Learning this Week

reading with dadA couple of weeks ago I posted my Professional Growth Plan and mini 360 results on this blog as well as sending the link through Twitter. I have had a number of interesting responses to that and the majority are very supportive. I think some are still wondering why I would do that – I wanted to model vulnerability and surviving it. I wanted to model that risk taking behavior helps us all grow. I wanted to model migh commitment to continued learning and walking the walk. I am constantly encouraging our administrators to get out of the office and into the classrooms – well then I better make a solid effort to do so myself!

So, this week by invitation I spent some quality time in a few of our schools. I visited two of our 4 high schools and two of our 8 prek-8 schools for ‘official’ visits as well as lunch in another high school to discuss student led conferences and observations of Learning Improvement Teams in another school – 8 schools in total this week.

In summary we have plenty to be proud of in our school division. In one of the prek-8 schools when we toured around every single classroom (422 students) demonstrated curricular focused learning – there was no ‘fluff’. Its not that I expected to see fluff only that there is often the notion that some of what we do isnt connected to outcomes and in that instance I saw connected learning taking place. SLO’s were posted in various ways and students were actively engaged, I did not see a single example of ‘sit and get’ going on. In the other prek-8 school I was able to see a family reading event taking place. Wow. It was exciting to see the number of dads who took time away from work in the middle of the day to come to the school to read with their children and do some organized activities around nonfiction reading. The principal shared the school goal with the parents present as well as a short descriptor of metacognition. Learning was everywhere! This school is what we would consider a ‘community school’ meaning they have a higher number of at risk families, low income and other social challenges at a higher rate than others.

At the high schools we had lengthy discussions regarding student support, assessment, learning improvement teams, walk throughs and general discussions around teacher practice. It was enlightening to hear our administrators speak so affirmatively about the practices they are confident are supporting student success in their buildings.

So after those visits I am left with the following reflections:
1. How do we get the message about about the great practices we have taking place and is it an important message to get out?
2. While we havent had a solid provincial comparator for a few years our large scale assessment results often indicated that our students were performing average to below average compared to their provincial counterparts in reading, writing and math. Sometimes there were brighter spots but overall we were average to below average – WHY? We have solid assessment and teaching practices in place, generally engaged parents and students – we should be knocking it out of the park but yet we aren’t. I don’t want to put too much emphasis on this but it is a niggling question at the back of my mind.
3. I was always confident in our administrators but after these visits I am even more confident in their leadership abilities. I feel we have focused on learning leadership and raised the bar for our admin and they continue to meet and exceed it.

I am sincerely thankful for the time that admin spent with me this week and I am sincerely excited and looking forward to the upcoming visits that are planned. I appreciate the time, talents and passion of the educators we have in our classrooms and schools.

Making Learning Public

Ok here we go again with the pledge to consistently blog…its a new year right? While its not an official resolution I am going to make more of an effort to use this medium to communicate.

I recently completed a ‘mini 360’ as part of my professional growth plan and then set a couple of professional learning goals based on some of the feedback. In the summer, Sandra Herbst was our keynote speaker at our annual LEADS Summer Short Course and she reminded us over and over the importance of leading by example. If I want others to share their learning I need to start by sharing mine. So, in connecting these two things – the mini 360 and the Sandra Herbst advice I am posting my Professional Growth Plan and results of the survey here for all the world to see. I have already sent it out to our school admin and central admin council and later this week it will go to our Learning Dept staff.

So, for now I will just post this and leave it at that. I hope to be able to share some of what I learn and observe as the year progresses based on my PGP goals. I would love to hear what you think, I have put a link to both the PGP and the Survey results as a powerpoint here. PGP December 2013
PGP Survey Dec 2013

Trying When It’s Hard

Lately I have been thinking about how and why we persevere through difficult situations – why do we keep trying when it’s hard? When I say ‘we’ I guess I am referring to the human race in various situations.

I see students with multiple challenges trying to learn to walk, talk, read and add when the odds are stacked against them – with the right support and encouragement they continue to try. I see teachers in classrooms with multiple behavior and learning challenges with split grades or even triple grades and they continue to work through these situations, sometimes with support and sometimes on their own. I see consultants from our department deal with resistant teachers – those who ask for help and then decline all the various versions of help that is offered and sometimes it is exactly what they asked for. Those consultants continue to go back to those classrooms upon request, even though they know that they will take the brunt of the frustration from the teacher that has absolutely nothing to do with that consultant. Anyway, you get what I am saying. We all keep trying even when sometimes it’s really hard.

I know it’s nothing new to talk about the passion to learn and succeed that keeps pushing us forward and ultimately I believe it is that passion and desire no matter the situation that causes us to persevere even when it’s difficult. Sometimes though – and this week in particular it was right in my face many times. I was in a number of classrooms this week (what a treat!) and saw it with my own eyes. I was at our alternate school for a show and shine on Friday and absolutely loved the personal tour I received from Mark. He knows what it means to try when it’s hard. I spent time with frustrated consultants trying desperately to meet the needs of teachers. I talked with a close friend going through a personal challenge.

I’m glad we keep trying. I remember clearly a report card comment I received when I was in elementary school that has stayed with me far more than any other comment (‘good work’, ‘you chat too much in class’etc) – ‘Lori perseveres in spite of difficulty’. To fast forward to 2013 I think that P!nk may have said it best in the song “Try”:
“where there is desire, there is going to be a flame
where there is a flame someone’s bound to get burned
just because it burns it doesn’t mean you’re going to die
you gotta get up and try, try, try”

Now of course, P!nk is referring to love and relationships in this song but to me it really fits. We keep trying because of our desire and passion for what we do. I’m glad we keep trying when it’s hard. Lets keep doing that.

Its Been A While…

It’s pretty embarrassing to realize that you aren’t even sure how to log into your own blog because it has been just over a year since you have posted anything. It is kind of at the point a former relationship was – either move on or do something with it, so I will make one last ditch effort to be a ‘blogger’ whatever that is.

See the problem is that I write plenty of blog posts but I only write them in my head and mostly while I run in the mornings before work. By the time I have completed my little trip around the block I have either resolved the challenge or come to terms with it and moved on with life. When reflecting on this in the past week or so I have realized that perhaps I need to beef up my ‘sharing’ time with others and blogging could be one approach. The job I do, while constantly surrounded and engaged with others, is pretty solitary. I am the only person in my division with this job and in fact there are only a couple of others in the entire province of SK that have the same job, plus I don’t need to burden others with my challenges – they have plenty of their own and my job is to help remove their challenges so they can do their best work not burden them with mine.

A list of possible blog posts this year would have included:
1. leading Learning Improvement Teams division wide – help!
2. supporting new teachers and other new staff
3. the complications of assessment
4. how to work with a stick in the mud – someone who doesn’t want to be part of a team
5. a whole new attitude – mine
6. why do the best have to retire????
7. how do you know when it’s time to move on
8. and countless mini posts about celebrations – there were so many this year that I honestly lost count.
9. why richie left jon – my take
10. is being overwhelmed an extreme sport – I will argue it should be.

Most of these would have begun with a question and some would be the sharing of an experience.

For various reasons none of these posts ever went anywhere except the inside of my head. I guess I think that I really don’t have anything profound or new to say. I worry that no one will respond, adding to the feeling of isolation or the feelings of inner dork who is plain old insecure…maybe my approach needs a shift. What is appropriate for a superintendent to blog about? What do people care about and want to read about? So maybe I need to worry about others and just do what feels natural to me which means I have to put the negative voices in my head to rest and just do it. This is work.

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