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Being Less Happy

24 Aug

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Your smart phone could be making your miserable.

Young people today are experiencing levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and related conditions at rates higher than they were a generation ago. (And the rest of us aren’t doing much better.)

In the USA according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 10 Americans suffer from some form of depression, and people between the ages of 18 and 24 report the highest incidences. Forty million Americans over the age of 18 have an anxiety disorder, but again, as the recent report, “Stress in America,” made clear, millennials are the hardest hit. More evidence: Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for young Americans between the ages of 10 and 24, claiming 4,600 lives per year. All of this, in a society that has more wealth than much of the rest of the world combined.

However it is not enough to simply ban devices. On the back of this I share this video today.

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A Mid Term Reflection

22 Aug

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I love being a connected educator. I have gained immensely from connections I have with others through Twitter, Facebook, Edchats, podcasts, at EdCamps, and in person. But, I have a confession, sometimes I feel inadequate when speak with some these talented teachers.

Before becoming a connected educator, I operated in a vacuum, in isolation. I would connect with my faculty and staff but our work wasn’t about sharing best practices or what we were doing in our buildings. It was mostly about listening to ministry and making sure we were leading those. Being connected has opened a new world for me, a world in which I see the amazing things educators are doing every day. And that contributes to my feelings of inadequacy. Often, I have thought, “Wow, that is inspiring; I wish I could do that.” I wish I could communicate and reach out more through blogs, podcasts, You Tube channels and other media as prolifically and proficiently as others do. I wish I could spend more time in classrooms, on the playground, and learning with students as much as others do. So some thoughts:

I reach out to my PLC. Through Twitter I can share with groups or individuals. The times I have reached out individually through Twitter have been powerful and cathartic. It’s amazing that I can share through social media with other educators whom I have never met and feel supported and validated. Just being able to share and have another person, or persons, listen makes a huge difference for me.

I remember to take small steps to put things into my practice. I continually look at our annual plan which indicated a need for improved communication. I think start small and make trying new things part of your practice. By learning from others I have explored and used augmented reality, robotics, video production, and coding.

I must use twitter to refuel. I participate in Twitter chats and engage in discussions. Through thought provoking questions and engaged conversations, I glean a lot from others but I also get to share things I’m doing. The feedback and support I receive makes me feel like I am headed in the right direction. I had been contemplating finding a way to positively recognize more students. Last summer a teacher in a Twitter chat stated she made one positive phone call home daily. What a great idea. What are you doing that innovative? Love to hear from you.

Teaching as Inquiry

11 Aug

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The culture of inquiry is so important in our school among all ako. By that I mean students and teachers. As part of our annual plan I have been thinking a great deal about these. For a superb summary of this please click here.  Here some thoughts on the topic:

A Good Question

Questions are an effective way to frame a unit of inquiry. When students struggle to find the answer, it raises the level of inquiry. Questions encourage students to think outside of their class/content area. The inquiry needs to be framed up by this.

Five Benefits of Good Questions:

  1.  Essential Questions establish a learning focus for students.
  2.  The process of identifying Essential Questions helps educators clarify their intended purpose.
  3.  Essential Questions promote critical thinking.
  4.  Essential Questions support integrated instruction (i.e., teaching and learning across disciplines).
  5.  Essential Questions help students see the Big Picture, while allowing each student to connect prior knowledge to new understandings.

Reflection

Reflection is a lost art in classrooms and by teachers. We are constantly battling paper. 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. As you meet with your teacher team to develop lessons and assessments, analyse the amount of time students have to question, talk with their peers, and reflect. Career Readiness is not a score on a test or NCEA. Readiness means that students graduate with the skills that provide them with opportunities for success beyond high school. Here’s a thought. Contemplate how the courses in your school foster critical thinking, problem solving, and application of academic knowledge.

 

Get Connected

2 Aug

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While catching up on various professional reading, this includes podcasts and twitter in the holidays I got to thinking it is such a great form of PLD. Plus it’s free. Reconnecting with other educators, making new friends, and strengthening my skills and knowledge so I can be a better leader, are all great reasons to for me to be connected online.

While I was reflecting, I question, why aren’t more school leaders in the secondary environment using these tools? As one school leader who does here are some thoughts.

Reason 1: Time. Sorry that is the beauty of this tool. We can go online anytime.

Reason 2: Tools like twitter are for teachers. Yes, they are, but they’re also for SLT, parents, future educators, curriculum leaders, anyone who has a connection with students and schools. Remember as a school leader you are the Lead Teacher. I have learned so much through these tools.

Reason 3: I’m not a Techie and I am not a Guru. I think there is a common misunderstanding . That’s not true. Any topic is up for learning, sharing, and facilitating. In fact, two of the sessions I attended over the break one I volunteered to facilitate, were about non-technology topics: one was restorative practice and the other flexible learning spaces.

Reason 4: I’m too busy, there’s nothing of value for me. See number one. It is true that you get out what you put in. If you make connections, share ideas, suggest things you want to learn about, and have an open mind, there will be value for you.

School leaders I urge, you need to find and get involved in the conversation. So, dispel those reasons, model for your teachers, and engage in ako-be a lifelong learner.

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.

 

Trend Five: Design Thinking

23 Mar

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Design Thinking is a process that can support us to shift from improvement and reform approaches towards ways that encourage transformation and a “learning revolution” (Robinson, K, 2010). It can help us to respond to and prepare our learners for the demands of business sector and the rapidly shifting job market as technology replaces many process-driven tasks. It can also help us to empower our learners to be proactive when working with real-world complex problems. This is because Design Thinking processes help to build the skills and capabilities needed for learners to navigate multiple perspectives, to find common ground and to create “messy” solutions that haven’t been thought of before.

Design thinking encourages a bias toward action and, because of its reliance on rapid prototyping, frees practitioners to embrace the notion of failing forward because it’s OK to make mistakes — that’s where breakthrough ideas are born

There are five main stages of the design thinking process,

1. Empathize

Empathy is the foundation and the heart of the design thinking process. Everything else is built upon it. Empathy is a powerful tool to develop an understanding of others’ needs, requiring us to look beyond ourselves and see the world from someone else’s point of view. Every day, we create experiences in our schools, whether in classrooms, on athletic fields, or even in the cafeteria. Yet how often do we stop to think how our users (our students, parents, teachers, and anyone else who comes in contact with our campus) are receiving those experiences?

2. Define

When problems arise in our schools, it’s easy for many of us to give our two cents about how it should be handled. After all, we’re highly-educated, intelligent people with frequent opinions about how things should be done. How often, though, do we ask the opinion of those who are actually having the problem?

  1. Ideation.

Once a DESIGN THINKING participant is able to identify a real-world problem worth solving, the next step is to explore ways to respond. The goal is not to find a perfect solution at this point. Instead, DESIGN THINKING participants seek novel perspectives with a bias toward innovation. DESIGN THINKING values the creativity and insights of all participants, regardless of specific expertise or a need to be “right” at first blush. It encourages outside-the-box thinking, which leads to unexpected creative solutions. DESIGN THINKING relies on a creative process based on “building up” ideas (rather than the typical analytical process that looks to “break down” ideas). Key to this is the belief that there is no place for value judgments early on. The DESIGN THINKING process rewards “and, and” responses from participants, as opposed to the “yeah, but” reactions that are typical of traditional academic experiences.

4. Prototyping.

To DESIGN THINKING advocates, the idea is to help make an idea real, tangible, and accessible. Ultimately, DESIGN THINKING has a natural bias toward action. The best way to approach this—as many designers will tell you—is to use a rapid prototyping process fueled by an attitude of “fail and fail fast,” something ideally suited for learning in a complex and often messy 21st century world.

Testing.

Creativity and open minds aside, DESIGN THINKING deeply values testing all assumptions. Solutions need to work. And better yet, solutions need to work in the real world and have an observable positive impact on the human experience. Because problems are found in the real world, answers need to be agile enough to adapt over time. Such a pedagogical framework naturally provides learners with the thinking tools to respond to an unpredictable future while remaining focused on the human experience.

 

 

 

 

Relational Trust is Key

28 Feb

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A complex art if there ever was one, building relationships and creating relational trust is the foundational skill. Without trust, no amount of content knowledge, pedagogical know-how, or formative assessment is likely to move students to want to learn from you.

In a recent TED Radio Hour  called “How Does Trust Happen in Music?” orchestra conductor Charles Hazlewood recalls that during his early days as a professional, his conducting sometimes resembled a “rabid windmill.” The more forceful his body language, the less his orchestra members complied. The more disappointed he became, the more his direction became a blur. Trust erodes when you don’t embody it yourself, he learned.

He later directed a racially diverse group of South African singers, some of whom had previously been bitter enemies. And he founded another ensemble made up of musicians with severe disabilities, many of whom had never had the opportunity to play instruments together. From these disparate groups, he learned that the creation of music relies on trust and builds more trust. Yes, the conductor needs to have a “cast-iron understanding of the outer architecture of the music,” but he or she also has to trust the players to reveal the music’s inner truth. He came to believe that conducting music is like holding a bird. Hold too tightly, you crush it; hold too loosely, it flies away.

This will be part of my own manaakitanga goal this year. How are your own annual goals developing in your appraisal document?

Is it Relevant?

13 Jan

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At the end of the year I like to evaluate my teaching which as a member of the SLT is becoming rarer. These are some great questions to ask. As part of our Faculty review processes these are great discussion starters.

1.) Who is doing a majority of the talking in your classroom?

It’s the person who is doing the majority of the talking that tends to do the most learning, so what is the teacher/student talking ratio in your classroom? If you find yourself always talking more than your students, try and figure out some ways to empower your students so they are more involved in the learning.
2). How often are you mixing up and changing the learning landscape in your classroom?

So there’s this misconception that learning must take place within the four walls of a classroom. In spite of popular belief, the magic barrier between a classroom and the outside world doesn’t work like a light switch where learning can occur and can’t occur. Learning is happening all around and should be happening all around us; there are no limits or barriers to where and when learning can occur. Take the authenticity of your classroom to the next level by mixing up the learning landscape and allowing kids to learn in a more natural state.

3). Who is deciding what is relevant and important in your classroom?

How often do we teach what we want as teachers or because we have sensational resources. What you think is important and relevant may not align perfectly with what your students think is important and relevant. If we the teachers are constantly telling students what to learn and how to learn it, then we are leaving out the most important parts of the education process, student voice and student choice. Embrace a learning culture where student opinions and student interests are valued and encouraged and you will see student engagement and student passion skyrocket.

Motivating Colleagues

12 Jan

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I set myself the challenge of motivating colleagues to embrace change just when things look pretty good, it is a theory that I understand a number of sporting teams use. I read somewhere the “The paradox of success, that what got you where you are, won’t keep you where you are, is a hard lesson to learn.”

I have been trying to express the case for all of us to improve our teaching. Jonah Lehrer says in his book Imagine, the answer to any problem is incredibly obvious…we curse ourselves for not seeing it sooner. It’s for my colleagues, but it could be for any school, anywhere.

John Wooden of the UCLA Bruins who says: Perform at your best when your best is required. Your best is required every day.

This also makes me think of Pete Carroll’s philosophy “Always Compete.” To Carroll, competition doesn’t really mean beating an opponent or a teammate. Instead, competition, to Carroll, involves the constant (the “always” part of the expression) pursuit, characterized by scrapping and clawing, to get better and eventually to reach one’s highest potential. As teachers or even people this philosophy is brilliant.

If we are honest, we have always known that only at least good teaching is good enough for our students.

I take it as a given that every single one of us wants to become a better teacher; indeed, to become a truly great school we will all need to become better teachers, every single one of us. I am not asking us to work harder in terms of volume of work, but to work harder at becoming better at what we do in the classroom. I am asking every single one of us to be at least a good teacher and the majority of us to be great teachers.

The other barrier to colleagues opening themselves up to improving their practice is accountability, but as professionals accountability is something we have to accept – as long as we know what is expected then we can eradicate the fear inherent in any accountability system. I want to work in a no-surprises culture. I want to catch colleagues doing good things and praise them, not catch them out.

All SLT should have the same thing in mind as we start the new academic year. Do you?

Creating a student centered environment

8 Jan

Contemporary business people working in team in the office

Creating a truly student educational environment requires quite a few thoughts even before the learning-teaching interaction begins. We must make a choice of the frame of reference to be used. Sometimes this choice is an unintentional one – especially if we have not reflected upon our own learning philosophy.

To promote effective learning, we should think about the learning environment (both emotional and physical) to ensure there are no obstacles for learning. Students prior knowledge plays a major part in their learning, and if we start teaching where the curriculum tells we to start, we may be passing by their actual horizon of understanding.

Some students arrive to the class ready to learn – others do not. Finding gentle ways to increase the readiness, and decreasing the fears, anxieties and misconceptions of students ensures a less bumpy ride towards the mutual goal: effective learning. Also, an aptitude for learning is highly individual among students in any given group. We as their teacher can either help students to become more interested in what they are learning – or simply communicate about passing the test as a measurement of education and learning itself not being important. Imagine how huge difference there is in between those two approaches.

Lots to think about for this time year.

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