The Ocean and the Tide

I am inspired by Jade Ballek’s post on What Do Our Students Need Us to Learn? I find as a leader of professional development, I am constantly asking the teachers I work with “What do you need?” or “What do you need to learn to best support your students”? And then my own learning stems directly from that question. For example, if my teachers identify that they need to learn about effective ways to identify where students are in their understanding of multiplication and division, and how to teach from where students are, I get my research hat on, look at books and resources by key thinkers, and learn a whole TON about multiplication and division that I never thought I would ever need to know, remix it with what I already know and *Shazam* we have a learning opportunity around the topic that teachers have requested.

But… what if there is something that is larger and more pervasive than those learning needs identified by the teachers I work with? What if there is an ocean that everything we do and learn and communicate is suspended in? And what if that ocean is something that I actually know very little about other than “it’s blue and it can be pretty and it can be deadly”. For me, that ocean is technology and the tide is digital fluency.

Don’t get me wrong – I am not usually techno-phobic and I am pretty proud of my prowess with Excel, Inspiration, and I make pretty awesome graphic organizers in Word. So I can USE tech tools at a pretty OK functioning level. But… what do I actually know of my responsibilities, rights, and privileges in the digital world? Here is where life gets sticky. My fatal flaw is that I trust that everyone in the world is helpful and truthful and kind. I swim through the ‘click click click install’ messages on my computer, and happily sign up for apps and profiles without a care in the world. I don’t wonder why my Google Search is different than my friend’s Google Search on the same topic. Back ‘in the day’ digital citizenship seemed to be confined to:

  1. Don’t say mean things.
  2. Keep your Facebook page private and be careful who you are friends with.
  3. Check your sources – don’t believe everything you read.

And now… there is so much to be aware of. I need to be aware of how I am being influenced by the data profile attached to me. I need to be aware of… well, sadly, so much that I don’t even know that I need to be aware of. And this is the point. When I don’t even know the potential, I don’t know what to be aware of. I don’t know how to be safe. I don’t know how to model and teach my learners.

And so I turn to the #DCMOOC and the community it has created. Through community, we can navigate this ocean together. This is important to not just KNOW, but to LIVE, to MODEL, to BE.


What My Mother Taught Me About Leadership

Posted in Leadership,Uncategorized by iwonderstand on May 12, 2014
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Mom and Dad in HawaiiOf course, it is Mother’s Day and my thoughts go to my Mom. Actually, my thoughts turn to her and my Dad often. Just last week I referred to some life lesson that my parents taught me. Now well into their wonderful retirement, life wasn’t always ‘all about them’. My parents sacrificed many comforts so that my brother, sister, and I could have what we needed (and often what we wanted as well!). Through it all, my parents modeled characteristics that we didn’t even know we were aspiring to. My parents taught each of us how to be leaders, preparing us for the careers and life that we  now have.

Leadership Learning #1:

Do your best. Always. Regardless of whether the job you are doing is flashy and fun, engaging, or something you want to do – work hard. Someone is depending on the work you are doing whether you think it is important or not. People deserve better than a bare minimum effort. This means that we as leaders need to have high expectations for ourselves and for our colleagues. It is not sufficient to expect others to perform at a higher level than we do ourselves, or worse yet expect others and ourselves to achieve a lower standard. Leaders need to be role models.

My Mom always worked – in an era that many of my friends had Moms that stayed at home. My mom worked for the last decades of her career taking care of senior citizens. Mom’s work was physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding – she worked hard every day, even when lifting residents almost destroyed her shoulder; even when the shifts were so long that she sorted her life by ‘days on, days off’ because on her work days all she could do was work and sleep. No matter how big or how small the task in front of her, Mom did it because she knew that what she did made a difference in the comfort and quality of life for the people she cared for.

Leadership Learning #2:

Love people and let them know you love them. The world is based on relationships. Wearing your heart on your sleeve – laughing, crying, being joyful, and sharing pain is all a part of the humanity we live in. Showing your own vulnerability will help others to reach out and ask for and accept support when they need it.

My Mom was the person whose colleagues would come to for conversations, sharing, bouncing ideas off of one another. She was like a mother/counsellor/sounding board for her colleagues. She also cared so much for the senior citizens she cared for. She used to call some of the gentlemen “crusty on the outside and tender on the inside” because they had harsh exteriors that she would see right through. Mom was never fooled by the crust – she could see the heart and soul of the residents in her care and made a connection to them.

Leadership Learning #3:

You have the right to question everyone and everything around you, no matter who you are, or what position you hold. Without questioning actions, policies, or mandates, we can follow structures and people that are hurtful. If we don’t believe something is morally or intellectually right, we should not follow. History tells us that following blindly is as dangerous as leading a hurtful initiative. As leaders, we need to question in order to ensure that where we are leading is in a morally and intellectually ‘good’ direction.

My Mom and Dad encouraged me to question them, the media, and social norms. They believe that we all have the right to our belief and opinions, as long as we are not hurting others. As a result, I believe that we have the right to question when others’ beliefs and actions are imposing on our own freedoms and actions. I remember when the Colin Thatcher Trial was on the News, and I went on a rant that only a 14 year old can have around the media and society prejudging him simply based on his political position. I questioned “Who are we to judge and declare him guilty?” Needless to say, my parents listened to my ideas and questions without ever hinting that I was “just a kid”.

And so, on this Mother’s Day, I celebrate my Mom. I celebrate all that she has taught me about humanity, about learning, about leadership and about myself.

Every Teacher Needs a Champion

Whether we are teachers of teachers or teachers of students, we need to build relationship with our learners in order to understand and know our learners. I am reminded of Rita Pierson’s talk.

Through relationship with our learners, we can figure out WHAT they need to learn and HOW they learn best. Relationships also help learners and their teachers understand WHY they are learning something. Without having a ‘why’ that links what learners want and need to learn with the learning expectations of curriculum, administration, or school division leadership, it is less likely that learning will be authentic and meaningful. We know this for student learning. What about adult learning?

In her talk, Rita Pierson says, “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.”. Is this not true for us as adults? Is it not difficult to pause and open our minds up to new possibilities when the person speaking is someone we don’t like, respect, or trust? I would argue that adult learning must be built on relationship as well, and refer to the mindset of facilitators in Wonder #7: What Does it Mean to Be a Community Facilitator. Rita quotes Stephen Covey’s idea that “We need to seek first to understand, not seek first to be understood.” This is the premise of Jim Knight’s Partnership Principles, where facilitators approach colleagues as partners in learning, and actively believe that we will gain knowledge from our peers rather than expecting that we as experts have nothing to learn from the teachers we serve.

Know LearnerRelationship is built on listening. Listening is possible when you have relationship. Relationship and listening allow us to know what our learners need. In Rita’s talk, she asked herself, “How do I raise the academic achievement and the self esteem of a child at the same time?”. We need to ponder this question as facilitators of adult learning as well. We need to ensure that we build (or at least not damage!) the self esteem of the teachers we work with, and at the same time allow them the opportunity to learn in the area they need. Rita encouraged children to have the mantra of “I was somebody when I came, I will be a better somebody when I leave.” This needs to be the mindset of professional development facilitators as well – that our teacher learners are good and know how to teach, and our only role is to support them in becoming ‘better’, remembering that ‘better’ needs to be defined by the teacher themselves.

Without relationship, it is hard for adult learners to feel safe to discuss their foundational fears, worries, and issues they face. Without that deep and honest conversation, facilitators and leaders cannot support teachers authentically. Through relationship, facilitators and teachers hold joint responsibility for learning and making changes that students most need us to make. At the end of her talk, Rita said that teaching and learning should bring joy. To requote her statement in the context of adult learning, replacing ‘kids’ and ‘students’ with ‘adults’ and ‘teachers’…

“How powerful would our world be if we had teachers who were not afraid to take risks, who were not afraid to think, and who had a champion. Every teacher deserves a champion, a leader who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be. Is this job tough? You betcha. But it is not impossible. We can do this, we are educators. We were born to make a difference.”

Learning Together – SUM 2014

The ability to share wisdom at SUM Conference 2014 through twitter allows me to go back and reflect on my own and others’ learning. Looking back at the storify I am able to see how others’ synthesis of the days together was the same and different than my own, offering me new insights into keynote and session presentations. Contributors to the reflection and sharing of learning were:


While most of the presentations will be posted on the SMTS website, the following is a reflection of my own and others’ tweets throughout the two days. As David Coffey would say, this reflection is helping me to consolidate my learning so that I can use it moving forward.

Steve Leinwand started us off by laying the responsibility for student achievement squarely on our shoulders. As teachers, if we notice that kids can’t do something, it is our responsibility to figure out how to teach them how. Accessibility for children is not an achievement gap, it is an instruction gap. If children forget, we need to review. If they see things differently than a standard algorithm we need to encourage multiple representations. Teaching by telling is no longer good enough – if it ever was. From this learning, I then make the leap to professional development. Teaching teachers by telling is no longer good enough, as well. And if teachers who participate in professional development are not able to do something, it is our responsibility as leaders of professional development to take on that responsibility and figure out how to reach our adult learners. Hmmm this is big and important both.

As mathematics teachers, we were encouraged through our two days together to think about how we encourage active struggle in our students. To have them reflect on their learning, and not let them off the hook when they think they don’t know. The phrase “If you did know, what would you say,” rang through the twitterverse. As educators, we need to do less of what doesn’t work and do more of what does – and know the difference! As one tweeter observed “If most kids in class are not ‘getting it’, maybe it’s not the kids. We teachers need to take the responsibility for kids learning.” and “If we care about kids’ learning, we need to stop with power trips and MAKE SURE they learn. Give them what they need.”


There was some discussion in our days together about the importance of collaboration and trust. Noting that we can achieve more together, one tweeter wondered “How can we get innovative educators to share so they become the norm?” This is a good question, and a discussion about building trust and being trustworthy ensued, where you not only need to be trustworthy yourself, but show your colleagues and students that you trust them as well.


Learning about instruction is what we love most as math teachers! While Steve Leinwand pointed out that we may get aggravated when kids ignore us and do what makes sense to them, isn’t instruction really about trying to have best first instruction so that our classrooms are open enough to allow students to generate their own ways of thinking? We need to support the active struggle of students within our math classrooms, and move our focus away from rigid rules to encouraging reasonableness in student thinking. Lisa Lunney Borden reminded us that while Math concepts are universal, it’s the numbers that is the language. For our First Nations and Metis learners, one tweeter observed that “The characteristics of how FN kids learn are just straight up good teaching practices. Collaboration, logic, hands on, connections.”  Lisa Lunney Borden has her framework and teaching ideas on her website, Show Me Your Math.

Some ways that were shared via twitter in sessions to achieve this were:

Suggested Strategies

There were many Classroom Structures for Differentiation shared in sessions that help teachers to individualize instruction. These included Math Workshop created by David and Kathy Coffee, an adaptation of Daily 5 in Math created by Sandi Neufeld and Jennifer Brokofsky, Explore +4 created by Kira Fladager, Sharia Warnecke, and Lori-Jane Dowell-Hantelmann, and Responsive Stations to Build Readiness created by Terry Johanson, Sharon Harvey, and Michelle Naidu. As well, Strategies for Differentiating Math in whole class instruction, including Parallel Tasks, Open Questions, and Games were shared.


Assessment is a huge part of instruction. Some shared wisdom was the idea that you should not ask for formative feedback unless you have a plan to do something with it. We were also cautioned that assessment often implies a test – feedback for learning is the important part. The evaluation of the assessment to diagnose learning levels is crucial in order to plan for instruction.

Goal Setting

One important task for educators and administrators is to have goals for student learning. Without classroom-based goals, school and division goals will not move. Teachers and students need to identify their areas of strength and growth and map them out. This process is summarized in a Developing a Math Goal Powerpoint. Starting with a process of ‘dream student, dream teacher, what do we need to learn’, you can identify what is most important.

Dream Student 1

A Math Goal Logic Model Blank is a useful tool to jot these ideas down, referring to an Exemplar. As one tweeter observed “Once we have a logic model, assessment becomes a piece of cake – focus on the observable indicators.” One participant reflected that Goal setting was a useful consolidation of two days of learning. You can learn more under ‘Wonder #2“.\

Where to from here? A new SMTS executive that is energetic and raring to go, beginning preparations for next year’s Saskatchewan Math Challenge in March, and SUM Conference in May. And who knows, maybe other adventures in between.

Building Trust or Being Trustworthy?

We often hear about the importance of building trust within a community of learners. Community members need to trust each other, they need to trust their facilitator, and a facilitator needs to trust their community members. How does this occur? As I reflect on the qualities of a leader, I re-watched a TED Talk that helped me differentiate between increasing trust and increasing trustworthiness.

So, how do facilitators of professional learning show that they find their community members trustworthy? How do we show trust?

Showing Trust

And then there is being trustworthy ourselves – how are we make ourselves worthy of the trust that community members place in us as facilitators?

Being Trustworthy

Building trusting relationships is imperative to building strong communities of learners. Showing trust and being worthy of trust as a facilitator are foundational steps.

What makes a leader?

Posted in Leadership,Learning Community,Professional Development by iwonderstand on March 29, 2014

Listen, listen, listen. I am inspired to rewatch a TED Talk that I watched a number of years ago. If we don’t listen, then we don’t honour local wisdom and can’t possibly meet the vast needs we are faced with in mathematics education. Taking a program or prescriptive plan from one place and transplanting it into a new classroom will not work. It is only by accessing the expertise of a community that real change can occur.