Cultural Responsiveness

21 May

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This article challenges the reader to consider the under-representation of Maori cultural principles and practices in mainstream classrooms and schools. It explains how teachers can bring more of a Maori worldview to their classroom practices using the culturally responsive seven step Hikairo approach to classroom management:
Step 1: Huakina (Opening Doorways)
Step 2: Ihi (Assertiveness)
Step 3: Kotahitanga (Unity)
Step 4: Awhin
Step 5: I Runga i te Manaaki (Pastoral Care)
Step 6: Raranga (The Weaving Process)
Step 7: Oranga (A Vision of Well-being)
Here is a great piece on the subject. Implementation strategies and student voice from a Rotorua case study are used to explain how respect for Maori concepts and values within an inclusive educational environment can enhance teacher effectiveness.

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Being Excited

19 May

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Confident, excited teachers make for confident and excited students. Jim Knight (2007), an expert on instructional coaching, suggests, “When people talk about learning, the experience should be exciting, energizing, and empowering.”  Assessment has the potential to generate all three of these conditions when designed and used in the service of learning.

What kind of assessment practices generate this type of culture? What kind of professional learning experiences contribute to teachers developing their assessment practices? I want to share a couple of conversations and experiences I have had in the past few months that focus around the question: How can assessment build confidence and excitement that leads to higher achievement and more investment by both teachers and students?  Three big ideas emerged from these experiences.

  1. Believe 

When we focus our efforts, and protect ample amounts of time for reflection and application, we will see results. This act fosters a sense of efficacy, signalling that we believe our teachers have the capacity to do amazing work.

At a recent professional learning, our Leaders of Learning group strived to do just that. The intent of the session was to create higher quality assessment and courses that better reflected our curriculum document. As teachers talked with colleagues about what they wanted students to learn and what kind of meaningful student work might help them gather information on the extent to which students had learned, there was energy in the air. I posed a few ideas around quality assessment design-precision, action, and student investment.

  1. Build 

In what ways can students be co-designers of their learning experiences? Co-design can happen in constructing quality criteria together. As students examine strong and weak samples of work, a co-constructed list of criteria offers students a sense of what quality looks like and a clearer vision of expectations. This leads to higher quality work.

Students might even co-design experiences to learn a concept. What if students were posed something like the following: We are going to focus on learning about the impact of war on the environment. What might be the ways we can learn about this?  Work individually or in pairs to research and design an activity or two to guide your peers in learning about war’s impact on the environment.

The co-design process works beautifully to empower teachers. As schools and districts aim to improve the quality of their assessment practices, why not ask teachers to co-design the process and the products that will help assessment create this culture of learning.

  1. Provide 

Creating a culture of opportunity and possibility begins with the tone and spirit with which we invite students and teachers into conversation and continues through the types of feedback offered. Feedback and the tone and setting in which it is provided generates confidence or shuts it down.

At the core of learning conversations, making people feel energized, excited and empowered is ample time to create, involvement in a co-design, and targeted feedback in the context of deliberate practice. These practices create a space where listening is central –people (students and teachers) feeling listened to and believed in. The road to achievement and confidence is paved with creative time, an ongoing commitment to co-design, and deliberate practice with targeted feedback.

Pushing Back

18 May

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One of my appraisal goals this year deals with being more patient. I do not like to lose. I just do not like it. Moreover, every time I toss an idea out there that does not stick, I feel as if I have lost. That is something I am working on. This links nicely to my piece this week.

Conversation on the topic of innovation in education can be found at every turn. If you go to twitter it will not take you, long to find a connected educator. If you Google search it right now, you’ll get more than 350 million results. Articles abound (like this one from Edutopia) on the topic of innovation in education, and in seconds, anyone can find videos (like this that features Bill Gates) or Ian Jukes or this brilliant piece by Richard Wells.

There is something contagious and exciting about innovation. The best educators thrive in the search for serving students well, and that shows today more than ever.

Even with all these voices in the conversation promoting innovation, innovation is still a little intimidating for me.

It is not that I do not want to take part in it. I led the charge to change our bell schedule moving into this year to give our teachers opportunities to help students who were tough to catch up with before and after school (probably equal parts “I won’t” and “I can’t” make it in for help outside of school).

In many cases, it is our fear of failure or the unknown that limits our willingness to take those risky first steps toward meaningful change and innovation in our schools.

The SAMR Model again

14 May

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In most ways, teachers that use technology in the classroom are not much different than those that don’t.

All teachers assesses, evaluate and then revises planned instruction based on data from those assessments.

They manage their classroom in a way that works for them, create a positive learning environment, and collaborate with a variety of stakeholders to make sure every humanly possible attempt is made to meet all students need.

They care about learning more than tools, people more than curriculum, and questions more than answers.

But using technology in the classroom–and using it effectively–might require some slight adjustments on the part of the teacher to sustain the effort, creative problem-solving, and innovation required to actually improve learning through the use of technology. This occurs at the belief level–what teachers believe about technology, education, and their own abilities to manage technology.

Looking at the characteristics of teachers that effectively use technology in the classroom can be useful to create a growth mind-set–one that believes in purpose, adaptation, change, and meaningful planning. If you spend your time planning at the upper limits of the SAMR model, it may simply work as a quick reminder of how edtech can work–and work well at the teacher-human-belief level.

Ease up

6 May

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Let’s ease up on our tamariki. What troubles me the most is that so many educators fail to recognize how real being young is. As I think about the experiences of our students nothing young people face today is a fantasy. Last time I checked, the stress at home is real, the bullying is real, the poverty is real, the tension within their friendships is real, learning to read is real, developing fundamental skills is real, their success and failures are real, and not knowing what is next from school is all-too-real.

Lamenting the younger generation is both timeless and tired. The following quote (attributed to Socrates):

“The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.”

Sound familiar? This could be a quote from any adult referring to almost any child or teenager in 2018.

A common soap box is technology. Instead of being amazed at how quickly young people master technology (i.e. cell phones, tablets, apps, etc.) too many adults cling to the ole “…back in my day we didn’t need any of that stuff.” Just once I’d like to hear an adult say, “You know what, kids today are way ahead of where we were at that age.”

Our version of “real” is not their version of “real” and too often this conversation about when kids arrive in the real world illustrates more about how disconnected adults are from the realities of young people today. Let’s ease up on our tamariki.

Digital Passport

30 Apr

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“We must think of coding not as a skill but as a literacy”

Before I begin a big thank you to MINDLAB for their assistance in this PLD.

After attending the ANZAC Day Dawn Service this week, I completed the Digital Passport course which gave me an insight into the new curriculum.  To prepare the next generation for the future, this has answered the call to teach our tamariki code. But many now recognize it’s not enough for students simply to know how to write code. The capacity to build a product or solve a problem requires an entirely different literacy.

The focus of the new digital curriculum is shifting from teaching the specific skill of coding to teaching computational thinking—or the ability to follow a step-by-step process to solve a problem. The future workforce will require a solid grounding in the discipline of thinking computationally. We think of coding not as a skill but as a literacy. I was reading article this week which suggested “We don’t teach reading because we believe everyone will write War and Peace,” therefore  “we don’t teach computer science with the belief that everyone will be a computer scientist. We teach it because it is increasingly a skill we need to operate in and understand the world around us.”

Much like students learn to read and then read to learn, coding and computational thinking are intertwined. Computational thinking will be fundamental to many of today’s students’ careers and interests in the same way that knowing how to read is fundamental to everything they do in school.

Computational thinking is defined as the ability to “develop and employ strategies for understanding and solving problems in ways that leverage the power of technological methods to develop and test solutions.” According to Code.org in the United States, there are more than 503,000 open computing jobs nationwide, but only 35 states allow students to count computer science courses toward high school graduation, and fewer than half of U.S. schools teach computer science.

Much like reading, it’s important for students to learn the basics of computational thinking early, especially for girls. As digital technology increasingly becomes integrated across the disciplines and year levels, access will become more equitable. A quick and easy algorithm exercise for young our tamariki is to ask them to tell a partner, step-by-step, how to tie a shoelace without showing them. A bonus in this exercise is that it includes making a loop, which is a coding principle.

Our tamariki can solve a lot of problems when they understand the language and process of computing. Letting those problems be real, and identified by the students themselves, keeps students engaged and trying. An example could be to ask students to identify a problem in their community, research existing technology, and design an innovative app to solve the problem.

If we want our tamariki to be comfortable learners and creators, for their own interest or as part of the workforce, they need a basic understanding of how computational thinking works. If a child can talk about how something is made or built, then when something doesn’t work right, they can debug it or tweak it. Our job as teachers has always been to support our tamariki as they start exploring bigger ideas and provide the tools they need to be able to do that. Now let’s help them take that next step.

 

Term Two Planning

28 Apr

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When teachers are confident in their ability, persistent through challenge, and innovative in their practices, students can really benefit. This is to the forefront of my thinking this week as we evaluate of courses at school. Are we meeting the needs of students? Are we supporting the needs of teachers as they meet these needs?

According to Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning by John Hattie, collective teacher efficacy has the greatest impact on student achievement—even higher than factors like teacher-student relationships, home environment, or parental involvement.

At the heart of this is PLD. Nothing feels more counterproductive than useless Professional Learning Development (PLD) meetings. A school’s staff members are all at different points in their careers, possess varying levels of experience, and have likely sat through many workshops on any day’s meeting’s topic. When teachers receive PD on topics over and over, they can feel unrecognized and stagnant, lowering their sense of efficacy.

I have discovered another way. Utilizing the experience of staff and allowing teachers to self-elect PD topics, run training sessions, and share their own work can lead to teachers who are active participants in their development, rather than passive receivers. Here the PLF Café was born. This builds a culture of efficacy amongst staff who genuinely work together to improve their practice.  So, what can I as a school leader do to build teacher efficacy in their school? As I do this this some of the areas I am focussed on the following:

Empower Staff

Empowering teachers to take on leadership roles gives educators a voice in their school. When teachers have a role in making important school decisions, feel their voices are heard, and can actively participate in building school culture, efficacy is raised. Top-down, overly evaluative leadership models can lower teacher self-efficacy and ultimately demoralize teachers, negatively impacting classroom achievement. When staff work together toward mutual goals, so grows a shared belief in the direction of the work and the ability to effect change with students.

Praise You Like I Should

Effective praise in schools is authentic recognition of a teacher’s hard work and the resulting student successes. It’s also about sharing that work with others as a model of excellence. Teachers who feel valued and see positive outcomes for their students are more likely to persist in their efforts. A school that routinely recognizes the efforts and accomplishments of its teachers builds a community that believes in its members, collaborates, and continually pushes to do more.

Stop, Collaborate and listen

Building a collaborative environment is key toward building collective and individual teacher efficacy. Teachers need to know what’s happening in other classrooms to build trust and confidence in each other’s ability to guide students to success. They also need time to share their ideas with each other and to work together toward building school-wide best practices. Leaders can assist by providing co-planning time, exhibiting models of excellence, and hosting norming exercises for teachers to build and revisit a collective school mission. And of course, it goes without saying, when teachers are sharing their ideas with you, actively listen; actively show that you care about their insights and opinions, and ask questions.

It is hard and it is scary

The demands of teaching can be overwhelming. It’s easy for educators to feel like they’re drowning in paperwork, lesson planning, grading, teaching multiple courses and the many extracurricular activities they generally take on. A leader who truly understands and acknowledges the workload helps teachers feel like they’re not just endlessly treading water. When a leader doesn’t assist teachers who feel overwhelmed, they can lose their sense of efficacy. They may feel like they’re failing, and may blame themselves for not keeping up. Resentful of SLT, Classroom instruction and staffroom culture, in turn, is sure to be affected. How you can help: empathize with your teachers, listen when they ask for help, and do what you can to help them manage their responsibilities.

 

Visionary Leadership

26 Apr

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I have been reading this week an article around  “visionary leadership.” But what does that mean? How do you know if a leader is a visionary? A visionary leader talks and walks the school’s vision. Her actions consistently align with it. Furthermore, she has a plan for how to implement this vision and every day takes actions towards leading all stakeholders towards this vision. The vision is consistently acted up, all initiatives align to it, and the principal is its primary champion. A visionary leader is  receptive to new information and can hold multiple perspectives. This open-mindedness allows them to navigate stressful situations with a flexible mind, pulling from many resources and sometimes unrelated industries to arrive at

A visionary leader is clear about what he or she believes and knows is best for children — for their academic, social, and emotional learning. The leader’s individual beliefs have developed in collaboration with other stakeholders and articulated into some kind of vision or mission statement. You might ask the site leader as well as staff, students, and parents, “What’s really important at this school?” Or “What are you striving to create here?” That’s where you’ll hear elements of a vision. Also important element is that the experiences of students and outcomes are at the center of this vision.

Observational Tools and Observation

24 Apr

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It was stimulating listening to those in ERO speak about how they approach a lesson observation. They emphasised the richness in conversations surrounding this. They emphasised the approach from the lens of students. They noted after a classroom observation, it is important to place the learning and reflection directly in the hands of the teacher. Therefore, strong questions can guide a conversation that empowers the teacher and supports the relationship between observer and the teacher being observed. These are some key ideas to consider:

  1. How do you engage in pre-learning, and what kinds of information do you find most useful to collect during this process? What do you do with the results?
  2. How did you engage in formative learning today? How will what you learned impact the instructional choices you make tomorrow?
  3. How were your learning processes and feedback connected today? Who gave the feedback? Did it provide the hoped-for results?
  4. How are you capturing and collecting evidence of learning? Are students part of this process? Why or why not?
  5. How did the learning experiences connect to standards? How did you explain this connection to your learners?
  6. How will you assess tomorrow?
  7. What did students do when they were done early today? To what degree were you ready for this possibility? Was your response purposeful?
  8. Which learners showed the most confidence today and why? Which were the least confident, and how do you address this?

Key Questions Around Assessment Review

22 Apr

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Involving students and teachers in an active assessment process where they can take information, interpret it, and move forward is the key to finding success in the classroom. When we think of assessment as the learning instead of as an endpoint, it creates a continuum rather than a sequence of starts and stops. Assessment is learning.

How is the word assessment perceived in the eyes of students? Is it viewed as a tool such as a test, paper, or project, or a process to gather information? Furthermore, how is it perceived in the eyes of teachers? It is critical to get everyone on the same page about the perception and purpose of assessment.

When assessment is learning, it is an active process. It moves beyond the tools used to gather information about student learning to a place where students and teachers can take information and feedback to grow. Assessment becomes a conversation between students and teachers, as well as among classmates. It reveals where students are to progress with their learning. As a student myself, the word assessment was associated with the type of activity we were going to engage in instead of being a spark to light the fire of learning.

What can be done to realize the idea of assessment as learning in our classrooms?

Involve students in the assessment process.

Tamariki need to feel part of the assessment process. Assessment becomes a much less fearful process when it is done with students, not to them. Students may not make these important connections on their own; they can be made plain through classroom dialogue and discovery. Students engage in assessment and learning when relevant associations are made among all happenings in the classroom. They should easily be able to answer the question “Why am I doing this?” Student investment is also built through seeking feedback from students.” Feedback is not a one way street. When students are part of the feedback loop, the teacher and the student share a more robust picture of achievement and a more precise path forward.

Infuse assessment into daily classroom happenings.

The learning process feels very disjointed when everything stops for assessment. Assessment practices should be infused in the process of teaching and learning so neither the student nor the teacher stops to give pause when it is happening. The pause comes when it is time to make decisions about next steps. Note that this is a pause, not a stop. It is a quick moment to make an informed decision and then move on. Assessment should be a familiar part of what happens when we learn. The less students feel like it is ‘time to be assessed’, the less high-stakes assessment becomes. The practice of finding out where students are with their learning, knowing where they need to go, and making choices based on those two pieces of information is a natural routine in the classroom, but the impact on learning is monumental.

Show students how to interpret feedback and assessment results.

Students will not automatically know what to do with the feedback provided to them.

Continuously learn more about assessment practices to support student learning.

Assessment practices are constantly evolving, and different ideas for classroom application abound. There are times when I feel in a rut with my assessment practices. The challenge is not about finding the new ideas, but rather, determining the method that is the best fit.

Work together with students to find success.

Learning is a collective and collaborative process. I cannot describe how much I learn from students each year I work with them. The focus of this collaborative process is success.

 

 

 

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