Parent Teacher Interviews: What direction shall we deliver?

This week at our Learning Leadership Team meeting we had a dialogue about parent teacher interviews. Two questions were posed that struck me as interesting.
1. Do we need to schedule parent teacher interview evenings?
2. How could we do the interview differently?
Obviously these were questions to make us leaders think deeper and here are my thoughts…

These evenings have been organized as an opportunity for parents and teachers to come together and discuss student progress in a formalized setting. Parents usually arrive with the student’s most recent report card in hand expecting some sort of explanation from the teacher. With the lives of parents busier than ever, these evenings are quite possibly the first opportunity home and school has been able to connect. These discussions can range from small talk, student behavior, progress and/or lack of progress. What parents are ultimately looking for is strong evidence to back the teacher’s explanation.

So, how do we do this differently and show this strong evidence? We need a better way to share student learning with parents. We need a web based program that makes it easy for teachers to share the vast amount of learning that goes on. In this day and age, teachers should be able to easily capture and attach these nuggets of learning and place them into a web based program for parents to enjoy.

What would this look like?
A parent logs onto a website that posts these nuggets of learning where he or she could see or hear the evidence. A parent might see the following:

1. Audioboo (sound) clips of the student completing an assignment.

2. Video of the student demonstrating these nuggets (outcome, competencies)

3. Scanned document of the student’s work with the teacher comments on the assignment.

4. Video of a teacher leaving comment on the assignment. Eyejot video.

5. A scanned teacher checklist from observing the student in class.

6. A scanned copy of an exit survey from the student.

7. Visual progress on the student’s web based portfolio.

8. An area where parents could leave comments on their own student’s work.

This would clearly show parents exactly what their son or daughter is producing in school (concrete evidence). There are multiple ways that teachers can collect evidence using technology. Though, with that being said, teachers need to have the appropriate technology on hand, an awesome web based program to demonstrate the student learning through multiple avenues, the professional development as to how to properly collect specific learning evidence, and the time to place this large volume of data on a web-based program. With this type of evidence based reporting, we could then cut down on parent teacher interviews.

I think interviews would still be needed, but only on a request basis. I also think in the near future that we will report concrete evidence. But for now, until we change how we report grades, this will be tough to do without interviews.


Idea: Change Coach or CC’s for short

As we make an educational shift in this province/country, an idea crept into my mind. The idea would be to hire Change Coaches to assist the division and school staff with change. Who am I kidding….in the educational world we would have to give these fine folks an acronym like CC for Change Coach. These CC’s would have to be an experienced master teacher with a strong background in technology. Depending on the size of a school division, one could hire three to five CC’s to collaborate together to help school staffs.


Change is coming in Alberta Education and this paragraph will give you some of the background. Change in Alberta is guided by the Ministerial Order. This order will help with the Curriculum Redesign which is guided by the Inspiring Education document. Another initiative that will hopefully aid this process of change is the Learning and Technology Framework. As you can see, this educational shift will be a large undertaking and a school division will need to assist their staffs with these shifts.

How will CC’s help? Their overarching goal would be to help staff with the changes in education. As the curriculum goes through a redesign, the CC could help the teacher:

  • Create a new lesson/unit complete with competencies.
  • Observing and working with the teacher as they infuse new ideas into their classroom.
  • Help them build connect wthem ith a PLN.
  • Co-teach.
  • Assist and implement new technology.
  • Assist with the latest and greatest app.
  • Explore some Project Based Learning (PBL) ideas that could cover multiple competencies.
  • Reorganizing your room to help with modern learning.
  • Help a staff, parents, and students move to paperless.

CC’s could create simple instructional videos that help with the latest technology. How about instructional videos to help teachers, students, and parents with technology? After all we are in the business of educating. A great example is in Lloydminster Pubilc School division they have some tutorials for teachers and some for student/parents to help them through various tasks. Also can I make a bold point here: It does not matter if you have an experienced teacher or a new fresh teacher straight out of University, we all can use some education when it comes to technology.

Do CC’s replace the instructional leader? No! They help the leader and the entire staff try new ideas through this educational shift. I thought of this idea after thinking about change, technology, project base learning, curriculum redesign….sorry my mind is a messy place. Send me your thoughts @vatcherg I know there are more great ideas out there!

Digital Literacy/Citizenship- What road shall we take?

This past week our school division had an awesome professional development day  with George Couros. He touched on the importance of relationships. He stressed how times are changing and relationships can be formed through many outlets. The main focus of the presentation was the use of technology to help form these relationships and the need to advance our learning. I touched on this topic in an earlier blog. Basically we must make a connection in class before we can push the envelope to help build students’ global connections to learning. The underlying theme is all about relationships.

So what does this have to do with Digital Literacy/Citizenship? The Alberta Government recognizes that students have digital lives and benefit from the use of technology.  Schools have the opportunity to help students build the skills they need to become responsible citizens in the global online community. The goverment has released an technical brief on the topic and basically states that school boards should develop a plan for digital literacy/citizenship for their students. Currently, our school division and many others have recognized the importance of teaching this skill set to students. We have provided a number of resources to our staffs to help them help students. Here are a few great resources/links… (A huge thank you to Zac Coupland and Carmen Larsen for sharing these at our PD day!)

When is this happening? There is no clear direction as to how this is to unfold for students of different ages. Should the school division have a concrete plan as to how we will build digital literacy/citizenship at each grade/age level? Do we need more data of when we should offer certain topics to students?

Why is this important? Students are growing up in this digital age and developing relationships. We have the opportunity to help guide our students as they grow into responsible citizens. As Marc Prensky states, The role of the teacher has changed from the giver of information to the partner and the coach and the guide.”

Celebrate Digital Citizenship Week Oct. 21-25!

Moving towards authentic learning….slowly.

In 1982 Alberta introduced the Achievement Testing Program for grades 3, 6, and 9, and in 1984 reinstated the Diploma Examinations Program at grade 12 as one requirement for high school graduation.

For 30 plus years, the province of Alberta has been running Provincial Achievement Test and Diploma Examinations. What have we created in the province? Teachers that teach to the test, students not excited about gearing up for these exams, and a public that may or may not believe that these tests actually improve their child’s learning.

The purpose of the Achievement Testing Program is to• determine if students are learning what they are expected to learn• report to Albertans how well students have achieved provincial standards at given points in their schooling

• assist schools, authorities, and the province in monitoring and improving student learning

Source: General Information Bulletin 2012-2013, Alberta Government

The Grade 12 Diploma Examinations Program, established in 1984, has three main purposes: • to certify the level of individual student achievement in selected Grade 12 courses• to ensure that province-wide standards of achievement are maintained

• to report individual and group results

Source: General Information Bulletin 2012-2013, Alberta Government

In schools, we are pushing for authentic learning experiences. Authentic learning typically focuses on real-world, complex problems and their solutions, using role-playing exercises, problem-based activities, case studies, and participation in  communities of practice. The learning environments are moving to a multidisciplinary approach.

Learning researchers (Reeves, T. C., Herrington, J., & Oliver, R. ,2002) created a paper-  Authentic activities and online learning.  They have distilled the essence of the authentic learning experience down to 10 design elements, providing educators with a useful checklist that can be adapted to any subject matter domain.

1. Real-world relevance: Authentic activities match the real-world tasks of professionals in practice as nearly as possible. Learning rises to the level of authenticity when it asks students to work actively with abstract concepts, facts, and formulae inside a realistic—and highly social—context mimicking “the ordinary practices of the [disciplinary] culture.”

2. Ill-defined problem: Challenges cannot be solved easily by the application of an existing algorithm; instead, authentic activities are relatively undefined and open to multiple interpretations, requiring students to identify for themselves the tasks and subtasks needed to complete the major task.

3. Sustained investigation: Problems cannot be solved in a matter of minutes or even hours. Instead, authentic activities comprise complex tasks to be investigated by students over a sustained period of time, requiring significant investment of time and intellectual resources.

4. Multiple sources and perspectives: Learners are not given a list of resources. Authentic activities provide the opportunity for students to examine the task from a variety of theoretical and practical perspectives, using a variety of resources, and requires students to distinguish relevant from irrelevant information in the process.

5. Collaboration: Success is not achievable by an individual learner working alone. Authentic activities make collaboration integral to the task, both within the course and in the real world.

6. Reflection (metacognition): Authentic activities enable learners to make choices and reflect on their learning, both individually and as a team or community.

7. Interdisciplinary perspective: Relevance is not confined to a single domain or subject matter specialization. Instead, authentic activities have consequences that extend beyond a particular discipline, encouraging students to adopt diverse roles and think in interdisciplinary terms.

8. Integrated assessment: Assessment is not merely summative in authentic activities but is woven seamlessly into the major task in a manner that reflects real-world evaluation processes.

9. Polished products: Conclusions are not merely exercises or substeps in preparation for something else. Authentic activities culminate in the creation of a whole product, valuable in its own right.

10. Multiple interpretations and outcomes: Rather than yielding a single correct answer obtained by the application of rules and procedures, authentic activities allow for diverse interpretations and competing solutions.



Authentic learning is happening all over the province, but standardize tests are limiting the progess. Here is a link to help the province and teachers be better assessers of authentic learning. It is a toolbox created by Jon Mueller.

I hope over time we see the cancelization of our provincial exams, a narrower curriculum with the ability to have more authentic learning, and better measurement of student performance. As our superintendent Chris Smeaton (@cdsmeaton) says “This type of learningrequires a shift from content focused to competency based. Knowledge is no longer sacredly held by only the adults in the school. It is readily available and easily accessible. Learning for tomorrow is about creating citizens and developing character.”

Digital Citizenship or Citizenship

Why in education do we create so many new buzz words? Today I am picking on the phrase “Digital Citizenship“.

For this post I am inspired by the words of Dr. Phil McRae. He is an Executive Staff Officer with the Alberta  Teachers’ Association and Adjunct Professor within the Faculty  of Education at the University of Alberta. He stated “We don’t have digital citizenship, we have citizens living in a digital age.” This is true, we have citizens and we are required to teach them a number of important skills in schools. Where does the term digital citizenship fall in terms of educating the youth?

Basically teachers are expected to infuse the following topics into our busy curriculum. (PS I have added links below that you can educate yourself and students about various topics.)

Digital Conduct
Digital Footprint
Digital Relationships
Digital Health and Well-being
Digital Law
Digital Financial Literacy

Last time, I looked at the Alberta Curriculum, we still have Information and Communication Technology (ICT) outcomes that teacher should be covering. This is wonderful, but this Alberta document is getting dated, as it was published in 2003. Teacher want and need resources and direction.

So, can we just teach GOOD CITIZENSHIP.

  • Personal Conduct
  • The footprint we leave
  • Healthy Relationships through any medium
  • Health and Well Being on all levels
  • Law in respect to a students age
  • Literacy at all level (digital, financial, etc.)
  • Safety in any format for any child
  • Bullying (because it will still happen at the school and online.)

So where do we teach these topics now, because for our students this is their world?  Social Studies, Health, or do we infuse it into all subjects.

At what grades, levels or divisions should we be teaching various topics?


Thank you to Carmen Larsen for creating, sharing and promoting this resource. Please add to it to help us educate students and ourselves. Also this reinforces the idea that we need to be promoting student engagement in our classrooms!

Congratulations to Karin Goble for completing her thesis… another super resource for 21st Century Learning and Student Engagement. This is another topic for another time….but you can see why the two are closely related!

Standardize Tests = #Epicfail


This cartoon is sad, but true depiction of what standardize test are doing to students and teachers. The reality I guess is teachers do not get fired over test scores, but students live with the stress and anxiety.

We need trust teacher assessments and remove many of our standardize tests. It shackles teachers and causes them to teach to the test. This also causes a narrowing of outcomes of the current grade. Standardize testing does not focus on the arts, music, drama, and physical education. Our students need to find their own talents and schools need to be creative to allow student to find what they are passionate about. This is why students complete high school or even college/university and still have no idea what they want. Many students have not unlocked their passion after 12 years of education. This is extremely sad and something the youth would call #epicfail.

Think about Alberta Standardize Tests in Grade 3, 6, 9 and 12. Who cares about grade 3, 6, and 9 tests? What do any of these test result really show? Do you think any of these test help our students discover who they really are? Do these tests result really show that a school is improving or that teachers are helping students unlocking their passions?

Below is an example of what could happen in schools, if we remove the fear of change.

At Monument Mountain Regional High School, a public school in Massachusetts piloted a project called The Independent Project. In this pilot model, teachers serve as mentors and coaches, not as direct instructors, while students pose questions and find ways to answer them.

The pilot semester — in which eight students participated (one 10th grader, five 11th graders and two 12th graders) — was broken down into four parts: orientation, the sciences, the arts, and the collective endeavor, which all of the students would agree on a serious world issue and work together to find a solution or a piece of a solution. Students would come up with their own questions in each subject, research it and then teach it to the other students. Here is a video of the results.

I understand that the above is only one example, but it shows the potential. So we need to work to a more personalized style of education, so students can unlock their passions and have a little less of this…


Dear Education Minister Jeff Johnson,

Please keep the Curriculum Redesign Project on track! I hope this stays the #1 priority for our students who seek passion. Also please sign me up for prototyping for this project!


PS Here is an update if you are unsure of the Curriculum Redesign.


What can YOU do to promote change in education?

What can you do as an educator to support change in education and teaching? Below are some ideas that you can try tomorrow.

1. Try a lesson where students are given the outcomes and they prove their learning to you.
2. Get out of your classroom and go watch a fellow colleague in your school district.
3. Blog or Skype with another class in another country.
4. Start a blog as a reflective tool.
5. Let some students teach you a new program or app. Here are a 100 great apps.
6. Push for paperless reporting of assessment or paperless assignments.
7. Teach a lesson through social media.
8. Innovation = Connections, so make as many connections through social networks.
9. Change the physical space in your classroom or school to promote collaboration of students.
10. Watch some videos on 21st education. Check out this link.
11. Use technology to improve literacy.
12. Follow a new hashtag on twitter. Here are 20 to start with.

Hopefully this helps you with some small steps towards change. Try one, I encourage you!

‘This bridge will take you halfway there- the last few steps you will have to take yourself.’ Shel Siverstein

Don’t be a donkey…embrace educational change!

Thank you to Principal Greg Kostiuk for the inspiration for this blog. He wrote a blog about how the times are changing. I have to agree with Greg, times are moving quickly. Teacher Lyle Parr reminds us how we have to teach independent learners.

I sometimes hear the following statement from teachers and teacher assistants. WHY? Why should I change if the student is successful now?

Better yet, think about it this way–WHY NOT? Think long term, in education this is difficult as teachers sometimes do not get the pleasure of seeing what a student will grow into later on in life. Think about how great lessons can impact a student.

I know this YouTube clip is almost 1 1/2 old, but it should make you aware that shift happens and supports that times are a changing.

Better yet more proof!

Here are 10 Jobs That Didn’t Exist 10 Years Ago by Forbes. My personal favourites are Chief Listening Officer, Social Media Manager, and Data Miner. If you still don’t believe me, check out what CNN published about Best New Jobs in America.

My message to teachers…

  • Is take chances and try new innovative approach to your lessons.
  • Find a colleague that you can do a project with (school, province, country, out of country).
  • Ask your students how they want to display their learning (might need some guidelines).
  • Push your educational leaders to get the tools that your students deserve to learn and grow.
  • Take a professional development day to learn a new technology for your students and yourself.
  • If your new innovative lesson flops…big deal! Albert Einstein said…

    “I have not failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”

Thank you to people like George Couros for showing us many examples on how to improve education. One of his latest posts Online Building Offline Relationships is awesome. This is a great example of a teacher trying something different to connect with students on their level.

This you video by Melinda Kraft will get you thinking, but as educators we must solve the problem by delivering education differently.

Don’t be a donkey…embrace educational change.

Education stuck in a RUT?

Albert Einstein once said the definition of insanity was “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

If that’s the case, I’m pretty sure we’re all guilty of occasional bouts of insanity.

Our education system in Alberta is tied to our broad program of studies and provincial achievement test (PAT)/diploma exam results. It is stuck in a rut. Teachers work hard to cover the entire curriculum and cover all the outcomes. The outcomes are too broad and lack engaging depth. Actually, the outcomes can be engaging, but many teachers feel pressured to rush through each outcome instead of exploring them with students. To add insult to injury, schools are measured based on PAT performance in a section of an accountability pillar. Basically, a report to demostrate how well each school authority is doing. I am not sure this is the best way to help change our education system (but this is an entirely different topic).

Greg Miller (Principal of a Pre-K to grade 6 elementary school) posted these comments on his blog that he has heard from teachers. ”I barely have time to cover the curriculum as it is” or “how is this going to prepare my kids for the standardized tests” or “the technology doesn’t work right half the time.”  Unfortunately, those individuals usually choose to stick with the comfort of what they’re already doing. Well stated Greg. The scary issue is, as educational leaders, sometimes we hear this too often. So how do we change this? How do we get out of the rut?

1. Help teachers with more of their own time! Build in common time to learn. How do we expect teachers to grow and improve? We must allow them to work together and share ideas.  We are not going to quickly change the structure of the day, so we need to change what teachers can do within the day. This is supported by We need to build calendars and professional development days that can support this innovation.

2. Give students choice on how to improve their learning. Check out what Noa Gutow-Ellis has to say

Or, give students a Fed Ex Day or Innovation Day. These 4th grade students took the concept of Fed Ex Day and made it their own with an Innovation Day – one day to work on whatever they choose, to just create and invent.

3. Leaders must limit the number of new initiatives coming into the school and keep only the initiatives that relate to the school/board and the teacher professional growth plans. If you work with your staff on these initiatives with honest and open dialogue, then you might have some tangible change that will benefit students. The curriculum redesign might be one of those catalysts of change.  Here is the explanation from Alberta Education:

 As we look for new, more effective and efficient ways to develop future provincial curriculum for K-12, one model we will be using is prototyping. Alberta Education will be posting a Request for Proposals (RFP) in the new year to invite school jurisdictions, Francophone Regional authorities and charter schools to take the lead and form partnerships at the local level and submit proposals. The proposals will be focused on beginning the development of new, competency-focused programs of study for K-12 subjects (mathematics, sciences, social studies, language arts, wellness education, and arts education) and to identify and/or develop classroom-based assessment and learning and teaching resources. Our Curriculum developers will be going out to the field and informed by research, will be working with the successful RFP applicants. Together we will co-create this new curriculum.

This sounds great; we might need to provide some release time for this to work or maybe some Fed Ex Days for teachers! Or, maybe let students sit in on our curriculum redesign project. Could you imagine a competency-based education that matches the education to the student? That might get us out of the RUT!

Random Thoughts About Assessment Reporting

I am not an assessment guru! But it seems that many schools still report grades the same as 20 years ago. I hate generalizing but, it is sad to see a percentage grade and a general comment to report our students’ learning. We have improved in the area of online reporting of our grades, but many schools still have print out report cards with comments on them. I think it is extremely odd to report our 21st century learning on a paper report card. Why don’t more schools have a paperless report card? Here is a New Jersey school district that have moved to paperless reporting. We have paperless banking, why not paperless report cards. We could also use technology (texting, email) to update parents and students when report cards are released. Currently, my dentist and mortgage broker send texts to remind me of my appointments and to wish me a happy birthday.

Or should we head down the road of a checklist-type report card. This idea stems from Atul Gawande and his book “The Checklist Manifesto: How to get things right”. The book’s main point is simple: no matter how expert you may be, well-designed checklists can improve outcomes. Gawande applies the book to surgical teams, pilots, and  people that build skyscrapers. Maybe teachers could improve the learning of students by using a checklist system for curricular outcomes. Attached is a surgery checklist used by the World Health Organization developed with Gawande.

Surgical Safety Checklist Production

Or why don’t we move towards a more competency based system? In Alberta, we have the new Framework for Student Learning, which has a graphic that covers the competencies that we would like in a 21st Century student.


A collegue of mine, Greg Miller, had an excellent post on his blog titled ” How Do We Measure a Competency?” In his blog, with which I agree, Greg states “that we should be exploring competency-based authentic assessment with a great deal of enthusiasm in our schools today.  Let’s give our teachers the necessary time and support to come together and work on this.  They’re the best resource we have.” Greg makes a super point of who should be completing the work, but when and where is the BIG question!

I have found a district in Denver, Colorado that has moved to a Compentency Based System (CBS). The entire educational system is organized around engaging students in 21st century skills. Students work at their development level and only advance when they have demostrated proficiency or mastery of a skill. Check out their site and look at their four core beliefs – learning is constant, time is the variable, personalized delivery, and systemic and systematic in nature. If you have extra time, take a look through the CBS that they have established. This was a system wide movement; if you need a quick brief, then check out the FAQ section.

Like I said at the start of this post, I am not an assessment guru! I think things should change and the biggest hurdle might be where and who will start a movement. I personally lean towards the CBS model; to implement this system it will take leadership from all levels – students, teachers, board members, parents, and adminstration.