Archive for July 11, 2013

Veteran Teacher Reflects on Job Embedded PD with our Learning Coach

Dale Johnston is a veteran teacher with over thirty years of experience in our profession. This past year, he taught students in Learning Community 5. I often tell Dale that he sets the standard for what life long learning is all about. Every year that I have had the pleasure of working and learning alongside of Dale here at Greystone, he has demonstrated a strong desire to improve his practice and to learn from his colleagues (no matter what their age or experience – he recognizes that everyone has something to share). Dale sets an excellent example for all learners – he is reflective, always enthusiastic about sharing his ideas with others, open to receiving feedback in order to grow and willing to build a shared understanding with colleagues through the collaborative process.



By Dale Johnston

The 2012-2013 school year brought about many new changes. New team members bring new ideas and I looked forward to including them into the LC5 team that was looping back. The transition back to grade 5 appeared very smooth as each team member took on a leadership role for each core subject or committed to work collaboratively with another teacher on a core subject. With regular meeting time provided in our schedule, our team was able to discuss any curricular concepts that needed discussion or clarification.  My responsibility was Social Studies, a subject that I took the lead on two years ago (with regular collaboration with our Language Arts lead teacher). I felt quite confident that following a similar plan would provide for a successful year.

Towards the end of the first term an opportunity arose to include one of our teacher mentors in the planning and implementation of a project in Social Studies. Initially I was a little apprehensive since our team had already spent time discussing a project that had been successful during our previous grade 5-6 loop. After an initial meeting, where the mentor discussed the merits of our prior plan and the opportunities afforded with the plan she proposed, it was decided that we implement the project recommended by the mentor. Since the project was new to the entire team, it also provided a new team member to take the lead in planning the unit. The project turned out to be very engaging for the students and our team was very pleased with the results. This initial exposure to the mentor, which included class visits and feedback on our delivery of lessons, provided me with the realization that I could benefit from this expertise available in the school. 

That opportunity arose with the introduction to Literature Circles by our Language Arts lead teacher. This teaching strategy was to be the key means of facilitating the various learning tasks that would measure the curricular outcomes during term 3 in Language Arts. I had no prior experience with the strategy and was concerned that my students would miss out on some of the benefits that Literature Circles could provide them when done effectively. When I approached our teacher mentor about my concern, she welcomed the opportunity to work with my students and I. 

Since the structure to implement Literature Circles was already in place (thanks to our Language Arts lead teacher) it only took one meeting for me to grasp what was needed to get this process underway. My mentor explained what was going to happen, and what sort of student outcomes I should expect to see. She introduced the concept of Literature Circles to my class, allowing me to observe and take notes. Time was provided for short debriefing sessions to explain why certain techniques were used, and then to preview the next steps in the process. After a few classes that involved the students learning key roles, I was encouraged to teach the next lesson so that I could be observed and receive feedback. The feedback that I received reinforced my own teaching strengths and while also providing me with opportunities to enhance the learning experiences my class was involved in.  Needless to say the feedback was very beneficial and was easily transferable to other subjects.

The mentor continued to work with my class and I, demonstrating various techniques to improve collaboration, quality of work, and general classroom management. My students responded very well to a variety of teaching methods our mentor demonstrated. My class was very enthusiastic, and jumped at the opportunities to demonstrate their learning. What initially appeared to be a challenge, with many unknowns and apprehension on my own abilities to effectively teach the concepts, became an excellent learning experience for my students. My own confidence to deliver lessons that met the needs of my students in Language Arts, increased significantly. Student engagement reinforced that the methodology introduced by my mentor was beneficial and effective. It also encouraged me to do additional self-reflection on my teaching practices and share my recent growth with my other team members.

With the demands of collaboration within the team, and the need to have adults working with students who need additional support, there was little opportunity to gain the experience from my team colleagues that I have received through the mentorship program. In previous years, we arranged team teaching opportunities during one of our preps to allow us to occasionally watch and learn from our team members. The mentorship I received this year provided the necessary feedback loops and direction to ensure I could confidently implement the strategies and methods in the future.

In short, my experience with our mentor this year was positive and meaningful. This form of professional development has had the greatest impact on my teaching practices. The facilitator was very encouraging, communicating her suggestions as growth opportunities rather than short comings in my teaching skills.  I would recommend this opportunity to teachers at any stage of their teaching career. I waited over 30 years for this experience, and my only concern is that my previous classes missed out on some quality learning opportunities.

Developing Good Citizens


Christy Haggarty, Humanities 9 Teacher, is passionate about the Social Studies curriculum. She is always looking for ways to help our students live the values identified within the program of studies and to bring the complicated key understandings to life for our students. This year, Christy introduced students to a web-based computer game “The Civic Mirror” in order to capture their interest while developing their knowledge connected to creating a democratic community.

What an incredible year. This year has been such a significant one for me both professionally and personally.  My oldest son graduated from high school this year; I felt proud, I felt relieved, and mainly I was left wondering where the time went, and if we did enough to help prepare him for the future. My middle child had an incredible year of development, growing so fast, learning so much, and developing and expressing his unique sense of humour and expressive personality. My youngest was just born in December. She is so tiny, so innocent, and so full of promise with her bright eyes and gentle smile. I left my students at Christmas break to have her, and came back to them this spring. Many people think I’m crazy, or “super” in some respect, but I’m not. My family, and my students, made it an easy decision and simple transition. 

This group of students is the last I will loop with while I stay a grade 9 teacher. Over the last two years I have developed strong relationships with them, as well as their families, but mainly with them. I have never had a group quite like this: so funny, so well behaved and respectful, and so caring and accepting of one another. I was sad to leave them in December, and I was happy to come back in spring. I missed them all, and I value each of them as a part of my life. They have reaffirmed my decision to teach, as each of them have tremendous potential and character that I was honoured to help shape. They are such a diverse group; some athletic, some academic, some talented artistically, some with charisma oozing out of every pore, some gentle, quiet and kind souls. I have had to redefine success the past few years, as many struggled with higher level critical thinking skills. I wasn’t able to define them strictly by their academic success – I had to look at them as individual citizens, and think about the contributions and steps forward that they made as people in my community, and this has helped me redefine my role as teacher and educator. Had I given them worksheets and tests and worried strictly about their ability to recall information, this group might have been difficult to label as a success and celebrate. But these kids are gifted in so many different ways, and they are such wonderful people, I feel so proud to send them on to high school and beyond.

In November, I was also gifted with an incredible opportunity. I was selected to take part in the Teacher’s Institute on Parliamentary Democracy in Ottawa. At this point, it has been the pinnacle of my career to be recognized this way, and was such an incredible learning opportunity. So many excellent educators, brought together in Ottawa, with first hand opportunities to learn from parliamentarians past and present, as well as parliamentary staff, and to collaborate with each other.  As a political studies junkie, this fed and worsened my commitment to democratic ideals and need to ensure I am doing my part to educate good citizens, not just academic successes. Over and over again, from Senators to parliamentary staff, we heard that the most important thing we can do as educators is to prime them and encourage them to participate in our country as active, contributing citizens. I go back to a blog post that I made after meeting our Governor General, as there is no other way for me to say it:

All educators, he stated, were responsible as stewards of our system to look after it and continue to improve the system itself, and the citizens within it.  He was passionate about having all Canadians participate in our government somehow, and recognized citizenship and civic participation as our greatest agenda. When asked what he saw as the greatest purpose for teachers, he said “Encourage your students to see the whole.”  He encouraged us to ask our students to not just worry about learning compartmentalized bits of information, but to think in larger systems theory approaches and adopt critical thinking where they can analyze data and information and relate it to the world around them. He wanted us to ensure that as stewards of our education system and of our government, that we encouraged all students to participate to the best of their ability in society and government, at whatever level that was, and to do things for people because it is the right thing to do.

… I think about teaching moments where I have felt that energy that comes from enabling students to connect the dots to the world around them, and I suddenly feel like I don’t have enough of them. It is becoming increasingly clear to me that our government, with all of its complex processes and documents, is truly for the people of Canada, and the responsibility of all Canadians to understand how it is the fabric of our society and represents our fundamental values. There is no aspect of our lives that goes untouched by it, and there is nobody that cannot be a part of contributing to it on whatever level they choose, at whatever age they choose. 

As my own children move into significantly different stages of their lives, it refocuses my parenting and interactions with them, valuing every moment and using every opportunity to teach them about what it means to be a good citizen, and how to care for each other. I am also so lucky that this group of students allowed me to “see the whole” and I feel that this is by far the most important thing that I have learned from them.  I pushed them academically to encourage critical and creative thinking, and sometimes even just to participate at times. I have needed patience, perseverance, flexibility and have had to invest in them and engage them as fellow citizens, which was incredibly frustrating at times. This is, however, a group that I have enjoyed as one of the most kind, caring and fun-loving bunch of students that I have ever taught, and this is a group who has made me be a better citizen, a better teacher, and a better mom. When I tell them that I will miss them, it is heartfelt and true.

When Students Drive Their Learning

Learning Community 8 students were led by an incredible team of teachers this year. One member of the team, Humanities Teacher Kathy Kennedy, has taught at Greystone, on and off, for the past eight years. She just returned this past year from her second maternity leave. Kathy has always been an outstanding teacher; however, now that she is a mom to two busy, curious sons, her perspective on teaching and student learning demonstrates a new level of understanding about what is needed to engage ALL learners. Kathy is an extremely reflective, insightful adult learner – she has been an excellent addition to our school’s “Design Team” of lead teachers this year. We all are benefitting from her thoughtful contributions to the adult learning community at Greystone.

My Year in Review

As I sit back and reflect on my school year, I am astounded by the major changes and growth that have happened in both my personal and professional lives.  My new learning has become intertwined; I use what I learn in the classroom at home and what I learn at home in the classroom.

I came back to Greystone after having eighteen months off with my two children, Jaxon and Kale.  I was used to being a stay-at-home mom, and was really concerned about taking a full-time position and being able to be the best in both worlds – a mom and a teacher.  I was not willing to let one of them suffer.  We built a new house, hired a live-in nanny (who has been a savior), and moved in one week before the school year started.  Yes, crazy, I know.

Not only was I coming back full time, I was also coming back to a class of my own. This was something new to me at Greystone as I have always team-taught a group of students and never really had a teaching space to call my own.  Back in September, I was so nervous, but with the support of my teaching team and the amazing students I have had, the transition was a lot easier than I expected.  I do have to say that this was by far my best teaching year I have had yet!

My BIG growth as a professional this year:

The one thing most people know about my son, Jaxon, is how much he loves machines.  Farm tractors, garbage trucks, street cleaners, construction machines, and even Feller Bunchers (What is a Feller Buncher?  Believe it or not, my four year old taught me!).  Every day after school, he always asks me to search on my Ipad.  What does he do?  He searches on YouTube for videos of these machines to learn as much as he can about them.  He has a true passion to learn.  It is how I motivated him to learn the alphabet for preschool.  I require him to type in the search engine each time on his own.  We also relate the alphabet to machines – “A” is for airplane, “B” is for Bobcat, etc…  Because he is four, there is no content necessary to drive his learning.  He gets to choose!

After watching my son and his eager desire to learn, I wanted to build that enthusiasm with my adolescent students.  Why is it that a four year old has so many questions and so much passion to learn but an adolescent doesn’t?  I have asked my class this question all year long.   Do you know what their answer is… because a four year old gets to choose what they learn.  For example, why is it that in Grade 8 Social Studies they have to learn about the Renaissance, Japan, and the Aztecs / Spanish?  Why is content driven by other individuals and not by the students themselves?  The students totally understood learning certain skills (like reading and writing), but didn’t understand why they had to demonstrate their skills through content they were not interested in.  So, I wanted to try and change this for my grade eight students this year (without getting into too much trouble of course).

We found success!  It was true inquiry – what a four year old really experiences.  We had just finished reading the book We All Fall Down by Eric Walters.  It is based on the events of 9-11.   A boy and his dad were trapped on the 84th floor after impact, and they had quite the struggle to get to the bottom and survive.  My students took off with the topic.  They had so many questions!  “Mrs. Kennedy, did you know there were four planes?”  “Would someone really survive if they were above the impact point on the World Trade Center?”  “What has happened to the U.S.A.’s economy since?”  “Did the U.S.A. actually set this up to gain something from it?”  It was truly amazing.  I had students bringing in different research they found, videos from Youtube, pictures, etc…  Research they did on their own time!  Every student was engaged.

This type of learning was not-preplanned.  For anyone who knows me professionally, I am a very well planned teacher.  I like to know what we are doing tomorrow, this week, and this month.  This was the first time where I didn’t know.  I let my student’s interests drive them; I held off teaching a poetry/song lyric unit in Language Arts to let my student explore, and I am not regretting any moment of it.

I am no expert on 9-11, and I was the first to admit it to my students.  They taught me!  We ended our unit with a debate on whether 9-11 was a “false-flag” operation.  To be honest, I didn’t even know what a “false-flag” operation was until this year.  Our debate was in a Socratic circle format, and I have never been so proud of my students.  Some dressed up for the occasion, most brought in videos and pictures to back up their opinion, and they were all emotionally involved.

What did they learn through this inquiry?  They developed their reading, writing, research, and speaking skills.  They learned what a reliable and credible resource is on the internet.  They built confidence in providing evidence to back up their opinion.  They followed something they were interested about.   Honestly, the list of what they learned could go on and on.  It was so powerful; it was a true learning experience that I know they will never forget and neither will I!

Watching how my son learns has given me a whole new perspective on teaching.  Let students’ interests drive the content they learn.  Skills like reading and writing need to be taught, but student’s need to be invested in the content.

Teaching grade seven for me next year is going to be a big change, as I have never taught grade seven in the past.  My goal is to experience this again and hopefully more than once.  I can’t wait to find something I can get my students emotionally involved in!  A topic that they want to drop everything to learn about!  That is true inquiry!

Creating Passion for Learning Through Inquiry


Lynn Lang is a Humanities teacher in our grade 8 Learning Community. It was awesome to have her back with us at Greystone this year after she spent most of last year at home with her adorable new daughter, Peyton. What has always impressed me about Lynn is how confident, organized and energetic she is in all areas of her life. What has inspired me this year about Lynn is how she has learned to let go of some of the control of the learning – and put more if it in the hands of her students. I got the chance to observe some of this during her Socratic Circles. The level of student engagement and ownership of the discussion/debate blew me away. I am looking forward to watching Lynn and her students continue to learn through inquiry next year.

Wow!  What a year! I’m not even sure where to begin…. As the summer of 2012 came to a close, I was very excited to head back to work and get back into the swing of things.  I was fortunate enough to teach a large portion of my students in June last year and had already developed a primary relationship with most of them.  I knew that this would set me off on a positive note at the beginning of the year, and I could leap right into “being funny” as opposed to “What’s wrong with this teacher?”  I might have to tone it down a notch at the beginning of next year as I get to know the new grade 7s … this was advice given to me today by my wise grade 8s!!!  Apparently I may be too funny at times for them to handle at first. “Small doses Mrs. Lang!”

Throughout the year, I experienced many trials and tribulations such as trying to balance my career, home life and be an awesome Mom and to be successful at everything.  There were times where I felt like I was completely drowning, and other times, I had it together and felt like Superwoman!  It definitely was a year of many successes but also many frustrations as I learned to balance and reorganize a way of life that just wasn’t going to work for me anymore.  This year helped me to realize that I don’t need to be able to do everything myself in order to be successful.  That it is ok to ask for help and it is ok to say “No” once in awhile.  It’s all about finding a balance.

However, all that aside, the one area that I would like to reflect upon from this year does not deal with my personal life, but focuses on the power of inquiry based learning.  This was the first year that I truly experienced REAL inquiry, and how it truly brought out a passion for learning in ALL of my students.  I get that inquiry is one of the most powerful ways that a person can learn.  As a result, I was constantly looking at everything we were teaching and brainstorming ways that we could incorporate some form of inquiry into our lessons.  It wasn’t until Kathy and I began a novel study after Christmas break that true inquiry (as an entire class) took place.  It just happened!  We hadn’t planned on what was going to transpire from a novel that we had taught twice before.

As the novel “We All Fall Down” was wrapping up, students began to ask so many questions about the actual events of the story and if they were real.  They wanted to know about September 911 and were passionate about the topic.  Most of these students were only two or three years old when the actual attack took place and knew very little about it, if anything at all.  Numerous students would come to us daily about research that they had conducted at home…. AT HOME!!!!!  They were excited to share, ask questions, discuss with their peers and then research some more.  They were having discussions outside of class during break times and even involving their parents in their learning by asking questions, sharing their knowledge and researching together! There was a desire to learn about something that wasn’t written up in a stuffy curriculum of what students “should know”.  I was amazed at the passion for learning and decided that this was an opportunity to really engage our students.  Kathy and I ended up foregoing all curriculum content for a month and focused on developing inquiry questions with the students surrounding the events of 9-11.  They had so many insightful questions that it really blew me away.  The only role that I had during this inquiry project was to be there to guide and support students with their learning and to ask questions about their questions.  I was learning right along side them!  Kathy and I made sure to teach the process skills of creating questions, what are reliable sources, how to conduct proper research, etc., in order for the students to experience success with the research they were conducting.

As the students generated questions, they all began to focus around the larger topic of false flag operations.  What were they and was 9-11 a false flag operation actually conducted by the United States themselves??  WHAT????  This was getting crazy! I was starting to gather evidence myself and debate with students what I thought had truly happened!  This ended up leading to students choosing a side and finding valid research to support their claim.  From here, Kathy and I taught the students how to engage in a Socratic circle to present their information, but to also listen to others’ perspectives on the topic.  The conversations that these students had with one another truly blew me away! First off, students shared some really interesting facts backed up by strong evidence from the weeks of research conducted (a lot of which was gathered during their own personal time).  They were able to respectfully debate points and look at both sides of the information presented.  What truly impressed me though was the way the students were able to really listen to one another in order to gain as much information that they possibly could about a topic.  The Socratic Circle for both of my groups ended up going two full blocks, and would probably have continued much longer if we hadn’t been interrupted by nutrition break.

The excitement for learning that I witnessed amongst my students was outstanding.  They were truly engaged in learning and as a teacher, I really took on a very different role.  I was a student too, learning alongside them, debating my points (very passionately I might add!), trying to find evidence to disprove others’ gathered facts to really challenge my students to dig a little deeper.  I was in awe of the power of inquiry that was taking place.  I finally had truly experienced what inquiry was supposed to be and how easy it really was.  I had just learned a very valuable lesson! Inquiry comes when someone is passionate to learn more.  My role as a facilitator is to help students find that passion and what intrigues them to learn because they WANT TO, not because they HAVE TO!

A Roller Coaster Ride with the Family

Joan Papp is an experienced teacher from Learning Community 6. She has been with us at Greystone since we opened our doors eight years ago. During her time with us, she has seen lots of ups and downs, new faces and has been with us for some amazing adventures. Through it all, Joan has embraced change and new learning – she serves as a role model for us all in demonstrating teamwork, patience and lifelong learning. I know you are going to provide wisdom and experience to your new colleagues in Learning Community 5 next year, Joan – and I trust with your leadership, they will learn to “grab an oar and row together!”

Well here I am again at my computer almost a month late with my Professional Reflection.   I told myself this wouldn’t happen again. Where does time go and where to begin…My Family, no, My Greystone Family.  I consider Greystone and the people here as my extended family.  I love to come to work where I feel welcome and needed. It is I where I want to be. But life in any family can be like a roller coaster.

Roller coasters  are exhilarating.  They really get the blood pumping but there are those dips when you feel a little nauseated.  I shouldn’t have had that hotdog but I’ll be ok.  I can ride it out, pull myself back together and do it different next time.  I will get back on track. Let me relate…The Sky Science  i-Pad Project.  We thought this was going to be great. Get the kids pumped. Generate those questions that lead to inquiry.  Let them explore and learn.  Pull them back to that question. Use the wonderful technology we have.  Pull them back to that question.  Find those shadows that never appeared because of cloud cover last fall. Learning how to use the i-Pad. Pull them back to that question. Check the curriculum.  Neat stuff we are exploring but not a lot of it is the BIG BOOK. Panic.  Add some critical lessons. We need to move on. It’s a few weeks until Christmas now, Panic.  I did not feel the family love during this time.  The Learning Coach’s encouraging words were bouncing off my shield of steel. The tension in our little team family was tense. This is when I really would have preferred to be an orphan.  In the end on the P.A.T. (swear word) our students scored well on the Sky Science questions. I guess we did something right. Move on.

Then there is that let’s go faster, this is boundless, give me more, I can’t get enough of this ride.  I found this in the oddest place, Humanities, Canadian Democracy, no less.  I had that oh, wow moment. Let me digress. Over the years we have been given documents, rubrics, discussions, reflection and videos on critical thinking and inquiry. When they start to naturally fall into place and you actually live it…WOW. I can look back and go “this makes sense”. 

Canada is a democratic country.  We are so fortunate to live here. We are safe, treated fairly, have a say in how things are done and we are free.  It seems like a simple message.  So how do we let them live it? Experience it? Appreciate and embrace it?  We, as a team, DID IT. How?  The legacy that this group of students leaves to Greystone is there will be traffic lights on the corner of Greystone Drive and Grove Drive where people will be able to cross safely and traffic will not be backed up at peak hours. Our voice was heard. The students understand that they can make a change.

Through novel studies students learned about different places in the world that do not have the rights that we share, students appreciated what we have through reading the novel ”The Breadwinner”.

“Mrs. Papp, I used to think that missing a day of school was fun but all she wants is to be able to go to school and she can’t.” Logan.

But we didn’t stop there. We continued to read “Among the Hidden”.  Students were eager to share how the character was treated unfairly under our Charter of Rights.  “Stealing Home” – the Jackie Robinson story – students began to understand how minorities need to have equity in our society. They get it. Well most do.

We all love this part of the roller coaster ride where we have made the trip successfully.  This is when I want to embrace my team.  I love my job.  More than that, I love the people I work with.  You are my Greystone Family.  This is my happy place.

I knew that I was going to see changes in my team for next year but I was blindsided by the amount of changes.  I knew that Claudia would always be there as a learning coach. She will still be on the next roller coaster ride just not in the same car.  I will miss the close teaching relationship we shared but our friendship will continue.  Craig was ready for a change but I was a little taken aback that he is moving up to grade 9 next year.  I know he will do well.  Again, he is just riding in another car.

Then there is Patty.  This is when the roller coaster stops and she gets off.  It was different when she was away on maternity leave and would be joining the ride next year.  This year she is not coming back.  This is very difficult for me, as selfish as that may sound. She is my colleague, my curling skip but more than that, she is my friend and I am going to miss her dearly.  My saving grace is that I have met her Mom, Rose. Patty is going to where she and her family need to be. Although I am sad, my heart goes out to Rose that she will have Patty and her beautiful family closer to her.

I can’t forget my curling. I don’t know if my team knows how great it is to have one evening out a week in the long winter, when my husband is away.  Sometimes I feel like the roller coaster never ends. It just loops from here to Fort McMurray and back again.  Even if we don’t win, we are getting better, we have fun.

I look forward to the ride next year.  There will be a few new loop-da-loops, highs and screaming lows but I’m ready.  I still have my family to back me and these new additions to our family will be assets.  Let’s go for a roller coaster ride.

Greystone is where I need to be.  I need to be with my family.  I look forward to tomorrow.

Learning to Say No – It’s a Good Thing!

This reflection comes from our Learning Community 8 Teacher, Matthew Stelmaschuk. Matt is a keen Math/Science Teacher who does a lot of extras for everyone around our school. He coaches, he helps colleagues with technology, serves as an ATA Rep for our school and he is AMAZING at building strong relationships with students, families and colleagues. Matt has agreed to be Greystone’s Acting Principal next year – his calm, solutions-focused approach to dealing with any situation makes him a perfect fit to handle our busy middle school when our administrators are out of the building. Have fun in Africa this summer, Matt!

Growth Plan Reflection



Skip to toolbar