We hear a lot about the difficulty of change. The stress of change. The reluctance of people to change. However I think change in under-rated. There is an excitement and a promise of possibility that can also accompany change. Quite frankly, I love it! Change is learning. Every time we venture out of the house, challenge our mind or talk to someone, we are stepping into the possibility of changing our experiences, our feelings, our thoughts or our life path. Perhaps that is why I like to travel, to read, to write and to talk, yes even ramble, to friends and relatives and even to strangers.
I am on the precipice of a change in job. I officially start as the principal of University Hill Elementary School on August 1st. I unofficially started moving in, learning, organizing and exploring at the beginning of July. I’ve had a chance to get to know the engineering staff, learn about the award winning UHill Kinderclub, School Aged Daycare and Preschool from the amazing staff, walk down the Salish trail and discover an immediate left turn takes you to Wreck Beach (yikes!). I have figured out how to change the sign with moveable letters at the front of the school and found the cheapest pots big enough to let the amazing plants in the entrance ways continue to flourish. I have unpacked my still excessive number of boxes of books, manipulatives (yes, I still have the bins of lego and wooden blocks from my own kids) and other treasures (yes, including my rocks). I am thrilled to have a huge old, oak desk in a huge office with three different views and windows that open.
I had a chance to meet staff, students and parents and heard about amazing outdoor learning programs, arts performances and work around Indigenous ways of knowing and technology in June. I can’t wait to get to know the people better and to discover the ways I can support them in their work. Change brings with it the possibility of continuing to grow and develop in ways we have yet to imagine. Yes, big change = big thrill. I love it!
It is fairly common to hear couples that speak on the same topic at conferences. It is less common to have siblings pursuing and presenting on the same area of study. This year I had the good fortune to hear both of the Couros brothers speak. Although I follow both of them on Twitter, @gcouros @courosa, read their blogs (The Principal Change by George and Open Thinking by Alec), face to face contact is still best case scenario for me. George Couros came to speak with Jordan Tinney at a PDK Vancouver (UBC Chapter) dinner meeting: ” Report Cards and Communicating Student Learning: Leadership and Learning in a Changing World “. He awed the Vancouver, B.C. audience with his forward thinking about the mindset of innovator’s (2015, The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity 2015 release) and implementation of a wide variety of progressive tools and strategies to stimulate curiosity and make learning visible, including various digital portfolios. This was the first PDK- UBC Chapter meeting where people were tweeting from outside the room. Interest in the topic and his 92.2 K Twitter following were undoubtedly part of the reason. When I learned his big brother, Alec Couros, would be joining Vancouver administrators in Whistler for our Fall Conference, I was not sure what to expect. His job as a professor at the University of Regina indicated ivory tower, but his 94.7 K Twitter following, tweets and blog posts indicated something more dynamic.
To my delight, his session was every bit as engaging and informative as his brother’s session with Jordan Tinney in Spring. The session started providing a theoretical frame as to why educators need to establish an online presence and be the authors of their own story. He also spoke to our responsibility to define respectful discourse on the internet and teach our students about appropriate posting before any damage is done. Then he emerged into a whole range of ways to engage our students in their own learning using technology and available APPS. Dr. Couros provided opportunities for online engagement via a Twitterchat and references so we could go back and play with new tools at a later date. Educators with varying degrees of comfort with technology and differences of background knowledge on social media walked out of the room excited about their new learning and with a manageable path they could navigate.
Both of the Couros brothers were able to inspire their audience with not just an openness to change but an excitement about the potential of change. Their willingness to “boldly go where no “one” has gone before” (Do I need to cite Star Trek?) is energizing for some. That is not to say that people who embrace change are not without fear. With any change in life, there is risk. Continuing on the “tried and true” path is the safest route and perhaps shields us from possible criticism for the questions we can’t answer or for not getting it “right” the first time around. However as reflective practitioners, our role is to identify what we do well and what we could do better. How do we welcome and better facilitate the learning of our students with diverse cultural and linguistic profiles? With varied academic strengths and needs? With questions we can’t answer? With varied mental health? With varied trust in the school system? With delight in the experiences and energy our students bring into the classroom? The Couros brothers were both able to shed some light on the possibilities. They also provided the encouragement, background knowledge and manageable steps to keep us moving forward, not just for the sake of change, but for our students who will need to navigate in a world quite foreign to the one we grew up in. Thank you, gentlemen 🙂
The October, Provincial Professional Development Day in BC has become more of a Professional Development weekend. Sessions start Thursday night and continue on through the weekend to make the most of the opportunity for participants from across the province to develop background knowledge, pursue passions and work collaboratively with like minded people. The BC Principals and Vice Principals Associations, Individual District Administrator groups, BCTF Provincial Specialist Associations, Local Associations, UBC and a whole host of other organizations and provided a plethora of options for educators to improve their professional practice. Implicit in coming together to work and learn collaboratively is the desire to improve our classroom/school practices and better meet the needs of a diverse population of students.
I went to a great session by Andrew Schofield , a Vancouver Administrator, on Saturday morning at a professional development conference for administrators in Vancouver Board of Education. He was working with a staff in the 1990’s in South Africa, as they grappled with the significant shifts in government and societal changes, while still under the huge pressures of 70% unemployment and rampant health challenges. His presentation focused on reflecting on our own responses to change, as well as trying to understand the responses of colleagues in the midst of change. While some people find change exciting and others meet it with skepticism, everyone needs to cope with patterns and expectations outside of what has been established as the norm. It’s hard. Yet, despite it being a risk taking venture, educators all over the province regularly engage in change, motivated by government initiatives, needs of students and personal desire to do something better.
This Monday, the professional development continued at my school and the focus was inquiry. As frequently happens with educators after prod days, I was anxious to try out some of the things that I had learned. I used some of the activities that Andrew introduced as icebreakers to start off the session and encourage reflection on the nature of change. Simple activities like folding hands and legs and arms in a familiar way and then shifting to an unfamiliar ways resulted in a good laugh and some great reflection. Seamless, familiar, automatic movements were shifted to unfamiliar actions requiring deliberate cognitive engagement. It was awkward and uncomfortable. The discussion continued with the reflection on the preferences for the chocolates or skittles or jujubes (which also involved favorite colours) in bowls on the centre of the table. Decisions were deliberate and automatic and not up for discussion. This was a great way to move into working in inquiry teams with a diverse group of peoples with a little more patience and understanding of the approaches, reactions and unspoken assumptions of group members.
Teachers engaged in rich discussion about the nature of inquiry, the types of questions to consider, and their interests. We have using Spirals of Inquiry (2013) by Halbert and Kaser to frame our discussions on inquiry. Some groups shared questions and thoughts arising out of recent prod sessions and others shared learning coming out of previous inquiries. One group had focused their attention on giving students a greater range of choice when doing project based learning. We were fortunate to have Barb McBride, the district Reading Recovery Teacher Leader attending our prod. She shared her work with Maureen Dockendorf, Faye Brownlie, Judy Halbert, Linda Kaiser and other inspirational educators to facilitate the inquiry process in British Columbia. Her work with three teachers in our school has resulted in an inquiry group focusing on supporting the most vulnerable students in their early literacy development. Another group of teachers talked about the recent session they had attended with educators across the district to define questions about how we can use technology to increase student engagement and learning . Another group told about the conference cosponsored by NITEP and BCTF at the UBC longhouse. They were considering how to apply their learning to create a better sense of belonging and understanding of Aboriginal ways of knowing at the school. One teacher introduced us to Apple tv and an app she had recently purchased for scheduling, organization and record keeping. It was certainly one of those days when I’m left in awe of the intelligence, commitment and tenacity of teachers in the quest to be lifelong learners. This is the work that I find not only inspiring but energizing.
Art Markman is not only an academic but personable and hence able to convey his message. If the truth be known, I also like him BECAUSE he brought his mother to his presentation and book signing at The Learning and the Brain Conference in New York on Mother’s Day. Every mother of a son realizes that being good to your Mommy is one of the criteria for true admiration and respect:D
Markman has also published Smart Thinking and Habits of Leadership. His most recent publication, Smart Change: Five Tools to Create New and Sustainable Habits in Yourself and Others continues to explore his work on understanding how the brain functions in developing new habits and maintaining old habits with automaticity. Deeply ingrained habits do not require thinking to guide our actions. This is why I have inadvertently headed on my expedited route to work when I’ve agreed to drop off a husband or son at the skytrain, even when he is sitting right beside me in the car. The quest is to leverage the power of the brain to make the changes you want to make. Interestingly several of the examples are related to diet, something many of us can relate to failures over the course of years.
The book is designed as a handbook for someone wanting to make a change in his/her life. The Takeaways at the end of each chapter summarize key point. Templates for a smart change journal are provided online (smartchangebook.com) or you can respond to prompts and questions in your own journal. I have started the process and we’ll see how that goes.