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!
I was asked to participate in a Discovery Education Ignite event last week. The way it works is you prepare 20 slides and plan to speak on each one for 15 seconds. I decided to present on the idea of helping every student find their passion by bringing back an environment that allows for play/discovery built into the day. My slides didn’t necessarily line up with the talk, but I used a number of slides of students working in our makerspace area and completing projects, completing guided math and reading, etc. that showcased a lot of things we do. The last half of the slides were some of the pictures I’ve taken personally that compare the development of my own passion for photography with the developement of students’ passion.
Helping students pursue their passion
Hi everyone, I’m going to be talking about helping students find and hopefully develop their passion, and how my own late-in-life discovery of my passion has helped my thinking on this topic. I stumbled into photography about 9 years ago and it was actually crappy photos like these first two that got me thinking about wanting to improve something that had only been a passing interest. The second half of the slides I’m sharing with you will hopefully show you an improvement in the pursuit of my passion.
We probably don’t need expensive tools or gadgets and neither do our students. We have no way of knowing what that spark that ignites their passion will be. Our schools haven’t traditionally been places where we seek to inspire our students. We’ve provided them with information and hoped they would figure out what appealed to them in the mounds of information we shared with them, and often not caring if they were even interested in what we had to say.
We need to start by setting up environments that encourage students to discover and to play and to feel like they can make mistakes. It’s not likely that one would pursue a passion if they feel they aren’t allowed the freedom to make mistakes. The environments we provide have to allow for out of focus photos that seem to have some tiny bit of potential.
Kids love to play and we know they learn by playing. However, a heavy curriculum has helped take away this important focus, and only recently have we seen a resurgence in the promotion of play and creativity in the programs we offer.
So what happens when we let students play and discover? They might just display some talent in areas you, or their peers, or even THEY didn’t know they had. They may find out that they can improve skills with their own efforts. Sometimes early on, you can tell that there’s a spark of something that will improve with encouragement and nurturing and the occasional nudge in the right direction.
Sometimes you have to seek out that spark of talent hidden there. One of the innovative thing that’s catching on is the idea of Genius Hour in the classroom. In my school, there are a few classrooms doing this. Teachers provide opportunities for students to be creative, sometimes the students bring in things of their own, and often the teacher sets out many opportunities for students to dabble in creative activities that help them to discover.
As we embrace our passions we find that we’ve moved past the tools we start with. We buy an improved camera that helps us to increase our skill and do things we couldn’t do before.
In schools we have to rethink the tools we use and the tools we provide to the students. We allow students to learn from other students and to teach other students. We set up makerspaces that focus on discovery, collaboration and problem solving
We allow students to share their creations and ask each other questions.
Teachers are also changing the way they set up their classrooms, the way they deliver curriculum and the way they interact. Programs like guided reading and guided math, increase the one on one time we have with students and allow for increased group work and cooperation. Celebrating student interests through events like Identity Days help students to connect and share with each other.
So, after a while you start seeing improvement. An interest becomes a talent and a talent becomes a passion. Where would this start if we don’t provide opportunity for it? Some students will discover their passions in sport, some in art, some in dance, some in engineering, you just don’t know what it will be. Undeniably, demographics can dictate the exposure students have to opportunities. But those of us who teach in schools where we have many students who aren’t garnered a lot of opportunities know that if we don’t provide the spaces and places, they may not happen.
So here we are. A school administrator with more than a few grey hairs, and a love for seeing students learn and grow. I’m on my fifth camera since picking up my little point and shoot and discovered I like to try to capture the world around me. Those first photos were not great. Partly due to the tools I had at my disposal, but mostly due to my lack of understanding of things like exposure, shutter speed, focal length, the all important factors involved in lighting and not knowing what even a simple camera was capable of doing.
I got a bit of encouragement, positive feedback, and started to pursue this area with no mind to do much more than post some not bad photos on FaceBook. I’ve now had photos appear in calendars, won a few contests, and now I get paid to take photos of people and places and share my passion with more than just those people who’ve stuck with me on FaceBook and Instagram.
I was at a photo shoot for Heroes Magazine a few weeks ago at the Edmonton Clinic, and interestingly I was photographing the use of robotics in the rehabilitation of children. The idea of using play, discovery, and problem solving aren’t unique to education and can do way more than help them to find their passion. But I think we are all remiss if we aren’t trying to answer the question posed here. What are we doing to help every student find their passion?
The Sturgeon School Division Admin group is meeting in PLC groups we have formed. Most schools are working in small groups with other admin teams on topics they have chosen. In my case my VP and I are working together in our own PLC to address the learning that is currently going on in our school; which has many of our staff are working in PLCs that focus on increasing student understanding by using a guided math focus.
PLCs at Landing Trail have been challenged to look for evidence of improved student learning as they progress through their own PLCs, and to reflect on what is working and what isn’t. PLCs at the schools meet at least once a month at days set aside for staff meetings and Professional Development at the schools. We consider one of the most important PD activities we do to be the work we complete in our PLCs.
We have had many conversations with staff already about the role of gathering data in our practice to help inform us about what we are doing and what changes we may need to make. Staff are now walking into my office to show me data that would speak to the fact that student learning is being impacted. It is becoming part of the conversations that we have.
This morning at Admin PD time, I was able to consider how we as admin collect the data we decided we need to obtain. There are many things we have put in place already because we have turned to being a data informed school in all areas. There is a lot of data that has been gathered and there are protocols set in place to continue gathering data as we move along. There are a few areas that we have to consider if we want to ensure we are getting data from all sources. Are we sure we have student voice in our data sources? What’s the best way to make sure we are cognizant of the parent feedback in the gathering of data?
We will have opportunity to present our story and journey at an April admin council meeting, and I am excited about that. We have done a lot of impactful things already, and I look forward to the great things that we will continue to encounter as we continue on this journey forward.
We are in the process of determining staff assignments for next year. Part of the puzzle is always fitting in the part time people and adjusting for people on leave or retirement. As I am in a bigger school this year, there are even more pieces of the puzzle to fit in. It’s challenging, and with all the components, something that is taking a long time to sort out. I think I have it figured out and I either change my mind on something, or someone’s situation changes. I do enjoy the opportunity to be creative and think about ways of solving the ‘problem’.
So much of what we do requires that we be in creative mode. This is a job where there are many rules and policies that guide our decision making, but there are still plenty of opportunities to approach issues in different ways.
I know school administration is just one of many careers that require this kind of creative mindset. So many careers involve creativity of some kind. In many ways, that’s what separates a job from a career. I believe that that is one of the things we need to keep in mind as we move our students forward and prepare them for their adult lives and careers.
In Alberta we have the 3 Es for our students – Engaged Learners who are Ethical citizens with an Entrepreneurial Spirit. I can’t think of a way to engage students to be entrepreneurs without infusing creativity into the expectations we have for them. We need to set up our ‘classroom’ environments in such a way as to encourage creativity. Students need to be discoverers. They need opportunity to explore their world and have a chance to think about things in different ways. They need to ask questions and find answers to them on their own.
I love many of the things that are going on in education – Inquiry Based learning, MakerSpaces, Learning Commons, etc. All of these are opening the doors to new ways of thinking about learning and ways that we acquire knowledge.
I look forward to working to ensure this happens. I know it’ll require some creativity on my part to see it through!
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.
I can’t believe how busy it has been lately! I haven’t posted a blog in a long time. And to be honest, I think about it almost every day. I have set aside some time this morning to do just that!
I have been reflecting on the concept of respect lately and what that means to a leader. To a manager, it might simply mean, that people do as they’re told. I think it means a lot more to a leader. As part of my effort to put my ruminations down on ‘paper’, I’ve come up with a list of ways leaders show respect to those they work with.
- Two sided – Respect is two sided. It is a process that happens between people and although there is a need for self respect as part of the big picture, the kind of respect that takes place in schools has to be between admin and the staff; and it has to go both ways.
- Trust – One of the major components of a respectful, well functioning school environment (or any environment, for that matter) is the element of trust. Good relationships have to be built on trust. Micromanagers, Top Down leaders and ineffective leaders all lack the respect for their team to either listen or follow through.
- Listening/take advice – as mentioned in the previous item, respect is demonstrated by listening to the team and following through on what you say you are going to do. It’s been said that “the smartest person in the room is the room”; and ever since I heard this from George Couros, it has stuck with me. By getting a group of educators together to work through a problem, you know you’re going to get some good ideas.
- Take time to think – We need to avoid making any quick decisions, without taking the time to mindfully consider all sides. We show respect by ensuring that what decisions we make are thought through. People will respect a decision that they may not agree with, as long as they know that it is well thought out, and all sides have been considered.
- Honour – take time to honour those around you. When I was a VP I was told that any news article or publication celebrating the school or one of its programs has to mention the principal. I didn’t feel right about it at the time, and now as a principal I have to totally disagree. A principal needs to honour their team enough to allow the spotlight to shine where it needs to, and to step back out of the spotlight whenever necessary.
- High standards – I show respect to the school, its constituents and the staff by making the tough decisions when necessary. If that means changing a program or getting rid of an ineffective member, I have to do it. It’s vital that I show respect for the overall effectiveness of the school and its staff.
Respect… Trust… Honour
It’s the people that make the school a great place. Respect them!
Over the last few years, in addition to lots of other great things, we’ve developed a new mission and vision. This has helped move me to spend considerable time thinking about how to implement both my own vision and our school vision. A necessary part of the process is putting systems in place to make that happen. I decided near the end of the last school year that the way we utilized our staff teams at school just wasn’t working. We now have a:
- School Leadership Team
- Lighthouse Team
- Seven Habits Certification Team
- Staff Wellness Team
The first three teams have been in place for the last two years, and the school leadership team has been around for quite a while. The wellness team is new this year.
I knew that the teams weren’t necessarily doing all that they could to make our school function more efficiently and have the best overall benefit for students, staff and community. I made a change in two ways. Firstly I changed the composition of each of the teams. The second change was around the role of each team.
The Leadership team is now composed of The school admin, counselor and anyone on staff involved in the Divisional Leadership cohort or is working on their Master’s Degree. I also added a support staff member to allow room for that voice in our decision making. This team added the task of planning our school based PD activities. Our division is allowing school control of PD for both professional and support staff to a much higher degree. While we are glad to have this control, we decided that the process must be undertaken carefully and with a mind to benefit us in the greatest way possible. Our team continues to work on its roles in
Leadership as well PD Planning and implementation. We will refine our process and skill in this area.
Both the Lighthouse and Certification teams are directly tied to the Seven Habits Program we are part of. We have worked together with our sister school, (Lilian Schick School) where we send our grade 4 students to for grades 5 – 9. The teams work to implement the program in our schools and train our new staff and parents about the program. Changes made in these teams have resulted in a clarity of what each team needs to do, as well as tasking them with keeping the program moving forward. These roles too, are still being developed, and the need for establishing clear goals continues to be a focus.
The Wellness team is new this year. We all know that there is stress in our job and being mindful of that, I decided it was important to have a committee specifically designated to “address the stress”. We try to have a monthly activity in which whoever can attend is welcome. Putting a committee like this together demonstrates the value in staff relationships and collegiality.
Being mindful in putting together teams that move the school in a desired direction was, in my opinion, a good idea. We are making progress. We are moving forward.