Saturday, March 31, 2012

Reflective Leadership...

flickr image via flickrPrince

The principal is an accomplished teacher who practices quality leadership in the provision of opportunities for optimum learning and development of all students in the school.

My teaching career has led me in many unanticipated and diverse directions. The experiences I have had, and the lessons I have learned along this journey are the platform of my skill-set and knowledge as a professional teacher and educational leader. I believe that more often than not, the path chooses us.

I have taught at least one subject to kids from grades one through ten. I taught a first and second grade split class during my first year teaching at Tall Cree Indian Reserve in northern Alberta. From that jump-off point I continued my growth and development as a teacher for five years in grades three to six within two other Aboriginal communities. I moved to Red Deer and joined the Alternative School Programs in my seventh year of teaching. I worked with grades six to ten over the next eight years within two different segregated programs addressing severe student behavior. I completed my Masters Degree in Leadership (focus on school counseling,) during this period. I then took a position as a counselor for what turned out to be one year at the middle school level. At this point my direction shifted once again, and I was fortunate to become a school administrator at Mattie McCullough Elementary School.

With every teaching and administrative position I have held, I have assumed different formal and informal leadership roles designed to optimize learning and development opportunities for all students. Additionally, I have assumed leadership roles throughout my career putting me in a position to support the ongoing and purposeful professional development of my teaching colleagues and beyond as a conference speaker, workshop writer, blogger and author.

This reflection summarizes my teaching experiences, my personal professional growth and my perspective as a learner and teacher relative to the leadership dimensions contained within Alberta Education’s Principal Quality Practise Guideline. These are the elements that form the foundation of my practise as an educational leader. Over the course of my career I have formulated a set of personal beliefs that guide my practise. Many, if not all of these beliefs, permeate my life away from school in ubiquitous ways also. I will reference these as “I believe” statements where appropriate throughout this reflection.

1. Leadership Dimension - Fostering Effective Relationships
The principal builds trust and fosters positive working relationships, on the basis of appropriate values and ethical foundations, within the school community -- students, teachers and other staff, parents, school council and others who have an interest in the school.

a) acts with fairness, dignity and integrity
Building trust and fostering positive working relationships within the school community is paramount to a high-functioning team environment.  In his book, “The Five Dysfunctions of aTeam”, Patrick Lencioni very effectively describes critical factors that result in a low-functioning team environment,
§  Absence of trust—unwilling to be vulnerable within the group
I trust my colleagues, and as a learner, I remain vulnerable. I have more questions than answers. I believe humility is a key to trusting relationships.
§  Fear of conflict—seeking artificial harmony over constructive passionate debate
I engage my colleagues in dialog daily designed to probe better, faster and cheaper ways to educate. I am not afraid to state an opinion, and reference my facts carefully. I state both explicitly. I am a passionate person, and a passionate educator.
§  Lack of commitment—feigning buy-in for group decisions creates ambiguity throughout the organization
I am collaborative. I strive to access talents and abilities wherever I can find them. I am unconcerned where good ideas come from, just that they can be leveraged to improve practise resulting in better teaching and learning.
§  Avoidance of accountability—ducking the responsibility to call peers on counterproductive behavior sets low standards
I am honest. As difficult as honest situations can be, purposeful reflection and analysis of practise is critical to improving teaching and learning. The process is a professional one, not a personal one. I believe all people deserve to be supported in their effort to be better and more effective at what they do, and taking an objective vantage point toward practise supports this belief.

            “I believe that honesty is the foundation of all human interdependence. Integrity, trust,and
             character are the cornerstones of positive action.”

§  Inattention to results—focusing on personal success, status and ego before team success
As I mentioned, humility is key to trusting relationships which lead to team success. I don’t require a lot of recognition or accolades for any success I have contributed to. I accept praise only on behalf of the people that share my effort to do good by doing well.

I do my best to get to know the people I work with; both personally and professionally. Everyone has a story, and the more I know about my students’ and colleagues’ stories, the more empathetic and supportive I can be toward them. I have an intense sense of fairness and work very hard to remain neutral and objective when analyzing situations around the school.

      “I believe that effective education is about people, always. We must reach people on
       personal levels to foster relevance in what they learn.”

b) demonstrates a sensitivity to and genuine caring for others and cultivates a climate of mutual respect
As a result of my diverse and challenging teaching experiences, I have learned that in conflict, it’s important to explicitly distinguish between opinions and facts. Often the original conflict, (not necessarily a negative element in an authentic, professional and open-minded learning community,) is overshadowed by people’s tendency to argue opinions and not look closely enough at the facts surrounding the conflict. I have developed a repertoire of solution-focused strategies to mitigate negative conflict and reframe conflict in general as cognitive dissonance, a necessary element for positive change. Diverse thoughts, ideas and perspectives are necessary so we can see all sides in conflict, and in turn begin to think integratively as opposed to dichotomously on our way to building better teaching and learning environments.

c) promotes an inclusive school culture respecting and honouring diversity
I recently wrote the closing chapter for a new book, “Innovative Voices in Education-Engaging Diverse Communities” In the book I wrote that,
To tip an evolution toward engaging intercultural school environments that replace multicultural tolerance and acceptance with competent intercultural understanding of   and respect toward others, schools need to create positive opportunities for multicultural kids to peacefully and purposefully share more than just space. They need to share personal and group cultural perspectives with each other.
Of course this involves a much larger context for the word ‘culture’ than simply characterizing it in the traditional sense. It is not the homogenous elements of a school culture that make it unique and interesting; it’s the diverse people, interests, backgrounds, skills, talents etc. that create a vibrant and interdependent school setting. I once heard a colleague state that “normal is just a setting on the clothes dryer.” When all members of the school community understand that being ‘different’ is not a quality reserved for others, but how we can describe every single one of us as a unique, interesting and valuable member of the school community, that’s when we know that our inclusive school culture is authentic and respectful.

d) demonstrates responsibility for all students and acts in their best interests
We represent culture from our personal perspective; we wear it on our sleeves. In so many ways our culture makes us unique, but it’s also what defines us as part of a group; we are unique and homogenous at the same time. Perhaps the best description of group culture I’ve heard is simply how we do things around here, each one of us as part of a group consisting of people and elements that are similar. Each one of ‘us’ is an individual with learning challenges that need to be supported in optimal ways. An inclusive school culture to me is accepting of the idea that each member of the school community is part of a larger learning and teaching culture, but also that each is unique and significant, and presents with needs that must be supported on an individual basis.

e) models and promotes open, inclusive dialogue
As a member of the learning and teaching community, I take my leadership responsibility very seriously as it applies to ensuring each individual student’s needs are addressed in supportive ways. I do this by engaging daily in conversations with colleagues and parents about students throughout the school. I was a special education liaison for many years within the Alternative School Programs. My experience in special education has provided me many positive opportunities to refine my personal and professional skills in ensuring that every student is supported appropriately, and that each student’s voice is heard as it applies to his or her own learning story. The faster kids can become aware of their power to be the primary authors of their own learning stories, the faster we will see truly engaged learners.

f) uses effective communication, facilitation, and problem-solving skills
Over the course of my career, I have dealt effectively with a wide range of educational challenges. I view challenge as opportunity.

            “I believe that creativity, curiosity, innovation, and imagination are the benchmarks of
            vision and problem solving.”

There are many ways to effectively communicate, facilitate and address problems. I work well independently, but feel I also know when to “call it in,” so to speak when my skill-set and background isn’t sufficient to handle things on my own. I have often been immersed in educational environments where a formal, school-based administrator wasn’t part of the program. I learned how to address issues without that support, but now that it is prominent, it’s sure nice to fall back on.

I have always been one to take the initiative in facilitating improvements at the schools I have been blessed to work within. I believe in the power of action research. Initiatives often start in one direction, but end up in a going completely different direction. The ability to reflect, retool, reframe and reclaim a project focus, to me, is key to ensuring projects are dynamic, malleable and adaptable.
            “I believe that improvement is an asymptote concept; that no matter how close we get to
            perfection, there is always room to adjust and improve.”

My efforts to help improve the teaching and learning environment at Mattie McCullough School include: initiating the UNESCO ASP Net Schools partnership; configuring our distributed wiki-space teaching and learning platform; designing and administering our new school website; mentoring colleagues in their utilization of technology for effective instruction; initiating the school safety patrol program; developing our CARE Club leadership program for fifth grade students; implementing the Grow Boys Red Deer Knights in Training conference for our fifth grade boys, (and every other fifth grade boy in both local school districts) and taking a number of other daily actions to support colleagues in their leadership efforts throughout the school.

            “I believe in collaboration. Effective leaders work among their people, not above them.”

g) supports processes for improving relationships and dealing with conflict within the school community
I am always willing to consult with teachers and provide guiding suggestions regarding how to deal with challenges; whether with students, parents, each other or even in their personal lives. A counselor at heart, I believe people are comfortable coming to me for assistance, and I know implicitly that sometimes people just need to be heard; that they don’t really want me to do anything at all other than listen. However, if there is a need to step forward and be part of the solution, I am well-versed in strategic ways to mitigate any sort of conflict.

h) adheres to professional standards of conduct
I believe it is every teacher’s professional duty to uphold the standards of the teaching profession. I have been heavily involved in many capacities as a representative of the Alberta Teacher’s Association, (CSR representative, NSC and EPC, as an Association Instructor, as Political Engagement Officer for Local #60 and as a member of the provincial Diversity, Equity and Human Rights Committee,) and feel strongly that our involvement as professional teachers extends beyond the classroom and permeates every aspect of our lives. I have always worked hard to support kids away from school through coaching and believe that being a teacher is a twenty-four hour a day job.

2. Leadership Dimension - Embodying Visionary Leadership
The principal collaboratively involves the school community in creating and sustaining shared school values, vision, mission and goals.

a) communicates and is guided by an educational philosophy based upon sound research, personal experience and reflection
I reflect, therefore I am.  I have been using my blog, KARE Givers at, for almost two years as a conduit to share my thoughts on teaching, learning and developing mind, body and spirit in our evolving world.

“I believe in professional development that allows educators the latitude to redefine themselves, perpetually. It is the recognition of what we don’t know that makes us truly intelligent.”

Through my blog, and a growing Twitter presence over the last two and a half years, I have also established a significant and very useful professional learning network. I have learned more through collaborating and networking with teaching colleagues all over the world since starting to build my PLN than I did in all of my previous teaching years before. Never a day goes by where I am not exposed to the latest research, resource or trend in real, asynchronous time through my digital PLN, and I share these with my colleagues openly and willingly. Much of what I have learned via these mediums I have also shared through various presentations, speaking engagements and through real-time collaboration with my teaching colleagues on the ground in support of our school’s mission and vision statements.

b) provides leadership in keeping with the school authority's vision and mission

Mission Statement
“To create a caring, cooperative community of learners and nurture the highest standards of behaviour and achievement.”

“I believe that everyone is ultimately responsible for their own actions, feelings, and words.”

I often say one can’t teach responsibility without giving responsibility. I believe it is extremely important for kids to understand that they are ultimately responsible for their actions, feelings and words, and I believe this principle is the benchmark of positive behavior and high academic achievement.

“I believe a positive school culture is built through a serious commitment to teaching emotional, social, and moral skills.”

Having completed my graduate degree with a focus on emotional, social and moral education, I am vitally aware that a caring and cooperative learning community is largely dependent on the emotional, social and moral IQ of its members. I make every effort to synergize positive character messages into every subject, every day, and I spend as much time as I can spare to spread these messages in other classes and outside during recess breaks.

Vision Statement
“Shaping Tomorrow’s Future Today”

Our children are our gifts to the future. Packaging them well is the most important action educators can take to ensure that they will be able to meet tomorrow’s challenges with creativity and confidence. Kids are learning in a new age, one that advances daily. I'm not fond of the term 21st Century learning, however. It has become a wildly referred to catchphrase in education, and as catchphrases go, I worry that the original intent of the term has been lost in translation; so often the term is equated with technological advances, and more specifically, how to utilize them in teaching and learning. I think 21st Century teaching and learning is way more involved than this.

c) meaningfully engages the school community in identifying and addressing areas for school improvement
Learning in the 21st Century, although undeniably influenced (positively in my opinion) by technology, is more about how we think, how we need to think and most importantly how we think together. This is where the learning focus should be now, understanding that throughout the 21st Century, a continued and more intense focus on ‘now’ will help us navigate our present circumstances effectively while ensuring that we have learned as much as we can to prepare us for the relatively unpredictable state of tomorrow.

The world is changing now. Kids are learning now. We are teaching now. Every day in schools we witness this energy moving and exchanging. Perhaps the best way to prepare kids for their 21st Century future is to realize we are all living it minute by minute, every day. We can't know what tomorrow will bring, but every piece of the puzzle we find a fit for today will open previously unrealized possibilities for tomorrow.

I strive to create opportunities for my students and my colleagues to collaborate together on new ways to support the type of thinking required now, and in the future. I recently wrote a workshop for the ATA on this topic. “Creativity Works- Engaging Creative Teaching and Learning” is based on Howard Gardner’s book, “Five Minds for the Future.” Gardner refers to the “disciplined mind, the synthesizing mind, the creating mind, the respectful mind and the ethical mind” as five types of thinking that will serve us well in the future. When planning, making decisions and implementing strategies in the best interest of our collective school community, I tap into my ‘five minds’ tool box by default.

d) ensures that planning, decision-making, and implementation strategies are based on a shared vision and an understanding of the school culture
I subscribe to the five minds and incorporate teaching and learning elements that emphasize these types of thinking in my class. I represent these thinking elements in my daily practise as a leader when I walk the halls and school grounds looking for opportunities to speak with students in contexts that emphasize the five minds. One of the most rewarding things I do as an educational leader is observe and assist kids in real time as they confront their challenges. I use the five minds as a conduit to help them change their challenges into opportunities. Together we reframe situations to reflect our school vision of shaping tomorrow’s future today, and I use the five minds as a framework to guide me in supporting them.

I also use the five minds to assist my colleagues in dealing with their challenges. Through disciplined, collaborative, creative, respectful and ethical decision-making frameworks, there is hardly a challenge that we can’t overcome together.

“I believe that education is progression; the welcoming of change, the evolution of ideas. The need to be immersed in this movement is characteristic of the life-long learner.”

e) facilitates change and promotes innovation consistent with current and future school community needs
I am one who welcomes change. I am of the opinion that change is not a variable in today’s quickly evolving world; it’s a constant. I seek the opinions of my colleagues on a regular basis. As I stated before, I value the informal process of collective intelligence; the idea that we shouldn’t really care where the good ideas come from, just that we are exposed to them in the interest of positive change. I have also implemented formal feedback processes like online surveys and qualitative questionnaires to help make informed decisions in collaborative ways. I make explicit efforts to represent the shared vision and mission of the school by living them both in real-time. I lead by example by reflecting the mission and vision in everything I am involved with at the school.

f) analyzes a wide range of data to determine progress towards achieving school goals
Ours is a data-rich environment at Mattie McCullough School. I speak informally with parents, colleagues and students every day about how well we are meeting our school goals. Every morning on supervision, in the hallways during the day and after school, I engage each group in conversation about a wide variety of school elements that are continuously evolving, and I find this qualitative feedback highly invaluable. They are roughly seven hundred pairs of eyes that see things from a different perspective. They provide me with feedback on behavior, safety, illness, communication and many other topics that helps us continue to raise the bar toward improvement.

I also take great interest in the quantitative feedback I am privileged to receive. Coupling the quantitative feedback from various school surveys and reports with the qualitative feedback I get from parents, colleagues and students, provides a large and diverse source of data that can be used to continuously target asymptotic improvement.

g) communicates and celebrates school accomplishments to inspire continuous growth
I employ a variety of communicative strategies to celebrate school accomplishments and  inspire continuous growth in our students and our staff, but the most effective strategy I have used is simply to let people know that I notice the great things they do, and tell them that I appreciate it. Often a pat on the back goes a very long way toward helping people feel confident and valued. I sometimes give colleagues a gift card to Teaopia as a small expression of gratitude. I tell them to “have a tea on me,” and I think people appreciate that. As I said, I’m not really a person that needs a lot of accolades for what I do, so I make an explicit effort to remember to let people know that I notice when they do good things; that's what makes me happy... nothing big, just a small token or the simple act of expressing a “way to go” message to others makes me feel good. 

3. Leadership Dimension - Leading a Learning Community
The principal nurtures and sustains a school culture that values and supports learning.

a) promotes and models life-long learning for students, teachers and other staff
Perhaps the most significant way that I model life-long learning for my students and colleagues is to read. I read incessantly. I read trade books, blogs, websites and journals, and I share openly what I have learned with others. If someone asks me a question about something for which I don’t have an answer, I tell them I will find one and get back to them. The second most prominent way that I display an attitude of life-long learning is to write. I have always enjoyed writing, and over the last two years, I’ve ramped up my writing habit a couple of notches. In addition to contributing to “Innovative Voices…” I write to KARE Givers and also contribute to two other blogs... Connected Principals and Inquire Within. I have over fifty thousand page views at KARE Givers, so my thoughts are out there for people.

“I believe that we never stop learning, despite ourselves. Those who embrace the joy of learning, embrace the joy of life.”

To me teaching and learning are inseparable, complementary elements of a scholarly existence. I am certainly a teacher, but I am a learner first and foremost. To this end, I immerse myself in any opportunity to share what I know with others during conferences, workshops, conventions and district-organized professional development events like the Knowledge Institute, but I also take every opportunity to attend workshops and training sessions when I am presenting at these events. I have found a way to get great professional development for free by registering as a speaker, and then staying for the rest of the conference. I have also recently discovered how valuable un-conferences and online conferences can be. I have thought recently how much fun it would be to host a tweet-up here in Red Deer where Twitter-connected teachers could get together and share stories in an informal and relaxed way. Any opportunity to hear people’s best ideas is a good opportunity, and often the best ideas are exposed within informal environments. When people commit their own personal time to have dialog surrounding what they do, you know they are engaged and invested in what they do. They are making the effort to share and improve through collaborative connections. It’s like when kids take homework that wasn’t assigned... they are inspired to go the extra mile. Teachers who do this stand out from the crowd in all good ways.

“I believe in the pursuit of excellence; we can ask for nothing more than the individual’s greatest effort.”

b) fosters a culture of high expectations for students, teachers and other staff
I am fond of the term ‘morphic resonance,” the idea that, through a telepathic effect or sympathetic vibration, an event or act can lead to similar events or acts in the future or an idea conceived in one mind can then arise in another. Morphic resonance is the alpha form of leading by example. In order to foster a culture of high expectations for every member of the school community, I strive to practise what I preach without preaching too much.

Good, effective leaders don't exude power; they exude character, morality, humanity and collaboration... the sort of stuff that rubs-off on folk without them even realizing it. Understanding morphic resonance makes leading people exponentially more efficient and effective because it moves leadership from transactional control to transformational collaboration... leaders working among their people as opposed to above them.

When educational leaders attempt to move schools toward desired futures, it's so important that their followers are on board. In my opinion, a vast majority of people appreciate leaders who lead by example; those that show they are willing to step out and be a tangible part of the effort toward that desired future as opposed to the one dictating it.

The function of leaders is to lead, but people need to follow if leadership is going to resonate. Of course, different forms of leadership are effective in addressing different situations, and we all have our preferred ways to be led; morphic resonance however, is a concept that applies to all forms of leadership... it's what happens when effective leaders tip their leadership so others are inclined to follow. Morphic resonance is what you feel when leadership has evolved from a form of control to a form of influence; the element that you tacitly feel when you enter a school displaying an authentic and positive school culture where every member of the organization is attuned to the same philosophical and systematic principles. 

I believe that it takes only one person to reflect the inspiration embedded deep in the souls of everyone that is necessary to enlighten and to motivate us in seeking our destiny, and we can all be that person.”

c) promotes and facilitates meaningful professional development for teachers and other staff
One of the ways I apply the principle of morphic resonance is to assume the role of ‘field-tester’ among my colleagues. I spend a great deal of time searching the web for useful and innovative ways to engage students. I like to talk excitedly about what I find with colleagues, and then once I feel comfortable enough to share it with them, I do. ‘Tech-Tuesdays,’ when it is feasible to hold them, are an example of this leadership strategy. I simply invite all who may be interested in a particular teaching and learning tool to join me for a brief overview and dialog about it. Once exposed, I invite attendees to try it out for themselves, and to certainly ask questions if they arise. Many innovative and creative online tools have been introduced to staff this way, (wikis, Glogster, StoryBird, Dreamstalk, Diigo, Voice Thread, Jing, Animoto and many others,) and most have become authentic teaching and learning tools inside our teachers’ toolboxes.

d) facilitates meaningful parental involvement and ensures they are informed about their child’s learning and development.
I have also shared many of these creative teaching and learning tools with parents who have inquired about them after seeing them in action on the grade-level wikis, or perhaps at an assembly. Keeping parents informed about the teaching and learning tools we access at school helps to facilitate meaningful parental involvement and ensures they are informed about their child’s learning and development. I encourage parents to become members of our grade-level wikis so they can support their child in the “anywhere, anytime” learning atmosphere we’re trying to promote. Learning is evolving beyond the sit-and-get methodology of the past. It’s becoming more organic and ubiquitous... we need to help parents adjust to the distributed learning model so they can in-turn support their children for whom it comes so much more naturally.

I like to access parents as guest-speakers, chaperones, cheer-leaders etc., but I am particularly excited when I have heard that parents have sat down with their child to help with homework or a class project at home. I typically design projects within all subject areas I teach with the full expectation that parents will be helping their child at home. I find this promotes an authentic connection between home and school. Even in grade five, I also encourage parents to read with their children at home. Anytime parents are involved collaboratively in a learning activity with their child is time well-spent.

4. Leadership Dimension - Providing Instructional Leadership
The principal ensures that all students have ongoing access to quality teaching and learning opportunities to meet the provincial goals of education.

a) demonstrates a sound understanding of current pedagogy and curriculum
One of the reasons I signed on to the Alberta Teacher’s Association Corps of Professional Development Instructors was to gain exposure to and learn about the latest trends in current and high-quality pedagogy and curriculum. I received training in a large number of sessions including differentiated instruction, portfolios, dealing with difficult students, cultural diversity, inclusion, global education and many more. In addition to the creativity workshop I wrote for the ATA as mentioned earlier, I also wrote a workshop on fostering resiliency. Although I don’t do as many workshops as I once did, the experience and knowledge I gain through the process has proved invaluable to me as a learning professional.

“I believe that every path of discovery needs to be grounded in the hope that something good and useful can be gained from the effort.”

I had the fortunate opportunity on a number of occasions to facilitate workshops for my local colleagues, and I would be glad to continue doing that. I was particularly happy to present a session to District administrators on resiliency, a topic for which I am very passionate, and also one that I have conducted a great deal of research into. I have heard people say that the best professional development around is actually to be the person charged with the responsibility of providing the professional development. I totally agree with this statement. When speaking in front of colleagues, there is a lot on the line, and you can’t fake it. I took great pride in doing my homework and making sure my workshops were going to be of value to all who participated.

“I believe that self-esteem grows intrinsically through the pursuit of excellence and in servitude to others.”

b) implements strategies for addressing standards of student achievement
No matter what the assessment strategy, it is clear to me that nobody has ever gotten anywhere by dwelling on their weaknesses. In order to support students as they reach toward their personal best level of achievement, we have to know what their learning strengths are, and then leverage them to mitigate their weaknesses.

“I believe that all children have the right to learn in the most inclusive and least restrictive environment possible.”

It’s imperative to me that teachers get to know as much of each child’s learning story as possible; their family history, previous levels of achievement, learning styles, particular intelligence etc. in order that they can help design a learning path that will be engaging and purposeful for each student. Any group is only as strong as its weakest member, so I strive to ensure that our school is one that supports kids who are lagging; not necessarily because they are incapable or disabled in some way, but perhaps only because we haven’t inspired them in a manner that resonates positively for them... one that gives them a learning purpose for being at school.

c) ensures that student assessment and evaluation practices throughout the school are fair, appropriate, and balanced
We have become quite good at recognizing the need to differentiate instruction in education, and we are getting better at actually doing it, but I’m not sure we are doing as well with differentiating assessment. If we were to design instruction in a differentiated manner to serve individual students and then assess each one exactly the same way, this seems counterintuitive to me. Fair, appropriate and balanced student evaluation practices are those that consider the particular assessment needs of each student and adjust accordingly to ensure these needs are met.

d) implements effective supervision and evaluation to ensure that all teachers consistently meet the Alberta Teaching Quality Standard
To date, I have never been asked to conduct formal supervision or evaluation of any staff. I have contributed to dialog between administrators regarding teacher and paraprofessional staff performance, but I haven’t been assigned any direct supervisory responsibilities. I have taken it upon myself to walk through the school daily and visit classrooms in progress. This allows me to get to know our students better, and gives me an opportunity to see our teachers in action so I can provide positive feedback about things they do well, and also so I can support them when they ask me for feedback about situations within their class that are challenging. Seeing the teacher-student dynamic in play gives me valuable insight into what’s going on so I can provide useful suggestions and advice to mitigate the problem.

e) ensures that appropriate pedagogy is utilized in response to various dimensions of student diversity
In “Innovative Voices” I state that “diverse schools that emphasize teaching all students how to be peaceful and purposeful (hopeful) have the capacity to produce young people who advocate for and demonstrate peace and hope in a larger social context; the effort is scalable.” Student diversity means many things. Cultural diversity, cognitive diversity, behavioral diversity, social, emotional and moral diversity... the fact is that all schools are very diverse places when contextualized as institutions charged with the responsibility to serve students’ needs within all of these diversity domains, and certainly others as they inevitably surface.

As I stated earlier, a balance is struck in diverse schools when students realize that being different isn’t a quality reserved for others, but rather a state that describes each one of them. When students learn how to celebrate this balance in support and recognition of each other, the gap of ignorance between them narrows, and they begin to function as interdependent learners on their way to becoming well-adjusted, high-functioning peaceful global citizens of an intercultural society. If we look hard enough, we will realize that we all have particular needs, deficiencies, strengths, and challenges. The task at hand in addressing each member of the school communities’ challenges is to recognize differences among us as the norm; to celebrate them and nurture each individual’s personal best performance.

f) ensures that students have access to appropriate programming based on their individual learning needs
My teaching background is largely based in special education. I am well-versed in effective processes to identify individual learning needs. This is the first step toward applying appropriate learning tasks for every student. I believe that every student would benefit from a personal learning plan that travels with them from kindergarten all the way to twelfth grade detailing a learner profile that would evolve over time into a brilliant and informative document that paints a true and purposeful picture of every learner. I also believe that the student needs to be a primary contributor to their own plan. I have encountered many students whose learning path is governed by an IPP who couldn’t tell me what any of their goals were. This is because they weren’t part of the process in writing them.

Through consultation and collaboration between the student, parents, teacher and the school-based learning team, I believe most learning challenges can be effectively addressed at the school level within an inclusive environment. Of course there are cases that need extra attention, but implementing the same consultative process more often than not effectively identifies these cases as a result of due process and targeted learning support.

g) recognizes the potential of new and emerging technologies, and enables their meaningful integration in support of teaching and learning
Since coming to Mattie I have dived head first into the realm of technology in education. Our school is well-positioned to be a provincial leader in this area. Our teaching staff is keen and well-versed in the use of technology in teaching, and are primed to learn and do more; however, our current infrastructure doesn’t support this evolution. With 54 MHz of bandwidth we can’t support any BYOD strategy, and the current hardware platform isn’t sufficient to support the positive wave we’ve experienced over the last three years of tech-synergizing. I would like to assume a larger role in managing the technology at school; helping to seek better, faster and cheaper ways to support the aptitude and interest of our teachers, and our students.  I will continue to act in the role of supportive mentor for any teacher who asks for my assistance, and I will continue to seek new ways to optimize the use of our existing hardware infrastructure.

h) ensures that teachers and other staff communicate and collaborate with parents and community agencies, where appropriate, to support student learning
I spend a significant amount of time researching local support agencies and their services. I have connected teachers to these service agencies on many occasions. Red Deer is a treasure trove of services for families and children, and in almost every case a phone call is all that’s required to get the ball rolling. I like to utilize parent volunteers whenever possible to enhance learning in the classroom, and I encourage others to do the same. I have used parent guest-speakers in a variety of contexts to support learning across the curriculum spectrum in my own classroom, and I know this is a very effective way to authentically connect school, home and community.

I have also coordinated meaningful connections with Red Deer Emergency Services, our Family School Wellness Program, the Aboriginal Frontline folks, Red Deer College, Hunting Hills High School and others in support of a broad spectrum of curriculum areas.

i) supports the use of community resources to enhance student learning.
Whether through establishing a connection with an author for an author visit, coordinating our PLAS program, growing our UNESCO ASP Net connections, bringing guest speakers to the school like Kyle Miller and the folks from the Central Alberta Refugee Effort or working on the outdoor garden project, I am always seeking new ways to support student learning through community connections.

This year I coordinated a new connection with the Red Deer College Social Work Program involving three practicum students spending two full days per week each in the school working with students in a variety of capacities. This collaboration has tremendous growth potential. Supporting the emotional, social and moral domain of students is our objective with this partnership. It’s a learning circle that has potential to benefit all involved; our students, teachers, the social workstudents, their classmates and the realm of student support in general.

5. Leadership Dimension - Developing and Facilitating Leadership
The principal promotes the development of leadership capacity within the school community –- students, teachers and other staff, parents, school council for the overall benefit of the school community and education system.

a) demonstrates informed decision making through open dialogue and consideration of multiple perspectives

“I believe that the public education system is the avenue by which the principles of democracy are best exemplified.”

Schools are so well-positioned to exemplify the democratic process. In a democracy everyone has the right to express opinions and have their voices heard. Every member of the school community has value, and every member of the school community deserves to be heard. That is not to say that all decisions need to be made democratically, but I think it’s important that decisions are at least made considering multiple points of view.

“I believe an educational leader is an individual that leads through effective management, and manages through effective leadership. Stephen Covey said, “Effective leadership is putting first things first. Effective management is discipline, carrying it out...”

I am an administrative representative of the shared vision of the school. Assisting in the management of this vision is how I display my instructional leadership role. As an instructional leader, I display effective management through purposefully carrying out the tasks I am assigned by the principal to help advance the process. I believe that leadership and management domains are synergistic and inseparable. I don’t believe they are dichotomous, but rather that they are complementary.

b) promotes team building and shared leadership among members of the school community
I favor team-building efforts that can be directly correlated to the improved function of the team. I am not one to participate in so-called “team-building” activities that bring people together socially, but don’t directly address team function. I believe there is value in gathering together to socialize and get to know the people I work with better, but unless the effort is aligned directly to what we do together at school, it’s just a social gathering; not team-building.

I am also a proponent of open-system management and integrative thinking. Once again, I believe we shouldn’t care where the good ideas come from; just that they are exposed so we can leverage them toward asymptotic improvement. The more we encourage colleagues to become tacit leaders; to take personal responsibility for the better, faster and cheaper implementation of productive teaching and learning, the faster we can create an authentic and engaging school climate where folks are leading by example and doing things because they want to  more than just because they have to.

“I believe an educational leader as a coach is one who stands in front of the team when criticism requires deflecting, and in back when praise is forthcoming.”

I work collaboratively with all staff on a wide range of projects. I am more than willing to let them take a lead role in all of these, and simply be there for them in support of their efforts, and in support of the project.
c) facilitates meaningful involvement of the school community, where appropriate, in the school’s operation using collaborative and consultative decision-making strategies
When invited, I am always more than willing to contribute to the shared-decision-making model. As I said before, I am always on alert when speaking with parents, students and staff members about the school and its function in case one of them has something meaningful and purposeful to say. I work collaboratively with parent council on projects they initiate, and I support the effective operation of the school by making myself available as a resource person, an extra set of hands or as a sounding board. Distributing leadership roles throughout the school makes light work of most tasks, and allows everyone to be a significant, contributing member of our school community.

d) identifies and mentors teachers for future educational leadership roles
I have worked closely with particular members of the teaching staff to support their natural leadership tendencies. In particular, I have identified staff members who have emerged as leaders in the areas of technology integration and student support. Through my involvement with the technology integration side of our Alberta Initiative for School Improvement project, I had an optimized vantage point to observe the tacit leaders on staff within this domain. Additionally, through my involvement with the fifth grade CARE Club, basketball program, safety patrol and Ever Active Schools, I have identified key staff members who have shown an aptitude and passion for supporting kids through these programs.

6. Leadership Dimension - Managing School Operations and Resources
The principal manages school operations and resources to ensure a safe and caring, and effective learning environment.

a) effectively plans, organizes and manages the human, physical and financial resources of the school and identifies the areas of need
Since coming to Mattie I have been responsible for a variety of human and physical resources, but I haven’t had any exposure to the management and organization of financial resources. I would like to learn more about the financial side of operating our school.

I share the responsibility of booking substitute teachers with our secretary. I am also responsible for maintenance issues at our school, as well as Occupational Health and Safety concerns. I am careful to notice other physical issues with the school regarding safety, appearance and general upkeep. I have collaborated with parent council on a proposed plan to beautify the school grounds this spring, and I make sure the Canada flag is always in good shape and proudly waving on our flag pole.

b) ensures that school operations align with legal frameworks such as: provincial legislation, regulation and policy; as well as school authority policy, directives and initiatives
I adhere to provincial, school board and school-based policy, directives and initiatives. As a school-based leader, I represent these regulations as a positive example for staff members to follow. I periodically review policy documents, particularly when notice is provided about new or changing policy. I try to keep abreast of evolving policy so I can reference it accurately when colleagues ask me questions about protocols and procedures. I also keep a copy of the Administrator’s Handbook on both desktops for quick reference.

c) utilizes principles of teaching, learning and student development to guide management decisions and the organization of learning.
I am constantly experimenting and making an effort to improve my skills in the classroom. I engage in professional conversation with my colleagues on a regular basis to both learn from, and share what I know with them.

I believe that a thoughtful, reflective, logical, and intellectual leader searches for knowledge and understanding as an exemplar for the school community.”

This year I am involved in action research surrounding the concept of self-organized learning environments (SOLE) in math class, planning using backwards design, differentiated assessment, technology integration and inquiry learning. I openly share what I am discovering with my grade partners, and others who share an interest in adapting what I am doing in another grade or subject area. A major focus has been accessing and utilizing effective technology in the classroom, and I have daily conversations with colleagues on this topic.

7. Leadership Dimension - Understanding and Responding to the Larger Societal Context
The principal understands and responds appropriately to the political, social, economic, legal and cultural contexts impacting the school.

a) advocates for the needs and interests of children and youth
I have been advocating for the needs and interests of children and youth in numerous capacities since long before becoming a teacher. In my youth during high school and university I was involved in coaching lacrosse for many years. I also coached hockey for a couple of years, and acted as an official in both sports. After taking my first teaching job at Tall Cree Indian Reserve, my passion for supporting youth became stronger. I was moved by the way they were resilient in what many would consider impossible circumstances. I was inspired to become a KARE Giver (my acronym for “kids from at-risk environments”... in reality, anychild who feels marginalized in any way.) If a child believes he or she is at risk, we must consider them to be at-risk. I use the term “from at-risk environments” instead of “at-risk” intentionally to connote that it is not the child’s fault in the overwhelming number of cases that he or she is in fact feeling vulnerable... at-risk. They become vulnerable as a result of circumstances beyond their control and therefore no blame should be placed upon them. On the contrary, we need to see their strengths and create opportunities for them to be resilient.

My path has included many opportunities to support youth in a wide range of contexts. In the alternative school environment we fed kids, bought them clothes, took them places they had never been to before, listened to them and became their redundant fan club. We were often filling a void that they didn’t even know they were missing as a result of never knowing anyone who worshiped them without judgment. Our support for our students in the alternative environment was unconditional.

My graduate degree research focused on positive youth development and building reclaiming school environments. I developed the Hope Circle model during this time, and have shared the concept with hundreds of teachers, social workers, psychologists, parents and colleagues since then.

“I believe that minds need to be open. Flexibility, adaptability, tolerance; these are the instruments of collaboration and cooperation.”

At Mattie I continue to advocate for youth in a variety of ways. I have taken a lead role in preparing our fifth grade kids for the transition to middle school by creating leadership opportunities requiring them to be responsible and conscientious. As ‘peace-keepers’ or intramural helpers, our fifth grade kids are learning how to deal with others, communicate effectively and make informed and objective decisions. I have acted on behalf of teachers as a liaison between social services on a number of cases, and I maintain a vigilant perspective toward atypical signs that things are not right for kids. I consult with our counselor and teachers on a weekly basis about how things are going for the kids in their care, providing guidance where appropriate.

I have also initiated other projects that support the happy, healthy growth and development of kids at our school, and throughout the District. I initiated Mattie’s first fifth grade basketball effort this spring and we enjoyed excellent success on and off the court. Our Youth Empowerment Program and Roots of Empathy programs in partnership with Red Deer College have produced some excellent outcomes in support of kids. I have also organized and supervised the Red Deer College PLAS program for the last two years. This year I initiated the “Knights in Training” mentorship program in our school, and at Aspen Heights Elementary School. This is an extension of my Grow Boys Red Deer program that sees high school boys mentoring fifth grade boys to teach them about character.

The Grow Boys initiative is a major local undertaking. Our blog is found at  I initiated the project eighteen months ago, and this spring we will hold our first conference for every fifth grade boy in Red Deer. Our intent is to scale our concept to other communities so they can initiate their own local Grow Boys effort, and to date we have much interest from far and wide.

I believe that happy kids are more effective learners. Nurturing the happy, healthy growth and development of kids will result in greater academic success.

b) demonstrates a knowledge of local, national, and global issues and trends related to education
I remain abreast, minute-by-minute actually, of a wide variety of educational issues and trends in local, national and global contexts. My preferred conduit to remain connected to these issues is Twitter. My PLN includes 1, 618 followers, and I follow 1, 620 people from virtually every corner of the globe; the vast majority of which are intensely interested and engaged in improving education. Not much is missed as a result of this broad scope. I also read a number of online blogs, forums, websites and news sources every day to keep up with things.

I have also always been politically involved in educational issues. I won the Alberta Teacher’s Association Political Engagement Award in 2006 for local efforts to raise the profile of public education within central Alberta. I have worked on education-friendly candidate’s leadership campaigns, and attended many meetings with local political representatives to advocate for public education.

I also spent two years on the local negotiating committee; something I think all teachers should experience to get a bird’s eye view of how contracts are negotiated and settled. Having this knowledge has enabled me to speak from an informed perspective about our local contract when people ask me questions.

I initiated our school’s involvement with UNESCO’s Associated Schools project Network almost two years ago. I feel this is a great opportunity to raise awareness about global issues and create contexts around them that kids will understand. I would like to see our school’s involvement with ASP Net continue to evolve.

c) assesses and responds to the unique and diverse community needs in the context of the school’s vision and mission
Our school’s mission statement, “to create a caring, cooperative community of learners and nurture the highest standards of behaviour and achievement,” is really quite straight forward. I appreciate the fact that it is direct and stated clearly. Since coming to Mattie I have realized that our school really isn’t all that different from any school insofar as we are also a diverse school with diverse needs... socially, emotionally,  behaviorally and cognitively speaking.

I am sensitive to the fact that the ranges of kids that attend our school have diverse needs, and we have to address these needs effectively in an inclusive setting just like any other school must do.  We are blessed in many ways regarding the kids we serve, but like all schools, we have challenges. Assuming Mattie gets a free pass in the challenge department is folly. Among the close to five hundred kids that attend our school,  we are blessed to serve new Canadians, Aboriginal children, kids suffering through cognitive challenges, interpersonal and emotional problems, family problems etc; we can’t assume we have an easy road. There is much work to be done to continue supporting all of our kids in caring, appropriate and purposeful ways.

d) advocates for the community’s support of the school and the larger education system.
I spend a great deal of time thinking about ways the education system and the community it serves can streamline services for children; create better, faster, cheaper ways to provide high quality educational services. My most visited and read blog ever; has been tweeted out 348 times. In the post I openly discuss the concept of an “EduKare school.” A cohort of my PLN has been collaborating on the EduKare thought experiment for some time now. We spend many reflective hours in dialog regarding how schools can do the good things they do better, faster and cheaper. The prominent foundational principle behind EduKare schools is the provision of wrap-a-round services for kids and their families. My EduKare concept is one way I advocate for community support of schools and the larger education system within a very large learning circle. I have daily conversations with a wide range of people locally and around the world about how to do school better.

“I believe that teaching is the noblest of endeavors. Teachers are professionals who deserve the support of the society they serve.”

I am a staunch supporter of the public education system. As I said before, I have taught in a very broad range of educational environments, and I have witnessed the great things that have been done to support kids within every single one of them.

As mentioned earlier, the largest scale project I’m working currently is Grow Boys! Red Deer. The idea to initiate an effort to support the happy, healthy growth and development of boys was conceived a little over a year ago. All along Grow Boys! has been framed as the creation of a broad support network that includes efforts like hosting our first conference for fifth grade boys this May. With emphasis on the word network, it has always been about identifying the particular developmental needs of boys, and then accessing local resources to provide services to boys within our community. Our network has grown significantly since then, and we continue to connect with new supporters every week. It is going to take the significant efforts of many community representatives to make our conference excellent in this our first year. I struck a major sponsorship deal recently with the Kinsmen Club of Red Deer, and we continue to work on other collaborative partnerships as we go.

Whether through the Grow Boys network, connecting with the City of Red Deer and LaFarge on an Idle Free Zone project, the Red Deer College Social Work, Kinesiology and Psychology Departments, collaborating with the Central Alberta Refugee Effort on CARE Club or working on a joint community/school outdoor gardening project, I am a firm believer that bringing the school to the community and the community to the school will result in positive outcomes.

I appreciate the opportunity to write this reflection. I am blessed to work within Red Deer Public Schools, and in particular at Mattie McCullough School. I have mentioned this hundreds of times in conversation with friends and colleagues, and also in my writing. There is not a day goes by that I am not thinking about my role as an educational leader.

“I believe that sincerity is paramount to nurturing trust and commitment in people, and critical to effective communication.”

I strive to be sincere and humble, and I believe that there is always a better way. The path to better ways is collaborative, open and honest team work. I work very hard at what I do, and will jump to action in support of my colleagues, students and their parents at the drop of a hat. I exist to serve those I work with. I love my job, and I love helping others realize their potential.

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