Should Principals Teach – Reflections of a First Year Principal

Reflections of a First Year Principal – Should Principals Teach

Should principals be required to teach? When I made the decision to go into administration I told myself I would always teach at least one class (even if I didn’t have to) and I envisioned it would be an academic class. I remembered reading a post by Chris Wejr Principals ARE Teachers where he talked about this exact topic. After three years of being an assistant principal, and now into my first year as a principal I sit back and reflect upon this question I am not sure if my original position still holds true.

What do I love the most about my job? The answer is easy, I get the most enjoyment out of spending time working with students. The second aspect of my job that I love the most is working with all teachers, teachers new to the profession or a hardened veteran learning how to integrate new technology into his/her lessons. It definitely is NOT the meetings, district responsibilities, paperwork, discipline or any of the many other tasks administrators are asked to perform.

Why do more principals not teach? Why don’t unions demand principals teach one class? I recently posed these questions to the speaker at conference I was at and he got rather upset and defensive right away.  His arguments were that principals can still be educational leaders without being in a classroom, that they still understand good educational pedagogy, and can recognize the difference between quality and inadequate educational practices. The fact that just because they are no longer in a classroom doesn’t mean they are somehow diminished as educational leaders. While I tend to agree with his arguments I am left with questions:

  • How do you help a teacher with technology integration when the last time you were in a classroom there were no Smartboards, 1:1 classrooms did not exist, never mind paperless classrooms, GAFE (Google Apps for Education) hadn’t been implemented and marks were still kept on in a mark book not online for parents to access 24/7?
  • Will you really understand the challenges teachers face when implementing new division, state or provincials mandates if you do not experience them yourself?

If my number 1 job is to be the instructional leader, and not a building manager, should I not be in the trenches with the staff, experiencing what they are going through?

I believed whole heartedly principals need to teach, but as I get immersed in the job I am finding my time pulled in numerous directions to the point my teaching is falling behind. As I am away for various meetings or professional development, the instruction that my classes receive is not the same as it would be had I been present to teach it myself. Is this enough to change my opinion? No. Perhaps my opinion on this topic will change in the future but  there are many variables that need to be taken into consideration. Presently I still believe principals need to teach. My previous reflection piece talked about principals supporting their teachers and I feel I am better able to support my teachers if I experience part of what they experience day to day.
Terry Hoganson

Support Your Teachers – Reflections of a First Year Principal

Reflections of a First Year Principal – Support Your Teachers

When discussing the various skills and attributes that principals possess, I am not sure what is the most important as there are many to choose from. I would venture to guess that it depends on the personality and leadership style of the individual, and the culture that they wish to create. As I look back over my first couple months it is very evident that teachers want, and need the support of their principals.  

Is this the most important thing they need to do, again I am not sure. I do know that I want my staff to enjoy coming to work, be willing to take risks and to constantly look to improve and grow as educators. They should feel comfortable and not afraid to ask questions. Why are we doing this? Is this going to improve the education of the children? These are questions I, as an administrator, should be able to answer. Sometimes the answer may be simple, sometimes more complex and sometimes it is out of my control because we were directed to do it by our Division Office or it is mandated by the government. If teachers do not feel supported they will never ask those questions or take risks and and be allowed to grow as professionals

Sabrina Bryan has a good quote, that states:

  • You can do anything as long as you have the passion, the drive, the focus, and the support.

We all have tough days and that is part of any job and those days come in numerous forms. Student being disrespectful, confrontation with parents, and issues with staff, are all things that can and do happen in a teacher’s life. When they leave school at the end of the day I hope that they realize and believe that I will do everything I can to help and support them, that I will back them when parents complain or when there are issues with students.  I want them to know  that they can come to me for suggestions or ideas when they are struggling or if they just need a sounding board.

With two months down, I figured it was time to reflect on the new job and role that I have taken on. I am not sure why I choose this as my first reflection topic but  many educators have had administrators who did not support them and I told myself when I took the job that I would not be that person. I am not sure if the staff feel supported, I want to believe they do as it something I think about on a daily basis and I am trying to walk the walk not just talk the talk. Time will tell.

Please feel free to leave comments and I hope you continue to read my reflections as a first year principal.

Terry Hoganson

 

 

Are You a Leader or a Boss

Are You a Leader or a Boss?

I came across this image on Twitter and it immediately made me wonder if people see me as a leader or a boss.

boss

In my days as an administrator, I frequently have the opportunity to talk candidly with my teachers and staff.  The conversation often would turn to prior experiences with other administrators.  I have lost count of the number of almost identical conversations about disappointing principals they have had in the past.  Their main criticisms are that:

  • “They forget what is like the moment they step into that office”
  • “They don’t remember what it’s like in the classroom.”
  • “Why do we have to this, it doesn’t make sense”
  • “If they could just explain why we are doing it.”

This leads to teachers and educators feeling that administration is out of touch with what actually goes on in the classroom on a daily basis. The majority of educators work hard to provide the best education possible to their students. When administration doesn’t see or recognize the amazing learning taking place in classrooms, teachers are naturally going to feel isolated and alone.

When I received my survey results back from teachers in my building at the end of my first year as an Assistant Principal, they felt as though as I needed to be more visible in teachers classrooms. As I reflected on this I realized that I was spending too much time in my office and not enough time going from class to class building relationships with staff and students. The next year I created a google sheet to keep track of when and which classes I went in to help ensure I spent more time with teachers, staff and students, rather than in my office doing things that could be easily done after the building was empty.

I believe you have to lead from the trenches, with the teachers.  This is one of the reasons I like the fact that I still teach core classes each day. This allows me to build quality relationships with students and to be a relevant contributor when conversations turn to differentiation, assessment, technology integration, and other instances where a “in the trenches” experience is required.

As I have progressed as an education and administrator, I believe effective leaders must:

Empower their staff

    • Everyone has redeeming qualities and those qualities are often different from person to person. Draw on their strengths to elevate the whole team.  Be willing to let your staff try new things or take on new challenges.  Encourage and support them as they do.  Celebrate and share new skills within the team.

Have a vision and be able to  articulate the vision

    • Teachers need to see the big picture of where you are leading the team. People will row the boat if they know where they are rowing to and can understand the benefit of the destination but will be reluctant to row and will fret and continually look backwards if they don’t know the end point.

Have high expectations of staff and students

    • People will rise to the expectation you give them, set the bar high and they will strive to meet them, set it low and expect them to remain there.

Be supportive of staff and students

    • Treat people with dignity and respect and they will treat you the same way. People will work hard for you if they know you will support them when they need it. Keep emotions out of the conversation and focus on the reasons why and how

Approachable (open door policy)

    • The best  leaders are also the best listeners. People need to feel comfortable coming to you.  You must build this trust by listening, and then listening some more.  When staff, parents or students come to you with questions or problems they know they will not be judged but rather heard.  If they know your intentions are to help them solve the problem, to be a safe place to air grievances and challenges, or as a safe place to ask for help, you will grow your staff into a strong team  that centers on trust.

 

Terry Hoganson

Literacy – My Beliefs

Literacy – My Definition/Beliefs

During a recent PD Day, we had the opportunity to discuss and complete a couple of activities that focused on literacy with the eventual goal of developing a school wide definition of literacy.

Our school’s learning coach gave us articles to read prior to the meeting to help guide the basis of our discussion. We also completed an “I Believe Template” and “Beliefs About Literacy Activity.”

I believe that in the past, literacy has been used to describe a person who can read and write. After the discussion and activity we participated in, I have come to a few new conclusions about what I believe literacy is.

Literacy is the ability to communicate using a variety of mediums.  

The ability to read and write is at the heart of literacy. In todays world we communicate in so many ways, that I am left with the following questions:

  • Is being able to properly compose an email not a form of literacy? It is not a traditional letter but do we still communicate using traditional letters? Or being able to read and communicate tone in an email.
  • Is the ability to communicate and recognize body language not also a form of literacy?
  • Is social media a form of literacy?
    • Effectively using  140 characters to precisely convey your message.
    • Recognizing what is appropriate to post and what is not on various social media sites.
    • Being able to build a brand and use social media to persuade others.

The students that are coming through our schools are growing up in a much different environment than we did. So while I believe that reading and writing are the foundation of literacy, I believe we have a duty to prepare them for this new world and address the questions above.

Literacy should be taught in all classes regardless of subject area.

It is the responsibility of all teachers to assess and teach literacy. If we truly believe in the importance of literacy then our curriculum, lesson planning, and assessments need to reflect that.

dangerous illiterate

Schools need to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.

Our staff came up with the following beliefs about literacy. Now if, as administrators and school leaders, we do nothing to foster nor promote these beliefs with the staff, students, parents, and the community, we are doing a disservice to everyone. The precious collaborative time we spent developing and discussing literacy would be completely wasted.

What is your school doing to help build a community that believes literacy is important? Do you have a DEAR period (Drop Everything and Read) or something similar, where all students, regardless of age or ability, have built in reading time? Time when the adults act as role models and read as well, not sit at their computers or do marking. Do your teachers have time to plan common assessments that have literacy components built in?

Terry Hoganson

Why I Love Professional Development

What did you learn at your conference Mr. Hoganson?”  This was the first question I was asked by my grade 8 class when I recently returned from the Google Summit in Edmonton, Alberta. Seeing they were actually interested, I began to go through some of the new apps and extensions I picked up.  I quickly realized that I had learned more than I thought.  It got me thinking,  “Why do I believe in professional development and conferences, and what do I get out of them?”

  • Seeing what other educators are doing with their students.
  • What new strategies can I take back to help my students?
  • How can I change my pedagogy?
  • Collaborating with other educators/leaders.
  • Networking and making contacts that will last a lifetime.

 

It goes without saying that I believe in professional development in all its forms, whether it be in-school by your colleagues, at division meetings, attending conferences or using Twitter to connect with other teachers and leaders. Although I have embraced and work fluently in the digital world, I still enjoy sitting and hearing what others have to say, the face to face interaction and the invaluable networking that takes place. I hope educators continue to take advantage of all the professional development opportunities that are available to them and actively seek to learn and grow.

Terry Hoganson

My Paperless, 1:1 Classroom – Reflections Part 1

A paperless classroom is neither new nor revolutionary, and the same goes for 1:1 classrooms.  However this is the first year I have had the opportunity to implement both into my teaching. The students are using Chromebooks for devices and all work is done using GAFE.

The first two months have passed and the students are enjoying the paperless idea and like the fact that they do not have to bring a bag or binder full of supplies to class. I never realized how many materials students generally carry around and how heavy the textbooks can be.  I stopped using my textbook years ago and will never go back. When I told my class they would not need a textbook for class this year it was like Christmas morning on the faces of my students.

My students are creators now, more than they ever were in the past and the time I spend in front of them speaking has decreased dramatically.  They are seeking out knowledge and building projects based on curriculum that teaches them more than I ever could. While I still believe in consumption as a way to learn information I have realized that there is a delicate balance between consumption and creation and I was too heavy on consumption as a teacher before I started this year.

The number one favorite tool/app of my students so far this year is Kahoot. They love the game and my classroom quickly breaks into the most competitive environment you can imagine. Whether they are playing as teams or individuals they are engaged. I have used Kahoot for review games and formative assessments to see what students remember from yesterday or last week. My next step will be to have them create their own.

More reflections to come.

Terry Hoganson

 

Collaborative Time is So Important

Recently I facilitated a conversation with a third of the staff about what it is they need from school based administration and district level administration to help with the implementation of the Inspiring Education initiative.   As we worked through the questions I was reluctant to add my voice as I really wanted to hear what the staff had to say without being influenced by what I said.

I am well into my second year as an assistant principal and thought I was doing a good job helping the staff move forward with technology integration and introducing them to new tools that they could hopefully use in the classroom.  I just returned from Google Apps for Education Summit which I have attended that last two years along with various other technology conferences.  I thought that if I presented to the staff upon my return and showed them everything I had learned, they would be excited and go try them.

Some did and were quick to let me know what they were doing and excited for me to come to their class and see their students in action.  My immediate thought was “I am making a difference.”

However, I realized quickly during my conversation with staff about what they needed that what I was doing is adding additional stress onto some very good educators.  They were feeling overwhelmed and anxious because felt they were not doing a good enough job integrating technology into their lessons.  All my presentations and talks were just piling more and more things onto their plate that they thought they had to master.

I left with an understanding that while they wanted to be introduced to new ideas and technology what they really needed was time to work and collaborate with each other about how to use and integrate it into their individual classrooms.  Rather than show them many tools, what  they wanted was for me to present a concept or idea and help find a tool/tools that could help them.  The idea of collaborative time kept coming up time and time again, rather than schedule all of our professional development day give us time to work together and we will produce great things.

Teachers want ideas and are open to finding new and exciting ways to engage their students but they need quality time to plan and prepare with other educators.  Professional development days are precious valuable hours and I think sometimes we try to pack to much information into them, rather than relying on the teachers to use the time to better themselves.

Terry Hoganson