School Leaders Who Blog

School Leaders Who Blog

As a blogging principal, I was honoured to be featured in the June 2021 issue of the BCPVPA Principl(ed) journal.  It is interesting to read about the many reasons that school leaders choose to blog and the things that they capitalize on.  It is also interesting to ponder the responses that come into play in the decision to make our thinking transparent as leaders.  Blogging has been important pathway for me to develop my reflective practice and to create my own narrative as a school leader.

The role of the principal, particularly in the days of COVID, is threatened to be taken over by the overwhelming amounts of managerial tasks.  Although I agree that school leaders need have well developed management skills, this was not what drove my decision to become a school principal.  My strong belief is that educational change requires instructional leaders.  Instructional leaders need to be knowledgeable and current.  Being current requires strong support for the management work and a strong emphasis on the development of instructional leaders who are clear about moving their school communities forward to support, challenge and keep our students safe. 

Instructional leadership is a process, not a finite destination.  The OECD principles for educational change have continued to be solid goal posts, but the path we navigate is continually changing.  Although social emotional learning has been a part of many school plans for many years, COVID created more immediacy in focusing our attention on what our students require to be able to learn.  George Floyd’s death and the discovery on the remains of Indigenous students at a Kamloops residential school provided a powerful catalyst for creating systemic change in our schools and in our communities.  Tremendous work has been done by principals and vice principals that are aware of the issues and how to navigate a pathway forward. 

This does not happen in a void.  We encourage our students and our staff to actively engage in inquiry and take risks in their learning.  We encourage bold questions and predictions.  We also teach them to take a step back, reflect on their conclusions, and change their mind.  In his book, Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam Grant eloquently creates a case for thinking in scientist mode so that we can remain flexible in our thinking.  This person is actively open minded and searching for reasons why we might be wrong, not for reasons why we must be right.  Revising our views based on what we learn and changing minds are considered to be acts of intellectual integrity.  Blogging allows me to step beyond my Things To Do list and assume the stance of a scientist.  

I have been cautioned and questioned about the wisdom of stating my ideas publicly.  Adam Grant describes the person who adopts the “politician” stance and acquiesces to the group in a bid for popularity at all costs.  As school leaders, our decisions cannot always appease the group.  Sometimes we are called upon to make difficult decisions that are unpopular.  Our role requires we have reflected on the issue and have develop a strong rationale for why the decision serves the greater good in our school community.  That takes time, reflection, a professional learning community to help you navigate the terrain and support from upper management. 

I feel fortunate in many ways this year.  I have colleagues and district staff on speed dial to discuss issues, problem solve and possible pathways forward.  Julie Pearce, my Director of Instruction, has the background knowledge and wisdom from years of experience to pose questions to extend my thinking and the will to support her principals.  And I have my practice of inquiry and reflection to define and redefine who I am as a school leader and what matters most.  Articulating who we are as school leaders and a willingness to rethink our positions in the face of new information are practices that are integral to establishing ourselves as leaders in the educational community.  Blogging is one pathway.

Grand, Adam (2021).  THINK AGAIN.  The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know.  New York, Viking.

Principl(ed) Vol.2, Issue 3 – June 2021 – The Journal of the BC Principals’ & Vice-Principals’ Association, “Leaders Who Blog”.

The COVID-19 Office

The Human Rights Work Continues

One positive change that could emerge from the COVID-19 global pandemic is the change in how  we do our work.  People working at home have been exposed to a whole new reality. To work, it is not necessary to be sitting in front of a computer 24/7.  Flexibility in work schedules is allowing people to schedule their days to attend to physical and mental health, as well as get the work done. 

On the common deck of my condo in Kits, my neighbour has run a power cord from the hall and set up the laptop screen to increase visibility of the screen.  He asks if I’m okay with his choice of music.  He is studying to be a pilot.  Sometimes I find him on the deck working as a personal trainer with one of his clients.  He has taught me that to explore angles on the laptop screen and shade it with a shirt to create a visor in order to increase screen visibility.  When I tilt back my reclining chair back, I can see the screen as well as the ocean and the mountains.

Down at Jericho Beach, I watch as the young women beside me tentatively step into the ocean and quickly decide it is just too chilly today.  The phone rings, and one of the young women shifts gears.  She effectively negotiates her business call and makes the commitment to draw up a proposal and have it to her client tomorrow.  As she chats, her friend takes out her computer and gets some work done.  There are no hurt feelings or resentment for not giving her friend her undivided attention.  The social contract allows and expects these disruptions.

I frequently give my son a hard time for not giving his father and I his undivided attention when he comes for dinner or for a bike ride.  And yet, at the same time I’m incredibly proud at how well he is doing with his business.  Clients around the world are paying the bills, manufacturing product or ready to work collaboratively.  Communication cannot be limited to a 9-5 context if you are being responsive to needs.  The phone rings or the text comes through and my son  seamlessly slides into business mode, negotiates the call and rejoins us.  

My cousin has an office job.  Working at home started when COVID-19 hit Vancouver in Spring.  It has just been extended until January.  She has adjusted to the reality that some days includes far more work that other.  She always meets the expectations of what needs to be done in a day.  For the employer, no work space, office furniture, phones, supplies or daily cleaning are required.   The employer has got to have noted the obvious benefits of reduced costs. 

In British Columbia, schools were closed after Spring Break to everyone but principals, vice principals, operating engineers and trades people.  I went into my office first thing in the morning, stood at my desk for hours on end, absorbing all of the new information possible, attending online meetings, planning and problem solving.  I turned my head to pick up the phone and left my office to attend to very specific tasks.  The intense stress exacerbated the muscle strain.  Two things happened to change things up for me.  Nearly all meetings were online so there was less need to dress in my regular work attire.  We were also given direction to leave the school by 3:30 pm to allow the deep cleaning of the school.  This allowed me to ride my bike to school and get some exercise, and some perspective as I rode home along the seawall.  Some phone calls I navigated en-route, and people got use to some huffing and puffing when I reached hills.  Sometimes I just stopped to focus on the situation.  I also stopped to do video-tweets for the students at my school.  It was a refreshing and much needed break.  I was still available for work.

Initially I thought perhaps Millennials were just better at pivoting during this new  reality than Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers.  And yet Alex Neve,  Canadian Human Rights Activist and Secretary General of Amnesty International, popped up on Facebook with his office set-up in the forest.  It seems to be that people with their own businesses or more job autonomy have been the blade runners in defining these new realities.   Granted some jobs lend themselves to more flexibility.  When schools opened on a voluntary and part time basis in British Columbia in June, educators certainly needed to be onsite more frequently.  However in July when I was facilitating a course for BCPVPA, I transitioned to a work space in my dining room.   Now I have expanded my options.  The side deck or front deck in the shade with the birds, or the common deck with the mountains, ocean and sunshine are working just fine.  This could be the upside of COVID-19 

The Joy of Reading Report Cards

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No, the title is not a joke.  MANY years ago, my principal walked into my office, with coffee in hand, and deposited a relatively small pile of report cards on the desk of his beleaguered VP during report card time.  Stressed parents.  Stressed teachers.  Stressed Admin staff.  Stress kids.  Hundreds of report cards to read, give feedback, and sign.  Yet with a smile on his face, a coffee in hand and the lion’s share of the report cards, off he went to his office.  Being that beleaguered VP, I set to work to return the report cards with suggestions on post it notes, or signature and appreciative comments on a thank you notes back to teachers ASAP so we could all “get on with it”.  I feverishly finished and went to announce victory to my principal and thank him for the taking the biggest pile to review and sign.  There he was sitting with the student photo book from the school photographer in hand, the class lists in front of him, reading report cards – still with a smile on his face.  “Hey, listen to this…”

It was at that point, I learned about how to read report cards.  It was not an addition to my already heavy workload but the real work – getting to know the kids better so I could support their learning.  It has now become for me, what it is for parents – additional insight into what they already know about the child and his/her/their learning.  Sitting down with the photo book allows me to match the name with the child, if I haven’t already done so.  It makes me smile.  It gives me a new piece of the puzzle or confirms my suspicions.  Classroom visits and meetings with parents and teachers, give me some insight into the individual children.  Interaction on the playground gives me another perspective.  Teachers provide another.  Student voice in the report card provides yet another.

With the roll out of new curriculum in British Columbia, there has been a new spotlight on student understanding of his/her/their learning.  Student voice in report cards has been included in many well written report cards over the years.  However, with the new curriculum in British Columbia, student voice has become a focus.  Our very own, Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser, of Spirals of Inquiry fame, have given us the structure to facilitate this within our own learning and classroom instruction:

  • What are you learning and why is it important?
  • How is it going?
  • What next?

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As students experience answering these questions, and posing them on their own, student voice finds its way into assessment and reporting practices.  This is where the true joy emerges for me as a reader of report cards.  There is incredible promise when students are empowered to take control of their own learning.  The ability to identify learning strengths, areas that require more repetition and practice, and strategies for further learning,  the ceiling is removed from what our children are able to achieve.   It develops the metacognitive skills required for children to think about their own thinking and learning, then develop a plan to move forward.

I’m hoping the practice of paying students for being good at something at report card time is replaced with good conversations about celebration of successes, as well as plans for future efforts.  As a little girl, my daughter swam with the Coquitlam Sharks and was repeatedly disqualified  (DQ’d) at swim meets during the dreaded butterfly stroke.  So much that we regularly went to the DQ to eat ice cream and shake it off after swim meets.  The first meet that Larkyn wasn’t DQ’d, our family went crazy.  We hooted.  We hollered.  We hugged. We cheered with enthusiasm and apparently volume!  The dad beside me leaned in and said, “You know your kid didn’t win, right?”  However, Larkyn conquering the “butterfly stroke” was the biggest win of our swim club experience and is entrenched in family lore.  My hope is that is what report card time can be just like that for all families.  Reading strength-based report cards that are honest about achievement, clear about areas requiring more focused attention and delineate a plan to move forward, give me hope.  It is possible for report cards to bring joy.  These are the opportunities to create enduring family stories.

 

 

BCPVPA: Leading a Culture of Learning

(from the left) – Carrie Froese – Vancouver SD, Tara Zielinski- West Vancouver SD, Ellen Roberts- BCPVPA, and Kathleen Barter – North Vancouver SD

The British Columbia Principal Vice-Principal Association Team recently presented the Leading a Culture of Learning standard of the Instructional Leadership domain in the newly updated BCPVPA Standards of Leadership.

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The book by Gary Keller with Papasan, Jay – The One Thing:  The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, provided an organizing frame for the three sessions that North Vancouver administrators rotated through.  Participants were challenged to define one thing that would most impact student achievement to take away as a focus in their schools at the end of each session.  We could not have asked for participants who were more engaged throughout all of the sessions.  This sli.do word cloud represents some of “The One Thing” commitments NOVA administrators are incorporating into their work.

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As promised, the sources listed below include the links for ease of access.  These are some of the key sources that informed our thinking as we created the sessions presented.

Breakspear, Simon. (2017).  Learning Sprints and the Clarifying Canvas

Dewitt, Peter (2017). Collaborative Leadership:  Six Influences That Matter Most.  Thousand Oaks, CA:  Corwin / Learning Forward.

Donohoo, Jenni (2017).  Collective Efficacy:  How Educators’ Beliefs Impact Student Learning.  Corwin / learningforward / Ontario Principals’ Council, Thousand Oaks, CA.

Erikson, Lynn:  A Quick Guide to Concept-Based Learning and Curriculum

Concept Based Education  https://www.rubicon.com/concept-based-learning-curriculum/

Fullan, Michael. (2018).  Nuance:  Why Some Leaders Succeed and Others Fail.  Corwin.

Gawande, Atul (2009).  The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. Henry Holt and Company.

Hargreaves, A., & O’Connor, Michael (2018).  Collaborative Professionalism:  When Teaching Together Means Learning For All.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Hattie, John (2012).  Visible Learning for Teachers:  Maximizing impact of learning.  New York, NY: Routledge.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9UYGrk1VpcQ

Katz, S., Earl Earl, L., & Ben Jaafar, S. (2009).  Building and connecting learning communities:  The power of networks for school improvement, Thousand Oaks, CA., Corwin.

McTighe, Jay & Curtis, Greg (2015).  Leading Modern Learning – A Blueprint for Vision-Driven Schools.  Solution Tree.

Parker, Kathryn, Boudett, Elizabeth, & Murnane, Richard J. Eds. (2013). Data Wise, Revised and Expanded Edition: A Step-by-Step Guide to Using Assessment Results to Improve Teaching and Learning , Harvard Education Press. Cambridge.

Robinson, Viviane (2013) Five Facets

https://www.teachingtimes.com/articles/dimensions-of-an-effective-leader.htm 

https://research.acer.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1006&context=research_conference_2007

https://inquiry.galileo.org/ch6/instructional-leadership/what-is-instructional-leadership/

Sinek, Simon (2009). Start with why — how great leaders inspire action | Simon Sinek | TEDxPugetSound https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4ZoJKF_VuA

Wiseman, Liz, Allen, Lois, & Foster, Elise (2013).  The Multiplier Effect – Tapping the Genius Inside Our Schools.  Thousand Oaks, CA.: Corwin Press.

 

 

What is Powerful Professional Development?

I have a passion for learning.  I was a curious kid.  A risk taker. A reader.  As a beginning teacher, my learning was fueled by the plethora of professional development opportunities to learn that were available in the system, including district and school based professional development.  The British Columbia Teachers Federation (BCTF) provides a structure and funding for vibrant, Professional Specialist Associations to organize groups of like-minded teachers into Local Specialist Associations.  I jumped in feet first and became actively involved as participant and executive member of The Primary Teachers’ Association.  My first principal invited me to attend my first meeting of The International Reading Association (now the International Literacy Association).  I would go on to become the president of the local chapter, The B.C.Literacy Council, and then provincial coordinator.  Human Rights Education.  Special Education.  English Language Learning.  Outdoor Learning.  I had a wide range of interests and the encouragement from colleagues and administration.

There is no shortage of professional development opportunities for curious educators.  In fact, the big question, is how do we take the front-end loading and personal passions and incorporate the ideas into educational practices that support our students in their learning?  The focus on “Make and Take” or “ideas to try tomorrow”, were often novel but not necessarily transformative in my practice.

I was fortunate to cross paths with Maureen Dockendorf.   After 5 years of teaching in Abbotsford,  I began teaching in Coquitlam.  I promptly signed up to participate in a Teacher Inquiry group led by Maureen Dockendorf.  We defined areas of interest.  Clarified our question.  Came up with a plan to work with our students and colleagues to find possibilities and sometimes, answers.   Reported out on the learning to keep us accountable for doing the work and integrating other sources or learning.  The added bonus was it was fun.  It involved collaborating with colleagues.  It caused us to carefully considering the questions and responses of our students.  It led to reflection of who we were as educators in the class and how we were meeting the needs of our students.  It allowed us to go deeper in our learning.

The work of Linda Kaser and Judy Halbert has been instrumental in the inquiry process becoming an influential force in the learning of educators and students in British Columbia.  The Spiral of Inquiry they developed has been instrumental in shifting the way we think about learning.

  • What am I learning and why is it important?
  • How is my learning going?
  • What am I going to do next?

Professional development expectations have shifted.  The merits of a powerful speaker conveying ideas based on solid research and practices continues to be inspirational.  The New and Aspiring Leaders Program designed by the Harvard Graduate School of Education is masterful at bringing together inspirational speakers and facilitating with educators from all over the world.  Collaborative structures were built into the program to facilitate the sharing of ideas with educational leaders from all over the world.  Educators were astounded by the implementation of Universal Design in education for all students in Canada.

A number of strategies have become common place to facilitate conversation about the ideas.  Think Pair Share, sitting in table groups, focus questions, and mixer activities have become common strategies to encourage even diverse audiences to talk about the ideas being presented by the speaker.

Social media has become a tool to present, learn and engage with colleagues about ideas online.  I have seen this as a way to get people in the same room to engage with each other and the speaker.  Twitter has become my newspaper and educational magazine.  On a daily basis I will read articles, blogs and magazine stories that are recommended by the people I follow.

I also participate in twitter chats, some regularly scheduled like @BCedchat on Sunday nights at 7 pm PST, other slow chats over the course of a month, like @perfinker.  I share out things I’m excited about and sometimes plan to meet face to face with online , like annual Edvents facilitated by @Edvent247

I have been asked how I have the “extra” time to blog.  For me, writing is my effort to make sense of the ideas percolating in my mind.  Having worked as a faculty associate at Simon Fraser University, I developed a strong appreciation of sitting with ideas over a period of time before making a judgement.  It was not learning that came easily to me.  One of my colleagues in Coquitlam nicknamed me the Tasmanian Devil back in my SD#43 days.  Reflection takes time.  If I can reflect before formulating and articulating an idea in writing, then I am in a much better place to engage in a discussion.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to participate in the inaugural year of Short Course II offered by the British Columbia Principal Vice Principal Association.  The design of Short Course II  for experienced principals and vice principals incorporated the three elements I believe are required to exist in an infinite loop for professional development to be powerful enough to implement personal and systemic change.  The elements continue on throughout a lifetime, although not necessarily in the same order.

  1. Inspiring big ideas to consider
  2. Opportunities for meaningful collaboration with peers to occur
  3. Time to reflect on the ideas

Leading, learning and innovation was the focus of the four day summit offered by BCPVPA at the University of British Columbia – Okanagan campus in Kelowna, B.C.  The input was inspirational on so many levels.

  1. The Indigenous people in the area, welcomed us to the land and shared their teachings.
  2. David Istance not only presented but engaged with each of the groups. As many of you will already know, he was one of the authors of the OECD 7 Principles of Education that have been the catalyst of educational change around the globe.
  3. British born, Amelia Pederson, presented the doctoral work she is doing at Harvard and actively engaged with the group, table groups and individuals throughout the week.
  4. David Weiss, President and CEO of Weiss International, gave us his perspective from working with organizational consultants who lead innovative consulting and training projects.
  5. Innovative business owners in Kelowna welcomed our BCPVPA groups into their companies and engaged in conversations about their inspiration, their process of developing their innovative idea, the skill set required of their employees and their goals moving forward.

Opportunities were structured for collaboration with colleagues throughout the province over the course of the four day program and throughout the year.

  1. A facilitator was assigned to each group and welcomed us into our table group and posed discussion questions and processes to keep us on track.
  2. We sat in the same daily table group and had the opportunity to get to know each other and engage with the ideas and questions together.
  3. We also had the opportunity to meet with other people with similar interests to develop our own inquiries to focus our work throughout the year. I was able to connect both professionally and personally with colleagues from Delta and Richmond to tease out my ideas.
  4. Informal opportunities to collaborate were part of the program, such as the wine and cheese at a local winery and the Open Deck time on the roof of FreshGrade.
  5. Online opportunities were provided to meet with our table groups over the course of the year.

By the time I had finished Short Course II, I had defined the first of my professional growth goals.  This is a management requirement for principals and vice principals in the Vancouver School Board in in British Columbia.  However for me defining an inquiry goal has always been part of grounding me in my practice.  Doing it prior to the start of the next school year allowed me to reflect on the previous year, consider new learning and thoughtfully plan my year so I could act deliberately rather than reactively.  During Short Course II, we agreed to meet with other SCII participants and participate online with our table groups.  It being the inaugural year, the anticipated challenges with technology presented themselves.  However it provides a pathway forward to continue to engage with colleagues over time.  The more we got to know each other, the better the conversation.  The inspiration, the collaboration and grappling with the ideas over time, provided an amazing model for powerful professional development.