Always Learning?

I recently listened to Alan Cross talking about the musical (and business) genius that is David Bowie and how he understood very early on the impact that the internet would have on the music industry.  Remember “Bowie Bonds“?  In 1997, Bowie received $55 million up front for future royalties on his catalog of albums, which at the time was selling 1 million copies per year (Wikipedia and Secret History of Rock).  In 2004, the bottom fell out of the market and Bowie Bonds were then rated at just above junk bond status.  Bowie’s brilliant forecast that the future of the music industry was on shaky ground because of the impact the internet would have on the way music was sold put him in a position to act in a timely way to secure his earnings.

This past weekend, Pearson Canada pulled together a group of Ontario educators for a focus group session at their offices in Toronto.  The group used the hashtag #ontsm, which drew the attention of other educators in Ontario and beyond, who were curious about an event that included many of their respected peers using a hashtag that implied a province-wide involvement or focus and obscured Pearson’s involvement.  This tweet from Chris Wejr, a Principal from B.C. drew my attention:


A fairly good question and some healthy push-back, I thought.  That push-back was echoed in tweets from others, as well as blog posts and the comments left on them.  I was struck by Donna Fry‘s comment on this post by Jared Bennet.  The push-back struck a chord with several of the focus group attendees and a handful responded to suggest that those who were critical were perhaps just feeling sore for being left out:


There was some thoughtful back and forth though, and Donna Fry summed up the value of critical discourse in this tweet:



Aside from the poor choice of hash tag, my concerns revolve around the broader implications of our choices.  Can we take a close look at what Pearson Canada’s goals for the event may have been?

What I know:

  1. Attendees were invited and paid for their participation.
  2. Attendees signed media waivers.
  3. Pearson Canada is a division of the multi-national for profit Pearson Education.

For some of the red flags raised about Pearson Education elsewhere in the world, please see Diane Ravitch’s blog here, where Alan Singer outlines why we should be very concerned about the sometimes hidden, less than transparent involvement of Pearson Education in attempting to shape public policy around education and the motivation behind that involvement.

On its’ website, Pearson makes the following claim:

Pearson has one defining goal: to help people progress in their lives through learning.


This Alan Singer article published last month on Huffington Post exposes what might be a more accurate goal for Pearson Education. It points to Pearson Education’s own statement:

Pearson accelerates global education strategy:

Restructuring and investment in digital, services and emerging markets for faster growth, larger market opportunity and greater impact on learning outcomes.

Pearson is in the game to make money, not to change education to better meet the needs of students.

When you participate in a focus group, you do so to further the goals or research of the organization hosting the focus group.  To suggest that the conversations were “disruptive” or that Pearson didn’t know what they would be getting is naive.  Pearson got what they wanted from the attendees:  information about how to make a greater profit off public education.  Pearson is, as their tag line says, “Always Learning”.

To be truly disruptive would have entailed staying home en masse.  Could it be that Pearson also won the hearts and minds of the attendees, thus ensuring highly visible advocacy when they launch new products and (for pay) social platforms for educators?  If so, do you think that was an unanticipated outcome?

Pearson is not early to the game here, either.  Discovery Education figured it out a while back.  In fact, I would argue that none of the content-providers or publishers of educational materials figured out what impact the internet would have on their industries in a timely way.  Not like the Thin White Duke did, anyhow.  And that means that they are now scrambling to build relationships with trusted individuals who possess lots of social media clout in order to secure their future earnings.

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Minds on Math – Learning as a Community

This is a cross-post from my school blog here.

This past Friday was a Professional Development day for staff at Glen Cairn PS — one of few opportunities we have throughout the year to come together for a full day of learning.  Because our families play a key role in supporting the learning of our GCPS students, I shared some of the highlights of our PD sessions.

Starting with Why – A Focus on Numeracy

We began the day by viewing the clip below featuring Patricia Heaton grappling with a math problem on “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?”.  Ponder these questions as you view the clip: “What are Patricia Heaton’s views about herself as a mathematical thinker?”  and “What are her beliefs about mathematics?”

Reflecting on this clip, I realized that I share some of her beliefs and that my beliefs around mathematics were shaped by my experiences in math class during my intermediate years, and consolidated when my grade 9 math teacher told my parents that I should, “not worry about pursuing math, but rather focus on the study of literature and the arts”.  I struggled with math and was only too glad, as a high school student, to close those doors early.   Teaching and supporting students as they learn mathematical thinking has been the great antidote for my premature abandonment of mathematics.

Patricia Heaton is not alone in her negative self-perceptions around mathematics.  Consider the following statistic:

“It is estimated that more than half of the adult population cannot be viewed as proportional thinkers. That means that we do not acquire the habits and skills of proportional reasoning simply by getting older.” (Lamon, 2007)
 Proportional reasoning, while difficult to define succinctly, there are some key characteristics of proportional thinking, two of which are:
  • an understanding of relationships in which two quantities vary and an ability to see how the variation (change) in one coincides with the variation (change) in the other
  • the development of a wide variety of strategies for solving proportions or comparing ratios, most of which are based on informal thinking rather than on prescribed algorithms.
(“Elementary and Middle School Mathematics (Canadian Edition)” by John A. Van de Walle and Sandra Folk)

It is essential that students develop an understanding of mathematics as activities involving patterns and relationships.  It is equally critical that students are provided with opportunities to struggle with problems that involve them in constructing efficient strategies for solving mathematics problems.

Exploring our own Beliefs around Mathematics Instructionat

Next, staff reflected on the following prompts:

Problem solving is good, but you have to teach math facts first.

A wrong answer might indicate unexpected thinking rather than a lack of understanding; equally, a correct answer may be arrived at via faulty thinking.

While students may be able to solve a problem with a memorized formula, this does not mean they can think and reason mathematically.


Student talk is essential in the mathematics classroom.

 What are your beliefs?  The dialogue among staff indicated their professionalism and commitment to ongoing learning.  We shared our beliefs, welcomed push-back and considered new perspectives.  These are continuing conversations that we need to have as a learning community in order to develop shared understandings around how to best support our students in their development of mathematical thinking.

Mathematical Thinking and Communication.

Teaching students mathematics should not be seen as an exercise in “covering curriculum”.  Teaching math means teaching students to think mathematically.  When students think mathematically, they draw upon a growing set of strategies for solving problems.  In selecting the appropriate strategies, students reveal their core understandings.  The next step is for students to communicate this thinking through the use of precise mathematical language.  Beginning in the primary grades, we encourage students to communicate their thinking in a number of ways, starting with “pictures, numbers and words” so that they form a solid foundation in their mathematics vocabulary upon which they build throughout their elementary and secondary schooling.

The activities of thinking and communicating are linked and can be encouraged in many ways.  Staff took some time to view and reflect upon the following clip of Annie Fetter:

What resonates with you when you listen to Annie Fetter?  For me, what resonated was how important it is for us to focus on questioning in our classrooms.  This can be supported at home by turning questions back to children. Encourage your child to think through their own “wonderings”.  When we provide quick answers, we limit students’ opportunities to explore and hone their thinking skills.  Curiosity is a critical 21st century thinking skill and we need to embrace opportunities to foster curiosity within our students.

When staff shared their own “wonderings” about mathematics learning at GCPS, a few clusters began to emerge.  Over the next few months, we will be curious about:

  • incorporating peer assisted learning into lessons
  • increasing students’ tolerance for frustration and struggle in learning
  • encouraging more student talk in our lessons and supporting the development of precise mathematical vocabulary
  • creating learning environments where students feel comfortable sharing their ideas and questions

These areas of inquiry will form the backbone of our professional learning this year.  I welcome your feedback and questions.  Feel free to leave a comment to add to the conversation.

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What Do You Want Your Next Principal to Know About ICT?

Beginning this fall, Brent Smith and I will begin leading a webinar for the Ontario Principal’s Council “Principal Qualification Program”, Part II.  We thought this would be a fantastic opportunity to crowd-source some of the content to our network.

What do you think future Principals should know about information and communication technologies?

Ponder that over-arching question and consider adding your thoughts to this doc.  We would appreciate your input (thoughts, links, videos, etc…).

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My “Welcome to School” Letter

Below is the “Welcome to School” letter I posted at our school blog.  I am thrilled to be serving the Glen Cairn community as Principal and look forward to our first official day of learning together on September 4th.

Dear Glen Cairn PS Families,

Summertime presents an opportunity to step away from our busy school and work lives to enjoy more time with family and friends, whether it is through a camping trip, a cottage getaway or a “staycation” spent lounging in backyards and parks or rediscovering the gems in our own community. As the summer winds down, I hope that you all savour those last few moments of what has been a remarkable summer to rest and recharge for the year ahead.

As we gear up for the 2012 – 2013 school year, I would like to introduce myself. As a resident of the Glen Cairn community for the past ten years, I am honoured to serve as your new Principal. My two children attend neighbouring John Young Elementary School and my husband serves as Principal of J. H. Putman Public School in Ottawa. During the winter months we ski/snowboard as a family at Pakenham Ski Hill and we like to get away to our cottage in the Ottawa Valley as often as possible when the weather is warm.   There is a lot of Lego in our house and also a couple of cuddly cats.

I come to you from W. Erskine Johnston Public School in Kanata North, where I served as Vice Principal. Prior to that I was the Learning Resource Teacher and Acting Vice Principal at Jack Donohue Public School. My background includes a strong focus on Special Education and I have taught in the Primary, Junior, Intermediate and Senior divisions.  You are welcome to check out all of my qualifications on my Ontario College of Teacher’s record.

Community of Learners

The Principal of a school is first and foremost the lead learner. As such, I continually seek ways to expand my knowledge of how children learn and which instructional practices best meet their diverse needs.  For those interested, I share my ongoing learning at

Schools are the hub of a broader learning community. I invite you to visit the “about us” page where you will find a vision of Glen Cairn PS as a learning community benefiting from the contributions of all our community members – students, staff, guardians/parents and friends.

At Glen Cairn PS we have a healthy mix of new and returning staff members this year. Our staff brings together a wide cross-section of qualifications, experiences and talents, and includes teachers at all stages of their careers.  Some of our staff members have traveled extensively or taught in other districts and countries.  Our staff members hold specialist qualifications in several areas, including Special Education, Reading, Science, Computers, Physical Education and the Arts.

When the 2012 – 2013 staff first came together on June 29th, I asked returning staff members to name those aspects of Glen Cairn PS that make it a wonderful place to learn and to work. Working in small groups, staff discussed the very best of Glen Cairn and when we came together and compared responses, a few key themes emerged over and over:

  • a strong sense of community and supportive parents
  • a place where all students truly belong
  • tight-knit, supportive, flexible staff
  • “super kids”

It was a pleasure to witness staff speak so passionately about the children and the community. I feel both humbled and blessed to be part of this team.

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving: 21st Century Skills at GCPS

Our School Improvement Plan (SIP) for 2012 – 2013 will maintain a focus on critical thinking and problem solving in mathematics.  The SIP is a working document that will evolve throughout the year as we gather and reflect on student work, examine the types of feedback most likely to support student achievement, and seek input from students and families.  Our School Improvement Planning is guided by the OCDSB’s Board Improvement Plan for Student Achievement.  The foci for the OCDSB are creative and critical thinking skills and timely and informative feedback to support student learning.

The OCDSB Strategic Plan 2011-2015 identifies four key priority areas:  Well-Being, Engagement, Leadership and Learning.  These areas are interconnected.  A focus area for me when I work with your children throughout the year will be creating opportunities and a supportive environment for students to discover and hone their resilience — a key ability for children (and adults) in these times of rapid change.  There are many factors that contribute to nurturing resilience in children.  According to the research paper, “Bolstering Resilience in Students: Teachers as Protective Factors“, positive and supportive relationships, high expectations and opportunities for meaningful participation in their world are key to supporting resilient children:

The positive development of children is nurtured through relationships that demonstrate care and support in practical and palpable ways.  These caring relationships must acknowledge strengths within children and build from there.  High expectations for students’ performance and behaviour are essential because they help students understand that they have the capacity to be successful.  Boundaries are clearly delineated and rich resources (those that allow a child to reach beyond their independent abilities) are made available. Finally, it is critical for young people to have opportunities for meaningful participation.  These are authentic tasks wherein students can demonstrate their abilities in real-world settings and experience the rewards that come from benevolence.

When students encounter challenges — whether they make wrong decisions, face pressure from their peers, or feel excluded — those are learning opportunities.  I want you to know that my first role in dealing with children experiencing difficulty will be one of care and support.  I look forward to working with all members of the community to make sure that Glen Cairn PS is a caring place where children are provided with opportunities to develop resilience while experiencing a strong sense of belonging and respect.

Social Media and Communication

Ours will be a very unique journey this year and I realize that the coming changes to program and grade structure at Glen Cairn PS will affect students, families and staff members in various ways. My role will be one of service as we move forward together. A key aspect of this is the provision of timely and transparent communication. To this end, I will be using multiple channels of communication so that all members of our community may choose the channel(s) they prefer. In addition to sending home occasional newsletters and memos, we would like to to invite you to connect with us via our school blog, our twitter account , and our facebook page. Individual classroom teachers will maintain open communication through a variety of means.

You may also get in touch with me personally via a number of channels. For confidential matters, you may email me at at any time. You may also send me a text or leave a message on my mobile at 613.978.5869.  Alternately, you may contact me at the school at 613.836.2342. For non-confidential matters, I invite you to leave a comment on our blog or facebook page or contact me via twitter.  During instructional time, my first priority is the children in the building; however, I will do my best to respond in a timely fashion. Please understand that on evenings and weekends my family comes first.  I look forward to meeting families at our “Meet the Teacher” evening on Thursday, September 13th.

Our office is open from 8 am – 2:00 pm throughout the week of August 28th – 31st.  School begins at 8:00 am on Tuesday, September 4th for all students in Grades 1 – 8.  For those entering Kindergarten, please visit our “Kindergarten” page for information about staggered entry and bussing.  Don’t forget the upcoming School Bus Safety Awareness Day at the Earl of March on August 26th.  For general transportation inquiries, please visit the Ottawa Student Transportation Authority (OSTA) website.  Important information regarding the first day of school procedures will be posted here on the website on Thursday, August 30th.  Please check our “Calendars/Schedules” page for up to date information and details of school events.  For timely notices, subscribe to our blog by inputting your email address in the upper right corner of this blog.

So, with a few days left of our summer holiday, I urge you to make the most of the rest of the summer, including the Labour Day Weekend.  Stay safe and rest up – it is going to be a wonderful year together.


Shannon Smith


Glen Cairn Public School

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Summer Reading


I can hardly believe that we are in the last couple of days of the school year already!  Once again, time has flown by this year.  As we head into the summer months, I wanted to share my summer reading list, as well as invite you to make some recommendations — what would you add to my list?

Start With Why

I’ve already shared Simon Sinek’s TEDx Talk “Start with Why”, and the text was a gift from my current Superintendent of Instruction.  I look forward to exploring more deeply Sinek’s ideas around motivation, loyalty and doing meaningful work.  Sinek believes that “people don’t buy what you do, people buy why you do it”


The Talent Code

I discovered this text when I came across an ABC interview with author Daniel Coyle.  I look forward to learning more about Coyle’s thinking on the brain, motivation and learning.  The clip from the ABC interview is available on Youtube.  It explores the notion of persistence, struggle and great coaching in developing talent.



Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

In this celebrated text,  Susan Cain traces the rise of “extrovert ideal” and explores what it means to be an introvert in a world that favours extroverts.  Cain’s text should be an important read for educators in a time when our focus is very much on group work, and it asks us to consider carefully what we might be missing if we don’t create learning spaces where introverts can harness their strengths.


I’m also planning to read some fiction this summer, but I haven’t even started to compile that list yet, so if you have fiction recommendations, let me have them!

I hope you enjoy a restful and friend / family-centred summer.  Make sure to recharge for the fall.


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Streaming Live for a Learning Community

WEJSP "Chick Cam" broadcasting from Ms. Jo-Anne and Mr. Kneebone's room

Yesterday morning I found this great post in my reader: “Livestreaming from the Classroom” by Jaclyn Calder in which she discusses the use of livestreaming by a couple of teachers in her district.  I clicked the link to visit Cindy Beveridge’s classroom blog and learn about how they livestreamed the hatching of their chicks.  Wow!

Now, back at W. Erskine Johnston we have almost all classroom teachers using classroom blogs to share with parents and community the learning that happens in the school from day to day.  One of our incredible kindergarten teams, Jo-Anne Pulley and Gavin Kneebone, was also waiting for their chicks to hatch — that very day!  I sent a quick email and followed up with a facebook message to Jo, who I knew would be up early and heading into the school to check on the chicks.  She thought the idea of livestreaming was great and so we were set.

After setting up the livestream with a simple webcam — check out our “chick cam” here — I embedded it on the school blog, set up our lobby screen to broadcast the channel and sent a message to staff letting them know that they might share the event in their own classrooms.  One chick had already hatched, but the rest of the chicks emerged live on camera, to the delight of students, staff, families and community members both near and far.  The buzz and impact was unexpected, but delightful.

I wanted to share a few highlights to demonstrate why I think that livestreaming this event created a learning opportunity for the entire community:

  • Staff and students were able to share the stream with family far and wide — as far as British Columbia
  • Students in other classrooms entered questions in the chat window on livestream — asking about what temperature the incubator had to be kept, why some of the eggs were brown and some white, and what the students in the kindergarten planned to name the chicks.
  • Parents visiting the school paused in the lobby to enjoy watching the hatching live on screen.
  • While we were loading buses at the end of the day, the kids were still all abuzz, several stopping to comment on the chicks.
  • A class that had been watching made an impromptu field trip to visit the chicks in person.
  • The office of our local City Councillor tweeted about the event:
  • Until the custodian turned the lights out at 11 pm, the chat was lively with parents, staff and myself commenting on the event — one parent remarked, “We didn’t realize how interesting it is to watch chickens hatch – we can cancel our cable tv!”

My point is that this learning extended beyond the walls of the kindergarten classroom and gave the school a community-building event.  I look forward to catching up with the students this morning to find out about their conversations at home.  It will also be interesting to check in with staff to find out if they have considered other ways livestreaming might amplify and enrich other learning experiences for our students.

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Emotional Labour – at the Heart of Teaching

Art of Healing by h koppdelaney on flickr

Labor, particularly emotional labor, is the difficult task of digging deep to engage at a personal level.  Emotional labor looks like patience and kindness and respect.  It’s very different from mechanical work, from filling out a form or moving a bale of hay.

Every great teacher you have ever had the good luck of learning from is doing the irreplaceable labor of real teaching.  They are communicating emotion, engaging, and learning from the student in return.  Emotional labor is difficult and exhausting, and it cannot be tweaked or commanded by management.

– Seth Godin “Stop Stealing Dreams”

This labour of digging deep with students holds in it the most robust potential for realizing true change in education.  Engaging with individual students and relentlessly seeking the learning opportunities and connections that will bring their passions, curiosity and motivation to the surface creates learning spaces where tomorrow’s leaders are born.

Godin’s recently published manifesto, “Stop Stealing Dreams (What is School For?)” is available for free download in a number of formats here.  Many of his ideas resonate with me and I don’t doubt that you will find them provocative and compelling as well.  Discussing what he calls the “connection revolution”, Godin says that a key piece of transforming education includes using “flipped learning” where students watch pre-recorded information sessions or lectures via the internet as “homework” in order to create time in the classroom for the teacher to work more meaningfully with students on going deeper with their learning.

While I think that the idea of flipping learning in this way is very interesting and opens up the conversation about how we design learning experiences for students and ourselves, the more salient idea is the importance of the connection between student and teacher.  I know that in my work with teachers, those who are focused on connecting with individual students are the ones whose students take risks in their learning and go beyond the status quo.  The teacher focused on the students is driven to learn and grow his or her own practices in order to better meet the needs of the learners.  There is no room for mechanical work, even if the environment seems to favour it.  That relationship is golden.

And while I agree with Godin that this emotional labour cannot be commanded by management, managing distractions so that the teacher can focus on establishing that connection through the labour of learning together is one of the most critical aspects of a school leader’s work.  And if I don’t see that connection happening?  You can bet I’m going to ask the teacher what he or she needs in order to encourage it.

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Leader as Host

"share and explore" cc by denise carbonell on flickr

I recently came across the article, “It’s Time for the Heroes to Go Home“, co-authored by Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze.  Like their work in “Walk Out Walk On”, this piece really resonated with my current thinking on educational leadership.

Why do we continue to hope for heroes? It seems we assume certain things:

  • Leaders have the answers. They know what to do.
  • People do what they’re told. They just have to be given good plans and instructions.
  • High risk requires high control. As situations grow more complex and difficult, power needs to be moved to the top (with the leaders who know what to do).

– Frieze and Wheatley

These assumptions about leadership are quickly becoming outdated.  Frieze and Wheatley make a compelling case for a re-imagination of leader-as-host:

If we want to transform complex systems, we need to abandon our exclusive reliance on the leader-as-hero and invite in the leader-as-host. Leaders who act as hosts rely on other people’s creativity and commitment to get the work done. Leaders-as-hosts see potential and skills in people that people themselves may not see. And they know that people will only support those things they’ve played a part in creating. Leaders-as-hosts invest in meaningful conversations among people from many parts of the system as the most productive way to engender new insights and possibilities for action. They trust that people are willing to contribute, and that most people yearn to find meaning and possibility in their lives and work. And these leaders know that hosting others is the only way to get large-scale, intractable problems solved.

Leaders-as-hosts know that they must invite in all voices, they must listen to and engage with even the most challenging voices, and they must recognize our shared drive to create meaning and possibility in schools.  The vision can no longer be determined by one individual, but must instead be a collective articulation of hope and commitment.

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Parents as Partners Webcast – Building a Learning Network

image cc by Mark H. Anbinder on flickr

Many schools are beginning to use social media to send out information to parents.  Examples include twitter feeds and facebook pages.  These initial forays into social media are a first step.  They provide parents and the community with greater access to information regarding the school and the learning happening within its walls.

A key facet of school leadership is developing relationships, both within staff and also with families and the community.  This relationship building must include seeking feedback and listening.  Most of this work is done face to face, through school events or outreach programs and even through informal conversations in the hallways or at drop off or pick up time.

We live in a time when top-down leadership and closed door meetings are no longer seen as the way to get things done.  Stakeholders want to be involved in decision-making.  They want to know what their school leader is thinking and what he or she values.  They want, above all, to trust that their child is in the very best hands at school.

How can we use those same social media tools to engage in conversation, rather than simply pushing out information?

This will be the crux of my discussion on Monday, February 20th at 9:00 PM EST when I join Lorna Costantini, author of the blog, for the Parents as Partners webcast.  Please consider joining the discussion and sharing with your staff and your community.  Here is a brief overview of key topics for discussion:

  • Leadership 2.0:  Leading through Listening and Learning
  • What is twitter and how do I get started?
  • How can parents and schools use social media to engage in meaningful conversations?
  • What challenges do we face when we use social media and how can we overcome them?
  • Open discussion:  What are your burning questions/issues/concerns?  What are your succes stories?

The session will be open to all who are interested.  In order to make the most of the experience, consider using a headset with mic so that you can fully join the conversation.  Hope to “see” you there!


DATE: Monday February 20, 2012

TIME: 9:00 PM EDT (GMT-5) Time Zone Converter

You can join us in the elluminate room at The slides, websites and chat conversation will be held in this room. If you have a USB headset with microphone you can come to the mic to ask questions. The room will be open 15 min before the webinar for the orientation on how to participate in a BlackBoard Collaborate meeting room.

Link to Parents as Partners webcast:
Test your computer settings Test your settings

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Continue Looking


Our task as educators is to nurture that curiosity.  If our students continue looking, we have achieved our goal.

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