The Reflection Pool

Whose Problem is it Anyway?

Photo Credit: FutUndBeidl via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: FutUndBeidl via Compfight cc

In a recent post, I shared how our principal learning team has grown over time and established trust. Our primary purpose in meeting is to help each other explore our problems of practice through a collaborative inquiry process.  Problems of practice are pressing, urgent and defy solutions, despite our best efforts. They are problems that we need to investigate and think deeply about.

Inquiry Framework

  1. Formulate an inquiry question;
  2. Develop a working hypothesis i.e.,  If I do this, then this will happen.
  3. Create success criteria;
  4. implement the plan;
  5. Analyse evidence in relation to the success criteria;
  6. Reflect on the learning using evidence;
  7. Share the learning;
  8. Identify next steps.

As a team, we talk about each step of the process and ask rich, coaching questions to help deepen our understanding. The process is more circular than linear.

My problem of practice comes from the evidence I gathered from staff feedback on a leadership survey. I discussed those results in a previous post (Feedback. Priceless). In addition, I have read several excellent books about trust that have helped me understand the trust-buidling process better. (See the list here.) With our PLT’s help, I came up with the following working hypothesis and action plan:

“If I build a culture of trust and openness, then all staff will be open to talking about practice, sharing craft knowledge, observing one another, and rooting for one another’s success.”

1) Demonstrate openness to new ideas and be accepting of staff suggestions
  • Staff will come to me regularly with ideas and questions;
  • When staff approach me, I will smile and give them my full attention;
  • I will listen actively without judging;
  • I will use questioning instead of telling in conversations.
2) Better communication and transparency about decisions
  • I will email or tell teachers about decisions involving their students and classrooms (e.g., suspensions, parent contact, attendance etc.);
  • I will respond to questions honestly and openly, explaining rationale for processes and decisions.

3) Extend Trust – don’t withhold it because there is risk involved
  • I extend trust to staff to take charge of their professional learning within learning teams;
  • I extend trust to staff to take on leadership roles.

I shared these actions and success criteria with our teachers, educational assistants, early childhood educators, and office administrators.  And now..I’m working on them! Stay tuned for results and reflections.

5 Meeting Norms You Need

Photo Credit: notsogoodphotography via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: notsogoodphotography via Compfight cc

We work in principal learning teams (PLT) in our district to further our professional learning.  Our team is made up of eight principals and vice-principals from five schools. Over three years, we have worked hard to build trust and now have a respectful working relationship where we can challenge and support each others’ learning.

A key component to our success was creating and committing to meeting norms. Once we had established our team’s purpose, these norms emerged.

  1. We will collaborate not compete.  Too often in education, people feel that they are in competition with colleagues for recognition and rewards.  There is a fear that if someone else looks good, then you look bad. It was important to emphasize that we are all in this together.  We need to share our knowledge and expertise.  When one of us looks good, everyone looks good! (more…)

Making My Learning Visible

Every day I ask staff members to think, learn and reflect. As John Spencer, teacher blogger extraordinaire (@johntspencer) reminds us, being in a classroom is a tough, demanding job. It’s easy to forget that when you leave the classroom. I can talk about program and assessment in a session or from the safety of my “big principal desk”, but the reality of teaching 25 to 30 young, active and eager minds is something else. So when I ask faculty in our building to think, to learn and to reflect on their instructional practice, I need to always be aware of just how difficult teaching is.

One way I can do that is to make my own vulnerabilities and challenges as a learner visible for all the people I work with. Steven Katz , Canadian professor and educator, stresses the importance of showing that it is OK to identify challenges and weaknesses, to make mistakes and to learn from them. As students need that model and permission, so do teachers, educational assistants and early childhood educators.

In October, we held our first staff learning session. Our focus was to be a discussion and exploration of teachers’ problems of practice as they related to instructional practice. After examining perceptual data provided by teachers, we asked: “What is pressing and urgent in your classroom in terms of creating the conditions for student learning?”

To set the stage, I shared the results from a leadership qualities survey I asked staff to complete anonymously last June. (See previous post: Feedback, Priceless). This was not easy, partly because not all comments were positive, but also because this is intensely personal work.  Next, I shared my reflections about the feedback and what I wanted to focus on in my learning.  I accepted that I hadn’t done the best job in some areas of my school leadership. I accepted what the results were telling me. I admitted that I didn’t really know what to do next, but I was dedicated to finding out how to tackle the problem. I identified some next steps. Finally, I committed to telling staff about my progress in the future.

Reactions?  People were interested.  When I was honest about what I needed to learn, it opened the door for them to admit their own vulnerabilities. We can’t learn unless we admit our mistakes and work together to learn how to do things better. Our learning session was full of rich discussions about beliefs and teaching. I am really looking forward to the next session where we can continue the conversation.

How can you make your learning visible?