So Done With That Kid

Lately I’ve heard a very troubling sentence, seven words long. I’ve heard teachers say it. I’ve heard educational assistants say it. And most shockingly of all, I’ve heard parents say it.  What is this phrase that shocks me? Irritates me? Even angers me? (and if you ask anyone who knows me, I’m pretty easy-going).

Ready? Here it is:

“I am so done with that kid.”In seven syllables this sentence says things like:

-this kid is frustrating me
-this kid is useless
-this kid cannot learn
-this kid is bad and cannot change
-this kid is beyond hope

But what this sentence is also saying is that

-I do not have the patience to deal with this child
-I do not know what to do with this child
-I do not have the skills to handle this child
-I should not be educating this child

I could add for parents, “I should not be raising this child” but that might take this post in a whole other direction and as an educator and school-based administrator that is not where I want to go with this.  I only want to vent my frustration at this phrase which most of the time is used in an off-the cuff manner.

I have taught for 16 years, the last 2 and a bit in administration and believe me, there have been moments when students have frustrated me. My patience has been stretched to a very fine thread. There are even a few students who I found difficult to like. But as an teacher and administrator, it is my JOB to be there for kids. It is my RESPONSIBILITY to do everything within my power, training and experience to ensure that my students learn. It is my DUTY as someone in a human services field to take care of my clientele (the kids!) and to never give up on them!

So to those who casually flip off this phrase in anger, annoyance, frustration or because you feel you just cannot take it anymore…be done with that kid. Go ahead. But then be done working with ALL kids because all kids deserve to learn and grow into adults guided by adults who really love kids.  Adults with the patience, understanding and the desire to work with kids because they care.  Adults who give kids second and third (insert any number here) chances to improve and learn from their mistakes who accept them for their differences; learning, behavioural, personality or otherwise.

Or…if you are in the field of education because you truly care about kids (who are, remember, future adults in our communities) and you want to make a difference, say, “what is the background story on this kid?”, “what can I do to help?”, “what haven’t I tried yet?”, “who can I ask for help?”.  Being done with a kid is not the answer.

My Convocation: an end and a beginning

I am so excited to share with you that I have officially finished my Master of Education degree in Educational Leadership and now have the paper to prove it!  I attended my convocation ceremony at the University of Calgary today along with many others who were conferred degrees and doctorates in the domains of Education, Social Work, and the Arts to name a few.  It was truly an enjoyable ceremony where none other than the Right Honorable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada was presented with an honorary Doctorate of Laws.  The Governor General’s speech was excellent as he humbly admitted that he just showed up and did not have to do the work that we all did to receive this “doctorate”.  He also spoke about how he wishes to see a Canada with smarter and more caring citizens.

As I sat in my chair, awaiting my turn to cross the stage, I reflected on how I got there.  Countless hours of reading, note-taking, paper-writing, online discussions and reflections, group presentations…This was time-consuming and often completed after my kids were put to bed and stretching late into the night.  These past two years were a demonstration in juggling: studies, a full-time job as a school-based administrator/teacher, wife and mom.  I even found time in there to train for a couple of half-marathons (but running kept me sane!)  Sometimes it was really hard on my kids such as when I had to go online at 7 pm and miss putting them to bed (a ritual that I rarely miss and that they look forward to every night) and when I had to spend some Sunday afternoons finishing papers and composing discussion postings (my degree was completed almost entirely online) while they went swimming with my husband.  My husband definitely had to pick up my slack in the parenting department and I thank him for that.  I could not have done any of this without his support.

However, as hard as this sometimes was, I am glad I did it and I’m glad I pushed myself to finish in two years…insane as that seems to me now.  The learning that occurred for me was much deeper than simply reading and regurgitating.  The discussions with colleagues and professors opened up my world to new viewpoints and ideas.  I learned what administrators and teachers in other districts, provinces and countries are dealing with.  I learned a lot about research and how it impacts the field of education.  Above all, I learned that I am not finished learning.  This does not mean that I intend to pursue a doctorate because right now I want to enjoy my kids’ childhoods and pursue other types of learning (at the moment, Twitter and blogging are filling the void left by the end of my graduate studies).  But…never say never, right?

For now, I am enjoying the feeling of being “done my Masters”, celebrating a little, and now it is my turn to support my husband as he works on his Masters degree.  I think I owe him, just a little!

The Administrator Growth Project: pressure and support

(Three Sisters Mountains, Canmore, Alberta)

This year, administrators in my school district are embarking on a journey of professional growth. It’s not that we haven’t worked on professional goals and growth plans in the past, because we have.  However, this year and for the next few years, administrator growth has been set as a priority by senior leadership and is set up as ongoing, embedded process of inquiry, professional learning and reflection.  Partnered with ‘critical friends’, Pamela Adams and David Townsend from the University of Lethbridge and Brent Galloway from Red Deer College, our administrator professional growth is being put front and center in our professional lives.  David Townsend laid it out very well in his talk at our administrators meeting today whereby we are trying to:

– know what we didn’t know before

– do what we didn’t do before, and

– apply what we learn to practice

When the admin growth project was first presented to us, there was much apprehension and worry in the room.  The project involves having a team of people including a senior administrator, one of the critical friends and a district administrator visiting school-based administrators in their building to talk about and foster administrators’ growth plans.  Talk about a buzz in the room! There was definitely fear about “evaluation” and lots of fear about opening up one’s practice to scrutiny.  A daunting proposal to be sure!  We were soon to learn that this was not to be about evaluation or scrutiny but about professional learning and growth at your own pace and for your own needs.  As Pamela Adams so eloquently put it: a balance between pressure and support.

Our journey began at our administrators’ retreat in the beautiful mountain town of Canmore where the foundation for the project was laid out for us and we were given time to reflect on our own leadership practices and work on pinpointing a goal or two to work on guided by the Principal Quality Practice Guideline from Alberta Education.  There was rich discussion along with exercises designed to get us thinking and moving forward toward our individual and in some cases, also admin team goals.  What really clinched the deal for most of us was seeing our Superintendent, Piet Langstraat model the process in front of us with David Townsend.  It was powerful to see our leader put himself in a vulnerable place and share the beginning of his own growth journey with us.  All in all, I found the process to be very positive and energizing!  When the retreat wrapped up and we returned to the prairies (boy, the Rocky Mountains are breathtaking!) we were also ready to start down the road to administrator growth and ultimately school improvement.

As a fairly new administrator, in my third year as a vice-principal, I found several areas from the PQP that I need to work on.  In particular, I was drawn to the following descriptors under Fostering Effective Relationships:

d) demonstrates responsibility for all students and acts in their best interests

e) models and promotes open, inclusive dialogue

f) uses effective communication, facilitation, and problem-solving skills

I managed to narrow down my goal to one word: communication.  Part of my job is vice-principal and the other part is Learning Assistance Teacher.  Instructional leadership plays a part of both of these roles and communication is at the heart of this.  As an administrator, I am an instructional leader through my professional conversations with teachers about teaching practice and through supervision and evaluation.  As a learning assistance teacher, I am an instructional leader in supporting inclusive learning environments for students by helping teachers with differentiating instruction, tiering activities and assisting individual students with learning challenges.

How I communicate with teachers in these roles is something I want to become better at. I am certainly no expert as an administrator and though I have many years of teaching under my belt, I do not proclaim to be an expert in all things teachers do with students.  The ways that I approach teachers in these conversations must include thoughtfulness, empathy and openness.  I also need to be mindful of how I listen to teachers and not jump to the problem-solving mode that administrators so often jump to when giving feedback on teaching practice.  I need to keep inquiry at the forefront and support teachers in finding their own answers to their questions.

I am looking forward to moving forward with my goal, learning more, practicing more and improving more.  The fact that I have a team of people coming to visit me each month to talk about my goal is exciting and will keep the accountability factor up.  I feel really supported in my admin growth and as daunting as these school-based visits with Sr. Admin and critical friends seemed at first, I now look forward to the day next month when they will return and we can continue the conversations around my goal which will push me forward in my learning.

Dispelling 3 Myths About French Immersion

   

I have spent most of my teaching career in French Immersion, first as a classroom teacher in middle school and now as an administrator.  Over the years I have heard and in some cases have even taken part in perpetuating some of the following myths about the French Immersion program.  In this blog post I hope to dispel some of the these myths based on my own experience and offer a few suggestions to ensure success for all students in French immersion.

Myth 1

French immersion is a program for elite students who are academically gifted, possessing a solid work ethic, and a love of learning.

Reality – We do have academically gifted students in FI who do very well in school but we also have students with learning disabilities, medical diagnoses such as ADHD and autism and students who are “average”.  We have students who love school and students who are not so inclined.  We have students with varying work ethics. In short, we have a diverse clientele, all of whom deserve the right to learn a second language and become bilingual.

Myth 2 – French Immersion students generally come from higher socioeconomic (SES) backgrounds  because students from lower SES backgrounds cannot be successful in French immersion.

Reality – The SES profile of a french immersion classroom is no different than an english program classroom in a similar neighborhood.  Though generally, students from lower SES backgrounds tend to struggle more than those from higher SES backgrounds, the research says that “students from low SES backgrounds in immersion perform just as well in English-language development and academic achievement as do students from the same SES backgrounds in English-language programs” (Genesee, 2012, p.5).

Myth 3 – Students with academic challenges or disabilities should not be French Immersion students because it is hard enough learning one’s first language, never mind adding the stress of learning a second.

Reality – “Below-average students in immersion perform at the same level as do below-average students in English-language programs” (Genesee, 2012, p.5).  Research does not suggest that students who struggle academically will have greater struggles in immersion than in English programs.  As a French immersion administrator, I have seen this time and again when students who are struggling in immersion leave the program and enroll in an English program only to find that they are experiencing the same academic difficulties they encountered in immersion.  Learning is learning and students who struggle with for example, reading comprehension, are not going to magically “get” reading comprehension because what they are reading is in English.

Next steps

Dispelling the myths around french immersion will take time.  These myths are fairly deeply engrained within the culture of french immersion schools including the attitudes of teachers, administrators, and parents.  In the past, students who have been identified as struggling in French immersion were allowed the possibility and even encouraged to leave the program and “switch” to English.  My question for those who want to switch out and to teachers, parents, and administrators who encourage this practice is: when the student continues to struggle in the English program (as they inevitably will) where will they go?  One cannot “quit” the English program as one can “quit” French immersion.

When a student is contemplating leaving French immersion, it is essential to call a team meeting which includes the student, parents, teachers, administrator and sometimes the school counselor .  There are always deeper issues than the student not liking French or the student struggling because of “the French”.  It is our job as educators and administrators to provide learning services to support all students whether they are in English or French immersion.

After the team meeting, it is important to create a program of support for the student.  My other hat in my job is learning assistance teacher for French immersion students so it is my job to help students pinpoint their needs and then help them with those needs.  My only frustration right now is that I do not have more help.  It is very difficult in the city where I live to find French immersion educational assistants and I would sure love to have one!

In addition to individual help, teachers of French immersion need to become skilled at differentiating instruction and learning activities.  One of the great strengths of the French immersion program is the focus on vocabulary acquisition, repetition and oral development.  These are areas where teachers can begin to differentiate to suit individual student needs.  We must begin to make decisions about teaching and learning in French immersion based on what the research says about language acquisition as well as striving for inclusive French immersion programs which meet individual learning needs.

Above all, it is important to change our attitudes around what it means to experience success in French immersion.  We need to ask what it means to be bilingual?  For some students this is full functional bilingualism with the ability to read and write comparably in French and English.  For others, this may mean being able to carry on a conversation in French or use their oral language skills for travel and work.  Success in French immersion might look different for each student.

French immersion is no longer a program of the elite whether academically or socio-economically nor should it continue to be.

Genesee, F. (2012). The Suitability of Immersion for All Learners: What Does the Research Say? The State of French Second Language Education in Canada [Executive Summary]. Canadian Parents For French. Retrieved from http://cpf.ca/en/research-advocacy/research/the-state-of-fsl-education-in-canada/