Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A day maker

We work hard at my current school to create an atmosphere where kindness and acceptance matter more than anything else. Some days are better than others but once and a while you are reminded that focusing on kindness and the positive stuff is the best way to go... A student who recently left to go to another school sent this email to our staff... This is a message the student wants me to share with the students currently at George Waters...

George Waters Middle School is the best school I have ever been to and ever will have been to. I have never been excited for the first day of school until GWMS, I also have a better perspective of learning, and I think you will too.  George Waters is such a different/amazing school. No school I have ever been to could even compare. 
The teachers are so sweet and so awesome. The students, yeah there may be a couple you don't get along with but the substantial amount of them are really nice and once you get to know them, they make some pretty awesome friends if you ask me. Friends that you will have until your old and wrinkly!
Sometimes I don't even remember that George Waters is a school. The work is so fun, (if you understand and get invloved)! And the classes are great too. 
Don't get me started on the principals! They work there Butt's off trying to make the school a better learning environment for all of us. They do such a good job! So don't forget to thank Mr.Mead and Mr. Abram, and dot forget about your teachers. (Maybe even your classmates) 
Always try your best, if you don't succeed, don't give up! 
Get involved, stand up for others, and be a Philanthropist. 
and don't forget, Make someone else's day better because you never know what someone's going through and a nice compliment or even a smile in the hall could really put a smile on there face too. 

I spoke yesterday at an Ignite Talk (see previous blogpost) on exactly this. What kind of school do I want for my kid? What an amazing email and gift to get from wonderful young person.


Ignite Your Passion for Discovery

I got the chance, last night to do an Ignite Talk with a bunch of incredible educators from in and around Winnipeg. Listening to their stories was inspiring to say the least. I was asked to talk about what I am passionate and curious about… this is my slideshow followed by my notes that I didn’t really stick to… What are you curious about?

If you aren't sure what an Ignite Talk is all about check out this link.Thanks to Dean Shareski, Andy McKiel and Discovery Education for this chance . Congratulations to all the other speakers who did such an amazing job. This was the line up brilliant minds that spoke.

If you get the chance to be a part of an Ignite or go watch one, take advantage!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Reaching Every Student – Everyday

I was recently asked to write about this topic by CEA/ACE - 'Students who leave school early are more disadvantaged now than ever before. What can be done to improve graduation rates and better meet the needs of kids who are at risk of dropping out?' Please check out the blog post here on the CEA-ACE website. It is also below.

Reaching Every Student – Everyday
Four essential factors for developing an alternative school for at-risk students

From 2005-2010, I was an administrator involved in developing and expanding an alternative program to support students who had either dropped out of high school or were on the verge of dropping out. My school district acknowledged the fact that there are situations when an alternative school is necessary to encourage students at risk to persevere and complete their diplomas. So Jameswood Alternative School (JAS)  was developed and prides itself on making the school fit the child by trying to reach “every kid - every day" while maintaining high standards for all of its learners for daily attendance, academic performance, and appropriate behaviour.

For at-risk students, the focus is often on their stresses and distresses rather than on their educational goals. A major reason why students drop out is due to a high absentee rate. The reasons for missing large amounts of school can be, but are not limited to illness, mental health (either their own or a family members), problems with the law, substance abuse, behavioural concerns that lead to suspensions, or just a disconnect to their school. Most often, the students who are most likely to drop out have a feeling that they’ve lost control of their education. Therefore, setting an appropriate emotional climate is essential for at-risk students.

Educators need to orchestrate learning environments that are emotionally safe, providing freedom from rejection and intimidation – a classroom that has a low student-teacher ratio (12-1) with students choosing a schedule and courses that best meet their pace of learning. Within one class, all students may be working on different subjects at the same time. For at-risk students to gain the confidence back in their learning, they need to feel that they have a sense of control, have sufficient time to learn, and the ability to deal with or get assistance with their stress. In these environments, they are more likely to be successful. To effectively support at-risk students, it’s important that programs have high academic standards and a culture of positive expectations. Learning is relevant and often occurred in conjunction with work experience opportunities.

To provide students with a climate that gives them a sense of control and optimizes their learning, the development of the alternative school was based on these four factors:

1.    Learner-Centered Classroom
All people learn through experience and a learner-centered classroom pays close attention to the knowledge, attitudes, and skills that students bring with them. It respects cultural differences and provides an environment that challenges students with developmentally appropriate learning experiences. As much as possible, subject material should be personally relevant and just challenging enough to encourage risk taking, but not so difficult that it encourages avoidance. Teachers must work hard to reach every child every day. Student schedules are flexible and choice is provided in the manner in which students meet curricular outcomes. Two methods for ensuring that the classroom is learner-centered are a self-paced module style or a big picture project based style. The module style of completing a course is generally set up by the teacher, but the student chooses the pace and can even pick the order in which modules get done. In the project-based method, students complete big picture projects of interest to them and with the help of the teacher, determine how curricular outcomes are met while completing the project. Key in both of these methods is the teacher working hard to build a strong relationship with the student by ensuring they are in contact with them every day even if the student is not at school. [MC2] 

2.    Knowledge-Centered Classroom
Our brains learn by making connections between what has been experienced and what that experience means to us. While student interest is important in the learning process, it should be a springboard for a deeper understanding. A knowledge-centered environment provides metacognitive strategies that further facilitate learning about things that matter to the student. Students should be encouraged to apply their learning to things beyond the four walls of the classroom. Encouraging students to engage in work experience, volunteerism and/or apprenticeship opportunities is important to help them realize that learning happens outside the school as well and is often just as – if not even more valuable. Classroom settings that provide ways to include the learning that happens outside of the classroom helps engage at-risk students and makes their learning relevant.

3.    Authentic Assessment
Ongoing authentic formative assessment provides the most accurate picture of a student’s ability. While standardized tests cannot be eliminated, they’re not the only form of assessment that should be used in classrooms. Multiple methods of assessment should be used because behaviour is influenced by the setting in which it occurs and the skills that students possess may not necessarily be evident in a single test or assignment. Assessment should be learner-friendly; it should allow students to see their progress, and it should help the teacher identify problem-areas that should be addressed. Students must also be present in their own assessment. Ensuring students think about and are aware of where they’re at in their learning is key.

For example, in the first years of Jameswood Alternative School, students wrote – with support from the teacher – their own report cards and kept track of their own marks. Students reported that knowing exactly where they were in the course, how they were doing and what they had left to do was very motivating to ensure successful completion.

4.    Community-centered Programs
Finally, programs for at-risk learners should be community-centered. Learning should have a direct connection to life. Students need to own the learning by doing something meaningful with the knowledge that they’ve gained. The organization should provide a number of  learning opportunities for each student inside and outside the school.  This allows the student to learn how to work cooperatively in school and in the workplace. Providing students the support of different organizations to allow for different opportunities is key to help them find something they are passionate about.

The location of Jameswood School was unique. Within the school there was an adult education program, daycare, a job finding program and many social services workers. There was always something for the student. If they didn’t finish their program at JAS, they could easily continue into a different program that fit their needs. So, instead of dropping out of a program, they simply drop into another one that works for them.

A culture of care and support is necessary for the success of at-risk students. A comprehensive support system needs to be in place to respond to all of their needs.. Reaching every child every day is key to reducing the potential for students to drop out. An important message that staff at Jameswood Alternative School often spoke about was ensuring students, who had dropped out or were on the verge of dropping out, was the inherent value of ‘school’ in whatever form it takes. This, in turn, will have implications for these student’s siblings and or their children.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Canadian Educator's Association Blog Post - Five Ways for Teachers To Take Charge of Their Own Learning

IN March I was asked to write a guest blog post for the Canadian Educator's Association Blog about Five Ways for Teachers To Take Charge of Their Own Learning. If you are interested you can find the blog post here:


Feedback is good!

A less fancy version is here:

What is Effective Teacher Professional Development?  

Schools across Canada have a small number of days devoted to professional development throughout the school year that are facilitated by guest speakers, division personnel, school based administration, or teachers. In Manitoba there are traditionally five provincially mandated professional development days per year. This year the topics for the first four of my school’s professional development days were ‘Cultural Proficiency’ (a division sponsored event), an ‘EdCamp’ (facilitated by division coordinators), a day where teachers work with others teachers from around the province in their teaching area, and a school based session on ‘Deeper Learning and Critical Thinking’ with support from a division coordinator. Our final day will be on the topic of ‘Positive Behaviour Interventions and Supports’. We will join one of our feeder elementary schools, and the day will be facilitated by divisional educational support services staff.

Although these sessions have all been of great value, and have resulted in many thoughtful conversations, the days are somewhat disjointed. The topics for each day are chosen by divisional administration or school based administrators, without the input of the teachers that will ‘benefit’ from the professional development sessions. To make these professional development days more valuable, teachers need opportunities for further discussions on these topics for deep learning to occur, or this ‘one size fits all’ model needs to be abandoned for a more teacher directed professional development model. If teachers are in charge of the topic of their personal professional development, they will be more likely to own this time and use the division sponsored professional development Days as a catalyst to deeper learning and connections to other professionals within their own building and beyond.

Personalized Professional Development
Professional development for teachers need to be relevant, flexible and personalized for sustainable growth to occur for both new and experienced teachers. Technology can and should be a major driver of relevant and real time professional development. There should be an expectation that teachers are in control of, and responsible for, enhancing their practice during and after the school day. Administrators can set up schedules to encourage sharing and collaboration. No longer can teachers be isolated in their own classroom and keep with up with the demands of teaching in today’s world.  Professional Development needs to be ongoing, job-embedded, and connected in a significant way and happen more frequently than the four or five division or school sponsored ‘PD Days’.

Teachers, as professionals and learners, need to be in charge of, and responsible for, their own learning. Opportunities can be provided by division and school based administrators for teachers to work together, learn together, and solve problems together. Technology is key to help connect teachers locally and globally. Using social platforms like twitter can provide teachers the opportunity and flexibility to collaborate in real time with educators from around the world in real time.

Hands On Professional Development
To foster a culture of learning in a school, strong relationships need to be built which includes teacher to teacher relationships. New pedagogies for deep learning is a focus for many schools across Canada. Deep learning happens when teachers focus on skills like character education, citizenship, communication, critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration, and finally creativity and imagination. The same goes for teachers too. If teachers aren’t proficient in these areas, it’s hard to expect them to teach or assess students who are expected to learn these important skills as well. According to Evangeline Harris Stefanakis (2002), "The word assess comes from the Latin assidere, which means to sit beside. Literally then, to assess means to sit beside the learner." Teachers need to able to sit beside the learner and model these expected skills. Connected teachers, in effective PLCs, are more likely to grow their practice and attain a higher level of practice.

Using technology and social media are not silver bullets for professional development for teachers.  Professional Development can and should happen within the school day as well.  Scheduled times for teachers to meet, co-teach, visit other classrooms and schools are important aspects of professional growth. Encouraging teachers to share and collaborate will enhance teaching and learning in the classroom especially if it is done within a family of schools. This hands on approach while working directly with colleagues encourages further development of the skills that are being taught to students in the classroom.

Relevant Professional Development
For teachers entering the profession, building a strong PLC and collaborating is the best advice I can give. Getting connected through the use of social media is an easy and effective way to consistently learn and grow, stay relevant and have fun. An example is by taking part in ‘edchats’ on twitter is a great way to build a PLC. There are many smart people out there and coming to an understanding that someone else is probably already doing it will help new teachers find new and interesting ways to engage students in their learning and find ways to become a champion for their students. Taking care of kids is our job. This is a great video for all beginning teachers (and ones who have experience) as well. Building strong relationships with all of students is rewarding work and can be, at times, extremely difficult. New teachers need a support system to develop skills to be able to do this well. Supporting teachers new to the profession and encouraging them to build their own PLC will help them in all aspects of their job and meet the demands of their important job.

Opportunities to Build Relationships
Social platforms like Twitter don’t provide the PD. Social platforms provide the opportunity to build strong relationships with people, which, in turn, provide the opportunity for real professional growth to occur. Twitter is the gateway to find articles, blogs, have discussions build relationships with other professionals with like (or unlike) views on similar topics.

Learning is social. It begins when a strong relationship is formed. The quote ‘You can’t take care of the Bloom’s stuff until you take care of the Maslow’s stuff’ also applies to teachers. Learning occurs when people feel safe. A teacher who is connected feels safe and therefore will likely be more open to and adept at taking chances allowing them to navigate the confusing and often times uncomfortable seas associated with professional growth.

Teachers as Learners
Professional development for teachers should look similar to what good teaching looks like for students. It needs to be personalized, hands on, relevant and provide opportunities to build strong relationships with colleagues. Technology and social media can play a huge role in having all teachers build strong relationships with people within their own school and all over the world. Having a school filled with a group of connected teachers who are modelling learning, and continually sharing, helps to build a school’s culture of learning for everyone.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Pink Day

Wednesday, February 25 is the Red Cross Pink Day. This is a day where everyone dresses up in pink to create awareness to stop bullying. While I enjoy dressing up for school (some examples are below), I think anti-bully days and the word bully itself are and is a tad overdone.

Dress up days like this are fun, kids and staff both laugh and it's a good way for any student or teacher to get involved with the school in a positive way. Fun like this builds a positive school culture. I've been known to promote dress up days - most of my wardrobe is dedicated to fun days throughout the school year.


Pink Day is all about anti-bully. The Manitoba Government describes bullying here. This definition is not something I completely agree with and it can set schools up and kids up for failure (section 1.2(2) (a) characteristically takes place in a context of a real or perceived power imbalance between the people involved and is typically, but need not be, repeated behaviour;). Another definition is here (Repetition: Bullying behaviours happen more than once).

Although I agree with trying to get bullying out of schools. I would be a fool not to want that and to get it out of schools, the workplace, the community and... and... and... I do feel there is a problem with the whole notion of Pink Day because of how it began. The students involved in standing up for a classmate who wore a pink shirt to school got a group of other students to wear pink the next day. This is a story on how Pink Day began.

I'm not sure the act that prompted the students to wear pink is in itself bullying. It was incredibly mean. By definition, getting a group of kids to wear pink and excluding other students could be considered bullying itself.

When students are excluded (even the so-called bullies) no one wins. This creates a divisive culture and people are left out. A culture that promotes kindness that is inclusive for everyone is the best way to support every child at school. Do schools have bullies? Yes. I do find the word is placed on every mean act and is somewhat overused. More so, there is a general lack of kindness that is pervasive. Watch the news or read the newspaper. It's clear that people can be mean to each other. But, by calling everything 'bullying' I think creates a knee jerk reaction of punishment and exclusion where little or no teaching and learning takes place. It just upsets a lot of people.

Teaching kids to be accepting (not tolerant - I find that to be an arrogant word) and to have a strong character and sense of self is key to positive responses to acts of meanness or 'bullying'. Poor or negative responses to meanness usually just amplifies the problem. Teaching kids skills to respond in a positive manner often stops or changes the situation immediately.

Continuing to focus on the bully won't necessarily stop bullying in a school. Anti-bully days are nice and have good intentions I just feel there is a better way. We need schools that have cultures that include everyone (the 'bullies' are often victims of something from their past - these kids are generally trying to get some control in their life - everyone wants and needs that). Schools need to focus on kindness and promote a happy culture where every child feels a part of the school. Every child needs to have at least one adult who is their 'person'. A child without a strong connection at school is a kid who will find attention. Often the kind of attention no one likes to see.

To read more about how teaching kindness is key to promote a safe school environment please take a moment to read this  http://www.edutopia.org/blog/teaching-kindness-essential-reduce-bullying-lisa-currie by Lisa Currie.

My school will continue to support Pink Day because it is a feel good thing for lots of kids and teachers. We will however, push the conversation away from anti-bullying to a message of kindness, empathy and acceptance.

Comments are nice and appreciated.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

What will be the most significant classroom innovation in the next 10 years?

This blog post was featured on the Huffington Post Education Blog 'The Global Search for Education: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs'. To find this blog with other educator's ideas from around the world please visit: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/c-m-rubin/the-global-search-for-edu_b_6728470.html

Andrew Mead – Andy is the Principal at George Waters Middle School in Winnipeg, Manitoba. They are within the St. James-Assiniboia School Division.  Andy was recommended to answer February’s question by Top 12 Teacher Blogger Lisa Currie.

What will be the most significant classroom innovation in the next 10 years?  By Andy Mead

In the history of schools there have been many ‘innovations’ that have claimed to improve teaching and learning. Even within my own career over the past eighteen years I have been presented with many different initiatives that were said to make me a better teacher or administrator. What I have found is that these innovations are not sustainable because they are always displaced by the next new shiny device or idea.

The devices that are soon to be in the hands of students (or on their clothing or around their wrists) will likely be amazing tools to help young people and teachers create, share, and communicate. These tools will continue to evolve and become more accessible and less expensive. These technologies, however, don’t necessarily improve teaching and learning in the classroom. Good teaching doesn’t depend on these tools; these tools just enhance good teaching.

Therefore, the most significant classroom innovation will not be a gadget but rather, the teaching of higher level thinking skills and a concerted effort to focus on students as individuals. Schools and teachers will find new ways to foster strong relationships with students that will create a culture of learning. This will include ensuring that schools take into consideration how we approach mental wellness and happiness of students. Lessons will be individualized and have a hands on, project based, experiential approach. The teaching of lower level thinking (knowledge and comprehension) will be a thing of the past.

Furthermore, this innovation will come in the way we engage young people in higher level thinking skills (application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation). Schools will ensure we teach young people to think, solve problems, ask questions, and create – not just regurgitate information. Young people will be in charge of their own learning by creating and learning through their own experience.

Innovative practices in assessment will also be more common. Skills like creativity, collaboration, communication, critical thinking, citizenship and character are inherently difficult to fairly assess or put a number or grade on. The focus of assessment will be on the learning process, not the final product.  Assessment of these skills will be done by answering questions like:
  • What does the child know?
  • How does the child communicate and share what he or she knows?
  • What must improve?
  • What steps will be taken to ensure the child meets the expectation or standard?

Although these things are currently happening in many places, in ten years these will be the widespread norm. The device of the moment will forever be changing - what won't is that schools are about people. The biggest innovation in classrooms within the next ten years (I hope) will be a change in how we teach young people how to think, take care of each other, and take care of the world. To do this, schools must find ways to build strong relationships with people to create a culture that focuses on learning in a fun, caring, and collaborative environment. Schools will focus on learning, the process of higher level thinking and questioning  more than just the next big thing.

Check out other big ideas on the educational innovation in the next 10 years here.