All posts by Gianna Helling

Environment As The Third Teacher

How do you move forward teaching and learning in a classroom?  We know from our work with Collaborative Teacher Inquiry that the “smartest person in the room is the room”.  If we de-privatize the classroom and share best practices and student work to move forward instruction, learning will become more personalized for both students and teachers.

This learning is even better if the Principal is actively learning alongside their staff.  A meta analysis on the Principal’s effect size in schools notes that Promoting and Taking Part in Teacher Learning has an effect size of 0.84 – Anything over 0.20 should be considered.  Ensuring an Orderly and Supportive Environment -0.27.  What we focus our attention on is what gains momentum.  As a Principal in a school, what do you focus the majority of your attention on?

The same can be said for student work.  Alan November says that “Teachers need to stop saying, ‘Hand it in,’ and start saying ‘Publish it,’ instead”.  If students are handing it in to teachers, the work is often good enough.  If the work is being viewed by a larger audience, students will be thoughtful about what their audience is receiving.  This is the de-privatization of the classroom.  As a Principal, how to you model the iterative process of sharing ideas and nurturing creativity and innovation?  Does the learning environment extend beyond the classroom wall?  

Environment should reflect the beliefs and philosophy about students’ social/physical/cognitive development and their learning needs- The Third Teacher

Do the classroom walls reflect students’ understanding, student learning, student voice?  Can they change the learning environment to reflect their learning, thinking and understanding?  Are teachers privileging and celebrating student thinking and demonstrating their learning on a continuum?  We know that students learn best when we begin with their strengths and move forward their understanding using student voice.  Do the walls reflect the messy ambiguity of learning or do they celebrate the answer over the process?

As part of a Collaborative Inquiry on Brain Based Learning, I learned about the magic of an eraser free school.  Students proudly demonstrated their mistakes as part of the learning process.  This work and the mistakes were showcased on the walls of the hallway.  As a Principal do we proudly demonstrate that mistakes are important to the learning process or do we only showcase the work that is perfect.  Do we extend our learning space to include parents, other educators, the community?  Can we use student work to impact and change the local and global communities?  Do we use social media to ensure that student work and learning is impactful?

When we put up student work on the walls of the classroom we build a community of learners in the school.  When we publish student work and learning online we extend the learning community to include parents, local and global audiences.

Gianna Helling

Student Achievement Officer

SAMR and TPACK – Assessing our Use of Technology in the Classroom

Chris Hadfield says that “If anything can go wrong with technology it absolutely will”  Probably not his most notable quote, but the quote I use most often.  Another one of my favourites I found on Facebook- “I’m just a girl, with an interactive white board…willing it to work”  I’m sure that we could blog endlessly about our struggles with technology.  However “What we focus our attention on is what gains momentum”.  So let’s focus our attention on how we can transform learning through the use of technology.  

The SAMR model was designed by Dr. Ruben Puenteura. This model can help us assess the effectiveness of the technology and question why we might be using it.  After all, if the task can be completed using paper and pencil why put it on the interactive white board?

The TPACK model stands for Technological, Pedagogical and Content Knowledge.  This model looks for the intersectionality of the three frames to enhance student learning.

“Technology will never replace teachers, but technology in the hands of great teachers is transformational”- George Couros  

How do we engage students in the world?  How do we involve our students in real life problem solving?  How do we give students agency to change the world?  These are just a few of the questions that have guided my use of technology in schools?  What are some of the questions that guide the implementation of technology in your school community?

Gianna Helling
Student Achievement Officer

Global Competencies, Innovation and the Iterative Process of Posting & Sharing Ideas


Last week’s blog was on innovation and this week I’m hoping
to link innovation to the Global Competencies.  If I drill down my thinking, this blog is really about the iterative process of sharing ideas – throwing out an idea and allowing the process of sharing and transforming the idea to build it, refine it and make it better.  

Personally I believe that this process is better if you give yourself permission to try out the biggest, and the best ideas.  Linking Global Competencies to teaching and learning calls for cross-curricular, creative lesson planning that is responsive and empowers student voice.  The iterative process of sharing the lessons and building on each others’ ideas will transform these lessons and create the innovative spaces that allow for co-learning, creativity, problem solving, communication, which in turn will help transform classrooms, schools, local and global communities.

What are the conditions that allow for innovation that empowers student voice?

  1. Mindset – As a principal, your mindset, the expectations and vision you have, directly impacts the possibilities in your school.  Do you see the possibilities or the restrictions?  What you focus your attention on is what gains momentum.
  2. Setting the Conditions – How many restrictions (ie how much paper compliance) do you impose on your staff to ensure your own comfort??  Do you model the sharing of ideas?  Do you celebrate innovation or compliance?
  3. Constantly Share – share ideas, share resources, share opportunities.  The biggest and best ideas may not be in the room, or even in the school.  
  4. Include consolidation into the learning.  Do we co-plan, co-learn, co-debrief?  This does not have to privilege the cycle but it must privilege the learning.  It should be done formally and informally every day.

One out of the box, incredible learning opportunity that I saw this week. An Idea Worth Sharing- This idea challenged my mindset!!

Often we believe that Global Competencies are introduced and/or developed with older students.  This idea will challenge this assumption.

Last fall at #Edinnovation2016 in Ottawa I was introduced to a teacher who was using coding to teach math and literacy through story re-tells.  She was explicit about the links to the Ontario Curriculum documents- number lines, graphing…

This week I was introduced to coding, spatial reasoning, dance, and story re-tells in the kindergarten classroom.  @rodgers_rupali and @MathStudio_Usha are having kindergarten students re-create their dance moves, their knitting and their stories on a grid using sequencing, proportional and directional language.  Their kindergarten classes were coding.  The school also set up a maker space for innovation for kindergarten classes and they were coding  #Beebot  Wow!  Checkout and share their work on twitter.

Gianna Helling
Student Achievement Officer

Innovation – Students As Agents of Change

As Principals, How Do We Give Permission to Innovate?

As Principals, how do we create the conditions that allow and empower deep learning?  

How do we change our mindset and in turn change the mindsets of our community?  How do we create a lasting change in practice?  In order to change our thinking we need to know our biases.  More importantly, we have to challenge our biases and create a culture that challenges, changes and creates something new.

The word innovation has sometimes been confused with the use of technology.  I’m not sure if I believe in the power of technology, but I do believe in the power of great teaching and in the magic of great teachers guiding and being guided by student voice, advocacy and action. Technology in the hands of great teachers in transformative.  It is the Principal that creates the conditions for learning that allows for this magic to happen.  

What does innovation look like in your school?

How do we allow student learning to change how we teach?  …Change how the classroom looks? …Change our school and the local and global communities???

I believe that the answer to these questions is the key to unlocking innovation in school communities.  

Michael Fullan writes, “Our main goal in education is to provide immediate opportunities for students to help humanity … students have a role as change agents.” (Fullan, 2014)

Students need to believe that their learning is important, that it can change their classrooms, their school, and their local and global communities. They also need to believe in the impact of their learning. If students believe that they can change the world through their learning, they will know that their learning is important. Responding to student voice empowers students and improves student engagement achievement and well being.

How do we create the conditions necessary in our schools  for students to become agents of change?

Gianna Helling 
Student Achievement Officer