Monday, May 28, 2012

Slipping Through The Cracks: Does School Size Matter?

As a high school principal, this time of year comes with mixed emotions. On the one hand,  I am excited for the Gr. 12 students to leave our school, for them to fully extend their wings and make a positive difference in the world.  On the other hand, I am a little sad to say "good bye" to the so many awesome young people who we have seen mature and grow into inspiring young adults.

Last week, we hosted our annual Graduation Dinner & Dance.  This is an occasion where the community comes together to celebrate high school graduation.  To start the evening, I have the distinct pleasure of introducing each member of the class as they enter the ballroom.

As I introduced each student, I had a rush of memories.  With each student came a different story.

I realized that for this class, like the others before them, each person comes to end of high school with an individual story and coinciding journey.

For the some the journey is relatively smooth, for others the journey has been extremely bumpy - from turmoil, loss, disappointment and sadness to great joy, laughter and success.

Regardless of the type of journey, I was honoured, as a their principal, to have some insight into each students  respective journey.  To be invited along - so to speak.

I felt equally assured in knowing that the students had other teachers whom they formed even deeper relationships with.

As I reflected on this, I  also wondered if  our relatively small size, (just over 500 students in Grades 8 to 12) as a school, puts us at an advantage in our ability to foster meaningful relationships with our students?  Our smaller size allows us, teachers and administrators, to intervene and respond to all situations (big & small) as they arise.

We often say that "no student falls through the cracks".  This is a good and necessary reality for our community.

For what it's worth - I do think that school size matters.

I'd be interested in hearing from others and their thoughts on this.....does school size matter?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Social Media: Shining a Needed Spotlight

When I began my career as an administrator, back in the day when Microsoft MSN ruled the day, virtually all student conflict either started or was exacerbated via social media.

Jaded by these experiences, I perceived social media as sewer-like place for human interaction.  A dark place for mundane, useless and sometimes "crappy", negative and hurtful interactions.

This view of social media continued  even as Facebook became king.

And then something happened on October 23, 2010.  I, myself, decided to take the plunge into that self-described "sewer".  I entered the social media space with Twitter.

Today I am here to officially recant my previous views and beliefs regarding social media .  Since that October day, not only have I embraced social media in a multitude of ways, I have also been supportive of our school fully engaging with social media (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr)

And it's not just me and the school.  More and more teachers have signed on.  They are using social media to connect with, communicate with and engage students (and parents) and their learning.

As a result something remarkable has happened.  A bright light has been shone on that previously unknown and dark "sewer-like" place.

Seemingly, as more adults engage with social media- the more the students realize that they need to pay attention to their own digital tattoo (footprint, legacy, reputation, etc).

Students now can see the modelling of appropriate interactions in the digital world by those whom they respect and look up to in the  face to face world.  Nothing is more effective than when we, as teachers, lead the way with integrity.

As a principal I feel more empowered and more informed to speak to students and parents about all aspects of "digital citizenship".  I can give advice and tips based on first hand experience.

I can also provide a testimonial about how social media, if used appropriately, can be such a powerful and positive force for learning and connecting.  

As teaching professionals we have an obligation to shine a bright light on social media - our students require this from us!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

A 21st Century School Rooted in Community

A few days ago, the Ministry of Education in British Columbia released two videos highlighting a few Catholic Independent Schools in the Lower Mainland.  The first video highlights how some schools are using technology to empower learning.   The other video illustrates how schools are personalizing learning for their diverse group of students.

Since the release of the video I have received many messages about being "the technology school", or the "technology principal".  I understand these labels and, I suppose on the surface, they are true.

And yet these videos (and my messages) are incomplete

The untold story of these videos, as it relates to my school community, is that our success lies in our sense of community, which is rooted in faith. 

Tom Hierck, who school visited our school, recently and wrote the following reflection:  
I was particularly impressed by the commitment to create meaningful relationships and a culture of caring. From my viewpoint that's the biggest reason the school has a 100% graduation rate….
Our school has a special faith-filled spirit that consistently celebrates and embraces community.  This is evident in the joy with which teachers, students and parents share their gifts in the many service opportunities available. 

We personalize and individualize teaching so that all students have the opportunity to meet learning outcomes across the curricula. The school is proud that it has worked hard for over 15 years to achieve 100% graduation. I believe that our graduates are fuelled by the desire to be lifelong learners, to serve creatively and humbly and to promote the power of community in the world.

I am grateful that we had the opportunity to share our story through these videos.  I proud of our students and staff and the hard work they put forth on a daily basis.  I also realize that there were many other schools that could have been highlighted.

The students and teachers of the 21st century version of our school reap the rewards of learning and teaching in community and know to respect that these are the  legacy of a previous century where our illustrious alumni, teachers and religious, fostered those seeds of community that endure so profoundly today.