What is critical thinking? What does it look like in our classrooms and schools? Is it something we can quantify? I modified Tom Shimmer’s 21st Elevator Answer Challenge by asking colleagues if they could explain critical thinking and what it looks like. Some people had concise answers, but too many had no real answer, especially about how it looks in their lessons or classrooms.
As a district, we spend a significant amount of energy and time on critical thinking, but how effective this is if we don’t really know or can’t agree on what it is. Recently I spent a day at another high school which has spent the last three years pushing the concept of critical thinking for staff and students. I was really impressed by how much success the current administration has had with this initiative (I had been part of the team which first started this journey 5 years ago), but what became apparent to me was the work which still needs to be done. It’s not enough to have posters in class rooms and try new teaching strategies. Tasks need to be rigorous, assessments need to reflect the learning practices, and assessment feedback has to help the student improve his or her work. As a system, we need to keep working on these essential elements in order to move beyond the words on a poster and into some real change in our practice and student learning.
The first day of classes for January 2011 has ended, and I find myself back into the educational swing of things after a two week break during which time I read books and blogs for pleasure, scarcely thought about school, and instead focused on family. My students assumed I had spent my holiday time on Google given how much we use in class for collaboration and research (and my excitement after the GWEOCDSB event in November), but I surprised them by telling them honestly that I had not really been online at all. Sure I had planned to update my webpage, read lots of great bloggers, and even blog for myself, but this just did not happen. Do I regret this? Of course not because I spent tons of time skating and playing hockey with my son and daughter, learning about games like the wizard chess-like Crusade and Conquer and Gobblet Gobblers with all the kids, and reading and laughing everyday with my wife and children. Two weeks of relaxation and personal reflection have been wonderful for me. I have come back to school refreshed and ready for the end of the first semester.
So where does this leave me at the end of the day? I have a renewed respect for family-work balance. My family is what makes me who I am in front of my students; my students remind me daily why I love and respect my family. New Year’s resolutions are not really something I believe in, but I do think making some simple goals is important. In addition to maintaining and furthering the family-work balance, I have joined some Flickr photo groups (Twitter PLN 365/2011 and 52/2011 Group and #Project52) so that I actually use my camera and do something with the photos I take. Also, exercise and healthy living will be a focus for 2011 thanks to the Fit42 Challenge. Of course I would never have found these activities had it not been for the excellent people who make up my PLN on Twitter. A hearty thank you to all who have contributed to my continued learning this school year.
As I finish typing this first blog post of 2011, Johnny Cash’s rendition of “We’ll Meet Again” has just started playing on my iPod. While this song does suggest an ending, this year it stands for a beginning. The year ahead offers may new opportunities and experiences. I hope to meet some of you again on the journey ahead.
“We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when,
but I know we’ll meet again some sunny day!”
As we have reached the end of 2010, and the first half of the latest school year, I am trying to get my ideas into some sort of order. At the suggestion of a few people (@shannoninottawa and @barbaram), I have decided to make a concerted effort to use put my thought on education, learning, and leadership to paper. Okay not really paper, but yuo get my point.
This is not the first time I have tried to blog. There was the deliberately satirical bog about my dog (http://beastor.blogspot.com/), an early school focused blog (http://gci4u.blogspot.com/), and an failed attempt at commenting on teaching (http://hale.edublogs.org/). The satirical blog and the school base blog were designed for specific puroposes which were achieved. Unfortunately, the edublog never really achieved what I wanted it to. the failure I suppose is because I did not put in the time to make it work. So here I go once again attempting to create the second web presence of myself that gives me a chance to comment on the job I do and how I do it (or could do it). I have successfully used web sites with students in the past, but a recent article I read on twitter suggests having a second site which is separate from the site used to provide info to students and parents.
Also, after spending the last two months reading more blogs thanks to some great people on Twitter, I have a better understanding of the power of open communication created through blogs.
Somebody recently told me that blogging should be a New Year’s resolution/gift to myself. I am going to take her up on this suggestion and make time to get my thoughts out there. So, at the end of December, this is both an ending and a beginning.