Report Cards Are Coming: Professional Reporting

Growing Success K-12
Growing Success K-12

Elementary Report Cards … the mere mention of report cards can send some teachers into anxious ridden days and sleepless nights. Even after 17 years of writing elementary report cards, I anticipated that my levels of anxiety would be non-existent but, no, for me, the thought of report card writing still stresses me out. I know of some colleagues who are so anxious about report card writing, that they had to seek medical support.

The source of this anxiety is embedded in inconsistencies in how report card policy is implemented. And the source of the inconsistencies is rooted in the process of educational policy implementation. With each level of educational policy implementation gatekeepers, such as boards of education, superintendents, schools, administrators, and classroom teachers, all interpret and change the policy based on their own context and their own perspectives (Ball, Maguire, & Braun, 2012).

As report card policy initiatives are translated into real life, the policy stakeholders, like administrators and teachers, adapt and reinvent their interpretation of the policy into school contexts. Since the education policy guidelines tend to be abstract and non specific, confusion and disjointedness results (Ball, 1993), and teachers end up decoding and recoding the policy text such as the reporting policy, Growing Success (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010). Even with the well written Growing Success document (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010), the process of understanding and translating report card policy can result in various degrees of intentional and unintentional interpretations (Fuhrman, Clune, & Elmore, 1991). Or, in other words, there are inconsistencies in report card policy implementation. Competing theories between policy authors (i.e., governments and school boards) and report card implementers (i.e., principals and teachers) can cause conflicts between the vision of policy and the practice of policy (Timperley & Parr, 2005). This can result in gatekeepers’ experiencing “most carefully planned” initiatives unfolding in a “non-linear manner” (Timperley & Robinson, 2000, p. 47).

This policy implementation process results in the practice of report card writing that look different from the vision of the report card policy writers. Therefore, because of this flux,  report card formats and content can change from school board to school board, school to school, year to year, administrator to administrator, and sometimes even term to term (Note: this is strictly based on my own experience over 17 years). As noted earlier, at every level of implementation, each person put their own spin on the policy. The result is that teachers have to deal with changing report card writing expectations. Inconsistencies directly result in teachers having to spend a great deal of time trying to meet the expectations of different stakeholders. Teachers then have to use their professional judgement to interpret these expectations.

The document Growing Success (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010, p. 152) states “ Judgement that is informed by professional knowledge of curriculum expectations, context, evidence of learning, methods of instruction and assessment, and the criteria and standards that indicate success in student learning. In professional practice, judgement involves a purposeful and systematic thinking process that evolves in terms of accuracy and insight with ongoing reflection and self-correction.”

Further, Growing Success states that “successful implementation of policy depends on the professional judgement of educators at all levels, as well as on educators’ ability to work together” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010, p. 2). It is through educators’ collaboration that educational change becomes reality; it is how policy becomes practice. “Teachers’ professional judgements are at the heart of effective assessment, evaluation, and reporting of student achievement.” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010, p. 8). So teachers, working with other stakeholders, using their professional judgement need “to clarify and share their understanding of policy and to develop and share effective implementation practices” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010, p. 2).

Below is a breakdown of the Growing Success policy based on areas I have needed information on while writing report cards. This is not an exhaustive list. Please refer to the documents noted below for further information.

Growing Success Reporting Chart

Ontario Report Card Policy Breakdown with reference to report card writing

The Growing Success document notes the following “It is important that teachers have the opportunity to compose and use personalized comments on report cards as an alternative to selecting from a prepared set of standard comments. School boards should not enact policies that prevent teachers from providing personalized comments on report cards. It is expected that principals will support best practice and encourage teachers to generate their own comments.” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010, p. 64)

Given the focus of encouraging “teachers to generate their own comments”, having a bank of pre-approved board-wide report card comments available to elementary teachers may or may not be forthcoming.

After the above analysis and reflection regarding report card writing and professional judgement, I ask myself “What has helped me the most in report card writing?”

My answer is collaborating with other teachers. It is in the discussion, co-creating, and sharing of report card comments that I have been supported the most in my writing of the Progress, Term 1, and Term 2 report cards. For me, sharing report card comments does not mean that I simply “cut and paste” my colleagues’ work. This does not happen because I write comments through the lens of my own teaching practice. My colleagues’ shared learning skill comments often inspire me to write comments especially for challenging students.

In writing report cards, I use my professional experience and knowledge that has resulted in the development of my professional judgement. So my advice to any teacher who is being challenge in report card writing is to reach out to your colleague … for advice, support, or debate.

I believe that when working collaboratively, teachers are better together … especially when writing report cards.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston

 References

Ball, S. (1993). What is policy? Texts, trajectories, and toolboxes. Discourse, 13(2), 10-17.

Ball, S. J., Maguire, M., & Braun, A. (2012). How schools do policy: Policy enactments in secondary schools. New York, NY: Routledge.

Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario. (ETFO). (2016). The elementary provincial report card continued implementation update – Grades 1 to 8, Professional Relations Services, PRS, Volume #66, January 2016. Retrieved from http://www.etfo.ca/SupportingMembers/Employees/PDF%20Versions/The%20Elementary%20Provincial%20Report%20Card%20Continued%20Implementation%20Update%20-%20Grades%201%20to%208.pdf

Fuhrman, S., Clune, W., & Elmore, R. (1991). Research on education reform: Lessons on the implementation of policy (pp. 197-218). AR Odden, Education Policy Implementation. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2000). The Ontario Student Record (OSR) Guideline, Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/document/curricul/osr/osr.pdf

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2010). Growing success: Assessment, evaluation, and reporting in Ontario schools, First Edition, Covering Grades 1 to 12 Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/policyfunding/growSuccess.pdf

Timperley, H. S., & Parr, J. M. (2005). Theory competition and the process of change. Journal of Educational Change, 6(3), 227-251.

Timperley, H., & Robinson, V. (2000). Workload and the professional culture of teachers. Educational Management & Administration, 28(1), p. 47-62.

Wiliam, D. (2011). Embedded formative assessment. Solution Tree Press.

So why teach LGBTQIT human rights?

 Holding hands

 “Coming out hasn’t come as far as we think”

(Emma Teitel, national affairs columnist, Toronto Star, August 11, 2017, A8)

“Coming out” as a LGBTQIT* person, by making friends and family aware that they are not part of the heterosexual majority, has many implications. Specifically, LGBTQIT people who are not part of the “heterosexual” norm deal with great social, health, emotional, and economic barriers. Our LGBTQIT students, colleagues, and parents, regularly deal with discrimination on many levels including bullying and threats of violence. This is why not all LGBTQT people come out. According to an online Quebec survey (commissioned by the Foundation Jasmin Roy, an anti bullying/violence organization), it was reported that 45 percent of LGBTQIT respondents said they kept their sexual orientation or gender identity hidden due to worries of discrimination (Teitel, August 11, 2017). In the survey, 81 percent of LGBTQIT respondents agreed that Canadians are open-minded about gender and sexuality but 75 percent believed that more work needed to be done to support the LGBTQIT communities (Teitel,  August 11, 2017).

So why do teachers need to teach LGBTQIT human rights?

Why do teachers need to address these topics in Ontario classrooms? (especially when some parents disagree with teaching about sexuality and gender)

Health and Phy Ed 2015

The new health and physical education curriculum (Government of Ontario, 2015a), dealing with LGBTQIT topics, was updated in 2010 after remaining untouched since 1998. After protests by some religious groups, the Liberal government backed away from an attempted update of the health and physical education curriculum in 2010 (National Post, February 2015). The Ontario Health and Physical Education Curriculum was the most outdated curriculum in Canada (Rushowy, September 2015).

In 2015, Premier Kathleen Wynn vowed that the updated curriculum would be implemented in the 2015/2016 school year.

In September 2015, the curriculum was introduced into Ontario schools. There was a strong backlash from parents and communities. Often the groups opposed to any curriculum dealing with sexuality and gender were misinformed by the content of the contentious parts of the health curriculum. To repond to this, the Government of Ontario developed A Parent’s Guide: Human Development and Sexual Health in the Health and Physical Education Curriculum (Government of Ontario, 2015b).

The Peel Board of Education’s director, Tony Pontes, stated that “We cannot — we will not — by action or inaction endorse discrimination,” who cited Ontario’s Human Rights Code as applying to people of all sexual orientation and gender identity. Mr. Pontes went on to state that “Supported by legal opinion, bolstered by our core values, I would no more say yes to someone wanting a child excluded because of a discussion about LGBTQ than I would a discussion about race or gender.” (Rushowy, September 2015). Further, Mr. Pontes stated that while some parents had “genuine concerns”, the board would work to address issues brought up by the critics of the updated sex-ed curriculum. These critics misinformed parents in order to “raise fear, generate untruths and build constituencies of protest based on false information” (Rushowy, September 2015). Mr. Pontes, the director of the Peel Board of Education, found this unconscionable. In addition, Mr. Pontes stated that the Peel Board of Education was willing to lose students over its stance of inclusion for all (Rushowy, September 2015). Some school boards lost students and some teachers lost teaching positions (based on my own anecdotal observations). Often, there are costs as a result of taking a stance to uphold human rights.

In 2015, even though I was not a “Health and Physical Education” teacher, I did deal with issues around sexuality and gender. In our school, we had students and colleagues that prHuman Development Guideesented as LGBTQIT. In addition, we discussed LGBTQIT inclusion during the Day of Pink  and while discussing human rights topics. I received notes from parents asking me not to talk about same sex couples on the Day of Pink. I also had students missing from school on the Day of Pink. Some parents believed that discussions of inclusion were only limited to specific school days. Parents needed to realize that teachers talk about inclusion, as needed, especially when students rights are being suppressed. Inclusion is not limited to skin colour, culture, religion, chosen head coverings, ethnicity, ancestry, citizenship, disability, or diet.

Teachers do not get to pick and choose which topics of inclusion they will address because all issues regarding human rights apply.

Some of my teacher colleagues have stated that they do not honour LGBTQIT rights. Some students have told me that their parents do not believe in LGBTQIT rights. I have had parents phone me to tell me not to discuss LGBTQIT rights in class. Imagine what would happen if a parent, student, or teacher stated that they did not want teachers to teach about the rights of people of different races or religions.

As teachers, we must honour the rights of all people because we provide educational services within the province of Ontario. It is part of our role, as teachers, to uphold human rights and protect against discrimination as per the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to services, goods and facilities, without discrimination because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status or disability.  R.S.O. 1990, c. H.19, s. 1; 1999, c. 6, s. 28 (1); 2001, c. 32, s. 27 (1); 2005, c. 5, s. 32 (1); 2012, c. 7, s. 1. (Ontario Human Rights Code, updated December 5, 2016)

As teachers, there is no opting out of the Human Rights Code.

Toronto Star national affairs columnist, Emma Teitel was accepted by her family and friends when she told them she was gay. She stated that coming out “sucks, even for the lucky ones like me” (Teitel, August 10, 2017). Yes, her family and friends accepted her for who she was. She affirmed that there is still a long way to go. Teitel stated that she still faces challenges when kissing her partner in public without getting “molested by creeps”. She hopes that one day  that “thousands of transgendered people [will] no longer fear for their lives every time they step out their doors” (Teitel, August 10, 2017). Ms. Teitel wishes this for all  people in the LGBTQIT community.

As a parent of a gay adult child, I hope one day my daughter can live her life with her partner, in peace, without being stared at every time they hold hands in public. I hope that with the work of the Ontario education system, being LGBTQIT will be part of an inclusive culture in Ontario.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston

*LGBTQIT is a short form for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Questioning, Intersexual, Two-spirited people (please note this is my most recent understanding of the term)

References

Government of Ontario, (2016). Ontario Human Rights Code. Downloaded from https://www.ontario.ca/laws/statute/90h19

Government of Ontario. (2015a). The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 1-8: Health and Physical Education, 2015 (revised), Government of Ontario. Downloaded from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/elementary/health.html

Government of Ontario. (2015b). A Parent’s Guide: Human Development and Sexual Health in the Health and Physical Education Curriculum, Government of Ontario. Downloaded from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/elementary/HPEgrades1to6.pdf

Rushowy, K., (September 2, 2015). Peel board won’t exempt kids from learning about gay families, gender issues, Toronto Star, Downloaded from https://www.thestar.com/yourtoronto/education/2015/09/02/peel-board-wont-exempt-kids-from-learning-about-gay-families-gender-issues.html

Teitel, E., (August 10, 2017), Coming out sucks, even for the lucky ones like me, Toronto Star, Downloaded from https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2017/08/10/coming-out-sucks-even-for-the-lucky-ones-like-me-teitel.html

Teitel, E., (August 11, 2017), Coming out hasn’t come as far as we think, Toronto Star, A8. Downloaded from http://thechronicleherald.ca/opinion/1493875-opinion-coming-out-hasn%E2%80%99t-come-as-far-as-we-think

The National Post. (February 23, 2015). National Post View: New sex ed curriculum should be sensitive to all sides, The National Post, Downloaded from http://nationalpost.com/opinion/national-post-view-new-sex-ed-curriculum-should-be-sensitive-to-all-sides/wcm/596af7c3-9704-4a2f-aad7-543cb8bbc99a

Getting Past “The 5 Year Wall”

wall peek

As a new elementary teacher, I believed I would really know what I was doing after 5 years of practice. After 5 years in my previous careers, I could handle just about anything. I had 8 years experience as a student in elementary school. And, yes, I had watched my elementary teachers teach. I thought, “How hard can it be?” I figured after 5 years of teaching, working long hours after and on weekends, I’d be able to relax a bit.

But back then, I was very naive.

There was a lot about teaching I did not know or even consider. I did not count on having to switch grade levels every year for the first 5 years of my practice. I thought I’d have readily available teacher resources. I did not know that teachers spent a great deal of their own money to stock their classrooms with supplies and books. Nor did I realize I would be expected to implement waves of educational initiatives within a year of introduction. Further, I had not considered having students functioning at grade levels below the grade I was teaching or dealing with special education needs with little or no support. In addition, I did not know how to deal with students who had behaviour issues – in my first week of teaching grade 8, a student threw a chair at me. I also was hoping to get support and mentorship from my teacher colleagues, which at the time was not always forthcoming. My teacher education had not prepared me for all of this.

So I pushed forward by working hard and doing the best for my students. I took courses that I thought would fill in some gaps, which helped a bit. I solicited curriculum support from my colleagues and spent a great deal of time talking to my peers about my classroom challenges. My colleagues were very helpful and I absorbed as much wisdom as I could from my tenured peers.

Then it happened. I hit “The 5 Year Wall”. After 5 years of teaching, I thought I’d know more and feel more effective in my practice. I thought my lesson plans should be going the way I planned them. I thought that my classroom management would be awesome by this time. Instead, I was left with feelings of frustration and dissatisfaction in myself as a teacher. I thought, maybe if I worked harder, I would feel more effective; I was so disappointed in myself.

But because I was very committed and dedicated to becoming a great teacher, I moved forward facing many challenges. I continued to seek support and mentorship from my colleagues. My collaborative collegial support proved to have the biggest impact on my practice. My colleagues saved me from my professional dissolution.

Then something else happened. Around my 7th and 8th year of teaching, I started to feel my levels of self-efficacy and self-confidence rising. I started to finally feel like I knew what I was doing … most of the time. At 7+ years of teaching, I still faced challenges with switching grades. I realized that educational initiatives did not always stick. Lack of continued resource support or the introduction of a “new” initiative, often meant the end to last year’s latest innovation. Having students with multiple functioning levels and needs was a classroom norm. My teacher skin grew thicker when dealing with student and parent issues. I realized that lesson plans were made to be adapted to address the students’ needs, not the teachers. After 8 years of practice, I really started to enjoy teaching.

While researching, I discovered that my experience of building professional confidence and self-efficacy was supported in the literature. In the British VITAE study of 300 teachers in 100 schools, authors Day, Sammons, Stobart, Kingston, and Gu (2007) showed that teachers’ levels of confidence and self-efficacy continue to grow until around the 7 year mark. After 8 years, teachers reached a significant turning point in their professional development (Day et al., 2007).

I thought about what made this 7 year mark so significant. Then a friend mentioned that in the book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell stated that in order to master any skill  it takes “to a large extent, a matter of practicing … for a total of around 10,000 hours” (Gladwell, 2008).  I did the calculations and the 7 year mark correlated with about 10,000 hours of teaching practice. This made sense because teaching is a complex and challenging profession and as a result it takes over 7 years to develop high levels of professional efficacy. Further to this, as teachers’ professional knowledge grows, so does their professional judgement.

Well into my 8th year of teaching I noticed several new teachers experiencing high levels of professional frustration. Some of these teachers were so distressed they regretted becoming teachers. Some were thinking of leaving the profession. Remembering my own frustration, I reached out to my novice colleagues. I told them about The 5 Year Wall. In my following years of teaching, I have talked many novice teachers off the ledge of The 5 Year Wall. Sometimes there were tears. Sometimes there were daily pep talks. Sometimes there were weekly meetings at a well known coffee shop. After my years of collegial mentorship and support, my colleagues have become excellent teachers.

So if a new teacher talks to you about their professional frustration, tell them about The 5 Year Wall. Tell them to hang in for the next few years so they can reach their professional turning point in year 8. Support them with your mentorship and listen to their concerns. Because in isolation, there are no colleagues to inspire novice teachers with ideas or to suggest resources/strategies or to support them when it’s really needed. And even as an 18 year plus teacher, I thank my colleagues for all the mentorship, collaboration, and support they continue to give me, every day.

I believe that when working collaboratively, teachers are better together.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston

 

References

Day, C., Sammons, P., Stobart, G., Kingston, A., & Gu, Q. (2007). Teachers matter: Connecting lives, work and effectiveness. Maidenhead, UK: Open University

Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers: The story of success. Hachette UK.

For Earth Day – A Chance for Environmental Custodians to Show What They Know

Knowing that I have a worm composter in my kindergarten classroom, two girls (grades 1 and 2) came up to me last week as they walked in from recess holding a bucket of earthworms. A bucket. Full of worms.

They asked me if they could join these worms with the ones in my classroom, and I had to tell them, “No”, that just as there are different kinds of fish or dogs in the world, so are there many different kinds of worms, and these two kinds were very different, not to mention the fact that the worms in the bucket had been born in the wild and that is where they should remain. The students were a little disappointed by my answer, especially after all their hard work delicately harvesting about 2 cups of worms, so I suggested that they could introduce them into the gardens in our courtyard (outdoor) classroom. The girls headed into the courtyard, found a spot near a tree and gently dumped the contents of the bucket on the ground. They were very proud of themselves and told me they knew about how worms help us so they felt that they had really helped the worms, too.

While I was on lunch duty in their classroom a while later, the girls were still eager to talk to me about the worms – evidently, the vermicomposter makes me some sort of expert in the way of the worm. Anyway, they told me that they were just getting started. The girls had BIG PLANS. They wanted to start their own Worm Care Service, since they know exactly what worms need. “Great!” I said, as I realized what a great inquiry-based learning opportunity this was, “Maybe you should make some posters and business cards telling people what it is you do.” This got them even more excited and they wanted to get down to work as soon as they finished eating. Even though selling a worm care business may not be a realistic venture, there is the fact that the girls could at least have an opportunity to share their knowledge about worms. And that is how the idea of a Children’s Fair to showcase students’ environmental interests and projects has come to be added to this year’s Earth Day Celebration. Being the first time at my new school, it will start out with just one or two tables, if we’re lucky, showcasing students and their nature-conscious projects and hobbies. The Fair is open to grades 1 to 6, and all the students will get a chance to visit and ask questions and learn from each other.

Having done something like this last year at my previous school on Earth Day, I had forgotten how rich an experience it was for the students involved. I realized afterwards that it had been so successful because it was an opportunity for students to do something at school which had no rubric or assessment attached to it, and for which they were highly motivated. Last year, all I did was call a meeting together asking students how they would like to participate in the Earth Day Celebration. That’s when things just started to morph into them wanting a way to share their knowledge or expertise about the environment. At the meetings, there were lots of ideas and “Can I…?” questions. In the end, not everyone was ready to set up a table with items and information, but at least it got them to consider the possibility that something they know or do could be of some interest and value to their peers and the adults in their life. This year, I don’t know what expertise we will showcase, but If someone has a feather or rock collection they are proud of, if they know how to fold newspaper into compost bin liners, or if they know how to make bird calls or care for worms, then the Children’s Fair is the place to show what you know.

Kinders as Enviro-Experts

A couple of months ago, I got the idea into my head that we should have an Earth Day Fair at our school. I found it frustrating that although we touch on aspects of sustainability and respect for the environment in the curriculum, when it came to Earth Day, saying “Happy Earth Day!” over the morning announcements, was pretty much as far as it went. I happened to mention it to the principal one day, and she said, “Got for it!”. So I started to put more ideas together and tried to figure out how I could also bring my kinders into the mix, not just as participants, but as leaders.

Time passed and things slowly came together. We held our fair  in the morning, indoors, where tables were set up with various presenters to showcase their eco-friendly projects. In the afternoon, the whole school was invited to participate in a variety of eco-friendly activities in the school yard. It was marvelous!

Generally speaking, kinders are often not invited to participate with the general school in certain events due to their young age and somewhat shortened attention span. With the Earth Day Fair, however, I was willing to try out having a table set up, just like the big kids, where kinders could share their knowledge of the worms we have in our vermicomposter.

I decided to follow the science fair model of having a tri-fold poster board for all our information, some literature about worms, the things we need to prepare the compost, and the worms themselves for our information table. In the weeks preceding the fair, I invited students who were interested in showing what they know about worms to a table with pencils and paper and the tri-fold board already set up. I divided up the board into three sections I knew my kinders could elaborate on in order to be able to teach others about vermicomposting;

  1. All about Worms
  2. How to Compost
  3. Why is it important?

There were 8 students who showed an interest – reviewing the books and looking at pictures (some even reading – “Madame! Look! It says here that worms can push ten times their weight!”); who wanted the challenge of writing and drawing their information; and who stayed and observed and asked more questions whenever I would open the compost bin to feed or check on the worms – and so they became my Worm Experts. Because they contributed to the poster display, they were the right people to represent our vermicomposting table at the fair. They were so excited!

I was there to supervise while the Worm Experts had the responsibility of answering questions. Students and staff who visited the display learned a lot as the kinders presented anatomical drawings they had made of the worms, delighting in stating that worms have 5 hearts. The Experts also explained that worms need to stay slimy or they will die, because they breathe through their skin. The composting they explained in three easy steps; collect compost, blend the compost, feed the compost to the worms. Finally, they stated that worms are important because when they dig tunnels, their poo becomes soil with nutrients that helps plants grow. 

The Worm Experts answered questions for the better part of an hour, with the whole school filing past to visit the display. With their enthusiasm beginning to fade a bit towards the end, I asked if any of them would like to stay at the fair or return to the classroom. Half of them decided to return to the classroom because “Being an Expert is hard work.” The others who were happy to stay, chatted with other presenters or went and visited other displays with grade 6 Big Buddies, just like the big kids.