I am inspired by colleagues in our school district who are part of my Professional Learning Network @LirenmanLearns and @henriksent to reflect on my year of learning. It has only been ten months since I started this blog in late August 2011 as I embarked on my learning journey as new principal at Fraser Heights Secondary. I had hoped that blogging would help me clarify my thoughts, help me be transparent in my leadership, and encourage other staff to do the same. Its been really encouraging to see so many other staff do just that. Many teachers were already blogging with their students and then added their own blogs as well. Even one of our counsellors, Brent Steele, who started a blog on the May 28 pro d after attending a short workshop, has already discovered an invitation to join networks around the province with other school counsellors. By sharing our reflections on blogs, we are opening the doors of our school to a much wider audience and larger community which in turn, is helping us to build more connections as a learning community. This year, I added the wordpress app to my ipad and found that I could put together short posts in no time at all. Its hard to believe I logged 52 entries on my blog and its also fun to view my stats on readership.
July is now a time to reflect on what has made the difference to spur on new learning this past school year. It has been a fantastic learning journey despite a prolonged labour unrest affecting the school.
One of the first highlights for me was attending the dinner series, Engaging the Digital Learner, with teachers from our school. These sessions were inspiring and gave me a chance to have some great conversations with teachers as well as to network with others in the Surrey school district. Guest speakers: Chris Kennedy @chrkennedy, George @gcouros and Alec Couros @courosa and David Warlick @dwarlick were especially inspiring. As a school team we began to see things differently, we questioned and encouraged each other.
Our school was very fortunate to receive a Innovative Learning Design grant from the district and a team of over a dozen teachers embarked on a journey of learning and discovery. Their “Meet and Eat” staff development sessions of sharing were wonderful and really brought the staff together as the year progressed. You can follow their learning journey @fhsslearn.blogspot.com
For me, our first really exciting breakthrough as a school, was in purchasing a cart of 30 ipads and taking nearly 30 staff to ipad bootcamp out to Apple Canada in Richmond in early December, for a 4 hour session after school to learn about the ipad and apps that teachers would use with students. This was just a cool and exciting experience of so much new learning that it was quite overwhelming but very exhilarating. I remember the experience as being so exciting that it was hard to get to sleep that night. Many staff told me that they felt the same. Our students were pretty excited as well to see the ipads rolled out and into their classes. A new cool tool had arrived. Our teacher librarian @FH_library, Angela Monk had been working on transforming the school library into a Learning Commons and the ipads became an extra feature as teachers would sign the cart out there. For teachers who felt hesitant or unsure, Madame Monk encouraged and supported them to use the ipads in their lessons. As teachers began to use the ipads, they learned that this technology was about to change the way we teach. The ipads are a game changer.
With months and months of teacher job action, it was not until the beginning of April that I was able to finally hold our first staff meeting of the year. This made it especially hard to get to know staff and for them to get to know me. Who was this principal that would arrive every day and quietly go about her work anyway? I did not feel at all fully engaged for a very long time. Mostly I felt like a visitor to the school and it was at times discouraging. Communication was poor and it delayed my chance to get know staff and build relationships.
Interestingly, a teacher told me on June 29, our last day of school, that he had seen me at a staff meeting at the end of April showing a video using the ipad and Apple TV and that when he saw me able to walk around talking and holding the ipad and that it was all done wirelessly. He had never seen that done before and he knew immediately that he wanted that for his classroom. Even if we were able to have staff meetings in the fall, I could not have done that then. We had to get the upgrade to our school’s wireless, get the ipads, and then get Apple TV and learn how to use them all. All these things were new this year. They were huge game changers.
The ipads presented us with some exciting new learning and some challenges as well. They became a frustration for Paul Pahal, our Computer Tech Facilitator as they were consuming a lot of his time. Ideally, the ipads should be assigned to a class or to a group of students to use for a say a month at a time or longer. In fact, ideally every student should have one for their exclusive use. They aren’t really designed to be shared between students one class at a time. We don’t have enough of them to deploy them in the way they were designed and we had to learn best how to have students save and access their work and have multiple users on each device. It was exciting though, to see the numbers of teachers who signed them out for the summer so that they could have time to play and learn new apps for using in their teaching in the fall.
In August, I heard teachers talking about banning cell phones in classes because they were a distraction to student learning. I told them that it wouldn’t be long before they would be inviting students to use their cell phones in class. Sure enough, as soon as we got the wireless upgrade in the fall, we had the introduction of the BYOD (bring your own device) to class starting to happen and that was a huge move forward. Now we would love to have each student be able to bring their own laptop, tablet, or cell phone to class to enhance learning.
The next big highlight of the year for me was attending the ConnectED conference in Calgary in late May with teacher, Jessica Pelat @jesspelat and Director of Instruction, Elisa Carlson @ECSD36. I was able to see inquiry learning in action at the Calgary Science School and it was so inspiring. It is such an innovative school. I wished that our school could be so innovative. The ConnectED conference was a time of intense learning. Interestingly, not long after our return, we were invited to make an application to the Ministry of Education to be deemed an innovative school ourselves. The application invited schools to apply to waive the Ministry of Education regulations that might be getting in the way of our becoming more innovative. The conversations with staff as we drafted our application were the most exciting conversations we had all year. We had taken the lid off the box which is our definition of secondary schools and begun to imagine what we could do differently to improve. We realized we could explore new models to deliver secondary education. We still haven’t learned yet if our application is successful or not but in the end it might not matter that much because we learned that there are things we can do differently that don’t require any MOE regulations to be waived. There really isn’t much getting in the way of school improvement at all. We can do it.
At the beginning of the school year, many of the staff teased about me being on twitter. When I arrived I invited them to follow me on twitter @sheilamoris but that was all a big joke to them. I have found a learning community on twitter that inspires me every day. It provides me with a way to connect with principals, superintendents, and teachers all over the continent and world. One teacher told me at the end of June that she thought twitter was ha ha who does that because she thought it was just like facebook. For me, facebook is just something I do to connect with family and friends and is completely personal. Although, our PAC has set up a facebook page for the school and community and I see there is value there too. Twitter is something that I do professionally, not personally. The staff didn’t know that twitter has so much to offer in terms of professional learning. Many more of our staff are discovering twitter now and discovering that there are so many ideas for teaching, learning, and reflecting. I am still taking a few shots from some staff who are hesitant but for the most part teachers are discovering it too. I have never done as much professional reading in my whole career as I do now almost every night with twitter. I love ideas and twitter is a constant source of ideas and inspiration for me. I find that twitter allows me to connect with people who share references, articles, experiences, questions, and their networks. It is like an ongoing conversation with people from all over the world who share my professional interests and who are making contributions to the field at large.
Despite this year of teacher job action that was so difficult and challenging for our admin team, it has still been a year of incredible learning. We have introduced new technology but it has been the conversations about teaching and learning and innovation that have inspired me the most. I am very excited to be principal at Fraser Heights Secondary and I am so excited for the year ahead. We have amazing students and staff and very supportive parents. With such a strong team and strong learning community we can do anything we put our minds to. I believe as a result, we will become a much more innovative school and we will inspire others to join with us. It has been an amazing year but it is just the beginning and the coming year will take us even further.
How has this year and this learning journey been for you?