Keep Calm

Wow, it’s been a full year since my last post…it’s been a busy, fun filled, blessed year.

But this year has also come with it’s challenges (just like every other year:)).  The challenges seem to be draining me more than any other usual year.  I’m not really sure of the reason why, maybe the new school, maybe the new philosophy, maybe I’m getting old. :)  Recently, my husband texted me the following…

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Great advice from a very smart man (please don’t tell him I said that).  But, very fitting for the way my days were going.  Each day is always a new adventure, but each day I found myself questioning my decisions and rethinking my approach.  This simple phrase reminded me to continue to stay true to my beliefs about how to lead a school.

Leading a school is a tough job.  Don’t let anyone tell you any different.  When you are tired and drained, it is easy to lose your way.  Then there are beacons that remind you of your purpose.  After a particularly tough day, I walked down the hall into my office to see this…

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A beautiful reminder of the positive things we do every day, including the difficult ones.

From me to you…”Keep Calm and Principal On.”

imagine a place…

 

For the past few months I have been preparing to open a new school in our district.  I feel so fortunate, humbled and honoured to have this opportunity…oh and not to mention, just a little overwhelmed at times.

I think this is what most administrators would consider a dream…developing a vision, planning the space, the furniture, the schedule, the staff, etc.  And to be honest, it has been for me as well.

I recently had the opportunity to meet with our initial staff.  I spent a considerable amount of time researching, reflecting, questioning, thinking and re-thinking how the meeting should run.  There were sleepless nights and many discussions with colleagues and senior administrators.  I unintentionally “stole” an idea from another school when I came across the picture book, “Imagine a Place” written by Sarah Thompson.  After reading the book (which is a great resource for so many reasons) I decided to ask staff to “imagine a place.”  What would their ideal school look like, sound like, feel like?

So we read the book (actually watched it on youtube) and then crowded around a small table to reflect.  Here is what these amazing educators wrote:

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The remainder of our meeting went beautifully.  The teachers shared project ideas, instructional strategies, ideas around scheduling and school philosophy.  This activity helped to focus our work, our ideas and our reflections.

After taking time to read through the reflections I was filled with a sense of pride, awe and excitement!  This activity affirmed all of the work being done in preparing to open the school. It is a great visual of what we hope to achieve in our new learning environment.  Moving forward, I intend to use this chart as a reminder and as a focus in the work that we do.  Working together, we will “imagine a place” where students can be comfortable and succeed.

:)S

Scattered Reflections

I recently had a colleague mention to me something about my blog and how I hadn’t written anything in awhile…so I took a look, yep, it’s been a year.  :(  Ooops.  Somehow in the “busy”-ness of my life, this important part of what I do has been neglected.

My life has been a bit of whirlwind since last year.  I finished the year in a K-8 school, was transferred to an alternative high school for September-February and now I am in central office getting ready to open a NEW school!!!!

As I look at the task ahead of me I feel excited, overwhelmed, inspired and… scattered.  I feel pulled in many different directions on a daily basis.  This is not uncommon for a school Principal, just different in this context.  I was unsure of why I was feeling so scattered until I sat down and started to map out all the thoughts going through my mind.  Here is what it ended up looking like…

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And I have added more this evening…

My mind is continually racing, reflecting and processing our school philosophy and how to ensure we create a positive, collaborative culture in this new space.  These are two very critical components that speak to my heart about education and what we do every day in schools.  How will I effectively articulate and communicate these important pieces to the staff, families and community? I find myself going back to this question over and over again.

I have yet to come up with a definitive answer to this question.  I keep getting side-tracked, losing focus and being pulled to make other decisions.  My hope is that by reflecting here, I will be able to focus on a little bit of this fun “mess” that I am fortunate enough to be a part of.

And this is only my work life :).  At home, life has not slowed down with our four monsters. :) Hockey practices and games, school work, instrument lessons and practice and our sacred family time make up a week.  As a family, we realize it is vital to hold some time each week as special, time where we can re-connect and just “be” together.  Family supper times, watching a show together or playing a card game help to remind us of what is important.

Maybe there is a lesson in my family life that I could utilize in my work life?  Focusing on the important pieces of my work life and family life will hopefully help me to feel less “scattered” and more on-track.

Suggestions, ideas,  or advice are always welcome…

:)S

A favourite part of my day…

sunriseEvery morning I stand at the front doors of our school and welcome the students as they enter.  This is one of my favourite parts of the day.  I love starting their day with a smile and a cheerful, “good morning.”

We do not know how their morning has started. This greeting may be their first positive interaction of the day.  What a powerful responsibility.

As I have been at the school for a year and a half, I am proud to say that I know most of them by name.  I am able to ask about their week-end or their participation in events outside of the school.  It is my way to get to know these children a little bit more.  Getting to know them allows me to “read” their little faces.

Many questions cross my mind during this less-than-a-second daily interaction. Are they upset?  Are they angry? Or do they look happy and content? Did they eat breakfast?  Were they alone because their parents work early hours?  How was their bus ride?  Did they remember to bring their homework or library books?  Did someone read to them last night?  Were they given a hug by their mom or dad before they left for school?

There have been days where I rush to a teacher to let them know that I feel that student may have had a difficult start to their day or that a student is excited to share a family story!  I am able to share this insight with teachers if it is useful, but mostly, it is just a wonderful way to begin each day!

:)S

 

 

My four monsters…

four monsters

I believe becoming a parent has changed my outlook on teaching and education. I have been thinking a lot about this lately as my monsters grow. As some of you may know, I have four children. Yep…4! And although they share the same parents and have been raised in the same home, they are each unique in unbelievable ways.

Our oldest…she is so many things. In school she is bright and hardworking. She is kind, fair and just. She is kind to all she encounters. She loves younger children and tends to “mother” everyone. She has a strong sense of right and wrong and is not afraid to call anyone on it. This causes her some issues with her peers. She tries desperately to make things just and fair. In her mind this helps everyone to feel good. She is bright and she loves math, but she doesn’t want anyone to notice. She would rather be in the background, unnoticed. As is normal with girls her age, she struggles with her confidence. She doesn’t quite “fit in.” She is beautifully artistic. She can see lines, patterns and colors in the most mundane things. She loves to create and be creative. This is her passion. However, she has been told too many times, by too many adults, “Just do it my way this once… or you didn’t follow the steps…” So now, sadly, she only looks for the “right” way rather than the creative way to solve a problem or complete a task. As her parents, we work hard to nurture her creativity as we see this as a wonderful strength. As she grows older, she is developing a quick wit and a wonderfully sarcastic sense of humor. She can play the piano beautifully and paints with her heart.

Our oldest son is unique and has many different talents. He is exceptionally bright and a fantastic problem solver. I am pretty sure he has a photographic memory. He can see or read something once and remember it forever. Learning and athletics come easy for him. He rarely has to work hard to achieve. This can be a strength, but also a weakness. He is also a bit of a perfectionist and he hates to fail or make a mistake in anything. When he does, he folds into himself and needs time and space to feel better. He is an excellent problem solver. He doesn’t necessarily talk it out or write it out. I often wish I could get inside his mind to figure out what he is thinking. He is a wonderful athlete. He can participate successfully in almost any sport. However, his passion and love is hockey. He lives, breathes and sleeps hockey. When he is not on the ice, he is in our basement practicing, playing it on the Xbox or reading books about players. He loves the strategy of the game and has developed into quite a good player. But he is also sensitive and sometimes passive. It could be this is part of his perfectionistic nature. Sometimes he appears confident but underneath he is soft and wants approval. He loves to read! He always has an adventure type book on the go and we struggle to find books that are appropriate content that will hold his interest. He also loves to play guitar and is has a great voice. As his parents, we work hard to nurture is natural athletic ability but encourage him to be a strong self-advocate when necessary.

Our younger son also has a variety of special gifts. He is a hard worker in everyway. In school, he works hard in every subject. He can be focused and diligent. He loves math, but won’t say it. He doesn’t feel he is as good at it as his brother, so he doesn’t want people to know that he likes it. He likes to read, but not narratives. Give him a non-fiction book and he will read and re-read it. Then recite the facts for days. He loves to work with his hands and figure out how things work. He is a thinker and a doer. He is a great helper, he loves to help us cook dinner or even bake. I would call him a Mama’s boy, but he is also a Daddy’s boy. He loves his family and is loyal to a fault. He will even take a consequence for something his brother did and not say a word. He and his brother are similar in that they both love hockey. While his brother prefers to score goals, he likes standing in the net saving them. Being a goalie takes perseverance and strength of character (and a little bit of crazy). He loves to make people laugh. If there is a joke, he’s going to tell it. If there is a prank, he’s going to be involved. Usually with the best of intentions. He is quick to notice if someone’s feelings are hurt and apologizes for his part. He is learning to play piano, like his dad. He is good at the songs he can play with a partner, he enjoys being with others. As his parents, we try to encourage his hard work ethic and his sense of fun as well as nurture his sense of perseverance and loyalty.

Our youngest daughter is developing her own character.  She has decided that she likes hockey as well. She wants to skate as fast as her oldest brother and score lots of goals on her other brother. She is a determined (stubborn) little girl. She could barely stand on her skates at the beginning of the season, and now she is skating quite well. She is determined in life as well. If she has made up her mind, there is no convincing her otherwise. Especially with clothing…if it is “uncomfortable”, she will not wear it. While I know this trait will serve her well in life, it is frustrating to parent. Her determination has caused many morning arguments in our home. She is a great friend to her peers at pre-kindergarten and her day home. She understands that each of her friends is different and has talents. Of one little boy in her class who has some struggles, “he’s my friend, even when he makes bad choices.” She loves books and loves to listen to and to make up stories. Like her brother, she likes to make people laugh and she has a talent for it. She has a quick wit and can come up with some amazing one-liners that have us all in stitches. She loves to draw and create with her hands. Nothing with glue and scissors, rather clay and playdoh sculptures. And she loves to sing, she sings all the time and about the most boring of subjects. We encourage her creativity and her sense of humour and we will continue to nurture her determined, strong-willed spirit.

Four very different monsters. But they have taught me a lot about teaching and learning. While I want them to learn about Language Arts, Math, Science, Social and Religion, I also want them to develop into good people. Now, when I look at a child, I try to develop an understanding of them as a person. I understand that we can not realistically get to know each child as well as I know my own, but could i take a little time to get to know them a little better?  This is what I would love for each of my children’s teachers to do, why wouldn’t I do this for the students I serve? Each child is a unique combination of character traits that we need to unravel, understand, encourage and nurture.

Mindset…

mindset  - isolated word in vintage wood letterpress printing blocks

I recently had a conversation with a colleague about mindset and how mindset can affect many aspects of a school community. In Alberta, it feels as though we are going through a troubled time. Teachers feel unappreciated and overworked. There have been many conversations about Teacher workload and what we can do to help our hardworking teachers. How has teacher workload changed? Here is why I ask…

I began teaching in 1997. My first class consisted of 29 grade two students. There were 19 boys and 10 girls. Within this class I had 4 severe behavior students. One of those four would later gain educational assistant time as he had beaten me black and blue. In addition to those students I had 8 that required specific interventions for behavior needs. I had 3 students with diagnosed learning disabilities that required accommodations.   I also had 3 students who required challenge and enhancement. It was an extremely difficult year. I was exhausted and overwhelmed. I remember leaving school on the last day of school going home and telling my husband, “I will never teach again!” It took until the middle of summer to change my mind.

For the next seven years I worked in the same school. There were challenges and blessings. The school had a low achievement rate, we worked hard to help our students achieve. We worked hard to meet the needs of the students, families, administration and school district. We worked hard and we loved it.

Fast forward to 2015, we are still working hard, very hard. But what has changed? Our class sizes are similar (if not smaller) than 1997. The complexities of our classrooms are similar to what I experienced. I had to complete IPP’s and Action Plans for each student who required accommodations. I had to plan and re-plan. I had to assess and re-assess. I was continually looking for new ideas, strategies and lessons. So, what has changed?

I wonder sometimes if it is our mindset. Are we stuck in cycle of speaking negatively about our workload? Are we stuck in a cycle of complaining? If we don’t begin looking for the good in what we do, we will burn out.

In my recent conversation, I asked those questions of my colleague. Not to be accusatory but just a reflective question. She came to me a few days later and said, “Thank you Shelley.” As I had already forgotten about our conversation I asked, “For what?” She said, “I thought about what you said the other day and I have been trying to make some changes in the way I think about things…it’s making a difference.”

Do I think there are changes that we can make? Absolutely! But I think we need to begin with a shift in our mindset.

A good mentor

Mentorship_SupportDay 6: Explain.  What does a good mentor do?

A good mentor should demonstrate the following attributes:

A willingness to share:

A mentor should be willing to share their experiences, successes and failures.  New teachers learn through experience.  If a mentor is willing to share their teaching experience, a new teacher will benefit.

Positive and passionate

I believe these attributes should be assumed, however… A mentor must be positive and passionate about teaching.  If a mentor is cynical or negative they are not going to be able to assist or advise a new teacher in any positive way.  Mentors should be able to show new teachers how to see the sunshine through the rain.

Listener

A mentor should be a great listener.  They should be able to sit, listen and truly hear what the new teacher is saying.  Too often, we are quick to jump into a conversation with our thoughts, opinions or advice.  Is this always helpful?  I don’t think so.  There are times where a new teacher needs to “vent,” share or talk without interruption or suggestions.

Enthusiastic and engaged

Again, these should be assumed attributes… A mentor needs to be enthusiastic and engaged in their work each and every day.  We do not need mentors who are negative about the teaching profession.  Instead we need mentor teachers who enjoy what they do and encourage others around them to feel the same way.

Coach

The ability to provide professional constructive feedback to a peer is a difficult task.  However,  mentoring needs to be approached as a coaching opportunity. I find that asking reflective questions is a powerful way for new teachers to begin to develop their teaching practice.  The process of asking questions rather than critiquing has proven to be successful for me.  A mentor should be able to provide multiple solutions or strategies to a situation or problem.  The mentor should then be willing to allow the new teacher to try to implement some of those strategies (even if they think they won’t be successful) and then revisiting the issue.  A mentor should stand beside the new teacher as they navigate their way through their first years of teaching.

Lifelong learner

A mentor should be a lifelong learner consistently seeking out new information, ideas and strategies.  A mentor should be a questioner and a researcher.  I have often said that the day I quit wanting to learn more is the day that I should retire.

My school…

DSC_0046Day 5: Post a picture of your classroom (school), and describe what you see, and what you don’t see but would like to.

In our school I see the faces of the students.  Students reading, students collaborating, students learning.  Students smiling and laughing and students frustrated and sad.  Students growing and progressing.

In our school I see our staff.  We are so fortunate to have a dedicated and hard working staff at our school.  Teachers, educational assistants, secretaries, library clerk and custodians work together to make our school amazing.

In our school, I would like to see an opening of doors and change to our more traditional structures.  We are beginning to see teachers opening their doors to allow for a variety of learning environments and experiences.  Teachers are beginning to collaborate with grade level partners.  We have observed grade 7 students working with grade 3 and 4 students on a similar project.  More and more we are discovering that learning is not linear or compartmentalized.  So why do educators insist on teaching this way?  If we open our doors and shift our minds our students will benefit!

:)S

What I love most…

teaching and passion

Day 4: What do you love the most about teaching?

A few years ago I had the opportunity to watch my first class of students graduate from high school. As each of them walked across the stage to receive their diploma, I found myself in a state of awe. Each one had grown into a beautiful person, individual and unique. I had played a small part in helping them get across that stage. Now, as I see them in the community and ask them how they are doing, what they are doing, how their families are I find myself inspired to continue on my path. I have made a small but significant difference in the lives of students I have taught. Teachers change lives and although there are many significant issues facing education, I teach to change lives.

At the beginning of one school year, at a new school, I was “warned” about a specific student and his family. This student was a non-attender, struggled with anxiety and had several behavior problems. I was told that his family enabled and allowed his behavior. I decided early to determine my own judgments about the student and his family.   I knew I could become an advocate for this student. I remember the initial meeting with the family and the boy’s psychologist as being slightly tense. I listened to the concerns presented by the boy’s parents and his psychologist. I asked respectful questions about his diagnosis and the recommendations for the school. We developed a collaborative plan during this meeting that we hoped would help him attend school successfully. I spent the first month working closely with this boy and his family. I spent time getting to know what he liked about school, what he did not like and what he liked outside of school. I spent time developing a positive, trusting relationship with him. We joked, laughed and had fun playing practical jokes on our vice principal. I spent a lot of time defending him and advocating for his needs to the other staff members. Staff had done a great job of establishing an unfair, preconceived opinion about this boy. I reminded them, sometimes daily, he is a child, he is a student and he has a right to be in a safe and caring environment. I explained how his learning differs from “normal” students due to his various diagnoses. I would re-explain his plan for success to each staff member who would question me. He knew he could come to me for help with his anxiety, his schoolwork or just to chat about his day. By the second month, he was successfully coming to school every day for an hour. By Christmas he was attending school for a half day, every day. He knew that we cared; we would listen and he felt safe.  He was even able attend a couple of full school days, but consistently attended half days for the whole school year, a task he has never been able to achieve.  This boy and his family are proud of his achievements, and we are so very proud of him.

I love that I can teach with compassion!  Genuine caring is vital for success with students.  I hold strong beliefs about the power of building positive relationships with students and families.  I can demonstrate compassion in small, but meaningful ways, teaching children each day how to think, how to problem solve and how to move beyond what they know.  I will continue to teach and lead with a genuine and compassionate heart.  I will watch more students cross the stage to receive their diploma and remind myself, I played a small, but significant part of that.

:)S

Teacher Observation Plan

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Day 3: Discuss one teacher observation area that you would like to improve on. (I adapted this blog post slightly to fit with my role as school Principal)

Our teachers at St. Kateri are doing amazing work. We try to tell our teachers (and others) how great they as often as we can. Our teachers must feel valued and appreciated. They work hard each and every day. We also believe that even the very best teachers could improve in some way. Last year, the Vice Principal and I decided to work through each individual Alberta TQS KSA in a reflective and purposeful way. Each month was a different focus. Our teachers were encouraged to use the rubric provided to self-assess their current teaching practice. As an admin team we want to support each individual, as they improve their practice. Our goal of each observation is to coach, question, guide and support improvement and teacher efficacy.

To continue building on the work we started last year, we have developed the following plan.

We will:

  • Attempt to provide each teacher with at least 60 minutes of instructional supervision each month.
  • We will be using a shared Google doc to track our observations for the year.
  • Our observation will focus on the essential question that the teacher sets in their Professional Learning Plan at the beginning of the year and on TQS KSA’s.
  • A follow-up professional conversation will occur between the admin and the teacher. We will discuss strengths and questions to consider.
  • Written feedback will be provided to the teacher after the conversation.

An additional goal we have for this school year is to encourage and support teachers to initiate and complete peer-observations. The feedback provided by colleagues will be beneficial to all involved. Our plan is to initiate a discussion during our collaborative day on October 24th. We will encourage our teachers to “invite” a colleague to observe their teaching. The teacher will set the “focus area” for the observation. It will be critical for the teachers to have time to discuss the observation. The Principal and Vice-Principal will cover classes to help this process.

:)S