Are You In the Club?

Students of Nan Hua High School gathering in t...

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As I continue to understand the work of  J. DOUGLAS WILLMS, SHARON FRIESEN, AND PENNY MILTON in their 2009 report What Did You Do in School Today? I am understanding more specifically the notion of Social Engagement.  For quite some time now, when we talked about engagement, we were all referring to academic or intellectual engagement.  Social Engagement; defined as “meaningful participation in the life of the school” in a lot of ways is the first requirement needed to influence the success of academic and intellectual engagement. 

The outcomes of social engagement defined as having: “Friendships, social networks, sense of belonging, self-confidence, and often enjoyment of school'” I believe are the key factors, the initial purposes and our first point of school.  It’s always interesting that we mostly know “what” to do in schools.  The trick is to know how!  How do we support students in developing friendships, building social networks, developing a sense of belonging, developing self-confidence and enjoying school?  Great questions!

I think we have been working quite specifically and purposefully on the outcomes of Social engagement.  We participate in the Alberta Government Accountability Pillar to measure our growth and success.  I will probably forget a few things here, but here are some of the things we do:

  • Self-confidence:  set goals, work on them and review them.  Differentiation to support all students in being successful.  Understand learner profiles to properly support.  Develop report card comments that are strength based, rather than deficit based.  Use restitution, rather than punishment, whenever possible.
  • Friendships and social networks: keep some friends together in classes, encourage a variety of learning opportunities including small group and partner time, specific friendship groups/clubs focussed on social skills development during class time and at lunch, 27 minute unstructured play time at lunch, cross-grade activities in the school, buddy classes, “fun” noon-time clubs.
  • Sense of Belonging: monthly school assemblies, school tee-shirts, clubs, teams, student helpers, classroom meetings (morning meetings), Touchstone for specific students, culturally diverse celebrations and learning.
  • Enjoyment of school: know your student!  Have fun!  School wide activities such as pajama day, sports day, assemblies, new initiatives such as drum fit, recognition of personal successes.

Perhaps if I think longer, I could add to the list.  But, more importantly, what can you add to the list?

For more on the complete What Did You Do In School Today report by the Canadian Education Association click here

Leadership Lessons… Ten Ideas to Take From 2011 into 2012

As 2011 draws to a close, I wanted to take a minute to reflect on what I have learned about leadership and being a Principal.  There were many things learned, however, there are key things learned that I want to remember and apply to 2012.  Not in any particular order, here is my top list of being a great leader and great Principal.

1.  Communication is King, Communication is Key


Image by P Shanks via Flickr

I can’t say it enough, in enough different ways; that is my motto.  If there is something I really really want people to know, I need to say it often, in many different ways and in many different formats.  Same goes for me, if there is something you really really want me to know, tell me often, tell me in person, and by email.  There are non-effective forms of communication in schools with the top 2 being Over the PA System, and At An Assembly.  I find if you make announcements or give important messages in these 2 ways, perhaps 10% of the people will actually hear and understand.  Then there is the long range of ways of communicating until you get to the most effective; being one on one or with a small group of people face to face, with them taking notes.  If they don’t take notes, a follow-up email is necessary.  I also think it is important to remember, just because I said it, doesn’t mean they learned it (or even heard it for that matter!).

2.  Just Because I Said it, Doesn’t Mean They Learned It

I find that I often tell people “how” to do things… how to write report card comments, how to conduct parent meetings, how to work with a student, how to organize a classroom…. and the list goes on.  However, just because I said it, doesn’t mean they learned it.  In fact, doesn’t mean they learned it, heard it, get it, understand it, believe it!  I find if I want people to learn something new, I have to teach it!  (wow, amazing concept for an educator). Tried and true teaching strategies work for adults too.  Don’t just tell an adult how to ride a bike, teach them.  Show them, help them, support them, let them try it, encourage them, listen to them, answer questions, applaud, cheer and celebrate!

3.  Back it Up

Not your hard drive, your words!  I find that backing up my ideas, thoughts, and initiatives with current, quality research found in reputable literature is the way to go.  I am fond of saying “This isn’t Lori’s thing, or Lori’s way,” this is because we know this is best practice and it is proven good and right for students.  This is based on research and backed by data, the way we do it in our school is specific to our content, but what we do is tried and true.

4.  Let Others Do

I often have teachers and staff approach me and say “Can I do this?”  If the “this” is in any way reasonable and safe it’s always worth a try.  Remember riding the bike?  How will they learn if they don’t try?  My job in this is to talk it through; make sure it is the best try (don’t hop on a bike that is too big or too small or has a bent rim and wonder what you did wrong) and then support the outcome, whatever it may be.  A word to the cautious: “Can I do this,” is quite different from “Can WE do this.”  See #1 – communication.  Then sort out the WE.

5.  Listen

There are people in my school who are experts at what they do.  The book-keeper, administrative secretary, custodian, tech specialist, all know things that I do not know.  Appreciate them. Appreciate their knowledge and expertise.  Let them help!

6.  Be Aware

Be aware, be where the people are.  I find that many things in a day can pass me by if I don’t leave the office.  Just walking around the school, walking outside of the school, walking into classrooms brings an awareness of the goings on, the successes, and the challenges.  How can I improve on things if I don’t know what needs improving on?  Having people tell me is one thing, seeing things for myself is a whole new “Ooooohhhhhh.”

7.  Follow Up

Following up on things I say or things I ask is a necessary way to add meaning to what I do.  For example, if I ask teachers to read a chapter in a book or watch a webinar and I never go back to it, ask about it, talk about it, then really it wasn’t that important in the first place.  I find that what you focus on shows people what is important, and what is important is what improves.  Unless I follow-up, really I am just making weak suggestions.

8.  Change Your Mind

It is an exhilarating feeling to know you can change your mind at any moment.  Usually not on a whim, but when you learn or realize something new that would be more productive or effective.  You know the old saying, “Doing something over and over the same way and expecting different results is ….(you fill in the blank).”  Don’t do things over and over the same way unless you can’t think of a different way, or its working exceptionally well.  Over the years, with all the mind changes, we have developed into a team that is flexible, progressive and growing.  Trying things in a different way on a different day is the example of growing and changing.

9.  Be Gracious, Be Kind

There is no reason I can think of to be anything other than gracious and kind with all of the different people you meet and work with.  People like to be thanked, people like to be treated in kind, courteous ways.  People who are treated this way are productive, happy people.  And, the word gets out…. before you know it people will WANT to come and work with you!

My moms class picture. Martintown Public School circa 1950. My mom is middle row far left.

10.  Have a Sense of Humor

Life is stressful, work is stressful but it is true that everything goes a lot easier when you can laugh at yourself and laugh about things.  From a person that has the ability to let people get under her skin, not owning, not exasperating, lightening up helps get a person through any day.  Luckily I work in a school and I am blessed to be able to talk to, enjoy, laugh with all of the little people who come through the door of the school everyday.  In the end, they don’t really care about the budget, or the regulations, they just live in the moment.

A Final Note: Live in the moment, enjoy the children, if you don’t like the choices you made today, you are in luck!  You can wake up tomorrow and make different ones!  What choices will you make today?

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