As of tonight, I have only 8 days remaining at my school before I move on to a new challenge. Whilst there are many changes that I am yet to see evolve in their entirety, and would like to have had the opportunity to see them through, often unique opportunities throw a spanner in the works and I find myself leaving a job I love for a chance to be involved in a project that is a once off! This unexpected opportunity has been a very quick turnaround meaning a speedy handover to my replacement and a hectic tidying up of loose ends. Whilst this has meant a frantic past two weeks, over the last few days I have had the opportunity to pause and reflect on my time at WSS, an opportunity which is often too infrequent as a school leader when our roles are demanding and exhausting.
I have never found saying goodbye easy, often using humour or sarcasm to avoid what I would consider uncomfortable sentiment from others. To avoid this, I have written brief notes to the people who have inspired me, challenged me, showed me kindness or who have had left an impact on me in other ways. This has helped me to work towards closure on an amazing chapter of my professional life, one which I am truly grateful for.
If you have been across twitter or educational TedTalks, you are likely to have watched Rita Pierson’s “Every kid needs a champion”. When working with third and final year education students, it was always a video I shared to get them to think about seeing the most challenging students in a different light.
At my school, we have recently overhauled our whole school surveys in an attempt to gather specific data that will inform us as to whether we are having an impact on the areas we are aspiring to develop. Previously we have used an external organisation where we had no influence over the questions being asked, or how the data was presented. Whilst the previous survey provided comparisons to other schools, we are at the point where we are not “like” many other schools, and direct comparisons, do not really provide us with adequate measures. But I digress.
When developing our purpose fit surveys, we deliberated over the specific areas that we would elicit responses from our students, however, one question that was in no doubt was inspired by work we have been doing with spirals of inquiry. Integral within the spiral of inquiry is asking four questions of learners.
- Can you name two people in this setting who believe you will be a success in life?
- What are you learning and why is it important?
- How is it going with your learning?
- What are your next steps?
The first question aligns directly with the idea that every child needs a champion. In our survey, we ask our students to choose to either ‘agree’ or ‘disagree’ to the following statement: “I can name 2 teachers in this school who believe I can be successful in life”.
Over the past few weeks when meeting with leaders that I work closely with, I have asked them to identify different people in their professional lives who play different roles, one of which acts as a cheerleader. I agree with George that having people who believe in you, helps to believe in yourself. It also made me think, that whilst I am asking the leaders I work closely with, how might we identify whether all our staff have a champion/cheerleader? We should argue that it is just as important in their learning and growth as it is for our younger learners.
“Humble people share the credit and the wealth, remaining focussed and hungry to continue the journey of success.” – Rick Pitino
In recent times, our school has excitedly drawn attention for the new approaches we are taking and how we are disrupting somewhat traditional approaches. This is thrilling because it opens doors and opportunities when we are able to raise awareness for the challenges we are embracing and the changes we are implementing, but also celebrates the tireless work of our dedicated community.
More often than not it is the leader that is acknowledged for the achievements or success of an organisation, whether it be the CEO, the captain, the coach, the star player or the school principal. However, it is the work that happens in behind the face(s) of the organisation that means the change or innovation can occur.
In our school, this is certainly the case. It is inspiring to work in a community that has such dedicated team who are contributing in dynamic and valuable ways to support change and innovation. This includes leaders who are challenging models that have existed for decades, support staff who place learning at the centre and remove barriers, or our teachers who work collegially trying, failing, redesigning and trying again to provide creative and compelling learning experiences for our young people.
So a big shout out to our Middle Leaders who are challenging conventional models, our teachers leading out our new programs and courses and pursuing ongoing improvement, our IT team kicking goals by streamlining processes and supporting access to dynamic resources and our support staff who continue to raise the bar and embrace opportunities. I thank you for your commitment, your service and your willingness to move at such a fast pace of change.
I recently revisited an interview between Senator Bernie Sanders and Michael Render (Killer Mike) from January 2016. This obviously pre-dates the election and places Bernie in the midst of his campaign for the Democratic nomination. The issues explored by the two centred on the philosophies of social justice and particularly, as a focus for Bernie, the rights of citizens to have economic freedom. I encourage you to watch the interview if you are at all concerned about the growing equity crisis we are facing in education. It will definitely provide an insight into the path we face ahead, thus the title “The Urgency of Now”.
I was motivated to revisit the interview upon return from an incredible three-week educational tour exploring North America. I will use another post to provide further reflection on this rewarding experience, but first I wanted to draw some connections between some of the striking systemic challenges that the Australian and US systems share.
“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late…………. This is no time for apathy or complacency…………. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.” – Martin Luther King Jr
“College Readiness” was profoundly embedded in all the schools and systems we visited in the States, and I preface this by saying this is not a reflection upon the incredibly dedicated and passionate educators we connected with, but instead the system that they are part of. This is, of course, a significant driver of the premise that The United States of America is the land of opportunity and that everyone has access to the “American Dream”.
What I found growingly hard to swallow, was the disparity between how this manifests when so many of the places we visited had significant homelessness and obvious mental health issues. It would seem to me that, this American Dream is fit only for those who are already somewhat advantaged. The significant programs and philanthropic works that are working to combat the equity in education is mind-blowing, but it also makes me wonder……for every program that is not public (and that I mean government) funded, does this not just perpetuate the lack of responsibility that governments have for providing equitable education?
Now I must disclose here, that my own school and growingly a number of significant personal professional opportunities have indeed been afforded due to our relationship with an amazing non-profit organisation, but this has only emphasised to me that we are able to access a range of resources and opportunities that all schools should be entitled to.
Whilst Martin Luther King Jr was referring to the Vietnam War when he said: “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today”, it is true of the challenges we currently face in education. So many of the passionate educators in the United States that I met are hamstrung by a system that is centralised on standardised assessment and access to the right college. This is the lens through which they view opportunity and educational innovation. The same threatens our system in Australia with earlier and earlier attempts to formally assess children and monitor schools through the use of arbitrary testing and processes. As educators representing disadvantaged communities in Australia, we cannot let others speak for us, let others make decisions for us, let others perpetuate systems that maintain a complicit and undereducated “lower class”. It is only through the critical work that we do with young people, how we advocate to provide the same opportunities as their wealthy peers, how we speak out and stand up when dogma drives the educational discourse that we will start to shift the divide.
I think Bernie hits the nail on the head when he says: We have the freedom of speech, you can go out on the street and give a speech, that’s your constitutional right…but you know to be truly free you need economic rights as well. You can go out and give a speech but you may not have food in your belly… a roof over your head. If you don’t have any education, are you truly free?”
The past 2 days I attended the SASPA (South Australian Secondary Principals Association) Conference titled “Creativity & Innovation: The New DNA of Schools” and am pleased to say it was a valuable two days spent. The conference was not only supremely well organised and facilitated, but it delivered inspiration, provocation and great examples of practice from some of our South Australian secondary schools. I could write separate posts about the thoroughly entertaining Ben Walden who took us on a whirlwind exploration of leadership through the narrative of Shakespeare’s Henry V, or the examination of data and who controls the field of judgement in our data driven reform agenda by Professor Bob Lingard. Furthermore Elaine Bensted, CE Zoos SA shared her example of how effective change leadership can have a profound effect, plus one of the best purpose statements I have ever seen.
— Jason Loke (@Jason_Loke) August 17, 2017
Again day 2 held similar gems, with the always poignant Professor David Giles, a compelling example of practice from Banksia Park International High School and their adaptation of Covey’s Habits of Highly Effective People in developing culture across their entire school community and a stimulating final keynote from Professor Yong Zhao questioning the side effects of education.
So seems like an amazing learning experience doesn’t it. What more could you ask for than inspiring messages, provocations, and examples of interesting practice?
Well for me, one of the most valuable aspects of learning in collaborative spaces such as conferences, especially those with a healthy twitter backchannel, is the opportunity to discuss, question and challenge the ideas or practice being presented. Through this questioning and examination, new understandings emerge and perspectives are confirmed, strengthened or disrupted. Over the two days, I experienced little discourse challenging or questioning the thoughts and ideas being presented. After day 1, I conceded that perhaps it was due to my lack of engaging in table talk, but instead tweeting and recording thoughts and takeaways online, where I can often explore the contributions of others to deepen the conversation. Plus the fact that one of the workshop options was spent delivering our own story to a room full of peers.
As I entered my chosen workshop today, I made a deliberate effort to engage others on my table in considering and challenging the ideas being presented by Banksia Park. Not because I was in opposition to their practice (I actually found it extremely interesting and relevant) but because I wanted to engage in dialogue that could drive deeper understanding of the benefits and considerations of their approach. Despite raising questions about rewards/awards and judgements on whether high effort always equates to growth, which normally provokes some discussion, it really didn’t eventuate to any critical examination or conversation. This is no reflection on the quality of the educators on my table, for all I know, they were wondering “who on earth is this irritating human?” wishing I let them be to record their notes and eat their mentos! It was just my attempt to deepen my own experience and understandings.
I not once experienced anyone questioning the rhetoric, challenging ideas or blatantly disagreeing. I find having participants, online or in person, being discordant or making counter arguments, even if I comfortably disagree, facilitates discussion that leads me to deeper understanding and empathy towards the perspectives. Of course, my experience was limited to those I sat with and the tweets I caught throughout the conference, but I can’t help feeling a tiny bit less satisfied.
The concern for me is that we are way too polite and are at risk of conserving a homogenous (word of the day) narrative when we aren’t willing to engage in productive, passionate but respectful dialogue. Even just for the sake of it!
So if you were there, let me know, what was an idea, practice or message that you might question? Or how do you engage others in discourse at conferences to deepen your own learning?
Check out the twitter stream captured on storify here to see for yourself.
This past week Pauline Hanson’s comments about young people with autism in schools have provoked a range of responses. Once again her perspective is derived from a lack of understanding and fuels divisive and fearful rhetoric in our community when we should be looking for holistic and inclusive approaches to respond to the inequities in schools.
I feel that it would be iniquitous of me not to comment on the richness and value I have gained as an educator and a human for having worked with young people on the autism spectrum. So here are three of the lessons I have learned and the value I have gained from having young people with autism in my life.
The world is not vanilla!
The details in everyday objects can be overlooked by the ‘average’ person, but a young person with autism can help you to see the detail, the nuance and the magic of the simplest things. Whether it be the way it feels on your skin, how it sounds, how it tastes or the details in its pattern or colour.
Time is a construct
When you are truly in the moment, don’t splinter it to fit into a schedule. Be in that moment, because that’s when ‘vanilla’ turns to a rainbow tapestry.
Understanding is priceless
The moment a child with autism knows that you are committed to understanding what they are trying to say or express, stays with you. It made me realise that it is the most valuable gift we can give anyone. Taking time to understand another person is where caring cultivates. Being open to explore a different perspective can be the most valuable gift you can give to a young person, sometimes it just takes longer with some than others.
So if your life has been enriched by the inclusion of diversity, be sure to celebrate it openly in some way this week. If you are a teacher of young people with autism, please take the time this week to let that young person know they are wanted and valued or share a positive story with their parents. This week they need our solidarity to ensure that the words of an ill-informed Senator do not sit within them.
Needs-based funding is critical
Are our schools as responsive, dynamic and engaging as the world we live in? – Physical Spaces
At my school, we are working on a range of factors that foster pedagogy that is responsive to the learners we are working with. One of these elements is the disruption of the physical spaces to allow for more dynamic learning experiences for both staff and students (all learners). My own exploration of the power of space in supporting different pedagogies has been facilitated through the development of three large spaces in our school. The first, The Learning Hub (LH), was instigated over five years ago, and whilst I didn’t have a direct role in managing the build, I along with other staff played a key role in utilising and re-imagining the space over time. This year, it is exciting to see the space once again transform under the leadership of my colleague Melissa Smith (nee Mulholland).
The second opportunity emerged as we developed our Senior Space which was completed in March of last year. This space built upon the understandings developed over time using and reimagining the LH along with ongoing reading, collaboration, exploration and site visits.
The third, is by far the most extensive, with a makeover of our science and maths areas into a flexible, multipurpose interdisciplinary space, due to begin later this year.
In planning and leading out such a significant change, consideration must be given to the following:
- How will the environment promote new pedagogies requiring a variety of spatial settings (e.g. inquiry learning, problem-based learning, interdisciplinary approaches, vertical grouping)?
- How will learning be facilitated by multi-disciplinary teams of teachers who need agile and flexible spaces?
- How will the space support and coerce collaboration between groups of staff and groups of students?
- How can the environment and configuration generate creativity and curiosity over a focus on productivity?
- How can the spaces foster ubiquitous learning, i.e. learners becoming more self-directed, collaborative and flexible in using a variety of spaces/settings?
- How will the space support and enable teachers and students to develop digital literacies and competencies that enhance the use of space in a variety of ways to good pedagogical effect?
- How will the environment utilise natural light and natural environments to incorporate light and air?
- What PD will be required to support teachers to visualise and understand spatial possibilities – including modelling the use of such spaces?
Making over physical spaces can soak up a lot of time, energy and money. In the end, you can achieve “beautiful” results in the aesthetics, but if genuine collaborative consideration is not applied to the factors above, what will emerge is beautiful spaces with 20th century pedagogy staring back at you from comfortable chairs, behind tables on wheels!
No amount of consultation with those who have tread the road of disrupting spaces is adequate. I am particularly thankful to the wisdom and generosity of Stephen Harris, Anne Knock and the team at SCIL in addition to Stephen Heppell, Matt Esterman and a range of other online eduadventurers who have been open either online and/or in person sharing their wisdom, experience, successes and mistakes.
A small sample of research utilised in planning for and designing learning spaces:
Blackmore, J., Bateman, D., Loughlin, J., O’Mara, J., Aranda, G., 2011. Research into the connection between built learning spaces and student outcomes. http://www.education.vic.gov.au/Documents/about/programs/infrastructure/blackmorelearningspaces.pdf. [Accessed 30 January 2017].
Miller, Herman., “Rethinking the Classroom” 2017. Rethinking the Classroom http://www.hermanmiller.com/research/solution-essays/rethinking-the-classroom.html. [Accessed 2 February 2017].
Miller, Herman., “Adaptable Spaces and Their Impact on Learning” 2017. http://www.hermanmiller.com/research/research-summaries/adaptable-spaces-and-their-impact-on-learning.html. [Accessed 2 February 2017].
Wolff, Susan J., “Design Features for Project-Based Learning, February 2002, http://www.designshare.com/Research/Wolff/Wolff_DesignShare_3_7_02.pdf
I have spent a lot of time thinking, reading and talking about how to improve professional development and meeting structures. The early focus was in considering how to make meetings meaningful and productive, where everyone’s input was essential. Since that time I have endeavoured to develop structures and models that ensure that all required time together, whether that be professional learning of the entire staff or small team meetings, be essential to all those involved.
Last year, as Deputy with oversight of curriculum and PD, I knew that not only did I want to rethink the structures that support our student learning (stay tuned post to come), but I also wanted to rethink the structures that define our staff learning. Fortunately, I work in a school where the leadership team are open to approaching things differently.
This led me to think about what needs our previous formats fulfilled and whether they reflect the significant changes in the way we collaborate as professionals today. My conclusion was that in a transparent and open environment, where ongoing communication, feedback and input is fostered, the formal meeting procedures are not necessary.
Our meeting structures were very typical of most schools. Our whole staff meetings were structured by an agenda and run by a chair, with minutes taken. The agenda was dominated by the delivery of information with intermittent opportunities for staff to provide input. Predominantly the information was relevant to most but not all, sometimes, only relevant to a few. Staff were generally accepting and compliant of being talked at, however, this was completely in contradiction to the discourse we aspired to promote in classrooms. Our school’s vision is driven by developing creative, vibrant and resilient learners guided by knowledgeable, innovative and passionate staff. These meetings were certainly none of these things as a standard.
I may be being extremely critical here because having recently sat in a very traditional and boring meeting run by an external facilitator outside of education, I know that as a school we have come a long way in our structures that relate to PD and meetings. Continuous development and growth can go unnoticed, and I know that others who come into our structures are surprised by the way we facilitate staff collaboration.
Nevertheless, by the first term break of last year, I was already frustrated by the manner in which we were continuing to conduct our meetings and professional development, and ultimately I am the one responsible.So hand in hand with the opportunity to shake up our teaching timetable structure came the opportunity to shake up how we come together and collaborate as staff.
My experience in schools has been staff meetings and professional development occurring at the end of the day. Personally, as a participant in PD or meetings, the end of the day was always a challenge. I had a growing pile of emails and marking, not to mention I was fatigued from a day of work. If I learnt a strategy or approach in a PD session I had no opportunity to put it into action immediately as my teaching day had ended. My energy was low and I was less likely to contribute as energetically or spend any time reflecting on how the PD was relevant to my practice. As a facilitator of PD or convener of meetings, I was always conscious that others involved potentially felt similar. I would try to streamline the meeting structure as much as possible, not to keep people longer than necessary, and I would try and facilitate PD that was meaningful and interactive with a range of success.
So what did I do about it?
Initially, I looked at what we had historically used meetings for and I asked questions about the purpose of these meetings.
- Can the information be communicated in a different way?
- Is the information necessary for all stakeholders?
- Do staff have the opportunity to contribute and how is that possible with over 80 people involved?
- How long do meetings need to be?
- What happens when critical information needs to be shared but doesn’t align with meeting days?
This resulted in 5 aspects that I wanted to drive the structure of meetings.
- More personalised, only those who are invested or required need attend
- When it can be communicated in a memo or email, then so be it
- Keep gatherings short and targeted so that there is no time to waffle or waste time – so short that people can stand during the meeting
- Utilise the morning when staff are alert & can immediately act, or put strategies/learning into practice
- Allow flexibility for staff to schedule time for their own collaboration with peers
As a firm believer in the power of language, I also knew that in changing any structure, I had to think about how the terms we used would inform a change in approach. I considered how language often dictates our expectations. If we have only experienced meetings in traditional ways, then we tend to expect the same. So “huddles” became the word I used to describe how the new approach could work. Huddles for me implied short urgent periods of time when teams come together to share critical information or make collaborative decisions that are relevant to everyone in the huddle (my basketball background influence).
Whole staff after school meetings were eliminated.
Morning Huddles were introduced: a maximum of 30 minutes starting at 8:30am and scheduled via our Learner Management System (Daymap) so that all staff can see scheduled times on their teaching calendar. Huddles could be used for whole staff quick touch base, teaching teams, year level teams, quick PD, PLC’s, professional practice, committee and action group planning – pretty much anything that means bringing a group together to collaborate.
Three weeks in, there has been a range of positive feedback from staff. No after school long, drawn out meetings has meant that staff are free to utilise their afternoons to work in their teaching teams to plan and design or even to go home!
This time last year, whole staff were scheduled to have spent up to 480 minutes together in whole staff or Learning Area meetings. This year staff have spent up to 390 minutes in required sessions which have mostly been Professional Development. So already in the first three weeks of school, staff have gained an hour and a half more to utilise for their benefit.
What have I noticed?
I have seen more staff choosing to use their afternoons to catch up with their peers to program and design learning and I have seen five optional Professional Development Huddles offered (in just 3 weeks) in the morning with fantastic staff buy-in. These have included Google Apps, designing and using flexible learning spaces and strategies to facilitate responsible behaviours. Previously optional sessions run at lunch times, before or after school would attract minimal staff, which is always discouraging.
Time will tell if these structural changes facilitate the professional practice we aspire to achieve, but so far so good!
At school, maths was actually my favourite subject. I loved the challenge of solving problems and I will admit that memorisation in primary school was not the struggle it may have been for some of my peers. I am not advocating for memorisation at all, but this was certainly the focus of my schooling in the 80s.
I continued with my math studies throughout my schooling, completing what was then called (24 years ago) Maths 1 & Maths 2 in South Australia at year 12. Looking back now, I was probably the only girl in the class, but I never really paid much attention to that and I simply don’t recall. I was a confident, competitive young person who relished in challenging the boys whether it be in my studies or on the basketball court.
This confidence and success in maths did not lead to a field in the maths or sciences, but it has certainly influenced the way I approach problem solving and my resilience in sitting with a challenge that takes time and patience. My daughter (Year 11) has rarely sought my support with her math homework, but when she does it is not my capacity to recall number facts, formulas or procedures that makes my support valuable, instead it is my ability to rely on my understanding of number and mathematical concepts that helps. It may mean I take the long way around and eventually come back to the formula which provides the efficient process, but I am able to explain the reasoning behind what she is being challenged by. No doubt this will become less likely as she advances through her studies.
My willingness to struggle and work through a problem is not only evidence of my own confidence gained through my maths experiences, but it also provides a model for my daughter. She won’t hear me say “I have never been good at maths” or “I just don’t have a maths brain” which unfortunately is the message many girls receive. For girls, it is the attitude of their mothers that has the most significant influence on their own mindsets.
Not all girls are equal…..in attitudes to maths!
I recently connected with a school friend whom I had a healthy rivalry with throughout primary and middle schooling. She was a great problem solver and we relished many afternoons nutting out maths challenges and were fortunate to have some great maths teachers that stretched us. After year 11 I moved from Darwin to Adelaide which meant we were no longer classmates. It wasn’t until recently when we reminisced about our competitiveness and how she always had the edge in writing whilst I the more logical subjects, that we came to discuss our year 12 experiences. She avoided maths in year 12 because, without me, she would have been the only girl! This in 1993, in a secondary college of over 1000 students!
So how much has changed?
Last year at my school, girls made up only 9 of the 26 students in Maths Applications and only 1 of the 9 in Mathematical Studies. It is simply not good enough.
You don’t have to look far to find research around girls lacking confidence in maths and science today, even to be labelled “maths anxiety”.
So it seems our work needs to be dedicated to creating curious, creative and confident girls willing to take risks and tackle hard problems, in spite of the cultural conditioning that sees lower expectations of them. This work is critical for more than just gender equality. Achieving parity in maths and science fields between women and men offers significant economic as well as social benefits. I look forward to the day when our physics and specialist maths classes are equally taken on by girls and boys.
“When students are more self-confident, they give themselves the freedom to fail, to engage in the trial-and-error processes that are fundamental to acquiring knowledge in mathematics and science.” – OECD 2015
Part of my leadership responsibility is to oversee professional practice at my site, which I see as a responsibility to foster and promote a professional learning culture.
A professional learning culture is one in which we, as educators, are committed to our own growth and development as professionals as well as that of our peers. It grows out of a desire to continue to develop our knowledge and practice and to maximise opportunities for learning. Such a culture is integral to the high-quality teaching and development of innovative approaches to learning that we aspire to at my school. It means that, as leaders and teachers, we see ourselves, and are seen by others, as lifelong learners both of the speciality areas we teach and the practice of teaching itself. With education rapidly changing, we play a role in determining what “education” means in our context. This means that we need to continue to keep up to date with new developments and opportunities.
Every leader is critical in fostering a professional learning culture within a school. It is not only classroom learning or an individual teacher’s learning, instead, it is a commitment to learning as a valued activity in its own right, whether that be within formal learning settings or informal settings. It is also our disposition to learning that is critical. Are you engaged with issues and questions related both to your speciality areas and teaching and learning? Are you enthusiastic about sharing and learning with others, whether they be young or old? Are you actively engaged in the practice that is happening within our school and others? Do you model and champion an inquiring approach to professional practice? This is more than just keeping up with the latest initiatives, it is opening a dialogue and examining whether those initiatives are applicable to your context and whether the iteration of such initiatives can be developed to improve them for your community.
Dialogue is critical! As a profession, our growth is dependent on interactions with others whether they be students, peers, leaders, experts or industry. A professional learning culture requires collaboration in formal and informal ways, where the sharing of expertise and experiences benefits all. Observations and walkthroughs are effective ways of sharing and celebrating practice and opening opportunities to engage in professional reflection. A professional learning culture also relies on the essential input of students, the extent to which cannot be underestimated.
Whilst at my site we have established structures to support a Professional Practice Program, our professional learning culture is dependent on each and every individual, embracing and modelling a learner disposition.
Really keen to read and hear about other examples of work around professional learning cultures. Feedback and input is awesome!