Back to Blogging

I haven’t posted in a few months. We welcomed our new daughter back in October, then life took over.

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Once I did have time (and energy!) to focus on my   learning  I turned my attention to participating in MOOC‘s   exploring what that form of collaborative learning had to offer. Overall, those experiences have been great but I find myself missing the process of Blogging.

I recently read a post from a colleague wondering how to get more people to comment on his Blog. I definitely find that comments are invaluable but for me what I really miss is the process of writing my posts. In our daily work we have so many interactions and different scenarios that I sometimes find myself  struggling to unpack the day’s events. What I find useful in Blogging is that it forces me to more carefully reflect about a specific topic, issue or event.

So with that in mind I am excited to renew my commitment to regular posts. Taking recommendations from others, I am setting a specific deadline for future posts.

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Defining Instructional Leadership

I have been thinking about the term Instructional Leadership a lot lately.  Specifically, I am interested in ways in which Principals and Vice-Principals can actively engage in this type of leadership at a scale that influences the entire school. Recently, I viewed a conversation on Twitter that has prompted me to reflect on this more deeply (just another reason I have a PLN and value it so much!).

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This conversation highlighted one way in which Administrators could display Instructional Leadership. The examples revolved around Principals and VP’s guest teaching and also teaching enrolling blocks of classes regularly. I don’t argue that this is definitely one way in which we can work to provide Instructional Leadership. What I question is whether this practice would allow us to influence instructional growth throughout the entire school?

Please do not mistake this as me no longer wanting to go into classes. I value every opportunity I have to join classes and observe many of the fantastic things that are happening every day.  As we look for new and better ways to optimize learning within our buildings, I believe we also need to explore new and innovative ways to lead instruction beyond joining a “traditional” class structure.

I do not have an enrolling class, yet I teach everyday.  Whether I am collaborating with a teacher or supporting a student, I am guiding a learner forward from a place in their personal growth. Nor am I  suggesting that there is one specific solution as to how we provide Instructional Leadership on a scale that will impact an entire building, but I do believe we need to explore new and different ways to this end.

As I am still exploring this, I ask you: How do you define Instructional Leadership?

Happy New Year

Over the past two weeks as I prepared for the start of a new school year, at a new school, I could feel the sense of excitement building inside me.  On Friday, as were putting the final plans in place for “Opening Day”, it struck me that I see Labour Day weekend as my practical New Year’s Eve.

Having spent the majority of my life either in school as a student, or working at school’s, this time of year is filled with so much optimism.  It can be a time for a fresh start for some; others will come to our building tomorrow with an opportunity to build on successes they realized last year.  And there are others coming through our doors with no expectations because they have never attended a school in Canada before.

I think that one of the things that makes tonight so much better than the traditional calendar’s New Year is that beginning tomorrow, people can literally see the new opportunities in front of them.  Students will likely be in classes with at least some new classmates, not to mention new teachers.  Teachers and staff will in turn have new students and see first hand, how former students have grown and matured over the summer. As an Administrator we see the excitement (and yes sometimes trepidation) of this new year on the faces of everyone in our building.

Whatever tomorrow brings you, I hope that you can take a moment to watch and enjoy the energy that this New Year’s brings.

Happy New Year!

Failure, Something to Ponder

Earlier today I Tweeted this:

For contextual purposes I include a dictionary.com definition of failure:

“fail·ure [feyl-yer]

1. an act or instance of failing  or proving unsuccessful; lack of success.
2. non-performance of something due, required, or expected.
3. a subnormal quantity or quality; an insufficiency.”

This tweet led to an exchange of messages that centred around my choice of the word “failure”.  Most of the responses agreed with the sentiment as defined above, that in education, in order for us to learn, we need to experience setbacks en route to achieving greater success.  In fact, some have even retweeted my original message (even with my missing word error!).

However, even when people agreed with the sentiment, several messages challenged  whether we should use the word “failure” in Education.  There were a lot of compelling arguments for why we shouldn’t use this word and many of them were rooted in what the connotation meant to the responder.  For many the concern with using this word is the fact that it can evoke a sense of completion, an end point (and not a positive one).

A consistent theme evident in the arguments against using the word failure is a concern that those who are not actively engaged in discussions about education won’t have the experiences to make the connection of the word with the sentiment intended when it is used today.  I certainly agree that this is a valid concern.  I also agree that we need to be careful which words we choose.

There is a lot of dialogue around the evolution of education. This growth is not limited to what is happening in schools but extends to our conversations about school.  If the concern is that some, even many, people may misconstrue the sentiment of a word like failure based on their past experiences, then I see this as an opportunity for those people to learn.

In our attempts to move education forward, we need to challenge the thinking of those rooted in the past. In education we know what we mean when we use the word fail.  It is commonly accepted that we fail all the time, in fact I recently wrote a Blog about a failure  of my own. When I re-read it (you can read it here), I never used the term – probably because at the time of writing it was easier to use softer language but the reality is I fell short, I failed and just as I wrote, that was okay.

I am happy to see the dialogue that my Tweet has inspired.  In our attempts to evolve the way people think about and view education, we also need to address how people speak about education.  To do this, we can’t avoid words that carry connotations from the past, we need to use them – when appropriate – and teach to them.

Be yourself…better

Very recently I have been fortunate enough to attend two conferences; one that focused on Targeting Technology, the other at the BCSSA Winter Conference.  It’s such an opportunity to participate in events like these as they are opportunities to move my thinking forward. I leave with my head swimming in ideas and it takes some time to filter through these thoughts (probably the reason I never seem to get a good night’s sleep – picture the hamster spinning in the wheel).

While there were many, many worthy ideas put forward, there was a common message  by Chris Kennedy, echoed by Bruce Beairsto; Both spoke of the merits of systems like Finland and schools like High Tech High.  Both acknowledged the success of others and both encouraged us to have our own goal:

This resonated strongly with me because it is at the core of what I believe education is about.  As we collaborate, whether as a Student, a Teacher, a Parent or an Administrator, we are coming from a point in our own continuum of growth in that role.  None of us participates in these conversations consciously trying to be someone else. In the end, we don’t want to be considered as good as someone else, we want to be ourselves…only better.

This is particularly relevant in light of the current BC Education Plan.  As Beairsto points out, this is not a plan yet.  This is a blueprint to create a plan.  The key to the evolution of this plan lies in collaboration.  Making education better in BC lies in our collaboration of what is important to us now and what we believe will be important in a future we cannot predict.

As education evolves across the Province, we aim to improve upon the areas identified as needing growth, while keeping all of the things that we do so well.  Narrowing this focus and applying this thinking to my own experiences, I believe this is something that helps me to grow and expand my thinking.  When collaborating with others, discussing, planning, debating, sharing, I move forward. When participating in these experiences with others, I am being myself, sharing what I have to offer. I want to walk away saying “hey, that conversation really clarified my thinking, I have a better understanding of the issue now.” Walking away myself…only better.

Feeling Puzzled?

As the New Year is upon us, I am hopeful that everyone was able to enjoy some time with family and friends over the holidays. I was fortunate to spend the holidays with my wife and daughter, and some of my close friends. Also squeezed in there was the tradition of the World Jr Hockey Championships (Go! Canada Go!).

Another activity I have come to enjoy over the winter break is to sit down to the challenge of a puzzle. For no other reason, but that working on a puzzle over the course of a few days provides some mental relaxation and time with my family. I haven’t done this every year, but this year left me with some down time between Christmas and New Years.  I was excited to begin after I poured the contents of the puzzle onto the table.

The beginning of a challenge

After a couple of days Angela and I were beginning to wonder if we were stumped or the puzzle makers had made an error!  We felt stumped, as many of the pieces just did not seem to fit. But the drive to finish kept us working on it.

Trust me: The fish on the right is not right!

Finally, after a few days of attempting to fit the differently shaped pieces into the remaining spaces, I realized that I needed to take a step back.  We were down to the remaining 20 pieces but they just wouldn’t fit!  Looking at  areas of the puzzle that didn’t seem quite right, I discovered that we needed to move an entire section of the puzzle towards the middle.  We had the pieces together correctly, but the entire section was misplaced. With that move, we were then able to complete the rest within a few minutes.

Aaahhh the feeling of accomplishment

At the end of the day, doing this puzzle afforded us some much needed relaxation and time at rest together. We had absolutely no reason to keep working for days.  There was no Letter Grade or Percentage to be assigned, we simply wanted to overcome the challenge presented; the satisfaction that comes from accomplishment. This one was rewarding because at one point it was tempting to force the remaining 20 pieces into spaces they didn’t fit just to finish.

Because tomorrow is the first day back after a restful break, my mind is already getting “back into the swing of things”.  Intrinsic motivation is an invaluable gift; one that is very relevant to the world that I am about to dive back into tomorrow and ultimately, what many educators strive to bring out in our students everyday.

It’s also reminder of the importance of “double-loop” thinking when considering perceived challenges. We could have sat and forced the pieces into spaces that did not fit properly.  This certainly would have been the easy and quick fix.  Even though stepping back and trying an entirely different approach to our last few pieces added time, it afforded us the ability meet our challenge and complete the puzzle properly.

Given that I’m now linking completing a puzzle with broader thinking and our education system, I have come to a couple of conclusions: (1) that my time off was a success – I’m obviously feeling rested, and (2) that my wife is right – it’s time for me to get back to work!

Wishing everyone a great 2012!

What does Bikram have to do with it?

I have just returned from my first Bikram yoga class, where I was inspired to write this post.  As I usually connect my posts to learning and education, I can understand you may be wondering how I am going to connect detoxifying my body in 140 degree heat while holding, what are often painful poses, with our school systems.

To begin, Angela has been encouraging me to try a Bikram yoga class for many weeks after discovering the benefits of this exercise regime.  I rebutted these requests, insisting that playing hockey once a week and the universal gym in our garage are all I needed to keep fit.  Her persistence paid off today; I relented to try.

As I lay there in the room on my mat and towel before the class, my mind wandered to school and a conversation I will be having with a student tomorrow.  I know I will be saying one of the things I find myself repeatedly saying to students in a variety of circumstances; that they must try things in order to make an informed decision. As the class began and I lay there really beginning to sweat, I realized that I had been guilty of not living up to my own advice.  I had been refusing to go and I never really knew what I was turning down.  This was the moment I started to think about this post (in between torturous poses of course!).

Despite the heat and the pain of contorting my body in ways that it hadn’t moved previously, I lay in the room at the completion of the class and realized something else. As I looked over at my wife I realized that my motivation was far greater than the ethical drive to “walk my talk”.  I went because it was important to her that I give this a try.  I went because it was about my relationship with her.

In so many ways, schools are all about relationships.  I consistently discuss with students the conflicts they have with other students and teachers.  We talk about ways to approach these conflicts and how different approaches can impact the relationship with the other party.  In my experience, I have found that students are more likely to be engaged in the topics where they feel they have a strong relationship with the teacher. Further, students who have the support of their peers are often more engaged in being in our building than those who feel isolated.

Lying there, after losing about 5 lbs of body weight from water loss, twisting my body until the pain would not let me go any further, I thought about the connections that my personal experience today had with the importance of the decisions I ask students to make everyday.  Today for me this experience was all about reminding me of two things I hold close:  1) Life is about choices – always make your choice with as much information as possible.  2) Relationships are key in our lives – so do whatever it takes to make them as strong as possible.

And that’s what Bikram has to do with it.