Saturday, 31 August 2013

The First Two Weeks #SAVMP

The first two weeks have come and gone and I have to say, it has been a whirlwind!  I have reviewed many documents intended to help me with my new work.  I have set up meetings with schools and principals.  I have attended two sessions of professional development.  I have attended the school opening for leaders with our new superintendent.  I have delivered an inservice the Educational Assistants working in the schools I am responsible for.  AND I have held my first team meeting with my team of consultants.  What a ride!

We were asked for our weekly post to answer these questions: How do you work to build trust starting in a new place? When you lose trust, what do you do to try to regain what you do?  And finally, in a world with social media so evident, how do you use that technology to create a transparent culture within your community?

I know as a new supervisor I need to establish that trust.  I start by being myself.  I have always felt it important to hold myself to the highest standard of integrity.  People who know me know that I am honest and I expect those around me to be honest with me.  I made it clear to my teams that if they were unhappy with something I was doing, they should come to me as soon as possible before they became angry, or bitter because of a situation.  I am always honest in a new situation about my understanding of the position.  I do not know everything and I will rely on the expertise of those who have been in the space well before me.  I value open communication with those I work with.

From this point on, I will do my best to honor the position I have been given.  The bottom line for me is and always has been how we can make our students experience success.  What we will do and how we complete our tasks has to open doors for our students to experience success.  When I think of the second question, I weigh all that I say and do carefully so I don't get into a position of loss of trust.  I think that rebuilding trust would be a long and arduous task so I work hard not to get in that place.

As for the final question, I have shared my blog with all of my team members and offered them a challenge to go out and find success stories of inclusion that could be shared by each and every one of them as a guest blogger.  This was met with some interest and I look forward to sharing their success stories with you as the year progresses.  As well, I encouraged each of them to learn about Twitter and follow many of the amazing people I have discovered as part of my PLN.  This was met with some interest as well.  I hope to share a lesson on "how to build your PLN" in the near future at a team meeting.

In the past two weeks, I have learned that the folks I am working with are passionate about the success of all children.  One big change for our unit was the inclusion of our FNMI (First Nations, Meti, Inuit) and diversity folks.  This is exciting because I look to the future when we will think of all students as equitably included and take the focus off of "special needs" as inclusion but the whole point that we are a diverse people with diverse strengths and we need to celebrate these strengths rather than focusing on the deficits as defined by a group.

As Scott Barry Kaufman writes in his description of IQ testing that we are not "using information about the child's strengths to help with remediation, or even to help the children feel good about themselves! In either approach, the child feels like a total loser.  There had to be a bigger picture here.  I mean, can't a learning disability sometimes be an advantage?  (p. 61, Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined, 2013).  We need to begin to see the strengths of a child.  He goes on to describe dyslexia as a strength in visual giftedness.  What a different spin.  You will have to read the book to begin to see the world of intelligence through a completely different lens.

Perhaps, if we could look at the strengths of everyone we meet, we could easily build that trust required for a strong relationship that allows risks to be taken.  We would not look at failures as mistakes or loss of trust, but instead realize that through failure we can strengthen ourselves further.

I am excited about the coming week when the students return and our actual work begins.  Yes, we are assessing students but more importantly our work is morphing into the strength of assessment for programming purposes; assessment for finding where our students' strengths lie so they can be successful.

I finish with a slide from our inservice Friday:

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Why Didn't I Think of This Before?

                                                      Microsoft Clip Art

For the last two days, I took part in an inservice around Universal Design for Learning.  I had the pleasure to hear Dave Rose of CAST share information about UDL in the classroom.  My big take away was the need to balance remediation and compensation for our students who struggle with reading, writing or math.  How much data around failure do we need to collect before we offer students tools that will help compensate for their missing skills?  As students get older, their level of frustration will rise until they decide this repeated failure is too much and they quit school.

As a parent, I watched this rise in frustration in one of my own sons until in grade 12, he said, "What is the point of this?  I suck at it." And he quit school.  No one offered him any ways to compensate.  In fact, his math teacher said he really didn't have time to give my son more time as was indicated on his IPP.  How was that for compensation?

Dave explained that of course, as we begin to offer students more compensation, we will get push back from those folks who are "able" to do the work with their own raw brain cells.  They figure if they can do the work with no extra help, it is too bad for those who cannot!  After all, this is how we divide the good from the useless, don't we?  ABLEISM at its finest!  Those who can do not want those who need some tool to help to catch up. . .   That somewhat discreet form of prejudice in our society...

The second day of the conference included the keynote speaker, Christopher Lee.  This was when I experienced my biggest aha moment of the two days.  Christopher has a learning disability.  He has a visual and discrimination disability as well as an auditory perception disability.  He had a language delay.  He has a great deal of difficulty with print in every form.  AND he has a Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies with a focus
on leadership, policy studies, social psychology and assistive technology. But, when he was younger, his teachers did not expect he would amount to anything as his reading disability was so severe!

He explained that trying to read and trying to write was so exhausting for him as a youngster, not to mention the cognitive exhaustion he experienced trying to cover up his missing skills.  This was my AHA!  Every day, as educators, we ask our students to try again, to stick with it even when it is hard, to keep going.  Now that I think about it, I can only begin to imagine how exhausting this must be day in and day out for students with learning disabilities.  It is no wonder they dis-engage or act out in their frustrations. . . One little grade 3 at our school was always (and I mean always) tired.  While he may have had some crazy bedtimes or something, he was probably exhausted because of his hard work of learning!  And our answer is to ask him to do more...  no wonder he was so disengaged.

I think of my own grandson who was recently diagnosed with a learning disability.  We get him to try again and again to read.  He had headaches last year and now I can see why this might have been a regular occurrence.  He was doing very hard, very exhausting work!  My next move will be to see how the school can compensate for him while doing remediation (levelled literacy intervention) but making sure he doesn't get so frustrated he shuts down or misbehaves (this did happen last year also!).

I have a new appreciation for our students with learning disabilities.  Let's make life a bit easier and help to make school inviting instead of a place of horror.  Use available assistive technologies. And when the ableists suggest these students are cheating, stand up and remind them we allow glasses, wheel chairs, insulin so why not a text to speech program or speech to text or grammar checker or. . .  what ever is needed.

Our students need us to speak up. I bet you can think of one or two students who would benefit from compensation. . .

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Where Do I Think I am Going? #SAVMP

As I prepare for the new school year, we have been challenged to consider the vision for our school or department or district (however that fits for you. . . ).  If I was still at my school, I would say, "That is easy!"  My vision for my school was to insure every single child had access to an equitable education that was meaningful to him or her. Last year, I started to see glimmers of that here and there.  Teachers started to see how meeting a child where his/her strengths were made a difference and they could see how doing so could contribute to success for each child.  It was exciting to watch teachers introduce Word Q in the lab and see the writing of all students "take off."  Teachers were excited to share the work of "Joe" who never writes and show me the whole page of writing with "voice and everything." I really wanted to say, "See!" but I didn't.  I was just as excited and giddy to read the voice of a little one who previously was silent.

Well, fast forward to this week - my last week before I start my new position of Supervisor of Inclusive Learning.  I will not be in one particular school this year, but working with about twenty schools to create the same exciting and equitable atmosphere for each and every one of their students.  While that may be my vision for each school in Edmonton Public, I know I can't walk in and say, "It is done because I am telling you how."  I have to go back to some reading I did as a young leader.

One of the first books shared with me by a wise administrator was the work of Sergiovanni.  I can't remember the name of the specific book and I have long since shared it with another person seeking to learn about servant leadership. But I was intrigued with the idea of servant leadership. The idea of servant leadership promotes the serving of others through serving the values and ideas of the organization   This is the framework I have built my leadership on and it will be in this framework that I will continue my vision for inclusion in the district.

Our district vision is  for all students will learn to their full potential and develop the ability, passion and imagination to pursue their dreams and contribute to their community.  You can read more about the vision, mission and priorities on the link. Our district is committed to the success of each of out students and it is exciting to see the district as a whole move toward that reality.

Another great book shared with me as a first year principal was ``Change Leadership: A Practical Guide to Transformating Our Schools.`` This book offered many suggestions for working through change in a school that could be translated to a wider range.  I know these books are only a few of the resources I have read in the past years that will help me in my journey.  Of course, I know I will draw on the collective knowledge of my PLN on Twitter to learn everyday as well.

I expect I will draw on all my skills in building relationships in order to share my passion for inclusion.  I expect I will experience some resistance because this is not an easy paradigm shift for all educators.  BUT it is worthwhile work for the students in our schools.  Each and every child deserves an equitable education and success. The research of Nel Noddings brought forward the discussion around Happiness and Education and whether or not this was possible.  I believe it is if we, as educators, can wrap our heads around the needs and strengths of our students instead of focusing on our own need for control.

Finally, the work of Dufour and Dufour guided our work at my previous school as we focused on the four big questions:
1. What do we want our students to know
2. How will we know if they know it
3. What will we do if they don`t know it
4. What will we do if they already know it

If I can use my learning from the work we did as a professional learning community, I will have a great start as I work with other principals.  Drawing from my success with my school, I can use examples of the wonderful work we did to show new ways of approaching students in other schools.  Will the way be easy?  I doubt it, but that is okay.  Things that are worthwhile often require our effort and I am prepared to go the distance for our students.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Why Do I Lead? #SAVMP

                                                   photo from Flickr CommonsCopyright All rights reserved by Lyro2010

I am taking part in the School Administrators' Virtual Mentorship Program this year.  I am looking forward to learning from people all over the world as we embark on this new journey together.  To begin the program, we were asked to reflect on why we lead.

I have been thinking about this for the past couple of days.  It cannot be a simple answer.  I started thinking about my journey to this place in my life.  I have always been the one to take the lead if there was a project to do, even as a child.  I love to plan events for the enjoyment of others. I took a detour out of high school, taking a two year diploma in Medical Lab at NAIT and worked in microbiology for a few years.  While there I started thinking about my first inclination out of high school; education.  But by then I had started a family and I wasn't sure that education could be a reality.

However,when my oldest was in preschool, the teacher quit one weekend.  The preschool board asked if I could take over for a week or so while they found a new teacher.  The rest is history.  I was in my dream job. Eventually, I went to university to get my degree after my fifth son was born.

As a first year teacher, I was fortunate to work closely with the administrators (the Assistant Principal was my teaching partner).  I was fascinated by their ability to initiate change in our school that positively benefited our students.  While I knew I could make a difference in the lives of the students in my class, I started thinking about the bigger changes I could help facilitate as a school leader.  Our admin teach was very good at building leadership capacity in staff that if we were interested, we were encouraged to pursue leadership opportunities both in and out of school.  Because of this strong mentorship, I took the lead in many areas, giving me the opportunity to experience the joy of leadership.

I took every course I could through my district regarding leadership.  I read voraciously.  I offered to be the designate to learn the management side.  Finally, I took my Masters' in Leadership and Admin to further my understanding of leadership.

Since completing my Masters' degree, I have had the opportunity to be a curriculum coordinator for an at risk student program, an assistant principal for an Early Education program and principal at a German Bilingual school. Throughout this time, I have asked myself the leadership question on many occasions and have grown in my leadership capacity.  This is what I came up with...

I lead to facilitate change, to work with staff to insure that each student is afforded an equitable education regardless of ability or disability.  I lead to learn about all members in my community and build relationships with them in order to move forward in this quest for true inclusion. I lead to provide opportunities for collaboration and discussion around student needs.  I lead to provide staff with deep reading to provide a platform for learning and discussion.  I lead to provide the opportunity for paradigm shifts, huge paradigm shifts.  I lead to give space for taking risks, both by students and staff; making space for failing forward.

The past four years have been my learning platform to become more than a building manager, to become a true instructional leader. I have been so fortunate to observe this desired paradigm shift toward inclusion for all students.  Through the building of strong relationships, our staff has learned about how to differentiate for all student needs in classrooms.  Are things perfect?  Not yet, but well on the way.  Our school had a warm, community climate at the end of this past school year.  Many parents commented about how our school had changed for the positive.  Guest parents looking for a new school commented on the "feel" in the building. And when the new principal questioned the support staff and the need for them, one of the teachers explained that with this support, our most vulnerable students had made huge gains. There was that huge paradigm shift I was leading for. Our included students are well on their way to equitable education.

Leadership has such rewards and that is another reason I lead.  The rewards of the student who learns to solve problems, the staff member who learns to differentiate to meet the needs of all students, the work with parents who are so frightened that their child will not get the best possible education, the light in the eyes of child where we thought the light was extinguished and the love from the students you see each day.  Just knowing that because I have shared my passion for inclusion in this journey top facilitate this change is probably the biggest reason why I lead.

This fall (wow, one short week away) I begin an new leg of my journey as a Supervisor of Inclusive Learning with our school district.  I am not sure what my position fully entails, but I know I will learn more about leadership in a new capacity.  I look forward to sharing this new leadership journey with the Mentorship Program.  I am excited to share specifically with @RobinDubiels and @MargaretWesttown as a part of the larger group.  Should be an exciting journey.