Author Archives: glawlor130

Getting Out and About

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When our children were little, we strongly discouraged whining and complaining. We would say things like, “Whitmell’s Don’t Whine” whenever their voices changed to that tone that as parents we all know very well. As parents, my husband and I encouraged our two children, who are only 21 months apart, to use their words and explain their problem(s) but the expectation was for them to always try to follow up with a solution. Problem solving has always been a big thing in our family.

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After all, complaining without offering a solution is simply whining. At times they would have a complaint about something we had done as parents (I know, hard to believe!) but we would say, “Sorry, the complaint department is closed. It will be open on Sunday at 6:30am and remain open for half an hour. If you wish to lodge a complaint you will have to wait until then. We are very sorry.” This was successful… 99% of the time, it stopped the complaining and often led to humorous discussions about fairness. However, there was this one time when we were woken up at 6:30am on a lazy Sunday morning with the two of them, aged 6 and 5, standing at the side of our bed, prepared to lodge their complaint about why they felt it was unreasonable to expect that TV time be limited on weekends. They had a valid argument and were just so darned cute that we agreed and changed their time allowance. We are very reasonable people and not immune to absolutely adorable determination!

Why do I tell you this story? Well, as a principal there are have been times when I have complained about my day to my husband. (I know, hard to believe *innocent smile*) This has occurred on days when I have looked up at the clock after wondering why I’m so hungry and realized that I missed lunch completely because I was busy answering emails (I get a few of those *hint of sarcasm* ), doing paperwork, answering phone calls…I know that in my position, this is to be expected. However, I was noticing that at times it was making me feel stuck behind my desk and preventing me from getting out into classrooms.

I started to notice that on these types of days, I came home after school and I had nothing left to give to my family. I was exhausted. One day I was complaining to my husband that I had been caught up in my office all day and that this was not how I had envisioned my role when I took on my position as principal. His answer to my complaining was simply “Well, how can you fix that?”, exactly what we say to our kids. In other words, he was gently reminding me to stop whining and come up with a solution.

Just as Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf say in their book Lead Like a Pirate, 

As leaders, we can show up to work each day with nothing on our to-do list and still be busy all day simply reacting to what’s thrown at us from the moment we walk in the door. We can be exhausted at the end of the day and hope that what we did that day helped our school to change, but hope on its own doesn’t create change. Action does.”

I had allowed the short term tasks to get in the way of my long term goals. I had allowed management tasks to encroach on the time that I wanted to be out and about, in classrooms with teachers and students, having conversations and immersing myself in the learning. So, I made a decision to limit my office time and increase the time I spent in classrooms. The difference that this made was incredible. I was no longer exhausted at the end of the day. I was energized. I was having exciting conversations with staff about kids and their learning.

As I prepare to head back to school at the end of the month I plan to spend more time getting out and about with my sleeves rolled up, working side by side with staff and the school community. Immersing myself in work that has an impact on student learning and being more intentional with my time and energy.

 

 

 

 

#LeadLAP Challenge Accepted

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Lead Like a PirateA while ago I started a blog… and started it again… and started it again. You get the idea. I had the best of intentions to write in my blog regularly and at first I was doing fairly well but then my efforts waned as I began to feel a little crispy. You know, that feeling you start to get at certain times of year where you are not quite burnt out but you are definitely feeling crispy on your edges. So I started to become more active in Twitter and found that chats and 140 character limits were working well for me. Through Twitter I learned about the PIRATE movement. Educators were talking about the books  TEACH Like a Pirate and LEAD Like a Pirate and how they were life changing. After reading about how much teachers and leaders in education loved LEAD Like a Pirate and seeing photos of people with broad pirate hats and even broader smiles, I was “hooked”.

I bought the book and it was such an inspiration that I devoured it in days and then went back to #BookSnap my way through it again.

Like many of the people who have read and embraced the Pirate philosophy, I love learning new things (so much so that my children have been known to lovingly mock my love of learning and the joy that I get from it). I believe in challenging myself to take risks and encouraging others to do the same. So, when Beth Houf and Shelley Burgess put forth the #LeadLAP Challenge I decided that now is the time to jump back into blogging!

Here are the 5 things that I am committing to doing differently this year as a result of my journey:

  1. Last year I started a school Facebook page and Twitter account. I am committed to continue using Social Media to share the learning that is happening at our school and celebrate all of our successes. I would also love to pursue a “Year in the Learning” blog. I learned about this idea from Shelley Burgess while in a chat on Twitter and look forward to touching base with Shelley to discuss getting this started. I am passionate about letting the community know about all of the wonderful things that are happening both school and district wide. There are so many stories that ought to be shared.
  2. I plan to engage in more ANCHOR conversations with staff. I strongly believe in the impact that appreciation has on all of the people who work in our schools. Everyone wants to feel appreciated for what they do to make the school a success. I am committed to schedule more classroom visits and “drop anchors of appreciation”.

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3. I am committed to continuing to build my PLN. Connecting with other educators,  whether we support or challenge each others views, can help us to grow both professionally and personally. Technology allows us to make connections with people all around the globe who can share expertise and resources and provide some invaluable professional development.

4. During staff meetings I would like to continue to move away from the “laundry list” model. By encouraging teachers and support staff to share what they are doing in classrooms and having prize draws for books that provide inspiration I hope to make staff meetings more engaging and effective.

5. I recently purchased a beautiful agenda/journal that I plan to use to keep track of the day’s highlights. (I love a pretty journal and a colourful set of pens.) While I have been documenting important events during the day I plan to shift my record keeping somewhat so that I can use one book to plan, record and reflect. Let’s call it my “journalog”.

I look forward to reading the blogs written by others who are accepting this LeadLAP challenge. Special thanks to Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf for your inspiration!

 

Giving Credit

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Educators from all around the globe are taking part in conversations where ideas are being shared, discussed, tweaked and re-shared all the time. The internet allows us to access information from so many sources in such a short time. (Check out this article which describes What happens in an internet second ) We often see ideas from many years ago resurface and get recycled and labelled with a catchy new term. It can be quite challenging to pinpoint where the original idea came from without extensive research.

Educators are taking risks and trying new methods in their classrooms. Methods that focus on  21st Century learning, that often involve the use of technology, that are bringing about transformative systemic change in education. I have been in many conversations recently where someone is sharing the wonderful new approach that a teacher is exploring. They’ve been excited to share a success story only to have someone respond with, “Yes, I’ve heard of that before”, “Oh, that’s the flavour the month is it?” or “That’s not their idea you know”. These types of energy zapping comments are an attempt to diminish the idea and/or its impact.

Does it really matter where the idea originally came from? Isn’t the main thing that this particular teacher is trying something new?  Taking the initiative and working to enhance the learning experience for their students? That they were willing to step out of their comfort zone and take a chance with a new approach?

I am not saying that you shouldn’t give people credit. Not at all! Did you read a book and were inspired to try something that was suggested? Give the author a shout out on Social Media. Did you attend a conference and the speaker’s story gave you the courage to try a new approach in your classroom? Write them an email or tell a colleague about the wonderful conference that you attended. Did a colleague down the hall invite you into their classroom to observe their lesson and you decided to put what you observed into practice? Give them kudos at the next staff meeting. By all means, acknowledge those who have given you inspiration.

Sure, it can be very frustrating at times to deal with people who take credit for your idea or make it a point to say that the original idea wasn’t yours. But if you reflect on the situation you will most likely come to the conclusion that it doesn’t really matter in the big picture.

For those of you who are taking risks, who are willing to try something new to enrich the learning experience for your students, I applaud you. Invite a trusted colleague into your classroom to share and help give you feedback. Reflect on how it went, revise if necessary and remember to never stop doing your best because someone doesn’t give you credit.

 

Give the kid a pencil

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The pencil, a universal symbol for schools. We see their images on Back to School advertisements, in flyers, on school newsletters and on classroom walls. Who would think that they could cause so much controversy.

The inspiration for this topic came from I read a post on Twitter by Danny Steele @SteeleThoughts about pencils. It read

“If your student forgets his pencil, give him a pencil. Don’t make a thing of it. There are better ways to teach a kid responsibility.”

You would not believe the responses. It had received over 1200 likes, over 600 retweets and 25 replies and counting. Should this even be something that has to be put out there as a message on Social Media? Yup, apparently so based on the conversations that ensued. There seem to be three camps out there. One camp feels, just give the kid a pencil, another feels that there needs to be some sort of responsibility and therefore require collateral and another is very cut and dry, if the kid doesn’t bring a pencil they will be asked to leave the room.

There are some students who come to school without having eaten breakfast, have no lunch, no gym strip, they have clothes that looks old or too small and yes, may have no pencil. Isn’t providing them with a pencil an easy fix? Quietly handing a student a pencil when they need one, without making a federal case out of it can be the first step in building a positive relationship with them. It’s a simple gesture which can say a whole lot. It tells the student that you want to provide them with what they need to be successful in your class.

Sure, there’s the possibility that the student is being irresponsible and sending a subtle message to the teacher that they “couldn’t be bothered to bring a pencil” but isn’t it our job to teach them responsibility and encourage them to be actively involved in the class? Step one, hand over a pencil, ask for collateral if that’s what you want, but sending them out of class? Surely, that’s not the way to deal with it. Treating a student with kindness, getting on with the day’s lesson, isn’t that the easiest route to take? The least disruptive to the class?

Haven’t we all forgotten a pencil at some point in our lives? I know that on occasion I have shown up at a meeting without a pencil. I haven’t been singled out and embarrassed by anyone. I have been provided what I need at my table without issue. Actually, most of the time there are pads of paper and plenty of pencils and pens laid out at the table in anticipation that we, the adults, came unprepared. Not once have I ever been asked to leave a meeting because I forgot my pencil. (Though, I’m sure we all have wished at least once, that we had been. Meetings are not always a whole lot of fun.)

Please, just give the kid a pencil.

Spring? Break

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The #compelledtribe common topic for April is to share how I used Spring Break to become a better educator.

While many people headed off to find sunshine, our family had decided to stay home this Spring Break. Our 16 year old daughter was scheduled to get her wisdom teeth out smack in the middle of Spring Break so we thought we would all just stay home and relax.

Here on the North Coast of BC we use the term Spring Break rather…hopefully. Sure, on the calendar it should be Spring  but more often than not the weather is not even close to evoking feelings of Spring. You know, rejuvenating, energizing, out with the old type stuff. Well, our Spring Break started with several days of snow. Now don’t get me wrong it sure is pretty, with all the trees and mountains covered in the white fluffy stuff. But…Spring? Not even close. It was another winter break so it made you feel like sitting in your PJ’s with your blankie in front of a fire and hibernating with a good book. So, I embraced that feeling to its fullest extent and planted myself on my couch in my “spot” as I like to call it, for much of the time and did a whole lot of reading. My daughter and I did some baking as well because, as she said, “It feels like Christmas so why don’t we do some Christmas baking!” She is always able to look at the positive and make things fun, that’s one of the many things I love about her!

Anyway, back to me, in my flannel PJ’s in my “spot”. I started with a fun book. I do a lot of reading about education and leadership throughout the school year so I thought I’d start with a fun, non work related book. My friend, a teacher on staff, dropped it off in my office on the last day before Spring Break and told me to “Read this over break, you’ll love it!”, as she headed off to pack for her trip to Montreal. It was Jenny Lawson’s, “Furiously Happy”. That woman makes me laugh out loud. I burned through that book in no time, it was so entertaining, strange and refreshingly honest.

Next…

I have a stack of books on my nightstand and another stack on the floor beside it but nothing was calling to me and I had already committed to binge reading so, what to do? I turned to Twitter to see what books my PLN was tweeting about and there were several. One was “Lead like a Pirate” by Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf. I had read many things about the “Pirate” movement but I wasn’t quite sure what it was all about. What did eyepatches and hooks have to do with schools? But,  people were loving the book so I downloaded it on my Kindle and started. I was “hooked”! I know, lame teacher joke, can’t help myself sometimes! But truly, I was loving this book. It was filled with real life stories and lessons learned through experience in schools as leaders and teachers. By the way, for those who aren’t familiar the whole PIRATE thing, it is an acronym for Passion, Immersion, Rapport, Ask and Analyze, Transformation and Enthusiasm, nothing really to do with eyepatches but the connection is so much fun! I was drawn into the book and found myself participating in chats with the authors and readers. It was and still is providing me with some great professional development.

All the while I was also re-reading “The Innovators Mindset” by George Couros and participating in his #IMMOOC challenge. I find myself going back to his book often to revisit the ideas and find inspiration. During my Twitter convos around these books I learned about #BookSnaps from @TaraMartinEDU. I watched her video on how to do a BookSnap and I was on my way. These are such a great ways  to share what you are learning through your reading, express your opinions, be creative and engage in discussions. I shared what I learned with my husband, he’s a teacher too, and he  has used them in his class.

I went on to read a couple of other books but I’ll share about those in a future post. During the rest of the break I went on a few nice long walks to get some fresh air. Walks in nature are such a great way to clear your head and get yourself moving. I didn’t sit in my spot all Spring Break! My husband and I got out of town for a couple of days, took a long…very long drive actually and enjoyed the scenery and some shopping. It was a great Spring Break!

“What if…we just tried something new”

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Whenever you decide to try something new in a school you are going to find that there are three types of responses that you get from the people involved. 1.  “I don’t see why we need to try that, what we’ve been doing is working just fine.” 2. “Sure, whatever,  I’m willing to give this a try.” and 3. “Yes, please, let’s try that!”. You will find that these responses come from parents, teachers and students alike and you can probably, as a teacher or administrator, predict with amazing accuracy, the people who will give you each response before you even make a suggestion. The challenge comes with following through on your idea. Sure, it may be a risk that you are taking in implementing a change but how can we move forward and encourage risk taking if we don’t model it?

This past month we tried a new format for parent – teacher conferences.

We opened up the afternoon to “drop in” meetings for parents. In the past parents had to call ahead and book appointment times with each of their child’s teachers.

We had coffee and treats available for parents as they entered the building to welcome them to our school and also had parents fill out a ticket for a door prize draw. We have never had food or prizes before. (Who doesn’t love food and prizes?)

The teachers gathered in the gym at tables that we arranged around the perimeter. There were several advantages to this.   It  felt less isolating for staff and more like a school community, parents did not have to walk from classroom to classroom and wait outside in the hall while other parents were finishing their appointments, instead they could scan the gym to see which teacher was available and easily approach that teacher to discuss student learning. Our school is very large, it takes 20 minutes for me to unlock and turn on lights in the morning so having the teachers in one location made it much easier for parents.

When this new format was first suggested to staff, the three expected responses mentioned earlier were received. When I suggested food and door prizes I was almost laughed out of the room. The plan would also involve more work  in organizing the gym and getting the food set up. This would be my responsibility but we have amazing students and support staff who helped out and when the last class left the gym at 2:11pm, everyone sprung into action and had all 30 tables, labelled with teachers names and subjects, 90 chairs,  and the food tables ready to go by 2:30pm. Whew!!

While the turn out was not as great as I had hoped, the conversations that were sparked as a result of the change made it all worthwhile. I had parents drop by my office to give me feedback on why they liked this new format. I had teachers drop by with amazing ideas about how we can make this format even better next time. Ideas like using this time to showcase student success and creativity, displaying student work in the center of the gym for parents to see and having student council members present to greet parents, just to name a few. I know I will still have those people who are stuck on response number 1 but that is to be expected.

What if we promoted risk taking to our staff and students and modeled it openly as administrators?

 

 

The Power of Connection

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This quote applies to all stakeholders in the education system. Whether we are speaking about how students, parents, teachers, education assistants or administrators feel, there is little doubt regarding the power of connection. People want to feel that they are valued, that they have a voice and that they are members of a community.

I want to focus now on the feeling of connection amongst educators.

There has been much talk over the past few years about people in the field of education building their own  PLN (Personal Learning Network). The feeling of connection that comes from a PLN is powerful. I have spoken to many people about the role that Twitter can play in developing a PLN. Most of us already have some sort of electronic device, a cell phone, a tablet…that’s all you need. Reaching out to connect with others in the field of education and sharing expertise can be a valuable learning experience. After all, many of the challenges that you face as an educator are not unique to you, your school or community. There are hundreds, maybe even thousands  of people out there who have or are experiencing many of the same challenges that you are and can share their stories about what has worked and what hasn’t. Connect with some of them, have conversations, get feedback on your ideas, take charge of your professional development.

Sure, often when I mention Twitter and other forms of social media like Voxer, I have often been met with “eye rolling”, often followed by “I don’t understand Twitter”, or “I don’t believe in technology”. The fact is, that technology is a part of our lives and most definitely a part of the lives and future of our students. If you are unsure how to use it, then have someone teach you.

You can also build your PLN by attending conferences and workshops about topics that are of particular interest to you. It is easy to get caught up in daily routine with all of the things that seem to pile up on your desk. You can get so focussed on attacking the tasks, prepping, marking… that you don’t take the time to pause and search out experiences that can help you to grow, to connect with new people and have new conversations. Go to a conference and take advantage of the opportunity to share new ideas and opinions, you may even find that you gain a new energy that you otherwise may not gain while staying within the four walls of your classroom. If you do choose to attend a conference, try to sit with people you don’t know, dont just sit with people that you can talk with every day, you already know their opinions, their experiences. Branch out. This can be difficult for those of us who are more introverted but believe me, you will be glad you did. Connecting and collaborating are important skills that we want for our students, don’t you want the same for yourself?