One of the goals in my professional growth plan this year is to improve my own skills in gathering data to guide decision making. Teachers know this, and are hopefully prepared for a small (hopefully) onslaught of data gathering opportunities.
In the last year, we have worked to help develop a sense of trust between staff and administration and between teaching staff members. Traditionally one piece of our classroom support has involved a literacy support teacher being available to help out in a classroom or do small group pull out. Our current teacher will be going out on a maternity leave in less than a month, so we decided to set up that support in a different way. The teacher has been made available on a ‘sign out’ basis to offer a wider variety of supports. Things like:
- Meeting with teachers to discuss students who might need extra support
- Covering a class to allow a teacher to work one-on-one with a student
- Covering a class to allow a teacher to observe another teacher’s’ classroom
- Work with new students to assess their literacy level or cover the class to allow the teacher to do the same.
- And probably a few more ideas we didn’t think of.
We’ve been doing this for a couple of weeks, and I knew that there were a few people who have taken advantage of #3. We have made an assumption that this would be a great opportunity to have teachers see some of the great things that are going on. In addition we have a teacher who is a master at integrating innovative technology ideas into her classroom and have set up two blocks per week where teachers can access her skills in the classroom.
I decided to send out a very short google form that basically asked three questions:
- I have accessed, or plan to access, the Support Teacher’s time to observe in another class
- I would feel comfortable having a colleague observe the great things I am doing in my class
- I have accessed or will access technology expertise in my class
So, here’s the interesting results so far
- The vast majority of people are willing to access the technology expertise in their class
- The vast majority of people are willing to have a colleague observe in their class
- The majority of people do NOT plan on using the time to observe in another class
So, it would appear that teachers are more than willing to have people observe in their class, but are, for whatever reason, less willing to go to another teacher’s class to observe what is going on. Could it be having to plan for someone to cover their class? Fear of being viewed as ‘needing help’? Not seeing the value in a classroom visit?
There is one thing for certain here. Data can lead to a lot more questions than answers! Now I have more research to do!!!
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.
Well, it’s the last hour of the last day of school before the break. Some classes are watching movies, some are in the gym, some students didn’t come today. We’ve done some caroling together, we finished our concert last night (to rave reviews) and some of the decorations are being taken down.
Energy was very high at the concert. Parents are talking about it on Facebook. The concert was relatively simple, but fun and engaging. We always do a great job.
Today, even though everyone is busy keeping students occupied, and getting things done. The energy is waning. It’s been very busy and lots of learning has happened since September. But, as anyone who is involved in education knows, we run on full tilt and then as a break approaches, we breathe a sigh and crash for a while.
To all my educator friends and followers, Have a great break and come back energized in the New Year!
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.
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 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 will be presenting about Blogging, and to some degree Twitter at our January 31st PD Day. A panel of teachers from Sturgeon will be talking about Social Media in the schools. I am glad to see this session being offered, and am excited to be able to be presenting what I have learned so far about Twitter and Blogging. I thought as a lead up to that presentation, I would try to start formulating my thoughts around the value of the blog as an administrative and teaching tool.
I have had a few different blogs over the years, but I find this one, which I use for personal reflection and as my professional growth plan to be the most effective and empowering iteration. I enjoy the opportunity to share what is going on professionally with the opportunity for others to question, provide feedback, provide encouragement, and hopefully move others forward as well.
I definitely owe a lot of the progress I have made in the social media direction to Twitter. It was Twitter that connected me with leaders who are at some point of the same journey as myself. We are seeking to move forward in a world that is changing quickly and causing us to respond in the way we see as the most appropriate. Twitter connected me with the Leadership20 webinar series that motivated me to start this blog.
Blogging forces me to think clearly about what I am doing to make change happen. That alone is very important, but when people I work with read it, It leads to great discussions about leadership and change. Discussions about leadership styles and role of the leader and the follower in moving an organization forward. Blogging allows for and encourages reflective thinking in the writer and the reader
Putting your thoughts on an open platform is powerful and risky. Some of the responses cause me to question the reasons why I write what I do, some cause me to think further about what I have communicated, and some cause me to totally change my mind. I love having discussions; not debates, because that’s about winning and losing. If my thoughts, which I have put out there for the world to see, cause anyone else to think about their practice, or help them to question mine, that is a great thing.
Using a blog as a portfolio of your professional growth is an incredible tool. Placing your proof of growth and change on a public venue really makes one take responsibility for their own development in a way a file in a desk drawer that isn’t visible can do.
One byproduct of blogging is that it shows the value I place on using tools that connect me with current 21st Century (although I dislike that term) tools. Blogging can be used in many different ways in the school and in the classroom. I have a few teachers using a blog to communicate with parents about what is going on in class, but they are also being used as lesson planning tools, sub planning tools, and tools to connect with other classrooms around the world.
These are just my initial thoughts around blogging and what I might present on January 31st, I don’t have a lot of time allotted, but want to get the idea across that blogging is a great tool for teachers and administrators to use.