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)
Over the last few years I’ve had some thoughts coalescing around how best to use our teachers’ Professional Growth Plans. I’ve struggled for a few years as to how to make the PGP not just a piece of paper that teachers have to fill in at the beginning of the year to fulfill an expectation. I have tried to do things like:
- incorporate mid year meetings to reassess the progress
- allow groups of teachers to establish a group PGP
- ask informal questions throughout the year around PGP goals
While these things have had some effect, and have increased awareness and teacher efficacy around their professional growth, I have never felt that I’ve ‘gotten through’ before. This year I’ve proposed a different approach to teachers and I am getting feedback that is making me think I might be heading in the right direction. As I wrap my mind around how this is playing out, I’ve found that a bit of alliteration has fallen into place. The following are coming together to make this seem like it might work.
- Professional Growth Plans – taking an approach I have used in the past, I have encouraged teachers to work as a group to develop a professional growth plan. I did not dictate (as I never do) what they would look at putting in their plan, but I did encourage them to look for goals that they as a grade level might be interested in pursuing together. So far two of the grade levels have handed in joint PGPs, and one grade level has handed in two sets, with a pair of teacher in each working on the same goals. This first step is all about using the power of the team which increases engagement and accountability.
- Professional Learning Communities – When asked by two of my teachers on separate occasions what they would be dictated to work on in their PLCs this year, I was a little taken aback. To me, what the teachers work on in their PLCs should, with little guidance, be an organic process. The work done, needs to be work that the group sees as important.
- As a division, we have embraced Excellence in Teaching as a Value. I have no doubt that the teachers are striving for that all the time, and given the power will do what they can to proceed in that direction.
- As administrators in Sturgeon School Division, we are looking at the best practices around PLCs and how to ensure they are productive, and work toward our values. The discussions I have had with the teachers ensure they are aware of the values we hold, and have shown me that they are on board.
- By tasking the PLCs to work on goals set in their Professional Growth Plans, they have now understood the intentionality of the goals they have made and will be revisiting them each time they meet as a PLC group.
- Professional Development – the third piece of the alliterative puzzle is PD. In the last few years the concept of PD has shifted from an activity we do outside of the building in a room with a speaker. PD now encompasses the very powerful practice of getting together as professionals and having conversations around practice and learning. The PLC has become one very potent professional development practice. When an entire group of people is working toward the same goals, PD becomes easier to plan in a traditional sense as well. Teachers working toward the same goals will be interested in learning and applying the PD they have participated in.
In actuality, all three Ps are one and the same. the professional growth plan drives the PD of the PLC. As long as we are willing to accept the POWER of a group of teachers getting together to discuss practice, we can have PD anytime, anywhere.
Had to share this!
I don’t remember the exact question, from the interview I had for getting my Vice Principal job in Sturgeon School Division, but I do remember responding that my job was to be an advocate for the students. I knew that one of the things I had to do was ensure that they were receiving resources and programming that benefited them. The best programming available had to be accessed and provided. Over time, my perception of my job has shifted away from that to some degree when I became Principal., and for a while I was feeling that my job was to ensure that the needs of the staff was forefront in my mind.
This might seem like a huge shift that very much changes the focus of what I am expected to do. However, I think the two goals are VERY closely tied together. You can’t have students receiving top notch programs and services without staff who are feeling satisfied and respected for the difficult task they are assigned to do.
I have made posts before about the importance of valuing teachers and all staff in the school.
I have, as one of my roles, the opportunity to supervise a great staff, who are working to make sure students are learning. By supporting them in whatever way I can, with a goal to do what I can to make their job easier, I am absolutely supporting students. My support might involve finding and accessing outside resources. It might involve helping them find a new and better way of dealing with an issue. It might be about making sure that the equipment they have access to works in a way that won’t evoke anger or stress! Sometimes in might involve just listening to the frustrations they are experiencing.
Being an Instructional leader, oftentimes, is about being an instructional organizer. I am here to organize (administrate) the school in such a way that everyone is confident that Learning really does happen here. Every other Principal Quality Standard is in place to ensure that students are provided a great education. If that isn’t happening, we might as well stay home.
It’s a huge responsibility, but a great one to have.
(photo from Flickr Creative Commons)
Teachers and school leaders are not unfamiliar with the idea of PLCs. We all have worked on them to varying degrees. Usually they are just a grade level/subject team working together to do planning. Occasionally they work to dissect the learning process and powerfully impact the learning in a classroom. If PLCs have taught us anything, it’s that when we work together, we accomplish more.
Today I am at a CASS (Council of Alberta School Superintendents) session hosted by Wolf Creek Public School Division where we are talking about being Effective 21st Century leaders. Whenever I have the opportunity to participate in sessions with people outside my division I always have the same ‘epiphanies‘:
- We are ALL working toward the same goal
- We all have something to learn from each other
- We have the answers to most questions if we can get together and talk about it
- We need to find ways to connect… or should I say, we need to take advantage of the ways there are to connect
Education continues to move forward. Students are coming to us with different skills and needs, and we are obligated to respond in the best ways we can. There is no need to all learn in isolation when we can connect. Even if we are only connecting to learn what others have to say; we have so much knowledge and, dare I say, wisdom out there to draw on.
(photo from Flickr Creative Commons)