Archive for September 27, 2011

Team Time in Learning Community 5

Today I made time to sit in on the professional planning and collaboration that took place as Greystone’s five grade five teachers met together during their “Team Time”.  Team Time is the chunk of time that has been built into our teachers’ schedules – allowing them the opportunity to come together to move student learning forward at Greystone.

During my time as a classroom teacher working on a highly collaborative teaching team and in my experience as an administrator in a K-9 school and a 5-9 middle school, I have learned much about Professional Learning Communities and what works and what doesn’t work when the expectation for “teamwork” is part of the school culture.  The bottom line for me is that the struggles that are often experienced in the team process are far outweighed by the benefits of improved student learning when a dedicated group of professionals comes together to bring their insights, experiences and ideas to the table and are open to learning from and with each other in order to improve their teaching practice.

I saw evidence of this today as I observed the “Team Time” in Learning Community 5.  This talented group of teachers includes individuals who have worked on a team together before this year and a new teacher to our school.  The way their meeting rolled out today demonstrated a high level of trust and excellent focus.  The meeting included key pieces that should be a part of the collaborative process – discussion about student achievement related to a concept they were exploring in math and suggestions from team members about how learning could be improved and what assessments they could use, discussion about the critical outcomes/essential learning they were after as a result of a Science investigation, the sharing of resources/ideas, the re-organization of students to provide all learners with direct instruction at the appropriate reading level and additional arrangements were made for when pairs of teachers could get together to further develop plans and assessments for specific tasks.

Was it easy to arrange our school schedule so that our teachers would be given time during the day to come together as a team? Absolutely not!  Was this something that we could easily afford to do on a very tight budget?  Absolutely not!  Do we believe that student learning will improve as a result of this investment of time and money?  Absolutely!

The only thing missing?  More time for the reflection and dialogue that is needed to hash out ideas without feeling the pressure of a time crunch; however, given the limited amount of time we are able to carve out of the school day for these teachers to meet, they did an incredible job of making the most of every minute they had together.  Team Time in Learning Community 5 today was definitely time well spent!

~ Carolyn Cameron

Parkland School Division’s Curriculum Based Report Card – Getting It Right For Today’s Learners

Powerful learning begins with a great question.

This is how the powerful learning around developing a new and improved report card in Parkland School Division began over four years ago. The question was asked by an experienced, dedicated classroom teacher from Greystone Centennial Middle School during a roundtable conversation with the School Division’s Superintendent. This question started a ripple that has affected the way we will be reporting student learning in all of our K-9 schools in Parkland School Division. The question…

Can we create a report card that better reflects the kind of learning we are doing in our classrooms?

This question paved the way for a “grass roots” movement in Parkland School Division that allowed schools the space and time to create reporting processes that aligned with the critical thinking, collaborative and meaningful teaching, learning and assessment practices that have been developing in Parkland School Division and in the Province of Alberta for well over the past ten years.

For teachers at Greystone Centennial Middle School, this meant that we had the freedom to create and pilot our own “comprehensive reporting practice” that included the following:

  • an outcomes based report card using descriptors to identify areas of strength and areas that required further improvements
  • ongoing home/school communication through e-mails, classroom blogs, student-led conferences, student agendas, celebrations of learning
  • parent meetings, information nights, high-school transition meetings

Implementing change is never easy; however, when there is support from our School Division’s Trustees and Senior Executive and when there are determined people working together on a very focused vision of doing what’s best for today’s learners, the hard work will pay off.

Today, I had the incredible opportunity to witness the “pay off” first hand as I was invited to join our School Division’s Education Committee Meeting.  At this meeting, with our School Board Trustees, our School Division’s Senior Executive, and a member of the local press in attendance, a new and improved version of the report card (that included the best ideas from pilot projects around the School Division) was presented.

After I listened to former parents, a former student, a Greystone teacher, teachers from other schools in our School Division, a parent of a student from another Parkland School, our Learning Services Facilitator and a few Parkland principals speak about their work that led up to this report card and their successful experiences in using one of the pilot versions of it to better understand the learning profile of individual students…I was speechless.  I am so proud of the incredible team effort that has resulted in our new Curriculum Based Report Cards in Parkland School Division.

A few comments that our Superintendent, Tim Monds, tweeted during the panel discussions included the following:

You cannot sum up a dynamic child on one piece of paper – the report card is a key to the puzzle but it is only one piece. ~ Katy Rogal, Learning Community 6 Teacher, Greystone

A score doesn’t matter – the skill does.  The work being done in Parkland School Division is mirroring the real world. ~ Sandy Taylor, Parent of Grade 12 Student (former Greystone student)

One of our former Greystone Centennial Middle School students shared her thoughts on how the assessment and reporting at Greystone (which includes rubrics developed WITH students, tests with marks, written assessments, self-reflections, peer assessments) affected her transition into High School.  She said that she learned a great deal about herself as a learner and that the assessment practices have helped her to understand the specific areas she needs to grow in so she can continue to get better.

Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Great questions lead to powerful learning.  Powerful learning leads to changes that help us to get it right for today’s learners.  We have been given the support, space and time to create a new way of reporting student learning in Parkland School Division and we have learned a lot along the way.  Let’s keep asking those great questions so that we can get it right for today’s learners.

~ Carolyn Cameron

 

 

 

Greystone…Not Such a Lucky Place?!

 

I have been thinking about this word – LUCK – a lot lately.  I really don’t believe in luck…I don’t think anything happens by chance.  I read this message in a card that one of my sons received from his friend as he was getting ready to head back to rejoin his college hockey team in Alaska at the end of summer.  It sums up what I have been thinking about luck but have not, until now, been able to articulate:

I wish you luck on your upcoming athletic, academic and personal endeavors and leave you with the following…

Luck is the place where preparation meets opportunity – we make our own luck.

After the most amazing school start-up that I have experienced in my career, I can’t help but feel “lucky” to be working in a school that I love – no kidding – I love my job!!!!  Is this luck?  Not so much.  It is definitely the result of preparation meeting opportunity.

How did I get so “lucky”?  There are many factors that have contributed to the success of this school year and they have grown out of preparation and opportunities that came about long before the doors of Greystone were opened.  Most recently, over the past six years,  I had the opportunity to work alongside my former principal, a former assistant principal and our current assistant principals,  as together, we devoted much time and effort into putting together an incredible staff – our Greystone “Dream Team”.  I have read, and I believe, that great leaders surround themselves with people who are more talented than they are and that these leaders “clear the path” for others in order to unleash their potential.  Not only do I believe in this, but I have seen the results!   Building an amazing, high flying team takes years of working together, being inside of classrooms, taking part in team meetings, getting to know the strengths and areas for growth of each and every individual, and then, when opportunities come to hire new members for our team, making the time to “get it right” and find individuals who will fit into the collaborative dynamic of our school team.  Clearly, a school culture that is about growing, learning and improving in the company of peers takes time to develop. It takes trust to give individuals the freedom and support to take risks, to speak up and challenge ideas.  It takes humility, courage and honesty to admit when you’ve made mistakes and to let others see that you don’t have all the answers.  Nobody does. It takes confidence in the power of teamwork to recognize that we will get things figured out, together, if we keep on doing what we believe is best for our kids.

Todd Whitaker taught me one of my most important lessons in leadership, during a conference I attended a few years ago.  He said that the biggest impact a leader can have in a school is through the hiring process.  Jim Collins, in his book, Good to Great, calls it getting the right people on the bus.  I am happy to say that the “Greystone Bus” has got all the right people on board and we are moving full steam ahead this 2011-12 school year in providing exemplary teaching and learning for our kids.

I felt the energy on board our “Greystone Bus” after school today during our monthly faculty meeting.  On the agenda was time for conversation around how we are going to organize ourselves for our annual meet the teacher night coming up this week.  I wanted to check in to see how our teachers would be connecting with families regarding home/school communication, our beliefs about homework and how we would be addressing our school’s new report card.  Many voices were heard and all of them very much focused on making sure we were being thoughtful about doing what’s best for our kids…ALL of our kids.  Teachers talked about spending time connecting with as many parents as possible in a positive way, while ensuring that families understand how important ongoing communication between home and school will be in order to support student learning.  Each grade level has set up a blog to keep families posted on what is happening at school and teachers will be spending time reviewing these blogs with families. When it came to the question of what we will be sharing about our new report card – the common message will be:

It is nothing really new and different for us at Greystone.  A new report card format is coming as the rest of the school division is moving forward with the kind of reporting that we have done for the past three years.  Now, we need to have a standardized report card that will be used in all of our schools in Parkland School Division.

As the school leader at Greystone, I feel “lucky” that I have the opportunity to be a part of the insightful conversations that take place when this staff gets together to figure out the way forward at Greystone.  Our students and families are “lucky” that they have the opportunity to be at a school where there is such a dedicated team leading the learning.

Are we “lucky” at Greystone?  Does all of this “luck” happen by chance?  No! We make our own luck through hard work and preparation so that when a new challenge or opportunity comes our way, we are ready to take it on.  This is what fuels our “Greystone Inferno Pride”… and this is what keeps us inspired to move forward together.

~Carolyn Cameron

 

 

 

 

When Things Just Come Together

 

I love when the planets seem to line up and in that moment in time ~ everything just comes together.

After several weeks of thoughtful consideration this summer, I made a decision about what I wanted to include in my message to school staff as we started our new school year together.  A key part of the message was about growth.  I referred to a book I read (and re-read) this past Spring and Summer that was recommended by a colleague, Katherine Mann.  The book, Mindset, by Carol Dweck, speaks to the importance of developing a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed mindset.  I spoke to our staff about what our students might be capable of if we could help them all understand that through hard work, effort, perseverance, they all had the potential to learn, grow and experience success.

Coincidentally, later in the afternoon our Superintendent, Tim Monds, also spoke about this book, Mindset, during his address to our entire Parkland School Division Staff.  It was another opportunity for Greystone staff to be reminded about the limitless possibilities that exist if we help our students embrace a growth mindset.  Great timing…

Things really came together when I was visiting classrooms during the first few days of school.  I saw thoughtful, well-designed learning taking place around the school – including students co-creating classroom agreements, making mindmaps connecting prior experiences and special memories, developing ideas for a dream classroom, establishing criteria for independence, examining questions and habits of mind that real mathemeticians and scientists have…AND…discussing mindsets!

I couldn’t resist – I HAD to pull out a small group of these students and video record them explaining what they had been learning about mindsets…

Mindset LC6~ Greystone Centennial Middle School

I can only imagine the possibilities for our students if we keep focussed on the growth mindset at Greystone.  I am thankful that my timing allowed me to be a part of this conversation.

When we are doing the right things…it all just seems to come together.

~Carolyn Cameron

 

 

Coming Home

It feels like coming home…this is what our Assistant Principal, Tracy Lachman, told our staff when we first gathered together in the school’s media centre ten days ago to recommit to our vision of providing exemplary teaching and learning for our students at Greystone Centennial Middle School.

I have thought a lot about that phrase in the past ten days – and have watched staff live out what coming home means as we prepared for our students to come home to Greystone after their summer away.

Here’s what I noticed…

  • Teachers coming together for three full days prior to the arrival of students to establish trusting relationships among each other so that their collaborative efforts in planning would see the best possible learning experiences provided for all of our students.
  • Teachers attending to every last detail of classroom set up to create learning spaces that are warm, inviting, comfortable and safe for our students.
  • Support staff pulling together to assist anywhere and everywhere in the school to ensure our school is well-organized and ready for our new beginning.
  • Students arriving to friendly smiles, hugs, handshakes and genuine interest in each of them as individuals.
  • Students being invited to co-create their learning by getting involved in imagining what school would look like if we got it right for today’s learners.
  • And families…who provide feedback like this, reminding us why we need to make our school feel like home:

To All of You at Greystone…

Words cannot express my sincere gratitude.  You have helped raise my children.  They have been challenged and nurtured, supported and praised.  We have set high expectations for them and held their hand and along the way.  Our past five years have been filled with family changes both happy and sad, but Greystone staff, you have been there all along helping my children and I more than you will ever know.  Thank you for being teachers, thank you for being my friends, thank you for taking care of the most important thing to all of us – “our children” .  I will miss you all…take care.  Thank you.     Love Korinna Wolodko

Greystone…a family lives here.  Welcome home!

~ Carolyn Cameron

 

 

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