Tag Archives: reflection

Principle Reflections – The Four C’s for Year One

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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!

Tag Line Refresh

Legacy Educators Ribbon Color Chart

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Hello Blog.  I’m back, for awhile at least. I had to drop out of a lot of things for the last while.  I’ve been battling adversity – pain, fear, health, time, strength, distance, worry…  I’ve thought about you here and there with snippets of posts that I had composed in my head.  But our life journey has changed and blogging has become a luxury for me now. Cancer in the family changes everything, but we’re in remission now and normalcy is required again.  So, it’s good to see you again Blog.

As I’m sure my vast readership can attest, when ‘life happens’ it’s usually a cause for reflection. And as I have returned to my dusty blog, I looked at my tagline and realized that it was in need of an update.  While ‘people’ and ‘priorities’ have always been the main drivers of what I do both at home and work, it was naive of me not to outrightly state them.  But really, I never thought of it because I was in a pretty good place and maybe just a bit complacent.

One of the legacies of recent months is that I have become more overt in recognizing and supporting the people in my world.   I watched my husband fight the battle of his life – literally.  I watched my three boys be towers of strength and acutely vulnerable in the blink of an eye. I watched my mom put her own life on hold to come  to our house each week to just keep us going.  (And dad bach’ed it! Yay take out!)  And I watched our family and friends look at us with sympathy and pain in their eyes offering their best wishes and support. So in the immediate face of that simultaneous distress and resiliency, I have become more deeply aware of the importance of devoting energy to what is truly important and that the people in your world.

It’s interesting how this has translated into my work role.  I’ve changed jobs and am doing more work with kids and families in crisis.  (More on that in a different post.) I’m finding that I am far more direct with parents, and sometimes colleagues, than I was before. People don’t have time to be wrapped up in their pride or put their heads in the sand when kids are involved.  I’m more assertive with parents in helping them realize the realities of their child’s emotional crisis. I’m not afraid to tell an administrator that they must spend some money on assessment or consultant services for a student.  And even tougher is to say directly to a parent that they need to be a healthy mom/dad if they want to raise a healthy son/daughter. There’s no time to fool around because you don’t know how much time you have and you don’t really know the damage done.

So my tagline needed a refresh.  I’m feeling a little refreshed.  You can be sure that the view of the people and priorities in my life has been refreshed and that things just aren’t quite the way they used to be.  It’s much more about family and memories now. We’re still negotiating our new normal.  And normal is good.

Resiliency = Relationships

parent and teen team building

cc licensed by Flickr photo shared by mighty mighty big mac

Since my last post, my students have continued with their struggles.  While, thankfully, a number of students continue on at a steady pace, I had to call Children and Family Services twice last week. And I’ve come to the sad realization that despite much bravado and attempts at disguise from our high school outreach students, they have a basic inability to look into their future and envision goals for themselves.  So I made a promise in my last post, which obviously remains timely, to look into the notion of resiliency… here is some information and some thoughts.

Resiliency is the ability to recover readily from adversity.  Students that have the potential for low levels of resiliency in general terms are those with a trauma and/or abuse history, those from homes that struggle with addiction or mental health issues, those who have had multiple moves in their history, those in foster care. and those who have low self-esteem.  Adolescence is the time when many lifelong attitudes are developed, so helping these students form a basis of resiliency from which to work will serve them well throughout their lives.

That last insight about my students is particularly alarming as some of the articles that I’ve read recently indicate that the ability to set goals for oneself is a key factor in recognizing resiliency in youth. Feeling safe at school was another significant factor.  As well, liking school and having a caring adult in the family were other identified important factors that contribute to youth resiliency.  In one study I read, Building Resilience In Vulnerable Youth, school connectedness was the top factor that best protects vulnerable youth in 9 of 12 areas investigated to either reduce risk or increase positive behaviors related to resiliency.  All of these factors are related to students having the circumstances to be able to find relationships where they can seek support when they need it and have the opportunity to form positive relationships with their peers.

Initially I was a bit surprised that school connectedness was so significant.  With a little thought, though, it makes good sense for a couple of reasons.  Students at risk for lower levels of resiliency are quite likely to come from homes that don’t have a strong degree of support as families struggle with their own adversity, so the school needs to fill the gaps for support when families can’t.  Also, adolescents are at a place developmentally where they are attempting to find their independence in the world so may not seek out family members in times of trouble, but look toward peers whom they most often find at school.

So what is it about school connectedness?  For me the ‘safe at school’ thought was critical. Students need to feel safe with their teachers and other staff members so they can have the comfort to risk self-disclosure and seek support from a trusted adult when faced with difficulties.  Students need to feel safe in their school environment knowing that they will be treated with respect and keep their dignity in tact when dealing with both adults and their peers.  Navigating through the world of relationships is difficult for adolescents so having a safe environment to experience success and to bounce back from messed up attempts at forming and maintaining relationships is critical.  Teens need feel that they are in a place where they can pick themselves up, get a little guidance, and keep trying to connect to others in their lives. School connectedness also relates to students liking school which happens much more readily when students are feeling successful in their work and see relevance in what they are doing at school as it relates to their own lives.

This is a tall order, but I’m convinced even more now that for schools to be effective in fostering resiliency in students, we need to provide the whole package for them.

  • We must make sure that each and every student has a positive relationship with at least one adult in the building because we often don’t truly know the resiliency levels of our students and someday even the most cool, calm, and collected student may need someone to lean on.
  • We must make sure that our school environment is safe for students to interact with their peers to form relationships.  When things go well, the positive relationships that have developed should be nurtured.  And when students struggle with relationships, supports need to be in place to help them along.
  • We must educate and encourage our students to think critically about risky behaviors so that they are equipped to make positive choices in the moment and avoid personal hazards which will chip away at the resiliency they do have.
  • We must pay attention to pedagogy and practice to ensure our students are learning and feel successful and competent as they complete curricular activities.
  • Similarly we must help students to find their place in the school on a social level by creating opportunities for them to get involved and create positive relationships with peers and adults.
  • We must look through the eyes of our students to ensure that the curriculum we provide is meaningful to them so that they will feel like they have the tools they need, both academically and personally, to move successfully through school and beyond.
  • We must help families when we become aware of a need for support by helping connect them to the appropriate services.  Parenting is a hard business at the best of times nowadays.
  • Using a strength based approach in implementing all of these strategies will go a long way toward helping students and families feel that the experiences provided are a good fit with who they are and where they are at as well as fostering sustainability for them as they will already have existing personal resources that should be tailored to the experiences provided.

I found a handout contrasting strength based vs deficit based concepts from the Alberta Mentoring Partnership awhile ago that really helped me solidify in my mind what the strength based approach involves.

I am confident that we are doing many things at CFL to contribute positively to student resiliency, but given recent developments with several of our students, it’s a topic worth re-examination.  Having identified the area of student goal development, we have discussed the need to show the students that they have the foundation to work from to develop goals.  Students need to have self-esteem to be able to look forward and take the risk to create goals, so that’s what we’re working on both and instructional and personal level.  This will be followed up next year with the implementation of the Leader In Me program with some adaptations for older students.  We’ve recently completed a review of all of our students and have set up parent meetings that will be the start of bi-monthly case conference meetings where we will work with families to ensure that the students and parents have needed support services among other things.  With Christmas and exams, we haven’t had any spirit activities recently, so we need to have some fun again.  A fund raising opportunity has landed on our doorstep so we will create leadership opportunities for students to offer activities for the students to engage with each other.

It’s a start.  We need to remain focused keeping resiliency in the forefront.  This means giving students authentic opportunities to successfully access and create positive relationships.

Epic Fail

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cc licenced (BY) Flickr photo shared by origamidon

I just hate it when I get bad news about my students.  Before Christmas break and even now, I’m working with one of my students who is transitioning from home to the Youth Emergency Shelter and upon returning to school after break found out that a former student has been arrested for armed robbery and a host of related charges.  Epic fail.

News like this just leads me to a mind full of turmoil and a whole bunch of questions.  What exactly happened that led up to this?  Why didn’t someone intervene before it came to this point?  How could have I intervened?  How come these families didn’t seek out help for their kids?  How did the system fail them?  How did I fail them?  How did my school fail them?  What’s going to happen to them now?

And then there’s the tendency to rationalize.  Both of these boys came from very difficult situations in their families.  They both have a trauma history.  Both of them were quite resistant to help.  They have behavioral concerns in a school setting and were engaging in high risk behaviors outside of school.

So now what?  What do you do?

I’m going  to feel guilty for awhile on purpose.  This is just to remind myself to follow up on those little niggles that sometimes pass through my mind, take them seriously and not pass over them because I’m in a comfort zone with a student that I’ve known for some time.  I need to ask the courageous questions.  And it’s also to remind me to press issues more.  Maybe it’s not enough to only draw a parent’s attention to an issue, provide information regarding the concern, provide information on how to access support services, and to offer to help them as much as they wish through the process of accessing ‘the system’.  I wonder if I have expressed my concerns strongly enough regarding the magnitude of the issues and, as illustrated in both of these situations, that the parents need to get help themselves. I need to make the courageous statements.

And after the guilt?  Well, I’m going to have to move forward.  I’ve still got plenty of years left in the business and there are going to be plenty more students to come.  I’ve got to pull something positive from this to keep myself going and to improve my practice for future students.  So, I guess what I’m doing is accessing my resiliency to pick myself up, dust myself off, and figure out what to do next.  I seem to remember that resiliency has been a pretty hot topic at teachers convention and on the PD circuit in the not too distant past.  I’ve been on a tech journey over the past few years (future blog topics!), so have not delved much into the topic of resiliency, but obviously now would be a good time.

So I’ll start with a google “youth resiliency” search and check on PD opportunities to see what I find.  I would certainly welcome any recommended resources from any of you folks out in the blogosphere!  And then… share what I find.  For those of you who are reading this and identify with this topic, check back and maybe we’ll be lucky enough to get some resource recommendations.  But primarily I’m concerned with my staff members.  I’m not the only one who had relationships with these boys and is thinking and feeling like this.  I’m not sure exactly what I’m going to find for resources or learn about fostering resiliency but whatever happens, I do need to share it with staff members.  That will help us all heal from the loss we are feeling and improve our collective practice.

It’s the first steps on a blog post that I’d like to write someday called Epic Success.

I’m Finally Here!

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cc licensed (BY) Flickr photo shared by dixieroadrash

Well it’s been a long time coming and it was by no means easy, but here I am.  I’ve known for almost a year now that I’ve needed to get this blog up and running.  First it was this not so subtle voice of my Principal, George Couros, asking me pretty much every week last year when was I going to get my blog started.  As he’s one of these fellows who follows a lot of technology trends (understatement) and I was still investigating this whole technology business, I heard him but reserved judgement.  I’m a busy gal and have to choose my priorities.

It didn’t take long, once I started actually following a few blogs, to realize that blogging myself would be an important part of elevating my own professional practice.  So step one, let’s get this set up and running!  Well, when I made the (deferred) decision to do this, I was living out the in the cyber-hinterlands of dial-up connectivity.  There was no way that I could do this when each page I wanted to open could take up to a minute to load.  I just tested at least a dozen themes setting this up tonight, that would have been a couple of days worth of time!!

Just a point to make here, for all of you ed-tech folks who are leaping and bounding upon all kinds of engaging tools that enhance your practice and instruction…  There are still some people who are well educated and interested and innovative who have issues with connectivity.  Sometimes it’s by conscious choice to make other things in life a priority.  In my case it was accidental. Our acreage was on a north facing hill requiring access to a south facing cell tower. Anyway, we’ve moved, for many reasons other than wi-fi (but that’s a whole ‘nother story) and now I actually have to tools to do this.

As a reflective person, I initially  took some time to think about what would I have to write about that others might want to read.  “Oh, pshaw!” I said to myself.  “Who would want to read what I write?”  Well, I think that I’ve come to realize that there’s a false assumption there.  I figure that I’ll probably have a pretty small number of people who actually read this.  Reader windows scroll by pretty quickly once you start following a few blogs, so I’ll just be rolling past most people who follow me, I’m sure.  There will be a few of my colleagues who will read pretty faithfully because it’s a good idea to keep an eye on what your supervisor is thinking about.  But in the end, George’s words come back.  Taking the time to formally reflect on your experience and practice does force you to define your thinking and become more intentional in your practice.

So here I am hoping to clarify my thinking on mostly educational issues/concerns that I am wrestling with at the moment.  As a wife and mom of three boys currently aged 3 to 13, I’m certain that I’ll be wrestling with managing my professional and personal balance.  Finally, as time goes on, and I keep my commitment to post here regularly, I’m hoping that anyone who chooses to read my posts will get a picture of my educational views and will share theirs with me.

Welcome to my blog!