Sitting in a session on Agile Leadership today in Edmonton. Our division principals and many of our system leadership is present. We are discussing the practices of leadership to influence the improvement of student learning.
One of the topics we are discussing is how do we influence teacher behaviour as a key piece in making sure student learning is happening. One of our key roles is leading teacher learning and development. At LT we have spent a year and a half so far in making sure that the teachers are empowered to take responsibility for this learning, and are given the tools to move forward in the areas that they have embraced in their own professional growth plans.
Today the opportunity for me is to consider my own practice in making this happen. What am I doing that is promoting this practice, and what can I do to ensure that this continues to move forward in the best way possible. Am I in any way doing things that actually hinder this movement? I’ve got some ideas on how to work through this, and I look forward to intentionally keeping this movement going.
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.
Anyone who knows me is aware that I am a fan of Twitter. A blog post I made last year, How Twitter Changed Everything, was one of my most popular posts ever. I am not a big Tweeter myself, but have been able to use twitter to engage in a lot of great reading, and conversations. Near the end of the last school year, I came across a post that led to a unique opportunity. The Alberta Teachers’ Association had tweeted about the need to find an elementary principal to be involved in a short term exchange to Australia. Out of curiosity I clicked on the link included in the tweet and was excited to discover that the opportunity was a two week, job shadowing exchange to Adelaide during school breaks. (One of their term breaks, and our summer holidays.)
I just finished up the visit with my Australian Exchange partner. She is now relaxing in Banff and Lake Louise while I am back at work. The experience was full of great learning opportunities. The main learning happened in two main ways. First, I learned a lot about how and why we do things in our school and school division.
I am, by nature, a reflective person. I like receiving feedback from others and use it to grow as a person and as a leader. Having opportunity to sit with another leader and ask questions about their view on things in your school, or to ask them questions about how they would handle a situation, proved to be great opportunities. I took the time after the first week to get some feedback on how I was doing with the Principal Quality Standards. While it’s difficult to see all of them in action in only one week, there was feedback given and opportunity for me to think about what I am doing as a leader to work on all the standards. During the course of every discussion we had there was opportunity to compare practice and the reasons behind the practice.
We also had opportunity to discuss how things were done differently in Australia, and specifically at Para Vista Preschool -Seven school in Adelaide. What we discovered through our conversations is that the administrative expectations and roles are in a lot of ways very different, but our goals for students are the same. What was seen in classrooms was, in effect, the same kinds of things that you would see in just about any classroom. Whatever happens behind the scenes, we are ensuring that students get a quality education and have opportunity to move forward in their learning.
It was through discussion that we found the most learning happened. My partner would see something happen, or be involved in a conversation with a teacher or a student, and later ask questions about what she had observed. It was these discussions that were the most productive. We had opportunity to tour some other schools and sit in on some programs being offered, and had great discussions during and afterward about what we saw happening. The learning was organic, the conversations were genuine, and the entire process was valuable.
The exchange is a two week job shadowing opportunity and I will be visiting her school during our next summer holidays. I look forward to seeing Australia very much, but I am eager to see how things are done there and to have the opportunity to bring back some great learning.
I will have the honour of a new Vice Principal in the fall. He has been a VP for 5 years now and has a lot of experience in inclusion and behaviour. I look forward to learning from him and his assistance in moving the school forward. He previously taught at this school so a number of staff know him quite well.
We have gained a lot of ground in the last few years. Our school is far from perfect, but I do know it’s a place where most people like to be. We make it welcoming and are getting better at being student centred. Almost everyone comments on the good feeling they get when the come into the building.
The opportunity now is to share the vision I have for the school. That vision is about continuing our journey to:
- make all our decisions based on our mission and vision.
- remember that our job is to train students for the realities of the present and the future.
- connect with the community
- develop the leadership potential in our students, ourselves and our community.
We are well on our way to realizing this. Adding a new person into the mix has to be viewed as a new and exciting opportunity I firmly believe that if we keep our vision, and communicate that to all stakeholders, we will move on to an exciting place in the future.
How fantastic is that?
(photo via Flickr Creative Commons)
Pressed from Darcy Mullin
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.
Being one of the only males in a small school means I have the good fortune of going to supervise swimming lessons (well, more accurately I supervise groups of 30-40 naked boys running around the change room). Every Friday for five weeks I have this great opportunity!
Of course, as teachers, we make judgments on the swimming education the students receive. But those judgments are more about the manner in which the lessons are delivered. Here are my observations.
- Groups are between 3 and 12 students in size.
- Students are streamed ahead of time according to previous experience and ability.
- In the first lesson students are moved to a new group if they have been placed incorrectly.
- Students are given opportunity to constantly demonstrate their progress.
- In a group, those who are moving faster are allowed to move faster and those progressing slower are given the time they need from their instructor.
- At the end of the lesson cycle, students are moved on to the next level or given a report on skills to work on before the next round of lessons.
With the exception of number 1. (and not even sure about that), it would be great to be talking about a classroom or school when I read through the list I just made. There are parts of this Real Life approach happening in our schools, but we aren’t set up for many of these things to happen. We are also not trained to operate our classrooms in this way. We get a group of heterogeneous students and are expected to move them all along at relatively the same pace. We assess them at certain predetermined points. They are usually moved along regardless of the achievement of goals or standards.
That being said, there are great things going on in all schools. Teachers do take the group they are given, and work wonders with them. Everyday I see students progressing in remarkable ways and accomplishing goals they or their teachers have set out for them. I see students using tools and technology in innovative ways. I see teachers learning new skills to help differentiate instruction for the students and developing critical thinking strategies to help their students become more engaged problem solvers.
Education is moving forward. There are things we need to learn and changes we need to make; but we’re doing a bang up job with what we have. We can be proud of what our students are doing in classrooms every day.