Tag Archives: teachers

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!

Education is Complex and It’s Simple

 

First Day of School

 

 

 

 

cc licensed by Flickr Photo shared by  Dave Parker

In my first few weeks as Principal of Forest Green School and Connections For Learning, I have been doing a lot of learning.  And most of it has been around getting to know “who is who in the zoo” so to speak.  Between the three sites for which I am responsible, there are approximately 350 students in a dozen classrooms and within these sites are six education programs that are each unique.  There have been many new faces to get to know!

Here are some of the people that I have met:

  • Students!  Of course they come first! I love the young children.  They are so lively and enthusiastic.  Their excitement at starting school has been pure joy for most.  Some of the students in our special programs though find that school is a challenge and they are bringing a brave face to start the school year.
  • Many many parents too who are excited for their children’s new school year. The Kindergarten parents are a special bunch as they have a combo of excitement, anxiety, and reflection upon their nest being slightly emptier. Other parents are struggling with really tough decisions about placement. And others are just waiting to get in the doors of the school to help make their child’s learning environment a better place.
  • The teachers have been here for a few weeks now.  They are excited to begin their new initiatives and projects as we strive to be continuous learners ourselves.  But with the wisdom of experience are also careful to establish solid routines to create the structures kids need to be successful.
  • The school support staff – secretaries, education assistants, support workers, and custodians. They keep the rest of us moving forward by providing the information we need, supporting our students who need a little more help, and keeping our work spaces functioning. They are passionate about making our schools as great a place as they can be for kids.
  • Staff from the Center for Education have been visiting.  They too want to help support however they can.  They also want to ensure that Parkland schools are providing a place for all children to reach their dreams by encouraging educators to continue to learn, innovate, and grow in our practice.
  • Social workers and group care staff have been coming for meetings. These professionals know the children in their care require extra compassion and supports and are great advocates for these students.
  • And the bus drivers.  Now there’s a smiling group of people that work on amazing deadlines, minute by minute in fact.  They are the connectors between home and school for so many of our children.
  • A newspaper reporter.  She like so many of us in the education is delighted at the prospect of a new school year and wants to share the story of school start-up with our entire community.
  • Our ATA Local Council Representatives who care so much about the working lives of our teachers and offer support to them in many ways – contracts, professional development, and camaraderie – have already started meeting to get 2014-2015 underway.
  • Personnel from the Town of Stony Plain adjusted their morning schedules on the first day of school to come greet our students.  And different folks later in the week who came to spray a wasp nest near the school.
  • Fellows from our Facilities department who were doing pick ups and deliveries as well as coming to repair the swings before school even started so we had what we needed and the kids were ready for fun on day one.
  • The ladies from our Human Resources Department who assisted in hiring a new teacher at Forest Green.  I truly appreciated her advice at one point where she said something like we don’t want a good teacher, we want a great teacher!
  • And I think if I referenced my recent calendar appointments, I would even remember a few more people that I met!

So it would appear that the life of a school is complex.  There are so many different people with so many different interests. I believe a significant part of my role is to meld this complex group together to create caring and vibrant learning environments for our students.  How does that happen? That’s the simple part. It’s comes from not just respecting the roles that each of these people but honoring them. Each and everyone of these people contributes and is part of our community.  We all make school a better place!

This Is Why

PLACE Grads 2013

Photos printed with permission of the graduate’s parents. 

In June I had the privilege of attending the year end celebration for the PLACE (Practical Living and Community Education) students at Memorial Composite.  I get the pleasure of attending special events like these by playing a supporting role for several schools in Parkland.  This was my first time attending a PLACE Grad.  I didn’t know what to expect but thought it would be a very scaled back version of a typical graduation ceremony to celebrate the achievements of some of the special students in our school community in a way that would be appropriate, not too loud and active, but happy and fun.  And for the most part, that’s exactly what it was.  There were parents and decorations and laughter and certificates. However, this celebration also contained one of the most moving moments of my 20+ years working with diverse learners.

Things started slowly.  It’s an exercise in logistics for the PLACE class to move within the school as a large group.  Gradually, the EA’s brought the students with wheelchairs into the music room and parked them in the front row.  Other students trickled into the room with varying degrees of assistance.  Jeanette, the PLACE teacher, MC’ed the ceremony starting with the usual pleasantries welcoming parents and acknowledging guests.  And she shed a few tears of both pride and sadness at the thought of some of her students moving on.

We (the audience) were pleased as we discovered that we were going to be treated to a musical performance. Once again, we waited for a moment while most of the students were positioned up front where they waited patiently to begin their performance. Just as they were about to begin, on cue, about fifteen staff members who work throughout MCHS joined around the students to begin singing We Shall Overcome. Oh, that was a treat!  The PLACE students were so proud to be up front performing. Many of them knew the words. Those students who were non-verbal were keeping the beat, mostly. And all of them had eyes that were sparkling with joy.  By the way, several of the teachers had sparkling eyes too and were singing through their tears.  This is why.

Now just when you think that this little tale is a story of how teachers do love their special students, there was a bridge in the song as the chorus of We Shall Overcome ended and segued to Lean on Me.  It was at that moment that about thirty or forty students from the Memorial Choir poured out of a side door of the classroom and surrounded the PLACE students and staff members.  It was an awesome sight!

They rocked it out!  The PLACE students were absolutely beaming at being part of a choir and they knew their stuff.  They had stage presence, most knew some or all of the words, and most could clap on beat.  The MCHS Choir students just love to sing and were sharing their gift of music with their peers.  And to add a little context, this was the last day of classes.  There had been a carnival in the school that morning, students were receiving their timetables for next year, and it was just a little chaotic to say the least.  But these students showed up and were committed to their school mates!  This is why.

I tell you there was not a dry eye in the house.  Parents were overjoyed with the performance.  Three boxes of tissue were being passed around the audience.  This was such a big deal for them too!  Their kids have not usually been the ones at center stage.  Of course there was a standing O! This is why.

There has been much debate over Inclusive Education in Alberta since it was formally adopted in 2010. Let’s be real. It is not appropriate for the PLACE students to be enrolled in a high school math, social studies, PE class, etc.  It is not designed for them and would not provide them with the education that they need.  Nor is it appropriate to only have our PLACE students learn entirely in a segregated classroom.  However, there are ways, as so beautifully demonstrated by the staff and students at MCHS where our diverse learners can be fully included.  They are members of our community and because of that should be part of our public education system. This is why!

If the measure of a society is by how they treat their weakest members (quoted by many – Churchill, Pope John Paul II, and more), then the community of Memorial Composite is a great place to be! And Alberta Education is firmly planted on the right track for all of our citizens.

I came to realize, after the fact, that the performance at the PLACE Grad was actually a reprise from a performance earlier in the month where the PLACE students joined the Memorial Choir for their year end performance at the Arden Theater.  Please enjoy.

This is why!

Professional Space – A New Definition

Meeting at a Meeting?

cc licensed (BY) flick photo 

Oh where does the time go!  I’ve had these thoughts rattling around in my head for a couple of weeks since our last Lead Team meeting but haven’t had a chance to get them down until now.

What got the ball rolling was a great conversation about implementing our Learning Coach initiative in Parkland School Division for next year.  We reviewed the general structure of how the coaches would be working in the schools and had some discussion around that.  Following this we read a great article by Joellen Killion, Are You Coaching Heavy or Light? and engaged in some further great conversation about the coaching process.

Further into the meeting, we also touched on the topic of the Special Ed. Key Contacts for each school and how that role is going to be changing to support students in an inclusive environment through offering some support to classroom teachers.  And then we spoke about wrapping up our Cycle 4 AISI project where PSD has been working to embed critical thinking skills in teaching and learning through the use of a lead teacher model.

The common thread through all of these conversations was the importance of teachers collaborating.  It’s just not optional any more. For the good of the students, teachers, and the profession, classrooms and offices can no longer be silos.

Back in the day, professional space was a term that was used to basically signify that people should back off and let the teacher use their professional judgement.  It gave teachers room to make decisions with a subtle (or not so subtle) implication that a teacher’s professional judgement should not be questioned.

Well folks, it’s a whole new world now!  And last week’s conversations sparked a whole new definition of professional space for me.  A teacher’s professional space is a learning space, a space to invite others in to share and experiment with the intention of elevating their practice.  It’s a much more public space now, a shared space where teachers are learners just as much as they are teachers.  This is the place where a good teacher makes him/herself a great teacher with the help of colleagues.  Each teacher has their own space and needs to use it strategically and purposefully and to make it an exciting space that moves them forward in their practice and their students forward in their learning.