Teaching is relationships

18 Jan

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I believe being digital or using digital tools is more than just giving devices to kids or even providing professional development for teachers. Going digital, rolling out devices, or digital makerspaces shouldn’t just be about the new and the flash. Technology should allow us to do things that are truly transformational. It should be less about technology and more about relationships and attitudes. Teaching to the North East by Russell Bishop confirmed my thinking on this over summer.

Technology should never isolate us. Learning is social. Spending time together is how we learn. I will be the first person to tell you I use social media to make connections and learn with so many different people from around the world. But I will also tell you that nothing beats the face-to-face time I get to spend with people at conferences, meetings, or just over coffee. That face time is so valuable to my learning. I learn so much in those interactions. And that type interaction is so important for students to develop interpersonal, emotional and collaborative skills as well. So we have to get out from behind the screen often and learn together and from each other. Not everything has to be done through technology. Sometimes it’s a hindrance rather than a benefit.  It enables us to interact easier or across great distances, but there is still room for students (and us to) to work face-to-face.

Unlocking Passions. School shouldn’t be preparation for real life. It should BE real life. We’ve got to do better as educational leaders (teachers and administrators) to help kids (and adults) unleash their passion. Providing time in the day to tinker, explore, reflect, learn and grow helps us all discover who we are inside. Technology is truly transformational and should allow us all to do things not possible before. Technology isn’t just for rote memorization of facts, having students take hours or meaningless assessments or judge whether they read a book with some low-level recall questions. Kids will do incredible things, if we enable them and get out of their way. Schools should be safe and caring places for them to discover and peruse their passions.

Enable Collaboration. Ideas are made better when they are shared. This is another that doesn’t happen enough in our schools, even though technology-enabled collaboration has made it so much easier. Share the good stuff. Let kids build, discover, and problem solve, together. (We should do that more as adults, too.) And share what happens. Let others take what you’ve done and build upon it and make it better so that can be shared with even more people. Just like before, we can learn better together. Your story is important and deserves to be shared but more importantly, others deserve to learn from your success and failures too.

Talk Less and Listen More.
 This goes back to the face-to-face time, right? And really, it’s more listening than it is talking. As educational leaders (teachers and administrators alike) we must be willing to listen to ideas, suggestions, or complaints and use them to grow ourselves, each other and our organizations. Really, listening should happen much more often than talking, especially when it comes to education leadership. As educational leaders we must be willing to listen and hear ideas, even if they make us uncomfortable or that we might disagree with. The same is true for students. We must take the time to listen to what they want to do. What do they want to create? How can a digital classroom or technology-enabled learning environment help them meet their goals?

“Care For” means more than “Care About.” This educational leadership quality is an important one. A simple change in our language can have a huge impact and outcome. Saying “I teach math.” and “I teach kids math.” have 2 differences in meaning. We must care about who we are doing it for. Kids! Just because we may have some amount of digital technology at our disposal doesn’t mean it’s always in everyone’s best interests to use it. No matter what we do we always have to keep our kids in mind and make sure we are doing what is best for their interests. But most of all, we have to care about kids.

What do you think?

Have you read a book this summer that has grabbed you?

Reflect on your mahi

17 Jan

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Reflection is so import.  One of the tenets of instructional design theory is taking time to reflect on what works and what does not. By keeping it simple and having that concentrated focus we get the opportunity to take a step back to determine what is going well or what changes to the instruction are needed. What is working? What isn’t? What do we need to cover again? What would I do differently the next time? Is there someone who needs some extra help?

Teachers need time to think about how a new tool or learned skill fits into their classroom and with their kids. Even if we believe what we are presenting is an easy concept to master there has to be some time for reflection. Adult learning theory tell us that teachers want that tie back at the end of a learning session to goals and objectives laid out in the beginning. They also need direction in their thinking for afterwards. We want to have them leave thinking about what we want them to be thinking about. Giving opportunities during and after PD for reflection can help solidify the learning, we ultimately want them to walk away with.

For leaders, time absolutely needs to be taken to look at the session as a whole. During the session temperature checks and informal formative assessments (simple feedback questions or times set aside to see where learning is) are critical to ensuring that the learning is on the right track. And afterwards look at what went well, and what could have been better?

Teaching Empathy

16 Jan

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As a father and an educator, an important aspect of learning that is difficult to teach is empathy.  Pre-teens and teens are often consumed with themselves and their immediate circle of friends. It’s just how they are wired. With my own daughtes, the lessons of understanding the challenges and struggles of others, especially those different from them or located halfway around the globe are difficult for them to grasp.

When I talk to teachers about social-emotional development I am consistently told that one of the hardest things for students to see and understand is empathy. With the focus on curriculum and content, little time is left for students to explore the world beyond their desk and understand what is happening around them. Yet showing empathy for others is a skill that will take students far in life.

And perhaps, more importantly, students could hold the solutions to many of these problems if schools and classrooms were places where they could explore.

Kids not only need to understand the challenges of daily life in their local community and other parts of the world, but they also need the chance to see the world through the eyes of others. Learn their stories, their triumphs, and struggles to better understand how they can help even though they might be a world away. They need to see the impact they can have in the lives of others.

Kids are incredible. Just because they are kids doesn’t mean they can’t change the world.

Teaching empathy and giving students the opportunity to cultivate empathy doesn’t have to be something extra or a way to fill empty time at the end of the school year. There are plenty of ways to weave empathy into the everyday curriculum while showing students the impact they can have on their local and global communities

In class assessment

15 Jan

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No I am not talking about exams. I am thinking today about being able to assess your students in class. I think you should have a fair idea where your students sit regardless of the many PAT’s or SAT’s or eASTLE’s you may do with your students.

There is a wide range of practice of assessment in class. I’m not looking for anything specific but I’m keen to see that teachers have good techniques in play, involving as many students as possible. Questioning is a central teacher skill.  Does the teacher probe enough, involve all students, give good answers, expect full answers, change tack and re-phrase when students get stuck?  Again, I’m very conscious that in any one lesson you might only see one or two modes of questioning.  Anything you see in a lesson is really just a platform for further discussion.

I’m increasingly keen to look for this.  I know some lessons can legitimately focus on input – with response and practice to follow – but I want to know that students have plenty of practice and that improvement is a strong theme.  It’s good to see redrafting, corrections, fast looped perform-feedback-improvement cycles, time given to heads down practice. If a task is going to be a one-off or is long-running, I want to see that feedback is given during the process.  In all subjects, do students have opportunities to put the ideas into practice on their own; to follow the examples? Often, lots of ideas and concepts can be tossed around in the discourse with a few selected student responses so it is important for tasks to follow on that allow every student to practice.

What do you use?

 

Meetings

14 Jan

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If you read only one book in your leadership journey this year make it the above. It is a stunner. It has made me rethink the concept of meetings. It also made me think about how each faculty in the school runs. At a basic planning level – as well as the level of team ethos – it’s important to establish how the team will function.  Do we do our own thing? Do we stick tightly to an agreed plan? Do we allow the shared drive to fill up with endless versions of PowerPoints and worksheets making it ever harder to find the original or best one?  Where in the curriculum is there scope for teachers to go off-piste without risking messing up an element of our carefully planned coherent curriculum?

Being prescriptive

13 Jan

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What should be included in typical lesson sequences?

Forget about a rigid lesson formula, but over a series of lessons, are there common elements, features, processes, activities that we all agree should be included? Do we agree what science experiments to do as a class practical and what is a teacher demonstration – or is that up to each person to decide, even though this shapes the enacted curriculum significantly? Do we say poems aloud  and start maths lessons with five quick recall questions? Or do our own thing…

Whilst being clear that it’s the spirit of any framework that matters, not the letter – not some rigid checklist to take people to task over – we do need some agreement about what lessons in our school, in our year, in our subject look like.  These decisions essentially form the curriculum students experience.

I encourage all staff to do your thing. don’t be somebody else. It is the same with a school. A curriculum needs to suit and serve the community not something the SLT have found in a book.

Curriculum: Does everyone see the picture?

12 Jan

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If you’re building a coherent spiral curriculum, you need to know what goes where in time; you need to know which pillars of your curriculum tower are crucial; foundational. You need know how it all fits and why things are where they are.  Not everyone knows – and it’s a mistake to assume they do.  This needs some discussion to create a shared understanding, beyond dishing out the scheme of work and syllabus and assuming that’ll do.

Similarly, how are we doing on the details?  If we’re building a deep connected curriculum   then it’s important to explore the details of what should be taught – especially where non-specialists are involved, focusing on the core concepts.  It’s hard to think of a better use of team time – making sure everyone really knows the curriculum in detail.  I meet teachers quite often who haven’t read their achievement standard specification themselves, missing out on the wording, the examples, the emphasis given to specifics.

As we start the year this is worth doing. Indeed I am off to do it now.

Ending the lesson

11 Jan

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I always try to watch a full lesson. Ending well matters. It’s great when teachers can wrap things up coherently and calmly so that students leave the room knowing where things stand ahead of the next lesson.

From all of this I draw out the points for discussion, the strengths and areas for improvement for the feedback session and report.  If there are significant concerns, that is stated clearly.  Mostly, everyone has a balance of strengths and areas to work on.  Quite often I feel that, in practice, a lesson couldn’t have been much better; it’s just a case of using the lesson as a talking point, raising questions and discussing wider issues.  It has all been made so much easier and healthier – not to mention more robust and rigorous – now we’re not in the business of making judgement or giving grades.

I try my best to make the feedback sessions as positive an affirming as possible. A lesson observation isn’t an end itself.  It is always only one small part of a bigger process.  It’s only worth doing if your observations support the teacher by motivating them and providing information and ideas that might lead to improved learning outcomes for their students. Of course it is all the lessons that are not observed that make the difference.  The observation process needs to have an impact on all of those lessons if it has any value at all.

Goal Setting

10 Jan

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I have been reflecting on our mentoring programme. We all have goals. I know one of mine twelve months ago was to run again after snapping a hamstring. Student engagement in the goal setting process makes a big difference. Just like us, students are much more likely to listen and apply feedback when it is related to a personal goal. The idea of interest and relevance impacts us on many different levels. Here it makes the difference between attending to and disregarding feedback.

When students are part of the goal setting process, they create goals that are relevant to them and they are interested in improving.

Are you providing students the opportunity to goal set?

Do they have academic and social emotional goals?

How might this impact the way you provide feedback?

Will students always select goals in all areas for which they need feedback? No, but if they are constantly receiving feedback on goals, they were not a part of creating and not committed to reaching, their attention to feedback and change in practice will be limited. Will they then be equipped with the goal setting necessary in adult life to continue to grow personally, professionally, physically?

Participating in the goal setting process results in a commitment to reaching the goal. Therefore, feedback provided in service to reaching a goal is received through a different lens.

Creating goals, providing specific feedback, monitoring goal progress and creating new goals is certainly a process. It takes time and commitment; however, it is an important part of helping students develop into adults that will continue to engage in the process.

Imagine the impact on engagement and the potential growth possible by simply engaging students, teachers and ourselves in the goal setting process.

No knowing….

10 Jan

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Our culture shuns indecisiveness like it’s a disease that not everyone has. That maybe it can be expunged, and we can all just fit perfectly into our roles if we start instilling career choices and majors early enough. We keep pushing back the choice earlier and earlier.

It doesn’t matter what rules we make or how much students are encouraged to decide earlier, people will continue to be indecisive. The average person changes their career three times over the course of their lifetime, so I am told. There is nothing that can be done or said that will change the basic human instinct to evolve and change.

We don’t have it all figured out and likely never will. The hardest thing that we can come to terms with isn’t the fact that we don’t know what we’re doing right now, it’s that we likely never will have it completely figured out.

That’s not to say we can’t be happy or content with our lives. This isn’t meant to discourage you from starting down a career path that you genuinely enjoy just because you think you’ll eventually change. Nor is this to discourage you from going into a career that pays well.

My challenge to my students this year is it is completely okay to not know. It is scary to be unsure and to not know what the future holds, but it will all work out. Call that cliché or unrealistic, but it’s true. At some point or another in everyone’s lives, they will be happy.

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