Category Archives: administration

Student Engagement – #saskedchat March 10, 2016

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Another Edu-Awesome #saskedchat! Our topic was Student Engagement and our guest moderator Jade Ballek (@jadeballek) a principal in the Sun West School Division at Kenaston Distance Education Learning Centre.

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We had over 40 participants take part in the chat. For some, this was their first experience joining a chat which can be a bit of a shock with how fast the chat moves and the number of different conversations that take place.

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With this number of participants, missing part of a conversation happens and that is why we archive all the #saskedchats!

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Student Engagement

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What does “Student Engagement” mean to you? Over time, my ideas about student engagement have changed. As a young teacher I was focused on the lesson and my teaching, on creating lessons that were, I thought, “engaging”. Later, as I developed confidence as a teacher and began to explore different teaching strategies, I became less worried about “my teaching” and more focused on “student learning”. In Matt Head’s post Learning or Teaching? he states

As I reflect on my own teaching I have come to realize that what and how I am teaching is usually my first priority.

It is what teachers are doing, focusing on their teaching because that is part of the job. There is the focus on planning, assessment, planning, classroom management, planning, classroom design, planning, student interaction, and planning. During a recent episode of ITTNation, Dave Bircher and I discuss Cross-Curricular planning and how the act of deeply understanding the curricula can open up opportunities for learning that allow for FLOW to take place.

Focus, Learning, Observation and Wonder.

Teachers are able to allow the Focus of the lesson to emerge from interaction with students. The Learning take place through the interactions and is driven by student ideas, interests and passions. Through Observation the teacher is able to guide students in their interests while making connections to Learning Outcomes. This allows students and teachers to Wonder – exploring different topics and concepts from a place of Wonder.

The current focus on the state of education on a global scale is on what teachers do in the classroom. Debates between Reformers of all types draw different ideas about what needs to happen in the classroom in order for students to be prepared for their future. Sometimes, missing from the debate, is what is happening NOW . How many educators are wondering about how the recent two wins by Google’s AlphaGo over the world champion Go player will impact schools? What will this mean for students?

Overall, Google’s DeepMind is calling on a type of AI called deep learning, which involves training artificial neural networks on data — such as photos — and then getting them to make inferences about new data. Venture Beat

Are we preparing students for today? Are we engaging them in a discussion about what is happening in the present? Too often the mantra is “Prepare for the Future”.  In some respects, today isn’t even close to what I thought it was going to be 10 years ago. In other way, it is.

“Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.” Yoda

This is not a call to toss out all of what is currently happening in schools and classrooms. In the present reform cacophony, it’s hard sometimes to even hear oneself think never mind trying to make sense of what is being proposed especially when there is more and more being added to the discussion. This isn’t just about what tools to use in the classroom or if there should be interactive whiteboards or not, whether teachers should adopt flipped learning or embrace blended learning or Project Based Learning.  The discussion includes environment design, learning design, social justice, content bias, differentiated learning systems, game theory, makerspaces, content diffusion, digital citizenship, digital literacy and other pedagogical and theoretical discussions/issues each with their representatives and lobbyists.

Education, it’s a serious business.

There are no simple answers and stopping schooling until things get figured out isn’t going to happen. It is a work in progress. Yes the shuttle is being built as it is being flown – it is the only way learning can continue.

Engaging or Empowering?

Our chat briefly touch on is engaging someone the same as empowering them? What do we want to happen in schools? Why is this important to discuss? As we live in the midst, it is struggling with such questions that help us to make sense of the noise.

If we want people to feel empowered, then releasing control and giving ownership is the only way this can truly happen. George Couros

Are teachers being engaged or empowered? Are administrators? Are parents? Do we allow people to have ownership of their learning? How do we mange such a shift?

Like other such discussions, everyday implementation is, itself, a work in progress. As an administrator, providing input from students and parents was important but so where division and provincial policies. Providing leadership opportunities and helping people develop their strengths was important to developing a school culture of learning and growth. Shifting school culture from a top-down model to a collaborative/shared leadership model isn’t just about “sharing responsibility”. It involves creating a culture of shared growth, trust, learning and collaboration. Such development takes time and, in an environment of efficiency and improvement, can often be overshadowed by “what the data says”.

The #saskedchat provided a great many things to think about, some of them I’ve touched on.

Your mindset and attitude influence your success. What’s yours?

I’d love to hear your comments and feedback.

That’s Why We Hired You

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A few years back, my daughters were given the responsibility of running the local swimming pool for the summer. They were hired by the local pool board and given the responsibility of getting the pool ready for the upcoming year. There was a manual and a someone who worked on maintaining the mechanical aspects of the pool but they were responsible for the rest. The one hired as the general manager asked the chairperson how she was suppose to learn all that she needed to do. I absolutely loved the response, which I was fortunate to hear because, in a small town, they were discussing this in our kitchen:

We hired you because you are smart and capable. We know that you have the skills necessary to do what is needed. We will support you and I can tell you who you can contact for help but you are the manager. You and your staff will need to keep the pool up and running and I can’t be leaving work to help you out. I’ll do what I can but we have full faith that you will be able to do what is necessary. That’s why we hired you.

And the girls did just that. It was one of the best learning experience my daughters had before they went to university. To this day, they talk about how much they learned. They still get the odd phone call from new managers about how to do things.

Trusted Them

Did they make mistakes? You bet they did. Were there stressful moments? Yep. I was privy to some “deep discussions” (arguments) between the two sisters about everything from schedules to expectations of staff to expectation of patrons to what pool toys to purchase (who knew a blow-up whale could cause so many problems!) The board trusted these young people to do what was right and make good decisions and were rewarded for that trust with hard work and young people who gave it their all (and a lot more) and provided a great service to a small community.

 Grew Their Strengths 

There were courses to take and tests to pass, inspections to meet and technical aspects to master. Each one required different strengths to be developed. Each girl had different strengths which they were allowed to use – to grow. Because they were allowed to use their strengths they were willing to take risks.  And when something wasn’t a strength? Fortunately each of the girls that worked (and they were all girls) had different strengths which they used. Sometimes, it took the intervention of someone to point out that maybe someone else might be better suited to organizing the swimming lessons or managing the chemicals and ensuring that all safety standards were met.

Did they always use their strengths? Nope. In fact, stubborn determination sometimes meant they had to learn through mistakes. But, mistakes they did make and learn they did. For three years, this group managed an outdoor pool in a small town, taking it from losing money to breaking even. All have gone on to other things but each of them grew in so many ways during that time.

I was fortunate to be able to learn with/from them.

Educational Leadership

The role of school leadership and it’s impact on change and innovation has been well documented and discussed. There are different opinions as to the exact extent of the impact that school leadership has on student achievement or the changing role of school leaders in schools today. As a former school administrator, there always seemed to be a wide array of opinions about what I should be doing as a leader and what my role was as a leader within the school and the community. Having been an administrator in 8 different schools in 5 communities, my experiences were different and unique in each setting. Although there were some things that were similar, each school and community was unique with its own set of characteristics, strengths, and challenges.

Seeing Strengths in Others

In education, we traditionally focus a great deal of attention on weaknesses or areas of improvement. A great deal of Data Driven Decision-Making is focused on identifying areas for growth – areas of weakness – that need improvement. One of the primary responsibilities of an educational leader is to use that data to identify areas and implement initiatives to make improvement. A lot of time and effort is spent on looking for deficits.

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It’s somewhat similar at all levels. Identify weaknesses and areas for improvement. Focus on these.

But what about Strengths

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Which Strength?

As an administrator I spent so much time focused on identifying weaknesses in everyone, including myself, but not nearly enough time identifying strengths and helping people use and improve them.

What I learned from watching my daughters was how important it was to focus on strengths – grow them, improve them, nourish them. Through a collaborative team effort where people’s strengths are combined, the synergy of the team leads to even greater growth and development, especially in areas of strengths.

Liz Wiseman in Multipliers identifies 5 traits that leaders have who grow people – develop them and allow them to improve.

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And areas of weakness? They improve but, more importantly, they aren’t used to hold someone back from progress and growing.

Differentiate to grow Strengths

Too often an inordinate amount of time is devoted to weaknesses instead of building teams that are strong because of the variety of strengths the people on the team possess. Teachers, for the most part, spend their days working in classrooms with students. Many teachers are themselves Multipliers, helping students to grow and develop strengths. However these strengths aren’t the one’s found on tests or reflected in test scores which shifts the focus away from helping both teachers and students grow and develop their strengths.

Too often, time is spent trying to improve areas of weakness that result in minimal improvement while areas of strength are left without development. This stifles growth and drains students and teachers of energy. To have innovation, supporting people to use their strengths gives them the freedom to develop these and improve.

We tend to think of innovation as arising from a single brilliant flash of insight, but the truth is that it is a drawn out process involving the discovery of an insight, the engineering a solution and then the transformation of an industry or field. That’s almost never achieved by one person or even within one organization.

If we truly are looking for innovation in education, focusing on improving deficits will not bring that innovation. Instead, allowing people, teachers and students, to use, develop and grow their strengths through collaborative efforts and connecting provides opportunity for creativity and innovation and the possibility of transformational growth.

How are you growing others strengths? How are you growing your own strengths? I’d love to hear your experiences either of helping others to grow or someone who helped you and the impact it had on you.

Let’s Try Re-Framing

The First Follower

This is one of my favourite videos about leadership and being willing to take risks. Early in my career as a teacher, and then as an administrator, I often was so focused on my own agenda that I often missed out on helping others who were more talented that I was as particular things. As I learned through experience (which is only a good teacher if you take the time to be reflective and developmental about your experiences) being a good leader was about helping other people achieve goals, finding ways people can use their talents to grow and improve, searching for ways to allow creativity and innovation to be part of the school environment, allowing others the opportunity and space to be risk-takers and innovators, and building community where adapting and changing are core elements of learning and growing.

Challenge Others to Change

As a leader,  creating an environment where ideas thrive is foundational to making changes that substantially change the learning environment of a school. High expectations are important – helping people reach them is the role of leader. Holding people accountable is important but providing them the opportunity to try new things,  make mistakes and deeply reflect on the what they learn is essential to improvement. People who are afraid to try will stop if they perceive that the consequences for trying are negative or are not connecting to a vision of improvement in learning. To give people room to meet the challenges ahead, leaders need to provide the support for taking risks while also having the expectation that if something isn’t successful there will be reflection making adjustments and moving forward. Leaders create an atmosphere for growth when they use questions to challenge others to see where things might lead, to introduce different perspectives, and provide opportunity for there to be multiple solutions.

Re-Frame the Challenge

The current frame for education is something along the lines of “You need to go to school and do what you are told to do in order to be successful in your future.” or something along those lines. The point is not what the exact frame is but that it really isn’ about challenging or creating wonder or enthusiasm or fun or development or innovation. It’s about showing up and doing school. As an administrator, I often had parents of students who were struggling comment that the student needed to pass and get a grade 12 because without it they wouldn’t be successful in life. There was this “grin & endure” frame. Even successful students would often comment about the lack of connection between what they were doing in school and what they saw as opportunity once they were finished school. There seems to be a “we all survived it so that’s what students need to do.”

But what if school leaders and teachers began to explore the question of “Would students still come if school wasn’t mandatory?” What if the mindset was to open up the discourse around education and what it means to be “educated” in today’s changing world? What challenges are we missing with the current framing of education as “have to” and “endurance”?

What would change if leaders and teachers did a cntrl-alt-delete of the current framing of school?

Why would school be important?

Why would students want to come to school?

Why would teachers want to teach?

Simon Sinek, in his book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Action, discusses how leaders often start with the What or How of what they are leading instead of the Why. A great example he gives is how Apple, Inc., doesn’t start with the company selling computers or iphones or ipods but, instead, explains that Apple, Inc. begins with:

Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently.The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly.

And we happen to make great computers.

Wanna buy one?

So, what would happen if instead of telling students “You have to go to school because you need to in order to be successful sometime in the future” school leaders and teachers reframed it to something like

“We believe that everyone can learn . We believe learning is a life-long skill. We challenge people to explore, question, collaborate and create and share with others as they are learning. And we happen to be a school. Wanna join us?

That’s just one idea for Re-framing that allows teachers and leaders to cntrl-alt-delete the current frame of school and  re-image learning and the school in a different way.

That Can’t Be Done! – Can It?

Often, as a school leader, I didn’t share the responsibility of change, keeping it for myself, often telling myself that I was helping the teachers by being a filter for what came down to us from above. And maybe in a hierarchical system, there is something to this but what I learned was that I wasn’t really protecting as much as I was limiting what we could do as a school. I wasn’t looking at the abilities and talents around me. I wasn’t embracing a community of learning. I wasn’t challenging everyone with getting better or seeking new alternatives. I was protecting what we were doing, incrementally allowing change to take place. That Can’t Be Done! was infact true but only because the way I was leading limited the capacity of others and the school to change and improve.

It took my own public humiliation to recognize that I was no better as a leader than the person who did that to me. I’d like to say that it was a lightning strike and I saw the light but it didn’t happen that way. It took me time and some deep reflection to realize that I was a main reason the school and teachers weren’t progressing and being all they could be.  Can It? I learned that, yes it can but it requires a leader confident in their abilities and, more importantly, confident in the abilities of those around them to meet BIG challenges, a leader willing to ask BIG questions and then give people time to go out and find ways to answer those questions.

I began to understand that a leaders role wasn’t always to be out front, that could in fact lead to  being a  Lone Nut. When a leader thinks small, limits input,  tells but doesn’t ask questions and swoops in to save the day, they demonstrate a lack of trust and community, not great leadership. Being a First Follower can be crucial to the kind of change necessary for schools to hit cntrl-alt-del and embrace change.

Re-Framing as Leader

Re-framing the whole premise of school begins with taking a chance to  reconceptualize what it means to be “educated”. It’s an opportunity to create something new. My experience is that it also means that leaders will come up against resistance, especially from those who are extremely comfortable with the status quo and the hierarchical structure of traditional schooling. However as David Penglase explains about Aspirational Leadership

You could, for example, choose to view and treat leadership as a position or role. Alternatively, you could step up and into your own value, accept and embrace the reality that your leadership role is a privilege and not just a position.

Aspirational leaders have three core principles: Relationships matter, Values and models integrity, and earns, builds and maintains trust.

The difference is how they see their role and the people around them. In re-framing schools, part of the process is re-framing the role that leaders have within schools as creative and innovate centres of discovery and learning.

Thing to Think About

  1. How do you see your role as a leader? If you were to ask others, how would they describe your role as a leader? Are you sure?
  2. Why do you lead? Why is it important to you?
  3. Would you be able to re-frame a new “Why” for your school? Could you work with staff and parents to develop a new re-frame?
  4. What would a new re-frame mean for you as a leader? The teachers? The students? The parents?