Tag Archives: Professional Learning

Reflect on your mahi

17 Jan

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Reflection is so import.  One of the tenets of instructional design theory is taking time to reflect on what works and what does not. By keeping it simple and having that concentrated focus we get the opportunity to take a step back to determine what is going well or what changes to the instruction are needed. What is working? What isn’t? What do we need to cover again? What would I do differently the next time? Is there someone who needs some extra help?

Teachers need time to think about how a new tool or learned skill fits into their classroom and with their kids. Even if we believe what we are presenting is an easy concept to master there has to be some time for reflection. Adult learning theory tell us that teachers want that tie back at the end of a learning session to goals and objectives laid out in the beginning. They also need direction in their thinking for afterwards. We want to have them leave thinking about what we want them to be thinking about. Giving opportunities during and after PD for reflection can help solidify the learning, we ultimately want them to walk away with.

For leaders, time absolutely needs to be taken to look at the session as a whole. During the session temperature checks and informal formative assessments (simple feedback questions or times set aside to see where learning is) are critical to ensuring that the learning is on the right track. And afterwards look at what went well, and what could have been better?

The Best PLD for 2019

4 Jan

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The best PLD you can have as a school leader is the opportunity to apply for a principal’s position. It is an emotionally, spiritually and physically demanding experience. You must be totally committed. In 2019 I went through this process and was unsuccessful.  I had a great team of seven that prepared me, and I thank them for their mahi. I would change nothing about that process nor my performance. It just was not my time.

Here my key leanings:

  • Have a Vision

Principals need to have a vision for their school. It is important to get across where you see the school 3-5 years down the road. Be sure you communicate the why you believe that your vision is what is in the best interest of the school. Also, ensure that it makes sense given the school’s current situation. Will you be taking over a school that needs a drastic transformation or is the school currently running smoothly and achieving great results? Be clear and be specific.

  • Your team

Have a team to prepare you. These cannot be just a “yes” team. The preparation must be stiffer than the process.

  • Being Authentic

The vision needs to be authentic to you. There is no use pretending to be something or someone else.

  • Know the Data

It is vital that principal candidates know the school’s data and history. In order to best map out a path of the future, you must first know where the school has been. Looking at a variety of different data points will help you get a good idea of what is working and what needs to be looked at more closely. Spend some time up front learning about the school’s subgroups. Remember the buildings. This is key.

  • Be Student-Centered

A school’s primary focus is the academic achievement of students. Schools also serve as institutions where students increase their confidence, emotional intelligence, and problem-solving skills. Having a student-centered approach needs to be conveyed during the interview process. Boards want to hear how the school will support their child become the best version of themselves as possible.

  • Be Teacher-Centered

Great schools don’t exist without great teachers. We have all heard the phrase that people don’t leave terrible jobs, they leave terrible bosses. Teachers need to see right away that you will be their voice, advocate, and leader. Conveying that you want to work closely with the teaching staff to ensure that their needs are met is important.

  • Be Human

Education is a social industry. Teachers, parents, and students will want to see you as a human being as well as an educator. Showing your personality during the interview process is important. Be real, be authentic, and be true to yourself.

I hope this has helped you. Have you any advice for me?

 

Some Lessons to Learn

16 Dec

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I was thinking about the ideas of what makes a great teacher as I reflect on the year. To be truthful as I started writing the same applies regarding a leader in a school. I add one of my favorite models at the foot of the page.

Model expertise

Modelling this is part and parcel of every lesson: confident answers and conspicuous depth of knowledge of the subject that models the value that is placed on learning it.  Actual expertise matters more than simple enthusiasm.  There is no short-cut here: study the subject continually, know your stuff, get ahead.  Don’t wing it or teach, guessing your way through.

Prioritize Curriculum

Linked closely to Model Expertise, it’s essential to know how your subject is deconstructed into key concepts, skills and knowledge elements that allow learners to make progress – so-called pedagogical content knowledge.  Do you know how the course curriculum relates to the wider subject knowledge base? Is there an optimal sequence or at least one you could make a good case for?  You should have a sense of a sensible sequence and hierarchy of ideas and be able to see where content areas overlap.  You should have good knowledge of the assessment criteria in general and the specifics of any public exam.  Knowing the types of questions that students should be able to answer is essential in understanding and planning your subject curriculum – the enacted curriculum that students experience in your lessons.

Hold Attention 

Without this, most of the rest won’t be effective.  It always pays to reinforce the routines around attention so that you get it promptly from everyone.

Explain well

Sometimes I have not done this well as I have been reflecting on my practice lately. By relieving in some junior classes I have noted the need to find different ways to explain the same thing – not simply repeat one method over and over.   It’s often overlooked because people spend so long talking about what to teach, rather than how to teach it.

Respond 

This links to your curriculum thinking and planning.  Designing good questions is a skill you acquire with experience and research – initially it pays to explore sources of questions rather than make them up. Planning how to organise questions in a classroom context: The trick is to involve every student, solicit multiple responses and engineer a collective response that deepens everyone’s understanding – rather than skimming from person to person.

Feedback effectively 

Giving good feedback is an essential teaching skill.  Your goal is to seek improved performance, correct errors and challenge misconceptions but also to affirm and deepen successful learning. Feedback needs to be positive and specific and be very much geared towards an immediate practice opportunity.  You need should tell them what they’re doing right; identify a specific aspect of their technique to change and improve and then get them to practise.

Routines

It is ok to change things up occasionally, but routines keep a sense of certainty.

Manage time

Time: it can all be managed well or managed badly.  It pays to map out the long term, set some time goals and milestones.

Show kindness

Relationships –are a product of other actions.  I’m suggesting that showing kindness is an essential element to relationship-building.  You can be assertive, authoritative and inspire confidence in your expertise but still have difficulties – or cause them – if students don’t connect with your human qualities; if they fear you or resent you.  Kindness means allowing mistakes to be made, extending a degree of parental warmth and acknowledging emotions.  You can be quite formal and disciplined and still be kind.  Crucially, it’s essential to give kindness in order to receive it in return.

React

Being responsive to students’ answers is crucial to maximize the learning from the process.  You need to tackle misconceptions and explore errors without making it seem a big deal to get things wrong; you need to probe and challenge for deeper and better answers; you need to involve other students in building on each other’s answers.

I hope your year has gone well.

Do you have any suggestions for leading your class or staff-room?

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An Effective Professional Learning Community

18 Jul

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What is a Professional Learning Community (PLC)?

In my school we call them House Hubs. It is an ongoing process in which teachers work collaboratively in recurring cycles of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve. PLCs operate under the assumption that the key to improved learning for students is continuous job-embedded learning for teachers.

 The very essence of a learning community is a focus on and a commitment to the learning of each student. When a school or district functions as a PLC, teachers within the organization embrace high levels of learning for all students as both the reason the organization exists and the fundamental responsibility of those who work within it. To achieve this purpose, the members of a PLC create and are guided by a clear and compelling vision of what the organization must become to help all students learn. They make collective commitments clarifying what each member will do to create such an organization, and they use results-oriented goals to mark their progress. Teachers work together to clarify exactly what each student must learn, monitor each student’s learning on a timely basis, provide systematic interventions that ensure students receive additional time and support for learning when they struggle, and extend and enrich learning when students have already mastered the intended outcomes.

An assumption is that if schools are to become more effective in helping all students learn, the teachers in the organization must also be continually learning. Therefore, structures are created to ensure staff members engage in job-embedded learning as part of their routine work practices.

There is no ambiguity or hedging regarding this commitment to learning. Whereas many schools operate as if their primary purpose is to ensure that children are taught, PLCs are dedicated to the idea that their organization exists to ensure that all students learn essential knowledge, skills, and dispositions.

 

Building Trust

17 Jan

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I have been reading The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni.

Lencioni outlines the elements needed to build strong, cohesive teams. Here is a link to the book: Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Trust is the foundation in which productive teams are built upon.

As SLT it can be hard to lead change. Staff can be cynical of hidden agendas or ulterior motives. Here are some ways I am going to work on in 2019 to build trust:

Be visible

My office door should be open as much as possible. This will allow the community to see you in action. A quick hello can go a long way in building trust and respect. A current principal currently has her work-space in the staff room. I really admire that. Perhaps that is a next step for me.

Listen

It is important when making changes to consult staff members, teachers, or students. Strong school leaders listen to their leadership team, parents, and students when it comes to either making changes or keeping things the same. At the same time the feedback loop must be complete by feeding back the voice. Often it may not be what community wanted bu it is important to explain how you got there. The Why?

Be Transparent and Visible

A school is no place for smoke and mirrors. Taking on a cold war approach to communication and information gathering is not necessary. Decisions should never be made in a back room without representation from different stakeholder groups. See my previous point regarding meetings in central areas with everybody welcome.

Be Student-Centered

Do not take sides other than do what is in the best interest of the students.  Being student-centered keeps the focus on the purpose of schools – to educate children.

Professional Development for all

26 Aug

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When I lead PLD I often begin with the question describe your most memorable learning experience. How many of us, as educators, have been asked to ponder this? After a group discussion about memorable learning experiences I then ask staff to consider the implications for our own classrooms. What elements can be replicated in our classroom? What makes lifelong learning? Why do we remember one learning experience over others? And why are so many other learning opportunities forgotten?

Often the best experience has nothing to do with school. Why is that the most memorable learning experience has nothing to do with a teacher or a classroom, a textbook, or an assessment? And, why should we pay attention to what the answer to that question means for our classrooms? What is it about informal learning that leaves such a lasting impression? How can we integrate informal learning into our curriculum while still meeting benchmarks?

By taking staff/students out of the physical confines of the classroom with just a few tweaks to your curriculum through integrated learning and can inspire your students through informal learning.

Reading paintings, objects, and photographs can engage staff/students with new content or deepen understanding across disciplines. Paintings, objects, and photographs tell stories and getting to those stories takes a lot of critical thinking. It encourages students to build connections, examine perspectives, and build empathy. Museums are making it easier than ever to access collections online and even sort and curate your own collections for use in the classroom later.

When I use paintings, objects, and photographs I start with observation. Ask learner to point out what they notice. It’s pretty challenging to only focus on observation. They want to jump immediately to inference. We move to inference only after deep observation and then on to questioning and reflection.

I love visiting Puke Ariki our local museum with my daughter. Museums excel at interactivity. Make your classroom interactive. I am not talking about using collaboration or technology tools. Find areas in your classroom for students to open a drawer and learn, lift a flap to find out more, or slide and see. It doesn’t have to be high tech to be effective.

Few people know that museums will let teachers forego the typical school tour and use their space as a classroom outside of school. Museums are not stuffy. They are dynamic learning environments. You know best what your students need and how you want a museum visit to connect to your content so why not use museum collections to your advantage and teach in the museum space? It takes a bit of planning and a visit ahead of time, but it is well worth the effort.

By the way what was your most memorable learning experience?

Being Excited

19 May

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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.

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.

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