Encouraging Balance

I had the opportunity to discuss the Principal Quality Standard today at a session that I attended. I really believe that this is a great document for administrators to help ensure that they are being effective leaders. It also ensures that principals are effective at the “management” portions of their job (managing school operations and resources).  Although this is something that is specific to Alberta, the standards are applicable to all principals.

At today’s session, a comment threw me for a loop.  It was said that teachers coming into the profession today do not work the same as fifteen years ago.  It was said that they are a part of the “me” generation  and do not want to put in the long hours of work at night, and come in on the weekends.  What I insinuated from this comment was that teachers did not work the same because they were not as focused as their predecessors.

Later in the conversation, the question was asked why more and more teachers are leaving the profession early.  The same participant that made the earlier comment said that we have to go out as administrators and talk about how teaching is such a wonderful profession and so rewarding.  I thought long and hard about this statement and I agree with it.  I do however believe that teachers spending TOO much time at the school can lead to burn out, so why was the idea floated they should be at school longer.

We have to recognize that the teachers do wonderful things and care for the kids.  They need BALANCE in their lives and I encourage my staff to NOT be here until all hours of night, nor the weekends.  The most effective teachers are the ones that can connect with kids.  As we want students to be led to their passion, I also believe that staff need to do this as well.   Having outside interests makes a person well rounded, happier, and ultimately more effective with others.  If your life is all about school only, how does that relate to students?  I have always taken the opportunity to share my interests with students in the classroom because that is what humanizes me to them.  It also helps to build a strong connection in the classroom.  I do not want the “I am the teacher, and you are the student” mentality in the classroom.  I would much rather have this: “I am a person and you are a person.  Let’s work together.”

As a principal, I only want to work with staff that are passionate about working with kids.  Before that can happen though, they have to first be passionate about  their own lives and interests.  I encourage all administrators to work with their staff to ensure that they are having the opportunity to live a balanced,and passion filled life.  Your students will be better off because of it.

Finding My Sentence

In my writing, I talk a lot about the importance of passion.  Finding your passion is essential to feel satisfaction in what you do.  It is also gives you the opportunity to make positive contributions at your work place.

We must engage our students by helping them find their passions and not by simply giving rewards.  Joe Bower writes an excellent blog on effective assessment practices. We must do better for our students.  He and I agree that helping students find their passion and build a love of learning is the ultimate goal.

Recently I read the book “Drive” by Daniel Pink.  Pink talks about what motivates us.  He discusses how humans get the most out of whatever we do by being intrinsically motivated (e.g., learning for the love of learning). The author coined the phrase “finding your sentence” which serves as a guidepost to finding what motivates you.

My sentence is:  A leader who cares about kids and helps others find their passion.

Everyday I work hard to achieve that goal. Hopefully I can inspire others to find their own sentence; to find their passion.

What’s yours?

Encouraging Passion

Today I had the opportunity to talk to a wonderful student currently in Grade 12.  Jack is an amazing kid with a tremendous personality.  He makes you feel like you are worth millions when you speak to him.  Jack quickly made some “principal” jokes at me and we shared a good laugh.  This was one of the first times that Jack and I conversed.

Jack has a unique passion.  He loves to make things out of paper.  If you told me this, I would have not been able to visualize it.  Now that I have seen it; it is amazing.

When you see a student share his passion, whether it is school related or not, encourage them to follow it.  True fulfillment in life comes from finding your passion and pursuing it.  I have found mine and it looks like Jack found his!

Learning from Our Past; Digital Identity and Cyberbullying

Recently students at our school have started using Kidblog to start blogging about different things that are happening in around the school, as well as in their lives. This is something that is very exciting.  However, it is a new endeavour so there is uncertainty about the safety of putting information on the Internet.  Kidblog definitely has a great way to integrate kids on to the Internet by being able to have different security measures to ensure that information is being shown at a pace that staff, students, and parents are comfortable with.  Lee Kolbert writes a great blog post about using Kidblog so I encourage you to check it out if you want to learn more.

Digital and “real” identity; Make the connection

To ensure that students are being safe using these Web 2.0 Technologies, I worked with the students on a Cyberbullying and Web2.0 Presentation so they would ensure that they were being safe when using this new technology (to them).  What was an important part of this process was talking about how students want to present themselves in the “real world”.  Some of the concepts that were used were “friendly, respectful, intelligent, awesome, nice, pleasant, kind”. The next question that was asked was “Does this change when you are on the Internet?”  It was something that all of the students understood immediately.  It also seemed that some of the students rethought about some of the times that they did not present themselves on the Internet in the way they aspired to be presented in our school community.

I really appreciated the discussion that was had about bullying/cyberbullying and how it so negatively affected the school environment.  Discussion also followed on how quickly bullying spread using digital technologies.  Although they are quite funny, the LG Ads on cyberbullying are quite powerful.  I have also used the “Cry of the Dolphin” video to see the effects of cyberbullying on others.  Using this video also aided in our discussion. It shows the different mediums that students can use to bully and the affects it can have on the esteem of a child.

Connecting to my past

As a principal, it is often hard for students to realize that at one point I was actually a child in a school.  When I talk about school back in the “good old days”, students are interested in how things are different from then and now.  I always encourage other staff to try to connect with students on a level where kids will see them as “real people”.  Leading by example, and feeling the topic presented itself, I shared from my past.

As a younger child, I always had dealt with weight issues that had followed me up until my early adulthood.  It was only until recently that I have felt that I have become a healthier person, and my brother Dr. Alec Couros had wrote a blog post about how this had affected me and what I did to prevail. Although I feel I am very healthy now, I remember a distinct time where on a car ride home, I had felt that I was mercilessly teased about my weight.  I had played hockey for several years and this car ride home was from a town about an hour away from where I had lived.  To this day, I can still remember how I felt on that ride home and how it still gets me a little choked up.  Immediately after leaving the car to go into my house, I told my mother that I would never play hockey again.  After five years, that was the end of my career.  Although bullying had been done to me before that, it was the final straw and I did not want to return.

Students had known that it was something that had still bothered me when I spoke of it.  I discussed with them that almost 20 years later, I can still remember what happened that day and who was involved.  We also talked about how short moments, can affect someone’s life forever, as they did mine.

Connecting with students

There is power in sharing your own life with students. For my students to realize that I had gone through things similar to them is a great way for me to connect.
I have also had students who have had made mistakes in my office.  When they are upset I ask them this question: “Do you think that I ever made a mistake like that?”  They surprisingly say more often than not, no.  Any teacher that I had would know that I HAVE made many mistakes.  Humanizing these situations with students and sharing personal experiences with them is such a great way to connect.

As an educator, if you have these stories to share with the kids on how you have learned from your mistakes and/or past, I encourage you to share them.  They will not only see that you are a real person, but they can learn from your mistakes.  You will be surprised at how much they can and WANT to learn from your experience.

Do you have the best job ever?

Today was my birthday and as I grow older, I tend to want to keep it a low key affair and avoid the notion that I am growing older.  On this day my students would not let me forget the day at all, and made sure that I had a great celebration.

It started with walking into the school and seeing my office filled with balloons.  Now I am not sure who did this, but students were surrounding the windows in my office and were so excited about what they were seeing.  As the day continued, impromptu versions of “Happy Birthday” popped up every time I would walk into the classroom.  Hugs and kind words were in abundance  but I would have had it no other way.

As I decided that my office needed to have the balloons cleaned up, I asked classes one by one if they wanted to take a balloon.  Students had the chance to come into my office and pick a balloon.  The thing that I loved most about this, was seeing the excitement each student had to simply pick and have a balloon!  Their enthusiasm is contagious and I had a giant smile on my face the whole day.  One kindergarten student in particular gazed into my office as if she was about to enter Toys R’ Us!  It was a look that will be etched in my mind.

Knowing that I am surrounded by students who love so unconditionally and are so excited about so much definitely enthuses me about my job.  There is never a dull moment and I feel like no matter what birthday it is, the kids will always keep me feeling young.

Best job ever!

Changing Leadership Together

At Forest Green School, we believe building relationships is fundamental to student success.  Education is a powerful profession and has the capability to change definitions.

Evolution of Success

When I was a student, the term “success” meant that a student would graduate high school, go on to university, and have a good career in an academic field.  Education has helped to change success to go further than “the best” to “the best for us”.  We all know now that people do not need to go onto college be successful, but if they follow their passions and are happy, that is the ultimate success.  Many schools now believe (although branches of government have not come around to realize this) that leading students to find what they love, and helping them to pursue that, is how we can help students become successful.

Many students that I have had the joy of working with have gone on to work in fields that did not need a post secondary degree.  They are ultimately happier than other people who spent years in university, make excess amounts of money, but are miserable in their careers, which sometimes leads to misery in their personal lives.  I challenge you to say that the university student in that situation is the one that has achieved the greatest success.

Transformation of leadership

I have shared with staff my belief in distributed leadership and how that as a collective, we can achieve more than one person alone.  I want to continuously give staff the opportunity to have input on directions and decisions of the school, and am always able to go to other staff when I need help in areas that are not my strength.  I believe that one of the most powerful statements a formal leader can say to someone they work with is the term, “I don’t know”.  Saying that phrase alone is not powerful, but being able to lead someone to a person with further knowledge than myself on a topic is what a great leader will do.

As I started at a new school this year and shared my beliefs on distributed leadership, I wanted to ensure the culture of the school reflected that.  Coming in with a new set of eyes to the building, I noticed little subtleties that did not reflect the belief I was trying to share.  One thing that really stood out to me was the traditional principal portrait that was hanging in the front entrance of the school.  To me, this was a little detail, but still a detail that did not reflect the belief I was trying to foster in the school.  As I shared with staff that I believed they all needed to be leaders, the picture of myself would be shown in the front foyer.  I am happy to say that my picture never made it up.  Our school is about kids, not the principal, so although I value all of the work that the principals did before me to build a great school culture, I replaced their pictures with candid shots of students.  Not only did the school community appreciate seeing their children displayed as you walked into the school, it showed my belief that no one person is bigger than the school.  I challenge every administrator to look around the schools they work.  Do the “little things” reflect what you believe is the shared vision of the school?  If not, it is time to make some changes.

Transferring leadership to students

Distributed leadership is not something that is unique to my building, but it is something that is more prevalent in all facets of society.  Leadership is more about how we work and lead as a collective, as opposed to following the vision of one.  If these skills are relevant to the workplace, what are we doing as a school to advance this?  Schools should ensure that they are preparing students with skills so they can flourish long after they leave.  Building leadership skills in all students is something that we need to be doing as educators.

Being influenced by the book, “The Leader in Me”, I started to realize that this is something that is apparent at our school, without it ever being truly focused upon.  Students lead our assemblies, help to supervise and ensure the safety of others, while also having input in their own learning.  These are just a few things that I have seen our students do.  The key to this is that the staff has helped to nurture and grow this.  Now as a focus of our school, we try to give as many opportunities to students to become leaders and help in the direction of our school.  Not all students are going to be in positions of “traditional” leadership (principals, CEO’s, managers, etc.), but we want to ensure that they can become leaders in whatever they do.

If you believe that this is something that is not achievable by all students, or even your students who you know better, you may need to recheck your belief system.  If we limit our students, they sometimes achieve success in spite of us instead of because of us. What do you do as an educator to help your students become leaders?  What opportunities do you give students to lead in your school?  I have students in my school raise funds for Haiti, organize assemblies, help others that are in trouble, and create a healthy concession for others.  These were ALL student initiated.  Seeing these acts by students only solidifies my belief in leadership is something that is in all of us.

It is my belief that my job is ultimately easier because I have so many people that I can count on to take on different roles of leadership in my school.  This includes students.  If all of us work together as a school community where we all have the opportunity to share our strengths and become leaders, the limits of what was can do are endless.  In fact, together we can definitely change the traditional definition in society on what a true leader should be.

Tagxedo

I came across this new web application similar to Wordle, but creates your words into shapes.  It is called Tagxedo, and it is in development.  It definitely could use some work though.

I plugged my blog into the Tagxedo cloud and I am glad that “students” came up as the biggest word.  I am glad that it shows my number one focus.



Planning with Parents; School Education Plan

As a staff, we were very fortunate to have parents attend and help to guide us in the process on March 11, 2010.  Using feedback that we received from students, the education plan, along with the Annual Education Report for our school, we had research and data to help us with our vision. We are grateful for the comments and feedback from our school community that will help us improve the culture and learning environments.  Parents and staff are focused on the same objective:  what is best for each child.  With that clear focus in mind, and working together as a community, I was glad that we had such a successful day.

We were so grateful that parents were able to attend and help to create and solidify the vision and culture of the school.

I have recently read an interesting article called “A Teacher’s Guide to Generation X Parents”, and I thought it had some very interesting notes on how parents want to be more involved in the education of their children.  I believe that parents are partners in the school and the points listed here are very relevant to what we want to do as a staff.

Here are some of the key points the author summarized:

Listen to Us

As insufferable as we can be at first contact, listen to us first. We may look and act like adults, but there is a part of us that still feels like a neglected kid inside. Paying attention to our concerns may be a little more time consuming, but the effort will pay off. We’re loyal allies, and we love to be helpful.

Include Us

Invite us to teach in the classroom for an afternoon. Or assign students free-choice homework one night a week, to be completed with a parent. Many Gen Xers are genuine intellectuals with interesting ideas and hobbies. We’d love to share them!

Put Us to Work

We share your passion for making schools more successful learning environments. Besides letting us help you in class or share a homework assignment with our kids, harness our energy by asking us to help plan a field trip or do background research or otherwise help you prepare a class project.

Give Us Limits

“I let parents know that I’m always willing to listen to their concerns, but that there are certain issues that are negotiable and others that just aren’t,” says Shelly Wolf Scott, an administrator at Brooklyn’s Rivendell School. Parents are not allowed to alter their children’s classroom placement, curriculum, or administrative decisions.

They are, however, permitted to offer information about their child that the school might not know and that could assist in making such decisions. “This group of parents seems to respond well to those boundaries,” she says.

Work with Us

“Parents don’t seem to know how incredibly carefully all teachers and administrators think about their children,” says Lynn Levinson, assistant director of Upper School (and a parent of two) at the Maret School, in Washington, DC. “I always reassure them that I know how many conversations have revolved around these children and their classmates, so I know that it’s the right decision, even if I’m not happy with it as a parent.”

I think these points are very helpful in guiding all of us to ensure the best for each child.  What are your thoughts?

Finding a Path to Passion

I have heard a lot of teachers say they knew they wanted to be a teacher since childhood, but this does not describe me.  Although I always loved kids, teaching was not a career I ever saw myself pursuing.  When I was about 20 years old however, I decided to become a teacher as a way of continuing my love affair with sports (I really wanted to coach basketball),

My first teaching position was with a group of fourth-grade students in small town Saskatchewan, Canada.  I was able to coach high school basketball and made some wonderful connections that first year, ones I still have today.  What had surprised me the most was how much I loved being with my grade four students.  Everyday was new to me. Even though there were some challenges, I always wanted to go back to work the next day.  Life was good.

An Easy First Step

One of the things I loved most about the job was the feeling of “celebrity” that I had in the school.  I was a young teacher who felt confident. I knew I was doing a good  job by the way students from my grade four class loved to help me out as much as possible. I could visit any classroom or activity in my K-7 school, connect with the students and feel appreciated and respected. It was a good feeling.
The subjects I taught always became conversations with students. The one thing that people know about me is that I love to talk. The kids quickly caught on. I just loved expanding on world events and helping students make connections to our class work. To be honest, I do not really remember any of the units that I taught that year, but I do remember all of the kids. The positive feedback I received from students made my first teaching position an easy first step towards finding my passion as an educator.

A Sidestep

Based on a personal decision, I took a position at another school.  Now this position was in a high school “teaching” students using a module learning curriculum.  At first I thought, “This is going to be so easy.” I was definitely right.  However, after five years of transmitting a curriculum where students trudged their way through booklets, and checked off the requirements they needed to get A’s, I had enough.

I did not see purpose in my position. I lost my passion. I ultimately decided that if I did not get a new position, I was going to take a leave from teaching.  Why? Because I wasn’t teaching students anymore. I was teaching curriculum.  And to be blunt, it was boring—for the students, and for me.

Two weeks prior to filing for a leave of absence, I was offered a job at another school just outside the city of Edmonton.  I decided to take the position thinking I would give teaching one more year with hopes a change of scenery would do me some good and help me rediscover my path to passion.

Back on the Path

A funny thing happened on the way to my new job…

I received an opportunity to interview for what seemed to be my dream job at the time. Problem, I already signed a contract for my new position leaving me with a dilemma: either just forgo the interview for my dream job all together or be honest with my new employer by letting her know I was interviewing for another position.  I chose the latter.  What happened next surprised me and possibly changed my life forever.

When I met with my new supervisor and informed her of my decision to interview for the dream job she said, “If that is what you really want to do, go for it.  We will be able to find someone else. If you do not get the position, you are more than welcome to stay with us.” At that moment, I decided I was not interested in the dream job anymore because I had never before felt so respected by my “boss.”

Starting in my new school was a total eye opener. I was trusted to do what worked for ME and the ways I relate to the kids. My strengths were always valued and encouraged.  My principal knew of my weaknesses, but never focused on them. She always encouraged my strengths. I always had multiple opportunities to connect with kids. I loved every moment with them, whether positive or negative.  I felt my passion reignite. I also realized that I did not become a teacher because I loved teaching a specific subject, but because I loved connecting with kids.  I took a few side-steps along the way to figuring out where my passion lies for sure. Now that I’ve I realized it, I never let it go.

Clearing the Path

I know my passion is connecting with kids. As an administrator, I lead my school community by providing occasions for others to find their own passions. Every year I ask the question, “In a perfect world, what would you like to teach at school?” I present our staff the opportunity to help me, help them find their passion (a little Jerry Maguire there folks). I encourage staff to do what works for THEM and know they will feel joy and share that with their students.

Kids know when a teacher is passionate about something. They feed off the teacher’s energy. It also models to students the true happiness that one finds from being able to pursue their passion. Students then feel invited to do the same.  My ultimate goal is to clear the path by working diligently with my staff to find and share their passion. If I am successful, then I am sure they will do the same for their students.