This Thursday, we have our first ever Identity Day. I have my board ready, and I know many of the students do as well. There are a few students that we have some concerns about getting one done, but we do have a plan to help them have something ready.
This is our third year of being a Leader in Me School. The opportunity to highlight the uniqueness of the individual is important in this process. We all have interests/talents/situations that we would like to share. I am very interested to see what the students show up with. We like to think we know our students and this is another way we can get to know them a bit better, and allow them to get to know us as well.
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.
Seven members of our school staff and one parent are attending a two day Leader in Me Symposium at the University of Alberta today and tomorrow. I am looking forward to hearing lots about what they learned and excited about the energy they are sure to bring back. We are on our second year of being a Leader in Me School.
Since starting the program we have really been working on empowering our students with opportunities for finding their own leadership abilities and providing opportunities for them to continue to develop those skills. Depending on the classroom and the teacher, students are provided with varying amounts of time to express their abilities in areas of strength and areas in which they need growth. One of the Principal Quality Standards in Alberta is, “Developing and Facilitating Leadership“. For me, it did not initially occur to me that that could also apply to our students.
Throughout the process we have learned a number of things. Even if a school isn’t a Leader in Me school, the following would apply.
- Everyone is a leader – and basically in every situation. How we behave and react to others should be an example to follow. With this mindset we need to be on our best behavior!
- Everyone needs a push once in a while. Staff, students and parents are all capable of stepping up when the need is there. Some need a bit of a nudge, but many just need opportunity. Schools need to be set up so people have opportunity to proved leadership. That might look like students clubs, student greeters, students doing announcements, parent opportunity to volunteer, student volunteers, etc. The list could go on and on and on!
- Everyone responds better to a common goal. If a Mission or Vision or motto or whatever you use to guide your organization is only a plaque on the wall, it is useless. We have made our motto into something that EVERYONE in the school knows. (Everyone a Learner; Everyone a Leader). Our Vision, (Lifelong Leaders, Lifelong Learners, Strengthening our Community) is also known by almost everyone. Make the goal of the organization known and then use it to guide you along.
- Everyone is important!! The word “community” in our Vision is very important to us. We work to make our community a better place. That can’t happen without the community involved in the school, and the school involved in the community. As a K-4 school, there’s not opportunity for work experience, but we can do our part to help clean the community, visit and learn about the community and host community events. Our school has really been working on living up to it’s name (Bon Accord Community School)
We are on a journey and we are fortunate the the middle school in our small town is also a Leader in Me School. Students are encouraged all along the way to be Leaders and develop their skills. Staff are working on developing their own leadership skills and growing with the students.
EVERYONE A LEARNER; EVERYONE A LEADER
One of the follow ups to Provincial Achievement Tests is the inevitable analysis of the data. Whether the results are good or bad, there are things that can be interpreted from the data. While I am not a fan of the Achievement Tests at all, I find they lead to some very important discussions. One of the likely quotes in those discussions is, “well, it was just that group of students!”. It is VERY easy to point to a group of kids and blame the results on them.
It is inevitable that each group has their own personality, and strengths. Anyone who has taught more than a year will not be able to disagree with that. Because each group is unique, they will no doubt have variances in their abilities in each outcome covered. And while it is true that we can point to the group and “blame’ them, I don’t agree that that should be our first line of thinking. Whenever we come across a student who has lagging skills or abilities in an area, we need to approach it as an opportunity to address the lagging skill.
When we see that our current class does not understand equality in Math, we need to change the approach we use to address that. What we are trying to do at our school, is take a team approach to those lagging skills in a group of students. That doesn’t mean we don’t still have people who blame the group, but we can answer them with, “What are we going to do about it?”
So, how can you address lagging skills? We like to rely on the resident experts. We have one teacher who is very well trained in math and was responsible for providing Division Professional Development a few years ago when the new curriculum in math came out. She does a stellar job in her own class in all areas, but is a math resource person for everyone. We also have some teachers who have specialized literacy or Special Ed training.
Not everyone is fully on board for a team approach, but to quote George Couros, “The smartest person in the room, is the room!” I firmly belive that and have been trying to lead using that philosophy ever since I heard it.
I’m currently on a break during our Provincial Curriculum Committee Meeting. I really like this group as we generally spend part of the time sitting with Alberta Education and talk about what direction we are headed and changes that need to be made.
One of the ideas that came forward today was that the #1 purpose of assessment is to understand and work with students to operate the classroom in a way that benefits students in that it informs teaching and learning decisions. Our approach to assessment, if we keep this definition in mind, doesn’t seem to make sense in light of current practice in Alberta. Assessing an individual student, or a group at the end of a year might inform teaching, but not in the way that benefits that student in a dynamic and powerful way.
There have been times where assessment has been used to compare students and classes, to filter students for future programs, motivate students, plan classroom and school programs, provide information to outside agencies, and other reasons. It could be argued that most reasons for assessment have value, and they probably do. We have to assess. It’s one of the important jobs we do.
No one would disagree that assessment is a necessary part of our job, but unless the assessment directly impacts the student assessed, I believe it is not serving its full and best purpose. There is some talk in Alberta to looking more towards testing the younger students at the beginning of the year because that would more directly drive the teaching in a way that impacts the students writing the test. This approach would inform the teacher about each student’s strengths and the areas of need. This type of assessment seems to be empowering, rather than based on looking for teacher or student skill gaps which can’t be easily addressed.
A lot of assessment though, can only occur at the ground level – Teachers, in the classroom, working with the students, observing and working with students daily to assess ability, diagnose need and measure progress. Teachers who have set goals with the students and provide their expert services to move the learning and skill development along. It would make sense, then, to focus the resources and time we have around the idea of assessing where it will have the most impact. Teachers already complain that they spend more time assessing than they do teaching. I know in some situations that that may not be far from the truth.
Let’s make assessment count. Make it about the student being assessed. Benchmarks at the beginning of the year serve a much clearer and pragmatic purpose than Provincial Achievement tests at the end of the year. Especially for the youngest students. Assessment can and does serve a variety of purposes, but none are as important as those that directly affect the one being assessed.
I came across a term recently that really got me thinking. The term is Academic Safety. We talk about Safe Schools, Safe and Caring Schools, Digital Safety, Safe and Inclusive Schools, Playground Safety, and the list goes on. There are expectations around the things we do at schools to keep students safe, but I feel there is often a piece missing. What are we doing to provide students with academic safety?
To me, the term means that we are setting the students up in an environment where there is no risk or danger involved in the academic tasks they are assigned to do. Some of the obvious things that one can consider about this kind of safety would be:
- Fear of Failure
- Fear of making mistakes
- Fear of judgement
- Fears around speaking out/having a voice
I am sure there are other things that could be on this list, but my point is, there are things that can make students feel like they are not safe to move forward academically. Students who are not able to concentrate at school because of home issues, issues around safety outside of school, and a myriad of other concerns. We need to be cognizant of the factors that are preventing students from being in an optimum situation for learning.
Schools need to be areas where the culture and expectations are first and foremost about ideal learning conditions for students. As School leaders we need to establish environments where staff are able to provide these conditions and students know that we want the best for them and are there as experts to help them learn. We always keep safety in mind, but personally I usually only think about the physical and emotional safety. Thinking about safety in ways to maximize learning is extremely vital. It’s part of the culture we need to have.
I have been struggling with the amount of trivial things that fill my days. If I could be doing things all the time that I feel directly impact students, I would feel like I have spent every day accomplishing something great. When I have to deal with staff issues, paperwork, financial decisions, meetings, organizing rooms for other meetings, and a myriad of other things, I tend to get a little frustrated.
I want to be working directly with the students or working on things that directly affect them. I need to know that the things happening in each class are best for students, and that conditions are optimum for teaching and learning. I want to be working with teachers to ensure that we are both aware of best practice and that I have a hand in making it happen.
I recently made the following entry in our January School Newsletter
I have had the ‘pleasure’ of helping my son complete grade 10 math by correspondence since September. He finished the course over the holidays and did quite well. It’s probably not how anyone imagines spending a large portion of their Christmas Break, but I was glad to see it through and get it done. There was time left over at the end of the break to do some relaxing and enjoy some free time. My son is of an age where spending time with his Dad isn’t always at the top of his list of things he wants to do. So, for me, even math is an opportunity to share time with him.
I hope that each of us took time over the break to connect with family. When opportunity presents itself, we have to take advantage of it. Our kids grow up fast, and we need to cherish the time we have together.
As teachers, we have your children for a good portion of the day. The time we get with them is different, yet valuable kind of time. We nurture many of the same things as you, like a love of learning, creativity, respect for each other and the environment. We seek to see them grow as individuals and as members of society. We want to see them grow to people who are independent of the assistance we willingly give as they are young. It is a great responsibility, and a very noble one as well.
Children are a valuable gift. I am glad to see my own growing up and becoming independent individuals. They may not go the direction we would choose for them, but that’s part of the process. We help them along and let them make choices. Then we stand back with our heart full of emotion and our mind full of memories.
Today, after a few days of this I was checking our School FaceBook page and was very pleased with a parent comment regarding my entry in the school newsletter. The parent expressed gratitude for the work we do at the school and that her oldest child attended the school now and looked forward to her younger children attending as well.
It seems we don’t often get a pat on the back for the hard work that we do. For me it is a good reminder that people notice that we care and that we are doing the best job we can. Much of what I do does take up time, and it takes away from the great things that I would like to be doing. There are things I wish I didn’t have to do and don’t always see the value in. But, what I do is important for the students and for the school. I am sure I will continue to be frustrated by the administrivia, but we are doing a great job.
We are making a difference.