“Bright Spot on Flexible Faculty Forum” Guest Post: Sally Finch

When Dr. Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile, numerous other runners soon ran through the opening that he cracked in an apparent barrier. Perhaps we have a similar situation here. Thanks, to Jen Lalley, the 112-day wait time paid off, and It’s About Learning enjoyed it’s first Junior-High-faculty guest post. Now, Sally Finch has offered up an email that she sent to Dean of Faculty Thad Persons. THANK YOU to Jen and to Sally for their willingness and courage – to share with a broader audience.

I loved the ease of registering on the multi-colored spreadsheet!  It was so user-friendly and made so much sense.

I just read Bo’s blog about how he and Jill changed topics at the last minute and got a whopping increase in attendance.  This kind of flexibility for Faculty Forum, with an “expert” speaker working along with us, and with us teaching each other, is the best kind of choice for getting back to school.  Even those sessions I could not attend but wanted to (Sophie is just across the hall from me) can be an asset in the future.

The flexibility made it possible for Marjorie and me to work together on economics, and that was especially helpful since Jay was on jury duty.  I was getting a little nervous about the technology before Thursday, but feel much better now that I have taken some baby steps on some new things and know that I have lots of folks around to help.

Thanks for a great two days.

People often pick up the phone or pound on the e-mail to complain. Fewer (it seems) take opportunity to communicate about a bright spot. For instance, we call the help desk when technology is frustrating us, and we call Georgia Power when the power shuts down. How often do we call to say, “Things worked great today! Thanks for providing the tools and the electricity!” Such positive feedback goes a long way to building a record of what works, what helps, and what needs to continue. Thanks, Sally!

Goal Keepers, Part 2 of 3

In this three-part set of posts about goals, I explore the general concept of goal setting and action stepping, and I drill down more specifically into my school’s new vision statement, Learning for Life, as well as my own professional goals for the year, which are a part of my school’s Faculty Assessment and Annual Review (FAAR) Plan.

Recently, after completing our 2010 SACS-SAIS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools – Southern Association of Independent Schools) self-study, and during engagement with our ongoing strategic planning as a school, a faculty-administration committee drafted our new vision statement, Learning for Life. In late Spring of 2011, the Westminster board, administration, and faculty overwhelmingly endorsed the new vision statement. A copy of the document can be accessed below via Scribd, and you can read a recent Westminster Magazine article about the vision here (see President’s Remarks on pages 2-3 and Cover Story on pages 6-11 of the pdf).

In a nutshell, I am thrilled about the Learning for Life vision statement! In 2011-12, I will be excited to pursue deeper understanding and implementation of such pedagogical practices as project-based learning and problem-based learning (PBL), integrated studies, and balanced assessment. I am charged up, full of creative tension, to explore schedules and spaces that promote deep learning; to work with my colleagues, students, and parents in learning teams; and to connect globally with the countless “teachers” who can help us achieve our vision.

On the ground, with sleeves rolled up, how are we going to achieve our vision, Learning for Life? Among a multitude of efforts aimed to make our vision our new current reality, I believe a community full of creative tension lies at the center. All of the people I work with want to do our best to enhance learning – what a great trait to possess at the outset and all along the way! To close the gap between our existing current reality and our new vision, we at Westminster have our developing Faculty Assessment and Annual Review (FAAR) Plan to help structure our paths, our undertakings, and our desire to improve and enhance learning. The plan has five, integrated and interwoven parts:

  • Goals and Self-Assessment
  • Peer Visits and Observations
  • Administrative Observations
  • Student Course Feedback
  • Feedback from Duties “Outside the Classroom”

During the development of our FAAR plan, a colleague and I made the following video to help explain the philosophical underpinnings of our professional learning framework.

In essence, our FAAR Plan encourages us, as faculty and administration – WE, not “us” and “them” – to set goals that are going to help us learn how to educate in increasingly enhanced ways while pursuing our collective vision as a school. The other four component pieces of the FAAR Plan are supposed to work as a system, in conjunction with our goals and self-assessment, to provide us with feedback (like that reflective mirror and our biological feedback systems mentioned in “Goal Keepers, Part 1 of 3”) which helps us see if our creative tension is steering us to reaching and achieving our goals and vision. From the feedback, if we realize our actions are not steering us closer to our vision, we can adjust course and re-direct our paths.

If you are a reader from Westminster’s faculty and administration, I hope you will carefully reflect during your self-assessment process and establish a primary goal which will motivate you, and all of us, to strive for and achieve the elements of our Learning for Life vision. What’s more, I hope you will utilize your feedback pieces as a whole system to collect and analyze the data which can come back to you from self and others in order to signal how “on target” our efforts and actions are to achieving our vision. Engaging with the FAAR Plan can be so much more than “jumping through bureaucratic hoops.” Engaging with the FAAR Plan can systematize and coordinate our individual efforts into collaborative actions that result in a realized vision – a vision for the best learning that we can provide for ourselves and our student learners.

What matters most is the mindset with which we take on this challenge! What is your mindset going to be? Will you employ a growth mindset? Will you engage with our professional learning plan in such ways that you are energized with creative tension? Will you collaborate with others so that we can work as a team to take on this exciting and invigorating journey as educators and as learners?

I hope you will! I hope you will help me stay focused as both a leader and as a participant team member. It’s about what’s best for our students! It’s about learning!

Be like bamboo

I learn so much from Garr Reynolds. There are countless lessons in his recent TEDxTokyo talk. Before I write too much about the myriad things I am learning and re-learning from his talk, I hope you will watch and find that still water in which to reflect yourself. Domo arigato, Garr.

Powerful Communication

Dan Pink continuously talks about the power of story. The Heath brothers articulate that “sticky” messages have certain attributes. In Tribes, Seth Godin emphasizes the critical, fundamental importance of communication.

For the last 18 months, one of my tracks of personal learning has been focused in the area of communication, presentation, and idea story telling. Dan Pink, Dan and Chip Heath, Edward Tufte, Garr Reynolds and Nancy Duarte have been a few of my virtual teachers.

Recently, Nancy Duarte delivered a TEDxEast talk (below) and several blog posts about presentation and communication.

Our 7th graders are currently studying the god-teacher archetype. Do you see the connections? Here’s to the kaizen of our presentations and communications.

Junior High End-of-Year & JH Celebration 2010-11

February 22, 2011

Dear Junior High School Parents:

With this note, I bring you updates and news about two topics: 1) revisions made to the schedule for the final week of school, May 23-27, 2011, as a result of the “snowcation” that occurred January 10-14, 2011; and 2) enhancements made to the event formerly known as “Junior High School Honors Day,” which is newly named “Junior High School Celebration.”

Final Week of School, May 23-27, 2011
As you know, because of icy conditions during the week of January 10-14, 2011, Westminster was forced to cancel school. While we have added Monday, April 25, 2011 to the school-day calendar, I do not believe that this single day can replace the lost instructional time as a result of “snowcation.” Consequently, after much discussion with the Junior High School PAWS representatives and the school administration, the Junior High is altering our spring “exam week” and reclaiming several more class rotations.

Below you will find the schedule for May 23-27, 2011, loaded into a Scribd viewing screen. Instead of using May 23-27 for traditional exams, we will use half-days, Monday through Thursday, to recapture lost instructional time. Essentially, we are adapting final exams to final tests, which will fit into 50-55 minute classes, just as tests normally do in the Junior High. We will take special care to space out these final tests, so that students will not experience more than two tests in a single day. Because we are adapting exam week, we will not need an extended “review week” during May 16-20. Review for tests will occur as it normally does. In other words, the week of May 16-20 will operate as does any other normal week of school. As an additional benefit of this adaptation of the final two weeks of school (in the Junior High alone), students will be able to review their final assessments to continue their learning. This is an improvement over taking a final exam and dismissing for summer. We appreciate your understanding as we implement such a creative solution to losing a week of instruction in January.

2010-11 Revised Schedule for May 23-27, 2011 (for JH)
[due to lost instructional time Jan. 10-14, 2011 – Snow Week]

Enhancements Made to Junior High School Honors Day and Junior High Celebration

In the Junior High School, we enjoy countless moments of informal recognition for the learning, growth, and development that our students experience and demonstrate. These recognitions occur daily as teachers, coaches, directors, and advisors provide students with positive feedback about good decisions, strong thinking, determined effort, and noteworthy achievement. Of course, we offer constructive criticism, too, so that learners can grow from inevitable mistakes.

Formally, we have a number of events and ceremonies designed to provide more public recognition for accomplishments we wish to celebrate as a community. One of these events has been known as Junior High School Honors Day, which has typically occurred in late May each year. After much discussion and thoughtful deliberation, the Junior High is making several enhancements to Junior High School Honors day, which is being renamed Junior High Celebration.

In the video below, I explain the three fundamental changes to Junior High School Honors Day, as well as the anticipated program for our newly formulated Junior High Celebration. Please take a few minutes – 5 minutes and 22 seconds, to be exact – to view the video.

Additionally, I am providing a description of the various awards that will be presented at the Junior High Celebration – these descriptions can be found in the Scribd document below. In coordination with the changes to the final week of school, Junior High Celebration is now scheduled for Thursday, May 26, 2011, from 10:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m., in McCain Chapel of Pressly Hall. Parents are invited and encouraged to attend as we celebrate together as a community.

2010-11 Descriptions of Awards Presented at JH Celebration

If you have any questions, concerns, or comments, please contact your child’s grade chair, or one of the deans, or Director of Studies Betsy Spruill, or me. As I mention in the video, the next Junior High School Parents Parley with the Principal is scheduled for Wednesday, April 13, and should afford us an opportunity to discuss collectively any questions you have about the final week of school or Junior High Celebration. As you may remember, I am embarking on a sabbatical from March 5 through April 10, so I will be excited to tell you about my experiences when we get together on Wednesday, April 13.

Thank you for your understanding and thoughtful consideration of these changes and enhancements to end-of-school schedules and events. What a blessing to be in partnership with you as we work together to create the most positive and profound learning opportunities for the Junior High students.


Bo Adams