Some flames scar and others allow me to bask in their warmth.

Lana often reminds us that “from fire comes light” and I find this reassuring when voicing an opinion that is different to some of the dominant voices. Knowing it’s okay to question and disagree is like having a fire extinguisher on hand when the flames get too fierce. But sometimes I feel burned by that fire and this makes me question my role and my ideas in both positive and negative ways. Sometimes the burn is a first degree and I recover quickly. But some burns are third degree which leave lifelong scars. Some scars have changed me for the better. Some scars have made me feel unsafe around fire.

Some fires are so fast moving they leave little time to prepare and respond, consuming everything in it’s path, from which some never fully recover.
Other fires are slow burning and productive, clearing out the undergrowth, making space for regeneration.

My wonderings this week are:
How do I respond to the flames that give 3rd degree burns?
How do I respond to the toxic smoke that I feel is choking me at times?
Do I distance myself from the fire completely?
How do I develop fire resistant skin?
Am I too sensitive? Should I care less?
What’s my role when the fires are burning?

Some fire-starters think I’m trying to put the fire out. That’s not my intention at all. My instinct is to assess the ferocity of the flames and prevent third degree burns for myself and others. I know sometimes I do bring too big an extinguisher and then I realise the fire is being contained in other ways and put it away.

Some flames scar and others allow me to bask in their warmth.

Managing the tipping point (part 2) without losing sight of what’s important…

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It gives me great pleasure to support our curriculum leaders and teachers to achieve our goal of “Using data to inform teaching and enhance learning”. Our latest PD looked at ways to gather data using the “now literacies” of twitter, back channeling and blogs, to name a few. Our curriculum leaders are big ideas people and know other big ideas people so our PD was of exceptional quality. Thanks, @whatedsaid and @langwitches. Each teacher will have got something out of the sessions- depending on their entry point. And based on their responses over the week, I feel they will be able to take the next steps through the sharing and collaboration process that has started to happen from this PD. But more so if leaders in our school manage the tipping point by looking out for and recognising the signs. Even better would be to avoid going over the tipping point altogether by giving the time needed.

I feel that teachers now need time to process and practice what they have learned in this recent PD where for some a big shift in their thinking has started. In our various leadership roles we now need to give teachers the time, space and support to do so without tipping the scales to the point where they feel overwhelmed and stressed and stretched too thin. Sam Sherrat (and others) have stressed the practise of giving time to the things we value. We have got much better at this at our school, but sometimes we can get so enthusiastically caught up in what’s happening that we lose sight of the what else is happening for our teachers. The last two weeks of term are going to be super busy with annual school events in addition to the regular meaningful stuff that needs to get done.

Looking ahead what does our time budget need to allow for?:
*Next term there are Parent Teacher Conference nights at the start of term.
*We are also introducing a new report format to all and this needs some facilitation.
*And we are in the final step of shifting to creating digital portfolios for and of student learning, which for some teachers means big changes.
*Every unit in maths and units of inquiry is new to our new teachers and our inquiry pedagogy is brand new to some.
*Each year level team has at least one new staff member and so are still adjusting to the new dynamics that come with that.
*In addition, teachers are supporting the social and emotional well-being of their students and needing to communicate with parents and do the usual daily essentials.
*In their efforts to lead balanced lives we encourage our teachers to look after their own well-being and our Learning Team Leaders to also look out for their teams’ well-being.

This week I felt it was timely to remind our leaders that if we create the time for ongoing discussions and sharing, more people will be more inclined to take action and embed great practise as a result.

How can we create time to maintain the momentum started in our PD?
*Maybe LTLs can set aside 10 minutes regularly for reading and maybe leaving a comment on our shared teachers “Pictures of Practice” blog or http://www.langwitches.org/blog or whatedsaid.wordpress.com or any other blog teachers have found relevant and engaging.
*I could set aside times in a morning briefing for teachers to briefly share the next step in their journey or a blogpost they have read which has influenced their practice.
*The “now literacies” and the skills needed for embedding them in our teaching and learning practise could be revisited in future PD sessions.
*I welcome more suggestions.

Our teachers want to be the best they can be but we need to set them up for success. By the end of last week some felt close to their tipping point. Excited but also pressured. Tension is good but too much and it can become counter productive.

What ways do you have for managing the tipping point and creating time for your teachers?

Managing the tipping point (part 1) without losing sight of what’s important…

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The end of Term 1 is nearing and there is a lot happening for our teachers. All teachers are time poor. Managing the tipping point between flourishing and being overwhelmed is tricky because the tipping point is different for everyone. Sometimes the timing of priorities collide and this can tip the scales. We reached this point late this week and I ended up going against my better judgement in an effort to keep the scales balanced. I realised immediately that although I was keeping the scales balanced, it would only be a short term gain. The cost could end up being too high for some teachers and in my role, I need to ensure this is not the case where possible.

Let me set the scene…

This week our teachers have been immersed in professional learning under the guidance of Silvia Tolisano (@langwitches), a visiting expert. It’s been an inspirational few days and a busy time too as teachers have moved between teaching, meetings, professional development and wanting to implement their learning, blogging, duties, enrichment activities, replying to emails, etc. The tension has in fact been building over the last couple of weeks. By mid week, I realised (as did others) that the tipping point had been reached for some and was drawing nearer for others. I wondered what I could do to support teachers without disempowering them. In briefing on Thursday (and in one on one conversations with a few teachers), I expressed my understanding of the additional time pressure they are all under at the moment. I offered to teach their classes to free up time for them to communicate with their students’ parents and catch up on other professional responsibilities without feeling they were losing teaching and learning time with their students.

This was well received by some. A few felt this was placing additional pressure on them to fit this all in before the end of term.

Later on Thursday, I followed my Deputy Principal’s advice (who, in turn, recognised that some teachers were feeling overwhelmed) and I sent an email explaining that teachers do not need to contact all parents and to use their discretion as to who needs to be called. This did not sit comfortably with me and (as I explained to our Deputy Principal later:-)) I should not have done this as this is not setting teachers up for success in their ongoing relationship with all parents. He agreed with me. Following two separate conversations re this matter with parents on Friday (one was sharing how happy she was with her child’s teacher’s communication and the other was voicing exactly the opposite as she had not heard directly from her child’s General Studies teacher since Parent Orientation night) I decided it was in our best interests to explain why it is to their benefit to contact all parents this term. I did this via email to ensure clear communication to all concerned and time for teachers to process its content.

I reminded them of the following in what I hope is perceived as a supportive tone: Contacting all parents in our home class and number classes once (unless needs require more contact) every term is an expectation and something we do practise in our primary school. Parents expect to find out how their child has transitioned from one year level to another or one number group to another- they want to know if their child is happy and is learning. Parents want to know that their child’s class teacher cares about and understands the needs of their child. This is a reasonable expectation. Making contact via a phone call or email once a term, evidence shows, is positively received and goes a long way to earning parents’ trust and respect. This will also set teachers up for positive interactions with parents at school events and long term.

I do also know from experience that some phone calls can go on for a while and sometimes the teachers and parents end up playing phone tennis before successful contact is even made. This is time consuming. In addition, I recognise that during the previous two weeks all teachers have been time poor due to ongoing professional development, excursions, duties, enrichment, achrayim responsibilities, learning to use your MacBooks, setting up class blogs, planning, etc. The next two weeks is also going to be busy with seders, galas, PD and planning. I am genuinely happy to teach their classes to free them up to make their phone calls without worrying about losing teaching/learning time with their students. I have also offered to cover their duties or enrichment activity where possible. This is something I am willing to do throughout the year.

I apologised for sending mixed messages re. communication with parents.

One teacher contacted me within the hour to make arrangements for me to teach her class on Monday morning.

Prioritising – another way to create time…

In regards to our monthly newsletter requirement, I decided that in an eight week term, and taking into consideration all of the above, there is no time to send out a second newsletter at the end of this term as writing these and inserting photographs takes hours. In the same email I have simply asked teachers to ensure they have sent out one newsletter this term.

I do genuinely appreciate everything our teachers do and have huge respect for what they accomplish every day, week, month and year. I have not forgotten what it’s like.

What ways do you have for managing the tipping point and creating time for your teachers?