The Reflection Pool

Two Essential Questions for Reflection

The end of a school year always prompts reflection. After collapsing exhausted on Canada Day to recover from the whirlwind of June, educators take a few deep breaths and think about their year. That reflection takes different forms. It can be mulling over how your class did as you sip a morning coffee on the balcony, or wondering what you could improve in your approach to inquiry as you walk the 17th fairway, or seeing your teaching approaches through a new lens by reading that educational title that was on your nightstand for ages.

Photo Credit: Flооd via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Flооd via Compfight cc

My reflection is focussed on two questions:

Am I getting better?

How do I know?

Steven Katz, psychologist, teacher and researcher, uses these questions as a basis to measure all improvement, whether as a whole school or as individual leaders and educators. They are simple yet powerful. Where can you look to know if you are really getting better?

This year, I focussed on two areas for my own growth and improvement as a leader. It almost goes without saying that I have many more areas to improve, but I kept in mind that we can only do a couple of things well.

First, I wanted to create a space in principal learning teams and school visits where there could be open and trusting dialogue about school improvement. I also wanted to work on my listening to understand people’s perspectives and experiences (in the interest of full disclosure, this is something I feel like I always need to improve).

These are some pretty nice goals, don’t you think? And that’s really where it stops, unless I have some way of knowing if I’m getting better. One component is my own observations. I see some progress in learning teams with principals and vice principals as they lay out what they are struggling with and hoping to learn about. I watch as some principals ask questions during school visits or push back. I try to be honest and transparent, but I’m not really sure if I’m perceived that way. But these impressions aren’t enough.

Shakil Choudhury has shared that the most important leadership quality is self awareness. We get there through brutal self-honesty and feedback from others. I’ll start by gathering feedback from those I work with through a series of questions:

What does open and trusting dialogue mean to you?

Do you feel the principal learning team time and the structure of the school visit is useful for creating that dialogue?

What can I do to improve the conditions for this dialogue to exist?

What are my strengths as a listener?

What do I need to improve as a listener?

I’ll be back with an update. Here I go!

Lisa Neale – #HWDSBaccelerate

Lisa Neale is a seasoned educator with some serious street cred when it comes to using technology. An early adopter and unafraid to explore and then dive right in, Lisa has created the conditions in her school for staff and students to use technology for learning and is always there to support and guide. But don’t let that impressive reputation scare you off – Lisa has some amazing insights to share.

Be There

What is your role in HWDSB?
 Principal at Ancaster Senior Public School https://about.me/lisaneale
  2 What led you into education?
 Great question! If you ask my mom, I have been playing school ever since I was a little girl gathering up friends in the neighbourhood to learn together in our basement or the backyard. Also, during my studies at McMaster University, I volunteered at my former HWDSB elementary school, R. A. Riddell for four years. At RAR, I met a very important person whose name is Tina Falbo. She was and remains a mentor in my life. My time learning alongside with Tina instilled even more in me the core belief: learning makes a difference in all our lives. Education improves life chances and is the key influencer that brings us together. A fun fact, my first year teaching was at RAR back in 1992. The love of learning has been central to who I am and what I am about ever since I can remember. Being an educator is an integral part of my being. It is a blessing and a privilege to be an educator.
What are your go-to pieces of tech? 
 iPhone for sure. It is on the go mobile tech. I always have it with me to capture life. This leads me to my love of iPhoneography. During times where lots of words are in play, it’s my laptop. Lately, I am spending time exploring sketchnoting with a Pen53 on my iPad. I use my iPad daily for reading online accessing Tweetdeck, Flipboard, Feedly and Flipp. Really the tool changes depending upon the task at hand. Where am I? Who am I with? What am I trying to do? I’m very lucky to have device choice. Technology enhances learn flow, work flow and life flow. Always a blend of professional and personal for me.
Twitter or something else?
 Twitter is a definite yes. It’s a social networking tool that connects me to others for so many reasons. Might be a chat, might be a DM or might be a regular stream I follow to pose questions or learn based on a theme or need. There are so many great twitter chats / streams for educators. My favourites: #ontedleaders, #ossemooc, #satchat I very much appreciate how I can learn from afar by following a hashtag and then contribute on my own terms. My PLN is invaluable and I am grateful of how I can opt in and opt out based on my needs as a learner. Instagram is big for me – professionally and personally. Why? Think of the idiom, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Images tell stories. By adding in text with the image, each post is a short form novel and the series of posts in turn create a meaningful story that is told over time. Want to see the @AncasterSrPS school story? Here you go: https://www.instagram.com/ancasterseniorps/
Can’t say I blog much. Although I do have a blog. It has been long standing goal for me to blog more. I read a ton of blogs and am inspired by those who express themselves and share their thinking and experiences this way. I am a blog reader and a will be one day blog writer!
Instagram Power Up for Learning
Has technology shifted the way you learn?
 Yes. Big time. In fact, technology daily impacts how I learn on my own, with and from others. Technology has changed how we live day to day. When I am learning, I am always integrating technology to enhance how the learning happens. Technology opens learning up to be more collaborative, more participatory, more accessible and introduces the notion of 24/7, DIY and JIT learning. The power of accessing technology for collaboration with others, the openness of learning anytime, anywhere and with anyone is beyond empowering, it is essential in today’s world.
What’s your best piece of advice for those wondering how to use tech to accelerate their learning?
Here are some ways and you choose!
1. Play. Carve out time to learn informally based on an interest.
2. Spend time with others who are using technology in ways that intrigue you and are making a difference in how they learn.
3. Explore the power of social networking tools to learn from others. Twitter is a powerful platform. You can learn informally in a self-directed way where there is choice! Want to get started? https://twitterforabsolutebeginners.wordpress.com/
4. Start with one tool / app. My go to is GAFE (Google Apps for Education). Why? No cost! Communication and collaboration online and offline in the cloud. Choice in kind of tool. You can work from any device.
Behind this series: Inspired by the innovative and trailblazing Royan Lee and the #workflow series on his Spicy Learning BlogI’m asking connected educators around our district how they use technology to accelerate their learning.  In HWDSB, we’ve been talking about how to transform relationships, environments and learning opportunities. The driver is pedagogy, but the accelerator is technology. I’m hopeful that educators’ insights and experiences will kickstart a conversation and even spark some action.

Courage and Me

Photo Credit: Celestine Chua via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Celestine Chua via Compfight cc

I can be a big scaredy cat. The usual stuff scares me: high cliffs, bad turbulence, near accident misses. I have a few other fears too, like those big creepy crawly bugs with tons of legs. Ugh. If you have a couch handy, maybe I could share the rest of my neuroses sometime! But I’m also not afraid to do things that others might find scary, like meeting new people or fooling around with technology.

We’re all a mix of courage and fear. I am kind of afraid of crashing on my bicycle, but I still ride. I can’t let that get in the way.  I get anxious if I have to share remarks in front of a big group of people. I’ve found ways to prepare and be true to myself, but I still wear a dark coloured shirt on those days.

Donna Fry, Ontario educator and thought provoker, recently explained courage in a wonderful post that’s worth a read. She chose courage has her #oneword back in January. She describes the courage to look at what is not right and to act. And this:

“The courage to let people rise up out of the little categories we put them in – to have a growth mindset about our coworkers and not just our students.”

Donna interrupted my thinking with this idea. I realized how I often decide on someone’s character, strengths and skills, and there they go – into a nice little box that keeps everything all tidy. The irony is that I’ve experienced it from the other side, and it’s not fun. A supervisor decides that I am serious, so therefore, I have no sense of humour. A colleague sees me speak up for something I believe in, so I must be fearless. (Ha!)

I once embraced advice from experienced teachers to reflect on the students in my class regularly. I would take a class list and think deeply about what I knew about each child and what I could still discover. I’ve taken that further with the school staff list when I was a principal and with the principals and vice principals I work with as a superintendent. I now need to include a less rigid way of thinking about my colleagues – what are they capable of? How can I encourage their growth mindset as well as my own?

Let’s have the courage to challenge ourselves. When we do the effortful work of changing how we think about others and being open to everything they are and have to offer, imagine how far we can go together.