Connecting Area and Perimeter to Art-Piet Mondrian

Whenever possible, I search for ways to integrate the curriculum to create deeper learning opportunities for students and connect to the world around them.  It has always been easy to make connections between geometry and art.  Measurement and art wasn’t something that I had integrated much before.  However, in working with my Teacher Candidate from the Trent University Faculty of Education program, we were excited to see what the students would create.  It only goes to show you that when teachers are able to work collaboratively, wonderful programming ensues for students.

We have been working on perimeter and area for a little while, but students were still having trouble figuring out the difference between the two concepts.  We started by giving the students 9 square tiles.  Students were asked to create a 3 x 3 array of square tiles and determine the perimeter and the area.  The perimeter was determined to be 12 and the area determined to be 9.  From there, students were given a number of different challenges to reduce the area but maintain the perimeter of 12.  The challenges grew increasingly difficult.

1.  Reduce the area by one square unit but maintain the perimeter of 12 units.

2.  Reduce the area to 7 square units while maintaining the perimeter of 12 units.

3.  Reduce the area to 6 square units while maintaining the perimeter of 12 units.

4.  Reduce the area to 5 square units while maintaining the perimeter of 12 units.

5.  Reduce the area to 4 square units while maintaining the perimeter of 12 units.

6.  Reduce the area to 3 square units while maintaining the perimeter of 12 units.

After having the students share their different solutions we thought we would show the students artwork that Ms. Marchiori created inspired by Ellsworth Kelly’s “Colors for a Large Wall”.  In a guided math lesson the students figured out the area and perimeter of different parts of the artwork.  The way in which students figured out the answers to the area demonstrated that they had a much better understanding of the difference between area and perimeter than they had previously.

artworkmath                   artworkmath2


At this point, we wanted to get into the artwork and considered the work of Piet Mondrian.  Piet Mondrian is famous for the work that he created using primary colours, horizontal and vertical lines and squares and rectangles.  Perfect for working with area and perimeter and for incorporating the different elements of art.

Ms. Marchiori showed the YouTube video of Piet Mondrian’s artistic life in a nutshell.  Afterwards, the students then created their own Mondrian inspired artwork using chart sized grid paper (6’X6′) and crayon.  To continue our math focus, the students then had to calculate the area of each of the colours that they used and write that on the back of their art “plan”.  From there, the students used acrylic paint on canvas with grids drawn in pencil to recreate their “plan” for their art.

artwork3 artwork 4 artwork 1

A few of the finished artwork samples;

IMG_4067  IMG_4065 IMG_4064

This artwork would also connect to fractions.  Students could express their colour content in a fraction, reducing it to it’s simplest form and then compare which colours covered the largest fraction of the area of the painting.  When the artwork is complete, the students will be adding an artist’s message about what they learned during the process about area and perimeter, about the elements of line, colour and shape and about Piet Mondrian.  This week we will be creating Mondrian inspired artwork while exploring balance and colour in art using much of the same grid technique but with the medium of crayon resist and watercolours.


Here’s your test

The good old days are a product of a bad memory

Sept 2009 – I remember entering the classroom like it was yesterday. For this new teacher, the night before my first day was understandably complete with a several concerns: Would I wake up on time? What if the staff weren’t nice? Am I prepared? Thankfully, I woke up before my alarm and my new colleagues were incredibly welcoming. I was breathing a little easier, but there were still a few doubts to overcome on the day.

Most pressingly, I wondered whether I was going to have any disciplinary issues with students? What was going to happen if it became an issue? Would I keep my cool? Would I lose the room? Would I default to my parenting brain or my parents’ parenting brains? Fortunately, the students were amazing and my first 4 days as a teacher served to cement my love of education for life.

As a Prep Coverage teacher in a French Immersion school, I taught classes from Grades 1 to 8. On Days 1 – 4, I taught English to grades 4 – 8. I never knew it could be so much fun. From the start, we created classroom culture, shared our ideas, and set goals.  Day 5 was my day to teach in the Primary Division en Français. So what could possibly go wrong after 4 amazing days? Then came Day 5 –  a Monday to boot.

Oh wait, did we forget the lesson?

You know how in Physics there is matter and anti-matter? That was how Days 1 – 4 felt compared to Day 5. By that day ‘s end I was exhausted, confused, and discouraged. The cherry on that fun sundae came when I fell asleep at a stop light on the way home after school; much to the displeasure of the rush hour commuters behind me. This experience did not diminish my love of education, but it sure made me dig in to learn and improve. I was going to need it to survive and thrive.

First things first

Things began to settle into place and I was fortunate to receive excellent guidance from my admin, NTIP mentor, and experienced colleagues. However, I still wondered about the best way behavioural expectations could be met while honouring the needs of each learner.

After all, behaviour is communication. What were students telling me by their actions? Then it happened, a yet to be identified student destroyed the classroom and I needed help. I’d always worked hard to avoid losing my temper or sending students to the office, but this time was different. My old grade 1 teacher would have tied that child to a chair (true story) and that would have been that. Yet, that never crossed my mind until I began drafting this post and reflecting on my own educational experiences.

I remember physically shaking as I dialled the office for help. I felt ashamed that I could not manage this little student, but at the same time knew help was necessary. I removed the students from the class, for their safety, and waited for backup – which was there in a heartbeat. What would my admin think? Would I be judged for not being able to handle the situation?

Supported, safe, and secure in the care of experienced CPI trained educators, the student was de-escalated and escorted out of the classroom. And then, as quickly as it started, it was over. We returned to the class, but my thoughts were still focused on what had happened 10 minutes beforehand. This singular event consumed many subsequent moments of the days that followed as I wrestled with what happened. I wanted to be able to do what they did. Was their skillset only achievable through experiencing it in person? Would I be better next time because of it? Wisely, I’ve sought the wisdom of my SERT and admin ever since(many lessons learned).

For most new teachers, the test always comes before the lesson when it comes to discipline and responding to students in various states of distress. Theories are read, strategies planned, and words of advice are offered. Yet, until an educator is in the classroom, no amount of tool box equipping will prepare them for the individuals and situations they’ll encounter in our schools. We have to lean on one another in these times. This is why it is so important for teachers at all stages of their careers to find support and wisdom in their fellow educators. It does not mean you are weak to ask for help.

It means you, like your students, are constantly learning.
That is the true heart and art of teaching and learning.

I hope you enjoyed this post. Please share and add your comments to continue the conversation.
Thank you for reading.

Always a Mentee, Always a Mentor



This year, I‘m in a new school, in a new role. This September, every school day, I’m trying to figure out where my class is suppose to be and what and how I need to teach my students with special education needs. I am gradually learning the names of my colleagues but it seems like I can only get either their first name or the last name – I cannot put the person’s whole name together. My role in this special education classroom involves using a very prescribed program to support struggling readers and I’m still figuring it out.

And our school went through re-org (reorganization). This meant redoing class lists and changing rooms. The first week of school, my room 204 was organized and I had my bulletin boards decorated. After spending two and half weeks setting it up, I had to change rooms. Really? I moved all my stuff to room 102, redoing the bulletin boards and redoing the schedule so my students and I know where and when we are suppose to be.

You’d think this would not be a challenge for me as I am in my 18th year of teaching. But every time I take on a new role, I start all over again. Why do I do this? Because every time I take on a new role, I learn, a lot.

This year, my colleague and mentor, DHS, has been wonderful in supporting me through my transition into the school and into my program. Her contemplative stance has helped me work out various decisions and challenges. She also helped me set up my newly located classroom.

Over the past 18 years, I have been a mentee and mentor. I am a big believer in “Paying it Forward”.

My first teaching mentor was AT. She was my first practicum teacher and I was very fortunate to work with her as a grade level teaching partner. AT welcomed me into teaching with an open heart and a guiding hand. She showed me how to teach and I still use what she taught me today. I’ve had other mentors who were not teachers. My Vice Principal, AMW, walked me through a new program that I started in our school. The best part of AMW was that she was straightforward with me and challenged me in areas where I needed to grow. AMW was and is a great listener and guide.

At about my 7th year of developing my teaching practice, I became a mentor to other teachers. As a mentor to another teacher, I quickly realized that this mentoring process was not about me and my success but about my mentee and their success. I’ve mentored many teachers formally and informally.

My first “official” NTIP (New Teacher Induction Program) mentee was BT. He was a grade 8 Math and Science teacher, like me. After a couple of weeks of teaching grade 8, he was going to quit teaching. He told me (his words) “I did not give up going into the tech sector to deal with this stuff” – he actually used another  word.  I still remember him pulling up a chair directly in front of my desk and putting his head in his hands. I listened to him talk about the challenges of teaching grade 8 – which can be many and very disconcerting to a grade 8 teacher. BT was ready to jump off the teaching wall in this first month of teaching. I talked him off the wall. We spent time planning and working together – he got through the year without having to take a leave of absence or worse, quitting teaching. I knew he was going to be a great teacher because he was upset and cared about his work. Today, BT is a great teacher. When I saw him recently, I was so proud for his success.

I’ve also informally mentored Long-term Occasional teachers. HK was teaching grade 8  Math and Science. My Vice Principal asked me to help her as she needed collegial support.  Unfortunately, at that time, occasional teachers did not have access to NTIP support. HK was dealing with similar challenges I had faced (and BT had faced) as a grade 8 teacher. HK was a highly skilled and dedicated new teacher that was driven to make a difference in her students’ lives. We spoke often and met every week at a well known coffee location. There were tears and many stories. It was a tough cohort year of grade 8s in our school. She made it through and has gone on to be a very strong and dedicated teacher. I am very proud of how well she has done in her career.

I’ve mentored other teachers too. One teacher came from South Africa and was looking for Canadian experience. She spent time in my grade 7 classes, learning how we teach in Ontario. I directed her towards many resources she used for courses she needed to upgrade her credentials. To my delight, she ended up getting a full time teaching position a year later.

More recently, I mentored a newly graduated teacher, who helped out in my contained special education class. SM was keen, very well qualified (i.e. she had French) and working two jobs. She was a natural when working with my academically challenged students. She ended up volunteering in a French class at our school and then landed a full time teaching position.

After many positive and fulfilling experiences, I continue my career as a mentee and as a mentor. It’s part of our teaching practice and it’s part of our career path. We are teachers for our students and our colleagues.

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

Partnering for Success Getting the most from Ontario’s New Teacher Induction Program: A Resource Handbook for Mentors

Ontario Teacher Federation: Survive & Thrive

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


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

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

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2010). Growing success: Assessment, evaluation, and reporting in Ontario schools, First Edition, Covering Grades 1 to 12 Retrieved from

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.

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



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.

Pay It Forward

As I reflect back on my teaching career I have come to understand how appreciative I am of the amazing teachers and administrators that have impacted and helped shape my life both as a teacher and a person. Everything I am as a teacher, everything I do as a teacher, everything I have is a result of the sharing that was done with me throughout my years in the classroom.

There are times when you do not know how to show your appreciation and saying thank you seems so inadequate. As a very wise principal (and now a good friend) once said to me, the best way you can show your appreciation is to make use of the advice given to you and pay it forward.

This post is going to be about paying it forward. I am going to share with you two of my most successful teaching units and two of my most cherished books that I use year in and year out. If you read this blog, I am going to then ask you to pay it forward by sharing in a response to this blog or via other social media options two of your most tried and tested teaching strategies, units or themes as well as two of your favourite books that you use in your classroom. Together we will pay it forward.


1994h4This book has been a part of my teaching for almost fifteen years. It is the book that starts my class off from Day 1 each September. The power of this book is in the multiple messages that can be drawn from the words and texts. The two main benefits I reap from this book are that everyone can read, reading is going to be fun and it kick starts my focus on drama for the year.


imgresThis book is part of who I am and my passion for the outdoors. It is the story of a 13 year-old boy who is lost in the wilderness and has to rely on himself to survive. This is a powerful book to hook children into the outdoors as the author creates a picture that transfers my students into the setting where they re-enact the main character. We culminate this book with our ‘Hatchet Day’ at a local outdoor education centre and then do a compare and contrast with the movie version ‘A Cry In The Wild’.


Poetry is a powerful form of writing and the success I have had with reluctant writers has been very inspiring to me. The power of this genre comes in the multi-faceted approach one can take with it. Poetic language does not have to follow grammatical rules, which allows reluctant writers to focus on meaning through word selection. I often use the outdoors as the theme behind our writing as we bring our experiences into the classroom and on to the paper. We culminate with a poetry recital where they invite guests to hear their writing.


Team building is a non-stop, five day a week, always on my mind approach that I take in my room. I de-emphasize competition and focus on common goals. ‘We’ is the pronoun that runs through the heart of my classroom. We enter into our year as individuals and from minute one we focus on coming together for a common good. The diversity and differences in our room becomes our strength as we celebrate and benefit from the shared expertise and passions in our classroom. This is accomplished through character education, books, songs, games and most of all face-to-face interactions such as eating lunch together.


Thank you for taking the time to read this blog and I now ask you to pay it forward.





Rebound From Your Mistakes

Perfectionism seems to be a common character trait of teachers in that they expect to be perfect at everything they do. They must have perfect lessons, they have to have perfect classroom displays, they expect perfect interviews and so on and so on. If this level of achievement has not been met they often feel they have let down their students. They may feel guilt or embarrassment and tend to dwell on the negative aspect of the scenario. The reality is we are human and humans make mistakes even if they are teachers.

We are patient with our students. We expect them to make mistakes in their personal learning journey and offer formative feedback that allows them to reflect on their learning and move forward to the desired outcome. If this works with students, it will also work with teachers.

There have been many, many times over the course of my career that I made a mistake. Like when I said something I should have phrased a different way or when my reaction to a classroom situation was not handled in as professional a manner as it could have. Each time a situation occurs that I feel could have been handled a different way I complete a personal reflection that helps me move forward in my practice. All of those not so shining moments, have helped shape my learning and skill set for the present and future.

One of the Keys of Excellence in my classroom is ‘Failure Leads To The Sweet Smell of Success’. This foundational belief teaches my students that mistakes are inevitable and we can examine the error and turn it into a teachable moment so that future scenarios will result in success for all. An added bonus to this is that my students become more of a risk taker as it relates to ability to try new things. I live by this belief and it has helped me become a lifelong learner as well as a risk taker in experimenting with new pedagogical practices.


Tortoise Brained Learning

Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better”. This quote from Maya Angelou holds true no matter what stage of  teaching  you are at. Too often teachers feel pressured to constantly be moving their best practice forward before the last component has been consolidated into their everyday practice.

Over the course of my career I have evolved from a Hare Brained Learner to a Tortoise Brained Learner. A Hare Brained Learner is one who is constantly delving into new areas without going through the process needed to implement theory into best practice. I attended multiple workshops, almost everyone our board offered. I would see so many good ideas in practice, take notes on them, put them in a file, give them a try for a week or two and then most often let them fizzle out in that file. I was off to the next workshop, new idea or teaching practice.

My life as a Tortoise Brained Learner is much more manageable and is producing a far greater change in my day-to-day pedagogical practice. I have learned that my personal learning cycle is about two years. From the initial exposure to a new idea (e.g. mind mapping) through further research, personal experimentation, classroom experimentation and finally a part of my practice where I no longer even think about it as a new idea it takes me about two years. Thus my shift from quantity to quality professional learning has resulted in me being a much more pedagogically sound teacher.

It is not possible, nor reasonable for teachers to be constantly in a state of change. My advice is to develop an Annual Learning Plan that focuses in on one or two key areas that you are both interested in and know will enhance your journey toward best practice.

Mike Beetham

You Never Know

This blog is based on a real life scenario that I was fortunate enough to be a part of both on a personal and professional basis. It truly reminded me just how important our teacher/student relationships are as you never know when your kind word, out of the ordinary effort or simply just being there will make a difference.

On a late Saturday afternoon there was a knock on our home door and to our surprise, there was our very distraught neighbour who just needed someone to talk to. Over the course of the next hour this young mother poured her heart out to both my wife and I. During that time she asked us to read a series of letters that obviously were very important to her.

As we scanned the pages it became clear to us that these letters were from a past teacher who took the time to write to this young women while she was in her classroom. The key message that surfaced on each and every page was that this young woman was an amazing person who had the potential to be herself and that alone would make her great. It was clear that she had experienced trauma in her adolescence and did not receive the necessary support that she should have had. Through teary eyes, this distraught woman just kept telling us how important this teacher had been in helping her get through some very dark times in her life. In fact, she owed her life to her.

Although these letters were almost 20 years old, we could tell by the wrinkled paper and tear stain marks, that she had went to these words of support many, many times over the past two decades. Once again, she was going to this teacher for support in these times of hardship.

As a teacher, we are merely a step or two on a child’s life journey. Yet that time we spend with each child is one of the most influential events they will ever experience. It is our responsibility to ensure that memory is as positive as can be.

Mike Beetham

Classroom Advisors

Wow, things have certainly changed since I was in school. When I went to school we __________ (fill in the blank with a change you have observed). When I look at the behaviours of my students, the choices they make and day-to-day social interactions in my classroom I filter it through the 54 year old brain of mine. It usually doesn’t make sense or seems silly and a waste of time. There are many times when I can’t make heads or tails of some of the things that my students do. So, what I tried (and found very useful) is to try and understand it through the brain of the age group I am working with. I sit and talk with individual students, small groups or even at times the entire class and have them explain to me the why of what took place. I tell them that through my adult brain it does not make sense and why would anybody do that. This opens up a wealth of opportunities to delve into the world of my students.

It has evolved to the point where my class votes in key students who will represent their needs and interests and those students become the classroom advisers. When ever a decision that requires our entire group’s input is needed, I go to the classroom advisers who then go to their classmates and get their feedback. The advisers then must prepare a summary of the input they received and meet with me as we collectively make the best decision for our group. In other scenarios, they serve as a resource who can explain to me what a student was thinking or why this makes sense to them. The final role these students play is being a peer mediator/mentor as students work their way out of poor decisions they have made. Needless to say, this is a very empowering strategy for both my students and me.