Ch-ch-ch-changes (Kumashiro Ch 2)

Kumashiro (2009) talks a lot about removing standards (because of their bias) from education. While I agree that standards can be bias, I also agree that students need to learn certain things when they graduate from high school (otherwise why do we even have an education system?). These standards could be more generalized than they are (i.e. in Physics we have over 120 different outcomes to cover  in one year), but I do agree with them. However, no matter how general they are, standards will still be based on what someone perceives to be the minimum information students should have learned – and this may not line up with all.

The second point of Kumashiro’s (2009) that resonated with me was:

“Leading is a disorienting process that raises questions about what was already learned and what has yet to be learned” (p. 32).

Being challenged is anything but comfortable. If you have ever been challenged to grow, you know how uncomfortable this process is! You start out in this blissful state of ignorance and then are thrust into a state of intense irritation, aggravation, and/or frustration. After the dust settles and things have had a little bit of time to percolate, you can not imagine going back to the way things were before you had been challenged.

Learning should be like this everyday – challenge the students, engage in a process that allows them to process the information for themselves, and then share their understandings. Their understandings will be different than yours since they bring different experiences to the table, but that’s ok – everyone learns something that way. Who knows, maybe even your students will challenge you? 🙂


Who’s in your pocket?

Who does this pocket rock symbolize for you? We all have students who influence us as educators, those students who alter the way we think as teachers and as people. We carry these students around with us for the rest of our careers.

In my pocket is a student who has recently graduated, let’s call him Q. Now, Q was a student who took to my class early on. He loved thinking beyond the box and talking about meta-physical ideas. Q came excitedly and told me about discussions he had on random abstract topics the day before and was more than willing to take questions I posed to him and think about them before resuming discussion the next day. In my eyes, Q loved school and learning.

However, after our first exam, Q’s exuberant attitude seemed to fade and he came to me after receiving his exam back to talk. I will never forget his words, “Miss Fritz, I think I’m going to drop Physics, I just can’t do it.” I was floored! Here was a student with the ability to think critically and deeply and he felt he couldn’t do physics. I later found out that he had always struggled with math, and as soon as we started using math within physics he had trouble following along.

Q has forever changed the way that I approach teaching physics. Everyday I try to blend the conceptual ‘ideas’ behind physics with the mathematical language we use. Physics is not math class, and if we taught it like math class students would miss out on the beauty of explaining WHY things in the world occur.

“It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry.”   – Albert Einstein (Time Magazine, Mar 21, 1949)

Thank you Q. I will forever carry you around in my pocket. Physics is more than doing, and I will always try to teach students that because of you.

Teaching Teachers to Teach: Kumashiro Ch 1

It is important that teachers know the limits of their knowledge. – Kumashiro, 2009, Against Common Sense (2nd ed), p. 7

The toughest challenge presented by my master’s course is that I need to “look at my blind spots.” The universe of education seems to be unending and it gets worse – the further out you explore, the more space you see there is to cover. I feel like I am still stuck in my own solar system but trying to see what the entire universe looks like through a tiny telescope… and I don’t even recognize what is in front of my face because it is outside my view.

All people are limited by their knowledge. We are limited by our experiences, our gained knowledge, our interests, our friends, etc. and even if we decide to expand all the pieces of our life, the other parts continue to evolve without us (and thus we miss out on that knowledge too).

The following video explains how I see Kumashiro’s explanations from chapter 1:

If you never look beyond your current perspective, or are never forced to look beyond that perspective, you will never understand the limits of your current knowledge. Without that understanding, no teacher can ever reach all of their students since not everyone has the same (or even similar) knowledge as that particular teacher. The trick becomes to be able to step out of your perspective and see the new dimension around you.

What do you believe?

“When we don’t reflect, we just do.” -Dr. S. Kemp, July 8, 2011

How often are teachers asked to share what they believe about education and learning? And beyond that, how often are teachers allowed to send this information to their school or school division’s cloud of knowledge? I was asked what I believe about teaching and education when I was in my undergraduate degree, but what do you really know about education before you swim in the pool? Then we are encouraged to reflect when we get out into the field of teaching, but who has time? You are trying to teach 5 curricula, running 3 extra curricular activities, supervising, covering division initiatives, and trying to fit sleep in there somewhere. So, reflecting and considering beliefs falls onto the back burner.

I was not asked to reflect on education, my beliefs, and where I fit in the education realm until I began my masters course. This is a skill that I feel ALL teachers should have – even if they don’t take a master’s program. Knowing your beliefs about education allows you to really see your path and where you want to go. Teachers with this sense of self are able to better resonate with their division’s beliefs, or understand why they are not vibrating in unison with the rest of the staff or administration.

These skills can’t be simply used once, obviously. Teachers need to reflect and re-reflect. and re-reflect, and etc. Knowing your beliefs about education allows teachers to see where they want to go and who they are inside the classroom.

Take a minute and reflect about that. What are your beliefs?

Initial Response to “Approaches to Student Engagement”

Engagement is such a vague term, yet, all schools are trying to achieve it. The biggest problem with engagement lies in the measurement and interpretation of how a school is doing. Vibert & Shields (2003) point out that engagement is different for each situation (p. 3). Engagement is not something that we can measure on a baseline, because it may not look even remotely similar from one school to the next. Engagement lies in the hidden curriculum, the identity, and the community developed within a school (Vibert & Shields, 2003, pp. 8 – 9). We can recognize school engagement when we know the hidden curriculum of a school as well as how they define themselves and their community – what is success in their terms?

The major point that resonated with me in this article explained what doesn’t make up engagement. “Students engagement is [often] identified with both compliance and involvement,” (Vibert & Shields, 2003, p. 4). The subjects questioned explained engagement as “compliance”, and that really bothers me. I can recall being in my internship (and first year teaching) and having observers come in to watch me teach and pulling out a diagram similar to the one on the right. The x’s represent a student who “wasn’t participating in the lesson”. What does that mean? Were they sleeping? Were they playing with their pencil? Were they talking? Were they doodling? Personally, in order for me to listen, I need to be drawing something – but if this observer saw me in a classroom, I wouldn’t be participating. If students were talking, maybe they were talking about the lesson – which is better than if they sat silently.

UselessThis just illustrates how hard it is to measure student engagement – particularly to measure it without personal bias. The concept of engagement is never neutral (Vibert & Shields, 2003, p. 9). If it isn’t neutral, it cannot be measured quantitatively – so our normal approach of analyzing the numbers is useless!



Reference: Vibert, Ann B. & Shields, Carolyn (2003). Approaches to student engagement: Does ideology matter? McGill Journal of Education, 38 (2), 221-240

Reflections on Parker J Palmer

“I’m not a problem to be fixed, I’m a plant to be grown.” – P.J. Palmer

So often I find that professional development comes in with the bigger and better option to improve everyone’s teaching. I remember reading Harry Wong’s “First Days of School” as a school division initiative – and we all had to implement it. I was irate, irritated and refused to implement this into my practice? Wong did have some valid points, but was it really the be all, end all of teaching. I was so angry and I couldn’t understand why.

Thank you Palmer for clearing it up. It wasn’t Wong’s practices that I was angry at – it was that I felt that my school division was trying to fix me. I was being forced to teach by technique, but this technique just didn’t fit with my heart. Professional development (and personal development) need to nourish the teacher – particularly the inner teacher.

Please stop trying to fix my problems – forcing me to do something will simply be painful for everyone. It makes me feel as if I’m doing something wrong and it makes you frustrated that I won’t do it.

Please find professional development which helps me to grow as a person. Even just having a discussion and providing a space with quotes to investigate makes me think about my teaching. Ask me questions and give me things to consider. Help me to grow as a teacher through reflection, re-viewing, and re-thinking my teaching.

The Heart of a Teacher by Parker J. Palmer

Immediately, Palmer invokes a sense of empathy with his audience as he recounts the familiar path of the educator winding amongst our human emotions (from joy to frustration and everywhere between). After being drawn in by his pithy illusion of the life of an educator, Palmer (1997) explains his philosophy behind the article as “we teach who we are,” (p. 2). Weaving this perspective of the inner teacher with the meandering (and difficult to navigate) path of an educator was an intriguing way to begin this class.

Dr. Kemp consistently repeats his mantra to us, “You are AR”. Action research cannot be separated from the self and I feel that Palmer was reinforcing this point to a higher degree by saying good teachers are a hybrid of people and specialist. One of my students wrote me this spring saying, “Although you may not know it, you’re one of the school’s favourite teachers because you’re fun, witty, kind and crazy.” Another student this spring wrote, “[…] you are one of my favourites, not necessarily because of your abilities as a teacher, but because of your abilities as a person.” Students respect teachers who care, teachers who know their students and who take the time to grow with them as people. Notice that both of these heart warming comments relate to my connections with these students on a more personal level; they didn’t enjoy my class because of my brilliant lectures on Physics, although I’m sure they listened intently :), they enjoyed having a teacher who was an a person in the classroom. A good teacher makes an attempt to connect with their students and allows their students to connect with them, and a GREAT teacher allows this to be done through the medium of the content they are covering.

I strongly agree with Palmer (1997) when he explains “we became teachers for reasons of the heart, animated by some subject and for helping people to learn” (p. 5). I remember entering the College of Education in 2006 and being asked, “Why did you become a teacher?” At the time, I did not have an answer and I became increasingly frustrated with every paper I had to write on the subject. However, I now understand that most people do not simply fall into the profession of teaching (and it certainly is not the pay cheque drawing people to the profession). People become teachers because they are excited about something and they want to help other people catch their enthusiasm. Although many may begin teacher training with the ideal that they will be employable when they graduate – not everyone will become a teacher. Graduates can still become employed and have a classroom, but not everyone will become a teacher.

I look around at teachers I know – those in our cohort, those I work with, those I graduated with, and those I previously learned under – and I can say that being a teacher is a completely unique profession. Teachers are the epitome of balance within oneself. This brings to mind the image of the Yin-Yang; a person is often divided into binary parts, but we must never forget that to live successfully, these parts need to be united and allowed to permeate into each other as we grow as humans. Teachers must walk in two worlds – professional and public self (Palmer, 1997, p. 6). Teachers must know who they are as people and be able to weave this knowledge with content in their classroom (Palmer, 1997, p.2). Teachers are not simply educators, they are co-learners, guides, weavers and so much more.

In the past year, I have learned about the value of analyzing and understanding my personal experiences and how they have contributed to building me as an educator. Today when I am asked why I became a teacher, my answers are instantaneous. I love what I do. I love having a job which requires me to constantly grow. I love having a job which will always challenge me. I love being able to look back on what I taught today and knowing that I will have a chance to make it better next year.

Over the past year I have felt myself growing exponentially as an educator and I now feel as though I am able to listen to my “inner teacher”. Palmer (1997) explains the ‘inner teacher’ as the part of an educator which allows us to grow in integrity, recognize our potentials, and realize our limits. The ‘inner teacher’ allows educators to teach as people and not to rely simply on technique. I believe that speaking with the inner teacher is a bit like learning a foreign language; at first, it sounds like complete gibberish, but spending time immersed with others who challenge you to use the language forces you to pick it up pretty quick. The past year has been spent learning how to communicate with our inner teacher.

It is both exhilarating and terrifying when I can hear myself having a conversation with my inner teacher. It can be quite disconcerting when I catch myself in an ‘inner conversation’ while teaching a lesson, but I feel as though this is a growth as a teacher. All teachers need to learn how to have this conversation. Luckily, I am completing this master’s course early on in my career and I will have my ‘second language’ to help me with the next 27 years or so!

Article available at:

The Heart of a Teacher