Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”
So with this in mind I would like to recommend that you set yourself up for failure this year. Setting yourself up for failure doesn’t mean accepting failure. To me, it means taking a risk and trying something new. It means moving away from something you’ve been doing the same way for a long time. It means going out on a limb and getting out of your comfort zone. It means opening yourself up to all the wonderful possibilities that exist.
We find ourselves in this exciting time of rapid change. We need to adapt to that change. There is no better time than now to commit to doing something that might just fail. You may have to go back to the drawing board and try it a second time. It might not work out the way you had hoped the second time either. But you have to try. You owe it to yourself and others. Print off this contract, sign it, and attach it to the wall near your desk:
What are you waiting for? When you walk back into your classroom or your office in 2022, commit to pushing your practice to new heights. Pick something new and innovative and give it a try. Set yourself up for failure and watch yourself grow. You won’t regret it.
What should beginning teacher induction programs look like?
Most of them look like this one from Ontario’s Ministry of Education website and include:
orientation for all new teachers to the school and school board
mentoring for new teachers by experienced teachers
professional development and training in areas such as:
Literacy and Numeracy strategies, Student Success, Safe Schools, etc.
Classroom management, effective parent communication skills, and instructional strategies that address the learning and culture of students with special needs and other diverse learners.
This is an excellent example of how beginning teachers should be supported to ensure a successful transition into the profession. This is important because approximately 40% of all teachers entering the profession leave within the first 5 years. Quality induction programs are widely regarded as a high yield strategy to reduce those numbers.
In my opinion, the key to a successful mentorship program lies not in the structure, but in the quality of each individual mentor. After looking at a number of programs, I’ve come up with this list of competencies seen as desirable in effective mentors:
Willing to serve as a mentor and to be approachable
Foresighted, anticipating problems and preparing solutions in advance
An excellent role model
Sensitive to the needs, feelings, and skills of others.
Candid, but also positive, patient, encouraging, and helpful
Committed to the success of their protegé
Discrete and confidential about what is said and not said
Nurturing, caring, and accepting
Adept at balancing maintenance of relationships and accomplishment of tasks
Knowledgeable about the organization and it’s culture, mission, and values
An effective listener and communicator
Respected by others
This is a wonderful list of qualities and any new teacher would be lucky to receive the support and guidance of individuals who posses them. But for me, this is not enough. We need mentors who ride that important change wave in their own practice, always pushing themselves to be better. Otherwise, they fall into the TTWWADI mentality. This blog post by Jason Berg explains the concept of TTWWADI really well.
As the individual tasked with designing a quality induction program for teachers new to the profession in my division, I have become increasingly aware of the importance of finding the right mentors for ‘today’s’ new teachers. When our school-based administrators tap prospective mentors on the shoulder, I ask that they consider some of these questions first:
Are they engaging students with new and innovative approaches?
Are they a life long learner, open to the views and feedback of others?
Are they a risk taker, willing to move out of their comfort zone?
Are they tech savvy and able to build the protégés capacity to integrate technology?
Are they skilled at differentiating instruction?
Have they flattened the walls of their classroom?
Do they use ongoing formative assessment?
Do their students have choice in how they learn and how they demonstrate their learning?
Is their classroom environment flexible and student centred?
If we’re going to grow educators for today’s learners, we need to be intentional about many things we do, including the pairing of mentors and protégés. Otherwise, TTWWADI will rule the day.
At an orientation early each year we welcome several new teachers into our School Division. It’s always an exciting day for me, and one where we begin to reap the benefits of our recruitment efforts from a few months earlier. We always keep the day short and try not to overwhelm our new recruits with policy, procedures and PD. They will have plenty of that at their home school in the days ahead. So the day (which only goes from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.) includes welcomes and introductions, a meal, a payroll/benefits presentation, and an explanation of our new teacher website, which replaced the 2 inch thick binder we’ve handed out in the past. Our gift to them is Todd Whitaker‘s book, What Great Teachers do Differently, which we encourage each of them to read early in their career. During these orientations I am always reminded of the importance of identifying and hiring the best possible teachers and then powerfully supporting them throughout their career.
Awhile back I attended a presentation by Professor John Hattie and his team who have completed extensive research on the influences on student learning. His Visible Learning research suggests that most everything we do influences student learning. The average effect size is .40 so suffice to say, if strategies from the following list are present in our schools, we will be on the right path.
This has me reflecting about the kind of teachers teachers we recruit and who have joined our team. I believe we’ve hired some great young teachers and I would argue that most every strategy identified on this list could be replaced with the words “great teaching.” Lets take a closer look at the top 10:
Self-Report Grades – This strategy involves the teacher finding out what are the student’s expectations and pushing the learner to exceed these expectations. Once a student has performed at a level that is beyond their own expectations, he or she gains confidence in his or her learning ability.
Piagetian Programs – These programs focus on the thinking processes rather than the outcomes and do not impose the adult thinking process on children. This is done when the teacher creates and provides engaging and relevant learning experiences.
Providing Formative Evaluation – The goal of formative assessment is to monitor student learning to provide ongoing feedback that can be used by teachers to improve their teaching and by students to improve their learning.
Micro Teaching – This involves the teacher video recording a lesson with a debriefing. The lesson is reviewed in order to improve the teaching and learning experience.
Acceleration – Great teachers know how to accelerate learning for their students (not just enrich). They understand that if students are able to move on to higher levels of curriculum we should not be holding them back. Perhaps another case for moving away from grouping our students by age.
Classroom Behavioural – The best teachers build trusting relationships with their students. If they don’t know that you care, they won’t care what you know.
Comprehensive Intervention for Learning Disabled – To improve achievement teachers must provide students with tools and strategies to organize themselves as well as new material; techniques to use while reading, writing, and doing math; and systematic steps to follow when working through a learning task or reflecting upon their own learning.
Teacher Clarity– Excellent teachers clearly communicate the intentions of the lessons and the success criteria to their students. Teachers need to know the goals and success criteria of their lessons, know how well all students in their class are progressing, and know where to go next.
Reciprocal Teaching – This refers to an instructional activity in which students become the teacher in small group sessions. Teachers model, then help students learn to guide group discussions. Once students have learned the strategies, they take turns assuming the role of teacher in leading a dialogue.
Feedback – Hattie emphasizes that the most powerful feedback is that given from the student to the teacher. This feedback allows teachers to see learning through the eyes of their students. It makes learning visible and facilitates the planning of next steps. The feedback that students receive from their teachers is also vital. It enables students to progress towards challenging learning intentions and goals.
So in my opinion education researchers and authors like John Hattie and Todd Whitaker have it right. Our most important work is in supporting the right people doing the right work. If we place our energy and resources behind this simple concept, visible learning and teaching will become the norm.
Who are we looking for when we recruit?
What are our expectations of them?
How are we welcoming them into our School Division?
How are we supporting them throughout their career?
When I was a school principal I made a point to spend time with our grade 6 students on their annual outdoor education trip. The camp was located about an hour and a half down the road and for 3 days the students participated in a variety of summer camp type activities. The trip was a celebration and culmination of their years at our school.
With a number of Blackfoot Indigenous students from the Kainai Nation in the class, we always looked for ways to include aspects of their culture in our activities. One particular year we invited Elder Edward Heavy Shields to share cultural stories and lead us in a traditional smudging ceremony.
Smudging is a Blackfoot spiritual cleansing ceremony in which sweet grass is burned. It is said to rid a person of negativity, such as anger or ill will, and draws positive energy. Mr. Heavy Shields told the students that, “The smoke purifies us and lets Apistotoke (Source of Life; Creator) hear our prayers.” The smoke from burning sweetgrass is fanned on people, objects or areas. Individuals smudge themselves with the smoke, washing the eyes, ears, heart, and body. When it is burned, prayers, thoughts, and wishes rise with the smoke to the creator who will hear them.
After listening intently to the story behind the smudging ritual, our students, one by one, came forward without hesitation and smudged themselves. Every student, those from the Blackfoot culture as well as those who were not Indigenous came forward with great reverence and respect. There was no hesitation; just a feeling of togetherness and pride. It was a powerful experience, and one that I will never forget as I continue on my own journey of Truth and Reconciliation.
As we pause today (September 30th), I will both reflect and increase my knowledge of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action. Then, like the students at the smudging ceremony at grade 6 camp, I will try to make a difference with an open mind and respectful heart.
A few years ago, I attended the Apple Education Leadership Institute in Toronto where school system leaders from throughout our country and around the world gathered to network and share innovative and forward thinking educational practices. The highlight for me was hearing from Apple’s Vice President of Education at the time, John Couch, who not only had grown Apple Education to a $9 billion per year business, but was a close friend of Steve Jobs and assisted in programming the first ever MacIntosh software. Sitting next to him was pretty cool. Even though part of Couch’s keynote address was about how the “Apple Ecosystem” was the best way forward for education worldwide, it was nice to hear him talk about his 4 year old grandson and how worried his family was as he started his education career in the coming year. Couch spoke a lot about the kind of teacher we need if our schools are going to remain relevant in the years to come. As an individual directly involved in human resources his words resonated with me as it is my responsibility to secure the most capable, forward thinking and innovative teachers for our students.
As the conference continued there were a number of break out sessions to choose from (mostly led by teachers and school leaders who were transforming learning using Apple products) and I became increasingly aware of the single most important qualification each of them held. There was no reference to B. Ed., M. Ed. or Ph. D. after their names. Instead each held the highly sought after qualification known as ADE or Apple Distinguished Educator. At that point there were approximately 2000 ADEs worldwide, each of whom “was recognized for doing amazing things with Apple technology in and out of the classroom.”
There’s no doubt in my mind that each of the presenters were doing some wonderful work with students but as I travelled home I began thinking about the teachers I knew who were also engaging their students in new and exciting ways. And they were using a variety of tools to do so, not just iPads, Apps, and Apple TVs. I would never take anything away from an individual who wants to become an ADE or a Google Certified Teacher (or receive any other additional certifications for that matter) because anything we can do to build our capacity in meeting the needs of today’s learner is important. But I would challenge each of us to take a close look at this wonderful graphic via Jeff Dunn and ask ourselves if our practice is in alignment with these characteristics.
In my opinion our work is less about what we have and more about what we do with what we have. If we are not a risk taker, collaborator, adaptor, learner, and visionary does it really matter what our qualifications are. I know many teachers who are highly qualified but are unwilling to risk new things to move their practice forward. At the same time I watch with great pride as some of our newest teachers push the envelope every day. Today, every teacher has a responsibility to learn and then to act on what they learn.
Education consultant George Couros wrote this excellent article on what it is to be a Master Teacher. The 10 qualities he puts forward are more about competencies and processes and less about products and outcomes. This would support the idea that you have never ‘arrived’ at becoming a Master Teacher. Instead, you are always on your way to getting there. The best teachers already know this.
There are many opportunities for teachers to improve their practice through wonderful platforms like Apple and Google. Along with this, embarking on graduate studies has become more accessible than ever. This, however, is my question and my challenge to you – What are you doing with ‘what you’ve got?’
As I do this time every year, these last few days have been filled with the wonderful activity of presenting young teachers with their Continuous Contract. I have written about this in the past – here. These celebrations have been taking place in our Division for 8 years now, moving from in-person to Zoom last year due to Covid.
What’s nothing short of incredible to me, is the fact that the majority of these teachers are experiencing the very first year of their career in a global pandemic, with all the never before seen challenges that come along with it. And just when they seem to gain some traction with what is happening today, new government measures force them to pivot and figure out how to reach their students in different ways tomorrow. Let’s not forget that being a first year teacher is extremely challenging – in a normal year.
I’ve been reflecting on why they are doing so well.
Most of our new teachers were born in the mid 90s and therefore part of Generation Z, so the secret to their success may lie here. Individuals born in this era are very tech savvy, having been raised during a period of fast paced digital growth. With this in mind, I think of how these young teachers have transitioned seamlessly from in-person to online teaching this year and last. Many of them even mentored their more experienced colleagues when it came to setting up digital platforms and engaging with students virtually. And with diversity being identified as the societal norm for Gen Zers, it is my belief that reaching every student through whatever means possible is their norm as well. This quality has served them well during a time where economic inequality has been magnified, leaving underprivileged students and their families with additional barriers to engagement and learning.
It would be remiss of me not to comment on one of the documented challenges with the Gen Z culture. With the turbulent state of our world today stress and mental health issues have become prevalent. Having said this, so to has the importance of self care unlike earlier generations. Of course, there are those who have had their struggles and It helps that workplaces everywhere (including our schools) are now placing a higher degree of importance on the wellness of their employees. It’s also nice to see that the majority of our first years have struck the right balance between work life and personal life. 🙂
Whatever the reason, new teachers have come through this challenging time remarkably well. As we carry out our Zoom celebrations and present contracts this month, we should all be thankful for the work they (and all teachers) have done. What a way to begin a teaching career.
After a year like no other, on to next year we go.
As a school principal I always had lots to write about. Every day, I would watch the amazing work that was taking place around me; and was inspired to share my thoughts and reflections with others. The professional conversation that resulted on social media allowed me to grow, both as an educator and a leader. Topics to write about came easy in those days because my work took place in a school, where the application of forward thinking, relevant, and engaging teaching practices unfolded right before my eyes.
When I initially moved to a central office position in 2013 I continued to write. My role in Human Resources opened up a whole new list of topics to share with my PLC – hiring practices, recruitment, mentorship, and leadership to name a few. My blog allowed me to write about my early experiences in these areas and enlist advice and suggestions from others. In August 2015 I wrote for the last time; a post titled The Principal Affect.
In the Human Resources portfolio it became increasingly difficult to find new ideas to write about. Much of the work required a great deal of confidentiality and I got bogged down with aspects of the work that could not be shared. It was bitter sweet for me that I was directly involved with important work that I could not share with anyone. My late father once told me that “people are a messy business”, and he was right. The work of Human Resources in Education is both challenging and rewarding, and requires a great deal of grace, humility, and confidentiality.
But with years of experience comes knowledge and understanding. Many times over the last 7 years, I have thought about sharing my experiences through this platform but was hesitant because of the confidential nature of my day to day activities.
But this pandemic has both challenged and inspired me. Watching those involved in Education rise above adversity gives me much hope. I am ready to write again – about the many people, events, and happenings that make a positive impact on the world every day.
Last Spring we completed perhaps the largest re-configuration of school administrators in the history of our District. Sixteen of the twenty-four principal and vice principal positions will have new individuals assigned to them as students return to school in September. We are very excited about this significant change to our leadership team. Some are transferring in from other administrative positions within our District while others are taking on leadership roles for the first time in their careers. Based on the qualities and skill sets each one of them is bringing to their new role, our hope is for a significant positive impact on our schools and students.
I recently came across a 2013 research paper called School Leaders Matter where the impact of effective principals was measured in relation to school and individual student success. It was found that highly effective principals raise the achievement of a typical student in their schools by between two and seven months of learning in a single school year; ineffective principals lower achievement by the same amount. Much of that work was attributed to management. And by that I don’t mean the management of the school but rather the management of teacher quality. The research supported the fact that “management of teacher quality is an important pathway through which principals affect school quality.” The findings went on to point out that “less effective teachers are more likely to leave schools run by highly effective principals.”
The work, then, of our new leaders (and all school leaders for that matter) is not so much with the students but with the teachers. Building a culture of continual improvement and teaching excellence will ensure that the best possible teachers are impacting our students every day.
Most individuals entering the teaching profession today are different.
They’re part of the Millennial generation, born sometime after 1982 and before 2004, and are often referred to as Generation “Y” or Generation “Me.” It is widely believed that each generation comes with a set of common traits and Millennials are known, on the one hand for their confidence and tolerance, but on the other hand for a sense of entitlement and narcissism. Baby Boomers like me (who, by the way, consider ourselves to be work-centric, independent, goal-oriented, and competitive) often focus in on these more negative traits when talking about the Millennials. We have a hard time wrapping our heads around why they aren’t more like us.
I recently read an article about the 5 Key Traits Millennial Consumers Share and started thinking about the large number of new teachers who are part of the Mentorship Program in my District this year. The 5 traits listed below are very evident in this group and our year of Mentorship has evolved into something completely different as a result.
Millennials expect technology to simply work–so you’d better make sure that it does.
Millennials are a social generation—and they socialize while consuming (and deciding to consume) your products and services.
They collaborate and cooperate–with each other and, when possible, with brands.
They’re looking for adventure (and whatever comes their way).
They’re passionate about values–including the values of companies they do business with.
Our Mentorship program consists of a number of components throughout the year including 8 evening supper sessions where about 80 new teachers, mentors and District staff come together for sessions that support new teachers. A schedule is usually created at the beginning of the year based on new initiatives and feedback from the previous year. Traditionally, the sessions are led by District staff and the mentors are there to provide our new teachers with wisdom and advice.
Well this year something very interesting has happened. By mid year it became obvious that this particular group of new teachers wanted something more than ‘sit and get’ learning. They wanted more brought to the table. They craved learning in a way that’s highlighted in the 5 points listed above. So, in an effort to respond to their needs we stepped away from our traditional learning model and held an EDCAMP type evening this past February. I was familiar with the EDCAMP model after attending a few myself and organizing one when I was a principal earlier in my career. When the evening arrived I was expecting the mentor teachers to sign up and lead the majority of the sessions. After all, they were the ones with most of the knowledge and experience. By doing so they could then lead conversations that would engage the new teachers in a collaborative setting. But that’s not what happened at all. Fourteen of the fifteen sessions were added to our board and led by the new teachers. (see the board below) Our mentors were happy to step back and allow the newbies to take charge, sharing their learning and ideas. Not once during the evening did our new teachers appear uncomfortable with the format. In fact, they embraced it and were highly engaged the entire evening.
The point I’m trying to make here is that this is yet another example of how we need to let go of our traditional beliefs around Education. Not only is learning changing for kids, it is also changing for these Millennials who are entering the teaching profession. If we want teachers who are life long learners and who are fully engaged in the transformation of our Education system we need to understand who they are and what makes them tic. My plan is to do that going forward.
Within seconds educators throughout our District joined the conversation in a wonderful asynchronous learning session that lasted more than an hour.
From Wikipedia, Asynchronous learning is a student-centered teaching method that uses online learning resources to facilitate information sharing outside the constraints of time and place among a network of people.
This is the beauty of Twitter and other forms of social media. These platforms allow individuals to join in when they want, where they want, and how they want. The reason for sharing this particular conversation is to demonstrate the diversity of individuals who have an interest in the topic of “Play.” This was our group this morning:
Trevor Prichard – High School teacher involved in Long Term Athletic Development
I often tell others they are missing out on an amazing professional conversation if they haven’t yet discovered Twitter. Click the Storify link below to see an example of what I’m talking about. You can also follow our District hashtag at #GPCSD.