Thursday, March 31, 2011

My "10 Picture Tour"

In the last several weeks, I have been inspired by my friends Brian Barry (@Nunavut_Teacher) and his "A short conversation with..." series as well as Katie Hellerman (@theteachinggame) and her great post called "Getting what I want out of Twitter" in which she talks about establishing deeper relationships with our Personal Learning Networks.  Katie and Brian have encouraged all of us to find out a little bit more about each other and what makes us tick.  With my "10 Picture Tour", I hope for two things:  first, I hope that you will get to know a little bit more about my learning situation, and secondly, that you will reciprocate and use YOUR "10 Picture Tour" to let all of us know a bit more about your learning situation!  I promise, it will be painless...

5 Easy Steps How to make a "10 picture Tour"...
1) Use a cellphone camera, then you won't have to pack/find another electronic gizmo

2) Take 10 minutes. That's it.  Then you won't find a reason not to do it.  And it won't be too "staged".  And you won't take a 100 pictures and spend hours going through them (I took 14, and two of the ones I scrapped had my thumbs in them--new Blackberry--and the other two had refe

3) Take pictures around your school that you think showcase some pretty cool things.  They don't just have to be of kids learning, we believe you when you say they are...

4) Put them into a blog post with basic captions so we know what we are looking at.

5) Put it as a link on your blog page, so that when we come and visit, we know that when we see a link called "10 Picture Tour" we will learn a little bit about what your learning environment looks like.

So, without further ado, here is my attempt to give you a "10 Picture Tour" of South Kamloops.  Nothing glamorous, a bit old school (looks like the start of a "Wonder Years" episode), but it's US...

Overlooking the Titan Nation

March Birthdays at SKSS--hence the Shamrocks
I wonder what the Grads are thinking about....
Student artwork in the sunny Sagebrush Theatre

Titans in the news!

A Blue Banner, a Silver, and a Bronze at BCs two weeks ago--awesome.

Cool garbage can by the Auto Shop

21st Century Learning - Collaborative Groups using cellphones for research.

Proudly posting the results of our hard-working staff and students,

The German Classroom Door and a Socials Class Door painted by students

School Spirit--The SKSS Army!

And that is just a little bit about us in 10 pictures...hope to find out a bit about you!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Practicum Supervisors Better Get Practical

This morning, I had the pleasure of having a pre-service teacher visit my office.  She was stopping by to say hello (we coached together over the past couple of years) en route to the School Board Office to apply for a job as an on-call teacher in our district. She comes from a family of outstanding teachers, and she will absolutely follow in their footsteps--she makes excellent relationships with students, has a knack for breaking down skills in a variety of different ways to meet the needs of learners, and wants to establish herself as part of the school community.  I would hire her tomorrow.

She was also stopping by today to show me a number of things that she was doing on her practicum.  It was truly amazing to see the excitement in her face as she described the amazing instructional techniques that she was using to engage learners in her classes.  Within the span of ten minutes, I learned a number of different activities that I will be passing along to our staff, especially around cooperative learning.  I was grateful for the ideas that she passed along.

As she has come to the end of her practicum, I asked her a few things about her teacher training program.  I asked her what she enjoyed about her teacher training ("the practicum part, and getting into the classroom to work with my Teacher Sponsor"), and what she thought needed improvement ("the in-class stuff--too theoretical, and not practical enough").  Neither of these really surprised me, especially when I reflected on my own pre-service days. And then she hesitated.  I pressed her a bit more, and then she asked me to look at the reports that both her Teacher Sponsor and her university Practicum Supervisor wrote.  The Teacher Sponsor was positively glowing in her review: positive relationships with students, engaging lessons, outstanding assessment practices, endless volunteering, and o and I was very proud.  However, after two or three minutes of reading the Practicum Supervisor's reports, I was seeing red.  A couple of quotes...

"Insist that students put their hands up."

"Cooperative learning strategies in class can be very noisy and may need to be avoided."
"The temperature in your class was too hot.  You need to attend to these sorts things."

I absolutely wanted to vomit.  I asked her to describe the Practicum Supervisor.  I will spare the details, but the thing that stood out was that this person had not been in a classroom or secondary/middle school for TWENTY years.  Enough said.

I don't think it is a stretch for me to say that the classroom has changed over the past twenty years.  And I also don't think it is a stretch to say that the first months of a new teacher being in a classroom are absolutely critical in their development as a future educator.  To focus on things like temperature in the class (like we can ever control that other than opening a window in the winter--lots of fun for those sitting by the window in the blowing snow) or the noise level of cooperative learning activites is a total disservice to pre-service teachers. 

In helping to educate our future educators, we need to have people that are in tune with today's classroom, and with today's learner.  And when I am referring to today's learner, I mean both the student and the pre-service teacher.  The focus for pre-service teachers needs to be on creating positive relationships with students based on respect rather than positional authority, engaging learners, being insatiably curious about what they know, finding ways to help them demonstrate what they know, and developing their love for learning.  Hands up? Temperature?  Noise level during engaging activities?  Not so much.

We need to do better for new teachers entering this profession.  They deserve it.  Our students deserve it. 

In other words, practicum supervisors (and teacher education programs) need to get practical, or we will continue to fail our Pre-Service teachers.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Dropping Swords

This week, new British Columbia Minister of Education George Abbott attended the British Columbia Teachers Federation Annual General Meeting and spoke to a large delegation of BC Teachers.  This is the first time that an Education Minister has attended this conference in the last 15 years, and many wondered what it might be like for the Minister to walk into what could have been a highly emotional situation.  And while Minister Abbott was only able to foreshadow his thoughts on a few of the major issues that are going to be coming up in the next round of negotiations of the teacher contract with the Province, and although only a couple of teachers were able to pose questions to him, there were a few things that leaders can learn from his appearance at the AGM. 

In dealing with sensitive situations:

1)  While we can't "be there" all of the time, there are times that we need to "be there".  If there is a complex issue on the table or there is an opportunity for a set of circumstances to go sideways and spiral out of control, it is important for the leader to be there so that there is no confusion about the leader's position on that particular issue.

2)  Acknowledge the issues.  If a lack of or poor communication has been an issue that has led to how people are feeling, acknowledge it.  If the interpretation of a policy or guideline has led to an unfortunate situation, let them know you are aware of it.  Give the people in the room this voice by acknowledging the problems that you know are there.

3) Say what you mean and mean what you say. When we take a position on an issue, we need to make sure that position is clearly communicated.  We all know that there times when the position that we take is not necessarily going to be popular.  However, if that is the position that we have to/want to take, it is better to let people know where you stand now rather than waffle on it and disappoint them later.

4)  Articulate that there may be hard times ahead, but that there is common ground, and we will find solutions  In any complex or charged situation, at the very least, the common ground is that people are willing to come to the table.  That people are willing to meet to solve the problem.  And more often than not, there is much more common ground, like the success of a student, the satisfaction of a teacher, or what is best for the school or community.  Common ground is always there, just sometimes we have to look a bit harder to find it, and it is often underneath layers of hurt feelings and emotion.

5) Drop the swords  When people do come to the table, I always want to believe that they are there to solve a problem.  I have never found it to be quicker to solve a problem by raising voices, hurling insults, pointing fingers, or raising fists.  If we are here to fight, fair enough, let's have it out and bring the biggest swords that we can.  But I think we will find that at the end of that battle, we won't really feel too much better, we might have said some things that we might not be able to take back, and we will be in a position where a solution may be even more distant than when we began the fight.  In the course of the fight, we may have said some things that we can't take back, and the solution that we hoped for might not be the one that we get.

#5 is key for me.  If we come to the table dressed in battle regalia, often times we should expect a fight.  But If we can always remember to go into a situation looking for a common ground rather than a battle, I think we are miles in the process of finding solutions to complex problems. 

I need to remember to drop my sword.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Inefficiency is key to being efficient

Technology has really changed the way we do things as Administrators.  In many ways, we have the opportunity to be so much more efficient with our time.  We can send a message to all 15000 students and their families in our district with our digital call out system.  We can send an email to all of our fellow administrators in the district, or all the teachers in our school in a matter of mouseclicks.  We can tweet out messages on Twitter, Facebook, Buzz, Tumblr, or whatever social media vehicle we choose to all of our students in a scant 140 characters or less.   And with our personal technology devices, we can communicate at anytime, from anywhere! Make no doubt, the speed at which we are able to communicate our message today is exponentially faster than it ever has been.  As unbelievable as it is, this speed will only increase in the coming years.

One might expect that with this increase in communication capacity will lead to a commensurate increase in our efficiency as administrators.  And while this may be true in some ways, there are times when it is absolutely critical that as administrators we are deliberately INEFFICIENT with the method that we communicate with those around us.

Today, I had to deliver some news about an idea I had to three different sets of individuals.  In total, there were eleven different people involved spread over the extremities of our large dual campus.   The news had all of the potential to be quickly read and processed if I chose to send it in an email, but it had every bit as much potential to be misinterpreted, personalized and blown out of proportion.   It would have been very expedient for me to just send it out—a minute to compose the email, and a few seconds to attach the recipients.   I could have gotten on with the rest of my day, spent some time in classrooms, and had a few moments to deal with Mount Paperwork on my desk.   But I had that tingling ‘Spidey Sense’ that told me it was time to be ‘inefficient’.  I spent the next two hours speaking to the parties involved, and in the end each of them thought that the idea was a good one that we needed to pursue.

Maybe email would have been fine.  Maybe everyone would have gotten my intention from the words that I jotted down.  Maybe I could have just gotten on with my day, and Mount Paperwork would have been nothing but a small hillock. But maybe it wouldn’t have been fine.  Maybe there would have been hurt feelings, people feeling undervalued, or individuals feeling that they were being blamed.  I don’t know.

As I was writing this blog post, I had a parent stop by my office to talk.  This was a parent of a large family, and their final child will be graduating this year.  She wanted to take a few minutes to thank our school for all that it had done for her children.  She talked about the wonderful teachers at the school, the opportunities that her children had been afforded over the years, and the positive experiences that they had as a family throughout their children’s high school career.  I felt humbled, and have never been prouder of our school.  And it made me realize that she could have sent me an email saying the same thing, but instead she chose to tell me in person so she could show me the sincerity in her face.

These two stories highlight the fact that sometimes the most time-efficient thing to do is not necessarily the right thing to do, and the right thing to do may not be time-efficient at all.  But when we are communicating important messages to people, it pays to be ‘inefficient’.  We need to take the time to sit with people so that they can clearly understand what we mean, and allow them the opportunity to ask questions and be heard in a way that they cannot in an email.  With sensitive topics we must ensure there is no doubt about our intent.

In getting my message out, it was a situation where it was more efficient to be ‘inefficient’.  And furthermore, having this parent come into deliver their message in person just further reinforced the fact that it truly pays to be ‘inefficient’.  As much as I love technology and the speed at which I can transmit and receive messages, I realized today that I need to be ‘inefficient’ more often. 

So tomorrow, take a moment to be ‘inefficient’ so that you can be more efficient!


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Make Learning Inevitable-Lessons from the Gym

How would you like to have your student in a classroom of "inevitable learning"?  I'll bet you would, and I would be that it might look something like this:

  1. Complete student engagement--so engaging that students want to practice even the most basic and repetitive skills on their own time
  2. An environment that builds in practicing of basic skills in a non-threatening, encouraging manner that invites risk-taking and is not punished or rewarded by marks.
  3. Abundant and immediate feedback and encouragement from the teacher and from fellow peers.
  4. A commitment to working interdependently toward a common goal of success for the entire class.
  5. Mutual respect for all members of the learning environment.
  6. Unmatched parent involvement/interest.
  7. Extensive use of 21st Century Learning Skills, including communication, collaboration, critical-thinking, problem-solving, and culture development.
  8. Cheering, hugging, tears, and thanks when the class is over because the class and the learning was so incredible that those who are finished do not want to leave, and there are wistful thoughts about what the class will look like next year.
I don't know about you, but if I could have a classroom that looked like this for my daughters, I would be the happiest dad alive.  If we had each of these characteristics in all of our classes in the current education system, I am confident that we would be speaking about the greatest education system on the planet.  And the best part is, I saw this classroom this over the last two days.

This weekend, I had the pleasure of driving down to Vancouver to watch our teams participate in BC High School Provincial Championships.  My four-hour drive down to the Lower Mainland was filled with excitement and hope--our Grade 8 Girls Basketball team is a scrappy group that can make things happen, our Junior Girls Basketball team went in ranked #3 in the province, and our Senior Girls Basketball team ranked #5.  Not to mention our Girls Curling team going into the BC Finals as the reigning champions and ranked #1.  The potential for a Provincial Banner or two for our school was high.

It turned out to be a fantastic weekend.  Our Grade 8s finished higher than expected.  Our Seniors narrowly lost in the semifinals and won a great consolation final to finish with the Bronze Medal and two allstars.  Our Juniors won a thrilling semifinal and were leading in the final before succumbing to the #1 ranked team--Silver Medal.  And our unbelievable Girls Curling team successfully defended their title and brought home a second Provincial Championship in as many years. It was amazing, and I felt very lucky to have been at these events to watch our students compete.

But as much as the success of our girls on the court and the ice was phenomenal, at each event that I was at, I noticed a number of things that truly warmed my heart and made me think about John Wooden's idea of the court being 'the biggest classroom' in the school, the very classroom that I described above.

At these Provincial Championships, I saw each one of these elements:

  1. Complete student engagement--so engaging that students want to practice even the most basic and repetitive skills on their own time:  I have watched these students and their coaches put in hours and hours of practice, not only during scheduled practices, but at lunch, in the morning, and on weekends.  Dribbling.  Throwing dozens of rocks on the ice at night.  Putting up endless jumpers with the Gun in the gym in the morning.
  2. An environment that builds in practicing of basic skills in a non-threatening, encouraging manner that invites risk-taking and is not punished or rewarded by marks: the idea at practice is that the students DON'T know the skills, the defenses, the offensive sets, whatever, and that they will be broken down over and over, specifically for each position and skill set. They don't get marked, they get encouragement, and they get practical opportunities and simulations that are revisited over and over again if the players don't get it.  The coach realizes that they cannot move on as a team if there are people that 'don't get it'.
  3. Abundant and immediate feedback and encouragement from the teacher and from fellow peers: Clapping, cheering, encouraging, alerting them to potential pitfalls, telling them when there was a teammate open under the hoop.
  4. A commitment to working interdependently toward a common goal of success for the entire class.  Peers helping peers.  If a teammate missed a check or a defensive assignment, there was help behind them.  High-fives after a great shot.  Howls and screams when someone hit the floor after taking a charge for the team. Success was found only in the success of the team rather than the individual, and everyone recognized it.
  5. Mutual respect for all members of the learning environment.  By lifting a fallen opponent off of the ground when they fall.  Putting a hand up after committing the foul.  Saying "Nice shot" after an opponent pulled off a beauty.  Shaking the opposing coaches and players hands.  Thanking the ref after the game.
  6. Unmatched parent involvement/interest.  Through driving thousands of miles during the season,  living out of hotels, cheering for all of the kids, win or lose.  Cutting up oranges for half-time, having to get up and leave because the nerves are too much, occasionally (!) yelling at the refs.  Staying to watch the next game because "that's who we're playing next and we need to know what they do!".
  7. Extensive use of 21st Century Learning Skills, including communication, collaboration, critical-thinking, problem-solving, and culture development. Whether it was trying to figure out what kind of defense the other team was playing, or which sort of strategy that was required to get around a guard in the house on the ice, or communicating about switches on the court or when a rock needed to be swept, each member of the team was working together collaboratively towards a common goal.  All while wearing Titan Black and Gold in the culture we call the Titan Nation.
  8. Cheering, hugging, tears, and thanks when the class is over:  Athletes, coaches, parents, brothers, sisters, (and the Principal!) gathering together bursting with emotion, wiping tears of joy and sadness, saying thanks to each other for a great season, and promising to keep in touch, no matter what.  Seeing the genuine sadness in the eyes of the graduating players who know that this was it, the last game, and wishing they could go back in time and do it all over again.
This was a classroom that made me proud as a Principal.  I was proud of all the learning that took place, and much like a classroom with a final exam, I sat there and realized that it really isn't about the final, it's about the process.  The process of engaging students and parents in something so interesting that they want to do it in their spare time.  Something so special that we are willing to dress up in school colors and cheer each other on because we realize we are part of something bigger than ourselves.

Athletics is just one example of something that engages our stakeholders in the process of learning, and there are many others.  But we need to be cognizant that we need to strive to have this level of engagement IN the classroom and in our schools each day.  By trying to take these eight things that we can find on the court and on the ice apply them into our schools, we can create a learning environment so compelling and personalized for students that we make success virtually inevitable.

And that is a classroom that I want our students to be in, don't you?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Learning through a Rear-View Mirror

"You mean I can get free wireless at school?"

These were the words that came shortly from the mouth of a student before a big smile crossed her face when I hooked up her Blackberry to our wi-fi network the other day. She had a Smartphone but she didn't have a data plan with it, so she was unable to use all of its' capabilities.  Until now.

It is an exciting time in education, particularly when it comes to technology.  Right now, there is an abundance of discussion and debate about the use of cellphones in schools.  Detractors have many arguments that range from a fear of inappropriate use, to students being distracted, to a decrease in writing skills, to impersonal communication, and even to excessive radiation.  Numerous schools and districts have chosen to ban these devices, with consequences that vary from confiscation of the phone to be picked up later at the office all the way to suspension and removal from school.  Even my own district, there is very little consistency from school to school:  there are some that permit their use and encourage students to learn with them, and there are others that do not allow cellphones to be visible at any time.

This scatter gun approach is reflected in this recent clip from CNN:

Patrick Larkin (great guy to follow on Twitter @bhsprincipal ), Principal of Burlington High School in Massachusetts has also chosen to meet this issue head on in a recent article in the Boston Globe. Patrick has been a trailblazer with the BHS 1:1 Laptop project for students, and is inspiring all of us to move into the 21st Century with our attitudes towards embracing technology and learning with students to become critical consumers of the staggering amount of information that is only a few key strokes away.  I think Patrick said it all in his final quote in the Globe article about when students graduate from his school: “if they only know people in Burlington, we didn’t do our job.’.  What a tremendous quote.

Whether it is laptops or smartphones or iPads or whatever device comes through the door in the future, schools need to be at the leading edge about how these technologies can help learning. There will always be the potential for them to be used 'for evil', but too often this 'evil' that we use to demonize these devices or the students that use them is created from a place of fear or ignorance.  We have a duty to learn about technology.  We talk about the need to prepare students for "the real world" (I loathe this term), and yet the technology and rich, interesting information that is availed to students in that "real world" is lost when they walk into many of the classrooms of today.  And while we may blame budgets and access issues for this inability to keep up with students, I believe that these can often be used as convenient scapegoats for the real reason that we have fallen behind.  Simply put, we have not made learning about technology a priority.

I am not going to point fingers; it really doesn't help anything and we can't really control what other people do.  But we can do a few simple things to help role model learning about technology in our schools, regardless of our position in the school.

  1. Make time.  I can't tell you how, but you can.  I have two children under the age of three, a wife who actually enjoys spending time with me, and a busy job like the rest of us, and I manage.  You just do.
  2. Get connected.  Get a Twitter account, get on Facebook, do something so that you (to steal from Patrick again) don't "only know people in Burlington".  The people that are out there to help and support you are endless and really cool.
  3. Try one new technology per week.  Just try it.  Spend 10 minutes trying Diigo.  LiveBinders.  Google Docs. Screenr.  Yoono.  Whatever.  You might use it, you might not, but at least if someone mentions it, you will have some idea what they are talking about.
  4. Don't make excuses why you aren't connected.  Sorry to say, no one really cares what the excuse is.  All they know is that you aren't, and that they now have to tolerate it.
  5. Share.  With your colleagues.  With your students.  With your PLN. They will think you are cool, and trying your best to stay current.
  6. Learn. From your colleagues.  From your students.  From your PLN.  They will think you are cool, and trying your best to stay current.
I will be the first to admit that our school does not have the financial capability to do what Patrick has done at Burlington High.  We simply do not have the cash.  However, what we do have is a student population (over 90%) who have cellphones, and a growing majority of them are Smartphones (particularly Blackberry--the little scamps love that BBM capability).  But some of them can't afford data plans, and the best thing that we could do is provide free wi-fi at our school, create policies in our district that embrace technology, and to begin to find ways to leverage the technology that kids have in their hands to help us in the classroom.

We need to stop playing catch up.  And while keeping up to the technology that our students use on a daily basis outside of school would be a welcome substitute to catching up, where we really need to be is on the leading edge so that students look forward to learning from us and with us rather than learning through a rear-view mirror.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


Each year in education, there is continued pressure on the system to adapt and to improve in order to meet the demands of the ever-changing landscape of the learner.  With these changes come new ideas; these are the result of us doing our unofficial (or official) action research on what works and what does not in each of our classrooms, schools, and districts.  The speed and volume of these initiatives coming at us has become almost blinding, as each of us is now finding multiple vehicles to report out on our successes and receive new ideas from our Personal Learning Networks.  But as I navigate my way through my tenth year in school based administration, I continue to work through what I feel is the of the most difficult issues in educational leadership: what is the right amount of tension, and how do we keep ourselves "educationally nimble" so we can keep up with the rapid pace of change?

Four years ago, in my then second year at my current school, the tension was so high it was almost unbearable.  I had taken a team away to a Professional Learning Communities conference in my first year, and having already found a mechanism to put collaborative time in the timetable for teachers at another school and seen positive results, we created enough of a groundswell amongst our staff to include collaborative time at my new school.  At the same time, we put in an academic intervention system that had bi-weekly callouts and opportunities for students to make up work with a subject-specific teacher.  And then we tackled the 'no late mark' issue.  This was all in the span of about 8 school months (even though summer holidays were sprinkled in there).  The changes were swift, and I will be very blunt--it was incredibly challenging for our staff, and to use "Survivor" terms,  I'm pretty sure that if I could have been "voted off the island", many people would have "doused my torch" pretty early in the game. 

I know, I know.  All of the veteran leaders out there are going "Wow, what an idiot.  Why would you do all those things in such a short period of time?".  In many ways, I would agree with the experts--it is best when things DO come from the grassroots, from our wonderful teachers that are working with students every day.  But my struggle was (and still is) with the pace at which change occurs in education: I just could not reconcile the "Knowing-Doing Gap" (previous post) in my own mind.  Creating time within the timetable for teachers to collaborate and improve the craft of teaching is best practice (and yes, I know the new term is 'promising practice', but I am sticking with best practice on this one), as is having an systematic set of interventions that ensure student success.  Assigning late marks IS a toxic grading practice (Douglas Reeves).  So if there are things in a school that are not commensurate with our vision for the school, or are just not right, do we wait for the groundswell from the masses?  I ask this rhetorically, because I struggle with this each day.  And I never want to profess to know the answer, because I don't.

If you have the answer to this question, and it includes things like...
- "you can't go too quickly with change"
- "change takes time"
- "the change cycle says..."
- "you need to get people on board"
- "develop your critical mass"

well, I know this.  I have studied the change cycle endlessly.  I have experimented with different methods.  I have waited to get people on board.  I have charged like a bull through a china shop.  I have been at all parts of the spectrum from what would be perceived as insane dictator (or as Jonathan Martin posted in the "19 Es of Excellence" "Enraged"--probably a general descriptor of my personality) right over to encouraging people to be completely autonomous, and all points in between.  They all have many pros and just as many cons.

But one thing I do know--change is CHANGING.  The pace at which the world is changing around us is exponentially increasing, and the choice to keep up is methodically being taken out of our hands as students and parents are much more free and capable of finding alternatives to what we may choose to offer.  And the hardest part is, we KNOW this.  And we have to do something about this. 

Where is the fine line between push and pull?  Encouragement and push?  Top down and grassroots.  Stepping on the gas, coasting, and or hitting the brakes.  Truthfully, I don't know, and I might not ever know.  But what I do know is that I continuously strive to become more adaptable.  I have to embrace change.  I have to be comfortable with the fact that there is a wave of ideas and knowledge that is crashing over top of me, and I need to develop the skills to pop up out of the surf and keep my head above water, knowing full-well that another wave is coming.  It is not to discredit what has been done in the past.  It is not to say that what we are doing "isn't any good", because it is.  But we need to continuously gauge which skills that our students need to be exposed to, and adapt our practices to make sure we are changing as fast as we need to so that we can keep up to the pace of change.

As I am now in my 5th year at my school, and I am very proud of the changes that have been made: the success of our students and our staff continues to be amazing.  I believe we have become much more adaptable as a group.  And with the movement towards creating an environment that emphasizes the skills of a 21st Century Learner (from my definition in response to Tom Schimmer's great post on the Elevator Answer of 21st Century Learning)

"helping students learn to use collaborative means to exponentially multiply their knowledge, to develop critical thinking abilities to evaluate information, and to foster communication skills that will allow them to contribute to the global and multicultural collective in a way that demonstrates their individual creativity"

I hope that we will continue to become more "educationally nimble" as we move forward in education.

So how do you keep "educationally nimble"?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Feed 'Em!

In October of this year, I was fortunate enough to be selected to speak at the British Columbia Principals and Vice Principals Association "Connecting Leaders Conference".  I presented a piece called "Restructuring (not Remortgaging) to Improve Student Achievement" (mostly encapsulated in one of my earlier blogs here).  While it was not my first time presenting in front of a large group, I found the whole process incredibly invigorating--I did my best to prepare something that people could walk from with concrete ideas about creating time for people to collaborate in concert with an intervention system for students and a spark to go out there and do it.  The presentation was about an hour long, I received some applause and a few positive comments at the end, and as quickly as it began, it was done.  I hoped people go something out of it, but I wasn't really sure.

Today, my mail came to my office, and there was a package for me from the BCPVPA.  In the envelope were the feedback forms that people had filled out about my presentation.  I was shocked--I had actually forgotten that they had been done.  I got very excited to find out what 'the verdict' was.  Did people get something out of my presentation?  Did I make it relevant to them?  Was it what they expected?  Did I check for understanding, and allow people enough time to interact, dialogue and discuss?

I sat there for 15 minutes and scanned through the evaluation sheets.  It was fascinating!  While people were extraordinarily kind and hoped that I would present again, I realized a few things--I didn't give people enough time to ask questions at the end, and I should have allowed a bit more time to interact with eachother.  I only had an hour, but I should have made more of an attempt to carve out a few more moments for people to synthesize their thoughts.  An hour later, I picked them up again for a couple minutes.  And then it hit me.

I really enjoyed getting feedback.

Last night on #edchat, giving effective feedback to students was the topic.  In my role as Principal, I don't get as many opportunities as I would like to give students specific feedback about their learning.  However, I realize that our teachers need to get more feedback. Not only from me, but from their students!  I blogged a while ago about an outstanding book called called "Visible Learning", by John Hattie, a compilation of more than 800 meta-analyses of different factors that influence student achievement. Teachers seeking formative feedback ranks as #3 of 138 different factors, with an effect of 0.9 (very high) over nearly 4000 students in 38 studies.  Teachers being purposeful to innovations in that they are looking to see "what works" and "why it works" as well as looking for reasons why students do not do well lead to improvement in instruction and student achievement.

But how do we encourage educators (and I include administrators with teachers here) to actively seek out feedback from those who are learning with and from them?  A couple of ideas:
  • From an administrator's perspective, I tried something last June: I had 'exit interviews' with each of our 80 teachers.  I gave them a couple of guiding questions a few days in advance that would serve as conversation starters, but the discussion was mostly free-flowing.  It was extremely time consuming, incredibly humbling in some cases, a few "ouch"s in others, but it was the most valuable thing that I have done as an administrator.  I believe it made me better at what I do, and I feel that this year has been incredibly rewarding because I have a clearer sense of where people are at.
  • From a teacher's perspective, Brad Epp, one of our outstanding Math teachers, created a unit by unit assessment sheet as well as a student-survey that he gives at the end of his course.  These have been picked up by a number of our staff members who are hungry for feedback from their students, and they are adapting to the needs of their learners as a result.
I know that my PLN will have dozens of other ideas that will inspire educators to be hungry for feedback.  If you have some thoughts, please include them.

I say let's inspire people to be hungry for feedback, support them with mechanisms to get it and interpret it, and encourage them to act upon it.

Let's Feed 'Em!