Challenges are opportunities

 At our initial Board meeting on December 5, 2011, I had the opportunity to reflect upon some of the challenging decisions that need to be made in Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board this year.  We are engaged in an accommodation review process in 15 of our secondary schools.  Though this process tends to focus on closing schools, I would assert that this process is also about engaging students through effective programs and learning environments.

I wish to focus on the voices of our students who provide the back drop for the challenging work that lies ahead of us this year.

Our students want their schools to be engaging places, where they build strong relationships and where they feel safe and accepted. They look to the staff in our schools as the people they can turn to for assistance both in their classes and beyond. They want choice in terms of what they learn, when they learn and how they learn. Access to technology and collaborative learning spaces are key for our students. Our students want to succeed and they want to be sure they are truly understood by their educators at each and every school. They would like access to different programs, and the ability to show that they have fulfilled their learning goals in different ways.

 Some of these requests challenge us to think differently about how, when and where we educate our students…which, brings me to my significant point.

 Though challenges may be ahead in the decisions that need to be made, there is also an amazing opportunity. Trustees have the opportunity to provide direction to ensure that the voices of our students are heard.

 Our Program Strategy intends to provide Access, Opportunity and Successful Outcomes for our students who would have the opportunity to engage in programming that allows each student to be successful. Though student achievement is improving in HWDSB, we can continue to improve student achievement and well-being by thinking differently about our programs, and our buildings. Further, by creating learning communities where students who possess different learning needs, styles, and strengths, and where students from all backgrounds come together, we will be providing effective opportunities for our students.

Our Board of Trustees will provide this direction by making difficult and challenging decisions on behalf of all. Our staff will engage with our trustees and with our students, parents and communities to make the dreams in our Strategic Directions a reality in this new year.

 In conclusion, a student at the Student Voice Forum said to me, “We are different people, with different interests, strengths and needs. We learn differently ……. yet in school so much is the same ….. why is that?”

 We are at a significant time and place in Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board. We have the opportunity to do something differently so that our students achieve, that they grow in confidence and self knowledge, that they become resilient, creative, and capable, and that they engage each other in vibrant school communities.  

Our students have the potential to make a huge difference in our world when they walk into the world from their parents’ homes and our schools — is there any better legacy than this?

 

 

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Student Voice ….continued

I learned a lot last week!  I had the opportunity to attend three student voice forums in HWDSB.    I met with 500 students in our Board.  My opening message to them had three components.  My message was: 1) Every student is a leader 2) Each student needs to experience a sense of belonging and support in our schools and 3) We need our students’ voices to help us understand the learning spaces, experiences and processes they need.

I asked our students to help us, the educators, listen so that we can respond more effectively.  I pledged our commitment to do whatever we can to respond to their insights and perspectives.  This commitment does not mean we can fulfill every wish our students spoke about, but we can certainly strengthen our communication so that our decisions as a school system are directly informed by our students.

After this brief introduction our students were invited to offer their insights through small group discussion, individual reflection, podcasts, blogs, and “graffiti” walls.  Our students offered insights about safety and bullying, learning environments and experiences, our accommodation and review process, our board and school policies, our assessment and evaluation procedures and other insights meant to help us create safe and caring schools which assist them to achieve.

They spoke about technology and nutrition.  They wondered about their role in creating safer schools.  They appreciated when they could connect with their teachers in different ways at school and through co-curricular activities. And some students discussed why the accommodation and review process is so challenging for them, even though they sometimes dream about learning in school facilities that are different than some of our existing school facilities.

One student said to me “our student body is diverse.  We have different strengths and needs.  We have different learning styles and interests. And yet some of our classes are taught as if we are all the same.”

This statement is certainly a challenge to educators in HWDSB to “know our students”, one of the foundations of our Annual Operating Plan.

“All students achieving their full potential” is our goal.  We cannot achieve this goal without listening and responding to our students!

I was inspired by our students and I am grateful for their energy, their commitment and their suggestions.  I will post the major themes from these forums shortly.

 

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The Importance of Voice

Learning is not something that is “done to us”; rather, learning happens when we are engaged, when we bring our experience to the table, when we admit what we don’t know and we take collective responsibility with our peers to create new knowledge.  Educators do not simply impart information.  We create environments that facilitate the type of collaborative inquiry that allows us to serve our students better, providing them with the opportunities to create, to think, to wonder, to invent and to serve.

In order to create effective learning environments in HWDSB, I have been paying a lot of attention to the importance of voice.  When I use the word “voice” , I am referring to our collective ability to listen to each other, our students, staff and parents in a way that makes a difference to what we do and how we do it.  Our annual operating plan is clear:  We “know our students, know our staff, and we know our parents and communities” so that our students learn better.  In today’s blog I will focus on student voice.

Recently, I attended our student leadership forum.  Students from our elementary and secondary schools gathered to think about how they could make their school and our community a better place.  I was inspired by our students who are absolutely sure they will make a difference.  What role do educators play to create the caring environment that supports all students to share their leadership?  As we engage our students, are we responding to their voice by actually changing what we do because of what they say?  Our mission is that all students will achieve their full potential….not just some of our students.  This means we need to find ways to hear those students whose voices are not always understood by us, or whose voice is quiet, or who may not have been invited to speak at all.  We also need to be sure that we encourage our students to help us understand them.  This will only happen if our students have confidence that we will do everything we can to respond to them when we hear and understand what they are saying…….

A final thought:  I was visiting one of our schools last week and was speaking to one of our students who was showing tremendous progress in his program.  I asked him what was making the difference?  He told me “I believe in myself now because of what I have been learning”.  Another student told me that her teacher taught her her how to advocate for herself when she did not understand the teacher’s expectations.  Both of these students are achieving.

My question to each one of us who serve students in HWDSB: Are we listening?  

All students deserve to believe in themselves!!

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System Learning in HWDSB

Hello all,

I have had the opportunity to experience an amazing learning opportunity in HWDSB this week!

On Wednesday, we had our System Leader’s Day.  Over 400 educators and service department leaders gathered to discuss how we are implementing our Strategic Directions: Achievement Matters, Engagement Matters, Equity Matters and our Annual Operating Plan: Knowing our Students, Knowing our Staff, Knowing our Parents and Communities.

The purpose of this session was to explore how we will strengthen our learning community through collaborative inquiry.  Everyone in HWDSB  is asked to engage in the process where we determine our students’ learning needs and we then determine what capacity our staff needs in order to effectively respond to our students.  Once we determine our focus, educators can then engage in a process of planning based upon the information they know about their students, acting which is about instruction, assessing which means we understand how our students have responded to the instruction, and reflecting which means we learn from our experience and we collaboratively plan next steps with our colleagues. This collaborative cycle happens continuously in every school in HWDSB.

Our service departments are considering how their work is directly impacting student achievement.  Their focus is to examine a proceess that may need to be adjusted in order to serve our system more effectively, and to determine what capacity is needed to implement this new process.

The energy in the room was amazing as our leaders learned together!  One principal shared with me that her passion for serving our students and staff grows everytime she has the opportunity to learn with her colleagues at an event like this one.

If you are interested in learning more, here is my opening presentation from that day: 

http://youtu.be/y2J_mjKZluo

My question is how can we enhance our learning organization for everyone in HWDSB: students, staff and parents!  What steps should we take?  What would it look like?

In my next blog, I would like to talk with you about a student leadership forum we held in HWDSB this week…..I learned some important insights and it left me with a few questions!!

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All Students Learning!!!

Happy Thanksgiving!!  I hope that this amazing weekend provided an opportunity for each of us to experience gratitude for our family and friends who support us.

Today is also my first blog.  I have been exploring the world of social media these last few months realizing that this medium provides an important opportunity to connect, to learn and to communicate.

As the Director of Education in the Hamilton-Wentworth District Board, I have the privilege of serving 49,000 students in 115 schools.  I also have the privilege of working with talented staff and dedicated trustees who continuously focus on our students’ strengths and needs so that they are achieving and they experience a sense of well-being in our schools.  We are making our schools engaging places for our students so that they achieve their full potential.

Our Strategic Directions remind us that “Achievement Matters, Engagement Matters and Equity Matters”.  In the context of these Strategic Directions we are committed to “Knowing our students, Knowing our staff, and Knowing our parents and communities.  We do not use the word “knowing” lightly……When we say we know our students, we understand their interests, their strengths, their learning style and their needs AND we respond.  “Knowing” is a powerful action.

My blog is called “All Students Learning” because we will accept nothing less in our schools.  We hold high expectations for our students and for our staff and we support each other because we believe that we can create the environment that allows our students to excel because our staff has the necessary knowledge, skills and attitude to make this happen.  Further, we are creating a culture of collaborative inquiry in Hamilton-Wentworth so that no professional in our system is alone; rather, we are willing to bring our experience and expertise to the table and we are willing to admit when we do not know something relying on our colleagues to assist.  Everyone in Hamilton-Wentworth is a learner and this is the way we will improve as a school district, in each school and in each and every classroom.

Building on past achievements, we are engaged in a very exciting time here in Hamilton.  My hope is that I will be able to use this blog to capture what is happening, to engage you, to learn from you and to offer reflections about our experience of “All students learning” .  Your insights are welcome.

I look forward to this new adventure!!  Please note that you can also find me on Twitter  @malloy_john.

I would also like to share with you my opening presentation to the system this past August which illustrates our direction.

 

 

Looking forward to learning with you!

John

 

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