Thursday, 18 June 2015

Would you want to be in your classroom?

This was a question I posed to a group of educators recently.  It was interesting to see their responses, as for many, it was negative or a look of horror at the thought. The idea that we do, what we have always done without questioning, following up from what we learned in teachers college then imposing that on our students, is a problematic notion.

So, why would we do this? How do we impact on todays learners by thinking only of yesterdays practice? It's not about throwing away practice of the past, it's about re-imagining what is possible to impact on our learners. For example, when educational newspaper articles, like the recent one on maths teaching come out, we often get fearful of the consequences and reactions by our parent community. This is when we need to be brave and work for and with the students. We need to reference research done by educators, not the Business Round Table.

If we are constantly doing the same thing, how are we reflecting on our practice? Are we putting ourselves in the shoes of the student and looking at active engagement?

I believe that reflective practice as a staff is crucial in growing capacity to impact on learners. How do we encourage this? We practice it ourselves. As leaders we need to think - would I want to be lead like this? and work from there. We need to foster a growth mindset around being a learner.

One of the comments from Carol Dweck that hit home for me was around growing reflective practice with staff. She said to me, "if staff know that you have their back, they will take more risks."

There is so much truth in this statement. I talked with my staff about this and those that were very comfortable taking risks and reflective were quite clear that they knew I had their back. This was not so clear for those who were more formative in taking risks. My job - make it clear!

As a leader, it is our job to grow our staff from being a novice to expert. We provide the scaffold (Rule Governed Behaviour) for them to grow on this journey, we are warm and demanding with them. 

It is staffs' job to 'know their learner,' to know when they are a novice and when to shift them towards expert, as well as developing an understanding of expected milestones of the journey.

I also like the notion of the ZPD thinking, not just for our students but also for staff- what are you capable of with support?

How do we know they want to be in your class? If you know them as a learner, if you impact on their learning at a personal level, if you develop a relationship with them, then you have them. Don't always do what you have done.... think differently about learning and what impacts most on students, not what makes it work for you as a teacher - practice not systems!

My son is a good example of a school looking at the importance of knowing the learner. He has just completed his first 6 hour adventure race. He did this with his principal and two of his teachers. They know more about him, he knows more about them, will this improve his learning? Of course it will.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

MLE, MLP is it just learning?

In the two and a bit years we have been open we have hosted over 1500 visitors. These visitors come for a range of reasons, looking at space, looking at student agency, looking at how we integrate ICT, looking at collaborative teaching and so on...

The new term of MLP keeps coming up, modern learning practice. So what is this, how does it work, or simply put, is it just learning?

Consider this from John Holt

This is a statement that makes total sense. It's about engaging our learners in a world that makes sense to them. Not a world prescribed by a long term plan without the responsive nature of teaching attached.  Surely, this is common sense.

When you sit back as a teacher, do you ever reflect on what you are teaching? Do you reflect on it's importance or relevance? Would what you teach be important in the child's life? We are blessed with very future focused open curriculum, do subject areas get in the way of this? Do they end up driving learning? Are we just keeping kids busy? The freedoms within the NZC are huge, have tests and compliance got in the way of creating learning that is purposeful and engaging?

To me MLP is the process of re-designing learning based on sound research and thinking. There is an abundance of research in place now around effective learning. Online courses from universities, like Stanford, around learning theory, are everywhere. A google search today reveals many possibilities around pedagogy, 10 years ago this would have been very different.

When you look at the effect size of teaching practice from Hattie, or the research Nuthall has undertaken it evidences what we should be engaging in. Edger Dale refers to it a lot, this was back in the late 60's.

The work and thinking is there: engage students in the process of learning, make learning purposeful and relevant, don't hold the power as a educator-share it, make learning about next steps, share assessment and make that assessment work for the student not for compliance, embrace a dispositional curriculum to grow the whole child.

To me it all starts with learning values and the deep thinking around why we do what we do.

MLP is a change in the traditional mental model of control and outcomes in schools, based on an industrial model of years ago. David Warlick summed it up well with this quote

No generation in history has ever been so thoroughly prepared for the 
“Industrial Age” as the current generation.

What does this say about our practice? Change is hard, change is challenging, change is necessary. MLP is just learning in a natural, curious and child centred way.

Monday, 26 January 2015

We begin again.

So in less than a week we kick off year 3 of Hobsonville Point Primary. Big thanks to Lisa and Sharyn for all their work and support. Big thanks to the establishment BOT who have just finished their term as governers of the schools. Maurie who supports challenges etc (very warm and demanding) and to those on the front lines (the amazing teaching staff).

What makes the start of the year special is that for me, holidays, elicit thinking, wondering and endless possibilities.

We will be working collaboratively over the next few days and I am looking forward to seeking out the why behind learning decisions. Making sure nothing has been planned to far ahead (they don't know all their learners as yet). Getting them to the point of engaging, inspiring and innovating to help grow amazing learners.

Collectively our roles in the school is to look at ways of creating the most positive impact on our students. In recent workshops around the future of both our schools, Maurie and I have driven lots of our thinking through the starter of "How might we....." 

On our staff retreat this is the focus we have, for example our first "how might we" on the list is

How might we foster ownership of the "why" in our learning values so we can have a shared understanding of the practice?

The question allows us to dig deep without any preconceived answers and our hope is full collaboration into the conversations we have together.

It allows for the generating of ideas, it means we can go blue/yellow (Hermanns stuff) to start and to dig deep. We can follow with the green/red once we have been generative.

Like many, my goals of holiday reading have been not as robust as I would have hoped, my excitement lies with the conversations ahead. It lies with leading these through the lens of the learning values, it lies with growing the new staff we have (see Reid's blog for info on what they went through). It mostly lies with action, lets get doing this.

Reflecting on what matters

While in the process of starting a new learning community, reflection has been key.

But, how do you develop this practice in teachers, parents and students?

Why should we reflect and through what lens?

What part do the key stakeholders in this play? i.e the students

How does it impact on practice and outcomes? Does it?

When thinking about developing a learning community based on solid purposeful reflection, I was determined to make it impact on practice the most. I often think the practice link is the one missing from the equation, pedagogy can get in the way! People talk MLE/MLP etc but not at the grassroots level of learning and teaching. For me the movement needs to become about practice and the more reflective and sharing of it we are, the more powerful it becomes.

At a recent GPC we discussed "the art of teaching" and how this needs to be a focus. In Maurie's latest blog he references it as well with the strong push of just do it! I fully agree, but what do you "Just Do?"

You need a lens to think reflectively through. In a recent post I wrote about the importance of learning values, this to me is a good lens to look through when reflecting.

It works because you can target your reflection to an area, that as a team you have co-constructed the meaning of. There is a common understanding of the why, how, what. It means you can reflect, celebrate and question through a shared understanding.

We reflect using this lens around everything we do, whether it's questioning student engagement, asking students for feedback around our practice, reflecting on the learning design process, everything!

The framework allows staff to feel safe and ok about being challenged as it's through a lens we all own. They are now open to more critical conversations and challenge and can share celebrations in a concise way.

Another area that we have begun to reflect on is our essence of learning statements. We have asked ourselves is this the essence of learning are we living it out. Great conversations around the "why are we doing things" have continued because of this. Is the practice we are using actually getting us to the essence of learning and the outcomes we expect.

Honesty, courage, questions, growth mindset are keys to this reflective equation. Building staff capacity to see how it can increase student learning and engagement, as well as growing the staff as a learner.

An interesting aside is that we are seeing more and more that unless you engage with all of the learning values and link them, learning/reflection/design isn't as powerful.