Archive for April 13, 2013

Professional Learning is a Priority in Parkland School Division

 

I just came back from two days spent with my colleagues – members of our School Division’s “Lead Team”. Our Lead Team includes Principals, Assistant Principals, Learning Services Facilitators, Directors from our Finance, Transportation, Learning Services, Transportation, Human Resources and Communication Departments along with members of our Senior Executive. Gathering such a large, diverse group of School Division leaders together is no small feat. It meant that every individual who attended needed to leave the busy schedules of their day to day work behind and for those of us in schools, it meant trusting that our schools’ teacher leaders would “hold down the fort” during our absence. On behalf of our Senior Executive of Superintendents, it demonstrated that in spite of challenging financial times in the world of education, the importance they place on the value of our team’s professional growth and collaboration so that we can lead our schools effectively for our students will not be sacrificed. A few of us said we felt almost guilty for taking time away from our schools to head west to the beautiful mountain community of Canmore where we gathered for our learning.

Now that I am back home and have time to reflect on the experience – I can honestly say that I am grateful that our Senior Executive made the decision to provide all of us with this uninterrupted time together – away from the demands of our professional and personal lives back home. The Lead Team Retreat gave us an opportunity to learn from and with each other both formally during our scheduled meetings and presentations, but also informally as we shared best practices with each other, discussed some of our challenges, offered suggestions to each other and had long conversations on the road as we were encouraged to car pool with our colleagues. I have found that some of the best learning can come from the conversations that just happen when we spend time together talking about our students and our schools.

A few of the highlights for me were:

Mental Health Presentation

We were reminded of how significant an issue mental health is in the workplace. Research tells us that 1 in 5 Canadians between the ages of 18 – 65 will experience mental illness and that this will have an impact on their work. It was shared that of the people who face mental illness challenges, very few will be diagnosed and even fewer will receive successful treatment. We learned about the symptoms of mental illness and what to look for among our employees. We learned about what we can do to support those who are experiencing mental illness so that they can be successful in getting the help they need to improve their health. What stood out for me was how important it is to remove the negative stigma associated with mental illness so that our staff members know they have our non-judgemental support in order to seek treatment.

“Speed Dating”

This is simply an organized, yet highly effective, way to ensure that we got the opportunity to listen to each other share some of the amazing things we all have going on in our schools. In small groups, we moved from table to table and heard all kinds of new ideas for things we may want to bring back to our own schools. What I will be bringing back to Greystone are some great suggestions around technology from a couple of schools. Muir Lake School shared experiences and insights around their one to one technology pilot project. Meridian Heights School shared how they “trained the troops” on the use of google docs by scheduling chunks of time for the students to be taught the process by the tech “expert” on staff.

The most important “take away” from this valuable time spent together with my colleagues was that I continue to feel non-stop support and the power of collaboration from our Lead Team. Knowing that we are in this together allows me to return to the challenges and opportunities that await back at the school with a huge boost of renewed energy. For me, this was time well spent and reminds me that our School Division really does put its people first!

 

The Sideways Kids

 


 

Let every one mind his own business, and endeavor to be what he was made. Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.

Henry David Thoreau

Kids who march to the beat of a different drummer – our classrooms and schools are filled with these kids. In fact, my home even has a couple of these kinds of kids – my husband (the adult “kid” in my family) and my eldest son (now a young adult). A friend and colleague shared the term “Sideways Kids” with me – a very appropriate way to describe the “out of the box” individuals who sometimes challenge us as teachers, as parents (and as spouses!)

When I think about the school experience for both my husband and my son, it is safe to say that the traditional classroom setting did not consistently serve either of them really well. While each possess incredible language and communication skills – both being avid readers and having outstanding comprehension, problem-solving and critical thinking skills – they also have a very low threshold for boredom. This is typical of the “Sideways Kid” – that student who picks up on new ideas and concepts easily, who demonstrates creative ability and strength in figuring things out for themselves. These are the kids who often challenge us to explain the reasons behind why we do what we do – and who, in my opinion, are at risk for leaving the world of “formal” learning behind just as soon as they have the opportunity because the education system has tried to sort and process them not as individuals, with unique skills, talents and abilities, but instead has pressured them to conform to the status quo of the classroom. My son, the “Sideways Kid”, who taught himself how to play a number of musical instruments, to write songs, to compose his own arrangements and to record his music, wrote a song in his grade 12 year entitled Our Last Year as Cattle. I think it describes, extremely well, the way he felt about his formal public education experience.

How many “Sideways Kids” are in our classrooms, daydreaming, wishing they were somewhere, anywhere, else but sitting in that chair day in and day out hearing the same old messages about their school performance. Words like “what’s wrong with him?”, “why isn’t he motivated?” “why doesn’t he try harder?” “why doesn’t he pay attention?” are common themes throughout the years of teacher conferences and report card comments; or worse, these are the kids who are labelled “attention deficit”, “oppositional defiant” or “lazy”. I believe that there is absolutely nothing wrong with our “Sideways Kids”. In fact, there is something wrong with our assembly line, factory model classrooms and schools if we fail to serve the needs of our “Sideways Kids”. These kids have the potential to be the innovators, the problem-solvers, the creative and collaborative “right-brained” thinkers that will be needed to lead our communities into the future. Our school systems cannot lose these gifted individuals. We must re-create our schools to serve their diverse needs.

How can we do this? There are so many great ideas out there for how we can tap into the passion and talents of our young people. This year, our school experimented with one of these ideas – Innovation Week. It was an amazing way for our students to become highly engaged in their learning through a week long exploration into a topic of their choosing. The results of this endeavour were overwhelmingly positive and we learned, as a staff, that our students are capable of so much when we give them the opportunity to pursue something they care about. Since that week long experience at our school, I have been thinking about ways that this kind of learning could become more integrated into the daily and weekly learning that takes place at Greystone. Recently, I came across this video that shows a High School pushing this notion of providing students with interest-based learning even further.

If Students Designed Their Own Schools

After I watched this, I wondered how much better my husband and my son’s school experiences would have been if they had the opportunity to learn this way.

How many other “Sideways Kids” would re-engage in the notion of lifelong learning if this was their experience at school? I can’t help but get excited about the possibilities for all of our kids if we were to infuse more choice and personalization into our programs.

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