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.