Can you be held accountable for something you own?

“Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.”
Pasi Salberg


Last year my daughter told us she wanted a new iPhone. “Ok” we said “you will just have to pay for it yourself.” So off she went to get a part-time job, saved over several months and finally had the funds to purchase her iPhone.
Fast forward to this fall when she was getting out of my husband’s truck with the beloved in hand. You can probably guess what happened!  As she was exiting the truck the phone slipped out of her hand and clattered onto the driveway. Before you could say “I love iPhones,” crack and shatter…the screen was toast. She was devastated, her beloved ruined. She felt bad, so badly, that she had in a 2 second window let her iPhone slick out of her grasp. Back to saving she went to get the screen repaired. I am not going to claim this event totally changed her phone carrying behavior, but she did get a different case and she did assume complete responsibility.  But the thing of it was she owned the phone. We couldn’t be “mad at her” or disappointed with her for dropping it, as she was mad and disappointed with herself. We didn’t jump need to assume responsibility for the phone, it was hers, 100%.


While I get that phones and learning and very different this story helps to make a point.

We say we want students to own their learning, right? We say we want students to become independent learners, right? Can anyone own something when held accountable externally for it? When we, with our best intentions, say we need to hold our students accountable for their learning, is this is not an oxymoron? Can someone be held accountable for something that is theirs? And the very second we do hold students accountable do we not extinguish, in that very moment, all hope that students will in fact ever own their learning, because in that very well-meaning moment, haven’t we owned the learning for them?

Do we think we have to hold students accountable as they not capable? If learning is to be authentic to them and for them are they not capable of that?  Is it that they don’t care? Perhaps this has to do with the fact that the learning was never theirs in the first place. It is hard to be forced to care about something that is not and will never be yours.

How do you feel when you are held accountable? Do you feel empowered or dis-empowered?
When you are engaged fully in a project you love and are passionate about do you need to be held accountable for it? At all?


The truth does not make it so.

I like to speak the truth. I bet you do too.

But I realize even I speak the truth that this act alone does not make what I say perpetually true.

For example when I say: “excellence is really important to model for students,” I really do believe that modelling excellence is vital and foundational for creating a culture of excellence. But…the statement alone does not make it true; it is through thoughtful, consistent and purposeful actions that I make the statement true. The truth lies in the actions that bring life to my sentiment.
I often reflect and wonder if sometimes if we as adults say true statements, such as work ethic is important or digital citizenship is a crucial topic for students, but do not always ourselves make it true with our own actions. Do we act these statements out everyday in front of our students? Do they intuitively know what we say and what we do align? Can they verbalize specific and numerous examples of where and when they see these truths acted out live and in front of them (as opposed to only talked about).

While our words and the specific words we use matter and help to create our school cultures and communities, it is our collective micro-actions that add up to create a congruent reality…

or one that is disjointed and inauthentic.

What truths do you say? What do you do to make them true?

When you lose your way…

There are times, there will be times, or maybe there have been times already…when you lose your way.

You may stumble and fall. Briefly. And be able to pick yourself right back up again.

There may be other times, when, seemingly out of the blue. You crack. The veneer you hold in place opens and you, raw sewage comes spewing out.

Today. I lost my way. I fell down and was not able to pick myself up.
I have been struggling with the transition to my new job. Trying to immerse myself with wholehearted commitment and unbridled abandon. I have been trying to find a pace to fall into. And to a certain extent this has worked.


I am having a hard letting go. Letting go and walking away. I know it is all very tangled up; the most tangled and entangled balls of wool, you probably would throw them away and start fresh. It would be easier. What is of my own making? What is simply my ego in need of validation? What is fear of not being needed? What is just normal transitional angst?  What is self perpetuated? I don’t know and I can’t really tell anymore. I just know today it all came pouring out, a deluge of grief for what I have left.


Luckily. I work with good people. Really, really good people, who you can crack in front off and they open up their arms.

When you lose your way, there is only one way to get found again.

And this is the hardest step.

You have to admit your lost.

Hopeful me vs Cynical me.


Some days I feel like Jekyll and Hyde.

Start the day out as Polly-Anna Hopeful and then later, instantly turn into her evil twin sister, Cruella the Cynical. Sometimes this cynical person dislikes Polly-Anna, even hopes that she won’t return, it would be easier that way.

In some places Polly-Anna hides, she’s afraid of the crushing criticism. No, no, not said aloud, spoken words, but criticism that you taste and feel as you breathe in, the droplets of disdain, landing dew-like in your lungs. Maybe Polly-Anna is weak, she doesn’t mean to be, she has just learnt over the years, that raw un-throttled enthusiasm is not the way to form connection. Not in HERE anyways. Rather, enthusiasm, only serves to alienate and isolate.

Whereas the cynicism, dark and comforting, like dark chocolate, sinful and rich. Melting on our tongues and coating the hope that so recently stood there, white now coated in dark. Now, we are on the same team. A feeling of shared battle, of shared defeat. It is their fault not ours. We are tough, we will keep going, not fall prey to the campaigns and promises. We know better. We know better than to believe and give our hearts to it.

Really it’s not so much that it is a choice, it’s just a means of survival. A way to protect the inside parts that like a tin are so crushable and so worth not having crushed. An armour to wear on the way to the place I need to get.

There are secret pockets, places where hope shines in its glory and brilliance, where she is allowed to come out blazing. But we try not to talk about these pockets too much, we just know they are there. These are the spots and moments we wait for, like spring flowers and shared laughing fits; they are worth the wait. Where dreams dance, up on the tables, drunk with the possibilities of the impossible.

Some days it is hard to fathom how these 2 are the same person and how I let both of them belong. How even sometimes, I encourage both of them to continue rather than take a stand and decide finally to commit. Somehow this possibility is not part of this landscape.

In HERE, it’s not like that…

“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.” 
― Shel Silverstein

Teachers don’t want to change. Or. Is it about trust?

Ask any teacher to make radical changes to their practise and they will likely feel threatened. Change of any kind threatens to upset the proverbial apple cart and take our lives out of balance. As we increase the size of the risk we increase the potential fail. As we increase in teacher years, we increase the investment we have put in to creating balance. I will go out on a limb here and generalize that a large part of the reason real deep change does not occur in our schools is teachers do not fully trust the culture they work in sufficiently to take large risks with their reputations and practice.

I am going to go further out on the limb to say that I believe that many teachers are in fact looking for ways to transition from a teacher centered classroom, and it is not that they do not want to change; it is that they feel it is too risky a proposition. When someone (usually an expert from out-of-town, who you have never met before) comes along and suggests new practices, whether it is, PBL, inquiry, or modeling (insert your favorite educational flavour of the month) , the roadblock is the perceived risk and the lack of a “safety net” below.

In the chapter “The Emergence of Trust”, in Start with Why, Simon Sinek, describes it like this:

“No matter how experienced, no matter how proficient, a trapeze artist will not attempt a totally new death-defying leap without first trying it with a net below him. And depending on how death-defying the trick is, he may insist on ALWAYS having a net when performing the trick.”

Now I know I am not a trapeze artist, nor do I perform death-defying acts, however my brain does not differentiate. Risks to my brain are just that: risks. As we move into risky situations, we move from acting out of our thinking brain to the more primitive protective and reacting brain.

I have puzzled over why I found the making and archiving of videos in the flipped classroom to be so freeing and transformative. Why did the flipped classroom paradigm move me forward, when I have tried dozens of different techniques over the years? I have imagined the flip class as a strong bridge transporting me safely into the future. I still find this metaphor useful. However it did not fully explain why I found re-defining my role in the classroom, the taking of a large risk, acceptable and doable within the flipped classroom. Whereas in the past I was only willing to make small timid changes (that never produced any real traction).

I think it comes down to simply this: if I was going to change, risk it all and go all in, I had to feel I had a safety net to catch me if  I fell. The skills I had developed over my teaching career became that net. I knew I could rely on these, fall back on these so to speak and I knew from past experiences they would keep me, my practise and my reputation, safe. I used these skills I trusted to make videos, to build a figurative safety net for myself, so that if  I fell, I would have something to fall into.

So are videos just lectures in a video format as some critics of the flipped class say? Yes and no. I see it almost like an optical illusion, yes they look like lectures,  but they are not the show. And they are ALSO…my safety net.

And who knows, as my skills and confidence increase I may even be able to “perform” without them. I may consider, the explore-flip-apply model, I may do all kinds of things! But please, please understand that I will do so when I feel safe.

As Sinek describes:

“The system thrives….but not without trust. For those within a community, or an organization, they must trust that their leaders provide a net – practical or emotional. With the feeling of support, those in the organization are more likely to put in extra effort that ultimately benefits the group as a whole.”

So what do you think? Is it that teachers don’t want to change? Or is it about a lack of TRUST?

The Hypocrisy of Change.

Don’t focus on “marks”, but give a final exam on a specific day.

De-emphasis grades, but organize awards day.

Make assessment a meaningful conversation, but email marks home on a regular basis.

Make exams that are meaningful and relevant, but have final marks ready 24 hours after the exam is given.

Don’t worry about data, but have the data ready when a parent questions your professional opinion.

Don’t make learning worksheet driven, but give worksheets when a student needs to get caught up.

Do what is right for each child, but have an airtight classroom policy.

Grow passion in students for a subject, but make sure to quantify it.

Teach students how to self regulate their technology, but forbid computers at staff meetings.

Personalize learning, but don’t choose what you learn about.

Teach collaboration, but exist in four closed walls.

The Power of the Listening Principal.

We all have stories to tell with our lives. Some of us are born with stories pouring out and others….take years to connect to their own stories. If you are confused by “story”, I mean pieces of personal narrative that unite to bring meaning to your life. Stories tend to grow, meander and then take you somewhere new in life.
Do you know these transformative type stories?

A couple of years back, I started telling a story aloud; bits and pieces, scraps of ideas, nothing concrete. Truth be told, when it began it probably sounded like frustration and anger.

But, here is the amazing thing……..

Someone actually listened to my story. When I say listened I don’t mean they just smiled and nodded and watched words come out of my mouth.

They actually heard the words as they came out. They valued what I had to say, they let me say what I needed to say. 

Have you had this experience? Someone hears what you are saying with no strings attached, no judgement, no pay back expected, just… listen….to you.

Wow. I know it does not sound like not much. No pro-d, no advice, no courses to take.  Let me be clear, these opportunities were offered as well. The “listening” however, was the part that was the most significant, singular and unfamiliar to me.  Just a solid set of ears, an open heart and a non-judgemental mind.

Not only did this person listen to my story, they also became a vessel for the scraps and fragments as my story developed and grew. They provided a safe spot where I could pick up and resume to grow my story. They let my story stay alive, when there was no other place in my life to keep it. In this crazy, hectic, and fragmented life, I cannot express accurately how much this meant to me or how vital it was for my growth.

I never felt judged, I never felt used, I never felt I was too enthusiastic, that I should “tone it down”, or was I questioned for wasting time talking crazy.

I was just listened to. I was given space, time, opportunity and the safety to tell my story.

When finally my story began to take shape and meaning, what had started as a heated conversation over school policy, evolved into one of change and growth (See Excuse me, I think I am having a Revolution). The snippets of conversation had taken seed and grown into full-blown tangible changes.

To our principal Scott Mclean, I want to say thank you for listening to me, for hearing me and for the biggest gift of all: letting me hear myself and create my own story.

My list of cheap stuff that students love.

I have been low on inspiration.

Contemplation Corner.


So this is what you get.

My list of cheap stuff that kids love.

1. Snack Day – I bring snack the first Thursday or Friday of the semester. Students then sign up on our class calendar for the following Thursday or Friday classes for the rest of the semester. Some students bring snack in pairs.  Students will talk, tweet, FB about snack day more than any other topic. Students love food. I ask about allergies first day of class.

 2. Facebook Page – Takes 5 minutes to set up and I do not have to friend students to do this. Students can join or not. I post reminders, videos, pictures of a lab we ran in class etc. Students ask questions here, make silly comments on pictures and also post interesting Biology related videos they have come across. The true magic is; they ALL check it with not one reminder from me. We also have tutorials on chat. Students love it! Last piece of evidence: students ask if we have to end the group when the course ends.

3. Stickers – I go to the dollar store and buy lots. I have drawers full (no lie). I love seasonal and scratch and sniff are also very popular. Students collect them on their binders and can tell you exactly what they got each one for. Students like to be noticed. This is an easy way I notice something special about their work. This reminds me, every time, that even grade 12s have kid left in them and sometimes miss being kids (don’t we all!).

4. Display Student work  EVERYWHERE– More is More. Change frequently.

More is more.

Students do notice when you take their stuff done. If you don’t have time for this get a fast finisher or an off task student to do for you.

Favorite Kingdoms.
Favorite things are cheap.

5. Learning Journals – Cost 25 cents and will seal the trust issue for some students. Reading about students’ lives jolts me into seeing them as individuals, some with lots on their plates and helps me to regain empathy (if temporarily misplaced).

Back to contemplation.

Over and Out.

My secret teacher super power: Collaboration.

Luckily for me when I heard about the flipped class last spring, I told another 2 teachers who shared in my enthusiasm for the idea. Also luckily our principal Scott Mclean (@OKMScott) was able to send the three of us to the Flipped Conference in Woodland Park, to see the pioneers of flipping, Aron Sams (@chemicalsams) and Jon Bergman (@jonbergmann). The conference and trip, forged the foundation for what developed into a flourishing collaborative team that has single-handedly supported me through my first bumpy year of the flipped class.

Yes I have heard of collaboration and of course I have worked with many teachers over the years. We have had days designated as “collaborative”, we have collaborated as a department, and we have collaborated across departments. However, I had never really collaborated before. I can’t articulate exactly why this collaboration is unique or successful. I think it is due to the large risk we all took in embarking on the flipped class. I just know that could not have made it this far on this journey without my fellow flippers. When I run out of energy and enthusiasm, our debrief and strategy sessions re-charge my batteries. When I have the proverbial worst day and get the itch to go back to my Powerpoint haze, I talk it though. This does take time and energy and it also takes bravery to show your practice to other teachers, blemishes and all.

However the strength it has imparted to me to stretch myself as a teacher it most certainly a worthwhile trade-off. I am more humble and open about my practice; and I feel ready to open my doors (although it still is intimidating for me).

I like what the flipped class has done for my students;regardless of the criticism out there right now. The flipped class has put the learning firmly back in the hands of the learner, it has provided me a fresh perspective, it has got me out-of-the-way, it has me looking for and trying new ways to work with students. This process is messy as I find my way and there is always the risk of failure.

However; I know someone has my back, I feel ready to take some big risks and to work through the bumps in the road. I am proud to work with my fellow risk takers and I a feel ready for the big challenges ahead!