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Well…. welcome back to school!  I have seen almost all of the staff in the last weeks.  I have also seen evidence in the school that all of them have returned safely from trips and family excursions to prepare our school!  Everyone has put in so much work to prepare our school for the welcoming of its students and KPS families!  There are a few preparations we are still waiting on (shelves, some furniture, etc.).  Thanks for everyone’s’ patience.
We may have over 540 students registered for school this academic season!  If we realize this population there could be some change to our registers.  Any changes to class lists and structures will wait until reorganization day (Sept. 19th).  We will look to maintain as much as we can when a possible reorg. is on the table.  I will keep you as up to date as I can.
With so much to prepare and do for the first day of school Vice Principal Winney and I want to take one thing off the teachers’ plates (well actually put it on their plate).  Staff need not pack a lunch on the first day as we are happy to provide all staff with a Subway lunch.  We will have subs and all the fixin’s ready for your first break through second break.  We offer staff this lunch in recognition of a great start up, their hard work in preparations and in celebration of another amazing year at KPS.
First week events are limited.  It is always my intention to give staff the time they need with our students, get to know our groups and to begin our timetable right away. Staff are asked to communicate with each other if you would like to alter the schedule slightly on day one. We get right into the timetable so we can trouble shoot any issues heading into reorg. day. Our students know who their teachers are and where their classrooms are. Some may have forgotten.  Please make the time to circulate on the playground starting at 8:50 am on Day one, classlist in hand just in case.  Welcoming our families and students on the playground is always a great way to start the year.  Those teachers without homerooms can circulate as classes begin and make sure every single student feels welcome and part of our amazing school (especially our newest faces).
Over the summer I did some thinking.  I share these next few lines with you in an effort to put on paper a few of my key beliefs as your lead learner:
  1. The most important thing is to be kind.
  2. Collaborative, supportive and positive school culture depends solely on the bonds of interrelational trust within and among all stakeholders.
  3. Learning depends on opportunities to think, do, assess and repeat.
  4. Our primary purpose as an organization is to provide learning opportunities for all.
  5. Learners at KPS will leave each day better prepared, happier and more confident than when they came.
  6. We will learn about, from and with each other every day.
  7. The way we treat each other and our students is the way our students will treat each other.

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    McKena, Zoe and Gavin in back to school garb and pose wish you a great day one!

Welcome Back to Kingsville Public School Everyone. . .
A Rich History,
A Bright Future,
Leading, Learning, Now.
James.

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The School Improvement Plan for 2014-15

The School Improvement Plan for 2014-15

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There are a myriad of excuses that follow this string of sentences:  “I am not great at getting into classrooms.   I want to be better at it.  I know it is important.  I know what a difference it makes.

  • It is just too busy at the office.
  • Turning away an angry parent just is not good.
  • If I didn’t have to deal with discipline I could get into rooms more.
  • I teach 75% of the time.
  • Instructional leadership isn’t in my portfolio.
  • I don’t know what to do when I am there.
  • I don’t want to interrupt the learning.  When I go in everything stops!
  • There is just too much paperwork and email to deal with.
  • My staff is not ready for this.”
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The VP and I are committed to being part of the fabric of learning.

Not all school administrators share this gripe.  Not all share the excuses either.  Anymore.  Whether you are put off by me calling them excuses or not may say a little about whether your problem lies in logistics or plain old primal fear.  Fear of what you ask?  I suggest the thing that humans fear the most: not belonging.  In this case by invoking conflict or confrontation with the ones that you spend the majority of your time with each day and happen to be leading, the educators in the building.

What do I understand to be logistics issues?  For the most part I understand logistics issues to be one of two things:  Complaints about the uncontrollable or misaligned priorities.   I am obviously simplifying here.  This is a blog post after all and not a book.  Here are some:

What do I understand to be fear issues?  The issue I have heard discussed by colleagues and taken great interest in is the fear of the conversation with a staff member whose classroom you have visited (or not).  This is different from a “difficult conversation” as it is a continual process and not a moment in time.  Some fears may be:

  • How to give feedback.
  • Hurting their “feelings” versus “It is their job”.
  • Ego concerns (yours and theirs).
  • Avoiding an issue for too long.
  • Resting on “they will never change”.
  • Thinking that the conversation will become a snowball of toxicity and thus need be avoided.
  • Having your good intentions be misconstrued.
  • Not having the right language for the dialogue.
  • It is going to be really hard work.
  • What are you pretending not to know?

I ask this question:  If you deem your issue a logistical one and respond by doing some combination of the following:

holding all your calls, telling the office to talk to the Child and Youth Worker if there is an “issue”, telling the secretary that you are not to be disturbed while you are “visiting” Mr. Cowper’s grade 5 classroom, taking an innovative checklist on a clipboard with you etc.

–Have you heightened the anxiety for yourself and those around you or have you increased the likelihood of a successful classroom visit?  I contend the former.  Can you imagine the talk in the school when the world finds out that the Principal put his entire day on hold to visit your classroom?  What started out with your good intentions has now become a fear issue.  Just wait till you get so busy you can’t do this (in your own mind) and you stop the visits.  How do the teachers feel now that got a visit?  What about the ones that didn’t?  I am wondering if you are picking up what I am laying down.  They are all fear issues.  Logistics issues are simply masking your human need to belong to a group.  Sure, sound tough.  Say it out loud:  “I don’t care if they like me or not . . .”  Yes you do.  Saying it doesn’t make it true.  Do not confuse being liked and being respected.  Visiting classrooms and discussing learning does not have to be an event that ends in your acceptance or isolation.  It can simply be the leader you are and the way you lead.  Watch an episode of Undercover Boss.  The CEO usually says something along the lines of “I had no idea . . .”  Why wait to be undercover?  What are you waiting for?

What can we do about it?

As a group of instructional leaders, leaders being compensated to use our emotional intelligence and positional authority through pressure and support, it is our obligation to stop using some variation of the “I need to get better at getting into classrooms” and replace it with a something new, something intentional.

“I love getting into classrooms and have made it a priority to visit classrooms.  I am an important part of the learning fabric of the school.  I do this everyday through dialogue with students first and teachers second.”  If this wordy sentence is too much for you (I’m told all the time I am wordy) just try.  “I am going into classrooms today.”  or “I am getting into classrooms regularly.”

They still use lie detectors in this day and age!

They still use lie detectors in this day and age!

Making a commitment to do something new requires us to change the words we use.  The actions we take stem from the words we use.  The words we use are a result of our thinking.  Our thinking is who we are.    Our bodies defy us when we lie.  It is practically impossible to fool our physical selves with words.  They still use lie detectors in this day and age!  Thus you stop committing and resort back to “I am not great at…”  (in which case you never will be.) or some other passive statement devoid of intention.    The other result is that your physical body responds to your new intentional statements.  You visit the classrooms.  You engage in critical and constructive dialogue.  Your actions are full of purpose and conviction.   Your statements on learning in the school are more authentic, informed and certainly more intentional.

There are a number of things to do to get better at the feedback portion of the visit.  First stop thinking of it as feedback.  It is a dialogue.  Feedback says–“I am the wise Principal and you will learn from me.”  This stance is less growth and more fixed in Mindset.  Just engage in dialogue.  Ask the teachers to “Talk more about that.” Eventually staff will ask for “feedback” and that is your cue to start calling it that; this is the invitation that says your EiQ (emotional intelligence quotient) is high with this individual.  Engage in professional learning about Critical Friends Groups or Cognitive Coaching.  Understand what Habits of Mind are and use them.  The work you are involved in requires a great deal of understanding about working with adult learners.  The work you are engaged in requires more Emotional Intelligence than you already have.  Exercise it more and it will grow.  Pressure your district or association to help prepare you for working with adult learners, ask for coaching workshops, emotional intelligence work or sessions on professional dialogue with teachers.  Give your needs a voice in your district as there are others with the same needs.  Start a critical friends group or an administrative learning team.  Practise giving each other warm and cool feedback on authentic work you provide.  Avoid comments that speak to the person and not the work.  (These last few comments deserve a blog post on their own.)

Do you need a starting point for working with and talking to the adults in your building that are in charge of student learning?

Stop saying “should” and “but” when in a dialogue with another or with yourself.  When you stop saying these words your mind will eventually stop thinking in these terms.  You replace should with action as “shoulds” only delay the action.  It will take you awhile to find replacements for these words.  There is a way around the words and not the feeling they invoke.  You are trying to get away from the feeling they invoke so new thinking is going to be needed and not simply new words like “however” and “did you think about doing it this way?”

Getting into classrooms is important and non-urgent.  It is the chance to be a visible member of the learning fabric.  It is a chance to remind yourself why you do this good work.  It is a chance to connect with the professional educators in the building, to dialogue, laugh and even cry.  It is the only way any of your vision work will have credibility with the students, staff and parents of the school.  Your positional power is not nearly enough to be an instructional leader.

Portions of this blog post were written while rocking out to Imaginary Cities and Bahamas!

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So you have a plan to unveil a school blog page for the start of this academic season. . .

The Eastwood School Blog

Now your question might be:  What is the best way to inform our families that it will be our primary communication portal?

Well, here are a number of strategies you could employ:

  1. Word of Mouth.  Have a few contests where the kids login and answer some questions in the mornings.  The info they need to answer can only come from the blog.  Better yet, have them leave their answers on the blog as a comment and award a few winners each morning for a couple of weeks.  This will wear off eventually so be careful with the carrot at the end of this stick.  You want the reward to attract them to the blog and once there the information has to be rich in order for your visitors (parents and students) to want to come back.
  2. Get a digital club together and make sure the kids are talking the talk.  Have them adorn the hallways with posters.  Make sure there is a Digital Club blog to go with the school blog so that kids are attracted to the work of their counterparts.  Make sure you are embedding Dig. Cit. into your days as someone will test the boundaries and make some faux pas.  That is okay.  It is all about the learning.  Careful…don’t want to scare them away with punishment, on the contrary you want to attract them with learning.
  3. A Facebook and Twitter account with a brand page or school page helps and be sure to link both to your blog.  Facebook will get your blog in parent circles the fastest.
  4. Decide on a strategy ahead of time for dealing with comments.  Moderating comments maybe the best way to go in the interest of preserving everyone’s Digital Footprint.  Better to have a moderated comment to talk with a student about rather than a public one.  After a meaty discussion on Dig. Cit. allow the student to then make the decision about whether the comment need be public or edited.  Interpretation learning is always so rich.  When students and parents see their comments they are empowered to join the conversation.
  5. Use the school sign to advertise the blog address all year!  Order a large banner from the school photographer if you don’t have access to a school sign.  They offer these for free with your yearly contract.
  6. Send a newsletter until January and advertise the blog in every issue on the front.  Let the community know the timelines.
  7. Give the Whys of the Blog: eco-friendly, fiscally responsible, up-to-the-minute, always available, more interactive, read/write, etc.
  8. Keep your posts up to date.  The longer they are stagnant the more readers you lose.  Keep your posts short and tidy.
  9. Don’t be afraid to move beyond information items and include some important stuff on the blog with decisions to be made.  Increase the value of the visit.
  10. Add pictures to all of your posts.  Make sure all consents are up to date and signed! Call parents when you are showcasing or naming a student.  This double redundancy is so appreciated by parents and puts safety and courtesy first.  Adding the Flickr widget is a great help especially when combined with the iPhone app!
  11. Add polls to some of your posts.  Let the community vote on some items.
  12. Add video to some of your posts.  Keep them short and to the point.  (My first couple “From Mr. Cowper’s Desk” were dreadful!  Too long and wordy.)–you need a safe YouTube channel to do this right.
  13. Allow students to contribute writing to the blog.  This increases your word of mouth traffic.
  14. Enable the Post from Email function.  This allows you to update from anywhere with no app required.  Make sure parents can subscribe to the blog via email.
  15. Install the WordPress App on your iPhone.  This way you can quickly and quietly fix spelling errors or delete posts.
  16. Put the blog address everywhere.  Let the community know that this is where the stuff is and if they aren’t reading it they are missing out……not in these words of course…you get the point.
  17. Use tags!  This will help your readers find the blog when they lose the address.  They will lose the address.  Make sure the blog has the school name in the address and make sure you tag with the school name each time.
  18. Change the phone message and have the message state the blog address for the most recent and up to date information and “goings-ons”
  19. Think Multimedia: video, pics and audio.  Audioboo is another great little iPhone app that lets you add real-time conversations and audio from around the school with three clicks!
  20. Add a Clustr-Map widget to the blog to track visitors.
  21. Get the staff Blogging!  The more familiar it is to all stakeholders the more it will “stake a hold!”

I hope these ideas help you increase your communication level with your school community.  Enjoy the analytics that WordPress offers.  This will help you track the most interesting posts and the times that your blog is used the most.

Happy school blogging in 2012-2013 everyone!

If you have other ways that you have increased the school blog use please comment!

Thanks.

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When meeting as a Critical Friends Group (CFG)  it is essential to surface assumptions. Assumptions about the work, about each other. Assumptions about learning and the learners. Last July in Alpharetta, GA we started our 5 day institute experience by exploring our working assumptions for the following days.

  1. Our work products are better when we collaborate.
  2. Protocols offer equity in voice as well as efficiency.
  3. All 3 jobs: participant, presenter and facilitator require practise in order to improve.
  4. Creating and sustaining collaborative cultures is rigorous and intentional

At times when dialogue is stunted or a group is stuck it may be entirely necessary to voice your assumption in order to move beyond a hump. When it is time for the facilitator to allow time for Q and A it is important to understand that Q and A stands for Questions and Assumptions. If we had the answers we wouldn’t have the questions.  Coming together “beyond the place of right and wrong” makes for rich and fertile learning ground.  Rumi continued “there is a field, meet me there.”  At the heart of the CFG is equity of learning for presenter, facilitator and participant in a place where we can see things together.

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We are all unique, but we are not alone. I can see things you can not see and you can see things i can not. We must try to see what is there together. M. Holquist

This poster was hanging in the space that we were using in the media centre of Alpharetta High School.  Apropos of our CFG work I thought.  You?

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How many times have you heard “Research shows that…”

I saw my first “Back to School” commercial yesterday (July 26) and the How Soon is Too Soon question popped in my mind. Here in SWOntario we don’t start school until September 4th. I digress.

This ad claims that “laboratory tests, over the last few years,” have shown that babies fit in better during those awkward pre-teen and teen years after drinking cola.

Hmmmm…..my math isn’t that bad.

Be careful when you quote, listen to, claim and read research that might strengthen your point. Read critically, question, seek further resources and by golly make sure the math adds up. When it does it makes a world of difference. When the math doesn’t add up we lose the trust we are building in the public education system. As Douglas Reeves says “It makes us all look bad.”

Do you still:

  • have spelling tests?
  • “do” calendar?
  • work in isolation?
  • say “they mark too easy” when referring to colleagues whose students excel?
  • give a student a grade a week later, a month later, never?
  • think a grade is feedback?
  • ban handheld devices in your classroom?
  • show movies on the SmartBoard?
  • believe social media is a fad?
  • believe the best learning environment is a quiet one?
  • demand (parents) or give worksheets (plural) for homework?
  • say “respect must be earned?”
  • use the sentence “the problem with kids these days…”
  • blame the teacher, the administrator, the parents, the students, the school district or rock and roll music…etc.

Now, do you know what the research says about these practises? Does it align with your thinking or challenge your thinking?

It is time to learn something new. Step out of the comfort zone and into the learning zone, the risk zone. Take a learning stance. Find new research. Heck, develop your own research out of an inquiry.

This school year, abandon a practise that you are hearing questioned more and more. Replace it with something new, something different, something from a colleague or even “scarier” a colleague’s blog! Something that makes the kids say…”What has gotten into Mr. Cowper?!? This guy wants us to Tweet our learning? OMG He has changed! He is CRAZEE!”

Yup…there it is. The magic word. Change. Do you believe they used to allow ads like the one above in magazines? They also used to smoke on airplanes, have back seats, with no seatbelts, the size of Montana, give children bottles of ink and a fountain pen? My gosh…the Principal used to use a strap to teach learnin’!

“They” is actually we. We have segregated our schools, isolated our most vulnerable students away from schools, assimilated the culture out of our students and myriads of other draconian practises that kept us from being true learning institutions. Institutions with a culture where the most important learning was about ourselves, about our interconnectedness with the earth with each other (our kids) and about learning.

This year connect. Research shows that, good or bad, the greatest and most impactful aspect of a student’s life (no matter the grade) is their teacher. Connect with them. Learn with them. Know them.

And have fun doing it. (I know Ms Rotundi, I am never supposed to start a sentence, let alone a paragraph, with a grammatical conjunction.)

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Below is an exerpt from the School Reform Initiative’s website which defines a Critical Friends Group. This is the institute I attended in Alpharetta, GA in July 2012 lead by Dr. Thomas VanSoelen (@tvansoelen). I attended with the professional learning intention of building my facilitation skills. I left understanding that I had done so through exercising and practising my participant skills.

CFG builds the learning capacity of the group by engaging members in significant work in an environment that supports risk taking. To make it more likely that learning in CFG will build the group’s capacity for transformational learning, several key elements are essential.

  • Groups are voluntary and sustained. A critical friends group is made up of a group of six to ten educators who meet regularly, perhaps every four to six weeks, over a sustained period of time. Membership is often voluntary. Voluntary participation helps to increase the likelihood that the members are committed to taking on risky and challenging work and staying engaged over time. Similarly, CFGs continue to work together beyond the completion of a particular time cycle such as a semester or school year.
  • A skilled and experienced facilitator or coach supports the group. The coach, who frequently is a member of the group who has participated in professional development to develop the skills, strategies, knowledge, and dispositions to facilitate the group’s learning.
  • Groups use protocols to build their capacity for learning. The disciplined use of protocols or agreed upon processes and structures helps the CFG build its capacity for learning. Protocols help sustain a steadfast focus on teaching and learning. And, they offer the structure that allows a group to deprivatize their practice and explore the most difficult and challenging issues of insuring that students experience educational excellence.

Since I have returned I have officially started a CFG. 11 amazing administrators volunteering their time, trust and academic energy to learning and leadership reflection.

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Presenter Check-In (Fish Bowl) following Issaquah Protocol by Dr. Thomas VanSoelen

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