As part of the #SAVMP George Couros has asked that we share how we ensure the learning we do goes viral. I believe through sharing our skills, our learning and our experiences we grow ourselves and those around us. I am always willing to give my time to share my own experiences and I truly value those that invest their time in me, whether that be one to one, a small or a larger group or even via the connected web and social media.
This term, in my own attempt to meet the diverse needs of our 70 odd staff, I facilitated two whole school PD sessions as part of a team working towards building strategies for better classroom practice and utilising technology. I chose to target Formative Assessment, as this follows from previous work we have been doing as part of our Differentiation Project, is something we know we can definitely improve and will impact student success and the promotion of growth mindset.
I began each session with a short introduction to the concept and provided staff with several options to choose from, each focussed on simple takeaways that teachers could implement in their classrooms. Fortunately I had a great group of people willing to give their time and expertise to lead workshops and share their examples and resources.
The first session included these workshops:
Peer critique: Staff gave examples how they promote useful peer critique based on the idea that feedback must be kind, useful and specific. Staff shared how they using GoogleDoc comments and Blog comments can facilitate and model peer critique for students.
Journals and portfolios as reflection tools: Staff shared how blogging can be used as journals, port folios and reflective spaces. Examples were also showcased for how to develop portfolios for the Arts.
Quizzes and surveys: Staff showcased PPTs for Who Wants to be a Millionaire and Jeopardy and explored how simple fun quizzes and games can provide valuable insight into student understanding and misconceptions that can be corrected in “Just in Time” lessons. Plenaries were also exampled as ways of revealing student attitudes, reflections and understanding.
Each workshop was led by at least two teachers who utilise these strategies in their own classes. They provided examples and templates for staff to develop right there and then to use in their classrooms.
Staff feedback from the session was overwhelmingly positive. The only criticism was that they wanted an opportunity to access the alternative workshops as well. As a result, we facilitated a similar session 3 weeks later, giving the same options but also adding a few differentiated strategies to include for their planning (RAFTs and Choice Boards).
Some workshops catered for up to 15 participants whilst others only had 5 or so. What was most appreciated by staff was that they had choice, they were not being dictated to but instead shared with.
Taking a group of students away on camp is always an experience which requires plenty of planning, time, effort and commitment from staff. Taking a group of students with special needs away on camp just amplifies this.
Sometimes we can be so busy fitting kids into the box that we forget about what matters most.
When we focus on the age, year level, sex or subject and classify our kids on these things alone we are doing them a disservice.
Leading our learning space I was adamant that I would not organise our students this way.
When we look at our kids considering who they are, who they can build successful relationships with (both peers and adults), their passions, interests and experiences, we are more likely to make choices that will lead to success.
It is only when our students move on and are then constrained by the organisation and structures in other places reducing their options, that I become frustrated and concerned that the growth and success we have supported in our kids can be undone.
I think we are a truly great example of how kids can flourish in a learning space when who they are matters most not what they are.
“Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Do not bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.”
― William Faulkner
This week has been an opportunity to reflect and question why I am in such a hurry at times which can also lead to why I can be impatient with others. I think it has a lot to do with how I accept my own mortality having lost my father in my early teens and my mother before my thirties.
Seeing the process of dying with both my parents passing from cancer; my father after a short battle and my mother’s battle lasting 3 years, has meant I was able to see first hand how they responded to their lives and their approach to “unfinished business”.
I won’t go into the details of my mothers amazing legacy, but to say that her impact will be felt beyond this generation.
What does this denote for my own actions?
It means, I hate to let opportunities pass by. I’m not satisfied with ok or good, but am always shooting for great with the things I believe matter. I trust that by working harder and pushing boundaries I will continue to develop my own legacy.
I find the range of responses in the video below very interesting. I wonder how many of us would do more today, instead of waiting for tomorrow, if we knew how to answer this seemingly straightforward question – “How will you be remembered?”
Tonight I was surprised by a compliment on twitter from a great principal leading one of our local primary schools. I had just tweeted a link to our blog and he responded as follows:
@rhonimcfarlane inspiring stuff. Who manages blog? Do all contribute? Keen to emulate.
— Bob Thiele (@bobthiele13) October 18, 2013
— Bob Thiele (@bobthiele13) October 18, 2013
At first I was quite shocked about his generous praise, but after I’d thought about it a little, I realised for the first time that it is actually good!
The next thought that struck me was, I can’t recall anyone from my own site ever telling me or others in our Unit team (to my knowledge) that our blog is great!
This reminded me of a post George Couros had written (I can’t recall the title and my brief search did little to navigate his volumes of writing to find it) regarding the kids in our class who consistently do well yet aren’t acknowledged.
This too is the same for staff in our schools. Bob’s brief acknowledgement of our good work not only gave me a warm fuzzy, but it reinforced what we are doing is positive and definitely something to keep building upon. It also made me concede that we’re all guilty (I’m no exception) of not recognising the good work of people we work most closely with on a daily basis.
So just as others are doing little things to appreciate others (see @gcouros #365greattweeps, or the #FF as just a few twitter examples), I plan to dedicate some space here on my blog to acknowledge the great things that people in my own school are doing! Perhaps I shall tag it #inmyownbackyard!
This morning I participated in a Google Hangout as part of #SAVMP (School Admin Virtual Mentor Program). I am very fortunate to be grouped with mentor Jimmy Casas (thanks @gcouros) and with great education professionals Jenna Shaw, Dana Corr, Kevin Graham and Jen Lindaman. (If you’re not already following these passionate educators on twitter, you should be!)
This mornings hangout had Jimmy, Jenna, Dana and I spending an hour together getting to know where we are at in terms of our own leadership journeys.
It was evident from the initial introductions that we come from diverse school environments and have a range of experiences. Nevertheless it was also obvious that each of these dedicated educators will have a great deal to contribute to my learning.
Of course any opportunity and coming together of people is only as valuable as what you are prepared to invest. After today’s chat, I am confident that there is a definite commitment to this little PLC and it already has me reflecting.
During the chat, Jimmy made two comments that really struck a chord with me. It wouldn’t matter where in the world your school was, how many kids enrolled or the demographic nature of the school, it just makes good sense!
1. always following up, is key to building relationships
2. never make excuses for not acting – take responsibility of how you can be the change
I have always felt strongly about both these concepts, but it often isn’t until you are “in” conversation or listening to someone else’s take on an idea that you truly “get” how you can do it better.
Listening to Jimmy speak about how he ensures relationships are strengthened even after difficult conversations was one of these moments.
I have always tried to ensure I do this with people I lead, however what about the people that lead me? Can we say as leaders we have no influence because our line manager, our principal, our cluster, our region, or our education department has a different agenda? Where does our voice die out? Should we still not be following through after we make an observation or address a concern and not leave it at that? Where does fighting for what we believe in stop and how does it leave the relationship if the last thing said was not resolved?
Lots to think about before we meet again.
How do you go about creating innovative practices in your schools?
How do you know if they are making a difference?
How are they revisited to ensure that they have the same impact that they once had before?
I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to be part of a team to establish a faculty all shiny and new. Not only was this a fresh beginning as a new faculty but I was also new to the school, thus not entirely compromised or pressured by previous practices, history or approaches.
I was adamant that we would not create a carbon copy, but base all our decisions on what is best for our kids and their learning. That might mean that some of our choices reflect that of other schools, but would not be because of other schools. I had only been working in the area of disability for a year prior so had again, not been influenced by traditional practices, approaches or expectations for how this new environment should run.
No limitations, no deficit model in sight!
Working with students with disabilities comes with many assumptions. Misconceptions about students “abilities” to be problem solvers or to manage technology. Attitudes towards “wasting” time, effort and money on students with little to contribute to the community and ignorance to the expertise and skills required to support these young people to access opportunities despite their personal challenges and the limitations from these external forces.
If you enter our learning spaces you will quickly see that our students are negotiating their learning, problem solving and manipulating a wide range of technology to enhance their development. Our space is innovative, not because we have 1:1 iPads, interactive whiteboards and laptops, but because we approach learning as a constantly evolving practice, always trying to find ways to improve both the teaching and the learning.
I develop innovative practices, by constant reflection and asking these questions:
- Is it authentic?
- Is it student driven?
- Is it improving student understanding and skills?
- How can we do it better or replace it with something better?
I think these questions are valid for all learning practices and environments, do you?
What other questions would support the development of innovative teaching and learning?
Developing innovative teaching is not a “get class and just add iPad” fix. In fact innovative teaching doesn’t require iPads, computers or devices of any kind. These things are just tools that enable the production of the same “stuff” just in different ways. It’s the approach that makes learning innovative.
I was recently at a school that has a great reputation for providing students with “21st century” learning. They have amazing spaces, facilities, technology and materials. I was able to see two classes in action. One group of students were constructing iPod cases which were to hold speakers which they soldered themselves.
Sounds like a great design challenge doesn’t it?
The second group of students were racing cars they had built. They were constructed from the same materials and as they raced in pairs, the slower car was eliminated.
Sounds like fun yeah?
Both tasks provided opportunities for students to engage in relevant content that they could connect with. Both tasks provided opportunities to engage with peers and/or work independently.
One task had students follow an explicit sequence of instructions. Every end product looked identical except for the colour or decoration on the outside.
The other task had students challenged by a design problem. They had to consider how to make the BEST product with the materials provided and test the end product to see if their design was successful. Each end product looked different even if the colour matched others.
Only one of these tasks was different than a traditional build from the 20th century tech class.
I remember woodwork in high school. We built paper towel holders and coffee cup trees. Each one looked the same, some were sanded finer or stained darker, but generally the end products were hardly different. I know that some schools still complete very similar tasks and thus we would consider them static in their progress. I argue that the first task I mentioned above might as well be a paper towel holder. The only difference is that kids would prefer to make it over the paper towel holder!
Whatever the product, the change in the innovation is giving students the opportunity to approach it in authentic ways. Given a design brief with limitations, not a sequence of instructions which results in identical products at the end.
The same can be said in all class rooms. If we are just providing options to do the same task in different ways, for example instead of writing your narrative, type it on the iPad/computer or record it in audio, this is differentiating the learning yes, but it is not transforming the experience for the student. It is not challenging them to think about their learning in different ways. It is merely making the learning look pretty. Don’t get me wrong – I LIKE PRETTY!!!
Developing an innovative learning experience is not limiting our students to topics or ways of expressing themselves, it is about inspiring our students to think beyond the examples we provide. It is about establishing a culture of exploration, adaption, modifying what we know and making it better!
This is what I endeavour to do each and every day. How about you?
When people aren’t given the opportunity to share their ideas openly, then some end up getting ripped off!
I see this in 2 ways:
1. We have people in schools with great ideas that never get an opportunity to be “heard”
2. We have people who share their great ideas only for those ideas to be passed on or used without credit
The danger in #1 is that great potential is lost which could lead to people feeling under-utilised.
The danger in #2 is that people may ultimately leave because they feel “used” and unappreciated.
I think organisations have the challenge of providing its people with a voice to eliminate or reduce these problems. How this is achieved is the burden of leadership.
Do you have any suggestions as to how to give voice to staff and create avenues where power relations are not hamstrung?
People often ask why I am a teacher. It wasn’t my first port of call and I once felt a sense of shame, that I chose teaching after my previous (somewhat socially higher valued) profession. Now I cannot imagine doing anything other than “cultivating learning”!
So what made me divert the course of my life?
Well it was a community of young indigenous boys in the centre of Australia. A group of boys that caused nothing but havoc to the organisation I was employed. Every program we implemented and every facility we renovated, they destroyed, hijacked or sabotaged! For my colleagues they were rogues, to me they cried out to be nurtured, their boundless energy harnessed, but most of all someone to give them a sense that there were greater possibilities, they needn’t be welfare dependent nor expect incarceration. This community was rife with young children affected by drugs and alcohol, violence and neglect. I worked with grandparents, amazing people frustrated and crying out for their babes to be saved. This is what hurt my heart. I thought I was on a path where I could “change the world and make a difference” but at times I was was watching it pass me by.
This was the moment I decided I shouldn’t give up on that ambition, it just had to be a different path. That path was education. When I called my mother to have that awkward conversation (I have written previously about how inspirational mum was/is to me), “umm mum (mom) you know that 4 years I spent at Uni…..”, she was nothing but affirming. In fact she said “these kids need people like you Rhoni, someone who only sees their potential”. That was it for me. I signed up for Education (Special Education) and have never looked back. My focus since has been how I can support students who need strong advocates to access the learning opportunities so many take for granted. This focus has taken place in the classroom as a teacher and beyond with an obligation to always seek the possibilities and not be hampered by or identified as their deficits.
In terms of leadership, it’s just not in my nature to be idle. When I see unfairness, inequity or something that just doesn’t sit right with me, I am compelled to act. My passion for having kids access opportunities drives me to build with others, a better education experience for all. I have always loved learning, it gives me chills to see my own children passionate about learning and it gives me an incredible joy knowing I have helped a child see their potential and go after it. I believe we (teachers) are important, I believe we can make a huge difference for our students and I know that our future is bright in the hands of kids when they are given opportunities to shine.
So really, I teach and lead to discover possibilities! To help students find the keys to unlock access to learning and passions.
I look forward to how this mentor program can support my development as a leader and help me increase the positive impact we have on young people by developing skills to construct and support a team of passionate educators. I enter this experience excited to connect with my mentor Jimmy Casas @casas_jimmy and fellow mentees Dana Corr @dcorr1 and Kevin Graham @KGrahamHWDSB.