Wednesday, May 27, 2009

National Standards - First Impressions

Our new governments focus and development of national standards - what does one think?
I think to benchmark national standards or expectations if you like in foundational learning areas of literacy and numeracy is positive. It takes away variance between schools and clearly states where for example students should be reading at the end of a particular year level. This then allows consistency around reporting to parents. I believe schools have been quite exclusive in the language and terminology they use, it is often not easy for parents to understand what is written in an end of year report or discussed at a 3 way conference.

I guess the area that people are feeling anxious about is what assessment means are going to be used to determine where students fall in regards to the national standards. National testing opens a whole other 'can of worms!' one where countries such as the UK have learnt that standards, testing and league tables have shown no increase in student outcomes.

The draft material appears non specific with broad outcomes mentioned. The material presents it's self quite similar to the national exemplars developed some years prior. I am looking forward to the meeting on the 8th of June to find out more. I remain open minded about it all at this stage.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Shifting Mental Models

Have been wondering about the best way to shift mental models. Some say it can take years, others say change the belief and the practice will change. Am not so sure. Often it is the change in practice that leads to the change in a belief. At the moment I am sitting on the fence. I am giggling to myself as I write this as typically I am not a fence sitter! Maybe I should elaborate some more. I have come to thinking that it depends on the individual. Some need the nudge to change practice and the change in belief follows others need the philosopical debate and dialogue to be convinced and hence the change in practice follows.

This whole topic was brought to the fore this week as I met with a parent who was not happy with the amount of homework her son was receiving. She said he needed more spelling lists and should be putting words in sentences to see if he could comprehend. I sat there reflecting on the spot that the individual before me had an understanding of how things should be done based on how she was educated. Yes things have moved along considerably since then. How does one reasure such an indivdual convinced that the way she was schooled was the best way. I don't believe that can be achieved in a 30 minute meeting. Yes a challenge for someone who personally wonders about the value of homework full stop in the primary years! They will hit it one day, just let them be kids. All good food for thought.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Tony Ryan - Inspirational

How refreshing to have sat in on a dinner meeting session on Monday evening run by Tony Ryan. Tony reminded us of the important job and role teachers play in influencing our future generation. Teachers can make or break a students schooling experience. Most teachers make it, however I continue to be confronted with stories of students who were less fortunate. Bad experiences can scar deeply. I was reminded of this when I met with a parent this week who was concerned about her daughters progress. The mother sat before me with tears in her eyes and said 'I didn't have a good school experience and I don't want my daughter to experience what I did' It was hard to believe coming from a warm, caring obviously able mother sitting before me. Why does our system do that? How can we ensure it doesn't happen?
As Tony reminded us we as teachers we are in a priviledged position, a significant position. We need to be energised and passionate to influence and engage all learners. Our ability to motivate and challenge is crucial in enabling individuals to reach their potential.
Lot's of food for thought .... something I will ponder some more on.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

3 Keys to Sustainable and Significant Change

Of late I have been thinking about the key enablers for driving significant and sustainable change in education. Often the most significant influences of change can be seemingly quite simple, some would say common sense.
The first important milestone of such change I believe is the creation of a vision. A clear purpose encompassing the organisations beliefs, desires and best crack at foreseeing the future. Such a vision needs to be created collectively and in wide consultation with all stake holders. The consultation needs to be authentic not tokenism, the child’s voice that states ‘stop teaching us stuff we already know’ needs to be heard, truly heard and reflected on. Most visions and mission statements are created and then put on the odd bit of letter head and shelved! A vision needs room to grow and live within the organisation. In an educational setting a visual metaphor helps to ensure the principles within it are owned by the key stake holders, and importantly our clients, our students.

Once a vision is established, a synthesis of up to date theory and research, current practices and trends needs to be conceptualised to prioritise a way forward. Strategic implementation of the vision principles and prioritises is essential. To successfully implement a vision I believe there are two important words to live by. One being abandon and the other embed. Current school practices need to be talked about and questioned as to their alignment to the vision. For example if a vision belief is one of empowerment then students not being allowed to use photocopiers or assessment measured that are done to students rather than done with would need to be questioned, and maybe abandoned. It’s not ok to keep adding more to the load.

When a vision is created and a strategic plan for it implementation established, thought and collective decisions need to be made about how that transfers to the student. After six years in your primary school environment what would you hope your students would leave being equipped with? What sort of dispositions, self worth and learning abilities would you believe were necessary for future success and satisfaction in life? I ponder often as to whether our expectations in a primary school setting are achievable and realistic. Julia Atkin’s question ‘what is powerful to learn? is a fundamental question to ask when living in an exponential information age.
Simply we believe at Red Beach School that students need to leave with four key concepts and understandings. These 4 concepts relate directly to the vision.

We are two steps of the way to implementing sustainable change. The essential questions addressed so far are;
What do we believe education is all about? (vision)
As a result of our vision what do we want our students to leave our school equipped with, being able to do?

Finally the third essential component to achieving sustainable change is to then ask what teachers and teaching practice will make this possible? What do we need to do as practitioners to ensure our vision principles live and our students leave our school living those beliefs. Teachers are the difference makers, they influence and have power beyond reckon to ensure the next generation will be our future leaders. I have not met a teacher who does not wake up each morning and want to do the best possible job they can for each individual in their class. How do we ensure our teaching practice is strategic, future focused and the best it can possible be to move all from good to great?

Visioning has such potential to gain clarity and provide a way forward when done well. It is a wonderful filter for informing decisions and ensuring alignment. From employing the right teacher to providing effective feedback to moving practice forward it is the essential driver of change.

The three steps to significant and sustainable change are
Creating a collective Vision
Decide on what a student should leave your school equipped with as a result of the vision
Create clarity around the teaching practice that will enable the student to leave as decided.

This is all wrapped in an organisational culture that has underlying norms of continuous improvement, deprivatising practice and ensuring learning is the organisations core business. In creating such a culture mental models are shaken up a little, narratives are shared to highlight beliefs and difference valued.

I believe we are in very exciting times in education. I sincerely feel privileged to be involved in such a dynamic and exciting vocation where I learn, think and feel challenged daily.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Life's Awakening Moments - Testing Times!

What a couple of fustrating weeks it has been. As you can see from the last post I have not blogged for some time. Interestingly this has not been due to not having time or procrastinating. I had my computer gear and internet connection stolen. Gutting to say the least - especially being a vigilent individual at backing up, the darlings stole that too. The hard drive itself may fetch $50 on some dodgy second hand sales site however the photos, songs, memories and personal work from the last decade gone in a flash - priceless to me. Well one can wallow in the sorrow for a wee while however one learns quickly that it doesn't solve much either. Lesson number one - don't store your hard drives and computer gear together. Duplicate backups and store in another dwelling maybe.
I count ones lucky stars, if it wasn't for the web the wonderings on this blog would be lost too!
I guess I continue to realise in some of life's trying times that these are the very experiences as hard as they can be sometimes that cause the most learning.
Am happy to be blogging again - I have missed it!