Connect. Collaborate. Risk. Innovate.

Connect. Collaborate. Risk. Innovate.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

A Rose By Any Other Name: Re-Naming Roles

Student. Teacher. Administrator.
          To what extent are we defined by, and/or perhaps limited by, these "titles"? As I begin my transition from classroom teacher to Vice-Principal, it's a question that has taken on a new significance to me. As our education system continues to adapt and evolve to meet the changing needs of our students, our roles must also evolve to reflect a more collaborative approach to student learning. We all agree that this needs to be a team effort. And there's no debate that students, parents and individuals from our larger school community are integral members of this "team". And so with this shift towards a more collaborative and collective approach to education, how important is the language that we use to define our shifting and evolving "roles"?
          Anyone who has had to decipher a particularly challenging Shakespearean play, or an ambiguous text from a teenager is acutely aware that language is constantly evolving, and the language of education is no different. Among the numerous newly coined terms and titles (there are actually online dictionaries of educational jargon) we see a move towards "Lead Learners" instead of principals or superintendents and "Teacher Leaders" instead of department heads, to name but a few. In his recent blog post, "There Should Be More Than One 'Lead Learner'", George Couros shared his reluctance to use the term "Lead Learner" in reference to school and district leaders, suggesting that to acknowledge and value the shared expertise that exists in many school communities, "the term 'lead leader' could and should be applied to many". In the same way, I am somewhat wary of the term "teacher leader". If we label some teachers as "leaders" in a school, then what does that imply about the others? 

          So how important is this re-naming? Does it actually signify a significant shift in perceptions, roles and responsibilities, or it simply just assigning a new title to the same traditional roles and hierarchies that have always existed within school communities? Kristi Blakeway, principal of Harry Hooge Elementary, recently wrote a post entitled "I'm Not THAT Principal: Re-Imagine the Role", in which she addresses some of the stereotypes that exist about school principals. I appreciate her thinking behind "re-imagining" the principal persona, which even extends to the way that we organize and arrange our office spaces to be more inclusive and welcoming. 
          I'd like to think that when I assume my new "role" in administration I won't be that Vice-Principal. But how much will this desire to "re-imagine" my role will be constrained by the systems that are already in place? To some extent, my concerns were addressed when I had the opportunity to take on an Acting Vice-Principal role. It was reassuring to confirm that strong and trusting relationships are as integral in an administrative role as they are for the classroom teacher, and that a collaborative, inclusive approach that values student voice and input from families and community members is an essential component of establishing and effectively communicating a clear vision for a school. 
          So as we continue on this journey to re-define what our education system looks like for our students, how important is it that our language reflects this evolution? In homage to my English teacher roots, would a rose by any other name smell as sweet?

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

The Stigma of Sharing

No one would be interested. It's not good enough...  

As educators, one of our greatest challenges is establishing a safe and supportive classroom environment, one that provides our students with the skills and confidence that is necessary to take the "risk" of sharing their learning with their peers. In a previous post, I commented that we can't ask our students to do something that we aren't willing to do ourselves. We ask them to recite a poem, to solve a challenging math equation, to run an extra lap. And yet do teachers lack the confidence and support to do the same? And even more unsettling, do some face criticism from their peers when they do take the "leap" of sharing their ideas beyond the walls of their classroom?

As department leader of Learning Partners, I spent a good portion of my time encouraging and reassuring teachers that their ideas are indeed "good enough". With the support of our department team members and our Administration, it has been a gradual process of building a climate of trust and openness, where teachers feel valued and supported to take the risk of opening their classroom doors. At Sullivan Heights Secondary, teachers are able to share their lessons and activities via a "Collaboration Calendar". As well, we are now in our third year of "Teacher Drop In". As such, I've been fortunate to visit many of my colleagues' classrooms. As in all schools, there is amazing, imaginative, innovative teaching and learning happening. And yet quite often when I ask a teacher if they would be willing to contribute by adding their lesson to the shared calendar, they typically respond with, "Well, it's really not that interesting..." or "It's actually not very good."

Similarly, as I helped to coordinate the Ignite presentations for the Surrey School district's "Engaging the Digital Learner" series, one of the biggest challenges is finding teachers who are willing to share with their colleagues. Is this an admirable modesty, a lack of confidence, a fear of judgement by ones' peers, or a combination of all of these? And is this unique to the teaching profession? Why is it perceived by some as immodest, even inappropriate, when teachers share their ideas?

I would argue that in the same way that we support our students to take risks and to share their learning, we must be willing to support and encourage our colleagues do the same. We wouldn't dream of ridiculing a student who takes the step of standing up in front of their peers to sing a song at an assembly, or who posts a video that they have created. We encourage this. We recognize it as an important skill, a milestone, a celebration of learning.

Are teachers obligated to share their learning with colleagues? No. But should they be supported to do so? Absolutely.


Monday, 4 May 2015

A Parting Gift: An Outsider's Perspective

With special thanks and gratitude to Elisa Carlson, Director of Instruction for the Surrey School District, for allowing me this opportunity to share my perspective and insights on my learning journey as I move from #sd36learn to #sd38.

Innovative Learning Designs- A Parting Gift