An Open Door


Have you ever thought about what makes your class or school special? Ever wondered what makes the difference that makes the difference? These have been questions that I continue to look for and reflect on all of the time.

Today something sparked my thoughts even more. I was in a meeting today, with a bunch of staff, talking with our Superintendent about our wonderful school, when one of my colleagues made an interesting statement.

When I first came here I took a back seat to reflect on what makes this school special. Part of what I noticed was that everyone’s door was open….

She went on to further describe that having an open door showed her how open and comfortable we were with one another. I can go to anyone for help no matter what.

Now, I am slightly paraphrasing here but you get the understanding of this message. Even as I write this I am still struggling to find words to talk about my thoughts but I thought I would share some of these thoughts with you. You see, she hasn’t been the first person to mention that there is something special about Ray Lawson.   I have also noticed that things are different here but couldn’t figure out why. When my colleague made this statement it was a big aha for me. It never dawned on me how something as simple as an open door could help others see you were warm and there to help, it was something I just did.


As teachers, we want to create a culture where students are competent, curious, and capable. We also want to create a culture of love and understanding. But for that to happen it starts with us. The comment my colleague said, made me think about how I present myself to my colleagues and to my students/ parents. Do they see that what I am saying is put into practice? or do they see something different?

I never would have thought that something as small as an open door would make such a difference but it does. Here at Ray Lawson, we walk into each other’s classrooms all the time. No one ever bats an eyelash. We talk about best practices, we talk about students and we question our teaching, ALL THE TIME. Screen Shot 2017-11-01 at 6.48.57 PM

In Peel, this is one of our beliefs but how do we put this into practice? What do you do in your classroom that allows students, parents and other teachers to see you as open, flexible and responsive to their needs?  Love to hear your thoughts.


Relationships Matter…I cannot stress this enough

The last couple of weeks I have been struggling with being a parent and a teacher. There has been many things lately that I haven’t agreed with but I have tried to stay calm and understand. It has been hard to sit back and find the right words to describe what I wish would be happening more in our profession. Then this tweet came across my feed today and it allowed me to center my thoughts that I have been struggling to communicate.

I want this quote to sit for a minute.


I know when I first started teaching I often neglected this very important piece. I often felt that I knew my students or that I was allowing them to be a part of the learning but the more I reflect the more I think I could have done more. Stuart’s work on self reg has been revolutionary for me. Reading his book was a breath of fresh air. The greatest take away I had was:

There is no thing/ concept as a Bad Child

I now firmly believe this but it is one of the toughest things that we have to realize as an educator. If you have been reading my blogs for the past I have often talked about the importance of relationships. I also have talked a lot about Stuart’s work and my daughter Izzy.

The latest update in Izzy’s school saga is that she has been formally tested and diagnosed with an LD, and ADHD. Now this wasn’t new information for me and my wife but it explains a lot of the problems that we have been seeing. The problem is Izzy is often misinterpreted. Izzy is not an easy child to get a long with. She is often difficult and stubborn. She has melt downs and high, high anxiety around school. These problems hinder her progress and have unfortunately labeled her as one of the problem children. However, there is a reason for her behaviour and she doesn’t do these things on purpose.

Izzy finds school hard, she finds learning hard and when she finds it hard she breaks down or is in a high stress situation. Like adults high stress causes her to be in a flight or fight mode, which in turn causes her to have behaviours.

For the past two years she has had two great educators who have taken the time to learn and honour Izzy as a person. They laughed at her quirkiness and joined in her loves. When she was stressed or struggled they often saw them even before Izzy did and was able to redirect and help her through them.

Now this relationship building takes time and I know oh so well that time is a very precious thing. As educators we often struggle with meeting all of the curriculum that we have to cover. There is so many things that we have to do that is not in the scope of teaching that we a lot of times forget about the most simplistic thing.

Teaching is not about teaching but about building

Our students know that we care. They pick up on our vibes, our stresses and our comments. This is for both the good and the bad.

Like most, if not all students, my daughter thrives on teachers who take a moment to see her for who she is. When you take the time to understand why she behaves the way she does, she actually has less bad behaviour and focuses more on the good. However, when she knows you think she is a problem then she tends to lean towards that. Students are pretty much the same. Relationships are needed and the time spent on them is time well spent.

When you take the time to honour students voices, who they are and what they like, they give it back to you. So I encourage you learn the stories of your students, understand who they are as individuals, recognize that they all of potential to do amazing things. I know that we all came into teaching to do just that but I think some times we loose site of it and get bogged down in all of the politics or curriculum.

If you spend the time building relationships I promise you will not be let down. My daughter is an amazing little girl, who I know has difficulties and causes a lot of stress in the classroom. But when she knows she is loved, she will do anything for you. I’ll end with this quote from Peel’s Modern Learner.

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School should be….

To borrow a phrase from my good friend Matthew Oldridge, “School should be a place of excitement and constant wonder!” I don’t really have any way of putting it so nicely and yet school is often a place where many students dread.

I want to share a personal story. As many of you know my daughter has had her fair share of difficult times at school.  I have often blogged about her difficulties and what they have taught me. But nothing pains me more when I hear her tell me she hates school and doesn’t want to go back. It has been very interesting to see her natural development around this concept of school and where her divergence went towards that famous, “I hate school” line. When Izzy was young and in preschool she absolutely loved it. I mean this was a girl who ended up being potty trained because she wanted to go to school so badly. During preschool, she couldn’t get enough. She would wake up early and eagerly wait for her time to go to school. Even the very first day of JK you could see her face beaming with excitement. But unfortunately, that was where everything seemed to change.










It broke my heart, as a parent and as an educator, to see my happy child go from the above pictures to this.


Now, I know that my daughter is not the easiest child to get along with. She has her many downfalls and is full of energy. In JK, she got into a lot of fights and a lot of discussions with her teacher about how we could help.  She struggled with the academics and what the teachers wanted her to do. We now understand that learning is very hard for her. She has a low working memory and ADHD. It’s not an excuse but it does explain why school is hard. It also explains why she sometimes seems like she gets it and then all of a sudden doesn’t.

But what changed?

When you ask Izzy, why she doesn’t like school she can’t really pin point it but when you explore further it is often because she has to follow certain rules or when she interprets something as fun and told to stop she doesn’t want to. Or according to her, is viewed as a “problem child”. She often tells me that her teachers don’t like her or that she feels like they pick on her.

As a teacher, I understand that places have rules and in the “real world” there are things we must follow but at the same time shouldn’t the purpose of school, especially in younger grades, be a place to foster the excitement of learning? Shouldn’t we foster growth and natural wonder and curiosity?

School for a long time has been a place meant to conform our young ones to the “way of the world”. It was made to have workers who could work the lines. But the world has changed and yet school hasn’t. We no longer need to have kids be little robots that do exactly the same thing. Is it important that we have students doing exactly what we want them to do or is it more important that students see themselves in the learning and want to be a part of it. In the bigger picture of the world, is it vital that students walk in a straight and orderly line down the hallways or do we teach the students the value of not disrupting others thinking but just being quiet. Do we stop the learning of our students because the bell has rung or we must move on the the next period/ curriculum expectation or do we foster the love of learning by allowing our children to naturally explore.

As a parent, my goal for my kids is that they love to learn. I am glad that school fosters academics but I also know that will come with time. Nurturing that natural wonder will allow students to want to learn and I think as educators we have a big role to play.

So I ask you, is your classroom a place of natural wonder and curiosity? Or is it a place that students dread to come?

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My Guest Post on Starr Sackstien’s Blog: A Grading Journey of Epic Proportions (Part 1)

Here is part one of my guest post on Starr Sackstein blog post. It is a post about my journey ongoing gradeless. Part one deals more with my beginnings and initial thoughts and part 2 will deal with my classroom and student samples. Hope you enjoy!


Jonathan So shares his experiences of going ‘gradeless’ and offers some insights into his process. Read on to see how he reflected and adjusted his learning to better help students reflect and grow as learners.

Source: Guest Post: A Grading Journey of Epic Proportions (Part 1)

What does 21st Century Learning mean to you? (blog hop post)

My classroom hard at work

I have been posed the question, what does 21st Century learning mean to me?

For me a this can summed up in five words: Adaptable, Patient, Critical Thinkers, and Creators.

The world is changing very rapidly and learners need to be able to change with it. Our students and us need to be able to move at that rapid base and use information as it comes.
As the world changes answers may not always be there but they can be. With the right amount of patients any answer is possible
Critical Thinker:
This changing world does not need more complacent workers but thinkers. People that will change the world for the better. Learners also need to be able to sift through the endless streams of information to use it in a proper use.
Learners in the 21st century also need to be creators of information and creators of ideas. Learners using the above skills will be able to generate ideas, products and information in order for others to learn.
My further questions:
1) How do we teach to these skills?

2) How do we prepare ourselves and students to use these skills?

3) Am I missing anything?
I apologize as I am a little over in my word count but hopefully its short enough.
This blog post is part of #peel21st Amazing blog hop. Check out these other amazing Peel Bloggers on this subject:

Making Global Connections

I have started a cool new school project with a colleague who I have never met.  It is quite an interesting experience. But one that I would do any time I was asked.

The project is all about global connections and though we are in the same province and to be honest quite close it still is a rich experience for our students.  The project started when I was contacted through twitter by Sharon Moskovitz.  She told me that I was recommended by others who I have made good connections with for some help.  This then turned into a great conversation about our classrooms and global connections. Now our two classrooms are doing various projects together.  The funny thing is that we still haven’t met face to face. And even though all we have had is conversations over the phone and through google docs she is a colleague and connections that I cherish and love having.

This is what we have been doing: 

1) Planning through Google Docs: 

Through conversations over the phone, and google docs we have been able to plan this whole project. It has been quite an amazing experience. And yes we realize that we can use hangout but just haven’t had time to set it up.

2) Introduced ourselves through Google Draw: 


3) Global Read aloud of “the Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane”: 

             For this project the students have written each other letters to talk about their predictions and their questions.  The classes have also written the next chapter in the book. Our next steps is to take what we predicted and see if that will be correct. We are going to read the next chapter in the story and then compare it to the document.  We also plan on connecting each student with someone else and then have them write the next chapter, just like we did.

4) Global Math Projects:

        We also started a global math project. The students will be learning about “Right to Play”. This is a great organization who is investing time into making sure all children have the right to play sports.  We also are exploring what sports various countries and cities like to play. We have a google form that we sent out to the world. The students will be comparing this data and drawing conclusions and hopefully making an action plan from it.

These are just some small ideas that we are working on. I know there are a lot more, so please if you have any let me or Sharon know. We would honestly love to hear from you. 

Global connections allow you to teach your students using real life situations and allow you to work with other classrooms across the world. It not only gives you really cool projects but it is such a rich learning environment for both the students and teachers.  As teachers our lives can get pretty busy and we can often isolate ourselves within our four walls but in my opinion when we open those walls up the learning and growth is so much richer.  Our students often do not get experiences to see outside of their community let alone be a part of other communities in their own country and around the world. We often talk about broadening the experiences of our students, there is no better way then connecting to various classrooms around the world.

Through this project our students are learning about each others lives and the lives of the world. They are seeing other peoples opinions and viewpoints and learning to collaborate with others who they have never met.

Our hopes is that they will become better at understanding the world around them and have a better appreciation for those close by.

Global Connections are lot of fun because they produce such amazing expereinces for teaches and students. I know that many of you do these types of projects would love to hear your ideas? What Global connections have you made? How do you plan for them? Any advice for me as a rookie? Any cool projects you would suggest next? Love to hear your thoughts.

Growth versus Fix Mindset: An #Engagemath PD reflection

Yesterday was a Professional Development Day for our Board (Peel). All of the schools (minus the balance calendar schools) where all busy engaged in mathematics and talking about effective mathematics instruction. However, the over arching theme was more about a growth mindset versus a fixed. Though I am in a balance calendar I was able to participate in Burnt Elm’s PD session and thought I would jot down some thoughts about what we learned.  The session was run by Jason Wigmore (@Jaywigmore), Jackie Brown, Jane Hedi-Knapp and Judy Hyndman. I was ask to help with the planning and fielding the questions about math. Quite a new experience.

Now the title of the blog is Growth versus Fixed mindsets and our board has taken that approach for mathematics. Many of us grew up with the thought that math is a skill that only a few can handle, you either got it or didn’t but this is a fixed mindset. Yes certain topics can be hard for students but that doesn’t mean we cannot achieve understanding.

Take a look at this video:

if it doesn’t work: 
What are your thoughts of the video?

In Peel or at least at the two schools I have done PD at this has been connected to the various evolution or reforms in mathematical teaching. For many (if not all) of us mathematics was taught a lot differently then it is now. This is very scary for some and often challenges our ideals and schemas. When these believes are challenged is when we often get resistance. At both Ray Lawson (had ours first week of Sept) and Burnt Elm, we challenged the participates to think about their own schemas and believes and to adapt a growth mindset to their learning.

Our session started with a review of Stein, Engle, and Smith’s Orchestrating Productive Mathematical Discussions: Five Practices for Helping Teachers Move Beyond Show and Tell. We actually talked about their book but this article sums it up quite nicely. If you read the article would love to know your thoughts? What spoke to you about this article? What resonated as the most important point? 

I then was asked to tell a personal testimony of my mathematical journey.  I know that I have been preaching reform for some time now but I have not always felt this way.  Before I became a teacher I volunteered at a school who was just starting using reform.  For me this was a shock to the system. Math for me was never hard, in fact at this point in time I was taking my University Calculus class. I felt that if algorithms where invented then they should be used. I also strongly felt that steps and procedures could easily teach students how to do math. I was lucky enough to be pushed by an amazing principal who allowed me to question the process, give me research and see it in action. Its interesting to look back at this and see that really I was discovering these ideals through a constructivist approach: I had to explore, have a mentor and then experiment with my findings.  As time went on I noticed how students were achieving amazing results in mathematics and sustaining them but more importantly their attitudes towards math changed.  I saw all students engaged in lessons, learning math and being mathematicians.  The more I taught the more I saw these observations consistently happening.  Not only this but while teaching at Brookmede I was able to be a part of a school which consistently implemented Reform mathematics.  During this time not once did I have to review last years concepts with the students, I started each year with that years concepts. Yes I had students who were developmentally not ready for the grade but they all could tackle the problems, worked together collaboratively and loved math. To me that was enough.  I share this story because if I had a fixed mind-set and believed that the way I was taught is the best way then I wouldn’t have seen the benefit of teaching through problem solving. Now that being said I am always revisiting my teaching practise and I think we always have to be. Growth is growth! Change must happen.

The session then turned into a great problem solving lesson.  One in which the teachers got to feel that disequilibrium that comes with learning mathematics.

After debriefing the problem we had a great discussion from a teachers perspective. The questions we discussed where:

1) Why were the strategies chosen in the debrief?

This brought out a cool discussion about levels or accessibility to the problem and talk.  A lot of the times when strategies are chosen its because we want to honour student voice but in reality we do have to think about the math.  The first strategy should be one that can have the most students engaged with the lesson. One that allows the most talk and will lead to the next progression of the lesson. It was during this time too that we addressed the thought that our goal should never be to get kids to jump from a basic understanding right away to the abstract, this is what causes the gaps in learning.  It is far richer to move them up to the next stage in development. To do this as a teacher we have to think through the possibilities and understand what our students may or may not accomplish.

2) What is the role of a teacher in this format?

3) What is the impact on the student?

After this session, the principal open the discussion up for general questions.  It was great to hear all of the questions being asked and it reminded me of the journey that I went through.  Let me highlight a few of these questions:

1) Are you telling me Algorithms are bad?
No I am suggesting that there is a lot of understanding that goes into learning algorithms that many of our elementary students do not have.  We need to think about the middle piece that goes into the learning of math.  We often forget as adults all of the processes that we had to go through to learn a concept.

2) What about facts?
I know that I have answered this question before and it always gets me that people associate Reform with not teaching facts. In fact as we have discussed in #engagemath there is a balance and yes FACTS ARE IMPORTANT. One needs facts to solve math but how we go about learning facts is a different matter.  Jo Boaler suggests that fluency does not mean speed. In fact I would suggest that speed is a fixed mind set. A mind set that can often discourage children from learning math.  I teach facts through games which does three things. One it teaches fact recall. Two it teaches communication, understanding and strategy and three it build relationships. Here is a link to my math games.  

3) What is the most important aspect of setting up a classroom like this?
Classroom setup is vitally to building problem solvers.  Students need to feel comfortable, held accountable and know that mistakes are learning opportunities.  I always find that the best way to do this is wait.  Waiting time is so under utilized as a teacher. We want to fill the void but if you just wait one more minute longer you will be surprise at what students say. Here is some things that I have collected on math talk.  

Overall,  it was an amazing PD session at both Burnt Elm and Ray Lawson (though Ray Lawsons did not happen on Friday). Peel teachers continue to be amazing both in their thinking and sharing.  When I do talk about math I am reminded the learning that I had to go through and I know that we are all in various spots but keep that growth mindset not only for your self but your students too. That being said I would love to here your thoughts on anything discussed here:

1) Reform Mathematics

2) Growth versus Fixed Mindsets

3) Teaching through problem solving

4) Five practises

Also if you have any questions or comments please contact me or leave them below.