Finding the balance…

Had an interesting experience last week.

Our school leadership team had the opportunity to finalize our school improvement plan and meet with our Superintendent of Schools to discuss next steps.

We had been provided a list of guiding questions that our SO used during a rich 1.5 hour  focused conversation. A number of voices were invited around the table to ensure multiple perspectives were represented, and people spoke very frankly about the progress, challenges, and work that still remains to do to improve student achievement in a few areas as identified from a variety of different data sets. At several points, it did not even feel like a meeting; rather we were discussing educational change very honestly and openly. People listened, opinions were welcomed, colleagues offered support and extended ideas, AND some even disagreed agreeably. Nice!

When it came time for the rubber to hit the road and define our immediate next steps, the need to differentiate teacher professional learning offerings became more apparent than ever. As I am sure is the case on many school staffs, we have people at very different professional learning comfort levels. As the co-facilitator of our weekly TLCP sessions, I have also come to appreciate that there is the work that teachers feel needs to be done based on their perspective, and then there is the work that admin feels is required to move students and teachers along in our critical thinking and mathematics journey. While some might feel they know what the nature of the work is that needs to be done next… teacher buy-in is not a given. The Concerns Based Adoption Model (CBAM) research of Hall and Hord has taught us for decades that unless we value the need for the perceived change, change will take longer to achieve and chances are it will not stick…

The good news is we have SEF days to access. Now we need a professional learning menu that offers choice if we really want to empower teachers to self-direct their job-embedded learning.

There are some excellent online resources available through our district online training and learning repository, PLUS this Fall, the Ontario Ministry of Education came out with some incredible monographs and webcasts DVDs that align directly with our areas of focus. So, the WHAT TO LEARN? syllabus is already there… at our finger tips actually.

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So here is the balance challenge:

I suggested allowing teachers to experience inquiry-based learning by having them sign up for their own professional learning focus and then, based on a set agreed-upon schedule, they would meet with those colleagues interested in the same topic to design their own learning adventure. We could assemble a variety of applicable learning resources from which they could read, discuss, study…

However, members of my leadership team feel this is too open-ended and teachers need more direct instruction and facilitation.  Hmmmm??? At what point do we allow teachers to experience curiosity and inquiry on their own without direct-facilitation from others?

I want to read the recent Natural Curiosity publication from the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study (Natural Curiosity) OISE to find out more about instilling meaningful inquiry and curiosity in play-based early years programs.

Maybe everything we need to know, even about facilitating meaningful job-embedded teacher professional learning, does stem from Kindergarten?

Would love to hear what others have done or think…

Coffee that binds…

It isn’t every day that you come across a group of colleagues with whom you gel 24/7, but this year, I have had some defining moments of professional insight that have been spurred on by remarkably passionate and smart people inside AND outside my building. And when this happens, the potential for magic in teaching and thinking exists!

As I am sure was the case for many an Ontario educator, this week felt like one of the l-o-n-g-e-s-t so far this year for a wide variety of reasons. In my particular case, our progress reports went home this week on the same day that we hosted a dozen visiting P’s, VP’s, and SO’s as part of the province’s School Effective Framework (aka SEF) process. While we were ensured from the get-go that there was nothing extra to prepare or do, teachers being teachers, we all wanted to show our best work for our guests and have our students shine. Translation? Major extra stress during an already jam packed week which concluded with student-led conferences Thursday evening till 8 pm and Friday morning.

As the week went on, more and more teachers seemed to be getting sick too: raw throats, running noses, sleepless nights, and overall fatigue. Student behaviour referrals peaked in the office as well because we all know, just like with parenting, when teachers are stressed, kids sense it and act up! Staff morale seemed at an all time low Thursday to the point where I had to get a breath of fresh and I decided to go out for lunch. For that extra push to get through what would turn out to be a very long night (finally left at 8:30 pm), I picked up my signature grande latte, and treated two of my fellow coffee loving colleague to a Dopio Espresso and an Americano. Upon my return, I discovered they had skipped out for lunch themselves. A quick text message confirmed they were on their way back and would join me for coffee talk in the library (one of my favourite job-embedded professional development models) while they’d scarf back their impromptu sushi.

And as usual, this Thursday’s talk did not disappoint! When the three of us talk about the awesome lesson we had that day; how a particular student rocked our world with a piece of art they created; what’s broken in education; or an idea on how we can change the world, I swear I am teleported to another learning galaxy. This week I termed it as a “MOMENT” unlike any other. A moment when, spurred on by our overpriced hot Starbucks beverages, our passion for learning and our shared philosophy reached new heights and clarity all at the same time. I find myself so much more grateful than usual for the collegiality, professionalism, trust, and respect I have with these 2 fine educators, and I encourage you to read Kevin Sebastian’s and Jonathan Lewis’ (@j_lewie) excerpts in David Booth’s new book, Caught in the Middle, to know what I really mean.

Even though I am spent energy-wise this Friday night, I realize how much I treasure the moments when we really get to know the real person behind the grade level or subject; when I develop an appreciate of the full narrative that they each bring to my experience at school everyday. Deeper insight into the people I work and lead with provides me with clarity of the individual strengths, talents, and passions that can be leveraged/harnessed to mobilize positive social change in our school community and beyond…

We take long strides to get to know our learners, but how well do we really know those with whom we spend our working hours each day of the week? How many teachers’ passions and talents go untapped because no one ever asked or shared?

Hugs to fellow Ontario educators-we made it!

~Tania