“Teaching is not my job, it’s my passion. Getting better at it – that’s my job!”
There has been a lot in the news about the Minister’s Task Force for Teaching Excellence. On November 4th, 2013, I had the opportunity to attend one of the facilitated sessions held throughout Alberta, along with another number of trustees, principals, assistant principals, and teachers at the table that I was sitting at. The room was full of other fellow educators and colleagues all providing feedback on how we could improve and support the work of teachers in Alberta. I also shared my thinking through an online process. (see below for the URL to share your feedback now!)
The facilitation was excellent and allowed people to share their ideas. There was a lot of discussion at our table about questions like:
- What does “teaching excellence” look like?
- What does an excellent classroom look like?
- What supports are needed to provide to teachers to create this environment?
- How can collaboration at the school, district and provincial level assist in sharing out best practices?
- How should Alberta teachers provide assurance that their practice is excellence?
(see my full notes from our table group below…)
I feel that I was able to have my say, and all teachers and stakeholders had the same opportunity. I took time away from my family, my work, my free time, on an evening back in November to go and share my thoughts, desires, dreams, and expectations for what I want education to look like in Alberta and how Teaching Excellence. As I look back in my emails, I see that every teacher in Calgary was invited. The opportunities were there, and I made sure I took advantage…
We can complain or we can take part…
I am not getting political on this one. I am not choosing sides with either the Alberta Teachers Association or the Minister of Education, but am looking at the ideas from three lens:
- What is best for the students in Alberta?
- What is best for my own kids in their own classrooms as they are undertaking their own educational journeys?
- What is best for Educators and our profession in Alberta?
As a principal and teacher, I get judged on the same brush (as do all phenomenal educators) as our “least able” practitioners. I have worked with and coached amazing teachers, and this is always step one. We coach the best teachers, and we coach all teachers. At some point, though, we do have teachers who need to be counseled out of the profession and I find it difficult knowing that year after year they are at best they are not providing a good education, and at worst harming another set of students.
Keep in mind the words of Damian Cooper. “Who do we learn more from, a coach or a judge?” I love acting as a coach to help and give feedback! At some point, though, coaching is not the work. There is a line…
We, as a profession, need to and must do better at hold ourselves to higher expectations. Having someone “essentially” do his or her job is like having someone get a suspension and “essentially” not be able to teach. The perception on the part of the public is absolutely horrible… I want my kids with phenomenal teachers, rather than an individual who is “essentially” teaching them.
Our profession and individual teachers need both a “coach” and a “referee.” As a principal in a building, I often have to be both. The coach supports and builds our collective practice and culture, and helps individuals to grow and improve. The referee has to enforce the rules and expectations and hold individuals accountable:
“Teachers guide their actions by their overall visions of the purpose of teaching. They actively refine and redefine their visions in light of the ever-changing context, new knowledge and understandings, and their experiences. While these visions are dynamic and grow in depth and breadth over teachers’ careers, the visions maintain at their core a commitment to teaching practices through which students can achieve optimum learning.”
Teaching Quality Standard
Our ATA has helped us as a profession immensely in many ways. I question, though, that they can positively and effectively fill both the role of the “Coach” as well as “Referee” without conflict of interest. There is a perception in the public that they are there only to protect ineffective teachers.
As educators, we have to work with the public and the government. Negative tweets through the ATA will not help that. I continue to hope that Alberta holds us to high standards, and that we, as a profession, work to do our best to rise up to them. I work with a staff of absolutely amazing and passionate educators, and have a ton of exemplary and phenomenal educator colleagues in this province. They know the high regard with which I hold them and their work.
Referring back to some of the tweets that were sent out through #ARA2014 on Twitter, I am a “do-gooder” (as I hope all educators are), and our professional work needs to go further than “essentially” making sure the best teachers work at engaging each one of our students every day…
Make sure you share your voice at:
I take notes at meetings (as I am a very visual learner) and I find it so helpful to go back to later as needed. Below are my notes from the Minister’s Task Force for Teaching Excellence session I attended on November 4th, 2013. These were not all my own thoughts, but those of the people at our table group. I did not write down the names or roles, but we had numerous Teachers, Learning Leaders, Assistant Principals, Principals, Parents and even a Trustee from a board outside of Calgary. It demonstrates the process and conversation, and the actual questions that guided the work.
It was a night of phenomenal conversation and thought…
November 4th, 2013
Inspiring Education – Looking at Excellence in Teaching…
Minister’s Task Force for Teaching Excellence
The Minister of Education has set up a Task Force has been set up to make recommendations to the Minister on how to support teachers in shaping the learning of children in Alberta. Report will go to the Minister in January of 2014.
How do we put the vision of “Inspiring Education” into action?
Engaged Thinker, Ethical Citizen, Entrepreneurial Spirit…
What does “teaching excellence” look like?
- Students tell their parents what they learned when at home
- Identify where a kid is at and design learning opportunities to reach and engage them
- Students are excited about coming in early, at lunch, or after school
- Learning needs are taken care of today so that students are prepared for tomorrow
- Creating and utilizing relationships to develop passion for learning
- Creating opportunities that are hands-on, purposeful and relevant to their lives
- Competency, adaptability, flexibility, able to change and develop
- Engage, Enrich, Empower (Rockyview School Division motto?)
- Empowering students to make decisions for themselves
What does an excellent classroom look like?
- Students are active and engaged in their work
- Students are “thinking” and learning to think, not just information dissemination and taking notes…
- Students are learning (thinking!)
- Tasks are purposeful and skillfully designed by the teacher
- Students need skills
- Real world issues are being examined
- Student choice
- Students can talk about what they are learning, not what they are doing
- Students engage in reflective thought and formative assessment
What supports are needed to provide to teachers to create this environment?
- Finding ways of sharing best practices
- Time for professional conversation and school improvement (more formalized beyond PLCs)
- A professional college for standards for educators, split up the ATA into a union and a professional college
- We need to get out of the WAY! Unleash students and teachers!
- Simplify the Program of Studies to what is important, teach kids to think, focus on the love of learning & literacy & numeracy
- Training for EAs and for new teachers
- More staff and supports for students in classrooms
- Split up the ATA into a union and into a professional college
- Less initiatives… less work that does not enhance learning
- More and better assistive technology for student learning
- Our Million $$$ Kids – early supports for families and supporting learning before they get to formal schooling in Kindergarten
- How do we make sure that “kids love school” versus “having to do school?” Take an oath to “do no harm”
How can collaboration at the school, district and provincial level assist in sharing out best practices?
- Develop a culture of risk taking, reflection, experimentation and improvement
- Embedded professional learning and time built into the work day
- Instructional leadership is imperative for all teachers
- Teachers learn alongside each other
- Team Teaching/Planning opportunities, minimize the “lonely teacher in the single classroom”
- Looking creatively at how we work with students and with staff
- Minimize formal meeting times and allow for teachers to be professionals
- Formal Leadership needs to allow and enable informal leadership in the school
- Peer/Self evaluation and reflection, culture of respect and purpose of growth/accountability
- Time for dialogue, conversation, feedback
- Utilize the Teacher Effectiveness Framework and Rubric (TEFR) as a guide to best practice
- Financial backing to allow this collaboration to take place
How should Alberta teachers provide assurance that their practice is excellence?
- Professional college with professional standards
- Peer accountability and supports
- Teacher accountability for student growth within that year
- Make grading make sense for parents and students, no surprises for parents
- Focus on learning, not grades
- Develop a culture of risk taking, reflection, experimentation and improvement
- Ongoing communication with parents, what is excellent learning?
- Did students know what is expected? Do they get what they need?
- Do teachers care about my kid?
- Assessments to guide instruction, rather than PATs
- Classroom and learning is open and visible
- Teacher meets parents halfway – relationships with the teacher
- Communication with the parents – no surprises
- Focus on Learning not Teaching… it is about the student!
- No teacher is an Island! Collaboration is key to growth in education…
- Strength-Based Model – recognize great work teachers are already doing…
- All about the relationship…
- Be transparent with the community and staff…
- Less is more… Work smarter not harder…