My Case for Change

Today I was fortunate to attend one of AITSL’s Learning Frontiers Design Principles workshops facilitated by Summer Howarth (AITSL) and David Price (Innovation Unit – UK). The focus of the Learning Frontiers initiative is to bring schools, educators and other stake holders together to look at ways to increase student engagement.

It is disappointing to  hear statistics of high student disengagement and un-engagement. Australian research has found:

More of the statistics shared can be found via the online version of the design principles workshop here: 

Learning Frontiers Design Principles Workshop

Schools need to provide and education that prepares students to be problem solvers, responsible global citizens and effective communicators while cultivating a love of learning. (This list is by no means exhaustive – just a few things I was thinking about today.) If students are disengaged at school, research has shown that they are limiting their future success.

Solving the problem of disengagement is a daunting task; however as my group discussed today, we don’t have to know where the journey will end before we set off. In working together to improve the situation educators, as well as students, will be learning. As educators deeply engage in the learning journey new possibilities will be created and this is something I am excited about.


What do we want to see in our classrooms?

This year, Temple Christian College is celebrating 30 years and today, at our annual team building day, we took some time to celebrate our school community, where we have been and where we are going.

A highlight for me was conversing with staff, both teaching and non-teaching, about their motivations for working in schools. It was wonderful to hear teachers speak passionately about their subject areas and their desire to help students fulfil their potential, even after they leave school.

After sharing personal motivations for teaching, discussion moved to looking at successful and rewarding teaching episodes. As a school, we are in the process of developing a school wide pedagogy that lines up with our vision, mission and values. After sharing classroom experiences my group prioritised the practices listed below as the ones they wanted to see in every classroom:

Authentic – relating to each other genuinely and creating learning tasks that have real world application beyond the classroom walls.

Passionate – seeing teachers passionate about learning and passing the passion on to the students, evidenced by active and engaged learning in the classroom.

Inspiring – ‘sowing seeds‘ in students that will stay with them beyond the classroom motivating them to reach their full potential.

Challenging – encouraging students to wrestle with and enjoy the challenges of learning, not simply focus on the grade or reward at the end.

God honouring – as a Christian school we want our students to honour God in all things they do, both in and out of the classroom.

Caring – we talked a lot about valuing EVERY student and ensuring we were creating a safe and secure environment in our classrooms where everyone felt loved and accepted.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the other groups came up with and future conversations  about what we want our classrooms to look like at Temple Christian College. I feel privileged to work in such a supportive  school community and look forward to us growing professionally, spiritually and personally together.

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Aspirations & Differentiation

“Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.” Louisa May Alcott (American novelist)

Over the past year I have become somewhat of an idealist in what I want my classroom to look like. I ‘aspire’ to see all students excited about, and actively engaged in their learning. I realise that it is highly unlikely for this to be achieved 100% of the time; however I believe this needs to be the goal of every teacher. As I have reflected on my classes I realise that I can do more to pursue my ‘aspirations’ to improve learning outcomes for my students.

To help ensure that my learning tasks are meeting the needs of my students, I surveyed the students to identify their learning styles. I’m not sure why I haven’t done this before! Now that I know how my students prefer to learn I am going to plan tasks with this in mind.

In addition to this, I have also been doing some research on the differentiated classroom. I’m excited to apply what I have learnt when planning my lessons for next term. Tomlinson states that ‘ student differences do matter and quality teaching makes room for these differences.’ (Tomlinson, 2010. Leading and Managing a Differentiated Classroom) I want to be a quality teacher therefore I cannot  ignore the different learning needs of my students. I plan to use a variety of differentiation strategies, including learning style, interest and ability.

Throughout this process my students will not be the only ones who are learning. I’m looking forward to learning more about myself as a teacher and the teaching craft. Reflection will be an important part of the learning process for both me and the students. I will seek regular feedback from my classes, reflect on this, and allow it to shape my actions in the classroom.

Over the coming weeks, as I follow my aspirations, I hope to see greater engagement and enjoyment from my students as we learn together.

Two Things: Grades & Reflection

This week I returned to being a student, beginning my Masters of Education at Flinders University. So far, it has been a great experience. There are a number of points I have been reflecting on following my first class and here are some of my thoughts.

Firstly, I was reminded of the pressure we inadvertently place on our students in the learning process by grading their work. On hearing about the assignments that need to be completed for the course, my mind immediately went to the grades I hope to achieve. I realised this is often what students experience in the classroom. While achieving good grades is not a bad thing, it is not the primary motivation I want my students to have when learning. First and foremost I want students to be intrinsically motivated by the learning process itself, not the grade they achieve at the end of it. I can’t escape grades at present; however I aim to provide authentic learning opportunities that engage students, opening them up to the wonder of learning.

A second thing I was reminded of was the importance of reflection in the learning process. My class were asked to read the poem “The Fire” by Judy Brown. The poem outlines what is needed to build a fire and it is a fantastic metaphor for what is required for transformative learning. It is easy to be busy, doing and trying many new things; however if we (both educators and students) do not find time to reflect on what is being learnt the learning will be limited. The poem highlights the need for space to enable the flame to burn. If there are too many logs on the fire, leaving no space, the fire will suffocate and be unable to serve it’s purpose. Similarly, if we attempt to do too many things leaving no ‘space’ in our lives then our learning will suffocate.

What have I learnt?

After a relaxing school holiday, including a cruise, much time spent with family and friends, a few good books read and movies seen, I’m back to work. I’m hoping to post some thoughts and reflections on teaching each week and here’s whats been on my mind this week.

This thought provoking tweet recently caught my eye and started me thinking about how I have changed and developed as a teacher over the last 13, (I can’t believe it’s that long!), years. There are certainly a few moments that I cringe over when I think about the way I went about things in the past, although at the time I had every confidence in what I was doing, and I’m sure that when I look back in another 13 years time I will have added to those moments.

There are two students I clearly recall who challenged and ultimately changed the way I went about things in the classroom.

The first child was quite bright. If ‘child one’ chose to they could do the work at a standard higher than many of their peers; however ‘child one’ rarely chose this option resulting in low grades and frustration for me. (‘student one’ didn’t seem to mind at all.) The second child (a different year and class) had some learning difficulties. There were times when ‘child two’ would try quite hard; however it was passive learning taking place – ‘child two’ was never really excited about what was happening in the classroom and I’m sure their motivation was to make sure I didn’t ring home about incomplete work. Initially, after conversing with the parents about their child’s experience in my classroom, I was quite sure I was doing everything I could to try help these students succeed; however on reflection I realised that perhaps there were some things I could alter.

I’m reluctant to say it is the job of a teacher to make learning fun; however I have no hesitation in saying that it is the job of a teacher to provide authentic learning experiences that engage students and provide the opportunity for active learning to take place. If these things are present in the classroom then they students will enjoy their learning and might even say they are having ‘fun.’

It’s easy to  fall into the trap of thinking there’s nothing more we can do. It’s the student at fault not the teacher. It is also easy to resist change; however we should constantly be re-evaluating what we are doing and not afraid to alter our practice to better meet the needs of out students.

I hope that in the coming school year I can provide authentic learning experiences that engage all my students and I know to be successful in this I’m going to have to try things in the classroom I haven’t tried before.

The Eight Personas of a Teacher – Dr Kevin Knight

Earlier this year I was privileged to head up to the Gold Coast to attend a conference titled ‘The Personal Teacher’. It was facilitated by the Compass organisation. There were speakers from the Compass group and also Dr Kevin Knight, on of the founding directors of the New Zealand Graduate School of Education. While all sessions were excellent, it was Kevin Knight who impacted me the most. He has since visited our school and worked with more of our staff who were equally challenged and inspired by his simple, yet unique way of breaking down the job of a teacher. I am excited that he will be returning to work with more of our staff in 2013.

Kevin divides the job of a teacher into 8 personas which form 4 antagonistic pairs:

  • The teacher as captain yet also relationship builder

This pair establishes the learning environment in the classroom. It is imperative for a teacher to quickly build positive relationships with the students they are teaching; however they must also be in charge. If teachers are not competent in this area then it will be very difficult to ensure learning is happening in the classrom.

Kevin had some very detailed forms that can be used to gauge how teachers are going in this area.

  • The teacher as scholar yet also analyst

This pair recognises the importance of knowing what you’re teaching – but it goes further than that. The teacher as analyst will know what their students need to learn and they will be able to clearly articulate the skills students have learnt.This information will be gleaned from pre-testing and assessment, both formative and summative.

  • The teacher as coach yet also as empowerer

There will always be times where the teacher needs to direct the learning (teacher as coach); however I was inspired to try and ignite passionate curiosity in my students so they enjoy their learning and take personal responsibility for it. Empowering students to direct their own learning is certainly one of my goals for the 2013 school year.

  • The teacher as an individual and also a colleague

This pair is fairly self-explanatory. Historically teachers have been excellent at working individually in their isolated classrooms; however this pattern is beginning to change. I know here at Temple Christian College our faculties regularly work collaboratively to develop units of work and create resources.

One of the reasons we are taking on Kevin’s model as a school is so colleagues can effectively mentor colleagues in all the personas to improve the teaching and learning that takes place here. Eventually, all our staff will be trained in Kevin’s model and be paired up to work with each other. This will involve visiting classes, and giving and receiving feedback to and from collegues. The feedback will then serve as a tool to self-reflect on current practice.

Personally, I found going through the model with Kevin to be some of the most valuable professional learning I have undertaken as a teacher. It certainly led me to reflect on what I’m doing in the classroom to ensure meaningful learning for all of my students.

Learning How to Blog

Last week I was fortunate to attend a couple of workshops and a presentation by George Couros. He inspired me, and many others, to blog as a public record of our professional learning and the things we are doing in our classrooms. As well as being a record it is also a reflective tool that can be used to refine practice and cement learning.

After hearing and seeing some of the ways that blogging is used at Parkland Area School, and having my attention drawn to this blog by pernilleripp via Twitter, I thought I would begin my blogging journey alongside my students.

The students have just finished reading the novel The Ink Bridge by Neil Grant. They are now going to be set a series of topics to blog about based around the themes from the novel. I have drawn up an assessment rubric that relates back to the literature and litercay strands of the Australian Curriculum. Students will be assessed on the following: their response to the theme as presented in the text and in a broader context; their ability to create meaningful text (including the application of word processing functions), and their interaction with other students through the posting of meaningful comments on each others work.

I am hoping that through blogging my students will gain the following skills:

  • to give and recieve constructive feedback from peers
  • create meaningful written dialogue
  • improved editing
  • view their own writing more critically
  • empathy

(adapted with permission from pernilleripp)

I, and my students, have signed up with edblogs; however as I and my class are new to blogging posts are not visible for the public to view. When I have finished the unit I may seek permission from some students to publish their work publically on the internet – but for now it’s just our class.

It has taken more class time than I would like to get everything ready to go; however all students started their first posts today and they are looking forward to reading each others work and discussing the themes of the text on the shared site. I’m looking forward to reading what they have to say.