Saturday, January 28, 2012

Communicating Learning NOT numbers

The parent - teacher interview (or parent phone call, email etc) starts with the typical question:
How is my child doing in your class?
What if we, as teachers, were prohibited from listing "numbers" as a response to this questions?  What should the response be?

I fully understand that some parents want letter grades to frame their child's learning (in most cases it's how their learning was measured as students).  Given this reality, a teacher might (and in some cases -should) indicate an overall  achievement indicator (letter grade if appropriate).

After that, the unpacking should begin....

Aside from communicating an overall achievement indicator, what if a teacher were not permitted to refer to numeric scores (this would include numbers or grades associated with particular assignments)?  After all what does 15/20, 16/20 or 18/20 really tell a parent about a child's learning?

So what might be some alternatives?  As a teacher you might:
  • describe the student as a learner, thinker, writer, mathematician, scientist, artist, musician, etc - including some of their strengths and challenges.
  • talk about particular skill development and/or gaps in skill.
  • describe the student's literacy or numeracy skills in a way that is personalized and authentic
  • talk about  specific gaps in knowledge
  • speak about a specific learning plan - with specific interventions and supports that the parent might support you with, as  a classroom teacher.
  • talk about how the student communicates in class.
  • talk about patterns you are starting to notice about the students level of engagement (what's working what is not)
  • listen deeply to the parent and learn something new about the student
(Feel free to add some of your alternatives below)

When all is said and done, communicating numbers, in most circumstances, means very little when it comes to communicating learning.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Peer Counseling: Making a Real Difference

As the issue of bullying in schools continues to draw the necessary attention and interventions, I am grateful for our Peer Counseling program at our school.  The school's Peer Counselling program provides a very important service to our students and plays a critical role in making St. Pat's a safe and caring school.  Ultimately the program gives students a tangible way for them to create a culture of safety, inclusion and safetly.
Below is a description of the program by St. Patrick Secondary school counselor V. Eckert.  Her description of the program was originally published in the Prairie Messenger.    

Student and peer counselor, Elizer, puts it this way:
 “My thoughts about peer counselling have changed. Before I thought the program was all about helping others, and now, I realize what it has done for me. I have learned to be less judgmental and more understanding when it comes to others telling their stories. I’ve learned to be empathic, gentle and humble. I feel blessed and grateful to those who selected me to be a PC, because without this experience, I don’t think I’d be the same person.” 
Every day teens go through hardships and pain that the rest of the world may never see. Peer counsellors are trained to reach out to those classmates and to help them overcome the challenges they face. The school counsellors skilfully match peer counselors (PCs) with those who seek support. A student may approach teachers, counsellors or PCs directly for peer assistance, or the service can be recommended to a student by an adult who perceives the teen is in need.

Beyond Counseling
In addition to the PCs’ responsibilities with individual students, they also help the counsellors organize workshops for the school community on such topics as anti-bullying, healthy relationships, alcohol and drug education and digital citizenship. They have the opportunity to work with volunteers and experts in the helping professions.

Becoming a PC
Aspiring peer counselor must go through a thorough application process which includes writing compositions outlining their personal characteristics, their experience helping others and their reasons for wanting to serve the school community in this way.   All applicants are interviewed by a team comprised of a sponsor teacher who works with the program, the two school counsellors and veteran PCs.

Important Skills
The peer counsellor training is vital and takes place during a two-day retreat. Deep listening is the main skill that peer counsellors cultivate. St. Benedict calls on his followers to: “Listen with the ears of your heart.” Peer counsellors say they are taught not just to hear words, but to listen to the deeper messages. They emphasize the importance of giving their counselees empathic responses, showing in both words and body language that they have heard. Their goal is to help their peers seek solutions to their own problems, not make them dependent. PCs are trained not to give advice but to empower those they assist.
“I try to hear the silent things people are saying,” Jennifer says, “and try to offer others a secure environment in which to share. I take pride in my commitment to confidentiality.”
According to Kim:
“Many of our peers look up to us and know that all they say to us is confidential, unless they reveal that they plan to hurt others or themselves; then we have to share that information with a trained counsellor. We let our counselees know the limits of confidentiality before each session.”
Meeting with peers
Peer counsellors schedule time to meet with peers before school, during break, at lunch time and after school. However, if a student is in crisis, a meeting may take place during school time with teachers’ approval.

Dalton, a Grade 11 PC, reports he often observes his counselees around the school to get information on how they are doing. For example, he says he has seen a counselee become more positive, show new confidence interacting with others and become less self-focused following his involvement.

Grace, another PC,  says the work requires a lot of learning about how to adapt to different counselees, yet, she states, she finds it constantly rewarding.  Kim, another PC, describes her growth this way: “I need to balance my own life and problems to be there for others, and I need to step away from my own life accepting that I am not the centre of the universe.”

Students often suggest that having someone trustworthy to talk to about personal issues is helpful and assists them to get through their problems. With the help of a PC, one teen said she was able to release emotions she didn’t even know were stored up inside her. Workshop participants appreciate the PCs’ presentations and say they come to realize that there is always someone there to help. A graduated PC said he valued how peer counselling is never done, unlike finishing a course.

Finally, parents appreciate the life skills development which they say is intrinsically valuable to their children.

I would like to thank all he teachers, parents, community professionals and students who work tirelessly to make this program so effective and our school such a safe and caring place to work and learn. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Reflections & Feedback from Camp

I would like to express a heartfelt thank-you to the organizers of Ed Camp Delta.  It was a day rich with conversation, questions and ideas.

I was fortunate enough to attend the event with many of the colleagues I work with.  For most teachers, this was their first time attending an edcamp.  Here is snapshot of some of the feedback:

What did you like about the Ed Camp model of professional development?
  • participant driven
  • chance to hear from other pracitioners in the field
  • It was great having students and parents present
  • the success of this model of pro-d is rooted in choice.  Teachers choosing to attend on their own time.
  • The tech support was very good and essential.  The google docs for each session are a great collection of thoughts and ideas
  • It was driven by educators’ desire to better themselves (versus the professional speaker and vendor circuit which is often the backbone of big education conferences).  Ed. Camp has a very altruistic feel.
  • I like the organic nature of ed-camp
  • It was a great networking experience
What are some suggestions for improvement?
  • facilitator preparation often determines the success of a session.  
  • Maybe fewer but bigger sessions?  
  • Would this work for a conference where teachers “must” attend instead of choose to attend?  
  •  I wonder how Ed. Camp would fit into the formalized pro-d system we have now for teachers.  Somehow I think there would need to be adjustments on both ends (Ed. Camp structure and concept of teacher pro-d) for it to work on a larger scale.
  • in order to get full value we must engage in some professional reading/learning on our own
  • discussions often did not lead to solutions or next steps since there did not seem to be many "experts". From a practical standpoint I did not walk away with any new learning's we could take to our classrooms
As a school we are thinking about adopting aspects of the edcamp model of pro-d  for an upcoming professional day.  I certainly welcome other suggestions, ideas and reflections.....

On a personal note, it was great to have some "face time" with some colleagues I primarily interact with on Twitter (this includes a pre-edcamp "get together" the night before).  I really appreciate my expanded (and ever expanding)  network of colleagues and friends.  

I want to thank all the participants who attended and added to the many rich conversations.  

Looking forward to my next edcamp already.....

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Pushing the Envelope

Sometimes we don't push the system enough. As professional educators we need to exercise our professional judgement and discretion for the sake of our students.

As the Ministry of Education in British Columbia looks to personalize and modernize how we educate our youth, I would like suggest that the current  2004 Graduation Program can be stretched and utilized to personalize learning for our students. 

To illustrate my point, I would life to highlight four polices contained within the current Grad Program that are often underused or even misunderstood: Challenge, Equivalency, External Credit and Independent Directed Studies.

These polices recognize that learning is life-long and extends beyond any school or classroom.

Here is summary of each policy, as posted on the Ministry of Education website:

Challenge (Undocumented Demonstrated Prior Learning)

This policy describes how secondary schools award credit to students who can demonstrate prior learning. All students are entitled to undertake a free Challenge process to assess their prior learning for any Ministry developed graduation program course offered by any Board of Education in the Province that school year, as well as any Board Authorized (BAA) course taught in the enrolling district (or independent school authority) that school year.
This policy describes how secondary schools award credit to students who have successfully completed an equivalent Grade 10, 11 or 12 course from an educational jurisdiction or institution outside the BC school system.
External Credentials
This policy describes how students earn credit towards graduation through certain external credentials approved by the Ministry.  All students enrolled with a Board of Education are entitled to receive credit if they have earned a Ministry-approved credential.  There is no limit to the number of credits a student may earn by using external credentials.
Independent Directed Study (IDS)
This policy enables students to initiate their own area of learning and to receive credit towards graduation. The policy also allows schools to recognize prior learning in a Ministry-developed or board authorized course that a student may not have completed. This policy is not a student entitlement but an enabling policy intended to encourage schools to allow students to pursue further studies of interest.  IDS credits may only be used to satisfy elective requirements.
In many ways these policies do not go far enough (or are too restrictive) in terms honoring learning beyond the classroom.  Nonetheless, if we are serious about honouring the talents and abilities of all students, we need to start making the current system work for our students - right now, today!  

As professionals we need to stretch our own thinking so that, rather than blaming the system, we can use it to our students` advantage.