Posts tagged ‘Professional Learning’

Learning and leading

There’s been discussion recently regarding the increasing demands placed on school leaders and teachers. We live in a world that demands greater accountability, transparency, productivity and performance. Education is not immune.

We also have the research outlining qualities of high achieving/effective schools and the ‘high expectations’ on student and teacher performance. Parents expect their children will achieve quality educational outcomes.  Governments and the community expect teachers and schools to consistently deliver those outcomes.

High but realistic expectations are an essential part of the educational narrative in today’s world.  As part of a professional learning community, we find that our achievements, including how we deal with the highs and lows of our work, grow out of shared respect and collaborative practices. We expect our colleagues to support, and where appropriate, to challenge us.

This is why it’s critical to cultivate a culture where we take the necessary time to stand back, to re-balance our professional agendas and eliminate unhelpful accretions so we can focus on what really matters for our students, ourselves and our communities.

Externally driven narratives or codes on how we manage ourselves or our school communities de-skills those responsible for the work. Principals and teachers are best placed to decide on what is best for themselves and their learners.

The role of governments, professional bodies and even systems is to support the work of schools not mandate it. We will never learn how to deal with the complexities of schooling in today’s world unless we take the lead.

As Richard Elmore says, we learn the work by doing the work.









It’s a small ‘virtual’ world

I’m not sure if you have had this experience, but the last thing I expected while travelling in Greece on a pilgrimage with Catholic Education colleagues was to be approached by two fellow Australians who recognised me from my Twitter profile.

A 21st century encounter with my colleagues developed through social networking.

It was a powerful moment to connect ‘face to face’ with people who had become my professional colleagues in a very 21st century kind of way. Social media is a phenomenon that’s here to stay and one that has made it possible to connect with people outside your physical sphere on a daily basis to share thinking, learning and ideas. This chance encounter helped me realise that the professional learning community we are a part of via Twitter or other online tools might feel mostly ‘virtual’ but it is real. It’s not just a world of ideas, it is a community of educators who share a common interest to improve learning and teaching. What we share online has the potential to encourage, inspire and stretch us to improve the work we do and the way we go about it.

Recently George Couros (@gcouros) wrote about the importance of using Twitter to not only share information, but to listen and to engage. He made the point that it’s not good enough for schools, organisations and businesses to just ‘be online’ and share information alone. They must listen to those they serve. If we don’t use the tools effectively to engage, to collaborate and participate in the conversation, we risk using a ‘Web 2.0 tool in a Web 1.0 way’ and never take full advantage of its capabilities. Online tools shouldn’t be used as a monologue stream, because the technology is designed for dialogue.

For myself, tools like Twitter and Bluyonder allow me to be part of a global professional learning community and is an opportunity to share my own ideas and engage with the ideas of others for my own professional improvement in the work I do as a system leader.

Bumping into my colleagues in Greece demonstrates the power of this online community and is a good reminder that what we share and do in the virtual world does have an impact in the physical world.

Make learning the work

Our system has been very fortunate to have been working with Michael Fullan over a period of five years. Given Fullan’s vast experience and the demands on his time, it never ceases to amaze me how generous he is with his time when he is present. To sit around the table and explore issues in depth is a privilege we don’t take lightly. It is perhaps at these times that we get some real depth in our own professional learning. I don’t think we can ever take these opportunities for granted and I hope in some small way this post is a way of sharing Fullan’s thinking.

Fullan spent time explaining how the moral imperative (raising the bar and closing the gap for all students) can be realised. For us, the moral imperative is giving every child the best possible schooling we can provide as a developed nation and this schooling is embedded in our Catholic faith and traditions.

As Fullan says:

This work is driven by the moral imperative by raising the bar and closing the gap for all students, and doing so for the whole system – not just for some schools, but for all students; not just for some districts but all districts; and not just a one level but all levels. We call this ‘whole system reform’.

In sum, the big difference between effective and ineffective school systems – and all organisations for that matter – is the ‘collaborative or shared depth of understanding among members about the nature of their work’.  You can’t get collective depth from a workshop, or from episodic team meetings.  You can only get shared depth one-way – making learning the day-to-day work.’    

Realising the moral imperative is about recognising the right and wrong drivers for change. Fullan explained that professional development is a commonly confused wrong driver. This happens when educators attend workshops, conferences and take courses, which bears little relationship to classroom and school improvement. Instead, the right driver should be ‘professional learning’ – the learning that happens ‘in between workshops’ on a day to day basis with school communities. Learning becomes the work of teachers and students.

Other ‘wrong drivers’ include teacher appraisal, merit pay and leadership competency frameworks.  Wrong in so much as they do not tackle the day to day culture within schools and systems. Fullan says the right drivers: capacity building, group work, pedagogy and ‘systemness’ are effective because they work on changing the culture of school systems whereas the wrong drivers focus on changing the structure. One works on the internal, the other on the external.

As we know, real change comes from the core – from teachers and leaders working collaboratively; critically reflecting on practice to improve student learning outcomes. Every teacher and leader has a responsibility not only to their own school community but to the system. One for all; all for one – the moral imperative in action.

Our biggest investment

I caught an interview on CNN with Bill Gates reflecting on what he would do to change the education system in America.  Gates said if he could change something about the system, he would ‘hire the best teachers’ and get them to learn from each other because the research on the influence of good teaching has ‘become our biggest investment’.

One of the biggest investments we can make is mentoring our beginning teachers.  It’s an investment that needs to be shared by universities and school systems alike.  It requires us to move away from ‘training teachers’ to taking them on a learning journey.

As soon as students enrol in education courses, they should be placed with teacher mentors and given every opportunity to practice the craft and to learn from experienced teachers. Malcolm Gladwell in his book the Outliers: The Story of Success found the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours.  Teachers learn to do the work by doing the work.

You can’t blame the universities because it requires a complete overhaul of the model and I’m not sure whether we are all on the same page yet.  Linda Darling-Hammond writes in The Flat World and Education that in Singapore, teacher education programs were overhauled in 2001 to increase teachers’ pedagogical knowledge and skills, on top of their content preparation.  Darling-Hammond states that practicum training was expanded and located in a new ‘school partnership’ model that engaged schools more proactively in supporting trainees.

Darling-Hammond points out that all the successful teacher education programs she studied develop new teachers who can teach with assurance and skill of more experienced, thoughtful veterans. The programs that are effective do this by creating a tightly coherent set of learning experiences, grounded in a strong, research-based vision of good teaching, and represented both in coursework and clinical placements where candidates can see good teaching modelled and enacted.

The New York Times  reported on a new model of teacher education at the Relay Graduate School of Education which has no courses only 60 modules, each focused on a different teaching technique. According to the article, there is no campus, because it is old-think to believe a building makes a school. Instead, the graduate students will be mentored primarily at the schools where they teach. And there are no lectures and direct instruction does not take longer than 15 or 20 minutes at a time. After that, students discuss ideas with one another or reflect on their own.

This year, we began a partnership with the Catholic Schools Office Broken Bay diocese and Auckland University to start a mentoring program for beginning and experienced principals.  The program focuses on public coaching and feedback designed to embed and sustain their skill set. The first cohort consisted of five beginning principals and ten experienced principals who entered into an intensive professional learning program which includes participation in workshops, in school and shadow visits, practising in teams and homework.

The more mentors we have in schools, the smoother the transition for beginning teachers and the quicker they move from routine expertise to adapative expertise.

Touching the future

Last Friday,  Australia celebrated World Teachers’ Day.  As much as it is important for us to acknowledge the work of teachers, I still believe teachers themselves are the best advocates for their profession.  There is much good work happening every day in classrooms around the country and too often we never hear about.

Teachers are often reluctant to promote themselves or their colleagues but as more teachers share their practice and wisdom via traditional channels and now social media, we begin to build a stronger and more skilled profession which is esteemed by the wider community.

Finland for example became an educational leader because they made teaching the most highly esteemed profession – not the most highly paid but the most highly sought after.

In celebrating World Teachers’ Day, I thought I’d ask Rosana Ingrati from St Canice’s Primary School Katoomba to reflect on what teaching means to her.

Why did you become a teacher?

I have been a teacher now for around 17 years. I chose to become a teacher because I wanted to make a difference to the greater community, and make a different to our future generation.  I also love working with children, and find they are so much fun to be around.

What it means for you to be in the role?

I feel responsible to continually learn about the changes in technology and teaching practices. I work in a Catholic school so I also feel responsible to help the children grow socially and morally, as well as academically.

What challenges and opportunities do you experience?

I think keeping up with the pace of change in technology has been both a challenge and opportunity.  The other thing I find challenging is finding the time to put all the excellent professional training into practice and to be able to read all the great resources I am given.

I think this is also an opportunity because it means there is so much room for professional development as a teacher.

What do you find most rewarding?

Making an impact in the lives of the children is most rewarding.  I think of one story of a boy I am teaching who waited until all the other children had left the class to specially thank me for teaching him about a lesson on ‘time’.  It is so nice to be appreciated like that.

I also love that I am a valued member of the whole school community, and know that the parents, colleagues and children appreciate what I (and other teachers) do.

I’m always mindful of Christa McAuliffe, the teacher on board the Challenger space shuttle who when asked about her career said ‘I touch the future, I teach.’

Teachers have significant responsibilities and they need to be proud of the work they do.  This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be reflective and open to change.  They are not opposites, they are different sides of the same coin.  As a society, we need to recognise the valuable contribution made by teachers everywhere because without them we don’t have a future.

Creativity crisis

There has been a lot of discussion around the topic of creativity.  Educators and society in general seem to agree on the importance of creativity – but do our schools provide a fertile ground for our teachers and students to develop and cultivate this attribute?

In Will Richardson’s blog, he argues that on the whole schools do not do a very good job at cultivating creativity.  He refers to behavioural therapist, Andrea Kuszewski‘s article The Educational Value of Creative Disobedience in which she argues that children are taught from a young age at school to pay attention, watch the teacher, imitate what the teacher does, stay in your seat, don’t question authority, and receive praise. This, Kuszewski argues is not teaching children to think; we are teaching them to memorize – instead of encouraging them to innovate (or create), we expect them to follow the outline and adhere to rules.    

Kuszewski refers to findings from researcher, Alison Gopnik​ who found that too much direct instruction—showing a child what to do, rather than letting him figure out the solution himself—can severely affect his ability and/or instinct to independently and creatively solve problems, or to explore multiple potential solutions.

America is experiencing a creativity crisis as noted in Richardson’s blog and Thomas L Friedman’s That Used to be Us. In Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman’s article The Creativity Crisis, research is showing that students’ creativity levels have been falling since 1990 – particularly among those from kindergarten through sixth grade.

According to Bronson and Merryman, American teachers are overwhelmed by curriculum standards and don’t have room in the day for a creativity class. University of Georgia’s Mark Runco calls this “art bias” – the age-old belief that the arts have a special claim to creativity is unfounded. The following paragraph taken from Bronson and Merryman’s article highlights an important point about integrating creativity into the classroom.

Researchers say creativity should be taken out of the art room and put into homeroom. The argument that we can’t teach creativity because kids already have too much to learn is a false trade-off. Creativity isn’t about freedom from concrete facts. Rather, fact-finding and deep research are vital stages in the creative process. Scholars argue that current curriculum standards can still be met, if taught in a different way.

Earlier this year, Rupert Murdoch spoke at the G8 Forum about how there has been innovation and progress in all areas of life except education. He calls this a colossal failure of imagination.  Murdoch provides a sobering example of how in every part of life, someone who woke up after a fifty-year nap would not recognise the world around him – except in education. Today’s classroom looks almost exactly the same as it did in the Victorian age: a teacher standing in front with a textbook, a blackboard and a piece of chalk.

Rupert suggests that in order to excite the imagination of our students we need to use technology as the vehicle to personalise the learning experience.  He makes the point that technology will never replace the teacher, but it can relieve the drudgery of teaching by taking advantage of the increasingly sophisticated analytics that will help teachers spend more time on things that make us all more human and more creative.

Ken Robinson’s argues in Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative  that contrary to popular belief, being creative is something that can be learnt, and not just for a select few. Creativity, according to Robinson is a step further on from imagination.  Being creative is doing something – it’s a process of putting your imagination to work.  It is applied imagination.

The question is how can educators and students develop creative potential in schools?

Teacher shortage

Interesting study reported in the Daily Telegraph from  the University of Western Sydney and University of Technology, Sydney on a looming shortage of teachers.

We’ve known for a long time that our baby boomer teachers will retire in the next decade and this is one of the big challenge for all education systems.

The report warns that Australia will need migrant teachers to fill vacancies in specialist areas like maths, science and technology as young teachers head overseas to the UK and Asia because of higher pay and lower tax rates.

The solution should not hinge on teacher salary.  Teaching has its own intrinsic rewards and our brightest young teachers and those considering a career change will be attracted to a profession that is well paid but more importantly, one that is esteemed.

Teachers want to be acknowledged for their work – recognised as  professionals.  This is strengthened when they are challenged, when distractions are minimised and there are ongoing opportunities to collaborate and learn.

Short term fixes won’t work even if we attract more skilled migrants to our schools.  The pressing reality is around how we reconceptualise the work of teachers in today’s world.

It is all about building teache rcapacity – we will still have to do this no matter where we get the warm bodies from! Let’s hope we don’t miss the boat on this one.