Leadership Day 2011

As I’ve previously written, I’m a neophyte to Twitter and this will only be the 7th post to my blog. I’m not sure I have the correct lingo and have much to learn but I continue to explore and more importantly use these medias in my work. This year, we have seven new formal leaders in our system. For a system of only 13 schools, that is considerable change. Given that, it is important that we provide some excellent mentoring support to all of these individuals and certainly in the area of 21st Century leadership. In terms of  leadership, I would suggest two pieces of advice fit especially well for school technology.

1. Engage in the technology yourself! Try it out and have some fun. Understand what it is like to learn a new skill again. People feel far more comfortable when their leader is involved in the technology that he/she is requesting others to be involved in. Leaders lead people they don’t simply tell them what to do!

2. Closely related to my first point is creating risk-taking environment. When you are engaged in a technology that you are still learning you are bound to make some errors along the way. Celebrate them! It is how we learn best. Encourage your staff to take risks and accept that the first time through might not be perfect. Reward attempts and consider failures as just learning steps. Creating a risk-taking environment with your staff will filter down to your students as well. That in itself is a good thing!

I hope this helps someone in their leadership journey and would welcome any feedback or comments.

Upcoming SALT retreat

On Saturday, August 6th (28th wedding anniversary) our Senior Administration Leadership Team (SALT) will be heading to beautiful Waterton Lakes National Park  for our annual summer conference. This conference brings together senior administrators (CASS & ASBOA) from southern Alberta and various Alberta Education personnel. On a rotating basis, each division is reponsible for the organization of the conference. One of the great aspects of this conference is that it is very family friendly with built in time for family activities. My first experience of this conference was in 2001 when I first became a senior leader. Since then, my wife (and even our grown children) try to make it down for a couple of the family type activities.

As part of our annual planning, I’ve always built in a mini retreat for my team either before or after the conference. This is an exciting time as we really start to get into the nuts and bolts of the upcoming school year. One of our first topics will be a continuation and possibly redirection of our thoughts on 21st century leadership. In a PLC format we will be discussing (1) Where we are? (2) Where do we want to be? and (3) How do we get there? I’ve commented before that if any of us are leading like we did 5-10 years ago, we are likely failing our staff, students and communities. The activity will move from philosophical discussion to practical applications. I’m a firm believer that we need to move forward with both our heart and head.

A second aspect of the retreat will be to further a statement I made to our Learning Leadership Team (LLT). This team is made up of SALT, principals, associate principals and our early learning coordinator. Prior to the end of the school year, I gathered our LLT in a circle (without technology) and stated that I wanted Holy Spirit Catholic Schools to be the best division in the province. It is a bold statement but I believe that every division should be striving for that same excellence. Our division is already strong and I’m extremely proud of our accmplishments but I believe that to stand still is to fall behind. That morning was a powerful example of what happens when, as a leader, you just sit back and listen. It will be a conversation that I will continue with our LLT and eventually with our stakeholders to move it forward. It is my commitment to meet with every school staff before Christmas to have this conversation. I’m hoping that as I enter my third year as Superintendent I have built enough trust so that our dialogue will be open, honest and solution focused. Effective relationships are built on authenticity.

The final piece of the retreat will be to sink our teeth into our Division’s Continuous Improvement Plan. Over the past two years we have attempted to follow the wise words of Michael Fullan and Douglas Reeves regarding the number of priorities. You will note that our plan has only three priorities and is a total of five pages long. We need to, first as SALT and then later with our LLT ensure that we are focusing on the right things. When we truly focus on the right things we will be able to drop things off our plate that don’t contribute to the priorities. Unfortunately, we in education don’t often enough subscribe to the “do not do anymore” list especially when we add something new to our plates.

I’m expecting our retreat to be messy with various opinions shared and views expressed. And to be honest, if it isn’t messy then I really didn’t do our team any justice. Collaboration is hard work and sometimes painstaking. But, if we want what is best for our students, then we can only proceed with intense and respectful dialogue.

Twitter or not?

I must confess that I am neophyte in the Twitter realm, only really beginning to seriously tweet at the CASA 2011 conference in Niagara Falls. Prior to that I had signed up because: (1) If I wanted my school administrators to engage in 21st century tools than their superintendent should be doing the same and (2) I thought it could be used as a communication tool. The first reason is fairly self explanatory from a leadership point of view. The second as a communication tool was less impressive in my initial thoughts. I had a hard time imagining that with only 140 characters, my communications would be no more than bus cancellations or other fairly mundane announcements. My belief was that Twitter needed to be accompanied with my Blog to be truly effective. During the CASA conference and these last three weeks, I have begun to understand the power of Twitter.

As I enter my 26th year in education, I would say that my summer holidays have always been a time to relax and rejuvenate. This has been common for me whether I have been in the classroom or the superintendency. However, holidays have also been a time where I have been able to catch up on my reading. Typically, I read educational articles and books that I never seem to have the chance to do so during the school year. This summer has been no exception with my completion of the books: “Leading and Managing A Differentiated Classroom” by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Marcia B. Imbeau and “Focus” by Mike Schmoker. But as engaging as these books have been, Twitter has provided me with the best professional learning this summer. I have been amazed with the breadth of topics I have been able to read about via Twitter. Most of the tweets or links provided are short reads but they evoke much reflection. I’ve read tweets that made me want to go out and change the world immediately and others that just infuriated me. The bottom line however, is I’ve engaged in a reflection of my own practice as a leader and the direction of our school division. I’ve felt a great euphoria in my new learning. It is an excitement that I’ve not experienced for quite some time.

Maybe even more important is a connection that I have established with educators and others from around the world. Since my exploration into this media I have “met” many gifted and talented individuals. The diverse thinking that I have been exposed to is challenging, refreshing and affirming. It continues to stretch my own thought process about our division’s journey in 21st century learning leadership. Leadership is so multifaceted and the vast array of opinions remind me of that. Twitter has allowed me to hear many voices which strengthen my own leadership capacity and ability. Over the next two days, I will be preparing for a retreat with my senior leadership team and Twitter has provided numerous ideas and reflective activities.

However, I do have one personal concern with Twitter. I have found that even though I don’t use it to provide my personal whereabouts (as a superintendent, my life is public enough as it is), there is a certain seduction to always checking who and what has been tweeted. My fear is that when I return to work next week and to my regular routine, I will not have the necessary time to review the vast amount of information shared every minute. What then? Will I go into Twitter withdrawal? The answer will come… in due time! Until then, keep tweeting and encourage all of your educators to engage in this powerful professional learning.

In support of differentiated instruction

During the past couple of years, our division, Holy Spirit Catholic Schools has spent considerable energy researching continuums of support for all students. School teams have participated in national and international conferences to learn more about, in particular, Pyramid Response to Intervention (PRTI). This is supportive of our province’s move toward a more inclusive education system.

One of the premises of PRTI, is that the majority of the students’ educational needs in the classroom should be met by the individual teacher. During my annual meetings with each of our school administrative teams, I asked the question if their teachers were prepared to meet the needs of 80% – 85% of the students in their classroom without external support? That is a tough task even for experienced teachers because they really need to have excellent classroom management and employ excellent differentiated instruction. Yet, that is what is required to meet the needs of the majority of students in the typical classroom of today. The lowest level of intervention is differentiated instruction!

I have heard Carol Ann Tomlinson on numerous occasions and have just finished reading, “Leading and Managing A Differentiated Classroom” which she co-authored with Marcia B. Imbeau. What I have consistently come away from her presentations or after reading her books is that differentiated instruction is just common sense and just plain good teaching. More importantly, differentiated instruction speaks to the core of our beliefs as teachers. We believe that every child is unique and therefore deserves a program that supports and enhances that uniqueness. Unfortunately, differentiated instruction like many excellent practices receives it’s fair share of “yes but” excuses. Chapter 7 of this book addresses these excuses easily and I would recommend every leader in education to review if you have staff who are resistant.

In our division, we have focused through AISI on teaching differently because students learn differently.  Our project, Engaging the 21st Century Learner has caused us to think differently in our approach to not only teaching but our own learning as adults. If we are teaching or for that matter leading the same way that we did 10 or 20 years ago… our students are suffering. The world is a very different place and we must prepare students for tomorrow not yesterday. In order to prepare our students, the next generation, we must embrace technology (a future blog) and we must differentiate our instruction to all students.  This is not an optional exercise.

I believe that the vast majority of us in education came into the profession not for the money or holidays but rather for the ability to change and impact the life of a child. In our quest for effective over efficient, teaching to learning, memorizing to understanding, evaluation to assessment, passive to active and isolated to connected learning differentiated instruction is a requirement.

CASA Day 2

Today I began in a session hosted by Hamilton Wentworth District School Board http://www.hwdsb.on.ca/. They provided some excellent information on their strategies that they were implementing to meet the needs of students in the 21st century. An interesting quote that caused me to reflect was, “Learning should never stop, it must be engaging and have relevance to the learner.” One of the reasons that this statement has caused me to reflect is that no where does it mention technology. It is all about student engagement and relevance which is clearly 21st century learning. Technology may be needed to engage and build relevance but it is still only a tool. It still requires excellent teacher pedagogy and is therefore more about the headware than the hardware.

21st century fluencies continues to be a focus from the district point of view. They have outlined their defintions of these fluencies in a clear and concise manner http://bit.ly/nFmCPm.  These fluencies should really be common sense for educators and in today’s educational world should be non-negotiable. How can you argue with solution, information, creativity, media or collaboration fluency?  

The next session I attended was presented by Thames Valley District School Board http://www.tvdsb.ca/. The focus of their presentation was on the use of handheld or mobile devices. What I came away with was more questions than answers which is exactly what I need in order to continue on my learning journey. Simple questions like managing iTunes accounts for our classroom sets of iPads or iPods, caused me to reflect on what we need to do. Is there a need for a corporate strategy to assist/enable this to occur? Another consideration came from our table talk: Should we be in the business of providing devices for our students or providing the infrastructure for the use of these devices? I’m a big believer that handheld devices, cellphones, smartphones, etc, should be in our schools, responsibly used for educational purposes. Students should not have to “power down” when they walk into our schools. It is time to remove these barriers with good thought to further engage our students.

There were a couple of additional resources that I would like to share with you. The first is the Horizon Report 2011. http://bit.ly/ghEgS0 I would also suggest thatt you look up the New Media Consortium website http://www.nmc.org/. It certainly has a wealth of information especially if you’re looking at acceptable use policies. Finally, for those interested in furthering their knowledge on handheld devices, take a look at the book, “Toys to Tools” from ISTE http://www.iste.org/welcome.aspx.

Immediately following lunch, Lorelie Lenaour and I presented on our journey in Holy Spirit. We tried to mimic what we had done in the last couple of years, using conversations, Moodle and showing video clips of many of our activities. Our demonstration illustrated our commitment to move our entire LLT forward on the path of 21st century learning. It was cause for celebration and was well received.

Tomorrow is the last day of the conference and then I head back to Lethbridge. The opportunity to share conversations with educators from across Canada is powerful professional development. It has been a very worthwhile learning experience.

 

CASA Conference Day 1

I’m sitting in my room after the first day of the CASA Conference on 21st Century Learning contemplating today’s sessions that I attended. It has been an interesting day on a number of different levels.  As a beginning user of Twitter, I began the day with only 7 tweets. Throughout the day I have made it to 24 tweets and followed a number of participants at the conference. That may not seem consequential to most technology gurus but to a newophyte like me, I’m pretty happy.

Although still a little tired from the travelling, I am invigorated with the learning that I am engaged in right now! It’s not that the information received today is all new, in fact much is common to our leaders in Holy Spirit. But, the information that I heard today either (a) pushed me to want to learn and lead more or (b) reaffirmed that we are doing many of the right things in Holy Spirit.

My morning sessions were spent with Ian Jukes. I have listened to Ian on a number of occasions including the opportunity when we brought him via videoconferencing to work with our Learning Leadership Team (LLT) and Tech Leads last year. Often he makes you uncomfortable because he pushes you to places where quite honestly you may not be ready to go. However, in the end, the education system has to continue to be transformed and that transformation sometimes requires a push.  We need to remember that as educators, we have been in the “schooling” system since we have been 6 years of age and sometimes it is difficult to see outside the box when it is still sitting on our heads.

It is hard to imagine what the world is going to be like in 20 years. Yet, in education we must prepare our students for their future! So what are some core competencies/skills that we must teach our students so they can lead a future that is vastly unknown. The list that Jukes provided is probably very similar to those that most of us would create: problem solving; creativity; think analytically; collaborate; communicate; ethics, action, accountability. If these are the  agreed skills that need to be cultivated in our schools, what are we doing to instill these skills in our classrooms? That is the question to be addressed by all educators!  This type of transformation will come only with a shift from teaching to learning, memorizing to understanding, evaluation to assessment, passive to active and isolated to connected learning. As leaders in education, we must drive that change.

A great example of that change in process was presented by Tom D’Amico, Superintendent of Student Success- Learning Technologies of Ottawa Catholic School Board. They began their journey in 2010 from the board level and senior administration. Their document, Towards 2020, Connecting with our Students, http://bit.ly/ptEgxE is an outstanding example of system visionary leadership by looking at grade 2 students and what they want for them when they get to grade 12. 

Every division needs to start to define what our students need to prepare them for the future and then DO IT!  I will guarantee it will be “just in time” learning and not “just in case” learning. We also need to anticipate and accept that becoming a 21st century division is a messy process; it is not a linear process, it is dynamic! And as leaders in our systems or our schools, we need to recognize it is not for the faint of heart.

But isn’t that why we got into education… to change the world.

 

 

Heading to CASA

Tomorrow morning, I’m heading to Niagara Falls for the annual CASA conference. This year, Division Principal, Lorelie Lenaour and I are presenting on “Engaging the 21st Century Learner”. We will be speaking about the initiatives that Holy Spirit has engaged during the past couple of years.

From the Desk of the Superintendent

June is here… the last month of the 2010- 2011 school year! There will be a multitude of activities in our schools with closing assemblies, liturgies and field trips. Students, especially in our high schools will be preparing for their final exams. Before you know it, summer holidays will be upon us.

At the Regular Board Meeting in May, the main topic of discussion was the Preliminary Budget for 2011-2012. It is never an easy budget when your revenues are decreased, but I believe that we have addressed the priorities of the division even with scarce resources. Over the past three years, schools and the division as a whole has been extremely frugal and conservative in their spending which has minimized the impact faced by many other divisions throughout the province. For more information on the budget, please click here. The Board of Trustees reviewed and made changes to the following policies: Policy 11: Staff Code of Conduct and Policy 19: Nepotism. Please refer to our Board Meeting Briefs for more information.

There were two information items that deserve special attention from the Board Meeting. The first is the “Spirit Sings” CD. Each of our schools, plus a staff choir, recorded a sacred song for this project. With support from Fr. Tim and All Saints Parish, we recorded this beautiful compilation of songs at St. Patrick Church over a three day period. The CD will be available at our next “Spirit Sings” Concert, scheduled for October 25, 2011. Special thanks to Shelley Baier, principal of St. Patrick Fine Arts Elementary, for her organization of this initiative, and to all the support from our 13 schools.

The second piece of information that I would like to highlight from our Board Meeting is the May 2011 Accountability Pillar Report. Once again, Holy Spirit continues to demonstrate very high achievement and excellence. These results can be attributed to highly committed and competent staffs who engage our students on a daily basis. Our students, your children, are well supported in Holy Spirit and, as Superintendent of Schools, I continue to be very proud of our results. To view our overall summary, please click here.

As this is my last “From the Desk of the Superintendent” update for this school year, I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved with our Holy Spirit community. We know that it takes a village to raise a child and we are blessed to have a strong village with Holy Spirit. I would like to wish our students the best of luck in their coming exams and sincerely thank our parents and families for their continued support. The staff we have are exceptional and I am most appreciative of the work they do for our students. And finally, I would like to thank our Board of Trustees for the support I have received again this year as Superintendent of Schools.

Enjoy the last month of school and have a safe and blessed vacation!

God Bless,

Christopher Smeaton,
Superintendent of Schools