One Thing Everyone Needs

Photo Credit: thefathersdayquotes Flickr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: thefathersdayquotes Flickr via Compfight cc

“Thank you!”

“I value your participation.”

“What an interesting idea – let’s follow up on that.”

“What do you think?”

We all want to be noticed, valued and to belong. A big fanfare is not always needed, but those moments of quiet recognition that say, “I see you, and you are valued” are powerful.

When people feel as if no one cares they become disengaged and then cynical. That’s harmful for them and bad for the organizations they work for.

We all need to take responsibility to help others belong.


How Do You Want Families to Feel on the First Day of School?

With thanks to Pernille Ripp for title inspiration.

My nieces and and nephew just started at new schools in Washington, D.C. after a move across the country. They were excited and nervous, as you would expect. And so were my brother and sister-in-law. They didn’t know exactly what to expect either and wanted their kids to have a great first day. As educators, we often forget how parents may feel approaching a new school year.

Photo Credit: baggyjumper via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: baggyjumper via Compfight cc

I’ve recently read some excellent back-to-school posts by amazing educators Jose Vilson, Pernille Ripp and Stephen Hurley about caring for students, planning for the emotional side of the classroom, and co-creating a classroom with students. This stuff is really important!

And yet… we also need to think about families. We might be able to come up with a list of words to describe how we would like them to feel, like welcome, happy, included, or confident. How do our actions actually achieve these?

I was not always the most welcoming teacher or principal. In fact, when I look back over some of the things I did, I cringe. I acted like I knew what was best for students and their families. But I didn’t, a fact that it took me a few years and experiences and the modeling of some really great teacher and principal mentors to realize.

Have you ever done this exercise after a learning session?  “I used to think…. but now I think…” It’s a great way to give yourself permission to leave behind old ways of doing things that were not the best and commit to making a change. So I’ll go: “I used to think that parents should leave me alone and let me do my job, but now I think that if they know how much I value their child and their input, we can do a great job together.”

So what does that mean for the first day of school and welcoming families? How about a big fat smile that stretches your face and no curt or frustrated words? How about having parents bring students to classrooms for the first day (or maybe a first week?) How about free coffee or tea on the playground for adults as they arrive? Expand on these to fit your school and your context.

I’ll let Maya Angelou have the last word with a quote I always need to keep in mind:

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”


Bill Hughey – #HWDSBacclerate series

Here in HWDSB, we’ve been talking about how to transform relationships, environments and learning opportunities. The driver is pedagogy, but the accelerator is technology. Asking students to do this is one thing – but what about the educators? I’m asking connected educators around our district how they use technology to accelerate their learning. 

Bill HugheyBill Hughey is an elementary teacher who uses digital tools in the classroom such as his student centred blog: Hughology. His focus on students and how he can not only help them learn but learn with them is evident. It’s great to have the perspective of a junior classroom teacher and insights into his journey of using technology. Read on to get to know Bill better!

What is your role in HWDSB?

I am currently a grade 5 teacher at Chedoke School although I have spent the bulk of my career in a middle school environment. Having just moved this year from an assignment where I was a Language specialist for the better part of a decade, it has been a big change teaching all the other curricular areas again!

What led you into education?

Teaching is a second career for me. I began my professional life as an archivist working for the Ontario Government and the City of Guelph. At a certain point, I was looking to re-energize myself professionally. As a student, I always loved school. I have also always admired the energy, positivity, and optimism of children. What better way to get energized than to step into a classroom? Is there a more dynamic workplace?

What are your go-to pieces of tech?

This is a difficult question as it applies to the classroom. I believe that technology in the classroom should not be a separate consideration. Fundamentally, programming in a technology-rich classroom is no different than in a more traditional setting. Technology just gives you so many more options for how students do their work. In our class, we access the technology that we need depending on the demands of a given project. Students decide what they want to do. They then decide on what technology is the best tool to actualize their ideas. That said, Google Drive has become a cornerstone tool. It allows us to work on multiple devices and applications and to always be able to access needed files. In an environment with limited resources, it is important that students have flexibility to access files regardless of the type of device they are using. Google Drive allows us to do that. The HWDSB Commons is also an incredibly valuable tool in my classroom. This year, my students have not used it as much as they normally do (their projects have required other tech tools), but having a public space for student work has become an important extension of our classroom. I continue to be delightfully surprised at how robust the platform is. If we want to accomplish something in the class, The Commons is often flexible enough to accommodate it.

Twitter or something else?

Though I lurk on Twitter, I am not active on it. Facebook is my go to social media tool.

How has technology shifted the way you learn?

In the classroom, technology has forced me to become a more effective co-learner with my students. I used to think that I was a co-learner with my students but in retrospect, I was paying more lip service to this idea than living it. Adopting technology and integrating it into the classroom has necessitated that I open myself in a more authentic way to learning together. Students will conceive of ideas, will experiment with how to present these, and will suggest a wide variety of tech tools that they think will do the job. It is impossible for me to master all of these tools and to provide direct instruction on their use. Students become the experts and teach me, and, more importantly they teach other. It can be an empowering experience for students that may not take leadership roles in other areas of the classroom. At the same time, it places me in the role of learner. This has helped me to rethink and to redefine my role in the classroom in a broader sense.

What’s your best piece of advice for those wondering how to use tech to accelerate their learning?

Experiment. Try something new. Be open to failure. Be willing to surrender some control over the process. Above all, conceive of technology as a tool. It is a means to an end. Do not start your planning by thinking about what technology you intend to use. Think about what you want to achieve. This is familiar to every teacher – i.e., starting with effective programming. Then, consider how technology might be used. Better yet, leave some choices open to your students as to what technology they may use to tackle a task. Be willing to let them take the lead.

(This series inspired by the innovative and trailblazing Royan Lee and the #workflow series on his Spicy Learning Blog. Thanks, Royan!)