Starting to prepare for the upcoming school year. Here’s a reblog of the first Principal’s Post for my new school:
BC Day marks the middle of the summer, which means for some – the holidays are almost over. For me, it signals that it’s time to begin preparing for the upcoming school year. Rita Pierson’s TED Talk – Every Kid Needs a Champion is an 8 minute video which captures the essence of why I became…
Here’s the link to the post: On your mark… Get set…. — Principal’s Blog
Recently I had another great opportunity to attend EdCampDelta. [Storify] The first session I attended was on “Digital Literacies/Tattoo.” An excellent choice. [Notes] The second session I attended was on “Student Involvement in IEP’s.” At last year’s EdCampDelta I attended a session on “How do we identify and teach students with learning difficulties” [Post]. There was a strong student presence and voice which was impressive to hear, but it was also enlightening and instructive. This session this year had a greater educator presence – both classroom teachers and special education teachers. Many of the comments & thoughts in the session resonated:
- “How do we make IEPs more effective? Start with student involvement.”
- Sometimes we feel we have to own IEPs. Positive/effective student involvement changes the game
- “Writing IEPs – are they about the child or the funding?”
- “Looking forward to moving away from mtgs about students to mtgs WITH students”
- “We need to involve Ss early in the IEP process so they can self-advocate for how they learn best.”
- The more students w/ IEP’s can self-advocate, the better. How do we help students build those skills and confidence
- “Talking about working together with families. Imp for school to share ‘we care about your child too – we’re on the same team.’ “
- Is an IEP a stigma? Do parents think it closes doors vs opens doors?
- “IEPs can create a fear of closing doors from the parents perspective when it’s about keeping as many doors open as possible.”
- “We need to demystify the IEP process and stress a team approach in building a learning plan. This should include student voice.”
- “Having Ss involved in IEPs can help getting the goals simplified and attainable.”
- “Students are so much more empowered when they have all of the information when helping create IEPs.”
- “IEPs – let’s move away from deficit model to starting with strengths.”
- Need to help build advocacy skills in students w/ IEP’s
- “Students will better understand their learning needs if they can be part of their IEP process.”
- If we embraced personalized learning, would we blink an eye at IEPs?
- ” ‘collaborative problem solving’ model for writing IEPs. Kiddo – what do you need to be ‘successful’? “
- “Student involvement in IEPs = building self advocacy.”
Last year’s blog post following EdCampDelta described the story of a young student in elementary school who went from being incorrectly labeled as an ESL student, to being assigned to a class with what appeared to be limited in-class support for her diagnosed learning difficulties and limited communication with her parents, to a situation in which the classroom teacher worked parallel and together with the student’s resource teacher to create a situation in which she flourished. Particularly impressive was the student’s involvement in leading her IEP meetings.
In the Spring of that year the student’s classroom teacher announced her retirement. The announcement must have had quite an impact on all the students in the class and their parents. It clearly had an impact on the parents of this particular student. On one hand they were of course very happy for the teacher, but, at the same time, distressed, for their daughter had become a different student. Still struggling – but a confident student who had a greater awareness of her strengths and her challenges, and an emerging understanding of the need to self-advocate.
What followed were subsequent meetings with the classroom teacher and resource teacher and also meetings with the principal. Had the classroom teacher not been retiring there would be no question that the student would continue in the same multi-grade class until grade 7. However, not knowing who the incoming teacher would be to take over the class, a special program for students with learning difficulties became an option.
The process of trying to make a decision between keeping the student in a regular classroom with resource support or placement in the special program was very difficult. Would she struggle in a regular class with a different teacher and teaching style? Would the teacher in the special program be a good fit? Would placement in the special program set her up for success or failure in Grade 6 and 7? Secondary School???
In a meeting with both the classroom teacher and resource teacher, the parents, and the student, the teachers suggested that they would work with the student on a plus/minus chart. Good, but the suggestion was also that the parents give their daughter a week to work it through without discussing it at home and that “she” would then make the decision about her placement for the following year….
The parents in the end agreed to give their daughter the week, meanwhile discussing what to do if their daughter made the “wrong” decision.
After a week had passed the student went to her parents with her pluses and minuses. The positives in staying in a regular classroom were focused on friendships, an aspect which could not be minimized. The positives in moving to the special program were focused around the individualized support she would receive, but concerns about missing her friends.
Ultimately, the student decided a move to the special program was the way to go and that she would have to make new friends. The parents supported her choice.
This year she has continued with confidence, clearly enjoying the class and her new friends and conscientious about her homework – reportedly getting up at 5:30 a.m. if she realizes she’s forgotten to do her homework the night before….
The parents have taken a leap of faith. Time will tell if the move will lead to success… but what growth they have seen in their daughter since she has become actively involved in her education – including her IEP.
Supporting students who have difficulties in school has long been a priority for me in each assignment I’ve undertaken as an educator, whether it be classroom teacher, school-counsellor, administrator, or district administrator. More recently, that priority and importance took on a more personal note.
A few years ago a young girl was having difficulties in school. She was in Grade 1 at the time. The whole school was organized around multi-age groupings, and the girl had been with the same teacher in Kindergarten and it was expected that she would again be with the same teacher in Grade 2.
The teacher and the parents had discussed their concerns about her progress, and it was determined at the school level that she would get some support through the LAC teacher. Later on in communicating with the parents, the LAC teacher indicated that the student’s difficulties were ESL related. The LAC teacher continued that because the girl had been in a daycare in which the provider spoke both English and Chinese and because the girl’s grandmother (with whom she spent a lot of time) spoke mostly Chinese, her learning was delayed. There was no reference to assessments or other factors used to make this determination.
The parents were taken aback. Both parents had been born and raised in Canada. Both went through school without needing any type of ESL support, and both had completed more than one post-secondary program. The father is an educator. The father shared with the teacher his view that the girl’s problems were not ESL related, and that appropriate assessment and interventions were important. The father communicated that the interventions necessary for ESL students were likely different than the interventions necessary to support his daughter.
Subsequently, report cards were sent home with separate ESL reports attached. In bringing this concern to the LAC/ESL teacher, the parents were told that this was simply an error and the reports should not have been entitled ESL. In meeting with the Principal, the parents were again told that this was simply an oversight and assured that this identification was not reported to the Ministry of Education for funding purposes.
The girl’s difficulties in school continued into Grade 2, and the parents engaged private tutors. Typical communication that schools are under funded and resourced and that the girl’s difficulties would not be very high on the priority list provided a clear indication that it was unlikely that any testing through the school psychologist would occur in the near future. The parents made the decision to have their daughter tested by a psychologist in private practice. The father’s and mother’s extended health plans would cover only a fraction of the cost, but they felt that it was a necessary course of action. The testing began during the girl’s grade 3 year.
The private psycho-educational assessment was revealing and specific about the girl’s difficulties and suggested interventions and supports. There was no indication of ESL related problems.
The parents met with the girl’s classroom teacher, who she had for grade 3 and 4, and her new LAC teacher to discuss the findings of the report.
During teacher job action, periodically sent home with the girl were communications from the teacher about the issues related to the current job action and identifying the necessity of these actions in support of students. No meaningful reports were sent home. No communication from the school in regards to the girl’s progress or difficulties was received. As the teacher did not use email, the parents had to leave messages at the office for the teacher – none that were initially returned. Each time the parents followed up due to the lack of response, they eventually received calls back from the teacher who indicated that she had returned the calls and left messages. There had been no messages on the home phone, the parents’ cell phones, or their work phones. There was no indication on call displays of any calls.
During grade 4, after job action had concluded, parent-teacher interviews again began. Parent-teacher interviews in this class were student led. At the parent-teacher night the girl showed her parents around the classroom and told them what she had done in class. Afterwards, the teacher would hand the parents their daughters’ report card and stated that they could read it later at home. The parents would leave with no clear understanding of their child’s progress or plans of support for the remainder of the year.
At the end of the school year the only clarity that the parents had was that their daughter was behind.
This year, at the beginning of the girl’s Grade 5 year, the parents attended an IEP meeting with her new teacher and new LAC teacher. The meeting was student led with the involvement and support of both teachers. In this meeting the girl articulated what she believed were her difficulties and what she felt would benefit her in addressing these difficulties. Both the teacher and LAC teacher contributed context, support, and suggestions throughout the meeting. The teacher explained how students were grouped with a mixture of strong and weaker students, and explained the various strategies that would benefit all students in the groups. The LAC teacher also contributed her thoughts as to what would help during LAC time. The two teachers, parents, and the girl all discussed what could realistically be done at home and with the girl’s private tutor. An enlightening aspect of the meeting was a discussion about supporting the girl at school in developing the skills and strategies to self-advocate for what she needed given her learning difficulties.
The girl has had, so far, a positive year. At home with her parents she has been able to describe what she is doing and learning in class, the adaptations her teacher has been providing and implementing, the areas in which she is still having difficulties, and the different ways in which she has been encouraged to demonstrate her learning. While behind compared to her peers, she is positive about her learning and engaged.
It has so far been quite a journey for the family. From K-2, a positive relationship with the classroom teacher, but an incorrect assessment and possibly interventions through non-enrolling support; limited communication and clarity regarding the girl’s progress, strengths, and challenges for 2 years during grades 3 and 4; and now an eye-opening experience whereby, although still behind, the girl appears to be positively engaged and supported in her learning and also developing the skills to articulate and advocate for her needs.
This most recent experience is so important in that as the girl gets older and must take on more and more personal responsibility for her learning and progress, she is beginning to better realize and understand where her challenges are, some of the strategies that help and why, and hopefully, over time, how to let teachers….and her parents…know when and how she needs assistance.
However, I can’t help but think that if the father, an educator, had such a hard time getting information about and understanding his daughter’s progress in grades 3 and 4, how difficult it must be for parents who don’t necessarily have as strong an understanding of our education system to share in the responsibility for their children’s education.
Recently, I had the opportunity to attend another EdCamp in Delta. These type of opportunities are so important to me, as in my present assignment I have to be more proactive in seeking out professional development opportunities focused on teaching and learning. Out of necessity, Twitter and blogs have become a major source of ongoing professional development – but that’s for another post.
Intentionally, I attended sessions which had a lower subscription (fewer dots on the topics on the schedule board).
The session on “How Do We Identify and Teach Students with Learning Difficulties” had an impact on me, as I saw the power of student involvement and voice in an edcamp. In this session there were only a small number of educators and one parent, but it was also attended by approximately half a dozen secondary school students. Most of these students indicated that they had learning disabilities.
Some of the students’ comments during our discussions included:
It’s really hard to write and read out loud around other students
Helpful to be in a group with a student of similar level – not just a stronger student
Sometimes more comfortable if you can pick your partner to help edit
Helpful to have more than one person help with peer editing
When pairing/grouping students, will the stronger students want to help the weaker students?
Teachers asking an LD student to read out loud can be frustrating and embarrassing
If you have a learning disability and you get asked to read out loud you can get picked on
Not right to have students peer assess for the purpose of producing marks
Becomes a popularity game
Need to have more than one way to show our learning
Need a chance to improve our marks.
Sometimes teachers don’t give a second chance, and we don’t have the confidence to keep trying
While similar to the comments many of us as educators extol, the power of students sharing their views and experiences was incredible.
I appreciated the confidence these students displayed while participating in this group, and I wonder if they also have the confidence to share and advocate for their needs in their classes. I also wonder about the receptiveness of their teachers.
I also think about the journey of the girl described at the beginning of this post, and hope that she develops the same confidence I saw in the students at EdCampDelta, and, with the guidance and support of her teachers and parents, learns to effectively advocate for her own needs at school.
Photo via @EMSCarlson
I recently read a post on employee engagement [here] which includes the video below. While the categories don’t necessarily appeal to the author of the post, and I wouldn’t necessarily advocate labeling people in the workplace, the thoughts described in the video provide interesting points to consider in the work we do.
While not focused on education, one can draw connections to the work of district leaders, school administrators, and teachers.
The video explains that success is defined by organization and business goals. How well you achieve these goals is defined by performance.
Individuals provide high contribution in a successful organization. At the same time, employees (executives, managers, staff) are on a path of their own personal definition of success, and looking for maximum personal satisfaction.
What employees want to get (satisfaction) and are prepared to give (contribution) intersect. There are different levels of satisfaction and different levels of contribution and, as a result, different levels of engagement.
The “5 levels of engagement” outlined in the video and described in the post are:
Engaged: These employees are contributing fully to the success of the organization and find great satisfaction in their work. They apply discretionary effort and take initiative.
(High on satisfaction & high on Contribution)
Almost Engaged: These employees are reasonably satisfied with their jobs and are among the highest performers.
(In the centre. Decent performers and reasonably satisfied.)
Honeymooners & Hamsters: Honeymooners are new to the organization or role and have yet to become fully productive. Hamsters may be working hard but focused on the wrong things — or they may be hardly working. The outcome is the same: maximum satisfaction for them and minimum satisfaction for the organization.
(High on satisfaction, but not fully contributing)
Crash & Burners: This group is the opposite of the one above. They are high performers, delivering what the organization needs, but disillusioned or not achieving their personal definition of success.
(Great results, but not getting what they want. Will quit or pull back on their contributions – quit and stay.)
Disengaged: Disengaged employees are the most disconnected from organizational priorities and are not getting what they want from their work.
(Low on satisfaction and contribution)
The video emphasizes that creating a more engaged workplace:
- can’t be solved with a survey and a few organizational wide initiatives.
- is not the sole job of Executives and Managers
- must be a daily priority
- is a shared responsibility – team approach (executives, managers,
The video outlines the following roles:
Individuals must “ACT”
- Assess own goals & satisfaction drivers – What does success look like?
- Communicate w/ Managers – aspirations, needs, & what the organization needs from them
- Take Action – need help, guidance, but they own their engagement
Managers must “CARE” about engagement
- Coach for performance and development
- Align priorities, interests, & talents w/ organization goals
- Recognize achievements & effort
- Engage selves & individual team members about what matters for the organization and them
Executives (Sr. Leaders) must model, lead by example, set the tone, and make their “CASE” for engagement
- foster sense of Community
- be Authentic in what they say & do
- provide Significance to aims of organization & help employees find meaning in the work they do
- build Excitement to move the organization forward
By making engagement an important part of the organization – a daily occurrence rather than an event – a culture of engagement that drives performance helps individuals achieve ambitions and satisfaction, and also contributes to organizational success.
I need to continue to consider engagement in my current role working with members of the department, but also in the way our department supports school administrators and staff.
What does all this mean to you in your work as a:
- District Administrator/Leader with district staff and building administrators and staff?
- School Administrator with staff and students?
- Department Leader with colleagues?
- Teacher with the students in your class?
Yong Zhao, a professor at the University of Oregon, wasn’t serious when he tweeted the above statement with a link to a post on his blog. Yong Zhao’s blog post was a reaction to an article that pointed to a correlation between countries which had high PISA scores but few natural resources. However, it is interesting that 4 of the top 5 PISA countries (Shanghai – China, Korea, Finland, Hong Kong – China, Singapore) are Asian.
In reality, what is important is each country’s acknowledgement that “education matters.”
I recently watched a video on education reform in Shanghai, China.
While there are varying perceptions about teaching and learning in China and other Asian countries, it is the efforts towards educational change depicted in this video which I find interesting.
The video begins stating that over the last three decades in Shanghai special attention has been focused on education funding for young people and education policy. Throughout the journey of improving education, problems arose, but on each occasion, in response, new education policy was created to address each of those problems.
The video goes on to highlight an approach used to improve weak schools in Shanghai entitled “Empowered Administration.”
Empowered Administration includes:
- A stronger school or educational institution is contracted to strengthen a weaker school
- The strong school or institution provides administrative and pedagogical guidance
- Such institutions are generally composed of retired school principals and teachers
Empowered Administration includes four partners:
- the Shanghai municipal government
- the external partner (school or firm)
- the district education authority which finances the endeavour
- an external evaluation body to independently assess the results of the project
In Shanghai it was felt that the issues in the weaker schools included administration that did not know how to run modern schools, did not have strong theoretical foundations, and had, “not followed the changes in technology and modernization,” and, as a result, were behind current practices.
Their approach dispatched strong management teams to lower performing schools.
In one school depicted, a weakness identified was in teachers who came to class without a lesson plan and not having prepared much. As a result, one of the focuses became the need to improve the quality of the teaching staff. The teaching profession is described in the video as a, “conservative and insulated occupation,” acknowledging that it is difficult to change behaviours that have already been formed.
A mentor administrator shown in the video uses his “success education” philosophy, which he had used to turn around a previous school. His “success education” philosophy has three main points:
- All students are viewed as potential high achievers
- Developing student self-confidence is the key
- Intensive teacher mentorship is the strategy
In Shanghai there was recognition that change in approaches to teaching needed to be systematic and lasting. The system of sending in teachers to work one on one with other teachers would often result in immediate change; however, teachers would usually revert back to their former ways of teaching after a period of time.
As a part of providing ongoing support, non-governmental consulting firms were contracted to provide regular and on-going support directly to teachers, and included regular communication with school principals. These firms were usually staffed by retired administrators and teachers.
The Shanghai experience, I believe, offers some interesting considerations for the work we do in improving schools.
The focus on education funding and education policy, I believe, is important. I also believe that these two foci cannot be exclusive of each other. Increasing funding to continue doing what we’ve always done doesn’t make sense for educational improvement. Moreover, policy should focus and guide us in our efforts to organize and allocate resources (who should contribute to the design of educational policy is a whole different topic for a completely separate post).
However, in our system, accurately identifying the “weaker schools” is difficult, controversial, and gives rise to conflict diverting from the issues and solutions, just as does identifying weaker administrators or weaker teachers. The annual Fraser Institute rankings of schools in our province are a good example of a ranking system that probably divides the education community more than improves it. These types of rankings, especially based on limited criteria not widely acknowledged by the profession, have not helped improve our system, and after many years of controversy will not likely be embraced by educators in the near future.
Perhaps for our purposes the focus is not on weaknesses, which speaks to a deficit model, but rather opportunities to share and capitalize on the successful experiences of others towards continuous improvement. In our District we have, on a small-scale, approached that type of work through collegial conferencing projects, and to a lesser degree action research.
I notice some similarities between the Shanghai narrative and the framework in Michael Fullan’s, The Moral Imperative Realized. Fullan identifies the value and importance of administrators and educators working together as partners to link schools, help each other, and ultimately improve the whole system. Out of Fullan’s book I pulled out important aspects necessary for change which spoke to me at that time, including the importance of relationships [Post: Relationships, Relationships, Relationships], building capacity [Post: On Building Capacity], and recruiting and hiring teachers possessing strong foundations on which to build [Post: Don’t Wait for Superman].
I believe there is merit to supporting administrators and teachers with some sort of system of mentorship or collegial sharing. I don’t believe that teachers recently graduated from university training are ready to be classified as “master teachers” any more than newer administrators (Vice-Principals, Principals, and Board Office Administrators) have immediately developed all the skills necessary to address each responsibility resulting in immediate success. Becoming stronger teachers and stronger administrators comes with learning from experience and each other, mixed with some trial and error. I appreciate Fullan’s advocacy for the importance of encouraging, “risk taking, learning, and sharing of successful practices while intervening in a non-punitive manner.”
Districts use educators in a variety of capacities to support school-based educators, including positions such as helping teachers, mentors, consultants, department heads, district administrators, directors of instruction, etc. Each district will have its own model which they believe is the best fit to move the organization forward. However, attention also needs to be focused on ensuring that the model is efficient and truly addresses the needs of the district, schools, educators, and students, especially given a time of limited resources.
Ideally, we should see ourselves continuously striving to improve the work we do in providing improved and superior learning situations focused on success for each student.
… we just need to ensure we have the correct framework and tools in which to do so.
It’s a good thing my kids already know how to use chopsticks. BYOC.
A couple of weeks ago I had an opportunity to join the staff in my building for presentations and discussion about the use of technology in classes. It was a great morning, and well-organized by the Professional Development Committee. The next day I attended an administrators’ professional development session on Michael Fullan’s, “Choosing the wrong drivers for whole system reform,” another great session organized by colleagues. These two sessions were prior to the Ministry of Education’s unveiling of the framework for the new Education Plan, which includes the mandate to, “encourage smart use of technology in schools.”
As a student, my technology was far different from what is available to our students in schools today.
Some of the technology of my childhood included:
The opaque projector – a large device, not easily moved around unless on some kind of wheeled cart, used by teachers to project the pages of books on the wall or screen.
The film strip projector was often used in classes, and the “advent” of technology saw the addition of sound through the use of a record player. The audio would include a beep to signal the student responsible for the “technology” to advance to the next frame.
Handouts were created using a Gestetner machine.
Blackboards were black. Telephones were just telephones. “Dialing” a telephone number actually involved dialing.
Despite what my daughter says, I’m not that old. Technology has progressed in a relatively short time. I began to reflect on these changes even more when I returned to my former junior high school as Principal a couple of years ago. The physical plant was much the same as it was when I left 30 years earlier. However, the Typing Room full of rows of manual typewriters had become a regular classroom. The Gestetner was long gone. Unfortunately, it seemed like very little else had changed.
One of the things that strikes me as I consider changes in technology is that, as a student, little of the technology at school was available to me at home. Nor would it have better engaged me in my learning if it had been. We did have a record player at home, but to listen to the monotone narrations on records used in classes would have done little to motivate, extend, or personalize my learning.
We now have an opportunity to use technology to engage students in their learning in a variety of new ways. However, technology in itself is just a tool.
(Update: Technology as a “tool” may not be the best characterization. It is not intended to minimize or understate the power and role of technology, but to underscore the importance of understanding teaching and learning, which technology can be used to enhance, facilitate, and even transform. Read Technology is More than a Tool by @gcouros.)
Fullan recognizes the potential of technology as a driver for change in education. However, he rightfully emphasizes that technology cannot be the lead driver. Instead, he asserts that the impetuous for change must be led by the following, which, “work directly on changing the culture”:
1. The learning-instruction-assessment nexus
2. Social capital to build the profession
3. Pedagogy matches technology
4. Systemic synergy
Fullan also identifies the following as drivers which should not be used to lead change:
1. accountability: using test results, and teacher appraisal, to reward or punish teachers and school vs. capacity building
2. individual teacher and leadership quality: promoting individual vs. group solutions
3. technology: investing in and assuming that the wonders of the digital world will carry the day vs. instruction
4. fragmented strategies vs. integrated or systemic strategies
Fullan indicates that these are not always wrong as system drivers, but their role is misplaced if used to lead reform.
Fullan makes several additional points to ponder about technology in education:
• technology has been winning the race over pedagogy
• technology gets better and better while instruction doesn’t
• the essential idea is to get the right learning embedded in the technology
• without pedagogy in the driver’s seat there is growing evidence that technology is better at driving us to distraction
• teachers need to get grounded in instruction, so they can figure out with students how best to engage technology
• there is no evidence that technology is a particularly good entry point for whole system reform, but it will be a dramatic accelerator if we can put instruction, and skilled motivated teachers and students in the lead.
• once this instructional-digital powerhouse gets under way, students will motivate teachers as much as the other way around
For me, technology definitely has a role in shaping the potential of what we can do with students in our classrooms (@tomwhitby suggests the starting points here), and I enjoy exploring the possibilities with staff and students. We do, however, need to ensure that teaching and learning continues to be about teaching and learning.
The other night I came across an article entitled “Why Alternative Education Needs to Go Mainstream.”
The article recaps comments by Sir Ken Robinson regarding dropout prevention.
The article appealed to me in that it helped connect some of my thoughts regarding the questions I posed in a previous blog post.
Some of the points highlighted in the article include:
If what we now call “alternative education” methods became mainstream… we wouldn’t be discussing the dropout rate.”
“For any student, the classroom they sit in is the education system and that’s what they’re dropping out of.”
…the kids who get into quality alternative programs fall in love with learning because they’re getting an individualized experience—and the support they need to address particular life challenges….
…change begins at the classroom level.
Every teacher has the ability to take the time to build relationships with students, make her classroom an engaging environment, and connect students with “real world opportunities in local creative industries and higher education.”
School-wide solutions… depend on having a school principal with a strong vision and a willingness to ditch current school customs.
…we shouldn’t expect to reform the entire system in one or two years. Instead, a ten-year plan that’s well thought-out and truly student-centered is what’s needed to change the alternative into the mainstream.
Being new to blogging and Twitter, I didn’t cast my previous posts out widely, but I am still interested in the thoughts of others regarding these issues.
Thanks Sir Ken!
Now… to develop a plan….