Picking a topic for your practicum?
It’s like picking a topic for an essay or project.
What is really going to engage you while providing the appropriate, right-amount-of-challenge, all at the same time?
Whenever I launch into a new inquiry project with students or my team, I always encourage everyone to merge the details of the project with something they are passionate about. For, if you’re going to spend a lot of time on something, you need to have some engagement in the topic.
This article outlines the thought process I went through when I was picking my practicum topic for the Principal’s Qualification Course. If you’re reading this, you might be considering what you are going to do for your own practicum project. Here is what I considered and my thought process when I was picking my topic.
Step One: Brainstorm, Brainstorm, Brainstorm
The foundation of a great inquiry project is a great inquiry question. One of those essential questions that is tailored enough to focus your project without being too limiting.
For myself, before I got to my essential question, I engaged in a week long brainstorming process around the prompt “what if”. The process included talking to:
- my instructor and colleagues in the course
- my mentors
- my friends who have been through the process
I also contained a lot of free writing and journalling about the topic. I explored possibility without any limitation through these conversations and practices.
After a week of brainstorming, I focused the work into four potential practicum projects:
- continuing the lead the leadership team’s inquiry project, using the data from our previous leadership meetings to develop a focus and plan of action for the upcoming school year
- a focus on equitable assessment practices, linking to the implementation of my school’s assessment and evaluation policy to school improvement plans
- merging building sustainable practices within my curriculum program with strategic planning for the next ten years of the program(measuring our impact/setting direction for the next five years with all stakeholders)
- integrated arts approach to literacy development with non-arts departments and/or transition activities with feeder schools
Step Two: A Pro and Con List Within The Context of Urgent Student Needs
My next step was to complete a classic “pro and con” list based off of the school’s urgent student needs and my leadership development needs.
When thinking about the bigger picture of the project, this activity was valuable. For my practicum, I wanted to have a full school approach to reach as many stakeholders as possible. With that idea on the table, choice #1, 3 and 4 was out. Although the other projects are meaningful work, they do speak to specific niches in the school. At the end of the day, I saw the practicum as an opportunity to work with my entire school community.
So, number #2 will do that.
One thing I did notice about the four potential projects was that there was a thread of data and strategic planning throughout all of the scenarios. This was an observation that I took into the final step.
Step Three: Building on Previous Work to Meet Future Goals
The next step was to see where the practicum could fit within the culture of the school by examining past practices and where we were at as a community.
When I was doing this work, the school was in the middle of setting targets for its school improvement plan. As a community we have just entered a collaborative process of setting goals based on urgent student/staff/community needs. The departments submitted school goals from a subject specific lens to a committee. This committee then worked to find trends, provide opportunities for collaboration, and started to revise our school plan based on the trends found in the departments. At the end of the school year, departments were celebrating their achievements by sharing best practices and the results found in their departmental work.
Since my school community was in the middle of this school improvement work, and we were experimenting with different monitoring strategies, I decided to shift my practicum towards the following question:
What types of monitoring strategies does the school need to engage in to evaluate the impact of our School Improvement Plan for Student Achievement?
This question was interesting to me because it supported:
- conversations around student success, including the assessment and evaluation policy and our activities to support wellness
- allowed us to explore at different monitoring strategies to capture the trends in the work
- invited collaboration and a continuation of the work, looking a sustainable measures for engaging in the school improvement work
After all of the brainstorming, revising and reflecting, my practicum’s theory of action statement ended up being:
If we engage in purposeful planning of School Improvement Plan for Student Achievement goals and monitoring tools from a variety of data sources, we will have a more holistic view of the impact of the plans on student achievement and wellbeing.
Essentially: let’s be mindful and purposeful in our planning, take into account a variety of data sources, and then create sustainable monitoring plans that allow teachers and students to collect data in an authentic way.
Engaging in the brainstorming process where I could objectively merge student needs with previous practice was really helpful for narrowing down my question and theory of action. Plus, at the end of the day, I have always been interested in the impact of data, who collects the data, and what the data says about the bigger picture. Leading a project and facilitating the next steps was appropriate challenge for my leadership journey.
What’s going to be the appropriate practicum project for your leadership journey? The answer not only fulfilling not only the criteria of the project and your development plan as a leader, but your school community’s urgent learning needs.