What Should be Driving our Teaching?

20160803_082912I am not too sure if this title does my thoughts any justice but I hope at the very least it does touch on the topic.

I was recently watching a small clip about schools in Finland. I know Finnish schools have been all over the news for the last couple of years but this clip caught my attention.

Now I know Finland is small in demographics, they are largely Caucasian and they, for the most part, speak one common language (ELL not really a factor). However, as impressive as their scores are it was what the clip said that has always got me thinking.

We try to teach them to be Happy people, respect others and themselves.

I could not agree with this statement more. I fear that we have eliminated the human element out of education. Now please do not get me wrong I think there are many great teachers out there who really strive for this and I think we are getting better but as a whole, I don’t know if we do a could enough job, myself included.

For the last two years I have really started to focus on my students as people (again not that I wasn’t before) but really trying to get to know them, who they are, what they like and help them grow as people first, students second. It’s interesting talking to them about their past experiences. But when I ask them what makes a bad teacher they tell me, when they fake listen to you, or play favorites, or don’t make learning fun.

I want to share a story with you. At the beginning of the year, I was talking with one of my new students, who I was told was a behavior, he told me in a quiet conversation that we had.

S:”You know what Mr.So?”


S:” Last year my teachers thought I was really annoying. They hated me!”

M:”Well I don’t hate you but I won’t lie, I do at times find your actions annoying.”

S:”yeah, I can be annoying sometimes” and we had a good laugh at that. But what was scary was his perception of himself and how he felt his teachers thought of him. 5 years of feeling annoying most likely mean you will just be that.

I see it with my own daughter who in JK decided that she hated school because the teacher didn’t like her. She told me that the reason why she acted out was that all the bad girls got friends. I asked her why she thought this and her answer was well the bad girls in the class do the same thing and never get in trouble and all the kids gather around them. What she failed to notice is how those girls got the friends to stay or that they may have been talked to by the teacher.

Now I know this is student perspective and I am sure that we as teachers do not purposefully go out and do these things, this is not why we got into education but I also know and hear the stories. We all have had those frustrating days. We are all human and get annoyed at behavior, and kids but it does have an impact on their learning and how they perceive school.  The problem lies in the perception that students have of themselves and how long that perception stays with them. The more that they hear you a problem the more they just say, “it’s easier to be one”.

Last year I focused on Collaborative Problem Solving by Dr. Green Ross. I have blogged about this before but basically, it was bringing the students together to discuss problems and situations as a class. I found this dramatically helped. One thing that I took from his book was there is no bad child. I know this may make many of you question the statement but I will say that ALL CHILDREN want to be good. Some may need more teaching than others.

Thanks to my good friend Pete Cameron and an amazing speaker Angela Maiers, I started a #Choose2matter board this year. The board started off with students feelings about themselves. I wanted them to be able to look at it when they felt down and think about a positive thought.


Updated Pic:


This board is now filled with compliments cards from the students to each other. I don’t have to ask them to add to the wall they just go ahead and do it.

I have also been reading about self-regulation and how students who may be deemed behaviour really are just over stimulated or need help to regulate their behaviour. Learning about Self-regulation has allowed me to see students stressors and remove them or calm them down before they happen. It also has allowed me to stay calm and not stress as much with those same kids.

I don’t have quantitative proof with my class but just hearing the comments from my fellow colleagues and principal about my students has made me see the benefits of what I am doing. They tell me that they have really grown up and matured. There doesn’t seem to be as much behaviour from your class this year as last.

I really believe that focusing on students as humans and teaching them how to be kids, role models and believe in themselves is the key to changing our education system.

Now I know this is not a new concept that I am preaching and I know that we all want our students to be successful but reflect for a moment on a couple of things:

  1. How do you interact with your students?
  2. Do you listen to them?
  3. Would you feel comfortable with them evaluating you?
  4. Would you feel comfortable with them telling you how they want to learn and what they want to learn?

It’s not an easy transition or an easy path. As a teacher, I have had to give up control and let go of that “Oh I could have used that 40 minutes to cover curriculum” feeling. It is also not an instant success. It’s not some magical cure but it does and will work. Building trust and community takes time. Yes, students still get on my nerves and yes I still lose my cool and go five steps back but the difference is that the relationships I have built with my students allow me to make a mistake. They know that if I goof and yell or break a relationship it was a mistake and that I flipped my lid.

Now I know this may seem like more of a parenting subject than teaching but I will end with this thought.

Do unhappy children learn?

Love to hear from you.

Self regulation and collaborative problem solving

So if you have been reading my blog recently you know that it has been filled with posts about self regulation and collaborative problem solving. If you don’t know what they are I highly suggest that you read Stuart Shankers and Dr Ross Green’s work. Both are amazing resources for parents and teachers.

This post is a relection that the path I decided to go down actually works. For those that don’t know my daughter has struggled to learn how to self regulate. This goes beyond normal kid tantrums. We often get things thrown at us. Lots of anger and she has no idea what she is doing. Some may say that she does but if you read more of Stuart’s work you will see that kids like Izzy lack or lag in some social skills. To be honest I would socially that most kids and adults lag in thsee behaviours.

We have been working with Izzy for a couple of months on reconozing her stressors and what to do when she feels over stressed. It isn’t always perfect but on the weekend I was amazed at her progress 

This past weekend my sister got married. This meant huge crowds, loud noises and having the cousins over. It’s a perfect storm for over stimulation and stressors. However, at some point in the day I over heard Izzy saying to her cousin and say “please leave me a lone I need a moment to calm down.” I was so proud of her. She recognize  that she was over stimulated and needed a moment.

As I have said it’s not always perfect and to be honest we still have many hard stressful moments but it is getting better. 

So what does this mean for education? LearnING about self regulation has been one of those pivotal moments in my teaching career. One of those changing moments which makes you rethink your philosophy and you overall teaching.  Having an eye open for stresses in my own child has helped me see them in my students. I know it works in my daughter and it works for my students. Often now it takes a small moment for me to say hey do you need a moment? And then they destress and we can talk about it. 

Self regulation has be revolutionary for me and my teaching and I just wanted to share this personal story. 

Our past molds our present but reflection changes our future

This week has been a very busy week (coming off of parent interviews, Ignites, following along with Bit, starting a new course with OISE) but after some awesome Ignite presentations by Fair Chance Learning I couldn’t help but think how our past molds who we presently are.


During my Ignite I mentioned my Father and how he taught (or really didn’t teach) me. You see my father is not a teacher by any means and being an immigrant whose own father had to stay in England to work made him learn on his own. To him learning was individual. What I need to know I go out and get and this is how he taught us. Don’t understand how to rotate the breaks, just go do it. Don’t understand calculus read the book and do it. There was no step by step procedure, someone sitting beside me telling me what to do or helping me, it was just me.

I often wonder if this is the reason why I feel very passionate about letting students explore and create their own understanding. Now please let me preface I also think that learning needs to be in a safe, inclusive and monitored state but that was not always so. I remember when I first volunteered and questioned shouldn’t students just know “it” (it being the subject).

I see it with my parenting and to a degree my classroom management. I grew up in a very strict household. In fact, my Dad often quoted , “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” (please note that it may seem like I had an awful childhood and my Dad was a mean old ogre but in truth, he was the most loving father I could ever have). Now I didn’t take this philosophy to that degree with how I raise my children or students but I have for the longest time taken the stance that a strict firm presence is what all children need to follow the line (boy was I wrong).


Being an unsuccessful parent (in my eyes) has taught me that a lot comes to understanding my children’s needs, stresses and how they respond to that stress. Reflecting on this has changed me for the better, both as a parent, a person and a teacher.

Which brings me to the last point, reflection. It has been through some very hard soul searching and reflecting that many of my teaching changes have happened.  I also mentioned in my Ignite that I was afraid that my students were becoming complacent. I was afraid that every year they were just coming because we told them too and I didn’t think that was the students’ fault. For so many years I would ask this:


Leaving the only common denominator, me. If I was the common denominator then it was me that needed to change and it was because I was willing to change that I am where I am today.

I know I may be rambling here but I have been thinking about all the various debates we have in school (coding, parenting, math) and try very hard now to see the various perspectives at play. What has shaped these discussions? Is it to flee how we have been taught? Is it that it never worked for me so I must find something different? Is it this is how I was raised so I keep on trucking?

All of these questions come into play in our everyday. Each experience we have plays an impactful role in how we handle stress, how we react to people and make-up who we are. However, our past does not define us. It molds us but reflection allows us to create the futures that we need.

I find it interesting to think on this:

  1. What past events or stories has molded who you are today?
  2. How do those events impact you as a person, teacher and all around being?
  3. Do you like the path? or What would you change?
  4. How has reflection changed who you are today?

Thanks for listening to some of my rambles. Love to hear your stories.

Bottle Flipping in Grade 6

I know I know more bottle flipping! But you know what? The kids love it and it has so much math.

I first got the idea from Jon Or who I think got the idea from Dan Meyer but their lessons were geared for High School students. This got me thinking what can I do for my 6’s. So this is what I decided to do:

After getting over the annoying factor of bottle flipping this was one of the best lessons that I have ever done. There was so much math and learning it wasn’t even funny. I know we all try to find these rich tasks but this was one that turned out great.

Take a look at the amazing week:

<br data-mce-bogus=”1″><br data-mce-bogus=”1″><br data-mce-bogus=”1″><br data-mce-bogus=”1″><br data-mce-bogus=”1″>[<a href=”//storify.com/MrSoclassroom/october-24th-to-the-28th” target=”_blank”>View the story “October 24th to the 28th” on Storify</a>]

If you do this lesson would love to see your results or any other variation of it.

How do I get my Kids to reflect?


To be honest I have been thinking about this question for years and I don’t know if I am even truly there yet but I think my students are well on their way. However, it hasn’t always been that way.

I have said this before but reflection for me started off as that one off we did with our kids or some fancy worksheet that made me look like I was reflecting but you know you weren’t. I did the binder portfolios and all the things that we “had” to but to be honest it was more of a make-work project than really having reflection embedded into my daily teaching. I saw it as an extra and really couldn’t wrap my head around how to make this a part of my teaching practice. For this reason, I went totally “gradeless” and decided to only have feedback (this worked for me) but as I have been conversing with my fellow colleagues this hasn’t always been the case for others.

For this reason, I thought I would jot down some ideas that have been coming out of conversations with other colleagues.

  1. Start small

I know this may be without saying but if you find that students are struggling with reflection pair it right down. Start with a small sentence or even small pictures. An idea that I have done at the beginning is exit ticket slips, you can even do it with Google Forms. Sometimes I think as educators we move too fast too soon. We want our students to succeed and do what others are doing but sometimes they are not ready for it. Not only does this get us frustrated but I am sure the kids are too.

2. Set small and obtainable goals

One of the hardest things that I had to learn was that my goals and the kids’ goals had to be small and obtainable. Many of my students were making these lofty and vague goals and then never achieving them or they just let them by the wayside because it was taking too long to achieve their goals. For this reason, I have started to say in one week or next month what are you going to specifically do. No longer do I except I want to be better at math. I tell them what exactly do you want to be better at (e.g., patterns, fact recall, problem-solving, etc)?

3. Build it into a question or into your week

Time is always an issue. One of the biggest discussions I get is, this is taking a long time Jonathan. Of course, my answer is, yes, yes it is. Unfortunately, there is no way around this. Proper reflecting takes time and of course at the beginning of the year takes the most. I know I have to remind myself of this and that setting routines and procedures always seems so painful in September but by June it is amazing. I also have to remember that many of my students have never done this before. Reflecting and being honest reflectors is hard if students have never had their voices heard or honoured before. Some advice that I have been giving is why not set aside 10 minutes every day to do some sort of reflection, or sometimes I make one period every Friday for reflection. In primary, I made one of the questions a reflecting question so that it was part of the assignment. Breaking it into small time will allow you to make it part of your routine.

4. Keep it simple

I said this before but simpler the better. The more complicated the harder it is for students to feel invested in the reflection process. Also if it is to complicate it may be too hard for the grade level. You can always work up to a longer reflection but to start with it right away could cause discouragement. Sometimes the best reflection is the simplest question, how are you doing? Just don’t be satisfied with “fine”. 🙂

5. Video reflection versus written

I know for me many of my students have a hard time writing their thoughts down. It can be challenging for them, which is why I always give them the option of recording their thinking instead of writing. I use my iPad or phone’s built-in camera and then have them save it in their drive. On the computer, I use screencastify and the built in webcam.

Overall, the biggest aha moment though out of the whole process is reflection is not something that comes naturally for people. Sure we reflect and think but articulating our reflection process is not something we do. It is an internal thing that takes time to cultivate. Students need to be reminded why it is important to share and how to set appropriate and specific goals. I have also learned that students have to do something with their reflections to make it meaningful. It is great that you are making them write them and go through the process but there always needs to be more. What I have found is having an audience whether it be their peers or better their parents has been a tremendous help in making their reflections come alive.

I would love to hear and see what anyone else is doing with reflections. Just add your thoughts to the comments.

Going Gradeless Part 2

Last year I embarked on an amazing journey of going Gradeless. You can read about my starting point here. Now this was not without some ups and downs and I would by no means say that I am an expert but I thought I would record down some of my learning so far.

First, going Gradeless does not mean that I do not evaluate and assess students learning. I think the biggest misconception when I mention this is that I sit around and let students work and do nothing. This is far, far from the truth. In fact, I do more evaluating than I have ever done in my life.

Second, I know in my previous blog post I mentioned the benefits but here are some of the reasons why I did this:

  1. I have found that many of my students previously haven’t bothered to look at the feedback that I gave, they only cared about the letter. The same with the parents. The letter seemed to tell everything but yet nothing at all.
  2. To be honest having students reflect or gather portfolios has been a hard process for me. It has always been an add-on or something that came around during report cards. Going Gradeless has allowed me to embed reflection and portfolios into my everyday. Students are more willing to look at the feedback and think about their learning.
  3. My students care less about competition between themselves and more about the learning. This in itself has been the biggest reason I decided to go Gradeless.

So what do I actual do? The first step in making students reflect and think about their learning is to actual show them what they intend to learn. So before every project my students and I look at the curriculum, yes I said the curriculum. They look at the specifics and overall expectations and rewrite them to form standards for their learning. These standards go into a met or not met chart that they keep recorded of throughout the unit and project. As students learn they record down what piece of evidence shows this learning the best as well as any standards that they think they haven’t met yet.


Once the unit is complete the students then record a reflection down to show me there thinking.

A final step is a google form which asks them to self-evaluate themselves and also help prepare for a student conference that we hold for each assignment. During these conferences, we discuss their progress. It is a time to share my observations and how I have been assessing. Together we talk about their marks for the final report card.

We also write monthly report cards to their parents. This process is still in the works but it has been working well. Students are gradually removing themselves from thinking about marks and more focused on their own learning.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this process or if you are doing something similar.

Some reflections on assessment



I recently embarked on a learning journey on assessment in mathematics for my TLLP project. The goal of our project is to create a school-wide approach to assessment with a focus on mathematics.

It has been very interesting to collect data and observe and listen to my colleagues about assessment. Many concerns that they have I also have had for many years. These questions centered mainly around using learning goals successfully and around turning our conversations and observations into quantitative data to give to parents.

Recently, we had our assessment coordinator Kristen Clarke come in a start the conversation going. During this time we talked about what learning goals are, the board’s pedagogical model and then how we as teachers have been assessing. It was great to converse with my colleagues and hear what they had to say.

As I mentioned before the conversations centered around using our observations and conversations as marks. This got me thinking. I think we need to give ourselves the permission to use conversations and observations. I think that for the longest time we have seen assessment as evaluation only and that evaluation met some sort of quantitative number. But is that really true? Does evaluation have to be a quantitative value or is a comment just as evaluative as a mark?

I think as educators we have to get more use to using our comments and observations as proof that children are meeting standards. That when truth be told they hold more meat than a mark ever would. In Ontario, we have an assessment document called growing success. Personally, I think this is an amazing resource that discusses our three focus points for evaluation is through products, observations, and conversations. If you look at the mathematics this means observations and conversations take a 66.6666% of evaluation and that product is just 33.33%. It means that our observations and conversations we have with students mean more than what they produce on paper.

So the question that I have is, why are we so invested in the mark? Or feel that observations and conversations are not tangible enough for us to hang our hats on?

For me, there is more to assessment than evaluation and I think we as educators need to think more about that thought. In addition, assessment needs to be more than just giving students feedback. It needs to be embedded into everything that we do. It needs to be responsive and it needs to be reflective. As a school-wide approach, it is important that we have honest conversations about the importance of assessment and what role it plays in our school community. I know that my journey has just begun so stay tuned as we as a school and me personally delve more into our learning.

I would also love to hear your thinking about my questions or just your thoughts about assessment.