Are you Listening?

Jim Shevchuk

“Help Me Tell My Story” -“Tell Them From Me” – Student Voice – All wonderful ways to engage students. But is it their stories we are hearing? Perhaps we are asking the wrong questions. Or maybe we are talking too much. The voice of a young person is the same as an old person. It wants to speak on its own terms and it wants to be listened to.

The data gleaned from these surveys is valuable. But who designed the questions? What information are we getting from our students? Is it their story or one fabricated by adults? My daughter gave me some valuable feedback. Why does the school need to know about my fruit and vegetable consumption? And, why so many questions about bullying? Can I ask a few questions she ponders? Can I tell my story? Her observations were excellent. She is just a teenager wanting to be involved in the process, yet still interested in helping out her school.

Maybe we should sit down and actually speak with the students. Personal interviews, qualitative surveys and kids just talking, can you image that data set? Could we actually use Indigenous Research methods with all of our children? I would wager they would have some valuable advice to the adults. Included in their advice might be ideas to make their schools more progressive, helpful hints for their teachers about themselves or even on what they would like to learn. They might help us improve. Here is some of research I have gleaned from students on “coffee row”.

“What Students really want us (teachers) to know!”

  1. Do you know anything about me?
  2. Let me ask the questions.
  3. Put your phone away – Did you notice me? How about a smile?
  4. Give me your attention – do you even know that I exist?
  5. Sometimes your rules about bathrooms and snacking are excessive – Have you actually thought about what you have said I can’t do?
  6. Can you pretend with me? Let me imagine – I have been doing inquiry for years.
  7. Trades and Computers – How about something I like.
  8. Trust me. Until I prove you wrong – Believe in me.
  9. Can we have the same respect we give you? When I tell you I am cold, hungry or thirsty, I am.
  10. Covering more challenging material keeps me interested.

Maybe we have the technology to record their thoughts? Of course some of these students will still propose the age old suggestion of beer in the water fountains and flexible scheduling; however some of our students are asking to tailor make their classes for graduation requirements. This seems to be reasonable. None of the student options include the compulsory Grade 12 English, Social Studies or Wellness 10, but I do hold out some hope that perhaps our administrators are listening. Our Ministry is actually investigating the 24 credit graduation requirements at the provincial level. If we can accommodate our students’ requests in this area, who knows, perhaps we are making some progress. And if the government is listening, maybe we should too!

Too busy to say thanks

By Jim Shevchuk

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.”
― A.A. Milne  Winnie the Pooh

It seems like I have forgotten what my mother taught me.  Be polite, help other because some day you may need that same kindness and above all thank everyone and really mean it!  On a recent trip down south I was moved by the genuine appreciate of servers that noticed Canadians expressing their sincere thanks for a job well done. At first it appeared like a foreign concept but then their faces seemed to light up.  For a few brief moments I felt a connection with these people “just doing their jobs”. But they did them well and it reminded me that sometimes we need to extend that simply courtesy to our friends, families and colleagues.  I honestly believe we get so busy that we don’t say what we are feeling and thinking.  This year there have been a plethora of initiatives that teachers and staff have been asked to put in place, many by division officials.   This can be overwhelming.  When I see someone it dawns on me that I really should have thanked them for their excellent deeds, aiding a student or their generous creativity and I am embarrassed that I did not do so.  We don’t need a Dale Carnegie lesson on gratitude; I am merely reminded about the power of a few moments of honest discussion. Valuing people and taking the time to thank them is one of my life goals.  I am still working on it. 

How does this relate to instructional leadership and curriculum?

As busy as I am now and I feel the need to follow my mother’s advice.  I need to acknowledge the efforts of ministry folks whose strong work has been put on stop/pause.  These faceless champions are also teachers interested in promoting higher learning.  I must thank the local professionals who have made the best of our new assessment regime and accompanying software; and doing a wonderful job. Be gentle with yourselves, it’s an implementation year. As a result of the new assessment initiative we have developed key individuals who have become experts.  I have to thank the team members around me who diligently do their assigned tasks every day without much fanfare. Collectively these people do fine work and make all of us better. These wonderful team members at LSSD are an indispensable part of student learning – from curriculum and instruction to accounting to transportation.  If in my busy days I have forgotten to say thanks, I will correct that, we need everyone to move the student learning agenda forward.  The benefits are priceless. Our students, my mom and Piglet are counting on it.

April 14, 2014Permalink

Time to sing a new song


Christmas Musical Hits and 1,2,3 and a 4!

What does this have to do with Education?  There has not been a new Christmas themed pop hit for at least twenty years.  Compare that to the fundamental recent changes in Education.  When many of us began our careers twenty or so years ago what was the classroom like?  The issues were ever present; they just seem to have become more complex.  Technology and computers? DVD Players? Formative Assessment and testing? Poverty? Broken Families?  Data?  Merry Christmas? Many facets of education have changed but I worry about the pace, the research base, the exhaustion level of many of our colleagues.  What has changed for me are the stakeholder’s expectations. Change is difficult.  The response to all of the recent changes is understandable and yet we ask for more.  I don’t want to forget about the past, but as we approach these ideas with an open and professional mindset the future looks promising.  There are pieces of the new agenda that are helpful if we are willing to sing along!

Benefits of technology – Why is there a reluctance to share our personal knowledge of these amazing devices/software with our children.  I am hoping we can move from using this tool – to engaging learners who actually use these devices for innovations, inventions and thoughtful inquiry. Hopefully it can become just a natural progression of what we do. Let’s take some risks. Make something new!

Benefits of assessment – Can we learn without a percent? I think if children can see themselves in the curriculum or embedded in the assessment they will learn at a more successful rate.   Posing engaging, insightful questions that causes us all to deliberate will spawn deeper thinking and learning.  Memorization vs. Automaticity!  Try eliminating the scores and just provide some rubrics and write some “lyrics”.  This tends to improve achievement and provoke some greater motivation.

Benefits of data – Hoshin Kanri, Graduation rates and testing of our students.  When the question is answered people become more at ease – Data: How is it going to be used?  I think for our organization, it’s all about student learning.  I am confident that we are interested in providing services to those who really need it.  If we can meaningfully come together as an educational community and help students from FN/M backgrounds, immigrant students, enrichment and differentiation situations we will succeed.   We do have plan in reading, writing and math and it is about all students getting better/improving. These will be our Christmas gifts.

Circumstances change and as they become more complex, the way we react to them is all about our integrity and character.  Maybe we should open our minds to embrace some of these new evidence based decision making strategies.  The benefits outweigh the discomfort some of us are feeling.  For me as a superintendent, it’s not about questioning our staff’s professionalism it’s about counting on it! Potentially one of our students could digitally produce that “new” Christmas hit; a hit that we all can embrace.


December 23, 2013Permalink