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.


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.

Learning With Staff – Diigo and Kidblog

What a great day!  I am working with two very keen teachers and they have just created blogs for their students using Kidblog, while also organizing some of their really great sites for students using Diigo.  Although I am an avid user of Diigo, this will be the first time that I have seen Kidblog used at our school.  I am looking forward to seeing the growth and learning of not only the students, but also the teachers as they go through this endeavour.  To ensure that parents are in the loop, staff have already written a blog post on what they are doing moving forward, steps that are being taken before working with students, and some useful links that may help parents gain a better understanding of this new innovation in the classroom

On Monday, before the students starts with their new blogs, I will be doing a short presentation on Being Responsible on the Internet and Cyberbullying.  I believe that it is very important to ensure that kids learn what it looks like to be responsible using these new sites, and also being respectful and contributing digital citizens.  We are really looking forward to seeing how these students and staff lead the way in our school with this new learning!

My Top Tools for Connecting

As discussed in my previous post, I thought I would share some social media tools that I have found EXTREMELY useful in my growth this year in the area of technology innovation.  These are tools that I have found extremely useful for not only sharing my knowledge, but also connecting and learning from others.


I would say out of any website or technology tool that I have used, Twitter has had the absolute biggest impact on my learning as an educator, hands down.

When I first signed up for Twitter in December of 2008, I didn’t see the use of it past another way to “update your status” similar to Facebook.  I did not care to know that you were about to “make the biggest paper airplane ever” or that you were the one who “stole the cookie from the cookie jar”. Having that on Facebook has become annoying enough, but having a service that ONLY did that, I though, would be WAY too much. I tried it for about a week, lost interest, and logged off for about a year.

Fast forward to December 2009, and a chance meeting with Will Richardson and my brother, and soon I was totally engulfed in the whole thing.  I know that one of the things that really got me excited about Twitter was when my brother gave me a “shout out” and quickly, several educators around the world were connected to me, and then I became connected to them.  It is tough to see the value of the “Twitterverse” when you are followed by 12 people and following 14 yourself.  Now I am not saying that all the “tweets” I have sent out have been of the utmost importance but I have definitely had the opportunity to share links, useful tools, great blog posts by other educators and more to the masses but, to be honest, it is also fun.  People learn better when they are enjoying themselves.  That is what we want for our students, so why not us?

Watching my brother Alec speak at a session that was broadcast live on the Internet (which I found out via Twitter), he challenged educators to give it a try for 30 days.  I totally agree with this sentiment, but encourage you to do what I did, and pester someone with Twitter “street cred” (someone influential who has a lot of followers) to do the same thing for you that my brother did for me.  Ask for a “shout out”, up your followers, and start sharing your knowledge.   You will be surprised at how quickly you will start to see the benefit.

Google Apps

Having used Microsoft products for the entire duration of  my teaching career, I was also reluctant to start using Google Documents, as I believed it was just a web-based version of Microsoft Office to me.  What I found is that the applications provided by Google are not only very user friendly, but they are a great way to connect with people and share and craft your vision together.  We have started using them in my school on a regular basis to connect with each other and share documents and collaborate on projects.  Staff is getting very comfortable with this and I see more collaboration with students in the future.

I have also found a great benefit of using the Google Forms option for getting instant feedback from people that I work with.  I initially used the forms option to have staff sign up for professional development opportunities that we were hosting within our own school.  Having 55 staff members send emails individually was something that took too  much time, so I created a simple survey using the Google app, and it was done immediately.  These forms would be of great use getting feedback from students, or anyone else in the school community, and they are simple enough for even the least experienced technology user.

Google Apps has many features, but the last one that I will talk about is Google Reader.  I have started using this RSS feeder to not only connect with staff that have just posted their new blogs, but it is also very easy to share a simple website, where you can group blogs together to share to a wider audience.  I have used this function to put all of our individual teacher blogs together for others to easily read, but to also share with our entire school community.  There are lots of good RSS feeder sites, but having one with my gmail, Google Docs, Google Forms, amongst the many other Google applications, makes it extremely easy and convenient for myself, as well as others.


The last social tool that I wanted to discuss is Diigo.  Diigo is a social bookmarking tool (that was shared on Twitter to myself and probably thousands of others), that is similar to Delicious, but at this time, has many features that I have not found on other social bookmarking sites.  I do not only have the opportunity to share my great bookmarks with others, but I also have the opportunity to highlight, add sticky notes, or simply save it to read later.  I have learned to LOVE this tool as I find it is a wonderful way to share great links I have collected with staff, while also serving as a way to organize sites for students.  Ultimately, it would be great for students to be able to sort and find bookmarks that they can share with their own learning community.

These applications have been great for my own development as a principal and hopefully you can find them of some value as well.

Illuminating a Principal’s Path towards Technology Integration

Recently, my brother Dr. Alec Couros, sent out a short survey asking educators to list three social networking tools they find useful.  His inquiry ignited some memories and reflections for me on the topic of technology integration and brought to light how my views have substantially changed in the last year.

Even though I have always been known as a technology integration leader within the schools and divisions where I worked; this year in particular, I have grown more than any other.  One of my personal professional development goals was to improve the technology integration of the entire school where I currently work as principal. As a first year principal I originally thought this was going to be a daunting, solitary task. I quickly realized I was wrong. I did I not have to accomplish this goal alone. In fact, I found tons of people in the field of education who WANTED to help me along on my journey.

The Light Bulb Moment

Perusing Facebook one day after work, I noticed my brother’s status update and realized he was only two hours away from me presenting at a conference.  Seeing my brother in person is something that I do not get to do enough of, so within moments I was on my way to Red Deer, Alberta to join my brother and one of his colleagues, Will Richardson.

At the time, I knew the work of former NBA player Pooh Richardson better than that of Will Richardson.  My brother informed me of Will’s influence in the area of educational technology, and suggested that sitting with him over supper may be a good opportunity for me to learn more about how to achieve my goal  After a few informal exchanges, the conversation somehow turned to bookmarking.  Will asked me what I tool I use. I proudly shared with him (feeling that I was VERY organized), “I use Xmarks for Firefox.”  Without hesitation, Will jokingly asked, “So you are a hoarder of information?”

At that very moment, it struck me. All of the really good websites that I used, I kept to myself. I was not sharing with the rest of the world, let alone my own colleagues. My light bulb moment illuminated a habit of hoarding, not only my bookmarks, but  ideas, thoughts, tools, and useful practices. I was not sharing useful information (save for a random email explaining some sites I felt worthy of sharing). Neither was I taking the opportunity to learn from others.

Enlightened Commitment

The next day after our conversation, I decided to reestablish myself on Twitter. I wanted to try to take part in the Personal Learning Network (PLN) my brother deemed so valuable.  Twitter never seemed to make sense to me, but I promised I would give it a try.  Within a week, my followers grew from 20 to 200.  Admittedly, I felt the need to ensure I posted information that would be helpful and beneficial to my new and growing circle of friends and colleagues. I quickly realized the importance of the audience, how it affected me and helped me improve my own practice, and strengthened my belief that thoughtful integration of technology would surely help improve the learning of the staff and students at my school.

Sharing the Light

At the beginning of the year, I envisioned using hardware such as document cameras, digital cameras, and SmartBoards in our school, and working with staff to help develop their abilities in this area—I have definitely seen a great improvement in this area. I am also seeing increased enthusiasm in the area of Web2.0 and the benefits of connecting with others. More and more of our staff now recognize the value of joining social networks for learning. IDEAS are valued more than superficial things such as photographs taken with a digital camera.

If a few months ago you would have asked about my goals for technology integration this year, connecting to educators around the world, and learning from them, would not have even been on my radar. Now I see the path more clearly. It has in fact become essential to the work I do as a leader in my school and to my personal growth.

Thoughtful integration of technology, especially PLNs, increasingly illuminates how much I appreciate learning from others, and sharing my learning with the members of our school community. By “sharing the light,” I hope to help my staff find a similar path to the one I am on this year.

Seemingly starting over in Kindergarten, I am glad I have learned to share once again.

Possible Interview Questions for Teachers

Recently, I had worked on a presentation with University of Regina about going into the field of Education.  Some of the feedback that I had received from this session was that they would have loved to see some more questions that could be possibly asked in an interview.  I have put together a few questions that I have used/will use in interviews that could at least, help people possibly get some ideas in your head before going into that process.  Most of the questions will hopefully lead to a conversation with new teachers to the building, as I want to get to know possible additions to staff as well as possible.

Here are some sample questions:

Teaching Practices:

1.  Tell me about a lesson that you thought went incredibly well.  Is there anything that you could change about it?

2. What does a great assignment look like?

Lifelong Learning:

1.  What is an area that you are particularly interested in and what have you done to further your understanding?

2. If you were to come into our school today, what would be an area that you believe you could show leadership in to staff?


1.  What have you done in the past to ensure students feel that they are a part of your classroom?

2. As a teacher in the classroom, what are some of the roles you believe that you play in the lives of students?

3. Parental involvement can be a key component to the success of a child.  What have you done in the past to bring parents “on board” to what is going on in the classroom?  Do they have a say in what happens in the classroom, or do they simply need to be notified of practices, events, etc?


1.  Do you believe in a rewards system and/or honours?  Why or why not?

2.  What is your understanding of “Performance Goals” and “Learning Goals”?  Which would you prefer?

Classroom Management

1.  Are all consequences the same for each action in your classroom?  Why or why not?

2.  Do you have a set of rules for your class?  If so, how do you go about creating this?


1.  What is something you are passionate about outside of “basic curriculum” that you could share with students in our school?  How would you go about sharing your passion with others?

I always  end interviews giving candidates an opportunity to ask questions, and then finally share anything that they wanted to highlight that may have been missed through the interview process.

Any comments or questions are welcomed on these questions as many administrators have different philosophies on interviews.  This is just a possible sample that I may use for different positions.

A Principal's Case for Choosing Certainty vs. Severity

Working with students, and being in the principal’s office, I know there are often many different viewpoints about how we should deal with individual students.  I have certain philosophies on this that I believe help lead students in the right direction, and also help build relationships with students, parents, and staff in the process.

My mentor, our school division’s Associate Superintendent, shared a phrase with me that I have put into my bag of tools and use on many occasions when talking with staff and students.  The saying is, “Certainty vs. Severity.”  The “certainty” in any situation is that students are CERTAIN that their misbehaviour will be addressed fairly and in accordance with our school’s values.  Severity, on the other hand, is an outdated way of thinking and acting about student disciplinary issues.

Severity (an outdated way of thinking)

It was once believed (including by me), that when students “mess up” they need to know there will harsh consequences. Furthermore, that knowing this will somehow ENSURE the student would NEVER make the same mistake again. This heavy-handed approach does not lead to the student quitting the behaviour. In the majority of cases, it does not help to build any type of relationship with the student. The student may end up fearing the consequences of messing up again, but his or her fear does not guarantee improved behaviour.

A Case for Certainty

Establishing a rapport. It is important to me that I have a rapport with students before I deal with their disciplinary issues. The principal as a “boogeyman” is not how I want to be identified. Instead, I am a principal who cares and respects the integrity of each person in the school. I work diligently to get to know students by visiting classes, for example. Students know who I am, and more importantly, I know them.  Establishing this type of rapport with students helps when they visit my office. They know I will listen and work with them to help solve their problems; and no matter what the outcome, the students know I care for them.

Due diligence. Collecting information and coming to an equitable solution is essential under the principle of certainty. When an incident occurs, I talk with each student involved individually. This approach allows me to understand each of the different perspectives involved.  My first question to students is “Why are you here?”  With this question, I help students focus on the situation and not me.  Students must be provided the opportunity to speak and share their version of the event.  Being diligent throughout the endeavor demands I gather all the pertinent information from all of the participants–this could entail several conversations with various students.

Gathering information is essential to making determinations about consequences. My second question to students is “What would be fair?” When we talk about consequences for misbehaviour, students will typically suggest disciplinary actions that are WAY WORSE than I would have ever suggested.  Together, the student and I, identify a resolution and consequence that more often than not has students saying “thank you” when they leave my office (which is much better than being thought of as a “boogeyman”!).

Dependence upon the community. After meeting with students, I typically speak with the parents or guardians about the situation. I depend upon the primary adults in the students’ lives to support their children in all instances, even when a little trouble arises. I want parents to be aware of what has happened in the situation.  Sometimes I call the parents during the meeting with their child. I pursue this course so they can be a part of the solution, especially if there are special circumstances.  The majority of parents are thankful for the opportunity to know what is going on with their child at school; while I appreciate having the opportunity to depend upon parents when issues arise affecting their children.

Teachers are the other key community members I depend upon to uphold the principle of certainty. Teachers who work with the students involved are always part of the conversation.  Teachers often deal directly with conflicts in their classrooms. They definitely have the strongest relationship with the children and have built a strong environment of trust.  This is something that I am very thankful for and certainly makes my day-to-day job easier.

Understanding the Whole Child

Student disciplinary incidents are fairly low at my school. Repeat offenders are few and far between.  Is our system perfect?  Nothing is perfect, but I believe that it is pretty good. Ultimately, when operating from a perspective of certainty it is important to

  • Listen to the child and give them the opportunity to work through their problem,
  • Help the child figure out how he or she could have constructively handled the conflict,
  • Trust students are more often than not, trying their best to do what’s right,
  • Accept responsibility as guides in the lives of our students,  and
  • Treat each child and situation as unique.

Understanding the whole child (emotional, intellectual, social, etc.) is a key element in my enacting the principle of certainty over severity when addressing disciplinary issues in my school. Establishing rapport, collecting information, and promoting community involvement in our students’ lives are the three essential tasks I believe address disciplinary issues under the principle of certainty. If we adopt these practices we can be certain that even when conflicts occur, we are still helping our students grow into responsible adults.