We (as a board) have been working on the idea of having people be leaders (lynchpins) in their own work lives. We have been integrating leadership with engagement. And as we do, voice and choice keep bubbling up to the top of our collective consciousness.
So, I thought I would like to try to track a little of the journey so far. Some of this is repetition but it is necessary for me to put it all in perspective, so repeat it is.
Okay, first of all came our view of our board improvement process. A few years ago we decided that we needed to have the board improvement plan spring from the school improvement plans. We asked all of the schools to think about what they knew about their students and their current learning situation and to create a plan to improve based on the data they had. Then we brought all of the teams together and shared what we knew. This led us to create a board level plan. We had one goal that first year. We were all going to focus on writing and we were using EQAO as a measure of our overall success.
This was the germ of the idea that the leadership of our board lay not at the top (at the board level) but at the school level where the everyday work touched the student desk – IS the student desk! This started us on our way.
The process evolved over the years and has been refined and massaged but the premise is always the same. We look to the classroom to direct the business of improvement. The board facilitates the overall direction and makes sure that the connection to the province is clear and can be followed.
The need for supportive structures became clear as we moved forward. We needed to be able to ensure that we were converging and that we were all working on a focus together even though we had individual needs within that area. We needed to find more ways to build choice and voice in to our work for our staff and students.
So, two things happened this fall. First we disconnected from EQAO as our target for improvement and asked teachers to look for true JOY in learning. We were trying to validate the good work that teachers are doing and find ways to measure it and ensure that it continues to meet the needs of all of our learners. Engagement, quality assignments, relevance and meaning became the criteria for success. JOY became a measure. (“Did you see JOY in your work today? Did your students see it? If so, do more of what you did today. Connect with students. Share their awe, wonder and joy in learning and good things will happen.”)
Secondly, we asked teachers to choose their own professional learning community based on the needs they could see in their students. We provided 35 topics based on the needs identified by common assessments we use, through a teacher survey, through focus groups with students, and from current (Ministry and other) research. We asked staff to choose which topic met the needs they saw in their work and to do an inquiry PLC based on this topic. We gave them choice and then we also gave them voice by letting each group run their own inquiry base on the needs of the group. (We gave each group a common session on how to develop and choose an inquiry question and how to move forward on it. We stay in touch each session and try to provide “just in time learning” based on the needs they identify. Other than that, we try and let each group move forward on its own.)
Then we had a new thing occur. Some of our system level staff went out to actively encourage staff to do a TLLP submission this year. We had none for this school year and so we thought we would try and turn that around. We talked to people, tapped them on the shoulder to see if they were interested and then listened to their ideas. We helped them develop their plans and then we waited. We had a record number of teachers put forth TLLP plans. But better than that, we learned that our staff wanted to be heard about the ideas that they had.
So, now, we are at the middle of the year and we find out we have CODE money coming for the 21st century projects. So, it is late in the year for something new. We are thinking that we could use the money to do projects we already have under way and just enhance them. It could be easy. It could be a relief from the stress of finding money for projects. Instead, we decide that we are going to ask staff and students what they would like to do. We sent out a communication asking for ideas that fit the criteria of the money from CODE and asked for a “2 minute pitch” in order to get a chance to bring to life an idea that they had. We would fund up to $15000.00 per idea, support the process and make sure that it fit the criteria of the project as well as the overall board direction.
It was GENIUS! We had 22 groups present their pitches even though they had less than two weeks to prepare. Three of the pitches involved students – one of them was totally directed by a grade 5/6 class. Several of the pitches were done by phone and/or video. All of them were brilliant. None of them were about money grabs or attempts to get technological equipment for themselves. All of them were about our board priorities. We found out that the goals of the board are more ingrained than we had realized. The projects followed themes that fit our directions. This was not because we told them to do this or because they talked to each other first. These groups were collaborative among themselves but there was not time to be collaborative across projects. The themes are real themes that organically sprouted in the pitches and reflect the things we have been trying to say for the last few years. (Eureka!)
It was humbling to see that we have people who are trying to form TRIBES (a la Seth Godin) and who are willing to do extra work to make their ideas (dreams) into reality. (Or to put it another way – we have leaders at all levels!) We previously had no way of allowing this power of the individual to come out. We thought we were hearing it through the School Improvement Teams but there were people who were not connected to that group but who had ideas. They told us they loved being heard. They told us that even though the 2 minute pitch was like the Dragon’s Den and terrifying, it was exhilarating and worth it. They are excited to get started.
So, now we have to build on this and find the best way to support and grow these ideas. It is an amazing place to be.