At our annual secondary leaders’ retreat, school superintendent Kevin Godden reminded the secondary leadership team that our role as engaged leaders is to push, to prod, to ask provocative questions and to cause learning through professional interaction with teachers who in turn provide high-quality, engaging learning experiences for our students in all classrooms. If students, when asked, can tell you what they are doing in class, why they are doing it, and how it helps them do something important in life – then you are talking to a student in a great learning environment!
Over 2200 years ago Chinese Emperor Qin had his artisans create over 8000 terracotta soldiers to accompany him into the afterlife. The clay soliders, their weapons and horses (clay of course) lay buried until 1974. Since then the excavation of Qin’s army has been a wonder of the world. Archeologists who re-assembled the soldiers, most badly smashed and damaged by time, have discovered that each of the life-sized soldiers has individual facial features, hairstyle and regalia. No two are the same. Qin’s military ranks though frozen in time, like our classrooms, are places filled with individuals with varying needs, interests and dispositions.
Creating schools where every classroom is an opportunity for students to engage in creativity, literacy, project management, personal responsibility, teamwork and collaborative skills is the proper work of the learning leader. Reforming a school’s culture to create these conditions is difficult work requiring a bold and creative vision – not to mention thick skin.
Jay Pankratz, principal of Yale Secondary School, is working with his staff on ‘Planting Seeds for a Cultural Revolution’ using ideas from Ken Robinson (‘How to escape education’s Death Valley’), Douglas Thomas (‘A new culture of learning’) and Alfie Kohn (grades), Jay and his team are creating a culture in classrooms for deeper learning, creativity, curiosity and personalization. Jay is creating a survey that will be reviewed with his teachers to check the pulse of student engagement in the Yale classroom culture.
Jinder Sarowa, principal of Robert Bateman Secondary School, and his team are working with teachers who in John Hattie‘s words “are the most important ingredient for having the greatest impact on student engagement and learning.” Increasingly, teachers at Bateman are active learners and practitioners of effective assessment, inquiry approaches to learning and teacher collaboration. Jinder’s team has developed a spreadsheet to gather information on evidence of broad implementation of high-yield strategies in classrooms around the school.
Greg Sharpe, principal of Rick Hansen Secondary and his team, are actively engaging teachers in new and engaging approaches to summative assessment. Many teachers have moved away from their dependency on the Scantron machine and from the two hour high stakes paper and pencil exam as their primary source of knowing student learning. Some teachers at Hansen are using the final two weeks of the semester to provide time for student demonstrations of learning in a variety of subject areas. English teachers, for example, are using portfolios and student-led conferences. The Calculus 12 teacher gives students opportunities to demonstrate their learning through alternative means rather than the traditional paper and pencil exam. One student create a video of a speeding car, winding its way through twisting turns only to skid off the road! The Question: Would the car strike the cluster of trees just off the road, or miss them and avoid catastrophe? The answer is revealed through a dramatic and humourous blend of mathematical calculations, video and pop culture. (Greg is happy to share the video and others upon request: firstname.lastname@example.org)
David DeWit, principal of Bakerview Centre for Learning, showed numerous examples of ways teachers have engaged students in their learning at Bakerview, our district alternate school. The teachers have made a concerted effort to find ways to personalize the learning experience for each student and to find ways to re-connect otherwise reluctant students. Students are engaged in the community in work experience with the City of Abbotsford Parks and Recreation Department where they participate in community enhancement projects. Through a partnership with a local service provider, students receive valuable job skills in the Bladerunners program in such things as fork lift operation and other employment skills. Teachers, as well, have developed highly engaging curriculum options for students by engaging them in real-life problems by designing and developing such things as vegetable gardens, aquaponics systems and cookbooks.
‘Leaders are responsible for building the capacity in individuals, teams and organizations to be leaders and learners.’ (When educators learn, students learn, Hirsch and Killion, PDK March 2009) Douglas Reeves describes the conditions that enable individuals and teams to design approaches for creating effective schools and to improved student achievement in the Leadership for Learning Framework. (The learning leader, ASCD 2008) Principals in ‘Leading schools’ understand the antecedents to excellence and enjoy the high levels of student achievement that come as a result of deliberate and strategic innovation.
Our collective task as secondary leaders is to learn about and to implement the ‘antecedents to excellence’ in our schools. As learners, we will understand the leadership behaviours that are associated with improved schools and increased student achievement. Kathleen Cotton (2003), Robert Marzano (2009) and Vivian Robinson (2007) describe the behaviours of leaders that impact student outcomes. Our secondary leaders will learn from this research and translate this to action in our schools.
The body of work in which we engage ourselves this year will focus on initiatives that will transform our learning cultures. School leadership teams will continue investigation of assessment, inquiry, collaboration, social-emotional learning, choice and personalization knowing that each is a defensible part of a learning culture that will impact student success. Together, we will go deeper then wider.
It is a joy to work with dedicated professionals. Our secondary leaders are committed to their personal learning and to their team learning. As a result, our kids and our teachers are in good hands!