Innovation

Innovation – fresh initiatives through creative means

If we are really honest with ourselves our schools haven’t really changed a great deal since the idea of compulsory schooling began. We are all aware of the numerous ‘21st Century Learning’ presenters who talk about 19th Century production line education turning our standardised products for the industrial age. Trying to break free from the constraint of established buildings, systemic structures and engrained mental models of how things should be done can be a challenge.

Having fresh ideas and new ways of doing things can be challenging to established norms but necessary if we are going to progress learning to the ideals espoused by many proponents of 21st Century Education. One of the stumbling blocks to innovation is the notion of Best Practice. This very idea that there is one state or way to do things is from a stance of a Fixed Mindset (Dweck, 2012). Sometimes the pursuit of ‘Best Practice’ can be to the detriment of ‘Better Practice’. An iterative, growth mindset approach leads to better practice.

Innovation for us is all about deepening our pursuit of effective learning. Over the years we have implemented many innovative ideas including Student Led Conferencing, Bring Your Own Browser, Robotics, Coding, 3D printing, e-textiles, student driven timetables and maker culture. All these ideas have come from being connected to others, professional reading, and conference attendance. These initiatives have (or currently) started small in a trial environment before slowly scaling them up. Enabling teachers to connect and share via social media (especially Twitter) and face to face encounters provides a rich source of ideas, energy and enthusiasm from a variety of places and industries. As leaders we need to model the use of these vehicles for sharing ideas.

It is vitally important that innovation is a not linked to one individual, it needs to be part of the culture. This year we established an innovation team who are charged with finding new practices that will align with our school vision and deepen our understanding of effective learning. This team is lead by two teachers and has a voluntary component to the team composition. The team is not limited to teachers – board members, parents, scientists, IT brains, business people are welcome. The leaders of the team are given one management unit each ($4000) to coordinate the ideas, generate feedback loops and plan next iterations. The innovation team leaders report to the Leadership Team about their progress and thinking. As principal it is my job to coach these leaders in how we package and implement these new ideas in a way that will get maximum buy in and engagement from the school community.

Staffie
Staffie coding session

A very recent outcome from the Innovation team is the ‘Staffie’ – a regular voluntary gathering of staff in an ‘unconference’ approach where we learn from each other. This was the result of our innovation leaders attending numerous educampsunconferences and non-edu events that highlight our belief that the knowledge is in the room. Innovation, and therefore better practice, starts with an inquiring teacher given permission to think, act, reflect, re-design and share.

Acknowledgements

Image Source http://pixabay.com/p-223322/?no_redirect Author: geralt

References

Dweck, C. S. (2012). Mindset: How you can fulfil your potential. [eBook version]. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com

Vision driven practice is paramount

Staying true to the Vision

If there is one thing that teachers can all agree on it is that daily life in our schools is incredibly busy! We have demands from a wide range of sources. There are initiatives a plenty out there tempting us. There are the flyers that come across our desks advertising a programme or a one off course. There are mandated changes at a department or system wide level that have an impact upon the way we live and learn in all our schools. In previous posts I have addressed the need for a strong vision, this takes care of these temptations. We ask do these opportunities align with where we are going? If they do we jump on them if not we stay true to the direction we have set.

There needs to be a  discipline of assessing, monitoring and managing potential threats to the realisation of our educational vision. We need to manage this risk and as leaders are the gatekeepers who can deflect a lot of the distraction from the classrooms. As leaders we need to be wary of the temptations of Ministry or Department level offers and how these will play out in our schools. What we as leaders do in the face of these external temptations acts as a cue for our teachers. If our staff see that we are true to the vision, goals and plans we have set for the school then teachers will be more steadfast in their resolve to fulfil the vision at an operational level. Regular ongoing review with an iterative, action oriented approach enables us as leaders to look at our capacity to fulfil our goals.

But how do we check that our vision is being realised each and everyday. Are we agile enough to make changes if our plans and methods are not meeting the outcomes we hope for? These are the threats that can sneak up on us and stop us from making the progress that we desire. As our schools are about student achievement (I mean this in the broadest sense) it is really important to have the finger on the pulse. This relies on good systems for gathering data.

In our place we track our priority learners (students we have identified as needing to make shifts in achievement as a matter of urgency) on a regular basis. Teachers meet in their teams to dialogue where the children are at and their plans for how to take these students to the next level. Teachers identify barriers, additional strategies or support that may be required. These plans are shared in their online ‘teaching as inquiry’ reflective journals. The leadership team look at data trends and identify areas of effective practice so that we can learn from success and spread the knowledge to other areas of the school. Th Board of Trustees have also adopted a Governance as Inquiry approach in order to stay true to the intent of our vision (Read more in Paula Hogg’s posts Gov as Inq 1, Gov as Inq 2 and Gov as Inq 3).

Whilst this approach is aimed at priority learners it has an impact on all students in the school as our teachers are becoming more reflective about their impact in student learning. Our leadership challenge is to create more time and opportunity for teachers to reflect on what they do to meet the goals of the school each and every day.

 

Acknowledgements

Image Source http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Blueye.JPG Author: 8thStar

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.

Leading Learning in a Digital Age