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.
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.
I spend a lot of time each week reflecting on what has gone well and what has gone not so well in our school, as I am sure a lot of you do.
I consider my actions and reactions, thinking about whether or not I need to make changes in my focus in order to support the growth of the school team.
Lately I have noticed a sense of urgency and almost robotic panic in our building seemingly based upon the number of things everyone is juggling. I hate to see people so tired and overwhelmed to the point of not enjoying what they do. One thing I never doubt, not even for one minute, is each member of our team being focused on our students- always.
We can be bombarded with requirements, committees and changes coming at us from various directions outside and inside of the school. It can be a difficult task to balance the expectations and requirements coming at us, with what has to happen in our classrooms, with our students, and in our school, on a daily basis.
I know as an administrator I often feel overwhelmed by the number of things we are expected to balance and complete and spend a lot of time thinking of how to make that easier for teachers. I don’t think we really stand out in the educational crowd with these feelings. I also feel it is something that is not going away anytime soon.
On Thursday of this week, we had the opportunity to have the home town and much-loved, hockey team players from The Estevan Bruins, spend the afternoon in our school. There were 25 of them, spread out, working in every classroom for an hour and we ended the day with a floor hockey game in the gym involving as many students and staff as possible. What a fun way to spend the day!
I am not going to lie, it was a bit of an over the top frenzy for the whole afternoon. The students were so excited and it was nice to just take time to have a whole lot of fun together.
Looking back at that afternoon, I have wonder if that is what we are missing right now. Do we give ourselves permission to shut it all off occasionally and just have fun with each other without feeling guilty about it?
It seems like we can get so caught up with all of the expectations we are balancing we can let those expectations control our actions, rather than us controlling how we will fulfill those expectations. We have many things in our profession that we can’t control. I am always trying to bring our conversations back to the things we can control and reminding myself about those things often to refocus.
For example, we can’t control parental actions and reactions. We can promote, encourage and assist, but in the end we will always have some parents that do not support all of our actions. Should we focus our energy on those few by allowing their negative feedback to control us? Or does it make more sense to focus our energy on forging relationships with all of our supportive, eager to partner, parents and see what we can accomplish?
Now I would never say we should stop reaching out, encouraging and trying, but when they do not reach back, we should try not to take that personally and feel bad about it. Our energy is better spent on ways that we can reach out to the majority and the benefit it will be to all of our students.
Many expectations are put upon schools by different departments at the school division/district level. The intent of all of them is based on best practice, school division/ministry goals and improving the way we do things. The desire to improve our practice is strong, and good intent is there, but it can be overwhelming when there are too many changes. Once again, however, are we concentrating and spending energy by becoming too focused on things we can’t control?
We do need to continue to improve our practice. We do no need to continue to drill down our data. We do need to continue to improve team function so we can meet individual student needs and improve academic achievement. No one can argue that.
At the same time, however, we do not need to lose our individuality in the process.
We can stay true to the good practice and routines we have developed and feel are important in our classrooms and schools. We do not need to change who we are, what we are, or the things we feel are important to our school culture.
Let’s spend more of our energy supporting relationships, reaching out to each other to meet our goals, having fun with our students and families, enjoying reading and the love of learning, meeting in the staff room for a quick chat at recess rather than working alone, letting ourselves walk out at the end of the day and not looking back, rather than dragging home our laptops and book bags for a long night ahead.
The long list of expectations and things to do will keep coming. Where we decide to spend our energy and focus each day is up to us. I have a feeling the expectations will be met much easier if we allow ourselves to be true to who we are and what we stand for.
One of the things that I have learned over my years as a teacher and school administrator is the importance of parents and home support in the success of children. I spend a great deal of time thinking and reflecting on the things we do, in the hopes of improving home school communication and relationships. These are 5 of the things I hope our parents know…
1.I hope you know we feel thankful you trust us with your children every day. I remember the feeling I had when I sent my oldest daughter to kindergarten. For the first 5 years of her life I had been able to plan for her, shelter her and let her experience things within my control. All of a sudden I was turning her over to another team of people for many hours of her day. I had feelings of apprehension and I am afraid I did not handle her transition into school as well as I might have. The transition did not seem to get much easier for me as I sent child number two or three. Now that child number 3 is in grade 10 and I have been part of a school team for a number of years, I have realized it takes many people to raise a child and a strong team of people is what every child needs.
2. I hope you know we want to work as a team. We know the importance of teamwork in the success of children. When we make phone calls or send notes home, they are not meant as criticisms, but rather part of our desire to work as a team to help your children and our students be as successful as possible not only in their academic growth, but also their physical, emotional social and spiritual growth. We also try to remember when you contact us about your concerns and questions that you are not trying to criticize us, but rather you are being the advocate that all children need. I hope we come across as willing to listen and address your concerns. If we do not, don’t give up, because we are human and trying to do our best.
3. I hope you realize we understand how busy you are. We understand how busy life can be-most of us are working parents too or we were certainly raised by working parents. We understand that some of the things we ask you to do for us and your children add to the business of a full day. I certainly have to admit that studying for science exams or helping with ELA homework has come at times that I have found very frustrating and have had to dig deep to find the energy needed. We understand that sometimes you will not be able to meet our expectations and that is ok, because sometimes we may not always be able to meet yours.
4. I hope you know we are trying our best. I never have to doubt the hard work I see in our school every day. It makes me proud as a principal when I see that everyone is trying their hardest to do the best we can for children. In know that despite our hard work, we will make mistakes sometimes and I hope that you will be patient as we try to make things right.
5. I hope you know we appreciate everything they do for us. I am amazed by the generosity and support of the parents and families in our community. We are constantly receiving donations of time, money and effort. We cannot thank you enough and some days it is what keeps us going when things get busy and frustrating like they can at times.
Together we CAN accomplish great things, so keep calling, keep writing notes, keep asking questions. You are the most important part of your child’s team.
I spent some time yesterday at our school professional development day talking with part of my staff about possible changes we could make to our timetable to accommodate more projects, more cross-curricular connections and more blocks of uninterrupted time with our students. I am very lucky to have an innovative staff that always works hard to do what is right for kids and are patient with my passions about education.
Returning to the classroom this year has been an eye opener for me in a lot of ways. Not only am I now walking my talk and have a much better idea of what my teachers are balancing on a daily basis, I have realized that the timetable, which I created by the way, is not providing our students with the best opportunities to learn or giving our teachers the best opportunity to plan for that learning.
I have a vision about how I believe education needs to be. It is not my vision alone, but more of a realization that what we have done for generations in schools is not and does not work any more. I have had a little glimpse of what happens when you open learning up to students and allow them to follow their passions through Genius Hour. I know that every moment in school cannot be spent doing open projects, but at the same time, the engagement and empowerment I see in my students during that time, is amazing. It is not all perfect and we are still getting started, but I sure like what I see and I love what it allows me to do as a teacher which is step back and guide.
I am a fan and I am a believer, however I am still frustrated about how to make this vision become a reality in my school. How can I rearrange our cluttered and confining timetable to allow for more passion driven learning? How can I provide time and support to my teachers so they are able to facilitate learning in their classrooms that is student driven, less teacher fed and focused?
If you have any creative suggestions about how you organize time in your school, please let me know.
It is amazing what a break can do for attitude and rejuvenation. It has been a stressful fall term for a number of reasons, but sometimes I think I can get caught up in a circle of negativity that can be difficult to break. Having the opportunity to remove myself from the school over break has allowed me to reflect on the reality of my circumstances.
I love my job.
I have a fantastic, creative and innovative staff.
I have a strong supportive admin team with my vice-principal.
I enjoy my students and am glad to be back in the classroom.
I have a large group of hard-working and generous parents.
I work as part of school division team that challenges me.
In the article Warren includes the following quote:
If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much. Jim Rohn
Five years ago my family made a huge change leaving our family farm and a teaching position I had been in for 20 years and relocating to another province. Our children were fantastic at making the adjustment to a new school and community and the move has been positive for us all. At the time of our move I was very ready for a professional change and felt I was being overcome by the negative things in my professional life that I could not control. Looking at the move as a fresh start I vowed I would not allow myself to get into that negative frame of mind again.
Taking time to reflect has made me realize the importance of designing our own life plan. We cannot allow things out of our control to proliferate and overwhelm us to the point they are controlling our lives and not us.
As we start a new year, and start back to school after winter break, it is the perfect time to design a new life plan.
Every week my brain gets fixated on one topic that I just can’t quite seem to get off my mind. This week’s topic seems to be how to let go of the things we cannot control. After another long week filled with office visits, parent communication (not always supportive or positive) and meetings, my general attitude lately has been kind of negative and feeling overwhelmed with my inability to solve issues. I keep looking for a magic wand, but I have not found one yet, so I have come around to something I said myself a couple of years ago when talking to a fellow administrator about the state of affairs in her building- If you are not happy with the way things are, then fix it.
That sounds simple enough…just a minute I need that magic wand again …
I buckled down in the car yesterday on our way back from a hockey tournament to read a book written by Baruti K. Kafele, called “Closing the Attitude Gap”. His general premise in the book, as it seemed to me, was to not settle when it comes to our students. We need to hold them accountable and make them believe that they can accomplish great things by not giving them excuses. Many of them come from lives that are not ideal and bring baggage of various kinds with them when they come to our buildings every day. I know it is easy for us to slide into that mode where we start thinking all of these extraneous influences are overwhelming and we cannot fight against the tide. It can seem that no matter what we do at times, it won’t matter that much. Compound this with having large numbers of students in our classrooms, overwhelming curricular demands, assessments, report cards, conferences and the list can go on and on.
I have said many times to my staff, “we have to concentrate on what we can control and do what we can do to help these children for the hours they are in our care.” Principal Kafele challenges everyone reading his book to take a long, hard look at ourselves and remind ourselves why we are teachers. What made us become teachers in the beginning? What do we want to accomplish as teachers?
If my attitude is negative, how will I ever have a positive affect on the staff and students in my building? I think it is time to start following my own advice. I need to start with the things I can control such as my relationship with kids. I can make a better effort to get to know them, build relationships with every student in the building. Last week I had a conversation with a student who told me he was not comfortable telling me things because he had only had negative feedback from me. First of all, good job on the part of that student for being so brutally honest with the principal, because I know that wasn’t easy. What he told me stung, but also moved me to change my attitude. I will make a better effort with this student and many others in the building who I do not know well yet. Now that is something I can control and I can’t think of a better way to spend my time.
The other night I had a phone call from a parent after supper in the evening. This parent works long hours and it can be difficult to reach her during the day. I had sent a note home asking her to call me when it worked for her. We had a great talk on the phone about her child and what he needed for support. She was not aware of what a positive effect that conversation had on my state of mind at that time. That is just it, isn’t it? We can be unaware of what affect the smallest act can have on our students, both positive or negative. Just as this parent lifted my spirits by what she said, she could have just as easily left me feeling down had she reacted differently.
Students need to know we care and will make an effort to get to know them. We need to make their lives important, but not an excuse for bad attitude. We need to remind ourselves of the reasons we went into teaching to begin with. We do not teach curriculum, we do not teach outcomes or subjects, we teach students.
7:00- I came out this morning to rain which seems weird considering I live in Saskatchewan, Canada and it should be snowing. I arrived at the school with the usual things on my mind. I wanted to get my day organized, work through the emails that I had ignored at the end of the day yesterday, and make a list of the students that I needed to see this morning.
8:15- Week at a glance meeting. Every Thursday morning we meet as a staff and make a calendar for the upcoming week to send out to our families. They can be mini-staff meetings and we usually have a couple of laughs together-not a bad way to start the day.
8:40-Morning announcements and off to teach social studies to grade 8. Our grade 7/8 boys and girls volleyball teams had district tournaments today so I had a small class. We did our 2 minute news podcast to see what was going on in the world and then decided to have a small competition in groups to see how much we remembered about social studies topics.
9:25-I started seeing students. I had some students to see from yesterday’s escapades when I was away at my meeting and some other students that I needed to check in with, but had not had time. I only ask three things of students that are brought to my office for discipline reasons-be straight up (be honest), own your part and do what you can to fix it. I try to keep my language simple and my expectations high but reasonable. I managed to see 6 students and talk to 2 parents and one classroom teacher before noon. When the school division security person returned with my laptop, and needed my desk, I just moved into the vice-principal’s office and carried on.
12:00- I am on lunch supervision in the 3-5 lunchroom. I check on my middle years students in our canteen and try to find the 6-8 lunch supervisor to tell her that I will be sending a younger student her way to walk the playground and then I head down to see what my grade 3-5 students were up to. All was pretty quiet-only one lunch was accidentally spilled. We headed outside to play until 12:50.
1:00- Inside again to do afternoon announcements and then back to grade 8 for career education and then grade 6 health.
2:10-I needed a coffee and believe it or not I had not gone to the washroom yet today! I ran quickly out to the playground to check on my little runner only to find he was not running, but standing to visit with some friends. I walked out to speak to him and then back in to sit down for a moment.
2:25-When I got back to my office after recess, a crying student was waiting for me on the couch. I asked him to come into the office so I could find out what was wrong. He explained what had happened on the playground and I decided to get the other student out of class and have them talk it out. By this time I only had time to quickly send an email and then head outside for after school bus supervision.
3:20-Heading back to my office. I had phone calls to return and I had to wonder who made the big mess on my desk…that would be me. I spent the next 2 hours answering emails, filing discipline sheets both electronic and paper, cleaning my desk and organizing my day tomorrow. We had a computer refresh this fall and so our school division allows us to give away the older computers to families from our school community. I photocopied some more computer request forms and went through the ones I already had. I will start handing them out in the morning.
5:30-I left the building to meet a friend at the indoor track for a quick walk and visit before home. I took the hot lunch orders with me to organize so we can put in some food orders tomorrow.
Crossing my fingers for a good nights sleep tonight!
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.
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.
As I have previously mentioned, I have gone back in the classroom this fall for the first time in about 5 years. In that five-year time span, I have moved to a new school division in a new province, worked in two different schools, moved into school administration and completed my master’s degree. I have a special education certificate and have worked as a learning support teacher for a number of years. Returning to the classroom has been something I have wanted to do for some time and even though I have been frustrated numerous times so far, I am enjoying it immensely. I think returning to the classroom will make me a better administrator as well because I will be walking my talk every day.
Anyone who knows me will know that I am very passionate about education and learning and I feel very strongly about the importance of putting learning back on our students and allowing them to be in charge. Inquiry based learning is something I believe in and hope to keep moving toward that model in my own classrooms and work with my staff to do the same. I am constantly amazed at the things going on in classrooms around my building and the favorite part of my job as an administrator is being in the different classrooms watching the learning and growth going on there. We all believe in the same vision for our students and have decided to take a leap past the talking we do and into the action of inquiry. We are all in this together and will help each other out.
Now that I am back in the classroom as a classroom teacher, I am realizing it is difficult to balance the pull of curricular outcomes with my desire to put my students in charge of their learning. Before I was in this position and spent my time reading, sharing information about my passions, but not having the opportunity to put them into action, I did not understand the reluctance of teachers to let go, move back and let the learning happen.
Countless research, points us toward some of the simple things we can do to engage students in learning:
Providing authentic problems connected to the real world.
Allow students to drive the learning, not the teacher.
Provide opportunities for collaborative investigations based on inquiry and knowledge building.
All of these things seem to point toward inquiry learning don’t they?
I am busy re-reading the book “Who Owns the Learning? by Alan November. In the book he describes authentic learning situations and gives simple processes we can use to help our students research, publish, collaborate and communicate within our classrooms and with global audiences. Our student need to be able to efficiently find and evaluate information.
There are many other useful sources of information available to help us move toward inquiry based learning. Another great article I came across was on TeachThought website was a simple, but effective, question graphic to guide students with inquiry. We need to remember if we are willing to make the leap and step back for the learning growth of our students, we are not in this alone.
The next step for me in my classroom is to try a version of Genius Hour. I hope to teach less and learn more by allowing my students to use their own ideas and passions to drive their learning. I will let you know how that goes.
“What we want to see is the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the child.” -George Bernard Shaw-