Many of our favorite teachers share a common trait, a teaching process characterized by a continuous evolution and refinement of practice stemming from curiosity and feedback and, ultimately, a love of the meaningful connections that can be shared between teacher and student—the “ah-hah!” moment, when a student really gets it.
In her most recent blog post, LCS Chemistry teacher Melissa Rathier recently described her teaching career as, “one big action plan in teaching Chemistry. Question. Reflect. Explore. Test. Re-Test. Repeat.” She goes on to describe one of the biggest shifts she made in her teaching practice and the questions that inspired her to pursue the “flipped classroom” and why it was so successful. It’s a wonderful insight into her craft which I encourage you to read if you have not yet. Enjoy!
“I have been lucky enough to teach the same courses (Grade 11 & 12 Chemistry) for my entire 15 year career, which may sound like an absolute nightmare, but I have seen it as an opportunity to refine my craft. Intentional reflection has allowed me to develop my courses and increase the quality of delivery with each passing year. I continually work on understanding the material at the highest level, revise student materials to ensure their quality and try new techniques (cooperative learning, POGIL activities, inquiry-based learning) to improve student learning. My teaching career has been one big ... (read full article)“
I had one of those moments yesterday—clear and perfect. I was skiing down the fresh powdered snow of the slopes at Sir Sam’s watching students whizz by me, snow blowing in their eyes, big grins on their faces. In fact, the whole school was there with me—roughly 400 of us (students and faculty)—working on carving our turns, or snow board grabs (or even just trying to stay on our feet), stopping to enjoy an outdoor barbecue lunch with hot chocolate and hitting the slopes again—together, as a community. It was Ted Pope Day. My mind was refreshed, my body relaxed, I was happy.
A fellow Head of School, Adam Pencier (Trafalgar Castle School), recently commented that “January is the toughest time for schools, particularly boarding schools.” He said this in reference to the challenges that come with winter. As the Head of a small, rural predominantly boarding school located in the heart of cottage country, I have to agree. January and early February, in particular, can be tough at times. The days are cold, the nights are long, and our interest in outdoor activity may be less then enthusiastic when temperatures drop below -15ºC.
It’s no coincidence that we host an entire week of special activities, called Spirit Week, in the final week of January and that we plan whole-school events, like Ted Pope Day, to take us out of doors. From Ted Pope Day, Red and Green day, and K-Rod (‘human’ dog-sled) races, to Winter Carnival at Northcote Campus, intentionally creating opportunities that we can look forward to, embrace and enjoy (especially during the toughest winter months), provides us with some of our favourite memories and experiences. As a community, and as individuals, we become better connected and have fun.
The days may be cold, but sunny too. And the evenings are long, but full of fun new experiences. We are not even noticing that it’s -15ºC outside, because we are trying to pull our sled across the finish line first. We are refreshed, relaxed and happy.
While it is the formal responsibility of many of our staff (Assistant Heads of school life and student support, residential teams, advisors, teachers, guidance counsellors) to ensure that the emotional, academic and physical health of our students is nurtured, there are an equal number of informal opportunities, such as those highlighted in Spirit Week, to do the same. And they are just as important.
“We pride ourselves in being a community that teaches through relationships. To do that well, we need opportunities to foster those relationships on an informal level as well, beyond more formally structured academic settings. The School Life program, grounded in our missions and values, is very intentional about strengthening the connectivity of our community and interpersonal relationships, to foster student and staff morale to reach the highest level possible, a feeling of contentment that ‘it is good to be here!’” John Runza, Assistant Head: School Life
Heather Avery, who is leading the way in researching best practices relating to health and wellness programs for schools, agrees. She believes recent research, suggesting that both mindfulness and physical activity may help in warding off depression and anxiety, are an inspiring basis to inform the school’s initiatives. She cites the work of John Ratey in Spark (2008) and Martin Seligman’s Flourish (2011) as being key texts in this regard.
“In Flourish, Seligman, the founder of positive psychology and a major contributor to the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Resiliency Program, makes a strong case that positive education programs, which cultivate skills and habits such as optimism, gratitude, and positive emotion ‘offer an antidote to the runaway incidence of depression, a way to increase life satisfaction, and an aid to better learning and more creative thinking’ (2011, 80).” Heather Avery, Assistant Head: Student Support
Lakefield College School, with its emphasis on building relationships and its beautiful natural campus, is already a school that enacts positive education. Our staff reinforce strengths, connect with students, and encourage activity and fitness. Positive education is not a new direction for us, but a more intentional adherence to the path we already follow in education.
Throughout the winter and spring terms, Heather will be working to gather input and feedback from parents, students, and faculty about the features of a wellness program they would like to see and could support.
In the meantime, we look forward to Winter Carnival next week—and more of those clear and perfect moments—as we continue to embrace and enjoy the opportunities that allow us to connect, relax and be happy.
“The original idea of the web was that it should be a collaborative space where you can communicate through sharing information. The idea was that by writing something together, and as people worked on it, they could iron out misunderstanding.” ~ Tim Berners-Lee
To think that in 2003, when Lee (inventor of the world wide web) made this comment, we were only at the cusp of experiencing some of the most fundamental changes in how we use web resources (changes most of our students now at LCS take for granted as a way of life). Today, teachers and students are working together in creative new ways with a whole new generation of web tools that allow participants to distribute, share, co-create and rework new ideas.
Every new idea has its pioneers, early adopters curious to explore the possibilities. A perfect example of this are the individuals responsible for Cohort21: Rethinking Learning for the 21st Century, co-founded in 2012 by Justin Medved (Director of Instructional Innovation at the York School) and Garth Nicholls (Director, Teaching and Learning at Bayview Glen), and supported by the Conference of Independent Schools. Cohort21 is a yearlong professional development experience designed for educators across Ontario committed to exploring new paths for sharing and teaching with educational technology and web tools, while redefining the way they pursue professional development opportunities at the same time.
“The synergy created by sharing among like minded educators has been the single most inspiring and useful professional development I have done. The connections (both to people and technology) made through Cohort21 are lasting and continue to move my learning ahead years later.” Su Armstrong, Curriculum Leader: Sciences (Cohort21 participant 2012/13)
French teacher and LCS Technology Integrator, Derek Doucet, first participated in Cohort21 in 2012/13 and is now one of the Cohort’s facilitators, coordinating online and in-person events for teachers within the Ontario Conference of Independence Schools group. His enthusiasm around promoting the benefits of collaborating in this way is spreading as more LCS teachers come onboard. He explains,
“Bringing the Cohort 21 Toolkit of Twitter, Google+ and Diigo to help empower teachers to explore self-directed professional development, combined with our #LCSlearns Ninja Program on Twitter, has provided a collaborative and personalized PD experience that wasn’t available to staff before.”
This year, 14 LCS faculty are involved in the #LCSlearns Ninja Program (a concept fashioned after Garth Nicholls’ Ninja program for Bayview Glen and the Google Ninjas program designed to assist in mastering Google apps for educators).
Sixteen LCS faculty are involved with the Professional Learning Community (a group of teachers at LCS that meet to support each other in their professional learning and use of integrated IT tools).
About his own teaching, Derek says that his greatest learning as a Cohort participant thus far has been around “approaches relating to creating plans that are student centered and open for student voice and choice as well as methods for using edtech to improve the learning of students in class, encouraging them to reflect more deeply about how they learn.”
Science teacher Tim Rollwagen, who works closely with Derek as a Cohort21 Coach says, he “is very excited to see the LCS community coming online through Twitter and the #LCSlearns Ninja Program” adding, “the conversations that I have with the Cohort crew and the teachers here have been so valuable.”
“It has made me think about my teaching in a whole new way. How I tackle implementing Edtech into the classroom while exploring new techniques and pedagogy to increase student engagement and learning.”
Tim is also excited about the benefits to his students as he begins implementing a project-based learning journey with his Grade 12 biology class which encourages them to personalize their projects, set goals and reflect daily using some new edtech tools.
Chemistry teacher Melissa Rathier agrees about the power of collaborating through the Cohort and is surprised by some of her discoveries.
“I have been most surprised by the power of Twitter as a resource to me. In a short time I have discovered rich resources and great ideas for my own classroom. I have also been inspired to try new tools. I was in a place where I didn’t know where to begin with some areas of technology. Cohort21 has broken down barriers for me that I had in my own learning and has given me the confidence to explore, try and even fail.”
English teacher Brent Hurley is also deeply immersed in the possibilities that online and other educational technologies can provide. He also works closely with Derek and Tim as a Cohort Coach and Technology Integrator at LCS. For him, the benefits of these new ways of learning and sharing should always be weighed against the greater context of our role as teachers. As he says,
“Our pedagogy (the fundamental core of who we are as LCS educators) must be rooted in the relationships we build between teachers and students. Our approach to pedagogy must be to leverage technology in order to foster more resilient critical thinkers who are best prepared to engage with a global community.”
What is the most important skill you learn at school? Is it the social skills: taking turns, sharing and asking questions? Or perhaps numeric skills: how to add and subtract and discovering more complicated solutions to math problems? What about reading?
Reading impacts everything we do in our lives – DAILY
When I was the Elementary Principal at the International School Bangkok, we made it a point to tackle reading. We researched the latest theories on reading, we taught our teachers how to teach reading, we taught our parent community how to support their children in learning how to read and we focused on sharing our passion for reading with the kids – nourishing in them a love of reading.
The results were remarkable. We created a culture of reading. Everyone read – everyday.
As the principal, I too made every effort to share my love of reading and modeled for my students its value. By the end of the second year, our library had checked out more than 100,000 books for a student population of 700, an average of more than 140 books per person!
When I arrived at Lakefield College School, it was a big change. High school students have many subjects and extra and co-curricular activities competing for their time, on top of social demands. I also noticed the remarkable amount of time our students (and most young people today) spent on their iPhones, Galaxies and Androids. While our students were reading in their classes and supported by passionate teachers, they were not choosing to read during unstructured time.
Why does reading matter?
Research shows us that reading is the number one transferable skill to all academic and learning areas. Reading, for pleasure, is both an escape and a porthole to imagination and creativity, one of the key 21st Century Learning traits. It expands the brain like no other cognitive excercise and even helps to build empathy – an important characteristic aligned with the school’s values. See Scholastic’s website for an interesting summary on the topic. There are also interesting studies looking at the value of reading books (print text) and how this may lead to a deeper engagement with the content being read. (See Can Students “Go Deep” with Digital Reading or Student to e-textbooks: no thanks!).
How do you establish a culture of reading in a high school?
At LCS nourishing a culture of reading is an important goal for us and a work in progress. Thanks to the passionate leadership of Dave Krocker, Curriculum Leader: Humanities and our English team, a shift is starting to happen. From read-alouds in Chapel, to dedicated reading time during Grove Time, to providing multiple text options for students in English class and launching school-wide reading challenges, we are slowly seeing a shift toward our culture of reading.
It began two summers ago with a revamped summer reading program that elicited great response. Based on a “voice and choice” model, the program moved away from teachers prescribing one title, to students picking their own. At the same time, the “LCS Staff Picks” list was born: encouraging staff to share their personal passion for reading, and favourite book titles, with students. Students (and parents) have responded very positively to the program. Many students use this link (soon to be expanded to include picks from the broader community), and other recommended lists, throughout the academic year to find books they connect with. The “voice and choice” model is also used in many classes. The freedom to follow their own passion and interests has helped more reticent readers to have powerful reading experiences.
This past Mid-Term Break David Krocker initiated our first ever “reading challenge,” which saw over 26 participants reading over 30 minutes a day every day during the break. Teaching Fellow Nichola Bendle is leading this December’s Holiday Break Reading Challenge (to read for 30 minutes a day, for 16 days – December 20 until January 4). With 120 readers (students, staff and parents) already signed up, the momentum is growing!
As a school that values so highly teaching and learning through relationships – we can’t help but be excited by the impromptu connections and conversations that occur between students and staff around the topic of books – sharing what we read and why we love it!
We still have a long way to go. Competing with technology is hard. Our kids are wired differently today than they were in the past. We need to continue to make reading important and attractive. We need to show students that reading is the most important skill they will pick up at school.
Nourishing our teachers within an exemplary learning community
“Every year’s a LEAP year at Lakefield College School!” It’s the expression a beaming Joe Bettencourt, Assistant Head: Academics, used last Wednesday at our program meeting as he shared the many successes of our newest initiative: the Lakefield Educator’s Apprenticeship Program (LEAP).
Coming out of a very successful pilot launch in 2013/14, LEAP is well into its second year with equally strong results. In addition to strengthening and advancing the 21st century learning experience for our boarding and day students, the purpose of LEAP is to support new teachers as they begin their professional career as educators. Through a competitive process attracting some of the best teacher graduates from across Ontario, four outstanding candidates are selected each year to participate in our program.
Teaching Fellows contribute fresh talent, resources and support to our greater LCS faculty team who, in turn, provide mentorship and coaching as the new teachers explore their career paths. Inherent in this collaborative partnership are many professional learning moments that occur on both sides.
“Participating in the Lakefield Educator’s Apprenticeship Program offers a great opportunity for staff learning and professional development. It encourages a partnership – between Teaching Fellows and Mentors – that models the same type of learning we seek to encourage in our students: taking risks, being creative, learning how to collaborate and reflecting on our practice.” ~ Joe Bettencourt
A professional leadership learning opportunity
The program offers a new learning opportunity for Lakefield College School faculty who seek to develop their professional leadership and coaching capacity. Teaching and learning alongside Teaching Fellows, our Teaching Mentors grow their professional practice while supporting the learning of our students through a team teaching approach. Joe describes these as “experiential professional leadership learning opportunities” that involve co-planning, co-facilitating and co-assessing learning. Every hour LCS Teaching Mentors invest in this program brings simultaneous dividends to our Teaching Fellows, our students, and the mentors themselves.
A unique program for teachers in Ontario
“LEAP is one more way LCS nourishes its people and distinguishes itself as an exemplary learning community,” says Joe, “there are no educational apprenticeships like it in Ontario.” Fully engaged in classes and co-curriculars, Teaching Fellows co-teach alongside their Teacher Mentors in a yearlong commitment. They gain a full year of continuous day-to-day professional experience with their students, while providing valuable support to the school. In many of the classes where they are involved, average student to teacher ratios are less than 10:1. Our students have had an overwhelmingly positive response to the benefits of the “two-teacher” model, which, during a 70-minute class, means more one-on-one time between students and teachers and dynamic class lessons shared between two individuals. They are important benefits of the program.
When asked about LEAP outcomes thus far, Joe is quick to say:
“I’m so pleased with how well the collaborative relationships are taking root. Our Teaching Fellows are forming a great professional teaching community amongst themselves and with the LCS faculty mentors they are partnered with. In fact, some of our Teaching Fellows last year had a hard time saying goodbye. They became an integral part of our community of students and teachers. Even after they had finished the program, some returned to campus to attend events like Fall Fair, to catch up on news and keep in touch. And our students and teachers feel the same way about them.”
We are proud to say that within the broader educational community, Lakefield College School is strengthening its reputation for providing a coveted pool of qualified and experienced young professionals for hire – many being hired by private boarding and day schools (including LCS). First, through our long-standing two year Assistant Head of House (residential life) program, and now through our very successful Lakefield Educator’s Apprenticeship Program.