Forest Green/CFL Mindmap (2010)

I have been wanting to try something different for our MindMap this year so I tried to have it so that there was more than just static pictures.  Having pictures and videos was a way for me to summarize the success of our year, but also give the viewer a little more information.

As this is not necessarily the final product, I would love some feedback!  Please share your thoughts on how to improve this.

[vodpod id=Video.3594568&w=425&h=350&fv=prezi_id%3Di-yvaqiew7zg%26amp%3Block_to_path%3D1%26amp%3Bcolor%3Dffffff%26amp%3Bautoplay%3Dno]

more about “Forest Green/CFL Mindmap (2010)“, posted with vodpod

Those Who Lead

I was led to the following video by my brother, Dr. Alec Couros, based on what makes a successful leader.  It talks about the “golden circle” and how important the “why” is when leading. It shares how successful companies use the “why” to inspire those they lead.

One of the quotes that I appreciated from this was the following:  “There are leaders and there are those who lead.”  I want to be the latter.

Please watch the video below to help you learn the importance of the “why” in your vision.

Be the Change

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Gandhi

I am an advocate of change.  Change to me is about growth and learning.  Change to me is about getting better.  The hard part for many is that change is also about reflection.  Taking a hard look at what you are doing and wondering if it is good enough is a tough practice.  Taking the next step and CHANGING the practice is even harder as some take it as a sign of things that were not done right.  I see it as growth.  Although there is the type of DRASTIC change that happened in Rhode Island where all the teachers were fired, but that is not what I am talking about. I can ALWAYS get better and so can you.  That is how I want to change.

As a principal, I am an advocate of growth.  I have heard this statement many times; “People are afraid of change.”  Maybe we need to re-look at this statement.  What I believe is that people are scared of TOTALLY changing and do something that they have never done before, or something that is totally new.  Is that REALLY what we are asking for?  Or are we asking that people grow and build upon already effective practices that could just get better?

Take students as an example.  A simple practice such as printing one day becomes cursive writing.  Do we tell the students, “DO NOT BE AFRAID OF CHANGE!!” or do we simply share that this is the next step in a process.  All we are doing is adding another tool that they can use in the classroom, we are not saying the old practice is obsolete.

For my staff, technology integration has been an area that we have not “changed” but where we have grown together.  At the beginning of the year, many staff did not have as much technology in the classroom so the tools that could have helped were not available.  As these tools became available, the staff GREW in their learning of their own teaching practices.  They still had a solid foundation for their teaching but just had added another avenue to use with students.

If you look change as a 180 degree shift in what you are doing, then of course it is going to be terrifying.  If we start to realize it is just growth, is it really that bad?  As educators, we expect our students to continuously grow in their learning.  We are the role models for this.  If you looked at the students twice in the year, beginning and end, it will look like they have made a drastic change.  What we know as educators is that the journey is more important than the beginning and end.  The growth that has happened during that year is what is important and what has happened.

As administrators, know that this “change” we speak of takes time if you want to be long lasting.  Know the journey of growth that happens is important and should be made together.  In my career as an educator, I never looked it as change but just growing alongside my students.  If you are not willing to grow and learn, maybe you really do need a change.

The Key to Education (Tribute to my Mom and Dad)

Before I started my own blog, I was honoured to be asked to “guest write” for my friend Vicky Loras.  This original post that I wrote led me to creating my own blog and I am grateful that I was even asked.  Since this weekend my family is celebrating my Dad’s 80th birthday, Mother’s Day and my brother Alec just having his third child, I thought I would repost this to my own blog. (Originally written on March 13, 2010)

From Left to Right: Alec, Mom, Dad, George

My name is George and I am a principal. Just writing this statement is almost hilarious, and if you ever talked to any of my former principals, they would probably be pulling their hair out knowing at who is at the source of this statement. The funny thing is, what I thought was once a horrible job, I now know is one that is absolutely amazing. I know that I have the opportunity to not only influence children within my school, but I also have the opportunity to influence the people that have the greatest impact on the lives of these children; their teachers.
Teachers absolutely have the biggest impact on the lives of a child, whether it is positive or negative. A child will have the opportunity to either excel in life directly because of a teacher, but sometimes in spite of a teacher. My job is to ensure that I work with my staff to create an environment that does not become the latter.
A little about me, I am the baby in a family of 2 brothers and 1 sister who have very powerful and energetic personalities. When I share with people that I am the shy one in the family, I do not know if they are in shock or fear, as I must say I do have a very outgoing personality as well. My parents, both Greek immigrants, are the major influence that I am in the position I am in today. Looking at their impact, it is very different than a traditional route that many educators may have faced.
As children in Greece, education was something that was not out of necessity for my parents, but was a luxury that was afforded to only some families. My father was only able to attend grade 2 as a student since he had lived in a country that was torn by political ideologies and was embroiled in a civil war. My mother had far surpassed many women of her generation and actually was able to attend grade 6 before she was pulled out of school. Eventually, they both immigrated to Canada and met in the lovely city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where they married.
As I grew up and saw many of my Greek friends persuaded to continue the family business, the importance of education was continuously reinforced by my parents. They did not want us working long hours in a restaurant, and wanted to ensure that, although they loved their jobs, we would be in professions that would afford us a little more time to spend with family. Between my 3 siblings and myself, there are 9 degrees, 2 of which are masters degrees, and one a doctorate by my brother Alec. It was an expectation from our parents that we would all go to university, and they worked extremely hard to ensure that we all had that opportunity. My brother and I both work in the field of education and are extremely passionate about our jobs, and hope that we can inspire a spark in others as well.
What my parents do not realize though is that with all of our formal education, they taught my brother and I (along with my siblings outside the world of education) something that was much more beneficial to our profession than any book or Web 2.0 site. They taught us the importance of caring and respect. You see, my parents owned a restaurant in the small town we grew up in that was very popular. When I was younger, it was ALWAYS extremely busy and my parents never seemed to have a quiet moment to themselves. What I had always assumed when I was younger was that because of the quality of food that my parents had made, people continuously would return. As I grew older, I know that this was only part of it.
Looking back on how my parents treated every single person as if they were the most important person in the world, was something that I see was unique. My dad would often come out of the kitchen and talk to customers, sit with them, and learn so much about them. My mom, who was the hostess for my entire life, always had something wonderful to say about the people that came in, and I never forget how engaged she was in their stories that they would share about their families. What my parents had created was not only a successful restaurant, but an atmosphere where people felt warm and welcomed. They would continuously come back to visit my parents, not for the food, but because they felt they were a part of the Greek family. Although my mom and dad had worked many long hours, they always treated people with kindness, caring and respect. Eventually my parents sold the restaurant, and although all of the recipes and meals were the same, it quickly closed after they had left the business. This tells me it was more than the food that had lured people to sit in this little Greek restaurant in the middle of Humboldt, Saskatchewan.
As a principal now, what do I want to help to create? Do I want only a factory where students can spew out amazing information, but have no heart or soul? Or do I want a school where people are valued and cared about and have an opportunity to learn about their passions? Not only students, but staff and parents as well. I know that when you came to see my parents at the restaurant, they didn’t just make you feel like you were the most important person in the world, but you WERE the most important person in their world. There was nothing forged or fake in their treatment of you, they just loved people and they cared about you. If I can help to build an environment where people are happy to see each other, and feel that no matter where they come from, then I will be successful. The funny thing is that my parents have come out to the school and cooked for my staff this year. They are two people that you are forced to hug as you feel that you have known them your whole lives and now you are in their home (no matter where the location is). They welcome you and love you no matter who you are, and how could you not love that back?

Before formal education can occur, there has to be a trust that the individual is cared for and appreciated. Building that relationship is the key to the success of all that take part in schools, and I did not learn that from a professor in a classroom in an education class, but from my mom and dad a long time prior. If I could help create the same magically caring environment in my school that my parents did in their little restaurant, I will have been a great success.

Professional (Leader) Development

At the beginning of the year, I moved into a new school building that had already established a strong culture.  As an advocate of change and moving forward, I also believe in sitting back and soaking in what strengths already exist.  What I realized quickly within my new school, was strength was of an abundance and I definitely wanted to capitalize on that.  Although I knew there was tremendous strength within the building it was essential that I try to align these strengths and take a more team approach to building the on this collective.

Reading through the previous school education plan along with our annual results, I used data to determine what could be areas of focus for our school.  Based on areas needed for growth and school division priorities, I came up with three areas that we could work on as school to propose to staff.  These were in the area of critical thinking, special needs education, and technology integration.  After discussing this with staff and telling them how I came to these conclusions, I also asked them if they felt comfortable using these three.  After discussion, the entire staff decided these three would be good PLUS they wanted to add citizenship and social responsibility (character education).

The basis of the plan was this; all staff would join one of the teams based on either it was their strength area or an area of interest.  They were encouraged to NOT go to an area that they felt was a weakness as they might become disengaged.  This was not about building upon the weakness of each staff member but instead focusing on their STRENGTH.  This is a way of not only engaging people in their own learning, but giving a great chance to use their strength to help them build upon the school culture.

Once the teams were formed, staff had PD days to plan with their respective teams.  This was a way for each team of experts to define the goals for the school in that area, along with the measures. A few days were allocated for discussion and preparation.  After this, each team would present to the entire school on one of our professional development days.  At the end of the year, teams will summarize their work and present their finding to staff.

Here are the reasons that we chose to do this professional development plan within the school:

1.  Develop leadership capacity in the building. – Any great leader knows that after he/she leaves the building, that all systems will still be in place.  By developing MANY leaders in these areas, there were now several people that you could go to for help, as opposed to one source of knowledge.

2.  Build upon the strengths of our staff. – This is an essential practice that many leaders ignore.  Instead of trying to be “good” at everything, I really want people to be GREAT at something that adds value to our school.  This not only builds confidence but it also helps with engagement of staff as they are working with material that they are comfortable with.

3.  Use money saved from bringing in “experts” for other PD and resources. –  Instead of outsourcing “experts” for outrageous amounts of money, I quickly realized that we had many experts within our own building.  Although the knowledge of one presenter can be great, I believe that the knowledge of a team of experts will outweigh it.  Saving this money gave us the opportunity to invest in resources for the classroom.

4.  Having experts within the building that understand the school. –  When an expert comes into the building with a source of knowledge, they are missing the knowledge that is essential to the building; an understanding of your school culture and dynamics.  Our staff knew exactly what was needed because they are in the school.  We could definitely have  a “garden variety” presenter that has great knowledge, but not the specific knowledge needed for our school.

As the year is coming to a close, I am proud  to say that this has been a highly successful endeavour for our school.  Staff was thoroughly engaged in not only their presentations, but also the presentations of their colleagues.  It was meaningful and relevant to what they were doing in school.  The comfort level to not only ask questions during presentations but throughout the year has been wonderful.

To make this work effectively, it is important that staff are involved in the process and the goals.  It was important that I was able to answer why I felt certain areas were important, but I also had to be flexible to changing the plan as well based on the collective vision of the staff.  The power of teams within our school has helped tremendously and I could not be happier on the success of this program within it’s first year.  I look forward to building upon it with my school team next year.

Here is a pdf of the school plan if you would like to read more – Forest Green/Connections for Learning Professional Development Plan

So you want to be an administrator…

Being a school administrator has been the most rewarding job I have ever had in my life.  There are days when I feel totally overwhelmed and exhausted from the amount of work that I have to do, but I never complain.  It is something I am passionate about and there is nothing else I would rather do in the world.  Being a classroom teacher is great but being an administrator is definitely my passion as I have a lot of opportunities to empower all stakeholders involved in our school community

Reading Seth Godin’s “Tribes”, one short section really stands out to me in the book.  It asks the questions, “Are you a thermometer or a thermostat?” Basically Godin is saying that a thermometer points out the issues and problems within a community, but the thermostat takes the opportunity to change it.  This simple question is something that every new administrator should be asking themselves.

As you come into a new role as an administrator, will you simply stand back and gauge the areas of weakness in the building, or will you do something about it?  As Covey discusses in “The Speed of Trust”, leaders are based on credibility and competence.  Credibility is your character and how trustworthy you are.  Competence are the skills that you bring to the building.

We all have had leaders that have told us where our weaknesses are as a “tribe”, but it is the great leaders that will get involved and work to improve the culture.  An area that I would have liked to seen my school grow in was the area of technology integration.  Luckily this happened to be a passion of mine.  Instead of complaining and saying this was an area to grow, our school community built a technology plan that included me offering small group sessions to work with all teachers.  This was a great opportunity for me to not only get to know staff in a more personal way, but also differentiate learning based on what the needs of each staff member were.  As the year has progressed, I am EXTREMELY happy with the progress our school has made in such a short time.  This not only helped to strengthen our school in this area, but it also showed my competence to staff.

I would be the first to say that I am not strong in all areas, and definitely have lots of room to grow.  What I do believe however is that by showing my strengths and competence to staff, I not only showed that I could be a “thermostat” for the school, but I also empowered others to do the same.  Any new leader should really recognize their strengths and what they bring to a building  Share these skills with your staff and help move your building further.  This will help turn the thermometers into thermostats within your building.

Sitting back and talking about all of the shortcomings in the building will not only lead to resentment towards new administrators, but will also bring questions of your value to the building.  Any good leader is willing to take part as an active participant in progressing a school forward.

How will you bring value to your new school community?

Successful Education Reform

Inspired by the #edchat that is happening tonight, I wanted to share my thoughts on reform and change in education.  Obviously I can share short thoughts through Twitter, but I am going to take advantage of writing in a longer forum.

Obviously education reform is ultimately about change and growth.  Change  can mean a new scenery, but it can also mean improvement.  As someone who has faced a lot of change in my career (six schools in 11 years, with various positions), I know that moving forward is not something that should be taken lightly.  It is also not something that will be done overnight.

Here are some of my beliefs on how we can make long lasting and effective change in the classroom, especially from the role of administrator.

1.  Stop and smell the roses – No one person holds the key to all effective practice in education.  No one.  As an administrator you may have strengths in a certain area, but you will always inherit great teachers that already implement great practices.  Build upon those strengths and share how important they are to the effectiveness that already exists in your school.  We always talk about focusing on the strengths of our students so why are we not doing it for educators?

2. Build relationships and trust – No one will follow a leader in any educational position if they do not believe their intentions are in the best interests of students.  Get to know those you work with and share your beliefs, thoughts, and goals, while also LISTENING to them.  Trust is a two way street and we need to walk it together.  Someone very close to me said, “You may be ready to lead, but is anybody ready to follow?”  Relationships  are HUGE  if you want to build lasting change in your school.

3. Base effective change on research – To say that we need to change because it is just a better way of doing things is similar to saying that we should keep our same practices because it is the way it has always been done.  Both are terrible arguments that have no validity.  What research has shown that what I want to do will be better for students?  Where is our school lacking based on prior reporting?  It is not all about “hard” data, but  if I believe in changing something, it is important I can answer the question why effectively.

4.  Figure out WHERE we are going before we start going – We all talk about how we want education to get better but what does that mean?  It is essential that we start with the end in mind, knowing short and long term goals.

5.  Work in teams – Going to conferences is great, but how often is that information brought back and used if you are alone.  I always encourage staff to go to professional development together because it is beneficial to talk about how to make effective practices work for YOUR building.  Schools are not carbon copies of each other and neither is change.  Make change that best suits YOUR students and their needs.

6.  Clear the path -You have talked about change and what it looks like.  Now trust your staff and get out of the way.  Be there to support them but do not hover.  We can get to the same destination taking different paths.  Be available and help but do not expect people to work the same as you do, or someone else.  Do as much as you can to empower them on their journey, but remember that it is THEIR journey.

7.  Relax and have some patience on the journey – I would love to say that we can have the ideal school overnight but that is not realistic.  Great learning takes time and so does effective change.  If you lose weight too quickly, how often does it stay off?  Change is the same way.  The best part of this WHOLE process is that you are empowering educators to become lifelong learners alongside students.  Enjoy and appreciate that this is happening in the first place.  Change will come as it always does but  it is not a one-size fits all solution.

If you are not changing or trying to get better, you are stagnant.  That is definitely not good learning or good teaching.  Change and growth is important in the area of learning.

Be thoughtful of what we are doing, ask why, and enjoy the learning together.  As a team, we will do more than any one individual.

The Inspiration of the Arts

Coming home from a day filled with students hip-hop dancing, and a night of those same students singing at a packed auditorium, I feel like taking a trip down memory lane.

As a student, I distinctly remember the opportunities that I had singing and acting in school plays.  This was not only something that we looked forward to, but it was also an opportunity for me to gain confidence.  My enthusiasm for music and acting is something that has followed me into my adulthood as I love playing the guitar and love seeing live plays or movies.  I do not act anymore due to a lack of a major chunk of time.  I do not sing out of respect to those around me.

My music teacher, Mrs. P., was one that inspired me a great deal.  I can distinctly remember how she made us enunciate “t’s” in a very distinct way at the end of words.  My friends and I still do it to this day.  I always remember her passion for music.  It was not like she was singing, but she was a conduit that music and energy would pass through to us.

Leaving grade 8 and a solid five years of music with Mrs. P., I still remember her final comments on my report card.  They said:

“George, it has been amazing having you as a student.  You will be able to achieve anything that you want and you are destined for great things.”

I always remember those words.  I am not sure that she meant that I would be a principal, but I could not ask for more.  It is a wonderful job that you have an opportunity to help and guide others, while also having the continuous opportunity to grow and learn.  As an educator, I always remember how MOTIVATING words like this were for me and try to ensure that I take the same opportunities to either write or express my belief in students.

What really resonates with me is her belief in me.  I am writing this post over 20 years after the fact and I still think back to those days.  She modeled passion in what she did while also showing that she believed in me.  Are these not the best qualities of a teacher?

Although I will never be a famous musician or actor, I have the opportunity to help others follow their dreams in the area while my dream is continuously happening.  When we hear about schools shutting down these arts programs, it saddens me because I do not know where I would have been without those opportunities as a student.  This is just ANOTHER opportunity that you will connect students to their passion and give them an unbelievable opportunity to express themselves in a unique way.

I hope no student misses out on their Mrs. P.

My Social Network

As many people have seen the information on the principal who sent an email to parents telling them to shut down their kids social networking sites, I would like to try to get some positives out in respect to the story. (If you want to read a GREAT post on this topic, read @irasocol’s views on the subject)

If I could describe the characteristics of my Twitter Professional Learning Network, these are the characteristics that I see all the time:

1. You have to be extremely caring and nice.
2. You have to be VERY passionate about improving practice in education.
3. If you do not know the answer to something, you will look it up or will lead me to the right place.
4. If you see a message asking for help, you will help.
5. People have an amazing and wide ranging amount of knowledge, but are very humble about their expertise.

Are these not the qualities we want from our students? 

Instead of focusing on all the negative stories that are out there, I hope that many people get to see this POSITIVE view on social networks.  As adults, we are the role models for our students.  If you asked me to shut down my accounts and lose the connection with a ton of people who help me, I would be mad as well.

Let’s show people how beneficial social networks can be and share the impact it has made on our own lives.  I always put kids first, and this will not be the exception!

The Science of Motivation

I saw this Daniel Pink video early in the school year.  It is not only interesting, but it has helped to shape the way I look at how I work with students.  Many of us (including myself) have used awards/rewards as a way of (what we thought) motivating students.  In fact, Pink talks about how this system is actually detrimental.  It quickly takes the focus away from the learning and shifts it to the award.

In my school, I would love to see that we are creating lifelong learners that are intrinsically motivated by becoming better at what they are doing.  I want to help quench their curiosity, not shift their focus off of it.

Although this talk is not specifically on schools, it easy to transfer the learning to what we do with students.  Since Pink says it much better than I do, here is the video: