Teachers’ convention reflection 2020

This was one of my most productive teachers’ conventions in my career. I left feeling ready to take on the next few weeks leading up to spring break. I had the opportunity to see some amazing speakers and reconnect with many of my colleagues from other schools. Most excitingly, I had the opportunity to reflect on some of the great things happening in my class.

A.J. Juliani
I always enjoy seeing A.J.’s name show up on a PD schedule. As a huge fan of his books Launch and Empower (written with John Spencer), I excitedly put his 2 sessions in my schedule. Engagement has been my “Why” this year. When he shared one of my favourite quotes of “Every child deserves to own their learning” early in the session I knew I was in the right place. This was then topped by asking us how we label kids and how they label themselves.

Things have changed a lot for our students. In Grade 5, my students don’t know about the Pre-Netflix era. They don’t know about having to avoid dysentery, having to seek out information/media/entertainment. As A.J. pointed out, teaching is a changing profession as well. The context of our work has changed but now how students learn.

What stuck out to me is that that Attention is our biggest battle. One thing we forget as teachers is that “Engaging students also engages teachers”. A.J. brought up that kids know the difference between Real and Fake. This means we can’t make them care about things unless our engagement and excitement is real. They will not buy in to things if they know we aren’t excited. I know that I can move from compliance to engagement fairly easily with things that students get excited about but I need to get to empowerment through choice and ownership. Part of this comes from reminding myself it’s okay to take on that “Facilitator” role more often. (I talk about this in my Autobiographical Statement)

A.J. Juliani is working on a new book about Empathy. He asked us “What if kids had the chance to demonstrate empathy every day? This leads to empowerment, ownership and deeper learning. This had me thinking about community based learning and I have a ton of ideas for next year but also a few for this year to start getting our students to empathize through design thinking and working with other grades in our school.

In his second session, we did a design sprint activity with the UN 2030 global goals. It was really great and I’m excited to try this with my students soon. He talked about what asking our kids “What does the world need to know? What are you going to about it?”. I designed a few tasks in my summer project with the school board that I am really excited to try with the kids that really focus on those questions. I also really want to try the CityX project with my kids and relate it to our community.

The most impactful statement for me was that as teachers we do not need to be the best in the world but be the best for the world (for our kids).

Anthony McLean
If you don’t know who Anthony is, you need to go watch this video on his site before you even get started. He reminded me immediately of how important it is to choose our words carefully and see past the walls students put up and really see them for who they are. He mentioned 2 main factors of success:
1. Class size – Who can you have equity and support everyone if you have so many kids you can’t reasonably know what everyone needs at that time?
2. A students perception that the teacher likes him/her/them.

How do you show students that you care? There are many ways and you can google them or wait for the post I will eventually finish in my drafts about this topic. The hard thing is that our hardest students to love (I call them my cacti) are the ones who are calling out for us to listen to them and notice them for who they are underneath the prickles and thorns protecting them.

He played the “Cheers” theme song for us. and made us really think about the lyrics. These stood out to me in particular “Sometimes you want to go/ Where everybody knows your name/ And they’re always glad you came”. I think back to how often I showed up to school as a student and really just wanted someone to say “So glad you’re here” or “We missed you while you were away”. I don’t think anyone can hear those kinds of things enough.

I walked out of his session really thinking about how important it is to model what it is I want from my students but also how important it is for them to be aware of just how important they are to me. (Side note: My brain is on overdrive tonight thinking about how to make school the place kids want to be).

Gerry Brooks
If you don’t know Gerry (not Gary) Brooks, please do yourself a favour and go watch all his videos he posts on Facebook (and other social medias). If I was American, I’d definitely want to teach at his school because he made me feel empowered. I left feeling okay about the things I struggle with (challenging moments with kids, relating to our families, and getting along with coworkers). I am guilty for not taking any notes during his keynote and breakout session. I was so engaged in how he made me feel as a teacher and how powerful his words are that I completely forgot I was holding a notebook (twice). I did tweet one quote that really stuck with me.

“Your number one job is to get to know your kids”

Gerry Brooks – “Personal Climate and Culture” GETCA2020

I am still grappling with the impact of this quote on me so I may update this late. (Though given the amount of draft posts I have, I’ll be honest and admit there’s a good chance that may never happen).

He talked a lot about positivity, relationship and connection with students, staff and families. I really feel like more than ever this is the key to the teaching profession. Kids aren’t going to care how fancy my lessons are when all they want to know is that they are safe.

Dr. Jody Carrington
If you don’t know Jody Carrington, please go buy her book, follow her on Instagram, join her Sunday Night lives, and do whatever she tells you to do. GAME CHANGER. The conversations I have with my students and their families has changed completely since listening to her audiobook most recently. (Sidenote: I’m pretty sure I should sell her book for her because I tell everyone I meet to read it at least 3 or 4 times and usually end up buying to for people because I think the need to read it ).

This session started with an over capacity room and me sneaking in enough chairs for people I knew to sit in a makeshift row so we didn’t get kicked out. Yes, it was that important that I and the people I was with saw her on a Friday morning. I am going to start with this image of a quote that has stuck with me since the first time I heard Jody speak.

Relationships are key in being successful in education and connection is everything. Working with the “cacti” is hard but the work we do as educators is so important for our students, particularly in today’s political climate. As Jody put it, if we fight together, the [insert political figure here]s of the word become irrelevant. As educators, we matter; our relationships with students matter.

The quality and nature of the relationships you have with your students has a larger effect on their results than socio-economic status, professional development, or reading programs

John Hattie, 2009

You can’t teach students until you have a connection with them. The literacies and the numeracies can’t happen until they feel safe and trust you. I can think of several students that this rings true for. The students that may have never completed a math test but they showed up each day craving the safety of school. It takes a village to support our students.

Jody talked about emotional disregulation in the classroom. It made me think of how many times I’ve been kicked, hit, screamed at, had something thrown at me, or told to go to hell. I remember crying a lot when I was a new teacher wondering what I did to make those kids hate me but I refused to give up. As I gained experience my stubbornness increased and I would make sure those kids knew I wasn’t going anywhere. Jody posted the following quote that really got me thinking.

Somebody’s got to be crazy about that kid. That’s number 1.
First, last, and always.

Urie Bronfenbrenner

Everyone wants a personal cheerleader. Someone who makes you feel important. Jody talked about the Light Up – where you pull out all the energy and excitement and the biggest smile. When we talk about how people make us feel, when you’re feeling down, you need someone to make you feel good. This relates so much to Anthony McLean’s story about how his principal made him feel as a student. I want to be that person for my students. I want them to know how awesome I think they are.

Walking out of this session reminded me just how important it is to be there for students and really focus in on the relationship I have with them and their families. As hard as it is to love on those cacti, I want to be there for them and maybe one day that love and care will give them what they need, even if I don’t see the results on the surface.

GETCA2020 was all about relationships, engagement and empowerment. Learning cannot happen in a bubble. It isn’t about the numeracy and literacy. The outcomes really don’t matter in the long run. If a students feel safe, has choice, and wants to be there/wants to learn, they can to amazing things. There is nothing more powerful in learning than feeling like you belong where you are and you have a say in what is happening. This leads me to thinking about how education and school affected me as a students. I am working on writing a really important post about my experiences as a students and how I got to teaching because it has taken a long time for me to really understand how I got where I am now. GETCA has encouraged me to dig deeper into understanding how the environment we’re in and our experiences impacts us not only on a daily basis but also in our actions and reactions. If I had to sum up my learning during these two days, it would be how we feel inside makes the greatest influence on how we experience things.

Dispelling the Myths of a Project

I love inquiry and projects, everyone who’s worked with me knows how much I love them. Here’s the problem. Not everyone loves them as much as I do because they have many misconceptions about what a project is and what one should look like. 

“Projects aren’t true assessment.”

Assessment is a well-rounded, multi-faceted practice that is based on many different tools. Quizzes, Tests, Exams, Projects, Performance Tasks, Worksheets, Standardized Assessments, and everything else we use to gather data about our students are a series of snapshots. True assessment requires many points of data to extrapolate what it is that we need to know and that is the level of understanding and performance in applying their knowledge.

“You aren’t assessing knowledge, only skills in a project”

You are the master of your craft. Your assessment tools is what you make of it. My various forms of rubrics and reflection are outcome-based and translate into the score type that I require from letter grades, levels of achievement, percentages and more. Evidence is everything. Feel free to email me and I’ll be happy to share my rubrics, help with editing yours or making suggestions for different tools to meet your needs. You can also check out my Ninja Plans uploads.

“I teach in an academic school. This doesn’t meet our mandate.”

I’m not sure where to begin with this one because I too teach in an academic school. I have taught in teacher-directed classrooms, student-centered classrooms, low-income, high-income, traditional and inquiry-based schools. A project is what you make of it. A dear friend of mine teaches in a Cogito program and we use many of the same projects with some adaptations to suit our contexts. A project is an application of the knowledge gained through instruction to demonstrated understanding. As the teacher, you are responsible for ensuring that implementation is meaningful and authentic to your setting.

 I’m sure there are many more myths, roadblocks or things preventing teachers from implementing more projects. I’d love to discuss this further with anyone that would like to do so. What “blocks” exist to implementing some of the projects you see or wish you could try?

What does learning and teaching look like in your school?


This weekend I was faced with the question of what should learning and teaching look like. While this will depend on the context of the school itself, we are given a mandate through our curriculum, the inspiring education document and a ministerial order that drives our teaching practice. We also have our own expectations placed upon us by the union through the teaching knowledges, skills and attributes.

In the grand scheme of things, we want to see kids who are:

  • engaged in meaningful learning,
  • developing skills through their learning and a classroom activities that will support them in their future lives, education, and careers,
  • able to express their knowledge and understanding in a variety of ways,
  • getting a say in their learning,
  • enjoy learning, and
  • wanting to come to school each day

The real question lies in how we get there. I have been fortunate to have been given many opportunities to look at all aspects of education from inclusion to teaching to support and even at resources. It is important that all of these areas work cohesively together and are well supported.

We also need teachers who are willing to be risk takers, allow themselves to be vulnerable and are passionate about student success. You need to love what you do and realize that the kids come first. You need to strive to make yourself uncomfortable because it is my strong belief that innovative learning begins at the end of your comfort zone. You can be a good teacher but it is that burning desire to grown and share. Ones who are willing to ensure that each student has access to what they need to succeed while being included in all that we are doing in class. The ones who see their job as more than a job. How do we get teachers to jump in with both feet?

What does learning and teaching look like in your school? It is what you think it should look like?


Yes we have fun, but we work hard while we’re at it.


Today I was walking through the hall at recess and overhead one of the students saying they wanted to be in my class next year because I have cool furniture and we keep the lights off the majority of the day. The reaction my students had to this comment was pretty awesome.

“Miss A’s class is hard. It looks fun and comfortable on the outside but when you’re in it, she challenges you. We work hard. The couch is pretty cool though.”

That’s what I strive for my class to be – a challenge. It shouldn’t be hard to do, but I expect that my students work hard at their own level. Each activity is carefully designed for students to do at their own level. A student needs to make the choice if they don’t want to succeed in my class because they have the freedom to push themselves beyond where they think they can if they take the chance. The work isn’t the hard part, it’s the acceptance that you can always keep improving that is the hard part. Once they accept that, the results will show they are capable of much more that what most people expect of a 10 year old.

Visible Thinking Strategies

I love the book Making Thinking Visible. It is one of the few books I was given to read in university that I regularly reference. This was one of the things I brought with me into the classroom. Here are a few strategies my students really enjoy:

C(olour) S(ymbol) I(mage)

My students are currently working on a critical challenge from Learn Alberta about the impact of various groups on the Canada’s national Identity. Rather than rating the impact, we decided to look what the impact was and how they shaped Canada. After researching the several groups, we created Colour, Symbol, Image charts to show our understanding of these groups.  Our grade 7s are quite familiar with the CSI strategy and partnered with us one Friday to teach us the strategy. This helped my students express their thinking and reasoning in a more clear way. The great thing is that these are easily scaffolded for students. You can have students work at their level. I have a large variety of levels and each of my students was able to explain why they picked the their colour, symbol and image. The great thing is that it is low key and personal. I really start to see how the kids take in information and process it.

Here are a few examples from my students:

Emma  JoshGillian

I scan a lot of the work my kids do to share with parents, which parents appreciate. This piece of work in particular, received a lot of parent support.

“WOW.  Thanks for sending us the material.  Gillian mentioned how much fun she had collaborating on the project with the grade 7 student.  Gillian was really thinking outside the box to come up with the open door aspect.  Great job teaching those kids to think for themselves!”

Chalk Talks

Another strategy that my students really enjoy are Chalk Talks, which are silent conversations about a topic. I will give a photo or word prompt in the middle of a sheet and the students will write what they think, know, or wonder about the prompt. Some students will add a picture. There is also the opportunity to respond to others and build off their thoughts.

Some of the practical uses are:

Assessing prior knowledge of students – It often surprises the students to see what they already know about a topic of study. Also, their questions help me shape my planning. I try to find ways to answer many of their questions. For Electricity, I taught the unit through their questions, often referring back to the chalk talk sheets which were up on the wall.

Assessing what was learned – My students chose to reflect on their learning in their Science unit on Electricity through a Chalk Talk. We came up with statements for them to respond to in the activity. It was a good way for me to ensure my instructional goals were reasonable and achieved.

Communicating with others – I have a really great group of kids but they often work with the same people over when given the chance. This gives a chance for all my students to interact with each other and support each other.

Differentiation – Students are able to challenge themselves to work at their own level. Some of my students draw a picture, others write many ideas and some only write a question they have or something they don’t understand. No matter their contribution, they take away from the fact that they are a community of learners and are there to support each other.

Discussing difficult issues – Many of my students shy away from verbalizing their thoughts in tough conversations. We saw this as there was a lot of name calling and teasing going on at one point in the year. I used a chalk talk for students to respond to how they felt about the things I was hearing from them. I mixed in positive expectations as well. It was a very powerful activity and drove the point home that no one actually wanted to make someone feel hurt or bad about themselves.

Below are some samples. The first photo is of the Chalk Talk the Grade 7 students at our school did for their structures unit. The rest are my students working on their first ever Chalk Talk. Since then, we have completed many more of them and the students really enjoy working on them.

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Compass Points

I used Compass Points when I introduced my students to Socratic Circles to help them look at the various facets of an idea or proposition. When we practiced Socratic Circles, we used the idea of a school wanting to segregate Phys Ed classes. Students originally started with a Pros/Cons list but their thinking did not go much deeper than “I agree or I disagree because…” For their second practice we used the proposition school wanting to implement school uniforms. We used to compass points to direct or preparation for their socratic discussion. This allowed for students to dig a little deeper as to the information needed to understand the topic further rather than just positive or negatives.

The compass points stand for:

  • E = Excited. What excites you about this idea or proposition?
  • W = Worrisome. What do you find worrisome about this idea?
  • N = Need to Know. What else do you need to know or find out about it? What additional information would help you?
  • S = Stance, Steps, or Suggestions for Moving Forward. What is your current stance on the idea or proposition? What steps might you take to increase your understanding of the issue?


By placing a statement on the board, students are asked to come up with questions they have. I have used this a few times to help develop a guiding question for our inquiry projects or for our upcoming units.  The directions are fairly simple:

1. Write as many questions as you can.
2. Do not discuss, judge or answer any questions.
3. Write down every question exactly as stated.
4. Once all questions are written, change any statements to questions.

Next we look at ways we could improve the questions. Each student picks 2 of the question they think will help guide their study. We looked at open and closed questions together to start. Students co-created criteria for powerful/open questions and go through the process of improve the questions selected. The students really enjoy these because a lot of their initial questions are answered or have encouraged them to continue investigating on their own.



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Other thinking strategies I have used in teaching and in my practicums include and the students enjoyed because they allowed them to come back to their initial thoughts and questions through out their learning include KWL charts, See Think Wonder and Connect-Extend-Challenge.

Along with posting their thinking strategies. I keep an inquiry wheel up on the board for students to see the process. We visit it together to see where we are, what we have done and where we are going. It helps the students be involved in the planning as well as have input into the process. This was our first inquiry wheel until the school provided us with an laminated poster we can write on directly. I have also added to the board the 3 Es from the Ministerial order and the competencies so the the students are familiar with the vocabulary.

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