Response to: Five Ways to Damage a Good School

There are just some posts you have to read. Last week, I came upon this post by Greg Ashman, Five ways to damage a good school. As a former school principal, I am a sucker for lines like that.

His ‘five things’ were really interesting, and if I can, I will try to comment on some of these factors because, from my experience, he makes lots of good sense.

The first one is not something that you would think would make a top five list, but it is interesting.

Focus on the furniture

I admit that this is a bit of a pet peeve, but I think Greg is on to something here.

The most efficient physical arrangement is to have individual classrooms with tables that are laid out, or at least can be laid out, in rows, yet you will struggle to find a consultant or architect who will recommend this.

It might even be politically incorrect to agree with this point, but as a principal, I got so tired of ‘experts’ telling me how terrible it was that some teachers still had their students in rows. How terrible, how lacking in creativity how 1920’s!
To me, it was important to remember that this supposed expert had not taught in a regular classroom for at least a decade.

Another consultant whose feet were a bit more firmly planted in the classroom noted that rows were important for kids. Sometimes a student needed to know that they had their own safe space in the classroom, something they would be able to count on. This makes lots of sense and as a principal, I never told any teacher how to arrange their classroom and never made any judgement on the quality of instruction based on the design of the room.

Educational orthodoxy these days seems to be firmly planted in the ‘flexible seating’ mode. Take this article in Edutopia – Flexible Seating and Student-Centered Classroom Redesign by Kayla Delzer:

Our classroom environments should be conducive to open collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking. This simply cannot be done when kids are sitting in rows of desks all day.

When I returned to the classroom a few years ago, I had rows. I was able to create this flexible seating arrangement simply by asking the kids to move their desks – they were quite capable of doing this, allowing for some increase in physical activity, another benefit of going to flexible seating.

Here’s the thing. Too often, educators get caught up in the latest fad – flexible seating and the expense that comes with this is one of the newest things. In schools with limited resources (I would say most schools in Canada), the purchase of new furniture means that something else will not be bought.

I one school that I had worked in, the new administration decided to purchase flexible seating rather than provide computers for kids. How can that be seen as a good thing? In many schools, the arrival of a new principal means that new office furniture is in order – how can we justify these expenses when we still rarely see 1:1 schools in Canada? Where are our priorities?

Thank-you Greg Ashman for making such an interesting observation. Let’s try to keep our focus on empowering our students, not the latest edufad.

 

Technology – SAMR for Administrators The Edutopia series

Google
Google (Photo credit: warrantedarrest)

I have started reading a really interesting series by Josh Work – a guest blogger on Edutopia.  The series is focused on what tools administrators can use to keep up with their teachers and the use of technology.  I think this will be a terrific series.  In my experience, teachers are far ahead of administrators in their use of technology.  If we are going to be good role models to the teachers on staff, we need to get much better at using technology.

My hope is that the move to modification and redefinition (SAMR) will also influence how information is delivered to us at the district level.  That is a major topic in itself!

Josh Work is using the SAMR model as the basis for all of his work.  I think it is a reasonable expectation that administrators move through the SAMR continuum from substitution to redefinition.

In his first post, Work writes about staff presentations and how administrators can improve their communication with staff.

What a great topic to start with!

There are so many great tools we can now use to communicate more effectively with staff.  Are you still stuck using e-mail as your only communication tool?  It is really time to move on.

Before moving to any particular tool, Work makes a great point – time is a precious commodity for any school staff and we need to really examine if there are other ways to convey information beyond the traditional (yawn) staff meeting.

Work concentrates on Google Apps for Education (GAFE) which, in my opinion, is certainly the way to go.

So, what can administrators use to communicate more effectively?  Agendas can be circulated before the meeting using Google Drive.  Work also mentions that administrators can get good feedback from staff by using Google Forms or by hosting a Google Hangout to enrich communication with staff.

I agree, all these tools can really help keep the flow of information moving.  I use Google Drive to post a working copy of our agenda a week before the staff meeting.  All staff have access to the document and anyone can add an agenda item to the document right up to meeting time.  The rule is, if you can post on Drive then your item will be part of the agenda.  I then try to get away from paper copies of the final agenda.  We can then edit the agenda as the meeting goes on so that we have an annotated agenda recorded in Drive by the end of the meeting.

We also use Google Forms on a regular basis to survey staff on a number of issues – some of the best information I have received from staff members has come from these surveys.

We use Google Groups as our staff e-mail conference.  It is a good interactive tool that allows staff to communicate effectively.  The membership is controlled by an administrator and it is a closed, secure system.  It is very easy to use, I am moving to a new school in September and most of the staff in my new school are already using this tool to communicate with other staff members!

Google + is an amazing collaboration tool that we have used in the past.  We are using the Communities feature to connect special collaborative teams between schools.  This tool took a bit of time to catch on, but it a terrific way for educators to keep in touch, especially when sharing information between schools.

As administrators, we need to take a lead role by trying out these tools.  It is no longer excusable for an administrator to say they are not ‘comfortable’ with the use of technology.  It is part of our job to be risk-takers and try out new forms of communication.  If we try these tools, staff members will be encouraged to do the same.

My next challenge is to try out Nearpod.  This tool is suggested by Work – I don’t know anything about it, but I feel obliged to give it a try.  It may or may not be useful, but I need to at least check it out.

I hope all administrators read this series and then make a serious attempt to adopt new communication tools in advance of the next school year.

Then we can start work on the district!

Next – Community Interaction