Searching for JOY

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Hi Heather!
You may not remember this but I told you that I would let you know how things went with my hope to have JOY as a goal in our board improvement plan and about how we would try to get away from using EQAO scores as our indicators of success.
Well, it is summer now and I have had time to reflect a little about things and, as it’s a nice summery evening that invites reflective thinking, I’m putting some thoughts to paper to share with you.
First of all, please don’t worry if you don’t read all of this or remember our conversation …. the act of writing is enough for me.  Although I would value and treasure your input and/or feedback, I am not expecting it and it is not required.
Okay – that said – let me tell you about the process.  On our board improvement planning day in May we invited all of our school teams to come and share their progress for the year to date.  We wanted to model how that might be done so we had a video with examples of how we had met our chosen SEF indictors from the board improvement plan.  Then we talked about how our plan has evolved.  Two years ago it was about student engagement and voice and our focus was on student achievement as measured by EQAO.  Last year we still focused on student engagement and voice and still had EQAO as a main measure of success but we focused on teacher inquiry as a proxy for student inquiry and engagement.  This year we indicated that the EQAO scores seemed to be a deterrent to our goals.  We talked about the need to find JOY in learning, to focus on genuine, engaging, meaningful and authentic tasks as a goal.  We said that we wanted teachers to measure their success by looking at how much JOY was in the day’s learning.  We challenged teachers to focus on meeting students’ needs instead of trying to guess what needed to be covered in the primary/junior/grade 9/OSSLT testing.  We assured them that if at the end of everyday they could find JOY and say that they had done better than the day before they would be meeting the needs of their students and achieving excellence.
We talked about choice in learning and in following the bliss of inquiry (a la Daniel Pink et al) and we showed the Ted Talk video “Every Kid Needs a Champion” (http://www.ted.com/talks/rita_pierson_every_kid_needs_a_champion.html) by Rita Pierson.
The group was extremely receptive.
The conversations at the school tables ranged from talk about how to define JOY (not happiness, or getting your way – no all day recess) to how to link big ideas across the school so that the student journey would be coherent and make sense from their perspective.  One school vowed to bring students to their next school improvement plan meeting.  All of the schools pondered how they could make a difference by being a part of a student’s JOurneY.
Since I talked with you I’ve had input from many people about our idea.  Some have been skeptical and fear that teachers will “settle” for things that make them happy instead of looking for challenging work. Others have worried about how you can be accountable to JOY.  Our BIPSA team (from the Ministry – the ones who come twice a year) asked how we would monitor JOY as a goal.   My answer is always that we will use a variety of measures.  I see success as having more positive input and feedback from staff, students and parents about the work being done.  I hope to see fewer referrals to agencies about stress (for example).  I want there to be responses to our Tell Them From Me Survey about the boredom going down and the engagement going up.  I think it would be a success if our learning skill grades went up.
It is, of course, too early to tell if any of these things will occur.  One thing we are doing to help show that we are really serious about our goal of increasing JOY is to give more choice to our teachers.  We are going to have them choose their own Professional Learning topic and create inquiry around a topic that they are choosing.
Another way we’re trying to enhance our possibility of success is by making changes to the learning spaces in our schools and buildings.  We are creating collaborative spaces in learning commons areas and trying to rearrange office space at our Catholic Education Centre to encourage more collaborative work.
So far it has been a leap of faith and I feel like a cheer leader and preacher (an odd combination) but since it is so simple and so correct (in my mind) I am a willing proponent.  It brings me JOY to be thinking about how to make this happen so perhaps I am on the right track.
I wonder if JOY is the goal or the outcome but will try not to play with the semantics too much just yet.
I am going to turn this into a blog and let you know how it goes.
Meanwhile, thanks for your positive response when we met and discussed this in Thunder Bay.
Joyfully yours,
Mary
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