Reflections on Creating a New Music Program – Mat Pechtel, Music/French Teacher

Thanks, Mat, for sharing the learning from your year!

IMG_3423

This year has been a whirlwind of activity and learning. I feel like this year has flown by, and I have had many challenges, successes and failures throughout the year. Having never taught purely music before, I didn’t really know what to expect coming into this year with the task of starting a music program. I went to a wonderful PD in August that was all about teaching elementary music, and that was a HUGE help, not just for the resources I received from it, but to get myself into the mindset of a musical educator, including gaining confidence in my singing abilities.

The beginning of the year was a little bit chaotic. The music room was occupied by 2 grade 5 classes as they waited for the portables to be completed, so I was traveling class to class with my computer and speakers, trying to sing songs with students and teach them musical concepts. Doing this in their usual classroom space was very challenging, especially for the students in grade 7, who had not had “music” class since they were in grade 4.

Once I moved into the music room, things started to feel like a real musical space. I left the space wide open, with no chairs unless they are needed, and have tried to create a welcoming environment where students are able to express themselves musically without judgement. The acoustics in the room are wonderful, and I am able to hear every voice in the room while we are singing. Having a dedicated musical space has also helped students with their musical learning, as they aren’t in their “usual” classroom, and are instead in a space filled with instruments, posters, and things that are all focused on one thing: Music.

After doing primarily singing and working with dynamics for the first few months of the school year, we were lucky enough to order a class set of Ukuleles for the music program, and a few weeks after returning from Christmas Break, we began to learn the Ukes. I chose Ukes for the playing portion of the instrument for a few reasons. Firstly, I play the Ukulele and had used it in the music room before to accompany songs we had sung. Secondly, I feel that recorders are overused in music classrooms and don’t really translate into future learning unless the student decides to join the school band and play a wind instrument. Ukuleles are easy to pick up and learn, inexpensive (many students have purchased their own and bring them to class), easy to maintain, and are something that students play outside of the classroom. Not to mention 30 ukuleles playing at the same time is much more tolerable than 30 recorders.

My biggest challenge this year was developing effective ways to assess student growth. Music is a very performance based subject, and I don’t think that paper and pencil tests on musical concepts is the best way to do it. I would rather students demonstrate for me their understanding of a concept through singing or playing, than be able to write down that they know that “forte” means loud. I began to record videos of every class singing various songs, and have used these as my assessments of each student. During class time try to listen to every student as they sing or play, and have the video as evidence for the future. Also it is a great way for the students to have instant feedback on their singing and playing, because we are able to watch and listen to what they have done seconds after they finish the song.
Assessing Ukuleles has been a little bit different, as they are starting from scratch in learning them. I would teach a few notes or a song to the students, give them time to practice and then they would come play for me when they felt they were ready. No “playing tests” or anything, just showing me what they were working on so I could track progress. I ensured that I saw every student at least once every 2-3 classes, and then could track their growth throughout the term. By the end of the Ukulele unit, I had students lined up waiting to play for me, some even multiple times per class, when they figured out a part of the song we were working on. They really surprised me and bought into the music program, taking ownership of their own learning in the musical environment.

Overall, this year I have taken chances, made mistakes, and grown in many different ways. This year has reinforced my love to teaching, and music, and I am looking forward to taking chances and growing the music program at Greystone over the years to come.

Good-bye to an Incredible School Community!

IMG_4396


“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”
– Lao Tzu

An inspirational teacher, colleague and friend shared this quote with me a few years ago and said that it spoke to the kind of leader I have been at Greystone Centennial Middle School. This, for me, was the ultimate compliment as it so accurately represents what I believe strong leadership is all about.

As the last days of this school year wind down and I think about leaving the school that means so much more to me than just a place where I show up to work each day, I do know that it is the right time for me to go. I know that my work at Greystone is done, I know my aim is fulfilled and I hope that this amazing school community feels that they all contributed to what we have created together and that they can proudly say “we did it ourselves” …because they did!

I am grateful for an incredible opportunity that came my way when I was selected to be on the Administrative team that opened Parkland School Division’s brand new Middle School. We were invited to dream big and create a place that believed in the promise of our young adolescents. This was to be a school that was responsive to the unique developmental needs of this age group. Our ultimate goal was to design a place where teenagers felt a sense of belonging and would be intellectually engaged in important, meaningful learning. This was definitely no small task we were undertaking. We were filled with excitement as we designed and built a school community from the ground up. “Greystone Centennial Middle School…built on a dream, powered by an Inferno.”

Ten years later, we have learned so much. We have taken risks, made mistakes, improved and grown. We have questioned old ways of doing things, we have tried new approaches, we have faced tragedy and we have continued to move forward and get better. We have not stood still; we have not stopped challenging each other and our work, all in an effort to get it right for our kids.

Through it all, we have learned lessons about what is really important…and that is, none of us is in this alone. There is so much energy, opportunity for support and ability to innovate, when we work together – when we draw on the unique strengths that each of us brings to the school community.

This school community has taught me so much about resiliency, compassion, patience and continuous learning. Daily, I am reminded about how blessed I am to be doing what I love with people I love – a huge shout out to the staff, students and families of Greystone Centennial Middle School. I know you will continue to serve as a shining example for what it means to be a school community that provides everyone with a place to belong, a place that inspires curiosity and a place that holds high expectations for deep, relevant learning.

Once again, I am grateful for the next incredible opportunity that has come my way. I am looking forward to continuing with my own learning as I explore my new role as Parkland’s Divisional Principal of Innovative Leadership and Learning. I know that I will be leading and learning alongside some amazing people and I can’t wait to see where our work together will take us.

Setting Clear Criteria is Improving Student Learning – Brad Arndt, LC7 Teacher

Thank you for sharing your learning from the year, Brad!

IMG_4006

The profession of teaching has two overarching purposes in my mind at this time. The first is to provide students with the thinking and process skills that will enable them to live successful and fulfilling lives. The second is to help them develop character, integrity, resiliency, independence, and empathy, so they can become ethical citizens. Our team goal this year related to setting clear criteria and our school goal was to provide kind, helpful and specific feedback. While my reflection is going to focus on the idea of creating clear criteria, both, the process of learning skills and developing ethical citizens benefit greatly when using criteria and feedback effectively together.
When I talked about clear criteria before this year I took for granted that all good teachers automatically did this. I mean the instructions for the assignment are clearly typed out on the top of the page, I went over them with the class, and I sat down with students that were still stuck. What more could the students need, right? Wrong, there is a lot more to the process. Certainly, these elements are part of the process and help students understand what is needed, but there is so much more I am doing now to help the students really understand what is expected in their learning and in their work. I won’t sit here and outline my entire process or pretend to be an expert on the topic, as there are books that can explain how and why this is important much better than I ever could and I feel I like I still have a lot to learn in this area. However, I will tell you a few of the things I am taking away from this year in regards to ensuring students clearly understand the criteria and expectations. First off, I feel like building the criteria as a class is so valuable. Students love to have a say in how they will be assessed. They often will include important ideas or details that I may have missed. This provides ownership and autonomy to the students, and when students feel ownership the engagement is way higher. Second, providing the students with exemplars to see the criteria in use first hand. In my first years of teaching I used to think using exemplars meant showing the students the highest levels of work, then sending them off to replicate that level of work. Again, that is so far from the mark of how I am doing things now that I am almost embarrassed to admit that’s how I once did things. Now I use exemplars of all levels of achievement. This is important because students will get to practice using the continuum. They learn that they have to support the reasons for why they rated an exemplar higher and lower and how the work matches the criteria set out at the beginning. This will make them so much more successful later on when they are using the continuums on their own work. Third, provide an easy to read, simplified visual aid for the students to use to measure their progress. This could be a checklist, a continuum, a bullseye, a scale, a rubric or any other measure that helps students see where they are currently at based off the criteria we set together. I found that the more simple, concise the wording the more the students used these tools. They should also be given time to use these tools both individually(self reflection), with a partner and within larger groups. Holding them accountable to the process and internalizing the learning can be done by a written or oral reflection where the students provide rationale and support for why they placed themselves or others at any given point on the continuum. I have to admit this process takes longer than simply introducing a new assignment at the beginning of class and letting the kids work, but the payoff is certainly worth the time and effort. The changes I have noticed first hand in my classroom include:

Students produce a higher quality of work
Students are able to express their learning easily
Students reflect and improve on the learning process(metacognition)
Students demonstrate greater patience for the learning process
Students will demonstrate greater independence and responsibility
Students develop a growth mindset

At the end of the day having clear criteria built into the classroom activities everyday leads to very high level learning. As teachers, we should be working to help students maximize their growth as both learners and as ethical citizens. Setting clear criteria of what these things look like has made a large and important impact on the learning that happens within my classroom.

Reflections on Student Ownership of Learning & Wellness – Derek Heale, LC7 Teacher

Thank you for sharing your learning from the year, Derek!

20150419_084921

Team Goal
Are we ensuring student success by creating clear and purposeful learning intentions and shared success criteria?

At the beginning of the year one of the first things myself and my team did was sit down together and make our schedule. Some of us were thinking about how many hours we needed to teach certain subjects and who was going to teach what subject and when. Others were stressing the importance of being flexible and allowing the learning to happen and being able to change something later in the year if needed. All very valid points to take into consideration when building a schedule. We talked with Carolyn and Jesse and they both shared their opinions however, neither told us what we had to do. Instead they encouraged us to think what would be best for the kids and the learning. I loved this bottom/up approach. I realized at this time that Greystone encourages their teachers to take risks, try new things and through trial and error we will truly be able to make the best judgments and understand what is best for the kids, learning and our learning communities.
I wanted to set a goal for myself at the beginning of the year to ensure student success by creating clear and purposeful learning intentions and shared success criteria. This was an area both myself and my team wanted to grown in. I have always allowed my students to have a say in their learning to a certain extent. This year I wanted the learners in my class to take more ownership and have a clear understanding of what they were learning and how they were going to be assessed. With advice from my team and other staff throughout the year, I received a lot of great methods and ideas of how to best achieve this. By modeling expectations students will be able to understand what learning is intended to happen. Checking in at the beginning of the class and underlying important learning topics brought up in our previous class was also a great way to establish the intentions of learning. I would sometimes just talk about what we learned the previous day and why it was important and how we can apply this information to everyday life and then move on to the next concept. I find this review time sparks the conversation and allows them to think back on conversations we had and information learned in a previous day – it ties it together nicely and it sets the intentions for learning.
Another area I wanted to tackle this year was co-created criteria. I have done this in previous years of teaching but not to the extent I was able to do at Greystone. Utilizing my team, learning coaches, administration, and PD sessions I really came to the understanding about how IMPORTANT this is. If students are involved in the process of building the learning intentions the quality of work will, and has proven to drastically increase. Giving the students the ownership for building rubrics, setting criteria and discussing what exemplary looks like when compared to beginning is a beautiful thing. Let them put it in their OWN language – make the learning intentions clear, visible and understanding. Continuing to do this throughout the year has truly paid off. Not only does it allow students to see why what we are learning is important it makes the entire learning process very clear. Students know what the end product should look like because they established it.
Another way which we ensured the learning intentions were always very clear was by establishing feedback loops regularly where they would have guiding questions to focus on. It was a bit of a struggles establishing what a feedback loop between peers should look like. We modeled this and had many discussions in regards to what this type of feedback should look like and sound like. Eventually the students improved in this area. I strongly believe that by continuing to have peer feedback loops students were able to find areas for growth for their peers and themselves. They came to eventually truly value the opinions of their peers. I also enjoyed the time that I could give immediate feedback while conferencing with students whether it was individually or as a group. It was during these times I was able to check in with the learners in our homeroom and ensure they have a true understanding of what is being learned.
During my time at Greystone I have come to the conclusion that making learning intentions clear and understandable for students is a very important concept. To continue to constantly review what is being learned and why it is important is crucial to the learning. It has been so nice to have this set as personal growth to work on because it kept me accountable to ensure my students were “in the know”. However, I still have growth to make in this area and will continue to research other ideas that I could use to ensure this goal is being met regularly. I would like to keep this concept in mind next year while attending PD sessions and as I plan for lessons. I was surprised by the amount of self-dependence that was built by establishing clear learning intentions and shared successful criteria. Whether it was creating criteria for specific assignments or carrying an academic conversation on with their peers it was very rewarding to see what my students are capable of on their own, when given the chance to learn independently. It was also great to see these skills learned in everyday conversations and situations outside of the classroom.

Personal Goal

How can I maintain a work life and personal life balance?

Being in the profession that I have chosen for myself I struggle with this question. It is a question I find myself pondering every year (some more than others). How can I make more time for Derek?

I would like to think that I made some progress in regards to this goal this year. I will say this year in Greystone has been a learning year for me. I learned so much while working at here. I took risks and tried a lot of new things. Sometimes this did not always allow much time for myself. Along the way I picked up some very beneficial learning strategies that I will apply throughout my years of teaching.
I spent a lot of time this year coaching and helping with other extracurricular, this too was very important to me especially being new to Greystone. I wanted to have opportunities to get to know kids outside of the classroom and I genuinely like sports and staying active. This too, took up a lot of time outside of school, but I would not have done it any other way. I had a great time coaching and getting to know kids and their families outside of the school. It was great to see them achieve success whether it was in volleyball, Rabbit Hill or at the Vancouver Sun Run.
I did make it a goal to ensure I was spending time with my family and friends often this year. This was a huge reason I moved home from Vancouver. I do think I could improve in this area. I made sure to sign up for races this year and attend different sporting events or schedule times I would go to the mountains. I am glad I made more of an effort to do this throughout the year.
I think this goal is something that a lot of teachers struggle with. I would not say I fully achieved this goal this year and I am sure I can find other strategies to make sure I am taking care of myself more next year. I need to remember that although teaching is much more than a career to me, I still need to take time for myself and do things that make me happy with people I care about. Time and life is too short not to.

Feedback Promotes Growth for Both Students & Our First Year Teacher – Courtney Albrecht, LC5 Teacher

Thank you for sharing your learning from the year, Courtney!

Professional Growth Plan – Year End Reflection
Posted on May 27, 2015
As the end of the year draws near, it is time for me to reflect upon my personal Professional Growth Plan goal.

My admin has asked for me to please comment on the following:

How did you do with the goals you set for yourself at the start of this year and/or what unexpected learning happened for you?
What questions do you still have about this?
In thinking ahead to next year – what might you do to continue to push your learning in this area?
Personal Goal
Goal: To become a reflective practitioner in order to demonstrate personal and promote student growth.
TQS Reference: Teacher’s ongoing analysis of the context, and the teacher’s decisions about which pedagogical knowledge and abilities to apply result in optimum learning by students.

1. At the beginning of this year, it was an overwhelming experience to meet a new team who was getting to know each other and for half of us getting to know the school at the same time. As a teacher new to the profession, this was a moment for me to really stop and think about what I needed for success this year. In setting the goal for myself to become a more reflective practitioner, I did not realize how important things like blogging would become for me. Weekly class blog posts and personal blog posts became a way for me to look back and plan for my class and professionally. I started participating in weekly Twitter chats and a book club via Voxer and Twitter. It was an amazing way for me to receive immediate feedback from peers across the globe. I started to connect with more people and built my self-confidence to take the risks my students needed me to take for our classroom and their learning. I started to reach out to my grade level team and share my ideas. I also started to seek feedback from my teaching teams – LC 5 and French. I became confident and aware of myself as a teacher and as I pushed myself, I also pushed my students to grow as learners. I see such a difference in their ability to reflect and self-assess.

As I became more comfortable with my team and my teaching, the students started to show their own confidence in their learning by pushing themselves to deeper levels in their thinking and appreciating the opportunity to collaborate. Most importantly for me as an educator, I now have my own reflections to look back upon and share and I have shown my students the importance on reflecting as well. Together we tried new things and when they didn’t work, we stopped and looked back at how we could fix them or how we could move forward from them. As one of my students said recently during a project “just because it didn’t work out the way we planned, we still learned from it and if we were to redo it, we could fix it or we can remember what we learned for the next project”.

2. My biggest question is how can I take the culture of feedback and collaboration I have built-in my class and bring it with me into my teaching and working with my colleagues? I would like to find a way to build in opportunities for professional feedback from other teachers on different grade level teams. Feedback is such an important part of who I am as a professional. While I appreciate the feedback I receive from my PLN outside of the school/district, the value of receiving feedback from someone who understands the school context is priceless to me.

3. I’d like to find ways to collaborate more with different grades and different schools, which is something I have started to look into lately. I’d also like to strive to share best practices with more people by finding times to connect with other teachers from different grades or schools.

Greystone Hosts Our First Learning Day

IMG_4922

We stepped outside of our comfort zone at Greystone as we opened the doors to our school and our classrooms for a day of learning together last Friday. Our students and staff “walked the talk” of making our learning public, transparent and meaningful as we invited educators from our School Division and beyond to co-create a day of shared learning. Fifty teachers, administrators, district superintendents moved in and out of our classrooms talking to our students and staff about how learning is being made purposeful, deep and intellectually engaging at Greystone. We shared our practices and asked for feedback around the following topics:

– Formative Assessment through feedback loops, co-creating criteria, sharing learning intentions
– Thinking Strategies including Questioning, Socratic Circles, See-Think-Wonder, Chalk Talk and Debate
– Inquiry Projects that embed the Alberta Education Competencies
– Team Teaching
– Innovation Week
– Teacher Collaboration and Planning Time
– Flexible Block Scheduling
– Looping
– Alternative Classroom Design & Flexible Groupings of Students
– Mindfulness
– Bring Your Own Device Initiative

The day included sharing and conversation from our guests, too, as they joined and/or facilitated informal “EdCamp Style” discussions in the afternoon.

The highlight of the day was definitely our students! Our guests shared feedback with us about how well our students were able to speak the language of their learning as they described the work they are doing and the purpose behind it.

Congratulations to our Greystone Family for creating a day of memorable learning for each other and our guests. Thanks to all of our guests for joining us. Here are a few tweets from the day:

Bridge Building – An Inquiry into Structural Engineering and Design

“If I didn’t have to go back to my work at the University, I would be working here in this school…it is amazing!”

This message was shared with me by a guest to Greystone, the Communications Director from the University of Alberta Engineering Department, who was writing a story about the partnership between University Students and Greystone Students for the University’s newsletter/website.

Sometimes I forget how amazing it is to work in a school where the energy is contagious, the commitment to student engagement and deep, meaningful learning is pervasive and the network of support and collaboration among colleagues is a priority. This was evident throughout a recent project undertaken by our Learning Community 7 team of teachers and students who came to the end of their Bridge Building Inquiry today. The work culminated with a final visit from University of Alberta Engineering Students, who served as experts to our students by providing them with ongoing feedback on the bridge structures they were designing as their “companies” developed proposals for the new Walterdale Bridge in Edmonton.

This inquiry process highlighted the critical components of a successful, student driven, inquiry based learning experience as it included the following:

-guiding question to create student engagement in the learning
-immersion in the topic through exposure to a real world context for the learning –>the new Walterdale Bridge in Edmonton
-opportunity to connect with experts in the field–>architect from the Walterdale Bridge Project met with our students and students asked powerful questions designed to deepen their understanding of the bridge being built in Edmonton; Structural Engineer came to speak with students about bridge construction and his company offered cash prizes to student “companies” that could meet the criteria for bridge design; University of Alberta Engineering Students who mentored our students through the project
-ongoing feedback loops embedded into the design of this project to ensure students were meeting the criteria for the various components of the project (blueprint design, budget, invoice, process reflections, planning and delivery of presentation, proposal, bridge construction)
-multiple check ins with students to ensure each member of the Bridge Project Team was fulfilling his/her responsibilities
-field trip to the site of the new Walterdale Bridge to gather more information using direct observations

The 125 students and 5 teachers celebrated the end of a challenging, collaborative effort to go deeper into their understanding of structures and bridge design that proved to be about much more than “covering” Science outcomes. Through this project, students developed skills in goal setting, organization and planning, budgeting, collaboration and teamwork, persuasive proposal writing, presentation development and public speaking, gathering research, reflection, time management and perseverance.The culminating activity was a final visit from the Engineering Student Mentors who assessed the top Bridge “companies” on their ability to deliver a bridge design that had excellent aesthetics, demonstrated strength and was cost efficient. Seeing the enthusiasm as students came to the end of a successful process AND final product was inspiring – congratulations to Learning Community 7 for raising the bar on the work we do to provide deep learning at Greystone.

IMG_3947IMG_3967IMG_3972IMG_3973IMG_3988

IMG_4011IMG_4012IMG_4014IMG_4003IMG_4005

Innovation Week5 at Greystone