Sunday, August 30, 2009

Learning, Learning, Learning

Everyone in education I am sure would agree, the question needing to be asking is do we have a collective understanding of what learning is?
I vividly remember a session with Jeremy Kedian. He gave each of the nine people present no more than 25 words to define learning. The definition was to start learning is...

When we shared our definitions what was incredibly interesting was the difference between them.
Here we were leaders of learning organizations with significantly varying ideas and mental models about learning. We repeated this activity with our staff to continue the learning conversation we had started.
I find it intriguing that we often assume so much.
If we should indeed spend time on what important, what are we going to let go of to make that time. We can’t keep adding on to teachers load and what’s expected of teachers. I most value step has been to stock take and question does this practice align with our belief? If not it’s OK to abandon such practices. It’s not until practices are critiqued and evaluated that decision to let go of some practices can occur. Once there is a freely of time and permission is given new approaches can be adopted and time made to talk about the IMPORTANT – in this case Learning.
Creating time for the rich and deep conversations to lead learning has been an important change influence.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Power of Student Voice

We learnt from interviewing students about successful learners just how powerful it is to take stock and talk to students and really intently listen to what they have to say. Students are after all testimony to whether or not we have been successful. In continuing to deeply listen to student voice we discovered a developmental progression of students acquisition of the Life Long Learning competencies.
Firstly students could name the qualities – list
Then they could tell you what they meant - describe
It was quite a different level those students who could explain how they used the competencies in their learning – apply
The ultimate goal was for these competencies to be internalised or as a student so eloquently put it ‘when it’s part of me’.
Without listening to students I do not believe we would have arrived at this thinking.
Since unpacking Life Long Learning we have captured students voice before implementing any new initiative.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Learning - Who's in Charge?

Have enjoyed listening to the responses to the question 'Who's in charge of your learning?' Several years ago the response was very much the teacher, the teacher decides what we learn. In the last few years I have observed a big shift away from the locus of control predominantly being with the teacher and moving more towards the students. Responses now indicate the ownership is shared. As teachers have experimented with handing over more of the ownership to the students, incredible motivation and empowerment has been observed. An important part of the ownership being handed over is building clarity around learning progressions where students can progress and self motivate at a self regulated pace. It is exciting to talk to learners about what they are learning?, how they are going in their learning and what they believe their next learning steps are? 9 times out of 10 they hit the appropriate stretch and challenge in their learning about right.
This seemingly plays down the important role of the teacher. The teacher needs to continue to be the activator of learning. A key role to tailor the learning to hit the sweet spot. Push into that ZPD Vygotsky talks about. I am coming to to the realisation that the teachers role continues to be a fundamental one in that they need to design the learning to develop thinking that goes beyond consolidation and practice tasks. My latest question is how to you get the balance just right when students are learning independent of the teacher. How do you design learning to get that balance between practice and new learning/thinking?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Hitting the Sweet Spot

What a thrill today to visit some classes and see teachers immediately implementing practices influenced by the professional learning session earlier in the week. I think many connections were made for and by teachers and the next steps have been made apparent. The thing that got at the 'sweet spot' I believe was after the PD session teachers interviewed students about their understanding of the Powerful Learning Process. It was made very apparent that we are some way from ensuring our students have a sound literacy and understanding of the process. The simple act of talking to kids once again has given much clarity and urgency to our next steps. The challenge now is to see how that it best taught and reinforced with learners.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Professional Learning for Staff - Hitting the sweet spot

What a neat day we have had today. It's been a big one, all go and extremely refreshing. The day started this morning at 7.45 with the beginning of the Professional Learning for staff. The day started with some sharing from staff about our recent Student Led Conferences which from all accounts proved to be a huge success. The comments from the staff who trialled the initiative were enlightening - they talked about the empowerment of students and students having to take responsibility.
The main focus of the professional learning day was around our Powerful Learning process. A big part of the learning was about how to design learning to get at the 'sort it' and 'Use it' thinking. We discussed how often the consolidation tasks students are sent off to complete are practice or tasks that remain at the knowledge building or 'get it' stage. We discussed how the Powerful Learning Process enables learning across curriculum levels. It was highlighted that we have maybe miss led students by talking about science, technology and social studies being Powerful Learning.
The delivery of the day went historically over the 4 years of development that took place to arrive at where we are with our current model. This was important to highlight the change initiatives and the ahas along the way. Some deep learning has occurred by strategically trialling the process in classes and coming together to dialogue, critique and refine.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Leadership - Good to verbalise beliefs

I have spent a bit of time over the weekend putting a leadership presentation together for a conference in a few weeks time. What a refreshing exercise to have to simple articulate ones beliefs about leadership. I mentioned in a previous blog titled 'Leadership - No recipe' that there is no right way to lead. Agree anyone can lead and leadership is developed, you don't need to be born a leader to lead. I do believe however that there are more effective leaders than others. I have been puzzling over what it is indeed that exceptional leaders do? What is it about Ghandi that makes him such a great leader? The quotes embedded in the draft presentation have been inspiring. I hope you too enjoy. 'Leadership is a pursuit with no end. One learns and evolves with ones leadership practice, the ultimate to influence to create even greater leaders and people than one self' Sarah Martin

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Classroom Observations - What does one look for?

Gaining clarity and consistency in what one looks for when observing classroom practice sounds simple, yet I believe it can be quite complex. In the last few weeks as my previous posts have identified, I have been spending longer periods of time in classrooms presencing the learning and teaching. In this initial phase I don't have a set criteria I am observing against. I am merely soaking up what is happening and taking the time to deeply experience and listen to what is going on. My intention is that a pattern may form and indicate an area for more detailed observation, like depth of teacher questioning or monitoring locus of control in the classroom.
A wondering I stumbled upon watching reading in a class the other day was when students are not working with the teacher they are often involved in learning experiences that are to do with practicing their reading, high frequency words or sometimes even handwriting. My question was what type of learning experiences can be designed that take practicing to another level to incorporate thinking or new learning. I am wondering how our powerful learning process can be used to design learning that deliberately pushes into the 'sort it' and 'use it' thinking as the typical independent learning experiences often remain at the 'get it' stage. Refer Powerful Learning Process image in previous posts.
I am convinced such wonderings only surface when time is taken to quietly observe what is happening where it truly counts - In the classroom!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Leaders and Learning - Being Present

I have experienced quite a change in my leadership practice in the last two weeks since I tidied up the office area where I had been working and moved out. It has been some what refreshing being closer to where the work is happening - namely in classrooms. I spent a good part of two days last week being present in various classrooms. A privileged position to soak up the learning and teaching happening. I have been asking myself why is this so important? I know for some teachers it will not be comfortable for others an OK experience.
I am fast coming to the conclusion that it is important to be present in classrooms to ensure that all assumptions for example where we should be headed next with professional learning is evidenced. I believe I am guilty of jumping to conclusions about how to best move practice forward without spending enough time in classrooms feeling and living the everyday reality of the classroom.
Unlike business where it's purpose is to make money, ours is to raise student achievement. To influence the kind of change that is required to raise student achievement one needs to observe and be present where the work/learning is happening. I believe it is through such presence that the most profound insights, solutions and innovations evolve. We must rise above the busy nature of the role and free ourselves of the many tasks we continue to complete because we always have. We must continue to prioritise what is really important and 'not let the urgent drive out the important'. Leaders being in classes I am convinced is a priority to be put at the top of the list.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Leadership - No Recipe

I have been thinking about leadership alot lately. I have been reflecting on my previous leaders and thinking about what I admired and respected about each of them. I remember each leader for different reasons. There were those that encouraged and gave one lots of rope, others that had a bit of the fear factor going on. You would arrive at their office door feeling nervous. Those that you hung off every word and those that you didn't believe as they seldom walked the talk. I have a greater respect for my past leaders as I too pursue the leadership pathway.
I have been reflecting about all this as I plan a presentation for middle leaders interested in further pursuing leadership. I am wondering about famous global leaders, how I myself lead and really why would one want to lead. A question Lester Levy asked a couple of years ago at an international principals conference still resonates, he asked 'Why would I want to be led by you?' A question I continue to ponder and reflect on many months later.
I am fast coming to the conclusion that there is nothing more fulfilling than lighting fires in others and seeing individuals succeed and achieve. Leadership I believe is about influencing and motivating people to achieve an outcome. Keith of Genentech puts it more eloquently said "Leadership is ultimately about creating a way for people to contribute to making something extraordinary happen."
This leads to the question What then are the qualities of leaders to make this happen?
I will post a leadership continuum in the next few days that attempts to help move leadership practice from good to great. I developed this with Kathryn Hodgson and it has since been critiqued by colleagues at Red Beach School. The reason for developing such a tool is to enable learning conversations about leadership, a framework for reflecting about ones own leadership and identify areas for improvement. At a recent leadership meeting we discussed our goal areas and what actions we had taken to move leadership forward. A healthy and honest discussion.