Professional reading Term 2 – 3 2016

I feel that I’ve had my head buried in educational books, readings, posts or reports this term. Which sets the pitter-patter of my edu-nerd heart a flutter. Themes this term have involved complexity theory, change leadership, connected learning communities, communities of learning, assessment for learning, and education leadership in general.

Here is a snapshot of what has influenced me recently:

Intentional Interruption:

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Simple Habits for Complex Times:


 https://www.amazon.com/Simple-Habits-Complex-Times-Practices/dp/0804799431/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

The Change Leader by Michael Fullan


http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/may02/vol59/num08/The-Change-Leader.aspx

Assessment online 

It is a go to resource for me. I stumbled upon this site years ago and now work with the content manager, Adrienne Carlisle.

http://assessment.tki.org.nz/ 

 

Leading the why through the how

Working in two separate schools this week led me to pondering how leaders find a balance between the “why” and the “how”.  It is great to have a vision but the real challenge is often bringing the vision into fruition.

Earlier in the week I was working with a senior leadership team around their approach to appraisal. This is a school who feel comfortable with their rationale and processes but want to focus on improving what they currently do and build teaching as inquiry into appraisal across the school.

We spent some time discussing the big ideas of appraisal, especially a focus on teachers leading their appraisal process and seeing it through an evaluative lens. Once happy with the why of good quality appraisal we moved onto the how. Interestingly this is what teachers had sought clarification around. Those who wanted this clarity didn’t express a desire to know the why but we’re feeling a tad anxious about the appraisal process in light of some big changes going on in the school.

At this point, I suggested that we use Simon Sinek’s Golden circles. I love these as a visual, structured brainstorm to be really sure that the vision is robust (the why), key principles guide the process (the how), and that the practices (the what) enable the vision to be enacted. 

  
I love this quote from Sinek’s Ted talk (viewed over 26 million times)

“Leaders hold a position of power or authority, but those who lead inspire us. Whether they’re individuals or organizations, we follow those who lead, not because we have to, but because we want to. We follow those who lead, not for them, but for ourselves. And it’s those who start with “why” that have the ability to inspire those around them or find others who inspire them.”

Each member of SLT worked on theirs alone at first and then we shared to clarify a shared vision. Both the principal and the DPs commented that this approach was really useful to test the why. There was a little confusion between the what and the how (or the how and the what) but we nutted these out together while discussing and sharing.

Once the why was agreed upon, and tested (albeit in a small way) it allowed the opportunity to take it to the HODs and continue to develop the how and what.

In another school later on in the week. I was involved in a discussion with some teachers. We were talking about the nature of the PLD contract, how it may be personalised for them, and what was “on top” for them in their practice. Overwhelmingly it was enacting the vision of the school – how to bring the why to life and see the future direction of the school play out.

Having the why is only the start. I have the pleasure of going to many schools through my work as an educational consultant. As I wait in school receptions, I peruse the walls of the public space. What is the mission statement, the vision for the school, the motto (in English, Latin, or Maori)? Is it visible? Who is the vision/motto coverings? Who may be left out? I always use this information as an anchor to place the work that I do with schools. 

The harder part of leading is connecting the why and how. We can be inspired by someone, their ideas, the vision that they have for the direction of an organisation but if there insufficient support for people to go on that journey with the leaders, is it too pie in the sky? Maybe this tension is the real challenge of leadership – how you might support others to share the why and build the how together. 

Further exploration:

https://www.startwithwhy.com

My Day as a Year 10 Student

Amazing post from my great (former) colleague and friend Steve Mouldey (a.k.a @geomouldey)

Steve Mouldey

Many of you will know that I am at a new school this year and have made the step up to a Senior Leadership position. This meant that I jumped at the chance to take on the #ShadowaStudent challenge that was created by School Retool, IDEO and the Stanford d.School. What a great way to gain empathy for the student experience at Lynfield College – to really find out what it is like to be a student here.

I asked a student if I could shadow him for the day and explained why I was doing this. Let the teachers know why I would be in their classroom wearing a school uniform and got prepared for a day outside of my office!

Ready for PE period 1 Ready for PE period 1

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Fear – a natural part of change?

I’m privileged to work with so many great teachers and leaders who are looking to shift their practice to best serve their learners. I do see this as a great privilege. In a staff meeting today, we donned our black hats to consider the challenges to moving towards student-centred learning where students and teachers co-construct the learning.

It was great – teachers were honest about the perceived risks and constraints around the shifts. Assessment pressures, time and resource constraints, concerns about “getting it wrong” were some of the points raised. Working where there is such high relational trust means that these were discussed objectively and respectfully – there were no judgements only supportive and respectful conversations. This led to dialogue around how we perceive our role in the classroom/learning and how a shift of pedagogy may lead to reconsidering what their role(s) look like.

The teachers are definitely on board with changing to sharing the locus of control with students but I think that talking about the ‘elephants in the room’ meant that they could be planned for and considered.

Making the uncomfortable comfortable:

I love using James Nottingham’s Learning Pit as a metaphor to talk about change and our cognitive and emotional responses to new learning. I’ve used this with students and teachers alike. The beautiful simplicity of the model means that it is really clear what the “pit” that we fall into as we feel consciously incompetent.

Pit

Love the connections with #SOLOTaxonomy as well! Moving from unistructural to extended abstract!

But the challenge is not just to know this but also to acknowledge when you are in the pit, and what the next progressions may be and how connections between ideas and responses are building towards the new understanding.

New learning involves taking a risk. And risks are rewarded. Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher, said “He who does not expect will not find out the unexpected, for it is trackless and unexplored” Jumping into the unexplored is risky for many when faced with new learning. One thing that I do believe is that you must talk about and acknowledge the risk so that the scary nature of change can be mitigated.

Resources:

http://www.jamesnottingham.co.uk/learning-pit/

 

 

Seeing is believing

Part of my job involves being an observer in other teachers’ classrooms. At Evaluation Associates Ltd, we have clear beliefs (underpinned by relevant evidence, of course) that ongoing feedback, evaluation and support of teachers in the classroom supports them to grow and improve. Cycles of inquiry are used to build teacher and student capacity where purposeful classroom based observations are key evidence to see shifts.

Sounds great, right? And it is. Having someone else in the room, noticing what a teacher is doing, how they are interacting with the students and how the students work with each other is a great thing.

During or just after the observation, we interview the students to get their perspective on whatever the teacher is working on in their practice, and the impact of this for them as learners. Still great. Student voice and facilitator notes are used to inform a professional discussion. Still great, right?

On reflection, I felt as if I didn’t fully commit to the power of observations. Ideally, teachers would also make a video recording of their practice that they could analyse prior to meeting with the observer. When some of the teachers I was working with last year expressed reluctance, I pulled back and allowed them to opt out. But I’m not happy with that and want to change this practice within my own facilitation this year.

Why? Without the recording acting as another set of eyes that the teacher can use to monitor and reflect on their practice. Without the impartial eyes of the video, the facilitators’ observation notes could become the perspective on the teaching and learning – which is too limited.

Assessment for Learning (which I avidly believe in) has the ultimate aim of enabling learners to become self-regulating. Part of this is generating their own feedback and connecting this cognitively, conatively and affectively. My concern is that if teachers are not filming their own practice, and using this recording as an artefact for reflection, then they could be relying on the observer as “outsider” to bring in some points about quality or how closely they have  met their goals. In short, they are not really self-regulating as learners. The role of the observer and the observation is still essential but could be improved if coupled with the video as another point of evidence to use for triangulation.

Seeing how you go about things, or things that you may not have noticed about how the students are learning, or moments where you’ve shown progress as you shift your practice are all positive outcomes of filming. Getting over the surface features- the sound of your voice, the wee foibles and eccentricities we all possess, how ugly that jumper really is (it was always borderline in your head anyway) –  and using the video as an extra set of objective eyes in the room means that it can be really powerful.

So, where to from here? For me, I need to be more upfront with the teachers and leaders I work with about the power of observation and the usefulness of the video for active reflection. I raised filming at a staff meeting last night (nervously) and the overwhelming response was positive. The teachers were keen. If I come across objections to filming in my work, I need to use my OTL skills to unpack the beliefs which have led to this reaction and build on it from there. I don’t want to push anyone into the learning pit but understanding the “why” rather than just doing the “what” is key.

When thinking about my own practice, as well as the shifting practice of the marvelous teachers, leaders and learners that I am privileged to work with, I think I need to keep the mantra up – whatever we do, it has to be better than before.

 

Video_Camera

This post broke my blogging drought!

The weeks before a school show

I’m a drama teacher. But this year I am a part time drama teacher. One of the joys of splitting my time between my two jobs is that I get two really rich experiences – teaching in a student-centred, MLP, MLE/ILE, brand spanking new school and working as a professional learning facilitator who supports schools around leadership and assessment.

But sometimes those two worlds collide. Today feels like a massive impact. We are thirteen days away from opening night. Our band is not quite ready, we are missing some of our key set pieces, a huge chunk of time was spent getting the programme organised, costumes are still being made, some actors had moments where they lost their nerve, we waste a lot of time in transitions etc.

I know from experience that all of these are normal but today feels particularly trying. Balancing and juggling two jobs has been difficult at times but this week is feeling quite rough – three days working out of time as a facilitator, full day rehearsals during the week and weekend, and a mix of meetings and lessons as well.

So why am I blogging? I’m fearful that we may not quite make it to a polished show as there are too many variables at play. Last year’s inaugural show came together at the last minute but this was not a scripted performance. By devising our own work (which did have challenges of its own) we were able to modify and adapt. Also, I was available 7 days per week if needed. And I’m not this year. I know that I am not indispensible and am only one person. And that is what is getting me through – the performing arts team at HPSS is simply wonderful, the bulk of the students are committed and on to it, we have other supports in the school – like our delightful Sarah Wakeford, Learning Partnership Leader extraordinaire!

Alice in Wonderland will open on the 1st of December at HPSS. I would imagine that the days and hours leading up to opening night will be very chaotic – as all shows often are – but the curtains will open with an excited group of students ready to go!

Moving toward Assessment for Learning

I was recently contacted by an educator in Hong Kong wanting some advice around how he could make his tests more AfL appropriate. This is a great question (and a million more questions popped into my head – why a test? What is it measuring? etc.) and I promised myself to answer him fully.

Here is my response: 

There are heaps of ways to make tests more AfL appropriate for students. 

Ideally, working with the students to identify what the key learning needs to be and what is the best way to test this would be a start. 

If this isn’t possible (I.e. there is a set, common test for all students), try thinking about the lead up to the test. Are the students familiar with the success criteria? Have they had enough exposure to examples of what a quality response in the test may look like? Are they able to talk confidently about the learning and what is expected of them? Are they able to look at previous questions / test papers and go through how they may apply their learning to these?

After they’ve sat the test, don’t mark it and hand it back straight away. AfL is primarily about empowering the students as learners. I would give them a blank copy of the same test and ask them to identity questions that were easy, hard, or manageable (I use different coloured highlighters / pens for this). Then talk through in pairs where they have similar responses. This gives you really good info as a teacher where gaps may be occurring for your students. 

Then I would get them to peer mark the test. As a teacher, you could guide this process, provide model answers, act as a third pair of eyes for a student marker etc. Giving ownership to students of the learning and making them active participants in the classroom is key. I would probably get the person who the student had discussed where the student had struggled or found things easy to mark the test.

After this, I would suggest working towards some peer assessment. This is different from marking as the students need to evaluate the test information (which concepts or skills the students were able to deal with, where there are gaps etc.,) and then provide some feedback to each other. I would recommend using Hattie and Timperley’s questions: where am I going (how closely did I meet the learning goal), how am I going (feedback on strategies used, concepts or skills which are working) and where to next (new direction for learning, where the gaps need to be closed). 

Providing quality feedback to peers can be challenging for learners so some teachers guidance is key at this point. Using some sentence starters for peer feedback can be useful at this point.

Get the students to look at their peer marked and assessed work and reflect on their test. Was there correlation between things they found easy and what was correct? Or not? What does this tell them (and you) about how they are feeling about their competency at the moment?

Record the data from this test in your teacher markbook. I wouldn’t just record the final grade / percentage though. Find a way to record the student perception of their competence (at that point in time), the individual grades, groups of students who have gaps in the same areas, students who seem to be covering the key learning and finding it all easy. All of this information gives you some indication of where to go next as a teacher.

This is a suggested approach and makes some assumptions. I’ve assumed that the test is paper based, not online. If it is an online, computer-marked test another approach may be needed. The principles of AfL remain the same though, getting students actively involved in their learning so they can become self-regulated learners.

I hope that this helps in some way, please let me know how you are going with AfL.

I tried to touch on the principles of AfL and still keep things grounded at a practical level. And this is really important to me, knowing a theory and knowing what it may look like in practice are often different things. I have a clear theory for improvement coming through in my suggestion – share the locus of control with students, give them a chance to evaluate their own or someone else’s understandings of the concepts or mastery of the skills, and in doing so, students are more likely to be engaged as learners (which should lead to better outcomes for them). 

  
When I first moved toward an AfL pedagogy I felt a little hamstrung by the rigour of high-stakes assessment in senior secondary. By focusing on the principles of AfL, I found ways (and continue to find ways) to empower learners even when I couldn’t set the the assessment task myself (such as in NCEA exams). Assessment for Learning requires a shift of thinking for both students and teachers.