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Thursday, 29 August 2013

Five Steps to the BEST SCHOOL YEAR EVER!

It’s the end of August! And we are celebrating a new school year! Beginnings are so fabulous – such a time of hope and planning for success. In honour of this time we’ve prepared a series of blogs to support your planning for success using assessment in support of learning.

This month we also celebrate the anniversary of the launch of our free Members site
We have over 5900 members. We’ve been digging through all the things there are to READ and to VIEW and refreshing the collection. Our selections have been deliberately designed to support educators as they engage in professional learning whether as a high school teacher, a middle years teacher, an elementary teacher or a leader at the school or system level. If you are new to our members site  then you might be interested in knowing we ask you to sign in because we have video of students and teachers and we want to provide a safe, sharing environment. 

I hope this is the best year ever!

All my best,


PS In the next few weeks we will be announcing our brand new online conference line-up! We are very excited. Contact Laura if you want some advance planning information.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

The Better Choice? On line Grading Programs or ??

Like a growing number of teachers, Erin M. has a classroom blog. Sandra Herbst connected me to Erin and I am so thankful. I love the way her students use Voki to create avatars. Their avatars can now be their safe presence on the blog. Parents and others can listen, read and view their children and the rest of the class. It is a incredibly powerful demonstration of learning. Then, combine this with a student-parent-teacher conference and a written report that communicates the teacher’s professional judgement with regard to the students progress and growth. What do you have? Parents who are incredibly informed regarding how well their students are doing in relation to curriculum expectations.

I have to wonder why systems feel they have to use online grading programs especially since the commercially available options do such a poor job of informing others. Go to Erin’s class’ blog and then look at the information available through any of the commercially available on-line grade books. Ask yourself, which does a better job of communicating the richness of learning? I’m not saying a class blog is sufficient; I’m saying it communicates a whole lot more than an online grade book. In Canada, given our complex learning outcomes, we deserve better than marks and grades that push us towards inappropriate evaluation practices in our classrooms and tell parents so little about what really matters.

On a final note, Erin’s blog contributes to the larger discourse about public education. I was reviewing the stats the other day for one of my blogs I realized that on any given day it has more than 5500 views. Think about that! Not only do educators have an opportunity to engage in this conversation, we are also providing a way for our students to engage and demonstrate the kind of learning they are engaged in classrooms.

Friday, 23 August 2013

The Anniversary of my First Day of Teaching and Baseline Evidence (Step 3)

Today is the anniversary of my first day teaching. I was 20 years old. I had moved to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. I found myself on a handpicked staff of amazing teachers. It was the beginning of the first of many amazing years teaching in the North.

There is something very special about teaching in the northern part of Canada. It is an opportunity to make a difference not just to students in classrooms but also to the community. Like other teachers who choose to teach in the small rural and northern communities, I found myself involved in professional activities in my school and across schools. We depend on each other so everyone needs to contribute. And, as much as I gave, I received so much more. I also met my husband in Yellowknife – this is what we looked like way back then. Memories are so great!

Next week I will be back in Yellowknife working with educators as they prepare for another year of making a difference. I will be able to visit with and work alongside colleagues I taught with years ago and who continue to be in my circle of friends today.

As teachers we learn to build relationships with our colleagues, our students and members of the school community. And, as a result, we learn as much as we teach. And, it is through being learners ourselves that we teach some of the most powerful lessons.

The first learning I deliberately set out to do each year is to understand and appreciate the gifts, talents, and knowledge of every single learner no matter different they are than I am. After all, I must first seek to understand before being understood.

Step 3 is about collecting baseline evidence. It’s an important part of learning about one’s students. It’s not sufficient. I also need to learn about what matters to each one. What do they love? What do they care about? How can I tap into their expertise? Because, if this is to be a powerful learning community, then I, as the teacher, am the one who needs to carefully help every learner be appreciated and valued.

All my best,


PS Now here is the scary part... if that other picture was the baseline... here is the AFTER picture. Couldn't we just do an "We used to.... but now we..." And guess what, we do! On the anniversary of the day we met:- )

It's Our Anniversary! Come Celebrate Our Free Members Site

FOUR years ago we started our free membership site! Our goals were simple. We wanted to support educators to understand the power of assessment for learning to support ALL students. We wanted to make it more possible for more people to learn about these ideas no matter where they lived. There is a collection of resources for you to access and enjoy. Many of these are available because of the many educators who have learned along side us over the years and welcomed us into their schools and classrooms.

Here we are! Four years later we’ve gone from a few members the first few months to now having more than 5900 people accessing these resources regularly. While most members are from Canada, we also have members from around the world. Joining is easy! Just choose a user name and password. We've reorganized the content around postings to READ and postings to VIEW. We will be adding postings to LISTEN and to DO in the upcoming months. We usually add regularly but with our new revamped members site we will be making additions monthly. We have changed this structure to deliberately mimic our site for University graduate and undergraduate students (and professors).

We get lots of requests from people for permission to share the materials in other forms and for other audiences. We also see lots of sharing of links from individuals to their entire networks. We love seeing the spread of the blog views via twitter and the e-newsletter move from country to country around the globe. We are pleased to be able to continue this service for one more year.

This free service was made possible because people volunteered their time and expertise and Building Connections Publishing gave a percentage of their profits to support this work.
One unintended consequence of sharing free resources is some people see to think that all the resources should be shared freely. We wish that was possible. One day perhaps it will be if an organization chooses to fund this important work. In the meantime, it is the paid resources that fund the free resources. If the paid resources are pirated, used without permission, plagiarized, or passwords shared beyond the purchaser, even with great enthusiasm for sharing the work, the result can be fewer resources to fund the free members site.

You can contribute to this important work in three ways:

1.     You can help us by sharing links to the free materials and letting people know where they can go and sign up for themselves.
2.     You can contribute by commenting on the blogs, sharing your ideas, and sending in your questions.
3.     Lastly, you can contribute by purchasing resources that you need that are not on the member’s site and by using them according to copyright and legal permissions.

In the coming months we look forward to an even more fabulous FIFTH year of support. We have plans to share more practical ideas, more video clips, more research, and more responses to emerging questions.

We are also excited as we put together the final details in preparation for the launch a brand new membership site designed for universities - graduate and undergraduate courses - so that pre-service and graduate students can have access to the latest information and ideas.

We look forward to continuing this amazing conversation. Please keep in touch!

With our best wishes,


Thursday, 22 August 2013

Planning for Evaluation - Step Two of Getting Ready for the BEST Year Ever

For the past few days we’ve been working with more than 90 educators to build assessment plans. There have been very powerful conversations. Sandra Herbst, Brenda Augusta and I have commented on how great it is to eavesdrop on thoughtful interaction between participants as they deconstruct their curriculum in one subject area and think through how to express it in student-friendly ways in order to prepare for evaluation.

If you weren't able to be here for the past few days, you might also want to think about planning to evaluate.  Here is Step Two as you get ready for the best year yet!

Now we are working with more than 120 educators in two and half days of learning here in Canmore, Alberta focused on involving every student in the assessment process. 

Whether working in high school, middle school, elementary or in a leadership position in schools and districts, the commitment to learning is obvious. As the two and half day session ended yesterday and as the two institutes in Fredericton ended, educators expressed excitement as they anticipating beginning the new school year. Isn’t it amazing?
Every year, in spite of knowing all the challenges that face us as we work to support each learner, we get excited. And yet, it isn’t surprising at all really. We’re in this job to make a difference and every single year we get a whole new opportunity to do it even better. I am so proud to be a member of this profession!

All my best,


PS I haven't been able to paint very much with all the teaching I have been doing but I can think about painting:- ) Here is one of my earlier paintings.... the first one is from 1999 and the second from 2011.... I am doing an "I used to but now I..." reflection as I look at them:- )

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Getting Ready for the New Year - Step One

Sandra Herbst, Brenda Augusta and I have been having a wonderful learning time with August. Last week in Fredericton, NB and this week in Canmore, Alberta we have been surrounded by the most amazing, dedicated groups of educators. The four institutes are all different but the enthusiasm is the same.

We have been working on a variety of topics related to classroom assessment. This work has reminded me to share a powerful set of steps to Get Ready for the School Year. This is Step One!

All my best,

PS Here is a painting I did on the way from Fredericton, NB to Calgary, AB. Painting calms my mind. What do you do to calm your mind and bring into the present moment?