Being Visible

Being Visible

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.


Of Course We Want Meaningful Learning – But How?

Of Course We Want Meaningful Learning – But How?

blog_pic_chapmanPrincipal, Prairie Waters Elementary – It is not uncommon in today’s schools and on social media to listen to someone speak about the importance of authentic learning, purposeful learning, and meaningful learning. Others might preach about the importance of students doing “real life work” to prepare them for the “real world.” I certainly have used all of those buzz words and sometimes all within the same sentence on occasion. However, what is spoken about less often is HOW a teacher or a school might shift what they do to provide an environment where students access authentic, meaningful, and purposeful learning opportunities.

I certainly am by no means an expert on creating this type of environment for students. However, I am increasingly learning that it needs to be grounded in community and relationships. While this may sound simplistic, it is very complex and requires a long-term commitment and lots of ‘buy in’.blog_pic_russ

To provide students with learning experiences that are purposeful, authentic, and meaningful, educators must eliminate the walls that confine our teaching to approximations of what we are trying to achieve. Truly authentic experiences can’t happen day after day in closed spaces. By accessing opportunities and connections in the community our students’ learning can gain purpose and relevance. If we want our students to know “why” they are learning something, getting them out of the school or bringing the right people in can help a lot. Yet, a desire to engage with our greater community isn’t the whole answer. That is the easy part. The much harder part is developing the relationships that allow this to happen. This demands a commitment that takes years to develop and countless conversations to change paradigms.

Business owners, agencies, artists, and trades people don’t traditionally interact a lot with schools and students. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want to. By developing relationships with them and engaging them in our desire to shift what schools look like, we can change our learning environments to look more like the ‘real world’ and less like the factory inspired model that they were built on. That invites the question – What can you do to build relationships with your community to impact your student’s learning?


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