The Failings of Leadership

Posted in Leadership,Uncategorized by iwonderstand on July 9, 2016
Tags: , ,

I entered my WordPress editor intent on writing a post about the importance of work-life balance, the importance of visioning for the future but taking care of today… and then the title just wrote itself. Now where did that come from? Do I think I am a failure? Do I think that my leaders are failures? Not at all… so what is rumbling around in my mind on a Saturday morning??

Just like expertise does not imply that someone is an expert, failings do not imply that someone is a failure. I have been fascinated by root words and word origins lately (my FB post on awful is another blog post entirely), but I think that failings in leadership are important to consider, analyze, and learn from. Life is not a Lego Movie, where “Everything is Awesome”.

Life is real, and leaders are continuously trying to vision and step forward. If we look at failings as learnings, we can move away from deficit thinking for ourselves and others.

As a full time professional learning facilitator, I firmly believe in “Walking the Walk” rather than simply “Talking the Talk”. One example is facilitating workshops on differentiation. I remember having a long discussion with a school division leader who was frustrated that “we have told our Principals over and over again for multiple years that their teachers need to differentiate. Differentiation is the key to student learning.” I am sure you can spot the irony in this statement. It is the irony of attending a lecture about how lecture is one of the most ineffective teaching methods. My question back to that school division leader was “how are you differentiating the learning for the Principals in your learning time with them?” Unfortunately, we know that too often the answer is – we are not. We have all attended professional learning about math tasks without ever engaging in a math task; we have attended professional learning about formative assessment without the facilitator ever using formative assessment and responding appropriately. So, in a workshop on math stations, you should experience stations; in a workshop on comprehension strategies, you should use them to learn the content of the workshop. This is my firm belief, and we in our professional development unit work hard to live that belief in every workshop that we do…

How is this related to the failings of leadership? I think about another strong belief that I have – that family and life and people are more important than tasks and email and work… and my failing as a leader is that I don’t “Walk the Walk”, I simply “Talk the Talk” about work-life balance or whatever other analogy you use. I encourage my staff to have work-life balance, and then promise that I will work on it after I get caught up. I don’t model that it can actually be done. I don’t provide a living example that my team can say “Hey, she gets her work done within the confines of the work day.” or “Look, she has taken ALL of her holiday time!” or even “She hasn’t sent an email at 10:00 PM on a Friday night lately!”

So… a failing is something to consider, analyze and learn from. I need to consider the gap between belief and being a living example. I need to analyze what actions are within my control that I can do less of/more of/stop/start. I need to learn from that analysis, and for the sake of the most wonderful team and family possible, I need to learn and change. I need to begin the Walk…


Photo by Auzigog – Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License https://www.flickr.com/photos/8039488@N07


Sharing for Learning

This post may seem a bit odd. While my professional self is inextricably linked to my TJTerryJo self (because I am just one person, after all), my iwonderstand space is usually my personal professional musings of the world that I interact with every day. My official Terry Johanson self, Director of the Professional Development Unit, exists on our official Saskatchewan Teachers Federation and SPDU websites. Today, my two selves will merge as I post about one of my recent workshops. This is to show my  team what it might look like to create a workshop support page that would be viewable to the world. It might also help us to save a few trees along the way. The following post is what I call a ‘clickable agenda’ and is one form of online professional learning.

Comprehension Strategies in All Subject Areas

This workshop will have us examine how we might explicitly teach comprehension strategies in all subject areas. It was held in July as part of the STF Summer Programming.Some workshop artifacts that may help you see the general flow of this day together, you can see the Facilitation Guide, Powerpoint, and Core Handout. You are welcome to use and modify any of the materials on this page, I would just ask that you give attribution to the Saskatchewan Professional Development Unit for this work.

This web page’s purpose is to share the learning that occurred on that day, as well as make all of the documents and resources available to you, regardless of whether you were able to attend. SensemakingThroughout the workshop and as you read through the information associated with it, learners were encouraged to examine thought processes in order to classify what strategies we are using as we make sense of new information. We emphasized that a teacher will choose a specific tactic for students to work with, but it is the thinking that goes on inside a learner’s head that determines which comprehension strategy they are actually using.

There are many different researchers who write about comprehension strategies. This workshop is loosely founded on the work of Ellin Keene’s seven strategies. A brief  Comprehension Strategy Overview is a good way to begin our thinking. Here is an Anticipation Guide: Comprehension Strategies for you to complete before you go any further in your learning of comprehension strategies.

 Activating Prior Knowledge

There are many strategies that allow learners to activate and connect to prior knowledge. Activating Prior KnowledgeThis comprehension strategy involves you connecting your learning to your experiences, events in the world, and to other knowledge you may have in and out of school. We simply can’t understand what we hear, read, or view without thinking about what we already know.

  • A Snowball is a safe way for learners to share what they know and clarify misconceptions about a concept. It is often combined with a whole group synthesis of answers to questions posed on a page.
  • When teaching vocabulary, it is important that we use Vocabulary Building Strategies that allow students to make connections to words that they already know. One way of doing this is through the use of a Visual Dictionary. A visual dictionary combines a visual, connections, and definition of a word in student language.

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  • Think Aloud is often thought of as an explicit teacher-centred instructional strategy. It can also be used as a student:student tactic where they expose their connections, ask questions, or make predictions in pairs or small groups.

Determining Importance

Learners are bombarded with high volumes of information every day. Determining Importance

This comprehension strategy involves evaluating information, making judgments about information, and identifying key ideas and concepts. When we read nonfiction we are reading to learn, understand, and remember information.

  • One useful way to have students learn to be concise and categorize information into main ideas is using The Frame, which is part of the Content Enhancement Series out of the University of Kansas.
  • A more open-ended note-taking organizer is a tactic called Cornell Notes. Here is a editable template that can be used for any topic.
  • Using a Text Mapping Scroll can reveal text features to students. By asking them to mark up their scrolls, they can see that authors put text features into their books to help students. A useful activity is to have students use markers to note:
    • Things that are important.
    • Things that help you know if you understand.
    • Things that help you understand.


Visualizing is not limited to students making a picture in their heads.

VisualizingThis might also be a body feel, scent, emotion, or sound. This comprehension strategy involves you making mental pictures and/or mind maps of ideas and how they interconnect.

    • Having students visualize mathematics problems can help them to make sense of what is being asked for. In Grayson Wheatley’s Lantern Problem, students can be given a lantern to enable them to solve the task.
    • When learning about historical events, having students role play moments can enable them to make connections that they otherwise would not. For example, when learning about the creation of Canada’s healthcare system, giving students a role as either FOR or AGAINST publicly funded health care prior to learning Canadian History and watching video from that era can help them form a perspective.
  • Consistently asking students what they are thinking, what they are feeling, what they might be saying if they lived at this time, and what their hopes and fears are . This prompting might help them to visualize the state of society in that time period. Moving into an informal debate set in the 1960’s can help them understand our current health care system.

Summarizing and Synthesizing

Sometimes these two ideas are used interchangeably, but they are not the same action.Summarizing and Synthesizing

Summarizing is the breaking down of information into smaller bits, while synthesizing is the ability to bring an idea back to a whole. Thoughtful readers merge their thinking with information to come to a more complete understanding.

  • A Comparison Routine is another Content Enhancement routine that allows students to break down two ideas into those characteristics that are the same and different. The important feature is that the routine also has learners synthesize those similarities and differences into larger statements. An editable version is available to you.
  • Metaphors and analogies allow learners to connect specific characteristics of known ideas to new ideas. This can be done in many ways, including visually and through video.
    • Example: students may be asked “How is one of these images like comprehension strategies?”Slide42
    • Example: students may be asked “How is this video like news media?”


This comprehension strategy involves you predicting, estimating, hypothesizing, interpreting, and making conclusions.

Making InferencesInferential thinking allows learners to grasp the deeper essence of text and information. Readers infer by taking their background knowledge and merge it with clues in the text or visual to draw a conclusion or arrive at a big idea that is not explicitly stated in text.

  • Sometimes it is important that students are able to make ‘risk free’ predictions. It is useful to have mini white boards or scrap paper available for students to put their guesses on, and then check to see their accuracy after the ‘answer’ is revealed.
  • Using visuals may be a good entry point for students to make inferences. Prompts such as “what is happening here?” will allow students to look at details and create a story about what they believe its context is.


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Asking Questions

This strategy involves learners actively wondering about topics, and questioning facts and information.

Asking QuestionsQuestioning is the strategy that propels learners on and is at the heart of inquiry- based learning. Humans are driven to make sense of the world, and questions open the doors to understanding.

  • It is important to both provide students with skills for Questioning, it is also important to set up Opportunities for Wonder. By setting up situations in the learning environment such as a demonstration, reading, video, or other experience, you can prompt wonder in an area of learning that meets curricular outcomes.

Monitoring Comprehension

This is often considered to be the most powerful comprehension strategy, and often uses other strategies in tandem.

Monitoring ComprehensionThis comprehension strategy involves you recognizing and acting on your own confusion, and self-questioning to determine understanding. We monitor our comprehension and keep track of our thinking in a number of ways. We notice when text makes sense and when it doesn’t. We ask questions, infer, activate background knowledge, and make connections, all in the effort to promote understanding.

  • Card sorts are a useful tactic when having students make sense of either new or existing concepts. This can often be done in combination with a gallery walk, where students from different groups come together and discuss the ideas that they had generated separately.
  • An Anticipation Guide can be used at the beginning of a learning experience, and again at the end of that concept. It is a check to see what learners know before and after, and can guide instruction, review, and reteaching.

Take a moment and recheck your anticipation guide. What has been your greatest area of growth? What more do you need to learn about? What are your strategies to find out more? Other useful resources for you to consider accessing are:

So… My wonder is, would posts similar to this one be useful to you as a professional learner? Would it be useful to have access to something in this form before, during and after a workshop? Or available to you if you cannot attend in person? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

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
Tags: , ,

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.”