New Learning

As my first year as a principal is coming to an end, I have been really thinking on what next year could look like.  My number one focus this year was to get to know people and learn a lot about what it takes to be a principal.  There has been a lot of learning, and probably more than I expected because of my participation on Twitter.  It is great that I have seen more of my colleagues join Twitter and participate.  I can sometimes either gently coax or push depending on the person, but I really believe Twitter has been AMAZING for my learning and my progression.

For example, yesterday I purchased a new domain for our school.  As I am trying to set up an online community for kids, parents, and staff where we can all meet, I decided to use Buddypress and also WordPress MU. Not really knowing much about either of these sites, or hosting my own domain, or ftp, or it seems almost anything, I asked for help.  Fortunately, I received a TON of support from @mrjarbenne on Twitter.  He spent the night, AFTER playing with his kids, talking and helping me on Skype.  I should actually rephrase the term “help” and acknowledge that he did most of it.  Today I am playing, and after the initial set up and getting through some glitches, it is coming along very nicely.  I am VERY confident that our new school site will be up and running for September.  Thanks so much to Jarred for spending so much time with me and helping me out.  I have a feeling I have not skyped with him for the last time!

I am looking so forward to seeing how year 2 goes and how that I know the school and the community what I can do to help more people be successful.  I am so blessed to work with such a diverse and amazing group of people at my school.  The talent, skill level, expertise, and genuine caring for kids and each other is something that I am so grateful for.  This has enabled me to take more risks in my learning and implementation of these ideas into school, especially starting in September.

I cannot wait until next year to see the growth of our school and the growth of myself.  Thanks to everyone that helps me everyday.

If you are interested in seeing the growth of our school site, it is listed below:

Forest Green School Community

Slow posting

I am currently working on a few side projects by creating a buddypress site for our school to be up and running, while trying to move my blog to a new url.  I am looking forward to trying these things to see where they lead.  I have already had GREAT support from my PLN building these sites and look forward to sharing my learning with everyone!!!

Saying hello after saying goodbye

Lucky enough to get a picture with one of my former students.

It is interesting how I am reading a lot of sentimental posts at this time of year as things wind down in education.  Eric Sheninger just wrote a lovely post on the priceless moments that make education the best profession to be in, while Joan Young said goodbye to a teacher she mentored that had a great impact on her own practice.  Approximately one year ago at this time, I said goodbye to a wonderful group of staff, students, and parents.  It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do in my career, even though it was the fourth time I had done it.  Something was special and different at my last school, and as a first time administrator, I had learned so much.

Last year I found out during the last week of school that I was going to become a principal at another school in the division.  Although I was excited about the opportunity, I knew I was going to have a tough time to say goodbye so quickly to so many people that I had cared about for the previous two years.  When it was announced at our final assembly that I would be leaving, I was given the chance to speak.  It was a tear filled moment that was extremely bittersweet.

One of the GREATEST moments that I had ever had as an educator was at the end of the assembly.  In the gymnasium there are two main exit doors.  Wanting to say goodbye to as many kids as possible, I had to choose one, knowing that some students would go out the other.  What happened next I will never forget.  Every student wanting a chance to say goodbye to me, left out the door that I stood beside and gave me a hug and said goodbye.  The school has approximately 450 students from K-9 and every one of them stopped to hug me and say something.  I remember a group of students distinctly stopping and taking the time to say goodbye that I had suspended earlier in the year.  You could tell that they never thought anything of it at the time and held no grudges towards me since they knew that even though there were consequences with me, I would ALWAYS treat them with caring and dignity.  It was an amazing moment.

Just last week, I was asked to come back to the school and talk to the kids as the guest speaker at the Grade 9 Farewell.  It was such an honour to be asked to speak to this class, their parents, and many of the staff.  As I am not much of an “inspirational” speaker, they knew that I would make jokes for most of the time because it was always wonderful to be able to laugh with the students.  To prepare for my speech, I looked back at my year after Muir Lake and how the kids affected it.  The “serious” portion of my speech was not about what I taught them during my time there, but about what they taught me to prepare for being a principal.  Here were some of my key points:

  1. Always treat people with respect. Even when things are not going exactly the way you want them to be, you always have to be respectful to others.  Kids at that school always talked to me with respect and it was always given back.  When there is reciprocation of respect, it can be endless.
  2. Even in tough situations, it is still okay to laugh. I did suspend kids at that school.  A practice that I have implemented in my own career is that the day a student returns to school after a suspension, I talk to them.  Not necessarily about what happened, but just talk.  This is to show the person that yes, they made a mistake, but I still care for them and want to move forward along with them. This has worked wonders in helping to build relationships with students, but also help students focus on learning from their mistakes. I know that I have shared laughs with students after suspensions, and there is no better currency between educators and students than humour.
  3. Be enthusiastic about as much as possible! I spoke about a time that we took our students to New York on a school trip.  On the way to New York, we were delayed at the airport for 10 hours.  It was not the best time for us but I distinctly remember the kids running and getting so excited to go to McDonalds!  This enthusiasm I saw for something insignificant to me, was something that I saw from those kids the entire trip.  In fact, I was getting just as excited about the same things as they were.  Maybe it is going overboard, but I just learned that being enthused about the little things is just a better way to live.  It was a magnificent trip that I would do all over again.

I definitely taught these students a lot about the subjects that I was their teacher in and also lessons about life in general.  I know that.  What they didn’t know is that they taught me so much as well.  Part of the reason that they had the opportunity to teach me was because I was willing to learn from them.  Students have SO much to teach us about ourselves and what we do as educators. Learning from them will be as rewarding as anything that you have done as an educator. I am glad that I had the chance to share that with my old students and say thanks.

Distributed (Student) Leadership

In the last two days, I have given two “farewell” speeches to one program in my current school, and to a grade 9 class from my old school.  No matter how many times I give these speeches, I am always nervous.  The ceremony at my school was done so well and I was so thankful for the heart and soul that was placed into the preparation by staff.  What I was most inspired by the last few days was the kids.

At both ceremonies, you could tell that the students had done a significant amount of the planning and the preparation for the events.  The themes and ideas were theirs and were extremely well thought out.  It was amazing to see the ideas that they came up with.  Planning these type of events is something that does not really excite me myself so it is great to see when kids take the LEAD and are excited about these opportunities.  From what I remember in my school days, the adults in the building put in a ton of effort in the organizing and planning, and led much of the way.  Although it saved many of us a lot of work, I feel that many of the kids in my class would have LOVED this planning and organization (to be honest, I would have not been one of them).

I really believe that if we give students opportunities like this, we do not only empower and engage them in the overall school environment, but it actually makes our job a lot easier.  For example, I had one student who was a whiz with technology.  At the school I was at, I was the tech lead and would go around fixing computers and hardware for teachers when things were down.  I took one afternoon with this student and shared some tips with him.  The grade 6 student then became the “go-to” person for our staff when things needed to be fixed.  Not only did the student love it, but he felt like an essential part of the school.  Two years later, going back to my old school last night, he was running the entire show for the ceremony.  I was so proud to see how this had continued.

My advice to many staff is that we need to give students more opportunities to lead and participate.  Why would I be grumpy decorating a gym for an assembly when I know there are kids who will do it AND love it?  This is not about giving up my responsibility, but it is about giving students the opportunity to share it.  The more opportunities we give them to lead in all areas of school, they will not only be more engaged in the school environment, but they will also make YOUR school better.  I am so proud that my school is able to have so many student led initiatives in our building.

Are you willing to hand over those reigns?  When you do, you will see the instant results.

Shared Ways We Are Improving Education; #WeAct

I would like to thank everyone that added their tweets, blog posts, stories, and anything else to the #WeAct initiative.  This was an opportunity for educators to show what we are doing NOW in our schools to improve the learning of not only students, but also of educators.  We can learn so much from the stories that we share with one another.

Here is a comment that was shared on this post by @kelalford:

I think the way I have made education better for my students this year is by connecting with several other schools.
We have used the Interactive Television system in our building to talk to 2 different authors, a scientist from Michigan State that helped observe LIVE crickets ( my tech team has begged me not to do that again!), and more importantly work with several students from all over. We met students in Canada for Read Across the Planet, and with students all over the state of Michigan. My students wrote plays to share with other schools, created a presentation about our town, developed interview questions for the authors we talked to, wrote their own folktale (state grade level expectation)created a monster and wrote step by step directions for a school across the state to build, and their favorite was a taking information from one school and using maps and research to try to find our where they are.

All of these activities gave my students an authentic audience. It made them feel empowered to share what they have learned with other students. They learned with writing we have to be clear. We used measurement in an authentic way…not just the measure your desk activity, which has its place, but they were able to see math, science, social studies and language arts all blur together in one activity. It was amazing to see students use maps and textbooks to find a location and to create clues for where we are. I loved every activity because my students were so engaged, and they were so proud of themselves…it was meaningful to my students. That is when true learning occurs, when it is full of meaning for the students!
Here are the other links that were shared. I encourage you to take time and read them and share the stories with others about educators continuously improving their practice:

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Thanks again for all of your contributions!  I appreciate the supports, tweets, and retweets.

#WeAct – Good Morning, Every Morning

As I want to continue to lead by example, I wanted to be one of the first ones that posted to a blog and try to show how I am trying to continuously improve my practice as an educator.

As I have discusses previously, I ask students often about things that they like about their school and try to incorporate it into my own practice.  One of the things that I learned from these talks was about a principal who welcomed the students every day to school.  This was a way that students could see and get to know the principal, and they were not just a scary figurehead.

I have incorporate this into my practice as an administrator for the last three years.  As a way of relieving teachers from supervision first thin in the morning, and getting to know not only students, but also their families, I do supervision with my Assistant Principal every morning for our school (on the mornings that I am not gone for meetings).  This is something that I incorporate as much as I can and it has helped me to learn more about students and get to know them during a relaxed time.  Whenever I can, I take this opportunity to connect with kids.  Selfishly, it is a wonderful way to start MY day.

Although I love my staff, this is my time with students. I often play basketball, soccer, or even push them on the swing.  I try to divide my time between the older and younger students at our school, and love hearing about their day.  As a principal, I love when my teachers greet their kids at the door to start the day, so I think it is important that I greet the kids at the school.

These little things that we do as school administrators set the tone EVERY morning with my staff and students.  I role model that I am a part of the school with all my staff.  I also get to talk to students and sometimes diffuse situations in the morning by gauging their moods. I often say that the school is all about relationships and by starting the day off myself building them with students, I hope I am setting the example I expect from others.  This is something that I do RIGHT NOW to help build community and create a positive school culture.  Starting the morning like this will hopefully give students the immediate feeling they are cared for and help them be successful in their learning.

#WeAct ; How YOU are improving education

Talking to a friend of mine this morning, we were talking about moving forward in education.  Now when I say “moving forward” I truly believe that there are a lot of things happening RIGHT NOW that are amazing.  There are also things that can improve though.  As educators, I consider that part of this profession (and really any profession) is the continuous reflection and growth in what we are doing.  As society changes, we have to best prepare our students to meet the challenges and find the opportunities in our world.

Since there are SO many things that we are doing right now, we want to focus on leading by example and share these things to not only inspire others, but share how hard educators work to improve education.  The other day in fact, a group of us started a Wiki on examples of exemplary student innovation.  This was to show great things that have already happened.

Here are some examples of seen in the recent past that are happening in schools RIGHT NOW:

There are so many stories like this that we are missing of passionate educators learning and improving education ALONG with their students.  This is not about technology; it is about how we are working to better education (obviously the innovative use of technology is one of the ways).

What I am suggesting is that people try to share student work, or a blog post on what they are doing to further their own learning as educators and have implemented this in the classroom.  This is not just about talking about change, this is talking about the change that is already happening.

This Wednesday, either write a blog post about something you have done in the classroom, or share some student work/accomplishments, and let’s tell the stories about how we are ALREADY improving education (we are ALWAYS looking for ideas for blog posts right?).  Share something on Twitter that you have done.  Anything!  All that I ask is that you tag it with #WeAct so that we can start accumulating and sharing these stories.  It does not have to be something you did today, just something you have done.  Let’s share the stories!

This may fall flat on it’s face, but as a leader I need to show that I am willing to take risks.  Will you?


Technology Integration Plan (Key Questions)

As we move into the next school year, our school is looking at how we can safely open up engaging opportunities for learning through the use of technology.  We are committed to using digital portfolios as an opportunity to focus on critical thinking, reflection in learning, digital citizenship, while giving students an area where they can build and develop their own site.  I have been collecting links on portfolios and feel that we have a great starting point for our whole school project next year.

Inspired through a visual created by Wendy Drexler (shown) and an updated Acceptable Use Agreement that I was led to on twitter, I decided to think of some questions that will help shape our direction for technology integration next year.

For Students (Always start here first)

1. What are the goals for students? Are we expecting them to start social networking at an early years school, and if we do, at what age is it acceptable?

2.  How we will ensure that students are learning about digital citizenship before we start any of this?  What will be the process for school and how can we help students be successful in this area?

3.  What is the purpose of their portfolio?  Is it a tool for teacher and self-assessment or is it a showcase portfolio, or both?

For Teachers

1.  How will we ensure that teachers are prepared to move forward with this project?  What support as a school will we provide them?

2. Why is this beneficial to improve practice?  Is this just something we are doing or will it become embedded practice that will improve student learning?

3.  How will we ensure that we are building logical steps from grade to grade?  It is important that we set up a system where students have less time learning technology and more time LEARNING; how will we ensure that they have skills with technology moving from grade to grade?

4.  What platforms or websites are we going to use in this practice and how do we ensure that students have things into place to move things forward (ie. emails)?  Should it be totally open or should we limit the websites that students use to do things such as blogs to further group learning?

For Parents

1.  How are we as a school community going to help students become safe?

2.  How will we educate parents on the process that we are using with students to further their learning?  What opportunities can we provide parents to educate them alongside?

These can be a starting point as we develop our technology plan as a school, but I would love to hear your questions, or even your thoughts on my questions?  I would love this initiative for school improvement to be successful and I know the more input we receive, the better we will do.

What would you ask?