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!!
Over the next two days, our School Division is participating in the North Central Teachers’ Convention. www.mynctca.com. I have always liked convention as an opportunity to get together with colleagues, old and new and catch up on how things are going and to sit in on sessions and learn new ideas. I also like the collaborative discussion we have about education and things we have learned.
Teachers’ convention is just one of the opportunities to connect with others and participate in the discussion that leads to personal growth. The opportunity to connect, learn, debate, grow, and develop your personal learning network isn’t limited to convention or other traditional PD opportunities. Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, and other social media sites all help to engage us in the discussion and encourage the growth.
I still enjoy convention for that personal connection you make with people. I like the lunches, and the coffee chats. I like the occasional ‘sit & git’ delivery of knowledge, and the opportunity to add to my repertoire of tools. BUT, the deepest learning comes from the connections we make with others who either think the same way we do, or those that think completely differently. These discussions, coupled with reflective practice move us along our journey as learners and hopefully inspire us to pass the passion for learning along to others.
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)
I was asked, as a principal with some experience, to share some wisdom with the new principals in Sturgeon School Division. This year we have a lot of schools with new principals and a few with new principals and vice principals. Those of use who have a few years of experience have been asked to provide a video of what we have learned and would like to pass on to those just starting out. This video is the first of three I will be posting over the next while.
I am in a new school this year, so I refer to that in the video (just to provide some context) – and forgive me for the ridiculous expression in the photo grab before the video is played!
Over the last few years I’ve had some thoughts coalescing around how best to use our teachers’ Professional Growth Plans. I’ve struggled for a few years as to how to make the PGP not just a piece of paper that teachers have to fill in at the beginning of the year to fulfill an expectation. I have tried to do things like:
- incorporate mid year meetings to reassess the progress
- allow groups of teachers to establish a group PGP
- ask informal questions throughout the year around PGP goals
While these things have had some effect, and have increased awareness and teacher efficacy around their professional growth, I have never felt that I’ve ‘gotten through’ before. This year I’ve proposed a different approach to teachers and I am getting feedback that is making me think I might be heading in the right direction. As I wrap my mind around how this is playing out, I’ve found that a bit of alliteration has fallen into place. The following are coming together to make this seem like it might work.
- Professional Growth Plans – taking an approach I have used in the past, I have encouraged teachers to work as a group to develop a professional growth plan. I did not dictate (as I never do) what they would look at putting in their plan, but I did encourage them to look for goals that they as a grade level might be interested in pursuing together. So far two of the grade levels have handed in joint PGPs, and one grade level has handed in two sets, with a pair of teacher in each working on the same goals. This first step is all about using the power of the team which increases engagement and accountability.
- Professional Learning Communities – When asked by two of my teachers on separate occasions what they would be dictated to work on in their PLCs this year, I was a little taken aback. To me, what the teachers work on in their PLCs should, with little guidance, be an organic process. The work done, needs to be work that the group sees as important.
- As a division, we have embraced Excellence in Teaching as a Value. I have no doubt that the teachers are striving for that all the time, and given the power will do what they can to proceed in that direction.
- As administrators in Sturgeon School Division, we are looking at the best practices around PLCs and how to ensure they are productive, and work toward our values. The discussions I have had with the teachers ensure they are aware of the values we hold, and have shown me that they are on board.
- By tasking the PLCs to work on goals set in their Professional Growth Plans, they have now understood the intentionality of the goals they have made and will be revisiting them each time they meet as a PLC group.
- Professional Development – the third piece of the alliterative puzzle is PD. In the last few years the concept of PD has shifted from an activity we do outside of the building in a room with a speaker. PD now encompasses the very powerful practice of getting together as professionals and having conversations around practice and learning. The PLC has become one very potent professional development practice. When an entire group of people is working toward the same goals, PD becomes easier to plan in a traditional sense as well. Teachers working toward the same goals will be interested in learning and applying the PD they have participated in.
In actuality, all three Ps are one and the same. the professional growth plan drives the PD of the PLC. As long as we are willing to accept the POWER of a group of teachers getting together to discuss practice, we can have PD anytime, anywhere.
I’m not sure which of the items in the title that I am most excited about. I found Spiderman, Wolverine and Captain America Socks at a comic book store in Edmonton last week. Being 87% nerd, that got me a bit excited. I think I will be looking for more theme socks in the future. (I did give the Wolverine pair to my oldest son)
Today is the third day I’m in my new office at my new school, getting ready for a new school year. The office is not officially open until Monday, but like many principals, I’m in trying to get my head wrapped around a new way of doing things. Our school division is going through a huge transition with the majority of schools seeing one or both of the administrators as new to the position. It is going to be an exciting and interesting year as we learn and grow together.
My new school is about twice the size of my previous assignment, but still the same configuration (PreK – 4). I’ve found it interesting how two schools, that do the exact same job, can approach certain things in very different ways. I’ve been through the staff handbook and made a few changes, but I think I will have to do quite a bit of observation over the next few weeks/months before making any big changes.
I usually get a bit excited about change, and this is no different. I don’t get as excited about meeting new people, so I am a bit nervous about that. So far though, everyone has been great. Hopefully they are patient as I work at applying those Principal Quality Standards to a new situation!
Here’s to a great school year for everyone; and I’d appreciate any kind of feedback throughout the year as I continue to post my reflections.