What They Want

cc licensed ( BY SD ) flickr photo shared by hepingting
Wow. What a day. Only one year away from the classroom and it feels like I am learning all over again! I had a lot of fun, lots of laughs and a few “moments”… good and bad. Started out the day coming to school with a sticker still on my new pants that a parent had to remove for me! haha. It was a tiring day, but in a good way. So much of the day required me talking at the front (which I am not a fan of) and then getting a new class of kids to join into the discussions can be draining too. In the end, we got a lot out of them, especially when it came to our main activity for the day.
We asked them three questions:

1) What does their dream school look like?

2) What makes a good teacher?

3) What makes a good student?

It was so interesting to see what they came up with, and in some instances, quite surprising. Things came up about wanting to be provided food, and wanting to sit with their friends, but then came ideas like creating a culture and having choice in what they do. They talked about having the ability to bring their own technology and to have access to more technology. They talked about having funny and friendly teachers, but they also wanted teachers who cared about them, treated them with respect and who understood what their lives are like. When it came to how students should act, they formed this statement:

“We should treat others with respect, act with integrity and work hard”

When you get past the ideas of cotton candy machines in the classroom and 5 hour lunches, the truth is the students want what we want. By having them brainstorm these ideas and formulate the answers themselves, it will be much easier to ask them to live up to these standards. We want to provide the best education for our kids everyday, and we want to meet their expectations, but we can only do so if we know what it is they expect. What made this activity even more impactful was the fact that their feedback served to validate where we are going as a staff, and as a division.

In business, the saying is “The customer is always right” and today I was happy to see that our customers are looking for the same things we are hoping to provide.

Accept The Challenge

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by lawmurray
Today was our division day, an event that involves every employee of Parkland School Division coming together to prepare for the start of a new school year. It’s always good to see familiar faces, especially with changing jobs and changing schools. I got to see the staff from my previous school, and while that was hard because I find I already miss them, it was good to see many of them again. I also got to see many of our division’s administrators and senior executive, who I had the pleasure of working with last year as an administrator myself. I am going to miss seeing them at our lead team meetings and working with such an impressive group of educators.

I settled in with a couple friends and sat to hear our superintendent, our board chair and many others speak. While they spoke, a number of teachers, administrators and central office staff were tweeting out key points from the talks. It was so exciting to see so many of our division members on twitter and sharing, a lot has changed in just a couple of years. Our board chair Richard Gilchrist and our Superintendent Tim Monds both spoke about how the world is changing, and how there won’t be any going back. This is true, but it is modeled so clearly in our division as so many are joining the Social Media movement and looking to connect and improve. There is no sense denying this movement towards connectivity, there is no going back, and more and more people are joining us rather than sticking their head in the sand. When I returned to my school, I decided to make sure I was following our superintendent on twitter. When I found his page I saw our entire senior executive represented on twitter as well!

This made me very proud and inspired, because I am sure for some members of this group joining twitter was probably intimidating, frustrating, or may have even seemed pointless, but they did it anyway. They realize that there is no going back, and more importantly, they are modeling for our division the willingness to go outside their comfort zone and join in. For me, this is a challenge to follow their lead. Whatever it is, however intimidating, frustrating, or pointless it may seem, if it is right for my students I have to join in.

So to you I ask, will you accept the challenge? Will you do what is right for your students even if it means you will have to go outside of your comfort zone? Will you try something new even if it means it may fail? In doing so, together we can model the type of learner we are for our students, and we can ask them to accept the challenge as well.



New Year, New Job, New School, New Challenge

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Ron Bennetts

It has been more than two months since my last post, no excuses, that is way too long. I spent my summer relaxing… way too much. It was a challenging year balancing my first year as an administrator with my first year as a college basketball assistant coach. I clearly needed a break, but I took it too far and now I am finally getting back to that reflective and, hopefully, improving head space I need to be in.
So this year, as a result of becoming the head coach of the college basketball team I was working with, I have returned to the classroom. I get asked a lot if I liked or didn’t like my year in administration. I think that when someone leaves administration after a year everyone assumes it was because you couldn’t hack it or you didn’t like it. For me this wasn’t the case. I left a great school, with an amazing staff and an opportunity to work with a new principal I respect a great deal for one reason – the opportunity to chase a dream in the form of a basketball coaching position. In returning to the classroom an opportunity popped up to join Greystone Centennial Middle School, a 5-9 school in our division which was recently named one of the most innovative schools in Canada. I jumped at the opportunity and accepted the position in May, and then proceeded to spend my summer golfing, relaxing and traveling.

Well last Friday it came time to go back to work, and to join the staff at my new school. In our first day back, we reviewed our school’s purpose and goals and we collaborated on how we can keep the movement toward exemplary teaching and learning going. It was more than a little intimidating and overwhelming. It didn’t take long to see I was joining a staff of bright minds, dynamic thinkers and enthusiastic educators. No one was a naysayer, no one doubted the lofty goals could be achieved, no one pointed towards a shortage of time as a way out. We talked about Inquiry, Personalized Learning, Authenticity, Real World Context… my head was spinning. Young or not so young, male or female, administrator or first year teacher, everyone was on board and ready to do whatever it takes to provide the best for their students. I went home that night and barely made it to 10pm before I crashed HARD.

I spent most of the weekend with a great deal of doubt and worry that I had made the wrong decision. I thought about how I could have taken a simpler job, worked in a school where I didn’t have to be on the cutting edge, implementing the most amazing strategies and tools out there. I mean I am following my dream of coaching a college basketball team, what am I doing teaching in this school as well!!??

On my second day, I was able to see why (I think) this school works so well, and why they are able to do such amazing things. I am part of a learning community, LC8, 1 of 4 teachers working with the Gr. 8 students of our school. Now I have been on grade teams before and I have been part of a department, but today I got to really work collaboratively with a group that has been doing this for a while. Two of the teachers have been on a team together for quite some time, the other member is a bright young first year teacher who worked in the school last year as an EA. Over the course of the day we set out plans for our year; planning to address the Citizenship and Social Responsibility component of our curriculum, planning for assisting our students who fall behind, planning for ways to assess, planning for ways to communicate with families. It was so energizing and empowering to see what our group is capable of after only two days together.

It was then I remembered why I took this job, and many of the other jobs I have had in the past. I took this job to grow and become a better educator. I have been successful in the past as a classroom teacher and I could have simply returned to the classroom in another building and done what I have always done. I could have provided interesting lessons and my students would have done well, but I wouldn’t have improved. Taking this job was about improving me, and in turn improving the quality of education I provide for my students.

It will take time to get on board with all the amazing things going on in my school, and I am okay with that. I took this job to learn and that means I may not be comfortable for a while. I will make mistakes, I will have more than a few crappy lessons, and I will probably feel pretty bad about myself once in a while. But I will grow. I will be challenged and I will look back on this year and be thankful I had the opportunity to be part of this staff and this school. Hopefully they will be glad that I am there as well.