Christmas Cheer

goldchristmasbell1.jpgThe school year has ended, the year 6’s have graduated with most shedding a tear at leaving their friends, the reports have been distributed, next years classes and teachers published and the teachers are heading off to celebrate another successful year. 

As I reflect upon the last few days of the school year I remember the words I used in speaking at the graduation ceremony – dream large. I quoted George Bernard Shaw who said: You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?’

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and an enjoyable holiday period. There may not be any posts for a few weeks as I relax by the sea and read a little but I look forward to hearing from you in 2008.  

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Weight tests for new prep students

The Federal Government has just released a plan to weigh children before they start school to try and crack down on obesity. The Health Minister, Nicola Roxon was reported to have said that the  condition had become a national responsibility as one in four Australian children are already overweight or obese. If the child is identified as overweight parents will be given support and referred for further medical help.

This could be seen as radical move however I recall a conversation with a colleague from Singapore saying that their Trim and Fitness Program skin fold tested children for weight issues. If students did not pass they were referred to fitness programs as well as doctors for diet related issues.     

I think the issues whilst on the surface appear simply are more complex as some children I have taught had social and emotional issues influencing weight and families needed to be informed, counselled and committed before real progress occurred.

 I am sure we will hear more about this over the next 12 months.

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A communication challenge – using the school newsletter!

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One of the challenges leaders in school face is to explain, even market to parents why changes occur. I was faced with such a challenge recently as I published the 2008 school structures in the school newsletter. For four years we had implemented multi aged groupings for both educational and financial reasons. These muli aged groupings proved a challenge for some of our teaching staff. It forced us as teachers to look beyond the whole group expectations, beyond the text book strategies and more to the individual needs of the students in our class. This is a little over simplified but the central thrust was that we, as teachers had to learn new ways of teaching students, to provide entry and exit points for activities that catered for a wider range of students. Luckily we had the support of a number of key educators who worked in with teachers modelling and more recently coaching.

However the multi aged structures changed for 2008 when gender imbalances forced us to revert back in most cases to aged based home groups.

The senior school are the exception as they will soon shift into new 21st century styled buildings with lots of different shaped and sized spaces where flexible sized groupings will be the norm. 

Well parent feedback has been supportive for the age normed groupings which is to be expected for in lots of cases it supports a nostaligic image of schooling, something close to what we may have experienced ourselves. 

I had to respond this week in the school newsletter:

Our strategic direction remains the same: to organise students in groups that best meet their learning needs and continue our high standards in literacy and numeracy. To construct inquiry learning units that challenge our 21st century learners to think, work in flexible groupings and take actions on a local and global level. And to support our teachers to improve their instructional capacities to meet the challenges of teaching and learning 21st century . To quote Gandhi “We must be the change we wish to see in the world”.   Our work is too important not to challenge the anchors of our schooling experiences if we wish to truly engage our children in resolving the dilemmas of an ever changing world.

 

Our work continues.

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PISA Results out

Thanks to Don Ledingham blog I have been altered to the 2007 PISA results being published which are worth a look.

In summary the results remained flat across most OECD countries. Australia showed some improvement in Science with a 7th ranking when compared to other countries. However youth generally were pessimistic about being able to effect change on climate conditions, air pollution and nuclear energy. I think this is a critcal point as we start to plan our curriculum’s for 2008. I am continuing to encougae teachers to engage students with rigourous questions of scientific inquiry.

The Victorian Education Departments curriculum website is a great resource for those wanting to start planning these units. It has the science concept maps for those teachers not sure of the scientific principles they need to help student understand. 

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Ipods and podcasts the tools of leadership

I was walking laps around one of my local parks this morning at 6.30 am listening to a podcast of Peter Senge talking about the relationship between business and school and it struck me how the tools of leadership have changed. No longer is the ipod the sole domain of our youth who “consume” downloaded copies of songs and listen to them while we drive them to various sporting or social locations. Now you can put your contacts and even your calendar on your ipod.

I heard Peter talk about Dennings belief that business is anchored or lacking in innovation by individuals who are brought up to follow or even wait for someone’s [usually the teacher] advice or instructions. That schools were constructed to follow the assembly line [grade 1 and then grade 2 etc…] model rather then engage in deep learning that takes account of their needs and interests and does not follow age graded expectataions. That deep learning is bound not only in context but in the intrinsic motivation to know and understand.

I cannot wait now till tomorrow morning when I hear the second half of the podcast I downloaded over the weekend. My reflection is that my morning walks will never be the same as I hear some great and challenging thoughts. I wonder if there are other podcasts of world class speakers I can download and listen to on my walks? If I find any I will share them on this site. 

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Learning by Heart

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I’m currently rereading a book by Roland Barth titiled “Learning by Heart” which I think makes a number of relevant comments for me about school reform from a very practical perspective. I also think his quotes are great: e.g. 

  • “Experience is not so much what happens to us as what we make of what happens to us.” Aldous Huxley
  • “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi
  • “To achieve excellence one must want to become good enough bad enough” Pete Carroll Princeton University Basketball Coach.

He makes the point about teacher learning needing to parrellel student learning. In other words to get improved learning outcomes for students you must have teacher learning that improves their instructional capacity. I scrambled back to my school data over the past 5 years and tried to match whether there had been improvemnts in both teacher learning [as measured by staff satisfaction surveys] and student learning [as measured by state wide testing results]. Aheee! Yes there was some correlation over a few years between the two.

However I remember Michael Fullan’s “implementation dip” thinking when new innovations occur and I posed the question – Does this mean that teacher learning precedes large scale improvement in student learning?

I pondered a second question on what type of teacher learning do I see has the largest impact on improving teacher’s instuctional capacity?  Over the past 3 years we have had lots of modelling of instructional strategies in classrooms by key educators and our assistant principal so that teachers get to visualise, ponder and reflect on their own instructional practice. In the past 12 months we have also introduced principal walkthroughs as another form of feedback and learning on instructional practices.

A recent piece of data on teacher learning from America indicated that a coaching model had greater impact than modelling. benefitsofcoachingstatistics_000.pdf  This has reshaped my thinking for planning teacher learning 2008.

Finally Barth says: “refelecting on practice – by observing practice, by writing about practice, by engaging in converstaions about practice, by embracing the differences we encounter in practice – builds a school culture hospitable to both learning and community.”  

I know that we have challenges ahead to make the time and reflect on the practice we observe and have feedback on and in 2008 have bought teacher journals to ramp up our written reflection.

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Walkthroughs

Want a funny clip to start a conversation about walkthroughs at your school. Look no further.

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February Walkthroughs

Yesterday I was speaking to a colleague about the focus of walkthroughs in February. My colleague was told that I had changed some of my thoughts over the last 12 months and was seeking some clarification.  I felt by the end of our conversation that I was affirming what we both understood was important for teachers to do at the start of any school year – establish relationships with students. It’s difficult to effectively teach anyone you don’t know.

At the start of each school year the leadership team work through our shared expectations with all staff members about teacher relationships with students, the unpacking of school values, the embedding of social competencies in the curriculum and the development of a group set of base expectations or rules or behaviours and consequences with students.

We model on the first pupil free day and staff meeting unpacking a school value using a thinking tool [Y Chart], role play making a social competency explicit at the start of a lesson and play a game designed to get to know your students. We then make it explicit with all teachers that we expect this to occur in all groups during the month of February and periodically throughout the year.

I then use this work on building relationships as the focus for the first few walkthroughs at the start of the school year. I inform teachers before the walk of the focus. I walk the walls of rooms I visit and take photos of the various charts that depict the work of teachers and students. I then share these photos at a staff meeting and work on some leading questions that promote further teacher dialogue about the work of building relationships.

Tip 1: Don’t forget the school office staff in this as they have a role in reinforcing the school values – eg respect or courtesy – signs in the school office reminding all members of the community to use appropraite langauage [please / thank you etc…]

Tip 2: If your looking for different thinking tools the Mordiallic Cluster of public schools in Victoria have set up a terrific site as a reference for teachers on visual thinking tools. The site’s listed as a resource

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Creating relevant curriculum for 21st century leaners

Kath Murdoch

Kath Murdoch has been supporting us here at Elsternwick Primary over the past three years as we make great strides forward in developing  deep, meaningful and engaging inquiry units of learning for students. For those interested in learning more about what makes a really effective inquiry unit click on the EQ link here to go to an article featuring Kath published in 2004.

However the purpose of this post to share some thoughts and a link or two about our session last night where we reviewed our units of study and began to plan for student learning in 2008. Teachers and team leaders had already audited our 2007 units against our school throughlines, which are our essential understandings and against the Victorian Essential Learning Standards [VELS] framework prior to the session. They had also received student feedback about the 2007 units.

Last night we added a fourth dimension to our planning. We looked at a clip about the ever changing world our students live in and asked ourselves the relevance of our topics for 21st century learners. The clip from the teachertube site was inspiring for starting the conversation and challenging our preconceptions. The link for the clip is titled shift happens. Its worth a look for those wanting to start similar conversations in their schools.

While browsing on the site we also found another clip about classrooms that’s worth a look as well. The clip is titled connected classrooms.

Tip: for those who are fortuate enough to have interactive whitebaords and speakers in schools – use them for this conversation starter as the big screen and sound file are winners. I have also listed teachertube in my resource links.

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Challenges of School Leadership in a Digital Age

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Last month I attended an inspiring international education leadership convention in Sydney titled New Imagery for Schools and Schooling. The convention jointly organised by ACEL and ASCD featured speakers from around the world including: Michael Fullan, Andy Hargreaves, Vivanne Robinson from New Zealand, John Connell from Scotalnd and Michael Furdyk from Canada.

Prof Vivanne Robinson gave the William Walker oration at the convention and spoke about her research into school leadership. I think the single most affirming piece of data was that the more leaders focus their relationships, their work and their learning on the core business of teaching and learning the greater their influence on student outcomes.  

Probably the greatest challenges for me were presented by John Connell and Michael Furdyk. These two speakers spoke about how the current generation of students and now young teachers were born after the invention of the personal computer in 1980. They do not know a world without them and how this was a challenge for teachers as they develop curriculum and for leaders as they attempt to influence the quality of instruction in schools. John Connell used the work of one leading educator in Scotland Don Ledingham to show how the digital age can impact on teachers. Quite incidently I had met Don in Boston earlier this year as we attended a course at Harvard University. I have listed their blogs in my blogroll.

Micheal Furdyk, a young businessman from Toronto perhaps personalised this challenge as he told his journey and his quest to connect the youth of today to solve some of our planets major challenges. His site is a must visit place for teachers to connect their students with others around the world.

I think that their work has in part led me to take this challenge of sharing my leadership and research work and connecting people who are interested in similar learning. Hence this blog.

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