Summer Goals

15 Dec

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Summer is here and so is my month long break from school. The following are my goals for the summer or at least until January 15.

De-clutter: We as teachers need to take time to let it go. Have a clean out and get rid of all those daily worries for the time being. January will bring new perspectives.

Reflect on Your School Year: Here is another opportunity to take advantage of specific starting and ending points in our profession. Make time with a colleague to reflect upon the school year. Discuss what worked, what didn’t work, and what you will do differently next year. This process will help bring closure to one year and set you up for the next year.

Spend Time With Loved Ones and Reconnect: As teachers, we spend our entire day with other people’s children. From the early morning until the late afternoon, we interact with very few adults. Take time over the summer to have adult conversations.

Have a Real Coffee: With others or By yourself. Most people don’t understand that teachers can’t go out for lunch. We just do not have the time. Do it over the summer.! Be an adult.

Read and Relax: Especially not work related content. Enough said.

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Robinson

11 Dec

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Ken Robinson’s views on education have been well documented in his TED Talks. His most famous talk from 2006, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”, is the most viewed TED of all-time. Yet, one can discern something of a Robinson backlash. I have heard and read the following perspectives:

(1) He’s not an educator. He has no idea what he’s talking about.

(2) He’s just a performer. Have you any idea how much he gets paid for these talks?

(3) It’s the same populist message, delivered the same way, every time.

I find his message inspiring as, evidently, do thousands of educators the world over. He speaks not of policy, but human truth. It is also true that he is a highly entertaining and disarming speaker – but this is hardly a negative for someone trying to convey an important message. His quick wit, narrative talent, and incisive perspectives are what make his delivery compelling and important

But his relate to are a challenge to the world of Contrived Complexity. As I rrewatched him this week, three statements stood out:

  • “Can we stop all this talk and just have a curriculum that works?”
  • “I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t have special needs.”
  • “A great school is about the relationship between teachers and students.”

If these three simple principles were applied to schools, what would the net impact be on learning? Perhaps topic for the next HOF Inquiry.

Examination Time

8 Dec

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NCEA is over and we have just concluded the examination season. Phew.  Do teachers really need contrived, formal examinations at the end of a full school year in order to make a professional judgment – should one be required – on their students? We are also talking at our school about the purpose of junior exams. What is the point?

What were exams originally introduced for? If we are honest, it was to sort the elite minority into elite, selective institutions in order to perpetuate a hierarchy in which wealth, knowledge, and possibilities were exclusively defined, controlled, and limited.

Society has certainly changed this we know. Technology has transformed the possibilities for learning and the opportunities for our young people. We are challenged with the reality of inevitable, unknown challenges and known global crises that are not going to go away with a bombing campaign or populist piece of legislation. We know that all people have the capacity to learn. We recognise that the elite selection process throws – along with the brilliant and truly bright – some of the most banal and incompetent into positions of power and influence. Knowledge is cheap today and access is virtually unlimited; the ability to create transcends the old order and requires real talent. Yet the exam system remains largely the same.

Imagine an educational system in which we based our understanding of student potential and achievement upon individual interests and passions, developed and nurtured throughout the years of schooling. This is what most teachers instinctively seek to do. Imagine, then, how amazing schools could be without the false conventions of examinations and tests that are philosophically at variance with all that we know about learning and humanity. The fact is, we know that we don’t need examinations for students to get into good colleges and we don’t even need good colleges to learn and be successful, so why is this absurdity still the unchallenged tail that wags the dog of our school systems?

Lego and Learning

4 Dec

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Invention was the key to Lego’s appeal for me growing up. The fun of building, breaking, and rebuilding. Using pieces of that were not lego because we had lost a piece. So of those pieces were gems. That was where the challenge lay. We learnt through trial and error, through testing and refining. More wheels don’t make things go faster – the increased friction actually slows them up. The walls of buildings need to interlock with each other occasionally or they fall over. I may not have grown up to be a mechanic, a bricklayer, or a vet, but I gained some valuable understandings about how things work.

Contrast that with today’s experience of building a Lego set. Certainly there are still valuable skills and experiences to be gained: following instructions with care and the sense of satisfaction upon completion. But the words “I’m finished” are not something I have ever associated with Lego. Had we ever uttered them, our parents would have simply said “Well, build something else.” Today, many children would consider it sacrilege to convert their immaculate Jedi Interceptor into a homemade bulldozer or their Hogwarts Castle into a skyscraper. In many bedrooms, ‘completed’ Lego models sit on the shelf, an end unto themselves.

From creation to replication – therein seems to lie the change in Lego. Teaching our children to be artisans who can recreate objects, carefully and methodically crafting them from a template, is a useful skill. But encouraging them to be artists, with the confidence and creativity to create and refine original designs, may be more useful still.

Which leads to the other sneaky change – from collaborative to solo pursuits. Learners memories are communal; they are of competition and co-operation. There were highest tower races, last-car-standing demolition derbies, joint construction projects and endless haggling as my brothers and sisters and I bartered for pieces from each other’s piles. It is true that, once built, a modern day themed set does provide the basis for interactive play. However, does it replace the life-lessons of building together?

Having recently seen the Lego Star Wars Wii game being played in virtual reality on a big screen, I should be glad that the solid little plastic bricks of my childhood still even exist. Nevertheless, I challenge parents to the following next time you are cleaning your child’s room:
1. ‘Accidently’ drop two or three of their completed Lego models on the floor
2. If they still have the original instruction sheets, hide them
3. When they get home from school, tell them to rebuild. It builds resilience
4. Better still, challenge them to build something completely different

Living the Mission

30 Nov

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I love the writing of Malcolm Gladwell. His latest podcast series is also simply brilliant. In Malcolm Gladwell’s text ‘Tipping Point’, he references the concept of ‘Broken Windows’, the brainchild of James Q. Wilson and George Kelling, promulgating that crime is the inevitable result of disorder. The following has been adapted from this text. If a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge. Soon, more windows will be broken, and the sense of anarchy will spread from the building to the street on which it faces, sending a signal that anything goes.In the mid 1980s Kelling was hired by the New York Transit Authority as a consultant, and he urged them to put the Broken Windows theory into practice. They obliged, bringing in a new subway director by the name of David Gunn to oversee a multibillion dollar rebuilding of the subway system. Many subway advocates, at the time, told Gunn not to worry about ‘small’ issues such as graffiti and to focus on the larger questions of crime and subway reliability.

But Gunn insisted that the graffiti was symbolic of the collapse of the system. He stated: “When you looked across at the process of rebuilding of the organisation and morale, you had to win the battle against graffiti. Without winning that battle, all the management reforms and physical changes just weren’t going to happen. Gunn drew up a new management structure and a precise set of goals and timetables aimed at cleaning the system line by line, train by train. Gunn made it a rule that there should be no retreat, that once a car was “reclaimed” it should never be allowed to be vandalised again. “We were religious about it,” Gunn said. The idea was to send a perspicuous message to the vandals themselves. Gunn’s graffiti clean-up took place from 1984 to 1990.

At thatpoint, the Transit Authority hired William Bratton to head the transit police, and the second stage of the reclamation of the subway system began. Bratton was, like Gunn, a disciple of Broken Windows. With felonies on the subway system at an all-time high, Bratton decided to crack down on fare-beating. He believed that, like graffiti, fare-beating could be a signal, a small expression of disorder that invited much more serious crimes. Bratton turned the transit police into an organisation focused on the smallest infractions, on the details of life underground.

The positive effect on both the subway from the approaches of Gunn and Bratton were remarkable. After the election of Rudolph Giuliani as mayor of New York in 1994, Bratton was appointed head of the New York City Police Department, and he applied the same strategies to the city at large. When crime began to fall in the city, as quickly and dramatically as it had in the subways, Bratton and Giuliani pointed to the same cause. Minor, seemingly insignificant quality-of-life crimes, they said, were the tipping points for violent crime.

This is got me thinking this week.  That is, the small, immediate things do matter. So when we ask the students to look tidy, or be punctual to class or pick up litter, we are not simply asking them to accord to a set of arbitrary requests. Rather, it is a recognition thatthe undertaking of such requests and responsibilities contribute ina meaningful manner to a broader culture and set of behaviours, attitudes and values which are aligned with the mission of our College. It is being part of society. It is Living the Mission.

Evaluation 2017: Part One

27 Nov

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Sometimes as we reflect on the end of year I get the feeling of wanting to jump out of a moving car. Sometimes you have to be outside the journey to reflect on it. I have been reflecting on a host of issues as we evaluate annual goals and head towards 2018.

Bridge the Gap
Our HOF Inquiry taught us a great deal around this. It’s time to bridge this gap. It’s so easy for those who “want change” to keep pursuing a change agenda without having an understanding of what this feels like in the classroom. The next, new thing is just too alluring for some who do not take the time to understand current realities and demands on teachers. I am a firm advocate for change, but I also believe that major change needs to be managed, supported, and phrased appropriately. The pace at which change is adopted in schools and the potential for groupthink around change management that requires greater procedural mindfulness should become a significant management focus in schools.

Set Clear Personal Guidelines around Our Technology Use
I generally find that technology saves me a lot of time at work. Many issues that used to require meetings can be dealt with through an efficient email. But as a recent BBC report has found, we lack discipline when we use email and tend to use it selfishly: “People dump tasks into each other’s inboxes without thinking about whether they are being considerate.”   It is all about our outlook and our self-discipline … it’s not about the technology.

Demand That Meetings Have a Purpose and Are Run Efficiently
We have all been invited to meetings with no clear purpose, agenda, outcome or value. Meetings should be carefully planned, tightly run, and participants should not only understand the purpose and outcome, they should participate. Scheduled meetings should be cancelled if the agenda is not pressing.

School Leaders Must Take Responsibility For Managing the Pace

Mindfulness needs to start and be modelled from the top. In their book, The Mindful Leader, Brown and Olson make the point that reflective practice is something that many leaders are simply not good at: “Although many of us are charged with leading learning organizations, and learning theory describes the importance of reflection for consolidation and scaffolding the next level of insights, in education we tend not to create pauses for thinking and feeling in our learning and leading, or do so only superficially.”

We need to remind ourselves and our students that being healthy and happy is the key to learning effectively. We need to breathe. We need to stop doing the things we have always done because we have always done them. We need to grade less. We need to collaborate more. We need to scrap excessive content and engage in stimulating, creative learning that places us in the zone, in our element. We need to alter the conception of success as someone who spends all day in the office to the individual who works smartly and leaves the office or classroom with enough time to do something that sustains a personal passion. We need to breathe. We have choices.

I have been thinking a great deal about this quote:

“If you get the culture right in the school … then everything grows and takes care of itself.”

Authentic Leadership

23 Nov

 

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There is no doubt SLT who develop lasting, trusting relationships with their staff build on a foundation created by doing their job and doing it well. We need a foundation of credibility before he can earn the relational capital that creates trust. Establishing your ethos on campus comes in a variety of ways (and happens differently in each unique situation). I’ll be the first to say that each path toward trust is unique, but it’s never bad to start by managing the referrals that come your way fairly and efficiently, committing to being a learner in your leadership role, and moving toward each new year looking for ways to serve students and teachers in new ways.

It is about being mindful. Being mindful used to simply mean being consciously aware of something, but it has come to represent a state of mental being that is achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment with calmness and a sense of serene acceptance. I do believe there is a larger need for all of us to be more mindful, but in the traditional sense of breathing more and taking the time to reside in the moment. I am personally less inclined towards loving-kindness meditation as I feel mindfulness as a movement is a concession to the belief that we can’t change the pace of our lives. I support the mindful revolution in schools, but not at the cost of tackling the issues that require it. To be truly mindful in schools, I think we need to find our element and be “in the zone” as Ken Robinson suggests. By finding time for our passion, Robinson contends, we will be more present, more centred, more in the here and now. This is how we should construct our schools. It’s another choice.

Trust is important also.  Trust must be earned, your work as a SLT is far from over when you reach that point. Having the respect of the teachers is not the same as having a relationship with them. Cultivating those trusting relationships is vital if you are interested in creating change (and who is not interested in creating positive change):

All leaders know the power of buy in, but it is not always the quickest road to a solution. However, getting buy in on the front end of change can make a profound difference on the success of any attempt at change in a large organization like a school.

We provide this for teachers routinely, but we rarely ask for it in return. Hearing critical feedback makes us better at providing the same for teachers, and knowing the concerns of those we serve allows us to keep a close watch on that which affects those activities.

Asking question is important. Asking these questions is not magic, but it is a great start for developing relationships through conversations with staff.

As a leader, you have to walk the walk. Credibility has a short shelf life. Even though faculty meetings and PD days are important arenas in which we must excel, we cannot only show up then.

White Space

17 Nov

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Recently, I have been reading with members of my PLN (Professional Learning Network) about the concept of white space. White space can be described as the focused time you create for yourself to slow down and reflect. I have become a proponent of this type of mindfulness. My peers have described that they create white space by running, swimming, praying, sitting and listening to music, exploring their passion in the kitchen, enjoying art, unplugging and sightseeing, and spending time with family and friends. Does white space have to be you sitting in a soundless, sterile room getting in touch with your thoughts? ‘m not sure. White space can be anything that connects you to yourself and connects you to others. Biking, running, reading, playing in the snow, all of those can be white space moments for you. I blog. it is my “winter” or white space. I’m doing this for my own benefit as well as to share and explore the white space concept with others. Recently, I read an article about how Norwegians embrace winter and I attributed some of that enjoyment to embracing white space time. I am taking on this challenge to help me reflect, learn about myself, learn from others, and embrace “my winter” in new ways. Next year I am going to encourage my teams to participate in this further.

‘Ka Whawhai Tonu Ake Ake.’

15 Nov

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We are having some discussion this week and as a result looking at evidence in literature of ‘being Māori’ in learning.  In the Ministry of Education [MOE] 2013-2017 Māori Education Strategy- Ka Hikitia, there is clear focus on Māori being Māori in their learning:

This vision means ensuring that all Māori students, their parents and their whanau participate in and contribute to an engaging and enjoyable educational journey that recognises and celebrates their unique identity, language and culture” (MOE, 2013, p.13).

This opinion is supported in much of the literature and reports that have been commissioned by the Ministry of Education.

We know that Māori do much better when education reflects and values their identity, language and culture ...” (MOE, 2013,p.6).

This vision in Ka Hikitia identifies five principles of a Māori approach to learning: the significance of the Treaty of Waitangi, incorporation of identity, language and culture, ako, a two way teaching and learning process, and productive partnerships acknowledging the connection of students to whanau.

This has linked well to our HOF Inquiry this year around collaborative leaving an dpedagogy. Collaborative approaches and the importance of relationships have also been identified in the literature (Greenwood and Te Aika, 2008, p.6) including the concept of visibility ‘kanohi kitea’ (Ferguson, 2008, p.2) Thus we start to see how Māori culture and identity (kaupapa) can be incorporated into education, part of which will be eLearning. Both eLearning and the incorporation of kaupapa Māori into eLearnng are relatively new fields of education (Tiakiwai and Tiakiwai, 2010, p.6).

‘Ka Whawhai Tonu Ake Ake.’

Mentoring and Successful Schools

10 Nov

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As school leaders, we recognise that appraisal an essential process that exists in schools. The evidence gathered in the process is central to the ability teacher registration. However, because the process is often seen as mechanical, and in some cases is not seen as a significant driver to assist school improvement, a real opportunity is missed for developing potential and bringing out the best in others.

As I work on my own appraisal and appraisal meetings I note the importance of self-accountability and growth. With growth comes an increased sense of one’s own potential. When one has both confidence and a true sense of what could be, then a space is created for the individual to try and test out new behaviours.

When mentoring is placed firmly at the heart of the appraisal process, teachers and other staff members experience a process in which belief in the development of human potential becomes central to the conversation. At the heart of these must be the PTCs.

When school leaders are skilled in using the principles of mentoring to assist their appraisal, meetings they help to create a clear path for creating a school culture where individuals to make things better.

Mentoring accepts it as a process for accelerating the achievement of school targets (that is annual goals and strategic plans) through:

– Creating alignment between organisational and personal goals

– Growing and developing others

– Enabling others to step outside of their comfort zones

– Supporting others to achieve their full potential

When opposite beliefs and attitudes exist about the purpose and value of performance management, school cultures are created in which individuals:

– Struggle to take responsibility for their own actions

– Become dependent on others for solutions and place limitations on their own ability to problem solve

– Lack the internal motivation and desire to succeed

– Weaken their ability to take risks and learn from their mistakes.

The truth is, when systems for appraisal exist that do not develop an individual’s sense of self-worth, a void can be created between the individual’s perception of self and what they feel capable of achieving. In such environments, individuals either consciously or subconsciously limit what they give both to themselves and their school.

Individuals come to see more fully their unique role and the contributions they can make towards bringing about improvements in their school. Rather than seeing it as something that is done to them, they begin to understand what it means to be accountable to themselves and others and they start to own the process.

 

 

 

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