I really enjoyed this quick read article by David Jakes about ideas! It's all about how teachers need to come up with better and more innovative ideas in order for change to occur.
"Change is dependent on generating ideas, and about creating ideas that have magnitude — and that really is the key. Big ideas, ideas that potentially position the organization beyond their horizon line, bold, creative, audacious ideas, and those that make you tilt your head, squint your eyes, and then slightly nod. And then smile."
This kind of leads to a Core Blog Post that I recently wrote based on the video "Beyond the Obvious". It's all about how we often hold back sharing our own thoughts because we don't think they're any good. How do we encourage others to share their ideas in order for collaboration to take things to the next level? How do we create the conditions for this in our schools?
"There’s a reason that collaborative teaching is often called “power teaching.” By collaborating with others we combine expertise. Interacting with a wide range of people lets us gain multiple perspectives. This in turn leads to greater chances of our ideas intersecting or colliding, increasing the likelihood of creativity and innovation. We can share ideas that may then evolve into transformative action."
Think about sharing these readings with your staff to build a dialogue.
Questions to consider:
Do you have a school culture that encourages all contributions?
Do you indulge in "blue sky thinking" that lets people think creatively?
Do you allow for collaboration within your staff?
Do you encourage multiple perspectives? Do you engage with student and community voice?
"Little ideas are easy. Big, potentially impactful ideas — not so much." David Jakes
I'm always asked about "getting started" with modern learning practices. Here's a video from Edutopia that has some quite nice beginning stuff! A little bit cheesy, but a good intro.
And just like that, another year is over! Reflecting back on 2013, it has been a year of great change. I have made significant changes to my teaching practice, based on new learning, understandings and ideas that I have gained this year. I am incredibly grateful to have had my term sabbatical and it was an awesome opportunity - although I could have spent the whole year on my topic and not run out of avenues to pursue.
Looking forward to next year, I will be taking on a team leader role within my school as well as having some time to implement some digital initiatives which I am really excited about. In Year 3/4 we will have a team of 6 teachers. At the moment we are planning to work in teams of 2 for most of the time, but also teams of three and sometimes even a team of 6. We are all excited to be moving forward after trialling and experimenting with lots of formats and ideas this year.
When we grouped our students into new classes for 2014, we sorted the classes into " power groups", not traditional class groupings. We then separated the students into two homebases, mostly for management and pastoral care reasons - eg. school roll, talking with parents. We kicked off our traditional " Meet the Teacher" afternoon, by getting together with both teachers and classes, trying to send the message to our students initially that they have more than one teacher and a wide range of fellow learners.
At this stage I think our challenges will be:
Changing the traditional understanding of the role of a teacher and a class, for both students and parents.
Constantly reflecting on our practice to ensure we are not slipping back into "what's comfortable".
Developing " collective responsibility" among our teachers for all students.
Refining and improving systems that ensure quality assessment and reporting information is available to students and their families, in an efficient and purposeful way.
I'm sure their will be more - stay tuned in 2014!
What a privilege to visit the fabulous Breens Intermediate School today! For those readers from other countries, an intermediate school is a "bridging school", between primary school and high school. It covers two year levels, Years 7 and 8. They are quite unique in the fact that students only attend these schools for 80 weeks.
Principal Brian Price showed me around his fantastic school and I was able to speak with various teachers, leaders and students. The classrooms were built in the 1970's, but once again, this is an example of a school adapting their traditional environment to enhance teaching and learning. About 5 years ago, many of the internal walls were replaced with windows, to open up the classrooms and deprivatise practice. The school has also reorganised some spaces, taking storage rooms and specialist spaces where able to develop three learning "hubs". Furniture has been adapted and purchased to create flexible learning areas.
Discoveries at Breens:
When students enter Breens, there is a rigorous induction process. Interviews are held with parents, teachers from the feeder schools and with students. The year begins with a three way conference. Teachers do their best to place students in a class where they will experience the most success. Students do have a home class, but there is ownership of all students by all teachers.
Within the learning hubs, the teachers plan and teach the students collaboratively. As a staff, they visited several Auckland schools for inspiration, and attended the "Think Forward" conference. Senior leadership has also played a vital role in the development of team teaching.
Breens has strong values underpinning the school culture. The students have a deep understanding of the values and they are an integral part of everyday life in the school. The school's visual metaphor draws on the community, family and feeder schools as the supports to grow strong students.
Each learning hub has three teachers and up to 90 students. Two of the hubs have large gathering places, where the students assemble each morning. This means the day starts with shared karakia and waiata. Notices and messages are shared. Students and teachers can also work in this space throughout the day.
The school also has an excellent library, known as COIL - Centre of Information and Learning. Students can access this anytime. The library area has been really well developed, featuring several "rooms within rooms". A support person is available to help with research and there is excellent ICT access.
Breens is a BYOD school, with students able to bring a device of their choice to support their learning. There are also multiple technologies available around the learning hubs for student access.
Teacher spaces have been developed in each hub. Team Leader Nathan Maclennan, described how easy it is to collaborate in the teacher space. Planning, professional conversations, moderation and reflection occur on a daily basis. The teachers plan using google docs, so plans are easily accessible. Assessment is also recorded on the google docs - teachers can make anecdotal notes about students that can be accessed and added to by the other teachers. In some cases teachers are focusing on specialist curriculum areas, for example, one teacher doing literacy groups, another doing maths groups.
Students have a lot of ownership and independence with their learning. In one of the blocks I visited, each student had a personal timetable and knew when they would meet with a teacher for workshop style instruction. Meanwhile, they had negotiated tasks and challenges to be working on. Students were motivated and engaged, working in a variety of spaces and using ict tools to suit their purpose. This year the students are also responsible for their own blog, which they are using as a record of their learning. This was also inform three way conferences and provide a way of sharing learning with families.
Goal setting is authentic and visible. Students set goals each term, then reflect weekly on their progress. Breens is introducing a coaching model called "Learning Advisors" where students will meet with a coach to discuss their progress on their goals. Mentors will also share their own goals, and model active listening. Students will develop skills to share with their peers and give feedback and support.
The students I spoke with at Breens were very articulate when talking about their learning and how they were using the space in the learning hubs. One comment some Year 8 students made, was how well they knew the Year 7 students in their hub. They said in their past school, those year divisions were quite strong, but in this environment, it didn't matter.
I left Breens, inspired with some new ideas to try in my school. The teachers and students are definitely demonstrating the values of being bold enough to try new ideas and it's a beautiful thing!
How can I make goal setting in my own class more purposeful and effective? Younger students often find goal setting difficult and easily forget their goals. How can I make goal setting an integral part of learning for my Year 3/4 students?
A quote that has stayed with me over the past few weeks, comes from Stephen Heppell, speaking at the Core Ed MLE expo, that I have blogged about previously. His words have been resonating with me and I have been doing some serious thinking!!
On the subject of school design, Stephen said, "No detail is too small. School design is ALL ABOUT THE DETAILS." On his website, Stephen has some extensive information about school toilets - an area that is often an afterthought in school design, but can actually have a definite impact on teaching and learning. Not afraid to discuss the problems of the loo, check out Stephen's research and thoughts here.
I've also been thinking about two other areas of school design that I think we need to jump on as important details that could really make differences. The first is parking lots, student drop offs and traffic safety. There must be ways that teachers car parks could be closer to the classrooms. I see teachers every day lugging huge boxes of books and gear back and forward. It's also a fact that despite our best efforts, many parents still want to drive their kids to school. How can we organise this is a safe way? I taught elementary school in the US, where we had drop off lanes at the front of the school. This worked quite well and I saw something similar at Hingaia Peninsula School. So much easier and safer.
The second is staffroom design. The teaching profession is probably one of the few where everyone in the building needs to make a cup of tea at the same time each day. We've all been caught out at the end of the long line, or constant "Excuse me's" as people endeavour to get their lunch before racing out to a sport's practice or duty. Even new staffrooms I have visited still have this problem. Again, there must be creative solutions to manage the flow of people through the area in a short time.
So that's my challenge to school designers - think about the details! Research shows that when teachers are feeling valued and their environment is positive, this in turn has a direct effect on their interactions with that environment and their perceptions. (Gifford, 2002. Woolner et al, 2007) A closer car park and a hot drink aren't too much to ask!
It would also be great to see local agencies that support traffic safety, often run by the local council, involved in the planning and design of student drop off and parking areas. The police would also have expertise in this area. Rather than trying to implement safety plans later - let's get it right the first time.
Wonderings: How do we get multiple agencies working together? How can schools participate in the design process to ensure small details don't get overlooked?
Today I was privileged to visit Clarkville School, a school of around 200 students in rural North Canterbury. Principal Pene Abbie and her team certainly demonstrate the idea of creating "better learning environments". Despite being an older school, the staff and students have worked to create flexible learning spaces in their existing buildings and are using collaborative teaching approaches to engage their learners.
Pene described their journey beginning with staff developing a shared understanding of inquiry learning. Inquiry and the key competencies drive the curriculum at Clarkville, with strong student voice. The aim at Clarkville is for children to be leading their learning and this was certainly evident as I toured the school.
In 2012, staff and BOT representatives visited several schools in Sydney, which served as a catalyst to change the environment. At the beginning of the new school year, the classrooms were emptied of all furniture during the first week of school. Students were involved in discussions about the kinds of furniture that they wanted to use in the classrooms and really began thinking about their environment. A "funny money" auction was held for the students to "buy back" the furniture that they really wanted for their classrooms. Additional funds were then used to purchase items that were still needed. Staff and students have worked hard to create learning environments that enhance the pedagogical approaches used at Clarkville.
Collaborative Teaching was originally trialled in the Year 5/6 area of the school, with other teams gradually joining in. This year, all classes are being taught collaboratively. I especially liked the way the teams are named; Ignite (NE), Launch (Y1-2), Discover (Y3-4), Explore (Y5-6) and Aspire (Y7-8). The Ignite class often works in with Launch, but provides a safe and secure environment for 5 year olds making the transition to school. Teachers plan collaboratively and have collective ownership of the students. Both teachers are present at student led conferences.
Discoveries at Clarkville:
There are no bells ringing at Clarkville. There are break times and duty teachers, but there are no interruptions from a ringing bell or other signal. If students are engaged in their work, there is no point interrupting them. Instead, there is flexibility.
Clarkville believes learning doesn't just start at 9am. There are before school opportunities for students to participate in CHILL - children leading learning. There are activities and workshops based around the inquiry theme, available for students to participate in. This also provides an excellent opportunity for parents to participate in a learning activity with their child.
The school has a BYOD programme, which has been the inspiration for this year's inquiry theme of "Cybersafety." No device is specified, students can bring whatever device they have. Clarkville has excellent community support, so uptake has been high, particularly in the senior end of the school.
When choosing an Inquiry theme for the year, the focus is on authentic contexts and student needs. Student voice is powerful at Clarkville. Students are involved in the planning process, as part of a team made up of students from years 4-8. They will even attend BOT meetings as necessary. Younger students often get to contribute their ideas as well. Curriculum coverage is back mapped.
Professional development and continuous improvement makes use of the three P's. People, pedagogy and place. There are focus groups of teachers responsible for the development of each area. People looks at the staff, students and community. Pedagogy looks at constantly refining and improving exemplary practices. Place examines the learning environment.
Students are very aware of their achievement. They have learning pathway folders that contain their goal sheets and reflections, peer feedback, learning maps and learning stories. A Year 8 student explained to me that he knew how to read his Asttle data in order to know his next learning steps in Maths. Students opt into workshop style learning as necessary. Teachers are not necessarily teaching groups of students, they are teaching based on the student's next learning steps.
With inquiry learning, teachers prepare workshops to facilitate knowledge building in the "Finding Out" phase of an inquiry. They teach students from Years 1-8 in these sessions, reiterating the belief that all teachers are responsible for all learning. In the Going Further stages of inquiry, students work in their teams and this will often lead to students teaching other students.
Staff are using the Teaching as Inquiry model and meeting in Professional Learning Groups to further develop their professional knowledge. A mentor is available for support. This is leading to excellent discussions and teaching and learning decisions based on best practice research.
I loved the way teachers are teaching every student in the school. What could be ways of grouping students so that something similar could be done in a large school? Perhaps vertical teams?
How do we ensure that inquiry learning is authentic and access student voice so that they are truly involved in the process of developing and leading their learning, not just asked for an opinion?
It was an awesome experience to visit Clarkville School. I really appreciate Pene and the staff making time for me, and I had two wonderful tour guides from the senior school. Tena Koutou i a koutou manaakitanga mai. Thank you for your hospitality.
Saturday saw a large turnout for the Core Education Modern Learning Environment Expo, held at the Air Force Museum in Christchuch. It was a great opportunity for educators and the public to have the opportunity to listen to speakers and see the future of education.
The day began with the internationally renowned Stephen Heppell. Make sure you check out his website - it is an incredible resource for those exploring mle's and the use of technology. Stephen bombarded us with amazing images of learning environments from around the world. He challenged Christchurch to be brave enough to build schools that will inspire and engage our students. Stephen wanted us to remember that every detail matters and that students should be involved in the process of the Canterbury rebuild - not just asked for opinions, but actually involved in the whole design and creation of new learning environments.
Stephen's talk was followed by a virtual tour of Stonefields School in Auckland, a school that is inspirational in their development of pedagogical practices that complement their modern learning environment. James Petronelli from Clearview Primary in Rolleston also spoke about our school's design journey over the past four years and our next steps with the use of effective pedagogies.
Unfortunately I couldn't stay the whole day, so I would love to hear from anyone who heard the afternoon speakers at the expo. Thanks to Core Education for putting on such a comprehensive event for Canterbury.
Stephen Harris is the principal of Northern Beaches Christian School and director of the Sydney Centre for Learning Innovation, in New South Wales, Australia. The topic of his keynote was, "Factories No More: They key role design and furniture has in enabling teachers to change pedagogy." Stephen discussed how education innovation breaks through disengagement and re-engages students into learning.
His keynote was thought provoking and challenged the audience's preconceptions and ideas.
The important ideas that will stay with me from this presentation are:
School buildings will probably be out of date in twenty years.
Architects should not draw furniture on their plans. This starts to set the pedagogy.
Key questions for learning spaces - "How do I learn?","How do I want to learn?", "Where do I want to learn?"
What implications does mobile technology have for education? How do you keep technology as the pedagogic tool, not the driver?
How will economies affect learning? For example, will it be feasible to maintain and operate educational facilities like universities at the current level we have now?
We need to unlearn and relearn pedagogic design. We need to disrupt our mental models, or teachers will revert to what they have always done, not relearn.
The end product of education has to have a purpose. This could be social cohesion, community development or job creation. This means our designs need to have purpose and meaning, be future oriented, sustainable and allow for growth.
School designs need to be agile, perpetual blank canvases, that can be continually reconfigured.
There are buildings less than ten years old, that are already requiring modifications and alterations to meet purpose. How can we minimise this?
Stephen had some recommended reading for educators:
Check out "
Michael Barber discusses his essay, "Oceans of Innovation" about the rise of the Asia Pacific region. (Available free from Amazon.)
The opening keynote for the conference was presented by Mike Anderson, Principal of Waimairi School and John Leonard, Principal of Freeville School, both located in Christchurch. They described the aftermath of the February Earthquake, which devasted Christchurch and changed it forever.
It was a harrowing journey that they took us on, describing panic and students and communities who were broken. Throughout this, staff remained calm and the schools became a focal point for the community.
Although both schools still face some uncertainty with rebuilding projects and the possibility of merger, Mike and John had several key messages.
Schools and communities need to feel ownership over decisions about their school.
They don't want repairs, they want transformation.
New buildings should match effective pedagogy.
Staff, students and the community should have input into new school design.
Mark Treadwell also added to these ideas in a later keynote: "In times of change, we have huge opportunities for innovation. Risk taking is risky, but no risk taking is catastrophic. Buildings need to be in sync with learning."
John discussed how a key change for his school had been the redefining of what a community is and where schools sit in the community. In the days and weeks after the earthquake, schools provided a community space, a return to normality and a place for people to meet and support each other.
"Ka pu te ruha ka hao te rangatahi"
As an old net withers, another is remade.
Kia Kaha Christchurch.
What is the most effective way for government, schools, communities and stake holders to work together to create an amazing future for education in our area? How can we ensure that innovate and transform, rather than rebuild?
Nikki Kaye, Associate Minister for Education, welcomed delegates to the conference. During her speech, she discussed:
How the theme of "disruption" is so relevant world wide.
The changing nature of education. This change is not just the physical environment.
How innovation will be required to meet the educational needs of the future.
Ways in which the government will contribute - significant investment in building, high speed internet and online environments.
The provision of equitable opportunities for all.
The development of appropriate learning environments for communities and the need for communities to be involved and have ownership.
How students can be involved in the design process and decision making.
Safety challenges - both physical and online.
Raising the profile of digital literacy and online environments.
The Ministry of Education is certainly facing interesting times, with the Canterbury rebuild, intensification in Auckland and the movement of our population due to these factors. Nikki's key message was that our learning environments need to be flexible, connected spaces that inspire, as schools are the centre of our community.
You can read Nikki's complete speech here.
My name is Ngaire Shepherd-Wills. This website is a record of my TeachNZ sabbatical, Term 2, 2013 and then I have continued to share my wonderings and discoveries about Innovative Learning Practices. I now work for CORE Education. Views are my own.