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An Inquiry

17 May

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I have been reflecting on the idea that student become anxious and lack self-belief in the classroom. I did some rereading around this idea. Inquiry should underpin our teaching – if students are going to believe that they can be successful, they need to experience success.  So, we need to provide the opportunities for this to happen.

The following report, ‘What Makes Great Teaching? ‘ provides a good starting point when thinking about planning learning.  It identifies content knowledge and quality of instruction as key components of great teaching.

Content knowledge. Teachers with strong knowledge and understanding of their subject make a greater impact on students’ learning. It is also important for teachers to understand how students think about content and be able to identify common misconceptions on a topic.

Quality of instruction. This includes effective questioning and the use of assessment by teachers. Specific practices, like reviewing previous learning, providing model responses for students, giving adequate time for practice to embed skills securely and progressively introducing new learning (scaffolding) are also found to improve attainment.

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Computational Thinking

31 Mar

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This week at school we have done some work on implementing the new digital curriculum in 2020. We have entered a modern age of education where classrooms are commonly filled with students who are programming robots, using data to create a plan for reducing food waste or plastic or working with a computer to design a 3D model of an area of our local environment. Computational Thinking one of the elements of the digital curriculum.

Computational Thinking is not “thinking like a computer,” but a set of foundational skills that harness the power of computing to solve problems. It involves formulating problems in a way that a computer can solve them, analyzing data, using models, creating simulations and employing a step-by-step approach to solve problems efficiently and effectively.

Today’s students have grown up with technology at their fingertips. Computational Thinking transforms students from consumers of content into creators of content.

Advances in computing have expanded our capacity to solve problems at a scale never imagined, using strategies that have not been available to us before. Students will need skills to be successful. Students will need to learn and Computational Thinking skills to take full advantage of rapid changes in technology.

Through workshops last week we identified Computational Thinking activities in many classes, from maths and art to music and Te Reo. We know there’s a strong economic imperative to prepare the next generation of -literate students but I think it’s about giving students the essential skills to create their own futures and helping them find meaning in the tech-powered world around them.

How are you delivering this new curriculum? What are your challenges?

 

Perspective

20 Mar

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It is often in March that I get down to the real business of the focus of the year. As I discerned over recent weeks I need to reflect upon where I have been and where I want to go. 2018 was a great year for me as an educator. I grew as a teacher and mentor. I also learned the importance of reflection and prayer as a tool for professional development and growing my PLN. I would say that my word for 2018, Passion, was a driving force behind all that I did. I know that my passion for education has grown and I know that I will still use passion as a special word for me.

Now as we begin 2019, my new word for this year will be Perspective; that is ensuring maintaining a work life Perspective to ensure I can be the best I can be in my leadership role. I need to keep what I do in perspective of where my students are. I need to ensure that my perspective remains on what is best for my students. I need to venture out and see new ideas on what other teachers are doing and how they are educating their students. I also need the perspective of seeing my actions and how I treat others through the eyes of my students. I need to remain fair and just to all my students.

My perspectives on many educational topics differ than those of other teachers in my building. Even though we differ, I cannot simply say that they are wrong and that I am right. I need to see perspectives on educational topics from the viewpoints of those that differ from mine. I am not so good at this. This is a work on.

I also need to allow students to show their Perspectives through creativity. I want students to share their Perspectives on topics that we discuss in class. I want students to have their Perspective recognized as important.

Perspective is also important to my career. I need to reflect on what is going to be next. This is a big deal for me. This will be an essential area of reflection for me. Perspective is going to be an area of growth for me.

What is your big focus?

Your Why?

24 Feb

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I know if you ask staff at Manawa Tapu they will tell you Andrew keeps going on about his why. Yeah I do. And I’m glad they know. One of the most thought-provoking books I read last year was Simon Sinek’s Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. In his book, Sinek talks about how successful individuals and organizations communicate.

Instead of explaining what they do, they start with why they do it.

  • What is our purpose?
  • What drives us?
  • What are we passionate about?

Explaining what we do is a lot simpler than putting our why into words. It is also less effective. “There are only two ways to influence human behavior,” Sinek says, “you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.”

I was struck by how relevant Sinek’s words in the context of education. I’ve worked with so many school districts that are embracing technology and blended learning models, but they do not communicate why this shift is important to teachers. Without a clear sense of purpose, it is easy for educators to become disillusioned and frustrated by the time and energy required to shift their teaching practices.

The best way to approach any significant change is to start with why. Be crystal clear about the value of the change and make sure everyone within the organization understands the why driving the change.

  • How will it improve the students’ experience as learners?
  • How will it free teachers to spend more time on the aspects of their job that they enjoy?
  • How will this create more dynamic and relevant learning?

If leaders are clear about their why, teachers are more likely to buy in and take risks. Similarly, teachers will be more effective if they articulate their why for themselves and explain their why to students.

For my Leaders of Learning I want to run the following in an Exercise: What’s Your Why? this week. I encourage every teacher to take a few minutes to think about why you teach and then complete your version of the golden circle pictured above.

  1. Start with why you teach.
    • What is it about your job that excites you?
    • What drives you to work with students?
    • Ultimately, what are you trying to achieve?
  2. How do you do what you do?
    • How are you attempting to achieve your why?
    • What strategies do you use to manifest your why?
    • What do you do each day to stay focused on your why?
  3. What do you do?
    1. When people ask you what you do, what do you say?
    2. What are your various roles?

This exercise is harder than it sounds.

 

 

Getting everyone on the waka in 2019

21 Feb

 

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The year has started and as senior leaders we have well thought out ideas regarding new projects for the year. But them come the resistors or slow adapters or high maintenance staff.

When we encounter resistance to a great idea, we often find ourselves mentally criticizing the people who oppose it. We conclude that those who are resisting are unwilling to change, lack a strong work ethic, or have misplaced priorities.

It might be more productive for school leaders to think about times when they’ve resisted others’ ideas—for instance, times when they told their child he could not have a begged-for toy (or tattoo!); or when they told their physician that a particular treatment was not for them; or when they told their spouse that it was not the right year to take a big vacation. When people think about why they’ve resisted others’ ideas, they usually realize that their reasons were good ones. For instance, parents say no to children to keep them safe, patients select treatments that will best fit their individual needs and approach to health, and spouses want to be good stewards of the family budget.

Similarly, when teachers resist the ideas or initiatives of new school leaders, their reasons make perfect sense to them. For instance, these teachers might have worked hard to develop their current practices and view these practices as best for students. They might believe that a proposed change would be too demanding on their time, or they might think that a new idea reverses the trajectory of school programs of the past few years. When school leaders understand resistance from this perspective, they avoid judging teachers negatively. Instead, they tune in to better understand what teachers are thinking. This process has the potential to create a productive dialogue, enabling teachers and leaders to approach problem solving and planning together to address school needs.

 

 

Getting on the waka

19 Feb

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The job of a school leader is complex, broad, and challenging. We often focus on the notion that students need to be at the centre. I am not disputing this, I do believe that leaders need to focus a lot of their energy on the teachers. Happy teachers make great teachers.

As SLT we need to know staff as individuals. They are not superheroes. They are human. They have good days and bad days. Sometimes, they have really bad days that turn into really bad weeks. We need to connect on a personal level, understand what is going on in their lives.

When building an effective team in a school we can’t get the right people on the bus if someone is in their seat. I know it seems harsh but as SLT you owe it to a teacher who is stuggling to support them and let them find their way the profession. Do the math. A poor teacher in a secondary setting will impact over 150 students a year. Over a 25 year career that equates to more than 3,700 students. Is that the legacy you want to leave as SLT?

All that is required is a frank conversation. Talk to them. Most struggling teachers are miserable. Negative people never know they are negative. The same can be said for miserable people. Please, for the love of all that is holy, don’t just ship that person to the next principal. Think about the nearly 4000 kids you are saving.

Getting the right people on the bus is much easier than getting the wrong ones off the bus. Start with the positive. Any person of the street can write a good lesson plan and type a nice resume. Sustaining this in the classroom is hard and as senior leaders and middle  leaders we must support our people. Allow yourself to not just find the most intelligent person but the best person.

Having been in almost every educational setting from inner city to rural, I can tell you that relationships trumps rigor every day. I am not saying rigor is unimportant, just that kids truly don’t care what you know until they know that you care. All teachers have gone through a rough patch and it is important we support them.

Rise of Superman: Part Two

28 Jan

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Routine is the cornerstone of productivity. But you’ll rarely enter a state of flow just by doing the same thing you did yesterday.

Instead, find an environment that challenges you on a daily basis and pushes you outside of your comfort zone (a bit). Think of the surfer who’s forced to adapt to every individual wave they catch. According to Kotler in Rise of the Superman, it’s this novelty, unpredictability, and complexity that will set off your state of flow. Kotler says there are a few environmental qualities we can look for to help trigger flow:

  • High consequences:Find environments and activities where your actions have real consequences to you. While an athlete might pick a harder course or opponent, for you, this could be as simple as speaking up during a meeting if you’re shy or publishing a post you’ve written on Medium if you’re afraid of comments and public feedback.
  • Rich environment: Find environments that require more of your attention and for you to react quickly to changes. Kotler gives the example of the Pixar offices, which feature a central hub for places frequented by all different employees regardless of their department.

“Steve Jobs artificially created the environmental conditions that massively upped the amount of novelty, unpredictability, and complexity in the environment because people across departments and disciplines started running into each other and having conversations,” said Kotler. “As a result, flow, innovation, and creativity went up.”

How could you use flow in your environment?

I am current experimenting with my routine. I will let you know the results.

Rise of Superman

26 Jan

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Ever had a moment—perhaps while writing or working through a complex problem—where you’re so focused on a task that the world around you disappears and you’re perfectly focused? It feels like you’re on autopilot. Nothing can go wrong. Work comes naturally with no friction. No effort. Athletes call it “being in the zone.” Psychologists today have given it an official name: Flow.

Steven Kotler describes it in Rise of the Superman, flow is where “every action, each decision, leads effortlessly, fluidly, seamlessly to the next. It’s high-speed problem solving; it’s being swept away by the river of ultimate performance.” I have just finished this and thanks to my PLN for the suggestion.

We all could do with a little more flow. So what if we could dissect just what pushes us into this state and then just jump into flow easily?

To help us find flow in more of our lives, we need to bring all five pieces of the flow puzzle together: Self control. Environment. Skills. Task. Reward.

Self Control: Focus on Willpower to Trigger a State of Flow

We all love shortcuts—and the idea of getting into a flow state sounds especially appealing as it means you’re almost working without working. But it still takes willpower, discipline, and self-control to get there.

In fact, self control is a key element of Flow.

“In the flow-like state, we exercise control over the contents of our consciousness rather than allowing ourselves to be passively determined by external forces,” explained Csíkszentmihályi in his original book Flow.

Here is the original TED Talk.

To help us get into a state of flow more often, we need to be able to master this level of control of our consciousness. Which isn’t an easy task in today’s distracted world.

Using this research I thought I could apply the following to my leadership:

Find your standards.Your standards are the reference points you’ll use to determine whether any action you’re going to take is desireable towards getting into a state of flow—so, whether you’re going to check your email (again) or hit your 1000 word count for the day.

Set up means for monitoring.Flow depends on immediate feedback and so does self control. Whatever your task, find ways to constantly monitor your performance and adjust as you continue.

Be wary of your energy.Our mental strength waxes and wanes throughout the day (which is why it’s so important to define your own work schedule around your energy). Break the day down to manageable tasks.

Have you got a system that is working for you?

Building Trust

17 Jan

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I have been reading The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni.

Lencioni outlines the elements needed to build strong, cohesive teams. Here is a link to the book: Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Trust is the foundation in which productive teams are built upon.

As SLT it can be hard to lead change. Staff can be cynical of hidden agendas or ulterior motives. Here are some ways I am going to work on in 2019 to build trust:

Be visible

My office door should be open as much as possible. This will allow the community to see you in action. A quick hello can go a long way in building trust and respect. A current principal currently has her work-space in the staff room. I really admire that. Perhaps that is a next step for me.

Listen

It is important when making changes to consult staff members, teachers, or students. Strong school leaders listen to their leadership team, parents, and students when it comes to either making changes or keeping things the same. At the same time the feedback loop must be complete by feeding back the voice. Often it may not be what community wanted bu it is important to explain how you got there. The Why?

Be Transparent and Visible

A school is no place for smoke and mirrors. Taking on a cold war approach to communication and information gathering is not necessary. Decisions should never be made in a back room without representation from different stakeholder groups. See my previous point regarding meetings in central areas with everybody welcome.

Be Student-Centered

Do not take sides other than do what is in the best interest of the students.  Being student-centered keeps the focus on the purpose of schools – to educate children.

Being innovative v teaching the curriculum.

15 Jan

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The viewpoint of “teaching the curriculum” and “innovation in education” is that the curriculum is on one side of the continuum, and innovation is on the opposite side. What separates the great teachers from everyone else, is not what they teach, it is how they teach.

What I am trying to get staff to understand is that how we teach our rich NZ Curriculum is the innovation. This can be seen by the finding of the NCEA review document. Think about how NZQA is now approaching assessment differently.

Recently at an NZQA seminar Principals Nominee were talking about instead of lecturing on a topic, could you have the students create a video or Vlog on the topic, to explain it in an in-depth way?  I don’t think that classrooms should be absent of providing content to students, but I do believe that what we create with the content provides a deeper understanding of what you are learning.  What does it matter if a student does well on a test, but doesn’t understand the ideas a week later?

Instead of downloading Apps students could be creating them. Simply focusing on the word “create,” and thinking about how that would enhance the learning could make a significant impact.

Ok I am not saying that lecture is a bad thing.  I do it all the time and I have seen some great teachers deliver wonderful lessons. I think there are great lessons learned from lecture, but I don’t think that any one way is the best way for all students.  I know that from the experience of being both a teacher and a learner.  But I challenge you to look at one thing in the context of your work, whether it is in leadership or teaching, and ask Is there a better way?

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