Friday, 5 June 2020

Recording Your Professional Journey - For Teachers

I just created a new video on blogging since Google has changed the look of the platform recently.  This video runs through how to start out from scratch, and shows you how to set up labels which is an awesome way to keep a record for your professional recertification.   You can label each post with teaching standards or codes each time and if your appraiser would like to look at some evidence that you have complied with the code or reached the professional standards, then you just click on the labels.
Once you have set up a blog, it is easy to add posts.  Teachers forget to keep records of how they have grown and continue to grow as professionals, so I find it really easy to post up every few weeks or whenever I feel something important has happened in my teaching and learning space.  I can keep a track of my inquiry (teaching standard 2) easily as well, and while your appraiser may not require you to do an inquiry, the teaching council certainly expects that you do.
Blogging is a great way to order thoughts and decode your reflections.  As you write or express in a video or audio file, you are focusing on making sense of what you have done.
Of course, if you are just wanting to keep a travel log, it works just as well, if you add place names as labels.  Happy blogging!  I'm sure you will enjoy it as much as I do.

Monday, 27 April 2020

All The Good Things in Education

Student agency, student-centred learning, learner inquiry, reflection, learning how to learn, parental interest and participation, and making sense of the real world, all the good things that education should and could be, have been enabled through the Covid 19 pandemic level 4 lockdown.

We all know that school is a societal construct to enable all children to participate in education but as the economy and social organisation has been evolving away from industrial models, through information societies and into knowledge societies, not all has changed at school. And so this lockdown should not be seen as a restriction of education, it is an opportunity to see how things could be so different if we are prepared to make changes.
Let's look at each of the "good things' listed above to start with. 

Simplified, student agency is when learners have choice and control over what they learn.  Perfect in the home situation - let learning fit in with what you are doing at home!  Student-centred learning is when learners seek out and find their own understandings, rather than being given screeds of instructions on what to do or tasks to do. Students build their own understanding rather than being told the answers.  Learner inquiry (inquiry learning) often arises with a "hook" - a video or a book or a discussion which piques the learner's interest. It is often embedded in a framework which enables the learner to focus on answering questions that they are interested in finding out the answers to in relevant and meaningful contexts.  Reflection is an important part of this process - what have I learned, how have I learned it and what else should/could I learn? Frameworks often give learners the structure through which they can learn about anything - that is, they are learning to learn. 

Parental interest and participation is something that parents often feel less confident about. Parents are the first educators, we know this well.  They help their children learn and develop through a wide variety of contexts and experiences to grow their literacy skills in oral language,  reading and numeracy.  For example, they spend time developing attention to language, symbols and texts, and they also instill social norms through their behaviours.   And then they send them off to school, and while they may support them to develop even further, they may often feel that they are really on the sideline or do not have the expertise to be the "primary educator." 

Now parents are forced into a situation that is beyond their control - they are the primary educators in lockdown.  They are the people that the learner sees every day, the person that their children (the learners) look to for advice and direction on what they should be doing to be "educated".  Here is the opportunity to make sense of the real world.  What nature stories are the children learning now?  They are having more time than ever out and about in their yards or going for walks.  What observations are they making? Now is the time to encourage children to think, by asking them open-ended questions.  Here are a few that can be applied to many different contexts.
  • What do you think about that?
  • Why do you think that?
  • What do you think Hemi thinks about that?
Image from Flickr and
So we ask our parents - have your children been managing themselves, getting themselves out of bed at a time you have agreed, helping out with household routines, being where they should be, following the routines of washing their hands, having a bath, eating healthily, getting their clothes into the wash or cleaning up after they have made that fort out of blankets and chairs? Are your children participating and contributing to the household conversations?  Are they ensuring that everyone has a part to play including them?  

Recognise a few of those phrases?  Yes, these are the key competencies that our curriculum aims to develop in every child in New Zealand.  If parents can focus on continuing to ensure that their children work on these, then their education will be in great shape.

In addressing the New Zealand Curriculum, teachers have always been urged to focus firstly on the front of the document, not on the achievement objectives of each curriculum area.

Teachers may start to focus on achievement objectives for their learners when they are teaching online.  When they do this, I can only hope that they will be clear about learning outcomes i.e. what they need to learn and why, rather than the way they learn it.     While teachers around the country are working hard for online learning to be a thing, it is also important to reassure parents that they do continue to educate their children in so many ways.  After all, education does not start at the gate of the school and stop when the learners go home.  Children learn constantly.  They will at school and they will at home.

It is also the time to learn to relate to others.  Are you showing respect for people from different cultures or circumstances to your own?  As Jacinda Ardern says - are you being kind?  How are you demonstrating that kindness?  Do you appreciate the kindnesses shown to you by others?

Are you continuing to use language, symbols and texts to make sense of the world, by reading, allowing your child to read and write about their days at home?  Can your child tell a story about a photograph that they took with your phone?  Can they make sense of digital clock faces, pedometers, visual representations of data that they see on the television or on the internet?  Keep the oral development going - try a challenge for all of your family of learning a new word every day. Model learning.  Keep repeating that phrase, well I learned something new today.

The most important thing for parents to remember is that their children will be alright and that they will continue to learn, just in different ways and in different contexts. 
So is there anything that learners are missing out on during lockdown?  Yes, a few things but that's a subject for another day.

In today's connected world, parents should not be afraid of their children missing out on education.  They are not missing out on learning and that's what it is all about.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Teachers - inquiry is essential!

What has happened?
As the result of industrial action, the Education Council of Aotearoa is looking again at the role of appraisal and removing the 10% auditing of appraisal records by ERO.  They say that they are looking to rebalance "our accountability to the public with professional trust." The link to this information is here.  Teachers felt there was too much workload associated with an emphasis on compliance.

The removal of appraisal as an accountability tool tells me several things are likely to have been happening.
1. Appraisal of teachers has had an accountability focus rather than a growth focus.
2. Principals and leaders have been overzealous in a tick box approach to appraisal and observations.
3. Appraisal has been viewed as a punitive, pass or fail process, that teachers fear.
4. Inquiry has been an onerous compulsory recording exercise rather than a natural approach to teaching, with the benefit of deep reflection allowing changes in practice that are beneficial to all.

What should have happened?
I have always been taught that appraisal comes from the root word of praise.  It is about acknowledging what is going well and looking for goals for the further improvement of teaching practice.  A teacher cannot engage positively if it is just used for accountability purposes.

Inquiry is essential!
From what I have heard, teachers are saying that they don't have to do inquiry any more and there is certainly no legal requirement to do an inquiry for appraisal.  But the thing is, inquiry is one of the six professional standards for educators, so of course teachers should be doing it if they want to be recognised as professional.

There are so many benefits of carrying out an inquiry related to your school's annual goals as well as your own goals.  You can improve your practice through finding out what works best for the learners that you have in front of you. Teachers do inquiry quite naturally in the context of their work, but following a process like the spiral of inquiry, reminds us to look for research on best practice, and allows us the "permission" to reflect deeply on the effects that our changed practice has.

Inquiry is, in my opinion,  the most pain-free approach to appraisal, where all stakeholders get benefits.

Do you "need" a portfolio?
The other aspect that has come under scrutiny is the need for portfolios.  Once again there is no legal requirement for a portfolio for appraisal purposes but it seems that teachers have been collecting screeds and screeds of "evidence" to meet appraisal requirements.  There is simply no need for that.

The benefits of a portfolio are directly dependent on the purpose of the portfolio.  There are three main types of portfolio:-

  • Showcase portfolio
  • Process portfolio
  • Accountability portfolio
The showcase portfolio is to show off your best work, and if you don't collect images, learner voice, videos, words of praise from your leader etc as you go along, it becomes a mammoth task when you want to apply for another job.  You often simply don't have records any more, if you don't collect.

The process portfolio is to record your journey through learning, or inquiry.  It is like a learning journal.  A framework like the spiral of inquiry keeps you focused on the objective and you can see the progress that you make over time.  The biggest benefit from my point of view is the opportunity to reflect through writing down or videoing your thoughts.  These small actions alone allow you to order and make sense of your thinking.  This process portfolio can also be used as a showcase because some of your best work comes out of the realisations of your goals.

The accountability portfolio is to keep records to show you have met the standards, as in an art or technology portfolio in NCEA assessment.  For teachers, the process portfolio will easily meet the purposes of professional standards and is best implemented by tagging (or labelling) sufficient evidence in your process portfolio.

So if you use one portfolio to meet all of these purposes, you will have awesome professional records to tap into at any time.  In this day and age of phones, laptops and other devices to hand, to record and organise artefacts in the cloud seems a no-brainer, so start collecting, and select the evidence that you do need according to the purpose of the portfolio.  It only takes a few seconds to take a photo.
Image -pixabay free images

So there you have it - why I think teachers must be professionally appraised through an inquiry approach and why you would be mad not to have an e-portfolio.

Monday, 29 July 2019

Consistency - who needs it? Just a little rant.

One of the worst excuses for rationale, in many different contexts, that I have ever heard is "for consistency purposes."  Consistency was for industrial or military models of society.  Those days have gone. We wanted everything to be the same so that employees and products were consistent, and soldiers were compliant and knew what was expected of them. In contrast, creativity and adaptability are important skills for the future.

 In the same way, "treat everybody the same" is just as offensive to me.  We are not all the same - we are each rooted in the culture of our forebears, our genetics and our current environments.  One of the things I learned as a senior manager in a school is that every "behaviour" incident and the circumstances leading to it were different.  Listening and understanding different viewpoints and consequences are the first steps to accepting a need for reparation.

So what can we do in our schools to ensure that consistency is not a cornerstone value or justification for important decisions?  We could ensure that there are a variety of approaches to learning by using the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles. This would mean a variety of engagement, representation, action and expression in learning as these are the three principles of UDL.

In the digital world, we could ensure that our learners have a variety of digital tools and devices at their disposal and that they are given choice and control (agency) about how they demonstrate their learning.

In "behaviour management", for want of a better phrase, we need to start communicating more. Expediency is often practised at the expense of rationale.  Be more open to alternatives.  Reserve judgment until we have heard all sides of a story.  This is why our justice system makes use of minimum and maximum sentences rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

Start being mindful of different values, cultures and approaches to life.  The colonial systems that we work within may not always be the best ones.  Ask, include, adapt. Don't "do to" people.  Remember the treaty.  Our nation is founded on equal status of Te Ao Maori and the crown.  We are partners, not enemies. 

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Phones at School - Yes or No?

Well, the Australians have just proved that they are not very future-focused, with the state of Victoria deciding to ban mobile phones at all schools. Even in New Zealand recently, an intermediate school was also reported as banning the use of cellphones at school because staff said that the "devices were the biggest learning hindrance."  This is so disappointing as cellphones can be the biggest learning support that a learner has 24/7 access to in the school day. Research has shown that screentime is not harmful for learners. I am trying to get my head around why a school community makes a decision to ban use of these phones which have computer systems which are more powerful than the computers that sent mankind to the moon.  So here goes.

Negatives (all that I can think of):  
  • Learners are distracted in class.
  • Learners are using the devices inappropriately for off-task behaviour, because they go online, using apps and texting each other during class time.
  • Learners are using platforms to bully other students.
  • Learners are sexting and sharing inappropriate content which by-passes the schools' internet filters.
Positives:  24/7 access to all of the following.  
  • Access to the hugest accumulation of knowledge and information ever compiled.
  • Learners research information (google, youtube, search engines).
  • Learners create evidence of learning (- Photos and videos, Keep, OneNote, Docs, slides)
  • Instant communication - obviously contact with home, but less obvious - learners make local, national, and global connections for learning (consultation with experts for example) using phone, email, messaging
  • Learners use learning aids - google classroom and a zillion other apps that teachers should know about which make literacy, numeracy and all curricular learning come alive.
  • Learners use memory aids - take videos and images in class as prompts
  • Learners use accessibility aids - for those with additional learning needs
  • Calendar for organisational tools
  • GPS tracking (for parents)
  • Store emergency contact information
  • Classroom Collaboration (eg kahoot, socrative, slides, padlets, Thinglink, OneNote, Diigo social bookmarking)
  • Create new artifacts (Voice Notes, snapguides, screencasts, stopmotion videos, use pedometers and other physical activity measures, make maps,).
So let's see if we can address some of the negative issues that teachers are faced with.  
  1. If learners are distracted in class, what does this tell you about the quality and relevance of the learning that they are doing?  Surely it points to changes needed in pedagogical practice rather than taking away a valuable tool.  I always ask teachers to focus on the outcomes of the learning for the day rather than what the learners may be doing at any one instance.  What outcomes are you expecting from your learners?  What product? What evidence of learning?NOT what evidence of carrying out a task!  "Busy work" may keep your learners quiet but are they really learning?
  2. Simon Sinek's golden circles. Let's go back to this idea again.    I always ask teachers what they want their students to learn. I am often given a list of tasks that they want to students to do which describes how they imagine the students are going to learn.  If you can identify what you want your learners to learn and why they should learn it, then the "how" gives learners licence to create their own knowledge and understandings and demonstrate it to you.  Learning should be steeped in collaboration, communication, connectivity, creativity, critical thinking and citizenship.  Why are we not making use of the tools that we all have that allow these things?  Yes, Chromebooks can do many of these things, but not all, and why not use phones as supplementary devices, if not the device?  Don't they need to be able to use their phones in much more creative ways?
  3. As with all behaviour, we can use digital citizenship issues to teach learners how to behave and react, based as always on the values of our school community.  Every teacher and parent should not be afraid to address digital citizenship issues as they arise, just as they normally address behavioural issues in class.  Discuss, debate and agree on acceptable behaviour, work as a school community to eliminate poor behaviour.  Teach resilience - how to cope with the unexpected and nasty curve-balls that life throws our way.  What to do when someone bullies you?  How should you deal with people who find that the only way they can feel superior is to put down others? Because most people are actually pretty nice.  It is a minority who need further education.
  4. Sexting and other inappropriate behaviour must be dealt with as it arises.  Not your crime and punishment approach, but an approach that incorporates restorative practices for victims.  Stop talking around it and start talking to the learners.
I think that many teachers are still determined to be the sage on the stage in their classrooms.  They want control over how students learn and that control usually means - "listen to me, I am the font of all knowledge."  But they are not and should not portray themselves as such! 
There are down-sides to having phones in class but they are far outweighed by the positive  possibilities and I think it is about time our learners were allowed to use the devices they are most familiar with to be able to demonstrate their learning.  These are the tools they will be equipped with in the future - they are currently using the most primitive tools they will have in their future lives.  It is time that parents, teachers, education sectors and our communities caught up with the realities of the future.


Monday, 13 May 2019

The New Zealand Land Wars - How News Media Can Agitate Societal Rage

Stuff News seems to be determined to outrage people with inflammatory headlines.  Point in case: -

Now let's get my own opinion out of the way first.  Yes, I totally believe that every school in NZ should include the NZ Land Wars history in their curriculum and I sincerely hope that they do.

But, here's where misunderstanding of the NZ Curriculum structure gives Stuff the opportunity to rile the ire in many NZers.  The NZ Curriculum is a framework.  We are so lucky in NZ to have the ability to build our curricula around the framework, compared to most countries who tell their people exactly what they must learn and when.  What it means is that using the 8 principles as a foundation, school communities can pretty much build their own content with a vision of having confident, connected, actively involved lifelong learners who are thinkers, able to relate to others, understand text and symbols, manage themselves, and participate and contribute!

So, with the hugest admiration of Waimarama and Leah, whom I think have done an invaluable job of raising awareness of the NZ Land Wars through their student-led petition, the MOE tried to clarify how forcing certain subject content is just not feasible in our NZC framework.  And Stuff goes ahead and reports it in the headline "MOE refuses....".

The two young women, Waimarama and Leah, are a lot more educated than Stuff.  Their petition asked for physical and online resources to be provided.  Perfect!  The Learning Outcomes and Achievement Standards that they also asked for already exist in the curriculum and NCEA.  But teachers build their own content and context around these, depending on their school or kahui ako's local curriculum.

Inflammatory headlines are nothing but clickbait, and a disgraceful example of why digital citizenship needs to be part of every school's curriculum.  But that's another story!

Friday, 26 April 2019

Does Your School Have an Authentic Local Curriculum?

How timely that the Ministry of Education has released new resources on TKI to support the review of your local school curriculum.   The resources come in the form of three booklets:
  • Local Curriculum
  • Assessment for Learning
  • Information Sharing and Building Partnerships

I say "timely" because schools will need to review their curriculum as they integrate the new digital technologies curriculum into their existing curricula.  The rider on each of the progress outcomes for computational thinking (CT) and designing and developing digital outcomes (DDDO) is that these outcomes are couched in authentic contexts.  

We are so lucky to have a national curriculum framework that asks our schools to build on a vision of having confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners.  We, as NZ teachers, are also so fortunate to have the opportunity and responsibility to build key competencies in our learners.  While I have seen a lot of schools spend time on developing their local vision for their learners, the thing I see most often lacking in local curricula is coherence across the school, and learning happening in authentic contexts. 

Some leaders think that by having an arbitrary theme for learning each term or year, this will bind the curriculum together.  I see things a little differently.  By asking your wider school community what is important to them in terms of their people, surroundings and actions, you can build a better local curriculum together.  You also need to consider the future - and how to prepare our young people for a future which is radically different from anything known before.

The MOE resource booklets have a guide which states:
               Your local curriculum is the way you bring the New Zealand Curriculum to life in your school. It should:
                  • be responsive to the needs, identities, languages, cultures, interests, strengths, and aspirations of your learners and their families
                  • have a clear focus on what supports the progress of all learners
                  • help students understand Te Tiriti o Waitangi – its past, present, and future (you will also be planning learning that helps students live the Treaty as citizens of Aotearoa)
                  • help learners engage with the knowledge, values, and key competencies, so they can go on to be confident and connected lifelong learners

The MOE resources also identify 4 high impact practices that help in the design of your local curriculum, as illustrated in this image:

So how do schools start to review their own curricula, build on what they have, and design a flexible, adaptive curriculum that reflects the culture and desires of their community but also looks to the future?  The guide from the MOE suggests some activities for each of these practices, but here are some thoughts around each of the practices that might prompt you to start your review.

1. Enabling Relationships for Learning:
Let's start by asking the question: -  Who are our learners?  What varied and rich family backgrounds do they arise from?  How do we draw on their strengths and cultures?
I have been imagining and "possibilising" what I might do as a leader in a school.  I live in Taupo, so let's start there when thinking about a local curriculum design.  If you asked me who are the people here with which the school needs a relationship, I would firstly say it is crucial that we discover, honour, and respect customs and tikanga of the tangata whenua - Ngati Tuwharetoa, so that becomes an integral part of the curriculum in every class. The school curriculum should grow out of this bicultural heritage, not just give a passing nod to it.
We also have the current population of Taupo, many of whom are employed in the service industries of our tourism-based economy, lots of owners and workers in forestry and farming around, but also lots of retired people and lots of tourists/ holiday home owners. We have global connections with incoming tourists and scientists working in this area.  As well, it is important that our lake and the geothermal, volcanic origins of our environment are valued and protected so that there is a positive relationship with our surroundings.    We want our learners to be able to hold their own in any corner of the globe, so using the context that we live and interact in, how can this be incorporated?
2. Strengthen Collaborative Inquiry
It takes a village to raise a child.  We are all in this battle of life together.  No effective education system works in isolation from the rest of society.  Deciding priorities each year should be a shared work, with strategic goals being understood widely.  If everyone in a school community is involved in decision-making, everyone should be able to see and articulate the needs of the learners and therefore the curriculum.  And most importantly, how do we put the understanding of the needs into actions?  This involves collaborative inquiry.  Knowing what we want, and working out how to get there, by researching together and supporting each other and developing best practice.  This segues quite naturally to the next high impact practice:
3. Building Coherent Pathways
For a while now, schools have a concept of their graduates - often coined a 'graduate profile' - but how well do our schools and teachers know what that might look like for a learner after each year of learning?  Do we have a school- and community-wide understanding of the steps taken at each level to develop the graduates we desire?  Is your curriculum publicised and promulgated (shared widely) in your community?
4. Provide Rich Opportunities for Learning
Too often, rich opportunities for learning are not utilised. It involves a certain amount of letting go of control by schools' teachers.  I don't mean letting the students riot.  I mean using that teachable moment when a learner asks a question totally unrelated to the "topic of the month" or comes to school with a burning thought, or something happens in the playground or the environment that prompts fascination.  It also means looking at your curriculum and NOT teaching that unit on monarch butterflies that has been untouched in 20 years, unless a monarch butterfly makes its way into your classroom and lands on the nose of your most vocal student who suddenly becomes very quiet and still.

The purpose of this blog post is to set you wondering about what you can do about your local curriculum.  Do not expect an overnight fix, after all, it has taken 10 years of the NZ curriculum implementation for some to realise that they have not done it well yet.  It will take time and effort by all stakeholders, and sometimes you will have to start by convincing some people that they are stakeholders in your school.  No doubt, I will have more to say about it, but as usual, I invite your thoughts.

Since I started writing this blog earlier this year, it is interesting to note that the MOE has suggested that Local Curriculum Design become one of three new national priorities for professional learning.  Have your say about this proposal on their website. 

Footnote:  Thanks to Amiria McGarvey for providing the prod to write this post!