Archive for September 28, 2012

Design Team: Building Our Dream Together

To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.

– Anatole France 

One of the cornerstones of our school community is our dedicated group of teachers – Design Team – who commit time, regularly, to keep building on the Greystone dream. Over the years, it has been these teacher leaders who have pushed our school’s vision of exemplary teaching and learning forward.  Teachers, representing all grade levels from our school, have come to the table to share successes, hopes, frustrations and challenges in our work of leading a school community with vision, passion and creativity. When this group comes to the table, the expectations are made clear:

  • we construct and de-construct our knowledge and understanding together
  • everyone’s voice is heard and respected
  • decisions are made collaboratively based on what’s best for our kids
  • the work is often messy, the conversations tough, but there is trust in the process and in each other
  • no idea is too crazy and this is a safe place to make mistakes and figure things out together

Our Design Team has been instrumental in pushing our school community to take on projects, pilot new initiatives and share our learning with others. Here are some examples of what we have accomplished:

– highly collaborative learning teams at every grade level that have adopted an inquiry approach to teaching and learning via the Galileo Educational Network

– assisted all staff develop a balanced assessment program that focuses on Assessment AS, FOR and OF Learning. This means our school practices align with best practices in assessment – no awards assemblies recognizing the accomplishments of a few; growth is the goal for each and every learner and is recognized and celebrated by all teachers, students and parents.

– continued development of excellent home/school communication and partnerships through classroom blogs, student-led conferences, development of student portfolios and sharing other evidence of student learning

– submitted a proposal and were awarded with a Community Project Grant to purchase additional technology for use in supporting a school-wide inquiry into our Spruce Grove Community

– job embedded Professional Development opportunities where we meet in subject discipline groups to generate authentic learning tasks that see students focus on the process skills of thinking like a Scientist, Mathemetician, Writer or Historian.

– planned yearly Staff Retreats to focus on collaboration and professional learning with colleagues

– piloted new outcomes based report card focused on performance assessments and process skills

– shared examples of exemplary teaching practice with school board and senior executive guests on several occasions

– developed open practice of feedback/feedforward loops, professional dialogue and looking at student work; shared this practice at an international conference in New Zealand

– regularly evaluated, designed, adjusted our school’s focus related to our School Education Plan – and continue to look for meaningful ways to  measure success

This past week we had our first meeting of our new school year and welcomed a number of new teachers to the table. It is inspiring to see so many individuals wanting to contribute to the growth of our school community as we continue to work towards bringing the best learning to our students. We have a number of school initiatives starting up this year along with lots of support and ideas coming from our School Division. Our first task was to make some sense of it all for our school community and continue our conversation (and ACTION) around engaging all learners at Greystone. We’re livin’ the dream, building on the dream and pushing forward…always!

 

Unleashing the Magic at Greystone

I have been among the middle school magic at Greystone and have been reflecting on my role, as the leader of this amazing school community, over the past few weeks.

First of all, what’s the magic?

For me, magic happens when I see student and adult learners engaged, curious, self-directed, reflective, thinking critically, collaborative, compassionate, confident (yet humble and open to opinions and ideas of others) throughout the school.

Who is responsible for making this magic happen?

I believe that it is the staff who model dedication to continuous learning and growth in meeting the needs of our students who are most responsible for making magic.

So…what’s my role in all of this?

I must not only believe in the magic, support the magic, look for the magic and share the magic – most importantly, I need to get out of the way so that the magic can happen!

Over the past seven years as an administrator at Greystone, I have learned, and continue to learn, so much about leadership – from mistakes made, lessons learned, conversations had and courses taken from and with respected colleagues and mentors. One of the best lessons on leadership that I was provided with came from a workshop I attended where Todd Whitaker shared this simple but powerful bit of wisdom –  the best way to create an excellent school community is to hire superstars!

I have come a long way in my teacher hiring, supervision and evaluation practice as a school leader. I now only hire staff who knock my socks off in an interview; who have been highly recommended by trusted colleagues; who have been in our school as student teachers or temporary contract teachers and have demonstrated the ability to make magic happen. Once these people are in our school, I observe, listen, coach, support and get to know each individual. I make sure I am 100% convinced about the superstar qualities and potential of a teacher before I give him or her a permanent seat on the Greystone bus. As a result of my learning in this area, our school is filled with many superstars and the culture that has been established at Greystone is one where excellence is not the exception, it is the expectation.

Leading a school full of superstars is not a simple task. It requires high levels of trust and the ability to let go of control in order to empower others. Stephen Covey refers to this skill in his book The 8th Habit:

Empowering – focusing the organization’s talent on the results needed rather than the methods used and then getting out of people’s way. Empowering is all about execution. In an empowered organization, leaders give help and direction only when requested. Empowerment unleashes human potential without externally motivating it.

This means that I need to provide the resources, support, time and space to unleash the energy and passion of my high-flying staff. Eliminating the roadblocks and clearing the path for others does not mean that I don’t care about what they are doing or that I don’t want to find out about their plans. In fact, the opposite is true. I care deeply and I am always interested in their ideas. I just don’t micromanage the details and I try my best to reduce the red tape and hoops they need to go through in order to get on with their plans. The most important work I need to do is to ensure that everyone is aligning their plans and ideas with the vision, mission, beliefs and goals of our school – then it is up to them to make the magic. In addition, I need to create an adult learning community that mirrors their classroom learning communities – places where learners are safe to explore new ideas, take risks, make mistakes, learn and grow in the company of caring, trusted peers. When the staff is pointed in the right direction for our school, and are given the time and space needed, they can think big, dream big and make magic together.

Here is some of the new magic happening at Greystone this year:

  • Softer Approach to Learning with New Furniture Arrangements being Piloted in Two Classrooms
  • Health and Wellness Team
  • SEVEC Sports/P.E. Student Exchange with a School in Ottawa
  • iPad Project with Support from the Galileo Educational Network to Develop Critical Thinking Inquiries
  • Learning Coaches Supporting Teachers in Developing Inclusive Classroom Communities
  • Innovation Week
  • Making Learning Public Through Social Media and Exploration of New Technology
  • WE DAY Care Team Developing Community and Global Social Action Initiatives
  • Technology to Support Collaboration via GoogleDocs
  • Technology to Support Self-Assessment via ePortfolios
  • Morning Mentoring
  • Teacher Invited to Attend National Social Studies Parliament Workshop in Ottawa
  • Teachers Sharing Work at Local, Provincial and National Conferences

I am humbled to be leading such a talented staff at Greystone. They are an incredible team who are dedicated to bring the very best learning to our students. I look forward to sharing our journey this year as the magic unfolds!

~ Carolyn Cameron

 

 

 

 

Finding Flow this School Year

The “flow experiences” provide the highest quality moments in our lives.Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Finding Flow

I had a most memorable “flow experience” this summer as I was on one of my morning runs in Spain. According to Csikszentmihalyi, flow experiences occur when high skills meet high challenges and our self-awareness dissolves. We and the challenge become a single process, happening together in effortless action.

Related to my running experiences, my challenge was to increase my running pace while still maintaining a longer distance.The scenery, pictured here, along with the fantastic music I was listening to made my morning run a peak experience. I should mention that I was listening to my son’s band, Organic Orbit, at the time (a mother’s pride in being reminded that her son was able to realize his dream of recording his own music definitely had something to do with heightening the experience!) During this particular stretch of my run, pictured here, my favourite song of his, Brave, was playing in my ears. I felt like my son was singing just for me on this beautiful sunny morning – I was definitely in flow!

Having an optimum experience like this during a relaxing summer holiday in a scenic location is one thing – but it is quite another thing to have a flow experience back at home – amidst the day to day business of a fast-paced, hectic school start-up – right?

You would think so – but I have found time standing still and my flow experiences coming one after another this school year. I find days slipping by almost effortlessly as I enjoy each and every moment of this new school year. I have been filled with such gratitude for the amazing energy and commitment shown by staff as we prepared for our school start-up this year. Our two day annual retreat was filled with hours of conversation, planning, team-building and laughter. This was followed by welcoming our students with carefully planned activities designed to create supportive, respectful learning communities within each of our classrooms. We served up a pancake breakfast for all of our 535 students after the first week of school, and scooped up ice cream for our teenagers and their families this past week. I spent time connecting with all of our new grade five students in their classrooms and I even taught my first grade 7 Foods class.We had our first energetic assembly of the year, followed by our annual Terry Fox Run. The school has been buzzing with ideas for how we can continue to inspire our students to be innovative, creative and imaginative. I have seen the power of collaboration in action among each of our teaching teams throughout the school.

My only hope for this school year is that my skill set will continue to meet the high challenges that are part of the busy, exciting world of Middle School. I continue to seek out new challenges in my work at Greystone to keep me in flow. This year, I am adding some new learning related to technology and a new focus on making our work public. I will also work towards spending more time in classrooms as I support several new staff members. Finally, and most importantly, I look forward to assisting our Learning Coaches as they work with teachers to provide students with personalized, inquiry-based learning experiences designed to engage our middle years learners – helping students find flow. As Csikszentmihalyi writes:

The quality of life is much improved if we learn to love what we have to do.

I am loving life in Middle School!

~ Carolyn Cameron

 

 

 

 

 

Making Student Learning Public

 

Our teachers started the new school year with iPads in hand, ready to explore, as adult learners, in order to find ways to continue to improve the learning at Greystone. One of the areas we are developing is finding ways to make student learning public to our families and our community. We know that when students are sharing their learning beyond the walls of the classroom – that the level of engagement and the quality of work is improved. The work becomes more meaningful to students as they are sharing it with a larger audience.

I wanted to explore this a little bit with a grade 6 class I spent time with yesterday. I talked to them about doing some quality work – some pictures and words to share with others outside of our school about what it means to learn at Greystone. I told them that we would be making some chalk drawings on the front sidewalk so that the rest of the school could see their ideas – and also, parents who came in and out of the school would hopefully notice their work. This seemed to turn the activity into something more important than simply doodling on the front sidewalk.

The students asked how long these pictures and words would last out front – as the clouds were rolling in. I told them I would take pictures with my iPad so that we would have the pictures for as long as they wanted.I also told them that I would share their pictures not only with their teachers, but with all of them,their families and even the world through our school website and via Twitter. We then got into a short conversation about how Twitter can be used to connect with so many others from across Canada and even around the world. This seemed to make the task even more appealing to the students!

Students worked in small groups brainstorming a symbol that would represent our school and a message to go with their symbol – which they created on a rough draft. Ideas like Endless Learning, Anything Can Happen When You Try, Greystone Gives You Wings, and We Grow at Greystone  came from the kids. They were excited to get outside and bring their ideas to life on the front sidewalk of our school. Unfortunately, the only thing that got in our way was time, and we ran out of it so a few groups did not get finished. As predicted the rain came in the afternoon and washed away all of their work…but the process of brainstorming, collaborating, designing and creating in order to share their ideas with a larger audience was successful. Thanks Learning Community 6A – it was awesome working with you on this!

~Carolyn Cameron

 

Jumping Feet First into a New School Year – Wisdom From a First Year Teacher

 

As I was busy getting lost in the details of back to school planning and organization, I came across this reflection from one of Greystone’s bright, young teachers. This was shared with me at the end of this early career teacher’s challenging and rewarding first year of teaching last June. For me, the timing was perfect because it serves as an excellent reminder about not getting overwhelmed with all of the items on the “to do” list. With her permission, I am including it in my first blog post of the new school year. I could not have created a better back to school message myself – thanks Melissa!

~ Carolyn Cameron

Melissa Kerby 2012 Reflection

As my first year of teaching comes to an end, I am filled with so many emotions. It feels like just yesterday I walked into my very first classroom, and I was filled with pride and naive excitement. I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew I had a lot to learn. I was faced with a steep learning curve and felt prepared to embark on what it had to offer.  After a year of many highs and a few low lows, I feel I learned 7 rules that I will take with me through my teaching career.

#1. Don’t Blink

Be in the moment; be present with your students. You never know when that moment will happen, that moment when you know the information has been absorbed. It might not appear on the assignment that you are marking at 10 o’clock at night in the silence of your own home, but in the chaos of the classroom, in the excitement of it all, in a silly conversation between two students. Don’t blink, because that’s when they will show you their humanity, the deepest part of them, the person they really want to be. In that tender moment shared between peers, when things are not easy; this is when they rise to the occasion to lift each other up. These are the moments I will never forget, and they leave a permanent mark.

#2 Keep Your Life Jacket Close

It is important to keep the people that support and believe in you close. When you feel like you are going down, or losing perspective, these are the people that keep us real. Take the time to reflect with them. These people help you find your footing in an unsure moment and set you on your way with a new plan. In turn; always be a life jacket to others, someone will appreciate the kind words.

#3 Breathe Deep

We tend to get lost in the rush of life, the chaos of the classroom, we start to believe we are the only ones who can fix the problem, and it must be fixed now.  This is the time when we need to stop and breathe, it is not as urgent as you imagine, rushing into a solution does not teach anybody else anything, and it is usually less  effective for everyone. These rushed solutions tend to have 8 more to follow, just to make up for it’s short comings.  Take a step back, take a deep breath, and then get a group evaluation.

#4 Don’t Look Down

Don’t look down, just jump. What’s the worst that can happen? Often times when we are faced with a challenge, we start to over analyze things. We start to talk ourselves out of taking positive risks, but this is when you find your faith, and trust in yourself and you take the leap. There is no such thing as a mistake, just an unexpected outcome.

#5 Laugh Often With Your Students.

Someone once told me that children learn through play. What sound better reflects play than the sound of laughter?  Laughter builds community, comfort, camaraderie, and reduces stress. Don’t we want to share all of these things with our students? After sharing a story with my students, I found that they wanted to work, and felt they had something to share with me, too. Laughter is nothing less than positive.

#6 Never Sacrifice Your Balance

While you are taking a breath and trying to convince yourself; “this is not as urgent as I imagine”, this is a good time to remember what keeps you grounded, what renews your spirit, what makes me, me? I have found it is essential to continue the activities that keep me balanced. Continuing to be involved in these activities makes it easier to follow all the other rules listed above. Maintaining your balance is not selfish, and it makes us better people. HOLD ON TO YOUR BALANCE.

#7 Keep Cleaner Close

You never know when there will be messes to clean up, no really; rule #7 is literal…

It’s hard to reflect on all the highs and lows of my first year of teaching without writing a novel.  I have grown in ways I never thought possible, some of it was painful, and unwelcome, but most left me awe struck at the beauty of the human spirit. My first year of teaching reassured me that I am in the right place, and throughout my career I plan to keep my 7 rules close to my heart, and revisit and revise these rules as my journey evolves and develops.  To that end, I cannot thank my Greystone family enough, for all the love, laughter and support that they continue to show me, I am forever grateful.

 

 

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