Earlier this month, I had the privilege of taking a team of educators from Greystone Centennial Middle School down toTampa, Florida to take in the National Association of Secondary School Principals NASSP – Breaking Ranks K-12 Conference 2012.
Our team decided to take in this conference as one of the keynote speakers was Sir Ken Robinson, Professor, respected advisor to governments in Europe, Asia and the U.S. and author of the book Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative and The Element. His message about cultivating divergent thinking to get our students becoming imaginative, creative learners fit well with the Breaking Ranks theme of the conference. In addition to Sir Ken, I sat in on some sessions provided by two of my favourite speakers – middle years expert, Nancy Doda, and the highly entertaining presenter on leadership, Todd Whitaker. The common theme which stood out for me from these two speakers was the importance of developing a highly collaborative, supportive school community – a positive school culture that believes in the promise and potential of every single learner in the building (both adults & kids!) This is the foundation for creating a place where students will experience success.
In addition to sitting in on an excellent session about gathering qualitative student data to inform practice (a welcome change from the high stakes state-wide tests that were talked about during most of the sessions we attended), we were able to take in the school showcase highlighting high performance “turn around schools”. One school, M.O. Ramay Junior High School, reminded me of Greystone because we share a fundamental belief about what is important in the continuous cycle of school improvement:
Improve your school by focusing on each adult who will, in turn, improve your school by focusing on each student – hire eagles!
Ramay Junior High School and Greystone Centennial Middle school place a strong emphasis on developing the capacity of all the teachers to embrace collaborative, shared leadership. Teachers take an active role in their ongoing learning and growth. Both of these schools are not seen as places where you can get comfortable or complacent – there is a always a push for professionals to engage in continuous improvement. We do this by making common teacher collaboration time during the school day a priority. Grade level teaching teams meet regularly and at Greystone, we organize our school improvement around teacher leadership teams. These teams include:
Design Team – a team of teachers with representation from each grade level. This team is focused on improving instructional practice through the lens of inquiry/critical thinking/assessment.
Tech Team – a team of teachers with representation from each grade level. This team is focused on integrating technology to transform learning, again, through the lens of inquiry/critical thinking/assessment.
Subject Discipline Teams – teams include all members of our faculty. These teams meet during every PD Day to develop authentic, powerful learning tasks and assessments across the grade levels. Once again, the lens of inquiry/critical thinking/assessment is used to guide the work.
Teachers at both schools are opening up their practice to learn from each other. PD Days and Faculty Meetings are opportunities for teachers to engage in dialogue, look at evidence of student learning in order to improve the quality of student work and share ideas so that we can learn and grow together.
The highlight of this conference for me, besides the warm weather, taking in some Spring Training Baseball and Tampa Bay Lightning Hockey, sharing many laughs with our amazing Greystone team and enjoying some magnificent sunsets…
…was being reminded that the things we believe in at Greystone Centennial Middle School – setting a high bar for hiring new staff, expecting the adults in the school to be the lead learners in a collaborative, supportive school community, looking at evidence of student learning to improve the work and developing a positive, engaging school culture that believes everyone can be successful – are the key components of an exemplary school. We are on the right track as we continue to “break ranks” and create a place where we do what’s right for today’s learners.
~ Carolyn Cameron