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.
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)
Here’s the third of my videos with advice to new principals. Still not sure about the “Pearls of Wisdom” title – I didn’t add that!
This portion of the video has to do with relationships and making change.
I can’t believe how busy it has been lately! I haven’t posted a blog in a long time. And to be honest, I think about it almost every day. I have set aside some time this morning to do just that!
I have been reflecting on the concept of respect lately and what that means to a leader. To a manager, it might simply mean, that people do as they’re told. I think it means a lot more to a leader. As part of my effort to put my ruminations down on ‘paper’, I’ve come up with a list of ways leaders show respect to those they work with.
- Two sided – Respect is two sided. It is a process that happens between people and although there is a need for self respect as part of the big picture, the kind of respect that takes place in schools has to be between admin and the staff; and it has to go both ways.
- Trust – One of the major components of a respectful, well functioning school environment (or any environment, for that matter) is the element of trust. Good relationships have to be built on trust. Micromanagers, Top Down leaders and ineffective leaders all lack the respect for their team to either listen or follow through.
- Listening/take advice – as mentioned in the previous item, respect is demonstrated by listening to the team and following through on what you say you are going to do. It’s been said that “the smartest person in the room is the room”; and ever since I heard this from George Couros, it has stuck with me. By getting a group of educators together to work through a problem, you know you’re going to get some good ideas.
- Take time to think – We need to avoid making any quick decisions, without taking the time to mindfully consider all sides. We show respect by ensuring that what decisions we make are thought through. People will respect a decision that they may not agree with, as long as they know that it is well thought out, and all sides have been considered.
- Honour – take time to honour those around you. When I was a VP I was told that any news article or publication celebrating the school or one of its programs has to mention the principal. I didn’t feel right about it at the time, and now as a principal I have to totally disagree. A principal needs to honour their team enough to allow the spotlight to shine where it needs to, and to step back out of the spotlight whenever necessary.
- High standards – I show respect to the school, its constituents and the staff by making the tough decisions when necessary. If that means changing a program or getting rid of an ineffective member, I have to do it. It’s vital that I show respect for the overall effectiveness of the school and its staff.
Respect… Trust… Honour
It’s the people that make the school a great place. Respect them!
Leadership20 – in our last session Pat Bohnet talked about admin giving teachers the gift of time. Things are busy. We all know that in addition to teaching, there’s lots of other things on our plates.
We need to do what we can as leaders to respect the time of teachers, and to make time a gift we give to them. These are some of the things that I am doing. (Number two doesn’t get done nearly as much as I would like)
- Whenever possible allocate subs that aren’t being used to another classroom. I am not talking about preps. There are times when a sub is in for one of us as Administrators that we aren’t in the class. Survey the needs of the teachers and provide those that could use an extra block to get caught up, or to provide in class help where needed.
- Offer to take a class. We don’t have time to do this everyday, but doing something like this once in a while would go a long way in recognizing the value of the classroom teacher.
- Allocate resources with this in mind. I am using some of the AISI money we were given as schools to allow teachers to collaborate around Literacy. (Our project is around Literacy and Guided Reading). I am not sure how far it will go, but I hope to be able to do this about 6 times throughout the year.
- Keep meetings as short as possible. My goal is to have the administration/report giving the shortest part of staff meeting. I don’t want to hear myself drone on, I can’t imagine anyone else enjoying it at all.
- Balance ideas around Shared Leadership with a “IF IT IS TO BE, IT IS UP TO ME” philosophy. Don’t expect anyone to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself.
- Never lose track of what it’s like in the classroom. We have to take time to be in the classroom, not just observing, but taking classes once in a while.
- Take time to celebrate. Be with your staff, listen to their stories and share stories with them. Greet staff and let them know you have time for them.
- Work Smarter – do you need to have a meeting? Do you need to send that email? Don’t waste people’s time with information that they have to sort through only to find it doesn’t pertain to them.
- Keep looking for time wasting activities. Last year we found that we added a LOT of great things to the end of the year, but May and June ended up being way more stressful just because there were so many interruptions.
- Listen… what are teachers saying? What activities are taking too much time? What activities do they need more time for. Make it so that they can do their job, and get out of the way so great things can happen.
Time is a precious commodity – show that you value teachers by respecting the time they share with students.