The Mighty School Principal

Thinking back to elementary and high school, we all had principles throughout our academic careers. Whether they were a big part of our school life or a small part, their presence seemed to control the very atmosphere of the school. This week, I was able to learn a lot more about what being a principal actually means, and what that means for me transitioning from a student to a teacher.

To be an effective principal means more than just enforcing rules. A principal must establish the mission, vision, and culture of the school through each of their words and actions. To me, this sounds difficult since you are your words and actions. Essentially you must become one with your school.

Principals are also responsible for funding. Deciding where the money for your school is going to go is tough. Obviously, you want to give every club, sports team, and classroom money to see them thrive and reach their potential. With school budgets shrinking and shrinking principals have to make the tough decisions. Do you give money for the SRC to hold a pep-rally or buy the volleyball team new jerseys and equipment?

The role of a principal is always changing. Principals are now supposed to be approachable as well as enforcing rules. Principals must look after the well-being of students, staff, and community. I learned that principals must act as the mediator between school community members and students and staff within the school. This adds even more responsibility that lies outside of the principal’s jurisdiction.

I was able to connect with this weeks lecture on principals in unique ways. Throughout high school and elementary school, I served on my school’s Student Representative Council. We planned each of the school-wide events such as dances and pep-rallies, and I experienced first hand the heartbreaking news of a small budget. This news would often result in events being cut and resources dwindling.

Another connection I made was having all types of principals throughout my life. I’ve had easily approachable principals, ones that didn’t leave their office, others got involved in everything around the school. I’m very lucky that I’ve had such a diverse set of principals in my life because the variety has helped me pick out good quality and bad qualities of a principal.

My one question is to do with the changing role of the principal. How exactly has the role principals have in schools changed throughout the years?

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Becoming M. Hodson

There are so many aspects of our lives that make up who we are. Past mistakes, current events, and future aspirations all contribute to who we are. What exactly lies within those ambiguous statements? Everything from your race, religion, and even occupation. As a pre-service teacher I have thought long and hard about my identity as a teacher, but never did I consider it to be so multi-dimensional before.

I learned that the act of transitioning from student to teacher does not look the same for everyone. The feelings that are often brought up by teachers are anxiety, ambiguity, and even control issues. These feelings are not pretty and by no means encompass the entire pre-service experience, but the feelings are similar in many drastic life transitions.

I also learned that within the teaching community comes a discourse. This is a type of work culture that pre-service teachers must learn to navigate. This is everything from the language used in the staff room to the silent expectations of student behaviour. Discourse is in every work place, but in teaching the cost of such culture sometimes ignores student and teacher needs.

Discourse describes a normal. These expectation encourages teachers not to stray from the norm.

This discussion held student teachers at the heart of it all, and as a pre-service teacher myself I found that I was already asking myself these important questions. I was able to connect easily to the fear and uncertainty because I face those challenges myself.

I also connected to the idea of discourse. Fortunately, I attend a university that puts student teachers in the classroom in the very first year. It is in the staffroom that I encounter an entirely different ecosystem that feels like I’m on another planet.

I fear that in my practice I may stray from the norm, and so I often wonder how far I can stray from the teacher ideals?

Professional Ethics

Whoever said teaching is not political clearly has never heard of the STF or looked at the history of teacher professional development. The STF stands for the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation, it is an organization made up of teachers to represent teachers. They bargain with the government with teachers’ best interest in mind. Who would have thought – the people representing the people?

Even though I am only a first year student I think it is important for all education students to be knowledgeable about the salary and benefits that are provided to current teachers. An easy place to find this information is on the STF website. On this website I learned that teachers get the following benefits: health plan, dental plan, disability plan, life insurance, teacher well-being, and pension plan. This is definitely something to look forward to.

Lastly I learned of the Stewart Resources Centre. This online library houses a collection of books, audio-visual resources, print and e-journals and newspapers, and prepared units all for Saskatchewan teachers. I will definitely be spending my time during pre-internship browsing the many resources provided through this amazing resource centre.

When I was looking around the website I came across the salary grid for the past few years, including the most recent one that expired on August 30, 2017. If I were to be a first year teacher with only a BEd I would be making a salary of $55,474. This amount increases every year for the next eleven years, and varies depending on your level of education. Although new contracts will be signed and the salary will hopefully keep rising, this number gives me a good idea about what to expect in my future.

I was able to really feel part of the website when I came across a section for new teachers. This section of the website specifically addresses the questions and concerns that new teachers may have. I clicked on many links and feel fully informed on the basis of the teaching profession and on the part that the STF plays in my career.

The only topic that this website didn’t cover was the mention of substitute teachers. What is their pay rate? Do they get the same benefits? Does the STF vouch for substitute as well? The lack of mention to substitute teachers is the only cause for concern, and I’m sure that many of you out there have answers to my questions so leave them in the comments below.

School and Prison – What’s the Difference?

Schools are supposed to prepare children for their futures. The mantra that many of our parents lived by was ‘go to school → attend college → get a good job → Success’. I learned that for the upcoming generation this is no longer the case. With so many opposing forces that threaten to push students off track to higher education, many students no longer see the purpose of education.

I learned that these opposing forces come in the shape of school policies that aim to push racialized students out of the classroom and into the criminal justice system. In CBC’s article “Almost half of TDSB students expelled over last 5 years are black, report says” it states that of the 307 students that were expelled in the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) “more than 300 expelled students were males in secondary schools. Of those, 48 per cent self-identified as black, compared to 10 per cent who are white.” It makes sense that when students are ostracized within schools based on systemic factors such as poverty and race that they no longer see value in learning.

Image result for panopticon
via Google

 

In order for this type of punishment to be taking place, students must be under constant surveillance. This is true when you take into account the type of schooling that North American ideas have created, and how likely schooling is comparable to the panopticon. In Michael Gallagher’s article “Are Schools Panoptic?” he summarizes the panopticon idea as “a ring of cells encircling a watch-tower, from within which a single supervisor is able to see inside each cell.” This was created in the late eighteenth century by Jeremy Bentham as a new way to build prisons. This is often compared to schools because the similarities are uncanny. Students are herded into classrooms based on age, academic level, and other criteria. Teachers supervise students, dictating acceptable and and not acceptable behaviours with a severity of consequence. No matter where the students move within the school they are under constant surveillance, and that promise is what keeps them in line.

In my time in the education system I too witnessed the effects of school policies that pushed students out of the classroom. The presence of a resource officer was a constant in my school and played a large role in supervision and served as a threat for some students. I also witnessed many classmates face suspension and expulsion. These students would brag about the time off, not recognizing how damaging the system was.

My question throughout this week was about realistic alternatives. To end the panopticon like schooling I assume that an obvious answer would  be to decrease control and punishment, how are parents and students assured the safety and stability of a school? What would that look like?

The Conception of the School System

The function and purpose of schools in society is a topic that ignites many arguments among the general public. Everybody has an idea about how the K-12 school system should be run, and with all these voices competing against one another it is hard to enact change to the school system. Yet, change still occurs and the curriculum continues to evolve. Being able to look back in history at schools and to see how far they’ve come can say a lot about why the school system is the way it is.

In the beginning, school was used as a way to transition children from working insanely dangerous and rigorously long hours to support their families to a childhood of learning and moving up social classes through education. The belief behind the implementation of school was to keep children busy and out of the penile system. I learned that it was believed at this time that if children were not kept busy that they would go looking for trouble.

I was able to reflect back on my time in school, and to the years before me to analyse the times when the school system shifted. I then was able to identify that the changes in the school system were correlated with changes in society. One of the newest examples I can think of is the integration of digital citizenship into the school curriculum. As the use and population of digital technology continues to grow in society, schools have changed in order to accommodate society.

Having a philosophy of education is important for all teachers. I learned that there are typically four different types of educational philosophies:

  1. Perennialism – The focus of education should be the ideas that have lasted over centuries.
  2. Essentialism – Tries to instill all students with the most essential or basic academic knowledge and skills and character development.
  3. Progressivism – individuality , progress, and change are fundamental to one’s education.
  4. Reconstructionism – Emphasizes the addressing of social questions and a quest to create a better society and worldwide democracy.

A connection I made at this time was to the past belief that children needed to be kept busy to stay out of trouble. In present times there is a big debate between over-scheduling and under-scheduling. Along with school, students take part in dance, hockey, taekwondo, etc. It feels as if this belief stems from the industrial age when schools were first invented to keep children busy.

The next connection I was able to make very easily was to the mention of the debate between classical education and vocational education. I personally experienced a very classical education where I learned from history’s greatest works and math formulations from the past. During my high school education I was given the opportunity to attend a vocationally driven school called Campus Regina Public. This school was for people who believed that they would benefit and succeed in a more vocational styled education.

My question for this week is who decides what is taught and how it is taught?

Reconceptualizing the Reconceptualist

Some people believe that if something ain’t broke then it doesn’t need to be fixed. I also believe in this concept, but only in particular instances. Such as using the same fridge my grandparents had on their farm for my entire life.

Picture of an old fridge
SnaPsi Сталкер Flickr via Compfight cc

Does the fridge keep things cold?

Yes.

Does it have an ice machine and all the buttons that nobody ever uses?

No.

The same can be said for the schooling system. Many argue that change to the curriculum is not worth the effort, but with an ever-changing society the things we learn in school should prepare students for the lifestyle after graduation.

This brings us to reconceptualism, something I had never heard of before. I learned that reconceptualism is a belief that counters everything I had spent the first five weeks of class driving into my brain. It challenges the narrow worldview that the likes of Bronfenbrenner and Piaget share – the view of an old white guy. The challenges that reconceptualists pose aren’t backed with hostility. They are only suggestions for a different way to think.

I then went on to learn of the three broad focuses that reconceptualists adhere to:

1) They challenge grand narratives. I immediately connected this to Vygotsky who thought differently from what every other white, male, child psychologist believed at the time and began examining the classroom in its entirety instead of examining individuals..

2) They recognize and embrace diversity. This can be done by keeping an open mind and perspective as well as willing to ask the difficult questions. I was able to connect this to my very first school placement in ECS 100. I was placed in Albert Community School where the entire structure of the day was different from any other school I had known of. This was done in the best interest of the surrounding community because the staff at Albert Community were able to ask the tough questions.

3) Lastly, they acknowledge social and historical context. This is done by considering the many possibilities for transformation to eradicating issues around poverty, colonialism, gender, and many more social and historical issues.

In learning all of this, I aim to build a mindset of reconceptualism. But I am not sure I will be successful at the patience that goes along with this belief. How do patience and reconceptualism go hand in hand?

Culture and Diversity in the Classroom

Culture is like an iceberg. This analogy may be overused and predictable, but I found the use for this purpose very fitting. I learned that we only see the top third of this iceberg, Image result for different coloured children armswhich is comprised of the food, dress, and language of a culture. These are all visual indicators of culture. Whereas child-rearing beliefs, cleanliness, and roles in relation to age, gender, and class which are found below the surface of the water are not visually seen. Culture is complex and textbook definitions are vague, so describing culture as an iceberg is a great way to explain the confusing concept.

When you can only see a small part of someone’s culture, attaching stereotypes and assumptions will not only lead to incorrect expectations, but also hurt the student in the long run. I learned that oftentimes stereotypes, even ones that seem positive, have heavily negative effects on students. For instance, the seemingly positive belief that Asian-American students are smart puts an unbelievable amount of pressure on student.

In education the words ‘achievement gap’ become a hot topic. I had never seen the study as problematic. Then I learned that when non-white ethnic students are compared to white students it sets the white students as normal, and everyone else as different.

When it comes to teaching in an ever changing society, I feel that I have a lot to learn to successfully teach multicultural education. I connected to the use of the social divide ‘us’ and ‘them’. These terms were used regularly in my Education Core Studies 110 class to dismantle the many binaries and biases we covered in the curriculum. I also connected to the use of gender bias in teaching. I often find myself affirming the statistic that high achieving males are given the most attention and high achieving females are given the least. It is easy to assume that females have their bearings together and that my attention can be focused on more problem areas, but I must try to stop this way of thinking as it is not fair.

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My question for this reading is what effect does having single-sex classroom have on social development after school is over? Also, how does the school system approach children who do not identify with either gender? This so-called solution does not seem to be in favour of the child’s social development.