Assume Less, Understand More

The laughter and banter filled the dressing room as my teammates and I were getting ready for the big game. Nothing was really on the line, but when you are 11 years old every game feels like the Stanley Cup final, and this Saturday afternoon contest was no different. I had everything on but my skates, and as I rummaged through the old red canvas bag the realization hit me, I left my skates in the porch! The night before I had been at the outdoor skating rink with my buddies, and upon returning home I forgot to put my skates in my equipment bag. I had assumed mom would do that for me. I assumed wrong.

I remember as if it were yesterday. Tears filled my eyes as it became clear I wouldn’t get to play, I was so upset. Seeing me crying in the corner, my coach asked me what was wrong, and after I explained it to him, he quickly took me to the caretaker’s room where I phoned my dad. I told dad what happened, and within 15 minutes my skates were at the rink. To this day I’m not sure how fast dad drove, but I’m sure he was taking a significant risk zooming down the frozen Saskatchewan highway on a Saturday afternoon. In the end, I was able to play and to be honest, I do not remember anything from the game, just the sinking feeling in my gut and the relief when dad ran into the dressing room. He never yelled at me, or made me feel bad, he just helped me tie my skates and sent me on my way. What an incredible dad. I sure miss him.

The mistake I made that day was that I assumed my skates would be where they always were. I assumed that just because mom had put them there before, she would do it again. I assumed everything was fine. I think about this because I wonder if we are making a lot of assumptions about our students. Had I taken a moment to check my equipment bag I’d have noticed my skates were missing. What are we missing in our schools because we are assuming?

I recall several occasions of being guilty of assuming students understood the content I was delivering. I would explain the big idea for the lesson, proceed to demonstrate two or three examples on the board, and then, with good intentions, ask if everyone understood. I assumed they had grasped the concept. I assumed they knew what to do. I assumed. Of course, I would then be frustrated when several students would ask questions when I had just shown them three examples on the board. I assumed they understood what I was teaching them. Assumptions can be dangerous things, and when situations go sideways, it may be because we assumed one thing and were then faced with another. We need to be careful to not judge the whole iceberg just by what we see on the surface, and I’ve been reminded during my career of the importance of watching, talking, and listening.

Watching: I do not mean setting up a chair in the hallway and staring at kids, teachers, and parents, that would be creepy, I mean is being present in the halls, the classrooms, and on the playground. I mean being intentional. When I’m out of the office, I always try to watch how groups of kids interact with each other and make mental notes of what I see. Who is normally hanging out with who? Where do groups of kids typically congregate? What is their normal day-to-day behavior? Certain patterns begin to emerge, and what you then start to see is when things are out of the ordinary. The investment of time watching allows you to notice when things are ‘off’. If you are never watching, then you will never spot unusual behavior, this could lead to assumptions.

Talking: It’s amazing how willing students are to engage in conversations if you just stop and sit beside them. In my classes when I assumed the students understood, I talked to the students. Had I talked with the students I’d have quickly learned if they actually understood or were merely trying to avoid looking lost. There are many opportunities to sit and talk with kids on a daily basis, and I’ve found they are very willing to share what they are learning about or what they are currently busy with outside of school. Of course, the warning that comes with this is when you engage with a student in the primary grades. You need to be ready to invest a good chunk of time, especially if they are going to share exciting stories about a new pet, a trip to grandmas, or a lost tooth. Taking time to talk with students shows them you care and it creates an opportunity for the real magic: listening.

Listening: Stopping and talking opens the door for an opportunity that so many of our students need; someone to listen. Most of the time if you listen to students you will hear them tell you about the great things that are happening in their lives, they love to celebrate accomplishments or talk about fun activities they have been a part of. However, there are times when they need you to listen because something is troubling them. This is when you need to do something so important: be quiet. I learned a long time ago the power of listening to hear versus listening to speak. If you sit back and observe people talking, you usually hear them talking about themselves, frequently building upon what someone else has said. If you are listening to speak, that is what you are doing. You are hearing their words, but thinking about your experiences, and are waiting to jump in with your story. When you are listening to understand, you are not going to talk about you, you are likely going to ask questions about their story.

By watching, talking, and listening a person will begin to assume less and understand more.

Everything I wrote about was focused on students, but see how it works for you when you change the word student to teacher, co-worker, friend, or spouse. Watching, talking and listening are potent alternatives to assuming, after all, had I taken the time to look in my hockey bag, asked mom, or even better, listened to her the first time she told me to pack my equipment, I would not have assumed I had what I needed.

Here is what is on the horizon this week:

Monday:

  • Final day of semester 1
  • 9 – 12 staff learning meeting AGENDA

Tuesday:

  • Prep day for teachers
  • Bruce away all day

Wednesday:

  • First day of semester 2

Thursday:

  • Watching, talking and listening during class visits

Friday:

  • 7 – 12 progress reports and comments due to office

As always, create a great week!

 384 total views

Moving the Ring

As I peeled the wrapping paper off, I began to realize what the gift was, and I started summoning my inner acting skills. Once again my in-laws had bought me a puzzle to solve, not a jigsaw puzzle, but one of those ring on a string with a block of wood, puzzles. I hate these things! I think my in-laws know this and secretly chuckle about it, after all if you can’t antagonize your son-in-law, who can you antagonize? I needed to let them know how much I ‘appreciated’ this gift. This memory is from a few Christmases ago, but I was reminded of it after watching this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SeaaYXBkUVE

As I started watching this video my hands actually started sweating as the sight of this puzzle immediately heightened my anxiety. If this had been gifted to me, I’d likely have employed the use of a big pair of scissors while muttering several colorful phrases. But I enjoyed this video, it was so satisfying to see an ‘expert’ demonstrate the steps required to solve the puzzle, but what I really liked was the sound of the people watching. There were ooo’s and aaah’s as his hands deftly maneuvered the rope and slid the ring. The solution was unfolding before their eyes, and they could see the way before he actually finished. The excitement was building. Then there was the payoff, the sound of the ring clinking on the red ball. The looks on the men’s faces were priceless, but the very best was yet to come. The elderly man, who had spent years trying to solve this riddle grabbed the puzzle and began solving it for himself. What an achievement!

Earlier this year I had an opportunity to speak with a teacher about some of the work we are doing at #WaldheimSchool as we wrestle with the big questions associated with assessment of and for learning. One of the comments this teacher made was that these questions have been around for a long time, and it was that question that gave me hope because of the following:

  1. If we are still discussing it after all these years, we believe it is important, we haven’t simply thrown our hands up and said, “unsolvable!”
  2. If we are still discussing it after all these years, we believe we can come up with a ‘solution’, we haven’t simply thrown our hands up and said, “unsolvable!”
  3. If we are still discussing it after all these years, we believe that it will be together, not alone, that we find a ‘solution’we haven’t simply thrown our hands up and said, “unsolvable!”

I use the term ‘solution’ with trepidation, after all I think we can agree that there is not a one size fits all solution to assessment of and for learning. In fact, I believe that trying to implement such a solution in the past is what has brought us to our current state. As a result, we are in the process of moving away from one singular type of assessment towards practices that honor our learners and our teachers. I believe we are moving towards assessment practices designed with and for all learners, including methods that inform teachers of their impact.

In a way, we are trying to move the ring from the green ball to the red ball, and it is very difficult work! This makes me think of a discussion Ellen (@ellen_verityand I had last week about an assessment task she had her students complete earlier this month. The kids were learning about electromagnetism and were given the choice on how to demonstrate their understanding. They could build a project, complete a test, or write a scientific paper (I think those were the three choices, I’m sorry if there were more that I missed). A challenge for Ellen showed up when a student, who typically demonstrates her learning to an extremely high level, opted to write the paper, and struggled with it. Ellen was faced with an opportunity, either tell the student, “too bad, so sad, you chose this route, you get what you get” or she could look for ways to help the student try again. She chose the latter. I believe she did so because of the three things listed above: it was important to her and the student, she felt there was a ‘solution’, and she believed that speaking with her colleagues would lead her to the right decision.

Every difficult moment we face in our work provides us an opportunity to make a choice; shout “unsolvable” and move on, or we can pause, reflect, and connect with our colleagues in search of the answer. The elderly gentleman worked on that puzzle for ten years until he had help solving it. We will be working on our assessment practices for our entire careers, with the understanding that we will never discover the ‘solution’. This is what makes me so proud. It isn’t the ‘solution’ that matters, it’s the journey, the collaboration between peers and the belief that it is what’s best for all learners that matters. It’s about learning! And while we may never have a 3:48 video on YouTube ending in cheers, we will have something better. We will have the knowledge that everyday we tried to get a little better, and never threw our hands up and shouted, “unsolvable!”

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

Monday:

Tuesday:

  • Business as usual

Wednesday:

  • Gr. 7 & 8 field trip (Regina)

Thursday:

  • 10 – 12 final exams begin
  • Bruce away (pm only)

Friday:

  • Business as usual

As always, create a great week!

 490 total views,  1 views today

Looking Forward to a Great Year

What a beautiful Christmas break, the weather was incredible, and we had plenty of opportunities to get out sledding or to play with the dog. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas break surrounded by your loved ones and were able to get the rest and relaxation we had all earned as 2018 came to an end. I am very excited about getting back to school, I love the routine that work brings, and I really look forward to seeing all the staff and students again. The break was an opportunity for me to spend more quality time with my family and was also a chance to reconnect with my mother, my brother, my sisters, and my nieces and nephew. As is usually the case, I ate too much, exercised too little, and laughed just the right amount! What were the highlights for you?

But now it is time to get back to work. The changing of the calendar provides an opportunity to reflect on the year that was, and to plan for the year ahead. I love the culture in our building and love the way we work together to try and make everyone feel as though they are part of the fabric of Waldheim School. That being said, we all know that we must continue to improve, both individually and as a collective. I think about the new members of our Waldheim School family, staff and students, and hope that they have figured out what it means to be a Raider. I do not think there is anyone in our school family that would say they are perfect or that there are not areas they want to improve on. While we need to be aware of areas of growth, we also need to be kind to ourselves and celebrate those things we do well. What brings you pride and joy?

Looking back at 2018 I can see things I need to improve on as your principal. This year, I will continue to work on my leadership skills in the following ways:

  • Asking more questions: every day is an opportunity for me to connect with the members of our school family. I will ask more questions that will hopefully help those around me think deeper about what they are learning and what their impact is on the learning in our building.
  • Trying to see around the corner: with experience comes the ability to see some things coming, and I’m going to work harder on being more proactive than being reactive. I am hoping that spending more time in classrooms and asking more questions will help me see what’s coming sooner rather than later.
  • Fostering a growth mindset: Henry Ford said, “whether you believe you can, or believe you cannot, you are correct.” Sometimes it’s just as easy as adding the word “yet” to your thoughts (i.e. I can’t motivate that student to have better attendance….yet)
  • Reading and writing more: this is more of a personal one; however, I want to keep pushing myself through reading and writing. There is a wealth of knowledge available to us, and I want to continue to grow as a leader by reading more professional books. I also want to continue developing my own voice as a leader and will continue to work on my weekly blog along with any other writing opportunities that come my way. Who knows, maybe in 2020 I won’t wait for writing opportunities, maybe I’ll go looking for them.

I guess I could sum up my goal for 2019 as follows:

I want to become a leader who no longer feels like he needs to prove himself. I will become more confident in my actions and decisions by committing myself to learn about leadership on a consistent basis. I have a dream that every student at Waldheim School feels safe, valued, and appropriately challenged. I know that I cannot make that happen for every student, I need the staff to do that work. My job is to take care of the people who are taking care of the people. My goal is to get better at that!

So what will you work on this year? When you look at the growth that occurred during 2018, I hope you are proud of yourself, you should be! January 1st, 2020 will arrive, and we know how fast a year goes, so, how will you make 2019 your best year ever?
I look forward to seeing everyone on Monday morning as we continue to learn together and grow together.

Here’s what is on the horizon for our first week back

Monday

  • K – 12 staff meeting (Agenda)

Tuesday

  • Bruce away (2:00)

Wednesday

  • Classroom visits

Thursday

  • Classroom visits

Friday

  • Classroom visits
  • SRC Dance

As always, create a great week!

 302 total views

Feedback Makes Us All Better

I’ve always loved music and that love of music has never been restricted to just one genre. I enjoy country, jazz, pop, rock, blues, soul, reggae, classical, and yes, even rap music. To me, it’s not the genre, it’s the song. One of the bands I really enjoyed in my youth, and still do to this day, is Queen. They have a unique sound that was defined by the iconic voice of lead singer, Freddie Mercury. While they are one of my favorite bands, some of their songs do not strike a chord with me, like Another One Bites the Dust, or, ironically, Bohemian Rhapsody. It is ironic because that is the title of the movie documenting the evolution of the band, and it is the recording of that song that is such a pivotal moment in the arc of the story. In one of the most touching scenes in the movie, Mercury shares with his band mates the reason he feels their band is so successful: feedback. He talks about their greatness as a result of their ability to collaborate and to push each other to be one of the best bands of all time (#52 of the top 100 artists of all time according to Rolling Stone Magazine).

I thought about this scene as I was reading Softening the Edges this weekend. The author (@KatieWhite426 ) invites us to think about the importance of feedback as part of our formative assessment practices. In the movie, Mercury talks about how feedback helped create beautiful music. In her book, White talks about how feedback helps create beautiful learning. She quotes John Hattie, who says,

The most powerful single modification that enhances achievement is feedback. The simplest prescription for improving education must be ‘dollops of feedback’

I like the term dollops of feedback. Phrasing it in such a way allows us easier entry points for our feedback, simply because we are doing so in dollops. I think about how Shantel offers dollops of feedback during her LLI time as she invites students to ponder things. I think  about how Krisinda offers dollops of feedback as she invites her students to ‘taste the soup’ in Home Ec class. I think about how Steve offers dollops of feedback as he engages in conversations with students who are thinking about why Saskatchewan has the highest teen smoking rate in Canada. I think about how Glen offers dollops of feedback as he stands beside a grade 9 girl who is turning a piece of wood on the lathe. I think about how Ellen has adopted a “thinking classroom” based on her work with Peter Liljedahl (@pgliljedahl) and how she offers dollops of feedback through the questions she asks her students as a response to their own questions. I think about the dollops of feedback Corinne shares with students who seek her guidance on a daily basis as she offers a quiet ear and a few timely questions. I think about the dollops of feedback Leah offers Sam through their work together as cooperating teacher and intern as Leah asks questions that allow Sam to formulate answers for herself versus simply telling her what to do. 

So many terrific examples of the dollops of feedback I saw just last week alone.

As you head into the week, I’d invite you to think about what Katie White writes in chapters 3 & 4, especially in the area of formative assessmentAs you approach your work this week I wonder how you’d answer questions like:

  • what did I learn about my students last week that will have an impact on how I teach them this week?
  • if there was only one learning goal that I had to accomplish this week with my students, what would that goal be, and how would I know if every student achieved it?
  • which student(s) have not benefited from the gift of feedback lately, and how will I make sure I have a learning conversation with them?

Heading into this week, I am going to use those three questions to help guide my thinking. What did I learn last week about leadership that will impact how I lead this week? What is the one leadership goal I get to accomplish this week? Who have I not engaged with in learning conversation, and how will I ensure I do so this week?

Here’s what is on the horizon this week:

Monday:

  • K – 4 Staff Meeting (please have chapters 3 & 4 completed. See agenda for information)
  • Classroom visits to work on the one big goal for the week

Tuesday:

  • Bruce & Jesse away at ALT meeting

Wednesday:

  • Classroom visits to work on the one big goal for the week

Thursday:

  • Remembrance Day ceremony
  • 7 – 12 Progress Reports sent home

Friday:

  • Teacher Preparation Day

As  always, create a great week!

 301 total views

How are YOU Part of the Story?

You can accomplish anything in life, provided you do not mind who gets the credit

-Harry S. Truman

I’m currently into the early stages of Good to Great by Jim Collins, and one of the overarching themes has been the importance of being willing to let others take the credit when things go well. As I read this, I immediately thought about Trace and Ellen and the success they’ve experienced with the senior girls soccer program. When speaking with them, they never talk about the work they have done. As coaches, they speak about the team, the way the girls work together, the way they support each other, the way they push each other to become better, and the way they have grown together. Our senior girls soccer program has gone from good to great. Trace and Ellen accomplished a great feat, and neither of them were concerned about getting the credit. 

I think about our adult learning, and how proud I am of the work we are all doing. The learning is not restricted to just our teachers, it’s all hands on deck. It is evident that the EAs, our custodial staff, and our admin assistants are a part of our learning. Their finger prints are all over our growth and their impact is especially evident with our most vulnerable and reluctant learners. Key to this learning is the work of our learning facilitators, Steve and Shantel. While they are vital to our growth, they will be the first to point to the impact Brenda has had on them as learning leaders, and how she continues to play a role in their work. While their impact is immense, none of them will stand up and say, “for it is I that has caused this learning to occur”. Even just writing that seems so absurd, which is a testament to their humility.

Our soccer program and our adult learning are  just two examples, and there are so many more I could include, such as:

  • our early learning program, especially the growth in our literacy skills in the early years
  • our ever-evolving athletics program that is reaching more student athletes every year
  • our student leadership program that is continuing to flourish under our teacher leadership
  • our programming for students who struggle with the regular content
  • the evolution of our parental engagement

I’m sure I’m missing other examples, and my apologies to those I may have overlooked.

These programs do not grow through good luck, they require the leadership that you provide. Hopefully as you are reading this you are reflecting on your role in the growth that is happening at Waldheim School. Hopefully you are thinking about how you are part of our story. I’d invite you to contemplate the following questions:

  1. Are the kids who happened to be born between 1999 and 2013 coming to their school, or are they coming to your class?
  2. Do you believe that just because something worked yesterday does not mean it will necessarily work tomorrow? Do you feel you have the flexibility to deal with that?
  3. Are you a school teacher, or a classroom teacher? (I need to credit @gcorous with that question from his book, The Innovator’s Mindset)
  4. Are you a change agent, and how do you model this for your students and peers?
  5. In relation to #4, what are you learning about this year, and how is it impacting you, your students, and your colleagues?

When I think about the great programs that are occurring in our school (and in our school division as a whole), I think about the quiet leaders that working to make this happen. I think about how Trace and Ellen would answer those 5 questions as they relate to their soccer program, and I’m pretty sure I know what they’d say. As Steve, Shantel, and Jesse discussed at our last PD day together, one of the greatest impacts to student learning, based on John Hattie’s work (found here), is collective teacher efficacy. As we continue to strive for greatness as a school, think about your role and remember, you are an important member of the team, and your gifts are needed.

Here’s what is on the horizon this week:

Monday:

  • Brenda is hosting two new PSSD SERTs for the morning
  • All teacher staff meeting after school (agenda)

Tuesday:

  • Bruce away (partial am only)

Wednesday:

  • Halloween sock-hop (see Brittney’s email from earlier this week)

Thursday:

  • Post-Halloween sugar crash 🙂

Friday:

  • 7 – 12 progress reports due to the office
  • Sr. girls volleyball playoffs here (after school)

As always, create a great week!

 286 total views,  1 views today