Tag Archives: Effective Teaching

Changing your Teaching

18 Jul



I was sitting having lunch during term two after a class and a discussion started. The teacher was saying they wanted “cutting edge technology” in their classrooms. They viewed the latest technology tools as a great cure that will finally transform their mundane teaching experience into a twenty-first century, state-of-the-art facility. Words are powerful and often dangerous. True, the computer is a tool and it can be “cutting edge?” But which edge is it cutting? Who and what is it changing? This staff member had forgotten the focus of our Professional Learning in 2016. It is not about the tool. It is about the pedagogy.

The notion of a tool assumes we have the ability to manoeuvre technology however we please and it will not change us in the process. The reality is that technology is always a double-edged sword. In being cutting edge, it often slashes through difficult tasks in hyper-speed and creates work that would once have seemed miraculous. We can connect instantly, but we are losing our ability to communicate. We look constantly, but we rarely see. We access information from millions of sources, but there is no transfer into wisdom. Anyone who follows my blog must realise I’m not anti-technology but I become sceptical when staff do not question why they are using tools.


LwDT: Where shall I start?

19 Jan


Technology can be incredibly overwhelming. There is an abundance of information and I can understand that teachers find it easier just to not use it at all, or continue simply using what they know.

The issue is often where do I start. Well perhaps here could be an answer in this reflection.

1. Talk. This seems so simple, yet it is so underutilized. Professional conversations in the staff room are the best form of professional development. Find a colleague and go ask questions about what they are doing in their classrooms. The one thing I love about teachers is how willing and excited they are to share what they know. Find a few new ideas, observe them in class. This works in not only with eLearning.

2. Try new things . The benefits of technology and the flipped classroom are just endless. Commit to trying one new tool every term and don’t just use technology for presenting information. Think how is this enhancing my teaching? Use it as a teaching tool. If you run meetings think how you can use it . I use padlet to great effect.

I would love to know some of you favourite tools. Let me know how you get on.

Curriculum Leadership

16 Nov

Effective teaching is about providing learning facilitation and leadership for students, so that they can feel empowered to engage in learning and meaning-making and have solid ownership for their learning.

Collaborative meaning making is the best tool for engaging people in a dialogue. The shared vision of learning is the imaginary future; and real curriculum leadership, not just management is the way to get there. Unless students and teachers are buying into the district vision, it doesn’t really matter what the papers have written on them, or how beautifully crafted the mission and vision statements are.

Being a Learner

11 Aug


An educator can never cease to learn – but what makes learning meaningful to us?

My daughter’s preschool teachers have told me about (free) play for children and how much it contributes to their learning – I think the dynamic nature of play is the main contributor there, (I don’t have any definitive data about this, but to me it seems like common sense: being able to control the play and make sense of the sensory feed related to it).

I find being involved in education as a learner exhilarating. I find the role as student a valuable insight into what my own students go through. Having to access course readings, contribute to message boards, doing homework and getting valuable feedback help me in my own practice.

My NAPP experience this year is a constant challenge which I note is sharpening my skills as a practitioner. I am fortunate enough to have Colleen Douglas (Massey University) working with the SLT and Middle Managers in the appraisal process. This again has made me think about the way I am doing things. I will reflect on this in a later edition.

This leads me to a great post about learners and student by David Warlick. http://davidwarlick.com/2cents/?p=2762 Thank you to JENNIFER BROKOFSKY who led me to this article which will lead to powerful PD discussion.

Every day I gain more information about how learning happens: with imaging techniques researchers are able to track what areas in our brain are active during learning. We know how each brain is different, and how learning is individual, and how different people manage and manipulate the knowledge in unique ways. As a student I wanted feedback not grades. I sought out opportunities for collaboration not competition. I like to be in control of my learning.

How about teaching? Are we still using the same teaching methods that were common hundreds of years ago? Teaching and learning are like the two opposite sides of a coin – inseparable but opposite. We educators must learn to match our teaching styles with the dynamic view of knowledge, and find new ways to facilitate our students’ learning.

We teachers don’t like to have someone tell us what to do. Very few students like that either. To have an effective educational system, we must understand that effective teachers are simply facilitators of students’ individual learning processes – and the ones who incite the spark of lifelong learning.

What do you need to do to find the old flame, and fall in love with learning again? How about some collaboration, flipping the classroom or blended online teaching? These are questions of reflective practice we should always be asking ourselves.

Professional Reading:

John Hattie: Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning| Chapter 9: The Contributions from Teaching Approaches

Notes from this chapter of John Hattie’s ‘Visible Learning‘

Exemplary schools who serve well students who have been struggling at school emphasise:

  • The engagement of students in the learning process,
  • teacher articulating strategies of instruction and paying attention to learning theories,
  • school buildings act as an infrastructure to support such instruction,
  • teachers provide constant scaffolding and modeling,
  • teachers attended to the day-to-day monitoring of students,
  • teachers seeking feedback about their teaching while also being concerned with,
  • making decisions about optimal challenging tasks to assign, and
  • seeking insights from other professionals.

21st Century School

10 May


In many of our documents we are encouraged as teachers and leaders to be lifelong learners. It is known as the 21st century school model. This term is one that is worth debating but that is for another week and another blog.

Does it really surprise any education professionals to read how online technology has not helped people to become lifelong learners? And how the childhood experiences about learning and education are the most significant predictors for the future interest in learning?

“Learning in later life appears to be primarily linked to positive attitudes to education that are usually formed during compulsory schooling. This means that young people who experienced early educational failure or felt alienated by the school system are very unlikely to participate in education as adults regardless of the opportunities available or potential benefits.” says Dr. Patrick White.

Don’t get me wrong. I love (learning) technology, and am hopelessly hooked to my computer and iDevice. Not a night goes by when I don’t catch up with my PLN on Twitter. What worries me, though, is how different gadgets or software programs are presented as the ultimate answer for fixing education and mending the problem of falling grades and detached students. Technology is just a tool – how we use it makes all the difference. This is a real soapbox of mine.

Providing meaningful learning experiences for students takes the power struggle away from classrooms. This can be done with or without the technology. Sometimes it doesn’t help to have a fancy building with all the latest gadgets in every classroom if I don’t have teachers. But having my teachers willing to make learning a meaningful experience for students my school would be operational even without classrooms or any equipment. Teaching IS a contact sport. Learning IS a contact sport. Sometimes my students forget this also.

If we wish to foster lifelong learning our students must be involved with worthwhile activities so that they can find learning interesting and rewarding. The negative attitude is the biggest challenge for lifelong learning. Empowering students to use their thinking skills (with or without technology) caters for positive approaches to learning. This is already a recognized and valid practice in Early Childhood Education where I notice my daughter with her friends recognize play is an important way for making learning an adventure student wants to repeat.

Source: Information superhighway ‘bypassing adult learners’ — new study

Working Smarter, Not Harder

22 Feb


This gem is often discussed in many management books but I wonder do we real follow it?  How often are we still in class marking papers or preparing lessons when really we should home. It is the nature of teachers to get the job done but to move from good to great, in the word of Collins (2001) it is important for school leaders to look after the mental state of their staff and themselves alike. Some of the points made below may get you through the day with a little more fuel in the tank.

The following is from a piece I read in 2012 that I wanted to share this week.

Never Work Harder Than Your Students & Other Principles of Great Teaching Jackson, Robyn R. (2009) Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Principle 1: Start where your students are

Principle 2: Know where your students are going

Principle 3: Expect your students to get there

Principle 4: Support your students

Principle 5: Use effective feedback

Principle 6: Focus on quality not quantity

Principle 7: Never Work Harder Than Your Students

(Chapter 7 – pp. 170-191) – This chapter is well worth reading in full.

We need to be clear about what is our work and what is the students’ work, and make sure that we do our work and they do theirs. See this web link for a list which divides the classroom work.

Our responsibility is to teach and support. Their responsibility is to learn. We must not solve problems for them but help them acquire the tools they need to solve the problems on their own.

Set up systems so that students are able to do more on their own. E.g. If we want students to keep organised notes, then we need to set up a routine for note-making and the way to organise them.

Students must be held accountable for doing their work by having logical consequences.

Perhaps you could work with students to establish clear classroom routines for the following:

  • Homework – how it will be collected, how students find out what it is,
  • Late Work – how students hand it in and what the consequences will be,
  • Absences – how students will find out what work they missed, when and how they will need to hand it in,
  • Assessment Grades – how students will track their performance,
  • Beginning of Class – how will class begin, where should students be, what counts as late,
  • End of Class – how will students be dismissed, how should students leave the classroom,
  • Attendance – how you will track, what consequences will be in place for lateness/ unexcused absences,
  • Note-making – what format should be used, how the notes will be stored and used ,
  • Tests – how the classroom will be arranged, what kind of student interaction is appropriate, how to ask questions, how to hand in the tests,
  • Discussions – how will students participate, what type of participation is appropriate, who will facilitate, how will discussions be facilitated and
  • Transitions – how will assignments be passed back, how will students move from one activity to the next.

How do you balance your use of rewards and sanctions, and are the rewards you’re using really having a positive effect on student behaviour? Dave Stott provides some practical tips. In the link below.
Rewards: What really works?

A Vision for the Year

15 Feb

Vision Road Sign with dramatic blue sky and clouds.

As the school year begins I have been reflecting on the global issues that affect  teachers, parents and students. To help make this a great year I have been reading about things I can do which I thought I would share:

Relinquish control and embrace adaption

First understand that you can cannot control anything except for your own actions. This is true if you are a teacher, parent, child or school administrator. You can influence others and create environments that make it more or less likely that certain things will or won’t happen.

Know your own values/charism

Values are what we believe to be important about ourselves and others. They drive a lot of our behaviour and for the most part run in the background. When was the last time you took a look at what you value and adjusted your list to reflect who you are today or who you want to be in the future? Read your teaching philosophy this should guide you. I am also guided by the writings and teaching of John Baptist de la Salle.

Have a clear vision

Begin with the end in mind is a mantra often heard in boardrooms. Create your own personal vision (use your values as a guide) for the school year using the same principle. This is trickier than it sounds. The hard part is in not basing the vision on what you expect. Create your vision based on what you want that year to be like. Make it clear, vivid and as real as you can muster.

Set some goals

Values and vision alone are not usually enough to get you where you want to go. Once you have a set of current values and a clear vision create some SMART goals to move you in the direction of the vision. Part of goal setting is creating and then using an action plan. Goals need steps and we call those steps the action plan.

Align visions

Some visions and goals should be kept private. People can get trapped into talking the talk instead of walking the walk and unfortunately naysayers can deflate confidence. For these reasons some visions and goals should be shared only with people who you know will support you. Other visions and goals, like how you want your school year to go, should be shared. They need to be shared for a couple of reasons.

Invite others to do the same

You can make this a group activity. Here’s some ideas for different groups.

For teachers:

Spending some time at the beginning of the year to share your values and vision and co-create a class set of values along with vision and goals is a great way to empower kids. The days of dictating a list of do’s and don’ts I hope is a thing of the past. In today’s collaborative classroom working together on a vision of what the year will be like and a set of agreed upon goals sets a great tone for the year. Post the vision as a visual or a write statement and have everyone sign it, then display that in your classroom. Parents and teachers can also share the outcomes of these activities with each other.

For school leadership:

Nothing says “we’re a team” more that inviting your staff to co-create a vision. I know most schools have an “official” vision but as each year begins and new people come into the system while other leave it’s an important team building opportunity. This is a viewpoint we follow.

Lesson One

8 Feb


This week I have been thinking about the importance of the first day of class. What happens that day sets the tone for the rest of the year. Outlined below is an activity for using that first day of class to emphasize the importance of learning and the responsibility students share for shaping the classroom environment. I first used these while teaching Year 7, many years ago, but they have been successful right through to Year 13.

Best and Worst Classes – I love this quick and easy activity. On one section of the blackboard I write: “The best class I’ve ever had” and underneath it “What the teacher did” and below that “What the students did.” On another section I write “The worst class I’ve ever had” (well, actually I write, “The class from hell”) and then the same two items beneath. I ask students to share their experiences, without naming the course, department or teacher, and I begin filling in the grid based on what they call out. If there’s a lull or not many comments about what the students did in these classes, I add some descriptors based on my experience with some of my best and worst classes. In 10 minutes or less, two very different class portraits emerge. I move to the best class section of the board and tell students that this is the class I want to teach, but I can’t do it alone. Together we have the power to make this one of those “best class” experiences.

“I learn best in classes where the teacher ___”
“Students in courses help me learn when they ___”
“I am most likely to participate in classes when ___”
“Here’s something that makes it hard to learn in a course: ___”
“Here’s something that makes it easy to learn in a course: ___”

Students are invited to walk around the room and write responses, chatting with each other and the teacher as they do. After there are comments on every flip chart, the teacher walks to each one and talks a bit about one or two of the responses. If you run out of time, you can conduct the debriefing during the next session.


As I have started with my classes this year and considered items such as learning plans I have thought about what makes a good teacher. Secondary students often talk about what characteristics of a teacher have the most positive effect on their learning.

Some reading to reflect on:


Fitted Storytelling from Edward Roads

Danielle Anne Lynch

Music, Theology, Education, Liturgy

Learn To Love Food

Food Fun For Feeding Therapy and Picky Eaters


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