Posts Tagged George Couros

Creating the Conditions: Instructional Leadership #Leadership20

This is the 3rd part in the “Creating the Conditions” series; Part 1 was on Student Discipline, Part 2 was on Love of Reading.

I recently had the honour to present in the Leadership 2.0 MOOC series (in which I am learning alongside others) on “Providing Instructional Leadership” (To view the archive of the presentation click here - you can also view the slide embedded below).  When George Couros asked me to be part of this, I looked over the sessions and chose Instructional Leadership not because I am an expert on this topic but more because this is the area of current focus for me as an educational leader and this would be a way to learn from others.  I figured doing this would challenge me and give me the extra push to channel all of the reading and learning conversations I am having into one 60 minute session. (please note that due to the size of this topic, this is one of my lengthier posts but please have a read and add your stories at the end so I can learn from your experience).


As I communicated with people like Bill Ferriter (who continues to challenge me to be better), I realized that I had some concerns with the term “Instructional Leader”.  To me, that term states that there is a single instructional leader; what the staff of Kent Elementary has taught me is that that everyone can and should lead – and that many people can work together to facilitate instructional leadership.  The key role for me as a principal is to create the conditions for our staff  to be more of a professional learning community and create more opportunities for people to be involved in the instructional leadership of our school.

My reflections lead me to discussions with Bruce Beairsto and Jacquie Taylor (2 former BC superintendents who now work as consultants and volunteer as mentors) about how I can work to create the structures for the conditions for instructional leadership.  Both Bruce and Jacquie said they had a similar concern: the management side of school leadership had been given a bad rap and is something that is crucial to effective principal leadership.  Bruce said, “Leadership and management are the yin and yang of administration… management and leadership are equally noble, complex and necessary.”  He also used the analogy of a house when he said “You need management to build a house but only leadership can make it into a home” (more from Beairsto).  Through these conversations, it became clear to me that I had focused mostly on relationships and conversations but had focused too little on the structures that could facilitate more effective dialogue and put these conversations into action.  The key question for me this year is: how can I work to create the conditions for more  instructional leadership in our school?

One book that I read in my Master’s program was by Blase and Blase and in it, based on their work with hundreds of teachers, they summarize how teachers described effective principals.  The best thing about this list is that this is the feedback that has often been given to me by the staff in our school. Blase and Blase stated that effective principals:

  • lead with a shared purpose
  • empowered teachers (although I struggle with the term “empower”)
  • fostered collaboration and collegiality
  • supported risk taking and innovation
  • helped teachers become inquiry oriented
  • provided resources and time for professional growth

The majority of staff that I have worked with, both as a teacher and a principal, want to lead.  They have an area of passion or interest or they have some questions and want to explore; the challenge is often creating the conditions in which it more comfortable to do this.  When I think back to Deci and Ryan’s work on motivation (also explained by Daniel Pink), the ideas of autonomy and purpose stand out.  How can principals work with staff to provide the needed professional autonomy and voice in developing shared purpose?

Professional autonomy is one of those terms that is defined in so many different ways.  I strongly believe that in an environment of professional learners, professional autonomy can help teachers to flourish (we have “linchpins” in our schools that especially need that autonomy to fly and lead).  I like differentiating between professional autonomy as “freedom FROM” and “freedom TO” that was discussed by Blase in “Bringing Out the Best in Teachers”.  In a top-down controlled environment (think micromanagement), teachers often want freedom FROM doing things that they are directed to do; in a supportive, collegial environment, teachers want the freedom TO try new ideas and dive deeper into areas of interest.  It is important to also note that there are some ideas and initiatives that are agreed upon by staff (the “non-negotiables”) that teachers should not move away from (ie. consistency in assessment).  In our district, teachers have the option of doing some learning team professional development and are given time in lieu.  The past year, we had 5 teachers discuss ways that we could increase the joy in reading at Kent School; they met and learned together far more than the “earned” time in lieu and their conversations and ideas have had a significant impact on our school (click here to read more).  Professional autonomy significantly impacts student learning in our school as staff have shown that when they have ownership (purpose) of their learning, motivation increases.

Being part of the instructional leadership in a school is crucial to the effectiveness of a principal.  In order to be part of this, there must be TRUSTING relationships and credibility.  When meeting with staff we must work had to listen… truly listen.  When listening, I often come back to this story:

A little girl came home from school with a drawing she’d made in class.  She danced into the kitchen, where her mother was preparing dinner.
“Mom, guess what?” she squealed, waving the drawing.
Her mom never looked up.
“What?” she said, tending to the pots.
“Guess what?” the child repeated, waving the drawing.
“What?” the mother said, tending to the plates.
“Mom, you’re not listening.”
“Sweetie, yes I am.”
“Mom,” the child said, “you’re not listening with your eyes.
Mitch Albom

If relationships and trust are important to us, whether it is with students, staff, or families – listen with our eyes.  Doing this allows for us to not worry so much about what we are going to say next and more about actually hearing the message being communicated.  Having trusting relationships helps with the personal credibility needed to be on an (informal) effective instructional leadership team in the school.  Professional credibility comes from the earned respect from others based on knowledge and experience.  Therefore, it is so important for principals to stay up to date on ideas and practices, share this with others, and, most importantly, be in classrooms.  Both being in classrooms learning from teachers and actually teaching a small amount each week (one of the greatest learning experiences I have had as a principal was co-teaching grade 1 reading with a very experienced and effective primary teacher) can only work to build relationships and both professional and personal credibility with staff.

One of the biggest barriers to staff learning, leading and trying to go deeper with their ideas is RESOURCES.  As Chris Kennedy has stated, “If we want people to do well, we need to give them the tools.”  How can principals use the (often small) budget to provide staff with the resources to participate in instructional leadership by enhancing their practice?  The cheapest way to do this is to offer a few tools and TIME.  I find that few teachers ask for much other than time.  As principals, I think we need to move from people asking permission to try new things to asking “how can we…” try new things.  This year, I have offered teachers the option (this is not a requirement in our district) to do an inquiry-based growth plan, not for accountability and not to be sent anywhere outside of school, to help me provide the resources for teachers to grow in area of interest.  I have been so excited to read these and engage in dialogue on how our school can help facilitate their learning.  My former principal, Roxanne Watson, modeled to me the importance of offering teachers time to learn; I again have offered to cover classes for any teacher wanting to observe another.  I will also again offer a “FedEx Prep: Time for Innovation” so teachers can have some extra prep to explore an area of interest and apply that to their practice.  I am hoping that by engaging in reflective dialogue with our staff, I can better provide the tools for our staff to enhance their learning and, in effect, be more involved in instructional leadership.

As we model learning, it is important that we share this with staff and encourage collegial learning.  As Linda Lambert writes:

For decades, educators have understood that we are all responsible for student learning. More recently, educators have come to realize that we are responsible for our own learning as well. But we usually do not move our eyes around the room—across the table—and say to ourselves, “I am also responsible for the learning of my colleagues.”

We need to share our learning and share the learning happening within staff.  I believe one of my roles is to be a connector of learning in our school; I need to connect educators that are separated by bells and walls by sharing the learning story and encouraging staff with similar interests to connect.  This can be done best through face to face but also through email and social media.  Staff meetings are the only time we get to be together as an entire staff; as Scott Benwell said to me, “in BC, we have a total of about 15 hours in which we can meet as a staff – how are you going to organize that time?  Is this time best used for reporting out information or is it best used for collegial discussions that drive us forward as a school?”  Staff meetings must be effectively prepared in a way that leads to important dialogue and sharing for our staff (for a fantastic post on this, check out Cale Birk’s recent post or any of the posts at Bill Ferriter’s blog) as this can be a key structure to facilitating instructional leadership.

Staff (principals included) also need to be encouraged, supported, and challenged. As most of you know, I am not a huge fan of public recognition of individuals so I believe that private conversations that acknowledge the hard work and efforts of our teachers are so important.  Hand-written notes are something I need to do more of as I know how people appreciate these.  Staff do not work hard to get the “prize of a note” but feedback on their (often amazing) efforts can go a long way.  Feedback can also be used to challenge a staff member to reflect on certain practices.  Having difficult conversations with staff is never easy for me, but as Johnny Bevacqua says: “we need to go skate into the puck and go to the hard places”.  A colleague in the district, Mark Classen, has pushed me to seek to understand and see through the lenses of the other person; he has helped me to sit beside and discuss concerns rather than sit across from and debate.  Even our best teachers need positive feedback as well as a push to be better.  Tom Schimmer recently challenged me to approach educational conversations as “gentle nudges” rather than the right vs wrong ways of doing things.  This perspective has helped me engage with a variety of educators (both in and out of our sch00l) in effective conversations that move the focus from teaching to learning and drive both parties forward.  Having trusting relationships can open the door for 2-way feedback that will not only challenge our staff to be better but also make it easier for me to receive feedback to make me better.  It is also important that principals and teachers in our schools understand that when principals enter the classroom, it is to be further engaged in the LEARNING of the school and not to just participate in surveillance.  Although I realize that often when ANY adult enters a classroom to observe it is natural to see change, the more we are in classrooms (and GET OUT OF THE OFFICE!), the less likely it is to be viewed as an event and more as part of the conversation.  Through the conversations, gentle nudges, and positive feedback, all those involved in instructional leadership will see more growth both individually and as a team.

To create the conditions for instructional leadership, it is important that we engage in discussions and are aware of literature on current effective pedagogy.  For curriculum and assessment, one of the areas that we have focused on has been the practices included in Assessment For Learning, particularly having clear learning intentions and criteria as well as using effective descriptive feedback that student can act upon.    When I first started to learn more about AFL and became an administrator, I made the mistake of coming across (preaching) as using the practices of AFL was “right” and not using them was “wrong”; by doing this, I alienated many people in the conversation.  Since then, I have worked with teachers to highlight some of the work already being done in our school as well as setting up reflective staff meeting discussions of assessment practices to give some gentle nudges both in group and individual discussions; too, teachers have challenged my ideas and caused me to continually reflect.  For summative assessments, we are currently trying to use school data to inform us (NOT evaluate) but we have to ensure that this data is as real as we can make it – we have to work to make the data more consistent, ensure that we are assessing the same standards, and not participating in grade inflation/deflation (through late marks, zeros, bonus, etc).  Ideally, we would like to have what Benwell calls an effective dynamic tension between where we are now and where we want to be.  Although we continue to challenge each other, the strengths of staff members,combined with avenues for reflective dialogue, have moved us all forward in providing more effective, consistent, transparent assessment practices in our school.

Creating an instructional vision must be done from within.  It cannot be MY vision because if the staff does not feel they have ownership, it stays as MY vision and goes nowhere.  I need to have a voice but so do others.  The key questions I am asking myself and others are: how do we create a shared vision? how do we KNOW it is a shared vision?  One of the responses is quite simply to truly listen and build the vision from the strengths within the school.  Are other people being heard? Are we tapping into the effective practices already in our schools?  A shared vision with a sense of purpose can guide us in so many instructional decisions; getting to that point requires active listening and open reflective discussions about what we believe as educators.

Another aspect of leadership that I am working on is being a more transparent educator.  I think it is important to show that it is acceptable (and encouraged) to take risks and be vulnerable.  Leadership requires people to put themselves out there and possibly be wrong.  To facilitate instructional leadership, we need to model vulnerability and transparency and encourage staff to pursue the questions they/we have.  David Wees and John Spencer have challenged educators to not only share the successes but also the failures.  I have shared my “oopses” with staff and I plan to blog on this in a future post.  As Brene Brown wrote, “To believe vulnerability is weakness is to believe that feeling is weakness.”  It is important that we show care… that we show feeling… and, at times, we show vulnerability.

As I said, the topic of instructional leadership is vast as so many aspects of leadership come into play.  I believe that the main role of a principal is to create the conditions for instructional leadership to occur in our schools.  The key questions that I am exploring are: what are the conditions that facilitate more instructional leadership that drives each of to be better educators… and how do I create these conditions?

I look forward to reading any insights/stories you can share of the positives and/or negatives of instructional leadership in your schools.

 

 

 

 

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Leadership 2.0 – A Collaborative Learning Opportunity for School Leaders #leadership20

“It’s not what I know, it’s what we know. And my reality is that I would suddenly become much dumber if you told me I had to disconnect when seeking answers or solving problems.” — Will Richardson

No words can express how much I have learned from those that I have connected with both online and face to face.  The learning conversations that I participate in on a regular basis are often informal, ongoing, and thought-provoking; these connections have also led me to even more formal and informal learning opportunities.

My good friend George Couros has organized a fantastic learning opportunity that I am going to take advantage of – a learning series or MOOC (massive open online course) that is completely free, reflective, open to everyone, and based on the Alberta Principal Quality Standards.  Please join me and many others as we collaborate and take our learning to the next level in this 9 part webinar series on Tuesdays beginning October 2, 2012.

 
Leadership 2.0 Open Course #Leadership20

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From Followers to Friendships

Fist bump – from http://flic.kr/p/7XiTUz

Many of us have written about how our PLN (personal learning network) has helped us get through challenging times.  I wanted to share some experiences of how people I have met through social media have impacted me in my day to day life and even moved from followers to friends.  I am not a fan of lists of people and this is not meant to include or exclude but more to share some recent positive experiences resulting from social media.

As I head back to work and reflect on the summer, some key moments with friends stand out… moments that would not have occurred had I not been using social media as a tool for professional learning.

People who do not use Twitter and Social Media often state that “real relationships” cannot be formed through these avenues.  This summer was a clear example of how friendships CAN result from relationships formed through social media.

At the beginning of the summer, George Couros, division principal in Alberta, planned a few days stop over in Vancouver on his way to a speaking tour in Australia.  We planned to hang out for a day and then meet up with a few others that evening.  I picked him up at the airport (I was a bit late… although I did a drive by and he was too busy tweeting out that I was late to notice me driving by) and we spent the day chatting about all things life, education, and social media.  In the evening, we met up with a few other amazing educators (whom I have also met through Twitter) for some dinner and in depth chats about technology, education, and professional learning.   The weird thing is that this was only the third time I had ever met George face to face.  We have ‘spoken’ through Twitter, Facebook, email, SMS, Skype, etc for a few years but because he lives in Alberta, we rarely get to meet.  George and I hung out like we were university buddies… often it felt like we were catching up by sharing old experiences and bouncing ideas off each other.

Brian Kuhn, the technology leader in Coquitlam, is someone whom I met through Twitter and blogging a few years back.  I originally went for breakfast with Brian to pick his brain about developing a tech vision for our district.  What resulted has been regular (EARLY!) breakfast meetings throughout the year that include dialogue not only about technology and education but also about family and life in general.  We often meet up at conferences or events and I follow his travels around Europe and mountain biking trails via Facebook and he follows the growth of my young daughters.  Today we attended an Edcamp together and he made a comment “It is so cool to see photos of your daughter growing up… feel like I am watching family”.   Brian is a bit of mentor to me but also has moved to a trustworthy buddy that I can chat with about anything.

Another connection with Kuhn.

A few weeks ago, I was heading up to a family reunion in Salmon Arm and the route to there took me through Kamloops.  Cale Birk, a principal in Kamloops, invited me to stop by his place on the way back.  His house was a perfect pit stop for my family (you cannot get very far with two 20-month-old daughters in the car) so we popped in for a few hours.  Again, hanging out with Cale was like being with a buddy that I played hockey or basketball with.  We chatted about everything until finally my wife gave me the signal that we had to head out.  The crazy part of this is that our wives had actually connected through Facebook a few weeks prior as they are both dance teachers.  Further, Cale has 2 beautiful daughters (2 and 4) who immediately connected with our daughters.  The best part of this meeting was the fact that I had never met Cale face to face before.  We had also used a variety of tech to communicate with each other so we knew each other quite well but meeting face to face created that friendship.  Cale, Lori, Paige, and Kate stopped by our place for lunch the following week, en route to Victoria, and we are planning some more gatherings in the near future.

 

Meeting the Birks


The last example I want to share does not involve a face to face meeting but more of someone whom I keep in touch with on a regular basis.  Darcy Mullin, a principal in Summerland, and I have been Skyping once a month for the past year.  In addition, we chat via Twitter, Facebook, email, and text messaging.  Although our attempt to meet up this summer (which would add up to a whopping 3 times) did not work out, Darcy and I kept in touch by Skyping a few times and texting throughout the summer.  The best thing about our conversations this summer is that the focus was not just on education but mostly on our families.  Darcy has twins as well so the stories of my daughters really bring him back; too, I enjoy his narratives of his family outings throughout BC and Western USA – the excitement in his voice when he speaks about his wife, son, and daughter is truly contagious.

Meeting with Mullin

To me, the learning that results from the connections we have with people is obvious.  This post is by no means meant to be a cheesy shout out to George, Brian, Cale, and Darcy nor is it to exclude the many other people and friends I have met through social media; it is to share and highlight the potential deeper relationships that can arise from the effective use of social media.

Connecting through social media is not about the quantity of followers or ‘friends’ that a person has but it IS about the deeper, trusting relationships that can result if you take the time to make these relationships happen.  These guys have had a huge impact on me – and I probably would never have met them without social media.  I look forward to deepening the relationships and learning with a few more folks in the near future. Thank you to all those that have taken the time to connect with me to help me both as an educator and as a person.

For another example of how followers can turn into friends, please check out Stacey Garrioch’s wonderful post on #edcampkinder.

 

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Identity Day: Pride In Who We Are

Identity_Day_Logo

As an educator, I have had so many moments that have taken my breath away; working with kids, we often find ourselves truly inspired.  On Thursday, April 14th, 2011, I had the privilege of being inspired by every student at our school in a way that I can honestly say, had me leave the school that evening with a memory of the best day I have ever had as an educator.

The idea of Identity Day started at Forest Green School in Stony Plain, Alberta and was shared with the world by George Couros.  I presented  this idea to our staff in 2010 and they agreed that they would be willing to take a risk for kids and give the idea a try.  Part of our school goal is to have our students “develop their unique talents and interests” so this idea felt like it was made for our school.

The idea behind Identity Day is that students create a project on themselves; there is no criteria, no grades, and no set topics.  Students were encouraged to design a demonstration, video, powerpoint,  slideshow, poster, display or anything that would help the audience to learn something about them. (see Prezi on Identity Day here).  The idea was that each student and staff member would present in a way that shared a talent or interest about themselves.

My project on "My Family"

My project on the "Wejr Family"

Students were given about a month to prepare their projects along with some class time.  Families were encouraged to be involved and those students that struggled were given extra support from older students and staff members.  After presenting to each class, I was not sure how the day would go (whenever I bring a different idea/event to the school, I get nervous about the result); there was not a whole lot of interest a few weeks before… but when students began to bring in their projects a few days prior, we could feel a huge buzz in the school.  Kids were bringing in Lego, pictures, books, posters, stuffed animals, sports memorabilia and equipment – the students were beaming with pride about their projects.

The day of our fair was nothing short of brilliant.  Each class hosted the other classes at one point during the day.  Kids were so excited to teach

A Grade 5 student's project on "Lego"

A Grade 5 student's project on "Lego"

others about what was important to them!  We had students bring in all sorts of animals (including a goat!) as well as so many things that were meaningful to the students and staff.  They presented and taught others everything from “stuffies” to “animals” to “sports teams” as well as things more personal like “things I like” to “my family”.

It is so difficult to put the day in words; you had to be in our school to truly get a sense of the pride and excitement in our students.  Our school was full of parents, community members and students all genuinely interested in each other.  I learned more about our students in one day than I do in an entire year!

Because of Identity Day, I can now approach any child in the school and have a conversation about something in which they are interested.  In the past week, I have stopped students to ask about dance, Lego, their family, and various sports.  What better way to have students proud of who they are than to have them showcase…. who they are!

Every child has a gift; it is up to us, as educators, to create the environment that encourages the student to develop this strength and passion.  Identity Day is one example of the many things we are trying to do at Kent School to help children find their gifts.  If you have any questions on bringing Identity Day to your school, please comment or email me at chriswejr@gmail.com or on Twitter @mrwejr.

I want to thank the students, families and staff of Kent Elementary for their outstanding efforts.  Also, thank you to George and his school for the idea and the encouragement to bring something truly amazing  and inspiring to our school.

Here is a video that includes a few of the projects from Kent’s version of Identity Day:

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Is Learning A Sport?

Awards: One winner, many losers.

Awards: One winner, many losers.

“Schools are not about awarding the best and brightest, but developing the best and brightest.  Awards take away from this.  We can not let our own bias of our own school experience or beliefs get in the way of what research has told us about effective pedagogy.” — George Couros

“Recognizing every student is no more an exercise in mediocrity than believing all children should graduate from high school.” — Joe Bower

This week the topic of awards surfaced again on Twitter.  As a result, Vancouver Sun reporter Janet Steffenhagen posted part of my blog “Death of An Awards Ceremony” that described the decision parents and staff made to significantly alter the way we recognize kids.  Instead of our year-end awards ceremony, we decided to have a year-end honouring ceremony along with recognizing individuals throughout the year for their individual strengths and passions.  Awards ceremonies are zero-sum, meaning that although they create a few winners, they create many losers. Some great conversations are happening on Janet’s post so please chime in with your views here.

Through twitter and Janet’s post, a common opposing argument to ending awards is that if we get rid of awards we:

“should end all games in a tie”

“might as well get rid of championships”

“might as well eliminate sports teams too”

“are not preparing our kids for the competitive environment that is the ‘real world’”

Sport is huge in my life.  My friends, players and teammates will tell you: I am one of the most competitive players and coaches in the rink and on the court.  I have spent the majority of my adult life coaching volleyball, basketball, and track.  During this time, although the main goal was never to just win but more about the journey and process, I was involved in sports that resulted in a winner and a loser.  I am not against competition (there are still fun, healthy competitive games in schools and classrooms); I am against awards ceremonies and events that place emphasis on the result rather than on the learning.

The key difference between sport and learning is that you CHOOSE to play sports and you go in with the knowledge that there is a winner and a loser.  Students should not go to school to win; students should go to school to learn.  Students should not go to school to compete for some award at the end of the year; students should go to school to collaborate and learn from teachers and peers.  We rob our children of intrinsic motivation by continually offering extrinsic motivators.

Also, for those who say, “if we get rid of awards, we might as well get rid of test scores and grades and entrance exams”; I say: ABSOLUTELY, these also do not promote learning.  I will, however, leave this conversation for another post.

To many people, unfortunately, learning does seem to be a sport.  For those people who believe this, here are some questions to consider:

  • When/why did learning in school become this zero-sum activity that creates winners and losers?
  • Are certain areas of school favoured over others?
  • How do you award the top learner?  How is one learner better than another?
  • How much do politics play into awards in schools?
  • When did learning in school become a place where “some students need that competition to excel”?
  • Is it more about the parents wanting their kids to have awards or is it about the kids needing awards?
  • Who has taught these kids that awards are important?
  • What stays with you for life – the intrinsic motivation of knowing that one can learn or the extrinsic motivation of trophies, certificates and prizes?
  • Do we give out awards for top academic child in the family?  If an argument is that we “need to prepare students for the competitive real world”, why do most not do this within their own families?  (I am still awaiting for me to get to this “competitive real-world” that people keep telling me about – please see my post “School IS the real world for our students”)

Obviously, I am being a little cynical with these questions but hopefully it makes people reflect on the flaws in having learning viewed as a sport with winners and losers determined at awards ceremonies.

If all students can excel in something and all students can learn, how can there be losers?  The answer: hand out awards for learning and make learning a sport.

We need to work to see the value and strength in EVERY child, EVERY day.  If we resort to recognizing only a select few at the end of the year, we are failing the majority of our students.  Let’s tap into our students’ interests and work to honour our students for the strengths and passions within each one of them.

Learning is NOT a sport, it is a journey; an enjoyable journey that never ends.

UPDATE: PLEASE WATCH THIS VIDEO (added from Sue Downey’s comment.. perfect!)

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