Category: Reflections

The Documenting Process

Although I’ve written some blog posts both here and on my classroom blog in an effort to document my learning and the learning of my students, I’ve never consciously thought about the actual process of documenting. Today, some colleagues and I, who are participating in an incredible learning cohort with Silvia Tolisano, focused in on the three phases of documentation: Pre-documentation, During Documentation, and Post-Documentation.

During the pre-documentation phase, we met with Julie, a grade 3 teacher, whose class we would be documenting learning in. (In hindsight, I wish I had taken some pictures of this step.) She shared her goals for the lesson, articulating the learning she was hoping to capture. First, she wanted to see if students could answer open-ended multiplication problems. She was curious to see if the students could show their mathematical thinking in pictures, numbers and words. She also mentioned how it was a class-wide learning goal for students to work together cooperatively, take risks and show leadership skills.

As was to be expected, the magic happened in the classroom!

Mathematical Thinking

Many groups gravitated towards using pictures to start off when solving the problem. Eventually, these pictures lead to math phrases and equations. All the while, there was a lot of discussion between group members about what to write and how. Although they may not have written it down on their paper, listening in to the conversation was evidence that many students understood their task. There were some groups that chose not to draw pictures and used numbers instead. There was only one group that clearly organized and identified their thinking as pictures, numbers and words, even though their question did not specifically ask for it.


Cooperative Learning and Risk-Taking

I witnessed an amazing moment of cooperative learning and risk-taking. Something I’ve witnessed in my own classroom is the reluctance for students to listen to each other’s ideas and try them out. There is often a desire to have their idea listened to, their example used, their writing on the sheet, that they often miss the point of the activity. Watch how these two students listened and ultimately cooperated to come to a conclusion.

Personalized Learning

Although this wasn’t necessarily one of Julie’s identified goals for her lesson, I chose to focus on this for my own learning, as this is the lens through which I am constantly looking in my own classroom. It was amazing to see students working on different questions depending on where they are in their learning. It was also interesting to see how they tackled such an open ended task. They each used their own strategies, tools and voices to tackle the problem in their own unique way. As mentioned above, some used pictures, some numbers, and one group even used manipulatives to help demonstrate their understanding. When I noticed some responses that didn’t quite make sense on paper, I was able to ask these groups for further clarification. With this extra step, students were able to show that although their writing did not convey the “correct” answer, they were more than capable of explaining their understanding thoroughly.


It felt new and familiar at the same time to be documenting another class’s learning. The pre-documenting phase of this process is the one I have overlooked in the past. However, I see now that this important step in this process completely organized what I wanted to capture, how I would capture it, and even organized this post long before I ever put it into writing. I imagine this may be the step that many tend to omit, but I see its value now and promise to at least try to do it more often in the future 🙂

Where Am I Going? Where Have I Been?

January 7, 2008 was the first day of my first teaching job in Vancouver. I graduated with my B.Ed in 2007 and started working towards my Master’s right away. After being away from the school setting for a year, I realized the best place to learn what I needed to learn was to actually be in the classroom. In university the message had always been, ‘Take whatever job you are offered and then figure out how you’ll teach it.’ I followed this advice and spent the first 6 months of my career covering a grade 1 Hebrew class maternity leave. I was definitely less than qualified to teach this class, but I took the job and did the very best I could.

I continued to wear many hats with various names in the first 10 years of my teaching: Morah Melissa, the Hebrew teacher, Mademoiselle Melissa, the French teacher, Ms. Melissa the P.E, Gym, and Art teacher, the Tech Integration Specialist, Ms. Anders, the grade 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, and 8 teacher, and now finally, Mrs. Thompson, the grade 5 teacher and Teaching and Learning Coordinator.

No matter what the students have called me, and no matter what I have taught, I have always striven to be the expert in one area for both my students and my peers: learning. Looking back, I can’t believe how far I have come, yet at the same time, I still feel like a novice with so much to learn.

This year in particular feels like one where I have stretched myself and will continue to push myself to learn. There are moments (many, actually) when I feel overwhelmed by all the ideas floating in my head, the to-do lists, the trials, and the errors. I’m sure this feeling isn’t new, and I wish I had something to look back on to say, How did I do this before? And so this post was born! It may be 11 years late, but better late than never!

What have I learned so far this year:

  • DOCUMENTING OF, FOR and AS LEARNING IS IMPORTANT – for myself and for my students! (Thanks, Silvia) This is one that I know in my heart, that I have felt for a long time, AND have not yet figured out how to best do it. I have started to write a few blog posts on this blog, as well as on my class blog, and I have also amped-up my use of Twitter to connect and build my PLN. I’ve participated in some chats, shared ideas from my own classroom, crowd-sourced for myself and for my colleagues, and never stop feeling excited when I have a new notification about someone acknowledging something I’ve shared! But I definitely have not been doing all this as much as I should be. Fortunately, my Head of School, Jon Mitzmacher, has a blog where he has documented his own blogging journey, and I have learned from some of his first posts, just how far I can go. I have now made a commitment to myself (and added it into my calendar) to blog at least once a week. I know that this will only enhance my practice as a teacher, and will allow me to continue playing the role of the lead learner. Knowing that this is a direction we would like our students to start following, I must take the time to figure out just how to make it a priority so I can then help them as they learn to find the authenticity and value in documenting their learning.
  • PERSONALIZED LEARNING IS IMPORTANT – it’s not necessarily easy to do at first, and I’m not great at it yet, but I am committed to figuring it out! I started by trying to understand who my students were as learners, and to help them to understand themselves to know exactly what they need to be successful. It was important for me to first build an environment in my classroom where students knew that being “different” was actually normal, and that fairness has absolutely nothing to do with being equal. This info-graphic from Brookes Publishing really helped me explain the concept to students in a way that made sense to them. Next, it was about creating opportunities in my classroom where students had more voice. I attempted to make Must Do, May Do lists in my math class, but after listening to these videos from Learning Personalized (this site has been a wealth of information for me throughout my learning journey as a whole), I realized that as the teacher, I still had too much of a role in what the students were doing. I am definitely differentiating, which is important, but students still do not have as much of a say in WHAT they learn, and HOW. The closest I have come has been introducing Genius Hour to my class, and they LOVE IT. Even though they know we only do Genius Hour on Wednesdays, they ask on a daily basis if we can do it during class. Today my students earned a class party as part of our Gotcha! reward system (I’ll have to write a post about this soon) and guess what they chose to do during their free time?…work on their Genius Hour Projects! They are interested, motivated, self-directed, reading, writing, creating, documenting and reflecting (on flipgrid) and *gasp* learning!

So where do I go from here?

I need to stick to my blogging goal. Not just for now, but for always.

I need to continue building my own understanding of what personalized learning looks like, sounds like, and feels like. I need to find out what I am holding onto from more “traditional” teaching or what the system I work in is holding onto, so I can better understand what needs to stay and what can go to make room for personalized learning. Math really seems to be the class where I am struggling the most. I imagine letting go of ‘teaching by the unit’ has something to do with it, but I need to research more, try more, fail more, and crowd-source more. I can imagine nothing better than students coming into every class, every day, with the same excitement and enthusiasm for every task as they currently do for Genius Hour. That’s when I’ll know that I’ve been successful…and I can’t wait!

The Oxymoron of Leadership

I am currently taking my Principal’s Qualifications and am required to write a reflection after each module. It has been on my mind since the start of the course that these reflections get posted to one person, yet there is so much more we all could be getting out of these reflections if there was more value placed on them by making them public- where they can stop being reflections for the sake of reflecting, but can become reflections for discussion and growth. In an effort to practice what I’m preaching, here is a copy of what I wrote in my most recent reflection:


If there were to be a module where my passion lies, it would be with Module 4, specifically around the use of technology.

Technology has always been an area where I have felt comfortable. A new tool can come out, and I feel completely safe playing around, clicking buttons, navigating pages and simply figuring it out. The more experience I’ve had with this, the less fear I have to accidentally do something wrong.

Because of my comfort level, I have always been drawn to new and innovative technology-based tools that I can use in the classroom with my students. When I did my teaching practicum in 2005, I was fortunate to be placed in a school that had a shared laptop cart. I created a webquest for my grade 1-2 split class to virtually explore the different cities Terry Fox ran his marathon, and then write an imaginary journal from his perspective of the things they saw on their journey. This was the spark for the path I would follow for the rest of my career up until this point.

In 2007 I moved to Vancouver to pursue a Masters in Educational Technology. I was then hired as the Technology Integration Specialist at a school there. I attended workshops on iPad integration, participated in large EdTech conferences all over Canada and the US, and eventually moved to Ottawa where again, part of my responsibilities are dedicated to helping teachers integrate innovative practices into their classrooms, including but not limited to, technology. More than anything, I want to help them reduce their fear of “clicking on something wrong.”

I get that I may not be the norm. There are many teachers, both young and not as young, who feel intimidated by technology. However, after listening to this week’s group talk about the changes our students are likely to experience in their future, I can’t help but stand up and yell from the rooftops that it is imperative that teachers and administrators become literate in the language of now. Even in the last few months, I have upped my own online presence and realize that we have so much to benefit from the world of educators. Why limit ourselves to those in our school? Those in our board? Those in our city or even country?

This reflection in and of itself has no value if the only person I can share it with is my professor. That’s why I have also posted it to my blog. Perhaps this is a larger dialogue that needs to happen. Perhaps other people have ideas to share that will help me develop my thoughts even more. Perhaps I am completely off on my thinking. But I’ll never know if I don’t put it out there for others to comment on and reflect with me.

As potential future administrators, wouldn’t it be great to speak to other people around the world going through the same process? Wouldn’t it be beneficial to hear from those who have completed the process and are just beginning the next phase of their career? Why then, are we limited to posting our reflections inside a closed platform?

As one of my mentors, Silvia Tolisano, has taught me, technology is just the tool. There are always new things coming out and new ways of doing things. What’s important is that you know how to handle those things when they do come so that you are moving with the times, not falling behind them. We have a huge responsibility and a huge opportunity. As future leaders, we must be the leaders.

The Modern (Jewish) Teacher’s Guide to Guilt

About 6 years ago I read a book called, “The Modern Jewish Girl’s Guide to Guilt” by Ruth Andrew Ellenson, in which different Jewish female writers tell hilarious stories of the guilt they’ve grown to feel in various life situations.

The past few weeks of my at-school, and out-of-school, life have been stressful. Report cards can do that to a staff. Then add on all the other commitments teachers take on, and we could write our own book.

In an effort to deal with my own guilt of needing to push things to the bottom of my to-do list (like this blog) I’m writing this post as a placeholder to say…

I’m still here.

I will be writing again soon.

Anyone who feels the same as I do, raise your hand, and let’s not feel guilty together!


Illiteracy in the 21st Century

As someone who has always been comfortable with technology, and spend much of my time navigating the digital world, I would consider myself a (mostly) literate educator. Many teachers may hear that term and say the same for themselves, but what it means to be literate today has changed. If we truly want to prepare our students for the future, we need to rethink what literacy skills are. And if we need to teach those skills, we need to know those skills and use them.

My Documentation Learning Curve

Over the last 2 days, I, along with some of my colleagues, have had the incredible opportunity to work with Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano about documenting our own learning AS learning. I had two new experiences today: 1) I documented a Lunch and Learn session from one of our teachers and 2) we had a Skype session with Jocelyn Blumgart in Australia.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far.


During the Lunch and Learn session, I found it challenging to document while still being active and engaged in the conversation. I was definitely not able to write down a well thought out blog post in the moment, but rather took quick notes to be able to go back later to transform it into complete thoughts. At one point, I abandoned my spot at the back of the room, left my camera and computer, and sat down in the middle of it all to get my hands “dirty” with what the rest of the group was doing. I’ve now learned that what I was trying to do was backchanneling and it is still something I need to practice in order to get better at multitasking. Interestingly, while backchanneling was a challenge at lunch, I had a completely different experience with it later that afternoon.

The Skype session with Jocelyn was great! We each took on a role as part of the Digital Learning Farm. My job to begin with was Photographer. The call began with all of us busily doing our jobs, being in the hot seat face-to-face with Jocelyn, taking pictures, videos or live-tweeting.

As the conversation continued, and Jocelyn started sharing ideas, tools and resources, I realized no one was backchanneling! I quickly sat down at my computer, and while listening to the conversation and still being engaged, I was able to take notes and even hyperlink to some of the tools she referenced.

When I reflect on it now, when I was documenting on my own during lunch, it was my responsibility to to ALL the jobs in the Digital Learning Farm. During the Skype call, I had one job, and was able to better concentrate on what was happening around me to jump in to other jobs that may have been necessary. While not completely impossible to do it on your own, it is MUCH better doing it with a group of people, where each person has a purpose. I would imagine it relieved some pressure from those speaking directly with Jocelyn that they did not need to write down all the things she was saying while listening to her. It likely allowed the conversation to flow more naturally and comfortably without pausing to write things down.

I’m really looking forward to learning more, practicing more, and most of all, trying this out with my students.

Chapter 1

Full disclosure – after completing this video, sitting on it for a few hours, I completely intended to remake the video to include some thoughts I felt I hadn’t completely expressed initially. But as this is my first post on my journey to document FOR learning, I decided it would be inauthentic to redo my video without at least first posting the first draft to be able to see what changed.

So without further delay…here is my first vlog about an artifact that represents a turning point in my educational career.

What I forgot:

  • I was not completely unsupported. I did have one incredible administrator who supported me and encouraged me to trust my instincts. She was then and continues to be a source of light for me, which was important as a new teacher and invaluable as I’ve continued my teaching career. Having people around you who are like-minded and help you grow is something we all deserve in our lives.
  • Building relationships is extremely important. As a second language teacher, I only saw students for 40 minutes 3 times a week. Having the time to build those relationships was challenging if I chose to have those teaching moments as my only points of interaction with the students. This one on one time during lunch, spending time engaging in something that we were both passionate about, built a connection and developed a relationship between us.