Division Level: Regina Catholic Innovation

Greetings everyone and welcome back for my Division Blog. For this blog, I will focus on Regina Catholic Schools as that is the Division that is lucky enough to employ me!

I am currently employed at Miller High School, teaching Math and English. Also, I am lucky enough to be a Connected Educator (as Bart Cote describes in the video), so I have a class set of laptops to be used exclusively by my students. As a Connected Educator, the responsibilities extend far beyond just receiving the laptops. We must continue to develop our skills through online and face to face Professional Development sessions, along with submitting assignments to a public database that all Regina Catholic Teachers can access.

These lessons must truly emphasize the use of the devices and cannot simply have them operate as word processors. In other words, they must exist in the higher levels of the SAMR Model. The following video explains the SAMR Model in the best way possible, through the voices of students.

One of the key tenets of the Professional Development sessions facilitated by Bart and his colleagues is that change does not happy quickly. No one expects that once teachers receive a set of laptops that suddenly every lesson will be in the Redefinition area. Instead, we are asked to make a gradual change, to focus on creating quality worthwhile lessons and continuing the evolution towards the transformation stage, rather than trying to rush their quickly. With the support of Bart Cote and the people that work with him, I continue to feel supported as a Connected Educator and motivated to create unique new lessons for my students.

Part 2:

Image #1: How can we be better?

While all the pictures were great at identifying issues and areas of improvement in Technology within the School Division, the one that stuck out most to me was the first image.

Too often, technology is seen as the solution to a bad lesson plan, rather than treating it as an tool to augment an already strong lesson. In my experience, I have had teachers ask to borrow my laptops if I am not using them and when I ask what they are working on, too often they reply with “I need students to type their essays” or “we’re making a powerpoint”. While I always try to offer my colleagues the technological support if I can, I can now point them to this poster, and ask them what is the purpose of the powerpoint? Are we making it, just to make it, or are we trying to inspire change?

Once again, I need to refer back to the Connected Educator Program run by the Regina Catholic School Division. They are in their third year of the program and each year new teachers are added to the process. The benefit of growing the program in this manner is that it allows the early adopters to act as advocates and technology supporters in their individual schools. By showing our colleagues the benefits that technology can contribute and how we can take our lessons to a new level, we can be technology catalysts in our schools.

I am, and will continue to be a technology catalyst and advocate in my school. By pushing my students to use the technology to ask questions and change minds, I can inspire my colleagues to become connected educators and embrace the change as well.

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Project Beginnings: A Change in Focus

Welcome back everyone!

I’ve received some great feedback in regards to our project outline for Digital Hall Passes and now as we prepare to begin our project we have undergone some significant changes.  In this outline, I want to highlight some of the changes that have occurred and the reasons behind them.

#1 Cost – Is there a better way?

It turns out, yes, there is a better way. The previous solution we had targeted for a pilot program was likely to cost $2-3 per student per year. Given the current financial climate in Saskatchewan schools, this was never a reality. Mike and I decided that to make this project more meaningful, we had to come up with a method more sustainable and realistic for the school to undertake. What follows is our solution.

Solution:

Our solution to this problem follows this route:

  • We have created a QR code that is posted in the classroom near the existing paper hall passes.
  • This QR code links the students to a Google Forms page where they fill in the following information: Last 4 Digits of their student number, where they are headed in the school, and the name of their teacher.
  • After filling this out, the students leave their phone and take the hall pass to their desired location. Upon returning to the class, they resubmit the Forms page, this time, choosing the option “returning to class”
An example of our Google Forms Page

The purpose of this method is that each submission of the form creates a timestamp so teachers are aware of exactly how long their students are out of the classroom. We believe this is important, because the best learning occurs when students are in the class and actively engaged. If the spreadsheet shows that students are outside the class for too much time and too often, then privileges can be lessened.

#2 Privacy – Is it worth the trouble?

One of the major questions we received with our previous proposal was the question if the added safety/security was worth the Big Brother aspect of the program. We agreed to a certain extent and have made changes accordingly. The new Digital Hall Pass, is really just an extension/evolution of the paper hall pass logs that we used to keep. While students are still required to state the reason they are leaving, they are not being tracked in any way after leaving the classroom. There is still an amount of autonomy and trust given to the students.

#3 Data Access – Who is Accessing and for what reason?

Thankfully, Google has changed from previous confusion and now explains to you who can access your files. So now the only people who can access the files are the teachers you have given access to. If this were adopted school-wide, I would assume that Administration and Student Services would have main access to the file as they would be the ones dealing with any potential issues that could arise. The benefit of not hiring a company to manage the hall passes is there is no outside organization with access to the files.

An example of the data, please note that these are samples and student numbers are made up

So where do we go from here?

This is the magical question and cannot be answered until we are further into the program and can analyze what pros and cons have arisen. So I’ll check back in a few weeks with a further update.

Ciao

 

Hall Passes: A One-Act Play

Welcome back everyone, for today’s blog post I will using the structure of a play to identify one of the biggest problems in high schools today, hall passes.

Dramatis Personae:

The characters in this play focus on three major groups. The students who roam the halls, the teachers who are wondering where their students are, and the Administration who is tasked with keeping students safe and out of trouble while they are in the school. When students leave the classroom there is a lot of trust placed in the students to make the proper decisions to stay safe and out of trouble. It is a delicate balance that requires everyone to operate with a certain amount of trust.

Props:

The props in this play represent an incredible range between the old and the new. The old (and current) model is a raggedy hall pass. A crumpled piece of laminated paper, attached to a string that accompanies students to the washroom approximately 20-30 times a day. The future we envision is drastically different. Instead of a tattered and completely unhygienic paper hall pass, students can now use their cell phones as a hall pass. With the aid of Eduspire Solutions, we envision a future where students use their device as a hall pass, which also has the added benefit of allowing teachers to track their location and time spent outside the classroom.

Scenes:

The scenes for this school play take place mostly outside the classroom.  Instead, the issue of hall passes take us to the hallways, the concourse, the washroom, and potentially the principal’s office. In the current practice, when a student leaves the room the teacher has no idea where the student is headed, forced to go by only the word of the student. Therefore, in the event of a security situation, such as a lockdown or secure the building, teachers may not know the location of the students and if they are safe. Unfortunately, the other scenes have to take place in the principal’s office. Over the past year, the main cause of suspensions in high schools has been the use of Vape Devices on school property, usually in bathrooms during school time. One hope of a new hall pass is that we can use the technology to lessen the number of students smoking on school property and get these students back in the classroom, and not in the office getting suspended.

Conflict:

In most plays, the conflict is where the action takes place and our play is no different. In our two weeks preparing for this major project, we have encountered a number of boisterous opinions on both sides of the argument. Supporters of the digital hall pass have a number of different reasons focusing on two main factors, Punishment and Safety. The punishment crowd, believes that students are making plans and meeting in bathrooms to vape during class. They believe that the digital hall pass will allow us to track these students and catch them in the act, leading to a suspension. The safety crowd, has a different perspective. They believe that we need to have knowledge of our students whereabouts at all times, not to trap them in wrongdoing, but to  protect them. Unfortunately, attacks at schools continue to grow and in the event of a lockdown, we can only protect students if we know where they are.

As mentioned earlier, the opponents of a digital hall pass are just as passionate against the project as the supporters are in favor. Criticism has mostly focused on the idea of Big Brother, and whether teachers need to have this level of control and oversight over the lives of their students. Furthermore, in a day and age where data and privacy are constantly under attack, opponents wonder who will own the data and for how long will it be stored. The final criticism I’ve heard is whether a plan such as this will even help school safety. Or is it just presented as such to provide a reason to spy on students.

All of these are valid reasons on both sides. I look forward to moving forward with this project so that I can write the end to this play.

Leadership Disruption

Welcome back to a new and enlightening blog post. I found this blog prompt to be particularly interesting because I enjoyed searching out quotes that challenged my way of thinking. What will follow is a quote from five different articles, along with a brief explanation about how this particular quote affects my leadership philosophy.

Article 1: Leadership, more or less? A processual, communication perspective on the role of agency in leadership theory by D. Tourish

Quote: “Silence as a form of followership can thus be viewed as one means of avoiding responsibility for organizational decisions… Leaders often inadvertently enhance this effect, since an excessive stress on their indispensability for effective decision making further mitigates the responsibility and accountability of followers”

Reflection: In my previous blog post, I discussed the perceived efficiency of an Autocratic Leadership Style, where the leader is in charge and everyone else falls quietly into place. However, I’ve now learned a byproduct of this leadership is the resulting silence from the staff. While it may be efficient, silence does not mean that staff is complicit and may be divesting themselves of the responsibility of decisions because they did not have a voice in the discussion.

Article 2: Critical and alternative approaches to leadership learning and development.

Quote: “This use of non-cognitive methods such as art enables participants to access intuitions, feelings, stories, improvisation, experience, imagination, active listening, awareness in the moment, novel words and empathy (Taylor and Ladkin, 2009), which contribute to a wider appreciation of leadership in and of organizations.”

Reflection: I chose this particular quote because it explores a leadership style so different than most approaches you read about. Factors such as active listening, awareness, and empathy are strong because they help your staff feel that you truly care and are connected to them in current plight or situation. This is an article I will be returning to in order to read more fully.

Article 3: Avoiding Repetitive Change Syndrome by E. Abrahamson

Quote: “On a personal level, Jennifer lives in a world of perpetual starts and stops on projects. As bosses and evaluation criteria come and go, she is unsure about what to focus on. She is even more uncertain about her career prospects. Jennifer is not a complainer or a slacker — she cares about her job and the company’s success. She is ready to throw her all into moving in the right direction, if only that direction would stop changing continually. Jennifer, in short, is not “resistant to change” but “resistant from change.” She is struggling to work effectively in a company exhibiting all the symptoms of repetitive change syndrome.”

Reflection: For this particular quote about Jennifer, I chose it because it is a situation that I desperately want to avoid as a leader, but is an unfortunate truth about the Education system. Even the most optimistic teacher can be beaten down by the never-ending changes in evaluation and expectations. If staff can not work with consistent guidelines, they will become jaded and resistant to change. Once this line of thinking becomes evident with a few staff members, it can infect the entire school. I believe this quote to be important because this is a reality we must work to avoid.

Article 4: The stupidity paradox: The power and pitfalls of functional stupidity at work. By M. Alvesson and A. Spicer.

Quote: “A central, but often unacknowledged, aspect of making a corporate culture work is what we call stupidity management. Here managers actively encourage their employees not to think too much. If they do happen to think, it is best not to voice what emerges. Employees are encouraged to stick within clear-cut parameters. Managers use subtle and not so subtle means to prod them not to ask too many tough questions, not to reflect too deeply on their assumptions, and not to consider the broader purpose of their work. Employees are nudged to just get on with the task. They are to look on the bright side, stay upbeat and push doubts and negative thoughts aside.”

Reflection: I chose this quote because I found it hard to believe that leaders would try to employ this type of management in a school setting. This plan of encouraging workers to stay in line and not ask too many tough questions feels like a byproduct of the silence we discussed above. If employees are not allowed to ask the difficult questions, there is no way to give any critical feedback or suggest changes that would help the school. This is a method of leadership that must be avoided.

Article 5: Cross-Cultural Understandings of Leadership. By M. Bryant

Quote: From one Lakota woman came the notion of non-interference, the term she used to discuss this issue of responsibility for others… She noted that the Native American leader might believe that another person needs something, that an intervention is necessary… But that native leader would be unlikely to take any action without permission from the individual needing help.”

Reflection: As educators and society as a whole, we have so much we can learn from the First Nations and Indigenous people in our country. This notion of non-interference is so appropriate and can help avoid the issue of over-management. When dealing with small issues that arise in schools, the admin can occasionally get too involved and try to solve problems that their staff could solve on their own. If the leaders of the school can give their workers some space, and be there to support them when major issues do arise, this will be a positive step.

 

Leadership Self Reflection

Core Personality

Oftentimes, I find it easier to examine the leadership styles of others rather than examining my own. After completing the readings, I believe I have formulated a few important aspects of my leadership style.

Throughout my entire teaching career, I have coached basketball at the Junior and Senior level. The method for coaching my players has translated to some of my teaching and leadership philosophies. One of my core personality traits is the belief that for colleagues/players/students to work best, you must put them in the best position to succeed. As a leader, it is vital that you recognize the strengths and weaknesses of the people you work with. Once this has been accomplished, you can arrange your staff in the position to have them succeed. A specific example of this occurs every year when teacher’s timetables are created. If the school leaders are in constant communication with their staff, they should be able to accommodate the desires and strengths of their staff as best as possible.

Another key point of my leadership personality is the necessity of adaptation. I believe that there is not one leadership style that can work for you in every situation, and as a leader you need to be able to evolve to the situation around you. The following leadership strategies will explain that further.

Discuss at least three leadership approaches in the PDF that interest you.

The first leadership approach that appealed to me was the Participative Theory. Of particular interest was the idea that participative leaders “encourage group members and help group members to feel relevant and committed to the decision making process.” I believe this to be an excellent ideal to strive for in leadership. If the people around you feel actively involved in the decision making, then they are more likely to support you and work to their fullest potential on your behalf. Admittedly, this is not an easy process to create, but if you can work in this direction, I believe the school will be better as a result.

The second leadership approach that interested me was the Great Man theory, which states “great leaders are born, not made. These theories often portray leaders as heroic, mythic and destined to rise to leadership when needed.” Far too often in my career, I have worked who believed it was they were destined to be in charge and refused to change or adapt. The face of Education is continually evolving, and as a leader, you must be willing to adapt as well or be stuck firmly in the past.

The final leadership style that I wanted to discuss was the Autocratic Leadership style, which states that: “leaders have complete power over staff. Staff and team members have little opportunity to make suggestions, even if these are in the best interest of the team or organization.” At first glance, this seems to be a negative trait for the leadership of a school, but I can certainly think of experiences where having a decisive leader is the key to school safety and success.

Life Experience that has helped shape my leadership perspective.

A few years ago, when I was first beginning my Master’s Degree and beginning to show an interest in school leadership, I was given an opportunity to be the acting Admin, while the leadership team was away from the school. The majority of the morning passed slowly, as I sat in the office with nothing to do, bored and wishing for something to happen. Just as lunch was about to begin, I received a phone call from the resource officer stating that there was a threat against an unknown school and to be prepared as we may have to move into Secure the Building. The officer concluded by giving me a series of steps and instructions to follow, and to sit tight until we learned more information. As this phone call ended, another came in from the school Superintendent who had another set of instructions, that mostly focused on the importance of calm and secrecy, as they did not want the school and teachers to panic.

As I followed their instructions, the office started to become more chaotic, as teachers barged in and demanded to know what was happening. They stated that they had heard other schools had moved into Secure the Building and why had we not done the same. It was at this moment that I realized that an Autocratic Leadership style is needed in certain situations. As the leader of the school, I needed to act decisively and have teachers respond efficiently in order to maintain school safety. In the end the principal and vice principal returned and took over until the situation was resolved. But looking back, I learned a lot in that situation about how different leaderships style are needed depending upon the situation.

 

Critical Theory: An examination of School Power Structures

Welcome to my readers, old and new. Let’s begin.

Today’s readings were a real eye-opener and forced my to reevaluate my own teaching and the effectiveness of school leadership as well. The first point that really jumped out to me was from John Gatto and his article, “The Seven Lesson Schoolteacher”. The main perspective I gained from this article was the emphasis on Confusion in the classroom. Gatto states: “I teach the un-relating of everything, an infinite fragmentation the opposite of cohesion; what I do is more related to television programming than to making a scheme of order.”

Further perspective on these seven lessons can be found in the following video:

When I relate Gatto’s ideas of confusion to my own school, I think about the Government Mandated Assignments that are constantly added to the plate of teachers and students, often without any rhyme or reason. In order for schools to provide data for the Ministry of Education, teachers must force random assignments in at inopportune times, regardless of their current area of focus.

As a teacher, it can definitely be overwhelming to deal with the growing number of standardized assessments, and there’s no doubt the students feel the same way as well. The unfortunate reality is that there is not a lot that a teacher can do when the expectations are coming from Administration or Government Ministries. However, as a potential future leader/admin in a school, this is a battle that must be fought before it gets to your teachers. Leaders of school must pass the message along that the expectations on teachers and students are already so high. Government Ministries must learn to gain their information in new methods, rather than adding additional standardized tests that do nothing to achieve curricular outcomes.

Another important aspect for school leaders to consider with standardized assessments is the additional challenge faced by low-income students. The Washington Post has an article which states: “administrators at Govans, where nearly 70 percent of students come from low-income families, say the shift to online testing three years ago led to lower student scores on the PARCC than on previous paper-and-pencil assessments”. Furthermore, Towson University professor Jessica Shiller states: “Putting the test online just sets the city kids three steps back … It’s more a measure of income than skill.”

As School Leaders, we must ensure that school technology is not thrust in the hands of our students without proper training, for both the teacher and the student. If not, we are putting our disadvantaged students even further behind.

How can we improve our school?

The enlightening articles on the ISM’s in today’s society and shows a particular focus on how Cultural Genocide can be so damaging to the First Nations and Inuit Students.

For this section of my blog, I’m choosing to focus on the positive and what leaders in my school and school division are doing to help foster real growth and change.  One of the best experiences with my school staff was our participation in a Blanket Exercise.

If you have never been a part of a blanket exercise, the following quote explains it quite well: “The blanket exercise is an activity where participants explore the nation-to-nation relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada, and explore a timeline of over 500 years. Blankets arranged on the floor represent land, or ‘Turtle Island’ known by the Indigenous peoples, and each participant plays a part, by stepping into the roles of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. I added my own touches to the presentation by noting some dates, specific stories and names that participants might relate to. When people leave, they will have a new, deeper understanding of the history, like they haven’t before. The activity really ties together all of the points of things we may have heard about such as the Indian Act, residential schools and the 60’s scoop”.

What struck me most about this particular exercise, was the fact that so many people were emotionally affected in so many different ways. Some people were upset when forced to move off of their lands, while others were saddened by their death due to an infectious disease.  As the father of young children, I was particularly upset when the babies were taken away and parents were left on their own.

 

To wrap up, I continue to feel emotionally and intellectually challenged and motivated by the readings and blog prompts. It is clear that this class will be a departure from other’s I have taken and I am looking forward to the journey.

Any thoughts or questions, please feel free to comment.

 

 

 

Assistive Technology for the Future

Greetings and Salutations,

I come to you once again (and for the final time this semester) with a blog post on Assistive Technology. I do not have a ton of experience with the use of assistive tech in my class so instead I will focus my thoughts on the type of programs I would love to see more of in the future.

Digital Translations:

With the growing diversity of our student body here in Regina, there has never been a greater need for students to have a digital translation app. While the majority of these new students are attempting to learn English, it is unfair to expect them to master and apply the language so soon after arriving in Canada. Instead if they were able to access a digital translation device on their phone, it would help them understand the instructions/information being given by their teachers. While there are some apps already available, I would like to see this become more readily available for our newest students.

The more we can do to help our newest students, the easier it will be for them to show us what they truly know.  As Educators, our goal is to assess student learning, and if these apps help us do that, then I would like to see them used more frequently.

And that brings us to the end of another semester together! I have enjoyed collaborating with all of you and I hope to see you again on our educational journey.

Goodbye for now,

 

Kyle