One of the many great things about my job as a vice-principal is that I get to split my time between teaching and administration duties. One of the classes I work with is the grade 9 math class, and today we had a really great conversation....just not about math!
Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels talk about the natural curiosity of students but how we are missing an opportunity to get them to think deeply. They write, "throughout their school lives, [students] have more often been asked to report what they have learned, not to reflect back, examine their own thinking, and pose further questions." Today, I thought I'd ask some questions, not for assessment, but just to get the wheels turning. When they were all done the work they needed to do for the time being, and given it was a Friday, I started jotting questions on sticky notes and setting them on desks. Questions like,
This got me thinking about the staff at our school. What sticky note questions could I ask them at lunch or just on their door in the morning? What would you ask your teachers? Or your supervisors?
Maybe questions like,
Sometimes I hear people complain that students "can't think for themselves" or they just too "self centered", but then I wonder, are we just asking the wrong questions?
As always, comments are welcome.
Have you ever had a great idea about how to improve your classroom practice or how you perform your duties as an administrator, and then "shelved" it for fear of having the idea rejected by the decision makers? In George Couros' (@gcouros) book, The Innovator's Mindset, he talks about the power of "no" versus a culture of "yes". He writes, the problem is that when you say "no" to innovation - for any reason - people feel reluctant to attempt trying new things in the future. No one wants to work in an environment where they feel their ideas or input does not matter, whether they are a teacher in a school or an administrator in a school division. This thinking also applies to students as well. Why would a student take a risk if there is a culture of "no" in their classroom?
Stop and think for a moment about the school you are in right now. Is there a culture of risk taking? If not, how can you start planting the seeds for growth?
This morning I had the privilege of speaking with an innovative grade 7 teacher (@SalzlJackie) about assessment, progress reports, tests, and just what it is we are doing to allow students to "show what they know". This was a great conversation because a lot of it was Jackie talking about what she wants to try next year and how she is going to start gathering resources as she builds towards this. When she left the office I had to smile because there has been a culture of "yes" established at our school. Does this mean everyone is taking risks all the time? No, but people who are risk takers are also those who create ripples, and those ripples effect others in the building.
What would the ripple effect have been had I said, "no, forget it"?
As always, comments are welcome!
One of the perks of being an in-school administrator is the time I have for watching teachers teach and learners learn. This semester we have a terrific intern working with our senior humanities teacher, and yesterday along with grade 3 and grade 5, grade 10 history was on my rotation so I was able to spend some time with him. As I watched I noted many great attributes this intern brings to the classroom, from strong planning, to engaging teacher talk time, to a real connection with the students, however the one thing I could not see was his ability to reflect (obviously!). The questions I left him with to ponder are listed below, they were sent to him in an e-mail:
Some questions for you from my period 5 visit:
What will [the cooperating teacher] learn because he was in the room with you?
These are meant to be reflective, but if you want to talk about them I'd love to hear your thoughts, but I'll leave that up to you :)
What was so impressive was the depth of his reflection, and there is no way I could have identified this without being in his room.
Baruti Kafele, @PrincipalKafele.com, notes in The Principal 50 that, "you cannot lead from the main office. Reading e-mails and interacting with office staff have their place, but not during instructional time. During that time, your place is in the classroom, observing instruction." It is easy to fall in the trap of doing the managerial things that are always present, but one thing I've learned is that the managerial things will still be there at the end of the day....the kids won't be!
If you are not around the learning, how will you know there is learning?
As always, comments are invited.
Another example today of why you need to greet each morning with an optimism and belief that something wonderful might just be around the corner. Today was just that kind of a day for me as I had a surprising connection that I could have never had anticipated. Like many of you reading my blog, you likely get Twitter notifications on your mobile device, and if you are like me, sometimes you open them right away, other times you wait. Today as I was preparing for a book club I'm in (The Innovator's Mindset, by @gcouros) my android buzzed away at notifications as they came in. I took a moment and paused seeing that a former student had just followed me on Twitter. This was not what caught my attention though, it was how she identified herself that made me take notice. I opened her Twitter page and saw that she was just finishing up her education degree at the University of Regina, and was getting ready to embark on what I always call the greatest career possible. I congratulated her on choosing this path, and that's when she said something I was not expecting to hear when I woke up this morning. She wrote, to be honest, you played a large role in this. I hated high school. Your class was the only one that I enjoyed going to. I want to make sure other Middle Years students have a positive experience in school. I was very humbled.
Now, some might view this post as a platform for me to boast or pat myself on the back, but that's not what this is about. There are many of these stories, stories of teachers inspiring students to go on to do great things, but this post is about how her words made me feel. I was proud of the impact I had on this student's life, but was completely unaware that any thing I had said or done had this affect. It made me wonder about all the other students who have made career choices because of a certain teacher. I wonder how many of these people have reached out to that teacher to let them know.
Do you have that person in your life that has impacted you? Have you told them about the way they helped shape who you are today? It does not take long to drop a line to someone to say "thanks for what you did for me". Take the time and do it today.
As always, comments are welcome.
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.
The 2013-2014 school year is now complete. Report cards have been sent out, financial statements have been completed, ordering has been done and our caretakers are now busy at work cleaning up the building after a busy year. To reflect on everything that happened would be too daunting, however I would be remiss if I did not have a final post to sum up the year. After all, the in tent of this blog is to provide a platform for me to reflect, and what better time to reflect than at the end of the year. So, with that in mind, here are my top 10 highlights from the year that was.
10. Not only surviving, but thriving in my new classes: This year I had to teach grade 1 math and grade 10 information processing. Both of these classes were new to me, and in September '13 I was very nervous about how these would go. Overall I was quite happy with the learning that occurred in these classes, the students were engaged and I could see their skills grow during the year. I learned a lot as well, and next year will apply this to IP10 as I am not teaching grade 1 math again.
9. My role in the music pilot: This year our school agreed to pilot a music program that focused on integrating music into other classes. My role as a leader was to work with the division support person and our teachers to bring this to fruition. While there were some exciting developments along the way, overall I would not say this was a resounding success. What this does mean is that there is a tremendous opportunity for us next year as we can look to improve on this endeavor.
8. Learning for Life presentation: Every May all of the schools in our division come together over the course of 4 weeks to share their learning stories from the past year. This year we talked about our work in the area of reading intervention, student engagement, and our graduation rates. My admin partner and I spent the year crafting our presentation and, even though we presented on a Friday afternoon, I felt the information we shared was accurate, informative and conclusive.
7. Leadership outside of the school: This year I was able to lead outside of my school in a few different areas. I continued to serve as the liaison between our school division and the Sask School Based Leaders association. Along with this I sat on a committee with the STF as we updated the current version of the new teacher handbook. Finally, I took over as the social coordinator for our division administrative team, which required me to organize a year end golf tournament and retirement banquet for 100 administrators in our division. The event went off very well, and I was pleased with the feedback from my colleagues.
6. Supporting independent learning: This year I was given the opportunity to teach Life Transitions 20 and 30, and after the first semester it was clear the students were not engaging in the content. I took a chance and turned the learning over to them, creating an Independent Learning Project where each student was required to learn what they wanted to learn. There were some students who could not wrap their head around this approach while there were others who flourished. Evidence is available here: Learning What I Want!
5. Engaging in learning conversations: This year, more than ever, I had the opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations with my colleagues about a multitude of different educational topics. Some of the conversations were easy as our views were congruent, however there were times when our philosophies clashed. In the end these conversations always focused on student learning, so comfortable or not, they were necessary and productive.
4. Creating a division web site to support my colleagues: Our school was part of an assessment pilot project where we moved away from traditional percentage based reporting to criterion referenced reporting. Essentially we have done away with percentages and are now focusing on providing timely and meaningful feedback to parents through well crafted comments that speak to a child's strengths, areas for improvement, and plans for getting them there. As we were one of 5 schools in our division of 44 schools taking part in this assessment residency I felt there needed to be a place we could collate our efforts. To achieve this I created a web site that is built by teachers, for teachers. Have a look: Earning to Learning.
3. Convocation from the U of C: In the spring of 2013 I finished my Masters of Education degree from the University of Calgary. In November of 2013 I attended my convocation. This was important to me because all of my learning in this course occurred online and going to the University and meeting my fellow students made it all the more real. For a person who didn't believe going to post secondary school was a reality, earning my masters degree was a big deal!
2. Guiding the ship home: This June was a tumultuous one that saw my admin partner and school principal have to leave early for the year to get a major surgery completed. This left me in the position of sole administrator in our school. There have been many times when I have been the only administrator in my school, however this situation was different because all of the responsibilities of the principal now rested on my shoulders. What was to follow was two of the most hectic weeks I have ever known as situations that were completely out of the norm began to occur. All of these occurrences were a real test for me, and I'm happy at how the year concluded.
1. This Blog! Creating and maintaining this blog has been a wonderful experience. It has allowed me to reflect openly on what has been happening in my professional life and hopefully has been "food for thought" for you. I have really enjoyed this endeavor and look forward to picking up with it in the fall.
Until then, as always, comments are welcome!