Leaders as Learners

I believe all educators must be continuous learners throughout their entire lives, and especially during their time in the classroom.  Gone are the days of getting your degree, landing a job and never going back for further education.  What is significantly different today compared to even fifteen years ago is the ‘where’ a person can now go to continually learn.

Today is the first of two days of Teacher’s Convention here in Edmonton, Alberta Canada at the GETCA convention (Greater Edmonton Teachers Convention Association).  It is some of my most favourite days as an educator, allowing me to connect with current educational speakers and colleagues who share my passion for learning as members of my community of practice.  I learn at Teachers’ Convention.  At the same time, I also know in today’s digital age of learning, I can learn anywhere and anytime.  As one speaker, Will Richardson stated:  If you want to learn about something, perhaps You Tube can help!

I also believe teachers need to ‘lead’ by demonstrating to others of their need to learn continuously.  If I am always open to learning, my love for learning will be immediately evident in my classroom and students will pick this up.  It is where passion hits the road for students.  Check out the energy level of students when they are taught by teachers who have passion and are willing to support students in THEIR passion to learn about things relevant to their own lives.   Lead teachers in the digital age see education constantly on the move.  As Richardson stated today:  We are in perpetual BETA. Constantly trying things, reflecting, trying again.

I encourage and invite you to examine your practice as a leader in education.  Are you using technology to help kids LEARN, or are your students simply using technology for the sake of technology?  Are you a ‘lead learner’ in your classroom as students engage in your creative lessons and pedagogy?  Find new ways to learn.  Sign up for free online courses.  Become a member of free online book shares.  Open up a twitter account (learn how to use twitter).   The tools in our backpack continue to grow as educators connect and share.  Leaders as learners, lead others to learn.

Leadership, Learning and Collaboration

My latest read is; Read, Write, Lead by Regie Routman.  I highly recommend it to all educators.  Her approach is very direct and thought-provoking.  After hardly getting into the book, I was struck by this comment:  “…for a teacher of writing who has a low-level of knowledge, looking at student writing samples and analyzing them can be mostly a waste of time; what the teacher can identify as strengths and needs is severely limited.”

I see the comment as a clear critique of the quality of teaching today.  I presented this thought to my colleagues and received the following response from one:  There is an overall degradation of not only language skills among some of our colleagues, but also a limited use of imagination to build/create/write/produce/act-out something unique. Students should be encouraged and feel it is safe to take risks when writing and the grammar/spelling supports provided with online tools at their fingertips help to alleviate some writing blocks which restrict “stream of consciousness” writing.  She went on to say:   This issue also underlines the need for collaborative work and support. I believe in mentoring less experienced teachers and am grateful they reciprocate by mentoring me.

There is the sound bite!  “I believe in mentoring…they reciprocate by mentoring me!”  The creativity, challenge, encouragement and strength resulting from teacher collaboration (synergy) can never be underestimated.  It is imperative teachers are given the opportunity to connect, share and work together as they improve their craft as educators.  Getting the ‘younger ones’ talking to the ‘older ones’ is how this collaboration can bear much fruit.

Leadership and Relationships

Welcome to 2017.  Every year it is a habit of many in my family to choose a word for the year.  Literally, I mean one word, or perhaps a phrase if necessary.  Last year, the word I choose was ‘gratitude’.  I tried to live out 2016 with thoughts of alI I am grateful for.  It was easy to come up with a very long list.

This year, I have decided the word for 2017 is ‘relationships’!  Over the past couple of months I have been reading a wonderful book by Richard Rohr entitled The Divine Dance. It has impressed me so much I have purchased a beautiful icon painting of The Trinity by Andrei Rublev.  I highly recommend the reading of Rohr’s book.  It helps me to see just how important relationships are for all of us. I think of the relationships I have with my wife and family, my colleagues and especially with my students.

The book causes me to examine the relationships I have with all those I am called to lead. I look forward to a wonderful 2017 and hope to put all my relationships first before anything else.  It is what will make all the difference.

Leaders on Break

Its Christmas, and time for a two-week break from classes and deadlines.  Now is a time for reflection, relaxation and recharging.  It truly can be a Sharpen The Saw break, if we want it to be.  Thanks for the last four months of school.  Our team of staff and students have developed our goals, implemented strategies and are looking forward as we embrace a new calendar year!  Take these two weeks to look within.  Can you see yourself reaching your goals from September?  Have you met some already?  Have you noticed a difference?  Even on break, leaders are reflecting and revising.  Take it all in and come back with a refreshed attitude.  It will put 2017 on a strong footing for all of us.

Leadership and School Growth Plans

Every year schools look into the future and, beginning with the end in mind, they determine the direction for the upcoming school year(s).  At St. Angela School, we are once again plunging into our School Plan for Continuous Growth to set our sails, knowing ‘At École St. Angela School, we celebrate each other and grow as a community of lifelong learners, leaders and followers of Jesus.’ (School Mission Statement)

Our School Growth Plan (SGP) will be finalized this week and presented to parents and school district on Monday, November 28.  Although our strategies are not yet finalized, and especially since SGPs are truly a living document (changes occur at all times), I would like to share our three goals.

Goal #1:  Achieved through the intentional establishment of a Literacy Community of Practice (CoP), students at St. Angela School will demonstrate AT LEAST two reading levels of growth in their reading fluency and comprehension per year.

Goal #2:  Achieved through the intentional establishment of a Numeracy Community of Practice (CoP), students at St. Angela School will demonstrate proficiency within grade level Key Learner Outcomes.

Goal #3:  By June of every year, all students as diverse learners will demonstrate growth in all Competencies (8), with appropriate programming and accommodations which are embedded in our core values, gospel teaching and faith-based education.

It is a three-year plan knowing things may change and strategies will be met, changed and added.  The leaders in this are administration, staff AND students.  Remember, each student is experiencing the power of leadership habits and goal setting.  Together, these goals will be achieved and our students will experience success in their learning as they prepare to change our world.

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 www.stangela.ecsd.net).  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 parent 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 the parent 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. (www.theleaderinme.org).