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.
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.
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.
Sometimes I get these great ideas! Well, to me they’re great… I’m sure most of them, if not all, have been had by others before. So, I was talking to some other administrators at our latest Admin PD (which was about powerful PLCs). I was sharing some of the things we are doing at Landing Trail School and how PLCs are tied to the Professional Growth Plans, and the PD we engage in is based on the goals in our PGPs. As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, the tangible evidence I am looking for in classrooms in relation to the goals the teachers are working on is engagement. My most recent blog detailed some of the learning I have had around student engagement and what I think it should look like.
My main idea around student engagement is that there has to be opportunity for students to really work with the information. That will likely appear as the opportunity to tear the information apart and rebuild or apply it in some manner. After spending the morning discussing PLCs and the role we play in ensuring they are productive and centred around improving student learning, I was struck with my ‘aha moment’. We expect teachers to be learning and moving forward in PLCs the same way we expect students to be doing in the classroom. Why should we not have our minds turned to the idea of teacher engagement in our PLCs as well?
Our PLCs should contain opportunity to really engage with the goals they have set. They need to have the tools and environment to really dig into the learning they are expected to do.
So, my task becomes clearer – I am a coordinator of engagement. One of my main jobs as an instructional leader is to ensure an environment where both students and teachers are engaged in the learning that they are doing. Sound easy?
Uh….. nope! But imagine the great things that can happen when everyone is engaged in the job they have!!
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.
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 not sure which of the items in the title that I am most excited about. I found Spiderman, Wolverine and Captain America Socks at a comic book store in Edmonton last week. Being 87% nerd, that got me a bit excited. I think I will be looking for more theme socks in the future. (I did give the Wolverine pair to my oldest son)
Today is the third day I’m in my new office at my new school, getting ready for a new school year. The office is not officially open until Monday, but like many principals, I’m in trying to get my head wrapped around a new way of doing things. Our school division is going through a huge transition with the majority of schools seeing one or both of the administrators as new to the position. It is going to be an exciting and interesting year as we learn and grow together.
My new school is about twice the size of my previous assignment, but still the same configuration (PreK – 4). I’ve found it interesting how two schools, that do the exact same job, can approach certain things in very different ways. I’ve been through the staff handbook and made a few changes, but I think I will have to do quite a bit of observation over the next few weeks/months before making any big changes.
I usually get a bit excited about change, and this is no different. I don’t get as excited about meeting new people, so I am a bit nervous about that. So far though, everyone has been great. Hopefully they are patient as I work at applying those Principal Quality Standards to a new situation!
Here’s to a great school year for everyone; and I’d appreciate any kind of feedback throughout the year as I continue to post my reflections.