Thursday, June 23, 2011

Looking back

As the sun slowly sets on another school year for all of us, I find myself reflecting on my five years as Principal here at SKSS and twelve years in administration.  It seems as though the years have come and gone in a flash, and particularly in the last five years, I have learned so much about our school, our students, my staff, and myself as an administrator and a person.

When I started in administration, I certainly thought that I knew 'how things were supposed to be done'.  I thought that experience was something that could be overcome by hard work, attitude, research, and willingness.  I thought that somehow, being an administrator made me 'know more' than others (Ha!). I thought a lot of things....But now that I have a chance to sit and ponder the last twelve years, the students that I have met, the educators that I have worked with, the parents that I have gotten to know, and now my Personal Learning Network have all changed my perspectives on a number of fronts.  All except one.

Things I think about in terms of my job as a Principal
What I thought when I started…
What I think now…
Be out front, lead the charge, break down the doors, and hope everyone is following
Lead along side, and sometimes from behind--you can help everyone along the path. Don’t ask anyone to do what I would not do myself
I can solve it because I need to solve it
We can solve it because we want to solve it
I have the knowledge because I am supposed to be ‘the’ educational leader in the school
We have the knowledge because we are all educational leaders in our school
Differing Points of View
Unhealthy—clearly I had not done my job convincing them what is right—can’t be wishy washy
Essential—so much to be learned from others, and pretty neat to walk out going, “I never thought of that!”
Good ideas
Keep them close to my chest and make things better at our school
Share with others--they will make good ideas great, and we will make things better at all schools
Keep them quiet and mop them up, you don’t want people to thing you don’t know everything.
Admit to them quickly and learn from them, people already know you don’t know everything
Is achieved when ‘work time’ and ‘play time’ balance themselves out.
Is achieved when you don’t think really about ‘work time’ or ‘play time’, just good times.
Twitter/Social Media
Something that Lindsay Lohan used to tell us where she was shopping
The most important professional development tool in my toolkit.
Role of the school
To provide the best programs and opportunities for students to be successful
To be insatiably curious about our students and how they learn, and help them find their passion
What we need to get through so that kids can achieve
Individualized, flexible and engaging to inspire and motivate students to want to learn more.
Well-written assignments, quizzes and tests that we can use to tell us what kids remembered about what we told them to learn.
Something that students can use to teach us what they know.
Measure of my success
What I can achieve for my students and my school
The success of each student, our staff, our school and our community
Having what you like
Loving what you have
My dream job
Principal at South Kamloops Secondary
Principal at South Kamloops Secondary

I DO have my dream job.  I am very fortunate to work with a great team, tremendous staff, supportive parent community, and students so great I can't go on enough about them.  And what is most exciting is that each one of these groups has changed my perspectives, and will continue to change my perspectives in the coming years.

How have your perspectives changed?  Jot it down--it is a great way to reflect on this thing that we call 'education'.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Recently, I read an interesting post by @4moms1dream which involved a virtual Q and A session with three outstanding BC Educators in Chris Kennedy (@chrkennedy), Chris Wejr (@MrWejr) and David Wees (@davidwees) on the topic of Personalized Learning.  The post gave me pause for thought.  There seems to be much hesitation about the whole personalization concept.  I began to think about this more.  How can we move from a model which is more 'traditional' in its curricula and methods of instructing and assessing to one that gives our students increasing choice about what it is that they wish to learn about and responsibility for the means by which they will demonstrate what they know?  In many ways, this question can be thought of in more simplistic terms: how do we become comfortable with the idea of relinquishing the control over learning from the educator to the student?

Yikes.  At first blush, this concept seems scary.  Currently in education, while we may not choose to, it can sometimes be more 'comfortable' (and I use that term loosely here) knowing that there are prescribed learning outcomes to follow, numerous suggested learning resources to use, scads of lesson plans and assessments that have been created by colleagues who are truly great educators, standardized test that we can point fingers at, and recognized reporting procedures and timelines to inform students and parents of progress and achievement.   Of course we frequently shout out that we need more flexible curriculum, more time and fewer standardized tests--and we mean it.  However, we can always take solace in the fact that, should we stumble or get lost, we can always rely (and sometimes blame) the educational road map that has been laid out for us by our local ministry or state jurisdiction.  In many ways, letting go of this bit of 'security' is a daunting proposition.

So how do we lead this movement from a school system that we grew up in, that 'worked for us', and that is predictable and maybe even 'comfortable' to one that is promising, somewhat unknown, sounds like a pile of work, and one that educators may not totally be convinced that it is going to be successful?

Without doubt, moving to a Personalized Learning environment represents a significant shift in how we do business in schools.  Before we even begin to discuss a framework for Personalized Learning in our schools, I believe that we must recognize this as a significant shift for educators that will require a compelling answer to the question "Why are we doing this?".  I think the answer, in large part, will come through a tremendous spike in student engagement.

In the next couple of weeks, a number of educators from British Columbia and from around North America will be starting a Twitter-based book study of "Beyond Discipline" by Alfie Kohn (be sure to follow the chat at #kohnbc on Thursday nights at 8PM PST beginning on June 16th).  In his book, Mr. Kohn makes an interesting point:

"One of my own major (albeit belated) revelations as a teacher was that student behavior problems in my classroom were not due to students' unnatural need for attention or power.  The students were acting up mostly to make the time pass faster.  And given the skills-based, decontextualized tasks I was assigning, who could blame them?...What I really needed was a new curriculum."

When I first became a teacher, I remember students in my class that were not 'engaged'.  They were off task.  They were doodling.  They submitted labs with incomplete sentences, diagrams that were sparsely labeled, and vocabulary lists that were incomplete. I needed to create worksheets to go along with videos, otherwise the kids would not be paying attention.  I would bemoan the fact that I 'could not get through' to these students 'no matter what I tried'.  

When I think back to those early days of teaching, I shake my head at some of my lessons:  I should be thankful that the kids came at all.  I was not really interested in what the kids wanted to learn, I was more interested in the material that 'I had to cover'.  I used to say things to the kids like "This lesson might not be too exciting today guys.  We have to get through a few pages of notes, but tomorrow should be better.".  I would commiserate with my fellow staff members, when we would sit in the staff room and talk about how "kids can't expect every lesson to be exciting" because we all had "content to cover".  In retrospect, I think I might have been hiding behind the curriculum and provincial exams as an excuse not to plan my lessons in such a way that engaged students.  Like Mr. Kohn, what I needed was a new curriculum.  One that is personalized for students.

The concept of a Personalized Learning environment for each student is tremendously exciting.  And while the mechanisms and logistics that will underpin the concept of students working with teachers to determine what they are going to learn, the means by which they will learn, and how they will demonstrate their learning is still in its early stages of acceptance and implementation, like the students it will impact, I am completely engaged in learning about Personalized Learning.