Tuesday, April 30, 2013

My Return to Tribes-World

On the weekend, I attended the Ontario Tribes Learning Community Consortium conference in Stratford, Ontario. While I was there, I saw a couple of familiar faces - Mary and Nancy, the two Center Source Systems representatives that led my Tribes TLC Leadership training way back in 1999. Not only did I have to take a photo, I was inspired to find the photos I took way back then.

Nancy and Mary (middle right) in 1999 from my scrapbook
Nancy and Mary at the OTLCC conference in 2013
This really took me on a trip down memory lane. Here's a short Tribes timeline:

  • 1998 = went through my basic Tribes training (my Tribe was called "The Mixed Nuts")
  • 1999 = attended my Tribes facilitator training (my Tribe was called "PHNER")
  • 1999 = facilitated my first Tribes training (with Lillian at York University)
  • 2002 = re-certified my trainer qualifications at a summer institute
  • 2008 = the last training I co-facilitated (with Moses)
Part of the reason I attended this 2013 conference was because I'm scheduled to do another Tribes training in June 2013. I haven't trained in five years (for a variety of reasons) and I wanted to ensure that I was fresh and ready to take the plunge. I'm nervous about being involved with training again, but with wonderful people like Moses and Terry around for support, I'm ready to return. Although I haven't facilitated a training, I've been using the Tribes TLC process throughout my years of teaching and I consider myself fortunate that I heard about Tribes so early in my career. (I began teaching in 1997.) It has helped me so much.

One of the common activities that Tribes facilitators do is lead a discussion around "what brought you to Tribes". This is an abbreviated version of my Tribes story: in 1997 I attended a workshop led by the delightful and patient Simon Storey in the former Scarborough Board of Education on a particular conflict resolution program that my school was using. (I won't mention the name of the program because the rest of the story shines a bit of a negative light on it.) During the training, I kept raising my hand and questioning what Simon was saying. "My students can recite what they need to say but they don't transfer the skills." / "That doesn't work because my students don't care if they hurt other people's feelings." In hindsight, I felt bad for Simon for constantly interrupting and challenging him - but at the end of the workshop, Simon approached me and said "You know, you should try Tribes. That'll help answer some of the questions you raised." I took the training, embraced the philosophy and process, and the rest is history. Thank you Simon (and thank you Nancy and Mary and all the others that helped me along the Tribes trail). I hope I'll be a positive influence to some other educators as I introduce them to Tribes. 

Monday, April 29, 2013

OTLCC Conference

Twitter has been abuzz this weekend because of the Pearson Canada's Ontario Social Media Summit. Andrew Campbell has an excellent blog post about it, complete with many comments and discussion. I was at another conference in Stratford, Ontario. The Ontario Tribes Learning Community Consortium Conference was a three-day event but I was only able to attend on Saturday, April 27, 2013. This convention may not have the same clout that the #ontsm or #gafesummit (Google Apps for Education Summit in Waterloo the week prior to this) would have, but I wanted to share my notes, my photos, and my learning as I continue to process it all. (I may spread this post over a couple of days, to share photos that might not fit the words or include other reflections.)

Ontario Tribes Learning Community Consortium

Welcome and Inclusion Activity by Linda Groen / Melanie Douglas

We used the strategy "What's In Your Wallet" with a new twist: you can share an item in your wallet/purse or from your cell phone. I was pleased to meet Justin, a classroom teacher turning administrator from the Durham District School Board, Laura and Sherry who traveled all the way from Fort Francis to attend.

Keynote Address by Barrie Bennett

SUMMARY: Barrie's topic was Effective Group Work, Beyond Cooperative Learning. Barrie likes to tell stories to get his points across. He described his first cooperative lesson (taught in 1982) which bombed spectacularly, and joked that he's probably gone through the Tribes training more than any other individual (6 times - the 1st time he didn't like it [because as a secondary teacher, the passion he had for his teaching subjects weren't honoured in the training], the 2nd time he got it, and the 3rd time he said that Tribes didn't get it).

  • cooperative learning is not a strategy; it is a belief system about how kids learn and it's a complex system to understand and implement (so much so that Bennett attends workshops as a participant so he can learn more about cooperative learning) > e.g. jigsaw is a strategy and cooperative learning is a concept
  • less powerful methods are crucial to more powerful processes > you cannot do problem-based learning or inquiry learning in a class that lacks inclusion and influence (Tribes allows us to push processes to more complex thinking while building safe spaces, Tribes strategies connect to non-Tribes tasks like concept attainment and makes them work better, and connects to other methods / ideas like Johnson, Kagan, and Bloom)
  • Even the youngest of children can play with complex processes and work at all six stages/levels of Blooms Taxonomy; it is the adults, the teachers, that are the problem 
SO WHAT? NOW WHAT? There were a lot more points than just 3! I loved how Barrie taught while he talked. He demonstrated how mutual respect is played out in so many ways, by simply contrasting a pointed finger at a student to an open-hand invitation to a open-palm gesture that includes multiple people. He had us do an activity where we did a jigsaw-type task (brainstormed attributes of effective group work through a think-pair-share, then examine and chose our top three, then marked ourselves on "equal voice", and afterwards shared with a Marco Polo-esque motion [A stays, B strays], followed by a return to the home group to re-examine our top 3 list and then evaluate the strengths and make suggestions to improve the lesson plan he delivered). It made me want to ensure I used certain strategies with purpose, deliberately choosing what and how to do certain activities. I need to be intentional (and label) when I want to push to a higher level of thinking. I think I need a copy of Blooms posted in my library. 


Illustrating why co-op learning isn't a strategy

Blooms Taxonomy, in case I forget again!

The argument to support PLCs: skill augment & transfer

Side A are strategies where you decide, Side B are pre-ordained thinking levels

Breakout Session #C3: Teaching and Assessing Learning Skills Using the Tribes Process by Meaghan Muir, Sherryl Tuttle, Andrea Brown, and Anita Macdougall

SUMMARY: The Growing Success document sent some teachers into a tailspin, because it changed how we were supposed to write report cards and examine learning skills. These four teachers from the same school were part of a team that used Tribes to help everyone teach and assess learning skills.

  • Learning skills are not character traits - we must examine how we are teaching learning skills and where we get the data to support the evaluation we provide on the report card (e.g. in their report cards, they directly cite strategies like community circle, I messages, etc. in their comments)
  • Using a version of "I used to ... And now I", the participants used stickers to rank where they would be on the report card for learning skills as a child and as an adult - this led to some deep discussion (e.g. it's okay for teachers to share that they have a goal area themselves [like for organization "I'm a piler, not a filer" but important to demonstrate to students what strategies and supports you can put in place to help you grow)
  • This has been a 4 year process for this team and they are still toying with it. They examine which collaborative skill will help them get to a particular learning skill, and examine the possible causes why someone might be struggling to improve in a certain learning skill (e.g. if I am weak on collaboration, is it because I don't listen enough? because I want to be the boss? because I want others to take the lead?)
SO WHAT? NOW WHAT? I was very pleased with this break out session. Everything the group of presenters did demonstrated that they understood the Tribes principles deeply. I want to copy some of the techniques they had (such as when encouraging kids to choose someone other than their friends to partner with for a think-pair-share, they'd say "add a branch to your friendship tree", or "put on your superhero cape and TA DA, be brave and find someone in need"). They were considerate of the group - they knew they were running out of time so we did a closed-eyed vote to decide what the final task would be, and when it turned out to be a tie, they modified their plans so both tasks ran simultaneously. When someone questioned why we were sorting strips if "the pink sheet already had the answers", they didn't get mad - they explained that the results would be different because school culture interpreted Growing Success guidelines differently and they didn't feel like their compilation was the only right one. 


Participants grading themselves on the learning skills

A sample chart - notice any trends?

The strips = growing success goals, the paper =  the petals of the Tribes process

Breakout Session #D4: Building Inclusion through Technology - How Tribes can engage the 21st Century Learner by Heather Michlik and Jan Marconi

SUMMARY: (taken from description) During this session, participants will explore new technological tools and discover ways to implement them that promote the Tribes philosophy in our classrooms. With particular emphasis on community agreements and building inclusion, we will make connections to ways that we can teach the 21st century learning as we journey through the Tribes trail. We will share strategies, student voices, and experiences; together, we can brainstorm ways to facilitate the safe growth of our students as we embrace I.T.

  • community agreements, collaborative skills, and the Tribes trail all fit with technology norms - it is important to establish and constantly review the norms so things like teasing and bullying do not happen 
  • technology allows differentiation and engagement (invite your students to put their devices on the table so you can see who has what) - must also consider how to deal with students that do not have technology
  • focus on the feature instead of the specific device (i.e. back channel or polling using www.polleverywhere.come or www.todaysmeet.com or Google form or www.surveymonkey.com or www.socrative.com / photo or video gathering using class community on YouTube or Vimeo)
SO WHAT? NOW WHAT? This was not the original session I was supposed to attend (instead I was scheduled for "Bringing the 5 Es to Life in Your Classroom - Develooping an Inquiry Group with your Class. Yes it can be done!"). I felt disappointed when my table group and I were scolded by one of the presenters when we asked for a repeat of a URL. Although the presenter celebrated the diversity of problem solving the tables undertook when she publicly addressed the whole assembly, this was not the emotion I sensed when in the small group. This disconnect with the Tribes process repeated when we were asked to stand when sharing the attitude to student-led technology (someone did not want to stand and expose that her board banned all devices, but this view wasn't respected). I'm afraid this affected my impression of the workshop. I might like to try Poll Everywhere.


The ISTE Nets and 6 Cs

The benefits of tech outweigh the problems

Closing Reflection by Jeanne Gibb

Jeanne Gibbs is Tribes personified. She spoke with dignity, grace, humility and humour, about her many attempts to retire (and her realization that she can't because there's still so much to do), the way gatherings like this sustain, energize, and inspire her, and how we, she, and Tribes need to change and continue. It was such a thrill to see and hear her in person.

More on the conference later!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Shortest. Post. Ever.

It's twenty minutes to midnight and this is my post.

I don't have time to write something eloquent.

Remember that post a few months ago about decisions?

I'm trying something new, which excites and frightens me.

If it becomes something, I'll elaborate. If it becomes nothing ...

Monday, April 15, 2013

Bad Combinations

On the weekend, after my editorial board meeting downtown, I popped by the Toronto Humane Society. We have been having some difficulty with our rabbit, Dolly (I've written about her in the past on this blog) and I was fortunate enough to speak with Kimberly, their resident rabbit behaviour specialist. She suggested I send some photos and videos of the bunny and her environment and from this data, she could provide some tips that might assist us.

L-R: Wilbur (in igloo), Chita, Dolly, Max (December 2012)

It turns out that our communal exercise time for the animals was a big mistake. As Kimberly explained in her follow-up email,
Rabbits do not interact with each other the same way other species do, so this can cause anxiety and confusion. If it's a regular occurrence  it can serve to increase her overall discomfort as well. Never let other animals into her cage, either. Rabbits are highly territorial animals, and need to feel that they have a safe space that no one will go in. ...
I was sorry to learn that I was contributing to our rabbit's anti-social, aggressive conduct through my actions.While I was on the premises, I took some literature about rabbits bonding and rabbits with other animals and I found this important paragraph:
Most rabbits don't tend to interact well with other small species, such as guinea pigs or hamsters. The natural activities of smaller mammals can clash with those of rabbits, who, when frightened, deliver a solid kick and can sometimes lead to injuries of either species. Therefore, to keep all of your small domestics happy and healthy, it's best to keep them separate at all times.
I had heard from my skinny pig Facebook community group that inter-species socialization was tricky but I assumed that with vigilant supervision, we would be able to keep the peace between all our various animals. Unfortunately this seems to be wrong. (Even though I am biased, Max the skinny pig is very easy-going and he never seemed to be bothered by either the chinchillas or the rabbit. However, there are other issues that demonstrate that I should still keep them apart.) There's very little literature on rabbit-chinchilla interaction - and now I know why! Chinchillas and rabbits are a bad combination!

Sometimes, there are just bad combinations that you've got to avoid, even though you think that you can overcome the obstacles. This point was driven home to me through two school-related conversations with colleagues (one last week and one today).
The first conversation was with a junior division classroom teacher; I was trying to decide on the best way to group her students for an upcoming media/library/oral communication project they'll be undertaking. Should I let them pick their partners? Should I assign them? Should I roll a dice and let it be random? She said that she uses a variety of methods for group formation in her class - sometimes friends, sometimes her choice - but that I may want to consider small groups over pairs because it's easier to minimize any "bad combinations" that occur (e.g. partnerships where one person does all the work and the other coasts, or pairings where the two students fight for dominance). It was a good suggestion and one that I can combine student choice (the pairs) with teacher direction (which pairs form small groups).
The second conversation was with a primary division classroom teacher; I had to place three of her students in time-out multiple times today during the two periods I had her class and eventually had to send one individual to the office (something I am loathe to do). After speaking to the parents together, we commiserated and noted how, when one of these students was away for several months out of the country, the second student was not as disruptive. Now that Student #1 had returned, Student #2's behaviour declined. She vowed that when we organized classes for next year, we would need to make a concentrated effort to separate these two students because it was just a bad combination.

I hate to label certain student relationships "bad combinations" but like Dolly the bunny with Chita and Chilli the chinchillas, it seems like the best advice for peace is to keep certain groups as far away from each other as possible. Separating adversaries doesn't guarantee tranquility (because they may just find a new person to have a love-hate or hate-hate relationship with) but it may leave supervisors with a little less grey hair.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Power of Smedley

I know this sounds like a very bizarre topic, but bear with me - it's not what it seems.

My family has a lot of funny traditions and stories, and many involve a toy elephant we bought for my husband which he named Smedley. My kids and I love to hate Smedley, and my husband feeds into the mythology by taking the opposite point of view. The legends and tales surrounding Smedley often reach hyperbolic, epic proportions. Depending on whom you talk to, Smedley is either a compassionate philathropist with a genius level IQ or a horrible monster who "is so dumb he doesn't even know what 1+1 is".

When both of my children were in Grade 3 (in separate years), they both needed some practice on memorizing their basic addition and subtraction facts. We bought flash cards and dutifully reviewed the facts but they did not like it. Enter "Smedley Math". When Smedley appeared during their review and he trash talked them, the kids were eager to compete against Smedley to show how vastly inferior his knowledge was to theirs. They were allowed to bop him on the head every time they answered a question before Smedley did. All of a sudden, they liked using the flash cards. They know their math facts now.

Fast forward to this past weekend. My son was working on his French project, without a lot of enthusiasm. He was writing about a collection of his, and he chose to focus on his stuffed animal collection. While working, my husband suggested including a sentence "en francais" about Smedley and the project became a bit more exciting. Here's an image from the photo shoot.

Now, I'm completely at a lost as to how this could possibly translate into engagement or academic success for my students. Much of the Smedley mythos depends on our family's very quirky sense of humour and I'd be very concerned about introducing such a despicable (or potentially despicable) character as a key feature of a classroom's culture. I'm a Tribes TLC facilitator - it's about respect and appreciations with no put-downs - isn't Smedley the antithesis of all that?

My other question is: why does Smedley seem to help make homework or assignments more bearable? Is it that he permits people to express those darker emotions in a safe way? Does it appeal to our baser actions and motivations? Or is it just silly fun?

Monday, April 1, 2013

Inquiring (Teacher) Minds Actually Do Want To Know!

Thank you Gwyneth Jones for providing me a topic for today's musings!

In addition to The Daring Librarian's tweet, I had a great visit on Thursday, March 28 by Marci Johnstone, the K-4 school librarian from Punahou School in Honlulu, Hawaii who came to Ontario to discover how elementary and middle schools are making the transition from traditional libraries to Learning Commons. In addition to this, last week I had an exhausting but productive three-hour meeting with Bozena White, a professor and researcher from Queens University.

The common thread between these three fascinating and dynamic people is that they are all truly interested in what goes on in my school library. Their questions invited some deep reflection and demonstrated their intellectual curiosity about events beyond their own four walls.

Marci asked some tough questions while she visited: what is the role of the teacher-librarian in creating a Learning Commons? What was/am I actually doing to make the change? I was tempted to just quote the Together for Learning document, something I'd feel comfortable relying on since I was part of the writing team, but I wanted to give her a personal answer. It was actually trickier than I thought. If I recall correctly, I explained that it's about "being a leader without leading" - if you are the King or Queen of the Library, others won't feel personally invested in transforming the learning environment and its practices; administrators, students, educators, and others need to feel that they were part of the creation, not just the implementation. I confessed that I didn't think that I was as close to a Learning Commons as I had hoped to be - my schedule, for instance, is more like a "prep fairy" traditional timetable - but I told Marci that my Masters of Education capping paper gave me hope, because I learned that it is not always essential to have all the ideal conditions for an exemplary school library program (or for a Learning Commons). Let me quote my paper:

As Oberg (2000) has argued, a
school library can have everything that the research says is needed to support student
learning and yet, in fact, can be a force for limiting student learning. On the flip side,
some school libraries may lack many of the resources required, based on the literature,
but they still make a positive impact on student learning. The impact of reduced
resources, both human and material, on the learning success of students must be
examined case-by-case. Teacher-librarians need to take charge of the factors they have
control over, work on the factors that they might have influence over, and temporarily
accept the factors that are beyond their control.

Writing that capping paper was quite the trial, and I felt like I was experiencing similar stages of despair, hopelessness, and then acceptance and excitement when I met with Bozena White to discuss my self-directed (self-inflicted?) research project. Meeting face to face was very beneficial. When Bozena and I were exchanging emails, I couldn't understand why she kept probing about the questions I was asking. It turns out that the actual questions I wanted to answer weren't being met with the research study I originally designed. I really appreciated how genuine and supportive Bo was as we fiddled with ways to salvage at least some of the original data and methods that we can use to make the investigation work. Talking with Bo made me realize that my course on Educational Research just scratched the surface of comprehending statistics and research design. This research study, begun in 2010, won't be finished this year as I had hoped, but the delay will make it better.

I began with Gwyneth, so let me end with Gwyneth. She mentioned Slenderman and the Know Your Meme website (a favourite of my teen daughter) and I couldn't resist answering her. She wanted to know about the lessons and tasks we used when exploring the topic. Sometimes the path is curvy and so was this inquiry. This is the first year I've used this method of long range planning (as I mentioned in a past blog post). It's been interesting so far. The above post mentioned my work with the intermediate division (and Gwyneth, my wiki, which you inspired, has lesson plans from the Success inquiry - I'll add the junior ones later just for you!). Here's a quick summary of the Term 1 Inquiry topics (and the ways we investigated them - often instigated not by me but by the students) as well as the current Term 2 inquiries.

Term 1

Primary Division: What can I control? How can I keep control?
  • for library, focus on they control what books they borrow, instruction on selection methods
  • for ICT, focus on controlling avatars in Bitstrips, control on software using for tasks
  • for media, focus on control over message delivery (What is media YouTube videos) & products (media tie-ins)
  • for dance/drama, focus on controlling body and voice
Junior Division: What is truth? How can I tell when something is true?
  • for library, developed critical thinking skills like triangulating data (used Simpsons mockumentary from "Lisa is a Vegetarian", Telestrations game, and urban legends)
  • for ICT, investigated website credibility, ethical use of images, songs & text
Intermediate Division: How can I achieve success (personal, academic, etc.) and help others attain success?
  • described in another blog post

Term 2

Early Primary Division: What makes things funny? Why are things funny to some people but not to others?

Primary Division: How might work and play be the same? How might work be more like play? How might play be more like work?

Junior Division: Why is it important to have good communication?

Intermediate Divison: How might Canadian teenagers in 2013 be similar/different to media/fiction portrayals or to teens in different times/places? What unique challenges might they face?

Thanks to everyone for their genuine interest in what goes on at my school. It's not one-sided - I really enjoyed visiting a TDSB Exploration Class on ESL integration (formerly known as "demonstration classrooms") and seeing the different ways other teachers engage their students. Let's keep asking those probing questions (and if I didn't go into enough detail on any of those above items, email me and let me know!)