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.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

How important is knowing the learner?

Last Thursday I had the privilege of heading to Samoa with a combined group of students from Hobsonville Point Primary and Secondary.

Sharyn and Sarah had done a huge amount of work with the 19 students raising funds for both the school we were visiting and working with, as well as with for the students expenses. The amount of planning and support for the trip from these two was amazing.

My role in the process was not very big at all, so heading to the airport on Thursday I was interested to see what would be happening.

19 students greeted me in matching self designed shirts excited and nervous at the same time. I knew the students by name at least, some a little more, I looked forward to getting to know them over the next 5 days.

What happened over the next 5 days was not a surprise but reinforced the idea of authentic learning. These students travelling away without devices, without make-up to home stay with strangers showed massive amounts of resilience and self management. The dispositional curriculums within both schools were being lived out in ways we could never recreate at school. They learnt a lot about themselves through the actions of their hosts and the way they lived. The students were moved that their teaching inspired these amazing kids from the school we worked with. The developed an understanding of what their life is really like compared to others.

The students showed collaborative skills, caring and support for one and other and were very warm and demanding of each other and themselves.

This trip made me incredibly proud to be involved with these schools. The students were amazing, the learning they were getting was something I wish all students could get. The experiences both challenging and exciting were embraced with open arms, even to the the point of not squealing at giant cockroaches.

When I think about our learning values at HPPS all were present in this journey for the students. The only downside was only staying half the time. I am sure Maurie will also get as much out of it as I did.

I came away knowing more than their names, I came away knowing them as learners!

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Values, are they for learning or behaviour?

Often values at schools are talked about in relation to how we want our kids to be. We use words like "trust" and "respect". These values are incredibly important, especially when thinking restoratively. However, they are behavioural values and are of course an important feature of growing the whole child, especially when they link to a dispositional curriculum. What about learning though, what do we value here?

I have been doing a lot of thinking around what we value around learning. Having a clear understanding of what these values are and why we need them is important. Reflecting through the 'lens' of these learning values is one way of living out what we believe.

We started by asking the questions "what is powerful to learn and what is powerful learning?"

This has led us to thinking about our values around learning. We spent a lot of time looking at the 'why' for a lot of values, in the end we came up the following five, Relationships, Innovative Practice, Collaboration, Personalised Learning, Authentic Learning. They link and one can't really happen without the other.

Each staff meeting we "Walk the Walls"of each learning space and celebrate and critique and question the collaborative staff on what is happening in their learning space, again through the lens of the learning values. Making sure that we see clear connections in their practice and identifying the links between the values, acknowledging it's most powerful when all are present.

Relationships is the first value we all co-constructed together. This I believe is key to all we do. Relationships are at the heart of powerful learning. Relationships lead to a clearer pathway to personalising learning at all levels, for staff and students. Without relationships, how do we know the learner. It also helps with our second value...

Collaboration! This value is mentioned throughout a range of research around 21stC learning as an important skill/understanding of the future. It also is a crucial aspect of growing our staff. Many staff who are working here have never truly collaborated, they may have team taught, or shared responsibility, but never got to the essence of collaborating. This is a great value to grow with the staff. The students take to this far more efficiently as it's a natural part of their make-up.

Authentic learning is a real "no brainer" creating connections for students is vital. What is authentic to one, may not be to another, so again, knowing your learner is key. Co-constructing the authentic aspect for each students learning is the fun part of the learning journey.

Innovative Practice is another area we value. We get questioned on this a lot. For us, this is not about being trendy, having a device in every students hand, doing the latest fad. Innovative practice is how we reflect on the practice we are using. Asking- "Is it working for all of our students?" "Is it differentiating to meet needs?" "Are we asking ourselves why we are doing this?" These questions and reflections lead us onto our last learning value.

Personalising learning. This value is here not to look at individuals and create plans for each and everyone of them, this value is here because it links relationships, collaboration, authentic learning and innovative practice together to meet the needs of our students. Valuing them as an individual as part of a group. Valuing that they may need a different conversation than the student beside them, valuing the relationship they have with their family, valuing the needs they have. Again knowing the learner so we can positively impact on them.

This journey of living these values is an ongoing one for us as a learning community. The real power behind them, we have found, is how we use them as a reflective tool to see that what we are co-constructing is impacting on student outcomes. 

Using the learning values as a lens for reflecting has empowered staff to own their practice and think deeply about learning and have challenging conversations.

Monday, 28 July 2014

The Why and the Practice

Learning and teaching is often a balancing act. How do you continue to grow a students world and also honour their voice? Taking students into the 'world they don't know, they don't know,' (John Holt has great stuff on this) is an important part of our job.

This then comes down to the importance of, 'WHY.' Why do we do what we do? Have we ever sat back and reflected on this? Do we constantly question ourselves?

Having never been a big researcher, the question of why has led me to read a lot more. Jane Gilbert's work around skills for the 21st C (we are after all, 14 years into it) as well as revisiting the NZC and honouring the Key Competencies. Recently, a great read on the development of the KCs was posted here.

The 'Why' I find easy however when I was involved in the start up of Discovery 1 School in Christchurch it was far more problematic.  At that time,  the research wasn't there to back up open spaces so we focused a lot on constructivism. Now, we have plenty to support the notion of student negotiated learning.

So, with the pedagogy in place the focus shifts to the question 'What is the andragogy?' More importantly, what is the practice? I believe now we can all access all the 'why' for both students and teachers however the practice is more challenging.

The conversations around practice are key. How do we honour the negotiation of a learning pathway and also honour the NZC? How do we impact on learning as an educator without putting out the fire? How do we look for progress in our students in a differentiated model? What is powerful to learn?

Asking these questions are the key in growing understanding around how practice can be challenged and changed. However, if you haven't looked at what you value about learning, it may all be in vain. My next post will be around "Learning Values" and how they drive change.