Another school year has started. We have some new staff, many new students, and with that a few new families represented. The school year has started smoothly, but it wouldn’t be a start up if there weren’t a few wrinkles to iron out. Hopefully though, that doesn’t last long.
Our school division has a new superintendent. Some people don’t embrace change, but I generally gain energy from change (however, not quite as much as I did in the first 75% of my teaching career!) I’m looking forward to a new opportunity to learn and grow with her, and to see the great things that are in store for our awesome school division.
I’m hoping my blog entries are a bit more frequent this year. Last year we ended with about 6 weeks of frenzied activity
as a few emergent things took up most of our time. I know we can never fully prepare for those kinds of things, but I’m looking forward with positivity to a year filled with learning for all!
One of the biggest lies we can tell ourselves is, “I can’t do this.” Even though I consider myself to be a very positive, optomistic person, I still fall into this trap sometimes. The work we do in schools is so important, and often very challenging. Everyday we are faced with a myriad of decisions and difficulties. The self talk that we engage in at these times is usually key to the outcome we experience.
It’s very easy to fall into a trap of focusing on the difficulty of each task, and the overwhelming scale of the entire job. The error in doing this is that when we are focusing on the problem we take the focus of our ability to deal with the problem. I know it’s very unlikely that I will encounter a situation that I haven’t handled in one way or another in the past. If I’ve dealt with it before, there’s no reason I can’t deal with it now.
The inner voice needs to say, “I CAN do this!” And, I know I can do it now, because I’ve done it before. The negative self-talk is just a trap.
Some of my best thoughts come from Twitter. I usually have it open on my desktop at work, and occasionally check it while at home. I came across a tweet the other day that really got me thinking. (See image below)
What is the value in what we do? If our job doesn’t directly make a difference in the learning and the lives of the teachers and students, are we doing what we are ultimately meant to do? We certainly do things that indirectly affect the students and the teachers. We are often managers who oversee the operations of the school. But even these ultimately affect the teachers and students as the most optimal learning environment is to a large degree based on the comfort of the building and the schedule. We do our best to keep the school safe, because we know that you need to feel safe to work and learn to the best of your ability.
Clearing the way for teachers to become their best self in a school that has a vision and values results is the job we are ultimately tasked to do.
I think the question we need to be asking ourselves daily is, “Are the things I am spending my time on helping teachers do their jobs better?”
I find myself caught up in the busy-ness of the job on a regular basis. I regularly make lists of tasks I need to accomplish. I’m sure most of us do the same. I’m going to try reframing my priorities with this tweet in mind. I need to mindfully put the majority of my energy into those things that help my teachers do the best job they are capable of.
Thanks to Danny Steele for inspiring this post!
It’s taken me a few weeks to get this post written. I’ve been rolling it around in my head for a while.
People who know me know that I love photography. I have my own photography business (that doesn’t make a lot of money), but I love capturing moments in time. In the fall, I did a family photo session for my former vice principal, Kerri.
I photographed the family in their beautiful backyard with different family configurations, and fortunately, the photos turned out quite well.
About a month ago, one of Kerri’s stepdaughters passed away. I had to attend the funeral to support Kerri and her family during this difficult time. When I arrived at the location of the funeral, Kerri greeted me and immediately took me to a large photo of her three stepdaughters. It was a photo I had taken in the fall, and I was immediately struck by the impact that photo was having on the ceremony and the power it had in communicating the beauty of the family and specifically Nicole. It was an emotional experience for me.
I have spoken before about our obligation as educators to help others find their passion. Each student has to have opportunity to discover that one thing that they love to do, and be allowed to pursue it. That fact was really hit home to me during this time, and I was so humbled to know that something I did made even a small difference in the lives of others.
Schools need to be responsive to the needs of their students and community. That involves getting to know each student and giving every one of them opportunities to grow and play and discover. Schools need to be rich environments of learning and questioning and finding answers that lead to more questions. Only in places like that can we be certain that we are doing everything we can to ensure that students will be best placed to make those discoveries for themselves.
And as a side point, let’s not forget the importance of being cognizant of the importance of mental health in our day-to-day lives; both in school and in our daily endeavours. We need to do our best to make real connections and do our best to support those who are dealing with mental health issues. Mental health is being discussed now. Let’s keep the conversation going and do everything we can to keep the awareness front and centre.
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!!
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!!!
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.