Posts tagged ‘Learning Conversations’

Enterprise schooling: towards interdependence

One thing that seems to annoy educators is the intrusion of “business” terminology into the work of schooling.  When terms like key performance indicators and data driven are introduced, we fear that business is going to take over the work of schooling, which has its own unique language and narrative.

For too long we’ve seen the “business of schooling” as unique to each school or system; a stand- alone process. We have operated as some sort of small cottage industry and worked to provide schooling within its own context. As we know, this isn’t sustainable in a world that has become connected and flatter.

Michael Fullan and myself on his recent visit to meet with our school and system leaders.

If we’re going to find ways to continuously improve schools, we have to move from a cottage understanding of schooling to an enterprise understanding of schooling. Michael Fullan has been working with us recently and made this point when he talked about the need for interdependence not independence.

I’ve been thinking about this point in relation to the history and growth of technologies in our schools. One of the reasons we’ve been able to link schools together and take advantage of the world wide web is that we understand the need for standards. These standards reflect a universal agreement on what it takes to run the system and run it efficiently.

Standards in technology can also be applied to the business of schooling.  As I’ve said before, we need an agreed set of standards around the fundamentals of learning and teaching to ensure all schools move forward.  I call this enterprise schooling– the move from isolation to connectedness, from local to global, from pockets to widespread engagement, from some schools to all schools sharing success.

Michael refers to it as common sense approach and shared five points or standards when it comes to widespread improvement of learning and teaching.

  1. Literacy and numeracy is the bread and butter of primary schools
  2. Capacity building must be continuous
  3. There has to be a consistency of practice in how literacy and numeracy is taught
  4. Momentum builds when we learn from each other (within schools and increasingly across schools and clusters)
  5. Leadership teams must be obsessed with ‘making it happen’

While these points may be simple enough, the execution isn’t always. ‘Making it happen’ is complex work – it relies on school leaders building a cohesive group and teachers being ‘irresistibly engaged’.  Engagement happens when there is ‘buy in’ – when every member of the team accepts the standards and takes responsibility for improving the learning and teaching.

According to Michael, we tend to do a lot of work on collaboration and teamwork but without traction – without results.  Teamwork comes with an obligation to continuously drill down to get better learning to engage students, which engages teachers at the same time.

In thinking about schooling as ‘enterprise’, we should think about school implementation plans as mini ‘declarations of interdependence’. Written by the people and for the people and when successful, the work is shared among the people.

A student’s take on learning and teaching

I’m often asked what 21st century learning and teaching looks like for teachers and students.

When I was speaking at the 2012 Technology in K-12 Education National Congress in Sydney recently, I had the chance to sit in on the student panel and was impressed to hear our own year 12 student, Mark Elias, from Parramatta Marist High School speak so thoughtfully about his learning.

Four years ago, Parramatta Marist introduced the Project Based Learning (PBL) approach which, in Mark’s opinion, radically changed his learning journey from year 9 onwards.

Mark Elias and myself at the Technology in K-12 Education National Congress earlier this year

I’ve met Mark a few times now and thought he had some great views to share as a learner in one of our schools about how learning and teaching has changed for him and the skills he has developed as a result:

Learning has changed dramatically over my years attending Parramatta Marist. I started at the school in 2007 and was educated ‘traditionally’ which meant a teacher dictating information and the students reciting and regurgitating information.

After spending two years learning under this pedagogy, I was then exposed to a 21st century approach to education. This approach placed perfect emphasis on the three main aspects of a classroom: the students, the teacher and collaboration.

Students were taught the importance of adaptive thinking via discussing ideas in groups; not only strengthening their ability to think but also their ability to work effectively in groups.

The change was abrupt which forced the teachers to learn with the students, eliminating the tension between a teacher who knew everything and a student who knew nothing.

As the school and the teachers progressed with 21st century learning pedagogies, students’ learning was shaped positively – not only could they know the content, they could understand and apply it.

Using technology is imperative in this learning approach as it breaks down all barriers around what a classroom is, where it starts and ends; learning takes place via Skype discussion and emails with students constantly wanting others’ perspective on answers to help shape their own thinking and approaches.

Art of teaching

Over the course of the year I have written about a range of issues but the central theme has been about learning and teaching in a contemporary and connected world. The more I write about this, the more I recognise that improving student learning is about improving teacher quality.  It’s not pie in the sky stuff, it’s achievable when we get teachers working and learning together, opening their practice up to critical reflection and setting high benchmarks for themselves and their students.

I know this has been the road less travelled in our profession for the past hundred years and I suppose it can be difficult to imagine how teacher practice could change.  Opening your teaching up to comment is a huge risk but when done in the spirit of continuous improvement, the rewards are great.

I am fortunate to be able to see this in practice when I visit schools.  When I hear teachers talking about Helen Timperley’s inquiry cycle as a framework for reflection, it not only changes practice but culture.

Recently, I was asked to view the art work of students at Caroline Chisholm, Glenmore Park.  These students are being taught by teachers who are part of a professional learning community committed to improving their own and their students’ learning.  I know I often say I was wowed by student work but I don’t think I can capture the standard here in words.

What is impressive is that the art teachers expect their Year 1o students to produce Year 12 quality work – and they do.  By the time this cohort gets to Year 12, the standard is extraordinary.   Out of a class of 30 this year, 10 were nominated for the NSW Art Express  and 7 have been chosen to exhibit. The teachers are charting the progress of their students from Year 7 through to Year 12.

I spoke to several of the students who acknowledged their teachers and were supportive of the stretch their teachers provided.  The teachers didn’t think their practice was out of the ordinary and this is when you know you there’s been a cultural change.

Learning Conversations Caroline Chisholm

It’s a great base from which to build and I look forward to continuing the learning conversations with teachers and leaders next year.

Adding value

I’ve enjoyed my short visit to Learning and Teaching Scotland. As is often the case with these sorts of visits you get so much out of the informal discussions, some of which can go on well into the evenings!

The generosity of time and sharing of professional expertise of these busy people is always amazing. You get a chance to get some depth to the often superficial information you get on flying visits. This level of conversation stimulates and stretches your perspectives.

Click on the links for my ‘Learning Conversations’ with Sheena Devlin, Head of Education Early Years and Primary for Perth and Kinross Council and Catriona Oates from the National Centre for Professional Development on teacher-learning.

As I wrote in a previous post, Scotland is rolling out a new national curriculum and one of the long points of discussion I had was around external testing.  In this new curriculum,  authorities have resisted the move to external testing and the publishing of externally set targets and league tables.

Schools can choose to do such tests if they wish but it is a local matter only. Of course this is the path that England have now chosen to go down after a decade of rigorous external assessment with little to show by way of either improving student learning or school improvement.

The major focus of Scottish and now English education authorities is improving teachers’ learning.  Authorities seem now to understand  student learning is greatly influenced by ongoing learning by teachers and leaders.

There is also an increasing use of technology through webinars and the like to reach all teachers. We had several discussions about John Hattie and they were very interested to hear our response to his work.

The wider involvement of the community through partnerships is another strategic direction encouraged by schools here. All schools are encouraged to build partnerships with local businesses and to find experts that may be able to add value to the work of schools. There is a real understanding of the need to open schools to the wider community in real and tangible ways.

Sharing the love (of learning)

I recently visited one of our primary schools and spent time chatting to students and teachers. What is evident when you’re in a vibrant learning space such as this, is a real buzz around teachers who are taking greater control of the learning space and continually innovating. I think this reflects a culture where risk-taking is the norm, reflective dialogue with colleagues is a support not a burden, and everyone accepts accountability for the learning.

Far too often the teaching profession is admonished for what it isn’t doing right. I see it as part of our professional responsibility to celebrate the achievements and showcase good learning and teaching beyond the school gates. If we raise the overall quality of teaching, then we raise the status of the profession.

As you’ll see below, when teachers talk openly and enthusiastically about their work, you cannot help feel inspired and encouraged.

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