Another school year has started. We have some new staff, many new students, and with that a few new families represented. The school year has started smoothly, but it wouldn’t be a start up if there weren’t a few wrinkles to iron out. Hopefully though, that doesn’t last long.
Our school division has a new superintendent. Some people don’t embrace change, but I generally gain energy from change (however, not quite as much as I did in the first 75% of my teaching career!) I’m looking forward to a new opportunity to learn and grow with her, and to see the great things that are in store for our awesome school division.
I’m hoping my blog entries are a bit more frequent this year. Last year we ended with about 6 weeks of frenzied activity
as a few emergent things took up most of our time. I know we can never fully prepare for those kinds of things, but I’m looking forward with positivity to a year filled with learning for all!
This year, as a school we’ve decided to make Balanced Literacy our focus. An outsider might think, “What!! Balanced Literacy has been around forever and you’re just focusing on it now??!! Where have you been?”
Well, we’ve been doing a LOT of great things, including Guided Reading, and many components of balanced literacy. What we realize though, is that we may not be doing it the best that we can. We could look for something new and flashy to focus on, but why not take the things that we know to be good practice, and make sure we are doing them well.
One of the great things is, this is a grass roots endeavour. The teachers recognized that they had been focusing on other things over the last few years and have realized that they need to spend time thinking and talking about what they’re doing in their language arts (and all) classes. Are we using our alloted time the best we can?
As admin we have decided to make the process of gathering data around how this affects student acheivement to be our focus. My Vice-Principal is an ‘expert’ in Balanced Literacy, and is a great resource. I am not an expert, by any means. This means I have to start learning. I attended my first professional development on guided reading yesterday with a number of teachers from across the school division. I was there for a different reason, but I certainly enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about this one component of literacy.
I’m beginning to see this idea cropping up in other places. People are realizing we don’t need something new to revolutionize our world. We need to focus on the things that work, and do them well.
My professional growth this year has been focused in the area of instructional leadership. I set myself a goal of being more involved directly in the task. There are a lot of great things going on at my school, and I am proud to work at a place where the staff are professional and take the work they do very seriously. It would be easy to sit back and just let things happen. I have learned over the last 8 years in this job though, that that is a fast track to mediocrity.
We have to be mindful about moving things forward. One of the most important things we have to do as leaders is encourage that movement in the right direction. That doesn’t mean we have to micromanage everything that goes on. What we do though, is ensure that we are mindful of the direction we are going, and setting up the space to keep things moving.We remove barriers and tweak when necessary. We listen and reflect. We never allow ourselves to think we have all the right answers.
I’ve made myself do a number of PD presentations this year. I don’t mind speaking in front of people, but believing that I have something to offer those who are amazing at what they already do, doesn’t come easy. Presenting professional development is that area that is just out of my comfort zone; it’s the best area to be in to make things happen.
The great thing is, that uncomfortable zone becomes the new comfort zone, and we can keep pushing ourselves forward. It works with our students, and it works with ourselves.
I was asked to participate in a Discovery Education Ignite event last week. The way it works is you prepare 20 slides and plan to speak on each one for 15 seconds. I decided to present on the idea of helping every student find their passion by bringing back an environment that allows for play/discovery built into the day. My slides didn’t necessarily line up with the talk, but I used a number of slides of students working in our makerspace area and completing projects, completing guided math and reading, etc. that showcased a lot of things we do. The last half of the slides were some of the pictures I’ve taken personally that compare the development of my own passion for photography with the developement of students’ passion.
Helping students pursue their passion
Hi everyone, I’m going to be talking about helping students find and hopefully develop their passion, and how my own late-in-life discovery of my passion has helped my thinking on this topic. I stumbled into photography about 9 years ago and it was actually crappy photos like these first two that got me thinking about wanting to improve something that had only been a passing interest. The second half of the slides I’m sharing with you will hopefully show you an improvement in the pursuit of my passion.
We probably don’t need expensive tools or gadgets and neither do our students. We have no way of knowing what that spark that ignites their passion will be. Our schools haven’t traditionally been places where we seek to inspire our students. We’ve provided them with information and hoped they would figure out what appealed to them in the mounds of information we shared with them, and often not caring if they were even interested in what we had to say.
We need to start by setting up environments that encourage students to discover and to play and to feel like they can make mistakes. It’s not likely that one would pursue a passion if they feel they aren’t allowed the freedom to make mistakes. The environments we provide have to allow for out of focus photos that seem to have some tiny bit of potential.
Kids love to play and we know they learn by playing. However, a heavy curriculum has helped take away this important focus, and only recently have we seen a resurgence in the promotion of play and creativity in the programs we offer.
So what happens when we let students play and discover? They might just display some talent in areas you, or their peers, or even THEY didn’t know they had. They may find out that they can improve skills with their own efforts. Sometimes early on, you can tell that there’s a spark of something that will improve with encouragement and nurturing and the occasional nudge in the right direction.
Sometimes you have to seek out that spark of talent hidden there. One of the innovative thing that’s catching on is the idea of Genius Hour in the classroom. In my school, there are a few classrooms doing this. Teachers provide opportunities for students to be creative, sometimes the students bring in things of their own, and often the teacher sets out many opportunities for students to dabble in creative activities that help them to discover.
As we embrace our passions we find that we’ve moved past the tools we start with. We buy an improved camera that helps us to increase our skill and do things we couldn’t do before.
In schools we have to rethink the tools we use and the tools we provide to the students. We allow students to learn from other students and to teach other students. We set up makerspaces that focus on discovery, collaboration and problem solving
We allow students to share their creations and ask each other questions.
Teachers are also changing the way they set up their classrooms, the way they deliver curriculum and the way they interact. Programs like guided reading and guided math, increase the one on one time we have with students and allow for increased group work and cooperation. Celebrating student interests through events like Identity Days help students to connect and share with each other.
So, after a while you start seeing improvement. An interest becomes a talent and a talent becomes a passion. Where would this start if we don’t provide opportunity for it? Some students will discover their passions in sport, some in art, some in dance, some in engineering, you just don’t know what it will be. Undeniably, demographics can dictate the exposure students have to opportunities. But those of us who teach in schools where we have many students who aren’t garnered a lot of opportunities know that if we don’t provide the spaces and places, they may not happen.
So here we are. A school administrator with more than a few grey hairs, and a love for seeing students learn and grow. I’m on my fifth camera since picking up my little point and shoot and discovered I like to try to capture the world around me. Those first photos were not great. Partly due to the tools I had at my disposal, but mostly due to my lack of understanding of things like exposure, shutter speed, focal length, the all important factors involved in lighting and not knowing what even a simple camera was capable of doing.
I got a bit of encouragement, positive feedback, and started to pursue this area with no mind to do much more than post some not bad photos on FaceBook. I’ve now had photos appear in calendars, won a few contests, and now I get paid to take photos of people and places and share my passion with more than just those people who’ve stuck with me on FaceBook and Instagram.
I was at a photo shoot for Heroes Magazine a few weeks ago at the Edmonton Clinic, and interestingly I was photographing the use of robotics in the rehabilitation of children. The idea of using play, discovery, and problem solving aren’t unique to education and can do way more than help them to find their passion. But I think we are all remiss if we aren’t trying to answer the question posed here. What are we doing to help every student find their passion?
Sitting in a session on Agile Leadership today in Edmonton. Our division principals and many of our system leadership is present. We are discussing the practices of leadership to influence the improvement of student learning.
One of the topics we are discussing is how do we influence teacher behaviour as a key piece in making sure student learning is happening. One of our key roles is leading teacher learning and development. At LT we have spent a year and a half so far in making sure that the teachers are empowered to take responsibility for this learning, and are given the tools to move forward in the areas that they have embraced in their own professional growth plans.
Today the opportunity for me is to consider my own practice in making this happen. What am I doing that is promoting this practice, and what can I do to ensure that this continues to move forward in the best way possible. Am I in any way doing things that actually hinder this movement? I’ve got some ideas on how to work through this, and I look forward to intentionally keeping this movement going.
The Sturgeon School Division Admin group is meeting in PLC groups we have formed. Most schools are working in small groups with other admin teams on topics they have chosen. In my case my VP and I are working together in our own PLC to address the learning that is currently going on in our school; which has many of our staff are working in PLCs that focus on increasing student understanding by using a guided math focus.
PLCs at Landing Trail have been challenged to look for evidence of improved student learning as they progress through their own PLCs, and to reflect on what is working and what isn’t. PLCs at the schools meet at least once a month at days set aside for staff meetings and Professional Development at the schools. We consider one of the most important PD activities we do to be the work we complete in our PLCs.
We have had many conversations with staff already about the role of gathering data in our practice to help inform us about what we are doing and what changes we may need to make. Staff are now walking into my office to show me data that would speak to the fact that student learning is being impacted. It is becoming part of the conversations that we have.
This morning at Admin PD time, I was able to consider how we as admin collect the data we decided we need to obtain. There are many things we have put in place already because we have turned to being a data informed school in all areas. There is a lot of data that has been gathered and there are protocols set in place to continue gathering data as we move along. There are a few areas that we have to consider if we want to ensure we are getting data from all sources. Are we sure we have student voice in our data sources? What’s the best way to make sure we are cognizant of the parent feedback in the gathering of data?
We will have opportunity to present our story and journey at an April admin council meeting, and I am excited about that. We have done a lot of impactful things already, and I look forward to the great things that we will continue to encounter as we continue on this journey forward.
In my daily perusal of what’s going on in the Twitterverse, I came across this quote posted by @ShawnUpchurch,
“Leadership involves Finding a Parade and getting in front of it.” (John Naisbitt)
This is absolutely spot on, but it isn’t that easy to do. A leader has to ensure that the staff he or she is charged with, has the capacity and freedom to start the parade. It takes time, and it takes thoughtful, intentional measures. By allowing staff to pursue their passions, to feel trusted, and to be held to a high standard, they can do great things.
It’s not a traditional managerial style, but the results are more powerful as you are working from people’s passions.