How often do you tell your school's story to other people? How often have you thought about what your school's story is? Last week I had an opportunity to take part in a walk-and-talk with a new board member who came to visit our school (#WaldheimSchool). We had a brief conversation, introducing ourselves to each other, and sharing some of our background, all the while I could tell she really wanted to get around to the tour, as did I.
As we began walking the halls I started talking about the learning that was occurring and the hard work that had lead up to this point where we feel all of our students have a voice and are feeling challenged in their studies and valued as individuals. One of the great things of this visit was that it forced me to stop and engage with things I might otherwise walk right by on a daily basis. Things like the lay out of the library, which was front and center in my thinking at the start of the year and is now on track to reflect the vision we have for it. Things like the way our teachers are adopting flexible environments, something I was so focused on, but is now "just how we do things". Things like our ever-evolving PAA programs where students are not only allowed, but encouraged to pursue their passions when creating projects. These things are now part of the normal day to day at #WaldheimSchool, but this visit was a great reminder of the amazing things that happen at on a daily basis.
I have always believed that at the core of any great school are great people, and it is my duty to remind these people that what they are doing does make a difference. That their endless dedication to our school is having an impact. This learning walk reminded me I need to do that. Today! As you walk your halls next week, take a moment to notice those things you've walked by on a regular basis, and just think about it's importance in your school's story. If someone needs to be reminded they are doing a great job, do it! If someone needs a pat on the back, give it! If someone needs to be asked a question, ask it! We have the power as leaders to impact so many, sometimes it's just a matter of remembering that.
Thanks for reading!
I'm so fortunate to work at a school with so many master teachers, from the amazing Kindergarten teachers to a senior shop teacher who has his students creating projects that are so unique he is known across Canada in certain circles. From primary specialists to spec ed teachers that amaze me everyday, it's like I've won the principal's lottery! As an administrator I'm able to reap the rewards of these amazing professionals as many of my conversations with parents and community members revolve around the great things going on at #WaldheimSchool. The very best part of my job is the time I get to spend in classrooms with students and teachers, learning along side them, often times being stumped as I was today. In the senior physics class the students were discussing why sunlight does not appear to be refracted by the atmosphere as it arrives to the earth. As they were discussing Snell's law in their small groups I was struck by the realization that I had never thought about this before, and I consider myself a pretty curious guy.
One of the things I pride myself on as a learning leader in our building is spending so much time in the halls and in the classrooms. I really believe that an effective principal must be a visible, curious principal. That being said, one thing I must confess is that I do find myself intimidated by the thought of having to ask reflective questions to those master teachers. As a new principal I want to be sure I'm helping all teachers move forward with their learning, not just a few. A situation like this presented itself this week as I had an opportunity to be part of a group of administrators to visit a master grade one teacher in Rosthern and observe her working with her students during their reader's workshop. While I was blown away with her lesson and the seamless way she weaved curricular outcomes with rigorous, relevant work, I struggled as I thought about what I could offer her as an administrator. As we spoke later I thanked her for allowing me to be a part of the learning opportunity and asked her a couple of questions about her planning and about her growth as a teacher. Unsure if this was really as helpful as I wanted, I asked her, "as a master teacher, what would you like from your administrator?" She responded politely, letting me know that what she really wanted was for administrators to support teachers who are taking risks, to be curious, to be in the room, and to ask them what they need.
Her advice reminded me of an article by Ben Johnson titled, A Teacher Perspective: Advice for Principals. His article is full of great advice for administrators, however what I found as the over-arching theme was the need for clear, honest communication. This experience has reminded me how important it is to be out and about in my school, and as I continue to visit classrooms I'll keep pushing myself to have those conversations with our master teachers, not to tell them what they don't know, but to ask them what they need. I'll visit, not because I know what would make their lessons better, but because I'm curious about what they have done to make their lessons better than the last one. And I'll visit, not because it's easy, but because it's the important work.
If you have any advice for a new principal who still struggles with feeling comfortable with learning conversations with master teachers, please share it below. If you have felt like this too, please share advice as well.
Thanks for reading!
In an interview (view here), Jerry Seinfeld, one of my all time favorites, talked about how he crafts a joke, and the importance of figuring out what is going to get his top two laughs. He talked about starting with his second best bit and finishing with his very best, obviously he wanted his audience to walk out of his performance energized and talking about how great the show was, all in an effort to get them back into seats in the future. When I think about how quickly our school year is coming to a close, I wonder how we are going to end, and how our audience, the students, will walk out of school. I know how strong we started this year, I was amazed at the work that was going on in your rooms in September in an effort to get the students on board with the learning. I knew early on that Waldheim School was going to be a great fit and that I was going to really enjoy working with everyone.
Fast forward to today, the day before returning to work after our Easter break. I have no doubt we are all tired and can all see the finish line. The days are getting longer and surely I’m not the only one whose thoughts are turning towards those favorite summer pastimes. So how do you finish strong? What do you do in May and June that leaves the students thinking, “I never want to leave this class!”? I have been thinking about this from the perspective of the office. What do I do in May and June that leaves the staff feeling, “I can’t believe how much I’ve grown as an adult learner this year! I can’t wait for September to start putting this to use!”?
Something that we have discussed this year is how to shift how we teach our math classes to a more student-centered approach. I know I say this all the time, but I think the best examples of how to teach in a student-centered environment occur in the industrial arts shop and in the home ec lab. This does not mean that what is happening in other rooms is not student-centered, far from it in fact, rather it is a reflection of the area of study and the beliefs that Glen, Marla, and Krisinda have towards student learning. I can probably count on one hand the amount of times I’ve seen kids sitting and taking notes in either lab, it is very rare (not a cooking pun). Rather, what I see are groups of kids working together to create things like sushi, soft pretzels, designer cakes, blankets, tote bags, guitars, skate boards, crokinole tables, running engines, jewelry, and many, many other cool things. When I used to teach senior math I recall feeling so sorry for the students as they politely worked their way through my boring lessons. I was teaching the way I was taught, and I thought it was the only way. I’ve included a learning link today that talks about 3 things you can do right away in your math class to help foster engagement, maybe this is the thing that gets kids saying, “I never want to leave this class!” I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.