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…

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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?

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)

 

International Mud Day

A Day for Kids to PLAY IN MUD? Is this just too KOOKY?

I promise after listening to Tim Vidler speak on ABC Radio – You’ll … “Get It”

6a00e0097e4e68883301a511d5b9d7970c-320wiBold Park Community School (BPCS), founder of the inaugural International Mud Day, were excited to join other schools and organisations to partner in an initiative to link with schools around the globe in enjoying the benefits and pleasure of playing in mud!
The intention of this event is to provide children with a symbolic opportunity to join with others around the world in connecting through the catalyst of mud.
This year BPCS “amped it up” with a dirty-big mud obstacle course (the Mudsticle Course); where children from ages 3 to 18 (and adults) interconnect with like-spirited children around the world by playing in mud together on Friday the 27th June, 2014.
Grown from its inception in 2009 with the connection of 80 Nepalese orphans and the children of Bold Park Community School, with the support of the Nature Action Collaborative for Children (NACC), this inspirational initiative has flourished into a multi-continental annual celebration.
As the participants of Bold Park Community School Mud Day since 2009 have discovered, there are children like our friends in Nepal who are prevented from enjoying nature-based play because they only have one set of clothes. One of the aims of International Mud Day is to raise global awareness of this sad reality and provide funds to meet this need to enable children to delight in the joys of mud play, and in the mean time, encouraging our own children (and parents) to overcome our fear of getting dirty!
Mud gratifies one of our first and basic instincts. We will be playing in and connecting in the same earth. “Mud – It’s universal”.
For more information, visit the World Forum Mud Day site at:

 

A Novel Approach?

Last year, I had the great pleasure of spending some quality time absorbing strategies and approaches through Ritchhart, Church and Morrison’s wonderful book, “Making Thinking Visible” (see previous post https://theteacherlounge.wordpress.com/2012/03/20/cultural-capital-or-culture-clash) … this was closely followed by the opportunity to spend a little bit of time with Mark Church during his visit to Perth, Western Australia.

This had a significant impact on my approach to teaching in the English classroom. I recently promised that I would post an overview of a project we commenced at the start of semester one (2013) – Writing A Class Novel.

I have the benefit of leading a team of secondary teachers who work collaboratively to integrate learning in a Year 6-12 context. We had decided on a broad focus for the semester which informed an array of learning experiences across curriculum disciplines; “Forensics”.

This allowed for a variety of explorative activities to unpack the complex world of forensics, criminology, the ethical implications of law making, detective fiction, exploration of anatomy and decomposition. Our investigation included creation of crime scenes, a visit from two forensic police officers, blood stains analysis, finger printing, “mug shots”, fibre analysis, handwriting analysis, utilisation of composite sketching, entomology (e.g. harvesting maggots) for recognition of time of death… students participated in an archeological dig to “resurrect” half a cow which was buried on school grounds at the start of the year. The “novel” task was delivered in a multi-age classroom for Years 9-12.

I have not ventured on this kind large-scale, corporate writing project (with a class group) before; I have no trouble with large projects with a more “dramatic” flair but a commitment to a large writing-based task was daunting; I remember the cold shiver that went down my spine when I announced to the class that we would be starting the novel project.

College students (Year 10-12) had comprehensively studied the detective genre through the works of various “famous” writers and were challenged to commence a three month project – to write a full 20 chapter detective novel (25,000 words). The task required that students work together as a class in the creation of plot, characters, crime, complication and resolution but also determine who would write each section / how they would establish “flow” between the chapters (since students decided that each student would work on an independent chapter).

As the teacher, I determined that the project would be “facilitated” by me, I would provide instruction and resources on novel composition and guide students in terms of the “structures” that would be required (pov, character, crime choice, genre “expectations”, etc.). Division of labour would be determined by the students. Even in the early stages, the task required the surrendering of fantastic ideas and tested the student’s resilience and abilities to respectfully reject their own and others ideas! As students become more committed to the task, it was harder to surrender long-held-on-to ideas; the process was often wild and frustrating and for some there were tears!

 “It was a difficult process, trying to choose and eliminate ideas, especially when people were passionate about them. It was frustrating to have to deal with people who weren’t listening properly; or who contributed ideas that weren’t realistic or constructive! My chapter was the climax of the novel. I wanted it to be good so as not to let down the rest of the people who had worked so hard on it!” (Student 1 Reflection)

The initial planning / plotting and character development took only 3 weeks, the process of writing / re-working / scrapping and editing took two months of solid and concentrated effort in and out of class.

The student’s decided that they needed to establish an editorial team who took responsibility for the overall “flow” of the novel and worked with individuals to polish and hone individual chapters. It was difficult to “let this happen” – as the “English” teacher – I wanted to jump in to rescue on many occasions.

 “I will never volunteer to be an editor again! It was too much pressure; I hated proof reading [my friends work] I felt like I was being really mean all the time – I tried to make it better by adding smiley faces [on their work] – I don’t think it made much of a difference!” (Student 2 Reflection)

And yet, from the OTHER side of the fence …

“I am not a confident writer. The fact there was an editing team to help out and to proof-read and edit my chapter made all of the difference. They told me if my chapter was ready for submission- it made me more confident to go up to the other people in my class (peers) and ask questions – I felt better organised as a result.”  (Student 3 Reflection)

The rich experiences provided by the whole teaching team gave students a genuine respect for the role of police and detectives – rather than the more “romantic” beliefs many of the students had, had; based on their home viewing of TV Police/Detective Drama. Students insisted on capturing “compassionate” and “real” investigative characters and to show special consideration to the “victims of crime” in their writing.

In order for the students to write authentically about the crime scenes from the novel, we integrated the reproduction of authentic “crime scenes” into the student’s Science investigation. Students closed off local streets to reconstruct the scenes they had “imagined” and “discussed” in English. Students used “evidence photo numbers” at the mock scenes. Students photographed all evidence, bagged mock evidence and created diorama “maps” of the scenes. These were used to write and present reports for their Science (and English) curriculum but also served to fully inform the credibility of the narrative for multiple writers.

As chapters were submitted to the editorial team, we finally had a “read through” together in April.

 “The pressure has started to build but we are now reading out all of the drafts for the first time and I must say I am pleasantly surprised by the quality of everyone’s work. … This has been an amazing experience and all of my doubts about this task have vanished!”  (Student 4 Reflection)

“My favourite part of the process was when we read the chapters in order. I wasn’t only amazed at the fact that we had written a [novel] … but also at the sheer quality of the writing from a young bunch of people” (Student 5 Reflection)

By June, students had completed the written portion of the novel and then moved to consult with a “publisher/printer” to explore packaging choices – paper choices / cover options / font / layout / recognition of authors / cost of commissioning art work for the cover / deciding on title / distribution options and ebook publication options.

We do not yet have a printed novel in hand but students are now in the final stages of pre-production and their “pre-release” of Chapter One was a great success at a local educational conference. I will post again when novels are available for purchase. J

The novel project has helped students to appreciate the depth of research, investigation and angst involved in developing a novel. Documenting the student’s learning journey has also reminded me of the confidence I can have in students – and to keep student expectations … higher!

What Makes a GREAT Teacher?

aYou're the bestI like Todd Whittaker’s book What Great Teachers Do Differently: 14 Things That Matter Most. It asks, “What makes a great teacher?” and seeks to identify the operational features of “great” teachers and how they may differ from less effective teachers.

There has always been great debate about the secrets of teacher effectiveness; some focus on behaviour management, student expectation, hands-on engagement, environmental factors … the list goes on.

According to Whittaker; these are the “fourteen things” that “great” teachers DO that other teachers DON’T! (a paraphrased approach – forgive me Mr Whittaker!);

1. They keep PEOPLE first and PROGRAMS second.

2. They determine strong and clear expectation from the very start of the academic year; with a focus on consistency.

3. They determine to minimise the LIKELIHOOD of student misbehavior.

4. They take responsibility for student learning and maintain high expectation of student performance and engagement.

5. They take ownership of their role as the “variable” in classroom which matters the MOST.

6. They are great ambassadors for their classroom and their school. They create and promote safe, happy communities.

7. They look for the positive… always!

8. Relationship, relationship, relationship – they can rebuke caringly and can say sorry liberally.

9. Keep small “inconveniences” and “disruptions” SMALL.

10. No matter what – there is a reason they are doing what they are doing. They have a focus with purpose.

11. Their decision making is filtered by the outcomes for the students, not the outcomes for themselves.

12. They always believe the best of their students – every child is “good”.

13. They keep standardised testing/s in perspective.

14. They care, they care, they care.

I would like to add a few other observations, some from my own experience and some from others who have sought to investigate this question. What qualities would you add to the list?

15  They establish learning environments that are student-focused; not control focused (https://theteacherlounge.wordpress.com/2012/06/04/building-learning-environments/)

16  They build parental bridges EARLY.

17  They promote meta-cognition.

18. They complete the tasks they ask their students to complete – they DEMONSTRATE the literacy process (e.g. they write a paragraph with the class, they show HOW they construct sentences – not just the finished/polished version/s).

19. They link learning with student interests and abilities.

20. They embrace new technology.

21. They stay positively connected with other educators BOTH within and OUTSIDE of their discipline.

22.  They embrace a range of strategies for different learning styles, genders and the labyrinth of ‘special needs’. They allow multiple forms of “assessment”.

23. They build knowledge and understanding from what is ALREADY known.

24. They have an attitude of life-long learning; they know that THEY have not arrived. I would add “self reflection” as an integral part of this.

25. They look for mentors and are prepared TO BE mentors to others.

26. They understand that they can’t always do all 25 of these things … and they can NEARLY live with that!

Schoology – 1 Year On

A little over a year ago I posted about my delight in discovering SCHOOLOGY (READ FIRST POST HERE); I was asked to complete a quick review of our experience, one year on;

For us, Schoology was initiated as a means of assessment/homework communication  between teachers, students and parents. I looked at a LOT of platforms before deciding on Schoology … a year on … I have had no regrets.

It is important to note that, like all platforms, it does require some significant time to establish and administer – with particular careful attention to the privacy and communication settings.  Once up and running, the core administration time is lessened with some upkeep required for semester changeover, new arrivals and exiting students.

The platform offers significant capacity (Function capacity is well explained on the website along with some great videos – https://www.schoology.com/about.php).

I was attracted to:

  • Safety / Cyber-safety features – Student email is NOT required (though functionality is improved if students have an email)
  • Ability to synergise with MOODLE (if you choose to go that way in the future or you have existing resources on this platform)
  • Gmail connectivity and (new) additional “apps”- REMIND 101 is a RIPPER!
  • Internal “dropbox” facility
  • Friendly platform for students
  • HIGH visibility WITHIN our learning community and ZERO visibility/access for OUTSIDE users
  • FREE with high functionality – great to “test” with a small class group before paying for subscription
  • Clear Calendar function – settings for students / parent and staff
  • Making visible the expectations of courses/homework, etc.
  • SAFELY building community (parent/student/staff) e-skills
  • iPad APP (this was a bonus as we had already committed to this platform before the iPad decision)
  • Handles roll and grade books for each course – available securely to parent, student and any “approved advisors”

I liked the ability to stagger the functionality so user were familiar with each “phase” we added over time. E.g. as students and parents have become more confident with the space – we added student blog function (WITHIN SCHOOLOGY) , student comment on course materials (MONITORED) – ability to access grades and roll.

You may ask what it doesn’t do well… it doesn’t train the parents for you :). In most schools this is done VERY poorly or as a one-hit-wonder with little consideration of on-going-induction (personal rant). Administrators have to be willing to sit down with parents LONG after the excitement of the platform has worn off, and reteach how to access/utilise the platform fully. Easily the most “administration hours” are in this area but I do believe it has been well worth this investment. By showing a full commitment to this process; parents now believe that we won’t be “flipping” to the next exciting thing that comes on the market – a frustration for many parents (and staff!).

There is a need to keep selling this to the parents/students and remember that some students will still need to keep a paper diary despite your best efforts to keep things well organised. Also, a BIG WARNING, if you don’t have organised teachers who will commit to use the platform – don’t do it! Training staff is important but it is intuitive to use for the basics and then time needs to be invested in expanding functionality (e.g. quiz, test, roll, links, files, dropbox function, etc.).

As you can tell – I love this platform! Here are some comments from a member of our staff about their experience with Schoology:

As a part-time teacher Schoology has enabled me to communicate with the students when I’m not at school.  Also, I have been able to set up quizzes and comprehension tasks, the results of which are recorded automatically into a grade sheet for me to evaluate later. It has also been useful for setting due dates on tasks and for some students who keep losing their handouts I can upload course info, tasks and medical forms to schoology for them to download.

Going back to my first point, I particularly like the way we can post updates (like a news feed in facebook) this is really handy when new things come up or to remind students and parents about coursework or events. It is fairly labour intensive in the beginning to understand how to travel around the software, but with some time and effort and coaching from Paul it began to earn its keep. All of the teachers use the software regularly. Schoology works for us because we all use it and are dedicated to using this software as part of the communication between students and parents.

For College and MS it is great to be able to keep in touch with what the rest of the staff are doing as well as using it to communicate with students.

What’s the Word on Building Learning Environments?

One of the great luxuries I have at my current workplace, is the freedom to “develop environment” with my colleagues and more importantly our Middle School and College students (admittedly with little/no budget :)).

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Historically, I have taught my classes in many … unique environments … including teaching Year 11/12 English in a staff room, a gym equipment room, a hot tin shed, a board room meeting space, a canteen (this was only a six-week stint which had “other” benefits – LOL) and under a tree for a year. I think they all had their special moments which we enjoyed together :).

There has been a lot of development and research based around the form and function of learning spaces for education and it is no surprise that in our modern, digitally rich contexts we need to experiment with the use of space. I think I was pretty lucky to have teachers in my Primary School who used space effectively, making it both aesthetically pleasing and functional but there was certainly no consultation with students on how the room should look / feel.

Secondary environments tend to be a different story – there has been little room for creative freedom; not because teachers don’t necessarily want to “own” a space, but because the general discourse in secondary timetabling accounts for teachers who move from classroom to classroom, multiple teachers who “visit” each “learning space” throughout the timetabled day and the growing trend toward lighter teacher loads (the part-time teacher).

A quick GOOGLE image search of “Classroom Environments” will reveal some amazing looking class spaces. They range from traditional desk-centric rooms with creativity directed to the windows and doors; to rooms/spaces which look as though they were designed by supermarket architects! What is ALSO interesting to note is the few learning spaces which represent secondary (Year/Grade 7-12) learning environments.

Whether intended or not, all learning spaces do sell a message about learning WITHIN that space to our students. Whether the educator is “influenced by the historical lab school movement of John Dewey, the innovative early childhood work of Maria Montessori, or more modern theorists such as Howard Gardner, one thing is certain: classroom environment has been a subject of teacher consciousness.”. The recent trend has been to focus on our digital environmental priorities and it would be great to re-strike the balance.

I am also learning the value of “building and CAPTURING memories” from outside the classroom environment that are “projected” back into our class-home. It’s not a foreign concept, we do it all the time in our own families; for the learning environment it is about trying to capture where we have been; camps, incursions, excursions, activities, “shared” moments, capturing “fun learning” on film to frame and display … not just for Parent Nights! I am also learning the value of having a stack of old cushions available to maximise the use of the outdoors – which students love.

Whilst most of us don’t have access to master architects; we do have some control over the shape and sensory elements of our classrooms; even if this requires some form of strategic alliance with those we share our classrooms with. These include; practical resourcing, choice of furnishing, consideration of “traffic” routes, maximising natural light, the “student’s stamp” (displayed production, evidence of visible learning (see earlier entry)), sensory considerations (e.g. access to music, multi-visuals, comfort, heating/cooling/ventilation, storage, ability for the environment to accommodate multiple “groupings”, aromatherapy (hey – why not?), use of all “levels” within the space… not just a floor plan?

Environmental considerations do not only focus on room aesthetics but on the functional operation of the classroom. A recent Washington study  (2011) focused on the role of basic resourcing (paper, pencils, room heating/cooling, ventilation, child-friendly furnishings, access to computers, musical instruments, art supplies) as a contributor to student (and teacher) mental health! The study concluded that use of space and availability of resource was a crucial factor in contributing to positive mental health in the classroom; this was defined by four components:

  • learning (e.g., attentiveness),
  • externalising problems (e.g., fights),
  • interpersonal behavior (e.g., forming friendships), and
  • internalising problems (e.g., anxiety and sadness).

I was particularly impressed with the following incidental remark;

“I think parents care a lot about their children’s mental health (their emotional and behavioral well-being) but we, as a society, don’t tend to focus on that as an important educational outcome nearly as much as we talk about and think about academic outcomes.”

A great challenge for us all.

Why Studio Schools Might Be Worth a Look!

Over the past year I have had the privilege to work in a small school in the Western Suburbs of Perth, Western Australia. It models a unique teaching and learning environment with a constructivist/nature based philosophy operating in a multi-age/multi teacher classroom. The school has ensured that all College students have opportunity to pursue their own path of academic excellence which has included WACE Courses, Nationally Accredited Certificate Courses through TAFE, Endorsed Programs and a partnership with Distance Education.

Our Workplace Learning (Careers) has been through significant change; over the past year we have sought to find the best model for authentic vocational partnerships. Last year, we stumbled across a pocket of educational brilliance that inspired us to reconsider many portions of the traditional workplace program we offered.

In 2011, STUDIO SCHOOLS were launched in Great Britain – schools (initially three) which focused around engaging students into “authentic partnerships with local businesses”. The school had an immediate and significant impact on student outcomes and in just 12 months has grown from 3 schools to over 60 with plans for the project to be available as a mainstream model for education in the UK and the full endorsement and funding of the British Government.

The more we examined this model, the more excited we became; because many of the unique features of the Studio School were already imbedded in our teaching and learning practices – Accredited Academic Excellence, Personalised curriculum, Practical based learning, Focus on Employability & Job-Readiness, Requirements for an intimate Small school setting and Student cohorts of mixed abilities.

The piece that has been missing (for many WPL programs) is the relationship with the business community. We have established some fantastic workplace learning experiences for students with some big name operators; however, the focus of these partnerships has been to meet the criteria for the accredited Workplace Learning Course. We were inspired to trial a model which gave the work placement a more “central role” by which there is a richer and more INFORMED, inter-relationship with the rest of the school curriculum.

Workplace Partnerships have GREAT potential; especially in a post compulsory education setting. They could/should offer;

  • Employer Projects that are integrated with at-school learning in partnership with the teaching staff.
  • Ongoing Mentorship and Coaching (INTER-RELATED not INDEPENDENT OF the child’s school goals).
  • Like-any-other-employee expectation (though this isn’t a unique property – it is foregrounded)
  • Paid work placements! Because payment is also an authentic part of our working life.

For example: Angela is a local business owner who runs a large furniture import & distribution business. She has expressed interest in partnering on a project with a student (Mary).

Angela prepares a brief “advertisement” for the position. Let’s say “Import Researcher”.

Mary’s first task is to apply for the position; Her Cover Letter, Resume and Selection Criteria are authentically seeking the position but also double as an assessment item for her English Course. Ideally, Mary could be interviewed and “appointed”. Mary works on her first day in the storeroom with Gavin and Doreen. Her assignment for the week is to profile the range of furniture pieces that the import company offer for distribution (these could be photographed and added to Mary’s portfolio).

Back at school, Mary researches where some of these pieces are sold in Perth and for what price. Mary is also asked to identify five places which offer similar stock pieces to Angela’s. Mary is required to produce a written report of her findings and present it to Angela and a member of her Sales team by week five.

I believe that this kind of unique partnership allows a shift in our focus from merely delivering a workplace learning ENCOUNTER to an integrated and comprehensive work-readiness program that is unique in delivery and function. A curriculum that allows us to broaden our skill development to include Communication, Relate-ability, Enterprise Planning and execution, Critical Thinking Skills and the development of Emotional Intelligence. Isn’t this what the business community SAY they want from young people emerging from the education system?

Employers have consistently raised concerns that young people are leaving education without key employability skills and a general awareness of the world of work. Many are frustrated by the failings of the traditional two-week ‘work experience’ block, and share the view that more must be done to improve the authenticity of work experience and the quality of employer engagement in education. Strong links with local employers lie at the heart of these ideas. Employability skills need to run through most aspects of our vocational curriculum, from the way students learn to the qualification and accreditation they achieve.

VET can’t remain an independent, extra-curricular consideration of our schools if we are to fairly service this growing school market. Thanks for showing us another option STUDIO SCHOOLS!