Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Becoming a District Principal of Innovation

Moving from a school to a district position is both exciting and strange all at the same time.  Being a high school Principal is fast-paced and often unpredictable:  many days begin with a long, 'to-do' list and then end with an even longer one!  Yet the combined energy of a school, the students, and the staff is intoxicating.  At the end of each day, even if everything has not gone according to plan, I always left my office feeling like I had been a part of something that was meaningful.

Being in a district position to this point has been much different.  The Henry Grube Centre where I work is bustling and busy, but in a more orderly and calm manner. The highly committed professionals at the Grube are always on the fly, running out to schools and putting on workshops, shoving lunch down while carrying tote boxes filled with the day's activities for a group of educators. But it is a different energy than we get from kids, and that has been a real change for me.

As my position is new, I have tried to encompass my goals for the year in a diagram that covers six areas;

  1. Championing in the implementation of the new, re-designed curriculum for British Columbia: I am excited at the opportunity to co-create workshops with our District Coordinators to support teachers and administrators in developing our capacity to create, plan, tune and execute exciting new units and lessons for our students.
  2. Continuing the development of Instructional Rounds as a method of reflecting upon and scaling effective practices:  Rounds took off in our district last year, and I hope to see this network-based method of reflecting upon and solving school-based Problems of Practice proliferate through even more of our schools in 2015-16.
  3. Modeling, designing and implementing deeper learning strategies:  With the work that we began with High Tech High last year, and some of the work that I have begun around human-centered design, I want to model pedagogical and problem-solving approaches for our school leaders and educators that reflect the learning environments we want for our students and educators.
  4. Improving our district profile:  much like with deeper learning, I want to build the capacity in our school leaders to use digital tools to make the learning taking place for our students and our teachers visible to our community.
  5. Developing our families of schools:  to create K-12 partnerships, and to eliminate the 'tall walls' between our elementary and secondary schools so that our educators and our students can work together across a continuum rather than a chasm.
  6. Developing innovative capacity:  though the understanding and implementation of a design-based problem-solving model that keeps the learner/user at the center of everything that we do.
And I hope to do all of this through the lens of 'frugal innovation', in which we think INSIDE of the box, and take the resources and talents that we already have and recombine them in unique ways to make us a better district.

Lofty?  Maybe.  

But maybe not.  

Only time will tell.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Growth Plan Update - September 2014

As predicted, a result of using the BCPVPA Professional Growth Plan evaluation tool, I have found that I would like/need to grow in the area of co-developing and implementing systems to formatively, descriptively, and non-judgmentally monitor the learning environment in our school under Instructional Leadership.  This is something that I have worked a great deal on with staff over the last several months from a theoretical perspective, however, we need to create the mechanisms to enable our staff to make the walls of their classrooms more permeable and give them the ability to see and work with other teachers around the ideas of deeper learning.

This year, I will work with staff to:
  • co-create a mechanism for descriptive, non-judgmental observation that has multiple entry points that match the needs of all staff members (Fall/Winter, 2014)
  • continue to co-create tasks for staff that allow us to hone our skills of descriptive and non-judgmental classroom observation through video simulation (Fall/Winter 2014)
  • co-create (with staff, students, and parents) our Problem of Practice through the development of our Attributes of a Graduate (Winter/Spring 2014)
  • apply the skills that we have developed to do our first Instructional Rounds session to determine where we are as a school in developing our Attributes of a Graduate. (Spring, 2014)
It should be an exciting year!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Evaluating My Growth Plan - August 2014

Tomorrow, each of the administrators in School District #73 will be attending a professional development session at our McQueen Lake Outdoor Education facility.  One of the major topics for discussion at this session will be each of our Professional Growth Plans:  each of us will be diving in to our plans to see where we are at and where we are going according to the Leadership Standards created by the BC Principals and Vice-Principals and the accompanying evaluation tool. 

Over the last few years I have 'digitized' my growth plan in the form of this blog and subsequently used the blog as a repository for authentic and tangible artifacts of progress.  However, I find that I have not been spending enough time reflecting on this progress and targeting it towards my areas of highest need.  Tomorrow, I am interested to see where the evaluation tool will direct my attention. 

My prediction is that I need to grow in the area of co-developing and implementing systems to monitor the learning environment in our school under Instructional Leadership.  This is something that I have worked a great deal on with staff over the last several months from a theoretical perspective, however, we need to create the mechanisms to enable our staff to make the walls of their classrooms more permeable and give them the ability to see and work with other teachers around the ideas of deeper learning.

We will see!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Reflections on my Growth Plan (2013-14)

Our collective vision of a Sa-Hali grad!
In reflecting upon my Professional Growth Plan that I established last year for 2013-14, I am pleasantly surprised that the plan that I created is slowly coming to fruition.  Perhaps it is wrong for me to admit that I am a bit 'surprised', but in my experience, things seem to come up that alter even the most concrete of plans. When I created this plan, I had been at my current school for seven years and was planning to be at that school for a few more years so that I could see my plan through.  That changed in the Spring of 2013, when I found out I would be moving to a new school in the fall of 2013.  And as much as I expected my Growth Plan to have to change significantly, with some slight re-adjustments it has remained remarkable constant through my move to a new school.

I am still very committed to designing and implementing a means to improve teacher and student achievement through a collaboratively-developed, inquiry-based model that is based in observing the pedagogical practices in a classroom. Rather, the biggest modifications to my growth plan have really been in terms of the time-frame and the methodology around executing my growth plan.  With respect to the methodology, in the past, I would have come into the school with a great deal more answers than questions:  I would have had my own vision for a school, and I would have tried to implement this vision in a deliberate and determined fashion that might have swept some people up, but likely would have alienated others.  I might have done this without getting to know people, without asking questions and actually listening to the answers, and without getting a sense of where people are and what their visions might be.  And while I might have been able to get some things accomplished, the efficacy of these items could be questionable at best.

In coming to my new school, I really wanted to immerse myself in the culture of the school and get to know my new staff.  I wanted to work along side of the staff to be a co-creator of what we want for our schools and for our graduates.  And I realize now that these are things that cannot be left to chance:  if you want to get to know a school you have to WANT to do it AND make deliberate efforts to do so.  As a result:
I did all of these so we could have a collective starting point for where it is that we want to go. And I did all of these because I want to be a co-learner, a co-creator, and a co-implementor.  

So, my goal continues to be the same, however, the work to get there has changed. And to this point, it has been both enjoyable and productive--US doing it TOGETHER.


Our staff creating our vision TOGETHER.









Thursday, January 24, 2013

An Outline of my Professional Growth Plan (2013-14)

Professional Growth Plan (2013-2014)

Issue Statement:
Many tasks that we have students do in classes do not completely develop the skills students need to be successful in the 21st century.

Indicators for success:
  • My working with a group of teachers or department collaboratively developing a set of higher order thinking skills that students need to be successful beyond their secondary education
  • That as a group of educators, we begin analyzing a set of tasks used currently to determine whether the tasks they are using lead to the skills they wish for their students to acquire
  • We begin a cycle of inquiry by co-creating a task or tasks (and concurrent assessments) that we believe will lead to these skills
  • We begin a cycle of pedagogical observations to increase our capacity to facilitate these execution of these tasks with students
  • We reflect on these observations, and use them to drive our collaborative meetings to improve teacher and student achievement.
Goal:
To develop an inquiry model that increases student and teacher achievement through collaboratively developed skill targets, co-creation of tasks that specifically lead to those targets, and observations of pedagogical practices that best lead to their being mastered.

Staff Outcome:
A group of volunteers will have worked together through a reflective cycle to determine a skill, create a task, analyze its execution through a lesson, measure the learning by their students, and refine the task and its delivery.

Student Outcome:
The students will develop skills that will equip them for success beyond secondary school through a task/tasks aimed specifically at developing those skills.

My Outcome:
Through working with other educators on the co-creation of skill targets and commensurate tasks, I will develop a higher level of proficiency at connecting the desired skill being taught and the task being administered.  As well, I will begin to address areas for growth from the Instructional Leadership Quadrant of the BCPVPA Leadership Standards, including:
    • Monitoring the learning environment and the impact on student learning
    • Ensuring an accountability system is in place to monitor for teaching and learning that supports student achievement
    • Ensuring the use of differentiated instruction and assessment strategies to meet the needs of all students
    • Ensuring the use of a variety of appropriate assessment measures to evaluate student learning and for school planning 
    • Ensuring the use of a variety of appropriate assessment measures to evaluate student learning and for school planning
 Action Plan:
  • Read Instructional Rounds - completed Summer, 2012
  • Meet with Art Blackwell to determine a time at which we can observe another district doing Instructional Rounds--SD 23 is in progress with IR (January, 2013)
  • Select a group to do visitation (Spring, 2013)
  • Vistation to Glenrosa Middle School to observe IR process (Spring, 2013)*
  • Bring concept to a group of volunteers interested in IR
  • Select group to attend Instructional Rounds training in Boston, Mass. (Spring, 2013 or Fall, 2013)*
  • In conjunction with partner groups, begin development of model that works for School District #73 (Fall 2013-Spring 2014)*
  • Present model to larger group of volunteers (Spring-Fall 2014)*
  • Begin implementation!  
* requires district support

Reflections on a Growth Plan - January 2013

Over the past eighteen months, I have been in the process of creating an online portfolio to collect artifiacts that support the elements of the BCPVPA Leadership Standards in my Professional Growth Plan.  My initial goals for this endeavor were as follows:
  • to find and prioritize areas that I need to focus on for improvement
  • to clarify areas in which I am more proficient
  • to get feedback from my school community partner groups and my PLN on my areas for growth
  • to have learned a number of new web technologies through the development of this tool
  • to share the tool with other administrators so that they may be able to use/adapt/improve the template for their own reflection
I have found the conversion my growth plan to more of a digital portfolio-style document to be a difficult yet rewarding process.
  1. First and foremost, the BCPVPA Leadership Standards document is a lengthy, comprehensive document that provides nearly endless opportunities for professional growth for even the most seasoned administrator.  Administrators may find the breadth and scope of the document daunting, much like I did:  it took me several hours on multiple occasions over the last year to grasp how best to reflect my pursuit of the standards.
  2. The second challenging piece was to find ways to include digital exemplars of my own practice that I could bring to this document to make it more three-dimensional in its nature.  My growth plans in the past were written, and I needed to find a way to go deeper for my self and for those who wished to understand my self-evaluatons in each category.  I chose to include my reflections thorough my blog, videos, screencasts, and presentations as artifacts to demonstrate different competencies.
  3. It was a rewarding experience to reflect upon my own skill set relative to the standards, and to discover areas on which I need to improve.  And while there are a number of areas that I need to improve upon, going forward with my plan, I am choosing to focus on the following:

    • Monitoring the learning environment and the impact on student learning
    • Ensuring an accountability system is in place to monitor for teaching and learning that supports student achievement
    • Ensuring the use of differentiated instruction and assessment strategies to meet the needs of all students
    • Ensuring the use of a variety of appropriate assessment measures to evaluate student learning and for school planning 
    • Ensuring the use of a variety of appropriate assessment measures to evaluate student learning and for school planning
Through this process, I have utlized a number of different web tools and applications, including
  • Blogger
  • Google Drive/Docs/Forms
  • Jing
  • Screenr
  • Dropbox
  • Windows Movie Maker
  • Dipity
  • Diigo
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Lockerz
However, there are several other tools and concepts that I want to continue to investigate, such as Google Hangouts for real-time, online collaboration and IAnnotate/Samsung S-Voice to model the provision of authentic, asynchronous feedback.  I am sure there will be new technologies that will pique my interest as well.

By turning my growth plan into a public document and having the BCPVPA Leadership Standards documents in Google Docs, I have been able to share this template with other people in School District #73 and beyond!

Moving forward with my goals:

As stated above, there are several areas in which I would like to improve, including
  • Monitoring the learning environment and the impact on student learning
  • Ensuring an accountability system is in place to monitor for teaching and learning that supports student achievement
  • Ensuring the use of differentiated instruction and assessment strategies to meet the needs of all students
  • Ensuring the use of a variety of appropriate assessment measures to evaluate student learning and for school planning 
  • Ensuring the use of a variety of appropriate assessment measures to evaluate student learning and for school planning
Recently, I wrote a post that ties all of these foci into a singular area of interest--Instructional Rounds.

"The Instructional Rounds concept is based in seven principles, two of which have truly impacted my thinking about classrooms, teaching and learning:
  1. Increases in student learning occur only as a consequence of improvements in the level of content, teacher’s knowledge and skill, and student engagement.
  2. If you change any single element of the instructional core, you have to change the other two.
  3. If you can’t see it in the core, it’s not there.
  4. Tasks predict performance.
  5. The real accountability system is in the tasks that students are asked to do.
  6. We learn to do things by doing the work.
  7. Description before analysis, analysis before prediction, prediction before evaluation.
I find that #4 and #5 work for me on many levels.

There are many educators (teachers, administrators, district coordinators and leaders) that have charisma.  They make tremendous relationships with the people that they work with, whether they are students or colleagues.  The room lights up when they walk in, and we follow them wherever they want to take us--through the Kreb's Cycle in Biology, on board the ship in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, or along the journey of understanding logarithms in mathematics.  They bring to life subjects that may often seem lifeless in the hands of others.  They have this ability to draw us in to nearly any topic in their classes, meetings or professional development sessions.  We even want to hang out with them.

I sincerely believe that some (many?) of these 'soft' skills that help to engage students can be learned.  We can strive to learn more about our students and the way the learn, to treat them with respect, to show humility and even vulnerability ourselves as learners, and to have high expectations that students will succeed.

However, there are many teachers who have skills that are a function of the personality that they bring to the classroom each day--many of which are very difficult for one teacher to adopt from another.  We all have our own identities, and I can tell you with certainty that there are educators and administrators out there that make me say "Wow, I wish I could be more like them." or "They just have this knack for....".  The ones that when they walk in the room and pause for thought the rest of us collectively hold our breath waiting for them to let us in on it.

But why #4 and #5 seem to make a great deal of sense is that in some ways, they can be 'personality-proofed'.

Please don't hear that I don't value the relationship piece between educators and learners.  Relationships are vitally important.  However, the relationship piece can often be a challenging one to change from person to person because we often think that we are good relationships already.

But we can determine skills that are important for students to acquire.

And we can change the task.

And if the task predicts performance, and creates a situation where we can be accountable to our learning, an effectively designed and well-planned task can allow us drill all the way down to the actions that develop the skills we want for our students.

I don't want this to sound like I wish to de-personalize teaching and learning--quite the contrary.  What I mean to discover are ways to make lessons that are more about the skills we wish students to acquire and the tasks that lead to their being developed rather than their success being dependent upon their being performed by some permutation of Bill Nye the Science Guy/Jerry Seinfeld.

At our school, I have often written about key initiatives we have adopted that I feel are high-yield strategies to improving student achievement. We have created collaborative time for teachers, embedded staff development within a staff meeting model that has provided authentic ownership of our meeting time by our teachers.  We have made assessment a central focus of this embedded staff development and collaboratively developed areas for us to further investigate to increase the number and style of assessment tools in our tool cases.  I think we are doing good work that is making a difference in the learning of our students.

I think.

But as much as we have seen a consistent drop in our failure rates in core and overall courses over the last six years (something that makes me very proud of our teachers and our students), is this because of our initiatives?  Are we sure that we are graduating students with the skills that society values?  Students that are critical thinkers?  That are creative?  That are learners capable of being independent and collaborative?   That are going to lead us through the 21st Century?

Hmmm.  Now I'm not so sure.  Please read that we MAY actually be doing this.  But as the Principal of our school, if we are, I'm really not sure of the 'how' behind this. Nor am I sure that I have been looking for the some of the predicates of that successfully create these sorts of learners in our classes that we may be able to replicate in other classes. 


When I was reading Instructional Rounds a few days ago before I went to sleep, I began doodling at the end of Chapter 6 about how all of this might come together for us (Check out this low-tech infographic!).

While I am sure this is not a complete (nor tremendously attractive or artistic) representation of the direction I feel our school needs to go, I am starting to have a clearer vision of where I would like us to go.

Against a backdrop of continuous reflection, we need to work with students, staff and community to determine the skills that we feel students must have attained by the time they leave us.  Once we have determined this set of skills (which likely will be ever-evolving) we must be highly committed to the process of creating engaging activities and tasks that develop these skills.  While this sounds simple, I think that this is an area that bears a great deal of examination.  How many times in education have we said that we want to develop collaborative thinkers but continue to have our students seated in rows and working independently?  Or that we want problem-discoverers but give students a set of problems to solve?  Are we doing the work of developing creative thinkers by offering learners a fill-in the blank worksheet and a crossword puzzle?  Do we facilitate knowledgeable gatherers and consumers of information that are able to articulate their points of view when we give a reading from a chapter in a textbook and questions at the end of the chapter? (Please note that I have done each and every one of these things when I taught).

We need to make sure that the skills that we want students to learn are supported by the activities that actually allow them to (get ready for it)....learn, practice, demonstrate and apply that skill!  We then need to be able to assess it in a way that provides meaningful guidance and feedback to both the learner and the teacher.  And through collaborating with our peers about the appropriate pedagogical theories of learning, differentiation, engagement, we create a rich process of drilling down to the teaching of the skill in the classroom.

Which is where I want us to be (and what my diagram is supposed to depict)

Instructional Rounds suggests a mechanism that allows District Staff, Administrators, Teacher Leaders and fellow teachers to see this all in action.  To bring everyone back to the classroom where it all happens.  Where we are able to see the teacher in action, and the students in action, and the activities and tasks that actually lead to learning the skills that we want them to acquire."

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Welcome to my Professional Growth Plan!

Welcome to my Professional Growth Plan.  My name is Cale Birk, and I am the Principal at South Kamloops Secondary School in the Kamloops-Thompson School District in British Columbia, Canada.

The format for this plan was borne out of The British Columbia Principals' and Vice Principals' Leadership Standards Document and a series of discussions with a fellow administrator in my School District named Greg Hall.  Greg came to our district from Western Australia, where he was a teacher and then department head. He put me on to an interesting document that is used there for teacher evaluations.  The Department of Education and Training for the Government of Western Australia created a document called a Competency Framework for Teachers that has influenced my thinking about evaluations for teachers, administrators, and students.  And while there have been a number of other competency documents created in Canada and the US, I found the framework from Western Australia to be very appealing.

At first glance, there were a few things that I liked about the process outlined in this document;
  • it utilizes competencies and skills that are collaboratively developed by different partner groups, including those being evaluated
  • it strives to take into account different learning contexts and experiences
  • it has an emphasis on personal growth, reflection, and self-actualization
  • it allows for a personalized approach for presenting artifacts in each of the skill domains
  • it can enable a rich and meaningful dialogue between the person being evaluated and the evaluator

A self-reflective model in which I get to present the evidence that I feel best reflects my growth in certain areas is one that has a great deal of appeal to me.  As a result, in using the BCPVPA Leadership Standards document, I have tried to develop a dynamic, reflective and interactive tool in which I can store and describe different forms of evidence according to the standards of good practice that my peers have developed.  This tool has several goals for me and my Professional Development:
  • to find and prioritize areas that I need to focus on for improvement
  • to clarify areas in which I am more proficient
  • to get feedback from my school community partner groups and my PLN on my areas for growth
  • to have learned a number of new web technologies through the development of this tool
  • to share the tool with other administrators so that they may be able to use/adapt/improve the template for their own reflection
So with that introduction, please feel free to peruse this site, to utilize any piece that you wish for your own professional growth, to comment on areas where you think I can improve, or to suggest ways in which this tool could be improved to better document the professional growth of a school-based administrator.