Thanks for the kind words, Mark.
Arthur Chiaravalli

Sorry Arthur, been away at some provincial meetings and didn’t have time to respond until now. On a side note, I was lucky enough to attend NCTE when it was in Philadelphia a few years back — haven’t been able to get permission from the Director to go since, but your blogging has got me Jones-ing for another opportunity. The live blog is a great idea, there is certainly a ton of awesome stuff going on ( I remember sprinting from session to session, and sometimes sprinting to catch part of a session — whew — not much of a runner either!)

Anyways, with regard to your question, it’s both simple and complicated. It always starts, at least for me, with the relationship. It is crucial that my staff see me as someone who supports and enables them as opposed to someone who is here to crack the whip. This is the simple part. At every school I have gone to, I have spent a significant amount of time and money on things that demonstrate to staff that they matter. At my current school, we have just gone through a remodelling of the staff room (sounds fancier than it is), but we talked about the place being both a sanctuary and a place to work comfortably. They really wanted a fireplace and a SmartTV that had Apple TV (we currently have Apple TV in each class).

There is also a leather sectional and a big harvest table that everyone can fit around. The cost of these things was relatively small, but the impact on staff has been very large — both in terms of collaboration and culture.

I also purposefully use alot of language that values them — I say specifically that I ‘cherish’ them and that they are ‘precious’ to me (not in the creepy Gollum way!) which is true.There are many other ways that I try to build this relationship — for example, we do this thing where the staff divides up and makes lunch during PA Days. There is always a ridiculous theme and we have a lot of fun with it. We bring in guest judges and announce a ‘winner’ at our end of year staff party.

That sounds like it couldn’t be more removed from student achievement, but I believe that this environment enables them to try things and know that I am with them for the journey.

When you have trust, then you can ask questions of staff, be more heavily involved in their rooms, contribute to projects, and support the development of thinking that values student growth over student grades.

When these things start to happen, I make sure to recognize and celebrate the success — and when I say success, I mean the attempt, and not the perceived impact on the student achievement agenda. I mean, how crazy is it to expect everything you try as a teacher to have an impact, or even the impact you intended? We tell kids all the time to take risks and to make mistakes because this is how you learn, and then we are afraid and unable to do the same things in our own work. For me, this just further reinforces to kids that making mistakes is bad — they can smell BS from a mile away.

For example, I have a primary teacher who is wondering whether incorporating Native teachings and beading skills into her math class will help create deeper learning for kids — awesome! We are walking that path together and we will see where it goes.

Now, for the complicated part. I see my job (in part) being about translating the work that teachers and students are doing into a language and form that addresses the accountability agenda of our system and the Ministry. This often gets me into challenging conversations with superiors — I often measure things they don’t care about, and lack data on things they say are crucial. This is hard, and ultimately I have to make them understand what we are doing and why, and sometimes to disagree with them about the results of standardized tests.

If I can’t make this case to the Board, then a couple of things happen. First, the teachers feel it and then return to practices that generate the required results (phoney, horrible results, but essentially what they want). Second, then I am not modelling for teachers what I want them to be doing and communicating to parents about learning. So, in essence what I am talking about here is modelling — walking the walk and not just talking the talk.

I hope that helps — I could write a ton more about this, but I have to get back to the class.


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