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

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

Tech Integration Goal

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Day 2: Write about one piece of technology that you would like to try this year.  You might also write about what you are hoping to see out of this edtech integration.

And as usual… late with my post for day #2.  :)

This year I would like to support the integration of technology in meaningful ways.

In my teaching assignment this school year, I have developed assignments that encourage student choice in presentation style.  Students have access to technology to research, create and present their learning.  I allow students to use personally owned devices in my class.  My hope is that this practice will become more common in our school.

One specific piece of technology that I am looking forward to learning about and implementing, is iMovie.  I have been lucky to view numerous iMovie projects, but I am not sure about the process students go through as they create using this technology.  I know that students are more comfortable than I am with the software.  I need to be willing to “let go” of control and allow the students to create.

I believe iMovie will prove to be another engaging and meaningful way for students to demonstrate their learning.  I look forward to trying it out!

:)S

Teaching the way students learn…

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How often are we standing in the way of our student’s learning?  Why can’t we let go of “our way” of doing things?

Project Based Learning = Authentic Learning Experiences = TEACHING THE WAY STUDENTS LEARN.

Students learn by doing…

Students learn by communicating…

Students learn by collaborating…

Students learn by creating…

As I recently read through Alberta’s Framework for Student Learning, I couldn’t help but see the connections between Authentic Learning experiences and the competencies that Alberta students should have when they leave our schools.  As we embrace these competencies, I believe it will be difficult, if not impossible, to continue teaching in a “traditional” fashion.

The Alberta Framework for Student Learning states that we need to develop students who will be able to:

  • think critically
  • know how to learn
  • identify and solve complex problems
  • manage information
  • innovate
  • create opportunities
  • apply multiple literacies
  • demonstrate global and cultural understanding
  • demonstrate good communication skills and the ability to work cooperatively with others
  • identify and apply career and life skills

The competencies cannot be separated.  They are interconnected and interrelated.  Our traditional approach to teaching: teaching individual concepts in isolation will not work in a competency learning environment.

Authentic or Project Based learning is messy, busy and a bit chaotic…isn’t this how kids learn?  Students learn new concepts by making connections to prior understanding or relating the new concept to something they already know.  Students love messy!  They love busy and chaotic!  They love to play!

It’s time to change the way we teach to coincide with the way our students learn.

:)S

Honest, meaningful feedback and sharing #SVAMP

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I seem to be facing the same question lately about how to build a school culture that provides honest feedback to one another.

As educators, we seem to be very afraid of the words “observation,” “supervision,” or the worst…”evaluation.”  These words bring on dry mouth, sweaty palms and high blood pressure in the most seasoned educator.

We are reluctant to share what we do or what we know.

Why?

Why are we so afraid to let others see what we are doing?  

As teachers, we spend a lot of time working…that’s news to some of you right? :)  Honestly though, most teachers spend a crazy amount of time planning, preparing, thinking about, revising, reflecting, assessing, revisiting, reteaching, researching, planning again….  It is only natural when we invest that much time, energy and heart into something that we want others to see the value in it as well.

To allow someone else to observe or provide feedback becomes personal.  Somehow we need to begin to separate the professional from the personal.  This is an incredibly difficult task for any teacher or administrator.  I have spent time, energy and a lot of thought making our school plan for Teacher Growth.  It has become “mine,” which makes it personal.  We were asked to post our plans to a district wiki as a means to sharing our ideas.  I was extremely nervous to put our ideas “out there” for everyone to see. 

Why don’t we share what we know?

I also believe we need to spend more time sharing our experiences and our learning.  We ask our students to share what they have learned, what they read about, what strategy they used each and every day.  Why do we not ask the same of our colleagues?  We are a collective group of “experts.”  We have failures to share and the learning from the experience. We have successes that can be celebrated and replicated. 

Recently I was asked to share our school plan for Teacher Growth and Supervision.  I reluctantly agreed.  And…I am dreading it.  I have said to my VP and to my husband, “I’m going to tell them I don’t want to do it, I can’t do it.”  I really, really, really don’t want to get up in front of my colleagues and explain or share our plan.  Just the idea of it makes me sick to my stomach.  Why?  I believe my plan is well thought out and will help teachers improve their practice.  I have heard positive feedback from district office and teachers at our school. I value the opinions of my colleagues, however I am nervous to be “judged.”

Why not open our doors to feedback, advice and professional criticism so that we can be better at what we do?

I want my teachers to be comfortable enough to hear my observations, answer my questions and accept any advice I may have.  My intention is only to help each teacher become the best teacher they can be.  However, I realize it is scary to allow ourselves to be vulnerable to others opinions or criticism.  We can become better when we work together, right?

I love this video clip of Dylan Wiliam speaking about teachers getting better…(shared with us by our Assistant Superintendent)

Why do I struggle to put the same ideas into practice for my own situation?

How can we begin to share?

As I say in almost every post I write…we must first build relationships with the people we work with.  This goes for students, staff, colleagues and families.  If we do not take the time to build those relationships, we will never get to the place where we can provide meaningful, honest feedback that that will make a change in a classroom, a school or for a student.

At our school, through our Teacher Growth Plan we have some ideas for sharing.  One idea: We begin each staff meeting with a Power Point of our observations through the month.  We have an observational focus each month, so we focus on all the great things we see our staff doing.  This Power Point is on a loop as our teachers come in and get ready for the meeting.  We believe it is a great way to affirm what is already happening in our school.  Our hope is that it will be a catalyst for professional conversation.

Will I share our plan with my fellow administrators? Yes… no… yes… not sure….ARGH!!

:)S

Collaboration

“Collaboration allows teachers to capture each other’s fund of collective intelligence.”
― Mike Schmoker

Teachers have traditionally taught in isolation.  Even with a huge push for collaboration and PLC’s there are still few teachers who truly collaborate in a meaningful way.  I have only had a three collaborative experiences that I feel made a positive impact on my teaching over the last 16 years.  Why?

During each of these experiences I worked with the same colleague.  Now before I go much further, I need to explain my relationship with this colleague.  To say we are polar opposites is an understatement.  I am usually calm and quiet, she is usually loud and boisterous.  I need to have a plan, be planned and usually follow the plan.  And, although my colleague carefully plans, she is able to be much more flexible and can easily and effectively “fly by the seat of her pants.”  She is messy to my OCD neatness.  During our time together, I learned that it is okay to “let go” of the plan once-in-awhile and to have more fun with the kids.  She challenged my inside the box thinking many times, to push us to think beyond the traditional or expected.  Our approach to teaching may be different, but we had built a relationship of trust and respect.  We both believed deeply that each student had the ability to improve and to learn.  We loved each and every student we taught.

Our collaborative experiences were personally and professionally driven.  Each collaboration began with either a wondering or a question to be answered.  Our first collaborative experience began out of a staffroom conversation.  We were both struggling with students who were not progressing with their reading.  We developed a plan to collaborate and fully investigate this problem.  This was the beginning of our adventure.

Through each experience we had support.  By supporting our endeavours, our administrators allowed us the freedom to take a risk, to try something new, with support.  I am sure that they worried about us and what we were undertaking each time. But, their trust in us did not waiver.  They had faith in us.

Although the question or wondering was different each of the three times, we developed a similar framework or set of “protocols.”  One rule we created was, “no excuses” during our collaborative time.  It is simply too easy to get caught up in all the reasons why we “can’t” teach in a certain way or to point an admonishing finger everywhere else.  So to re-focus, we tried to discuss positive solutions to issues we had control over.  We attempted to focus on what we could do with our teaching time.  We found that this ensured we were not just complaining our collaborative time away.

We were accountable to each other.  We set timelines and deadlines.  And for the most part, we stuck to them.

We began to value our collaborative time so much, that we discovered creative ways to make “more” time to collaborate and work on our projects.  One year we asked to coordinate our Library block and our Music block.  Another year each of us worked with a student teacher.  During their APT there are times they are encouraged to teach on their own.  We coordinated the time as best we could and met.  The value of this time was not measurable, we met after school and during lunch breaks.

Now, a number of years later, I am once again working with my collaborative partner.  She is my VP!  We have easily slid back into our old trusting relationship.  We are once again collaborating on not only how to improve individual classrooms, but an entire school!  We have been discussing how to build more collaborative time into the already busy days of each teacher.  We are busy developing a plan to improve our practice as instructional leaders.  We see the power and impact positive collaboration can have, how do we best share this information with our teachers in a way that will ignite collaboration?

:)S

Alone-We-Can-Do-So-Little

September #SAVMP

september

Well, September has come and gone.  What a month!  Being in a new school, I anticipated being busy and tired by the end of the month.  I could never have anticipated being as emotionally and physically exhausted as I was on September 30th.

A new school and a new school year brings excitement, busy-ness and anticipation.

This September brought a new Junior Kindergarten program to the school.  I love, love, love this program!  So, I was through-the-moon excited to have it at our school.  We had to hire an instructor and set up an empty classroom, shuffle Educational Assistants and transition these beautiful 4 year old children into the school.  I love going into this classroom and spending time with these cuties!

This September brought 2 un-well teachers who would be off work for a minimum of two months.  Hiring good teachers quickly is not an easy task.  Being hired somewhat last-minute and being ready to teach is also not easy.  Both teachers have done a fabulous job for us!

This September brought 40 new, unanticipated students to our school.  These new students were welcomed with open and loving arms.  However, again, we had to hire a new teacher and reconfigure classes.  This meant shuffling students from four classes into five classes.  Student’s, parent’s and teacher’s anxiety levels were high.  My role was to calm some of the anxiety and ease the transition.

This September brought 3 expecting teachers.  One teacher, who is expecting twins (yay!) had to begin her leave much earlier than anticipated.  She was so upset to be leaving her little students behind.  We calmed her and told her to go and put her feet up, she would be busy soon enough with her own little ones.  More hiring…

This September brought tragedy to our little district…twice.  Two grade 10 boys passed away suddenly within weeks of each other.  These tragedies greatly affected our high school students, families, teachers and staff.  I am so proud of our school district and how they have worked through these difficult days.  We have been blessed with outstanding  support provided by our Superintendent, Assistant Superintendents, Director of Inclusive Education and Director of Religious Education.  The tragedy also reached four other schools as we all feed into the same high school.  One of those four schools was ours.  One of the boys attended and his younger sister still attends our school.  It has been a difficult time for the students, families and staff.  Being new to the school, I did not know the boy, his sister or his family… I do now.  I found it challenging to navigate my way through each day as I had never previously dealt with the death of a student.  Ensuring that the right supports were in place for the right time and for the right person is a difficult task.  I am proud of our school.  We pulled together to support our students and each other.  When his sister returned to school we had to work closely as a team.  These were difficult days.  Each new day seems to get a bit better for her, her close friends and the staff.

This September brought the death of our much loved family dog, Nutmeg.  She was with us for 13 years and was loved by each of us.   She always made things easy for us, her death was no exception.  She was not well, she could not see or hear well and her back hips were getting worse by the day. So, instead of forcing us to make a difficult decision, she went peacefully in her sleep.  We all spent time petting her and saying good-bye before we decided to bury her close to where my childhood dog is buried.  It was an extremely difficult day for all of us.  Watching my husband and children hurt broke my heart over and over and over again.  Nutmeg is missed everyday, but we are confident that she is at peace, happier and healthier where she is.

This September brought me to reflect on what is important, and what is not important right now.  I find myself spending more time with my children at the end of the day, doing homework, playing a game, reading a story or listening to their stories.  I find myself spending more time in classrooms, in the hallways and outside with students.  I have let go of some committees and commitments for right now.

And that was September…(and I very briefly wondered why I was so tired at the end of it!)

As much as I have gained through my experiences this past month, I am looking forward to October, hoping it may be a little less “eventful!”

:)S

Why I Lead… #SAVMP

My last school year was a difficult one.  There were many difficult and complex situations with students that left me feeling emotionally drained at the end of each day.  I got to the point where I was asking myself, “Why do I do this?”

Then I happened to come across a tweet…

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That led me to a blog…

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Which had this You Tube video embedded…

After viewing this video, I reflected on “Why I Stay”… which to me also answers the question, “Why I Lead?” posed by our SAVMP

I lead because….

First and foremost for the students.  I love, love, love being with and around children.  Their joy and exuberance are contagious.  On some of my most difficult days I leave my office and head for a classroom.  Any classroom really.  I help the students, visit with students, read to students, even just sit in the back of the classroom and observe the action.  These “visits” bring my perspective back to what I feel is most important.  The students.  These students who walk into our buildings each day.  Some are excited to come each day to learn and engage in the learning process.  Some come because their parents force them too. :) Some students come because it is the only place where they feel safe and cared about.

I lead because…

I feel I can make a positive difference.  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.  I have come to realize that I may never witness the fruits of my labour because they come further down the road.  But I am confident that I make a difference by doing the little things (like a simple smile, hug or helping hand) to doing the big things (like finding housing for a young family, feeding a family or raising funds for medicine for a student).

I lead because…

I love to collaborate with colleagues and staff.   I believe that all teachers want to improve so they can better reach their students.  I am NOT the keeper of all knowledge, I do NOT have all the answers. But, I believe by working together we can find the best and most practical solution to a problem or question.  I am a supporter, an encourager and a cheerleader! My superintendent has commented about my ability to quietly lead people.  I was not the only one feeling disheartened and disillusioned last year.  I could feel it in the staffroom.  I used the above video for an activity at the beginning of a staff meeting.  After we viewed the video each teacher had time to create their own “poster” about why they stay in education.  We created a bulletin board of our posters above the photocopier.  Teachers found the activity inspiring and up-lifting.  We all knew that when we needed a quick reminder, we could go take a look at the board.

I lead because…

I love to learn.  My parents instilled in me a love of learning from a very young age.  My parents view education as a way to realize your full potential.  As educators, we are in the profession of learning, we must be life-long learners.  I am a huge reader.  I love, love, love to read.  Before beginning my graduate work, I would read professional magazines, publications and books.  I always have a stack of unread books to get to.  By reading, I am able to learn new theories, ways of doing things, best practices, research, the list goes on and on…

I lead because…

Of these four monsters….

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Each of my four children is completely unique.  At times, I wish they were more similar, maybe they wouldn’t fight so much.  But, they are so very, very different.  Our oldest daughter, Naomi is very artistic, creative and thoughtful.  She LOVES animals of any kind.  She is nurturing and kindhearted.  She frequently goes into her own “world” and is easily distracted.  Our oldest son, Reid, is extremely athletic and a quick problem solver.  His mathematical skills  and reasoning shock and astound me daily.  He is also a perfectionist and hates to make mistakes, but he loves to make people laugh.   Our youngest son, Trey, is a hands on learner.  He needs to know how things work and why things were built the way they were.  He is also athletic, what he lacks in talent he makes up in bull-headed determination.  He desperately seeks approval from his older brother.  Our youngest daughter, Alexa, is still quite young but in her we see stubbornness determination, quick wit, and a mischievous edge.  She is quick to pick up new concepts and she loves to “read” stories.

By watching my children grow and learn I have come to believe, we can no longer teach using a “one-size fits all” model.  Our classrooms are much too diverse.  If our goal is for students to learn we need to research best practices and utilize various strategies to meet their individual as well as collective needs.  Our classrooms need to evolve and change so that all children can grow to their full potential.  By becoming an effective leader, I can work towards an education that embraces these ideas.

So back to my initial story of my last school year.  It was a difficult year with many challenges right to the very last day.  But it was also a year full of celebrations, progress and learning.

So, “Why do I do this?”  I do THIS simply because I love it!  I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

:)S

Something to Say…

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Before March of this year, I had never even thought of blogging about my professional experiences or opinions. I had briefly considered blogging about my parenting experiences. As a mother of four, there are some things I feel I could say, funny stories, silliness and some serious topics. But I had never ventured past the initial thought process.

Then at our teachers convention in March a session titled, “The Networked Leader” caught my attention. I had heard about twitter, but didn’t feel that following celebrities would impact my teaching. :) Blogging was in the session description as well. So, I went…

In the end, I dove into the world of twitter and blogging. And I love it (mostly).

I find myself struggling to write meaningful posts. It is easy to write reflective pieces about my experiences, but the posts with opinion and fact are more difficult. And I am haunted by a statement the presenter of the session (the infamous George Couros @gcouros) made. He said, as admin if you have nothing to say, get out of admin. Now, he went on to qualify that statement and it totally made sense to me.  He also wrote about it in his post, “The Prophets in Your Land”

However, I continued to struggle to find “something to say.”

This process has forced me to reflect on my leadership style. How can I make a meaningful difference at a school if I have nothing to say? How can I effectively run a school if I have nothing to say? So I forced myself to consciously notice when I “say something.”  Through this process, I discovered that I do “say” a lot and have a lot to offer to students and teachers.  Also, moving from my school, my students and staff provided many examples of ways that I “say” things and meaningful examples of what I said.

I attempt to take a gentle and coach-like approach.  I take the time to think about the best approach of  how I can best support and encourage , rather than tell students and staff “the right way” to do things. I provide suggestions, articles, research, and support.  I have never said, I have all the right answers, but I will assist in finding the answers.  I enjoy this part of my job.  I feel that anyway I can help make the job of a teacher easier or more efficient, it is worth my time.

So, I guess I do have something to say.  Maybe my struggle was more with how to put it out there.   I value and respect my colleagues, within my district, city, province and now PLN.  My hope is that they find value in what I have to “say.”

:)S

Reflecting, Learning, Growing

My journey into the world of twitter has been a bit of a whirlwind. My professional learning has been immediate, relevant and meaningful.  Videos on my twitter feed and embedded in blogs are directly linked to instructional practice, assessment strategies, classroom management, professional learning, inspiration…the list goes on and on…

Here are three videos that have caused me to reflect on my practice, grow in my role and affirm my beliefs about education.  I find myself pulled back to these three videos, for different reasons, but I go back again and again and again…

1.  How to Escape Education’s Death Valley – Sir Ken Robinson

Sir Ken Robinson…a master educator…his words cause me to question current practices, reflect on my beliefs and grow as an educator.

Each time I view this video, I come away with a new learning or a different way to look at things…

Some of the points that I am currently pondering:

  • If you have more than 2 children, you know how different they are…why do we insist on teaching to the middle?
  • Education is about creativity…how do we encourage creativity in our school or our students?
  • We may be engaged in teaching, but we may not be actually achieving learning.
  • Alternative education options should become the norm
  • Even in “Death Valley” there is life.  The example he shared of the rainstorm in Death Valley and the following spring was an incredibly powerful image.    Our students are the “seeds of possibility.”
  • The role of leadership is NOT command and control, the real role leadership is creating a climate of possibility

2. Every Kid Needs a Champion – Rita Pierson

The second video has also been through the twitter world.  Rita Pierson speaks passionately about education and her presentation spoke directly to my heart ♥.  I remember being told early in my admin career, “You know Shelley, it’s not all about the kids.”  I remember feeling like the wind had been knocked out of me…I believe education is all about the kids!  Without the kids, what do we have?  Why are we doing what we are doing?

Some ideas that I want to remember, reflect on and shout in the staffroom!

  • Education is about relationships
  • Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like!
  • A simple apology from a teacher is a powerful way to build a relationship
  • It’s ok to feed kids, buy lice shampoo, teach students how to wash their hair and brush their teeth
  • We may not like each and every kid, but they had better never know that
  • I want to leave a legacy of relationships!
  • Every child deserves a champion

3.  10 Expectations

And finally, a video shared by George Couros in his recent blog.  (On a side note, I blame George for my journey into twitter and blogging.  Sometimes this is good, sometimes this is bad…:))

Anyways… this video shares 10 fair expectations students have regarding their education.

This video had me questioning:

  • How often do we ask our students what they “expect?”
  • What might we learn if we asked that question?
  • How often do I fail at meeting a student’s expectations of me?
  • How can I ensure that I meet their expectations?
  • How would I do on an assessment based on meeting these 10 expectations?

Each video is very different, but each causes a similar response in me.  To continue in my profession I must continue to reflect, learn and grow.

:)S