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!!

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Teacher Collaboration - the best way to learn

Over the past two years, I have reflected on the best way to deliver professional development to teachers.  It seemed to me that while the principal is expected to be the educational leader in the school, quite often they are out of touch with actual in-class practice.  Many of us have not actually had to teach a class for years.  It makes it very difficult for administrators to actually set the agenda for PD.

At the same time, I have noticed that when you provide teachers with time during the school day to collaborate great things can happen.  When teachers can actually set the agenda on what needs to be worked on real authentic learning can take place.

We are linked to two elementary schools of approximately the same size.  We meet on a regular basis in 'triads' which are groups of teachers working at the same grade level.  The principals of the three schools are still educational leaders, but we are much more interested in the process than the actual content of what teachers are learning.

We insist on a few things:

  • teacher work is based on the inquiry method - teachers need to be able to articulate an inquiry question that will be examined over time.
  • teachers need to record what they are learning.  Monitoring has become huge for us.  How do you know what you know, does the evidence support the inquiry question or does the investigation need to be reformulated.  
  • teachers are accountable - each triad group develops an 'evidence of learning' document where all new learning is recorded.  The principals use elements from this document to develop our school improvement plan.
What is most important in the process is that teachers are empowered.  When professional groups of educators are asked to develop their own learning plan and when they are given the time to carry out the learning great things can happen.

What I want to learn now is how much research has been done that shows that this form of teacher collaboration is effective.

A recent document from Ontario's Capacity Building Series - Collaborative Teacher Inquiry states that a new collaborative culture is becoming the norm in education. The article goes on to lay out very specific steps that should be followed for teacher collaborative inquiry to be effective.

Michael Fullan in an unpublished paper Learning is the Work, states that " is not sufficient for schools to work out collaboration on their own.  External facilitation is required.  And since we are interested in system change we also need schools to learn from each other.Thus we employ strategies where schools are in small clusters (3-8 schools for example). (Fullan May 2011)

We have seen exciting things in the past two years and we look forward to learning more the longer we work together.

reflections on being a 21st century principal

We are thirteen years into the 21st Century, people have reflected that we need to get over this term, we are all aware that we are working on a paradigm shift in education.  We all know that the education system is based on the 19th Century factory model.  To be honest, after 27 years in education this really hasn't changed too much.

Now, however educators are being challenged as never before.  We just completed a District review - a sort of educational audit that we do here in Ontario.  This was an interesting experience.  Our teachers are changing their practice.  They are being influenced to change by the flood of information that is coming to us from the Ministry and so many other sources.

I put out a blog to the staff every week - The Gregorian Rant.  I try to limit my posts to one new idea each day - I am sure it is overwhelming to the staff, but it is simply the tip of the iceberg.  I too am overwhelmed by the material that is out there.

I think I will publish here more of the ideas that I am discovering through, Twitter and other sources I still need to discover.

Truly, writing the Rant is the most enjoyable part of my day - but the audience is too small.  These ideas need to be circulated and recirculated so that we can build up a critical movement for education reform.

What will it look like?  It is occurring every day in our schools, we just need to write and reflect on what we are reading.

For today, I want to share a talk by Sir Ken Robinson, who talks about the need for an education revolution not education reform.  Great to start with this!

Human learning is an organic process not a linear process.