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 (  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!!!

Leaders as learners, creators and collaborators.

Yes, the title of this post contains all the buzz words.  You will be hard pressed to find educational articles and blogs written today without these words showing up at some point.  Is this because the words are actually describing something worth examining?

Gone are the days of ‘getting my education’ and now I am just going to work!  I believe it is the crucial role of educators today to ensure every student has embraced a deep desire to be a life-long learner. This attitude can be taught, and learned even at the age of five.

With this attitude in hand, the creator side of learning flourishes.  Learning becomes ‘visible’ as students demonstrate their learning through creative processes, often producing results we have never dreamed of.

Learning to work together with a collaborative mind-set opens our students to see the value of ‘community’.  It can even be a humble stance, ensuring the hockey mindset of ‘we are a team, and we win and lose as a team!’

This is the classroom and school of today.  In the words of Will Richardson:  The classroom is “enough to describe the space where teachers and students learn, create, and collaborate while making use of tools and technologies of the modern world.”  (From Master Teacher to Master Learner)

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.