Fostering a Culture of Learning (Part 2)

Slide1Feedback following our DIY Bingo PD

What went well?

Overwhelmingly, staff loved this approach. It’s flexible, allows for a variety of choice, provides authentic opportunities for collaboration, and gives them a chance to share their expertise with others. Above all, it permitted them to develop professionally, based on their strengths, needs, and interests.

What needs work?

The timing! As we just learned about it, I really wanted to try it out (kinda like a kid in a candy shop)! Perhaps right after report card writing wasn’t the best time! Teachers prefer to work on their personal bingos at a less hectic time, so that they don’t feel as overwhelmed. Others would also have liked a longer window of time to work on these activities, rather than the week given.

Solution. Distribute the bingos in late September/early October, and again throughout the year. I’m not sure about the time frame mentioned in Jennifer’s post, but some suggested two weeks to a month to get more out of the process.


Voice! Two suggestions: Ask the staff for ideas on what to include on the Bingo card. Offer a ‘free choice’ to allow them time to work on something of the ‘Genius Hour’ variety. Definitely doable!

Time for collaboration with teams. One suggestion: Schedule a specific time into the day for collaboration with grade level teams. As this approach was very personalized, teams were not always able to work with their colleagues, based on people’s availability. Also doable!

On a personal level, I love this approach. But, I also understand that it needs some minor tweaking to make it even more effective for our staff members. For a first time, though, it went really well!




Fostering a Culture of Learning (Part #1)


Looking for innovative ways to offer personalized PD opportunities to foster a culture of learning, we went with a DIY PD Bingo for our latest PD day, based on Jennifer Gonzalez’ Cult of Pedagogy post. Bingo cards were developed with choices based on school goals and initiatives, focussing on ideas that are relevant to the work that we are currently doing. A more condensed version was developed for our educational assistants.

The DIY PD Bingo card was sent out to staff a week prior to the PD event, giving everybody time to start working on ideas that appealed to them. For a Bingo, they could complete an ‘X’, a ‘T’ or a box of any 9 squares. Two stipulations: At least 50% of the work completed had to be done in collaboration with others and they were required to attend a minimum of two of the sessions offered.


When the day came, following a pancake breakfast, staff members met to plan their day, and organized meeting times, based on the schedule provided for the day.

Our in-house experts facilitated sessions on topics pertinent to our own PD or interests, such as Optimal Learning Model, TylerSIS parent portal and assessment tools, AdobeSpark and FlipGrid, trauma in children, MyBluePrint, Mindfulness and physical wellness. Each block ran for a maximum of 45 minutes, with no two sessions offered at the same time, allowing presenters to participate in other workshops as well.

Throughout the day, staff attended sessions, collaborated with colleagues, and worked individually on their specific projects, based on their flexible schedules. Staff members then returned to the library at the end of the day to reflect on their learning and provide feedback to our Admin team about this approach and ways in which we could improve on it the next time.


Recycle, Revamp, Reuse (IMMOOC #4)


I am very fortunate to collaborate with an extraordinary group of people who work with our students to provide them with unique and interesting ways of learning. That said, with a long-standing tradition of teacher-driven and teacher-led instruction in our middle years’ programming, we are gradually moving away from this type of instruction to a project-based model, so that we don’t have pockets of innovation, but a practice that is widespread across all classrooms.

This has involved our team observing their colleagues in action in other schools who are engaging in this approach, reading and researching, sharing ideas, and spending time collaborating, questioning and bouncing ideas off each other. It certainly comes more naturally to some than others, but with the support of team members, including myself, and time to collaborate and revamp our ideas, my hope is that they will be prepared to take risks with their own learning. It is a work in progress!

With this in mind, today was an amazing day for our Grade 6 students, a culmination of months of their hard work and an example of project-based learning at its finest. As part of our school-wide project based on sustainability, following collaboration between their classroom teachers and our librarian, this team of students focused on recycling and materials that we use that are harmful to the environment. In the Fall, they did a community clean-up, collecting data along the way about what they had picked up, the quantities of each type of garbage and the area of our neighborhood where the garbage was found. Following their analysis of the data, students wrote letters to various businesses, local politicians and corporations, providing solutions to address the excess garbage that they found in the streets, including the need for more recycling. Most businesses responded, as did a few of our local politicians, which fueled our students’ interest in continuing their work.


The next step was to research the impact of these materials on our environment. Students then developed informational videos, using Adobe Spark, to inform their audience about the negative effects that plastics, metals and the misuse of paper have on our community, both locally and globally.

As part of the design piece of this project, students then had to create an item of clothing using materials that had been previously used. This saw a variety of dresses, suit jackets, ‘shirts’, hats and shoes made from recycled plastics, coffee cups, pop cans, newspaper, tissue paper and plastic bottles. Each student tried different techniques, iterated their designs and finally came up with something that would work on a runway. They then had to write a description of their garment and an explanation of the process that they followed to develop it. These descriptions were to be read to the audience members while students were modelling their new ensembles on the runway. Most were rather entertaining, as one student shared that in his case, the outfit that he designed was more about fashion than functionality (moving his arms proved to be a challenge).


Finally, our students invited parents and family members to attend an evening dedicated to the Recycled Runway Project, as part of our annual Portfolio Evening. One change to this event was that it did not take place on the same night as our other students’ Portfolio Evening. Their teachers requested that the event be held the week before so that the families had time to enjoy the 45-minute presentation, followed by time spent with their children in the library so that they could explain their learning process. This was a switch from our traditional model, as students did not spend the evening sharing a huge scrapbook of their progress since September. Instead, families were engaged in a live runway production as students modelled their creations, acting as narrators, engineers, models and advocates, as they shared their learning in a very authentic way. So, as long as the parents have plenty of notice to be able to plan their very busy schedules around an event like this, I think that it is well worth tweaking the event to make it work for the students.

We are just starting out on our PBL journey, but based on the students’ engagement in this process, and their pride in the work that they did, we’re definitely on the right path. Add that to the parents’ comments about the quality of the students’ work, the authenticity of their production and the impact of their message about the materials that we recycle and use in our community…well, it was nothing short of powerful. Sooooooo very proud of my students and my colleagues for taking a risk and coming up with something so incredible!

Cheers to a new way of doing things!





I took a walk to our mailbox yesterday afternoon and discovered that Katie’s book had arrived a few days earlier than expected. That was at 4:00 p.m. By 4:15, I was hooked and couldn’t put it down. These are my thoughts about my innovation ecosystem…well, actually, more so my questions…and believe me, I have a few!

Innovation Ecosystem

As a school leader, I have a vision of what I want for my students and learning community, based on our school division’s three areas of focus: literacy & numeracy, student engagement and citizenship. To achieve these goals, I promote a collaborative culture and provide opportunities whenever possible and wherever needed to make this a reality so that individuals and teams can work on ideas to further their pedagogical practices. I give teachers the autonomy to pursue their interests, as long as what they are working on improves student learning and engagement. Through this practice, my team has the opportunity to build on their strengths and interests collaboratively, whether working with their professional learning networks or through other avenues.

So, why am I not high fiving myself over all this awesomeness? Although it sounds great, I believe that I’m lacking in this area. If you were to ask my team what our shared vision was, I am not convinced that they would be able to answer you. Yes, they could name the projects that we are focusing on, but to actually articulate what that vision is would be a different matter. So, now, I question whether or not I am actually creating that environment where our team’s ideas connect. Could they speak to the outcomes that we are focusing on? Do these outcomes align to ‘our’ vision? Or are we simply working on a number of disjointed projects that aren’t working towards a common goal?

Now, there’s this niggling feeling that I’m missing a key piece here, like I’m almost there, but not quite. So this is an area that I am going to have to fine tune in my practice. Any ideas as to how to get there?

Learning Experiences

One of my strengths is connecting staff members with people that can help them develop their ideas and create more powerful learning experiences for themselves and their students. I don’t have all the answers, but it sure makes life easier when I can find somebody who does…at least in those specific areas that my team wants to focus on. I also provide as many opportunities as possible for them to collaborate, to discuss and to develop their ideas, whether at a staff meeting, as part of a Professional Learning Network, release time to work through these projects or PD Days. At the same time their opinions matter to me and without question, their voices are an important part of our learning, as we include them in the decision-making processes that impact the school.

But…and here comes another but…am I being clear enough about my expectations for our school community, and do we, as a team, understand what our desired outcomes for these learning experiences happen to be? I have been questioning this alot lately and need some help walking through the process of getting us there.

The Learner

This jumped out at me, as it falls right into the questions that I have been asking myself since I opened the first page of Katie’s book, Learner-Centered Innovation.

When teachers and administrators have a clear understanding of what they want students to know and do and share collective responsibility for student outcomes, yet have autonomy to get there in a way that makes sense in their context, it improves investment in the process as well as increases personal satisfaction.

Our team is given a great deal of autonomy to develop their interests in professional development so that they can improve their teaching practice. That said, so that we’re not all over the map, how do I determine that they have a clear understanding of our vision, of our goals, and of expected outcomes for student learning? Am I surveying them to determine what they think the answers are to these questions? The team is working on really interesting and powerful ideas, so if they’re not clear on what the answers to these questions are, do we start from scratch? If not, how do we go about realigning their ideas and projects to common goals and expected outcomes?

This nagging feeling that I’m almost there, but not quite is driving me kinda insane. I have alot to discuss with my admin partner and our team in general. I just wish I had a map that would point me in the right direction so that we don’t lose this momentum of learning that has been such a huge part of our school community in the past few years. If you have gone through this at some point and have some pointers, please pass them on!

Evolving, Involving and Switching It Up!


Think about your own experience as a student and what absolutely rocked your world as a learner. Then think about what bored you to tears. As somebody who went to school in the ‘70s, it would be safe to say that I have lived and breathed compliance, as those were certainly the times! Whether you are as old as I am or not, I’m also fairly certain that there are many out there who don’t remember much of how they learned, never mind what they learned. Yes, I am an excellent reader and passionate about books. I can multiple, divide, add and subtract like a speed demon and I can write solid essays. Do I remember how I got there? Barely. My memories are of a few projects that I worked on in high school that I was really passionate about. So, it is safe to say that my academic experience as a youngster wasn’t riveting! I don’t want that for my students.

Skip ahead years later to one of my students skipping down the hallway today, practically vibrating as she made her way back to class. I asked her why she was sooooo excited and her response was that they were going to do some more amazing things in class and they weren’t going to do any work at all! Interesting concept! What I found in her class were groups of students working on an Olympics-based hands-on activity, discussing, sharing, wondering, constructing and then doing some more sharing in preparation for a seriously cool design challenge to come up with a super-amazing-the-best-ever Olympic run so that their favorite athletes could perform better. Definitely no work was happening here…other than math, reading and writing, critical thinking, creativity, science and social studies. Yup! Definitely zero work taking place here. I want more of this excitement for my students!

How do I make this possible? As an administrator, it is my job to make it easier for our team to do so. These are some of the steps that I have taken on my journey to be more innovative:

Professional Learning Networks (PLNs). Each staff member at our school is expected to take part in a PLN, based on whatever interests them, as long as it improves student learning. PLNs offer two key components that are part and parcel of the way that I do business…the opportunity to collaborate and access to more brain power. We are very fortunate that our school division supports this learning. When a team gets together to work on something that they are passionate about, the outcome can be amazing…challenging…and uplifting. One team recently designed their own version of breakout boxes for our Grades 5 to 8 students. It was an extraordinary amount of work, but they broke out the breakout boxes today, and the students were ridiculously engaged in the process of finding the lost voyageur (Festival du Voyageur theme). While doing this, they were developing their language, creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking skills. The next step will be to support students as they create and develop their own games for these boxes, and believe me, they are excited to be able to do so. In this case, they were engaged and are empowered to take this on themselves.

Revamping the standard staff meeting. Enough with the blah, blah, blah each month. It’s enough to make me poke out my eyeballs. Now, once a week, we send out an electronic MAGazine on our portal to staff (MAG is our school acronym), which includes all the less interesting or tedious reading that can be done at their leisure, rather than wasting precious time during a meeting. What needs to be done that week or prior to the next staff meeting is highlighted in yellow (red if it is urgent). Then, during the meeting, we allot a shorter period of time to share items that are mandated by the Board Office or that require a discussion. Another portion of the meeting is dedicated to networking so that either our PLNs or grade levels can collaborate on specific projects. The third piece focuses on resources and learning, providing an opportunity for staff to move forward with their understanding about a concept, a strategy or an initiative. This approach has continued to foster a collaborative work environment, and frankly, I love it!

Pineapple Charts. As George mentioned in this week’s live chat, teachers need an opportunity to observe each other in the classroom. My Admin partner and I are really lucky, because we get to pop in and out of our team’s classrooms on a daily basis, and as a result, I learn a ton. But as George also said, my ability to do so doesn’t help my team, if they don’t have the same opportunities. As a follower of Jennifer Gonzalez’ Cult of Pedagogy (follow her at or on Twitter at @cultofpedagogy), I learned about Pineapple Charts, a concept which promotes classroom visits. Last month was our second round, which saw teachers posting what they were teaching in class on a bulletin board in the staff room. This allowed their colleagues to know when to visit them for observation purposes. Following feedback during our staff meeting today, the decision was made to post this sign up form on our school website (already done), so that it becomes a year-long event and not something that takes place only during a specific block of time. Staff have also asked me to post the calendar in our MAGazine so that they are reminded about what is being offered and alerts have been created so that they know when something is coming up. So, yay me! The key is to be consistent with coverage for teachers who may not have a prep period to observe something that is of interest to them. A very small price to pay for an opportunity for amazing learning!

Curriculum – Say What? One of the biggest roadblocks to innovation is this insane idea that teachers have to cover EVERYTHING in the curriculum to be effective at their jobs. Seriously??? In each subject area, there are essential outcomes, and strangely enough, many of these overlap from subject to subject. Who knew??? We can actually integrate these subjects so that we tap into multiple outcomes from different vantage points! At the same time, whipping through a curriculum without allowing students to delve deeper into it isn’t an effective approach either, because let’s face it, cruising at breakneck speed to get through all outcomes in a geography unit in 6 days doesn’t provide the students with the opportunity to really learn the material, nor to develop their skills as critical and creative thinkers. So, give teachers the permission to breathe…not everything needs to be covered, nor can it be effectively.

Find a way! As an administrator, I know only too well that we have to work within certain constraints, budgets being one of them. There are also provincial exams to contend with and expectations at divisional levels that need to be addressed. The list is long. But we need to find a way to work around these obstacles. A good friend of mine has said many a time, «If you believe in it, do it…and then beg forgiveness later!» Now I’m not suggesting that you break any rules, but when your teachers come to you with an idea or a question, as George also says, learn to be innovative within the box. If they are looking for resources to further a project, reach out to your community. Freebies abound out there! If they are looking to collaborate with another teacher somewhere in the school division (or elsewhere), contact your people, get on Twitter, and do what you need to do to support them. If they are excited about the idea of project-based learning (another yay me!), find schools that are doing more of the same, and send your teachers off to learn from them. If they need money for said resources, get creative with your budget (within reason!). When you support your staff with ideas that they are passionate about, I can guarantee you that your students will benefit from their enthusiasm ten-fold.

Professional Development & Team Planning. We all know that there are not enough hours in the day to complete everything that we set out to do. So, when a team approches me because they need extra time to work on a collaborative project, I use my PD funds to give them time to meet. With an entire afternoon to focus on any given project so that they can follow through on these ideas without interruption, allowing that whole flow process to happen, they are able to come up with incredible lessons/units. When this happens, it is nothing short of a win-win for everyone, because not only are staff members pumped, but our students benefit from their enthusiasm and amazing ideas!

So, these are just a few of the ways that I support innovation and work at evolving as a team member and administrator. I know that I have a long way to go, but I’m loving every minute of it!

Pineapple Charts & Open Doors


We’ve just completed our first-ever round of a Pineapple Chart at École Marie-Anne-Gaboury and I’m so excited about the possibilities. So, what is a Pineapple Chart? If you haven’t read Jennifer Gonzalez’ blog, Cult of Pedagogy, I’d suggest that you do so. She gives a great overview of what this entails and how to go about setting it up.

So, why have we decided to try this out? We are working at personalizing our approaches to professional development, changing up the way that we offer opportunities to our staff to learn more about something that is of interest to them. One way to do this is to incorporate a Pineapple Chart system into our teaching practice. In our French Immersion school, we’ve named it Tableau d’ananas. This strategy allows teachers to invite one another into their classrooms for informal observation and learning.

As suggested, we set up our chart in a very visible area, choosing the staff room as the place to ‘unveil’ the idea. This area is frequented daily by staff, making it a perfect spot for them to see what their colleagues were offering. As we also wanted teachers to have some time to get used to the chart, we put it up a couple of weeks before implementing these observations. I’m not sure if this was a negative or a positive, but at least it gave them some time to wrap their heads around what was coming.

During two staff meetings, we looked at the concept of a Pineapple Chart, and went over what it would look like to the teachers, as both the people opening their classrooms and those doing the observing. To avoid the craziness of report cards and triad conferences, we chose to start using the chart between December 4th and 15th.

Teachers were then asked to “advertise” the interesting things they were doing in their classrooms that they thought others might want to observe. Examples of these activities included the different steps of the Optimal Learning Model, Adobe Spark Page, Notable Notions, using Spheros to learn about colours in one class and cardinal points in another, poetry stations, programming with Scratch, literacy and math groups, Recycled Robots with Spheros, using Bloxel to create a game about ecosystems, and creating Powtoon cartoons about photosynthesis.


When a teacher saw something of interest on the chart, he or she went to that classroom at the designated time, sat down in an out-of-the-way spot, and observed what was going on. This was a very informal way to learn and led to follow-up conversations between the teachers.

What Worked and What Needs to be Tweaked

  1. Teacher Availability: Those who visited other classrooms did so during their prep time. As well, both administrators made themselves available to supervise classes so that teachers could free up their time. Although the intent was there, only two teachers took us up on the offer as they didn’t want to ‘impose’ or they were too busy. The next time around, we will reserve floating subs for one, if not two, days so that teachers can sign up for the sub to be able to participate if they wish.
  2. Teacher Sign-Up: Teachers were asked to advertise their lessons on our chart and then open their doors to their colleagues. For a first time, I was really pleased with the number of teachers who participated by posting a lesson. One suggestion was that staff let the teachers know if they were planning to drop by so that they could plan accordingly. Although the activity is supposed to be informal on a come-if-you-wish basis, I might add a box to the ‘advertising’ form so that teachers can indicate their intent to attend by adding their initials.
  3. Timing of the Chart Debut: We chose these first two weeks in December to avoid the craziness of report cards and Triad Conferences. However, try as we might, this was still very much a busy time of the year. Unfortunately, in our world, there is no perfect time to offer these opportunities, so it becomes very important that we find solutions to making them more accessible. Again, this would include administrative availability for supervision, hiring a floating substitute teacher for a few days, ensuring that teachers have common prep periods to be able to observe their colleagues and then collaborating with their peers to provide their own coverage on a rotating basis. (See Ms. Gonzalez’ blog!) The easier that we make it for them to be available for these learning experiences, the more participation we are likely to see.
  4. Teacher Take-Away: The teachers that participated really appreciated the opportunity to observe their colleagues in action, as they came away with strategies and ideas for their own classrooms. For our first time, there were 14 posts of teachers who were prepared to open their classroom to their colleagues, with 10 teachers observing them in action, which translates to at least 20 different learning opportunities. This is always going to be a win-win situation!

What I believe is that the more that the Pineapple Chart becomes a part of our learning, the more accustomed staff will be to opening their doors or dropping in to observe a lesson. This will take time and a concerted effort on our part to ensure that teachers have the time and space to make themselves available for these learning experiences. But for a first time, based on staff comments, I was really pleased with how it went and am looking forward to Round 2.

Who’s Your Asgard?


I think that my world has suddenly tilted on its axis, because I am about to quote a Marvel character from the movie Thor: Ragnarok. The fact that I actually saw the movie is mind-boggling to begin with…even more so that I really enjoyed it, as I’ve never spent any time delving into comic book series. But, something that Odin said to Thor during one scene resonated with me.

Asgard is not a place, it’s a people.

In between the laughs, this really hit home. As educators, we can lament the fact that our classrooms are not equipped with the best furniture or the brightest natural lighting or the latest in technology. Who doesn’t want all this ‘gorgeousness’ for their students? As wonderful as this would be, however, whether you have the most modern facility or a school lined with chipped paint and banged up lockers, the building itself does not make the community. Quite frankly, our preconceived notions of what is happening behind a school’s walls become clouded by the newness of the schools and their neighborhoods, or the rundown structures that have seen better days, so much so that, ‘even with two eyes, [we] only see half the picture’ (yes, I know…another Odin reference). The reality is that all the tools and equipment in the world will not make our classrooms amazing without the people in it…the students, the teachers, the educational assistants, the secretaries, the custodians, the library technicians, the administrators, and the families. And although everybody’s life circumstances are unique, these people make all the difference.

So, when you have a caring team, a group who collaborates to offer their students as much ‘awesomeness’ as they can, and then some…when your students feel safe and cared for…when you hear laughter or empathy or wonder in the hallways…when you can feel your students’ pride about the work that they’ve done…when your community rallies around somebody who needs a helping hand or a shoulder to cry on or a ‘nudge’ in the right direction…when your families find many opportunities to come together to enjoy each other’s company and celebrate their children…and when you have each other’s back…then you have your Asgard.

The school community at École Marie-Anne-Gaboury is mine! What is yours ?