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The Eternal Classroom…

May 14, 2016 4 comments

“Professional development that is most relevant for teachers is focused on teachers’ real work, provides teachers with opportunities to make choices about their own learning, happens over time, and contributes to building a professional culture of collaborative learning.”                ~Kathy A. Dunne~


Most of us envision schools as places where adults spend their time teaching children. Regardless of one’s pedagogical beliefs; constructivist, problem-based or old school transmission/bunch-o-facts, our concept of school is a place where only children learn. Though we recognize the need for  teachers to be trained, often this training (or professional development) is structured to occur out of school; at workshops, conferences or on training days.This structure does not serve either teachers or their students well.

I’ve been fortunate over my career to have had the chance to work with thousands of teachers in a wide range professional training contexts; from ballrooms filled with hundreds of teachers, to conference sessions and workshops, webinars and small group inquires. I’ve also had the chance to research all manner of professional learning structures and, in synthesizing these two sources of information, can summarize my belief about teacher professional training with the following theory of action:

If we use classrooms as places where both teachers and school leaders learn; then student learning will be richer, deeper and more impactful.

Over the past few weeks our staff have been engaged in some school-based professional learning focused on helping our teachers learn how they can use common assessment tools and practices to help them improve their math instruction.  We have put our teachers into small learning teams (3 or 4 members) and provided them with the time to express the challenges and questions they are wrestling with, explore common themes and patterns and connect them with the practices that may help us address these challenges.

It’s not a complex structure and it rests on the simple belief that teachers want to work together to improve their teaching.  In her article, Teachers as Learnerseducational researcher Kathy Dunne outlines 7 key aspects that all effective professional learning structures share:

  • Driven by a vision of the classroom
  • Helps teachers develop the knowledge and skills to create vision
  • Mirrors methods to be used by students
  • Builds a learning community
  • Develops teacher leadership
  • Links to the system
  • Is continuously assessed

Earlier in my career I served as a school-based Adjunct Professor for a teacher education program and upon completion of the program I would congratulate the teacher candidates with the following reminder; you don’t just have a license to teach, you also have a license to learn.  It’s folly to assume that all teachers enter the profession with all the knowledge and skills required to be successful. Teaching is a highly complex and specialized field that requires constant learning and that learning is best situated in the place where teachers ply their craft and, with colleagues who can best help them learn and grow.

John Hattie, in his work The Politics of Collaborative Expertise expresses the imperative that; rather than apply external pressures or mandates, school and system leaders focus instead on providing the structures and resources to support teachers to build their collaborative expertise; within and across schools. As a principal, I trust that the teachers I am leading wish to improve their classroom teaching and are eager to work with one another to do so; even if this learning is complex and demanding.

Teachers spend a large amount of their lives in classrooms; first as children and later as adults. It turns out that the best teachers continue to see the classroom as place where they can learn; we need all teachers to see the classroom this way.

Moving on…

June 3, 2015 2 comments

“Farewell has a sweet sound of reluctance.”    John Steinbeck

Photo: The Old Glory   Ujbanyiv’s Fotothing

Our district announces the appointments and transfers for principals and vice-principals for the next school year in early June and last night, my name was on the list. After 3 fun-filled years as the principal at Park Avenue Public School I will be moving on to serve as the principal at Clearmeadow Public School this coming September.

Changing schools is not a big deal for most school administrators; we get the chance to work in multiple schools as vice principals and, as a result, are well versed in managing transitions. We also are aware that we have committed to a school system, and not just a school. In a district like ours, with over 150 schools, principal movement is a reality. Additionally, a big part of what drives those of us who choose this role is an willingness to embrace change and experience the challenges and opportunities that different schools offer. This was certainly one of the aspects that drew me to school leadership.

That’s not to say that I am doing cartwheels about leaving the school I have served for the past 3 years. I’ve had the chance to get to know a wonderful group of students and their families and work alongside an amazing group of dedicated professionals. But I always knew my time at Park Avenue would end and it has.

There’s an old saying the goes ‘it’s better that people think fondly of you of wherever you go, instead of whenever you go’; I certainly hope that’s the case for me (although one never really knows). I know that together we have made many changes in our little school during my time here. Some of them were my idea but, honestly, most of the changes were ideas that our staff, students and community came up with- I was just the guy who said, “sure, let’s try it…” and, sometimes, “how much does it cost?”  Either way, I am proud of the changes we have made and the things we have accomplished.

As a staff we launched a school-wide modern learning professional inquiry on how to use technology to enhance teaching and learning, together, with our parent community, we explored effective mathematics instruction and have taken a much closer look at how we can respond to the mental health and anxiety-based needs of our students. All good stuff- and it will continue.

All this good stuff; the ideas and the initiatives, came from the staff and students at our school- and almost of of them will be staying around. I’m not-but they are; and the work we began will continue with our new principal Bruce Baynham. Bruce will bring a fresh perspective and add his ideas to the mix-this is the way of public schools.

So, soon I will bid farewell. I will miss this place but I am excited about the the next steps I will take in my professional journey. In the meantime, I plan on enjoying every last second of my time as principal at Park Avenue Public School.

Park Avenue Post Weekly

September 6, 2013 Leave a comment

Happy Friday!  A big thank you to our staff, our students and our families for launching our school year with enthusiasm and success!

Please click on the link below to access the first edition of the Park Avenue Post Weekly:

Park Ave Post Weekly 1.1

All the best!

Brian Harrison

Categories: Uncategorized

ETFO Labour Update

January 14, 2013 Leave a comment

Please click on the link below to access a message from our Director, Ken Thurston, on the events of this past Friday, January 11th.

ETFO Day of Protest Jan14

Categories: Uncategorized

Elementary Teacher Protest Update

January 10, 2013 1 comment

Please note the attached information update on the planned elementary teacher protest scheduled for Friday, January 11th. We have adjusted our Pizza Lunch Schedule; moving tomorrow’s date to the end of March.

Thanks for your patience and understanding and look forward to the resumption of classes on Monday, January 14th.

Brian Harrison: Principal


Categories: Uncategorized

ETFO-York Region Job Action

November 18, 2012 Leave a comment

By now many members of our Park Avenue school community will have heard or read media accounts of a pending job action on the part of our teaching staff. Job action is a legal and normal part of the collective bargaining process and this case is no different.

Please click on the link below for a communication from the Director of of board, Ken Thurston, and know that the entire Park Avenue staff; teachers, support staff and myself, remain committed to the learning, well-being and safety of each student.

November 19th Letter to Parents

Information and updates in this process will be shared through this blog, as well as our @ParkAvenuePS and @YRDSB twitter feeds. As always, please feel free to contact me at the school if you have any questions or concerns.


Brian Harrison                                                                                                                                                                                                         Principal

Categories: Uncategorized

Comfort the Afflicted/Afflict the Comfortable

May 26, 2012 7 comments

Here come real stars to fill the upper skies,
And here on earth come emulating flies,
That though they never equal stars in size,
(And they were never really stars at heart)
Achieve at times a very star-like start.
Only, of course, they can’t sustain the part.

-Robert Frost~

Connecting offers wonderful, mysterious and unanticipated benefits and our experiences on the Saturday of ConnectEd Canada have once again confirmed this hypothesis.

This morning I had the pleasure of facilitating a conversation with around 30 interesting folks from across Canada in the first block of sessions. The topic focus was on networked learning and the challenges and delights of the work educators are doing to shift our culture from a structure of heierarchy towards one where our public schools enable more open, inclusive, innovative and inquiry-based learning for adults and children. I won’t go into specifics, if you wish to probe my thoughts and reflections on this topic; they are archived in this blog.

Over the course of our session, we shared the raw and heart-felt experiences of the struggles we have experienced as leaders, or initiators, of this vital shift. I was reminded of a comment Mary Jane Gallagher, Ontario’s Assistant Deputy Minister of Education made at the ABEL Leadership Summit in February. In supporting us to keep pushing forward, Mary Jean encouraged those of us in leadership roles to “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

This sentiment rolls of the tongue easily, but this is not so easy to do~day in and day out in schools. This is why using social media to build a PLN and join events like #connectEdca are so vital. We’ve shared some wonderful ideas here, we have supported and felt both support and comfort. We have taken a break from the isolation that many feel as we challenge the status quo and work to re-vision public education.

But, it is clear to me that we cannot sustain a great system of public education by rewarding those in our schools and systems who do not innovate at the cost of those who do.

As my colleague @thecleversheep reminds us, we are fireflies in a jar who have happily gathered for a few days to share some warmth and light.  The networks we have created through our tweets and blogs not only sustain us in these efforts, they help us deepen and extend the work that we need to do to move forward.

This is my reflection from the second day of ConnectED Canada.

2011 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,800 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Categories: Uncategorized
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