So That’s WHY I Love Autumn.

Every year, as the leaves change and begin to form their colorful carpet on the ground, I am always reminded of a stay in the hospital years ago. It was in the fall of 1987. I had just graduated from high school a few months earlier and was in the midst of my new career as a petroleum transportation specialist (aka: I was delivering gas and diesel to farms in and around the Watrous area). I was diagnosed with mononucleosis, and I ended up being admitted to our local hospital. What I recall is looking out the window from my bed seeing the beautiful trees, wishing I could go out for a walk.

For several reasons, autumn is my favorite time of year. I love the cool, crisp air, my favorite sport, hockey, is starting up, my birthday is in the fall, and school returns to session. I loved returning to school every year, not so much for the learning, but for the chance to be with all my friends every day. At least I used to think that was why I loved going back.

Simon Sinek, in his TEDTalk (here) invites us to think about our why. I’ve written about this in the past, and am a firm believer in the importance of understanding our why. When I apply this thinking to how I feel about this time of year, I am able to identify what is at the heart of these feelings. I can identify my why.

I want to live in a world where everyone strives to make the people they meet feel better about themselves because of their interactions.

Another way to put it, I want people to feel better about themselves walking away from an interaction with me than they did walking into the interaction. This can be as simple as a conversation with the barista at Starbucks or as complex as a crucial conversation with a student, parent, or teacher. Regardless of the duration of the interaction, there is always a beginning and an end, and if the person or people I’ve been communicating with feel better about themselves at the end, I have honored my why. Before you start saying, “but how is this possible”, you have to understand, I am not always successful at this. There are many times people walk away from me frustrated or angry. I can, and probably will, write a whole blog post about what I feel is my greatest failing, why I am the hardest on those closest to me?

So, how does this relate to falling leaves? It took me a while to work through this, but I believe it has to do with routine. Like every child, I loved my summer break, and as an educator, I still look forward to July and August. But it’s routine that I crave, and every year, the falling leaves remind me of this, like clockwork. In a CNN.com article, it is noted that a “new study found that [a normal daily rhythm] is linked to improvements in mood and cognitive functioning as well as a decreased likelihood of developing major depression and bipolar disorder”. It is this predictable routine of the school year that helps me live my why.

I want to live in a world where everyone strives to make the people they meet feel better about themselves because of their interactions. What better place to do this, than at school? I get to work with learners, both young and old every day, and every interaction is an opportunity to feed my why. With over 380 students, over 25 staff, and countless family and community members, I have, at my disposal, a massive number of opportunities to feed my why.

That’s why I loved returning every year from summer break. That’s why I love going to work every day. That’s why autumn is my favorite time of year. It’s a signal that I’m returning to that routine that means so much to me. The routine that helps feed my why.

What do YOU think?

  • what is your why?
  • how are some of your favorite places, activities, seasons related to your why?
  • in what ways to do you actively seek out situations that feed your why?
  • when you are feeling down, depressed, or just out of sorts, do these feelings represent a misalignment with your why?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Unbalanced Days: How Do They Impact Your School?

One of the most exciting things about the role of the Principal is that it is rare that any two days will be the same. Yes, there is the one constant, decision making, but what is consistent is the new, exciting situations that pop up every day. These moments challenge us, they force us to think, sometimes outside of the box, and they always allow us to revisit our philosophy of learning leadership.

Today was another whirlwind day at school — a day filled with managerial work, and not nearly enough time in classrooms. A day of conversations with government agencies, fellow administrators, parents, and yes, a few students who came by the office to visit. It was a day dominated by e-mails, phone calls, and paperwork. But in the life of a Principal, sometimes those days happen.

Typically, I draw my energy from the students in our building. Nothing is more fun than dancing with Kindergarten students then chatting with the senior math students. I get a kick out of listening to kids read and then watching others play volleyball. It is getting to be a part of the variety of learning that I enjoy the most. Today, that only accounted for approximately one hour of my day, which is significantly less than usual. 

But, I’m not depressed or distressed by this. The work that we did today had to be done. It was timely work that needed our attention, and it was work that the leadership team completed. And just because it was not in the classrooms or hallways, it still reflected our philosophy: we make our decisions based on what is best for our learners. What stood out, however, was how unbalanced it was, and that is not typical.

So, what do YOU think?

  • as a learning leader, how is your time typically spent?
  • when your day feels unbalanced, as mine did today, how do you reflect on that?
  • as a learning leader, if you are required to spend the bulk of your day on the phone, in meetings, etc. how does this make your staff feel?
  • with so much going on in our buildings every day, how do you, as an effective learning leader, distribute the leadership in your building?

Please feel free to leave a comment or post a reply.

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Beyond Assumptions: Lifting the Hood

“Without data, you are just another person with an opinion” – Andrea Scheicher, OECD

This summer I attempted to sell my car. I’ve had my fun, little convertible for about ten years, but every summer I find I use it less and less, to the point where it is time to part with it. I polished it up, took several pictures from various angles, and posted it online. Then, the waiting game. Not too long after it listed, I started fielding inquiries from different individuals from across Canada. The correspondence followed a typical pattern; is it still available? Can you tell me a little more about the car? Could I get some more pictures? Are you flexible on the asking price? Can I come take it for a drive?

I never did sell the car. I have the feeling I may have over-valued it, but maybe that’s because deep down, in my middle-aged heart, I do not want to let go of it…yet. So in the garage it sits for another winter.

I think about the ad for my car, and think about how those potential buyers only saw a glimpse of the vehicle. The did not check the fluids, crawl underneath, listen to the engine, or take it for a test drive. All that they knew was what they saw, the rest would all be assumed.

How often do we do this with our learners? Last week I mentioned John Hattie’s 8 mind frames for teachers, and spoke specifically about mind frame number one. Hattie states, my fundamental task is to evaluate the effect of my teaching on students’ learning and achievement. This is not easy to do!

Prior to thinking deeply about this, I would look at my students in much the same way a potential buyer might look at my car. I would plan, deliver, assess, and refine my lessons, however, what was missing was a thorough investigation of what was going on ‘under the hood’ for each learner. Much of my reflection would involve assumptions.

What are we doing? At #WaldheimSchool, we have been on a journey with the vision being every adult developing a deep and thorough understanding of every learner they work with. From there, our mission was clear; how do we respond to what we know? Which lead to this year, and our goal of inviting the staff to partake in an inquiry process that will help us go deeper in our understanding of and response to our learners.

Click for larger view.

To help in this process, we have adopted a spiral of inquiry approach to better understand what is going on for our learners. Based on the work (here) of Linda Kaser and Judy Halbert, we are focusing on the questions, what is going on for our learners? How do we know? Why does is it matter? As we seek to move beyond assumptions, our process has started with a commitment to scanning our learners. At our last staff learning meeting we invited the teachers to ‘lift the hoods’ of some students by asking them four questions:

  1. Can you name two people in this setting who believe you will be a success in life?
  2. What are you learning and why is it important?
  3. How is it going with your learning?
  4. What are your next steps?

It will be exciting to hear from the teachers at our next learning meeting to not only see what they learned about their students, but what they learned about the effect of their teaching on students’ learning and achievement.

What do YOU think? Regardless of position, we are all involved in the learning process and we are constantly working with learners. You may be an EA working with certain students, a teacher leading a class, an in-school administrator facilitating adult learning, or a system leader leading learning at a higher level, we are all part of the journey. I’d invite you to engage with these questions as they relate to your role and setting:

  • how are you going beyond assumptions with your learners?
  • how often do you think about the how, why, and when of your reflections on learning?
  • who are your allies that are walking with you on your learning journey?
  • who is counting on YOU for their learning journey?

Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear what YOU think.

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Evaluating Your Effect

Early in my career, I often thought about student behavior, not from the students’ perspective, but from my own. There were (and still are) many instances where students were off task in my class, and often the signals were as bright as a flashing, neon sign. It was like they were calling out to me, in their own way, telling me that things were not right for them in that moment.

It might be easiest to reflect on the noisy, rambunctious students who would often blurt out answers, distract peers, or just be loud for, what seemed, no good reason. I would utilize several strategies; proximity, lowering my voice, asking a question, taking a knee beside the student and asking them to stop. Most of the time the strategies would work, sometimes they would not.

There were also those students who were sending signals in a different way. Students who sat quietly, disengaged. These students, it seemed, were not interested in what we were discussing. It appeared as though they had learned how to ‘play the game of school’. It was like they thought, “if I don’t cause trouble, I won’t get trouble.” I really wonder how many of these students I failed to reach over the years.

I feel bad about that.

In his eight mind frames for teachers, John Hattie states, “my fundamental task is to evaluate the effect of my teaching on students’ learning and achievement.

I was too focused on evaluating the effect of my teaching on students’ behavior. Instead of looking at their behavior as an indicator of engagement, relevance, or rigor, I looked at their behavior as a reflection of who they were as students. I was also only observing and judging, not sitting beside and asking.

What do YOU think? Whether you are an EA informing and supporting learning, a teacher working with a classroom of students, or a school or system leader working with a staff, you can evaluate your effect.

  • how can we strengthen how we use observations to evaluate our effect? How do we go deeper?
  • what are some ways to collect data that will help us evaluate our effect on learning?
  • when you hear the word ‘data’ you might think of test scores, however they do not always tell the whole story. What are other forms of data that can be collected in efficient, meaningful ways?
  • what are some ways you invite feedback from your learners?
  • how do you help your learners develop their ability to give you meaningful feedback that you can analyze?
  • in your opinion, how are behavior and achievement linked? Is this different when considering adult learning?

Let’s keep the conversation going. Add your comments below.

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Day One: Your Impact Begins

A new year is upon us as our students arrive bright and early tomorrow morning. We have just enjoyed a relaxing summer, where we were able to recharge our batteries and are now ready to begin the 2019-2020 learning journey. Over the past two weeks I’ve seen all of you digging into your work, preparing for your students. Rooms are ready, lessons are planned, assessment strategies are in place and all we need now are our young learners. Are you excited? I am! Are you nervous? I am! I have to wonder how our students are feeling.

In our house, our four kids are ready to go. Bobby is looking forward to meeting Mr. Evans and seeing his buddies from last year. Eva has loved school from day one, and cannot wait to see what is new in grade four this year. The twins, Charlie and Maggie, are excited to be heading to grade one where they will be attending full time, even though Charlie has said he could use a little more time off. As a parent, I’m wondering how their teachers will get to know them. How will they engage them? How will they challenge them? How will they gather feedback from them to make tomorrow better than today?

Last week, at our opening staff learning meeting, we discussed John Hattie’s 8 Mind Frames for Teachers, as shown below:

  1. My fundamental task is to evaluate the effect of my teaching on students’ learning and achievement.
  2. The success and failure of my students’ learning is about what I do or don’t do. I am a change agent.
  3. I want to talk more about learning than teaching.
  4. Assessment is about my impact.
  5. I teach through dialogue not monologue.
  6. I enjoy the challenge and never retreat to “doing my best”.
  7. It’s my role to develop positive relationships in class and staff rooms.
  8. I inform all about the language of learning.

We had a very good discussion about these mind frames with our colleagues, even if it was slightly rushed. As you revisit this list, what are your thoughts about day one? How are you going to evaluate your effect every day? How will you keep the phrase, I am a change agent, in mind every day? Who will do the talking tomorrow? When does assessment begin in your classes? Will there be kids who walk out tomorrow who have not talked with you? What challenge are you looking forward to tomorrow? What will your impact be on the relationships in the staff room? Will you engage with your students’ parents tomorrow? How?

For some of us, tomorrow is day one of what has the potential to be a long, successful career. For others, it is another day one, like others that have come and gone. And for others still, it might be our very last day one. Regardless of the stage you are at, know that we cannot do this without you. What we are striving to accomplish; every adult will have a deep and thorough understanding of every student we work with as a learner, is a massive undertaking. Together we are better. Through collective teacher efficacy, there is nothing we cannot do. That’s what is so special about #WaldheimSchool. It’s an us with them mentality, not an us versus them mentality.

Enjoy day one. Create a great day for every student. And never forget: KNOW THY IMPACT!

Create a great week!

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