Leading a Learning Community

Leaders need mentors, share with others, and help others


I am more and more of the opinion that, in order to lead, you must do several things.  First of all, you must set your mission and learning principles.  THIS is the cornerstone to everything that you do.  You must next set a course to challenging old paradigms.  Intertwined in these processes is to find those who naturally lead and influence others.  These people, not you as the Principal, will provide the most profound changes in others. Naturally, processes will emerge.  Over the past few years, I have purposefully grown leaders who lead the SCHS Learning Community.  One cannot change perspective all at once.  It is a process that involved education, discussion, discord, resistence and hard work.  People need encouragement, feedback and the skills to be able to reach the next level.  They need collaboration and a feeling of excitement in what they do.  That’s what we try and provide.  I am not hands off.  In fact, I am far from it.  I provide the context, give them the information, and set the bottom line of my expectations.

The Academic Leaders at SCHS are leaders in the learning community.  Their role is to move and improve learning in their departments.  Through guidance from me, they set their direction (through the backwards design approach) which tie into the school mission and learning principles.  I meet with Academic leaders regularly.  Where have you been (rear view mirror metaphor) and what’s next? (Front windshield metaphor).  Any other language is heavily laden with judgement (the “there’s something wrong” message).


Last year, we worked hard on cornerstone assessment, what it meant and how it should be part of teacher assessment practices.  We discussed the role of assessment, balanced assessment, giving students work that was relevant and interesting, project-based learning.  While we educated our staff, I also reviewed policy HK on student assessment.  Simply put, there needed to be major sweeping changes to how we as high school teachers were assessing students.  Growing the conversation from last year, I was looking for the next progression in how we view assessment.  Last year, each department was compelled to get their outlines and assessment practices in line with Rocky View Schools assessment policy.

This year during our Staff meetings, each department is responsible for presenting an example of an innovative assessment practice to share with the others in their department.  This sparks interest in how staff are engaging in alternative assessment, formative and summative examples, etc.

I believe that staff want to improve their practice. What I hear most often from struggling professionals is that they just don’t know how.  Further, when you value the innovative practice you see on a regular basis and ask them to share, amazing things happen.  Those teachers who are leading the way feel valued and their work coveted.  Enter SCHS Learning Journal.  I am encouraging staff to draft “practitioner” articles to which we will publish.  When you are innovative, you need to share your practice.  Currently, I have three articles out of four that are ready for print.

English – this department has been using balanced assessment for sometime.  They tweaked.

Social Studies – This department tweaked their assessment and reported they were not giving zeroes.  Alternative testing ideas were being used in some classes.

Mathematics – This department made a leap.  Using the “front end matter” of the curriculum, they boldly revamped their assessment practices.  It now reflects more of a balanced approach to assesment.

Science – This department was reluctant to make sweeping changes as they felt they did not know how to use rubrics and project-based learning as well as they would like.  The Academic Leader and I agreed it was important to find an expert in the area of science to assist them in implementing a more project-based approach and what assessment looks like in that environment.

Options and Arts – inherent in these classes is a project-based approach.  Tweaks were made and slight adjustments to teaching approaches were made.


  • Innovative practice and assessment has become standard practice at SCHS
  • Allowing students to re-do assignments has become standard practice
  • Re-tests are an option in all classes
  • Zeros are a thing of the past
  • Alternative assignments are given for those who may need an extra chance
  • Students who do not make the “grade” in the specified period of time (semester) are given the outcomes they need to demonstrate for a passing grade.  They are given extra time to complete this (into the next semester)
  • Exhibition of learning is embedded into SCHS culture.  Originally the concept was voluntary for the 2011-2012 school year, however, it has grown to a full-school event, twice a year.  Last year, we encouraged cross-curricular examplars.  It is nice to see that, in year two, those cross curricular examplars have grown.  In addition, the vision is to have this replace the parent/teacher interview interaction where the focus was on grades to be one of talking about learning and creative practice.
  • Students have huge leeway in “showing what they know” in multiple ways

Growing Leadership:

Our 21st Century learning committee is another group.  I made sure this is another group of leaders who are interested in moving our school into 21st Century Learning Environments. Dr. Heather Fansher developed a one page document, “at a glance” that is available to read here Imagining the Future The “what’s next” for this group is to transform our timetable to more reflect a flexible 21st century environment.  The other goal is to make school space more conducive to the principles of 21st century learning environments.  Parents and students are part of this committee.  I do not chair this group.  I am a member.  At the beginning of discussions, I told them I would abide by their decisions provided they were backwards planned.  Further, it was imperative that student and parent voice be a part of the decision making.  As long as it meets Divisional guidelines I would not veto.


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