Bold ideas, unjustified anticipations, and speculative thought, are our only means for interpreting nature: our only organon, our only instrument, for grasping her. And we must hazard them to win our prize. Those amoung us who are unwilling to expose their ideas to the hazard of refutation do not take part in the scientific game.
Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery
currently at HWW
I did not post an entry to this blog last week mainly because I was in Houston at an International Baccalaureate workshop for principals and heads of IB schools. This workshop presented an exceptional opportunity for me to discuss IB in particular, and school programs in general, with school-based leaders from around the world. I returned mid-week with many ideas that I am confident will help us to continue building an exceptional school program at Henry Wise Wood.
The International Baccalaureate is an international program that provides a standard curriculum for schools around the world. Unlike other programs associated with academic extension and rigour, IB is focused on developing in students a global perspective and a broad set of attributes and competencies, as described in the IB Learner Profile. I am proud that Henry Wise Wood is an IB World School. We are in the process of refocussing and planning the next stage of growth of our IB program. I will use this space to share our plans in the coming weeks.
IB Learner Profile
The central feature of the IB program and of individual IB courses is the Learner Profile. The IB Learner profile describes ten characteristics that we seek to develop in our students and to continue to develop in ourselves. These characteristics are: inquirers, knowledgable, thinkers, communicators, principled, open-minded, caring, risk-takers, balanced, and reflective.
Focus on the May 6 Minister of Education’s Ministerial Order
On May 6, the Alberta Minister of Education, Jeff Johnson, issued a ministerial order in which he states that our goal from kindergarten through Grade 12 is to “enable students to achieve the following outcomes [note their similarity to the IB Learner Profile!]:
- be Engaged Thinkers and Ethical Citizens with an Entrepreneurial Spirit;
- strive for engagement and personal excellence in their learning journey;
- employ literacy and numeracy to construct and communicate meaning;
- discover, develop and apply competencies across subject and discipline areas for learning, work and life to enable students to:
- know how to learn: to gain knowledge, understanding or skills through experience, study, and interactions with others;
- think critically: conceptualize, apply, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate to construct knowledge;
- identify and solve complex problems;
- manage information;
- create opportunities through play, imagination, reflection, negotiation, and competition, with an entrepreneurial spirit;
- apply multiple literacies;
- demonstrate good communication skills and the ability to work coöperatively with others;
- demonstrate global and cultural understanding; and
- identify and apply career and life skills through personal growth and well-being.”
My work with other principals across the city and province, and our collective work within our own schools, is focused on this ministerial order – this is the direction in which education is moving in Alberta. It occurs to me, though, that in addition to pointing towards the future, this order – in many ways – represents a statement of what already is occurring in our high schools.
These outcomes have long represented the attitudes and perspectives we have sought to foster in our students while we work with them inside and outside of the classroom. In particular, the development of most of these qualities has been the primary rationale of our extra-curricular programming. Whether we consider athletics, mathematics contests, student leadership, debate, robotics and CTS Skills competitions, the environmental club, model UN, performing arts performances, international travel, or any of the other many extra-curricular opportunities our teachers have voluntarily made available to students, the qualities articulated in this ministerial order as representing the core of the future of grade-school education in Alberta have been fostered in high schools for generations.
This does not mean that we should not keep focused on further embedding these competencies in all the experiences our students find in schools. This is work that will be ongoing at HWW through our professional learning and collaborative work.
Impact of Reduced Funding on the 2013-2014 HWW School Budget
There has been a great deal of media coverage over the past couple of weeks concerning the impact on high schools of the reduction in our per-student allocations for the 2013 – 2014 school year. As many will know, there was a reduction in provincial funding for education in Alberta this year. Additionally, the CBE budget featured a change in the percentage of funds allocated to each of the four divisions [K-3, 4-6, 7-9, 10-12]. The combination of the decrease in overall provincial funding and the decrease in the percentage of that funding that was allocated to high schools in the CBE has resulted in our having to reassess our priorities and to become even more strategic in how we deploy our financial resources in high schools.
Last week, the CBE released information concerning high school class size – in particular, average and maximum classes size. As is seen on that media release, the average class size at HWW is 29 students [actually, it is closer to 28.5!] and our largest class size has 72 students. The increase in average class size at HWW this year is fewer than two students per class. While these are interesting metrics, they tell very little of the story at HWW.
Students at Wise Wood are registered in nearly 400 different classes this year. A number of these are classes offered at the Career and Technology Centre and have just one or two students registered from our school. Others are classes for students with exceptional needs. For example, we have one group of five students who have recently arrived to Canada as refugees with very limited fluency in English and no formal schooling experience in their birth countries. At the other end of the class-size spectrum is our Work Experience class of 72 students. The nature of this class is such that these students spend their time ‘in the field’ and not in a classroom. While the teacher is responsible for tracking and supporting all these students, and may call upon any of them to be available during that class time, there is never a meeting of 72 students during that period. Because of the way in which high schools are organized, these measures – while intuitively attractive – are potentially misleading and not very reflective of the quality of education provided in a school.
As the CBE media release makes clear, the principal of a school is responsible to decide how to allocate the available funds so as to best support student growth and achievement in that school. At HWW, where this year’s student population is one student less than last year’s, the decision was made to shield classrooms as much as possible from the impact of the reduced funding. The result of this decision has been the loss of the teacher-librarian position and a reduction from three to two assistant principals. These are positions that enhance learning indirectly through their support of teachers. In addition to their instructional leadership, assistant principals carry much of the management burden of a school. I am grateful to our two assistant principals, Mr. T. Barile and Ms H. Mann, for their acceptance and support of this decision.
In addition to the modest increase in average class size, we have had to reduce the selection of complementary courses available to our students. In particular, we are not offering Grade 10 Dance this year and anticipate the possibility that other areas of choice will be limited in the coming year. To ensure that our complementary program is responsive to students’ interest, we will be surveying current and prospective students over the next few weeks concerning what complementary subject choices matter most to them.
Perhaps the greatest danger of this funding reduction is its potential to affect staff morale. It is hard for many in high schools not to feel that this targeted reduction reflects the value placed on their work. I am very heartened not to have seen indications of a drop in morale at HWW either in our teachers’ willingness to continue to support our extra-curricular program or in their approach to their teaching. This is another reason that I am proud to be the principal of Henry Wise Wood High School.
Finally, the CBE is charged with a responsibility over students from kindergarten through grade 12. Accordingly, decisions need to be seen in the light of the needs of students across that range in grades. Investments in primary education today will promote student success in high schools in the future. This is not the forum for me to share my personal position concerning these decisions, but I am comfortable expressing the view that most unfortunate is the overall absence of stable and sufficient funding for grade-school education in this province.
change in communication
As indicated at the bottom of each of my blog postings, we are striving to improve our communication with our school community. As part of this communication, I believe that it is important for the school’s principal to be known by the community and for his or her work to be as transparent as possible. Part of this transparency involves the reasons for decisions, initiatives, and changes to be made clear. One way in which I attempt to work in a transparent manner is by using social media – this blog is an example. I have been using Twitter to share items that influence my own thinking and understanding and that represent current views in education. Those on Twitter can follow me at @hwwprinicipal.
I have recently created a Facebook page which will serve a similar purpose. I understand that people have different levels of interest and comfort with various social media, and that many members of our school community who are not ‘on’ Twitter are ‘on’ Facebook.
You can view my HWW principal Facebook page at facebook.com/hwwprincipal. If you are on Facebook and ‘like’ this page, each update I enter will appear on your Facebook news feed.
from the School Council and Parents Alumni Association
Annual General Meeting
The Annual General Meeting our our School and Parents Councils was held Monday, October 7. I am pleased to report that all the executive positions for both organizations were filled, and that the proposed by-law changes were approved.
One of our guidance councellors, Linda Dimond-Cerciello, made a presentation entitled “Surviving High School 101 – What Every Parent Should Know.” Linda shared information and a perspective that was helpful to the parents in attendance.
Our School Council has launched their second fund-raising activity with the sales of indoor bulb kits. Each kit contains a bulb, pot, soil and instructions – everything you need to grow an inside bulb. Information is found on the bulb brochure. Completed forms and payment can be dropped off at the school office.
GATE parents information night
An information night for parents of prospective HWW GATE students will be held Wednesday, October 30 beginning at 6:00 pm. While the focus will be on providing information to the families of prospective students, families of current are more than welcome to attend and to hear from me and our GATE learning leader, Dr. L. Alisat our thoughts concerning high school level GATE and details of our current, and anticipated future, program offerings. I would love to meet as many of our current GATE student parents as possible that evening.
best of @hwwprincipal
The following represents a small sample of the links tweeted this week on @hwwprincipal. If you are on Twitter, you can follow @hwwprincipal; if you are not, you can see all the tweets at twitter.com/hwwprincipal. As well, each ‘tweet’ is posted to the HWWPrincipal Facebook page.
Dancing statistics: explaining the statistical concept of frequency distribution | via @bpsofficial
Where does your class spend most of their time?
We can learn a lot about our own intelligence – and capacity to change that intelligence – by considering other instances of intelligence.
Doodling in Math Class: DRAGONS | via @vihartvihart
from the principal’s turntable
A couple of weeks ago, our learning leader of Science, Ms K. Johnson, brought me a CD that she thought I might enjoy. I brought the CD home, very much enjoyed the music, and ordered online a copy of the LP. Yesterday, when I arrived home from work, a record-sized cardboard box was propped against my door and I was soon enjoying Daughter – If you Leave.
I can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I have Twitter account that I will use to share ideas and information. If you are on Twitter, you can follow @hwwprincipal. If you are not, you can view the posts at twitter.com/hwwprincipal.
In addition to Twitter, I am now maintaining an HWWPrincipal Facebook page at: facebook.com/hwwprincipal. If you are on Facebook and ‘like’ this page, you will receive updates in your News Feed.
Be sure, as well, to keep up to date by checking in regularly to our school webpage at henrywisewood.ca and follow our athletics program at twitter.com/hwwathletics. We now have a general Twitter account maintained by students at: @hwwstudents or twitter.com/hwwstudents.