35 Corks

643925_10151159353722428_62662312_nI stumbled across this post via Twitter this week, and had a good chuckle.  Ha!  That would be a tough thing to do, try to keep 35 corks underwater using only your hands (I know there are cheaters out there who would say “just put a wood block on them…”)  And then I began to think.  What are the 35 corks that I keep submerged, or know that my colleagues try to drown on a daily basis? So, I decided to set out to list them and here they are!


The 35 Corks That Teachers Keep Submerged (in no particular order)

1. Teaching – its what we do, its what were are good at, and sometimes out teaching assignment of computers, social studies, cosmology and three math classes is what we endure each day.

2.  Inclusive education – with new and important information regarding inclusive education coming (what seems) each school year, teachers are having to plan accordingly to ensure all students are part of their classes, lessons and daily routines.

3. Differentiated instruction – not just a buzz word, but sound instructional practice.  It comes naturally most of the time to effective teachers and the other half of the time is a tough go to think of other ideas.

4. New technology – with iPad’s changing each year and new technology and software entering with the students, teachers have to “keep up” with some of the trends in technology and be able to learn (I think) at least some of the tools that support teaching and learning.

5. Fixing technology – not our jobs, but if we really want that PC to work for students, we need to troubleshoot and fix it ourselves.

6. Report cards – It takes sometimes the equivalence of days and seemingly thousands of typed or written words to compile these documents, in the hopes that all parents get to see them and get a sense of how their child is progressing.

7. Individual Program Plans / Educational Program Plans – for students with special needs or learning disabilities, each students (currently) needs a program plan set in place with goals and objectives developed, tracked and assessed by yours truly.

8. Communication with parents – effective communication with parents is the key to student success, whether that be in person, phone call, email, carrier pigeon or stone tablet.

9. Professional Growth Plans – mandatory in the province of Alberta and held to a high standard by the teachers association, these living documents are reviewed twice a year and personal growth and reflection is expected and required.

10. Social worker – to be there for students when they need advice, guidance or support in non-academic ways.

11. Nurse – from bleeding noses to snotty noses and everything in between.

12. Academic support (outside of class) – one on one help and instruction to students who are struggling, chronically absent, high achievers and even for homework clubs.  Sometimes, teachers do not even get a lunch or a break in the day due to the time committed during breaks and after school to supporting students academically.

13. School committees – the social committee, the PD committee, the healthy living committee, athletics committee, stage production committee…. they all want volunteers.

14. District committees – there are HUGE ranges of committees’ found at the district level, from inclusive education to mentorship to report cards, and teachers are asked each year to join committees based on their roles, expertise and teaching assignments in the schools.

15. Teacher association involvement – whether you become a representative for your school, serve on a local or provincial committee, or attend general meetings for budgets or contract negotiations, there seems to be a meeting every other week from the teachers association.

16. Authentic assessments – these take time, careful consideration and purposeful preparation for the students.  Not to mention the marking that goes along with some of them too.

17. Marking – both summative and formative assessments of (and for) students learning.

18. Coaching – one sport, three sports, five sports…. you name it, we’ve done it.

19. Fundraising – what was once a thing that happened in “lean years” is now a yearly occurrence, and gift cards or chocolates do not sell themselves!  The amount of preparation, time, energy and tracking that goes into a fundraiser is phenomenal.

20. School clubs – if you are not coaching, then you are probably running a school club of some kind.  Consider it your “school duty”.

21. Student discipline – during your own lessons, in the hallways, at lunch or recess and after school, we take tremendous efforts to support and (for lack of a better word) manage students and their behaviours.

22. Role model – I don’t J-walk for fear of someone that might be watching.

23. Student file review – reviewing information about students from their previous years helps to pain a picture of the new students in your classes each year.

24. Additional leadership roles at school – this could be a school-site technology guru, learning coach, learning support teacher or department head, but these additional (non-paying) roles can be just as demanding a role to take on as teaching itself.

25. Home life – putting this one at number 25 does not imply that it is not important!  Finding the perfect balance between working at home and working at school and all the times in between is a difficult task to master.

26. Professional development – attending workshops, seminars, conferences, collaborative communities…. the list can go on.  However, the embedded time to implement and further study what we have learned is actually the bigger obstacle or barrier teachers continue to try to work around.

27.Classroom displays – because keeping the same picture of a rock cycle on the same bulletin board all year can be a bit boring to student day in and day out.  Once in a while, it has got to be changed.

28. Photocopying – need I say more?

29. Bulletin boards – from trims to letters to backgrounds, they are all over the halls and in our classes begging to be decorated.

30. Field trip planning – based on the school district policy and school policy, planning off-site educational experiences is a great way to see your students out of the traditional class!  but man oh man, sometimes the paperwork involved is enough to make you want to pull our hair out!

31. Assemblies – almost entirely absent in high school they are sometimes the bain of elementary teachers’ existence, with the required planning and preparation sometimes needed for a mere 25 minutes of student attention.  Or, they are the opposite – sometimes long, and drawn out narrations or orations that take seemingly hours.

32. Concerts – Winter concerts, Christmas concerts, fall concerts…. everyone loves to hear the students perform and sing!  Ever wonder how much time goes into preparing and rehearsing?  I no longer wonder because I have seen it…

33. Lunchtime supervision – although not a fan favourite for many, I find this a time where I can connect with other students outside of my classes.  Although some days putting my feet up for 10 minutes while I eat my lunch would be a quick trade for no supervision.

34. Dance / tournament supervision – some schools open at 7 am and are open until 10 pm with all the events and athletics and fine arts productions being held.  All of which require school staff to often volunteer hours a week of their time to ensure that the kids have an opportunity to do what they love to do.

35. Everything else that I didn’t get a chance to mention on this (short) list… please feel free to add your item in the comments box.  


What about you?  What are your 35 corks that you try to keep under water each day??


What the Dancing Guy Tells Me about School Improvement

Before reading this post, I suggest you watch the video “Leadership Lessons from the Dancing Guy” narrated by Derek Sivers (shown below). It will help get a context of where I go next…

In the video, Derek Sivers speaks about how the “dancing guy” and his followers demonstrate some interesting aspects of leadership.  I suggest that the same follows for school improvement and system change.

I have the great pleasure of taking a masters class from Gonzaga University with Chris Smeaton (@cdsmeaton) as my instructor.  The class is focused on leadership and school improvement, and we have had some very interesting conversations from the first weekend alone about school improvement, who owns it, why it takes so long and where the change comes from.  And for me, this is a topic that I rarely think about because (“let’s be honest, Andy”) teachers don’t control school change – that is for “administrators and central office”.  At least, that is what some small part of me liked to think, even though I know somewhere deep down in the recess of my mind that school improvement depends largely on teachers.  And I asked the question… “why does it take teachers so long to change?”

Then it hit me.  The Dancing Guy.  That’s why.

School improvement, to me, is a shift or change (in some form or another) that takes place from the grass roots.  It is not a top down, results driven, centrally localized process.  It is owned by the teachers and students, and members of the community.  Before any change or shift occurs, there needs to be that nudge or push or shove into the other direction.  Dan Rackwell, from his Leadership Freak blog, describes leadership as sometimes that sideways movement  in an effort to free ourselves from the rip current.  A sideways movement makes sense to me, especially when it comes to school improvement.

And this is where the dancing guy makes sense.  This is the first person to take that sideways step out of the “rip current”.  This first step, however, is not quite as important as the first follower, as emphasized by Sivers in the video.  For school improvement to occur, there needs to be those that take the initiative, but it also takes (in my opinion) the trust and willingness of others to follow.  In the video above, Sivers says the following:

“[The movement] started with the shirtless guy, and he will get all the credit.  But you saw what really happened.  It was the first follower that transformed a lone nut into a leader.  There is no movement without the first follower”.

Let me emphasize that last point.  There is no movement without the first follower.  I see school improvement as much the same way, in that the first steps towards improvement are not as important as the steps by those that follow.  Real school improvement is supported and acknowledged by teachers, as well as students, administrators and the community, and gains momentum as more people see the need and benefits to improvement.  The first steps are the hardest, but the ones that follow are the most important.

Your thoughts?