My First Keynote

So I did a keynote. It was a while back but I am finally having some time to reflect on the experience. To be honest, while I was up on stage I had no idea what was happening. All I really remember was looking at the clock (as we were behind in time), a gentleman in the far right of me and a woman in the center who was taking notes. The conference held 1300 parents from all areas of Peel and they were all looking at me. It reminded me of the very first day of teaching when I sat down and looked at 25 grade 4’s who were all looking at me saying, “teach me” and I was looking back going thinking, “who are you waiting for?” It is nerve-racking to stand in front of 1300 complete strangers. However, I tell my students every day to take risks, to be brave and to just be yourself; so that is what I did.

Looking back and watching the videos it was one of the best experiences that I have ever had. Did I say everything that I was suppose to say, no. Did I remember what I written down, no. But I was able to share a big passion of mine and talk to parents as a parent. If you haven’t heard the presentation and have some time to spare I have included the videos for you to listen to. I hope you enjoy.


Promo Video:

Some more reflecting

Last week I asked my students to do a final reflection on Grade Six. I gave them a google form that asked four questions:

  1. Rate your year
  2. What is your favourite memory?
  3. What is one thing that you loved about the year?
  4. What is one thing that you would change?

It was amazing to hear their words and voice through the form. I loved the honesty and it really has me thinking.

The questions that I focused on was what did you love and what would you change. Here is the response to what I loved:

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What really struck me were two things:

  1. They loved the use of technology
  2. They loved their freedom

Technology struck me because you often assume that these children are growing up in a digital age, shouldn’t they be used to using technology? But that really isn’t the case. Sure they are digital consumers of things but they don’t really know how to use it. In addition, I know that we have the tech in the classrooms but it isn’t always being used. I know that it is more but many teachers are hesitant to use it because we ourselves have no idea what to do with it. But what this really shows me is that our students don’t really know what to do with it. It shows me that we still need to teach them proper digital skills to create and use technology for educational means. They need to learn and be taught how to harness the power of technology and not just use it in the classroom. The kids want to use it they just need to know how to apply it.

The last part really struck home. This year I have been experimenting more with allowing my grade sixes to have the freedom to choose the path that they want. I want them to be in charge of their learning. The more I teach the more I am getting tired of pushing curriculum and telling students how to learn. I want my students to learn because they want to learn. I want them to be in school because they want to be in school. I know that we have a curriculum to teach and that it was made with good solid research but I still want my students to feel empowered by it and not because I put on a song and dance. This year I have tried a variety of things from rearranging my classroom, passion projects, to doing badging and going gradeless. It is great to see my student are loving those changes, that they actually made an impact. It’s amazing to see when you turn things over to your students what and how they learn. They are amazing people.

I was also equally shocked by what my students said they wanted to change:

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A lot of it centered around working in groups for math. I think I need to do some more work around how to work in groups and why we work in groups. Though I also wonder if students need some time alone to think. It reminds me of the book “Quiet.” Do we as teachers sometimes forget about those quiet moments where we reflect or think on our own? I know that group collaboration is a skill but so is working on our own. Do we give our students enough balance? I also loved the line about more homework, had a chuckle with that one.

Overall, this year has been about showing my students that they have a voice and that they are in charge of their learning. I want them to be comfortable in who they are, and know what they need to do in order to learn. I did ask one more question and that was what is one piece of advice you would give next year’s Grade Six. I did smile a little when I saw the responses because it was exactly what I was telling them all year, “Be bold, Be Brave, Be confident!”


What would your students say about their year?


A Year Reflection on Going Gradeless — MrSoClassroom

So it has almost been a whole year since I decided to go gradeless and I couldn’t be happier. I have just (well almost) finished up my exit interviews with my students and they have made so many great gains. I am shocked at how articulate and reflective my students have become in a whole […]

via A Year Reflection on Going Gradeless — MrSoClassroom

Just want to say Thank you


Thank You

As many of you know school has not been the easiest thing for my daughter. She did once love the idea but since she started JK she has had a lot of social problems and developmental delays in this area. We have learned so much with her and to be honest having my child in school has made me a better teacher. However, this year has been different and I just wanted to share my thank you note with everyone.

Dear Izzy’s Teachers,

I want to first tell you that you have made a huge difference. From one educator to another, you are amazing. I hope you realize how much of a difference that you have made in Izzy’s life and our own. You didn’t look at her as a problem or as a label, you saw her. You saw the funny, caring and spontaneous kid that she is. You saw the smile, the laughter, and her capabilities. You saw all this even when she couldn’t. You brought the love of school back into the heart of a child. You made a difference.

I know that it wasn’t the easiest year. As her parents, we know that she struggles with learning and expressing herself in positive ways. We know that she can be stubborn, willful and hard to deal with. We know that she is not a perfect child but we also know that she is amazing individual and you saw that too.

I don’t think words can express what you have done for Izzy and us but I wanted you to know. Izzy comes home and wants to talk about school, she wants to go to school in the morning and she wants to stay when I pick her up. She comes home ready to write and read anything that you have given her and we have started to see that spark that she had in preschool. You have made that difference for her.

You have dedicated your time to help her learn, to cope with her anxieties and learn how to handle social situations. You have taught her that she is special, that she matters. And we are very grateful for your time and effort this year.

Your passion, your dedication and your love of children shine in every interaction you have with Izzy and ourselves. You are an amazing teacher.

From the bottom of our hearts,

Jennifer and Jonathan

I share this note because being a parent has taught me a lot about being a teacher. I hope that all teachers look at each student and see who they truly are. I know it is very tough sometimes. I know that especially at the end of the year they can get on our nerves and I also know that many of us are ready for the end of June. But all I can keep thinking about is my daughter. She is and can be very trying at times but there is a reason; there always is a reason. We have to see the why’s behind our children’s behaviours can problems. All kids want and will behave if they knew how. All kids want to be good. We have been very fortunate this year to have four amazing educators in Izzy’s life and I know we all are educators because we love kids, just keep thinking about that.

A Year Reflection on Going Gradeless

So it has almost been a whole year since I decided to go gradeless and I couldn’t be happier. I have just (well almost) finished up my exit interviews with my students and they have made so many great gains. I am shocked at how articulate and reflective my students have become in a whole year. Not one student has been wrong in their assessment and all of them can use the curriculum to prove the marks they want to receive. All of them can identify a weakness and strength in their learning and how or what they need to work on in order to get better. In fact, their words were exactly what I wrote in my version of the reports. So how did this happen?

First of all, it hasn’t been easy. When I first decided to go gradeless it wasn’t easy and I thought I made a mistake. The first project reflection that the students did I was like, “oh boy, what have I done?” Their reflections were 1 sentence long and so off the mark that I cringed every time I talked to them. Even my top kids didn’t really understand what they were doing. But this was a great learning experience in reflecting and learning to reflect. I realized that my students didn’t know how to reflect or what to look for. Sure we had success criteria and rubrics to look at but did they understand how to connect it to their work? No! So we took a step back and reflected on our reflection. It was at that moment that I realized my students needed to look at the actual curriculum and learn how to summarize it.

This was the second step. Before each unit/ project the class sits down and we create a list of standards that we need to learn in order to pass the project. We think about what the curriculum says and wants us to do and turn them into learning goals. This gave us a way to critical look at what needed to be achieved. We then used these standards to create success criteria and understand the differences between various levels.

The final piece to the puzzle has been time and understanding that even though I am not giving a grade I am still evaluating their work. If you think that students will naturally be able to learn how to be reflective and decide their grades then I think you need a reality check. Every time we reflected and then conferenced the students got better and better. They and I also realized the difference between a grade and an evaluation. My students and to be honest me figured out that it wasn’t the grade that we looked forward to but the evaluation process. How did I do and how can I improve, became more about the comments than the actual letter; which to be honest told us nothing. In fact, through this process, I had more data about my students than I ever have had. At the end of the month my students wrote report cards home to their parents and I would add some work as well to help with the communication and reflections.

So what have I learned?

  1. I don’t need grades to tell me how well my students are doing

To be honest I have been thinking about this for a while and was on my way to thinking this but doing this for the year has really taught me that I don’t need my grades. There is so much power in observations, products and comparing work to standards. My monthly comments are way more powerful than any grade book that I have ever had. Also, combine this with learning trajectories and developmental pathways you have more ammunition to help students than ever before.

2. Kids know how well they are doing, if they are trained and taught how to be reflective

Often the rebuttal is that kids cannot be subjective about their marks but that is just not true. Yes, if they are not taught and if you ask them, they will say I get an A but deep down they know what they should have got. Kids and adults are very reflective about their work. People know if they are doing well and if they are not. True you may need someone to help you along the way but you know when your work is crap and when it’s not. If I could share my students’ reflections with you, you would see them using the actual curriculum to say what they have met and what they haven’t. Even my lowest student knew what they had to work on and why they deserved to pass but not at the standard. They understood that they needed help to achieve the learning but with that help, they got the big ideas.

3. Grades tell you nothing and honestly are looked for because that is the way we have always done it.

This has been my biggest pet peeve. The comments I get back are grades are needed. I have always loved seeing that “A” and though this may be true, it wasn’t the “A” but the fact you knew you did the best. So I ask you, how did that letter grade tell you how to get an “A” or why you got a “B” or “C” or how is “C” different than a “B”? What do letters really tell you? In my reflections on this year, they tell you nothing. My comments tell you more, the students reflections tell you more and how they relate it to the curriculum says it all.

4. There are a lot of Myths:

  1. Myth: Grades are needed because parents want them
  2. Myth: Grades are needed for University or other places
  3. Myth: Grades are the only true standard to assess students

Throughout this year, each of these myths have been debunked. Not one of my parents have complained that marks haven’t been sent home (at least I haven’t heard it). My students have used new standards that mean more to them and actually tell them what they learning and how they are learning. Finally, they are in grade 6 and I think Universities need to change their ways. When my students finally get to University they will know so much more about how they learn and what they want to learn, they may not want to pay $20, 000 to have someone tell them this. Learning is changing and we need to change with it.

5. It has taken out competition and help build connections in my classroom

This is my final thought. My students have stopped caring about what their friends got and started to help them achieve their goals. My students are using growth mindset vocabulary and realizing that learning takes time. It has been so powerful for our community to see them grown and learn together.

I still have a lot to learn but throwing out grades has been the best thing that I have done this year. I highly encourage you to try it. If you have questions feel free to ask, there is also a lot of people on Twitter who can help and you can follow the hashtag #TTOG for more help.

Building Relationships

Building relationships are the single most important thing that we can do as educators!

This past weekend I spent my Sunday at the Edtechteam GAFE summit in London. At the summit, the closing keynote’s (Karen Goepen-Wee) message really stuck with me. You can watch it here.

Her whole message was about making our students Super Nova’s.

It’s funny when I first started teaching I am not too sure you would have heard me say this. When I first started teaching I probably would have said it is all about me as the teacher and not the students. To be honest I am glad that I am not that teacher anymore.

For the past two years, I have really been pondering the thought of what is education? What do I value as a teacher? What do I want my kids’ teachers to be?

This year I have been really affected by my daughter’s journey through school. It hasn’t been easy. She is only in Kindergarten and already she doesn’t really like school. Please tell me that you see something wrong with that? Reflecting on this has made me think about what is education? What is my job as a teacher? Now I know it is to teach but is that really the goal? Should this be my number one directive? Even if it is, what will help my students more?

I know that I just ran off a bunch of questions but this has been my thought process throughout the year. Now let’s add in what Karen said. What do we remember about the best teachers that we have ever had? Is it that they taught us to multiply? That they taught us how to read? No, it was that they took the time to make us human, to get to know who we were as kids. Throughout my school career, I can remember five teachers who had an impact on me. What do they have in common? They ignited a passion for me. They took the time to say that I was special, that I mattered, that I could do something. On a side not I also remember three educators for what they did to me that dramatized my confidence.

So what does this tell me? Kids remember the teacher that made them feel special, that made them feel that they could do anything in the world. This year it has been about igniting the passion in my students. To make them realize that they are in charge of their destiny (if you want to call it that).

I know that it is hard to be in absolutes all the time but I really think this is one of them. I have seen huge growth in my daughter because of the amazing teachers she has had this year. Those teachers are teaching her things but more importantly they are building a relationship with her so that she can learn things. If you don’t have that relationship she shuts right down. She won’t talk to you, she won’t participate and she won’t even smile. More behaviour comes out and a lot more distractions do too. She is only 6. I know with my classroom, I can easily defuse a problem because of those relationships. Students want to talk because they feel honoured and they feel safe. Without this environment, there is no learning and we know that without learning there is no teacher.

So I know that our year is almost done. I know that a lot of us feel stressed and run down but I want to challenge you to think about these relationships.  I’ll end with a couple of quotes from Jesse Lubinsky the morning keynote.

Is this what we want for our students? (Watch this video) Love to hear what you do to help build your relationships.