Last month, Katie Martin came to town to work with educators from nine different schools in the Louis Riel School Division. To say that I was really thrilled to be able to work with her is an understatement. She challenged us to explore our ‘What ifs’ in education and to discover our ‘Whys’, so that what we are creating has purpose.
When you know your ‘why’, your ‘what’ has more impact,
because you are walking into your ‘what’ with purpose.
Following her keynote address, teachers then came together to collaborate, design and explore, and began feeding off of each other as they shared their plans. It was particularly exciting for me as my own team came away with new ideas, wanting more time to work together to explore them. As I circulated through the crowd, I was energized by their conversations, thinking about my own ‘What ifs’ that have lead me on my journey with project-based learning. ‘What if…learning was student-centered? What if…learning was passion-driven? What if…teachers were as excited to be in their classroom as I hoped that our students would be? What if…our opportunities were limitless when it came to planning, collaborating and implementing our ideas? Moving through the room, I kept coming back to my ‘What ifs’ as I focused on what they were sharing with me, and it seemed that this was definitely an opportunity in the right direction for them. So awesome!!!
But with any ‘what ifs’, there also tend to be the ‘Yeah, buts’ in the crowd. And I heard a few, albeit just a few. I get it…there is a need for a reality check from time to time to keep us grounded, or to give us a different perspective when considering potential obstacles that might hinder progress. I just tend to have a general problem with this line of thinking when it becomes all-consuming, so much so that there is no possibility of thinking outside the box…or looking around a different corner…or even peeking out a new window…to shift our thinking and come up with different options. So when a staff members says, ‘Yeah, but…’ to me, my initial reaction is to go on a solution-finding line of attack, to demonstrate to the naysayer that there are other options available. The only problem with this tactic is that I am the one doing the legwork to find the solution, or the answer to a problem. And so, I am also the one doing the learning.
Then, Jimmy Casas tweeted something out this weekend that resonated with me and spoke to this challenge that we sometimes face as educators. He said ‘It’s a disservice to our teachers when we say they don’t like change or they fear change. What they fear is that we don’t give them the support, resources and TIME to change. Provide these things and watch them flourish.’ (Culturize: Every Student, Everey Day. Whatever It Takes.) This is soooooo true!
It’s a disservice to our teachers when we say they don’t like change or they fear change. What they fear is that we don’t give them the support, resources and TIME to change. Provide these things and watch them flourish.
As an administrator, my job is to ensure that this doesn’t become a thing in my world. And that the naysayers are the ones who become more adept at opening themselves up to possibilities. In our case, our team has been putting in alot of effort to move to a project-based learning model with our Grades 5 to 8 students. It has not been easy…this journey involves alot of work, a great deal of trial and error and some intense reflection. And yet, our team is engaged and thriving with the possibilities! That said, there are those who question the feasibility of launching into a project-based, learner-centered model, when so much of the work that they do is geared towards provincial exams. This brought me to my ‘What if…’ while working with Katie last month. ‘What if staff were given the freedom to implement their ideas so that the ‘Yeah, buts’ don’t take up permanent residence? ‘What if…’yeah buts’ wasn’t a thing, and instead, was replaced by ‘How can I’?
If I want this to happen, I need to support them in this shift so that they explore these solutions on their own, in their own way. These are a few things that can help make that transition easier for them.
What’s Your Why?
Support teachers in figuring out their ‘why’! By focussing on professional learning plans that speak to their ‘why’ with actionable goals, teachers can see the progress that they are making. Then, it is much easier to fall into the ‘How can I…?’ mode when you see that the work that you are doing is supporting your purpose. Without a clear sense of where you are headed…your ‘why’…those ‘Yeah, buts’ can become all-consuming, particularly when you see no way out of whatever rut you feel that you are in professionally. Making this happen involves regular check-ins with the administrator, discussions and collaboration with colleagues, and a professional growth plan that makes sense to the teacher.
Find Time To Collaborate
How do you go about providing ample time for your team to collaborate and generate ideas?
Scheduling Common Prep Periods. All of our teams have at least one, if not two common blocks of prep time per cycle scheduled into their timetable so that they can come together to share ideas and move forward with a plan. It is an expectation that they do so on a regular basis, in ways that work for their team.
PD Budget. Use it. If a team member comes forward asking for time for their group to continue planning and developing an idea, sub costs can come out of that budget. In return, you have a happier team who has worked together to develop something that they are really excited about…and they did it together.
Professional Learning Networks. The Louis Riel School Division supports this…and it is an amazing opportunity for staff to come together to grow an idea and learn from each other. Every member of our team is expected to take full advantage of this opportunity and collaborate with their colleagues at school, as well as others divisionally to advance their learning goals. And sub costs are covered by the school division for either two full days or four half-days, which makes it a win-win for everybody.
When a team member mentions that he/she would like to learn more about (insert idea here), and it is outside the scope of what our team is working on at the moment, I send out the all-call to my colleagues to see if there is anybody on their team who might be interested in collaborating/chatting/sharing with one of mine. This has worked beautifully to allow my colleagues to engage in professional conversations outside our school walls that helps them develop different perspectives and ideas.
At the same time, if you want to embark on a new path, make sure that you provide opportunities for your team to see it in action elsewhere and to talk to the educators that are making it work in their world. Before we started our PBL implementation, our team had the opportunity to observe different educators in action with their own versions of PBL, including our experience at Nelson McIntyre Collegiate, a high school in the LRSD who is all in with PBL and passion-based learning! Hello, ‘How can we…?’
Listen! Seriously…just listen!
Sometimes, a colleague just needs to vent…and to be heard. And when that happens, they feel validated and are more apt to make a shift in their thinking. I still need work on this, because I’m more of the ‘Let’s get this done yesterday’ kinda person, but when I am truly engaged in that conversation, keeping my mouth shut when necessary, guiding them when appropriate, often teachers come up with their own solutions to whatever problem is blocking their progress.
Let Them Know That They Are Valued
Above all, let them know that they are valued and that you appreciate the work that they are doing. Asking them to think outside the box, or to push themselves outside their comfort zones can be challenging. But if they feel that they are making a difference, and that their efforts are being noticed, this will go along way to making those ‘How can I…?’ moments become their way of thinking. Goodbye ‘Yeah, buts’!
These strategies don’t guarantee that the naysayers in the crowd will vanish and that everything will be rainbows and sunshine. But by giving them opportunities to experience different perspectives, learn from their colleagues and know that you appreciate their efforts, you make it easier for them to make that shift.