be learners as opposed to students being the only learners?”

My professional world was opened up to me through fabulous mentors and my PLN. Being a connected educator has been transformative in my practice. It wasn’t always this way. I taught my students in the best way that I knew-the exact same way that I had attended school as a student and in the way that I saw teaching being done around me. Change? Change is hard, I get that, but it is necessary. To accept that we can continue creating learning environments that do not engage our students with curriculum and 21st Century Competencies because we see no need to change is doing a huge disservice to our students and to our profession. What if we all had a learner stance and took the time to reflect upon our current practice, open our classroom doors to connect with educators inside and outside our buildings and most importantly, listen? What if taking risks, and participating and modelling life-long learning was valued by all?

“What if…” two simple words but when used together can be the catalyst for change. If we frame our thinking around what is best for all our learners and ask that simple question the possibilities are endless!

What if your decisions were based on courage rather than fear?

What if there was enough time and support to do everything you wanted to do?

What if everyone saw the possibilities instead of the obstacles?

What if we could achieve a healthy life-work balance?

What if everyone made decisions based on what is best for the learner?

What if everyone took the time to share their effective practices and learn from one another?

What if everyone listened-to each other and the learners we serve?

What are your “What Ifs?”

Check out these bloggers and their “What Ifs”

Jennifer Casa-Todd

Patrick Miller

Tina Zita

Mark Carbone

Donna Fry

All #InnovatorsMindset blogs for question #3 can be found here.