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.