Emulating Good Bye

Emulating great writing is a scaffold for all writers. So says pretty well everyone.  I recently read Rick Reilly’s, a well-known sportswriter for ESPN Magazine, final article, and for obvious reasons, connected with it.  So I am going to practice what I preach and use his powerful writing to support mine.
My father was a great influence on my life. He was a great storyteller.  I grew up hearing stories of the family homestead, his horse Fanny, major moments that shaped his life.  He was a minister and embedded storytelling into his sermons and stories.  Our dog Charlie was inspiration for devotions. He instilled a love of learning, reading, and writing in me.

He also loved people and accepted them for who they were. I have many memories of him laughing with people, challenging them to reflect, and making them feel good about themselves.

So when I started teaching, his influence helped me find my way. I also know there were many moments and events that shaped my career.

I remember stepping in to take over an elementary class where trauma had occurred. Students felt betrayed by authority and parents were on the attack.  I learned that I had to listen.  I wanted to fix things, but it was out of my control.  I listened and learned that sometimes life is not fair and that the answers are sometimes unclear.  But listening shows care and concern, and that goes a long way.

I remember moving to a school where students had many challenges. The principal told me that even though I had taught for 15 years, I was now going to learn how to really teach.  He was right.  I learned not to judge.  I learned not to blame.  I learned that parents love their kids, even if they are unsure how to show that love. I learned how to be firm and believe that all kids will learn.  I learned how to try to maintain dignity for all in the midst of a struggle.  I learned to really teach.

Young students write the cutest things in cards and notes to their teacher. A Grade Two student once wrote to me in his farewell card at the end of the year, “You’re funny even when you don’t mean to be.”  It made me smile, but also made me realize that we never know what students see in us, so I learned to laugh freely.

And I noticed. I noticed teachers who work hard, who give of themselves, who spend their own money buying students school supplies.  I heard teaches express care for students, wishing they could make their world a better place.  I noticed teachers celebrate a student’s success as they run into a staff room to show their colleagues.  I saw teachers support each other.  I learned to give.

I watched as students lived in the classroom. I remember after I gave a mini-lecture about the kind of movies they should never watch, a bright young boy asked me “Mrs. Kasper, have you watched any of them?”  I hadn’t, but I sure had judged, sight unseen.

Willy was a 7 year old conundrum. He was always in trouble, full of emotion, but wonderfully likeable.  He taught me that there is good in everyone.  While working with kids throughout the room, loud noise erupted in a corner.  I raised my voice and called out a student’s name.  Willy ran across the room and decreed that I should not blame that child.  Willy was the cause of the trouble, and he would not let another child take the blame.

I discovered students really do know who you are. One young girl very perceptively told me she knew my favourite colour was black.  When I asked her how, she said that it was what I wore most of the time.  I know there is some deep psychological meaning to that, so I’ve now added navy and brown to my choices.  She also told me my favourite word was ‘calm’.  I think that speaks for itself.

I noticed joy. In Grade Two, silent reading is not really silent. Students are transitioning between oral reading and silent reading.  When reading, one sweet thing would sing the words.  I will never forget hearing Green Eggs and Ham being sung with joy.

Never let anyone tell you that teaching doesn’t make a difference. Never let anyone tell you there is one important thing to teaching – covering the curriculum, a reading level, caring about the kids.  It’s so much more.  It’s about working with colleagues who think like you, but also engaging with those who challenge your thinking. It’s about laughing with children as they find something funny.  It’s about perseverance and creativity.  It’s about drying a student’s tears and holding their hand so they can be in a space to explore new thoughts and ideas.

Why leave a job I have loved for 32 years? The world is a very large classroom, and I’m ready to step into a new world.  A world where I will have time to renew and discover relationships.  A world to uncover deeply hidden hobbies and interests.

And now it is time to leave….with great sadness. As I leave I start to realize what and who I am really leaving.  I’m leaving friends and colleagues who I will miss seeing on a daily basis.  I’m leaving projects and initiatives that I care about.  My input is done and hopefully lives on as things continue to move forward.  My relationships will continue, albeit in a different shape.

So I go back to my father’s influence. I can hardly wait to share stories to my granddaughter.


JoAnne Kasper

June 28, 2015Permalink

Walking The Talk

footprintsDo our beliefs align with our practice or are we just window dressing our teaching practices with the appropriate jargon and “showpieces”?

I recently read the article doing Reggio? by Margie Carter  which challenged me to think about the  values, perceptions and beliefs about young children that guide my practice.

In my position as Early Learning Consultant I have the privilege of supporting early learning teachers across the division.  As I work with these teachers I often emphasize several key principles of early learning, including; viewing children as competent and capable, carefully designing learning environments to inspire and support children, teaching/supporting all domains of development, using documentation to guide future planning, and the importance of supportive relationships for children and their families.

Keeping these principles in mind, I then need to reflective on my practices, even if they possibly lead to an uncomfortable realization of misalignment.

Consider asking yourself the following:

  • Do I primarily provide activities for children that require them to complete things as instructed, with little room for deviation OR do I provide them with open-ended activities that encourage problem-solving and creativity?
  • Do I thoughtfully and intentionally set up learning activities and materials within my environment based on my observation of what my students need and are interested in OR am I providing the latest “cool” material I found at a recent workshop?
  • Do I provided balance in the opportunities I provide children to ensure that all areas of their development are supported OR are certain skills and understands highlighted as being more important?
  • Do I go through the motions of documenting children’s learning to create a pleasing display for my bulletin board OR am I carefully observing and listening to children in their play to glean what it is they are interested in and what they are demonstrating as current understandings?
  • Am I truly supporting children and families where they are at OR do I view children and families through my own biases or agenda?

It is often too easy to use the jargon of the day without adding the necessary layer of reflecting on how research-based best practice relates to one’s practices within the classroom.

In other words, am I doing what I’m doing because I know that is what others want to see OR because I truly believe in the practice and understand the research base supporting its effectiveness?

March 20, 2015Permalink

Emergent Professional Learning

As a consultant team, during our recent STF-directed PD day, we were challenged by Wendy Jones from Saskatoon Public to change something in our current PD facilitation practices to improve our abilities in facilitating professional development……..

As overwhelming as this challenge seemed we all set out to establish a goal to move our PD facilitation practices forward.

My personal goal became: Incorporating more check-ins within PD events to create a more responsive professional learning environment.

As I think more about this goal I am beginning to make connections to the early learning principle of emergent curriculum.

If I am advocating for early learning teachers to follow the lead of their students, how can I as a professional development leader/facilitator adopt a philosophy of emergent professional learning?

According to Stacey (2011) Emergent Curriculum is defined as a cycle that involves:

  • Watching and listening to children with care
  • Reflecting on and engaging in dialogue with others about what is happening; and
  • Responding thoughtfully in ways that support children’s ideas, questions, and thinking.

What if I applied this cycle to the professional development opportunities I provide for teachers?

During my professional development “events” do I truly watch and listen to the teachers in attendance with care?

Do I reflect on and engage with teachers in attendance about what is happening or being presented?

And, do I respond thoughtfully in ways that support teacher’s ideas, questions and thinking?


Am I focused on covering the content of my carefully and preplanned workshop agenda?

Am I predetermining the interests, needs and thinking of the teachers attending?

Am I flexible in the content and structure of the “event”?


As Stacey (2011) challenges, “How can we parallel what we offer educators with what we want educators to offer children?” (pg.38)

December 15, 2014Permalink

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

Use it or Lose it

When I was in high school, I was a lifeguard.  I took many training courses to be hired at the local pool and after I was hired I was required to attend weekly inservices.  During the inservice time we practiced life saving skills in the water, first aid, and we maintained a certain level of physical fitness.  As a group we also attended a number of lifeguard competitions which helped to improve our skills, reasoning, decision making and teamwork.  If a person were to collapse in front of me now, many years after my days as a lifeguard, I could probably perform some type of CPR but I would be rusty and without that kick of adrenaline, I would really have to think through and consider the necessary steps.  If this person were to collapse, I’m not sure that I would automatically think of the ABCs – I might jump straight to CPR when perhaps they were choking.  Thankfully I haven’t been involved in such a life threatening situation to test my skills.  But it makes me wonder, if I don’t use it (or practice), do I lose the skills and knowledge that I could easily recall at one time?

The first year I taught grade 7 Math, I followed the text book and read ahead of the students to be ready for my lessons and although I understood the Math, I didn’t always know or see where it was going or why I was teaching certain lessons.  During my second year of teaching the same course, I knew what was coming, I understood the importance of building upon student understanding and teaching Math was clearer and made more sense to me.  By my third and fourth years of teaching grade 7 Math, I felt like I was a pro but it made me wonder about my students’ experiences.  Here I was, an adult, with University Math classes to support my understanding, struggling at times with how to teach my students and yet they were expected to remember everything they learned in grade 6, apply that knowledge to new understandings, and hopefully become proficient with that skill in the three to six weeks I took to teach it.  Once a chapter was taught, I didn’t refer back to it again unless it was necessary for another concept coming up.  Yet I expected that my students would remember what I taught them when they went to grade 8.

We expect our students to remember everything we teach them.  It sure would be nice if they did but in reality, do we remember everything we learn?  Do we always remember the things we are interested in?  I find the differences between toads and frogs interesting but every time I wonder about the differences, I have to look it up to remind myself.  Imagine the things I don’t find interesting!  In Math we have a possible advantage in that once we teach an outcome, we can assess our students and move on.  But I think we have to remember to constantly review and remind our students about the skills and understandings they have learned as they continue to learn new information.

I had the advantage of teaching the same group of students for three years in a row.  I remember on more than one occasion when I referred to the fact that I had taught them something the previous year.  I remember being surprised that my students didn’t remember that valuable lesson I had taught the previous year, a year later, with approximately three weeks to practice the skill.  And yet, I did expect that my students would remember amongst the Science lessons, Social Studies lessons, Health lessons, reading strategies, etc. as well as other important pieces of information from their lives such as their home phone number, Mom’s work number, Dad’s work number, Grandma’s home phone number, Mom’s cel number and Dad’s cel number in case anyone needed to be contacted in an emergency.

There are many things our students must remember.  There are many things our students must learn and apply.  There are many things we must teach.  I think we must also remember, however, to provide time for practice and review so that once our students learn it, they can use it, so they don’t lose it.

March 3, 2014Permalink

Why Write?

By Donna DesRoches and JoAnne Kasper

This week the English Language Arts/Early Language and Literacy Consultant and I, the Instructional Technology Consultant, are leading a workshop on the four purposes of writing and how technology can be used to motivate, engage, collaborate and demonstrate understanding in the writing process. Our agenda can be found on the Learning and Technology Wiki.

The workshop will be broken down into the four main purposes of writing: to describe, to tell a story (narrative), to explain and to persuade.  We will then break each section into three acts: theory, technology and application.

The ELA/EL Consultant will provide a brief overview of each purpose for writing, sharing resources and strategies.  I, as the Instructional Technology Consultant, will give a short how-to on some of the technology tools available for teachers.  I plan to demonstrate programs available on our windows machines, online tools and apps for the iOS devices that are gaining popularity in our schools.

Workshop participants will then have an opportunity to experiment and play with any of the tools suggested while the workshop leaders move about the room supporting teachers as they play and learn.

We have built in reflection on learning in two ways; one is with the use of Padlet to encourage reflection throughout the day and the second is to have teachers respond to this blog post letting us know what they have learned and what they will apply within their classroom setting.

Our hope is that teachers will come away with a deeper understanding about the purposes of writing and greater confidence in using technology to meet writing outcomes.

February 27, 2014Permalink Leave a comment

Mastery: Promoting Fires in Students’ Bellies

by Cathy Herrick

The idea of Mastery has been around for centuries, in many fields, and has many definitions.  In education writers, researchers, administrators, and teachers have their own pre-determined ideas as to what constitutes mastery.  A review of some of the most recent thinking on this topic reveals that there is no one common definition, nor a “right” definition, but rather some agreement as to what constitutes mastery and what does not constitute mastery relative to student learning and achievement.

Mastery, Mastery Learning, and a Mastery designation on a rubric all have different connotations.  Mastery is defined in the Oxford dictionary as, “an action demonstrating or involving great skill or power…. to perform a notable deed, or wonderful feat.”  Benjamin Bloom describes the concept of mastery learning as a possible outcome for any student who was provided adequate time and “favourable learning conditions” to perform and be assessed on a criterion-based scale determined by a teacher (Bloom,1977).  As a school division we are working to establish some common criteria to assess deeper levels of understanding of curricular outcomes, which we have labeled as Mastery on a rubric.

Teachers, administrators, coaches, consultants, and superintendents in our school division are exploring, collaborating, and doing some deep thinking about what Mastery as a concept means relative to student achievement.  Challenges to develop criteria, learning tasks, and exemplars are initiating some consternation and uncertainty for teachers when facing pressures from students and parents who are used to a point system to measure success.  However, this inquiry, discussion, experimentation, and reflection are all necessary components to understanding and developing the ways and means of ensuring that students have access to authentic learning activities that build the “fire in their bellies” to learn and to continue to learn.

Engaging students in learning has a fundamental tie to the Mastery level. Students demonstrating a desire to work hard, to think strategically, and to accept some ambiguity also clearly know themselves well as learners. Tomlinson worries about college students who have no experience of the “fire in their belly” to drive them to do hard thinking, to read, to debate ideas,  and to push themselves toward excellence in a real world pursuit” (Tomlinson, 2013 ). She worries that students don’t know how to reason or to think abstractly because they have learned to “jump through the hoops” of schooling, doing what is necessary to get the points.

At the Mastery level on a rubric we want to promote:

  • Students accomplishing novel challenges through the application of skills and understandings
  • Students “effective transfer of learning done with creativity, polish, and grace” with an understanding of what has been done and why (Wiggins, 2013 p. 13)
  • A student’s desire to get better at something that matters to them
  • Authentic tasks at the heart of “doing” the subject

We have taken a risk, developing rubrics that challenge students to demonstrate mastery of an outcome.  We are modeling the “messiness”, the risk-taking, the inquiry, the struggles, and the tenacity that we expect of our students at their highest levels.  We continue to learn; we have a “fire in our belly” to “get it right”, to assist our students in achieving the highest levels possible.

Though we can’t define or measure “mastery” only as an attitude/behaviour, nor can we completely ignore it as we observe students in their pursuit of Level 4 – Mastery.  Our Olympic athletes have provided us with some insight these past few weeks as they achieve mastery levels in their sport.  Not only have they learned the fundamental concepts and skills of their sport, but they have applied them and their understandings in races, in games, and during performances.  Every athlete has a fire in their belly to succeed. These athletes have not attained a level of Mastery focusing only on bits of knowledge, isolated drills, or by not knowing what excellence looks like.  Thus, on our rubrics we want to ensure that Mastery does not look like:

  • A march through facts and sub skills, dotted with quizzes
  • A high grade on a test/quiz of low level questions
  • A simple recall of facts and skills
  • Proficiency with drills and exams
  • Local norms and low expectations, nor
  • Arbitrary calculations

Forging ahead as educators we must not be satisfied with learning that is just ‘good enough’. We chose this profession because we love to see the ‘light bulbs’ turn on, the excitement in the eyes of learners who make new discoveries, and we relish the moments when tough questions with no answers get asked and debated.  Developing classroom climates and practices that inspire kids to achieve mastery levels of learning involves:

  • Students believing that the learning task matters,
  • Regular inquiry, problem solving, and innovation,
  • Timely and descriptive feedback (including re-assessments),
  • Fostering intrinsic motivation rather than pressure to get the grade,
  • Self-comparisons rather than comparisons to others,
  • Environments where students can safely take risks and believe that they can succeed, and
  • Planning that begins with the end in mind.

Gusky (2013) promotes that Mastery can only be measured in light of a world standard, that students deserve the opportunity to know where the bar is.  An Olympic athlete knows, or has an idea, of what Mastery looks like in his/her sport.   While, we in education may not be all the way there yet, the goal is worthy of the pursuit, which begins as a school division, extends to the province, the nation, and beyond.


Cushman, K. (2013). Minds on fire. Educational Leadership, 71(4), 38-43.

Gusky, T., Anderson E. (2013). In search of a useful definition of mastery. Educational Leadership,
71(4), 19-23.

Tomlinson, C. (2013). Let’s not dilute mastery. Educational Leadership, 71(4), 88-89.

Tucker, C. (2013). Five musts for mastery. Educational Leadership, 71(4), 57-60.

Wiggins, G. (2013). How good is good enough? Educational Leadership, 71(4), 10-16.

February 26, 2014Permalink

New Year . . . New You

By Leanne Merkowsky

As 2014 swooshes in, it is time to look back at 2013 and reflect on the wealth of challenges we’ve overcome, struggles we’ve encountered and successes we’ve accomplished.  No year is complete without a moment of ‘looking back’.  Sometimes, we reflect on these moments with pride and honour, while at other times, we frown at the projects unfinished, the lengthy list of ‘things to do’ unscathed, and the growing pile of miscellaneous papers and ventures teetering on the corner of our desks.  Time never stands still, although we sometime wish it would just so we could ‘catch up’ with life.  It is the one constant in our lives.  How are we going to deal with pressures, deadlines and changes differently this year, so that when 2015 rolls around, we will embrace it and jump in with a feeling of triumph and happiness, rather than guilt and resentment at the tasks and dreams left untouched?

A resolution is not just the degree of sharpness of a computer-generated image as measured by the number of dots per linear inch or number of pixels on a display screen, but it is also the degree of sharpness, focus, concentration and effort one places on a personal goal.  Creating a resolution is a good starting point in helping to determine a direction for the new year.  It guides our thinking and renews our determination, in the hope that we will ‘stick with it’ to the bitter end, overcoming all that stands in our way.  The first step is creating a plan!

 “A vision without a plan is just a dream.  A plan without a vision is just drudgery.  But a vision with a plan can change the world’” – Unknown

In the article, 30 Things to Start Doing for Yourself, Marc Chernoff presents a positive ‘to-do’ list for the upcoming year.  He includes such ideas as: spending time with the right people, creating your own happiness, proudly being yourself, living in the present, giving dreams a chance, helping others, listening to your inner voice and noticing the beauty of the small moments.  Incorporating some of these ideas into your plan will help steer you in the right direction.  Writing your goals down and reviewing them periodically will also assist with keeping the drive and inspiration alive.

I hope this list helps motivate you and propel you forth into 2014 with renewed spirit, enthusiasm and love of life!  It is time to break the mold, go out on your own, try new things, not be afraid of failure . . . . learn from mistakes and never stop trying!

Happy New Year!


January 5, 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