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!
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.
Here I am being prompted to write another post because of something I saw on Facebook. I am not sure if that means I should spend less time on Facebook or not, because it does lead me to think of some important topics. Growth mindset is a topic that comes up often in educational discussions these days. Growth mindset for teachers, growth mindset for students…what does that even mean?
The particular post I was reading on Facebook was a person venting out about city planning here in the City of Estevan. I am not sure why people continue to vent things out on social media using a string of curse words to get their points across, but that is the subject of another post perhaps. The thing about this post and the number of comments that followed, was the attitude that we can just post something, get others to join in a negative tirade and then feel that some positive change might come out of that. I know schools and school principals are sometimes the target of these posts and if the truth be known, most times we don’t even see them. It is difficult to promote positive action or change when the right people do not even receive your thoughts or concerns, which is probably what happened in this case.
I have to wonder, if we stopped for a moment before venting out the negative and spent some time, sharing positive solutions or possibilities, what a difference that might make. I don’t know much about city planning and even though the railway tracks going down the middle of the city cause me some frustration at times, it seems to me, if I want a voice in decisions, I need to get involved in a positive way.
We could accomplish more if we spend less time complaining and more time seeking positive solutions together. #naysayers#getinvolved
I came across a blog post on the weekend titled, “Quit Complaining”. It caught my eye, because it was exactly what I was thinking in response to the Facebook post. The author of the blog post explained that complaining negatively impacts the energy of the complainer and everyone around that person. The post goes on to say, after 30 minutes, the effects of complaining actually start to change the ability to problem solve.
In my last post, I mentioned the opportunity I had, recently, to listen to Tom Hierck speak on student engagement with the rest of our school division admin team. Our grades 4-12 teachers then spent the day listening to him at the beginning of October. One of the messages he left with us was the opportunity we all have to judge the actions of others in a positive or negative light.
For example, the person who cuts you off in traffic…
Is that person really being a jerk, who is irresponsible or has that person simply made an error in judgement that we all make at different times while driving? Mr. Hierck was trying to get the point across that we should consider giving the benefit of the doubt in these simple situations and moving on without misplacing frustration and energy on negative paths that truly lead no where.
It makes sense when you think about it. The time spent stewing in frustration or anger is lost on the person who cut you off, but takes away from the ability we have to move on with our day and focus our energy on much more important things.
Having a growth mindset, seems to be the ability to focus on the process of learning rather than the fixed end result that cannot be changed. Is it possible there might better way to do something I have done a million times, if I stay open to the possibilities? Can I truly stop and consider someone else’s perspective and be a better, more informed person because of it? Can I make a mistake and look at it as a pathway for growth, rather than a failure? Can I tackle something difficult and not give up in the middle of the struggle? Can I look at my weaknesses as opportunity for growth and not be discouraged?
So, what does this mean for students in the classroom?
We used to believe that intelligence and ability was fixed. A sort of-you either have it or you don’t when it came to intelligence and talent. When I was in school, we were all given intelligence tests and our overall ability was judged looking only at that number. Over the years, research has shown us that is not the case. All of our students have the ability to grow in different areas given the right circumstances and the right motivation.
I was watching a TED Talk presentation by Carol Dweck, a Stanford University, psychologist who specializes in research studies based on motivation and “growth mindset”. In her presentation, she is talking about the power of “not yet”. Her theory seems to be, we are always on a continuum of growth towards achieving our goals. Students who have been taught to have a growth mindset, look at challenges much differently than those who are just aiming for a passing grade or the end result. Students with a growth mindset will not give up when given a difficult challenge, but rather look to it as being “not yet” there.
She offers many studies that show having a growth mindset can make a huge difference for our students and their ability to problem solve. Her advice to parents and teachers is to stop telling our students how wonderful they are.
Now, we might say… “What? We are trying to build up their self-esteem?
She does not want us to stop praising them, she just wants us to think about how and what we are praising. Instead of always telling our children and students that every little thing they accomplish is the best, she believes we should praise the struggle, the quest for understanding, the process needed to stretch and solve problems.
The “Quit Complaining” blog post, I mentioned earlier, suggested a quick strategy that might benefit us as adults, but seems to me could be a habit that might benefit our students as well. The strategy was to simply add the word “so” to the end of our complaints or frustrations followed by the actions needed to make a positive difference.
If we go back to the complainer I mentioned at the beginning of this post, it might go something like this…
I get so frustrated by many of the decisions made by the city planners, so I think I should try to contact my city counselor and explain my frustrations and find out why certain decisions are made or think about running for city council so I would have a voice in the decisions that are made.
Now, I know, that sounds a bit optimistic, but again, if we do nothing, we get nothing.
Is it possible to change our language in classrooms to promote positive mindsets in our students? Rather than praising the student for doing well, can we instead, praise the process or the struggle? When a student makes a mistake or does not quite achieve to the level he or she needs to be at, can we promote a “not yet” there atmosphere instead of a “you failed” atmosphere? Can we focus on the problem solving or seeking positive solution, type actions in our classrooms, rather than on end results?
We cannot do this alone. Like most things that happen in schools, we need parents and families to be an equal part of the team. Can parents also promote the idea that learning and growth is a process and perhaps it is okay if we are “not yet” there, “so” how are we going to get there? Our first response may be to solve problems for our children, but imagine the benefit to them learning to solve problems for themselves.
Learning from the struggle.
Our students do not need to be praised for every move they make. They do not need a reward for every step they take. Instead, they need encouragement to build a growth mindset that will take them into the future. If we model and encourage growth mindset, we could be well on our way to having a group of young adults that might not be discouraged when challenged and might not expect to be rewarded for completing the simplest task.
I will confess I am a social media junkie and like to participate on a daily basis. I encourage our teachers to use twitter accounts to share classroom happenings and I put effort into keeping our Pleasantdale School twitter account and Facebook page up to date. I have always had an unwritten rule about social media, that I follow not matter what. I do not allow myself to jump into negative discussions. I do not feel that social media is the place to voice our misunderstandings and would rather go to the source and try to educate myself before jumping on a negative band wagon that I may not understand.
Earlier this week, however, I came across a Facebook post about the “new” math. Now I put quotations around “new” because I personally feel it is “not so new”. I understand why people call it new, because it is different approach to teaching and learning math than most adults have experienced. The Facebook post I am referring to is one many of you have probably seen. It shows a simple math question being answered in one step and then goes to compare the same math question being solved in multiple steps, using what might be an unfamiliar strategy for many of us. The post goes on to imply that the long drawn out answer is what makes our “new” math so ridiculous and nonsensical. It also implies that all aspects of all math classes involve long drawn processes, rather than a simple algorithm solution.
Now, most of know that things in the media or, as an extension, social media, can be portrayed just a bit biased or out of the context of the big picture. In seeing the post I felt myself being drawn into the discussion. I explained my understanding and experience of math in the classroom on a daily basis. I quickly, however, jumped out as the discussion continued on in a negative direction. I could see that no one was wanting to consider any other perspective than the one they already had.
As a child my experience with math was a very negative one. I would start each new year, with my new scribbler doing well with the first review unit. I like my notebooks neat and clean and would line up my questions in neat and tidy rows, feeling confident. However, my confidence was more often than not, soon dashed. I did not understand numbers and my memorization of basic algorithms only took me so far. Soon my tidy notebook was a mess of erased spots, scribbles and re-written numbers. I could not transfer my understandings from one context to another and soon found myself repeating the same memorization process while being secluding away from the rest of the class with others like me. Somehow repeating the same methods of learning, over and over again, never really worked.
My experience was so negative that when I was choosing where I wanted to go after high school I actually tried to find a future career that would not require me to do any math. I remember flipping through college brochures trying to find some career in which I could work with children but never have to teach them math. Thankfully, my confidence in math did build as an adult and although I did not directly start my career to be a teacher and a principal, I was able to achieve these goals and I realized, as an adult, I could in fact understand and do math.
This story and confession leads me to why I wanted to write this post, rather than continue in a negative Facebook discussion. I think that there are many parents, community members, and others who still wonder why we are teaching math in this “new” way. I think we have tried to educate others about the need for our students to understand numbers and not just memorize algorithms in order to be successful in using math in many different situations. I also think that we need to continue to do so.
I have countless moments of awe when I am hanging out in math classes with students. As a matter of fact, my own math confidence continues to grow as I watch our student work in math classes demonstrating, for me, ways to break down and understand numbers I have never considered before. I can relate to the struggle a non-confident math student goes through and it is a wonderful thing watching them reach understanding by allowing them to use other strategies and straying away from only memorizing basic algorithms.
One of the best explanations for our need to use “new” math strategies , that I have seen, is in a video Why is Math Different Now? Posted by Dr. Raj Shah who is the owner and founder of Math Plus Academy in Columbus, Ohio. I hope you will take a few minutes and an open mind to watch his explanation and consider his thoughts.
The things I think I would like to share about math in the classroom today are the following:
There are many ways to arrive at an answer to a math problem, not just one.
It will perhaps surprise some, that the “old” way of doing math is still a strategy taught to our students and used in the classroom every day, but it is not the only one.
It also may surprise some to know that we do, in fact, continue to drill the basic math facts that provide the foundation to all other math.
Many of the problems that will face our children, are not one-step, one solution kind of problems. We will need our children to understand there are many solutions to most problems and have the skills needed to consider those multiple solutions.
The thing that has the greatest effect on a child’s confidence in math is the attitude of parents or caregivers to the subject. Positive talk about math, new or old, is very important to student success.
I think raising children and teaching are two of the hardest, but most rewarding things that we are blessed to be able to do. I hope we will not keep adding new things to our already busy lives, but I hope we will never keep trying to get better at the things we already do. If you are wondering about reasons we have moved to the processes involved in “new” math in the classroom today, please do not hesitate to talk to a teacher.
I taught high school English in a smaller rural school for 20 years and enjoyed almost every minute of it. Throughout my time there I always wished that I could help my students understand my love for learning and especially my love of reading and how the two of them were related. I wanted them to be able to pick up and book and enjoy reading as much as I did.
It seems like everywhere I turn lately, we are focused on data…collecting data, reading data, acting on data. Now, don’t get me wrong, I definitely see the payoffs to correctly using data. I think data makes us much more focused on our goals and it also helps us see where we need to change out actions in order to improve the achievement of our students.
We have been closely focused on our reading data since last spring when we realized our early learning students were not progressing as fast as what we might have liked. We asked ourselves what we could do to support and promote continued improvement in our young students and we have put many things into place that are making a positive difference.
There are a couple of important things that I feel can happen if we get too focused on our data and forget that a data set is only one part of an important picture. Data in itself does not tell the whole story of a student, or a classroom, or a teacher or a school. Most teachers and administrators will be able to tell you a whole story of the achievements and progress of each of their students. The story is very different for each student and is filled with ups and downs, celebrations and reflections and corrections.
The other thing that might happen if we become too focused on our data and is a loss of the love of learning I was speaking of at the beginning of this post. I have been doing a lot of reading lately about the love of reading and how important it is for our students and their reading achievements to enjoy books, see a purpose for books and reading and have opportunities to read just for the love of reading.
It is important for them to choose books that are interesting to them and to read them for enjoyment and not just for the purpose of analyzing or taking the story apart bit by bit in a quest to check for comprehension. It is also important for them to realize there are many ways to read a book and it is okay to enjoy a picture book no matter what your age. Not everyone enjoys fiction or non-fiction equally, so choosing our own books to engage in, opens up the opportunity to discover what we know, what we want to learn and how we learn best.
I used to read aloud to my students a lot. I didn’t really care if they were in grade 7 or in grade 12, I read aloud to my students frequently. I shared all the short stories that I loved because they had twisted endings, such as Shirley Jackson’s “Charles” or Roald Dahl’s, “The Landlady”. I shared my favorite authors and brought people in to read to my students often. I still enjoy reading to students any opportunity that I have. I start every year, as a principal, going into each of my kindergarten through grade 5 classrooms and read one of my favorite picture books. I have to admit that when a student asks me to sit and read to them or listen to them reading I can’t turn them down. It seems to me, like there is nothing else that should take priority in that moment and I can’t make myself miss the opportunity to connect with our student over a good book.
I was in one of our early years classrooms last week and they were just preparing for their first session of Daily 5 that morning. I watched one of our struggling readers grab his book bag with excitement and settle into a comfortable spot and begin to focus solely on his books. The funny thing was, he was not actually doing what the teacher had requested, but he didn’t even realize it because he was so focused on what was in front of him. For me it was a moment of triumph and made me very proud of his progress. Certainly a time to focus on the success and not the lack of listening.
I have distinct memories as a child being so excited about going to the school library. The rows and rows of books waiting to be read and sitting on the floor in front of Mrs. Walleen as she read aloud one of her favorite books. On some days when I walk into our school library and I am watching a class of students pick out new books, I can flash right back to those special moments I had as a young student.
My love of learning has a direct correlation to my father. He taught me from the time I was a very young child to love books and we would spend hours curled up together reading everything “Winnie the Pooh”. When I grew up and had children of my own, my father read to them and bought them many books. I carried on his habits by reading endlessly to my children, sharing all of those books from my childhood.
My father is in his eighties now and continues to make learning a priority, reading every day, sharing his love of learning with his grandchildren, searching out things to learn about on the internet, learning how to share using Facebook, following blogs and really the list would go on and on.
Since the beginning of September we have been doing reading groups with our grade 1 students every day. Our RTI teacher and the classroom teachers have divided them up into small groups of 4 or 5 students and every day at 10:30 they quickly grab their reading bags, find their leaders and excitingly go off for their reading. We have called it ROAR, which stands for, Really Excited About Reading and they are really excited. If for some reason we do not have ROAR, which is not very often, they are kind of miffed, and not very happy about it. They are reading for the love of reading and they do not even know it is improving their reading data. The other really exciting thing about ROAR is that we have been able to involve some of our parents and even some of our older students in leading our reading groups. It feels like a really community effort and I thank our RTI teacher who works endlessly to keep it going.
Even as I sit here right now writing this post I have a book that is calling out for me to continue reading. It is a joy in my life. I will always thank my father, my teachers and my librarians that instilled in me as a child, the love of reading.
There are countless things going on in a classrooms and schools everyday, but whatever we do…let’s not forgot to read for the love of reading.
Everywhere we turn in the media are interviews and information about job stress. I have seen multiple articles, posts and studies lately about the teaching profession and how many young teachers we are losing due to job stress and other reasons. The statistics show that our young teachers are only staying in the profession for 4 or 5 years and then moving on to something else. This morning I came across an article about stress in the teaching profession and I was shocked by the negative and misguided comments written in response.
Teacher well-being is a timely topic for many of us. I have always considered myself to be a high energy and tackle anything coming my way, sort of person, but at the end of last year I was definitely suffering from some serious stress related health problems.
Over the summer I realized 2 things:
1. I can’t make everyone happy no matter how hard I try to no matter how many extra hours I put in.
2. I can’t solve everyone’s problems no matter how hard I try to and no matter how many extra hours I put in.
I think there might be a few different reasons that young teachers are moving on from our profession at what some might consider an alarming rate. I have noticed a change in the respect given to teachers over the course of my teaching career.
I didn’t always want to be a teacher, but once I decided that was the direction I was going, I was always proud to be able to say I am a teacher. It didn’t matter what school I was in or what position I had. Over the course of my career, I have taught every grade kindergarten through grade 12 in some capacity or another and have enjoyed them all.
Some of the lack of respect I notice seems to come from government, who do not always treat us like professionals in the manner we might like, some comes from the public perception that seems to be driven through media, and yes, I think we need to take responsibility for some of it as well.
I sometimes look back and wonder if I was starting all over again, if I would still choose to be a teacher. I look around me and see many other professionals which appear to have equal job satisfaction, making much more money than me with much less educational investment.
As you might have guessed by what I have said so far, I am pretty close to retirement, so I am not changing my focus from teaching at the moment. As a matter of fact, I am not even negative about my job and I enjoy what I do very much. If you ask any of my three children if they want to be a teacher, they will answer with a resounding “NO”. I am not sure if that is a reflection of what they have observed in me or if it is just their destiny to go in another direction.
I have learned over the years that I do not function well without a challenge. I can become bored with what I am doing and need to add some element of challenge, before I suffer discontent. It has happened a few times over the years, but I have been able to find enough opportunities within the teaching profession to branch out and try different things.
One piece of advice I would give to others is to keep learning and keep challenging yourself to be better at what you do. I think we do enjoy some autonomy within our profession that we do not always take advantage of. Yes, our curricular outcomes are mandated to us and many expectations are directed to us, but how we meet those outcomes and live up to the expectations is up to us, so why not have a little fun with it. I hope that I set this example for the teachers I work with and they know that thinking outside the box is always welcome and trying new things is what it should be all about.
I have also learned, maybe recently, as a result of my health problems, that I can step back and let others be leaders. I do not have to control everything that goes on around me. I know now that I cannot make everyone happy, so I need to step back and let others take control at times and not feel like I am personally responsible for everything that happens in our school. I am not very good at this, but getting better and I think that it is a benefit to our students every time I am able to do it.
Most of the teachers I know do not like to brag about the things they do in their classrooms, despite the fact that, in my perception, many of them are doing wonderful things. To them it is ordinary and not worth talking about. I think this may be part of the reason not every teacher wants to jump into using Twitter. They might judge the educators that share as bragging or feel like they do not have anything worth sharing.
I think the “bragging” is more like sharing, collaborating and branding. The one thing we all want more of is time and it seems to make sense to me to share the things we are doing so we are not all starting over from the beginning. The ideas, thoughtful information and support that I receive from my twitter involvement is incredible.
Another reason I think the sharing is so important is because we need to tell our positive story. If we allow others to tell our story it often comes from media sources that might not portray the positive things that are happening in our classrooms and schools. If we make an effort to tell our own stories more often maybe we can change the negative attitude that I was reading about this morning, by offering up a different perspective.
Maybe we can engage our parents and communities in what we are doing.
Maybe we can set a positive example for our students as they are portraying their own “brands” in the social media world, if they see us sharing positive and exciting things about our schools.
I agree that things can be discouraging and there are many stressful things that teachers deal with on a daily basis that I did not even touch on in this little rant, such as class size, data tracking, high level behavioral issues. The list can go on and on really, but I choose to concentrate on the things we can control and try to support the people around me in doing the same.
Thanks #saskedchat for helping me stay the course.
I do not know a single teacher or administrator that feels like they have enough minutes in the day or time in the week. Teaching is a 24/7 kind of job and can easily consume every waking moment if we let it.
Right now I am participating in a blogging challenge with my PLN at #saskedchat. The first topic we decided to tackle was organization. What do we do to organize our time? What tools do we use to make our every day tasks easier. In my usual style, I am a bit late with my first post. That seems a little ironic to be late when our first topic was organization, but, none the less, it might not have as much to do with my lack of organization as it has to do with life.
Interestingly enough, time management and organization was one of the topics of a recent administrators meeting as well. Many of the administrators have voiced difficulty meeting the demands of the job within the time given. This is a feeling that I know all too well. The conversation and suggestions given at the meeting were not earth shattering by any means, but did lead me to reflect on small changes I might make.
The unpredictability of the job is one thing I think makes it so hard to manage time and tasks. Whether we are in administration or we are a classroom teacher, we all know the feeling of having our best laid plans pushed aside by an unexpected student or parent issue, an emergency phone call, last minute changes to supervision and countless other things that come up during the school day.
I do not have any earth shattering time management advice myself, sorry #saskedchat PLN, but here are 3 things that I find do work well for me.
1.Intentional Planning- I believe that we make time for the things we put as a priority. Exercise and diet fall into this category for me. When I prioritize my exercise time, insist with myself that I leave the school and actually make it a part of my daily calendar and schedule, it will happen. On the other hand, if I take the attitude that we will see how the day goes, most often it does not.
One of the things I do that I believe helps is intentionally planning the tasks and priorities in my calendar, not just when I have classes and meetings, but for the blocks of time that are left up to me to decide how to fill. Before, I would leave these blanks open and just work away at the tasks on hand.
This intentional planning has allowed me to prioritize my tasks and accomplish more over the week, even with unexpected interruptions. Last week I noticed a Pinterest pin by Vicki Davis, @coolcatteacher. about intentional planning. It is worth taking a look at as well.
She talks about intentional planning of other times of your day as well to allow time for those things that you enjoy and time with family.
2. One tool that has been a lifesaver for me has been symbaloo.com. Symbaloo is a link organizational tool set up in the format of tiles. It allows you to take links you access often and organize them on different pages, colors, titles etc. I have all the links that I access on a daily or weekly basis and have them on the desktop of my symbaloo. I have other pages with course links, genius hour links, personal links, staff meetings, etc.
One of the reasons symbaloo works so well for me is I do not have a classroom of my own and I am always moving from room to room teaching in other teachers classrooms. Symbaloo allows me to move from room to room, open up a web browser and log into my symbaloo and have all my links at my finger tips. The classroom teacher does not need to log out of the classroom computer for me to access my materials.
3. Another tool that has really helped with my organization has been Evernote. I have used Evernote here and there for a long time, but one night while sitting in with #schadminchat and there was a lot of talk about using Evernote for walk-throughs and that is what prompted me to really take advantage of the app.
As an administrator, one of my frustrations has always been my lack of real conversations with teachers about the things that I see as I am walking around the building and spending time in classrooms. I see amazing things every day, but either lack knowledge needed to fully understand the intent, or have thoughts that may add to conversations about students.
Now as I visit classrooms I will bring my I-pad. I snap pictures, I record conversations with students, I video classroom activities and I record my observations and my questions. I have a file for each teacher and I am able to immediately email my visit to the teacher. We then find time to have a quick meeting or the teacher will email me back the answers.
Since I have started doing this, I have had some really great conversations with teachers that have allowed us to learn together. I feel much more knowledgeable about the things going on in classrooms and I think it has improved my communication and understanding.
I also use the pictures, videos, etc. when I am sharing with our parents and extending community about what is going on at our school through blogging, twitter, newsletters, etc.
I think Evernote can also be a very useful student portfolio tool or can be used in the same manner by a classroom teacher to track student conversations and assessments.
I can access Evernote on all my devices and I have never had any issues with syncing the information or using it wherever I am; home, school, school division office, etc.
These are the 3 ideas I would like to throw out in the conversation about organization. Of course, I could not live without my I-phone, my I-pad and my outlook calendar, but I am sure that goes without saying for all of us. I can’t wait to see what ideas my #saskedchat PLN will have to share with me.
This fall when we re-organized our School Community Council (SCC) for another year, I was struggling to try to find a member who wanted to step up to be chairperson for the committee. Our past chair had worked tirelessly for two years and was wanting a break. I can’t say I blame her because the two years she was chairperson we raised over $90,000 and installed 2 playground projects. That is enough to make anyone want to step down. She did an awesome job and is still a committee member.
The weird thing about not having a leader of our committee is that it might lead you to believe that our parents are not engaged in our school and I don’t feel like that is the case at all. Time and time again when we need something, our parents are there.
I have talked often about the importance of a strong team. We have plenty of research to tell us that when a child has support from many adults in their life, they have a much easier time developing physically, emotionally, spiritually and academically. It really just makes sense.
In reflecting on the things we do to make parents and families feel welcome as a valuable part of our team, it is easy to see we are well on our way, but are we doing everything we can do?
I think we can safely assume that all parents want what is best for their children or we should assume that. It may not be the same in every family and it may not manifest itself in the same way in our building. Taking into consideration differences in families and lifestyles, I think most parents give as much as they can. Perhaps if we want to improve our parent connection, we need to be more specific about what we want and we may have more parents willing to take a chance on investing in us more often.
According to a great book, “Beyond the Bake Sale” by Henderson, Mapp, Johnson and Davis, “…parents are more motivated to support their children’s learning when they receive clear invitations and support from teachers and other school staff to be engaged, are confident about their ability to help their children, and are clear about what they should do to support their child’s learning?” (p.34)
That is a mouthful, but in my mind, the ideas behind it are very simple.
1. We need to reach out to parents in many ways, personal ways, engage in conversations and build relationships by calling and communicating about our students many times and not just when we are having behavioral or academic issues.
2. When we want our parents to help us out with something, we need to be very clear about what we are wanting them to do. Knock off the “teacher speak” and give suggestions and directions and reasons why.
3. We need to believe in their ability to help us out. Parents come from all walks of life with all kinds of experiences and all kinds of knowledge to offer to us and their children.
Right now we have some parents helping us out every day with our early literacy project we have titled ROAR (Really Outrageous at Reading). We need every adult body we can get so we can divide all of our grade one students into small groups and have leveled literacy every day. We know this benefits our students and we also know we would not be able to do it, as well, without the parents that are helping us out.
At our SCC meeting in November we left with the challenge to reach out to another parent, explain what our committee was all about and bring them to the next meeting. We had a number of new members attend our meeting in January and I went home that night with a new chairperson for our committee.
What I hope we can create now is a true partnership where we ask for and appreciate feedback. Where we reach out with questions and information expecting the same coming back at us. I hope we can listen without being defensive when parents are being advocates for their children. I hope we can increase our communication, especially the positive, because the positive conversations may make the more difficult ones easier in the future. I hope we can see the advantage and build the trust needed for parents to feel like they are truly an equal part of our team.
What we need now is parents to take a chance on us.
I started the school year in September kind of beat up and shell-shocked from a very stressful year that ended in June. I had allowed the stress of the year to consume me and it took a toll on my enthusiasm, health and desire to do my job well.
Over the summer I spent my time healing, reflecting and coming up with a plan to approach the stresses of my job in a healthier way that did not consume my life. I had to try not take things personally and concentrate on the things that we could control in our building rather than the negative feedback we were getting from a few parents and students. My mantras for this school year that I try to remember are:
I can’t make everybody happy.
I can’t solve everyone’s problems.
Even though the mantras do not seem very positive, they have allowed me to realize my limits, to allow my, very capable, staff to do things without my control and they have led me to a much happier school and home life, with a lot less stress.
I have mentioned many times , about my awesome, hardworking staff. We have been able to create a team that works together and involves all 25 of us, from our bus driver to our custodians. We started this year with a number of new staff and have learned to work together and appreciate each other’s strengths.
Our team has branched out this fall to not only include our staff and students, but we now have a number of parent volunteers helping us on a daily basis, especially with our school goal to improve our reading scores in the early years. Parents and extended family are a valuable part of our team and when we all work together we truly can accomplish great things for and with our students.
The Christmas break has allowed me time to think about the fall and be grateful for the things we have been able to accomplish as a school team including our parents and community members. Since I have become part of the administration @PDaleSchool I have been amazed at the generosity and support of our community.
January is a time of renewal and goal setting.
There have been many things I have learned this fall, but I have come up with 4 important things I have learned, that I would like to continue to develop and practice.
I have been guilty in the past of jumping to conclusions about situations before I have stopped to listen to what people are really saying to me. I have been trying to keep my mouth closed until I have truly listened and considered the perspectives of others. I have come to realize that although, I may not agree with what someone is saying to me or how they are saying it to me, the perspective of others is important. Many times all I need to do for staff, students and parents is listen and take their concerns seriously.
I hope I can continue to develop my listening skills according to the wise words of Woodrow Wilson,
“The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people.”
2. Don’t judge what I do not know…
I have been frustrated many times as a teacher and principal, when I feel like we are being judged by a moment in time such as a quick walk through or one piece of data.
One quick snapshot rarely tells a story.
One of my teachers reminded me of this early in the fall. I realized that what I see as I am wandering around the building and spending time in classrooms are also snapshots and do not tell the whole story. When I am having quick conversations with parents or I am privy to only one small part of family situations, I should not be judging on these snapshots. Jumping to conclusions is never fair.
3. Lack of time is not an excuse…
I do not need to explain to anyone who is a teacher or who has spent time with a teacher the intense business and commitment that the job requires. It is easy to be negative about change and growth, using lack of time as an excuse not to buy in. I have realized the necessity of reflecting on how I am spending my time and whether or not it is really being used in the ways that will benefit, me, my family, my students and my staff. If I do not have time for important things like people, professional growth, students needs, etc. then perhaps it is up to me to re-evaluate how I am spending my time.
I need my teachers to be proud of the things they are doing every day with our students.
I need our parents to know what is happening every day with their children so they can be confident and assured we are helping them learn and grow on a daily basis.
I need my superintendent and other school division leaders to know that we are working hard to do what is right for our students and to support the school division goals.
I need our community to know that what we are doing so they will continue to give us their support.
As we start on the journey of the gift of another year, I hope that I can listen more, judge less, accept challenges without the excuses and continue to tell our positive school story, because it is worth telling.