Great expectations

The start of a new school year for me has always been a time of great expectations.  As a teacher I had lots of positive energy and enthusiasm for building a community in my class that supported and encouraged one another, that was responsive to the needs of every student, that would, simply, be the best year ever.  As a principal that feeling has never left me.  The only difference is one of scale.  

This autumn I am experiencing this wonderful energy at a new school, and I’ve been thinking a lot about expectations.  Teachers are used to defining and clarifying their expectations for students at the beginning of a school year, and asking students to do the same with their expectations for their teachers.  It creates a sense of safety and confidence to know what is expected of you in a new situation.  We know that education is not a game of “guess what the teacher wants”, but rather a shared journey from where each student is in their learning towards a goal.  Shared expectations define the rules of the road.

I know that between the staff and myself this process is also necessary and, hopefully, valued as a big part of building effective and supportive relationships.  In his blog, Brian Reynolds, author of “What Do You Expect?” writes “The root of so many conflicts is the simple lack of understanding one another’s expectations.  So easy to assume they know what I expect, or I know what they expect.”  If there is a gap between two parties’ understanding of what is expected, confusion and conflict easily result.  As a school staff, we are all professionals working towards the common goal of moving learning forward.   It is important that we all know that there is no hidden agenda, that what we do is based on what we believe, and on what is best for students.  And just as each teacher may have slightly different expectations for their students, so each administrator may have for the staff.  By taking the time at the start to discuss what they are and why, we can build that safe, open, and encouraging climate for all of us to thrive as professionals.

I came across this powerful statement from Mike Myatt, CEO of N2Growth, a leadership development group.  Unequivocally, he says that “those… who fail to clearly communicate their expectations have no right to them.”  

Enough said.


Reflections on “Spirals of Inquiry”

My first professional summer read is “Spirals of Inquiry: for Equity and Quality” by Linda Kaser and Judy Halbert.  Published by the BCPVPA, this book has been distributed widely in Surrey schools and I am hoping to take the framework and concepts presented into my work starting in a new school this fall.  

My first reflections are on the first four chapters of the book.  These sections provide a foundation for practices that have been proven through experience and research to have a positive effect on student learning, including engagement,motivation, achievement and success.

One of the basic tenets of the book is that teaching and learning must weave three “ways”:

1.   Wise ways, based on Canadian Aboriginal worldview and learning principles

2.   Strong ways, based on research including John Hattie’s Visible Learning meta-analysis, formative assessment and feedback, reciprocal teaching and social-emotional learning

3.   New ways, which includes innovative practices, structures and settings that account for local context, student needs, resources and challenges.

This approach resonates with me.  There are many practices and approaches that educators have seen come and go with the swing of the pendulum.  Each individual teacher chooses those that make sense to them for their own personal reasons.  And just as many are ignored or quickly discarded as fads.  By acknowledging the value of practices from the past, present and future, we can take the best of each to develop a learning environment that mets the unique needs of each student and community. 

The authors of the book are very forthright in their belief that knowledge of effective or innovative practices is not enough – and that action is a professional responsibility of all educators.  As a teacher I was usually open and eager to integrate new and effective practices into my teaching, but as a principal I do not always know where, when or how to start those conversations with teachers who seem reluctant to adapt their classroom practices to better meet student needs.  In reading this book I felt a new moral imperative to make learning for both students, staff and myself an intentional priority.

So where will we start?  I am working on that.  A few thoughts so far are:

– staff meetings that focus on learning rather than organizational details

– an “inquiry team” of interested parties that will take on our first attempt at the spiral process ( more on that to come)

– talking about our big questions and encouraging curiosity about what is going on for our students, why that might be, and developing hunches about what might make a difference.