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!!!

Real Leaders Fail BIG!

Today was a perfect day!  It was the first day of the new school year 2017-18.  There were smiles, hugs, new clothes, fresh hair cuts and brand new backpacks filled with supplies.  Everyone was ready to go at 8:00 a.m.  Once again, after 18 years of doing this, our morning was filled with sunshine and no rain!  We met outside, welcomed each other, prayed together and asked for a blessing on our year.  Then off to new classrooms we went.
At the end of the day I was walking into every classroom, asking teachers how their day went.  Did it meet their expectations?  Every single teacher said something like: amazing, great, just perfect, etc.  I entered one room with two teachers talking to each other, and when I asked the same question, with huge smiles on their faces they both said “We failed BIG!”  What?  “Yup, we failed big!”  They proceeded to tell me how their wonderful plans and ideas just didn’t work out the way they planned.  Both are experienced educators and were not in the least bit dejected because of the day.  Their learning was a steep incline and they already have a plan for tomorrow.  But what they did learn was:  Leaders fail big! Why?  Because leaders are willing to try things, step out of their comfort zone and try again.  It is a real lesson in learning to be a leader.  We are all called to not be afraid of failing big!  Have a great year leaders!  We need you to make this the best school year ever!

Sharpen The Saw This Summer!

The days are running out, and the end of the school year is very close.  I reflect on the past six months of 2017 and am reminded of my word of the year ‘relationships’.  Without doubt the relationships with my grandchildren and family come first.  I can’t help myself.  Right beside those relationships are those with my colleagues and students.  Have we met every need?  No.  Have we worked hard at creating learning environments of engagement, enhancement and extension (Kolb)?  Yes.  Our staff continue to engage and build on our monthly collaboration days.  As we soon embark on our summer, we will be taking with us a book entitled ‘How Do I Get Them To Write?’ by Karen Filewych (wordschangeworlds.ca).  I highly recommend the book.  It will drive our collective learning in the coming year as we work hard at improving the writing (and reading) skills of all our students.

Rest well this summer!  Take a break from your regular routine and fill that space with beautiful sights (Canada has many) and beautiful people.  I will especially enjoy being in Ottawa on July 1st to celebrate our 150th birthday as a country!  Take the time you need to ‘Sharpen the Saw’ (Habit 7) and make this a memorable summer.  I know this will only happen if I plan ahead (Be Proactive) and set my goals (Begin With The End In Mind).  Take the skills of leadership you have acquired and use them to boost our world!  Doing this will prepare us for yet another great year of learning as leaders, 2017-2018.

Technology includes Engagement, Enhancement and Extension

I have been reading another excellent book about technology and the learner.  It is called Learning First, Technology Second by Liz Kolb.  At first, I thought it was going to be one of those books written to bash technology.  On the contrary, it places technology in what I consider the best spot:  in the hands of the learner.

Just using technology without effective pedagogy will not work.  Oh yes, to some extent you will find technology will keep the attention of students, for a while!  But like anything else, once the newness wears off we are back to where we started.  Here is where the professional training of educators comes into the picture.  Kolb states: “technology should be helping students meet learning goals in ways they could not easily do without the tools.”  This makes sense for most teachers.  Kolb determines the need for three components:  Engagement in learning goals, Enhancement in learning goals, and Extension in learning goals.

She has taken a whole book to explain these important components and I would suggest every teacher come to understand the significance of these components as they grow in their learning about technology integration in the classroom.

Engagement is how students focus on the learning goals and tasks.  Enhancement supports how students develop an understanding of the learning goals which they could not otherwise.  Extension reflects the bridge between classroom learning and the real world.

Regardless of the device you are using (iPad, Mac, PC, Laptop) or the software, in all cases we must go beyond the technology to ensure its use promotes and enhances the learning for every student.  Technology is added only after the learning goals are defined. Just being excited about technology does not mean students are effectively engaged.

Do not be afraid…not to worry!!

Here is a thought as we get ready for a much-needed Spring Break and a time to Sharpen The Saw (Habit 7).  “I learned not to worry about having the right answer!”  This quote is taken from the book Read, Write, Lead by Regie Routman.  Many people suffer from worry.  You probably know people who seem to be worried all the time.  I have been learning about ‘worry’ and have discovered worrying makes little or no difference over the outcome of a specific concern.  Perhaps the biggest difference happens only within me as I worry, causing stress and negative vibes in my head and heart.  The more I think about the value of worrying, the more I realize it costs me.

Spring Break is upon us.  It is a time to pause, take a breath, change the scenery and go places in our minds and bodies to rest and rejuvenate ourselves.  I hope your Spring Break will be just that.  Just like Jesus said:  “Be not afraid!”  Or as a once favourite song said:  “Don’t worry, be happy!”  And…sharpen the saw!!!