Monday, November 15, 2010

How to make a Culturally Proficient School

As I entered my school building this morning, I saw that it had transformed into a Christmas building over the weekend. Garlands hung on all the banisters, a huge Christmas tree was placed in the foyer, posters advertising Christmas and Santa were everywhere to be seen. Ironically, I am celebrating Eid this week and there was no mention of this anywhere (yet). I do work in a school where the majority of the population may be Christian; however, the overwhelming presence of one holiday represented over another took me by surprise. I have worked at this school for many years and do typically enjoy seeing it decorated. This year I was somewhat startled by my preliminary reaction.

It is true, I did grow up in North America and in this culture, and Christmas is everywhere. And I do know that non-Christians also celebrate Christmas in some way or form. My husband lived in Pakistan until he was 16 years old celebrated Eid there every year and it is a big deal (sometimes 3 days long). When I looked at the Christmas decorations around my building this year, I thought about the minority of students who do not celebrate Christmas. I thought about their reaction to their own holiday and the perception of their holiday that they would be bringing home to their parents.

Becoming a culturally proficient school may very well mean, treating each culture equitably. On Friday during our subject PD day, Maureen Smith (a professor at the University of Western Ontario) made a presentation on how we define culture. She spoke about the idea of “drive-by shooting” and that this concept of culture should not be how we integrate it into our classes. It should be woven into the fabric of the school every day, all the time. How can schools become more culturally proficient in what they do every day? Having an awareness and understanding of other cultures is a start. I grew up singing Christmas carols because that is what I learnt in school despite being non-Christian. Perhaps we need to start broadening our base and see all cultures in the school equitably represented.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Principal as an Instructional Leader

On Saturday, our PQP2 class listened to an LNS presentation by Anne Macdonald on the key leadership functions of a principal. These functions included: Building Culture; Leading Change and Managing Complexity. Interestingly, the Ontario Leadership Framework mimics some of these ideas as well. The idea of the principal as an Instructional leader in the framework was echoed throughout the presentation in various ways. The idea of a principal as co-learner with teachers was presented. Though a principal has certain knowledge and competencies, he/she does not know everything. Anne Macdonald included a great quote which summarized it nicely: “The expert in the room depends on the question being asked.”

So it begs the question: “Can the Principal be the Instructional Leader and a co-learner at the same time?” Despite the apparent contradiction, I believe that the answer unequivocally is: “Yes!” One of the competencies of the Framework state that a principal demonstrates “effective teaching and learning.” As a teacher, it is imperative to demonstrate to kids that though we may be teachers, there are many things that we don’t know. In effect, teachers can be co-learners in the classroom too.

According to the LNS, a good classroom instructional task is “connected to the world, has intellectual rigor, involves substantive conversation and multiple entry points.” The role of the principal as an instructional leader according to the framework is to develop professional learning communities for school improvement. In order to do so, a principal needs to incite shared collaboration and ask questions to facilitate discussion. Those questions should be “connected to the world, have intellectual rigor and involve substantive conversation and multiple entry points.”

Therefore, in terms of being an instructional leader in the school, the principal mimics the role of a teacher in a classroom as a co-learner, asking probing questions and facilitating discussion and reflection.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Staff Professional Development

How do leaders in the school effectively engage staff in professional dialogue?

The NSDC (National Staff Development Council) delineates 12 standards for developing pd for staff. In this journal, I would like to reflect on Learning Communities and Collaboration since both are inextricably linked and they are the bases for moving a staff forward in affecting student achievement.

In order to be successful, the NSDC suggests that these communities meet almost every day. In my opinion this may be somewhat idealistic. However, a weekly or bi-weekly or even monthly meeting may be more realistic. I believe that teachers must decide on a focus area that their meetings should target. There should be some literature that is research-based (also one of the standards) available to explore for these teachers. The purpose of the meetings should be clear and the time allotted should be clear.

Collaboration in Learning Communities does not always have to happen face-to-face. Technology can facilitate online collaboration through the use of wikis, forums and google docs. Learning Communities are also not limited to staff within the school, but can also include teachers from the district, different districts and even go beyond conventional borders to include teachers teaching abroad.

According to the NSDC, collaboration (in PLCs) also satisfies the need for “social interaction that often deepens learning and interpersonal support and synergy for creatively solving the complex problems of teaching and learning.” When those conversations are purposeful they can be very powerful in changing practices.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

My practicum proposal - Empowering our future global citizens through digital literacy

How does the purposeful and intentional use of technology integrated into professional development and dialogue affect student achievement? This is the question I wish to address during my practicum proposal. The intent of the proposal is very clearly articulated first and foremost under the category of leading the Instructional Program of the Ontario Leadership Framework. It indicates that a “principal has knowledge and understanding of (the) use of new and emerging technologies to support teaching and learning.” In addition, one of the practices of the principals in setting direction is to: “ensure creativity, innovation and the use of appropriate technologies to achieve excellence.” The framework goes on to highlight that a principal has knowledge of “new technologies, their use and impact; (and) leading change, creativity and innovation.”

My practicum will also address how a principal develops the organization and “challenges thinking and learning of staff to further develop professional practice.” Professional Development should push the envelope and allow staff to explore new and different ways of teaching. Lastly, creating and taking part in professional learning communities on the topic of technology or through the use of technology is an area that I further wish to explore during this practicum. The Framework does indicate that a principal “is able to collaborate and network with others inside and outside the school.”

Some of the first questions that PQP part 1 explored from the onset was: “What do you value? What are your beliefs? How does your behaviour exemplify your beliefs?” Before embarking on a change in career path, it is vital that we all have a very good understanding of our personal goals and beliefs. I believe that our students are global citizens, that they need 21st century skills and that they should have a universal conscience. Students in my classrooms are exposed to such ideas and I firmly believe that more and more teachers should embrace such a philosophy. As a teacher, I may be able to reach students in my classroom, but as an instructional leader, I can reach many more.

I can see some links with my philosophy of education and Fullan’s book studied in this course, The Moral Imperative of Leadership. In chapter 4, Fullan speaks of making a difference at a societal level, but stops short at discussing change in the context of a district through collaboration and personal learning communities. (Fullan, 2003) I would take this imperative a step further, to say that, as school leaders, we have a global moral responsibility to affect education for the betterment of society as a whole. We can attain this goal through collaboration in online learning communities, like twitter, which are already affecting change in the lives of educators and leaders alike.

According to Méndez-Morse, “Leaders of change recognize shifts in the environment and guide their organization to be responsive to those changes.” (Méndez-Morse, 1992) As the new literacy creates a new world order, our future citizens must know how to filter through information and use it to the end of a common good. The York Region District School Board is committed to a vision for technology that, “will transform our educational and workplace environments for improved student achievement and success.” (Board, 2010)

Under Curriculum Implementation of the board’s School Effectiveness Framework, the board intends to: “develop and implement a multi-layered learning strategy to provide opportunities for digital literacy and new approaches to learning” by 2012. (Board, Board Plan for Continuous Improvement, 2009) During my practicum, I wish to explore what is meant by a “multi-layered strategy”. Moreover, I wish to engage teachers and students to explore digital literacy in an intentional manner to harness the power to collaborate globally and learn from one another.

Throughout this practicum, I will have the opportunity to work with students, staff, parents and the community at large. With limited resources at times, access to technology is somewhat limited in our school. It is important to note that the board has recently introduced wifi in all areas of our school building. This will change the scope and increase technology use in the building through PDA’s and personal laptops. To ensure equality of access, it may be important to have laptops available for sign out through the main office or library.

It will be imperative to work with staff on various PD sessions outlining options to work with the technology now available in classrooms. This year, I was actively involved in planning and presenting a workshop on Moodle, an online, board endorsed classroom management resource. My role was to present the technology and then have one-on-one sessions with staff to help them explore.

Student achievement is always at the crux of any new school initiative. I can explore the uses of technology as I have always done, through demonstration and time to experiment with it. For instance, this last school year, I introduced the prezi, an online presentation software similar to powerpoint, but much more effective in demonstrating connections between concepts. More information is available at Many of my students were intrigued by the prezi, and several of them used it in presenting their culminating assignments. It is important to note that students need to be taught how to use technology appropriately, and how to avoid being accused of plagiarism, one of the major issues plaguing technology use in the high school classroom.

It is my intention to increase awareness of the different technologies available to support success for all students. Parents may not be aware of the gamut of resources the web provides, nor the safety issues or bullying possibilities that may arise while students are online.

Lastly, making a difference beyond the school is really my moral imperative. Not only do I want to affect learning from within the system, I want to affect learning on a much broader scale. In connecting teachers and students to others with similar interests via the web, our entire global community is strengthened. Not only are we preparing the students in our school or district for the 21st century, we are creating citizens of the world, working together for one common purpose and that is: progress.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Supervision & Safety of a school

The importance of knowing the policies regarding supervision, safety and suspension became very clear in this module. According to Education Act, it is the duty of principals to supervise performance and behaviour of all board employees. Principals must act therefore, in a very deliberate manner to supervise employees, and maintain safety of the premises and people.

In class, we learned that legal issues may arise from time to time involving a teacher or principal. Being aware of what we could be held responsible for, therefore, is important. It is also important to document all that we do in our role as principal and to keep that documentation for a period of 7 years. A case can arise at any time, and by doing our due diligence, we can avoid any unfavourable outcomes.

In the online video for this module we learned that all board employees have a positive duty to report any action that could be subject to suspension or expulsion to the principal using form 1 under new legislation for the Safe Schools Act section 175. The principal, teacher or educational assistants also have a duty to respond and/or intervene when they see students engaging in behaviour that is affecting the school in a negative manner. It is important to note that even if this behaviour is not on school property, the student can still receive consequences from the school.

In class, we also examined the legitimacy of a court order in custody cases and releasing of information. It is integral that we do not release ANY personal information on a student to anyone. Only teachers, the principal and vice principal are subject to having access to this information.

According to the Family Services Act, teachers and principals have a duty to inform Children’s Aid Services (CAS) in the event of physical, sexual, verbal, psychological or emotional abuse. It is important that the principal make this clear to staff from the onset. Teachers and Principals are bound by the standards of practice: care, honesty, integrity & respect towards all students.

Not only are our obligations rooted deeply in our morals, school leaders must also rely on policy to dictate their response to a situation. Our moral imperatives may guide us, but following policies and procedure will have the best possible outcome for our success in this role.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Educational Leader - Friend or Foe?

Reflection on the Dual Role of a Leader: Supervisor & Team Builder
The apparent contradiction in the role of a principal as both a supervisor and team builder is in fact, not a contradiction at all. Just as a teacher teaches, supervises and fosters co-operative learning in a classroom, a principal does the same in a school context, but on a larger scale. In my current role as department head, I do supervise programs and ‘informally’ supervise the members of my department. As a principal of a school, those supervisory responsibilities are definitely intensified. The Ontario Leadership Framework succinctly addresses this dual role under the categories of: Building Relationships and Developing People &; Developing the Organization.

It is important that a principal ‘develop, empower and sustain individuals and teams’ (p.10, OLF). A principal can do so by implementing a process that shifts responsibility and accountability onto the shoulders of staff members. For instance, including staff or department heads in developing the School Plan for Continuous Improvement, implicates their own efforts to collectively pursue these objectives. The process of Differentiated Leadership involves knowing the strengths and personality styles of your members and allowing them to take a lead in areas which suit their interests and talents best. In doing so, you can form a team of teachers who take initiative and make it work.

A principal is one who ‘supervises staff effectively’ (page 11, OLF). Supervising staff means knowing and “befriending” respective collective agreements. A principal should be familiar with teacher, support staff & OT collective agreements. A principal is also responsible for the Teacher Evaluation Process (TPA). If staff professional development has been a collaborative and shared responsibility, it will inform the practice of teachers thereby leading to more successful TPAs. A good relationship with the union representative can also improve teamwork and collaboration amongst staff. It is important to consult with the union representative and your superintendant when in doubt on matters pertaining to grievances, arbitration, discipline or collective agreements.

In all, many of the pitfalls of the supervisory role of leadership can be successful avoided through effective collaboration and team building amongst staff. It is important to be knowledgeable of all the policies and procedures of your board and governing bodies. By organizing and encouraging staff to come together, many sensitive issues can be avoided. A principal doesn’t have to be a friend or a foe. He/She can lead by empowering others to be leaders of their own right.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Covert Leader

I am blogging my assignments for a leadership course I am taking this summer. Here is the second one.
Identify a successful leader who has influenced your life; describe the skills, knowledge and attitudes that made him/her effective

My best friend, a teacher, a mentor and a silent leader retired this year. She was not an administrator, nor a department head; she was first and foremost, a teacher who taught me more about myself than I knew. She led, not in an overt and overbearing manner, but instead by her constant encouragement, her anecdotal stories, her positivity and her humour. Her wisdom in dealing calmly and rationally with overbearing parents would be her greatest gift to me. My friend Lillian Howe is truly an example of Covert Leadership at its best.

The Ontario Leadership Framework for Principals & Vice-Principals delineates the importance of building relationships and developing people as one of the practices and competencies required. One important skill that Lillian had which is very integral to this competency is that of “listening empathetically and actively.” She truly listened when someone was talking, and her response was always one of empathy and understanding. Lillian often referred to herself as the resident psychologist because of her gift, many staff members felt at ease in approaching her to discuss something that was on their minds.

Lillian was a discreet leader in many ways. Her voice was not loud, though it could be heard. She chaired our staff meetings and always peppered our agenda with a dose of humour. On the last two days before she was to retire, she worked tirelessly all day to revamp our graduation script in an attempt to make it more succinct. Though it was not well received by some other staff, she demonstrated an attitude of resiliency and did not carry forward any negative emotion. This is an important lesson to learn for a leader who may want to implement change but meets up with resistance. As per the Leadership Framework, a resilient, optimistic and hopeful attitude is a key attribute of a leader who will need to overcome these types of barriers.

Lillian always led by example, and modeled her core values in everything she did at the school, from contact with students and parents. She never raised her voice; she always explained her actions and insisted on respect in her classroom. She experimented with many different teaching strategies and was open to change. She was an exemplary teacher.

Although I do not possess all of the natural talent and abilities of my friend, I know that these are areas that I have to work on, in order to be a successful leader. Will I have all the practices and competences delineated in the framework when I begin? Unlikely. But by recognizing that building relationships is important, I can begin this journey. And I am up for it.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Leadership is ... Starting a Fire!

A Leader? A Firestarter!

When I was young, I remember researching about how the first IBM computer came about. I remember reading about how large they started out and how much information they could store. I also remember reading horror stories about computers taking over the world and becoming smarter than humans. Today, all the computers in the world cannot find a solution to an oil spill in the Gulf or a cure for Cancer. Are our future citizens up for the task? How can we prepare them for what lies ahead? Clearly, our schools need to foster creativity, ingenuity and 21st century skills to tackle the problems of the world through collaboration, cohesion and changing the way they operate. A successful leader can be the firestarter for change.

A leader? A Change Implementer!

So onto practical matters: How can we implement change in the school system? Michael Fullan was quoted saying that “practice informs theory” and not the other way around. If this is so, then careful and thoughtful experiments in schools can produce real solutions to change the way our students learn. Experimenting with the way a course is delivered, or scheduled could be an example. Collaborating with each other, not only in the same school, or board, but around the world (via twitter or blogs etc.) will give us the data-driven decision making that we need to inform our theories about education. In other words, if a school board has just changed what a school day looks like, part on-line, part in-class, then the success of this approach could incite another leader to try the same approach. An informed leader is also a reflective one, who gauges the success of a particular program, or decision and if necessary, alters direction.

A Leader? A Thought Provoker

A leader provokes critical questions such as: Does the age of a student in a particular grade, indicate the probability of his/her success? Are December babies less likely to be successful? And if so, how can our school system better accommodate their needs? Questions are important because they provoke thought and possible solutions by stakeholders who include but are not limited to: teachers, students, parents & community members. A perfect solution may not always be present, but having courageous conversations on the issues, is productive and eventually leads to change.

A Differentiated Leader?

Just as a teacher would differentiate learning to suit the learners of his/her class, a great leader differentiates leadership roles for staff to suit their interests and talents. Many teachers are aware of their interests and talents and a good leader knows how to encourage teachers to share those talents for the betterment of the school and students. Conversely a leader can also integrate differentiated professional development to help staff along their own learning continuum. Differentiated Leadership also allows for more lateral decision-making, since decisions are shared. By collaborating and sharing our ideas, decisions can be more thorough and cover more contingencies because more people with different expertise are working on them collaboratively. In this way, the fallout from unsuccessful decisions are shared by a group of people rather than solely resting on the laurels of a select few or one person.

A Leader and the box of chocolates:

I have always believed that information is powerful. The more we have, the better informed our decision becomes. This information should not solely remain in the hands of one person. Information should be shared just like a box of chocolates. What better tool to share information than through digital media? It should be a leader’s role to share information and encourage others to share. Starting up a facebook or twitter group or a blog or google document specific to a school or issue at a school may be a start to sharing information online. Involving outsider input is also beneficial, even if the context may be different. I often send out a monthly or bi-weekly article, blog or video to all the staff concerning a hot topic in Education. Some have even generated a discussion or two, which is the hope.
I admit that I don’t always like to share my box of chocolates. But information sharing has always been second nature for me. As society shares more and more information via online media, so should our schools, as micro chasms of society. An ideal school has staff and students who are digitally literate; who work together utilizing their individual strengths for the betterment of the school; and last but not least, who ask and attempt to answer questions which bring about change. Lighting the match that starts the fire is the role of a successful leader.