Sunday, September 25, 2011

Lost Generation?

Last week I read two great posts from Cale Birk (@birklearns) and Chris Wejr (@mrwejr) debunking the myth that  the youth of this generation  are lazy, disengaged, apathetic and lethargic.  If  you haven't read the posts I encourage you to read them here and  here.

These two posts reminded me of a  2 minute video called Lost Generation.  Take 2 minutes and watch it below:

Nuff said....

Friday, September 23, 2011

Skating into the Puck: A Leadership Competency

I have been known to use the "skating into the puck" metaphor to explain a particular leadership competency in my role as principal. The more I reflect upon it, the more significant and profound it becomes. 

And so, as another hockey season is about to begin (Go Canucks Go!), I thought I would reflect and unpack its significance for me: 

Tough situations
In hockey, “skating into the puck” usually signifies going to the “tough” part of ice (after all , no one is going to easily “give up the puck”). In my role as principal, this may involve having a difficult conversation or making a difficult decision (usually the conversation that others don’t want to have, decisions others don’t want to make or taking actions others might shy away from).

Knowing when to skate into the puck
In hockey, engaging with someone without the puck is an interference penalty. Likewise in my job, I can’t “skate into the puck” in all situations. At times, various stakeholders come to me demanding that I intervene in a given situation. Depending on circumstance and/or participant, it may not be prudent or proper to get involved. Sometimes professional ethics and/or protocols demand that someone else “skate into the puck”.

Respecting the individual
Skating into the puck does not mean “taking a roughing penalty”. My interactions need to be respectful and empathetic in nature and based on the true spirit of collegiality. Communication rooted in honesty is a non-negotiable. 
While we may not always agree, we must always respectfully disagree.

It’s not personal
If you’re a skater in hockey, your job is to possess the puck. There are times when my job demands that I "skate into the puck".  It’s not personal, it’s my job.

To be honest, "skating into the puck" can be very draining and difficult .  At times I'd rather avoid it and take a "floater" instead.  

Nonetheless, as another school year begins, I know that for me to be most effective, I must "skate into the puck". 

Do you have your own favorite “leadership” metaphor? I would love to hear about it...

Friday, September 16, 2011

Our "21st Century Learning" Vision

I was recently asked by my superintendent of schools to share our school’s vision for “21st Century Learning”. While I am not going to share the entire scope of the presentation, I thought I would share the main ideas of our plan

The plan has four main components:

Access & Consistency
Our school currently has over 120 networked computer stations (550 staff & students) with a common interface. We want our students and staff to have a consistent user experience regardless of the station they are working at.

We have also made the decision to offer Wi-Fi to all our staff and students. Over the past two years we have focused our efforts in making the Wi Fi network stable and accessible. Through the expertise of our IT teacher (yes, one person) we now have the bandwidth necessary to offer Wi-Fi to all the personal electronic devices that both staff and students bring to school. (Currently it is set to handle up to 1000 IP addresses/devices but can be scaled to handle more).

From the school’s perspective, investing in this infrastructure is a strategic and cost effective decision that has tremendous implications for teaching and learning at our school. It is also worth noting that we have invested in upstream filters (at the source) for the school - blocking sites that involve illegal activity but allowing the rest (sites like Facebook, YouTube are NOT blocked). 

In my opinion, one of the main components of "21st Century Learning" is redefining how we communicate and collaborate as learners. Some of the initiatives that we have undertaken include: launching a new website that takes full advantage of social media, including: Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and our own YouTube Channel. We have also created the capacity for students and parents to download our school calendar onto their own smart phones.

In addition we have launched school wide, "life time" email for every student enrolled at our school, allowing for enhanced communication between teachers and students. It also allows us to stay in touch with our esteemed alumni!

We are also in the process of launching a "cloud based" file sharing network for teachers and students, again allowing for easier communications and collaboration. (Some future initiatives involve “voice to email” service for our staff and enhancing other cloud based technologies.)

Teaching & Learning
I recently came across a tweet from Josh Stumpenhorst @stumpteacher in which he wrote: "Technology without good teaching is like putting on cologne without taking a shower. Get rid of the stink first."

21st Century Learning is not just about throwing technology in the classroom. It's about being intentional about teaching and learning the skills and competencies necessary to make our students successful in this millenium. Technology is, however, a necessary vehicle to access 21st Century Learning and its related skills.

Given this reality, we need to continue to develop our technological capacity but also be very intentional about teaching and modeling the skills associated with 21st Century Learning. Some of our current initiatives include:
  • Creating more time for teachers to enhance their own professional learning (see Building Experts post) 
  • Being extremely deliberate about teaching and modeling Digital Citizenship to all students in the school 
  • Teaching key 21st Century skills. An early priority we have identified is literacy and all its related competencies (Reading, Writing, Information Literacy, etc.). With this in mind, we have started a literacy initiative at our school 
 This is our plan, as it stands today. It will evolve. The route may change. There will be bumps along the way. We are committed to the plan and all its related challenges and risks.

 I certainly welcome any feedback and suggestions.

Monday, September 12, 2011

7 Keys to Behavior Interventions

This past summer a member of my PLN and educator that I respect tremendously, Tom Hierck, passed on a copy of his latest book for me to read: Pyramid of Behavior Interventions: 7 keys to a Positive Learning Environment  (2011, Hierck, Coleman, Weber).

What makes this book unique, from my perspective, is that it takes two commonly used “school improvement” approaches (Positive Behavioural Interventions & Supports  & Professional Learning Communities) and makes them accessible to practitioners looking to bring safe and positive learning environments to their school communities. 

While I have written about PLC's and our school's academic pyramid of interventions in the past, I have to admit that I am not too familiar with PBIS. 

The authors make the argument, successfully I think,  that for schools to successfully implement PBIS and PLC’s they should focus on the following seven keys:

1. Common Expectations

2. Targeted instruction

3. Positive reinforcement

4. Support strategies & interventions

5. Collaborative teams

6. Data Driven dialogue

7. School wide systems approach

I really appreciated some the practical and research based interventions and strategies that the book references.

Perhaps some of the more “controversial” strategies that the book references under the domain of “positive reinforcements” and creating “common expectations” are the use of extrinsic rewards (merit points, cards, etc.)

While my own attitudes around extrinsic rewards have evolved and changed over the past two years (more towards intrinsic motivation), I think the book handles the issue with enough sensitivity.  As the authors state:

“Over time, the goal is to move to more intrinsic and less extrinsic reinforcement, when students make good decisions for the sake of satisfaction it instills instead of the rewards it brings.

I want to thank Tom for sharing his book with me. It reaffirmed some of the practices that I hold "near and dear" as a high school principal and also challenged me to consider some others.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Grading failure is Not an option

One of the books I read this summer was Dweck’s Mindset. In a nutshell, the author argues that, as individuals we choose between two mindsets – the fixed mindset or the growth mindset.

The main attributes of the Fixed Mindset are as follows:
  • Ability (physical, artistic, intellectual) is “fixed”. You either “got it” or you don’t. Test scores and labels are forever. Persons in this mindset don’t handle failure well. Compliance and the status quo is favoured and “safe”. 
  • In this mindset, individuals spend a lot of time “proving” their ability – often at the expense of taking risks, learning from mistakes and being vulnerable. 
  • Natural ability and success is favoured over growth and hard work. Challenges are avoided and outside excuses are used when mistakes are made. The fixed mindset is often fed by the ego. Individuals in this mindset feel like they have to protect and nurse their confidence (which the author argues, might explain, why some students do not put forward their best.) 
  • In the fixed mindset individual accomplishment is favoured over team success. Individuals look to those who do worse for consolation 
  • In this mindset “Effort is only for those who don’t have ability” and “effortless perfection” is preferred.
  • In the fixed mindset, your failures label you a “loser”. 

The main attributes of the Growth Mindset are as follows:
  • The growth mindset changes the meaning of failure. 
  • Those in this mindset see ability as something that can be learned and enhanced with practice, perseverance and trial and error. Learning is synonymous with patience. Labels and test scores are not forever. 
  • Those in the growth mindset are constantly questioning the status quo and seek critical feedback. 
  • Individuals are comfortable showing others their vulnerabilities and mistakes. In the growth mindset the ego is dismissed. 
  • Teamwork and collaboration is favoured over self-promotion (the use of the first person “I” is not used) and individuals look to learn from others who have done better. 
  • In the growth mindset “character” is associated working hard, dealing with adversity, being a team player and dismissing your ego regardless of outcome. “Ability can take you to the top but character can keep you their” – John Wooden 
  • Success in in the growth mindset is seen as “doing your best, improving & learning” while failure is embraced as a motivator to do better and learn. 
  • A belief that all children can learn. Teachers who foster a growth mindset produce better achieving students. Teachers who label and promote a fixed mindset (grading all work, not honouring “practice” in learning, etc.) do not get better results. 

It’s time to stop "grading" failure in school.

I enjoyed the book and it reinforced some beliefs that I hold near and dear.

I worry that some who read this book might argue that “new trends” in assessment ( AFL, formative assessment, grading for learning, no zeros, etc.) have made “failure” obsolete and passé. That somehow schools and/or administrators have banned “failure”.

From my perspective (others can add their thoughts) what this book has completely reaffirmed in my mind is that, as teachers, we need to stop grading failure. Learning is about trial and error, taking chances and making mistakes until we get it right.

If we truly believe that all students can learn, than we need to embrace assessment and grading practices that honour learning for what it is (trial and error, practice, and perseverance).

At our school we have adopted some clearly defined grading policies, that I believe, are more in line with the idea that “learning is for all”. We don’t let students who might be stuck in the “fixed mindset” take a zero on an assignment for fear of being labeled “stupid”. We want to teach students that they are accountable for their work.  We want them to fully understand that true learning is about doing, making mistakes and redoing.
We need to stop “grading” our students’ mistakes and create environments that cultivate risk taking, trial and error and “learning for all”.

I have frequently used the slogan “failure is not an option”.  In reality, we need to embrace failure and mistakes as part of the learning process.  Perhaps a better slogan might be "grading failure is not an option!"