Questioning the purpose and function of schools and systems is an ongoing pressure point for me and is founded in my Foucauldian inspired adolescent exploration of governmentality. The dichotomy of rigid curriculum and testing versus the emerging essential employability skills of collaboration, flexible thinking and empathy challenge the systems and approaches we are comfortable and familiar with in schools.
In the past I have been fortunate as a teacher to embrace different approaches, taking risks and challenging the status quo with freedom. When I was first afforded the responsibility of establishing a learning environment for young adolescents with learning disabilities, I didn’t hesitate to approach the challenge with a fresh perspective not bound by previous experiences (I had none) nor templates (there wasn’t one in the school). This granted, with the incredible support of the school leadership, the opportunity to create learning that was personalised and authentic for the young people and staff, and not contrived or bound by curriculum or structures. This meant that in my first year, students utilised a range of technologies and had dynamic learning experiences including, but not limited to; blogging, passion projects, Identity Days, international collaborative projects, thematic units, authentic work placements and personalised reporting based on skill development and growth against individual learning goals. Not the traditional industrial model of education that is the state of affairs in similar settings, but a modern and responsive learning environment.
Since that time I have been fortunate/challenged to move into a range of leadership roles across the school with responsibility for a spectrum of key areas. This year has seen my responsibilities include oversight of whole school curriculum.
It may be reasonable to suppose that the greater the perceived power in regards to a leadership role, the more influence you would impart on the innovation of curriculum design. Furthermore, that approaches modelled would evolve and amplify with the expansion of innovative approaches and perspectives. Unfortunately, this does not occur organically and just like every young person, each adult is on a personal learning journey with their own prior knowledge, preconceptions and experiences that either curb or drive their openness to new approaches and willingness to take risks and challenge their own conventions.
I am continually reminded that my own zealous approaches to learning new educational approaches and my areas of foci are not necessarily shared by others. This is not to say that many are not equally if not more devoted to the exploration of their educational priorities, it just means that our approaches are informed by different influences. This is by no means a negative, it just relies on greater self-awareness on my behalf when I approach the leadership of curriculum design, trying to ensure a shared purpose and understanding.
Over the past two days, I facilitated the screening of the educational documentary “Most Likely to Succeed”. The film is a commentary on reimagining the American Education system with a particular focus on one model, San Diego school, High Tech High. Whole staff participated along with a handful of middle school students and were provoked by virtue of the film to consider what sort of learning environment is most likely to “succeed” in the 21st century.
It became apparent from the reflections shared that some had previously grappled with many of the ideas and provocations in the documentary whilst for others, the ideas were unfamiliar and even confronting. Most staff felt inspired and invigorated by the possibilities and models presented in the film, however, for a few, it left them feeling overwhelmed and disheartened. The challenge moving forward is how to foster the inspiration to develop different approaches to our current curriculum design and ensure staff who were overwhelmed are nurtured and supported to feel empowered.
The critical takeaway in regards to my current role from the models presented in the film is to have teachers see themselves as powerful designers of learning, not hampered by ticking content boxes, but instead supported to facilitate deep and meaningful learning opportunities with students.
If you haven’t seen the film, I highly recommend it. See below for the trailer and this review by Vander Ark is a fair synopsis.
Each year that I teach pre-service teachers as part of their undergraduate teaching degree at Flinders University, I am both inspired and filled with hope and pained by some of their confessions.
The final assessment piece for the course I teach requires students to evaluate the teaching they observed in their placement schools, remark on their conversations with staff and mentors and reflect upon their own teaching experiences. I believe this is the most beneficial of all the assessments required of our students as I am of the belief that the most valuable skill we can develop to transform our practice is the ability to discuss and reflect upon our own teaching and that of others and develop intentions based on this as to how to improve.
For each reflection I read, I am encouraged by the aspirations of these young people to continue to grow and it is encouraging to read about so many learning environments instilling the importance of a growth mindset in both students and teachers.
Amongst the wonderful inspiring reflections are also moments of disappointment. Over a semester, I get to know these students quite well, their honesty and enthusiasm for learning and their thirst for any guidance from teachers and mentors is heartening. However, when I read that “mentor” teachers tell their pre-service teachers that their lessons and courses cannot be differentiated, or is too hard to adjust for students, a little part of me aches.
I have no delusion that each and every one of these student teachers will have a practicum experience with perfect expertise (no such thing) but still, without fail, each year I read a few statements that make me want to scratch my eyes out.
Throughout our course I remind them that that ultimately they will develop their own beliefs, their own values and should surround themselves with people that will support and encourage them to achieve these. I can only hope that “too hard” doesn’t stick and that they see the inherent value in the things that will ultimately impact on their students growth.
Oh and P.S EVERY course, at ANY year level can be differentiated. Just like EVERY child and how they experience learning is personal and different. Differentiation is not about providing individual programs, it is about knowing your students needs and responding and planning to meet them.
I think often when we talk about “innovation” in schools, there is a tendency to accompany that with new devices, or developing new spaces.
The dictionary defines innovation as;
I believe innovation to be a mindset, not a title, nor something that occurs in a special space.
It’s how we disrupt our actions and methods to always seek something better. It may be in the routines we have created or the rules we maintain. It may be in the content we teach or the way we teach it.
It may be hard to conceive of innovation without some form of digital technology participating, but innovation is definitely not limited in this way.
I believe it’s about the willingness to explore and challenge ideas, to take on the status quo and to implement change. To test and try and to respond to the results.
Not everything will succeed nor will all change be sustainable, thus there is inherent risk involved. Whenever there is risk, we need to ensure there is trust. I believe this is the biggest challenge in developing cultures of innovation, they must be cultures of trust first and foremost.
Understanding —> Shared Vision —> Trust —> Innovation
What do you think?
For some articles and perspectives on innovative mindsets check out these links:
This week I have watched the ACEC conference twitter stream from the sideline with more interest than any other with several students from my school attending as part of a Digital Leaders group. A great opportunity to listen to presentations, tweet thoughts and questions and interact with teachers and keynotes.
They have done a brilliant job of pushing ideas and reflecting genuine student voice and have also been excited by the various learning opportunities showcased at the event.
20%PROJECTS: Donating 20% of your time to solving a problem relevant to you. Can turn into something big; next best thing #ACEC2014
— ACECDigitalLeaders (@ACECDLs) October 3, 2014
After hearing about this idea over 2 years ago, I developed Passion Project time in my own teaching and had our faculty run the projects with students over a term. This year as part of a different team we have implemented this concept into a “Big Idea” project with our entire year 8 cohort.
The concept remains the same, students can work independently or in groups on a project of their choice. There are expectations to develop a proposal and present/share findings or experiences upon completion.
Whilst I treasure and value these opportunities for students, I also wonder: how long can we keep adding this into our week as an extra though? How can we justify to students that this learning is different to their classroom learning? How much does that devalue what they are doing in each subject?
“Ok in this ‘special’ time you can learn about things that interest you and are meaningful to you, in any way you like, but the rest of the time, it’s just stuff you have to do!”
My argument here is not that we ditch these projects. I found it was a great stepping stone in my own experiences of supporting students to complete very different projects but on a similar time frame. I have learnt a great deal in this time including how to scaffold and lead discoveries and push students to ask and develop their own questions.
I am suggesting that instead of keeping these projects or times separate from our everyday school experiences, it should just be part of our everyday learning in classes. Why can’t kids be involved in ‘real’ and meaningful learning experiences in all their subjects?
Instead of adding another subject/lesson into the timetable, shouldn’t we be looking at what is already happening in classes and working on how we can make that more meaningful?
Shouldn’t this kind of learning be more like 80% not 20%?
We no longer need to know as much “stuff” as we did in the past when a device in our pocket can provide the answer ultimately in under 10 seconds. Mobile technology is no longer a thing of the future, it is here and we need to harness it.
“At school, I want to be able to learn in the same ways that I do in real life.”
Me too! (You can see his post here)
With access to reliable internet and multiple devices, what our students need are skills to navigate what is useful and reliable information. Beyond that we want them to access and use tools to produce meaningful materials or products for an audience with purpose.
This is where we hit some barriers for both staff and students.
Staff remain apprehensive because they don’t feel confident using a technology or process and students become risk averse, not willing to try something new for fear it won’t gain them the grade they need or want.
Approaching my final workshop with 3rd and final year Education students at Flinders University, I began to think about what message I wanted them to take away. I always endeavour to provide as many practical tools and examples for managing their first years in the profession, and have previously left them with the final advice of always being a learner and developing a network of support. This time I decided to leave them with…
“Don’t wait to be an expert, just give it a go!”
I hope that they dive in!
In my teens I was fortunate to travel half way around the world as part of a team on two representative basketball trips. These trips involved a month of training and playing games in the US and Asia. At the conclusion of our basketball commitments we spent a week in a tropical holiday destination. On the first trip we spent a week in Penang, Malaysia. It wasn’t my first trip to Asia, but it was definitely my first with a group of teenagers! Whilst we were touring and playing we had limited opportunities to shop or explore the places we visited, so we were determined to make up for it in the last week.
We were delighted by the myriad of stalls filled with various goods and wares, everything from clothing and footwear to ornaments and jewellery. I cannot remember one item I bought, nor any of my teammates during our sprees, but what I do recall is the cajoling by the vendor to gain our attention and sell their goods. Our favourite vendor catchphrase being “come and get your genuine imitation”!
Which brings me to teaching.
Not that long ago I was set the task of developing an art course for the year, I grimaced and acknowledged “not my strong point” and a colleague responded “but you design really creative art projects”. I replied to the effect of, “its all smoke and mirrors! I am really good at finding something and manipulating it to fit our purposes”.
This is where we reside, in a world of remix, repurpose and redesign! Nothing is truly original, we all gather and gain inspiration from others and the more inspiration we immerse ourselves in the greater our ability to be creative. You only have to spend a short time on the internet to see multiple parodies, memes and remixes for proof or our participatory culture.
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something.” – Steve Jobs
So we need to consume to be creative and herein lies our responsibility to share what we produce (and give credit) so that others can take what we have made and build upon it.
Part of the hesitation for some is the belief that they are not as creative, skilled or talented as others. The more we acknowledge how much we “steal” and “adapt”, the more confidence others may grow in knowing that the only skill required is a keen prowess for imitation!
Get over yourself! Your ideas are not original, just share and build upon each other #EduTECH
— Rhoni McFarlane (@rhonimcfarlane) June 4, 2014
I spent today at a professional development session on moderation for leaders. Initially I was apprehensive that the day would be focussed on how we measure and rank students against the Australian Curriculum standards, however it became quite apparent early in the session that I was wrong! (Phew)
Instead the objective of the session was to explore how we can encourage collaboration to reflect and question our practice to ultimately improve learning opportunities for students. YAY!
For me PD is golden when I can interact with others passionate about improving practice and learn from their expertise and experiences. No better way to find a group of such people than to attend a session on the last Friday of the holidays on a cold winters day, when it would be rather pleasant to be tucked up under a blanket reading a book and consuming hot beverages instead!
Not to be and definitely no regrets.
It was brilliant to hear from other curriculum leaders and lead teachers as to how they work with colleagues to reflect, critique and move forward in their planning and programming. The questions raised amongst the group included;
- how do we develop a culture of trust required to share practice?
- how do we establish opportunities to reflect and receive feedback without making it personal?
- how can we develop a deeper understanding of the standards to enable teachers to be designers and not deliverers?
“One of the most powerful aspects of collaborative moderation is the dialogue…when you take part in it you see people in a different light…you hear people questioning their own practice, gathering strategies for change, making sense of standards, understanding the curriculum and adjusting their teaching for improved learning” – Alan Luke
I can talk about my practice until the cows come home, I love critical feedback and thrive with people challenging my ideas and practice and have written about this before. I know how valuable this is to my own improvement, but what I am still developing, is my ability to facilitate a collaborative processes for peers to reflect and challenge their own practice and that of others in supportive ways.
Todays session has provided an example of how this could play out with a focus on planning and assessment with the Australian Curriculum. I really look forward to seeing how this can be facilitated this term with the curriculum areas I support.
“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” – Michelangelo
When we think big, dream big and aspire to be great, we can see the purpose of today, tomorrow and next week and not become stifled by little set backs. When we focus on just getting through the day or the week, never to give light to what may be, then perhaps we will never be moving towards something greater, but instead be caught in a process of complete and repeat.
As I aspire to develop learning opportunities for kids, I will not apologise for thinking grand. I want to foster experiences for these young people, beyond anything I could have imagined myself at their age. I know the possibilities that intoxicate me now will ultimately change as our world continues to evolve but that just means my vision for what is possible changes too.
Since Christopher Pyne announced his review to address the National Curriculum, I have fielded questions as to what this means for us (teachers) and what my opinion is of all this palava. Many teachers have taken to Facebook and twitter to express their anger, frustration or concern and I thought I would clarify my thoughts on here.
The review in itself I have no qualm with. I believe we should be in constant review of ourselves as a profession. I would rather regular checkins and adjustments as opposed to a dump and run strategy. Any argument as to the cost of such affairs should turn their gaze at other government spending atrocities first, I think money on education is a good thing.
My concern is regarding the motivation to include the “expertise” of two staunch critics (Professor Wiltshire and Dr Donnelly) to lead the review based on the criticism that not enough western civilisation history is addressed in the curriculum. Pyne assures that both Wiltshire and Donnelly will provide an “impartial” and “balanced” approach. This is where things get ugly.
This is not a review that will establish what is best for kids, this is purely an agenda that is based on the attitude of
‘If it was good enough for me, then it should be good enough for them’
Pyne has no interest in bringing education ‘back to the centre’ he just wants it based on his own ideology. Which by the way has not been influenced by data or research but only by his “expert experience”.
We all have romantic ideas about how school was for us (those of us who enjoyed school perhaps) others for whom school was mundane or worse still have their expectations. I have extremely fond memories of my own learning and I was very successful at school. At the same time, I don’t expect my children go through the same motions that I did, because I believe they need different skills to succeed in the future than I was expected to need when I graduated. Dr Donnelly’s own experiences have led to the following views;
”Multiculturalism is based on the mistaken belief that all cultures are of equal worth and that it is unfair to discriminate and argue that some practices are wrong” – 2011 for ABC
In 2004, he wrote that ”many parents” would consider homosexuality ”abnormal behaviour”, ”the reality is that gays, lesbians and same-sex couples with children are a very small minority and such groups do not represent the mainstream.”
Dr Donnelly is seeking to ensure the National Curriculum reflects “the fact that we are a western, liberal, democratic nation.” He is also a strong advocate for having the Bible taught in state schools.
These are strong personal beliefs from Donnelly and he is entitled to keep his opinion based on his private schooled, white middle class experiences. However, when he is in charge of being impartial in review of a curriculum that will be delivered to a “mainstream” community that include the following;
- under 16% in Catholic education
- only 37% of whose parents identify as Christian
- some of whom will have same sex parents with approximately 33,700 same-sex couples in Australia according to the 2011 census. The number of same-sex couples has risen significantly with a 32% increase since 2006.
- just over 30% of whom in 2011 were born overseas
I suggest he may not be the best person for the job. (See Australian Bureau of Statistics for further proof we are not all white, middle-class, heterosexual, Christian and male.)
So what I implore Mr Pyne and his merry men do, is always look at making schools better than we had it. Schools that prepare our kids for a future, not only dramatically different than the one our own education prepared us for, but one in which will be baldly different from the world we experience today.
For articles on Pyne et al see below.
My leadership journey in schools is only in it’s infancy, however my experience leading people started long before I came into education. I have always tried to lead by example; working towards developing trust and credibility. I do not expect anyone in my team to do something I am not doing, have not done, or are not prepared to do myself.
When taking on my current role, I thought about what sort of culture I wanted to be a part of. How I could articulate this to the people I would work with and how I would demonstrate it in my actions. I started by developing a purpose for our work, always asking of myself “why” and asking my peers to ask the same question of themselves.
Next I set some expectations, priorities and goals.
I set an expectation that we would continuously move towards more authentic learning experiences and create more opportunities to showcase our learning to real audiences. I developed some immediate opportunities and some long term scenarios.
I established reporting and assessment guidelines that focussed on growth and identified ways we would support students to continually develop skills, understanding and personal relationships. We continue to evolve this process.
I promoted an attitude of risk taking and high expectations by focussing on what we need to do to make something possible, rather than repeating what has already been done.
Within our team we have genuine champions of change. They each have very different strengths and interests, but we all share a desire to support the success of the young people we work with. Keeping this at the forefront of my mind, I know it is through recognising the work they each do, the risks they take whether successful or not and the effort they contribute each day, that we will work towards growing and sustaining our champion team.