PhD Comprehensive Exam

It’s a weekend of procrastination as I prepare for my upcoming Comprehensive Exam. This has been very productive, as I have already hit 14,000 steps on my Fitbit by mowing the lawn, and I’ve enjoyed this week’s Modern Learners Podcast (#44 with Dr. Susan Blum) which has extended my thinking about learning, schooling, policy and assessment.  One of the areas that Dr. Susan Blum and Will Richardson agree on is the value of feedback rather than marks.  And they discuss in the podcast the use of a portfolio as an alternative to traditional evaluation methods.  Despite this positive learning experience, I am not really any better prepared for my upcoming exam than I was this morning.

My Comprehensive Exam, as designed by the Department of Leadership, Higher and Adult Education for our Educational Leadership and Policy Program at OISE (Ontario Institute of Studies in Education) at the University of Toronto, is a wonderful example of the type of assessment supported by Dr. Blum and Will Richardson.

The guidelines (Comprehensive Examination Guidelines) direct the candidate to create a portfolio linking five artefacts to seven skills, and to write an original paper.  The portfolio of artefacts and reflections, and the original paper are then presented to an examining panel in a 90-minute session.  In my case, this is scheduled for next Thursday.

Here is the introduction to my portfolio:

The original paper (Terry Whitmell May 2018) focuses primarily on policy in the context of social diversity. The issues of leadership and change are referenced as they relate to the implementation of policy.  The five artifacts were chosen as representative of a similar focus, and illustrate achievement of the seven areas of knowledge, skills and abilities:

Research Design
Conducting Research
Analyzing Data
Communicating Research Results
Knowledge of the broader field of education leadership and policy
Knowledge of Major Theoretical Frameworks in the Field
Synthesizing Existing Literature
Implementation of 21st Century Competencies Requires Revolution not Renovation
Reflection 1
X
X
X
X
Gandhi Freire and Civics Education
Appendix A
Appendix B
Reflection 2
X
X
X
X
X
Survey Proposal: Use of Learning Goals & Success Criteria to Support Student Engagement and Achievement
Reflection 3
X
X
X
X
X
Classroom Assessment Practices of Early-Career Ontario Secondary School Teachers
Reflection 4
X
X
X
X
X
What Motivates Teachers to Lead Change?
Reflection 5
 
X
X
X
X
X

In my presentation, I will connect these five artifacts and the original paper to a conceptual framework that I developed while writing a literature review of 21st Century Modern Learning:

Conceptual Framework for Comprehensive Exam Presentation

As you can see, much of my work deviates from Educational Leadership and Policy, into Curriculum, Teaching and Learning, and I am seeing challenges with our current structures that separate the two.  My paper explores some of these structures, where the intent of policy results in very different outcomes once the policies are enacted in the classroom. In my conceptual framework, I see learning theory at one end, and educational policy at the other, and the framework of “Know, Do, Be, Live Together” in the middle.  If learning and policy both aligned with this simple framework, keeping the “bigger picture” in mind, we would have a much better learning environment for our students.

Teaching to Strengths – Supporting Students Living with Trauma, Violence, and Chronic Stress

Teaching to StrengthsDebbie Zacarian, Lourdes Alvarez-Ortiz and Judie Haynes have written an excellent guide for teachers and administrators that provides a rationale for a strengths-based approach, direction for teachers in their work in the classroom and strategies to support the school in its partnership with families and other community agencies.

In the first chapter, they incorporate research into positive psychology, positive youth development, neuroplasticity, and growth mindset to support the need for instructional practices to support our students.

The second chapter considers how educators can reflect on their own strengths, and then use these to support students and families living with trauma, violence, and chronic stress.

Chapters three and four focus on the classroom through teaching practices that connect academic learning to students’ personal, cultural, and world experiences while honouring what students bring to the classroom.  The practical nature of this advice, such as the critical importance of routines and predictability or the need for positive, affirming and energizing feedback, had me nodding my head in agreement.  Implementation of these within a classroom would benefit all students, not just those living with trauma, violence and stress.

Chapter five considers the families and guardians, and chapter six argues for a whole-school strengths-based approach and vision.

Whether you are a teacher hoping to make your classroom more responsive to the needs of your students, or an administrator looking to focus your work to meet all students’ needs, there’s something for you in this book.

3 Frameworks for Course Design: Life Lessons, Meaning Maps, and Textbook Tales

When designing a course based on prescribed standards or expectations, our teachers utilize Wiggins and McTighe’s “Backward Design”.  They group expectations, develop “Big Ideas”, “Enduring Understandings”, and “Essential Questions”, and then design assessment tasks that will allow their students to demonstrate achievement of these.  Their lessons scaffold and support learning, to ensure that their students are able to achieve success.

Our teachers develop a strong sense of why and what they are doing, but do their students?

When teachers are able to make connections, and put the learning in context, students are able to do so as well.  My grade 11 English teacher, Mrs. Miller, focussed all of our learning on the theme of LOVE, perfect for hormone-crazy 16-year-olds.  In the same year, our World Religions teacher, Mr. Peter Carver, connected all our learning to answering Eternal Questions.  And so when I had to connect all the skills and content of our grade 9 business course “Introduction to Information Technology”, I had the students explore their inner entrepreneur, and design and plan for a fantasy business.

My question is, can we do this for courses like Math?  Like Science?  Like Computer Science?

In my next three blog posts, I am going to try it out.  I’ll take a subject area that I know little about, look at the Ontario Ministry of Education curriculum documents, explore the textbooks and resources, and create either a Textbook Tale, a Meaning Map, or a series of Life Lessons that might create coherence for our 21st century teens.

Leadership- according to Reeves, Kirtman and Fullan

fromleadingtosucceeding-265_151kbzr8l7l__sx321_bo1204203200_

Douglas Reeves (@DouglasReeves) and Michael Fullan (@MichaelFullan1) have been on my leadership reading list for many years, and management consultant Lyle Kirtman (@KirtmanLyle) continues that work in his new book with Fullan.

Both Fullan and Reeves have written extensively on leadership, and on the change process.  As a secondary school principal, both are of keen interest to me.

Here’s how their advice compares:

Douglas Reeves – From Leading to Succeeding:   The Seven Elements of Effective Leadership in Education Description Lyle Kirtman & Michael Fullan – Leadership: Key Competencies for Whole-System Change Description
1. Purpose What do we aspire to be and to do, and why are we here and what makes us come to school each day? 3. Creates a Commonly Owned Plan for Success Creates short- and long-terms with input, develops clear measurement to monitor and adjust, and ensures the people buy in.
2. Trust Doing what you say you will do. Quickly and humbly acknowledging mistakes and asking for forgiveness. Confronting conflicts between personal values and professional environment. 2. Builds Trust through Clear Communication and Expectations Is honest and direct, follows through, ensures understanding and is comfortable dealing with conflict.
3. Focus Focus on the best initiatives, weed out those with low implementation levels and low impact, evaluate those with high implementation that are having low impact, lead those with high impact but low implementation and invest (support) those with high impact and high implementation. Avoid the lure of fragmentation. Focus on the right policy drivers: 1. Capacity building, not negative accountability; 2. Teamwork, not individualistic strategies; 3. Pedagogy, not technology; 4. Systemic policies, not ad hoc policies. Takes a broader, more “balcony view” to leadership, with focus on pedagogy, people and systemic policies
4. Leverage Make good choices, and make the most of very minute of time in school. 1. Challenges the Status Quo Challenges practices that are blocking improvements, delegates, takes risks and does not let rules and regulations block results.
5. Feedback Provide fair, accurate, specific and timely feedback. 6. Has a Commitment to Continuous Improvement for Self and Organization Uses strong self-management and self-reflection skills and a high sense of curiousity, along with input from all team members, to take responsibility and change.
6. Change Readiness for change depends on personal and organizational conditions:   both low = resistance, low personal + high organizational = frustration, high personal + low organizational = learning, both high = change.  Do the important, not the urgent. 5. Has a High Sense of Urgency for Change and Sustainable Results in Improving Achievement Uses data to set a clear and decisive direction to move initiatives ahead quickly.
7. Sustainability Plan early to delegate, to allow colleagues to practice and refine their skills. Refers to Fullan’s eight elements of sustainability, particularly the “long lever of leadership” and the need for systems thinking. 4. Focuses on Team over Self Hires, empowers and develops the best team, and welcomes critical feedback.
7. Builds External Networks and Partnerships Understands role as extending beyond the work and community, and uses technology to engage people in two-way partnerships.

Given that Kirtman is a management consultant, the building of external networks and partnerships is a logical addition to what appears to be a fairly consistent list from both publications.

Both provide excellent advice, and reminders to school leaders.

Thank you!

 

Looking for an Internship for my Ed.D. Program

A requirement of the Ed.D. program at OISE (the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education) is a supervised “on-the-job” experience.  It new_design_oise_logomust be linked to both theory from our course work and field experience, and involve responsibility and accountability and the opportunity to perform effectively in a senior leadership role.

As we are a cohort of practicing educators, our Internship/Practicum is scheduled for the summer of 2017.  I have begun my search for a placement with my advisor, Dr. Carol Campbell.  She has suggested that I draft two paragraphs to provide a brief CV and my area of research.

To reduce my resume AND my research interests each to a paragraph each is not a trivial task, and so it has inspired a great deal of reflection and thought about both my history and my future, and the ways in which this “course” will be perfect for me.

Learning Music

My education has always been a mix of traditional learning, and self-directed learning.  In grade 11, the first real musician joined the staff of my high school.  I joined his stage band as pianist, then dropped Geology to take grade 9 music and learn to play the trombone.  Three years late I was a student at the University of Toronto, having auditioned successful, and been offered a scholarship.  This was based on grade 9, 11 and 13 music credits, a year of private lessons from a saxophone player (there being no trombonists in my small town), and a lot of “woodshedding” on my part.

Learning Computer Science

When I completed my four years as an undergrad, I was ready to apply to the Faculty of Education for a B.Ed., and certification as a teacher.  I had the prerequisites to teach Music and Mathematics, but was intrigued by the description of Computer Science, which included the phrase “no prerequisite”.  Having never touched a computer, I signed up.  In a class with students who had full four-year degrees in Computer Science, I learned by doing:  completing class assignments, teaching in placements in high school CS classes, and working, working, working.  I won the IBM award upon graduation, and was offered a job teaching Music and Computer Science, in a year when most of my classmates remained unemployed.

My Resume

This cycle of a mix of formal training, on-the-job experience, and personal reading and reflection has served me well since then.  Among my credentials listed by the Ontario College of Teachers are specialist qualifications in Music and Data Processing, Principals’ Qualifications, a Master of Education from Brock University, and Supervisory Officer Qualifications for the province of Ontario.  Throughout my career I have pursued both personal learning and professional experience.  I have taught in two secondary schools, opened a third as department head, served as an Instructional Technology Resource Teacher, and then contributed four years as the Coordinator of Instructional Technology for the Peel DSB.  I then developed my leadership skills over seven years as a Vice Principal in three schools, and am now in my fifth year as Principal at Brampton Centennial SS.

My Research

My research interests have evolved as I have completed half the coursework in the Ed.D. program.  Dr. Campbell helped me narrow my focus to “Personalized Assessment” one year ago, and now this has expanded to include “Personalized Curriculum” as well.  My utopian vision is of students with electronic portfolios spanning K-12, where each item has been validated by a teacher against criteria set out in curriculum documents, culminating in a credential granted based upon a mix of class and personal work.  I am hoping that through my Ed.D. work I can complete some of the foundational research, to permit such a future for our students.  As an educator who has worked with technology my entire career, I believe that there is unrealized potential in the ability of technology to support student learning by organizing work, validating learning, and analyzing feedback, in order to make students responsible for their learning.

My Internship

To do this groundwork, I believe I could learn more by working with our Ministry of Education, with scholars in the areas of 21st Century learning, instruction and assessment, and with organizations that support learning beyond the K-12 structure. I have asked Dr. Campbell to introduce me to those in her network who might be looking for 120 hours of “free” labour, and am hopeful that our search will result in some amazing learning for me next summer.  If you are looking for someone, or know someone who is, please contact me:  terry.whitmell@mail.utoronto.ca.

 

Dealing with Disappointment

We talk a lot about student engagement and motivation, but a whole lot less about what de-motivates, or disengages learners.

My personal “aha” this week is that one of the best ways to shut someone down is to have them experience a failure that they don’t understand.  Set up criteria, have them provide evidence of having met it, and then tell them they didn’t succeed, but without any explanation.

In my case, I know I’ll get the feedback eventually, and I’m sure it will make sense and I’ll eventually feel fine about it.  However, in the meantime, I’m investing all sorts of negative energy into trying to figure out where I went wrong.  This is wasted, unproductive energy that would be much better put to use moving forward, rather than wallowing in disappointment.

So, as teachers, working with students, we need to:

  1. Set, or even better co-construct, clear criteria for success.
  2. Assess and evaluate
  3. Provide both the pass/fail AND the detailed feedback, as close to simultaneously as possible.
  4. Determine next steps, and begin the cycle again.

As administrators, when hiring, we need to:

  1. Set clear criteria
  2. Assess and evaluate
  3. Provide both the decision AND the detailed feedback as close to simultaneously as possible.
  4. And if we are mentoring this teacher/TA/office-assistant then we need to set them back on the path with hope and optimism.

If we don’t, then we run the risk of shutting down the very initiative, enthusiasm and energy that we are trying to nurture.

Laying the Foundation for Innovation – #IMMOOC Weeks 3 & 4

courosleadership

It’s been a couple of busy weeks for me, mostly because I have been involved in George Couros’ fourth foundational activity:  “Create meaningful learning experiences for educators”.  It was the first week of the month, so it began on Monday with a staff meeting.

We looked at the theories of action that we framed at our September meeting, and placed them in context within the Ontario Ministry of Education goals, the School Board Goals, and our existing School Success goals.  Our department teams then worked to craft this year’s department theories of action, and begin the work of a six-week Professional Learning Cycle. Department teams continued this work during our Professional Learning Day on Friday, will collaborate throughout the next six weeks, and will conclude the cycle at our November 18th Professional Learning Day.

During this time we will meet one more time, at our November staff meeting.  And since we’ll be in the middle of this learning cycle, we’re going to plan for sharing of best practices using technology, to support our teaching and assessment.  Our colleagues will present best practices within our Student Information System (particularly our use of notes to share information among our teams), how to access historical student data to inform practice, the new Read/Write functionality in Google docs, the support we can access via our ITRT (Instructional Technology Resource Teacher), and how to use  Google sheets for assessment.

So, I’ve been reflecting, and considering how well both these learning opportunities will support us to develop the 21st century skills our students need.  In the spring, I reflected on how we might achieve this in a paper, implementation-of-21st-century-competencies, I wrote for one of my courses relating to educational policy.  In my role as a Principal, I am continually making the connections from learner, to curriculum, to teacher, and to policy.  And I love that technology is making it easier to connect, communicate, share, and grow.  Your feedback would be greatly appreciated!

George Couros is modeling for us, by starting his YouTube channel with his #LeadMoment clips to share his leadership pointers.  There’s something about seeing a face, and hearing a voice, that brings ideas to life.  So perhaps my next challenge is to shift my weekly “From the Oak Office” section of our newsletter, to a video format.

Am I ready to move from the relative anonymity of a blog post, to the much more vulnerable video format?  Well, if I want my students and teachers to do so, guess I have to lead the way.

Keep posted!