Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Telling our School's Story

This book was on my summer reading list.

It was one of the easiest reads of the, entertaining....kinda like those trashy tabloid magazines, but I came out feeling a whole lot smarter and confident.

Like this:

(In real life, this sign is about 20 feet overhead and huge)

Basically, the message of the book is this;  if you don't tell the story of your school, other people will, and they more than likely will not get it right. So, give people something to talk about. Something fabulous that shows your school in a positive light.

When I took on the role of acting vice-principal in the school, I inherited the school's Facebook page. The page was still in its infancy when it was bequeathed to me, and not being much a "Facebooker", I really didn't know how to unleash its potential.

I had heard rumblings from staff that the community sometimes seemed disengaged and disconnected from the school, and so I knew that something needed to change. I decided to jump in with both feet this year, and use social media to spread our story.

We have a brand-new green screen wall at our school so I began by using it with staff, to create fun back-to-school pictures and a video.

Then some of the classes decided to introduce themselves to parents and made their own videos.

Now others want to begin producing post-worthy products.

The result?

Well, we have about a 300% increase in the number of people who visit our page.

Kids, parents, people on the street (and educators from other schools!!) are now talking about our school. And they are saying great things.

Do you need to be a tech whiz to do this?  Nope.  I have now mastered iMovie basics (thanks Google, for all the help when I've gotten stuck!)  In about 10 minutes (maybe even less!) I can produce a movie that kids can't wait to have their parents look at online.

If you are looking for a "getting started" guide to social media, the Ontario Principal's Council has a streamed online course archive that is available here: OPC: Using Social Media to Tell Your School's Story

And even better, I plan to get some students trained very soon to take over the media production tasks so it won't take any more of my time than it will take to preview it before publishing.

Want to see some more examples of what we have posted this year? Visit our Little Current Public School Facebook page.

Our Lego wall stop-motion animation (to generate interest in visiting our Makerspace at the school Open House event).

You do need to know your audience and their social media habits, and where I live, Twitter is more of a novelty,  mostly used by local educators. Instagram use is on the rise, so that may be the next avenue.

I can't wait to see what all the other schools are up to! Tell your school's story, it's easy. For real.

Monday, September 5, 2016

5 Simple Steps to Building School Relationships?

Want to get to know me better?  Here are 3 things about me:

  • This summer I participated in a sporting event for 28 hours straight.
  • This summer I caught an 18 lb pike.
  • I can roll a kayak at least 6 different ways.

As I head into my second year in the role of Vice Principal, I find myself reflecting on the role of relationships in schools.  Everyone talks about how key relationships are, and as a classroom teacher, building relationships was something I spent a lot of time on.  In the administrative role, I now fully realize just how essential they really are.

5 Simple Steps?

Not really.

Relationships are something that need to be fostered, and require time and sustained effort.

But on the other hand, it's not really rocket science.
  1. Make it a priority. Yes, there are a million things to do at the beginning of the year, but is there anything more important than relationships?
  2. Make it fun. No one wants to write an essay telling all about themselves or their summer. No one.
  3. Make an ongoing effort.  Don't just do one activity and then leave it for the rest of the year. Ogres People are like onions, and it takes a while to get through all the layers to really know them. (Thanks to Shrek for the inspiration on that one)
  4. Make it genuine.  Really listen and pay attention as you learn about others.  If someone tells you about their renewed love for fishing over the summer, be sure to ask them in October if they are planning to do any ice fishing in the upcoming winter.
  5. Make it a learning opportunity.  Have staff tell something about themselves via Twitter, or in an iMovie trailer, on a Padlet, on a shared Google Doc...the possibilities can be endless.

The beginning of a school year was always been my favourite part of the year as a classroom teacher.  I loved coming up with a wide variety of fun, getting-to-know-you activities, and I always made sure that the time in class was spent in those early weeks really getting to know my students, and to let them learn about me.

Some of my favourites have been:

  • toilet paper roll game (Pass the roll around the circle and have the students take as many pieces as they wish.  After, have them share 1 item about themselves for each square that they took - the looks on the faces of those who wound it around their hands several times is always priceless)
  • Starburst game (Similar to TP roll game, but limit it to 1 or 2 candies and then display a list for each colour: pink= something about your family, orange= something you did this summer, red= fave sport/hobby etc)
  • Name Games (there are so many variations on this, but I loved the one where I got to be Perfect Ms. Pennie)
  • Me Bags.  I always share a box or bag of items about myself on the first day of school, then give them a week to collect and share their own items.  I have done this every year for 17 years, from Kindergarten to Grade 8, and even when I had repeat classes of students, they begged to be able to do it again.  For 3 years in a row. For real.
  • I Like game (when an item applies to the students, they change seats with others who also fit the category: "I like....people who have a dog".  The game ends with "I like....everybody", with everyone scrambling for a new seat

Last September was my first start-up in an administrative role, and I found that I really missed those fun, silly, get to know you games.

Here are some more getting-to-know-you games that will work with students AND staff of all ages.

  • Back-to-school Bingo. Fill a line or fill the whole card.  Click the link to go to the Google Doc and make a copy you can edit.
  • Paper airplanes.  Each person writes 3 unique things about themselves on a sheet of paper and makes an airplane. Fly the airplanes and grab someone else's.  See if you can find the airplanes owner.
  • Two truths and a lie.  Each person writes 2 truths and a lie on an index card.  Collect and redistribute the cards, then have everyone try to find the card's owner.  Once they do, have them try to figure out which item is the lie.  
As I mentally prepare myself for heading back to school tomorrow, I am excited about the relationships that I have and will have with our staff for the 2016-2017 school year. 

Enjoy the hustle and bustle of back-to-school, and the thrill of renewing and beginning relationships in your schools.

Just a note: One of the items about me at the top of this post is a lie.  Can you guess which one?

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Google Forms for Data: Helpful Tips for Teachers and Principals

When I began my leadership journey, the part of the Ontario Leadership Framework that scared me the most was data.   I'm not exactly sure why that was. Maybe it was a fear akin to "math anxiety". Or perhaps it was that numbers don't lie and it's hard to hide from cold, hard facts.  Happily, my misgivings appear to be unfounded, and I have begun to realize that data is useful and necessary.

I think part of the issue was that, as a classroom teacher, I didn't realize that I WAS always collecting and using data.  Anecdotals, samples, surveys; all of those things can be used as data.

Since data is necessary to inform and drive instruction, I think that the biggest barrier for educators is the time to collect data.

Google forms to the rescue.  Now, I have forms at my fingertips, and I can easily enter data via my phone, tablet and laptop.

Step 1: Create your google form.

Here is a fantastic tutorial for teachers to create google forms.

Step 2: Create a quick link in Chrome Bookmarks to access from your laptop.

Step 3: Add to home screen on your phone or iPad (or both!).

1. Open up Safari on your iPhone or iPad and go to

2. Sign into your google account in Safari

3. Once in your google account, go to the apps  and scroll way down, to Even More Apps, to find Google forms

4. Open up google forms, and find your form

:5. At the top of your form, there is a "view live form" button ; press it!

6. You should now see your  form, ready to receive data

7. At the bottom of your screen there is a rectangle with an arrow; press it (this is the send/share button)

8. From the list of options, scroll over to find " Add to home screen" ; press it!

9. There should now be an "app" on your home screen with the title of your form - open it up and test it out!

10. Ta Daaa! All data that you input will be collected in a google sheet in your Drive

11. Show all your teacher and principal friends and be a rock star!

Step 4: Input data, anytime, any place! 

Now you can easily input data wherever you are - no more need to try and play catch up at the end of the day, since you can do it on the fly.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Another 6 awesome things at our school: Part 3

As I've said before, the best days in administration are the ones where I get to spend time in classrooms. Here are some more amazing things that have been happening in our school. Part 1 post is here, and here is Part 2.

Technology twist to traditional book reports

A student hunted me down at the office the other week to show me her summary of a novel read in the class.  It was a book trailer using iMovie. The glow of accomplishment was so evident on her face, and it was a great way to see her understanding of the themes and ideas of the book.

Visible math

I love walking into classrooms and being able to "read" what is going on by looking at the walls and charts. Open number lines on display help students visualize mental math concepts, and student thinking is evident. When these are posted in the classroom, hesitant learners can refer to these strategies to help. Awesome.

Hands-on learning

Students were constructing water treatment models that made the dirtiest water look drinkable. Another class was making models of water and local landforms. Activities like these bring learning to life. No one gets excited over worksheets, but making and doing engages students.

Students as Leaders

Our students led our community Remembrance Day service and it was amazing. They produced videos, artwork, and even greeted and welcomed parents and veterans at the door. A powerful learning opportunity and a meaningful and memorable day. 

Bringing Languages to Life

It is wonderful to see students having mock interviews and conversations in French (complete with costumes and props). A fun way to practice language skills. Our Ojibway students have been utilizing technology to research the past to help them better understand the present of the culture and language. Posted anchor charts even allowed ME to write a sentence in the Ojibway language (with a little help from some students of course).

Stop Motion Animation

This tool has had a major impact on the engagement level of many students in our school. Limited only by their imaginations, students have used Lego, plasticine and even erasers to tell their stories, one frame at a time.

I was originally only planning to do only 3 posts, but I realize that I am constantly seeing new and exciting things happening in our school. There will definitely be more to share.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

6 MORE awesome things at our school: Part 2

One of the best parts of being a Vice Principal is the fact that I get to learn from everyone in the school. As I cruise through the hallways and classrooms of our school, I come across amazing teaching and learning practices by our inspiring staff. My first post of ideas that just needed to be shared is here.

Music and Song

  • A song for every occasion. I grew up with the sounds of RAFFI (all of you Canadian educators out there of my age are nodding and smiling right now). I love hearing the teacher and students belting them out in the classroom. Music has the magic to soothe, energize and build classroom community. (and walk in a line..."Sammy Sackett, hold onto my jacket" anyone?)

Smartboards AND Coding

  • Collaborative coding on the Smartboard.  All too often, Smartboards become a "teacher-only" device, but we need to remember that they are interactive.  Students like to interact with them. It's really neat to see a group of students working collaboratively and problem solving using coding. And what could be better than moving enormous Angry Birds through a Smartboard-sized maze!

Print your Name Attendance

  • This strategy is so simple but effective. When kindergarten students sign in for morning attendance, they find their laminated name card on the table, and have the opportunity to print it out on the lines underneath before putting it in the "I am here today" basket. The teacher simply wipes them clean at the end of the day, and they are ready for the next day.

Sent to the Office to Celebrate

  • We LOVE when students ask the teacher to come to the office to show off something great that they have done. The secretary, principal and myself all have sticker stashes for the students who bring something to share with us. It never fails to bring smiles and always makes our day.

Visible Learning

  • Anchor charts, success criteria and student work posted in all of our classrooms immediately give us a sense of what students are learning. Word walls and information posted for student use provide helpful visuals. I love the fact that I can go into the Ojibway language room and find words on the walls to help me converse with students; of course, they often need to jump in and help me out with the pronunciation, which they are happy to do.

Real-World Tie-Ins

  • It would be great if all learning in school could be directly linked to the real world, but it's not always possible. Next best is for the chance to emulate circumstances and occasions that students will encounter outside of the classroom. Dressing up as characters and conversing in French is great practice for any future traveling that students might do. And so much fun!
Stay tuned for more awesomeness from our school. I have so much to share about all the great things that staff are doing. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

6 Awesome things at our school. Part 1

When you are a classroom teacher, your world is often reduced to within the walls of your own classroom.

As a new vice principal, I am loving the fact that I get to visit classrooms ALL THE TIME.

Former colleagues are always sharing teaching ideas and strategies, and this year I have the opportunity to share  all of the awesomeness that I get to see.

Here is a tiny glimpse into some of the "awesome" from our primary classrooms:

Brain Breaks

  • Our teachers get students up and moving with Go Noodle, bins of printed brain break cards, and constant song, dance and movement.  I just love it when I get the chance to join in!! "Swing around your tables like monkeys eating bananas..."  Right On!


  • Making collaboration special. One teacher has group sets of different coloured ball caps that students wear when participating in special collaboration activities with their groups. Each hat is assigned so no head lice worries.  Students get to keep their hats at the end of the year. How fun is that?!

Classroom Greeters

  • As an adult visiting a classroom, it is so neat to be greeted and welcomed to the class by a 5 or 6 year old, complete with a handshake and an introduction. I love this real-world skill being taught.

Fun Attention Grabbers

  • "Macaroni and cheese..."      Everybody freeze!
  • "Class, class..."   Yes, Yes!
  • clapping patterns and so many more!

Lunchtime Friend Reward

  • Imagine getting to invite anyone you want to come to your classroom to have lunch with you?  What a great way to make a students day.  I'm thinking I may want to try this someday at the office (if I ever get time to actually sit down and eat lunch....   :-)

Camper of the Week

  • A classroom with a camping theme (complete with trees and a "campfire" meeting area) has a Camper of the Week. Pictures and info about the student are on display for the week - what a great way to get to know each other and create classroom culture.
This post could continue on and on and on.  Stay tuned for part 2 of the awesomeness that I get to see at our school. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

5 Things I've Learned as a Vice Principal.

This year, I began my latest learning journey.

I became a vice principal: a lead learner.

It is so different from being in the classroom, that I really can't even compare it to being a teacher. I do know that it is challenging. And I do know that I am learning. Every. Single. Day.

Here are my thoughts on 5 of the things, in no particular order,  that I have learned in the two short months I have been in an administrative role.

  1. It's all about perspective. There are challenges with the job, for sure. But, there are challenges with every job. Rather than looking at someone as a "difficult student", it is a "student in difficulty". And as frustrating as it can be at times, as admin,  to figure out how to best meet the needs of some students, I need to remember that there is a classroom teacher who has been struggling for more hours than I have to help that student out. We are all a team, and we have one goal in mind: What's best for kids!

2. Don't be afraid to look silly or have fun.  I think I have had more positive comments and feedback on my YMCA dance moves in the gym with students than anything else. And my somewhat sad attempts at drawing with the 8th grade art class. Thankfully, I'm not afraid to laugh at myself. It seems to help students and staff feel more at ease and I think that it somewhat levels the playing field. Vice principals are people too!

3. Build relationships. This was the first thing that my principal said to me when I first visited the school, and it is so true. One of the biggest tasks I undertook was to create handmade thank you notes for all the staff for making me feel so welcome at the school. It took me a week to make thirty of them, but it was time well-spent. Many people took the time to let me know that receiving my note made their day. Well worth it.

I also take the time to get to know something about each student that I chat with, so that I can connect with them on a personal level. I reciprocate by sharing about my interests, my own children, and even my dog. I love getting to know what makes interests them, and finding common ground; it is incredible currency. It's like money in the bank for a rainy day when you need to have some of those tough conversations with kids, and they are able to open up because they can relate to you. And it totally makes my day when a student asks how my sick dog is doing or if my kid liked the present I bought for him. Awesome!

4. "Turn it off and on" sometimes IS the answer! 

I have tech issues brought to my attention so many times each day that I quickly lose count. I am known for my  love of all things technology, but I don't pretend to always have the answer. Turn it off and on often fixes the issue when other attempts have failed. It never hurts to try. It even works for the photocopier!

5. Focus on the positive each day. No matter how small, I find the "wins" in each day, and I try to share them with others. Playing Lego with a student, showing a class the voice typing feature in Google docs, and supporting staff when they are in challenging situations; they may seem insignificant at the time, but I try to remind myself that they are what is important. No matter how tired I am at the end of the day, it has been worth it.