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.

The moments that remind you why you teach.

“I am indebted to my father for living, but to my teacher for living well.”
– Attributed to Alexander the Great

Recently I wrote an article talking about the issue of teacher work-life balance, and my current lack thereof. It has generated some interesting discussions and I have had some helpful conversations with members of my PLN who have reached out, for which I am grateful. It seems that the conversations I have had face-to-face where it has been indicated that the hours I keep currently are somewhat normal have been somewhat supported by conversations on Twitter.

A conversation with one Tweacher indicated they kept similarish hours to myself vis-a-vis time spent at school but allowed a longer break between the end of the school day and resuming work at home, and with more frequent breaks over the weekend when working at home. Another Tweacher noted that for them, involvement with professional associations and Twitter allowed them to blend their social life with their educational life, acknowledging that  they were unsure if this constituted having a work-life balance.

When I first began this blog, I wrote about why I teach and why I joined the teaching profession in a time when there is intense scrutiny of men professing a desire to work with children and men are seemingly avoiding the teaching profession. In my own Initial Teacher Education (ITE) cohort, there were perhaps only ten of us out of around one hundred and fifty.

Despite how I was feeling in general, I was still excited to be in the classroom. I have some great things going on with my students, particularly my Stage Three classes and this morning reinforced that. I had one of my Stage Three classes, and we have been learning about the Cornell note-taking strategy. To be able to take good quality notes is a very handy skill and something that I wish I had had in high school, or even in my first two years at university.

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I was open about that, as well. I showed them some of my notes from a first-year course and we talked about what was wrong with them and why those notes were not as helpful as they could be. We then talked about the projects that they had completed that year with their classroom teacher and the research they did as part of that and how having useful notes would have made things easier.

I have been really proud of the way they have engaged with the learning process for this topic. We have spent a considerable amount of time practicing using the strategy and are now at the point where it is time to wrap the unit up with a summative assessment task.

Part of my professional development recently has included conversations about student choice, prompted, I think, by a comment that Jon Bergmann made during one of his keynotes at FlipConAus recently when he asked the audience “Why do we make our students demonstrate what they learned by making them take a test?”

I had heard something similar previously, though I cannot recall where, and I decided to try it out. So I had a conversation with each of my Stage Three classes and asked them “what do you want to do to demonstrate to me that you know how to use and can use the Cornell note-taking strategy on your own?” We discussed that, and then I asked them “what does success look like in your chosen strategy?” which prompted a conversation about what would be expected in each method that demonstrates understanding. The students loved it and were genuinely engaged with the process of developing their assignments.

It was a “so this is why I teach” moment for me. The students were genuinely engaged, poring through the notes they had taken as we learned about Cornell note-taking together to help them put together their own demonstration. Some of my students were filming a video where they explained it and then demonstrated how it was used, some of my students chose to take some notes on a self-chosen topic and submit those with annotations, and some have chosen to put together a powerpoint presentation. There was creation, there was analysing, there was collaboration, group work, individual work, peer support as one of a more advanced students worked closely with a student who required some additional support, going through the same steps that I would have to support the students. I was cheering inside.

I told the students this during the session-end reflections. I also asked them how they felt about being able to direct their own learning in this way and as a whole group, they felt empowered to own their learning and show off what they actually knew in different ways, rather than in the same way as everyone else.

It was a great morning.

Then things returned to Earth and I ended up wandering down to our Deputy Principal’s office and asking her for some advice on an incident, which in and of itself, was very minor, but which in the larger picture of the students involved could merely be a stepping stone to something larger.

The afternoon was much better, I had another Stage Three class, who are one session away from finishing the current unit of work, after which I have said we will explore green screen technology using VeeScope Live.

Oh, the roller coaster of teaching! I wonder if students are truly aware of their impact on us, as teachers.

Welcome back to a new term

“We need heroes in education. Educators to be household names just like sports have Cathy Freeman and the law has Geoffrey Robertson.”
– Matt Esterman paraphrasing Dr Keith Tronc

Welcome back, everyone, to a new term, and what a scorcher it has started out with. I believe the temperature reached the mid-thirties here today, and there were red-faced students aplenty at the end of recess and lunch.

I thoroughly enjoyed the break from school and from the various frustrations that teachers face, and while it was great to spend time my wife, with my friends, giving the house a proper spring clean (and thereby satisfy my itch to move house for another year), it was equally nice to be back in the classroom with students again today. I did nothing relating to school for the entirety of the school break (with the exception of a visit to SCIL, which I will cover in a separate article). I went away for a weekend with the wife and some friends, tore the house apart (figuratively, of course) giving it a spring clean when Mrs C21st went back to work at the end of week one, started pre-season training for refereeing, and spent some time reading for pleasure (I have finally finished the current book in the Song of Ice and Fire series), gaming on both console and computer, had a catch-up dinner with friends from university, and generally pottered about the house. No planning, programming, Twitter (though I did miss some excellent #SatChatOC sessions), blogging…..nothing to do with school until I worked out what I was doing today, last night after dinner.

Oddly enough, I actually felt guilty for it. I did have grand plans of getting a few things in particular done, and it just did no eventuate. I could not summon the motivation to do anything. It was not until I had a conversation with my sister-in-law and a few teacher friends who said the same thing, that I decided that it was okay to take a break, an actual break. Mentally, I think I definitely needed it. For our won wellbeing, we, as teachers, need to dis-engage periodically to refresh and revitalise. For our sake and for our students’ sake it needs to happen. Particularly given the intensity of day one of a term.

The first day back for the term is an interesting one, as an RFF teacher. Whereas a single-class teacher (i.e. someone with a permanent class of their own) has the whole day to re-engage with the students and get the class functioning smoothly again after a two week separation, an RFF teacher has a much smaller amount of time. For me, I have thirty minutes (Kindergarten to Year Two), forty-five minutes (Year Three and Four) and sixty minutes (Year Five and Six), and that is all I get. It presents quite the conundrum, and one which I do not feel like I faced in Term Two or Three, for some reason. I ended up doing a brief round up of what each student did on their holidays (“tell me one awesome thing you did”) and was pleasantly surprised and happy with the responses (no-one said “nothing”), a brief recap of what we did last term, and the overall plans for this term, and for my year five and six classes today, we engaged with the next lesson in the sequence of the current unit, after reviewing what we had done thus far. It seemed to work well today. My students left with smiles on their faces, excited to be back and looking forward to when I see them next.

I hope you took time out for your own well-being, to spend time with friends and family, to engage with some guilty-pleasure reading, get housework done, gardening or whatever it is that you do to relax and disengage with teaching for a few moments.

Gratitude Challenge – Day Five

“Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.”
– Attributed to Zig Ziglar

The theme for day five of the gratitude challenge is a teacher, presumably one that has strong positive memories associated with them, and for me there is are two clear standouts, Mr Davies, my Year Five teacher and Mr Hawkins, my Year Six teacher. Mr Davies was a quiet man, according to my memories, yet he dominated that room and pushed each of us to challenge our supposed limits. He was the teacher who saw that I had a passion for, at the time, Ancient Egypt, and he allowed me to pursue that, doing copious amounts of research, which at that point meant rewriting the encyclopedia entries on the various Pharaohs and other cultural information about the subject, into the sole computer in the class.

He was a teacher that I wish I had been more appreciative of at the time, and told him how appreciative I was. I do not actually recall any particular skills or concepts that I learned, that were explicitly taught, other than to be sure to read everything before doing anything. But I do remember that he allowed us to play Where in the World is Carmen Sandiago as a class, challenging us to keep records of what we learned and piece all the evidence together, that he encouraged us to pursue our interests, that he was able to get me onto the Year Five excursion to Point Wolstoncroft when my family, at that point, was not able to afford it, that he encouraged me to read books that challenged me.

Mr Hawkins on the other hand was a big man, physically (in my memories at least), and had a big voice to match it. He ran the classroom with strength and achieved similar results and made us all feel as if he cared about what was going on, challenging us to try new things, to persevere and to aim for the stars.

Those two teachers are a strong part of the reason of why I wanted to enter the teaching profession, and my memories of their teaching styles, though quite different, plays a role in how I aim to be as a teacher, something which is represented explicitly in my Teaching Philosophy. I wish I had told them both at the time how much I appreciated their efforts on my behalf, and how I grateful I was, and am, for the influence on my life.

Gratitude Challenge – Day One

“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.”
– Attributed to William Arthur Ward

I am fortunate to have Brett Salakas (@MRsalakas) in my PLN, and recently he posted a challenge to those in his PLN to undertake the twenty-one day gratitude challenge, following on from a blog article he posted following from a Gratitude Night hosted by author Danielle Miller (@MillerDannielle).

The video that he posted in conjunction with the article is below, and is quite an interesting video.

Brett posted a link to a Gratitude Challenge pdf that looks very in-depth. Brett indicated that he would not be using that particular version of the Gratitude Challenge, but would be using this one, posted on Twitter by Danielle.

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Retrieved from https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CMB-b08UcAAKNAH.jpg on 13/08/2015

Day one is to show gratitude for a friend. One friend I am incredibly grateful for is my wife. We have been married now for three and a half years, and it feels like we are still in the honeymoon phase. We still enjoy each others company and are happy to just be together, sitting on the back deck at home reading a book, or supporting each other through the various frustrations that life throws up from time to time. She was incredibly supportive as I completed my initial teacher education, allowing me to stop working in my final year to focus on my internship and my Honours study, and I could not have completed with the results I achieved without her support and encouragement. We have an excellent working relationship at home as well, with a fairly equal division of labour that plays to both our strengths and interests.

If you are at all interested, I would challenge you to be grateful for twenty-one days, and to share it via #GratitudeChallenge.

As always, thank you for reading, and I look forward to seeing others join the Challenge.

Back….but off again

“My daily schedule is quite hectic, but I have to put my health first in order to be the best mum and wife I can be. ”
– Attributed to Ellen Pompeo

I indicated at the beginning of the mid-year holidays that I would be taking the time off to spend time with my wife, and that I would be away for the second week. Now that term three has begun in ernest, I had envisioned that I would dive straight back into my term two routine of writing a blog article each day through the week, partly as a reflection upon my teaching, partly as a reflection upon on my professional learning.

I am about halfway through an article based upon the staff development day that I attended yesterday, and have realised that I need to spend some time recovering from my week away, sort myself out for school and firm up my lesson plans so that I am not relying upon the ten step plan method of teaching, wherein I plan the lesson in the ten steps before I open the classroom door.

I believe that had I not been away for the second week of the holidays, that I would not find myself in the quandry that I am in, that I would be properly planned and ready for the new term, but given that I am still catching up on lost sleep, I think that for my own well-being, the quality of my teaching, and my marriage, I need to spend this week focusing on finding my balance and routine again, I need to get the basics back into order before I add more to the plate.

This means forming up my lesson objectives for my students, catching up on my sleep, and spending time with my wife. I have no plans this weekend, and will use that time to ensure that I have some blog articles ready to go for next week, but I think that the quality of my teaching, my own well-being and my marriage have to come before this blog, no matter how much I do actually enjoy the process of writing the articles.

I thank you for reading and take my leave for this week, and wish you all a strong start to term three, and hope that you will forgive this unexpected absence.

Holiday time!

“Relaxing after intense effort not only provides an opportunity to rejuvenate, but also to metabolise and embed learning.”
– Malti Bhojwani, The Mind Spa: Ignite Your Inner Life Coach

Today is my last day of term, as I do not work on Fridays, and even though I genuinely enjoy my work, I am also excited to be having two weeks off. A chance to relax, unwind, refresh and prepare for Term Three, with many teachers feeling about midway between these two owls:

Teachers at the start and end of year meme. Retrieved from http://schweet.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/teachers-begin-of-the-year-vs-the-end-of-the-year1.jpg on 24-06-2015
Teachers at the start and end of year meme. Retrieved from http://schweet.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/teachers-begin-of-the-year-vs-the-end-of-the-year1.jpg on 24-06-2015

That said, as with many teachers, I have a busy mid-year break planned.I will be spending this coming weekend in my capacity as a Referee Assessor, providing coaching to up and young youth football (soccer) referees in the PS4 National Premier League Youth Divisions. Monday through to Wednesday I will actually be spending filming videos for flipped lessons ready for Term Three. Wednesday evening, my mother, brother and grandmother will be travelling to stay with us, as they are coming to celebrate my university graduation on Thursday, which is incredibly exciting. I am required to wear my Faculty Medal, and as Graduate Speaker, get to enter with the official party, and receive a photo with the Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor after the ceremony. Friday, I see off my family as they head home and then pack for a week away in Canberra, at Kanga Cup where I will be acting as a Referee Assessor and Coach to provide mentoring and coaching to youth referees from across the country as they officiate in an international youth football tournament. I leave for that on Saturday morning and returning the following Saturday

So it is a hectic two weeks. I love my work as a teacher and the positive impact I can have on children, but I love being able to just focus on some ‘me’ things for a while as well.

I will not be posting blog articles during the break. I may reblog any interesting articles that cross my monitor, and I will still be active on Twitter, but my focus, despite my busy schedule, is going to be to recharge mentally and physically. Enjoy your mid-year break, and I will ‘see’ you all next term.

It is time.

“Investing time to learn something in your professional life makes you RICH in your KNOWLEDGE, if you are not then it will make you POOR in your PERFORMANCE.”
― accredited to Sivaprakash Sidhu

Term two is upon us! Tomorrow morning many of us will be returning to school for staff development days. For some, it will be a day of great learning and engagement, for others it will be a long painful and boring day. I would like to think that there are more people in the former category, but realistically, I suspect it is probably an even spread.

Good luck to everyone for the upcoming term, and remember that no matter how busy you get, particularly those of you with NAPLAN testing looming in the not too distant future, that you need to take time for your own health and well being, and for your own family.

Leaving your mark on society

The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called ‘truth’.

-attributed to Dan Rather

One of the reasons I decided to teach was the excitement of the moment when the dots are joined for students’ between their prior knowledge and a new understanding. Knowing that you can make such a big impact on student’s life is hugely rewarding in itself, but also rather daunting.

I was going through Kid President’s playlist on Youtube, and found a video that captures this feeling. A year one teacher, Mrs Flexer, had been teaching in the same school for forty-one years, and was retiring. Some colleagues wanted to send her off in style, and through Kid President, arranged for a variety of her former students to come back, including one man from her very first class. Many of them speak on camera, and tell how she affected their lives, and you hear one of them state that they put their success down to her. It is an incredibly touching moment, and it puts things into perspective, to know that in five, ten, twenty, forty years time, that there will be people who will still remember your name and the impact on your life.

What do you want your students this year, to say about their time with you in ten years?

Celebrate the little things

“There is nothing better than a friend, unless it is a friend with chocolate.”
― Linda Grayson

This evening I caught up for dinner and drinks with some friends from my undergraduate degree, to celebrate the end of one term and to chat about the upcoming term. It was a genuinely fun night, and it was great to see some friends and hear how everyone has been and what has been going on, both inside and outside of the classroom. It was a reminder that we need to take time to celebrate the small things from time to time, and to take time to reach out to friends, so that we do not reach that point of thinking “oh, it has been too long since we chatted, it would be too hard to try and catch up now.”

Celebrate the little things, and do not lose touch with your friends. Particularly the collegiate friends, those in the same industry. You will always need someone, external to your specific context with which to discuss ideas, issues and with whom to debrief and provide a mutual source of support.

As we parted ways tonight, we agreed that we needed to ensure we catch up again at the end of the current term, and indeed, we decided when – the last Thursday of the term. It is a meeting I look forward to, to discover how everyone’s term has been, to share in their success stories and to hear about what they have learned.