Instructional Leadership, Professional Development

Model the Way- Ways Leaders can Support Learning in Education

I recently heard about a challenged issued by Scott McLeod to all Edu-Bloggers inviting them to write posts on Leadership in Education.  This challenge inspired me to reflect on my own personal beliefs, values and ideas about leadership, technology, and education.  I wondered about what effective K-12 technology leaders do? What actions and behaviors make them effective leaders in the education and in technology?
What are some of the tools I use to facilitate my leadership, understanding and ability to support teachers? Below is my list of things I believe leaders can do to help support the learning in their schools, divisions, and community.  This learning is bigger than technology, bigger than curriculum, bigger than professional development.  It is about becoming a lifelong learner and empowering others (staff and students) to follow your lead. 

Develop a Personal Learning Network (PLN)- Learning is a collaborative process and as such administrator’s cannot be an island. They need to foster and maintain relationships with others that support the sharing of ideas, solving of problems and consideration of multiple points of view. Leaders need to think about creating these networks of learning within their schools both for their teachers and for themselves. As well, leaders need to think and connect with others outside of their buildings within their division (district), and globally.  I have found that making connections and building relationships with others face to face and virtually has been the greatest single factor in my personal growth over the past year.  One of the best ways I have found to connect virtually has been through  Twitter. Twitter has allowed me to create a Personal Learning Network with educators from around the world who are willing to support, question, and expand my thinking.

Be a Life Long Learner– Read the ideas of others, engage in conversations about education, ask questions, seek answers, wonder. Administrators  need to be constantly modeling what it means to be a life long learner and find ways to harvest the ideas of others and share them with your staff. One tech tool that I have found that supports my learning has been Mobile RSS App on my iPad and iPhone.  This app allows me to access my Google Reader anywhere, at anytime. 

Model the Way–  Serve to inspire those around you by modeling and using technology yourself. If you think self reflection is important, and believe that blogs are a great tool to facilitate this then do one yourself and share it with teachers, parents, students, your PLN.  It is very important that leaders don’t just talk about change but model what change looks like everyday. 

Problem Solve– Remove barriers or help your teachers find ways around them.  Any technology you use can have glitches associated with it that make it hard for teachers and students to manage.  As leaders, we should always look for ways to help teachers as they learn and if necessary support them in finding ways around problems.  Leaders need to be about finding solutions not about wallowing in problems.  Twitter can help and support you and your staff in becoming problem solvers. Always be willing to ask for help.

Build on the Strengths of Students and Staff– Do not work from a deficit model.   Honor the learners and what they bring to the building everyday by supporting them in ways of using technology to enhance what they already do well. Provide opportunities for teachers and students to share their passions and learning with others. Chances are that their passions will spark learning and risk taking in others.

Start Today – Change and authentic technology integration does not happen over night but it needs to start today.  It is no longer acceptable to ignore the learning opportunities technology enhances in our schools.  Leaders need to expect and support the authentic integration of technology into the curriculum.  Some examples of possible ways to get the ball rolling and support teacher discussions might be:

  • creating a school Diigo account or a Livebinder  that all staff can contribute to and share links
  • facilitating techy lunch hours where educators can come together to learn something new, explore possibilities and brainstorm ideas
  • start a book club

Know the destination– Leaders need to have a good understanding of the aims and goals of curricula,  as well as the broad areas of learning and cross curricular competencies so that they can support teachers in uncovering ways that  technology can enhance, support and differentiate student learning.   Without an understanding of the learning destination it is easy for the technology to become the main focus.  Technology is not an end to itself rather it serves as a tool to enhance student learning of enduring understandings and curriculum. This doesn’t mean that leaders need to have all the knowledge or answers about curriculum but they do need to have a working understanding.  Leaders need to be able to ask questions, and encourage discussion and without knowledge of learning destinations this is an inauthentic task.  The Saskatchewan Ministry of Education Understanding Outcomes Document is a great place to start. In addition to the curriculum the ISTE NETS are a great roadmap to support teaching and growing professionally development in our ever increasingly digital world.

Get Dirty– Get in there and work WITH your staff and students.  Teaching and co-teaching in the classroom will allow leaders to move from theory and ideas into practice.   Having first hand knowledge of the successes and hardships in the classroom will support become a more knowledgeable leader as well as a better advocate for staff and students.

Be a Connector – Connect people to passion, learners to learning, curriculum to tools, educators to educators, teachers to time, classes to classes. 

Thanks for the opportunity to share my thinking.

Reading, Science, Teaching and Instruction

Building a Culture of Wonder: Inquiry in Primary Education

Children are born with a sense of wonder starts the moment they open their eyes and begin to make sense of the many sights, tastes, sounds and smells around them. As they get older they begin to speak and that sense of wonder is often articulated in one word which they use over and over again… WHY? Why is the sky blue? Why does the dog bark? Why are we going to the store? Why? Why? Why?

When those same children first come to school in kindergarten they often bring with them this same enthusiasm, quest for answers and wonder. Our job as educators is to create space in our classrooms and our day for this wonder. We need to let them know that their questions are not only valued an important but have a place in our classrooms and school.

In our current Saskatchewan curricula inquiry is the heart of each document. From ELA to math to science to social studies teachers are being asked to foster a sense of inquiry in their students as they discover and uncover what each discipline has to offer. For myself as a primary teacher I saw inquiry as living in the wonder that my students brought into the classroom each day. Through conscious teaching, careful planning and willingness to wonder myself I could foster, encourage, and facilitate opportunities for wonder in and outside the four walls of my classroom. Here are some ideas that I found quite helpful as well as some new ones to help build and maintain a culture of wonder in your classroom:

Wonder Wall

A place where group questions can be modeled, recorded, shared, and encouraged. As students discover answers to their questions they can be crossed off and more can be added. Another option is to have students write their questions on sticky notes that can be placed on the wall. When we were learning about the rainforest this wall took the shape of a giant palm tree. The new learnings were placed on palm fronds and questions were posted beside the tree.

Wonder of the Week

Posting a wonder of the week can initiate discussions, thinking and more questions. The questions need not have an answer. The goal is not to answer every question but create a culture of wonder. Fermi questions are a great source for thinking and discussion.

Wonder Words

Using wonder words as sentence starters can encourage student’s sense of wonder. These words can be used for written and oral communication.

  • I wonder
  • What
  • When
  • Where
  • Do
  • If
  • Can
  • Why
  • How

Wonder Centre

This centre can be a collection of objects carefully chosen objects which can fit in with current themes in the classroom. Natural objects work well and create opportunities for students to use many scientific skills such as observing, measuring, classifying, predicting and inference making.

Possible ways to record thinking at the Wonder Centre:

  • Wonder Journal
  • Wonder cards
  • Observation templates
  • Sentence starters
  • Science Notebook

Possible Objects for a Wonder Centre:

  • Natural objects (rocks, soil, plants, shells…)
  • Artifacts
  • Pictures
  • Magnifying Glasses
  • Magnets
  • Rulers
  • Balance scales
  • Microscopes
  • Tape measures
  • Wonder Bottles – sealed pop bottles full of liquids and other items like glitter. These allow students to see how liquids mix, or don’t as well as how items can float or sink on the liquid. I used to make my collection with water and oil, corn syrup, pancake syrup, and salt water.

I know this list is incomplete but it is a start and really that is the first thing you need to do to create a classroom of wonder and inquiry for your students… be willing to start. If you have other ideas of ways you create wonder and inquiry in your classroom I would love to hear them.

Recommended Professional resource to explore – A Place for Wonder by Georgina Heard and Jennifer McDonough