This week marks my final week in formal education as a principal. This is my 31st year in education and I retire this Friday.
It is with mixed feelings that I leave, but it is time for new adventures and most importantly, it is time for some reflection.
What have I learned over the past 31 years? I need to begin the process of sorting that out.
I want to do this through blogging because I find that writing really helps me to clarify my ideas and helps me consolidate my learning. The pace of the day in our school – in any school is simply too hectic to allow time for proper reflection.
So, starting in the new year (taking a break for Christmas), I will be writing 31 blog posts on some of the things I have learned and am learning about education. I see this as a great way to begin the process of renewal, by reflecting on what has gone on and what the future holds.
Topics? Not sure, but I am sure a whole bunch will come to me. I am open to ideas. If you can think of something I should write about, let me know and I will give it a go.
For now, here’s to 31 great years and to whatever the future holds!
We are well into a new school year and this is a good time to reflect on what we are thankful for. I think this is a good exercise for all educators in November. Too often, it is easy to see the glass half empty.
So, this is my list – what is on yours?
I am most thankful for educators who deal with so many children who are already in crisis mode when they enter the school. Dr. Stuart Shanker writes that many of our children enter the school under tremendous stress for a number of reasons – so much can happen to our children before they even enter our classrooms. A good summary is included from a portion of an infographic that can be downloaded for free from the Mehrit Centre.
Our staff excel at dealing with children in this heightened sense of stress. Most are able to see that misbehaviour is actually stress behaviour. They then work to create a safe space in our school so that the child at least has six hours where the crisis mentality is reduced and students can begin to learn.
What does this look like? I am thankful for all these actions.
Staff that create calm spaces in their classrooms to help students transition throughout the day.
Educational assistants who patiently accompany children throughout the day and by their very presence allow the student to be successful
The gentleness that staff show towards troubled children and the sense of safety this creates
The flexibility of all educators to deal with a hectic schedule and for knowing when some of their kids need a break
The professionalism of staff members who write thoughtful and incisive progress reports that are a true reflection of the strengths and needs of our children.
The openness and welcoming atmosphere created by office administrators and custodians to all visitors to our school – they support the open, welcoming atmosphere that helps students and parents feel safe.
The creativity and calmness shown by our early childhood educators that make the challenging transition of our newest students to school atmosphere as stress-free as possible. This is truly an amazing feat as many of our children have not been exposed to large groups of children before – just think how stressful this can be!
The main element in all this is the creation of an oasis of Peace. The more we learn about the social emotional needs of our children, the importance of a peaceful, nurturing environment becomes the most important factor that leads to success for our children.
Isn’t it wonderful when a writer poses a question, then answers it right in the title? Why read on – you have your answer!
Well, I hope you will read more. Of course, we should all be connecting and I would argue that we all do in an increasingly varied number of ways. I would argue that educators need to reflect on how they are already connecting and how these connections are contributing to the development of their personal learning networks.
Here in Ottawa, we just spent two wonderful days of learning hosted by the University of Ottawa Faculty of Education and Discovery Education. We had some excellent workshops on PLNs and new professional development. Derek Rhodenizer presented a great workshop on Personalized PD.
He makes the excellent point that we all connect using a whole variety of methods, including podcasts – something that Derek does frequently. I never thought of using podcasts as a way of sharing learning, but it works for Derek. For others, it might be blogging, Twitter, and more recently Instagram or SnapChat.
Derek’s presentation is important. He emphasizes that we are all connecting – even if we don’t know it. We connect even when we have a conversation in the hallway after a long day – learning is going on all the time, we just need to acknowledge it and grow our networks.
The Ontario Ministry of Education in its excellent Capacity Building Series has several monograms on the importance of teachers making personal connections to advance their personal learning through collaborative inquiry – one in the series states that teacher inquiry is a critical part of teachers’ daily work. (pg. 1 Collaborative Teacher Inquiry September 2010)
In my presentation, I focused specifically on Twitter, Voxer and Discovery Education’s Educators’ Network called the DEN. What I love about the DEN is that it focuses on the development of personal relationships through small, intimate ‘Day of Discovery’ conferences, virtual conferences, summer institutes and a variety of social media tools. The emphasis here is on the personal conversation which really makes it unique in this digital age.
Focusing on the human connection is becoming increasingly important. One great, relatively new PLN tool is Voxer. You can find me on Voxer at mcguirp – happy to connect!
What does the learning in this session mean to your practice? How will you apply what you’ve learned? What questions remain? Do you have examples of ways you’ve applied these concepts to your school site?
Is Your Leadership Attitude Worth Catching? (Derek McCoy)
Are you on fire for leading change in your school? Do you inspire your staff and students to press the reset button everyday and give their all with renewed effort? Do people see you as the main cheerleader and visionary of your school? They should. During this opening talk, we will strategize and share how to keep a focus on the main thing and be the leaders our schools need. Presentation Slides: http://buff.ly/29WNdcY
I attended the opening session of the Discovery Principal Summit 2016 (DENSI2016) last night. This is my second year at the conference and am already taken up by the positive spirit of the people here. Principals from all over Canada and the United States.
Our for session was by Derek McCoy @mccoyderek and I tried to capture some of the moments of his talk in my twitter feed (below). We also get a question to ponder after each session, which is a great way to reflect on our learning.
Derek said lots of positive things last night, but the main message for me was Attitude. This is what we need to convey as administrators – and it has to be one that is full of joy. We are very privileged to have the jobs that we do. We really need to remember this every day and make sure that we never (if possible) get caught up in the day to day administrivia of the job and keep in mind that our job is to bring joy to our school community.
This can mean many things. For me, it means constantly trying to think outside of the box. It means looking for the next great idea that will make the educational experience for our students that much better.
What a blessing to be in this position! To be able to affect the lives of children and the community every day – as long as we remember that our attitude – being the positive influencer in your educational community is your number one job.
Everything flows from this.
One quote that Derek used last night is the most important for me – “If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.”
Too often as administrators, I think we go for what is safe or what is politically correct. This stifles creativity and certainly takes all the joy out of education.
I want to follow what Derek calls a bias for ‘Yes’. This could change our educational system, currently tied up in so many accountability knots into something wonderful. If we had a bias towards Yes, how would that spread to your school. If this spirit spread, what would happen to our school? What might even happen to our district?
My main takeaway from last night is to keep focused on the joy of our work and living every day by saying yes first. Maybe we will get some of the absurd ideas that really make a difference
We would like to invite you to lead or host a 45 minute-long workshop, presentation, hands on activity or demonstration at the upcoming professional learning event on September 16 and 17, 2016. As a presenter, you will work with groups of educators to explore and share ways to integrate digital media and technology tools into the curriculum and classroom. You might share how you integrate digital media resources into your lessons, share a favorite project or app or anything else you think our attendees would be interested to learn about (like digital citizenship, STEM, Coding…). Your workshop could be done individually, in teams, or in coordination with a community organization.
If you are interested, please submit a brief proposal for your presentation by May 31, 2016, by sending an email firstname.lastname@example.org with the following information:
Your name, association, and contact information
A short description of the workshop/breakout session you would like to present
The teacher division most appropriate for your workshop (Primary/Junior, Junior/Intermediate, Intermediate/Senior, or all)
The number of participants will be capped at 30 participants
Your technology/room requirements (laptop, smart board, projector, etc)
Your availability: (please list all that apply)
September 16, 2016- morning or afternoon or both
September 16, 2016– Ignite Event
September 17, 2016– morning or afternoon or both
If you are interested in presenting at the Day of Discovery event could you also register at Day of Discovery
For more information, please contact the symposium planning committee at email@example.com.
We look forward to hearing from and working with you.
What I really like about this book are the provocations that are put out there in every chapter. In chapter 9, George Couros writes about the importance of the appropriate technology being introduced into schools, but more importantly, he writes about the mindset that needs to go along with that.
We are trying to implement 21st-century technology with management systems that sometimes seem to harken back to the 19th century.
Our management systems have not caught up to the terrific learning opportunities, assisted by technology that are out there. Couros quotes Seymour Papert in this chapter and I have to add part of the quote in this post because it defines the bind we are in as we try to revolutionize our inflexible education structures:
So if I want to be a better learner, I’ll go find somebody who’s a good learner and with this person do some learning. But this is the opposite of what we do in our schools. We don’t allow the teacher to do any learning. We don’t allow the kids to have the experience of learning with the teacher because that’s incompatible with the concept of the curriculum where what is being taught is what’s already known.
Seymour Papert, Seymour Papert: Project-based Learning,” Edutopia, November 1, 2001.
What is really needed is a change of course (pg 146) when it comes to the application of educational technology in our schools.
If we do ______, what is the balance of risk vs. reward?
Is this serving the few or the majority?
These are essential questions – how often are these questions asked when it comes to the implementation of technology? I believe, in my experience, these questions are asked by technology departments, but too often their way is barred by system decision makers who do not have as clear a vision on how to answer these questions.
Are we really asking what is best for the learner, or are we asking what is easiest, cheapest fastest in the short-term? Are we really exploring what is best for all learners and do we really have a comprehensive plan to come up with the intelligent implementation that involves all learners – students and teachers alike.
This is my favourite conference. I come away with great material each year and I make face-to-face connections with people I follow on Twitter and truly admire. Some quick highlights in this category. Sitting at a keynote and realizing I am sitting next to Donna Miller Fry who I have learned so much from this year. Talking to George Couros just before his keynote and getting his words of wisdom, “man you really need to change your Twitter photo, no one can see you”. Doug Peterson, my hero then chimed in “your photo is rather dark”.
These seem like very simple exchanges, but for me they show how much I have learned in the last year from these great educators. We have barely (or never) ever met but there is a shared intimacy that comes from being part of the writing community on Twitter.
Some of the best learning at conferences for me now comes just from these quick connections. They will be enough to sustain our on-going on-line relationships where I will continue to be enriched by their experience on an almost daily basis.
I talked to lots of vendors and attended as many keynotes and workshops as I could when not doing registration, but I think there is huge value in all the conversations with committee members (a truly wonderful group of people), vendors and twitter learning partners. It is amazing to me that after 30 years in education, my learning experience is richer than ever.
We hear it now lots in workshops – to be an isolated educators really makes no sense anymore. I truly lived that over the past four days.
I have lots more to write about, but as George says – relationships are key, certainly the most important aspect of the work we do.
Thank-you everyone, great seeing you all!
this is the way to finish a conference – what a great group!
I am always looking for opportunities to push myself to learn more. I find that becoming an active member of networks is a great way to do this. At the very least, it gets me to write and post more material. The OSSEMOOC is a great example of a network that has motivated me to post. It’s a little like the ‘publish or perish‘ notion. If your blog is publicized on other sites, but better keep writing!
I took a look at where you can find GEGs and there are none in Canada! We need to do something about that.
The idea behind the GEGs sounds really interesting. From their site, GEG leaders benefit in the following ways:
Meeting like minded people, breaking the walls of isolation
Becoming well connected to people of similar passion
Building learning management, event management, communication and organization skills as you hold events.
Eligible to attend local GEG Leader summits hosted by Google
This is what is wonderful about social media and education, there are so many great networks that you can join that connects you to other educators. In the past year I have connected to ECOO (the BIT 2014 Conference), OSSEMOOC, DLMOOC (need to get back to that!), #SAVMP mentorship group via @gcouros, a terrific Edmodo book chat on Digital Leadership through #satchat, Learning Connections – Google + group run through #OCSB as well as a whole host of Twitter chats and Google + discussions.
Every day I learn through these great networks. At this point, I can’t imagine being an educator and not being connected, my networks are my own personal school. There are so many great initiatives and ideas out there that I would be totally in the dark without my learning partners.
Even worse, without my personal learning network I would be dependant on professional development delivered in the tradition method through our own district. This way of learning simply does not work anymore. We can complain about this or we can do something much more useful – make up your own learning network – get connected – today!
So next, time to get some GEGs into Canada – any volunteers?
I’m hoping to try something different at our next teacher PD session. Our PLNs are essential. We have used them for the past three years. Our teachers meet in grade or subject-based groups and plan their learning throughout the year. At our upcoming consolidation session, we are going to attempt our first ‘blogging party’.
Rather than have the teachers present their findings orally, we are going to ask them to create a blog so that they can share their learning with the world!
To make this a bit easier, we are planning to teach them how to create a simple blog. Audience is everything, we really want our teachers to share their great work with professionals around the world.
Our blogging party will be May 2nd. We will post using the hash tags #ocsb and #bloggingparty. Please comment, this will be a great motivator for our teachers!!
2. Click on the ‘new blog’ button on your dashboard. You will then see a collection of templates to choose from. You will also be prompted to choose a title for your triad blog. Try something catchy! Remember, ultimately your blog may be read around the world!! Your will also get your address – please bookmark this! (good time to try Symbaloo) Don’t worry if you have to come up with a temporary address to move on, your can change it in Settings after – your address is important, you want something as simple as possible – I am using triaddgmjunior.blogspot.com
3. That’s it! You have a name, a template you are ready for your first post!
4. The rest is just a matter of trial and (a bit of) error!
This morning I had a chance to sit in on the junior math triad at our school. The triad is made up of three schools – St. Gregory, St. Daniel and St. Monica. The teachers in each triad meet throughout the year and set their own learning goals as the year progresses. These learning goals become the basis of our school improvement plan.
I try to sit in on as many triad meetings as possible and I always find their conversations really interesting. Because the teachers set their own learning goals and decide when they are going to meet to work on their own inquiries there is continuous discovery based on the evidence gathered from student work.
I have been fortunate enough to work with this group throughout the school year. They have been working on a continuing inquiry on the use of math journals as a way to introduce and reinforce math concepts.
If we continue to solidify students’ ability to communicate about math through the use of math journals with support through conferencing, then they should be able to demonstrate their learning through oral or written responses using math language..
current math inquiry goal – junior math
At this point, the teachers are reflecting on what they have learned this year and where they want to go in the future. Reading through the math journals, it is very interesting to see how the students reflect on what they are learning. The teachers shared some of these reflections with me and I am posting them here.
The junior triad is now exploring how the journalling, especially the reflections can lead to more sophisticated student inquiry. They have learned that the ground for inquiry needs to be carefully prepared before jumping into one. The math journals, leading to individual student reflection on learning is a great way to do this.
The wonderful thing about the triad teacher inquiry process is that teachers choose what they want to learn based on the needs of their students. They all record their learning in an Evidence of Learning document that gets updated every time they meet. Ultimately, their inquiries become the basis for our school improvement plan.
For me, the most interesting teacher reflection throughout this process has to do with how their inquiries has changed their teaching practice. We added this question this year after reading Intentional Interruptions by Steven Katz. Katz states that every time teachers embark on a new ‘doing’, they need to reflect on some key questions. One of these questions asks teachers to reflect on how any new initiative will deepen their professional understanding such that teacher practice changes. (pg 78)
This is how the junior teachers answered this question:
Where to next? Now what?
“The journals have shown us that explicit teaching prior to, or in combination with, inquiry allows for more success. We need to fill the student’s toolboxes with concepts and strategies before we can expect them to be confident in problem based inquiry. Confidence is one of the most important tools for students to be successful!
We have also learned that the journals have built in differentiation for all the learning styles in the classroom with the flexibility and creativity allowed in the reflection piece.
We will definitely continue the Math journal into next year. Where possible, the students remaining in the school will have their journals passed on to the coming teacher and continued on from there (teacher discretion). We hope to take the explicit teaching in the journals and use it to strengthen the students’ inquiry skills.
Possibility for next year are some shortcuts for the kids who have a difficult time with copying or concepts, for example having the curriculum learning goals pre-typed, having some of the interactive tools photocopied, creating alternative interactive tools based on student needs.
More conferencing needed.”
Really interesting to see concrete examples of teacher learning taking off once they are given the autonomy to try out new concepts on their own!