Whew. In the insane flurry of last-minute jobs, stresses, emails, worries it’s been hard to find time to relish in the upcoming #edchatNZ conference. But then, an invitation to speak at the conference by our amazing founder Danielle Myburgh prompted me to remember what I’m so passionate about with the #edchatNZ community. And, really, it’s best summed up in this sketchnote by the artistic Sylvia Duckworth:
For me, the sound of the first #edchatNZ conference was a squeal of delight – delight in finally meeting the educators you had been connecting with for months, years even, on Twitter. The delight (and frankly, relief) of finding out that you’re not the only one with the crazy ideas that education should be different – and how you might go about invoking this transformation. The delight of meeting fellow edu-nerds and edu-heroes.
At that conference, the running metaphor was one of the ‘lone nut’ and the ‘first follower’. You’ll possibly recognise the phrases from this great TED talk. This time, we have a tribal theme. I get that there are connotations with the word “tribe” and that some aren’t necessarily comfortable with its choice. We have deliberately chosen this because of the sense of connection and community that #edchatNZ gives us.
And, of course, because we’re #edchatNZ, we want more than this. At the conference all attendees have been grouped diversely into “learning tribes”. We want to grow the sense of community into a force to be reckoned with. A grassroots (chalkface?!) community who is empowered and inspired and supported to start change now – not waiting for the government, politicians, policies and the stars to come into the exact right alignment.
Our learning tribes will be facilitated by trained mentors (thanks to the uChoose programme from CORE Education) who will respectfully prompt, probe and promote deep thinking and learning. Behind them sits a Tribal Council (no extinguishing of flames here) to support and coach the mentors. It’s all been purposefully crafted and shaped to maximise personal connections and collaborative learning.
So, fingers crossed! It turns out there’s a lot to relish about the next few days.
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.
He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!
What is the most important thing in the world? It is people! It is people! It is people!
Reflecting on my ULearn14 experience, for me the overarching theme of this year’s conference was relationships. Everyone is a learner – teacher and student alike – and all learners should be at the heart of what we do. I could see this message coming through from every speaker I heard:
Yoram Harpaz’s keynote argued for three ‘meta-ideologies’ in education. I align myself mostly with ‘individuation’ – the fostering of autonomy and honouring the authenticity of the child.
Mark Osbourne’s breakout highlighted to me the learning that teachers can experience in a MLE (Modern Learning Environment) is as powerful as the learning the students can experience.
Tom Barrett’s breakout on design thinking: curiosity is the start of everything; it’s about questioning the world
Adam Lefstein’s keynote on teacher professional discourse and learning: the kinds of conversations we have as professionals can help or hinder our practice
Katie Novak’s UDL keynote: when we host a dinner party, we serve the food we love to eat. In what way do we address others’ dietary needs? We certainly don’t try to fix the diners’ problems; we cater accordingly. This is what UDL asks us to do for our learners.
Derek Wenmoth’s breakout: MLP (Modern Learning Practice) requires rethinking content, learners, teaching, learning – we need to be adaptable and flexible
Jo Wilson’s breakout: Professional Learning programmes should allow staff to grow into the roles they seek, allow them to be great leaders.
Steve Mouldey’s breakout: creativity enables you to create change in the world around you.
Quinn Norton’s keynote asked: What’s the MacGuffin of our generation? We probably won’t know until we’re scrambling to catch up, so learning to build relationships is an important future-proofing skill.
I also enjoyed the opportunity to present at ULearn on the staff professional learning I co-lead in my school. Although it was a small (but perfectly formed!) group, it was a satisfying experience. Tuning into myself as we were speaking, I realised how much staff had moved in their skills and that there is a growing appreciation and awareness for the need to embrace future-focused pedagogy. (Presentation here)
Oh, and I got named as a CORE eFellow for 2015. What an amazing, humbling and gratifying moment. I only hope I can do the opportunity justice. I so look forward to the learning to come, and the relationships to be forged with the other eFellows.
Always seeking to improve, in today’s Professional Learning session, I started with a ‘hook’: make a piece of jewellery from two pipe cleaners in 60 seconds. It always amuses me, and it’s something for me to remember, that adults are just like kids: we like to have something to fiddle with, and the soft, pliable nature of a pipe cleaner is no exception. (Next time – note to self – playdough!)
The purpose of this task was to introduce the future learning themes of creativity and critical thinking. I enjoyed the opportunity to make passing references to design thinking, and also to acknowledge some of the very recent learning I have been doing about the maker education movement. The accompanying presentation is here:
I felt a bit incoherent today, and I’m not at all convinced that my presentation was as fluid as I would have liked it to be. Luckily, the presentation is freely available for staff to refer back to, and there are lots of hyperlinks to allow people to continue to explore and learn. And also luckily, the next professional learning session in two weeks’ time also focuses on creativity, but this time showcasing examples of it in our classrooms.
The workshop I offered looked at the presentation tool Haiku Deck. The ‘help sheet’ I produced for this is available here. The lovely people who attended were very quiet, so I choose to interpret this as meaning they were thoroughly engaged in playing with the tool 😉 I enjoyed the clear link between the themes of creativity and critical thinking to this workshop. I also liked the question that I was asked as to what a concrete application of Haiku Deck in the classroom could be. I could think of two. This also reminds me, that like the pipe cleaners, all learners like to have ‘real world’ connections.
I would like to acknowledge Steve Mouldey’s work in creativity and curiosity. He is extremely well versed in this area, and I shamelessly plundered his blog (especially this post) for inspiration for this professional learning session. Why reinvent the wheel?!
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.
My most retweeted tweet is a photograph of a quote from Kristen Swanson’s book Professional Learning in the Digital Age. The quote says:
“I wondered why somebody didn’t do something.
Then I realised, I am somebody.”
I think this captures Claire Amos’ challenge to New Zealand educators to ‘hack their classroom’ this term. I’ve written about accepting this challenge in my 100 Days of Learning log, but I thought it might be more useful to contain all the thoughts together in one ‘proper’ blogpost. So here it is.
I have an ambitious job description. I, along with my wonderful senior manager, have been charged with leading staff into adopting future focused pedagogy. We have gone BYOD with our seniors, and the rest of the school will follow soon. As I’ve outlined previously, to help us in this task staff have been given their own devices from the Board, and we have every staff meeting devoted to professional learning in this area.
When we surveyed staff at the end of last term, the results were pretty positive. The summary is below:
(4 is high, 1 is low!)
However, the final graph is, as you can see, a little different. Staff are yet to feel that there is much discernible impact on their classroom pedagogy as a result of the professional learning we have been doing.
My reaction to this is often to swing between ‘it’s early days’ and despair. Which is why I enjoyed Anne Knock’s blogpost so much this week. And especially this graph:
because it makes sense to me that we’re still in a ‘building knowledge’ phase. Mindsets (from ‘fixed’ to ‘growth’ – see Claire Amos again for a great explanation) are shifting for some, but I think that’s still a significant minority at best. So, how to get more staff on board, to realise the potential that future focused pedagogy offers?
Build a PLN.
Niftily, this was the theme of this week’s professional learning. And thus the jump in point for my “hack buddy” Matt Nicoll and I. We decided to hack Claire’s #hackyrclass challenge to a #hackyrstaffroom one! We want to be agents of change.
The plan in progress over this week and next is to connect with a small group of our staff who are interested in building their own professional/personalised learning network. Because we can do this from two schools, we can automatically offer each ‘team’ a ready-made PLN. We are using the hashtag #edSMAC (Samuel Marden Collegiate School, St Andrew’s College) to connect on Twitter.
We’re also surveying the staff to find out what they want from the ‘build your PLN’ project so that we can personalise links, tips and suggestions for what they are wanting.
The theory behind all of this is that if staff can be convinced to look outside their own four walls of their classroom, staffroom, and school, they will be exposed to new ideas that will spark an interest. An ‘ooh, I could try that’ moment. This has the potential to snowball and then – hey presto – a revolution is formed! Not just one individual teacher to hack their class, but a group to hack multiple classes.
Change is hard. But not changing? That’s ultimately harder.
Ok! Sound the trumpets! I’ve finished reading the whole NZCER document – it’s here if you need the link again 🙂
Overall, I have to say my head is full and that I have a lot of thinking to do. Luckily, I like thinking!
The final section of the report document reinforces the idea that I’m already a strong supporter of – that technology is just a tool, and that it can be used to teach ‘old school’ if the thought behind the tool isn’t there. I like the diagram on page 56 which outlines that thre must be four interlinked strategies in order to support transformational change through using technology:
providing inspiration and articulating the big picture
providing enabling tools and infrastructure.
Without all four of these things, meaningful, sustainable change is not possible. And these four must be linked to future-oriented learning.
So, in terms of my final thoughts, I’m struck by the following:
That teachers must be helped to ‘unpack’ their current classroom practice, and the philosophical ideas behind these (e.g. why do we have assemblies – what learning comes out of these? e.g. what is the purpose of teaching English – what is the use of it in the ‘real world’?).
If teachers are encouraged and supported to think in this way, then they are likely to recognise that there is a need – a pressing, genuine need – to do things differently (p. 62).
That there are a lot of things that almost need to happen altogether – the strategies above, the engagement with the six themes of the report…and that’s massive. And maybe even a little overwhelming. But the important things usually are!
That while essentially systemic transformation is needed, there are some steps we can begin to make right now towards the big picture.