Pursuing Unheroic Leadership in an Heroic World


I raise up my voice—not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.” ―Malala Yousafzai

“What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” – Jane Goodall

Leadership Learning: Pursuing the Unheroic Leader in an Heroic World

As I reflect on effective leaders that have crossed my path and how they approach difficult issues and as I review Leadership for Learning in Chapters 18-20(The Jossey-Bass Reader on Educational Leadership, 2013), the idea of ‘relevant knowledge’ (Robinson, p.298) seems key to all aspects of leadership. The greatest leaders I have known have been Servant Leaders at heart. They have held strong beliefs and they have been widely supported by their team because they developed shared goals which supported learners first, they held moral authority by living their commitment to the core values of the community, and they were not hesitant to express outrage when the community was threatened by actions or ideologies. (Sergiovanni, 2013). Relevant knowledge is the contemporary skills and expertise efficiently and creatively applied to specific areas or situations for success and growth. As educators work each day with students to provide opportunities for success they need to be knowledgeable in current pedagogy and informed of recent and on-going research in their area of expertise.  Teachers choose to be lifelong learners and that journey involves continuing professional development, training in new and prevailing pedagogical applications, and a commitment to professionalism. Likewise, effective leaders in education commit to evolving insights, cultivating progressive strategies and systems to enhance teaching practices, and the continuing pursuit of knowledge.

Recently a leadership inquiry group’s discussion was a catalyst causing me to re-examine what I had observed in my teaching career, my time as a student, and my experience as a parent. My thinking was confirmed through a process of self-reflection and I am committed to remaining vocal and active both in the acquisition of knowledge and in providing opportunities for educational advancement of teachers. My own experiences have confirmed that not all leaders possess nor implement the skills and knowledge required for success.

There are a myriad of reasons that set the stage for misuse or absenteeism of new information, trends, and research.  In the North American market we are exposed to and influenced by direct sales efforts.  Educational materials sold to government bodies, sold to districts, sold to principals, sold to teachers, and increasingly promoted directly to parents. Many publishers respond to new curriculum or trends with revisions, re-organizations, or re-writes of materials which are then marketed aggressively in education communities. The impact of big money publishers and tech companies can be observed currently in the American education system as they direct and influence policy, curriculum development, and instructional change. (Woodward, 2013).  Educational leaders and teachers need to be vigilant. Teacher autonomy within the Canadian system is fragile and requires defending. Leaders within our education system must be informed, be current, and apply that knowledge to the standing question: What is best for learners?

Administrators who embrace student first thinking become leaders for parents, for teachers, and for students.  The resulting success occurs when leaders at all levels apply relevant knowledge; staying current on trends, research, and development is essential to this success.

Present opportunities for expanded learner success in British Columbia include the implementation of new curriculum which embraces differentiated learning and champions our students as whole persons with multiple competencies.  UDL or Universal Design for Learning is a scientifically supported pedagogical approach which supports the new curriculum while also providing opportunities for effective implementation throughout a school community. This type of relevant knowledge ensures school leaders are able to support learner development, assure the provision of differentiated instruction, and present opportunities for growth to their team. (BC Ministry of Education, 2011) (Government of British Columbia, 2015). This sets the stage for student-centred learning guided by progressive understanding free from commercial influence!

The discussion with the inquiry group regarding the link between relevant knowledge and its application to complex problems resulted in more questions. This launched an exploration into the Hero as stereo typically male.  The complex issue around sexism in our educational systems was a divisive topic. Complex problems regularly arise within a school.  They require active support, modeling, resources, and an equitable approach.

Case Study 14.2 “They dominated the conversation” (class handout, 2017-05-02) highlighted both sexism and educational superiority which created a disdain and rebuke of input from the female team members, including the chair. The blatant disrespect of the male doctors for their team members is, unfortunately, a reflection of common observations between men and women.  According to research men interrupt women “33% more often than when they are talking with men.” (Shore, 2017)  This is readily observed in school staff meetings, at board meetings, and at social events.  As a woman, one’s ability to effectively solve complex problems can be severely impacted by the underlying sexist communication styles between men and women. The perpetuation of the leader as Hero is inevitable when the majority of leaders talk, interrupt, and converse for power. (Senge, 2013. P. 4)(Murphy, 2013. P. 29).It is the perspective of the privileged to fall blind to the adverse effects their state of being creates.  In society, the failure to acknowledge gender bias is part of a wider trend in the developed world.

According to Sanchez and Thornton, “…there seems to be “an implicit assumption that problems of equity for women have been solved and there are no issues left to address” (Coleman, 2005, p. 5). Moreau, Osgood, and Halsall (2007) found that many female teachers and other educational stakeholders did not recognize or identify a gender imbalance.” (p. 3).

This statement is supported both by my discussions with the inquiry group and with my observations in the workplace. As new principals were being assigned recently, there were few women placed in administrative roles despite the overwhelming need for female role models in leadership. Additionally, school district leadership training groups are comprised dominantly of men. It is fair to ask if our system recognizes the inequity observed and to challenge popular thinking.

The “ambivalence, resistance, and antipathy” which have continued to grow around the glass ceiling and gender bias frustrate the work for gender equality. (Sanchez & Gordon, 2010, p.3).

Frustration is observable both in team members and in students as they navigate a complex reality of gender and bias. The absence of gender issues in public discussion is the result of societal changes while navigating the rise of neo-liberalism and the increasing loss of backing for social programs which support gender equality. (Rebick, 2013, p. 678) To ignore specific gender issues ignores the growing effect on our youth and their understanding of education and leadership. Social programs build awareness and effect avenues of address. Increased awareness and highlighted effects on our youth are essential to changing the situation. Relevant knowledge includes being informed on social issues and how they affect children.  (Ligocki, Retrieved 2017)

According to Blount (2006), “Although men held only 21% of all teaching positions in 2000, they accounted for 87% of superintendent positions.” (p.2 Encyclopedia of Educational Leadership and Administration). Despite the overwhelming statistical evidence indicating deep-rooted gender bias, the fight is declining. Recent events like the March for Women has increased awareness once more, but within our community, there is little voice given to the reality which will imprint on learners and affect women’s ability to lead effectively without bias. There are distinct differences in how men and women communicate.  Men communicate to advance their power and reputation while women communicate to build relationships and develop connections. (Shore, 2017). Servant leadership is seen as feminine; soft and gentle. Hero leadership is strong and dominating; essentially what we perceive as masculine.

The patriarchal society we live in is our reality. Add to that the white conservative bread-basket we experience in the Okanagan Valley, and the “Father Knows Best” belief which pervades our systems of thinking (particularly in education where the school is an extended part of the family) and male leadership is the norm.

To experience student-centred learning and student-centred problem solving we must acknowledge this state of being. It is through accepting our reality, our unconscious belief systems, that we can challenge the Hero and open ourselves to equal opportunities. Murphy (2013) emphasizes that instead of issuing answers leaders need to acknowledge ignorance, search for knowledge, and take action to effect change. (p. 32). The elimination of bias will lead to balanced systems, leadership, and learning structures. Student-centred learning means students see equality in the faces of teachers, administration, parents, and ultimately themselves.  Together we teach.

In the face of public belittlement such as the one observed at recent meetings between Union representatives and school districts in BC where a female head of a union group was advised by a male superintendent “there, there, don’t get emotional”  we should all be challenging disrespectful leadership and pursuing change. Relevant knowledge includes the transformation of core belief systems through ongoing education and problem-solving asking always “What is best for learners?”

I am committed to servant leadership. It is my belief that in quiet reflective moments we are surprised with insights.  As leaders we can effect change, support team members, and ensure opportunities for on-going education with quiet presence. Transformational growth can emerge from complex issues when approached with a shared understanding and established trust. (Robinson, 2013. P. 307) (Fink & Markholt, 2013, p. 328). This approach requires our ability to engage and direct when necessary. We cannot be washed away by sexist systems.  We must be ever vigilant like the wave upon the shore changing the landscape with every effort.  Moral outrage is effective but also necessary.  As educational leaders it is our responsibility to mentor, teach, and guide.  These responsibilities will drift from reach if we do not call out that which violates our core beliefs and moral goals. We must challenge traditional thinking. (Sergiovanni, 2013. P. 380). Relevant knowledge is essential to solve complex problems.  Student centred leadership is an opportunity for leaders to implement current information to enhance educational systems and creatively approach sensitive crisis in the community.

I will continue to pursue equality, fight demeaning comments, read, and research, explore new developments in education, and lead for learners.

#globalgoals             #educate           #girlpower         #bevocal


Blount. S. (2006). Encyclopedia of educational leadership and administration. English, Fenwick (Ed.). SAGE Publications, Incorporated. Retrieved May 6, 2017, from UBC Library database: http://gw2jh3xr2c.search.serialssolutions.com/?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&ctx_enc=info:ofi%2Fenc:UTF-8&rfr_id=info:sid%2Fsummon.serialssolutions.com&rft_val_fmt=info:ofi%2Ffmt:kev:mtx:book&rft.genre=bookitem&rft.title=Encyclopedia+of+Educational+Leadership+and+Administration&rft.atitle=WOMEN+IN+EDUCATIONAL+LEADERSHIP&rft.date=2006-01-01&rft.isbn=9780761930877&rft.externalDocID=9287952&paramdict=en-US

B.C. Ministry of Education. Supporting students with learning disabilities. Author. (2011) Retrieved May 13, 2017 from http://www.bced.gov.bc.ca/specialed/docs/learning_disabilities_guide.pdf

Fink, S. & Markholt, A. (2013). The leader’s role in developing teacher expertise. In M. Grogan (ED.), The Jossey-Bass reader on educational leadership. (pp. 328). San Francisco, CA.: Jossey-Bass

Government of British Columbia. B.C.’s new curriculum. (2015) Retrieved  May 13, 2015 from https://curriculum.gov.bc.ca/curriculum-info

Grogan, M. (Ed.). (2013). The Jossey-Bass reader on educational leadership. San Francisco, CA.: Jossey-Bass

Ligocki, Danielle (2017). How does sexism operate in schools and wider society. [Electronic version].

Academia.edu. Retrieved May 13, 2017 http://www.academia.edu/2471094/How_Does_Sexism_Operate_in_Schools_and_Wider_Society

Murphy, J. (2013). The unheroic side of leadership. In M. Grogan (ED.), The Jossey-Bass reader on educational leadership. (pp. 29-32). San Francisco, CA.: Jossey-Bass

Rebick, J. (2013). The future of feminism. In Gender and women’s studies in Canada;  Critical Terrain (pp. 678-684). Toronto, Ontario: Women’s Press, an imprint of Canadian Scholars’ Press Inc.

Robinson, V. (2013). Three capabilities for student centred leadership. In M. Grogan (ED.), The Jossey-Bass reader on educational leadership. (pp. 298-307). San Francisco, CA.: Jossey-Bass

Sanchez.J. & Thornton. Dr. (2010). Gender issues in K-12 educational leadership. Advancing  Women in Leadership Journal, V. 30 – N. 13. Retrieved from: http://www.advancingwomen.com/awl/Vol30_2010/Sanchez_Jafeth_AWL_Vol_30_No._13_final_9_21_10.pdf

Senge, P. (2013). “Give me a lever long enough… and single-handed I can move the world”. In M. Grogan (ED.), The Jossey-Bass reader on educational leadership. (pp. 3-5). San Francisco, CA.: Jossey-Bass

Sergiovanni, T. (2013). Leadership as stewardship. In M. Grogan (ED.), The Jossey-Bass reader on educational leadership. (pp. 379-388). San Francisco, CA.: Jossey-Bass

Shore, L. (2017). Gal interrupted, why men interrupt women and how to avert this in the workplace. WomensMedia. Retrieved May 13, 2017 https://www.forbes.com/sites/womensmedia/2017/01/03/gal-interrupted-why-men-interrupt-women-and-how-to-avert-this-in-the-workplace/#71582cae17c3  

Woodward, D. (2013, August). The corporate takeover of public education. HuffPost. Retrieved May 13, 2017, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/diann-woodard/the-corporate-takeover_b_3397091.html

© Michelle Redman and mredmanwrites, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michelle Redman and mredmanwrites https://mredmanwrites.wordpress.com/


Hiding under Furniture

James was hard to find.  Sometimes in the closet, periodically in the hall, randomly in the washroom… and often under my desk.  James knew all the quiet spots.  Spots away from those annoying peers who liked to talk, spots away from the prying eyes of supervisors, and spots away from pencils.

The first few days in my grade 5 classroom I would scan the room to take attendance.  After the first two days I knew to look around to ensure James was on the premises.  His previous well-meaning teachers advised me that he was just a weak kid with social anxieties and to just do my best to get him through.  That was not on my ‘to do’ list.  I wanted to inspire learners!  Ignite fires and feed them books to keep their paths lit on their journeys through life.

Hmm, by week three I was feeling that the fire I aspired to set was being washed away by rivers of fear secreting the firewood away into dark thickets.  It is a difficult thing to undo a core belief that one simply ‘does not fit’.  The trail is lined with obstacles and webs are strung between strong poplars. I trekked on, through, over, until one day I sat beneath my desk.

James was also under the desk, just sitting.  He had stopped hiding outside the classroom after day three when he announced that I was “not scary!”  From that day until the desk (rather under desk) meeting James would conceal himself on shelves, in the cupboard, behind my desk, and sometimes lying under the chalkboard ledge.  We had to find a way to make this more successful.

hiding under desk8

On the morning of our desk meeting, James greeted me cheerfully with his crooked grin as he watched me climb over the footrest and join him under my rather large double pedestal. I sat with him calmly and then began to tell him about my favourite books.  I am a reader; books were and remain my saving place. I could not at that moment think of anything profound to say and so I spoke about what I loved. James listened intently.  He became animated asking me about different topics and he seemed thrilled that I was a history fan.  Now at this point in the class James had not been observed reading, looking for books, or even skimming the multiple titles suggested to him.  But in the quiet and shadowed underbelly of my desk I discovered a reader.  James read!  He read a lot and he read mature novels.  James reveled in the written word.  I thank God for an amazing group of students that day.  Students who just seemed to understand that someone needed my attention and who were willing to provide the time it required.

The following day when I looked for James he was not in his desk.  I peered under my desk and found his grin peeking back at me.  I left him there.  He began to participate in activities, follow instruction, and demonstrate growth after skill building! I designed a personal program to address deficits but to also springboard off James’ vast knowledge and interest areas.  James regularly worked under my desk.  It was a haven safe and secure in a world of unknowns.

I referred James for assessment before the end of October.  I met with his parents along with the school based team to discuss his strengths and weaknesses.  Everyone had something to say about James’ weaknesses but I was more interested in his strengths.  I believed James was above average; gifted. His parents laughed at the suggestion and signed the paperwork for assessment.  They weren’t laughing when we all met with the psychologist following multiple meetings to complete the process.  Parents can also be victims of social expectations, peer pressure, and bullying.  A child that hides must have problems, right?

James was identified as highly gifted with a significant writing and spelling disability.  I was elated for James.  His parents were really lovely caring people who wanted their son to be successful.  They didn’t mean to feel embarrassed by his strange behaviour but endless snickers and stinging comments from friends and family had left them wondering and sensitive.

James shone in his year with me, grew in skill, and developed coping strategies to bolster both social and academic abilities. His amazing gifts were embraced by his classmates and celebrated during discussions.  They had been unaware of his interests and his humour.  Peers clamoured for his attention away from the hiding spots which beckoned James less and less. He was full of ideas for stories and would design extravagant playground games based on living in space.

The following year I was the director of the Gifted Education program.  James was first on my list.  Included in the group was a six-year-old math genius, a 13-year-old language buff, and James.  They were all space fans.  Together they designed a space centre and presented their creation to a College professor.  The professor was astounded at the depth of knowledge, research, and understanding of galactic travel the students had demonstrated.  He felt they had developed a feasible plan.  Wow! The positive response and acknowledgement of hard work and innovative thinking was surprising to James most of all!

In the regular classroom James was struggling.  His teacher in grade six did not believe in differentiating or in allowing tech devices (I recommended the provision of a laptop so James could get his ideas down without the restrictions of his writing disability and a calculator for basic facts). He was failing math despite exhibiting advanced problem solving and critical evaluation of complex data.  His teacher informed me that because James did not know his times tables by heart he would not pass.  Ahhhhhh.  I was so frustrated.  The principal worked with me that year to re-educate the teacher.  It was at James’ expense.  The following year I kept James in my program almost exclusively to allow him time to learn and grow with individualized curriculum and alternative learning opportunities.

James ignited the fire in me to fight for individualized student programming.  My peers often call out “I know!  Differentiate” as I approach them.  I am passionate about student success. I am vocal about the need for implementing varied instructional strategies and employing alternative work spaces.  I have seen James many times since he left the school.  His mom and I are friends on Facebook and James and I have shared stories with laughter.  He is a creative and successful adult.  He is still what many describe as ‘alternative’. I just remember an incredible person with surprising insights who taught me that sometimes learning under desks (or in closets or behind chart stands) is an amazing place to begin explorations, treks, and travels!

Names changed to protect privacy.

© Michelle Redman and mredmanwrites, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michelle Redman and mredmanwrites https://mredmanwrites.wordpress.com/

Hiding in the Shadows

Every year teaching has brought tumultuous twists and turns with students who have challenged my thinking, pushed my expectations, and encouraged me with their personal courage.  Throughout my career I have seen the flickering of wings from the dark side of the moon, smiles flashing across crowded corridors pulling shadows from unseen hideaways, and resilient whispers pushing towards life on a thread of Faith. Over the next few weeks I will share just a few stories from decades of teaching incredible individuals.

Learning Assistance (LAT) is an often overlooked grey area of Special Education.  LAT includes students for whom there are specific learning challenges.  These students join a multitude of disabilities with invisible struggles.  Who are these kids!?  They are individuals whose brains lack working memory, the ability to see numbers, perhaps an inability to decipher phonics.  They are the ‘sensitive’ people who are overwhelmed by neural activation; sound, sight, taste, or touch.  They are undervalued, dismissed, pushed away.  These students take time, focus, skilled instruction providing differentiated curriculum, delivery, environment, or conditions.  There are so many possibilities for success. Inclusion is a right of all.  This includes Learning Assistance students.

Innumerable times in my career I have been informed by classroom teachers that students are ‘just lazy’, ‘too sensitive’, ‘take too much time’, or  ‘need to get over it’…  My fury was ultimately balanced by the need to educate and inform these teachers.  LAT kids appear mainstream.  Their designations may sound small and may be easily dismissed by misunderstanding.  So many times I have witnessed 60% of student populations receiving 100% of the instructional planning and delivery.  What about the edges?  As Shelley Moore has advocated, we need to aim for the corner pins! (Moore, S. 2016-04-04)

Mental health can be a precarious thing for learners who are led to doubt their abilities, their potential, their gifts.  Such was the case for Steven.  A strong personality with so many fractures he was held together by sheer will power.  The central belief that he was unable to learn and would forever be a burden to those around him, resulted in a deep debilitating depression.  In the regular classroom he was consistently overlooked.  A quiet person in a sea of teenage angst and social festivities, Steven would often reach the end of a unit without any notes (he was unable to hand write legibly), without any recollection of the topic (he had an extremely weak working memory), and without having participated in any activities or discussions (he suffered from extreme anxiety).

Steven and I found each other one year when by chance he arrived in my LAT classroom.  He was actively seeking a ‘safe place’. Somewhere he didn’t have to face people.  My room was quiet, soft music floated out the door, and light emanated from a table lamp with “Be Brave” emblazoned across it in glittering gold.  Steven chose the corner chair facing the door with his back to the wall.  What had happened to create such distrust?  As this was the first week at a new school I went looking for a file to provide background and hopefully arm me with strategies to communicate with a student who was at that time…silent.

The team at the school let me know that a full assessment had been done previously and that Steven was a Resource kid who missed the designation by a point with his perceptual reasoning.  I took that information, considered it, then proceeded to instead looked for patterns in his school history and communication.  Then I began the lengthy process to affirm myself as a ‘safe person’ in the safe room.  Over a few weeks I began to get eye contact, grunts, small talk.  My presence in Steven’s regular classes were a time of increased anxiety, even when I worked with other students in the opposite corner of the room.  I opted for one:one contact in the corner of my room with only one or two other students in the space.  The relaxation was palpable. Our first few real discussions about video games and websites were filled with evident trepidation. Once we had established trust and had begun building a relationship developed over common interests, Steven blossomed!  He would participate in animated debates and arrive with tales from home, friends, and the neighborhood.  Then began the process of addressing Steven’s academic needs.  Steven used the computer like a pro and was able to write using tech but he truly believed he was incapable.  He refused to look any different than ‘normal kids’ and would not use the technology available to improve his achievement.

A robust person appeared as Steven’s comfort increased.  Steven was bright, interactive, and demonstrated unexpected insights. As a result of my observations, I contacted the psychologist to request an adjudication as soon as possible.  When the report-out occurred, the results were not what other people expected.  He was within normal intelligence, completely capable, but incapacitated by severe disabilities spanning several competencies!  Additionally, the concurrent depression was stifling any possibility for growth.

The psychologist was new and extremely well trained.  He took the time to provide on-going counselling sessions to Steven.  Together they maneuvered the roadblocks wrought by years of misunderstanding and minimization. Steven sobbed the first day he truly believed he was not handicapped in the traditional sense.  We began to learn that he had been systematically bullied by a group using intellectually prejudicial slurs for a number of years.  A lack of understanding of Steven’s abilities, the absence of required instructional strategies, and weak interpersonal abilities created a perfect storm for both academic and social marginalization.

We began by removing students, or Steven, from classes where he continued to be a target of abuse.  It is my firm belief that the decision made for Steven’s safety, precluded any on-going attempts at educating the abusers.  The re-education of the targeting gang would continue without Steven’s victimization.  Next, we encouraged Steven to find his voice!  He began writing a story rich with profanity, violence, challenges.  His voice was angry and the ability to write with conviction and vision was liberating.  Steven was a prolific writer intent on being heard.  He repeatedly asked how he could create a richer reading experience for his audience.  Wow!  Reading had been difficult and continued to bring up emotional responses.  I introduced text to voice and found that Steven enjoyed listening to stories!  He would follow along with visual tracking programs and participate in small conversations with intimate groups of quiet students.  Numeracy was Steven’s weakest skill area.  Beginning with building blocks I discovered another passion initiating active engagement!  The hands on participation in numerical representations, re-grouping, and manipulation allowed Steven to feel successful and build demonstrable skill.  The blocks were a permanent part of our table, along with whiteboards, number tables, calculators, rulers, and colourful anchor charts for reference!

Incredibly slowly, painfully aware of each movement, Steven began to pull out of obscurity.  He developed a real friendship and implemented social strategies we practiced in the hushed confines of a comforting space.

The differentiation of curriculum, individualized programming, and the integration of strategies for success benefit all students.  Students with specific learning disabilities are able to explore their gifts when they are enabled and empowered. See beyond the wariness, the fear, the reticence. Pull those shadows out from the lockers, away from the corners, and up from under the tables.  Let them find their light and enable them to brighten their own path through recognition, empowerment, and trust!

** All names changed to protect individuals


  1. Moore, S. 2016-04-04. Transforming Education. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/RYtUlU8MjlY.

© Michelle Redman and mredmanwrites, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michelle Redman and mredmanwrites https://mredmanwrites.wordpress.com/

What matters most in a comprehensive literacy program?

“What matters most in a comprehensive literacy program that meets the needs of diverse learners?”

This is a complex question!  There are a myriad of components of any literacy program.  To identify ‘what matters most…’  That’s tough!  Reviewing my original reflection I am both confirmed in my thoughts and actions and at the same time pushed to do more, learn more and teach more.  Through discussion, class presentations and activities there are several areas which are highlighted for me as key areas of focus for inclusive literacy classrooms and schools.

  1. Vygotskian model
  2. Oral language
  3. Differentiation
  4. Authentic phonics instruction
  5. Schoolwide commitment

It has been, admittedly, a long time since I consciously considered Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development.  Once upon a time it was at the initial planning stage of every lesson, activity and centre.  I am not sure when the conscious thought of ‘the zone’ slipped away?  Despite the slip from my mind, the process has always been present.  I was re-energized to have the model again brought to conscious thought and practiced with explicit application.  When reflecting on student activities or planning for new exercises, I have found myself naming the processes, referencing the model and confirming the strategies for success to be applied for student learning.  Knowing my students, developing relationships and planning for their success is my primary goal.  By explicitly planning for the ZPD I am forced to look deeper to the student abilities, interests and motivators to effectively plan for success.

Integration of ZPD and a Gradual Release Model rang true to me and it indeed reminds me of my role as a mother, as referenced in Johnson and Keier.  Modeling is indeed a required tool to be applied at the right times.  Knowing the right times and recognizing the opportunity for enhanced learning is the result of a bit of intuition, a lot of referencing of experience and drawing upon training and education.  Independence is the goal [1] and should be the on-going objective for all learners.  Setting realistic, achievable learning objectives for students will make independence a reality in small steps or big leaps.  People laugh when I tell them I gave my son his own washer and dryer for his tenth birthday, but that confidence, structured instruction and release of responsibility was my plan for his independence.  I set a goal, defined the realistic and achievable objectives, planned for their success and implemented with confidence.  Today, as the primary care giver of two preschoolers, my son tells me it was the systematic approach, modeling, support and gradual independence that has prepared him for his role as dedicated and responsible parent.

The same basic principles must be applied within the classroom.  Identify needs, set goals, outline objectives, implement the plan… but most of all be flexible!  A flexible educator prepares to be surprised, to be overwhelmed and to be under whelmed.  The goals often change, the objectives need to be refined and implementation plans might need revision.  Flexibility allows the teacher to move with the child in their learning journey.  Often as educators we are busy building bridges, finding supports and lifting ramps for success.  Our goal is always the development of skills and abilities within the learners to find their own roads, choose the paths which present challenges but which can be managed with tools taken on the journey in a tool belt filled by caring, intuitive and responsive teachers.

Self regulation is one of the most important tools and is the result of implementation of language strategies, use and modeling.  [2] Again this echoes the stride for independence.  Language use by the educator, the family, and the student is impactful and should be carefully considered.  I was truly appreciative of the class discussion regarding school language use around student descriptions.  I have entered staffrooms and witnessed disrespectful discussions and characterizations of students.  We must be vocal in our witness to improper behaviour, effect change where we can and educate when we are able.  I am endeavoring to change my reaction to these situations.  I would typically avoid the toxic staff, leave the room or gripe to myself.  I am empowered to speak for the students, to identify my role as a leader and teacher, and to set a positive role model working for student success.

I spent quite a bit of time reviewing the list of questions regarding the Vygotskian Classroom.  I have been empowered in my processes and applications of strategies for student growth.  The basic principles have always been part of my mission.  The discussion and research into language use has been most motivating for me personally.

Oral language is often relegated to primary classrooms or senior debate teams.  As both an elementary and secondary teacher I have always been committed to integration and celebration of oral language in the classroom.  Sharing personal histories, individual journeys, and solitary quests is an integrated way to build social emotional support and affirm student identity.  I was thrilled to read “Floating on a Sea of Talk…” by Kathy Mills.  It both affirmed my own beliefs and confirmed research I have long thought to be true.  A student who is able to share orally is able to self advocate!  That means they are more likely to speak out in situations where they may be at risk for abuse, neglect or speak for their own learning needs in the classroom.  A student with strong oral skills and a strong sense of self (promoted through authentic oral language opportunities) is present for their peers; a conscious and empathetic group member.  Sharing often ends at grade three (sadly sometimes before that) but there is research and support for development of strong oral skills beyond the primary grades for a number of reasons.

Oral language builds better readers!  Oral language improves understanding.  Oral language promotes meta-cognition; student identification of their own thinking strategies. [3] This allows them to then apply those strategies to numerous situations expanding their learning capabilities and adding to that tool belt.

The read-aloud is an important aspect of oral language in the classroom.  A read-aloud can be part of teacher modeling; can be for enjoyment, or for interactive discussion and an effective instructional strategy. [4] Why stop reading aloud?  It shouldn’t be restricted to elementary grades.  I worked this year with a challenging group of students in Communications 11/12.  They were at best described as reluctant readers.  Personal reading selections were not forthcoming so with my team teacher, we decided to read ‘Of Mice and Men’ with them.  We were both apprehensive about how this would go!  I am a firm believer that novels are not required in an effective, literacy rich secondary English classroom, but we were at a loss for engaging this particular group.  The first couple days presented minefields of preparation for the novella… language, setting, background, but we forged ahead!  We decided a read aloud format was the way to go!  I was lifted to this decision by the discussions in our EPSE 464 class and the encouragement of the text and articles I was reading.  We were not prepared for the interest, involvement and interactive discussion from the students as we read the novel.  Students actively stopped us, to discuss language, reflect on passages and make predictions for both the story line and the fate of individual characters.  In reflection of the novella, we would finish a section and model discussions about certain aspects.  The students (who believe me were non participants up to that point) would leap in, start their own discussions and were constantly reflecting on character actions.  They would often ask us to re-read sections.  The scaffolded skills led to rich reflections and active participation in comprehension and extended activities, integrating both the oral language and written work.  [5]We had copies of the novel available for the students but only one foreign student opened his copy.  The other students listened avidly ready to interrupt when they missed vocabulary or were confused about something, leaving the paperbacks sitting in from of them.  They were hungry for literacy, for the shared story.  After that we read ‘Charles’, ‘The Lottery’, and ‘The Invitations’.   Students read, we read, and together some students found courage to read together. The students either loved the stories or hated them – no in between!  But they let us know how they felt and why.  They supported their thinking with textual references, examples and drew on other stories they knew.  As I love picture books and traditional literature and shared them in the class, the students with limited literature background were unafraid to reference childhood stories and experiences.  Students opened up about what they did read outside of school.  It was mostly instruction guides or on-line textual material, but they were reading and talking about it!  All from a 90 year old novella which presented the language and societal taboos which intrigued some disengaged learners.  I am so glad we led by example, modeled and read aloud.

The differentiation described in the text and articles for a literacy rich classroom is exactly what I strive for in my own classroom.  I have always had differentiation as my mission and the confirmation of that core belief in my teaching was both supportive and encouraging.  It encouraged me to seek additional information and research.  I have been motivated to build a differentiated model which secondary teachers can draw on easily for implementation.  It will be an ongoing work for the next while, but I am hopeful to share with colleagues for impactful change, motivating discussion and as always… personal growth and peer development.

Varied learning opportunities, alternate presentation models, changeable groups and centres, provide chances for student instruction, exploration, reflection and peer interaction.[6]  Differentiation is a net cast broadly encompassing backgrounds: social, emotional, economic, cultural, and linguistic.  Learners indeed arrive in all shapes, sizes and with their own baggage.  By actively and authentically differentiating for instruction we provide literacy rich experiences to develop student reading, writing and oral language.  To affect the format needed to work actively within a differentiated classroom, management must be under control.  Student involvement and safety in the learning environment is essential.  The classroom model for management might need to also be varied depending on the cultural expectations within the classroom. [7]

I was most intrigued by the simple formula, presented by Lisa in class, for guided reading.  I have been to numerous workshops, staff retreats on guided reading groups and none were so simply presented as what I saw in the class.  I think sometimes in our zeal to make processes accessible, complexities are added which detract from the student experience. I will be happy to integrate small guided reading groups through regular class instruction.

Within the middle and high school settings, the basis of Project Based Learning provides unlimited opportunities for differentiation and student development of reading, writing, oral language, comprehension, and application of learning.    I am excited to continue  applying the concepts of Tiered activities, Collaborative learning, differentiated instructional models, collaborative instruction and co-planning with literacy coaches at senior levels.[8]  After being away from the traditional classroom for a number of years I am excited to renew my skills, expand my learning and facilitate student success.

Phonics instruction was a taboo in my world.  I was raised in a literacy rich home surrounded by adults who embraced and celebrated the whole language movement.  There existed a genuine distaste for traditional phonics and as we were all avid readers with good levels of literacy,  I thought that was all there was to the argument.  (I was expected to play Scrabble™ at a sufficient level at age 6)  The introduction of phonics instruction in authentic and meaningful ways through the class readings and discussions was itself meaningful to me.  I began to revise my views on integrated instruction, explicit teaching and authentic phonics experiences.  [9]  I am invigorated to implement more strategic phonics instruction which will be meaningful and integrated in reading and writing experiences for the learner!

Finally, a School wide commitment to literacy and student success is needed.  Sometimes it feels like we really do live in our classrooms.  A dedicated staff and a strong administrative team are mandatory for school reform, but reform can be seen incubating in a school where two or more dedicated teachers are collaborating, learning from each other, from their students, where the teachers look for personal growth and learning opportunities.  I loved the model set at Pearson Road Elementary.  Armed with information gathered from our classes, I spoke to the principal I worked with this year about establishing a school commitment to a literacy rich environment.  At the secondary level it is too easy for people to say “They are in grade 11!  They know how to read!”  I heard that lots this year as I worked with students reading at the grade 5 level.  But this principal has been anxious to discuss options and strategies and I am hopeful that the school will begin the development of a growth plan this fall.   Strong principal leadership will set the standard for realistic objectives!  Staff education and professional development will be pivotal to continued development of a school wide program.  The steps laid out by Regie Routman was a jumping point for discussion and planning in my meeting with the principal.  I love the quote “Perhaps the greatest change teachers make on their journey to becoming more effective is to slow down their teaching so they can hurry up the learning for their students.” (Routman, 2014)  Words to live by.


Bursuck, William D., Damer, Mary. (2015). Teaching reading to students who are at risk or have disabilities – chapter 1 [Class handout]. Department of Education, University of British Columbia Okanagan, Kelowna, Canada.

Johnson,Pat., Keier, Katie. (2010), Catching readers before they fall.  Portland, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers.

Kameenui, Edward j. (2015)  Diverse learners and the tyranny of time: don’t fix blame; fix the leaky roof.  [Class handout]. Department of Education, University of British Columbia Okanagan, Kelowna, Canada.

Mills, Kathy A. (2009).  Floating on a sea of talk: reading comprehension through speaking and listening. [Classroom handout]. Department of Education, University of British Columbia Okanagan, Kelowna, Canada.

Routman, Regie. (2012).  Mapping a pathway to schoolwide highly effective teaching [class handout].  Department of Education, University of British Columbia Okanagan, Kelowna, Canada.

Wilkinson, Louise C., Silliman, Elaine R. (2015) Classroom language and literacy learning.[Classroom handout].   Department of Education, University of British Columbia Okanagan, Kelowna, Canada.

Author unknown.  Differentiating for success – chapter 11. [Classroom handout]. Department of Education, University of British Columbia Okanagan, Kelowna, Canada.

[1] (Johnson, Keier, 2010)

[2] (Johnson, Keier, 2010)

[3] (Mills, 2009)

[4] (Johnson, Keier, 2010)

[5] (Wilkinson, Silliman, 2015)

[6] (Kameenui, 1993)

[7] (Au, 2015)

[8] (Ch. 11 handout from class ‘Differentiating for Success’– no citation available)

[9] (Bursuck, 2015)

© Michelle Redman and mredmanwrites, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michelle Redman and mredmanwrites https://mredmanwrites.wordpress.com/2015/08/12/what-matters-most-in-a-comprehensive-literacy-program/

Formative Classroom Assessment Models

There are a variety of formative assessment tools available for teacher integration in the classroom.  The assessment is on-going and directed.  It can be daily or periodical depending on the criteria and the purpose.  It is essential that as educators we recognize the value of assessment criteria; even though the assessment is informal in nature.  Assessment with clear Learning Intentions, Criteria, and Language makes it easier for all students to learn, makes curriculum more accessible and results in teachers working more explicitly.  (Brownlie, 2015)
When choosing assessment tools, I often look at those which are best suited to the specific needs of the student, to make decisions regarding instruction and learning.
Formative assessment is on-going through school programming allowing for a progressive picture of student development which will provide the student with a clear directive of criteria, expectations and a record of material and/or skills which are learned/mastered.  The teacher is able to identify areas which require either direct instruction or group instruction to address deficits or areas requiring re-teaching.
I am an enthusiastic whole language proponent.  As such, I see that the assessment tools I would choose reflect this.  There are of course some skill based assessments which I would utilize and which would provide useful information.  Those would be my choice should it provide the best information for planning student learning!
Today I would like to discuss Anecdotal Records, Conferences, and Think Aloud.  I also believe, although I haven’t actively used Dialogue Journals in my class, that they would be extremely useful and interactive (Gunderson, 2013).

Anecdotal Records:
I find Anecdotal records useful as a record of behavior, skill development history, and knowledge evidence.  Due to the unbiased language and neutral preservation of an event, I am able to reflect on the student and their needs, and to debrief and plan for intervention, instructional planning, behavioral guidelines, and classroom procedures.  When writing an Anecdotal record, one never uses the word ‘can’t’ as it is an unproven indictment of the student – instead make an observation.  For example:  Joey can’t find the table of contents in the math text.  Vs. Joey did not locate the table of contents in the math text.  The second record indicates a skill area to be taught – Voila – instructional plan for the next day!  (Boyd-Batstone, P.)  The Anecdotal record can be utilized in an on-going fashion for instruction, behavior/class management and also as a reference during student, parent and school based meetings.  The records can demonstrate progress made by the student or stagnancy and the need for instructional change.

The process of maintaining Anecdotal records can be time consuming and sometimes educators will find the management of time, notes and observations difficult to accommodate.  It is important to focus the intent of the record on specific content skills, social skills, knowledge or behavior(s) so that time is used efficiently without detraction from whole class management and instruction.

Anecdotal records are neutral and progressive, providing an accurate picture of the student over time!  This is one of my favorite on-going assessment records.  What a great way to build inclusive assessment for feedback, planning, and conferencing.

Behavioral Record General Anecdotal form

A well run student conference, whether it be for writing, reading or math, empowers a student!  Students are able to direct the discussion to areas they are thinking about, get answers to questions they have or ask about skills of which they are not sure.  The teacher and student work collaboratively in a positive manner, encouraging a healthy discussion and building a trusting relationship.

The time required for effective conferencing and the ability of the teacher to meet with each student frequently enough does represent a challenge for some teachers due to class composition and school programming.  A weekly conference is best to plan for skill building, development and feedback.
Student conferences meet the student on their terms, to build their skills and work towards their goals… no matter where they are developmentally.  I incorporate daily conferences during both Math journals and Writer’s Workshop.  Ideally I am able to complete three full conferences for each and sometimes four.  A Conference discussion guide is helpful for teachers starting conferences for the first time.  Additionally, a consistent conference location and a predictable format will build both student confidence and teacher comfort with the process.  This is indeed an inclusive assessment!

I have included a link to a youtube video of an excellent example of a student conference.

Think Aloud:
This assessment is an involved interactive process requiring teacher focus, identified criteria, and specific material.  The verbalization process is an alternative to paper/pen and allows students to both work out their own thoughts and also hear what other students are thinking!  Sometimes this means students are able to look at something in a new way.  Think Aloud also promotes group participation, building on information and extending ideas.  Additionally, the Think Aloud process allows all members a voice and builds group dynamics for success.  The ESL student with little fluency will struggle with this activity as will other students challenged with verbal fluency, however, being included in the group may provide positive group dynamics.  Also, with the encouragement of peers and teacher, the ESL student can be encouraged to share when they are able either verbally or visually and to participate as possible. It is a key element that the guide (typically the teacher) provide on-going written record or a visual referent during the Think Aloud process.  I especially appreciate student led Think Aloud sessions.  Where possible the students produce and discuss the associated visual referent, however, the guide must be ready to do so in order to provide a multi-sensory experience for all learners.

I am apprehensive that this assessment will not be inclusive and will by it’s very nature exclude some students.  It is with careful thought and planning for student needs that this assessment should be utilized in small group instruction, but I do believe that it has merit and value to build thinking strategies, develop divergent thinkers and build meta cognitive skills.

I especially enjoy utilizing Think Aloud during math instruction.  Here’s an example of a math Think Aloud.

In summary, I feel strongly that assessment completed individually, in a variety of modes which allows the student to most genuinely present their thoughts, skills and learning is a more authentic representation of student growth than occasional summative assessments administered on rigid state or district deadlines.


Boyd-Batstone, P. (2004).  Focused anecdotal records assessment: A tool for standards-based, authentic assessment.  The Reading Teacher Vol. 58, No. 3, 230-239.  Retrieved from http://www.learner.org/workshops/teachreading35/pdf/anectodal_records.pdf
Brownlie, Faye (2015, January 12).  The principles of assessment for learning

[video file]

.  Retrieved from:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sgvm1NSyg70
Gunderson, Lee; Murphy Odo, Dennis; D’Silva, Reginald (2013). ESL (ELL) Literacy Instruction: A Guidebook to Theory and Practice, Third Edition. Retrieved from http://www.eblib.com

© Michelle Redman and mredmanwrites, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michelle Redman and mredmanwriteshttps://wordpress.com/post/87298231/new

Reading Memories,

A Fleeting History of Reading Memories

Reading has been a collaborative effort since early childhood, a process which involved all family members, both immediate and extended.  Books were valued, cherished, revered and kept always at hand.  It was with a sense of calm confidence that my grandparents, parents, and uncles referred to the inevitability of my elevation to an enlightened reader.  I knew early on that reading was important.  Reading was a way to convey thoughts, ideas, and feelings. 

My relatives read to me often with great emotion, often laughing or crying out… in tune with the literature as we became joined in an eloquent journey.  My grandmother emphasized engagement with literature, the importance of a sensory involvement.  Thus began my long and winding trail of worlds real, imagined or otherwise created in my head by another’s words. 

The introduction to reading in a traditional education setting was filled with Dick and Jane and their incessant dog…. Ahhhh the boredom!  But I did appreciate the illustrations.  The bright scarlet skirt Jane always seemed to don, the blue which I can still see flashing across the page as Dick ran – where to?  I didn’t know, but I did have some ideas. 

It wasn’t until grade 3 and Mrs. Wagga that someone, besides my family, realized I could read beyond the Basal Readers littering the classroom. Suddenly the boredom drifted away in the sea of books I was encouraged to explore, review, and share!  Thank goodness for a teacher open to individualized programming, critical literacy and a whole language process which expanded my literary world beyond the phonetic readers which confined, limited, and numbed my mind.

As my library grew it lined the shelves (basement ledges) of my room. Wendy, my childhood friend and a partner in library adventures, chose books I didn’t – more often than not they were romances, which I didn’t really discover until my late teens! My choices tended to be animal fiction (Marguerite Henry I loved you!), mystery (Nancy Drew was a common yellow spine on that shelf), and world history (thank my dad for that! – World War II buff that he is:) The diversity of our interests initiated heated debates on characters, settings, stories, and the books we would one day write! 

I admired my father’s expansive library. He loved books. Holding them, paging through them, buying them. Mosaic books has been a favourite haunt since childhood. The original location on St. Paul Street featured nooks to hide in with a book while I waited for my mom and dad. My father and I would often debate the use or value or relative nonsense of a particular work. Today, he asks me what to read. Recently Dad has enjoyed ‘The Art of Racing in the Rain’ and is exploring ‘A Little Life’. He isn’t sure if he will enjoy ‘A Little Life’ but the visceral and overwhelming emotions I described have, I think, convinced him to open the first page.

My grandmother relished foreign languages so I was often an active member in her acquisition of a new language and a tentative reader of foreign texts. I miss her every day, but I follow her guide and I remember to sit and read each day – somewhere with tea – for as long as I am able.

With children came the need for non-fiction and a love of excellent wordless picture books! They are a part of my library still and an integral component of my classroom. Thank goodness for Margaret George on those days when children played around me. Their preoccupation with each other allowed the time and space to fade, foreign leaders to enter, and cruel, lovely, and impetuous actions to rise in my imagination above the sound of blocks tumbling about my feet.

Today, my reading is primarily academic, but in between texts and assigned readings, I slip fiction, poetry, autobiographies… life.

© Michelle Redman and mredmanwrites, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michelle Redman and mredmanwrites https://wordpress.com/post/87298231/new