This year I am obsessed with the question of how you encourage / enable / empower (what is the verb to use?) agency.
Why am I obsessed with agency? A couple of reasons. It seems to me that we spend quite a lot of time talking about learner agency, meaning student agency. But I wonder how we develop agency in our young learners if their teachers are not agentic learners themselves?
We also seem to spend quite a lot of time and anguish wondering about how to “shift” teachers: how to get them to take on board whatever initiative is currently on the table. And I wonder if developing teacher, or professional, agency might be a key to adopting innovations, changing practice, and thus transforming education.
So, the million dollar question… How?
I’m wondering about reflection. When we take time to really think about things, we develop our self awareness. We have the opportunity, in the quiet and privacy of our own mind, to analyse ourselves, to critique our decisions, and evaluate our next steps. In other words, when we reflect, we learn.
This reflection and learning, I believe, can lead to an internal ‘aha’ – a realisation. When we discover things for ourselves, this gives us an impetus to act – our own reason to change. Our secret agency. And this is far more powerful than anything imposed on us.
As a classroom teacher, and an English teacher at that, numbers are not my friends. Therefore I didn’t ever have a great attitude towards data or data-driven practices. My feeling about ‘data’ (which strictly equated to quantitative assessment scores in my mind) was that data entry was a bureaucratic process strongly associated with compliance and accountability.
Being good with ‘paperwork’ and a bit of a girly swot, I would dutifully enter assessment data as directed – usually around report writing time. If I accessed data, I would use it to group students (particularly for reading and spelling purposes). As a Head of Department, I would use data to reflect on which Achievement Standards to focus our teaching efforts on for the following year. And that was about my sum total of interaction with, and thinking about, data.
So it follows quite logically that I had a limited understanding of the school’s SMS (Student Management System). I could plug in assessment results and access behaviour and attendance records as needed. I rarely linked these three concepts: assessment, wellbeing, pastoral needs, in my head, let alone to consider how an SMS might help me to do this. So the SMS was rarely used in any meaningful way by me.
Fast-forward a year or so, and in my new role as an advisor for the Connected Learning Advisory I was asked to contribute to a Ministry of Education SMS initiative which ultimately saw us develop an online resource and deliver workshops for school leaders throughout New Zealand. This project was definitely going to challenge my personal knowledge and, frankly, my attitude towards using an SMS, but I’m always up for a challenge – especially when I get to collaborate with my brainy fellow CLA colleagues!
During the course of my reading and research, I discovered this quote by Timperley:
“…evidence related to students is something that informs teaching and learning, rather than being seen as a reflection of the capability of individual students that is most useful for sorting, labelling and credentialing.” Timperley (2010), p.2
Cue lightbulb moment.
You can use data to reflect on your own practice! Data not only shows me what my students have learned (or not) but how I have taught!
Oh. I had seriously missed the boat for about 15 years as a classroom teacher.
You approach data with an inquiry mindset. You seek to put a ‘face on the data’ (Sharratt and Fullan, 2012): to use data holistically to help tell the story of the learner who sits behind the numbers. These are ideas I can connect with: building empathy; immersing yourself in quantitative and qualitative data to understand the classroom context more. After all, these are design thinking attributes.
And this works strategically too – broader than the classroom, this data inquiry mindset can be used at a whole-school or even Community of Learning level. If we see data as the ‘canary in the coalmine’ we can recognise strengths and weaknesses which inform future initiatives and how to resource them (including professional learning). Data-driven practices are learner-focused for improved outcomes. Now that’s an equation I can get on board with!
So, no, weighing a pig won’t make it grow faster, but it might suggest how the farmer can improve their techniques to make fatter, happier pigs.
This blogpost represents my current thinking and learning about the role and the effectiveness of professional learning. It is a personal reflection both in terms of my role at The Mind Lab by Unitec and also my CORE eFellow research.
‘It’s all about the kids’ is an almost universal mantra at schools and pretty much expresses our collective mission. But in the case of changing education to meet the needs of a rapidly changing world, it’s really all about the adults. The kids get it; they are naturally adaptive and flexible thinkers; they use new technology easily; they see learning as fun as long as we allow it to be playful and interest-based and not dreary. Changing what and how learning takes place is an exercise in retooling the adult skill set…”
For me, this quote neatly encapsulates the moral purpose behind my position as Postgrad Programme Director (Wellington) at The Mind Lab by Unitec. It’s less about feeling like ‘the kids will be okay’, but more about ensuring that the lead learners in classrooms are equipped to work alongside our 21st Century learners. On a side note, for me it’s also about scale – the hope that I can accomplish more with the diverse group of teachers participating in the postgrad programme than I can inside one school.
So, it’s about the adults. But what do we know about what’s effective in professional learning? What prompts substantive, sustainable change that makes a difference for students? Luckily Timperley et al have synthesised a number of studies and have reached some really useful conclusions. The key summary is this:
“Seven elements in the professional learning context were identified in the core studies as important for professional learning in ways that impacted positively and substantively on a range of student outcomes: providing sufficient time for extended opportunities to learn and using the time effectively; engaging external expertise; focusing on engaging teachers in the learning process rather than being concerned about whether they volunteered or not; challenging problematic discourses; providing opportunities to interact in a community of professionals; ensuring content was consistent with wider policy trends; and, in school-based initiatives: having leaders actively leading the professional learning opportunities.” [emphasis mine, p. xxvi]
What I have been particularly struck by though is this:
“Teacher participants rarely believe that they need to engage in deep learning or to change practice substantively, whereas providers typically believe they will but do not necessarily disclose this to the participants.” (p. xxix)
“…it should not be assumed by providers that teachers’ current theories of practice are problematic or that providers’ theories are, by definition, more effective….Negotiating meanings, and debating and testing evidence of the effectiveness of both providers’ and teachers’ theories, are part of the process of achieving mutual understanding and effective practice.” (p. xl)
Firstly, I do not wish to be misunderstood. I am reflecting on these statements personally, not passing comment about The Mind Lab postgrad course nor its teachers. I believe the course itself stacks up against the criteria for effective professional learning and development as outlined in this Best Evidence Synthesis extremely well. And I know the facilitators of this course to be passionate, committed, reflective practitioners.
I want to own these two quoted statements myself. In seeking to lead transformative change in education, I do think teachers may well have to shift their practice substantially. And, underpinning that, I guess I have held a falsely superior view that I did know better. Yikes.
So, instead, what I keep coming back to are two things. Respect and transparency.
Each week I find myself in awe of the commitment teachers are making to their professional learning for the betterment of Kiwi kids. I want this to ring through what I say and in how I interact with the teachers on The Mind Lab course. My attitude is one of: let’s work together to explore what might work for you in your context and in your classroom.
And I need to be transparent in the expectations and assumptions I hold. Now this part is tricky, because they are my assumptions and sometimes I don’t even know I have them until I’m some way down the track. What I’m hoping that is by opening up conversations, participating in dialogue, and consistently positioning myself as a co-learner, I can confront my own assumptions and own them when they arise. I think this is respectful practice too.
So maybe I keep coming back to one thing only: respect. Aretha had it right all along.
The eFellows were in Christchurch. For many of us, it was the first visit post-quakes, so a visit to Cathedral Square was mandatory. Little did we know how powerful this walk was to become.
For me, the walk developed into a living metaphor for this second hui of the 2015 CORE Education eFellows. Straight after the walk, our mentor Louise Taylor facilitated a discussion where we unpacked what we had witnessed around the theme of transformation.
That change is messy. It is disruptive, in all senses of the word. That rising out of the ashes could come creative, innovative, human-centred spaces. That it requires resilience.That it requires new relationships to be forged, and it can offer fresh perspectives. That the most effective transformations hold a strong vision at its heart.
The following day, we visited Breens Intermediate School and Te Pa o Raikaihautu. I would like to thank the staff, students and whanau for making us feel so welcome at both schools. The visits were utterly fascinating, and helped me to cement my learning about transformation. In both schools their vision is clearly encapsulated and, more importantly, embodied in their day-to-day way of being. Both schools are unashamedly who they are, and if that’s confronting, that’s okay because it sparks conversation, and out of dialogue comes learning. Both pay testament to the idea that, as principal of Breens, Brian Price, said: ‘Out of crisis comes creativity’.
This statement was to continue to come back to me over the remainder of our visit to Christchurch. At a pot luck dinner with CORE staff and eFellow alumni, I was recounting this to Ali Hughes, who added onto the idea, saying: ‘Creativity and implementation is innovation.’ It’s not enough to have the idea. It must be enacted for innovation to occur. I like this very much, and brings me back to Breens and Te Pa. It’s not enough to have a mission statement, a strategic plan, or a vision for a school. This must be tangible, must be made concrete to be transformative.
This year I have looked to push my teaching practice to embrace ‘future-focused’ pedagogy. In order to make this more manageable for myself, I chose to focus on one area of inquiry for each year group. I gave an overview of this at the end of Term 1. As a quick snap shot, I wanted to provide more opportunities for my students to learn from one another, rather than solely relying on me. I had my tables in little ‘L’ shapes, had a seating plan which changed every term, and introduced the class to Edmodo and Google Docs. I was hoping that students would learn to connect their ideas to other texts, and to the world beyond the classroom. We had as a theme for the year ‘find your voice’ and I hoped to reflect this in honouring student voice.
Before the girls left to sit their final exams, I surveyed them on several aspects of the year’s programme, but particularly focusing on the measures I had put in place to encourage collaboration. Here’s a summary of the data:
Question 1: Comment on the layout of the classroom
All of the comments here were positive – although ranging in enthusiasm. I was interested in the perception of seating plans, which is mandated by my school. However, the girls like being mixed through as this gives them the opportunity to work with other people and be exposed to other ideas. For next year, if I am to keep a similar physical layout, I want to think more about moving students more from the front to the back and to put more thought into the groupings of students. Perhaps seeking their input would be good. Although there was a comment about sight lines, I didn’t use the front of the room much, in terms of a ‘chalk and talk’ approach. While the projector screen is at ‘the front’ almost every time the same document was available to the girls on their own devices via Edmodo.
Question 2: Comment on the time given to you to discuss work with your group or with the whole class
There was always going to be a range of opinions here! However, 11 out of the 17 respondents felt positive about the time they were given. Students commented on the fact that working with others helps them to understand better, to hear a variety of ideas and “appreciate” them, that it brings out ideas everyone can benefit from and that you can “analyse work with lots of different perspectives”. I’m pleased by these responses. What I would like to do more of is shared negotiation of time and to ensure these mutually agreed time frames are put on the board for everyone to monitor.
Question 3: Comment on the use of Google Docs as a way to work together with others
Again it is clear that the students enjoyed working in Google Docs…once we had got over the novelty of them! One student responded honestly that they were “sometimes frustrating but a good way to learn new ideas”. I also liked that it was “fun to share our opinions instantly”, and that “if you were ever stuck you could get inspiration and help from other people through the doc”. Here’s an example of one of our collaborative docs, from towards the end of the school year.
Question 4: Comment on the use of Edmodo as a way to help you access information and resources
All of the comments were positive in response to this question. The girls liked having all of their notes stored in one place, the ease of access, and being essentially ‘paperless’ (less to lose, their lockers were tidier said one student!). Students felt that Edmodo was a great way to share files and to have tasks set for them. I was appreciative of one student who made it her mission to capture any notes that went on the board and share these with the class via Edmodo.
So, what are my next learning steps?
I didn’t especially want to teach Year 11 this year. But this class was a blast! It was a great embodiment of ‘hard fun’ and the surveys reflect this. However I felt that overall the lessons were still very traditional. I really want to get into the habit next year of timing myself – no more than 15 minutes of direct instruction at any one time. This comment from one girl: “I thought the classes were run really structured and organised which I really enjoyed! I also like how sometimes we were allowed to plan the lesson to what the class as a whole thought we needed more work on.” has prompted me to commit to more co-construction of work. This is always successful when I take this approach. And I want to push the boundaries of collaboration more. Rather than ‘just’ sharing of ideas – which the girls clearly found powerful – I want to encourage more reflection, analysis, feedback and critique. Suggestions welcomed!
Whew – what a year of learning and growing together! Today was our final professional learning session of the year, so we used it to reflect and review. Here is the guiding structure we followed:
You can see we used a Design Thinking process. We wanted to ensure that while staff had time to think about the high- and low-lights of their future-focused pedagogy learning journey, we actually moved on to offer solutions to continue to grow, learn and improve for 2015.
In this regard, I feel as though this afternoon’s session was successful. The short time frames and targeted tasks kept staff focused and productive. The final pitches highlighted key themes, such as ways to give staff more time, ways to work in smaller, more focused groups, and ways to explore successful models of future-focused pedagogy in practice.
Likewise, the anecdotal feedback has been positive. I think we’re all aware that sometimes when we’re asked to give an opinion on something this can easily turn into a negative whinge session. Whereas following a process of reflection, definition, ideation, feedback, refine and pitching really worked to move people out of that mode into problem-solving instead.
For me too, I really enjoyed introducing staff to a design thinking process without saying, ‘Now everyone, let’s learn about Philippa’s edugeek passion: Design Thinking.’ Nah, just get on and do it. At the end of the session when I congratulated everyone for participating in design thinking, I invited staff to visit my Year 8 class who are in the midst of an extended design thinking-based unit. And – awesome sauce – a taker!
This year for my ‘traditional’ Year 8 newspaper unit, I decided to give the students a more authentic twist. I assigned each group one of the four ‘Marsden Pillars‘ – the values that underpin our school. The groups ‘pitched’ for which of the four pillars: creativity, resilience, giving and excellence, they wanted to showcase in their newspaper. Based on the suggestions they made for content, I matched one pillar with each group. Each newspaper had to include a masthead, three articles, and a solus advertisement.
An unexpected win was that the girls took their articles very seriously. Not content with just relying on what they knew of events and successes around the school, they undertook interviews and conducted research. If I had realised the girls would move in this direction, I would have taught more around questioning techniques. And also, the girls knew I was going to use Youblisher to publish their work. Just like when we completed our King of Shadows website in Term 1, having this wider, authentic audience, does encourage them to lift their work and not to be satisfied with a ‘one and done’ drafting process.
It struck me during the course of this unit how hard it is for students to write formally, in a newspaper-style. They struggled to recognise the difference between key facts and added detail. They struggled not to editorialise or not to put themselves into their article. They didn’t know conventions like avoiding brackets and using people’s surnames rather than their Christian names. If I use this unit again, I will make sure I teach some of these concepts more directly. However, when I realised we were struggling with some of these basics, I wrote a little lesson starter to highlight these points, and I think this helped.
Nevertheless, the four newspapers were well-written, and I am proud of their finished products. The reflections the students completed at the end of the unit attest to the fact that the girls enjoyed the work. Their suggestions of having more articles to write, and less time in class to produce their newspapers meshed with thoughts I had had during the unit itself – always gratifying to know that your thought are on par with the students’!
Being in the process of reading Key Competencies for the Future, Rachel Bolstad et al, 2014, I can see real possibilities to expand this unit into a focus on the relationship between the media and society, and I would love to explore some of the rich ‘meaty’ problems this would reveal.
Any thoughts or suggestions gratefully received – comment below!
At the start of Term 2, Matt Nicoll, from St Andrew’s College in Christchurch, and I, dreamed up a brilliant plan to be an ‘agent of change’ in our respective schools. To encourage staff to shift their pedagogy and to see what’s happening out there in the world of education, we invented #edSMAC, a Twitter hashtag to help us to connect and collaborate.
Matt’s managed to write his reflection on our term’s work, and here’s mine. Finally 😉
I want to begin with an overview of the #edSMAC term. I first put the call out to interested staff during a staff professional learning session I ran which looked at Professional Learning Networks and being a connected educator. I followed up the verbal invite with an email, and was pleasantly surprised to receive responses from six staff. I love that these staff volunteered their time, were willing participants, and were from across the full range of learning areas.
Once the PLN/#edSMAC Marsden group was formed, the first job was to get them all signed up on Twitter. This was relatively straight forward, once I ran a lunch time help session, and everyone had a go at introducing themselves to the national #edSMAC group. I also asked staff to indicate to me what their goals or aspirations were for being part of this group. Some wanted to learn more about Twitter specifically, others wanted to connect with more educators, others just wanted to develop their skills with technology and future learning more generally.
The next week, I set the challenge of exploring some blogs. I wanted to ensure that I provided other pathways into developing a PLN besides Twitter – my personal bias. I suggested several Kiwi and international blogs, and provided information about curation in case people started to feel overwhelmed with information.
We came back to Twitter after this, and Matt and I ran our own mini Twitter chat between Marsden and St Andrews using #edSMAC. We were hoping to help people to transition into #edchatNZ. This remains a work in progress, although I know one or two of the Marsden staff have lurked on occasion. A fortnight later I invited the Marsden PLN group to my house during #edchatNZ, but no one could make it as it was report writing season. Next term I hope to have wine and nibbles one Thursday evening in the staffroom to support this move further.
Another avenue I highlighted for staff was to check out popular educator websites like edutopia, edudemic and TeachThought. (The ‘extra for experts’ homework was to subscribe to RSS feeds and/or follow the sites on Twitter!)
One week I set a ‘give back’ challenge: to comment on a blogpost, or share links on Twitter using a hashtag for an even wider audience, or start a blog! I wanted to encourage staff to move from consumer to sharer or creator. Again, this remains an area that is full of potential for more exploration.
I surveyed the Marsden PLN group at the end of the term and 5 out of 6 responded. I was deeply fascinated by the replies. I asked if staff felt that being part of the PLN group met the needs they had personally identified at the start of the term. 3/5 said yes. The other 2 felt it was still a work in progress and that more time is needed. I asked if staff wished to continue being part of the PLN group next term. 100% replied yes! When asked what areas people wished to focus on next term, the responses were extremely broad: “anything at all”, being fairly typical. My heart was warmed by the “just keen to keep learning” reply.
The key reason I was so fascinated by these responses, was that I felt the experiment had been a bit of a flop. As is frequently the case, #edSMAC started with a hiss and a roar. I worked really hard to keep it ticking over, offering weekly ways to get involved and explore, and really focusing on making these ways manageable. However I would feel quite confident in saying that I believe very few of the staff did the activities on offer, which is why I’m dumbfounded they wish to continue. I confess to also feeling a little tapped out. I need new ideas about how to keep #edSMAC going from the Marsden end, and what new avenues to offer. Any advice gratefully received!
Nevertheless, I am supremely grateful to Matt, and to his colleagues Sam and Gin, for their constant support and encouragement of the #edSMAC movement. Many thanks, guys. If nothing else, I’ve enjoyed working in this collaborative way, and I can see the many, many benefits that come from being a connected educator. I am lucky to count you in my PLN.
I have been inspired today to write another reflection post. But this time, rather than reflecting on my classroom teaching this term (although that may well still come), I thought I’d reflect on my position as ‘Future Learning Leader‘. I got to write my own job description, so how am I doing if I measure myself against my own criteria?!
So, here are each of my ‘key tasks’, and the work I’ve done towards each one:
1. Lead professional learning in staff meetings to develop future learning pedagogies.
Here are the links to each session I’ve led over the past two terms:
2. Attend HOD meetings to promote FL and blended learning approaches and inquiry practices.
I’ve put myself on the agenda twice so far: once to talk about my job description, and how I’d like to work with departments, and, more recently, about the potential of the Pond as a resource for staff.
3. Assist departments and individual staff with FL inquiry and skill-building.
I’ve attended meetings with five different departments, and have directly assisted three departments so far.
I have ongoing discussions with the Science Department, where we have been focusing on ways in which we can address concerns around students’ mis/pre-conceptions.
I have worked with the Languages Department around ideas of feedback, and looking at Kaizena as a tool to help address this concern.
I have worked with the PE/Health Department looking at offering more choice and investigating LiveBinders.
I’ve worked alongside several individuals also, investigating the possibilities of Twitter, blogging and Project/Problem Based Learning
4. Model or promote best practice examples of FL pedagogies.
I’ve also been tweeting useful links and resources using #MarsdenPL14
5. Encourage and support the development of personal/professional learning communities.
The #hackyrclass project that I’ve embarked upon with the amazing support and collaboration with Matt Nicoll from St Andrews’ College in Christchurch is a great example of my work towards this goal. We have offered staff the opportunity to be a part of a PLN and have been using the #edSMAC to build these connections and opportunities for professional learning.
Another connection that has been forged through this blog and through Twitter has been with Catherine Wooller of Westlake Girls’ High School, and between us we facilitated an interesting and useful Skype chat between our respective Science Departments.
6. Contribute to online library of workshops and instructional videos.
Okay, this might be the area I haven’t been so flash on. I haven’t made anything specific for staff, but, obviously, all the workshops I offer for Professional Learning sessions are easily accessible to staff. In addition, I’ve added other links to our Professional Learning page on Ultranet:
7. Work on other related and relevant tasks as negotiated.
Here’s where I’m feeling particularly proud. I feel as though I’ve really been raising the profile of Marsden as a school who is actively committed to implementing future focused pedagogy for the benefit of students.
I’m a Pond Pioneer educator
I’m exceptionally proud to be a small part of the #edchatNZ conference steering committee.
I attended the inaugural #WellyPLG meeting at Amesbury School
I have two conference presentations coming up: one for TeachMeetNZ and CLESOL, and the other for ULearn14 – where I’m co-presenting with my wonderful senior manager
And this very week I’m the ‘keynote presenter’ for our Y9 Creative Inquiry Symposium
And, you know, when I look back at six months’ work laid out like this, I feel pretty chuffed with what I’ve accomplished, the progress I have helped to promote, and the amazing opportunities that have come my way.
If this afternoon’s session was at all coherent or useful, I really owe it to my PLN. I was presenting on ‘UDL’ (Universal Design for Learning), which I have been growing in understanding of over the past six months or so. Nevertheless, I was struggling to know how to do the concept justice in a 20 minute slot. Luckily though, Claire Amos had covered UDL in a #hackyrclass blogpost earlier this term, which also led me to Chrissie Butler’s blogpost. This latter post in particular I found invaluable. My own presentation shamelessly plunders her links and ideas.
My own ‘spin’ was that I attempted to follow UDL principles in putting my presentation together. For the ‘Engagement’ phase I started with the opening minute of the ‘Failing Superman‘ YouTube clip and then posed a question which groups could discuss, or jot ideas down on post-it notes. For the ‘Representation’ phase I gave an overview of UDL, and then gave various options as to how people might like to access more information on the topic. Choices included watching a video, reading blogposts or discussing a document with a partner. Finally, for the ‘Action and Expression’ phase, staff had the choice of three workshops to attend based on their needs and interests (which is standard for our professional learning sessions). Sessions also end with reflection time, which staff can complete in a way that suits them.
Furthermore, I made explicit my intention in using UDL guidelines in framing the presentation. I hope that this allowed staff to both understand UDL better, having realised they had seen it in practice, as well as demonstrated that technology is a powerful tool to allow for a range of supports to be offered. Overall I feel pleased with how the presentation worked.