An Interview with Lisa Cranston

I had the honour of working with Lisa Cranston for a number of years in her role as the Early Years Consultant. Geographically, our offices were about as far apart as they could be in our area and yet her door was always open when I needed her candid advice. I was so pleased when she agreed to the interview.

lisa

Doug:  I always start by asking people where we first met.  I remember, do you?

Lisa: I believe we met on a golf course when I was invited to attend a Program Department year end golf outing just before starting with the department.  I was partnered with you and our friend Debbie.  I remember that Debbie wasn’t a golfer so she was really impressed when either of us hit a drive that went any more than about 150 yards! Is that right? 

Doug:  Bingo!  I think we did drive them more than 150 yards if you count the entire distance as they sliced.

One of the things that you always did that impressed me was staying on top of current issues and research.  Do you have a strategy for doing so?

Lisa: I try to keep current by accessing a wide range of sources.  The doctoral courses keep me plugged into academic journals and scholarly articles.  I use social media like Twitter to find links to popular articles, and follow a few blogs as well.  The thing I like about my doctoral program, the self-regulation courses I’m taking through the MEHRIT Centre and social media is that you have access to  ideas from educators around the world rather than only the local or Ontario context.  And I’m naturally curious and love to learn, so that helps too!

Doug:  The other thing that equally impressed me was that, unlike others, you aren’t constantly name/theory dropping and always approached topics practically.

Lisa: That’s only because I have a terrible memory and can remember what I’ve read but not where I read it or who wrote it!  I often want to jump to the practical application of research and theory and sometimes need to be reminded to take time to ground myself in theory before moving to application.  

Doug:  One of your first jobs in the Program Department was that of a Mathematics coach.  What was your focus when working with classroom teachers?

Lisa: My main focus as coach or consultant was on building relationships with educators. My goal was to build a reputation where I was viewed as a resource, a person with some expertise but really coming into the classroom as a co-learner with the teachers.  I tried to avoid being seen as ‘the expert from the board office’ who was coming to tell someone how to do their job.  

Doug:  Over the years, we’ve seen the results from standardized testing take a hit on the system.  What’s your theory?  Are we just that bad at teaching Mathematics?

Lisa: I think there are some fundamental problems with standardized testing and there is far too much weight put on EQAO scores.  It is only one quick snapshot, one piece of data, on student achievement.  I also think it’s terrible when the media use test scores to rank schools or judge teachers. I”m not convinced that the standardized tests accurately reflect student learning, especially in primary grades. We create a classroom culture of collaboration and then administer standardized tests that force students to work in isolation. 

Doug:  Is there a magic bullet that will make it turn around?

Lisa:  I don’t believe in magic bullets.  There’s a false dichotomy of ‘we need to teach basic facts’ versus ‘teaching math through problem solving.’  I think students need both a firm foundation in basic facts as well as a conceptual understanding of mathematics.  And teachers need to have a deep understanding of the mathematics that they are teaching and what good math pedagogy looks like and sounds like.

Doug:  One of my personal highlights was working with you and a number of Primary teachers in a technology project that involved computers, SMARTBoards, and sound pedagogy.  We created materials and led many workshops as a result.  What are your memories of this?

Lisa: I think we did so many things right with that project!  First we focused on the pedagogy first, not the technology.  The teachers looked at the technology through a critical lens – was this simply an interactive worksheet or was it good pedagogy? Second, we chose teachers who weren’t technology gurus. Some of them were quite intimidated by the technology at first, and they became huge advocates for integrating technology into classroom instruction. We had one teacher who didn’t even have her own classroom but was ‘on a cart’ providing prep coverage and going from classroom to classroom and she made it work!  

Over time, those teachers took on leadership for workshops and delivered PD to other teachers in our board and at regional conferences.  There was so much power in their presentations because they could talk about their own journey with the project and the impact it had had on their teaching and their students’ learning.

Doug:  A massive project that you took the lead on was the five year implementation of Full Day Kindergarten.  It’s now seen as the way that the school district does business.  But, it didn’t happen overnight.  Since you don’t believe in magic bullets, there has to be a story or two from that project that you can share.

Lisa:  Massive is right. It was unlike anything I’d ever done before.  On this project, I got to coordinate with people from so many different departments – human resources, facility services, business, transportation, IT, as well as with the staff from the co-terminus board and child-care facilities.  The first few years we had to open FDK in schools with existing room but in year three we started building new classrooms and renovating some older classrooms.  I got to work with architects, had input on blueprints, and work with the purchasing department to buy all the new materials.  There were nights when I would wake up in the middle of the night, thinking I had made some sort of multimillion dollar error, but overall it was a blast.  By the end of the five year roll out there was a whole team working on this project with me, and the learning was incredible.  The pedagogy in kindergarten has completely transformed since 2010 and I can see the work we did is now influencing teaching in other grades.  We have gone from teaching based on themes like ‘teddy bears’ or ‘winter’ to student-led inquiry learning inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach to education.  It’s been amazing.  Now that FDK has been rolled out in all of our elementary schools and with the ministry release of new Kindergarten documents in the Fall 2016, it seemed like the perfect time to retire and have someone else take on the leadership for Kindergarten in our board. 

Doug:  Recently, you have enjoyed the end to a distinguished formal career as an educator.  Yet, you continue to work at education.

Lisa:  I retired from my position at the board but I haven’t retired from education.  I like to keep learning and exploring topics in education that interest me.  There are so many ways to learn and collaborate online.  I’m doing my doctorate online with Western University and taking courses on Self-Regulation through the MEHRIT Centre. 

I am a member of a couple of Facebook groups like Inquiry Based Learning in Kindergarten and Math in Inquiry Learning, but I wanted a group that discussed things from a leadership perspective.  I couldn’t find one, so I started one called Leading in Education.  I recently started a blog called Opening Doors for Learning.  In the past ten years we moved away from the ‘sit and get’ style professional learning workshop to being co-learners with teachers at the school level through models like collaborative inquiry and lab class.  The title of the blog, Opening Doors for Learning, is meant to reflect that movement towards deprivatizing teacher practice.  Writing for me is very cathartic – I have all these ideas in my head and writing them down for the blog helps me to reflect on my thinking and my learning.  It’s not written from the perspective of being an expert, but from the perspective of a learner.

I’m still learning how to share the blog with others without feeling like I’m saying “LOOK AT ME!”  Self-promotion is uncomfortable for me, yet I get really excited when I see that people are reading my posts.  I had an article published in the June 2016 issue of the Journal of Staff Development and I have one in an upcoming issue of ETFO Voice.  I’ve also submitted a book proposal and an application to present at an upcoming kindergarten conference.  That’s a bit scary – you submit your work and it may be rejected, but when it gets accepted it’s pretty darn exciting!

Doug:  You shouldn’t feel badly about sharing your blog posts.  How will many know that you’ve written something new?  It only gets annoying when you repeatedly announce old posts time after time.  If you want some advice, I know a guy from St. Marys.  In the meantime, keep writing and sharing your wisdom via the various media you’re using.

As you mentioned, you are now committed towards a Doctorate.  What will be the area of your research?

Lisa: Western University has a really interesting approach to the doctorate program.  If you are in the PhD program, you do research with the long term goal of a career in academia.  But they also have the Educational Doctorate program (EdD), which I’m in, that has a focus on developing educational leadership skills by creating an Organization Improvement Plan for an identified Problem of Practice. So I’m still doing lots of reading and learning but with the long term goal of applying the learning. My Problem of Practice is focused on helping kindergarten teachers and ECEs to develop and deepen their understanding of self-regulation – how to teach it, how to document it and how to assess and report on it.  It’s a big part of the Kindergarten Program document that was released by the Ministry of Education in June 2016. 

Doug:  You have my best wishes with this endeavour.  I look forward to calling you Dr. Lisa.  As with all things, you continue to impress.  I wish you all the very best with all that you’re juggling.

Thanks for the interview.

Lisa:  Any time!

You can follow Lisa on social media on Twitter at @lisacran and her blog is at https://openingdoorsforrlearning.blogspot.ca

You can check out all of the interviews posted to this blog here.

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