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

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

Moving on…

Back in May, I wrote a post about change.  Read it here.

When I wrote that piece I knew I would be facing a change come the end of the school year.  A transfer to a different school in our district.   I felt I was ready for the change.  However, little could of prepared me for the roller-coaster ride of emotions I found myself on for the final two weeks of June.

At times, it seemed as though everything was moving in slow motion.  I could not figure out the new timetable/schedule.  With our school housing a separate Sports Academy program our schedule is complicated.  It took me days longer than it had taken me in the past.  I would sit and stare at it, no answers coming.

Most of the time though, I felt like things were moving at a hyper-speed.  Year end meetings, meetings for students, interviewing new teachers and new students.  There were also final meetings, final staff meeting, final professional development day, final school council meeting, final parent meetings.  During these final meetings I found myself thinking…”This is it, my last meeting at St. Pat’s for …”  However, it still wasn’t real to me.

Then we had our year-end staff social.  I haven’t wrote a lot about the staff at St. Pat’s, but I could write a book.  I have been so fortunate to work with a group of people who care deeply about students, work diligently and with integrity to meet the needs of  students and families.  I have had the pleasure to work with amazing teachers and staff!  At our year-end social, which I thought was just like every other year, our amazing staff presented me with a beautiful gift and kind words.  Staff members had written me beautiful messages which touched my heart, making my transfer seem a little more real…

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Beautiful words by amazing people!

The final week of school was extremely busy.  It is busy every year, and this year would be no different.  I finally figured out the timetable/schedule.  By figuring it out, we were able to complete a number of other jobs.  However, at our school, this last week of school is a time of crisis for a number of our students.  As they look forward to the summer months, they realize the stability of school will not be available to them.  Students begin to feel stress and anxiety.  I met with a few students who were feeling anxious about moving to the High School next year.  While they are excited to be moving on, they are nervous about the unknown.  We work with our school liaison workers to encourage and assure these students.  I found myself feeling true empathy for these students, excited about the change, anxious about the unknown.

On our final school day we begin with a celebration.  We celebrate our accomplishments through the year.  I love this celebration!  Students are recognized for a variety of reasons, too many to list.  We feel there is value in showing students how far they have come during the school year.  So, we take this time to celebration.

The poem...I felt like they were writing about someone else! :)

The poem…I felt like they were writing about someone else! :)

During this celebration I was surprised with an amazing gift!  The students and staff had taken the time to create an acrostic poem for me.  Each class had then taken the time to write a special message to me/about me, and they put them all in a book.  Each student had signed the book.  A student from each class read me the messages, infront of the school.  Students who I had worked with, students who I had helped, students who had taught me so much more than I could ever teach them.  What they wrote and said was thoughtful and encouraging.  While they were reading it I was thinking, “I did that?” “They are talking about me?” and “Wow! They have me confused with someone else!” :) If ever I needed affirmation or encouragement, this was it!!!   I know that I will forever treasure this special gift.  

One page of my beautiful book!

One page of my beautiful book!

On this last day of school there were tears, hugs and kind words.  Many parents and families wished me well on my journey & students came by my office for one last hug.  Looking back on that day, the change still didn’t seem real.

In our school district we often have an organizational day after the students are done.  During this day, we sort, organize and clean.  We fill out paperwork and clean, sort and organize for the next school year.  :) At the end of this day, many teachers came by to tell me to have a nice summer and to wish me well at the new school.  When everyone (except for one teacher) was gone, I decided to walk down the hallways of the school.  Hallways that I have walked many, many times in the past five years.  As I walked, I found myself looking in classrooms and smiling a little at all the memories.  And the realization that I was moving on hit me… 

After reflecting for a few days, while I am sad that I am leaving behind a wonderful school, I know I am moving forward with wisdom gained through the experiences I have had over the past five years.  St. Pat’s is an amazing school, full of wonderful people who have taught me each and every day!  I feel so blessed to have had the experience!

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As I was leaving on my last day…with 3 monsters!

:)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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Being Invisible

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I love it when I walk into a classroom and nothing happens.  

Really!

When I walk into a classroom and the students continue working and the teacher continues teaching…I know I am doing an okay job.  To me, it means that I am in the classroom enough that students do not even take notice when I am there.  Actually, today when I was leaving a classroom, a little girl looked up at me and asked, “Hey, when did you get here!”

Spending time in the classroom is part of my job that I love.  It is sometimes the most difficult but the most important part of my day.  I observe students: students learning, students struggling, students laughing.  I get to ask, “What are you learning about?” and “How can I help?”    Being at my school for 5 years, I  have the opportunity to watch students progress and grow.  I recently observed a child successfully answer a math problem, when I remember working with that student in a math group a couple of years ago.  Today I listened to a grade three student read a passage from a book well above a grade three level, and remembered working through a series of grade one sight words with that student just last year.

Being present in classrooms gives me the opportunity to help teachers.  After I have spent some time in a classroom I find myself asking the teacher, “Explain to me what was happening before I walked in…” or “Where was this lesson leading to?” or even, “Have you considered…?”  As I gain more experience with instructional coaching, I am becoming more confident in asking deeper and more meaningful questions.  I am looking for more than, “is the classroom managed?”  I attempt to  give teachers immediate and meaningful feedback on what I see on a daily basis.  There are so many amazing teachers in my building, I love telling them that!  They also appreciate when I ask them questions for clarification or questions to consider…I think :)  I also find myself sending them a link or copying an article that they might find interesting or practical.

I have done a lot of reading (books and blogs) about classroom observations and visits. I see this as an essential part of being an effective administrator.  I will continue on this worthwhile path of being “invisible” when I walk into a room.  My goal is to work on what happens after I leave the classroom, providing feedback and support to both teachers and students.  A work in progress…