Quality Pro-D: Does it count?

First, a disclaimer. This is not going to be a politically slanted post. The reason I put the “Does it Count” in the title is that three things have got me thinking about teacher professional development today. The first is provincial government’s decision to have more oversight of teacher Pro-D. I am not going to comment on how I feel about that decision right now, but it did get me thinking about what sorts of things that the government thinks would “count” as pro-d. 

Some of the other things that got me thinking about professional development are things I can safely group together. Over Spring break, when parusing Twitter I came across the idea of coffeeEDU. ( coffeeEDU.org ). The idea is that teachers get together over coffee to discuss ideas and practice. That was followed a couple of days later by being invited to an Ignite Night in North Vancouver. For those of you who don’t know, an Ignite Night is an opportunity for teachers to meet at a restaurant and listen to other teachers present ideas that they are excited or passionate about. It was the last Ignite Night that I attended that inspired me to write this blog. The final item in this group of events that got me thinking about Pro-d was a conversation I had with Joy (since I have mentioned her I am sure to have more people view this post). She was talking about ways that our SEAs could find ways to collaborate and share ideas with each other. The thing that all of these things have in common is both their informal nature and how valuable they can be to teachers in growing their professional practice. 

The final thing that got me thinking about Pro-d happened today. This weekend there is a Google Apps For Education Summit happening inVancouver that I wanted to attend but couldn’t. I was, however, able to learn from this conference by following Jodie Sussex and other attendees on Twitter as they attend the conference over the course of the day. Over the past year or so I have come to admire Jodie for the way she has embraced Twitter as a way to grow professionally and to share her learning with others. 

I am not sure where the future of teacher professional development in B.C. is headed in the future, but what I do know is that theses opportunities for teachers to share their expertise and ideas with others is very important and effective Pro-d. 

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Advice Needed- Poker Face

I think that there is an important skill that I need to develop and I need your advice to help me do it. I need to develop a poker face. I think that all too often what I am feeling inside is written on my face. Particularly when I am upset or annoyed, no matter how hard I try, my face betrays me. I feel that as a teacher, but particularly as an administrator, I need to find a way to present a completely calm exterior when my interior feels like screaming.

I have been working on this for some time now with limited success. So I decided to put the problem out there and ask for advice. And how much more out there can you get than the internet? So please, if you would, what advice do you have for me to help me develop my poker face?

6 Ways For Teachers To “Walk The Walk”

As a teacher, one of my main goals in my classroom and in my school is to foster a culture of learning. I hope that by the time that students leave my classroom at the end of the year, that beyond any of the “stuff” that they learn, that they leave with a sense of curiosity and have developed skills that will help them to use that sense of curiosity to learn new and wonderful things.

I have learned an amazing number of things in my years as a teacher, and one of them is that kids are smart. I am not talking about book smart. I am talking about smart in the sense that they can sense from a mile away when an adult is being phony. They can tell when we are not practicing what we preach. Below are a few ideas that will help us to ensure that we not only talk the talk but walk the walk when it comes to being a lifelong learner. Don’t think for an instant that these are not things that I have perfected. I still need to grow as much, if not more, than others that I know. I am merely writing on some of the things that I am focussing on in my quest to promote learning in my students and to promote lifelong learning.

1. Ensure That You are Diligent In Your Administrative Tasks

As teachers, we constantly get after kids to ensure that their homework is completed on time, that they put care into the presentation of their work, and to be organized in their physical space. If we, as teachers, do the same, we are sending the message to our students that we value in ourselves the same qualities that we expect from our students.

2. Learn Something New

It doesn’t matter what it is. Learn or try something new and share it with our students. It may be that, in our adult lives, that we want to learn how to play the piano or that we want to learn a new language. The message that it sends to students is that learning for it’s own sake is something to be valued, not just as something to be done in school, but in life. It shows them that curiosity is not merely the realm of children, but that even adults want to learn and grow,

3. Read Something That Helps You Grow In Your Practice

Again, it doesn’t really matter what it is. Right now I am reading Mindset by Carol Dweck. I am moving through it slowly as I take the bus to work in the mornings, but I share what I am reading about with my students. The kids in my class not only hear me tell them how important that I think reading is, but they see me read and they hear me talk about what I am reading. Not only does this model the behaviour I hope to see in my students, it helps me grow as a professional by learning from what I read.

4. Work Collaboratively With Your Colleagues

We hope that students will work effectively in partner and group situations in our classroom. We recognize collaboration as a life skill that is important for students to possess. We then spend our time before and after school alone in our classrooms, working in isolation from the people around us. Since I have become vice-principal I have had the opportunity to really see the diverse gifts and strengths of all of the people that I work with. If we found ways to work together more effectively, our school would be better able to serve the students that we work with.

5. Reflect On Your Learning

One of the things that we, as teachers, hope that our students will become is self-reflective learners. We hope, that their learning will not be accidental and that they will take the time to reflect on the things that they learn in order for it to better integrate itself with the rest of the things that they already know. We should apply the same standards to ourselves. As we learn and grow as professionals, we should find the time and the means to reflect and look back on what we are learning. To me, this has been the main benefit of blogging. It has helped me to solidify my own thoughts about school and about education.

6. Take Chances

We ask students to take chances and do things outside of their comfort zone all the time. For some, it is in doing oral presentations, for others it is putting their thinking in writing. For others still, it is in working on Math problems. Teachers should expect the same from ourselves. We should push ourselves to experience a little bit of stress in trying new things or trying things that make us sweat just a little bit.

I hope to not only encourage others, but to push myself to walk the walk in a more visible way to my students and to help them to grow as lifelong learners.

Leadership

I have recently spent a little time going through all of the files of my computer and trying to put them in better order, giving them a spring cleaning if you will. I started reading through some of the things I wrote for my Masters Degree that I did through Gonzaga University a few years ago. While most of the writing is too long to share on a blog (particularly my capstone project on Literature Circles), I came across a short piece that I decided to share. We were asked to write a short (for a graduate paper) belief statement on what we think school leadership should be. I discovered in re-reading it, that my perspective hasn’t changed all that much. While I may choose to word sections slightly differently, it still holds the core of how I feel about school leadership. I would love to hear your perspective. Perhaps things I have forgotten, or that you don’t agree with.

  I believe that the best leader is the one you don’t notice; just as in sports, the best referees are the ones that no one is talking about after the game. I believe that the best leader is measured not by his results, but by the results of those he leads. I believe that the best leader is the one that brings forth the best questions, not the best answers.

            In order to make this vision a reality, it is key find a shared direction, or mission. Only once this direction is clear can people begin to move forward together. It allows everyone to speak a common, positive, supportive language. By having this clear sense of mission, a leader is able to lead without being the focal point of everything that is going on. The key focal point of a school truly should be the students.

            As much as it sounds contradictory, one of the most important marks of leadership is to give authority away. Everyone in a school needs to feel that they have important contributions to make. This builds confidence to act independently and make decisions. By empowering others to act, it builds the capacity of the school to serve others.

            Questions, not answers are the key to a school’s success. With all members of a school sharing this “questing” spirit, they not only tackle current problems, but bring up new, worthwhile questions. This spirit promotes innovation and creativity, while pursuing the best possible education for the students that we serve.

            Leadership is service. It is getting the most out of the people that you lead so that they in turn can be, to the fullness of their capacity, of service to the most important people in a school, the students.

That’s Not Fair!

Today I have a student that probably thinks that I am the meanest, least fair teacher he has ever met. I decided to hold him out of an activity that he really wanted to do because I felt that his participation might be unsafe to others.

In schools we are always having to balance the needs of each individual with the collective good of the group. As a parent I understand the important role that parents have in advocating for the needs of their child. They are the most important voice for their kids at a time where the kids aren’t neccesarily capable of advocating for themselves in a mature way. The voice of parents in schools is very important and is one that  teachers need to listen and respond to.

As teachers and administrators in school we have the important role of balancing the needs of all of the children in our care. We need to strive to create an environment where no one gains at the expense of others. That is not to say that we need to treat every kid the same. As one of my colleagues is fond of saying, just because one kid needs glasses doesn’t mean we are going to start handing them out to everyone.

As a school it is important to maintain that delicate tug of war between the needs of the individual and the needs of the group. I hope that as a school community we can continue to work together to maintain that balance.

Ensuring Online Privacy and Safety For Students

I have written previously about all of the opportunities that new technologies are providing for students to be both consumers and creators of knowledge. These opportunities are exciting  to me and motivating to students. All of these new opportunities  do, however, need to be tempered with a view to ensuring the safety and security of our students in this online world. In the rest of our school environments we ensure that we lock doors, fence in our property, provide tumbling mats, and ensure that students are supervised by adults when participating in school activities. It is important for schools to put the same amount of thoughtful care into our students’ online school environments. How can we do this? I have a few suggestions.

Make Sure Your Networks/Hardware/Settings are Well Thought Out
It is important that before we  put technology in the hands of kids that we think about things like firewalls, virus protection, and network and app security settings have been planned out in a thoughtful way. Just as we wouldn’t set our kids to play on a playground tgat hasn’t been properly set up, we shouldn’t let our kids into an online environment that hasn’t been thoughtfully planned out.

Moderate
I love having my kids blog. It allows them to share their learning with a broader audience that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to. I do also know from experience that there are times that kids write things that are either insensitive or downright rude. That is why I moderate our blog. I need to read and approve all comments and posts before they go online. This allows me to be a gatekeeper between what my students write and what they make public.

Set Guidelines
As teachers we work out guidelines for what we expect from our students in all areas of our physical classroom. Why would this be any different online? Students need guidelines that remind them what information should and shouldn’t be shared, what your expectations are forvthe activity that they are participating in, and how you want them to interact with others.

Talk To Them. Often.
I think I do a pretty good job talkin ng to my students about online safety. It is a topic we talk about in one form or another every few months. It never fails, though, that at least once a year someone will come and talk to me about other students with open instagram or facebook accounts, youtube videos that no one knows about, or someone finding ways to be hurtful to others online. These are the teachable moments that we need to embrace that allow us to have a discussion with our students.

The safety of our students is of paramount importance to all of the teachers that I know. We need to work together to ensure that their online environments are as safe as their physical environments.

Promoting A Culture Of Change

I have found the last couple of months to be some of the most exciting of my career. This stems directly from having the opportunity to see a number of my colleagues pushing themselves to change and to embrace new things.

I came into school the other day and saw Joy (guest blogger in the making) excitedly shooting video in iMovie because she had taken the initiative to take a course at the Apple store. Her excitement rubbed off on our music teacher and now she and I are planning to take a course to learn Garage Band. I walked into our computer lab today and saw our second grade students blogging. One of our Kindergarten teachers has embraced the idea of Genius Hour. These are only a few examples of my colleagues and friends embracing change and dedicating themselves to life long learning.

I feel extremely fortunate to work where I do. Our principal not only encourages us in embracing new things, but backs it up by supporting us as we push ourselves into trying new things. Our whole staff seems more like a family than a group of coworkers most of the time. Change can be difficult, but it is easier when you are surrounded by people who challenge, support and encourage you.