Learning is tiring!

Just finished a busy second last week of term, and some good learning in various sessions outside the College.

It began with an ISV breakfast network meeting, with presentations from David Perkins et. al from Project Zero. I’m pretty well acquainted with the Visible Thinking work that Professor Ron Ritchhart has been developing here, and he’s worked with teams of teachers in Victorian schools for some time. The announcement this week was a new network opportunity for ISV member schools to connect up with Project Zero for some (mainly) online learning opportunities, interestingly intending to use Twitter and Google Hangouts in that mix. David Perkins talked about the big picture ‘through-lines’ that connected up learning in our schools and gave us 2 new thinking routines to work on that addressed a direction they’re really interested in: global competence. As our school is working pretty hard at Council of International Schools (CIS) certification this year, it was interesting to hear Project Zero’s take on internationalism. I liked his definition of global competence for its simplicity: ‘the capacity and disposition to understand and act on issues of global significance’.

Later in the week I attended a new network of Curriculum leaders that we established last year. It’s always good to have a conversation with the person in another school who is doing the role you are; it’s great to bounce ideas off each other and share experiences. In this case we talked a lot about assessment and reporting and how we were responding to the demands of government as well as the learning imperatives in our own places. One take-away is that we all want to be able to measure and report on growth, not just achievement, and that’s hard. Our network is called LearningNet and we’ve been using MightyBell as the connecting online tool there, rather than FB etc. It’s worked well for our purposes.

Finally, I was lucky enough to be able to take a team of some of our best tech-teachers to hear Professor Stephen Heppell talk at the Lauriston Institute.  I’ve heard him present before, and his strength is a real connection with the students and what they can bring to the conception of learning spaces. I was interested in  his thinking about libraries and his answers to questions about students using mobile phones: ‘all screen time is not equal’. I liked the CloudLearn site he’s developed, subtitled ‘an end to blocking and locking’, which aggregates good practice in digital policy in schools and I intend to share his final report with the School Management Team later on. Heppell is witty, interesting, makes sense and comes from a rich experience in creating learning spaces driven by student passions. I also like the way he presents; moving (apparently) loosely around the Mac finder, bringing up web pages, videos, images and now a PowerPoint slide in sight.

It makes me remember how tiring learning is; gotta keep that in mind more as the term come to a close and try to build in a variety of energy levels appropriate to where the students are in that term’s journey. I also spent the week trying to re-acquaint myself with note-taking apps on the iPad, moving between Paper, Noteshelf, Notability and Penultimate. But that’s another post!

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Above: Stephen Heppell writing on walls


Learning about growth coaching

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I just completed the second stage, day three and four of Growth Coaching training, and left with a greater appreciation of how coaching might be an effective way to build teacher capacity and to support teachers in working towards their goals.

I was initially sceptical about a model that was built around the assumption that specific content knowledge in the chosen area was not necessary. That you could coach somebody in something without knowing how to do it yourself. But the growth coaching model we were working in isn’t about ‘coaching’ in that sense, not the football coach metaphor, but more a peer-to-peer approach that helps the coachee get clear about their goals, and how they might proceeds to action: what will you do next?

That doesn’t mean it’s easy. They spoke a lot about the need for emotional intelligence and empathy especially and that was obvious in the demonstrations we saw, and tried ourselves. But, for me the unspoken (and very differentiated) skillset is listening and speaking. You need a good repertoire of questions and approaches (which they can help you with) but you need to be able to put that all together.

So, I used to think you couldn’t coach somebody unless you had content knowledge. Now I think you can. But, it’s challenging and relies a lot on empathy, verbal and linguistic skills and believing in the GROWTH process, and sticking to it.

It was a really interesting few days and spent with some enthusiastic and talented educators.  Do I want to be an executive coach? Not really. Do I think that this learning will have application in my daily work with teacher and teacher-leaders, and even students? Absolutely.

Building professional capital

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I spent the day yesterday at a three school combined professional learning day at Lauriston, facilitated by Andy Hargreaves, renowned educator from Boston College. He was an engaging speaker and began with a story about soccer and the lessons that were learned from some key examples. It was the springboard for the key messages for leaders for the day:

  • That you have to care about it (passion, vision, commitment)
  • That you have to get the best people
  • That you have to get them to work together
  • That you have to check on them a bit, but not too often.

He argued that education is at the crossroads and that business and investment views assume that teaching is technically simple, can be mastered readily, should be driven by hard performance data, is about enthusiasm, effort and results and is replaceable by online instruction. He was critical of massive testing, ‘Teach for Australia’ models of teacher training and development, and reliance on online instruction as a low cost replacement for face to face teaching.

Interestingly, he was a bit critical of the Hattie research as looking at out of date data, and simplifying complex research into bite-sized summaries. He saw the danger of Hattie as creating bite-sized learning action responses that were generic and undifferentiated.

Professional capital, on the other hand, assumes that good teaching is technically sophisticated, requires high levels of education and long training, is perfected through continuous improvement, is a collective endeavour which maximises, mediates and moderates online instruction.

Hargreaves talked about three kinds of capital: human capital, social capital and decisional capital. (PC = f (HC,SC,DC)) all combining to create professional capital.

Human capital includes qualifications, knowledge, preparation, skills, emotional intelligence. Human capital solutions entail recruiting from the top tiers, select for moral commitment and EQ, taking pay off the table and creating an attractive working and collegial environment.

He talked about ‘teaching like a pro’: continuously improving, planning and working together and being part of the wider teacher profession.

He also talked about the relationship between pedagogy and technology and showed a ‘disconnect’ video which we all jumped at. He then showed a Singapore school using twitter as feedback, using Second Life simulations, MSN messenger,multiple devices and mobile phones etc. Hargreaves said that two things had changed his attitude to technology in the last two years (he was a sceptic): going to Singapore and seeing good teaching using technology, and then doing a special education (essential for some, good learning for all) project in Ontario, which used assistive and adaptive technologies.

Hargreaves emphasised decisional capital (how do you develop judgement?) includes judgement, case experience, practice, challenge and stretching and reflection. He talked too about capability and commitment in relationship to career stages, looking at axis of capability and commitment across career stages, and also in term of teaching and working with different generations (which I’m much more sceptical about)

He talked a lot about teachers in their later career paths (are they renewed or renewable?). Later career paths include the renewed, the disenchanted, the quiet ones and the resisters. He argued that the disenchanted can ‘get the magic back’ if you get to know them in their classrooms (where they are often working at a very high level) and share their practice, convince them that their students will benefit, convince them that it wont go away, and that you wont go away as a leader pushing for change. Change needs five years+ for change to be embedded. He also argued that the ‘resisters’ were really relatively few in number, and that leaders need to be careful about ‘misdiagnosis’. The ‘golden’ time for teachers, Hargreaves argued, is mid-career, about 10 000 hours (necessary for mastery), about 5-8 years out, where capability is high and commitment is high.It is also the most neglected teaching area, he argued, like the middle child in the family.

He argued that social capital was where you could make the most impact. Social capital involves things like trust, collaboration, collective responsibility, mutual assistance, professional networks and ‘push, pull and nudge’.

It was a really engaging day; focused, interesting, challenging. His last exercise on ‘pushing’ change where he gave us an example of peer led change pushing and asked us whether we liked it or hated it, divided the room right down the middle. He pushed for ‘pull’ factors over ‘push ‘ factors, though saw room for both.’Pull whenever you can; push when you must, nudge all the time’. Do we believe that teachers will change by themselves? Or have the right not to change at all? Is how I saw it in the end. My answers were ‘maybe’ and ‘no’.  And maybe isn’t good enough for our students?


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Learning and innovating at the IBAC

I haven’t been to the IB Asia Pacific Conference since I went to Invacargill in NZ in 2004. It was the bleakest, flattest, coldest place in the world; we walked the black ice to the conference in the morning and walked back in the dark at the end of the day. 

Besides the cold weather and the warm welcome of the locals I remember two things from that conference very strongly: the wooden dinghy in the hotel foyer filled with icy NZ beer, and the enthusiasm of the teachers for the IB curriculum.  I’d only been to VCE conferences before, and they were characterised more by teeth-gnashing and more or less outright hostility than the (almost) universal positivity I encountered in NZ.

But it wasn’t the cold that’s kept me away all these years. I don’t personally teach in the IB program and my role is around the teacher development, aligning the teaching and learning approaches to our VCE teaching, and having an understanding of where it’s all heading. Which leads me here this week,to Kuala Lumpur, a place that couldn’t be any more different to Invacargill if it tried. It should be an interesting few days, and I’ll be posting some of my session notes later on.

The trouble with VIT (continued)

I haven’t railed mercilessly against the Victorian Institute of Teaching (VIT) for a while. Only a couple of times, in fact, in the last couple of years, including my original ‘Whats the matter with VIT?’ post ages ago.

But, boy was I encouraged again to consider the value of our professional voice when I opened up the current issue of Professional Practice, which arrived this week. Printed back to back on a bit of folded A3, VIT isn’t even trying any more. The lead story was a puff piece for Apple loosely based around ‘World Teacher’s Day’, followed up by a couple of pieces talking up VIT’s own professional guidelines around teacher induction and professional ethics. It’s not even glossy any more!   Read my original post linked above about what we thought VIT might have been (a real voice for the profession) and consider what it’s become (a regulatory tax on the profession) and sigh.

Oh, and I forgot the big news. A new portal is coming which will contain ‘many forms and applications’ relating to fee waiver, application for renewal of registration and application to move from provisional to full registration!! (gasps).

Superintendent Power

I’ve had a bit of trouble figuring out just what a superintendent is; one presenter described his as the ‘king’; I think it’s a cross between a Principal and a District overseer?

Anyway, I attended a session on ‘Empowering the 21st Century Superintendent’ which was about empowering, re-engaging and equipping leaders to be ‘tech-savvy’ leaders.  They’ve even put a ‘toolkit’ for superintendents online at superintendentempower.org

The basic idea, that school leaders need to be confident enough about new technologies to make the right decisions for their schools, is a good one, but the questions around the room at the end of the session were unsettling: ‘how can we use these tools to drive instruction?’, ‘what tools did you use to know this stuff works? and ‘If you upload software you could  jam up the system and bring in a virus couldn’t you?’.

And, an emerging thread that resonates with my thoughts on Australian directions: too much from Central Office!

Scott McLeod blogging about leadership

One of the magazines that makes its my way to the giant pile on my desk that I actually look forward to is the American magazine Learning and Leading with Technology, published by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).

In the November 2007 issue which just made it to the top of the pile, Dr Scott McLeod explains why he blogs about educational leadership including:

I blog about leadership because someone has to bang the drum and say “Pay attention to the leaders! Pay attention to the leaders!”


McLeod (pictured above with a pile of gadgets that looks remarkably like my desk!) is the director of the UCEA Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education (CASTLE) (nice acronym but perhaps not totally suitable to the model of leadership I’m after!)  The short article points to three interesting websites: the CASTLE site at Iowa State University and two of McLeod’s own blogs, Dangerously Irrelevant and Leader Talk. All three sites are worth checking out; I’m even going to add one to my Bloglines subscription; that’s commitment for you!

Teaching and leading

Not always earth-shattering in it’s revelations but it’s good to see an attempt to sum up some of the research based knowledge in the recent document from the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership called, Teaching and Leading for Quality Australian Schools. The full document is 55 pages and contains findings like:

Quality Teachers

Quality teaching involves content that is rigorous, integrated and relevant. Content of high intellectual quality helps students develop stronger critical and creative thinking capabilities. Students in classes that regularly provided tasks of high intellectual quality showed marked improvement on standardised assessment tasks regardless of their previous achievement levels. Quality teachers integrate content, tasks and technologies across disciplines making explicit links among subjects and highlighting socially relevant connections. These connections are more powerful when they respect students’ diverse cultural identities. Activities based on intellectual and real-world problems were found to be effective in engaging students. Other effective strategies included integrating multiple tasks and knowledge; using pedagogical scaffolding and feedback; allowing appropriate time for student learning; linking pedagogies to curriculum goals and the needs of individual students; and minimising teaching disruptions.

Control over curriculum and its design

In light of current debate about curriculum and assessment across Australia, it is important to note both positive and negative outcomes from centralised curriculum. Some research suggests that centrally mandated curricula are less responsive to local needs and student diversity, offering fewer opportunities for teacher autonomy, creativity and professional engagement. Other studies found that decentralised curriculum can result in stress and work intensification for teachers.

Educational leader or manager?

In the past few decades principals have had to spend an increasing proportion of their time on managerial responsibilities and accountability. There is agreement in the research that management and administration are core responsibilities of successful school leaders, necessary to ensure the smooth operation of a school.

It is educational leadership that is central to the improvement of students’ social and academic outcomes. Effective school leaders are committed to improving the quality of teaching, encouraging and equipping staff to focus on student learning outcomes. The school principal does not necessarily have to be an exemplary teacher, but should ensure that the school’s main focus is an educative one.

Attributes and capabilities of effective leaders

Successful school leaders possess a range of personal, relational, organisational and professional attributes, plus the capacity to employ these effectively in complex and changing circumstances. It is not clear to what extent the practices, attributes and capabilities of quality school leaders can be learned, particularly given the strong value-base of many of these attributes, such as caring, innate goodness, fairness, consideration for others and honesty. On the other hand, qualities such as being a good communicator, having an inclusive style with high expectations, being hands-on and being a good decision-maker are skill-based attributes that might be more readily learned.

The personal attributes of effective school leaders include passion and commitment (particularly a desire for students’ success), and a capacity for personal reflection. Values of social justice and equity usually underpin the passion, enthusiasm, persistence and optimism of successful leaders

Teaching Australia