Sunday, September 29, 2013

What do I need to improve?....

Education discussions these days are often centered around questions like, "What are the things we need to improve?", "How can we do this better?", and, "How can we make school more engaging for our students?".  These are great questions that deserve our attention.  In schools on days like the Professional Development day just past, these are exactly the questions we ask.  We place our focus on topics likes Instructional Strategies, Assessment Practices, Student Engagement and Connecting with our students and our communities.

I am extremely proud to work at a great school, full of passionate, professional educators and motivated, respectful and enthusiastic students.  I often feel spoiled to have the opportunity to work with and around such inspiring and talented individuals.  But when I take the focus of Professional conversations off the system and our staff and put it on myself, I find there are many things I need to improve.
My background and attitudes lead me to being a 'glass-half-full' optimist, and I usually see the good in things.  When looking back at blog posts I have written, most of them are enthusiastic endorsements of all the fantastic stuff I see around our school.  As an instructional leader, I also believe that one of the most effective ways of getting people to move in a certain direction is to find examples of what I think is positive, and celebrate it for others to note.
At a recent Principal's meeting, the Professional Development discussion was focused on three questions: "Do you have strong a professional learning community in your school?", "If yes, what was your role in creating it?  If no, what can you do to enhance it?", and, "What are the themes/focus(es) for your school's professional growth this year?".  It was an incredibly rich conversation that went well beyond the hour it was scheduled for.  People spoke passionately about their school's plans for the year, and what they have done to help guide those plans. 
One of the themes that came up repeatedly was the idea of utilizing the 'appreciative lens' (celebrating what we are already doing that fits with where we want to go), while still creating the 'cognitive dissonance' that is required to have professionals think.  People all need to be encouraged when trying something new, but they also need to be challenged to think about what could be done differently or how it can be done better.  It is a difficult balancing act, and something I need to improve. 
While I am incredibly proud of the great things I see in and around our school, there is still much we can do to get better.  I want to see our school fully embrace Standards Based Assessment by establishing marks bins that reflect those standards as opposed to the measurement tool being used (tests, assignments, homework etc.).  I would also like to see us continue to promote critical thinking and problem solving by encouraging students to take more academic risks (we have a very competitive student population who, understandably, are worried about 'getting it right' for the score that may help get them into University).  In order for students to take some risks, learn from the mistakes, and try again, I believe teachers need to role-model the same behaviour.  I need to push our staff to try new things, giving them permission to make a mistake, learn from the effort, refine and try again.  To that end, the video below will be the focus of our next Professional Development day.
We are already doing much of what I want to see in our school, but where I need to improve is balancing my celebrating the excellence while still creating the dissonance required to help professionals think about improvement.  If not careful, the constant trumpeting of all that is good can breed complacency (people thinking that we are already 'perfect'), or the compliments can become hollow.  Learning how to achieve that balance is going to have to be part of my Professional Growth Plan.


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