Posts tagged twitter
Hacking Leadership with Passion Projects

Sarah Cronin is a teacher for the Halton District School Board and the program leader for Special Education at Milton District High School.   She is passionate about helping students with learning differences (LD) be confident and empowered and ready to make their mark on the world.  You can learn more about her journey on her blog.

My learning journey this year as an educator is centred around enabling and igniting teacher growth through teacher passion projects.  I’m a big fan of the Hacking Learning Series - and my favourite book so far is Hacking Leadership by Joe Sanfelippo and Tony Sinanis. Chapter 8 highlights running Teacher Passion Projects as a way to develop capacity in staff and to help staff truly benefit from developing as a professional.  Teacher passion projects are when teachers take control of their own professional learning through choosing an area of education to focus on. Topics are varied and learning is centred around working toward becoming a better teacher overall. Learn about it here!  I was so enthralled by the idea that it inspired me to run a version of this in my own department.   I intend to use blogging (~Shifters note: did we mention Sarah has a blog?) to track the journey.  

Here’s why I was inspired:

  • I work with amazing Special Education Resource Teachers (SERTS), and as a leader, I want to contribute to their professional growth in a meaningful way.

  • Teacher Passion Projects give the teacher choice in what they want to learn - to connect that learning to their passions, with the goal of becoming a better teacher.   

  • I want to be a part of a team that consistently strives to be the best they can be.

  • The concept is simple and can be easily executed.  

Here’s what I did:

  • I contacted Joe Sanfelippo on Twitter (@Joe_Sanfelippo)  and told him that after reading his book, I was inspired to recreate a version of teacher passion projects in my department.   I asked for his help in setting this up. Joe connected me with his outline, and templates used in his school district.

  • I took the templates and modified them to match my team needs.

Passion Project Learning Objective and Goal Plan Form

Passion Project (Professional Growth Opportunity) Mid Year Review

Passion Project Professional Growth Opportunity Final Reflection

  • I presented the idea of participating in the passion project to my team.  This was definitely an opt-in choice, it wasn’t mandatory, and it wouldn’t reflect negatively on them should they decide to not participate.  

  • I volunteered to cover one of their classes on a rotational basis of their choice.  This allowed them to work on their passion projects within their school timetable, not on a lunch, and not on a prep.  (I have the flexibility in my own schedule to be able to offer this - this is key to having teacher buy in.)

  • I began my own passion project - (Teacher Passion Projects as a way to develop Building Relationships and Develop People by Stimulating growth in the professional capacities of staff  - Ontario Leadership Framework.)

  • We began:  Watch one teacher talk about her passion project experience thus far:  Christina's Video



My team this year has doubled in size.  We were four SERTS (myself being the only full time SERT), and we are now eight.  I am excited for the growth in department as we now have in addition to the original four -  two Program Leads - one from Science, and one from Social Sciences/French, one teacher from English, one ELL teacher, and one additional EA.  Wow! The intimidating part for me as a leader is: all of our new additions had little to no experience as a SERT. How was I going to support and help develop our new additions in all the knowledge a SERT needs to have?  Answer: Teacher Passion Projects come to mind….

So out of the nine person team not including myself,  five people have jumped on board this opportunity! And so it begins.  We just started this journey after the October long weekend.

My Leadership Strategies:

  • I set a schedule to cover classes of participating teachers.  This is a rolling commitment based on our schedule agreement. I book myself as busy in my calendar at these times.  

  • Regular meetings with each person to discuss, inspire, and guide the passion project.  So … admittedly, I originally thought this would be more scheduled. However, it turns out I meet with them on a drop in basis.  They drop into my office or I into theirs and we talk about how things are going, what resources are needed, the ins and outs of various topics.   I’m learning a lot from each about their topics. The casualness of this discussion is what is great - we collaborate in our own professional learning  community that has no start time or end time. I like this aspect as I believe it allows the learning journey to flow naturally.

  • Connecting through social media:  We follow each other on twitter and we text regularly.  These provide great arenas for discussion and resource sharing.  You can follow me on twitter: @Sjcronin39

Examples of some of the Passion Project in Progress:  

Passion Project topics included range from classroom pedagogy to leadership initiatives.  Some teachers are learning about Distributed Learning and will use it to introduce blogging into their pedagogy with their classes.  Another is experiential research that is aiming to document an example of the positive impacts of exercise and diet on emotional wellbeing with a student who struggles with mental wellness.  Others are taking Special Education Additional Qualifications and are using this knowledge to enhance their teaching practice by understanding students with learning disabilities better and how to best support them and sharing this knowledge with their other departments.  On the leadership end, we have website development designed for teachers full of helpful and thoughtful resources. Finally my own project … enhancing my leadership skills through supporting teachers in their learning - a.k.a. - capacity building.

Next Steps:  

  • Connecting with each teacher at mid term in a more formal setting to discuss where they will take their project and their learning.  

  • Having the teacher record that on the  Passion Project (Professional Growth Opportunity) Mid Year Review .  It says Mid year because some passion projects may take the year, or it may take a semester.  Either way, I will be meeting with them at mid term first semester.

  • Through Discussion, tweak the purpose of the project and its connection to educational research.

  • Through discussion, support the shaping of sharing the learning with others.  

I will keep you posted on the journey!  Until next time...

~ Sarah Cronin

Gratitude for your PLN
Do you have a professional learning network (PLN)?

When you are planning a lesson, thinking about pedagogy, or learning about something new, do you have a group of people you turn to for guidance and support?

It used to be the people who worked in our teaching offices or schools that we would rely on the most.  Today, access to social media gives us a much deeper pool of colleagues to draw ideas from. If you have an idea for a lesson, chances are there is someone else online who has done something similar and can help.

So while The Shift has lots of people we rely on in person to bounce ideas off of, we also have a much wider PLN online that we can draw inspiration from.

After June 4th and the #LoveMyHaltonSchool event, it would appear that this is true for many of us!  Just how big is the PNL of teachers in Halton? How far does it reach?

Surprisingly, pretty far!  There were almost 400 different twitter accounts active on Monday tweeting about why they love working in Halton.  All together, they created 1,569 tweets that were seen by 162,000 people! Our messages of love were view over two million times.  That’s a huge Professional Learning Network!

Importantly, it benefits our own wellness as educators to express gratitude for the things we love.  There is shown to be strong links in positive psychology research between gratitude and improved mental health and happiness.  There are even apps that are used to journal and track gratitude on a daily basis! (of course there is...there is an app for everything)  So it is important in our working lives to take stock of our Halton schools, staff, students and community.  Expressing our appreciation for these things can only make our day to day work easier. So thank YOU Shifters for brightening everyone’s day, and taking the time to share why you #LoveMyHaltonSchool.

Last year, the Halton District School Board ran an event called #LoveMyHaltonSchool where they asked students, staff and parents to share (via Twitter) reasons why they love Halton.

This year, the event is back!

You can participate by tweeting on June 4th, reasons why you love working and learning in Halton using the hashtag #LoveMyHaltonSchool

We've been travelling around Halton over the past two weeks talking to students and teachers and already have been given a long list of great reasons to love Halton.

Guess what...there are prizes too!
FREQUENT TWEETER: The school who tweets the most on June 4th
EARLY BIRD: The first school to tweet on June 4th
SELFIE: The school to tweet the most selfies on June 4th
MOST LIKES: The school with the most likes on their #LoveMyHaltonSchool tweet on June 4th
NIGHT OWL: The last school to tweet on June 4th
Tweets must include the #LoveMyHaltonSchool hashtag to be eligible.  

We can't wait to follow along on June 4th.

Why the heck did I do that?
“Why the heck did I DO that?”  

Have you ever found yourself asking that question after teaching a lesson?  I did, a week or so ago.  I delivered a classic “powerpoint”, with teenager eyes glazing over but I’m powering forward and getting through my slides because “that is the lesson”.  Immediately after finishing the period, I realized I messed up. Students had probably retained 5% of the information that I just talked at them about.  This stung a little, especially since what I just did flew in the face of my current “WHY” as a teacher.

One iteration of the creative process we are playing with.
Let me back up and give you a bit of context.  I’m an art and photography teacher and my colleagues and I are really pushing hard to reimagine the creative process.
WHY are we doing this?  We are finding that when students’ experiment within the creative process and are not evaluated, they engage more in the risk taking and truly embrace their creativity.  Being set up as an experiment, students are taking pictures while genuinely curious about how the shot will turn out, not because the teacher expects something specific to happen.  We ask students to take LOTS of photos.  With curiosity driven outcomes, not mark driven outcomes; where failure has no real consequences and is only a learning tool to encourage students to try again, our classes have been a lot more free in their willingness to try creative experiments.  We are responding to Sir Ken Robinson in our own way and trying to right a wrong.

In photography, we have been working on using a series of active daily shooting challenges to get students out and experimenting.  The goal is this: by getting students to experiment and create with cameras in their hand FIRST before we get into the technical specifics of the camera, this will set the stage for students to uncover the curriculum, not the teacher covering the curriculum.  The challenges work around an idea or a technique, each day uncovering a different aspect of the topic.  I have got to say, these challenges have been going really well; the class gets into a groove, knowing that each day, we will be directing our focus to something different.  It is kind of like a Photography Workout of the Day (WOD).  These Shooting Challenges aren’t evaluated, so students are given permission to fail.  At the end of the week, students select their Photo of the Week, share and post it, and talk about what worked and why.  The emphasis each day is on shooting TONS, being encouraged to play, try weird things and to share with each other, with no expectation that “Today is the day you make a good image”.  The Photo of the Week is a tool for pause and reflection, to look back at those weird experiments and pull out something interesting.

Which brings me back to me messing up last week.  I had just spent the week prior structuring the course to allow for student centred discovery of the material, why did I decide to cap off the learning with some teacher focused “chalk talk”?  At the time, I figured that the students needed to know all the specifics, so I had better give it to them.  I only realized that I had messed up when I saw those glazed eyes. This was definitely the wrong approach.  So I was determined to improve the next week, when we would be tackling a different subject: shutter speed.

The following week, the class started to uncover the next topic in the same way, daily shooting challenges.  Lots of fun, lots of experimenting.  

To cap off the learning, students again choose their “Photo of the Week”, and instead of me talking at them about the ins and outs of shutter speed, I pulled inspiration from a sketchnote created by Laura Wheeler in a tweet I had seen a day before:

I randomized groups by picking playing cards, put up large paper on the walls of the room, and gave students key words for students to group and arrange in a way that made sense to them.  Then I floated and watched as the students started to pull together their learning on their own terms.  I encouraged them to access the information posted to Google Classroom and to Google Search other terms or techniques they were unsure of.  It was great to see students debating and discussing how to lay out their mind map and making connections to their learning in the past week.  What they were putting up on their mind map wasn’t always correct, but that was an opportunity to clarify and start a discussion.  
Students spent their time discussing, mapping and organizing their understanding

What I took away from the last couple weeks in photography class, was that TRY, FAIL, LEARN isn’t just for the students.  As teachers, we need to be more comfortable failing, reflecting and sharing.  Its great to share our amazing home runs on social media and it is also important to talk about when things DIDN’T go as planned.  Let’s open up our classroom, talk to others, share our experiments (failed or successful) with other teachers and let’s start to talk openly about our practice, warts and all, because if we do, we will become more creative and more dynamic in our classrooms and in our schools.  So how about you?  Can you think of when a lesson, a unit, a project went seriously sideways?   How did you pivot and save the lesson, or what did you do differently next time?

Getting Ready For September 5th

Here we go, all set for another year playing this game called school!  Some of you undoubtedly have spent some time last week preparing for students’ arrival on Tuesday, some of you unpacking after moving schools, or perhaps arriving at your first school.

It is a time of transition, beginnings and reflection:  how are we going to do better this year?  

If you are like us, the inevitable nervous butterflies are settling in.  Imagine how our students must be feeling, especially if they are transition into a new school.

So while you are getting ready for September 5th, here are some challenges we’d like you to consider completing before the first day of school.

  • Sign up for Twitter!  Sit back a listen for a bit, search for some hashtags, follow some cool people.  Join the conversation when you feel like you have something to say, or just participate by watching.
  • Participate in the Observe Me challenge!  Make a sign for your classroom door and invite other teachers into your classroom.  The best way for us to do a better job in our schools is to share what we do with each other.
  • Consider shadowing a student or two for a day.  Talk to your admin team about getting some release time to see what it feels like to be a student for a day.  

The best way we can get better and have fun doing so is to open our doors, talk, share, experiment and play.  If we have fun, that is a great way to ensure our students will too.

The Power of Social Networks

Yesterday was a great day.  Matt and I spent much of our time simply watching the #LoveMyHaltonSchool tweets roll in.  We laughed, we liked, we retweeted, we saw things that were happening in other schools and we talked about how to bring that greatness to our building.

And this is why we think sharing our best practices is so important.  We both work in a great school, with supportive colleagues and students.  But we can’t continue to improve as teachers if we only look within our building for inspiration.  We have to broaden our horizons by looking outwards.  Yesterday, everyone who participated by tweeting opened a window into their classroom or school.

Watching the tweets were fun, but we couldn’t help but wonder about the reach of the hashtag.  Was a small group of teachers just tweeting at each other?  Were we making an impact online or were we all just yelling into the void?

Well of course, there is an app for that.  We found a free hashtag tracker and the story it told was impressive.  By the end of the day 212 users had used the hashtag and sent almost 700 tweets.  At peak times, we were sending 115 tweets per hour...breaking that down a bit, that’s almost two tweets per minute.  Pretty impressive, but that’s not the best part.

Ask yourself, how many unique individuals do you think saw the #LoveMyHaltonSchool tweets yesterday?  Think of a number.

Was it over 100,000?  Because that is what happened.  Over 100,000 unique individuals saw tweets yesterday about why teaching and learning in Halton is amazing.  We think that, in and of itself, is pretty rad.