Getting Above the Clouds

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I have not been writing in my blog recently. Many times over the past couple of weeks I have found myself in front of a blank screen, fingers held over the keyboard and… nothing.

So here I sit today trying to hit the reset button on my blog.

2016 has begun and I am having a great time! I have embarked on a new challenge in my career and am enjoying the journey so far. I am busier than ever but I feel energized.

I just finished reading “The Energy Bus” by Jon Gordon. It is a book about a guy named George who gets up one day and discovers that he has a flat tire, just what he needs given that his home and work life are not going well. George asks his wife to give him a ride to work but she refuses so he has no choice but to take the bus.

The story continues as George meets the bus driver named Joy and a cast of characters who teach him 10 life lessons about positive energy, all while using a bus as a metaphor for life.

The underlying message is that you must think positive thoughts because thoughts are magnetic. “What we think about, we attract.” I have certainly found this to be so within my own life.

We all go through periods in our lives where things just seem to be going all wrong and we tend to look at only the negatives during these times. But, if we try to turn our thoughts in a positive direction, and believe me I know this can be quite difficult, we will find that the clouds will part. Positivity is like a muscle that you need to exercise in order for it to become stronger.  You have to develop a habit of positive thinking. And, as Gordon puts it, you must not allow any “energy vampires” on your bus.

There may be people in our lives that have a negative impact on our energy, the ones who act as energy vampires and seem to thrive on negativity. You have to be sure that your positive energy is enough to cancel their negative. You have to have those crucial conversations with these people to let them know that you will not allow them to impact your path or vision in a negative way. That if they are not willing to develop a more positive outlook then there is no room for them on your bus. You don’t waste your energy on the people who are not willing to ride along with you and be a member of your team.

It is also important to acknowledge that the positivity which you project is real. People know when you are being fake,  like when you constantly throw around “I love you” and “You’re the best” to everyone you meet.

When building relationships that are authentic, you have to be aware of your energy. People, especially kids, can tap into your energy and are sensitive to it, they can feel when you are excited, angry, nervous…you can’t fool them with a positive façade. You may wonder, as George does in the book, what to do with your negative energy. Well, you have to transform it, look for the good and hold onto it. Rise above the negative. Its like when you are flying in a plane and the sky is completely cloud covered, but when you get up above those clouds, the sun is shining brightly. You just have to get above the clouds.

When you are working on building a strong, productive team, you need to show that you care about people. Be willing to communicate, and don’t let how busy or stressed you may feel interfere with that. You need to give people a purpose. This is the intrinsic motivator, productive teams are not driven by money or perks,  they are driven by purpose. You have to be willing to act as a coach to help people tap into their strengths, build their skills, feel that what they do matters.

Take risks, encourage others to do so, spend time reflecting and finally… you have to enjoy the ride. Life is too short not to go for it!

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Punish People for a Job Well Done

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Much of my life has been spent inside of a school and even when I am out of school I find myself drawn to learning as much as I can about education. I have had many roles in education, I’ve been a teacher, department head, vice principal and principal and all the while I have been, and continue to be, a student.

I do a lot of reading about education and many of my conversations with others lead back to education, I guess you could call me an “education junkie”.

In my new role as a principal, I have doing quite a bit of reading about leadership and how to support teachers and staff. I know what I had wanted from my many principals when I was a teacher.

In the school where I spent more than 20 years teaching, the administrators office was a revolving door of people who would be hired and shortly thereafter move on. I sat down one day and reflected on all of the administrators that had gone through our building and I had a difficult time keeping track. If I include the principals and vice principals, the number of people is 17. Over a 22 year span our school saw 17 different administrators! The changes in administration brought a continual change of focus, each new leader bringing with them a new outlook, a new initiative, a new “flavour of the month” while the common core of teachers and staff worked to meet the challenges.

In reading Shelly Rees’s blog post, “19 Things Teachers want their Principals to Know“, she cites many of the things that have come up over the years in conversations with my colleagues. Many of the things that teachers want are the same things that any worker in any field wants from their bosses, things like support, understanding and trust. But the one point that stands out the most to me as I reflect on my own experiences and those of several of my colleagues is fairness. Rees states:

Don’t punish me for a job well done. Just because I am hard-working and capable, don’t come to me to be on every committee and to help solve every problem. It is not fair to give me the difficult, heart-wrenching cases year after year because I do a good job. Spread the workload fairly. “

Oftentimes I have seen the same teachers step up to be the members of committees, the sponsors for school clubs, the teachers who deal with the “difficult” students because… well, “Mrs. X can’t have those students, she doesn’t get along with that type of student” or “We need you to do ____ because you can handle it, while Mr. Y cannot.” Should people who are able to handle difficult situations be the ones who are always assigned to deal with them? Wouldn’t it be better if those people who don’t have the skills required were placed in situations where they could learn these skills? I’ve had people say to me over the years, “Its almost better to do a bad job because then I would get the easier assignment.” This just does not seem fair.

What often happens is the people who are the busiest and the most passionate about their jobs are the people who get called upon to do more, because after all, they are the ones who will find the time. Everyone else is just too busy. This type of leadership can lead to crispiness, the stage just before burnout. When the energetic become tired and start to notice a lack of fairness, they will begin to shut their doors and close themselves off from the excitement they once felt about education. They will continue to do the great job they have always done within the four walls of their classroom but they will no longer step forward to be the risk takers they once were and that we need in our schools. Administrators need to take time to show appreciation, spread out the workload fairly and equitably, provide the supports to those who need to develop and learn new skills and in so doing build a strong team. Don’t punish people for a job well done. The people that you take for granted today may be the people that you need tomorrow.

The Importance of Soft Skills

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I have been doing quite a lot of reading, rereading, learning and relearning recently as I attempt to answer the question, “What skills do we as educators, leaders and parents want for our students and children when they leave school. What are the attributes of a successful graduate?

This would be a great activity to do with our school community. Pose the question to parents, teachers, administrators and students, “What are the attributes of a successful graduate?”

I recently reread an article from the New York Times by Thomas Friedman, “How to get a job at Google”. Empowering students and engaging them in a learning process which fosters success in school and life, ensuring that when they leave school they have the skills that the job market of today and tomorrow requires.

In the article, Friedman highlights five attributes that Google desires in its employees:

1.Cognitive Ability

Cognitive ability is not just how “smart” you are, it encompasses your ability to learn and process information. To be able to think creatively and critically, reflect on your work and pivot. To be able to accept feedback as you feed forward.
2.Leadership
Leadership is about your ability to step up, step in and more importantly, to step back when necessary.
3.Humility
Humility allows you to understand that we all have something to learn and something to teach each other. To understand that your way is not the only way.  Listening with an open mind fosters trust, sharing and promotes collaboration.
4.Ownership
To own your goals, learning and behaviour. To recognize your role and responsibility as you work with others to problem solve.
5.Expertise
Being an expert in your field is an obvious asset. If you are not an expert you can make up for that by being curious and willing to learn.
While, not all students are heading to Google when they graduate, these skills can prove quite valuable in an array of career paths.
Ask yourself, if you were asked to list five attributes of a successful graduate, what would you choose?
My personal list would be:
  • Perseverance
  • Resilience
  • Critical thinking
  • Social responsibility
  • Adaptability

 

 

 

 

For All the Heros and Sheroes

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Today is Remembrance Day here in Canada, “the true North strong and free.” A day when we pause to remember all of the people who have given so much for the freedom that we enjoy and often take for granted. I would like to dedicate this blog entry to all of the heroes and sheroes who have sacrificed so much for this great country and to their families who support them through it all.

Motherhood

When he was just a baby,

first learning how to walk,

she held his tiny hand tightly,

not wanting him to fall.

He gently pushed her hand away,

“Let me go Mama, I’ll be okay.”

She did… and he was.

When he was a young boy,

excited for the first day of school,

she held his little hand tightly,

not wanting him to go.

He gently pushed her hand away,

“Let me go Mommy, I’ll be okay.”

She did…and he was.

When he was a teenager,

eagerly going off to college,

She held his hand tightly,

Wishing he didn’t have to go.

He gently pushed her hand away.

“Let me go Mom, I’ll be okay.”

She did… and he was.

When he was a young man,,

proudly going off to war,

she held his hand tightly,

afraid to let him go.

He gently pushed her hand away.

“Let me go Mother, I’ll be okay.”

She did…

Geraldine Lawlor

Life is a Learning Process

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I am one of those people. One of those who believes that life is always teaching you something. That everyone you meet comes into your life for a reason, to teach you something about the world, about yourself. Whenever I read an article, a book, a newspaper, watch television, meet new people, visit new places, I learn something new. Some things I seek to learn and others I learn through experience or even by accident.

Reflecting on this few days I can identify many things which I have learned in both my professional and personal life. While I have learned many new things recently, I will focus on a couple:

  • I learned about Violent Threat/Risk Assessment.
This I learned in a formal setting from an experienced and knowledgeable presenter, Theresa Campbell. I attended a two day training session, ERASE Bullying, with colleagues and came away with a wealth of new knowledge. It was thought provoking, informative, intense and was very meaningful for me as a principal, educator and parent.
  • I am in the process of learning how to Sketchnote. Below is a copy of my first attempt:
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The topic, Framework For Decision Making, came from my professional growth plan. As an administrator, I have to make many decisions which often affect many different people. I have been researching different frameworks for decision making and have settled on one which I then decided to depict through a Sketchnote. The learning involved in the act of designing and producing a Sketchnote was Tangential learning which is ” the process by which people will self-educate if a topic is exposed to them in a context that they already enjoy.” Through the building of my PLN, I have been inspired by Sylvia Duckworth to try Sketchnotes and am finding the creative challenge to be interesting and engaging.

  • I learned how to use Google Slides

After attending the ERASE Bullying Training session I decided that I would like to share what I have learned with my colleagues who did not attend. Though I am familiar with PowerPoint and Prezi, I thought this would be a good opportunity for me to learn about Google Slides so I took some time this weekend to prepare a Google Slides presentation.

Each day we learn something new and if you take the time to reflect at the end of your day you will be able to recognize the value in these lessons. They don’t have to be big, life altering lessons, believe me, some days I look back and wish I had not learned a thing. After all, not all lessons are pleasant, some can be painful. But either way, we learn. All of our lessons come together to form the person that we are.. and will be.

Solidarity vs. Solitary

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Solitary: existing without others, going it alone.

Solidarity: mutual support within a group.

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As educators, we have to be careful that we don’t become solitary. At times, we can find ourselves going to work, avoiding the staffroom, going into our classrooms and closing the door to the outside. After all, we went into education for the students and not for the interactions with other educators. Our classrooms become our second home. We have all had an experience where a student sees us outside of school and appears shocked and surprised that we actually have a life outside of the school. (Those people in our lives who know us well though, know that sometimes that is not too far from the truth!)

With a lot of the politics that goes on in the education system, it is understandable that, over time, you can succumb to being solitary. To cut yourself off from what goes on outside of the four walls of your classroom. Maybe its what you hear in the news during job action that starts the process. Maybe its a person on staff who seems to live to promote negativity and you become tired of that. Maybe its your life outside of school, when your children are little and your lack of sleep has an effect on your energy level. You need to conserve your energy for the students in your classes and not a whole lot is left over for fostering relationships with colleagues. Maybe you are focussing heavily on the lesson planning, the marking, the new technology that you want to learn about and utilize. Either way, you forget that other people are right across the hall and may be experiencing the same thing…going it alone.

If you recognize any of this in yourself, now is the time to make a change. A conscientious effort to open your classroom doors, allow the walls of your classroom to be permeable. Start sharing your ideas, successes and challenges with a colleague. Open the dialogue. So many folks will say, I simply don’t have time for that. Well, I say, you have to make time. The reward will far outweigh the effort it takes to engage in meaningful discussions with other educators in your school. Our schools are filled with people who have a wealth of experience. We have so much that we can learn from each other. After all, don’t we encourage our students to work collaboratively all the time. Haven’t you ever heard yourself say to a student “We have to learn to get along, to work together” ?

Of course, all of this is much easier to accomplish within a building where trust, transparency and risk taking are cultivated and promoted. There are people on every staff who you can identify as the leaders, the igniters. Who are willing to try new things. Start by reaching our to those people, or maybe you are one or used to be. Take that first step, be proactive. Invite someone into your class to see the learning that is happening. Not to watch you teach but instead to watch students learn.

Ask yourself why you got into teaching in the first place? More importantly, ask yourself, at the end of your career, how will you know if you have accomplished your why? You may be interested in certain topics in education, subjects, strategies. Share your passion. Encourage your colleagues to share with you. Together we can do so much. Go to a professional development event and sit with a groups of educators that you have never met. Step outside of your comfort zone. Engage in positive conversations around learning and foster your own growth mindset. When you return to your school, take the opportunity to share what you have learned with your colleagues.

You just may find that solidarity is a whole lot more fulfilling and energizing that solitary ever was.

The Order of Things: Disrupting Bloom’s Taxonomy

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Anyone in the education field has, at some time in their training, encountered Bloom’s Taxonomy. blooms_taxonomy

Since its original conception in 1956 there have been many papers written about it and there have been many modifications introduced.

 The merits lie within the levels of learning and the identification of the cognitive thinking skills involved. However, in keeping with the movement towards the flipped classroom, it has been suggested that we should be revisiting Bloom’s Taxonomy with an open mind and a more modern view. While the levels of learning are agreed upon, the order in which information is presented and acquired should be explored and disrupted.

In her article on Flipping Bloom’s Taxonomy, Shelley Wright talks about changing how we look at the pyramid and suggests that the levels should be flipped. She calls this Bloom’s 21, with creating being at the bottom and remembering at the top.

Many people in education start a topic something like this:

  • Here is a new term/concept that we need to learn
  • This is the definition or an explanation of the term
  • Now, here are some examples

This method suggests that knowledge is the most important step, with emphasis being on the retention of factual information. Today’s learners need to know how to use that knowledge, the emphasis in our technological world being on learning how to learn. We are trying to move away from the idea that education involves a teacher telling the students what to learn and then testing the students to see if they can recall the correct answers.

For many students, the climb from the bottom of Bloom’s taxonomy to the top is a difficult one and along the way many students get lost. When I was in school, a student’s ability to make it to the higher level of thinking was not so much taught, practiced or cultivated as it was seen as inherent.

As Shelley Wright suggests, the original pyramid implies that creativity is a rare commodity and can only be reached by those who master the lower levels of cognition. Educators know that this is not true. Students have infinite curiosity when they enter the school system and if that curiosity is cultivated, the potential for creativity is limitless. Wright tells us that we should begin with creativity and move towards knowledge.

I recently read a book called, 17,000 Classroom Visits Can’t Be Wrong by John V Antonetti and James R Garver, where they talk about the importance of a shift in “the order in which students interact with content”. This requires the teacher to start a lesson with the focus being on in the middle of the pyramid, somewhere in the analysis or application levels. If you start with examples, have students work in pairs or small groups to develop the idea and then finally provide the term that is the focus of the lesson, students are more likely to be engaged and able to move to the high levels of thinking.

When I reflect back on my years in the classroom, I realize that the more I did to provide the knowledge, the less the students were able to retain the knowledge. I was working harder on review than they were. I was being “too helpful”. I now realize that, by starting elsewhere in the pyramid, whether that be where Wright suggests, at the creating step, or where Antonetti and Garver suggest, in the middle, would provide for a more engaging experience and cultivate curiosity.

Of course, this would take time and thought on the educators part, deciding the thinking level on which you would like to begin and developing a plan to get to your learners to where they need to be. This does require a paradigm shift. By providing students the direction, allowing them to work and sometimes struggle together, will foster greater engagement and allow for them to experience the spectrum of Bloom’s taxonomy.

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