Thinking About Assessment and Evaluation at #AssessSym2017

Post #1- August 15, 2017

This week I am taking part in some deeper learning about Assessment and Evaluation at the #AssessSym2017 conference at Georgian College in Barrie.  We have a team of five educators here and have met colleagues from across the entire province. The conversations have been rich. As part of our learning this week we have been asked to keep a digital portfolio, so knowing that I have been avoiding coming back to my blog seemed like an invitation to revisit some of my thinking from the past and to add to it with my new learning from this week.

We have been invited to transform our thinking about assessment.  Transform means “to make a thorough or dramatic change”.  This morning we were presented with some Big Ideas around assessment.  Have a look at the powerpoint below that outlines the four Big Ideas we wrestled with.   Transforming Assessment

The first Big Idea that resonated with me was: “Assessment plays a critical role in teaching and learning.”  This is key.  I come back to the question I often ask- Why this learning for this child at this time?  This has me asking so many more questions- What is your process for planning?  How do you ensure that you have thought through the assessment cycle during your planning process?   This also has me thinking a lot about our NTIP teachers.  How can we better support our beginning teachers to plan their teaching and learning cycle while considering our assessment and evaluation practices?

The time to think deeply about Assessment and Evaluation over a four day period is a gift.  We are thinking, reading, viewing, conversing and questioning everything we know and don’t know about the topic and as we do that we are transforming our thinking about Assessment and Evaluation on a summer day in August.  Pretty inspiring!

Post #2- August 16, 2017

Today at the #AssessSym2017 symposium, I engaged in learning about- Learning Goals & Success Criteria, IEPs and reporting and the new Initial Observation report card for Kindergarten.  This room is full of dedicated professional who knew a lot about assessment and evaluation before they got here – check out the pre-assessment that they did with us…

Our learning this week has been framed around 4 Themes:

  1.  Knowing the Learner
  2. Making Learning Visible Through the Assessment Process
  3. Evaluation and Professional Judgement
  4. Reporting and Communication

Each day we have gone deeper into discussions around topics related to these four themes.  Today’s conversations took us deeper into Learning Goals and Descriptive Feedback.

Our group decided to wrestle with creating a Learning Goal (LG) and Success Criteria (SC)  for an overall expectation from the Kindergarten Program.  We chose the Overall Expectation 3- Identify and use social skills in play and other contexts.  Our first step was to decide what our students needed to Know and Do.  We identified that our students would need to know: -that words and actions impact others and that people can have different points of view.  They would also be able to: – help someone, use kind words, help my friends, give compliments, use an appropriate tone when talking, and taking turns.

After much discussions we landed on the Learning Goal- We are learning to play with others

The Success Criteria would be:  I am able to- take turns, share with others, listen to others.

This process was powerful for our group.  Because of the unique learning environment in Kindergarten, our discussion about assessment practices took us from LG and SC to Notice and name.  What became key to us is the role of the educator with the student in making the learning visible.  This group conversation was powerful for all of us.  Funnily enough, we then went back into the Kindergarten document to see what there was to say about LG/SC at the K level ( see page 43).  I think we are really starting to understand.

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One Word- LEARN

It has been a challenging Fall in education.  My main job as Superintendent of Early Learning and Elementary School Improvement is to plan responsive professional learning for educator teams in our board.  Well, this fall there was no professional learning due to the Work to Rule situation.

So, I’m sure you’ve been wondering what I have been doing?  I’ve been learning in many different ways.  I’ve been in many schools; listening, observing, watching, feeling the tone, the mood.  I’ve done yard duty and I’ve listened and watched.  I’ve read books and I’ve synthesized and made connections to the work and learning happening across our system.  I talked to teachers and listened.  I’ve talked to administrators and listened.  I’ve talked to Instructional Leads (ILs), Teacher Researchers and consultants and I’ve listened.

And now I’m ready to learn.  Learn is my ONE WORD that is going to keep me focused for the remainder of the school year.

We engaged in an opportunity with our ILs recently and we invited each person to identify their one word to focus their work for the year.

Some of our teams words were:

Impact  Passionate  Listen  Uniqueness (yes that is a word)  Connecting  Deliberate  Intrepid  Balance  Flexibility  Gratitude  Possibility  Ignite  Serve  Thrive  Appreciate  Why  Simplify

These words filled me with great hope and optimism.  As we start to plan and think about professional learning that is responsive to our system I want to think and remember these words.

I would invite educators to give us feedback about the type of professional learning that works best for them.  We are listening.  We want to hear from you.  We need your voice to ensure that our learning meets the needs of everyone in our system.

So, let’s learn together.  Let’s listen to one another.

Let the learning begin.


A Little Funeral Humor: A Slice of Life Story

This did really happen. I am glad my sister wrote about this funny weekend moment.



After my father’s funeral on Saturday, most people were going back to my eldest sister’s house for a reception. I drove there with my twin sister, her husband and my mother, who wanted to stop at her place on the way home so she could change clothes and drop off the flowers and urn.

When we got to her apartment building, we dropped Mom at the front door so we could park, telling her we’d carry everything in. After parking my brother-in-law, Tom, took the flowers, my sister, Andrea, took purses because she had a key to Mom’s building, and I carried the urn. Once in the building, we pushed the button for the elevator and got on as soon as the doors opened. We didn’t realize it was going down until it started. No matter. It was only one floor down.

When the elevator doors opened in the basement, a…

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What I’ve been learning about math

I’ve had a wonderful last two days visiting some of my schools and engaging in conversations with students, educators and administrators about what they are learning about math.  I’ve used an organizer to gather my learning and thoughts with 4 simple questions:

1)  What are your students learning in math?

2) What are your teachers learning in math?

3)  What are you, as a leader, learning in math?

4) How have you modified your leadership practices to impact what you are learning?

What I’ve seen and heard have me believing that we are making steady progress in mathematics.  Our board math goal is focused on supporting and improving student thinking in Number Sense.  In support of this goal, many of our schools have been using Number Talks with their students.  In a Number Talk, based on the book by Sherry Parish,  children are asked to communicate their mathematical thinking when presenting and justifying solutions  to problems they solve mentally.  These exchanges lead to the development of more accurate, efficient and flexible strategies.  Across the 8 classrooms I visited, I saw consistent processes and procedures used: an intentional use of wait time for students to think about more than one strategy, a gesture used by students to demonstrate to the teacher the number of strategies they have used and  a visual recording of a series of Number Talk threads.  What really struck me was the labelling and naming of strategies for students.  What we label and name gets noticed.  See the tweet below:

One school has even invited parents into the learning they are doing about Number Talks:

So I’m feeling optimistic about math in board.  I commend our students, educators and administrators for the hard work, dedication and focus they are giving to math and the math goal in their classrooms and schools.

If you want to learn more about Number Talks, check out this article:

Click to access numbertalks_sparrish.pdf

Happy Math-ing!




Thankful Learning- TLDSB-Style

I’ve spent a lot of my time in schools over the last few weeks, talking to teachers, administrators, students and parents about what they are learning.  This is the most joyful part of my job; listening to people talk with enthusiasm about what or how they are learning.

Here are a few highlights:

– I worked with some Kindergarten students who were learning to measure using non-standard units.  I was amazed at their open-ness to learning and the amazing possibilities they saw.  One four year old told me with pride “I am four and I’m already taller than Addison.”  ” I think you are 11″ he then said to me.  “11 what?”  I asked.  “11 measures” he said.

-I co-hosted an Early Years Adobe Meet-Up with 19 schools across our board and some Community Partners.  The meet-up gave time and space for our Early Years teams to consider play and inquiry in the learning lives of our children and to think and imagine what might be next for our students and for us.  Our Early Years teams eagerly made their thinking visible by typing into chat pods which we have now shared out for folks to use as a basis for “next conversations.”

– I facilitated two District Support Visits where the pre- meeting with the leadership teams was one of the highlights of the day.  I am amazed at the “culture of learning” throughout our schools and system.  In one meeting people were so honest and vulnerable about what they still need or want to learn about the content of math.  I was so proud of their bravery for telling their colleagues what they still want and crave to learn.

-I took part in our board’s Ministry Board Improvement Monitoring meeting where I was able to describe the fine learning taking part across our system on behalf of our students.  We talked about math but more importantly, we talked about the collaborative culture of learning where we “learn in teams together” and capacity build across the system daily.

-I am amazed daily by the learning happening at #TLDSBlearns.  The learning that teachers, principals, vice principals, DECEs, classrooms and students are doing publically on Twitter makes me so proud.  We are sharing our questions, our provocations, our wonderings and our delight in our students and our own learning.  If you haven’t already, please check out Ridgewood’s Junior Classrooms who are posing questions to other classrooms around patterning and data management and they are getting responses from all around the world.  You can find them on Twitter:  @Team202_RPS and @Team224_RPS.  Awesome public learning.

On this eve of American Thanksgving,  I want to say thank-you to everyone for inviting me into the learning.  Within our board I am privileged to sit with such passionate educators and leaders  who let me listen, ask questions, talk to students and just enjoy the learning.  I am also so lucky to be able to learn with folks at a provincial level who provoke my thinking, ask me questions and recognize the fine work happening in TLDSB.

I am one happy and thankful learner.


Remembering…Christmas in the Trenches

Nothing can bring me to tears like a Remembrance Day ceremony in a school.  Students so solemnly welcoming veterans into their gymnasium and learning spaces.  The students are so respecful and in awe of our veterans who are so proud to be sharing the day with our students.

About 5 years ago, a group of students from Pine Glen, with teacher Jeninfer Clark, told a story of WW1,  the story of the Christmas Truce. Done in tableu style, the haunting music and the story the students brought to life left not a dry eye in the house.

Here is John McDermott’s version…almost as good as the grade 6’s at Pine Glen from a few years ago.

I hope you are able to remember this week.  And I hope you are able to find a ceremony at a school where you can see students and veterans sharing a moment.  It will give you hope.  It does for me every year.


Clancey Teaches Our Family About Loyalty

I first began my System Leadership Journey as the District Principal of Elementary School Improvement in 2008.  At the time, I worked with a Superintendent named Gale Sherin who was close to retirement.  Gale taught me many things about the system and about curriculum.  But I learned about relationships from her dog, Clancey.

As Gale was getting ready to retire from our district, she mentioned that the last thing she needed to do was find a home for her dog because he was getting older and didn’t love car rides.  She knew he wouldn’t make the trip to Florida two times per year that she and her husband were playing on making during thier retirement.

So, our family stepped in.  We had said good-bye to our Zinnia, a free fruit stand dog (that’s another story) earlier in the year and had just started talking about finding a new family dog.  Well, once I heard Clancey’s story I was gone.

Clancey was born on October 16 2002.  He went to his first family in  December of  2002.  This family lived in the home that Gale and her husband eventually bought.  He lived with his first family until they decided to leave their home on the lake.  In stepped Gale to buy this lake house.  Part of the deal was that the dog of the house, Clancey would come along with the house.  Kind of like a package deal.  Gale and her husband lived in the home with Clancey for many years.  I know that Gale’s neighbour and children had a warm spot in their heart for Clancey, who they had known now through two owners, and regularly walked him and played with him.  Clancey had good people in his life.

When Gale chose to retire, our family stepped in.  We visited Clancey in his home, tried him out for a day in our home and then took the plunge to have him become ours.  I remember Gale telling me a few things about Clancey before he became ours for keeps:

1)  He doesn’t like cats ( we had 3 cats)

2)  He doesn’t like blankets.

3)  He doesn’t particularly like men.

Clancey has now been since November of 2008.  We have become his forever family.  He has taught us so much about loyalty and loving the people who are good to you, who feed you, who love you, who throw a stick your way.  From day 1 Clancey was willing to get to know our 3 cats, Hunter, Charlie and Ned Schneebly.  They have become friends and there are days that we arrive home from our learning journies to find the 4 of them all laying on the same blanket or carpet.  And since day 1 Clancey has been Tom, my husband’s loyal companion.  If Tom is  in the room, Clancey’s eyes are on him.   They are loyal companions to each other.

So what is the definition of loyalty:

noun: loyalty
  1. the quality of being loyal to someone or something.
    “her loyalty to her husband of 34 years”
    • a strong feeling of support or allegiance.
      plural noun: loyalties
      “fights with in-laws are distressing because they cause divided loyalties
      synonyms: allegiance, faithfulness, obedience, adherence, homage, devotion; More


I can truly say that Clancey has taught us about loyalty.  About feeling supported and having a strong allegiance to someone.  Even though we weren’t his first family, he is our most loved dog.  He may be getting older (he just turned 12 last month) but he still loves to fetch sticks, go for a swim at the Port Sydney dam, tear apart his “babies” and walk on our trails.

He has taught us a lot about relationships, loyalty and being a family.  I am so thankful that he came into our lives.






This week I had the pleasure of visiting several schools.    I had a pivotal moment when visiting Grandview.

The Principal introduced me to a young man named Aidan, who at only 8 years old was, in her words,  “Doing something incredible”!

Aidan had viewed Kid President’s video about Socktober.   Here’s the video link if you haven’t seen it.

Well it seems that the video really spoke to Aidan and within days of seeing the video a flyer created by Aidan had been sent home, socks started flowing into the school and kids (this is a K-3 school) started making a serious difference by collecting Socks for nearby Shelters for the Homeless.

Here’s a picture of the letter that went home with all students!  And another of the second batch of socks that these amazing kids have collected.

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Once again…our students have amazed me.  Consider the power viewing Kid President’s video has had on this small K-3 school.  I know that our future is in great hands (and feet) when I see acts of incredible kindness like this initiated by our youngest students.

Way to go Aidan!

Way to go Grandview!

This adult is in awe of you!


What George and Basketball Have Taught Me

Today was an amazing day.

Last May I had the pleasure of hearing George Couros’ keynote address via an e-learning conference hosted during the OAME conference.  That day in May he touched my heart and I knew immediately that I wanted the awesome educators in our board to hear his message.

So, today George came to Bracebridge.  He made us laugh and cry and cheer and clap.  He even made himself cry!  My favourite line of the day was when George was wiping his tears, “Sorry, I find myself so inspirational.”  And he was!

He put change and hardship in perspective by telling stories of his Dad and his Greek family.   It put the change and hardship we see daily in education into perspective.  When you consider the challenges that George’s Dad was faced with when he first came over to Canada, can we really complain about moving from Word to Google Docs?

This year I learned about change and hardship from my daughter.  On February 10th, Alexis tore her ACL and meniscus while playing basketball.  What followed was 6 weeks on crutches, surgery in June, inclusion in an ACL study at the University of Western Ontario and hours and hours of physiotherapy.  And you know what…she still wants to play basketball.  To me that is resiliency, dealing with change and having heart.  Alexis teaches me so much every day.


So thank you @gcouros for an amazing day and thank you Alexis and basketball for teaching me that change is good.

Today I have written my first blog post.  I plan on making my learning public from now.

I am an educator questioning my way forward.  And I look forward to the questions and the change.

Today was an amazing day!