Connect. Collaborate. Risk. Innovate.

Connect. Collaborate. Risk. Innovate.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

The People Behind the Program

          It's not about the program, it's about the people. Trust, open communication and consummate professionalism. These are all attributes exemplified by my fellow Learning Partners. I am fortunate to work alongside colleagues who have volunteered, in the midst of often incredibly busy and demanding schedules, to offer support to their fellow teachers.

          Learning Partners currently consists of nine teachers, representing eight different departments. In addition to volunteering their time as Learning Partners, they are department leaders, coaches, committee members, and club sponsors. Oh, and they are also all full time teachers who are supporting students, planning, marking, meeting with parents, engaging in ongoing professional development and carefully balancing numerous other roles and responsibilities. And I know many of them will be quietly, and politely, horrified that I am writing this blog. Because they are also incredibly humble. 
          In the midst of writing the final report for a district action research inquiry that explores the impact of increased teacher engagement in peer-mentoring and collaborative opportunities, I have had the chance to reflect on the successes and the challenges of our Learning Partners program as it continues to evolve. And as with any new initiative, we have had our share of both. But at the very core, or more appropriately, the heart of this program, is the people- remarkably resilient, caring and resourceful people who have openly and honestly shared suggestions, concerns and questions over this past year. 
          I am pleased to share that with the ongoing commitment and dedication of each of the Learning Partners, as well as with the continued support of our colleagues and administration, Learning Partners is planning to expand in the 2014-15 school year as we move to integrate teacher inquiry into our current peer-mentoring and collaborative model. As well, we will be looking to add additional members to our team. I am excited to see what this next year will bring as we continue on our journey to support a culture of collaboration and trust at Sullivan Heights.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Taking the Lead

          We encourage our students to take risks every day. Raise their hand, ask the question, choose a more challenging book, take the extra lap, complete the bonus question, stand up in front of the class. But how can we ask our students to take these risks if we are not willing to step outside of our own comfort zones? At the presentation that I attended today, "The Teachability Factor: Harnessing Natural Context for Learning", Dr. Deborah MacNamara (, argued that our students "need the adults in their life to be in the lead". If this is the case, then that means that teachers already need to be where they want their students to go.

       Many of my colleagues at Sullivan Heights Secondary have taken the lead where risk taking and innovation is concerned. On April 30th, our Learning Partners program had over 30 teachers from 9 different departments participate in our second "Teacher Drop in Day", an initiative that was developed to allow teachers the rare opportunity to visit their colleagues classrooms as a method to discover and share teaching resources and strategies. For both beginner and experienced teachers, inviting another adult into your classroom can be a nerve wracking experience. And yet, what better way to share the amazing things that are happening in our classes than by allowing fellow teachers to witness them first hand? Similar to our first "Teacher Drop in Day", the initial feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. In addition to more "measurable" data, the smiles and laughter that I witnessed at our "Thank You" lunch the following day was evidence enough of the positive impact that collaborative opportunities can have.
Just a few of the amazing teachers who took part in Learning Partners "Teacher Drop in Day".
         Most rewarding was to hear from some of our more experienced teachers who had taken the risk of participating in "Teacher Drop in Day" for the first time. Several told me that they were thrilled to have the opportunity, and most especially the time, to visit colleagues' classrooms. They spoke with energy and enthusiasm about the various actives and lessons that they were able to see throughout the day. I was also enormously proud of the confidence and trust demonstrated by our beginner teachers who participated.

"Host" Poster up & ready for "Visitors"!
Visiting a Drama 11/12 class as student prepare for upcoming production.
Visiting an English 10 class as students present poetry definitions.
One teacher, who is new to Sullivan Heights this year, summed up their "Teacher Drop in Day" experience in the following email:

   "I just really wanted to thank you for planning such a cool day. Today was literally the first time I have ever seen the dance studio and probably the second or third time I have been upstairs in the school. Just seeing students in a different light, or the things that are going on in other subjects is really cool. When else would I get the chance to see Chemistry jeopardy?"

          These teachers are "taking the lead". They are modelling for their students a willingness to trust, take risks, and step outside the safe confines of their classrooms to extend their own learning. As Learning Partners continues to expand and explore new methods to encourage greater collaborative engagement at Sullivan Heights, it is these teachers who I know will continue to inspire others to open their doors and share their challenges, their successes, and their ongoing learning with their colleagues.