Archive for February 16, 2014

Not All Leaders Are the Same ~ But the Beliefs Should Be

I have been doing a little reading and reflecting on something I am passionate about –> Leadership. I just finished a book that one of my sons gave me for Christmas  – The Greatness Guide by Robin Sharma. It includes  advice for creating excellence in your personal and professional life. Many of the ideas contained within the book align with my beliefs. One chapter, in particular, includes a message I have tried to establish among the staff at Greystone. Sharma maintains that in order for an organization to get to greatness, every person on the team needs to see himself or herself as a leader.

While everyone needs to be a leader, not everyone needs to lead in the same way. That would be impossible. What is most important is that everyone within the organization needs to know their role; contribute their strengths and recognize that everyone needs to demonstrate leadership traits – regardless of their position.

What leadership traits should all leaders within the organization demonstrate? In my opinion, this is where the “official” leader of the organization is most needed – to set the example for what the beliefs of the organization should be. For me, this is the only “top-down” structure that needs to exist within an organization.The beliefs, or as Sharma calls them – leadership traits – that permeate a culture or organization are a direct reflection of what the “official” leader of that organization demonstrates through words and actions.

As the “official” leader of leaders at Greystone, I have a set of beliefs that I work hard to live out. I have shared these beliefs with my staff; however, more importantly, I hope I have put these beliefs into action, action that sets the expectation and example for all of the leaders at Greystone.

As the lead leader at Greystone, in no particular order, here are my top 10 beliefs:

10) Relationships, Relationships, Relationships! ~ People first…always!

9) Balance ~ Health & wellness first, family second, work third…this order is important.

8) Growth ~ We are all learners and we all have the potential to dream, imagine, create, innovate and grow. Setting goals, putting goals into an action plan and collecting evidence of growth along the way will help us continuously improve.

7) New Beginnings ~ We all make mistakes; mistakes are for learning and we must always recognize that everyone has the potential to change if given a fresh start.

6) Positive Energy is Powerful ~ We have the ability to create our reality through our thoughts and the way we interact with each other; as part of an inter-connected organization, we have the potential to be a negative or a positive influence on each other. At Greystone, our responsibility is to choose positive.

5) Communication ~ We must maintain open, honest, respectful communication among each other, our students and families, with the intent of doing what’s best for our kids.

4) Collaboration ~ When we build on the strengths and skills that each of our leaders can contribute, we are capable of creating far more powerful learning experiences for our school community than if we work in isolation.

3) Play Hard ~  Having fun and sharing laughter are what a healthy school community needs to re-charge in order to be our best for others.

2) Work Hard ~ Everyone needs to give their best; however, an individual’s best can vary depending on lots of other variables (i.e. health, family circumstances). My best is not the same as someone else’s best – this is an individual thing and we should not compare between each other.

1) I Believe in the Magic ~ Schools are amazing places, there is so much opportunity to be a part of something significant and special, as long as we remember to pay attention to all of the magic going on around us – be there, be present and be grateful.

 

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Everyone is a leader at Greystone but not everyone is the same. What should be the same is the belief system that exists through which we carry out our leadership responsibilities.

“RE” – So Much Possibility in a Couple of Letters

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This was the tagline for this year’s North Central Teachers’ Association Conference where I spent the last two days. As much as I value the overarching theme for this year’s conference, the learning for me involved an additional set of “RE” words that have inspired me to head back to school next week feeling energized for the second half of the school year.

REconnect

I never underestimate the significance of building strong relationships among the people I share my days with at school. Spending time together, just playing, laughing and reconnecting is one of the highlights of our annual two day convention. The Greystone teaching staff also sees this as a priority. They recognize that we are far more likely to be open, honest and supportive of each other as we take on the day to day challenges at work if we have put some effort into spending time together, outside the school environment, enjoying each other’s company and connecting with each other on a personal level. When we have spent time playing and laughing together, we are far more likely to forgive each other for our mistakes and we will be willing to go that extra mile for each other when things get tough.

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REflect

I appreciate the times when I attend a session or engage in a conversation that gives me the opportunity to reflect on the work I do and why I do it. During this year’s Teachers’ Convention, a few experiences caused me to think deeply about the teaching profession and my role within it as a school administrator:

  • Hope in the power each of us has to make a difference in our students’ lives was ignited in an emotionally powerful way through the stories and videos that “The Freedom Writers” teacher, Erin Gruwell, shared with us. Erin reminded us of the importance of each student’s story and how our role as teachers can give students a voice and the ability to see themselves as capable of moving beyond their circumstances to write their own story with an ending that sees each one of them having the ability to create a meaningful life for themselves.

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  • Belief in the importance of having a vision and aligning decisions and action with this vision was an important part of one of the many conversations I had with teachers over the past few days. In particular, Greystone’s incredibly talented Drama teacher shared her insight about this being a key part of the success of her recent Drama production. She made the performance and the work done to prepare for the performance fit with the vision she and her students created for Greystone’s Drama program. Seeing leadership like this among the bright, young teachers at Greystone is absolutely energizing.

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  • Pride in the willingness of my amazing team of colleagues at Greystone to take risks, be innovative and share their learning beyond the walls of our school was definitely a highlight of this year’s convention. The work of Greystone’s new Assistant Principal and several teachers was featured during a couple of sessions that were part of the convention. Specifically, these teachers presented experiences and learning that have been part of our Innovation Weeks and our Alternative Classroom Design.

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REcommit

Through these experiences, I have been reminded of what makes me passionate about the work I do at Greystone. The energy and dedication needed to lead a school community needs to be re-ignited from time to time. In order to do this job well, it needs to be more than just a job. There should be something deeper and more meaningful that keeps me coming back year after year. Through reflection and reconnection from the past two days – I do feel that the battery has been recharged and I am able to recommit to my role as a leader at Greystone. I was reminded of the parts of my work that inspire and engage me – the incredible people I have the privilege of working with; the fun, the humour and the play that we make a regular part of our work; the new beginnings and opportunities we have for making a real difference in the lives of our students; the amazing growth, risk taking, creativity and leadership I see in others when I say yes more often than no; the intense sense of pride in the accomplishments of others that is possible when I surround myself with people who are incredibly talented; and the opportunity to share in their successes when I support them to make their unique contributions to our school community.

So REady for part two of this school year!

 

 

 

Why Not?

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This past month at Greystone was spent adjusting to a pretty significant change we made to our program delivery model. After many conversations with individual teachers, grade level teaching teams and our entire staff during Professional Growth Plan Meetings, after school Faculty Meetings and Professional Development Day conversations, we decided to “blow up” the time table and organizational structure for our Learning Communities in grades 7, 8 and 9. This change was to answer our question:

Why are we doing things that don’t feel right for our kids?

Due to our increased enrolment at the beginning of this school year, we added additional home room classrooms at each grade level in 7 through 9. Doing this caused our teachers to become subject discipline specialists and instead of having larger blocks of time to focus on deeper learning, ensuring success for ALL learners and providing meaningful integrated inquiry projects, teachers were moving kids through their classes, on the traditional “conveyor belt” with a focus on content delivery as opposed to student understanding and success.

We needed to figure out a better way forward. The questions then became:

Why not?  Why not change this so that we can put students first? Why not figure out a way to meet the individual learning needs of our diverse learners? Why not take as much time as we need to help students who are struggling to learn concepts and skills? Why not give those students who need more of a challenge to extend their learning the opportunity to do this? Why not try something that we haven’t done before and see if our students are more successful?

Teachers, who are already extremely collaborative, worked together to re-organize students into flexible groupings designed to target instruction in the areas of Literacy and Numeracy. We switched the schedule up and provided additional collaborative planning time. So far, although it is very early on, we are noticing some positive results. We are seeing students feeling more supported, successful and for those learners who need the extra push, they are feeling more challenged.

This change has not been easy for our teachers. They are expected to teach new skills that they are not familiar with; however, they are a driven and dedicated group who, with the support of each other, our Learning Coach, our Inclusive Education Lead and our Administration Team, are working together to get it right for our kids.

Early feedback from students, teachers and parents has been positive. A recent survey of our parents provided us with comments like these:

I think that separating into specialized groups for instruction for math and reading is a great idea. It will provide more one on one help for those kids who struggle and provide more challenge for those kids who need to be challenged.

The concept of having classes to teach at a student’s pace of learning, instead of just going through the curriculum based on the calendar is something I feel very supportive and pleased about. I feel that this will be a great system to ensure children receive the curriculum in a way they can understand and flourish.

I feel that Greystone strives to ensure my child is successful individually. The staff has worked as a team to ensure we are aware of any challenges and listen to our views as well.

I really like the new way they have made the classes since January. The teachers are all great and easy to talk to. The staff at Greystone is very dedicated and we really appreciate all the extra work they put in.

We haven’t got all of this figured out just yet but we will keep asking the right questions. Should we make changes to what we are doing if it is in the best interest of our learners…why not?

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