PD and Collaboration Through Inquiry with @ballantynedj

18 Oct

For me, the last few weeks have been phenomenal with respect to collaboration. I have been privileged to work with passionate educators who push the boundaries and are not satisfied with the status quo. The collaborations bring out my inner creativity and motivation to push my ideas even further.

Currently I am teaching a pilot course at Cameron that combines ENG 3UI and HSP (Introduction to psychology, sociology, and anthropology). I see the same students for two periods a day and the courses are completely integrated. In many cases I use the HSP content to meet English expectations as many of my students are loving studying psychology, sociology, and anthropology.

In teaching the HSP course, I am collaborating daily with Dan Ballantyne at Bluevale and our partnership has really pushed my thinking. Our planning follows the inquiry model as well as encourages student voice and choice. We are lucky in that our classes are at the same time of day as we have been able to host Google Hangouts between our classes as well as share discussions in our combined Google Classroom. I think my students have really benefited from collaborating with his students, but also getting to hear his perspective as compared to mine.

I am also blessed to work in a school where our administration is extremely supportive of professional development and outside the box thinking and was granted permission to visit Dan’s class. In terms of professional development, it was hands down the best professional development I have had in a very long time. I got to observe Dan in his element and interact with his students. He very cleverly included me by asking the students to come up with strong open-ended questions to ask me to serve the purposes of a) introducing me and b) having them practice their question writing skills. We also discussed facilitating conversations and how to deepen thinking. But my favourite aspect of the day was observing how he interacted with his students. His classroom is one of deep reflection and warmth which is a huge reflection on his practice. I feel privileged to have seen him in action as observing each other is not something happens often enough in our profession.

When we initially decided to collaborate, Dan came up with the outstanding idea of having our classes write a textbook for the HSP course. Its target audience will be students taking the HSP course and include video, links to current relevant articles, as well as student writing and reflection. This past week we have embarked upon the initial stages of writing our online textbook. Dan’s class has started a glossary while my students are writing the introductions to each of the three disciplines. It is an ongoing task with multiple opportunities for authentic audience and peer feedback via Google Hangouts and virtual discussions. The students also have accountability as if they don’t complete their responsibilities, they are not only letting their peers in the class down, but also the other class. I am really excited to see the journey our students take in writing this textbook, but also their creative end product.

In considering the past seven weeks of school, I am more passionate than ever about education and improving our current model. I am blessed to have found individuals that push my thinking and support my creativity. I feel like I have grown so much as a learner in the last few weeks and I am thankful to be surrounded by such exemplary colleagues.

Inquiry Based Learning

17 Sep

We are now into the third week of school and I feel that this is the best start to a school year in my career. I’m working with amazing colleagues, I have awesome students, and I am living out many aspects of my pedagogical beliefs.

I am also learning. This is the first year I’m using the inquiry method as a main teaching strategy and I love it! It allows me to differentiate on a deeper level as well as watch the connections my students are drawing from our class and the world around them.

I am collaborating quite closely with my colleague, Scott Kemp (@kempscott) on the grade ten applied English course and we are implementing a strategy that Scott observed in a kindergarten presentation he saw last year at the WRDSB Learning Symposium. The kindergarten teachers were using “provocation” as a means of directing where the learning goes. We have translated it to our 2p classes and it has been such a great method!

We are creating a weekly theme that we are working from and using some kind of “shock” strategy to engage them and make them think. Last week my students took the idea of what we share online (by analyzing my some of my social media profiles) and connected that with the human need for attention. My role was to help facilitate the learning and thinking but the ideas all came from the students.

This week we are thinking about privacy online and the idea of who is tracking us and after watching a Ted Talk from the founder of Mozilla, we used the Chrome Extension, Disconnect, to show the students how many sites are following our every move online. They were shocked and kind of creeped out that the Huffington Post website sent 38 sites after us, but had their jaws on the floor when after visiting the Toronto Sun website, over 100 were trying to follow our online activity. It was incredible to watch some of their reactions. From there, we created a list of research questions that we will further refine tomorrow and then they will be heading onto to the web where they will be looking for answers to our question(s). We will then be reflecting on their research and considering their learning skills.

In reflecting on the last two weeks, I have made the following observations:
– the learning is relevant to their lives (I’m sure some of them went from my class to lunch today and talked about this with their peers)
– the learning is student directed
– I am coaching them -> helping with creating deep and meaningful questions, encouraging them to think critically, helping them enhance their researching skills, and working one on one with each student every day on some aspect of his or her tasks
– we are spending a lot of time thinking about our learning
– we are reflecting (a major aspect of the English curriculum)
– I always have a plan, but I don’t always know how we are going to get to our final destination. It’s truly been a method where I have relinquished control and although many teachers find that frightening, I find it invigorating. We are learning together and I love seeing my students reach the goals I set for them and as is the case in the last two weeks, really impress me with their abilities to think critically and make connections with the world in which they live.

It is truly exciting :)

Understanding Introverts

17 Sep

I, myself, am an introvert. I’m not loud, large social events make me anxious (even supervising at assemblies can cause my anxiety levels to rise), I definitely need some quiet time to recharge after socializing with others (don’t get me wrong, I love being around people and talking/learning/laughing with others- I just need the “me” time after), and I spend a lot of time in my head thinking and reflecting. The popularity and focus on introverts in the media (like Susan Cain and her research) have really helped me understand myself which in turn has helped me understand and empathize with the introverted students in my classes.

The other day I read a Huffington Post Education article by Katie Hurley called “Understanding Introverts in the Classroom” and it really resonated with me. She gives advice as to how make your classroom introvert friendly to best accommodate those learners in the class, but the largest connection I drew from the article was how she described her son as introverted but not shy like everyone seems to think. This is true of me as once you get to know me, I actually talk quite a bit, but it’s especially true of my daughters. Both girls are introverts, however, they aren’t shy. They need to feel comfortable in a situation before they are willing to share. Also, if you catch either of them when they are over-stimulated, you aren’t going to get anything out of them because they are mentally exhausted. Once they are comfortable with those around them, they are very willing to share their thoughts, feels, ideas and numerous questions, but for some reason, not being outgoing is seen as shy.

It’s bothering me as Lexie has now started to use it to define herself. I worry that she’s too young to be internalizing such an idea. I don’t want that to restrict her as I want her to be comfortable in her own skin. It’s hard enough to be a girl and I don’t want her to be defining herself based on what others say. In a way it saddens me that at four years old, she has already learned this aspect about our culture.

Goals (A professional and personal reflection)

5 Sep

One of my goals this year is to write along with my students. I feel it is so important to model what I want them to be doing and one aspect I haven’t done in the past is blog when I’ve given them time to express their ideas. Of course if they are requiring my assistance, I will help, but I think it’s very important for them to see that writing to express oneself is an important skill. Also, it will force me to get out of my head and collaborate more which is another goal I have for this year.

A third goal I have for myself is to be more organized and streamlined my life. I honestly had no idea how busy it is to be a working mom of two little kids. Kudos to you parents of more than two kids out there as I really don’t know how you do it. In terms of organization I spent a lot of time over the summer researching how other moms and families keep everything running smoothly. What I learned is that there are so many awesome strategies out there and I then spent a great deal of time thinking about what would work for my personality and the other members of my household.

Here is what I am doing:

1. Meal Plan – I bought a dry erase calendar and planned out all our meals for the month of September.

2. Freezer Meals – I got together with my awesome neighbour and spent a morning putting crock pot meals together then threw them in the freezer.

3. Freezer List – I bought two dry erase boards and put one on my fridge and one on my freezer. On each, I wrote what the freezer contains so that I always know what I have on hand.


4. Paper Planner – yes, I went old school and carry a paper planner in my purse. It is more reliable than my iPhone 3Gs at the moment…

5. Google Calendar – everything that I put into my paper planner also goes into my GCal and I’ve set it up that I get an email reminder of the event. When we upgrade our phones, I plan to sync my calendar with my husband’s so we will always know each other’s (and the kids’) schedules.

6. Lexie – I also am trying to incorporate Lexie more into our family organizational strategies. She is 4 and enjoys helping out around the house so we encourage it. She knows that every day the dishwasher needs to be unloaded and she helps. She has also started to help fold laundry which I think is great. One thing she doesn’t do well with is change, and we have also started prepping her for things that are happening. At the very least, we chat every night at dinner about what is coming up in the next few days and we also try to give her some reminders so that she can acclimatize herself to the various situations. 

I know this is a departure from my typical thinking about education, but I’m wanting to change the focus of my blog from education to more of the idea of learning and this has been part of my learning over the past few months…



A Tribute to my Dad on his Retirement from Education

24 Jun

As a parent of young children, I’ve spent a lot of time reading books and articles (too much time if you ask my mother!) and although many theories change and evolve over time, one constant idea is that “a parent is a child’s first teacher.” So how lucky am I that one of my first teachers was my dad? 

My dad is amazing but everyone in this room already knows this fact. I’m going to share my observations about how my dad came to be such an amazing educator as well as human being. 

Some of my first memories involve my dad and his love for teaching. I remember how my dad used to come home from school so energized and excited by what had happened in his classroom that day. He would have such a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment from something his students said or wrote or presented or thought which made it more than obvious how much he loved his job. Of course as in any job, some days aren’t the greatest which caused him to reflect. As many of you know, my dad isn’t a loud, boisterous man and I remember many days watching my dad think and reflect.

It was through this reflection that I feel my dad went through an evolution. Before I got into high school, my dad would let me help him mark. Of course I was only doing the true/false or m/c questions but he would sometimes share and discuss the answers with me. One discussion was very poignant for me. I remember dad showing me how some students didn’t follow his directions and wrote outside the lines for which he docked them marks. In more recent discussions dad has reflected on how he was so strict about such little things and in fact what we should be doing is encouraging our students to think outside the box which demonstrates to me, how much time my dad spends reflecting and thinking.

His views about education have changed and evolved throughout the years and I have spent some time contemplating why dad has gone through such a radical change. I have looked for the catalyst and have come up with a couple theories. 

The first is that dad has two polar opposite children. I loved school and was excited by book style learning, but Ben was not. Ben has always been an outside the box thinker and loathed the way school “was done.” (unless he was in Mr. Robiliard’s music room where being an outside the box thinker was encouraged if not mandatory) I’m sure it must have been very frustrating to have two such completely different views on school (when you work in education) and yet again, I’m sure my dad reflected on why it was not engaging for Ben when he obviously had a passion for learning as demonstrated by his multiple interests outside the classroom.

The next catalyst came from when my dad went into administration. I know as a vice principal and principal, dad probably had thousands of conversations with students who had been sent to the office and I’m sure two very common themes that emerged were students were not engaged in the learning and that they didn’t feel what they were learning is relevant to real life. 

The final catalyst, I’m sure, was that my dad is a learner at heart. My dad discovered the education guru, Will Richardson, as well as many others and his views on education really evolved into the forward thinker that he is today. Dad spends much of his free time reading current relevant articles and books related to education and he is always striving to learn more.

My dad and I have always had deep meaningful conversations but when I went into education, the conversations moved from father to daughter to teacher to student. Over the past nine years, my dad had taught me many valuable lessons about being an educator and I would like to share a few.

The first is my dad’s main classroom management strategy and that is to have an engaging and meaningful lesson plan. Dad was the kind of teacher that liked to shake things up and so he had a variety of activities planned for any given day so that he could engage all the students in his classroom, not just the keeners.

But, the second lesson always superseded the first- if a teachable moment arises, take it. Go off on the tangent and explore that realm especially if the students are engaged in the topic and using their critical thinking skills.

The third and most powerful message that my dad taught me was to know the students in your classroom. Take the time to talk each student about how they feel about the class but also what they like to do outside school. Treat them like human beings and they will (most of the time) treat you with kindness and dignity. And in my experience, he is absolutely right. One comment that I regularly hear from my students is that they like how I am real with them and I attribute that quality to my dad.

Now that I am established in my career, our relationship has become that of also colleague to colleague and learner to learner. Even though his experience in education is triple that of mine, our conversations are that of equals and it’s an amazing aspect of our relationship. I think it’s wonderful that I can teach my dad new things and in fact, I think he’s secretly proud of that as well.

In considering my dad as a human being, he is one of the greatest men I know. (I am definitely biased in that regard, but all of you here will support my opinion I’m sure) He is one of the most kind, caring and compassionate people I’ve ever met and I’m sure many of his former students and colleagues would say the same. One quality that he possesses that not many people know about because he is very discrete is his generosity. Many people see his outward generosity through the vast time commitment he makes to everything he does in life, but monetarily, dad is the most generous person I know. He is always donating to charity with most recently being the cancer society, but I know my dad has donated countless dollars to students in need. My dad is a true champion for children and now that I’m a parent, I understand why my dad would buy lunches for kids who didn’t have any food in the house or keep snacks in his office for those whose parents couldn’t afford food or just didn’t care enough to have adequate amounts of food in the house.

Dad also has the amazing quality of being able to see the good in everyone. He would often tell me that the ‘bad’ kids are really just misunderstood or have the potential to be really amazing people, but yet their circumstances prevent them from demonstrating their true selves. The reason that my dad knew this about those students was because he had authentic, genuine conversations about life, not just about bad behaviour, missed assignments or failed tests. Even as a vice principal and principal, dad would take the time to get to know those ‘bad’ kids to find their hidden talents or qualities. I recently had one of my good friends comment that he respects how I am able to see the goodness in everyone and that comes purely from my dad.

Finally, my dad is one of the most supportive people I know. He has gone out of his way so many times to ensure the happiness of his family, students, colleagues and everyone in his life even when it is inconvenient or at a personal cost. He wants the best for everyone and I could not be more blessed to have that champion in my corner.

So congratulations, dad, on a wonderful and satisfying career in education. And even though you are done with education, in a formal manner, I know that you will continue to inspire others to be lifelong learners and I am excited to observe and be a part of the new learning journeys you embark upon in this next phase of your life. On a side note, I also know that Lexie and Cali are excited that when Grammie sporadically comes to babysit during the school year, that Grampy will be coming too.

So please raise a glass with me to toast dad ; a true inspiration in education, learning and life.

22,700 Education Jobs Lost #osstf #etfo #onpoli

11 Jun

The election is now less than two days away and I am nervous. Politics is usually not one of my focuses, however, if Hudak wins, my career is in jeopardy. I am quite certain I would be one of the 22,700 people to lose his or her job if the Progressive Conservatives come to power. And quite honestly, this scares me.

One of the most frustrating elements of the whole “fire 100,000 people to create 1 million jobs” is that the human element is nonexistent. I wonder if people have sat down and considered who (colleagues, neighbours, friends, family, etc.) is going to be impacted by his cuts.

As an HSP teacher, the social scientist in me is curious to see how the people of Ontario would react if actual faces of people who would be fired by the PC’s were to be on display for a day.

So here’s my experiment: I’m going to write this and include my photo with the hashtag #humanelementhudak . It would be awesome if others were to join in to promote the human element of this whole platform.

Thank you in advance,


An open letter…

24 May

Dear Mr. Hudak,

I’m a high school teacher in Ontario and I am deeply concerned with your plan to slash education.

I have been a teacher for eight years and I’m quite certain I would be let go if you are to come to power. The truth is that I left a contract job of five years so that I would no longer have to commute. I have two young daughters and having a fifteen minute drive to work as opposed to one hour makes an incredible difference in our family.

I love my job. I can’t fathom my life without being in the classroom and working with students on a daily basis. I’ve also worked really hard to make it to where I am today and it would be absolutely heart-breaking if my dream is shattered by you and your party.

In considering the students, your plan intends on increasing class sizes. You have done a really excellent job of keeping the truth out of the media in focusing on the elementary class sizes as opposed to secondary sizes. I currently teach a grade twelve university class of thirty-four students. They are lovely students and I really enjoy teaching them, however, I think if we had another two students, it would be a detriment to the education those students receive. I thoroughly believe in taking time to talk to students one on one and even two more takes time away from the amount of personal feedback I can give each student. At the grade twelve university level, that is a huge loss to those students.

I also teach two classes of grade ten applied English and each class has twenty-four students. With your plan to cut 9,700 “non-teaching” positions, or as we call them, educational assistants, you are really hurting these students. My educational assistant, Kim, is an integral aspect of our classroom. She works with small groups of students or one on one and the students are receiving a higher quality of education with her in the classroom. Twenty-four students at this level is wonderful and I truly love teaching these two classes, however, many of these students need additional support in order to be successful and between the two of us, we are able to help so many more students than if it was me on my own.

Another consequence of fewer EA’s would be the success rate of EQAO as students would no longer be receiving the assistance required to be successful on these standardized tests. But, the skeptic in me wonders if that is your ultimate plan as then, of course, it would be the fault of us the teachers for not doing our job…

In planning to cut educational assistants, you will also be lowering the quality of student schools produce. You see, one of the largest roles educational assistants play is that they care deeply about these students and are another positive adult role model that these students need in their lives. Depending on home lives, teachers and EA’s can be the only adult role models and by cutting them, the quality of our Ontario citizens will decrease.

I can’t stress enough how vital educational assistants are to the success of our students.

The final aspect I want to mention is that I am worried that the focus on learning is being lost in your plan. Children have an insatiable curiosity and thirst for knowledge, but with your plan, those amazing qualities are going to disappear and Ontario is going to suffer. To me, education is about encouraging the love of learning and this plan will make it very difficult to foster that love.

In closing, I know I am only one person and that this message is likely falling on deaf ears, but I believe in sharing my thoughts as we have the right to do here in Canada.

Jamie Reaburn Weir


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,016 other followers