Saturday, 14 December 2013

SAVMP Week #16 crucial conversations

"For your prompt for this week, blog about how you handle crucial conversations and at what point you step in to have them. What advice would you give to a new administrator in having to have a crucial, or fierce, conversation?"

This is a topic that has been written about a lot in the past few years.  It is a little incredible that so much is written about something that should be a considered basic for all educators.

As a teacher, how often do you have 'critical conversations' -  would you say at least one a day?  Probably.

To my mind, critical conversations are important, especially when you really need to turn things around.  I have to say that at our school, this is not something that needs to be done.  People have a clear definition on what needs to be done and we have a common vision on what we want to see happen in the future.

For me the real challenge would be working at a school where there is not that strong vision.  I think when you accept the position of teacher or administrator, we also sign up to have the critical conversations.  If we are not willing to do that we are in the wrong job.

What I see at my school is a collection of professionals that are always up to that challenge and who are always ready to speak to their students to influence their behaviour.

So I would have to say that I witness critical conversations every day.  I really think that teachers take part in these much more than principals do.  I do think we like to write about it more.

For new administrators, my suggestion would be to resist having these crucial or critical conversations - don't feel that you need to rush into them.  I sometimes feel that when we become administrators we need to have all the answers.  That is a fallacy.  You don't.

Learn from your teachers, learn first how to listen.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Week 15: Instructional Leadership #SAVMP Dec 2

So…in your work as a leader, what are some of the things that you do to not only show your knowledge and understanding of today’s classroom, but also get deep into the work with your staff and students? Please share some of your learning to the #SAVMP hashtag through your tweets, or blog.

The best PD I have had as a leader is most certainly the six and a half months I spent teaching (part-time) at St. Leonard's School.  I had a grade 6 homeroom and I taught Language Arts.  There is no question that this was a rich and rewarding experience!  For the first time in 15 years, I had my own students!

I spent the entire summer before the assignment peppering my wife with questions - how can you possibly teach a kid to read and understand what they are reading?  How do you help them to become better writers?  I had taught lots of subjects, but never Language Arts.

My wife is very patient and she is an excellent grade 7 teacher.  She answered all my questions and I began to realize what an immense task this had become.  Things had certainly changed in 15 years!

When the year started, I would spend the entire weekend prepping to teach another concept.  It was great! Spending the entire weekend looking for creative ways to teach concepts.  I am sure it actually brought my wife and I closer together.  We talked for hours and hours about how to get kids interested in writing and reading.

There were so many highlights - reading the kids Hanna's Suitcase all in one session, creating story boards based on Alan Cumyn's great book Owen Skye, setting up blogs for all the kids, decorating our door for halloween, the last day before Christmas!  

I can really go on and on - it was so cool to be a teacher again!

One thing I have taken away from this experience is a deep respect for the work teachers in my school are doing every day.  They make it look so easy, but I have an idea about how incredibly complex their work is. I don't know if I would understand this as well if I had not gone back to the classroom.

Maybe it would be a good idea to put administrators and especially consultants back in the classroom every five years.  We as a group need regular reality checks.  We all have great ideas on what should be going on in the classroom, but we don't have to worry about actually implementing them day to day.

So, how do I act as an instructional leader?  When I am doing my job well, I am working hard to facilitate teacher collaboration.  Given the time and the resources,the teachers know what needs to done.  Their collaborative inquiries are quite amazing - I do my best work when I get out of their way.

Right now I am following two inquiries - the junior math triad (three schools working together) and the junior French triad.

Their ideas are great, their methodology solid.  I am trying to keep a record of their work so that others can see what incredible work they are doing.

Next, I really need to learn more about what the other triads are doing so I can document their process as well.

This is the best I can do.  Encourage our triads, record their work, support them in their growth, get out of their way.

members of the junior triad at work

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Setting personal and professional goals #SAVMP Blog post # 15

Funny time of year to ask about setting goals. For most of us, our goal is probably just to get through to the Christmas break.

We traditionally set goals at the 'beginning of the year' - either in September when we write our Annual Learning Plans or in January in the form of new year resolutions. At these times, we set goals because it is traditional. How helpful is this? Are goals set at these times actually useful? Do we ever spend any time reevaluating these goals? Are the goals we set in September relevant today? Can we actually remember them?

Maybe this is the perfect time to set some goals. We our coming up to our first significant break in the school year. What has been learned so far? How have priorities changed? Are we reflecting at all on our current journey.

To be very honest, I haven't been doing this, I feel like I am too caught up in the day to day. I think it is best now at this time to ask what is really important? What do I really care about? For me, it is family and I expect it is for most of us. Who is away from home? Who is ill? Who are we out of contact with? Have we reflected on the relationships we have with our family members? Is there any energy that needs to be put into these relationships? For me at this time of year this is my focus.

I am mindful of the fact that I need to do my best everyday to be a leader within my school community. I am mindful that this is taking a great deal of energy and I need time to rest and generate more energy. I am aware that the rest of the staff is probably feeling the same way so I need to be more aware of how they are doing every day. In essence, most of my goals right now center around people - my family and the staff, students and parents in our school community. Not a bad idea to reflect this time of year and see what is most important. Day to day, this should be a focus of our actions.

Does this mean I don't have any academic goals? Not at all. These days, I am thinking a lot about what is the best model for innovation and professional learning. I am seeing great examples of teacher collaboration all over the School Board. For example - last weekend over one hundred people took part in the second Ottawa Edcamp. This was a great way to meet people and learn about what people are doing to innovate and create. Out of this, I was able to get involved in a great blog that is highlighting the creative work of the teachers in our Board.

The blog - OCSB Learning Community is just starting out. It is very much a grassroots project designed to share ideas on cool projects taking place in the classroom. It is a little like a virtual Educamp. In our school, I am trying to feature some of the new learning that our teachers are involved in - I think it is essential that their creative work is publicized.

These informal collaborations are very exciting. More and more educators are taking charge of their own professional learning. Steven Katz writes about the importance of educators becoming actively engaged in risk-taking. Teachers now are more willing to take chances - as Katz writes, "Real new learning opportunities...require that we make ourselves vulnerable and that we are explicit about what we don't know and need to understand." (Katz, Intentional Interruptions pg. 46) This is what we see as more teachers write and publically explore new ideas. My goal is to keep learning what our teachers are doing. Their work is very exciting - I am learning lots every day! As a leader, I want to be part of this exciting trend. I want to participate with teachers in the formal and informal professional learning that Katz sees as so important to real professional learning.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Week # 14 What is School For?

The big question - what is school for?  In the challenge this week, we are asked to listen to Seth Godin's talk about what is school for.  Good to watch, but I think all he does is explain how schools developed out of the Industrial Revolution.  Everyone should know that, he tells us nothing new in this talk.

In that sense, the talk is a little disappointing - he states the obvious.

The challenge for this week is - I encourage you to blog about some of the things that you do with your staff to help understand where they are at, and how to move them forward.

Talk is cheap.  I really don't want to spend much time on this question.  We all know that education is changing rapidly with the onset of new technology and new learning.  We are all aware of this and each of us is working to manage the transitions that are taking place.

How do I move teachers forward?  I think it is a bit presumptuous to think that I do anything to move teachers forward.  The teachers are doing this themselves.  I have been trying to spend more time in our teacher triads (three schools - groups of teachers working together) to find out what they are working on.

What I find every time is that teachers know what needs to be done to move things forward.  They naturally come up with methods that will encourage higher order thinking and good problem-solving skills.  My job is to encourage and support them in this journey.  I need to make sure teachers have the time necessary to collaborate and innovate.

If I asked, I think our teachers would say that the purpose of school is to help students become independent thinkers able to adapt to the rapidly changing world that we are all confronted by.

I am uncomfortable with the idea that I as principal am moving teachers forward.

I believe we need to focus on the school as the locus of innovation and change.  The individuals in the school must connect not with the district but with fellow teachers and the wider world that has been opened up by Twitter and a myriad of other social media sites.

We know what we need to do and we are using the methods and tools we need to advance our own concept of what the school is supposed to do.

Critics like Seth Godin take the easy way out - it is very popular these days to criticize the school for not having a good idea on how to teach into the new century.

As long as we move away from the tired old methods of delivering professional development and we continue to empower teachers to take charge of their own learning we will continue to innovate and change.

As long as we continue connecting to the wider educational world through social media we will all come to a better understanding of what school is all about.

It certainly will not depend on the vision of one leader to make this happen.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Week 13 #SAVMP  Individual Learning and Mass Sharing

This is a really good question for this week's post
How do you share the work that you do during individual staff PD to ensure that great learning goes viral? I would love to see some other examples of how people are sharing.

I am thinking about this right now.  

Last week, I spent some time with the grade 4/5/6 Triad as they worked together on their inquiry on math journals.  I am learning a great deal!

First, we have now been using triads for three years and I don't always have a great idea of the learning that is going on in each individual triad.  It is a matter of having the time to sit with people and find out what they are working on.  Eventually, we share all the work that is being done and I do read all the triad notes as they come out in our Evidence of Learning document, but for me this is not good enough.

First, I need a good way of recording the learning.

Next, I have to try and sit with a few groups and document their learning.  I am starting with the math journal inquiry - it is a really cool project!

picture from a dropbox collection made by the grade 4/5/6 triad - student working on math inquiry
picture from a dropbox collection made by the grade 4/5/6 triad - student working on math inquiry
I have sat in a couple of classes and have documented the student work on a blog. I have asked the teachers to send me some of the conclusions they have reached already so I can create another blog post.
We have a Google + Community, but this just facilitates sharing within the group.

I really think I need our triads to find a bigger audience. They are doing some terrific work and I can share this by blogging about their learning. They are really developing a ground breaking process for professional learning and I want to spread the good news!
Here is the last post on the math project
Interesting, we have been looking for strategies to improve math scores at our school while all the time the teachers have been working on this project!  Again, I find some of the best learning happens when I get out of the way and allow teachers to collaborate and share what they know!

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Week 12- Involving Parents with a New Vision for Schools #SAVMP

What are you doing to encourage parent involvement? 
 How are you thinking out of the box to involve ALL of your families? 
 Have you encountered resistance to breaking away from the 
traditional strategies that parents may be used too?
We are very fortunate to have so many tools to communicate with parents about what is going on in our schools.  As principal, I think one of my primary responsibilities is to communicate as much as I can with parents about what is going on at our school.

This is also something I really enjoy doing.  Every day when I walk down the halls of our school, I see so many things that shout out to be shared.  Amazing art work, creative bulletin boards, great presentations and lessons.  

I also have at my disposal wonderful communication tools like Instagram, Remind 101, Google sites, iMovie, Facebook, Youtube - the list grows longer all the time.

What we are now able to do is make the learning visible and transparent.  We are able to share the excitement our parents' children feel when they are involved in new learning.

As much as possible, I want our parents to see what we see almost at the same time we are witnessing the learning that is going on.  We want our parents to be right with us as much as possible during the day of their child.

How are we thinking out of the box?  The best way I can do this is by allowing our teachers to innovate in a secure environment.  I want our teachers to feel free to try new things without feeling that they will face resistance to their creative ideas.  I don't want to push teachers to do things that they are not comfortable with and at the same time I want to encourage them and celebrate their attempts to try new things.

This is not always an easy thing to do in the traditional structure of the school system.  We always have to ask the question are we doing enough to really think out of the box.  I think the best thing I can do to assist staff to try new things is simply to get out of the way and let them explore and experiment.

Have we encountered resistance to trying new things - yes.  Will this stop us from trying new things - no. Nothing ever changes by staying comfortable and living within the status quo.  As a staff, I don't think we do this.  Instead, the rapid rate of innovation and change in the world pushes us to do more.

As much as possible, I want our parents to feel like they know what is going on at our school.  If we are missing something, I rely on the staff and the parents to let me know.  

More than ever, education is a partnership. The more we work together and share what is going on the more we become a vital and nurturing community for our children.

Grade 6 students explaining what Destination Imagination is all about - this video was posted to our Facebook Page a few minutes after the interview.

Facebook stats from our posts last week - I like that they use the term 'engagement' - that is what we are trying to do!

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Management as a Principal - Week 11 #SAVMP

How do you manage your tasks/time? 
Is it reflective of the 90/10 stated above?
How important is management in the role principal? 
What can you do to better align your vision and your priorities?

I can relate to the last post on the #SAVMP blog - I certainly can as a principal and I know most teachers can as well.  Quoting directly from the blog, "According to Dr. Covey, 90 percent of most people’s time is spent in quadrant 1, while the remaining 10 percent is spent in quadrant IV.While not directly related to education, I think this principle applies. The goal is to make sure you spend most of your time in quadrant II."

This should be put on a t-shirt.

What I have learned over the past ten years is that you need to be able to view a decision and its implications way down the road.  That is all quadrant II stuff - prepare as best you can, work on prevention and relationship-building as much as you can.

Even though this has become my mantra, I am continually surprised by the situations that can quickly get out of control.  I am left thinking to myself - 'why didn't I see this coming?'

However, when you get right down to it, this is what I love about the job.  It is unpredictable and you need to remain cool no matter what the situation.  In fact, I feel blessed that I am in a position where I need to deal - really deal with life crises on a fairly regular basis.  That is the joy of the job.

I try to do quadrant II as much as possible.  Relationship-building is the key.  I sometimes find it really crazy that so many books are written about all the things that need to be done to lead or teach effectively when building positive relationships always comes first.  Leaders need to know this.  Build good relations with your students, your teachers, your parents - that is where leaders should spend all their time when they are not dealing with blown pipes, lockdowns, fights, irate parents, etc.

The more I learn, the more I realize that I will always strive to manage and lead better.  It is such an incredible job, there is always room for improvement!

Sunday, 27 October 2013

post #ecoo13 where do we go from here?

  • keep yourself in the role of the learner
  • tell your story: be visible, live out loud, create value, leverage video and social media, reflect and blog
  • stay connected
  • consider frameworks such as the SAMR model as an ongoing change model
  • consider the power of students teaching students through video
  • nurture those around you

 Mark Carbone, President ECOO

These are all great ways to move forward from this point. I consider myself very fortunate to have received such great PD over the past six months. The CASA conference in July, Will Richardson @willrich45 at our Director’s Conference and of course #ECOO13.

I have to thank my superintendent Simone Oliver @SimoneROliver and our IT guru Rob Long @longrwr for giving me these wonderful opportunities!

 Now, I need to keep the learning going. For one thing, I have to go back to lanyard and collect more information from the workshops I attended – I will go back and add this to the posts already up.

Next, what do I do when I return to school? One idea. I loved the Minds on Media session. I had great conversations with teachers and I learned about cool apps I would like to make the rest of this year a Minds on Media session.

Our teachers are doing great things every day. They use Raz Kids, Dream Box, mathletics, Edmodo, Edublog, Kidblog, Blogger. They use iPads, netbooks and now Chromebooks. They are doing incredible things all the time. On top of all that, they work in collaborative teams with teachers from two other schools – they are all involved in really interesting inquiry projects – the first set of projects will be complete by the end of November.

So, this is what I am going to do: make a visual record of the innovative teaching that is going on every day give our staff an audience by posting their work here on this blog create a visual record of the work of our triads – journey with them through their inquiries celebrate, encourage, support, serve and learn from our teachers

This is such a challenging time for teachers – every day they are confronted with some new form of technology. They are being asked to change their teaching methodology to support an entirely new learning environment. They are being asked not to deliver information but to create intelligence out of the mass of information our students now have access to. Has there ever been a more challenging time – I would say no.

So what do I need to do? See myself as the lead learner in the school and accompany our teachers on the rocky journey to incorporate technology into a new way of teaching – the journey will be rockey because not everything will work – but if you don’t take risks you will never learn, and we are all about learning! one triad at work - as principal, my role will be to support and accompany them on their learning journey - and of course celebrate!! one triad at work – as principal, my role will be to support and accompany them on their learning journey – and of course celebrate!!

our teachers working together on one of our Triad days this year

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Week # 10 Time Management #SAVMP

The challenge this week is to write about time management:

If it is important (priority), you will make time for it.
You should never look at doing more, but doing things better.
For every thing you are willing to “add” to your plate, you need to take something off.

All good advice, but I think this is hardly practiced, certainly not by me.  Having said that i have another quote to add:

"This moment is the perfect teacher"
Pema Chodron

In this post, I will only speak for myself.  I don't think I am very good at time management.  I measure this by the amount of time I take up catching up on insignificant e-mail sometimes late into the night.  I am able to fool myself that I am being an effective manager when in truth, nothing is further from the truth.

All is not lost however.  Pema Chodron's teaching is very important to me.  We can learn from the present moment.  If I am not happy about the way I manage time I can change it - nothing is holding me back except myself.

The best use of my time at school comes from talking to parents teachers and students.  This does not mean that I should push all that paperwork to the end of the day or do it all from home.  I have a family and they deserve my time and attention as much (actually more) than the school does.

I plan to remain as an administrator for years to come.  The best thing I can work on now is how I manage my time, how can I be more present to the people I encounter.  That will make me a more effective educator, answering every e-mail within 24 hours will not.

One goal I have for myself this year is to become more reflective, more considerate of taking the time to develop meaningful relationships and less concerned about all the demands that are put on me as an administrator.

In this sense, I will try to do what George challenges us to do - If it is important (priority), you will make time for it.

What are my priorities?

Family first, the school community (people) second, paperwork third.

I am not there yet, but this moment is the perfect teacher.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Week 7 – Promoting Critical Conversations #SAVMP

As a leader, it is imperative that you focus on the “best ideas”, not “your ideas”. Sometimes they can be the same thing, but if you have a group around you that only agrees and is worried about challenging ideas, we often make the wrong decisions for kids.

I am doing some catch-up here.  I should have responded to this question in #savmp a few weeks ago, but better late than never.

George asked us three questions to respond to for this post:

How do you create a culture where “pushback” is encouraged?
 How do you know when to stick with the minority over the majority?
 How do you create a team that will give you honest feedback?

These again, are huge questions for me.  I think one of the worst things that can happen to a principal is to be out of the loop.  I want to know how people are feeling about what is going on at the school.  I want to know if I am pushing too much, especially if I am pushing too much.

What I need to learn to do is to accept pushback from staff with grace.  I don't think I am there yet.  There are times when I get frustrated when I hear I am moving too fast or pushing too much on the staff.  I have to learn not to be upset - I have to learn to be more humble and realize that I work as a member of a dedicated team.  I am not Napoleon on his white charger.

In fact, when I get that way, I need the horse to send me flying back to the hard real ground.

I am entering my third year as a principal and I have been in administration for twelve years overall.  You would think that I would have learned that lesson by now.  I am certainly still working on this.

I need the staff at our school to feel comfortable enough to come into my office or speak up at meetings if they don't agree with the course I am following.  To be a really effective leader, I need to lose my ego - not an easy thing to do, but something I am now convinced is necessary if I aspire to be a good principal.

I think I know how to do pushback pretty well, I can stick with the minority over the majority - even if it is a minority of one.  The question I need to examine carefully is the last one - how do I create a team willing to give me honest feedback?

We should always be reflecting on our leadership style and how we serve the people in our educational community.  I know what I need to reflect on.

Thanks George!

Sunday, 6 October 2013

How has blogging, tweeting, or being connected in general made you a better leader? #savmp

The question I have been asked to write about this week has to do with the value of being connected.  I know I push this a little hard with staff, but I only do this because I am so excited about the possibilities that can present themselves when you work as a connected learner.
My horizons have expanded exponentially since I started making a concerted effort to stay involved in Twitter.  I try to tweet several times a day, always using the hashtag #ocsb and more recently #ocsbcll.  Both connect me to educators in our school board.  Sometimes I get a retweet or someone favours my tweet.  This shows that I am making a connection with another educator.
I really believe that each time i go on Twitter I learn something new.  Recently I saw a post by Doug Peterson on the upcoming Ontario ECOO conference (Educational Computing Organization of Ontario).  The workshops are amazing!  Even better, the web site is set up so that if someone I am following on Twitter is registered for a particular workshop, their picture shows up!  How cool is that.
For me, the real revolution in education is all about collaboration.  I talked to some teachers earlier this week about what it was like 25 years ago.  Once you closed your door you were insulated from the outside world.  You could teach they way you wanted to.
That is no longer good enough.  We can really improve our practice by collaborating with each other.  Fullan writes about this, Katz writes that no learning can take place unless there is a change in behaviour.  When teachers collaborate in person or through Twitter, Edmodo, Google+ or some other manner they are really learning something.  My learning changes every day as long as i connect to others.  When I isolate myself I miss out on the learning.
Has this made me a better leader?  Yes, certainly.  I can't imagine now not being a connected educator.  There is so much to learn every day, I really think it is one of my primary responsibilities as a leader.  It is also one of the great joys of my work.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Rethinking Staff PD #savmp

“…And truth be told, teachers should be responsible for their own PD now. Kids wouldn’t wait for a blogging workshop. Adults shouldn’t either.” Will Richardson

This week, George has two questions for us

1. What are some of the ways that you create meaningful staff professional development?

2. What have you found to be the most beneficial PD experiences that lead to better learning in the classroom?

Great questions.  This is something I care deeply about.  I am in the middle of reading Intentional Interruption by Stephen Katz.  I know he would agree with Will Richardson's quote above.  I believe strongly that teachers need to be in charge of their own PD and their own meetings.

We have been working on this for years now.  Teachers working in grade-based teams set their own learning goals for inquiry schedule their own meeting times, record their evidence and eventually reach conclusions based on their data.  We work with two other schools and have for over three years.  The best thing about all of this is that teachers are the ones in charge of the learning.  As principals, we are facilitators.  We do not tell the teachers what to investigate.

Katz writes that true learning happens when there is a change in behaviour.  I believe that teaching practice is changing in our three schools, therefore this is true learning and good PD.  We are committed to this process and at this point in my career, I can't see any other way that teacher PD can happen.

When it comes to staff meetings, I leave the agenda open - any staff member can add items that will then be discussed at the meeting.  We do this by using Google Drive.  I am now thinking of adding Today's Meet so that there can be back channel discussions during the meeting.

This leads me to Will Richardson - he spoke to us at our last conference.  I tweeted the entire time because I think he has so much to say about innovation and self-directed PD.  You can follow him at 

His talk was very exciting - I now need to look for ways to bring some of his ideas into the PD that we do in the school!  What great innovative ideas for the future of education.

I have added some of the key tweets here:

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Developing Trust

Still working on catching up - George asked us to write on this topic last week:  The importance of trust

  1. How do you work to build trust starting in a new place?
  2. When you lose trust, what do you do to try to regain what you do?
  3. In a world with social media so evident, how do you use that technology to create a transparent culture within your community?
This is a great topic - like all the others. Again, this is something I think about all the time. Today, just by chance I was listening to a discussion on who the captains will be on a number of teams this year. Actually, it was really interesting. The commentators talked a lot about how the captain's role has to be earned. Captains in hockey are asked to do a great deal, essentially they are the public face of their team. Interestingly, being the most skilled player was not a major factor according to the commentators. To me, it had more to do with trust. Would the players follow you, listen to you, work hard for you. I think it is the same in education.

You can't 'get' trust from your staff.  You have to earn it.  I think this can take a long time.  I have been in schools where we followed administrators who had left their staff exhausted and demoralized.  How do you build trust with a staff in this situation?

Atv one school, I remember being told by one of my designates not to visit classrooms because these visits had been traumatic in the past.  No  trust had been built up yet.  I had to respect that.

So earning trust can be difficult.  It takes a very humble person to allow the time for trust to develop.  Having said this, it is worth it.  A former principal told me that she could not get her staff to do anything.  I have had the opposite experience - the people I work with will do anything, right down to looking for new housing for a parent forced to leave her housing project.

I am not doing anything special - I respect the people I work with as experienced professionals.  I see my position as one of supporting their efforts.  This is my role.

As for transparency, that is a great question when we are talking about trust.  Its interesting, but technology has helped in this area.  I post all staff agendas on Google Drive at least a week before we meet.  All staff had editing privileges and can add any agenda item they want to the meeting.  We also vote on major learning goals for our schools before we write up our school improvement plan at the end of the year. Principals are then obliged to design our PD around what the teachers have selected.

This is really not a big deal.  We are servants of our teachers.  When we forget that we lose their trust and we should.  I have seen schools in El Salvador where the teachers actually vote for who will be their principal.  How do you think that would affect our practice if the same thing happened here?

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Developing Leadership - #SAVMP

Week Five of #SAVMP presents a really interesting question - how do you promote leadership in your school?

This is a great question and the longer I am an administrator the more important this becomes.  For me, it is sometimes hard to let go of some of the responsibilities that go with this job.  However, it is essential and it is something that I work on harder every year.

I am in a small school with twelve teachers.  Obviously, there is no vice-principal, but I do have designates who fill in for me when I am away.  If you take the designate position seriously, it gives you a great opportunity to give more responsibility to other teachers.  This year, the designate was responsible for the duty schedule along with other administrative tasks.  

The duty schedule is always difficult to do, but over the years I have gotten to the point where I can get it done very quickly.  Time to pass this one on.  I asked the designate to take this on this year and for her it was a great learning experience.  She had to figure out the union regulations for the numbers of allowed supervision minutes, talk to each teacher to make sure the schedule was fair and determine how much time we would need from the Board for lunch time monitors.  She did all this, it took a while, but she did a great job.  More importantly, I was able to share my leadership responsibilities with another person.

There is no question that when you do this people take more ownership and feel more engaged in the running of the school.  Not all people want to do that, but my job is to look for the people who want to take on a leadership role and make sure they get something meaningful.

I think this is one of the biggest lessons I have learned as an administrator - you need to learn to let go.  Share your responsibilities with others who want to lead.  

When you get right down to it, if you don't do this who will?

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Why we do what we do - a challenge to us all

I just watched a terrific TED talk by Simon Sinek - How great leaders inspire action. I encourage everyone to take a look at this.

He says that people are not inspired by the 'what' you do but by the 'why' you do something.  As part  of the leadership mentorship program #SAVMP, we have been asked to write about what our vision is for our school.  Why do I do what I do at our school?  Why am I an educator?  Why have I worked to become an administrator?

These are the key questions.  But it is not just the leader who needs to ask, but all staff in our school who need to ask, now - why do I do what I do.

We are just about to head into a new school year.  Soon we will be immersed in the day to day work of learning with kids again.  But why do we do it?  Why do we come back every year and work so hard with all of our kids.  Right now is the time to contemplate this question.

For me, my vision of education has changed over the years.  I have been at this now for 27 years.  I need to be very clear on why I do this work and I need to be able to tell all of you why I do this.

For me education is the great liberator.  It gives people an opportunity to grow and dream.  It frees us from ignorance, prejudice and hate.  It allows us to become more than we started out as.  It inspires us to make a change, any change that will make the lives of people better.

As teachers, we live in hope that by doing what we do we are actually making the world a better place.  With each child we work with there is the potential for tremendous growth.  We are the ones who open the doors for children so they can clearly see the world around them.

Here in Canada, we know our students have the potential to go to college or university and realize their full potential.  I have visited other countries like rural Mexico and El Salvador where the chance to complete even a high school program lies beyond the grasp of most students.

However, I have talked to many of these students and their dreams are the same as those of our students here in Canada.  They want to make life better for themselves, their families and in most instances, for their country as well.

I believe this is a universal quality.  As teachers, we get to tap into this.  We are fortunate to have the resources to assist our students in fulfilling their dreams.  This is why I do the work that I do.  For me it is interesting that I only really understood the power of education when I talked to students in the Global South.  There, education is still the great liberator, but many children are denied their chance to fly.

I believe I teach for these children as well.  I can't change their situation, I wish I could, but they have taught me how precious and important an education is.

A child from an elementary school in San Jose las Flores, El Salvador.
Several schools including ours, support this wonderful school

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Why I Lead

George has started us out with a challenging question. It is not that I have never thought of this question, it is just that I have never put these down as a blog post. I think I have always been fasinated by the concept of what leadership really is. As a high school teacher, I was involved and ran leadership camps for high school students. My best experience was working at the provincial level with student leaders from across Ontario. Working with students helped me to qualify what I felt were the key qualities in a leader. One of the key ideas for me was the concept of Servant Leadership, the idea that a leader can be judged by their ability to serve those most unable to help themselves. I have tried to act as a 'serveant leader' in all the leadership positions I have held over the past ten years. It is sometimes easy to forget that as leaders, we are really servants first. It is easy to get caught up in the professional pressures of the job, especially once the year get really rolling. This is one reason why it is good to post this before I stary another school year! The one question I need to ask myself is how are those I work with being served by my leadership. What am I doing to make their experience more meaningful and satisfying. As I try to answer this question, I need to consider staff, parents and students. I also believe that at a certain time in our careers, we are called to lead. It is easy to sit on the sidelines and be critical of the efforts of others, much more difficult to stand up and make the decisions that sometimes can be unpopular. I came to the conclusion around ten years ago that it was now my time to take a more active role and leave the sidelines. I am very happy that I did. Wheather as a department head, vice-principal or principal, I have really enjoyed being in a position where I can make a difference, where I can really serve. Being a leader to me also means being reflective most of the time. I need to reflect on the job I am doing. Am I offering quality leadership to the school community? Am I too caught up in the day to day administrivia that comes with this job? Am I letting my ego get in the way of good, compassionate decision making? How am I doing? Hopefully better every day. I have to realize that I need to be learning all the time. Learning more about pedagogy, technology, and the people I work with for starters. The main reason I have joined the SAVMP project is to learn and to connect with others. Ultimately, I need to show everyone in my community that I am a life long learner and that, like everyone else I am on a journey that is always changing. This is the challenge and excitement of leadership, this is what I enjoy about leadership. Facing all the challenges that come with leadership makes me the leader I am. It is my hope that I will continue to learn to be a better leader, a better servant and that I will always be open to learning more from the people around me. The journey never ends.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Three days focusing on technology and pedagogy in Newfoundland

I am just finishing up four days in St. John's at the CASA (Canadian Association of School Administrators) annual conference. Before attending, I didn't know a great deal about the organization, but the topic intrigued me. Before attending, I quickly read Stratosphere by Michael Fullan. This is a quick read, but makes the point that we need an integrated approach to bring about true school reform. We need to link technology, pedagogy and change knowledge together yo make the push to a new form of education. The conference was mainly attended by directors and superintendents which gave me a unique perspective on what Canadian educators are thinking. I also had a chance to present on social media and how we can be using this to communicate more effectively with parents, teachers and students. There were some outstanding workshops starting with the keynote by Ben Levin followed by a series of really interesting workshops that presented ideas on how we need to move ahead to develop a pedagogy that will allow us to use technology effectively. The closing address was by Dean Shareski currently working with Discovery Education Canada. I thought his talk was brilliant. It was all about embracing change and throwing out the structures and old ideas that no longer serve us well. He actually tweeted the main points of his talk on the conference back channel #CASA13 - I encourage you to take a look at it, he has some very challenging ideas that we all need to consider. Most of his key points are posted on Twitter. Now I need to go home and think. One of the challenges of a leader is to manage change effectively. Although I do not have the system-wide concerns of most of the participants at the conference, there is certainly enough to keep me going as we continue to look for ways to be the most effective school possible.

Monday, 29 April 2013

How we learn as a community

On Friday,  we spent most of the day working in our triads and sharing information with other teachers.  It was probably the first time that many of the teachers heard what the other groups were doing.  What I loved about it was the great diversity of inquiries that are going on in our three schools.  I am firmly convinced that this is how we learn as a community.
It is always tempting to focus just on one topic - say the assessment loop.  People who follow this approach say that the same language circulates around the school and you can see the same thing going on in every class.  To me, there is value in following the same learning plan, but I think this limits your creativity.
There is so much to investigate and learn about education.  Just a quick look at Twitter will show you that there a huge variety of topics being studied all the time.  Take a look here at some of the topics being discussed in this very small sampling of Twitter:

This is a short sampling of one of the Twitter lists I have made - it is full of new ideas every day.  You also might want to consider - this service will deliver articles to your inbox every day.  The articles are based on your interests.   This is part of a sample e-mail I receive every day

This again is only a small sample of a daily e-mail I get from
Then there is Zite - free on your iPad.  Here is part of their description of what they offer:

With so much information available online today, it’s increasingly difficult and time-consuming to find the content we want. That’s where Zite comes in. Zite evaluates millions of new stories every day, looking at the type of article, its key attributes and how it is shared across the web. Zite uses this information to match stories to your personal interests and then delivers them automatically to your iPad or iPhone.
These are just three.  If you want, pick one and play with it over the summer.  As we move into the third year of the triad process, now is the best time to open yourselves up to new sources of information to inform your practice.

Friday was really a great day -we were are all exploring new and exciting ideas.  I know our teachers will keep it up, maybe  one of these tools will help.  Whatever happens, it will be very exciting!

Google Drive Tips - Youtube video

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

What does it mean to dig deeper?

A few months ago, we had a district review.  This is a staandard procedure for all schools in Ontario and I have to say it was a very interesting experience.  In preparation for the review, the staff worked hard to display what essentially goes on in our school.

One major area of concern and interest for us is how we do professional development with our teachers.  We work in a triad system.  This means that teachers at the same grade level get together on a regular basis to plan out inquiries that need to be tried out and tested.  The teachers are free to choose what their inquiry will be on, but over the past two years, we have asked the teams to keep better records of their key learnings.

Here is a sample of an eveidence of learning document that needs to be completed by the end of the inquiry:

Group Members:                                                           Grade:

Working Session Details:
When:                                                Where:
Inquiry Intentions:   (If . . . then . . . )

How does your inquiry relate to the SEF?

Plan / Envision    Needs Assessment
Where are we now? Where do we want/need to go?

Act / Sow     Evidence-based strategies/actions
How are we going to get there?  What are we going to do?  

Observe / Nurture   Monitor/Gather Evidence
What are students demonstrating? Triangulation of Evidence    

Reflect / Discern  Analysis / Assess
What have we learned and discovered? Where to next?  Now what?   

At this point, on our third inquiry, all our teaching teams are at the Act/Sow phase.  The expectation is that they will be at the Observe stage when we meet again at the end of April.

After the review, it was clear that the challenge was to 'dig deeper'.  Although this was a review of our school, the conclusions and the challenges apply to our partner schools as well.

So, what does it mean to dig deeper?  We are getting very good at teacher collaboration which to my mind (and is back up in the literature), is the best way for teachers to learn.

Where do we go from here?  How do we know that the collaborative process is working, but how do we measure that this is actually having an impact on teacher practice?

There were a few suggestions that we need to consider.  While triad groups will have the freedom to choose their own inquiries again next year, do we need to overlay this with an overall theme?

Two suggestions so far are to focus on the assessment loop or focus on developing rich tasks.

Both strategies should make the teacher inquiry richer -  while teachers decide on what to work on based on the needs of their students they can overlay their inquiry by focusing on assessment or on the development of rich tasks.

Here is our challenge.  This is what we need to present to the teachers in our three schools.  To my mind, it is imperative that the teachers remain in control of the process, but can we add value to this work by having an overall theme?

Any ideas are most welcome!

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Holy Week in a Catholic School

This is the beginning of Holy Week.  This should be a week where we shift our focus away from solely meeting curriculum expectations to allow time to reflect on this important part of the liturgical year.  Yesterday, I heard once again the story from Luke that takes us from Palm Sunday right to the Crucifixion.  I never tire of this story, Jesus entering in triumph the City of Jerusalem only to be abandoned by everyone as his downfall is plotted.  I listened closely to the dialogue between Pilate and the crowd.  Pilate repeatedly says that Jesus has done nothing that warrants the death sentence, but the crowd persists until Pilate relents and Jesus is handed over to be tortured and killed.

What an amazing story.  It is played out again and again in our world. Last week we hosted a women from Cabanas, El Salvador who spoke of the persecution of her community by people connected to mining interests.  People have been killed or have disappeared because they have expressed their opposition to mining in their community.  Today on CBC there was another story of Guatemalan women who are suing Hudbay here in Canada to protest the exploitation of their community by the mining company.

The story of Holy Week should be reflected on deeply.  We may not be able to make these sorts of connections with our students, but we should all be able to find stories of love and sacrifice that will help our students understand the nobility of Jesus' struggle against injustice.

We are fortunate to be able to focus on the story of Holy Week.  It is a wonderful opportunity to engage our students in a story that ends with great hope and joy.  It is also an occasion for all of us to really listen to the stories of suffering that we can hear everyday.
What a wonderful challenge for all of us!

Sunday, 17 March 2013

The promise of Spring

Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore. We have seen the future, and the future is ours.
– Cesar Chavez

Each week, I try to write a note to staff.  As Spring begins and we return from our Spring Break, this seemed to be an appropriate opening note for the week.

I thought this would be a good quote to start the last phase of the year.  March Break is almost over, we will very soon be back into the business of education.  But now the days are getting longer and warmer and while our energy may wane a little we are looking to the end of the year.  I think it is important at this time to look at the quote of Cesar Chavez so that as we enter the final quarter we still realize what power we have over the students we work with every day.
In some cases, our influence will soon come to an end as we see the grade 6 students move on to their next school.  In other cases, the terrific educational journey is just starting and before we know if our kids will be transitioning from kindergarten to primary, primary to junior and we will begin to develop a new group of student leaders.
This is a never ending cycle and we are fortunate to be part of it.  It keeps us young and enthusiastic and always open to the change that will allow us to teach our children more effectively.
As we move into the last quarter, I think we are given the opportunity to think about what we still want to accomplish on this year's journey. What do I want to accomplish as principal, what do you want to achieve as a teacher, what growth can you still imagine for your children.
The Spring is only a few days away.  The world is coming alive again.  My hope for all of you is that you will all return for a well deserved break to become active in the journey again.  We have already accomplished a great deal this year and some of our biggest challenges are behind us.  My hope for all of us is that we will be able to focus on our students and continue to make their time at our school the great adventure!

Thursday, 14 March 2013

How am I developing my PLN

I read this as part of a post yesterday - The Ten Skills Modern Teachers Must Have.

Lots of good reading there, but I want to focus on the first point:

1) Build Your PLN

NetworkingWhether you call it a ‘personal learning network’ or a ‘professional learning network’ is not important. What is important is that you know exactly how to connect with teachers, admins, and students from around the world. This network can answer questions you have about absolutely anything. Before setting off on any digital adventure, make sure your fellow teachers in your district know what you’re up to and then be sure to connect with similar teachers around the world. So update your Twitter stream, start using Google+, and get to know Learnist.
For me, this is vital. I am now learning every day.  I rely on and post at least one article to my staff blog every day.  I read the articles and am amazed at the amount of new information available every day.  Are the teachers picking up on all this?  I am not sure, but I feel compelled to share these great ideas with whoever is reading the blog.
I know I need to start following more bloggers.  Today, I saw a great post list the 100 most important bloggers to follow..  I follow Doug Peterson @dougpete- he is a great Canadian source, which is important to me.  Also he posts so much information!  I get at least three notices from him each day - all of them really useful.
I recognize many of the other top bloggers, but I can't say i follow them on a regular basis.
What has helped a great deal are lists created on Twitter.  I now have a daily follow list, and ocsb list (my board) an admin list and an ed tech list.  Maybe too many lists, I usually get to the top two each day.
Now i read I have to start to use Learnist!  That's a new one that I will have to figure out.
The main thing about your PLN is to just get started.  It is not overwhelming, it is simply a rich source  of information that will help you do a better job.  We are no longer limited to single sources of information which is a relief.  
All we need to do is start!
My suggestion for our next principal's meeting would be to spend a few hours talking about where we are at in developing our PLN.  it's no longer a valid excuse to say that it is just too overwhelming.  You just have to start!!