Saturday, 5 December 2015

Leadership in Schools: Learning Spaces for All


"If you've told a child a thousand times and he still does not understand, then it is not the child who is the slow learner."
Walter Barbee

December 5 2015

Leadership in Schools: Learning Spaces for All -
Another piece of the jigsaw puzzle

        Way back in 2010, when Cranston School was an empty building still under construction, I had a unique opportunity as a principal contemplating a space that would soon be home to many young children.  I was able to come together in cooperative planning with five other principals also experiencing the same process, to envision learning spaces and how they could be used differently to optimize learning within a school in the Calgary Board of Education. Working with representatives from the CBE, we were able to explore new ideas in furniture, teaching environments and design concepts in quite deliberate and innovative ways. I was so privileged to work with fellow principals Jeff Hutton, Gail Landon, Sandra Levesque, Scott MacNeill and Jacquie Walsh - all innovative, risk-taking thinkers who constantly challenged my thinking and helped me envision a learning space at Cranston School that was significantly different than any I had taught in before.  It was in collaboration with these outstanding educators that I came to understand a critical piece of building a new school environment was the need to carefully consider how to create learning spaces in which all students could learn comfortably and to the best of their ability.

         I understood the impact classroom arrangements could have on student learning - as a teacher, I frequently changed room and desk arrangements, often pushed back desks and chairs to make room for projects and encouraged the students to re-arrange the room with me to best suit their learning needs several times throughout any given school year.  However, I had not encountered any design thinking about use of space to promote learning in any significant way so I was captivated by the thinking and research found in the book The Third Teacher (and companion website ).  Reading through the photo essays in this book connected me with many other space and design thinking websites and resources, and I began to realize this was a very special opportunity to create not just a school where teaching could be innovative but also a place where the very space we worked in each day promoted students to move, think, interact and explore learning in different ways.

          The thing about changing the way we use space and changing the furniture we place in schools is that it immediately invites something else. An awareness that things happening here can be out of the ordinary - the message is immediate and visceral - things could happen here that are different.  It's like opening a book expecting to find familiar images and instead encountering completely new possibilities. Children and adults enter the space and realize possibility lives here. There are no teacher desks because the learning is focused on the students. The learning commons hold books, technology, games, toys, puzzles on mobile carts and shelves.  Everything is on wheels and isexpected to be moved as needed. 

        From the beginning, the way we have furnished and used space at Cranston School has allowed our work with children to be viewed differently - we aren't just delivering curriculum - we are inviting students to learn and think in collaboration with others, while sitting and standing and sprawling and moving. We place resources differently, change the purposes and uses of rooms and tables and shelves, stand at tables, sit on dots, stools, sofas, balls and bean bags as frequently as we sit on chairs. Visually and spatially our school announces our learning is active and engaged.

        This is a piece of the leadership jigsaw puzzle I was not the least bit familiar with when I began the principalship of Cranston School.  It is a huge piece of preparing a school for a learning community that I was not even aware existed.  It is not enough just to have an inviting place to work - there is still so much thinking and planning and teaching to do - but without inviting and functional learning spaces for all, I now understand how much more challenging the job of meeting every child's learning needs can be.  

Lorraine Kinsman, Principal



Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Only those who will risk going too far
can possibly find out how far one can go.
T.S. Eliot

November 24 2015

Leadership in Schools: Finding the Edge Pieces of the Jigsaw Puzzle

I can remember the excitement as a child of beginning to assemble a giant jigsaw puzzle - finding all the 'edge' pieces was always the first job - and many of those puzzles I began with such lofty ambitions never made it past the 'frame' stage!  

Leading a school begins with knowing and understand the 'edge' pieces deeply as they begin to frame all the work that will happen with children who live within the pedagogical and philosophical framework of the school.  Although many of the edge pieces are often determined by public policy, governmental decision making and school board direction, there is always room for personal pedagogical and philosophical stances to fill out the remaining lines that will determine school direction, teacher professional development, student support and the climate of the learning environment. For me as a principal, understanding my own pedagogical and philosophical beliefs will support the interview processes and vision development work I will be engaging in with teachers as the new school year evolves.

For me, regardless of which school I belong to, my personal pedagogical beliefs and philosophical stance towards teaching underwrite all the work I do with teachers, students, parents and the community.  This includes a solid belief that every day in every way my work must be about students and making on-the-spot, informed decisions about what is best for each child.  This cannot happen unless I truly believe every child is a learner and will succeed to the best of his/her ability whenever possible - and it is up to the school (and me) to try and find they ways to make the 'possible' possible. I believe that students learn best - just as adults do - in the company of their peers.  That age is not a reflection of learning ability, level or what content should be explored.  Learning should not be constrained by the walls of a classroom or even a school - learning must be borderless and seamless for students to sustain curiosity and allow for ownership of investigating and exploring. I believe every student needs to know they have control of their learning in cooperation with their parents, teachers and peers. That questions matter more than answers and that opportunities to inquire and search for information is the most effective way to learn and understand new concepts. And I firmly believe the Arts - music, art, drama, dance, creativity in every form - is intrinsically linked to successful learning - as is daily physical activity and body movement.  

These are my 'edge pieces' that constrain and extend the puzzle that is school. They are essential for effective leadership from my perspective - but they are not the same for every leader and should not be. Every school grows around and within the needs of the community, the learners, the district directions, all framed and filtered through the edges of leadership, teacher and support staff commitments and beliefs. Together, we strive to listen, consider, compromise, stretch, re-consider and always commit to advancing the learning and opportunities for the children we teach.

Pedagogy and philosophy are personal yet global, both constrained and expansive, deeply held and constantly stretched - and without them a school will drift.  The edges of the puzzle are fundamental to the successful construction of the jigsaw that is school. 

Lorraine Kinsman 
Principal, Cranston School 

Monday, 19 October 2015

STUDENT LED LEARNING WALKS: Sharing Learning in Context

“As educators, we know that student engagement, achievement and well-being flourish when students, staff and parents share a common understanding of learning goals and related success criteria…” Growing Success, 2010

STUDENT LED LEARNING WALKS: Sharing Learning in Context

This week we will host our first two STUDENT LED LEARNING WALKS (SLLWs) on Wednesday and Thursday evenings.  A strategy for sharing learning in context that has roots in Manitoba, I first encountered this idea when I met Principal Mirella Rossi from Precious Blood Elementary School in Toronto in February, 2014 at the Learning Partnership’s Outstanding Principals Conference.  The idea intrigued me – to transform curriculum from “words and expectations to tangible samples of students’ understandings and learning” and facilitate discussions “with our families about what our students are engaged in” (M. Rossi, ‘Principal Connections”, Winter 2013).  We’ve been considering the possibilities as a staff over the past several months and in June of 2015 made a commitment to engage our families in this less formal, learning celebration strategy for the 2015-16 school year.

The flexibility SLLWs afford a school is one of the most intriguing features. As we explored the intentionality of the strategy, we teased out the basic premise as being an opportunity to help parents understand there is a ‘flow’ to learning and provide students with opportunities to discuss learning across the school with their parents through student eyes –as well as an opportunity to open up what happens in classrooms to students and parents without attaching an evaluative perspective while sustaining strong connections to the provincial Programs of Study.  It is not about how a particular student is performing in relation to expectations of achievement but rather about the work they are engaging in from Kindergarten – Grade 4 that is grounded in the expectations of the Programs of Study.  Not evaluative as in meeting expectations but definitely formative as in ‘here is what I’m working on and how I am using skills and strategies that engage my thinking’. It’s a whole new way of thinking and approaching the sharing of student experiences from a teacher perspective as well, and we have wrestled with our own preconceptions and understandings while forming plans to spotlight daily student work.

What will parents see when they attend our SLLW evenings?  Their first encounter will be with a document board featuring Program of Studies’ goals for writing to represent and communicate understanding from Kindergarten to Grade 4. No exemplars (this is not about evaluation but rather about the learning journey) but a clear and distinct connection to the competencies and outcomes that guide all learning in Alberta schools. The SLLWs will be centered in our school gymnasium and parents will, with their children, walk through displays of current student work in chronological order beginning with Kindergarten and ending with Grade 4.  Although teachers will be present both evenings, it is the students who will do the guiding and talking as they perceive the work from a child’s perspective.

This is an innovative experience for parents – to see what students across the grade levels are actually doing day-to-day related to writing to communicate and represent ideas.  It is also a unique experience for children to see other students work as well as their own, and to speak to the work rather than strictly to their own success in the work.  Understanding the depth and breadth of classroom engagements is an area we have not always been able to adequately share with parents and the SLLWs offer all of us a fresh way to understand and discuss learning as it is truly lived out on the school landscape.

We are looking forward to this exciting new opportunity to share student experiences with parents and engage our community with the amazing work our students expend tremendous effort into every day!  Thank you, Mirella Rossi, for sparking our thinking in new directions – another strong example of how connecting with a wide professional learning network enhances the daily work of schools across Canada JJ

Lorraine Kinsman, Principal

Cranston School

Sunday, 4 October 2015

first post

hello world
"Do the best you can until you know better.  Then, when you know better, do better." Maya Angelou

October 2, 2015

Today,  600+  Kindergarten - Grade 4 Cranston School students, sang, danced and ran with unbridled enthusiasm in the annual Terry Fox Run – like so many other students across Canada.  Part of the fabric of being a Canadian school and of our Canadian heritage, one might say. At Cranston School, the annual Terry Fox Run is also proudly part of the fabric of Peace Education. In fact, EVERYTHING we do is connected to Peace Education.

Today, a parent commented to me about our school wings being named ‘Peace, Hope and Harmony’.  “When we first came here," she said, "I thought that was such a trite thing to do. But now I get it – the names mean something to the children.”  Our students live and work every day in Peace, Hope and Harmony – EVERYTHING we do is connected to Peace Education.

So much is written about bullying, lack of empathy, apathy amongst children. Adults wonder whether it is exposure to television programming, too much 'screen time' on technology, lack of engagement in sports, religion, the community - why is there so much bullying and hurtfulness in schools? Millions of dollars - possibly billions - are spent each year on anti-bullying programs, self-esteem projects, websites and videos to promote strategies for improving relationships in school. From my perspective and experience, there is one simple way to interrupt this negativity - ensure peace education is a part of all we do and say in schools.

 Peace Education is not a program but a way of living on the landscape at Cranston School. We do not have an anti-bullying program, for example, but when an incident of bullying happens, we build awareness with the students around why these behaviours hurt others and find ways to ‘make it better’.  The beginning of the resolution of every incident begins with the questions “How does this help build a peaceful community? What do you need to do differently next time? Why? What does that look and sound like?” with the students involved. Simply and consistently, these questions change the way our students treat each other and the world - with the result that we have remarkably few negative incidents. Our students live and breathe concepts of peace every day in every way.

Each school year, Peace Education looks a little different than it did the year before as teachers and students respond to the world. This year it includes the 'Student Vote' initiative, while last year students were focused on the ‘Right to Play’ initiative. Every year includes experiences with the Roots of Empathy program, ‘peace’ literature, Pinwheels for Peace on September 21 - International Peace Day, student art sales that support the Darajani Primary School in Tanga, Tanzania, helping families across the city with our seasonal 'Families Helping Families' project, learning to play cooperatively across the age groups on our school grounds, and other project small and large that make a difference in the way our student see and live in the world. There are no rules – just teachers, students and parents committed to making the world a better place. For example, this year we are piloting the introduction of a 'Puppy Pals Reading Program' where students can have the opportunity to read with a canine pal as a way of coping with some of life's most challenging childhood stresses. A new program researched, proposed and organized by one of our teachers that acknowledges not all of us have to encounter the world in the same way to be accepted and successful. 

I've been committed to Peace Education in the schools where I've been Principal for twelve years and have been amazed at how this simple commitment to teaching what peace means, looks like and sounds like can change the culture of a school and of a community. There are no rules to follow and the programs and ideas we decide to support or offer come from suggestions within the school community. It is such a simple way to change thinking - put peace on the table whenever possible and students will find a way to make it happen. Perhaps even more importantly, they will take these simple lessons with them into their futures and continue to shape a caring, kind and accepting society for Canada - similar to the impact a young Terry Fox once had upon our country. And what more could anyone ask of Canadian schools and students?

Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Cranston School