Gratitude. As an educator, parent, community member and learner, the month of June consistently overwhelms me with gratitude as I reflect on the growth and the learning that has occurred over the past year. As a leader in our school district, I am fortunate each day to witness the impact of our collective work on my own child – to see her flourish in our system is all of the motivation that I require to continue our work. And I know that I am not alone in this. Throughout our district, there are dedicated, caring, focused educators who are making a difference in the lives of our young people each and every day. A number of these educators have shared the sentiment that they don’t want their students to leave them yet, as they are feeling like “everything is coming together”; they are truly seeing the impact of their teaching on the knowledge, skills and attitudes of their students (someone even mentioned how they are seeing why the curriculum expectations are written By the end of grade…). There are those who are already thinking about what they will do differently next year. Everyone is collecting evidence and everyone is thinking about their impact. This is a sign of a healthy district that is moving in the right direction.
This past week our team of System Leads’ met to articulate, through three or four slides, what the impact of their work has been over the past year as they manage complex change and build capacity in our district. To prepare for this meeting, each Lead spent time analyzing their documentation against their success criteria to determine which stage of implementation they were able to meet with the learning that was facilitated in various ways – thus they turned their documentation into pedagogical documentation. Needs Assessments resulted from this documentation as they identified where their leadership needs to take our system next. Once we have the School Learning Plan Evaluations from each school, each Lead will ensure that the needs of the schools are also addressed by their plans for 2016-2017; thus ensuring that the needs of the schools drive the Board Learning Plan for Student Achievement and Well-Being – not the other way around!
So what impact have we had this year? What is different? There is much to celebrate. Although we had a slower than normal start, this district, with the formal and informal leadership that exists in it – classroom teachers, system leads, principals, developing leaders – has been working together to truly engage in learning and leading – thus illustrating that the Culture of Learning is strong in SGDSB. Our schools are at various stages of implementation, however here are some of my global observations. The following is certainly not an exhaustive list of our impact, but it gives you a sense of what I am speaking about…and as your School Effectiveness Lead, what I am extremely grateful for.
The Right Driver: Capacity Building We know that our BLPSA is in mid-implementation (full implementation in all schools and classroom by June 2018) and that we need to continue to build capacity in ourselves and in all stakeholders. Capacity building work is challenging work (due to many factors) as it involves leading complex change. This year, there is much evidence to support that we are getting better at leading this change, as the following components of “Complex Change” are increasingly being managed and thus greater understanding is resulting.
I am grateful for the discourse that is taking place in our district, as this is a sign that we are thinking about the work, and we know that conversation creates change and builds capacity. Our Efficacy Review launched much discussion and truly helped us to focus our work and to plan for the future. We have recognized once again that communication is a challenge for us, however with attention, we are proving that it is one that we can overcome. Participating in school based and board based learning has allowed us to hear our staff members challenging each other productively, thus shifting from a culture of “niceness” as Katz has called it, to a culture of learning. We have moved past the personal and understand that it is about impact.
When we think about how important it is to have a clear vision (to ensure that confusion does not result), we are reminded of the 21st Century Competencies document and of how this document reflects exactly where we heading as a district. If there is one Ministry Document that you plan to read from cover to cover this summer, I would say that this one truly hits home as it aligns completely with our SGDSB Theory of Action. We can easily find evidence that our schools are paying attention to these competencies as they are embedding instruction that aligns with the competencies. There are many examples of tremendous growth district wide this year in our understanding of these six competencies and how vital it is that we model these competencies in our practice and ensure that the classroom and instructional environment are rich with opportunities for our students to develop them. This is urgent work as our world continues to change rapidly.
The Right Driver: Collaboration Policy Program Memorandum 159 entitled, Collaborative Professionalism was released last month and provides us with clear expectations for collaboration in our province. In reading this memorandum it was exciting to reflect on how this has been a stance that we have believed in for several years – as evidenced by our Conditions for Learning in the BLPSA. We know that we all need to own the vision of our BLPSA and that learning and growth occurs at a faster rate
when we work together, when individuals have a voice, and when we leverage exemplary practices through this collaborative work. There are many examples of how deep collaboration (not cooperation) is moving us forward. Walking through the halls of our schools and sitting in staffrooms there is constant conversation about meeting the needs of our students. Some may say that this has always happened, however there is much evidence to support that it is happening more now – that the culture of collaboration that begins at the PLC table is becoming the norm in unstructured environments such as the hallway between classes. The natural collaboration of the System Leads as they work to de-silo their portfolios – seeing the strong connection that something like the challenges that we face with attendance can bring. The growth of our NEAC group as they work to ensure that our system truly reflects, in a deep and embedded way, the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The children with hard hats led by the Plant Department as they have a voice in the renovations to their school. The monthly meetings that occur throughout our district that have shifted to a focus on collaborating around the learning of those within their sphere of influence so that best practices are shared. The examples are endless and they are having a positive impact.
The Right Driver: Systemness is the notion that we are all connected and see a common vision. We began this year with the messy introduction of the one page Theory of Action graphic which contained the thinking of many who had participated in the Leadership Learning Teams for the past number of years, but which had really only been used by a few members of our board. Today, there is a much greater understanding of this document; we are expanding our understanding of Belonging to not only reflect the sense of belonging to the school environment, but also to include the importance of each learner possessing a sense of belonging to the learning – which is the result of a student centered learning environment. The focus of the work has returned to the learning, as when it began, it was focused on how busy the one pager is – a true distractor to the important work of continuing to enhance the learning of our students. I believe that this is the result of unpacking the document and building our understanding by connecting the dots. There is also an understanding that this document represents the work of all of our schools and that it keeps “the end in mind” – when we look at the document, we understand what our “IF” statement (If we foster learner centered environments and pedagogy) looks like and sounds like in action.
The Right Driver: Pedagogy The focus of pedagogy has continued to shift in our district to reflect the shift from a culture whereby the focus is on teaching and the teacher, to one where the focus is on the student and the learning. There are many reasons for this shift however the most impactful continues to be the study of student work – observations, conversations and products. When student work is on the table, we focus on impact and thus, we are monitoring the strategies that work for a particular group of learners at a particular time in their learning – and thus instruction is becoming increasingly precise and responsive. In addition, the partnerships between teachers and students that are apparent in many classrooms is growing as we increasingly shift to student centered learning environments whereby students have greater voice, autonomy, and are engaged in co-constructing the learning environment. They are increasingly engaged as they see the relevance of their learning. Technology has played a huge role in this shift this year as our Tech Champions (and many others) have truly embraced the notion of technology as a tool for learning and have been both modelling and spreading their learning.
It is clear that we are focused on the right work and that positive change is occurring. During this time of reflection and analysis, it is imperative that we all see the growth as this enhances our sense of efficacy as educators. We need to be reminded however, to not see the idea of change as a “negative” or implying that we are “doing something incorrectly”, but that we are exemplifying the urgent need to grow as the result of the dramatic changes that are occurring in our world. The 21st Century Competencies document helps us to see this and reminds us of this urgency.
As our summer break approaches, it will soon be time to slow down, rest, continue to reflect and to increasingly celebrate the growth, the change and the enhancements that we have collectively made all year, in the name of student achievement and well-being for our learners. Wishing you the best!