Posts Tagged With: teamwork

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

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

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

Bucket Filling is Shepherd Leadership

This past week my staff gathered for our annual retreat where the theme of “Bucket Dipping” challenged us to reflect on how we interact with others every day. How Full is Your Bucket?  by Rath and Clifton provided us with the following theory of the dipper and the bucket:

“Each of us has an invisible bucket. It is constantly emptied or filled, depending on our daily interactions with others. When our bucket is full, we feel great. We are productive. We make a positive impact on our workplace. When it is empty, we feel down. We are deflated.  Each of us also has an invisible dipper. When we do or say things that increase positive emotions in others, we are using that dipper to fill their buckets. Conversely, when we are negative, we are using that dipper to decrease others’ positive emotions by dipping from their bucket.”

It was a well-organized day that provided each of us with many opportunities to think about the ways in which we approach our individual roles in the school. I’m sure every staff member will take what they learned and apply it in the future.

For me, as the school principal, my attention was drawn to shepherd leadership, something I learned about a couple of years ago. Bucket filling, I thought, was a lot like shepherd leadership. At that time, the presenter outlined the differences between bad shepherding and good shepherding:

Bad Shepherds take care of themselves while Good Shepherds take care of the flock.

Bad Shepherds worry about their own health while Good Shepherds strengthen the weak and the sick.

Bad Shepherds rule harshly and brutally while Good Shepherds rule lovingly and gently.

Bad Shepherds abandon and scatter the sheep while Good Shepherds gathers and protect the sheep.

Bad Shepherds keep the best for themselves while Good Shepherds give their best to the sheep.

Then, to connect it to our work in our schools he suggested 4 elements of shepherd leadership that I live by to this day.

  1. Keep an eye on everything. (Know the heartbeat of your school.)
  2. Ignore most things. (You can’t solve all the problems.)
  3. Stand firm on a few things. (Choose your battles.)
  4. Praise a lot.

The theory of the dipper and the bucket is a lot like shepherd leadership, don’t you think?

Categories: Capacity Building, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Who’s Teaching Who?

I’ve been noticing some interesting happenings around my school this year. The long-standing relationship between teachers and

DIGITAL NATIVE

students is starting to change. In a slow way and in small amounts it seems as though there is starting to form a notion that the teacher is not the only source of wisdom, knowledge and information around here. As I walk through the school observing teaching and learning it is not uncommon to see student as teacher and teacher as learner. I believe this is because as teachers risk new approaches they look to these digital natives who have a whole different level of comfort with 21st century learning. Here are a few examples of what I’ve witnessed:

  1. Our grade 2 students were learning about a cool new App called Phototangler. I watched as the teacher started explaining how to use it, step by step. Within seconds students were getting ahead of the teacher so she changed gears and just let them play. They soon started showing her parts of the App that she had not figured out herself.
  2. One class was learning about Twitter. The teacher had recently set up a Twitter account herself and was using the school library account @stmarylibrary to show the students how to connect with others. One particular student was very knowledgeable about Twitter and the teacher allowed her to control the smart board and show the class how it worked. The student explained all about follows, hashtags, and chats and in the end the teacher asked even more questions than the students.
  3. A couple of weeks ago I sent the link to our grade 6 blogs out to my PLN to assist the students in receiving some quality comments. I’ve been very impressed with their posts and wanted to share them with others. Low and behold, a college professor from New York  @SocialAcademic responded to my Tweet, suggesting that perhaps our students could motivate hers to start blogging. In the following days many of her students submitted wonderful comments on our grade 6 blogs. Many of them, we hope, will start blogging as well. 11 year olds showing college students how it’s done. Wow!
  4. Aren from grade 6 has become our resident iPad expert. He knows and understands settings and configurations better than any adult on staff. Whenever we are experiencing a glitch with the iPads he either already knows how to fix it or he figures it out. Of course, our division techie is a bit leery about this. lol       

These digital natives that come to us every day are simply not wired the way we were as students.  We didn’t do much problem solving, decision-making, or leading in our own learning.  Those skills weren’t seen as important because when we left school and went to work most of us expected to be told what to do.  This is no longer the case. In today’s world there is more scope for autonomy and decision-making and our students are naturally put together this way.  We need to be sharing learning with our students, not just delivering it to them. I am happy to see that things appear to be moving in this direction.

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

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