All posts by wilsonteacher

The Power of Teams

With three weeks under my belt, I am really starting to get a good feel for the pulse of Marathon High School. There are many, many good things that happen within the walls of this school, but the strength of teamwork really stands out.

It is perhaps cliché that I am choosing to write about teams and teamwork, but the truth is that without the work of many different teams the school would cease to function. For a long time, Ontario’s Ministry of Education has included Promoting Collaborative Learning Cultures as a core capacity within Ontario’s Leadership Framework. From a pedagogical standpoint, it’s hard to argue against the positive impact teamwork has on student achievement and well-being. I could go on-and-on about all of the research available on the topic. There’s even this handy little chart that summarizes all of this, (in case anyone was in disagreement with the obvious)

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Screen-Shot-2019-09-15-at-6.03.42-PM.png
From Ideas Into Action: Promoting Collaborative Learning Cultures. Ontario, 2013.

Instead, I want to write about the more immediate and practical value of teamwork that I have seen in the last three weeks at Marathon High School, like the “Open Gym” every morning and during lunch. A staff member, (usually the Child and Youth Worker but sometimes me) opens the gym and many, many students flood in for pickup basketball, volleyball drills, chin-ups, or just hanging out. The open gym environment provides visible evidence of the supportive, active, and energetic value of teams. Community volunteers sometimes show up to help with these open gyms and other student-centred initiates. It’s truly a thing of beauty. There are also the volunteer members and advisors of the Marathon High School Student Council who braved sheets of stinging rain and torrential winds to barbecue hot dogs and hamburgers for a free Welcome Back lunch. The power of teamwork is alive in our school’s Student Success Team, a roundtable of sorts with the goal of providing interventions and actions to support students at risk. Without the team coming together, it would be far more difficult to provide such individualized support for students.

As a Principal, it might be easy for me to be isolated, but I know that I can count on my team to make sure I’m not alone. The school’s Learning Leads have provided excellent insight into how we might provide instructional leadership for our staff. The federation groups, (including the OSSTF Teacher/Occasional Teacher Branch President), the In-School Staffing Committee, and their district counterparts have also proven to be valuable parts of my team, providing me with insight and a different perspective. Finally, other principals have been instrumental in ensuring that I’m not just aimlessly piecing this job together.

Teamwork is, of course, not automatic. It has to be fostered through good relationships, clear communication, and a whole lot of trust. These things are very, very important to me and my hope is that we have a team that is strong enough to weather even the most challenging of storms.

This week, I will be putting together the base of our School Learning Plan. My plan is to focus on the work of the Critical Thinking Consortium, but this will only be successful if I can get buy-in from the team. That isn’t automatic, either. So, there lies my goal: convincing my team that the work is worthwhile, that it will positively affect student learning and well-being, and that it will strengthen our school. Sounds easy, right?



Reflecting on Week One

The first week has come and gone! The significance of the role – and especially holding the role in my old high school school – has not been lost on me. It’s been a wonderful week in the halls of the school. It has been a week of successes, challenges, tough conversations, long days, many emotions, and constant thinking about my practice. The biggest success has been developing relationships with colleagues and students. I am really trying to further develop a Growth Mindset to paint challenges in a different light – and there have been some big challenges.

I didn’t have a teacher for a number of courses on the first day. This is pretty common at the start of the year but it can still be an organizational nightmare. Luckily, we have some amazing occasional teachers, but the responsibility lies on me for planning and, in certain cases, instruction. However, I took this as a positive. I like planning – and I also love being at the front of a room, (which is largely why I became a teacher in the first place) so I seized the opportunity to drop the administrative responsibilities and head into the classroom. It was awesome! This challenge gave me the opportunity to get to know some students, return to the classroom, and help teachers, so it suddenly became something to celebrate.

The other challenge I faced this week was a bad case of Imposter Syndrome.

Now, I’m sure some people would keep such challenges to themselves, I think it’s important to be honest about our vulnerabilities. Midway through the week, while drowning in an endless number of emails, phone calls, to-do lists, staff issues, and the overwhelming sense that I wasn’t being visible enough in the school, a little voice in my head started to question my own professional competency. I knew what was going on, but it was still tough. Luckily, I have excellent support, (Senior Administrators who provide support, Principal colleagues who provide an ear and ideas, and of course the knowledge that Rome wasn’t built in a day) and I know that the first week(s) aren’t the same as the rest of the year.

While reflecting on challenges is extremely important, I know that I also have to focus on the successes – and there have been some good ones, but as a teacher in the school said to me, “nothing really that great has happened yet. The best days are yet to come.” Of course he is more than right. If the great things have already happened, the 191 school days remaining in the year are going to be long ones!

In the meantime, I am going to rethink how I structure my day to ensure I’m out of my office and in the school meeting kids, supporting staff, and moving people along as often as possible. I will learn which emails and messages demand my immediate attention and which ones can wait. As I get to know the school and its needs, I will apply my vision about individualized, student-centred learning, the fostering of respect, and the importance of relationships to the needs of the school, and have a better sense of direction. It’s only been the first week and I need to remember that.

Keeping the Batteries Charged

It’s the evening before the First Day of School – my 14th as an educator and my 34th overall. Each year brings a list of challenges and triumphs and by June, I’m usually pretty exhausted and very grateful for a summer break. This year, with a new school and a new position, I’ve been more excited than usual. However, the last two weeks have been very, very busy. I have been in-and-out of the school numerous times, unpacking my office, meeting staff, and preparing materials for our First Day Professional Development sessions. There have been dozens of emails regarding plant department and contractors, engagement with our board’s Multi-Year Strategic Plan, reminders about budgeting items, health and safety issues, staffing…. that list goes on, and on, and on. The paperwork has already started to pile up, too – despite every effort to mitigate Messy Desk Syndrome.

There has also been an excitement in the building. The enthusiasm in people’s voices as they prepare for the new year is awesome and it’s one of the things that recharges my own batteries. This is important to me because I know that once the year starts, my batteries will be under constant strain. It’s a reality of the job; our schools are busy and the needs of students, colleagues, parents, and the community are genuine. The days can be long and the reality is that the Office can be an isolated place. A reflection I made last year was the need to escape that isolation and get out into the school. Paperwork and reports are important, but being visible in the school is (in my opinion) way more important. It’s easy to drown under that messy desk but it’s important to prioritize and ensure the batteries are at a healthy level. So, with that in mind, some goals:

  • I will be in the halls and in classrooms every day. I was pretty successful with this last year at B.A. Parker, but I am not sure what this goal will look like this year.
  • Building relationships with others will remain my highest priority. I can’t help talking to people so this will hopefully come naturally.
  • Gonna (and gotta) keep moving. Walking halls, climbing stairs, and visiting the gym have to be key parts of my daily routine
  • Writing, reflecting, and sharing (like I’m doing now) will keep me in a good place

We’ll see how well I meet these goals as the first days, weeks, and months pass – but I am forever an optimist!

Best wishes to everyone for a very successful 2019-2020 school year!