Seven Things I Hate About Your Ideas!

Paul presented “Seven Things I Hate About Your Ideas” in 2016, the alternative title….Telling the honest truth about the obstacles to Collaboration and Listening … even if you’d rather not hear it!”

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“When minds meet, they don’t just exchange facts: they transform, reshape them, draw different implications from them, engage in new trains of thought.”
~ Theodore Zeldin (Scholar and Thinker)

fourth way

In their book “The Fourth Way”, Hargreaves and Shirley argue that schooling has slowly evolved in its structures of practice, from government funded, intuitively-lead foundations of teaching  (the ‘First Way’) to a system that is heavily laden with tight boundaries and “endless quantities of achievement/performance data so that short-term solutions prevail …”; the ‘Third Way’.

The ‘Fourth Way’ is a call to arms for a return to “… the magic and wonder … of teaching. It’s time to recover the missionary spirit and deep moral purpose of engaging and inspiring all our students. It’s time to put down the spreadsheets and look to each other … to show our true strength by learning to “let go” a little.

Peter Senge presents a similar and powerful case, which speaks to the heart of the learning community’s culture – to release established beliefs about hierarchical leadership within educational institutions and embrace the value of an inter-connected, empowered, co-contributing community.

At the heart of this call is a demand to STOP, COLLABORATE and LISTEN … So what is the HONEST TRUTH about “Stopping, Collaboration and Listening”? If we know it is so amazingly beneficial for education, community, schooling, academic outcomes, moving our school’s forward by building professional learning communities – there couldn’t possibly be any hurdles… right?

odd

Far be it from me to be negative but … I know the people you work with … they are extra-ordinary … in every way possible.

They truly see the world from a different perspective than you and I.

They think YOU are the one on the right!

 

The “Seven Things I Hate about your Ideas” are really about identifying what I feel are the obstacles to collaboration and a culture of listening.

  • Fear
  • Powerlessness
  • Assumptions
  • Territorialism (not isolation)
  • Risk-centricity
  • Tunnel Vision not THE Vision

And I’ll share number seven at the end.

FEAR
who i work with2.PNGThere may be a fear from the team (or leader) that the process of collaboration and listening to others will expose some short comings about knowledge or practice, e.g.

  • Their afraid that your stupid idea will be better than their stupid idea.
  • As a leader – you’re afraid that their idea will expose how pathetically you have been leading the department/school up to this point in time – without having thought of this idea yourself.
  • WORSE – you’ve already had this idea, you haven’t had a moment to propose it within your team and by them SAYING it, you’ll still have to put all that energy into making it happen and then you have to give them all the credit for it!

POWERLESSNESS

Like Alice – a colleague may not want to collaborate in a team because they “have to” or because they have been told to. Similarly, team members may not want to generate amazing ideas which the administration won’t allow.

ASSUMPTIONS
535185625-assume.jpg
Experience has told your colleagues that if they walk around the corner the outcome/pathway will be painful or inconvenient to confront!

“Your stupid ideas will leave me with more work – just like that group project at university where nobody did anything but me and they all got the grades.”

 

TERRITORIALISM (Craving the Status Quo)status-quo
Your colleagues may be completely comfortable with the status quo They have been through a myriad of change and if you force them to come to the Pot Luck Dinner of Collaboration they will bring a fork and not a plate.

 

funny-animals-territorial-aggression

MILITARY RISKCENTRICITY (Is that a word?)

For some, change is painful and a sniff of change can be recognised a mile away … territory will be fiercely defended. The concern here is not just wanting to maintain the status quo … it is the military-stance that accompanies the resistance!

 

tunnel.jpgTUNNEL VISION
Some team members are not seeing the “big picture” (some appear incapable to do so) – they speak only from the perspective of their own patch of grass. Sadly, other team members/leaders quickly identify this quirk and the truly valid points they sometimes hold about their area/s of expertise are lost.

 

NUMBER SEVEN … THE BIG ONE!
The seventh reason that people hate your ideas is sad but true and brings me to a change in focus in this conversation…

your opinion

If you’re a leader – you know this feeling and you can give me current examples of it in your teams. But …the truth is we have to take the time to look in the mirror… In developing a culture of shared vision; open and collaborative learning; informed, research-rich discourse amongst practitioners, and accountable, open-door mindsets we must be committed to reinventing the tone, mode and method of our own established pathways. Without a senior leadership agenda to commit to return to these ideals; teachers and middle-management can only aspire to achieve these objectives within their own spheres of influence.

teamwork33

I do believe that educational leaders ARE at a cross-road. because the demands of modern education are at odds with our embedded systems.  “Teamwork is a lot of people doing what I say.”?

Blasés research states that “… there is convincing evidence that teachers will reduce their overall involvement in work, in important quantitative (e.g., time, energy) and qualitative (e.g., commitment, caring) ways … as administrators tightened control over teachers, they tended to become less engaged, less motivated and less committed…”(Blase)

The current trend for Principal turnover in schools is now three to five years (my son has had three principals and an acting principal in the last 2 years) – with 70% of Australia’s 10,000 school principals reaching retirement age over a five year period to 2018 – we would expect that many people reading this article will be taking on key leadership roles within our WA schools and taking them on at a lot earlier ages than has been historically represented.

In their book ‘The Power of Two‘ – Rodd Wagner and Gale Muller ask us to reconsider a solitary point … don’t ask how you can become a better leader … ask how you can be a better partner!

“If you want to have great partnerships, be a great partner. Get beyond yourself. Give up the notion that you are well-rounded, and stop expecting your colleagues to be universally proficient. Incorporate someone else’s motivations into your view of the accomplishment. Loosen up. Put aside your competitive nature, your prepackaged view of how the thing should be done, and your desire not to be inconvenienced with the imperfections of a fellow human being. Focus more on what you do for the partnership than what you get from it. Demonstrate trust and see if they don’t surprise you with their trustworthiness. Be slower to anger and quicker to forgive. And along the way, communicate continuously.”
~ Rodd Wagner and Gale Muller

 

 

 

So the challenge as leaders is to become partners, to reflect on how we can better invite contribution and collaboration … and to develop the disciplines and successes in our staff culture that we want in our student culture.

Our schools are the social embryos of humanity – those institutions that we establish to promote our highest collective values. They should be the embodiments of norms of reciprocity, active trust and democratic deliberation. It is not more mandates and management they need, but the broad shoulders of uplifting and sustainable leadership – Hargreaves and Shirley – The Fourth Way

 

The Semmelweis Reflex: Why does Education Ignore Important Research?

I haven’t re-blogged before but this was worthy of the exception (perhaps a new trend!) Thoroughly enjoyed this read.

chronotope

 

In 1846 the general hospital in Vienna was experiencing a peculiar problem. There were two maternity wards at the hospital but at the first clinic, infant mortality rate was around 16% while at the second clinic the rate was much lower, often below 4%. Mysteriously there were no apparent differences between the two clinics to account for this.

Part of the mystery was that there was no mystery. Almost all of the deaths were due to puerperal (childbed) fever, a common cause of death in the 18th century. This fact was well known outside the hospital and many expectant mothers begged to be taken to the second clinic instead of the first. The stigma around the first clinic was so great that many mothers preferred to give birth in the street than be taken there.

Working at the hospital at the time was Ignaz Semmelweis, a young doctor who…

View original post 1,108 more words

Of Pendulums and Pedagogy

I have stumbled across two articles this week related to the role of computers in the classroom and it encouraged me to revisit an earlier post:

OECD Report on Ipads

Computers in Class a Waste!

It is a wonderfully unique time in history for education. Learning opportunities and the breadth/depth of information access is overwhelmingly delicious. Running the Teachers’ Lounge websites/pages has been a great vehicle to document some of my own exposure to this wonderful e-world and I run with arms out-flung to embrace the digital age!

I recently reflected with a friend that I recall my Dad having won a prize at his work (in the 1970s) – a hand-held calculator, with green lights! There was a huge controversy in schools about whether these devices should be allowed in mathematics classes. Similarly, the typewriter created controversy in its day, as it was seen as a ‘lazy writing tool’ ! We’ve come a long way in education.

It has been interesting to watch the evolution of the digital manifesto in our schools. Millions of dollars poured into 4 year turnaround devices (or less!) in order to ensure that schools are on the cusp of the education revolution – or at least – seen to be! Worse at times, is the competitive vying for digital one-upmanship which focuses little on the educational outcomes of the child, but rather the projected persona of the institution.

In 2011 I oversaw the roll out of iPads in our Year 6-12 classes (our focus was on portability to outside spaces, the role of the camera/video element, e-portfolio to “capture learning over time” and to enhance emerging digital skills). As a team we were cognizant that our responsibility did not end once students knew how to use the devices and commenced the interface with the virtual “www superstore”! I do see that this is a trap many educators (and leaders) fall into. The focus of time, energy and funding can be very much on getting the digital mammoth established for quick sale and the underlying pedagogy given little after-thought!

The momentum is continuing; with the development of funding (and curriculum) for coding and robotics in the upcoming “Innovation Nation” … Believe me; I’ll be on board, but with eyes-wide-open on the developmental needs of our children.

… even as some parents and educators express unease about students’ digital diets, they are intensifying efforts to use technology in the classroom, seeing it as a way to connect with students and give them essential skills. Across the country, schools are equipping themselves with computers, Internet access and mobile devices so they can teach on the students’ technological territory.  (Click for full story)

My son is currently in Year 5 at a school where iPads have been rolled out – I hear and experience (!) the concerns addressed in Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction. With the recent announcement that NAPLAN will now become a compulsory digital platform for “two to three years from 2017” (http://www.nap.edu.au/online-assessment/naplan-online/naplan-online.html ) – the proliferation of devices in schools for the purpose of “testing” may be a sad synergy!

In the big picture, do we want students to do better academically or find and pursue their passions? I do understand that many educators would argue for both. The current educational climate is so centered on academic achievement and standards-based curriculum, I believe we need to make proactive, concentrated attempts to get the pendulum to swing towards semi-structured, open-ended, process-oriented and student-driven learning environments. Read Full Article

Despite the genuine educational concerns about the use of devices in our community; I do believe the balance can be found and we can still embrace the opportunities at our fingertips! The engine of this opportunity is embedded in that last quote… Re-read that last sentence… NO – read it again. Do we do that? Do YOU do that? I like to think I’m an experienced educator and despite some amazing WINS in this area; I still feel I have only splashed in the pool of “… open-ended, process oriented and student-driven learning…”

My recent viewing of “Most Likely to Succeed” reaffirmed the directions we are taking and the voice we hope is heard in education… relationship, engagement, project-centric, real-world connectivity and the responsibility of exhibition (with the ultimate goal of “contribution” … in my opinion)! Yet; whilst this generation offers educators a spectrum of exciting choices; the truth is – it’s all about the LEARNER.. does their engagement with school make them want to learn more? Is it about their passions which are being foregrounded or ours? How valuable do we rate “our curriculum” over “their inquiry”?

There are deeper waters here! In our classrooms, technology must be the slave and not the master; a vehicle for deeper learning, an access for students to reach a real and engaged audience, an opportunity for deeper expression and enriched engagement… if not – we will suffer the consequences of a missed opportunity in education and deliver a generation of Candy-Crushed Kids.

Learning from “The Dot”

I love this story. I hadn’t seen it before and it immediately struck me as a great encouragement to teachers. How do we manage the “little” moments that present themselves. It struck me that;

  • The teacher has this conversation “after class”.
  • The teacher asks Vashti to “own” her work by signing it.
  • The work is privileged for what the student is able to achieve “at the moment”.
  • Vashti mis-reads the teacher’s cues … is this from her experience with other teachers (e.g. Vashti’s reaction to “Polar bear in snow storm).
  • Vashti’s teacher invested in her “after class” – by framing the first picture.
  • Vashti had resources at her disposal to “explore” (her “never before opened paint box”)
  • Reflection is CRUCIAL to the next step of learning … AND teaching.
  • Most of Vashti’s learning happens without the teacher; her teacher is merely the CATALYST.
  • This teacher only has Vashti once a week. 🙂
  • The school “Art Show” … an opportunity for an authentic AUDIENCE.
  • Vashti honours her experience (and her teacher) by mentoring another.

2020 – English Revisited

As a subject, English inspires its own controversies; from text choice to the “goals” of English education in a modern curriculum; from use of spell checkers to “whole language” and “phonetic” reading practices. Everyone has an experience to share and an opinion to express.

When I reflect on my own exposure to Language/English during my schooling years, I feel grateful that I was part of the phonetic reading/spelling generation; however, I recall that grammar was definitely “out” … there was no direct teaching of ‘parts of speech’ as a functional tool for improving written expression (though I do recall a class on “collective nouns”). Reading and Writing were privileged and Viewing / Speaking and Listening were inadequately marginalised.

Personally, I didn’t score so well in English Literature at school. As a mature-aged university student, I think my motivation for choosing English Teaching as a vocation, was really developed through my years of “dramatic immersion” – learning, deconstructing, performing and directing scripts. I found the English core units in my university major both enlightening and exciting but still lament that, after four years of university, we were not taught how to use functional skills, nor were we ever expected to study them – even though our mandate was to go into the classrooms of the nation. That still floors me.

I remember buying a book on grammatical rules from the Secondhand Bookshop (which was published in 1954) and studying it so I knew the “languages of language”. It was the hardest unit of study and I still think I should be recognised with a unit credit for that torturous semester break :).

Reflecting on how to harvest the best practice from my own experiences, knowledge and years in the classroom and then project that into what I feel “subject English” should look like in 2020 … I would prioritise the following considerations;

  • Put creativity and imagination back in the centre.
  • Authentic opportunities, projects and engagement in real world/relevant learning!
  • Build bridges – Actively seek opportunity to integrate learning with the other core learning areas; English is the subject MOST able to make authentic links across curriculum.
  • Assess vehicles for operational ownership of the role of functional language (I want to read adverbs and adjectives in student’s writing again!)
  • Embrace the new class of digital-natives – anything to maintain and enhance the culture of reading, writing, speaking, critical viewing and listening practices.
  • Debate, debate, debate.
  • Consent to the marriage of English and vocational preparedness – attend the wedding and pay for the reception.
  • Question whether the role of the English language as the “central, universal language” is outdated… certainly accept that it is a dynamic, evolving language and will be more-so in a globalised, more connected world stage.
  • Love your LOTE and ESL staff – you have no idea how good they are making you look! OR … support your school teaching a second language!
  • Ask students, business and educators what modes of assessment will be best to prepare for a 2020 future.
  • Seek relevant opportunity for the use of exceptional ‘out-sourced’, digitally relevant English tools.
  • Demand a culture of literacy – bribe colleagues with cake.
  • Articulate and affirm the irreplaceable role of the effective 2020 librarian – consider re-birthing the “role” which incorporates easy access to text and digital tools.

But… why wait until 2020?

Happy Memories!

Rummaging through the gems on an old USB, I found this fun article I had written for a Parenting Magazine. Now my children are 10 and 8 … but it delivered some happy memories of CRAZY nights!

dad asleepI have just driven into my driveway. My wife asked me to pick up some broccoli, mushrooms, milk, bread and bum wipes from the local shop on the way home. It was a murderous day at work. I’m tired, she’s tired. It’s 42 degrees today and in WA they are trialing daylight saving – I hate them.

My 2 ½ year old trots out with a card she has made for me with Mum today, she has no shoes on her feet and seems oblivious to the heat of the pavement – my arms are filled with shopping bags as I bought more than requested (I purchased watermelon after I had browsed through a magazine article that suggested that offering your kids a variety of colour on their plate is a “sure way” to get them to eat a more healthy diet – I bought the magazine too).

My daughter says nothing – she just hands me the folded cardboard that is glued with glitter, animal shapes, paint strokes and bits of recycled shredded paper. I love it – maybe she remembers telling me that she didn’t want a hug this morning because … “I only want Mummy cuddles” – I’m secretly bitter but know how totally irrational it is to entertain such a foolish grudge. Later, I make sure she gets a little less ice-cream with her watermelon … to ward off type-2-diabetes, of course!

I carry the shopping bags over the head of our son, a puppy dog at the door to greet me. He positions himself so he can move outside as I move inside. My wife carries our daughter in after checking the mail; I throw the shopping on the counter and then retreat to scoop up my 1 year old who is acting as an unwilling door stop.

I peck my beloved on the cheek as she rummages through my shopping bags and scurries off with the final ingredients to prepare a feast for her prodigal hunter.

I roll around the floor, play Superman, Hide and Seek, Block Builder and Pack-Away-Man like a Pro. I know all the “Wiggles” characters and can recite most of the “Hi-5” repertoire. I even have favourites – I catch myself singing them at work.

I mix drinks, change an obligatory nappy (tonight it smells like mustard but that could be dinner), re-stick the sticky thingy that is supposed to maintain cupboard security (it does NOT stick to the door like the picture on the box – it’s phony security I remind myself,  “I’ll do it tonight – Oh GOD, I’m a bad Daddy”) and try to catch up on a few snippets of my wife’s day.

Dinner is delicious. Chicken, Brown Rice and Vegetables (with a honey sauce and a peppering of purple glitter that somehow made its way into the mix). My son selects some choice morsels that he throws to the floor with supportive cheers from our Maltese who knows EXACTLY where to sit at meal times.

My daughter has had the same mouthful of food in her mouth for 9 minutes. “Chew, Chew, Swallow” we encourage… “Come on, baby” …“Naughty Spot” …. “Timer’s On”…. “Miss out on Ice Cream”…. “Good Girl”.

My wife bravely faces bath time and I clean up. I find another potato at the back of the sofa (that explains the smell… I hope) and am now resolute to fix the bloody sticky thing on the pantry.

Youngest is teething so he has some medicine to help him sleep and we dispense pretend medicine for “Miss 2 ½” – an orange juice placebo (she can’t possibly miss out!!!).

It’s close now… the sanity …

Story-time, Guitar-time, Bed-time… “But Daddy – It’s still light outside” (I hate daylight saving, I hate daylight saving!). Cuddles, potty, cuddles, kiss, kiss, drink of water, “silly story”, potty run, wash hands, kiss for Quack-Quack, Brown Bear and Bongo, recycle bath water, tidy bench, wash dishes, re-replace sticky thingy, coffee percolator ON … 5 minutes peace… I can’t wait for tomorrow!

Professional Learning Communities, STAR Teachers and the Road Ahead – Part 2

The focus of professional learning is to examine the strategies for achieving effective communication, collaboration, and ‘job-embedded learning opportunities’ (Church and Swain) for the community of practitioners within a PLC for the solitary prize of improving student learning.

The current Australian context reveals a staggering agenda of reform in many areas of Primary and Secondary education. Educational leaders are faced with the challenge of delivering a balanced menu of curriculum reform, legislative change, administrative procedure, policy update as well as ongoing communication of the philosophical/religious beliefs and values that underpin the community for which the organisation has been developed.

In our great endeavour as educators, to secure best practice which delivers effective outcomes for students; educational institutions, and those who serve within them, we must work collaboratively through the toss and tumble of short to mid-term political agenda, to establish routines of cohesive practice that will position our learning communities to skim the cream of emerging insights, research and international best-practice.

Educational leaders and decision makers must also be prepared to invest time and money in effective, cutting-edge professional development for teachers. In “The Fourth Way”, Hargreaves and Shirley argue that schooling has slowly evolved in its structures of practice, from government funded, intuitively-lead foundations of teaching  (the ‘First Way’) to a system that is heavily laden with tight boundaries and “endless quantities of achievement/performance data so that short-term solutions prevail …”; the ‘Third Way’.

The ‘Fourth Way’ is a call to arms for a return to “… the magic and wonder … of teaching. It’s time to recover the missionary spirit and deep moral purpose of engaging and inspiring all our students. It’s time to put down the spreadsheets and look to each other … to show our true strength by learning to “let go” a little. Peter Senge presents a similar and powerful case, which speaks to the heart of the learning community’s culture – to release established beliefs about hierarchical leadership within educational (and other) institutions and embrace the value of an inter-connected, empowered, co-contributing community.

In developing a school culture of shared vision; open and collaborative learning; informed, research-rich discourse amongst practitioners, and accountable, open-door classrooms we must be committed to reinventing the tone, mode and method of our established communication pathways. Without a senior leadership agenda to commit to these ideals; teachers and middle-management can only aspire to achieve these objectives within their own spheres of influence. “… there is convincing evidence that teachers will reduce their overall involvement in work, in important quantitative (e.g., time, energy) and qualitative (e.g., commitment, caring) ways … as administrators tightened control over teachers, they tended to become less engaged, less motivated and less committed…” (Blase)

Sadly, for many teaching staff, the richness of an effective professional learning community may only be found within the micro-environment of their faculty rather than a school-wide experience.

For too long, schools have been subjected to workshop-centred professional development that only deals with the immediate needs of the organisation rather than working to a longer-term vision, professional learning which has been undertaken has been chiefly dominated by curriculum reform and legislative agenda; in many ways these agendas have masked other priorities for learning development.

So how do committed, time-stretched leaders encourage genuine opportunity for the development of the Professional Learning Community?

Recommendations for Professional Learning Practices – Whole School

For many schools, an effective plan for professional development as part of a strategic approach to the development of the learning community has not been systematically developed. Frequently, schools have ‘grown’ stronger leaders through trial and perseverance and there needs to be a strategic solution that allows all stakeholders to be heard if the community is to move forward without casualties.

Ideally, these objectives could be achieved with consideration some of the following strategies;

  • Evaluating the use of intra-school networks of collaboration, discussion and influence across ‘associated’ like-schools. The larger, more experienced schools, mentoring and resourcing (e.g. policy, documentation, marketing, shared resources, new teacher mentorship)through a structured development partnership.
  • Consideration of a development fund or teacher scholarship program.
  • An audit of professional learning priority in consideration of the strengths and weaknesses of the faculty/pastoral needs of staff and the needs that parents may need to access,  “Good governments do not merely tolerate and endure community organizing as a regrettable and dispensable distraction from learning. Rather they respectfully and continuously engage with parents and community activists to promote wider change strategies. More than this, they create preconditions that enable community organizing to flourish as an essential element of change…” (Hargreaves and Shirley)
  • Move Professional Development budgets and decision making procedures to faculty/teacher level.
  • Inter-Department discussions and Project-Centric Integration.
  • Empowering mastery – adequate provisioning for staff working out of their depth.
  • Empowering open discussion with TIME and RESOURCES for collaboration / experimentation – a “permission to fail” atmosphere.
  • New staff induction and school-based mentoring program (outside of the WACOT arrangements) not just a structured appraisal system.
  • A Required Reading File with ‘provocations’ for discussion in staff meetings / briefings.
  • Recognition of professional learning practices and a ‘profile’ of learning by the school leadership. Opportunity for staff to provide team members with insights (and recommendations for implementation)  from their professional learning.
  • Reflective practice – Asking for a ‘written reflection’ of how external professional development can assist the school/departmental practice and what recommendations the participant would make to the school as a result of their attendance.
  • “Modelling a Collaborative Approach”; here the focus is on the senior leadership who must model the desired approaches in “listening… inviting… initiating … managing … acknowledging” and rewarding collaborative process. Encouraging connection with schools/leaders who are “doing” it.
  • Investing in a professional development ‘library’ of staff resources (parent resources / board members, etc.) on current practice (books, texts, DVDs, CDs, Research Papers), case study, exemplars, etc. and asking staff to propose purchases from their own reading/s. This could evolve into a Reading Circles project for staff development.
  • Use of ICT resources to generate a staff professional learning ‘portal’ e.g. ‘schoology.com’
  • Staff retreat / workshop that focuses on specific areas of concern to groups of staff by choice of participation.
  • Automatic payment of subscription fee for peak association body membership within each faculty
  • Self / Peer Evaluation with specific content questions related to current ‘tools’. E.g. “How are you as a teacher tracking on Professional Knowledge (Standards 1 & 2) of the National Professional Standards for Teachers?”, “How does your term one year 10 program synthesise with the expectations of the Australian Curriculum?” This keeps knowledge expectation at a reasonable pace.
  • Visible documentation – Science and Maths Faculties may not be housed in the same office but we should have access to their ideas and offerings to find points of commonality within our curriculum that can serve one another.
  • Mentoring other schools AND sourcing mentors.

These proposals centre on a re-evaluation of corporate priority to community priority; to make the most of the constellation of educator-capital that has been demonstrated by committed and dedicated staff within the micro-levels of our schools. As leaders our attitude SHOULD be that … “In a time of great complexity and discontinuous change, a learning organisation effectively uses its sum total of organisational intelligence, which is exponentially greater than the sum of its individuals.” (Ryman)

 

Professional Learning Communities, STAR Teachers and the Road Ahead – Part 1

“What initiatives in our professional learning will bring about positive change in student learning?”

The idea of developing collaborative structures amongst teachers within learning communities is a key concept that is echoed throughout a lot of my current reading and experiences in education. Whilst the attributes of a learning community are widely explored and indicators defined; achievement of these ideals is by no means an easy feat.

Hurdles to change in school culture and the development of successful learning communities are plentiful, especially in the mid to long-term. For leaders who desire to move student performance forward either on a school, district, state or federal level; these barriers can be multi-faceted and are frequently well ingrained into the teaching fraternity psyche.

Macro-political influences from both state and federal levels often set the short to mid-term educational agendas for schools. The impacts of these multiple and consistent waves of change are felt for many years by educational professionals. Any fresh initiatives at the school leadership level to bolster performance may be met with some degree of scepticism.

There is a tendency for teachers to demonstrate a lack of faith in educational reform. For many, corporate memory of historical changes that were perceived to have little return for huge personal or departmental investment are coupled with disillusionment, that commitment to these initiatives are not sustained by governments (or school leadership) over the longer-term. The evolution of the Australian Curriculum saw a marginalisation of the work, by many, in the implementation of the Western Australian Curriculum Framework and some teachers are saddened by its impending demise (despite the benefits of the changes). In this climate, learning communities can be more resistant to embrace initiatives for mandated change, or worse, approach changes with a cynical caution.

After reading the work of Haberman in ‘Star Teachers’, I felt empowered to sell my long-standing opposition to the belief that it is the responsibility of ‘learners to learn’, not ‘teachers to teach’. Unfortunately, I believe that this mentality, (i.e. the “you can lead a horse to water” mentality) is rife amongst many educators and is a real barrier to teachers seeking opportunities to improve in some areas of their practice. Whilst teachers show a commitment to growing in the functional aspects of their profession (e.g. development of content, processes and procedures, marking etc.) they are less inclined to take responsibility for student learning.

According to the Haberman’s view of STAR TEACHERS, “Stars view themselves as successful professionals rescuing students … see themselves as teachers of children as well as of content… they accepted accountability for student achievement … did not blame students for not learning … and defined their roles in terms of “whatever it takes”…”

If ever the question of, ‘Who is responsible for student learning?’ was more important, it is most certainly now. In Melbourne, a 15-year-old male student “… is suing the Victorian Education Department and the State Government for failing to teach him literacy and numeracy”

I was recently honoured to have an ECU practice student join me for a week’s observation and she will join me for another four weeks in June. It soon became clear that this young lady had a great deal of natural panache and I asked her to take a class on her final day. She did a wonderful job and I was pleased to sit down with her for 20 minutes afterwards to highlight her outstanding points and deal reflectively with a couple of the ‘bumpy moments’ in her lesson. I provided four pages of hand-written notes as a form of affirmation and evaluation.

I doubt there would be many teachers who did not commence their teaching in a similar manner. The role of mentorship has to be a natural, less formalised form of professional appraisal and an ongoing habit of departmental (and inter-departmental) discourse. Lack of robust discussion and inter-teacher feedback (i.e. for the years BEYOND our practicum or first year of teaching) can lead to a culture of isolationism in teacher practice.

In high school settings, there is prized value in developing the departmental learning community and the powerful effect this can have in dispersing isolationist practices. Some argue that departments methodologies should promote, shared values, de-privatised practices and reflective dialogue –  others see these tools as a “softer approach”; instead, preferring to ramp up departmental function and policy into a system of rules, agreements and goals regarding teaching and instruction – obtaining data on student performance, which in turn serves as a feedback mechanism for improving teaching and learning.

I am genuinely delighted to see a call for this kind of rigour. Working with co-professionals from an agreed platform which clearly stipulates the process for improvement in teaching and learning objectives. Policy that ‘builds in’ teacher accountability, (e.g. turn around on marking, holistic student review, consensus process and delivery strategies, co-observational expectations) and are not driven by a ‘back-scratching’ mentality of endorsing one another’s mediocre practice.

The Gratton Institute (see my earlier post – http://wateacherslounge.wordpress.com/2010/11/16/the-report-every-politician-and-principal-should-read/)  endeavours to remind educational leaders and decision-makers “that teacher effectiveness is the most significant influence on student outcomes”. Jenson investigates the factors that influence student performance and writes; “An increase in teacher effectiveness of 10% would lift Australia’s education systems into the highest performing group of countries in the world… Each grade needs to incorporate 5% of a year’s worth of learning for our students to be amongst the best in the world.” The report campaigns for more government investment in teacher training and utilises internationally recognised testing such as PISA, PIRLS and TIMMS to lament Australia’s eighth placing in international rankings. It determines that “… moderate changes to teacher effectiveness have a significant long-term effect.”

It is hard not to see the logic of his (Jenson’s) argument and his passionate representation for teachers to be provided with constructive criticism on their ongoing teaching practice as a means of gauging progress and effectiveness over time. “All teachers need to have effective evaluation that identifies their strengths and weaknesses and feeds into individualised development plans.”

Investment in the professional development of staff is an imperative that can’t be ignored in the evolution of learning communities. With an expected surge in school-age children in WA next decade of more than 140,000 students … and an estimated 312 new schools, coupled with a predicted 30% exodus of teachers and administrators in both Primary and Secondary due to retirement over the next five years; initiatives to invest in teachers and leadership has never been more at a premium.

Development of well-supported, training-rich, cohesive teachers who are valued for their ability to ‘deliver the goods’ as a growing team within their learning communities is an objective we all want to see. It is a worthy goal and one, we hope we can say, we got ‘right’.

Notes From AFR “Teach Skills, Not Subjects”

 

AFR bossI really enjoyed Brett Rolfe’s article “We need to teach children skills, not subjects” in this weekend’s Australian Financial Review Boss Magazine. For those interested, here was the source statement to Brett’s questions on the subject.

The current revolution in education is in the shifting priority to the learner, learning; rather than a single focus on what needs to be taught. It is clear to me that fear of non-compliance to curriculum standards is driving much of the educational agenda in Australia. Our focus on meeting the requirements of a broad curriculum is robbing educators of the ability to invest in the depths and directions which our children are interested in exploring and the “push down” of educational expectation into early childhood is robbing our children of the emotional and interpersonal foundations for long-term success.

There is no question that schools must develop student’s mastery of multi-disciplinary substance in literacy, numeracy, sciences and the arts; but our approach should focus more on the cohesive nature of these fields; a marriage and integration of width and depth in our investigations and studies.

I recently visited a beautiful school in Perth but after walking around the immaculate grounds for 10 minutes I had not seen a single student. I asked my host “Where are the children?” to which they cheerfully replied, “This is the NAPLAN term.” … I don’t really know what that means anymore; I live in a bubble where permission abounds for children to explore, play, experiment, challenge, debate and reflect; the longer I operate within this learning environment, the more acclimatised I become to the benefits but more ignorant to the truth that these possibilities are not the norm.

Our school’s Founder; Gillian McAuliffe, has been a passionate advocate for getting the “word out” and has championed the education-of-educators in this arena (long before it was popular to do so). I do believe that successful schools; schools who are connected and listening to the broad range of international research and best-practice, have a responsibility to reach out to other educators and offer pathways within their own contexts. Our school has been a model of excellence in responding to the needs of our own student body and we are constantly looking for ways to improve and extend our successes.

The foundations of our approach to learning are focused on developing Critical thinking, Creativity, Collaboration and Communication – these do not need to be elusive skills – whilst there are finer nuances; the crux of developing and mastering these skills is in providing time and opportunity. At Bold Park Community School;it is embedded in our environments, our policies, our approach to the disciplines, our questioning techniques and the provocational opportunities we develop for and with children.

http://www.afr.com/brand/boss/we-need-to-teach-children-skills-not-subjects-20150605-gh4c7c?stb=fb