Slow and Steady

“Doing Things Differently”, that has been a phrase I have been using for the last year at Charles Bloom.  We are driven by numbers but we also know we have to provide unique learning opportunities for our students.  What would be best for our students?  Can we create a more personalized learning environment?  What do our students want to learn?  How do we utilize our community resources (people and places) to create learning opportunities for our kids?  These were some of the guiding questions that we had.

We started by gathering information about what other schools were doing and asking lots of questions.  Schools in the Kootenays, Enderby and Sicamous all have very interesting and unique structures that they are using to engage their students in their learning as well as meet the challenges that a small student population presents.  Working with our department head group, we reviewed all this information and discussed what would work best for our school.  We needed to create something unique, so we stole what we liked best and began to tweak it to make it our own.

With all these ideas in the air, we started talking about how all these ideas would fit in our day.  From the district office we were given the freedom to make the changes that would be best for our school.  This freedom to change was well received and appreciated by all.  We surveyed the staff and students about our daily/weekly schedule and came up with some ideas and suggestions on what to change.  From this point, we formed a committee that met weekly to develop a schedule that would incorporate all of the ideas.  After each planning session we did a share out to staff, gathered more feedback and designed some more.  At the beginning of March we presented to our parents and gathered some more feedback to incorporate.

The pieces that will be new for us next year are a Teacher Advisory group that will meet at the start of each day; interested-based elective classes (2 hours per week); and supervised learning labs (3 hours per week) where students choose which “learning zone” they need to attend to receive assistance or complete course work.  We are still working on creating a course delivery model that would involve teacher(s) combining two courses and working with the same group of kids for two “blocks”.

So going through this process with our learning community, what are a few of my take-aways so far:

  • The pace of change is slow.  While I already knew this, this was my first experience being involved and leading a significant change in a school.  In all of my excitement to do things differently, I had wanted to implement more change faster this year.  Working and listening to staff, it was evident that they had the same excitement we just needed to go slower, so we did.
  • The ask – design – ask again loop is a simple yet powerful  method for change.  In our process there were a variety of opportunities for initial input and suggestion and then once the team started its weekly meetings the weekly share out sessions were well received as staff could see their feedback being incorporated in the process.
  • Keep your focus on the question at hand.  With some of the changes in our daily schedule, there is some potential impact on part-time staff.  While it was a difficult conversation for staff, coming back to our question of “what is best for our kids?” helped in our decision making process.
  • I am okay with the messiness of change and saying I don’t know.  As we worked together developing our new model, there were times when I didn’t have an answer to a question; however, I would work to seek out the answer or as a group we would discover the answer together.  Not worrying about having an immediate answer led to some great discussion in our search for our answer.

Leading our team through this change has definitely been one of the greatest learning experiences of my career.  I know we have lots of work ahead to implement all the changes for next year but I can’t wait to see the changes unfold at our school and work through all the twists, turns and wrinkles that our changes will bring.

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