Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Compliance and Complacency and Culture

I've written in the past about collaboration not being a soft option in teaching. Collaboration, when done properly requires great skill and facilitation. It is not about blindly building a social adult culture where everyone backs each other regardless. True collaboration is about building a culture where  everyone on a team is working towards the same vision and everyone on the team is prepared to hold everyone else in the team to that vision. It's about building more, and better, together than you could possibly do by yourself.

Lately I've been doing a lot of thinking about the push we have in many schools to develop a real self direction and self determination of learning in our students. 

Just like when we first started developing collaborative practice in schools this was sometimes mistaken for a developing a social adult culture of blind support and agreement for all, I can see the possibility of misunderstanding self directed learning and it becoming a reason to become complacent about student learning and achievement. To accept anything goes because we are committed to a journey towards student self determination is to completely misunderstand the reason that empowering our young people to think and direct themselves is so vital for their future.

We still need to have high expectations of the learning our young people can do, and we need to help them develop their ability to direct their life- including their own learning. Its not about preparing them for life after school. Its about empowering them to make the most of their life right now, in order to develop the best skills possible for their future life. We need to work carefully with each young person to empower then to aim high, and we need to use a range of indicators with which to identify the success of those aims. Those indicators might include a growing satisfaction with personal achievements, a growing sense of taking a rightful place in the world, and other such intrinsic motivations. Yet they may also include more traditional measures of success such as learning being measured against standards and other extrinsic motivations. 

The act of teaching is highly complex, and the emergence of empowering students towards a self management, and ultimately self direction of their own learning has only made the role of a teacher even more complex. 

Opportunities for all teaching strategies- direct instruction, coaching, mentoring, facilitation, consultation must be sought, identified and acted upon, sometimes simultaneously with one learner or multiple learners at the same time. 
Knowing when to move from one to the other is a complex mix of knowledge, behaviours and instinct. Knowledge of human development, knowledge of the learning process, knowledge of content and knowledge of the learner all interplay. Relationships are really important. So is learning. And balancing those is tricky. 

If we teach as a purely cognitive task- our teaching can be cold. Without warm relationships the learning is possible but it will not be as effective
If we teach as a purely emotional task- our teaching can become social at best and narcissistic at worse. Without high expectations the learning is possible but it becomes unintentional. In addition if we don't hold those with which we develop strong relationships to account for the way they treat others, then a culture of dependency on us and exclusivity of our relationship can develop.

When your individual success as a teacher is dependent on a balancing act of developing strong positive relationships with students, but also holding high expectations of what they can achieve and holding them to these high expectations it is no longer possible to just move through the motions of compliance to a set of actions that will guarantee your success. Teachers looking for  tick-box sets of actions will struggle with developing self directed learners. Each young person is different. 

If we want to empower our young people in our classrooms today to take direction and responsibility for themselves then we need to develop positive relationships that also have a sense of expectation inherent in those relationships for how we will treat others and how we will learn and demonstrate our achievements.

We need to ensure we do not replace a culture of compliance for our learners with a culture of complacency. 

We need powerful positive relationships, with developed personalised expectations and we need to develop a culture of care and confidence, of capacity and capability. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Accountability and Collective Responsibility

This term our senior classes in Years 7-13 are having a real push on accountability.

There is so much personalisation of our programmes that in order to help our students grow towards being empowered self directed learners, it is really necessary for us to scaffold them into this with some clear and very regular mentoring.

We have 12 teaching blocks during the week. Some students attend mostly workshop in these 12 blocks. Others are almost solely working on their own projects and inquiries. At the start of each block all students return to their mentor groups- a smaller group of between 10 and 20 students and check in. They do the attendance register and then they have in depth learning conversations wiht their mentor teacher about what they are going to do in the next learning block. Are they heading off to work with a teacher? and where? Are they working on their own independent learning? Where are they going to choose to do this? What do they want to achieve?  They do this at the beginning of each of these 12 blocks during the week for a full half hour. 

That is accountability building for our students. it's also accountability building and even more importnat a building of collective responsibility for our teachers.
In times gone past teachers just focussed on the students they taught and nothing else. There was even competition- my class achieved higher than yours. Many times this was encouraged by leadership and systems within a school

We want to truly build a system where our set of teachers are working together to collectively be responsible for the success- in all its definitions for all of our students.

Our place not my classroom. Our learners, not my students.

Yesterday afternoon we had our weekly combined professional learning and learning design session. We spent the first half focusing on building our pedagogy. 

We worked with our paired mentor teachers in our Puna Ako groupings to look at our accountability systems, to identify students we needed to target. 

We gave some feedback to all teachers about the quality and quantity of learning narratives we had written in the last week. See this post on the importance of our learning narratives.

And then we focussed more on content, wiht each teacher having an opportunity to highlight the learning content question they were having wiht one individual student. They presented this to the group of 30 in sets of 4 and then other teachers chose the person they thought they could help most and gathered for a 5 minute session discussing and making suggestions. We repeated the cycle four times.

What great conversations- what great advice and help was received.

To see a circle of 8 teachers siting discussing one child- maybe a Year 12 student working on an individual inquiry with a technology base- but being given some suggestions and advice by 3 primary trained teachers, a teacher wiht a Health and PE specialist background, a Teacher wiht a specialist English background, a textiles specialist, and a Science specialist. What magic these teachers can make by joining their heads together for each and every student.

I love the power of area schools to truly strip away the imaginary, and sometime imposed, lines between secondary trained and primary trained teachers and give us the opportunity to learn from each other in order to provide rich ands real learning opportunities for our learners.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Teacher Complexity and Changing Roles

In a week where so much is focused on the work and worth and value of a teacher, I have reflected on the ever increasing complexity of the role of a teacher over the 30 years I have been teaching.

The stereotypical picture of a teacher standing in front of a set of neatly aligned rows of desks with students eagerly facing them ready to regurgitate the knowledge they impart is a far picture from the reality for a teacher of today.

The impact of MLE's or ILE's or FLE's or 21st century learning environments has had huge impact on the practice required from many teachers. For some schools the move to 21st century learning practices has happened with or without these environments.

Lesley Murrihy from Amesbury School wrote this great post last week:  All MLEs are not the same: Towards a "high level" definition

Lesley says "MLEs don’t have to have open and flexible physical environments, though it can be very helpful, but the teachers within them do have to be open and flexible and evidence-based in their approach to teaching and learning to ensure they are continually meeting the needs of every student."

I totally agree with Lesley when she says: "For me, the point of more open, flexible environments is to ensure that we can continually meet the needs of each and every student."

In order to do this no longer can we, or should we, expect a teacher to just prepare and deliver lessons. Also we can no longer put students in one set of groupings and expect that that will be it for them.

As I said in this post three years ago: "To truly personalise programmes means being responsive to individuals needs in an ongoing way. And you cant personalise programmes when learners are stuck in set, inflexible groupings." 

At Haeata we are working with our teachers to really re-think the role of the teacher. This means putting value on the different acts and practices we expect of them- much more than just preparing and delivering a package of learning. While that is one of the practices we expect, we also require teachers to think carefully about designing the independent learning they require from students. Developing our young people to be able to manage and direct their own independent learning is such an important skills for their future according to employer surveys.

We value the time we want teachers to spend conferencing with individual students about their work. We value this by making this an official part of their timetable. The buy-off of this is that we don't expect them spend as much time as teachers in some other school preparing and delivering "lessons" to students. They are expected to use at least the same amount of time conferencing with individual students. And their timetable reflects this. 

Maybe they conference students they deliver workshops and packages of learning to, but they also conference a range of other students too. Collective responsibility for the learning of all students by all teachers is one of our aspirational aims. How much more success will a young person get when everyone is truly committed to their success. they may have individual champions amongst staff members but everyone is committed to their success- however that has been defined for them.

When I first started working in a 21st century learning environment nearly 20 years ago, one of the biggest mistakes my co-teacher and I made was thinking we weren't "doing our job" if we weren't actively planning and delivering a workshop to a group of students every block of the day. It took his very wise mother to say to me one day you need to schedule time when you are not actively delivering to have learning conversations with students about what they are learning. How true that was. 

The power of reflection on past learning and the direction you are able to give to future learning is so powerful in a 1-1 conversation. One of the great advantages of changing an environment physically is that you can free teachers up to have these vitally important conversations by writing the script for how you expect teachers and students to use their time.

We also have a commitment at Haeata to working alongside our young people to directly impact on their wellbeing- to directly teach and develop elements of social and emotional wellbeing in order to help each of them grow into socially productive constructive citizens of the future. Our timetable allocates at least 3 x 90 minute blocks to this a week for Year 1's right through to Year 13's. A huge commitment of time out of the teaching week- because we value it, and we show we value it by giving time to it.

The ERO report on effective teaching says: Teaching is challenging and complex. To help every student make progress, teachers have to find out what each student knows and can do. Teachers want to build on the strengths of each of their students.
It goes on  
Effective teachers give students information about their achievement and progress to help them understand what they have already learnt and what they should focus on next. 
To do this, teachers ask themselves: 
• In what ways do I provide each student with easily accessible resources that help them to work independently? 
• Do I provide students with examples and learning models that help them understand what high quality work looks like?
 • How do I design learning activities and experiences to help each student achieve their learning goals? 
• Do students receive regular, specific and constructive oral and written feedback about what they have successfully learnt and what they need to work on next? 
• Can all students talk about what they have learnt, how well they are achieving and their next learning steps?
 • What opportunities do students have to take part in or lead discussions with me about their learning?

Teaching is certainly a far more complex job today than when I began teaching 30 years ago. I don't think anyone would have too much debate with the set of ERO questions above. Truly working towards being able to answer an outstanding yes to each of these questions would see our learners in good stead.

But to do that- to truly personalise their learning, we do have to explore how we can change the practices and roles we value in teachers, and we do have to explore how we can change what we give time to in schools. Saying we value something but giving no time to it will not cause transformation in learning practices.

Whatever it is your school stands for, whatever it is you value, how does your acknowledgement of teacher time and roles reflect this?