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.
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.
I knew I was ready for a change. I asked for a change.
Sometimes you get what you ask for!
Much of what I am doing at my new school is exactly what I was doing as principal at my previous school. Most of what I did, I’m just doing more of. That’s ok. What I didn’t anticipate was having to redo a lot of cultural things I did there. I didn’t really think about having to get to know every student again. I didn’t think about the difficulties of dealing with parents who didn’t know me.
So, I’ve been at this for just over four months here. I work with a great staff. I’ve met a lot of great parents, and the majority of the kids are awesome. But, I am missing the comfort of my previous assignment. I miss knowing everyone; and knowing, pretty much, what to expect everyday. I have to remind myself – I asked for a change.
I knew I had learned what I could learn at my previous school. I knew everyone and everyone knew me. We knew what to expect of each other. We often knew what each other was thinking and how each person would react to a situation. But, that was becoming stagnant.
So, here I am. Every once in a while I have a day where I ask myself if I made the right choice. There are times when those days pile up on each other. Yesterday was one of those days. Today started out that way, but fortunately isn’t ending that way.
I just had a chat with a teacher who is feeling some frustration with one student in her class. We talked about all the great things that are happening. We talked about the growth the class has made and the improvement in the behaviours of a couple of very complex kids. As I was talking to her, I had to remind myself, that what I was saying applied to me too.
There are tough days and tough situations. They only become the focus when we allow them to.
Change is good. But we also need to make sure allow we ourselves time to adjust and time to begin the relearning process.
It will come. I can’t forget why I asked for a change.
I needed it.
I have an eye appointment next Tuesday after school. My eyes are getting worse very quickly and the glasses I have just aren’t cutting it anymore. I am not happy about having to get new glasses (they cost money!), but our Health Spending Account should cover most of that. Anyway, as I sit here at my computer and having to push my chair back so I can make out what I’m typing, I got to thinking about vision.
One of my Professional Growth Plan goals for the year is around the Principal Quality Standard of “Embodying Visionary Leadership.” As I was thinking about my eyesight, this connection came to mind. And as my mind is prone to wandering the question came to mind as to whether everyone can be visionary.
After doing a bit of research and taking time to think, I’ve come up with what makes a person a visionary.
- Understand the differences between having vision and being visionary – Just because you have a vision for something, doesn’t make you visionary. Everyone has vision. They have a goal for what they would like to see happen, but no real plan for implementation. Many people have a vision for a Utopian world, but do very little about it.
- Clarity of vision – A clear idea of where you want to be and details around how to get there are necessary. If your vision of the future is clear, getting there will be a lot more possible.
- Visionary leadership is about being a problem solver – to make progress as someone who is a visionary, there has to be the ability to solve problems. You have to be able to analyze the problem, look for solutions and work to make them happen. Being a problem solver is about learning from mistakes. A visionary is constantly working to make things better.
- Visionaries show rather than tell – A long time ago I heard the phrase, “If it is to be, it is up to me.” I try to always picture myself in a situation that I will be responsible for placing others in. I try to do join in on tasks that I am asking others to participate in. If I’m not willing to complete a task, why should I expect others to take it on? If I expect people to move forward I better be in the crowd working just as hard as anyone else.
- Willing to take a risk – I’ve already alluded to risk taking. Implicit in risk taking, is the acceptance of failures along the way. Accept failures in yourself and in others. However, failures have to be viewed as an opportunity to learn A number of years ago at an AISI (btw, I miss AISI) conference, I first heard the term ‘failing forward’. That is the attitude we need to have. Our failures move us forward in our growth journey.
- Desire to positively affect others – If our vision only benefits ourselves, it’s not the kind of vision I am talking about. In my role as an educational leader, the vision I have for my school and community, has to benefit as many as possible. It needs to benefit current and future students and hopefully the staff and community as well.
I think I have helped to move my school forward, and in my journey as a leader, I hope to continue that at this school or whatever school I maybe placed in in the future. Our Leader in Me program has been an interesting journey that we are still working on, and will hopefully always continue to work on. That process alone has taught me the importance of having a vision and working to make it happen. Having a goal is essential. If you’re not aiming for something, you don’t hit anything.
Can everyone be visionary? I don’t think so; not without some effort and mindfulness in the process.
I’ve been blogging for a few years, but starting last year I’ve learned to use a Blog as a powerful reflective tool. I don’t have a lot of followers or views, and usually don’t get a lot of comments (there have been a few exceptions). I don’t think I’m very good at expressing myself verbally, so I find that the blog serves two very strong purposes for me:
1. It provides me time and a forum to share my ideas. When I write a blog, I’ve usually spent some time thinking about my topic. And during the process of putting my ideas down on the computer, I find they coalesce into a shape that makes a lot more sense than if I just tried to verbalize them. The blog allows me to clarify my thoughts for myself and communicate them better with others.
2. The blog can be, and has been, used as a springboard to discussion with people; or as a reference when I want to share my thoughts with others. I have used my blog to help people understand my thinking around a topic, and then to further the discussion we are having.
I am pretty sure that the ability to clarify thinking and spend time in reflection about what to put into the blog really is the fuel that has resulted in the growth I have experienced as a leader over the last 14 months. I feel that I have been able to move forward in my growth as a leader and as a learner. In conversation with my superintendent she stated that she noticed some big leaps in my capacity as a leader and upon reflection I feel this to be a key reason.
For the personal growth I have experienced, alone, I won’t be giving up this practice. It is mainly for me; but a better me, makes for a better school.
I talked about change in my last blog. I’m not done with that topic yet!
I’ve always considered myself to be a reflective person. I don’t think I would have made it in this profession if I weren’t. I know I wasn’t a very good teacher to start out with. At times, I felt like I was playing teacher – just emulating what others had done before, and not really understanding what I was doing. Now I look back and I really feel sorry for the students I had those first few years.
It was by watching other teachers and finally coming to the point where I was willing to start taking risks that I felt things began to change. It was also about that point that I really began to reflect on the practice of teaching. It was the struggles that I found in different areas of practice that drove me to really reflect on what I was doing and what I needed to do.
When I was taking my initial teacher training there was very little focus on reflection. When I began working on my Master’s, it was my first introduction into formal reflection. I really didn’t enjoy the written reflection, but it certainly helped me clarify and formulate my thoughts. When I completed my Master’s I was certain that I wouldn’t be doing that again! BUT, here I am – blogging like crazy, because it turns out to be the most powerful type of reflection I have done.
I think the power of the blog is that it is for an audience. Previously the reflections were given to an instructor, whom I was never certain actually read what I had to say. Now my writing is available to a very wide audience who not only provide feedback, but sometimes resend what I’ve written to others (GO TWITTER!) My thoughts just may invoke reflection in others.
One of the messages I preached to student teachers when I had them, and continue to stress to student teachers that are in my school, is the power of reflection and willingness to grow and change. The growth that happens has to come from within. We do get input from others, and have to be willing to accept it, but no change will happen unless we take it upon ourselves to thoughtfully pursue the goals we set.