Opening our classes to colleagues for feedback opportunities

Sustainable Practice

Teaching is a profession where we can collectively agree to a vision and a set of practices that we will live by. It is also a profession where we can ‘do our own thing’ within the walls of our classrooms. As a profession we are great at giving the appearance of change whilst maintaining the status quo of established routines and norms. This is frustrating for leaders who are implementing change initiatives centred upon solid evidence of effective practice.

So how do we open our practice so that we attain a sustainable reality that meets the needs of the students we teach? By now it should be no surprise that we have a deep belief in Assessment for Learning practices. These practices are firmly entrenched in the use of quality data and analysis of this data for next learning steps. In my last post I addressed the idea of Teaching as Inquiry as a means investigating evidence based strategies in the pursuit of student achievement. For us, the answer to sustainable practice can be found in peer coaching and reflective journals.

We have a mental model that if it is good enough for students then it is good enough for teachers. If we believe that students need time to reflect and gather evidence of their learning (development) then adults need to do the same. Teachers identify their priority learners and then foreground them in their online professional journals. Next teaching steps are planned and then information gathered about how these steps have helped move the priority learners closer to their goals. This then results in an iterative inquiry based upon data.

Peer coaching and observation is a crucial component in sustaining any innovation or shift in teaching practice. Once teachers have identified next teaching or learning steps they need feedback. This comes in the form of a coach, a trusted colleague, coming in to observe the teaching. The key difference here is that the teacher seeking feedback is asking for feedback in a particular area of our assessment for learning teacher matrices. They want information so that they can reflect about what they need to next.

After the observation the coach and teacher dialogue about the data collected. It is important to note that the coach is not there to fix the teacher being observed. The coach uses facilitative questioning techniques to help the teacher come to their own insights about where next learning steps may be. These insights are recorded in professional journals and the process begins again. The data from the observations forms part of the picture and is collated in the online journal along with reflections, ideas and thoughts about next steps. These journals can be shared with colleagues so they can contribute.

This expectation that we all give and receive feedback about our teaching and learning practices ensures that there is a collective responsibility towards sustaining and improving our assessment for learning pedagogy. This shared responsibility for priority learners and their achievement ensures that we all hold ourselves to account and are always pushing ourselves to learn and teach more effectively.

Talking Data and Goals

The Road to Self-Regulation

The ultimate goal of any school should be to develop self-regulating, self-monitoring and self-motivated learners. Children who develop a capacity to ‘know what to do when they don’t know what to do.’ These broad dispositions or key competencies can be hard to measure, and in political circles can be seen as ‘soft’ data. Yet these very capabilities are what determine a child’s capacity to learn.

Data is an important aspect of the learning and teaching cycle. Professor John Hattie argues that quality data about what a child can or cannot do is extremely important in planning learning – this is common sense but too often in schools we have a preconceived notion of teaching to a standard rather than starting where children are at. An assessment for learning approach is very important for teachers and students.

New Zealand Schools are very familiar with the notion of ‘teaching as inquiry’,

New Zealand Curriculum Framework page 35
New Zealand Curriculum Framework page 35

it is an important part of our Curriculum document. In a nutshell it is an iterative cycle. The key aspect of our inquiry into practice is centred on student capability. We ask questions like…
• What is the data telling me about progress of students?
• What is the data telling me about the teaching strategies I am using?
• What does current research tell me about effective practice in this area?
• What am I going to try as a result?

At our place we gather data that gives us detailed information about what students can do, we use a rage of tools and understand that each assessment tool gives us different information. In Years 4 – 8 the use of e-asTTle assessments helps the learner to become more aware of their strengths and areas for development. Teachers and students use this data to plan their next step learning.

Teaching clinics are becoming the norm. We are encouraging students to look at their data and make choices about what teaching clinics they need in order to progress their learning. It is important to note that teachers are acutely aware of the needs of these students and if they notice that a student hasn’t self-selected a teaching clinic then they get alongside that student and have a conversation about their learning needs, suggesting they may need to attend a particular clinic. This ensures that the student is getting what they need in order to progress but also serves as a coaching conversation based upon data, thus developing their learning capacity.

This approach is grounded in valid and reliable ‘hard’ data. Yet the way we use the data develops the broader goal of self-regulation. In shifting the locus of control to the student were are developing the more important key competencies that they need in order to become life long learners. We capture this journey via our Learning Management System in our student learning journals thus giving us a window into student metacognition.

Assessment for Learning mental models drive our professional lives and our teachers are focussed upon the importance of data in everyday learning. This approach takes some time to embed yet the rewards for student and teachers are invaluable in the quest to develop self-motivated, self-monitoring, self-regulating learners.

Torres @ TED

Roselinde Torres – Leadership

Roselinde Torres asks key questions about ‘Great Leadership’ in the 21st Century Digital age…

  1. Where are you looking to anticipate change?
    • How are we expanding our horizons?
    • How do we share these insights to shape our future
  2. What is the diversity measure of your network?
    • Capacity to develop relationships with people who are different to you
    • Diverse networks create different ways of thinking
  3. Are you courageous enough to abandon the past
    • They dont talk risk taking they do it
    • They align with people who think a little differently

How can her findings be applied within the educational context to improve schooling outcomes? 

You cannot learn leadership practices in one day seminars, leadership in the 21st century is centred upon change and anticipating the landscape. Diversity of thought and action means that our leadership teams are distinct leadership units where strength is found in the diverse skills and abilities of those in the team. We need to question the status quo and not be tied to traditional models or ways of being based upon the notion of ‘that is the way we have always done it’

How does this TED Talk connect to our leadership experiences?

It is important to foster links and networks with those stakeholders in our community. It is crucial to reach out to further networks of people in the pursuit of diverse ideas – cultural, gender, thinking, business, different education thoughts and perspectives. We must encourage diverse thought and ideas amongst staff and value diverse thought in members of the BoT. We need to ensure that leadership teams have collective skill in areas of leadership across all fronts (Marzano’s 21 aspects of leadership). Upon reflection I am not averse to looking to change our current successful practice in the pursuit of better ways of doing things. I see the rise of Maker Culture and Design Thinking as the next phase of curriculum development we need to consider, yet these are not on the radar of the majority.

What are your thoughts? What resonated with you? More importantly what didn’t and why?

Reactive Tension drags us back to current reality

Learning from Robert Fritz

Dealing with difficult times during change initiatives

We have all started the year focused upon a common goal. We have had alignment conversations that enable us to contribute to the vision of our schools. We have intent and now we are in the first part of the year where our actions reflect that collective purpose.

For many of us the strategic focus of our schools is around developing an aspect of school that we want to improve. This involves investigating our current practice, reflecting upon the results and planning actions that will lead us to a desired state that aligns to our collective vision. This sounds relatively simple yet our lived lives as school leaders tell us that it is easier said than done.

Reactive Tension drags us back to current reality
Reactive Tension drags us back to current reality

According to Robert Fritz there is a structural tension in any new venture. This is the tension between the vision and current reality. Reactive tension is those thoughts and feelings that drag us back to the current reality, the “things were ok weren’t they?” or “it is really hard this new thing – I want the old way!” thoughts. A Leader focuses upon creative tension to problem solve and negotiate around hurdles and obstacles in the drive toward the vision.

We have a desired state centred around reflection and feedback in our KnowledgeNET. Our desired state is one of student, teacher, parent feedback that evolves into a reflective dialogue about current learning and what needs to happen next. Four years ago we had paper portfolios called LiPS – Learning in Progress Samples (Our LiPS tell us about learning). These were huge folders of annotated samples that went home at the end of each term and were a massive workload for teachers. Active reflection is a key component of developing self monitoring, self regulating, self motivated learners and LiPS were partly meeting these needs.

The change to KnowledgeNET was a purposeful act designed to move us away from the current reality to a place of active reflection and feedback. It was hard. There were technical issues, there were implementation issues and there were competing mental models on the nature and purpose of assessment. These issues were at all levels of the school from staff, students, parents and board members. Learning something new is always difficult and new learning should be sustainable – after all as Pascale (1990) says “ideas acquired with ease are discarded with ease.”

The formative years of KnowledgeNET implementation were constant alignment conversations as people grappled with these issues. We focused upon collaboratively solving problems around the technical issues. We were clear about the desired end state of what we wanted to achieve and proactively communicated this to all stakeholders and asked for their input toward this end. As leaders we could have said “yes you are right it is too hard” but we focussed upon creating positive dialogue around the possibilities once we nailed implementation – imagine the conversations we will have about learning, imagine the type of student this will help develop. This focus on creative tension makes our initiatives sustainable thus imbedding them in the fabric of our classrooms, schools and communities.

Teachers dialogue about practice

Starting the Year: Alignment

Putting into practice your school vision and pedagogical goals from the first day of term

The start of the new school year brings new staff, along with numerous ideas and initiatives to try and directives and targets to meet. The challenge for leaders is to ensure that this energy, passion and wealth of new ideas align with the vision and strategic direction of the school. The key to the successful implementation of any initiative, goal or strategy is alignment. Alignment of people and resources requires deliberate acts of leadership that are centred on relationships.

Shared Development Of Mental Models

As leaders our job is to ‘keep the herd heading roughly west’ (Peters & Waterman, 1982). We must be vision focussed at all times and have a clear understanding of the ‘mental models’ that are required of ourselves and others. Mental models are defined as our values, beliefs and assumptions about the world that in turn drive our actions. Alignment is a crucial mental model in any organisation – we all know that you get further if everyone is paddling in the same direction. A leader (in the broadest sense) must focus on alignment of vision to everyday practice and this occurs well before day one of term.

LoP
Vision focus for maximum leverage

Daniel Kim’s Levels of Perspective (Senge et al, 1999), provides a useful model for leaders, helping them understand how to maximise leverage by developing key mental models that play a vital role in the realisation of the school’s vision and goals.

At Taupaki we have created a vision that we aspire to, extracted core values from this vision that we live by, and set in place a development cycle that addresses the mental models necessary to live in the school of our dreams. As leaders of learning it is our collective responsibility walk the talk in our everyday interactions. The process of changing mental models takes time.

Alignment Conversations

The value of co-construction of vision, goals, targets and actions cannot be underestimated in order to generate alignment. The more people that have a hand or say in the planning phases of the school year, the greater the cohesion.

Start of year meetings need to focus on the strategic goals not administrivia! Dialogue with teachers should be alignment conversations around how they are contributing to the vision of the school and how the school will contribute to their development. These conversations are incredibly powerful in gaining insight into teacher values and beliefs as well as opportunities to coach teachers in framing an inquiry into their professional practice. We have sought to do this at Taupaki by providing adequate time and space for these conversations to happen. We have found that including teachers in the planning phases of annual targets. Our focus (target) students are identified through data analysis and then strategies are co-constructed as a staff. This fosters a mental model of achievement being a collective responsibility.

“He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata!”

What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, people, people!

Māori Whakataukī (proverb)

References

Peters, T. J. & Waterman, R. H. (1982) In search of excellence: lessons from America’s best-run companies New York: Harper and Row

Senge, P., Kleiner, A., Roberts, C., Ross, R., Roth, G., & Smith, B. (1999). The dance of change – The challenges to sustaining momentum in learning organisations: A fifth discipline resource. New York: Doubleday.

 

Great to see some Taupaki Tee Shirts too!

Mystery Teacher Only Day

I thought I would try something a little different for one of our Teacher Only Days this year. The letter I send to all staff each year details the staff only days and what we want to cover. This year it said – Mystery Day (wear comfortable shoes) and that was it. The faces when we met the day before did show a little concern. I have often said we should do Paintball as a staff, or a High Ropes course. Those words ‘Comfortable Shoes’ had some a little uncomfortable.

A clue and a Public Transport Card
A clue and a Public Transport Card

At the end of our first Teacher only day each staff member was handed an envelope containing a clue, a Public Transport Card, Inner City Map, a coloured hair tie,  some chocolate, and a Bridge Climb Bungy Jumping brochure.

I hoped people would get in the spirit of things and the next day I was pleasantly surprised. Teachers made their way via ferry, bus, train and car pool to Britomart and their morning challenge began with finding their teams.

Great to see some Taupaki Tee Shirts too!
Great to see some Taupaki Tee Shirts too!

Once all the colours were grouped the task was handed out and the Taupaki Amazing Race began. I spent the morning wandering the streets watching where the teams were heading. I saw Conga Lines formed, Busking attempted, Photos with famous people snapped, Negotiations of high vantage points for photos. I saw smiling and I saw teamwork. Everyone arrived at the first checkpoint and I was amazed at the level of competition for the trophy!

National Library of NZ Auckland
National Library of NZ Auckland

The next phase was a little more sedate – a short bus ride to the National Library for a tour and a Digital Literacy/Citizenship session with Andrew Cowie thank goodness for Bean Bags in their Modern Learning Environment as the preceding race was a little tiring. The resulting dialogue will serve to give more background to our development of digital literacy in our children.

The afternoon saw another bus ride to The MindLab where we met up with Chris Clay for some programming using Scratch, then taking the digital to the physical with MaKey MaKey musical instruments using everyday objects. The creativity of the teams was superb.

The robotics challenges really tested the logic and problem solving skills. Teachers needed to program the robot to accept bluetooth commands from a remote control to then race around the grand prix circuit.

The final challenges saw teams programming their robots to be autonomous search and rescue machines that could grid search using photo-resistors. This produced a lot of frazzled brains yet some considerable success for some teachers who had never experienced programming or robotics! After a long day we settled in for some well deserved pizza and beverages!

So why the need for Mystery?

Well – apart from the fact that I like surprises – this was a lesson in what children in class experience when they have no idea what is in store for them. As teachers we need to remember what it feels like to have someone else organise and plan your day. Some of our staff would have absolutely hated this experience! Some jumped at it, others followed along. Some withdrew, others helped. I kept people in the dark because I wanted them to experience uncertainty and confusion and not because these are bad things but because they are necessary elements in learning. This was about people working with their colleagues doing completely random things! I bet Kim and Rochelle have formed a life long bond after busking with the Fresh Prince Rap (I must get that video online!).

I hope the team enjoyed their day. There are some MaKey MaKey kits on the way thanks to the team at Mind Kits and hopefully we can get them into an outdoor maker box as well as look at an interactive sensory sculpture… more fun ahead.

 

Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand

Creative Commons and Schools

Teachers share, it is in our nature! We are always creating resources, units of learning, planning, or innovative classroom ideas. With our passion for sharing comes the flip side – our quest for ideas or resources from others so that we can tweak them for our purpose.

What most teachers do not know is that we do not own the work, resources or ideas that we produce in the course of our everyday jobs in schools. It is the intellectual property of our schools (employers). This comes as a shock, the idea that we cannot legally share our work without the express permission of our School Boards.

This really wasn’t too much of an issue in pre-internet times but in a world of hyperconnectivity we need to be very aware of intellectual property rights in our everyday actions.

In 2013 we adopted a creative commons licensing approach to intellectual property produced in our school. Our teachers were sharing more on more resources online and connecting with a great many schools who were visiting us. It would have been a nightmare to seek permission from the board, more likely the school principal, every time a teacher or student wanted to share information.

A discussion paper gave enough background and information for the Board to see the need to move to this form of attribution. Key drivers in this decision were links we made to our vision in terms of collaboration and connectivity, as well as the advent of the Network for Learning.

The next step for us is to ensure that all resources we produce have an attached license. We also need to be proactive in collaboration by posting and sharing resources via WikiEducator. This will be a slow journey as moving to something new or different requires attention to changing our mental models. In order for sustainable change we must remember that slow is better.

For schools thinking about Creative Commons licensing have a look at this presentation Creative Commons for more information. Matt McGregor from Creative Commons Aotearoa is a great contact to make. If you are connected via twitter contact Matt via @CC_Aotearoa. Connect with other NZ educators who are committed to Creative Commons Mark Osborne, Andrew Cowie, Claire Amos or Otago based guru and champion of Open Education Resources Wayne Mackintosh.

With the Network for Learning Portal just around the corner school leaders need to revisit their intellectual property documentation. Creative Commons in Schools isn’t about abdicating responsibility and a copy anything approach. It is about acknowledgement, respect and attribution where the license is determined by the creators of amazing information, resources and ideas within our schools.

20100915 019

E is for effective

e-Learning is a recurrent theme in my recent presentations and discussions with visitors to Taupaki School. 21st century learning dominates conversations. We end up talking gadgets or apps and how to get teachers using them. When we get down to the nuts and bolts it really is about effective teaching and learning not the gadget or app!

OHP

I like to use an example from when I was a primary school student in the 1980′s The gadget – The Overhead Projector.

Most teachers thought – ‘Great I can write all the content for the class once, next year I use it again!’ I was lucky to have a teacher who used the OHP for the first Powerpoint I had seen – he used multiple transparency sheets to display the parts of a volcano. He then let us use the OHP to create shadow puppet plays. SAMR that! He thought of every creative way he could use that device – he failed, he redesigned and tried again! A quality example of learning. The point of the story is that the technology, the gadget or the app isn’t the silver bullet!

We often think that we need to ‘Professionally Develop’ teachers to get them ‘up to speed’ with technology. Do we need time set aside to allow teachers to play with the technology? Perhaps we need school cultures where risk-taking and mistake making extend to teachers. We definitely need to have a collective mental model that we need not be experts in order to use technology with kids.

I am often asked what is the killer app or device. The answer is very simple  there is one killer app in our schools – A thinking teacher who adapts to change by using the technology of the day effectively.

Big-Picture-TP-Pink

What is the residue?

After the last post about impending league tables I thought that I would post an article I wrote for the Teachers Matter magazine produced by the talented Karen Boyes @karenboyes from Spectrum Education.

The article, written in 2008, tried to capture the opportunity of a New National Curriculum in New Zealand. It talks a little about change and a lot about the role of the teacher. How does this article sit in 2012? Interested in your thoughts.
What is the residue?
It never ceases to amaze me the range of responses we have to change. In fact the one certainty in our lives is just that, change. But how do we handle it? Where do we pick up the skills to deal with change? Is it largely to do with your outlook on life; the age-old adage of the glass being half empty or half full? Consider the following stereotypical responses to the Revised New Zealand Curriculum that I am sure you have all heard to varying degrees.
 
“We live in exciting times, we are at the cutting edge of education change. We have a revised curriculum that focuses on Vision, Values and Key Competencies. We are jumping for joy that the word ‘Thinking’ appears in our guiding document at the top of a list of capabilities for living and lifelong learning. We are pioneers, constructing a framework that will allow our children to thrive in a rapidly changing world.”
 
“We have seen it before, change for change sake. What, a revised curriculum? We never paid attention to the last one! Can’t we just do what we have always done? We really haven’t got time for this in our busy lives. Thinking you say, we have always taught our kids to think, we give our bright kids all those thinking skill things when they have finished their real work.”
 
The New Zealand Curriculum Vision talks about our young people being confident, connected, actively involved lifelong learners. Words like creative, energetic and enterprising sit side by side with resilient, resourceful and motivated. Our challenge is to model these very attributes in front of our students. Energetic, enthusiastic educators who model the NZC vision, values and key competencies is what our children need in their lives.
 
Whenever I think about the role of enthusiasm and passion for learning in schools I reflect upon a conference I attended a few years ago where the keynote speaker crystallised my thoughts in a very public way. In his opening address he asked how many principals in the room were tired. A number of principals put up their hands. Then came the killer line… “Well then perhaps it is time to retire and let the energetic, enthusiastic people take over.” Whilst harsh and hard hitting it is true, schools are not the right place for those who have lost their spark. But rather than weeding out the unenthusiastic and tired people we have to find new ways to reignite the passion, perhaps one way to do this is the notion of legacy. What is your legacy?
 
Someone once said to me that it is not what you teach it is how you teach it that will be remembered. Perhaps I am lucky that I had teachers as I was growing up who, whether they knew this or not, demonstrated this very point. What I value today is a result of how my teachers taught. Mr Kay taught me about persistence through Sport. Mrs Nicholls taught me about the joy of Music. Mr Thornewell taught me about curiosity, about questioning, he left with me a love of learning and most importantly he taught me about enthusiasm. At Intermediate Mrs Gribble taught me that looking at things from a different perspective opens up a range of new ideas and possibilities. At High School Mr Staniland, Mr White and Mr Druitt showed an enthusiasm and a passion for their given subject areas that was infectious. I must have learned all the other stuff, the ‘what’ of their teaching.  But it is definitely the how that is their legacy and it remains with me.
 
Currently we are grappling with curriculum change and the notion of explicitly teaching thinking and learning dispositions. We have schools adopting wonderful programmes like Costa’s Habits of Mind and Claxton’s Building Learning Power that build a child’s capacity to be successful in a rapidly changing world. How many of us model these dispositions? If we really think they are important for children to have, how are we using them successfully in our personal and professional lives? Dr John Edwards uses the example of de Bono’s six thinking hats tool. Lots of people use it in classes but how many of us use it in making decisions about the future direction of our schools, our lives? If not why teach it?
 
So how do you stack up? What will the children of today say about how you taught them when they think back on their schooling… will how you taught be remembered at all? What will the residue be in 5, 10 or 20 years? Will they be reflective thinkers because you have explicitly modelled this in your classroom? Will they have an enthusiastic outlook on life because you were energetic about all that you did with them. Will they be creative because you allowed them the freedom to step outside the square more often than not? Will they love life and all it has to offer because you showed them something about your life outside of school. Will they treat others with dignity and respect because you walked the talk?
 
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your glass, you can’t hide from the children you teach… they watch you, they pick up on your values, on your beliefs. You know from your own life experience that teachers leave a legacy, so why not leave a powerful one for your students.
At the time we were looking at a new curriculum – I was excited. A lot has changed for us since then – but let us all remember the New Zealand Curriculum Document is still our guiding document it should drive our decision making, it should give us direction. Or are we doomed to only deliver and measure what is assessed as, after all, what you assess is what you deem to be important.

Leading Learning in a Digital Age