Teacher Performance Appraisal 2015

Commitment to Pupils & Pupil Learning

  • Teachers demonstrate commitment to well-being and development of all pupils.
  • Teachers are dedicated in his or her efforts to teach and support pupil learning and achievement.
  • Teachers teach all pupils with equity and respect.

I have done extensive work this year with the Instructional Coach to further refine my instruction, assessment and reporting skills. This work has fundamentally how I plan, what I plan and how I have communicated with students about the learning. Although I have been using learning goals and success criteria since 2009 when I was first introduced to Growing Success I was using it in a consistent or focussed way. The journey that I am going to briefly illustrate below demonstrates this journey.

The first step that I took was a critique of my assessment of learning tools. My rubrics, like many were text heavy, trying to describe all levels of achievement for all success criteria. This format made it cumbersome to use with students and provided them with little important feedback about how to make improvement. Thus, I now use the following basic form. At the top I list the steps needed to complete the assessment as well as the overall requirements for the assignment (these are the elements that must be completed in order for the work to be submitted for evaluation). Because I have now removed requirements from success criteria, it enables me to truly focus on the quality of student learning.Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 8.06.16 PM

I am currently using a digital / hybrid approach to track student data. I will fill out this form on paper, and then photograph it into SesameHQ, an interactive assessment tool that allows me to track completion of work, as well as provides me with a timeline of student learning. I can create checklists for students for quick identification of student learning to track how they are doing with process work, I can create rubrics for quick formative tasks that indicate if students are exceeding, meeting or approaching grade level expectations and slide scales for being more specific with overall level of achievement for larger tasks.

I will create a digital scale of evaluations and transfer the data from the paper copy to online to record student achievement (as for now I am needing a way for students to have a paper conversation about their learning; I have now been working with our ITRT to begin using Google Classroom to facilitate this, and because I have long recognized that my hand writing fatigues when evaluating  whole class, making my writing difficult to read for students; being able to type my feedback will aid in my communicate with students).

The process for determining a grade is to look at each success criteria and to assess it individually. I then look for the best fit for each learning achievement category. To determine the overall learning for an evaluation I then look for the best fit of overall achievement. I am in the habit of not writing the overall level of achievement on the evaluation tool, but rather having the students determine their level of achievement and then confirm their determination with mine and look for areas of overlap, and perhaps areas of inconsistency in which I or the student would then need to re-assess specific criteria if necessary.

Now that I have evaluation tools that are much more focused on student learning and are not directly tied to specific learning content (as the Arts Curriculum is about student learning processes and ways of thinking), I have been able to create an assessment map for my courses. The following is a sample from the grade 9 course. (Click here for the Program Mapping – AVI1O0.)

From this map, it is possible to plan which assessment tools I am planning to use and the ones that I need to create (e.g. when is it necessary to use a quiz for a check for understanding, when do I need to use a met, not yet met checklist, when to use a completion checklist, etc.). The next step that I am needing to take in finalizing these documents for each of the grade is to include information about how these assessments will be gathered in terms of product, conversation and observation.

An added benefit is that it provides my own personal check list for what needs to be taught each day in class, and what learning goals need to be addressed. My day plans currently are more of action items – the things that students need to do. Now that I have been teaching for 12 years, my plan book is like a short code for what needs to be done, and what supporting learning activities need to completed by students and what the goals are for an associated task or lesson.

More detailed lessons that I write for sharing with colleagues (see work done for OAEA, and the Ministry of Education) would look more like this. This type of detail however represents the thought process that goes into the day to day planning of the class, and is not representative of day to day documentation, as most of this planning happens in conversation with my teaching partner(s). Click here for the full lesson: TPA Lesson.

I have now developed a tool to determine a grade based on the Overall Learning Goals in the course. This tool allows me to take a holistic growth mindset approach to assessment, that aligns with the intentions of transparent and fair assessment practices. This is the first implementation of this type of assessment for determining a grade that I have participated in, and have been working with other teachers from across the PDSB to develop this tool. Although it takes a tremendous amount of time to analyze the data and to determine the grade, it was a very rewarding experience as the grades that went on the report were I think the most accurate to actual student achievement because it provides a sound structure for balancing observation, conversation and product information that is collected over the semester.


Professional Knowledge

  • Teachers know his/her subject matter, the Ontario curriculum and education related legislation
  • Teachers know a variety of effective teaching and assessment practices.
  • Teachers know a variety of classroom management practices.
  • Teachers know how pupils learn and factors that influence pupil learning and achievement

Professional Practice

  • Teachers use her / his professional knowledge and understanding of pupils, curriculum, legislation, teaching practices and classroom management strategies to promote the learning and achievement of her / his pupils.
  • Teachers communicate effectively with pupils, parents and colleagues.
  • Teachers adapt and refine her / his teaching practice through continuous learning and reflection, using  variety of sources and resources.
  • Teachers use appropriate technology in her / his teaching practice and related professional responsibilities.

Leadership in Learning Communities

  • Teachers collaborate with other teachers and school colleagues to create and sustain learning communities in her / his classroom and in the school
  • Teachers work with other professionals, parents, and members of the community to enhance pupil learning, pupil achievement and school programs.

On-going Professional Learning

  • Teachers engage in ongoing professional learning and applies it to improve his / her teaching practice.

Gamification & Learning

The process of gamification in an instructional context is complex. After reading the literature, gamifying learning is more than just simply adding reward structures (e.g. points, badges, etc.) to the learning process. It is about creating a narrative that suspends the player / learner’s disbelief in terms of what and when they are learning. The story provides the context for the material to be learned, and ideally, this story should connect with the reality of the discipline to be learned as well as the broader sociocultural context in which the acquired knowledge and skills are realistically applied.

I have spent the last week reading Karl Kapp’s book The Gamification of Learning & Instruction, and must say that this is one of the few professional learning books in which I am delving back and re-reading and developing thorough connections between what I am doing in my classroom, what the literature supports, and trying to find ways of modifying and adapting my program for a new learning platform – that of the game! I am eagerly awaiting his companion book The Gamification of Learning & Instruction: Fieldbook.

The book itself is highly organized into discrete chapters carefully scaffolding and unpacking a detailed understanding of the connection between games and learning using extensive research from both education and the world of business. What is striking about this book is that it is entirely founded on behavioural psychology, motivation theory, and sound educational principles.

Early in the book, Kapp explains how to tap into our biological drives for what we do, through the application of various reward structures. He clearly explains strategies for developing and thinking about how and when to reward various behaviours within a gave environment.

He also thoroughly discusses motivation. This is an extremely important concept in the face of 21st century teaching and learning, and connects well with the work of Dan Pink. Gamers can be highly motivated when engaged in a game. As educators, enhancing the connection students have with the curriculum, motivating them to explore and learn is essential. Students need to cultivate their ability to direct their own learning. Granted, this is a learned skill and it takes time to mature, but it is still absolutely necessary to scaffold motivational components so that the reason students engage in their learning is because they want to learn.

Kapp also provides a detailed account of how to structure and organize the game and the gaming components around a central theme. As a practitioner of theme based arts education for the past 10 years, I have a strong affinity for this type of instruction. However, being able to sustain the theme or narrative throughout a course is very difficult without a means of tying everything together. Using gamification, the organization of the learning becomes the touchstone for each of the lessons and concepts being explored.

At this point, I have started the process of gamifying my grade 9 curriculum using the organizational structures identified and explained by Kapp in his book. The hard part was simply trying to identify the story that I was wanting to base the game around. Once I had the story articulated and loosely planned, the planning process became much more fluid. However, what I am quickly realizing is that for this to really take off, I am in need of a programmer who is able to assist in creating the interface for how students interact with the game components. This will come, but for now, getting the basic structures in place will keep me busy enough!


Data Wise – An Approach for Improving Instructional Practice & Student Learning

I am constantly looking for ways to improve my instructional practice. And truth be told, it has always been somewhat piece meal – done based hunches, educated guesses, advice from colleagues. I have never really had a tool to use to assess the work that I have been doing in the classroom, using the data driven by my pedagogical choices of instruction and assessment, in order to make substantive and truly justified change to my teaching practice.

Part of this however is a result of the climate in which I have been working. This is not an attempt to down play the work of my colleagues, but a statement of fact that we are a busy group of educators, all with different goals for our students and priorities for how our time outside of the classroom is spent. We can be involved with students in clubs, councils and athletics; we can join committees for the school, board or ministry; we can go home to our families and carve out times during obscure hours of the day to finish the work we do not get finished during our time within the school building walls.

I found Data Wise by chance on the EdX website (a platform that offers a variety of paid and free courses), and have just completed this introductory course to this process of looking at instruction, assessment and student learning. I need to emphasize that this is not a make work project for teachers (some would say that there are enough of these around as it is), but rather a highly structured framework which allows for deliberate investigation, reflection and improvement on the teaching and learning cycle. It is a way of doing, rather than a thing to do.

The illustration that is posted here demonstrates my observations of how my department would stack up when it comes to their use of the strategies introduced in this online course. Granted, we have never worked with this tool before, so it is expected not to indicate that work needs to be done. However, while I was completing the survey questions that this graphic is based off of, I was primarily thinking about our behaviours as educators and how we go about the decision making process.

In one of the discussion forums, I noted that I work in an Arts Department – that means dance, drama, media art, music and visual art. There are 6 staff members for the department. We offer nearly 30 different courses from grades 9 to 12. That means, on average, each staff member needs to be familiar, proficient in at least 5 different curriculums. That is a tremendous amount to ask, especially when teachers in other departments may be double or triple in staff and have half the number of courses on the docket. The sheer volume of curriculum that we are responsible for knowing, planning, delivering, revising, improving, assessing, is substantial, (and also very important for the development of a well balanced education).

Up until this year, there was a general sense that the work that we did was entirely different from each other, with only minor areas of overlap. I do not think that this is the case. I think there are now incredible areas of overlap that we need to focus on in order to bring cohesion to our department, while at the same time recognizing the uniqueness of each of the discrete artistic disciplines.

Using the Data Wise model can help us really hone in on big enduring understandings (e.g. perseverance through creative adversity), as well as some of the more tangible, building block elements of our teaching practice (e.g. kids need to have a better grasp of vocabulary and terminology associated with the discipline they are studying. I would like to see us begin using this tool more broadly in our day to day decision making process.

Gamification & Assessment Pedagogy


The adage “go slow to go fast” could never be more true than when it comes to learning. One of the most important skills that students need to learn is self-assessment. They need to be able to determine the quality of their work and their thinking using established criteria. In order for students to learning effectively, we need to slow them down, teach them how to assess, so that they can then move forward in their learning more quickly and efficiently.

In education, we have a variety of different forms of assessment:

  • diagnostic, formative, summative – all of which are time based assessments (e.g. when the assessment happens in the learning cycle – beginning, middle, end)
  • assessment for, as and of learning – all of which are based on the type of assessment (e.g. to move students forward, to teach students how to assess, and assessments that are evaluative in nature)

Assessments vary depending on what is being learned and how students are demonstrating their knowledge, but one of the most fundamental skills that any student needs to exit a course with is that they have a better understanding of how to assess their own work and the work of others.

Often, educators are so worried with covering the curriculum that the necessity for teaching this fundamental skill can be overlooked. And as a result, the teacher does the majority of assessing. The teacher must be enabling students to make the critical leap to analysis, evaluation and synthesis of their own work.

Karl Kapp, author of The Gamification of Learning & Instruction, identifies feedback as one of the most essential components of creating games (for both entertainment and education). A colleague of mine, Ellen Bigelow has been leading what I can only refer to as a Assessment and Evalaution renewal at my school this year, and from her comments I am making a connection between the importance of feedback in games and feedback in the classroom. Her passion for assessment has rekindled my own interest in this aspect of my pedagogy. What really strikes me about her pedagogy is her continual culture building of the importance for feedback. She has stated that at first, students are not to sure about the idea of feedback over marks (which I have realized myself earlier in my career), but as students see the importance of timely feedback, they seek it out because they know that the feedback is going to improve the overall quality of their work. She now relates stories of students clamouring over each other for her to fill out the feedback portions of her evaluations; they don’t care nearly as much for the levels but the comments that she provides. This simple little nugget of information will often get forgotten over time as the demands of the profession overwhelm the necessity for formalizing the feedback that students need! The connection that I see between good pedagogical feedback and gamification is that it is the feedback that brings the learner / player back. Without positive reinforcement, and the sense that there is a way to do better, or that progress is being made, learning and engagement stagnates.

With that said, Karl Kapp identifies 8 elements of  feedback that are essential for game development. I see many of these as essential for the development of good assessment pedagogy. Below, the bulleted points are from Kapps book The Gamification of Learning & Instruction pp. 36-37, and the italicized text are my connections to the classroom.

  • tactile: feedback can be felt by the player; it feels to be a natural part of the game

In the classroom, tactile feedback means that feedback ought to be a natural part of the learning process. It should not feel as some sort of add on or extra work that students need to do, or that the teacher is providing feedback for no reason. Feedback needs to have a purpose and it needs to resonate with the learner.

  • inviting: feedback is something desirable

In the classroom, inviting feedback needs to engage the learner. Feedback is something that students need to want. Feedback is NOT a number or a grade, but a words that elevate student confidence while providing them with the means of being more successful.

  • repeatable: feedback keeps coming to help overcome challenges or obstacles

Students make mistakes, just like all people. Students need to recognize that mistakes are where they learn the most. Mistakes are not to be penalized, but celebrated. Mistakes allow for feedback to come, to find nuance in what students are learning or doing to help them overcome the learning challenge at hand. When learning is based on re-occuring feedback, and not grades, students are able to learn better.

  • coherent: feedback is congruent with what is happening as part of the game

Feedback in the classroom needs to be coherent. It needs to make sense in the context of the learning that is taking place. This means that feedback needs to be directly related to the overall learning expectations and goals for a particular learning project. Feedback that is not connected to learning objectives limits or  in some cases can even inhibit the desired learning.

  • continuous: the player does not need to wait for feedback

Many teachers may be afraid that continuous feedback means that feedback is instantaneous. As teachers, we are not algorithms that spit out data based on simple input. At the same time, feedback does need to be timely. That is to say, feedback that is received too far removed from the learning does not offer any opportunity for self-correction. Using different feedback models, such as self- and peer-assessments will help students get the feedback they need, but also their capacity for learning assessment. 

  • emergent: feedback is well-sequenced building the gamer’s capacity

The feedback that is provided needs to relate to Vygotzky’s principle of zone of proximal development. Feedback needs to identify where students are at, and how they can move themselves forward. When providing feedback, you need to be able to identify how to get them moving along a continuum. If the feedback you provide is pushing them “too far up the ladder”, then it is not appropriate. Providing effective feedback requires an understanding of how to scaffold the learning for the student.

  • balanced: the player knows that she / he is receiving feedback, and can act on it; feedback does not overwhelm the  player

Feedback can take many forms – oral, written, even the behaviour (e.g. tone, body language that accompanies the feedback). In some cases, oral feedback may not be considered as formal feedback by students because it is “just in passing”, or worse, students may not even recognize that they have received feedback. As a teacher it is necessary for students to receive a stream of feedback, both formally and informally, but not in such a way that the reception of feedback inhibits or detracts from what and how students are learning.

  • fresh: feedback provides some surprises that inspires further engagement

Feedback needs to be engaging. It needs to be done in such a way that students want it and seek it out. It cannot be artificial. When providing feedback, make sure that you are able to demonstrate that you are connected to their learning (e.g. specific details, reference a comment that was made by the student, etc.).  If you can demonstrate that you are connected to their learning, then they will be surprised, engaged and seek out your perspective more often!

As some one who is not a gamer, and has often undervalued video games, I am slowly gaining a much better appreciation for what video games can teach!




Art as Therapy – Coming to Terms

In many countries’ histories there are particularly painful things that need to be digested. The hope is that a country can heal itself with the help of political art. This challenge is raised to a pitch of difficulty and importance in Germany. The appalling tragedy of Germany in the late 1930s and early 1940s calls for atonement, rather than denial or pure lamentation. The need is not merely to say that terrible things happened, but to deal with the legacy of guilt in the hame of improvement. However urgent the need to acknowledge past evils may be, this on its own does not create a better society. – Art as Therapy (p. 212)

Alain de Botton & John Armstrong create a compelling argument for the creation of political art, despite the bad name that this purpose of art received throughout the 20th century from such political regimes as the German Nazi party or socialist realism in the former USSR. The fear that art would be used as a mechanism to mobilize hundreds of thousands of people to do things that they otherwise would not even consider is not unfounded, but at the same time we need to recognize that as a society, we are becoming increasingly aware of the power of art. And that art, although it may be political, is not predominantly created with strict control over the artist. In most cases in the early 21st century, political art is created by an independent artist that has an interest in the polis.

The art of Jeanne-Claude and Christo are two such artists that create politicized work, but more as a critique of the institutions of government and what they symbolize rather than as a means of perpetuating government propaganda. In their piece Wrapped Reichstag 1971-1995, they wrapped the seat of German democratic government in over 1 million square feet of material, creating an ephemeral ghost like appearance to the building. The Reichstag had become a symbol of Germany’s sordid past and the atrocities of the Holocaust. By wrapping the Reichstag Jeanne-Claude and Christo essentially unveiled the building a new, giving it a second birth, a new beginning. This event becomes symbolic for the German People, as they acknowledge what has happened, and are able to move forward without carrying the guilt of history.

In Canada, a similar large scale political artwork is required. In Canadian past there are horrors that outweigh those that were inflicted on the Jewish people. In Canada, there has been and continues to be in place, policies and legislation that overtly suppress members of the First Nations communities all across the country. In Canada there have been practices designed to specifically “eliminate the Indian in the child” through the Indian Residential School system, the 60s scoop, inequitable funding formulas for contemporary First Nations education, and the list goes on. Some argue that the atrocities developed by Nazi Germany and the South African apartheid regimes were actually developed based on Canadian law.

But for Canada to move forward, there needs to be much work in first acknowledging what Canada has done to the First Nation’s peoples beyond Stephen Harper’s apology in 2008. Real provisions must be put in place for assisting the the First Nation’s people develop their language, their culture, their families once again, but also educating the general public about what actually happened. Once the true history of Canada is widely known, and accepted by us as citizens, then we can begin to move forward, and a political artwork of the magnitude and symbolic importance of Jeanne-Claude & Christo’s Wrapped Reichstag for Canada will definitely be needed!


Art as Therapy – Functions of Art

This has been one of the most invigorating texts on the history of art that I have read in the past few years. Alain de Botton and John Armstrong present a very interesting perspective on one of the major narratives of art… its essential purpose. de Botton and Armstrong argue that art more than anything is a therapeutic object that helps us to stay connected with the people we associate with and the places we live.

Johannes Vermeer "Woman in Blue Reading a Letter" c. 1663

Johannes Vermeer “Woman in Blue Reading a Letter” c. 1663

The essential functions of art help us maintain positive relationships, or at the very least, redirect us when we go astray.

  • Remembering: Art helps us remember through the inclusion of details that  we would otherwise forget. As a creator of art, the act of deciding which details to include or exclude reinforce our own memory of a person, place or thing. As viewer of art, we can make associations with the details that the artist has included, spurring our own similar memories.
  • Hope: Often there is a disconnect between what is depicted in art. What an artist chooses to (re)present can make us see the differences between our current reality, what was and what could be. At the same time, our hopes can also be distorted by what artists represent and lead us into many different & difficult roads because our perception of what is has been manipulated.
  • Sorrow: Artists often choose to represent the most difficult and challenging experiences in life. This is not because they are trying to make us feel depressed, but so that they can help us see honour in the worst situations that we can experience. We are not alone in this experience called life, and as we experience sorrow for others, we two can come to terms with what life throws at us.
  • Rebalancing: Our lives are incredibly unbalanced. Art shows us what we are missing. The inappropriate priorities that create for ourselves need to be redirected to those experiences to help us reconnect with our environment and with each other.
  • Self-understanding: Artists are masters of symbolic representation. Symbols are images that stand in the place for complex ideas. In art, we use symbols to help communicate who and what we are. In so doing, symbols used in a network allow us to see a much bigger picture of ourselves.
  • Growth: Artists often challenge the norms and expectations of the audience. In this case, art can help us move past the negative stereotypes and prejudices that we create. This is down through the careful analysis of what we as artists choose to represent, or as a viewer, the analysis that we conduct on an artwork to better inform our understanding of the work.
  • Appreciation: What we choose to depict reinforces the value of our every day lives. Art makes us stop and appreciate the things that we have. Although we are constantly thinking that life could be better, we must be able to find good in the here and now.

For me, these seven principles proved to be an eyeopener in terms of how to teach “art history” to senior level classes. Every year, students grumble and complain about having to do art history because it is ‘boring’. And I have to admit, although I have tried a variety of different approaches over the past seven or eight years as to how to engage students in the history of art, it has always been very passive and past oriented. By adopting these seven principles as the guiding light of student inquiry, my teaching partner and I have found that students are bridging temporal, geographical and cultural gaps as they are researching and creating context for the artworks that connects with their own lives.

Featured Image: Johannes Vermeer Woman in Blue Reading a Letter c. 1663.

Creative & Critical Thinking

Over the past month I have been preparing for our department’s collaborative inquiry process, and delving into the nature of thinking, and have found that according to many researchers thinking falls generally into two domains – that of creative thought and and that of critical thought. The former being thinking about the production of ideas and the latter being evaluative of ideas. According to Ruggiero, there are processes in which effective thinkers engage in order to develop the capacity of thinking in both domains, and that these processes are learned.

As an Visual Art & Media Art educator in Ontario, I am keenly aware that these processes are an integral part of The Arts Curriculum (revised 2010), as we are very much interested in students ‘production’ and ‘thinking’. By reading this text, I am seeing the creative process in a new way, not as the steps required to produce something, but rather as the steps necessary to think through the production of something. This is a new insight to me. The creative process in particular is not a list of things for students to do, but rather a guide for students to think through their production. The emphasis is on the thinking.

A concern for me however is that this may once again make The Arts Curriculum even more cerebral.  I firmly believe that it is essential that students have the technical vocabulary and skills to create their work – the essentials in drawing, painting, printmaking, sculpture, mixed media, lens based works, digital works, etc. Taking the curriculum out of the hands of the student and entrenching it even more so in their heads so that it becomes increasing difficult for the majority of students to be able to visual communicate their thinking effectively.

Perhaps something that the arts need to work on is the ‘art of thinking’ as a part of the program and the ‘art of making’ and as students work through the curriculum they understand how the two go and in hand. But the structure of the curriculum would need to change in order for that to happen effectively, so as to really meet the expectations that are currently set out in the curricular documents.

At the end of The Art of Thinking: A Guide to Critical & Creative Thought Ruggiero discusses the presentation of one’s thinking, and the ability to communicate. In chapter 14 he discusses that one, albeit very important aim, of communicating one’s thinking about problems and issues is that often you need to persuade others to your way of thinking or solution. This is based on the understanding that you need to know the issue or problem inside and out, and you can see it from multiple vantage points. Where Ruggiero lacks is is assumption that there are two primary ways in which to persuade – through writing or through speech. In the twelfth edition of this book, Ruggiero needs to address ideas about visual communication and embodied communication that are such a significant part of dialogue in the 21st century.


Thinking Through Problems & Issues

First Nations, Métis, Inuit Education protest on Parliament Hill, Ottawa (image from cbc.ca)

One of the most important insights that I had while reading The Art of Thinking by Vincent Ryan Ruggerio is the difference of problems and issues. Ruggerio defines the difference as

A problem is a situation that we regard as unacceptable; an issue is a matter about which intelligent, informed people disagree to some extent. (p.116).

This separation provides clear delineation of the type of work that we are typically asking students to do in an Arts based classroom. For the most part, our creativity is either entirely self reflective (e.g. getting to know who you are as an individual) or an exploration of established disciplinary concepts (e.g. the gaze) or an exploration of a world issue.

Truth is, I would argue that in reality, the depth of the thinking that students engage is shallow for the most part because the questions that we are asking do not require students to delve deeply into the issue that we are presenting.

The issue is best expressed using questions such as:

Ask questions such as:

  • Is education a right or a privilege?
  • Does the government have a responsibility to support the education of First Nation, Métis and Inuit children?
  • Should non-First Nation’s, Métis or Inuit people support the education of children on reserves?

These questions I have developed in consultation with Ruggerio’s strategies for expressing issues. These questions are going to serve as the foundation for a grade 12 inquiry into the idea of educational rights.

In my art education teaching, I think also that there is a tendency towards dealing with issues, and not problems. Problems are a much gander scale and require a different kind of thinking because they are about developing solutions – either through policy, making of something, etc. Much of my teaching of the creative process is about problem solving – i.e. how can you best represent your ideas in a visual form? Therefore, when I have thought that I was presenting problems, I was really presenting issues, obscured by the problem of visual representation. As a result the direction and depth of student thinking has been skewed / misinformed.

Going back to the exemplar questions that I am providing for my grade 12 media arts students, I am needing to push the questioning to problems over the course of the semester because a primary goal is that their work provides action. Such questions would be (note the stem… How can…?):

  • How can the students raise awareness of the rights of education for all children, especially those of First Nation, Métis and Inuit identity amongst their peers?
  • How can students raise funds and / or resources to create a more level playing field for First Nation, Métis and Inuit learners?
  • How can students affect social and political change in terms of policy and funding by governments?
  • How can students lobby corporations to donate / make affordable essential learning tools to distant and remote reserves?

From the list of questions above, I am able to see a variety of different types of problems:

  • there is a lack of awareness of the educational environment of First Nation, Métis and Inuit
  • there is a funding gap for First Nation, Métis and Inuit
  • there is little economic incentive to build infrastructure in remote locations across the province

Although there may not always be a direct correlation between issues and problems, I am beginning to think that there may be a stronger correlation between the two. As often, it may be the case that the issue that divides people also creates deficits for people and raises social, environmental, political and cultural problems.


The Art of Thinking

As part of the professional development of my team this year, we are engaging in a new professional learning process called Collaborative Inquiry. With the assistance of our instructional coach, our goal is to see how we can better intersect the phases of the creative and critical analysis process through the act of questioning.

In order to prepare us for this task, I have read Vincent Ryan Ruggiero’s book The Art of Thinking: A Guide to Critical and Creative Thought (11th edition). Though this book was not exactly what I expected, it does provide some excellent insight into how we go about organizing our inquiry with students and how to develop questions to help foster the critical and creative thinking that we all value so much.

This blog entry is a summary of the text, as preparation for our initial dialogues as a departmental team investigating the creative and critical analysis processes in the context of creating artworks, music, dance, and dramatic performances.

Ruggiero begins the book by setting the context for what thinking is. It is essential to remember that there is a difference between disengaged thinking v. passive thinking v. active thinking. The latter is the most preferred, but also requires the most work to cultivate and refine. In this active state, thinking is not just a verbal phenomenon – it can take various forms, including (but not limited to) sketching and improvising with sound and / or body. In understanding that the form of thinking does not hinder the quality of the thinking, Ruggiero then moves to unpacking the phases of active thinking: idea production (creation) and idea judgement (analysis). The quality of one’s thinking in either of these domains is a matter of habit, and it can be inferred that the quality of one’s thinking is determined by the ability and habit of fluidly moving between each of these two domains.

To be come a better thinker requires one to establish positive habits of thinking. Such habits include:

  • practice your thinking (identify and engage in deep thinking regularly)
  • know how you think and how to refine how you think
  • know where you think best
  • know when you think best
  • know how to concentrate

“To concentrate means to return our attention to our purpose or problem whenever it wanders.” (p. 11)

Once you have your habits of thinking established, it is important to ensure that you are effectively using a variety of strategies to help you with creative and critical challenges. To do this, consider the following:

  • re-read for understanding
  • don’t trap yourself in a dead end
  • correctly identify the facts
  • clarify confusion
  • identify multiple possible solutions
  • use if / then statements
  • re-read for different purposes / perspectives
  • avoid oversimplification
  • examine your first impressions
  • describe what you need to think about
  • broaden your context

“If you don’t understand both (or all) sides of an issue, you don’t understand the issue.” (p. 42)

One of the most important things to remember is that when you are working through the process of thinking in a critical context, you need to be aware of whether or not you are using your critical thinking in the context of evaluating via taste (emotion / personal preference) or via judgement (reason & relative objectivity). In either case, as our students are learning how to think, and become effective creative and critical thinkers, it is necessary for them to discern the idea from the person who has the idea. Developing this degree of separation will assist in being able to create and assess ideas more effectively.

Through this process, we can assess our overall effectiveness if we can see that our students become:

  • more dynamic / more curious
  • more daring / risk taking
  • more resourceful
  • more hardworking
  • more independent



Building Your Leadership Capacity – Part 2

'Leadereship' highlighted in green

Leadership is more than management… this I already knew. Leadership is a mindset that becomes an action, where as management is more strictly task oriented. Leadership I am sure is like any skill, it can be learned but you need to have the right conditions for it to foster, as many people aspiring to be leaders probably become managers due to a lack of mentorship and leadership in what it means to lead. The following video provides a succinct and engaging way to reflect on the differences of “being in charge”

Within the Peel District School Board, we have a document to facilitate leadership development, called the Peel Leadership Framework for Instructional Staff which is highly integrated with the School Success Plan, in which leaders are to consider their practice within the lenses of…

  1. fostering safe and appropriate places to learn and work,
  2. attracting, developing, and retaining staff,
  3. using resources effectively,
  4. setting high expectations,
  5. using technology effectively,
  6. achieving equity and
  7. building positive relationships.


Within this framework there is direction in terms of what resources a good leader needs to develop, and these include cognitive resources, social resources and psychological resources. As a good leader, if I have these resources, it allows me to demonstrate leadership within a variety of domains: Leadership for Learning, Climate for Learning & Working and Teaching & Learning.

For example within developing a Climate for Learning & Working, stimulating the growth in the professional capacities of the staff within the department is very important. To do this effectively I am going to need to employ a variety of skills:

  • Cognitive Problemsolving: needing to find creative ways to fiscally support the necessary PD to move the department forward in its assessment and evaluation tracking, tool development and determination of grades
  • Social Management of Responses: assist colleagues to have their initial reactions, but at the sometime engage in critical self reflection to recognize where improvements to professional practice can be made; this is done through modelling my own reflection and professional growth and emphasize that when we are asked to reassess are practice this is not a criticism as us as teachers, but the recognition that it is easy to suffer from mission drift in the busyness of the day to day task of teaching
  • Psychological Optimism: having the belief that what we are doing to better our professional practice will have tangible positive effects on the quality of student learning, and that when we make efforts to better our practice and understand our students more clearly, that the whole experience of teaching and learning improves.