TC² @ 25
Focus for This Month
Success Stories
Next Steps
Media Release
TC² @ 25
Focus for This Month
Success Stories
Next Steps
Media Release

Focusing on a Core Responsibility of the Principalship

Mary Nanavati

I have always believed that a key role of the principalship is to support professional learning for teachers. Without a doubt, though, creating effective professional learning is a team effort, requiring the participation of administrators, teachers, board resource staff, and—when possible—external experts such as the consultants from The Critical Thinking Consortium (TC²). By working together, we can create varied and meaningful professional development experiences that meet the needs and requirements of students, teachers, schools, school districts, and ministries of education.

The challenge: achieving two priorities concurrently

It can be a challenge to achieve a consistent quality in assessment and evaluation practices at any large high school. This was certainly the case at John Fraser Secondary School, where I was the principal for almost six years. In 2014, my staff and I had two related goals:

  • to align our school’s final evaluations with ministry and board policies (a school district effort)
  • to develop the competency of critical thinking among students in the school (a K-12 family-of-schools effort)
Our challenge was to effectively blend these two priorities. Believing that meaningful assessment promotes student engagement, critical thinking, and deep learning, we embarked on a multi-year journey to ensure alignment with the expectations laid out in the Ontario Ministry of Education’s Growing Success: Assessment, Evaluation, and Reporting in Ontario’s Schools, Kindergarten to Grade 12.

Planning forward

Our family of schools had experience working with TC². Consultant Laura Gini-Newman had been providing presentations to school administrators on critical thinking using the outstanding TC² resource, Creating Thinking Classrooms.

At Fraser, we decided to bring Laura in for additional sessions. Here she worked with the school’s administrative team and professional development committee to align our staff development. As a team, we developed the following overarching school goal, which kept us focused for four years:

If we collaboratively implement instructional and assessment practices that support critical thinking, then students will confidently demonstrate critical thinking skills in their classes.

Whole-staff sessions. While partnering with TC², Laura worked with Fraser’s administrative team to develop whole-staff sessions to introduce both critical thinking language and the attributes of a critical thinking question and task. We also held whole-staff sessions on ministry and board policies related to final evaluations. During these sessions, Laura and board resource staff walked teachers through the creation of learning goals, success criteria, and rich tasks. Ultimately, they guided us through revisions to final evaluations.

Breakout sessions. Our whole-staff sessions were paired with choice breakouts, during which Laura and board resource staff reinforced concepts and extended learning. Laura and Garfield Gini-Newman worked with various subject teams to create rich assessments framed around critical thinking challenges. Course teams also met to revise final evaluations and update major assessments to align with our focus on developing varied, good-quality assessments that engage student thinking.

The impact TC² had on Fraser

Without a doubt, our work with TC² and board resource staff had a positive impact on our school.

  • The quality of professional learning offered to the teaching staff improved.
  • The administrative team developed a comprehensive approach to staff development.
  • We made significant improvements in aligning our final evaluations with ministry and board expectations.
  • We created innumerable rich assessments that engaged student thinking in our classrooms.

As teachers gained experience, we encouraged them to make their learning visible by sharing their classroom experiences. Their efforts spread and consolidated the impact of our partnership with TC².

Additionally, our school’s partnership with TC² inspired a cross-panel and cross-school learning team of administrators, teachers, and resource staff to embark on a book study of Creating Thinking Classrooms under Laura’s leadership. Together, we created a cascading book-study approach that helped participants deepen their understanding of critical thinking classrooms.

Pleased and proud

As principal, I was so pleased to see the partnership with TC² reinforce the importance of a multi-year, comprehensive, and aligned approach to staff development.

After four years working toward the school goal outlined above, we were well positioned to expand our focus. With a new school goal (below), we embraced competencies set out in our school board’s Empowering Modern Learners document while maintaining a commitment to quality assessment and critical thinking.

If we collaboratively implement instructional and assessment practices that support global competencies (critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, learning to learn, communication, innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship, and global citizenship), then students will confidently demonstrate these skills in their classes.

Mary Nanavati
Retired Principal
John Fraser Secondary School
Mississauga, Ontario