We spent the much of the morning admin council talking about a change in mindset. As leaders in education, what can we do to address our own mindset and the mindset of those we work with? We had a very rich conversation about this topic from many angles. Following are just a few of my own thoughts around this idea.
1. Our idea of leadership has changed a lot over the years. Leadership has moved into the trenches and we are working alongside everyone in the school to improve student learning. Our role has shifted away from manager. We do so much more now, the most important being instructional leader.
2. With that shift we’ve had to change how we do things, and how we think about what we do. With a focus on instructional leadership there have been many conversations around how do we work to improve student learning. We have become very mindful about the need for intentionality in what we do. We are responsible to make sure that each and every student is getting the best they can from their time in our care.
3. Technology has helped in some ways, to move the school experience away from a consumption model, to a more creative place for students to be. With that creative space available it has given opportunity for us to change the way we do things in the classroom and in the school. Changing the way we do things isn’t easy for some. The question is, do we have to change what people believe about how we do things, or do we need to make the change and then wait for the belief to develop. In our discussions, it seems that the approach depends on the person, and their comfort level with change and risk taking.
4. Success and Failure are important concepts to discuss. Do we even frame the things that we try and don’t succeed at as failure? If we learn something from things we try as a failure? This is part of a cultural shift we need to have if we are embracing risk taking and creativity as important?
5. Some people do not like change, but if we build a culture of trust, they will be more willing to try new things. We have to strategically set up conditions to make them feel free to do this. This might be one of the toughest things we do. Leaders have to be great at environmental scans. They need to know the staff, the conditions and the needs of the students and community. From there, they can guide the change in the direction it needs to go. They get to know the environment by getting to know the citizens of that environment. That comes from feet on the ground and listening to the stories of those people in the trenches.
I am excited for what the future brings for our students. With the conversations we have had, and will continue to have, we are helping our own mindset to develop. We are letting the change start with us, and will learn together about how we can make the small changes that will lead to big changes.
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.
I knew I was ready for a change. I asked for a change.
Sometimes you get what you ask for!
Much of what I am doing at my new school is exactly what I was doing as principal at my previous school. Most of what I did, I’m just doing more of. That’s ok. What I didn’t anticipate was having to redo a lot of cultural things I did there. I didn’t really think about having to get to know every student again. I didn’t think about the difficulties of dealing with parents who didn’t know me.
So, I’ve been at this for just over four months here. I work with a great staff. I’ve met a lot of great parents, and the majority of the kids are awesome. But, I am missing the comfort of my previous assignment. I miss knowing everyone; and knowing, pretty much, what to expect everyday. I have to remind myself – I asked for a change.
I knew I had learned what I could learn at my previous school. I knew everyone and everyone knew me. We knew what to expect of each other. We often knew what each other was thinking and how each person would react to a situation. But, that was becoming stagnant.
So, here I am. Every once in a while I have a day where I ask myself if I made the right choice. There are times when those days pile up on each other. Yesterday was one of those days. Today started out that way, but fortunately isn’t ending that way.
I just had a chat with a teacher who is feeling some frustration with one student in her class. We talked about all the great things that are happening. We talked about the growth the class has made and the improvement in the behaviours of a couple of very complex kids. As I was talking to her, I had to remind myself, that what I was saying applied to me too.
There are tough days and tough situations. They only become the focus when we allow them to.
Change is good. But we also need to make sure allow we ourselves time to adjust and time to begin the relearning process.
It will come. I can’t forget why I asked for a change.
I needed it.
I’ve been in my new school for a couple of weeks, but this is only the fourth day with students. So far things have gone very well. When I first started as an administrator, the most daunting task seemed to fall under the category of Managing School Operations and Resources. Over time, that challenge is probably the easiest to learn. One thing I have discovered is that skills learned in this area are relatively easy to transfer to a new site, and I assume this is especially true as I have moved within the same school division.
One area that I did not expect to be so different is that of school culture. The school I came from was great. I enjoyed working there and miss being there. I am learning how my new school works and the beliefs and attitudes that makes it tick. The culture is reflected in the way students are treated and the way the staff embraces change and challenges.
There is no right answer as to what the ‘right’ culture is. A different culture can just be another way of approaching the same issue. We expect our students to find multiple ways of attacking problems and there is no reason not to expect our schools to do the same. I am enjoying working with a group of people who have a slightly different take on things. The task for me is to discern how that culture works and how to work with it to move the school forward as a place that has and continues to be the best place for students.
I just came across a quote on Twitter this morning, “Change is the opportunity to do something great!” (another quote from George Couros that I will repeat endlessly to the dismay of my staff). This time the change is something I am experiencing. It’s not a change because of something wrong, it’s a change because of something new. I think that’s the best kind of change!
Change is always an opportunity – and what a wonderful opportunity this is to do great things!
Bring it on!!!
This has been a very interesting week. I found out on Monday, that after six years, I am being transferred to a principalship in another school.
I am ready.
But, DARN IT, I am going to miss my current school – great staff, great parents and amazing kids. Almost everything I am as a leader I owe to that place. I did feel ready to take on a leadership role when I first started as Vice Principal at Bon Accord Community School in 2008. Even though I thought I was ready, I have learned a LOT. One of the most important things that became clear to me was that one of the most important roles of a leader is not what you do for people, but how you make them feel. That learning, to me has made all the difference.
A leader has to get things done, the school has to move forward. Learning has to happen. Resources have to be acquired and allocated. There are tasks that range from the mundane to the very vital. There are the myriad of meetings. There are even occasions where we get to be responsible for cleaning up someone’s mess. Our job is full of “THINGS”.
Since Tuesday, when the move was announced, I’ve received numerous phone calls, emails, posts on our school FaceBook page and have talked personally with a number of parents. Most have offered congratulations and have expressed disappointment in my move to another school. I even received one very angry email from a parent. (not sure yet how to respond to that one). I know I am not even close to a having ‘arrived’ as a leader. I still have a long way to go and a lot to learn. But I know that keeping this in mind, has made my time at Bon Accord, to some degree, successful.
We can’t always make everyone happy. Very few decisions can satisfy everyone. However, we can work to establish a culture of caring, trust and respect, that makes everyone feel valued. In a welcoming environment and an aim of touching the spirits of the people we work with and for, we will be able to move things forward much easier. People respond to that kind of approach. They buy in. They remember.
Over the last few years, in addition to lots of other great things, we’ve developed a new mission and vision. This has helped move me to spend considerable time thinking about how to implement both my own vision and our school vision. A necessary part of the process is putting systems in place to make that happen. I decided near the end of the last school year that the way we utilized our staff teams at school just wasn’t working. We now have a:
- School Leadership Team
- Lighthouse Team
- Seven Habits Certification Team
- Staff Wellness Team
The first three teams have been in place for the last two years, and the school leadership team has been around for quite a while. The wellness team is new this year.
I knew that the teams weren’t necessarily doing all that they could to make our school function more efficiently and have the best overall benefit for students, staff and community. I made a change in two ways. Firstly I changed the composition of each of the teams. The second change was around the role of each team.
The Leadership team is now composed of The school admin, counselor and anyone on staff involved in the Divisional Leadership cohort or is working on their Master’s Degree. I also added a support staff member to allow room for that voice in our decision making. This team added the task of planning our school based PD activities. Our division is allowing school control of PD for both professional and support staff to a much higher degree. While we are glad to have this control, we decided that the process must be undertaken carefully and with a mind to benefit us in the greatest way possible. Our team continues to work on its roles in
Leadership as well PD Planning and implementation. We will refine our process and skill in this area.
Both the Lighthouse and Certification teams are directly tied to the Seven Habits Program we are part of. We have worked together with our sister school, (Lilian Schick School) where we send our grade 4 students to for grades 5 – 9. The teams work to implement the program in our schools and train our new staff and parents about the program. Changes made in these teams have resulted in a clarity of what each team needs to do, as well as tasking them with keeping the program moving forward. These roles too, are still being developed, and the need for establishing clear goals continues to be a focus.
The Wellness team is new this year. We all know that there is stress in our job and being mindful of that, I decided it was important to have a committee specifically designated to “address the stress”. We try to have a monthly activity in which whoever can attend is welcome. Putting a committee like this together demonstrates the value in staff relationships and collegiality.
Being mindful in putting together teams that move the school in a desired direction was, in my opinion, a good idea. We are making progress. We are moving forward.
Being one of the only males in a small school means I have the good fortune of going to supervise swimming lessons (well, more accurately I supervise groups of 30-40 naked boys running around the change room). Every Friday for five weeks I have this great opportunity!
Of course, as teachers, we make judgments on the swimming education the students receive. But those judgments are more about the manner in which the lessons are delivered. Here are my observations.
- Groups are between 3 and 12 students in size.
- Students are streamed ahead of time according to previous experience and ability.
- In the first lesson students are moved to a new group if they have been placed incorrectly.
- Students are given opportunity to constantly demonstrate their progress.
- In a group, those who are moving faster are allowed to move faster and those progressing slower are given the time they need from their instructor.
- At the end of the lesson cycle, students are moved on to the next level or given a report on skills to work on before the next round of lessons.
With the exception of number 1. (and not even sure about that), it would be great to be talking about a classroom or school when I read through the list I just made. There are parts of this Real Life approach happening in our schools, but we aren’t set up for many of these things to happen. We are also not trained to operate our classrooms in this way. We get a group of heterogeneous students and are expected to move them all along at relatively the same pace. We assess them at certain predetermined points. They are usually moved along regardless of the achievement of goals or standards.
That being said, there are great things going on in all schools. Teachers do take the group they are given, and work wonders with them. Everyday I see students progressing in remarkable ways and accomplishing goals they or their teachers have set out for them. I see students using tools and technology in innovative ways. I see teachers learning new skills to help differentiate instruction for the students and developing critical thinking strategies to help their students become more engaged problem solvers.
Education is moving forward. There are things we need to learn and changes we need to make; but we’re doing a bang up job with what we have. We can be proud of what our students are doing in classrooms every day.