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!

Building student learning focused relationships – critical friendships

Working in a learning hub is a great way to get to know students individually – to know their strengths, passions, aspirations, their learning, their whanau.

However, the challenge is how to get them to build learning focused relationships with each other. Teenagers tend to have some difficulty in providing peer feedback which is deep, honest and useful. In order to keep social relationships strong, they may not be truthful or as truthful as necessary when supporting each other in learning.

In Orakei hub, I tried (unsuccessfully) to set up the concept of tuakana-teina within my hub. Some struggled to articulate where they could support others; interestingly, they were all able to state where others in the hub could help them.

So back into a new term, I have a new plan. Rather than pushing some students towards a tuakana-teina model (this may be on the cards for the future), we are using a critical friendship model.

I introduced the concept on Monday and asked them to select (via google form) some students that they would like to work with and a justification why, as well as any student that they would prefer not to work with. Not surprisingly, many of the students picked their close friends. I looked at their selections and paired them up with their second or third choices.

Today we started off our extended hub class with:

  1. listing characteristics that they wanted to see in their (yet unnamed) critical friend
  2. listing characteristics that they individually would bring to the critical friendship – strengths. Then they followed up with areas where they felt that they may struggle being a critical friend
  3. Then they found out who their critical friends were
  4. Next step was to compare their lists to establish their agreed ‘rules of engagement’

    Students sharing their expectations of the critical friendship

    Students sharing their expectations of the critical friendship

  5. Then review their critical friend’s “learner story” and give feedback on the quality of their reflections (we had already co-constructed the success criteria for this).
Working with critical friends

Orakei hub students: Working with critical friends

Collaboration is important not just because it’s a better way to learn. The spirit of collaboration is penetrating every institution and all of our lives. So learning to collaborate is part of equipping yourself for effectiveness, problem solving, innovation and life-long learning in an ever-changing networked economy.” – Don Tapscott

Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/d/dontapscot564023.html#0IYxafpIQOGSAvsj.99

 

 

Making the relevance clear

On Friday morning we (the HPSS assessment team) supported our staff to develop their curriculum rubrics. The idea here is that there is clarity from the learning goals of the module through to the individual aspects of our learning design model which formulate the learning objectives to be assessed.

We are using SOLO taxonomy as the qualifiers to unpack the curriculum levels. I am so very grateful to the wonderful Pam Hook for her support in developing this approach. Friday’s professional learning was really positive and most teachers were feeling empowered around making the learning clear for their students.

Clarity and relevance are essential components of effective pedagogy. If the students (or teachers) are not explicit in what the learning is or why it is relevant, there is the risk of engaging in busy work. Likewise even if the teachers are clear, students who do not understand would simply comply rather than engage in the learning actively.

Saturdays are my day off. I often work on Sundays – prep, blogging, marking, providing feedback for learners etc. – but Saturdays are for me. So when I was laxing on the sofa, watching rubbish TV on Sky’s Vibe channel – I stumbled across Mary Portas’ “Queen of the Charity Shops”. In this show, Mary is overhauling a charity shop (in a similar manner to other challenges she has tackled in the retail sector). I was hooked, partly because the volunteers were resistant and partly because Mary’s point about selling were so profound.

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She talked about the two key things in retail – features and benefits. Features are what makes up an item – be it an exposed zip, 5 inch heels, pleather jacket – whereas benefits are why the shopper wants/needs said item. So as I was sitting there, on my day off, I realised that this could be a useful analogy which we could apply to learning. This is the hook for relevance.

So often, especially in secondary schools, students are often learning something for the sake of learning it. Or they don’t know why they are learning it. Or they can’t see the point of what they are learning.

What if we, as teachers, were to commit to “selling” the features and benefits of a concept, context or skill in our teaching practice. Heaven forbid anyone read this as “because it is on the test” but instead what if we were to make the relevance clear for our learners so they can make sense of what they are doing and why.

So what does that look like then? I’m teaching two distinct things tomorrow. In my learning hub we are focusing on “my learning” or understanding themselves as learners; tomorrow’s lesson is going to be around goal setting.

  • WALT: To set relevant, effective goals as learners
  • Features –  relevance, informed by evidence, timely, measurable, knowing how to measure them
  • Benefits – by setting your own goals, based on your needs, you put yourself in the drivers seat of your learning

Whereas in my Year 9 module (with a social science focus) which I teach with Tracey, we have a different learning objective altogether.

  • We are learning to “evaluate the impact of Irish migration on American society”.
  • Features of this will be the specific aspects of migration
  • benefits to consider negative and positive perspectives of migration, to challenge our own assumptions about migration

I’m keen to explore with the students the benefits that they see. We could co-construct these as a class or in smaller groups.

Both of these benefits will link to the wider educational impact of learning for the individual. It is not about the stuff we are learning; it is about why what is happening in the classroom is relevant for each individual.  Sometimes inspiration come from the strangest of places.

 

Goals – is there more to them than meets the eye?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and reading lately around goals, clarity, progressions and all things education. In my new role(s) as part-time PLD facilitator focusing on Leadership and Assessment part-time HPSS teacher + leader of assessment + leader of the performing arts area (this role is not new but the part-time part is), and part-time – who knows when I’m going to find the time – Sheilah Winn Shakespeare festival organiser, director, Stage Challenge co-ordinator, Classical Studies trip co-organiser… But I digress.

Goals

Goals are one of those things that we think that we need to do but I’m not sure how well-used they are in classrooms. Schools set goals, teachers set goals, teachers get students to set goals / co-construct goals, students set goals for themselves that they don’t share with us.

Personally I’ve been really unsatisfied with SMART goals for a long time. It took me a while to really put my finger on it. Locke and Latham’s seminal 2006 article on goals clearly define the differences between performance and learning goals. When reading this article I had an ‘aha!’ moment reading “a learning goal facilitates or enhances metacognition—namely, planning, monitoring, and evaluating progress toward goal attainment” – learning goals focus on the strategies needed for success whereas performance goals focus on the outcomes. SMART goals could be used to support learning goals but the lack of focus on the how (strategies, dispositions, skills) means than they may limit attainment of the goal.

I was re-reading Viviane Robinson’s Student-Centred Leadership on the plane yesterday and her comments about when to use SMART goals and when to use learning goals. More and more the puzzle pieces are falling into place.

“At one level, setting SMART goals makes sense because people cannot regulate their performance if they are unclear about how to assess their progress… At another level, there are occasions when the call to set SMART goals is inappropriate. In order to set a SMART goal, you have to know quite a lot about how to achieve it. When goals involve new challenges, how can you possibly know if it is achievable, if it is realistic, and how long it will take you to achieve it (Seddon, 2008)? In the absence of such knowledge, it may be better to set a learning goal or a broader performance goal that expresses your shared commitments and helps keep you focused”

Student-Centred Leadership, Kindle version, Location 1100

Surely, we are wanting to get our students to be considering new challenges – why are we encouraging them to put constraints around their goals because we think that performative goals are better / easier / they way, truth and the light? I believe that the needs must be addressed before there is goal setting. If the situation requires something that needs to be achieved (an outcome), sure go ahead, be SMART. However, if there is more at stake (and I would like to imagine that there is) a learning goal is a much better fit.

So timing is important. In preparation for playing the role of the “devil’s advocate” (yes that is an actual role one gets to play, it has a cool badge / picture thing and everything) on tonight’s #edchatNZ chat hosted by my lovely colleague and friend Danielle Myburgh (@missDtheTeacher), I was thinking about some provocative questions / statements which I could challenge teachers with. Here are some (n.b. I only used one or two as I was trying to respond to people’s statements):

  • What is the point of deciding on “measurable” goals when dealing with innovation and change? Multiple measurements should evolve, shouldn’t they?
  • Goal setting, with goal follow through, clear strategies and accountability, is meaningless. How much time do you dedicate to work with your students on follow through? What about your own goals? Your colleagues?
  • how do your students’ individual goals impact their day to day experiences in your classroom?
  • How much alignment is there between your students’, staff and school’s strategic goals?
  • What checks and balances do you have to robust critique of goals? Yours, your students, or your colleagues goals?
  • What is the point of goal setting if the goals are not enacted? Need to be coupled with frequent checking in and feedback/feedforward, what does this look like in your practice?
  • Have your students been setting goals this year? Why? What evidence or research is underpinning your practice?

 

I guess from the feedback, aspects of my devil’s advocate role resonated with some. Personally, I felt that I was a bit slow and (as always) struggled with 140 characters.

Twitter chat extract

I do believe in making the learning visible – using learning intentions which clearly show what we are learning, why we are learning and how we are learning is the key. The harder part of me is to relate this to each individual I’m teaching, be it in hubs, modules, my times or big projects.

On Monday, I will be starting working with my HPSS learning hub around their goals. I’ve got a couple of approaches to consider. I could just bowl in “Goal Setting” and support the students to make some learning goals through co-construction with me and each other, rather than performance ones, with clear check points for progress and keen understanding of what success of the goals may look like. This is what we did last year, however I felt that some students were occasionally complying with me because they are all decent people who trusted me enough that this was a good idea. We made the goals visible in our hub, we reflected on progress but I’m not convinced that there were enough deliberate acts to improve their learning goals. Not trying to make excuses but some things did get lost in the busyness of starting a new school last year.

However, the questions I was challenging myself to come up with to challenge others are now challenging me. What evidence will students be using to inform their goals? Is now the right time? How can I align my own goals for this year (which I have yet to formulate) to those of my hub? How can I best support my students in this highly personalised environment without resorting to following the “letter” of goal setting, rather than the “spirit”?

Over the weekend I’m going to keep pondering this and if I come up with something better, I’ll blog about it (promise).

 

Learning to learn: Herrmann’s Brain

I wrote this blog post late last year, left it in draft because I wanted to add something but couldn’t recall, so here it is – a little out of date but still very relevant to my thinking right now…

Understanding yourself as a learner is a key to success. Knowing when and how to apply different modes of thinking to different situations is a learned skill. At Hobsonville Point Secondary School, one of the focuses of our hub curriculum this term is around building the students’ capacity to understand themselves as learners. We are using a variation of Ned Herrmann’s Whole Brain model as a means of unpacking the students’ learning preferences. While we had introduced the students to the model earlier last year, it was definitely time to come back and delve a little deeper.  In term 4, students across the school were empowered with some understanding of the parts of the brain, what they do and how this may link to our learning preferences.  This was a bit of a stretch for me to prepare for the learning coaches to use as I had to make sure that my understanding was deep enough it so I could translate it for others to use. Using terms like ‘limbic system’, ‘cerebral cortex’ and ‘corpus callosum’ is far removed from my drama/classics teaching experience so I was thankful for one of our biology teachers looking over the presentation beforehand.

When I presented the science of the brain to the students in my learning community, Taheretikitiki,  and I was astounded by the questions that they were asking (here are a few) – many of which I didn’t have the answers for:

  • can we combine our thinking quadrants to use them together?
  • can we learn to think in each mode?
  • what part of the brain covers addition or bad behaviour?
  • What happens when one part of the brain doesn’t work anymore?
  • Can we tie autism to the parts of the brain?

We talked through the whole brain model and the brain for about 40 minutes. I love that the students in my learning community are hooked on knowing and understanding more. One of the focuses of our school is on empowering students and I think that understanding how they think and how the brain works is essential – there were so many students hanging back during their break to ask more questions. In our community we built on the thinking quadrants in our extended hub community time. The students had to refamiliarise themselves with the quadrants, but this time focus on the common attributes of each thinking mode, expectations held by people when that mode is their preference, and what each quadrant struggles with. There was a cut and paste collaborative activity to get the students used to using the language of the quadrants, their descriptors, strengths when using that mode of thinking, as well as what each quadrant struggles with. Then the learning coaches offered a different activity for each of the thinking quadrants.

The catch… we had to plan an activity which would challenge us to work with our least preferred thinking quadrant. Steve worked with  the strategic quadrant (green), Bryce worked with the innovative quadrant (yellow), Danielle with the red quadrant (relational) and I had the blue quadrant (thinking). I found this really challenging. As a learner. For me, the whole point of the preferences is that this mode of thinking is not what I would normally be drawn to. So I had to really think about what types of things I wanted the students to engage with – being analytical by dealing the specific information in a logical manner. Making connections between ideas to draw some kind of conclusion. I thought about it all weekend. And it was only on Sunday night that I decided to use some ponderous riddles for the students to analyse facts to come up with an evidence based conclusion. Upon reflection, I realised that this activity was really successful. Thankfully, the feedback from the coaches involved was also positive. Each of us had to work outside of our comfort-zones, which is always unnerving – and I was so thrilled to see the students actively engaging with some different modes of thinking. Our coaches’ debrief included us noticing how some students used different strategies to deal with the problem presented, the Hobsonville Habits that we could see visibly in their learning, and the types of questions asked.

So where to next?

The new year has arrived and my role at HPSS is slightly different this year, as I am not leading Taheretikitiki community due to my secondment. However, I still want to consider how to empower the students to understand themselves as learners, to move beyond their preferences and to make this aspect of thinking more visible in the school. I’m working my way through Ned Herrmann’s Whole Brain Business book and while the context tailored to the corporate world, as indicated by the title, I’m busy transferring to what it looks like in the classroom /school context. I’m excited about the communication and creativity sections – lots of scope there to tie into growth mindsets and Hobsonville Habits.

Learning everywhere, right up until the end: term 4 in a secondary school without seniors

Normally, term 4 goes something like this for secondary school teachers: workshops and tutorials in holidays between terms 3 and 4, two weeks of solid revision in class (with lots and lots of mock external questions to mark), a week of trying to get the reluctant students to keep revising and practising exam papers while trying to get the super-keen/anxious students to take a break, breathe and trust that their work throughout the year has been enough, another half a week avoiding water bombs, watching “prank days” unfold, tears from year 13 students, prizegivings, final farewells… then more tutorials leading up to their NCEA exams. After the exams, a chance to breathe, to plan, to spend time with colleagues building on ideas and professional relationships. Long leisurely appraisal meetings over long leisurely lunches.

However, term 4 in a secondary school which does not have seniors yet is a different thing. For a start, there was not a moment to catch your breath!

Our term was filled with wonderful events and celebrations. And considering that the school was only going to be closing its doors on the inaugural year, there was a lot to celebrate.

The celebrations started with the Big Project exhibition / showcase in Week 5 of the term where both of the second Big Projects for the year were shared with the public. The two projects were Bring Back Biodiversity and Future 2025, the school show. I was thrilled to be the Project and show director for the very first school production. The students worked closely with Auckland Council as their authentic partner to create pieces of performance (from acting, dancing, music, performance poetry, set design, costume, make-up, lighting and audio) which captured the vision of the city from a youth’s perspective. It was a great success. The students were so committed to telling their story and were such a neat bunch of kids to work alongside.

Weekend rehearsals

Weekend rehearsals

Everything was student led - from performance to promotions

Everything was student led – from performance to promotions

Some shots from the performance (taken by our DP Claire Amos)

Some shots from the performance (taken by our DP Claire Amos)

Some shots from the performance (taken by our DP Claire Amos)

Some shots from the performance (taken by our DP Claire Amos)

Week 6 saw us moving into celebrating our students’ sporting achievements. Not only were students acknowledged for their sporting involvement and successes in school but their extra-curricular achievements were also acknowledged. I presented the awards for the students who had excelled in their individual sports outside of the school – all of these students were from Taheretikitiki community and I loved being able to acknowledge something which may go unnoticed in other schools.

Our evening started with a catered dinner - this was a real community feel.

Our evening started with a catered dinner – this was a real community feel.

Team 1 Netball being acknowledged by coach Sharyn, or was it the other way around?

Team 1 Netball being acknowledged by coach Sharyn, or was it the other way around?

Of course, sporting success isn’t just about the students – the coaches, managers, parents and staff who supported them were also acknowledged in that evening. I loved how this added to the community feel of the evening. Lea and Rochelle did an amazing job pulling this evening together.

Bennet acknowledging Flynn's dad for his support of sport at HPSS.

Bennet acknowledging Flynn’s dad for his support of sport at HPSS.

Bryce recognising Danielle for her ongoing support of students at HPSS

Bryce recognising Danielle for her ongoing support of students at HPSS

Week 7 saw us embark on our first school camp to Camp Adair in the Hunua Ranges. Three days together as a whole school saw us bond even more and the students draw on all of their Hobsonville Habits to work more effectively as teams or to reflect on themselves, the worlds they operate in, and their learning. It was an amazing few days with the students and Bryce, Lea and Sally pulled together a different kind of camp. The students were enthusiastic yet exhausted after three days. A real highlight for me was seeing the presence of the Taheretikitiki coaches throughout the whole camp -from getting lost in the bush (thanks Steve) to playing “spoons” with students – I continue to be blown away by the amazing professionalism and commitment of these student-centred teachers.

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Cadence and Nikita on the climbing wall

Listening intently for instructions!

Listening intently for instructions!

My group on the confidence course.

My group on the confidence course.

Complete joy at the water slide.

Complete joy at the water slide.

Week 8 saw our student-led social occur – which was a joy to supervise. The teachers got into the weird and wacky theme and the students danced for hours, finishing with a rap from Jack. It was an amazing night.

James and Bill dancing away

James and Bill dancing away

As Danielle put it: HPSS school social. When the kids behaved so well that there was nothing to do but dance.

As Danielle put it: HPSS school social. When the kids behaved so well that there was nothing to do but dance.

Week 9, the last week of the term, saw two big celebrations. The first was “Shine”, our performing arts showcase. The performing arts teachers, Kellie, Pete, Sophie and myself, announced that we were keen to offer a performance opportunity for our students and they jumped to the occasion. 18 acts performed on the night to an audience of around 100 parents, friends, teachers and supporters showcasing a variety of skills and talents – contemporary dance, drama, ballet, singing, orchestral works, spoken word performances, hip hop dancing, mime. It was an outstanding success.

Melissa singing Colbie Calliat's "Try"

Melissa singing Colbie Calliat’s “Try”

A full house

A full house

Jayan performing Shakespeare's Henry V's "Once more into the breach" monologue.

Jayan performing Shakespeare’s Henry V’s “Once more into the breach” monologue.

Perform it with props piece

Perform it with props piece

Of course while all of this was going on, classes were continuing as normal. I experienced the oddest thing with my last class of the year, in the last block of the year, finishing at 3.30 p.m. on the last day of the year. My “From page to stage” module students had just finished their performance pieces, it was 3.20 p.m. I was feeling end of yearish and sad to say it was me wanting to play some drama games. However, one student informed me that it was more important that they finish their peer and self-assessments of their final pieces first. Talk about a role reversal! So they worked, right up until the end of the final day of the year. But it wasn’t really, as we finished our year off with a prizegiving that night. It was a different kind of prizegiving compared to others I had attended; I think that this was to do with the fact that there was a balance between academic and dispositional success. Sally has blogged about it here in much more depth but if this is the way we are heading, I am already looking forward to term 4 2015.