Archive for February 23, 2013

Don’t You Love Surprises?

Reading this tweet from one of our creative Greystone teachers while I was away this month really got me curious…what clever prank was she up to this time?

Our Greystone staff are becoming very good at surprising each other, our students and me. Examples of the kinds of surprises we have had in the past include a whole school appreciation assembly, a piece of artwork students created for the school, a couple of flash mobs – the most recent one performing “Thriller” on Halloween, an entire classroom being relocated to the learning pod one day, and of course, the amazing success of our Innovation Week just before Christmas holidays.

When I walked into the school this past Tuesday morning, rushing to get to my supervision post, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I ended up being late for supervision because I couldn’t pull myself away from staring, in awe, at the latest Greystone surprise…

This is one of the five words that was represented by each of our five grade six classes – words that are the core of what our school is about. Each class had the task of looking around the school for images of the letters needed to make up the following words:


The best of the best photos were chosen, sent off to be transformed into banners and then the five banners were hung in the front foyer of our school – all done without me knowing a thing about it. I was overwhelmed with the work that went into this and so impressed that it had been a project involving an entire learning community of students and teachers.

The week ended with another great surprise – our Inferno School Assembly. This wasn’t a surprise assembly, nobody made a surprise appearance or shared a surprise performance. What surprised me was how moved I was with all of the sharing that was part of this one hour of time together and the positive energy that could be felt among our school community. Here are some highlights:

→Video of our Hair Massacure Project – created by one of our students and his parent (this year we had a record number of students participating – 140!) and students sharing their personal stories about why they got involved and how it felt to have their heads shaved (brought several of us to tears)

→Our Student Advisors sharing examples of how Synergy~Creativity~Citizenship~Exploration~Imagination come to life in their classrooms at each grade level through special projects and activities

Check out what the kids were talking about:

Learning Community 5

Learning Community 6

Learning Community 7

Learning Community 8

→Guests from Youth in Action inviting our students to join their organization and make a difference in our community (and comments like this from our guests made to me following the assembly…“your school is incredible!”)

→Pictures and videos from our SEVEC Student Exchange to Quebec got the whole school singing and swaying as the music played on in the background

→Standing ovation for our Drama Club who were amazing this week at our school’s first ever evening performance at Horizon Stage



Who doesn’t LOVE these kinds of surprises? Thank you Greystone!


While the Cat’s Away…

This cat has been away from Greystone for quite a while recently. First, I joined our grade nine students and two of our teachers for our SEVEC Student Exchange in Quebec and then I took a couple of personal days so I could head up to Alaska to take part in the annual parents’ weekend events for my son’s college hockey team. By the time I get back to work after the Family Day long weekend on Tuesday, I will have been away from the Greystone School community for almost two weeks.
What I noticed during my absence is how completely confident and relaxed I felt about how things were being taken care of back at the school. This does not mean that while I was away I did not care about the daily life of students, staff and families at Greystone. In fact, I care deeply, but I was able to be away without concern for the decisions that were made during my absence or the day to day teaching and learning or numerous other initiatives and projects taking place at our busy middle school. I was able to do this because of the strong trust I have for our staff. The Greystone team has demonstrated, time and time again, that they are capable of doing the right thing. Our staff is committed to the vision, values and purpose of our school – we are about kids and we believe in the promise of each and every one of our students. Does this mean that our staff won’t make mistakes? Absolutely not. However, I know that their intentions are good and that they always act in the best interest of our students. The staff has demonstrated the ability to lead by example, make great decisions and step up when called on to deal with difficult situations. Everyone on staff, from first year teachers to seasoned veterans; from Educational Assistants to our Office Leadership Team; supports one another in ensuring that our kids come first.
Leading a school community reminds me, in some ways, of parenting. For purely selfish, ego gratifying reasons, it can be extremely re-assuring to feel needed. As a parent, there is no better feeling than to be able to help your kids whenever possible – when they are young, it is incredibly fulfilling to be the centre of your child’s universe – loving and supporting unconditionally – jumping in to help them whenever they are struggling. In the long run, this kind of selfish parenting does not help children develop into confident, capable, independent, interdependent adults who are able to direct their own lives and learn to roll with the challenges that life presents. Children need to do things for themselves in order to grow. They need to stumble and fall in order to learn how to get back up and try again. The same is true when leading a school community. While it feels great to be needed by so many people within the school community, creating a school culture that is dependent on me is selfish. A strong school environment thrives when individuals interact interdependently and recognize that everyone contributes their strengths to the school’s overall success. In a highly effective organization, every individual has the capacity to be a leader when needed, and a follower, when needed. My time away from Greystone this past few weeks reminded me that this school community is made up of a strong team of highly collaborative, talented individuals who certainly don’t depend on me to ensure that the work carries on in my absence. For a leader, this is humbling – to know that it isn’t all about me – nor should it ever be. One of our Greystone teachers recently shared this quote. It describes the kind of leadership I strive for at our school:
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
While this cat was away, the mice may have played…but the mice at Greystone play every day, whether the cat is there or not. I trust the mice to play and work and learn and lead at Greystone. In fact, I hope that during my absence, the mice barely knew I was away.

Ten Years Later – Different Teachers, Different Students, Same Amazing Experience!

I just met up with a former student here in Quebec City – she was not one of my students from Spruce Grove, she was a student from Quebec City who I met during my first SEVEC Student Exchange – when she was in grade 7. Since that time, she lived with my family during a summer holiday and then again when she had completed her school, before beginning her training as an x-ray technician. She is twenty-one years old now and we have stayed in contact since that first exchange experience, exactly ten years ago.

Coincidentally,the exchange that I am participating in this year with my Greystone students ended up having us paired with the same school I was connected with 10 years ago.The teachers and students we are matched up with are all new to me; however, they have made us feel so welcome that already, it feels like we know each other well. Once again, I am reminded of what an incredible opportunity this is for our kids (and adults) to build relationships with others who are interested in taking their learning about the country and its people outside of the walls of our schools.

We are being treated to some new experiences here in Quebec and it is really helping all of us appreciate the unique, proud culture of our French Canadian neighbours. The people here have been so kind, fun and welcoming. Our students have been taken into the homes of the students from Quebec and this weekend, we are getting text messages from the kids telling us about all the places they are going – the Winter Carnival, Sugar Shack, Ice Hotel, to name just a few of the highlights. The host teachers here in Quebec are treating our teachers to some excellent experiences, too – Rempart Junior Hockey Game, dinner out to a favourite restaurant while also giving us time to do some exploring on our own. During the weekdays – there are daily fieldtrips planned to a range of places – everything from a Circus School (Quebec is home of the world famous Cirque du Soleil) to an outdoor snow park – Valcartier. What an amazing opportunity for all of us.

What I am most proud of – our students have stepped up to live in the homes of complete strangers, who don’t speak a whole lot of English, and they are growing in so many ways. They are operating outside of their familiar comfort zone and are demonstrating an openness to build relationships and gain a deeper understanding of the French Canadian culture. What an excellent example of authentic learning.

The experiences on this trip might just give our kids the confidence they need to continue taking risks to try new things and learn and grow from the process. Who knows, maybe they will still be in contact with the people they meet from this trip – in ten years time!

A Target for Teachers

Our teachers at Greystone are becoming very skilled at helping our students understand the targets we set for their learning. We have been learning how to co-create criteria with our students so that they will understand what we are looking for when we assess their learning. We know that our students will be able to better meet the standards for high performance when the target is made clear to them and when we work with them throughout the learning process, to provide ongoing feedback and opportunities to improve their work, so that they can hit the targets we set.

The same thing is true for our teachers. When we talk about what kind of teaching needs to be going on in our classrooms so that we can make engaged learning come to life – we need to set some targets for ourselves as well. We have taken on this process of co-creating criteria for engaged student learning during our Professional Development Days this year. We are getting further along in developing our shared understanding of what we should expect to see in our classrooms when we are providing an engaging learning environment for our students. Here’s a snapshot of what our teachers have come up with so far:

Risk Taking – Learners are persevering to grow outside their boundaries.

Providing Evidence – Learners are an active part of the assessment and feedback process.

Learning Authentically – Learners are emotionally and intellectually invested in their work.

Questioning – Learners’ natural curiosity is leading them to explore deeper learning.

Collaborating – Learners are open-minded to different perspectives.

Creating – Learners are thinking, acting and engaging with ideas.

We are now developing specific actions that would be taking place in our classrooms to demonstrate each of these key areas for engaged learning. Once we have developed our action plan, we will be able to use this document as a tool to assess ourselves and provide feedback to each other as we continue our professional growth.

This is taking a long time, but the process is definitely providing us with lots of excellent opportunities for dialogue about best practices for our classrooms. I am confident that once we are finished, the criteria we have established together will be a valuable tool in helping us hit our target of getting it right for today’s learners.




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