Archive for March 30, 2014

Unplugging – It’s All About Balance

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29 years in the world of education – wow! I really have a tough time facing that reality – I have been doing this work for a whole lot of years. In some ways, I feel like I can share every lesson learned, mistake made and experience lived with others in order to pass on the wisdom of my many years in schools. However, on the other hand, I also feel completely humbled by how much I still don’t understand and how much I have yet to learn and figure out. To be honest, it’s overwhelming sometimes. I think I should have way more of this learning stuff figured out – but I don’t. I think I should have way more of this leadership stuff figured out – but I don’t. What I do know for sure is that I will NEVER stop learning, questioning and looking to others to help me find the way forward. Leading a middle school, filled with kids who are trying to find their way, is a perfect fit for me. I am a middle school educator and school leader – trying to figure out the way forward. It’s complicated – there are no easy answers and sometimes, there are just more questions. That’s okay. One thing I do know for sure – it is so important to take a step back from the work and unplug.

I have learned over the years that the best use of my “down time” during school breaks is to let go of all the work that needs to be finished and to completely disconnect so that I can re-charge the battery. So, once again, this Spring Break, I am unplugging from technology, from the world of Twitter, from the “to do” list waiting for me back at school so I can re-invest in me. This includes making time to do what I love – run along the ocean, read whatever I find interesting, spend time with the people who mean the most to me and enjoy simple pleasures in life (sunsets, good food, great wine!)

I have learned that finding ┬ábalance this way gives me the energy to come back after the break feeling completely ready to take on the home stretch of the school year…not just in survival mode, but in full on “thriving” mode – making the best decisions for our school community and being the best support possible to our amazing staff.

Happy Spring Break – this picture shows where I am unplugging for the week – life is good!!!

Action on Inspiring Education – Let’s Go Already!

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I listened to a passionate Greystone teacher, Jenna Wilkins, describe her frustration with all of the talk that is going on around the province about Inspiring Education, the Ministerial Order on Student Learning and Curriculum Redesign. It’s not that she is opposed to any of this. In fact, the opposite is true. She is so keen about all of the talk, but in only her second year of teaching, she is already frustrated with the lack of ACTION.

Welcome to my world, Jenna! After 29 years as an educator, working in a system that moves forward with painstaking slowness, I sometimes wonder how I managed to keep optimistic and hopeful while swimming upstream in my push for positive change. The traditional educational structures are solidly in place, the political pressure to maintain the status quo is strong and the fear that is created among the community when we talk about trying new ways of doing things that are aligned with current research about learning is very real. Change feels uncomfortable while tradition feels safe.

How, then, do we make the new vision for student learning, that is shared in our province’s Ministerial Order, a reality in our classrooms and schools?

We turn talk into action by understanding and valuing the idea of innovation. Innovators create new ways of doing things by asking great questions, playing with ideas, trying things out, reflecting on experiences and failing…often! These are exactly the kinds of skills we want our students to develop. So why aren’t we allowing ourselves the same kind of opportunities as the ones we want to provide for our students? Schools need to become places where we, the adult learners, are supported to take risks, try new initiatives through small scale pilot projects, learn from mistakes and then share the learning with others.

Simon Breakspear describes the process well:

We have had lots of opportunities to prototype innovative practices for our learners at Greystone. Some of the ideas we have had success with are:

  • looping
  • flexible block scheduling
  • student collaboration
  • staff collaboration
  • co-created student project work
  • team teaching in flexible learning spaces
  • common team planning/feedback time
  • student led conferences
  • student generated rubrics
  • formative assessment practices
  • competency based report cards
  • inquiry based learning
  • staff book studies
  • Bring Your Own Device Initiative
  • Innovation Week
  • alternative classroom design
  • flexible groupings for targeted instruction in Literacy/Numeracy

We continue to be a work in progress with these and many other initiatives at Greystone. We are still, and always will be, refining and improving upon our practices. We know that taking action, before recognizing clearly what the final result will look like, is a necessary first step in the innovative process. While we don’t jump blindly or carelessly into new initiatives, we also understand and value the process of exploring different ways of doing things that are aligned with our vision for student learning, through trial and error, reflection and sharing. I just hope that Alberta Education is prepared to support this kind of innovative practice in all schools around the province so that action will be taken to make the vision of Inspiring Education a reality for our students.

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