Is Anyone Paying Attention?

Is Anyone Paying Attention?

Principal, W.G. Murdoch School – This fall I’ve had the opportunity to transition into one of life’s most challenging roles: Hockey Dad. In between scoping out potential homes once my son makes it to the NHL (kidding) and running him around to rinks on Sunday morning at 7:00 AM, I’ve learned some important lessons.

Two times a week, Harrison takes the ice with 15 other keen five and six year olds to go through a variety of skating, shooting, and other drills intended to teach the little ones the basics of hockey. As parents, we’ve been encouraged to put our phones away and enjoy watching our kids play hockey. After a couple of practices, I see why. If Harrison got a nickel for every time he looked up at me or my wife for affirmation that what he was doing was special, he would be a rich man. Every circle of the ice, every shot on net, every time he catches a glimpse of one of us, the eyes go up to the stands, making sure we are watching.

Enjoying the groundbreaking ceremony at Building Futures

On one of those mornings, I reflected on how important giving students that same authentic audience is. As teachers (and parents) we’ve all been guilty of giving our kids ‘busy work’ to simply entertain them so we can have some time to ourselves. In my experience, the difference in the work received from ‘make work’ projects varies immensely from tasks that are designed with an authentic audience. Whether that audience is a potential client (like three of our students get to do this year with Building Futures) or an engaged classmate or teacher, ensuring timely, intentional feedback that occurs both during and after the task is critical. To relate it to the analogy of my son’s hockey, specific feedback about what I observed him doing on the ice, rather than “you did well son,” goes a long way.

No matter our age, we’re always looking for a level of affirmation that the work we’re doing matters. In the busyness of our days, let’s remember that our students care what we think about their work and that taking the time to show them that not only makes them feel validated, it also improves the learning environment.


W.G. Murdoch students learning about chemistry through hands on experiences with watermelons

Using Play Doh to learn about Plato in Origins of Western Philosophy

Confessions from a Fixed Mindset!

Confessions from a Fixed Mindset!

RVS Principal, W.G. Murdoch School – When Joseph P Kennedy coined the term “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” he probably wasn’t referring to someone possessing a growth mindset. We often find what we’re made of in challenging situations, and what our instincts are when faced with challenges. I would like to be described as someone who ‘gets going’ when faced with tough circumstances, but I have to confess I often fall into the “When the going gets tough, the tough blame the system” camp.mindset

In Mindset, a challenging book by Carol Dweck, she describes a time early in her career when she studied students dealing with challenging problems, some of which led to failure. What surprised her was some of the students responded with pure joy, relishing the opportunity to be challenged. Dweck was inspired by this outlook as it contrasted her own fixed mindset.

The good news for those yet to read the book is that our mindsets can change. In fact, admission to having a fixed mindset could be the first step to growth (or so I hope). Throughout the book, Dweck cites people from different walks of life who exhibited both a fixed and growth mindset. The common impact of people exhibiting a fixed mindset is a lack of growth. Fixed mindsetters are quick to blame conditions around them when perceived failure enters their life. The weather was bad, I wasn’t feeling well, the professor didn’t prepare us properly, my roommate was too loud when I was studying, the division didn’t give us enough support, and the list goes on. While blaming conditions around us might make us feel better, it rarely leads to personal growth.

People blessed with a growth mindset view failure and challenges completely different. What can I learn from this situation? Where did I go wrong that can correct for next time? What is something that was revealed about my personality that I wasn’t aware of before? A growth mindset allows learning to occur no matter the circumstances around us.

I can remember back to my own schooling, and the influence growth-minded educators had on me. I remember my sixth grade teacher, who also happened to be my dad. His care and compassion for all of his students created an atmosphere of respect and appreciation for each other. My Social Studies 20 teacher, Mr. Davidson, challenged us to expand our thinking beyond our current reality, and become global citizens. I still remember trying to pry out of him who he supported politically, to no avail. My Math 20/30 teacher, Mr. Wilde, methodically worked through the curriculum with us, ensuring that all students in his class found success. In  English 10, Mrs. Serhyenko made Romeo and Juliet come to life through her relational approach in the classroom. Mr. Gallup never cared how poorly you played the night before, since you could improve on the few mistakes you made and be better the next day (which often led to students being late for their next class – otherwise known as the G Trap!) Though all of these teachers had different approaches to instructional design, different management styles, and different forms of assessment, the one thing they shared was a belief that all students in their classes, and on their teams, could succeed.

Working in education can bring with it a certain amount of implementation fatigue. Having recently retired teachers as parents, has made me quite aware what veterans of 60+ years combined in the field  think of my latest ideas (let’s just say they may have heard it before!). So while initiatives may seem to get recycled and what’s old can be new again, what shouldn’t change is our fundamental belief that all students can improve. And luckily for us, so can we!