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I have a confession to make. I used to be a yeller. Early in my career (which wasn’t that long ago), I used to think my job was to scare kids into obedience. If a teacher sent a kid down to my office then it meant that the teacher couldn’t handle the student and the teacher needed some muscle and authority to “set ’em straight”.  Anger has never been a good teacher. Enforcer? Yes. But a lousy teacher.

Did all my hot air work? Sometimes. Mostly on those borderline kids. But then there were the kids that shut down. Kids that saw right through me. Kids who were so used to be yelled at that my hot air didn’t even make a dent. When yelling didn’t work, I would back it up with threats and when threats didn’t work then it was punishment.

What made me see the error of my ways? I wish I could say that it was heavenly epiphany but it was a slow realization that was influenced by a number of factors:

Coaching – too many years trying to motivate by yelling that only led to frustration. Athletes respond to discipline because they see the results. They do not respond to punishment.

“At Risk” Students – I cultivated a few relationships with highly at-risk students. Sometimes, I was able to help and students were successful. Occasionally,  students would have to leave the school but would thank me for handling them with respect or  return thankful in hindsight.

Mentors -I was lucky to work with very passionate people who always focused on what’s good for kids. They wouldn’t let crisis or emotions cloud their judgement and they tried to look at obstacles to student learning as opposed to the students being the obstacles themselves.

Parenting – unfortunately, I brought my bad teacher/admin habits into raising my own children. Having children helped me to further realize the difference between discipline and punishment. I was also able to imagine how I would respond if someone treated my kids with the yelling and punishment I treated others. If I was treating a student differently alone then I would if their parents were present, then I was definitely doing something wrong.

Now, I focus on solving problems not reacting to behaviour. I don’t always get it right and my temper gets the better of me too many times but I am convinced that yelling and punishment will not educate students. My job, as a principal, is to help kids get out of trouble. Not to get them into trouble. My job is to use my experiences, my authority, my influence, and my resources to help a student get out of trouble.

This post was encouraged by the following:

Why is it that when a student that struggles with reading or math… we support… yet when a student struggles with behaviour… we punish? Dr. Ross Greene Lost At School as shared by Chris Wejr @MrWejr

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*Photo of TIS Dragonboat Team

Someone mentioned that participants at a recent conference were asking, “How do we get our admin team, senior leaders, board members, etc on-board for the use of technology in the classroom?” Here are my suggestions:

  1. Emphasize Learning – bottom line, the ability of any new initiative should be based on how it will help students learn. Think critically about this. Our inboxes are overflowing with ads for new products that look great but ultimately over-promise and under-deliver.
  2. Trends & Opportunities not Fads & Shiny Objects – one of our key jobs is to protect our teachers from the constant add-ons that can be heaped upon them. Your idea must be more than a fad.
  3. Think in Systems not Individual Classrooms – your idea might be a good one but what does it look like if scaled up for a full school implementation? Do we have the necessary resources, infrastructure, hr, etc to make it a feasible and effective implementation? Is it sustainable?
  4. Fit the Timeline – budgets and supply orders tend to happen annually and have set deadlines. Be sure to present your idea with enough time for a decision to be made before the deadline.
  5. Take Responsibility – people are often eager to propose solutions that don’t require anything further of them. Be willing to do the legwork and research. If you are willing to put your neck on the line, the principal will be more willing to do the same.
  6. Present Solutions not Ideas – Principals are tasked with problem solving on a daily basis. Sometimes we miss great ideas because we have too many problems facing us instead. Present your idea as a solution to a current need in the school.
  7. Propose a Pilot – Pilot programs are great way to try out new ideas. Principals can usually free up resources for a pilot program before committing to a full implementation. Pilots also help train champions who can assist later when the whole school comes on-board. Have a plan for how you assess the effectiveness of your idea and how you will share your results (recommendations and challenges).

These points aren’t in any type of order. If I had to rank them I would say that #1 and #7 as the most effective strategies.

Do you have other strategies for getting admin on-board?

When was the last time that you were formally evaluated as a teacher? Chances are, if you are been teaching for longer than 3 years in the same school division, you no longer need to endure having an administrator come and formally evaluate you. While there is a great relief in securing a permanent teaching contract, I think we are missing opportunities for greatness.

Jim Collins reminds us that

“We don’t have great schools principally because we have good schools”.

Good is the enemy of greatness. I’m not content with just having a good school. I want a great school. Our students deserve great schools. Since schools don’t need to compete with one another (for the most part) we can all have great schools!

I am convinced that the best way to have great schools is to:

Ensure that we have outstanding teachers in every class everyday.

In our school, all teachers receive at least 2 formal observations every year, regardless of how long they have been teaching. Beginning teachers receive the most observations and a formal evaluative report is developed. Experienced teachers receive feedback but no overall report is given – teachers are asked to show reflection in their professional growth plan. In addition to formal observations, all administrators conduct frequent walkthroughs.

I don’t presume to be the best teacher in the school. In fact, this simple realization has often kept me from giving people the meaningful feedback that they deserve. See my post The Reluctant Leader for more details. However, I am convinced that teachers deserve to be effectively coached so that they can achieve greatness.

In fact, we are changing  our terminology from Supervision and Evaluation (which assumes judgement, superiority, and ratings) to Coaching. Coaching, seems to connote a mutual acceptance of the roles that need to be played in order to improvement to occur. As an administrator, it also reminds me that I don’t have to be the best practitioner in order to know what good practice looks like and to be able to provide meaningful feedback to teachers.

We are also encouraging peer observations and instructional rounds to constantly promote a culture of constant improvement, transparency, and trust. This is a huge departure from the traditional model where an administrator only evaluates beginning teachers and then close their doors and teach isolated for the rest of their careers. Is it scary? Absolutely. Will it make us a stronger learning community? Yup. Will it help us to become a great school? Absolutely.

Image: Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We have decided to take the plunge and require teachers to develop inquiry based learning plans for their upcoming professional development.

In our system, teachers are required to submit a plan at the start of each year that outlines how they will improve over the course of the year. Within the Alberta framework (of which we are accredited) these are called Professional Growth Plans (PGPs). Different systems have different names for them but they all tend to have the same weaknesses.

Traditional PGPs

Static – they are created at the start of the year, submitted, then forgotten.

Predictive – since the teacher must identify their strategies and their evaluation methods, it assumes that the teachers already knows how to improve and how much they have to do to deem themselves successful.

Isolated – teachers create them individually and share/submit them to an administrator. Autonomy is a good thing but not if it leads to isolation

Add-On – traditional PGPs tend to ignore the current teaching environment of the teacher and the overall goals of the school. A professional learning community may be a strategy of a traditional PGP but it tends to not to be collaborative.

Recently we decided that we would model our adult learning on what we know works for student learning. With a emphasis inquiry based learning in our school, we have been overwhelmed with the learning that occurs with students when placed in an inquiry based environment.

We are not aware of any other models out there that uses inquiry based professional development but our hopes for this model are high.

Inquiry Based PGPs

Dynamic – inquiry is based around a key question and the journey involved in finding/exploring the answer. Initial steps and resources may be noted but final answer is unknown. It is anticipated that the PGP will be revisited throughout the year and will grow and change.

Emergent – being comfortable with the unknown and encouraging teachers to take risks, we hope that the learning will be emergent.

Collaborative – the PGP is the individual component of our collaborative professional learning communities. Teachers are encouraged to dove tail the two. The Inquiry Based PGP will be a catalyst for discussion during the reflection time that occurs after classroom observations (part of our coaching model).

Practice-Embedded – Some might call it job-embedded but I like the  use of the term “practice”. It’s not just about our job or our current teaching assignment – it’s about improving ourselves as professionals. Time will be given to developing our PGPs and working through them. Our traditional PD days will provide PLC time and time for teachers to reflect on their progress.

How about you? What do you think about using an inquiry model for teacher learning?

Follow Up: @L_Hilt asked for a template for an Inquiry Based PGP. Our teachers are able to represent their PGP however they want. Last year we used these templates from the University of Lethbridge. They are not fully inquiry based but they are a great start.

PGP Pilot – Teacher

PGP Pilot -Principal

My own PGP start is on this site on this post.

Many of our new staff have just completed their first full week of having their own classroom! Congratulations. Others are in a new grade level this year or in their second year of teaching. I hope your first week started off great.

I love the lead up to the start of the school year. I get anxious and excited. I’m unable to sleep at night. But once the week actually begins, the adrenaline starts to wear off as I run into small road bumps and realize that even the best oiled machine needs to be fine tuned.

As a beginning teacher, you will face a continuum of emotions this year. David Ginsburg provides this light-hearted visual about the phases that first year teachers go through. You can read more about them on his blog.

Janet Moeller-Abercrombie points out in her presentation that this curve looks a lot like the stages of culture shock:

As beginning international school teachers, some of you are thinking

“OMG, what I have I gotten myself into this year?”

Don’t worry, it’s not as dark as you think. Here are some ideas to help you out:

  • Spend some time reflecting on the stages
  • Talk with your mentor about your experiences and feelings
  • Celebrate the victories
  • Take some pictures – you are going to want to remember this in the future
  • Find someone to laugh with
  • Practice serendipity. Don’t sweat the petty stuff and don’t pet the sweaty stuff.

Remember, it’s a roller coaster. It’s scary and exhilarating at the same time. It’s better experienced together than alone. It’s a ride. Enjoy the ride.