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.
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!!
I was asked, as a principal with some experience, to share some wisdom with the new principals in Sturgeon School Division. This year we have a lot of schools with new principals and a few with new principals and vice principals. Those of use who have a few years of experience have been asked to provide a video of what we have learned and would like to pass on to those just starting out. This video is the first of three I will be posting over the next while.
I am in a new school this year, so I refer to that in the video (just to provide some context) – and forgive me for the ridiculous expression in the photo grab before the video is played!
So, I’m a very calm person. Very few people have seen me angry – ever. I had an incident recently, that when I shared with people was generally met with disbelief. The way I reacted taught me quite a bit about not just myself, but how people in general deal with stressful situations. The most important lesson is how I need to seek to understand others.
It started when I had to deal with a number of ‘poor choices’ other drivers were making. I generally just shake my head or mutter under my breath, but always try to keep in mind that people are people, and I have no idea what they are dealing with. However, one incident that day really sent me over the edge. I was in a parking lot in front of a box store, and I saw a couple of very young boys about to cross from the sidewalk in front of the stores into the parking lot. I stopped, not too suddenly; but the young woman behind me started honking. Well, I couldn’t believe that she either couldn’t see the kids, or wouldn’t stop to think for 2 seconds about why I might be stopping. My patience for her dissipated immediately and I am embarrassed to admit that, to put it bluntly, gave her the finger.
After the kids crossed in front of me, I kept driving, but was very upset with her lack of patience. As we continued through the parking lot, she remained behind me. When I pulled up to the stop sign to pull out onto the street, I looked in my mirror and she was checking her cell phone – All patience was gone!
I put my emergency brake on and jumped out of my car to give her a piece of my mind. I was angry and she needed to know what I thought of her. Well, to my disbelief, she wouldn’t roll her window down so I could tell her. I finally just signaled to her to not use her cell phone, and stormed back to my car and drove off.
It took me about a minute to start feeling really stupid about what I had done. Once I had totally settled down I started thinking about the poor example I had been to my two sons who were in the car with me. I talked to them about it, and put up a public apology in FaceBook, as I had no way of apologizing to the young woman.
As I think back on the incident, I am reminded of the times I have to deal with angry students or parents. My first reaction is usually to try to reason with them. And being a generally long-suffering person, I find it difficult to empathize with people in that state. My own reaction to this incident has given me a bit of a view of what others go through. When someone is upset, they need time to calm down before they can be reasoned with. I need to be patient during that time.
As leaders in schools we really need to model patience and understanding, a trait which I think I usually do very well. Obviously, though I’m not totally there yet, and am continually learning. It’s great that we can all learn from our own mistakes.
So, I’ve seen a lot of posts on Twitter and on blogs lately about Student Engagement. As I was perusing through Twitter today, I misread one of those posts by substituting principal for student, and the idea immediately clicked with me. What would Principal Engagment look like?
Right away, some thoughts that come to mind are:
- A willingness to learn.
- Open to change
- Passionate about school culture
Being willing to invest in other people. That includes students, parents and staff
I think that there could be a great discussion about this. Do you have any thoughts about this that you would like to contribute. I would love to hear them.
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.
One of the follow ups to Provincial Achievement Tests is the inevitable analysis of the data. Whether the results are good or bad, there are things that can be interpreted from the data. While I am not a fan of the Achievement Tests at all, I find they lead to some very important discussions. One of the likely quotes in those discussions is, “well, it was just that group of students!”. It is VERY easy to point to a group of kids and blame the results on them.
It is inevitable that each group has their own personality, and strengths. Anyone who has taught more than a year will not be able to disagree with that. Because each group is unique, they will no doubt have variances in their abilities in each outcome covered. And while it is true that we can point to the group and “blame’ them, I don’t agree that that should be our first line of thinking. Whenever we come across a student who has lagging skills or abilities in an area, we need to approach it as an opportunity to address the lagging skill.
When we see that our current class does not understand equality in Math, we need to change the approach we use to address that. What we are trying to do at our school, is take a team approach to those lagging skills in a group of students. That doesn’t mean we don’t still have people who blame the group, but we can answer them with, “What are we going to do about it?”
So, how can you address lagging skills? We like to rely on the resident experts. We have one teacher who is very well trained in math and was responsible for providing Division Professional Development a few years ago when the new curriculum in math came out. She does a stellar job in her own class in all areas, but is a math resource person for everyone. We also have some teachers who have specialized literacy or Special Ed training.
Not everyone is fully on board for a team approach, but to quote George Couros, “The smartest person in the room, is the room!” I firmly belive that and have been trying to lead using that philosophy ever since I heard it.