Loading the Teacher Bus



I have to admit that I find this time of year both frustrating and exciting.  It does not seem to take long for the current school year to crash into the next school year.  Decisions are needed for budgets, staffing, ordering and spending and time-tabling, all while business as usual is going on around the building.

It is easy to understand why most administrators think that hiring and “loading the bus” with the best possible staff is one of the most important things we do.  Nothing has as big of influence over student achievement than the teacher in the room.

With so many things to consider, it can be a difficult and nerve-wracking process. Not only are we wanting to hire someone with all the skills necessary to be an outstanding classroom teacher, but we also need someone who will mesh nicely in the culture of our building and be an excellent staff member as well.

In my teaching career I have had the honor and privilege of working with many talented teachers and have had the opportunity to learn many things from the people who I work with.  In the short time I have been an administrator-5 years, I have interviewed and hired many great teachers as well, but…I have also hired a few not really suited for the rigors of an elementary classroom.

According to a study conducted by McRel, a private and non-profit educational  research corporation, the attributes that matter the most to teacher success are:

  • Some experience
  • Preparation and content pedagogy
  • Strong academic preparation
  • Verbal and cognitive ability

So if I find teachers that fit these 4 criteria, will that mean I have hired a great teacher? It seems very cut and dry to think this is true.  I could probably get most of this information without even talking to the candidate.

There are countless sites that claim to have the secret to good teaching- Top 10 Qualities of a Great Teacher, Ten Traits of a Good Teacher, and so on, but there is still no guarantee that I will be able to detect all those qualities suggested in an interview situation.

It seems to me that some of the most important attributes a teacher needs to have is a belief in kids and a belief in themselves as a teacher.  Teachers also need to have strong relationship skills, a willingness to be a life long learner and “withitness” or the ability to have eyes in the back of their heads to manage a busy classroom and again the list could go on and on.

Teaching is not simple, it requires grit, stamina, a willingness to admit we don’t have all the answers and the desire to work as a team to do what is right for children at all times. I always say to my staff-teaching is not for the faint at heart.

So, my fellow educators and administrators, I am seeking the truth about hiring and interviewing.  What are some of your best interview questions?  How do you ensure you are hiring the best teachers possible?


Meeting the Needs of Teachers


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?

Week in the Life of a Principal-Day 3

Wednesday, November 13

7:10- I arrive at school knowing that I have a bit of work to do on my sub plan for today, I send out some emails, sign out computer carts for my sub and finish finding the books we were requested to take to our administration meeting today.  I also needed to touch base with one of my new teachers about a plan he is making.  I have been unable to check in on his progress all week and he will be away tomorrow.  We had a quick chat about what was going on and even though I wished I had more time at that moment to really dig deep and be helpful I had to run get announcements ready and leave messages for various people before I was being picked up for my meeting.

9:00-Picked up for admin meeting. Travel with fellow administrators is always good.  We have time to touch base, talk about issues pertinent to all of us  and catch up on what is going on in the other schools in the city.  We have a 35 minute drive and a little Tim Horton’s coffee-all is good!

9:45-We arrive at the meeting with our big stack of books in tow.  We have reams of paper to pick up as we enter and I use the next 15 minutes to speak to some of my colleagues that I do not see often-really once a month at our meetings.  We were introduced to a new format for our meeting today.  Instead of having the information given to us at the meeting by the different division level personal, we were sent the information yesterday, were to have read the information and if we had questions we could ask them at the meeting.  I like the idea of the format, but we need to get the information earlier.  I do like having more time for the learning portion of the meeting and this is the format that I like to follow for the staff meetings we have at our school level as well.

3:15-Our meeting is finished, we have covered various topics from math, to technology, to reading score to HR requests.  I can’t help but feeling a bit discouraged at the number of things we could only do if we had time to do them.  I hate feeling negative about my ability to do this job, but I have to admit this year has brought on many doubts.  I constantly reflect on how I can use my time better, do things faster and wish I had more time to do things I feel are the most important.  I hate seeing members of my staff also feeling like we are constantly playing catch up.  I also know that negative feelings breed negative feelings so I have to figure out some way to let go of that and concentrate on the positive things that I can control.

3:40- Back at the school to find that quite a few things have gone down during the day.  The teacher I have left in charge has had a busy day dealing with quite a few discipline and behavior things and my list for tomorrow has just increased.  Volleyball games were happening in the gym so I wandered down there to see how the students were doing and chat with a few parents that were in the building.

4:45-Meeting with some parents of two new students just starting in our school this week.  We have some planning to do and need to have some information from them to get things in place.  It was good talking to them and getting to know them a bit more.  It is also a great feeling to once again see my teachers working to do what is best for kids.  One thing I never have to doubt is the team in my building and that makes me a lucky principal indeed.

6:10-After looking at my to do list for tomorrow and glancing through but not answering my emails I went home to find something to eat.  I was starving and tomorrow will be another day.


Day in the Life of a Principal-Day 2

It is Tuesday, November 11 and I arrive at the school around 7:15 am.  I always try to arrive early because I can get a lot more done when the school is quiet.  It is vertical day today (student leadership groups) so the first thing I do is start making a list of tasks for each group to work on during our vertical time.  I then worked on my Monday Morning Memo (Tuesday in this case, because we did not have school yesterday.  I try to send out an email at the beginning of every week full of information items so we do not have to spend time at staff meetings with so much information and we will have more time for professional development.  I get the coffee going in the staff room and write a message on the board letting the staff know who is away and reminding them about the pep rally.  I also had to make sure things were ready for the pep rally, we were having first thing and had to find my Ghost Team members to read out the names of the players and coaches.  (The ghost team is what my spirit team members called themselves when I gave them a hard time about their non-creative name-can’t really fault them now)

8:35– First thing on Monday morning and at the end of the day on Friday I play music over the sound system.  I threw some music on, but soon moved it down to the gym to play “Who Let the Dogs Out?” for our pep rally.  Supervised the singing of O’ Canada and helping one of my Team School Presidents read the announcements. I try to act as peppy as I can to get things pumped up at the pep rally.  Thanks goodness for our younger students, because our older students can sometimes be too cool for school!  As soon as the pep rally was finished I headed back through the office on my way to my first class, just in time to introduce myself to a new family registering for school.

9:25– I finished up with my social studies 8 class and went off to teach social studies 6.  We had lots of catch up work to do and moved quickly to the computer lab.  I spent the class moving from student to student helping them finish up things I need for report card assessments and monitoring the students that had moved on to our next project.

10:10-Our school division IT security person dropped in with my laptop he had taken last week because of a virus or two I had picked up while trying to find a creative commons picture to post on my blog. Who knew… He wanted to meet with me,  but I had to find him a flash drive and head off to get ready for grade 6-8 vertical that would be starting right after recess.

10:25– Vertical- what can I say…70 middle year’s students, 2 teachers, 8 teams of kids working on different tasks, 45 minutes.  Middle-year’s leadership-so important-but a lot of work!

11:15-Checked in on my canteen team to see how they were doing with counting the money for our hot lunch which is coming up and then off to relieve the grade 5 teacher so she could leave early for a professional development opportunity.  The grade 5’s were great and the time passed quickly as they worked on a math assignment.

12:00-Back to the office just in time to meet another family registering a kindergarten student.  I even got to sit down and eat my lunch today in the staff room!  That is quite unheard of, because I often have to do a lot of noon hour supervision.  A day off is a nice change.

12:30-Back to my office after checking in the computer lab to see if any of my grade 6 students had shown up for noon tutorial-no such luck.

1:00-Afternoon announcements, dealing with after lunch discipline issues and my student support team is waiting for a meeting.  It is nice to touch base with them and check in on the learning needs of some of our students.

1:30– Out to the playground to check on a problem with our new playground structure and take some pictures to send off to our installer.  Answered some emails and dealt with some discipline coming through the office, took a picture of a Rider Pride display our Benchwarmer team had put up in the gym in preparation cheering the Saskatchewan Roughriders on to the Grey Cup.  I would tweet that picture out later on the school twitter account.  Grade 1 had phys-ed at that time so I had some fun with them before I left the gym.

2:30-Returned some phone calls and helped cool down a very angry first grader and then shortly after spent some time with the frustrated teacher of the very angry first grader.  By now the first grader had fallen asleep in the office which might explain why he was so angry.

3:05-Woke him up and took him to the bus, bus supervision where I get to end each school day with hugs from my younger students-love it!  One of the safety patrollers was not there for some reason, so I filled in at the corner.  Everyone safely off to home,  so I went back to my office to try and make sense of my desk and see if I could get through my emails that had piled up during the day.

6:15 pm– Just leaving the school now.  Went through a bunch of material that had been emailed out today in preparation for our administrator meeting tomorrow, found a stack of books we were asked to bring, went through all the emails my leadership team members had sent me today with pictures and plans they had made, sent off a picture of our school and write up to a global teen challenge my students are going to participate in and  took some phone calls.  I did not however get planned for my sub tomorrow or get to a number of other things on my list.

Oh well, the sub planning can happen tonight and tomorrow is another day to work on that list.

Join us in the “Day in the Life of a Principal” on twitter #prinblog.


Can Boys Be Boys in School?


My Friday morning started with a visit from some parents before I had even finished morning announcements.  What they had to say surprised my somewhat, and certainly caused me to have something to reflect and consider over the weekend besides report card preparation.  They came to discuss the fact that their son felt like we were favoring the girls over the boys at our school and according to this set of parents, their son was not the only boy who felt this way.  Now, it may be easy to dismiss such an accusation, because we all know students perceptions are different from adults.  It may also be easy to think that our boys do not see the whole picture, and so that is why they might feel this way and don’t we all know that girls may behave generally better than boys in the school setting.

I have to wonder though, if they have this perception, could it be true to some level?

Even though I am pretty sure we are not the only school with the perceived “reputation” for being “sexist”, I could not let the accusation pass without some action on my part.  Are we meeting the needs of the boys in our school?  Are we giving them a fair shake when it comes to learning and interactions with staff?  Are we allowing boys to be boys when it comes to our attitudes toward the uniqueness that boys bring to the classroom? Much research has come to light lately about gender differences and the uniqueness of both boys and girls in the school setting.

When looking at my data of discipline as far as formal office visits and follow-ups,  it was easy to see that I was disciplining boys far more than girls.  My classroom interactions reflected the same in most cases.

Now, it might be easy to dismiss this data because we all know that boys are far more likely to interrupt learning during class than girls are.  I have to wonder though if we are doing enough to meet the needs of our boys and if we were, would the boys be happier, would the discipline incident data involving boys be less and would the boys be achieving at a higher level?

According to an article about boys being penalized in school, written by Jessica Lahey, “Teachers and school administrators lament that boys are to fidgety, too hyperactive, too disruptive, derailing the educational process for everyone while sabotaging their own intellectual development.” While this may seem to be true in some cases , is it fair to blame the boys or should we be making a better effort to meet their needs? Erika Christakas, an early childhood educator at the Yale Child Study Center discusses a new study that  seems to show  boys are being judged both harshly and leniently in school.  If teachers expect boys to behave worse than girls, because on average they do  so, they may miss girls’ behavior problems entirely or treat well-behaving boys  as anomalous, which as the study showed can distort expectations and support for  all children.

So what do we know about the ways boys learn?

  • Boys are more energized and motivated by movement
  • Boys strive on competition
  • Boys are hardwired to be single-task focused
  • Boys tend to “zone-out” and need more breaks during learning
  • Boys do their best work when the teacher has established an authentic purpose for doing it
  • Boys respond to feeling like they are respected and appreciated for who they are

I think teachers in general are doing a better job of accepting and differentiating to meet the needs of our students.  In considering the learning needs of the boys in our school, I do think we have room for improvement.  If we are thinking our boys are not engaged in the learning in the classroom than it is time for us to do something about it,  rather than penalizing them for not fitting into a mold we know is not working for many of them.