What Are They Afraid Of?


This past Monday, #PSD70’s “Exploring Leadership” cohort held its last meeting of the 2013/2014 school year.  The positive energy I personally felt from these meetings was a highlight of the school year for me.  I was able to meet colleagues from around the division who were involved in, or interested in leadership.  The discussions we had were thought provoking and made me reflect on my own expectations for myself and others in leadership positions.

On Monday, our speaker was Memorial Composite High School principal Shauna Boyce. Shauna spoke of her journey to becoming an administrator and some of the obstacles and successes along the way.  She was willing to answer questions about everything from curriculum development and implementation to leadership in trauma situations.  One thing she said at this meeting has stuck with me and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.  A question had come up in regards to dealing with angry parents or confrontational situations. Shauna said that she believes that anger comes from some kind of fear.  That being afraid is, for some reason, socially unacceptable, while being angry and “tearing a strip off” someone is acceptable. When dealing with people who are quite angry, Shauna seeks to understand what it is that they are actually afraid of and then tries to allay those fears. When she does this, the anger subsides and the conflict is diminished.

That was a powerful way to frame one of the most dreaded, difficult aspects of pretty much ANY job or position.  I thought immediately of a couple of situations that occurred during this school year, that, if I had considered where the anger was coming from, what fear it represented, it is likely that the issue could have been resolved sooner and easier.

It was also an eye opener to consider times when I was angry or confrontational with someone.  What was I afraid of? Why did I feel the need to express my fears in terms of anger?

I appreciated the paradigm shift, the new perspective.  I’d love to hear others’ best practices or strategies when dealing with conflict.



A Parent’s Pride

Curling by Benson Kua
Curling, a photo by Benson Kua on Flickr.

One of the absolute greatest things about being a teacher is the opportunity share in the goals and dreams of our students. As a coach I get to know students outside of the classroom and many of them have dreams of playing sports at elite levels.

In the last month, I have watched 3 of our alumni play hockey in the AJHL (Alberta Junior Hockey League), one play in and receive the silver medal at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts national final in women’s curling, one of our former basketball stars play in his last home game for Grant MacEwan University as a 5th year senior, and five younger alumni playing basketball at both of our local public high schools.

On Wednesday and Thursday, our students traveled to watch our drama kids perform the musical “Mulan”. I’m always filled with such a sense of respect when I watch our kids, who I usually only see in the class/school setting, pour their hearts into a performance and are brave enough to sing and dance and act for the enjoyment of others.

I’m not sure I can accurately describe the sense of pride I felt at each of these events. To be honest, I felt a lot like I do when I watch my own children while they play sports and master new skills. I know very well that most teachers feel “parental” to their students in so many ways and as I reflected on that fact and what it means, I wondered if parents know that. Do they know how invested we are in their children?

Renaissance Faire 2013

Once again, Stony Plain Central’s grade 8 Social Studies classes have succeeded in hosting a Renaissance Faire to showcase the learning they have done in the first term.  Groups learned about the types of food, clothing, religion, crime and punishment, blacksmithing, science, music, art and many other areas of Medieval and Renaissance life. Here are some pictorial examples of what was on display:

These girls created their own blacksmith booth that included tools as well as armour  that they had created.

These girls created their own blacksmith booth that included tools as well as armour that they had created.


One of my students dressed as a Catholic Priest and went throughout the Faire “preaching” to the visitors.


These young men created a display on Knights and Nobles and used creative means to dress the part.


Our Jester moved throughout the Faire and performed a juggling act and comedy show.


This was the center of punishment for crimes during the Faire. Criminals were placed in the stocks and rotten “vegetables” were thrown at them.


These girls represented the Merchant Class. They made crafts and products and then sold them to visitors at the Faire.


Nate created his own armour out of cardboard.


One of te students played Renaissance music on her recorder and also moved around the Faire playing the tambourine.


My student teacher, Miss Seehagel with one of our well dressed mercenaries.

Becoming a Mentor Teacher

female pe teacher by hadfieldeducation
female pe teacher, a photo by hadfieldeducation on Flickr.

About a year ago now, I received a quick email on Facebook from a former student. She told me that she was taking an education degree and in a year would be embarking on her first of two major student-teaching assignments. She asked if I would consider being her mentor teacher. My initial reaction was to be flattered and to answer, “of course” to her request. When I pondered more intently on the responsibility I was taking on, I thought, “I’m not a good enough teacher to coach someone in how to be a teacher.” I was nervous, but the truth is, I thought that maybe she would forget about it in a year when the time came.

Fast forward a year later, I received another email forwarded to me by my principal with a more official request from the university facilitator. At that point, I accepted and looked at this as a new opportunity to learn and grow as an educator while helping a former student who I was very fond of, decide if this was going to be the career for her.

The duration of the experience is to be 5 weeks, of which we are already done with 2 of them. Miss Seehagel came for three “observation” days before she started so that she could get acquainted with school and class routines as well as start to get to know the students a bit. We used those days to discuss a few tings about educational philosophies and some of the challenges she would see in my classes specifically, and in the profession in general. It was easy to communicate with her and I could tell that we would be a great fit for each other.

For the first week of her IPT, Miss Seehagel did some more observation and got involved in my classes each day. Starting last week, she took over the three PE classes that I have and developed a fitness circuit for the students to do in the fitness room.

So far, I have found it rewarding and enjoyable. It reminds me of parenting in a lot of ways. At times it is hard to know when to step in and help and when to let her handle things herself (sometimes this means letting her fail). Truthfully, there are times when I don’t even know if I can help. When students are acting up, or pushing the limits, sometimes that is just because there is someone else in the class and they do not have a relationship built with them. She needs to handle that herself so that she is able to build that relationship.

The area that we have discussed the most, is not surprisingly, classroom management and dealing with less than ideal behaviours from some students. Again, since we already know each other and are effective communicators, these discussions have been easy. Advice I have given her so far:

1. Be firm when you ask students to change a behaviour. Don’t yell, but let them know you are serious.

2. The more you get to know them, talk to them and build a relationship with them, the easier classroom management will be.

3. Be proactive in your planning. Try to see the future – what roadblocks do you foresee and what can you do to eliminate them? You’ll never eliminate all roadblocks, but try to have a plan b and plan c, just in case.

Every suggestion I have given or discussion we have had, has led to a slight change in how she teaches the next lesson and even over just 4 days of teaching, I can see her confidence growing in the way she talks and handles the students. To be honest, my confidence in my ability to mentor her has also increased.

Together, we presented a half hour active team building session to our staff at our PD day on Friday. This was another area where Miss Seehagel thrived. This could have been quite intimidating for her but she showed no signs of trepidation and session was funny, active and enjoyed by all. I couldn’t have been more proud!

This week will be a bit different as she will be taking on the start of our basketball unit. The open gym and the noise of the balls and distractions will pose some new challenges. I am looking forward to seeing how she handles them.

I would love to hear about other educators experiences with student teachers. Any advice that you have for me as a mentor, or for her as a new teacher would also be welcome.

Reflections 1 – 2012

Myself and colleague Landon O’Hara on the first day of school in September

It is hard for me to believe that it has been a year since my first post to this blog. I think of how new this all was to me and how excited I was to learn more and do more.  I haven’t felt that kind of energy for learning in a long time and I was jazzed.

When I look back, I can say that a lot of great things happened this year and it was, by far, one of my best years of teaching in my career.  I have the most amazing group of kids in grade 8. They are bright, they work hard, they are funny, they are active, they are independent, but most importantly, they are kind.  Oh, I am not saying we didn’t have any issues this year, or that we all got along perfectly every day – we certainly did not.  Just that issues were resolved quickly and there was never any question about right vs wrong with this group.  I am so looking forward to watching them continue to grow and to have them as our school leaders next year in their grade 9 year.

A few days ago, someone posted a question on Twitter that said something like, “What was the best thing you did this year”? I knew the answer to that right away…The Renaissance Faire.  But with that knowledge, there was some sadness too.  That activity was held in December.  So I peaked in December.  Ughhh.

I definitely had the “pedal to the metal” for the first term of the year.  I crashed and burned a bit after that.  After taking a break from the high intensity volleyball season and classroom activities, I struggled to regain my momentum in the classroom.  My blogging became stagnant too.  A focus for the 2012/2013 school year will be to improve my stamina and carry that momentum through to the end of the year.

The funny thing is that I knew that I was lagging.  I tried to start new blog posts a number of times.  I haven’t posted one since March.  When I look back now and read some of those drafts (there are 8 of them sitting there right now), they are actually pretty good.  I am definitely going to finish some of them and post them this summer some time.

There are a few more topics that I would like to reflect on from this school year – keep your eyes open for “Reflections 2” coming soon.

Have a great summer!

A Change in Philosophy

big gym by woodleywonderworks
big gym, a photo by woodleywonderworks on Flickr.

What is your philosophy of teaching?

I remember being asked this question in one of my Ed classes at Jamestown College. My professor told us it was important to have a philosophy, but that he guaranteed that in 5 years our philosophies would likely be very different than the one we formulated as brand new teachers.

He was right.

In one college class, a discussion was had about assessment in physical education classes. One of my peers put up her hand and stated,

“I don’t think students should be marked on skill in PE. Some kids just aren’t good at sports!”

My arm shot up and I waved my hand like a 1st grader.

“I’m not naturally good at math. Should teachers not mark me on my math skills?”

I was strongly in favour of assessing students on how many serves they could make, how many baskets scored or how fast their 100m time was. It made perfect sense to me. If kids who are good at math get an A for getting the most answers right, then students who are good at sports should get the same treatment.

Then my philosophy started to change. I met so many students who were not active at all, many who completely refused to change into proper clothes for class. After a few years, I saw that my goal had to be to get more kids participating in physical activity. I began to care less and less about how fast they ran, how many goals they scored or how far they threw. I focussed on having fun and giving them activities they could do for their whole lives. Oh I taught basic skills and game strategies but I did not assess on how well they were practised. Skill based assessment had no part in my “new” PE philosophy.

I would have to say that, again, my philosophy of assessment in PE has changed. I won’t go as far as to say it has come full circle, but I will say physical literacy has to include some mastery of locomotor and nonlocomotor skills. The look of my PE classes has begun to change. Teaching and focussing on skills has become a part of every unit. I’ve still been infusing fun in class by using more lead-up games and scaffolding of skills. Counting baskets, goals or recording speeds has no place in my PE classes and many times we don’t even keep score in our games.

A change in philosophy is inevitable in education, and the truth is, each educator will likely go through a number of changes as we learn, grow and evolve into better teachers. I hope, for my students sake, that the changes in my beliefs on assessment have and will benefit them in the future.

The Book Club

I’m a reader. I love books and everything about them. I read every night before I fall asleep, even if it is just a few paragraphs.

At the beginning of the school year, I always tell my students about my love of books and how important and valuable they are to me.

One day just before Christmas I was talking to a small group of girls between classes and we started discussing the books we were currently reading. It turned in to a huge “book share” and since then, the four of us have been involved in an impromptu book club. We read books and bring them to school to share with each other. I’m so enjoying the informal connection we have made through reading and the unexpected bonus to a school year full of surprises.

“Playing” with the Renaissance

About a week ago PSD’s Division Principal George Couros taped an interview with me about learning through play.  Essentially, he asked me to talk about ways in which I am learning new technology and teaching strategies by jumping into them and playing around – before I know all the answers.

I spoke about my relatively new use of Twitter as a tool to build my PLN, my experiences with blogging for myself and my students, and my use of new technologies like Prezi, with my students.

The one thing I didn’t talk about was probably my biggest foray into Playing in Public.  This year I have decided to let my grade 8 Social Studies class direct their learning of the Renaissance by planning and presenting a Renaissance Faire. I have never before run a Renaissance Faire and I have never given up control like this to my students. I’d be lying if I said I was completely confident.

Let me start out by telling you the great things about this project. We started out by looking at some videos about what a Renaissance Faire actually is and talking about some experiences they had that may relate to this project. It was decided that we would try to run similar show in our school gym and we would invite classes and teachers from our school as well as parents, family and friends from the community to view our learning display.

Next, we brainstormed some topics or presentations that we wanted to be sure to include.  I gave them five that I wanted to make sure were covered (artists, scientists/mathematicians, writers, scholars/philosophers and explorers), then they came up with some others (musicians, actors, jesters, clothing/costuming, food/baking, church/religion, games/leisure). I then had the kids pick which group they would most like to represent, based on their interests. We had to do a little bit of negotiating because there were two very large groups in games/leisure and food (ah yes – the passions of middle years students), but soon we had fairly equal numbers for each.

The next thing that happened filled me with excitement for this project. The students went to work enthusiastically planning their presentations.  The first couple of classes were spent researching and planning. Then it got crazy. Amazingly, messily, crazy.

The “musicians” brought their guitars and got to work learning a Renaissance piece to be performed at the faire. The “actors” wrote a short skit to illustrate the role of the theatre in Renaissance Europe. The “bakers” took a poll to see what kind of pie we liked best so they could prepare it for the visitors to the faire. The “artists” brought in an authentic easel and a stretched canvas that they are planning to paint on the night of the faire. Some students raided the drama room’s props (with permission, of course) and practiced mock sword fights and juggling acts. Others got to learning how to play chess. It was loud. It was chaotic. It was scattered…and it was AWESOME. It was everything I had imagined when I made the decision to take this on.

Not everything is going smoothly, though.  There are definitely some students that are less engaged in the presentation than others.  Truthfully, most of those students are in the groups that I decided needed to be covered.  I just couldn’t give up complete control (there are things that NEED to be covered – cringe). I can tell that these students are not feeling connected to their topic.  My goal this week is to meet with them and see how we can get them back on the rails.  Changing topics will be one of the options.

The last thing, and its a biggy, is assessment.  I do not know how I am going to assess this activity.  Yikes. My original plan was to meet with each group, go over the curricular outcomes and together come up with an assessment strategy.  Well, they are half-way through this project and I have not yet set up these meetings. I think part of the reason is that I am nervous about how it will go.  Likely, they have rarely been asked to do this and they are going to struggle.  Will I be able to help them, or will I just end up taking over?

So that is my explanation of how I am learning through play and watching my students do it as well.  We are failing in some areas but succeeding in so many more.  It is definitely worth it.  I would love to hear your feedback and input on our Renaissance Faire and also to hear how you are learning through play.


I have spoken on a previous post about being stuck between two passions – my love for athletics/athletic leadership and my new goals to build my tech abilities and knowledge.  I’m still flip flopping.  I think I may have come to some conclusions about why.

I believe strongly that athletics unite a community.  Whether its a school, town, province, country or continent I think that if we build a strong athletic foundation the rest of the community with also flourish with the “trickle down” effect. For some reason, people unite around athletic events or teams.

I have been a part of a school with a rich athletic culture.  ALL areas of the school were flourishing, not just the sports teams.

In 2006 the Edmonton Oilers hockey team made an unexpected run to game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.  There are no words to describe the positive glow of the city.  Friends and strangers alike came together to cheer our team.  Driving down the streets became an uplifting event of togetherness, love and reaching for a common goal.

The Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics did more to unify Canadians than anything I can remember in my life time.

So you see, this is where my beliefs lie.  This is what I “hang my hat on.” How can I walk away from athletics when I believe so strongly that this is the most effective way to bring our school together?

I can’t.

“Puke on a Page”

Creativity by Alun Salt
Creativity, a photo by Alun Salt on Flickr.

I have read about it, heard about it, thought about it, scoffed at it and thought “it won’t happen to me.”

And yet here I am, in the middle of it.

Writer’s Block.

I currently have four drafts sitting in my “posts”. None of them are good. None of them are finished. None of them feel right.

So, tonight I decided that I would take my own advice. Often when I have students who are struggling for a topic, I tell them to write about how they don’t know what to write about. I say, “Put down all of your ideas. Anything that comes into your head, even if it doesn’t make sense. Puke on a page – get it all out.”

I know, it’s gross. It allows them a little giggle and then they can get to writing down some of the ideas that they think don’t work.

I have started posts about:

1. The effects of successful athletic teams on the culture of a school, community or country.

2. A fun game called Kaboom Ball that is a staple at Stony Plain Central School

3. The difficulty schools have in getting coaches for athletic teams and the fact that it always seems like the same people doing the wide majority of the extracurricular activities.

4. The interesting work my grade 8 homeroom is doing while they plan a Renaissance Faire.

5. Tonight I participated in an #edchat discussion about teacher Professional Development that made me think about possible ways that I could provide more meaningful PD for my colleagues.

So there’s my “puke on a page”.

I promise never to scoff at Writer’s Block again.