Looking Back – Planning Forward

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Our school year is drawing to a close. It’s a frantic time as all educators finish up year end tasks and plan for important occasions like graduation and even closing ceremonies. And yet…

Time goes byJune is the perfect time for reflection.  July can be too late; we’ve already checked out and started vacation. In August, the previous year can seem like a long time ago as we prepare for a new start.

I know all educators ask themselves if they accomplished their professional and personal goals with students and staff. Usually the answer is no, because we educators tend to set the bar high and focus on setbacks or even failures. We all need to take the time and remember all the wonderful and positive things we accomplished this year. What difference did you make to students, to colleagues, to parents, or to your boss? And let yourself feel good about it!

I am finishing my first year as a school superintendent. It’s been challenging, and I’ve learned more about myself as a formal leader and what’s necessary to be the kind of leader that can open up the conversation.  I’ve been reflecting about my own processes and organization for next year. More thoughts on that will come in a future blog post. I’ve also been thinking about great educators I’ve worked with or who taught me. For instance, my grade 8 teacher was genuine and honest. She really believed in me.  Colleagues in teaching showed me how to meet individual student needs, even when it was hard. Others showed me the power of an idea. Former principals encouraged me and let me stretch my wings, maybe in ways they weren’t always comfortable with. Superintendents said yes instead of no. And now I have supervisors who believe in me and allow me to make my own way.

I want to take these lessons and convert them into ongoing action as a superintendent of schools. I want to always be authentic with all the people I come in contact with. I want to believe in others’ ideas and support them as they learn. I want to say yes more than no.

What about you? Who do you remember from your schooling and your career? How can you synthesize the lessons you learned from them with your June reflections?

YouTube – Underappreciated by Educators?

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Last year, I listened to Alec Couros at Connect 2013 in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Alec is a well-known University of Regina professor who is at the forefront of connected learning. He spoke about “Disrupting Learning” and how our connectedness to everything should be changing schooling.

He talked a lot about YouTube.  Now, I’m pretty sure everyone reading this post has used YouTube, if only for the crazy cat videos. Alec’s point was that we don’t leverage YouTube to transform learning. We don’t explore all the possibilities. In the time since the conference, I haven’t seen many educators using YouTube consistently for learning (as opposed to showing a video to keep kids compliant). I’ve thought of a few basic examples, but I would love to know more.

Photo Credit: redsoul300 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: redsoul300 via Compfight cc

Teachers could find a provocation for their latest inquiry about Canadian/American relations and the War of 1812 Why not go visit Rick Mercer at YouTube?

Do you want an inspiring video about life? Steve Jobs’ Stanford commencement address fits the bill – from YouTube.

Maybe you and your colleagues need a good laugh or a wake up call. Bad Substitute Teacher can help.

Best of all, you can make your own videos! For example, our district has a channel:  HWDSBtv. All kinds of video is posted there. You can easily create your own channel and then upload videos. Not sure how? I bet some of your students or staff would be more than happy to help. Videos don’t have to be anything fancy – you can record a message for your staff, students or community on your webcam and upload it with the push of a button on your own channel.  I’d love to see some examples of this to share with colleagues.

What do you think? Is YouTube a disruptor or a distraction?

What are Students Doing?

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Educators work hard. Really hard. Teachers, educational assistants, early childhood educators, principals, vice-principals, and superintendents spend countless hours to make a difference for students. We are good at planning and presenting. We go to professional learning sessions, participate actively and feel energized. We read inspiring books on education or leadership and make concrete changes to our practice. We plan, we write, we reflect, we ponder, we read, we collaborate, we observe, we care. A lot of effort is focussed on what we do.

Do we spend as much time focussed on what students are thinking and doing?

Photo Credit: Enokson via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Enokson via Compfight cc

One chapter of the book Instructional Rounds in Education is dedicated to the instructional core, or the relationship between the teacher, the student and the content. (The School Effectiveness Framework from Ontario also shows the importance of the instructional core.) In the centre of the instructional core is the instructional task.  We know that task predicts performance. A worksheet to practice addition facts or an algebraic algorithm will not lead to the same learning as a rich open ended question where students have to create knowledge. In addition, many educators are experimenting with student inquiry and how to “build on students’ natural curiosity about the world in which they live” and to “place students’ questions and ideas, rather than solely those of the teacher, at the centre of the learning experience. Students’ questions drive the learning process forward.” (from Natural Curiosity)

I wonder what would happen if we focussed less on what we do as educators and more on what students are doing and thinking in our classrooms. If time was spent on the partnership between student and teacher, and we used student interest coupled with overall curriculum expectations, then maybe there would be less educator time planning, creating and presenting. And maybe, just maybe, students would be the ones planning, creating and presenting.