Teacher Observation Plan

observation

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

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Tech Integration Goal

technology

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

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

sun

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

Getting past “bloggers block”

So I have been struggling to write a blog post.  Tried all of December, no luck!  Tried over Christmas break, no luck!  Tried the past few weeks, again no luck!  I shared my frustration with a few people (I think one person was our Assistant Superintendent).  Today he shared the following video with me…

Well, a light went on!  I tend to over-analyze and over-think things (I know, this is shocking to those who know me).  I realize that I am right back to the same thinking pattern as I was when I wrote, “Say Something…” (back here)

After watching the video, I am refocused.  I can write about the day to day interactions and school situations.  I can write about my experiences, thoughts and ideas.

The important facts are that

1. I will be writing and reflecting; and

2. this blog is for ME.

I think I am past my “bloggers block” for awhile anyways…

:)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

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…

talking

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

Pizza with the Principal

At the end of the last school year I found myself feeling a bit disheartened, unsure of this career path I had chosen.  I spent the summer reflecting, questioning and generating ideas.  One idea I had was to focus on the positive.  We hold many different types of assemblies and celebrations through the year in effort to recognize the achievements of our students.

What if I asked teachers to nominate students to have  a special lunch with the Principal, me?

Honestly, I went back and forth with this idea.  Should we recognize students for being good students?  Does this send the wrong message to other students?  What is the purpose?  What would the criteria be for the nomination? Has anyone else out there done something similar? Would students even find it exciting?

After some research and much reflection I decided to go ahead and give it a try…  I spoke with my staff about this lunch, their nominations and the criteria I had decided on.  After a tech PD session, I even put it on a Google form and had the teachers submit the student name to me using the form.

The criteria are:

  • Student displays a Christian attitude
  • Student respects self and others
  • Student acts responsibly about their choices and their studies

With the nomination teachers are asked to explain why they chose that student to be nominated.

I spent time creating a formal invitation which looks like this…

pizza invitation

On the inside of the invitation I include why the student was nominated by their teacher.  Students have been very touched by the kind words their teacher’s write about them.

Students are asked to RSVP to the office (most of our students do not even know what this means, so it is a wonderful learning opportunity).

Then I set up the lunch room to look like this…

pizza set up

Students come in and we spend the better part of an hour eating together.  My goal during this time is two-fold.  I speak with each of the students who come to 1. Learn one new thing about that student.  What their interests are outside of school? What is their favorite color? :) and 2. I ask them what they enjoy about our school or if they have a suggestion to make our school a better place.  I LOVE these conversations!  Feedback from our most important stakeholders in an informal way.  While we eat pizza, cupcakes and drink pop, we discuss important subjects close to their hearts and my heart.

After lunch I take time to create a personalized certificate for each student who attends lunch.  I love reflecting on what I learned about each student and including a short anecdote on each certificate.  And, I actually mail these certificates to their home address (it is sure to get home that way) Here is a sample… (The one the children receive is actually in color and on nicer paper…technical issues today!)

pizza certificate

I was sincerely unsure if students would find this meaningful.  The first time I handed out the invitations I was apprehensive and nervous.  I wanted the students to be excited and more importantly, I wanted the students to feel valued.

The purpose for this lunch is to recognize the students’ positive attributes and to thank them for contributing to the positive culture of our school.  

At the beginning of the first lunch, I watched each student enter the lunch room, most with smiles from ear to ear.  I heard “Thank you, Mrs. LaCroix” about 5 times and was hugged about 10 times before lunch even began.  During lunch, I was affirmed when I asked the question, “So, do you think I should hold another lunch like this?” and a grade seven boy (who had eaten 7 slices of pizza) answered, “Yes Mrs. LaCroix, we have a lot of great students here and they deserve to come and have lunch with you too.”  Parents have responded positively as well.  A parent commented about the formality of the invitations and certificates explaining that their child felt truly appreciated and special.

These lunches (2 so far this school year) have been a beacon of light for me.  In our administrative positions it is all too simple to become “bogged down” with the demands, accusations and negativity.  Too often we only are faced with negative experiences.  Pizza with the Principal has been positive for students, but also for me. :)

Here I am with some of my lunch buddies…

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