Getting out of our comfort zone

What do you do when you wake up really early (5:30 AM) on a Saturday morning? The answer of course, for connected educators is to engage in the Twitter chat #satchat. This week the discussion focused on 2012-13 professional development opportunities. Interestingly enough, being connected through Twitter, book studies as well as the “unconference” #edcamp themes were predominant in the discussion. However, an interesting comment from Tom Whitby (almost seemingly coming from left field) really caused me to reflect.

“Comfort zones are roadblocks to educational reform”

 Wow! What a powerful statement! How many of us are constantly seeking to find our comfort zone? We all want to find that right flow for our work and our life. And when we find it, we certainly don’t want to move out of it. And yet, based on the comment, it is a roadblock to where we need to go in education. I don’t believe we can take this statement only at face value without further critique. Comfort zones can be widely defined and some should always be a priority. For example, I’m an extremely routine orientated person. This is probably the reason why I don’t do well with long extended holidays. I work best when I’m able to have my early morning workout. For me, this routine provides great comfort and I believe the ability to do my best work. It would be my suggestion that we must all find that comfort zone that allows us to do our best work.

However, I believe what Tom was suggesting in his statement was more a matter of our work. In education, we can ill afford to be overly comfortable in our classrooms, schools and systems. Defaulting to comfortable to me is akin to defaulting to mediocre. A comment by Anthony Mohammed at a Solution Tree conference years ago continues to impact me. In general, he said that people would rather do the wrong thing competently than the right thing incompetently. In the educational world, wrong and right should be more clearly defined as a continuum from mediocre  or even good practices to excellent and outstanding practices.

Getting out of our own comfort zone means pushing the envelope, further enhancing our skills and evolving our practice. And believe me, it is uncomfortable! It is uncomfortable because we are far more competent in our current methods. Furthermore, we grown up in a system that has held on to the belief (for far too long) that teachers must know everything and cannot be seen as still learning real time, while in the classroom. And, as 20th century people, we still want to make it perfect before we ever deliver it to our students.

Some individuals can slip out of their own comfort zones and find their new normal with great ease. For others, the thought of moving beyond what they know and what they do is almost paralyzing. The fact though, is without some movement from our comfort zone, educational reform will not occur. Everybody in the educational system needs to begin (or continue) to get out of their comfort zone. This is certainly an attribute for effective leaders. As the lead learner of a very successful school division, I must be prepared to get out of my own comfort zone and lead and facilitate in ways that are new, innovative and creative.  This is something that I don’t relish but I know it has to be non-negotiable in my work.

During this school year, I would suggest that all those involved in the educational world look at ways to move themselves from their own comfort zone. To begin with, it doesn’t have to be a radical departure from your current practice but it does require a departure. Be fully aware that you will feel uneasy, but remember that learning, especially deep learning requires that uneasiness. We crawl, then walk and then run! Don’t expect to be running when you depart from your comfort zone. Expect to stumble and likely fall. But in the end, you will be better at your professional practice and students will benefit as educational reform takes hold.

Good luck getting out of your comfort zone!



From the Desk of the Superintendent- September 2012

The first day of school is September 4th however, the official start for all staff began last Wednesday with our division’s opening mass. It was a powerful celebration organized and hosted by FLVT staff. Bishop Henry was the main celebrant for the mass and provided a motivating, positive message. Board Chair, Sandra Dufresne opened with a message about the importance of parental involvement especially how it relates to our new AISI project on student engagement. My opening message to the staff can be viewed here. Finally, our celebration concluded with the presentation of the Board’s Share the Mission Award.  This year’s recipient was Mrs. Jill McNally, a teacher at St. Francis School who truly lives our vision; where students are cherished and achieve their potential. More information can be found in the media release available here.

The energy on that day was electric. The staff has come back well rested and rejuvenated and most of all full of hope. Hope is a characteristic that is always present in our Catholic schools. It is more than wishful thinking! It is the belief that our students, your children, have the ability with support, effort and a strong partnership between school and home to achieve their potential. This partnership between school and home is of critical importance to maintaining hope for all. I would encourage all parents to become engaged in their children’s education.

This year, I will be initiating a student advisory committee. Over the next two months I will be visiting schools and talking to students from grades 9-12 about the best structure to engage our students. I want our students to drive the development of this committee. Often, we forget about the voice of students when we search for ways to continually improve their educational experience. It is my hope that their involvement will allow us to make the best decisions available to support their learning needs.

The Board of Trustees will be looking at further engaging parents and the community at large. It is their desire to ensure stakeholder involvement as communicated in the Continuous Improvement Plan document.  Their priority of Generative Governance seeks collaboration and engagement with the community, positive culture and relationships throughout the division, transparency and communication. We will be piloting an online engagement tool which we believe will assist in achieving this priority.

I will continue to use my blog as a primary communication tool from the Office of the Superintendent. It is my intent to produce a weekly post that communicates information about the division as well as highlights current educational topics.  For those of you engaged in Twitter, please follow me @cdsmeaton.

As we begin this new school year, I would like to wish our students, parents and staff much hope. May God bless each of you with a year of great learning and positive relationships.    



Opening Message to Staff

Good morning and welcome back. It is good to be with you again and I hope that you experienced the same rest and relaxation that I had over the summer. I would really like to thank Bishop Henry & all of our clergy here today for celebrating with us. Your presence reminds us of the important partnership that exists between school and parish. I would also like to thank FLVT staff for their hospitality and organization of this opening celebration. You have welcomed us into your school home and we are ever grateful.

Today I would like to address two plans with you, the last year of our 3-Year faith plan and the beginning of our new AISI Three-Year plan. I want to begin with some quotes from our mission statement. “We are a Catholic Faith Community; an education rooted in the Good News of Jesus Christ; Our Catholic Faith is the foundation of all that we do.” And, our vision, “A Christ-centered learning community where students are cherished and achieve their potential.” Those words allow us to be unique, but it must be our actions that make us unique. Our actions should speak so loudly that others cannot hear what we are saying. As we enter into our final year of our three year faith plan, we need to ensure that our theme of “Feed my sheep” is evident in all of our actions to our staff, our students, our parents and the general community.

Just as the Lord is my shepherd, our shepherd, we must understand that his message to Peter of feed my sheep is about us being shepherds as well. And as shepherds we must feed the children who enter our buildings each and every day. We must remember that we teach these children with every act and gesture. We must teach them the love of learning, the beauty of life and the wonderment of faith. Our work should never allow any child to feel that they are without a shepherd in our schools. Feed our children!

We must feed each other. Over the last couple of days in our division, I’ve celebrated the news of upcoming births and the excitement of new marriages. But I’ve also mourned because of the news of critical illness and other family struggles. At times throughout the year we will feel euphoria on the mountain top and at other times we will be deep despair in the valleys. We must always be willing to reach out and lend a hand to one another. Feed each other!

And finally, we must feed ourselves for we cannot feed our children and each other without our own body, mind and spirit nourished. We must take time to pray. We must take time to play just like a child. We must rest and we must find activities and people who infuse energy into us. Feed ourselves! As we begin this last year of our faith plan remember that we are called to be shepherds and tasked with feeding His flock!  

We conclude one plan and begin another. Over the next three years we will focus on student engagement. This project is exciting because it scaffolds so well on our two previous cycles of 21st Century Learning and Assessment for Learning. I believe that with the consultation that occurred, it is also our most grassroots project ever. It is not my project or anybody else’s, it is our project. And, it allows each school and every individual staff member to have choice on how they are going to be creative and innovative to enhance student engagement.  

This summer I re-read both Daniel Pink’s Drive and Carol Dweck’s Mindset which were the basis of our literature and research review for this project. Reading “Drive”, reminded me of the importance of autonomy in all of our sites and each of our classrooms. For the adults, it is not blind autonomy but autonomy based on collective, informed professional judgment. For the students it is about having some choice in not necessarily what they learn but in how they can demonstrate that learning. Autonomy moves people from compliance to commitment. Autonomy also allows people the freedom to be creative and innovative which has a positive influence on student engagement.

Reading “Mindset”, provided me with a different personal insight. Many of you may not know that I’m not a strong reader and certainly not a gifted writer. Give me the opportunity to speak in front of a crowd and I’m ease but reading and writing are struggles. Reading Mindset reminded me of the importance of effort; of believing in struggle and knowing that with a growth mindset, much can be accomplished. Even though I read non-stop this summer both for work and pleasure I’m still not as fluent of a reader as I would like to be. And even though I wrote a blog every week last year, I’m still not as gifted as a writer as I would like to be but I’m better today than I was at this time last year. It is this message of effort that we need to share with our students. That talent is never enough and effort must always be present for optimal improvement to occur.

Our plan requires each of us to be learners. Allows each of us to look for ways to be more creative, to be more innovative. We have a blueprint, our blueprint that will assist us in moving forward in the next three years. I begin this year with much hope. I believe that beauty speaks in our division. The beauty of Christ’s love, the beauty of shared purpose, the beauty of “shepherdship” and finally the beauty of learning. May each of you experience the love of Christ and the support of one another as we journey throughout this year. Good learning, good luck and God Bless!

Time for Action

Last week, I participated in our annual summer conference in beautiful Waterton Parks National Park. This event brings together senior administrators from 10 school divisions in southern Alberta as well as representatives from Alberta Education, CASS, ASBOA, ASBA and ASCA. It signals the beginning of the school year for us and provides an excellent opportunity to engage in thoughtful dialogue about education. This year’s format of open spaces and theme of “Designing to Engage” really highlighted the learning garnered from focused conversations. Over the course of three days, I was involved in numerous discussions around transformation.  

I’ve written about transformation since I started blogging over a year ago. But, it was a sidebar conversation with a good friend and colleague from a neighbouring school division that prompted me to write this post. To paraphrase his comments, “Unless we begin to act now, we will continue having these same conversations for the next 10 years and nothing new will happen!” Change, evolution, and improvement are all words we use in the context of transformation and unfortunately they are not taken in as positive light as we would like. The bottom line however, is that no transformation will ever occur without ACTION! The saving grace is that most of our actions don’t have to be monumental in nature to be effective; they just have to occur.

As I prepare for my opening comments for our leaders on Tuesday and our entire staff on Wednesday, I want to ask what transformative actions we are going to engage in this year. Most school divisions have already made incremental changes in the last number of years but in general, educational change tends to lag because we try to hold on to the old while creating the new. It is difficult to innovate while walking in two worlds. This is well articulated in Clayton M. Christensen’s book, “Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns.” Part of the fear of letting go of the old is that it has generally served us well and in most cases has been effective. We are also suspect that the new “product” may likely be inferior at first. And finally, we are not sure if we or the general public are prepared to weather the implementation dip that is bound to occur. 

With that in mind, I believe we need to create the mindset of building the airplane while we are in flight as illustrated by this short video. We’ve typically followed the mantra of “Ready! Aim! Fire!” Our current system of educational change continues to operate under that system. While we may be very ready for educational “reform”, we are stuck in the aiming phase trying to ensure that we get it perfect before we fire. And why wouldn’t we follow that 20th century method…we’ve all grown up and become accustomed to it. It is safe, requires little to no vulnerability and provides a great excuse to not move forward. Have you ever heard your inner voice say, “I’m just not ready to share this. Its just not quite right!” We can longer continue to stall in the aiming phase. We must begin to implement Michael Fullan’s strategy of “Ready! Fire! Aim!”. The firing piece is akin to the action required to start or forward further our transformation. The aiming part allows us to start to refine our actions through research and review. From the point of view of the video, the “firing” gets us in the air while the “aiming” ensures we build the right plane.  

Building the plane while we are in the air requires us to be bold. We must be risk takers, willing to be creative and innovative. We must understand that failing will be a valuable part of the aiming process. We must be willing to look and listen, see and hear, watch and learn. Our bold actions will require well informed professional judgment and messy collaboration. It requires energy, enthusiasm and a passion for what could be not what is! It means that we must look inward and reflect on our current practices and our own attutudes with complete honesty. But most of all, boldness requires action! This year, begin building the airplane while you are in the air flying!

Olympic lessons for education

Great holiday timing and superb coverage by the Canadian media has allowed me to watch the Summer Olympics on an almost daily basis. Although I’m more familiar with some sports than others, I enjoy watching all of the different competitions. Much to the chagrin of my wife, I try and watch all of them simultaneously, as I flip back and forth from channel to channel. There’s something special about the Olympics, held every four years and attracting thousands of athletes and millions of fans from around the world.

As I’ve watched the Olympics, I have realized that they provide some excellent lessons for education. Here are a few that come to mind for me:

  1. Olympic Motto- “Citius, Altius, Fortius,” which is Latin for “Faster, Higher, Stronger” My first impression is that the motto is not “Fastest, Highest, Strongest! There is an element of improvement. There is no upper limit. In any event there is only one gold medal just like we only have one valedictorian, one leading man or lady and one soloist. But ultimately, the motto doesn’t refer to being the best, it refers to being your best.  With only one gold medal presented, it is impossible for everyone to be the best but everybody can be their best. In education, we’ve fallen into the trap of trying to be the best instead of doing our best. We typically reward our best students and minimize the improvements of all others. And we seldom acknowledge effort. We consistently hear about athletes who fail to make the finals yet have realized their personal best. That is something to celebrate in athletics and it needs to be celebrated in our educational systems.
  2. The journey is more important than the destination. There is no doubt that participating in the Olympics is very special. The lead up however, the four years of training prior to has to be of great importance. The “blood, sweat and tears” to get to that point again has to be recognized and celebrated. Quite honestly, without the journey, there would be no destination. From an educational standpoint, we must remind ourselves and our students that the learning, which is the journey is the most important. Moving from elementary to junior high and then high school are all destinations in schooling with the ultimate in K-12 being graduation. Yet, it is the journey of learning through those years that has to count! If we put all of our focus on the destination, on the final exam then what significance is our learning journey throughout school?
  3. Effort always counts! There are many gifted athletes who never achieve their greatness because of a lack of effort.  Talent will take you to a certain level but without grit, determination, dedication and honest effort it will never allow you to get to or remain at that next level. This point has been highlighted throughout the Olympics and well documented in programs like “The Difference Makers with Rick Hansen”. Furthermore, the work of Carol Dweck in her book Mindset, reminds us about the importance of teaching effort in schools.  So often our accountability systems and outside institutes measure only the end result without any mention of the work put forth by the indvidual student, school or system.  We need to celebrate and acknowledge the true efforts of our students, our staff, our parents and our systems.

The Olympics will finish on Sunday and it will be another four years before we witness this summer event again. Four years provides a great opportunity for athletes to prepare and schools and systems should do the same. During these next four years, let’s ensure that:

  • Personal bests are celebrated and improvements are acknowledged for all students.
  • The learning journey is highlighted and enjoyed by students.
  • Effort is encouraged and finally,
  • We are proud of our students…always!!!


Leadership Lessons

I began my leadership career as a brash and cocky 29 year old back in 1991. As a new vice principal in High Prairie, holding a  fresh graduate degree, I thought I knew it all. Fortunately, I had a wonderful principal and mentor who took the time to guide me through the beginning of my leadership journey. It has been 21 years since I’ve began in leadership and I have learned some valuable lessons along the way.

  1. Leadership is always about learning- Once I received my Master’s degree, I believed that all I had to do was the job. I was too busy being a “leader” that I forget to keep up with my reading and the latest research. It took me a long time to realize that learning must always be a priority for leaders. This is especially true in the education environment where we consistently promote the concept of lifelong learning. There is no excuse for a leader to not be in a learning mode, especially today with the multitude of avenues available through social media. Today, being connected is being a learner. A leader never reaches the pinnacle of knowledge and says, “I’ve got it- no more learning for me!”
  2. Relationships aren’t everything, authentic relationships are- Every great leader wants to be liked and respected by his or her staff. As Fullan suggests, you need to love your employees. But often, we forget that loving your employees or being relational means being authentic. Authenticity comes from saying what you mean, meaning what you say and finally doing it. It is about being trustworthy and transparent. Authentic relationships foster decisions to be bottom when possible and top down when necessary. It is both consultative and collaborative. However, an authentic relationship is a two-way street involving both parties. These relationships require hard work, are typically messy and often involve disagreement, discourse and debate.    
  3. Surround yourself with excellence- You’re in a leadership position because you have a skill set. But no matter your talent, you cannot have the skills for everything. Be honest with yourself and evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, then hire the best who can fill the gaps.  Excellence however, cannot be just talent driven. Excellence must include passion for the work and support of the mission. Leadership is far easier when you surround yourself with people committed to the organizational vision, willing to push your thinking and stretch your leadership. Make sure you not only hire the right people on your bus, but you put them in the right seats.    
  4. The need for patience- Leaders should be able to view their organization from the balcony and the dance floor, simultaneously. The ability to do that enables leaders to set direction and strategically prioritize. However, not everybody has the same vantage point and therefore it takes time and loads of patience to assist people to see what you see. It is important to realize that organizational time to make successful change can be quite different than your own time to implement. Change is difficult for everyone, whether it is done with or to people. Frustration will creep in pretty quickly if you don’t practice patience in leadership.  
  5. The delicate balance of pressure and support- Closely related to the need for patience, is finding the delicate balance between pressure and support. There was never a successful leader hired with the mandate to maintain the status quo. Organizations must continually evolve and improve. Too much pressure usually provides some quick gains but eventually alienates employees and causes significant morale issues. Insufficient pressure often causes complacency. This delicate balance is one of the leader’s greatest challenges and requires him/her to be very cognisant of the current culture of the organization. Leaders needs to know when to push and when to pull back and only when they have intimate knowledge of the organization’s “feel” can they make that decision correctly.

Any leader can attest that leadership cannot be clearly defined and concisely explained in a mere five points. Each of these points spawns further discussion on leadership and chapters of books could be devoted to them. Leadership is complicated. It is hard work! If it wasn’t difficult, everybody would be doing it…well!

Renewing public confidence in education

There is no doubt that public education in North America is under attack. The lack of confidence is more pronounced south of the border than here in Canada. But even so, everybody has an opinion on education and more often than not a ready-made solution for our ills. Just because you attended school or you are successful in life doesn’t necessarily relegate you to an educational reform expert.  And I’m sorry, but the media can be frustrating when they headline an issue that paints all schools or systems the same color while neglecting the thousands of good news stories that happen in our schools every single day.

I would suggest that weaning public confidence and lack of respect for teaching in general cannot be simply blamed on government, business leaders, so called educational experts or the public as a whole. Jamie Vollmer’s book, “Schools Cannot Do It Alone” reminded me that WE are also part of this problem! 

I have the greatest admiration and respect for teachers’ professional organizations.  They support education with the latest research, provide excellent opportunities for professional growth and desire the highest standards for teaching. They provide excellent information on current and future trends in education and really promote the professionalism of teaching. However, part of the every professional association includes an union component. It is this part of the “we” that adds to the problem of spiraling confidence and lack of respect for educators.

Teacher unions, like most opposition parties in politics, typically communicate only the negatives. Their rherteric often implies the “if only” mentality as a cure for all education woes. If only teachers got paid more, had more time, had less students, had more support, etc, then education would be so much better. I do not be grudge the union perspective, but it is very clearly and rightfully so, for the sole purpose of the betterment of their members, namely teachers.  While the profession focuses on pedagogy and learning, the union’s mandate tends to be on collective agreement articles.

I learned a long time ago that when you point your finger, you have three pointing back at you. Teacher unions are not the only body that  can instill a lack of confidence in public education. Educators like you and me are constantly articulating changes necessary to meet the needs of our current students. We try to suggest our dissatisfaction with the system we operate within, without being overly critical. The end result however, is a continual decline in public confidence and more importantly a demoralizing of our educators. While I will never admit that our educational system is blameless, I also know that we are a long way from the disaster that the media and think tank organizations say we are.

 Sadly, the words continuous improvement and change have conjured up robust negative feelings in education. The underlying assumption is to need to improve or change means a deficiency. It implies a fixed mindset that education and educators cannot allow to exist. While we must be careful with our language, we must also not run and hide from our responsibilities as professionals to continue to learn and improve. Renewing public confidence does not imply that we not seek  improvement. In fact, it probably suggests that we evolve our practices quicker and more publicly. But we must also be responsive to ensuring that we don’t bad mouth each other and consistently preach the negatives.  Our continuous improvement must not stem from a deficit model but rather built from our strengths.  And although we need to continually evolve and improve, we still have a pretty strong system!

Fail Forward

During my opening address to staff last year I termed the phrase “Fail Forward” as a way to promote an environment of risk taking and culture of transformation. Although I was fairly confident in my own definition of the phrase, I erred in not fully understanding the potentially negative connotation of it.  Failure is not a word that we like to use in schools, home or society.  Too often parents and teachers “save” their children and students from failure. We don’t allow them to fail…at anything. We talk about failure as being the reason for low self esteem in children and adults. While I would never suggest that we shouldn’t protect our children, over protection is not healthy either. Children who have not been allowed to experience failure in their lives (not life or death), have minimal coping skills when a significant issue hits them and there is nobody to save them. This lack of facing failure or more precisely, this lack of effectively dealing with failure is hurting our children. The ability to move forward after a failed attempt is a process that must be taught and role modelled in our classrooms. 

In education, we get assaulted with the statement, “Failure is not an option!” and yet, failure is the only option. But failure can be the only option if forward progress is part of the process. In other words, failure as an event is acceptable, failure as a permanent condition is not! Therefore the critical part of learning is not in the failure but in the forward motion after.

The fail forward concept is what I would suggest for education and has been well articulated by Dan Rockwell as Successful Failure. But the fail forward mentality must begin at the upper levels of leadership in school divisions. There is no other way around full system improvement without  senior administration creating an environment through word and action that failure is acceptable when being innovative and creative, when improving the learning experience of our students. We can ill afford to be so wrapped up in raising test scores that learning gets forced to the back burner. I have always been firm believer that test scores will take care of themselves when learning is highly engaging, students are motivated and teachers are at their best.

During this past year of involvement in Twitter and other social media, I’ve been astounded at the wealth of knowledge available when one is connected. It has reaffirmed my belief for the continual need to change/evolve our practice and provided me with many examples of how and where it is accomplished. The PLN that I belong to has many great educators both in the classroom and in administration who are pushing the envelope to better the experience of students. A common thread in their work is their fail forward mentality. They chose to try something different to enhance learning instead of trying to do more of the same. In their failure, they reassessed, refined and reviewed their practice in order to improve the learning experience. They were never content at just doing the same.

Now is the time in our systems where leaders have created a fail forward environment for teachers (and parents) to accept this challenge. It is time for us to get out of our comfort zones and evolve. Accept that it will make you uncomfortable because you likely won’t get it right the first time. But deep learning, which is what we want from our staff and our students does not come without a little toil.  

Develop a fail forward ethic when you return to the classroom this fall and you and your students will benefit!

Act, Dream & Believe

This past Friday I addressed the graduates of St. Mary School in Taber. Enclosed is the short message I delivered that evening. Enjoy!   

Good Evening Ladies & Gentlemen, honored guests and graduates of 2012. It is always an honor to bring greetings on behalf of the division at graduation ceremonies. And coming back to Taber brings such great memories of the time that I spent here from 1996-2001. I am fortunate in that I taught about a dozen of these graduates back when I was their principal in St. Patrick and was able to get to know both them and their families. It always amazes me how much growth occurs over the 12+ years of schooling. It is hard to believe that the little boys and girls that I knew have now grown into such fine young men and women. Well done parents and families for raising such great kids and thank you for allowing Holy Spirit to be part of their upbringing. And well done staff at Holy Spirit for your part in their growth and development.

Your graduation theme, “Act, Dream & Believe” is a speech writer’s dream. I was thinking about all the great material that I could use for this speech and then I went to your mass last night and listened to Fr. Vincent’s homily. There is no way that I can say anything that could compete with Fr. Vincent’s story. His story epitomizes your graduation theme perfectly. So instead, I am only going to focus on one aspect of your theme- act.

Actions will always speak louder than any of your words. In the words of St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” In fact, it will be your actions that define you as a person. So in order to preach the Gospel every day you must:

Act with integrity! Be true as a person! Be honest and upfront. Remember that half-truths are also half lies. Be trustworthy and trusting and make sure that your word is your honor.

Act with justice! Don’t allow injustices in the world, in your community, in your home or even in your life. Stand up for what is wrong and unfair. Justice is not revenge or judgment. It is about making sure that right succeeds over wrong.

And finally, act with compassion & love! Our world would be a much better place if we made all of our decisions through the eyes of compassion and love. Bitterness comes through the eyes of hatred, envy and jealousy. It is neither a healthy way nor a productive way to act and lead one’s life. Mother Teresa says. “Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’ kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”  

This is a unique year for the class of 2012. Their grad year was Mr. Nightingale’s first year as a principal and Mr. Zanolli’s last year in education. And I would be remiss if I didn’t say a few words about Mr. Zanolli. I was fortunate to get to know Mr. Zanolli as a colleague, friend and parent. I coached his twin boys and taught his daughter, he worked with my wife and he also taught our son Jordan. We also had a couple of great years coaching basketball together. When I talk about your actions there is no better example than Mr. Zanolli. Throughout his career he has always been well liked and well respected by his students, parents, staff and the community. He has gained that respect not because of words but because of his actions. His actions, his love of kids has never wavered in his 36 years in education. He is retiring still at the top of his game and that is sad for future students at St. Mary but something that again demonstrates his character of which I value and respect. On behalf of Holy Spirit, I thank you Alvaro for your actions!

Graduates, as you leave St. Mary’s remember that you have been provided a solid foundation to live a life of action. Through the support of your parents and families and a strong Catholic/Christian education system you are ready. Step out into the world tomorrow believing in God and yourself, dreaming of all that you can and will do and act with integrity, justice, compassion and love. Remember that you are a child of God and your life will always be in His hands. Good luck and God Bless!

Evolving Practice

I was struck by a conversation I was involved in with our leadership program participants last week. We began to reminisce about the teachers who had taught us and some of the practices that were considered the “norm” in those days! Each of us could recount many examples of those teachers who made such a positive difference in our lives but we could all also relate practices that would be considered abusive in today’s world. Corporal punishment, throwing chalk, shoes or anything else to get one’s attention, kneeling on rocks or simply being called out and belittled are practices that needed to be changed! And thank goodness, they have changed!

Unfortunately, we’ve linked the word change to everything in regards to education reform. We have come to accept the notion that in order to improve education we must change this or change that. Consequently, the use of the term change in education, which is difficult in any regard, comes with a heightened negative connotation and causes many educators to fear and resist the notion. Common sense and strong research literature drives why we needed to change the “chalk throwing” exercise, but what about other teaching practices.

When one of the teachers in our cohort mentioned the term “evolving practice”, I was struck at the how much more positive it was compared to “changing practice.”  It may seem simplistic, but I believe it will assist us as we continue to transform education. Evolving practice can be categorized as:

  • Accepting our role as professionals
  • Being reflective on our own practice and responsive to the needs of our students
  • “Honing our craft”
  • Affirming what we do well and revising what we don’t
  • Internal not external
  • Accepting our role as learners not just teachers

Over the past decade we’ve made some necessary changes that support educational reform. There are still some changes that need to occur from a school, system and societal point of view for education to be truly transformed. However, teaching practice must evolve to lead that transformation. The evolution of teaching practice requires a learning paradigm. We can no longer survive on only the art of teaching (relationships) but must fully accept the science component of teaching. Just the advances in brain research alone, should force us to teach differently. The evolution of teaching requires a concentration on reflection. We should no longer do what we’ve always done, but instead seek to employ more effective and efficient pedagogy. Our reflection allows for proactive thought rather than reactive action. And finally, evolving practice reminds us that although assumed competent, we must strive for far more than this minimum. We must evolve to demonstrate the highest level of professionalism and provide teaching practice that ALL students deserve.