The Student Name Challenge

download It seems like everywhere you look on social media, there is some sort of a challenge. All you have to do is enter the term ‘Challenge’ on YouTube and you’ll see what I mean. My most recent search came up with the Hot Pepper Challenge, the Jello Bath Challenge, the TZ Anthem Challenge, the Running Man Challenge, and the ever so popular (but every teacher & administrator’s nightmare) Water Bottle Flip Challenge.

After seeing so many of these challenges taking internet by storm, I started to think about some challenges that I could create in my role as a school administrator. I wanted to come up with a challenge that would have a positive outcome for my school. What I came up with was The Student Name Challenge. The challenge is pretty straight forward, learn all 500+ names of the students in my school. Being a new Vice-Principal at my school this year, I’ve really committed to knowing my new students and striving to learn all of their first names by the end of the school year.

In the process of trying to learn all my students’ names, I’ve discovered that my challenge is also contributing to my school board’s first priority  of Positive School Culture and Well-being and it’s goal of all students and staff feel safe, supported, and accepted. As an administrator, the simple act of learning a student’s name can have a positive impact on developing a positive school culture. Learning a student’s name is a good first step in gaining their trust and making them feel safe, supported, and accepted. I’ve made a concerted effort since the first day at my new school to learn my students’ names as quickly as possible and I have seen encouraging results so far. I feel like I have a better connection with the students when greeting them in the morning as they walk into the school, when I’m walking down the hallways and saying hello as they pass by, and when I visit classrooms and speak to them about their learning.

It’s been two months since my first day at my new school and I still have long way to go in my Student Name Challenge. Some of my students know about my challenge and they keep my on my toes when they see me around the school to see if I know their name. I may not reach my goal of learning all of their names by the end of the year but the process has been pretty fun so far. Here are some tips that I’ve picked up along the way that have helped me learn my students’ names:

  • When asking students for their name, follow it up by asking 3 things about themselves (interests, talents, etc.). This helps make personal connections with students while learning their names.
  • When visiting classrooms, look for name tags on their desks or their work, while engaging them about their learning.
  • Every once in a while, use the student photo directory or classlists as a checklist.
  • Set a daily target of learning a handful of students’ names.
  • Ask again and again and again. Some students’ names are harder to remember than others. Don’t be afraid to keep asking for their names until you get it. Sometimes students will turn it into a game and quiz you when you pass them in the hallway or on the playground.

The Student Name Challenge probably won’t go ‘viral’ like the other challenges you will come across online but it’s one that I think is very meaningful and worthwhile to me in my role as a school administrator. Ultimately, I’m hoping that this challenge will help make my students feel a little more safe, supported and accepted.

I’m also interested to see what other types of challenges educators and administrators can come up with to help improve their schools. Feel free to leave a comment and share one of your challenges.



Know myself…

In the course that I’m currently taking, we discussed the importance of knowing and understanding our strengths as well as our weaknesses when moving into positions of leadership. Our discussion led to self-awareness and whether or not the perception we hold of ourselves is consistent with other people’s perception of us. This really made me think. I am often my biggest critic when it comes to self-assessment but I know that I really enjoy working with others and the concept of team work. My love of collaboration is rooted in years of playing team sports and growing up with two brothers very close in age. I truly believe in the power of many and that great things can be accomplished through collaboration. I would like to think of myself as a person that can adapt and work with anyone and any group. As an administrator, collaboration and shared leadership would be one of my core values that I would bring to a school.  Effective change could happen with one leader running the show but sustainable effective change can only happen through collaboration and shared leadership. Although I can identify collaboration as one of my strenghths, I also know that my dependence on it influences my area of focus for improvement.

My love for collaboration can often result in an over dependence on collaboration and therefore a lack of independence. There are situations where school administrators need to make some difficult decisions and at the end of the day, they are responsible for the entire school and its staff and students. As an individual, I find comfort in groups because  I can defer to the group when tough choices need to be made. I often find that when I do make decisions independently, I do so with some hesitation and doubt. I also tend to overthink decisions and then dwell on them after they are made. I realize that when it comes to independence, I need to have more confidence in myself, be more assertive and take a leadership role whenever I am working collaboratively in a group. In order to do accomplish this, I will look for and accept leadership opportunities that involve high levels of decision making.

School Improvement Plans: What’s Good For Students is Good For Teachers

For my previous module of my course, we were asked to reflect on School Improvement Plans (SIP) and make connections to student learning. I began to reflect on my district school board’s strategic directions (Achievement Matters, Engagement Matters, Equity Matters). Student engagement, achievement, and equity should always be at the heart of of every SIP and it should be linked to the Ontario School Effectiveness Framework since its main purpose is to “function as a tool for schools to identify areas of strength and areas requiring improvement in order to reach all students and improve student achievement”.
However, as I continued to reflect on the implementation and continuation of school improvement planning I began to realize that in order for school administrators and staff to achieve the goals of any SIP, they must take a closer look at their classrooms’ best practices that increase student achievement, engagement, and equity and apply it at the professional level. In other words, I realized that what’s good for the students is also good for the teachers. For instance, we know that learning in the classroom must be authentic and that students are more likely to be engaged if they are active participants in their own learning. This same thinking can be applied to the development of a SIP which must also be authentic to staff and parents in order to be a living document. It cannot be perceived to be a top-down initiative or a model replicated from another school. Additionally, if we know from research and teaching experience that differentiated instruction which focuses on student readiness, interest, and learning profile allows more students to be successful, then staff (who are at different levels of professional learning) would also benefit from differentiated professional learning opportunities related to the SIP as well.
I strongly believe that the importance of student voice, collaboration and making student thinking visible is equally as important to teachers with respect to school improvement planning. Teachers can feel very isolated in their classroom (especially if they`re in a portable!) and they need to be provided with opportunities to network and collaborate with each other in both physical and virtual environments. Teaching practice needs to be deprivatized and teacher thinking needs to be visible and shared with their colleagues. Often, it is through teacher dialogue and discussion that great ideas come to fruition. SIPs are rarely set in stone and require tweaks along the way and in order for SIPs progress and evolve. Therefore, reflective practice must be a habitual behaviour with staff and administrators. I often see large percentages of release time devoted to planning which is definitely important for any positive change to occur. However, I think that an equal amount of attention should be focused on reflective practice where teacher reflection and moderation can occur as well. Every school improvement plan should find ways to create the conditions for teacher reflection and sharing of best practice that occurs in their classrooms, grade levels, or divisions.
The goal of every school improvement plan should be to reach every student. In order to accomplish this, school administrators and staff must focus on student learning and the best practices that they wish to see in their classrooms and implement these best practices at the professional level.

The Importance of Engaging in Courageous Conversations

As I was perusing through the readings for the first module of my PQP part 2 course, I was immediately drawn to the article titled, Engaging in Courageous Conversations. One of my areas of growth that I identified during the first PQP session was engaging in courageous conversations. From my prior experience as a math facilitator, I was able to engage in many courageous conversations that revolved around math instruction and the need to teach through inquiry and move toward student-centred mathematics. However, when initially working with staff it was very easy to tip-toe around issues involving delivering math instruction and avoid the discomfort of having a courageous conversation. By nature, I am not a person that likes conflict. I don’t think anyone really does but I found out very early and quickly in the first few weeks of math facilitation, that by being “that math guy” who had great resources and models a great 3 part lesson was not creating the necessary change that needed to happen in the math classrooms. The following quote from the article was very reflective of my first experiences as a math facilitator, “In the absence of courageous conversations, we may be able to put a veneer on the status quo, and effect change on the surface, but deep and lasting change will be virtually impossible.”

However, as I began to engage in courageous conversations with teachers about teaching math through problem solving, I realized that being the “math resource guy” and the modeller of 3 part lessons was a necessary scaffold in building trust and respect with teachers. Once that trust was established, our courageous conversations were able to focus on the students’ needs and improving achievement, engagement, and equity. Many conversations resulted in teachers taking intellectual risks and implementing an inquiry based approach to mathematics with a focus on student collaboration and creating a community of learners. However, some conversations led to agreeing to disagree. These are the situations where I feel that I need more growth.

It is easier to start courageous conversations with teaching colleagues than it is to continue courageous conversations when there is no resolution or agreement. However, after reading the article, I was reminded of the importance of going deeper than just looking at the behaviours and actions of teachers. It is equally important to investigate the reasons and beliefs behind their actions before making suggestions. Another important key learning that I took away from the reading was ability to listen to other’s views and be open to reciprocal influence.

Johan Galtung, a Norwegian mathematician and sociologist, is known for his ability to transcend conflicts and find what he refers to as the fifth way, or fivers. He recognizes that every conflict has five possible resolutions:

  1. I win. You lose.
  2. You win. I lose.
  3. The conflict is resolved by avoiding it completely.
  4. Compromise where all parties are dissatisfied.
  5. Transcendence where all parties feel like they win and resolution is above and beyond the problem.

I believe that courageous conversations involving two opposing views and beliefs can result in a fiver. Two colleagues may engage in a courageous conversation with conflicting beliefs but if both are open to learning and focus on the needs of the student, then there is likely to be an outcome that benefits all stakeholders involved. In order for a leader to be an effective change agent and put vision into action, engaging in courageous conversations must be a common practice once relational trust is established. I know that I will take away these key learnings and implement them as I move forward in my current role and engage in courageous conversations about learning in the 21st century.