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​Eds,

We are excited to host a “gathering” of educators on Monday morning. We will come together in the Eagle’s Nest in the morning for some breakfast snacks. All staff are welcome to come and mingle with our visitors. Please sign in at the office and get a visitor lanyard. Our guests are invited to investigate student learning in the grade 2/3 area and the 5/6 area and are invited to explore the rest of the school if they wish. They will be with us until 11:00 or so. School officially begins at 8:30 am. I will speak briefly with all visitors after morning announcements and then you are free to move to observations. Nutrition break lasts from 10:10-10:50.

We welcome staff from Queen Victoria Public School and staff from Indian Creek Public School in Chatham. Together we endeavour to work so that learning is deeper for our students. I wish to thank the partnerships of Principal Moore and Principal Callow and the innovative educators who take the risk to engage with fellow eds. in school observation visits.

The purpose of our gathering is to again recognize that schools are learning laboratories. Having visiting teachers helps us immensely in ensuring that what we say and believe we are doing for students is evident by their metacognitive understanding. We start with the question: Are the students able to articulate their learning in meaningful ways. We ask visitors to help us with this work. We also recognize that visitors take with them learning that will undoubtedly impact work in thier respective buildings. Questions you may want to ask our students are:

What are you learning?
Why are you learning this?
What are your next steps?
How are you going to move forward?

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We have embraced student metacognition (thinking about thinking) as our methodology to learn deeper.

As I personally prepare for a school visit I really only do one thing. I take a mindful stance. Mindfulness is defined as paying attention, on purpose, non-judgementally. Of course this sounds easy. As you all may have experienced, as teachers, the non-judgementally part is the hardest. We as educators (especially at report card time) have been trained to believe that judging is our job. I ask you to take a mindful stance. Join us here at Eastwood to observe students, to dialogue and to learn together.

If you would like to take a look at our learning journey for the last couple years you may investigate our School Improvement Plan for Student Achievement and Well Being.​

We will use the attached observation sheets for your visit. We request that you give these observation sheets back to the host school prior to your departure as will will use these observations to grow and learn. We believe that transparency builds trust. If you wish to make a copy before leaving so you can take your notes with you the office secretary Kim or James will be happy to help you.

Looking forward to meeting all of you. Thanks for your patience and mindfulness with our students and our learning environment.

James

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Clearly technology is not the sole answer to the teaching  learning gap.  It is just another channel to watch.  I view Twitter dialogue (#edchat) as a Protocol for my learning.  140 characters is concise to say the least.  A person of my loquaciousness needs boundaries.  Twitter gives me that structure.  Because it is on the public timeline I have also maintained public integrity.  I know that my digital existence is infinite.  I will be held accountable for my words.  Thus there are inherent “norms”.  My efforts are to get my colleagues to the table to discuss the issues in the same light.  I do not have a lack of faith or belief in any of us.  I know that people don’t “hate” me for talking it up.  On the contrary I understand that each of us has deep understanding for the role that education has played in our lives and we wish to provide that to our communities.  Technology is one avenue to get to that conversation outside of the time crunch and certainly outside of your circle of influence.  I have pictures of technoids sitting in rooms with handhelds engaging in Tweetups!  This is a structured protocol.

My friend’s email was included as a response because it helps me recognize the obstacles to having other educational leaders join the conversations.  I respect my friend immensely and thus view these perceptions as real concerns and obstacles for other professional educators.

  1. The time needed to learn the technology.
  2. The superficiality of the “Twitterverse”.
  3. The feeling that being self-referential is a bad thing.

1.  The technological learning curve is actually quite steep.  With the likes of WordPress, Twitter,  and other Web 2.0 applications that are web based there really is no length of time to learning these pieces of software.  There are oodles of people willing to help you once you are actually plugged in. 

2.  It is simple, only follow those people who offer something to your professional learning profile.  When they stop offering something to your professional learning profile stop following them.  Likewise you will notice that you can allow only those people you feel are following you for professional learning reasons.  Sure the web is full of stuff that just isn’t adding to the collective social consciousness of the world.  So are book stores.

3.  Delete self-referential and insert self-reflective.  T.W.I.T.T.E.R.-The World’s Intellectuals Taking Turns Exchanging Resources.  This was a Twitter post late last week by an educator I follow.  “Resources” are practical applications, web resources or could simply be the ideas, feelings, opinions and experiences that keep your mind actively assimilating new information.  Twitter provides a timeline for your self-reflection.  The self reflection you offer can stimulate others self-reflection.  It is essentially self-reflection for collective wisdom.  Please do not tell us what you had for breakfast.

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The Speed of Trust is the New York Times best seller about “the one thing that changes everything.”  Today I earned a chance to engage with the author (Steven M. R. Covey) on a multi-national conference call.  Starting at 1:00 EST Steven gave a live talk about the nature of his newest book.  As I listened, blogged and tweeted I thought about how all of the elements of his book fit so nicely into the role of the administrator in the creation and cultivation of the Professional Learning Community.  Yesterday at school our Learning Team engaged in a values activity where 60 values were paired down to 3 that the team of 10 had to agree on.  Trust came first.  Clearly in a school setting if trust is high, speed and outcomes will also be high.  I am willing to test this theory with our outcomes, student outcomes.

During the conference call Covey attempted to answer the 700 questions that were submitted to him for the 1 hour session.  He got to 10 of them.  Funny enough my question was posed to him 5th.  How to improve the culture of high trust when trust is extended to upper management yet it is a challenge amoung collegial groups in “subordinate” groups.  His answer was simple:

Formal Leaders need to go first.

1.  Inspire Trust first

2.  Extend Trust next.

This is the job of the leader.  Always modelling trusting relationships.  And then let it build.

Covey’s definition:  Trust=confidence, confidence, the opposite is suspiscion.  Instead of a text book definition he stated “you know it when you feel it.”  The essence of trust comes from others perceptions of your character and your competence.  You must inspire integrity and deliver results.

Why is Trust the new commodity?  Covey states there are 3 major reasons. 

1.  Trust fuels collaboration and is the currency that makes the world go round and relationships develop.   The nature of the current economy has shifted to a collaborative community rather than a competitive market.  This is the essence of the Professional Learning Community.  He states that “Trust is the one thing that changes everything.  It is a performance mulitplier.  Everything is made better by it.  Lack of trust creates a tax on the system.  If you get better at trust it will make you better at collaborating, innovating and engaging people.” 

2.  Trust is not all that you need but it is the foundational piece.  It is the highest leverage piece.  He does not advocate for only focusing on trust but states that is the single most important foundational piece.  (He sounds an awful lot like my Dad.)

3.  We operate increasingly in a low trust world so we must leverage that with high organizational trust.  If you have the ability to create and cultivate trust in a low trust world you have an advantage over all others to create and cultivate even more.

He then chose to answer a number of pre-determined questions:

Q–Why is the book called The Speed of Trust? 

A–You can build it faster than you think.  Once you have it nothing is as fast as the speed of trust.  Without it you have to take many more steps to get to the same end.  Trust goes up and Speed goes up and dividends go up.

Q–How do you demonstrate Trustworthiness as a leader? 

A–Model it.  Credibility is needed so model the behaviours.  People look to your character and competence.  Results plus credibility cultivates trust.  The steps are three fold.  1.  Declare your intent.  2.  Signal your behaviour.  3.  Do what you say you would do!  Tell your organization what you are going to do and then do it.  Talk straight.  Tell the truth.  (Sounds like my Dad)   It is like driving on the highway.  “When you are driving a car and want to turn left, signal a left turn for the people behind you to learn your intent.”  Signalling intent is very important to the relationship.   Just as important as declaring your intent.  But more importantly than all is doing what you say you will do.  Follow through, making and keeping committments.  This builds or trust very quickly.

Q–What about when people on the front lines do not trust eachother? 

A–Trust is reciprocal in nature.  Low trust or high trust perpetuates itself.  Covey’s next book is scheduled to be on the reciprocal nature of trust.   Listen first and involve people in the problem, be transparent so that there are no percieved hidden agendas, talk straight.  People might think “I may not like what I hear but at least I trust it to be the truth.”  Covey states: You must behave your way out of a problem you talked yourself into.  Rather than blaming say “I am responsible” and then fix it.  Time is needed to behave your way out of a situation of eroded trust.  Steve  Barkley Pondered Out Loud on Relational Trust to this effect.

Q–Can you trust too much?

A–Yes, we all call this blind trust.  This is not a valuable technique.  Steven is obviously not an advocate.  He does not advocate blind “lack of trust” either.  Rules and regulations should not be made for 5% of society.  Neither extreme is where you want to be.  A third alternative is “Smart Trust.”  Trust and verify.  Lead with trust and then verify.  If risk is so great (life and death) you may want to verify first but really, leading with trust is the best way to build relationships. 

Steven Covey’s concluding thought was a quote from Confucious as he responded to the question of what made good government:  “Many weapons, Much food and trust.  If you must give up one it must be weapons first, then, if you had to, you must give up food second.  Never give up trust, for without trust we cannot stand.”

Thanks to M.R-R and L.P. for allowing me to use “the office” for this call!

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The use of protocols in Professional Learning Community meetings is essential to the continued growth and evolution of  a school.  Gains in student achievement depend on the learning and learning processes of the adults in a building.  If we expect our teachers to differentiate for students we, as instructional leaders, had better differentiate for their learning styles.  I believe that the appropriate use of protocols in PLC meetings do many things but most importantly they:

  1. reduce the threat of exposing yourself to the group and allow you to become vulnerable with colleagues
  2. increase risk taking behaviour and sharing through structured and formal practises
  3. allow for shared leadership as the facilitator is not the “Sage on the Stage” but simply the choreographer (there is nothing simple about it of course)
  4. engage all learners
  5. can be adapted by participants to be used with students of all ages

I refer to brainstorming  in light of a recent Blog post on Education Innovation that I read weekly.  The spoof “demotivation”  poster (that I was sent years ago-prior to PLCs in our setting) below depicts the concepts behind ineffective PLC time the best I think.  I am reminded of meetings my significant other would describe in one of her career settings.  She laughs every time she views this poster and states, “It’s so true!”  If we know this as educators and we know what makes the difference in PLCs why do we still revert back to old, less effective habits? 

The Power of Meetings

None of us is as dumb as all of us.

Recently I engaged a staff of Early Years and Primary teachers from 4 neighbourhood schools in the Interview Design and Dialogue Protocol to elicit as many consistent and common ideas around a battery of questions about the current state of balanced literacy in schools  (I adapted a protocol form from Jon Saphier of Research for Better Teaching).   More importantly was the form in which this process was done.  There was chart paper, stickies and markers but this was secondary to the fact gathering phase which was done far more precisely and structured than traditional “brainstorming.”  Using the design process we essentially eliminated any risk by engaging in one on one dialogue to start.   The only stuff that made it to the chart paper (dialogue: the second to last phase) had been consistently communicated across the length of the interview phase. 

Teachers in 4 groups of 8 heard 4 responses plus their own to the one question they asked.  They then met in “like question groups” to discuss and chart the most common and consistent responses to the questions.  An example of one question was: “What evidence of a balanced literacy approach exists in a classroom in our District?”  8 individuals asked this question 4 times and recorded the responses.  8 response pages with responses from 32 individuals became one side of a piece of chart paper.  Talk about precision.  Essential to the protocol was that once the question was asked all you were “allowed” to do was record.  This was an interview and not a conversation.  

I immediately thought of the above poster when I read the title (Dumber Together) off the Education Innovation RSS feed on my Netvibes page.   While the intent of its inclusion is humour it has been true for me in limited instances.  My goal as an instructional leader is to make this “demotivation poster” irrelevant.   A reader @Education Innovation comments that the information presented is unsourced.  Maybe . . . but haven’t we all been there before?  If the answer is yes than why, when we take over the reigns, do we seem to perpetuate this form of Professional Learning.  Brainstorming sessions can be effective.  There must be a sound protocol to make them work for everyone however.  I continue to work through the many protocols presented by the National School Reform Faculty in an effort to engage with adults in meaningful and unthreatening ways.  As I stated earlier, gains in student achievement depend on the learning and learning processes of the adults in a building.  I am dedicated to the use of protocols to make sure that each of us is as smart as all of us.

InterviewDesign from Jon Saphier at Research to Better Teaching

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If you are an Ontario Educator and you have not yet signed up for your free full-fledged membership to Bitstrips for Schools you might be missing out on an incredible opportunity.  Many of your students certainly are.  Bitstrips for Schools is an online comic strip generator intended for use as a writing tool.  On many Blogs it is billed as the way to “motivate boy writers.”  Certainly there is an aspect to this program that would speak to some “hard to motivate” writers and yes many may be boys.  This software however is great across the board.  Homework can be assigned in any subject and students will run home to get online and complete the tasks that you set up (or you could use the many templates that are included with membership).  How do I know this?  Have you ever played Wii?  The best part of the entire experience is creating your Mii.  This is the digital, cartoon representation of yourself.  Last Christmas the Cowpernicus family spent about 2 hours making Grandpa!  Bitstrips asks every user to first create their avatar.  After this creation the process of making comic strips begins.

It is time to ROCK!

It is time to ROCK!

I want to know the technology and understand its use for my teachers so I embarked on a little experiment.  I created an online classroom for the school’s Learning Council or Professional Learning Team.  The team consists of a Learning Support Teacher, A Literacy /Numeracy Coach, an Admin-VP, Early Years, Primary. Junior, and Intermediate Teacher Leaders, The school secretary and me.  As the facilitator I assigned two tasks or activities so far.  1.  Create your avatar and place them in a comic about your life.  2.  Create a comic about the worst aspect of a traditional Professional Learning Experience.  Here is mine:Death by Powerpoint

A teacher wrote to me in an email–“I logged on to Bitstrips tonight and created a class. I am starting tomorrow. This rocks! Thanks for the idea…”   I have two teachers using this web 2.0 with classes and I am using it with a group of 9 adults.  My experiment is a risk.  Some of my students (adults) may not find the process worthwhile.  Some may love it.  For me it has been fun.  It is a completely different form of P.L. Hopefully it is not the topic of any of the comics generated for activity number 2 though!  I will keep you posted about my experience and results.

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4 rules for PLCs

Long chat tonight with professional educator C.B.  A man who is commited to his profession and passionate about closing the instruction – achievement gap.  I stated that there were four core beliefs at work when PLCs were in session.

  1. Student work or related data was at the centre of the table and the centre of discussion
  2. Group or PLC norms or protocols were in place to moderate the discussion
  3. A facilitator was in place to keep to the goals and structures of the PLC
  4. The PLC team must engage in a final reflective practise piece to reflect on the meeting, the protocol or the process.

Why these rules?  It is when these are in place that all players are of equal voice and that risks are taken and learning takes place.  Student achievement is always our number one priority when having professional discussions.  If norms are broken or protocols are not adhered to then others feelings, opinions, strategies, or comments are negated.  A competent facilitator must help the whole process unfurl while keeping professional and sometimes personal relationships intact.  A tonne of responsibility for the facilitator?  Yes.  That is why much must be invested in these people.

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