Our Retiring Teacher ~ A Lifelong Learner

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I have had the privilege of working with Dale Johnston for the past nine years at Greystone Centennial Middle School. Dale has set the bar high for what it means to be a collaborative, team player and lifelong learner. During the time I have known Dale, he has demonstrated enthusiasm for learning from his colleagues and has been highly reflective in his practice, continuing to grow and become stronger each year as he pursues powerful learning for his students. Dale has also contributed to the learning of his colleagues. He is someone who staff regularly seek out for advice. Students love Dale as he is always ready to coach a team or provide an opportunity for them to get together in his room and just hang out. We will miss Dale at Greystone but I am sure that no matter where he goes or what interests he pursues next, he will continue to be a keen learner along the way.

Professional Growth Plan Reflection

For Dale Johnston

June 2014

This year I had the benefit of working with the same team and students which limited the transition at the beginning of the year, and allowed me to quickly draw on the strengths of my team members. Our team time focus this year was more on collaborative planning on larger projects.  We tried to spend less time on discussing daily lessons which had its trade-offs. Due to the increased distance between learning spaces we did not congregate for short informal chats after school like we did in the first year of our loop. Those chats allowed us to share daily successes and challenges and clarify the various shared lessons we were using. Although we knew each other better due to our looping practices, I think we missed out on the intimate communication that should be done face to face to allow for clarification and confirmation of next steps. It was one of those informal practices that only gets noticed when the opportunity disappears.

My primary focus for growth this year was to continue in the use of inquiry and establish practices that would make student understanding more visible. My hope was to gain a better understanding of what student strengths were, demonstrated through daily shared learning in class and confirmed on assessments.  I could then revise my own teaching strategies, to support the areas that students demonstrated were in need of growth, in a timely manner.

During my previous PGP meeting I shared my concerns about multiple choice assessment questions that did not encourage my students to show their thought process. During the discussion that followed, it was emphasized how I needed to instil the motivation required, to encourage students to show their thought process.  I was provided with advice on how to ensure that students would make their thought process clear for these types of assessment tools. Since assessment drives instruction and learning, it was necessary for me to adjust the scoring of questions so that the answer was only one of many possible marks for each question. The result was students responded to the changes by drawing tables and charts or images to demonstrate their thought process. They also displayed equations that were used at various stages in the solution process. Since marks were available for demonstrating the problem solving strategies used from start to finish, students also got into the habit of highlighting or underlining the important information in the problem. So what was the result of all of this?

  • Students were given credit for understanding various decisions that went into the problem solving process. This motivated them to demonstrate even a partial process (rather than simply estimate an answer without any evidence). Overall scores improved and students engaged in conversations about how their results improved.
  • The demonstration of process allowed me to recognize where instruction had been successfully grasped and provided me clues on where my instruction needed improvement.
  • Follow-up after the initial assessment allowed students to respond to alternate strategies and methods, prior to writing a similar assessment.
  • Re-evaluating their ability to solve multi-step problems provided in a multiple choice format on re-writes afforded me the chance to compare instructional strategies to utilize in upcoming lessons.
  • Students were encouraged to show their own unique strategies derived from connections they had made with previous learning.  Sometimes these strategies were embraced by the class since they had all been exposed to the previous learning.
  • This example of interdependent learning was encouraged but credit must be given to the students who took the risk to expose their unique problem solving process.

Showing process was not a goal limited to Math only. During our Evidence and Investigation unit in Science, students were provided opportunities to carry out finger printing, hand writing analysis and chromatography experiments. Throughout the experiments it was reinforced that the process of testing each criteria was the critical piece and that the final answer was simply the conclusion of the process.  Students who demonstrated these steps, were reward on their performance based assessment. The performance based assessment that had been created earlier by our team and revised from previous use to focus on process and inference was carried out in a collaborative setting.  This allowed students to ask new questions based on their initial results (an important aspect of Science we refer to as focus). Students who bought into the process and demonstrated their step by step analysis were rewarded with exceptional marks. This effective assessment tool still needs more revisions though since some students did not recognize the need to show the necessary analysis of all measurable evidence to come up with their conclusions (and it showed in their marks). Prior exposure to the detailed score sheet I utilized would have encouraged more students to show their process (but unfortunately it was not ready to share until after the assessment was completed). This was an opportunity lost and is a tool available if others choose to use this effective assessment.

In addition to the focus on demonstrating process, our team continued the school-wide focus on Inquiry. Inquiry was evident in three of the core subjects as projects in Humanities and Science provided students the opportunity to create their own guiding questions and then create meaning from the resulting research. Current Events and Greek Week were used to promote inquiry in Humanities. Sky Science afforded two opportunities for our students to present research on constellations and a planet of their choosing. My use of additional structure in these projects this year (regular feedback, rubrics and exemplars) was evident, since most students responded to the concepts we were measuring. The Sky Science projects had been used in the past with success and were ideal platforms to utilize inquiry. Unfortunately I was absent for the final days of Greek Week and missed the showcase and the stories students shared about their projects. Earlier projects in Science (Forest Management Project, Planet 11 Project) utilized inquiry and were excellent opportunities to engage in inference.  The Forest Management Project offered us the opportunity to engage in collaborative assessment since students were shifted to various classrooms to interact with other student groups. Collaborating during evaluation on LC wide common assessments is a topic I would like to reflect on next.

I feel we missed out on some valuable opportunities including ongoing collaborative evaluation by our team. This would include follow-up revisions to assessment practices based on patterns demonstrated in student results. The rare times that we did collaborate for evaluation purposes (team time used to evaluate the Language Arts Part A test) the team was afforded the opportunities to reflect on common assessment standards and what constituted proficient verses approaching proficient. Even with the use of exemplars and rubrics, there was plenty of dialogue requesting second opinions to verify our decisions. This is a time consuming process but one I felt was valuable for my own assessment practices. I believe it is essential for us to use assessment and results to drive our instruction and any meaningful dialogue we can have on common assessments is time well spent.

Although our team had many successes, I think that many new challenges came to our attention and will be addressed in the near future. What I have really appreciated over the past few years is the mindset in our building that seeking help with teaching practices is an opportunity for shared growth. Our teaching staff has consistently demonstrated enthusiasm when we come to them for guidance or simply a second opinion on learning strategies. It helps me reflect on my own practices when people consult me and I continually find better ways to improve the learning environment in my classroom. It makes a difference since we are constantly challenged to guide our students through more meaningful learning experiences.

Seems like a strange time to retire with so many opportunities to grow as an educator, with the necessary support network in place to ensure success.

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