Posts Tagged With: collaboration

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.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Capacity Building, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Confronting Complacency

A few days ago I attended the Mighty Peace Teachers Convention where, for the second time in recent memory, Rick Wormeli was invited as a session presenter and delivered the opening keynote address titled, What we Could Do if we Were Brave Together. I’ve had the pleasure of listening to Rick in the past and his unique gift of combining a quick wit with deep pedagogical knowledge once again had the crowd highly engaged for over an hour.

Rick seems to always hit on a few very important ideas and this presentation was no exception. Some of my key take-aways were similar to those in the past:

  • Don’t wave at your students from the edge of the pit; jump in with them.
  • It’s no longer either homework or school work; its just work.
  • Fair isn’t always equal.
  • Re-do’s are a good thing.
  • Think creatively to meet the needs of your students.

In this presentation, however, he spent a good deal of time talking about something I had not heard from him before. Standing in front of over a thousand teachers I watched as he strongly encouraged them not only to challenge themselves to transform their teaching but to challenge each other as well. “When we are brave“, he said, “we find the freedom, language, and spirit to confront complacency and ineffective practice, and, even better, to do something about them.” He went on to suggest that in order to push all of us closer to the kind of teacher we always wanted to be, we need to build a school culture that cultivates pedagogical courage. For about 15 minutes he drove this point home again and again.complacency

As an individual responsible for human resources, I want to sincerely thank Rick Wormeli for opening up this conversation with teachers in my district. There are many forward thinking and innovative individuals out there who I’m sure appreciated the challenging words of encouragement. In my role I’m fortunate enough to come across these trail blazers every day and have witnessed first hand many teachers who are quietly moving their practice to new heights while, at the same time, the colleague across the hall holds on to outdated and traditional methods.

Policy makers, district leaders, and school principals are really only a small part of changing teaching. If we want grass roots transformation in our schools, we need our trail blazing teachers to be brave and confront that colleague across the hall. Not only should you challenge them, you should offer to help them as well.

I hope and pray that Rick’s message will resonate with teachers and move them into action.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Capacity Building, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

When Learning Goes Viral

This past Friday was my districts second Collab Day of the year. That’s right, Collab Day. That’s ourimages common language here – we refer to the district-wide professional development day as a Collab Day. It’s important to have a common language around professional learning in a district, don’t you think? I like that language because it suggests that whatever it is we are doing, we are doing it together as a team. Our focus for  Collab Days this year is Differentiated Instruction and I want to share the process we are using to make it successful in our district.

  • We have a wonderful lead teacher, Annette Rouleau, who eats, drinks and sleeps DI, and on any given day throughout the year is working side-by-side with teachers in their classrooms. That’s where it starts for us; with an innovative, relational, and credible teacher supporting her colleagues as they experiment with new approaches.
  • Each of our schools have a DI rep who attend sessions with our lead teacher throughout the year.
  • In the month leading up to each Collab Day our lead teacher takes school principals through an engaging presentation on DI, building their capacity and providing them with a template presentation that can be used if they wish, but they are certainly encouraged to make it their own and to put it into the context of their own school.
  • The lead teacher also works with the school DI reps for a day to prepare them for the presentation.
  • On the Collab Day, the school principal and DI rep work as a team to deliver the presentation in a way that works best for them and their teachers. This takes place in the morning and provides teachers with a base of knowledge that will assist them in moving forward with planning DI strategies in their classrooms.
  • The afternoon is more teacher driven. Teams of teachers work on developing instructional strategies that will be applied to their practice in the coming days. They will come back to the next Collab Day ready to share the challenges and successes they experienced when applying their new learning to their daily practice.
  • This cycle continues throughout the year.

It’s a great balance between a top down and bottom up approach to teacher PD. Not only do our teachers receive a high level of instruction from knowledgeable peers, they also have a great deal of autonomy in deciding where to place their focus in the afternoon. Although I’ve only been in the district for a few months, I’m witnessing high levels of teacher engagement which is transferring to innovative learning experiences for students.

To make things even better, this month it was suggested that a back channel be set up so learning could be shared throughout the district in real-time. Our Twitter hashtag (#GPCSD) was used to stream Tweets from across the district and I was quite amazed at the result. Both experienced and brand new Tweeps flooded the airways and by the end of the day we had a wonderful accounting of all that had taken place. One might even say our learning went viral that day.

Well done #GPCSD.

Here’s the archive:

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Capacity Building, Community Engagement, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Need Ideas? Just Ask.

My grade 1-3 teachers have been planning for next year and are looking for creative and engaging ways to build a literacy intervention block into the daily schedule. Language Arts and Math would be scheduled every morning and then one teacher would be freed up to work with students that are just not up to par with reading, writing and comprehension. I’m quite impressed with their innovative thinking because in order to make this plan work the others will need to have substantially larger class sizes for Social, Science and other non-core subjects. The literacy intervention teacher would work with multi-grade groups of struggling students throughout the afternoon. In a school where many students find themselves below an acceptable literacy level, I like their thinking.

So when the teachers approached me, asking if I would consult with my PLN for high yield strategies that could be used for this intervention block, I was more than happy to oblige. I sent this Tweet out the next day:

My Tweet

My Twitter PLN, which includes over 3500 followers, has become one of the most important sounding boards in my professional life. By including only individuals who share the same passion for education, I am always learning new things and having my thinking challenged and stretched. Just look at the responses I received from this Tweet.

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Help yourself if there is anything here you can use. 🙂

Categories: 21st Century Learning, Capacity Building | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Power of a Single Tweet

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Last week a team of three amazing educators from Randolph Middle School in Charlotte, North Carolina spent two day at my little school in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. This unlikely relationship has unfolded as the result of the simple Tweet posted above, one that I answered with, “We might be interested”, when it appeared on my Twitter feed four and a half months ago. Shortly after responding to @techgirljenny and forwarding my email address I recieved a message that started out like this:

“My name is Matthew Weber. I am a French teacher at Randolph IB Middle School in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA. I am emailing you today because something amazing happened to my school recently. Cam Newton, a professional American football player gave my school a donation of $50,000. We can spend this money however we feel best improves the academic environment of our school. Our administration has decided to focus this money on a project to expand the cultural awareness of our students through a partnership with a French-speaking school.”

Here is the full letter from Randolph where you can better understand the full scope of their project and see why it was something that caught my interest as the principal of a French Immersion school in Canada.

In February, after deciding to explore the possibilities of this relationship further, teams from each of our schools met via Skype to brainstorm ways in which our students could start connecting in a meaningful way. In the weeks that followed, blog commenting took place and a Mystery Skype was held using the french language. These engaging activities were a great way for our students to get to know one another and provided our teachers with an opportunity to determine whether or not a long term relationship should be forged.

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Grade 6 students taking part in a virtual tour while Randolph Middle School staff look on.

That brings me to this past week where two French as a Second Language (FSL) teachers and a tech specialist from Charlotte made the trip to Southern Alberta to see our school in action first hand, meet with our staff, and plan for next year. While here they took their students on a virtual tour of our school via Skype and some of our students returned the favor. They also visited a number of french classes and spent time with me discussing our schools philosophy around connected learning and 21st century competencies. Our superintendent, @cdsmeaton even joined us when we treated our guests to dinner one evening. All agreed that it was a wonderful experience and we are excited about learning together in the coming year.

To me it’s quite amazing that a public middle school of 1200 students, in a district of 240,000 has partnered with a Catholic Dual Track elementary school of 400 students, in a district of 4500. It’s equally amazing that the distance between the two schools is 3720 kilometers (2312 miles). And it’s even more amazing that this connected learning partnership was born in a single Tweet a few months back.

I wrote this post for those of you who have yet to discover the importance of Twitter and other social media platforms as a powerful way to flatten your walls and engage students in new and exciting ways. I’m reminded once again that it’s not the technology but what you can do with it that counts. Tweet! Tweet!

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Community Engagement, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Placing Teacher Interns – Lets Get It Right

My school jurisdiction is lucky enough to be located near a university that houses one of the most highly regarded teacher training programs in the country. Throughout the year, on what seems like a continual basis, we welcome undergraduates into our school at various points on their road to becoming our next generation of teachers. Here is an overview of the internship program:

Education 2500 students receive an orientation to the teaching profession by spending 60 hours (20 mornings) in a classroom. During this they function in a role that is similar to a teacher assistant.

Professional Semester I (PS I) students begin their first official practicum after being admitted to the Faculty of Education and completing some required courses. In the PS I practicum interns are assigned to a classroom for approximately 125 hours (5 weeks).

Professional Semester II (PS II) students have completed more on-campus courses and are assigned to a classroom for approximately 150 hours (6 weeks).

Professional Semester III (PS III) students complete a final15-week full semester teaching internship that not only prepares them as a teacher, it helps them to begin nurturing the kind of professional relationships that will benefit them, their career and the students they will teach.

It’s comforting to know that our teacher training facilities are providing such a diverse offering of practicums for those who hope to undertake such important work. And most likely it is in the day-to-day experiences of each internship, and not during theory classes, that individuals discern whether or not teaching is for them. Over the years I’ve watched with great pride as young pre-service teachers polish skills and take flight. At the same time, I’ve had to be involved in the challenging and difficult work of steering struggling interns in a direction other than teaching. More often than not, the relationship between the mentor teacher and intern determines the success of the practium.

Here’s how intern teachers are assigned to mentors:

  1. In the spring interested teachers complete a Student Teacher/Intern Request and, if interested in a PSIII intern, are expected to include a professional development plan for the time they are not involved in teaching themselves.
  2. The form is passed onto the school principal for a signature.
  3. The form is forwarded to the Superintendent of Schools for a signature. (I’m happy to say that our superintendent expects to see first-rate PD plans or will send it back to be re-written)
  4. The form is sent to the Faculty of Education at the University to be reviewed at the time interns are being assigned.
  5. When a suitable match is identified, representatives of the Faculty of Education contact the school principal for approval.
  6. If approved by the school principal, the mentor teacher is contacted and a match is made.
  7. During the internship the mentor teacher and the intern carry out individual PD projects during their non-teaching time.

I’ve often wondered what, other than a certain amount of experience, qualifies a teacher to become a mentor. At times, the process ofimagesCAMIDX0I selection seems more like a right of passage than anything else. If you’ve been around the longest, you get the intern.

If we want our pre-service teachers to be prepared for teaching in the 21st century, shouldn’t we be matching them up with the most forward thinking, cutting edge teachers we can find? Perhaps interns should be assigned this way:

  1. School administrators should identify their most engaging and innovative 21st century teachers. (Years of experience should not be a factor)
  2. These teachers should be approached and encouraged to become mentors.
  3. Mentors and interns should work collaboratively to select an area of focus from this Framework for Student Learning.
  4. Collaborative action research on their area of focus should be carried out throughout the internship.
  5. As a team, the mentor and intern should apply their new learning in daily practice, engaging in ongoing reflection and professional conversation.

Transformation of our education system will not occur unless we place our teachers in the middle of the process. In my opinion, the mentor/intern relationship is a good place to start.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, Capacity Building, Education Transformation, Human Resources | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Try A Mystery Skype. Here’s Why.

If you’ve never tried a Mystery Skype with your class, you should. It’s a highly engaging way to build important competencies in your students. A Mystery Skype is just a simple guessing game at first sight, but it’s really so much more. Two classrooms arrange to connect with each other using Skype, and then take turns asking yes/no questions to try to discover each other’s exact location. It’s a great way to make an initial connection that may lead to further collaborative learning projects. Our students have participated in several Mystery Skypes this year, all of which have been easily arranged through my Twitter PLN. Here’s one from last month:


 

Take a look at the jobs students take on during a Mystery Skype. Then look at the competencies they are building and ask yourself why you shouldn’t give this a try. 

Greeters say hello and share cool facts about the class without giving away the location. (Leadership, Social Awareness, Cultural Awareness, Global Awareness, Communication, Self-Direction)

Question Askers ask the questions and are the voice of the classroom. (Collaboration, Leadership, Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, Decision Making, Social Awareness, Global Awareness, Creativity, Cultural Awareness, Communication, Self-Direction)

Question Answerers answer the questions after consulting with others. (Collaboration, Leadership, Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, Decision Making, Social Awareness, Global Awareness, Cultural Awareness, Communication, Self-Direction)

Think Tank sits in a group and figures out the clues based on the information they receive. (Collaboration, Leadership, Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, Decision Making, Creativity and Innovation, Communication, Digital Literacy, Self-Direction)

Google Mappers use Google maps to piece together clues and narrow down the location. (Collaboration, Leadership, Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, Decision Making, Creativity and Innovation, Global Awareness, Communication, Digital Literacy, Self-Direction)

Atlas Mappers use atlases to assist the Google mappers. (Collaboration, Leadership, Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, Decision Making, Creativity and Innovation, Global Awareness, Communication, Self-Direction)

Clue Keepers work closely with askers and answerers to help guide them in developing questions. (Collaboration, Leadership, Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, Decision Making, Creativity and Innovation, Global Awareness, Communication, Self-Direction)

Runners run from group to group relaying important information. (Collaboration, Leadership, Decision Making, Social Awareness, Global Awareness, Communication, Self-Direction)

Photographers take pictures during the call to share at a later date. (Leadership, Decision Making, Creativity and Innovation, Communication, Digital Literacy, Self-Direction)

Tweeters share real-time play-by-play of the event on a class Twitter account. (Leadership, Critical Thinking, Decision Making, Creativity and Innovation, Social Awareness, Global Awareness, Cultural Awareness, Communication, Digital Literacy, Self-Direction)

Videographers take video during the call to share at a later date. (Leadership, Decision Making, Creativity and Innovation, Communication, Digital Literacy, Self-Direction)

Entertainers share jokes, songs, etc. during a lull in the action. (Collaboration, Leadership, Critical Thinking, Decision Making, Creativity and Innovation, Social Awareness, Global Awareness, Cultural Awareness, Communication, Self-Direction)

Closers end the call in a nice manner after one class has guessed the location of the other. (Leadership, Decision Making, Creativity and Innovation, Social Awareness, Global Awareness, Cultural Awareness, Communication, Self-Direction)

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Enough said.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Community Engagement, Inclusive Education | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Principals – Try Team Teaching

“What better way to model learning and pedagogy than to actually teach?”

This quote comes from an excellent article written in 2010 by , a school principal in British Columbia and key member of my PLN. The article, titled Principals ARE Teachers, suggests that school leaders need to find ways to cut down on managerial type tasks and spend more time actually teaching. In his case, teaching also provided him with the opportunity to collaborate with and learn from the excellent teachers in his school. “True leadership”, he says, “happens in the classrooms, hallways, and playgrounds; management happens in our offices.”

I think most principals agree with this statement and would welcome the opportunity to spend more time as the instructional leader of their school. The problem, of course, is that increasing responsibilities and limited resourses stretches principals in many different directions, making it difficult to place an emphasis on any one aspect of their school leadership role. Below, for example, are the areas in which principals are expected to provide effective leadership in the province of Alberta.

Full version – principal quality standard 

1. Fostering Effective Relationships
2. Embodying Visionary Leadership
3. Leading a Learning Community
4. Providing Instructional Leadership
5. Developing and Facilitating Leadership
6. Managing School Operations and Resources
7. Understanding and Responding to the Larger Societal Context

Most princiapls who teach, I suspect, don’t really do so for the reasons Chris speaks of above. I have always taught since becoming a principal 14 years ago, but mostly as a budgetary measure in order to provide prep time for my teachers. I’ve enjoyed teaching subjects like Phys. Ed., Health, Religion, Library, and Guided Reading but have definitely fallen short in the areas of co-planning and collaboration. It always felt more like managing resources than it did instructional leadership.

Well this year things have changed. I’m team teaching. This, I think, is the best growth as an instructional leader I have ever experienced. Here’s how it works. Each class, along with their teacher, joins me in our Library/Media Centre for a 45 minute block of what I like to call “21st Century Learning Time.” I work with the teacher to plan, carry out and assess the projects completed in each block. Each project addresses learner outcomes from a variety of subject areas. The teacher and I both bring something to the table. I bring my passion for technology integration and 21st century competencies and they bring their expertise and knowledge of their grade level curriculum. It’s a win for me because I’m gaining a much better understanding of curriculum, pedagogy, and teaching styles. It’s a win for the teachers because they transfer many of the tools and strategies to their daily practice. And most importantly, it’s a win for the students because they are better engaged in their learning. Often, the 45 minute periods turn into an hour or more. Some of the Web 2.0 tools introduced includ iMovie, Storybird, Glogster, Tagxedo, Twitter, Voki, Audioboo, Kidblog, and Skype.

If you’re a principal reading this I’m sure you’re thinking about time. Teaching, and all the important activities that go along with it, takes time. Time that must be shared with all the other responsibilities required of a school administrator. Well, I’d ask you to consider this – how many of the 7 areas of effective leadership listed above do you think I’ve addressed by team teaching this year?

Categories: Capacity Building | Tags: , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Reflecting on Digital Literacy

In an effort to support my teachers in reflecting more deeply on their practice I’ve been using this teacher self-assessment tool since September. It is based on our provinces Teacher Quality Standard (TQS), which applies to teacher certification, professional development, supervision and evaluation, and which is supported by descriptors of selected knowledge, skills and attributes (KSAs) appropriate to teachers at different stages of their careers. We believe the tool is an excellent reference point for teachers to self-assess, reflect on, and engage in a professional conversation about their practice. So we set time aside in our monthly staff meetings to do just that. In small groups, the month’s KSA and it’s elements are discussed and in doing so strengths and areas for growth are identified. As part of our school improvement plan, teams of teachers are then offered release time to complete capacity building projects and improve current practice. 

We focus on one KSA at a time, as to not make the process overwhelming for our teachers. I’m acutely aware of the many important responsibilities competing for their attention each and every day. But this is important. If teachers are going to be expected to keep pace with the ever-changing education landscape, they must be given the time to review, discuss, and reflect on their current practice. Reflection, in my opinion, is underrated; and when combined with safe, respectful professional conversation with peers, is the single most important activity in support of continual growth.

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Looking at the TQS you will notice that the KSAs relate to competencies that have always been important in teaching. Things like the ability to plan effectively, an understanding of curriculum, solid classroom management, and relationship building. And, of course these will continue to be important in the future. What appears to be missing, unfortunately, is that whole area of digital literacy. The TQS, which guides teacher practice, has yet to be updated to include digital literacy.

So for the month of February our teachers have been reflecting on digital literacy and to what degree it’s been present in their daily practice. The tool below (click on it to see the entire tool) has been guiding their reflection. At next weeks staff meeting, when we come together for our monthly professional conversation, I hope my teachers identify the need to place a great deal of emphasis on this going forward. 

CLICK TO SEE COMPLETE TOOL

CLICK TO SEE COMPLETE TOOL

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Capacity Building, Education Transformation, ETMOOC | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

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