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The Freedom Writers – The promise of youth

I had the amazing opportunity to hear a key note address by Erin Gruwell last week.  I have had the opportunity to hear Erin speak on two other occasions at Leader in Me events. The story of her students in Long Beach California is nothing short of inspirational.  What resonates each time I hear this story and other similar stories is that Erin loved her students and believed in them so much that she persevered to find a way that reached them in a way that an entire system had failed them before.  She herself coming from the other side of the tracks sort to speak, created an immediate disconnect that she bridged by seeking to understand where her students were at and meeting them there.  There is a lesson for all teachers in this story of passion and commitment regardless of where we find ourselves serving.  The relationships, love, creativity and passion to make the school experiences positive that comes through so clearly in the story are the elements behind the success.  I am grateful that Erin had the courage to help her students find their voice and the willingness to share that story with the world through the Freedom Writers.  If you ever feel youth do not have promise then think again.


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Student Leaders Find Their Voice

I am so pleased to share a story of exciting leadership of our young leaders (grade 6).  The Forest Green School Minga Club sent the following message to our School Division Superintendent today:

Dear Mrs. Wilkins, Deputy Superintendent

We are the Forest Green Minga Club.  We are a group of students that get together once each week to influence and make change happen. We are sending you this message to ask permission to lower the flags at our school in recognition of the death of Nelson Mandela. He was the first black president and he changed the way our world is today. He stopped the separation from black and the white people in his country. He brought people together to influence a nation and the world to make change.  This is similar to the mission of Minga.  Nelson Mendala was put in jail for 26 years for trying to bring the black and white people together. After 26 years he tried again when he  got out of jail. We think our school should lower the flags in his honor for what he did for the world. We were wondering if that is ok?


The Forest Green Minga Club

Deputy Superintendent Wilkins responded in an email explaining the protocol and purpose of flying flags at half mast.  Further she asked that the students communicate to the community about why our flags were flying half mast.  The students then in turn prepared the following message for parents which was also posted on our website:

The Forest Green Minga Club are a group of students that get together once a week to influence and make change happen.

On December 5, 2013 a very important person in our world passed away, his name was Nelson Mandela and he made change in our world. He stopped the separation of the black and white people in his nation. He brought people together to influence a nation and the world to make change. This is similar to the mission of our club.

After receiving permission from Parkland School Division’s Deputy Superintendent, the Minga Club lowered the flags in commemoration of Nelson Mandela.

Forest Green Minga Club

The Minga Club is truly a source of great pride for our school.  They are committed to local and global acts of citizenship and charity.  They have lead food drives, penny drives, bake sales, acts of kindness just to name a few.  The Minga Club is important because it is one place where our young leaders have the opportunity to “Find Their Voice”.

I am told, “Minga” is an African word which means: people coming together for a common good.  When one calls Minga – people come from all around to help complete an important job for the community and in community.

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Report Cards: Conversation stopper or starter?

report card

When I was a kid going to school on report card day was either something to be dreaded or looked forward to.  It all depended on what my teacher “did to me”.  Assessment and evaluation in those days was very much like that.  The examiner (teacher) examined student progress on a specific dates using a specific tools.  They then graded that work and from that time forward the student became known as an A, B, C, D or F.  This may be a slight embellishment but it is not that far off of my experience.

Assessment, evaluation and reporting have changed dramatically since then.  Evaluation and Assessment are no longer things done to a student but rather processes that students participate in.  Reporting, by using strategies such as daily communication books, emails, student lead conferencing, blogs, chats in the hallway, portfolio reviews and yes even report cards are very much processes that students, parents and staff can participate in together.

Today is report card day!  Please look for the report card to come home with your child today.  The report card is intended to serve as a snapshot in time of how your child has responded to the curricular outcomes that are relevant at this point.  Like any photograph, a report card can be quickly outdated.  This report card is meant to serve as a conversation starter (or continuer) for you, your child and his or her teacher as you continue to plan for and engage in learning in school.  This learning is meant to be an individual’s journey and the report card merely a road sign that give insight about the direction we are travelling, rate of travel and if we are experiencing any obstacles.  Make sure as one of the navigators of your child’s learning journey that you are part of the conversation about the end in mind.  Talk to your child and his or her teacher and have a good journ

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Where are the children? At practice “playing”: a sport, the piano, mini (adult) me…

I have found myself in some interesting conversations lately that had me contemplating what we do or maybe don’t do in the school system to look at the holistic needs of students.

During one such conversation I found myself explaining why a small collection of books might be better redistributed to a classroom library than held in the sacred shelves of a library room.  OK that may be a bit of an exaggeration on my part but the purpose of the conversation was two fold: to challenge status quo and second to prepare  a  room for a  makeover converting it to an on site fitness center for student and staff use.   To be fair, I think the professionals I was sharing conversation with were supportive of the direction from the start.

During another conversation I found myself, the only educator, among people from other professions reflecting on why high school math these days seems harder and more involved than math in our day.   I supposed it has something to do with preparing students for post secondary schooling but when did that standard change?

I found myself reflecting further about my sons experiences; one in last year of high school and one in first year university.  They seem to be working harder than I did.  I guess that might be good in some ways!  Good Job Boys! However, where in their busy academic lives is there time to look after themselves, to Sharpen the Saw?

Another observation, an interesting thing happens the day after Halloween each year.  Adults gather in small circles and reminisce about the crowded streets of our day compared to the twenty  kids that showed up at my door this year.  Where were the kids?  At home eating treats supplied by their parents? At adult organized community Halloween parties or the mall? Studying and cramming for tomorrow’s test?  What about the good old playful fun of trick or treating?

I came across an article today that I am sharing some snippets to appetize.  If you want to check out the provocative questions in the complete article click the link below.  Then come back and tell me what you think…

“Where are they? Indoors, doing homework or playing Nintendo. In all-day kindergarten or regulated daycare. Instead of pickup                              street hockey, they’re playing organized sports with regularly scheduled practices and games, supervised by grown-ups. They’re at                            Kumon or dance or art, or swimming or tae kwon do. The children of the upper middle class are busy, busy, busy, with schedules                                that would rival that of any CEO.”

“In play, children make their own decisions and solve their own problems,” Prof. Gray writes. “In adult-directed settings, children                              are weak and vulnerable. In play, they are strong and powerful. The play world is the child’s practice world for being an adult.”

“Kids today are exposed to enriching experiences my generation never dreamed of. They are stunningly accomplished. I’m glad I                              don’t have to compete with them.”

View the whole article and then come back and let me know what you think: http://preview.tinyurl.com/kqongg7


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7 Habits a timeless treasure personally and professionally.

Denise Morisson, President and CEO of Cambell Soup Company,  posted an excellent, quick article on Linked in titled “7 Habits of Highly Effective People: How a Habit Inspired My Mission”  Give it a read and let me know what you think.


I posted the following comment to Ms Morrison’s article:Slide1

Thanks for sharing this article. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is indeed as relevant today as it was over a decade and half ago when I read it. The self evident principles are something I come back to in my personal and professional life constantly. Pieces of it have framed conversations since the day I first read it. I am amazed at how its adaptation for children has become a tool to empower children as young a five to lead in areas of strength and interest. After having witnessed the implementation of this adaptation called The Leader in Me process in three schools I have been more than pleasantly impressed with how it shapes students to be independent and interdependent through leadership. If all kids had the opportunity to learn leadership through the lens of The Leader in Me and the 7 Habits we would have real reason to feel hopeful about the future of our world. Not only do I recommend the 7 Habits as a read for everyone I challenge you to have a discussion about it and The Leader in Me process with an educator near you.


Petro Challenge Canada 2013

photo (3)On October 29 and 30, 2013.  Four teams of students from Connections for Learning joined seventy others teams at Petro Challenge Canada 2013.  This year marked the second such competition in Canada.

On the first day of the event students were taught how to use sophisticated simulation software developed by Simprentis.  Key learner outcomes included: finding hydrocarbons, using environmental survey data, using grid maps and exploring 3 dimensional plots of land using magnetic, gravimetric, and seismic maps.  Students learned how to increase company wealth through taking calculated risks in credible drilling practices.  They also learned how companies in the industry trade financial interests and create wealth through diversification.

Day two marked the beginning of the high stakes competition.  Prizes included electronics, ski passes and a trip to London, England to compete in the International Petro Challenge competition. Team work, negotiations, creative and critical thinking entered every aspect of the work the students were engaged in.  There was also room for a lot of fun.  The room was filled with energy as students dressed in themed costumes and negotiated contracts worth millions resulting in company values of billions of dollars.

Our CFL teams competed very well with one of our teams holding the third place position for a good part of the day before slipping slightly to 8th spot over all.  Each team started the competition with $80 million and finished with a combined total in excess of $10 billion.   One of the CFL teams took home a high tech prize for their team spirit.  More importantly, all of the students took home a sense of accomplishment and an appreciation for the upstream oil and gas industry which is so prevalent and critical to the economy of our province.


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Harvesting New Learning

Please check out a recent post on the Connections for Learning website.  A great story of student learning in an innovative way!