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.

Don’t Look Away


Photo Credit: AHMED... via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: AHMED… via Compfight cc

I spent last Saturday at edcamp (@edcampblo) in Buffalo, New York. Naturally, it was filled with New York educators: teachers, technology leaders, consultants, and a handful of principals. These are teachers and principals who are dedicated to students and to their own learning enough to show up at Canisius College on a weekend.

Edcamp Buffalo was a day of dichotomies for me. While it was exhilarating to meet new people and explore new ideas, it was also sad to see dispirited educators who seem to have lost the joy of teaching and learning.

From conversations in workshops, it was clear that unless you work in an independent school, New York educators are overwhelmed, discouraged and downtrodden by the new system of yearly teacher appraisal and the yearly grade 3-8 standardized state tests in Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies. Although we had profound conversations about leadership, about trust, and about building 21st century skills and personal learning networks, educators also often said, “Yes, but” and “We can’t because” with rueful or even angry expressions.

This Saturday, I participated in #satchat, a Twitter Chat for educators. The topic was “Leading in a standardized education world”.  You can find the Storify archive of the April 20th chat here. During the chat, educators shared many ideas and feelings about standardized testing and testing prep. It underlined why New York educators are feeling undermined.

After these conversations, I feel very strongly about where we need to focus. It’s not on standardized testing. Educators know we can’t look away from what is really important: student learning. We need to spend our time understanding curriculum expectations and standards. We need to work at figuring out what students don’t know through diagnostic assessment and observation. We need to focus on what we don’t know as educators and then use an inquiry framework to learn how to do it better. We need to respond to student needs daily by adjusting our teaching and checking how well students are learning. We need to be trusted to measure student achievement. When these things happen, we feel a tremendous sense of purpose and accomplishment. We feel hope.

Can we free ourselves from the shackles of standardized testing to focus on what’s important and worry less about test prep?

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…)
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