Another school year has started. We have some new staff, many new students, and with that a few new families represented. The school year has started smoothly, but it wouldn’t be a start up if there weren’t a few wrinkles to iron out. Hopefully though, that doesn’t last long.
Our school division has a new superintendent. Some people don’t embrace change, but I generally gain energy from change (however, not quite as much as I did in the first 75% of my teaching career!) I’m looking forward to a new opportunity to learn and grow with her, and to see the great things that are in store for our awesome school division.
I’m hoping my blog entries are a bit more frequent this year. Last year we ended with about 6 weeks of frenzied activity
as a few emergent things took up most of our time. I know we can never fully prepare for those kinds of things, but I’m looking forward with positivity to a year filled with learning for all!
Some of my best thoughts come from Twitter. I usually have it open on my desktop at work, and occasionally check it while at home. I came across a tweet the other day that really got me thinking. (See image below)
What is the value in what we do? If our job doesn’t directly make a difference in the learning and the lives of the teachers and students, are we doing what we are ultimately meant to do? We certainly do things that indirectly affect the students and the teachers. We are often managers who oversee the operations of the school. But even these ultimately affect the teachers and students as the most optimal learning environment is to a large degree based on the comfort of the building and the schedule. We do our best to keep the school safe, because we know that you need to feel safe to work and learn to the best of your ability.
Clearing the way for teachers to become their best self in a school that has a vision and values results is the job we are ultimately tasked to do.
I think the question we need to be asking ourselves daily is, “Are the things I am spending my time on helping teachers do their jobs better?”
I find myself caught up in the busy-ness of the job on a regular basis. I regularly make lists of tasks I need to accomplish. I’m sure most of us do the same. I’m going to try reframing my priorities with this tweet in mind. I need to mindfully put the majority of my energy into those things that help my teachers do the best job they are capable of.
Thanks to Danny Steele for inspiring this post!
Alberta’s Framework for Education (education.alberta.ca/media/6581166/framework.pdf) outlines a path to take our students on to allow them to become engaged thinkers and ethical citizens with an entrepreneurial spirit. As I am nearing the end of my Professional Growth plan meetings with teachers we have all agreed that student engagement is the observable behaviour I need to be looking for to looking for while I am in classrooms and having conversations with teachers afterwards.
I have spent quite a few hours looking for research on student engagement and what it looks like in lower grade level classrooms. I have come up with a few good ideas, but what I have had clearly reaffirmed to me is that student engagement can look like a lot of different things depending on a number of factors.
I think there is one thing that I have very clearly learned anew, however. Engagement is something that has to be allowed to happen. In many classrooms, the lessons are not set up to allow for engagement. When all activities and responses are dictated, I strongly feel that students won’t be allowed to engage in the learning in a meaningful way. Real engagement can only occur when students can interact with what they are learning on a creative level that gives them opportunity to delve into the information. They have to have opportunity to play with the information much like they would when creating using modelling clay or building blocks.
Engagement won’t look like a group of students all sitting quietly doing the same thing. It will look more like a group of students working at tearing apart and rebuilding information in various ways and on different levels.
I would really appreciate some feedback on these thoughts and what other people are doing as they look for engagement in the classrooms they are responsible for.
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)
This has been a very interesting week. I found out on Monday, that after six years, I am being transferred to a principalship in another school.
I am ready.
But, DARN IT, I am going to miss my current school – great staff, great parents and amazing kids. Almost everything I am as a leader I owe to that place. I did feel ready to take on a leadership role when I first started as Vice Principal at Bon Accord Community School in 2008. Even though I thought I was ready, I have learned a LOT. One of the most important things that became clear to me was that one of the most important roles of a leader is not what you do for people, but how you make them feel. That learning, to me has made all the difference.
A leader has to get things done, the school has to move forward. Learning has to happen. Resources have to be acquired and allocated. There are tasks that range from the mundane to the very vital. There are the myriad of meetings. There are even occasions where we get to be responsible for cleaning up someone’s mess. Our job is full of “THINGS”.
Since Tuesday, when the move was announced, I’ve received numerous phone calls, emails, posts on our school FaceBook page and have talked personally with a number of parents. Most have offered congratulations and have expressed disappointment in my move to another school. I even received one very angry email from a parent. (not sure yet how to respond to that one). I know I am not even close to a having ‘arrived’ as a leader. I still have a long way to go and a lot to learn. But I know that keeping this in mind, has made my time at Bon Accord, to some degree, successful.
We can’t always make everyone happy. Very few decisions can satisfy everyone. However, we can work to establish a culture of caring, trust and respect, that makes everyone feel valued. In a welcoming environment and an aim of touching the spirits of the people we work with and for, we will be able to move things forward much easier. People respond to that kind of approach. They buy in. They remember.
I don’t remember the exact question, from the interview I had for getting my Vice Principal job in Sturgeon School Division, but I do remember responding that my job was to be an advocate for the students. I knew that one of the things I had to do was ensure that they were receiving resources and programming that benefited them. The best programming available had to be accessed and provided. Over time, my perception of my job has shifted away from that to some degree when I became Principal., and for a while I was feeling that my job was to ensure that the needs of the staff was forefront in my mind.
This might seem like a huge shift that very much changes the focus of what I am expected to do. However, I think the two goals are VERY closely tied together. You can’t have students receiving top notch programs and services without staff who are feeling satisfied and respected for the difficult task they are assigned to do.
I have made posts before about the importance of valuing teachers and all staff in the school.
I have, as one of my roles, the opportunity to supervise a great staff, who are working to make sure students are learning. By supporting them in whatever way I can, with a goal to do what I can to make their job easier, I am absolutely supporting students. My support might involve finding and accessing outside resources. It might involve helping them find a new and better way of dealing with an issue. It might be about making sure that the equipment they have access to works in a way that won’t evoke anger or stress! Sometimes in might involve just listening to the frustrations they are experiencing.
Being an Instructional leader, oftentimes, is about being an instructional organizer. I am here to organize (administrate) the school in such a way that everyone is confident that Learning really does happen here. Every other Principal Quality Standard is in place to ensure that students are provided a great education. If that isn’t happening, we might as well stay home.
It’s a huge responsibility, but a great one to have.
(photo from Flickr Creative Commons)
Running a school in Alberta can be an interesting job. (As I’m sure it is everywhere!)
We just recently finished finalizing our budget at the school – with the instruction, which makes sense – to make sure that everything balances. The budget was quite a bit smaller than in years’ past due to government cutbacks, so it required a lot of trimming in more than one area. My Accounts Clerk, my VP and I sat down a few times to hammer out where we could trim. Some budgets had to be set at zero. The comparison of ‘belt tightening’ certainly fits with what we have had to do.
We have a helpful and active parent group in our school who do a lot of fundraising, and we are thankful for that. Unfortunately we have to ask them to help prop up some areas of the budget that have had to be cut. We still need art supplies and library books. We need to conduct science experiments and run a phys ed program. Things still need to happen, and the kids shouldn’t notice a change in the program.
As frustrating as it is, our focus needs to stay on what’s the best program we can do for the kids. Our school is filled with great, caring staff who want the best for each student. I know that our school division is trying to lessen the impact on the students as much as possible.
Money is tight, but we are doing our best to maintain the strongest possible program that will carry each child along and help them realize their potential. It’s what we have always done and will continue to do.