Well everyone, here we go with a new calendar year.  I believe it is close to a year since I last blogged.  Just needed time away.  As Pink Floyd so eloquently said:  “Thought I’d something more to say”, and I felt it was all drying up a bit.

Much has transpired in the year.  It was a great year in many ways and in some not so good.  I travelled abroad twice in 2015!  Once with students on a trip to Italy, Southern France and Paris.  Oh, Paris.   A bit more on that later…  What a trip.  I know that a few of my travelers will become travelers themselves.  That is what it is all about for me.  Showing kids that there is more to the world, than what we personally have in our own lives.  Paris.  We were there a few scant months after Charlie Hebdo.  We twice were delayed in the Metro due to various issues.  An eye opener.  Little did we know, Charlie Hebdo would become a footnote to Paris in late 2015.  More on that a bit later, as well.

I also travelled personally, with my wife and kids, to England and France.  I visited London, Winchester, Cambridge, Ely, Stratford-Upon-Avon and Wellyn Garden City.  A combination of family and personal interests. Several bucket list items ticked off, several more created!  I also visited France, again, only this time to visit the families who hosted our two teens when they did their exchanges in France.  One family in Orleans, in the Loire Valley, the playground of the French monarchy, long before Robospierre and his ilk put that concept to bed once and for all, in France at least.  The Russians took a few more generations to accomplish the same task.  From Orleans, I travelled to the south-west of France, the old territory of Languedoc, the land of Cathars and the Catalan, cross-border movement that is as Spanish as it is French.  A brilliant part of the world, an interesting area, one that has to be visited again and again.

Whilst on my travels, I was re-acquainted with people I had met briefly before, and met many other great French citizens, establishing life-long relationships that will only continue to grow.  I now know people in Western France (Brittany), Paris and Orleans, the middle of France (near the infamous Vichy capital), as well as the south, from Toulouse.  All very interesting, yet different people within the same culture.

We learned a different way of life, especially on the shores of the Mediterranean, but in France in general.  Just a different way to look at the world.  More relaxed, more interested in the moment and each other, than the world we have created for ourselves in North America.  Despite the fact that I still have strong ties to Eastern Europe and Slavic culture, I have to admit, I fell in love with life in Western Europe.  Yes, I know, I was on holiday and it is different, but there are some ways of life that they take for granted, that we need to learn from.  The first is their approach to health and fitness.  We in North America, have dropped the ball on this one big time, myself especially!  We do not move enough.  French people eat great food and drink fantastic wine, , but less of it.  Not less often, perhaps more often, but less volume.  Oh,  and they move more.  However, this is more of an issue for me personally, not really the gist of what I am getting to in this message, although the food is part of it.

In distilling this down to something related to education, instead of just recounting my trips abroad, to the boredom of probably every reader, I feel there is a lesson for how we approach life, and how and what we teach our kids.

As I said earlier, Charlie Hebdo, followed by the Paris attacks, certainly shook the core of Western Europe.  It was awful.  I realize there are socio-economic factors that can be pointed to.  I also realize that France has not done a great job integrating immigrants/refugees, and this can be seen in the next generation.  However, it was still horrific.  The lesson I want to point to though, is the reaction of the French people I knew.  Yes, there was fear, yes there was certainly anger and frustration, but there was also a very strong belief in not letting the horror and terrorism stop the French from what they believe in.  The very fabric of French culture was under attack, and while the short term goal of the attackers was to kill and maim, the long term goal is to destabilize this culture and encourage people to shun it and live a different way.  To a person, once a few days had gone by, everyone I knew, was mourning the deaths, but defiantly expressing their desire to continue to live their lives their way, and not to be deterred in pursuit of their own happiness.

One of the most iconic photos I saw, expressing this belief, was a simple photo of a glass of red wine, some bread, cheese and dried sausage.  I do not remember the precise quote, it does not matter. What it was expressing was the French were going to continue to live their lives the way they want to.  They are committed to their culture and will defend it.  It is a passion that is well developed in their culture.  The reasons for this passion are complex, involve hundreds of years of history and cannot be compared to a relatively young culture like Canada, however there are lessons in it.  Of course, as a bit of a side note, connected to an earlier point, the amount of wine, meat, cheese and bread was far less than one would expect on a North American table, but that is a topic to be explored at a later time.

So, for the connection to education today, and for the year of 2016, I ask myself:  “Are we teaching our students, and our children, for those of us who are parents, to be passionate about important things in life? ”  What are we teaching them to be passionate about?  Are we teaching passion?  Are we teaching a love of our way of life, and how to preserve it?  Are we highlighting the dangers of extremism, regardless of the variety?  Extremism does not only come in the religious form, it comes in many different guises.  Are we leaving our kids with a passion to live a good life, to live a life that we enjoy, but one that has to be respected and never taken for granted?  Or are we joining them in the pursuit of learning what colour of dress a Kardashian wore?  Western Europeans are all about fashion too, even more so than most North Americans, but somehow, it is the fashion itself they are interested in more than not, not the celebrity wearing it.  I am not sure this last point makes sense, but that is what blogging is about!

I am not so sure we are teaching passion for our lifestyle, our freedoms, for our culture, or for parts of it worth saving, at least not all the time.  Perhaps this is something we have to consider, as we weave our way through 2016 and navigate who knows what in our volatile world.  I believe it is our job in our school system to start asking these questions of ourselves.  If and when our culture is under attack from extremism, what image will represent our culture and our commitment to passionately protect it?  Hopefully we have an answer when the time comes.








The intentional blurring of professional and personal lines

No, you are not going to read about me in the Blue Pages….I am returning to blogging after a bit of a break, but this time, I am using my blog, which has been primarily professional in nature (although, I guess one could argue that most of my professional thoughts, come from personal goals, thoughts, ideas and philosophy) for a more personal use.

Tomorrow, I am embarking upon a lifestyle change.  It is an experiment.  There will be no grand announcements about an entirely new way of living, nor will I openly push my theories to anyone.  Much like my thoughts on religion and spirituality, I have come to a state in my life, where I believe what I believe and honestly have no interest in becoming a missionary for my beliefs.  Even if I am successful in my latest attempt to change something in my life, unless I am asked by people to talk about my experiences, I have no interest in pushing any agenda.  It is just where I am now.  Of course, if anyone asks me about why I believe it is vitally important to encourage kids to travel outside of their community/province/country/continent, as a life experience, make a pot of coffee, you will be here a while….

Anyway, as usual, what could be a few sentences is now a paragraph.  I should have been a writer, when people got paid by word…..oh, wait, blogging does not pay!  So, what I am saying, is, I am planning to use this blog as a way to keep myself motivated, and to record progress, or digression, in how I succeed.

I have struggled with a very particular problem for most of my adult life.  For those of you who read this blog, who have actually seen me, it is probably very obvious.  If there are any of you who read this blog who I have not met, I will just clarify, and even for those of you who know me, this is not a struggle with alcoholism, or drug dependency, and while I certainly enjoy a drink (whiskey is the nectar of the g…, oh wait, it is just really, really good stuff) this is not about an addiction to a narcotic, a depressant or a stimulant, This is about a lifestyle change.  I have very specific goals I want to accomplish, goals that I have failed at achieving before, through other methods.  This is simply another shot at it.

In my professional life, for many years, I have had the opinion that progress is always important, and that when we cannot find success by using certain strategies, we must change.  The old adage, of “if you keep doing what you have always done, you will always get what you always got” (or however it is usually expressed..) has been something I have promoted, with mixed results, for years.  However, it is time to now apply that maxim to myself personally.

So, I am embarking upon a change.  The first three to four weeks, will be somewhat radical, but I feel ready.  After that, we will see how it progresses and we will see if things change.  I am not terribly optimistic, because of multiple failures in the past, but….as I said, perhaps a drastic change is necessary.

Stay tuned….or tune out, which ever makes the most sense to you personally!



A short one today….really.  It is.  My wife and daughter and I were baking last night.  I do not like baking, but I persevered for the better good.  I am not a sweet eater, so perhaps that is why I do not like baking.  I have many vices, sweets is thankfully not one of them.

So, as we are baking away, and listening to the Toronto Maple Leafs crush Anaheim, we are chatting, and invariably we begin talking about school sports, as I coach volleyball and my daughter plays in all sports in school.  We are talking about another student who has begun to excel in jumping.  Always a tall person, this particular athlete has found themselves physically and has developed coordination to take advantage of a natural height advantage.

However, the conversation was about how this student, despite having a height advantage, did not always want to jump in sports.  I commented that I felt this was about confidence and comfort. This young person was always taller than classmates, since the early days, and was obviously somewhat self-conscious about it.  As the athlete matures, they lose those issues and begin to realize the physical gifts they have.

My comment was something along the lines of:  Well, ___________ used to be self-conscious about the height and did not have the confidence to take advantage of it……” or something like that, and my wife says to me:  “Let’s face it.  Most problems we all have in terms of learning, competing or just doing things stem from self-confidence.”.

My wife is not a teacher, but is university educated.  Perhaps she has managed to put succinctly what some of us have spent 23 years trying to battle.

So, I ask two questions, and offer absolutely on answers.

1.  How many of our issues in school stem from a lack of self-confidence?  Not just learning.  Behaving, social issues, attendance, and others?

2.  What do we do about it?  If the answer to question number one is “many”, then whatever we have been doing has not been working.

My role in the baking last night was to use this neat little wooden tool, that when pressed down on a ball of dough, in a mini-muffin tray, produces a mini tart shell that can then be baked, then filled with some sort of sickly sweet mixture.  In the initial stages, it was not working well.  The tool was sticking.  The shells were cracking.  So, we experimented and figured it out.

How many of our student shells are continuing to “stick” and “crack”.  Are we doing anything differently to address this?

Wow, under 500 words.  Whatcha think, @bgrasley?

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!

It never changes, does it?

I “start” reading too many books.  I don’t finish enough of them.  My last post focused on my early reading of The Digital Principal.  I am afraid, I have not read much more.  Too many other demands on my time, too many other things to do, especially at this time of year.  The too many things included a trip to Sault Ste. Marie for a principals’ meeting, (not that I minded, I love getting together with my colleagues, talking shop and hockey and other things…) at which I was given two new books to peruse, “A Fresh Look at Grading and Reporting in High Schools” and “Quality Assessment in High Schools, Accounts by Teachers”.  The former, edited by Anne Davies, Sandra Herbst and Katy Busick, with a foreward by Rick Stiggins, the latter written by Sandra Herbst and Anne Davies.  I am familiar with Anne Davies’ work and I am familiar with the name Sandra Herbst, but do not know much about her work.

In “Quality Assessment in High Schools”, the foreward paints a fairly critical canvass of assessment practices in schools, and their ultimate role in creating and perpetrating the hierarchy or our post-industrial world.  While I am not interested, right now, in this space, debating the merits of the arguments, there is no doubt there is a great deal of reality in what he says.  It reminded me of some of my own experiences as a student, many, many years ago.  Practices like handing tests back in reverse order of achievement.  Yes, that really inspired me to do better, didn’t it?

While I realize, or at least hope, that such practices have long been relegated to the proverbial dump heap of ineffective pedagogy, I still think a lot about assessment, grading and its ultimate purpose and consequences for so many students.  I have two children, both of who do very well in school.  Both are undoubtedly intelligent, hard working and have heard ad nauseum from their entire families, how important education is.  So, they figured out early, that colouring inside the lines gets you an A…However, I have seen many a student who either cannot, or more likely will not colour in the lines, but is still a pretty smart kid.  However, more often than not, we know where that kid goes, and it usually is not to the front of the “line up for your academic award queue”.

Wow, 402 words already.  I just cannot make these things succinct, can I?  I suppose writing at 10:47 on a Monday night does not help either, but as my francophone friends say, “c’est la vie”!  So, to get to the point, here is what I was thinking.  I was thinking about how I felt in school over the years, or even in my professional life, if I felt dumb, or incapable, or not trained or skilled well enough to succeed.  If it was in school, I found a way to avoid.  Once math classes were done, no more math for David……no body in those days told me about Growth Mindset, they just advised me to stay out of math.  In my job, I do not sign up for committees that contain stuff I find hard….avoid yet again, much easier to be involved in something I can do better in, and not have to work as hard in, right?  And more importantly, not have to appear dumb to anyone.

That is how many of our kids feel, in many different situations.  Kids who cannot read well feel that way in English class, kids who are not yet as skilled as their friends feel that way in math and science.  So, we let our kids stream themselves, and some of them become teachers.  Teacher of English, if they were not great at math, teachers of math, if they were not great at English.  Yes, this is simplified.  As well,  I must say, I have come across in the years many teachers of math who are excellent and insightful writers, artists, musicians and athletes, as well as the reverse.  I think they have stumbled upon Growth Mindset, but that is for another day.  There are teachers, who excelled in the arts, or English, or other social sciences, who steered completely away from math and science. As a result, they are working in an environment where they are comfortable.  They feel quite fine with their subject matter and at times, this comfort and command of their subject and its requisite skills, causes them to lose sight of those who are not so comfortable, in particular, students.  Have they then lost their empathy and understanding of the struggles some students are going through?  (This also happens in reverse, with math and science teachers).  Do their grading and assessment practices encourage students to experiment, to fail, to learn over time, or do they drive them into doing the bare minimum and running away, just as the teacher themselves may have done from their own “anti-subject” matter?

So, I wonder, what if we could somehow change that?  What if an English or History or Geography, or Sociology teacher had to be forced into learning and being tested in mathematics or physics or organic chemistry?  What if a math teacher, who excels at creating confusing multiple-choice math questions, instead had to face the embarrassment of a piece of writing that was not well received by its grader?

Now, before I finish, I must state some personal philosophy.  I abhor the thoughts above.  I do not believe for a minute that any of that sort of motivation works.  It is clearly punitive and mean spirited.  I hated it as a student.  I went to school in the days when “teach the best, forget the rest” was a common theme.  While not one of the “best” I could hold my own in certain areas and scrape by in others.  I was so unmotivated by ranking and comparing to others.  I was so unmotivated by shame and embarrassment.  However, I still see vestiges of this behaviour, or perhaps more like vestiges of these theories.  So, I just wonder, if we could at times have teachers see how some kids feel, and how it affects their willingness to take risks, learn and progress, then maybe we would find more students succeeding.

Now, in closing, it is no longer 10:47.  It is now 11:32 and I do not go to be late on weekdays, but today I am.  I will copy and paste tomorrow, but I am not editing and am not rereading….just going to copy and paste and post…..I know my thoughts are not as succinct and coherent as they could be, but somehow, that fits with what I am saying, or at least I think it does.  Hope you enjoyed!  If I am not back on my little cyber soapbox before December 19th, I wish all my educational friends out there a great break.  I do not know about you, but personally I need it and am looking forward to it!  Have a great holiday season!  Perhaps I will actually finish some books over the holidays and write a more cohesive and complete reflection, but if I can write over 1000 words after reading a few pages of a foreword, I shudder to think of the verbosity that will come from reading an entire book.


How do we interact with the digital world?

So I have started to read “The Digital Principal” and have enjoyed the first three paragraphs.  Yes, I have only read the first page, but I came across a thought in those first few lines that caused me to think about something differently, which lead me here.

The book is written by Janet Hughes and Anne Burke, and can be purchased from Pembroke Publishers.  I hope I am not breaking any copyright laws I am unaware of when I write the following quote:

“a few short years ago, the Internet was primarily a source of information delivered to the user in one direction.  Now anyone can contribute to the content found online.”  Hughes, Janette, Burke, Anne M., The Digital Principal.

While it is early in the book, (literally page one), the thought struck me.  I wrote a blog awhile ago about producing versus consuming, which I know I do in disproportionate levels, but this to me is just a bit more.  It is not so much a responsibility to post as well as read, in order to be fair, but the realization that our new paradigm (and I greatly dislike the overuse of that word) is exactly that.  Our kids, when they are obsessively using their tablets/phones/iPods, they are not googling the weather, nor are they checking the references listed in Wikipedia.  As a matter of fact, I am still amazed that these “digital natives” are sometimes so woefully ignorant of the world around them, despite their access to it.  I live in a world that is wintery and winter storms are not uncommon.  I still hear kids say to me:  “I heard there is a big storm coming this weekend!  30 CM of snow!”.  So, I respond with:  “look on the weather network, with your phone”.  More often than not, there is no storm.

When kids are using their devices, they are interacting with their world, not ours.  They are producing, even if that production is a text to a friend, it is the use that is important.  They are not as good as we are at accessing info someone else put out there, but they are much better at producing stuff, even if that stuff is only a Flipgram collage, or a Snapchat Story.  Yes, I am soon to be 47 and I know what these platforms are….sort of!

This is what our education system and essentially our entire culture has to figure out, and next exploit.  We have to see that our kids, and our younger teachers, (and some “older” ones) are also living in this world.  It is a completely new way to use the internet and the digital world, and it is much more of a two way relationship, versus a one way.  While I never thought of it before, it explains perfectly well, the growth of Youtube in the last several years.  47 year old people use Youtube to look up Billy Idol videos….15 year old people use Youtube for those purposes (Lady Gaga versus Billy Idol) but they also produce.  They make vines, and instagram videos, they contribute, even if this stuffy old history teacher does not consider what they produce to be terribly important, it is important to them.  That is a major change that we have to overcome, because it is not going away.

So, as usual, I leave more questions behind than answers. Once again, I am great at posing a question using a digital tool, but I am not producing an answer am I?  Nope, relying on the good old internet to do that for me!

So, the question is, how does this change our dynamics as teachers?  How do we leverage this new relationship our students (and again I reiterate, young teachers) have with the digital word?  I am hoping Ms. Hughes and Burke have some answers for me, but again, that is the wrong paradigm, isn’t it?  I need to be part of this huge collaborative effort to find some answers, which maybe I will be able to do a bit, after reading the book.

And, by the way, for those of you still rolling on the floor, Billy Idol has a brand new CD, and it is an instant classic, full of typically overstated cliche and wicked guitar riffs……just so you know I am not entirely stuck in the 80’s!

Been a while

So, I have not contributed in a while.  Lots of reasons, mostly related to time, but also in some degree related to inspiration and motivation.  These two are inexorably linked as well.  As a result of being very busy, both personally and professionally, I have not had the time to write, and more importantly to think about writing, but I think even more important, is when I get bogged down and busy, and at times stressed, then I lose initiative to create.  This covers all creativity.  I dabble in song writing and have on my plate a goal to record a full length album…CD…whatever you call them these days.  I still call them albums.  Anyway, a few weeks ago, I was alone in my house for 10 days.  What an opportunity!  I set up my music gear, recording gear and could leave it set up.  I should have been able to record a lot of test tracks, learn more about my recorder, and get working.   It did not work.  I was simply not in the mood.  I just could not summon the creativity required to create.  Of the 10-12 songs I want to produce, I have ideas for most of them, rough lyrics for some, and music ideas for probably half.  This is a great accomplishment, if only I can take it to the next stage and actually do something with it.  What an opportunity lost, but what could I do?  Nothing.  Even on a few evenings when I dabbled, (I wrote a short blues song that was an inside joke for a few friends), it was not great.  It just did not flow.  Attempts to be creative within the structure of the song, in particular short leads and fills, were simply garbage.  I even left them for two days and went back.  No.  Garbage.  Alas, I am no further ahead than I thought I would be.  I own a camp (we do not call them cottages in this part of Northern Ontario) and I usually spend a few days at Christmas at the camp.  Perhaps I will drag all my stuff through the snow, and find inspiration….perhaps not.  I just cannot tell.

So, the long and short of all of this, and I do intend this to be short,  Brandon, is how many other people are affected like this?  I know your “traditional artsy people”, and I say that with tongue firmly in cheek, have blocks.  I think we all have blocks.  The stereotype of the writer, or the painter, stuck on that first line, or first stroke apply to all of us.  Most of us in our profession, are able to find ways around it, because we can probably put some things off until later, rearrange schedules, etc.  Journalist and artists and film makers and musicians do not have that luxury, but most of us do.

However, my thoughts lie with students.  Our system is such that a bout of “creative block” can seriously challenge our students.  Our education system is designed on an agricultural/industrial model.  When one is on a thrasher, or an assembly line, we do not worry about creativity, unless we are thrashing our way through creating a crop circle.  The process is simply repeated step after step until the product is done.  In our increasingly complex, connected and digital world, this is failing us.  We are, in my mind, not inspiring minds much more than we were in 1984.  Guess who graduated from high school in 1984 feeling rather uninspired?  It is not a trick question.

So, how do we approach this?  I am not a proponent of the heady days of free time, unstructured lessons, open walls and little responsibility.  I know we need to have kids leave this system with marketable and transferable skills, but I am unsure of how well this system can deal with the fact that our over structured system surely leave some out, and most surely does not allow terribly well for creativity and blocks.  We try.  We have “deadlines”, “drop dead dates” and “due dates” and “okay, you can have until Friday..”, but in my experience, the kids who need these, are not fighting through blocks, they are disorganized, dealing with stress in their lives, ill-prepared for their work, etc, etc, etc.  Very few students who are handing in work late are doing so because they are fighting a creative block, yet those blocks have to be happening.

I am a relatively mature 46 year old professional, who knows how to meet deadlines, most of the time.  I planned to spend time creatively, on my own time, for my own pleasure, something I have been dreaming of doing for years (and which technology now makes possible…but that is another post) and I had difficulty summoning the creative mood to accomplish much more than write and record a joke song about a fish.  My conditions were perfect. The only way they could have been better, I supposes, was if I was in a recording studio in the Alps.  My conditions were optimum, but I could not summon the creative mood.

How must so many of our students be struggling with creating when they are dealing with the lives some of them deal with?  And, my creativity is just for me.  I mean, i will try to get my album on iTunes, but let’s be real, it is not becoming a gold seller.  But, our students have a lot to lose when they cannot summon creativity, and our world is demanding more and more of it, and their marks, but far more importantly, their learning will be affected.

I do not have an answer, but I think that we need to think about it.


Thanks @bgrasley.  Engagement again.  I like your definition.  I have tried to use this one:  when anyone wants to learn something, they are engaged.  It is not hard to tell if they want to learn something.  Just watch a little kid with a new toy.  Anyway, I wanted to also speak to engagement, as I have several times, but man, I have not solved this problem….would be rich if i did, I guess.

I think about why people want to learn.  Pre-historically (I am not an archaeologist) I would say our ancestors wanted to learn to make things better or easier.  Learning how to make and keep fire was important.  There was a real reason to learn, and I am sure they all wanted to learn.  The same for tools, shelter, etc.  I was at Stonehenge last March.  What made those people engaged enough to want to figure out how to do that?

When kids ask “why do we have to learn this”, I think they are thinking like are pre-historic relatives.  If fire was not useful to them, they would not have had much reason to learn how to harness it.  Yes, sitting by a fire and staring into the flames is cool, but if one is dodging stampeding Mastadons, one does not have time to gaze into the flames for entertainment.  So, for so many years, we learned and wanted to learn to make our lives better.  That meant that we were learning to create information.  Once they knew how to make fire, and the first generation were teaching their young, the eye rolls probably started:  why do we have to learn this, we already have fire”

So much of what we teach to kids, is stuff that someone else figured out.  yes, stuff they need to know, but stuff someone else created.  So, the spark, unless the kid wants/needs to know it for some reason, is not going to be naturally there.  But if we can run our schools from an enquiry mode, throwout some that curriculum and let kids learn what there interested in, then we have a start.  But, this is the Ivory Tower…I do not yet have the answers, but I know that how we are doing things is not working.  As @bgrasley said, the extrinsic motivation only goes so far.  Great for the kid who wants to be a lawyer, but what about the majority of kids who are not sure what is going on in the world?  We have to engage their minds, and while I am soapboxing, man, oh man, or lady oh lady, does technology ever have a roll in that.

I was supervising kids the other day in the computer lab, who were watching a youtube video (gasp…) of a guy blowing stuff up….little bottles of ink.  Mindless entertainment?  Not in my mind, especially when it was repeated in super slow mo, showing the entire act slowly.  And apparently, in the beginning of the video, he talks about the equipment he uses, the process to record, etc, etc.  Yup, on Youtube…no need to buy all the stuff, learn how to do it, etc.  It is right there.  I can guarantee many of our teachers would not be aware of that video series, but how many would want to be “taught” about them by the students they “are teaching”, with their fancy BA and B.ed degrees?  A bit facetious, I know, but hey, this is a blog and I can say what I want, because it will probably be blocked through a content filter anyway, right?  Now @bgrasley, not sure if I tagged you properly in this…still not familar with with interface.  Also did not grammar check (I mean myself, not electronically) or really read over….not intended to be a polished product, but instead it is a stream of rambling thoughts…I think….