Who Leads in our Schools?

I saw this quote this morning. It is not a new idea, but it is certainly worth a discussion. As I continue to look for topics to write about, I continue to come back to leadership issues.

There are lots of people writing about leadership – there always has been. Sometimes I wonder how much experience these writers actually have working in a school dealing with the day to day difficulties that come with running an education institution. These days to get good ideas I usually go to my PLN on Twitter. There is a great deal of collective wisdom out there.

I put out this prompt to my PLN this morning.

I would like this to become another rolling blog, written by the members of my PLN. It worked once, and I hope there is some interest in discussing leadership as it happens in our schools. Is it simply the ‘frightening conclusion’ reached above by Jennifer Gonzalez?

I hope not. For me the best leaders are those who are almost invisible, silently encouraging others to have a voice.

Is this a difficult topic to talk about? I don’t know that many active administrators on Twitter, so it is hard to get their perspective. One very active member of my PLN  writes:

The collective whole sets the mood, culture and tone of a school. There are many leaders within any school. When teachers start seeing themselves as leaders in education and admin empowers such leadership that’s when education will change

Great to see this contribution, it makes me feel more positive about things. I truly worry when I hear that a school is defined by its traditional leader. I could write more about this, but I would love to see if others will add to this comment.

The contribution above also speaks to the need for change. Maybe if we can move away from the top down system we have now we can see the sparks of innovation really begin to light a flame.

Later in the day, Derek Rhodenizer sent me a note about a podcast conversation he had with Debbie Donsky on education leadership. This is one of the great things about developing a PLN on Twitter. You ask questions and great people get back to you with interesting content.

This is a really interesting conversation and worth listening to. Debbie Donsky makes some good points about taking a more collaborative approach as a leader in the school. Change should be able to take place in a school as a collective experience that reflects the needs of a wider community. This is harder to do, but this is an important element of effective leadership.

This is one of the great things about podcasts. In 40 minutes Debbie and Derek covered so much about how to be a different leader, one who is not the leader on the hill. Their podcast would be great for teachers interested in becoming an administrator. I can think of many administrators who would also benefit from this conversation. There is no way I can do justification to it here, but it is a rich conversation and really worth listening to.

It is great to hear from my PLN as I work through some of these questions on leadership. I hope for more to come!

 

Why Not You?

Why not you?

We are working towards achieving our goal of forming a group of 16 climbers for the first Christie Lake Climb for Kids. With a group of 16 and a funding goal of $1000.00 per climber, we plan on raising $16,000.00 for Christie Lake Kids.

It goes beyond this. If we are able to get a full group, there is every chance of making this a part of the regular Christie Lake schedule of wonderful community fundraisers. The group fundraising goal will rise and the donations will accumulate as more people see the great opportunity to give back and make adventure a part of their lives.

To get to this point we need to get this first group off the ground. We currently have nine climbers. All the climbers are connected in some way. These personal connections are really important. Very few people will take on a challenge like this unless they have a friend to share the experience.

So we need some help filling the last few spots. We actually need only to fill six more. We are hoping to have the final spot filled by a filmmaker who will document the whole journey with us.

We have a fundraising site almost ready to go. It will be run through Canada Helps a great organization that supports over charities across the country.

Our goal for each fundraiser is $1000.00, but I think friends of climbers will be inspired to donate well beyond this amount. A climb to 5200 m is a significant mental and physical challenge.

You may be reading this and say, this is not for me, or I am already committed for 2018. No worries! However, do you know of someone else who this might be perfect for?

Some of the best opportunities come when someone taps us on the shoulder and asks us to try something outside our comfort zone.

So, this may not be for you right now, but is it right for someone else? Think about that for a minute, this may be the day to open up an opportunity for a friend.

What Do We Really Value in Education?

Sometimes the hardest questions in education get danced around and never answered.

Like all institutions, the education system is imperfect and the biggest problems never really get looked at. Right now in Ontario, there is a very worthwhile consultation taking place on assessment. Voiced Radio and other commentators are doing an excellent job at promoting and participating in this on-going discussion. This is really good news.

We look at portions of the system because we can’t look at the whole thing.

Recently I have listened to former colleagues talk about the situations in their schools. These conversations are not uncommon and they make up the ‘war stories’ that all educators share.

While we despair when we hear about poor and sometimes unethical management in our schools, nothing is ever done about these situations. We never ask the question – what do we really value in education? If we really asked this uncomfortable question would we continue to protect adults who clearly have no idea how to manage schools and the people in them?

There are a whole set of rules, conventions and practices that exist to protect individuals, especially those in privileged positions of power in the education system. A huge amount of energy is put into sustaining these rules and conventions.

Not everyone deserves this type of misguided practice. When we protect these people, we certainly put students, staff and parents in the back seat.

Our lack of action displays a lack of concern for the people we are supposed to serve. Maybe we think incompetence is OK, or maybe it is just too hard to swim against the bureaucratic tide that protects those who are simply not up to the job.

The best we can say is ‘wait them out’. But what does this do to the mental strain staff members have to put up with every day? If we really want to take mental health seriously in our schools we really need to get our own house in order and call to task those individuals who are really not up to the responsibility of properly managing a school.

I write out of anger and frustration about what I hear. It is very frustrating that some school administrators are allowed to act with impunity, secure in the knowledge that their authority will not be questioned and that they will always be supported by school board staff who really do not want to rock the boat.

Our students, staff and parents deserve better. We will never have an excellent system while we continue to look the other way and support poor governance of some of our schools.

Good for Ontario to take on the EQAO while elephant, but let’s broaden our scope and take a really serious look at how our schools are managed.

Halfway to the Rainbow Mountain Christie Lake Climb for Kids!

We are getting closer!

Today, we signed up our eighth climber, we are now halfway to getting our group of 16 climbers for our first Christie lake Climb for Kids!

This is something we have been working for. A team of 16 climbers, an eleven-day excursion to The Rainbow Mountains of Ausangate. An opportunity to raise funds for Christie Lake Kids and their transformative recreation programs.

This what Christie Lake Kids is all about and this is why our group will be climbing in Peru:

All kids deserve a safe, healthy childhood.

All kids deserve the opportunity to learn, to achieve, and to succeed.

Teaching skills of all kinds not only builds those particular skills; it also builds self-esteem, social skills, and other positive qualities.

Children from low-income families deserve the same recreational and skill-development opportunities as other children.

Caring for children and youth is not just a private issue; it is a collective responsibility.

from CLK Basic Principles

Now we are assembling the elements of our first expedition. Our fundraising page will be ready soon. Each climber will have their own individual page so they can solicit donations from friends and followers, the proceeds will go directly to Christie Lake programming.

We will be climbing as high as 5200 meters – this is a really challenging physical and mental endeavour. To make sure we are successful, we will be training as a group. We are planning to work with Canadian Strength Institute here in Ottawa to develop a group fitness plan. This is essential, for a climb as high as this, people will need to be in excellent shape.

We will plan a series of fundraising events this spring to bring people together who want to help support the climb. These events will be great ways to learn more about the climb and celebrate with this year’s group.

We are also working with Great Escape Outfitters to help us with our gear selection. To complete our team, Merit Travel is planning the trip to Peru and booking our flights. You can’t do a trip like this without great partners and we are certainly in good hands.

What’s next? We would like to fill up the group as soon as this Christmas. As soon as this is done we will be able to launch our group fundraising page. By the new year, we should be able to start training as a group.

This is a really exciting venture. We have great partners and we as a group will be starting something brand new here in Ottawa. I am very excited about the group we have now and its just going to get better!  The idea of taking part in a group adventure to raise funds for a very worthwhile organization is exciting and something worth training hard for.

In the months ahead there will be more updates as the group grows and trains together. You will all be invited to our fundraising events and all the members of our team will be introduced here on this blog.

So, if you are interested in taking part in this great adventure, you need to sign up soon. The way things are going the last eight spots will be going soon!

Conversations on Assessment in Ontario – Should We Start Again?

By Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Tuesday, September 3, 2013

So, we are finally talking about EQAO and possibly how we can do better.

Last week we started some interesting conversations on Voiced Radio spurred on by the call to get involved in the provincial consultation on assessment. The first conversation was a great panel discussion and you can listen to it here.

Next, Derek Rhodenizer added to the conversation with another podcast on Sunday Night. Because of the varied nature of this conversation I have been really interested in following the evolving discussions. These are really useful broadcasts. A good panel discussion captures so much. Real radio makes a big difference.

Twitter does too. I have Storified a portion of the conversation using the hashtag #ontedassessment. You can see the conversation here.

While it is not part of the mandate to get rid of EQAO, I am most interested in comments like the one above. While we may want to discuss how we can arrange the provincial deck chairs on the Titanic, I like the comments that challenge the entire testing system.

Andrew Campbell may have said it best when he suggested we look at the reality of EQAO’s role in our education system:

EQAO isn’t an assessment tool. It’s an accountability tool.

People have used some interesting words and phrases over the past week – ancient, industrial era, what EQAO doesn’t know, invasive, ranking, wicked problem. Pretty strong words for a test we are not even considering getting rid of!

The Twitter conversation is really worth reading through. It is impossible to summarize here but there are is a great deal to consider.

One theme has to do with diverting some of the vast resources assigned to EQAO into teacher research:

This point has been made very well over the past few weeks. While we do get a static report on how the student has done, we only get the results the following year. How does this actually do anything useful? How do students and teachers learn anything from results that take months to get back to the school?

The tweet above speaks volumes to me. I think we are sowing a huge amount of distrust in the province. The test discriminates against poor schools, ELL learners, students in the Far North. It pits urban schools against suburban schools. It gives some schools a false sense of security while it blames others.

Why not start over? Why not do as Lynne Hollingshead suggests?

Let’s be a global leader, let’s begin again.

 

Conversations on Improving Ontario Schools – EQAO, Assessment, Reporting

I want to thank VoicEd Radio and Derek Rhodenizer for alerting me to this very short public consultation on assessment and reporting in Ontario. Huge topics to be considered and a shame the consultation period is so short.

I agreed to take a look at the consultation questions and take part in a VoicEd Radio discussion on this topic. Today, I decided to look at some of the questions, especially because the role of EQAO is being discussed.

Join the province-wide conversation about how best to improve Ontario’s approaches to classroom assessments, large-scale provincial assessments including Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) assessments, and Ontario’s participation in pan-Canadian and international assessment programs.

How can EQAO assessments be improved to realize the provincial goals?

I tried to answer the questions posed, I have included some of my responses below:

The best thing we could do with the EQAO infrastructure would be to get rid of it. Assessment is done best by the classroom teacher using a variety of tools much more sophisticated than the ‘one-shot’ EQAO test. The teacher learns a great deal from classroom assessment that can then become the basis for useful feedback to the parent and of course, the child.

EQAO costs a huge amount each year and this money could be better used if the funds were invested back into the classroom. Maybe we could also look at more sophisticated ways of reporting back to the parent rather than the cumbersome, jargon-filled report card.

EQAO scores are used as ways to rank schools and do little to measure the progress being made by the student. It was brought in at a time where accountability was the main concern of government in Ontario. Surely we have become more sophisticated in our approach to education in Ontario.

What types of EQAO reporting do you consider to be most useful, and why?

The current reporting is not useful. It happens once a year and as a principal, I would put this out to teachers and parents and then get back to the job of learning. The main concern about reporting was the ranking that inevitably happens after the results came out and the associated hand-wringing that would take place when our school didn’t do well in math scores.

I was also very uncomfortable with the crowing that our school board would do every year when our results showed better than the provincial average. We never heard anything about the fact that the majority of students we taught were the middle-class sons and daughters of Ottawa-area professionals. Flag waving in the education world is always a bad thing.

EQAO actually has helped us remain complacent about what we are doing to improve the lives of our students. It also marginalized poor schools who tend to do poorly on EQAO, but leaves the whole question of economic inequality unanswered.

I was surprised by the next series of questions – maybe there is hope! The survey steered off in a new direction by focusing on in-class assessment. To me, this is a very good sign that we are actual beginning to think in Ontario when it comes to EQAO and assessment.

Classroom assessment strategies are developed by teachers to help students move forward in their learning and to determine and inform students and their parents/caregivers on their learning progress. Typical classroom assessment approaches include class work, tests and various other activities and assignments that are assessed based on curriculum expectations. Teachers use a variety of assessment tools, which may include direct observation, portfolios, journals, written assignments, presentations, seminars, group work, tests, projects, and self- and peer assessment.

This section was followed up by a few questions including this one.

What types of reporting of student learning in the classroom do you consider to be most useful, and why?

So I continued to respond:

All these are useful except the Provincial Report Card. This is cumbersome and wastes teachers’ time. Timely reporting is more practical and useful and ways to encourage this should be investigated. Parents need good, practical information. Report cards are not timely but are done because they have to be done. Progress reports are more useful because they are more timely and are quick to assemble. We might do better with more progress reports and fewer report cards. Just in time reporting is more helpful to the student, teacher and parent and this should be encouraged.

My concluding remarks:

Some good questions here -thanks for this opportunity. I think it would be a good idea to go further and look at the current governance model for Ontario that keeps local superintendents in charge of school boards and that continues to support a religion-based education system (Catholic Schools). If we are truly interested in reform, we need to investigate and challenge beyond assessment and reporting.

I would love an opportunity to expand on this section, but this is probably enough for one survey. Maybe we could talk about rotating superintendents back into the classroom – now that would be a sea change! I am happy to see these questions – thanks, Derek and VoicEd Radio!

The End of School Resource Officers in Toronto District Public Schools

Black Lives Matter activists called for an end to the school resource officer program in June, during a meeting at the Toronto Police Services Board. (RICK MADONIK / TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO)

I have been watching and reading about the surprising decision taken this week by the Toronto District School Board to end the School Resource Officer (SRO) program in all Toronto District School Board (TDSB) schools. I call it surprising because as a school administrator for over ten years here in Ottawa, the SRO program has been nothing but positive, especially in our elementary schools where the SRO was a truly positive presence in the schools I worked in.

I realize that the situation in Toronto is different than that in Ottawa and that the program needed to be reviewed. The article in the Toronto Star notes that a full-year review by Ryerson University was taking place and that SROs had been pulled from schools for the first three months of this year while the review took place.

I would imagine that there is no need for the review to continue as the TDSB Chair noted in an interview that the program will not be returning to schools (see 2:40 of the interview).

It is hard to understand how decisions like this get made. As a vice-principal in a very busy intermediate (Gr. 7-8) school and as a principal in two elementary schools, the SRO was always a key ingredient in our school safety plans. They helped us with our lock-down drills, talked to students in assemblies and in the classroom and even took in recess duty – the kids really loved this.

There is no question that the SRO always did a good job of making the police more visible and more a part of the community for our students. In cases where the school population was mainly made up of students new to Canada, the SRO may have been the first friendly police officer these children would have encountered.

I have written and spoken about this before. For our schools to really do a better job we need to build positive partnerships within the community. Whenever you cut out a partner without first trying to repair a long-standing relationship you are making a mistake.

Last week there was a national debate on violence in the schools. I am not sure how we are making schools safer by taking out the schools’ most significant partner invested in keeping our schools safe.

To me, this seems like a step backwards. While the majority of students said they had no problem with SROs in the schools and while a significant review was taking place, staff, then trustees decided to end a significant community partnership.

While 57 per cent said having police in school made them feel safer, 46 per cent said they weren’t sure they wanted the program to continue. But 1,715 (11 per cent) said the presence of an officer intimidated them and 2,207 — or 14 per cent — said they felt watched and targeted as a result.

Toronto Star – TDSB votes down police presence in high schools

There are certainly problems in Toronto between the police and some local communities. The rhetoric can get heated (note the photo taken from the Toronto Star), but we don’t solve problems by building taller silos. I hope this is an issue that gets further discussion in the near future.

It would be so instructive to hear what teachers and administrators think about this issue. Their opinions should matter on such an important topic.

Talking Nationally About Violence in the Schools and Looking for Solutions

Cross-country Checkup is a good way to measure what issues are of interest to Canadians every week. This CBC show has been on for many years and it has always been a good barometer of public opinion. This week, the topic is violence in the schools and the danger staff face on a regular basis.

This became a public issue last week when an Ottawa teacher went public with a violent incident that ended his teaching career.

One issue that is being brought up this afternoon is the very dangerous situation educational assistants (EAs) find themselves every day. While I don’t know many teachers who have been injured on the job, I regularly witnessed EAs being injured. They were also verbally abused by students and parents and were seldom able to seek any recourse for what happened to them.

Is this a systemic problem? Why are we hearing so much about this now that a floodgate has been opened?

I think it comes down to an overemphasis on individual rights over collective rights. When I suspended students, it was to protect the collective. The individual had lost the right to be part of the school community, therefore they were suspended. I used this line with parents and it (of course) was not appreciated. However, suspension, especially starting in grade 7 was an effective tool and I hope high school vice principals are still able to use it. Our job was to protect staff and students. 

On the other hand, you could say that ejecting a student doesn’t solve anything. Suspension is a necessary sanction, but what is happening that leads to behaviours that lead to a suspension?

Education is an incredibly labour-intensive field. Typically, when governments want to save money on education there is only one way to do this, staff gets cut or the necessary staff are not hired.

From my perspective as an administrator, the best way to assist children, especially those with emotional or mental health issues is to have enough staff in the building to care for these students. This means more EAs, more social workers, and more in-school therapists.

The conversation continued long after the show and it included tweets like this:

Obviously, we didn’t reach any conclusions, but it is an important discussion.

I let this post sit for a few days. It is a sad topic and it is really hard to find the positives. Then last night, I attended the information meeting for a new fundraising program we are starting – Christie Lake Climb for Kids! I have written about this before on this blog. It’s an exciting opportunity and I hope we get 16 participants for this first expedition.

a reason for hope – our Christie Lake Kids meeting last night

What was really refreshing for me last night was the presentation on Christie Lake Kids. This program offers a wide variety of recreational services for low-income kids. They run a terrific summer camp along with programming throughout the year including cooking classes, a fully funded hockey team and a whole variety of after-school programs in some of the most challenging neighbourhoods here in Ottawa.

I think I needed to be reminded that while we have some really challenging problems in our schools, there are some really forward-thinking organizations like Christie Lake that are offering solutions.

More suspensions and more blame will not ease the problems of violence in our schools. Progressive recreational programming like Christie Lake will offer solutions that at least will address some of the challenges we are facing in our schools.

It has been an interesting week. Lots of discussion on how we are facing a crisis in our schools and one really positive way to find a solution that really helps kids.

For my part, I want to focus on some progressive solutions. I hope others do too!

How do We Respond to Violence in our Schools?

This morning I listened to a very disturbing interview on CBC Ottawa. A local Ottawa teacher was being interviewed about a violent incident that ended his teaching career. You can read an article about the incident here.

This is a very brave teacher. He is speaking out about violence in schools, a topic that does not get enough public discussion.

It is hard to read this article. In cases like this, the rights of staff to remain safe in their workplace are not being considered. When a student is suspended, their right to privacy trump the rights of staff to work in a safe environment. Merely moving a violent student to another school does nothing to solve the problem, it simply moves it along to another school where teachers are equally in the dark about the presence of a violent offender in their midst.

The CBC asked teachers to speak out about violence in their school and I hope they respond. The Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) commissioned a study that reported 60 percent of teachers surveyed have personally experienced violence in the school.

I think the actual percentage is much higher than this. I have heard of incidents this year where students have actually tried to break into classes to get at students. Schools seem to be helpless when it comes to dealing with these incidents.

I remember being in a situation where we actually had to physically restrain a student who wanted to get at another pupil who was locked in my office for his own protection. As the incident played out, students in the school had to be rerouted to other parts of the school to keep them safe. While we were able to keep the violent student restrained, the incident was never debriefed and the only feedback we received from our school board was criticism on the methods we used to restrain the student.

These incidents happen every day in our schools. In many cases, educational assistants are the ones who are being injured. While some of these staff members have training working with violent students, teachers and administrators seldom receive this type of training.

The system is skewed in favor of the student and their need for privacy. When a student receives a suspension or some other consequence staff members are rarely informed. There is no procedure to keep staff members safe from a violent offender and their right to privacy comes before the right of school staff to remain safe.

I am not surprised to read that violence is increasing in the schools. Whatever is happening in society is reflected in the school. Andrew Campbell wrote an excellent article on the lack of mental health services in our schools – The Hypocrisy of Student Well-being. In his article Andrew points out that very little is currently being done to provide schools with the resources they need to deal with a growing mental health crisis in the schools.

So during a time of crisis, as students are suffering and educators are getting hurt, the ministry’s new well-being program is more focussed on funding active transportation and breakfast programs than providing front line support to children with mental health needs. In fact the major initiative to address student mental health is a provincial support team that doesn’t work directly with students. Unacceptable.

I hope that this excellent article will get more attention. It is hard to hear about a teacher suffering a career-ending injury and it is troubling to know that these incidents will continue to happen until we begin to take a serious look at the growing mental health crisis that is making our schools an increasingly hazardous place to work.

Move Like a Cat: Challenging the System Every Day.

from George Couros – Only Schools Can End Schools

There are some education writers who always catch my attention. They are provocative and they give me ideas on what I can write about.

Two of these educators are George Couros and Greg Ashman.

In a recent post, George Couros wrote about institutional change and the school. He featured a quote that mentioned businesses like Netflix, Uber, and Airbnb and how these innovators have challenged or replaced institutions that believed they were secure in supporting the status quo.

Greg Ashman seems to come up with something challenging almost daily. Recently he wrote a biting critique of the 6C fad, 21st-century skills and the current belief that teaching collaboration beats out traditional content. I love the title – Can we add ‘move like a cat’ to the list of 21st century skills?

There may not be too much in common in the two articles, but both challenge complacency and that is a really important service that all educators need. Greg Ashman’s article, in particular, would be a wonderful opener at a principal’s meeting at my former school board! Greg, I would have added this video.

Funny, but are there ever workshops at education conferences on reforming the system? Is this a topic that is just a little too uncomfortable?

While these ideas are important for our growth as a profession, George Couros makes the point that the people who really need to hear this message are not even listening.

They are not listening to Greg Ashman’s challenge of the sacred cow that is the 6C’s – maybe better called the silly C’s?

My point is that these and other writers need to hold a central place in our discussions on how the education system needs to evolve. There should be a place for these discussions at education conferences and we need to realize we can do better and we need to challenge more.

We do not have to be slaves to alignment. Maybe we need to move a little like a cat!

The education hierarchy may not be interested in such talk, but neither were the owners of Block Buster.

So, let’s move.