When do we Innovate?

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One more day of classes, and then formal exams begin at my school.  It’s Sunday morning, and I’m imagining my teachers’ struggle to decide whether to tackle that last stack of marking from the term, or head out to enjoy an amazing, sunny Sunday.

CourosI’m reading George Couros’ (@gcouros)“The Innovator’s Mindset – Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity”, or rather scanning it while procrastinating.

Each year I struggle, trying to decide when to reach out to my teachers to encourage innovation.  This week it’s “We’re still marking, I can’t think about next year”.  Next week it will be “Just getting everything organized from this year, and I’m ready for a break”.  And when they arrive for the first staff meeting of the year, on the first day of school, it will be “It’s too late now, I have my semester planned out”.

I’ve had reasonable success when our collaborative work occurs near the end of the first semester, and there’s time to make changes for the second semester.  But then there’s the question:  “Is it fair to our students to change our assessment, instruction, and evaluation for a course mid-year?  Aren’t we supposed to be consistent to ensure fairness for all students?”

Here’s some of what I’d like my teachers to hear from me, and consider sometime between now and when they begin to plan for next year:

  1. The curriculum expectations are a framework:  turn them into concrete learning goals in clear learner-language, and then have your students co-construct the success criteria with you.  You’ll be surprised what they might suggest:  maybe more observations and conversations, and few products?
  2. Think about what you’d like to experience in a 75-minute class, and ensure that what you plan incorporates some of what you’d enjoy.  Remember that while you are up and moving around the room, sometime your students are trapped in their desks.
  3. Think about some of the instructional strategies you’ve experienced in your professional learning activities this year.  If you liked them, work them into your practice, if you didn’t, take them out.
  4. Keep your eye on the ball.  Write your own mission statement for your course, and then check your work against this standard.
  5. Talk to your friends and colleagues.  Even those who are not teachers can provide you with excellent feedback on your ideas.

And what are my plans for next year?

  1. I’m going to clearly state my learning goals at each of our staff meetings, early release days, and professional learning days., and try modeling co-construction of success criteria, rather than “giving” them to my staff.
  2. I’m going to continue trying to make our time together as a staff meaningful, and not waste the valuable time together on activities we could do individually either before or after we meet.
  3. I’m going use ONLY instructional strategies that I want to see in our classrooms:  no more PowerPoint slide stacks with content that could have been posted or sent out via email.
  4. I’m going to work on language to express my mission statement, and share it each time we meet.
  5. I’m going to, again, try to blog, and reach out beyond my school community for feedback.

I’m hoping that the seeds we planted this year with the development of each department’s Theory of Action, with our viewing of “Most Likely to Succeed” http://www.mltsfilm.org/ , and with a continuing approach of saying “yes” to ideas, will be pay off as we reflect this summer.

Over the summer, I’ll blog more frequently, and use this as a means to capture and develop my ideas for innovation.  And maybe I’ll be brave enough to join our Peel DSB colleague, Tina Zita @tina_zita, and pull my thoughts together in a TEDx talk:  https://misszita.wordpress.com/2016/06/18/taking-a-leap-tedx-talk/

Feedback welcome!

 

 

Do you want your child to win a Nobel prize?

originalsI am 50 pages into Adam Grant’s new book:  Originals – How Non-Conformists Move the World.  His previous book, Give and Take – Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, made me question some of our competitive structures in the field of education, and this new reading has me saying “yes, yes, yes!”.

The table on page 47, has me pondering the ongoing conflict within my school community:  our parents are consistent in their wish for “doctor, engineer, lawyer” for their children, and it’s a challenge to support their children in their choices to opt for courses in music, drama, visual arts, construction, design and media.  But maybe they REALLY wish to have a Nobel Laureate in the family?  If so, a study published in the Journal of Psychology of Science and Technology in 2008 may help them see broader options for their sons and daughters.

In a comparison of Nobel-winning scientists  to their colleagues of the era between 1901 and 2005, winners were twice as likely to have MUSIC as a hobby, seven times more likely to participate in the VISUAL ARTS, 7.5 times more likely to engage in crafts such as WOODWORKING, mechanics and electronics, 12 times more likely to be a writer, and twenty-two times more likely to be a DANCER, ACTOR or other type of performer.

Grant also cited a current study indicating that people who started BUSINESS ventures in the USA were more likely than their peers to have leisure hobbies that involved drawing, painting, architecture, sculpture and literature.

As we assist our young people to make choices for the next school year, I’m certainly going to be encouraging them, as always, to select a balance of all areas of study.  Education should broaden, not narrow, our students’ perspective on the world.

Staff meetings are like Classes

I’ve been reflecting on how similar the relationship is between Principal and her staff and that of each teacher and her class. And sometimes it’s not the positive aspects that come to the forefront.

For example, yesterday a teacher came to inform me that she might not be at the meeting because she needed to work with students after school. Instead of inquiring, and working towards a win-win, I responded emotionally, and triggered a similar emotional reaction in her. I recall the same reaction when a student told me he was going to miss a test due to a family vacation. Rather than honour the good aspects (being informed ahead of the event, the purpose of the absence, etc.) I jumped straight to the “rules”, and appeared to be inflexible and lacking empathy.

And after yesterday’s busy and active meeting, I worried about those who arrived late, those who left early, and those who didn’t ever arrive, rather than focussing on the excellent participation of the 80% of my staff who were there.

How many times did I choose the same path with my class?

However, this doesn’t mean that I should ignore those who missed important conversations from our meeting. Just as I would as a teacher, it is my job to follow up with each of them, and ensure that the learning happens. And I can’t let my personal feelings get in the way of my primary job: supporting each of them to be the best teacher they can be.

So, what do I have to do differently?

1. Be proactive in my communication of expectations.
2. Encourage my teachers to “keep me in the loop” where our expectations do not align.
3. Ensure that there are natural consequences to attending or not attending meetings and PD, and then let the natural consequences run their course.
4. Plan for meaningful meetings and PD that don’t waste my teachers’ time or energy.
5. Take a deep breath, and keep my emotions from derailing the excellent work my teachers are doing with our students.
6. Figure out how to earn back the good-will that I lost.

I have an amazing group of teachers who, without exception, are focused on their students’ well being and achievement.

I need to celebrate!

Sharing my School with the Community

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doorstopsThe Brampton Centennial Secondary School booth at the @peelschools Advantage Showcase demonstrated some of the best qualities of our school. It was designed by our Construction teacher, built by our students, and showcased student photography that brought BCSS to life. In the middle of the display was our school’s video, which you can check out at http://bcssonline.com.
The parents and students who visited us asked great questions, as they “shopped” for their next school. Some seemed disappointed when we didn’t have a Regional Program like IB or SciTech, but were intrigued by our focus on on video communication, and our work to build video literacy, integrated into ALL our courses.
So, what is our next step? Well, “seeing is believing”, so I need to get them into our school. We’re hosting an Open House on Thursday, December 5, 2013. Our goal is to showcase our school, not only to the grade 8 students who will be attending BCSS next year, but to our entire community. But, how do we get them there?
We’ve announced it on our website, sent a Synervoice message home to our families asking them to save the date, we’ll have it on our electronic sign, and on Saturday we handed our out student-made door-stops, with labels reminding them that “Doors Open @ Brampton Centennial SS”.
What has worked for you? How have you convinced your community to take time to get to know you?

Project-Based Professional Development

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This Friday the teaching staff of Brampton Centennial Secondary School participated in our first full Professional Learning Day. As Principal, and lead learner, I chose to apply some of my learning about planning and instruction to our day’s activities.

Here are the Principles that this Principal followed:

1. Choose the simplest technology for the task
* paper not PowerPoint (for the Agenda and Exit Card)

2. Design backwards
* begin with the Ministry and Board requirements
* layer use of technology, innovative instruction, and collaborative tools on top of the content

3. Honour learning styles
* communicate, don’t lecture
* provide flexible frameworks and timelines
* clearly outline assessment criteria

Our teachers had organized themselves in Professional Learning Cycle teams at the previous week’s “Early Release” session, so they were ready to begin; some at the Reflect stage, some ready to Plan. The work of each team supported one of the Ontario Ministry of Education’s four “Pillars” of Literacy, Numeracy, Pathways, or Community, Culture and Caring, and also linked to one or more of the Peel District School Board’s System Goals.

We began the day with breakfast (food is always good!), and then our teams departed to work. A few hours later, we reconvened, and teams submitted their Exit Cards, which restated the focus of their work framed as a “Theory of Action”. With this focused statement of intent, our teams are now prepared to Act in their classrooms. Though we’ve not yet introduced “Instructional Rounds” to our staff, we’re planting the seeds for work in this area later in the school year.

The feedback we received on this half of the day was overwhelmingly positive: one teacher told me that this was the best PD he had experienced in a decade. And I believe that the work of the morning served to set a positive tone for the more traditional “presentation” format of the afternoon, where we were presented with information on Anxiety in Adolescents.

I plan to continue to model processes and tools, hopeful that my teachers will recognize those they might wish to try in their classrooms. I will continue to take risks with my staff, and reflect on the results, be they good or bad. And I will, I know, love being back in the role of “teacher”, if only for a few PD days a year!

Use of Twitter as a Presentation Tool

Last evening I had the pleasure of listening to Alec Couros (@courosa) at the Leadership Launch for Peel District School Board’s Mississauga Field Office.  His engaging presentation included video and audio clips, layered with comments from the audience via the hashtag #peelprez.

As I was listening, and reading the Twitter feed, interspersed were Tweets from Alec himself.  But he was talking, and clicking through his presentation!  How was he Tweeting?

I figured out that he had prepared tweets to correspond to many of his key slides, and had set them up to be sent as he reached each new topic.  It was wonderful to just listen, and not have to take notes.  And if I wanted to see more, I could just click on the link in the Tweet, and read more.

As teachers, we don’t often plan well enough to set up this complex a presentation.  However, if I’m presenting for my colleagues at a meeting, or contributing to a conference, I’m certain this will be a new “trick” in my “bag of tricks”.