Posts Tagged With: teacher growth

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.

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 12.45.21 PM

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.


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

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.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, Capacity Building, Education Transformation, Human Resources | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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.

Categories: 21st Century Learning, Capacity Building, Education Transformation, Human Resources | Tags: , , , , , | 10 Comments

Learning Coach – A Philosophy, Not an Individual

My province, as part of the move toward a more inclusive education system, has posted the following definition on the Education Department website:

Learning Coach – a teacher who is knowledgeable about inclusion and curriculum, and is skilled at teacher collaboration and sharing promising practices. The learning coach works as part of the learning support team to build the capacity of the school, and works side by side with teachers to improve instruction and design learning experiences that are accessible, effective and engaging for all students.

Wow!  Who wouldn’t want a teacher with this kind of expertise at their school.  Imagine the growth and capacity building that would take place assuming the right person was assigned to a position like that.  Reluctant teachers would have the much-needed support to try new approaches and we would be well on our way to our province’s vision to transform the education system to one where students would become “engaged thinkers and ethical citizens with an entrepreneurial spirit” within an inclusive education system.  Problem is that funding is not provided to hire learning coaches, leaving schools on their own to find creative ways to work them in.

So last spring, while preparing a very tight budget for the current school year, we decided it was worth the effort to rearrange staffing and assign a .5 LC for our school.  The individual we selected brings a strong literacy background and full complement of engaging and innovative practices to the position, but perhaps most importantly places great value on collaboration and risk-taking.  I must say that the level of student engagement is definitely improving as they participate in an array of new learning experiences. Perhaps the most important outcome of each project has been that the classroom teacher increased their own capacity to incorporate important competencies into their daily practice and better engage all learners.  This is making our already good teachers even better.

But what about schools that are simply unable to allocate adequate funds for even a part-time Learning Coach.  Many would see this as an ‘extra position’ that simply could not be supported by an already stretched budget.  Expecting them to forgo other necessary expenditures just wouldn’t make sense.  So does that mean they will be unable to improve instruction and design learning experiences that are accessible, effective and engaging for all students, as outlined in the definition above?  Does it mean they are not knowledgeable about inclusion and curriculum, or skilled at teacher collaboration and sharing promising practices?  Of course not.

A Learning Coach, in my opinion, is not an individual but a philosophy.  It’s about building a culture.  It’s about providing the trust to experiment with new approaches.   It’s about learning together by sharing best practices.  It’s about taking advantage of the untapped expertise right in front of us.  Don’t just wait around for a silver bullet that may never arrive.  Start building the Learning Coach philosophy in your school tomorrow morning.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Capacity Building, Inclusive Education | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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