I have made it through year one as a Principal! (Ok, only eleven days left!)
I figured out a long time ago that the school year always passes quickly. Maybe that’s a function of age. However, this year seemed to pass at an even greater breakneck pace. I think that was a function of the amount of learning I needed to do this time around. July is coming and I’ll be able to breathe soon.
So how did the year go? I would say pretty gosh darn good. All the of the balls for big picture items are still up in the air and are being juggled reasonably well. There is no doubt that a few smaller balls have been deferred or dropped. I believe that the year can be characterized as a positive year for students, staff, and the admin team at both sites. And I am pretty proud of the role that I have played to support the work of our staff.
If I was to sum up this school year, I would want to talk about four areas. Two areas that I believe have come a long way in our schools this year are Collaboration and Culture of Learning. Two areas that I believe need continued growth are Communication and Community Involvement.
What was grown this year…
Collaboration – This is what I believe needs to be a foundational approach to the work that we do in education. Our kids and society are too complex for any one educator to have all of the answers. A lot teachers have figured this out and have created networks for themselves to access when they run into a situation for which they need help. This year we have formalized that process and will continue to do so next year too.
Teachers were placed in more or less grade level teams called Collaborative Learning Teams (CLT). On approximately a monthly basis, they met and were able to discuss students who posed some sort of an instructional challenge with their colleagues. There were educational discussions related to learning disabilities, promoting reading, connecting kids to friends and school, managing behaviors, speech and language development, anxiety disorders, parenting support, and more. From each discussion, teachers were left with both short and long term strategies to try. Students were then reviewed at each meeting to check progress and offer further suggestions if needed. The discussions were inspiring at times! There was always a culture of support but there was also a willingness to challenge ideas and assumptions.
This work will become the foundation to build a Collaborative Response Model based on Response to Intervention practices in the coming school year. It is important to note, that because this work is so important, these discussions happened within the school day. Teachers were not expected to juggle their after school schedules to participate.
Culture of Learning – I would venture to say that there has been a different feel in the admin led staff development activities this year. The staff has experienced a broad range of topics to illustrate the breadth of what is happening in our complex educational landscape. At the beginning of March, I shared a video clip from 2008 which was at about the time when the “talk” of the need for significant educational reform was taking off. By taking the key points from that clip and connecting them to current educational practice, The Schools We Need – Then And Now, teachers could see that, in those seven short years, there has been a significant response and shift in the work that we do and it will have lasting implications for educational practice. From there we have engaged in sessions on Cross Curricular Competencies, The Learning Technology Policy Framework, and their relationship to the Ministerial Order on Student Learning and Inspiring Education.
Professional development has encompassed a broad range of topics. Some of the highlights include a team of five teachers participating in The Daily 5, a team of seven participating in the Google Summit, a team of four participating in Response to Intervention, and five others participating in project based learning sessions. Teachers have participated in at least one PD session this year with many participating in several. Teachers are reporting on their PGP progress at year end. All of this has been culminated in a viewing of the Ted Talk by Andrew McAfee – What Will Future Jobs Look Like? amplifying the importance of the work we do as educators to prepare our students for the future.
I believe this will be a strong foundation upon which to build the Collaborative Response Model/RTI process which will, in turn, generate the continued learning for teachers as they identify the needs of their students and ensure they have the instructional repertoire to meet those needs.
What needs to grow next year…
Communication – This is communication in the larger sense of the school to the school community. This is most definitely an area of growth. While both Forest Green and Connections For Learning have met basic expectations of classroom newsletters and traditional monthly newsletters with the occasional newspaper visit, there is not a strong web presence for either site. We need to do some examination of what makes the most sense for our school communities. Most likely, we will build our communication toward accessibility on mobile devices. Will it be Facebook? Will it be Google? What about Twitter? We also need to build processes to make it regular practice and allow for widespread participation to advertise and celebrate what we are doing.
Community Involvement – There is no doubt that there is already a vibrant feel with both of our sites. However, the more we are able to tap into our community connections, the more needs we can meet for our students, the more our students will see themselves connected to their world. How can we reach out to support our community? How can we access resources to support our students? While we have certainly accessed a variety of smaller scale opportunities, can we leverage these? Can we obtain grants? Can we use technology to connect with others? I’m sure there is opportunity out there, we just need to find it and access it. Our parent groups are an obvious starting point. They are connected into the community and to the schools.
So what do I think at the end of year one? Well first, I’d really like to come back for year two! I really think that I have found my stride professionally. I did jump in a bit early the first time around but now that I have had more experiences, I am feeling pretty comfortable and confident. There is always more to learn and I will continue to do so!