Saturday, 31 December 2011

Africentric Schools - are they the right way to help our Africentric students?

In 2012 - the TDSB will embark on adding an Africentric High School to compliment our elementary Africentric school.

There has been some concern raised about why we are doing this? It's simple. Students who are identified as africentric don't graduate from high school - and no matter what the provincial government does this group isn't showing any significant improvement.

So Dr Spence thinks that these specialty schools will help them. Will it? It will take time to know for sure but I hope so - their graduation rates of about 60% is not good enough - without a high school diploma job choices are very limited and long term poverty is inevitable - thus the cycle continues.

I do look forward to success and then I hope that the successes of the specialty schools can be extrapolated and shared with any school in our system and beyond. TDSB is not the only school district struggling with these issues.

As we move forward with all the specialty schools - my hope is that we are meeting the needs of students who would otherwise be at risk and we are saving them one student at a time - if necessary.

Reflections on 2011 - The UGLY

Well haven't posted in awhile - the end of the year always seems to be busy with a flurry of activity!

So 2011 is quickly coming to a close and its time to reflect on the good, the bad, and the ugly. So let's start with the ugly....

Here it is 17 years after I was first elected and it's like deja vu all over again - the TDSB is facing a $80 to 90 Million shortfall and there seems no likely solutions - the only way to balance the books is to cut programs which means we hurt kids.

It's hard to believe in a developed country that we still struggle with the economics of education. I have made this statement so many times I'm sure many are sick of it BUT to me it will always be true - education is the great equalizer! I have seen kids who thought they had no hope become doctors, lawyers and even some of the best teachers I know in our system - where did they get this hope? From adults who made a difference in their lives and in most cases a teacher or a coach.

I enjoy speaking to exemplary teachers and the most important question I ask is how did they become so caring and dedicated and I have yet to have one not point me to a teacher who made a difference in their life.

We have poverty issues in Toronto and the GTA - it's sad that so many of our students go hungry every day while they live around abundance around them - how do we fix this? The first step is giving them the best education possible and creating the gateway to a better life - not a hand out a hand up.

Any study I've ever scene clearly articulates that monies spent earlier in people's lives is saving in the long run - so why don't politicians get it? is it because they don't vote? How do we articulate for the kids who don't have a voice, don't have involved parents or don't have parents who know who to call to get what they want.... Who speaks for these kids falling through the cracks - while I know many of my colleagues do BUT our hands are tied behind our back because of how we are funded - where are the citizens of Toronto to demand that monies raised in Toronto - stay in Toronto?

I'm not looking forward to 2012 as a Trustee as I see many difficult decisions ahead - AGAIN!!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Kellie McRobert - eCompetencies

Every once in awhile you meet interesting people - Kellie McRobert is one of those people.
When I attended Kellie's session it was at 730am (and a Thursday with time zone changes) - and she started right on time with lots of enthusiasm - it's hard not to get excited when you see her present!

She did teach me lots of things in her session but I wanted to highlight her site:

Her and I agree that eCompentencies will only occur when we expect teachers to come into the classroom with an expectation that they are competent - not - 'nice to have skills'.

Our students have superior to skills to us adults so we have 2 choices as I see it -
1) Learn and keep learning - quickly
2) Get out of the way and let the kids lead with the technology.

I hope you will spend some time on Kellie's site - as she has a LOT of knowledge to bring to the table.
On a personal level - she's fun and a warm personality and I had a great time spending time with her.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Remembrance Day - Truly a time to reflect!

There are parts of my role as a Trustee that I dislike but then there are opportunities that reminds me how fortunate and privileged I am to have this role - Remembrance Day is one of those times!

I would like to thank Courcelette Public School for letting me attend their ceremonies and a special thank you to Principal Captsis for making me a special guest along with the veterans.

Mr. Alex Napier, who led the procession, is one of the most devoted volunteers as the school. I would wonder if anyone could actually calculate the hours he has spent at the school? He will be turning 97 this week and he contributes so much to the life of the school through his commitment to having students read to him every week.

Courcelette is celebrating their 100th anniversary this year so their school history is unique in that they actually have their front hallway dedicated to former students who lost their lives in World War I and II.

No one can bring history to life like someone who has lived through it!

Mr. Napier was interviewed for the program and it was extremely moving. The students are well served in having him as a living history book - the kids have the opportunity as we saw during the ceremony to ask simple questions from: "what did you eat? were you scared? what does it feel like to be so far away from home?" Somehow in this generation of multi-media - the in-person encounter is STILL more moving. I would like to thank the staff for documenting Mr. Napier's story as we don't know how long he will be with us but based on his attitude and service to students I hope we have him for many more years.

Of course it was sad to reflect that we lost one more veteran this year that attended the ceremonies in the past - as I reflected on their commitment it is hard to imagine what it was like all those years ago, but how amazing it is to have a day to truly reflect on their service.

As a final tribute there was the release of 21 doves to salute the veterans in attendance as well as those that are no longer with us. They made a great sacrifice for us to enjoy the freedoms we have in Canada.
Let us NOT forget the sacrifices that they made so that Canada remains the Peace Maker of the world.
Let us NOT lose sight of the things that are important - a land where people are free to be their best!

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Driving a manual car in New Zealand

So had to add some fun stories of my experiences in New Zealand.

On my 1 day off I decided I was going to leave Rotorua - if you've ever been there - you would know that Rotorua smells like sulphur all the time. The Hot Springs are amazing and the views spectacular but the smell - awful!
I asked some of the locals if you ever get use to it and they said NO! So yes it's overwhelming.

I told my new friends I was going to drive to Hastings and Napier and received some raised eyebrows - I realized later it was because the locals use planes like we use busses. So I thought I would experience more of the country by driving and that I did!

I'm always up for a challenge and so when the local Budget Rental dealer asked me if I knew how to drive a stick I responded absolutely - my first car was a stick - don't ask my little sister or bff about how brutal it was to learn as they will tell you stories I would prefer to forget :-)

Anyway I've always enjoyed driving a stick so thought this would add to adventure - again forgot to check I would be travelling more than 700 km in a day in a strange country.

When she brought the car around I got a quick lesson about how to slide into reverse - to my horror I realized it was a left hand stick - never done that before. So the first few kilometres - it was remembering to stay on the right (or the wrong) side of the road! I must admit when I tried to signal I was turning on the wiper blades and when it started to rain - I signalled but eventually I got comfortable on the open stretch before I hit the mountains - good thing!

The traffic outside of Rotorua as of course it was the Labour Day weekend so it was busier than I was told!

Now driving through the mountains - I've travelled a lot so I appreciated the great shape that the roads were in but was surprised on the very tight S-curves - many were 15 degree angles so the warnings to take the turns slowly were an understatement!

On the way to the coast I must admit I thought I was crazy but a quick stop for a long flat (or as we would call it Americano) I was on my way again - not willing to take a chance of driving with a coffee.

The trip was worth it though - seeing Hawk's Bay in person.
 There were many interesting agricultural sites to see - although I will note I saw more cattle than sheep.

Teacher Evaluation - Is MORE better?

One of the advantages of visiting New Zealand was that we have very similar educational systems. There are always advantages of having a national strategy to education (topic for another day). There are huge savings, more consistency which hopefully leads to better educated students; but I digress.

I was very pleased to hear that teachers are evaluated two times per year in New Zealand instead of our current practice of every 3 to 5 years. My thinking was always that if we evaluated teachers more we would be able to identify teachers who needed support and of course be able to 'manage' those that shouldn't be in the classroom.

After speaking with some teachers in New Zealand though - this is not the end result. As here - it's more an administrative nightmare to manage than the real results that parents expect.

I do need to say that the percentage of bad teachers is the same as any profession and has the same challenges as other professions. We are cautious whenever a staff member is accused of any misconduct and step in quickly to have them suspended until a thorough (sometimes here too thorough but erring on caution is always best) investigation is completed. We do have supports in place to help those that need it.

So does more mean better? No, as the real challenge is how does any system manage out  bad fits? In the private sector it is easier in the sense that the labour laws allow an employer to sever the relationship as long as the laws are followed. In public education we have the challenge of union contracts and union representation. It's a difficult and onerous process.

In New Zealand, they have the same challenges as we do in dismissing staff - so more is not better; it seems to be more work for everyone. Good teachers don't need to be evaluated constantly as so little changes but the real challenge is those that should not be in the classroom.

So often as a Trustee I have heard "oh there is nothing in the file", "this is the first we have heard". The solution - we need to be more accountable to our public and to our children.

It's very disheartening to staff as well that put their heart and souls into doing the best for every student to see colleagues who are not meeting the bar. Again a few taint the whole.

We need to figure out a better way to 'manage out' those that are not a good fit as the damage that they can do can cost a lot of kids their future. Fortunately in most cases, we have an amazing teacher the next year who plays catch up and 'fixes' the missing links.

Remember its only a very small group that are not a good fit. So how do we do teacher evaluations to make good teachers great, help those that just need some support and finally manage out those that should be in a different profession? More evaluations is not the answer! More diligent evaluations is the answer with 'real teeth' to support and develop good staff and deal with those that should be in a different career sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

BYOD - Bring Your Own Device

I have always been a fan of technology! Technology like public education can be a great equalizer. Technology can open doors to students that may not have access at home or parents that can open their lives to new tech trends. And of course, how much easier is it to carry 1 device than 4 textbooks? The difference now about 1 kg versus 3 kgs - saves a lot of backs.

In New Zealand they are trying different models of BYOD. The 3 basic choices are:
1) bring any device
2) bring a specified device(s) - usually 2 choices
3) you are given a specific device and the purchase details are handled by the school or board.

What choice is best? Let's look at the pros and cons

1) Any Device -
The challenge of this choice is who manages all the devices? Who is responsible for breakage, loss or theft?  What happens when the device isn't working or isn't compatible with the technology being used in the class?
The challenge for the classroom teacher is do they know how to use the different devices and what if different devices do not display the classwork the same - as we often see using different browsers. As well since the teacher may not have access to the different devices (s)he won't be able to test lessons and assignments ahead of time.
The advantage is most kids today - especially from Intermediate (Grade 7/8) on have at least 1 device - a smart phone and possibly an iPod if not an iPad - and although Canada is still expensive for data plans - we have started to see data costs decrease so more and more students have unlimited data plans. As well tools such as an iPod give students the ability to access the wifi of the local school.
As a Trustee who supported the smart use of cell/smart phones, I am obviously biased for teaching students to use the tools they have at their disposal - responsibly.
Conclusion: This is the cheapest solution for a school board, and less capital expenditure but the headaches are potentially larger than the payback. On the positive side it does allow instant access for students and not a long range plan as you ask students to bring in what they have. This choice would only be recommended more on a class by class or school by school basis which have some tech resources (or a talented teacher) available to help with the daily problems that are sure to occur.

2) Device(s) chosen but not purchased by the school or board
The challenge - as we all know, technology changes quickly, so every year there seems to be new updates and software updates so there is the challenge of again having 1 or 2 device choices but endless possibilities as the different software choices adds complexity and a matrix headache of all the software with all the hardware choices.
The opportunity: The classroom teacher should be able to handle the 2 choices - usually it would be an Apple and a PC choice and in most cases would be a Netbook and an iPad.
The advantages are many. First the choices are low cost solutions so that most students can afford to purchase. It is unusual if we look at Canadian data for a household not to have access to a device and the internet at home. The choice of 2 devices allows families to decide which type of hardware they prefer. The student has piece of mind that others in their classroom have their machine.

3) Device required - easiest if bulk purchased so every student has the same.
This is currently being done in New Zealand as The Manaiakalani Project - for more details go to

What they did was purchase netbooks for all students - a big bang! This meant that all students had the same device as well as teachers.
There are so many advantages to this plan
1) its a low cost solution - would be about $10 per student per month - Canadian - it's very do-able for most families.
2) tech support is easier as everyone has the same device
3) refreshes are done at the same time - so everyone has the same hardware and software
4) there is less lost, stolen or broken as everyone has the same device - so there are no reasons to steal someone else's
5) students are very responsible and own the device so take good care of it!
6) technology becomes ubiquitous - as it should be - the device is picked up as a pen or paper.
The downside - cost - can parents afford it?
First many parents are paying for cell phones and other items that their children want - so it's about prioritizing where to spend.
Secondly, the Manaiakalani Project knew this would be a possible issue - so they set up a foundation to deal with the students that couldn't afford to make the payments - this would be an option to look for some benefactors.
For the TDSB, we could look at this as we do spend millions every year on hardware and software - so purchasing for the students that couldn't afford it would be cheaper than what we currently spend.

It's time to re-think what we do and how we do it.
Wouldn't it be better if every child had their own device? Think what we would be saving in paper - less photocopying! Better communication to home as parents would have a device that they could check homework and email a teacher. Every home with a student would now have technology - how can we measure how that opens doors?

I am going to be starting the conversation about moving toward BYOD - hopefully the final choice seems to be the best way to move forward.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

So do you like reading a paper book or e-readers?

I must admit that I prefer the paper version of a book and a magazine. In fact, for my online magazine subscriptions I simply just scan articles I want to read but my paper versions I still flip through every page and read the articles I want to read. I may end up reading an article I wouldn't have thought I would enjoy scanning through online.

I've been pretty good at reading anywhere, on the bus, on the subway, home and in the car (not when I'm driving). I somehow can block out the world when I read.

I've been introduced to a cool tool - it's called Book Track and you can download it from the Apple App Store. What Book Track does in a nutshell is create a soundtrack for your e-book which is so cool for those who have challenges with blocking out the world. As well it makes reading more engaging and you can control the 3 aspects - sounds, ambient noises and music. I'm sure this would make reading more engaging to our students as they live in such a multi-media world it's hard for them to read in a linear way.

I wonder if we could improve the love of reading with a tool like this?

EPS - Educational Positioning System

So I'm a big fan of 360 reviews - that's where a person get feedback from their direct reports, their boss, their customers, their peers; and the purpose is to understand what you do well and where you can do better.
Since I'm a fan of these I have also been a fan of what we refer to as - District Reviews as they are a review of our schools and again the goal is to review what is working and what needs to be improved.

The challenge I have seen with the District Reviews is that they are VERY labour intensive. The outcomes are worth it as there are always things to improve but more importantly it is great to get positive feedback about what you are doing well.

So CORE in New Zealand has created EPS - which seems to be very similar to our District Reviews. It is a series of 72 questions which is answered by Admin, Support Staff, Teachers and you can add parents, students and the community at large.

The answers are asked in a series of ways to validate the answers.

Once all the surveys have been completed the reports that is issued gives you a lot of data from what you are doing well, how to improve and what improvement would look like.
As well you are given information of the ranges between the answers - which gives you some idea on the differences of perception.

Well there is a cost, I think the actual cost would be significantly less than what we are spending on district reviews.
Of course there is still some coaching and face to face meetings required to do the Improvement Plans.

This is something I think we should pilot to see if it's effective for TDSB.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

How 12 year olds blew my mind!

I love being around kids - I've always loved children and this is probably the best part of my job - kids are honest, open to new ideas, don't think about consequences and thus everything is possible.

I often remind young people that most great inventions were created by people in their 20's as they have no limits!

So put me with Grade 7's who are using free software and I'm blown away.
When asked about technology they respond; - that they love using technology - they want more of it and it's easy - BUT are they learning anything?

Yesterday I reviewed their e-portfolios and was impressed with what they had in their portfolios. I saw assignments that we would have done on paper BUT does online with the same impact?  I would have loved these ideas when my kids were little as there would have been less paper pieces and glue over my floors and tables.

The students first told me it took 30 minutes to do the assignments I was looking at but with further probing realized that they meant it took 30 minutes to put it together online - they completely ignored the hours they took to gather the information as they thought it was fun! They were also excited to explain the work to me - a sign of true engagement and not rote learning.

I learned so much from them that I will post some of their ideas in separate posts as I don't want to skim over what I was taught.

Dr. Jack Bacon - futurist?

So maybe I've just been around too many people who have said they are futurists or maybe it's that the stories are all the same - yes some information is facts so how can you dispute the facts that we are doubling our technological capabilities every 18 months!
I guess I'm also a cynic as many of these presenters - give the same speeches over and over again - and not sure how all this information really impacts my life - and what I need to do to be ready. Again my practical side comes out.

So what does the future hold? Well according to Dr. Bacon - more of the same and hence my cynicism.

I'm not trying to be disrespectful I value and marvel at the work Dr. Bacon has done. Not to trivialize his work as he has been responsible for significant changes at NASA by limiting the fuel used by 87%. He has been responsible for many significant changes that are savings dollars as well as improving environmental impact. Jack also has family that lives in Toronto.
More about Jack here:

So I have Dr. Bacon's book - The Parallel Bang - so I will read it and further delve into whether I think he's thought provoking or saying the same old, same old.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

The Challenge of being a Principal

We had a good discussion about how to support and develop good principals.
It is a challenge in single admin schools to support and develop them. How do they get the supports that they need and when they need them?
There are so many responsibilities for Principals including keeping schools safe but if we expect them to be the curriculum leaders how are we supporting them?
There is a new system that has been developed here in New Zealand called EPS - its been described to me as a GPS system for principals but based on the description sounds more like a 360 Feedback review which is suppose to give Principals the good, bad and the ugly about what is happening in their schools. At this point its only given to staff to fill in and there are discussions to include parental, student and community involvement.
EPS has recently been piloted in England and although there was some discussion about tweaking it for the UK educational system - they didn't. The early results in England are very encouraging to consider this for the Canadian system.
The feedback is invaluable to a Principal and seems like a District Review without all the upfront work - but the results are where you can build from - I am looking forward to a further discussion on this tomorrow.

Meeting with Ausis and Kiwis

So I had the opportunity to spend some time with people from the Ministry of Education from New Zealand and Australia.
It was an interesting discussion as we have many similarities in our educational system.
One key place where we are opposite is attracting people into the profession.
We had a good discussion about why this would be. My first thought was it must be the pay scale - as that would be a key reason not to choose to be a teacher.
The reality Australia starts teachers around $60K and New Zealand $42K - so not a barrier like I thought.
It's an interesting discussion - as I know the doors have always been open for us to get our Bachelor of Education here and have it accepted in Canada.
There was a discussion about them looking to Canada to bring some of our trained teachers here.
I wonder if it's because we value teachers - but I'm sure I will have more discussions about why they have a teacher shortage and we don't.

Pecha Kucha

So I had the privilege of attending something new last night - something I had never seen or heard about before called a Pecha Kucha.
So what is it?
Teachers were asked to present for no longer than 6 minutes with a minimum of 15 slides and maximum of 20 slides. This ensured that the pace was fast and engaging.
Topics were random and were selected based on personal passion. So we heard about the challenges of social media in the classroom, how to engage learners using e-learning, how to learn online, the challenges of being a principal - all interesting topics.
One of the downsides is of course there is no questions and answers - it really is to simply engage the thinking.
I do love the creativity of it to engage a conversation which led to many interesting conversations since.
I'm trying to figure out how to engage this at home - open to suggestions?

Monday, 17 October 2011

QR codes

So I always thought QR codes were annoying - you know the squiggles in life that you see that you are suppose to scan and it gives you a secret message.
Why do I care? Why would I bother scanning some symbol for some information - I'm more practical - tell me what you want in "English"....

That's what I thought.

Today I learned how to engage learners using QR codes - how?
Simple, you can take ideas and concepts and it's really like a treasure map for kids.
Everywhere these QR codes exist - and what kid doesn't like to think they are special and know something their parent doesn't know!
Don't worry I don't plan to make everything in my life a QR code!

Amazing People of New Zealand

Tues Oct 18th - still 17th at home
So I am with an interesting group of educators right now - 3 teacher leads in ICT, a couple of teachers, a student teacher and a principal; so I'm getting a perspective of all the interesting aspects of education here.
So far it seems to be a MAC world but I will keep my eyes open.
They are telling me that phone plans are also very expensive here - so will be looking to see about the student usage and whether or not they bring them to the classroom.
Every school develops their own ICT plan - which would be similar to us - not sure if that's the most efficient way for technology.
Just learned that there is a blog in New Zealand - on iPad and iPods - so I will get my ICT leads to sign up for that!
it's called School iPad/iPod User Group where they share all sorts of ideas - website is

Welcome to New Zealand!

Tuesday October 18th (still Monday night at home).

Well it was a SUPER long flight! 19 hours on 3 different planes - pretty uneventful with very little turbulence.
The flight from LA to Auckland was BRUTAL - my knees were sore and I'm not a big person and I have short legs - can't imagine what someone who was claustrophobic would have done as the space was tight and confining. The washrooms were huge so go figure.
My row was 3 women - I sat beside Bridget Jones who invited me for dinner Friday night and she WAS Bridget Jones - so we had some good chats about life and what life throws at you!
So - we will see how life unfolds - I would have to rent a car as she lives on the coast.
I had a 9 hour layover in Auckland which was brutal as it was TOO long to hang out at the airport and too short to get into anything - decision was between a wine tour or shopping so I figured I would shop - my true calling!
It is "All Blacks" fever here - it's actually very exciting to be somewhere with a winning team!
So the "All Blacks" are in the World Rugby final on Sunday - everyone is wearing black and most men wear the shirts. I picked up a few things for Carol's son as a surprise as he's the rugby guy at home.
The bronze game is Friday night - so not sure how hard tickets would be to get so I will keep my ears open - not that I know a thing about Rugby but it would be a cool experience!

Searching for 'wool' things - so far the costs are similar to home - so not sure what to buy!

Today I started learning about technology in the New Zealand classrooms - very similar to our challenges although their schools tend to be smaller.
 Ginnie would love to know that the mobile carts also have the projectors attached to them - making it really an all in one cart!

I have a meeting with the Minister of Education tonight - I better google to find out who that is - and something about them - don't even know if it's male or female - yikes!