My Assessment Inquiry: Term 3

10 Oct

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Feedback is “the most powerful single moderator that enhances achievement.” (Hattie, 1999)

As teachers, we look for this same type of feedback from our school leaders during our evaluations. If a singular letter grade or symbol was delivered after an evaluation, frustration would ensue. In order to grow as teachers and learners, we need to know: What were my strengths? What were my weaknesses? What am I supposed to do to improve next time? We look for guidance and direction from our school leaders, as our students do from us. We also appreciate them taking a look at the process instead of just the product. We don’t want a single snapshot into our classroom to determine our value as a teacher. Like good coaches and school leaders, teachers see the value of ongoing assessment and meaningful, specific, personalized feedback that guides the learning and teaching process. It is time that we change the way we provide feedback to our students to make it more meaningful. So how can we provide this feedback – the kind that inspires, that students listen to, and the kind that promotes growth?

Feedback should relate to our learning targets
As teachers, we want to be transparent in our teaching. As we know, a target is much easier to hit when we know where it is. Students need to know what the end goal of their learning should be and how they are going to get there. Thus, when we provide feedback, it needs to be focussed around the learning targets.  We too often get distracted by the student’s mistakes and communicating what they did wrong. Communicating what’s wrong doesn’t explain how to be right.

Feedback should be student friendly
If our feedback is too complex or sophisticated, the feedback will lose its value. We need to make it manageable for our students and easy to understand, while not overwhelming them. The existence of feedback is simply not enough. Feedback must be accessible to students so that doing something with the feedback is more likely.

Feedback should be actionable
When students receive their feedback, they should know definitively what the next steps in learning are. Through actionable feedback, we can acknowledge correct understanding while guiding future thinking. Students should understand what they did right and what they need to do next. As well, we want to look forward instead of backwards. Instead of identifying what was done wrong, we should tell students the steps they need to take to improve their learning. Just as we use formative assessment to adjust our instruction, students should be able to use the feedback from formative assessment to adjust and guide their learning.

Feedback should be timely
If we want students to be reflective, students will need timely feedback. If we want to create reflective learners, assessment should be ongoing, and feedback should timely. A student receiving feedback a week after an assessment will not have time to reflect and grow. In fact, they have probably already moved onto learning a new topic.

Feedback should be ongoing
We want to make sure that we are continuing the teach – assess – feedback loop to develop that growth mindset in our students. Assessment should not stop the learning but should be imbedded into the learning process. If we are constantly communicating with our students, they are constantly growing.

Students are active participants in the feedback process
At its best, our feedback will allow students to take ownership over their own learning to be more reflective learners and effective goal setters. Increased feedback does not mean that the teacher is simply identifying the student’s mistakes and telling them what to do next. We are just narrowing the target and guiding the students’ learning.

It is time that we start using our feedback to help inspire our students to grow and not limit our feedback to a number or a letter. We have the power to create reflective students who know what they are learning and how to succeed. Let’s create learners who have a growth mindset and who OWN their learning. We owe that to our students.

References:

Hattie, J 1999, Influences on Student Learning. Inaugural Lecture: Professor of Education, University of Auckland (downloaded August 2015 from https://cdn.auckland.ac.nz/assets/education/hattie/docs/influences-on-student-learning.pdf)

 

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Growth Mindset and Jo Boaler

9 Oct

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This week as I write the Maths Faculty review, I have been doing some reading by Jo Boaler who writes about growth mindset and mathematics. Her stuff is worth a look which lead me to this week’s reflection.

 

Transformational leadership is more about moving people forward than praising them for where they are. In other words, if leaders want to transform the workplace, they must stop employing the tactic of transactional compliments such as praising people solely based on singular, isolated actions. A mindset of continuous change requires leaders to exceed praise and utilize specific feedback that celebrates growth over time.  This happens when the leader acknowledges not only where someone currently is but how far they’ve come and where they will eventually be one day.  Hence, the leader focuses his feedback on growth instead of the job.

In my role I am working on the following in Term 4.

Growth Feedback

Commenting on a person’s performance over a period of time by showing specific areas of growth helps employees transform their behaviour into more efficient and focused behaviour. Nothing transforms mindsets better than showing people how far they have come in their work. They will focus their efforts on continuing the growth that they are making.

 

Reflective Questioning

Asking reflective questions gives the employee a chance to evaluate their own performance. This also gives the leader an opportunity to gauge if the employee has a false sense of confidence or expectations that are too high. Reflective questions also help the employee see their own strengths and find ways to fix their own problems. The purpose of reflective questioning is to guide people to rate their work and effectiveness.

 

Affirmation Connected to Areas of Weakness

Some people do some things really great and other things not so well. Find opportunities to connect strategies within  the employee’s strengths to their areas of weakness. For example, “if you had done this weakness in the same way that you did the strength, you could possibly get better results”.  This feedback affirms the employee’s strengths while defining how the employee can improve their deficits.

Things to Think About

Another great way to transform people into a mindset of constant transformation is to affirm excellent work by giving them a question that challenges their great work to become even bigger and better. Asking people how they would make changes to their work when they do it again affirms quality while challenging growth.  This challenge by affirmation also tells the employee that you have a lot of confidence in their abilities and the growth they are making .

Good, Better, Best

The word good affirms the present. Better is a step up from good, but by comparing yesterday to today, it solidifies the status quo for tomorrow. Best is the only goal of a transformational mindset.  If we want every member of staff to be their best, each member must constantly know their performance every day without the leader’s input and strive to improve.

A big challenge for 10 weeks but I can only do my best. What is your challenge this term?

 

Striving for Excellence

7 Oct

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I am often inspired by excellent results. When teams win championships, people who are outstanding their field, organizations attain major accolades, and individuals reach the mountaintop, I can’t help but be motivated to push myself to aspire for greater personal results. While I am often inspired by excellent achievements, there’s one thing that piques my curiosity even more.

We never see the unnoticed hours of painstaking work. We never hear about the setbacks that transformed into comebacks. We never felt the failure and rejection that fuelled the hard work and perseverance. All we ever see and therefore know is the product, not the process.

Everyone wants excellence but I do observe not everyone wants to do the hard yards. As leaders what stories are, we telling to inspire excellence?  Are we illuminating the all-stars while ignoring the stories in the making?  Are we setting lofty goals while failing to show examples of how the work is the excellence? The answer to these questions will tell you if you’re superficially scratching the surface of excellence or digging deep to discover what it takes to achieve it.

Culture of school in Term 3

1 Oct

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How strong are your relationships in school? Relationships between staff and students are important in promoting strong outcomes. However, the relationships between staff are also vital in developing effective teaching and learning. For us, as teachers, it is important to remember that:

  • we operate as part of our student’s lives;
  • we can tackle whatever challenges are created on a day-by-day basis;
  • we reflect on how we have benefited our student’s lives;
  • we are able to respond to change and handle difficult situations.

It has been found that when faced with challenges, resilient people act purposefully and creatively, to find multiple strategies for any problem. As teachers, we are pretty good at this!

In order to become more resilient and ultimately achieve the best outcomes for our students, it is important to remember why we became teachers. The passion and commitment that teachers show daily, can be lost under the weight of the demands of teaching. Teaching is not an easy profession, but by nurturing resilience we can support and sustain our practice.

Thoughts on September day

25 Sep

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Schools are operating on a 19th century bureaucratic model. It is a compliance-oriented structure, based on:
• Deficit-based versus asset-based models of student learning.
• Teacher to student versus student to teacher models of authority.
• Extrinsic versus intrinsic models of motivation.
• Fixed versus incremental models of intelligence.
• Cognitive versus social-emotional models of knowledge.
• Status versus developmental models of performance.

We know that the impact of PLD on practice and student performance is inverse to its distance from the classroom. Yet most current PD is the carwash model, spray and pray, the least effective form of PD. Schools persists in practices that do not work. I really like that metaphor

Leadership is about building highly functional people into highly functional teams.
We know that teams learn best when…

  1. Through collaborative structures

Until this year when leading this area I have missed the boat here. I have tinkered with this but never seen the success it should have. Collaborative structures help to decrease teacher isolation, codify and share successful teaching practices, increase staff morale, and open the door to experimentation and increased collective efficacy. High levels of teacher collaboration improve teaching and learning, student behaviour, and student achievement on high-stakes tests. A team focus on learning helps teachers to discover causal connections between teaching and student learning and encourages collective questioning of ineffective teaching practices.

High levels of collaboration are likely to exist when the leadership marks it as a priority, when common time and physical space are set aside for collaboration, and when teaching and learning is seen as a team responsibility, rather than an individual responsibility. Collaborative structures enable teachers to learn from the experience and expertise of their peers.

Collaborative structures imply the provision of both time and space for staff to interact. Time is perhaps the most precious resource, and time to meet and talk is an essential resource for schools. Collaboration is time-consuming and staff need to be provided with adequate time to interact. The movement from ‘me’ or ‘I’, to ‘us’ or ‘we’, requires frequent teacher interactions which can be achieved through common planning time, team-teaching, and coaching and mentoring. Physical structures also need to support collaborative learning. Classrooms, staff workspaces, and furniture all either reinforce or detract from collaboration. Lets change this.

  1. Teachers are encouraged to take risks and be creative

Teachers need to be encouraged to be creative and to take chances to be wrong. Leaders need the support, encouragement, and freedom to challenge group norms and disrupt routines. When leaders display readiness to consider alternative points of view, staff can feel empowered to suggest their own innovative ideas. Risk-taking is also enhanced when leaders model their own learning publicly. This can be hard.

  1. Leadership is distributed

Over-managing slows teams down. Distributed leadership develops leadership capacity and talent throughout the organisation. Leadership can be provided by someone other than an appointed team leader. Sharing the responsibility of chairing team meetings or even rotating leaders within teams helps leadership become a collective endeavour.

  1. They are united by a common purpose

Every teacher should have an Individual Learning Plan, set in standards and the school improvement plan, and receive coaching based on that learning plan. Every subject department should have an improvement plan. The aim is a development culture, not a compliance-oriented culture. The aim is not to evaluate teachers, it is to analyse teaching and learning. The focus is on how to improve, rather than who to scapegoat for poor performances.

A leader’s role is to hold the team accountable to action, to help facilitate the next level of work conversations, and to ensure reflection on the process. The job of a leader is to follow the work, not to dictate the work. Imagine a developmental culture where for every team meeting a different team member was responsible for not participating, but just recording the team process and then providing feedback. There is also potential for providing coaching for teams to improve their performance in team meetings.

When people in schools are accountable to each other and work together towards achieving school aims, such strong internal accountability places schools in a sound position to respond to external accountability demands. Teams that are aligned across a school within a culture of individual responsibility and collective expectations provide an internal accountability system which is more powerful than any external accountability systems.

 

Leading Schools

12 Sep

 

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There are too many distractions that lead teachers away from the core of teaching. Leaders know this and take detailed steps to define structures that shield teachers from any interruption that would detract their focus from all kids. Identifying negative influences and eliminating or containing them improves instructional productivity.

An analogy to the discipline of protection is being a guard on watch at a military base, making patrols and preventing outside issues from making an attack on progress.  Conversely, leaders also protect like an oncologist that watches inside the body for cancerous cells to metastasize and spread to other organs in the body.  Leaders are aware of the undercurrents and attitudes that potentially affect the organization and are prepared to protect the organization when the time comes.

When a school leader is disciplined to a high level of effectiveness, effective protocols emerge.  Effective protocols are vital to improve achievement. By going deeper into the heart of discipline, the leader’s expectations and directives morph from protecting instruction to developing adherents, better known as disciples. Disciples within a disciplined organization are not blind followers of the leader, but rather believers in something nobler.  They are followers of an effective system rich in protocols and a common vision that promotes learning and prevents issues that detract from it.

Are we being good role models?

9 Sep

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Lots of random thoughts this week. I have been thinking after my travels this week What is the future of education?  Perhaps that is the wrong question.  To get closer to the heart of my initial question, maybe I should pose a different question. Where is the future of education? Now that not only asks the question but answers it as well.  The future of education is sitting in the seats our classrooms today, so how is the future of education doing?  Does the future of education even want to accept the challenge of becoming the future of education?

We have lots of daughter of teachers at our school. None are interested in the teaching profession. Of the thousand students that have my school in the last eight years only five percent of showed an interest in becoming a teacher?

That means that 95 percent of our students are completely turned off to education as a viable career choice. I must admit that I am one of those 95 percent. When I was at school, I had no desire to become an educator. In fact, I had a teacher that regularly told his class that the worst profession ever is the field of education, public education specifically.

What profession do students get exposed to more than any other profession? The answer is education. They see every day the stress, hard work, and frustration that teachers deal with daily. They see the way the system works, and could it be that very reason that 95% of our students do not want to even consider a career in education?

There are many reasons that students don’t choose a career in education. The first reason is money, and that is something that our government and our country must address if we want the future of education to improve. Teachers deserve to make more money than they do.

Secondly, the teaching profession is belittled on a regular basis. Think about every movie about the education profession that you’ve ever seen. The setting is a disastrous school with horrible students, and only one teacher, the main character, cared about education while the rest of the educators did not. Furthermore, the media perpetuates the false narrative that education is failing.  Nothing could be further from the truth, but the negative perception is the reality of education, and it influences our students every day not to choose the noblest profession as a career.

But I think the last reason (and more important reason) that students don’t choose education as a career, is that we, educators, fail to market the profession as a noble profession. Think about the way we speak about education.  Think about the interactions that we have with our peers about problems in education.

Our students are listening. Our students are watching. Our students are being influenced daily about the profession we have been called to.  Do our words, do our actions, and more importantly do our reactions influence our students to come to the profession or run from it as fast as they can?
The last point that I would like to make has to do with education leaders. What are we doing to our teachers that makes our students see teaching as an awesome profession? All of the work that we ask teachers to do, does it help them, or does it overwhelm them? Are we asking teachers to do the right things, or the cliché things that ultimately don’t lead to positive results or more importantly excited and empowered teachers?

Our students are watching. Our students are listening. And our students are being influenced by the way we leaders value or devalue our teachers and support staff.

What do you think?

More assessment observations

8 Sep

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I am still thinking and reading and writing and considering the ideas of assessment.

In her book Mindset: The new psychology of success, Carol Dweck writes, “…we found that the students with a growth mindset earned better grades in the course. Even when they did poorly on a test, they bounced back on the next ones. When students with the fixed mindset did poorly, they often didn’t make a comeback.”  (p. 61). Moving students forward is guided by the language we use and the example we set. The discourse we model will be internalized and replicated by students. Assessing them happens every day and is infused as a natural part of learning. Timely feedback paired with varied assessment tools supports students on the journey of learning.

When framed properly, hope and assessment are advocates, not adversaries. When assessing students as an open-ended progression, the word yet surfaces. Yet fuels hope, plain and simple. Hope is built upon the idea that setbacks and failure are an essential part of learning. When the journey is valued more than the destination, students build confidence in the process. They develop self-efficacy and believe that success is on the horizon. Once modelled, practiced, and honed, the act of assessing facilitates student learning. Success breeds success, and the result is hope.

Footnote:

Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success (p. 61). New York, New York: Random House.

Assessment Observations

6 Sep

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How do students view assessment in your classroom or school? Is assessment something that elicits hope and a belief that students can grow? I am viewing any type of assessment as the end game, whether it was a test, project, or essay. I am hoping the changes to NCEA will change this. Assessment is the last thing in a unit and the score the measure of how much a student knows. Wrong!!!!

After teaching my last semester I observed assessment was not only a stopping point; it indicated we were moving on to a new unit or topic without looking back. It didn’t seem to have anything to do with the daily happenings in class. I believe this had to do with the way assessment was framed for me. Assessment was communicated as a noun by teachers in my faculty and a separate entity from instruction and practice.

As I moved forward in my practice and learned about assessment more thoroughly, I realized it should be framed in a different way. Assessment is a vital part of learning infused into daily lessons and practice. It provides invaluable evidence along the way, feeding instructional decisions, guiding student learning and forming a loop of communication between student and teacher.

When assessment is used as a noun, there is some level of finality. It becomes bounded by a feeling of ‘one and done’. Students have been trained to know that assessment is the end of something, and you can’t go back. There is no hope in a lack of proficiency that cannot be revisited. A definitive stop to the learning is communicated in this treatment of the word. An assessment feels like an independent object and compartmentalizes learning. A fixed mindset is promoted; assessments are given and taken. What are the answers? I am still reflecting on this. 

The Coaching Team

4 Sep

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When I started teaching, the principal was the sole holder of power within the school. They were it. The principal had the first and final say on all matters relating to the school. The role of the principal has evolved, and the demands of the job now require more than a dictator making unilateral decisions. I liken it to the All Black coaching team. There is a scrum coach (Digital Curriculum expert), Defence coach (Pastoral expert) and Kicking coach (Careers Expert). The most successful leaders are collaborative and use a system that makes stakeholders and leaders out of everyone.  Creating other leaders makes the work more manageable and is one of many great benefits of being more democratic with authority. Here are some things I have observed that great leaders in schools have done:

The leadership panel

Empowering a teacher leadership panel composed of faculty- at my school these are the Deans and Leaders of Learning. This group determines goals and policies for the year and reviews the successes and opportunities for growth at the end of that time. You can then empower them to make necessary adjustments. It is at this level change occurs

Empowering community 

Community are incredibly important stakeholders in the school community, and school leaders should empower them as well. Create a discussion board parents can moderate that you regularly check in on. When parents feel like they have a voice in the school, they can become one of a principal’s greatest assets.

Student Voice

Students, who often feel isolated, can act as representatives during leadership meetings to give their input on school issues. They can meet with administration to discuss and negotiate pressing issues that impact them. These students can also receive input from other students, giving all a sense of being a part of the process. Whether it’s a meeting about doing away with lockers or a change in dress code policy, you’re giving students a voice. Having student voice on assessment and pedagogy is invaluable.

Communication

The most vital ingredient necessary to developing a successful school leadership strategy is strong communication. This could mean a weekly email to staff, students, and parents about the things you are working on in the front office. Social Media and APP Alerts are brilliant. Whatever you choose to do, having an open line of communication is essential to inviting your community into leadership.

What are your tips?

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