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.
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.
I had the opportunity to attend REDCAMP in Red Deer, yesterday. The opportunity came to my attention because of Twitter. I have never attended an edcamp before. Sean Grainger (@graingered) posted a link to information and registration for the event. I had an idea as to what the event would be about, and registered right away.
There were a few really neat things that came out #redcamp13
- Reaffirmation of the fact that you can never trust navigation on your iPhone!
- I got to meet people I had connected with on Twitter. @hewsonk27 @joe_bower @graingered @Weilinga1
- Whenever you get educators together and let them talk about ways to move forward, best practice, tools to improve instruction, etc. you are guaranteed to have rich and powerful discussions.
- I was able to make new connections. Sitting in sessions and listening to people talk about their learning, really gives you a good idea about where they are coming from. I added a number of new people to my PLN. Some people added me as well.
- One of the most enjoyable sessions of the day was the JAM session. @mrtetz, @socgall, @BowmanTwits, myself and one other music teacher participated in writing a Redcamp song The quality isn’t the best, but this type of collaboration is just as powerful as the discussions around education. We also discussed that Jam Sessions are the original Edcamp!
- Not everyone participating in the sessions agreed on everything. Being open to the ideas of others and discussing opinions, is very powerful. It’s the discussion that is the important part. We are always learning and it’s so great to learning from each other.
After the opening session, which itself provided some great ideas, I attended a session on what we are going to do now that PATs are over. The discussion was great, but there was a focus at first on specualation around what was going to be done to us as educators now. The discussion did turn more towards the opportunities that were presented if we choose to exercise our voice and put forward what our feelings as to where education can go from this point.
My second session was presented by @EbertsR and discussed establishing a culture of collaboration in your school. The collaborative culture we establish in our PLNs can add to the scholarship that exists in our schools.
After lunch I attended a discussion on Twitter with @jbechthold and @KirbyFecho. This was a smaller session, but really demonstrated the power of using Twitter in our schools and for our personal learning. One neat thing about this session was that there were three pre-service teachers. Two of which facilitated the session. There are many reflective, forward thinking young teachers out there. It is exciting to see the passion and commitment that our up and coming members of the profession have.
The last session I attended, as I mentioned in my list above, was the JAM session. That was very fun, and a great way to end a great day.
I hope to be able to attend many more edcamps in the future!! YOU SHOULD TOO!!
I came across a term recently that really got me thinking. The term is Academic Safety. We talk about Safe Schools, Safe and Caring Schools, Digital Safety, Safe and Inclusive Schools, Playground Safety, and the list goes on. There are expectations around the things we do at schools to keep students safe, but I feel there is often a piece missing. What are we doing to provide students with academic safety?
To me, the term means that we are setting the students up in an environment where there is no risk or danger involved in the academic tasks they are assigned to do. Some of the obvious things that one can consider about this kind of safety would be:
- Fear of Failure
- Fear of making mistakes
- Fear of judgement
- Fears around speaking out/having a voice
I am sure there are other things that could be on this list, but my point is, there are things that can make students feel like they are not safe to move forward academically. Students who are not able to concentrate at school because of home issues, issues around safety outside of school, and a myriad of other concerns. We need to be cognizant of the factors that are preventing students from being in an optimum situation for learning.
Schools need to be areas where the culture and expectations are first and foremost about ideal learning conditions for students. As School leaders we need to establish environments where staff are able to provide these conditions and students know that we want the best for them and are there as experts to help them learn. We always keep safety in mind, but personally I usually only think about the physical and emotional safety. Thinking about safety in ways to maximize learning is extremely vital. It’s part of the culture we need to have.
I will be presenting about Blogging, and to some degree Twitter at our January 31st PD Day. A panel of teachers from Sturgeon will be talking about Social Media in the schools. I am glad to see this session being offered, and am excited to be able to be presenting what I have learned so far about Twitter and Blogging. I thought as a lead up to that presentation, I would try to start formulating my thoughts around the value of the blog as an administrative and teaching tool.
I have had a few different blogs over the years, but I find this one, which I use for personal reflection and as my professional growth plan to be the most effective and empowering iteration. I enjoy the opportunity to share what is going on professionally with the opportunity for others to question, provide feedback, provide encouragement, and hopefully move others forward as well.
I definitely owe a lot of the progress I have made in the social media direction to Twitter. It was Twitter that connected me with leaders who are at some point of the same journey as myself. We are seeking to move forward in a world that is changing quickly and causing us to respond in the way we see as the most appropriate. Twitter connected me with the Leadership20 webinar series that motivated me to start this blog.
Blogging forces me to think clearly about what I am doing to make change happen. That alone is very important, but when people I work with read it, It leads to great discussions about leadership and change. Discussions about leadership styles and role of the leader and the follower in moving an organization forward. Blogging allows for and encourages reflective thinking in the writer and the reader
Putting your thoughts on an open platform is powerful and risky. Some of the responses cause me to question the reasons why I write what I do, some cause me to think further about what I have communicated, and some cause me to totally change my mind. I love having discussions; not debates, because that’s about winning and losing. If my thoughts, which I have put out there for the world to see, cause anyone else to think about their practice, or help them to question mine, that is a great thing.
Using a blog as a portfolio of your professional growth is an incredible tool. Placing your proof of growth and change on a public venue really makes one take responsibility for their own development in a way a file in a desk drawer that isn’t visible can do.
One byproduct of blogging is that it shows the value I place on using tools that connect me with current 21st Century (although I dislike that term) tools. Blogging can be used in many different ways in the school and in the classroom. I have a few teachers using a blog to communicate with parents about what is going on in class, but they are also being used as lesson planning tools, sub planning tools, and tools to connect with other classrooms around the world.
These are just my initial thoughts around blogging and what I might present on January 31st, I don’t have a lot of time allotted, but want to get the idea across that blogging is a great tool for teachers and administrators to use.
I have been struggling with the amount of trivial things that fill my days. If I could be doing things all the time that I feel directly impact students, I would feel like I have spent every day accomplishing something great. When I have to deal with staff issues, paperwork, financial decisions, meetings, organizing rooms for other meetings, and a myriad of other things, I tend to get a little frustrated.
I want to be working directly with the students or working on things that directly affect them. I need to know that the things happening in each class are best for students, and that conditions are optimum for teaching and learning. I want to be working with teachers to ensure that we are both aware of best practice and that I have a hand in making it happen.
I recently made the following entry in our January School Newsletter
I have had the ‘pleasure’ of helping my son complete grade 10 math by correspondence since September. He finished the course over the holidays and did quite well. It’s probably not how anyone imagines spending a large portion of their Christmas Break, but I was glad to see it through and get it done. There was time left over at the end of the break to do some relaxing and enjoy some free time. My son is of an age where spending time with his Dad isn’t always at the top of his list of things he wants to do. So, for me, even math is an opportunity to share time with him.
I hope that each of us took time over the break to connect with family. When opportunity presents itself, we have to take advantage of it. Our kids grow up fast, and we need to cherish the time we have together.
As teachers, we have your children for a good portion of the day. The time we get with them is different, yet valuable kind of time. We nurture many of the same things as you, like a love of learning, creativity, respect for each other and the environment. We seek to see them grow as individuals and as members of society. We want to see them grow to people who are independent of the assistance we willingly give as they are young. It is a great responsibility, and a very noble one as well.
Children are a valuable gift. I am glad to see my own growing up and becoming independent individuals. They may not go the direction we would choose for them, but that’s part of the process. We help them along and let them make choices. Then we stand back with our heart full of emotion and our mind full of memories.
Today, after a few days of this I was checking our School FaceBook page and was very pleased with a parent comment regarding my entry in the school newsletter. The parent expressed gratitude for the work we do at the school and that her oldest child attended the school now and looked forward to her younger children attending as well.
It seems we don’t often get a pat on the back for the hard work that we do. For me it is a good reminder that people notice that we care and that we are doing the best job we can. Much of what I do does take up time, and it takes away from the great things that I would like to be doing. There are things I wish I didn’t have to do and don’t always see the value in. But, what I do is important for the students and for the school. I am sure I will continue to be frustrated by the administrivia, but we are doing a great job.
We are making a difference.