Archive for May 26, 2013

Teacher Learning Made Public ~ Reflections From the Year


Once again this year, I asked our Greystone teachers if they would open up their teaching practice and share the learning from this past year with others. Our dynamic, hilarious, creative grade 6 teacher, Patty Nicholls, who is leaving our Greystone School Community this year as she and her family relocate to Manitoba, shared her learning from her past EIGHT years at Greystone. Many thanks Patty, for your incredible contributions to our school community – we know you will have a huge impact on your students, their families and your colleagues in your new school.

Reflection – My Time at Greystone

By Patty Nicholls

This August it will be eight years since I first heard of Spruce Grove, Alberta and Greystone Centennial Middle School.  I remember the day clearly.  Clive was at work, it was pouring rain and I was getting ready for a weekend camping trip to Pigeon Lake.  The phone rang, and a lady by the name of Kelly Wilkins had come across my resume online and asked if I was interested in interviewing for a grade 7 teaching position.  I eagerly jumped at the opportunity and within a few hours found myself sitting in what appeared to be a construction zone of a new school.  I don’t remember all the specifics of the interview, or what I said that actually won Kelly and Carolyn over, but I do know that was the day my life, as a teacher, changed.

As my journey at Greystone comes to an end, I reflect on both my personal growth as an individual and as an educator.  Greystone has been my home for eight years.  I can’t believe it’s almost over.  Eight years seems like a lifetime, so many things have happened and changed.  Personally, I’ve become a wife, bought a new house, became a mom, all of which has taught me about patience, to simplify and that the little things don’t matter in the big picture.  Professionally I’ve learned about collaboration, engagement, critical thinking, inquiry and innovation.  I’ve been guided and encouraged by amazing mentors; I’ve grown in terms of student questioning and making learning authentic; and most recently, sharing my professional experiences and thoughts with others through blogging and twitter.  I’m excited to take what I’ve learned, personally and professionally, and share it with the world.

I’m going to miss the people, past and present, of Greystone.  The positive energy that fills the halls by both the students and the staff is powerful.  It will be hard to replace.  I see us as one big supportive family.  A family with the same end goal in mind – student success.

A huge thank you to the great administrators who challenged me, supported me, and most importantly, transformed me into the teacher I’ve become.

Thank you to my personal ‘Learning Coach’ for forcing me to think outside the box, teaching me the basis of inquiry, checking in on me (not annoying at all!) and for the friendship we’ve created.

Thank you to my curling team for putting some ‘spice’ into my Thursday nights.   I really don’t understand why no one came to watch us.  You ladies will be missed!

Thank you to my work husband for the opportunity to collaborate, team teach and bounce ideas off of one another.  For the record, you left me first!

Thank you to my entire team: Joan, Claudia, Laura, Marge, Craig, Pat and Cheryl, you guys will be hard to replace.  Our experiences will not be forgotten, yet shared with others.

Thank you to the students and staff for making Greystone Centennial Middle School the great learning place that it is.  I’ll miss you!

Getting the Right People on the Bus

My Greystone office team colleagues (Assistant Principal – Tracy Lachman; School Support Coordinator – Jesse McLean) and I held a marathon session of teacher interviews this past week. Our school community is growing in size and we needed to add an additional five teaching positions and two temporary assignments for the 2013/14 school year.

I consider hiring new staff to be one of my most important responsibilities as a school leader. Creating a positive, strengths-focused school culture where our staff are committed to improving their teaching practice, in the company of peers, and where they see themselves as designers of learning in a collaborative, interdependent school community means that each and every time I bring someone new onto the team, I better get it right. Jim Collins, author of the book Good to Great, calls it “getting the right people on the bus”. Todd Whitaker, author of the book What Great Principals Do Differently, claims that the biggest impact a leader can have on school improvement is to hire “super stars”. I have come to understand, through my experiences in staffing over the past several years, from mistakes made, lessons learned and successes achieved, that Jim Collins and Todd Whitaker are absolutely correct – hiring the right people is key to ensuring that a school community continues to improve.

As I began our Greystone “Star Search” and sifted through the hundreds and hundreds of on-line applications, resumes, and letters of reference that were submitted, I kept coming back to one key question…what are you looking for? In my opinion, the “super stars” we hire at Greystone need to meet the following criteria:

1. Be a good person – do the right thing, be a positive influence and role model for others, support and serve others, build strong relationships and demonstrate a hopeful optimism for today’s youth. If we can connect with each other and our students, we will be successful in creating a place where all of us feel we belong, where we can discover our unique gifts and talents and where we can make a difference in the lives of our young adolescent learners.

2. Be a hard worker – never give up, persevere, take student learning seriously and do everything possible, inside and outside of the classroom, to support the success of our kids. Think critically about all of the initiatives and programs out there to determine what is the best fit for the vision we have as a school community and keep working hard to bring our vision to life. We expect our students to work hard – we must also expect this from ourselves.

3. Be a learner – take risks to try new things, be open-minded, reflective and willing to grow, recognize the importance of continuous learning from a variety of sources – books, articles, students, colleagues, twitter, workshops, courses and apply the learning to the work we do with our students. Understand that learning requires that we make mistakes, fall down, get back up and learn from the experience.

The other qualifications a teaching candidate brings to the table are important, but if these three things are not in place to begin with, quite honestly, all the understanding and experience related to curriculum, literacy and numeracy programs, new technology, assessment and inquiry based learning won’t get us where we need to go. What I am looking for is good people – the rest can be learned.

The challenging thing about using the above criteria to determine a candidate’s potential for being hired at my school is that these qualities don’t necessarily pop out while reading an on-line application. This is why it is extremely important to pay attention to the recommendations of trusted colleagues, to follow my intuition and the intuition of my office team during the interview and then to thoroughly check the references provided. When I discover that the candidates I interview are people that their current colleagues and employers are sadly disappointed to see leave, I know I am on the right track and that these “super stars” will contribute their talents to make Greystone Centennial Middle School an even stronger community of learners. They will help us on our journey as we continue to move from good to great.

We have hired an amazing group of “super stars” this week – genuine good people. I believe we have the right people on the bus and I am so excited to see what will be possible next year and beyond.

I am curious about what criteria other school leaders use to get the right people on the bus…what are you looking for?


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