Education – Teaching, Leading, Learning

Dont-Be-Left-Behind-1024x682I have read several posts about what people are doing to reach parents and I definitely feel a bit behind.  This has been a continuing issue for my school.  Although we have seen improvements, I believe we have a long way to go.

What do we presently do?

  • We use daily agendas.  Student’s write important messages about what they have done or homework they may have to complete.  It’s a place to communicate back and forth with parents.
  • We send home “paper” in the form of Newsletters and notes.
  • We communicate monthly positive messages to parents (through agenda, handwritten note, email, phone call, text).  This has been one area that has really helped to begin to bridge the communication gap.  It’s easier to connect with a teacher when it’s based on a positive comment and not a negative.
  • We host a monthly – Student of the Month – where we honor students on their hard work and focus in school (they even get to eat pizza with the principal).
  • We have a webpage for our school.
  • We have a Facebook page.  We post important notes, pictures of events, agendas for Parent Council, and links to our webpage.
  • Some teachers have classroom blog sites where they can share with students and parents what they are doing in their class.

Where do I feel we need to go?  I would like to start a Twitter feed for our school.  Being a “newly” connected educator, I see the value of quick short messages and links to get information.  I would like to share the positive things that are happening in our school more regularly using social media.  I could see starting a blog site for our school and posting interviews, pictures, and messages from students. The possibilities are endless.

It has been great reading about what other schools are doing to connect to parents.  I believe the more creative ways we try to reach out, the more parents we will begin to connect with.  It is so important to get our parents involved in what we do!

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In the School Administrator Mentorship Program blog this week, Amber speaks about Management as a Principal, (http://savmp.edublogs.org/author/amberteamann/). I have decided to focus my blog on answering the question:  What can I do to better align my vision and priorities?

I have taken this as a great opportunity to reflect on what I value and see as my vision.  In doing so, I hope to use this as a way to help me prioritize what I do on a daily basis at my school.

I will start with what I value because I believe this leads directly to my vision.  I value:

  • people – students, teachers, staff, parents, and colleagues
  • relationships – respect, understanding, honesty
  • learning – collaboration, differentiated instruction, technology, supports, reflection
  • time, organization, and flexibility

My vision is to be a leader that cultivates a school culture where everyone open-heartedly contributes to doing whatever it takes to help each child succeed in school.  This means that students will feel safe and secure, they will have a sense of belonging, they will be willing to take risks as learners and will value education.

So what will my priorities be?

  1. Building Relationships – I will model my values of respect, understanding, and honesty as I spend a large part of my day working on relationships.  I will make sure that I am out and about – in classrooms, hallways, the playground, and the staffroom.
  2. Support – I realize that my school vision is very demanding.  Therefore I know that a big priority will be to find out how I can best support staff.  I will need to be constantly looking and listening for what people need.   It could be helping with discipline, finding resources, helping plan PD, and giving people time…
  3. Learning – This encompasses my learning, staff learning, and student learning.  It means taking time to learn new ideas; collaboration; joining in common grade level PLC times; being aware of best practices and solid pedagogy in the school; and then taking the time to share.
  4. Technology – Our school has embraced technology and creatively finds many ways to use it to engage our students and help them learn.  So I need to make sure that the technology runs smoothly and that there is opportunity to build on everyone’s technological knowledge.  I need to support staff in their journey with technology.
  5. Organization – With sound organization, the managerial tasks like emails, reports, phone calls, and general planning should take less time. The more organized I am, the easier it will be for me to focus on the other priorities.

By taking the time to reflect on my vision and values I feel that I can better understand what my priorities should be and where I need to align my time.

Lately, in my province, we are in a process of evaluating our teaching practice.  Each school district creates a committee of a variety of personnel (teachers, coordinators, superintendent, school board member) to collect information on what the current reality is for teachers in a school, as well as suggestions for improvement.  The underlying component is to reduce teacher workload so that teachers can focus on the main task of teaching our students.  In our school, we have spent some time answering questions and then discussing the realities.  Of course one area that comes up is Professional Development.

So I thought I would use the data I received as well as sum up my feelings as a teacher for 20 years to help me create what I believe is the most beneficial PD that translates to the best learning in the classroom.

Meaningful PD needs to involve collaboration, conversations, observations, presentations, and time.

The number one type of PD that teachers want is collaboration.  They want time to get together to learn about, discuss, implement, and revise best practices.  Teachers have so much to offer each other.  Just like we remind the students that they all have strengths and need to use them, the same goes for teachers.  When teachers collectively share the focus, visions, and goals of the school…given time to collaborate, they will be very resourceful in building ideas and practices that are often very sustainable and realistic to their specific school.

Meaningful PD involves observations.  I recall some of my best PD days were the times I had the opportunity to watch other teachers.  Instead of just listening to theories and ideas, you get to be immersed in the program.  With this of course, you need time to have conversations.  It’s so important to discuss steps these teachers have taken, resources they needed, obstacles they had to overcome, and successes that drove them forward.

There is still a place for PD involving presentations, especially when it involves experts in certain areas/fields.  I think we need to get away from the thinking that this is the number one way to achieve PD.  It is so much easier to connect with experts using social media now.  Teachers can build PLN’s (Personal Learning Networks) that are very specific to their interests and they can have greater control of when and how they choose to connect.

To tie it all together, teachers need TIME.  They need time to collaborate, time to observe, time to present, time to connect, and time to reflect. We have to be understanding of the time that is needed to create meaningful PD.  We can’t keep throwing new ideas/programs at teachers when they haven’t had time to practice and revise existing ideas/programs.  It is so important to create as much of this PD time built in to a regular teaching day, we can’t keep expecting our teachers to always use their personal time for PD, they use enough of that to stay on top of the regular tasks of teaching.

We keep moving forward in our ways of teaching our students to become a 21st Century learner, we need to move our PD in that direction too!

Promoting critical conversations is an area that seems very delicate yet extremely important to keep creativity, innovation, and growth alive in a school.  Personally, it is an area that I know I have to grow in.

Being on the other side of administration for 20 years, I appreciated leaders that would listen to my concerns. I wanted to have a voice in our school that helped cultivate the culture we had created and I felt that most of my leaders let me do this. Were all of our conversations ones of agreement? No – sometimes we had to agree to disagree, but there was still a mutual respect.

So how do I, now as a leader, continue to promote this in our school? LISTEN! I need to make myself available and approachable so that staff feel comfortable having these conversations. Relationships and trust needs to be developed.  I need to ask important questions to create conversations. Then, I need to listen to what people have to say.

I will need to accept the feedback I receive and then respond to it.  This will be a tough area for me, I am a “people pleaser” and will need to learn to not see this as a personal attack.  I will need to remind myself how I appreciated the ability of my earlier leaders to accept my comments. These conversations will create reflection that should then guide the course we follow. This could mean completely changing a program, a goal, a strategy, or a way of doing business. But, then, I need to make sure to get out and listen to what people have to say again. It should be a cyclical process.

Having critical conversations can be very delicate. Sometimes emotions get tied into conversations and people react in a more negative way. Feedback is immensely important to a school’s growth, but it needs to be given in a respectful way. Leaders need to be able to model this. If emotions are too high, conversations may need to be postponed to a later time, but they should never be dropped.

The only way to keep a school moving forward is to have these critical conversations. Teachers need a voice. No one wants to work in a place that uses a top down approach. I know I sure didn’t.

Roads to Innovation #SAVMP

I have been extremely lucky to work in a school that is very innovative. We have a staff that is always open to trying new things with the ultimate goal of helping all of our students experience success.

Many years ago we were part of a group of schools in Alberta that began the 1:1 laptop program. We introduced over 120 laptops to our grades 5 and 6 students. Recently we became part of an iPad program for Alberta schools where our Grade 3’s have their own iPads and ECS – Grade 2 have enough to create literacy centers in each of their classrooms. We have also been part of many division initiatives, willing to test drive different programs to evaluate their value and help pave the way for other schools. Our latest innovative idea revolves around improving reading comprehension by creating a blocked time during each day where small groups of children read and interact with an adult.

So what makes our school willing to try innovative ideas? The main reason would be that every staff member is committed to helping every student succeed. This means more than just the academics. It means providing whatever a child needs so that they feel safe and secure and are ready and willing to learn. It makes us look at barriers that our students face and what we need to do to help them overcome them.  Therefore we have a staff that is always looking for new or different ways to do things (thinking outside the box).  It also means finding creative ways to challenge students so that we are always pushing their learning.  Having a dedicated, passionate staff that feels they can take chances, is a very important factor.

How do we know our innovations are making a difference and how do we revisit them?  We look at data.  We analyze trends, areas of strength, and areas of need.  We collaborate, in grade level teams, division level teams, and whole staff teams.  We meet regularly to discuss how programs are working and what steps we need to take to see continued growth.  We evaluate the effectiveness of an innovative idea and make sure that it fits our school and students.

Of course this means that there will be things that don’t work or need to be changed.  However,we are always willing to learn from our experiences and are not afraid to make mistakes.  But, those are the things that help keep the road open to pave the way for innovation.

Trust #SAVMP

Building-Trust

Trust – the firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.

When I first start thinking about trust I think back to the time when my children were small. They had the ultimate trust in me as a parent. They knew I would be there to take care of them, love them, and help guide them. They knew I would be there if they got hurt or made a mistake. They basically knew I would help them through anything.

Then, I thought about trust in a school setting. Is it really that different? Teachers and students need to know that you care for them. They need to know that you have their best interests always at the forefront. They need to know that you will be there to offer support in any way so that they can take risks and grow from them. They will trust you to have their back.

Reflecting on this helps put things in place for me as a leader.  I know to build trust I need to:

  • help create a culture that shares the same beliefs and values
  • be authentic – say and do what I actually believe in
  • build strong relationships – be visible and communicate daily to staff and students
  • provide support – resources, time, and an ear to listen

I also know that as a leader, I never want to lose the trust.  Trust is hard to build but almost impossible to rebuild once it’s been broken.

My vision for education has evolved over the years through all my experiences as an educator.  I have had the opportunity to work with many fabulous students, teachers, and leaders.  I have seen many programs come and go.  I have seen great successes and great failures. This has helped me create a vision for a successful school.

I believe school is a place where you teach the “whole” child.  It’s more than just academic learning.  It’s about helping a child grow physically, socially, and emotionally.  And then, it’s about preparing them to be lifelong learners in an ever-changing world.

I have learned first hand that you have to meet the physical, emotional, and social needs of a child so that they can feel safe and cared for.  If they are hungry, feed them.  If they are cold, get them more clothes.  If they are tired, let them sleep.  If they are sad or scared, give them the opportunity to share their feelings and unburden.  I have always believed that we need to do what it takes at school to make a child want to be there and want to learn.  Learning is the last thing on a child’s mind if these other important aspects of their lives are not balanced.  When the “whole” child is in a healthy place, learning can and will become a priority for them.  Every child wants to learn, we just need to help get rid of the things that block it.

I believe that school is a place where every child can learn.  This looks different for different students.  You will need to find each student’s strengths, weaknesses, and how they learn best.  You will need to create programs that reach where each individual is presently at and pushes them to grow to new heights.  You may need to find supports and different ways to help guide their learning.  This is a huge task for a teacher so a school needs to rally around them and provide all the resources and supports that help make this job manageable.

I also believe that school is a community.  It is a place where strong connections are formed.  Relationships are built with mutual respect and trust.  This community starts with building strong staff relationships and carries over to strong staff-student relationships.  School is a place where you know people care about you and your learning.  It is a place where people are happy to see you and you are very happy to be there.  It is more than just a place to learn, it’s a place where you know you belong.

I will end this with our school’s mission statement that we created a few years ago, but I still believe it sums things up in a simple yet effective way:

“Together we enter, together we leave, helping each other grow and succeed.”