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!
I've always marveled at those leaders who seem to run things with such efficiency and confidence and do so with seemingly no effort. They have an air about them of being calm, collected and in control. To some, their attitude towards what others deem a crisis may seem flippant, but upon closer inspection it is simply grace under fire. I have always wondered what it took to be such a leader. A leader who, when all others begin to panic, remains calm and knows how to work the problem towards a solution.
The past two weeks have been a test for me, as it seems that anything that could happen did...and then some! When I stop and reflect on all of the things that have gone on since early June I'm surprised I'm still sane! I will not go into detail over what has happened as much of it is confidential, and really not relevant to what I am speaking to in this blog. Just trust me when I say it's been a full fortnight! So while things around me seemed to be getting chaotic I learned my most valuable lesson in leadership, use your team!
I am blessed to be working with so many great teachers whose main focus is student success. These people understand what it means to do a good job and they make sure to do a great one! During these past two weeks, when things have been less than normal I have been able to focus on working towards solutions with the people I need to. All the while things in classrooms are running as smooth as clock-work. Teachers are focused on getting kids prepped for finals and making sure all those last minute assignments are done and submitted. It is obvious when I'm in the hallways and classrooms that things are "normal" for the students. They are able to focus on what they need to, which is learning. What I need to remember to do is make sure I thank the people who are making my leadership look effortless. My admin assistant is always one step ahead of me, my caretaker always knows what we need before we need it, and as I said, the teachers are always going above and beyond.
So, when you think about your leadership, how are you using those around you? Who are those "rocks" that you can always count on? Where are your hot-spots, and how will you work with those when things start to get bumpy?
As always, comments are welcome!
If you read my last blog post (here) you will know I sent a 3 question survey to the staff at my school. The survey was designed to gather feedback for the principal and I so we could reflect on what we are doing well and where we need to focus some of our attention. All of the responses have given me a reason to pause and think about what I am doing (or not doing) as a leader. In that blog I cautioned people who are thinking of creating a survey like this to be ready for the cold, hard truth. I asked the staff to be completely honest, and believe me, they have been!
One of the suggestions a colleague put forward was a simple one. This person wrote, during your admin time is there a way you could make your self even more visible? I understand there is work to be done, but we also need to see you. This respondent was right, and I began thinking of ways I could juggle the managerial work that needs to be done on a daily basis, and still manage to connect to the staff and students. I then thought about a little trick a fellow administrator does, he simply moves his work to a place where he can be more visible. So that's what I did today, I grabbed a table and chair, took my laptop, pen and journal and moved out to the hallway.
I was shocked at the reaction to my simple move. The first group of people to question me were the senior students. Many of them joked, asking if the secretary kicked me out or if I was in some form of detention. The teachers were the next group to stop and inquire as to what I was up to. Finally, the youngest students stopped to chat, not asking what I was doing, but taking the time to tell me what they had been up to. The interesting thing is that while I had many more casual conversations with teachers and students than I usually would, I still managed to get all my work done. I realized today that a simple thing like moving my chair can make a huge difference when it comes to connecting with the staff and students in our building.
Do you have a table, chair, laptop and wireless access? If so, I challenge you to move your chair to a more public location and see what happens.
As always, comments are welcome.
The school year is quickly winding down and already I am looking forward to next year. Each school year brings with it a chance to build on past successes and an opportunity to address areas that need improving. If we do not take the time to look back and reflect on the year, how can we know what areas of our job need to be improved? This year my blog has been a way to continually reflect on what is currently happening in my professional life. It has been a way to stop and organize my thoughts and a means to reflect on the impact of my decisions. While this has been an effective means of self-reflection, it has not been an avenue for feedback, constructive criticism, or suggestions for how I can improve myself as a leader.
To accomplish this I recently sent my staff a quick survey I created using Survey Monkey. In this survey I asked three questions:
1. Thinking about the year, what have we done as an administrative team that has been effective?
2. Thinking about the year, what areas do we, as school administrators, need to work on?
3. What can we do to improve the learning program at our school?
The survey was set up in such a way that I would have absolutely no idea who the responses were from. I felt this was extremely important so the teachers could speak as freely as possible.
A person always likes to receive positive feedback. To receive affirmation from ones' colleagues is important and can be a catalyst to help one work even harder. When one of my supervisors gives me a "pat on the back" for a job well done I want to continue working to build on this. It can become infectious and can be an excellent motivator. On the flip-side, the risk a person takes when conducting a survey like this is the responses to question number 2. So far some staff members have responded and the words, while blunt and in some cases hard to read, need to be heard. Creating a platform for constructive criticism gave the teachers an opportunity to say what they are really feeling, now it is my job to read these comments and begin thinking about how I can take this feedback and improve what I do. As I said, positive feedback, for me, is an amazing motivator. That being said, in the past I know negative feedback has caused me to become more guarded and stopped me from taking risks. I need to be very aware as I read the comments from my staff that I do not dwell on the negatives, but rather I need to look at them as opportunities for growth.
Have you asked your co-workers for feedback like this? How do you handle constructive criticism?
As always, comments are welcome.
As part of the school leadership team there are times when tough conversations need to occur. The vast majority of my time at school is extremely positive and often times I stop and think, "I can't believe I'm getting paid to do this!" But, as I said, there are those other times. Times when a dialogue must occur between myself and a colleague, that, after all, is part of my job too. I once had a teacher tell me, "don't worry about being my friend, you're an administrator, we look to you for guidance." This teacher went on to say, "we're professionals, we can handle it if you tell us we are doing something we shouldn't be." I greatly admire this teacher, and their honesty, while harsh at times, is greatly appreciated.
I needed to have one of these conversations this week, and while my nerves told me not to, my brain knew I had to. We sat down in my office, I started the dialogue, but quickly my co-worker jumped in and started brainstorming ways to resolve the issue. This teacher was not defensive, insulted, hurt, or even angry. Rather, my colleague knew I had nothing but the very best intent for the students and as such the teacher was willing to work with me. My nerves quickly calmed and I'm sure my body language changed. In no time we had a plan that I felt kept the students' success at the fore while protecting the teacher's integrity and role in the classroom.
I am attaching a YouTube video from Simon Sinek. If you have not heard of him, you really need to listen to some of his presentations. In the attached video, Sinek talks about leaders, and how great leaders help make people around them feel safe. After reflecting on my conversation with the teacher, I believe that I formed a trusting relationship with the teachers I work with. I have done this through engaging in conversations with them, finding out about their interests, learning about what motivates them and what they are passionate about outside of school.
What do you do to foster relationships with those people you work with? How do you create a feeling of safety and trust?
As always, comments are welcome....and enjoy the video.
I want to start by admitting something, I was never a high achiever in high school. My marks continually hovered in the high 60 to mid 70 range, and while this is nothing that I'm proud of, it is a fact and it is part of who I am. It is also true that after graduating in 1987 I stayed in the work force for 7 years until deciding to go back to high school to upgrade my marks. In 1994 it was a completely different story, and my marks were all in the low to mid 90's. What happened? Did driving a fuel truck, waiting tables, and pumping gas suddenly cause me to become 20 to 30% smarter? Obviously not. Instead, what I believe happened is I developed something I did not have during my first high school experience; confidence.
It was nothing my teachers, friends or parents said that caused me to lack confidence in my abilities. It was my own inner voice continually telling me I was not nearly as smart as my classmates. I realize now, decades later, that it wasn't that I was stupid, for most of the time I was just disengaged. However, when I was engaged, usually in math and science, I just needed a little more time to make sense of what we were talking about. I think about the problems we used to have to solve in algebra class and how the question, upon first glance, looked like a tangled mess of fishing line I needed to straighten out. I just needed a little more time and a little more practice. While I struggled there were other students who just got it. If you think back to your days in school I'm sure you could recall students who stood out as kids who never struggled, they always seemed to be on top of whatever it was you were learning about. Now, if you think back and can't remember who those kids were, it's likely you were that student! Regardless, as students we had our own ranking system in place, and we knew who the "bright" kids were, and who the "struggling" kids were.
This brings me to what might be my first controversial statement I've made on my blog yet. I do not believe we should have academic awards in school. That's a pretty clear statement and it's coming from a person who experienced both success and failure at school. I believe schools should be about learning and in my opinion, learning has absolutely nothing to do with competition. I believe schools need to keep the emphasis on developing independent problem solvers who have the ability to learn and the ability to adapt to new challenges. I do not think a competitive environment is the best way to achieve this. You may think, "but what about the real world? Isn't there competition in the real world?" To that I say, "yes, of course there is competition." I believe there are many other ways kids can experience competition while growing up, I just don't feel the classroom should be one of those places. I think kids need to be involved in competitive activities where they learn how to be part of a team, how to handle losing and also how to handle winning.
Who knows where my road would have taken me had I been as confident in the 1980's as I am now. I'll never know, so there is really no reason to dwell on it. What I can do, however, is make sure that each student I work with understands how important it is to have a belief in one's self. I need to help them see how a person can do amazing things with a little self confidence. Henry Ford said it best when he said, "whether you think you can, or you think you cannot, you are correct".
As always, comments are welcome.
Some of my favourite memories of my childhood are from our families' annual trips to Waskesiu (click if you've never heard of this national park). Every summer my mom and dad would pack up the van, hook up the boat and we would make the 3 hour drive to the north. We would arrive at the same cabin every year and for two or three weeks I would be in my own northern paradise. One of my most cherished memories involves heading to the marina bright and early, getting the boat fueled up and heading across the lake. The water would be as calm as glass and I would sit in the rear-facing seat and soak up the sights and smells of northern Saskatchewan. Something that would always hypnotize me was the wake from the boat. As we cruised across the lake we would leave a long wake behind us and the waves would seem to go on forever.
Without even knowing it we are all like that old boat. As we move through each day we create our own wake. From the moment we leave our own personal "marina" we are impacting the world in which we travel through. We encounter numerous people each day, some we engage with in extended interactions, others we share a brief word with, and others we might simply acknowledge with a smile or nod. After you read this sentence I would like you to stop and think about every single person you encountered today. It's a lot isn't it! Now think about the impact of your wake. After encountering a person we leave them feeling a certain way, and likewise they do the same to us. What I find so amazing is that we have the power to determine how our wake impacts others.
In a position of leadership I believe it is vital that we move through each day trying our best to leave a positive impact on every person we encounter. We are all busy and some days can feel like a whirl-wind with people coming at us from all angles. We make thousands of decisions each day and as you found from your reflection earlier, we encounter and interact with many people. As you move through your day, think about the impact your wake is making on those around you. How will you remain aware of your impact on those around you? What will you do when you realize your impact has had a negative effect on someone else?
As always, comments are welcome.
I'm writing this in anticipation of a great day with many of my colleagues. Today we are working with the grade six teachers as we get set to launch our new progress reports (aka report cards) next year. It will be a day of training for the changes that lie ahead and a chance for us to share with each other as we prepare to tackle this massive job. As I drove in I was listening to my radio and as luck would have it, the DJ was spinning some of my favorite tunes from the past.
For some reason I started thinking about how music is kind of like teaching. There are songs from the past that just stand the test of time, songs from the '70s that are right at home today. There are also many new songs that I love as well, songs that are a reflection of today's society. Teaching and educational leadership also have their "blasts from the past", practices that have and will always stand the test of time. These are the practices that are the foundation of our craft. Planning, assessing, building relationships, and communicating are just a few of the "songs" that have always been important to our job. Today we still do these things, however we are continually adding new "songs" to our "playlist" of skills we bring to work with us. The impact of technology is just one example of something that has caused us to adapt and change some of our music.
This is not unique to schools though. Think about your profession. How have things changed in the past 10, 20, 30, or 40 years? What songs from the past still apply to your role? What new ones have you had to write? To be an effective leader you cannot be stagnant, a person needs be able to adapt to meet the needs of the 21st century. Is your dial stuck on the '70s station, or do you have many different years locked into your presets?
As always, comments are welcome!
So the ongoing saga with my grade 10 IP class continued today, if you have been following my blog (read here) you will know we have hit a rough patch in our class. Last night I decided enough was enough and this needed to be confronted and resolved. Have you ever had those nights where you know you are going into a tough spot the next day and you play scenarios over and over in your head? Well, that was my night. For over two hours I thought and thought about what I was going to say, how I would say it and how I would respond if x or y happened. This morning I had a chance to have a conversation with a teacher about how I was feeling and how frustrated I was. She asked, "have you told them how you feel? And I mean not simply saying you are mad, but how you really feel." A strong question at the perfect time. I was able to jot down some notes about what they were doing in class that made me very happy and the few things that were frustrating me.
Then the meeting. We sat together in a classroom, door closed and we let it all out. I told them how happy I was with them and how great their work was but that there were some things that were frustrating me. One of my students said, "yeah, we noticed you were like a great big grump-opotamus the other day". It was the comment we needed to lighten the mood. Our conversation began as a one way with me doing all the talking, I then asked them the question, "what is it you are looking for?" There were several suggestions, most were valid. I won't go into detail about everything that was suggested, but believe me when I say there will be some changes to my planning for the next lesson. I will share one suggestion though. Normally I would give the students a topic to blog about (i.e. tell me about your favourite vacation, tell me about the first time you ever drove by yourself, etc.). A student asked why they couldn't just blog about what they were thinking about that day, about things that mattered to them. Duh! I felt so stupid. I asked the class if they would like that freedom, almost all of them said they would, a couple wanted me to keep giving suggestions so they wouldn't have to deal with writer's block.
I try my best to design lessons that I think will be rigorous enough to challenge the students but relevant enough to engage them so it does not feel so much like "work". Today I learned a good lesson; what I think is relevant to my students may in fact stiffle their creativity. We need to be careful when we try to get inside the head of our students and design lessons that will engage them. One solution that should be obvious is to talk to the students.
As always, comments are welcome.