Hacking Leadership with Passion Projects

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Sarah Cronin is a teacher for the Halton District School Board and the program leader for Special Education at Milton District High School.   She is passionate about helping students with learning differences (LD) be confident and empowered and ready to make their mark on the world.  You can learn more about her journey on her blog.

My learning journey this year as an educator is centred around enabling and igniting teacher growth through teacher passion projects.  I’m a big fan of the Hacking Learning Series - and my favourite book so far is Hacking Leadership by Joe Sanfelippo and Tony Sinanis. Chapter 8 highlights running Teacher Passion Projects as a way to develop capacity in staff and to help staff truly benefit from developing as a professional.  Teacher passion projects are when teachers take control of their own professional learning through choosing an area of education to focus on. Topics are varied and learning is centred around working toward becoming a better teacher overall. Learn about it here!  I was so enthralled by the idea that it inspired me to run a version of this in my own department.   I intend to use blogging (~Shifters note: did we mention Sarah has a blog?) to track the journey.  

Here’s why I was inspired:

  • I work with amazing Special Education Resource Teachers (SERTS), and as a leader, I want to contribute to their professional growth in a meaningful way.

  • Teacher Passion Projects give the teacher choice in what they want to learn - to connect that learning to their passions, with the goal of becoming a better teacher.   

  • I want to be a part of a team that consistently strives to be the best they can be.

  • The concept is simple and can be easily executed.  

Here’s what I did:

  • I contacted Joe Sanfelippo on Twitter (@Joe_Sanfelippo)  and told him that after reading his book, I was inspired to recreate a version of teacher passion projects in my department.   I asked for his help in setting this up. Joe connected me with his outline, and templates used in his school district.

  • I took the templates and modified them to match my team needs.

Passion Project Learning Objective and Goal Plan Form

Passion Project (Professional Growth Opportunity) Mid Year Review

Passion Project Professional Growth Opportunity Final Reflection

  • I presented the idea of participating in the passion project to my team.  This was definitely an opt-in choice, it wasn’t mandatory, and it wouldn’t reflect negatively on them should they decide to not participate.  

  • I volunteered to cover one of their classes on a rotational basis of their choice.  This allowed them to work on their passion projects within their school timetable, not on a lunch, and not on a prep.  (I have the flexibility in my own schedule to be able to offer this - this is key to having teacher buy in.)

  • I began my own passion project - (Teacher Passion Projects as a way to develop Building Relationships and Develop People by Stimulating growth in the professional capacities of staff  - Ontario Leadership Framework.)

  • We began:  Watch one teacher talk about her passion project experience thus far:  Christina's Video

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Outcome:

My team this year has doubled in size.  We were four SERTS (myself being the only full time SERT), and we are now eight.  I am excited for the growth in department as we now have in addition to the original four -  two Program Leads - one from Science, and one from Social Sciences/French, one teacher from English, one ELL teacher, and one additional EA.  Wow! The intimidating part for me as a leader is: all of our new additions had little to no experience as a SERT. How was I going to support and help develop our new additions in all the knowledge a SERT needs to have?  Answer: Teacher Passion Projects come to mind….

So out of the nine person team not including myself,  five people have jumped on board this opportunity! And so it begins.  We just started this journey after the October long weekend.

My Leadership Strategies:

  • I set a schedule to cover classes of participating teachers.  This is a rolling commitment based on our schedule agreement. I book myself as busy in my calendar at these times.  

  • Regular meetings with each person to discuss, inspire, and guide the passion project.  So … admittedly, I originally thought this would be more scheduled. However, it turns out I meet with them on a drop in basis.  They drop into my office or I into theirs and we talk about how things are going, what resources are needed, the ins and outs of various topics.   I’m learning a lot from each about their topics. The casualness of this discussion is what is great - we collaborate in our own professional learning  community that has no start time or end time. I like this aspect as I believe it allows the learning journey to flow naturally.

  • Connecting through social media:  We follow each other on twitter and we text regularly.  These provide great arenas for discussion and resource sharing.  You can follow me on twitter: @Sjcronin39

Examples of some of the Passion Project in Progress:  

Passion Project topics included range from classroom pedagogy to leadership initiatives.  Some teachers are learning about Distributed Learning and will use it to introduce blogging into their pedagogy with their classes.  Another is experiential research that is aiming to document an example of the positive impacts of exercise and diet on emotional wellbeing with a student who struggles with mental wellness.  Others are taking Special Education Additional Qualifications and are using this knowledge to enhance their teaching practice by understanding students with learning disabilities better and how to best support them and sharing this knowledge with their other departments.  On the leadership end, we have website development designed for teachers full of helpful and thoughtful resources. Finally my own project … enhancing my leadership skills through supporting teachers in their learning - a.k.a. - capacity building.

Next Steps:  

  • Connecting with each teacher at mid term in a more formal setting to discuss where they will take their project and their learning.  

  • Having the teacher record that on the  Passion Project (Professional Growth Opportunity) Mid Year Review .  It says Mid year because some passion projects may take the year, or it may take a semester.  Either way, I will be meeting with them at mid term first semester.

  • Through Discussion, tweak the purpose of the project and its connection to educational research.

  • Through discussion, support the shaping of sharing the learning with others.  

I will keep you posted on the journey!  Until next time...

~ Sarah Cronin