I don’t really have a specific goal in mind for today’s blog. Usually I have an idea about exactly the point I’d like to get across, but today… I’m just going to write about things I’ve been pondering lately.
1. PLCs – We’ve done some great work with PLCs this year. I really feel that we’ve made strides in making them more powerful than ever. I’ve done some anecdotal data gathering from teachers, and they certainly appreciate the opportunity to participate in both grade level and interest based/cross grade PLC groups. They also appreciate the simplicity of the Google Form we use to record My pondering is around the momentum. I always reiterate with teachers the fact that the goal of PLCs is student learning, and have incorporated that into the Google form, by adding that, it adds a level of accountability and helps to keep the focus
2. Mentoring – I’m fortunate to have a relatively new vice-principal this year. She is keen to learn and really focused on doing what is best for our students. I really like the role of being a mentor to someone like this. We spend lots of time planning, reflecting, and challenging each other. I really enjoy the opportunity to work with someone who helps me move forward and learn.
3. Politics!!! – We have a provincial election coming up. I am thrilled with the engagement I am seeing this time. People are fired up and I think we might actually see a change in the 43 year reign of the current political party. ANY political party will lose its ability to be effective after that much time. We need a shake up in Alberta and I think it might just happen!
4. Planning – OMG! There’s a lot of planning to do this time of year. I LOVE planning, especially when the resources are there to make my plans come to fruition! Well, there’s NOT enough resources this year, but anyone who has been paying attention knew this was coming. I had a number of scenarios in place already, so had a skeleton of a solution in place for where we are at now. If things change in the future and we get an increase in resources, I will welcome that and revisit the vision for the next school year. It’s so important to have the resources (including the people) allocated in the best possible way. There’s still teachers that have a ways to go in their approach to teaching. Fortunately at this point, I don’t have any duds – not every one is a master teacher, but they’re all reliable.
Almost all of the division principals, some vice principals, and many of our senior admin attended the 2015 ULead conference in Banff. The location of the conference was fantastic, but the learning was the most important take away. The conference was fortunate to have world class speakers like Andy Hargreaves, Simon Breakspear and Pasi Sahlberg. An awesome surprise for attendees was Pak Tee Ng, from Singapore whom many had not heard of prior to this conference. He blended humour with a passion for student learning that was inspirational.
As principals, we’ve been asked to reflect on our learnings at the conference, and what better way to reflect than in one’s blog?
Personally I found one of the most powerful messages of the conference to be that of the influence of the empowered and passionate teacher in conjunction with leaders who are engaged in, and unwaveringly concerned with student learning. Through the presentations from the keynote speakers and the smaller group sessions, I found myself to be reflecting on this point many times. The thinking process for me was gelled together Tuesday afternoon at the last session of the day.
I was at a session presented by Carmen Mombourquette from the University of Lethbridge who was presenting findings on the Leadership Competencies of Principals and qualities of some of the best school leaders in Alberta. The 7 Competencies we have in Alberta are laid out in other iterations around the world, so while the concept is not unique to Alberta we can gain knowledge from engaging in the research done in this area.
Our division has done a great job of empowering the schools in Professional Development and autonomy in how we set up and coordinate our PLCs. I have been personally interested in this area for the last 5 or 6 years, and have found that things have coalesced to make this an area that is demonstrating a lot of positive results as a result of mindful effort.
In the session I attended many of the practices of these high performing school leaders pointed to the work they do in empowering their teachers and setting up their schools to be places of learning. They were able to shift the culture in ways that made the power of teachers working together on improving student learning a key focus in the work done. All of the competencies need to be focused in the direction of student learning and ways to keep it at the forefront.
We have done a lot of work to align the goals in our Professional Growth Plans with the work done in our Professional Learning Communities and the types of PD we participate in. This alignment, coupled with assurances around best practice for PLCs has begun to show very positive results in PLCs and the teacher efforts in improving student learning.
As this has been a focus throughout the year, I spent quite a bit of time reflecting on how what I was hearing throughout the conference was reflected in what we were doing at our school. Much of what I heard directly correlated with the work done at Landing Trail. But I know there is still work to do in this area. One of the key ideas I took from the session on Tuesday afternoon, was the area of teacher accountability.
As a result of this thinking process I have added two accountability pieces to what we do.
- Adding another response to our PLC recording form
- Our PLC record is a Google form. Teachers record what was worked on, who was in attendance, what division goals are being met, etc. in their PLC time.
- What was added to the form was a response area for how the work done will assist in improving student learning
- The second area is more related to Professional Growth Plans
- Teachers have been focusing on their growth plan goals in their PLC time all year and have aligned the PD they attend to these goals.
- At our year end meetings the following questions will be added as part of the discussion
- In reflecting on your PGP goals, tell me what you did this year to meet the goals?
- What did you learn as a result?
- What will you do before we meet again in the fall to talk about your goals?
Student learning is why we do what we do. There are many factors involved in helping this to happen. School leadership and team members have to remember this is at the forefront of what we do. The conference gave me a lot of time to spend considering these factors and some ideas to assist in moving that process along. As we move forward in my own school and have discussions around what our vision for the school is, the learning I have been involved in over the last few days will continue to influence that process. I’ve already got ideas for our beginning of the year for PD, changes to the physical appearance of the school, and further ways to make us a community of learners.
I believe a lot of the pieces are in place to head in this direction. We have to persevere in this and continue our own journey as learning leaders.
One of the Alberta Principal Quality Standards is, “Understanding and Responding to the Larger Societal Context”. It would seem to me that the onus is on every principal in Alberta whether in a Public or Catholic school, to spend time considering the impact of GSAs in our schools. I have been following the debate since the beginning have been baffled by some of the dialogue (but usually monologue) that has been happening.
What do people think would be the outcome of a HS or middle school establishing a GSA? The only negative impact from that could be some constituents complaining? What else is there to fear? Really?
Are we afraid of students having a voice? Of them feeling supported? What?
I would really like someone to respond to this and inform me, so I can Understand the Larger Societal Context and respond appropriately.
Here’s the third of my videos with advice to new principals. Still not sure about the “Pearls of Wisdom” title – I didn’t add that!
I’m currently on a break during our Provincial Curriculum Committee Meeting. I really like this group as we generally spend part of the time sitting with Alberta Education and talk about what direction we are headed and changes that need to be made.
One of the ideas that came forward today was that the #1 purpose of assessment is to understand and work with students to operate the classroom in a way that benefits students in that it informs teaching and learning decisions. Our approach to assessment, if we keep this definition in mind, doesn’t seem to make sense in light of current practice in Alberta. Assessing an individual student, or a group at the end of a year might inform teaching, but not in the way that benefits that student in a dynamic and powerful way.
There have been times where assessment has been used to compare students and classes, to filter students for future programs, motivate students, plan classroom and school programs, provide information to outside agencies, and other reasons. It could be argued that most reasons for assessment have value, and they probably do. We have to assess. It’s one of the important jobs we do.
No one would disagree that assessment is a necessary part of our job, but unless the assessment directly impacts the student assessed, I believe it is not serving its full and best purpose. There is some talk in Alberta to looking more towards testing the younger students at the beginning of the year because that would more directly drive the teaching in a way that impacts the students writing the test. This approach would inform the teacher about each student’s strengths and the areas of need. This type of assessment seems to be empowering, rather than based on looking for teacher or student skill gaps which can’t be easily addressed.
A lot of assessment though, can only occur at the ground level – Teachers, in the classroom, working with the students, observing and working with students daily to assess ability, diagnose need and measure progress. Teachers who have set goals with the students and provide their expert services to move the learning and skill development along. It would make sense, then, to focus the resources and time we have around the idea of assessing where it will have the most impact. Teachers already complain that they spend more time assessing than they do teaching. I know in some situations that that may not be far from the truth.
Let’s make assessment count. Make it about the student being assessed. Benchmarks at the beginning of the year serve a much clearer and pragmatic purpose than Provincial Achievement tests at the end of the year. Especially for the youngest students. Assessment can and does serve a variety of purposes, but none are as important as those that directly affect the one being assessed.