How do I change? Where do I start?


Change by Gilad Benari

I have been transitioning to a new rhythm and perspective (I moved from being a classroom teacher to working on our district’s Instructional Leadership team). While I am in no way 100% adjusted, I am beginning to get the lay of the land, so to speak. One aspect of my job that has provided significant insights is the opportunity to have and to listen to conversations of both teachers and administrators across the K to 12 spectrum.

One theme I have heard in a variety of words and ways is the sentiment:

How do I change?


Where do we start our change process?

One teacher came right out and said “How do I get myself to change!!” It hit me: “Ah, it’s about the change process rather than the specifics or details of the change.”

This prompted me to reflect on what has afforded change in my process:

  • Have an honest talk to self: When I first decided I needed to change my practice I had a very frank, heart to heart conversation with myself. I had to admit: “Yup girl, you are in a rut!” It took several tries for this conversation to manifest. Admitting to myself that I need to change was my first and biggest step. I did not want to admit that I HAD to change.
  • Get into deep end as quickly as possible but don’t expect traction right away: I know…lots of people say, go slowly, do one thing at a time. For me going all in was what pushed me to wake up and see things anew. I don’t think the aha’s would have been the same if I had inched along. Think skydiving; you have to jump, if you want to do it!
  • Build a community of reminders: For me this community of reminders is Twitter. Every day I get an infusion of positive, upbeat, and concrete reminders of who I want to be and where I want to go. Twitter affords me the conditions I need to remember: “Right, that’s what I want to do, that’s who I want to be!” As a bat uses echolocation to move towards the goal, Twitter provides feedback to feedforward on a continual basis.
  • Establish a reflection routine: Whether to your friend on Friday after school, to your work partner first thing in the AM via Twitter or thought regular blogging, reflection has been my number one way towards actualized change. Blogging allowed me to track and understand myself and my course of change.
  • Accept you will have to ask for help: I am not a tech wizard…but I realized I wanted to learn how to use tech more than I wanted to appear as an expert. I had to ask for help, BUT I did not become dependent. Most of my tech learning has been facilitated via You Tube (and the great screencasts of other change agents).
  • Let outdated routines go: I am a big visualizer and I imagined my old habits as a ball and chain I had to cut off. Some of the habits I had to let go of were marking every piece of student work, micromanaging student’s time and over planning.
  • Put in the time: If I said change did not take time, I would be lying. Time and elbow grease may provide significant returns, however, time spent is not THE determining factor (I had spent tons of time before AND not experienced significant change).
  • Let go of ego: I will admit it…though hard even now. One of my biggest hurdles was my own ego; I was the expert teacher! I had worked hard and figured it out! Yup, had to let that go.
  • Compromise: My way or the highway, I was the expert and as a perfectionist, I did not know how to compromise. Another hate to admit it to the world, but in compromise I have realized that every project, idea, and goal is always #bettertogether.

What has afforded you change in your life, your teaching practice or in your school?

I and many others would love to hear!

The Unfollow.


We are a puny and fickle folk. Avarice, hesitation, and following are our diseases.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

I didn’t see it coming. We had been so happy together. Or so I thought.

We have been through thick and thin, good Tweets and bad. I thought we had an understanding. But now…I see…I was wrong.

Maybe you’ve been tweeting around and you found Tweets you like better than mine, or maybe you just wanted me for my follow.
Maybe you added me a friendapalooza?

When we meet you liked my Tweets and I liked yours. It was Twitter-tastic!!

But things have changed…

Maybe my Twabstinence made you realize you did not need me.

Maybe the moments I doubted myself, my voice came through.

Or maybe…I just…did not fulfill all your Twitter dreams.



I realize.

If you don’t like my Tweets. It is OK. It will be OK.

I have to be me here.
I thought maybe I could be everything, to everyone…


to be honest…

I need to be me more than I need your follow.

What is the point?

cheering crowd

Cheering Crowd by Michael Streat

The win! The cheering crowd, the champion cup, your team won! How do you know?

EASY. Look at the score board.

Is the educational game to determine the winners and losers so we can “fairly” award the victors?
Is learning an event that can produce data with mathematical accuracy?

Point Collection Culture

Point collection is both pervasive and invasive in school culture; assessments (tests, quizzes, assignments etc.) are designed to maximize the efficiency of point harvesting and not necessarily to provide relevant information around learning. Point collection, more than any other consideration in high schools, determines the selection of the summative assessment tool. Learning in high school happens in spite of point collection but not as a result of, or guided by, point collection (the main form of assessment in play in high schools).

Points are the currency of value and are what students work to acquire.

Students often see learning as a waste of energy as it may inhibit maximum point acquisition. Many students become desensitized to recognizing or identifying what learning feels like after being exposed to point allocation for non-learning activities over long periods of time. Point allocation for worksheet completion, word counts or even the wearing of a team jersey on spirit day, informs students that they should concern themselves with mastering point acquisition over learning strategies. Overall, points carry clout and value in the school setting and trump learning.

Point Driven Mindsets

Teachers in the name of efficiency are driven to collect as many points as possible in the shortest period of time. Points (and the collection of) are used primarily to determine how effectively the teacher transferred a fixed body of knowledge to the student (focused on what the teacher has taught). Point collection does not describe the student’s conceptual development of a subject and is limited to the highly prescribed curriculum. Most assessments reveal what a student does not know rather than reveal where students have mastered. The common student laments “I understood topic X perfectly but it wasn’t on the test”, “I studied all the wrongs things” and “But you never even taught us that!” all speak to this perspective. As points are deducted from students this that will determine the students overall average in a course, the focus avoiding mistakes at all costs.

Essays, projects and tests are often given to students with the “I need to collect marks” mentality as raspberries in season that need to be harvested in haste before the birds get to them. Rather than the consideration of the student’s learning and progress as the deciding factor, a pre-set date for harvest dictates when a student will have the chance to acquire points.  The school calendar dictates harvest dates and not the progress of the child.

Does this in any way improve the next crop of raspberries?

Point Driven Strategies

Over the course of their school careers, students develop highly sophisticated point acquisition strategies to succeed. These strategies generally reward students who are socially well-connected and those who know how to negotiate. Students who are willing to hound the teacher often benefit from more points (this speaks to personality rather than mastery of content).

Knowledge or understanding of content beyond material that will be tested is deemed “useless.” The common refrain “Will this be on the test?” speaks to this mindset. Students want and demand from teachers perfectly worded answers which are easy to mimic and memorize in order guarantee point acquisition.

Demonstration of learning is done so as to avoid error; errors are permanently costly in an averaged point acquisition set up. Evaluation is separated from the learning process and has nothing to do with the student themselves. “What did I get?” is the most commonly asked question of the classroom teacher instead of: What did I learn?; How can I improve?; Can you help me figure this out?

Students are routinely given the message that they should trust a number over what they feel and know about themselves as learners. “I thought I knew it better than that” reflects a student ability to self-access which is ignored in a scantron world “Well that’s what the bubble machine score showed us.” Regardless of wording, nuance or interpretation of questions, the scantron is given absolute authority over determining the student’s learning or lack there of.

The end game

What is in fact our end game in education? When our students exit the building in their final year with their school record what do we hope that record speaks of and speaks to about that student? When parents receive their child’s report card at the end of the semester and this is the only piece of information that they will receive about their son or daughter what do we want the piece of paper to communicate about this child?

At the moment report cards are the end game that drive the cattle home so to speak, all roads lead to report cards. When we work back from these it explains and decodes many of our schools habits and mindsets. Final exams, exam periods, and midterms exist in many cases to create and justify a final letter grade.

What do we want to be able to communicate in regards to student learning? What are we hoping to convey? Who is it for? Who is to benefit?

Do we as educators have a moral imperative to consider and begin to advocate for assessment that empowers learning?


Looking for feedback: Assessment & Grading Guide


‘Money reduces trust’ in small groups, study shows

It’s Time to Stop Averaging Grades

Grading Practices that Inhibit Learning

Seven Reasons for Standards-Based Grading

Why I became a teacher

I meet my best friend in Grade 3.
Her name was Patty; she had a gerbil and lived in a BIG house.
I had my first sleep over at her house. We whispered stories all night. We wrote notes all day in class.
We finished elementary school and moved on to high school together.

High school was a Catholic all-girls school: uniforms, nuns, and the whole deal. We had chapel on Tuesday mornings and “study hall” on Wednesday. Mother Johnson gave us the ins and outs of setting a table, writing thank you notes and how to make conversation in any situation.
We led sheltered lives. OK. Let’s be serious, VERY sheltered lives. We went to church, confession, study hall, and spent our days with nuns.
In grade 9 some of us starting hanging out with boys from the public school: “bad boys.” How cliché. I know. It was our rebellion to the strict dress code (no make up, jewelry, or rolled sleeves) and knees together world (the phrase repeated daily).


On a morning in May of Grade 11, Patty was fatally shot, once through her heart, at close range by her then estranged boyfriend in the basement of her BIG house.

We all knew things were not right with Danny. We all saw many significant signs. Patty herself knew things had got beyond what she could deal with. We all felt extremely uncomfortable with what we saw and Patty had shared with us.

In our tightly controlled, mandated and safe world there was no one to tell. No one. 
No one we trusted or who was open to talking to us at school, or home, as people.

I am sorry. So sorry I did not tell someone what I saw, what I knew. How scared Patty was. How unwell and threatening Danny had become. I will forever be full of heatfelt regret, Patty.

Looking back, I cannot identify one person I could have talked to.


We all have events that define us and who we become. This defined me. Still defines me.
I left high school disillusioned.

The tools I needed to navigate the most important challenge of my life thus far had been missing (and arguably none of us are ready for such a tragedy). School failed not for lack of trying; it failed in providing any real, meaningful points of connection for me, for Patty, for all of us.

Eventually this pulled me. I wanted to connect to kids. Kids who needed to talk and to feel supported. Kids who felt lost, overwhelmed or unsure about what they were feeling, seeing, or hearing. I wanted to be a person they could talk to or in a small way feel connected to.

I wanted to be there if and when someone needed that someone to talk to. I hoped to connect to young people…that I once was…wondering who can I talk to? 

I wanted them to see themselves as a person before they saw themselves as a student. I wanted them to feel connected to me as a person before they saw me as “a teacher.”

I became a teacher to give my heart, slightly broken, but ready to hear and hold. 

I became a teacher to redeem myself; for wanting to follow my instinct and for not giving voice to what I knew was wrong.


I don’t talk about Patty. I have not shared her story in my adult life. I still meet her in my dreams. 

I dreamt of Patty last night. I woke up today knowing it was time to give voice to her story…

I love you Patty. 


Creativity, which is the expression of our originality, helps us stay mindful that what we bring to the world is completely original and cannot be compared.
                                                                                                                                                           Brené Brown


I like talking about things first. I am really good at talking.


I already blog on a regular basis.


I really don’t have the time.


I am not talented at all. I have no creativity.


People are going to judge me… I’ll wait until I get better at it. yeah, way, way, better.


I just don’t want to share THAT side of myself with the world!


I was going to start taking photos, painting, journaling, movie making, story writing…tomorrow….too much effort today…yeah tomorrow will work.

CREATE Create Create


*Head back*



I am just scared, scared, okay. I am not that talented, I want my work to be liked…I don’t want you to think less…

of me.

You might figure out I am NOT a creative person.

My words.

My thoughts.

My quotes.

Polished. Careful. Controlled.

A thick blanket.

Create create create

What will you CREATE?

#flipclass as adjacent possible

Strategic change management often means encouraging gradual evolution – allowing the company to move from one adjacent possible to another. One idea – collaboration, for example – can lead to another, such as removing fixed desks and landlines and encouraging what we call the ‘bump factor’. These changes, in turn, can lead to further improvements in the way that people, places and technology work together.

Dave Coplin


If you think about educational change, you can’t (all other variables kept static) change from a traditional “stand and delivery” teacher and POOF overnight become an inquiry based one. Similarly, moving from a teacher directed classroom to a student centered one, requires a gradual evolution for both teacher and students. Too radical a change might in fact cause the extinction of the very change you are trying to implement. Systems survive by maintain homeostasis of the system, not by being disrupted, regardless of how worthy or valuable the disruption. Moreover, the change might not even be imaginable or seem possible from the starting perspective.

How about on our way towards the desired change we move to the adjacent possible? First.
How about instead of telling teachers the changes they “should” make, how about providing them with a way to change?

Many #flipclass practitioners have spent considerable time and energy defining, explaining and clarifying what exactly #flipclass is and what it is not. Throughout I felt a key component of my explanation was missing but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it; #flipclass was close enough to what I already did but AT THE SAME TIME it opened up new opportunities for changes previously unattainable and unseen. This dynamic was for me the secret sauce of #flipclass as a vehicle for change. It was not whether #flipclass was “bad or good” (we could debate this forever) or the same as traditional practice…

Instead. What mattered? #Flipclass was possible AND created new possibilities for further change. Critics have been quick to pounce and this observation against #flipclass; “Look teachers who use #flipclass move beyond it”. Exactly!

How about instead we consider #flipclass as adjacent possible? As Steven Johnson describes, adjacent possible:

captures both the limits and the creative potential of change and innovation. In the case of prebiotic chemistry, the adjacent possible defines all those molecular reactions that were directly achievable in the primordial soup. Sunflowers and mosquitoes and brains exist outside that circle of possibility. The adjacent possible is a kind of shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself.

The strange and beautiful truth about the adjacent possible is that its boundaries grow as you explore them. Each new combination opens up the possibility of other new combinations. Think of it as a house that magically expands with each door you open. You begin in a room with four doors, each leading to a new room that you haven’t visited yet. Once you open one of those doors and stroll into that room, three new doors appear, each leading to a brand-new room that you couldn’t have reached from your original starting point. Keep opening new doors and eventually you’ll have built a palace.

Change occurs within a complex interconnected system. You might in fact, have the best new idea, but that does not mean it will survive within the system. If you see #flipclass simply as “old wine in new bottles” consider #flipclass as the process of change rather than as the change.

Johnson compares ideas to a number of interconnected rooms down a hallway: you can’t reach the final room without travelling through the others. When I was in my “traditional teaching room” I could not see all the way down the hall to inquiry. As I moved into the adjacent possible of #flipclass, I gained new perspectives that I could not have in the original space. Being in this new space, a new adjacent possible became possible.

What is your adjacent possible?

It’s hard to believe in what you can’t see.

Last weekend I attended a wedding where I had the pleasure of seeing several former students after many years. One student in particular stood out. Rob, who I have not seen since he was in grade 9 science, was there with his wife and 2 children. To say Rob struggled in school would be an understatement. He spent most of his time in detention (very popular then) for his hi-jinx in Foods class and in the principal’s office for various infractions. To put it bluntly Rob was a juvenile delinquent; in trouble both in school and out.

Rob was also an energetic, outgoing and charismatic young man. He loved to make people laugh and always had a twinkle in his eye. Rob was a handful in class; he loved to talk, joke and demanded lot of attention.

At the end of the school year Rob presented me with a card and a wooden bowl that he had made in shop class. The card is long gone but the bowl still sits on my desk in a place of honour.


When I saw Rob last weekend I was happy to tell him and his wife that I still had the bowl and i had thought of him many times over the years as I reached for a paper clip. As we talked at the wedding he described some challenging years after high school. Then he met his wife and his priorities had shifted.

Standing there on the lawn, seeing Rob both as a grown man and as the teenager I had known, was enough for me; to see Rob with love in his eyes for his beautiful wife and children. He was happy, healthy with a steady job, he had love and purpose for his life.

In that moment, all the angst and hassle of having Rob in my class was validated and the why was revealed.

Sometimes as educators it is challenging to find and connect to the urgency of our why. At times we may be tempted dismiss a child “as too much work”” or to rationalize that the child “will never be successful” and to focus on those who will be. I would be dishonest if I did not admit that I have have had those very thoughts myself and I think they are normal to have (just not to act on).

According to the evidence of school Rob was not “successful” and many predicted he was doomed to a life deemed “unsuccessful”.

And here is the thing, it is hard…very very hard…to believe in what you can’t see…

We can never see the depths of our impact on the lifetime’s of the children we work with. We can never see the potential for change and growth that resides inside each and every one of us.

And we don’t always get to see the Rob’s and all they have become.

But we can most certainly believe…

Faith is a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty.

                                                                                Brené Brown

Who creates the learning story in the classroom?

We all have story to tell. But sometimes we forget that others have stories too…

In her Ted Talk (featured below) “The Danger of a Single Story” Chimamanda Adichie describes how her narrative was influenced as she grew up reading exclusively Western literature (by the way this would be a great Ted Talk to watch in History or English class to discuss perspective or point of view). It struck me that this danger could also exist in our classroom spaces.
Whose learning stories get told, is it always from the adult’s perspective? (Learning is easy, learning is fun, don’t you get it yet?)
Is there space, trust, and a regular invitation for student’s to craft and tell their learning in their own way?

Crafting narrative builds context and richness for students that is often missing with new content. The creation of even a small story invites the learner to make sense in their own words and in their own way. Creation invites students to pull the content and their background knowledge out from the chaos and embed it in a meaningful way.

Below are some activities that invite students to create and own the learning narrative. Any of these could stand alone or could be done in a sequence to build larger collective narrative. I have used a Biology example but could easily be altered to fit any topic!

Offered in order of time commitment:

1. #sixwordstory
At the start of a unit or topic show students a related image. For example in Biology class I shared the image below to our Facebook group page. Students were asked to create a #sixwordstory about the image and then are given the choice to either Tweet, post to our Facebook group, or write story on a sticky note. If they write on a sticky note, I post their story for them. In the example below, 16 students selected to post here and the rest Tweeted. My favorite #sixwordstory related to this picture was “Man’s feats can demonstrate nature’s marvels.”

This activity can be used anywhere you want students to synthesize or reflect. It is fast, fun and students can choose how they would like to participate.

6 word story

2. Found Poem
If you want to take #sixwordstory’s up a notch, students can turn their stories into “Found Poems”. The simplest and easiest way to create a found poem is to ask students to read their #sixwordstory aloud one after another as quickly as possible to add some tempo to the poem.

Found poems can also be created from readings. Student select their favorite sentence or phrase from the passage or chapter and then read these aloud. It is always amazing to hear how many will select the same phrase or sentence and this supplies a refrain like quality to their collective poem.

Found poems could easily be extended into a larger project or simply end with the reading.

3. Phonto
Phonto is a free app that allows you to easily add text to a photo. This is a great way for students to use their phones and leverage their love of taking photos. There is a phonto app for both Apple and Android. The example below is one I created. You could combine #sixwordstory and Phonto for more story telling fun!

phonto (3)

5. Animoto – Want to turn the found poem, or the phonto photos into something more?  Take them and throw into an Animoto video (open an educator account to start) for a collective, professional looking Found Poem.

I share below an Animoto I show to my classes at the start of the school year to make my “we all have stories to tell” point.

6. Using Whiteboards to tell stories – Low tech and multi-purpose, whiteboards are a fun way to invite student to tell stories.  It might look messy to you, but it is amazing to hear the narratives that students share when presenting their stores to the class. Everyone loves a good story! Students can archive these by taking photos of the whiteboards and adding to their digital portfolios or to our Facebook page.

Robot Unicorn Attack.
Robot Unicorn Attack.

The question remains, who tells the learning story in the classroom?
How will your students tell theirs?
Do you have any ideas to add to the ones here? I would love to here about them!

Teaching or Learning?

“Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.”
― Isaac Asimov

Ok. I am having a little bit of cognitive dissidence and I need some help.
I am not sure if I am confused or I have clarity. I thought I HAD clarity. But as things go lately, I am now confused about that clarity.

Let me explain.

Over the course of the past 2 years I have been on a journey that shifted my focus from one that was primarily centered on my teaching (what I did) to a focus on learning and mainly on what students do (both physically and mentally). Over the course of this journey, I have moved away from, in my mind, thinking of myself as a teacher. Increasingly I have felt much more of a learner than anything. This has led to a subtle shift but significant shift in my language (for example using I can statement instead of The learner will be able to statements) and…sigh…my whole view of education….no big deal.

Anyway. I am a still far from being able to fully articulate this cosmic shift in any reasonable fashion and sketch a clear picture for you. But some of the shifts I have experienced and observations I made are as follows:

As a teacher I designed a learning sequence and the learner followed it.
As a learner I walk along a path of learning shoulder to shoulder with the student, the outcomes not yet determined.

As a teacher I set up problems I hoped the student would find interesting and if they didn’t, oh well, try again next time.
As a learner, I did not set up problems. My students presented me with problems they found interesting and wanted to solve with me.

As a teacher I did most of the mental heavy lifting for mt students. I organized, I condensed, I chewed up.
As a learner I jumped in to the deep end with my students and we all figured it out together even though at times it was uncomfortable.

As a teacher I had a big tool box of  strategies I would apply to students to activate learning.
As a learner I let the situation, the problem, the collaboration,, the validity of all these activate the learning.

As a teacher I judged for the student whether or not I thought learning was going on.
As a learner I trusted that the student could and would make that decision for themselves.

As a teacher I was warded value in the room de facto.
As a learner I earned value through the process of sharing my learning.

As a teacher I believed my efforts increase the quality of learning.
As a learner my connection to other learners amplified the learning.

And no, I did not full manifest the learner I describe above. I was still in the process of letting go off the vestiges of my teaching practice. The glimmers i did experience were enough to shift my definition of teaching and learning in a profound way.


Have I wandered off into the deep grass and got myself turned around? Do I need to scramble back up the hill quickly and get back on track? (and if so, how do I get there?)

Is this difference as significant as it feels to me?

The Point Factory


Photo shared on Flickr by Societies Illusion

The most important assessment that goes on in a school isn’t done to students but goes on inside students.
                                                                                                                                                            Ron Berger


Each September millions of children return to point factories. Children are assigned to work groups where a supervisor will monitor and track each child’s point production.  Point quotas vary from group to group but daily production is strictly enforced. Children remain at their work stations throughout the work day or risk point deductions for absence or reduced productivity. Children who fail to meet weekly point quotas are reported to the factory warden. Such children are mandated to complete their point quota or risk removal from the factory.

Supervisors assign point producing projects with strict time lines. Without such time lines children reduce overall productivity of the factory. Overly sentimental supervisors may reveal point allocation for work projects in advance. Efficient supervisors like to keep point allocation to themselves; “Just complete the task children! You will be told in good time!” This breeds the trust necessary to run an efficient factory.

Supervisors keep accurate and detailed data logs on each student’s point production. Detailed data reports are sent home to parents daily. In the modern age parents prefer monitoring their child via electronic sensors. Supervisors may include comments such as: “Congratulation your child is expert at point acquisition; we feel certain this will ensure their success in the future.” This type of tracking is preferable to time-consuming conversation and discussion. Daily point output provides a reliable and efficient means of determining the child’s progress towards being a valuable member of SOCIETY. For children who can’t be productive point producers it is dubious if they will ever contribute in a meaningful way to SOCIETY. 

Children are required to prove authenticity of their point production. Children create new point counterfeiting strategies daily. As a result supervisors receive extensive training to allow them to remain diligent. Regardless, point buying is common when children have access to currency. Haggling is a known and accepted way to increase point allocation from a supervisor. Parents often provide point negotiating training for their child. 

Most supervisors believe daily point tallies are vital to keep children focused on their purpose. Children are not to be trusted for remembering why they are at the factory in the first place, they are children! Once points are assigned, students wear these points publicly displayed on their work jackets. This allows supervisors to efficiently judge what they are up against and adjust working conditions accordingly.


Just because something is mathematically easy to calculate doesn’t mean it’s pedagogically sound.
                                                                                    Rick Wormelli