Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Building My Leadership Capacity

At the onset of 2009 I decided I wanted to build my leadership capacity. I had grown comfortable with teaching and wanted a new challenge. So, while I love teaching, I thought I would begin to explore the next level up. I told members of my school's executive team about my interest, and they found me some things I could begin working on to enhance my leadership skills. I also began a Graduate Certificate in Educational Leadership, which I hope to turn into a Masters at a later point in time. To begin with, it was like learning a new language - all the educational leadership theory was new to me. I'd never realised how much was involved!

Things really started making sense to me when I "won" (by default!) a temporary position acting in higher duties. Initially it was supposed to be for 4 weeks, but due to changing circumstances, it continued for two terms. What an opportunity! I was so excited by the new challenges and ran on nervous energy for a good few weeks. I set out to do whatever was required, take every opportunity, even if I'd never done it before. And let me tell you, I experienced a GREAT deal of first times. I hate first times. They were mostly successful, but they just take so much out of you. On the flip side, they DO make second times much easier!

At the end of the first term, I was still chomping at the bit - keen for more, so was very glad to have it extended further. I was developing my systems, becoming more confident, finding my own ways to contribute to the executive team. When I arrived at work on my 'exec day' I wrote myself a 'to-do' list and worked my way through it. As much as possible I tried to stay a little ahead of myself so that should anything unexpected arise I wouldn't find myself drowning.

Big Picture Perspective
One of the things I really loved about the experience was that it gave me a much better understanding of the 'big picture'. Most of the time I have an excellent understanding of what I am doing in my classroom and a considerable knowledge of what is going on across my year level. In terms of the rest of the school, or my school system, I only find things out as they become important to what I'm doing in the classroom. In the exec role, however, I gained a much better understanding of how everything ties together. I came to understand a lot more of the 'why' behind what we do and how the school runs.

Problem Solving
I loved the opportunities I had to sit down and discuss the big issues with members of the exec team. In particular, I enjoyed popping in on my acting Deputy Principal, who was also doing the Grad Cert, to share ideas and talk through some of the things we were working through. She was a great support to me, giving me guidance as I took my baby steps in leadership. I also enjoyed chatting with the other acting School Leader C (that was my role) about the things we were learning and how we were tackling things. I learnt a lot from watching her approach to things and can see some areas for my personal growth.

Connecting with Teachers
I also enjoyed getting to know teachers across the school. The nature of my varied roles this year meant that I ended up rubbing shoulders with every teacher in some capacity. I would like to build this further during future opportunities, because I didn't feel like I did this as well as I would like. I would like to support my teachers more and take time to check-in with them on how things are going.

One of my pet peeves this time was that it wasn't clear from the outset which teachers I would be writing supervisory reports for. I was given one teacher at the start of my time - for whom I feel I did a thorough job because I was aware of my responsibilities. But then another popped up about a week before the report was due, and then another at the end of the next term. The result of this was that I was writing reports for teachers I didn't actually have the opportunity to mentor or support. As I said, it was a pet peeve not a major issue of contention. I was able to write the reports based on informal observations and discussions I'd had with the teachers, but I just didn't feel I was providing them with the best learning opportunity that I could have provided.

I was a bit disappointed with how things went in terms of the projects that I was working on. I think that I may need to develop some assertiveness to ensure that my visions don't get steamrolled by others. There were also times when I felt that things may have gone a little off track. I'm still trying to determine the proper pace for introducing things - again coming back to assertiveness - in order to get the ball rolling, gain the momentum and interest of staff, but without overwhelming people.

My two big projects were the Enrichment Committee and Microsoft Peer Coaching (to include the introduction of laptop computers in Year 5/6). On the Enrichment Committee we did a lot of talking, planning and data collection. We didn't get to have a PD session for staff until Term 4, Week 8 - which at that point felt almost pointless. On the positive side, it sounds like the staff are all on board with the sort of thinking we're working through and are keen to get something started in 2010. I will probably work on some things during the holidays to springboard us into the new year.

As far as the Peer Coaching went, the laptops didn't arrive until the end of the year, and despite chasing it quite consistently, I wonder whether it would have made a difference if I'd gone up the ranks harder and faster. In terms of coaching teachers, I did bits where possible, but don't feel I really gave it enough attention. Most teachers were feeling overwhelmed trying to fit everything in as it was without adding additional pressure to integrate technology more. This is something I would like to continue to build further in 2010 regardless of whether I am on the executive team or not.

Reading and Editing Reports

Reading and Editing reports was a challenge, and possibly the closest I came to failing at something in my exec role. I had the stupid idea to 'track changes' in Word, and it proved difficult for some teachers to work with, and then also difficult when it came to printing. I also had some teachers argue for the wording that they had used rather than accepting my recommended changes, and I wasn't blunt enough to tell them that the words they used made them sound arrogant and judgemental. This wasn't in a lot of reports, but it did make me wonder who is SUPPOSED to have the final say when it comes to wording. Should I have been more assertive, or is it essentially up to the teacher to determine their choice of wording?

Extra bits
There were also lots of extra things that came into the role. I got to do quite a bit of data analysis looking at our NAPLAN results, ICAS results and School Satisfaction Surveys. This helped me to develop that big picture perspective and to consider the future direction of the school.
For the last few weeks I took charge of organising relief teachers (not too bad at this time of year).
I ran a few meetings and workshops for staff or parents on various things and became less nervous with this.
I did a little behaviour management - sorting out issues between students, and sometimes between students and teachers. I was quite happy with the approach I took to this - which while at times lengthy, seemed to help students to really resolve the issues.

All in all it was a great experience, but by the end of the school year, I was feeling drained. In hindsight, I wonder if it was the reports that broke my spirit, as I didn't seem to have the same energy or enthusiasm past that point. I'll learn from my mistakes this time and be better prepared next time. And maybe I'll just have to accept that this is one of the tougher parts of the job, and that I won't always please everyone!

So, what's ahead? I'm going to sit tight in my own school a little longer and continue to take up any leadership opportunities that come my way. At this stage that means more Microsoft Peer Coaching, more sitting on the School Board, more Enrichment, and contributing to the validation process through the School Improvement Cycle. There's enough there for this year even without the official title of School Leader C!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Year That Was - 2009

I've been doing lots of thinking about the year that I've had and the many things that filled it. It was possibly the most productive year I've ever had, but I don't feel I had time to really live and enjoy it. Here's what happened...

January - Enjoyed the holidays and joined the Twitter 365 Project group with Flickr. Unfortunately I couldn't keep it up for long once school started back! Started Tech Tips Tuesday and The Teaching K-6 Blog Carnival. Camped a night with my sister at the coast. Did lots of coast trips with my hubby and dog to put more kilometers on the car for our car lease!

February - Started school again, back where I feel challenged and inspired, and began teaching Year 4. Started a unit of work on the book Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda. Joined the School Board as a teacher representative. Organised Harmony Day Assembly.

March - Started my Graduate Certificate in Educational Leadership. Began mentoring an intern teacher.

April - Presented at the Edna Mini-conference. Went to my Nana's 90th Birthday in Gosford. Began using the Flip Mino and Blue Snowball microphone in the classroom. Began weeding on the Ridge.

May - Went to Sunshine Coast for Microsoft Innovative Schools Conference - presented during the unconference. Started an Integrated Inquiry unit of work on Australian History and a Literacy unit on the book New Gold Mountain by Christopher W. Cheong. Year 4 Camp to Warrumbui.

June - Prepared nomination for my school in the Excellence in Teaching Awards. Year 4 students performed Fairytale plays and Fife and Drum music for their parents. Went to Gosford with my Mum to visit my grandmother.

July - Began a higher duties role in my school which continued until the end of the year - this involved less time on class and more time working on school projects and planning/managing/mentoring etc. Began training in Microsoft Peer Coaching. Ordered and kept chasing laptops for the school (which didn't actually arrive until late November!) Year 4 visited the Ridge for more weeding and made the local paper.

August - Ran in the City to Surf road race in Sydney. Went to Pink's concert. Had my first go at geocaching. Presented at ATESOL workshop. Started Integrated Inquiry unit of work on Textiles and Design. Experimented with Cooperative Reading Groups in Literacy. The Showboating Showoffs began to learn creative dance which they later performed in an assembly.

September - Had an article published in EQ Australia. Worked on ABC 3 Promos using claymation and other video production. Year 4 excursion to the CSIRO. My class attempted geocaching for the first time. Returned to New York City for a couple of weeks holiday - enjoyed all the favourites yet again and caught up with friends. Ran in the New York Fifth Avenue Mile race.

October - Began an Integrated Inquiry unit of work on Space. Struggled through the rest of my uni studies. Trained our school's team for the GATEWAYS challenge. Bought Guitar Hero for XBOX 360 - great stress relief at the end of the day!

November - Collected and sorted data about enrichment programs at my school and presented these to staff and also to principals from my district. Year 4 excursion to Questacon. Went to a friend's wedding in Sydney.

December - My youngest brother got married. We drove to Melbourne to pick up an old fashioned bathtub to hold drinks for Christmas. Struggled through the last few weeks of school. My class did another geocaching adventure on the Ridge and helped our department's Learning Technology Support Officers to create a video about geocaching. Cleaned and cooked for Christmas lunch at our place.

I considered putting in links so that you could read more about these things, but realised that that would make for a lot of hyperlinks and would be annoying to read. Instead, if there's something you want to know more about, you can probably find it in the archived items for that month, or if it's a unit of work - in my Units of Work section.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Merry Christmas

I haven't been around in the blogosphere so much over the past few weeks. And I've felt a little guilty, but must say, I've enjoyed the break. I want to wish you all a Merry Christmas and thank you for your support during the year. It has been fun to share my ideas with you and to learn from your ideas and suggestions as well.

It has been a crazy, busy year for me. I think I ended up taking on a lot more than I initially intended. A number of times along the way, I said to myself, that I could only get through it all if I managed to stay healthy. And, stay healthy I did.

I think the last couple of weeks of school were tough emotionally and I struggled to keep it together until the end. I got to the end of each day and just felt drained. I found myself wondering why I had slogged away so hard through the year. One of my old youth group leaders (only 5 years older than me) died of a heart attack, which stopped me in my tracks a bit and made me question the direction of my life. I hate goodbyes and found myself wishing I'd had more time with my class. And then there was all the packing up and cleaning of the classroom. Ugh. So, at the end of all that, I needed a break and didn't have the emotional energy for blogging.

After the first weekend of holiday, I was already feeling SO much better. I read through some old high school diaries to reconnect with the me that was, and actually discovered I'm pretty happy with the me that is! It's strange how we only remember the good stuff from our past. The diary fixed that and reminded me of all the issues I had as a boy-crazy, nasty Year 9 student; and then later as a confused and frustrated Year 11 student uncertain of the future and desperate for answers. I must say (and it's embarrassing to admit it) I was quite hooked and couldn't put the books down DESPITE the fact that I already knew how things ended! I have about 15 of them still to go, but am avoiding them for the same reasons I avoid too much Twitter! I was reminded how lucky I am to have my husband and the life I have. I was also reminded that I've never really had things 'all worked out' and that I've always had my fair share of crazy ideas.

So anyway, I hope to be writing a little more frequently now that I'm having a bit of a break from normal work, but I'm trying to make the most of some time to relax and do other things I love as well - bike riding, painting, cooking, and reading. Looking forward to it!

Hope you enjoy any holidays that come your way at this time of year.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tech Tips Tuesday

This Week's Tip: Photo Fun
For some quick fun with photo effects, Photo Funia is the place to be. It's very easy to use and the kids LOVE it! Why not create a moon scene display board and get your students to put themselves in a spacesuit? Students can put their face on money, or wanted posters and see themselves as Jedi masters. I got a bit carried away with this, making myself a cupid, Mona Lisa, Marilyn Monroe and body builder. My students said: "Mrs Ryder, you seem to be having too much fun with this!"

Take a photo of all of your students in good light and save these to a location that is easy for students to access. (Files need to be less than 8MB). Ensure that the website is not blocked in your school.

  1. Students go to the website:
  2. They select the desired effect.
  3. THEY SELECT NOT TO HAVE THEIR PHOTO ADDED TO THE FACES SECTION OF THE WEBSITE (Some effects say this will not happen, others require students to tick the box).
  4. They choose the image they would like to upload and wait for their picture to be created.
  5. They then choose to save the image to an appropriate location (their folder).
  6. Students can then print the image from this folder or use the file in other multimedia products

Update: Please be warned that from time to time, inappropriate scenes may be included in the effects. Use at your own discretion.

Monday, December 7, 2009

11th Teaching K-6 Carnival

Welcome to the December edition of Teaching K-6 carnival. With Christmas just around the corner, teachers in Australia and New Zealand are getting more than their fair share of the silly season. Finishing the school year is tiring business - with Christmas concerts, graduation ceremonies, reports, Christmas crafts and the hustle-bustle to finish everything off in time. The summer heat doesn't help either as tired children feel tension in the friendships that have been so strong throughout the year.
There haven't been an overwhelming number of relevant posts this month, so enjoy this small sampling of delights. As you 'unwrap' this month's offerings, I hope you find some goodies to motivate and inspire.

Gripes and Brags

This month Sonja Stewart shares her frustrations about the state of education in US schools. In Where Have All the Students Gone? posted at Parenting Squad she wonders how her child is going to receive a world class education with only 15 days at school during the month of November. She questions the usefulness of half-days and their impact on student learning. Why not pop by and share your thoughts on the issue?

Following on from this, Edwin Choi presents Elementary School in Seventeen Easy Steps posted at K12 Directory of Schools Blog. These tips may be useful considerations for parents when determining the best place for their child's education. It always helps to know the philosophy of your child's school and what the school offers. This list may also help schools to identify those issues of greatest concern to parents. Edwin Choi also shares her list of The Top Ten Books for Preschoolers. These all time favourites would make great Christmas prizes or presents. Alternatively, they could be purchased for a fresh new library set at the start of 2010.

Wendy Piersall at Classroom Jr. shares free Christmas Math Worksheets saying, "These were a huge hit last year, so I wanted to share them with your readers early this year!"

Brain Strain

Tracy Rosen shares her thoughts from Alfie Kohn's QPAT speech in her post On de-rubricizing at Leading From The Heart. She questions our use of rubrics and goes so far as to call them 'creativity killers'. Rather than limiting students to a set of boxes in which they find a place to sit, she encourages us to lose the rubrics, but raise the bar.

Innovate - Beyond The Slate

In his post at Open Educator, Graham Wegner considers the term Digital Transition to describe the current state of his school - somewhere between a traditional paper based, non-digital classroom and the always on, 1:1 connected environment. Read his blog and consider your own situation and your progression within the 'digital transition'.

At NZ ICT Edublabberings you will find the must-read post from Rachel Boyd, For Kids, By Kids: Nelson Kids' ICT Expo. Here she shares the story (and videos) of the amazing things her 6-7 year old students are doing with ICT. Not only have they developed skills in the use of ICT, but they have also taken the initiative to share their knowledge with others. This a very inspiring post demonstrating what can be achieved with the right encouragement and opportunities.

Look No Further

Ferrari Dude presents Top 50 Bloggers to Help You Study, Focus and Learn Better posted at Best Online

Why not submit your post for the next carnival?

The Teaching K-6 Carnival is posted monthly on the 7th. I will be collecting submissions throughout the next month, looking in particular for posts that discuss and exemplify innovative teaching and the integration of technology in the K-6 classroom. I also invite some discussion around education related news articles and a few "brain strains" to keep our minds alert and challenged. Please submit only articles of which you are the author and refrain from using this merely as a sales pitch. For full details, please read my call for submissions.

If you have a relevant post that you would like to submit to the next edition of Teaching K-6 Carnival use our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

Support this Carnival

If you enjoyed this edition of the carnival, you can support its continuation by sharing it with others. Link to us, add us to a tweet, stumble or digg us. Thanks!

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tech Tips Tuesday

This Week's Tip - Look after your stuff!

I have been teaching for two weeks without my Smart Board. Why? Well... I failed on the basics of using technology in the classroom. My data projector was mounted under a skylight, which (it turns out) had been collecting and dumping leaves and dust down onto the projector. Some of this clutter burned its way into the optics of my data projector and the resulting image was a great big purple smear on one side of my Smart Board. I tried to use it like that for a couple of days, but it kinda got in the way!! So... my data projector was taken down and delivered (by us, to save on costs) to the repairman. Unfortunately, his estimate to fix it was $1000. We don't have that sort of money sitting around, so I think the job's on hold at the moment. And I'm feeling REALLY guilty for not having noticed that mess was falling down from the skylight.

So, this week's tip: If you're lucky enough to have an Interactive Whiteboard, treat your data projector with the utmost of respect.

As for me, there's only three more weeks to go for this year, so I'll try to live without the Smart Board. I'll borrow my teaching partner's space if I really need to use the Smart Board and go back to marker on a whiteboard for the rest!