Rookie Teachers are Passing the Pandemic with Flying Colours

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.

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Resuming My Blog After 7 Years

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.

Stay tuned. 🙂

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The Principal Affect

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;IMG_0092 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. 

 

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EDCAMP Millennial – New Teachers Are Different

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.

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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.

  1. Millennials expect technology to simply work–so you’d better make sure that it does.
  2. Millennials are a social generation—and they socialize while consuming (and deciding to consume) your products and services.
  3. They collaborate and cooperate–with each other and, when possible, with brands.
  4. They’re looking for adventure (and whatever comes their way).
  5. 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.

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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.

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Sunday Morning Asynchronous Learning

This quick post is intended to highlight the power of Twitter as a way to draw a diverse group of passionate educators together around an educational topic.

This morning, just before 9 a.m. a teacher in our district posted the following Tweet:

Within seconds educators throughout our District joined the conversation in a wonderful asynchronous learning session that lasted more than an hour.

Asynchronous Learning

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

Danielle Dressaire – Grade 1 teacher in a rural school

Sue Miller – Pre-Kindergarten Instructor

Chantelle Napier – Early Learning Lead Teacher

Collin Dillon – High School Math and Physical Education Teacher

Greg Miller – Assistant Superintendent with the District

Tim Bedley – Co-founder of Global School Play Day

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.

Storify on Play.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Capacity Building, Community Engagement | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 30,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 11 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Drawing a Line in the Sand

According to Wikipedia “a line in the sand” is a metaphor with two similar meanings:

The first meaning is of a point (physical, decisional, etc.) beyond which one will proceed no further.
The second meaning is that of a point beyond which, once the decision to go beyond it is made, the decision and its resulting consequences are permanently decided and irreversible.line-300x202

On a recent trip to Toronto I was fortunate to have the opportunity to listen to Dr. John Malloy, Director of Education at Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board. Dr. Malloy gave an enthusiastic accounting of the 1-to-1 iPad initiative currently playing out in his Districts’ 100 plus schools. In the initial year of a five-year plan they have placed iPads in the hands of every student in seven elementary schools, in one secondary school, and in the assistive technology used in two other secondary schools. If the roll out goes according to plan, every student will have the full time use of an iPad by 2019. The plan, titled “Transforming Learning Everywhere”, is strongly supported by their School Board and will be resourced heavily through ongoing teacher professional development, adequate wireless bandwidth in every school, and a team of individuals to support and maintain all aspects of the project. Wow!

Then Dr. Malloy shared what I thought was the most brilliant part of the entire initiative. He used the metaphor of “a line in the sand” to describe the plan they had to reduce paper in schools throughout the District. As more iPads are deployed, more paper will be removed. “If we are going to continue to provide access to the old way of doing things”, he said, “how are we going to get our teachers to buy into something new? We can’t afford both.” By 2019 Hamilton-Wentworth will be 95% paperless. This is written into the strategic plan.

Here is the problem that exists most everywhere. All too often School Districts continue to allow outdated practices to exist at the same time they introduce something new.Unknown When this happens many teachers simply opt out of risking the new practice and retreat to what is most comfortable to them. For system leaders, resources are scarce so if they aren’t able to build a coalition of the willing, real change rarely occurs.

I think everyone can agree that the Education landscape is changing more rapidly than ever before. Our students were born into a different world than we were. They learn differently and will require a very different set of skills in today’s society and workplace. Transforming pedagogy should not be an option but rather a requirement of all teachers. All available resources should be used, not on maintaining the old, but on building the new.

We need more leaders who, like Dr. Malloy, are not afraid to draw that line in the sand.

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What Do We Do With What We’ve Got?

Recently 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, John Couch, who not only has 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” is 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 is as he begins his education career next 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 in my District 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 are 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. To date there are approximately 2000 ADEs worldwide, each of whom “is 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 are doing some wonderful work with students but as I travelled home I began thinking about the teachers I know who are also engaging their students in new and exciting ways. And they are 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.

21st_Century_teacher

 

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.

My colleague George Couros writes 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 post 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?’

 

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My Essential Question

“Not by age but by capacity is wisdom acquired.”

– Titus Maccius Plautus

 

This year, as conceived by Assistant Superintendent Jessie Shirley and her team, our District is embarking on a PD model that will significantly change the way our teachers engage in their own professional growth. Working in teams with their grade level colleagues throughout the District teachers will create, research, and collaborate around an essential question designed to drive student learning forward. Through action research teams will identify promising practices, incorporate these strategies into their daily instruction, then come back to their team to discuss and refine. A list of suggested topics was provided as a starting point, however it was made clear that the list was not exhaustive, giving individuals autonomy in the selection process. Below is one list of ideas that was made available. The other two lists were around the themes of literacy and numeracy.

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Sample Differentiated Instruction Topics

As a District we have provided 12 Friday afternoons for our teachers to meet free from instruction, which will give them a solid 3 hour block of time to engage with colleagues who have selected a similar essential question. If we want teachers to learn and grow together we need to give them time to do it. A lot of work went into the District calendar to make this happen. At the end of the year each teacher will present their learning to the group as a way to demonstrate growth and make decisions going forward. I look forward to watching as this exciting new PD model plays out over the year. The ultimate goal is that it impacts student learning in a meaningful way.

By the way, our Superintendent Karl Germann added an important element to this new plan. He has asked that every certified teacher in the District, including principals and central office personnel, complete the Essential Question. He believes that we all need to embrace continual growth, no matter what our role is in the District.

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So here is my Essential Question:

How can building the instructional leadership capacity of our principals & vice principals allow me to engage every teacher in our District & drive learning forward?

I plan to work with members of our leadership team, both at the school and District level, to continue the work I started last year with Instructional Leadership. I should never forget that even my work in Human Resources is really about student success.

These are exciting times in Education and I’m happy to be part of a District where that change is being embraced. Let the learning begin.

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Great Teachers = Great Schools. That’s It.

“If you don’t have great teachers, you don’t have a great school and nothing else is going to change that.” – Todd Whitaker, What Great Teachers Do Differently.”

At an orientation earlier this week we welcomed 45 new teachers into our District. What a great day it was after spending 8 months recruiting and hiring the best teacher candidates we could find from Universities and Colleges across our country. This year we decided to keep the day short so we wouldn’t overwhelm our new recruits, so the day (which only went from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.) included 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 as they left was Todd Whitaker‘s book, What Great Teachers Do Differently, which we strongly encouraged each of them read before the first day of school. During our two hours together I was continually reminded of the importance of identifying and hiring the best possible teachers and then powerfully supporting them throughout their career.

A week earlier 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.

Hattie-ranking - summary

Hattie’s Top Influences on Student Achievement

This has me reflecting a lot about the 45 teachers who have joined our #GPCSD 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 District?

How are we supporting them throughout their career?

 

 

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