The Catalyst

I would like to say that beginning this process of professional goal setting started with my own intrinsic motivation but….. I can’t. It started with a course. In taking Self-Regulated Inquiry and Learning for my Professional Masters of Education from Queen’s, I found myself embroiled in a project of self discovery.

It began with a self-evaluation based on the work of B.J. Zimmerman, Becoming a Self-Regulated Learner: An Overview from Theory into Practice. I decided to be completely transparent here and give my actual, unedited responses to each category based on the SLR rubric. Some may not be flattering but I feel it may make for good dialogue and it begins the first step to improving what the rubric demonstrated I may need to work on. Hint. Hint.

Independence – I believe that I am constantly reviewing my abilities/strengths, highlighting weaknesses and gaps. What I don’t always do is continue to set goals for everything. Unfortunately, for the longest time this left me stuck professionally, until recently. In the last three years I have made more growth in my teaching practice then ever before due to setting a few goals. It is one reason why I am taking the PME program.

Initiative – This I have (even when it is not goal directed). This is why I am taking the PME at cost to time and $. With the program though, I know my intentions are for learning and to improve my classroom abilities. However, sometimes I am afraid of its origins. Shame? Inadequacy? Is my initiative pure or related to having to prove myself to someone? Professionally this causes a slight overload of accepted responsibilities. Along with teaching and going to school, I coach track (indoor/outdoor), basketball, triathlon, act as principal designate, do presentations for the board office and participate with my own kids in after school shenanigans.

Engagement – I need a little external pressure to remain engaged at times. A little push, a little incentive. Icing on the cake?

Collaboration – Though I’ve researched its benefits and see the amazing possibilities in my own classes, the ones I participate in and teach. I don’t seek it out. It often requires a lot of energy and time and a safe trusting environment. Causes me a little stress. Control is given up. I feel that once I’m in and the process is started, I’m good to go and I’m effective.

Consideration – I am happiest when I feel in part responsible for others’ development and growth. It’s what drove me to be teacher in the first place. I think I’m less considerate with teaching peers than students or parents, sometimes feeling they should already know. That is not fair and even in knowing that, my initial reactions can be ones of frustration.

Time Management – I get up an hour and a half early everyday to work on course expectations and leave time aside for physical activities throughout the day. I don’t often hand things in late, and am usually done early. I have a real fear that something may come up and I won’t be able to finish, so I begin promptly. I’m not sure if this means I have good time management or not?

Use of Resources – I enjoy doing this! Love learning about new things, looking at different sources, critiquing ideas, knowing where they come from.

Use of Personal Expertise – I do…..and am getting better at it…..but there is a part of me that always thinks asking for help is admitting I can’t do it myself and I always feel like I should be able to, or I will look bad. However, passive use of personal expertise is great. I enjoy following Twitter accounts like Edutopia, Mindshift etc. to learn from others.

Problem Solving – Reflecting and analyzing problems I do all the time, present solutions, try new things, reflect on my actions. Sometimes I wish I did this less, leave it and move on. Stop beating yourself up already!

Monitoring Performance – Depends what tracking is…informally I do. Formally……maybe…. I’m starting with blogs and journal but inconsistently. It takes time and I make excuses for not having enough of it.

So what does this all mean? Overall, it indicates that I need to reach out to people more often, adults that have professional expertise and initiate and engage in more collaborative dialogue without fear. The next step: research goal setting, develop a goal that is proximal, challenging and attainable and get started!


As I entered the initial phase of defining a goal for my inquiry based on my self-regulation self-evaluation, it became abundantly clear that I wasn’t completely sure what to do. Looking at issues concerning time management, initiative and other similar factors, would be easier because it would involve only me. However, they didn’t represent my weakest areas on the evaluation and as I would later learn, an easy goal is not a good one.

In reading Personalized Lifelong Learning Plans (, the Learning to Learn series on Study Guides and Strategies (, and a blog post titled Metacognition and Self-Regulation by (, I realized that those particular sources didn’t highlight strategies for my specific area of concern, that of initiating and engaging in collaborative discourse with professionals with specific expertise.

Pl3P provides some helpful suggestions and makes a strong case for e-Portfolios. However, I have already began the development of my digital footprint with my educational journey blog (which you are on right now) and LinkedIn profile; complete with self reflection, examples of challenging tasks, components of training and examples of high academic standards.

Learning to Learn highlights a great strategy, around four areas and provides many question prompts for each. The four areas are: Begin with the past, proceed to the present, consider the process/subject matter and build in review. Though the structure is sound, they are strategies I employ already and don’t necessarily represent key areas for my self-regulation development.

The blog post by Pidzpida talks about minimizing distractions, practicing retrieval and application and generating questions aside from those already being asked. Check, check and check.

Unfortunately for me, (wink, wink) my area of personal weakness in self-regulation involves other people which I believe adds a layer of complexity to the process, not found with factors such as time management or initiative. Therefore, I continued my reading of online materials.

Although not specific to the task I did find the following question on, to be helpful: What is the best way to go about this task? It gave me enough pause, to stop and clarify what I was looking for on the internet. In reading the blog post, Too Competent to Seek Help?: Organizational Values That Could Jeopardize Employee Progress by Nima Hejazifar ( I found some specific information for my development. In it, he comments that, “[r]esearch has shown that help seeking behaviour is significantly associated with motivational attributes of intrinsic goal orientation and self-efficacy” (Ryan, Gheen, Midgley, 1998), which shocked me a little. Does this mean I am not confident in my skills because I need to be pushed to ask for help? That my outward confidence and apparent skill hides the fact that I need help? “Findings revealed that individuals with lower levels of self-efficacy and intrinsic goal orientation were less likely to seek help when they need it the most.” Yes… yes, it does. This source helped to clarify my problem and reaffirm the importance of addressing it.

In the online article, Professional Collaboration and Effective Teaching Environments ( it comments that, “teachers who participated in collaborative learning were more likely to engage in collaborative activities. And in turn, teachers who participated in a professional development network, individual or collaborative research, or teacher mentoring were in many countries more likely to employ the more active teaching practices important in engaging students in deeper learning.” Okay, than as a teacher, I definitely need to do better at this. Build my self-efficacy and get out there! The site offered these suggestions, not for individuals but for school boards, (I’m assuming) but they helped to channel my goals. The relevant ones are:

  • “Communicate the value of teaching and recognize teachers’ professionalism”
  • “Provide time for collaboration and professional learning so that teachers have opportunities to share practices and learn from their peers”
  • “Encourage high-quality and relevant professional development that supports collaborative school practices”

Though not obvious at first, it was the suggestion of board sponsored quality professional development and recognizing the professionalism that exists within people in my career, that sparked the idea of utilizing a system already in place, to improve upon my initiation and engagement of professional expertise.

The next day when I was asked if I wanted to be part of a Cross-Panel Literacy Professional Study with grade 9 high school English teachers lead by Brian Wiser, I thought it was fate. I said yes, and so begins my SLR inquiry.


Ryan, A., Gheen, M., & Midgley, C. (1998). Why do some students avoid asking for help? An examination of the interplay among students’ academic efficacy, teachers’ social-emotional role, and classroom goal structure. Journal of Educational Psychology, 90, 528–535.

Self-Monitoring Document

It’s always good to develop a way to keep yourself on task. A self-monitoring document is a way to gently remind yourself of your responsibilities. I have my phone for this for most things. Google Calendar keeps my life straight. Merging my wife’s calendar, my family’s events, my workout regime, my schooling, and my job in one color-coded menagerie of awesomeness. Then it also dings or pings at me a half hour before something comes. However, for this venture, a half hour ding before wouldn’t help and I wanted something additional to look at, to stand out, to feel different. So I created a nice little poster to look at on Piktochart, a wonderful free resource. It reminds me of my focus, my intention, to remember to document and my important dates and it looks nice.


On My Way?

On Sept. 28th, 2016, I had my first session with the Cross Panel Literacy group and witnessed a presentation with Brian Wiser that looked at the Mosenthal taxonomy, different types of question prompts and student tools to analyse the questions/prompts in writing.

I made contact with the high school grade nine English team, (some of who I knew already and enjoy), engaged in some collaborative moderation of student samples and in the end, co-created a document through Google slides to share for future collaboration. The experience was a positive one.

Flash forward a few weeks….well……I haven’t really done much to achieve my goal. Progress reports, my kids’ extra-curricular activities, helping my parents (my father is in the middle stages of vascular dementia and still lives at home with my mom), wife’s birthday and serious outside of school drama with grade eights, not to mention, just trying to do a fantastic job in the classroom, has left me tapped out.  The University of Southern California, via YouTube, calls this type of issue a ‘Problem of Practice’. I’m determined not to let this stop me. I have my next session with the Provincial Literacy Team on November 1st. Before that date I must “create a Writing prompt that asks students:

  • for Why (reasons) or How (way to do something, process)
  • to Generate ideas and information from their personal knowledge or experience
  • to Explain
  • to develop one main idea using specific details and relevant information in a paragraph
  • to organize their ideas and information in a coherent manner”

In our first collaboration session, the team decided on a common question to give to both grade eight and nine students:”How Do You Manage Stress?” We felt that this question would insure that students would have access to prior knowledge, be able to generate ideas and we are looking for them to be able to write a main idea with sufficient supporting detail.

Though I’m looking forward to bringing these samples to the next session, to see what we, as a group, will do with them and how through collaboration and various expertise, we can help each other, I haven’t done it with my class yet! Trying to finish up other tasks for current assessment for reports. Arghh. I’m losing focus and I know it. I need to find a way to reset.

Second Meeting of the Minds

Yesterday, November 1st was the second meeting of the Cross Panel Literacy group. Interestingly enough, it began with an exercise that felt very much like an assignment from a course in Self-Regulated Learning. We commenced with identifying challenges in our collaborative venture, both in our work together and in the task we designed for the students. As a group we identified the following:

  • we didn’t end up refining the writing prompt further even though we initially felt it may be too vague
  • there was no follow up communication by anyone to each other regarding our writing question to the students
  • students needed different entry points (some students needed more guidance and some teachers gave it and others did not, which changes the diagnostic uniformity)
  • some teachers didn’t remember to do the task at all (not me though, I swear, I did it!)

After identifying those challenges it was clear to see a couple things. One, that any collaborative engagement is strongest when everyone demonstrates equitable accountability and works to ensure the success of the group. When that doesn’t happen, we all suffer a little. After all, this session was devoted to a collaborative analysis of student work that we all were to have brought. Sharing with each other how we approach identifying strengths and weaknesses of a piece of writing and what feedback we would provide. Can’t do it, if there is no writing. In the end, we didn’t have enough time to look at every one’s examples any way. More about that later. Second, that adjustments need to be made moving forward in the frequency of contact we make with each other, in person and through email and that members must utilize the shared Google Slide to communicate. This will help insure everyone does what is required from them in the next time frame and also help to maintain consistency of how we deliver and asses the writing tasks.

Collaborative analysis is different from student sample moderation, because it focuses on feedback and identifying skill deficit not assigning grades. This is what I was most excited about. A chance to participate with other professionals in examining student work so that we could dialogue on what it’s missing and how to improve it. Do we all see the same things? Do we all have the same ideas for improvement? What can I learn from these colleagues? Well, we got through two examples, including the one that was presented to the entire group of a couple hundred. (The neat thing was it was an example from my class that they used for the larger group, so I received some great insights there.) Time seems to be the obstacle to so many things in education. I wonder if it is real, the “not enough time” obstacle or one we create by pushing things too fast, too quickly, too cheaply? The session was a half day, should have been a full day. I did discover that the insights of the high school teachers don’t differ that much from my own. I feel we are “on the same page” with what we notice missing in student writing. Now we have to come up with a way to fix it, together.

Words were quickly garbled out at the end as we scrambled to get out of the basement of the Education Centre as care-taking started putting up walls, removing food and wiping down tables. We decided to:

  • swap examples for collaborative analysis for students to identify areas of need in writing (perhaps be present in the other teacher’s class while it’s being done/end of November, beginning of December)
  • come up with, or research one possible writing intervention strategy (each person)
  • identify 3-5 marker students
  • design a new writing task (around a similar topic) to check for improvement

In the end, I will make sure to follow up with everyone on our next steps before we meet again in January.

Reflection Up Until This Point

It is still a long way until January and until I learn the full extent of my success with this goal for my students but I would like to take some time to reflect on how it has affected me first.

Ultimately, my goal was to put myself “out there”, stretch myself a little, involve others in helping to develop myself. I think I’ve accomplished that. This week I fired off an email to one of my literacy inquiry colleagues, to set up a time for me to visit her class in the high school and for her to visit me in middle school. A way of stepping into each other’s worlds; to see the delivery of our shared collaborative analysis task in action.We’re trying to find a time next week that will work. I’m not sure if I would have done that before. This whole effort, has helped develop a feeling of self-efficacy (increase my feelings of being able to accomplish a task) in the arena of seeking professional expertise and also in valuing my own expertise, something I didn’t know was needed before. So much so, that I applied and was accepted, to speak at the HWDSB Rewired Conference on December 1st. I’m excited and nervous. Nervous to present at this technology conference, when I don’t feel I’m much of a “techie” and excited to connect with technology professionals when I visit their sessions.

If I was to do this all over again, there are some things I would do differently. First of all, I would not set up my collaborative venture through a board sponsored professional development. What seemed like kismet in the beginning (because it fell into my lap), I later learned was not. It gave someone else the control of setting conditions for my own collaboration and I don’t think it was set up all that well. Sure there were some “ice breakers”but to get to know the larger group of 300+, who I wouldn’t be directly working with. Also, for some reason, people have this innate tendency to “buck at the machine” and so I don’t feel they fully commit. I think next time, I don’t do it through someone else’s “machine”. In fact, next time is already here. I have already started with a Geography unit with my class, that has me connecting with people all over the globe with different areas of expertise, through the channels of a professorial parent. People who work with sustainable projects in wind, water and with different cultures in Zambia and with our First Nations here in Canada. I get excited thinking about it.

So the effects on the students is clearly evident, even by my last example regarding Geography. However, that is a new focus and not the focus of this goal. The focus of the goal was to improve student writing. I’m happy to say that, though my task is not finished with my collaborative group, I have started implementing my learning from these sessions into my class in other areas. I began with a History task that had students do research projects on the factors that contributed to the Dominion of Canada. We engaged in knowledge building discussions to help the kids evaluate the importance of each factor and then I gave them a single essay style question to demonstrate their learning……which 90% of them bombed. Lots of facts, memorized, no context, no clear organization or format. Well, this was  before my collaborative analysis venture. In my group, as I mentioned previously, we used a common success criteria to evaluate our other student responses. I used that same rubric, coupled with a highlighted example of a point/proof/explanation piece of writing which identified each different part by color, to have students engage in their own peer-partnered collaborative analysis. Students shared their previous responses with a partner and examined them for what was done well and what was missing. The following week, (just recently) I gave them the same question again. They were able to use their marked up version to help and it was a success! I could clearly see improved understanding of the topic demonstrated in a well organized response. I’m curious to try it again to see how much they are able to transfer the learning to a new question in a different context.