Students “Get” Google Docs

google docLet’s just say the school division I work in hasn’t exactly embraced Google products. For a long time, the use of any Google product other than the search engine was restricted. This has slowly been opening up in the past two to three years, however we have been strongly cautioned against using this platform with our students– a ‘server issue’ as best I understand it.

I will admit that I’ve not followed this decree, in a use-at-your-own-risk type scenario.  I had used Google Docs with a class of Grade 10 students as soon as the Google gates began to crack open in our district, and by the time the “do not use” edict had been officially issued, I was already convinced that this was a super important platform for not only student writing in my English and Social Studies classes, but for student collaboration on products.

The best part about students using Google Docs, is that ALL excuses about finishing an essay at home immediately disappear because I have students share their document with me the moment they create it. No Microsoft Word on your mom’s Mac book? No printer? Printer ran out of ink? No USB drive for saving? Your email account doesn’t work so you couldn’t send it?  You worked on it all night and you forgot to save it?   —  All of these excuses cease to exist once students use Google Docs and share the document with their teacher.

Apparently my students agree on the usefulness of Google Docs.

I was struck by this  a few weeks ago when I assigned an essay to my 11th grade English class.  As the majority of the students in this non-academic English class had not used Google Docs in grade 10, I chose to use what they were accustomed to: Microsoft Word. While Google Docs/Drive is an excellent solution for schools, having students set up accounts and learn to use Google Drive in an environment where students DON’T have school Google accounts to start with is a time-consuming process.  See a post I wrote about a year ago related to this topic.

As the majority of the class was setting up their Word document, a few students asked if they couldn’t just use Google Docs.  Although I didn’t realize it until later, all the students who wanted to use Google Docs were those had been stuck with me in Grade 10 and used Google Docs regularly.  In fact, every student that I had taught before wrote their essay in Google Docs. To them, it just made the most sense to use Google Docs –they could easily finish at home or even on their phone if needed.

I dream of a day in my school division where the Google platform for education will be embraced.  All students graduating from our high schools should be experiencing the power of this online platform to prepare them for the careers they are entering.



An new experiment at EBHS: a book club

Ever since I read Kylene Beers’ book When Kids Can’t Read What Teachers Can Do, I’ve had the idea in the back of my mind that it would be intriguing for teachers of my staff to read this book together and talk about itFeatured image… like a book study idea. One problem: we don’t do that kind of thing at my school.

But we should!

Everywhere I turn, it seems I’m reading about the power of learning together with colleagues. So earlier this month I threw the idea of a “book club” out to my colleagues. Not sure what it will look like, but we are reading the first three chapters for January 8th!  Some of the teachers that have expressed interest have not read the book before; and thankfully, some who are familiar with the book also see value in revisiting it together in community.  This seems like the right place to reflect on trying something new in high school!

Thanks to Linda M. for helping to recruit enough copies of the book.

Check out the post I was compelled to write when I first encountered this book:

“So Two Colleagues go to a PD Session…”

A Moment to Celebrate!

It’s official as of an hour ago when I completed the oral exit exam for my Masters of Education degree from Gonzaga University….I’m done! No more papers, no more presentations, no more weekend classes, no more full-time student/full-time teacher status. Just waiting for my ‘parchment’ in the mail.

I’m sitting with a bit of shock and disbelief that this two-year journey has ended. Although it has, of course, been lots of hard work, It has been a wonderful season of intensive learning…learning from my profs , learning from my colleagues, learning through reading, writing, and reflecting, learning through my action research project/capstone….

Learning with a cohort community has been a wonderfully powerful learning experience; we’ve not only learned with each other, but from each other. Even as the face of education may change in the future, I wish for all students and education professionals the opportunity to learn in community.

Entering the world of student blogging

My first foray into class blogging has been attempted, and I hope that breaking all sorts of rules of good pedagogy won’t hamper the effect!  In other words, I hope that introducing my class to a new blogging platform with a half hour left before Easter Vacation won’t derail us too much! On the plus side, their topic was to respond to half of a novel that they have largely experienced together as a class, in a “Reader Response” format that we have used several times already this semester. I posted detailed instructions and links in Edmodo, which we have been using all semester, so hopefully they will remember to go there if they get stuck.  Hopefully there will be enough ‘knowns’ to balance out the ‘newness’ of the blogging format.

One of my biggest reasons for trying out  blogging is to use it as a platform for students to interact with each other’s writing.  Here are some great links that I’ll be  using   ( and  this one)   to help students with the commenting process.

Visiting the Classroom of a Colleague: A worthwhile endeavor

A school goal for the staff at EBHS this year has been to spend time in the classrooms of our fellow teachers, somewhat in a “classroom walk through” type idea. The research-supported theory behind this goal is that we will become better teachers as we learn from each other, whether that be learning a new method, a review idea, a technology tip or how to interact with a student that we’ve had a hard time getting through to.

Some staff have taken advantage of this opportunity and have indeed learned lots from their colleagues. Unfortunately, I’ve been frustrated by the overall lack of desire of teachers in our school to participate in this opportunity. Sometimes I’ve been close to thinking that the goal was misguided or too ambitious for high school teachers who are used to just doing what they do.

Fortunately however, as I listened to colleagues in my Master’s class discuss their supervisory platforms there was a common theme: teachers sharing in each others’ classrooms was part of almost everyone’s ideal school operation and supervision vision.

So obviously, our school goal of teachers visiting each others classrooms is one that is still worthwhile pursuing.

My classmates’ commonalities of vision are all consistent with features of our own school goal – which my classmates have confirmed are worthwhile. Here are some of the elements that we believe will lead to an environment of teachers as learners:

  1. Open door policy. It’s much easier to slip into someone’s class for a few minutes as you are walking by if the door is open.
  2. Collaboration should be normal. It should be routine to walk into anyone’s classroom and have fun and collaborate.
  3. Teachers shouldn’t wonder or ask, why is this person in my room?  Checking out what students are doing in other courses should be a natural part of a school’s professional climate.  It is important to see a student who struggles in your subject area excel somewhere else.

My Masters classmates have described being in someone else’s classroom as their greatest learning opportunities, as their greatest PD. My own experience confirms this. Now if only…

High School Educators: Ego vs Open Culture?

As George Couros writes in his blog series on “Leading Innovative Change”,  a growing, improving school needs to ’embrace an open culture’.  He writes:

 Organizations, as a whole, should model what they expect from students on a micro level; that they are willing to learn and grow.

At our high school, one of our school goals has been to learn and grow by visiting the classrooms of our colleagues. This goal is a ‘left over’ from our AISI project; a goal that we felt was too significant to abandon. The concept is simple in theory: encourage teachers to spend some time in the classrooms of their colleagues–10 minutes, 30 minutes, a full class period.  The underlying principle is that we all have much to learn from each other, even if we don’t teach similar subject areas: maybe a classroom management technique, a review procedure, a technology tip, or a way of interacting with a challenging student.  Nevertheless, in a high school environment, this is a very radical idea for many!

Why do high school teachers have such a hard time 'opening the door'?

Why do high school teachers have such a hard time ‘opening the door’?

Simple in theory. Just before the Christmas break, our staff completed a short survey to help leaders determine our progress in learning and growing from each other.  Teachers who had made even short visits to the classrooms of their colleagues overwhelmingly responded that it was time well spent–that they came away with a new perspective at the very least.  Unfortunately, even though the school year is almost half over, more than a third of our teachers had not yet responded to our school initiative of visiting a colleague’s classroom.  Some responded that they had intended to, but just hadn’t found the time; a few however, felt that it would be a waste of time… that there was nothing to learn as no one else taught exactly what they did.

So, the million dollar question: how do we continue to create and foster a culture where learning from others is seen as both valuable and important?  How do we model this culture of learning from others for our students?

George Courous continues in his blog: ” If your practices are amazing, sharing them with other educators gives them the opportunity to help more kids. If practices are weak, it often brings in new ideas to help your kids.  There is no loss in this situation for students, yet ego sometimes (often) gets in the way.”

Helping students learn, and of course increasing the ever elusive student ‘engagement’, are at the heart of our school goal.  I hardly read a research paper or a book on leadership that does not cite learning from and with each other as essential to school growth.  As such, I’m continually reassured that our modest plan of having colleagues visit the spaces of their peers is an important and worthwhile goal in fostering an open, learning culture.

When asked about creating synergistic positive energy in a school, Michael Fullan suggests that negative or punitive pressure is not the answer, but that:

 “no pressure seems problematic as well given the existential power of inertia.”

So our question for the new year….How do we encourage the resistors, whether they be resisting intentionally or not, to join in a culture of learning from one another?

Why Illiterate Educators?

A great challenge for Alberta administrators and teachers as we move toward am era influenced by ‘Inspiring Education’.  Consider this blog:

My Island View

When it comes to an understanding of the term “literacy” most people understand it as the ability to read and write in an effort to communicate, understand and learn. That has been the accepted understanding of literacy for centuries. Of course with the advancement of technology in our world today that simple understanding of literacy has rapidly expanded. It has probably expanded so much, and so fast that most people have yet to grasp all of the new literacies that have come about in this technology-driven society in which we live. There is actually a growing list of new literacies.

The very tools that we used for centuries in support of literacy have disappeared under this wave of technology. The typewriter is no longer with us. Photographic cameras using film are becoming scarce. The print media itself no longer relies on huge printing presses. VCR’s, although state of the art…

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