Ice Photography Along the North Shore of Lake Superior

Today’s trek to Terrace Bay and Rossport involved a series of stops on the side of the highway to run through snow until I got to the lakeshore. Surprisingly, there wasn’t much snow, but some beautiful ice images to capture…






"Ice shells"... dainty rock coverings that had fallen off of their molds, leaving fragile natural sculptures.

“Ice shells”… dainty rock coverings that had fallen off of their molds, leaving fragile natural sculptures.


Posted in Regional Art | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

What Comes Before Creativity?

My students have been exploring growth mindset lately.  Together, we have discussed what it is, how it differs from a fixed mindset, and what is needed to support those who are willing to realign their thinking.


Many students are nervous about art class, but I’m not sure if I fully understood the reasons why… until just recently.  For the longest time, I was convinced that the majority of students held back from improving their skills because they were sure that they had no talent.  All too often, art class is considered to be a place for those who have been endowed with a natural ability to express themselves through “beautiful” artworks; things that are created with an air of mystery and presented at a lofty level, far above the understanding of the masses.

Although these false assumptions still wreak havoc on the minds of some art students, the real culprits lurk in the shadows:  fear of judgment, fear of failure, and fear of others.


What can we do to help students move past these fears?



I know that Amy’s picture is referring to an article about Twyla Tharp’s work on creativity, but I’m hijacking it for my own purposes here.  Students need help building a backbone if they are going to be able to use it for the hard labour ahead:  practicing skills, making an effort to be creative, and even going so far as to be original.



How are we helping to lay the foundation for true creativity in our classrooms?  Do we assume that skills are the fundamentals to help build confidence in our students, or are we willing to dig a bit deeper to see what is really needed?  If we refrain from creating a positive learning environment because we are focused on a list of curriculum expectations, whose needs are we serving?




Last week, as I was making my rounds in the class, I walked over to a corner of the room where a student was quietly working on her latest project.  When I saw that she was using a lighter, my knee-jerk reaction involved asking her to stop what she was doing.  After a moment, she patiently showed me what she was doing and why it was effective for her art. She even compared the technique with that of one of her classmates, showing me the benefits of smoother lines in her composition.



This week, two of my students collaborated on an artwork that involved dipping a basketball in paint and making a series of bounce passes to each other.  Where the ball bounced, prints were made on the paper that was on the floor between the two artists.  The result was excellent, even if our classroom ended up a bit messier than usual.


My students continue to teach me.  Thanks to our discussions, I am learning what needs to change for them to prosper.  We will work toward establishing a repertoire of skills, but that won’t make us lose our focus on meeting the conditions necessary for a healthy learning environment.


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Student Voice: Learning Conditions Needed to Support a Growth Mindset

I can’t explain the learning that has been happening in my classroom lately.  All I know is that it’s cool.  Maybe after reading through this post, you can help to explain it and make meaning from it by providing another perspective.

An interesting dialogue has begun to develop between my students and Dave Tamblyn, the Director of our school board.  What started as a simple post to help curate the events from a Leadership Learning Team meeting, has turned into a series of connected questions and responses regarding growth mindset, fixed mindset, and conditions for learning.

In my last post, students explored the potential of changing a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.  Most students agreed that this process wasn’t simple and that it depended on a variety of factors, which is what prompted Mr. Tamblyn’s question at the end of his latest comment:

I am curious to know what students think are the learning conditions necessary to support a growth mindset? ~ Dave Tamblyn

**note:  Dave’s comment was anything but brief.  When my classes read his thoughtful reflections on their ideas, something very meaningful happened.  Right away, they asked for some sticky notes so they could write down their opinions, which they knew I would use to create this blog post.





Two students took the time to go beyond the sticky note, and blogged their thoughts:

I find that the subject I struggle with having a growth mind set the most in is my university functions class. Although my marks are still satisfactory I find this year I am struggling to come to terms with new concepts. I also noticed I enjoyed my math class more last year when most of the curriculum was expanding on concepts already taught in grade nine. This year however most of the information is new to me, and I am having trouble coming to terms with the direction the curriculum has [taken]. 

In order for me to improve my mind set in this class I need to do a series of things. The first, is to remain positive. If I believe in my strong math background I know I will be able to overcome my lack of confidence when facing issues that make me feel defeated and unmotivated to learn anymore. The second, is to ask more questions. I need to stop being afraid of the possibility of being incorrect, and voice my questions and concerns to not only my teacher, but my peers.
Hopefully I can implement these ideas in my course and continue to succeed. (Olivia)

One more:

Today in class we earned about the idea of not being naturally good at something, or having a bit of talent, but working and practicing at it to become better.  This can really relate to anything in life, classes of all types, jobs, the list goes on and on.

I decided to relate this idea to something I’ve been working on lately…

(**please take the time to click on this link  from Hanna to read the rest of this post, which includes plenty of pictures and wonderful reflections**)

Thank you to my students for their willingness to provide such honest insights.  It takes courage to share your thoughts with others, so let’s hope that these posts can be our first steps to even better learning together!  

Please feel free to share your thoughts below.



Posted in Education, Education Reform | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Can A Fixed Mindset Be Changed?

After my students thought & wrote about growth mindset, Dave Tamblyn challenged us to think about people who have a fixed mindset.

Thank you Colleen for sharing this. What a great exercise! I wish I had been there to have heard the discussion. I am particularly interested in hearing from those students who typically don’t have a growth mindset – the ones who say they are not artistic before they have even taken their first class. After watching the videos and hearing the comments from their classmates has their fixed mindset been undermined? In terms of interventions for students with a fixed mindset you say you offer reassurance and encouragement. Do these strategies work? Are their other intervention strategies?

My classes were ready to share their thoughts right away.


“I think someone can go from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset if they really want to & work hard enough with the right motivation and encouragement.”

“I think that you can change from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset by surrounding yourself with encouraging people that want you to do good, and being open to try new things and experiment with them because you never know what you’ll be good at.”



“I think the way for someone with a fixed mindset [to] transition into a growth mindset is by slowly trying new things, slowly reaching out of their comfort zones.”

“In some ways I believe that people that have a fixed mindset are stuck to what they know and stubborn in some ways.  To get from a fixed mindset, I believe that if they at least one point in their life leave what they know and experiment, not only are they leaving their fixed mindset but they are growing because of experimenting.”



“I think that if somebody puts their mind to it, they can change from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.  Although, it may take a long time because it doesn’t seem like something you can change in a snap.”

“I think someone can change from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset by believing they can do something and to not give up.  Also, try out new things because you learn from failure.  You have to be passionate about practicing and learning.”



“I think if someone has a fixed mindset, they can change to a growth mindset by themselves or get help, but it is their own choice.  If they are not willing to, they won’t.”

“I find that in some ways I have a fixed mindset like when I started art, I right away thought that I would have a bad mark because I “sucked” at art.  After realizing if I work hard I can actually be pretty good I think I [developed] a growth mindset.”



“I don’t think there is any way for somebody to change their mindset because that’s how they live their life.”

“You change your mindset by not being stressed or [by] being positive.”



“You can change if you’re happy.  [A fixed mindset] is just being lazy.”

“I think you just need to believe and be patient with yourself.  Things take time and if you give it that, you can do anything.”



“You can tell them that if they actually try, they will.  You have to give positive energy so they will believe that they can do it.”

“I think someone can go from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset if they really want to & they work hard enough with the right motivation and encouragement.”


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Last Friday, I participated in a Leadership Learning Team meeting with other educators in our school board.  It was a great opportunity to think about the way we teach, and we were challenged to share this learning with others.  This might have meant other teachers at my school, but I wanted to take it a step further.  Besides talking about these ideas with my children at home over the weekend, my students had the opportunity to look through the videos and respond to some questions today in class.


We discussed the growth mindset as well as the idea that #YouCanLearnAnything.  For some reason, it wasn’t easy for me to talk about this with my students, because I felt that it was getting a bit too real.  A lump was forming in my throat because these ideas are at the heart and soul of any great classroom.  Teachers always hope that students will do their best, will push their limits, and move on to lead successful lives.  I mean, who hasn’t been inspired by movies like Freedom Writers or To Sir, With Love…?


In art class, I often hear students say that they have no talent, or that they’re not artistic. Even before attending their first class, they have convinced themselves that they won’t do well.


What better way to respond to fear than to offer reassurance and encouragement?  By simply understanding the notion that we can train ourselves and improve our skills, we can begin to make the decision to move forward.  When we share this knowledge with students, we empower them.

Students may wonder if these ideas only apply to specific people;  those who struggle, those who succeed, or maybe even those who have talent…

A growth mindset is the ability to keep learning thinks despite failure. Success depends on the effort of a student, not the intelligence.

As I student I see myself struggling with this concept because when I am praised for my natural intellectual ability I have a hard time pushing myself when times get tough. However, I believe I do have a growth mindset because my work effort and ambition is reflected through my school work. This video scientifically proved that my effort does pay off, and I should continue my hard work in order to achieve my goals, and continue to grow.    (Olivia)


Hopefully more students will begin to see the benefits of hard work.  If we talk about growth mindset in classes, our students will be given the opportunity to work on their skills.  Bit by bit, as they push themselves further, they may discover that limits were only simple fears that fade away when we face them.  Pretty soon, those limits will continue to dissolve as students walk through the ghosts of former concerns.








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Conditions for Learning


One question from yesterday’s session is still unanswered, and that bugs me.  A lot.

How am I going to lead this learning when I return to my school?


I was thankful to be included in this year’s Leadership Learning Team, and was inspired by the wealth of resources shared by educators in our board.

Screen Shot 2014-11-22 at 3.42.22 PM

Please click on the picture to read my Storify.

In all honesty, I’m still digesting all of this information.  I feel like I need to sit down with some of the people who ran yesterday’s activities to clarify that I understood what they were trying to convey.  There was simply so much “great stuff” to process, and I don’t want to miss the points that they were trying to make, especially when I’m being asked to help lead this learning when I return to school.

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Yay, Report Cards.

Do you have any idea how good I am at procrastinating?  Absolutely fabulous.  Especially when it comes to calculating report card marks and writing comments.  My house will suddenly become spotless (even the ring around the tub will vanish), my laundry will be washed and folded…  I might even catch up on writing a blog post or two.  But that daunting task of evaluating will be ignored until the last minute.

Have a peek at Brandon Grasley’s post about Improving Report Card Comments With a Checklist.  You’ll see that it isn’t exactly the most thrilling experience for him either.  In fact, I’ll bet that most people would agree that the process of assessing student work is so much more beneficial to the working relationship between teacher & student than that of ranking the success of a variety of projects and tests in order to come up with a number that somehow represents the knowledge attained by each child in class.

So, I did just that.  Rather than writing a comment filled with ‘edu-babble’, I wrote my comments so that they were understandable, meaningful and might be used to help my students.  My test:  I read each one with my students today in class.  If it didn’t make sense to them, or wasn’t quite right, they had the chance to let me know.  They were asked to tell me if it reflected their experience, and if anything should be changed.  I was especially grateful for the students who had recommendations for edits that better represented their strengths and next steps for learning.

After chatting with each student, I realized what a great opportunity we just took advantage of.  They realized that I cared about their individual goals and wanted to help them find the best way to reach their next step.  They became a bit more confident knowing that they were a partner in this learning experience; that the word of the teacher isn’t the “be all and end all”.  This classroom, this place where we meet five times a week, isn’t just a place for the teacher to play boss.  This is a place where we figure things out.


Posted in Education Reform, Growing Success, Ontario | Tagged , | 1 Comment