Long Hallways of Learning

Some of the strangest articles catch my eye as I scroll through social media. I have become much better at skipping the nonsense, like the bashing of politicians, the critiquing of social groups, or the ongoing debate over the colour of the dress (which is white and gold by the way). Last week, an article about an Arizona man caused me to stop and read. Cory Nielsen, also known by his YouTube moniker, The Penny Building Fool, was featured in a post that chronicled the story of his one-million penny pyramid. It is pretty cool to see what a $10,000 pyramid looks like, and the time-lapse photography is almost hypnotic in its presentation. Another interesting post showed a gentleman creating a diorama of a gold mine, complete with little hand-carved workers, lights, and faux foliage. Creations like these take a lot of time, planning, patience, revision, and effort. They are not merely thrown together at the last minute, at least not the ones that create a buzz online.

These incredible feats remind me of the work you have created this year. You have spent time planning, teaching, assessing, reflecting, refining, and repeating. You have taken every student from where they were on day one in September to where they are today. What a journey! Step back for a moment and look at what you have done. Look at where your students are on their path of learning, and look at the footprints beside theirs, can you see yours?

Like a great work of art, or a fantastic song, or a beautiful poem, or a delicately turned piece of wood, the learning you created for your students is just as awe-inspiring.

But there is a difference.

Eventually, the painting is completed and hung on the wall. At some point, the book is published and placed on the shelf. Ultimately the song is recorded and pressed into vinyl (or put on an 8-Track, right Corinne?). Your work is not like that. We do not simply work all year and, as June turns to July, walk away. This is a work of art that is ever evolving. This is a craft that takes an entire career to create. This has never been so evident to me as it has this year as I was able to watch, from the sidelines, two teachers at opposite ends of the teaching timeline. Briane has just walked through the front door of our profession and has started her journey down the long hallway that is a teaching career. She has begun to fill her shelves of learning and is starting to hang images on the wall in her hall. It is exciting to think what lies ahead of her, the limitless possibilities and the unknown students yet to experience her caring ways.

At the other end of the timeline is our dear friend and colleague Dwayne. At one point, he, just like Briane, walked through the front door of this profession, and I bet he can still remember that first day. His hallway shelves are stuffed with lessons learned. His walls are covered with pictures of students from years gone by. Various frames house the images of memories he must have from his years in the classroom, on the court, on the water, and on the trail. Over time the dust accumulates on these images, but with a light touch, they are brought back to life as if they had just happened yesterday. In one week, he will walk out the door of this profession but will take with him all the good that comes with a career’s worth of experience.

Each of us walks our own path and thankfully, we are not alone. We can stop and look behind us at the experiences we’ve had. We can recall lessons learned and use this information as we head forward into the unknown. Past experience does not allow us to know the future, but it does help remind us that if we prepare, if we are flexible, and if we are reflective, everything will be just fine.

Being the last blog post (maybe) for the 2018-19 school year, I’d like to invite you to consider the following questions:

1.    This year you worked with many learners, both young and not so young. Think carefully about each one. How did you impact their learning journey this year? What would they tell their loved ones about their experience with you as their learning leader?

2.    In a year full of working with our young learners, what are some of the highlights that you would celebrate? Would it be seeing a student make progress with their reading or writing? Would it be watching a student learn how to self-regulate their behaviour more effectively? Would it be seeing one of your students present at Learning for Life?

3.    We took time to think deeply about our assessment practices, and at times, our thinking was challenged. What changed for you this year? How will how your assessment look, sound, and feel different next year?

4.    As a staff, we dipped our toes into the Zones of Regulation to help support the work our EAs are doing, and as we prepare to close the door on this year, how has this program helped you help your learners? What are you still curious about?

5.    This year we have supported each other on our own journeys, and you have been important to many people. Looking back at the year, who has been there for you? How have you thanked them? Who have you been there for?

On a personal note, I want to thank each and every one of you for your support this year. When I was a much younger person, I was not always happy, and much of how I defined myself was formed from my school experience. I never felt as smart as the other students, nor did I feel like I really ‘fit in’ with my classmates. School was a difficult time for me, and what has been shocking for me is that so many of my classmates had similar feelings. For the past 20 years in education, my motivation, or as Simon Sinek calls it, my why, has been to create an environment where students do not fall victim to this same mindset. I know I have not accomplished my goal yet, but thanks to you and everything you do with our kids, I feel we are inching closer every day to actualizing this dream.

When I was invited to consider accepting the role as principal of your school, initially I was scared. Excited, yes, but scared. Every day is a chance for me to learn how to become a leader, and every day, all of you take the time to help me become better at what I do. I’ve just stepped through the front door of my principalship and have so much more to do, but I am so grateful that you are here to help guide me.

Please enjoy the last few days with your students, you are so important to them, please let them know how much they mean to you. Laugh lots, give out so many high-fives your palms glow red, play with your kids outside, cheer them on as they tackle their finals, talk to that elusive student that you’ve been meaning to connect with all year. Take time for yourself, and most of all, soak up the love from this year’s version of #WaldheimSchool, it is different from years past, and as always happens, it will be different next year.

As always, create another great week for those around you!

Here is what lies on the horizon for one final week

Monday

  • final exams continue for 10 – 12 students
  • no grade 7 Hepburn students for HE/IA
  • K – 9 progress reports should be to Corinne if possible
  • Bruce away
  • Kindergarten Grad

Tuesday

  • final exams continue
  • Kindergarten Grad

Wednesday

  • K – 9 progress reports sent home
  • Final day for all kids

Thursday

  • Grad
  • Transition meetings
  • Classroom clean up time (please take as much home as possible to ease the load on Jamie, Brandi, and Kelly)

Friday

  • 10 – 12 progress reports available for students
  • Final day for staff, please note there will be no access to the school until August 19th. If it is an emergency, please contact Jamie before coming in, there may be wet wax on the floor.

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The Gift of Missed Chances

I have always loved swimming, and from an early age I found it was one thing I was pretty good at. In my early teens, my best friend Paul and I worked with the staff at the local swimming pool to organize a speed swimming team, The Watrous Whitecaps. We were a group of kids that had no real idea what we were doing, but it was an excuse to get more time in the water. Eventually we became more organized and started competing regularly in different competitions across the province. I focused on the backstroke, and by the mid-eighties I was beginning to bring home some hardware from different meets.

In 1986 I had an opportunity to race in the provincial championships in Humboldt. I can still remember how the sky looked as I chugged along in my outside lane, and I can remember hearing my coach yelling encouragement from the poolside deck. I remember a lot about that race, especially the little things I did not do quite right. My start was not as strong as usual, I messed up on my second turn, and I miscounted my strokes on my final length of the 25 meter pool. In the end it was a fantastic experience, but it was a missed opportunity. You see, I was in first place for most of the race, but it was my final mistake, not completing that last stroke, that kept me off the podium. Fourth place. It was that close!

We all have these stories in our lives. Stories of times we just missed our goal. My goal was to finish in the top three at provincials, but I just came up a little short. Of course there is a flip side to that tale as well. A story of success. In the wake of my actions were many fond memories, and a swim team that, to this day, still competes. But my goodness would I have loved to have grabbed a medal.

You may notice a little change in this week’s blog post as I am going to focus on things that did not work out how I had hoped they would. I’m going to take a bit of time to reflect on the year and shed some light on some things I’d love to have a “do-over” on. Please do not view this as a pity-party or as a plea for your forgiveness, rather, it is simply a look back at 2018 – 19 and a look at some things that did not go how I’d hoped.

The Right Question at the Right Time was a goal I had set for myself at the start of the year. As an administrative team, Jesse and I had spent a lot of time discussing the gift of a great question. My goal was to formulate a mediative question for you, whether it was in your classroom while you were teaching, in the office during a discussion, on the playground during supervision, or over a Coke (or a Pepsi with Dwayne) in the staff room. Looking back, I think I started strong this year, I was very intentional, and then at some point, I started asking fewer questions. Inadvertently I left you with fewer gifts as a result.

I reflect on a perfect opportunity that passed me by on Friday as I was in Steve’s room for a moment with the grade 10 class. Steve and his learners were engaged in an amazing conversation about stereotyping in the media. One student was sharing his opinions, which were well thought out and articulated very clearly. What stood out to me was that this boy does not typically consider himself one of the “smart” kids, yet there he was, a leading voice in the room. What I wanted to ask Steve was, “what intentional moves have you made as a teacher this year to create an environment where student name feels so comfortable to share his opinions?” I should have asked that question. I missed a chance.

Intentional, Uninterrupted Conversations was something I was hoping to schedule this year with every staff member. As 2017-18 was drawing to a close, I was able to have a great conversation with a staff member who reflected on how helpful conversations like these were in her previous school. I put together a rough schedule for when I thought I could meet with different staff members, knowing some were ‘morning’ people while others seemed to have more time open after school. For a variety of reasons, this did not happen as frequently as I wanted. When a teacher approached me this spring about how having a brief, yet focused meeting like this would have been beneficial, I realized I missed an opportunity.

Something I really appreciate is the way all of you have found a way to carve out time to come and speak with me from time to time. These conversations have varied from issues that need to be dealt with immediately to casual conversations about life, about learning, and about the little things that occur daily at school. What this tells me is that there is a need for this, and you are all figuring out a way to make this work. What I do not like about this is the message it sends; my time is more valuable than yours, and you need to ‘check’ if it’s a good time for the principal to talk. I should have scheduled those meetings. I missed a chance.

Covering Your Classes was something I have always wanted to do more of since becoming an in-school administrator. I recall for years as a teacher feeling that at times, my administrator did not fully appreciate what I was going through in my classroom, not only the struggles but the highlights as well. I always thought it would be great for my principal to spend some time with my struggling mathematicians or with my exceptional welders. I wondered how they would feel if they’d spent an hour immersed in our deep conversations in psychology or how they would differentiate an ELA lesson for 29 grade five students; eight of which were below to well below grade level and five of which were all well above grade level.

I did have a chance to cover some classes this year, and it was nice to have the classroom teacher feeling again. Most recently, I was able to cover Kindergarten for June, even if it was just for half an hour. I do think June was little concerned though, she did pop in and ask how I was doing (I couldn’t bring myself to answer honestly, I was floundering). Having the opportunity to work with the K-class reminded me that I wanted to do more of this. I should have covered some classes for you this year. I missed a chance.

A shoe factory sends two marketing scouts to a region of Africa to study the prospects for expanding business.

One sends back a telegram saying, SITUATION HOPELESS STOP NO ONE WEARS SHOES

The other writes back triumphantly, GLORIOUS BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY STOP THEY HAVE NO SHOES

The above anecdote reflects the choice I get to make. Do I look back at 2018-19 and feel hopeless because of the chances I missed, or do I think about the glorious opportunities that lie ahead?

On Monday we will have a chance to hear two more learning stories, Jesse’s and Dan’s, and then we will have an opportunity to do our own reflecting. I think it is important to make a note of those chances we may have missed, and then look at the opportunities they create. Cara shared one of the most insightful comments I’ve heard in years in her presentation. She spoke about a tough situation she was facing with a parent. Cara did everything she could to come to know this parent’s child as well as she could so, together, they could make the best decision possible. During this process, Cara’s assessment practices were impacted, and this had a ripple effect on what she did in class, and in the end, every student benefited from this tough situation. Cara found a glorious opportunity in a “shoeless” situation.

What missed chances will be your gifts for 2019-2020?

Here’s what is on the horizon for this week:

Monday:

  • Staff learning meeting with two more presentations, a reflection activity, and a look towards next year.
  • June, Brenda, and Kim are observing a pre-K student in Saskatoon to assist with a transition plan

Tuesday:

  • The annual Jones Awards! The students are excited about another opportunity to come together to share some laughs and showcase their talents

Wednesday:

  • Showcase of Excellence takes place during period three. We will celebrate the academic, athletic, and artistic accomplishments of many of our students
  • Final day of classes for grade 10 to 12 students
  • Jesse is away today at an admin planning team meeting

Thursday:

  • Final exams begin for students in grade 10 – 12 (regular classes continue for all other classes)

Friday:

  • Kindergarten orientations take place today (typically we use the library for this)

As always, create a great week!

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Delivering Your Denouement

As the curtain closed the cheers echoed off the gymnasium walls as the audience signaled their appreciation for the show they had just experienced. For close to two hours, children and adults alike were captured by the performance of the Waldheim School drama club. This diverse collection of young thespians performed their version of The Lion King, and those in attendance loved it! The singing, the acting, the lighting, the make-up, the costumes, the set, the choreography, all coming together to create a magical moment.

The following morning students began to slowly make their way into the school for another day of learning, however this day was not typical for some. A grade ten boy who played an important role in the performance the night before approached the gym doors. I watched him as he slowly opened them. He must have known what he was going to see, but it seemed as though he secretly was hoping it would not be true. He turned away with a forlorn look on his face, and when our eyes met, he said, “I can’t believe it’s done!” This young man who lives and dies with the fate of his favorite NBA team had always had just one dream, to play basketball. This year, he reluctantly signed up for the drama production, and found a new passion, the arts. A student who is usually just on time for period one was one of the first students on campus this day. His friends began to file in and they started to reflect on the night before. Talk began to turn to the future, and to what they would tackle next year. They were planning while the feeling was fresh. They were imagining opportunities before the final decorations were even removed from the walls. They had just delivered their greatest performance and were already contemplating possibilities.

It reminds me of the feeling we have as leaders of learning this time of year. As students are marking X’s on their calendars, we are imagining opportunities. For some of us, change is in the air. Sharlene and Andrea will be sharing a class, as will Jade and Brenda. Laura and Robynn will be joining our family, while Dwayne will be enjoying a Pepsi while wondering how Alaina is doing. Bobby-Jo and Katharine will be taking on more leadership as they jump into the LF role, while Steve and Shantel will continue serve as mentors to them. Mitchell and Katie are off to new schools where they will undoubtedly continue to grow as amazing teachers. For the rest of us the change is not as significant, but just as exciting. New students, new rooms, new assignments, and new curricula will certainly keep us sharp as we look towards the new school year with our keen #2020Vision.

Just as the students are already discussing next year’s performance, we too are thinking about next year. We have been invited to think about how our professional learning goals align with the division’s Strategic Planning Framework. When you think about what you want to work on for next year I’d invite you to think in a way similar to how the young actors are thinking:

What play would the audience love to watch?

Notice how this is different than thinking, what play would I love to perform? In the same way if we think about our professional goal(s) as a means to serving our students we will be more likely to have a greater impact on their learning. So, where does your goal live? How does your work empower your students while supporting the division’s Strategic Planning Framework?

It is often said that great teaching is a mix of the art and science of the profession, and some days we may feel like actors on a stage, and while we do need to think on the spot, it can’t always be improvisation. Great teaching, which leads to deep learning is scripted. It’s rehearsed. It’s delivered. It’s refined. In the end, while there may not be a standing ovation, we hope it has an impact on our audience. With three weeks left we are now into the final scenes of this play, enjoy the rest of the performance as you deliver your denouement.

Here is what is on the horizon this week:

Monday:

  • Gr. 5 Clip & Climb trip
  • Gr. 6 Camping Trip
  • Student celebration ceremony discussion

Tuesday:

  • Jr. Girls Soccer Playoffs (Mitchell taking team to Stobart)
  • Jesse & Bruce at ALT (Steve is acting admin)
  • Elementary school swimming in Martensville

Wednesday:

  • Annual ball tournament (teachers, bring your glove and clothes for the teacher/student ball game)

Thursday:

  • Grade 10 Wanuskewin/U of S trip

Friday:

  • Elementary swimming
  • Grade 1 & 1/2 Wanuskewin Trip

As always, create a great week!

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What Did They Tell You?

We have been putting it off for a while now and every so often we are reminded of the need to get at it! Sometimes it’s easier to just close the doors and pretend they are not there, but that does not change the reality that hides within. It’s the closet in our front entrance, and it is home to a collection of shoes and boots. It is a collection that continues to grow and this weekend it’s go time! For some shoes, it literally is go time as they head to the dumpster (i.e. an old pair that Bella decided to munch on).

We have a few areas like this in our home, some are frustrating, like shoe mountain, others are more interesting, like the bins of work the twins have brought home from Kindergarten this year. After every day at school, the two of them would dig out their creation of the day and proudly explain what it was. Never being able to throw things out, we would ‘file it’ in their bins that we had set up for just this purpose. Looking through them at this time of year is fun, and is an opportunity to see the growth that has occurred during the year. I’m sure you also have areas like this in your homes, they could be the photo albums, the memory boxes, the garage, or the attic, but they are collections. Collections, when viewed as more than just ‘things’ can tell us a story.

Last week, a few of us from school had a chance to look at a collection that has been steadily growing during the year at division office. I recall looking at the learning wall earlier this school year and noted how well organized and neat it appeared. Upon my most recent viewing, the first thing I noticed was how it had grown to become almost overwhelming at first glance. There are stories upon stories upon stories on the wall in the form of data, pictures, hand written notes, and tweets. All of these various stories, both big and small, are like trees in a forest, and on the wall lives a forest of learning. As we listened to different people walk us through information on the wall, I began to reflect on our own forests of learning in our school.

Last August, I recall a conversation with Cara in her classroom. In an almost apologetic tone, she spoke about the bare walls in her classroom. “They’ll get better” she promised, “eventually there will be student work up there”. I remember thinking to myself that they were perfect just the way they were. Cara, like the rest of you, had set up several blank canvases for the students to work on during the year. Cara, like the rest of you, did not fill the walls with a story for the kids to learn, rather, you set up the walls as a place for kids to write their story. When I began teaching I was taught that I had to have my bulletin boards all ready to go for day one. I spent money I didn’t have at supply stores buying posters I didn’t need. I could have saved myself so much time and money had I been a little more open to setting up a canvas versus setting up a gallery.

As we welcome the month of June, it is now a perfect opportunity to step back and take an intentional look at the stories your students have written for you. Better yet, invite a colleague into your room and ask them what they see. What stories have the students told this year? As you look at the various pieces of evidence each student has given you, what does the data say? How does this data support your observations? How do the data and observations reflect what you have learned through your conversations? We are closing in on the final stages of the 2018-19 school year, and we know how hectic things can get. Be intentional about taking some time to close your door and have a quiet moment of reflection on all of the evidence you’ve collected this year. Your students have written their stories for you, it would be a shame not to read them.

Now, time to tackle shoe mountain!

Here is what is on the horizon this week:

Monday:

  • Staff learning meeting, presentations continue!

Tuesday:

  • Bruce away

Wednesday:

  • Lion King matinee performance

Thursday:

  • Lion King evening performance

Friday:

  • Gr. 4 – 6 track & field meet at Waldheim School (Hepburn, Rosthern, Stobart, Waldheim)

As always, create a great week!

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