Helping Leaders Grow

I have a most interesting life since June 30, 2018.  On that date I chose to leave the 38.5 year career as a teacher/administrator.  Did I actually LEAVE the career?  Well no!  My wife and I like to use the word ‘rewire’ rather than ‘retire’.  It is ‘rewiring’ happening every day.  My focus has changed from K-12 students and is now focused on post secondary students.  Teaching at Concordia University of Edmonton since September 2018 has been an amazing and refreshing change in my career.  What’s more, I am teaching a course entitled ‘An Introduction to the Profession of Teaching!’  Can it get any better than that?!  With sixty students divided into two sections, my wife and I are team teaching this course and are enjoying the new role of ‘Sessional Instructor’.

What hasn’t changed is the deep desire to continue supporting those who want to become leaders in the field of Education.  Yes, the material is considerably different, and these students actually have opinions and reasons for thinking the way they do.  But in the end, I still believe leadership can be taught.  I believe leadership must be taught.  I now get to practice my skill of teaching with those very people who perhaps one day will be standing in a classroom of students, struggling with differentiation, learning to be better at assessment, teaching students how to read and write, and yes, how to become leaders.  It is a whole new energy and a whole new way of learning for me.  It is still a joy to help those who want to learn.  What are you doing to help leaders grow in your profession?

Leaders Need To Read

I sat down with two of my grandsons this afternoon just before supper.  The deal was:  if Grandpa reads 5 books to you, only then do you get to play a game on Grandma’s iPad for 30 minutes.  Their eyes opened wide and they ran to the book box filled with children’s books.  They selected:  You’re Only Old Once by Dr. Seuss; Max’s Words by Kate Banks; Bats by National Geographic Kids (Elizabeth Carney); I Love You Through and Through by Bernadette Rossetti-Shustak; and How To Train A Train by Jason Carter Eaton.  I list these titles because you may be looking for new book titles for your 5 to 8 year olds.  The ‘I Love You…’ book is even younger, but my oldest grandson just loved reading the words.  He was surprised how many he could read.

The greatest gift I can give to my grandchildren, besides my love, is the desire and passion for reading.  We have books around all the time.  We have even more now, since both my wife and I retired at the end of June as administrators, which means our children’s book libraries we have built up over the 38 years as teachers have come home to roost!!  Yikes!  This passion for reading will serve our grandchildren well as they learn to become leaders and readers.  It is an exciting time of year right now, as they prepare for school to start in a couple of weeks.  Never stop reading to your children.  They will thank you and their skills will continue to develop on their journey to be leaders in their communities and careers.

The Leadership Train Ride

One of my favourite metaphors for the past many years as an administrator is about a train. As a kid, I just LOVED trains. I don’t know why, but trains always seemed to be about journey, moving forward and setting new goals. I would begin the first staff meeting of the school year with this statement: We are on a train ride. If for some reason you feel you don’t want to be on this particular train, please let me know. I would be happy to help you get off at the next stop. But, if you really do want to be on this train, then hang on. It’s going to be a great ride, and I am so happy to be here with you!!

Today, I have stepped onto a new train, going on a completely new track. Some people are calling it the ‘retirement train’. I am calling it the ‘leadership train’. Today was my last day with students before the summer holidays and my retirement from more than 38 years as an educator and administrator.

I call it the Leadership Train Ride because deep inside, I have always believed the way to get the best out of anyone, especially students, is to teach them how to become leaders. When students have leadership skills engrained, their behaviours change, their learning changes, their lives change. I don’t care what method you use to teach leadership skills. I don’t care if you have a special program or not. I do know teaching the students about the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and using The Leader In Me (Covey) works! I have seen it. I have watched children become passionate learners, excited creators and willing ambassadors for social justice, mercy and peace. Whatever works for you, use it!

I encourage all educators, whether a newbie just starting out, or someone with years and years of experience to jump on the Leadership Train Ride. Your craft as an educator will grow. Your students will see measurable and encouraging differences in their lives almost immediately. What’s more, you will be leaving a legacy.

So the next time you see a train rolling by, or you are forced to wait at a train crossing, think about the students in our schools and their journey of learning. That train might be crossing your path for a reason. Our world desperately needs leaders who seek justice, mercy and peace. May our work as educators continue to invite students to leadership. I know this will always be my desire for all students, especially and including my grandchildren.

I look forward to meeting you on a train.

(P.S. Although this sounds like my last posting, it isn’t. Stay tuned for more as I share where my new train ride is taking me, what I am learning and what I feel called to do on this new ride!)

iPads Versus Chromebook: Its about your view of Education and learners!

What kind of learner are we creating in our schools today? Is it a learner who can memorize facts and do well on tests? If so, your choice of technology device would definitely be a Chromebook.

If the learner is someone who is creative, wanting to become a creator rather than a consumer, then Apple iPad is the way to go.

It really comes down to the philosophy of education you have as a parent or educator. Creative learning, or in the words of Alberta Education, development of competencies, invites us to reexamine just how effective technology is and if it meets the needs of the learner today.

“Apple has always targeted the type of customer that is looking to invest in creative technologies for learning while Chromebook have prioritized providing an affordable solution to bring digital productivity into classrooms and support online testing,” said Futuresource’s Ben Davis. “Our market data suggests that the U.S. market to date has prioritized digital productivity and testing rather than creativity. ” (https://www.futuresource-consulting.com)

My passion has always been creativity. Each learner learns in a unique way. Gone are the days of ‘same soup’ for every child. We are now completely immersed in the inclusive community learner world and must seek tools and supports to provide the most effective differentiation possible. Yes, there are clear linear learners. We must also support those who learn through a creative response.

I struggle with educators/schools who see technology as merely a fancy word processor in the hands of students. Yes, word processing does help us to put in writing what we are thinking as students and learners. What happens when you have pictures in your mind needing to be meshed together in an iMovie with a storyline you have created which not only uses words but sound and feeling only a movie clip can do? You have still created the words, collected the data and ‘pictured’ in your mind how it should look. Once you have created this singular product, you are now able to demonstrate to others the learning taking place. Plus, it will be memorable due to the engagement and passion you experience during the creating stage.

The old adage – it’s not ‘what’ you taught students but ‘how you made them feel’ is what students remember. Lets help students to feel like creators. I believe the iPad is a leader over all other devices in this regard.

Writing and Leadership…a necessary skill!

I receive daily emails from the Henri Nouwen Society (henrinouwen.org).  The emails comprise one or two very short paragraphs of something Henri wrote.  He is no longer alive, but his words continue to inspire and create ‘pause’ in the lives of many people, including myself.

This morning I was struck by “Writing can help us to concentrate, to get in touch with the deeper stirrings of our hearts, to clarify our minds, to process confusing emotions, to reflect on our experiences, to give artistic expression to what we are living, and to store significant events in our memories.”  When I think of leadership and teaching leadership skills, Henri’s words provide us with yet another tool to use.  Writing is a tool for leadership building.  Henri even goes on to say:  “…writing can become lifesaving for us and sometimes for others too.”  Developing leadership skills in students and staff calls us to develop the skills of concentration, compassion, artistic expression, and memory.  I have found the writings of others powerful and life changing.  Often, I have read something almost by accident and discovered it was exactly the words I needed to hear at the moment.

Leadership building needs the skills and gifts writing can bring us.  As educators, we may take for granted our role of language arts teacher.  It’s just what we do.  Not so.  I believe, like Henri, it is paramount for the development and formation of all young leaders.

Leadership and Caring

Leadership in the classroom begins with the teacher.  As an educator, each one is called to be a physical example to those wonderful children sitting in front of us.  This is certainly not always easy, especially when children come to us with situations from home causing them stress and pain.  Real life can be extremely hard on children.  Teachers, despite these struggles, are called to invite students to be their best.  What happens when students simply cannot get past the pressures surrounding their lives?  Often, a hand on the shoulder, a smile or a word of encouragement can make a huge difference on a specific day.  Sometimes, right off the bus it is obvious a child is coming to school with concerns and pressures unbeknown to the teacher.  Many children simply ‘don’t want to talk about it’.  As educators, we are called to push through the pressures we see on the faces of our students.  Many days we are successful, and for many we simply cannot get through to what students may need.  Unfortunately, parents may never see the kind of support their child(ren) might be receiving.  What is really clear is the need for caring.  Beyond any type of strategy or technique, the simple choice to care for children as they grow and struggle is all we can do.  How are you being a leader of caring?

Leadership for Change

When asked what he would do now, the reply came:  “The thing that I could probably do, uniquely, is work to train the next generation of leaders to bring about change.”  These are the words of the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama.  After leaving the White House, he spoke with David Letterman in a most candid and telling interview aired on Netflix.  I watched this interview with intent, knowing deep inside me, this is by far the most compelling of goals I have developed over the past 20 years as a school administrator and the past thirty-eight and a half years as a teacher.  Is there any reason why all students cannot develop leadership skills?  I don’t know a single reason.  Regardless of age, race, social-economic status, gender or intelligence, I believe all of us are called to ‘lead’.  I also believe leadership can be learned starting around age four, and must continue to be learned until we have spent our lives serving the goals of our countries and world.

When I think of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Covey) and the power of the Leader In Me Program, I am struck how simple and important teaching leadership skills to students really is.  Students equipped with the skills they need to lead, truly can make the difference in their families, communities, provinces, states, country and now in the world.  I want to continue to be part of this leading and learning process.  I want to see these skills in my own grandchildren.  I want my grandchildren to ‘find their voice’ and have opinions about what is going on in their lives and in the world.  I also want them to heed the words of Jesus:  Do not be afraid.

Given the current political climate, I am deeply concerned about the lack of effective leadership, especially in those countries where the first response seems to be that of a spoilt child wanting to take his toys and go home. My only hope rests with educators in schools who know their mission:  we celebrate each other and grow as a community of lifelong learners, leaders and followers of Jesus.

Term Change Demonstrates Real Change

The end of November brings a lot of activity for any school.  It’s the end of the first term, the arrival of the first report card, the school growth plan is completed and the staff are submitting their own professional growth plans.  Phew!

This is all about growth and learning.  It’s not about creating stress for teachers, students or administration.  We are well into this school year.  Classrooms have become mini communities of learning and collaboration.  Students are seeing themselves improve as they begin to understand concepts and develop competencies.  Confidence becomes evident as we watch students suddenly forge ahead to another reading level or creative response in writing.

Today, I listened to a story about my grandson in grade one.  He is more inclined to be interested in trucks, cars and mechanical things.  He likes to change my winter tires.  It seems he was reading a book (‘Go Dog Go’) and had been struggling.  However, over night something just seemed to click.  He woke up this morning, brought the book to his mother and read the whole book.  His response:  “I just got it Mom!”

When this happens it can be one of the most exciting events in education and learning for anyone.  It’s the times we are struggling with something and suddenly we are hit with an ‘aha’ moment.  ‘I got it!’ The lights come on and a smile crosses our faces.

Choosing your weather! Why is it so hard?

For many students, the concerns and issues surrounding their behaviour can be insurmountable.  I have experienced the ‘I don’t care’ attitude from students throughout my career.  I am often at a loss as to why this is so.  It seems whenever students are engaged, their day simply flies by and they come away with a sense of power and energy in their learning.  But what about that student who would rather go into the hallway, sit on the floor and do nothing?  When asked what the problem is, the resulting shoulder shrug is all you get.  Hmmm?

Is it a motivated teacher?  Perhaps, but not in this case today.  As I reflect on what the student shared (and did not share), I am at a loss why students simply give up and are quite content to just vegetate on the floor.  They notice they are the only one in the whole class not participating.  That alone should bring about participation.  But it didn’t.  I even suspect parents are at their wits end when trying to figure out what can be done to motivate and encourage.

This is my reflection topic today.  How do we help students to choose their weather and bring about a dynamic involvement in their own learning process?  Any and all suggestions are welcome.

Lead Learning Teams and Focusing On The Good Stuff!

September in schools always brings a renewed focus on the goals of a school, an evaluation of strategies, and setting a course to get us to June.  Our overall goal is always the same:  to promote the successful learning of every single child.  In January 2016, (see my post dated February 9, 2016) I attended a Simon Breakspear conference inviting us to establish a Lead Learning Team in my school.  It is with this team we will be ‘drilling down’ and focusing on very specific learning outcomes as determined by the exact needs of our students.

For example, if you have a small group of students who are struggling with capitalization or punctuation in your class, now is the time to identify the need and do a short ‘sprint’ of time (1 week or 2) with direct focus on this skill.  Take data first, activate the ‘sprint’, and take data again to determine the success of your strategies.

This school year has a specific focus on Literacy and in particular ‘writing’!  Using the ‘sprint’ method as described by Simon, we are enthusiastically approaching our needed outcomes with a renewed sense of purpose and direction.  It is going to help us pay direct attention to ‘the good stuff’ needed by students to become even more successful writers. Way to go Lead Learning Team.  Who knows, by June 2018 ALL teachers could be on the Lead Learning Team!  Talk about Synergy!!!