Educational Leaders and Community of Practice

“Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.”

This is taken from “Communities of Practice – a Brief Introduction” by Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner. It speaks directly to what I believe is happening at a school and district level, and even at a Provincial level when it comes to initiatives for the improvement of our education system here in Alberta.

Here at St. Angela, the educators and educational assistants share a common domain of interest – to improve the learning of our students, to support leadership building in every child and to use our faith as a Catholic School to filter what we are doing in our world.

Similarly, the educators of this school work together to help each other in regular Collaboration Days and professional development to support our craft as teachers in our classrooms.  It is about the relationships we cultivate and the connection between these relationships which will make a noticeable difference within the classroom.

As well, it is about the ‘practice of teaching’, similar to what some would call the ‘practice of medicine’ or the ‘practice of law’.  As the article states:  ‘members of a community of practice are practitioners.’  We try things out.  We work at changing what we have always done.  We want to try new things.  We want to make sure we are reaching every single child within their own specific learning style.

Alberta Education is asking us for input in Curriculum Redesign.  This is but one of many ways for us to become communities of practice.  Together, we can come up with even more effective ways of teaching our children (students).  If we truly are leaders within a community of practice, we can make a difference, supporting the growth and effectiveness of our education system.  I encourage all teachers and parents to become involved in a community of practice.  It is a positive way to truly make a difference, not only for yourself but for our communities.

Welcome To A New School Year

Welcome back to all the staff, students and parents of St. Angela School.  It has been one full week of welcoming, setting routines, fresh new shiny floors, meeting up with old friends, and making new ones.  Already, there is a smooth routine in our building as we work out the kinks with bells, playground areas, which doors to enter and what we will learn this year.
School Council has already put on a very successful Family BBQ and we now look forward to our Annual General Meeting and Meet the Teacher night on September 21, 2016 starting at 6:30pm.  We hope to see all parents out for that evening.  We especially hope to have more parents willing to volunteer throughout the year with the many great School Council activities already planned.
Keep an eye on the school website, especially the St. Angela Parent Calendar 2016-2017 (link on the front page of  It will list all of the activities going on at the school you should know about.  You will also find an Upcoming Events display on our website front page.  It lists all of the activities starting with the most recent dates.  As always, parents and extended family are always welcome to join us for our Weekly Assemblies.  Our first one is Monday, September 12 starting at 11:15 a.m. with our School Opening Assembly.  Many students will be involved with a prayer celebration followed by our regular Assembly Activities.  Every Monday after that, we will have assembly starting at 11:30, unless there is a celebration attached to the day.  Keep your eye on the calendar.  It will keep you updated.
Parents: welcome to your school.  As staff members, we want you to know it is an honour and privilege to be working with your children.  We are called to be leaders of hope and mercy.  Join us on this journey.

Creative, Quality Leadership

The summer months have always been a reprieve for me.  A time for recharging, dreaming, reflecting, and even learning.  I love to read, and I often fill my iPad with a variety of books to get the brain working.  This summer isn’t going to be any different.  What is different this summer was beginning this July with a trip to Disneyland.  Sure, that may sound like a normal thing to do during a summer holiday, but as a child, that would have been totally out of the question for me coming from a farming background in southern Saskatchewan in the nineteen fifties and sixties.  What I didn’t realize until recently, I was born the same year Disneyland was open. What a notable coincidence for me.

Off to Disneyland we went with Grandson #1 in tow.  After experiencing what is called a 3 Day Hopper Pass, I can say I felt all ‘Disneyed’ out!  One night during the five total days we spent in Anaheim, I watched a movie on Netflix called ‘Walt Before Mickey’.  Although the acting was quite poor in the show, it did help me get ‘behind’ the life of Walt Disney and the reason I titled this writing ‘Creative, Quality Leadership’!  Here was a man who lived to dream, and spent his entire life working to make that dream happen.  He was painfully unsuccessful for many years, until his perseverance paid off and his creativity led him to Mickey, a cartoon mouse who would change his entire life.  Walt was an artist.  He was a dreamer and I believe he was a leader.  His leadership skills led him to stick it out, make some amazing plans, invited others into his world, and even today, 50 years after his death, continues to impact the world.  One characteristic most striking for me is ‘quality’!  The movie often speaks of his deepest desire to create the very best cartoons possible.  As I spent the 3 days walking between Disneyland and The California Experience, I too couldn’t help but notice the quality.  The place is immaculately clean.  The music is perfectly timed.  The ‘fake scenery’ is precise and appropriate down to the last detail.  I loved watching the parades, and listening to how the music literally ‘moved’ along the route in the speakers behind us as the floats wound their way through the streets of Disneyland.

This is what leadership calls us all to be about.  Bring on the creativity and the quality.  Be the best we can be as we reach for our dreams and hopes.  Thank you Walt for being this kind of leader.  As we celebrate the 60th Anniversary of Disneyland, these qualities will surely bring us sixty more years.


Leadership and Change – Reaching Our Goals

We have quickly come to the end of yet another school year at St. Angela School. Time waits for no one, and our experience this year proves it. Wasn’t it just yesterday we gathered at the back of the school to greet the families and students attending this wonderful school community?

In the past ten months the students and staff have worked extremely hard to establish three key goals: Leadership for ALL, Literacy/Numeracy, and Transformation. For all intents and purposes, these goals have taken root and have become the guideposts for all we do. Goal setting is a crucial skill every great leader develops. Using the goals as filters, helps us to determine if we are moving forward or not.

Throughout this school year, we continually asked the same question: “Is what we are doing (any specific activity or request) helping us to reach our goals?” If we keep the goals in sight the results will be exceptional. If the activities or requests made no difference in reaching our goals, why should we spend time or money or human resource on them? The result: things have changed. New strategies have evolved. Some activities and strategies (long standing ones even) have been let go.

Sometimes this process is hard to understand for those who are not inside the building. For example, it is not ‘graduation’ for Kindergarten, nor is it ‘graduation’ for Grade 6. We are moving on. It is a commencement (in French we say: “commence”, which means to ‘begin’). It is not an ending, but a beginning and is why we don’t have ‘graduation’ ceremonies to mark them.

As we gather for our final day at the end of June, celebrating our successes (and there are many) and asking God to bless our summer break, we are reminded to Sharpen The Saw. It means taking time to relax, read, play with our friends and relatives, go camping, swimming, and even mountain climbing. It means ‘shifting’ our thinking. Sharpen the Saw is the seventh habit which actually ‘circles’ all the other six habits of leadership. Practicing this habit will help all of us take a much-needed break from our regular routines, bringing us back in September with renewed enthusiasm, willingness and drive to reach our goals as we Begin With the End in Mind.  Have a GREAT summer!

Leadership versus Bullying

An educator is my career of choice. For thirty-seven years I have been doing this work and find it completely fulfilling. As in any career choice, the bad comes with the good. Since 1998, my experience as an administrator in elementary schools has been overwhelmingly positive and exciting. If I had to select one area of regret, it would be about ‘bullying’. I have learned over the years, how very few people (parents in particular) know what the word actually means. In the many cases of bullying brought to my attention, it is frequently obvious we need to help parents understand what real bullying is, how to identify it and how to bring it to an end. What is often considered a ‘serious’ bullying activity is frequently children learning social skills and working hard at getting along. For example, learning how to share can be very difficult for many children, given they are used to having everything they want, and even get things they don’t need. That said, real bullying does exist, and certainly resides in schools.

I have been approached by parents over the years asking what ‘program’ the school is using to fight against bullying. My experience tells me how little effect any specific program has on anything, let along bullying. It seems programs, or the latest ‘fad’s, come and go. This is where The Leader In Me PROCESS is so very different. I use the word ‘process’ on purpose. The Leader In Me (TLIM) is not a program. It is a cultural and atmospheric change or process within a school setting, turning away the negativity of bullying and providing strategic and concrete skills for every adult and child in the school. TLIM is a foundational process to provide a solid base for the rest of our lives. It builds character, choices, freedom and voice. It is a process which not only helps students learn about themselves and each other, but also prepares them for the challenges and responsibilities they will certainly encounter as adults.

I was recently approached by a very upset Great Grandparent telling me there wasn’t anything being done at the school regarding bullying. I believe her comments couldn’t be farther from the truth. The process of TLIM has become, in my estimation, the most powerful process to do exactly that – bring down any notion of bullying and present to every student the choices they need to make on their journey to becoming leaders.

I don’t need to imagine a school operating TLIM. I have now been in two schools where TLIM has taken root. The results (data driven) have been phenomenal. For example, in the first school, just from behavioural issues alone, the drop between the first and second year of behavioural incidents went from 818 incidents to 442 incidents, almost a 50% drop in one year. That later dropped to a 90% decrease in behavioural issues. Why? Students become PROACTIVE, not reactive. Students make choices. Students begin to listen to each other for understanding, and students chose Win-Win over Win-Lose!

My response to that Great Grandparent who wants something done about bullying: ‘Come and see.’ Let us show you how TLIM prevents bullying. I believe the only process able to change the syndrome of bullying in a school is the process of finding ‘The Leader In Me’ in the life of every student. It will make ‘Great Things Happen’ in any school. (

Nothing Average about ‘uLead’ 2016

I am surrounded by the beautiful Rocky Mountains in Banff Alberta Canada.  This alone is probably enough.  But no, there is more.  I am surrounded by 1100 educator innovators from literally around the world.  Yet still more.  I am also able to experience the profound knowledge of educational thinkers who have dedicated their lives to deepening the learning for students in our world.  Top this off with great food and the occasional glass of wine, makes this conference, ‘uLead 2016’ ( one of the best.

It is energizing to listen to Dr. William Rankin (Director of Learning at Apple) inviting us to ‘give a brain a problem and it will light up!’  He also said ‘If you can do your educational innovation on paper, you should.  It is cheaper!’  He invites us to: “Wrap community, context and content around all the student learning challenges we present to students.” and “This is NOT ABOUT gatekeeping and control!!!”

I am profoundly moved when I hear this last comment, since it has always been my mantra.  We must get way past the days of educational control (neat and tidy boxes) and truly allow the freedom of learning to exist in every single classroom for every child.

Dr. Rankin also highly recommended we read the book ‘The End of Average‘ by Todd Rose.  I have already purchased and started the book on my iPad.  Why read it?  We must stop teaching to the average, because the average does not exist.  It is not the service our students require to be life long learners.  Crack open our curriculum and get beyond ‘average’.  I think this book deserves to be on our staff book study list.

Regardless of your take on uLead2016, I am thinking of the power of leadership and how we can make a difference in the learning of all students.  As one talk title states, we are called to ‘world class learning’.  I want to be part of a lead learning team whose sole purpose is to provide world class learning for every single child where the word ‘average’ is not part of the curriculum.

Effective Teachers and Leadership = Improved Student Learning

The educational world is constantly challenging itself to prove pedagogical effectiveness by results, by data.  Data is crucial.  It is a vital tool used to demonstrate learning is happening.  I love data.  I believe collecting data helps to focus on ‘where we came from’ and ‘where we are now’.  I think of the first school I introduced The Leader In Me process to,  and can’t help but acknowledge how data demonstrated its effectiveness.  One piece of data in particular was the reduction of negative behaviours.  In our first year, we collected over 818 incidents of negative behaviour from students.  The subsequent year, after starting The Leader In Me, the negative behaviour totals were reduced to 442 incidents; a reduction of 42%.  By the end of year three, negative behaviour totals were reduced to 12 incidents; a reduction of 92%.

One big question always seems to be:  does this process improve PAT results?  Truth is, I don’t care.  What I do know from personal experience over the past 37 years of teaching, is reduction in negative behaviour improves the school culture and increases student learning.  I doubt anyone would disagree with:  ‘if students are misbehaving, learning is extremely difficult.’  If something helps students to change their behaviour for the better, I believe it helps them learn.  The Leader In Me is one such process.

Other data we collected included the number of truancy (being late to school) incidents.  In the first year we had a total of 1804 ‘lates’.  By the end of year three the number was reduced to 18 (a 95% decrease).

If I had to choose an even more significant area of change, I would need to include the shift of pedagogical (teaching) practice of the teachers in the school.  With the common language of The Leader In Me and the constant call to give students ‘a voice’, a shift from teacher centred teaching to student centred learning became the central focus.  When an entire staff and school are focused on ‘being proactive, beginning with the end in mind, putting first things first, seeking first to understand-then to be understood, thinking win-win, synergizing and sharpening the saw, the results are astounding.  Will a leadership process help you ‘see’ improved results from the one time a year, two-hour summative assessment tool called Provincial Achievement Tests?  Maybe.  The Leader In Me process may or may not improve PAT results.  I can tell you I have seen huge changes happening in at least two schools.  I have witnessed extremely united, happy staffs who spend little or no time disciplining, and all their time improving their craft as they watch students grow in leaps and bounds. Everyone knows the most effective tool to help students learn is having effective teachers. When effective teachers connect students with leadership skills the results will change the culture of the school and prepare students to change the world.  This is the data I look for.

Lead Learning Team: What is it?

I heard a wonderful line from Simon Breakspear a couple of weeks ago as he was speaking about teachers: “If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room!” He was and is referring to the important role of the teacher who must ‘get out of the way’ when teaching students. Let students reach out, learn and ask questions. Let students search for answers and bring them to the class. Let students search the web, ask a friend, talk to an adult, or even dream; whatever it takes to help them resource their way to learning new things they are passionate about.
I want to be on a team of educators whose sole purpose is to support the goals of learning for every single child in a school, no matter the level, the skill or the struggles. As a principal I am spending way to much time taking negative calls from parents, handling discipline problems or making sure technology works. None of these ‘principal’ activities benefit student learning.
I am asked to consider the following fill in the blank scenario: How does ________ support student learning?
I want to work with a ‘high impact’ team of educators whose common purpose or cause is to have maximum impact on student learning! And I don’t mean students as a group, but each and every single student learner in our school. (Do students learn AS a group, or do students learn IN groups?)
What is a Lead Learning Team? It is those individuals who ‘already believe’ in the role they play to support student learning. It does not include the clock watching teacher, the “I know everything already’ teacher or the “I just want to do what I have always done’ teacher. The Lead Learning Team (LLT) is about generating solutions that work in schools. In THEIR school. This may mean leaving behind some educators hard to work with. It means working hard at what is already working and coming up with better practices to support student learning.
In my mind, it means establishing your Lead Learning Team (principal, assistant principal, learning coach, keen teachers) who together ponder the following: Is what we are doing every day supporting the growth of student learning? What should we STOP doing in our classrooms because it marginally or doesn’t support student learning? Is the Professional Development experienced by our staff the right kind of PD for the students we now have?
Bring on the Lead Learning Team. If you are lucky, the nay sayers and those less inclined to move forward, may see and feel the momentum and jump on board.

Tri-School Constructivist Learning Leaders

Our first Tri-School Collaborative Learning event is officially over.  Three schools, with similar structure, student population and staff size, met today; Division 1 (Gr. 1-3) in the a.m. and Division 2 (Gr. 4-6) in the p.m. at one school.  Two teaching staffs were able to walk into classrooms and watch their grade level teachers teach.  They could interconnect with the active teacher, talk to students, take pictures, ask questions, take school tours, visit other grades/classrooms,  and come together after two hours to debrief and answer: “So, how did it go?  What did you learn?”

Linda Lambert (1998) defines leadership as constructivist learning:  The key notion in this definition is … leadership is about learning together, and constructing meaning and knowledge collectively and collaboratively.

This is our purpose and our goal.  Teachers NEED to come together, on company time, to share and interact, question and dream.  It’s in this sharing and connectedness where true growth and learning can happen.  Gone are the days of closed doors with the teacher in the class being the smartest person in the room.  Were the first group of teachers being visited a bit nervous?  Of course.  Who wouldn’t be.  Especially if this was the first time having visitors in your profession sharing your space and hoping to learn.  Did the kids perform?  You bet they did.  We really did want to see kids in their exact environment.  This is as real as it gets.

How successful is our tri-school venture and collaboration?  Is it worth the investment of time and substitute teacher costs?  Only time and connectedness will tell.  As professionals and leaders in our field, it will be the continued connections resulting from our visits which make the difference.  It will be taking what I learned and putting it into practice.  And, it will be supported next month when we visit our second of three schools to continue our constructivist learning as educational leaders.

We are ALL Leaders

“If all of us work together as a school community where we all have the opportunity to share our strengths and become leaders, the limits of what we can do are endless.  In fact, together we can definitely change the traditional definition in society on what a true leader should be.”  (The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age)

This has always been my dream as an educator and leader within a school district and school.  As I look into 2016 and the second half of this school year, I am reminded yet again of the importance of leadership skills for every single person in our school.  It is time to ramp up our energies and focus on building leadership skills in staff and students.  All the literature (and there are hundreds of books written) say the same thing.  We can make the difference necessary in our own lives as professional educators and in the lives of our students when we ‘find our voice’, speak to our passions and use our energy to make a difference.

Fletcher (2005) says student leadership is a valuable component of education.  “Meaningful student involvement,” he writes, “is the process of engaging students as partners in every facet of school change for the purpose of strengthening their commitment to education, community and democracy” (p.5).  (The Connected Educator)

Using the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and the 5 Stages of Social Justice, we too are on the journey to support student leadership.  It is a journey proven by many others since the beginning of the 21st century (see  Connect these with teacher leadership and we have a dynamic process to create a culture of leadership within our school setting.  It is an exciting time!