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Term 3 Focus

2 Aug

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As the term begins for us here in New Zealand it is a good time to take stock. What are your goals for the next 100 days of school? Do your goals take priority over learning styles and student needs? Is your professional development (PD) plan a success if all of the teachers complete the face-to-face PD, but do not implement the instructional strategies?

As a teacher, the world may not be second-guessing your decisions or requesting that you explain your school improvement plan on national TV. Impacting the lives of hundreds of students in a school is much more complex than a checklist. This term I will be asking my middle leaders to reflect on the reason they became an educator. Knowing “your why” will help you support teaching and learning. While a teacher’s legacy is the successful transition of children into adults who contribute to society, it is important to focus on the students you have this year and not your legacy.

Here are five focus points for you:

1.  Focus on The Students You Have This Year

2.  Recognize The Importance Of Continuous Improvement

3.  Focus On Goals, But Not At The Expense Of Student Growth

4.  Provide A Culture Where Multiple Perspectives Are Valued

5.  Reflect On The Reasons You Became An Educator

Being Hamstrung by Policy

1 Aug

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This week as part of my role we were looking at policy with the BOT. To run effectively, schools require policies, guidelines and procedures. They are important to give schools points of reference from which to operate and ensure that everyone in the organisation is on the same page.

Every school that I know has some form of staff handbook; a manual for staff that usually provides details of the school’s key policies and procedures. Depending on where you have worked, these manuals vary considerably in terms of their content, both in length and quality. You can gain an idea about the school culture when you ask teachers whether they know about what is in the staff handbook and the policies that they are aware of and are familiar with. School leaders are often frustrated when staff are not aware of the policies that have been put in place; many of them to support teachers in realizing important aspects of a school’s vision and mission and safeguarding of students’ well being.

Sp why the disconnect? Why are teachers not so familiar with the school handbooks, policies and procedures?

Could it be that teachers cannot be bothered? Perhaps they do not see the relevance until it the manual needs to be consulted, after all we are professionals, right?

There’s an element of truth in all these plausible responses.

Fact: Policies are not an enjoyable part of teaching, so making them attractive and interesting to read is not easy.

Fact: Policies are an important part of being professional and ensuring important levels of consistency in how people work together in a school.

So, how do school’s overcome the problem in having clear and effective policies that are viewed as important and are adhered to by the staff?

Cut down the number of policies
Too many policies and procedures make it difficult to enforce all of them, so cut down the number of policies in order to reduce any cynicism that may be aimed at their ineffectiveness.

Collaborate
Where possible, create collaborative teams to establish new policy or review existing ones. We have plenty of tools to create these.

Regularly refer to policies at staff hui and whakakaha
Keep important policies front and center to the work that is being done. It is important, therefore, to spend time looking at them in meetings and discussing their application. For example, if your school has an academic honesty policy or behaviour management policy, give it life in meetings rather than let it sit and gather dust on the shelf.

HOF Inquiry: Creativity

28 Jun

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This week I have been thinking about context v capabilities courtesy of our work with the Royal Society. Education is about more than accumulating large repertoires of facts and routines. However the demand for coverage unfortunately often results in a pedagogy of ‘teaching by mentioning’ that rewards formulaic learners. The challenge is to create a culture of teaching and learning that develops creative capacity. While teachers have always taught routine habits needed to solve routine problems, they now need to focus on the creative capacity building needed to solve more intractable problems. Profound pedagogical implications flow from this sort of thinking.

I loved the way we were given the opportunity to “blow stuff up.” That is sit in the seats of students. Creativity has become the economic engine of the 21st century and it is no longer a luxury for a few, but a necessity for all. Ken Robinson (2007) states that creativity is as important as literacy, Richard Florida (2002) writes about the rise of the creative class, and Dan Pink explains that,

“We’ve progressed from a society of farmers to a society of factory workers to a society of knowledge workers. And now we’re progressing yet again – to a society of creators and empathizers, of pattern recognizers and meaning makers.” (2005: 50)

If education is to prepare young people for a very different global environment, we simply must invest in students’ creative capacities. New combinations of creative abilities are increasingly in demand in a complex post-millennial world and what we know today is not as important as what we need to learn for tomorrow. Habits held too tightly become burdensome. As Leadbeater states, “What holds people back…is their ability to unlearn” (2000: 9). Learning is usually an incremental process, but when the environment suddenly changes the key is to dispense with past learning because old practices and routines will no longer work. This means challenging ingrained assumptions and people’s sense of identity.

The extent of this change is described by Bauman (Gane, 2004) when he considers the behaviourist ‘rat-in-the-maze’ experiments that paralleled the social shape of the world fifty years ago with its, “firmly fixed division of labour, career tracks, class distinctions, power hierarchies, marriages…(and) social skills…” (p.21). But Bauman proceeds to ask what would happen in a script-less and fluid social world,

“…if the maze were made of partitions on castors, if the walls changed their position as fast, perhaps faster than the rats could scurry in search of food, and if the tasty rewards were moved as well, and quickly, and if the targets of the search tended to lose their attraction well before the rats could reach them, while other, similarly short-lived allurements diverted their attention and drew away their desire?” (p.21)

Florida, R. (2002) The Rise of the Creative Class, New York: Basic Books.

Gane, N. (2004) The Future of Social Theory, London: Continuum

Leadbeater, C. (2000) The Weightless Society: Living in the New Economic Bubble, New York: Texere.

Pink, D.H (2005) A Whole New Mind, New York: Penguin.

Robinson, K. (2007) “Do schools kill creativity?”, TED, YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG9CE55wbtY (Accessed 23 June 2017)

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Restorative Reflection

29 May

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In my work this week I have been trying to get my head around restorative and relational practices. I have been thinking what makes effective practice and how we can apply this in my own environment. The question I am posing then on mountain2surf is just what does creating a Restorative Culture within a school or other community look like?

Positive relationships form the basis for any healthy community. For a Restorative Culture to develop, it is essential that community- and relationship-building be intentional. Relationships of authentic trust between adults and youth, and within both staff and student cohorts, are the foundation of the connections that will be restored through the use of RJ practices. We must first form these relationships, then, in times of trouble, there is something to restore. So building good relationships is key.

Reflection is something I believe we do not do enough of. It is essential to a restorative culture. Prayer in Catholic school provides an ideal opportunity for this. When students “act out”, do we examine our own contribution to the situation? What feelings and beliefs do we bring to the circumstances? In our busy and challenging position as educators, have we really done all we can to meet an individual student’s needs or is there something else we could try? Out of our best intentions, have we given some students so much slack that, without realizing it, we have set the bar too low and inadvertently sent them a message that they are not capable? This type of deep self-reflection and willingness to examine one’s own feelings, biases, pre-conceived notions, and actions is not easy, but it is one of the essential keys to establishing a Restorative Culture in schools.

But where should this self reflection take place. Now for self-reflection to take place and to build positive relationships, a safe space must be provided. Safe space encompasses not just physical well-being but also emotional and intellectual safety. Are behavioral and academic expectations clear? Are standards upheld consistently? Is the aftermath of making a mistake free from shame? If I take personal responsibility for my actions will I be met with compassion and a willingness to listen, rather than a quickness to blame and punish? Does the community embrace and validate different experiences, beliefs, and perspectives and allow for them to be expressed?

 

Just some initial thoughts.

 

Head of Faculty Inquiry

24 May

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I am finding Maslows model useful in my own inquiry. It considers what the teachers need from the leader and outlines “a set of knowledge, skills and dispositions required for meeting those needs”. During the leader’s ascension, toward the apex there are key checkpoints, questions that leaders need to ask themselves for the vision realised. This is my simplified version of Knuth & Banks strategy:

First Level: Your actions match your words
Leaders model core values and principles. You are able to inspire trust and articulate vision. Principle-centred leaders inspire trust by displaying consistency between core values, words and actions.

Leader Checkpoint 3: Is your internal compass in or out of alignment?
If your words and actions don’t match there’s no need to go any further.

Second Level: My physical and material needs matter to you
The work environment is clean and attractive. Sound, air-quality and safety needs are considered. Teachers have the resources they need to do their job well.

Third level: I am appreciated for my contribution
Leaders actively foster a sense of belonging. Encouragement and recognition is personalised. They put a human face on policies and systems.

Checkpoint 2: Is it your priority to ensure the basic needs of your people are met?
Without valuing people, clear systems, policies and training for staff, a leader’s energy is consumed by chaos or disorganisation and probably interpersonal conflict.

Fourth level: We’re on a journey together
As a community we own the vision, good systems are in place and we are able to direct our collective energies to our core mission.

Checkpoint 1: Do you feel like settling?
It’s all humming along nicely now, let’s just enjoy this. The fourth level is considered the ‘false apex’.

The Apex: Higher order change
This is rarely linear, rational or comfortable. It is disruptive, chaotic and tested by ambiguity. Leaders here demonstrate adaptive leadership skills. This is where the disruption happens. Remember: it isn’t actually an end point.

Fullan & Langworthy (2014) – A Rich Seam: How new pedagogies find deep learning
(Ch 6 The New change leadership)

Relevance

17 May

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Research into Professional Learning supports the view that schools can no longer afford the luxury of separating professional development activities from the ongoing realities of teachers’ work (Johnson, 1999, p.13.) Teachers need to adopt a learning approach that is ‘relevant’ for our time. Learning can happen anywhere, anytime and with anyone. As leaders and teachers we must clarify our learning needs and source others to support us in doing so. Twitter, blogs, YouTube, Apps make up the new learning landscape for teachers and leaders of schools.

If capacity building is to be effective and influence school transformation then it needs to be built into the life cycle and culture of schools as learning communities. These characteristics listed by Johnson and Scull are effective and work if the school culture embraces the ideas. A school’s culture must foster an atmosphere that supports teachers, students, and parents to know where they fit in and how they can work as a community to support teaching and learning. Creating a school culture requires instructional leaders to develop a shared vision that is clearly communicated and built on actions. Additionally, principals must create a climate that encourages shared authority and responsibility if they are to build a positive school culture (MacNeil and Maclin, 2005).

My 6 characteristics of learning teams

  1. Learning teams require a reason to learn and a purpose to engage in collaborative professional development practices. Projects provide reason and purpose, and allow an integrated approach to the implementation of curriculum improvement.
  2. Learning team projects are best focused on collective responsibility for producing more effective learning for ALL students.
  3. Learning teams benefit from a combination of outside-provided and work-embedded support
  4. Effective learning teams practise many forms of collaboration and systematic reflection on practice.
  5. A sense of ‘personal productive challenge’ and a balance between pressure and support characterizes the work of effective learning teams.
  6. Learning teams require knowledgeable, skilled and supportive formal leadership

What do you think?

Time to Reflect Again…

15 May

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By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.

I love that quote by Confucius. His opinion is still valid, of course, although I’m less sure of the order in which he presents the three paths to wisdom. Perhaps imitation is the easiest, but teaching by modelling involves the use of imitation to some extent, and it is through modelling that the teacher can begin to map the routes to wisdom for the learner. If modelling and imitation come first, then the path to wisdom is broadened and made firmer under-foot through offering practical experiential learning to students. Learning from experience plays a critical part in combining information and skills in context to create knowledge, and the meaning and form that such experiences can take are as varied as the countless subjects and disciplines themselves that comprise the broad sweep of human activity.

In teaching there are many forms of reflection. Some which I am good at yes take a bow Andrew. Others not so much. This can be a reflection on teaching but also on the way you lead your Faculty.

  • Critical self-reflection – taking the time to go back over our own teaching, either from memory, or from notes taken, or increasingly today from a video of our teaching; we do this with the aim of challenging ourselves on what went well or not, and why;
  • Collaborative reflection – working with one or more colleagues who join with you in reflecting on your teaching, perhaps having observed your lesson live, whether via live video, or having watched a recorded video of your teaching after the event; of course, this can, and perhaps should, be reciprocal – collegiate reflection can be very powerful indeed;
  • Coaching and mentoring – working with either a more experienced colleague or an external expert who watches you teach (again either by classroom observation or through the use of video) and is able to offer advice – this can be done live or in retrospect, or both. Equally, working with a colleague or colleagues to mentor/coach each other can make for very effective professional reflection. Our experts sometimes come from our own community.

“Our Code, Our Standards – draft for consultation”

2 May

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This was well worth noting this week. “Our Code, Our Standards – draft for consultation”

Our Code, Our Standards articulates the expectations and aspirations of our profession, and has been crafted by teachers, leaders and teaching experts. It reflects what it is to be a teacher in Aotearoa New Zealand. This video invites learners to discuss and provide feedback on the draft. Read the document and have your say at educationcouncil.org.nz/OurCodeOurStandards Please view the video here: 

Quick Thought

17 Apr

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The growth of any craft depends on shared practice and honest dialogue among the people who do it. We grow by private trial and error, to be sure — but our willingness to try, and fail, as individuals is severely limited when we are not supported by a community that encourages such risks.                                 

The Courage to Teach; Palmer, 1998, p. 144

Experience is a truly remarkable thing. It’s a gift we give ourselves each day. It’s a hard teacher, and often plans lessons we don’t want to learn. But it makes us look at things differently with each turn. Experience makes us evaluate where we have been, and what we are headed into next. It makes us collaborate with others on the journey too. In order to experience, you need to take chances and live. It’s risky, it’s terrifying, it’s pretty awesome. If we don’t experience we don’t grow.

Learning is not an ‘add on,’ to be done when we have some free time or at training sessions. Some of the most significant innovations have been in infrastructures and day-to-day practices, allowing teams and intact work groups to integrate working and learning.

— “The Academy As Learning Community: Contradiction in Terms or Realizable Future?” Senge, in Leading Academic Change: Essential Roles for Department Chairs, Lucas, A. F. & Associates, 2000, pp. 280-281

Improving Schools through TED talks

14 Apr

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I recently came across a talk by Michael Fullan on making change. I heard him at ULEARN 16 where he was phenomenal. I thought this talk would be useful to share but it also reminded me of a TED talk by Linda Hill, which when combined might give schools and their leadership teams some real incentive and instruction for change. They also combined to indicate that progress will not be made with either top-down or bottom-up approaches but from a developing a new school culture towards shared, networked collaboration at all levels. It got me thinking about a few issues.

The SLT must be seen by the teachers as an equal participant in learning. This I got from Fullan in his talk he gave about transforming the Canadian school system. He highlights that a principal behaving as an active learner was a surprise key indicator in his research into schools making significant and positive change.
Hill talks about innovating or dying. This so important for schools as we sit at a watershed moment in time in NZ education. Our courses cannot remain the same. Linda Hill says “Innovation is not about solo genius but collective genius.” She goes on to outline how the most successful organisations build organisational structures and cultures that are “iterative, inter-related and quite frankly messy.” She also highlights that investing in all the people to give them time to develop and collaborate around new challenges and ideas. It is also critical to build a culture where everyone feels they might have something to offer in improving the operation of or output from the organisation.

This is a huge issue for schools, where many teachers never bring problems to the leadership team because they do not think it’s there place to suggest change. Schools are often not flexible or iterative enough to adapt to changes as they arise. A fixed-time vision for learning in a school issued from top-down can kill excellent ideas that surface during the period in question. What I took from Linda’s talk was that schools need to develop a staff culture for collaborative problem solving, discovery driven learning (and that’s the teachers we’re talking about) but run integrated decision making where everyone is confident to express ideas

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