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.
Running a school in Alberta can be an interesting job. (As I’m sure it is everywhere!)
We just recently finished finalizing our budget at the school – with the instruction, which makes sense – to make sure that everything balances. The budget was quite a bit smaller than in years’ past due to government cutbacks, so it required a lot of trimming in more than one area. My Accounts Clerk, my VP and I sat down a few times to hammer out where we could trim. Some budgets had to be set at zero. The comparison of ‘belt tightening’ certainly fits with what we have had to do.
We have a helpful and active parent group in our school who do a lot of fundraising, and we are thankful for that. Unfortunately we have to ask them to help prop up some areas of the budget that have had to be cut. We still need art supplies and library books. We need to conduct science experiments and run a phys ed program. Things still need to happen, and the kids shouldn’t notice a change in the program.
As frustrating as it is, our focus needs to stay on what’s the best program we can do for the kids. Our school is filled with great, caring staff who want the best for each student. I know that our school division is trying to lessen the impact on the students as much as possible.
Money is tight, but we are doing our best to maintain the strongest possible program that will carry each child along and help them realize their potential. It’s what we have always done and will continue to do.
Anyone who knows me is aware that I am a fan of Twitter. A blog post I made last year, How Twitter Changed Everything, was one of my most popular posts ever. I am not a big Tweeter myself, but have been able to use twitter to engage in a lot of great reading, and conversations. Near the end of the last school year, I came across a post that led to a unique opportunity. The Alberta Teachers’ Association had tweeted about the need to find an elementary principal to be involved in a short term exchange to Australia. Out of curiosity I clicked on the link included in the tweet and was excited to discover that the opportunity was a two week, job shadowing exchange to Adelaide during school breaks. (One of their term breaks, and our summer holidays.)
I just finished up the visit with my Australian Exchange partner. She is now relaxing in Banff and Lake Louise while I am back at work. The experience was full of great learning opportunities. The main learning happened in two main ways. First, I learned a lot about how and why we do things in our school and school division.
I am, by nature, a reflective person. I like receiving feedback from others and use it to grow as a person and as a leader. Having opportunity to sit with another leader and ask questions about their view on things in your school, or to ask them questions about how they would handle a situation, proved to be great opportunities. I took the time after the first week to get some feedback on how I was doing with the Principal Quality Standards. While it’s difficult to see all of them in action in only one week, there was feedback given and opportunity for me to think about what I am doing as a leader to work on all the standards. During the course of every discussion we had there was opportunity to compare practice and the reasons behind the practice.
We also had opportunity to discuss how things were done differently in Australia, and specifically at Para Vista Preschool -Seven school in Adelaide. What we discovered through our conversations is that the administrative expectations and roles are in a lot of ways very different, but our goals for students are the same. What was seen in classrooms was, in effect, the same kinds of things that you would see in just about any classroom. Whatever happens behind the scenes, we are ensuring that students get a quality education and have opportunity to move forward in their learning.
It was through discussion that we found the most learning happened. My partner would see something happen, or be involved in a conversation with a teacher or a student, and later ask questions about what she had observed. It was these discussions that were the most productive. We had opportunity to tour some other schools and sit in on some programs being offered, and had great discussions during and afterward about what we saw happening. The learning was organic, the conversations were genuine, and the entire process was valuable.
The exchange is a two week job shadowing opportunity and I will be visiting her school during our next summer holidays. I look forward to seeing Australia very much, but I am eager to see how things are done there and to have the opportunity to bring back some great learning.
I have had the privilege of working with an outstanding new Vice Principal for the last two years. It became apparent very soon that she was destined for bigger and better things. I was hoping to be able to work with her for at least another year, but alas, that was not to be. We found out yesterday she was being transferred to a larger K – 9 School. It is a great move for her and will serve to advance her opportunities for future administrative positions.
I think what has made this situation such a great one is that I have been able to learn so much from working with her. Her ability to think on her feet and the solid grounding in a child centered philosophy has served to reinforce my own approach to education and administration. We have been able to move our school forward and the movement is gaining traction.
When we work with stellar people, that make us move forward, and undeniably make us better people ourselves, it is hard to let go and move on. Now, there are some difficult decisions to make. What are the next steps? How will I proceed with a different and potentially inexperienced assistant? How do we keep the momentum going?
There are no certain answers to any of these. Change is inevitable, and can be exciting. We (I) will get through this time of change and opportunity. I was party to making a great choice last time, and will have to trust that the right choice will be made this time.
Losing your metaphorical Right Arm is tough! I will have to look forward to my new Right Arm and undertake the effort to replicate the formation of a new and dynamic administrative partner.
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.
Being connected via Social Media is Great – well at least I think it is. I love learning from what people have to say and links they post. I always dedicate a portion of my morning sorting through Twitter posts and finding thought provoking reading material or videos to encourage me in my journey. If I’m lucky I find a new thinker to follow and some good things to share with my staff. On occasion I read something that inspires me to write a blog post.
I have been sharing the Gospel of Twitter for quite some time. I have managed to get a few people to join, but really all I can do is model what I’ve learned. I think I’ve come to realize that connecting in this way doesn’t work for everyone. Following are three great reasons I think this is the case.
- It would mean people would have to learn about doing something in a new way. Why would we change what we are doing when it has been working well for the last 15 years? Kids are still kids; the lessons we taught years ago are just as good now as they were in 1998!
- Students don’t need us to model technology. They get enough of that at home! Schools should be a place where they can get away from cell phones and iPads and computers. If we don’t use the technology, it’s more likely they will realize that it isn’t important to know about. Pencil and Paper are examples of technology, after all. And no students ever used pencil and paper to get into trouble.
- Every good teacher knows they are only in this profession for the students in their class. The knowledge and skills they have are something they have worked to develop for years. Other teachers need to learn these things on their own.
Of course these comments were all made “tongue in cheek”. There really are no good arguments against becoming a connected teacher or administrator. Opportunities to grow and learn from each other, and to model digital responsibility to our students are valuable responsibilities we have to undertake.
Do I work in a perfect school? By no means!
Is this a great place to work? Absolutely!
Not every day is easy, there are times when the stresses of work get to us. There are things that happen that help make the terrible, bearable.
Play together – Every school should have fun activities that involve the students like Pyjama Days. But there should also be events that are just for the staff. Have a Secret Santa or a Secret Valentine. Go out for a meal during Teachers’ Convention or on a PD Day. Celebrate the start of the school year and the end of the school year. Celebrate making it through a tough week, or a long month. Look for reasons to celebrate and enjoy being together. If there are people who are reluctant to go out after work and enjoy social time, then keep the social time at school.
Be Open – Get to know each other. Take time to learn about what each others interests are and show that you care about each other. Share your ideas and what you are learning with others. This doesn’t mean you have to be FaceBook friends with everyone on staff, but we should all know enough about each other that we can ask how things are going. How is your family? How is that new puppy? Is your son enjoying college? Knowing details about people’s lives and expressing interest shows that you value them and relationships.
Learn together -When the school takes on a new initiative, or has one imposed on them, why not tackle the learning together. A book study might sound really boring to some people, but encourage everyone to try it out. Plan after-school discussion times about interesting topics. Engage staff on email, Twitter, Blogs about topics that impact the teaching and learning.
Accept differences – We need to be models of diversity and acceptance of others. We are all unique and conduct our classrooms and teaching in different ways. That’s what makes us great. We aren’t all the same and can learn to value what is different about us.
Be Accountable – We need to know that people are there to support us, but also to call us out when we need a reminder. Our division uses the Healthy Interactions model. It ties in really well to Seven Habits thinking as well. There is no reason that we should allow someone to continue with a behaviour that is detrimental to themselves or to the staff. Healthy Interactions:
The Healthy Interactions Program trains all staff in the jurisdiction in the communication and conflict-resolution skills they need to handle parental complaints and other concerns. Participants finish the program with increased confidence in dealing with concerns.
Overlook a Lot! – In our classrooms and in our schools many things happen that just need to be ignored. No one is perfect, and no one needs to be called out on everything that they might slip up on. As leaders and colleagues, we need to choose those things that we want to deal with and make an issue out of. We need to “Choose which hill we want to die on”
Grieve together – Bad Things happen. We need to know each other well enough to work through those things. We also need to know each other well enough to understand that we all grieve differently and allow for that.
Don’t forget it’s always about relationships – There is nothing more important than the relationships. That includes relationships with other staff, students, parents and the community. Results, profits, NOTHING takes precedence over relationships. I can’t remember my marks in any of my classes when I was in school. But I certainly do remember the teachers and what I perceived they thought about me!