You Weren’t Hired To Maintain The Status Quo

Dr. Justin Tarte is one of the most influential people I follow on Twitter. He continuously shares relevant material that both reinforces and challenges my thinking. If you don’t mind, Justin, I would like to borrow this powerful quote you shared as part of some very important work I will be carrying out over the next few days. UnknownMy plan is to visit a number of teachers in my district to personally present them with their continuous contract. A contract they have earned over the last number of months. One that has been recommended by the principal of their school after a year of formal and informal observations. They have, in no small way, proven themselves to be the kind of teacher we are ready to commit to for the rest of their career and I want to remind them that this is a big deal. After visiting their classroom and observing them teaching one final time this year, not only do I plan to present them with a copy of Justin’s quote, I will share a few other thoughts as well:

  1. We are offering you this contract because we see you as a forward thinking and innovative teacher who will do whatever is necessary to help your students experience success.
  2. We are offering you this contract because you are a risk-taker, always pushing the envelope with your teaching.
  3. We are offering you this contract because you have a growth mindset.
  4. We are offering you this contract because it is evident that you see the value in collaboration, constantly building your own capacity and that of your colleagues.
  5. We are offering you this contract because you have shown us that you know how to meet the needs of all learners, making the learning experience relevant to them.
  6. I encourage you to continue the development of your digital portfolio. It will assist you in identifying areas in which you excel as well as areas in which you could continue to grow. It will also provide you with a body of evidence on which you can continuously reflect.
  7. We are offering you this contract because it is obvious that you love children, and that they love you.
  8. We’re counting on you and so are your students.

I could have sent the contract out via our inter-school mail system, but I want each of them to know that the decision to offer a continuous contract is a very difficult one that requires a great deal of conversation and reflection. So I’m going to take the time to go to them. As Superintendent Karl Germann says, it is like offering “a million dollar contract.”

As I near the end of my first year in the role of Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources I’ve come to see this as my most important work – inviting the very best teachers to become permanent members of our district family. I hope they will never forget why.

Categories: Capacity Building, Education Transformation, Human Resources | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

We All Want Excellent Teachers

Recommendation #21 of the Minister of Education’s Task Force for Teaching Excellence – Maintenance of Certification for Teachers has, in no small way, created uncomfortable feelings for some educators in our province. Key word – some.

After all, the Alberta Teachers Association itself takes a very strong stance (as articulated in this 2012 position paper) on making sure individuals within its membership are reflective practitioners who use their professional judgement to provide leadership in matters related to their professional practice.

Screen Shot 2014-05-25 at 9.36.24 AMThe Association is already dedicated to upholding professional standards, ensuring that a high quality of teaching continues to exist in Alberta. This would suggest that incompetent individuals are addressed in an acceptable manner.

Screen Shot 2014-05-25 at 9.14.50 AMSo, as the individual responsible for Human Resources in my district, I have a great deal of interest in Recommendation #21 and how it may play out in the coming months; in particular the part that reads:

“Teachers would be required to prepare a teaching excellence dossier of evidence of their professional growth, currency and competency.”

I would encourage teachers to take a look at this slide presentation created by Doug Strahler, Communications instructor at Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania. He makes a good case in support of creating and continually updating a professional portfolio to reflect on and improve professional practice.

A portfolio, in my opinion, places the onus on the individual teacher to identify, reflect on, and address the aspects of their teaching that does or does not consistently meet the Teaching Quality Standard. This is not to say that the teacher did not meet the TQS when they were offered a permanent teaching certificate or a continuous contract. It simply means that as the education landscape continues to change, so does the evidence of what excellent teaching looks like.

And think about it – our C2 committee work throughout the province has us looking for ways to reduce teacher workload and build teacher efficacy. A portfolio could easily replace professional growth plans, evaluations, and year plans while providing a great platform for PD, collaboration and professional conversation.

We all know the recommendations brought forward by the task force have once again created a divisive climate. I don’t think anyone expected anything different. But not all task force recommendations require opposition. I’m sure all stakeholders can agree on a number of them. There is not a teacher in our province who would want their own child taught by a colleague whose practice is less than acceptable. One way to ensure this is through an expectation that teachers create, share and reflect on a dossier or portfolio, demonstrating that their practice continues to evolve.

The 35 probationary teachers in my district created portfolios this year.

Here is an exemplar I would like to share: Justin Lowe Portfolio.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, Capacity Building, Education Transformation, Human Resources | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Desktop is Dead…

Last week, while standing in my school district’s Boardroom talking to a colleague, my attention was drawn to a small table in the corner of the room. There, sharing a space with a landline telephone and a traditional analog wall clock, was the desktop computer we hadn’t used for months. It was as though these innovative tools of the past were gathering to remember their glory days and to commiserate about their rapid fall from grace and loss of relevance.

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This past September an Apple TV was installed, which effectively ended any need for the Dell computer and Smartboard. Instead, those who use the space for meetings and PD carry smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices that pretty much gives them everything they need. This little corner of the room has simply gone unnoticed.

This gets me thinking about how fast the world of learning has changed. In just a few years mobile devices have taken over as the primary means to communicate, but also as the preferred method to perform a variety of other necessary daily tasks. Would you not agree that we have come to rely heavily on our devices in both our professional and personal lives to research, organize, remind, compute, and play? We’re now at a point where young adults can’t even remember a time before technology. And school aged children can barely remember a time before mobile technology.

The New Media Consortium, in their 2013 Horizon Report has identified mobile learning as a trend entering the mainstream in education within the next year:

“After years of anticipation, mobile learning is positioned for near-term and widespread adoption in schools. Tablets, smartphones, and mobile apps have become too capable, too ubiquitous, and too useful to ignore, and their distribution defies traditional patterns of adoption, both by consumers, where even economically disadvantaged families find ways to make use of mobile technology, and in schools, where the tide of opinion has dramatically shifted when it comes to mobiles in schools. At the end of 2012, the mobile market consisted of over 6.5 billion accounts…”

It’s encouraging to see a movement toward the use of mobile technology in schools recently. From 1-to-1 initiatives to students being permitted to use their own devices; from the dismantling of traditional computer labs to the creation of Learning Commons’ with carts of laptops and tablets. It seems as though the education landscape is starting to shift, and more and more teachers are engaging their students with the tools of today.

As educators we have an important role to play in building life long learners who can use mobile technology to learn any time, any place, and in a variety of ways. We have the responsibility to prepare them for a world where that will be the norm.

The king is dead! Long live the king!

The desktop is dead! Long live mobile learning!

Categories: 21st Century Learning, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Confronting Complacency

A few days ago I attended the Mighty Peace Teachers Convention where, for the second time in recent memory, Rick Wormeli was invited as a session presenter and delivered the opening keynote address titled, What we Could Do if we Were Brave Together. I’ve had the pleasure of listening to Rick in the past and his unique gift of combining a quick wit with deep pedagogical knowledge once again had the crowd highly engaged for over an hour.

Rick seems to always hit on a few very important ideas and this presentation was no exception. Some of my key take-aways were similar to those in the past:

  • Don’t wave at your students from the edge of the pit; jump in with them.
  • It’s no longer either homework or school work; its just work.
  • Fair isn’t always equal.
  • Re-do’s are a good thing.
  • Think creatively to meet the needs of your students.

In this presentation, however, he spent a good deal of time talking about something I had not heard from him before. Standing in front of over a thousand teachers I watched as he strongly encouraged them not only to challenge themselves to transform their teaching but to challenge each other as well. “When we are brave“, he said, “we find the freedom, language, and spirit to confront complacency and ineffective practice, and, even better, to do something about them.” He went on to suggest that in order to push all of us closer to the kind of teacher we always wanted to be, we need to build a school culture that cultivates pedagogical courage. For about 15 minutes he drove this point home again and again.complacency

As an individual responsible for human resources, I want to sincerely thank Rick Wormeli for opening up this conversation with teachers in my district. There are many forward thinking and innovative individuals out there who I’m sure appreciated the challenging words of encouragement. In my role I’m fortunate enough to come across these trail blazers every day and have witnessed first hand many teachers who are quietly moving their practice to new heights while, at the same time, the colleague across the hall holds on to outdated and traditional methods.

Policy makers, district leaders, and school principals are really only a small part of changing teaching. If we want grass roots transformation in our schools, we need our trail blazing teachers to be brave and confront that colleague across the hall. Not only should you challenge them, you should offer to help them as well.

I hope and pray that Rick’s message will resonate with teachers and move them into action.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Capacity Building, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

First Who…Then What

First Who . . . Then What.

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, shares one of my favourite quotes of all time. “The best leaders”, he says, “get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats—and then they figure out where to drive it.” He goes on to say that the old adage “People are your most important asset”, turns out to be wrong. “People are not your most important asset. The g2g-first-whoright people are.”

Last week, as is the case around this time every year, we sent “Intent Forms” to every teacher in my district. The purpose of the intent form is to collect as much information as possible so we can make important decisions about staffing for next year (Yes, we’re already planning for next year). The form asks teachers to let us know where they see themselves in the future —> Would you like to remain in your current position? Would you like to transfer? If so, where would you like to go? Are you planning to retire? Are you planning to leave our district for another reason? This information, along with other data such as projected growth or decline in student enrolment, potential new programs, administrative vacancies, and sources of funding is all part of the puzzle in trying to figure out a staffing profile for the upcoming year.

What I like about the intent form is that it provides a great opportunity for teachers to communicate to the district where they see themselves sitting on the bus. What I don’t like about it is that it provides absolutely no opportunity for district leaders to share their ideas with teachers. As a matter of fact, it can be very difficult for district leadership to get the right people in the right seats. In these rapidly changing times, there needs to be some flexibility in assigning teachers so that specific skills can be more equitably allocated across schools, building individual teacher capacity and improving district performance. However, the power to involuntarily transfer teachers to different schools remains hotly contested in many districts because it’s usually seen as arbitrary or unfair treatment.

How do we change that? After all, I’ve witnessed first hand throughout my career a number of teachers who were very upset about being transferred involuntarily only to be thrilled with their situation a few months later. As Collins suggests in Good to Great, as leaders we have a responsibility to get our teachers into the right seats. Without that we’ve lost before we even get started. So I went looking for some research on the positive outcomes of involuntary teacher transfer and guess what – there’s little or none to be found. What I did find was policy after policy in school districts throughout our province that makes successful involuntary teacher transfer fairly challenging and a crap-shoot at best.

I’d like to suggest the following as a framework for involuntary teacher transfer in your district. I would love to hear from you on this as well:

  • Write it into policy.
  • Make it normal practice to transfer a few teachers every year.
  • Build a culture of collaboration across your district and between schools.
  • Make it clear to new teachers when they join your district.
  • Make teaching at a number of schools a prerequisite for leadership positions.
  • Support teachers when they transfer to a new school.
  • Don’t just transfer ineffective teachers, transfer your superstars as well.
  • ?
  • ?

If we’re going to get our schools from good to great, we have to get the right people in the right seats. First who… then what.

 

Categories: Capacity Building, Education Transformation, Human Resources | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

Teacher Recruitment – Learning From Google

Last week, in an effort to position our district well in the coming year, I embarked on my first ever teacher recruitment tour. Like other districts in the northern part of our country, teacher recruitment has become an important and necessary part of our work, roaming far and wide in search of the best teachers we can find.

As someone new to the HR role I’ve spent a great deal of time researching best practices in order to put an effective recruitment plan in place. My goal was to have a better understanding of what others are doing to recruit the best talent into their organizations. By and large, here are 4 of the most common strategies I discovered:

  1. Attend job fairs
  2. Sell your city / location
  3. Highlight your benefit packages
  4. Offer incentives

Then I asked myself this question. Why would a new teacher want to come and work for us anyway? There must be something more than a good salary, comprehensive benefits, and a good location that lures individuals to a particular employer.  After reflecting on this for awhile, I found the answer on two lists:

This short video might shed some light on why Google consistently tops the list of the best places to work in North America:

So here’s what I think. The best beginning teachers want to work for districts that are innovative and forward thinking. They want to work for districts that have built a culture that supports hard work, risk taking, new ideas, and collaboration. They want to be part of something that is going to make a real different in the lives of kids.

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So when our recruitment team arrived on the East Coast a few days back we were armed with this message —-> Instead of telling these pre-service teachers what we could do for them if they joined our district, we asked them what they could do for us. Instead of showing them the list of contract benefits, we informed them that we were only looking for those who were ready and willing to work really hard. Instead of sharing incentives, we asked them how they would contribute to our high performing district. We showcased our technology rich environments, our school improvement initiatives, our mentorship program, and our innovative programming. We talked about the kind of teacher they would need to be if they were hoping to come and work with us.

After chatting with and receiving resumes from nearly 200 individuals, we then identified about 25-30 and invited them for a short 15 minute interview, where we asked them to respond to the following 4 questions:

  1. How will you make our district better?
  2. How will you respond to and utilize the innovative and hard working mentor that will be paired with you?
  3. How will you respond to constructive feedback?
  4. Please share your thoughts on education, technology and student learning.

It was an enlightening experience and we have been inundated with phone calls, Skype calls and emailsIMG_0095 since returning home. It seems as though our strategy worked. Selling our culture was the key. The best and the brightest pre-service teachers are now recruiting us, many of whom will join our staff in September.

I truly believe that the very best teachers are intrinsically motivated. They want to work for organizations where innovation and risk taking is valued, where collaboration is embedded into the daily culture, and where they are able to contribute in meaningful and lasting ways. As the gate keeper to prospective new teachers in my district, I want that message to be loud and clear.

Google figured this out a long time ago.

 

Categories: Education Transformation, Human Resources | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 38,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 14 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Capacity Building, Community Engagement, Education Transformation, ETMOOC, Human Resources, Inclusive Education | Tags: | 1 Comment

I’m Joining the PLN Blogging Challenge

OK – I have no choice but to enter this PLN Blogging Challenge. My plan was to just pretend I missed the Tweet inviting me to take part but being invited by two superstars like Shira Leibowitz and Craig Badura has changed all of that. What’s good enough for them is good enough for me, so here I go.

Here are the guidelines that were laid out by whoever it is that started this in the first place:
1.  Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
2.  Share 11 random facts about yourself.
3.  Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
4.  List 11 bloggers.  They should be bloggers you believe deserve a little recognition.
5.  Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they’ve been nominated.  (You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you.)
Introductions of my nominators:
Shira Leibowitz is Head of School at The Solomon Schechter School of Queens in New York, an instructional coach for teachers and principals, and facilitator of on-line learning. Shira is one of the #educoach leaders and has joined my district’s Teacher Growth and Supervision Wiki. She is an amazing member of my PLN and I learn from her every day.
Craig Badura is the PK-12 Technology Integration Specialist for Aurora Public Schools in Aurora, Nebraska. Craig and I set up a Mystery Skype with our grade 1 teachers last year. He is one of the most innovative members of my PLN.
11 Random Facts About Me:
  1. I have 4 children – 2 boys (20 & 22) and 2 girls (11 & 13) – same wife. :)
  2. My 4 children are named (middle names) after mountains in the Canadian Rockies. (Robson, Forbes, Cavell, & Ranee)
  3. My favourite movie of all time is Dances With Wolves.
  4. 6 feet of snow has fallen in my city so far this year.
  5. I love loons. I have many paintings, carvings and artifacts that depict loons.
  6. I coached college woman’s soccer and mens volleyball in the same year – 1989.
  7. I have driven across Canada and back 3 times. (I live in the far west and most of my relatives live in the far east)
  8. My family camped at the KOA beside Circus Circus in Las Vegas. It was $125/night.
  9. I try a lot of new things.
  10. Every member of my family blogs.
  11. I purchased my first ever cell phone just 3 years ago.
I’m going to answer 6 of Craig’s questions and 6 of Shira’s questions.
Craig’s questions:
What motivates you?

I am motivated by teachers who are pushing their own thinking. I love it when a teacher takes a risk and tries something new. When I see this I’m willing to do anything I can to support them.

Is the iPad a distraction in the classroom?

I think the iPad is a distraction for some teachers. Many have not figured out how to use them to support learning and build important competencies in their students. Once they figure out how to use the iPads to create, present, communicate, and connect they will no longer be a distraction. BTW, they are not a distraction for students.

In your opinion, who has been the most influential person in the history of the world?

Jesus Christ. Even those who are not religious should be able to see how he is the ultimate role model for all of us. He forgave unconditionally, he gave himself for us, he helped the less fortunate, and he loved unconditionally.

What’s one thing you have not done that you really want to do.

Meet Craig Badura and Shira Leibowitz. Enough said.

What is your happiest childhood memory?

Spending time with my dad at his hunting camp in our woodlot in Nova Scotia. Funny thing is that I never saw him shoot a deer.

What is best part about about your current job?

I really like how I have expanded my circle of influence. My work influences an entire district of teachers. :) I was worried about moving to central office but now realize that I can stay as close to the classroom as I want to. It’s up to me to keep that as a priority. 

Shira’s questions:
What is one piece of advice you have to offer a first year teacher?
If they don’t know that you care, they won’t care what you know. Build and maintain trusting and caring relationships with students, parents and colleagues.
What is one piece of advice you have to offer principals?
Never forget that your most important work is about learning. Your learning and the learning of others.
How do you like to spend time off from work?
My free time is entwined in the lives of my wife and my daughters. Basketball, volleyball, badminton, dance, drama, friends, movies, and food. That’s about it. :) Some sleep.
What inspires you?
The same thing that motivates me as I shared above in Craig’s questions. I am inspired by teachers who are pushing their own thinking. I love it when a teacher takes a risk and tries something new. When I see this I’m willing to do anything I can to support them.
What makes you laugh?
Little kids, my executive assistant, my wife, and my youngest daughter Jessa. Oh, and Adam Sandler sometimes.
What is a goal you have for yourself in the coming year?
To never stop pushing the envelope. Most of my work will be involved with our Learning Commons pilot, Teacher Growth and Supervision, Teacher Recruitment, and Probationary Teacher Portfolios.
My 11 Influential Bloggers:
Susan Miller          @millers6
Chris Smeaton      @cdsmeaton
Karl Germann       @KarlGermann
Annette Rouleau  @annetterouleau
Greg Kostiuk         @GregKostiuk
Teri Hartman        @HartmanTeri
Lian Helm             @lianhelm
Roy Fernandez     @sthenryschool
David Culberhouse @dculberhouse
And finally… My 11 questions?
  1. What is one new thing you tried in the last year?
  2. What is the most recent educational book/resource you read, watched or listened to and why that resource?
  3. What do you do when you fail at something?
  4. What do you do when someone you are responsible for fails?
  5. How do you deal with stress?
  6. What is your favourite movie and why?
  7. How many Smartphones have you owned and which was your favourite?
  8. Other than Twitter, what/who makes up your PLN?
  9. What does collaboration mean to you?
  10. Who would you recommend I follow on Twitter?
  11. What did you have for breakfast this morning?
Categories: Education Transformation | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Probationary Teacher Portfolio – Yes or No?

There are currently 35 teachers in my district holding probationary contracts.

Most teachers, particularly those just entering the profession or new to the province, will start employment with a board under a probationary contract, a provision introduced by the 1988 School Act. Section 98 sets out the requirements. The contract must be for a complete school year, cannot be offered to someone employed by the board in the preceding school year (other than as a substitute or temporary contract teacher—see below) and will terminate on the following June 30th. If, at the end of the year, the employer’s evaluations of the teacher so indicate and the teacher agrees, the probationary contract may be extended for an additional period not exceeding a second full year.

Probationary Teacher Portfolio Questionnaire

Principals are responsible for completing a formal performance evaluation on teachers holding a probationary contract, which will assist them in making a recommendation to the Superintendent of Schools regarding contract status for the subsequent school year. They are required to submit that evaluation, along with their recommendation, by April 30th.

Starting this year, so that our principals will have as much information as possible when completing these evaluations, we are asking our teachers to create, present and submit a portfolio. This portfolioportfolio-300x157 can be designed in a format of their choosing as long as it’s contents satisfies what is asked in this questionnaire. They should be able to take examples of the work they are already doing and compile it. Reference documents include the Teaching Quality Standard and the new Framework for Student Learning. We are asking them to present and submit the portfolio sometime in early April to allow time for the principal to review it before completing the evaluation.

Support will include exemplars of other teacher portfolios, time through the district Mentorship program, and ongoing support from their principal. Other than that it is the responsibility of the teacher to complete the portfolio. And I don’t see it as hoop to jump through. My hope is that they’ll continue to build the portfolio in years to come. Personally, I developed an electronic portfolio a number of years ago and have referred back to it on a number of occasions throughout my career. A portfolio, as a living document, is a wonderful tool for reflection.

The main concern over the portfolio initiative of course is time. Some are worried that we are burdening our new teachers with additional work in an already labour intensive year. That’s a very good point. On the other hand, if we want the best teachers for our district, and if we want to ensure they are continuing to grow in their practice, we need to insist that efforts are being concentrated in the right place. In the ever-changing and complex world of education, a portfolio in one way teachers can show us they are on the right track. We must be certain we’ve got it right. Only then should we enter into a long-term relationship through a continuous contract.

So what say you? Probationary teacher portfolio – yes or no?

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Capacity Building, Education Transformation, Human Resources | Tags: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Set Yourself Up For Failure in 2014

Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable IMG_0469to change.”

So with this in mind I would like to recommend that you set yourself up for failure this year. Setting yourself up for failure doesn’t mean accepting failure. To me, it means taking a risk and trying something new. It means moving away from something you’ve been doing the same way for a long time. It means going out on a limb and getting out of your comfort zone. It means opening yourself up to all the wonderful possibilities that exist.

As educators we find ourselves in this exciting time of rapid change. We need to adapt to that change. There is no better time than now to commit to doing something that might just fail. You may have to go back to the drawing board and try it a second time. It might not work out the way you had hoped the second time either. But you have to try. You owe it to your students and to yourself. Print off this contract, sign it, and attach it to the wall near your desk:

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Want some ideas? I suggest you try one or more of these:

  1. Project-based Learning.
  2. Flip your lessons.
  3. Allow your students to use their devices for learning.
  4. Blog with your students.
  5. Try a Mystery Skype.
  6. Set up a class Twitter account.
  7. Collaborate with a teacher in a different school. (or even a different country)
  8. Incorporate more peer and self assessment.
  9. Start student digital portfolios.
  10. GAFE.

So what are you waiting for? When you walk back into your classroom in 2014, commit to pushing your practice to new heights. Pick somethingIMG_0206 new and innovative and give it a try. Set yourself up for failure and watch yourself grow. You won’t regret it.

Happy New Year!

 

Categories: Capacity Building, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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