Monday, 23 September 2013


Often we try to accomplish something and for whatever reason we just can't get to our outcome no matter how hard we try. As educators there are so many things that we do well each an every day. When we try to implement change in our schools we often try and revamp what we are already doing.

This raises the question: Do we need to change or do we need to tweak what we are doing?

I saw this video last week and thought it was too good not to share. It speaks to trying to reach a common goal and along the way things just were not working out. By incorporating some of the old ways with the news ways, we may be more able to meet the goals that were are trying to achieve.

Don't be afraid to try new things. With that being said, if this is not working, make sure that you have the foresight to change along the way to fix any issues that may stop you from succeeding

Have you ever reverted back to familiar ways of doing things to meet a new goal?

Sunday, 1 September 2013

"Unplugged" for the Summer

At our last staff meeting at the end of June everyone chose a trinket out of a box I had collected. Tape, toy cars, paper lips, whiteout, candles, matches and other everyday items were in the box. We went around and shared why we had chosen each item. It was a great exercise and offered a glimpse into the lives of our colleagues. I chose an Internet cable and said I was unplugging from the computer for the summer as much as possible.

Well I did it. If you check my twitter timeline you will see from July to the end of August it is practically nonexistent. The same goes for this blog.

There are a few ways to look at this:

  1. It is a good way to relax and charge your batteries and get ready for the next school year.
  2. You could miss something important and/or a great idea while you are 'unplugged'.

I have determined that after this past summer I am more ready to come back to school energised and better off with this break.

I'd be interested to know if anyone has any thoughts or ideas on this.

Do you see the benefits of taking a step away when you are off for the summer?


Do you find your vacation an excellent time to catch up on all the great things that are going on out there?

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Prep Course for Kindergarten Parents

Well kind of .........

We just had our Welcome to Kindergarten Night here at our school. This night was for parents to come and find out a little more information about the school and the full day learning program.

Thankfully for me this was not an opportunity to lecture the parents for an hour on why our school is so great (and it is) and what we have to offer. Our night took on a different format.

The best teacher(s) a child is EVER going to have is their parent(s). This is the angle that we approached learning from last night.

Our school board, Ottawa Catholic School Board is in a partnership with the Learning Partnership. The whole idea is that we want to make sure that students have the school readiness skills by the time they get to school. If students come to school for kindergarten with some key skills this is a very good predictor of their educational success down the road.

We also had community partners at the session to answer any questions that parents may have had. A nurse from Ottawa Public Health was here, a representative from First Words and someone from the Pincrest Queensway Resource Centre.

The Learning Partnership provided each parent with a take away bag that included:

  • picture books
  • foam letters
  • construction paper
  • scissors
  • pencils & crayons
  • glue stick
  • blow up balls
  • play dough
After the Principal's introductory address the prospective kindergarten students and their parents could move around to centres. These centre's were set up by our kindergarten team and that demonstrated some activities that parents could do with their children to help get them ready for school in September. Students played with play dough, used magnetic letters on cookie sheets and cut up flyer's and glued the favourite objects onto paper.

The entire night was a real success. Students and parents were actively engaged in all of the activities and were most appreciative of the hands on learning. We had 37 out of 43 registered students attend the session and we were amazed by the turnout! If the turnout from mothers and fathers is any indication of the level of parental cooperation and involvement that we are going to have over the next few years, we are very fortunate.

Let's hope all parents engage their children playing learning games and giving them lots of learning opportunities before they enter school. If they do this research shows that we will all be well on our way to meet the needs of our students.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

The "Big Shift" in Education

I was having lunch the other day when I stumbled upon an #edchat about what the thoughts were on the "Big Shift" in education today. There were some great ideas thrown around surrounding best practices in teaching, technology, teaching to the test and so on. One "Shift" that kept being tweeted kept peaking my interest. It had to do with the HOW we are teaching our students.

HOW are we teaching our students?

Are many of us out there still treating schools as production facilities where all students are expected to exit the 'building' as a finished piece of work all resembling each other. Or are we making sure that the learning needs of each student is being met in our class or school?

Just what types of skills are being taught to our students today? This Sugata Mitra TED video at the bottom of the post raises some excellent points and questions.

Here is a question worth considering: The skills that we may be teaching our students may not be the ones that they are going to need in the workforce. Are the skills we are teaching lending themselves towards the workforce of today or yesterday? What kind of learning are we wanting to develop?

It seems I am asking more questions than I am answering. However, I believe that they need to be asked, discussed and dealt with.

When students leave school they have to be able to:

  • problem solve
  • collaborate
  • innovate
  • communicate
  • work as a team
  • be creative
This led to a discussion on how to go about teaching our students these skills. Teaching these skills will be a major change for teachers in how they run their classrooms and teach their students. A lesson, let alone a classroom, will have to undergo some pretty important transformations.

I know we are up to the challenge and we are looking forward to the opportunities that will arise for us on our journey.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Twitter Growing Pains?

Just finished a Twitter presentation for elementary and high school principals. The range if experience and comfort levels with Twitter really varied. Some had zero experience while others had a moderate comfort level. Some people had multiple accounts for school and home and others had an account but had never really done anything with it.

I've been at all these different levels. Five years ago I started my Twitter account. At first I had no idea where to start. When I did get going I became totally overwhelmed by the number of tweets that were flying around. Quickly I lost interest and put Twitter aside.

This is exactly where many of the principals seemed to be during this presentation. So the focus of my presentation became:

1. How to filter your tweets using hashtags.
2. How to make a list or follow a list.
3. Finding a niche and following like minded educators.

The moment that educators see the value of joining a Professional Learning Network (PLN) Twitter begins to make sense. The exchange of ideas, the answering of questions and the sense of community are all some of the things that make me keep using Twitter as my key online professional development.

I'd like to thank all those amazing educators out there that have have taken the time to answer questions when I pose them. As a result I always answer questions that other pose on Twitter if I feel that I can help out. Sometimes I can't, but know of someone that can and I point them in that direction.

Take a chance and ask a question. Better yet answer a question if you come across one that you can help with. It won't be long before you have created your very own PLN with people you check up on on a regular basis and probably share resources with.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Cool Ways to Use Google as a School Administrator

Over the past few months I have been reading some really interesting posts and comments on Twitter about using Google Forms in schools.

The past school year I have been trying so reach out to the school community and find out their thoughts and opinions about different things. Teachers, parents and even students have not been able to escape the questions that I pose. I think that this is a fantastic way to communicate with parents and find out right away thoughts and opinions of our school community.

I have been asked by quite a few people how we have incorporated this into school life and our communication circle. Unfortunately, I sometimes forget one or two of the great things that we are doing and I thought I had better compile a list.

Here are some examples of how we have been using Google Forms and Docs here at St. Rita this past school year:

  1. Creating class lists for the upcoming school year
  2. School Technology Application Form
  3. Help Mr. Slack Name his Fish - I also follow this up with a blog post called: Fish Naming Ceremony Turns into a Learning Experience
  4. LTP Parent Survey
  5. Winter Teacher Wish List
  6. Mr. Slack's Student Survey
  7. PLN Information Request
One of the things I am most interested in is communication and using this way to collect information gives me an awesome insight to what is going on and what people are thinking. I get immediate feedback and people get to have their thoughts, ideas and opinions heard. One thing that I have learned is that you have to make sure that you followup with these surveys or forms or they are worthless.

I am always interested to hear about different ways people are using google forms and docs.. If you have any ideas please make sure to let me know!

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

CLL Twitter for Beginners

I was asked by Rob Long to do a brief workshop on Twitter basics and how I use Twitter in my professional life.

Twitter is something that has so many uses to connect with other like minded people, share information and access information. The problem is that Twitter is not always the easiest thing to master.

Here is a chart that will help explain some of the basics..... (click here for a larger version)

Twitter for Educators

Twitter, the popular social media platform, is continually picking up momentum in its number of users; however, I find many educators who are not tapping into the power of Twitter. The mystery that surrounds Twitter, I believe, keeps many people from benefiting from the potential it holds. Consider this recent post on Facebook from a friend who revealed, “My mom thought that hashtags were code messages.” While the post made me chuckle, to those who don’t use Twitter, terms like tweets, retweets, and hashtags, can seem pretty foreign and intimidating.
For those just getting started, I’ll explain a few basic terms to help you easily and quickly navigate your way around Twitter. For those who already use Twitter, you may want to jump down to the next section, Benefits for Educators, or simply download the Twitter Cheat Sheet.
Twitter: The Basics
  • Twitter: According to Wikipedia, Twitter is an online social networking and microblogging service that enables its users to send and read text-based messages, called “tweets.”  A helpful way to think of Twitter is to picture a constantly flowing stream of water. Tweets are the stream. As a user, you dip your toes in and out of the ongoing stream of tweets. You can’t expect to take it all in, simply read a few tweets and then step out.
  • Tweet: “Tweets” are text-based messages of up to 140 characters (letters, symbols, words, spaces, & punctuation).
  • Choosing a Name: To begin, simply sign up for a free account. Try to select a username that is your name or close to it so that people can easily find you by searching. For example, Tim Slack (my name) was taken, @slackt was available so that became my username. People can still find me easily by searching for my name.
  • Following: You’ll want to connect to other educators by following them which can be done in two ways. First, click the Follow button when you see it next to a user’s profile photo or you can click the Follow button next to any of your followers. Start by searching for people you know or educators that you have read or heard at conferences – just type in their name to see if they’re on Twitter. 
  • Hashtags (#): A hashtag (#) is a word or phrase preceded by a “#.” By using hashtags, you can aggregate tweets around that topic. Hashtags help you focus on tweets around a specific topic. You can also add a hashtag to any tweet. Just follow the tweet with an appropriate hashtag and it will appear in the group. For example, here’s a recent tweet with 2 hashtags—Vocab instruction stale? Perk it up! Attend Top 10 Vocab Strategies – free Webinar Dec 12 4-5pm #principals #elemteachers  By the way, best practice is to limit the number of hashtags following a tweet. Only use the hashtag if that group would be interested in or benefit from your post. How about using #ocsbcll for tweeting interesting blogs and tweets you think we would find interesting.
  • Chat groups: Chat groups are frequently formed around a specific topic of interest and they meet regularly through Twitter. The group is defined by a specific hashtag. To join the group, you simply type in the hashtag and you can follow the posts and contribute to the conversation by posting a tweet followed by the hashtag. Two examples, #TitleTalk and #Satchat, are summarized below.
    • #TitleTalk, a group who shares about how to best promote reading and specific books to students, meets once a month on Sunday nights. Colby Sharp (@colbysharp) and Donalyn Miller (@donalynbooks) moderate the online meetings around a topic such as favorite read alouds, graphic novels, teaching with short texts, or book lists, to name just a few. So when you log in at that time and type in the hashtag, you’ll experience an online conversation around the topic.
    • #Satchat, another active group, is a weekly Twitter chat for current and emerging school leaders who meet around all things education. Brad Currie (@bcurrie5) and Scott Rocco (@scottrocco), two administrators, are the co-founders and moderators of the lively discussions held each Saturday morning at 7:30am EST. Grab your coffee and join them!
    • Want to get started? You’ll find more groups specific to educational technology, literacy, content areas, school reform, and more. I’ve compiled a list of many chat groups on the Twitter Cheat Sheet which is downloadable from this post.
    • Benefits for Educators
        • Connections: Twitter, at its heart, is a place to build connections with other educators – those next door and those across the country and world. Twitter can help you stay connected and up-to-date with news and resources shared by other school leaders.
        • Collaborations: Start your own hashtag to collaborate with colleagues. Additionally, have students create their own hashtag for a group research project. Then group members can save their links to resources and share information through the common stream designated by their hashtag. They’ll be able to easily see others results and research by simply searching by their hashtag.
        • Resources: Another benefit of Twitter is sharing and receiving resourcesTake time to share your favorite resources by providing links to them and be prepared to receive a steady stream of resources from others. Do you need advice about a resource or technology tool that you’re getting ready to purchase? Just ask on Twitter and you’ll probably receive lots of feedback which can ultimately help you research and make decisions.
          What to Do on Twitter: 50 Ideas
        • Professional development: Professional development opportunities are yet another great reason to be active on Twitter. In a time when many schools have limited funds to support professional development, Twitter can serve as a great resource to learn about free webinars, cost-effective professional learning opportunities, and more. Finally, share in the conversation by tweeting about your educational activities, favorite conference, read aloud, tech tool, and more.

Some of the educators on Twitter that I suggest that you follow:

Interesting blog posts:

100 Top Twitter Tools

25 Bio Tips for Teachers

140 Twitter Tips for A Better Social Media Experience

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Creating Your Own PLN

Professional Learning Network (PLN for short)

It was not too long ago that I started connecting with other educators through twitter. After about two years I am not quite sure what my professional PD would look like without it. Thanks to my PLN I have been able to incorporate many new and innovative ideas that I believe help make our students experiences here more educational, relevant and powerful.

So how do you go about creating your own personal PLN? Follow these easy steps and you will be on your way in no time!
  1. If you do not already, get a Twitter account 
  2. Follow a few people that you know in your 'field'. For our purposes I am talking education
  3. Lurk around and get comfortable
  4. Follow some of the lists that people you follow have made
  5. Ask questions! You may be surprised who will answer you
  6. Get involved in a chat
  7. Post or ReTweet (RT) articles or posts of interest to you
  8. Start a blog
  9. Share what you are doing in your classroom or school
I can honestly say that since I have started my own PLN I have become more focused, inspired and even a bit more of a risk taker in my professional life. I am learning about new and creative ideas to implement at our school. Some things I never would have though of and other things I had thought of but never tried out. It is here that I can gain from other experiences and try and make them work for us here.

If anything else, using Twitter, writing on a blog, are both great sources of PD for anyone. Plus, it is a great reflective practice for all of us!

Is there any must follow education blogs that you follow? How about educators on Twitter? Let me know I'd love to check them out.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Twitter for Educators: EOCCC Conference

Here is the presentation from the EOCCC Conference presentation on:

Twitter for Educators: Creating a Personal LearningNetwork (PLN)

Thanks for the opportunity to share this presentation with you. If you should have any questions or comments I am more than willing to try and help.

Remember, if you are brand new to Twitter, take baby steps. Follow a couple of people and see what they are reading and who they are following. Re-Tweet what you think is interesting and important and before you know it you will have your very own PLN!


Tim Slack

Friday, 1 March 2013

The Vortex Known as the Lost and Found

The Lost and Found (LAF) has always been a little of a mystery to me I admit. Having some experience with this as a principal in an elementary school, I do know growing bludgeoning Lost and Founds. Never could I figure out how students could lose their hats, mits and other articles of clothing.

How could parents not keep track of their kids and their clothing?? Well.......

Since my second child has entered school I suddenly understand. Next year we are buying hats and mitts in bulk and keeping a spare pair in the trunk of the car. All the fancy stick on labels in the world cannot help us here. The Lost and Found is a vortex where many items are never found and are sucked into what I like to call the LAF Dimension.

Yesterday, the LAF Dimension actually came in handy. I could not believe it. The other morning there was a big snowstorm and we took a different vehicle to school. What I did not know was that my oldest left his mitts in the other vehicle and we did not figure this out until we got to his school.

In a split second it was decided to enter the LAF Dimension and rescue a pair of mitts for the day. Within seconds we had a matching pair from the overflowing mountain of articles.  At the end of the day the mitts were returned and words of thanks were whispered to the LAF Vortex.

Lesson learned: Sometimes the Lost and Found can indeed help you out.

To all the parents out there:

As a principal, this parent understands.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

The New Communication

The other day I was asked to take a look at Michael Fullan new paper called: 

Great to Excellent: Launching the Next Stage of Ontario's Education Agenda

After reading this paper I was asked to reflect and provide a description of how the school I am at is adapting to the changes in education. Specifically in regards to technology, social media and communication.

Fullan identifies the 6Cs that are necessary in education today:
  1. Communication
  2. Citizenship
  3. Character
  4. Collaboration and Teamwork
  5. Creativity and Imagination
  6. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
Over the past number of years the way school leaders interact, lead and communicate with their school community has changed greatly. The way information is shared and distributed has evolved to keep up with what is happening in technology, learning and communication outside the walls of our schools.  Not only that, we have to address how students learn in the 21st Century and how teachers open up the curriculum for the students to best meet their learning needs.

One of the challenges we all face is: How do we get these new technologies and and methods of communication to meet the 21st Century needs of our students? Here at St. Rita we are working hard to meet these challenges. The way I have decided to go about implementing these changes at St. Rita is to first know, understand and use these technologies myself.

By focusing on areas such as the 6Cs myself, I am trying to lead from the middle and modelling and encouraging the use of new technologies and ways to communicate with a wider audience. The idea is that teachers will transfer these skills, concepts and ideas into their classrooms and teaching.

Some of the thing that we have done at St. Rita are:

  • St. Rita Twitter account: Used for announcements, to showcase student work and to provide resources for parents. This account is also linked to a St. Rita Facebook page so all the tweeted links go to Facebook.
  • St. Rita Staff Room: A place to share information and an effort to use meeting time more effectively by not dealing with small administrative items. This allows for more discussion for school improvement at meetings.
  • Using St. Rita Flipped Parent Announcement - This was used at the beginning of the year to be an alternative to the traditional paper announcement.
  • St. Rita website: constantly updated and the first thing that parents often see. Therefore, this communication tool is the face of the school.

  • Eco-Squad Blog: Our Eco-Squad has worked to create their own blog and they have been working with a school K-5 in New Jersey.
  • My own blog is a good way to contribute to the educational community what I am doing. We are now in an age where we are all getting ideas from blogs, Twitter and Facebook. There is also a responsibility to share what you are doing with your Professional Learning Network (PLN): The Education of an Elementary Principal

  • We are also looking at the importance of teaching students the value of creating a positive digital footprint.

Collaboration and Teamwork
  • As a staff we use Google Drive for a variety of purposes. Including making class lists for the following year: Class List Template
  • Surveying staff using: St. Rita Winter Wishlist  -  Wishlist Results
  • We know have Junior students collaborating together on Google Drive with each other and with teachers to complete their work.

Creativity and Imagination

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

Hopefully, some of these things that we are doing here at St. Rita are going to take root in our teachers classrooms and move into their teaching practice. I believe that leading from the inside out is the best way to implement the 6Cs in our schools and that leadership in our schools is a critical part of making this work.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Art and Math Fusion: Our Geometric Museum

This Friday the hallways of our school are going to be transformed into a Geometry Museum. Parents have been invited to take a walk around our gallery to see all of the interesting and creative work that students have done.

As a staff we decided to have math as a focus this school year to help us increase student learning. The first thing that we did was have a 'Math Assembly' which was extremely successful and resulted in some amazing conversations between student and teachers alike. There is no question that everyone in our school learned from this activity.

Here is a link to the post I did on the 'Math Assembly': Math Assembly: A Success!!

The next area we decided to focus on was Geometry and to have teachers look at the big ideas in the curriculum for their grade. We took part in a PLC Day where we discussed where we were in regards to our math goals for the year and to move forward to the next part of our plan.

It was amazing to listen to the discussion and to hear the enthusiasm of our teachers as they brainstormed what direction we should be headed in with our geometry goals and student work. From the discussion came the idea to pull from the Arts Curriculum and the Mathematics Curriculum for our next focus.


Turn our school into a geometry museum for a gallery walk.


Every teacher and student would dive into the curriculum and produce a piece of work that was cross-curricular. Parents would be involved by coming into the school and seeing what their children have created.

Some of the resources we used are listed below:
Once the Geometry Museum and the gallery walk is complete I'll share the results!

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

WELCOME! Branding Our School

What do you think about when you see some of the logos above? 

More importantly: What do people think about when they see your school logo?

When I was asked I immediately thought about asking parent and students how they see our 'brand'. After some reflection I began to realize that it starts with the school. This led to the following questions:
  • What do you want parents and students to think about our school?
  • What do we do to make our brand one that is attractive to parents in our school community?
  • Have you had the discussion with your staff about how we want our school to be see in the community?
Since this week is the official Kindergarten Registration week, I have been thinking a lot about how new parents see our school. Last week we had a work shop at the school board to talk about our school brand and creating a welcoming environment for everyone. Not just students.

There are so many ways to create positive and powerful brand for your school each and everyday:
  1. The website and social media tell a lot about the school. Keep them updated!
  2. When someone comes in to the front office, are they greeted? Is it welcoming? How parents feel when they come into the front office plays a huge role in whether or not they want to send their kids to your school.
  3. Answering the phone - Can they hear a smile on the end of the line or does it sound like they have interrupted something? 
  4. How fast are you at returning phone calls and emails to parents?
  5. What do your newsletters look like? Do they come out on time and at the start of each month?
  6. What kind of progressive discipline policy does the school have?
  7. As an administrator, are you visible to your school community?

What matters most is "Who are you?"

If you have a positive brand for your school in your community the benefits are enormous. There is a connection with parents and they will be inspired knowing that you are making your school the most welcoming place you can. Those connections you made, they will go out and spread the word.

My goal this "Kindergarten Season" is to make a personal connection with every parent that comes into our school to register their child or to inquire about our school. I personally meet and talk with each one and invite them to contact me if they have any questions whatsoever. 

Is anyone else working extra hard to make connections with their community and to build relationships? I'd be interested in collaborating and brainstorming ideas.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Fish Naming Ceremony Turns into a Learning Experience

You never know what is going to happen when you try something new. 

Not too long ago I decided to buy another fish for my office. I don't know what happened. Usually I have a fish to start off the year, but this year my office space was totally fish-less. 

With fish ownership comes the great responsibility of naming the fish. Normally someone would choose a name for me. This time I decided on another approach.

I created a Google Forms survey:

What happened over the course of the week was totally unexpected. Students were talking about this survey  everywhere in the school. It be came a learning experience where I least expected it. Often, these are the best kinds of learning experiences.

I announced the survey on the Monday and told the students that they would have until Friday morning to submit their response for the fish.

Over the course of the week it was very interesting to see how the results were shaping up. Early on it was the primary students that were voting for their favourite choice: Mr. Bubbles. Once the Junior students got involved the results and the survey really began to take off. OK ........ the results were getting tampered with by our Junior students. This lead to some interesting conversations in the staffroom.

In the end:

  • 1652 votes were cast in a school with a population of 305
  • Sushi was the name that ended up finishing with the most votes
Learning Implications:
  • there were many opportunities for purposeful talk in class, at home and in the hallways and school yard
  • students were learning about Data Management and were interpreting information in a way that did not even seem like school work
  • students who were never exposed to google forms had the opportunity to use them from JK - Gr. 6
  • parents had the opportunity to get involved in this survey with their children
  • teachers in the classroom had the opportunity to use google forms. If they had never used them before it was a great opportunity for them to try something new.
A next step for myself is to use google form in a survey that will go out to parents on our website. I think this will be a great way to communicate with parents and to get a feel on what they are thinking on different topics that are important to our school.