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.

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

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:

 

Secret Mums on “POSITIVE” Business … OR … Engaging Our Parents in the Learning Partnership

IMG_7407

I hope you don’t mind my indulgence. It has been a fantastic few weeks at our little school. We have been running an intimate and innovative program for our Middle School girls (aged between 11 and 14).

These are confronting years for our young ladies and we have identified the need to focus on our girls in this age range. Families are needing support to cope as their girls deal with the new pressures of adolescence; confidence issues, body image and representations of beauty, healthy attitudes to food and exercise, complicated relationships (parents, “other girls”, and attraction/s to others) as well as the stresses of school, building success and coping with the technological presence of social and electronic media. It is no surprise that anxiety and stress are a growing community issue.

If our young people don’t have the tools to deal with these issues, they are simply not in a position to be able to learn.

The Middle School team consulted and researched widely to target a program that would offer the girl’s the confidence to address these issues within the school environment. Staff worked to collate a library of POSITIVE centred readings, video clips, podcasts, songs, feature articles and short stories centred around the themes we had identified and addressed POSITIVE solutions to HELP Girls… Kaz Cooke, Maggie Dent (our patron), the “Dove” media packages offered some great provocations;  as well as best practice readings from Relationships Australia and other professional support organisations.

resourcesThese “readings” have been broken into five weekly reading packages which will be delivered as a “girls only” group in a fully integrated English program. We have secretly employed the mums who also completed the reading program, complete with homework for Mum AND daughter.

Mother and daughter study, discuss, read and reflect on the weekly readings TOGETHER before they come to school to share their thoughts with their “Reading Circles” group.  The package integrates perfectly with English, Health, Electives, Zentangles and our Girls group and is informed by the pastoral care focus we have throughout the school.

The series culminated today (Friday the 6th June) with a special surprise event! The girl’s arrived to find all their mothers AT SCHOOL accompanied by our special guest; Kate Wilson – our amazing “spoken Word Poet” – a passionate young lady who has much to say about the issues we are addressing. You can view a sample of her work at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rK46nILY-rw – she was truly MAGICAL!

Most significantly – each mother shared about a moment from their own childhood where they had to face a challenge lead to a POSITIVE; something that was special to all of the girls – they were invited to present their snapshot through a medium of their choice; a dance, a song, a poem, a story but REAL and from the heart.

They also gave their daughter a handwritten letter in which they communicated and celebrated the BEAUTY they see in their daughter.

We are sold on the belief that schools must work with parents in partnership toward developing our young people – not JUST in an academic program but multi-elementally. We are excited that our school has been in an intimate position to RESPOND to the needs of our children in partnership with our wonderful community.

Poetry Slams It!

slam poetry

I have a confession. Even though I am an English teacher; I have struggled to teach and celebrate some poetic forms. (I will spare you my list of 1,000 exceptions which spring to mind as I am typing). I do; however, love teaching the DEVICES of the poet! We were very blessed recently to have access to the wonderful “Spoken Word Poet”, Kate Wilson (you can see her blog here: http://www.kwpoet.blogspot.com.au/).

Kate’s quiet demeanor coupled with her passionate and genuine enthusiasm was impossible to avoid. Far from being the Drama Queen; Kate delivered with the right balance of humility and substance. As a group of teachers (we really are the toughest of classes) we were inspired by our visitor’s ability to scaffold the delivery of poetic devices within our workshop and season with a wide range of her self-composed morsels (and examples from the best in the field of modern “Slam Poets”).

More importantly, Kate got us WRITING. Individual, small group, large group … WRITING. The groups were “popping” with puns, lyrics, stretched metaphors and beat-box-beats – WRITING but from the platform of speaking and listening (nice).

Since this is MY blog, I will share a couple of our “small group’s efforts”, based on the tasks we were assigned 🙂

TASK / INSPIRATION: An Apple and a Shakespearian Parody?

When I shall die,

Take me out and pluck my seed from my rosy flesh of little stars,

And I will grow to see the face of heaven.

The world will make love beneath my canopy,

And carve their names in my flesh.

Pay no worship for the garnish of my sister fruit,

For when my children fall to the earth .

I will rise again!

 

We also enjoyed Kate’s “pun” activity. We were assigned the word “Bread” and had to make as many puns in a short-story as possible… can you count them?

A SLICE OF LIFE

My uncle, Brian Free, was an in-bred Tasmanian farmer. What a delight! Tip-Top Baker but he didn’t always make the crust, many said he was half-baked; going against the grain and rubbing people the wrong way.

He fell in love with an organic, wholemeal hippie-girl from Rye. It wasn’t long before she had a bun in the oven and she agreed to marry him because she loved the way he rolled. In all, they had five flour-children … Yeast-Free, Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Nut-Free, and a son blessed from another relationship.

We don’t want to put a damper on our story but Brian became a dough-bludger; taking Abbott’s bread. It’s a sad slice of life.

 

Ultimately, there is a lot to take back to the classroom!

Happy Birthday

It has now been one year since the launch of WA Teachers’ Lounge. In addition to moving the apostrophe to the correct location in the title, the site has been a conduit for my own learning and reflection.

The Facebook Page now has 270 followers and the WA Teachers’ Lounge website has had over 5,000 hits from its 52 posts.

It was interesting to see what stirred discussion and debate. The post on Student Learning and the two posts on Professional Learning Communities Part I / Part II, have been, by far, the most popular (over 1,000 reads) – perhaps only read by university students who needed a quick quote? I hope not.

Thank you for your loyalty to the website and the facebook page, I hope you will find it a great ongoing source of current news and views for your own knowledge and professional development. If you find a gem here now and then, please tell other WA Teachers about the site.