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?

Staying the Course

 

http://magicalmarketingmakeover.com/
http://magicalmarketingmakeover.com/

Everywhere we turn in the media are interviews and information about job stress.  I have seen multiple articles, posts and studies lately about the teaching profession and how many young teachers we are losing due to job stress and other reasons.  The statistics show that our young teachers are only staying in the profession for 4 or 5 years and then moving on to something else. This morning I came across an article about stress in the teaching profession and I was shocked by the negative and misguided comments written in response.

 

 

 

Teacher well-being is a timely topic for many of us. I have always considered myself to be a high energy and tackle anything coming my way, sort of person, but at the end of last year I was definitely suffering from some serious stress related health problems.

Over the summer I realized 2 things:

1.  I can’t make everyone happy no matter how hard I try to no matter how many extra hours I put in.

2.  I can’t solve everyone’s problems no matter how hard I try to and no matter how many extra hours I put in.

I think there might be a few different reasons that young teachers are moving on from our profession at what some might consider an alarming rate.  I have noticed a change in the respect given to teachers over the course of my teaching career.

I didn’t always want to be a teacher, but once I decided that was the direction I was going, I was always proud to be able to say I am a teacher.  It didn’t matter what school I was in or what position I had.  Over the course of my career, I have taught every grade kindergarten through grade 12 in some capacity or another and have enjoyed them all.

Some of the lack of respect I notice seems to come from government, who do not always treat us like professionals in the manner we might like, some comes from the public perception that seems to be driven through media,  and yes, I think we need to take responsibility for some of it as well.

http://timetothrivecoaching.com
http://timetothrivecoaching.com

I sometimes look back and wonder if I was starting all over again, if I would still choose to be a teacher.  I look around me and see many other professionals which appear to have equal job satisfaction, making much more money than me with much less educational investment.

As you might have guessed by what I have said so far, I am pretty close to retirement, so I am not changing my focus from teaching at the moment.  As a matter of fact, I am not even negative about my job and I enjoy what I do very much.  If you ask any of my three children if they want to be a teacher, they will answer with a resounding “NO”.  I am not sure if that is a reflection of what they have observed in me or if it is just their destiny to go in another direction.

I have learned over the years that I do not function well without a challenge.  I can become bored with what I am doing and need to add some element of challenge, before I suffer discontent.  It has happened a few times over the years, but I have been able to find enough opportunities within the teaching profession to branch out and try different things.

One piece of advice I would give to others is to keep learning and keep challenging yourself to be better at what you do. I think we do enjoy some autonomy within our profession that we do not always take advantage of.  Yes, our curricular outcomes are mandated to us and many expectations are directed to us, but how we meet those outcomes and live up to the expectations is up to us, so why not have a little fun with it.  I hope that I set this example  for the teachers I work with and they know that thinking outside the box is always welcome and trying new things is what it should be all about.

images2DS5Y4E6

I have also learned, maybe recently, as a result of my health problems, that I can step back and let others be leaders.  I do not have to control everything that goes on around me.  I know now that I cannot make everyone happy, so I need to step back and let others take control at times and not feel like I am personally responsible for everything that happens in our school.  I am not very good at this, but getting better and I think that it is a benefit to our students every time I am able to do it.

Most of the teachers I know do not like to brag about the things they do in their classrooms, despite the fact that, in my perception,  many of them are doing wonderful things.   To them it is ordinary and not worth talking about.  I think this may be part of the reason not every teacher wants to jump into using Twitter.  They might judge the educators that share as bragging or feel like they do not have anything worth sharing.

I think the “bragging” is more like sharing, collaborating and branding.  The one thing we all want more of is time and it seems to make sense to me to share the things we are doing so we are not all starting over from the beginning.  The ideas, thoughtful information and support that I receive from my twitter involvement is incredible.

http://www.jenksps.org/
http://www.jenksps.org/

Another reason I think the sharing is so important is because we need to tell our positive story.  If we allow others to tell our story it often comes from media sources that might not portray the positive things that are happening in our classrooms and schools.  If we make an effort to tell our own stories more often maybe we can change the negative attitude that I was reading about this morning, by offering up a different perspective.

Maybe we can engage our parents and communities in what we are doing.

Maybe we can set a positive example for our students as they are portraying their own “brands” in the social media world, if they see us sharing positive and exciting things about our schools.

I agree that things can be discouraging and there are many stressful things that teachers deal with on a daily basis that I did not even touch on in this little rant, such as class size, data tracking, high level behavioral issues.  The list can go on and on really, but I choose to concentrate on the things we can control and try to support the people around me in doing the same.

Thanks #saskedchat for helping me stay the course.

cropped-cropped-Screenshot-2015-02-20-16_50_25

 

 

January 2015 #pdale Teacher Twitter Challenge

 

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http://www.business2community.com/

As many of you know when I was taking my master’s degree I learned so many things that changed my entire philosophy of education.  Learning from people like Alec Couros and Dean Shareski opened my ideas to many ideas that I had never even thought of before.  My first experience in an open education course scared me to death.  Being online with 200+ people from all over the world was an idea I had never even considered before.  It was through taking courses that I learned about web tools such as blogs, wiki spaces and many others.  It was also through these courses that I realized the importance of being a connected educator.

I was shocked once again, 2 years ago when we agreed to send Devin, Kimberley and Nicole to Philadelphia to attend the Educon Conference.  When they returned and taught us how to use twitter, I had no idea how something so simple would, once again, change my entire view of professional development.

People who say things such as…

“Why would I care what people are having for dinner?” or  “Why do I care when people are doing their laundry?”

…have no idea the opportunities for individualized learning that twitter and other social media sites make possible.

I know that everyone learns in their own way and learning through twitter might not be for everyone, but I also feel so strongly about the importance of making connections.  Connections open doors to other classrooms, to other methodologies, to opportunities to learn about things we have never heard of and connections also give us the opportunity to share what we are doing with others so they may learn from us.

https://betheloveoflife.wordpress.com/
https://betheloveoflife.wordpress.com/

I also believe strongly about telling our own positive story.  The things we are doing every day are too important to leave to chance.  We need to be in charge of spreading our story to our parents and community in our way.

Connections do not have to be made through twitter, but that is where we are going to start.

I thought it would be a fun idea to jump in and do a challenge in January so we could learn together in a similar manner to the blogging we did together a few years ago.

I hope you will use this opportunity to reach out of your comfort zone.  For some of you the reach will be longer than others.  You will not be alone!  We are all in this together.

 

The January 2015 #pdale Teacher Twitter Challenge!

http://www.powtoon.com/show/gbmGizJhTQo/mission-possible

The following is a video of Alec Couros talking about twitter in education:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EqSCR3HU4eg

 

Some links that might be useful:

List of recommended people to follow sorted by their role in education.

List of classrooms around the world that tweet.

Weekly twitter chat days and times.

Great twitter classroom connections.

Twitter for Teachers

Establishing a twitter routine in the classroom

Participating in a twitter chat

Please remember you are not alone!  I can’t wait to see the things we can learn!

 

Diving into @DCMOOC

http://www.teachhub.com/17-topics-teach-k-8-about-digital-citizenship
http://www.teachhub.com/17-topics-teach-k-8-about-digital-citizenship

I have enthusiastically signed up for a dcmooc.ca  (massive open online course) on digital citizenship offered by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education and facilitated by Alec Couros, JoAnn Sanders and Katia Hildibrant. The course was set up as part of Saskatchewan’s action plan to address bullying and cyber bullying.  As I was attending the first session last week I was having flash backs to the first open education course I took from Alec when I was completing my Masters Degree.  I remembered feeling totally like a fish out of water.  I could not get it all figured out and it seemed to be happening so fast.  I was hopeless at keeping up with the back channel and paying attention to the speaker.

Once I calmed myself down and realized I could enter at my own pace and begin from where I was at, I felt a lot better.  I started to feel like I was not being judged for my lack of ability, but rather welcomed by a community of learners that I had never been exposed to before.

I have advanced quite a bit in my online journey since then and now feel quite comfortable participating in online communities.  The opportunity to participate in @DCMOOC was right along my alley.  I thrive on the feeling of being on the edge and not quite knowing where each experience is going to take me.

My father taught me to be a life long learner and has modeled that for me my entire life and continues to model it to this day at the young age of 79.  He tries to keep up with the changes in our learning world and technology has not left him behind.  The only thing he refuses to try is texting, despite my continued desire for him to do so.  I am grateful to him for teaching me I always have something to learn so I should seek it out.

Many things have changed since that first open education course that changed my outlook on education and the way we meet the needs of our students in our ever-changing world.  To me the best thing about the changes we have witnessed is the ease and convenience we are able to communicate and share.  I am a huge twitter fan for that very reason.  I am able to set up my learning network to be just the way I want it to be and I am able to access information, help and ideas from my network at any time I am wanting it to happen.

http://mattbgomez.com/we-should-be-doing-more-than-teaching-digital-citizenship/
http://mattbgomez.com/we-should-be-doing-more-than-teaching-digital-citizenship/

Being connected is by far the best form of professional development I have been a part of in my entire teaching career thus far.

Being connected in a safe and responsible way is something I also want for my students as well.  Joining  #DCMOOC and a community of learners sharing ideas about digital citizenship seemed like the perfect place to be.   Developing good citizens has been a long-standing goal of education, so does it not make sense that developing good digital citizens need to be a part of the educational goals of today.  Terry Heick in his post about digital citizenship defines it as “the self-monitored habits that sustain and improve the digital communities you enjoy or depend on.”

Our students spend much of their time in digital communities and will need us to help them become self-monitoring; to develop the habits needed to be safe and  participate confidently in the communities they enjoy.

I can’t wait to see what I learn in @DCMOOC from my ever-expanding learning network and what I can pass on to my students and staff.  Hopefully we can all develop good habits that will help us sustain improve our digital communities.

 

 

Being Connected No Longer an Option

community1
http://wspucla.wordpress.com/category/you-have-the-power-choosing-courage-in-a-culture-of-fear/

Most people who know me know that I am passionate about engaging students with technology. Not technology for the sake of using it, but rather technology because we can and because we should and because and when it just makes sense.  My view on educational pedagogy totally changed a few years ago when I took my Masters Degree and was exposed to the ideas of people such as Alec Couros and Dean Shareski.  My first exposure was scary and I felt way out of my element, but the idea that we could connect, communicate and grow as a global community made me very excited about my future as an educator.

My journey of growth and “connectedness” has been going forward since then, slowly but surely, and of course not without road blocks and frustrations.  The outcome of my perseverance, despite the frustrations, is what keeps me moving in a steady direction towards what I know is right for students.

All too often I am still hearing things like “I don’t really like technology” or “I can’t do that, because I am just too old to change”, or “I don’t have time” or “I am not really interested.” When I am hearing these things I have to wonder if the option is even there for teachers to feel this way.  When we think about the digitally orientated world our students are living in, participating with and contributing to, can we really choose to ignore that world and the opportunity for our students to write and share with a larger audience?

I have had a few experiences in my classroom connecting my students with other learners on Skype in the Classroom, having my students working on projects with other classrooms, sharing the interesting things I find and learn from my PLN and using blogs, wiki spaces and other web tools.   I am not saying I am any kind of expert, quite the opposite in fact, but what I have learned from what I have been able to do so far is that I need to do it more.

In a recent post I was reading by Justin Tarte, Life of An Educator, “Who decides when it is no longer optional?”, he was asking some of the same questions I have to wonder about…

 When is the choice of reaching out to educators from around the globe to collaborate no longer an option?
 
When is truly differentiating classroom instruction and meetings kids where they are no longer an option?
When is taking ownership of your own professional learning and growth not a duty and responsibility of the district, but an expectation of the individual?

About a year ago I got brave enough to start actively participating in twitter.  Previously I had sort of lurked around the outside edges wanting to jump in.  I can remember my nervousness when I made my first tweet, wondering if I had anything to say worth listening to. My first tweet was a response to a question my grade 4 class had put on twitter asking about favorite novels.  It is nice to have teachers that are leading the way and helping me on my journey.

 

 

 Once I bridged the gap between being a lurker to a participator, I have never looked back.  It is the best professional development opportunity that I have had in my teaching career.  The things that make it the best for me is being real-time, tailored to my interests and the fact that I can grow and learn in my profession from wherever I want and whenever I want and can follow whoever I want.

 

I came across an article titled Connectedness: The New Standard, by Eric Sheniger, which he had posted on twitter yesterday.  In the article Sheniger writes about the ease of connecting because we have so many tools available to us that allow us easy access. He feels “Connectedness is no longer an option, but rather a standard and a professional obligation.” The power of being connected is hard to ignore. He encourages teachers and leaders to take advantage of the power of sharing.

 

I have to admit that when I am passionate about something, I don’t let anything get in my way and I have to really work on keeping myself in check so I don’t blast people over with my desire for them to join in my passions.  You can probably ask any of the teachers in my school and they can easily tell you what my passions are and what I desire education to look like.   I have learned to pull back a little and I have realized that everyone follows a different path toward the desired destination.

 

I just finished reading Kathy Cassidy’s book, Connected From the Start, for the second time.  When I read her descriptions of the learning in her classroom and the connections her young students are able to make it validates for me what we need to be doing. She describes her grade one students writing on the classroom blog and recognizes that this is the world her primary students are growing up in and will be working and living in as adults.  She feels she is not only helping them grow as writers, but they are learning how to write in public and safely create their online presence.

 

“Whether you are working with five-year olds or fifteen year olds, the student want to know that what they are learning has value.  Sharing learning online often produces affirmation of value-not just day by day but over time as a student’s digital portfolio grown and becomes public evidence of his or her advancing knowledge and skills.”  

 

 We can no longer ignore real world connections and opportunities for our students to be sharing with real audiences.

 

What an exciting time it is to teach and learn.  So many opportunities to connect and learn from each other and to make real word changes.  When are these things no longer an option?

Meeting the Needs of Teachers

http://joeysblog27.blogspot.ca/2011/01/personal-learning-network.html
http://joeysblog27.blogspot.ca/2011/01/personal-learning-network.html

I spent my Friday meeting with most of my teachers for the mid year check in of their professional growth plans.  It was a great way to spend the day and I love spending time getting to know my staff.  We rarely have opportunities that are not rushed or focused on too many things.  We talked about their goals and how they thought things were going in their classrooms, with their students and in our school.  Our conversations often turned to professional development opportunities which got me thinking of the best way to meet all of their individual needs.

Our school division provides many opportunities for PLC’s (Professional Learning Communities). Teachers can apply twice a year for funding to support PLC learning opportunities and many of the teachers in my school participate in these groups. The feedback from these PLC`s are mostly positive, when the teachers have been allowed some freedom to take their discussions and learning in a self-directed way.

Most of the negative feedback coming from my teachers happens when they feel self-direction of the learning is not there and emphasis is put on planning and paper work expectations.

It is difficult for school divisions to plan large group professional development that meets the needs of all teachers. I find that often the learning and discussion is geared toward the group of teachers that are near the bottom with their level of understanding. I supposed it is planned this way with the hope that more teachers will gain an understanding of the presented initiative. The affect it often has on those that are beyond the level of the presentation is that they leave feeling frustrated and like their needs have not been met.

Very few teachers really have the opportunity to attend big, national conferences where you can join in conversations and pick sessions that are directed at your learning needs.

So what now…?

My thought is… why are we waiting for someone to provide learning opportunities for us that meet our distinct needs as individual teachers. As I stated in my last post, the best professional development I have is coming straight to me every day from the personal learning network that I have created. It is self-directed and conversations always circulate around topics directly related to my personal needs. I can join with my PLN at times that work well for me and the opportunity is always available to me to be learning from a wide variety of perspectives and experiences.

When looking through my twitter feed today I came across a link posted by Tom Whitby to a post he has written titled “Are Education Conferences Relevant”. In his post Tom stated, “We are professional educators who need to do a better job educating ourselves as educators. If we are to better educate kids, we need to better educate their educators.”

What I would advise my teachers to do if they really want to be in charge of their own learning is to start to build their own learning networks. It truly is the most valuable learning opportunity I have ever been involved in. Any thoughts?

Why I use Twitter…

http://technorati.com/
http://technorati.com/

At some point this year I set the goal of writing on my blog at least once a week.  That is a difficult goal when balancing work and family, but writing is something I enjoy that allows me a creative outlet for my thoughts.  Lately though, I have been to my blog, but feel like I have writers block. When this happens, instead of writing on my blog I will spend my free moments searching around on twitter, reading and sharing. I have a bit of an obsession with Twitter if you ask my husband.  As I sit listening to the wind howling today, searching around on twitter I was thinking about what twitter has added to my professional and personal learning.

One year ago 3 of the teachers in my school had the opportunity to attend #educon conference in Philadelphia.  It was exciting for us to be able to send them there because most teachers in our school division do not have the opportunity to attend big conferences such as this.  They came back with many great ideas to share and prompted all of us to start using Twitter as part of our daily routine in the school, in our classes and in our professional lives.  We spent time as a staff learning from them how to set up a twitter account and  getting some suggestions as to who to follow.  We set up a school Twitter account and starting sharing with our parents through Twitter.  Each of our classrooms have a twitter account and many share classroom happenings on a daily basis.  It has been a great communication and collaboration tool for our whole school.

These are the reasons why I use Twitter

  • Twitter is the best professional development I have been involved in for a long time.
  • It allows me to follow my interests, passions and interact with people similar to me.
  • It allows me to share my ideas.
  • It helps me answer questions.
  • On a daily basis I am able to find ideas and links that help me be a better teacher and administrator

@PrincipalSmart

Teach Less, Learn More?

I was recently lamenting about August 1 coming and the end of summer fast approaching.  Now I am already racing into September and my mind is whirling with thoughts about how we can make this year the best year it can be.  I keep coming back in my mind to the idea of “Teach Less, Learn More”.  I have decided that it will be my mantra this year.  I want to base my first year as principal of my school on that idea.

I am immersed in two of Will Richardson’s books right now: Personal Learning Networks and Learning on the Blog.  I am a huge fan of Will Richardson.  He writes about his children’s education a lot and will sometimes admit that he is a tough parent when it comes to the school.  I wish I had more parents like him.  Parents that would expect their children to be learning in ways that will prepare them for the future.

I feel like we have made a lot of progress as a staff and within our school moving our teaching from the traditional feeding of information to allowing our students to drive their own learning.  We have such a long way to go.  So my mind is whirling right now with the following questions:

1.  How can I keep developing my own personal learning network?

2.  How can I encourage and support my staff to develop their learning networks?

3.  How can we continue the movement toward student driven learning and get everyone to buy in but be comfortable along the journey?

4.  As a principal, how can I continue to put ideas out there and be able to support my staff without it becoming too overwhelming and people shutting down?

Any ideas for a new principal that would like her staff to “Teach less, Learn More”?