Archive for January 17, 2012

Teachers as Designers of Learning

Teaching Teams are getting together this week to design meaningful, authentic learning opportunities for their students.  Our focus this year, and every school year, at Greystone is to deepen our understanding of how to engage our learners through the Inquiry process.  Our teachers are all on the journey of learning how to create curiosity among their students by thoughtfully designing projects that will ignite the students’ passion for learning. Certainly not an easy task given the nature of young adolescents, who are often distracted by numerous other things going on in their lives.

I was able to spend a little time with one of our teaching teams yesterday, as they met together for the morning to chart the course for their upcoming learning around Sky Science.  I listened to them question each other about the value of learning tasks, demonstrations of understanding and how they would weave ongoing assessment throughout the tasks.  Teachers pulled out their curriculum documents and debated about the key understandings that would be uncovered by the careful design of learning tasks.  While teachers were planning, they continued to refer to the Inquiry Planning Template that had been shared with us at our last Professional Development Day by Neil Stephenson, from the Calgary Science School.  This template set out criteria for them to consider in order to make the learning as authentic, purposeful and engaging as possible.  The teachers decided that they would include experts from NASA as part of their work and that students would develop questions for these experts to guide their research.  Teachers also discussed how they might provide students with time to explore and discover the phases of the moon as opposed to simply feeding the information to them.

What I liked best?  The teachers collaborated as thoughtful reflective professionals who were not simply following instructions from a guidebook.  This teaching team took the time provided to them to critically analyze the curriculum outcomes and to design learning that is worthy of their students’ time.  Go Team!!!

~Carolyn Cameron

Putting First Things First – Spending Time in Classrooms

This mindmap was created by one of our teachers when staff were asked to envision their “dream classroom”.  How do we work together to make the dream a reality?

I started my new year with a commitment to follow the wisdom from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits – Habit #3 in particular – put first things first.  This habit reminds us that to be effective, we need to identify the key roles that we take on in life, and make time for each of them.  Related to leading a school community, the key role for our Leadership Team is to make sure we spend time and energy where it counts –  supporting our teachers in providing students with the best possible learning opportunities.

Alberta Education identifies the key roles and responsibilities of School Leaders in the Principal Quality Standards.  School Leaders are expected to align our Professional Growth Plans with this document which outlines seven dimensions for effective school leadership.  The Leadership Dimension that I am committed to improving on, as I believe it is central to the most important work taking place in our schools, is as follows:

4. Leadership Dimension – Providing Instructional Leadership

The principal ensures that all students have ongoing access to quality teaching and learning opportunities to meet the provincial goals of education. The principal:

a) demonstrates a sound understanding of current pedagogy and curriculum

b) implements strategies for addressing standards of student achievement

c) ensures that student assessment and evaluation practices throughout the school are fair, appropriate and balanced

d) implements effective supervision and evaluation to ensure that all teachers consistently meet the Alberta Teaching Quality Standard

e) ensures that appropriate pedagogy is utilized in response to various dimensions of student diversity

f) ensures that students have access to appropriate programming based on their individual learning needs

g) recognizes the potential of new and emerging technologies, and enables their meaningful integration in support of teaching and learning

h) ensures that teachers and other staff communicate and collaborate with parents and community agencies, where appropriate, to support student learning

i) supports the use of community resources to enhance student learning.

By putting first things first, I made time on my schedule FIRST, before other issues came up, to spend time in classrooms this week observing student learning and providing feedback to teachers.  My hat goes off to my dedicated staff for demonstrating a growth mindset in recognizing that each one of us is moving from good to great and we all have things we can do to develop our classroom practice.  They are open to receiving professional feedback not only from me, but from their colleagues, as well.  This speaks to the collaborative learning community we have established at Greystone – something that makes us all very proud.

I look forward to continuing the classroom visits and to providing teachers with ongoing feedback about the teaching and learning taking place inside their classrooms.  There are so many awesome things going on inside classrooms and it is inspiring to see teachers developing engaging, meaningful, purposeful learning with their students.  I am curious about how this work can be shared among teachers so they can continue to learn from each other.

I am interested in hearing from other administrators out there – how do you support your teachers in developing exemplary learning opportunties for students?

~Carolyn Cameron

Following My Heart

There is no set path.  Just follow your heart! – unknown

I have just returned from some much needed time for myself this past two weeks.  After running on empty for the week leading up to the Christmas holidays, I knew that a retreat to my “casa del paraiso” (house of paradise) in Puerto Vallarta would give me the opportunity to recharge my battery.  To be honest, my path this year has led me to some places I wasn’t sure I would be able to find my way back from – in fact, as I was getting ready to leave for my holiday, I was wondering if the path I was on was still the right path for me – maybe I needed to take a new direction to a place that didn’t demand so much of me emotionally.

Two weeks spent running on the beach, laughing with friends and family, reading, writing and exploring the wonderful flavours offered in the many restaurants I visited have left me feeling completely rested and relaxed.  However, it wasn’t until I spent an evening at Puerto Vallarta’s local community centre, that I fell in love, once again, with my chosen path.  A group of Americans, living in Puerto Vallarta, put together a weekly movie time and I was invited to join them in viewing a wonderful film celebrating the gift of education.  The film reminded me of the reason why I choose to come back, every day and every year, to my work as an educator and how incredibly important this work is to all of us.  This touching film helped me to be grateful that I am able to play a part in making the gift of education available to the students and staff of my school community. I was inspired by this film and by the 84 year old Kenyan student who, through determination, courage and perseverence, was able to continue his own learning, in spite of some heartbreaking circumstances.  He serves as an excellent role model to all of us as he defends his right to be a learner, regardless of his age.  He shares his belief about education when he says: I will keep learning until there is soil in my ears. 

www.imdb.com

Directed by Justin Chadwick. With Naomie Harris, Tony Kgoroge, Sam Feuer, Oliver Litondo. The true story of an 84 year-old Kenyan villager and ex Mau Mau freedom fighter who fights for his right to go to school for the first time to get the education he could never afford.
The opportunity to live in a world where public education is available to all of us and where we, as adults educators, are continuously encouraged to keep learning and growing along with our students, is something we should never take for granted.
My heart is leading me back to Greystone – where I am grateful to continue learning with my amazing school community.  I am looking forward to see where the learning takes us in 2012!
~ Carolyn Cameron
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