Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Reflecting on 2008

I am sitting on a hill over looking the Kai Iwi Lakes.  The sun is piercing hot, view unbeatable and have managed to get enough coverage to dial up and write  a reflection to see 2008 out.  What a year it has been, it has passed with great speed and I continually tell myself that more focus should be spent living in the now, living in the moment.  Being present.  Instead ones mind darts to the future and over analyses the past.  Obviously need to work on stilling the mind into 2009. One place that does that beautifully is Omamari Beach.  No shop, dirt road, fabulous small community, plenty of fish to eat and guitars to strum.  As I have unwound from the year at Omamari Beach it doesn't take long before thoughts leap into planning for the future year to come.  Hoping the balance is right.  Ensuring there is the right amount of challenge, happiness, learning, leisure,  etc.
The big challenges I feel we face in Education is keeping that balance right between the front and back of the new curriculum document.  In the endeavor to unpack and teach content we must not loose sight of building students competencies, capacities to learn and confidently face the demands of their future world.
Getting the assessment right - valuing what is powerful learning and effectively communicating relevant evidence with all stake holders.
Doing less well - embedding what works and abandoning what's out dated, irrelevant and often unquestioned as to it's value add.
Nurturing and developing cognitive, thoughtful teachers have have scope to innovate and become true difference makers.
Well the list could go on and on and that's where prioritizing and being strategic is just so important.

Here's to a fabulous 2009!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

It's all about Organizational Culture

I continue to be reminded just how lucky we are.  I sat yesterday at an induction day for our newly appointed staff, where a relatively new staff member openly shared and reflected on their first impressions and experiences entering our school.  She expressed how supported she was, how she had learnt more in the time she had been at Red Beach than her entire teaching career and she had been given permission to focus on talking about learning with her students.  
There has been incredible change and shift in the culture of our school.  As I reflect back it hasn't always been like that.  It wasn't a place where one could openly say 'they didn't know, or I've made a mistake'.  I was reminded of how things were when I was recently asked by a colleague 'how did you get your staff to buy into a recent professional development initiative, I am getting resistance.  
There have been many contributing factors to enabling the shift in our school culture.  Our effective leader, being intentional about talking about the hard to talk about stuff, valuing all staff's voices, verbalizing the unspoken rules and questioning them, flattening hierarchy .... to name a few.  I guess importantly a significant one has been the shift in locus of control towards students having a voice that is increasingly more valued and deeply listened to.  Change happens when kids are in the driving seat.

It does however boil down to our staff, they are incredibly open and reflective.  As suggested in 'God to Great'  The right people are on the bus!   They truly make the difference.  They are difference makers.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

E Portfolios - Why what's the point?

How can we communicate to parents in a more timely manner?  We seem to hang on to all this information till the end of a term before sending it home.  How is that helpful?  The moment taken by teachers to call home when a student has passed the next reading level, or photocopied a piece of stunning writing a student has been working on and sending it home in a card seems to be more authentic and meaning for both the learner and parents.  It amazes me how much time and energy teachers put in to writing end of year reports, if the same time and energy was put in to communicating across the year I wonder if the more informal connection would have more impact on student achievement.  
I see one of the significant benefits of e portfolios and reporting using an LMS is the ability to report assessment information as it happens.  An accumulative record of achievement would surely supersede a summative report.  An online space where students can demonstrate their achievements, successes and reflections is surely beneficial to encouraging continuous improvement.  A space that encourages collaboration and ease in which families can share in the journey has endless possibilities.  

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

ICT Tools

Have had another wondering this week.  We are strategic planning for the next school year, considering possible items to fundraise for and formulating a budget.  ICT hardware year after year takes a considerable chunk of ones budget.  In thinking about continuing to move forward in the implementation and expansion of ICT integration what should the school wisely purchase?  Having an array of mimios, interactive whiteboards, large monitors, projectors, cameras, video cameras etc  -which tools best engage students and powerfully help to improve students learning? We are not convinced it's tools such as mimio, whiteboards as they can have a tendency to regress teacher practice to presenting and being the 'sage on the stage'  Such tools often perpetuate teacher control.
I wonder if we should not be making our choices based on the ability for the tool, application to be student led and driven.  It's interesting how successful blogging is for many students.  Why I ask?  It puts the learner in the driving seat, they are in control leading their own learning.  Like Facebook (for better or worse)- the interface is intuitive, no manual is required to use it and you create your own profile, contacts etc for your own needs and purposes.
Maybe we should be purchasing the new small portable computers that are wireless and connect to the web so that more students get their hands on and are involved in the 'doing' of learning.
All interesting thoughts to ponder?  Are we not better to buy a few one off pieces of hardware and give them to students, observe what happens and then purchase from student feedback and consultation?  We are ignorant and maybe arrogant to not be led by students as they are the digital 'natives' we the digital 'immigrants'

Friday, November 21, 2008

Managed Learning Environments

Yesterday was an interesting day. Had the opportunity to find about LAMs - an online course and lesson planner, exe - similar tool for teachers to design learning material for lesson or course sequences, Moodle - a Learning Management System predominantly used in secondary schools and lastly Maharas e-portfolio applications.
Creating content is a time consuming task, teachers all over the globe and throughout New Zealand are creating and recreating similar kinds of material. Would a different and much needed approach be to first gain national consistency around key learning progressions in student speak. Rich digital material could then be linked to specific learning intentions e.g digital learning objects, flash animations, artifacts, games etc that students self select. Isn't our goal for students to know how they are going?, where they are going? and where to next? Should the students not be more empowered to own this learning process more. Is it extremely motivating for students to select their next learning goal and work towards achieving it because they are owning the process. A student who requests an assessment to check in on how they are going is a huge constrast to the assessment being done to a student.
I am sure the benefits would be two fold as I am constantly hearing that teachers need support in developing content knowledge. Let's put the learner more in the driving seat, as Hattie suggests students raise the bar more for themselves as to their next learning steps than teachers.
The rich material is there, let's stop working in isolation on this and gain the clarity nationally around these progressions. Then if more writing of content is required in certain areas it can be developed and added to a depository that all teachers across NZ could benefit from.
The literacies is a great place to start - the numeracy is there and assTTle has put huge effort into the writing matrices. Let;s get kid speak around it and get better about showing kids exactly where they are and what the next steps look like.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Student Voice - Always worth listening to!

I had an interesting chat today with a year 3 boy. He was identified 3 years ago as a child we would track over their primary school years to gage any movement in his development and understanding of the identified Life Long Learning competencies. When I asked this young man if he believed he was a life long learner his response was 'not really because I don't use it all the time' I probed a little deeper to discover he could indeed recall (quite surface) all the Life Long Learner qualities that we reinforce at Red Beach School and he could describe in full which each of the Life Long Learning qualities was. As the developmental framework we have developed over time highlights the goal is for students to apply these qualities in their everyday school and outside school life. I then asked 'What will it take for you to apply these qualities more?' He said I could pick a quality a day and really work on applying that during the day, positive self talk and making myself do it helps'. It appeared he had all the Life Long Learning literacy necessary. I have been reflecting on what he said all day - what enablers help to shift students, shunt them into really applying the qualities? What can we do better to demonstrate the gain/value add? Do students experience enough challenges each day in their learning to truly have opportunities to apply such qualities? All good food for thought! I continue to rate highly the power of student voice in directing our where to next steps. This kid has huge potential are we really building his learning capacity as best we can?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Life Long Learning Displays

The words around each quality proved to be useful success criteria

Life Long Learning - Possibilities

There are many ways of exemplifying Life Long Learning.  This is one model we worked on during 2003.  We wanted to develop a shared language for talking about learning.  A key goal was to move our focus away from reinforcing behavior.  Over a term we ran learning assemblies under the theme of 'The sky's the limit' Each week we would pick a quality.  We had lots of fun, loud music and learning experiences to reinforce each quality.  The term ended with each class creating a display on a particular quality.  A local newspaper was invited along with our community to celebrate Life Long Learning. 

On reflection the Life Long Learning qualities that seemed to have the most significant impact on students learning were the (I) related qualities e.g self improves, self motivates. 

Monday, November 3, 2008

Synthesizing Success

It's not about adding new ideas and flavors of the month on to current practice.  Two words need to go hand in hand.  Embedding and Abandonment.  What are we going to let go of to embed future focused initiatives to improve student outcomes for all? Developing a shared vision, collective purpose and synthesizing current global thinking can help to set the stage.  The major topics under the current educational microscope are how do we develop student learning capacity in conjunction to teaching content.  Thinking skills, learner dispositions (key competencies) and conceptualizing curriculum in meaningful and manageable ways is quiet some task.  The following link is a draft attempt in doing so in 2005.  The big ideas reside under I, We, It and Make a difference headings.  The matrix has proven to be a helpful way of providing a framework in which each piece has been further unpacked and embedded in practice.  How important is the development of such a framework?  How influential ha it been in the strategic direction? What would have happened without such a structure?  When is structure helpful/ unhelpful?  All questions I like to continue to ponder.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Head Space - FOD time

I recall giggling to myself when Jeremy Kedian asks a room full of leaders how much time do you block in your week for FOD time.  We all innocently asked what is FOD time?  Why it is Foot on Desk Time!  Jeremy has a valid point how often do we free ourselves and engage in a most valuable pursuit meaningfully?  He did not mean the incidentally caught time e.g driving from A to B.  The busyness all too often 'drives out the important'  Hamel et al
What importance do you place on this reflection time.  As many suggest it is reflecting on what worked and didn't work so well that true learning results. 

Monday, October 27, 2008

Taking Time

On Friday we had a Teachers Only Day to take time to delve into the second half of the New Zealand Curriculum.  The minister has been generous in allowing schools this time.  
Over the last three and a half years we began this process by developing a shared vision.  The vision statement and picture took six months to create.  The following year was spent making sense of one of the vision concepts Life Long Learning.  Since then each key principle in the vision has been unpacked collectively, a huge amount of time was focussed on developing students learning capacity.  Julia Atkin's question "What is powerful learning?"
Hence it was now time to take the time to focus on "What is powerful to learn?"  
There has been an imbalance in schools interpretations of the previous curriculum developments.  Covering content has out weighed building students ability and capacity to learn.  We have before us an incredible opportunity to re think the balance.  Importantly as we were reminded by watching 'Did you know - 2.0' we must look to the future rather than our past to responsibly enable our students to thrive in their future world.
Questions we continue to ponder on;
What is the essence of .......? e.g science, maths, the arts
What are the key concepts, enduring understandings that students should develop?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Assessment - Motivating or Harmful

Assessment has huge potential ......
to motivate or demotivate learners. Everyone has a story to tell about their own school experience. There seems to be a direct correlation between assessment performance and school experience. Good grades - good experience. Bad grades - Bad experience. The hierarchy of subjects traditionally valued most started with Sciences, Maths, English ....... with arts sitting somewhere on the bottom. Students who didn't do so well in the subjects at the top of the list learnt early that I'm 'dumb', D's, E's, low exam scores demotivate. Self worth plummets and the spiral spins downwards. Future opportunities diminish.

Assessment shouldn't be harmful. Rather it should motivate, provide honest feedback and challenge students to continue to learn and achieve.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Power of a Shared Language

I walked into a year 1 class today and asked them what they do to be successful learners.  One stated "I persevere, when I don't know a word I keep trying and try and trying".  Another said "I take risks, I am not afraid to give it ago".  These responses are a vast contrast with what 100 sampled students said when interviewed three and a half years ago.  I attribute such growth and development in students ability to describe and apply life long learning dispositions to collaboratively developing a shared language.  The seven qualities decided upon were

Created by Red Beach School Staff

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Learning conversations - I'm Stuck!

An example of a learning conversation with some 10 year olds.  They have lots of great thought.  The challenge is for students to be challenged enough to experience being stuck to apply this thinking.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Spilt Screen Approach to Teaching and Learning

Maybe the balance has been wrong for too long. Knowing a whole lot of information in curriculum areas seem to have dominated and out weighed what is powerful to learn in most schools for some time. Teachers have been pressured and constrained to get through content and meet standards to the detriment of equipping students with the necessary 21st century skills, dispositions and knowledge required for a dynamically different future. As many have stated there won't be simple answers to future problems.
Of much interest and focus globally over the last decade has been the development of learning competencies and thinking skills the necessary dispositions to equip learners with knowing what to do when you don't know what to do.
As an Educator working in a learning institute how much time do we spend doing this?, actually intentionally talking about processing what is is to be a successful learner. There traditionally never seems to be much time left for that. Teaching content seems to come first.
I encourage educators to approach content and the building of learning capacity as equally important. Guy Claxton suggests a split screen approach - in equilibrium - balance. Am interested in others thoughts around this.

I guess it then presents the question is doing Less well, indeed More? and What really is powerful for students to learn?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Life Long Learning

Life long learning. An often banded about turn of phrase since the turn of the century. What does it really involve? What do we need to do in our schools to ensure students are leaving with the necessary skills, attitudes and dispositions to continue to learn throughout life? What needs to take place in our classrooms so that students build confidence around knowing 'what to do when they don't know what to do'? Honestly how many times a day would a students truly be challenged and put in a situation where they are 'stuck'? Isn't it experiencing these 'I'm stuck' situations that true learning occurs?
Students responses are always enlightening - I quizzed some students recently about what teachers could improve on. The responses 'stop teaching us stuff we already know' certainly caused some deep reflection. What percentage of kids feel challenged on a daily basis? How many learn in-spite of what we do?
One needs to direct some more conversations with students and teachers about getting to that ZPD (Zone of Proximal Development) Vygotsky. After all isn't that the best way to develop Life Long Learning attitudes and dispositions?

Goal Achieved!

I was sitting at Ulearn 08 and kicking myself that I hadn't got bogging again long before now.  I started blogging in 2004.  A friend challenged me to get blogging and I quickly found it was an invaluable way of capturing ones thinking and showing how it continues to evolve and grow as time goes on.
I paid my yearly subscription (haven't things changed) and when the provider went bust I lost all my entries.  A good lesson to learn.  I guess I will be better at backing up everything now.

Looking forward to getting going again.  Goal started I said I would come back from Ulearn and start blogging.  Next entry of more educational value

As Eric Butterworth quotes "Don't go through life, grow through life"