Monthly Archives: July 2015

Facilitating Change

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Education has been undergoing “reform” for as long as I can remember. With each new year comes a new buzz word, an exciting new approach to education, another “bandwagon” that teachers are expected to jump on and implement. Some of these “new” ideas, involve taking a deficit position which attempts to highlight all that is wrong with education. Change does not have to involve the view of “fixing what is broken” but instead it should be viewed as a process of honoring the past and designing a future.

It is very true that the world is changing and education needs to change with it, but how we approach this change is critical. Teachers need to hear that what they have been doing is honored, that they are doing very complex work which has been successful. The question now becomes, What can we do better? But what exactly does “better” mean? We all want to provide students with an education that is worth having. What do today’s learners need to help them be successful citizens?  How can we, as educators, ensure that when students graduate,

“…(T)hey walk across the stage with dignity, purpose and options” ? (Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser)

We need to break free of the mindset of “yeah, but…” and be open to the “yeah, and…” Think about the people that you believe are the best at something, the top performers in any profession. These people that we view as the best are always striving to get better. Its not like one day they wake up and say, I am the best, so now I can sit back and relax, fold my hands, I’m done. No, they look to what they can do tomorrow to make them better than they are today.

Honoring the past means that we look at what is already working, what do we want to keep the same, what do we want to change slightly and what do we want to radically change? The scary word here though is “change”. We often hear that people don’t like change, but don’t believe that. People will embrace change, if it comes with a clear vision of why the change is occurring, if they own the change themselves and most importantly, if the change has not been imposed on them.

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The next thing to consider is the risk that is associated with change. Therefore, it is obvious that people need to feel a level of trust, in order to feel safe and supported as they explore innovation. Some people will jump in with both feet, take on bigger challenges, these people believe that failure is an option. After all, we learn from failure. These people can pivot, make the necessary adjustments and start again without missing a beat.  Other people like to take smaller steps, see how things worked, go with that for a while and then eventually take another small step, all the time moving forward just with a little more trepidation. Then you have the people who watch what others do, ruminate on what they see happening and will decide on their own, thank you very much,  whether to join in or not.

Change should be a process and not an event.

Throughout the process we need to celebrate the successes, celebration leads to amplification which, in turn, leads to implementation. If innovation is seen as being reliable, effective and is cleanly constructed, it will be adopted.

What do you do to facilitate change?

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Welcome to the Dark Side

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A year ago I decided to apply for a position of vice principal at a high school. I had prepared for the interview knowing that if I was hired I would be a member of a three person administrative team in a school where I knew all the staff, and was very familiar with how things were run. I was offered the job but it was not going to be the job I had thought. I would be the vice principal at a nearby Alternate School, the only administrator on site. Sometimes things don’t go as planned, that’s for sure! Well, I accepted and was excited to start a new challenge but, to be honest, I was more than a little scared at the same time.

I would be leaving the high school which had been my home for 23 years. The classroom that held such fond memories, just down the hall from my husband’s classroom. I would be leaving the lunch time staffroom chats that I had with the staff who were my friends, the students whom I was looking forward to teaching the following year. Once the word got out that I would be leaving, I had students come up to me and ask me why, why I wanted to leave their school, asking me to change my mind and stay to teach them Chemistry and Physics next year. It was as though they felt a sense of abandonment, that I was rejecting them and their school. Students told me that I would miss teaching, would miss my classroom, I told them that they were right. I would miss all of these things but I wanted to explore something new and take on a new challenge. Many of my colleagues were very supportive, though I did receive the occasional cryptic message, purporting my venturing to “the dark side”.

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I had one teacher ask me  “What are you thinking? You are a teacher, a teacher’s teacher!” This teacher was so disappointed in me, that I would become an administrator and “…eventually forget what it was like to be a teacher, they all do!” He was right about one thing though, I am a teacher and I will always be a teacher. Just as I am a student and will always be a student. Becoming an administrator did not change that. I have spent considerable time reflecting about what I am in my professional life and I have come up with a working list, in no particular order, I am

  •  a teacher
  •  a student
  •  a vice principal
  •  a collaborator
  •  a risk-taker
  •  an introvert
  •  an advocate for students
  •  determined
  •  introspective
  •  an aspiring techie
  •  curious
  •  a nerd (my children tell me this all the time!)

After compiling a list of what I believe I am, I wonder about what I want to be.

What WILL I do differently?

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When school ended this year, my family and I headed to the lake in our travel trailer to unwind and spend some family time. The kids each brought a friend and the first 4 days of summer vacation were spent enjoying the sun and relaxing. I had tried to make sure that everything for the first 2 weeks of summer was planned, as I knew that our 14 year old daughter and I were going to be busy. She had a RYLA camp to attend and then was heading off to Kelowna for a curling camp and I would be heading off to UBC to attend the BCPVPA Short Course. With things planned and all of our ducks in a row, I left to go to Vancouver.

Every day was filled with learning, rich conversations, networking and more than a few laughs. Each keynote speaker had something new to offer and helped me to gain insight into the new role that I had chosen to tackle. As I continue with my reflections on the week I think back to the Friday sessions, with the theme “Inspiration to Lead”. One of the presenters was Maeve Buckley, a recently retired school principal. Without a doubt, Maeve is an engaging presenter, but it is not only her ability to command a room but her ability to challenge you to look inward and really think about who you are as an educator, a leader, a person. Maeve quickly had us up and participating in a Kagen co-op Corners activity which was interactive, insightful and entertaining. This activity involved having the participants think about how we personally respond to change. We were then presented with the pictures of four different types of boats, a kayak, a sailboat, a cruise ship and a speed boat. Maeve asked us to choose which boat symbolized our response to change and then instructed us to go to one of the four corners of the room which were assigned to a type of boat.

After everyone had gone to their corners it was obvious that the number of people in each corner was fairly well distributed, with the kayaks edging out slightly. I have to admit that this was not an easy task for me. I tend to try to go with my gut on things like this and my gut told me sailboat, though I was drawn to kayak as well, in the end I went with sailboat. We were then asked to explain to people in our corner, why we had chosen that boat. Maeve had different people from each group present out on the reasons for choosing the different boats and then she gave us a list of characteristics for each boat type. Since mine was sailboat, I will share with you the sailboat characteristics.

  • graceful, moves with ease through water, a certain romance
  • can handle rough water
  • harnessing natural power, responding to opportunity
  • if there is not wind, stays put
  • timing and destinations adjusted according to winds and tides
  • sense of autonomy, travel long distances in comfort with small groups of like minded souls
  • creative, innovative

This was intriguing because it got me to think, not only about my own response to change, but the other sailboats, kayaks, speedboats and cruise ships in my life, both personally and professionally. It made me have a better understanding of how others respond to change and what I need to consider when trying to facilitate change. This activity also gave me some insight on how can I help to support the people in my life who are dealing with change. I believe The Four Corners Activity would be worthwhile with students as well as staff in schools and in a variety of settings.

We all returned to our seats and Maeve finished her presentation with “The Top 10 Things I know for Sure in Leadership and in Life”.

  1. It’s All About Relationships (Trust is the cornerstone)
  2. Your Staff is Your Classroom ( be inclusive and provide differentiated instruction)
  3. The Number 1 Stressor is Change
  4. Strengthen Your Conflict Muscle
  5. Every Complaint Has a Thread of Truth
  6. When Tension Arises, Lean In
  7. It’s Better to Ask Curious Questions
  8. The Key to Success…is Personal
  9. Stay Connected
  10. Celebrate Everything

She paused to give us insight into each of her choices, by telling stories of her experiences. in a delightfully engaging way. She then left us with a challenge, to answer the question, “What is One Thing You Know for Sure?”

The One thing I know For Sure Is:

1. Don’t ever lose sight of what is most Important, FAMILY.

I realize that I often get caught up in my work which takes me away from family time. This past year my family has been very patient, knowing that I was starting a new position, in a new environment and that I had many new challenges which required my attention. But as I look back on the year, there are things that I will do differently in the future. There were definitely things that I did miss out on because I was too busy. Now that I have been in my position for a year, I will learn to recognize when I am working too much. My children will be heading off to post secondary in a few short years and I don’t want that time to come and find myself wishing I had spent more time with them. I know that I am a work in progress and that is why I have chosen to type the word will in bold. I chose the word will for myself, as a reminder, that it is not enough to say” I hope to”, “I will try to”,  “I plan to”, but rather that “I will“.

So I leave you with two questions:

What type of boat represents your response to change? and What is one thing you know for sure?

Goals : S.M.A.R.T. vs H.A.R.D. vs D.U.M.B…?

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It seems that each time you pick up a book or an article that discusses goal setting you are inundated with mnemonic acronyms. There are the SMART goals, the HARD goals, the DUMB goals and the debates about which one is best. You will find articles like: SMART vs. HARD, Are DUMB goals better than SMART goals?, SMART goals are out and DUMB goals are in! It goes on and on, so I decided to do a little research into the different schools of thought.

The mnemonic acronym SMART goals first appeared in November 1981 in a paper written by George T. Doran titled “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives.” While there may be slight variations, SMART stands for:

Specific: Is the goal clearly defined? Do you know the what, when and why?

Measurable: How will you know when the goal has been achieved? Can you collect evidence to indicate that the goal has been accomplished?

Attainable: Do you possess the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to attain the goal?

Realistic: What are the conditions and resources necessary to attain the goal? Are these criteria in place? Does the goal actually matter?

Timely: Does the goal have a defined start and end date? This provides a deadline to work towards, establishing the importance of the goal.

For a long time SMART goals held the spotlight, providing a framework for goal setting in many disciplines. This method allows for a quick check to determine if the goal you have set is constructed in a useful way. Recently, SMART goals have been coming under fire for not being challenging enough, not allowing for the “dream big” approach.

The concept of hard goals, in so far as their comparison to soft goals, has been around for a long time. We know that we should set goals which are, in general, more specific and difficult to achieve and we should beware of soft goals which tend to be more general and ambiguous. But Mark Murphy went a step further when he introduced the mnemonic acronym HARD in his book HARD Goals: The Secret to Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, published in 2010. No longer are hard goals referred to only in terms of difficulty level but now HARD stands for:

Heartfelt: Are you emotionally invested in the goal?

Animated: Is the goal vivid in your mind, do you have a clear vision in your imagination of what the goal looks like?

Required: Is the achievement of the goal a necessity, not an option? Does the goal have a sense of urgency?

Difficult: The tricky part! Is the goal hard enough to achieve that it will force you to tap into all of your knowledge and skills so that when it is achieved you will feel a true sense of accomplishment? But, be careful that it is so hard that you will find yourself so frustrated that you abandon the goal.

This brings to mind a quote by John F. Kennedy, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.” More recently we could site the inspiring photographs being sent back to Earth from Pluto, this surely met the criteria of a difficult goal!

Now, lets take a look at DUMB goals. While there are many variations for this one, I chose best selling author, Brendon Burchard’s which stands for:

Dream-driven: Is the goal in line with the vision that you have for yourself, your life and the contributions you wish to make?

Uplifting: Does the goal inspire you, is it cloaked in positivity, does it uplift your spirit?

Method-friendly: Does the goal allow for you and perhaps others to achieve mastery? Will it improve your practice?

Behavior Triggered: Does the goal have a behavior trigger which will act as a reminder for you to continue to strive to reach it? To keep you engaged?

Each of these, SMART, HARD and DUMB, have their place, their own supporters and their skeptics. I continue to struggle with choosing just one. I am leaning towards the DUMB goals when it comes to long term goal setting, and the SMART and HARD goals when it comes to short term. I like the flexibility of the HARD goals but I also like the more analytical approach of SMART goals. Either way, the process of setting goals is a powerful exercise, regardless of which approach you choose. It can benefit you personally and professionally, help you to articulate your vision, motivate you, provide you with direction and when you achieve a goal, the accomplishment will be authentically fulfilling.

I think I will challenge myself to design my own mnemonic acronym and hopefully, in the coming weeks, I will be able to report back to get input. Now, to set my goal of designing a new mnemonic acronym for goal setting, which current method will I choose?

Relational Leadership…What are your splinters and gifts?

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I awoke this morning to the beautiful, fresh scent of nature after the rain. You know that feeling when everything is clean and you can sense that the forest is thankful. These kinds of mornings always inspire me to take a fresh look at things. As I drink my coffee and listen to the birds chirping, I recall something that Shelley Green, one of the keynote speakers, said at Short Course last week, “Know everything about you….your splinters and gifts.”  When Shelley introduced herself to the crowd, she did so in a way that gave us a window into Shelley the person, not just Shelley the professional. So,today, as I sit here enjoying the morning, I find my self thinking about a list of words that speak to who I am. The list that I have come up with, in this moment is:

  • family time
  • laughter
  • Newfoundland
  • British Columbia
  • ocean
  • sunsets
  • boots
  • books
  • a great bottle of red wine
  • picnics
  • the sound of crashing waves

Self knowledge is integral in one’s success as an educator and an educational leader. It is not until you realize who you are that you can be a success. You need to acknowledge “…your splinters and your gifts”. So many times, throughout the day, challenges arise and you need to meet them head on. I have lived this, particularly this past year, my first year as an Administrator in an Alternate School. I had no experience in the Alternate School and no experience as an Administrator and I found myself walking into the school in September with the feeling of excitement that accompanies a new challenge but more than a little scared at the same time. I was given very good advice by my Superintendent, she told me that I would need to …” spend a lot of time listening, building relationships, and above all else, trust yourself.” Those last two words were very powerful, and I admit that I struggled sometimes with these but as I moved through the year I gained more confidence and I started to feel more comfortable.I learned to check in with myself regularly. It was also beyond helpful, that my husband gave me encouragement on those tough days when I needed it most.

Another important lesson that Shelley discussed was that you need to choose your words very carefully, ” Every word you speak is a critical word.” Whether you are speaking to a student, parent, colleague, or any number of people that you meet throughout your day, always take pause to select your words carefully, words can have a deep impact and you want that impact to be a positive one. There are going to be days when you feel a sense of great urgency but do not allow that urgency to control you, check in with yourself and bring yourself to that place of calmness which is required, “be rock solid” as Shelley would say. Then, when the storm passes, give yourself license to, privately, “take your turn.”

I could go on and on about all the things I learned from Shelley Green but the things I know for sure are that, she inspired me and made me ponder on my own splinters and gifts.

BCPVPA Short Course, Day 2

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I continue to reflect on my week of learning through the BCPVPA Short Course held at UBC last week. Each day I find myself thinking back to the experience and recalling morsels of valuable information. Yesterday I wrote about my experiences on the first day. I continue today, thinking about Day 2, which focused on Instructional Leadership with keynote speaker Bruce Beairsto. I enjoyed listening to Bruce, a dynamic speaker who uses humour and stories to keep his audience engaged.

Bruce challenged us to think about what leadership meant to us, and what characteristics a good leader possesses. He discussed the two faces of a successful administrator, the manager and the leader. One thing which struck a chord with me was that management involves the building of a house and leadership involves the process of turning that house into a home. Many comparisons were drawn between manager and leader, for example a manager provides instruction whereas a leader provides inspiration, a manager is seen as a supervisor whereas a leader is viewed as a colleague.

Bruce also acknowledged the “implementation dip” which occurs when you are taking risks and you come to realize that you “suck”. Risk taking is a very important aspect of being an educator. In order to move forward and try something new, you must accept that you will not always be successful right away, that your “new idea” may need a lot of adjusting as you go. I believe that we need to celebrate our failures because it is through failure that we find success.This is where a professional learning community (PLC) comes in, allowing for members of a group to feel safe as they explore new ways of teaching, to feel that they are not alone in their quest to grow as educators.

Following the keynote I participated in two breakout sessions. The first one was facilitated by Ian Landy, @technolandy, and focused on how we communicate through technology. Ian introduced me to ePortfolios, a tool that can be used throughout the learning process to help deepen student learning, and provide meaningful feedback to students and parents. I was very impressed with the samples that he provided and plan to explore this type of technology further. Thank you Ian!

The second breakout session which I participated in was facilitated by Bradley Baker and Juanita Coltman, Aboriginal Success through Leadership. Bradley and Juanita presented the Leadership Standards for Principals and Vice Principals in BC through an Aboriginal point of view. This breakout allowed for rich conversations involving the sharing of successes from around the province with regards to our Aboriginal learners. It quickly became apparent that the people in the room were passionate and committed to working with our Aboriginal communities to improve Aboriginal student success.

The day ended with time for reflection in our groups as we all shared our experiences from the day. I left the beautiful, new Student Union building at UBC and walked back to my room feeling so fortunate to be a part of such an inspiring learning community. I asked myself, what are the characteristics of a great leader and I have tried to condense the rather long list that I  compiled down to five. I chose: flexible, supportive, collaborative, competent and caring.

What characteristics come to mind when you think of a leader who has influenced you in positive way?

Reflections on Lenses of Leadership

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This past week I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to participate in Lenses of Leadership at UBC. This is a BCPVPA Short Course which brings together more than 125 school administrators and 19 facilitators to share, connect, inspire, learn and reflect. This course is specifically designed for new administrators as they enter into their leadership roles. I had heard many great things about the course and I was looking forward to taking part.

Throughout the week many powerful words resonated with me and still do, as I reflect on my learning.  Words like Trust, Culture, Values, Vision, Relationships. Each day we explored aspects of the BCPVPA Leadership Standards, as our presenters shared their experiences as they related to Moral Stewardship, Instructional Leadership. Relational Leadership and Organizational Leadership. The underlying theme throughout the week was that we, as educators and leaders, are partners in shaping the future through education.

When I left the beautiful, inspirational environment of UBC, I felt that I had been a part of something that will remain with me throughout my life and career. As I said my goodbyes to the colleagues that had shared the experience with me, that inspired me beyond words, I felt a true sense that we are in this together.

My participation in the short course has led to my attempt to write a blog for the first time. I was inspired by my colleagues who are so brave as to put their ideas out there for others to see. I plan to use this platform to reflect on my learning, develop my personal growth plan and hopefully, in some way, help others who are in this challenging, sometimes overwhelming, but always rewarding, field of education.

The topic for Day 1 was Moral Stewardship, led by Adam Baumann and Liz Bell. This dynamic duo challenged us to think about the processes that we use in ethical decision making, and the struggles we face when deciding between right and right. We explored different case studies and shared how we would follow the process to arrive at a decision that was in line with our values. We were asked to compile a list of 5 of our core values that we could put on a sign above our office door. So many values come to mind, and these may change as days pass, but in this moment, I would choose: Inclusion, Honesty, Acceptance, Responsibility and Integrity.

What 5 core values would you choose?