This weekend I responded to a call from colleagues to sign an online petition, about an issue that had been on my mind for a long time. I felt confident sharing my position on the issue, but wasn’t happy with the outcome of my action.
My “signature” generated emails to a number of people, many of whom hold positions of influence, but who are not directly able to take action on the issue. I didn’t know how broadly my “spam” emails had travelled until I began receiving responses from several people I greatly respect.
I am so embarrassed that I filled their inboxes on a weekend, and expressed my position to them via email.
Despite the fall-out from this campaign, I still respect the organization that requested my “signature”, and the colleagues whose tweets had inspired me to sign.
However, I would have preferred the option of composing individual emails to each person. And I would not have timed them to interrupt the necessary rest time on the weekend.
What have I learned? I am certainly going to be much more hesitant about signing any online petitions. And I am going to have to think more seriously about those issues that mean the most to me.
I am also going to much more sympathetic to my colleagues, who may find themselves with a much more public profile than they anticipated, due to this campaign.
Having taken a stand, I now feel compelled to become part of the solution. I cannot speak out, and then not follow through. I own my words.
So, I now must give thought to possible solutions. Stay tuned for my next blog post!
It’s back to school for me yet again. This year I’m working as a Vice Principal in an Alternative School, providing secondary school courses to students from grade 9 to 12. It’s an amazing place, and here’s why:
Safe Alternate Timetable
We have a consistent Monday to Friday timetable, rather than the hybrid model, with its two 2.5 hour classes each that run for a week and then switch with the other two for the following week. Our students attend either for two hours in person in the morning or two hours online in the afternoon, once a week for each credit. They are working independently for the balance of the week, with the goal being to complete two credits each quadmester.
This means that we have very few people in the building, with very small classes in person, so students and staff feel much less at risk of COVID exposure. And students always have the option to shift to online, should the degree of risk change.
While the goal is to complete two credits each quadmester, our students have the option to “roll over” their students into the next. Our schedule will be the same from September to June, so students can anticipate support until they complete their credits. They can even roll their courses into the following school year, if needed. Our teachers have structured their course content to provide both direct instruction during their two-hour classes, and rich supportive materials in their Virtual Learning Environment (either D2L/Brightspace or Google Classroom). So control is truly in the hands of our students.
There is really no reason why this couldn’t be the case in our traditional secondary schools, but we have strong cultural norms that function to deny flexibility to our students.
Because we have intake at multiple points in the year, and students are progressing at different paces, our teachers provide individual programs and support to each student. Our class sizes are very small, and our teachers are able to customize the program for each student.
Our students thrive in this environment, with very few returning to a traditional secondary school, but remaining with us until graduation.
All of our staff are addressed by their first names. This serves to “flatten” the organization, and puts everyone on the same level. I may be the Vice Principal, but I’m “Terry”, not Dr. Whitmell. Our Principal oversees seven alternative program sites, so she is here only a few times a week, but she is known by her first name, as is our custodian, the office staff, and our educational assistants.
This is a strong cultural indication to our new students that they are not in a traditional school, and with that realization comes hope and optimism that the rest of the school will be different as well.
In all that we do, the focus is on success. Missing are detentions, penalties, suspensions, and many of the control mechanisms of a traditional secondary school. Instead our teachers can, as our school vision says, “Inspire Success, Confidence, and Hope”. Our students may remain with us until age twenty-one, and with a small teaching staff of two dozen they are able to forge strong relationships.
We provide a range of programs, from grades 7 to 12, serving students whose needs can be academic, social, emotional or just a need for a safe place. Despite what we read in the media, students who are suspended or expelled are not abandoned by the education system. Instead they are enrolled in one of our programs, and are able to access Child and Youth Workers, Social Workers, and a range of community agencies as well.
A Safe Harbour
With all the uncertainty and fear we have been experiencing in the past eighteen months, I am thankful that I am working and contributing in such an amazing place!
My last post, Quilting and Math, was discussed this week by Doug Peterson in This Week in Ontario Edublogs, and with Chey, Pav and Stephen on VoicEd Radio. They made connections to other types of needlework, and they inspired me to look at my own projects for more connections to mathematics.
I’ve been crocheting (aka “hooking”) since I was about twelve. It appealed to me in the same way that Bach and ballet appealed to me: structured, beautiful, and satisfying.
My first crocheting projects were “granny squares”, which were very popular in the 1970’s. They begin with a central ring, into which you stitch clusters of three double crochet stitches, separated by single chain stitches. Here’s an afghan that I made in university for a boyfriend, who broke up with me as I was working on it. I decided to use it as my bedspread in residence, and it has travelled with me since.
You can see, in this detailed image, how there are four clusters in the first round, eight in the second, twelve in the third, and so on. The corners can be one to three chains, depending on how tight you crochet, and how flat you need your fabric to lay.
Here’s a baby afghan, made from one very large granny square:
By combining more than three double crochets in a cluster it is possible to create variations on the granny square, as seen in this city block pattern:
You don’t have to make squares when you work from a central ring. You can add chains, and other stitches, and create shapes borrowed from botany:
Some crochet projects begin with a foundation chain, and then proceed in rows. These rows can then be made to “zigzag”, through the addition of clusters of stitches at the “zig”, and then skipping stitches on the “zag”.
These afghans were stitched in continuous rows. The pink variegated afghan is sets of single crochets, and was made by my grandmother in the early 1970’s. The green stripes are half-double crochets, done in the back loop of the stitch to create a ribbed effect. The look of the “zigzag” is determined by the stitch height, with single crochet being the shortest, and double crochet the tallest. If you look closely you can see small triangular voids that are formed as the rows pivot.
You can also crochet in rows where you always begin at the same side, and cut the yarn at each end to create a fringe. In this case the pattern is based upon single crochet stitches, with double crochet stitches that extend down to previous rows to create the hearts. This technique layers stitches on top of those behind, creating a texture that is very unforgiving if you mis-count your stitches!
It’s also possible to create a mobius strip, by joining the foundation row of chains with a twist, and then crocheting a single spiraling row:
Working in the round is fun, and it even allows you to create three-dimensional works:
It’s fun to play with crochet in the round to create hats. Check out my son’s TikTok videos, where he explains how to create a wizard’s hat. Here’s Part 1:
I also like crocheting in layers, so that you get a different look on either side of the afghan:
Your building blocks are chains, single crochet, half-double crochet, and double crochet. The chains are wider than they are high, and create thin strands, or are the foundation into which you work your next stitches. Single crochet stitches are the closest to square, so you could imagine that you are adding small cubes. Half-double stitches are almost twice as high as they are wide. And double crochet stitches can stretch to three times higher than they are wide. These last two stitches are also “thicker” at the top, so several of them can be stitches into the same foundation stitch, and then curve around a corner, or create a cluster that begins to look like a trapezoid.
If you put chains between stitches you begin to get a lacy effect, and can create patterns of stitches and gaps. I have given away all of my filet crochet projects, so I don’t have any pictures to share. However, they can be designed in a similar way to the pixel images we create on computers, or on paper using grids. If you want to learn how to do this, check out the Spruce Crafts.
Since crochet work involves only a single tool (hook) and a yarn, it’s a great technique for beginners. Preschoolers can learn to chain, and love making long strings. Older kids can easily learn row-based patterns, or simple granny squares. There are lots of tutorials on YouTube, and free patterns on Ravelry.
Because of its stitch structure, and the ability for several stitches to be made into a single foundation stitch, it’s a great way to illustrate concepts, and here are just a few examples from YouTube:
“In this strand, students analyse the properties of shapes – the elements that define a shape and make it unique – and use these properties to define, compare, and construct shapes and objects, as well as to explore relationships among properties. Students begin with an intuition about their surroundings and the objects in them, and learn to visualize objects from different perspectives. Over time, students develop an increasingly sophisticated understanding of size, shape, location, movement, and change, in both two and three dimensions. They understand and choose appropriate units to estimate, measure, and compare attributes, and they use appropriate tools to make measurements. They apply their understanding of the relationships between shapes and measurement to develop formulas to calculate length, area, volume, and more.”
In addition to the obvious spatial skills, students can also estimate yardage required for a project, calculate yardage in a ball of yarn based upon weight, and scale patterns to fit. I’m sure that you will find many other applications, if you embark on crochet in your classroom.
And if all else fails, a crochet hook and yarn is the perfect fidget toy in a classroom. It is quiet, you can crochet out of sight under the desk, and it can result in beautiful works of art.
I believe I could continue to write for days on this topic…. so I’ll pause now. If you think mathematically while you “hook”, please share in the comments below.
We’ve all heard about the connection between mathematics and music, and much of my life has been proof of this. I never thought of myself as much of a visual artist, but mathematics has been the basis of much of my enjoyment of cross-stitch, needlepoint, crochet, knitting and quilting.
During COVID, this interest blossomed. I began working with numerical sequences as well as exploration of the golden ratio. That resulted last spring in a quilt that features a logarithmic wave on one side, and sets of golden ratio “rectangles” on the reverse:
I designed the golden ratio side, and my son helped me with a table of logarithmic values in Excel, to make the best use of one “jelly roll” of print fabric to fit a Queen-size quilt. I tried out both “walking foot” machine quilting for the stripes and long curves on the logarithmic side, and “free motion quilting” for the spirals through the golden ratios. I love having a reversible quilt, and it’s kept me warm all winter with its wool batting.
My next challenge was to combine my daughter’s love of Fibonacci sequences with her social justice advocacy. I had two “jelly rolls” to work with, with 22 rainbow colours. And here’s the result:
This quilt was machine pieced and then hand-quilted. I could have chosen to machine quilt, since the quilting is very simple “stitch in the ditch”, but I needed the meditative process this spring as to balance out my long days online as Principal. As the weather became warmer it was more difficult to sit under the quilt, so it was July before I was able to bind and complete.
Yesterday I went looking for more challenges, but was hoping for something that wouldn’t take months to complete. I have enjoyed playing with “disappearing” patterns, but had not actually constructed any yet. This is a technique of piecing a simple square, and then cutting it into quarters or ninths, and sewing it together with the pieces rotated. So I tried out the “disappearing hourglass” pattern. You create it by sewing all the way around a pair of squares, cutting them on the diagonal, resewing them into an hourglass shape, and then cutting again into nine-patches.
What do you think?
These were both machine pieced and quilted, so they worked up quickly, and make a bright pillow for my sunroom. They each began with a 10″ square from a “layer cake”, so I have 40 more possible “disappearing” squares to construct. If I can find enough background fabric for the contrast to these wonderful Kaffe Fassett prints I might just make this my next “mathematical” quilt.
It’s the first week of July, and perhaps a little early for our teachers to begin planning for September.
But, before the planning for September begins, I am hoping that I can plant a few seeds to help teachers move away from grades and marks, and towards a model of feedback-based assessment. Here are a few suggestions to prepare for this process:
Begin with the curriculum documents, and list all of the main standards, or overall expectations.
Rewrite in Student-Friendly Language
This is a task that will be most valuable if done with your students, so begin be re-writing a few as models to use in September. You may choose to re-write all of the standards or expectations, but your students will buy in more fully if they have a voice in the process. These could be printed, and then cut into sections. Or you might put them on “post-its”: either physical, or within Jamboard.
Re-arrange your standards or expectations, grouping them in to related clusters. You may be able to label your groupings, and perhaps even write an over-arching expectation or goal. Prepare to facilitate this same process with your students; don’t assume that their groupings will be the same as yours. Remember, your goal is to have them invested in their learning, so try this process out for yourself, but leave the real work for your class in September.
Determine Evidence of Learning
For each group, decide what might be used as evidence of successful achievement of the expectation, standard, or goal. And then list both the task criteria (what will need to be done) and the achievement criteria (what knowledge, understanding and skills will be demonstrated). These criteria can then be used as the basis for feedback, single-point rubrics, or four-point rubrics.
Plan the Flow
Order your groupings in such a way that one leads to the next, and supports the skills and knowledge necessary for progress. Consider reporting periods, and ensure that you have paced your groupings and built in conferencing time so that you will have a mark to put on report cards, if required in your jurisdiction.
Bonus: Connect it all with a Theme
When I was in grade 11, our English teacher structured our course around the theme of “Love”. She was able to connect our study of “that Scottish play” to a poetry unit on ballads, and tease out references to “Love” in almost all of our readings. I still remember how eager we were to talk about “Love” (and then, of course, “Sex”) and make connections between our readings and our current, teenaged lives.
As I designed our first semester of “Introduction to Information and Communications Technology”, which was offered within the Ontario Business Studies curriculum I looked for a unifying theme that would inspire our grade 9 students to continue within the business program. So, we took a course that was heavy on technical skills, and united all the units through the creation of a “Business Plan”. Our students did Internet research to decide on a business. They built an Access database of computer equipment to equip their new business. They designed a style sheet, and then implemented their style in both Word and Publisher. A company logo was developed in a graphics application, and then converted to work both in print and on the web. Their financial projections were developed in Excel. They developed business websites, to promote their new business. And they created PowerPoint presentations to convince their class VCs to invest in their new business.
You may have a theme in mind, or your students may be able to see new themes as they work through the process of rewriting the expectations and standards in the first few days of class. Be prepared to (happily) throw all of your planning and hard work out the window if your students come up with something better. You never know what they might create, and how it might make your semester much more fun for all of you.
Over the past two weeks I have been engaged in the process of application to a position at a Faculty of Education at one of our Ontario universities. It has been a very different experience than any other educational job application I’ve had, and has given me a great deal to think about.
The process began with what was called the “long short list” interview, which was 30 minutes long and conducted in a very traditional manner: five questions presented verbally, with a “hand wave” when I was nearing the end of the allotted time. I was invited to pose any questions I might have at the end.
When I made the “short list”, the process was very different. For our second interview I was asked for a 20-minute presentation to share my approach to a concept from one of the courses. This presentation was open to all faculty, and there were two attendees who weren’t on the committee who viewed my Zoom presentation, and could participate in the 10-minute Q&A that followed. Immediately after this session was an additional 30-minute interview, much like the first. And after a break I met with the Dean for a 20-minute conversation, which was unstructured and quite enjoyable.
I had provided the names of five references, of which three would be contacted. And then, based upon my CV, two interviews, and the references, I was told that a decision would be reached.
Ten days after the second interview I received an email indicating that I had not been successful, and sharing that “The APC was very impressed with your leadership background and your teaching skills. A key differentiator was that the candidate who was offered the position has worked in multiple university contexts in full-time roles and has a significant record of scholarship in curriculum studies.”
It is obvious that I cannot remedy my lack of full-time university teaching experience; I have been a K-12 teacher, leader and administrator since 1983, with only maternity leaves and my Ph.D. research as gaps in service. As a late-in-life academic (Masters in 2007, Ph.D. in 2020), my record of scholarship is sparse. And, as my colleagues will know, running a school leaves very little time for scholarship!
This area of scholarship is certainly one that I can augment, and so my goals this summer will be to look for opportunities to write. I have been told that I should be able to turn my dissertation into two or three articles, so I will look for some assistance to help me clarify how this might work. I am also going to look for colleagues to collaborate with, hopefully within their research at their institutions. And I will continue to speak at conferences, meet with teams, and support teachers directly where possible.
Making K-12 Interviews Better
One key learning for me from this process is the value of the second interview’s “presentation” component. By having to examine the curriculum, design an approach, and share my “lesson plan” with the committee, I was able to solidify my understanding of the course, and begin to prepare a framework that would have been very useful, had I been successful.
Perhaps, instead of reinstating Reg 274, we could work on a process for candidates to our teaching positions that includes “real teaching”? The presentation process was much closer to the real experience of teaching than is a traditional interview. And since I was given clear criteria, I embedded within my presentation what would have been the answers to many questions that would have been asked in the interview. Since I had time to prepare, as I would as a classroom teacher, I shared who I was and what I could do in a clearer, more effective and efficient manner.
I’m also wondering about the disconnect between the world of universities, and the reality of K-12 education. While “curriculum studies” is valuable work, I am not convinced that studying curriculum is better than delivering it. And I certainly do not believe that years of study are better than decades of supporting teachers as they work with the curriculum to plan, instruct, assess and evaluate. And the “action research” that every teacher undertakes each day in their classroom is in some cases more relevant than the research conducted by external parties. Perhaps this should become part of our criteria, so that we better prepare our young teachers to consider a move to higher education later in their careers.
I am not going to be able to change academia. But perhaps I can work with my K-12 colleagues to enhance our selection process, and do our best job to match teacher candidates to our teaching positions. The next time I am part of a hiring team, I will look to incorporate an aspect of the process from higher education, and “see our teachers in action”.
Our students will win, our schools will win, and our teachers will win.
The 2020-21 school year has been a year of growth for me, and for the teachers I lead. In the fall I had the privilege to work with 150 Math/Science/Tech teachers, as part of a huge Online Secondary School. And then in February I joined a smaller K-12 Virtual School, with students engaging both synchronously and asynchronously.
Last week our K-8 teachers gathered, and compared notes for the year. And here’s what they told us worked for them:
Our teachers made use of a range of technologies to connect to families, and maintain student/teacher/parent communication. Our teachers provided weekly communication schedules, built community through circles, and encouraged their families to share images and videos of their children’s learning.
With a minimum of five hours a day in front of a computer, our teachers became experts in chair yoga, and implemented multiple monitors and drawing tablets into their toolkit.
Particularly in our primary grades, our teachers became event planners: Dinosaur Tea Party, Snow Castle Challenge, Jump Rope for Heart and Tinker Tuesdays were all planned and scheduled this year.
Rather than isolating during COVID, our families and teachers forged deeper connections and achieved greater academic gains than they had in in-person classes. The use of large-group, small-group, and 1:1 interaction resulted more focused learning within a supportive and friendly learning environment. Our teachers found they had more time to work 1:1 with students, and appreciated the ability to develop language skills without the interference of masks. Their lesson planning became more creative, and was presented in a structured format that allowed for improved support from EAs, other teachers, and family members. Students with special education needs were more easily integrated into the activities of the class, and were able to safely learn.
As a result of the change in environment, our teachers had to increase their creativity and flexibility, and they found that it paid off in huge improvements for their students. They used humour with their students, and teamwork with their parents. Because they were limited in the classroom materials available to their students in their homes, they differentiated tasks and were “wowed” by the results.
Teaching Strategies that Worked
One-on-one meetings and instruction
Socializing and Sharing at the start of each day
Real-time assessment and feedback
Playtime structured to allow students to play together
Asynchronous sessions, with “expect a teacher call”
Chrome Music Lab
Secret Stories Better Alphabet Song
Virtual Field Trips – Toronto Zoo, Art Gallery of Ontario, etc.
Use of “spotlight” in Teams to focus on students when they speak
Office 365 tools
Mote – to record audio on slides
Cool Chrome extensions
PE with JOe the Body Coach
Apps: Teach your Monster to Read, Lalio, Kodables
Use of Breakout Groups
Dictate and Immersive Reader
Edsby poll to take attendance
Math Antics – YouTube
Use of Learning Management System – especially useful for split grades
Awards in the Learning Management System
Sharing of Learning Management System “shells”
Pre-recorded “How To” videos
The impact of teacher learning this year will only be able to be measured once they return to their physical classrooms in the fall. There is little from the lists above that cannot become part of our teachers’ toolkits as they move forward, so I am anticipating even more positive results for the 2021-22 school year.
My prediction that parents might now wish to opt for continued remote learning for their children was absolutely wrong. Our experiences this year have shown parents that they need teachers in classrooms even more than they need teachers online. Our successes this year were as a result of extraordinary efforts on the part of our teachers combined with intensive support from families at home. As parents and caregivers return to their in-person work, they do so with a greater appreciation for the work of our educators, and a strong value for the in-person interaction that our classrooms provide.
Remote learning will now be added to our collection of supports for students, but I believe it will not become the preferred mode of learning for most of our kids. A safe, supportive classroom, with access to technology tools to allow for access to resources, thinking tools, and media to share learning, is the best option for our students as we move forward.
This week our Ontario elementary teachers are concluding weeks of reflection as they gather assessment data and craft report card comments. And as they do so, I’m certain that they are reflecting on all that they have learned as they tackled remote learning. What will they be keeping, to use in their “in-person” classroom in the fall?
Today I’m going to “guess”, since I’m their Principal, and have only an outside view of their classrooms. Next week our teachers are meeting to share, and I’ll write again, to report what they shared and to evaluate and revise this list.
Here’s what I think that our teachers will be looking to implement for September 2021:
Learning Management System
Our teachers make use of two Learning Management Systems: Edsby and D2L. They have a choice, since neither provides all the content organization, parent communication, assessment tracking, and mark reporting functions in one single tool. But what they both do very well is keep content organized and students on track. I believe that our teachers will continue the use of these tools, and will be better able to support students beyond the classroom.
Student-to-Student Digital Collaboration Tools
Since our kids haven’t been able to work together in person, our teachers have developed a range of collaboration tools in order to facilitate connection between students. The chats that begin in class often continue after the Teams meeting ends. The collaborative slide stack is added to and referred to by students at any time after the class session. And shared documents remain as working documents, with no need for additional notes to be taken.
Our students have come to this year’s learning from many different circumstances, which has resulted in very uneven progress. Our teachers have had to scaffold and support more than ever, and they’ve become experts at quickly meeting students where they are and helping them move forward. When September begins our teachers will meet students whose learning might have been interrupted by technological challenges, whose families were unable to support their work online while working full-time themselves, along with those who have thrived online with strong family support.
Transparency and Structure
Classes online require clearly communicated agendas, with chunking of time to allow for students to manage 225 minutes in front of a computer. The benefits of this clear structure have been seen in the excellent work submitted by some students, and in their positive outlook, even on a sunny day in June! Scheduling has been necessary in order to ensure that teachers and students arrive in the same space online at the same time. And class materials have had to provided in a format the allow even our JK kiddos to access them. Bringing this organization back to the classroom will be supportive of all our learners.
Greater Professional Networking
With our teachers having to connect via email, phone and Teams this year, they have developed strong networks of support that will live beyond COVID. They have reaped the rewards to working collaboratively, and will continue to work together in support of improved teaching practice.
We meet as a team next week, where our educators will share what has been working for them. I will listen, and compare their list to mine.
This morning’s walk allowed me to listen to Part II of the conversation between Priya Parker and Brené Brown entitled A Meeting Makeover. And something that Priya Parker shared resonated when I heard it, and then returned to me throughout my day: Protect your Source Work .
“I am continuing to develop my mastery in my craft, and then I can write about it and read about it and talk to others about it, but if I’m not close to my source work, I’m going to shrivel up and I’m going to become pretty boring”.
What does this mean for leadership in Education? For me that means I continue the work that supports my purpose: teaching, hiring, mentoring and learning. If I get caught up in management I lose my focus on doing what is best for kids. So I need to hone my craft by teaching each time I meet with my teachers, revisiting my values and vision when hiring new teachers to my team, mentoring my teachers through Annual Learning Plan and Teacher Performance Appraisal processes, and always, always, always learning.
As a Principal there aren’t a lot of opportunities to teach in the traditional meaning of the word. However, at least once a month, we get the opportunity to lead a staff meeting, and so mine are designed more like lesson plans than meeting agendas. I try out new tools and strategies, embed new technologies, and try to model processes that I hope to see followed with our students. I also look for teaching opportunities outside my school, both formal and informal, in order to continue to grow and develop my skills.
When we bring a new teacher into our system, we have begun a relationship that will last 30 or more years. So we have great responsibility, both to our students and to our new teachers. My hiring process includes providing candidates with the questions ahead of time, so that they can prepare (as they would each day for their classes) and I can be confident that I will be able to make a decision based upon all the possible data. And I begin building a relationship with each candidate I meet, ensuring that they hear my hiring decision from me, not from their friends, and offering to provide feedback to help them learn and improve. I have often met great teachers who weren’t a great fit for my vacancy, but were perfect for one at my colleague’s school, and I am proud to have supported them to that destination.
Once teachers are in our school, we then can bring our experience and skills to the process of mentoring them. Each year is an opportunity to meet and discuss their Annual Learning Plan. Sometimes the plan isn’t directly related to their teaching career: one of my teachers expressed a goal to get married and start a family and, though I told I couldn’t help her much with that, did achieve her goal! Every five years our teachers get a chance to share their practice through the Teacher Performance Appraisal process, and to have us observe and confirm their strengths and achievements. When we get to know our teachers we can network and connect, supporting them to broaden their perspectives and deepen their knowledge.
If student learning is our goal, then we have to keep ourselves in learning mode as well. Curiosity and wonder must remain constant, even as we work through the paperwork and administrivia that seems to fill our day. I’m currently taking an Additional Qualification course, as readers of this blog will have recognized by previous posts. But the greatest source of new learning is found within my work: my teachers and their students. Each classroom observation, each email or phone conversation with a teacher, and each problem that presents itself is a gift of learning.
I’m protecting my source work by continuing to teach, hire, mentor and learn. And I love it!
My morning walk is my time to listen to podcasts, and one morning last week I was captivated by a conversation (part 1 of 2) between Brené Brown and Priya Parker entitled “How We Return and Why it Matters“.
Priya Parker is the author of “The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters“. In this conversation, she and Brené Brown discuss how the world is going back to work, and what that might look like. As a K-12 Principal, it’s also been a topic at the forefront of my thinking, and I was struck by how similar our concerns are.
Access and Equity
Priya Parker and Brené Brown discuss the possibility that a return to in-person work might inadvertently be punishing those who choose to continue to work from home. Priya Parker suggests that “if not everybody is in the room, is it important to have two facilitators or two hosts, an in-person host and a hybrid host?” She recommends that in order to not exclude those working from home, perhaps everyone has to take the meeting through their computers in separate rooms, so as to not limit power and access.
In our K-12 educational context, this is exactly the concern of our educators, who worry that a hybrid model with a single teacher will shift the focus to the teacher from the students. And they share a concern that students at home and students in the classroom will not have equitable access to resources, to the attention of the teacher, and to opportunities to collaborate and learn together.
Priya Parker shared a story about a parent who tried to protect guests to her child’s party by providing t-shirts that indicated their vaccination status. In an effort to allow her guests to make informed choices, she was inadvertently creating a caste system.
As our children ages 12 to 18 begin to be vaccinated, we will be entering our middle and secondary schools in September with both students and teachers who may be fully or partially vaccinated. I know that there will be students who will use this as an argument to push back against cohorting, masking, social distancing, and use of sanitizing processes. And I fear that those who still do not feel safe heading into our schools due to personal or family circumstances will run the risk of being excluded, both socially and physically.
In business we shake hands, and in schools there is often a culture of hugging and other forms of physical connection. Elbow bumps, bowing, and air “high fives” may need to be developed as a form of connection when we meet in person. There is a risk of “micro-moments of perceived rejection” as we develop our sense of connection, and consider physical proximity as a measure of how much or how little we are “liked”.
When working online we are glued to our seats, not moving. We cannot be moving around the room and still able to maintain connection through our cameras. Will a year of inactivity result in students who are no longer comfortable moving around the classroom, interacting with each other? Will teachers be driven to return to the 1960’s model of the teacher at the podium, lecturing to the class?
Principles and Policies
The principle behind the the t-shirts was caring, but the policy of providing shirts served to exclude. In order to get to meaningful policy we need to aim for policy that reflects people’s “deepest experiences”, through a participatory process so that people “feel that the policy is the best way to coordinate their work”.
As I write this blog post, some Ontario school boards have communicated an intent to deliver program through hybrid classrooms for the 2021-2022 school year. This policy decision has been made, often without any experience of the hybrid model. And for boards where hybrid models are in place, little attention may have been paid to the genuine experiences of the teachers, students and their families.
Policies provide the “handrails and guardrails” that Brené Brown says need to be designed from “power with and power to, not power over”. However a policy of hybrid instruction provides neither handrails, which would be created through successful models and exemplars, nor guardrails, which could only be formed from the experiences of our teachers.
Rather than impose a policy, we need to consider ourselves to be “in beta”, and continue to be creative and innovate as we remain in this period of great transition. Imposition of policy as an act of power can only be destructive to our education system, and to our students.
I look forward to listening to Part 2 of this podcast, and to continue my thinking about how we gather, be it online or eventually in person.
I am also interested in how the plan for hybrid learning will be framed by some of our school boards as anything other than a power and money move. In the long run, I cannot see how we can defend a system that creates worse outcomes for all participants. Will we hear from parents who want in-person-only classes, so that the teacher can provide individual attention to their children? Will parents begin demanding “paper packages” so that they don’t have to deal with technology at home? Will teachers leave the profession, burnt out by the demands of teaching two different groups at the same time?
As a Principal of a fully virtual school I have seen how effectively each of the three remote models: fully synchronous instruction, asynchronous instruction via an effective Learning Management System, and remote learning with well-design print materials, can be for different student needs. But I cannot imagine how a teacher can do their best in all three models while simultaneously providing a rich, in-person classroom experience. We have the potential to develop the “handrails and guardrails” that we need, but not with an imposed policy based upon money and power.