Struggling


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Jenny Kaczorowski

Is it a natural consequence, following an intense and engaging experience, to feel a bit of a “drop off”?

I spent the weekend at the ConnectEd Conference in Calgary, and it was a very exciting but also a bit taxing. I helped facilitate a couple sessions and spoke briefly at the reception, which required some focused preparation, I attended a number of great sessions and I spent some time connecting with colleagues from my school. The learning was constant and considerable, and the planning (and dreaming) my co-workers and I did had my head spinning.

When I returned to work, I felt a bit off. I was still vibrating from all of the learning, and while I shared some of the highlights with some members of our staff, it seemed like I couldn’t satisfy my desire to connect and learn the same way I had for the three days at the conference.  When I went home I went on Twitter, connected with a few people, and wrote a blog post, but it still didn’t seem enough.

Today when I went to work, I was spent the entire morning working independently, in my office with the door closed. I was starting to tackle some of the timetabling for next year and the task required a quiet environment and a great deal of focus. In the afternoon, I popped on Twitter a couple times, had a great meeting with a couple people from my division, and an intriguing meeting of our school’s Design Team after school, but it wasn’t enough. I even had a colleague text me this evening to check and see if I was ok, which meant my struggles were clearly visible to others.

I went for a drive tonight to clear my head. I know that part of it is a number of important projects I need to take care of before the end of school, and I am sure that is common to many people this time of year. The issue I kept coming back to though is the struggle of trying to recapture that high of being engaged, excited, and actively participating in learning. Like some kind of learning junkie, I have been looking for my fix. I guess that is the only downside of being at such a great conference, leaving all of that learning and returning to the routines of daily work.

What do you do when you return from a conference? Do you ever feel like the firehose has dwindled to just a drip, and do you find returning a little difficult? Has anyone else ever felt the way I do? I’d love to hear your thoughts on what life is like for you after a great conference or learning experience.     

Give Someone A Push


cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by SlikSvelte

 

Wow. Just spent an engaging and energizing weekend at the ConnectEd Conference at the Calgary Science School. What a fantastic experience, connecting with so many amazing educators and learning so much. It was so great to put so many faces to names, or twitter handles for that matter. People I have learned so much from for the past few years, connected  with so often on Twitter, and there they were to share great face to face conversations. It was a great conference and an awesome experience.

 

It brought me back to the meeting I had with George Couros three years ago, in his office at Forest Green Elementary. Over the course of the hour, we signed me up for Twitter, created a Skype account and he introduced me to WordPress. George tried to explain to me the importance and power of being connected, and while I thought I got it, it took a year or so before it all really sunk in. That day changed the course of my career, and I am so thankful for that push that George gave me.

 

I try to honor that push George gave me by helping others get connected. While I met many connected educators at the conference, I met a handful who were not so connected. Either they weren’t on twitter or they hadn’t started to share much yet. Talking with those educators, I was amazed at the work they were doing in their schools and dumbfounded when they told me they had never thought of sharing their stories. I want to tell you about a couple in particular.

 

Skinner

Mike Skinner is a Principal from Burns Lake, BC who I had the chance to have multiple conversations with over the course of the weekend. Mike is a passionate guy who wants to push education forward in his school. He told me about a project that his school does called the Alternative Arts Festival (See highlights here at their Facebook Page), a day of school dedicated to students sharing work they had produced. I was amazed that Mike hadn’t been sharing this with others, as I am sure so many would feel the same way I did when he told me about it – What a great idea! Mike is on Twitter, but I tried to urge him to get into blogging, as his Alternative Arts Festival is an idea that needs to be shared.

 

sashaSasha Wise is a Gr. 1/2 Teacher in Richmond, BC who I had the chance to speak with during breakfast at ConnectEd Canada. It didn’t take long talking to Sasha to know she was a teacher who really enjoyed bringing great learning experiences to her young students. She was telling me about this project she worked on with her students where they researched an animal, recorded their presentations on the Explain Everything app on iPads and created a life size drawing of their animal. She told me about how a student who before had been shy and quiet came out of his shell during the project. The entire story was inspiring and the activity sounded like such an amazing experience for students in Gr. 1 & 2.

 

Mike and Sasha are two bright Educators with so much to share. As they told me their stories, I thought of all the different people who would appreciate being able to hear them. I found I couldn’t help myself and I let both know how important it was that they find a way to let others hear about the amazing work they were doing. Sometimes being connected is a start, but in Sasha and Mike’s situation, sharing was just as important a message to send. Whether they wanted it or not, I tried to give them a little push.

 

The conference provided an opportunity for me to meet Sasha and Mike, but we all interact with educators daily in our halls and around our divisions. Is there someone that you know that hasn’t really jumped in to the world of Twitter or Social Media and seen the potential of a Professional Learning Network that stretches far beyond the walls of their school? Is there someone that could use a little push to share the great work they do? Give someone a little push the next time the opportunity presents itself, especially if there was someone that pushed you.

 

Our Secret Weapon


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by carolynhack

Ok, clearly its not meant to be a secret, and its not really a weapon either. I just loved the idea for the title and the picture.

I have been thinking lately about how one decision that was made at our school has had beneficial effects on so many other areas of what we do. It was really reinforced for me when I was out in BC meeting with some fantastic educators doing awesome stuff. In the conversations I had with David Truss, Gallit Zvi, Jess Pelat, Parm Brar and Chris Wejr, we were able to share what we were doing in our schools and how we were able to make positive changes happen. When the conversation turned to the work we are doing at Greystone, the conversation kept ending up back at the one aspect of our school that is key to so much of the work we do.

 

Common Planning Time

 

If any of you reading this are administrators, I am sure you are working on plans for next year’s timetable, staff assignments, and your school schedule. Our building is Grades 5-9 with roughly 550 students, so in the wide world of difficult timetabling, I know ours is pretty tame, but it still can offer some struggles. We have to worry about getting all of our kids into the gym, we have to worry about ensuring French and Music for our younger students, and we have options classes for the older students. Add to that staff on varying contracts, some with part time or half time schedules, and you get quite the Rubik’s Cube to figure out.

What our school decided, long before I got there, was that if we were able to make common planning enough of a priority that it occurred regularly in our timetable, we would see growth in the areas we had made a priority. This past year, we were able to ensure that each teaching team had at least one of their two preps together with their entire grade-level teaching team (we call them learning communities). We saw a real impact on our school in a number of different areas and with a number of initiatives.

 

Learning Coach

This year our division participated in the learning coach initiative that was a push from our provincial government. This meant that we had a teacher with half of her time dedicated to working closely with teachers to help them improve their practice. She is a veteran teacher with a ton to offer, especially in the areas of Inquiry and Critical Thinking. In our planning for the year, we timetabled the learning coach purposely to ensure her attendance at each of the team meetings. This initiative is obviously beneficial in any building, but I believe it is maximized when the learning coach gets to sit in on the common planning times for each grade level team. As the team plans lessons for the coming weeks, they have the advantage of not only utilizing their fellow team members, they can also work with the coach in those meetings. If the team feels they have an area they need to work on collectively, the learning coach is there to offer advice and direction.

 

Assessment

When it comes to assessment, it can be difficult to know if our assessments are effective, if they are assessing what we want them to. As professionals, we review our students’ work on assessments and we try our best to adapt them and make them fit our needs and the needs of our students. This process obviously becomes more effective when we utilize similar assessments across numerous classes and then as a group come together to compare them. Having common planning time gives our teaching teams the opportunity to bring in sample student work and discuss the validity of their assessment practices.

 

Assisting Struggling Students

Getting together on a regular basis, our teaching teams can discuss how to assist struggling students from their learning community. Students often struggle with similar material or tasks, and strategies can be shared amongst team members on how to best help students with those challenges. We are also able to find groups of students and target them for small group activities with a teacher in a pull out or assign Education Assistant support to a group of students from different classrooms.

 

Meaningful Learning Experiences

Our school has been focused on inquiry and critical thinking for some time now, and each year we improve in these areas as we look to bring the most impactful and beneficial learning experiences to our students. Having the opportunity to bring teams together to plan the inquiries on a regular basis, and then to have our learning coach who is very strong in these areas join them, means that our inquiry projects have become more numerous and more effective. If teams have teachers who do not teach all core courses but rather have a couple specialties, as our LC7, LC8 & LC9 teams do, it means we are giving them an opportunity to ensure cross-curricular inquiry projects can happen even at our highest grade levels.

 

Common Planning Time exists at Greystone because our administration and staff agreed that it would be the most effective way to ensure that our school priorities were met. Every building, every division has priorities. So many talk about how they want collaboration, they want rich learning for their students and staff, they want professional reflection and growth. Its really easy to have goals and a vision, but shouldn’t your vision live in the way you plan for your school? Whatever your vision is, whatever your goals are for your school, does your timetable support it? Do you plan meaningfully for a school year that will align with your vision? Everything from classroom spaces/design, room assignments, supervision scheduling, professional development and even the way we communicate with our staff can have an impact, and I believe that we should be mindful of the impact each decision can have to add or take away from our vision or our goals.

What do you do to ensure your school’s goals are realized when you plan for the next school year?