How Do I KNOW?

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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?

Spreading the News!

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One of the things that I have always been frustrated with is my inability to express the passion I have for innovation in education.  I can remember the first time my eyes were opened to new educational ideas while taking my Master’s Degree and taking a course by Alex Couros.  I felt way beyond my comfort level but knew that I was getting into something that was very exciting and would benefit my staff and our students greatly.

When I first started my coursework for my Master’s Degree, I knew it would be hard and would take a lot of work, but I also thought it was going to be a bit dry.  Boy, was I wrong!  I was not prepared for my degree experience to totally change my outlook on education and what should be happening in classrooms.

At that time, I was so excited about the new things I was learning and decided to come back to my staff with my passionate message, only to have it fall flat and after our first staff meeting, I thought they would have thrown tomatoes at me if they had any.

One of our teachers though was immediately interested and agreed to help me, by working together on a class blog. letting her grade 5 students write about things they were interested in and giving them a broader audience for their writing.

Starting with one teacher sparked interest with other teachers and since that first staff meeting 8 years ago our school has made much progress in what I consider to be innovative teaching ideas and stretching to meet the needs of our students by being innovative with our classrooms design and instruction.

Yesterday I was out of the school at a meeting and had left a learning activity for my grade 6 students.  We have just started The Global Read Aloud this week and are reading the book, “The Wild Robot.”  I had left them an activity where they were discussing their ideas about robots-what they already knew, researching some ideas and adding to their knowledge.  All the while they were recording their thinking using Padlet.  Using Padlet allowed them see what the other students were thinking and I could also see their responses while I was at my meeting, which was an added bonus.

Now I could have easily had them working by themselves researching and recording their answers in their notebooks, but the richness of being a part of a collaborative think tank was a benefit to my students.

To get back to my original problem, which was how do I help others feel the passions I have and how do I continue to work towards innovative teaching and learning for all students?  Part of what I have seen through the continued growth in our school since the “tomato throwing” incident and our very first blog has been amazing.

I guess I have already answered my own question; keep pushing, encouraging, learning, talking, praising, reflecting and spreading the word.

Progress may seem slow but perhaps it is not as slow as I think.

Hmmm!  I am off to an administrators meeting today and I am in charge of welcoming and running the agenda.  Seems like the perfect opportunity to spread the word!

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.