New Year – kinda

It’s the New Year – 2012 – and all the expectations that one has for a new year and for the much anticipated 2012 ! Many people, but not all,  make a list of resolutions they hope to keep for the upcoming year.

I don’t. In fact, I don’t really celebrate this whole new year thing. My wife and I and our children – this year we spent it at my mom’s playing Frackle – usually spend the evening at home. At some point, we just didn’t see the reason for the hype – why do you have to wait until the new year to make changes or do anything? Why do we measure the past year against, well, expectations that are usually unrealistic?

As an educator, my new year began in August. This year was a very different beginning as we began our year in a brand new school with a completely different configuration than anyone had previously been in – a K – 12 school instead of an elementary or High School. One of the reasons I was hired for this position was to try to bring about some changes to the culture that existed, recalibrate in a sense. So now, at the halfway point, here’s where we are:

In this first year we have: hosted a Grand Opening, put in a new playground (installed while school was in progress), had a fire, a flood, a series of construction setbacks, hosted a teachers’ Convention for 800+ teachers (with the awesome and incredible Dean Shareski as a keynote), implemented a new report card and reporting system division-wide, implemented a new division-wide grade book,  had a student initiated Coffee House to raise money for Cancer, 2 play performances by our students, a basketball tournament and put on a Christmas dinner for 300 people. All this has happened as we try to find our identity as a school, merge two staffs and figure out just where we put that box with all the keys! (We still are looking for boxes and items we moved!) Our New Year, First Year, is half over so, instead of making resolutions, I’ve decided to do some mirror gazing. So my next few posts will look at key areas of education and how we, as a school community, are addressing and facing these issues.

Communication – Our number 1

In my tenure as a principal in 7 schools over 10 years – the number 1 area that requires a concerted effort and is vital to success is communication. How you engage in communication is the foundation for all that will follow.

Creating open and transparent communication and promoting win/win dialogue is so important. As an administrator, I focus on developing and monitoring communication in three areas: with parents, with students and within the building. Since we are “starting fresh” we decided to implement some new ideas and track their impact.

  • Community Newsletter – this is a monthly newsletter that is mailed to everyone in the communities in which our students reside. Many of our students still only access internet through dial-up, a great many of our parents do not use the internet and we found that sending newsletters with our students didn’t mean they arrived home! Many people in our community do not have children in school, are elderly and have little contact with the school. This newsletter has been popular and we have received great feedback about how wonderful it is to know what is happening at the school.
  • Updated website – we are in the process of updating our website – although it isn’t what we would hope, we are transitioning to a new software which has meant a learning  curve for us.
  • Staff Wiki – this is where we have our calendar for events, information from the division, items for discussion, book study information, memos and other information. It serves as the information center for the staff.
  • Evernote Premium – we have a staff account (don’t tell Evernote!) which we use to track and share data related to students, RtI and DI. We incorporate the use of OneNote, which is suggested by our division, and are building a repository of information/tools for use with students.
  • Livebinders – handbooks are kept here for easy access. We have a staff account which we use to make suggestions about other Livebinders that we think will inform our practice.
  • Diigo – our staff has an account where we have begun to save links related to specific topics – DI, RtI, PBL, FC, etc – which staff can access, read through and use. We’re in the infancy stages here with only a few teachers using this BUT with the growth of the use of blogging by the staff, this will grow.
  • Class Blogmeister – 4 of our classes use this as a way to record and share what they are doing. What began as a pilot-project at the beginning of the year has now expanded to 4 different classes with other staff getting interested.
  • Portfolios – we are in our second year of Portfolio Conferences with our students. We have expanded to having 2 classes using the blogging as a part of their portfolio which has really highlighted how we can demonstrate growth through the year.
  • Student Led Conferences – this is our third year, my second. In a short period of time the staff have moved from a “not again” attitude to seeing these as great avenues for conversations between students and parents and this is helping them to reframe their thinking about their set-up and what takes place during the conferences. One of our staff has already moved to a Celebration of Learning model where the idea is to have students showing their parents the learning they are doing through learning stations and having discussions about what is in their blog.
  • Student Newspaper – published quarterly – with works from our students. It is an award winning, student-directed newspaper that covers the different aspects of the school.

We have grown a great deal in 4 months. As a staff, we need to become better at regular communication with parents – phone calls or emails to parents to keep them up to date. We also need to become better at communicating as a staff so that our RtI, DI and SLC can be more transparent and fluid. We are looking at a school Twitter account and a FB page to provide yet another avenue for communication.

We are aware that we have few options for students to be involved in the communication at this point and we need to address this through our SRC. We are discussing communication, among other things, with our School Community Council (parent group) to determine how we can better communicate/dialogue with all parents. At some point we will have to address a way to allow parents to express their concerns and dissatisfaction in a way that will honour and support student learning and development.

As an admin team, we are constantly reviewing how we are communicating with the rest of the staff. Although the two of us are in classrooms everyday, we realize we need to streamline our communication so that we do not overwhelm people while still ensuring everyone has the necessary information. Our Wiki page has become a good place for this as has our sharing through Evernote/OneNote. It now becomes a process fine-tuning. We have decided on these 3 tools because they provide us with great versatility and huge potential for growth. We are also examining Google Apps for specific items, like forms, which we can use to gather information and data to help us with improving what we do at the school.

Next Up: Technology

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