Human Resources

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 will ensure that the best possible teachers are impacting our students every day. Todd Whitaker emphasizes this in the short clip below.

 

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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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You Weren’t Hired To Maintain The Status Quo

Dr. Justin Tarte is one of the most influential people I follow on Twitter. He continuously shares relevant material that both reinforces and challenges my thinking. If you don’t mind, Justin, I would like to borrow this powerful quote you shared as part of some very important work I will be carrying out over the next few days. UnknownMy plan is to visit a number of teachers in my district to personally present them with their continuous contract. A contract they have earned over the last number of months. One that has been recommended by the principal of their school after a year of formal and informal observations. They have, in no small way, proven themselves to be the kind of teacher we are ready to commit to for the rest of their career and I want to remind them that this is a big deal. After visiting their classroom and observing them teaching one final time this year, not only do I plan to present them with a copy of Justin’s quote, I will share a few other thoughts as well:

  1. We are offering you this contract because we see you as a forward thinking and innovative teacher who will do whatever is necessary to help your students experience success.
  2. We are offering you this contract because you are a risk-taker, always pushing the envelope with your teaching.
  3. We are offering you this contract because you have a growth mindset.
  4. We are offering you this contract because it is evident that you see the value in collaboration, constantly building your own capacity and that of your colleagues.
  5. We are offering you this contract because you have shown us that you know how to meet the needs of all learners, making the learning experience relevant to them.
  6. I encourage you to continue the development of your digital portfolio. It will assist you in identifying areas in which you excel as well as areas in which you could continue to grow. It will also provide you with a body of evidence on which you can continuously reflect.
  7. We are offering you this contract because it is obvious that you love children, and that they love you.
  8. We’re counting on you and so are your students.

I could have sent the contract out via our inter-school mail system, but I want each of them to know that the decision to offer a continuous contract is a very difficult one that requires a great deal of conversation and reflection. So I’m going to take the time to go to them. As Superintendent Karl Germann says, it is like offering “a million dollar contract.”

As I near the end of my first year in the role of Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources I’ve come to see this as my most important work – inviting the very best teachers to become permanent members of our district family. I hope they will never forget why.

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We All Want Excellent Teachers

Recommendation #21 of the Minister of Education’s Task Force for Teaching Excellence – Maintenance of Certification for Teachers has, in no small way, created uncomfortable feelings for some educators in our province. Key word – some.

After all, the Alberta Teachers Association itself takes a very strong stance (as articulated in this 2012 position paper) on making sure individuals within its membership are reflective practitioners who use their professional judgement to provide leadership in matters related to their professional practice.

Screen Shot 2014-05-25 at 9.36.24 AMThe Association is already dedicated to upholding professional standards, ensuring that a high quality of teaching continues to exist in Alberta. This would suggest that incompetent individuals are addressed in an acceptable manner.

Screen Shot 2014-05-25 at 9.14.50 AMSo, as the individual responsible for Human Resources in my district, I have a great deal of interest in Recommendation #21 and how it may play out in the coming months; in particular the part that reads:

“Teachers would be required to prepare a teaching excellence dossier of evidence of their professional growth, currency and competency.”

I would encourage teachers to take a look at this slide presentation created by Doug Strahler, Communications instructor at Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania. He makes a good case in support of creating and continually updating a professional portfolio to reflect on and improve professional practice.

A portfolio, in my opinion, places the onus on the individual teacher to identify, reflect on, and address the aspects of their teaching that does or does not consistently meet the Teaching Quality Standard. This is not to say that the teacher did not meet the TQS when they were offered a permanent teaching certificate or a continuous contract. It simply means that as the education landscape continues to change, so does the evidence of what excellent teaching looks like.

And think about it – our C2 committee work throughout the province has us looking for ways to reduce teacher workload and build teacher efficacy. A portfolio could easily replace professional growth plans, evaluations, and year plans while providing a great platform for PD, collaboration and professional conversation.

We all know the recommendations brought forward by the task force have once again created a divisive climate. I don’t think anyone expected anything different. But not all task force recommendations require opposition. I’m sure all stakeholders can agree on a number of them. There is not a teacher in our province who would want their own child taught by a colleague whose practice is less than acceptable. One way to ensure this is through an expectation that teachers create, share and reflect on a dossier or portfolio, demonstrating that their practice continues to evolve.

The 35 probationary teachers in my district created portfolios this year.

Here is an exemplar I would like to share: Justin Lowe Portfolio.

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First Who…Then What

First Who . . . Then What.

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, shares one of my favourite quotes of all time. “The best leaders”, he says, “get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats—and then they figure out where to drive it.” He goes on to say that the old adage “People are your most important asset”, turns out to be wrong. “People are not your most important asset. The g2g-first-whoright people are.”

Last week, as is the case around this time every year, we sent “Intent Forms” to every teacher in my district. The purpose of the intent form is to collect as much information as possible so we can make important decisions about staffing for next year (Yes, we’re already planning for next year). The form asks teachers to let us know where they see themselves in the future —> Would you like to remain in your current position? Would you like to transfer? If so, where would you like to go? Are you planning to retire? Are you planning to leave our district for another reason? This information, along with other data such as projected growth or decline in student enrolment, potential new programs, administrative vacancies, and sources of funding is all part of the puzzle in trying to figure out a staffing profile for the upcoming year.

What I like about the intent form is that it provides a great opportunity for teachers to communicate to the district where they see themselves sitting on the bus. What I don’t like about it is that it provides absolutely no opportunity for district leaders to share their ideas with teachers. As a matter of fact, it can be very difficult for district leadership to get the right people in the right seats. In these rapidly changing times, there needs to be some flexibility in assigning teachers so that specific skills can be more equitably allocated across schools, building individual teacher capacity and improving district performance. However, the power to involuntarily transfer teachers to different schools remains hotly contested in many districts because it’s usually seen as arbitrary or unfair treatment.

How do we change that? After all, I’ve witnessed first hand throughout my career a number of teachers who were very upset about being transferred involuntarily only to be thrilled with their situation a few months later. As Collins suggests in Good to Great, as leaders we have a responsibility to get our teachers into the right seats. Without that we’ve lost before we even get started. So I went looking for some research on the positive outcomes of involuntary teacher transfer and guess what – there’s little or none to be found. What I did find was policy after policy in school districts throughout our province that makes successful involuntary teacher transfer fairly challenging and a crap-shoot at best.

I’d like to suggest the following as a framework for involuntary teacher transfer in your district. I would love to hear from you on this as well:

  • Write it into policy.
  • Make it normal practice to transfer a few teachers every year.
  • Build a culture of collaboration across your district and between schools.
  • Make it clear to new teachers when they join your district.
  • Make teaching at a number of schools a prerequisite for leadership positions.
  • Support teachers when they transfer to a new school.
  • Don’t just transfer ineffective teachers, transfer your superstars as well.
  • ?
  • ?

If we’re going to get our schools from good to great, we have to get the right people in the right seats. First who… then what.

 

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Teacher Recruitment – Learning From Google

Last week, in an effort to position our district well in the coming year, I embarked on my first ever teacher recruitment tour. Like other districts in the northern part of our country, teacher recruitment has become an important and necessary part of our work, roaming far and wide in search of the best teachers we can find.

As someone new to the HR role I’ve spent a great deal of time researching best practices in order to put an effective recruitment plan in place. My goal was to have a better understanding of what others are doing to recruit the best talent into their organizations. By and large, here are 4 of the most common strategies I discovered:

  1. Attend job fairs
  2. Sell your city / location
  3. Highlight your benefit packages
  4. Offer incentives

Then I asked myself this question. Why would a new teacher want to come and work for us anyway? There must be something more than a good salary, comprehensive benefits, and a good location that lures individuals to a particular employer.  After reflecting on this for awhile, I found the answer on two lists:

This short video might shed some light on why Google consistently tops the list of the best places to work in North America:

So here’s what I think. The best beginning teachers want to work for districts that are innovative and forward thinking. They want to work for districts that have built a culture that supports hard work, risk taking, new ideas, and collaboration. They want to be part of something that is going to make a real difference in the lives of kids.

IMG_0807

So when our recruitment team arrived on the East Coast a few days back we were armed with this message —-> Instead of telling these pre-service teachers what we could do for them if they joined our district, we asked them what they could do for us. Instead of showing them the list of contract benefits, we informed them that we were only looking for those who were ready and willing to work really hard. Instead of sharing incentives, we asked them how they would contribute to our high performing district. We showcased our technology rich environments, our school improvement initiatives, our mentorship program, and our innovative programming. We talked about the kind of teacher they would need to be if they were hoping to come and work with us.

After chatting with and receiving resumes from nearly 200 individuals, we then identified about 25-30 and invited them for a short 15 minute interview, where we asked them to respond to the following 4 questions:

  1. How will you make our district better?
  2. How will you respond to and utilize the innovative and hard working mentor that will be paired with you?
  3. How will you respond to constructive feedback?
  4. Please share your thoughts on education, technology and student learning.

It was an enlightening experience and we have been inundated with phone calls, Skype calls and emailsIMG_0095 since returning home. It seems as though our strategy worked. Selling our culture was the key. The best and the brightest pre-service teachers are now recruiting us, many of whom will join our staff in September.

I truly believe that the very best teachers are intrinsically motivated. They want to work for organizations where innovation and risk taking is valued, where collaboration is embedded into the daily culture, and where they are able to contribute in meaningful and lasting ways. As the gate keeper to prospective new teachers in my district, I want that message to be loud and clear.

Google figured this out a long time ago.

 

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2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 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 38,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 14 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Capacity Building, Community Engagement, Education Transformation, ETMOOC, Human Resources, Inclusive Education | Tags: | 1 Comment

Probationary Teacher Portfolio – Yes or No?

There are currently 35 teachers in my district holding probationary contracts.

Most teachers, particularly those just entering the profession or new to the province, will start employment with a board under a probationary contract, a provision introduced by the 1988 School Act. Section 98 sets out the requirements. The contract must be for a complete school year, cannot be offered to someone employed by the board in the preceding school year (other than as a substitute or temporary contract teacher—see below) and will terminate on the following June 30th. If, at the end of the year, the employer’s evaluations of the teacher so indicate and the teacher agrees, the probationary contract may be extended for an additional period not exceeding a second full year.

Probationary Teacher Portfolio Questionnaire

Principals are responsible for completing a formal performance evaluation on teachers holding a probationary contract, which will assist them in making a recommendation to the Superintendent of Schools regarding contract status for the subsequent school year. They are required to submit that evaluation, along with their recommendation, by April 30th.

Starting this year, so that our principals will have as much information as possible when completing these evaluations, we are asking our teachers to create, present and submit a portfolio. This portfolioportfolio-300x157 can be designed in a format of their choosing as long as it’s contents satisfies what is asked in this questionnaire. They should be able to take examples of the work they are already doing and compile it. Reference documents include the Teaching Quality Standard and the new Framework for Student Learning. We are asking them to present and submit the portfolio sometime in early April to allow time for the principal to review it before completing the evaluation.

Support will include exemplars of other teacher portfolios, time through the district Mentorship program, and ongoing support from their principal. Other than that it is the responsibility of the teacher to complete the portfolio. And I don’t see it as hoop to jump through. My hope is that they’ll continue to build the portfolio for years to come. Personally, I developed an electronic portfolio a number of years ago and have referred back to it on a number of occasions throughout my career. A portfolio, as a living document, is a wonderful tool for reflection.

The main concern over the portfolio initiative of course is time. Some are worried that we are burdening our new teachers with additional work in an already labour intensive year. That’s a very good point. On the other hand, if we want the best teachers for our district, and if we want to ensure they are continuing to grow in their practice, we need to insist that efforts are being concentrated in the right place. In the ever-changing and complex world of education, a portfolio is one way teachers can show us they are on the right track. We must be certain we’ve got it right. Only then should we enter into a long-term relationship through a continuous contract.

So what say you? Probationary teacher portfolio – yes or no?

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Capacity Building, Education Transformation, Human Resources | Tags: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Placing Instructional Leadership on the Front Burner

Today’s school principals are asked to do a lot. I would contend that the following list includes, but is certainly not limited to, the vast array of responsibilities that compete for a principals time every day.

  1. Leadership and Climate
  2. Programming
  3. School Organization and Staffing
  4. Professional Development
  5. Staff Supervision, Growth and Evaluation
  6. Student Safety and Supervision
  7. Student Evaluation and Reporting
  8. Communication and Public Relations
  9. Budgeting and Buying
  10. Health, Safety, Plant Supervision

And I’m sure you would agree that the work involved in providing effective leadership in each of these areas has become even more complex as the education landscape continues to change.

How then, does a school principal find the time to provide leadership and build their own capacity in what John Hattie calls the most important work they do – Instructional Leadership? After all, district leaders expect their principals to supervise instruction and provide teachers with feedback that will allow them toIMG_0092 both reflect on and grow in their practice. This is echoed in dimension 4 of Alberta Education’s Principal Quality Practice Guide where principals are asked to “implement effective supervision and evaluation to ensure that all teachers consistently meet the Alberta Teacher Quality Standard.”  It seems to me that supporting our teachers in improving practice is far too important to be left up to individuals to decide the degree to which they implement a quality instructional supervision plan in their school. Some will do it, some will not. And of those who do supervise instruction, some will be better at it than others. This has left me reflecting on how to best approach teacher growth and supervision in my new role in district office. This responsibility is included in my human resources portfolio and I want to provide our principals with all the support needed to be successful in this very important work. So along with the more informal classroom visitations that have been going on in district classrooms for some time now, we have decided to make instructional supervision more formal and transparent. Heres an overview:

  • Every teacher must receive at least 60 minutes of instructional supervision per month. This can be broken up in a way that works best at each school site.
  • All administrators (principals and vice principals) must be involved in the supervision to some degree.
  • All visitations must be followed up with a face-to-face professional conversation.
  • Completed visitations must be recorded at a central location in each school to ensure everyone is staying on track.
  • All principals must submit their instructional supervision plans by the end of October.
  • Plans will be placed on our public Wiki so they can be shared with each other.
  • The Wiki will also be a place to share resources, videos, articles, walkthrough tools, etc.
  • Time will be set aside at monthly principals meetings to share best practices, receive professional development, bring up concerns, and grow our capacity as instructional leaders.
  • Ultimately, we would like to see principals visiting each others schools and completing classroom visitations as a team.
  • Assistant Superintendents will visit schools on a regular basis to visit classrooms and build their own capacity in providing quality feedback to teachers.IMG_0009

I’m not sure how this will play out as our principals try to find a balance between this and the many other important aspects of their job, but I do know that if we want to build the kind of learning communities needed to transform education for the 21st century, we will have no choice but to move instructional supervision to the front burner and turn it to high.

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New Teachers Don’t Need TTWWADI Mentors

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.

…and you can see a similar program in action by watching the following video which features the teacher induction program at Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School’s, a district in Alberta.

Both of these are excellent examples of how beginning teachers should be supported to ensure a successful transition into the profession. This is important because, as I reported in an earlier post, “In Alberta…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:

  1. Willing to serve as a mentor and to be approachable
  2. Foresighted, anticipating problems and preparing solutions in advance
  3. An excellent role model
  4. Sensitive to the needs, feelings, and skills of others.
  5. Candid, but also positive, patient, encouraging, and helpful
  6. Committed to the success of their protegé
  7. Discrete and confidential about what is said and not said
  8. Nurturing, caring, and accepting
  9. Reflective teacher
  10. Adept at balancing maintenance of relationships and accomplishment of tasks
  11. Knowledgeable about the organization and it’s culture, mission, and values
  12. An effective listener and communicator
  13. Respected by others

Mentor Wordle October 2009

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. I’m just worried about TTWWADI. (This blog post by Jason Berg explains the concept of TTWWADI really well.) These qualities can be found in great teachers, both those who are moving forward with their practice and those who remain in a very traditional model of pedagogical thinking.

As the individual tasked with designing a quality induction program for 22 new teachers in my district, I have become increasingly aware of the importance of finding the right mentors for today’s protégés and not mentors for yesterday’s protégés. I’m not even sure if years of experience is on the top of my list as the most import thing to consider. When our school-based administrators start tapping prospective mentors on the shoulder this week, 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 build the critical mass necessary for Educations great shift to take place, we need to be intentional about many things we do, including the pairing of mentors and protégés. Otherwise, TTWWADI will rule the day.

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