Whenever we return from Spring Break, we are always in for a wild ride! Things are happening almost every day – Field Trips, special events, guests, awards, celebrations, etc. This year is no different. I opened up this program to write my blog, and it’s been almost TWO MONTHS since my last post! To me that is the most solid proof that time has been flying.
Every year brings changes and transitions. I will be working with a new vice principal next year. I am extremely sad to see my current vp move on, but I know she is ready for a new and exciting challenge. Having this change occcur is also a growth opportunity for me. I know that I work best with people who I can bounce ideas off of and who will challenge my ‘half-baked’ ideas and help me think things through. I’ll be training a new person to be be open to disagree with me when necessary – not everyone wants to do that.
It will take a bit to tranisition a new admin team, but we are in the business of change here! Let’s make this happen people!
Today we did our first all staff PD. We had some PD days before school started, but groups were involved in different activities. Today, we talked about two important things
- NME (Neurosequential Model in Education)
- What we need to look for as we continue our journey as learning educators – which is what I’m blogging about.
We have a number of great things going on in our school. We chose a few to discuss.
- Guided Reading – this initiative developed Division Wide as a program based on research from all around the world about best practices in teaching student fluency, decoding and comprehension. Everyone is trained in this, and it is being implemented in all of our classes.
- Guided Math – this developed from a few interested teachers last year, who asked permission to try it out. This year most of our classes are implementing it, and the original crew will be presenting it at our annual teachers’ convention.
- Technology – Technology has become ubiquitous in schools and in society. It isn’t something separate we teach, but it’s a tool that engages and enhances our ability to increase learning in students.
- MakerSpaces – we have only dabbled in this so far. Our discussion focused on the ability to allow students to engage in problem solving and be creators of their own learning. It definitely addresses the Entrepreneurial Spirit aspect of the Ministerial Order. The MakerSpace was brought in by the division and we were one of the schools to pilot it last year. We are working on getting our own set up.
- Empowering Writers – this program, is admittedly more prescriptive, but it addresses a missing piece of the literacy program. It gives teachers a springboard to a way of approaching the task of teaching our students to become writers and to engage in other’s writing. It could be said this program seeped into our school. Many people have attended PD on it over the last few years, and that has continued to spark interestin the program.
So, those are some of the areas teachers are working on at Landing Trail. The questions are:
- How do we know these are impacting student learning?
- What do we accept as evidence of improved student learning?
I posed these questions to teachers today. We had set up the day so that each topic would have time to meet for interested parties to get together and discuss the questions and decide how they would work together as a PLC. The PLCs will function throughout the year with these in mind. We have to have student learning as a focus, and we have to have data that backs up our claim that what we are doing is impacting student learning.
One other topic I presented to the staff was the list of Principal Quality Guidelines. I felt it was important that they know that one of the roles I and my VP have is to be instructional leaders. We are tasked with the learning that goes on in the school. It’s a big responsibility, but having a staff willing to learn, take risks, and learn from mistakes makes the job a whole lot easier!
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.
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.
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.
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!!
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!