My Inquiry Project – Part 1 The Question

Recently the Leadership Team at School District 48 Sea to Sky has embarked on a powerful new journey. We are creating individual inquiry projects that we will work on and then present at the end of the year. After two collaborative sessions, my inquiry question has been proposed, tweaked, scrapped, reinvented, the tweaked again. I think I have it now:

If we use Collaborative Problem Solving Strategies at our school, will it decrease the maladaptive behaviours to stressful situations for our students?

Collaborative Problem Solving is a way of doing business in a school that believes that kids do well if they can. In our alternative program, were have just begun exploring these ideas, proposed by Ross Greene (See my post: I’m a kids do well if they can guy.) The idea behind my question is that if we work proactively with students on their unsolved problems, will that work reduce the amount of maladaptive behaviours that get in the of students doing well (socially, emotionally and cognitively.)

The next step in my inquiry project is I need to determine what kinds of evidence I can collect that will help me answer my inquiry question. How or what can I use as evidence that using these strategies are reducing maladaptive behaviours? Leave a comment below or tweet me @rmass if you have any input or ideas.

We Wanted To Be a Thinking School

I went to a great elementary school in Richmond BC, it’s called Westwind Elementary.

The teachers there were really progressive, and I remember everything we did involved community building, cooperative learning and project based learning. This is back in the mid-eighties, when I was in grade 5 and rockin’ a hockey hair mullet and dressing up like Crocket and Tubbs was cool. The staff there were ahead of their time, and I look back at those formative years as a real cornerstone of my desire to always be a learner.

Recently I was lucky to run into one of the teachers from the Westwind staff at Edcamp leadership BC, in Delta. Mr. Ayres was a young teacher back then, and I remember he taught grade 4-5 and I remember him being really tall. When I ran into him this past weekend, he was more mature, and he didn’t seem as tall and he asked me to call him Garnet. He is now a Deputy Superintendent and in pursuit of his own life long learning, was attending Edcamp on a Saturday.

We spoke briefly after the intro session, and although our conversation was short, many things that he shared about the Westwind days deeply inspired me as a educational leader. He said:

The teachers were lead by an inspirational Principal, Mrs. Chiba, who was a different kind of Principal.

The teachers used to sit around in the staff room after school and share their graphic organizers, “look at this one, look what this kid did with this one, how could I use that one?”

The teachers at our school were passionate about learning.

You know how some school are “reading schools,” we wanted to be a “thinking school.”

Thanks Garnet, for being part of a progressive staff, lead by an innovative leader, in pursuit of teaching kids how to think.

ps. Thanks to Mrs. Oldfield , my grade 5 and grade 6 teacher, for teaching me to learn about things I am passionate about, I was lucky to be one of your students, RIP.

Students should make pots for people who need pots

Since the days of my teacher training, I’ve been a fan of John Dewey. John Dewey believed that education should be experiential. That is, educational should be real and authentic. Students should not read from a book about how to make pots, they should  actually sit at a wheel and make pots! At my school, I see my staff trying to create opportunities for our students to make pots daily.

This weekend I came across the following video, and it challenged me to take my learning and thinking about Dewey’s work a little further.

Freire and Holt’s work add a social purpose to learning. If people are learning to make pots by actually making pots that’s great, but, maybe even better is making pots for people that actually need pots. This will most likely improve the quality of your learning because now the pots have a purpose. They are for something. It naturally leads the learners to think critically and to go deeper in their learning.  “What kind of pots do they need? What are the pots for? What are the best materials to use? What are the resources available?”

With our learners we should always strive to create tasks that are based on real problems. Then, together, with our learners, we can explore, think critically about, and create meaningful projects and solutions to problems that actually need to be solved.

Lets go make pots for people who actually need pots.

Aboriginal Learners and Motivation

Recently I was a part of an introductory meeting for my district’s Aboriginal Enhancement Agreement Committee, and the theme: “how do we motivate our Aboriginal students?” came up again and again.

This theme assumes that this group of students are skills yes, motivation no. That is: they can do it, they just don’t want to.  This puts us in the “motivation business.” Now we need to come up with a suite of motivational strategies to get them to be successful. We will create and apply incentives and punishments to motivate them to do what they need to do.

What if we are wrong? What if these learners are skills no, motivation yes? That is: they lack the skills to do it, so they can’t do it.  Now our role just changed, we are now in the “problem solving business.”   We can work with each individual to find out what the missing skill or unsolved problem is and get to work on fixing it. Once the student has the skills they will do well because they are already motivated to do well.  This is collaborative problem solving, where we do things with students instead of doing things to them.

I’m a kids do well if they can guy. I believe that all people are motivated to do well. Nobody gets up in the morning and thinks to themselves “I want to do poorly today.”  There is usually a lacking skill or unsolved problem that is getting in the way of people doing well.  Our job is to work with the learner to dig down and find the unsolved problem and then get to work on fixing it, together.

If these ideas pique your interest, go to Ross Greene’s Lives in the Balance website for more information about kids do well if they can.

Freelancer or Entrepreneur?

I must admit that I love idea man Seth Godin. In the reading and learning I do regularly online, he is one of my favourite writers. Even though he relates his ideas mainly to business, he has helped me see leadership, organizations, innovation and human behaviour though new and exciting lenses. Using these new lenses, I am able to look at and reflect upon my own practice at school and they have provided me with many “aha” moments.

Recently, Seth has started a podcast series of a session that he did with some start-up companies. It is been posted here weekly on earwolf. In the first session, Seth talks about the importance of understanding if you are a freelancer or an entrepreneur. This made me think about being a school principal and myself as a leader, are we freelancers or entrepreneurs?

A freelancer is someone who does work and then gets paid for it. Every time we as leaders are doing things that we are the only ones doing we are freelancers. It is very important to be a freelancer when you are trying to create innovations for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, because you need to truly understand the innovation. George Couros talked about this in the first Leadership 2.0 session. He knew a digital portfolio would be beneficial for all learners in his district, but first he had to have his own digital portfolio so that he could truly understand and explain the benefits and pitfalls to others.  Secondly, it is important because we as leaders need to model the risks you have to take to innovate. This reminds me of when one of my educational leadership teachers taught me that if you want teachers to truly collaborate on improving instruction, you must be the first to volunteer to have a colleague observe your lesson and give you feedback.

An entrepreneur is someone who creates something bigger than themselves. These leaders create systems that can scale, so that even if they left the organization, it would sustain itself and hopefully continue to grow. Every time we as leaders are building structures that create sustainability in our schools we are entrepreneurs.  It is very important to be an entrepreneur when you are trying to sustain innovations.  A good example of this was explained by Jeff Delp in the second Leadership 2.0 session. He talked about how his school created a core values document, that describes how they foster positive relationships in their community.  Leaders who facilitate the building of cultural norms, visions and/or missions based on shared values are truly entrepreneurs creating something that is bigger than themselves.

I call Seth an ideas man not just because he is full of ideas but also because he causes me to have new ideas as well. Here I have learned that we as Principals need to be freelancers when we want to lead a new innovation and entrepreneurs when we want to create systems that sustain changes that are important beyond our term as leader.