How Do I KNOW?

http://realmsofrhema.com/

The title of this blog post is a reaction to a very interesting and motivating chat I was part of this morning.  I drag my butt out of bed every Saturday morning before 7:30, throw some coffee on and join #leadupchat because I am so inspired by the conversation and the people who gather there.

This morning was an open chat-kind of like the chat version of edcamp.  The educators in the chat throw out the questions and the conversation goes off in many different directions. This question caught my eye:

“What new initiative are you most excited about at your school this year?”

Yesterday our school had the first of a few teacher-directed professional development sessions we will have this year.  This is the first time our school district has helped make this happen.  In my mind, it is still not quite where I would want it to be, but I also feel like this is a very innovative first step and I appreciate the opportunity.

In preparation for this day, I had all kinds of thoughts ranging from being very excited, to worrying about whether or not teachers would be engaged in learning that would, in turn, have a positive effect on our students. I knew I would also have to engage in my own learning right along with them.

To get back to the question from the chat, I answered with “teacher-directed professional development” because of the positive conversation and feedback I heard from our teachers.  It seemed to me the level of engagement was high, conversations were, in fact, highly directed toward, innovative teaching that I know will make a difference in our student’s learning.  Teachers were engaged because they were given choice and were allowed to connect to their own goals and take conversations in directions that were important to them.  What more could a school administrator want?

One response given to my reply seemed negative about the idea of teacher control and questioned me about how I would KNOW (for sure, I am guessing, by the upper case letters) that they were working on their goals.

I couldn’t help but be a little insulted because I do have a high level of trust in my teachers, but I am also not an administrator that spends all my time in my office, not paying attention to what is going on around me.

I couldn’t help but bring it back to this short conversation the characteristics of innovative leaders from the book Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros.

  1.  Models Learning: I also had to choose my professional development focus for the day and chose to spend it with my middle year’s teachers learning about guided math.  I don’t teach math, but I feel it is my job as a principal to be able to support the work of all the teachers in my school.  I feel like I was “elbows deep” in the learning in my school.
  2. Open Risk-Taker– Our teachers all know the expectation is there for them to be taking risks especially in the area of using our abundant technology in ways that help our students collaborate and create in the real world.  They know risk-taking is not just accepted it is expected.  I know to expect this from our teachers and not model it myself would be much less effective.
  3. Networked– Interesting that this entire post was motivated by one of my learning networks.  I have a few PLN’s both online and not, which I rely heavily upon for support, ideas, and encouragement. I cannot imagine doing what I do without them.
  4. Observant– One of the ways I KNOW that my teachers are continually growing and working hard to improve learning for our students is by being observant. Being out of the office and on the ground level of the classroom.
  5. Team Builder– Trust is a huge part of building a team.  I  know we have hired excellent teachers, so I need to step back and trust them to do what they know best.  We need to allow for growth in our teachers and know that growth will continue to have a positive effect on our students.

I could go on about the characteristics, but I would rather end with one of my brightest moments from our first teacher-directed PD day.  Two of our young teachers spent the morning learning about becoming a Microsoft Innovation Educators.  When I asked them, how their morning was, they were over the top with excitement and enthusiasm telling me about all of the things they had learned and discovered.  They replied, “we have to share this, can we please show everyone this at our next staff meeting?”

What more can an innovative leader ask for?

What is Innovation Anyway?

I have learned so many things since becoming a school administrator 8 years ago.  One of the most important lessons that I have learned is to respect the reality that teachers are all at different places in developing their craft.  They are certainly at a different comfort level with using technology and with reaching out beyond the way we have always done things in the classroom.

Once I realized this important lesson,  I also realized that the idea of “innovation” looks different for all of us.  I was reading a blog post recently written by George Couros. He was talking about how we have this idea that innovation is something huge, and because of this, we may not feel like we can be innovative.  I have been reflecting on this idea this week.

One of the favorite parts of my job as a school administrator is that I can see a little piece of everyone’s classroom and the learning going on within,  pretty much whenever I want.  What a treat!

I feel like I see the most wonderful and often innovative things happening, but teachers do not think they are being innovative because they are “just doing what teachers do” in their minds.

Our school division puts a priority on technology and encouraging innovation and engagement.  We do not lack in bandwidth or devices.  For that, I am extremely grateful.  A few year’s ago my vice-principal and I decided we wanted to push our teachers a bit out of the comfort zone and have everyone set a goal to have a way to use technology with their students that allowed their students to be creative and make connections.  It did not have to be anything crazy, but just taking one step away from using our devices for drill and practice activities.

I was so proud of all of our teachers.  When given the chance to start from wherever they were and take a small leap, most of them really shined.

Since we did not want this to be a one and done, this year we have challenged them to take some activity or learning lesson they have done with their students before and reflect on ways to tweak it or add to it or change it to make it even better for their students through making connections or creative endeavours using technology.

Are they being innovative?  I think so!  To quote the blog post mentioned earlier in the post, “Small changes, big difference.”  I can’t wait to see what they all come up with.

To Thine Ownself Be True

reflections

I spend a lot of time each week reflecting on what has gone well and what has gone not so well in our school, as I am sure a lot of you do.

I consider my actions and reactions, thinking about whether or not I need to make changes in my focus in order to support the growth of the school team.

Lately I have noticed a sense of urgency and almost robotic panic in our building seemingly based upon the number of things everyone is juggling. I hate to see people so tired and overwhelmed to the point of not enjoying what they do.  One thing I never doubt, not even for one minute, is each member of our team being focused on our students- always.

We can be bombarded with requirements, committees and changes coming at us from various directions outside and inside of the school.  It can be a difficult task to balance the expectations and requirements coming at us,  with what has to happen in our classrooms, with our students, and in our school, on a daily basis.

I know as an administrator I often feel overwhelmed by the number of things we are expected to balance and complete and spend a lot of time thinking of how to make that easier for teachers.  I don’t think we really stand out in the educational crowd with these feelings.  I also feel it is something that is not going away anytime soon.

On Thursday of this week, we had the opportunity to have the home town and much-loved, hockey team players from The Estevan Bruins,  spend the afternoon in our school.  There were 25 of them, spread out, working in every classroom for an hour and we ended the day with a floor hockey game in the gym involving as many students and staff as possible.  What a fun way to spend the day!

I am not going to lie, it was a bit of an over the top frenzy for the whole afternoon.  The students were so excited and it was nice to just take time to have a whole lot of fun together.

Estevan Bruins
Estevan Bruins

Looking back at that afternoon, I have wonder if that is what we are missing right now.   Do we give ourselves permission to  shut it all off occasionally and just have fun with each other without feeling guilty about it?

It seems like we can get so caught up with all of the expectations we are  balancing we can let those expectations control our actions, rather than us controlling how we will fulfill those expectations.  We have many things in our profession that we can’t control.  I am always trying to bring our conversations back to the things we can control and reminding myself about those things often to refocus.

For example, we can’t control parental actions and reactions.  We can promote, encourage and assist, but in the end we will always have some parents that do not support all of our actions.  Should we focus our energy on those few by allowing their negative feedback to control us?  Or does it make more sense to focus our energy on forging relationships with all of our supportive, eager to partner, parents and see what we can accomplish?

Now I would never say we should stop reaching out, encouraging and trying, but when they do not reach back, we should try not to take that personally and feel bad about it.  Our energy is better spent on ways that we can reach out to the majority and the benefit it will be to all of our students.

Another example…

Many expectations are put upon schools by different departments at the school division/district level.  The intent of all of them is  based on best practice, school division/ministry goals and improving the way we do things.  The desire to improve our practice is strong, and good intent is there,  but it can be overwhelming when there are too many changes.  Once again, however, are we concentrating and spending energy by becoming too focused on things we can’t control?

We do need to continue to improve our practice.  We do no need to continue to drill down our data. We do need to continue to improve team function so we can meet individual student needs and improve academic achievement.  No one can argue that.

At the same time, however, we do not need to lose our individuality in the process.

We can stay true to the good practice and routines we have developed and feel are important in our classrooms and schools.  We do not need to change who we are, what we are, or the things we feel are important to our school culture.

Let’s spend more of our energy supporting relationships, reaching out to each other to meet our goals, having fun with our students and families, enjoying reading and the love of learning, meeting in the staff room for a quick chat at recess rather than working alone, letting ourselves walk out at the end of the day and not looking back, rather than dragging home our laptops and book bags for a long night ahead.

flickr.com
flickr.com

The long list of expectations and things to do will keep coming.  Where we decide  to spend our energy and focus each day is up to us.  I have a feeling the expectations will be met much easier if we allow ourselves to be true to who we are and what we stand for.

Any thoughts?

“To thine own self be true.”  

              -William Shakespeare-

 

 

 

 

What I Learned in 2014

 

 

http://perkettprsuasion.com
http://perkettprsuasion.com

 

I started the school year in September kind of beat up and shell-shocked from a very stressful year that ended in June.  I had allowed the stress of the year to consume me and it took a toll on my enthusiasm, health and desire to do my job well.

Over the summer I spent my time healing, reflecting and coming up with a plan to approach the stresses of my job in a healthier way that did not consume my life.  I had to try not take things personally and concentrate on the things that we could control in our building rather than the negative feedback we were getting from a few parents and students.  My mantras for this school year that I try to remember are:

  • I can’t make everybody happy.
  • I can’t solve everyone’s problems.

Even though the mantras do not seem very positive, they have allowed me to realize my limits, to allow my, very capable, staff to do things without my control  and they have led me to a much happier school and home life, with a lot less stress.

I have mentioned many times , about my awesome, hardworking staff.  We have been able to create a team that works together and involves all 25 of us,  from our bus driver to our custodians.  We  started this year with a number of new staff and have learned to work together and appreciate each other’s strengths.

Our team has branched out this fall to not only include our staff and students, but we now have a number of parent volunteers helping us on a daily basis, especially with our school goal to improve our reading scores in the early years.  Parents and extended family are a valuable part of our team and when we all work together we truly can accomplish great things for and with our students.

The Christmas break has allowed me time to think about the fall and be grateful for the things we have been able to accomplish as a school team including our parents and community members.  Since I have become part of the administration @PDaleSchool I have been amazed at the generosity and support of our community.

January is a time of renewal and goal setting.

There have been many things I have learned this fall, but I have come up with 4 important things I have learned,  that I would like to continue to develop and practice.

1. Listen…

I have been guilty in the past of jumping to conclusions about situations before I have stopped to listen to what people are really saying to me.  I have been trying to keep my mouth closed until I have truly listened and considered the perspectives of others.   I have come to realize that although, I may not agree with what someone is saying to me or how they are saying it to me, the perspective of others is important.  Many times all I need to do for staff, students and parents is listen and take their concerns seriously.

I hope I can continue to develop my listening skills according to the wise words of Woodrow Wilson,

“The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people.”

2.  Don’t judge what I do not know…

I have been frustrated many times as a teacher and principal, when I feel like we are being judged by a moment in time such as a quick walk through or one piece of data.

One quick snapshot rarely tells a story. 

One of my teachers reminded me of this early in the fall.  I realized that what I see as I am wandering around the building and spending time in classrooms are also snapshots and do not tell the whole story.  When I am having quick conversations with parents or I am privy to only one small part of family situations, I should not be judging on these snapshots.  Jumping to conclusions is never fair.

3. Lack of time is not an excuse…

I do not need to explain to anyone who is a teacher or who has spent time with a teacher the intense business and commitment that the job requires.  It is easy to be negative about change and growth, using lack of time as an excuse not to buy in.  I have realized the necessity of reflecting on how I am spending my time and whether or not it is really being used in the ways that will benefit, me, my family, my students and my staff.  If I do not have time for important things like people, professional growth, students needs, etc. then perhaps it is up to me to re-evaluate how I am spending my time.

4.  Tell our story…

Last year I read a book on digital leadership by fellow principal and leader Eric Sheninger.  One of the things he describes in his book, which I have written about before,  is school branding. Basically the idea stems around the importance of not leaving our school story up to someone else to tell.  If we do not tell our own positive story, we run the risk of allowing someone else to paint a picture that might not be as positive.  I have really tried to take this idea to heart and believe in the importance of it for the following reasons:

I need my teachers to be proud of the things they are doing every day with our students.

I need our parents to know what is happening every day with their children so they can be confident and assured we are helping them learn and grow on a daily basis.

I need my superintendent and other school division leaders to know that we are working hard to do what is right for our students and to support the school division goals. 

I need our community to know that what we are doing so they will continue to give us their support. 

As we start on the journey of the gift of another year, I hope that I can listen more,  judge less, accept challenges without the excuses and continue to tell our positive school story, because it is worth telling.

What do you hope to do in 2015? 

 

Student leadership…well worth the struggle.

http://youthpastorsanonymous.org/
http://youthpastorsanonymous.org/

A few years ago when I started my position as vice-principal, all of our middle-years students became my sole responsibility once a cycle for 45 minutes.  Since then, I have recruited our French teacher to help me with our leadership teams, but let me tell you, it is still  the most overwhelming 45 minutes in most of my weeks.

There are times when I think trying to turn middle year’s students into leaders will kill me, but I still consider it worth the effort. Let me start out by explaining how we organize our students.

photo (20)
Spirit Heroines

We have 6 to 8 different leadership teams each year.  We start the process by explaining what the teams are and having all students put in an application making a case for why they feel they should be a member of a particular team.  Each student must explain what they think they have to offer the team, as well as supply some ideas that might help the team get started.

They apply for 2 teams they would like to be a part of.

Once we have made up our team lists by using the applications and what we know about the students, we are off and running. They choose their team names and develop norms for the expectations of teams members.

dixieland donkeys
Dixieland Donkeys

This year’s teams are:

  • Heroic Helpers Social Justice Team-right now they working on Purple for Peyton Cancer awareness and an anti-bullying kindness campaign.
  • McDonalds Team– running the hot lunch program and nutrition awareness.  Served 160 order of Poutine to students last week.
  • Spirit Heroines– organized a haunted house and dance party for Halloween, have put all students in the school into spirit teams with dog names and colors to support our “Bulldog” mascot.
  • Creative Clubs– made a club proposal form and surveyed students from 1-8 about what clubs they would like to have.  Starting 4 school clubs in January.
  • Dixieland Donkeys Sports Team-on their second round of intramurals and have planned a family movie night in January to raise money to buy a school bull-dog mascot.
  • The Virus Digital Team-making Vine videos modeling behavior expectations, a school video promoting our school and take picture of events.

The majority of the activities happening in our school are student driven.  The students do everything from organizing our intramural program, organizing and running our spirit activities, doing morning and afternoon announcements, deciding what social justice issues we are going to be involved in, organizing, shopping, cooking and serving our hot meal program, running our canteen, and organizing and running all of our assemblies and pep rallies and services.

Wow!  They are awesome!

hot lunch
McDonalds Team Making Poutine

 

Now, I might be remiss if I did not mention the fact,  encouraging and driving middle-years students to be good leaders is a lot of work.  Most of the organizing portion of our activities tends to raise my blood pressure, and I am certain it also drives most of the classroom teachers crazy in the early years and elementary end of the school.  As I stand back and watch the activities unfold, however,  I couldn’t be any prouder as a principal.  The end result is often even better than we would have imagined.

remembrance day
Remembrance Day Service

 

I would like to think the students in our school have a voice, and I hope they feel their voices are heard.  We start the year by explaining what happens in the school is really up to them.  We are willing to consider all ideas and work to help them decide which ideas will come into reality, but if they want things to happen, they have to do the work. Each year and each group of students brings a different level of success and is a new learning experience.

pink pomeranians
K-8 Pink Pomeranian School Spirit Team

 

Some might argue that not all students are leaders and I agree.  We would not have strong leaders if we did not have a group of strong followers and supporters. This very idea is portrayed in the video, “First Follower: Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy”.

 

It is also what guides me as a principal.  I could not do my job in the same way,  if not for the strong group of teachers, support staff, parents and students that I have driving me and supporting me along the way.

Even though I think, often, that the leadership teams will kill me, and drive our staff crazy…in the end, when I calm down, and I sit back and reflect on our student leadership program, I can’t help but feel extremely proud of our students.  We put a lot of responsibility on them at a young age, but they continue to rise to the challenge.

I can’t wait to see what they will do next!