Some of my best thoughts come from Twitter. I usually have it open on my desktop at work, and occasionally check it while at home. I came across a tweet the other day that really got me thinking. (See image below)
What is the value in what we do? If our job doesn’t directly make a difference in the learning and the lives of the teachers and students, are we doing what we are ultimately meant to do? We certainly do things that indirectly affect the students and the teachers. We are often managers who oversee the operations of the school. But even these ultimately affect the teachers and students as the most optimal learning environment is to a large degree based on the comfort of the building and the schedule. We do our best to keep the school safe, because we know that you need to feel safe to work and learn to the best of your ability.
Clearing the way for teachers to become their best self in a school that has a vision and values results is the job we are ultimately tasked to do.
I think the question we need to be asking ourselves daily is, “Are the things I am spending my time on helping teachers do their jobs better?”
I find myself caught up in the busy-ness of the job on a regular basis. I regularly make lists of tasks I need to accomplish. I’m sure most of us do the same. I’m going to try reframing my priorities with this tweet in mind. I need to mindfully put the majority of my energy into those things that help my teachers do the best job they are capable of.
Thanks to Danny Steele for inspiring this post!
Our teachers’ convention is happening this Thursday and Friday. I love this event every year. I consider it an opportunity to break from routine. It’s an opportunity to learn and connect. It’s a time to think about new ideas and hopefully become refreshed.
I get a little dismayed every year by the small group that just complains about the lack of sessions available to them. There are hundreds of sessions being offered, and if you can’t find something for you, I think it’s a different problem. It’s a problem of not wanting to explore new ways of thinking.
Convention is a great learning opportunity. Lifelong learners need to be willing to step out there and take risks. They need to be open to hearing ideas that they don’t have to necessarily embrace, but can at least consider.
I’m ready to get my Convention on!
We learn from our mistakes.
I know it’s true, but sometimes I wonder why I’m not a genius by now with the amount of blunders I regularly make. Thankfully most of them aren’t that big, but nevertheless, I can say they’re quite constant. I guess the good thing, in my own defense, is that I usually admit to making them, and I try to learn from them and make them right. Usually I can look back and laugh at them – sometimes it takes a while before that happens!
It’s a journey. I think when you can’t admit you’re fallible, you can no longer learn.
Let’s keep learning, and growing and even making mistakes. It’s what makes us lifelong learners.
I follow Pam Boyd’s Two Minute Tune Up blog and her post today got me thinking about my recent mistakes. Too many to list! Her blog post today can be found here. Thanks, Pam!
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.
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.
There’s not too many educators who don’t have some apprehension about returning to work after the Christmas Break. We usually look forward to the return to routine, but aren’t used to getting up as early, not having a nap, not doing ‘whatever we want’. It’s good to get back into routine, but not always as easy as we would like.
That being said, we do like the amount of concentration and work we can get out of our students (at least at the elementary level). The students seem to get back into the routine quickly, there are few distractions and they haven’t lost a lot of their learning like they do after returning from the extended summer break. It’s the month of getting lots done.
Another thing I like about January is that we can really start to think seriously about the next year (well, thinking about next year is something I love to do as an administrator). We can plan for how we want staffing to look – is there a shift we need to make? A skill we need to focus on in hiring? What kind of PD do we need to look at? Thinking about next year gives us a chance to focus on our timelines and goals for this year.
Here’s to January – it might be ridiculously cold outside, but it’s a month of opportunity and looking at what’s in store for the future.