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.
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.
This term I have been fortunate to be a passenger on the Peer Mentor ride. I have been privy to boys developing into young men, showing leadership, with genuine compassion and interest in developing relationships with my students with disabilities. These young men have impressed me, but more importantly, they have connected and the benefits are immeasurable.
Let me put this into context. I was brought to my school with the establishment of a Unit for students with disabilities. A brand new challenge for my new colleagues, many of whom had never interacted let alone engaged with students with intellectual disabilities. Never had to “include” students with disabilities into sports days, assemblies, year level or whole school activities and schools events. I also arrived, prepared for the potential bullying and harassment of my students. Aware that students with disabilities are far more likely to be the victims of bullying and furthermore, those with obvious physical conditions (such as cerebral palsy or down syndrome) being more likely to be excluded or made fun of. In an attempt to be proactive and prevent such things, I set about to have my students involved in all whole school and year level activities. I aligned myself and sought support from staff whom were enthusiastic, accepting and inclusive. The student response was overwhelmingly positive, it was a good start. Pushing forward from this point I was in search of something more than just short term class buddying, or one off activities here and there. Fortuitously I was approached by a passionate, energetic colleague who had taken on the challenge of working with a group of at risk, disengaged boys. Identified by staff due to their “disrespectful” behaviour, poor attendance and/or avoidance strategies towards class work. I jumped at the chance to work together to try something new! A Peer Mentor Program.
Whilst I had some apprehension and a slight mother cat protective arch in my back as we approached our first session, it was quickly defused by the enthusiasm and positive manner in which the boys approached the opportunity. I was astonished by their maturity and their commitment to potentially looking silly just to engage my students. What “cool” teenage boy wants to lose a tag game to a child who is hardly going to break the land speed record for duck-duck-goose? But they did, over and over and over again, chasing and cajoling them. We played several games in that first session and immediately there were some boys who stood out.
Initially I thought they showed none of the behaviours that led to them being “identified” as at risk, but then I started to reconsider. They showed great leadership, perception, energy, compassion, and respect. If these students have these qualities, yet seem to be some of the most disengaged in our school, then what is that telling us? They challenge, they think for themselves, they set an example and others follow. In a classroom where they are not challenged, not valued, not identified for their obvious strengths and given opportunities, I can imagine they could cause chaos! To me, they are heroic, prepared to take a risk and not wait until someone else was brave enough to dive in first.
After 6 short weeks, my students were trying things they would never have imagined. The greatest highlight – taking on the rock climbing wall! Secure and confident in the support of their mentors, they not only put one foot above the other to scale a wall physically, they also scaled to heights of confidence and self-esteem through embracing the challenge. This would not have been possible without the belief, support and encouragement of these young men.
They have inspired me. They are motivation to continue forging ahead with our vision to build the capacity of staff to establish positive relationships, supportive and challenging learning environments and to negotiate the learning process with our students. We must enable these boys and their like peers to flourish, to develop their skills and to lead their peers in positive endeavours, not to send them to detention because they challenge us.
Let’s not be frightened of non-compliance, sometimes it just proof they can think for themselves!
Cautious, careful people always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, never can bring about a reform. Susan B. Anthony