Relationships are the Foundation to Our Work

Relationships.  We use this term a great deal in education as we understand adults and relationshipsthat developing and maintaining positive relationships with our students, staff, parents and community is essential to, well, everything.

Positive relationships are the foundation to fostering well-being and achievement in our schools, and authors of “The Third Path” ( argue that “relationships are the core of education…as we require positive relationships in order to learn and grow…the better the relationships are, the more that learning can successfully occur” (   I don’t think that anyone disputes the necessity to develop and maintain strong, honest, respectful relationships. relationnships 2

What I have been wondering about however, as the new school year begins, is whether we truly know HOW to develop these types of relationships?  What does this look like in early elementary and how does it differ in secondary school?  When our students enter the classroom, do we have the knowledge, skills and disposition to actual build a strong relationship with students (and their families? And the community?)?  For our district, as we move towards achieving our goal of Student Centered Learning and Pedagogy (by 2019), we increasingly learn about how relationships are vital to this type of learning environment.

student centered learning

Quote obtained from Wikipedia, 2015

When we use the term “relationships” it needs to be more about the practice, and less about the theory.  I think that this is why the thinking from website has me intrigued.  The authors have identified eight conditions that they feel are necessary to support student achievement and well-being – and note that all eight are “relationship based”.  This model helps me to break down the notion of developing and fostering inquiry

strong relationships into subcategories, which then has helped me to increasingly identify the “moves” that we, as educators, need to make (I was continuously reminded of how a student-centered learning environment and pedagogy and inquiry based learning, as an instructional approach, and of how this approach fosters so many of these conditions!).


As educators, can we name the moves that we intentionally make in our practice that addresses each condition and that ultimately promotes the development of strong relationships with every student and family? Do we address all eight in our practice?  Do we see how each practice contributes to the formation of Student Centered Learning Environments and Pedagogy and thus, to student achievement and well-being?

The conditions are:

Safety     Ensuring that our students can count on us and that they can attach to us.  believe in students

This ability varies depending upon their life outside of school.  Trust is critical here.  As educators, we must help our students to trust us. Our actions must ensure that students know we believe in them.


Regulation     Adults help children to develop their ability to self-regulate, by providing an environment that is relaxing and calm, and through how we interact with the child when they are in a state of stress.

morning meetings

Belonging      Students need to feel a sense of belonging to their school. We do this by connecting with our students, and when we ensure that the culture, traditions and heritage of the student is reflected in their learning.

Positivity    A learning environment that involves positive experiences for students – where they have “fun” each day and thus, feel good about themselves – is one that promotes “increased self-esteem, greater collaboration, improved social connectedness, increased empathy, and greater generosity”.

Engagement     Finding the right balance in a classroom in terms of instruction and the environment is an art for educators.  However this is crucial as we help students to learn HOW to learn so that they truly are interested. We need to help them to learn to “focus their attention, control distraction and move toward a state of mindfulness and ‘flow’”.

Identity   Students need to be given the chance to express who they are in their work and throughout the school.  They need to be encouraged to be themselves, including their strengths, spirituality, culture, heritage, etc.

Mastery   To achieve mastery, students need to have regular feedback (and I would suggest success criteria) so that they feel a sense of accomplishment.

Meaning   The learning and activities that students engage in must have a real world application, including a real audience, and a real purpose.  They need to be given an opportunity to think about big ideas and to answer essential questions relating to the world.

There is much to consider when we think about relationships, however what I know is that I have seen, heard and personally experienced educators making sure that our students and their families feel a sense of belonging to the classroom and to the school, not only by engaging in caring conversations, but by ensuring that the learning and environment is filled with joy, engagement, voice, support, feedback, and that it honours their individuality.  There are also narratives that demonstrate that we sometimes forget that we must address all eight of these conditions with our students, and in fact, with parents who are part of our school communities.

Let’s take a moment and reflect on how we are addressing these conditions and thus, how we are forming strong relationships through our Student Centered pedagogical moves.  I am beginning to think that perhaps we already know the HOW of forming positive relationships.

Welcome Back Message

welcome back to school

Welcome back to each of you and welcome to another great school year!  I am hopeful that each of you found ways to focus on your personal well-being during the past two months, as we know that our own health plays a significant role in both our happiness and the well-being of the children in our schools. I hope that these summer months were filled with a great deal of rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation!  It is hard to balancebelieve that we are beginning yet another school year and before we know it, we will be celebrating the Christmas Holiday! I want to take a moment to sincerely welcome those who are new to us or who are returning to us after being on leave, and to acknowledge that we are missing some of our colleagues.  We wish them well!

While enjoying activities focusing on my own well-being relationships quotethis summer, such as hiking, kayaking and camping in our beautiful region (and I even tried zip lining!), I engaged in much reading about how we, as school staff, support the development of well-being in our schools and classrooms, each and every day. I read about how relationships are the foundation to the fostering of well-being.  “Relationships are the nutrition of the brain”, says Dr. Jean Clinton.   These two months provided me with time to truly appreciate the nature of the relationships that we have at SGDSB!

What is very noticeable about our schools is the nature of the teams that we have, especially noticeable during the final crazy month of the year.  June brought people make a difference quoteworking together and supporting each other through the busy month (wow is June getting busier each year?),  to pack up schools, to move furniture, working together on schedules, to plan and engage in end-of-year activities …the list is endless (and I don’t want you stop reading!!).  What I know is that our “Small schools really do make a difference”…in so many ways, because of you and the teams that you are a part of.

I hope that you have taken the time to stop, reflect and to celebrate everything that you do daily to make positive change for the young people in your building and for each other. While our moral imperative is to educate our students, we also know that the culture of our school is vital to our success. We need to love coming to school each day, and together we can continue to create a cutlure in our schools where we feel a sense of belonging and where everyone contributes, regarldess of role.  Thank you for exemplifying our SGDSB values:

Caring, Fairness, Empathy, Honesty, Responsibility, Resilience, Respect, Perseverance, Innovation

Looking forward to seeing each of you in the near future and again, I am wishing you a wonderful start up with our students, helping them to transition and feel a sense of belonging. Thank you for putting students first, for all of the extra time that you have dedicated to readying the schools and grounds (through the many renovations!), preparing lessons, taking courses, and for planning and organizing for the new year. I know that our schools have been filled with busy educators, custodians, librarians, computer techs, and many other staff who are anxious to create warm and welcoming environments.

You truly are

“… Leaders in providing quality learning experiences in our small school communities.”


thank you













Welcome Back…Reflections on Leadership

After spending several days engaged in our Leadership Meetings, I have so many reflections that are spinning through my head.  First and foremost, how very fortunate I feel to work in a school district that values and accepts voice.  When I share with others how I am able to express my thinking and that I know this thinking is taken into account where possible, their reaction is…seriously?  We are unusual as an organization, even though this desired state has been written about for several years.  We are at the forefront of this shift.  We should be proud of that.  From the past two days, there are so many examples of the honouring of our voices, and this has been accomplished through the building of relationships.  Does our voice always affect the change in the way that we would like it to?  No. However I feel that I understand the WHY and thus, I can move on (I have to move on as this is my chosen career and role).

Most people who know me understand that believe that credibility is the cornerstone to our success as leaders. Why is credibility important? Research shows that people do not accept feedback from those who they do not respect/are not yet credible.  Feedback is the key to our growth efforts. Thus, if we expect our staff to act on our feedback, we have to have developed this credibility.  This keeps me up at night…am I credible with those with whom I work, my sphere of influence, my “class” (other formal leaders, educators, all staff)?


I wonder about:

  • Who is my “class”?  Who am I influencing?
  • What actions have I taken today that show my “class” that I am “practicing what I preach” and not simply articulating theory that I have read about?
  • Am I prioritizing actions (in my calendar) that will help me to genuinely practice the theory that I have been reading about?
  • Does what I say and do truly reflect the values that I have spoken about/written about?  It is the Behavioural Drift Model for Leadership (another Model that I have become attached to as it reflects the notion of “practice what I preach”).

behavioural drift model

(author unknown!)

This continues to be my personal problem of practice, as without credibility, my leadership impact will be minimal.  I am committed to deeply understanding theory by putting that theory into practice.

So what are the other factors that leaders need to consider to develop this credibility with their “class”?  DeWitt (“Finding Common Ground” obtained from Education Week online) provides us with a model of “7 Ways that Leaders Can Have an Impact”. I was referring to that graphic throughout our leadership session, seeking evidence of each of the key Ideas that DeWitt suggests.  I would have liked to personally share some of my reflections with you, however time was limited. I will share them now, in the hopes that it will inspire you to self-reflect and to engage in the self-assessment that I spoke of at the close of our time together.


7 Ways Leaders Have Impact

Impact Idea # 1:  Build Self-Efficacy made me think about how important it is that I have the knowledge and skills necessary to lead my “class” confidently, as confidence leads to the belief that “I can be successful”.  Although the Leadership Meetings had a clear “management” lens (instructional will come in the middle of September when you have had a chance to breath), I know that much of what was learned during the two days was incredibly valuable to the development of confidence in managing. As leaders, we must be able to answer questions, to provide staff with the WHY, and thus, to be able to know, with confidence, that we can lead our organization.  For me, this is what drives my ongoing professional learning – the notion that I need to keep learning as this impacts my sense of self-efficacy, which positively impacts my mindset.  Reading at night and researching on the weekends, attending and fully engaging in professional development with the goal of truly enhancing my knowledge and skill (sometimes leaders approach professional learning with the goal of simply passing the information on to staff, rather than learning it themselves), and then returning home to a million emails is not easy, however it is vital to self-efficacy.  As leaders we must “learn to do the work by doing the work” alongside our staff, which in turn helps us to truly learn, and ultimately, develops our credibility with our teams.

Impact Idea #2 speaks to “Meet, MODEL and MOTIVATE”…this is a key factor in developing this credibility with our staff.  When we lead by example and engage in the work relentlessly, we are creating a learning culture in our schools/system that does motivate others to do the same. This also goes a long way in achieving Impact Idea # 5, Understand Current Reality.  We know that leaders who are fully embedded in the classroom and in pedagogy have significant impact in their schools.

Last year some of us read Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek, a comprehensive guide to assist leaders in achieving Impact Idea #3, Lower Your Status, Raise Theirs.  As a supervisory officer, I believe that my role is to support the schools in achieving their goals (which are reflected in our district goals – not the other way around), and I hope that our principals see their role as supporting the classroom educators.  When we put the needs of our “class” first both through our actions and our words, the results are powerful and widespread.

My reflections also led me to make many connections to our required Summer Read (Collective Efficacy by Donohoo), which is a collective adult belief that we can achieve our moral imperative, and which has a tremendous effect size (ES=1.57). Many of the leadership moves and Impact Ideas that serve to develop leader credibility play a significant role in the development of collective efficacy in the school. According to Donohoo (2017) this includes the responsiveness of leaders, goal consensus (Impact Idea # 6), and a cohesive staff. When leaders work to develop their personal credibility, the culture shifts, others begin to engage meaningfully (not just compliance) in the work, and collective efficacy stands a chance of being achieved (Impact Idea # 2).

During the Leadership Meetings, we spoke about many values that we have as an organization, and there was much agreement and same mindedness about these values. We seem to be on the same page, so to speak. We know what we need to do and how we need to act in order to develop our credibility with our “class”. This is the first step, now we need to ask ourselves, do we consistently act in ways that relentlessly show those who are within our “class” that this is what we value?  We are human, thus it can never be perfect. What I learned from another summer reading is that if we do not truly believe what we are preaching, then it won’t be long before our staff and students begin to see that. This results in confusion and impacts all levels of the organization.  We need to turn to our staff and our students to answer this question.  Am I an authentic leader?

We have much to celebrate…and we have achieved this by constantly engaging in reflective practice which result in this growth.  This is the culture of learning that we are trying to achieve in our district. Let’s keep pushing ourselves and others as we ensure that “We are leaders in providing quality learning experiences in our small school communities”.  Welcome back to another opportunity to have our leadership make a difference.   Thoughts?  Please share!


Knowing Our Learners and Learners Knowing Themselves

Knowing Our Learners…is the key to positive relationships.

Knowing Our Learners…is the key to a strengths-based approach to learning.

Knowing Our Learners…is the key to having learners know themselves, especially their strengths. 

Knowing Our Learners…is key to shifting to a fully Student Centered Learning Environment and Pedagogy…

Having the privilege of listening to Juli Alverado (@coachjuli) on our system professional development day last week reaffirmed the need to truly know our learners.   Without this knowledge, we will struggle to create the type of safe, welcomed and caring environment where students can focus, know themselves as learners,  and deeply learn. Juli describes this as an environment where a student’s brain is prepared to learn; a brain that is regulated is one that has the optimum capacity for learning.  We know that positive relationships are key to the establishment of this environment.  “If there is no relationship, there is no healing, if there is no healing, then no learning can happen.” (Alverado, SGDSB Keynote, 2016).


Knowing our learners and responding to this knowledge is a key part of the shift towards a fully student centered learning environment and pedagogy, however to do this well, students first need to know who they are as learners.  The Creating Pathways to Success (2013) document from the Ministry of Education is a document which fully captures and puts “students at the center of their own learning, viewing them as the architects of their own lives” (Creating Pathways to Success, Ontario Ministry of Education,2013,  pg. 7).  Through this document and the strategies contained within it, “students are encouraged to discover who they are, explore opportunities, pursue their passions, and design personal pathways to success…” (pg.7).capturecareer

“When students are empowered to design and plan their own lives, they are engaged, they achieve, and they find themselves applying their learning in their daily lives. In an environment that encourages such learning, students develop confidence in knowing that their school programs are created with them in mind, that the world beyond school has something to offer them, and that they have something to offer the world.” (Creating Pathways to Success, 2013, pg. 7)


At a meeting hosted by the Ministry of Education for School Effectiveness, Student Success pathways-slideand Special Education leaders a few weeks back, this slide was shown and got me thinking about the impact of having students truly engage in knowing themselves as learners, specifically knowing their strengths, setting goals about their future, learning how to achieve these goals, and thinking about the opportunities that are out there for them.

The notion that this type of learning results in improved engagement, the achievement of goals and the development of independence and resilience was a powerful reflection for me. It resonated with me and is echoed in a book purchased for all of our schools by Mr. Goodman this summer that helps us to understand the importance of and how to teach metacognition (a term that we find in our curriculum documents in Ontario!)- thinking about how we think.

The authors of Teaching Students to Drive their Brains:  Metacognitive Strategies, Activities and Lesson Ideas remind us that, “some of the most vital and versatile skill sets we can teach capturedrive-brainsstudents to develop are the abilities to think about their learning; be aware of factors that affect their intellectual performance; to know how, when, where, and why to use particular cognitive strategies; and to monitor and adjust their performance of learning tasks.” (Wilson and Conyers, Teaching Students to Drive their Brains, pg 1).  This is an important part of our work as educators, teaching students HOW to learn.  The Creating Pathways, as well as the many tasks detailed in Teaching Students to Drive their Brains, provide an excellent starting point to embedding this work into our practices.

At the core of the Creating Pathways document are the following questions driven through an inquiry process which assists students in truly knowing themselves.capturepathways2

(Creating Pathways to Success, Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013, pg 15)

I think about how this type of ongoing inquiry is captured through the student’s individual portfolios, and how this learning can support them in engaging in ongoing reflection and planning for the future. I wonder if this is a key component in the success of student led conferences.  When students develop the skills necessary to engage in self-reflection, they are more likely to transfer this skill to content areas and thus would be able to engage in communication with their families about their strengths and growth.  This process also involves the self-assessment of Learning Skills, and thus helps the students to think about how they learn as well.  The work to Know Our Learners and to Have Learners Know Themselves is what must occur at the beginning of every school year, and is reflected in the Ontario Progress Reports.

The self-awareness and goal setting that results from this type of instruction should be captured in Student Led Conferences that occur in yearly in November. As a parent, when I sit with my child at a Student Led Conference I want to know what she is learning about herself as a learner, what she has grown in as reflected by the goals that she has set with her teacher, and to see some of the student work that demonstrates this growth.  I think that the Student Led Conference should be the culmination and celebration of the growth in learning that the student has achieved; to do this successfully, the student must be able to articulate that growth. We need to teach them how to do this.

What if the following tool (Ministry of Education SEL, SS and SE Session, October 2016) were used by the students as a planning tool prior to student led conferences?  Although the focus of this tool is mathematics, any subject area can be inserted. Imagine the learning that the students would engage in as they reflected about their own growth.capturestudent-led

I think about the questions that comprise the Conceptual Framework (the chart abovcaptureall-about-mee) in this process and how these questions can be scaffolded beginning in the early years classrooms through the All About Me Portfolio that is outlined in the Creating Pathways to Success document, thus resulting in a culture where students are fluent at knowing themselves as learners.


When students learn about themselves as learners, our job of knowing them as learners becomes much easier. When students know themselves as learners, we are truly shifting our emphasis from teaching to learning…and towards an increasingly student centered learning environment and pedagogy, and thus, to the attainment of our SGDSB goals. Knowing our Students and Students Knowing Themselves is a key part of the HOW.  


An Example of Cycling Back…and learning more…

Yesterday elementary leaders cycled back to the theory surrounding our commitment to Assessment For/As Learning and to creating this culture of LEARNING by modelling the following strategies (the entire cycle) in our leadership practices



with our educators…those within our sphere of influence, those who we are influencing.  We revisited our understanding  that this work is truly grounded in the analysis of the evidence of our impact – as it is the analysis that truly drives our work forward.  We are “cycling back” to hone our practices – as this is how we, as leaders and as teachers, become more precise and personalized in our leadership and in our instruction, and thus, how we increasingly help our learners to meet “expectation” or “provincial standard”.

We need to delve even deeper into this work, moving from theory to practice- truly engaging in PRACTICING this work. This will ensure that  we have experiences that we can draw upon, allow us to engage in the analysis of the evidence that we collect during these experiences, and thus, help us to confidently name our learning and the learning of others and to reflect on what instructional strategies are working (or leadership moves in the case of school leaders). This process also ensures that we, as teachers or leaders, can identify the gaps that exist for our learners between the current knowledge/practice and the goal (success criteria), and then decide on our next move – which we find when we refer to the research.   This is our LEADERSHIP FOR LEARNING work.

One of our primary LEADERSHIP for LEARNING goals this year is to learn more about instructional leadership so that we assume this stance automatically as leaders. This involves us in engaging in reflective practice to continuously find answers to the questions “What is the learning and the impact of the learning? What is the thinking (not the doing) that we see apparent?”   Change is truly complex work, that has many components/conditions that we need to foster to maximize success.

VISION –  That we, as leaders, naturally assume an instructional leadership stance, which means that we are using formative assessment/assessment for learning to increasingly create the conditions for our learners to feel supported in their improvement work…that we respond to the learning needs that our educators make visible to us through observations, conversations and products.

SKILLS – “We learn to do the work by doing the work”. We need to develop our repertoire of formative assessment strategies so that we are planning opportunities for our learners to make their thinking visible to us. We need to learn to embed the assessment for learning cycle into our work, thus modelling this for our educators. We need to develop the trusting relationships that ensure that our learners see us as partners in learning, who are all working towards a common vision.  We need to learn to carefully analyze evidence so that we can respond. And we need to learn how to make this our daily work…not an add-on.  Work smarter, not harder.

INCENTIVES – When we see the impact of our work not only only the learning climate of our school, but on the learning of the students, we gain efficacy and are empowered to continue this work.

RESOURCES – What are the available resources that are sitting on my shelf yet to be accessed? Where do I start?  Perhaps we have too many resources…both print and people?  Resources will continue to be provided through teleconferencing and meeting together to unpack our thinking.

ACTION PLAN – To achieve this vision, we need to continue to invest deeply in our Problems of Practice, engaging with our critical friends, committing to our small moves, reading and researching, embedding this work (practicing) into our roles, and engaging in reflection to determine what we are learning. The action plan is truly one that each leader is in control of.  A key piece in this work is the collection and analysis of data…and we have more work to engage in as we learn more about how to do this authentically!

From this overall goal, below is the Leadership for  Learning Goal for the next months(it is huge and requires refinement based upon feedback from our leaders):


As we “cycle back” and revisit where we have been, I have returned to some of my previous blog posts.


One year ago, the post above was written…as I reread it (am encouraging you to do the same) I thought about the evidence that I have gathered in a formative manner about where we are as a district, and how, upon analysis and feedback, it is telling me that we need to move closer to the PRACTICES required to truly understand and KNOW OUR IMPACT. What are those leadership practices that support the theory above? How do we create a sense of urgency around explicitly using an A4L stance and practices in our work? What precisely is the LEARNING GOAL that will respond to the needs of all of the school leaders and leads at this time…Why this learning, at this time, in this way, with this group of learners?  These are the questions that I have given a great deal of thought to, and that have resulted from the analysis of evidence.

As I reflect, I believe that my learning is the result of not only reading everything that I can find about Assessment for Learning/Formative Assessment (they are very similar), but also because I REFLECT on the thinking that I engage in as I read. I try to embed this naturally into my practice (so that it doesn’t feel like an add-on but like something that is integrated into my daily work) through my writing of blogs, the creation of presentations that I deliver to others, the conversations that I engage in (as I am truly interested in gathering evidence of thinking so that I can respond to that thinking), and looking at examples of the thinking of others through School Learning Plans and Problems of Practice. These are the observations, conversations and products (some of them) that drive my work…my stance is one of FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT…defined not as a “thing” but as a way of being whereby I am collecting evidence all the time regarding where my learners are in meeting the targets.  I believe that, as a School Effectiveness Lead, I need to engage in this work so that I can figure out how to increasingly respond to the learning of those with whom I work…I still have a long way to go but I am know that others are on this journey with me and we are figuring this out together.

Until next time…where are you on this journey?  What have you read and reflected upon recently that is supporting you in moving forward in this journey?  What are you learning from your leadership moves? 

Post thinking to #NMCblog!



Feeling Empowered as a Change Agent Through VOICE

This week reminded me that while being listened to is important, it is when those who are doing the listening actually act upon what you are saying that truly empowers. It made me think about students and student voice, and how students stop providing us with their thinking when they don’t see it valued or responded to. Motivation results when we genuinely feel that our voices are being honored. Eric Toshalis and Michael J. Nakkula, in their paper “Motivation, Engagement and Student Voice” describe student voice as pedagogies in which “youth have the opportunity to influence decisions that will shape their lives” (pg. 23).  I would argue that the same holds true for adults – when they see their thinking responded to, it encourages motivation.


As an adult, I would argue that voice is equally important to my motivation (and I am thinking the motivation of others).  Recently, at an Ontario Ministry of Education learning session, a key message that we heard was the need to “slow down, learn more deeply, and consolidate our learning”.  This important message is one that we, as a school board, have communicated for the past two years during our Board Learning Plan Meetings with our Ministry Colleagues, as we had been hearing it from our educators across the district.  In fact, we recognized the importance of this slowing down, circling back to some of the many resources and readings that we have engaged with over the past several years and thus, this summer was the first time that we didn’t introduce a new “Leadership Summer Reading”, but instead, asked leaders to revisit a reading that they had already engaged in.  The result was a number of leaders reporting enhancements to their practice as they were rereading and going deeper as the lens through which they were reading had changed.  Our Professional Learning Communities have incorporated information from previous years, as an effort to revisit and to consolidate the thinking and learning.  The feedback has been powerful; educators have told us that they appreciate the opportunity to think more deeply about their learning over time, and the impact upon their students. The panic that we sometimes feel, as learners, when material is too fast or perhaps, not where we are in our own learning journey, is beginning to diminish.  I believe that we are honouring the voices of our educators, and through this action, empowering them to enhance their practice. This results, as it did in my case, in increased motivation.

This is just one example of a lesson that can be learned through genuinely understanding and honouring student voice, and a reminder of how student voice is learner centered.  Some consider student voice activities to involve students in simply speaking their minds (as sources of data), while others see a higher level of student voice entailing students as serving as change agents. It made me return to Toshalis and Nakkula’s paper, and the following quote resonated with me:

Whereas most curricula and pedagogy seek to change the student in some way, either through the accumulation of new knowledge, the shifting of perspectives, or the alteration of behaviors, student voice activities and programs position students as the agents of change. In this way, student voice is about agency. At its core, student voice is the antithesis of depersonalized, standardized, and homogenized educational experiences because it begins and ends with the thoughts, feelings, visions, and actions of the students themselves. This makes student voice profoundly student centered. Pg 23

The authors include the following graphic which I found to be useful as I am now realizing that I need to think about student voice as a continuum:


The graphic also made me realize that the example that I provided was only at the Partnership Level of the spectrum…and that our district’s shift to increasingly job-embedded professional learning, whereby educators are “co-planning, making decisions and accepting significant responsibility for outcomes” is another example of how we are becoming increasingly “learner centered”.

Until next time…where does your practice sit on the Spectrum of Student Voice Oriented Activities?  I am truly interested in your thinking as we learn together.  Please post your thinking to #NMCblog.  



Engagement in Professional Learning



WOW! As expected, this week has been a whirlwind of planning…thinking about the needs of our learners (both adult and student) and the associated goals and strategies to achieve those goals.  A great deal of attention has been spent on how we are going to monitor our goals alongside the learners, to ensure that everyone sees themselves as growing.  Recognizing our success is motivational!

A tension that has once again emerged in this process is the need to balance the urgent learning needs of our students with the learning interests of our educators.  We know from our Conditions for Learning that to achieve that permanent change in thinking and behaviour that defines learning (Katz and Dack) the learner needs to see the learning as important to them, relevant to their world, and job-embedded.


So how do we achieve this balance?  It begins with engaging educators in relevant data.  We need to spend a great deal of time digging into all of the available data sources that reveal the needs of the learners.  This takes time and cannot be rushed, however often we feel the pressure to get to the planning and stage and thus, potentially miss what the most urgent need is. If educators don’t engage in this process (admittedly a process that is time consuming and not all that exciting for some), they don’t develop the urgency around the needs that become apparent, and thus, they are not motivated to address these needs. This process is one that we can describe as being “done to” rather than “done with” the learner.  To aid in this process, the leader is encouraged to do their homework ahead of time, and to thus present the data in a way that helps the educators to see the trends in a time efficient manner.  If we engage educators in a clear process whereby they help to determine the area of greatest learning needs for students, they will engage from the start as they have been a key part of the process.

However, what about the scenarios whereby the educator expresses their own need to learn about other aspects of the profession?  They require support, for example, in planning?  We need to support these educators as well.  As leaders of professional learning we know that we need to find a way to honour these needs, perhaps by embedding these needs into the Professional Learning Cycle, or, if not possible, finding alternative ways to support these needs. It has to be remembered that the most urgent learning needs of the students are those that are reflected by the School Learning Plan; this strategy is being monitored and measure directly for impact. There are many other areas of need that continue to be addressed, however we are not formally monitoring or measuring the impact of this learning upon students.

And then there is the learning that we are engaging in outside of school – that which is done independently and which defines us as a “profession”.  The following blog grabbed my attention:


Until next week…How are you balancing the urgent learning needs of our students with the learning interests of our educators to achieve our Conditions for Learning?  Let’s generate some ideas in the #NMCblog (shared with the National Marker Company!!).







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New Beginnings Bring New Possibilities

Welcome Back 1

The excitement that new beginnings bring…when our schools are looking spotless (and renovated…WOW!), classrooms are blank slates awaiting students to design them, we are all (hopefully) feeling rejuvenated after an amazing summer filled with a change in routine, time outdoors and perhaps some adventures, ready to implement the many new ideas that have resulted from having some time to think…WELCOME BACK to another exciting school year filled with possibilities!

Welcome Back 2

Embracing the change that this time of year brings is sometimes difficult.  We are faced with the dark mornings that the shorter days bring, cooler temperatures, the leaves rapidly changing colours, children transitioning into new stages of their lives, the notion that we are now heading back to busy daily routines, etc.

However, with these changes also comes opportunity for the future – “the possibilities are endless” as Rita, Head Custodian at GOPS said to me last week.  As we begin this new school year, I would encourage you to think about the enhancements that you will be making to your practice – each one of us are committed to creating schools for our students, families and staff that are increasingly welcoming. From the physical environment to the culture of the school, we are continuously making improvements to make our buildings amazing places where people want to spend time.

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So let’s collectively seize the opportunities that our new beginning will bring – let’s embrace the change in weather just as our students do (I am trying not to scream as I see the red leaves floating down and landing on the sidewalk outside my office), let’s try out new and exciting learning strategies and measure their impact, let’s support each other in taking risks in our own learning, and let’s do it together with our positive mindset.  Let’s change the culture that exists around new beginnings – especially that which exists for some around “miserable Mondays” – to one that demonstrates excitement about the possibilities for the future – whether it be a full school year or full school week.  I wonder what the impact would be on each other and on our students?

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Superior-Greenstone District School Board is truly an organization that demonstrates caring, positivity and commitment to learning and continual growth.  As your Superintendent of Education, I endeavor to champion this culture, to work with you and to support the amazing work that you do in your classrooms, libraries and offices.  I thank you for your contributions to our school board as a whole, and truly believe that our “Small Schools Make a Difference” in the lives of our students and in the lives of each other, daily.  I wish you a wonderful school year and look forward to catching up with you as I visit your schools.  Have a wonderful first day of school with your students as you engage them, give them voice, and ensure that they know that they are cared about.  Remember, embrace the change that this time of year brings…it is so exciting to begin again!!

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Gratitude and Appreciation  


Gratitude.  As an educator, parent, community member and learner, the month of June consistently overwhelms me with gratitude as I reflect on the growth and the learning that has occurred over the past  year.  As a leader in our school district,  I am fortunate each day to witness the impact of our collective work on my own child – to see her flourish in our system is all of the motivation that I require to continue our work.  And I know that I am not alone in this.  Throughout our district, there are dedicated, caring, focused educators who are making a difference in the lives of our young people each and every day.  A number of these educators have shared the sentiment that they don’t want their students to leave them yet, as they are feeling like “everything is coming together”; they are truly seeing the impact of their teaching on the knowledge, skills and attitudes of their students (someone even mentioned how they are seeing why the curriculum expectations are written By the end of grade…). There are those who are already thinking about what they will do differently next year.  Everyone is collecting evidence and everyone is thinking about their impact.  This is a sign of a healthy district that is moving in the right direction.

This past week our team of System Leads’ met to articulate, through three or four slides, what the  impact of their work has been over the past year as they manage complex change and build capacity in  our district. To prepare for this meeting, each Lead spent time analyzing their documentation against their success criteria to determine which stage of implementation they were able to meet with the learning that was facilitated in various ways – thus they turned their documentation into pedagogical documCapturecogsentation.  Needs Assessments resulted from this documentation as they identified where their leadership needs to take our system next.  Once we have the School Learning Plan Evaluations from each school, each Lead will ensure that the needs of the schools are also addressed by their plans for 2016-2017; thus ensuring that the needs of the schools drive the Board Learning Plan for Student Achievement and Well-Being – not the other way around!

So what impact have we had this year? What is different?  There is much to celebrate.  Although we had a slower than normal start, this district, with the formal and informal leadership that exists in it – classroom teachers, system leads, principals, developing leaders – has been working together to truly engage in learning and leading – thus illustrating that the Culture of Learning is strong in SGDSB.  Our schools are at various stages of implementation, however here are some of my global observations.  The following is certainly not an exhaustive list of our impact, but it gives you a sense of what I am speaking about…and as your School Effectiveness Lead, what I am extremely grateful for.

The Right Driver:  Capacity Building    We know that our BLPSA is in mid-implementation (full implementation in all schools and classroom by June 2018) and that we need to continue to build capacity in ourselves and in all stakeholders.  Capacity building work is challenging work (due to many factors) as it involves leading complex change.  This year, there is much evidence to support that we are getting better at leading this change, as the  following components of “Complex Change” are increasingly being managed and thus greater understanding is resulting.

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I am grateful for the discourse that is taking place in our district, as this is a sign that we are thinking about the work, and we know that conversation creates change and builds capacity.  Our Efficacy Review launched much discussion and truly helped us to focus our work and to plan for the future. We have recognized once again that communication is a challenge for us, however with attention, we are proving that it is one that we can overcome.  Participating in school based and board based learning has allowed us to hear our staff members challenging each other productively, thus shifting from a culture of “niceness” as Katz has called it, to a culture of learning. We have moved past the personal and understand that it is about impact. Capturethink about things we care about


When we think about how important it is to have a clear vision (to ensure that confusion does not result), we are reminded of the 21st Century Competencies document and of how this document reflects exactly where we heading as a district. Capture21 cover If there is one Ministry Document that you plan to read from cover to cover this summer, I would say that this one truly hits home as it aligns completely with our SGDSB Theory of Action. We can easily find evidence that  our schools are paying attention to these competencies as they are embedding instruction that aligns with the competencies.  There are many examples of tremendous growth district wide this year in our understanding of these six competencies and how vital it is that we model these competencies in our practice and ensure that the classroom and instructional environment are rich with opportunities for our students to develop them.  This is urgent work as our world continues to change rapidly.

The Right Driver:  Collaboration      Policy Program Memorandum 159 entitled, Collaborative Professionalism was released last month and provides us with clear expectations for collaboration in our province.  In reading this memorandum it was exciting to reflect on how this has been a stance that we have believed in for several years – as evidenced by our Conditions for Learning in the BLPSA. We know that we all need to own the vision of our BLPSA and that learning and growth occurs at a faster rate
when we work together, when individuals have a voice, and when we leverage exemplary practices through this collaborative work.  There are many examples of how deep collaboration (not cooperation) is moving us forward.  Walking through  the halls of our schools and sitting in staffrooms there is constant conversation about meeting the needs of our students. Some may say that this has always happened, however there is much evidence to support that it is happening more now – that the culture of collaboration that inukshuk.docx (173x193)begins at the PLC table is becoming the norm in unstructured environments such as the hallway between classes.  The natural collaboration of the System Leads as they work to de-silo their portfolios – seeing the strong connection that something like the challenges that we face with attendance can bring.  The growth of our NEAC group as they work to ensure that our system truly reflects, in a deep and embedded way, the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  The children with hard hats led by the Plant Department as they have a voice in the renovations to their school. The monthly meetings that occur throughout our district that have shifted to a focus on collaborating around the learning of those within their sphere of influence so that best practices are shared. The examples are endless and they are having a positive impact.

The Right Driver:  Systemness is the notion that we are all connected and see a common vision.  We began this year with the messy introduction of the one page Theory of Action graphic which contained the thinking of many who had participated in the Leadership Learning Teams for the past number of years, but which had really only been used by a few members of our board. Today, there is a much greater understanding of this document; we are expanding our understanding of Belonging to not only reflect the sense of belonging to the school environment, but also to include the importance of each learner possessing a sense of belonging to the learning – which is the result of a student centered learning environment.  The focus of the work has returned to the learning, as when it began, it was focused on how busy the one pager is – a true distractor to the important work of continuing to enhance the learning of our students.  I believe that this is the result of unpacking the document and building our understanding by connecting the dots.  There is also an understanding that this document represents the work of all of our schools and that it keeps “the end in mind” – when we look at the  document, we understand what our “IF” statement (If we foster learner centered environments and pedagogy) looks like and sounds like in action.

The Right Driver:  Pedagogy     The focus of pedagogy has continued to shift in our district to reflect the shift from a culture whereby the focus is on teaching and the teacher, to one where the focus is on the student and the learning.  There  are many reasons for this shift however the most impactful continues to be the study of student work – observations, conversations and products. When student work is on the table, we focus on impact and thus, we are monitoring the strategies that work for a particular group of learners at a particular time in their learning – and thus instruction is becoming increasingly precise and responsive.  In addition, the partnerships between teachers and students that are apparent in many classrooms is growing as we increasingly shift to student centered learning environments whereby students have greater voice, autonomy, and are engaged in co-constructing the learning environment.  They are increasingly engaged as they see the relevance of their learning.  Technology has played a huge role in this shift this year as our Tech Champions (and many others) have truly embraced the notion of technology as a tool for learning and have been both modelling and spreading their learning.culture of learning vs teaching.docx

It is clear that we are focused on the right work and that positive change is occurring. During this time of reflection and analysis, it is imperative that we all see the growth as this enhances our sense of efficacy as educators.  We need to be reminded however, to not see the idea of change as a “negative” or implying that we are “doing something incorrectly”, but that we are exemplifying the urgent need to grow as the  result of the dramatic changes that are occurring in our world.   The 21st Century Competencies document helps us to see this and reminds us of this urgency.

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As our summer break approaches, it will soon be time to slow down, rest, continue to reflect and to increasingly celebrate the growth, the change and the enhancements that we have collectively made all year, in the name of student achievement and well-being for our learners.  Wishing you the best!


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Achieving Balance: Technology and Play in K-2


An important conversations is taking place throughout our board’s school communities as the result of Dr. Jean Clinton’s message regarding technology and young children. Parents and educators alike are asking the question about the impact of technology on young children’s development as they attempt to navigate the complex world; a conversation that I am thrilled is taking place as it demonstrates that individuals are thinking deeply about both the academic and social development of our children and thus, we are increasingly becoming aware of the connection between the two.  Dr. Clinton’s message was clear to us – young children need to play as this is the way that they are going to develop thinking skills, communication skills, learn to self-regulate, and thus, develop social-emotional skills.  However, we also know that our world has changed – technology is not a fad, it is the vehicle through which we now communicate in the world, obtain information, become inspired, and develop a global perspective.  It is a necessary tool for children and youth to reach their full potential, and when used appropriately, must be an integral part of education and daily life. When we think about the 21st Century Competencies, we know that technology is a tool that empowers us to achieve some of those competencies.  Neither of these arguments are being disputed, I believe, as we know that both are necessary – play and technology.

Where this conversation has landed is on some key wonderings about the impact of technology on our youngest learners.  It is the age old discussion – if we are sitting very young children in front of a screen (the screen used to be the TV, now it is a tablet) “too much”, what skills are they not developing?  What are the technology skills that our youngest learners should be developing?  What different considerations to we need to make for infants, toddlers, pre-school age, and Kindergarten students?

We Know that Social-Emotional Learning through Play is Essential


The Early Development Instrument (EDI) continues to shed light upon the notion that many of the children from our region are struggling (called “vulnerable” on the EDI) in the areas of Emotional Maturity and Physical Health and Well-Being.  Our trending data illustrates that we are continuing to see an increasing number of vulnerable children in both areas, Emotional Maturity climbing significantly. Captureedidomains

What does this tell us?  The Physical Health and Well-Being domain gives us indicators of the overall physical development of children in Senior Kindergarten, providing us with information about levels of energy, fine and gross motor skills, and physical independence such as coordination.  Emotional maturity tells us about children’s ability to react before acting, their impulsivity, their ability to deal with feelings at an age-appropriate level, and their empathic responses to other people’s feelings (Offord Centre, EDI Descriptive Report, 2016, pg. 4).  This data is telling us that we need to intervene to a greater degree in these areas of development for our children, as we know that the gap will only grow larger if we do not. Let me be clear – I am not suggesting that technology is to blame for this situation. I do believe that the world has changed in a way that had made me rethink my actions as a parent and as an educator.


The EDI scores are only one indicator of the need to do things differently. As educators, we are now, more than ever, aware of the need to integrate explicit instruction in social-emotional learning into our daily work as “social and emotional learning (SEL) provides a foundation for safe and positive learning, and enhances students’ ability to succeed in school, careers, and life.” This includes helping students to develop the ability to self-manage, whereby they develop the “skills and attitudes that facilitate the ability to regulate one’s own emotions and behaviors…and includes the ability to delay gratification, manage stress, control impulses, and persevere through challenges in order to achieve personal and educational goals.” (Weissberg, R., “Why Social and Emotional Learning Is Essential for Students”, Edutopia, Feb. 2016).  We must teach social awareness, which “involves the ability to understand, empathize, and feel compassion for those with different backgrounds or cultures. It also involves understanding social norms for behavior” (Weissberg, R., “Why Social and Emotional Learning Is Essential for Students”, Edutopia, Feb. 2016).  The fostering of relationship skills whereby students understand and act according to social norms including Capturesocialcommunicating clearly, actively listening, cooperating, collaborating, and negotiating conflict (all achieved through play!) is vital to the achievement and well-being of students. Programs such as Second Step, Roots of Empathy, The Zones of Regulation, and Restorative Practices are becoming increasingly used in our classrooms, as educators understand the necessity of explicitly teaching social-emotional learning to help students manage themselves, relate to others and make good choices. There is greater understanding that this is a component of being student centered.

Dr. Clinton’s research tells us however, that these skills can be fostered at very young ages through an environment that fosters connections.

We know now that all areas are interconnected and developing together – emotions, language, thinking – rendering it ineffective to focus on one area without the others. Children learn best in an environment that acknowledges this interconnectivity and thus focuses on both emotional and cognitive development. There is now an explosion of knowledge that tells us that healthy development cannot happen without good relationships between children and the important people in their lives, both within the family and outside of it.  As Dr. Jack Shonkoff states, “young children experience their world as an environment of relationships, and these relationships affect virtually every aspect of their development” (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2004). Relationships are the active ingredient in healthy development, especially brain development.  (“Think, Feel, Act”, Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013). 

This notion was reinforced lately by a valued colleague, “Becoming a mother has really allowed me to truly watch and better understand children, they are so curious and capable (and cute)!!! But they need the opportunities to play and explore… we need to guide, model and give them opportunities to problem solve…technology doesn’t do this” (Skworchinski, Personal Communication, May 2016).

We Also Know that Technology is the Norm

We are beginning to understand that student achievement and well-being are inseparable. Dr. Fullan (OPSOA, April 2016) reminded us of the importance of understanding and fostering the 21st Century Competencies in our schools as, “when you are proficient at all six competencies, this is tantamount to having a life of well-being as you have the skills to flourish in the world today and in the future.”

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However, there is a concern that “some are interpreting the 21st Century Skills to be completely about technology” (Blackwood, SGDSB, May 2016), and we need to fully understand that technology is a tool to help us to achieve some of these competencies.

This is a key point in navigating this discussion – we need to achieve a balance in this argument. It is not an “all or nothing” argument when we discuss school age children’s needs.  School aged children need to use technology when it is appropriate. We know our learners in the classroom, and we know who requires more support in and focus on the social-emotional learning areas, and who and when to use technology.  School age children need to become increasingly familiar with the keyboard, but this needs to be achieved through play and inquiry. It is not about explicit instruction…if we believe that children learn best through play, let’s resist the urge to “stuff the duck” as Dr. Clinton says.  Let’s do what we do best, let’s provide opportunities for children to play with technology collaboratively while we also provide opportunities for them to play with the blocks, in the outdoor classrooms, and to thus, build their social and emotional skills and knowledge with concrete, face-to-face interactions.  Let’s keep the notion of balance in our minds, but also remember that as professionals, we are thinking about PURPOSE as well…what is our purpose in deciding to use an app as a provocation to teach coding to students who are wondering about using directional language?  or to help a group of students obtain answers to their questions about the fires in Fort McMurray by connecting with others?  or to perhaps help students to capture their thinking over time?   It is this type of consideration that will serve our youngest learners well.

This is an important conversation and I am thrilled that it is happening.  We all need to think deeply about what has changed in the world, but also what we know about brain research and the development of very young minds.  This needs to inform our decisions daily; it is not about the exciting, cool things that technology can do, or about using the Ipads as busy work, or about removing them completely from our Kindergarten and Grade 1 and 2 classrooms. It is about PURPOSE. “My son’s fine motor skills developed tremendously as the result of his use of technology at a young age…this has served him well as a teenager” (Schram, SGDSB, May 2016), thus illustrating my point about ensuring that the tool fits the purpose.

Finally, let’s deeply think about our own kids and the messages that we are indirectly sending them.  I am guilty of responding to a text message during dinner at a restaurant, thus modelling for my child that focused family time isn’t important.  I see parents and caregivers on their phones while at the park or out for a walk with their little ones.  What a missed opportunity to model language and communication with that child. Does this level of distraction with screens serve to isolate very young children?   “We are likely all guilty of using screens as temporary child care to allow us time for a shower” (Tuuri, SGDSB, May 2016), however we need to ask ourselves just how much screen time our children are engaged with.  We know that research is confirming that the lack of natural social interaction and development that comes from unstructured play is partly to blame for the rise in bullying behaviour, perhaps the use of technology at such a young age needs to be an increasing part of that dialogue.

Until Next Week: I look forward to hearing your thinking on this topic. If you don’t feel comfortable posting to this site, please add a comment to #nmcblog!