How Do I KNOW?

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?

Getting Better At What We Do

I spend a lot of time thinking about improvement. Mostly about how I can improve my teaching and leadership and hopefully, in some way, have some influence on improvement in in our school and our system. Right now I am reading “Effective Supervision” by Marzano, Frontier and Livingston. The basis of the book is about building an atmosphere of collegiality in which teachers can share effective teaching practices. The hope is to try and help teachers, myself included, to become what is termed “expert teachers”. We all know countless research tells us the teacher in the room has the greatest effect on student achievement. I feel like we should never quit striving to improve our craft.

Today I followed a link on Twitter that led me to George Couros’blog, The Principal of Change. I was especially interested in a post he had written about making assumptions in education. As part of the discussion he writes, “Once you are done learning as a teacher, you are done.” I could not agree more. We do need to keep learning and we do need to keep striving to get better despite the obstacles that get in our way.

I am a strong believer in reflective practice and have a vision about education and what I think we need to do to prepare our students for whatever their future holds. I also believe in life long learning and never want to come across like I know more than any of the teachers and support staff that I work with. Together we are a knowledgeable and powerful team. We need each other to accomplish all that we do.

I am continually amazed when I walk around my building and watch my teachers in action. I see so many great things accomplished every day and our recent reading benchmark data and other assessments indicate that students are making improvements. It is in moments like this that I wonder if I can really expect more from my teachers and support staff then they are already giving?

Probably the biggest frustration teachers have is TIME. It seems like things are added to our plates on a regular basis and we often go home wondering if we will ever get caught up. How do we fit concentrated efforts for improvement in teaching practices into an already full load?

I was struck by another link posted on Twitter to a blog post written by Jordan Campbell, a fairly new and very wise teacher, who writes about letting go of what we cannot control and concentrating on the great things we do, especially the parts we really enjoy. I could not help but think that maybe this was one of the keys to finding time for improvement. Do we spend too much time on things that do not matter? The post encourages us to not waste time complaining about teaching, but instead, spend our time celebrating and talking about the good things that keep us doing the job day after day.

Leadership in education is about learning. The learning of myself and needs to be at the heart of my decision making every day. I think George in right…once we are done learning, it is time to go.

Leading with Your Heart


At the end of June I reflected on my first year as principal realizing that it had been a great year and although I had done many things right, I had many things I wanted to change.  There were times when I wondered if I could lead with my heart because  I took things too personally or I was hurt when I was criticized for doing things I felt were good for children.

After reflecting on this I realized  I probably couldn’t lead without my heart-not in the way I wanted to lead anyway.  I am such a lucky principal to be working in the community that I do, with the staff and students and parents I get to work with.  As with any leadership position, especially ones in the public spotlight, there are many times I have been criticized for the things I do.  Unfortunately we often hear the criticism loud and clear and the good comments softly and not as often.  I watch the staff in my building every day and I am amazed at the things they are able to accomplish.  They put in many extra hours and try to do the best for every student in our care.  Most days they make my job easy and they certainly always make me look good on a daily basis.

The job of being a principal is a rewarding and difficult job, I have found out.  There are countless tasks and expectations that come with the job every day.  There never seems to be enough time to do the things I feel are the most important. It is a constant balancing act.

This week I was publically criticized on a talk radio show for a decision I made with my staff to not have a costume parade on Halloween.  We have not had a costume parade in our school for 3-4 years now.  It seemed like the importance of the costume parade was getting misplaced and causing sadness and disappointment for some of our students.  We had students that did not have costumes and often felt left out and sad on what was supposed to be a happy and fun day for everyone.  It was for this reason we have done away with the parade at our school.

We have replaced the wearing of costumes with black and orange day.  We still celebrate with fun activities and last year we had a short dance in the gym involving all the staff, students and parents, if they chose to attend.  It was such a fun time and was enjoyed by everyone (with the exception of the odd little kindergarten student who became overwhelmed by the noise) so we have decided to do it again this year.  I love those times when we are all together and I see my older students being such good leaders and mentors to our younger students.

Our middle year’s students work on leadership teams for our school and they will be working hard to plan activities and fun that will pull together the whole PDale School community.  It is my hope that no one will feel left out and that we will all be able to have fun in a respectful, caring and accepting environment.

So in my musings and reflections about being a principal, I have decided that I will continue to lead with my heart.  I have also realized that I cannot change who I am.  In the words of Shakespeare, as a throw back to the number of years I spent teaching high school English, “To thine own self be true.”  I hope I can always be true to the most important part of my job and that is to make sure that all of my students are safe and are feeling important and cared about. So to those who feel the need to criticize publically, sometimes it is better to dig to the heart of the matter and see what motivates teachers and principals to make the decisions they do.


The Bus is Loaded…

I have survived a full month of being principal of my elementary school.  I used to always wonder why principals called their school “MY” school, but now I understand.  It is that unbelievable sense of pride you have in the staff that you work with, the students that keep us learning everyday and the parents who support us in many different ways.  That is why a principal wants to tell everyone about “MY” school.

When I say I have survived and I made that sound a bit harrowing.  It was not that way at all.  It was intensely busy, which I love and thrive on if the truth really got out there, but it was also intensely rewarding.  In educational leadership we have this term called “loading your bus.”  What it really means is trying to get the best possible staff working with you to make the best possible learning situation for children.  My bus is full of hard-working, dedicated, loving, compassionate people.  I have never seen a group of people who are willing to work so hard to make sure children are safe, learning, nurtured, and growing.  The demands that are put on teachers in education today may not be hauling in the water every morning or chopping the wood.  I think they are much more demanding than that.  The days are full of academics, worrying about students, looking after individual programming and needs, meeting deadlines and expectations coming from me, from the school division and from the ministry.

This is not to say that the other member of our team are not working equally as hard.  Our educational assistants work hard every day to meet expectations of students, teachers and others.  They are flexible and are willing to do anything that is asked of them every day, often dealing with the most emotionally demanding children.  Our custodial staff works tirelessly to keep our environment clean and safe.  Our counsellor does what is right for kids every day despite the fact that we often put unrealistic loads on her plate.  Our library technician and office administrator are key to our team and how it runs.  Constantly answering questions, helping children find what they need and keeping their new administrator out of trouble, as much as possible anyway.

I am sure that every principal thinks the same way, but I can’t believe how lucky I am to have a bus loaded with such fantastic, hardworking people.