Debbie Zacarian, Lourdes Alvarez-Ortiz and Judie Haynes have written an excellent guide for teachers and administrators that provides a rationale for a strengths-based approach, direction for teachers in their work in the classroom and strategies to support the school in its partnership with families and other community agencies.
In the first chapter, they incorporate research into positive psychology, positive youth development, neuroplasticity, and growth mindset to support the need for instructional practices to support our students.
The second chapter considers how educators can reflect on their own strengths, and then use these to support students and families living with trauma, violence, and chronic stress.
Chapters three and four focus on the classroom through teaching practices that connect academic learning to students’ personal, cultural, and world experiences while honouring what students bring to the classroom. The practical nature of this advice, such as the critical importance of routines and predictability or the need for positive, affirming and energizing feedback, had me nodding my head in agreement. Implementation of these within a classroom would benefit all students, not just those living with trauma, violence and stress.
Chapter five considers the families and guardians, and chapter six argues for a whole-school strengths-based approach and vision.
Whether you are a teacher hoping to make your classroom more responsive to the needs of your students, or an administrator looking to focus your work to meet all students’ needs, there’s something for you in this book.
When designing a course based on prescribed standards or expectations, our teachers utilize Wiggins and McTighe’s “Backward Design”. They group expectations, develop “Big Ideas”, “Enduring Understandings”, and “Essential Questions”, and then design assessment tasks that will allow their students to demonstrate achievement of these. Their lessons scaffold and support learning, to ensure that their students are able to achieve success.
Our teachers develop a strong sense of why and what they are doing, but do their students?
When teachers are able to make connections, and put the learning in context, students are able to do so as well. My grade 11 English teacher, Mrs. Miller, focussed all of our learning on the theme of LOVE, perfect for hormone-crazy 16-year-olds. In the same year, our World Religions teacher, Mr. Peter Carver, connected all our learning to answering Eternal Questions. And so when I had to connect all the skills and content of our grade 9 business course “Introduction to Information Technology”, I had the students explore their inner entrepreneur, and design and plan for a fantasy business.
My question is, can we do this for courses like Math? Like Science? Like Computer Science?
In my next three blog posts, I am going to try it out. I’ll take a subject area that I know little about, look at the Ontario Ministry of Education curriculum documents, explore the textbooks and resources, and create either a Textbook Tale, a Meaning Map, or a series of Life Lessons that might create coherence for our 21st century teens.
Both Fullan and Reeves have written extensively on leadership, and on the change process. As a secondary school principal, both are of keen interest to me.
Here’s how their advice compares:
Douglas Reeves – From Leading to Succeeding: The Seven Elements of Effective Leadership in Education
Lyle Kirtman & Michael Fullan – Leadership: Key Competencies for Whole-System Change
What do we aspire to be and to do, and why are we here and what makes us come to school each day?
3. Creates a Commonly Owned Plan for Success
Creates short- and long-terms with input, develops clear measurement to monitor and adjust, and ensures the people buy in.
Doing what you say you will do. Quickly and humbly acknowledging mistakes and asking for forgiveness. Confronting conflicts between personal values and professional environment.
2. Builds Trust through Clear Communication and Expectations
Is honest and direct, follows through, ensures understanding and is comfortable dealing with conflict.
Focus on the best initiatives, weed out those with low implementation levels and low impact, evaluate those with high implementation that are having low impact, lead those with high impact but low implementation and invest (support) those with high impact and high implementation. Avoid the lure of fragmentation.
Focus on the right policy drivers: 1. Capacity building, not negative accountability; 2. Teamwork, not individualistic strategies; 3. Pedagogy, not technology; 4. Systemic policies, not ad hoc policies.
Takes a broader, more “balcony view” to leadership, with focus on pedagogy, people and systemic policies
Make good choices, and make the most of very minute of time in school.
1. Challenges the Status Quo
Challenges practices that are blocking improvements, delegates, takes risks and does not let rules and regulations block results.
Provide fair, accurate, specific and timely feedback.
6. Has a Commitment to Continuous Improvement for Self and Organization
Uses strong self-management and self-reflection skills and a high sense of curiousity, along with input from all team members, to take responsibility and change.
Readiness for change depends on personal and organizational conditions: both low = resistance, low personal + high organizational = frustration, high personal + low organizational = learning, both high = change. Do the important, not the urgent.
5. Has a High Sense of Urgency for Change and Sustainable Results in Improving Achievement
Uses data to set a clear and decisive direction to move initiatives ahead quickly.
Plan early to delegate, to allow colleagues to practice and refine their skills. Refers to Fullan’s eight elements of sustainability, particularly the “long lever of leadership” and the need for systems thinking.
4. Focuses on Team over Self
Hires, empowers and develops the best team, and welcomes critical feedback.
7. Builds External Networks and Partnerships
Understands role as extending beyond the work and community, and uses technology to engage people in two-way partnerships.
Given that Kirtman is a management consultant, the building of external networks and partnerships is a logical addition to what appears to be a fairly consistent list from both publications.
Both provide excellent advice, and reminders to school leaders.
A requirement of the Ed.D. program at OISE (the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education) is a supervised “on-the-job” experience. It must be linked to both theory from our course work and field experience, and involve responsibility and accountability and the opportunity to perform effectively in a senior leadership role.
As we are a cohort of practicing educators, our Internship/Practicum is scheduled for the summer of 2017. I have begun my search for a placement with my advisor, Dr. Carol Campbell. She has suggested that I draft two paragraphs to provide a brief CV and my area of research.
To reduce my resume AND my research interests each to a paragraph each is not a trivial task, and so it has inspired a great deal of reflection and thought about both my history and my future, and the ways in which this “course” will be perfect for me.
My education has always been a mix of traditional learning, and self-directed learning. In grade 11, the first real musician joined the staff of my high school. I joined his stage band as pianist, then dropped Geology to take grade 9 music and learn to play the trombone. Three years late I was a student at the University of Toronto, having auditioned successful, and been offered a scholarship. This was based on grade 9, 11 and 13 music credits, a year of private lessons from a saxophone player (there being no trombonists in my small town), and a lot of “woodshedding” on my part.
Learning Computer Science
When I completed my four years as an undergrad, I was ready to apply to the Faculty of Education for a B.Ed., and certification as a teacher. I had the prerequisites to teach Music and Mathematics, but was intrigued by the description of Computer Science, which included the phrase “no prerequisite”. Having never touched a computer, I signed up. In a class with students who had full four-year degrees in Computer Science, I learned by doing: completing class assignments, teaching in placements in high school CS classes, and working, working, working. I won the IBM award upon graduation, and was offered a job teaching Music and Computer Science, in a year when most of my classmates remained unemployed.
This cycle of a mix of formal training, on-the-job experience, and personal reading and reflection has served me well since then. Among my credentials listed by the Ontario College of Teachers are specialist qualifications in Music and Data Processing, Principals’ Qualifications, a Master of Education from Brock University, and Supervisory Officer Qualifications for the province of Ontario. Throughout my career I have pursued both personal learning and professional experience. I have taught in two secondary schools, opened a third as department head, served as an Instructional Technology Resource Teacher, and then contributed four years as the Coordinator of Instructional Technology for the Peel DSB. I then developed my leadership skills over seven years as a Vice Principal in three schools, and am now in my fifth year as Principal at Brampton Centennial SS.
My research interests have evolved as I have completed half the coursework in the Ed.D. program. Dr. Campbell helped me narrow my focus to “Personalized Assessment” one year ago, and now this has expanded to include “Personalized Curriculum” as well. My utopian vision is of students with electronic portfolios spanning K-12, where each item has been validated by a teacher against criteria set out in curriculum documents, culminating in a credential granted based upon a mix of class and personal work. I am hoping that through my Ed.D. work I can complete some of the foundational research, to permit such a future for our students. As an educator who has worked with technology my entire career, I believe that there is unrealized potential in the ability of technology to support student learning by organizing work, validating learning, and analyzing feedback, in order to make students responsible for their learning.
To do this groundwork, I believe I could learn more by working with our Ministry of Education, with scholars in the areas of 21st Century learning, instruction and assessment, and with organizations that support learning beyond the K-12 structure. I have asked Dr. Campbell to introduce me to those in her network who might be looking for 120 hours of “free” labour, and am hopeful that our search will result in some amazing learning for me next summer. If you are looking for someone, or know someone who is, please contact me: email@example.com.
As a start, I’ve pulled out some of the ideas for consideration:
Introduction: Messy Minds
“To build these skills, we must encourage risk taking and orginality, and give people the autonomy to decide how they learn and create” (p xxxii)
Our educational structures are designed NOT to allow learners the autonomy to decide how they learn and create. The introduction of “choice” is a step in the right direction, but we need to get out of the learners way, and remove the roadblocks.
“The science shows that hybrid forms of work and play may actually provide the most optimal context for learning and creativity, both for children and for adults” (p 11)
And “direct instruction” is “work” but rarely is it “play”.
“..we must not only fall in love with a dream of our future self… but also love the process of becoming that person” (p 27)
As teachers, we need to facilitate the process, but not prescribe. Opportunity and feedback will nurture the love of the process.
“We should allow ourselves to balance the focused mind with the wandering mind, and skilled daydreamers do this naturally”. (p 43)
I don’t recall anyone talking to me about my daydreaming as a child, though I do believe it lead to an ability to focus, as I developed thinking skills to organize what I was thinking.
“the act of creating requires us to find time to ourselves and slow down enough to hear our own ideas – both the good and the bad ones”. (p 48)
I’m not certain that our students have any solitude: they are accompanied by their devices, music, and continual input.
“Intuition arises from unconscious, or spontaneous, information-processing systems, and it plays an important role in how we think, reason, create, and behave socially”. (p 64)
Allowing students to express their thoughts, and to explore those that arise spontaneously, seems absent from our classrooms.
Openness to Experience
“We need new and unusual experiences to think differently”. (p 82)
We need to facilitate these experiences through field trips, clubs, and events, and to bring them into our classroom with a deliberate plan for novelty.
“The capacity to deeply observe is not only a key attentional skills, it’s also a distinct creative advantage”. (p 105)
Our teachers often take the more efficient action of “telling” or “showing” rather than allowing students to see at their own pace.
“If we think of creativity as ‘connecting the dots’ in some way, then sensitive people experience a world in which there are both more dots and more opportunities for connection”. (p 126)
For sensitive learners, filtering out the irrelevant “dots” can be a challenge in our classrooms. And at the same time, we need to bring some of the “dots” to the attention of others, who aren’t even aware that they are there.
Turning Adversity into Advantage
“Experiences of extreme adversity show us our own strength”. (p 146
We’ve done a lot of talking about resilience and how we can nurture it in our students. Our “lawnmower” parents ensure that their children never face adversity, and our educational accountability structures cause teachers to do the same with their students. Those of us who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s have often spoken of the value of not really knowing what the teacher wanted, nor how she was coming up with a mark.
“The suppression of free thinking and imagination often starts in the educational system”. (p 174)
There are so many “don’t”s in the world of our children, both at home and at school. My students believe that there is a “formula” to life, and that if they merely find the first step on the path, they will succeed. We know that isn’t how life works, but we persist with the fantasy in the school system.
I’ll certainly be returning back to this book, and revisiting these concepts, over the next little while!
We talk a lot about student engagement and motivation, but a whole lot less about what de-motivates, or disengages learners.
My personal “aha” this week is that one of the best ways to shut someone down is to have them experience a failure that they don’t understand. Set up criteria, have them provide evidence of having met it, and then tell them they didn’t succeed, but without any explanation.
In my case, I know I’ll get the feedback eventually, and I’m sure it will make sense and I’ll eventually feel fine about it. However, in the meantime, I’m investing all sorts of negative energy into trying to figure out where I went wrong. This is wasted, unproductive energy that would be much better put to use moving forward, rather than wallowing in disappointment.
So, as teachers, working with students, we need to:
Set, or even better co-construct, clear criteria for success.
Assess and evaluate
Provide both the pass/fail AND the detailed feedback, as close to simultaneously as possible.
Determine next steps, and begin the cycle again.
As administrators, when hiring, we need to:
Set clear criteria
Assess and evaluate
Provide both the decision AND the detailed feedback as close to simultaneously as possible.
And if we are mentoring this teacher/TA/office-assistant then we need to set them back on the path with hope and optimism.
If we don’t, then we run the risk of shutting down the very initiative, enthusiasm and energy that we are trying to nurture.
Last night my School Council arrived “pumped”, many of them having just viewed “Most Likely to Succeed“. We, of course, began talking about what resonated with them, and what they would like to see for their children at our school.
I shared with them my most recent reading: Marc Prensky’s “Education to Better Their World”. His framework of:
aligns with the vision of Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith. But the genuine action, relationships and accomplishment presented by Prensky (@marcprensky) has the potential to change the world!
Prensky states that “today, applying passion comes too late in education”. In order for students to actually use effective thinking, effective action, and effective relationships, we need to:
Create an effective system for enabling kids to do real-world projects and for evaluating them;
Share a full sense of what the subjects, breadth, and goals of these projects would and could be; and
Connect students with appropriate projects that they will be passionate about.
Prensky’s consideration of the difference between ACHIEVEMENT and ACCOMPLISHMENT provided me with a useful framework to examine our curriculum and instructional practices, and the role that technology can play to empower our students. It has been fifteen years since Prensky coined the term “digital native”, and it is clear that he is continuing to examine our world, and reframe it in a way to help drive innovation.
The strongest “take-away” for me was Brad’s discussion of our frequent focus on the innovators in our schools, often at the expense of those who are continuing to do great work. My school has a strong tradition, and is proud of that fact. Some of my teachers are offended by our efforts to innovate, seeing this as a challenge to their experience and expertise.
As a leader, my job is to celebrate our excellence, and then coach our teachers to work for incremental improvement based upon this strong foundation. One strength in our school is the work we do with our students in preparation for the annual Literacy Test.
This fall our literacy team made use of a Google Classroom with our 425 students preparing for the online Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test, to be written this past week. Though the test was an “epic fail” (in the words of our students), we now have an environment in which our students can continue to develop their literacy skills, and be even better prepared when they write in March.
(In case you missed it, the Ontario Education Quality and Accountability Office provided an opportunity to write the annual OSSLT this fall, to test out the new online version ahead of the scheduled test next March. It resulted in 100,000 plus students sitting looking at white screens for more than two hours before the test was cancelled.)
The use of Google Classroom has leveraged the excellent work done by our teachers over the past years with individual students, and provided students and parents with the resources and support to improve their skills and be successful on this graduation requirement.
We need to continue to look for ways to connect excellent teacher practice with the tools to reach beyond their individual classrooms. As I see it, why not start with those already near the top?
It’s been a couple of busy weeks for me, mostly because I have been involved in George Couros’ fourth foundational activity: “Create meaningful learning experiences for educators”. It was the first week of the month, so it began on Monday with a staff meeting.
We looked at the theories of action that we framed at our September meeting, and placed them in context within the Ontario Ministry of Education goals, the School Board Goals, and our existing School Success goals. Our department teams then worked to craft this year’s department theories of action, and begin the work of a six-week Professional Learning Cycle. Department teams continued this work during our Professional Learning Day on Friday, will collaborate throughout the next six weeks, and will conclude the cycle at our November 18th Professional Learning Day.
During this time we will meet one more time, at our November staff meeting. And since we’ll be in the middle of this learning cycle, we’re going to plan for sharing of best practices using technology, to support our teaching and assessment. Our colleagues will present best practices within our Student Information System (particularly our use of notes to share information among our teams), how to access historical student data to inform practice, the new Read/Write functionality in Google docs, the support we can access via our ITRT (Instructional Technology Resource Teacher), and how to use Google sheets for assessment.
So, I’ve been reflecting, and considering how well both these learning opportunities will support us to develop the 21st century skills our students need. In the spring, I reflected on how we might achieve this in a paper, implementation-of-21st-century-competencies, I wrote for one of my courses relating to educational policy. In my role as a Principal, I am continually making the connections from learner, to curriculum, to teacher, and to policy. And I love that technology is making it easier to connect, communicate, share, and grow. Your feedback would be greatly appreciated!
George Couros is modeling for us, by starting his YouTube channel with his #LeadMoment clips to share his leadership pointers. There’s something about seeing a face, and hearing a voice, that brings ideas to life. So perhaps my next challenge is to shift my weekly “From the Oak Office” section of our newsletter, to a video format.
Am I ready to move from the relative anonymity of a blog post, to the much more vulnerable video format? Well, if I want my students and teachers to do so, guess I have to lead the way.
It’s Week #2 of the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC, and the end of Week #3 of school here in Ontario, Canada. In my school board, we are now in the middle of “reorg”, a process whereby we meet the class size limits as set by the Ministry of Education and negotiated with our teachers’ unions. In my school we have had to restructure, and on Thursday I informed three of our teachers that they’ll be moving to a new school in a week’s time.
This is not a new process, and I am reflecting back on my first experience of the process, 30 years ago. I believe that “reorg” is likely the experience that set me on the path of my own personal “Innovator’s Mindset”, developing the characteristics of Empathy, Problem Finding, Risk-Taking, Networking, Observance, Creating, Resilience, and Reflection in my own teaching practice. I’m hoping that my three “excess” teachers will find their experiences to be equally positive.
In October 1986 I was 4-months pregnant with my first child, and I was excited to have my first team-teaching class on my timetable: a grade 9 instrumental music class where I would instruct the brass, and my colleague would have the woodwinds and percussion. We had an amazing first month. Then, the administration looked at our numbers and decided that our grade 9 English classes were over capacity, and that our music class of 39 could be taught by one teacher alone.
Despite my colleague having qualifications in English (which I did not), seniority prevailed, and I was assigned to teach Grade 9 Advanced English, to a new class of 34 students made up of 3 or 4 students from each of the other classes.
Resilient – In 1986, both I and my students had our first test of our resilience, as each of them adjusted to my teaching style, and as I worked to build community within our class. In the 2016 era of “lawnmower parents”, I hope my current teachers will welcome their opportunity for a genuine test of resilience as we reorganize, and will be optimistic and supportive when this year’s 200+ grade 9 students receive their new timetables on Monday.
Reflective – I wasn’t very reflective in 1986 – I could barely keep up with each day’s demands as I taught my new English class, my guitar class, and my introduction to computers (programming) course. In 2016, my teachers make good use of social media, are supportive in collaborative practice at school, and most likely utilize reflection with their students on a daily basis.
Empathetic – As a 26-year-old, about-t0-be-mother, novice teacher, this was definitely an area of growth. It’s difficult to look beyond oneself when one is barely keeping up. My current young teachers have had the benefit of our work over the past decade in school climate, character education, and differentiation, and we hire with empathy as one of our “look-fors”. Today’s students and teachers are much better prepared for this week’s “reorg”, and have access via the Internet to many more resources, than did we 1986.
Observant – While I might have been trying to be observant in 1986, I didn’t have the view beyond my classroom that is now afforded educators via the Internet and social media. My documentation tools were paper and pen in my computer/math/English classes, and a cassette tape recorder in my music classes. Today’s teachers in 2016 can easily document, annotate, and feed back their observations, with a wide range of digital tools. These observations can easily be communicated, and will assist our students when their timetable change requires a change of teacher and class.
Problem Finding – The question to start with, both in 1986 and now, is: “How can this experience help my students and me grow?” And the answers will be different for each teacher and each student, but I believe they will all be positive.
Networked – There is no question that this is easier now than thirty years ago. When my English department head handed me the stack of reading for Grade 9 English, and told me that we assessed in four categories: Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, I knew that I’d be back in the department office throughout the semester. I had a support team of experienced teachers, who were all willing to share their best practices with me. Now, in 2016, my teachers have access not only to their school’s team, but virtually any English teacher in the world as potential colleagues. My three “excess” teachers know that they will always be able to connect with and be supported by their current colleagues, as they move on to their next school.
Risk-Taker& Creator – “Reorg” in 1986 taught me that I could take risks, and that the result would be infinitely better! My grade 9 students finished “Summer of my German Soldier”, and made strong connections to “Diary of Anne Frank”, and then linked both when we attended a performance of the play at Young People’s Theatre in Toronto. When we moved on to the Mythology Unit (the one unit I hated when I was in grade 9), we considered the role of mythology in culture and religion, and each student developed their own world in which myths explained all of the huge mysteries of life. Their 3-D cardboard models, and written descriptions, finally taught me the mythology I had missed! And when I chose to focus on popular ballads from the top 40 in our poetry unit, I learned more about my students (and about their parents’ concerns about song lyrics) than would have been possible with the traditional poetry textbook.
Our three teachers will be missed by their students and by their colleagues. My wish is that they embrace these Characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset, take this as an opportunity to take risks, and return to our school in the future to share what they have learned.