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.
Data doesn’t tell us what to do, it informs us about what is.
(Came up with this statement after reading this short article – http://linkis.com/org/GFGoS )
One of the goals in my professional growth plan this year is to improve my own skills in gathering data to guide decision making. Teachers know this, and are hopefully prepared for a small (hopefully) onslaught of data gathering opportunities.
In the last year, we have worked to help develop a sense of trust between staff and administration and between teaching staff members. Traditionally one piece of our classroom support has involved a literacy support teacher being available to help out in a classroom or do small group pull out. Our current teacher will be going out on a maternity leave in less than a month, so we decided to set up that support in a different way. The teacher has been made available on a ‘sign out’ basis to offer a wider variety of supports. Things like:
- Meeting with teachers to discuss students who might need extra support
- Covering a class to allow a teacher to work one-on-one with a student
- Covering a class to allow a teacher to observe another teacher’s’ classroom
- Work with new students to assess their literacy level or cover the class to allow the teacher to do the same.
- And probably a few more ideas we didn’t think of.
We’ve been doing this for a couple of weeks, and I knew that there were a few people who have taken advantage of #3. We have made an assumption that this would be a great opportunity to have teachers see some of the great things that are going on. In addition we have a teacher who is a master at integrating innovative technology ideas into her classroom and have set up two blocks per week where teachers can access her skills in the classroom.
I decided to send out a very short google form that basically asked three questions:
- I have accessed, or plan to access, the Support Teacher’s time to observe in another class
- I would feel comfortable having a colleague observe the great things I am doing in my class
- I have accessed or will access technology expertise in my class
So, here’s the interesting results so far
- The vast majority of people are willing to access the technology expertise in their class
- The vast majority of people are willing to have a colleague observe in their class
- The majority of people do NOT plan on using the time to observe in another class
So, it would appear that teachers are more than willing to have people observe in their class, but are, for whatever reason, less willing to go to another teacher’s class to observe what is going on. Could it be having to plan for someone to cover their class? Fear of being viewed as ‘needing help’? Not seeing the value in a classroom visit?
There is one thing for certain here. Data can lead to a lot more questions than answers! Now I have more research to do!!!
Today we did our first all staff PD. We had some PD days before school started, but groups were involved in different activities. Today, we talked about two important things
- NME (Neurosequential Model in Education)
- What we need to look for as we continue our journey as learning educators – which is what I’m blogging about.
We have a number of great things going on in our school. We chose a few to discuss.
- Guided Reading – this initiative developed Division Wide as a program based on research from all around the world about best practices in teaching student fluency, decoding and comprehension. Everyone is trained in this, and it is being implemented in all of our classes.
- Guided Math – this developed from a few interested teachers last year, who asked permission to try it out. This year most of our classes are implementing it, and the original crew will be presenting it at our annual teachers’ convention.
- Technology – Technology has become ubiquitous in schools and in society. It isn’t something separate we teach, but it’s a tool that engages and enhances our ability to increase learning in students.
- MakerSpaces – we have only dabbled in this so far. Our discussion focused on the ability to allow students to engage in problem solving and be creators of their own learning. It definitely addresses the Entrepreneurial Spirit aspect of the Ministerial Order. The MakerSpace was brought in by the division and we were one of the schools to pilot it last year. We are working on getting our own set up.
- Empowering Writers – this program, is admittedly more prescriptive, but it addresses a missing piece of the literacy program. It gives teachers a springboard to a way of approaching the task of teaching our students to become writers and to engage in other’s writing. It could be said this program seeped into our school. Many people have attended PD on it over the last few years, and that has continued to spark interestin the program.
So, those are some of the areas teachers are working on at Landing Trail. The questions are:
- How do we know these are impacting student learning?
- What do we accept as evidence of improved student learning?
I posed these questions to teachers today. We had set up the day so that each topic would have time to meet for interested parties to get together and discuss the questions and decide how they would work together as a PLC. The PLCs will function throughout the year with these in mind. We have to have student learning as a focus, and we have to have data that backs up our claim that what we are doing is impacting student learning.
One other topic I presented to the staff was the list of Principal Quality Guidelines. I felt it was important that they know that one of the roles I and my VP have is to be instructional leaders. We are tasked with the learning that goes on in the school. It’s a big responsibility, but having a staff willing to learn, take risks, and learn from mistakes makes the job a whole lot easier!
There is a buzz lately around the idea that our students need to move from being the consumers of information to producers, or creators, of information. Moving teachers from a comfortable place where they continue to do the kind of teaching they have always done, to doing things in a new way isn’t easy. I think we are getting there, and as I pause and reflect I think there’s a few things I’ve learned that have helped that process move along. As I mentioned, we are not totally there yet, but we have come a LONG way. We will continue to learn and grow together, as we keep working on and refining these principles.
- Learning together has to be allowed and the structure to do so has to be intentionally implemented
- This is not that difficult to do if PLC meetings are thoughtfully set up and tied to goals teachers have set for themselves.
- When teachers are allowed to discuss their professional goals and decide on ones they may like to work on together, we are setting them up to do powerful things.
- Getting interested people together to talk generates ideas and excitement.
- PD has to be an opportunity to play, take risks and learn together
- Sit n git PD doesn’t cut it. People need a chance to engage in the PD they are doing. The closer the PD is to those in need of it the more it will benefit them.
- If there are trusted people on staff who can lead discussion and change, or facilitate the discussion, my experience has shown that it will be embraced and acted on.
- There needs to be trusted people on staff that can be called on for advice or assistance
- Just as I said in #2, when a trusted individual delivers the message in a hands on, experiential way, people will embrace it.
- The trust factor allows for risk taking and acceptance of the inevitable mistakes that will be made.
- Barriers need to be dismantled
- Barriers like
- fear of failure
- Lack of support
- lack of time
- A mindset of “we’ve always done it that way”
- Barriers like
Helping students to be producers of information, rather than consumers is a huge leap for our schools to make. This kind of change isn’t easy, but can be made a lot easier by the structure and culture leaders set up in each of our facilities. There are many, many teachers who are wanting to try new things, and take risks, but will only do so when they are supported and encouraged in doing so.
Over the next two days, our School Division is participating in the North Central Teachers’ Convention. www.mynctca.com. I have always liked convention as an opportunity to get together with colleagues, old and new and catch up on how things are going and to sit in on sessions and learn new ideas. I also like the collaborative discussion we have about education and things we have learned.
Teachers’ convention is just one of the opportunities to connect with others and participate in the discussion that leads to personal growth. The opportunity to connect, learn, debate, grow, and develop your personal learning network isn’t limited to convention or other traditional PD opportunities. Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, and other social media sites all help to engage us in the discussion and encourage the growth.
I still enjoy convention for that personal connection you make with people. I like the lunches, and the coffee chats. I like the occasional ‘sit & git’ delivery of knowledge, and the opportunity to add to my repertoire of tools. BUT, the deepest learning comes from the connections we make with others who either think the same way we do, or those that think completely differently. These discussions, coupled with reflective practice move us along our journey as learners and hopefully inspire us to pass the passion for learning along to others.