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.
Alberta’s Framework for Education (education.alberta.ca/media/6581166/framework.pdf) outlines a path to take our students on to allow them to become engaged thinkers and ethical citizens with an entrepreneurial spirit. As I am nearing the end of my Professional Growth plan meetings with teachers we have all agreed that student engagement is the observable behaviour I need to be looking for to looking for while I am in classrooms and having conversations with teachers afterwards.
I have spent quite a few hours looking for research on student engagement and what it looks like in lower grade level classrooms. I have come up with a few good ideas, but what I have had clearly reaffirmed to me is that student engagement can look like a lot of different things depending on a number of factors.
I think there is one thing that I have very clearly learned anew, however. Engagement is something that has to be allowed to happen. In many classrooms, the lessons are not set up to allow for engagement. When all activities and responses are dictated, I strongly feel that students won’t be allowed to engage in the learning in a meaningful way. Real engagement can only occur when students can interact with what they are learning on a creative level that gives them opportunity to delve into the information. They have to have opportunity to play with the information much like they would when creating using modelling clay or building blocks.
Engagement won’t look like a group of students all sitting quietly doing the same thing. It will look more like a group of students working at tearing apart and rebuilding information in various ways and on different levels.
I would really appreciate some feedback on these thoughts and what other people are doing as they look for engagement in the classrooms they are responsible for.
Alberta’s Principal Quality Standards have Providing Instructional Leadership as their fourth leadership dimension. The document describes this quality as follows:
The principal ensures that all students have ongoing access to quality teaching and learning opportunities to meet
the provincial goals of education.
As part of my discussions with teachers in Professional Growth Plan meetings this year, I am asking the question, “In my role as an instructional leader, what can I have permission to look for and discuss with you during and after my classroom visits?” Most teachers are caught off guard by this question, and are not sure how to answer. A few of them were able to come up with an answer on their own but some took a bit of discussion and gentle probing to decide on a focus. The interesting piece is that those who came up with an answer on their own, and those who needed some dialogue all settled on the same thing – student engagement.
The University of Alberta produced a document in 2011 entitled, Student Engagement: What do we know, and what should we do?
While the document states that engagement can be difficult to define, it does lay out what a classroom with student engagement will look like.
- Learning that is relevant, real, and intentionally interdisciplinary – at times moving learning from the classroom into the community.
- Technology-rich learning environments – not just computers, but all types of technology, including scientific equipment, multi-media resources, industrial technology, and diverse forms of portable communication technology (Project Tomorrow, 2010).
- Positive, challenging, and open – sometimes called “transparent” learning climates – that encourage risk-taking and guide learners to reach co- articulated high expectations. Students are involved in assessment for learning and of learning.
- Collaboration among respectful “peer-to-peer” type relationships between students and teachers (horizontal organization model); Professional Learning Communities working together to plan, research, develop, share, and implement new research, strategies, and materials.
- A culture of learning – teachers are learning with students. Language, activities and resources focus on learning and engagement first, and achievement second.
While the research into engagement seems to focus on older grades, there is application to the classrooms that hold our younger students (Prek – 4). What this means for me, is I have to do some investigation into how do I detect engagement when I am in classrooms. I would think it certainly doesn’t only look like quiet students, sitting at their desks working independently. We all know there are students who seem to be totally distracted, and may even seem preoccupied with another task who are soaking up everything being said and done around them.
What I do most appreciate now, is the opportunity to have these discussions with teachers. As we learn together, and talk about what engagement looks like, we will be moving on a path to increase engagement and student achievement in our classrooms.
So, there’s lots I can do to make teachers feel valued (this is only a small sampling of things I can do as a leader):
- Respect them and their time
- Spend time fostering relationships
- Recognizing their professional judgement
- Trust them
- Communicate with them (especially LISTEN to them)
All of these combined with discussions around practice serve to move a school forward.
Now I have to get learning about engagement!!!
(Photo obtained from Pixabay)