It’s already the third day with students here in Sturgeon School Division. Things are under way, and it’s been a great beginning. We’ve managed to figure out those problems around scheduling that almost always arise. I’ve got a new VP and she’s a hard worker, and knows her way around. The teachers are GREAT, and they’ve got the classrooms under control.
There’s always a buzz at the beginning of the year, and hopfully over the next few days, I’ll have some time to reflect on my own Professional Growth and what I want to accomplish this year.
Here’s to another great year!!
I was asked to participate in a Discovery Education Ignite event last week. The way it works is you prepare 20 slides and plan to speak on each one for 15 seconds. I decided to present on the idea of helping every student find their passion by bringing back an environment that allows for play/discovery built into the day. My slides didn’t necessarily line up with the talk, but I used a number of slides of students working in our makerspace area and completing projects, completing guided math and reading, etc. that showcased a lot of things we do. The last half of the slides were some of the pictures I’ve taken personally that compare the development of my own passion for photography with the developement of students’ passion.
Helping students pursue their passion
Hi everyone, I’m going to be talking about helping students find and hopefully develop their passion, and how my own late-in-life discovery of my passion has helped my thinking on this topic. I stumbled into photography about 9 years ago and it was actually crappy photos like these first two that got me thinking about wanting to improve something that had only been a passing interest. The second half of the slides I’m sharing with you will hopefully show you an improvement in the pursuit of my passion.
We probably don’t need expensive tools or gadgets and neither do our students. We have no way of knowing what that spark that ignites their passion will be. Our schools haven’t traditionally been places where we seek to inspire our students. We’ve provided them with information and hoped they would figure out what appealed to them in the mounds of information we shared with them, and often not caring if they were even interested in what we had to say.
We need to start by setting up environments that encourage students to discover and to play and to feel like they can make mistakes. It’s not likely that one would pursue a passion if they feel they aren’t allowed the freedom to make mistakes. The environments we provide have to allow for out of focus photos that seem to have some tiny bit of potential.
Kids love to play and we know they learn by playing. However, a heavy curriculum has helped take away this important focus, and only recently have we seen a resurgence in the promotion of play and creativity in the programs we offer.
So what happens when we let students play and discover? They might just display some talent in areas you, or their peers, or even THEY didn’t know they had. They may find out that they can improve skills with their own efforts. Sometimes early on, you can tell that there’s a spark of something that will improve with encouragement and nurturing and the occasional nudge in the right direction.
Sometimes you have to seek out that spark of talent hidden there. One of the innovative thing that’s catching on is the idea of Genius Hour in the classroom. In my school, there are a few classrooms doing this. Teachers provide opportunities for students to be creative, sometimes the students bring in things of their own, and often the teacher sets out many opportunities for students to dabble in creative activities that help them to discover.
As we embrace our passions we find that we’ve moved past the tools we start with. We buy an improved camera that helps us to increase our skill and do things we couldn’t do before.
In schools we have to rethink the tools we use and the tools we provide to the students. We allow students to learn from other students and to teach other students. We set up makerspaces that focus on discovery, collaboration and problem solving
We allow students to share their creations and ask each other questions.
Teachers are also changing the way they set up their classrooms, the way they deliver curriculum and the way they interact. Programs like guided reading and guided math, increase the one on one time we have with students and allow for increased group work and cooperation. Celebrating student interests through events like Identity Days help students to connect and share with each other.
So, after a while you start seeing improvement. An interest becomes a talent and a talent becomes a passion. Where would this start if we don’t provide opportunity for it? Some students will discover their passions in sport, some in art, some in dance, some in engineering, you just don’t know what it will be. Undeniably, demographics can dictate the exposure students have to opportunities. But those of us who teach in schools where we have many students who aren’t garnered a lot of opportunities know that if we don’t provide the spaces and places, they may not happen.
So here we are. A school administrator with more than a few grey hairs, and a love for seeing students learn and grow. I’m on my fifth camera since picking up my little point and shoot and discovered I like to try to capture the world around me. Those first photos were not great. Partly due to the tools I had at my disposal, but mostly due to my lack of understanding of things like exposure, shutter speed, focal length, the all important factors involved in lighting and not knowing what even a simple camera was capable of doing.
I got a bit of encouragement, positive feedback, and started to pursue this area with no mind to do much more than post some not bad photos on FaceBook. I’ve now had photos appear in calendars, won a few contests, and now I get paid to take photos of people and places and share my passion with more than just those people who’ve stuck with me on FaceBook and Instagram.
I was at a photo shoot for Heroes Magazine a few weeks ago at the Edmonton Clinic, and interestingly I was photographing the use of robotics in the rehabilitation of children. The idea of using play, discovery, and problem solving aren’t unique to education and can do way more than help them to find their passion. But I think we are all remiss if we aren’t trying to answer the question posed here. What are we doing to help every student find their passion?
The Sturgeon School Division Admin group is meeting in PLC groups we have formed. Most schools are working in small groups with other admin teams on topics they have chosen. In my case my VP and I are working together in our own PLC to address the learning that is currently going on in our school; which has many of our staff are working in PLCs that focus on increasing student understanding by using a guided math focus.
PLCs at Landing Trail have been challenged to look for evidence of improved student learning as they progress through their own PLCs, and to reflect on what is working and what isn’t. PLCs at the schools meet at least once a month at days set aside for staff meetings and Professional Development at the schools. We consider one of the most important PD activities we do to be the work we complete in our PLCs.
We have had many conversations with staff already about the role of gathering data in our practice to help inform us about what we are doing and what changes we may need to make. Staff are now walking into my office to show me data that would speak to the fact that student learning is being impacted. It is becoming part of the conversations that we have.
This morning at Admin PD time, I was able to consider how we as admin collect the data we decided we need to obtain. There are many things we have put in place already because we have turned to being a data informed school in all areas. There is a lot of data that has been gathered and there are protocols set in place to continue gathering data as we move along. There are a few areas that we have to consider if we want to ensure we are getting data from all sources. Are we sure we have student voice in our data sources? What’s the best way to make sure we are cognizant of the parent feedback in the gathering of data?
We will have opportunity to present our story and journey at an April admin council meeting, and I am excited about that. We have done a lot of impactful things already, and I look forward to the great things that we will continue to encounter as we continue on this journey forward.
Data doesn’t tell us what to do, it informs us about what is.
(Came up with this statement after reading this short article – http://linkis.com/org/GFGoS )
One of the goals in my professional growth plan this year is to improve my own skills in gathering data to guide decision making. Teachers know this, and are hopefully prepared for a small (hopefully) onslaught of data gathering opportunities.
In the last year, we have worked to help develop a sense of trust between staff and administration and between teaching staff members. Traditionally one piece of our classroom support has involved a literacy support teacher being available to help out in a classroom or do small group pull out. Our current teacher will be going out on a maternity leave in less than a month, so we decided to set up that support in a different way. The teacher has been made available on a ‘sign out’ basis to offer a wider variety of supports. Things like:
- Meeting with teachers to discuss students who might need extra support
- Covering a class to allow a teacher to work one-on-one with a student
- Covering a class to allow a teacher to observe another teacher’s’ classroom
- Work with new students to assess their literacy level or cover the class to allow the teacher to do the same.
- And probably a few more ideas we didn’t think of.
We’ve been doing this for a couple of weeks, and I knew that there were a few people who have taken advantage of #3. We have made an assumption that this would be a great opportunity to have teachers see some of the great things that are going on. In addition we have a teacher who is a master at integrating innovative technology ideas into her classroom and have set up two blocks per week where teachers can access her skills in the classroom.
I decided to send out a very short google form that basically asked three questions:
- I have accessed, or plan to access, the Support Teacher’s time to observe in another class
- I would feel comfortable having a colleague observe the great things I am doing in my class
- I have accessed or will access technology expertise in my class
So, here’s the interesting results so far
- The vast majority of people are willing to access the technology expertise in their class
- The vast majority of people are willing to have a colleague observe in their class
- The majority of people do NOT plan on using the time to observe in another class
So, it would appear that teachers are more than willing to have people observe in their class, but are, for whatever reason, less willing to go to another teacher’s class to observe what is going on. Could it be having to plan for someone to cover their class? Fear of being viewed as ‘needing help’? Not seeing the value in a classroom visit?
There is one thing for certain here. Data can lead to a lot more questions than answers! Now I have more research to do!!!
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.
In Alberta parents, teachers and students are surveyed annually to determining their thoughts on various aspects of the school, division and overall educational system. These survey results are made available in the spring for the schools to analyze and determine action that needs to be taken.
In our school, only grade 4 parents are surveyed and the number who respond can vary, but generally not many respond. It would be easy to say that because of the low numbers of respondents, that the information is not valid. All it takes, in a small group is for a couple of people with an axe to grind, to skew the results in a negative direction.
This year, we had generally good results. There was one area that came out quite a bit lower than last year. On the report is shows up as ‘declined significantly’. There were other areas that the numbers went down somewhat as well. So, do we blame this on a few disgruntled people?
It would be very easy to do so. However, the data is still data – skewed or not. We haven’t been doing a good job of communicating some things to parents, or in responding to the concerns they have. Even if it is a few people, it needs to be on our radar. We are accountable to all the parents; so that means we have things to think about.
We value communication and involving parents, so we need to think about new and/or better ways to do that.