Posts Tagged With: Teachers

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

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.

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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.

 

Categories: Education Transformation, Human Resources | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

We Need to Disagree Better

We’ve all done it.  The moment someone retweets our thoughts, we head straight  to their profile and click the follow button.  Why not?  They obviously like the way we think and that’s good for our ego and self-esteem.  If we follow them, and they follow us we will have one more person entrenching us in our way of thinking.

As a matter of fact, teachers in most schools tend to connect and work with colleagues who see the world through the same eyes as them.  It’s so much easier to collaborate with others who are on the same page.  Even when hiring, leaders look for individuals who are going to fit the best with their philosophy and way of thinking.  In general, human beings don’t like to openly disagree with the ideas of others. There just seems to be too much work involved with it, and more often than not it leads to some level of conflict.  Why engage in conflict when it can be avoided?  If things go wrong it also may affect our standing within our school or organization.  So most of us go through our careers never giving ourselves the opportunity to learn from people who might challenge our way of thinking.

It’s my opinion that this kind of thinking supports the status quo and will slow us down significantly in efforts to transform education.  Not only do we need to do a better job of connecting with those who see things differently, we also need to approach conflict not as a roadblock but as working toward a solution.  We must listen to the ideas of others and be prepared to change our minds.  When approached in this manner, spirited collaboration can produce some of the most creative and innovative solutions and ideas.

Last week, at my opening staff gathering  I shared this Ted Talk by Margaret Heffernan called Dare to Disagree.  In the conversation that followed, all agreed that if our collaborative efforts are to make a real difference, we need to be more willing to disagree and bring conflict into our processes.  All agreed to make this effort in the year that lies ahead.

I encourage each of you in my PLN to engage, both online and in person, with passionate and caring individuals who challenge your way of thinking every day; and even with a few that think the same way as you.

Categories: Capacity Building, Community Engagement, Education Transformation, Human Resources | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Hire Right

As we head into the final month of the school year, I find myself in the enviable position of welcoming three new teachers onto my team starting September 2012. One teacher will be transferring in from another school while the other two will be new hires. This is where, I believe, school leaders have a real opportunity to advance the transformation agenda. Phrases like “get the right people in the right seats on the bus” and “one bad hire creates years of entertainment” have never been more true than they are today. A lot of pain, suffering and disappointment can be avoided if we get it right in the first place.  When we hire right, we immediately build the capacity of our team. That’s why I’m going about it in the following way:

First of all the incoming transfer. Yesterday I invited the individual to our school where my associate principal and I met with her for about an hour and a half. With a great deal of enthusiasm we went through the items on the following list:

The list includes ideas and initiatives we have been exploring as a staff and we wanted to show this teacher right from the beginning what we are all about. After doing so we invited her to join us on the journey. It was an inspirational meeting and I am encouraged that we are welcoming someone who will make a great fit on our staff and a great impact on our students.

Now for the two new hires. Below is one of the two advertisements we have posted on our division website.

PROBATIONARY FULL TIME TEACHER: Ecole St. Mary School

Closes On: Monday June 04, 2012
We currently are looking to hire a probationary 1.0 FTE teacher at Ecole St. Mary School in Lethbridge commencing August 29, 2012 and ending June 28, 2013. This position requires someone who would be able to provide instructional support in Grades 1-6. The successful candidate must have the ability to work collaboratively with colleagues, team teach, plan, carry out, and assess competency based units of instruction that connect directly to the learner outcomes from the program of study. Experience in working with students from a variety of cultures, including FNMI will be considered an asset. Forward thinking risk-takers will be given consideration.

There are probably a few more areas that could have been touched upon in this add, but we hit on the areas that we feel are important today. You can decide for yourself how we did. The point is to serve notice that there are some nonnegotiables involved in signing on with us. The interview, of course, will flush these out even further, and it is our intention to hire individuals who are ready and willing to share the vision for our school. Once hired our new teachers can expect to be held accountable for their actions and practice in relation to this vision. They can also expect a high degree of trust and undying support from their administrators.

Wish me luck.

Categories: Capacity Building, Education Transformation, Human Resources | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Don’t Forget the “Little Picture”

As an administrator I’ve always had to keep my eye on the big picture. At least that’s what I’ve always told others when they asked why a particular initiative had been undertaken or a decision had been made. After all, everyone must know that if we spent all our time tending to the needs and concerns of individuals we wouldn’t get anywhere. There has to be a big picture. That’s what a vision is and any good leader has a vision for their organization, right?

Well over the past few years my thinking has taken a 180 in this area. In Kouzes & Posner’s The Leadership Challenge they describe a good leader as “someone who is able to be in the balcony and on the dance floor at the same time.” You see, we’ve got to look beyond the big picture if we hope to move our schools forward. With each and every system wide or school wide change there are many individuals who are each affected in their own way. It is our job to understand this and work with those within our circle of influence to assist them in better understanding and moving forward.

With society and education changing faster than ever, there has been no more important time than now for leaders to see the little picture. Excellent teachers are being called upon to transform a pedagogy that has been a mainstay in our educational institutions for decades. Leaders must paint a vision and enlist individuals to join them in bringing it to life. Transformation will happen, but it will take place one teacher at a time, in their own way and at their own pace.

So think big and push the envelope, but don’t take your eye off the little picture.

Categories: Capacity Building, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Teachers – Invite Them and They Will Tweet

For some time now I’ve been preaching to my teachers about the benefits of Twitter. Since opening my own account in May 2011 I would say that I’ve grown more as an educator than in the previous 20 years. The personalized learning offered through a quality PLN is second to none when it comes to relevant professional growth. I know this, but have often wondered if those I work with feel the same way. On more than one occasion in the past, I’ve felt the rolling of eyes while sharing my latest Twitter gold nugget with whoever is ready and willing to listen.

When two teachers approached me a few days back to ask if I would consider hosting an “Introduction to Twitter” supper session, I must say I was a bit reluctant. Hesitant to act on the request, I told them we would probably be the only one’s there, but decided to give it a try, and on February 7th I fired off the following email:

“Good Morning Everyone,

A few of you have asked me about the possibility of having a session to learn more about how to use Twitter. In my opinion, there are many benefits of having your own Twitter account or one for your class. If interested, I would like to invite you to a sharing and learning session Thursday, February 16th from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. in our school library. I will provide great food and a babysitter if needed. Let me know if you are interested.”

I was surprised to hear back from a couple of teachers later that day and could not have imagined that the numbers would continue to grow. The next morning a couple more committed to attending and by the end of that day we were at 20.  One by one, almost every teacher on staff took up the offer to attend the session – on their own time. I was reminded of the importance of inviting rather than forcing when it comes to new learning experiences.
 
This evening we met. We set up Twitter accounts, followed great educators, and were introduced to hashtags, retweets and favorites. We learned, laughed and ate together. It was a powerful collaborative experience.  I am proud to introduce these great educators. Please consider giving them a follow.  @arlenewilliams9 @TedGross2 @BKindergarten @WingerterL @CrystalLothian @ANemecek
@ERodzinyak @AnnieGreeno @MeganRSLP @lisemccormack @CorkyKovach @millers6 @kimyearous
@EAMunroe @DoddiMatz @HeideeW @TheresaMead @JordanGroves2 @KBouch8 @cdsmeaton    
Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Capacity Building | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Capacity Building – The Best PD – Period!

“When teachers recognize that knowledge for improvement is something they can generate, rather than something that must be handed to them by s0-called experts, they are on a new professional trajectory. They are on the way to building a true profession of teaching, a profession in which members take responsibility  for steady and lasting improvement. They are building a new culture of teaching.” (Hiebert & Stigler, 2004, p. 15)

This year we are directing all our professional development budget to “Capacity Building Teacher Projects.” It’s a move away from sending teachers to conferences or workshops and bringing presenters into our school. It’s also a move toward utilizing the experts among us as teachers work together to improve instructional practices. Here’s how it works:

  1. Each project needs to align with our school improvement plans, which were determined by our teachers and others within the school community. Our current focus is on “Engaging the 21st Century Learner.” 
  2. Each project takes place on site.  Release time is provided.
  3. Each project must include at least two teachers.
  4. The results of the project are shared with others. This can be done through a presentation, a handout, moodle, our staff Wiki, etc.

The Hiebert & Stigler quote from their article in the Journal of Staff Development really resonates with me. As I watch with amazement all the wonderful capacity building that is taking place at my school this year, I really do see this as the best form of teacher growth. There is so much untapped knowledge, experience, and expertise in our own teachers. We just need to give them an authentic opportunity to share it.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Capacity Building, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , | 8 Comments

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