Monday, October 29, 2012

What I Learned This Week (Volume 4)

            This last week has provided opportunities to learn from educators that I have admired for a number of years. The week on the road (Atlanta and Winnipeg) was great in terms of the chance to present and interact with colleagues but I also stepped into the role of learner during those times when I was not sharing content.
            The Atlanta Assessment conference hosted by Solution Tree featured Doug Reeves as the day 2 keynote speaker. I appreciate that he always brings new research to his presentations but it was his take on a couple of standard items that had me scribbling notes. “Schools and districts are drowning in data but thirsty for evidence” was the first quote I scribbled down and tweeted out. Judging by the number of re-tweets, it resonated well with others also. It was a great reminder to collect data with a purpose and intention to do something with it. “The best vision statements don't need strategic plans or, for that matter, words”, was the second piece that really stuck with me as I thought about the work I do with schools as it relates to defining what they stand for. The best vision statements aren’t about what we do, but who we are.
            After two days in Atlanta, I headed north for three days in Winnipeg and the launch of the Hulley Centre, another Solution Tree project. Wayne Hulley has been a mentor and good friend for at least fifteen years and I cherish any time I get to spend with him. Watching someone who presents a topic he passionately believes in, and with such joy is inspiring. I always learn something new and it usually centers on the way Wayne makes everyone feel important and a part of the solution. “Nobody washes a rental car” was the piece that stuck with me as we talked about educators owning the solutions and the plans for moving schools to greater levels of success.  I am excited to being a part of his work going forward and know that it will make a significant difference in schools across Canada.
            While I am aware of how busy the lives of educators are, this past week has reminded me that nurturing the passion we have for the work we do can make a positive impact. I know it’s important for me to remember to take the time to learn even when I am helping others with their learning goals. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

What I Learned This Week (Volume 3)

            My reflections for the third in this series of blogs actually covers much more than last week due to finding myself in a very reflective mood as a result of what happened during the week. What I discovered is that it’s amazing what difference a year can make. That became the filter for my musings.
            I realized how fortunate I am to be able to have the kind of work I do and that I am thoroughly enjoying. A little more than year ago I was in a period of transition as I had left a great job as Assistant Superintendent for the Sunshine Coast to head to a great job as Executive Director with the BCPVPA. Two months later, I transitioned out of that job to devote my full time and energy to expanding my work as a consultant and author. The unequivocal support of my wife made the decision manageable as we were leaving the safety net of benefits and five years of pensionable service before hitting the maximum.
            Solution Tree has been a large part of my growth as an educator and a key part of my learning as a consultant. From the opportunity to work alongside luminaries like the DuFours, Mattos, Hulley, and Muhammad (and the conversations at events where they share so many of their insights) through the support of key folk like Stubby MacLean and Claudia Wheatley (who know when to encourage and when to develop further skills) to the chance to publish under the guidance of Gretchen Knapp and Robb Clouse, I have had lots of growth. This all came together as I debuted the two day workshop based on my book “Pyramid of Behavior Interventions: Seven Keys to a Positive Learning Environment” in Toronto. Educators came from NB, NH, NY, and ON and developed great products as we processed the key components through various activities. It was a nervous “night before the event” as I must have run through the slides and activities a dozen times in my hotel . To see the flow and connections for the participants made all the prep time worth it. I’m looking forward to my upcoming schedule of four more workshops in the United States.
            I had a lengthy road trip and went from Toronto to Raleigh, NC and then Woodridge, IL for some workshops as a result of another great educational organization that has brought me on board. The Leadership and Learning Center has grown from the work of Douglas Reeves and he has been another one of those larger than life educators who has given willingly of his time to aid a colleague honing his skills. Working alongside Larry Ainsworth has been a real treat and sharing his insightful work on rigorous curriculum design with educators has been a bonus for me. The sessions in both these communities were well received and I love when I receive a Tweet that reads “this was the best PD I’ve had in 30 years”. It encourages me to continue to develop the work I do to ensure folks have a positive learning opportunity. I appreciate Kristin Anderson extending herself and supporting me as I joined the Center. I’m not sure she ever displays anything other than total positivity and is one of the most encouraging people I have met. I am excited about the potential to do more work as I explore other areas of education that appeal to me and are strengths of the work of the Center.
            My trip concluded with a very positive day that grew out of Twitter connections I have with John Bevacqua and Rose Pillay. They were the key figures behind a day entitled “Teachers Learning Together” that had participants from six Catholic schools within the CISVA. The combination of activities, conversations, and questions made the day go quickly and I am eager to follow-up with the participants to see how they implement some of the plans. What was very clear was a level of passion for the work they are doing, the faith that is part of their daily lives, and a commitment to being difference-makers for the students they serve. John and I headed out to see some other Twitter pals who were in town presenting at the BCPVPA conference. It was wonderful to connect with people we rarely see and equally enjoyable to reconnect with many Principals and Vice-Principals from days gone by. I really enjoyed seeing many of my former colleagues from my days in Nelson.
            While all of the above was very affirming and indicative that the decision made a year ago was the right one, it all pales in comparison to the best thing that happened as my Friday was concluding. A bit of background is necessary to frame my emotions. Last year my family was reeling from the toughest news we have ever had to deal with. My oldest daughter was told that her pregnancy was no longer viable at the four-month mark. I can recall for you in minute detail where I was as I spoke with her, and my inability to contain the waves of emotion that rolled over me as I felt so incredibly helpless as a Dad, unable to take her pain away. For someone who prides himself on words and relationships, I was at a loss for the former and the latter seemed inconsequential in the moment. Fast forward to last Friday and my daughter in the delivery room as she fought through all of the emotions and pain that had tormented her to deliver a healthy 9 pound, 10 ounce baby boy. Liam was destined to be surrounded with love regardless but the journey of the last year made holding him and my daughter all the more special. 


            I know life is a roller coaster ride and this past year has been a less than subtle reminder of that. I also know that rides, taken with loved ones and close friends, can produce at least an equal amount of joy to offset the pain that sometimes comes. Thanks to all who have supported over this last year. You know who you are. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

What I Learned This Week (Volume 2)

            October is a month of tremendous travel for me and I am very excited for, and appreciative of, those opportunities. What I learned this week is that I get really energized by the ideas and efforts of educators.
            I visited with the staff and students of the DSBN Academy and once again left in awe of the dedication and commitment the adults display for the students and each other. Every conversation I held with an educator had a level of intensity and passion to find the right approach for each student that I can’t help but believe they will have success with every student. The staff is so thoughtful and collaborative that they push each other to be all that they can be and it is done with a level of deep sincerity and appreciation for the contribution each person can make. Listening to them share their “appreciations” at the end of the week, I couldn’t help but notice how respectfully attentive every person was and how meaningful their words were. And here’s the clincher for me – it’s having a big impact on the behavior and achievement of the students. When the adults model the desired behaviors (both social and academic) for the students, the desired outcomes become easier to achieve. Rather than the “do as I say, not as I do” approach, I have long held the belief that if we don’t model what we teach, we are teaching what we model. One part of the Academy’s creed reads “we are our brother’s and sister’s keepers” and this is more than a trite recitation for the school community. It is a firmly held and strongly demonstrated pillar.
            As part of my second day in the DSBN, I was able to work with the educators at both E.W. Farr and Glendale schools. We spent the morning talking about creating a positive school culture and how to link academic success with behavioral success. The insights shared by individual teachers as well as some of their challenges reminded me that we have a common bond in our roles.  
            I also had the opportunity to spend a day with the educators in the Palliser School Division. As is often the case, the time flew by (at least it did for me!) and I left before I could take in all of the great conversations that were evident as we worked through how to ensure the remaining nine months of this school year are as effective and productive for their students as the start-up has been. In planning for what the end result in June was going to look like, they began the process of aligning their next steps to achieve that goal. I did get a chance to talk with members of the host school, County Central High School, about the work they have done in creating their overarching expectations for all members (adults and students) of their school community. A small group had attended a session I had given in Ottawa and they took the information back to their colleagues who then added their own context to produce an approach that is an excellent translation of the 7 Keys I wrote about in “Pyramid of Behavior Interventions”. It’s so good I may need to consider taking the group with me to subsequent presentations! Principal Ken Garinger took the unnecessary step of thanking me publically for the shift in focus at the school, when the reality is the teachers and school leaders determined what they needed to do to support all students in achieving success, and then charted the course to get there. He is very open to sharing the steps they took and would welcome any contacts from colleagues wanting to know more.
            On a personal note, I also learned that back-to-back turkey dinners are not a bad thing. I enjoyed the two days of rest but clearly ate and drank too much so it’s back to the road with a few more kilometers to log. See you next week.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

What Did I Learn This Week (Volume 1)

        I am embarking on writing a post each week that reflects my learning for that week. This came as a result of participating in the Leadership 2.0 series that was launched on Tuesday by George Couros. While I would identify myself as a lifelong learner, I can’t honestly say that I have reflected regularly enough on what that means. I know that I continue to learn new things (sometimes even when doing tasks I have done many times before) but I don’t know if I have ever thought what impact that has on prior knowledge or future learning opportunities. I am hoping that reflecting on my learning each week will provide some insights for me, and some opportunity for the reader to share feedback. This, by extension, will lead to more learning but that’s for subsequent posts.
I’m going to define my week as starting on Sundays as this past Sunday was my 52nd birthday and that date always gives me a moment to reflect. My week won’t be defined as seven days as I don’t want to restrict the thoughts to a defined period. I’ll take the word “week” to be defined as the time between posts and trust that will suffice.
My birthday has become a day where I take stock of who I am, what I am doing, and what my legacy might be. Invariably the answers to these questions are reflected through my family. I was reminded once again what an amazing person I have in my life as my wife gladly trudged with me to Surrey so I could wake up on my birthday to run the inaugural Surrey Marathon. There is no win in this for her as she watches (somewhat amusedly) me fret about an activity I have done numerous times but that still results in a restless “night before the event” and an early rise on race day so I can sit in solitude and fuel up. She is there at the event and has the best smile for me when I cross the line. My three kids have invariably lent their support by the time the race starts through text messages (including some attempts at humor as they try to make sense of why someone would do this 44 times) and will want to know the outcome shortly after I cross the line. With the day also being my birthday, they all extended this further by having us over for dinner and managed all of the details of that meal. The gift of a family portrait gave a perfect conclusion to a day where I learned (or perhaps re-learned) that family trumps everything else, and time invested in relationships gives the greatest return.

People care more than is sometimes obvious or demonstrated. We have lived in Gibsons for close to five years now in a rented house. When I left my position at the board office and pursued my current work, folks thought we would be leaving the area. There was a perceived (on my part) detachment with others and we were often asked if we were staying. That we typically responded with, “for the next six months at least”, probably didn’t allay any concerns. When we announced that we had closed a deal on a home purchase, the response was overwhelmingly positive and it was if a collective sigh of relief was exhaled. Friends and acquaintances didn’t want to burden us if we weren’t staying but seemed happy that we were. It was a good lesson learned about community and the value of positive connections.
My learning really accelerated as a result of participating in the aforementioned Leadership 2.0 session. While I stray more towards Luddite than Technophile, I am eager to learn more about the new ways to communicate and reach colleagues all over the globe. That we had participants from Australia as well as from across Canada and the United States, spoke to power of these new tools. Having expert facilitation from George and timely comments from others only enhanced the experience. My e-portfolio is a project I will need to get to work on and I a comforted by the knowledge that I have lots of able assistance a connection away. I will be leading one of the sessions and my trepidation will surely mount as the date approaches as a result of the bar being set so high in the first session. And yet, the potential for learning has me eagerly anticipating the opportunity.
As I craft this, I am sitting on a plane heading to my next presentation. I have come to appreciate the time in the air and at various terminals as a bonus that provides a chance to read, write, and share with others. One of the passengers seated next to me has shared what she does and the excitement of heading to Italy as part of her hospitality-related career. We’ve had a good chat about the role of schools in preparing students to work in her industry. She also spoke about the importance of relationships in that field of work and that seems to be the recurring theme for my learning this week.
I know my work with the DSBN Academy over the next two days will bring some incredible learning to the fore. Those kids and the staff always have so much to offer. But that is for next week’s post.