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.
We learn from our mistakes.
I know it’s true, but sometimes I wonder why I’m not a genius by now with the amount of blunders I regularly make. Thankfully most of them aren’t that big, but nevertheless, I can say they’re quite constant. I guess the good thing, in my own defense, is that I usually admit to making them, and I try to learn from them and make them right. Usually I can look back and laugh at them – sometimes it takes a while before that happens!
It’s a journey. I think when you can’t admit you’re fallible, you can no longer learn.
Let’s keep learning, and growing and even making mistakes. It’s what makes us lifelong learners.
I follow Pam Boyd’s Two Minute Tune Up blog and her post today got me thinking about my recent mistakes. Too many to list! Her blog post today can be found here. Thanks, Pam!
I was asked to participate in a Discovery Education Ignite event last week. The way it works is you prepare 20 slides and plan to speak on each one for 15 seconds. I decided to present on the idea of helping every student find their passion by bringing back an environment that allows for play/discovery built into the day. My slides didn’t necessarily line up with the talk, but I used a number of slides of students working in our makerspace area and completing projects, completing guided math and reading, etc. that showcased a lot of things we do. The last half of the slides were some of the pictures I’ve taken personally that compare the development of my own passion for photography with the developement of students’ passion.
Helping students pursue their passion
Hi everyone, I’m going to be talking about helping students find and hopefully develop their passion, and how my own late-in-life discovery of my passion has helped my thinking on this topic. I stumbled into photography about 9 years ago and it was actually crappy photos like these first two that got me thinking about wanting to improve something that had only been a passing interest. The second half of the slides I’m sharing with you will hopefully show you an improvement in the pursuit of my passion.
We probably don’t need expensive tools or gadgets and neither do our students. We have no way of knowing what that spark that ignites their passion will be. Our schools haven’t traditionally been places where we seek to inspire our students. We’ve provided them with information and hoped they would figure out what appealed to them in the mounds of information we shared with them, and often not caring if they were even interested in what we had to say.
We need to start by setting up environments that encourage students to discover and to play and to feel like they can make mistakes. It’s not likely that one would pursue a passion if they feel they aren’t allowed the freedom to make mistakes. The environments we provide have to allow for out of focus photos that seem to have some tiny bit of potential.
Kids love to play and we know they learn by playing. However, a heavy curriculum has helped take away this important focus, and only recently have we seen a resurgence in the promotion of play and creativity in the programs we offer.
So what happens when we let students play and discover? They might just display some talent in areas you, or their peers, or even THEY didn’t know they had. They may find out that they can improve skills with their own efforts. Sometimes early on, you can tell that there’s a spark of something that will improve with encouragement and nurturing and the occasional nudge in the right direction.
Sometimes you have to seek out that spark of talent hidden there. One of the innovative thing that’s catching on is the idea of Genius Hour in the classroom. In my school, there are a few classrooms doing this. Teachers provide opportunities for students to be creative, sometimes the students bring in things of their own, and often the teacher sets out many opportunities for students to dabble in creative activities that help them to discover.
As we embrace our passions we find that we’ve moved past the tools we start with. We buy an improved camera that helps us to increase our skill and do things we couldn’t do before.
In schools we have to rethink the tools we use and the tools we provide to the students. We allow students to learn from other students and to teach other students. We set up makerspaces that focus on discovery, collaboration and problem solving
We allow students to share their creations and ask each other questions.
Teachers are also changing the way they set up their classrooms, the way they deliver curriculum and the way they interact. Programs like guided reading and guided math, increase the one on one time we have with students and allow for increased group work and cooperation. Celebrating student interests through events like Identity Days help students to connect and share with each other.
So, after a while you start seeing improvement. An interest becomes a talent and a talent becomes a passion. Where would this start if we don’t provide opportunity for it? Some students will discover their passions in sport, some in art, some in dance, some in engineering, you just don’t know what it will be. Undeniably, demographics can dictate the exposure students have to opportunities. But those of us who teach in schools where we have many students who aren’t garnered a lot of opportunities know that if we don’t provide the spaces and places, they may not happen.
So here we are. A school administrator with more than a few grey hairs, and a love for seeing students learn and grow. I’m on my fifth camera since picking up my little point and shoot and discovered I like to try to capture the world around me. Those first photos were not great. Partly due to the tools I had at my disposal, but mostly due to my lack of understanding of things like exposure, shutter speed, focal length, the all important factors involved in lighting and not knowing what even a simple camera was capable of doing.
I got a bit of encouragement, positive feedback, and started to pursue this area with no mind to do much more than post some not bad photos on FaceBook. I’ve now had photos appear in calendars, won a few contests, and now I get paid to take photos of people and places and share my passion with more than just those people who’ve stuck with me on FaceBook and Instagram.
I was at a photo shoot for Heroes Magazine a few weeks ago at the Edmonton Clinic, and interestingly I was photographing the use of robotics in the rehabilitation of children. The idea of using play, discovery, and problem solving aren’t unique to education and can do way more than help them to find their passion. But I think we are all remiss if we aren’t trying to answer the question posed here. What are we doing to help every student find their passion?
The Sturgeon School Division Admin group is meeting in PLC groups we have formed. Most schools are working in small groups with other admin teams on topics they have chosen. In my case my VP and I are working together in our own PLC to address the learning that is currently going on in our school; which has many of our staff are working in PLCs that focus on increasing student understanding by using a guided math focus.
PLCs at Landing Trail have been challenged to look for evidence of improved student learning as they progress through their own PLCs, and to reflect on what is working and what isn’t. PLCs at the schools meet at least once a month at days set aside for staff meetings and Professional Development at the schools. We consider one of the most important PD activities we do to be the work we complete in our PLCs.
We have had many conversations with staff already about the role of gathering data in our practice to help inform us about what we are doing and what changes we may need to make. Staff are now walking into my office to show me data that would speak to the fact that student learning is being impacted. It is becoming part of the conversations that we have.
This morning at Admin PD time, I was able to consider how we as admin collect the data we decided we need to obtain. There are many things we have put in place already because we have turned to being a data informed school in all areas. There is a lot of data that has been gathered and there are protocols set in place to continue gathering data as we move along. There are a few areas that we have to consider if we want to ensure we are getting data from all sources. Are we sure we have student voice in our data sources? What’s the best way to make sure we are cognizant of the parent feedback in the gathering of data?
We will have opportunity to present our story and journey at an April admin council meeting, and I am excited about that. We have done a lot of impactful things already, and I look forward to the great things that we will continue to encounter as we continue on this journey forward.
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.
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.
Alberta’s Principal Quality Standards have Providing Instructional Leadership as their fourth leadership dimension. The document describes this quality as follows:
The principal ensures that all students have ongoing access to quality teaching and learning opportunities to meet
the provincial goals of education.
As part of my discussions with teachers in Professional Growth Plan meetings this year, I am asking the question, “In my role as an instructional leader, what can I have permission to look for and discuss with you during and after my classroom visits?” Most teachers are caught off guard by this question, and are not sure how to answer. A few of them were able to come up with an answer on their own but some took a bit of discussion and gentle probing to decide on a focus. The interesting piece is that those who came up with an answer on their own, and those who needed some dialogue all settled on the same thing – student engagement.
The University of Alberta produced a document in 2011 entitled, Student Engagement: What do we know, and what should we do?
While the document states that engagement can be difficult to define, it does lay out what a classroom with student engagement will look like.
- Learning that is relevant, real, and intentionally interdisciplinary – at times moving learning from the classroom into the community.
- Technology-rich learning environments – not just computers, but all types of technology, including scientific equipment, multi-media resources, industrial technology, and diverse forms of portable communication technology (Project Tomorrow, 2010).
- Positive, challenging, and open – sometimes called “transparent” learning climates – that encourage risk-taking and guide learners to reach co- articulated high expectations. Students are involved in assessment for learning and of learning.
- Collaboration among respectful “peer-to-peer” type relationships between students and teachers (horizontal organization model); Professional Learning Communities working together to plan, research, develop, share, and implement new research, strategies, and materials.
- A culture of learning – teachers are learning with students. Language, activities and resources focus on learning and engagement first, and achievement second.
While the research into engagement seems to focus on older grades, there is application to the classrooms that hold our younger students (Prek – 4). What this means for me, is I have to do some investigation into how do I detect engagement when I am in classrooms. I would think it certainly doesn’t only look like quiet students, sitting at their desks working independently. We all know there are students who seem to be totally distracted, and may even seem preoccupied with another task who are soaking up everything being said and done around them.
What I do most appreciate now, is the opportunity to have these discussions with teachers. As we learn together, and talk about what engagement looks like, we will be moving on a path to increase engagement and student achievement in our classrooms.
So, there’s lots I can do to make teachers feel valued (this is only a small sampling of things I can do as a leader):
- Respect them and their time
- Spend time fostering relationships
- Recognizing their professional judgement
- Trust them
- Communicate with them (especially LISTEN to them)
All of these combined with discussions around practice serve to move a school forward.
Now I have to get learning about engagement!!!
(Photo obtained from Pixabay)