Tag Archives: Professional Learning

Being Excited

19 May

hipster-teacher-worst

Confident, excited teachers make for confident and excited students. Jim Knight (2007), an expert on instructional coaching, suggests, “When people talk about learning, the experience should be exciting, energizing, and empowering.”  Assessment has the potential to generate all three of these conditions when designed and used in the service of learning.

What kind of assessment practices generate this type of culture? What kind of professional learning experiences contribute to teachers developing their assessment practices? I want to share a couple of conversations and experiences I have had in the past few months that focus around the question: How can assessment build confidence and excitement that leads to higher achievement and more investment by both teachers and students?  Three big ideas emerged from these experiences.

  1. Believe 

When we focus our efforts, and protect ample amounts of time for reflection and application, we will see results. This act fosters a sense of efficacy, signalling that we believe our teachers have the capacity to do amazing work.

At a recent professional learning, our Leaders of Learning group strived to do just that. The intent of the session was to create higher quality assessment and courses that better reflected our curriculum document. As teachers talked with colleagues about what they wanted students to learn and what kind of meaningful student work might help them gather information on the extent to which students had learned, there was energy in the air. I posed a few ideas around quality assessment design-precision, action, and student investment.

  1. Build 

In what ways can students be co-designers of their learning experiences? Co-design can happen in constructing quality criteria together. As students examine strong and weak samples of work, a co-constructed list of criteria offers students a sense of what quality looks like and a clearer vision of expectations. This leads to higher quality work.

Students might even co-design experiences to learn a concept. What if students were posed something like the following: We are going to focus on learning about the impact of war on the environment. What might be the ways we can learn about this?  Work individually or in pairs to research and design an activity or two to guide your peers in learning about war’s impact on the environment.

The co-design process works beautifully to empower teachers. As schools and districts aim to improve the quality of their assessment practices, why not ask teachers to co-design the process and the products that will help assessment create this culture of learning.

  1. Provide 

Creating a culture of opportunity and possibility begins with the tone and spirit with which we invite students and teachers into conversation and continues through the types of feedback offered. Feedback and the tone and setting in which it is provided generates confidence or shuts it down.

At the core of learning conversations, making people feel energized, excited and empowered is ample time to create, involvement in a co-design, and targeted feedback in the context of deliberate practice. These practices create a space where listening is central –people (students and teachers) feeling listened to and believed in. The road to achievement and confidence is paved with creative time, an ongoing commitment to co-design, and deliberate practice with targeted feedback.

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Term Two Planning

28 Apr

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When teachers are confident in their ability, persistent through challenge, and innovative in their practices, students can really benefit. This is to the forefront of my thinking this week as we evaluate of courses at school. Are we meeting the needs of students? Are we supporting the needs of teachers as they meet these needs?

According to Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning by John Hattie, collective teacher efficacy has the greatest impact on student achievement—even higher than factors like teacher-student relationships, home environment, or parental involvement.

At the heart of this is PLD. Nothing feels more counterproductive than useless Professional Learning Development (PLD) meetings. A school’s staff members are all at different points in their careers, possess varying levels of experience, and have likely sat through many workshops on any day’s meeting’s topic. When teachers receive PD on topics over and over, they can feel unrecognized and stagnant, lowering their sense of efficacy.

I have discovered another way. Utilizing the experience of staff and allowing teachers to self-elect PD topics, run training sessions, and share their own work can lead to teachers who are active participants in their development, rather than passive receivers. Here the PLF Café was born. This builds a culture of efficacy amongst staff who genuinely work together to improve their practice.  So, what can I as a school leader do to build teacher efficacy in their school? As I do this this some of the areas I am focussed on the following:

Empower Staff

Empowering teachers to take on leadership roles gives educators a voice in their school. When teachers have a role in making important school decisions, feel their voices are heard, and can actively participate in building school culture, efficacy is raised. Top-down, overly evaluative leadership models can lower teacher self-efficacy and ultimately demoralize teachers, negatively impacting classroom achievement. When staff work together toward mutual goals, so grows a shared belief in the direction of the work and the ability to effect change with students.

Praise You Like I Should

Effective praise in schools is authentic recognition of a teacher’s hard work and the resulting student successes. It’s also about sharing that work with others as a model of excellence. Teachers who feel valued and see positive outcomes for their students are more likely to persist in their efforts. A school that routinely recognizes the efforts and accomplishments of its teachers builds a community that believes in its members, collaborates, and continually pushes to do more.

Stop, Collaborate and listen

Building a collaborative environment is key toward building collective and individual teacher efficacy. Teachers need to know what’s happening in other classrooms to build trust and confidence in each other’s ability to guide students to success. They also need time to share their ideas with each other and to work together toward building school-wide best practices. Leaders can assist by providing co-planning time, exhibiting models of excellence, and hosting norming exercises for teachers to build and revisit a collective school mission. And of course, it goes without saying, when teachers are sharing their ideas with you, actively listen; actively show that you care about their insights and opinions, and ask questions.

It is hard and it is scary

The demands of teaching can be overwhelming. It’s easy for educators to feel like they’re drowning in paperwork, lesson planning, grading, teaching multiple courses and the many extracurricular activities they generally take on. A leader who truly understands and acknowledges the workload helps teachers feel like they’re not just endlessly treading water. When a leader doesn’t assist teachers who feel overwhelmed, they can lose their sense of efficacy. They may feel like they’re failing, and may blame themselves for not keeping up. Resentful of SLT, Classroom instruction and staffroom culture, in turn, is sure to be affected. How you can help: empathize with your teachers, listen when they ask for help, and do what you can to help them manage their responsibilities.

 

Connection

10 Apr

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As George Couros says often, “Isolation is a choice that educators make.” There are so many resources available for educators to connect with and learn from one another.  It is easy to get comfortable doing what has always worked.  If you aren’t connected to other educators in your school, district, or globally, you are not exposed to new ideas or pushed to think about better ways of doing things.  It is easy think that the way you have been doing it is the only or best way when you aren’t seeing other models.  To continue learning and developing your practice, it is important for teachers to get out of their classroom, both physically and virtually, to leverage the collective genius of the many educators across the globe

Thought for Friday

19 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.

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?

The Teaching Profession

4 Jun

For me, staffing a school is one of the toughest tasks facing a principal today. There are certain positions that are getting more and more difficult to fill.  The attrition rates particularly of young teachers is of concern given the difficulty the profession has of attracting the best and brightest to the profession. The best and the brightest are not been drawn to our profession. Teachers are not even encouraging their children to be teachers.

There is no denying that the quality of school leaders and the culture of learning communities contribute.  We know that schools are only as good as 1) their leaders and 2) the systems that support them

In New Zealand we are building the capacity of our leaders in order to develop our aspiring leaders.  Through ministry initiatives such as NAPP and First Time Principals there is wonderful mentoring. It is about creating the right conditions and the right support systems. Systems such as Ministry, NZQA, PPTA and in my case the Catholic Office.

Students must be at the centre though. If we can create the right conditions for learning to happen for students, we should be able to create the right conditions for teachers to remain engaged and inspired in their work. Teachers deserve greater control over their professional working lives and this should look and feel like the working lives of other professions.

You’re the Voice

28 Sep

At my school we use student voice a great deal and very effectively I must say. At the end of every topic I send a survey out to my students. On one level it’s fantastic to get feedback from your learners about what is going well in class and what needs tweaking but on the other there’s the realization that my students are grading me.  Was I too grumpy yesterday when student A hadn’t finished work? Could I have done a better job of talking to Student B about their draft? Did I let an administration problem affect my teaching?

The evaluation is done in class but I am considering doing it via Google forms or 365 and the results then get shared with my HOF. Most of the questions are agree/disagree questions like ‘my teacher treats students and their ideas with respect. There is also the room for comment. It is something our students love.

I tend to prefer qualitative feedback that quantitative. A number of my students have talked about wanting more challenging work so I will work with them to look for projects that they can sink their teeth into for the rest of the year but more importantly for the 2015 cohort. They love my eLearning format and some students have requested to go fully online in 2015 without being in my class. This will be something I will have to put a great deal of thought into. As I have written here before the I have had great success with.

Cooper (2001) noted that a blended learning environment, one in which the traditional classroom and the online classroom complement each other, gives the best outcome. “Online instruction can offer new challenges and opportunities to both students and instructors. Most students do not view online instruction as a replacement for traditional classroom instruction. However, with the right subject matter, with the right instructor or facilitator, and for the right student, Internet or online classes can provide an effective educational environment and offer a viable alternative to traditional classroom instruction” (Cooper, 2001, p57).

Singh recommended that the blended learning environment was the next wave for E-Learning and that it would feature rich media content. “Blended learning combines multiple delivery media that are designed to complement each other and promote learning and application-learned behaviour” (Singh, 2003, p52). Investigating the idea that has serious results for teaching online, Singh goes onto mention that the online learning component within a blended learning environment, should be self-paced. This raises the apparition of the teacher being at best just a facilitator and at worst, a spectator (Singh, 2003, p58).

Another thing want to get better at before the end of the year is getting my students to work on managing self. This something my learners are not good at. Perhaps this could be a PLG study in 2015?

Professional Readings:

Cooper, L. W. (2001) A Comparison of Online and Traditional Computer Applications Classes. T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education) 28 (8) 52-58

Singh H. (2003) Building Effective Blended Learning Programs in November – December 2003Issue of Educational Technology, Volume 43, Number 6, Pages 51-54 Retrieved 9 August 2009 from http://asianvu.com/bookstoread/framework/blended-learning.pdf

Twitter

6 Oct

I have been tweeting since June 2009. I have many followers and am following many more. It was sold to me as a way of connecting and sharing with teachers from around the globe who shared my passions in education. It is an important part of my Professional Learning Network (PLN).

Where possible, I include a link within the tweet. This is so that others can be directed to the foundation of your comment, idea or reply. I found these tips this week. My apologies as the source I have somehow lost but these are fabulous:

• Add a hash tag to the tweet. This just means the tweet can be more easily identified. The tags I use most frequently use are: #mathchat for mathematics related conversations; #edtech for applications of technology to the learning and learning environment; #edchat for general education conversations.

• Acknowledge the source for a retweet. If the original author is not mentioned then you are stealing the credit.

• Consider the value that the tweet will add. Ask yourself whether the contribution will help develop the conversation for most or if the conversation should be taken to a different medium.

My next step is to make twitter a significant part of Professional Learning at my school. I will update progress here on that.

 

Professional Reading

It is holiday time so no reading this week. I recommend you read Mr Pip by Lloyd Jones before seeing the movie.

 

Thought Of the Week

I loved this idea on twitter this week.

@gcouros Any time you walk by a student in a hallway and don’t acknowledge them, it is a missed opportunity to build a connection.

 

 

Leader or Manager?

3 Aug

The way we educate students leave many of them feeling as though what they’ve “learned” is of no value; that the “lessons” they’ve received each day are of no use in the real world. We have created a system where we are assessment driven and students want to know if a task is worth credits. This leaves many teachers disheartened.

New strategies, tactics and procedures are developed to make the next school year better than the previous. Over my years in the classroom, I’ve been able to develop a few ways and means of getting the most out of my students and these overlap with staff.  This year I have also been reflecting on staff and how I can work with them in a better way. Gleaned from my inquiries, readings and experiences I made a list as I resolve this am I leading or managing.

The following site was particularly useful. http://leadonpurposeblog.com/2013/06/29/are-you-leading-or-just-managing/

So:

1. Relationships – In order to reach any group of people, you must know the audience to which you are speaking to. You have to speak their language, you must invoke their values and traditions in order to get them to go along with the information or concept(s) that you are presenting. You’ve got to meet people where they are. The learning plans we have developed for classes this year are an illustration of this.

2. Don’t Lecture – When people hear anything that sounds like a “lecture,” it is rarely a pleasant thought — it usually involves being punished. In the classroom, a lecture or talk should be more participatory in an effort to cut down the boredom of the students so they can gain the most in any lecture or talk you provide. Same with staff.  This requires patience but it is well worth it.

3. Choices – People like a choice. Often, we don’t provide our people with a choice when it comes to the assignments they have to do… maybe we should.  Giving a student the option of completing either assignment A or assignment B can create independence and ownership of the students work by the students themselves. My staff have been given choices in a number areas.  This has proven successful.

4. Let them Choose – People are opinionated: create assignments that allow them the freedom to give their “expertise.” Create a case study surrounding the content of your lessons or meetings, using language arts as the means for execution and reinforcement: verbally and on paper. This links to student voice or meaningful professional learning.

5. Examination and Discussion – Of course, I don’t mean arguing for argument’s sake. Rather, healthy discussion creates a healthy environment. Being nice is not enough.

6. Use The Technology – Make it their friend not the enemy.

7. Have Fun – Play and have fun when gaining an understanding of whether or not your students learned what you’ve taught them. Use meetings as “bonding” activities to have fun. We have initial one of our staff briefings as Fun Friday. Not nuts and bolts. Its all taking time and learning in different ways.

Professional Reading:

Indigenous Epistemology in a National Curriculum Framework

Angus H. Macfarlane, Ted Glynn, Waiariki Grace, Wally Penetito and Sonja Bateman

A real meaty piece this week which kept me occupied over the holidays. The paper discusses important parallels between western/European sociocultural theorizing on human development and learning (on which the key competencies seemed to be based), and the values, beliefs and preferred practices that are embodied within an indigenous Maori cultural worldview (Te Ao Maori).

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