Superintendent of Schools – This past week I was finally able to check off from my to-do list – “visit every school in the division”. I’ve completed about 2/3rds of my formal school tours and have been invited to attend an event or celebration in almost every school. I’ve also made the effort to get to schools for informal, impromptu visits. When I make that type of visit I just pop into the office and then sometimes go for a walk about by myself and other times with an administrator. Being visible and in schools is important to me.
Why do I do this? As a professional meeting attender, I find that being out in schools keeps me grounded. These impromptu visits are about me seeing students and our staff in action in the context of their school and community. There is no “show and tell” when I make these impromptu visits – it is real life – just another school day. I try not to interrupt classes, but I’ll walk into classrooms when the door is open and just say “hi” or talk to the staff and/or students. It reminds me why I sit in all those darn meetings – to serve students, staff, and our communities.
I warned principals and assistant principals that they will need to get used to me just showing up. I’m not sure people actually believed me, but hopefully they see that I’m walking the talk. The visits are not about checking up on things, rather it about keeping it real and grounded. I know how hard our staff works for students. I know it is not always perfect. I know that some days it can be a struggle, but those are the days I need to see to help keep it real. When younger students ask me what I do, I usually respond “I am here to work as a team with their principals, teachers, and support staff to make sure they [the students] get what they need to be successful at school and life.”
Today I was at one site for a formal visit, but then visited three others sites as I scheduled some time for impromptu visits. I had a great conversation with four teachers about how they are able to support learners through various online tools and their facility needs in order to support teaching and learning. There was no meeting booked, no agenda, just a great face-to-face conversation. In another school I was able to hear about a challenge they are facing that I can probably support them by connecting them with other RVS resources. My last impromptu visit allowed me to talk to students who just completed a walk-a-thon as a fundraiser for school activities. Students demonstrated some of the key competencies we want them to achieve by shaking my hand, introducing themselves, looking me directly in the eye and talking about what was the purpose of the walk-a-thon.
I also know that people need to see me in their schools. I like to be visible to get to know people and let them get to know me. I need to be more than just a name or picture on a website. I know that it is still early in my tenure as Supt (42nd day) and that it takes time to know everyone (we have 2000+ staff), but it is important to me. Sadly, every time I visit a school I cannot visit every staff member, however, over time I hope to have some type of personal interaction with all staff.
Principal, R.J. Hawkey – Last week I received an email from a mother inquiring into a program at our school. She asked a series of questions, most of which were very typical. One question stood apart from the rest and caused me to think deeply. She asked “Will my son be celebrated as a male, or is everyone gender neutral?”. Wow!
I have been an educator for a very long time and can’t remember a single instance of celebrating a child for their “boyness”, or “girlness” for that matter. Most formal celebrations celebrate achievement; academic, athletic, artistic, or social. Special days also come to mind when I think of celebrating. Informal celebrations are a regular occurrence in an elementary school; high 5’s, hugs, fist pumps, and thumbs up. Yet, I don’t recall doing anything special specifically focused on gender.
I truly believe that each learner in our school is unique and special. At R.J. Hawkey we strive for “Safe, Caring, Connected Learning; Success for All”. I take this seriously, working hard each day to create a school where each learner feels valued and safe to be themself. Each learner should know he/she is cared for, connected to others within our school, community, city and world. We meet our learners where they are in their learning journey, help them to learn more about themself as a learner and achieve success. Does it matter if they are a boy or a girl, man or woman? I’m not sure.
Over the span of my career I can’t recall a student or colleague who identified as gender neutral. I do know, that if and when I do, I will want the same things for the student as I do for everyone else. Like everyone else, I am sure that the student will have lots of achievements to celebrate.
Superintendent of Schools – I’m a big NFL football fan and I watch my team play weekly, watch league highlights, enjoy pre-game shows, etc. The league is a multi, multi-billion dollar enterprise that is half business and half about the ego of the owners. Successful teams find the right balance between consistency and innovation.
The head coach often survives based on the win-loss record of their team. Head coaches serve at the whim of their owner. Head coaches are most likely to be fired after a poor start to the season, just before their bye week or the Monday after the end of the season. Some head coaches last one or two years and others stay for seven to ten years. Some coaches are fired from one team and then days later are hired by another team. When a head coach is fired often all of their staff is fired at the same time. NFL coaching staffs are always in a state of flux in the NFL.
One of the interesting phenomenon about NFL coaches is about their coaching tree. The head coach is surrounded with coordinators, countless assistant coaches, quality control staff, training staff, doctors, video staff, etc. A successful head coach typically has a group of assistant coaches/coordinators that stay with them from team to team. When the team does well the coordinators suddenly become head coaches elsewhere and the remaining head coach takes someone they have developed and moves them up to be the coordinator. The coordinator who gets a head coach position often tries to bring people they have worked with previously to their new team. The new head coach may bring a scheme from their past teams that they will want to use on their new team.
Over time you can track many head coaches and coordinators back to one team or head coach. The role of the head coach is not just to win games, but also to develop their entire team (coaches especially) to be successful. Check out this website which demonstrates what I’ve tried to describe above – the larger the dot the more coaches they have directly worked with and if you click the same dot more than once you see how many those direct coaches have influenced -> http://graphics.wsj.com/nfl-coaches/
Enough about the NFL, in public education we have our own leadership trees. We learn from the people we have worked with along our own journey. Not just from fellow administrators, but also from the amazing admin assistants, building operators, teachers, CDAs, electricians, etc. Sometimes we learn from colleagues that we’ve never actually worked directly with, but through conversation and observation – it still impacts you. We take what we saw in one place and add it to our own bag of tricks. We try and learn from the scars we have from prior mistakes. We sometimes try and bring some of the people we’ve worked with in the past along with us. Successful organizations build the vast majority of their leaders from within, but also supplement with outside talent. A great RVS example of this is our administrative leadership program where we are actively supporting teachers who have expressed an interest in future formal leadership opportunities. Most of our new principals and assistant principals are from within RVS but we have some who have joined us from elsewhere.
I know that I have certainly been impacted by the people I’ve worked with along my own journey. Some of my elementary teachers continue to impact how I operate today. I hope that when I am finished my own career that my leadership tree is flourishing with many leaves.
Superintendent of Schools – Last week I continued my formal tours with visits to our schools in Beiseker, Crossfield and our three colony schools. It was my first time at our colony schools (Fairview Colony School, Tschetter Colony School, and West Haven Colony School). I was unsure of what to truly expect, but knew they were essentially one room school houses. These visits ended up being one of the highlights of my tours so far.
My thoughts about what the colony schools might look like were shaped by my mom’s stories about her time attending a one-room schoolhouse in rural Saskatchewan
and my memories of the movie adaptation of W.O. Mitchell’s Who Has Seen the Wind. Each school is on the site of a colony and each is somewhat unique with many similarities. There is one teacher, an assistant, and 10-18 students in one large room spanning Kindergarten to grade 10 at each school. There are breakout spaces for when the students are grouped into age groups to work on age-specific tasks. Once the garden is harvested in the fall, students 6 and over will learn German before their regular school day.
The kids were very friendly and we chatted about Thanksgiving, fall harvest celebrations, brothers and sisters. We laughed and discussed their favourite subjects as well.
The staff were incredibly warm and welcoming. They truly know their students and are called upon to teach all the grades and subjects. A pretty amazing task given the times. Thanks for the great visit and tour. I am looking forward to another visit.
Registered Provisional Psychologist – The idea of inclusion is not a new one and has certainly been discussed in Rocky View Schools, as well as in the larger education system for some time. We all have our ideas about what inclusion means and have the ability to espouse a philosophical and/or theoretical definition of inclusive teaching practice. That is fantastic; however, the discussion and implementation of inclusive practice becomes much more difficult when looking at the operational aspects. According to McLeskey and Waldron (2012) far more teachers support the concept of inclusion than are willing to teach in inclusive classrooms. Much of the time, this is the result of the teacher’s beliefs about disability and his or her professional efficacy. As such, I wish to open up a discussion about how our own beliefs impact the success of meeting the needs of diverse learners. Successful inclusion first begins with self-reflection regarding our personal beliefs about diverse students, such as those with various disabilities, and our perceived role in taking responsibility to reduce the barriers to their learning.
Just as students with diverse needs can be considered to fall along a continuum of learner differences, teachers’ and school administrators’ beliefs about their role in supporting such students can also be considered to fall along a continuum between pathognomonic and interventionist constructs. A pathognomonic construct focuses on identifying or diagnosing students’ problems and weaknesses. Disability is perceived as an internal attribute and condition of the student. Teachers whose beliefs lie in this direction focus on ‘what is’ and perceive themselves as having little impact on the success and outcome of those with certain learning challenges. A pathognomonic outlook supports the practice of placing students with special needs in separate programs and schools, such as those with learning challenges, mental health symptoms, medical needs, etc. However, on the other end of the continuum, the interventionist construct focuses on how environmental and social factors impair a student’s learning. Disability is viewed, at least in part, as being created by external barriers to learning. Teachers with this perspective see themselves as responsible for intervening and advocating for students with disabilities to illicit change in the environment to aide in supporting the student’s learning needs.
Teaching practices and inclusion are largely influenced by teacher efficacy. A teacher’s professional efficacy is impacted by their understanding of certain disabilities and experience supporting such challenges. Toward that end it is important that professionals reflect upon their level of understanding of certain disabilities, as well their level of knowledge or expertise in supporting students with certain challenges. This begs the questions: where do you fall on the continuum? Does your place on the continuum change depending on the student’s disability or learning challenges? Where are you on the continuum for including a student with a learning disability in math, reading, writing, etc? Is it different for a student with behavioural deficits such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Reactive Attachment Disorder, or Attention-Deficit/Hyper Activity Disorder? What about a student with anxiety, depression, experienced trauma, family system difficulties? Which way would you move if a student with medical challenges or Autism Spectrum Disorder was in your class? If your place on the continuum does change, how much of that change can be attributed to your understanding of certain disabilities and/or your experience with supporting students with those specific needs? Would you raise your hand to be the one to support students with diverse needs in your class/school?
Research has shown that teacher and school administer beliefs about disability and their own professional efficacy greatly impact the success of inclusion for diverse learners. Such beliefs are the impetus for supporting inclusion and underlie any theoretical or philosophical definition of inclusion. After reflection upon your own beliefs about diverse learning challenges, and your role in supporting such students, what would you need to move further toward the interventionist side of the continuum for supporting all learners?