It’s About Time

September 9, 2016

(I had the opportunity to write for CBE182 again this year. It is a forum to share great learning coming from the Calgary Board of Education, and it is great to follow!

It’s about time…

It’s all about time. It takes time for great learning, whether its students engaged in learning to be amazing citizens or teachers engaging in professional learning.

Ponder how you personally learn best… My greatest learning happens through:

  • Discussion with amazing colleagues
  • Building on ideas we create and shape
  • Working on innovative enhancements for learning (which is my passion and my work)
  • Taking risks and being willing to fail
  • Writing for and sharing with an authentic audience (
  • Reflecting on success and failure and the work I do every day

How do we set up conditions for students to learn in the same best ways that we ourselves learn?

  • Discussion with others
  • Creating ideas and building understandings
  • Becoming passionate about their work and learning
  • Learning to take risks and fail (and learn from failure…)
  • Writing for and sharing with an authentic audience (not just their teacher)
  • Reflecting on success and failure and the work they do every day

This year, we are creating time for our teachers:

  • For discussion, creating ideas, working on passions, risk taking, sharing, and reflecting
  • The admin team is releasing teaching teams so that teams have more time to work together
  • We are limiting staff meeting time and using a Google Doc for information items
  • Staff will have time to BUILD (BelPark Unleashing Innovative Learning & Doing) to work on ideas and research to make learning even better! (Sorry, I love acronyms…)

Hopefully, the “timely” risk taking pays off!

Keep learning tons!


Derek Rakowski (@derekrakowski) has been a CBE student, teacher, and principal. He still thinks he has the best job in the world, as he is learning each and every day…


Living on the Frontier of Education! – with Dr. Simon Breakspear

January 29, 2016

I was able to spend Friday with Dr. Simon Breakspear, who is known internationally for his practical insights on learning innovation and system reform. He is the founder and CEO of LearnLabs, a global learning research and design agency. We discussed and worked on navigating disruptive change, developing innovation capabilities and how to drive continuous improvement for better learning.

How can established schools learn to embrace change and adapt quickly?

How can educational leaders balance the pressure for system stability with the imperative to innovate learning for the future?

I loved that in our conversations he used the term “Learning Frontiers” (Check out the name of this blog!). We are still on the “frontier” of where we as educators are moving. If, as a teacher, you think we have figured it all out and that our system is perfect, then we will have issues…

Wikipedia defines a “Frontier” as a region at the edge of a settled area. It is a transition zone where explorers, pioneers and settlers were arriving. That is, as pioneers moved into the “frontier zone”, they were changed by the encounter.

I love that we are on the “Frontier” of educational understanding, as this means we are not at our destination yet, and the frontier is always moving. We are becoming better. We are moving into new areas and places. We are not leaving the effective wagons behind, but are improving as we move. Wagons got engines and became cars…

In education, we are always on the Frontier. Education has been improving and adapting since I started, and long since before I came along, since the time when formal education began. We are in a time of unprecedented change. The best schools and educators in the world will be those who can embrace change, adapt quickly and continually innovate towards better and better learning.

Growth for me back as a teacher back in 1996 was moving beyond having kids copy notes on Government off the overhead and calling that “Learning…” My definition of learning has changed so much since then, as has my practice, my beliefs, and my learning behaviors.

I knew that I wanted learning to look better, I just did not yet know how. I looked to others to become better and increase the impact I have had on students, staff and parents that I have had the honour to work with.

To paraphrase Simon, he shared, “I don’t care what you know, I care about what you do when you don’t know…” I turned to the people around me to learn. I am so thankful for the amazing colleagues I work with every day, my online network, and the people who have pushed and challenged me to become better…

And better…

And continually better…

Work smart and learn tons!

The 95% Rule – What are the Consequences of My Leadership on the Learning and Achievement of My Students?

February 2, 2015

“What are the Consequences of My Leadership on the Learning and Achievement of My Students?” (assuming all staff in a school are Leaders of Learning)

I was lucky (or unlucky, depending), as I was one of those kids that was good at remembering and memorizing and “got” the work we were assigned in the classroom. Unfortunately, there was never a need for me to have to “think” or to develop any growth in learning or work competencies, as it came easy for me.

Learning to think and learning how to learn needs to happen in learning from the earliest ages right on through high school and university, and into the work world! I can tell you, I no longer “memorize it for the test” in my work. I think and prepare and experiment and consult and discuss and reflect…

I had the opportunity to listen and think along with Viviane Robinson, author of “Student-Centered Leadership” this morning. The title refers to using the lens What are the Consequences of My Leadership on the Learning and Achievement of Students?” I would suggest that a leader is any teacher or administrator who is expected to help kids learn. She identified 5 Dimensions that have a large effect size on student learning and achievement:

5 Dimensions of Student-Centered Leadership

  1. Establishing Goals and Expectations (0.42) – We need to know what we are trying to accomplish in order to try to get there… What is our vision of great learning and how to we make it more effective?
  2. Resourcing Strategically (0.31) – Time with teachers and students is our scarcest resource, so how we approach curricular decisions is critical. What are we resourcing for, but as well, what are we not resourcing?
  3. Ensuring Quality Teaching (0.42) – How do we improve the impact and effectiveness of our work for students?
  4. Leading Teacher Learning and Development (0.84) – Admin is not just management and having nice uniforms. How do we “UNLEASH” excellent learning in our schools, rather than continue with the status quo?
  5. Ensuring and Orderly and Safe Environment (0.27) – If students don’t feel safe, how will we even get near learning?

(From Viviane Robinson, February 2, 2015)

The 95% rule is the idea that “I control and design 95% of my day by how I act and react.” The more I think on it, the more I see the 5 Dimensions fit both the work of educators and students.

  • What are students trying to accomplish, and do they know? What are students actually doing in our classrooms? (Establishing Goals and Expectations)
  • What are students using their time for? Time with teachers and students is our scarcest resource, so how we approach curricular decisions is critical. What are we resourcing for, but as well, what are we not resourcing? (Resourcing Strategically)
  • How are we designing and implementing the most effective learning opportunities for each and every student? (Ensuring Quality Teaching)
  • How do we unleash students and teachers in their learning, so it goes beyond 8:30 am to 3:00 pm and outside the 4 walls of the school? How do we design learning so that students want to come to school? (Leading Teacher Learning and Development)
  • How do we create an optimum learning environment for ALL students depending on their situation and needs? (Ensuring and Orderly and Safe Environment)

In the end, we need to continue to question and push each other as leaders of student learning to create opportunities to be the most effective we possibly can in improving student achievement. We know that our work is hard, and I am glad for that, as I do not want a binder I can pull off the shelf to “solve” a student. The problems we face around learning are so complex and thus will need complex solutions. We we need to go beyond “satisfactory” approaches to “more and most effective” approaches.

The curse of our work is that it never ends, but the blessing of our work is that it never ends. I love that I have never felt like I have completely figured “it” out. If I ever feel like I have completely figured it out, then I will know that I am in trouble… J

Our work needs to promote every educator’s ability to inquire into their impact on learners, and continually working to have a more effective impact.

We are so lucky to have teachers who are striving for achieving more effective learning for each and every child. It is such an amazingly fun journey!

Work hard, learn tons!

Minister’s Task Force for Teaching Excellence – My Own Personal Thoughts…

June 4, 2014

“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:

  1. What is best for the students in Alberta?
  2. What is best for my own kids in their own classrooms as they are undertaking their own educational journeys?
  3. 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 did!






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?

  • Resources/Time!
  • 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

Big Takeaways…

  1. Focus on Learning not Teaching… it is about the student!
  2. No teacher is an Island! Collaboration is key to growth in education…
  3. Strength-Based Model – recognize great work teachers are already doing…
  4. All about the relationship…
  5. Be transparent with the community and staff…
  6. Less is more… Work smarter not harder…

Going from “Back to the Basics” to BETTER…

April 9, 2014
Recently, an editorial appeared in the Edmonton Journal with the headline “Alberta Education’s radical curriculum reforms will damage economy, limit our children’s future.” Wow! Definitely worth a read if you are an educator.

Brutal. They make so many bad or unproven assumptions, it is amazing something like this was published. It assumes the old system was good. I did awesome in the old system because I could memorize, not because I could think. It did not prepare me at all for later life. I think it is our job to give our kids a BETTER education than the one we received!

I am not even going to start going over the in accuracies and brutal assumptions contained within this editorial. Instead, I am going to go with my heart and my passion in my response.

Education is a growing and changing field. Even over the course of my career, it has grown and changed immensely, from changes in assessment and formative assessment, extensive development of educational and assistive technologies, the way we report and work with parents, the way that learning takes place in language arts, mathematics, arts, physical education, and how we work with students social, emotional, and psychological needs.

Sorry folks, education is changing and getting better. We are learning more every day about how the brain works and about how students learn, and that drill and kill is just not the best way to learn.
I don’t know about you, but my education did not teach me how to think, be a critical thinker, be a reflective thinker, be creative thinker, or how to be able to be an effective learner. I was excellent and at being able to replicate what the teacher did on the board during math without any understanding of why  I was doing but I was doing. I was excellent at memorizing and reading a book and being able to remember the information it until the test, then lost that information immediately because I did not need it for more than the test.
The moment this changed was when I found the desire to become an educator. All of the sudden, my work in University became important and authentic, so there was a reason I was learning and beyond the test at the end of the course. I went on to get an excellent GPA, went on to get a masters degree in education, and went on to become a current principal. Now it all made sense and there was a reason that I was learning what I was learning.
I loved many of my teachers and no they tried to do their best. Education looked differently back in the 1970s and 80s when I was a student in school. If it did NOT look different, that would be when we need to be concerned!
I love my job because I am always learning. There is no binder that I can pull off the shelf to tell me how to do my job, what the right budget and staffing scenario looks like, or how to work with any specific student.
I don’t want to go back to the “Good ol’ days,” as they just were not that good. We need to look at creating a BETTER education for our children, rather than going back…
Work hard, learn tons!

The (Very Underutilized) Power of Teacher Leadership…

November 5, 2012

The Triple Threat to Teacher Leadership (Persistent Barriers To Teacher Leadership)

  1. Protecting Autonomy (private, isolated & closed door classrooms…)
  2. Ensuring Egalitarianism (all teachers are equal…)
  3. Reinforcing Seniority (I “know” more because I have been here longer…)

Do our schools face this triple threat? How do we ACTUALLY support the development of teacher leadership instead of paying lip service to it?

This will require a major shift in culture, where leadership is not always formal, but can be informal (as well as positive or negative).

The URL below share the work of a group of educators who met to talk about how to best identify and foster teacher leadership.  The group was especially interested in examining how teacher leadership contributed to student and school success.

The Teacher Leader Model Standards seek to generate collective leadership by fostering professional discussion about best practices and advancing new roles for teachers to serve.

Within every school there is a sleeping giant of teacher leadership, which can be a strong catalyst for making change.” (Katzenmeyer and Moller, 2001)

An effective teacher is the strongest in-school predictor of student achievement. Teachers teach more effectively when they work in professional cultures where their opinions and input are valued. In such environments, administrators support teachers as they exchange ideas and strategies, problem-solve collaboratively, and consult with expert colleagues.

Their work envisioned Collective Leadership where teachers can support and inform school leaders, creating a culture of success. Working with their colleagues, teacher leaders can implement strategies that improve student learning. Research shows that collective leadership has a stronger influence on student achievement than individual leadership.

When I went to Keeler, the culture was very much based around the principal role as the “leader” and was looked to for the right answer. Keeler School has an amazing staff with a ton of collective wisdom around learning, more than any individual person or principal can hope to bring by themselves.


Educational Leadership, in the September 2007 issue, identified Ten Possible Roles for Teacher Leadership. I assume there are others as well.

  1. Resource Provider – sharing instructional resources.
  2. Instructional Specialist – helps colleagues implement effective teaching strategies.
  3. Curriculum Specialist – understanding how various components of the curriculum link together, and how to use the curriculum in planning instruction and assessment.
  4. Classroom Supporter – implement new ideas, demonstrating a lesson, co-teaching, or observing and giving feedback.
  5. Learning Facilitator – facilitating professional learning.
  6. Mentor – for novice teachers as role models and advise new teachers about instruction, curriculum, procedure, practices, and politics.
  7. School Leader – shares the vision of the school, aligns his or her professional goals with those of the school and district, and shares responsibility for the success of the school as a whole.
  8. Data Coach – lead conversations that engage their peers in analyzing and using this information to strengthen instruction.
  9. Catalyst for Change – visionaries who are “never content with the status quo but rather always looking for a better way.”
  10. Learner – model continual improvement, demonstrate lifelong learning, and use what they learn to help all students achieve.


My aim is to enable our staff to be:

  1. engaged in frequent conversation with each other about their work,
  2. have easy access to each other’s classrooms, and
  3. take it for granted that we should provide feedback on each other’s work.

The culture at our school has changed drastically and teacher leadership is definitely encouraged. Do I, as a leader, encourage and enable that leadership? I definitely try. Do I, as a leader, utilize that teacher leadership to improve our school and our collective work? Not nearly enough…

Work hard, learn tons…

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