Agency – Student Driven Learning

If you walk into JJ Purton Jones’ room you will see students doing a whole lot of different things at the same time. There are some students working on their reading, others are tackling maths and then a few more writing. In fact each and everyone of them could be working on something different. Visitors often comment “where is the teacher?”

Agency for us is an extension of Assessment for Learning Practices. Our primary goal is to shift the locus of control from adult to student. This has been a long journey for us that started with the work that Evaluation Associates did before I started in 2006. Since then we have used Formative Practice as the umbrella for all our professional learning. Teachers regularly use the Evaluation Associates Teacher Competency Matrix to plan their next steps, they gather data and iterate new actions to move toward enabling students to make decisions about their learning.

Some people would say that JJ’s class looks like a free for all and that there is an absence of teaching. If you spend time watching and listening to the children talk about what is happening then you would realise that there is a lot of teaching, it is not necessarily just from the teacher. You see to run a class this way takes an organised on to it teacher and is actually a lot harder than a regular teacher led classroom.

The students have good data and the teacher can structure teaching clinics that students opt into around this data. The beauty of the way things run in JJ’s class is when the students say “I’ll run a teaching clinic Miss PJ!”

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Each and every student can explain what they are doing in their ILPs (Individual Learning Plans), more importantly they can tell you why they have scheduled their timetable in that way. But it gets better…

JJ runs an Adventure learning time, an extension of Google 20% time. Again some people see this as a teacher opting out of teaching. Yet the rigour is amazing! I recall a student coming to my office and saying “Mr L, do you have the NZ Curriculum” to which I handed over my copy… she then said “I need another 26 because we want to map our Adventure Learning back to the curriculum documents”

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I cannot wait to see what these students with a great sense of autonomy and agency do this year.

See what Steve Wheeler said about the innovative learning in JJ’s class or read Jenny Magiera’s blog on undiluted student agency

The Power of KiwiFoo – expanding horizons

In 2013 I was lucky enough to receive an email from a guy called Nat Torkington. It was an invitation to attend something called KiwiFoo. After a bit of investigating I accepted the offer. The general consensus from people was that if you get an invite to KiwiFoo camp you drop everything and just say yes.

What followed was a mind expanding weekend of listening and dialoguing with the most diverse and amazing brains. There were sessions about the role of media, blue sky discussions about where we wanted to be in the future, and we even built a hovercraft out of a leaf blower.

The beauty of the weekend is it is an unconference. A co-constructed gathering where the knowledge is in the room. After that weekend my mind was buzzing with ideas and more importantly connections. It made me realise that there is so much to learn from people who have absolutely nothing to do with education and those very people can learn much from us.

I was lucky enough to get invited back in 2014 and it was an even better experience. I met so many talented people and even more connections were made. Nat and Jenine run an amazing weekend and the people who attend are just amazing. A two year run is about the most you can hope for.

This weekend is KiwiFoo15 and I am not there, but what is even better is that three people from Taupaki School got an invite to attend. Kim Baars, JJ Purton Jones and Paula Hogg will be having the same mind explosions about know. The challenge for me is to harness the energy of Foo with these three upon their return.

Sometimes people question why they get an invite to something like KiwiFoo. People get the invite because they are doing awesome things. If you ever get an email from Nat inviting you to Foo don’t question why just say yes!

Modelling a Growth Mindset

We want our kids to understand that learning isn’t easy. It is a challenging activity, it causes a great deal of head scratching and it requires risk taking.

We talk as a staff about ‘The Pit’ and what we go through when we try something new. Our class windows and walls are adorned with pits and the associated resources that children have created to help them get out and experience the ecstasy of success.

This morning Meredith Bladen’s class were leading assembly and they walked us through their learning pits. Meredith works very hard to establish a growth mindset culture. It was great to see the children showing their hand drawn graphs with notes and reflections, with actions and emotions all mapped. I have asked Meredith to blog about this but she is a little shy – please tweet her and ask her to write about how she uses learning pits.

Room 7 kids presenting their reflections in the Pit
Room 7 kids presenting their reflections in the Pit

Earlier in the assembly I had talked about one of my faulty learning habits that I was trying to get over… I mentioned how impressed I was that the school always uses NZ Sign Language as they sing the National Anthem and that I feel a little embarrassed about not getting things right so I don’t give it a go. I asked the assembly what I could do … After a couple of weeks in, I was amazed at the response from children of all ages.

In response to a middle school child saying that I should just ask for help I asked for help. At lunchtime today I had a string of children waiting to help me. One 5 year old simply said just copy the You Tube clip. This was met with a year 3 response of “yeah he could do that but it is always much better when you learn with someone else.” So for the next 10 minutes I learned and practised with these kids who had given up their lunchtime to help me out. The bell went and they were gone leaving me basking in the glow of that Year 3 child’s response. It was priceless and I was left thinking how lucky that child was to have teachers who model a growth mindset and help their students articulate effective learning strategies and dispositions.

As leaders in schools (And I mean leaders in the broadest possible sense) it is our responsibility to model these behaviours to our children. It is our responsibility to think aloud, to share our thought processes so that our children know that learning is a challenge, we never stop doing it and that we can always get better with practise and support from the collective group.

We are more intelligent when we use our extended networks.

 

Make Club Arrives

One of my biggest fears before make club was that we would have more adults than children. You see I broke the soft launch rule! In struggling for a #28daysofwriting topic I wrote about Make Club. Now that combined with a little twittervertisement caused a bit of a flutter and I had a worry that we would have a couple of kids and lots of adults.

Was I wrong!

A full house for Make Club Debut
A full house for Make Club Debut

A jam packed room and two teachers leading parallel sessions in scratch and tinkercad. Yes pretty basic to start with but if you want to get into some MakeyMakey you need some basic Scratch. If you want to get into rapid prototyping you need some CAD. We had parents and students shoulder to shoulder learning together.

One of the best things that principals experience are the moments when staff shine. Now Make Club is the result of hard work by Kimberly Baars and Paula Hogg but today Kate Davison shone! Her attention to detail her and her preparation was superb. Guiding children  aged 8 – 13 (and their parents) to create a multi-level maze game in under an hour was absolutely masterful. There was support for those who needed it and challenge for those who were getting hang of things. I saw success, I saw laughter and I saw sharing.

a maze game in scratch
a maze game in scratch

We made sure that toward the end of the session that the two groups shared their learning with each other. We then gathered feedback from the kids about what they liked and what would make it more awesome next time.

Now we want sustainability, and the test will be who comes back next week. But judging by the feedback and excitement in the room I think there will a number of kids back. We are in this for the long haul, this club isn’t a flash event designed to ignite imagination. This make club is a long term investment in sustained imagination, creativity and making.

pondering the feedback
pondering the feedback

Well done to the team from Ministry of Make – I can’t wait for next Thursday!

Taking your community with you…

This #28daysofwriting piece is at the end of a school day just before dinner in the staffroom as we have our ‘meet the teacher evening’ tonight.

We have bombarded our parents with texts and email reminders as most of our parents know us. It is really important to get the community together so that we can talk about what school means to us. It is vitally important that we have alignment and that the parent body are with us.

One of the biggest issues schools face is that everyone is an expert about how schools run. This is due to the fact that we have all been to school and enjoyed it – hated it – endured it – regretted it – loved it – never left – never want to go back… the experiences are so different. Yet each of these experiences shape our mental models of what school should be like.

The stock standard line we often hear in our jobs is “School wasn’t like this in my day, it has all changed!” Well some of us would argue that it hasn’t changed enough and any changes that have actually happened are pretty surface level.

Tonight I am tackling this with the parents from the point of view of of course things have changed – would you expect your Doctor to treat you the same way as they did twenty years ago? The key driver for this mental model at the moment is the proliferation of 1:1 devices and schools asking kids to BYOD. So tonight I want to reaffirm our position on BYOB (yes B) and then address the age old issue of what about reading, writing and maths.

Literacy and Numeracy are still the basics yet the medium or context for them is shifting. Our children are in a digital world. The parents may prefer to curl up with a good book by the fire but the children may choose to flip electronic pages.

Tonight I have set up a padlet wall so that parents can ask questions. I want to show them the power of technology to provide voice because I guarantee you that parents, just like kids, have a fear of asking questions in public. I have emailed the link to everyone, printed off QR codes so they have access from their devices (yes so two years ago!) and embedded the wall on our caregiver page. I have primed the staff to try and answer questions on the wall while I am presenting. I have absolutely no idea how this will go. But let’s take a risk…

The standard you walk past…

I picked up rubbish today and as soon as I did there were 6 pairs of hands flocking to help me – without having to say a word.

A couple of years ago we had a visit from some Australian colleagues to look at how we used our learning management system. When people visit our place we believe that you take us as you find us. As we were walking around the school I bent down to pick up some litter. One of the visitors mentioned that he had recently seen a piece by an Australian military leader, Lieutenant General David Morrison, on Youtube that was full of amazing quotes especially this one…

The standard you walk past is the standard you accept

It is a catchy phrase that really caught my imagination as it resonated with a fundamental mental model I have around walking the talk. It is a phrase that has stuck with me and I find myself repeating it to staff and to students. It can be used on so many levels but to me hits at the heart of personal responsibility and moral courage.

Our visitor commented that it was nice to see the principal bend down to pick up litter and that this very act speaks more to others than telling children to pick up their rubbish. It is true. Children are the best double standard detectors as they are always watching and effective teachers know that. We are always on show!

Now this is a handy phrase to use with kids but what standards do we walk past in relation to our professional lives and interactions? What actions do we deem acceptable due to the lack of moral courage when we are in situations that require someone to speak up? I applaud Lieutenant General David Morrison when he spoke about people who have difficulty upholding the shared values of the organisation “if you don’t like them (the values) then leave” This took me back to a couple of conversations in my leadership career that have opened with the following statement…

“could you remind me why we are paying you a salary to undermine and subvert the work we have agreed to do as a school…”

So what standards do we walk past? I know I walk past some… I sometimes think “Is that a hill I am going to die on today?” But in doing so am I condoning and indeed reinforcing that very behaviour or action?

Moral courage… I must ponder what I can see myself walking past and better still gather data from those who see me walking past things!

Framing a Leadership Inquiry

Principal Appraisal can be seen as a series of hoops to jump through. Lots of boxes to tick and indicators for which to provide evidence. The business as usual stuff with a couple of Performance Objectives and a development objective thrown in. Pretty soon you can find yourself just producing information to maintain a status quo.

The past couple of years have felt like I have been jumping through hoops. I was filling boxes because there was space to be filled. This occurred despite me leading a push to deepen our teaching as inquiry and separate attestation from appraisal that was linked to inquiry into assessment for learning practices.

After a great conversation with my BoT chairperson about the feelings we both shared about going through the motions we managed  see a way forward, a different way, opting for depth rather than shotgun coverage. Framing a leadership inquiry that hits at the heart of our school. An inquiry into collaboration.

We talk a lot about collaboration but what does that look like in our place. What does collaboration look like for and between teachers, students, parents and the wider community. How deep does collaboration go? Are we collaborative or collegial, perhaps even just congenial? More to the point how do our systemic structure with contribute to collaboration or act as barriers? I hope that the result of the inquiry will lead to what collaboration could be.

So the challenge is to find external sources who would contribute to the inquiry in a challenging and rigorous way. We had a really good meeting today with someone that may just fit the bill. Someone who will question, challenge and probe in a manner that extends my thinking and in turn my capacity to lead sustained iterative inquiry. I am looking forward to viewing the proposal later this week.

The Expertise Gap

Have you ever observed in another classroom and thought that there is absolutely no way I’ll ever be able to replicate that? Do you remember watching a talented mentor pick the perfect moment to  ask just the right question to student? Did you then think how on earth did they do that?

I remember watching my Tutor Teacher Mrs Jane Mackie with a sense of wonderment and awe. She seemed to be able to know exactly what each student needed by simply looking at the whites of their eyes. I knew there must have been more to it than that. She must have been so well prepared, planned to the hilt. She must have anticipated every possible situation in her head and then planned a suitable response. She was an expert teacher. When I asked her how she did I was surprised to hear that she hadn’t spent 4 hours planning that lesson. When I pushed further she really couldn’t help me step through the process or provide me with a recipe.

I was a bit slow on the uptake and I really only understood the reason for Jane saying ‘I just know, it’s hard to explain’ when John Edwards and Bill Martin of the OUREducation Network introduced me to the Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition. There was a lightbulb moment. I was an absolute novice and she was an expert.

Dreyfus model of skill acquisition. Image from John Edwards, Bill Martin OUREducation Newtork
Dreyfus model of skill acquisition. Image from John Edwards, Bill Martin OUREducation Newtork

Jane had developed Personal Practical Knowledge that allowed her to make decisions based upon the context and the situation. As a new teacher I was reliant on rules to govern my decisions and actions. I needed lots of – if this then that – thinking.

We all experience being a novice when we do something new or start in a new place or position. I was a novice principal, I relied on rules and regulations to drive my work. I was always consulting what the policy says. Again I had an expert mentor principal who had left me scratching my head thinking how does she do that? Right now I would say I am pretty proficient but I know that if I got another principal’s position I would be an absolute novice in that position.

Knowing this, why do we pair novice teachers with expert mentors? Are we setting them up for the “I can’t possibly do all those things” moment that causes nagging doubts about their aptitude for the job?

The Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition is the reason we try to (within the constraints of a small school) partner teachers with 3 – 4 years of experience with those who are beginning their career. The advanced beginner or proficient people know what it is like being in the novices shoes. They make great tutor teachers as they have recent memory of things that the experts have long since forgotten.

‘Plain Language’ Education

One of the great things about the #28daysofwriting is reading what other people have to say. There is a lot that resonates in the hash tag, but this is also one of the dangers. If we keep reading stuff we agree with we will never really explore the reasons why we don’t agree with different points of view. Dissonance leads to clarity of our mental models as we mould and shape what we assume and believe to be true.

Steve Mouldy writes great stuff. His piece for Day 6 of #28daysofwriting centred around an experience he had where a group of teachers were banned from using education buzz words. Anyone who was caught using the buzzword had to put a token in the fine jar. I thought finally I can disagree with Mouldy about something! Banning professional language at an e-fellows retreat? Let me hoe into that one! Would doctors talking with other doctors substitute specific words in an effort to eliminate ‘jargon’? Do lawyers use less precise language so that everyone gets the general idea – not very lawyer-like.

Now I am not suggesting that teachers are in the same league as Doctors after all they save lives, teachers just mould, guide and inspire them. But really, if we are having professional conversations should we not use professional language? Now I am taking Steve’s post literally and he does make a killer point in that everyone has such different ideas of what the buzzwords mean that there is confusion. So let’s have those discussions. Let’s talk about what agency means to us, let’s get it clear in our heads what it looks like, sounds like and feels like. Let us define it so that we can applaud it when we see it and go ‘that ain’t agency’ when it is passed off as such before our eyes. After all if we can’t decide as a profession then how can we talk with our communities?

Is this the rationale for plain language reporting to parents? At what point do we say, ‘hold on what I am trying to explain requires precise language’. Isn’t our job to educate, can we not use the language and bring our parents along with us so that they can use the language that teachers and students share? Does watering down a statement add to comprehension or merely consign it to a sea of sameness.

Long live precise, clearly defined and understood jargon.

Make Club – a debut

I am looking forward to the opening of our Make Club on Thursday 12 February for a number of reasons. I have long been a proponent of schools and communities using facilities outside of the regular 9am – 3pm day.

analogue and digital meet
analogue and digital meet

Make club is a mid-term event in the bigger journey of turning our technology centre into a community maker facility that is open 24/7. Make Club will be open to students, parents, teachers and any adult who likes to tinker, build, create, make and more importantly share knowledge.

We have had an amazing response after informing our community, with numerous people wanting more information and asking if children can come along. This is fantastic, not just for the fact that we will have lots of minds to set free but because of one of our founding principles for Make Club. All kids who attend must bring a parent/caregiver. You see Make Club isn’t a glorified after school care programme where you pay your money and leave. We believe that parents and kids creating and learning together can’t be a bad thing.

This club is also open to teachers. Teachers who want to learn about new technologies. Teachers can join in and learn alongside others and it is an extension of our experiment with ‘Staffies’ last year. Teachers have an amazing capacity to see an idea and then just run with it. We have all experienced a time when we have sparked of each other and come up with some amazing experiences for kids.

More importantly make club is open to makers. Adults who want to turn up and share. Experts who want to pass on their knowledge. We have been very lucky to have range of people visit our school over the past few years giving their time and energy. This is because we value collaboration and encourage people to join in.

Make club is the result of Kimberly Baars (Design Tech Teacher) Paula Hogg (BoT Chairperson) and I saying “wouldn’t it be great to…” Kim and Paula have done all the work though and without their input and urgency it would still be an idea. We don’t yet have a website for Make Club… but maybe the kids will fix that up for us, as we really want authentic contexts to be the backdrop for making.

Our hope for make club… to build community, to build capacity, and to build stuff!

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Leading Learning in a Digital Age