On a personal level, I feel that this district is a very open and accepting place. It is a place that is already fairly collaborative and supportive of the collective movements of the schools and the individual efforts of teachers. I have also experienced a willingness among teachers and principals to have me come in and engage in meaningful activities with staff and students. As I have done this, I am happy to report, I have found a number of amazing things going on in our schools and classrooms. I am able to see teachers engaging students in meaningful learning on a daily basis :D
From a professional standpoint, I have been fortunate to engage in important dialogue about our collective and individual philosophies of education and learning. I found that, initially, many teachers were unsure and yet interested to hear what my stance on balanced literacy was... because that would ultimately dictate the direction of my literacy agenda in the district. I am happy to report that every teacher and principal I talked to about this felt a sense of relief - a relief that I am more interested in best practice and a focus on student learning than on pushing previous agendas of balanced literacy.
Now, I need to make myself clear here. I am not saying that balanced literacy is bad... far from it. Balanced literacy is an approach or framework that has aspects of best practice at its core. But it is not the only way to skin a cat. Best practice can be achieved without balanced literacy, and that's what I'm all about - helping teachers finding their own approaches to best practice and sound pedagogy and not trying to push a square block through a round hole, which is how some teachers felt because of how the prescriptive nature of balanced literacy didn't fit with their own approach to teaching and learning.
Ms. Ouellette shared a TED video with the central office staff the other day where Dan Pink discussed successful approaches to running organizations in the 21st century. This links to us in that we are very much a growing organization that is moving more and more towards educating our children for life in the 21st century - hence the focus on 21st century learning throughout the province.
The thing that stood out the most to me was a need for autonomy. If people in an organization are going to flourish in terms of creativity and productivity, they need to feel a sense of autonomy in their jobs. I feel strongly that we have a sense of autonomy here at the NEA, at least I do. And I think that our teachers are feeling that is more the case now because I am communicating to them that they are the professionals in the classrooms and should be creating and delivering lessons that work for them and are rooted in best practice and sound pedagogy.
So not that balanced literacy is bad, but it has played its role in our district and it's time to break the prescriptive bonds of balanced literacy (though shalt do two hours and twenty minutes per day...) and focus on the positive autonomy of seeking to be the best teachers we can be. That's why I'm here anyway - to work with teachers collectively and individually in helping them be better at what they do in the classroom.
So... my message is simple. Let's shake the shackles that limit our creativity, and start to really look for activities that will engage our kids in meaningful learning. Let's embrace our professionalism and stretch ourselves by engaging in the process of professional development and implementing things that will help our kids learn more effectively. Let's all work together to make the NEA the greatest school district out there :D
P.S. Here is the video she shared with us if you're interested in checking it out.