Pope HoPE: Helpful Professional Exploration

I took a stab in the dark today as I sent an email out to my staff in the hopes of starting a new initiative. I called the initiative Pope HoPE. HoPE standing for Helpful Professional Exploration. The idea here is to offer a series of after school, 1 hour sessions that are designed to explore and expose some technique or tool that teachers may find useful. I will start with Blogging and then move to things like Twitter, Google Docs, Dropbox, Class Dojo etc, but with the hope that eventually the teachers take this over and start offering it to each other, and to me. I have a bit of a head start because I was lucky enough to work on a central based team last year with educators a whole lot more skilled than I who kept showing me great stuff.

The rationale for these sessions is really multi levelled. First, I want to help to move teachers along the spectrum of comfort that our board outlined through Project NeXt. The spectrum basically works with the understanding that people come to technology or the concept of 21C at a variety of different levels. The levels are:

  1. ENTRY

The theory is that for someone to truly get started with any sort of implementation, they first need to identify where they are on this spectrum and then identify what they can do to simply move one level. No great transformations on the first day, just a thought about how to move a bit. The hope is that this will alleviate some of the trepidation that comes with change and with trying something that is new. I hope to provide some step-by-step instruction to start the process for our teachers.

Another reason for this is to provide a basic framework for the direction of our school. I passionately believe that there is an amazing opportunity for schools to take bold steps now if some key factors are in place. First you need a willing and energetic staff. I know I have the energy and the initial responses I am getting lead me to believe that there is real will. Secondly you need some local resources that can act as a small catalyst to support innovation and give teachers and department the license to try things. Basically I as principal have to be able to immediately respond to some of the energy of the staff. The last think a school needs is a coordinated and coherent direction so as to gain support and help from central and other agencies to make true and profound change happen. This is where the real work is.

We have a real opportunity this year with three major initiatives going on. We have IB Self Study, District Review and School Support Initiative. Each of these could be seen as major hassles from outside sources, forcing us to do little more than fill out reports and generate data. This response is too easy and frankly lazy. The other way to look at these initiatives are as opportunities to refine and publicize our direction. All these, (along with others like School Learning Improvement Plans, Teacher Performance Appraisals etc.), force large sections of the school to take time and reflect on the way things happen and on what can and should be done to move things along. This is fabulous as time is very seldom allotted to this practice.

With this focus can come some real and profound movement. The key is to establish a common direction and language and then have things fall in line behind that. The language is so key here because it is that common language that can allow for collaboration and true creativity to rise. By having a common language the staff can talk efficiently and then get to work on initiatives and progress. There will be those that doubt or act solely as critic, but with a common language often those people are drowned out, or their criticism is accepted as a helpful part of the reflective process. Whichever the case, momentum can continue.

I am confident that I can support the momentum for a little while but for real long term change and movement, there needs to be an increased commitment from people with larger purses than I. The board must look at allocations in a different way and look to support more robustly those communities that have momentum instead of throwing money into policies that do little more than band-aid over serious issues. There should be less of numerous resource and central departments forwarding their own agendas, and more focussed placement to support those that can act as examples for others.

This is particularly the case for the ministry of education. If my time at central taught me anything it was the frustration of having a good and even coordinated and dare I say, innovative idea, only to be handcuffed by ministry funding that comes with spirit-strangling limitations and conditions. When superintendents spend more time filling out proposals and reports, then they do actually thinking about education, then there is a fundamental flaw in the system. Resources have to be able to be used in the most appropriate and immediate way possible, or too much momentum will be lost.

Perhaps that is what has happened for 200 years. People wonder how education is the only major institution that has not adapted in the profound way that things like music, news, entertainment and the publishing sectors have. Perhaps this is because the machinery that moves education is so bogged down in bureaucracy that any momentum toward change eventually dies off. I sincerely hope this is not the case with what is happening in education now as I feel that things can change profoundly and even rapidly if the right support is applied in the right place at the right time. I suppose in the end that is what Pope HoPE is all about.

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