Caring + Intervention + Monitoring + Patience

It is the time of year when we are seeing a bunch more teachers who are looking to increase the level of intervention with their students for various reasons. Many are asking, “What should I do?”. They have tried many of their own strategies and have improved the situation, but they have run out of tools in their toolbox. Here is a thought that passed through my head while thinking about these situations:

Caring + Intervention + Monitoring + Patience

Ultimately, the worst thing one can do is nothing, but sometimes we forget that patience is a needed part of any change. It is when we find the balance between intervention and patience that we see results and are most effective. While we are being patient we must monitor and support, this way we are ready to react to any major issues. All of this comes from caring and doing what we think is best for our students.

Pretty basic and simplistic really, but it spoke to me… Well actually at that point I was speaking to myself I guess. Yikes! Maybe I need an intervention, or perhaps just some patience. I’ll just monitor for now.

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I ♥ PTI’s

A few weeks ago we had our first round of Parent-Teacher Interviews. I was speaking with some staff and said it was one of my favorite events of the year. They looked at me like I had lost my mind (this admin thing finally got to him), but I really do love the conversations that happen at these events.  Although they can change names and format (Student-Led Conferences, Educational Team Conferences, etc.), I think Parent-Teacher Interviews are one of the most important times of the year. Here are a few reflections on why I love PTI’s.

Most good ideas become great ideas throught discussion, also most problems are solved by talking about them.  PTIs give a structured time for great communication and sharing. We can easily get “busy” and put some conversations off as they might be difficult. PTIs give everyone a chance to catch-up on the converstions that we usually say are important.

Familiarity brings comfort to most people. From a school perspective, when people come to the school they become more familiar with it, therefore more likely to come back and engage in different activities there. This process develops the sense of community and the support for the school. In short, PTI’s (as well as many other events) benefit the school by increasing community support.

We have all heard that it takes a village to raise a child. Whereas I don’t necessarity think you need the whole village, you do need a pretty big team. This starts with getting some key people on board and developping the relationship between these key players. By establishing and improving the relationship between people who have a personal interest in the same goal (to do what is best for students) we are more likely to achieve our goal.

I have the privelege to work in a school where we have a very active school community and excellent staff that communicates well and are invested in doing what is best for our students. I know that PTI’s have contributed to this reality.

Starting Somewhere

This week I have been thinking a lot about new teachers. I have been reflecting on the fact that every experienced teacher in a leadership role was at one time a first-year or beginning teacher. What were the experiences that helped as a new teacher the most? What was the best advice? Who were the people that provided support as a new teacher? Looking back, I am sure that every teacher can answer these questions and find some of the important factors in their development as a teaching professional.

For me, most of the answers to these questions were not genius tips or epiphany moments, but rather someone who took the time to be there on a consistent basis to guide me through the learning curve. It was the idea of mentorship where there is regular contact and honest feedback. I was grateful to the teacher who was willing to show me how to use the photocopier and how to book a sub.  I was also grateful to the teacher who gave me honest feedback on a lesson I was preparing or on how to deal with a discipline issue.

So, the question is… Are we providing the support and mentorship to our new teachers that we would have liked? Are we helping them to attain their potential? Are we spending enough time with them? I would like to think I am (with the help of our great team), but there are always commitments that intrude on this time.

There are new teachers starting in almost every community each year, but with shifting realities in job availability and career prospects it  is difficult to see where new teachers will be in a few years. I found this article by Dave Hancock interesting. Are the people who are graduating with education degrees even going to have jobs in education? The article states that we have 4000 teachers leaving each year for various reasons. Are we forming the educational professionals and leaders to take the place of those leaving? I would argue that the first few years in education have the greatest impact on this development and I am committing to focus on this throughout the year.

Taking off the Training Wheels – Lessons from my First Week

http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=2280

My first week as Assistant Principal has wrapped up and looking back, there are many lessons that I have learned. The past few days have been both busy and exciting. It felt a little like I was in Grade 1 again. Administration Kindergarten was the many days of being “Teacher in Charge” and taking part in committees. But now I was ready for the real program, it was time to take the training wheels off.  Some of the lessons here are new, but most were ideas that I thought were true and have now been reinforced by my experience.

Administrators wear many hats

Everyone said it, but now I know it to be true. When something needs to be done right away, the administration tries to make sure it happens. Some of the roles I have filled-in for this week are: caterer, custodian, building inspector, furniture mover, dishwasher, playground supervisor, lunch monitor, community outreach worker, barista, IT technician, not to mention teacher. The amount of activity that goes on in a school is astoundin and the different professionals who work with and for students are diverse.

Students are the reason we are here

Though it has been a busy week, students are the priority. I was happy to hear the number of times the question “would that be best for kids?” was used by staff. This shows that even though it might get hectic, the team sees the ultimate reason we are here.

You can’t do everything

There were times this week when I wanted to solve every problem myself. I was lucky enough to have some incredible mentors around me who encouraged me to let others try to deal with some problems first. I guess I just want to help, but I now see that helping sometimes means taking a step back and letting people work things out themselves. This is also about learning what to deal with immediately and what to let others do.

Balance is important

Again, I was lucky to have a great mentor who encouraged me to take time to be with my wife and for myself. I was able to leave at a decent hour this week and have supper with my wife (before getting some work done in the late evening). I was also able to take some time to process the week and the events that took place (which include this blog post). I could have worked until 10:00pm every night, but the school year is a marathon, not a sprint.

Good relationships make the job easier

I spent a lot of time getting to know people and discussing education this week. I have already seen the benefit of developing the relationship with the members of our school community. This is not a chore; I am truly excited to know and to work with the incredible team of educational professionals in our building. I also see how the relationships started this week are going to help us achieve our goal of providing the highest quality education to our students.

I know there are many lessons to come on my journey as a new administrator, but right now I feel very supported and confident for the year ahead.

Being Process-Oriented

In addition to the education/leadership specific books that I read this summer, there was one non-educational book that provoked me to think about education in new ways. The book is called 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School by Matthew Frederick. I talks mostly about design from the perspective of an Architect and a university professor of the subject. While many of the lessons on perspective and drawing were interesting, there were some that I found directly applied to education. At times, all that was needed was to change the words design, building or scale to teaching, lessons, and outcomes. Here is one “thing learned in Architecture school” that I have adapted for the teacher (it was lesson 29). Nothing here is new, but I find that Frederick invited me to think about the subject in a way that was perhaps different than I am used to:

Being process-oriented, not product-driven, is the most important and difficult skill for a teacher to develop.

Being process-oriented means:

  1. seeking to understand an educational problem or a student before chasing the solution;
  2. not force-fitting solutions to old problems onto new problems;
  3. removing yourself from prideful investment in your lessons and being slow to fall in love with your ideas;
  4. making educational investigations and decisions holistically (that address several aspects of a learning problem at once) rather than sequentially (that finalize one aspect of a solution before investigating the next);
  5. making educational decisions conditionally – that is, with the awareness that they may or may not work out as you continue toward a final solution;
  6. knowing when to change and when to stick with previous decisions;
  7. accepting as normal the anxiety that comes from not knowing what to do;
  8. working fluidly between specific learning outcomes and general learning outcomes to see how each informs the other;
  9. always asking “What if…?” regardless of how satisfied you are with the solution.

You can probably think of other aspects where these rules might also apply, for instance in leadership or relationships. Please leave your comments on what you thought. If you would like to pick up the book, it is published by The MIT Press.

Thinking inside/outside the box

Boxes at my house.

I am currently moving and therefore have to choose what I put into storage for an undetermined amount of time. I am finding it very difficult to decide what are the most important things that I am going to need over the next 3 or more months. I am asking myself repeatedly: Do I want to keep this outside of the box?

Although this situation is difficult, it made me think of teaching. Many people I read and listen to ask the same type of question about education. What are the most important “things” that your want to teach in your class? What are the “go to” pieces, that when all else is stripped away, are most important? What do you want to keep outside of the box?

I have my own answers, but I find the question intriguing. Say you had two days to teach. What are the most important concepts that your students can focus on? Are they curricular? Are they related to social responsibility? How do you define these concepts?

The other aspect that enters my mind is how to present these ideas? Do I present them in an interesting way? It is what is most important…  Will it be boring? I know that my next few months are going to be stimulating and interesting because I will be personally engaged, on a high level, with my surroundings. Will the students say the same about my classes? Will the methods I use be in or outside the box?

These are the ideas that need to be the focus of the entire course or class. These are the ideas that need addressing each day so that they become the “most important” ideas in the minds of students. These are the ideas that should guide our teaching and direct our days.

What are the ideas the you want to keep out of the box?

Finding Flow

The concept of Flow was developed by the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (try saying it three times fast). It is a mental state where people are happy and find a balance between difficulty and interest. I was introduced to this concept by two people.  The first was Robert (Bob) Kull during a conference and in his book “Solitude”. The second was Dr. Keven Elder, Superintendent of BC School District 63.

Since first hearing about it, I have been intrigued with it as a way of thinking about engagement in students. We often look for this “sweet spot” when teaching where students are challenged just enough and they are learning something new at a rate where they are comfortable. This becomes difficult because it is different for each student.

A visual representation of "Flow"

One solution that I believe helps teachers to guide students into a state of Flow is technology. Using different tools, students can search for their own information, they can organize their own ideas, they are in control of the rate of information and then show their learning in a way where they feel comfortable. The teacher is there as a guide to help create the state of Flow.

I am also convinced that we need to be flexible in our instruction and in what we ask from our students. Is this state easy to attain when we are asking all students to work at the same rate? When they are all doing worksheets and studying for a standardized test?

When planning, we can ask ourselves how we are going to help students find the right individual balance between these factors (differentiated instruction)? We can also ask how we are going to know that the material is at an appropriate level of skill and challenge (assessment for learning)? Are we allowing our students to work at their own rate and share their knowledge with others in way they choose?

If you are interested in this idea, you can watch this TED Talk from 2004:

http://ted.com/talks/view/id/366