A work bee gathered this past week to weed and reclaim our school garden with the idea that it will be a learning space for all to use this fall. A little girl and her gramma came and offered their compliments to the work being done. One of the mom’s asked if the little girl would be starting Kindergarten in the fall. The conversation continued about how this child is so familiar with our school, the playground, the teachers and other children because she has been so involved in early childhood programs at our school for so long.
The conversation made me wonder about our student’s first school experiences. I posed this question to our group: “I wonder what goes through a child’s mind when they come to school for the first time in Kindergarten? Will it be everything they hope it will be or will it be disappointing to them because school is not what they imagine it to be”. I then went on to say to the group: “I want to make school magical for our students.”
What does it mean to make MAGIC in our schools?
When I began thinking about wanting to make our school MAGICAL, I tried to define MAGIC in simple terms but couldn’t capture the meaning of what I was trying to express. Instead, what came to me were words. Words that elicited more questions than answers. I have attempted to take these words and to connect them in a way that explains what MAGIC can look like in our schools.
M Motivate… Meaning… Making a Difference…
What is our MOTIVATION? Our mission and purpose needs to be clear in the hearts and minds of all who work and play in our buildings and on our playgrounds. What type of experiences are we offering our students, teachers and our community members? Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like a Pirate, says that if we…provide an uncommon experience for our students…they will reward [us] with an uncommon effort and attitude. Think about that statement for a moment. An uncommon experience to elicit uncommon effort and attitude? I want to provide that uncommon experience to our school community.
To build on the point above, are we making MAGIC by providing memorable experiences that engage, challenge and build up our students? Children and teachers, in fact all of us, seek MEANING in what we do. Through meaning we find out what is important to us. Once we discover what is important to us, what our passions are, then we can begin to set goals for ourselves. As educators it is important to find out what students are passionate about so that we can fuel that passion to foster engagement…that is where, I believe, the MAGIC happens.
How do we MAKE A DIFFERENCE for students? What simple things can we do each day to welcome, acknowledge and build up our students? Simple things such as greeting students by name as they come in to our schools and classrooms. High-fives in the hallway, asking how their weekend went…the little things, we know, can have the greatest impact. How is your school community MAKING A DIFFERENCE in the education of your students?
A Approach… Acknowledge… Amazing… Awesome…
What is our APPROACH to learning and teaching? When I look at what teachers are doing in classrooms, there is great work happening. Many teachers are fired up and are trying new things. Teachers are stepping outside their comfort zone because they know this is where the MAGIC happens.
As leaders we are here to provide the support and the means for teachers to take risks. If we value new ideas as being important to our school culture, then we need to allow everyone to have a voice and to explore new ways of doing things. Our role is to support, lead and, most importantly, ACKNOWLEDGE the AMAZING and AWESOME work teachers are doing each and everyday with our students. How do you approach learning in your school and what are you doing to make school amazing and awesome for all?
G Guiding… Growing… Growth…
What are our GUIDING principles? Guiding principles are those precepts that guide an organization through its life in all circumstances irrespective of changes in its goals, strategies, type of work or top management. (http://www.businessdictionary.com)
Our schools must be guided by a district vision that is alive in all that we do for students and their families, teachers and support staff. School goals may change, new ways of doing things come and go, but in the end we always need to have a place to come back to and guiding principles provide us with that important anchor.
How do we ensure that students are GROWING and learning and how do we measure GROWTH? Students must develop core competencies such as critical thinking, creative thinking, social responsibility, personal awareness and responsibility, positive personal and cultural identity, and communication skills. These ‘core competencies’ are at the centre of the redesign of the curriculum here in British Columbia, Canada. They are believed to be the key proficiencies that all students need to develop in order to engage in deep learning and life-long learning. (https://curriculum.gov.bc.ca/competencies)
I Inspiration… Investment… Innovation
What is our INSPIRATION? What inspires teachers to keep doing this job with passion?Watching students grow and approach their learning in such diverse ways is an amazing experience to witness as a teacher and now as a principal in an elementary school. Every day I get to experience students and teachers who love learning and who come to work full of energy and enthusiasm…it is through this enthusiasm and love of learning that I believe the MAGIC happens.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention those students who come through our doors not eager to learn or not enthusiastic about school. Where is the MAGIC for these students? It takes time, trust and lots of relationship-building to reach some of our students, but it is worth it. We know that developing trust doesn’t happen over night and we know that it can be hard work. In the end, I hope that students are able to see the INVESTMENT adults are making in them and maybe they will come to understand that the relationships being forged are strong.
INVESTING not only in the learner, but also in the learning can make the school experience MAGICAL. What does learning look like in our schools? Are students collaborating with one another? Are adults collaborating with one another? Who is doing the most talking? Teachers or students? What does the learning sound like in our schools? Excitement, noise, conversation, positive interactions and positive words? What does the learning feel like in our schools? Do students wonder and explore? Do they feel satisfied about and challenged in their learning? Do parents feel good about coming into the school and does the school have a welcoming feel to it?
Are we being innovative? I use the term INNOVATE as George Couros defines it in his book Innovator’s Mindset…a way of thinking that creates something new and better. Our way of thinking requires us to create something new and better; in other words, to create MAGIC in our schools. George identifies 8 characteristics of an innovator’s mindset. Innovative educators are:
- problem finders
- risk takers
Are we modeling these characteristics for the students in our schools? George states, “If we do not model these characteristics and the willingness to innovate inside the box, why would our students do anything different? They won’t.” (Innovator’s Mindset pg. 58) How many of the characteristics above are you modeling in your schools?
C Come Together… Community… Celebrate
Creating a school community that is MAGICAL is a goal that I would like to explore in the coming months and years as a school leader. We COME TOGETHER each September with the excitement of what the school year will bring. If we are deliberate in our planning for our staff, students, and their families, we can create MAGIC. I really believe this to be true.
Building our COMMUNITY takes time but is hard, but joyous work. I say joyous because we get to work with children each day. We get to experience their joys, sorrows, amazement and sense of wonder. What an honour it is to be part of this MAGIC.
When we step back from the daily work that we do, we must remember to CELEBRATE our successes and learning, and to do this frequently. We don’t celebrate enough. Celebrating the small successes on the path to greater achievements is crucial. We need to recognize the power of coming together and forming our educational communities and we need to have lots of FUN along the way.
When I made the comment to our group of moms about wanting to make school magical, one mom said “Well, here you are in the garden, and this is MAGICAL.” She is correct. The MAGIC has begin for the new school year and I am so excited to be part of the journey this year. It will be fun, hard, scary but, mostly MAGICAL!