Pillar to Post

“You have to stick out the toughness of the business and form relationships with the people in it.”
– Attributed to Rocco DiSpirito

It is only week three of term three, and already I feel like I have been battered from pillar to post. I am struggling to get into this term, and a few colleagues across a few different schools have made similar comments, so I know it is not just me. There have been a number of issues early this term which been high on the urgent and important scale, the building project in our scale continues to progress and cause anxiousness amongst many staff members about the changes, there is the ongoing stress of not being a permanent teacher, a number of units of work I am planning for future use, ideas and things that I want to try in my pedagogical practice, our semester two programs are due shortly, and to top it off, Mrs C21’s due date for our first child is only a few weeks away (25th August), but we have been told it is likely to come early given its size (Mrs C21 is terrified the baby will be size of my brother who was 10lb 9oz / 4.8kg).

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A rough representation of how I feel.

I (rather foolishly, in hindsight), wrote late last year that I did not feel like I had had a proper first year out as a teacher, as I was in an RFF position. I should have kept my mouth closed. The conversations have already started about staffing for next year, as there is a huge shift going to occur in the school with the rebuild, a number of retirements this year bringing in different teachers, and a number of temporary teachers, including myself, who are going to be hoping for a new contract, some teachers going on maternity leave, and some permanent full-time teachers hoping to drop back to part-time. I do not envy our Principal his job, especially given that it looks like we are going to be on the threshold of crossing to having enough numbers for another staffing allocation.

 

I was away for the entirety of the first week of the mid-year holidays, acting as a referee coach and mentor, along with eleven others, to thirty-two teenagers at the Kanga Cup Youth Referee Academy, a part of my year that I look forward to, but which is incredibly draining mentally and physically. Week two of the holidays was essentially spent at school, planning with Mrs. W for the term. Of course, two weeks in, having been happy with what I had planned for my literacy sessions, I decided that it was not working the way i wanted it to, and have had to change it again.

Ugh.

Life is hectic at the moment. I am tired, frustrated, have too many things I want to and not enough time to do them in, am not sleeping, am eating chocolate like it is going out of fashion, and have not been able to get engaged with the term so far which is frustrating me a great deal. I have also not been able to get any writing done so far this term, and likely will not for a while.

Take care of yourself, especially in light of the 2015 Principal Health and Wellbeing Report which was published recently.

Education Nation | Day One Session Three | Prue Gill and Ed Cuthbertson

“We need to till and fertilise the soil before we can harvest the growth in our classroom.”
Prue Gill and Ed Cuthbertson

Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) was through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.

Peter Mader’s session led into lunch (which was fantastic), after which I headed off to The Learner to hear from Prue Gill and Ed Cuthbertson (@prue_g and @ed_cuthbertson) about how to encourage students to become active participants in their own learning. It promised to be an interesting session, which was unfortunately poorly attended, but from which I learned a lot. Prue and Ed have kindly made their slide deck available and you can find it here.

They began by providing some context for the audience, indicating that they came from a low socioeconomic status (SES) area called Conder in the ACT. They qualified it by saying that low SES in the ACT is not the same as low SES in NSW or other states, but that they are, relatively speaking, disadvantaged and isolated from the rest of the region. They added that they have both been in the school, together, for some years, which is actually an unusual situation. Apparently, the ACT used to have a policy in place to ensure cross-fertilisation of ideas and practices that a teacher moved to a new school every two years. The unintended consequence of this was that staffing in the school was fluid and there was constant change, resulting in it being very difficult to build or change school culture. The practice has, thankfully, fallen by the wayside and has resulted in vastly improved relationships between staff members and between staff and students.

IMG_1780We began by considering that we cannot empower students when teachers are not themselves empowered and were asked to consider and map on a Cartesian Plane, school practices that were low or high quality and were empowering or disempowering for teachers.

The audience spent time collaboratively filling in their own Cartesian planes and then came back together and shared the ideas. They related to us, as they added groups ideas to the plane, that they were shown this tool by Dan Meyer and that it provided a usable tool for helping a school move from across the plane to the top right-hand quadrant.

They explored the idea that it was impossible to teach the curriculum if a teacher too busy managing behaviour issues and how teachers need to sit down at the same level as students as part of the behaviour management process, conferencing with them to discuss the root cause of the behaviour. This goes back to the theory that all behaviour has a reason or purpose behind it. The school began using the mini-conference process as a way of addressing behaviour issues constructively and that as it gained traction and acceptance from teachers, students and parents, that they were then able to use it not only to assist in resolving teacher:student issues but also in resolving teacher:teacher and student:student issues.

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The school invested time in helping staff develop their professional development plans (PDPs), identifying development opportunities that met both staff and school needs and used action research to gather data on what practices were and were not working and to be able to determine the level of impact that practices were having using data.

They spoke about the need to value the passion and knowledge of teachers and to invest in and then leverage that, compromising as needed logistically. The example they gave was that a science teacher wanted to run a particular program and had built up the interest in science to the point where students wanted to engage in that program. The school leadership was able to recognise the passion and knowledge of that teacher and gave the go-ahead for the program, with a quid-pro-quo of taking on an additional class.

CaptureThe school also uses collaboratively teaching and have placed all Year Seven mathematics classes on the same line, allowing for team teaching, planning, programming, and assessing.

Another aspect of the school which I believe is fantastic is that every teacher in the school, including the Assistant Principals and the Deputy Principal, are expected to observe and provide feedback to two other teachers, as well be observed and given feedback about their own teaching practice. I have heard this concept given many names, but the underlying spirit is brilliant and promotes growth, learning, and best-practice and that it has resulted in significant growth throughout the entire teaching staff.

The school has also worked hard to remove useless and wasteful staff meetings consisting of items that belong in an e-mail. They map out the agendas for staff meetings for the full year and make them visible to the entire staff, creating an environment where e-mail meetings are reduced and promoting genuine discussion and debate on substantive issues. One of the issues examined was the use of funding and the recognition that data and accountability for the use of funding go hand in hand. To this end, funding began to be targeted to specific purposes and programs, which needed to be evaluated and the data used to determine success and the impact thereof through action research. One outcome of this was that the way rubrics were used to judge assessment tasks was changed. They are now structured and given to students indicating that by the end of the unit they need to be able to answer specific in-depth questions, rather than simply writing a report that uses a few keywords.

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In order to improve the level of teacher wellbeing, the school instituted a family week wherein staff are encouraged to not arrive at school prior to 0800 and to not be on premises after 1530. In addition to this, once a week, each subject block (the school is grouped into three cross-faculty blocks) has a staff lunch. During that staff lunch,  which is cooked by the staff specifically to share with each other, students are not allowed to go to that staffroom and all playground duties are taken care of by the other two faculty-blocks. I have written previously about the benefits of sharing a meal with colleagues, and they have held consistently for Lanyon High School staff.

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One area that was identified as needing improvement was in collaboration with other schools. To this end, a learning community was established with nearby primary and secondary schools. As part of this, joint assemblies are held on a regular, but not interferingly regular, basis so that when students transition from primary to secondary, the school they attend is already relatively familiar due to the community environment that has been established.

At this point, we were asked to consider what an empowered student looked like and in our table groups, discussed and explored this with some consistent themes emerging in the room.

  • Safety and basic needs need to be met – relationship to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
  • The ability to take appropriate risks.
  • Opportunities to try, experiment, fail and reflect.
  • The ability to drive their own learning.
  • Hopeful of the future.

Prue and Ed also noted that if it is easy to measure, then it is probably not worth measuring, which led to a discussion about how do we measure if our students are empowered. Some tools that they use as a school include attendance rates, especially for those with historically low attendance as well as reading student reflection journals.

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The discussion then moved onto an explanation of the merit and reward system that was being used across the school and that while it was working well and having positive effects, there was an awareness of Alfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards theory and the negative potential of extrinsic motivation. There was a discussion of the fact that some schools physically cannot get through the whole curriculum and that one way they were working through that issue was to utilise the learning by design methodology in their planning and programming, as well as peer feedback on practice.

They discovered that students were working on assignments outside of school hours, collaboratively, and diving into deep discussions on concepts that were being covered in class.

We are often told, as educators, that we need to leverage a student’s interest and teach to it. However, Prue and Ed argued that if a student likes bikes, do not give him a book about bikes and teach everything through bikes as that will only destroy the love of bikes. It is also, they said, our job to expose students to other ideas, concepts, and interests rather than allow them to become single-minded about something.

Closing out, Prue and Ed spoke to us briefly about the Giving Project they run through Years Seven, Eight and Nine, the use of a genuine student parliament which has input in the school and issues that affect students, and the last comment was from Prue; “that what works is not the right question. What works somewhere does not work everywhere.”

I enjoyed the session with Prue and Ed, their passion shone through and we heard some interesting ideas about engaging students in their own learning, stemming from a focus on improved school culture. The session was not well attended, I thought and did them a disservice, however, their enthusiasm was infectious and they engaged the audience well.

As always, thank you for reading. If you have missed the other articles in this Education Nation series, you can find the consolidated list here.

Education Nation | An Interview with Professor Masters

“There are few things as important in schools as providing all students with sound foundations in literacy and numeracy.”
– Professor Geoff Masters. E-Mail correspondence, 2016

Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) in June is through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.

All interpretations of Professor Masters’ views are my own and any misinterpretation also mine. The Interview with Professor Masters has been included for the sake of transparency.

After I had accepted the invitation to attend Education Nation in order to write a series of review articles about the event, I asked if it would be possible to conduct a series of pre-conference interviews via e-mail with some of the speakers. I was privileged to have been granted an e-mail interview with Professor Geoff Masters AO, the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) as well as head of ACER’s Centre for Assessment Reform and Innovation.

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Professor Geoff Masters. Retrieved from tinyurl.com/h2czpd6 on 6th March 2016

In developing the questions for Professor Masters, I felt that it would be remiss of me to not take advantage of the opportunity to ask his opinions about statements by Professor John Hattie in April 2015, where Professor Hattie indicated that he felt classroom teachers should leave education researcher to trained researchers. I recall there being quite the uproar on social media as a result of Professor Hattie’s remarks, with a great number of educators commenting that there is no reason they cannot engage with research.

Professor Masters’ view is that it is unreasonable to expect teachers to be both highly trained and effective educators; and highly trained and effective educational researchers. It is reasonable, however, to expect teachers to be informed users of research evidence; evidence which should be a consideration for teachers when engaging in the informal research process of evaluative reflection upon their pedagogical practice.

The title of the article in which Profess Hattie’s statement was published was certainly clickbait and as with most instances of clickbait, upon reading further, the statements were not as provocative as at first glance. Indeed, Professor Masters’ response to this question implies that Hattie’s sentiment that teachers should leave the research to the researchers is reasonable. Indeed, when you read further in the article, where Professor Hattie is reported as also having said “I want to put the emphasis on teachers as evaluators of their impact. Be skilled at that,” I find it difficult to disagree.

I cannot speak to the level of training that other classroom teachers have received in research. Personally, having only received an introduction to educational research through the Honours program I completed as part of my initial teacher education (ITE) (delivered by Dr. Nicole Mockler), I do not feel that I would be able to put together a large-scale strong and rigorous research project on my own, whilst also managing the day-to-day requirements of teaching and evaluating the effectiveness of my practices. That said, I do feel that I have had enough training through the Honours program to enable me to read and utilise the outcomes of research to inform my reflections, or to work with a researcher to conduct more formal research.

Professor Masters further noted that high levels of training and proficiency are required for certain types of research, which dovetails neatly with Professor Hattie’s comment that “[r]esearching is a particular skill. Some of us took years to gain that skill.” I do not have years to invest in mastering the skills to become proficient with rigorous, high-quality formalised research. I would prefer, at this point in my career, to invest that time in developing my pedagogical practice. In that frame of reference, leave the research to the researcher is not, in my opinion, as provocative a sentiment as it first sounds.

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Professor Hattie. Retrieved from tinyurl.com/z4e2ryr on 6th March 2016

During the last four years in various staffrooms and study sessions with my colleague pre-service teachers, I have encountered a variety of opinions regarding the relationship and relevance that research has to classroom teachers. Whilst there are pockets of teachers who see the value in the relationship, by and large, educational research appears to be seen as irrelevant. Professor Masters stated that too often pedagogical practice is shaped by beliefs about what should work in the classroom and beliefs shaped by fads and fashions of the day (Greg Ashman has written about various fads and fashions in education including here, here, here and here). Additionally, I have heard the “it worked when I was in school/first started teaching/we did it this way in the 70s and 80s”  refrain regularly, with its unstated implication that it will still work.

To improve the quality of classroom teaching, and by extension, the learning outcomes for students, Professor Masters asserts that evidence-based pedagogical practices should be implemented; that is, those pedagogies which have been demonstrated through research and experience to be effective in improving students’ learning outcomes and engagement. The relationship between educational research and classroom teaching is one of sharing, with Professor Masters commenting that “[p]rofessions are defined largely by a shared knowledge base. Educational research is playing an essential role in building that knowledge base.”

It is interesting to note that there is a growing community of educators on various forms of social media sharing with their practices, both the successes and the failures, with each other, and it will be interesting to see what role the online Professional Learning Networks play in contributing to educational research in the future, both as a source of information and participants, and as a vehicle for dissemination.

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Retrieved from tinyurl.com/j8vcs2p on 6th May 2016

I asked Professor Masters what his thoughts were on what stood in the way of Australian education and the heights of PISA and TIMMS testing results that seem to be the benchmark by which educational success is judged. I did so with reference to the ITE programs in Finland and the well-publicised reign of Finland at the top of the table in regards to PISA and TIMMS. Professor Masters’ response was relatively simple. High-performing countries, such as Finland and Singapore have raised the status of teachers.

Professor Masters noted that there are a number of high-performing countries who draw their teachers from the upper echelons of secondary education, typically starting with the top thirty percent and some drawing only from the top ten percent, making teaching in those countries, a highly respected and sought after career. This is not the case in Australia, where the required Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR) is quite low, as highlighted in this article from May 2015 which indicates that almost a third of all pre-service teachers achieved an ATAR of less than sixty. That demonstrates the low respect held for teaching compared with some of the ATARs listed in this article from January 2014, indicating that a to enter a Bachelor of Health Science/Master of Physiotherapy degree at the University of Western Sydney required an ATAR of 99.95, or the combined law degrees at the University of Sydney and the University of NSW, both with minimum ATARs of 99.70.

The school of thought that simply increasing the minimum required ATAR to enter an ITE program will improve the quality of teachers is not necessarily true. This article from October 2015 indicates that only a small percentage of pre-service teachers enter their ITE immediately upon completion of their secondary education. However, I do not believe that Professor Masters is advocating such a simplistic solution. His comment that “…teaching is a highly respected and sought after career and these countries have succeeded in making teaching attractive to their brightest and best schools leavers…” (emphasis mine) indicates to me that it should be merely one component of the admission process.

Professor Masters observed that in teaching in Australia is trending in the other direction to high-performing countries, becoming less attractive, an opinion I agree with. Personally, I am finding that time I would spend planning and preparing for a lesson is being taken up by mandatory training modules which provide no actual training, or on paperwork which is needed for the sake of bureaucracy. I, like many other teachers around the world, am struggling to balance work and family and am left feeling guilty for not spending time with my family. Perversely, I also find myself feeling guilty for not spending the time I want on marking and writing feedback, or on planning and resourcing a lesson, (often with things from my own home or which we have purchased with our own money).

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One of many memes which can be found on the internet with a similar sentiment. Retrieved from tinyurl.com/hgmax9j on 6th May 2016

The debate about how to improve the attractiveness of teaching as a profession is an old and ongoing one, and I look forward to hearing it discussed during Education Nation. When asked for his view on how the issue could be resolved, Professor Masters pointed out that it would require a series of deliberate policy decisions on a range of issues including teacher salaries, resourcing, and autonomy; as well as the number of admissions into ITE programs. Professor Masters noted that the countries which appear at the top of the international testing results, including Finland, limit the number of pre-service teachers each year. This article indicates that only one in ten applicants is successful in gaining entry into a Finnish ITE program.

There are also come clear benefits to restricting the number of entrants to ITE programs. You are also restricting the number of graduates, thereby helping to prevent what has happened here in Australia, where there is a glut of teachers who are unable to gain permanent employment due to the high number of graduates each year. Professor Masters’ final point was that an important factor in the perception of teaching is the academic rigour of the ITE program itself. I have written previously about my own ITE (part one can be found here), and I do believe that ITE programs, in general, can be improved, and look forward to hearing about that topic at Education Nation.

NAPLAN, which commences next Tuesday for Year Three, Five, Seven and Nine students Australia-wide, is an incredibly high-stakes testing process which has the potential to cause great anxiety and consternation amongst students, parents, teachers and policy-makers, and which invariably receives a great deal of attention in the media. When asked about why he thought NAPLAN moved from being a low-stakes test to what it is now, Professor Masters wrote that it is part of a deliberate strategy to improve performances through incentives.

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These incentives appear to use the carrot and stick method, with some financial rewards for school improvement or, alternatively, the threat of intervention and sanction for poor performance, and yet, the international experience has demonstrated that school behaviour is changed when the stakes attached to tests are increased. This is shown by the annual breaches that occur during the administering NAPLAN tests, including cheating and inappropriate assistance by some teachers, and the way in which many schools prepare their students for NAPLAN, as indicated in this article. Further to this, the public release of NAPLAN allows parents to compare schools and can result in some schools losing students as parents opt to send their child to seemingly ‘better’ schools.

Professor Masters commented that high-quality tests are an important component of education, providing diagnostic data around topics or concepts that require attention, monitoring improvement over time and evaluating the effectiveness and impact of programs and interventions. The widely used Progressive Achievement Test (PAT) is an example of the kind of test that can be an invaluable part of a teacher’s toolkit.

I do agree with Professor Masters about the value of testing. At the beginning of this year, Stage Three students in my school all completed a series of diagnostic tests across reading, spelling, and mathematics. That data was invaluable in identifying those students who need additional assistance in particular areas, and plays a role in developing Individual Education Plans (IEPs) for some students, and also for discussions with parents about the student’s results and progress throughout the year. It will also play an important role in quantifying students’ growth across the year when those tests are re-administered at various points throughout the year.

My final question to Professor Masters was his advice to new teachers as they enter their classrooms pressured to ensure that their students to achieve high NAPLAN results. He responded that “[t]here are few things as important in schools as providing all students with sound foundations in literacy and numeracy.” Professor Masters’ belief that the goal should be to improve our students’ literacy and numeracy levels, and that if we do raise the NAPLAN results, it should be as a result of improved literacy and numeracy levels. The problem, he pointed out, is that NAPLAN scores can be increased in ways that do not lead to better literacy and numeracy levels.

I am grateful to Professor Masters for his time and willingness to engage in the interview process. I very much look forward to hearing him speak at Education Nation, where he is speaking to the title Addressing the five key challenges in school education that matter to you on day one. Professor Masters will also be joining Dennis Yarrington, Dr. Kenneth Wiltshire and Lila Mularczyk for a panel discussion about Student Testing on day two. If you have not yet registered for Education Nation, I would encourage you to do so by clicking here.

As always, my thanks for reading, particularly given the length of this article. Please feel free to contact me with any comments, questions or feedback via the comments section below or on Twitter.

Welcome Back to Term Two

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
― Attributed to Lao Tzu

Welcome back for term two! I hope the mid-semester break was a chance to recharge and be ready mentally as well as within your program, for term two. It was, for me, a busy break, and the return to school has also been busy.

I spent the first  Monday and Tuesday of the break attending a Foundation Level course for THRASS, a phonics-based literacy system. It was an absolutely fantastic two days and I feel much more confident that I can have a positive impact on my students literacy levels than I did previously. I will write a THRASS-focused article  at a later date, as I genuinely believe that it is a highly worthwhile system which can have highly positive impacts for students’ literacy abilities and understanding of the use of English.

I spent some time planning for the upcoming term, getting my program in order, and after having attended the THRASS course, am not happy with it. I feel that the value in certain aspects of the program is not particularly high, and the course has made me question why I am implementing that spelling program in that way. I hope to be able to invest some time over the coming three days solidifying that program for the term. I also would like to spend some time revising other aspects of my overall literacy program.

Mrs Mitchell reached the halfway mark of her pregnancy during the break, and we attended the clinic for the appropriate scans to check up on Youngling. It is this scan where the ultrasound technician can provide high quality three-dimensional images of the baby, if, that is, the baby cooperates. Youngling decided to wave her/his hands a lot while we were there and so the arms covered the face. We have elected not to determine the gender, and so will have quite the surprise in a few months time.

I spent the entirety of the second week of the holidays working on an application for a full-time permanent position, which I will be submitting this afternoon. I have had some incredibly valuable and useful feedback from my Principal which has helped me refine and strengthen the application and as a result, I feel that I have a good chance to reach the interview stage of the process.

Yesterday, I returned to school for our staff development day, and discovered that the school rebuild progressed significantly during the break, with foundations and footings now being in place for a number of sections. I have included a short video clip below.

View this post on Instagram

There's been a few changes! #PCPS #buildingsite

A post shared by Brendan Mitchell (@c21_teaching) on

The day was quite productive overall, with the whole staff meetings completed quickly after the relevant sessions had been delivered, allowing us to break into Stage meetings. Stage Three have a large number of events occurring this term, with PSSA Knockout events, the annual Year Six Canberra excursion, weekly coding being lessons delivered by ScopeIT, a bicycle safety and awareness excursion, a First Aid course, planning and preparation for the Year Five excursion to the NSW Sport and Recreation Point Wolstoncroft site in term three and planning and practice for the school athletics carnival. A busy term indeed! That is all before you factor in the semester one student reports.

I have also been successful in gaining consent for pre-conference interview from a number of speakers at the Education Nation conference in June which I am excited to conduct. I have already completed one, with some others in progress. If you have not yet completed your registration for Education Nation, I would urge you to do so, particularly if you are interested in the Elements portion of the conference as registration numbers for that aspect are limited. Click here to register.

I spent some time yesterday rearranging the room in an effort to improve the flow and functionality of our learning spaces, which has been received well by students thus far, and was excited to hear that my sister gave birth to a healthy baby girl yesterday morning.

I hope that your break and the return to school has filled you with excitement for the coming term, and that you are filled with enthusiasm and excitement for what is to come. As always, thank you for reading, and I would appreciate any feedback via the comments section below, or via Twitter.

Finding your mojo

 “Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”
– Attributed to Michael Jordan

Recently I have been writing about the struggles, the frustration and the challenges that I have encountered to this point in the school year. Yesterday, however, I wrote, very briefly, that something had changed, and that I was feeling much more positively about things. I was unable to expand on what I felt that was as I had to go to a referee fitness test in Newcastle. The good news on that front is that I hit the goal I had set for myself for the test in order to be eligible to be appointed to a particular level of match during the season.

I made the decision on Sunday, after having a stress attack, that I would go to bed, get up early and get started with a clear mind. Accordingly, I was in my classroom at 0600, and I found it to be an incredibly productive two and a half hours until the bell rang for the start of class. I began that day with a better idea of what I needed to achieve in my teaching, which meant that my teaching was clearer and more concise, with less waffle.

I made the decision to be at school nice and early, again, for Tuesday morning, and began teaching on Tuesday with a very clear vision of what I wanted to achieve, how I would achieve it and what I could afford to drop if there were time constraints or unexpected interruptions.

Today, I was again in my room at 0600 preparing for the day ahead I feel like I have turned a corner. The key, rather obviously, is my planning. I have a very clear idea of what I want to get done today, what I can afford to drop if there are time issues, and what the learning goal is for each session., and it is showing, both in my teaching and in the way the students are behaving and engaging with the tasks they have been asked to complete.

Last year, as I mentioned in a previous article, I was tasked with teaching digital literacy skills; skills that I could utilise standing on my head whilst asleep. Having been thinking about it, I believe that I allowed some bad habits to creep into my planning. Whilst I had a program that I had put together, I was rarely looking at it, making decisions about next learning steps based upon what I felt made sense from where the cohort was, how they had coped with learning a particular skill or piece of knowledge, and what fitted around the multitude of interruptions that we were experiencing in the school.

This is not the way to teach. I was utilising the seven-step planning process (that is, planning what you would be doing in the seven steps before you reach the class door) more regularly then I care to admit, and I allowed those poor habits to carry over to this year, in conjunction with struggling to wrap my head around all of the extra responsibilities and tasks that go hand-in-hand with having a class.

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Retrieved from tinyurl.com/hjnt48h 24th February 2016

A colleague who habitually arrives at school early each day commented to me this morning that they had noticed I had been in early the last few mornings, and when I replied with how productive I had been finding it, they gave me a knowing grin, and replied that when there is no one else here, there is no onto distract you but yourself, and that having a clear plan can create incredibly productive mornings.

The key, I believe, is that my planning has been more focused. Rather than focusing on what I want to achieve, I am also allowing myself to consider how I will achieve that, how I will check for understanding, what aspects I can afford to drop if we run out of time, or there are interruptions and also what resources I need to achieve the goal.

Today was, for the year so far, the most productive day that I believe I and my students have had, and that was with losing essentially the whole middle session to scripture. Tomorrow is my day off, however, I will be back in here at 0600 tomorrow morning as it is school photo day and if I need to be in here (I do not, of course, but I want to be here for my first school photos with a class of my own), then I may as well make it a productive day.

As always, thank you for reading, and I hope that your day has been as productive and left you with the same sense of achievement as mine has.

Reflections on Teacher Life and Resilience

“Resilience is all about being able to overcome the unexpected. Sustainability is about survival. The goal of resilience is to thrive.”
– Attributed to Jamais Cascio

What strategies do you employ to weather the storm that is the beginning of the school year and the mental chaos and stress that it generates? What advice would you give to pre-service teachers or new graduates to set them up to get through the chaos of term one mentally intact?

I have been finding this term mentally and physically stressful, draining and tiring, despite my contract being for three days as opposed to the four days of last year.That said, last year, I was tasked solely with teaching digital literacy skills in an RFF capacity, a role that I think, as I was reflecting last night whilst talking to Mrs. C21st, I took too lightly, as the skills I was teaching are skills that I think I could perform in my sleep whilst standing on my head, and so allowed some bad habits to creep in, in regards to planning for specific lessons.

This year, I am finding that there is so much more to do than what I was aware of from my ITE and even from last year. There are whole facets of teaching that do not get touched upon in, well, not the ITE program which I completed. The actually planning and programming from a scope and sequence that has been prescribed by the school, the administration required on a daily basis including everything from marking, checking books, interacting with parents, staff meetings, committee meetings, extra-curricular activities such as sports teams and debating, reassuring the student who’s struggling to feel comfortable socially that they do have friends, giving your banana to the kid who has no lunch, buying a water filter because the water in the taps tastes bad and on top of everything else, changing numeracy scope and sequences halfway through the term (though when the one that was being used made no sense, I actually do not mind that one, as frustrating as it is), having to prepare Individual Education Plans for any student who requires an adjustment for their learning.

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Retrieved from tinyurl.com/z44hnvk 22nd February 2016

 

In addition, this is also the start of the football (soccer) preseason, which brings its own time requirements, especially given that I am refereeing with a branch that is an hour away.Pre-season seminars, courses to upgrade my Referee Assessor (coach) qualifications, pre-season trial games, an FFA Cup match, training, fitness tests and other meetings have seen me spend about four or five hours just travelling each week, on top of the actual time at the event.

Then there is the chaos that comes about from Mrs C21st now being pregnant, which though  things have been relatively smooth so far, with more nausea than actually being sick, it has brought its own challenges, especially in regards to food and working out what smells set her nausea off. Thus far, it has not been as bad as it could be, with the smell of red meat cooking, chia seeds, and some yoghurts being the main things that set her off, and our (her) consumption of white peaches necessitating the purchase of a fresh bag of six peaches every two to three days.

At the end of my first day of my first practicum back in 2012, in a Year Six class, I was hooked, I had the buzz, the rush of adrenalin that comes when a student has an a-ha! moment and gets it, and I thought to myself that, yes, I was in the right profession. I would be lying if I denied having wondered about the truth of that thought in the last week. Recently, I asked for feedback about pursuing a permanent posting, and Corinne Campbell (@Corisel) commented that I should continue to pursue a permanent posting, as being  granted that would also see me gain access to significant additional funding for mentoring and guidance in planning and programming and early professional development opportunities.

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How I feel this term. Retrieved from tinyurl.com/hlsjwn9 22nd February 2016

I think it is fantastic that new, permanently-employed teachers have access to that resource to help gain their footing, and I do remember hearing one my friends from university who was permanently appointed straight out of university, talk about that and how she would be struggling even more than she was, without the time that it gave her to get her head around all of the tasks that were never mentioned during our ITE.

As far as I am aware (and if I am wrong, please correct me!), as a temporary or casual teacher, I do not have access to this assistance. Whilst I understand, from a practicality and management point of view why casual teachers do not have access to it (which school manages it etc), I think it is as important that temporary and casual teacher’s gain access to it in some format, even if only on a pro-rata basis.  I am contracted, for the year, at .6. Why should I not be able to access .6 of the full amount in order to gain some guidance, mentoring and assistance in wrapping my head around everything? Why could a casual teacher with a good working relationship, whether with a particular school or a particular teacher, not nominate that teacher/school to be their mentor, and some sort of agreement is negotiated to provide the assistance to the new teacher?

There has to be a way for this to be better, and more equitably managed. There seems to be a regular discourse about the shortage of teachers and the rates of new teachers that are leaving the profession within their first five years being abominably high. Why can we not seem to come up with a way to put in place, for those new graduates who want it, access to assistance that is currently restricted to one small portion of the workforce?

I have not had one of those days since my last article on that topic, however, I have not particularly enjoyed my teaching lately as I am too busy stressing about getting through everything I have ben told I need to get through. I suspect that my desire to complete my referee qualification upgrade this season will fall by the wayside as it will be the first casualty of the year due to the amount of time that refereeing sucks up.

On the plus side, other than a few nights, (including tonight, but Mrs. C21st is out at a training night), I have done well in not doing work at home when Mrs. C21st has been at home as well. That said, I have been getting to school at around 0630, and have often only left earlier than 1800 due to appointments.

I had a bit of a stress-out last night. I had lost Saturday as I was refereeing an FFA Cup (the assessor was happy, I got a result in regular time, ran just under fifteen kilometres according to my GPS unit, and took just under sixteen thousand steps) and then spent the remainder of the day completing paperwork and reports and going through my post-match recovery program. Sunday we spent in Sydney seeing some family and friends we had not seen in a few months, and it was dinner time when we arrived home. I ended up getting a little bit of planning done for what I need to do, and was in bed at 2030, and then here this morning at 0615, with a fresher, cooler head.

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Retrieved from tinyurl.com/guodvkf 22nd February 2016

 

Today did actually well. I get through everything I wanted to, except for three activities, and only half of my reading groups.But I think that, despite what I wrote earlier about taking work home, that I will take the night for myself to relax, go for a light run (I have a fitness test tomorrow afternoon) and then an early night.

I do have faith that I will make it through this term, we are, after all, halfway through. I do remember feeling like this when I first started working in one of my previous occupations, and asking my manager at the time what I was doing wrong that I was not getting through my workload each day, and stressing out about it. I do not know what changed, but it did and suddenly one day, I was the one helping others get through their workload. I believe I will get there, and that at the moment I am somewhere in transitory phase between consciously incompetent and consciously competent.

That said, I would love to hear strategies, whether mental or physical, that you use to get through this chaotic time of year.

As always, thank you for reading.  I do have photo of my new classroom to update the header of this blog, I just have not had time to upload it yet.

The Ecology of the Classroom

“All have their worth and each contributes to the worth of the others.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion

As you read this, I would like you to think about the ecology of your classroom; the physical structure, the ambience generated by the posters, your bearing and voice, outside influences, are you near a train line or a highway, or do you have construction work going on, as we do in our school that is impacting on various aspects of the school? I would appreciate any feedback on my room and the various initiatives that Mrs W and I are putting in place.

The new classes were put in place on Tuesday after the final numbers and class mixes were determined. The initial mix for Stage Three was two classes of just Year Five students, two composite Year Five and Six classes and then a straight Year Six class. Due to the vagaries of enrolment numbers, this meant that Mrs W and I would have twenty students, another would have had only a few more and then the others would have had high-twenties, which is not particularly equitable. The final mix is that all five classes are composite Stage Three classes, with everyone having either twenty-four or twenty-five, which I am sure you would agree is much more equitable.

Having a composite class presents its own challenges, which I discovered about ten minutes after getting my new class back to our room when all of my Year Six students left to go and be with their Kindergarten buddies. I effectively did not see my Year Six students again until the final session in the afternoon, which was rather frustrating as it made those initial stages of setting up the room, in regards to the basic mechanics of the classroom, very difficult.

So far, between the last session of yesterday, and the morning session until Year Six went to join their Kindergarten buddies, we have been able to play some getting to know you games, have a conversation about rights and responsibilities and then brainstorm rights and responsibilities for both the teachers and the students as a more positive option than just a classroom rules, given out the various books, and discussed the classroom management system that Mrs W and I are putting in place this year, which is a classroom economy system.

We wanted something that would be relevant and actually useful for students and that would actually have an impact on students, encouraging to be positive with their behaviour, rather than a negative structure that tries to control their behaviour, and after talking about various systems that we have both come across, decided on the classroom economy system.

Students will earn a daily wage, with the opportunity for bonuses for a variety of things from returning permission notes and monies on time, to improvements in various learning contexts. In contrast, they will also be required to pay living expenses as will be required of them in them in the real world; rent, wifi, electricity, groceries, and occasional unexpected costs such as a broken window, or repairs. We will be using real amounts, divided equally amongst the class. They will also be fined for things such as forgetting equipment, negative behaviour, and will need to pay levies for borrowing equipment, requiring a loan from the bank (Mrs W and myself) to pay their fines.

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Screenshot of the current classroom economy incoming and out outgoing amounts.

 

This system will require a lot of real-world mathematics skills, and will, we hope, a method for encouraging positive behaviour, and learning improvements in a manner which has some real-world contexts, including the obvious literacy and numeracy skills, as well as budgeting, planning, and personal traits such as organisation.

It is going to require significant work to maintain throughout the year, but we are hopeful that it will be worth it. I have already had the conversation that we may tweak the system as we go, and that if it is not working that we may decide to scrap it, but that we want to give it a go. Thus far, the students have been very intrigued and excited by the idea.

We are also planning on placing a significant level of responsibility for their own learning on the students by putting in place some simple routines that will generally remain the same and allow the day to commence with a minimum of fuss and need for direction by us. This will be enhanced, hopefully, once our building is internet-enabled and we are able to utilise online distribution to prepare a day’s routine.

I have left multiple pages of notes for Mrs W of things that have occurred around the school that she needs to be aware of, particularly in relation to tomorrow’s swimming carnival, but also to let her know what I have been through with the class, what I have not been able to get to and various other minor things.

I would like to hear how you plan and execute the first few days in a class at the beginning of the year, how do you create a classroom ecology that is conducive to a positive learning environment, and how do you go about creating an environment of trust in the room?

Job-Sharing

“The thing I loved the most – and still love the most about teaching – is that you can connect with an individual or a group, and see that individual or group exceed their limits.”
– Attributed to 
Mike Krzyzewski

I thoroughly enjoyed the role that I had last year as an RFF teacher focused on teaching digital literacies. It afforded me the opportunity to experience a wide range of students, to try pedagogical strategies with different class groups to see what worked, and on occasion, what most definitely did not work, and to get a greater feel for what kind of teacher I want to be, without the pressures of being a permanent teacher on a single class and the associated additional responsibilities that are attached to that role such as the extra administration, reports (though I had to complete reports, it was significantly less stressful and time-consuming than my colleagues), PLAN data, parent communication etc.

This year, as mentioned in my previous article, I am job-sharing with a more experienced colleague on a Year Five class, and while I am feeling more nervous about teaching a single class and having those additional responsibilities, I am also more excited than I was last year. In particular, I am excited about the sentiment expressed in the opening quote. I saw growth in many of my students last year, and formed some strong working relationships with various students, however, I found it difficult jumping from class to class, or even Stage to Stage and regularly not being able to continue with a particular lesson that the class was thoroughly engaged with and where deep learning was occurring because my timetable required me to move on to the next class.

This year, whilst there is a timetable that needs to be adhered to, learning milestones that need to be hit and external factors that need to be allowed for, I will have the opportunity to really connect with my students and see them day-to-day, rather than once a week, and see learning opportunities through to completion and experience the growth across the year that students will undergo.

I met with my teaching partner, Mrs. W, a few times throughout January to get some planning and programming completed, to determine the mechanics of how the classroom would function, management strategies, division of labour across particular Key Learning Areas etc. and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that, largely, we were on the same page to begin with. Mrs. W had some fantastic ideas that she wanted to implement and she was accepting of many of my ideas.

This start makes me believe that we will be able to successfully work together during the year, as long as we continue to communicate. I have never worked in a job-sharing arrangement in any of my previous occupations, though I know many who have, and have heard both horror and success stories. I am encouraged that my school has a strong history of successful job-sharing partnerships in recent years.

The year ahead promises to be exciting, and Mrs. W and I have had lots of conversations about various programs we want to put in place including both literacy and numeracy, and classroom management.

Have you taught in a job-share arrangement before? What strategies made it successful or unsuccessful? Let me know in the comments.

Planning ahead for 2016

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.”
– Attributed to Neil Gaiman

Welcome back to a new year! I hope that the Christmas and New Year break was relaxing and you have returned refreshed and ready to start with your new class. Personally, I am looking forward to an exciting and eventful year, and will be achieving some goals and going a long way towards achieving others. What are your goals for the year? Have you set any?

As my regular readers may recall, I have been offered a year-long temporary contract for three days per week on a Year Five class with a more experienced teacher which I am excited for. I am hoping to utilise this year to complete my accreditation to move into the proficient bracket, as well as to expand my skills and abilities.

I am attending FutureSchools again this year and am also hoping to attend FlipConAus in Adelaide in November. I will once again write up a series of review articles based on my notes from the conferences. I am also attending a THRASS Foundation Course in the April holidays, which I am looking forward to.

I plan to continue with this blog, posting an article each day, Monday to Thursday, however, that may scale back to only Monday to Wednesday, depending on time management needs as I have a lot going on, as we all do, outside of education.

I am in the process of an upgrade certification as a Football (soccer) Referee, which when completed will see me refereeing in the third tier of football in Australia, National Premier League Division Two, and this goal will require a considerable amount of time and energy for training and matches.

My biggest goal for the year, however, is to manage my time more effectively. I have decided that in regards to working outside of school hours, I will, where possible and practical, only work while Mrs. C21st is at work, and I will not be working outside of school hours on Thursdays or Fridays unless absolutely necessary (such as during report season and the beginning few weeks of the school year where there is still a significant amount of planning and programming going on). I feel like this is going to be crucial to not burning out this year, given the time, physical and mental demands that I will be under with everything that is happening. I will also allow me time to complete any marking, planning, blog writing, Tweeting etc, but also provides me with time off (Thursday and Friday, though I will be looking to undertake some casual work on these days).

Thank you for reading, and I would love to hear, either in the comments or over on Twitter, what your goals are for the year.

Halfway Home and Teacher’s Programs

“Once you’re halfway home, you know that you can probably get the rest of the way there.
-Attributed to Janis Ian

Today is Wednesday of Week Five which means we are halfway through the current term, and that many teachers are silently cheering that they are now on the homeward stretch. There is no small amount of tiredness and fatigue this term, as many teachers find themselves staggering under the burdens laid upon them by all of the additional extras that are currently the expected norm in the teaching profession. The after school meetings, the various clubs and groups that run during lunchtimes, the various intra- and inter-school competitions all take valuable time from a teacher’s day and add varying levels of stress and work to a teacher’s already busy and crowded timetable.

Personally, I am find myself alternating between incredibly tired and worn out and strongly motivated and energetic. On the one hand I am really happy with the progress that some of my students have made this term, particularly in infants, where we have been focusing on some fundamental computer skills, particularly typing skills. The self-efficacy that various students are showing now when compared to the beginning of term two, or even the beginning of term three, is vastly improved.

In stark contrast with that, I feel like, in many ways, I am taking two steps backwards for every one I take forwards. I feel like I have not achieved anything this term, and this is backed up when I look at my program. However, I have spent a significant amount of time working on some fundamental computer skills which I identified as lacking in my primary students, and have needed to devote a significant amount of time to working on those skills, as they are part of the foundation of digital literacy. In that frame of mind, I feel like it has been a valuable investment in time for the long-term result, which I likely will not see, particularly for my Stage Three students.

it is a reminder of the oft-quoted remark by German military strategist Helmuth von Moltke, which is that “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy” which can be converted, I believe, into “no teacher’s program survives the term unchanged.” There are also a large number of interruptions in the coming weeks, with Book Week (which I do in fact enjoy and have already organised my costume for the book parade), the zone athletics carnival, Infants athletics carnival, Father’s Day stalls, and the swim program for Year Two and Three students which spreads across two weeks.

Looking at what is left to cover in my program this term and comparing that to the amount of teaching time I will have access to with the various interruptions, I do not think that I can complete my program for this term without sacrificing the attainment of conceptual understanding and deep learning by my students, a compromise I do not want to make. This program was also my first, and I was aware going into it that I was perhaps biting off more than I could chew in regards to what I set out to achieve. I do need to sit down and update my program with the various changes that I have made, and notes of what did and did not work in various portions of the program.

I would very much like to hear how you manage your program and keep it up to date with what changes and modifications you have had to make, both impromptu and planned.