Sunday, 23 February 2014

Week 23: Being a Student Driven Principal #SAVMP

Students of Saint Mary's Hall
Students of Saint Mary's Hall (Photo credit: Robert of Fairfax)

"Too many times we miss out on great opportunities because we have the wrong mindset.  At what point in a teacher’s career does the focus shift from doing what is best for students to, “let’s do what’s best for me.”  Our systems are built around the convenience of the adults and not necessarily for the benefit of the students."

The #SAVMP blog this week asks 'are you a students' principal?'  Interesting question - this is something I don't think I have spent much time thinking about.  The quick answer would be 'of course, we are all here for the students'  But obviously I have to go deeper than that.

I have been very fortunate that in my first school, I have a group of teachers who are dedicated to doing the best for their kids.  I truly believe that.
This being the case, the best thing I can do is support them and help them to do the job that they are doing.  I need to be aware that I can be a distraction to staff if I am not careful. 

Like all principals, I want to make my 'mark' on the school and leave it better than I found it, but I have to make sure my ego doesn't get in the way of good leadership.  If you are able to judge that teachers are doing their best to work for the kids then naturally, I need to make it easier for them to continue to do this.

To be a child-centered principal I think it is really important to spend lots of time with the kids and support initiatives that will make learning more engaging.  Once teachers know that is what you are all about, they will start to come up with all sorts of initiatives that center on the child.  The great thing is the teachers have all the great ideas, they just need to know that you will support them and that you will encourage them to take more risks.

So, over the past three years, we have tried a bunch of initiatives that support a child-centered approach.  We have worked hard to develop green spaces around the school - all designed by the students.  We are a Destination Imagination school, a great program run entirely by teacher and parent volunteers. We have great recreation programs like Starr Gymnastics and Jungle Sport, we have a long-time commitment to teacher inquiry leading to new initiatives in the classroom and we have more ideas and initiatives all the time.

To me, this shows that we are all child-centered.  We are trying to make the student the center of our universe and we are continually looking for ways to create a holistic learning experience for our kids.

Am I a child-centered principal?  I am because all our teachers are.
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Monday, 17 February 2014

Week 22: Differentiation…for staff? #SAVMP Feb 10

"Supporting teachers begins with knowing that we should meet their individual needs in their own learning and growth. We no longer can be ok with the status quo, or a one size fits all mentality when it comes to PD. As the leader, it is up to you ensure that each educator has what they need in order to be the very best that they can be in their classroom."

If you really want teachers to take professional development seriously, you have to let them set their own agenda.
This seems to be difficult for many leaders to accept.  I think it is the most basic of questions - what do you want to learn - and with that - how can I best support you.

If we teach social skills to a target group then will we see an increase in self-regulation and positive social interactions outside of the classroom, within the target group (s).
resource teacher triad

I have written about this before and I welcome the opportunity to do it again for the #SAVMP blog. It is more by accident than design that we started using a model that allows teachers to set their own agenda for professional learning. Three years ago the principals in our group (triad) decided to do our school improvement planning together.

It was hard to figure out at first - none of us had ever done this before, there was no model or guide to follow. I think one of the most important elements was, and continues to be the support we received from the school board. This was new to them too, but they were willing to let us try this new model out.

Over the past three years the teams have changed and we have learned a great deal. We still plan together and we have gotten a lot better at recording our learning. We have a great respect for the inquiry approach and have followed the learning stance of our board that encourages teachers to ask questions about how students learn.

If we continue to solidify their ability to communicate about math through the use of math journals in support with conferencing, then they should be able to demonstrate their learning.  
grade 4,5,6 math inquiry

Teachers now keep a running record of their inquiries in a Google Drive document called Evidence of Learning. I am drawing inquiry statements from this document for today's blog. This document allows the principals in our group to have a good understanding of what teachers are working on. With an app called Kaizena, we can actually leave audio comments for each group in their evidence of learning section.

There nothing cooler than being able to talk about the learning plans of teachers in three schools! As principals, we are active participants in the learning, but the teachers are in control of the process.

Having said that, I really feel an obligation to keep a careful record of what they are learning this term. I was able to do some of this last term and I have blogged about some of the really interesting work the math and French teachers were doing. Now I really need to get the rest of the groups!

Through the month of April, I should be able to meet with most of the groups and add the results of their inquiries to the blog!

Through this process, we feel we are giving the teachers the opportunity to set their own agenda. We will continue to do this and teachers will continue to learn and grow. I think this is the very best that we can do for the teachers we work with.

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Sunday, 2 February 2014

On-line Portfolios Week #21 SAVMP - where can I see your powerful work?

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase
”it is no longer enough to do powerful work if no one sees it”.
 Chris Lehmann 

This is a really important blog post by George Couros and I hope people have a chance to take a look at it. More and more, we are developing on-line portfolios, just by putting out our twitter feeds, our blogs and our web sites. When you gather all this material together, it gives a much more effective and true picture of your work than a resume or a paper portfolio can.

When I do interviews, I glance at the candidate's resume - maybe for a minute or two at best. What I am much more interested in is the work that they have done and how this work is displayed. I know a lot about some of the teachers in our board simply because I follow their blogs and twitter and Google + feeds. These are not teachers I work with, but I am very aware of their work through their on-line portfolio.

I agree with George - our on-line portfolios are a great way to showcase what we are doing and learn new things. My learning community now is mainly with people outside of my own board. Some people I read every day, most of these people I have never met. I learn so much more from them than I do from the traditional workshop. Also, you never know who you might connect with and what opportunities might present themselves.

My hope for the teachers I work with is that they will do more of this kind of work. They are a very talented, committed group of people, but they are not at the point where they share a great deal of the great work that they do. Right now, I am trying to do this for them - I have a blog where I feature the work they are doing in their triads (three small schools working together). In essence, I am trying to develop a 'collective portfolio' for these talented individuals. It takes a lot of time, but it is really worth it. Someone, somewhere has to see the great work that they are doing! You can find this online portfolio here.

My hope is that the teacher triads will invite me to their inquiries this term so that I can write up some posts that highlight the work that they are doing. I am really happy to do this for them - the problem for teachers is that developing the kind of on-line portfolios George is writing about is that it takes lots of time.

I am a principal - I have the time for this. Generally, I think it is really hard for teachers to do this - they are too busy moving on to the next task. They do terrific work every day and I am so thankful to work with the teachers in our triad - they are certainly breaking new ground! My hope for all of them is that someone will some day recognize the work that they are doing as truly innovative.

I find it amazing that they continue to work on without much recognition for what they are doing - I hope the blog will help them all in some way.

Another great on-line portfolio tool that I find really helpful is I have developed a short on-line portfolio that is linked to my Twitter page - easy to do, just one more way of getting yourself out there

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