Education – Teaching, Leading, Learning

Archive for the ‘SAVMP’ Category

Aligning Vision and Priorities #SAVMP

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.

Rethinking Staff PD – #SAVMP

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 #SAVMP

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 – #SAVMP

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.”

Why I lead? #SAVMP

I am very happy to be joining the School Admin. Virtual Mentor Program that George Couros has so graciously set up.  I must admit though that I am a little nervous, especially since I am stepping out of my “comfort zone” and putting my thoughts out there in my first blog.

I am quite new to using social media as a professional development tool.  I have really begun to see the amazing wealth of information that I can get, especially from Twitter.  Through this, I have also been able to read some amazing blogs from leaders/educators sharing their thoughts and ideas.  So, I guess it’s time to join in.

Why I lead?…Tough question.  I guess I would have to say that one reason I lead is that I am passionate about education.  I love what I do and truly enjoy going to work every day.  I hope that my passion helps others see their own passions in education.  I want everyone to believe that they make a difference every day in the lives they touch.

I lead because I am always learning.  My path to leadership started because of my desire to push myself in the classroom.  I was always questioning what I was doing, how the students were learning, and what I could do differently to improve it.  This eventually lead to me becoming our school’s education technology lead.  This position had a huge learning curve because it not only pushed how we could utilize technology in the classroom, but I was also responsible for the set-up and maintenance of all the computer hardware and programs.  In this position, I learned that I would always be learning.  I would never know all the answers, but I was very good at finding people who could help me troubleshoot and solve the problems that arose.

I lead because I want to be a piece of the collaborative process that makes our school a great place to teach and learn.  For the last 2 years I have been an assistant principal.  Prior to that I taught here for over 20 years.  We are a school that has many students with severe disabilities (especially behaviour and emotional), but it has always amazed me how we all continue to push ourselves to find better ways to reach and teach our students.  We are very lucky to have Professional Learning Community time built into our timetables.  We have been able to collaborate to question what we are doing, the needs we have, and ways to improve our practice.  I have also been part of an amazing collaborative team of 3 administrators and 1 Student Supports Coordinator.  I have seen the value and importance of sharing ideas and making decisions together.

I can’t wait to see how this year in the mentor program unfolds.  I look forward to the chance to collaborate about successful practices in leadership.  I want to learn so much more about using social media to help guide my learning.  I want to be able to share this with others that I am connecting with as well as the wonderful staff that I am so blessed to work with.

Here’s to a great start!