Sunday, 22 June 2014

Year's end - don't cry because its over

I thought this quote was a good way to start an end of year post.  I'm not sure how many people are crying, everyone needs a break after a long, busy school year.  The end of the year is a good time to look back on the year and spend a little time reflecting on how things went.  In my case, I will be reflecting on the past three years as I get ready for the move to another school.

One of the things I love to hear about our school is that it is a busy place.  There is always something going on.

I think this says alot about our entire school community.  Collectively, we aspire to offer a complete education for our students.  It is never enough to teach the curriculum, we need to teach the whole child.

I think this is a shared vision for our school.  It encourages us to look for new partners that enrich the learning environment for our students.  Here are just a few we have become linked to in the past few years.

  • Evergreen, the City of Ottawa and TD Friends of the Environment - these three partners have helped us build what will be a little urban forest in the years to come.  Over twenty trees, raised beds and now two outdoor classrooms are the results of this partnership.  At the heart of all this are the children; our Evergreen partners Ann Coffey and Andrew Harvey have consulted with all our students throughout the greening process here at our school - this will be the students' urban forest.
  • Becoming a digital school - not sure of another way to put this, but our teachers, students and parents have all embraced the idea that students learn better when they have a variety of devices from home, school and the district to use every day.  Over the past three years we have seen a real transformation in the learning environment not so much because we have lots of devices but because innovation is accepted as the norm at our school.
  • Partnerships with arts groups - an elementary school on its own cannot offer the varied programming students need to have a well rounded education.  We have Little Horn Theatre and Big Kid Entertainment to help us offer a varied arts curriculum.  Big Kid integrates drama with important lessons on cyber bullying and inclusion in a way the students really enjoy.  Little Horn offers instruction in dance and drama to every child in the school.
  • Partnerships focusing on athletic development - this is so important for us.  We need our kids to remain  physically active throughout the year.  In fact, it could be argued that our kids would do better with year round schooling to make sure they remain active throughout the summer months. Jungle Sport, the Ottawa Fury, Y Kids Academy and Starr Gymnastics are just some of the programs that we now offer every year.  Starr Gymnastics is so important to the school that we will now pay for this right out of the student activity fee.
We have so many other important partners, St. Maurice Church, the University of Ottawa, Engineers in Residence all enrich the lives of our students throughout the school year, they are part of the fabric of our school life.  

There are two essential elements that make all these creative partnerships work.  

First, we have a staff that welcomes everyone.  Visitors to our school always comment on how friendly people are at our school.  All staff try hard to make people comfortable when they are with us.  This is how it should be. We are caught up in the joy of education and we want to share this with others.

The second essential element are our parents.  They support us in so many ways.  They are open to our ideas and projects, they make us part of their community.  As principal, I have felt nothing but unconditional support and appreciation for the work we do with their kids every day.

This is why St. Greg's is a busy place.  Our staff, parents and students have great ideas and are always open to the education adventure.  It is hard work, but look what we have all created!

While I am looking forward to my new school community, I will never forget the dynamic partnerships of the St. Gregory community that provide such a rich learning environment for all of us.

Have a great summer everyone!

One of the outdoor murals created by Ann Coffey, Nicole Belanger and our students

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Rethinking professional learning and development

It is well passed the time that we rethink professional learning and development for educators.

We have made great strides when it comes to refashioning teaching methodology, especially at the elementary level, but we seem to be frozen in time when it comes to how we train and develop educators, especially educational administrators.

Most of what we experience in the area of professional learning for school administrators is ineffective. There are some good moments when we are introduced to leading thinkers in education, but there is no plan to this learning, the good moments happen almost by accident.

While most administrators are critical of the learning provided to us, we have been silent on what the alternative could be. I would say that our silence has allowed the current situation to continue with our implicit approval. If we see the current system as ineffective, we need to be able to propose a different way of doing things.

Where can we look for more effective models? I read a very interesting article on this topic today by Thomas Handcock in Workforce - A Network Rethink for Learning and Development. There are some important points in this article on how we really need to rethink professional learning. To me, the essential problem is that we play no active role in our professional learning. We passively accept what is being offered at a time when we should be active participants in our learning.

The pervasiveness of social media in employees’ personal lives has set an expectation of instant access to information and connectivity. And it’s not just Generation Y. As Fast Company notes, the fastest-growing age group on Twitter is 55 to 64; on Facebook, it’s those aged 45 to 54.
 To bring about meaningful change, need to introduce a "culture of continuous learning". This can be done by implementing Handcock's suggestions:

Developing bite-sized learning — making learning resources smaller and more consumable.

Betting on technology — deploying enterprise collaboration platforms, mobile-learning and upgraded LMS functionality.

Creating push learning — attempting to push out targeted learning resources to employees “just-in-time.”

I really suggest you take a look at this article - there is some much in here that speaks to what we need to do if we really want to instill a culture of learning amongst our educational leaders.

What would such a culture look like? I think we would have to start by developing learning groups or peer coaching teams of three to four administrators. Each would be responsible for setting up a personal learning plan for the year. The learning partners would then play the role of supporting and critiquing the learning of the others in the group. The learning would have to be structured in such a way that each group member is accountable both for their learning and for supporting the learning of others.

When done correctly, peer coaching circles not only teach employees valuable learning behaviors but also build employees’ ownership of development by reinforcing the idea that learning is more about engagement and discourse and less about the provision and consumption of content. 

Time would be set aside each month for these learning groups to meet and work together. The time would be found by replacing the current model of PD delivery which no longer is effective.I have seen this system in place in other school boards in Ontario.  Learning partners have presented as part of the annual LSA conference in Toronto. What always struck me about these presentations was the level of excitement and commitment administrators felt about their learning projects.

I want to learn more about this. Given the social media tools we can use right now, there is no question that we can design more effective professional learning experiences for ourselves. If we don't suggest a change in this direction we will continue to be served up PD that may have little relevance to the work we do in our school.

 Related articles

Saturday, 7 June 2014

The Six Secrets of Change

Q7: How do Fullan’s Six Secrets of Change fit into your evolving role as a Digital Leader? If you are about to make this transition how do you see them impacting you and your work? I always learn so much from Fullan.

Question 7 of our #satchat book study asks us the reflect on Fullan's Six Secrets of Change - there is lots to write about here. I will answer this question by quoting and reflecting on some of the statements written in Sheninger's book.

1. Love your Employees: "The best way to love your employees in order to initiate sustainable change is to trust and support them unconditionally."
I think there is no other way to go. I have so much respect for the thinking and practices of our teachers. They are the truly innovative ones and they are the ones really driven to act for the success of our students. We tend to forget this. We think there is a 'magic potion' out there that teachers have not considered - that simply is not true, we do not give our teachers enough credit for their spirit for innovation. Instead we rely too much on the wisdom of the district - this is flawed thinking.

2. Connect Peers With Purpose: "Purposeful peer interaction allows teachers to have a voice in the decision-making process and to craft how policies and mandates will be implemented (Dufour, Dufour, &Eaker, 2008)"
Everyone loves to quote Dufour, but do they really think about what he is saying? We need to abolish all senseless babble from district experts and instead allow teachers more time to talk to each other and come up with new ideas. Let's put more time into working on all sorts of collaboration - face to face meetings, twitter networks, edcamps, play dates, book studies - let's let them innovate!

3. Capacity Building Prevails : "Studies on school change indicate that schools successful in sustaining school improvement build capacity for leadership within the organization (Harris & Lambert, 2003)" 
True leadership comes within the school. Change happens when the school community focuses on what is essential for that community. We tend to think that the solution is somehow 'out there'. It is not - the solution to any problem at the school level starts with the people within your own community. We can't expect change to come from some over staffed district that doesn't necessarily have any clear vision on what change should look like. We need to stop looking outside of ourselves.

4. Learning is the Work: "Leaders must not only be creative in finding time for teachers to engage in PD during the day, but they also must consistently model lifelong learning themselves. Digital leadership dictates that learning is first and foremost."
Learning is the work is the title of a paper Fullan wrote about how teachers need to learn. If educators paid attention to what he wrote in this paper we would totally change the way we offer PD. In fact, we wouldn't 'offer' PD anymore, we would empower learning hubs of teachers to effectively inquire and share their good ideas. Do we as administrators actually accept this idea? If so we need to take courage and start modelling this for our teachers.

5. Transparency Rules: "Leaders, proud of the work being done in their schools, now have the means to continuously tell their story to key stakeholders. Sharing more information will increase engagement in the change process." 
We can play a unique role our schools - share what your teachers are learning. Don't hide great work. Don't sit on your hands. If you are an administrator start sharing the great change that is happening in your school. Nothing great happening - I find that hard to believe.

6. Systems Learn: (I hope so!) "Continuous learning depends on developing many leaders in the school in order to enhance continuity. It also depends on schools being confident in the face of complexity and open to new ideas."
Do you notice in everything I have quoted here that the emphasis is put on the school. This puts added pressure on the administrator. I am glad for that, I like the pressure. As administrators we need to realize that we are the change agents in our schools and we are there to empower others to do the same.

We must stop relying on the district, state or province to come up with great ideas. they are totally incapable of doing this! If we don't lead the change the change simply will not happen. This puts pressure on the leader, but we signed up for this!

Terrific ideas, great challenges. I am convinced that if we hope to save education we need to be the change agents. We need to stop thinking someone will do this for us.
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Thursday, 5 June 2014

How do we deal with the really hard questions in education?

This post started as a response to Maureen Devlin's blog post @lookforsun -

How Do You Contribute to Your Teaching/Learning Community?

I focussed on one of Maureen's questions -   'what work or effort does not serve your organization as well'

We still work in such  conservative organizations that we are really encouraged not to think out of the box.  The problem with this is that we are doomed in education if we continue to focus on reform and not revolution as Sir Ken Robinson would put it.  Why is any significant criticism of the status quo seen as a threat to the system?  When will we start asking the really difficult questions like why we still support an antiquated industrial age school system.

Reform is no use anymore, because that's simply improving a broken model. What we need -- and the word's been used many times during the course of the past few days -- is not evolution, but a revolution in education. This has to be transformed into something else.
Sir Ken Robinson TED Talk Feb. 2010

There is much written these days about Deeper Learning.  I am reading all I can to see if here there is finally a challenge to the status quo.  Will Deeper Learning provide solutions to these problems?

  • we have a system where the adult is protected - the teacher - but the rights of the child to an excellent education are not.
  • we have a system where we are told by the resident expert what the next great idea will be.
  • we have a system where sharing outside our classroom is still the exception, not the rule.
  • innovation outside a tiny box is not really encouraged.
  • we simply do not ask the really hard questions - why do we support a top down system that was initially designed to train workers for the factory?
I am sure there are lots of other questions and issues that need to be addressed.  Does Deeper Learning address these issues, or are we still afraid to ask the really difficult questions.

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