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

Goals for the School Year

day one

So, this is my first post in a 30 day blog challenge. This challenge was created by teachthought.com (see it here) and ran for the month of September.

In true LaCroix fashion, I am just starting :).

Day 1. Write your goals for the school year.  Be as specific or abstract as you would like to be.

As we begin a new school year, I find that there are so many goals I wish to accomplish.  From the smallest of things to the biggest of ideas.  My goals are worded as questions that I would like to explore through this school year.

  1. How can I support teachers as they improve in their teaching practice?
    Our teachers do an amazing job with students each and everyday.  I truly believe that my role is to support them as they become the best teacher they can be.  This holds true for the newest teachers and the veteran teachers.  To support teachers, I need to be present and available.  I need to be present in the hallways, in the classrooms, during recess and lunch.  Walking through classrooms, helping out during projects, and hallway conversations all provide me with information to help teachers grow and learn.  The Vice-Principal and I have developed a formal observation plan for our school.  Through these more formal observations and conversations, we are able to provide our teachers with valuable feedback about their teaching practice.  We also want to incorporate peer-observations this year as a way for teachers to give and receive meaningful feedback.
  2. How can I support students as they learn and grow?
    We have many ways to support students in our district and our school.  My goal is to understand our students as unique individuals in our learning environment.
  3. How can we enhance learning through the integration of technology?
    We are fortunate to have an abundance of technology in our school.  My goal this year is to ensure that we are not using the technology to replace a traditional worksheet.  Instead, how can we best utilize the technology we have available.
  4. How can we integrate Project Based Learning into what we are already doing?
    I have spent a lot of time researching and developing an understanding of project based learning.  I want to find a way to encourage teachers to develop one project based learning experience for their students through the school year.  This will require time, support and patience.  But I believe we can do it!
  5. How can we engage our families as meaningful partners in the learning process?
    Parents and families are busier than ever.  However, we believe that when parents and families are involved, students do better in school.  We want our families to be involved in our school.  We are planning three family fun nights through the school year in hopes to have some fun while learning!

I am sure that I will think of more goals as the year progresses, but it’s a start.  Any feedback, ideas or advice would be appreciated!

:)S

Summer blogging

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So, it’s summer at our house and already my monsters have used the much dreaded “b” word. “Mom, I’m BORED!”  Oh how I loathe that word. :)

However, my oldest daughter finished this statement with, “I want to start a web-site.”  I instantly kicked into “teacher-mode” and asked, “Why a web-site?”  Our conversation was an interesting one, in the end she explained that she wanted to have a space to share her thoughts and ideas about a variety of things.  So, I gently advised (she’s 11 so it has to be her idea :)) that she may want to consider creating a blog space for this purpose.  She was thrilled with this idea and we had to get started right away, like instantly.

We worked together to set her up on Blogger which was a simple process as she has a Google account set up through our school district.  She spent time deciding what to title her blog.  We had decided that she should focus on her summer activities to start with, then if she wanted to continue she could.  Once she had the initial set up complete, we loaded the Blogger app on her iPad mini.  She can add posts as she thinks of them. As she was writing her first post she was continually asking me for feedback.  “Mom, does this make sense?”  “Should I write this?” “What about this?”  “Listen to this sentence.” After a lot of discussion and checking, I told her she should just publish it already. :)  Her response, “But everyone can see it, I want it to be good, I want it to be perfect.”  This made the teacher in me smile.

Is this not what we want each of our students to say?  When students are asked to present their work to the world, they pay attention, they focus, they work hard.  If my experience with my daughter was any indication, they will revise, ask for feedback and check their work for accuracy. They will take pride in what they present in a digital format.  I could have easily told my daughter to write a journal entry on a piece of paper.  I do not believe she would have been as engaged in the process.  Further evidence of this is that my son has now asked me to help him create his own blog and he HATES to write. :)

I plan to share this experience with my staff in the fall in an effort to encourage them to have their students present their learning in a digital format.

Now, I have to go help Naomi revise the four posts she has sitting un-published and help Reid create his own summer blog.  Hopefully, I won’t hear that “b” word again for awhile.  (Wishful thinking…)

If you have a minute you can check out Naomi’s initial blogpost at: http://naomilacroix.blogspot.ca/ 

:)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

Initial thoughts on inquiry & project based learning…

anthony robbins

Over the past several weeks, I have been given the opportunity to visit three schools in other cities in our province.  If you have an opportunity to visit a school outside of your district or city, I strongly encourage it.  Spending time in other learning environments has both affirmed and broadened my thinking.  After each visit, I returned home with a renewed passion for my role.

In each school we encountered engaged students and exemplary teaching.

  • Students were engaged in meaningful, relevant and interesting projects.
  • The projects were carefully, purposefully planned.  Integration happens across subjects and grade levels.
  • Students were central to the learning process.
  • Teachers and staff were facilitating or coaching the learning rather than directing it.

So I ask myself, how did these schools get to this point?

I believe it started by thinking outside of the box…a bit cliche right?!?!?  But, so true!

In education we get stuck:

  • We get stuck in tradition or the traditional way of doing things. We get comfortable with “our” way.  The “we” and the “our” being the adults in the building.  Instead of focusing on the adults we need to refocus on the students.  Our students are screaming for less-tradition and more innovation.
  • We get stuck in a routine or a schedule.  “We have to teach Language Arts at this time…” “We need to move on to our Science block now.”  Learning becomes compartmentalized by our schedules and timelines.  Learning is messy and should not fit into a compartment of time.
  • We get stuck in  excuses.  “Well, if only I had more time to plan.” “What will the community think?” “What if parents hate it?” Excuses are easy.  There are a million excuses for a million things.  I tire of excuses quickly.  We need to move past them.

What if we began to think outside of the box, what if we tried to get “unstuck?”  What would it look like?  What are the possibilities?

I saw what it looked like at three separate schools…and I have to say this is kind of how I feel…

set your imagination free

Back to my initial quote… If we don’t make changes, we are going to continue to see more of the same results.  I would even challenge that to say that our results are going to decline.  Our students are demanding a different style and type of learning.

I can see what I believe education should look like for students, now how do we get out of the box?

:)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

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

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

Change

cc licensed flickr photo shared by marsmet546

cc licensed flickr photo shared by marsmet546

“Change is inevitable; growth is optional.” John C Maxwell

Change seems to be the topic of many blog posts I have read this week.

Complicated concept, complex emotion.

When I wrote my post about April struggles… I was unaware that I would be facing an admin transfer to another school in our district.  I have been at “my” school for five years now.  Five years of building relationships, collaborating, creating, learning, growing.  Five years at the school that I attended as a child.

Now I am facing change…

Most who know me, know that I am not afraid of change.  I consistently seek new ideas, new resources, or new ways of doing things.  (Hence my coursework and my journey into the world of twitter and blogging).  I enjoy the learning and growing that naturally come with change.

But, to be completely honest, with any change I also feel anxiety and fear.  Anxiety of the unknown.  Moving to a new school.  New families, new students, new staff, new culture, new building.  Fear of making a mistake (this is something I feel even when not facing change :)).  However, making a mistake before building relationships or trust scares me a little.

Excitement…

I can’t help but be a little excited as well.  I am more confident in my knowledge and skills as an administrator.   Part of my job that I enjoy the most and that I feel I do quite well is, establishing relationships.  I get to “start over” with new students, families and staff.  Getting to know students, their strengths, their learning styles and their interests.  I have the opportunity to collaborate with a new staff.  Each new teacher I meet and learn from, makes me a better administrator.  I view this change as a chance to build on what I know and to improve!

So, while I am saddened to leave “my” school, I am beginning to admit that I am also looking forward to the change.

“Change in all things is sweet” – Aristotle

:)S