Recently I was on a bus trip to a soccer tournament with a boisterous group of grade 4, 5 and 6 students. The bus was buzzing with the chatter of kids full of excitement as we rattled down the rough Saskatchewan back roads. If you know Saskatchewan you know that the flat prairie allows you to look out for what seems forever. As we drove along we saw smoke rising in the distance, a common sight in Saskatchewan this time of year, as some farmers take to burning the stubble left on their fields after they are finished their harvest. The grade six teacher and I began commenting on the fire which caught the attention of a student sitting behind us. He noted that his dad burns his fields and that on the weekend prior to this trip he had been helping his father. The grade six teacher asked, "how do you keep your fire from getting away on you? Aren't you afraid you'll burn up your neighbor's field?" The boy responded in a way that only a farm kid could when trying to explain things to a couple city boys such as the teacher and myself (I didn't have the heart to tell him I grew up in a farming community). He spoke slowly and explained every detail clearly and carefully.
What was interesting was that in that moment this grade six boy was the teacher and we were the students. We were curious about something and he used his expertise to explain to us how he and his father contained their burns.
I thought about this conversation for a while and started wondering:
I thought about an art class I observed last year where I saw this in action. The students were all working on the same sort of art project that involved creating a template and spray painting on a small 10" x 14" canvas. Their creations were amazing, and some of the students who were traditionally reluctant to take part in art class were turning out pieces of work that they were truly proud of. After the class I had a chance to sit with the teacher and ask where he discovered this idea. I was fully expecting him to tell me about an art class he once took or how the idea came from a colleague or from the teachers' new best resource, Pintrest. When he told me where the idea really came from, I was so excited. He said, "no, this wasn't my idea, it was Jason's (pseudonym). He was working on this and the other kids thought it was awesome, so I let him teach them how to do it".
This is what it's all about. Allowing children to feel important and valued. Giving students the chance to have their voices heard rather than asking them to sit passively in class while we, the experts, are the ones holding all the knowledge. This is the important stuff.
How have you seen this in action? As a teacher do you know your students well enough to know where they can lead? As an administrator do you know your staff well enough where they can lead?
As always, thoughts and comments are welcome.
Like any good Canadian, I've grown up playing, watching, coaching, officiating and basically just loving hockey! I was never very good at the game, but managed to find a few recreational teams that would put up with my plodding ways and stray passes. It has been quite a few years since I laced up the skates, and while I do miss it, I realize at this point in my life my hockey days are long behind me. This week was the start of the NHL regular season, and much to my wife's dismay, I found myself glued to the TV watching teams start the season full of hope in their quest to be better than last year. Regardless of where teams finished at the end of last season they all took stock of where they performed well and in what areas they needed improvement. All the teams, even the champions, have a few different players wearing their colours this year and these additions will have to quickly learn the system under which the team plays.
While watching the games I was struck by the similarities between the start of a school year and the start of a hockey season, even if our "training camp" is only a few days at the end of August. Just like hockey teams, good schools look at their statistics, their data, from the previous year. When schools see great results they should ask, "how can we build on what we accomplished last year?" Similarly, when schools identify areas where they were lacking they must ask, "how do we begin to address this?"
NHL teams are beginning to venture into the world of analytics, using advances statistics to identify where their needs are. Schools have been doing this for a long time, collecting data on reading, writing, mathematics, student engagement, etc. By doing this schools can set goals and teachers and students can work together to build on the great things and address the areas of need. The end of August and the beginning of September bring a great deal of enthusiasm and optimism for the year ahead. Plans are in place and teachers are ready to start the onerous, yet rewarding task of helping the students get to a place where they themselves were doubtful they could get to.
But then October fades from the calendar and the short days of winter appear on the horizon. Students and teachers have settled into routines and there is a definite lull in the momentum that was present to start the year. How do we keep this momentum going? How do we as leaders avoid falling into a rut and as a result, failing our teachers when they need us to keep them keep the enthusiasm at the fore?
Some simple, yet effective things I do as a learning leader are:
These are just a few of the things I do as a learning leader in my building. There are many other ways to keep the momentum up in a school, and as always, I'd love to hear any and all suggestions and ideas.
Every morning I make the same commute to work; a 25 minute drive on a road with no curves, no hills, and very little to look at. Any of you from Saskatchewan can likely relate to such a route so you know how a person can go on auto pilot from time to time. While the drive can be quite mundane, it does give me time to get mentally ready for the day and run through my to-do list. The drive is the same every morning, a cup of coffee, a little light traffic and some good music on my XM radio.
Thursday morning was a reminder that some days you just never know what you are going to see. I was about half way to work when I noticed a car on the shoulder of the road. Cars on the side of the road are not a strange sight, but when the occupants are out on the road something is usually up. As I approached them I slowed down, out of safety and curiosity, and was able to see what it is they were looking at. In the freshly combined wheat field, against a backdrop of trees covered in their autumn colors, was a huge moose. The big animal slowly sauntered along, seemingly unaware of the people watching her and the cars whizzing by on the highway. Maybe she was on her morning commute?
I started to wonder about how many other times that moose may had been out in the field and I never noticed her. What else have I just zoomed by without even seeing it? Obviously a person needs to keep an eye on where they are heading, but how many times have I had tunnel vision on that highway?
As you know this blog is about things I have learned as they relate to education and leadership, and you've likely already drawn a thread between my experience and my school.
Sometimes we can get so immersed in our own world at work that we get tunnel vision. How many great things have I walked by at work? How many students have I not engaged with because I've been focusing on my own needs? Everyday my kids are doing amazing things at school, and even though I do need to keep an eye on where I am heading each day, I also need to keep my eyes open for the greatness that is around me.
I'm not going to notice everything that is going on around me all the time, sometimes I need that "car on the shoulder" to grab my attention. That being said, I do need to be aware of how tunnel vision can not only occur on the highway, it can occur at work.
Do you ever get tunnel vision in your life? How do you stay aware of all the greatness that is around you?
As always, comments are welcome.