Letter to the Edmonton Journal

Interestingly, I have only been moved to write a letter to the editor one other time in my life.  Not surprisingly, it was in regards to a school issue at that time too.  Parents who believed that what goes on in school was entirely different than what actually goes on in school.

This morning I was again moved to respond to a letter – actually TWO letters – that strongly objected to the idea of more Phys Ed classes in schools.  I was especially shocked because based on some of their comments, the two authors both seemed to be teachers.

So this evening, instead of surfing Twitter, I penned (keyboarded?) a letter to the editor of the Edmonton Journal expressing my disagreement to the two letters.  I have no idea if I will be published or not but I feel better having pressed the “send” button.  I actually could have written a much longer letter, but the Journal asks for a 250 word limit which I have exceeded by about 150 words!  Let me know what you think:

Re: It’s Not Up to Schools – July 22, 2011

Dear Editor,

This morning I read with shock and disappointment the two letters speaking against adding Phys Ed classes to the school day. 

One of the main arguments against such an idea was that there was not enough time in the day to include this and that regular core classes such as Math or Language Arts would suffer if we took time away from them. I strongly disagree with this logic.  There is evidence that a more active lifestyle helps young people become better learners.  They are healthier, more alert and able to stay focused for longer time periods.  The quality of the time they spent in the classroom learning would be much better.  In Alberta, Phys Ed is considered a “core” subject.  In these times, when childhood obesity is such an epidemic, isn’t it imperative that P.E. classes receive the same emphasis as the rest of our Core classes? 

The second point that I have a major objection to is the idea that they only place that Phys Ed can be taught is in a gym.  In fact, if we are going to teach students to be fit and active for life, we need to be using a number of alternate environments to engage students.  Take the kids outside!  I know teachers who have taught P.E. without access to a gym at all.  Even a classroom or a hallway can easily be transformed into a space for physical activity.

Both writers stated that health and fitness should be the responsibility of the child and the parents.  Of course, this is true to an extent.  Realistically though, look around!   Many students come to school without having eaten breakfast or without an adequate lunch.  Do schools and teachers ignore that as “the parent’s job?” NO, they organized snack programs, bag lunches and buy food out of their own budgets to ensure that students have enough fuel to learn efficiently.   If schools ignore the fact that a large number of students are not getting enough physical activity we are sending a message that it is not important.  If schools say, “It’s the parent’s job so we’re not doing it,” they are being negligent.

The most vibrant school I have ever been a part of included 50 minutes of P. E. every day for all grade 7, 8, and 9 students.  It was scheduled in the timetable and included access to only one gym and one “multipurpose” room.  So don’t tell me that it can’t be done, because it most certainly can.

Marci Laevens

This is what I think…

I have always been the kind of teacher who “takes the summer off.”  I usually don’t think about school very seriously until about a week before we go back.  This year, however, I have been unable to get my mind to stop thinking about the upcoming school year.  I have been learning so much on Twitter and am trying to come up with the best ways to implement what I am learning.  I can’t stop thinking about it.  I go to bed thinking about school, I dream about school (I even dreamt I met Obama in the school gym!), I wake up thinking about school and I think about it all day.

Usually my Professional Growth Plan is something I start thinking about mid-September once the year has been kicked into gear.  I haven’t thought about it much, because I haven’t taken it very seriously.  Or maybe rather, I haven’t had an administrator who has taken it very seriously.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to throw anyone under the bus here.  I get that administrators are busy and have a whole lot of other things about schools, students, teachers, etc. to be thinking about.  My growth is my responsibility. 

I did have one experience when I went to an administrator with a goal, only to be told that I had to change the subject area of my goal (I had written a goal regarding Phys Ed assessment and was told to focus on Language Arts and Social Studies assessment). I was angry and I walked away from that discussion without defending myself or pushing the point – mostly because I could only think of horribly rude, vitriolic things to say.  Why ask me to write a growth plan if you want to tell me what my growth plan is? were my thoughts.  I changed the goal to read the way the administrator wanted it to…and I never thought of it again.

Now with some significant distance from that situation, I can look at it a little differently.  I think, looking back, that my assessment in all subject areas needed revision.  I think my principal knew that.  I think that it was the process that was flawed.  I think that instead of my coming up with a completely selfish goal and bringing it to my principal, we should have sat down together and discussed what we both thought I (we) should be working towards.  I think I should have come back to that discussion after the anger had subsided and explained how much I wanted to work on Phys Ed and be more of a leader in my school. I think I should have been more open to focussing on other areas.  I think we could have compromised and benefitted everyone.

Tonight an #edchat discussion was held on Twitter  about how to properly assess teachers, principals and schools.  Unfortunately, I could only participate in quick spurts as I was entertaining my two kids and making supper at the same time (a lesson in multi-tasking or a case of doing an average job of three things?). I did think very seriously about how I would like to be assessed and what an accurate assessment of my success would look like.

Well, I think it would look something like this.  My administrators and I sit down and have an open conversation about what my strengths and weaknesses are, what we would like to see improve in my class and how to balance that with areas that I am specifically passionate about.  Together, we write two or three goals for the year, making sure to note how these goals will be measured.  We would both feel ownership and care about reaching the outcomes.  Sharing these goals with my students and their parents would be a powerful way of modelling goal setting and life long learning.  Ideally, we would hold follow-up meetings every one or two months.  Realistically, we all know that the likelihood of that happening with busy administrators and teachers, is slim.  Maybe we could have a “Growth Measurement Team” made up of common grade or subject level teachers where we could discuss our goals and help to hold each other accountable. Meetings with the admin team could happen once in the middle of the school year and then at the end of the school year.  At which point we could together write an assessment of my achievement.

Hmmmm…as I read that over, it sounds a lot like writing an IPP for the teacher, doesn’t it?

The only thing I haven’t included that I would like to, is assessment from students and parents.  It could be part of the goal measurement to send out formal or informal questionnaires or requests for feedback.

I do know that I will be considering my Professional Growth Plan long before school starts and I will be in a discussion with my new admin team about the meshing of my goals with theirs.  I think this will go a long way toward establishing trust and working together.

That’s just what I think…

Controlling the Firehose

When I was in college I worked as a summer student at the Celgar Pulp and Paper Mill in Castelgar, BC.   As part of the “Yard Crew”, my jobs included general maintenance of the mill grounds, gardening, digging, odd jobs and hosing streets.  Because so many trucks came into the mill filled with wood chips, the streets often became covered in these chips.  So at least two or three times a week, we would hook up the firehose to the hydrant, haul the hose around and wash all the chips off the streets.  As many of you surely know, a firehose has an enormous amount of power.  If we didn’t handle it well, it would easily get out of control.  We needed to work together as a team and help hold the hose so no one lost control of it. In fact, on one occasion at the Pulp Mill one of my crew mates turned the hose on before the rest of us had moved into position to help her.  She was quite violently tossed around while desperately struggling to get control of the hose.  Finally she just gave up and ran away.  The hose continued to writhe  dangerously until one of us ran to the hydrant and turned IT off.

It has been a little over two weeks since my first blog post.  I have made a real effort to get into the “Twittersphere”.  I have read MANY, MANY blog posts, I have commented on the ones that I connected with, I have retweeted, replied and followed. I have spent a lot of time thinking about how I am going to use the information I am gathering.  Truthfully, there is so much of it that, at first, I couldn’t fathom where to start.  When trying to think of the words to describe my Twitter experience, the cliché that kept coming to mind was that I was “trying to take a sip from a firehose.”  Immediately, the image of my fellow yard crew worker being tossed around like bait on the end of a fishing line came to mind.

The realization struck that that is exactly what was happening to me in my “Twittering.”  I was being flung around violently, without a purpose and without any real direction.  So my next step has been to refine what I am looking for and focussing on while reading Tweets and blog posts.  It became evident that if I tried to use all (or even most) of the information that I would end up ultimately just giving up and running away.  

Two goals immediately came to mind: 1.I love blogging. I have a lot of things to say. I am sure my students would enjoy this too. My first goal is to start my grade 8 Language Arts students blogging. 2. Assessment in Physical Education.  Teaching PE is a passion of mine, but admittedly, I have not done a great job of assessment.  My second goal is to collaborate with my PLN to become a leader in my school and in my school division in this area. 

Looking to my PLN for help achieving these goals will be necessary to controlling the volume and pressure of the greatness that is Twitter.  In the last two weeks I have had more meaningful professional development than in 10 years of teacher’s convention.  The support and 24/7 access to questions, answers, opinions and so much more makes me believe that I can carry through with these goals without getting stale. 

 I will always have my crew mates in place to help control the firehose.