No More Excuses

 

https://www.flickr.com/photos/fotologic/410355440/

Our school staff has reason to be grateful when it comes to available technology in our school and to our access to bandwidth. Our school division does put both as a priority for student learning. Even though we have many devices and we have the bandwidth to provide us access, a lot of what we were seeing in our classrooms was based on consumption of programs already available rather than creating new content or collaboration with others.  Many were trying all kinds of new things, but we still had some that were using the laptops and I-pads for consumption only.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I feel like consumption is an important and acceptable part of our day, but I also feel like without stretching to creation and collaboration we were missing out and so are our students.  So since we have also been blessed with very capable, strong teachers who are willing to try new things, it seemed like a good time to move forward.

At the beginning of the last school year, we required all of our teachers to set a professional goal based on using technology for creative or collaborative endeavors.  It was so fun and rewarding to see what everyone chose to do and to watch it all play out for our students.  We shared our progress at staff meetings and helped each other along the way.  We did not want this to be a one and done kind of idea, so this year we had all of our teachers set another goal that was the logical next step from where they left off.

One thing I have learned over my time as a school principal is an importance of accepting people where they are and helping them move along the growth continuum.  As adult learners, just like our students in the classroom, we do not all start at the same place or grow at the same rate.  I have also learned that change takes time and it does not happen overnight.

In my own growth and experience gained through being a classroom teacher, I am starting to realize what my students are capable of,  if they are given choices, chances to make mistakes without repercussion, and opportunities to demonstrate their learning in many ways.  They show me time after time what they can do when I just step back and let them.

When we limit our students with close control of what they read, what they learn, how they learn and how they demonstrate their learning, we may be comfortable, but we are also limiting their chances for growth.  I have just started reading the book, The Wild Card, by Hope and Wade King and was struck by the idea that excuse making can become a habit. “Every less than ideal factor can become another reason why your students aren’t achieving more-and why you can’t do anything to change that.”  I am sure I have used many excuses for not changing my comfortable pedagogy throughout my career and some of the ones I hear most often as a principal and colleague are:

  • I do not have enough time.
  • I do not feel like I can “teach” that to my students.
  • My students are too young and can’t possibly do that.
  • I have been doing it this way for years and it has been working.
  • I do not have parent support.
  • I do not have support from my administrator
  • I want to do that, but…

All of these may be true at some point, but if we never force the first step, the journey never starts.  The challenge of being a teacher is a big one.  It is a very difficult and very rewarding job. We will not change everything tomorrow, but perhaps a good first step would be to say, “No more excuses.”

 

Taking the Step Back

https://educationrickshaw.com/2017/04/16/5-easy-ways-to-share-learning-experiences-with-students/

I have been doing a lot of thinking this week about teaching practices and how we often underestimate the abilities of our students when we do not allow them to have a strong voice and a lot of choices when it comes to their learning.  I spent my Saturday yesterday with a group of students at a Lego League tournament.  It was such a rewarding experience that only illustrated what students can do when you let them.

For those of you who do not know anything about Lego League, the students are judged on 4 different things: robot design, team core values, project and performance scores during the robot wars.  Last year we attended the tournament just to see how it worked, but this year we were there to compete.

Preparing for Robot Wars

When the students are taken by the judges to explain their core values the coaches are not allowed to be with the team.  I was surprised to see the judges comments on our feedback sheet.  “Wish the coach was a little less involved.”  The reason I was surprised was that I think our students might do better if they actually had a coach that knew anything about robot design or coding.  I really know very little about either one, but rather look at it a fantastic opportunity for our students and don’t want them to miss out.

One of the very best things about all the time I dedicate to Lego League is that I truly did not even have any input into the design of our robot.  The students worked together and showed me what they had come up with.  When we started working on the challenges and coding the robot, I was in the room and was able to answer questions about what they would be judged on and what sorts of things might get them penalties, but I never once had input into the coding.

I am very proud to say it was totally them!

Another part I should add would be at the coaches meeting yesterday morning we realized the robot had to return to the base without help.  We thought the whole time the robot could be picked up and returned to the base.  The student took the news with a look of determination and just got back to work.  Again we did not have input and actually walked away from most of it while they figured it out.

This whole experience was so motivating for me and just illustrated, once again what our students are capable of if we let them.  Sometimes we feel that we need to protect them and closely guide them to success.  We do not want them to be discouraged or suffer disappointment.  Sometimes we feel like it is our job to spoon feed them information and not wait for them to struggle to find answers.  This thinking does not help our students and we are standing in the way of what they can truly accomplish.  Even our youngest students are capable of accomplishing great things with opportunity.

When I reflect on my own teaching practices in the classroom and how much they have changed.  Despite class size growing and the never-ending list of expectations, I feel my students are now doing more work in the classroom than I am.  I gave up dragging those huge bags of marking home every weekend years ago because I was inspired by Sandra Herbst and her work with assessment practices.  Of course, I still assess!  Of course, I still spend time “marking!” but I do not take the whole responsibility of learning on to myself.

I feel like I know my students better.  I can learn more from conferencing with them on a regular basis and setting goals for their reading and writing than I ever could from looking at a product on the weekend. I now spend more time on formative assessment and using observations and conversations to guide direction.  I feel like student engagement is higher now that we are tacking learning goals together and my students have options and choices. Differentiating for students is a breeze and happens naturally within classroom organization.

Pdale Bulldogs Lego League Team 2018

When I watched our students perform yesterday, despite my guidance and not solely because of my guidance it was very rewarding and telling indeed!

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!