Working on the “Spread”

This year, our school board was involved in what we affectionately call GSIP – the Growing Success Implementation Project – with the Ontario Ministry of Education.

The project, in its first stage this year, involved the implementation of the assessment cycle (learning goals – success criteria – descriptive feedback – peer and self-assessment) with selected Principals, Vice-Principals, teachers from grade 7&8, secondary program leaders, and other board staff.

This was an excellent learning opportunity.  Unfortunately, it only included select teachers, and now the challenge is to work on the spread.  How do we get the information and learning to the teachers who were not involved?

I regret that we were not Tweeting our learning from the start.  Twitter is not ‘huge’ in our board, but that doesn’t mean we should not keep trying to convince people to use it to build their PLN.

Tomorrow we are going to have a Twitter backchannel and we hope others from in and outside our board will join in so we can share what we are learning.

I will also share Screenr, so why not combine the two?

… and a great resource for finding the Twitter chat for you:


Take Care

“The key question to keep asking is, Are you spending your time on the right things? Because time is all you have. ” 
― Randy PauschThe Last Lecture

For many years, I was an online secondary school teacher. At one point, I was teaching 130 students 8 different courses – and I was writing some of those courses while teaching them. I received hundreds of email messages every day. Day and night were blurred. If I was awake, I was marking or answering email. And how did I end every email?

Take care,

But I wasn’t taking care at all.

Fast forward five years, and I can barely sit here to write this because I am in so much pain. I have been like this for 7 days, and it is a much needed wake up call. None of my colleagues are surprised. I don’t tell many people, but those hearing the news wonder why it has taken so long for my body to give up on me. Apparently I gave up on it long ago.

Yesterday, a teacher called me at 6 a.m. because she needed to take the day off. She was sick. She had been working sick for two days and she couldn’t do it any more. She apologized profusely for not being able to come in to teach and said she did not want to let the students down. The guilt was obvious. But why? Why is it so hard for teachers to take care of their own health?

I met two more teachers yesterday who are facing significant health issues, yet can’t drag themselves away from the work they do with kids. It is the caring profession, but do we sometimes care too much?

It is very hard to turn it off at the end of the day. I hear many teachers tell me that they would love to spend one year in a 9 to 5 job, so they could see what it is like to have a job that ended when they left it, instead of taking everything home with them and working all evening, sometimes waking up in the middle of the night still planning and problem solving.

It’s hard to draw a line where teaching ends and personal life begins.  I see teachers on twitter at all kinds of crazy hours, perfecting lessons, marking one last paper, prepping an event. We work to exhaustion.

But the people who need us won’t have us if we continue to abuse ourselves.

Photo shared under a Creative Commons license by ArioMagicMan


“Abandon hope all ye who enter here.

I can see it as clearly as if it were yesterday – the poster on the bulletin board of my Grade 13 Physics class.

It was a joke, of course.  My physics teacher had – still has –  a great sense of humour.

But it makes me ask myself if the students who enter our school each day have just that – hope.

Image shared under a Creative Commons license by Martin Gommel.

Yesterday was hard.  My vice-principal and I mentioned many times that we felt more like social workers than educators.  Twice I found that I could not hold back tears.  Life is really tough for some of my students.

This evening I have been reading from Comparative Education: Exploring Issues in International Context (Second Edition): by Patricia K. Kubow and Paul R. Fossum Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, 2007 – Chapter 4, on Educational Access and Opportunity.

In comparing education in Brazil and South Africa, the consequences of poverty are discussed at length.  This quote is one that many of us in education need to remember: “Poverty disrupts access to education in numerous ways, often affecting the degree to which school is valued or even perceived as viable among a society’s poor”(p. 134).

I had not considered how poverty might affect the number and range of opportunities for students to practice and apply what they learn in school.  In addition, the number of personal demands on a student’s time competes directly with their need to be in a formal education setting.  When basic resources are lacking, there is less time for the pursuit of education.

The culture may not include the assumption that formal education is the key to success.

There are well-defined links between poor health and poverty, and this contributes to the readiness for learning as well as poor attendance in school, which can lead to gaps in knowledge.

We do our best to meet the physical and emotional needs of our students, with breakfast program, emergency food, and access to counseling.

But the real question for me as the principal is, when students walk into the school, is it a place of hope?

Note: Here is an interesting read on the finding that disadvantaged students do significantly better in school if they are involved in an intense arts program:

When the Principal is a Bully

*Please note that due to the personal nature of many of the responses to this post, I am no longer approving further comments.  This post has had a large number of visceral responses, which tells me this is not an isolated problem.  I hope that everyone reading this will recognize the signs and work to end this practice in schools.  I have not been bullied by a principal myself, but I am close to someone who has been, and it is gut-wrenching to see what it can do to a talented and caring educator.  

Thanks for reading.

Since International Day of Pink  this past week (April 11, 2012), bullying in schools is once again a hot topic. But what if the bullying in the school isn’t among students?

What if the biggest bully in the school is the Principal?

Many people would be surprised to hear that the teachers who spend each day working to prevent bullying among students in schools can themselves be victims of bullying in the workplace.

What does bully leadership look like?

Image shared under a Creative Commons License by Meredith Farmer

Bully leadership is authoritative.  It can be very uncomfortable.

There is the overwhelming feeling of anger. It can mean slamming doors for effect.  There can be psychological bullying, like dropping statements that cause stress for a teacher at inappropriate times.

It can mean undermining the efforts of teachers and jeopardizing their success.  It can involve threatening and abuse of power.

But do bully leaders consider themselves to be bullies?

Principal bullies often believe strongly that they are very capable leaders, and are unable to distinguish between the qualities of good leadership and bullying.

Often bully leaders believe that they are simply getting everyone on side, focusing on the current initiative.  They see success in their actions. Bully leaders get results.  And they get attention from senior management. Upper management sees the results, cheers the Bully on, holding up to others the “great results” – something all the other Principals should aspire to.

But that “success” is short-lived.  When teacher motivation rests in fear of the Principal, it is not sustainable.

How can Senior Management Recognize the Bully Principal?

It can be very difficult for Superintendents to identify a bully principal.  Bully principals don’t show their Jekyll sides outside of their school while they are focused on showcasing and taking credit for their successes.

Trustees, Directors and SO’s want to see success, and it’s easy to be blinded by a bully principal’s charm and confidence.  There is no reason to delve deeper into what is going on.

What are the signs that something is not right?

  • Good teachers are being let go and weak teachers are being brought in.  A bully principal needs teachers who can be controlled.  Teachers who stand up to them are dangerous.  Is there a school where the hiring pattern causes surprise?
  • Vulnerable teachers are doing extra work.  Look deeply into the new projects and ideas.  Are they being run by teachers whose position are in danger of termination?  Are they being pressured into taking on extra work with their job on the line?
  • A pattern of attack on an initiative.  Is an initiative consistently interrupted or questioned by a Principal?  Who is in charge of the initiative?  Is this teacher being bullied by the principal?
  • Is there a principal who is not openly welcomed to collaborate with the others principals?  Why is that? Often other principals are fully aware that someone in their midst is a bully – and they steer clear.

How does a Bully Principal affect the organization?

  • Good people leave.  Effective teachers will not stick around in this environment.
  • Senior management loses credibility when they unknowingly favour and promote the work of bullies.
  • Future leaders in the building need to take time to re-build trust, which means a longer time before issues of student achievement are addressed. Children don’t have this kind of time to waste.
  • Desperate bullied teachers may behave unprofessionally out of frustration.

Ontario has legislation that prevents bullying in the workplace, but teachers are reluctant to report when the bully is their boss.

Victims understand the power structure and the preferential treatment their “model Principal” receives from upper management, and they are afraid to complain.

Bully Principals have long-term effects on schools throughout a District.  Supervisory Officers need solid training on how to recognize when leadership has gone wrong.  Teachers need a safe method of reporting bullying, without fear of retribution.

Photo shared under a Creative Commons license by Eddie-S

Do you have more to share on this issue?

Can you suggest solutions or sources of information?

November 2013: Here is an awesome post by Seth Godin on the cost of Bullying in the workplace: Bullying is Theft

“The end to bullying starts with a question: does senior management see the cost? Do they understand that tolerating and excusing bullying behavior is precisely what permits it to flourish?”



Those Who Can Do, Those Who Can’t Bully

A Rant About Leaders Who Are Bullies

How To Recognize a Bully Manager in Your Organization

Narcissistic Personality Disorder Leadership: Are You A Bully Leader?

Leadership or Workplace Bully?

*Update August 13, 2012 – Here is a link on workplace bullying that may be helpful for Canadian readers: *

Recovering from EQAO

For the first time in many years, I arrived home from school yesterday feeling the physical side effects of intense stress.  I had pain all through the right side of my body and I could feel the muscle spasms in my neck and shoulders.  It took most of last evening to try to relax, to run, to take a bath and then finally get a good night’s sleep to get back to something approaching normal.

That’s because I can relax now.  The blue plastic bucket full of the OSSLT tests is safe in the vault, ready to be picked up by the courier this morning to be whisked away to EQAO.

But this isn’t about me.  If I felt this much stress, and I am just the Principal overseeing the test, what about my students?  It isn’t over for them.  They still have to wait several months for their results.

I was comforting students who were in tears before the test even started yesterday.  I know there are students who will not pass this test, and it has nothing to do with their ability to read and write.

I have written often on high-stakes testing, but in today’s economic climate when governments are looking at freezing teacher salaries as a way to balance the books, I really have to wonder at what our priorities are.

I stumbled across this blog: SheilaSpeaking: Standardized Testing – Teacher Reflections on EQAO which questions why we continue to believe that EQAO testing is what is best for our students in Ontario.  She also refers to the blogs listed below, which are very good conversation starters.

Teaching to the test: Jamie Reaburn Weir

Let’s Scrap EQAO: Andrew Campbell

You Can’t Cancel the Redundancy: Timothy King

(Check here for another look at the conversation on whether standardized tests should be used as part of a student’s grade in a high school course)

Question Everything

In my last posting, I stated a few of the findings in the Hole in the Wall experiments.  The last was that schools need to include a rational system to know what to believe in.

Tonight I read a post by Ira Socol called “Question Everything” that really helps me with my thinking on this one.

In particular, I love this section that so clearly demonstrates the cycle of memorizers getting good grades and becoming teachers:

The teachers can almost always rattle off what is wrong with this projection, including the innate cultural bias attached – the diminuation of the southern hemisphere (Greenland, 1/14th the size of Africa, appears larger than that continent), the Americentric splitting of Asia, et al – but if I ask why this map is important, where it would be valuable, those same educators often freeze.

but will this map help you get home?

They know what they’ve “learned” (memorized) about the Mercator Projection, but as generations of U.S. educators never questioned the map which unrolled over the chalkboard, our educators today fail to question the shortcomings of the new maps.

So whether it is homework or due dates, school bells or school desks, or any of the “facts” we tend to put before students. You, them, we all, should be doubting everything, questioning everything.

That process not only builds a real kind of learning unavailable through memorization, it will create a next generation unwilling to accept the mistakes of the past and present.

And to me, that’s what education is about.

– Ira Socol

And maybe then we will be educating citizens who think like scientists, and we won’t need videos like this on climate change:

SIM 2012

Image shared by Bricolage108 under a Creative Commons License

I have been fortunate to spend two days at SIM 2012 in Thunder Bay.  It is the third SIM session I have attended this year, and it is always a time of intense learning.

The question is always, “What will I take away and integrate into my practice?”.

While I continue to ponder that, here are some of the topics we covered.

Before the event, we read three articles posted on my Scoop-It page here:

or on Chris Watkins’ site at the Institute of Education, University of London.

All three articles provide very practical suggestions for enhancing student learning.

During the event we used some of these resources to help focus our conversations.

1) Sugata Mitra and the “Hole in the Wall” experiments.

Here is a link to the 2007 TED Talk in case this is a new concept for you:

“Minimally Invasive Education is defined as a pedagogic method that uses the learning environment to generate an adequate level of motivation to induce learning in groups of children, with minimal, or no, intervention by a teacher.”

(Research findings here.)

From this research stems the need to teach three key things in schools:

a) Reading comprehension

b) Information searching and retrieval skills

c) A rational system to know what to believe in

(I think a lot about the third suggestion.  Should the indoctrination of children be permitted?  Would the attacks on Michael Mann (see former posting: be happening if we were doing this well in schools?)

2) Dr. Allan Luke

Some of Dr. Allan Luke’s earlier work can be found here:

At SIM we watched Dr. Luke speak about the importance of rich content in spite of the level of basic skills.  We can engage learners in meaningful “sustained, rich, scaffolded conversations”.  “The dumbing down of the curriculum because we believe the students cannot handle complex topics when they have deficiencies in basic skills is insidious.”

While engaging students in important inquiry and rich content, every teacher should be trained to work to enhance reading comprehension in every student, from the phys. ed. teacher to the math teacher.  We all have the responsibility to continue to improve literacy skills.