Sunday, 21 February 2016

Collaboration and Leadership: Doing the Business of School

 “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” (Henry Ford)

Six years ago I had the amazing opportunity to open a new school in the community of Cranston.  It was a new community on the absolute opposite end of the city of Calgary from where I had lived for 15 years - I had never heard of the community before, nor had any idea how to drive to it! Over the past six years I have come to truly appreciate the value of collaboration - between teachers, support staff, parents, students, communities and the school system - because without the strength of collaboration, I don't think this school would be nearly as successful a learning centre as it has become. In fact, I know that it would not!

Today, I am contemplating the upcoming professional move I will be making to open another school, Eric Harvie School in the community of Tuscany. Although I am geographically more familiar with the location, the same challenges are clearly on the horizon - the need to build strong collaborative connections to ensure the successful launch of a new and exciting centre of learning. 

Doing the business of school means finding ways to bring everyone together with common goals and understanding of how we will work together to achieve these goals.  Engaging in open conversations without judgment will allow us to build confidence in each other and assist us to appreciate the importance of working together for the good of each other and the children who will learn in this new school. Flexibility will need to be paramount in our work - for every hard and fast answer we seek, there will be as many possible solutions to be considered carefully.  There must be - at all times - an all-encompassing, pervasive professionalism to ensure the pillars we build as fundamental are about the common good of all rather than the express needs of a few.  And - the real challenge - all questions and decisions must be completely grounded in one question: Is this what's best for kids?

Opening schools - and keeping them vibrant, focused, successful learning environments - is not work for the feint of heart. It requires a deep commitment to collaboration that must be unwavering - even when decisions need to be made that are not collectively supported but in the best interests of students, collaboration is still required to build appreciation of the decisions. Sometimes collaboration can be exhausting - just as frequently, it is exhilarating too. But without it, doing the business of school is pretty much impossible.

I have so appreciated the willingness of the Cranston stakeholders to collaborate even when it was not easy! The Cranston School story is one of success on so many levels - and the roadmap we have designed together links to the new roadmap we will generate for Eric Harvie School.  Yet another form of collaboration vital to doing the business of school.

Lorraine Kinsman, Principal 
Cranston School

Sunday, 14 February 2016

The Changing Face of School Communication

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”  (Buckminster Fuller)

Some days I feel rather young - while other days I marvel at how time has flown by and brought me to the 27th year of this teaching career!  So many many demands…so many questions…so much laughter…so many lives have touched and changed mine forever. I doubt I would even recognize the teacher I once was – nor those practices I thought were so enlightening for my students!

One thing that has remained constant is the need to communicate with our families, each other and the world.  This does not mean, however, that the ways in which we communicate have stayed the same – because they have evolved and morphed along with everything else educational over the past quarter century I’ve been thriving and learning inside the teaching profession.

No one can dispute technology has changed forever the strategies we use to communicate with each other – and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future – and well beyond!  Twelve short years ago I became a principal for the first time and the greatest event of the month in the office was the writing, editing and copying of the school newsletter to send home to parents. We prepared it on the computer to be sure (just imagine the days of Gestetner preparations and copying!!), but it still went home in the hands of the oldest child in each family to be either eagerly scanned for dates, events, information and announcements - or discarded as ‘more papers from school’.  We were excited when we could photocopy in colour until we discovered the astronomical costs associated with that particular new technology.  We tried to reduce the amount of copying and paper costs by reducing font size, realigning columns, using abbreviations and not repeating information from previous months. We refined calendar programs several times over a few years, seeking simpler, more compact versions that could hold a lot of information on a half page (if possible).  Sometimes the newsletter preparation took two or three days of a school secretary’s time (and a principal’s) as they struggled to get it out as near to the first of the month, and as error free as possible. I confess I do not have much nostalgia for those busy tasks!!

Today we rarely send home a hard copy of information at all.  The newsletter is in full colour, large font, contains considerably more information, photographs, links –even video on occasion – and lives on the school webpage.  Teachers keep classroom blogs announcing every detail any student or parent might need to know about daily school work, again living on the school website.  Special events, daily learning, ‘kodak moments’ are tweeted out several times a day. Weekly updates are emailed to remind parents of field trips, fun lunches and the myriad array of clubs, rehearsals, etc. that fill up the life of a school. Parents with questions send an email, or perhaps a message via Twitter. Students upload their work to their digital portfolio (on Iris, at Cranston School). A few students and teachers are accessing other forms of social media – such as Snapchat or Instagram – to send writing ideas, funny moments or questions to peers and teachers. Teachers tweet and retweet EdChats and new ideas, seek out, compose and share educational blogs and websites with each other. Emails are exchanged by the hundreds every day. Communication is more pervasive, detailed and immediate than ever – and it seems we have a lot to say to each other JJ

The technology we use to communicate with each other today is the most primitive digital communication we will interact with for the rest of our lives. That the world of technology is going to constantly evolve and change is a given – how we respond to these changes is a whole other story but there is no doubt the days of hard copy newsletters as a primary form of communication are a thing of the past (look for them to show up any day on Facebook under the ‘anyone remember these?’ headlines!).  Expect communication from and with school to be immediate, emergent and digital as your child’s educational career unfolds. And also expect that any format we use today may disappear altogether by next year!  Informed obsolescence as we all strive to stay connected in our digital world.

What is the fundamental that remains constant? Schools and families need to be connected, informed, sharing and working together to best meet the learning needs of children. It is this communication – despite the form – that continues to underpin teaching and learning regardless of the century in which we are living! And yet another critical piece of the leadership jigsaw puzzle.

Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Cranston School