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Posts Tagged ‘instructional leadership’

Cross-Post Thursday!

Today’s Blog post is a cross-post shared by Doug Peterson of Off the Record.   The interview took me some time so cheating here and using it in my 21 day event made sense.  I’ve had the honour of knowing Doug for some time.  Since I came on to teaching  actually.  He has been influential to so many educators by turning them on to some new tool that invoked critical thought or creativity in students.  Want to know what is going on in innovative Ontario classrooms?  Follow Off the Record.  You will be in the know.

An Interview with James Cowper

Posted on October 22, 2013 by @dougpete

I’ve had the pleasure to work with James Cowper in a couple of schools where he has served the Greater Essex County District School Board as an administrator.  He’s a supporter of teachers, as you would expect from an administrator, but he also “walks the walk” when it comes to using technology in education.  Recently, we met for a coffee to chat and solve all of the world’s problems and that served as a launchpad for this interview.

Doug:  Thanks, James, for sharing your thoughts via this blog post.

James:  No problem Doug.  I am happy to talk and listen with you.  I am quite flattered that you wanted to hear my thoughts and stories of days in the schoolhouse working with learners of all ages!  I appreciate it.  Thanks.

Doug:  I recall our first encounters with technology – it seems so long ago that you were involved in a technology project when you were at Mill Street Public School in Leamington.  What did you learn from working with students at Mill Street?

James:  I learned that kids are kids everywhere you go.  I came in on the front end of an ICT project in which recycled computers along with millions of meters of RJ45 (EthernetPicture1 cable) were deployed to a 350 pupil K-8 school.  The computers had competent capabilities and the staff and students were anxious to use them.  What I learned about kids and computers was that it is the creativity that we must exercise with the tools of the trade.  Using the computers, funny I don’t even call them that anymore, to drill and kill or surf and turf is just not the ticket.  Kids need to create, collaborate and communicate with the technology.  I learned an awful lot about what not to do with technology funny enough.  Of course we were doing the best that we could do at the time.  PL around the high-end use of the devices was not structured or supported in a way that would lead to critical use of the tools.  I learned that you couldn’t fool kids.  Saying that computers engage kids and then using them as word processors, encyclopedias and digital worksheets only lasts so long.  If you do this for too long the kids will video you teaching the class, put it to music, morph Albert Einstein’s head onto your body and post the video for all their tweeps to see.  Seriously.  It is not the computers or the iPads that “engage” kids.  It is the access to the world, the creative quotient and the ease of collaboration that engages them.  Those things are not done with a device, a computer alone.  They must be married to the facilitation and supervision of a learning teacher.

Doug:  Since that time, you have been promoted to Principal at Eastwood Public School in Windsor.  During our coffee, you indicated that you’ve been there for five years now.  So, a question – if someone is making their first trip to Eastwood – what would they see that would invoke the understanding that this school really has its act together with respect to Technology?

Picture3James:  Well, we don’t have hover boards and wear silver suits yet.  Kids are not glued to screens with robotic teachers.  Books and board games is still the best part of the day at first nutrition break so I am not sure you would really be able to see a difference.  I apologize for my sarcasm.  I mean no offence.  Really.  If you had asked me what school would look like in the year 2013 when I was in grade 5 I would have said flying in cars and learning from robots!   (I think Ms. McTavish assigned that project!) You can feel a difference at Eastwood School.  At least that is what almost every visitor has said to me at one point or another.  What you can feel is a calm energy that comes when we are all functioning at very close wavelengths.  Kids are working at learning and teachers are learning while working.  It is symbiotic.  The technology that is incorporated into the day and the learning is organic.  Getting an iPad is not a monumental event.  Students do not run full tilt to the power cart.  It sits open and students get them when they need them.  There are no more labs.  We do not covet our tools in closets or the Principal’s office to gather dust.  I would say that the novelty of the device is gone.  What is left is a new type of pen and pencil.  Kids view them as tools to do the business of learning.  It is not the device that has made the difference at Eastwood it is the inherent connectivity that has.  The device without Wi-Fi access would be like having a Porsche without tires.  You can enjoy the look and the rev of that awesome engine you just couldn’t go anywhere.  Kids do walk around with devices.  We have BYOD norms.  Before you even walked in the door you would recognize we have a pretty substantial online presence.  Short of that we have a staff that continue to learn and grow in the area of tech. utilization, integration and content creation.  We are as careful as we can be with regards to where and how we spend our limited budget dollars.  We also are always looking for innovative ways to build community partnerships.  Two years ago we were awarded a reading grant, the first in the district, and we gained the opportunity to spend eighty thousand dollars on learning resources.  So as a school that has its act together I would say that we have found the reasonable and appropriate place to infuse technological tools to enhance our learning.  I would say that we have been responsible digital citizens.  I would also say we’ve lots to learn and much work to do.

Thanks Doug for allowing me to share here.  If you wish to read the interview in its entirety please follow the links to Off the Record.

Tomorrow’s post–Hey Principals!  Are Those Teachers on Twitter?

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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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Looking back I am not sure where the time went.

I am certain that I wasn’t doing “nothing.”  I just didn’t write about the “something.”

It is time to push the publish button on a number of entries I have been crafting for some time.  Those ANTs (automatic negative thoughts) inside are not going to win the battle anymore.

I will endeavour to get back to the business of formal and public reflection on my practise.  A colleague unwittingly challenged me to do so.  Okay Terri.  Here goes.

My last published post was in April of 2013.  This is the embarrassing part.  Since the last post I began a new academic year, ran another marathon, rescued a dog from the pound, translated our 4 guiding assumptions to 4 leading intentions, celebrated my 40th, saw 60 point gains in standards based assessments at Eastwood (EQAO), taught the dog to use the treadmill, had reconstructive ACL surgery, started inquiry based professional learning for teachers in the school house, etc. etc. etc.

There has been a lot that has happened.  I don’t intend on using my “busyness” as an excuse.  There is no excuse.  As a lead learner in the year 2014 (almost) it is my obligation to share my learning and make my leadership transparent.

I will endeavour to do so, again, before any January 1st resolutions.

And here is the kicker….I am bringing 4 people with me.

Terri, Jodie, Lori, Kathleen.   Shhhhh.  I haven’t told them yet.

I taught Hawksley the dog to run on the treadmill in about 10 minutes.  He is up to 5.1 for 30 minutes.  All I needed was a clicker and a treat.  I taught him how to jump into the pool and swim in about 30 minutes.  Dogs inherently want to do these two things.  They just need to conquer the fear of the unknown environment and have a critical friend help them.  I recognize that I will not “teach” myself or my colleagues to write about their experiences just as I did not “teach” the dog to run and swim.Image

For human’s I have read that it takes 21 days to replace a bad habit with a good one.  I intend to blog and or convince another to blog at The Principaled Life for the next 21 days.

I am convinced that I have perspective and experiences that will add to the collective conversation and reflection on what it means to be an effective instructional leader.  I am also convinced that my colleagues have a similar strength of perspective.  The issue is the deconstruction of the moniker.  Effective?  Instructional?  Leader?  The term carries with it myriads of logistical, emotional, cognitive and innovation challenges.  Together with my critical friends we will work through this learning.

Tomorrow’s topic:  Getting into classrooms.  Logistics or Fear?

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