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 www.theleaderinme.org).  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!

Leaders Need Breaks

The holidays have begun, the snow has fallen and I suspect the trees are decorated and gifts are being wrapped.  It is a favourite time of year for sure!  As I left the school yesterday afternoon, I couldn’t help but think about our return date, January 4, 2016.  I realize it may be a bit overly ‘proactive’, perhaps not allowing me to truly enjoy the break.  Leaders need breaks.  We need to get into a ‘head’ and ‘heart’ space where we think of other things needing attention.  Sitting by the fireplace with a warm cup of coffee at 10:30 in the morning, not hearing a school bell ring can become one of life’s great little pleasures.  My thought is simple this holiday Christmas season:  enjoy the moments of quiet, family, snow and music.  Let yourself be rejuvenated by the surroundings.  Take time to put your feet up, smell the smells and experience the day.  I know I won’t be able to put down the books, but who can?  It has always been a great time for reading.  Whatever the case, enjoy the break!  Breaks are necessary for refuelling.  Breaks ramp up the energy and focus for the coming year.  Go snow shoeing if you need to.  I will.  Look out 2016!  It’s gonna be a GREAT year!!!

The Connected Leader

Yes, I am reading another book!  The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age by Lani Ritter Hall and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach.  Seriously, this is a must read for all educators who want to be leaders in our field.  Here are two thoughts from the book:

…our kids get to school and find themselves locked in the past.  Bells signal the beginning and end of class, cell phones must be off, desks are in straight rows, teachers lecture on and on, and paper textbooks are filled with preselected information presented in a convergent, linear format.  No wonder students feel a disconnect.  (Intro., p.4)

Teachers must learn to model connectedness and enable students to develop personal learning networks, made up of people and resources from both their physical and virtual worlds – but first teachers must become connected collaborators themselves.  (Intro., p. 11)

I choose these two quotes from the book because I believe they begin the process of thinking about why we as educators need to examine our practice, followed by how we as educators can ‘stay connected’ to support our own learning as teacher leaders.

Technology is not going away.  It is becoming part of the ‘hooking up’ we need as human beings, especially from a learning perspective.  The kind of connectedness available today supports the truth we learn best from other people.  We NEED to be connected.  As the authors say:  Technology makes connecting and collaborating so easy.  But most important are the relationships that learning technologies make possible.  (Chpt. 1, p. 5)

To be a leader in education who wants to continue to learn, we must be connected to our own personal and professional global learning communities.  Technology makes this possible.  Just like the show ‘Million Dollar Man’, “we can rebuild him, we have the technology!”  I have the beginnings of a connected collaborative learning community.  I want this to happen because:  “Meaningful collaboration and collegiality are forces that can bring about the kind of shift we all are seeking in schools today – a shift that connects and engages us as educators, supports and sustains us, and helps us enrich our students’ lives and accelerate their achievement.”  (Chpt. 1, p. 10)

Leaders Get It!

I could feel the energy in the room.  I could tell they were actually paying attention.  I was especially pleased to see how happy they were to ‘open’ their gift boxes.  The gift box contained the same for everyone…a 7 Habits of Highly Effective People manual, some study and reminder cards and a ‘talking stick’.  That may not sound like much, but for this group, it was the right thing to give them.  We have begun our journey as leaders to examine closely the role the 7 Habits may have on our student population.  It was day one of four half days of training, and it was EXCELLENT.  It seemed like the afternoon flew by with plenty of talking, thinking, writing and reflecting.  Throughout the afternoon there was constant reference to how these habits can help us personally, professionally and in our classroom.  In the end, they GET IT!  I heard over and over again how much this was going to make a difference for themselves and for their students.  I was especially convinced it will make a huge difference in the very life and culture of this school.  These adults saw clearly how they could teach these habits, and have now begun the process of making these habits real within their own lesson plans.  Yes, we need time. Yes, we need to collaborate.  In the end, you can always tell when something will make a difference in a persons’ life…they GET IT.  Stay tuned, and you will hear more about how our plan for Leadership for ALL at St. Angela School will take root.

Surround yourself with Leaders

It is a most interesting and exciting time in our wonderful country of Canada.  We have recently experienced one of the longest run-ups to an election, and the results have been quite amazing.  Everything I have read regarding the October 2015 election for the Canadian Federal Government seems to be about amazement, intrigue and surprise.  Just the stats alone regarding the sweep of the winning party is worth noting and referencing.  That said, what had my attention was not stats, nor the overwhelming majority won by a party that had almost completing imploded during the last election.  What struck me were two things:  hope for the future and a new sense of what leadership really is.  The hope for the future was easy to spot.  It showed up in the day to day language of the candidates and their sense of the positive.  This is the kind of leader I was hoping would be elected during this campaign.  It also showed up when I saw a new kind of leadership that did not rely only on the leader.  It was about a leader who knew that he needed to surround himself with smart people, because a true leader is never by himself.

I also heard the words ‘he’s not ready!’ and I couldn’t help but recall when I was first appointed principal of a school.  It happened over a weekend in the month of February.  One day I was a teacher in a classroom, and literally the next I was a principal.  Was I ready?  I thought I was ready for the challenge, but I was certainly going to be on a steep learning curve, a curve I continue to scale even after almost eighteen years of administrative experience.  Are we ever ready?

I am very excited about the new leadership style in the Government of Canada. Will I be watching and supporting this leadership in the coming years?  For sure.  But I will also want to watch and learn.  I am certain that a true leader is one who surrounds himself/herself with smart people and wants to learn.  Leaders who surround themselves with leaders become even better leaders!

As the former Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, once said:  Our hopes are high. Our faith in the people is great. Our courage is strong. And our dreams for this beautiful country will never die.

Leadership and Mentors

Who is the mentor in your life that stands out the most?  Is it a parent?  It is a professional person you have had the privilege to work with?  Is it a coach on a team you were on as a child?  Maybe it is a neighbour or a family friend.  Regardless, all of us desire and need mentors.

“A personal mentor is an individual whose principles and values have dictated his or her decisions and actions…’  (A Game Plan For Life: The Power of Mentoring – Don Yaeger, John Wooden).  Have you become a mentor?  Do you see your role as an adult, as a teacher, as a coach or perhaps a boss, as ‘mentor’?  I have been reading the above named book and have been impressed by many things.  In particular, the seven rules for living that John Wooden received from his mentor dad.  They are:  1.  Be true to yourself; 2. Make each day your masterpiece; 3.  Help others; 4.  Drink deeply from good books; 5. Make friendship a fine art; 6. Build a shelter against a rainy day; 7. Pray for guidance and give thanks for your blessings every day.  I think these seven rules help form us into mentors.

I deeply believe that mentors are a key factor in the building of leadership skills in the lives of children.  Children ‘see’ mentorship all around them.  Sometimes that mentorship is not healthy.  Sometimes it is lifesaving.  As this book states, mentorship is a verb AND a noun. Take seriously the role of mentor as we parent our children, teach students and work with our staffs.  Name, reflect and write about your mentors.  Especially note what they have done for you and what has helped you develop into a leader.  Take those thoughts and implement them for others.


Leadership and Thankfulness

It was a typical Assembly with singing, birthday blessings and other announcements.  Even sharing a book has become part of the regular routine.  What was unique became the focus of the event, namely, the Grade One students were the leaders.  It is not easy for Grade One students to read this early in the school year.  Learning to read is one of their number one goals.  The wonder of reading can be tracked and ‘data-fied’, with many teachers doing just that.  But what about standing in front of over 400 people and reading with a microphone in your hand for the very first time?  Many adults, including teachers, struggle with this, let alone someone who struggles with reading.  Yet that is what happened this morning as we celebrated the joy of Thanksgiving.  Students in both languages (French and English) were able to take their little sheets of paper and read off a prayer of petition or a prayer of thanks for the whole student body.  The joy in their eyes when the reading and celebration was done, made it clear how happy they were to play a part.  This is one of the roots of leadership that each person can nurture in themselves.  It is one of the reasons we start this young, teaching them that all leadership skills can be learned, even if you are only 5 years old.  Yes, our celebration was about Thankfulness.  Yes, there were adults in the room making sure that it all ran smoothly.  And yes we even felt the presence of God.  To see these young children stand before their peers, read and share themselves makes one thankful that even the very young can become leaders.