Thursday, November 26, 2015

Lavish, Magnanimous, Munificent, Ungrudging Giving of Time and Money called Generosity

Generosity is something we all need in our lives. It's a natural progression of kindness and caring for one other. Our acts of kindness activity at the school this past month really took off. The students received a footprint that they put up on the wall, leaving a trail of kindness. 

To build on this enthusiasm, we are extending the acts of kindness for another month and adding acts of generosity. It's important to note that generosity isn't only about giving money or making a donation of some form, but it also includes acts of service and giving of our time. So we are encouraging the students to practice their generosity  and collect a hand print, which they will put their name on and the generous action they performed. Each classroom will have different colored hands and as they collect the hand prints, they will place them on a wall in the gymnasium in the shape of a Christmas Tree. When the parents arrive for the Christmas concert later in December they will see the visual of the Christmas tree made from all the generous acts of the students. This is just one activity that we will do to promote the virtue of generosity within the school.

Here a few practicing generosity ideas for home or the classroom

Give Away the Extras

At our home, we have had a longstanding practice that every time you bought a new piece of clothing, you gave something away from your closet. Otherwise, we found that we just began to accumulate too much stuff. So here's a game you can play with your kids,  “What do we have extra that we could share?” Go through your stuff at home and if you haven't worn it or used it in a year or even in 6 months, give it away to a local charity.

Some examples include:

  • Food – take some food to the Food Bank,
  • Clothing – pack up clothes that have been outgrown or not being worn, and give them to a charity or needy family,
  • Blankets and other household items – many inner-city ministries make home starter kits for those in need,
  • Toys – many organizations collect toys for underprivileged children.
Acts of Service

It's important to note that generosity isn't only about giving gifts, or money, it is also about giving your time. So it's important to think of different ways in which we can help someone out with our acts of service. Make a gift for someone – a card, cookies or a care package – and pay them a visit.

Have the kids make something for someone else. Ask yourself, "is there someone who needs to be encouraged by a gift or a visit from us?” Maybe it will be creating a card for a relative, baking cookies for the homeless, making a care package for someone in need, or spending time with a widow who struggles with loneliness. 

Fun with Generosity

I think one of the things children and even adults struggle understanding is what it means to be generous. Generous is defined as showing a readiness to give more of something, as money or time, than is strictly necessary or expected. The word comes from the Latin, Generosus, which means to be magnanimous or lavish kindness on others. So to illustrate this, have the kids make ice cream sundaes or decorate monster cookies for other members of the family, being generous with the toppings.

Each family member makes a sundae for someone else in the family. Put out ice cream and a variety of toppings, and allow your children to be generous in making sundaes for other family members. You can also do this with “monster cookies,” which are oatmeal cookies filled with numerous additions like nuts, chocolate chips, sprinkles, etc. Family members can make monster cookies for designated family members, decorating each other's cookies generously. 

When it's all said and done, talk about it with the kids and ask them to explain how being generous with the toppings can translate into being generous in everyday living.

Habits of Sharing

During meals and while you are visiting with others, model how to share treats and be specific about encouraging your children to share.

Some fun ideas include:

Sharing your dessert with your spouse or children and say something like, “This ________ is so much sweeter because I shared it with you.”

A family tradition you could start is that when treats, desserts, etc. are given out, whoever divides the treat allows the other to choose which part of the treat they would like. For example, one child breaks the chocolate bar in half, then lets the other choose which half they would like.

Demonstrate sharing without being asked. Provide extra treats for your children to take when going on outings with friends so they can practice sharing and being generous.

While driving, use these questions for conversation starters:
  • How do you feel when someone else has a treat and you don’t?
  • How do you feel when someone is playing with a neat toy and does not share it?
  • How does it make you feel when someone shares a special treat with you?
  • How about when someone gives you first choice of which toy to play with?
These are just a few ideas about teaching generosity to our children.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Time to Practice...No...Live Out Our Kindness

It doesn't matter where you go, there’s always a bully, that’s not to excuse it, but state the facts. The idea of bullying is not a new concept. We've all had our own experiences with bullying. I’m sure if we sat down and had a chat about our childhoods, we would have stories to share about being picked on in school. School was a difficult experience for me because I was by nature a very gentle and kind individual.  It didn’t help that I was a red-haired, freckled face boy growing up. I’m not sure why people naturally gravitate towards targeting the gingers. But they do! Then add to that my teeth were a mess. I broke my jaw when I was 4 yrs. old,  and my teeth came in all over the place. So I had braces for five years during school. Many a school picture had me barely smiling, because I didn’t want anyone to see my teeth or later on my braces. However, I survived with a few bumps and bruises along the way.

My mother always said that if I saw somebody hurting or have a need I was the first one to offer to give them the shirt off my back if that would help. Maybe I'm too trusting or always trying to see the good in people, but I have found over the years that it is easy for people to take advantage of me because of my kind nature. I dislike seeing people hurting. I think that's why I like being a teacher so much because when I see students coming from difficult situations I want to help. I can't always fix things or make things right but I can at least show some kindness and care for the students. My hope is that with a little bit of care and compassion I can make a student’s life a little bit better. So when I hear about bullying in school it is certainly something that we want to address at the school level. But rather than focus on bullying or anti-bullying, we try to focus on the virtue of kindness. We do so because when we only point out the negative or what behavior we don't want to see it doesn’t call our students to the practice of the virtue that we want to see from them. Rather than saying to a child, “Stop bullying,” we ask the students to be kind to one another. What does a child learn when we only point out mistakes or failures or what isn't working rather asking what it is we want from them.

The flipside of this also is that if we want to see more kindness we need to model it for them as well. It's so important that we speak to our children and students in a way that builds them up and encourages them to do the right things rather than pointing out all the things that they don't do right. This doesn't necessarily come easy or naturally for us as human beings because we’re inundated with such negative messages around us, so we find it easy to criticize and put others down. So if we want our children or students to practice kindness, we as adults need to do our part as well. So Nov 13th is World Kindness Day. Let’s be kind to one another.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Connections are Essential for Student Learning

If you have time, watch the TedxTalk by Johann Hari, Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong. Johann has been researching and writing about the War on Drugs for a number of years. But during his research about drug addiction, he realized that all kinds of addiction, such as gaming, gambling, sex & pornography, internet, cell phones, and other kinds of issues had one common factor in the lives of those who were living the addiction. Each person struggling with addiction had or were experiencing a loss of connection. Many of those caught up with addiction replaced relationship for alcohol, or drugs, or gambling, etc. Johann states very clearly that what individuals struggling with addictions need most is connection to people who love them and surround them with hope. He says, “the opposite of addiction is not sobriety; the opposite of addiction is connection.” 

It has been my experience that relationship building is hard work. We are flawed, imperfect individuals trying to make something beautiful in our lives. No matter what we do with building relationships someone will mess up, make mistakes, say something they will regret along the way. But when we replace connection for something other than something living and breathing we get into trouble. Where’s the relationship in playing video games for six or seven hours a night? Or what about the youth who can’t live without their phone for five minutes? I’m worried about our next generation that would rather resort to texting or Snapchatting, than sitting down and actually talking face to face where you can engage all five senses. 

I say all this knowing full well that relationship building is a lot of work. It’s no different for us at the school. We have families, spouses, children, and friends in our lives, in which, we strive to maintain healthy relationships. So it is only natural that we extend that relationship building to our students. It’s been said that very little learning goes on where relationships have not been first established. All of us need to work on those relationships, first between staff members and then with our students. Sometimes we have to be reminded of that from time to time because we get so busy and our priorities get misaligned. We have a saying in our home, “family first.” That means we put relationship first over everything. We want our school to be the same way. We need to operate like one big family working through challenges and coming up with ways to work together in order for learning to happen. But it doesn't stop there, we need to have the relationship with parents at home too. We know we have some work to do to build stronger relationships with parents. Our hope is that this year will be a turning point that engages the home more and increasing student success.


Monday, June 15, 2015

Learning is not a Competition!

I was walking down the hallway today and passed by some students talking rather excitedly about the subject matter they were studying. I stopped and said, I was thrilled with the learning that was going on in the hallways. The four students bantered back and forth, until one student asked if we were going to use percentages on the report card, because the 4 point system was stupid.

We implemented the 4 point assessment system this year and I would have to say the majority of the students love it. They find that it has taken the pressure off of testing and allowed them to learn freely. We have a lot more practice, feedback and formative reviews, so when students do summative assessments, they are much more prepared for it. The other side of it is that students now have a chance to redo assignments, retakes tests and make the corrections. However, there are a few students, usually the high achievers that are very competitive, that don't like the new system for a variety of reasons.

One of the girl's in the hallway said, "All of the students don't like the 4 point." I replied, "Careful. We can't use the all inclusive 'all', when I know there are students that love it." She smiled and said, "I'll just move to another school that uses percentage." I said, "Good luck with that, because we are all changing to the 4 point over the next year." So one of the other girls said, "I like the percentage system, because I want to beat my sister. They use it in high school, and I want to average out my grades so I can beat my sister."Just then another student interrupted and said, "It's a competition, so we need the percentage system." I replied, "Sorry, that's exactly why we need to change the system, because we want you to learn for learning sake, not to beat another student." I went on to add that learning is about self-respect and dignity. It doesn't matter what another student gets for a grade, what really matters is what the individual student learns. And what most students don't understand is that percentage grades are incredibly subjective, as illustrated in the example below.

Coming back to the students in the hallway, I can't help but think we have created a monster in our schools around the percentage grading system. The focus tends to get placed on the mark and not the learning. Who cares whether you got better grades than your sister? Really, especially when they are so subjective to begin with. I want students to care about what they are learning. I want teachers to care that students are learning. I want administrators to get more interested in assessment for learning.

I have to share what Justin Tarte tweeted today, and I couldn't agree more.  He called it "10 truths about educating students that are often ignored."

It's going to take awhile to change deeply ingrained attitudes about learning and assessment in our schools. But the change needs to happen, not for the sake of change, but because it's what we need to do in our schools. The old system was so punitive and hard-hearted that is robbed many of our students of the desire to learn. It's a philosophical shift in our thinking; it's a change of heart or even putting the heart back into education. In any case, change is necessary for the students' sake. We need to be open minded about what we will gain from change and not focussed on what we will give up.

If you want to have your heart stirred to embrace change, watch this TedTalk by Linda Cliatt-Wayman.  

Friday, June 5, 2015

Project-Based Learning Samples via Video Production

Over this past semester, the students have done a lot of different projects. I want to highlight just a few to show the depth of understanding that these students demonstrated in shooting and editing video.

The first one was by Davy Jerry and Treston Bear.  They chose to do a freestyle format for shooting the video. I love the humor they incorporated into it. They use the Jurassic Park music in the background.

The second one was called Zombie Sequence by Ty Iron Shirt. I really loved this video, as gross as it was, but he worked tirelessly on Garageband editing the audio until he had it perfect. When he had it, he exported the audio out and imported it into Premiere Pro. Excellent!

The hockey playoffs are in full swing, and Wyatt Baxter and Gary Doherty are big fans. They scoured hours of video in a couple of days and made up a compilation video highlighting the two teams in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It's a smooth flowing video that really comes together well. These guys also worked on the Brooks Bandits live broadcasting this winter as well and did the promo video as well.

Or the Kyrie Irving Video Remake by Wacey Many Bears, who used the audio and demonstrated his own basketball skills on the court. Well done, and lots of fun.

Finally, the School was asked to video readers at the Family Literacy Night at Brooks, and the students then took the video and used the book to illustrate the video for students to view later. Despite some audio issues, it was a great effort.

Wacey Many Bears and Braden Good Eagle worked on a video project for Alberta Health and Alberta Education highlighting the effect of the flood of June 2013. They did an amazing job of this video.

What Learning Style are You?

I can hardly believe how fast the year has gone, and summer is fast approaching. It has been an incredibly busy year. It seems only like a few weeks ago when I was sitting down in my office and thinking about the upcoming year and imagining what it would be like. First impressions? It's been a good year. However, either I'm getting old because I'm tired a lot of the time, or we have packed so much into the school year that we've worn ourselves out. Summer is going to be a time of rest and rejuvenation. Many of students need that rest too. So I hope they slow down a bit during the break and get some much needed rest. But I digress.

As a teacher, it's important to reflect over the year and think about what we taught, how we taught it, and how we assessed learning. If I just motor through the year and do the same thing year after year, and don't review my lesson plans, or examine the curriculum outcomes, or think of new ways to present the material, or do new activities for the upcoming school year, I'm not doing my job as a teacher. I wouldn't go to a dentist who did the same thing the same way for 50 years. There have been some significant changes in practice and technology over the years that I would hope the dentist would adopt. I would hope that they are continuously bettering themselves as a professional so that it makes my visit less stressful and painful. As a teacher, I need to do the same thing. I need to constantly be learning. Reflecting on my past school year is part of that process in learning. Already I'm thinking about how I will do some things differently. Some of my lessons and activities missed the mark with the students, so I need to differentiate (a big word for saying use a variety of methods to teach a concept) the instruction. 

You see, not every student learns the same way. That's why Howard Gardners 7 Styles of Learning are so important to education. Not everyone learns the same way. So when I'm teaching a class, I need to be aware that in a class of 20 students, there may be up to 7 different ways each student learns a concept. As a teacher, I must vary or differentiate the instruction so that different learning needs are addressed, and students get the greatest possible advantage available to learning that concept. Take for example, I'm a visual learner. I need the visual, hands-on instruction. If I am trying to figure out how to fix something at home, I go to Google and watch a video showing me how to do step by step. But once I've done it once, I've got it. So I've added a visual, because some people need the visual to understand what I'm talking about.

As I am reflecting on my teaching this year, I realize there are things I need to improve or change for next year, but I'm also concerned by what I see from some of our students. Despite all the efforts to make the curriculum more engaging and mix it up in how we teach the material, I'm sensing an apathy among some students about school or learning. Being a small school, we try very hard to compete with the city schools and offer as many extras as we possibly can so that students feel they are getting as close to equal as anywhere else. Staff cheerfully immerses themselves into coaching, travel club, field trips, music festivals, video projects, and more, because we want those extras for students. But when it comes to learning in the classroom, we seem to be losing ground on engaging every student on the importance of learning starting at about grade 8 and up. I recognize we live in a very social society, and that trickles into school as well. But schools have become more about a social get-together than an opportunity to learn for the future. Don't get me wrong, I want students to have a social life, and they need that social interaction, but there needs to be a balance. Have you ever gone on a trip with your kids and they spend most of their time on their phones, while you are taking in the sites and wonders? That seems to the norm for our teenagers. They spend a lot of time on their phones with Instagram and Snapchat. The result is that they are so visually stimulated by all the visual images and video clips it isn't really a surprise that sitting in a classroom and taking notes and listening really doesn't meet their expectations on the excitement meter. Homework is constantly interrupted by the ding of iMessage. How can they possibly focus on the task at hand if they are checking their phones every minute?

So when it comes to school and learning, it's not enough for teachers to provide a lot of busy work to students, we need to engage students so they are learning. There's no easy fix for this other than we need to do a better job of differentiating the instruction so that we can cover the 7 learning styles. They are:
  • Visual Learning - when the student prefers using pictures, images, and spatial understanding,
  • Solitary (Intrapersonal) Learning - when the student prefers to work alone and self-study,
  • Social (Interpersonal) Learning - when the student prefers to work in groups or other people,
  • Logical (Mathematical) Learning - when the student prefers using logic, reasoning, and systems,
  • Physical (Kinethestic) Learning - when the student prefers using body, hands, and sense of touch,
  • Verbal (Linguistic) Learning - when the student prefers using words, both in speech and writing,
  • Aural (Auditory-Musical) Learning - when the student prefers using sound and music.
So what learning style are you?