The Super Sonic Jet that was St. Sylvester 2017 2018

Time flies when  you’re having fun?

So what type of super sonic jet was St. Sylvester school on  this year? I’m pretty sure September was yesterday.

And yes I’m mortified to say that June flew by so fast that  I  didn’t even get to my once a month blog aka  Roy reflects on life to prove that he IS in fact doing something when he’s not sitting in his office!

In  many ways, the month of June encapsulated all I believe about in Education and life

  1. Life is meant to be lived with  passion

Our first ever school Musical took place at the  start of June. The Forgotten  Fairy Tale Forest. Three days before our opening, I was convinced that the show just wouldn’t get to where we wanted it to be, and then….something  magical took  place. People talk about how things always fall into place. I disagree. Things fall into place with hard work, motivation and diligence. And  quite frankly, even that’s not enough some times.  But in the end, the show did come together thanks to the talent of the students, the  dedication of our support group,  and in the world I often  talk of – the incredible symbiosis from the audience. From the moment the curtains opened on our performance night, it was clear the audience was electric and that electricity translated to our performers.

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Moral of big idea #1 – having passion for what you do and being  supported and pushed by others is so key to success. Consider that in how you move your students, or your own relationships forward.  Yes we need to correct and hold people accountable (including ourselves) every day. And at the same time, positive encouragement is likely the most important thing we can offer to those who we want to succeed.

2. Life is meant to be lived with engagement

Our Beyond the  Classroom Year Two ended with our first ever school camping  trip. What a blast. And what simplicity.

Experiential learning?

Absolutely.

Kids learned how to pitch a tent, how to live without a cell phone, and how to simply be in the moment and enjoy nature. I remain convinced that education is at its best when we find ways to really engage kids in what they are learning.  Yes I realize that allowing kids to do whatever they want could be the opening of “Hey let’s watch you tube videos and play fortnight all day….” At the same time, with time and effort, you CAN find ways to get kids enthused, engaged and connected with their  learning (yes all curriculum based!). We’re already planning Beyond The Classroom Year Three and hope to have music, recording, hands on building, cooking, fitness, and career planning among our experiential topics.  And if you need further proof about the value of engagement in your learning, consider the moral below:

Moral of big idea #2 – How do you want to live? I want to live being  engaged in what  I’m doing. My last month at school showed this – from the school musical , to beyond the classroom experiences, student  book clubs and roof top pictures. My month flew because of what I was doing. When you are engaged in what you’re doing, you’re just naturally happier and more productive.

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And that takes us to the last big idea from June

3. Life is meant to be lived with connection

I am convinced that with connection,  anything is possible. Being understood, feeling  like you have someone to turn to and feeling safe to make mistakes. That could be a description of the ideal class, the ideal marriage, the ideal school, or the ideal friendship. Connections make everything better. I saw this  in the interactions that led us towards our musical success and felt proud to articulate this in both my address to the graduates and my roof top awards to our staff on the  last day of the  school year. While we don’t do things for compliments, I received one of  the ultimate ones  from a colleague  who  said  “You appreciate each staff and every staff member and student.”  I believe that it is through  connections that  you learn about yourself and how to serve others.

Moral  of big idea #3 – Connect with those around  you and you will always be – just be.

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A scorching summer has started and I am very open in saying that I am looking very much forward to enjoying the break, and yet I also know that my mind won’t completely shut off over the next two months. I think that’s a good thing. When you have passion for what you do,  and find ways to engage and connect, your days will always be filled  with excitement, contentment and fulfillment.

Enjoy the Summer in whatever form it comes your way. Read, relax, laugh, think connect with others and then repeat!  The Super Sonic Jet is still in the air I hope it continues soaring. Happy July.

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Beyond the Classroom Meets the Primary Grades

Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

I know, I know. Someone already coined that, but it fits after we had our first ever Primary Class Beyond  the Classroom Experience.  This past week, we began Urban Planning with the City of Toronto.

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Our weblink giving more info on the experience is below.

https://www.tcdsb.org/schools/stsylvester/beyondtheclassroomyear2/Pages/Urban-Planning.aspx

Unqualified success? Couldn’t be for the first experience with primaries, but …. it was pretty close! Kids were enthused; staff were enthused; learning  took place and core  principles were met:

  1. Students were engaged in their  learning
  2. We had authentic experiential speakers – and kudos to our speakers for being able to bring the  level of understanding down to our students’ level.
  3. We learned and I mean learned lots!

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Consider that our 8 and 9 year old students were able to discuss and understand words such as

Infrastructure

Sustainability

Consultation

Budget

Section 42 – a Section in the Municipal government that says when developers build any residential properties downtown that they need to put money aside for green space. This is what has given the money to help build the visionary Rail Deck Park that we were told we can maybe expect to see in 6 years. Fun fact that one of our Urban planners shared with us is that Rail Deck Park is Equivalent to about 38 St. Sylvester Schools. Neat!

Our City Councillor Jim Karygiannis took his time to talk to us again. He always comes out to support and  energize the  students (and of course get the  prerequisite crazy picture!)

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And in an interesting twist of fate, we managed to meet Mayor Tory …. again. This is our 4th time in the last few years that we have met Mayor Tory – each time unscheduled and each time a great experience. This time, we were literally walking across the square after journaling and lo and behold walking towards us….Mayor Tory.

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Mayor Tory I’m  going to tweet this to you. I know there’s a formal process to follow but given that this is the  fourth Beyond the Classroom Experience where we’ve met you by fluke, we need you to  come in a for a formal visit when  time. You also seem interested in the program and you always engage our students. Full credit to you for taking the  time when you see our students to stop and talk.

Next steps for our primary class experience?

Many.

We know that many students need to still work on how to analyze their facts.  Facts are good but commenting  on  why those facts are relevant  to you makes learning  more complete. We know that many students need to tune into their learning still. Keep finding  what interests you in the learning process and review, review, review because I’m  sure some of  those  new words we talked  about have already been forgotten! We know that we need to find ways to make real life Math come alive for our primary experiences the way we try for our intermediate experiences. Andy gave us the start with some great budget numbers.

By and large however, we consider this first primary experience a great success.

Thanks to the teachers involved, the presenters who presented (Andy and Heather), Daniel for helping to facilitate, and the students for taking part.

Where there’s a will…..

YPT Theatre = Inspirational Conversation

My message is often tied into  engagement  in learning.  That engagement starts with inspiration and that which  inspires me  is what  I blog about most consistently.  No surprise then that here  is yet another blog coming out of a YPT play.  Young  People’s Theatre (YPT) has been a consistent source of inspiration for me. More than just the inspiration provided from YPT, it’s the  fact that this inspiration  inevitably leads to conversation and conversation is often the key to new learnings.

Most recently we saw Selfie. To say that we were a  little concerned going  into  the play is an understatement. YPT made it quite clear in their advisory that the language and content was extremely mature and a look at the script more than confirmed this. F bombs were liberally sprayed throughout  – not in a gratuitous way but rather in a way that made the character conversations that much  more authentic. Add to this, the sexual content and we wondered if we were ok to bring our Gr. 7/8 students. Preparation was done in advance through conversation with the students and information shared with parents.  The issue of consent was a key theme in the  play.  Consent for the act of  sexual  intercourse, consent for  posting  pictures online and consent  for the right  to speak your  mind to friends. Add in impacts of alcohol and the way one night can change a friendship, lives and reputations, and you have a pretty potent show.   There’s the synopsis without trying to spoil the  story line. The  inspiration? That came from the phenomenal acting  and  the  poignant script. The intensity of the actors and the explosive yet reflective and  even at times humourous writing make Selfie a show  well worth  seeing.

Themes from some  lines in the play  and the conversation  we were able to have  with our students after.

  1. Being true to who you are – the world of social media causes many to put forth an image of themselves that  is really  not true and creates problems with what some may choose to post.  A line at the start of the play speaks to the idea of how  social media can camouflage our true self  – Which version of us do we show people and which version of us do people know.  And later  on, one of the characters commenting  on social media says “It doesn’t  matter who you really are. What  matters is what  everyone  else sees.”  A great conversation  topic on how what we do impacts our  reputation  – social media or not. Our message to our students was how do you see yourself, how do you wants others to see you and how do your daily actions support this view that  you want?

 

  1. Decisions we make can impact us for  the  long  term “I can’t rewrite my story but neither can anyone else.”  We  talked about the importance of thinking about what we do. The line really struck me and many of our students in conversation as well. It’s not  about living  in fear but yes it is so important to consider how what we do can define us, and once something happens it is so difficult to take it back. In fact, you can’t take it back. The hope is though that we can find ways to move forward.

 

  1.   Putting  “the  most precious, the most private moment of my life up there for everyone to see.”  That’s just my own rebellion against social media. Yes, I like having  pictures to capture a moment but I’ve never understood nor wanted to post my favourite memories for others to see. Those moments are for me, and  those who are important to me. I guess I get it –  as I’m sure I’ve posted pics on this blog  about my own personal life. With no disrespect to anyone, the day I start taking  pictures of what  I eat for dinner and posting it here….

 

A line  I shared with our students after the play as my mind buzzed with  energy (it always does after a YPT play!) was that Life is not simple. Yes a simple line I realize but in realizing this maybe it will help us to find the best way to live our life.  And part of the way to me includes understanding that it DOES matter who you are and that it DOES serve you  well  to consider that  you can’t rewrite your story  – so make it a good one.

Thanks YPT for yet another inspirational morning and for serving as the springboard to a full and meaningful conversation. Looking forward to next season already!

 

The Power of U starts with You

Often times,  I am  impressed  most  by that in which I believe. Clearly, I believe  in Sara Westbrook.

So let’s see

Engaged  the students….check

Inspirational message….check

Focused on the right way to live ….check

As is often the case, the message  was nothing new  but the delivery through song, audience engagement (a comment about  raise your hand another time  – was  that to get  our biceps strong Sara?!), and anecdotes all helped to create  an enjoyable presentation.

Sara speaks of the need to respect yourself  as a precursor to respecting others; to believing  in the power of you (upower), and to understand that rejection and failure are just an opportunity to try again.

I  imagine you may be  shaking your head saying “yeah big deal, I’ve heard that before.”  Maybe you have, but you have played air guitar  at a student assembly?!

https://mobile.twitter.com/SaraWestbrook/status/976928300831596545/video/1

No  Debbie,  I  did not include that clip  because I crave outside approval (well I do, but still…)

The air guitar  is an example of what Sara does. I am NOT a spotlight  guy. Singing and speaking for sure. Air guitar?  Uh no! But that was the key to Sara’s success to my mind. She engaged the audience and found ways to get us involved,  and that  again is my whole belief  in education. When kids are engaged, they will learn more, listen more,  and participate more in the process. And when you’re involved   in the  process, I think you just naturally both internalize and discover  messages more.

Another impressive part about Sara  is that she spoke to 3  different groups and managed to  keep all three enraptured.

At the start of our Gr.  4-8 presentation,  Sara said we often choose to  hear  what we  want, but  I think the students and adults heard all including “I’ve come too far  to change  this life” –  accept our  weaknesses  and embrace  our strengths.  Find  ways to act rather than react.

Our JK- Gr. 3 students heard  about finding ways to be super heroes through  kindness  and care.  Taking deep breaths to  help calm down and a message  that  I’ve  preached  and that reached me yet again – Hard  work doesn’t always equal success, but keep putting effort in because it’s the right  way to go – even if you do  hear  no many times when knocking on the door of  your dreams.

And   finally, our  parents at night were given the message that  planting  seeds is the way to raise our children. You may not see results right  away, but trust  in the long term. Model respect for  our children and they will live it.  Yes all simple messages,  but throw in Sara’s  exuberant nature, her magical voice and her  ability to connect, and you’ve got a winner.

As the school year  hurtles to the  end, thanks Sara  for  keeping us grounded in the road map of life.  Stay  involved; Keep  respect  for  others; Believe in yourself and when all else fails….play some air guitar!

 

 

If you’re not nervous, you might need to make a change

“Give people slightly more trust, freedom and  authority than you are comfortable giving  them. If you’re not nervous, you haven’t given them enough.”  Laszlo Bock, Google’s VP of People Operations

There’s my jump off point for what  experiential education is supposed to be about. The line was delivered on  our first day of the Google Beyond the Classroom experience. For those  who have been waiting  to hear about  this experience, I’m going to say that it was mind blowing –  and not so much because of what  we did  (2 interesting  presentations and a tour) but because of what  Google is about.

Starts with their  mission statement – organize the  world’s info and make it universally accessible and useful. Nothing that necessarily creates a WOW moment in that statement, but then you start seeing how they apply it in their day to day inner workings. Organizing  the  worlds info  is no small task. Making  it universally accessible has potential life altering moments as can be seen from initiatives such as Project Sunroof. I won’t try to do justice to the project with my unsophisticated tech explanations. Instead, I’ll  just say – check the  link and give some thought to how  organizing  the  worlds info can lead to phenomenal results.  https://www.google.com/get/sunroof#p=0  You  can  also hopefully check out our solar panel sunroof at St. Sylvester, or my house in a few years…

Project  sunroof was a direct result of the Google 20% project initiative. For  those unfamiliar  with the 20% project idea, employees at Google are given 20% of their  work week (essentially 1 day a week) to work on a  project of personal interest to  them. Many schools are already trying this  with their  students as well, and we knew  this had to be our final artifact for  our Google  Beyond the  Classroom experience. Students  are  working on such  things  as creating  their  own  k pop video, writing  a children’s story book, and creating a club  to  help empower girls  among other projects.

The more I considered the  whole  20% project idea, and the idea  of mission statements, the more I realized, I needed to create my own experiential education 20% project. Yeah we’ve  done it with Beyond the Classroom, but what about a  Google partnership?! We’ve told  our students that a passion project needs to be something they are truly invested in and WANT to work towards. No doubt in my mind that I want to create a program of experiential education that impacts students across the board.

It starts with an understanding of what experiential education is. Authentic learning that allows you to immerse yourself in a topic. Not enough to just read about it. Multiple modalities are what’s needed. At the  Pan Am Sports Centre, Healthy Living  was our goal. Rather than just read about it, our Gr. 6-8 students created active physical fitness routines to lead the rest of our school through, while also doing research on ideas around what  healthy living is.

Trust is a huge factor in experiential education. In traditional learning, we hold the control cards. With experiential education, it’s allowing that control to go to the students. The Ministry of Education is currently empowering school boards to help create the  necessary conditions to make experiential education  more of a reality in classrooms across the province. This is good news. What more is still needed? Money, time, and the expertise  to create authentic  experiential education experiences. In  the out  of the box stratosphere, I can’t  think of a better group to start working   on  this  with  then  the  team at Google in combination  with a Champion  like Patty Z (our  Ministry of Education connection Extraordinaire).  The goal…make everyone nervous. Once  that  starts, we’re clearly moving in the  right  direction.

The Value of Doing

They say with  age comes  wisdom.  I guess I’m getting wiser but  at  the same time, one of the most important  lessons that keeps coming back  to me time and time again  is the  value of doing. Yes it’s true that I have a  slant towards experiential education – Our most recent Beyond the Classroom  experience  being  a phenomenal one  with the Canadian Armed Forces.

https://www.tcdsb.org/schools/stsylvester/beyondtheclassroomyear2/Pages/Canadian-Armed–Forces-Experience-4.aspx

But today, I wanted  to  reflect more  on my own  learning  through experience.

One  of the best principals I worked with  was  fond  of  mentioning  that  a school principal  was  really just the Principal Teacher  in  the  school. I’ve always taken this to heart.  My goal and  mission  as an educator is  to  continually teach. It’s  the  best way to be connected with  students and the  best  way to help lead instruction in  the school. Anyone  can talk about educational  research and  promising practices. The  real value comes in trying  things out in the  classroom. It’s only by immersing ourselves in all steps  of  curriculum delivery that we can properly understand  how students  learn  and how to best help  them in  the  process. This  past week I found  myself  collaborating  with  my Gr. 7/8 teacher  on the  start of his  history unit; my Gr.  1/2 teacher  on a  plan  to  get  her  students  into  the  process  of  small  group instruction  in language; our area of schools intermediate teachers  and students  on some  experiential  math;  and my Gr. 3/4 teacher on our first ever Beyond the Classroom experience with a primary and junior  class – urban  planning  with  the City of Toronto. In each  instance, we started with our end  goal  in  mind  (the term backwards planning  is what  many use these days and  it’s appropriate). The end goal is the curriculum expectations. And  with each unit,  we strive to engage students in the  process and try to  have some type of hands on learning in the process.

I find  that  it’s not  enough of  course for me to just be involved in  the  planning  and  execution  of the  lesson. Equally important  is to be involved in the  assessment. Going over students’  work allows  me  to  work  with the  teacher on identifying  strengths  and  areas for  improvement,  and  this of course allows  the  ever so  important  discussion  around  next steps.  I’m  fortunate to have a staff that  is  willing  to  have  me  in their classrooms  and for  this I am grateful. Quite frankly, I can  not  imagine  leading  instruction  any other  way. I remain  convinced that  anyone in administration  (principal, superintendent, etc) should go  back fulltime  into the classroom every few years. It’s  the only way to guarantee that you remain current on what’s going on. I can’t say I know enough about other professions but I really believe that medical ceos, police superintendents, and airline executives would be better at their jobs if part of  their time was spent  in the  field.  Experience does  make a difference and doing  is  the  way to get that  experience.

And while we’re on  the topic of  doing….. , I’d be thrilled if I could get you to help with one  other  project. The Eco Team that  I teach is trying to get people to get on board and  commit to making  small change in  their  habits. Again, the emphasis is on the doing and  I hope you’ll consider taking  the challenge to heart.   https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1KH_YnfrzIe6pqW16dTD-BqHL1808KT8StWeu2Uf6Rqw/edit

Thanks as always to  those  who  are reading,  and  if you’re  willing to commit to some “doing”, thanks for that  as well.

Learning can be inspired from so many different places.

It  never ceases  to amaze  me  how  exciting learning  can be when  you’re  engaged  in what  you’re  doing. Two events from December  proved  this to me  yet again and thanks goes  to  YPT and the Globe and Mail  for these experiences.

1. Live theatre remains  one  of my  favourite things. Was lucky enough  to see two YPT  plays in the month  of  December with our students. Instant  and Beauty and the  Beast.  Both were  phenomenally acted, directed and designed. The success of a play to me is  when the play ends and my mind  is racing.  After  both YPT plays, I was a runaway train. So many thoughts to consider – human kindness and the  impact it plays in the  world, accepting ourselves for who we are; finding  the  path that is meant  for us – not the path others have considered  for  us; keeping hope alive in the midst of despair. If you’re looking  for a New  Years  resolution, all good ideas  to consider. I maintain  that well performed live theatre has  the power to impact us in so many ways and  I am grateful to YPT for giving  me the  chance to often  facilitate the  Question and Answer sessions AFTER the play. It allows me a chance to empty my racing  mind – Thanks Aimee!   While Instant  is unfortunately done  on stage, you have until Jan 7 to see Beauty and the Beast. I highly, highly recommend  it. Good script, excellent  acting, humour, poignancy, fantastic singing  voices and both big numbers and engaging dialogue – your one stop shop for a great afternoon or evening  out (and I’m not even making  commission  from this!).

2.   Our Globe and Mail experience for Beyond the Classroom came to a close in early December.   And no the students weren’t on messaging  – they were researching for  their newspaper articles in the  picture below. IMG_1854

We are quite pleased with our final artifact.  It was the creation of our own school newspaper. Our goal throughout Beyond the Classroom has been to create authentic final artifacts and we feel that  this one met  the expectation. Students were involved in  drafting, revising, selling ads, and helping with the layout of the paper. We just about  sold out our 100 published copies so an electronic link is pasted below. St. Sylvester Newspaper FINAL COPY (003)The  goal is to  try  and complete two more editions  before the  end of the  school year. If you read and have suggestions for  future articles, please let us know. Hey –  a  thought – maybe our  next issue has  some  ypt play reviews!

A short blog for a change (and  longer if you read the  newspaper) but wanted to hold true to my attempt at a once a month blog.  Our Beyond the Classroom  journey into 2018 will see us at the  Canadian Armed Forces Base in January, Pan Am Centre in February, Google  Headquarters in  March, and  then  back to back farming/agriculture experiences in April and May. We’re also trying our first primary/junior Beyond the Classroom experience with our Gr. 3/4   class in late April and May with the City of Toronto Urban planning department. Should be interesting.

Lots of excitement ahead. Thanks for sharing it with us, and the best of 2018 to you all.