I was able to sit down with Armand Doucet the other day to talk about teaching, especially during this global pandemic. I really enjoyed our conversation and Armand’s perspective. He works with teachers around the globe, so he really has a handle on the different ways countries are responding to school during COVID-19. We talked about the feeling of overwhelm that teachers are feeling, given that their workplace has changed so dramatically over the past year. We also spoke about how we need to protect the profession of teaching. It is a calling, but that doesn’t mean we need to burn our teachers out. Overall, a great conversation that I am still thinking about a few weeks after we wrapped up. I hope that you enjoy and it makes you think as well.
I recently sat down with Line Groot Degner to talk about the work she does with coaching for my podcast. Line describes herself as a transformation agent, but is also a writer and speaker. With a background in sustainable investments, her work today centres around systemic and individual change. She combines strategic acumen and understanding of complex organizational systems with the human side of social impact. Her focus is on creating meaningful change, for the betterment of ourselves and our planet.
I really enjoyed our conversation. She is a great person who always make me think about how to approach life and problems.
I recently had the chance to interview Dr. Bonnie Stelmach from the University of Alberta, Faculty of Education on the Intersection Education podcast. If you are unfamiliar with her work, she looks at school communities and how parents feel (or don’t feel) in partnership with schools. It is a great topic that touches on important aspects of the school-home relationship. She doesn’t stop there though, she has recently expanded her research focus to include questions about school leadership and the state of school leaders in Alberta. If you want to see her latest study, you can read it at:
The research finding that is really shaking my thinking right now is her comment about digital communication. In her words, she finds it heartbreaking that schools are requiring teachers to communicate with their parents and community in such large quantity. She has no evidence that this communication (whether it be by email, blog, Seesaw, Instagram, Twitter, PowerSchool, Maplewood, Facebook, etc) increases the sense of community with the school. Parents do not feel more connected if there is an increase in this type of communication.
This is rather problematic, as you might be thinking about how schools require teachers to put a certain quantity of digital communication out to parents each week. In some schools that Dr. Stelmach references there is an expectation that this communication is done daily.
My thoughts are primarily based around balance. I don’t think she is saying that teachers should not have communication with their community. She acknoledges that this needs to happen. She is more speaking to the frequency and regularity of the communication. Every day is probably too much. Once a week is probably closer to the right amount.
Also, she gave many other tips on who we might create a sense of community with our parents and stakeholders. She mentions the revolutionary concept of actually knowing the names of the parents…
I know it seems like something so small that it doesn’t matter, but her research says it does. If a parents walks in and is “known” they feel like a part of the school community. This has nothing to do with the frequency of communication, but rather a sense of connection. These are the people who will go forth and help. Who will give you feedbakc. Who will volunteer.
So the next time you are walking down the hallway and see a parent, try to call them by their first name. Let them know you know them and that they are a part of the school. Chances are this simple act will save you hours of typing on your computer.
Listen to my whole conversation on:
Transistor (the web)
I have been working on my podcast now for over 50 episodes and realized that there have been some themes emerging from the interviews. Over the summer, I did some thinking and have come up with a series called “What Great Schools Do” that reviews the key findings of these conversations.
This episode is Part One of the series. Over the next few episodes we will discuss different aspects, actions that are taken, and ideas that ensure success in high performing schools.
What is a great school? I define it as a school where student outcomes in both learning and life are positively impacted. Where, because of the school and the actions that it takes, students make progress.
There is no way that I have captured all the elements that go into making a good school, so please don’t think that if your idea is not in this list, that it is not important. Rather, this is a series that reflects my thinking right now and will certainly evolve over time.
For our first aspect of What Great Schools Do, I have chosen to focus on something that I personally have invested a lot of time into. It is the aspect that I believe might have the highest impact of them all, to engage in ongoing and meaningful teacher professional learning.
As a framework for this topic, we have highlighted 6 essential elements: time, structure, collaboration, direction, research, and leader involvement.
Show Notes and Links:
- Student-Centered Leadership by Vivianne Robinson
- Teachers Matter: Understanding Teachers’ Impact on Student Achievement by Rand Education
- Improving Student Learning By Supporting Quality Teaching by Amy M. Hightower, Rachael C. Delgado, Sterling C. Lloyd, Rebecca Wittenstein, Kacy Sellers, Christopher B. Swanson
- What is a Teacher’s Expertise? by Bruce Beairsto
- Teaching Expertise: Empirical findings on expert teachers and teacher development by Eero Ropo
- Teaching/Learning Sprints by Dr. Simon Breakspear
- Spiral of Inquiry by Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser
- Design Thinking
- Professional Learning Communities (PLC)
I had the opportunity to speak with Langston Evans of the Madison Metropolitan Schools District the other day about increasing equity in schools. Langston works with the AVID program (Advancement Via Individual Determination) that operates throughout the US. The difference in Madison is that they have partnered with the Boys and Girls Club to increase the coaching and support for students who are thinking of entering college and to those who are in college.
I really liked how he talked about the ways to increased equity are about changing how schools do business. It is about both culture and academics. Without a shift in both, no change will occur.
I was able to sit down with Richard Gerver at uLead a few weeks back. If you have not heard of him, you are in for a treat. Richard took over a school on the brink of closure and through innovative changes brought it to the top of performance. I really appreciate his focus on both achievement being about academic performance, creativity and creating the human beings we want to live with when they are adults.
These are the kind of chats that inspire me to get back to school the next day and continue the work we are doing. I hope you feel inspired too after listening.
I was really fortunate to recently sit down with Dr. Jody Carrington, a clinical psychologist, to talk about education. I was struck with her message, that we need to take care of the people who hold our kids. Too often we forget that teachers need support, as we are concentrated on the students we serve. This leads to bad things!
The other message that I want all teachers to hear is that they are HEROES! Thats right, you. You have an enormous impact on your students, probably more than you know.
You can listen to our conversation:
Now to get on Kijiji so I can buy some meat trays.
I recently sat down with Brian Torrance, the Director of Ever Active Schools. In case you have not heard of Ever Active, they are a provincial initiative designed to create and support healthy school communities. Brian, as always, was articulate and shared his great perspective on different health initiatives that are under way around Alberta. We talked a lot about health and how schools can be a positive influence on the health of students, but the subject that I am thinking the most about from our conversation is the importance of community.
A quote that is still resonating in my head is “We are one piece of the puzzle. So as much as we can drive some very good things, it doesn’t happen without good partnerships.” This has me evaluating how we are building community with the different people and organizations that help our students. Do we all know each other’s roles and are we pulling in the same direction in a coordinated way? What would happen if we worked together more?
I relate this community building thought to the collective efficacy conversation that some schools are having. Collective efficacy was the most important factor related to student achievement in Dr. John Hattie’s 2018 meta-analysis on learning. Collective Efficacy “refers to a staff’s shared belief that through their collective action, they can positively influence student outcomes, including those who are disengaged and/or disadvantaged.” (Donohoo, 2017) Imagine if we were able to build this same shared belief in a larger community.
It has me thinking about learning, but even more about the overall goal of helping students achieve their potential. When students and their families run into problems, whether it be around academics, poverty, physical health, etc, do we each believe that we are a part of a solution and that by working together we can have a positive influence on the situation of those effected? I believe the answer is usually yes, but often times our response is uncoordinated or underfunded.
Take the example of after-school programs in physical activity (Ex. a school basketball team). What happens when a student wants to join, but cannot (for financial, time, transportation reasons) or is not allowed (because of a lack of space or lack of developed skill). What happens to this child? What do they lose? Can we as a community work collaboratively to find the resources to allow this child to play? If so, what would be the benefits?
I don’t have answers, but I am committed to having more conversations around this topic. It is time to bring the collective efficacy conversation to communities.
If you would like to hear my entire conversation with Brian, here are the links:
I recently spoke with Janelle Allen, an Instructional Designer who specializes in custom online courses. She started out working with a design agency, but left that line of work to serve entrepreneurs and mid-size businesses. This pivot created her company Zen Courses.
Janelle works in the adult learning field and is focused on helping others create actionable, learner-focused online courses that change lives. She has a lot to teach anyone who works in the education field about engagement, developing understanding, creating community, and online education delivery.
This episode features Tal Thompson. Tal is a teacher from Columbia, South Carolina. Over his 17 years of teaching he has developed a style and reputation for both high achievement and character development. In 2015, he was a top 4 finalist for the “America’s Top Teacher” award on Live with Kelly and Michael. He followed that up by winning the South Carolina Citizen Education Elementary Teacher of the Year award in 2016.
Tal attributes this success to: his ability to connect, push and cultivate confidence within his students; how he translates lessons in a way that will inspire positive and productive change; and his focus on real world skills like collaboration, problem solving, critical thinking and communication. These skills are not given, but earned.
Instagram – Follow Tal
Move Your Bus by Ron Clark
The End of Molasses Classes by Ron Clark
Kids Deserve It by Todd Nesloney and Adam Welcome
Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess
Morning workout, usually a spin class.
Start the class with a song. Watch this in action.
Reflection through journalling. 2 highlights, 1 improvement.