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.

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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)

 

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:

 

Cultural Capital or Culture Clash?

Whether it is wise to write a blog immediately after attending a fantastic Professional Development session; I don’t know. BUT… I am throwing caution to the wind (BEFORE I return to the classroom) to jot a few thoughts down about today’s (grossly under-populated) experience with Mark Church on MAKING THINKING VISIBLE. Mark is the co-author (with Ron Ritchhart & Karin Morrison) of a newly released book by the same name (some core resources from the research/book are available at www.pz.harvard.edu/vt)

I was particularly engaged with the challenge to investigate the “culture” of our classrooms. Mark drew the analogy that walking into a classroom (or indeed any SCHOOL) is like walking into a new country; we are immediately bombarded with new sensory experiences, we quickly ascertain what kind of learning and teaching is privileged, what activities and actions are rewarded or rebuked, how ‘mistakes’ are managed/dealt with. Like the sights and sounds of a new country – we quickly draw conclusions; many of which are long-standing and most acutely accurate!

  • Do we develop group culture?
  • How do we make THINKING (intrinsically “invisible”)… VISIBLE?
  • What do we want the children we teach to be like when they are adults?
  • Does our classroom culture reflect healthy social, emotional, cognitive, spiritual and functional dispositions?
  • What is the “story” of our classrooms? Does it reflect the learning we enjoyed (or despised) in our OWN educational journey?

I’m sure that Mark would be horrified by my butchering of his content into a bite-sized, take home pack! Sorry Mark! The truth is after immersion in self-reflection on the values that we see communicated through our classrooms/schools – we were better positioned to answer the two cornerstone questions;

  • What is learned here? AND
  • What is learned ABOUT LEARNING here?

With the political mandates dictating the direction of our curriculum it is easy to see how many classrooms are a story of WORK rather than a story of LEARNING… as Mark put it; “Curriculum has become a mile wide and an inch deep”. I didn’t find the session a “preach” against these curriculum initiatives; in fact the focus was more directed to the fact that Testing, Curriculum and Syllabus are all delivered WITHIN the context of the CULTURES we DO control (e.g. modelling, environment, expectations, behaviour, interactions, relationships, structures, opportunities, language and allocation of time).

The methods and routines suggested to make thinking visible are best packaged by the team themselves but I can highly recommend the book (complete with DVD) and the website (noted in my first paragraph) as a source for unpacking these strategies.

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.

Education Revolution ICT Teacher Training Package

Summary of a Media Release from the office of Peter Garrett (29th October, 2010)

ICT Innovation Fund Projects: Teaching Teachers for the Future – $7.8M “Teachers who are expert users of ICT will assist universities to update teaching courses, so that new teachers have the necessary skills to incorporate the use of ICT in their classrooms.”

Teacher Online Toolkit – $825,000 ‘development and trialling of seven online teaching packages which will show teachers how they can incorporate the use of ICT in everyday learning, with a focus on elements of the Australian Curriculum.”

Anywhere, Anytime Teacher Professional Learning – $5.4M (NSW) Ensuring that teachers in rural and regional areas have access to the same ICT resources as teachers in urban areas. “..implemented nationally in the future”.

Leading ICT Learning – $2.08M “This project from Principals Australia will provide a single online portal through which principals can access expert ICT advice and tools as well as network with other principals. The portal will help principals to better plan the use of ICT in their school and the ICT professional development of their teachers.”

Full details – Please click on the picture