Monday, November 4, 2013


Every Saturday in November is booked for me with an event or two. I begin November 2013 with my second visit to the People for Education's annual conference. Big thanks go to the Ontario Library Association for sponsoring my attendance.

Making Connections - the 17th Annual People for Education Conference

Saturday November 2, 2013- 9:30 a.m.
Opening Keynote by Pedro Noguera 

Summary: Dr. Noguera states that we need to take a broader and bolder approach to school reform, because school reproduces patterns of inequality in society. If education is supposed to be a path to a more just, equitable society, then what are we doing wrong, and why are we not getting the kind of society we want? 

3 Key Points
  1. Ranking and measuring is not a strategy for improvement; it could possibly be a tool (to measure discrepancies) but not the way we are currently using them (as pressure points, ways for humiliation, as a weapon against teachers and students). Standardized tests are a narrow way of looking at school success, because it ignores the emotional needs of children. 
  2. Schools have normalized failure; instead of blaming parents and students, change the focus to responsibility - what does it take to educate the children we serve? How do they use language? How do they problem solve? What excites them? 
  3. Culture cannot be imposed on a school, and contracts won't make teachers work hard. Having shared practice, beliefs, mission and vision among all staff creates the environment where excellence is promoted, mastery encouraged, relationships built, and learning is something students hunger for. When schools are working (like P.S. 28 in Brooklyn, with the highest gains in literacy and math despite having 40% of their students homeless), they need to be visited so others can learn from them.
So what? Now what? I said I would write about Kevin Honeycutt's closing keynote from ECOO, and I can do it here. I think the first step is to continue to build relationships with my students. In September, one student came up to me and said "Last year, you called me Pumpkin. This year, I'll be your Cupcake." To tell the truth, I never remembered using these nicknames with her, but she thought of it fondly and it was important enough for her to share the story. Keep building bridges, even when I don't realize that's what I'm building.

Saturday November 2, 2013 - 10:45 a.m.
School Councils by Jacqui Strachan 

Summary: (from P4E website) A workshop designed for anyone who is working to improve his or her school council.  Come with your questions and your success stories so you can learn from the presenter and each other.

3 Key Points

  1. Using email for communication helps with sustainability, especially a board-provided email as long as it is checked regularly. Email distribution lists are helpful. If you can, get the principal to solicit emails from all parents with all those forms in September and get permission to share this list with the parent council. 
  2. Build community. Hold events such as a school BBQ, Fun Fair, or movie night so that parents can talk together. School council meetings don't have to be held at school - meet in a pub or online. 
  3. Don't label parents who don't come to meetings as "un-involved". The average number of school council attendees stays the same, so find ways to give them input, or ask them for specific ways to help. There can be two levels of involvement, for instance - community and council. Do stuff other than fundraising.
So what? Now what? A great form was shared, called "7 Steps for Building an Engaged Community". I'll share it with those who come to my upcoming CSAC (Catholic School Advisory Council) meeting on November 13 and maybe phone people to see if they received the first set of emails I sent with meeting highlights.

Saturday, November 2, 2013 - noonPlenary Session: Aboriginal Education

Summary: (from P4E website) The vast majority of First Nations, M├ętis and Inuit students attend publicly funded schools in Ontario school boards. Up to now the public has focused on achievement gaps for these students, but there are other pressing issues: How can we address widespread gaps in all students’ knowledge of Aboriginal culture and history? Have we done enough to address resource gaps in schools serving a large number of Aboriginal students?

So what? Now what? I had to supervise the Ontario Library Association table to answer questions about the Forest of Reading, so I was unable to attend this session.

Saturday, November 2, 2013 - 2:00 p.m.Plenary Session: Redefining School Success

Summary: (from P4E website) Imagine a public education system focused on what matters most to the success of our children and our country. Imagine a system where student success is measured in terms of creativity, mental and physical well-being, and good citizenship in addition to academic achievement. Now imagine how we could work together to take that image and turn it into a reality for the schools and the students of Ontario.

3 Key Points
  1. Dr. Bruce Ferguson says we should be concerned about health and well-being because in a UNICEF report, Canada ranked 27th out of 27 Western countries; 84% of 3-4 year olds are physically active vs. only 7% of kids ages 5-11 are active for an hour a day - this is a community responsibility.
  2. Susan Shaw McCalmont says that in a global economy of ideas, innovation won't happen unless it's cultivated; in schools devoted to creativity, absenteeism is down, kids are happier, and test scores are high.
  3. Alison Loat says that current civics education turns Canadian youth off politics and that we should focus on every day political involvement; Samara is a new organization trying to develop interest in active citizenship in youth.
So what? Now what? Maybe I should run Student Council this year? I think our social studies inquiry unit that our Grade 4-5s are undertaking have elements of active citizenship. What about a maker space or creativity club? I'll investigate this at the OLA Superconference to explore creativity more. As for issues surrounding mental and physical health, I need to continue to build relationships, have discussions around feelings, and continue to do my daily treadmill time while my own children practice their musical instruments.

Saturday, November 2, 2013 - 3:15 p.m.Building a Better Parent-Teacher Relationship by Andrea Higgins, John Ippolito, and Jacqui Strachan

Summary: (from P4E website) We know a good parent-teacher relationship is one of the keys to a child’s success in school.  But what can be done to ensure that parents and teachers start out on the right foot, keep lines of communication open, and make the most of their relationship for the sake of the students?

3 Key Points
  1. John, as a researcher, said: We need to develop the capacity to communicate across differences and to better understand the psychology of relationships between stakeholders. If we build a resilient culture, it can handle "traumas" like last year's labour unrest; if there's no culture of community present to begin with, it becomes even harder to talk with conflict occurs.
  2. Jacqui, as a parent, said: Communication failure happens when there isn't enough communication, it's not in a timely manner, there isn't any response, or when someone feeling threatened by comments or questions. Improve it by not making assumptions based on family background/class/culture, communicate early and often, become familiar with the school community by exploring the neighbourhood, and teachers should share that they are human too.
  3. Andrea, as a teacher, said: Make the assumption that the teacher is there with the best interest of the child at heart, share little and big things about your child so that the teacher has a broad understanding of your child, ask many questions (like how you can help, what's the best way to communicate with each other like email), and get help if you are feeling shut down communication-wise.
So what? Now what? I liked the tip "contact each other to share good news". I should do that both as a parent and as a teacher. 

Saturday, November 2, 2013 - 4:30 p.m.Address by the Minister of Education

Summary: Minister of Education Liz Sandals highlighted some of the current directions the provincial government is taking with regards to education.

3 Key Points
  1. Parents can make a difference in children's education, by reading to them, talking to them about what happens in school, helping them with homework, and getting involved. The government has invested $49 000 000 since 2005 in Parent Reaching Out grants.
  2. Last year was a difficult time for education so they are moving forward with legislation for a more effective framework - this legislation is unique in that it was a 3-way ratification, with the government, school boards, and teacher federations. 
  3. The government acknowledges that we need to do better to support aboriginal and First Nations students so they are working on a self-identification so they can gather enough baseline data to focus their resources - the government likes to focus on specific groups of kids so they can make a targeted effort to make a change.
So what? Now what? Minister Sandals mentioned the From Great to Excellent community consultation kit and I will be using it with my own children's School Council to give input. 

Minister of Education Liz Sandals

Meredith and I at the OLA / Forest of Reading table

Annie Kidder, head of People for Education

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