Monday, 26 March 2018

What's A Teacher To Do?

As a teacher I gave up worrying about what I can’t change or control long ago. I focus on what is within my power to control or influence. And frankly, I believe there is a lot of room for me to make a difference in the lives of children.  In my teaching life no one has ever said, “You must do THIS in exactly this way.”  Don’t get me wrong, they HAVE said, “You must do this” but the how has been up to me.

So what’s a teacher to do when she or he is given a set of criteria created at the school, district, provincial, or territorial level and told to use it? Because we work as part of a team, because we honour our professional obligations, because we know it is a research-based practice… we use it. But it doesn’t stop there.  Because we understand that criteria are most effective when co-constructed with the learners who will use it, we involve our students in the process.

In one school district a team of teachers and the math consultant created criteria for math problem solving.  Along with the curriculum, this criteria describes quality and proficiency for teachers. We then use it to create a clear learning destination for our students, describing what they must know, understand, do, and articulate.  Next we use samples to make this target clear to all. These samples may be student work from another year, a pair of students describing their solution during a math meeting or congress, or the teacher modelling his or her thinking (notice I said thinking, not steps or solution) during a problem solving demonstration. As the students observe, the teacher pauses periodically to ask, “What do you notice?” and records student responses, beginning the process of co-constructing the criteria in the students’ own language.

On our own or with members of our team, we connect the criteria co-constructed with the students to that we were given, looking for what may be missing, but more likely noting that students have noticed more than we ever would.


Monday, 26 February 2018

Teaching for Student Success

What counts…
What matters…
What is important…

… in teaching for student success?

You can ask people who know me. They’ll tell you I don’t waste time playing in the shallow water. I go deep. But this question was one even I was afraid to ask. Until now.

A group of mentor teachers and I explored this question as a way to provide authentic and meaningful support to teachers new to the profession, while remaining true to our non-evaluative role. Modelling our process on what we would do with students, we began with the end in mind – not our opinion about what is important in effective teaching, but what our school district and ministry or department of education say on the topic. Because we were in Ontario, we used the 16 Competency Statements from the Teacher Performance Appraisal, but any document used in teacher evaluation will work.

After reviewing and discussing the pertinent documents, teams of teachers wrote “I can” statements about the grade or discipline they taught. As we engaged in the conversation, it became clear to us that the conversation itself was important. We need to talk about this as educators.

As ideas were recorded, we saw that just like in the learning destinations we write for students, we were not prescribing steps or isolated elements of teaching.  Rather, we were talking about big ideas that could be met in a variety of ways, honouring the individuality so critical to teaching.

Here are some examples of our first thinking:

With thanks from Ottawa Catholic School Board

Now, whether we are mentors talking with teachers at the beginning of their career, a team of Grade 2-3 teachers exploring the teaching of writing, the Math department in a high school, or a principal and a teacher talking about strengths and goals, we have something practical, positive, and possible to guide our work.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

The Joy of Giving

I have been experiencing the joy of giving in a heightened way these past few months and it is about more than Christmas. It is our practice at connect2learning to offer a gift, most often a book, as a way of expressing our deepest appreciation for the opportunity to work alongside teachers, schools, and systems. Since November 22nd, I’ve been giving  Making Physical Education Instruction and Assessment Work, the book I co-authored with my friend and colleague, Karen Cross. On two occasions (so far!), I’ve actually been able to place it in the hands of a physical educator and say, “We wrote this for you.”

The joy is about more than sharing a new book I’m very proud of.  It’s about shouting from the rooftops that assessment is a topic that connects us - classroom teacher and specialist - and we have much to learn from each other. All too often, the perception, and sometimes the reality, has been that whole staff professional learning does not pertain to the physical educators in the building. With this book, in which we apply the big ideas, structures, and strategies of assessment in the service of learning to the teaching of physical education, we show that a focus on quality classroom assessment is an inclusionary professional learning practice that recognizes that  “We are all teaching children and adolescents to be responsible, contributing citizens. We are all interested in developing self-determining, lifelong learners.” (Augusta & Cross, p. 41) 

Together we can talk about:
·         identifying clear and meaningful learning destinations for students,
·         collecting evidence of learning from observations, conversations, and products,
·         describing quality through the gradual release of responsibility, using samples, and co-constructing criteria,
·         giving feedback that moves learning forward, and
·         involving students in self- and peer assessment.

While we’re at it, let’s include the music specialists, the visual arts teachers, the industrial arts educators, the drama teachers…

Tuesday, 21 November 2017


I got the call today.  The call that makes our manuscript a book… a reality that we can hold, turn the pages of, and wonder of wonders, invite others to read. Because my co-author Karen Cross and I live in the same city as the printer, and the offices of Connections Publishing are in Courtenay, BC, we will be the very first to hold our newly printed book. Even though it’s a one-person job, we will probably make the drive to pick up our box of books together because the writing was such an act of deep collaboration, it would feel wrong to go alone.  It’s a thrill that will only be surpassed by learning that it is in the hands of a physical educator or a school or system leader supporting the work of physical educators.
We describe our purpose in writing Making Physical Education Instruction and Assessment Work in the preface of the book:
We are colleagues whose paths were interwoven for over ten years in our school district, and even though we no longer work together, we continue to think, talk, and write about our passion for education. We met as curriculum consultants, one for early years education, and one for physical education and health. Although the scope of our work was different, it quickly became obvious to us that we had much in common. As we worked and learned together, we discovered that, irrespective of our discipline:
·       teaching is teaching
·       learning is learning
·       kids are kids
·       effective practice is effective practice
·       and a classroom is a classroom, whatever the size.
More specifically, we realized that the principles of assessment for learning and the gradual release of responsibility (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983) connected us as classroom teacher and specialist. It also became clear to us that not everyone saw it this way. This book describes how what some may think of as principles and structures for teaching “academics” only, apply to teaching physical education. In fact, to us, physical education is an “academic” subject. However, we do acknowledge that in physical education there are special circumstances—time constraints, the number of students, keeping kids active—and we address them all in this book.
Although there are two of us, we have chosen to write in the first person singular. We are of one voice in our beliefs and practices. Writing as “I” allows us to share our experiences, stories, and learning in a direct, personal, and passionate voice. (Brenda Augusta & Karen Cross, pp.13-14, 2017)
In short, as Maya Angelou wrote:
We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.
Stay tuned…I’ve got a very important errand to run.

Angelou, Maya. 1990. “The Human Family” in I Shall Not Be Moved. New York, NY: Random House.

Augusta, Brenda & Cross, Karen. 2017. Making Physical Education Instruction and Assessment Work. Courtenay, BC: Connections Publishing.