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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?

Culture Again….

1 Nov

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Culture is fundamentally about relationships. Technology is a critical component of all learning environments. However, learning without human rapport and interactive relationships is a poor ecosystem for human development. A landscape in which the foundation has not been prepared to adapt to change, to embrace what is best for students, to accept that risks, constant change and uncertainty are the order of the day, is one in which initiatives will ultimately fail.

A healthy culture is immediately discernible, though perhaps difficult to define: “A collaborative culture feels a bit like family: Although individuals may not always get along, they will support each other when push comes to shove. A collaborative culture is a strong culture in which most people are on the same page.” (Gruenert, Whitaker)

A collaborative culture also leads to higher levels of trust and respect among colleagues and translates to improved student learning. Empowered learning requires investment in technology. It requires talented teachers who are supported. But too often the infrastructure and the investment are as far as the planning goes.

The best schools and the deepest learning are characterized by one simple truth. The work is about individual learner needs, not systems. It’s about the ecosystem and a humane environment that permits teachers to work for the students, not the system. Being relational. As everything becomes digital, school culture matters more than ever.

Gruenert, Steve & Whitaker, Todd. School Culture Rewired. 2015.

Employing Staff

10 Oct

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Selecting new staff can be one tough job. I was recently asked how I do this at a job interview. I often think about where will this person sit in the staff-room. How will they fit into the jigsaw. Here are some of the things I  believe about recruiting good people who are, in a healthy culture, set to become great teachers:

How much time do I spend on the qualifications and experience of candidates? 

Once I know that a teacher is Ill-trained, I am interested primarily in their personality and passion for learning and working with young people. I are looking for a bright individual with the potential and desire to learn and grow … more than an accomplished history. I need subject experts; I also need people experts. Both have (and will need) time to develop these skills.

How interested am I in things like classroom management techniques? 

I want to know what people do for fun. What do they like to read? Have they a passion for music, sports, the arts? Have they skills or interests that are interesting? An engaging person doesn’t need to worry about classroom management.

What are the most vital things I want to know? 

I want to know that prospective teachers have an absolute conviction that all students can learn. That character counts. I want them to assure us that they are learners themselves, therefore I are particularly interested in their technology skills and their willingness to become amazing teachers.

What am I thinking during the interview? 

I tend to visualize teacher candidates sitting with colleagues in our faculty lounge. I think about them at our Christmas lunch. Will they be the ones who help clear up and then stay afterwards, or will they quickly eat and leave? Will they fit in the team? Will they improve the team? Will they inspire students?

Have you any tips for me?

 

My Ako Goal

11 Dec

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My Ako Goal this year was to lead student-centred, innovative and collaborative pedagogical practices. Things I had in mind at the start of the year were to reject the deficit thinking. Caring for the learner – building a relationship with our students. Having high expectations which must be voiced and demonstrated through the dispositions of Manawa Mission. Manage a classroom for learning not behavior and creating a culture for learning. I wanted to deepen my own content knowledge.

Did I do this in 2017? To a degree. It was my mahi. I developed a new strategy or rediscovered one. Student voice is always a powerful tool – it allows the teachers to check in with what is happening in the class with 3 simple questions: What are you learning? How can you show me your successful at learning? What happens next?

I tried to keep things fresh. As students have access to any information possible, there certainly is no need to “spoon-feed” the knowledge or teach “one-size fits all” content. I recognized through my learning plans as students have different personalities, goals, and needs, offering personalized instructions is not just possible but also desirable. When students are allowed to make their own choices, they own their learning, increase intrinsic motivation, and put in more effort — an ideal recipe for better learning outcomes.

I deepened my knowledge by reading some wonderful pieces of literature and attending some great courses. Perhaps I need to work on the fact the students must be aware the environment is student centred not teacher centred. My students were often passive.

My Next Steps

  1. Keep getting teachers to share their learning.
  2. Continue to have disruptive conversations.
  3. Work on creating a collaborative teaching environment.

Leading v Managing

8 Dec

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My wahine toa goal this year was to nurture relational trust in the HOF group. I wanted to communicate the idea that the middle leaders of the school had to lead not manage. Just so we’re clear about this, I have nothing but respect for great managers. They are the essential clue that hold organizations together. They keep things running smoothly, they execute strategies and tactics. Without sound management no organization can survive. A great deal of my job is to manage as Deputy Principal.

But… yes you knew there had to be a but… but, simply putting a great manager into a leadership position does not make them a leader. A manager can be a leader and a leader can be a manager but very often a manager is not a leader and sometimes a great leader is not a good manager.

Managing and leading are two entirely different things. To be a leader you have to do so in my opinion in an environment of relational trust. I found this year when I led Staff rather than trying to manage them charmed things happen.

Staff who are managed are far more likely to display attitude issues than staff who are led. Staff who are managed do what they are told while the staff who are led have already done it.

I found staff who are managed seldom grow beyond their job description but staff who are led burst the seams of their job descriptions with regularity.

Thank you to my fellow DP who provided the clip below which illustrates how these middle leaders joined me on this waka.

The Lost Art of Reflection

6 Dec

The Thinker

Reflection is a lost art in classrooms. With the push to cover more content and standards, teachers often make a choice between coverage or pausing for reflection. Reflection comes in many forms: reflective journals, group work, whole class, silent reflection, reviewing yesterday’s work, reflecting on an essential question, or creating a product that shows your thoughts on a previous lesson or understanding.

How often do students feel like the pace of schooling is rushed? Once a unit is finished, the teacher moves to the next unit. Reflection involves slowing down to share what we learned. In the absence of reflection, it is unlikely that a classroom is a Culture of Inquiry. How do students reflect and make meaning out of their experiences?

Learning takes place when inquiry is present. This year as Faculty’s met every Wednesday to develop lessons and assessments, analyze the amount of time students have to question, talk with their peers, and reflect. This inquiry is a step towards reflection. May it continue in 2017.

Evidence and Learning Styles

1 Dec

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In health there are well-established protocols that govern the introduction of any new drug or treatment. Of major consideration is the notion of doing no harm. In education there are no such controls and plenty of vested interests keen to see the adoption of new strategies and resources for a variety of ideological and financial reasons.

Teachers need to be critical consumers of research – as with medicine, lives are also at stake – yet with the best will in the world and without the knowledge and time to do so, decisions may be made to adopt new approaches that are not only ineffectual, but can actually do harm. How often have I entered discussions and I have been told research says.

The notion of the existence of learning styles. The theory goes something like this: that people are “hard-wired” to learn best in a certain way. The theory is that if a teacher can provide learning activities and experiences that match a student’s supposed learning style, learning will be more effective.

Probably the best known are the “auditory” (learning best by hearing), “visual” (learning best through images), and “kinesthetic” (learning best through touch and movement) typologies of learners.

Learning styles has become a vast, lucrative industry with inventories, manuals, video resources, in-service packages, websites, publications and workshops. Some schools have spent many thousands of dollars assessing students using the various inventories.

Psychologists and neuroscientists agree there is little efficacy for these models, which are based on dubious evidence.

If learning styles exist at all, these are not “hard wired” and are at most simply preferences. What we prefer is neither fixed for all time nor always what is best for us.

Education professor John Hattie has noted that in this weeks reading. Worth thinking about don’t you think?

Confucius say….

26 Nov

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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.”

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.

Confucius, rightly, acclaims reflection as the cardinal route to wisdom. We begin to learn by imitating those who know what we also want to know. We learn even more by trying our new knowledge out in the real world in some sense. But we only truly begin to embed that knowledge within us, we only truly begin to ‘know’, when we set out to cast a critical eye over our practice and we question why we do what we do, how we do it, what works, what does not work, and how can we do better.

In teaching, as in other professions, reflection can take many forms, each as valid as the other, but each bringing a different range and kind of insight to our professional practice. Here some ways I am thinking about:

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, 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.

I am really excited about reflection like this and even more excited by the reaction of the middle manager group. Lets see what occurs in 2017.

Restorative Circles Part Two

17 Nov

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Here are some more thoughts on some PD I attended this month on RP. Restorative circles generally have three phases. You can explain these phases and what happens in each of them to students. Teaching restorative practices, skills and concepts using this curriculum will support each of these phases; it will increase the likelihood of successful outcomes.

First phase—before the circle: The main tasks in the first phase include:

Figuring out who was most affected and inviting them to participate in the dialogue · Making sure that everyone understands what to expect.Sportively listening to each person—especially those who are affected in harmful ways—to help them begin the process of telling their story.Managing the logistics of setting up a meeting. Sometimes the first phase happens very quickly, on-the-spot, as in impromptu circles that are called immediately when a conflict arises. Many circumstances involve taking more time, sometimes meeting individually with each person involved.

Second phase—the circle dialogue: This is the actual circle, where the restorative questions are used to help people come to understanding and make things right.

Use the restorative questions. Ask each person in turn. Facilitate and prompt as necessary.Avoid going into counseling mode. Also avoid solving the problem for the participants. Allow those who are affected to define the issues and develop their own plan for making things right. When preparing students for the circle dialogue, clarify that it is not like a courtroom drama. Nobody is on trial. Even if students’s stories about what happened differ and seem to contradict each I thank all of you, students and parents alike, who worked hard to establish understanding and agreements, and address the hurtful and damaging behaviors that took place.

 Third phase—after the circle: The main focus here is on accountability and support. Accountability means following up on the agreements and keeping track of their status. This may also include letting everyone who was in the circle know when they have been completed. Support means providing resources to help people complete their agreements. Sometimes completing agreements challenges the skills and resources of students. For example, writing an effective letter of apology may be a stretch for a student’s literacy skills. The person(s) who are monitoring plan completion will need to be sensitive to these challenges and help to arrange for tutoring or other support as needed

 

 

Fullan at ULEARN

9 Nov

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Prof Fullan defines character as six elements. As you read them think about how they can be made more explicit to your learners, so that they become a language shared between teachers and students.

  • Character education: building resilience, empathy, confidence and wellbeing.
  • Citizenship: referencing global knowledge, cultural respect, environmental awareness.
  • Communication: getting students to apply their oral work, listening, writing and reading in varied contexts.
  • Critical-thinking: designing and managing projects which address specific problems and arrive at solutions using appropriate and diverse tools.
  • Collaboration: working in teams so students can learn with/from others.
  • Creativity and imagination: to develop qualities like enterprise, leadership, innovation.

Prof Fullan states them to be “attributes parents and public value and that employers seek”. I don’t think any of us would disagree. He says: “In the old pedagogies, a teacher’s quality was assessed primarily in terms of ability to deliver content in their area of specialisation.” However, “new” pedagogy is about “the teacher’s repertoire of strategies and different styles of relationships with their learners”.

In my view, this “relationship with learners” begins with the shared language I’m emphasising. Surely, if students appreciate their learning experience is a character-building experience too, no extra work is required. Good relationships are founded on solid communication – but this shouldn’t be only from teacher to student. Students need a vocabulary to communicate with teachers and each other.

 

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