My updated Wordle

Every once in a while I like to run my blog feed through Wordle to get a perspective on what I’m saying.  For those not familiar, Wordle is a Java script that clusters key words from a text, with word size becoming larger the more frequently you use the word.

 Wordle: ErHead

(Click on the image to get a larger view)

So from what I’ve Wordled so far, I’m pretty happy.  My focus seems to be on the stakeholders – students, staff, parents.  How do you Wordle up?

Should we eliminate segregated behaviour classes?

A principal colleague of mine and I have the unique privilege of being administrators in a school where there is a Behaviour Intervention Program (BIP).  This program is described as:

The Behaviour Intervention Program is provided for exceptional students who exhibit extreme difficulty coping in the community school. Typically, these students will have exhibited many or all of the following behaviours: verbal aggression, physical aggression, profound inability to build or maintain interpersonal relationships, excessive anger, severe non-compliance, extreme lack of impulse control, extreme low self-esteem, extreme defiant behaviour, extreme difficulty coping in the community school, an inability to learn that cannot be traced intellectually, sensory or other health factors. The focus of the program is to provide a structured learning environment and an opportunity to develop appropriate prosocial behaviours.

From the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board website

Sounds like a scary place doesn’t it?  I will admit when I got news that my appointment as a VP was at a school with this type of classroom, I was initially terrified.  But very quickly, as I got to know the 8 boys in our Intermediate (grade 7-8) BIP, my apprehension melted away and I fell in love with them.  All are wonderful kids with complex needs, and coping with situations that would knock me on my you-know-what.  And they came to school to learn.  Wow.  (And two boys especially were absolute rock stars as kindergarten helpers!  Nothing like an embarrassed, trying-to-look-tough 13-year old with a 4-year wrapped adoringly around his leg!)

But not everyone feels that way about them.  When calling for guest teachers or casual educational assistants, when they heard that it was for a BIP, there was often an audible gasp followed by a long pause at the other end of the phone line. Cue the desperate pitch: “Really, they’re very good kids.  There’s an EA in the room at all times”, or “The teacher’s been in this program for a long time.  Just follow his lead”,  or “I’ll come up and check on how everything’s going as often as I can”,  and on and on.  Reluctantly they would agree to come in, and I would be more than a little miffed that such a deep stigma was attached to students in this classroom.  This stigma can seep out into the student body, the staff, parents and the school system. 

But back to my colleague.  One day early in the school year, he dropped by the school for a visit.  We chatted about our different sites, the various extra-curricular activities we had going on, etc.  Eventually the conversation turned to the BIP programs, and not just ours, but those system-wide.  He shared his vision for the BIP programs in our board – namely to not have them anymore.

This is when he got really excited.  “These are kids with learning disabilities, like any other student with an LD,”  he said. “Their issues with social skills have impeded their abilities to learn, just as a student may have cognitive challenges that affect their learning. Then we throw them in a class together, where they trigger each other.”  I have to say that I agree.  Especially when you have an intermediate program where you throw the usual pre-teen issues on top of  the challenges these kids are already struggling to cope with, and you can get nuclear real quick. 

His idea for an alternative?  Dismantle the classes altogether, have an EA buddied up with any student identified with behavioural exceptionalities in any homeroom class and go from there.  Now I’m sure my colleague has thought further down the road on his vision, but since his visit, the thought has stuck in my head.  I have no idea what the ramifications are budget-wise, but really, ideally, if it’s money that goes towards student success, then what’s the problem?

Curious as to the thoughts of others on this.

Buckle up!

cc Gary Burke via flickr

When I was little and growing up in Ottawa, I desperately wanted to ride a roller coaster.  I would watch the commercials for Canada’s Wonderland and my heart would race at the thought of dropping, twirling, zooming, and (gasp) loop-dee-looping, all at what seemed like the speed of light!  I was horribly jealous of any of my friends who took trips with their families to the big amusement parks.  I even wrote a long and detailed (fictional) account of a wild summer of traveling to different amusement parks to ride the roller coasters for the proverbial “Write what you did over the summer” assignment.  I got an A from my teacher and a stern talking-to from my mother about the importance of telling the truth.  I had to make do with Ottawa’s annual National Capital Exhibition visits every August, and even though I had fun, it tamed when compared to my extravangant fantasies about roller coasters.

It wasn’t until I was an adult with two children that my mother-in-law lent us her timeshare condo in Collingwood, Ontario, about an hour’s drive from Toronto, home of Canada’s Wonderland.  We arranged to visit the amusement park, and even at 30 years old, I was as giddy as a my kids.  By the end of the day, my fantasies had come true and I was hooked!

I told that story so that I could tell you this one: last week I had a day at work where I had never felt so stressed, so defeated, so ineffective and so inexperienced that I went home and curled up on my couch with my head in my husband’s lap and cried.  I’m not embarrassed to admit it – it was a very low point for me professionally and I genuinely questioned my role and my choice to become not only an administrator, but a teacher.  I could rhyme off the list of Murphy’s Law moments that made up the day, from no occasional teacher for a staff member, to student issues, to missing a highly anticipated intern session, but it was a meeting that I attempted to facilitate between a teacher and a parent that I felt shone a spotlight on my “greenness”.  I wasn’t able to be at the meeting when it started, and when I came in it already seemed tense.  From there emotions became raw and the conversation became defensive.  I realized right away what was happening, and I (cue the superhero music) thought I could save the day.  So I desperately tried to salvage a meeting that was quickly going downhill, and really what I was doing was grabbing a shovel and digging us furiously deeper.  The teacher was left feeling unsupported and that her professionalism and integrity were being questioned, and the parent was left feeling unheard.  As I debriefed with my principal, I shared that I knew that I should have gently ended the meeting with a promise to review the information that had been shared with the commitment to coming back together at another time to work out next steps.  I shared my feelings of guilt and how I felt that I had let down both the teacher and the parent.  I won’t be shaking this feeling anytime soon, but the small silver lining was that I learned something from the experience.

Fast forward to yesterday.  An awesome day.  I supported students all day in the classrooms.  I was invited into a classroom by a teacher who was beginning the blogging journey with her students – they had grouped together to plan a name, a purpose and how the would invite comments from others, if any.  Student involvement and ownership was evident and the excitement was barely contained.  They asked good questions, and it was obvious that there was much thought and planning going into the project.  I can’t wait to see what they develop, and I know that if they have questions for me to which I don’t know the answers, I have a fabulous PLN to help.  At the end of the day, I could barely refrain from laughing out loud in the car on the drive home I felt so energized and uplifted.  I didn’t question at all my decision to become a teacher and administrator – I felt validated and that I am exactly where I want to be.

So I don’t live near an amusement park and I don’t ride an actual roller coaster whenever I want.  But I have something better.  I have the stomach-dropping moments of realizing when you’ve made a misstep with an esteemed colleague and a valued parent.  I have the dizzying, twirling loop-dee-looping that comes from questioning, reflecting and learning about yourself. I have the weightless-bum-out-of-your-seat moments when working with the wonder and enthusiasm of students.  I have my roller coaster.  Keep your hands and feet inside at all times!

Out of the mouths of junior/intermediate students

I asked my grade 6/7/8 English class a question this past Friday:  What skills/attitudes do you think makes an effective principal or vice-principal?  First we discussed what effective means, then they worked in partners to discuss, record and represent all the qualities they felt made a “good”  (I say effective, they say “good”) principal or vice-principal.

Their answers, which we shared in a circle (“What, like in kindergarten????”) were quite telling.  First on almost every list was discipline.  That’s it.  Just the one word.  Discipline.  My favourite word…NOT!  Okay.  I can see why they would have that perception.  I must have made a face because they were quick to expand and add, “It’s not like we think you yell or anything.  But you have to be able to help kids with their problems without embarrassing them. And you do that a lot.”  Phew!

Other skills/attitudes they listed:

  • creative
  • not biased
  • patience and tolerance
  • focused on students
  • loves coming to work
  • involved
  • “in the loop” – when asked to elaborate they wanted someone up-to-date in the field, specifically in terms of technology and social media
  • healthy and balanced
  • remembers what it’s like to be a teacher (I would go even further and add what it was like to be a student as well)
  • giving of their time
  • reasonable
  • good education and lots of knowledge
  • be like Mrs. Paynter (these two girls were looking for a laugh, or bonus points or something :))

I’ve been contemplating their lists all weekend.  As part of their discussion, I asked where they got the basis for their lists, and they all said, “From watching you and talking with you.”  It’s powerful to hear that from the students.  They’re watching, forming opinions and ideals about what kind of teacher and administrator I am. What an honour to have them share that with me.

Now, I didn’t set off to have my ego stroked with this activity.  This is leading to the next stage where I am going to ask the same question, but this time within the context of themselves as learners preparing to transition on to the next grade (June is coming faster than we think!). The grade 6s are preparing for the intermediate grades, and all the changes that comes with it; the grade 7s will be inheriting the title of “oldest in the school” and the responsibility and perceptions that often come with that; and the grade 8s will be making one of the most significant transitions of their school career – high school.  So what skills and attitudes do they think they’ll need to be successful?

Taken from Shannon Smith, students will then graphically represent what their brains will look like on grade 7, 8, or 9.  When we’re done, I’ll post the results and hopefully generate a discussion.

I’m excited to see what they come up with!

I can’t even manoeuver my own bedroom when it’s dark

Cell Phone Usage
Via: Online IT Degree

I enjoy reading the blogs of my global colleagues, one of whom is Angela Maiers.  She posted this graphic on her site.  The statistics are talking about the students we teach and with whom we interact daily; students we try to engage – you know, the ones we teachers and administrators are constantly confiscating cell phones and iPods from? 

Think about your school, or your classroom.  What’s happening in it?  And from that, what core teaching values are driving the instruction within it?  And how is that instruction meeting the needs of our digital students – students who apparently can text blindfolded?

The power of our words and the power of our forgiveness

People outside of administration, and outside of the teaching profession in general, often ask what my motivation was for going into my role, and how could I love a job that entails all the “running around”, paperwork, dealing with parents, etc.  If only they could have been a fly on the wall in my school today, the reason would be crystal clear.

Some of our grade 7 boys participated in a restorative session today to discuss the impact their words have had on others, words that were racially derogatory and just plain ugly.  Our school social worker facilitated, and the homeroom teacher and I were part of the circle.  I also invited a colleague of mine to join and share his experiences and perspectives growing up and living with racial slurs being used against him.

I was incredibly nervous at first.  The magnitude of what I was asking of the boys, the other adults and myself hit hard for me just as we began.  Anxieties ran through my head: What if no one talks?  And if they do talk, what are people going to say?  Does my staff think I’m crazy?  Or some “bleeding heart”?  What if, what if, what if…

It was an amazing morning.  The boys were respectful, compassionate, open and honest.  They spoke about feeling powerless, whether it was in the face of being victimized by the words, or hearing them and not feeling as though they could be the lone voice against what seemed an insurmountable tide of ignorance and indifference.  One boy expressed how the powerlessness of being a bystander just served to reinforce his complacency and he had been struggling with it.  Others, adults included, shared intimate and personal stories of racism, bullying and anger, that as another boy put it, “felt good to just let out”. 

We’re working towards forgiveness.   At this stage, it seemed that the cathartic process of “letting it out” was enough to satisfy them.  We’ll meet again to see if there’s a way to forgive one another for the hurt.  I think we’ve begun moving in the right direction.

At that, my friends, is why I love my job.